Saturday, October 16, 2010

On elitism

Alex Himelfarb is absolutely right in noting the reversal in language underlying the attacks on "elites" from both the Cons in Canada and the Tea Party south of the border - as the term has been redefined to refer to anybody with an education and/or a degree of expertise in a field who happens to disagree with the party in question, rather than the genuinely wealthy and powerful. But I can't entirely agree with Himelfarb's associated view that the term is generally too much an example of dirty politics to have value.

If anything, I'd argue that there's probably more need now than there's been in the past half-century to call attention to how people fitting the original definition of elite are able to secure massive personal gains while leaving the risk of loss with those less fortunate - with a particular focus on the deception involved in examples like Himelfarb's, where well-funded campaigns have been used to warp the meaning of words for the benefit of the already-privileged. And that means reclaiming the term and redirecting its power toward those who deserve to answer for it, not abandoning it altogether.

Saturday Morning Links

Some reading material for your weekend...

- Gerald Caplan goes somewhat further than I would in cheekily calling for asbestos exports to be considered a crime against humanity. But he's absolutely right to keep highlighting the embarrassment of being the lone developed country fighting to keep producing and exporting a product that's been long since deemed too dangerous for use at home.

- Longtime Saskatchewan Premier Allen Blakeney weighs in with his suggestion as to how to handle the province's potash reserves:
It is not easy to formulate a rule that would prevent consumers of potash from buying PCS shares but it would be relatively easy to formulate a rule under the Investment Canada Act that says 60 per cent of all shares of the corporation shall be owned by Canadian citizens who are resident in Canada.

It's hard to imagine any group or groups of Canadian citizens living in Canada who could own 60 per cent of PCS shares and also represent potash consumers.

The more likely owners would turn out to be the Ontario municipal employees pension plan, the Ontario Teachers' pension plan, the Quebec Caisse de Depot, the Canada Pension Plan and pension plans in other provinces.

Ownership by these groups and by a wide number of Canadians would be a good deal more comfortable for the Saskatchewan government to deal with than ownership by massive potash consumers' groups or the largest mining company in the world, BHP Billiton.
- Dr. Dawg and pogge point out the latest appalling development in Alex Hundert's treatment following his arrest for speaking on a public panel:
On the night of Wednesday October 14th, Alex was told by the security manager at the Toronto East Detention Centre that he had to sign the bail conditions or face solitary confinement in “the hole”, without access to phone calls or writing paper. He was put in solitary confinement after an initial confrontation with correction staff where he resisted initial attempts to make him sign. He was denied the right to call his lawyer, and told that if he didn’t sign now, they would revoke the bail offer and he would be held in solitary confinement until his eventual release from prison.

Coerced into signing these conditions, Alex was thrown out of Toronto East and left to find his own way home to his sureties’ house. The prison authorities forced him into a position where he could potentially be accused of further breaching his bail. Alex is now back on house arrest with an enforced curfew, with non-associations with co-accused and members of SOAR, AWOL, NOII and other community organizers. He also has the additionally imposed restrictions of no direct or indirect posting to the internet, no assisting, planning, or attending any public meeting or march, and no expressing of views on a political issue.
- Needless to say, Hundert would be a leading current candidate for a present-day internment list. And just think, it may only take 50 years for you too to find out whether you're mentioned on one!

- Finally, Michael Geist offers a partial rebuttal to Malcolm Gladwell's much-circulated piece on social media and activism. But I'd think the argument can be relatively easily boiled down to a distinction between what social media does well (particularly disseminating information which might not otherwise be shared across the weak ties brought into contact), and what it doesn't do at all on its own (the hierarchical organizing discussed by Gladwell, which may be facilitated and promoted over social media but still requires the development of closer ties).

Debunking in progress

So apparently somebody actually thought to test the incessantly-repeated right-wing mantra that any taxes whatsoever are incompatible with economic growth. And not surprisingly, the results utterly demolish the oft-repeated canard that tax slashing does anything at all to improve economic conditions:
What is more important than the level of the tax ratio is what actually happens to the taxes and contributions. It will make a difference whether the money is invested in education, training and research or whether it goes to military intervention abroad. And it will of course make a difference in terms of economic growth whether a state is organised in an efficient manner or whether public resources are just wasted.
This study is intended to contribute to a more objective discussion on the issue of the tax ratios. There is no empirical evidence that increasing the tax ratio would hinder economic growth, and claiming such a thing over and over again is not helpful at all. It would be more sensible to ask the following questions: How are the taxes and contributions used? Are they administrated in an efficient manner? Are they used on purposes that generate growth? These factors are much more relevant for growth than the tax ratio as such.
But of course, we shouldn't kid ourselves into thinking that mere facts will turn the tide.

Indeed, just today Bruce Johnstone - in the face of an equally obvious lack of evidence - is parroting the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce's corporate giveaway message without paying the slightest bit of attention to whether and how tax rates actually affect "competitiveness". And it'll take a concerted effort to point out that the demands for corporate and upper-class tax cuts are aimed solely at elite self-interest rather than any positive economic effect in order to focus attention on the priorities that actually deserve it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Musical interlude

Brainbug - Nightmare

On overestimation

Based on today's reports, the Harper Cons managed to convince themselves they had the support of 150 countries for their Security Council bid. In the end, they proved to have barely half that.

Which seems worth keeping in mind as we evaluate the accuracy of the Cons' electoral math at home.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content for your perusal...

- Steven Staples' report on the Cons' plan to spend $16 billion on F-35s has mostly been noted for its suggestion that Canada rely on drones for operations abroad. But the most important point seems to me to be Staples' observation as to what kind of capabilities actually matter in defending Canada's own terrain - and the folly of spending billions on add-ons that serve absolutely no purpose in that context:
(I)ntercepts do not in any case require an aircraft with the advanced technology of an F-35. Cutting-edge air-to-air combat and “stealth” capabilities, in
particular, are irrelevant. Bombers (and spy planes) do not dogfight, and they don’t operate search radars, for the simple reason that to do so would expose their own location and thus make them more susceptible to being shot down.

The continuing need for identification and control of civilian aircraft (and the desire to prevent theoretical “Bears over Winnipeg” options) argue against the elimination of all air defence capabilities, but these roles do not require a capability even more sophisticated than that of our existing CF-18 force...
- In retrospect, it's surprising that the issue of First Nations ownership of resources other than oil and gas has been left undetermined as long as it has. But presumably based on the sheer amount of money at stake in Saskatchewan's potash industry, it doesn't look like the issue will go unaddressed much longer.

- Brian Topp notes one particularly remarkable polling result after the Libs's concerted recent effort to sell their own leader and slam the NDP's:
Mr. Layton and Stephen Harper both continue to enjoy satisfaction and leadership numbers at around the 30 per cent mark, while Mr. Ignatieff has emerged from his latest honeymoon still tracking at only half that level in most polls. Since leadership perception can be a leading indicator of party support, we can say that as things stand today, Mr. Harper is efficiently supporting his party at its current level; Mr. Layton has the opportunity once again to help grow his party; and that Mr. Ignatieff would be a drag on Liberal support were an election to happen now.
- Finally, Don Martin rightly recognizes that the Cons may face the most difficult transition to an economic recovery of any federal party due to the reduction in their ability to pay for photo ops:
Thanks to international agreements on the need for massive stimulus spending, Harper had political cover to launch drunken-sailor spending, his government paving every pothole and cutting every ribbon, all of marked by thousands of look-at-us signs promoting their Economic Action Plan.

Yet as a minority mandate to deliver Conservative change, the last two years have been a major bust. Harper’s disappointed party puritans and made many enemies when straying from the economic file.

Senate reform has given way to senatorial stuffing, with Harper’s 32 appointments setting a single-year record in 2009. The bureaucracy has bulged, the balanced budget been delayed and there’s a hard-sell, single-source jet fighter contract on the horizon.

Academics, cities and provinces have been outraged by his census-altering shenanigans. His reckless spending on the G8-G20 summits was gobsmackingly profligate for the alleged party of prudence. Injured veterans are at war against a government which prided itself on being military-friendly. Environmentalists, as usual, feel shunned by climate change inaction.

Their government hasn’t shrunk, ministerial accountability has been selectively enforced, parliamentary decorum is still toxic and our status in the world, if this week’s United Nations smackdown means anything, is soiled.
The recession saved Stephen Harper from his own trivial pursuits. Perhaps he should be wary of the recovery.

On popular support

There's still little room for doubt that the Cons will do as little to improve actual retirement security as they can get away with. But hopefully today's poll results on public support for improvements to Canada's national pension and benefit system will help to raise the baseline:
The Environics poll, being released Friday, paints a picture of a population where a significant minority are concerned about the adequacy of their retirement income — an insecurity that increases the closer they get to retiring.

Half of the survey respondents said governments are moving too slowly on pension reform and 80 per cent said they support increasing Old Age Security payments, as well as the Guaranteed Income Supplement that goes to the poorest seniors.
Almost eight in 10 respondents — 78 per cent — said they support increasing CPP/QPP benefits. The idea was most popular among those earning between $30,000 and $60,000, winning a thumbs up from 82 per cent.

Labour unions, as well as the federal NDP, advocate enhancing the CPP, which covers most Canadian workers, as the most effective way to help future retirees.
But the most important factor may be the complete lack of public confidence in market-based alternatives:
A substantial minority — 37 per cent — said they are not saving for retirement, a figure that rises to 72 per cent for those earning less than $30,000 a year, the poll said. More than seven in 10 say they can't afford to put money away.

Only one in four people said they were fully confident of being able to save enough to live comfortably after they stop working.
Of course, the Cons are entirely willing to ignore three in four Canadians when it suits their purposes. But particularly with economic stability looming as one of the main ballot questions in the next federal election, the number of people both unsatisfied with declarations of "fend for yourself" and looking for greater public-sector action would seem to make this one of the rare exceptions where the public's concerns might actually get addressed.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Simple answers to questions that wouldn't have been asked by anybody paying a modicum of attention

The National Post's latest editorial on Omar Khadr contains this embarrassing bit of shoddy research:
In many cases, the treatment of different suspects has been wildly inconsistent. Why, for instance, has Mr. Khadr been kept at Gitmo for eight years, while many badder apples were repatriated to Britain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen long ago?
That would be because their home countries bothered to request their return. This has been another version of simple answers to simple-minded questions.

Thunder Creek - Ryan McDonald Wins NDP Nomination

It shouldn't come as much surprise, but Ryan McDonald has been nominated as the Saskatchewan NDP's candidate in Thunder Creek. As I noted when Ryan first announced his candidacy for the nomination, a strong start on the race may well be able to bring the riding within reach despite the Sask Party's increased margin of victory in 2007 - and there's reason for optimism that Ryan is on track so far.

On rash decisions

David McKie's work to test the Cons' census claims is worth a read in general. But let's highlight what looks to be the most striking element of his efforts to figure out exactly what happened before the execution order was issued for the long form census:
Presumably, if the Tories were acting on principle, and if there was a genuine concern about the long-form census as far back as 2006, there would be evidence of some sort of discussion. Perhaps meetings with senior statisticians. Perhaps an examination of how other countries were balancing the desire for privacy and the need to collect essential data. Perhaps the commissioning of studies, examining the pros and cons.

That was my thinking when I filed a request asking for studies that the government commissioned within Stats Canada examining various aspects of the census. Surely, a government would need evidence before making such a major decision.

The response to my request for such studies was disappointing: "Having completed a thorough search, we regret to inform you that we were unable to locate any records responsive to your request."

It could have been that the wording of my request was skewed. Or maybe the time period was incorrect. Or perhaps, as the response suggests, there were no studies. And that seems to make sense in light of a story that came from The Canadian Press earlier this week in which we learned that Statistics Canada ran a "$1-million test and had extensive consultations" a mere months before the government's decision.

So instead of working on studies that examined the pros and cons of the long-form census based on anxiety that was expressed as far back as 2006, Statistics Canada was operating on the assumption that everything was fine.

Guilt by Word Association

It's taken awhile to double back to my planned post on the Cons' treatment of Imam Zijad Delic. But let's take a closer look at part of the story which seems to me to deserve a bit more attention.

Most of the understandable outrage has focused on the guilt by association involved in the Cons' condemning Delic for words spoken six years ago by a former CIC president. But let's take a closer look at the Cons' supposed rationale for decreeing that Delic is unworthy to be heard:
Jay Paxton, MacKay's communications director, said in a statement that "[Friday] morning, upon hearing Imam Delic may participate in these celebrations, Minister MacKay took the decision to cancel the Imam's role based on extremist views promulgated by the Canadian Islamic Congress.
What's worth highlighting is the use of the phrase "extremist views", which is far from an isolated occurrence. Instead, it's been used by the Cons to describe a wide range of other opinions.

On the seemingly benign end, that's included Jason Kenney condemning the Canadian Arab Federation's opposition to war in the Middle East (as well as some personal criticism of Kenney). And on the opposite end, there's Vic Toews' use of the exact same phrasing to describe the Toronto 18 while trying to draw links between that amateur terror plot and Al Qaeda.

In other words, based on the Cons' choice of wording, disagreement with Jason Kenney's funding policies is lumped in under exactly the same description as direct participation in 9/11. (That is, as long as the "extremism" originates in a Muslim or Arab group.)

And that justification is then used as part of an explicit effort to "systematically marginalize" what the Cons see to be extremist views in the context of broader restrictions on civil liberties. Toews' speech above uses that exact wording, but again it's far from the only example. And indeed the Cons have been at it again in recent weeks, with Toews calling for members of unstated communities to spy on each other while his cabinetmate Rob Nicholson demands increased power to detain innocent citizens.

So the same phrasing is being used to cover a broad range of opinion and activity with little in common other than the creation of a target group. And that deliberate bunching of unlike things together is then used as an excuse for a wide range of attacks on the freedom of Canadians.

All of which fits nicely into the Cons' theme of building up an artificial enemy, then trying to convert a the resulting public anger and fear into popular support for themselves. But for those of us paying attention, it's worth keeping a close eye on how the Cons are trying to shunt legitimate disagreement into the same category as violence based on carefully-cultivated prejudice - and asking whether we want the people making decisions about our safety to be unwilling to see the difference.

Thursday Morning Links

Assorted reading material to start your day...

- Pogge's post on the appalling bail conditions demanded of G20 protester Neil Hundert deserves far more attention. And it's particularly worth asking a couple of questions hinted at by pogge: what valid purpose could possibly be served by prohibiting a citizen from "expressing political views including in the media" to make that a relevant bail condition in the first place? And is there even the slightest chance that such a practice wouldn't be abused if it's allowed?

- Meanwhile, in other civil rights abuse news, the federal government has filed its defence to Abousfian Abdelrazik's claim against it. I wouldn't take this step as particularly noteworthy other than to the extent it's one step along the way to having the claim adjudicated; the bigger question looks to be how long the Cons insist on keeping Abdelrazik labeled a terrorist and how hard they fight to suppress the facts about his treatment.

- George Monbiot's argument as to the need to make a strong argument for policy based on empathy and social values is well worth a read:
But there's a paradox here, which means that we cannot rely on politicians to drive these changes. Those who succeed in politics are, by definition, people who prioritise extrinsic values. Their ambition must supplant peace of mind, family life, friendship – even brotherly love.

So we must lead this shift ourselves. People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we become the change we want to see.
- And finally, the main significance of Christian Paradis' reversal in admitting that he talked business at the fund-raiser thrown for him by Paul Sauve looks to be the credibility it gives to Gilles Varin in making accusations against Paradis. Until yesterday, it would have seemed easy enough for the Cons to simply deny any connection to Varin and suggest that nobody should take the word of a shady operator with a "checkered past" over that of a cabinet minister - but the task figures to be far tougher now that Paradis has acknowledged that he was wrong and Varin was right on such an important point.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On predetermined outcomes

Shorter David Frum:

Stephen Harper's five years of making enemies around the world totally wouldn't have stopped Canada from winning a UN Security Council seat - if only we'd been unopposed.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

This and that to pass the time...

- PCS has released a "pledge to Saskatchewan" in an apparent effort to pressure possible bidders. But while the most obvious point of criticism is the fact that most of the pledges are themselves based on actions which are still only in the planning stages, I'd think the larger issue is the fact that the pledge itself is utterly unenforceable - that is, as long as its conditions aren't imposed as part of the federal investment review process. (Which may actually provide some argument in favour of approving a sale.)

- Greg has already pointed out one serious problem with John Ivison's column on the Cons' UN Security Council seat defeat. But the more fundamental flaw seems to me to be Ivison's complete failure to note what I noted earlier: the Cons managed to muster far more votes in the purchased-commitment first ballot than the subsequent one - signalling that part of their fault was in wrongly accepting the premise that votes could be bought and paid for.

- Meanwhile, Murray Dobbin notes that the rejection should serve as an opportunity to agitate for policy that can actually restore some of Canada's lost reputation with the world:
The humiliating rejection of Canada's bid provides a unique opening for civil society organizations working on issues embraced by the UN. Activists now have to move quickly to take advantage -- on bio-diversity, asbestos, Palestinian rights, and on Indigenous rights, the right to water, poverty reduction and climate change -- exposing the now undeniable fact that Canada's policies on these fronts and others have gained us the status as recalcitrant, reactionary state.

Stephen Harper has humiliated us internationally and we need to make him pay for it.
- Finally and on a lighter note, Paul Krugman's Theory of Interstellar Trade makes for a surprisingly hilarious read.

Behind the failure

A couple of follow-up notes worth highlighting on the Cons' unprecedented UN disaster yesterday.

First, it's worth noting (as pointed out by John Ibbitson) that yesterday's two votes reflected a difference between the effectiveness of a country's pressure and lobbying, and its genuine support in the international community. And it shouldn't come as much surprise that while Harper mounted a campaign based primarily on the former, he failed miserably on the latter:
On Tuesday, after receiving 114 votes in the first round, Canada saw its support collapse to just 78 votes in the second. It’s an unwritten rule at the UN, diplomats said, that commitments are only valid through the first round of voting, which means the second can demonstrate the real strength of a country’s backing.
Now, part of the fallout within Canada has to be the question of what was promised or threatened in order to win the first-ballot votes of 36 countries who didn't ultimately want to see the Cons win a seat. But it's striking that under Harper, a country known as a soft power which could inspire other countries to seek common goals despite its relatively small population instead focused its bid on arm-twisting rather than persuasion. And Harper evidently had to learn the hard way that the vote would come down to principles rather than promises.

Meanwhile, Embassy's coverage of the failed bid raises another question: if the Cons plan on blaming the international community's rebuke on a single instance of concern from Michael Ignatieff, wouldn't it stand to reason that they should have sought opposition support and assistance wherever possible? Because they instead chose to nix the NDP's efforts to help bring the international community onside:
NDP foreign afffairs critic Paul Dewar, speaking from Parliament Hill after the UN vote, said it was "too cute by half" to blame Mr. Ignatieff.

"I do lay this at the feet of our Prime Minister and our foreign affairs minister. They have had an opportunity for a number of years to underline Canada's goals in the world, and they failed to do so," he said.

He argued that the NDP reached across the aisle and offered to help the government win Canada's bid, but that the Conservatives did not follow through, canceling a planned trip with Mr. Dewar and Mr. Kent to New York.

"So there are hollow words and vacant actions from the government, whom simply think it can do what it will, and it doesn't look to work with others."
Now, I agree with the general view that the Cons' attempts to blame Ignatieff are misplaced. But it would seem fairly obvious that it would be worth putting together all the support from within Canada that the Cons could muster. Yet they chose to go it alone rather than allowing at least one opposition MP to work in Canada's interest - which should make it even less surprising that the Cons ended up isolated when it counted.

The opening bid

For those waiting on tenterhooks for one of Saskatchewan's political parties to step forward with a plan to handle foreign potash takeovers, the wait is over thanks to the NDP's detailed set of principles released yesterday. And the outcome looks to nicely combine public participation in the future management of one of the province's most valuable resources with assurances that the province won't be worse off as the result of any deal:
• That the people of Saskatchewan be given a Golden Share in the corporation. A Golden Share gives the holder ‘veto power’ over all other shareholders, with respect to specific corporate decisions. In the case of the Saskatchewan Golden Share, it should be used to require:

o That all corporate operations will be registered under Canadian law, so that all profits are subject to Canadian taxes and all operations are subject to Canadian laws and regulations

o That the corporation’s Head Office, all of its senior executives and all of its senior marketing staff be permanently based in the Province of Saskatchewan, and that

o The corporation will continue to market its potash through Canpotex

• That the people of Saskatchewan own shares in the corporation, whether Preferred or Common Shares, that will see the people of this province participate in the corporation’s future profitability.

• In addition to participating shares, the Board of Directors of the corporation should include two representatives appointed by Saskatchewan

• The corporation will sign an agreement with the Government of Saskatchewan to adjust its potash royalties, such that the people of Saskatchewan will be made whole for any loss in royalties due to the construction of new or expanded mines or due to corporate tax write-offs from acquisition debt

• The corporation will sign an agreement with the Government of Saskatchewan to set immediate and long-term targets for the growth of Saskatchewan potash employment and Saskatchewan potash production

• The corporation will sign an agreement with the Government of Saskatchewan to commit to world class standards with respect to environmental stewardship, community corporate contributions, workplace safety, and increased involvement for Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal workforce and communities

• Finally, the corporation will agree to the creation of a Potash Review Commission, comprised of independent officers, who will determine whether the Corporation is living up to its commitments to the people of the Province, and who will have the power to enforce severe financial penalties if it is not
Now, there are a couple of points that I'd think deserve to be tweaked as Saskatchewan's options on potash continue to be hashed out, with both focusing on the proposed agreements with bidders. For example, I'm not sure that the province should be concerned with an independent commitment to meeting "world class standards" rather than focusing on a bidder's commitment to complying with the standards governing all potash operations in the province. And there might be concerns about enforcing agreements based on output and employment.

But those points can be worked out as the bidding process continues. For now, the detailed plan should either set the starting point for provincial discussions, or force the Wall government to explain why it's prepared to accept anything less. And either way, the result should be to push toward a better deal than we'd have any hope of seeing as long as the Sask Party sets the terms of discussion.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

So many narratives

Stephen Harper. Pariah.
Stephen Harper. Quitter.
Stephen Harper. Failure.
Stephen Harper. All of the above.

On private misdeeds

Oh noes!!! The National Post has uncovered "fraud" in "Canada's health care system"!!! Clearly this proves the need for market discipline, and for private-sector ingenuity, and for...wait, what's this?
The phenomenon is perhaps more rampant, though, under the health insurance plans that many workplaces offer their employees.

In one case, claims filed to a plan indicated that a massage therapist had worked in three different greater Toronto-area cities on the same day, for three or four hours in each place, the insurance company official said. "Apparently, he is a teleporter," she quipped.

Increasingly, plan administrators are seeing ID theft perpetrated by clinics owned by chiropractors, who usurp the identity of other health providers, the investigator said.
Ms. Robinson said a simple change by the insurance industry could curb much of the identity theft. Instead of using the professional's registration number — accessible to almost anyone — for billing purposes, companies should assign their own numbers, as provincial medicare agencies do for doctor billings.
So the National Post's headline tailored to build distrust in a public health care linked to an article which actually shows that the problem lies primarily in private-sector mistakes.

Convenient from the standpoint of one of many media outlets that's been attacking the public system at every opportunity. But if the worst anybody can say about universal public health care is that we're leaking money from the parts of our health-care system that aren't as well designed as the ones delivered universally, then that would seem to nicely signal how little basis the free-marketers actually have for their position.

Tuesday Morning Links & Events

Content goes here.

- For those who missed Stephen's post on the criminalization of dissent in Canada is this weekend's must-read.

- Lawrence Martin is the latest to tear into the Cons' guilt-by-association standard:
Canadians have gained a reputation as a fair-minded people. There have been exceptions through our history, but, by and large, we have been seen as a moderate and tolerant country.

We didn’t do guilt by association, for example. But that’s what so distressing about the character of today’s Conservatives. They revel in it.
There are countless examples of the intolerant streak that marks this government. Canada opposed the Iraq war, yet we won’t allow a haven to Americans who opposed fighting in that war, as we did with Vietnam. We’re probably the only G20 country that tried to bar George Galloway, at the time a British MP, from coming to speak. Minister of State Diane Ablonczy was stripped of some of her responsibilities for her support of Gay Pride week. Those criticizing aspects of our Afghanistan policy are berated for not supporting our troops. If a bank executive like Ed Clark criticizes government economic policy, he’s pilloried for supposedly being motivated by politics rather than economic expertise.

The tolerant Canada of old would have allowed Omar Khadr his basic Charter rights. The tolerant Canada of the past would have allowed our federal scientists to express their views, not have them vetted by political operatives. It would allow sophisticated research at the Justice Department to see the light of day even if it contradicted government sentencing policy, and it would give full wing to data collection by Statistics Canada.

One of the more remarkable observations by our Prime Minister came with his dumping of Linda Keen, the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, after she shut down the nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ont. The PM had reasonable grounds for arguing for a different course, and he was within his rights to dismiss her. But he then gave away his deeper motivation – he suspected she was secretly doing the handiwork of the Liberal Party. “Since when does the Liberal Party have a right, from the grave through one of its previous appointees, to block the production of necessary medical products in this country,” he said.

Guilt by association. It’s a hallmark of the modus operandi, a cheap instrument of attack politics that tarnishes the image of all Conservatives.
- Meanwhile, Murray Dobbin points out the dangers of the Cons' economic dogma:
Harper and Flaherty have set the country up for its biggest spending cuts since Paul Martin's blitzkrieg through federal social spending in 1995. Martin had the advantage of a huge existing deficit and debt, and years of media-driven deficit hysteria. The Harper government has had to create its own crisis. With his five-year, $60-billion tax cut program launched in 2007, Flaherty has taken tens of billions out of government coffers yearly, at exactly the same time that the opposition parties forced the Conservatives into stimulus spending. They now have the perfect numbers to go on a deficit cutting rampage.

A campaign against the planned austerity budget is not difficult to construct -- but it's tough to imagine anyone leading it. The key to turning back the Conservatives' austerity plan is a call for a return to a sane level of income taxes. We will have cut corporate taxes virtually in half over the past 10 years once Flaherty's program is complete. The super-rich in Canada have enjoyed a decline in their tax rate of eleven percentage points, while 95 per cent of Canadians averaged a decrease of one percentage point. The wealthiest five per cent of Canadians increased their share of the income pie by a staggering 20 per cent between 1992 and 2004.

The case for tax increases, especially a couple of new tax brackets for the rich and super-rich, are clearly justified and not just from a fair tax perspective. Countries with greater income inequality are the countries with the poorest performing economies overall.

As for bringing corporate taxes back in line with the norm in the G8 and OECD countries, there is no credible evidence that lower corporate income taxes have any positive impact on investment decisions -- either domestic or foreign direct investment. If there is no new demand for products and services, there will be no new investment, even if the income tax rate is zero.
The Canadian economy is running on empty, a faux consumer-led recovery based on unsustainable debt. This will be Flaherty's legacy. So far he has just been bloody lucky.
- Finally, let's note that the Saskatchewan NDP nomination schedule is in full swing, with meetings set for Thunder Creek (tomorrow night in Moose Jaw), Regina Qu'Appelle Valley on the 19th, Moose Jaw Wakamow on the 20th and Saskatoon Silver Springs on the 30th (to be followed by four more meetings set for early November).

On access restrictions

The Star-Phoenix editorial board is thoroughly annoyed that individuals are able to use access-to-information legislation to do actual research and reporting. And it wants to see those unprovoked acts of journalism come to an end:
But sometimes the fault doesn't lie with the civil servant so much as it does with the political motives of the people demanding the information. In the case of the city's backlog, almost all of the requests come from two citizens -- with the vast majority coming from one -- who have a political agenda to prove conspiracies and back-room dealing.

A six-year delay in processing a claim, even when the delay is outside the city's control, plays into those theories.
By having each step and decision done in the open, the public can determine whether the interim rulings by the city, commissioner and judge are reasonable.

And it also would put pressure on those who would blanket officials with costly, frivolous and politically motivated requests to curtail their abuses.
Now, it's one thing if an individual is actually motivated by a desire to annoy a particular government institution or local authority rather than to actually discover information. And in that type of case there's reason to want to build in protections against such genuinely frivolous requests.

But the fact that a few individuals have enough interest in politics to make the effort to use every citizen's right to access and share public documents should be seen as a plus for government transparency, not an "abuse" to be curbed. And if the access systems currently in place don't include enough resources to answer the requests of a couple of citizens, then that failure to make access a priority - not the fact that the requests are being made - is the problem that demands a solution.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On glaring omissions

Today's column is far from the first time Bruce Anderson has gone to absurd lengths in trying to limit the choices of Canadian voters by serving up only a Lib/Con false dichotomy, then pretending that results reflecting an artificially-limited set of choices should be taken at face value.

But it's worth noting that Anderson's choice to cut the NDP out of the picture was made in areas where it actually tends to perform particularly well, as past polls on second-choice support and "would consider voting" numbers have tended to place the NDP on an equal footing or better as compared to the Libs. And while we may not be able to confirm that the same applies now due to Harris Decima's selective omission, the only part of Anderson's column that should be seen as boding poorly for the NDP in the slightest is his continued refusal to offer respondents a full range of choices.

On business cases

The current dispute over funding for a domed stadium in Regina seems to be revolving primarily around the Sask Party's attempts to pretend that money paid out of the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation shouldn't be seen as public money. But let's note that the Sask Party's position doesn't seem to be much more tenable if one grants them their attempt to separate gaming receipts from general revenue.

After all, if a stadium isn't going to be funded as a matter of provincial interest, then the only way the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation should have any reason to pick up the tab is if the stadium actually improves its bottom line. So let's see what the province's reports about stadium funding have to say about the measurable impact of a stadium on Casino Regina and other Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation operations:

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content for your holiday reading...

- John Moore points out why expertise shouldn't be considered a bad thing:
I don’t know about you but I like specialized knowledge. I like people with a mastery of their trade flying my planes, performing my surgery and designing my bridges. Experts are people who know stuff. They use their specialized knowledge to plan urban transportation strategies, establish the acceptable level of poison in our food and draw up plans for things like nuclear plant meltdowns.

It doesn’t mean the experts are right about everything, nor that we have to lie down and take everything government dishes out, but when a career statistician says a voluntary long form census is useless, I tend to put that advice ahead of the “gut feeling” and “mother instinct” so prized by the Tea Partiers.

Of course I know that by writing this column, I’m just part of the problem. That’s the caprice of populism; it’s buttressed by a form of epistemological closure. Anyone who dares question the new anti-snobbery is merely trying to protect his sinecure and privilege.

But as American senator Sam Rayburn once said, “Any jackass can kick a barn down. It takes a carpenter to build one.”
- Though sometimes it is worth noting when an expert's self-interest can lead to counterproductive results. And Bruce Livesey makes much that point in picking up on the harms of financialization in Canada's steel industry:
In a paper he co-wrote earlier this year, Lazonick says “financialization” is where corporate executives are obsessed with distributing value to shareholders at the expense of investment in innovation and jobs. He says it’s having a pernicious affect on the North American economy facing aggressive challenges from Asia, especially China. “In the 2000s the financialization of the US business corporation undermined the innovative potential of marketization and globalization, thus not only exacerbating inequity and instability but also restricting the potential for economic growth,” writes Lazonick. “Despite the financial meltdown of 2008, there are scant signs in the 2010s of institutional changes that will constrain the destructive behavior of financialized corporations.”

One of the results of the aggressive invasion of hedge funds and investment funds into the Canadian steel industry was its demise as a nationally-owned industry. Between 2005 and 2007, the entire Canadian steel industry was sold off to foreign corporations.

At the very time that Canada’s industrial base is in such dire straits, one of our essential industries was bartered away. And finance capital had a lot to do with it.
- Don Boudria and other Libs are up in arms over the addition of MPs to the list of "public office holders" for the purpose of lobbying registration. But while I'm sympathetic to the argument, wouldn't it sound a lot more plausible if the Libs weren't so eagerly giving away far more fundamental elements of Parliamentary privilege?

- Finally, pogge is entirely right in noting that by negotiating (however meager) wage increases while refusing to even consider actually funding their cost, the Cons are effectively enlisting civil servants in the destruction of their own departments.

Unhealthy choices

Alison has already weighed in on the Con-ordered cuts to surveys at Statistics Canada, and I'm sure plenty more observers will do the same. But it's worth pointing out one of the surveys in particular off the list as an indication of the Cons' desire to get actual evidence out of the public eye on a vital issue:
The ditched surveys are: the Industrial Pollutant Release Survey, and the Quarterly Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Survey, both pilot projects; the National Population Health Survey; the Survey of the Suppliers of Business Financing; and the Survey on Financing of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises.
Now, keep in mind that health care has just reemerged as the most important issue among Canadian voters. So to the extent Harper had any interest in actually addressing the issue that matters most to Canadians, he should seemingly want to pay far closer attention to exactly the type of information being cut.

But then, the Cons have never shown any desire to do anything but let health care crumble under the weight of their neglect. And so they've made a deliberate choice to eliminate a key tool in assessing the effectiveness of health policies: a study that's particularly useful for its longitudinal scope, its ability to track identical indicators across the country, and its focus on broader population issues rather than the formal health-care system alone.

And all to save substantially less money than they've happily shredded in order to gut the census.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On exclusion

Apparently last week's post on the value of making public services and programs universal was rather well timed, as the Globe and Mail is pushing David Cameron's plans to hack away at some of the UK's universal benefits as a model for Canada.

So let's make clear that the converse of my point is true as well. Just as anybody concerned with making a program sustainable should want to make sure that it's designed to eliminate avoidable resentments, so too can a concerted effort to carve out groups from a universal benefit be seen as consistent with a desire to undermine the program as a whole in the longer term. And particularly when a business-friendly source is talking about the need for shared pain as the basis to limit the availability of a social benefit, it's worth asking immediately what kinds of sacrifices are being demanded from the corporate sector to go with the desire to slash citizens' benefits.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

The lead story coming out of the Saskatchewan Roughriders' loss to Toronto has been the fourth-quarter special-teams breakdowns that allowed the Argos to squeak out the win. But while there's always some risk that a couple of big plays will change the course of any game, the biggest question to me looks to be the 'Riders' failure to take enough control of the game to make those types of gimmicks irrelevant.

And it's not like they lacked for opportunities. After first taking the lead by converting two series which started deep in Toronto territory, the 'Riders had three more possessions where they took control of the ball at the Argos' 45-yard-line or closer...but came away with a grand total of three points. And the 'Riders' failure to take advantage of opportunities was even more glaring when they had opportunities to finish off long drives, as three more drives into Argo territory led to a mere two singles.

In all, Saskatchewan effectively gave away points three times by managing to lose yardage or turn the ball over while already in field goal range - more than making up the Argos' margin of victory. And that's not even mentioning the free touchdown the Argos picked up on Jeremy Unertl's early interception.

So the 'Riders did more than enough on defense and special teams to win even taking into account the Argos' trick plays - if only they'd played a competent ball-control game on offence. But a combination of sacks and turnovers kept the 'Riders' point total down to a level where Toronto could hang around in the game, allowing a big play or two could swing the result.

Of course, one can't entirely blame the offence for trying to put the Argos away rather than playing it safe: after all, a low-risk, low-reward strategy has its own costs if the opponent is able to respond to field goals with touchdowns. But the last couple of drives of the game notwithstanding, there was seldom much indication that the Argos' offence was capable of doing much beyond grinding out the occasional first down or two in a field-position battle - meaning that if ever there was a time to use a conservative offence and tough out a low-score win, yesterday's game was it.

And again, the defence more than held up its end of the bargain. Yes, it would have been a plus to stop Cory Boyd on the last series of the game - but until then the 'Riders' had been more than respectable against the CFL's top rushing threat, limiting any big plays and forcing a huge fumble. And Cleo Lemon spent most of the game either dumping short passes to his running backs or giving up on plays entirely. Which means that unlike in most games, the 'Riders didn't have to choose between forcing turnovers and limiting offensive gains.

In contrast, the special teams saw an obvious tradeoff between effectiveness on standard plays and the ability to control big plays - with the Argos' two fourth-quarter first downs and blocked field goal all looking like serious breakdowns. But at that shouldn't entirely overshadow the fact that the 'Riders were able to put up a solid coverage performance against the league's most dangerous special-teams threat, and also return the ball fairly effectively even with their own main returner out of the lineup. So while there may be a need for a dash more awareness of the trick play, it's hard to see much else that needs changing going into next week's showdown with Calgary.

What does obviously need to change, however, is the offence's effectiveness - both in avoiding costly mistakes, and converting its opportunities. And while Darian Durant has already broken out of one slump against the Stamps this year, there would be far more reason for confidence going into next week's game if he wasn't coming off a downright counterproductive performance.


For all the time I've spent wondering why on earth the Libs are working so hard to undermine any prospect of replacing the Harper government, I'll echo pogge's criticism of Linda Duncan as well. Simply put, the combination of a Con message machine bashing the idea of a coalition full-time coupled with an opposition attempt to avoid the issue is a recipe for disaster - so far better to respond by comparing the pluses of cooperation to the Cons' weaknesses, rather than wasting any time in the media merely denying the Cons' frame.

(Edit: fixed wording.)