Saturday, March 09, 2019

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Sandy Garossino offers a reminder of the large-scale corruption - including bribery supporting dictatorial regimes and multiple instances of illegal practices in Canada - at the root of the Libs' SNC Lavalin scandal. Andrew Coyne comments on the parallels between SNC Lavalin's lobbying blitz and the PMO's assault on prosecutorial discretion. And Michael Harris highlights how the Libs' attempt at a political defence has not only failed on its own terms, but also reflected a dangerous eagerness to intrude on the criminal justice system.

- Steven Rosenfeld examines Jason Kenney's dubious UCP leadership campaign as a warning for the integrity of U.S. elections which might be subject to similar manipulation. And Graham Thomson writes that the secret recording of an MLA's office hints at the UCP's continuing authoritarian tendencies.

- Lucas Powers reports on the gun lobby's intimidation of physicians who have the audacity to point out that shootings have severe health implications. And John Bowden reports on research showing that to nobody's surprise, more lax gun laws correlate to a higher number of mass shootings.

- CTV Regina examines the lack of affordable rental housing in Regina as market units are left vacant instead of being priced at a level accessible to lower-income tenants. Greg Mercer writes about the even more glaring lack of housing on First Nations in Canada, with the recent state of emergency at Cat Lake representing just the latest example. And Peter Walker reports on UK Labour's plans to make tenancies secure and affordable.

- Finally, Megan Mayhew Bergman discusses the connection between environmental racism and climate change:

Friday, March 08, 2019

Musical interlude

Zuckerbaby - Heavy

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Melanee Thomas writes that we need to change our political system, rather than blaming women for the barriers placed in their way:
Ethos – that set of values and beliefs that guide our politics – is key to explaining why women remain so under-represented in Canadian politics. My research using Swedish data confirms how raising levels of women’s representation can engage them with politics. Swedish political parties in 1974 implemented a voluntary gender quota to ensure they elected more women. Over time, the proportion of women in Sweden’s national legislature, the Riksdag, rose from about 20 per cent in the 1970s to over 45 per cent today. What’s most interesting is that as more women were elected, it sparked greater interest among other women in politics. Sweden differed from Canada in that it took action to get women on par with men in their political institutions. Here, where only 26 per cent of MPs are women, the number is still too small to spark the same increased interest in politics among women.

This shows how ethos matters: If women observe how politics remains closed to them, no amount of resources or individual interventions will make them want to participate more in politics. A more effective route is to transform what our politics look like. The Swedish example shows this can be done by changing the collective belief: Women belong in politics.
- And David MacDonald examines how most of Canada's federal tax loopholes are grossly biased to favour men over women.

- Jeanna Smialek reports that U.S. employers who refuse to offer higher wages are complaining they can't find workers to accept their terms. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on Ontario's cuts to enforcement against temp agencies which systematically violate employment standards and health and safety laws.

- Finally, Ed Finn challenges the Libs' spin that it's worth making governments complicit in corporate crime and corruption in the name of temporarily clinging to jobs which can be eliminated on a whim. And Don Martin highlights how the burgeoning lobbying industry can only be explained by the perception that access to power is the path to sustained wealth.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Tim Wu writes that the U.S.' political system is serving to allow a privileged few to ignore the policy preferences and interests of the vast majority of citizens:
About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.

The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it the oppression of the supermajority. Ignoring what most of the country wants — as much as demagogy and political divisiveness — is what is making the public so angry.
In our era, it is primarily Congress that prevents popular laws from being passed or getting serious consideration. (Holding an occasional hearing does not count as “doing something.”) Entire categories of public policy options are effectively off-limits because of the combined influence of industry groups and donor interests. There is no principled defense of this state of affairs — and indeed, no one attempts to offer such a justification. Instead, legislative stagnation is cynically defended by those who benefit from it with an unconvincing invocation of the rigors of our system of checks and balances.
As the United States begins the process of choosing the next president and Congress, we need to talk more openly about which candidates are most likely to deliver the economic policies that the supermajority wants. Yes, the people can be wrong about things, but so too can experts, embedded industry groups and divisive political factions. It is not a concession to populism, but rather a respect for democracy, to suggest that two-thirds of the population should usually get what they ask for.
- Meanwhile, Jen Gerson discusses how the SNC Lavalin scandal shows the corruption underlying far too much of Canadian politics. Andrew Coyne comments on the Libs' attempt to exercise political control while insisting Jody Wilson-Raybould was free to decide - as long as she did so in favour of their donors and political allies. And Craig Scott highlights the dangers of normalizing political interference in prosecutorial discretion as the Libs are now trying to do.

- David Climenhaga points out how the Libs' attempt to change the channel with an announcement on prescription drugs fell short of an actual pharmacare program. And indeed, Kelly Grant notes that the distraction tactic didn't include any meaningful details.

- Damian Carrington points out new research showing the wide reach of the unintended spread of microplastics. And Tiffany Lizee reports on the role fracking is playing in causing earthquakes in Alberta.

- Finally, John Cassidy discusses how the principles behind the Green New Deal can be met with technology that's already readily available - as long as petropolitics don't stand in the way.

New column day

Here, on how RBC's survey about continued parental funding for adult children demonstrates the need for improved social supports to assist young adults who lack the same family resources.

For further reading...
-  George Lakoff set out the distinction between "strict father" and "nurturant parent" worldviews in the context of the rise of Donald Trump. And he discussed the "eighteen and out" portion of the strict father model in his interview with Hayward Alker here (PDF).
- Responding to the RBC survey, Laura Hensley points out how family supports are a two-way street, with many parents also requiring assistance from working-age children.
- Finally, while the column doesn't get into policy prescriptions as to how income supports might be set up, I'll note that the amount of parental support normal among parents in RBC's survey (a median amount of just under $6,000 per year for younger adults and $4,000 for those in their thirties) would fit into a modest basic income model.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Yves Engler writes that the Libs' SNC-Lavalin scandal represents a fully expected consequence of a foreign policy based on acquiescing in corruption:
...Trudeau went to bat for SNC after the firm had either been found guilty or was alleged to have greased palms in Libya, Bangladesh, Algeria, India, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Angola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Cambodia and Zambia (as well as Québec). A 2013 CBC/Globe & Mail investigation of a small Oakville, Ontario-based division of SNC uncovered suspicious payments to government officials in connection with 13 international development projects. In each case between five and 10 per cent of costs were recorded as “‘project consultancy cost,’ sometimes ‘project commercial cost,’ but [the] real fact is the intention is [a] bribe,” a former SNC engineer, Mohammad Ismail, told the CBC.

While the media has covered the company’s corruption and lobbying for a deferred prosecution agreement, they have barely mentioned SNC’s global importance or influence over Canadian foreign policy. Canada’s preeminent “disaster capitalist” corporation, SNC has worked on projects in most countries around the world. From constructing Canada’s Embassy in Haiti to Chinese nuclear centres, to military camps in Afghanistan and pharmaceutical factories in Belgium, the sun never sets on SNC.
SNC has been one of the largest corporate recipients of Canadian “aid.” The company has had entire departments dedicated to applying for Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), UN and World Bank funded projects. SNC’s first international contract, in 1963 in India, was financed by Canadian aid and led to further work in that country. In the late 1960s the firm was hired to manage CIDA offices in African countries where Canada had no diplomatic representation. In the late 1980s CIDA contracted SNC to produce a feasibility study for the Three Gorges Dam, which displaced more than a million Chinese. During the occupation of Afghanistan CIDA contracted SNC to carry out its $50 million “signature project” to repair the Dahla dam on the Arghandab River in Kandahar province ($10 million was spent on private security for the dam).
Even SNC’s use of bribery has a made-in-Ottawa tint. For years Canada lagged behind the rest of the G7 countries in criminalizing foreign bribery. For example, into the early 1990s, Canadian companies were at liberty to deduct bribes paid to foreign officials from their taxes, affording them an “advantage over the Americans”, according to Bernard Lamarre former head of Lavalin (now SNC Lavalin). In 1991, Bernard, the older brother to SNC Lavalin’s subsequent head Jacques Lamarre, told Maclean’s that he always demanded a receipt when paying international bribes. “I make sure we get a signed invoice,” he said. “And payment is always in the form of a cheque, not cash, so we can claim it on our income tax!”
As the recent scandal demonstrates — and the Financial Post noted years ago — SNC has “considerable lobbying power in Ottawa.” Placing its CEO among the 50 “Top People Influencing Canadian Foreign Policy”, Embassy magazine described SNC as “one of the country’s most active companies internationally”, which “works closely with the government.” The now-defunct weekly concluded, “whoever is heading it is a major player” in shaping Canadian foreign policy.

And, as it turns out, in shaping the way things are now done at home in Ottawa.
- Brett Christophers points out the UK's massive selloff of public land, while recognizing that the result is the loss not only of common wealth but also of uses tied to public stewardship.

- Vaughn Palmer comments on the finding of a B.C. scientific panel that the province has failed to collect even basic information about the risks posed by an environmentally-destructive and poorly-regulated fracking industry. And Robyn Allan points out why whoever wins power in Alberta's provincial election needs to come to grips with the fact that the tar sands are a declining economic sector.

- Don Pittis writes about the prospect that small communities can serve as centres for technological development in order to avoid the further congestion of urban areas.

- Finally, Corey Robin discusses the need for a challenge to neoliberalism in the economic discipline to address philosophical issues as well as policy choices.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Café cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Wells weighs in on the far-too-long-delayed exposure of Justin Trudeau's fundamental phoniness - particularly when it came to his promise that Canada had seen its last first-past-the-post election:
The operating assumption seems to be that we’re simply supposed to read between the lines—that we’ll understand that when Trudeau speaks he is not to be taken seriously.

Why would he? In June 2016, I asked Trudeau whether he had a preference in the electoral-reform debate he had promised in the previous year’s election, and whether his preference would influence the outcome. It was the sort of question you ask even when you know the answer. Everyone knew Trudeau wanted preferential ballots, which would favour large parties like his.
He swore that wasn’t so. “I’m really open to listening to Canadians. And actually, I have moved in my thinking toward a greater degree of openness toward what Canadians actually want.” So while Liberals would prefer ranked ballots, “Canadians might not agree. And I think this is an important conversation to have, where we do have to respect Canadians.”

Months later, he told the Toronto Star editorial board that he wasn’t about to throw in the towel. “Canadians elect governments to do hard things, and don’t expect us to throw up our hands when things are a little difficult,” he said. “ ‘Oh, it’s more difficult than we thought it could be and therefore we’re just going to give up.’ No, I’m sorry, that’s not the way I was raised, that’s not the way I’m going to move forward on a broad range of issues, regardless of how difficult they may seem at a given point.”

Eight weeks later, he abandoned electoral reform because the emerging consensus was for the reform option he didn’t like, proportional representation. I don’t even know what you do with a guy who acts like that. Eventually he took to wearing his abandonment of a key platform plank as a badge of honour. He wasn’t going to endanger Canadian democracy by keeping an election promise. Not all heroes wear capes.
- Meanwhile, Catharine Tunney reports on the Libs' new party line that corporations are "entitled" to a legal system which relieves them of being prosecuted for bribery and corruption. And Murray Mandryk contrasts the principle shown by the two former federal cabinet ministers who have stepped down against the choice of the Saskatchewan Party's one-time reformers to cover up their party's scandals.

- John Michael McGrath writes that Doug Ford has added municipalities to the list of bodies who are expected to avoid any planning or decision-making since their actions in the public interest might interfere with the PC's governing agenda. And David Climenhaga writes about Jason Kenney's attempt to sell trickle-down snake oil to Alberta.

- Sarah Anderson discusses the push from some U.S. Democrats for a financial transactions tax to ensure that high-frequency traders can't extract wealth from the broader economy.

- Finally, Matt Bruenig charts the distribution of wealth inequality by race in the U.S. And PressProgress points out that nominal economic growth in Canada hasn't led to any improvement in wages or the distribution of income.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Katrina vanden Heuvel discusses the importance of pushing toward universal child care in order to relieve avoidable stress on families.

- Allison Jones reports that the Ford PCs are only making matters worse by ordering school boards not to hire to fill developing vacancies due to imminent provincial funding restrictions. And Emma Graney reports on the Jason Kenney UCP's similar message that increasing student populations and costs will be met with funding freezes if he gets the chance to impose austerity on Alberta's education system.

- Meanwhile, Kelly Crowe discovers what experts have to say about Ford's arbitrary health reorganization.

- Gil McGowan points out that the UCP's plan to bet on oil booms and corporate giveaways is even more foolish than the similar choices which have busted in the past.

- Finally, Lynn Parramore writes about the connection between economic inequality and opioid-related deaths even when social supports are available.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Ed Finn writes that the Trudeau PMO's interference on behalf of SNC-Lavalin confirms Canada's plutocratic rule under Libs and Cons alike. And Carole Cadwalladr and Duncan Campbell report on Facebook's use of promised jobs to bribe its way out of the regulations which are supposed to protect citizens from corporate abuse.

- The Star's editorial board implores the Libs not to settle for a watered-down version of national pharmacare out of subservience to big pharma.

- The Edmonton Journal highlights the progress Alberta has made in reducing child poverty by half since the NDP first formed government.

- Meanwhile, Alex Soloducha reports on Saskatchewan's grossly inadequate social supports which make it impossible for people living in poverty to find housing. And Derek Cornet points out the continued scourge of hunger in the province.

- Gregory Beatty offers a reminder of the culture lost as a result of the Saskatchewan Party's elimination of the film industry - particularly as Netflix invests across Canada other than in Saskatchewan.

- Finally, Lana Payne discusses the Scheer Conservatives' choice to embrace racism out of political convenience.