Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Andrew Jackson rightly questions Greg Mankiw's faith-based assertion that increasing wealth accumulation is based solely on merit and contribution to society rather than hoarding and rent-seeking. And Martin Lobel highlights a few of the distortionary policies that have served to exacerbate inequality in the U.S.:
Everyone admits that our current tax system is broken and many "reform" proposals are being considered. But, our current tax code is too fragile to support most of the current "reform" proposals that powerful interests want to layer on it. Instead, we need to strengthen and simplify the tax code to provide a broad tax base before carving out another loophole, like territorial taxation, to "reform" the tax code. We need to reform the tax code so that it doesn't continue to increase the disparity in wealth between the very rich and the rest of us. We also need to remember that the more complicated the proposal, the more likely it is that some lobbyist is proposing another unjustifiable tax expenditure (aka tax subsidy, tax loophole) to benefit his wealthy client. In fact, any business that doesn't seek a tax subsidy is a fool because the rate of return is far higher than it could get in the market. According to a recent study, multinational companies had a 22,000 percent return on tax expenditures they lobbied for, although small in comparison to the 77,500 percent return earned so far on the $116 million the prescription drug industry spent lobbying for legislation to prevent Medicare from bargaining on drug prices.
In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2010, the top 1 percent of households (the upper class) owned 35.4 percent of all privately held wealth, and the next 19 percent (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 53.5 percent which means that just 20 percent of the people owned a remarkable 89 percent, leaving only 11 percent of the wealth for the bottom 80 percent (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one's home), the top 1 percent of households had an even greater share at 42.1 percent. In terms of types of financial wealth, the top one percent of households have 35 percent of all privately held stock, 64.4 percent of financial securities, and 62.4 percent of business equity. The top 10 percent have 81 percent to 94 percent of stocks, bonds, trust funds and business equity, and almost 80 percent of non-home real estate.

 Or to put it in a different perspective, from 2009 to 2011, "Top 1 percent income gains grew by 11.2 percent while bottom 99 percent incomes shrunk by 0.4 percent. Hence the top 1 percent captured 121 percent of the income gains in the first two years of the recovery."

Yet, individual income and payroll taxes on the middle and lower classes have increased over the last 60 years while estate and corporate income taxes have declined substantially as a percentage of receipts. The only logical conclusion is that government tax policies have been instrumental in the shift of income from the middle and lower classes to the rich. This conclusion has been supported by almost all of the non-industry supported research, including the Congressional Budget Office which recently reported that over 50 percent of the 10 largest tax breaks went to the richest 20 percent of Americans and 17 percent went to just the top 1 percent, while the middle quintile only got 13 percent and the bottom quintile only got 8 percent.

Besides taxing the almost $2 trillion of stateless income offshore, there are other alternatives to make our tax and economic system more efficient. Although the Republicans talk about cutting tax expenditures and did cut some in the 1986 Tax Reform Act, they ought to get serious and cut all the corporate tax expenditures which now cost the taxpayers just about the same amount as the corporations pay in taxes. We could also eliminate the cost and distortions of tax accounting and just tax the profits that these corporations report to their shareholders.
- And Brendan Fischer writes about a much-needed pushback against privatization in the U.S.
- even as Canadian governments earmark massive amounts of public money for the sole use of private contractors.

- Meanwhile, James Bloodworth takes another look at Ireland to see whether the poster child for corporatist economics is seeing any public benefit as a result. Spoiler alert: not by a long shot.

- Glen Pearson rightly questions why 200,000 people are homeless in Canada in the midst of what's supposed to be unprecedented wealth and prosperity. But the answer can likely be found in a government more interested in putting the screws to marginalized individuals than improving their standard of living.

- But of course, we should be glad to see examples of inspiring leadership where they arise. And so Lana Payne's column on Naheed Nenshi's response to Calgary's flood is well worth a read.

- Finally, Lorne writes about the plight of disposable labour in Canada - with temporary foreign workers treated particularly harshly for lack of any ability to push back against abuse.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Musical interlude

Ashley Wallbridge - Vision

On single battles

There's been plenty of press this week about the Senate's amendments to the Cons' odious anti-union legislation (dressed up as a private member's bill to avoid the scrutiny that would come from honestly-labeled government legislation). And it's certainly a plus to see C-377 delayed and amended.

But it's worth both contrasting the treatment of C-377 against that of other bills to assess the Senate's supposed independence, and pointing out how any victory may be only temporary.

To start with, for all the talk about the single amendment by Hugh Segal "gutting" C-377, the fact is that the bill remains live, well and set to be reconsidered (and potentially pushed through again in its original form) by the House of Commons. Which makes for a stark contrast to how Harper's trained seals in the Senate trashed previous legislation which had been approved by Canada's actual elected representatives - voting it down altogether rather than amending it for reconsideration.

If the best case to be made for the Senate's continued existence is as a check on the out-of-control executive, then, the Senate's actions under Harper suggest that it's broadly failing in that role - and the improvements to C-377 make at best a minor dent in the overall impression.

But what of C-377 itself? The obvious danger from this point forward is that the anti-labour Cons will simply return the bill to the Senate in its original form - meaning that the effect of this week's vote would be merely to delay its implementation. But there's another possibility which would could result in similar damage in a much shorter time frame.

The actual amendment approved by the Senate (scroll down somewhat from here) primarily tinkers with the dollar thresholds and technical reporting requirements set out in the initial bill - which are set out in subsection 3 as particulars of the information required to be provided. But for unions or organizations with more than 50,000 members, it leaves intact the following general provision as amended:
(2) Subject to subsection 149.01(6), every labour organization and every labour trust shall, by way of electronic filing (as defined in subsection 150.1(1)) and within six months from the end of each fiscal period, file with the Minister an information return for the year, in prescribed form and containing prescribed information.
So who gets to assemble the "prescribed form" and determine the "prescribed information" which will be subject to mandatory disclosure? That would be the Lieutenant Governor in Council, through the regulatory authority set out under section 221(1)(a) of the Income Tax Act. And there's little reason to think that Segal's amendment as to what must be included in the form will restrict the implementation of what may be prescribed without any Parliamentary oversight whatsoever.

In other words, if the Cons are satisfied merely attacking Canada's largest unions and labour organizations, they can grudgingly push through the amended C-377 as quickly as possible, and use their regulatory power to impose the same reporting requirements which were stripped out of the bill in the Senate.

We'll find out before too long whether Harper prefers to take the quick win in his latest battle against working Canadians, or try to force through all of the original C-377 all at once. But we shouldn't pretend for a second that this week's Senate votes will do much to help the cause of workers in the broader war.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Rick Salutin highlights the dangers of relying on bulk data collection and algorithmic analysis as a basis to restrict individual rights:
The National Post’s Jen Gerson interviewed a U.S. privacy expert. She asked about the PRISM program, by which U.S. agencies spy on Internet activity based outside the U.S., but which routinely rebounds back into the U.S. He said, “ . . . if we have intel that a reporter in Vancouver is a terrorist or whatever we’re going to ask for communications from the U.S. to Vancouver over this time period. They can get that, run an algorithm to see who’s been talking to X, Y, Z, maybe see your email address and your email to me . . .”
Now why did he use that example? Could it be because Vancouver is a centre of opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline and other ways to move dirty Alberta oil to the Pacific coast. But isn’t all that surveillance directed at global terrorists? Here’s the link: Stephen Harper says devious “foreign money” is being used to hijack our regulatory process. Energy Minister Joe Oliver says “there are environmental and other radical groups” out to “achieve their radical ideological agenda” who take “funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.” And in his strategy on terrorism, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews includes “causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism.”
So picture the algorithm that “runs” when PRISM checks the Internet traffic between Vancouver and the U.S. in search of “terrorists.” It will twig at pipelines, environment, native peoples, regulatory hearings and funding from foreign sources that are more like the Sierra Club than Al Qaeda — in a search also implying treason.
- But Salutin is wrong in suggesting that the problem is limited to Canada, as the Guardian reports on the treatment of peaceful environmental activists as "domestic extremists" in the UK.

- Meanwhile, Alison raises an entirely valid concern that CSEC may have used complimentary BlackBerrys and other systems to spy on foreign journalists at G8 and G20 meetings in Ontario.

- Seth Klein suggests some lessons that we should learn from B.C.'s provincial election - with the dangers of a lack of real policy discussion ranking near the top of the list:
  • Progressives need to do a better job of presenting a compelling and convincing alternative vision for jobs and the economy. People understandably feel anxious about their economic security and future employment. This is particularly true in communities where jobs are currently heavily reliant on the resource sectors. And thus the election turned on the issues of jobs and the economy. If we don’t believe the jobs of the future should be based on the extraction and export of fossil fuels, then we must do better at laying out what a clean — and moral ­­— economy looks like, linked to concrete job targets.  

  • ...
  • There is a stark disconnect between people’s values and how these issues play out in the context of an election. On balance, the values and desires of most British Columbians remain relatively progressive. You see this reflected in polls that explore attitudes and policy preferences in a meaningful way (as opposed to the horse-race polls about party preferences). But too often, these values fail to find electoral expression, either because they are trumped by other factors, or more likely, because none of the main parties articulates a compelling plan of action.  And far too many feel alienated from the political process and don’t vote.  Importantly, the results of the election should not be taken as a majority support for a neo-liberal agenda.
- And finally, speaking of real policy debates, Sean McElwee offers some suggestions in responding to corporatist tropes about inequality.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

On key decisions

I'll generally concur with Paul Wells' take on Barack Obama's reference to Keystone XL yesterday. But it's worth taking a slightly closer look at both the broad issue framed by Obama, and the Cons' narrow means of avoiding it.

The point of greatest significance in Obama's speech was indeed the mention that as a general rule, any project which exacerbates climate change isn't in the U.S.' national interest. But it's hard to see how that standard could be applied to Keystone XL and not to a wide range of regulatory and trade arrangements - meaning that a single pipeline approval process shouldn't be the only area where Harper faces significant pressure to actually do something about climate change generally.

That said, Harper still looks to be grasping at any opportunity to claim interest in addressing climate change without laying a finger on an industry whose emissions are projected to more than double over a ten-year period and lay wreck to Canada's nominal emission targets.

Which means that the short-term play to get Keystone XL approved figures to look far more like the actual response from Joe Oliver and TransCanada than Wells' mooted one: the Cons will assume for the purposes of a "net emissions" comparison  that every possible tar sands project will go ahead whether or not the pipeline is finished, and threaten that if Keystone XL isn't available to supply U.S. refineries, the resulting diluted bitumen will instead be sent to Bangladesh by ox cart to be used to set fire to collapsed factories, livestock and orphans.

The resulting comparison might well make the net effect of Keystone XL alone look like a slam dunk. But it would also serve as a glaring signal that Harper's Cons don't take the larger issue of climate change seriously. And the greatest hope for Wells' alternate proposal (that the Keystone approval process might trigger actual emission regulations for the tar sands) likely lies in the possibly that Obama might decide his country's national interest requires that he avoid encouraging Harper's typical irresponsibility.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- The Canadian Labour Congress calls out Jim Flaherty for stalling on his promise to work on boosting the Canada Pension Plan. Meanwhile, in attempting to keep profits flowing to the financial sector, several Fraser Institute drones find that increased CPP contributions...substantially increase the total amount saved for retirement by the middle class notwithstanding any substitutional effects. (Which leaves them stammering "ummm...choice!" "!" "aaah....FREEDOM!" in a desperate attempt to pretend workers are somehow better off with less of a secure public pension.)

- Alison is compiling a list of Harper Con fakery. I only worry that it'll take until past the 2015 election to assemble all of the examples known to date.

- Health Care Transformation offers an infographic on what makes Canadians sick - highlighting the importance of social determinants of health:

- And CBC reports on Saskatchewan's appalling performance on one indicator, with a rate of family violence over twice the Canadian average.

- But then, as Murray Mandryk notes, the Wall government is predictably selective in the issues it chooses to address and the speed with which it addresses them:
So what does it tell us when a government ignores "serious problems" with the freedom of information and privacy law the FOIP commissioner has advocated changing for a decade while bulldozing ahead with any manner of labour law changes - including its omnibus labour bill that will now house the old essential services act - without really much fear of repercussions?

Well, it would seem to suggest this government's view of due diligence is being dictated by its political agenda and its need to marginalize even valid criticism.

Simply ignoring criticism is never a great way to govern. It eventually catches up with you.
And so while Erin Weir's work in providing accurate employment trend numbers was met with an immediate backlash, we can expect little to be done to help people actually in need of public support.

New column day

Here, on some of the next steps Saskatchewan should consider along the path toward the preservation of human rights - including adding "social condition" as a prohibited ground of discrimination, and making private-sector actors accountable for breaches of fundamental freedoms.

For further reading...
- Leading cases on the "social condition" ground of discrimination include WCB v. Mercer et al, 2012 NWTSC 57, where it was held to require fair treatment for seasonal truckers under Workers' Compensation legislation, and Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse v Wal-Mart Canada Inc, 2003 CanLII 24566 (QC HRT), where it was held to prohibit employers from screening applicants based on criminal offences unconnected to their proposed employment.
- And the definition of discrimination is found at section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Frances Russell discusses the inevitable collateral damage to our planet from the Cons' war on science:
Over the past 200 years, Canadians built on flood plains because "we thought we had relatively stable climate -- the climate we experienced over the past century," Sandford told his CBC Radio audience. "We thought it would stay the same. We also thought we had a good grasp of how variable we could expect climate conditions to be based on what we've experienced in the last century.

"And now we've discovered that neither assumption was correct. We do not have adequate means to protect development in flood plains. Climate conditions are more variable than we thought. And that variability is increasing as climate changes and we've also discovered that our hydrologic conditions are changing."
Today, the atmosphere holds about seven per cent more water vapour than before for each degree Celsius temperature increase. North America is also experiencing disruption of the jet stream allowing climate events to cluster and remain in places for longer periods, causing more intense floods and droughts.

Sandford's most graphic analysis came when he asked his radio audience to imagine the unimaginable - "huge rivers, great courses of water vapour aloft that can carry between seven and 15 times the daily flow of the Mississippi River"- now flowing through the skies above our planet.

When these 'rivers' touch ground or are confronted by cooler temperatures, "that water precipitates out and what we see is huge storms of long duration and the potential for much greater flooding events."

The old math and the old methods and predictions of flood protection won't work anymore, Sandford warned. "Until we find a new way of substantiating appropriate action in the absence of this hydrologic stability, flood risks are going to be increasingly difficult to predict or to price, not just in Calgary and Canmore, but everywhere."

Sandford called the loss of hydrologic stability a "societal game-changer. It's already causing a great deal of human misery...We're...going to have to invest more in science so that we can improve our flood predictions."

But investing in more science is exactly what the Harper Conservatives are committed not to do - to serve the interests of multinational oil.
- But then, Sixth Estate notes that the Cons who are so eager to torch basic services for the needy in the name of fiscal probity see no problem with effective social insurance in the form of flood aid - while also highlighting the wider political problem:
In the meantime, thinking through the government’s obligations in the event of a disaster is obviously something that needs to urgently happen — and because of the rather decrepit nature of politics and the media in this country, we can be sure that the conversation won’t happen until after the fact, which is precisely the worst time to have it. If you think I’m being alarmist here, instead of thinking about the cost of a few homes in Calgary, try imagining what the cost of a property owner bailout will be when one-third of Vancouver is underwater, much of the rest has been toppled by an earthquake, and Vancouver Island is virtually inaccessible for months because all major harbours and airports have been destroyed. Relatively soon now, that will happen. And we have no plan for that either.

It’s worth noting the utter inability of our political system to plan in advance for something as incredibly and inanely simple as the fact that a mountain river which has flooded in the past might do so again. That’s precisely why we are so pathologically unable to prevent or mitigate climate change. Our brains simply aren’t evolved enough to handle problems of that magnitude.
- Charles Pierce writes that PRISM and other surveillance systems aren't the only disturbing form of top-down monitoring of individual action - as U.S. government employees are being ordered to spy on their co-workers in the name of avoiding the public disclosure of information.

- Meanwhile, Ryan Lizza (via David Graham) provides a window into the daily fund-raising routine of a member of the House of Representatives. And while the report offers a discouraging look at how a dollar-driven political system works, it should also raise serious questions as to whether we want to count on representatives to provide meaningful oversight on intrusions into individual rights.

- Finally, speaking of examples of how a political system shouldn't function, the Cons continue to set the standard. And while Michael Sona is outside the tent looking in, he's admitting that he and others on the Cons' Guelph campaign wanted to break the rules about identifying the source of robocalls:
“We were getting hit by unidentified robocalls, very, very negative stuff. We wanted to mount a robocall campaign against Frank Valeriote that couldn’t be traced back to us — Frank the Flip-Flopper. But none of us knew how to do it. So I asked John White (a fellow campaign worker) and he told me to contact Matt McBain (Conservative war room official) to find out. McBain emailed White to see if I was okay, White said I was on the team and a good guy and to go ahead and talk to me. We talked. I later texted McBain but never heard back.”

(Both White and McBain have told Elections Canada investigators that they advised Sona against any shady operations the party wouldn’t stand for.)

Although White and McBain apparently worried about breaking ethical and perhaps legal standards, Michael Sona reports receiving some nudge-nudge, wink-wink advice from senior party officials that was less rigorous when it came to playing politics by gentleman’s rules during the 2011 general election.

“We were told that that they weren’t telling us to go out and destroy the other guys signs, but if we did, the best thing to use was oven-cleaner. The guy said acetone would work just as well and we could get plenty of that from the printing company we were using. Then one of the top guys told us how to get around spending limits, which I thought was funny, since they were still tangled up in the In-and-Out thing.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Contented cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Thomas Walkom discusses how a continued economic slump is combining with the Cons' economic policies to destroy secure jobs in favour of precarious, low-paying work:
Those making economic policy from afar may admire creative destruction. Those being destroyed rarely do.

Here in Canada, this entire high-wire act is being performed without safety nets. The ones we had — such as welfare and employment insurance — were either eliminated or reduced by successive federal governments.
What is to be done? Poloz says we have no choice but to wait — until foreigners start buying Canadian goods again, until domestic business owners feel more upbeat.

Harper wants the economy to be more competitive. To that end, his government is aiding in the destructive side of creative destruction by pushing wages down.

Thus, it attacks unions. Thus, it imports temporary foreign workers to dampen down labour costs for business.

Provincial governments, like that of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, are helping the destructive process along by cutting back their spending.

They fear public debt. But that fear means that public assets — from health care to transit to schools — are left to decay.

The hope of the destroyers is that, in the long run, we will all be better off.

Perhaps. But as economist John Maynard Keynes once noted, in the long run we will also all be dead.
- Jefferson Cowie notes that in the U.S. (as in Canada), it's long past time for labour standards law to be updated to avoid loopholes used by employers to avoid basic protections:
(Seventy-five) years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act to give a policy backbone to his belief that goods that were not produced under “rudimentary standards of decency” should not be “allowed to pollute the channels of interstate trade."

The act is the bedrock of modern employment law. It outlawed child labor, guaranteed a minimum wage, established the official length of the workweek at 40 hours, and required overtime pay for anything more. Capping the working week encouraged employers to hire more people rather than work the ones they had to exhaustion. All this came not from the magic of market equilibrium but from federal policy.
(T)oday the act faces an uncertain future, thanks to a series of disconcerting shifts in the way we think about work in America.

The problem is indicative of the moral and political slipperiness of our time. A large and growing number of employers willfully classify their employees as “exempt” from the law by shifting their jobs, but not their pay, to administrative, executive and professional categories. Being exempt allows employers to ignore pesky things like overtime or minimum wages, since these are salaried, not hourly workers. Lawsuits over back overtime pay resulting from misclassifications have gone through the roof.

If the line between exempt and nonexempt workers has become unfairly blurred, the line distinguishing employee and independent contractor has faded to near invisibility. We are moving toward the “1099 economy,” named after the tax form provided to independent contractors, a classification that often walks the line of legality.

For some workers, being a 1099’er means more flexibility, creativity and control over their work. However, there are many more reluctant 1099 workers who want regular jobs but find themselves locked out of the system by employers looking for an easy way to buck their responsibility to their employees.

And then there is the most infamous classification hustle: the internship. For bright, young (and typically affluent) interns at America’s top corporations there is no actual job, so there are no fair labor standards to apply. That means no minimum wage and no maximum hours. There is often no pay at all.
And CBC reports on Bell Canada's efforts to squeeze free labour out of interns.

- Meanwhile, Nicole Reinert and Zach Dubinsky report on offshore tax avoidance by Canadian banks.

- Finally, Michael Geist discusses how the Cons' familiar combination of sellouts to industry and regulatory delays has left Canada without a functional anti-spam law.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Chris Lehmann discusses the destructive impetus behind the ever-present austerity scolds:
In their new book The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, Stuckler and Basu show distressingly consistent increases in such key public-health indicators as suicides, heart disease, alcoholism and HIV infection in societies embarking on steep reductions in social spending. Correspondingly, societies (such as Iceland, Sweden and Finland) that have refused to pare back their welfare states in hard times exhibit steady—and, in some case, increasing—signs of public health. Oh, and more straightforward economic indicators, such as low unemployment and broad middle-class prosperity, also strangely adhere to political economies that continue to spend robustly on social services and healthcare—again, contrary to every single theory in the austerity playbook.

Yet when a practiced faux-contrarian pundit like The New Republic’s Michael Kinsley alighted on Stuckler and Basu’s findings, he stepped forward bravely to report that they were all part of a “misguided moral crusade against austerity” captained by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Sure, Kinsley writes, the life chances of ordinary working citizens diminish steeply under conditions of austerity: They “get depressed and commit suicide. They drink and ruin their livers. They don’t buy their prescription drugs or see their doctor when they should in order to save money. They lose their jobs, come home, and murder their spouses.”

But that, you see, is just the iron law of economic comeuppance, as Kinsley divines it. “I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins,” he writes, “and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be. …[T]he austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert.”

Where to begin? There is, first off, something delusional, and indeed vicious, in shifting the costs of the particular “past sins” of our Great Recession—which were the exclusive handiwork of the stupendously overcompensated investment class—onto the vulnerable subjects of Stuckler and Basu’s research. More fundamentally, however, Kinsley has conceded that mass suffering is the confirmed and predictable outcome of hardline austerity policies—and he thinks they are somehow better for us, anyway. People of the Kinsleyan persuasion seem to sincerely believe that there is, in fact, no organized bloc of financiers, policymakers and intellectuals that benefits from the four-decadeslong-and-counting war on the public sphere—that the reluctant prophets of austerity are, like him, only doling out hard paternal truths about the way the real world works for the touchingly “misguided” citizen-children who clamor for dessert after dessert, all day long.
- And Paul Krugman notes that even as many of the original backers of slash-and-burn have come to recognize that the end result tends to be counterproductive, the Bank for International Settlements is pretending that years of needless suffering never happened.

- Philip Caper looks longingly at Canada's universal public health care system from a U.S. perspective.

- Bruce Cheadle reports on the Cons' ever-growing publicly-funded communications staff, with the number meaning anything but more transparency:
Sandborn suggested that it requires extra bodies to send communications staff to scientific conferences to shadow government researchers and run interference on media interviews — a practice that was documented as part of his group's complaint.

Their report also detailed how 11 different civil servants exchanged 50 emails to determine whether a reporter inquiring about a snow study was friendly or not before granting an interview.

"Sometimes it takes a whole lot more people to make sure information doesn't get out than to get it out," said Sandborn.
- And Shannon Rupp comments on the Harper PMO's misuse of public money to play news editor.

- Finally, leftdog writes about the forces exerting the most pressure on Canadian politics - and the need for progressives to push back rather than merely hoping to ride out the wave of corporate-funded attacks:
(C)orporate interests, primarily those of the oil and financial industries, have decided that they simply are not prepared to compromise their positions of power within the Canadian economy and they will open their wallets to ensure that political victory goes only to those who serve their vested interests.

To achieve this, Stephen Harper has nearly perfected an approach that is intended to bring ‘perpetual Conservative government' to the nation ... a model for Canada based on the Alberta Conservative Party's 42 year hold on provincial power. That's the goal. Wake up and realize it.

The oil industry is simply not prepared to listen to anyone who will diminish their ability to make profit from the tar sands by even one dollar. They have no interest in the environment. They have no interest in the plight of working Canadians and their families. They are going to maximize the profit potential of their resource holdings and they are prepared to bankroll any political party that will advance this cause. 

Harper's Conservatives have demonstrated that they are prepared to cheat electorally in order to win. Robcalls, illegal expenditures and donations ... they will do whatever they have to in order to win. When challenged, they deny and delay. Their war chest allows them to afford the best legal distraction and defence that money can buy. The rule of thumb for the Right in Canada has become ‘delay delay delay' as well as ‘deny deny deny'.
 [Edit: fixed attribution on Cheadle story.]

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Afternoon 'Rider Blogging

I was going to post about the 'Riders' offseason...until Stephen LaRose said pretty much everything I planned to say. So instead, I'll stick to pointing out where I'd question or clarify LaRose's take.

Simply put, I think he's right to compare the current 'Rider team to the 1976 version as a needlessly old group assembled with too little regard for the team's longer-term development. But I also think that the current roster is closer to 1976 than 1977: with one important caveat, the veterans aren't so far over the hill that the team figures to suffer.

And indeed, there's still at least some room for improvement over last season. The offense has plenty of weapons if the offensive line stays healthy and develops together (as I don't see Patrick Neufeld being anything more than a backup if a unit of Fulton/LaBatte/Picard/Best/Heenan plays to its potential), and the defence has far more playmakers than last year's version if John Chick and Ricky Foley have anything left in the tank.

With that in mind, I'd place the 'Riders' expected record - given fairly good health - around 10-8 (with plenty of early wins and a few more late losses). But that may not lead the 'Riders to continue the trend of teams making and winning the Grey Cup at home, particularly if the veterans wear down over the course of the season.

And the 'Riders are facing some ugly risks further down their depth chart. The biggest problem with filling out one's roster by thumbing through past CFL yearbooks is that there are few young players with any prospect of stepping into a bigger role to replace anybody who gets hurt (with the receiver position looking like the lone exception). Darian Durant's health is an absolute must for any 'Rider hopes; Neufeld may not be a part of the ideal offensive line, but without him the team has no margin for error with its remaining unit; an already-small defensive line could reach a critical point with a single injury to Keith Shologan or Tearrius George; and the linebacking corps is comprised almost entirely of players who have washed out elsewhere.

Now, if there's a rational strategy to be pursued with the current roster, it might well involve overpaying some veterans early, being prepared to trade or cut anybody who doesn't play up to his past peak level in the first few weeks, and encouraging the remaining vets to mentor a wave of new players around mid-season to set the 'Riders up for both a playoff drive and seasons to come. But given Brendan Taman's preference for pricey vets and lack of focus on player development, the plan instead seems to be to ride the new arrivals as far as possible - with no backup plan in sight.

That might well lead to the type of panic trade feared by LaRose - but a precarious cap situation figures to limit how many more vets the 'Riders can take on during the season. Which means that the best hope may be for the team's new imports to join the front office in failing to notice that it's no longer the late aughts - and stay healthy and productive accordingly.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Scott Sinclair discusses how CETA could create extreme and unnecessary risk in Canada's banking and financial system:
The failure of a single company (such as Lehman Brothers in October 2008) or unchecked growth in markets for high-risk financial products (such as sub-prime mortgages) can quickly cascade out of control, threatening the integrity of the entire system. Especially during a crisis, financial regulators need to act decisively, without worrying about expensive lawsuits from disgruntled foreign investors. But that’s precisely the toxic ingredient the CETA negotiations have introduced into the mix.

The EU insists that foreign investors must have unimpeded rights to challenge banking and other financial regulations through investor-state dispute settlement. The Canadian Department of Finance is arguing that financial sector regulation is of such critical importance to the economy that regulatory measures must be shielded from direct challenge by foreign investors.

Negotiators reportedly are at an impasse and this issue is now on the list to be resolved by politicians. Given the intense pressure to close a deal, politicians could overrule Finance officials and undermine the ability of regulators to avert or stem future financial crises.
Ironically, Europeans are learning the folly of this approach the hard way. Foreign investors have turned to investor-state arbitration to try to recover losses from Europe’s seemingly interminable financial crisis. In the first investor-state case ever by a Chinese mainland investor, a Chinese financial services company is suing Belgium under a 2005 Belgium-China investment protection treaty. Ping An, the largest single shareholder in the Belgian-Dutch bank Fortis, allegedly lost $2.3 billion USD when government authorities, who stepped in to rescue the financial giant, subsequently sold off assets over the objections of minority shareholders. Foreign investors have also filed investor-state claims against both Greece and Cyprus to recover losses incurred under financial restructuring programs.

While the risk of an investor-state dispute is highest during a crisis, under Europe’s proposed CETA approach, more routine financial regulations could also be vulnerable. For example, the Canadian government has tightened mortgage regulations four times since 2008. Canadian officials have publicly confirmed that these are just the sort of regulations that the Europeans want to see exposed to challenge.
- And Matt Taibbi exposes the dirty truth behind the ratings agencies whose word has been relied upon as the basis for far too many economic decisions:
Ratings agencies are the glue that ostensibly holds the entire financial industry together. These gigantic companies – also known as Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations, or NRSROs – have teams of examiners who analyze companies, cities, towns, countries, mortgage borrowers, anybody or anything that takes on debt or creates an investment vehicle.

Their primary function is to help define what's safe to buy, and what isn't. A triple-A rating is to the financial world what the USDA seal of approval is to a meat-eater, or virginity is to a Catholic. It's supposed to be sacrosanct, inviolable: According to Moody's own reports, AAA investments "should survive the equivalent of the U.S. Great Depression."
It's not a stretch to say the whole financial industry revolves around the compass point of the absolutely safe AAA rating. But the financial crisis happened because AAA ratings stopped being something that had to be earned and turned into something that could be paid for.
- Mike de Souza reports on the latest revelations about the Cons using public money to do PR work for the oil sector - explicitly working to "support" the Northern Gateway pipeline even as they claim to be carrying out an unbiased regulatory process. But Barbara Yaffe notes that British Columbians aren't buying the spin - and yet another Enbridge spill won't do much to help the impression that the Cons' oil-industry funders are far more concerned with papering over serious concerns about health and the environment than actually operating safely. 

- Meanwhile, in the department of policies the public actually wants to see Canada's government working on, Steve Morgan discusses EKOS' polling showing 78% popular support for public funding for needed prescription drugs:
Canadians have good reasons to want such reform. Every developed country with a universal healthcare system provides universal coverage of prescription drugs… except Canada.

Drug coverage is provided in all comparable healthcare systems because, when prescribed and used appropriately, prescription drugs can be among the most cost-effective forms of providing healthcare. The architects of these other systems know that charging patients for prescriptions will impede the use of essential medicines – which can cost the healthcare system in other ways, such as increased hospitalizations.

In Canada, many patients cannot afford to take medicines prescribed by their doctors. The recent poll by EKOS suggests that, in the past five years, about one in five Canadians (23%) have chosen not to fill a prescription because of out-of-pocket costs. That’s a lot of missed prescriptions.

Such access problems are prevented when medically necessary prescriptions are covered as part of the healthcare system. Countries with such access – every other developed country with universal healthcare – also spend considerably less on pharmaceuticals than Canada does. This is because healthcare systems that purchase medicines on behalf of entire populations have significant bargaining power in price negotiations with drug manufacturers.
- Finally, Andrew Coyne offers a handy guide to the rights and wrongs involved in Justin Trudeau's massive speaking fees and the Cons' publicly-funded response.