Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Dean Starkman writes about the media's failure to see and report on the culture of corruption and manipulation that led to the 2008 economic meltdown:
Was the brewing crisis really such a secret? Was it all so complex as to be beyond the capacity of conventional journalism and, through it, the public to understand? Was it all so hidden? In fact, the answer to all those questions is “no.” The problem—distorted incentives corrupting the financial industry—was plain, but not to Wall Street executives, traders, rating agencies, analysts, quants, or other financial insiders. It was plain to the outsiders: state regulators, plaintiffs’ lawyers, community groups, defrauded mortgage borrowers, and, mostly, to former employees of financial institutions, the whistleblowers, who were, in fact, blowing the whistle. A few reporters actually talked to them, understood the metastasizing problem, and wrote about it. You’ll meet a couple of them in this book. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for the mainstream business press.
To read various journalistic accounts of mortgage lending and Wall Street during the bubble is to come away with radically differing representations of the soundness of the U.S. financial system. It all depended on what you were reading. Anyone “paying attention” to the conventional business press could be forgiven for thinking that things were, in the end, basically normal. Yes, there was a housing bubble. Any fair reading of the press of the era makes that clear, even if warnings were mitigated by just-as-loud celebrations of the boom. And yes, the press said there were a lot of terrible mortgage products out there. Those are important consumer and investor issues. But that’s all they are. When the gaze turned to financial institutions, the message was entirely different: “all clear.” It’s not just the puff pieces (“Washington Mutual Is Using a Creative Retail Approach to Turn the Banking World Upside Down”; “Citi’s chief hasn’t just stepped out of Sandy Weill’s shadow—he’s stepped out of his own as he strives to make himself into a leader with vision”; and so on) or the language that sometimes lapses into toadying (“Some of its old-world gentility remains: Goldman agreed to talk for this story only reluctantly, wary of looking like a braggart”; “His 6-foot-4 linebacker-esque frame is economically packed into a club chair in his palatial yet understated office”): it’s that even stories that were ostensibly critical of individual Wall Street firms and mortgage lenders described them in terms of their competition with one another: would their earnings be okay? There was a bubble all right, and the business press was in it.
- Meanwhile, Andrew Leach comments on the Harper Cons' own carbon bubble - as a government relentlessly pushing tar sands development seems utterly oblivious to the reality that further development could become non-viable based on a readily-foreseeable (and indeed necessary) change in climate policy.

- Rick Mercer rants about the Cons' fixation on income splitting - and how it shows they couldn't care less about anybody who doesn't share their own privileged lifestyle:

- And Doug Cuthand observes that First Nations have been particularly marginalized based on their failure to fit into the Cons' target demographics:
Funding has been eliminated to the following groups since the Harper government came to power: Sisters in Spirit, NAHO, the National Aboriginal Health Organization, The First Nations Statistical Institute and NWAC, Native Women's Association of Canada. Virtually all the aboriginal political organizations experienced funding cuts this year.

We cannot forget the failure of this government to honour the Kelowna Accord that would have injected more than $5 billion into a series of First Nations initiatives, including housing, education health and economic development.

In addition to the cuts to the political organizations, First Nations administrations have seen budget cuts ranging from 10 per cent to 25 per cent. A clause has been inserted in tribal council funding agreements that none of their grant allocations can be used for "advocacy or political activities."

How the Department of Colonial Affairs plans to police this is beyond me. You can't have a group of chiefs in a room without them discussing political issues.

The government views tribal councils only as service providers. In other words, it sees tribal councils replacing the Department of Indian Affairs and becoming the new Indian Agents. The days of participatory democracy are but a memory. The Harper government wants to control the agenda, and any group that provides an independent or contradictory voice is suspect.

In addition to the cutbacks to First Nations organizations, institutions and services, we now have the "Fair Elections Act" that is attacking our democratic rights as Canadians. The removal of the vouching for voters without proper ID could be problematic for First Nations voters.
This leads me to conclude that the Conservatives have given up on us as supporting them in the next election. They have cut our funding to the bone, and now they are reducing our impact at the ballot box. Is this Harper's war on Indians?
- Finally, Tim Harford notes that too much reliance on "big data" can lead to massive mistakes when institutions fail to recognize the limits on what a particular set of information actually tells us.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:39 p.m.

    Apparently the crooked Koch Bros now hold over half of all oil sand leases. Exactly how does this benefit Canada?