Saturday, July 30, 2011

Failing by any measure

It's no particular secret that "intensity" targets for greenhouse gas emissions are an utter joke, designed to facilitate the continued growth of heavy polluters as long as they make marginal improvements in per-unit emissions with no regard for the fact that our planet's environment doesn't stand to gain from dollars extracted. And it's also no particular secret that tar sands lobbyists (and consequently the Con government) have been pushing intensity targets for exactly that reason.

But what does it say about the interest of the oil industry and the Cons in living up to even their own flawed rhetoric that per-barrel "intensity" is managing to get worse?

Unequal interest

In my column this week, I pointed out the need to combat poverty and inequality in order to achieve better outcomes in all kinds of areas even if we're not prepared to deal with them for their own sake. But let's follow up with a quick look at the choice facing Saskatchewan voters when it comes to addressing them.

On the part of Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party, the story is one of complete unwillingness to even see poverty or inequality as issues worth acknowledging. Looking for even the slightest mention of inequality on the Sask Party's caucus site? Tough luck. How about their party site? Ditto. The party site refers to poverty once - not as a matter of policy, but in the profile of a single volunteer. And most appropriately, the Sask Party's caucus site mentions poverty once as well - in a general article on the budget where an anti-poverty group slams the Wall government.

But what about documents from the provincial government, which might be a bit less focused on sticking to anti-social talking points? The best example looks to me to be Wall's government direction report. Which mentions poverty only as a subset of children and youth issues - and inequality not at all.

In contrast, the NDP's party site, caucus site and latest policy report all discuss poverty at length as an issue which demands action. And while there's ample room for improvement in the handling of inequality on the NDP's web presence, at least the issue doesn't draw a complete blank.

Now, there's a long way for the NDP to go both in developing its own priorities to address poverty and inequality, and in spreading the message among citizens. But there looks to be absolutely no room for doubt that Saskatchewan voters who care about the issues will find a willing partner in the NDP - compared to total neglect from the Wall Sask Party.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your long weekend.

- Thomas Walkom highlights the message being sent to students as to what workers should expect in the years to come. And it's well worth reflecting on whether the problem lies precisely with the politicians so eager to strip away the benefits workers have earned in the past:
The old world, it says, was marked by full-time jobs, stable work environments and long-term employment.

The new world, however, is characterized by short-term jobs. You may be on contract; you may be a temporary employee; you may work part-time. But the key is that you will probably be hired for a very short period (“just-in time work” is the moniker) and then “let go when the work is done.”

You will probably have to hold two or three jobs simultaneously for your entire working life.

You will have no pension, no benefits, no vacations, no sick days.

You will be constantly looking for work. “The permanent job, for the most part, is a thing of the past.”

How do you find a job? The labour market, the pamphlet says, is like a fish market: You are selling a commodity — in this case yourself.

And just as a fishmonger might wrap his mackerel in a fancy package, so you must make your labour power attractive to prospective buyers.
(T)he norm during that golden period of the 20th century when workers won their most basic rights was economic security. It was assumed that people had the right to live a life beyond the perpetual search for subsistence. If the chaos of the marketplace intervened, that chaos was tamed.

Now the market is back with a vengeance. This world of cutthroat competition and insecure work is not new. It may be disguised by new technologies such as the Internet or Twitter. But in essence it is very, very old. It is a world we thought we had conquered.
- Doug Saunders comments on the need to attack bigotry and religious fearmongering head-on - lest it serve as a breeding ground for the type of violent outburst perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik:
Every act of terrorism is built on a foundation of widely repeated ideas. To convert an ordinary person into a believer who’s willing to commit murder, those ideas must warn of an urgent threat of devastating proportions, one whose resistance and exposure will turn the terrorist into a hero and martyr. They must be repeated so often that they can be perceived as a crystalline truth that will be unveiled by the terrorist’s act.
(Anti-Muslim writers) begin with a demographic error: The claim that Muslims naturally have higher birth rates than others, that their numbers are growing faster than other new-immigrant groups did, that true Islamic believers are bound to become a majority in the West. This is demonstrably false.

Then they add a cultural error: that Muslims are nearly all literalist believers, that theirs is not merely another religion but a guiding ideology that commands its followers, that religion is the main force in the lives of these people so they can’t become ordinary members of Western secular societies. This, too, is demonstrably false.

Finally, they conclude with a millenarian message of impending societal takeover, in which the demographic and cultural fictions are combined into an urgent warning that, unless an unspecified something is done, we’ll all be under “their” command. Their works reserve their harshest condemnation for the political parties that dare tolerate or encourage this “takeover.”

Now we know that the authors of these works are part of a continuum of response that includes violence at its extreme end. Their ideas should never be banned or outlawed. But these figures, like moderates in other such movements, have a responsibility to work to eliminate the threats that have emerged from their ranks. And we all have a responsibility to expose their dangerous fictions.
- Scott Tracey criticizes the Cons' stubborn refusal to engage with reality when it comes to actual crime rates, and the policies which can actually serve to reduce them.

- Finally, Ontario's provincial election is shaping up to be a wild one. And Andrea Horwath's stunning favourability rating of 63% and climbing - paired with sub-50% numbers for each of the other two main leaders - suggests that there's plenty of upside for the NDP as the campaign develops.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Musical interlude

Amy Meredith - Young At Heart (Angger Dimas Remix)


Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman:
Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.
Many pundits view taking a position in the middle of the political spectrum as a virtue in itself. I don’t. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily reside in the middle of the road, and I want leaders who do the right thing, not the centrist thing.

Liberal Party Leadership Booby Prize Winner By Default Bob Rae:
The deep partisanship that has marked the crisis in the United States Congress has some lessons for Canadians. Polarisation is not the “new normal,” as New Democrats and Conservatives are preaching. It corrodes the body politic and takes us away from the simple truth that most people want a moderate, intelligent politics that’s based on facts, evidence, good values and compromise … we need to understand that most goals in politics, as they are in hockey or soccer, are scored from the centre. That’s where the action is, and that’s where most Canadians are...And that’s where the Liberal Party needs to be as well.

On clear choices

The fact that Nova Scotia's NDP government has managed to drag the province's budget into a substantial surplus even in the midst of difficult economic times has received some well-deserved attention over the past couple of days. But I'd think it's particularly worth noting the entirely typical response from the opposition Conservatives to the news that their province is one of the few jurisdictions in North America that's in the black:
Tory Leader Jamie Baillie said the increased surplus is a result of taxes that are too high, taking aim at the unpopular decision to hike the harmonized sales tax by two percentage points last July.
That's right: even as their federal cousins show exactly how deep a hole one can dig by slashing taxes to the point where a government's budgets don't quite balance even at the best of times, the opposition to Canada's newest NDP government is insisting that it should be less responsible with the province's money.

But then, it's not as if there's some particular advantage to be had in paying down the province's debt, right?
The statements also reveal the province's net debt fell to $12.8 billion on 2010-11, a decrease of $217.8 million over the previous year. That will help the province avoid about $55 million annually in debt servicing costs, the Finance Department said.

Still, that means the net debt for every man, woman and child in the province is $13,610.
In sum, Nova Scotia's Cons are fully living up to the right's habit of refusing to accept responsible management when the alternative is reckless tax slashing. And it's well worth pointing out the distinction between an NDP which offers the former, and the Cons' obsession with the latter.

An accidental opportunity

This morning, I theorized that the political fortunes of the NDP and the Libs will make for an interesting test case on the relative importance of leadership politics and party planning. But let's note part of the reason why Rae holds a relatively strong position within the Libs - and what it might mean in the years to come.

Again, I tend toward the view that a huge part of Jack Layton's current level of popularity can be traced to the fact that he was able to build his reputation over a period of years without facing the attack ads flying back and forth between the Cons and Libs. And now that Layton has built his public image to a level far beyond that of Stephen Harper, any attempt to tear him down may well do more harm than good for the party trying to launch attacks - meaning that the work put into building up Layton's reputation has served to substantially negate one of the Cons' favourite strategies.

In contrast, there can't be much doubt that a new permanent leader for the Libs (or the NDP if Layton steps down) will face the same type of smear attempt by the Cons that Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff experienced. But the Cons have quite understandably concluded that attack ads against an interim leader of the third party aren't worth their time - which looks like an elementary exercise in efficient resource allocation.

That is, as long as Rae's leadership is indeed on an interim basis. But let's ask rhetorically: what happens if by the time the Libs enter into their leadership campaign, Rae has managed to focus on developing his own image (which is of course one of the few areas within his control) to the point where he's seen as being substantially inoculated against possible Con attacks, while the rest of the party's leadership contenders face the virtual certainty of being defined by the Cons in a massive ad buy which the Libs can't afford to counter?

Of course, the above isn't to say that there's any scheme on Rae's part to turn his interim leadership into a permanent one - a possibility which has obviously been a bone of contention within the Libs. But it seems entirely plausible that his interim role might unintentionally provide a way out of the trap the Libs otherwise face.

On comparative advantages

Naturally, Jack Layton's leave of absence has raised plenty of speculation as to what will happen on Canada's opposition benches over the summer (and perhaps beyond). But Tim Powers hints at what may be the most interesting question to watch in the months to come.

Most of the time when a political party ends up under interim leadership, it's because events have conspired to rob it of any ability to develop or execute a long-term plan. And indeed, the Libs are in that situation for the third time in just a few years.

Like Bill Graham and Stephane Dion (post-2008 election) before him, Bob Rae's ability to substantially set his party's direction is significantly limited by the expectation that he'll hand the reins to a new leader in the relatively near future. In effect, Rae can't rely on the past planning of leaders who have been unceremoniously turfed - but nor can he afford to take any substantial risks or strong positions, lest he be seen as limiting the choices the party may want to make in the next couple of years. Which means that Rae - though perceived as a stronger politician than most interim leaders - is stuck acting more as a caretaker than a planner and decision-maker.

In contrast, there's no reason to think there's any particular desire within the NDP to substantially change course at a time the strongest leader in Canadian politics is sidelined temporarily. And so Nycole Turmel's role as the NDP's interim leader figures to be primarily to execute the plan that's been developed by Jack Layton and a strong team of advisers over a period of nearly a decade.

Which makes for a rather neat opportunity to test the comparative effects of two traits which are normally difficult to separate. If the Libs manage to make up ground on the NDP, that will speak to the importance of a well-recognized leader with extensive political experience. Or if the NDP holds its own, then we should be able to conclude that a strong plan and vision for a party's future ultimately mean more than the face of a single leader. And both parties will want to pay close attention to the results as they determine how to position themselves for the next few years.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Trish Hennessy crunches the numbers on vacation time for Canadians:
Percentage of Canadian workers who say they need a vacation more today than they’ve needed in four years.

Number of statutory holidays Canadians are entitled to in a year. Lowest of 40 countries in an international survey of vacation time.
Percentage of Canadians who say they cancelled vacation plans due to work.

Percentage of Canadian employers who say they expect workers to check in periodically while on vacation.
Percentage of Canadians who say they feel guilty taking a vacation.
- In case there was any doubt, mere evidence that public-sector pensions are entirely sustainable won't deter the coalition of anti-government and financial interests looking to trash them.

- And Susan Riley points out that if the Cons were the least bit interested in providing better retirement security through the CPP, there's a recent precedent for assembling the level of provincial cooperation necessary to overcome their current excuse.

- John Geddes tries to follow the money behind the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, and learns that any promised transparency is nowhere to be found.

- Finally, Alison is brilliant - this time with her discussion of Ethical Snake Oil.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Parliament In Review: June 22, 2011

The second-last day of debates in this spring's session dealt mostly with Bruce Hyer's motion on small business. But lest anybody think there would be agreement on the details of an issue where every party supported the motion itself (resulting in a rather inexplicable standing vote)...

The Big Issue

So what did the parties find to debate about while agreeing on the NDP's plan for small business taxes?

Well, the Cons tried to put forward Japan as a positive example - which led to Hyer's apt observation that corporate taxes are significantly higher there. (And I'll offer a reminder that in fact, the Cons' target tax rate is identical to Japan's definition of an abusive tax haven.)

Meanwhile, Dennis Bevington raised an important point as to how corporate tax slashing doesn't get passed along to consumers when products are sold in the world economy. To which Maxime Bernier could only respond (loosely paraphrased) "Hayek! Lower Taxes! Blargh!".

For the Libs, Joyce Murray proudly labeled herself as more anti-government than the Cons by taking credit for the B.C. Libs' regulation-slashing. But due credit to Scott Brison for criticizing corporate tax cuts while noting that they only offer anything to 5% of businesses.

And finally, Hyer served up a reminder as to which party actually has the best record of balancing budgets.

Budget Votes

The other main votes taken on the 22nd involved budget estimates and related legislation. And there were a few noteworthy departures from what one might have expected.

Rather than opposing the budget in full, the Libs voted for the Cons' requested Senate funding. And after making a show of supporting the Cons' budget, the Bloc joined the other opposition parties in opposing not only the main estimates, but also the budget legislation reflecting the policies they supported.

In Brief

Mathieu Ravignat challenged the Cons on their willingness to impose even higher prescription drug prices through the CETA. Laurin Liu and Megan Leslie offered timely questions on the toxic extraction of shale gas. Similarly, Anne Minh-Thu Quach and Libby Davies questioned the Cons' plan to do nothing about health care until 2014, and were met with a thoroughly worn list of unrelated spin. In presenting a petition, Nathan Cullen slammed the Cons for standing alone in the world in favour of unfettered asbestos production and exports. And Peter Stoffer countered the Cons' war on knowledge by introducing a bill to remove the GST from books.

On non-news

No, it isn't news that the Cons tried unsuccessfully to recruit Thomas Mulcair around the time when he decided instead to run for the NDP. But for those looking for an actual topic worth discussing, what does it say that the Cons' idea of a "gotcha" is to dredge up their own failures?

Thursday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Yes, it's taken a few days to refresh my memory as to how to discuss a Saskatchewan Roughrider win. But as great as it is for the 'Riders to have broken into the win column (and in Montreal no less), most of the results of Sunday's game look to reflect the flip side of what I talked about last week.

Once again, the 'Riders and their opponents were mostly evenly matched in the trenches. But this time, they got every break possible when it came to turnovers, big plays and personnel - and just barely hung on to win despite those advantages.

To the extent there's a serious concern for the 'Riders coming out of Sunday's win, it has to lie on the offensive side of the ball. The good news was the the team's running game (featuring both Darian Durant and Wes Cates) and ball control were both far stronger than they've been so far. But on the latter front, the lack of turnovers until Hugh Charles' late fumble was as much a matter of the Als missing opportunities as of the 'Riders not serving them up.

And perhaps more importantly, the 'Riders once again failed to convert on some obvious chances to rack up points - turning four first-quarter possessions starting in or near Alouette territory into a total of seven points, then bungling a first-and-goal from the 4 with Ryan Dinwiddie in at quarterback. Which looked like a potentially fatal set of missed opportunities as long as there was some prospect of Anthony Calvillo getting the chance to respond.

Fortunately for the 'Riders, Calvillo's injury removed him from the game just after he'd put together his first strong series. But even though it undoubtedly benefited from facing Adrian MacPherson most of the game, the defence deserves loads of credit for its performance.

Indeed, perhaps the most impressive part of the game seems to have gone mostly unnoticed so far. The Alouette offence, normally one of the most explosive in the CFL, didn't manage a single play longer than 29 yards.

And that wasn't a matter of Montreal trying but barely missing either. Throughout the game the Als' quarterbacks had time to look downfield, but were forced to run or throw the ball away as the 'Riders' coverage stifled what may the league's top group of receivers. And unlike in the teams' previous meeting, every completed pass was met with a quick enough tackle to keep the Als from tacking on large amounts of yardage after the catch.

That textbook execution of Richie Hall's defensive strategy by the secondary, along with a superb game by the 'Riders' return team, were the two major differences between this game and the previous few. And those look to be important parts of the team's strategy in the weeks to come.

But it's also worth keeping in mind that most of the teams in the CFL are sufficiently evenly matched that luck often carries the day. And the 'Riders have plenty of work left to do to make sure they don't need to rely on quite so much of it.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Andrew Jackson attacks the myth of expansionary austerity, particularly from a Canadian perspective:
(T)here is very rarely any such thing as expansionary austerity, according to IMF staff economists.

In a careful review of the historical evidence, they find that, typically, a 1 percent of GDP fiscal consolidation reduces real private consumption over the next two years by 0.75 percent, while real GDP declines by 0.62 percent.
For Canadians this is surely sobering. We face no fiscal crisis – our net debt is far below the OECD average. Austerity cannot produce lower interest rates – short term rates are near zero and the 10 year Government of Canada bond rate is at a near historic low of under 3%. And, with the dollar hugely over-valued and the US teetering on the edge of another downturn, there will be no offset to fiscal contraction from higher exports this time around.

As we begin the 2012 federal Budget debate, Flaherty must be asked why his planned cuts do not risk derailing an already very fragile recovery.
- Maude Barlow highlights the sad truth that third-world conditions - including a lack of running water - are still a reality in Canada, while our government is using its energy holding out against a global consensus on the right to water and sanitation.

- Linda McQuaig points out some of the pluses of the NDP's decision to make Nycole Turmel its interim leader:
"I think (it's) a great choice," said Linda McQuaig, a Toronto-based journalist and writer who recently co-authored The Trouble With Billionaires. "She's a union person, and a public sector union, at a time when the public sector is really under attack. She's a woman, and a staunch defender of pay equity."

She said that the appointment of Turmel sends "a good, clear message where NDP is coming from," in light of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's series of cutbacks to women's programs.
- The Fraser Institute runs into reality yet again. And the results aren't any prettier than usual.

- Finally, for those looking for a fix of political information to pass the summer, Kagro's 2011 election maps are well worth a look.

New column day

Here, on how new evidence on the effects of poverty and inequality gives us all the more reason to fight them.

For further reading...
- Of course, the Equality Trust is the for more about the effects of inequality.
- And for some of the new research on the behavioural effects of poverty, see the recent papers by Bertrand and Spears.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Coming soon to a country near you...

Yes, it's telling that Stephen Harper's spin on the U.S. debt ceiling crisis is to pretend that the problem has more to do with "the U.S. debt and fiscal situation" than his sister party's choice to hold the country hostage.

But since he's apparently willing to talk, isn't it worth asking whether Harper is interested in offering the slightest reassurance that his party won't do the same in Canada when it gets the chance?

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your midweek reading.

- Not surprising: Canadians find Stephen Harper's constant politicization of everything - including awards for volunteers - to be improper. Even less surprising: Stephen Harper couldn't care less.

- Meanwhile, the Cons' continued silencing of scientists is similarly predictable. But the reason this time looks to be particularly noteworthy:
The Privy Council Office also nixed a Fisheries Department news release about Miller's study, saying the release "was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect," according to documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.
So there may yet be hope for meaningful scientific research to be approved for public consumption - as long as it's billed as "New Research Triumph for Glorious Leader!" rather than promoted based on its actual content.

[Update: pogge has more.]

- Simon Houpt's review of how negative advertising has backfired in the corporate sector is well worth a read. But I'd think it's particularly worth wondering whether it's still possible for the same to happen in politics - or whether voters have simply become so accustomed to it that they no longer assign enough penalty or negative association to parties who go negative for the usual distaste to apply.

- Finally, Ryan Meili takes the case for a Crown drug manufacturer to the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Pop quiz

To my recollection, exactly one Canadian political party has featured a candidate other than its leader in a recent ad campaign.

Guess which one, and in which province.

Then take the spin that the party's leader served as its lone face in that province with a heavy grain of salt.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Shelved cats.

Deep thought

The use of "library group" as a putdown says far more about the speaker than about the target.

On successorship strategies

Naturally, Jack Layton's announcement that he's taking a temporary leave from the NDP's leadership has led to a wide assortment of speculation as to what might come next for the NDP, particularly if his absence does prove to be more than temporary. But I'm not sure the commentary so far has picked up on either the key challenge facing the party, or the obvious solution.

To start with, while it's fair enough to point out Layton's personal profile as a leader and discuss how any future successor might be able to match it, we shouldn't lose sight of how Layton got to where he is now.

I've argued for some time that Layton's popularity as a leader has been based not only on his personality and the NDP's strategy, but also on a helpful multi-party dynamic. In both election cycles since the Cons took power in 2006, we saw the Libs anoint a new leader while in opposition. And in both cases, the Cons responded with massive negative ad buys - which served to damage the new Lib leader, but also to build public fatigue with the Cons themselves (not to mention politics in general).

Against that background, Layton benefited immensely from the opportunity to develop his own public image over four election cycles without being personally dragged into the mud. And based on the contrast in public opinion between Layton and his rivals, it may well be too late for anybody to destroy Layton's image as long as he remains as NDP leader - meaning that the party wouldn't need to worry about an ad war to bolster his public profile.

Unfortunately, a new NDP leader wouldn't enjoy the same advantage. But the party could at least make use of the opportunity to learn from the Libs' mistakes, particularly if it works on building its own resources while Layton is in the picture.

From my perspective, the most important lesson to be taken from the past few years is that a newly-minted Leader of the Official Opposition needs to be ready to start defining himself or herself immediately - not merely by responding to the Cons' inevitable attacks, but by developing a strong public image from day one. And a key part of that effort figures to include not only efforts to connect in person, but also a positive ad campaign before the Cons dare to go negative.

With that potential need looming on the horizon, the NDP may want to put some extra focus on fund-raising in the next little while - with an emphasis on passing Layton's optimistic image to the party as a whole (including potential successors).

Ideally, that would offer more of a financial cushion for the next few years if Layton is able to return to his post. And in the worst-case scenario, it should at least help to make sure that the next leader has the best possible chance to follow in Layton's footsteps as the most highly-regarded leader in Canada.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- In case anybody held out hope that the Harper Cons might follow up on their residential school apology with some concrete action to change First Nations relations for the better, here's the predictable result: a gratuitous ultimatum on land claims which seeks to force First Nations to take whatever is on the table now or risk being left with next to nothing.

- Ellen Russell comments on how the corporate right has turned financial crisis into a way of life for its own benefit:
Because the appetite for risk is so pervasive (#4), financial instruments and practices are so complex (#5), regulations are so inadequate (#6), and markets are so interdependent (#7), the "contagion effects" of a panic in one market or country can spread to far-flung and unexpected places. Thus the problems in Greece may spread to other EU countries, to the banks and other investors holding the debt of eurozone countries, to those exposed directly or indirectly to these banks and other investors, to any entity that provided financial "insurance" on anything sucked into the crisis, and anywhere else that financial panic touches down.

Awareness is growing that the arcane workings of financial markets have big impacts on their lives. No one is exempt from the devastation once a financial tsunami gathers momentum -- especially since economic contractions and government downsizing often follow closely behind the financial wreckage.

Financial crisis do not have to become a way of life. Ultimately, financial crisis is a political problem. It will take a massive shift in political mobilization to counter the current hegemony of financial interests.

Democratic financial reform must be a cornerstone for all of our agendas for economic change. Since we ultimately bail out these financial titans when crisis hits, we are entitled to make sure that finance is serving the public interest. Neoliberalism has made financial crisis a way of life. To move beyond neoliberalism, we need crack down on the financial sector so that a different way of life is possible.
- Yes, the shift to an HST model is all about benefitting the well-connected. But it's quite thoughtful of the B.C. Libs to serve up Exhibit M just in time for the referendum.

- Which offers all the more reason to answer "Absolutely!" to Rafe Mair's rhetorical question.

- Finally, Digby reminds us of the dangers of cult conservatism.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Layton Announcement Roundup

Not much to add on this end to the news that Jack Layton is taking a temporary leave of absence to deal with a new form of cancer. But let's note a few of the pieces which stand out in the day's coverage.

- The CP reviewed the outpouring of best wishes from across the political spectrum.
- Conversely, Buckdog chronicled of some of the more appalling Sun comments.
- Tim Harper described the fight of Layton's life.
- Chris Selley emphasized Layton's bravery and optimism even at the toughest of times.
- The Globe and Mail noted Layton's true home in politics.
- And finally, for those who haven't seen it yet, here's Layton's own statement.

First things first

Meanwhile, for those wondering what the NDP has been up to in its first summer as Official Opposition, the Hill Times has part of the answer:
(W)ith so many new and young MPs, the question begs asking about whether or not this year's summer caucus meeting will include an extra dose of training for the rookie NDP MPs.

According to Ms. Turmel, more training will "probably not" happen at the caucus meeting. This decision likely is a result of the fact that the NDP, according to Ms. Turmel, has been training their new MPs all summer.

"The whole summer they are having training once a week or twice a week, depending on the's regular for the new staff, they had a meeting last week on how to reach out in the's a variety of subjects," said Ms. Turmel.

Ms. Turmel said the training sessions are run by the party and mostly have taken place at the party's national headquarters on Queen Street in Ottawa.
Which nicely signals that the already-overstated questions about the NDP caucus' experience should be a thing of the past by this fall. And that should position the NDP nicely to put its numbers in Parliament to the best possible use.

Compare and contrast

One party's response to a limited amount of Parliamentary resources:
“New Democrat MPs were responsible for 56 per cent of all private members’ motions, and 59 per cent of all private members’ bills. Compared to other parties, that’s four times as many motions and five times as many bills per MP. We work hard in committee, we are diligent about representing the interests of our constituents, and we are standing up to the Harper government,” said Layton.
Another party's take on a virtually identical situation:
Mr. MacEachern said he thinks the Liberals will need to decide what sort of opposition party they want to be. With fewer resources and reduced research funding, Mr. MacEachern said the Liberals will need to pick a "smaller, more realistic" number of policy areas; a number that better reflects their caucus' new size.
Might there be some connection to the fact that the former has managed to win more resources than the latter?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material to end your weekend.

- Nick Falvo discusses the unfortunate theory that any talk of improving standards of living for the neediest Canadians is either fruitless or extreme politically:
In reference to the Put Food In The Budget campaign, NDP Member of Provincial Parliament Michael Prue is quoted as saying: “I have asked hundreds of questions in the last 10 years on this topic [at Queen's Park] and have never once been quoted in the newspaper. Nobody has been interested. The NDP is standing back and asking, ‘Do we run on a platform when there is no public interest?”

I’m struck by what appears to be deep-seated pessimism on this important public policy issue. Even serious policy wonks are bending over backwards to conceal their proposals with smoke and mirrors, lest anyone realize that they’re advocating for a very low-income individual to live on more than $7,501 a year.

When did it become ’common sense’ for swing voters to believe that there is a job for every resident of Ontario? And when did it become acceptable to believe that $625/month is a sufficient amount of money to live on in Ontario?
- John Geddes uses the U.S. debt ceiling showdown as an example of the conundrum facing reporters trying to write fairly about issues where one side simply doesn't have a reasonable argument to make. But it's worth noting the flip side: the Republicans in manufacturing the debt crisis, like the Cons in demolishing the long-form census, obviously felt they could get away with such insane actions precisely because they could count on most sources repeating their nonsensical spin as if it had some basis in reality.

- Suddenly Stephen Harper's refusal to allow 24 Sussex Drive to be renovated makes a lot more sense, as the last thing Harper figures to be willing to countenance is to echo and legitimize environmental concerns about waste and inefficiency.

- Finally, Doug Allan points out that the Hudak PCs are predictably looking to stifle any public speech by unions - while failing to apply the same standard to corporations who spend far more money shaping public perceptions for their own benefit.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

On primary purposes

Yes, it's striking enough that multiple parties' MPs went out of their way to destroy information about constituent requests to make it harder for new NDP MPs to do their job. But it's particularly worth comparing the Cons' treatment of constituents' personal information when it's being used for its intended purpose with their philosophy when they can manipulate it for political gain.

Here's the supposed explanation for those who did choose to destroy constituents' personal information:
A spokeswoman for Verner said in an email that the constituency documents contained "confidential and sensitive information" and that staff were simply following official guidelines on how to close a riding office by destroying the paperwork.

Jessica McLean said Verner, who now sits as a senator, was not available for an interview. Her office had no comment about the alleged filing-cabinet message.
In contrast, it's not news that the information given to the likes of Verner by constituents seeking a Con MP's assistance has been handed over to the Cons' party database for years, and preserved there for political use - presumably long after an MP leaves office:
CIMS is used not only to track voter allegiance in a given riding -- something every political party attempts -- but also a host of other data gathered in the course of an MP's constituency office duties.

"Any time a constituent is engaged with the member of Parliament, they get zapped into the database," Turner said in an interview. "It's unethical and it's a shocking misuse of data.

"Because once you cotton on to what's going on here, it's not good constituency work at all to allow that data to fall into any kind of hands. But the party is desperate to get more and more data in there because the primary use is fundraising. The secondary use is voter tracking to get out the vote."
So when it comes to actually handing "confidential and personal information" to a party whose goal is to misuse it, the Cons don't see the slightest problem. Instead, it's only when a new MP might be able to assist a constituent that they suddenly think it's their right - nay, duty - to destroy every piece of information which might help in that task.

Which speaks volumes not only about how fabricated the Cons' privacy concerns are, but also about what the Cons consider their actual job to be.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- David Olive chimes in on the toxic effects of inequality:
Many of us did not engage in “excess,” yet are struggling to make ends meet. The real story is where did all the money go that has been generated by a North American economy that has greatly expanded since 1980?

And the answer is to be found in decades of outsourcing, offshoring, declining union membership and bargaining power, and productivity gains that have enabled employers to generate ever more revenue with steadily fewer employees.

What grates in this transformation is the sense of entitlement among the sole, conspicuous CEO beneficiaries of our New-and-Not-Improved-Economy.

In the erosion of the “social contract” between capital and labour dating from the end of World War II, we are not suffering equally. Indeed, we now reward failure in high places.
(The) dangerous imbalance could easily be corrected simply by restoring the system of progressive taxation to where it was in the booming 1950s and 1960s. That’s when leadership meant responsibility, not a hurried grasp for the brass ring, with the little guy paying for the consequences. That, history teaches us, is a lousy business plan.
- And Joshua Holland points out that the right's dogmatic focus on handing ever more money to those who already have the most is actually an excellent way of destroying jobs across the income spectrum:
Sure, the wealthy create a few jobs – people who offer exclusive services or sell them high-end goods. But the overwhelming majority of jobs in this country are “created” by ordinary Americans when they spend their paychecks.

Consumer demand accounts for around 70 percent of our economic output. And with so much wealth having been redistributed upward through a 40-year class-war from above, American consumers are too tapped out to spend as they once did. This remains the core issue in this sluggish, largely jobless recovery. The wealthy, in their voracious appetite for a bigger piece of the national pie, are the real job-killers in this economic climate.
In 1978, the top 1 percent of the ladder took in just under 9 percent of the nation's income, leaving a bit more than 91 percent for the rest of us. In 2007, the year before the crash, they took in 23.5 percent, leaving just 76.5 percent for the rest of the population to split up.

They banked most of that income, whereas we would have spent it. The fact that we're broke means that businesses are facing less demand for their goods and services than they otherwise would, and have less need to hire a bunch of employees. And that dynamic explains why it's the wealthiest Americans who are the real “job killers.”
- Luiza Ch. Savage notes another area where corporate-friendly free trade agreements lead to greater costs for mere citizens, as it's individual travellers who are now facing a U.S. surcharge to make up for the cost of eliminating tariffs.

- Finally, plenty of commentators have already pointed out the absurdity of the Cons embarrassing Canada on the world stage to defend an industry that's on the verge of dying off anyway. But let's at least grant the Cons this much: surely their determination to wring every possible gram of asbestos out of the last couple of existing mines fits nicely with the usual right-wing worldview that nothing matters more than exploiting all available resources whatever the cost.