Saturday, September 01, 2012

Saturday Afternoon 'Rider Blogging

Yes, last week's loss to Calgary was downright ugly to watch at times. But it may also signal some positive changes for the Saskatchewan Roughriders - and we should find out soon whether the 'Riders can find their way into the playoffs with the players and plans they have now, or whether it's time to leave aside a 3-0 start and focus on multi-year player development.

On the downside last week, the 'Riders defence was helpless when it counted most: on the first two possessions of the game when the Stamps took a lead they'd never relinquish, at the end of the game when Saskatchewan needed a stop to have a chance to pull even, and all too frequently when Jon Cornish touched the ball throughout the game. But it surely can't escape notice that  the Stamps' usually-fearsome offence didn't accomplish much on the scoreboard - and there's at least a plausible reason to think the 'Riders' run defence can improve in a hurry.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' offence suffered more from a failure to group positive plays together than an inability to design and execute them. A much more consistent two-pronged rushing attack proved highly effective throughout the game (with each of Kory Sheets and Darian Durant piling up 70+ yards), while the 'Riders' passing attack was at least respectable despite the higher degree of difficulty resulting from windy conditions.

Which is to say that there's reason for hope that the 'Riders can build off what worked last week - particularly with two games coming up against a team in even greater disarray. And that's why a couple of roster moves which would normally look problematic may prove very well-timed.

In general (and in contrast to Brendan Taman's usual proclivities), I prefer to see the 'Riders focus on developing new talent rather than picking up CFL retreads whose previous teams have already found them wanting. And that goes doubly at positions like linebacker where new players seem to be relatively easily incorporated into existing schemes: some of the best CFL personnel moves involve shifting defensive backs to linebacker spots, and the 'Riders aren't lacking for candidates for such a transition.

But with the 'Riders' defence struggling against the run, Joe Lobendahn and Diamond Ferri may make for extremely valuable additions. And now isn't the time to take the risk involved in letting somebody new to the position or the league carry the load in a couple of games which could either put Saskatchewan solidly on the path to the playoffs or leave the 'Riders at the bottom of the CFL's standings.

Of course, the flip side is that if the 'Riders' losing streak continues past the upcoming matchups with Winnipeg, then it will be time to start dropping veteran imports and using the rest of the season to audition NFL castoffs and see if some of the team's current players can be put to better use. But for now, the 'Riders have an obvious opportunity to get their season back on track - and hopefully a combination of development game plans and new faces will help in the effort.

Saturday Morning Links

This and that to start your long weekend.

- Antonia Zerbisias and Thomas Walkom both discuss the connection between organized labour and the very existence of a substantial middle class. And Janice Kennedy worries about the all-too-prevalent trend toward worker-bashing.

- But Andrew Jackson nicely points out why attempts to undermine unions have nothing at all to do with general economic development, and everything to do with distancing a small elite from the rest of the population:
Further to my earlier post on the “own goal” scored by the Fraser Institute report on North American labour markets, the Table below shows the rankings of the Canadian provinces – out of 60 states and provinces – for (1) labour market performance, 2007-11 and (2) the unionization rate. (I have reversed the Fraser ranking for the latter indicator so that a rank of 1 rather than 60 is given to the jurisdiction with the highest unionization rate.)

The provinces all score relatively well in terms of labour market performance, with 4 in the top 10, and only Nova Scotia not in the top 20. (This indicator is based on job creation, unemployment and productivity growth.)

Provinces make up 9 of the top 10 jurisdictions by unionization. (New York and Alaska have higher unionization rates than Alberta which ranks 12 in North America.)

Obviously a lot of factors are at play in terms of job creation- but, if the data show anything, it is that high unionization is associated with better rather than worse labour market performance.
- Of course, that type of readily-available example might have something to do with the right's desire to ensure we don't have access to facts about where we stand as a society. And Statistics Canada is rightly challenging the most egregious Canadian example by pushing the Cons to reverse at least part of their choice to undermine Canada's census.

- Pat Atkinson notes that Saskatchewan's children stand to lose out from the loss of full-day kindergarten and other forms of early childhood development in the province.

- Finally, George Monbiot highlights the increasingly alarming connection between climate change which far exceeds even the estimates which should have driven us to global action decades ago, and policy-makers either denying or neglecting the problem.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Musical interlude

Matthew Good - Weapon

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Linda McQuaig highlights how attacks on workers are used to distract attention from the systematic transfer of wealth to those who need it least:
As long as the right can keep workers envious and suspicious of each other, the focus won't be on those at the top, where the benefits have actually gone. As Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney noted last week, corporations are sitting on $500 billion in cash, reflecting the growing share of business revenue in recent years that has gone to profits, not wages.

(Labour's share of Canada's national income has fallen from 65 to 60 per cent since 1990, partly because of policies like privatization and deregulation, the OECD's Employment Outlook reported last month.)
(W)hile public sector workers are bullied these days, business leaders are treated as semi-gods.

Since the Conservatives took power, business leaders have enjoyed a two-day private retreat with the finance minister each summer, just in case they hadn't already managed to communicate their views to him at other private functions, not to mention through the pages of the newspapers they own.

The business leaders used their retreat last summer to urge Jim Flaherty to adopt measures to reduce workers' pay and to implement U.S.-style right-to-work laws aimed at limiting union power, according to government documents reported in the Globe and Mail earlier this month.

So while the economy remains stalled with business leaders declining to invest their surplus $500 billion, we're encouraged to vent our anger by firing city garbage workers and making sure we catch every one of those napping TTC collectors.
- And Mike Lofgren comments on how the new plutocracy is using the distraction to try to insulate itself entirely from society at large:
Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension—and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call and a chartered plane to get to the Mayo Clinic, why worry about Medicare?

Being in the country but not of it is what gives the contemporary American super-rich their quality of being abstracted and clueless. Perhaps that explains why Mitt Romney’s regular-guy anecdotes always seem a bit strained. I discussed this with a radio host who recounted a story about Robert Rubin, former secretary of the Treasury as well as an executive at Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup. Rubin was being chauffeured through Manhattan to reach some event whose attendees consisted of the Great and the Good such as himself. Along the way he encountered a traffic jam, and on arriving to his event—late—he complained to a city functionary with the power to look into it. “Where was the jam?” asked the functionary. Rubin, who had lived most of his life in Manhattan, a place of east-west numbered streets and north-south avenues, couldn’t tell him. The super-rich who determine our political arrangements apparently inhabit another, more refined dimension.

To some degree the rich have always secluded themselves from the gaze of the common herd; their habit for centuries has been to send their offspring to private schools. But now this habit is exacerbated by the plutocracy’s palpable animosity towards public education and public educators, as Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated. To the extent public education “reform” is popular among billionaires and their tax-exempt foundations, one suspects it is as a lever to divert the more than $500 billion dollars in annual federal, state, and local education funding into private hands—meaning themselves and their friends. What Halliburton did for U.S. Army logistics, school privatizers will do for public education. A century ago, at least we got some attractive public libraries out of Andrew Carnegie. Noblesse oblige like Carnegie’s is presently lacking among our seceding plutocracy. 
- Meanwhile, Purple Library Guy aptly points out that an increasingly complex economy provides nothing but opportunities for the unscrupulous to ensure that what we don't know benefits them at our expense:
My suspicion is that every increase in social complexity provides greater opportunity for corruption--for elements of that society to extract wealth without making a contribution, and without it being generally recognized. For parasitism, if you will. Furthermore, in any hierarchical society, whatever the general impacts of complexity, a point will be reached at which increased complexity loses more than it gains in terms of general prosperity or productivity. Past this point each addition of complexity allows more siphoning of wealth by parasites than it allows of wealth creation. In fact, I would suggest that as complexity increases the chance becomes larger and larger that any given new complexity increase will be introduced precisely for the purpose of more effective parasitism rather than for any improvement in wealth creation. Not that this will be admitted.
The world crisis we hit in 2007-ish and which in my opinion is only in temporary delay at the moment ultimately is a systemic one which goes beyond specifics of globalized production, offshored jobs, or even financialization of the economy. Ultimately, what we have is a hierarchical system which has been allowed to grow in complexity until parasitism is so easy to do (far easier than wealth creation) and so difficult to interfere with, that the system has begun to collapse. Measures to fix it, at least those introduced from above, will generally be some sort of increase in complexity; under the circumstances, the chances that despite all rhetoric the real results and even aims of such measures will be to increase the scope of parasitism still further are extremely high. So we're hooped, and any "solutions" they introduce will almost certainly just make things worse. In this sense I think the internationalist slogan that we're not against globalization we just want a different kind is probably misguided, or at least drastically overstated. I really am against globalization, and instead of trying to create one big worldwide struggle to try to compete with the globalizers' worldwide movement of money and production, I'd rather just stop them from moving the production in the first place and for that matter, keep the money and ownership out of their paws in the first place. No worker-owned factory is going to decide to put themselves out of a job by moving production to Indonesia.
- Finally, both Gareth Perry and Paul Dechene make the case for Saskatchewan citizens to speak up about the glaring need for federal boundary revisions.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- While Thomas Walkom's latest has faced some justified criticism from a couple of angles, this part at least looks to be right on the money:
The assumption here was that if businesses were allowed to keep more of their profits they would invest them productively.

But in the real world, corporations don’t invest when the economic outlook looks gloomy. Why hire workers if you’re not sure you can sell what they produce?

Instead, corporations took the extra profits provided by government and sat on them — either in the form of cash or short-term cash equivalents.
Hence the hectoring. Flaherty and Carney are trying to convince corporations to act against the short-term interest of their stockholders by investing without the prospect of return. Good luck with that.

In truth, Flaherty’s faith in the private sector is badly misplaced. In some situations, only government can stimulate the economy. At some times, the market doesn’t work.

This remains one of those times.
 - Meanwhile, Larry Hubich and Erin Weir argue that Saskatchewan should shift from the shameful position of having the lowest minimum wage in Canada, to setting the pace in ensuring that workers have a reasonable standard of living:
Claims that minimum wages reduce employment have no empirical support. Economics professors from the universities of Massachusetts (Amherst), North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and California (Berkeley) recently compared adjacent U.S. counties in states with different minimum wages. They found "strong earnings effects and no employment effects of minimum wage increases." In other words, boosting the minimum wage succeeded in raising pay without reducing employment, even when neighbouring jurisdictions kept a lower minimum.
Opponents of a higher minimum wage cannot get away with simply suggesting it might somehow slightly reduce demand for labour at the margin. They would have to prove that paid hours would fall by a larger percentage than the increase in wages. And that is not what the evidence indicates.

While bragging about the relative strength of our labour market, the government is letting every other Canadian province and territory surpass our minimum wage. Restoring Saskatchewan to a position of leadership would benefit those who most need a raise and strengthen the wider provincial economy.
- Jason takes a preliminary look at some potential candidates in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership campaign set to begin this fall.

- And finally, the Cons are pushing the already-compromised Gateway joint review panel to treat such trifling issues as "diluted bitumen" and "environmental assessment criteria" as irrelevant to its environmental assessment of a pipeline designed to transport diluted bitumen. I'm only surprised that the Cons haven't yet publicly admonished us that the lone permissible subject of discussion for Canadians (within the review panel and elsewhere) is "Stephen Harper: actual god, or merely superior to all other humans?".

New column day

Here, expanding on my previous post as to why we should be wary of Brad Wall's plans for potash royalties.

For further reading, I'll again recommend Mitchell Anderson's Tyee series contrasting how Norway has handled its natural resources with Canada's laissez-faire system. (And the lesson seems all the more applicable in the case of potash, where the limited alternative sources of production make it even more obvious that we should be able to make sure Saskatchewan's interests are protected.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Kady points out that despite the Cons' best efforts to stonewall, the Robocon investigation in Guelph looks to have locked in on the source of their fraudulent robocalls. And while it's indeed somewhat concerning that Elections Canada hasn't reached anywhere near the same depth of investigation when it comes to the other 234 ridings where voters have reported questionable calls, a solid case aimed at an individual who took steps to cover his tracks may be just the opening needed to get at the party's wider scheme.

- pogge duly slams Jim Flaherty's economic inaction plan:
You can be sure that the fragility of the recovery will continue to be invoked to justify all manner of government actions. For public consumption, the Harper Government™ will still be focusing like a laser on the economy. But as Flaherty acknowledges here, the main thrust of the government's economic policy will continue to be to give our corporate overlords what they ask for. If things take a turn for the worse, don't look for much help from the Conservatives. If you're a corporation the government is here to help you. If you're a citizen, you're on your own.
- Meanwhile, Jim Stanford follows up on Mark Carney's address to the CAW by pointing out some common ground as to how to improve Canada industrial productivity. And Dan Gardner discusses how the give-business-everything-it-asks-for strategy has proven a miserable failure for the past decade:
If we don’t close that gap, our prosperity will slip away when the commodity boom goes. And the commodity boom will go. They all do.

So how do we improve productivity? “Twenty years ago we created a laundry list of the things we needed to change in the policy front and productivity would blossom,” says Don Drummond, one of the country’s leading economists. “And you know, we changed most of them but productivity didn’t blossom.”

Canadian corporations got lower taxes and all sorts of incentives to invest. But they didn’t, and they aren’t, at least not at anything like the rate that’s needed.  According to the C.D. Howe Institute, investment per worker has risen from $10,100 in 2009 to $11,600 in 2011. But in 2011, American companies invested $13,200 per worker.

“We are heavily underinvested in machinery and equipment, particularly high technology stuff, relative to the U.S.,” notes Don Drummond. “We have roughly half the stock of machinery and equipment per hour worked in Canada that the U.S. does.” The figures for research and development are even worse: Canadian business spends about one per cent of GDP on it, compared to two per cent in the U.S. and 2.5 per cent in Japan, the Scandinavian countries, and others in the OECD.
- Finally, as Thomas Walkom notes, there isn't any real distinction between the Harper Cons and the McGuinty Libs when it comes to squeezing the middle class for corporate gain:
(T)his government wants public-sector workers to get less than nothing. Even the unions’ offer for a zero increase isn’t enough. The Liberal bill would arbitrarily strip away benefits that were previously bargained and keep all but the newest teachers at journeyman wage rates.

And if teachers don’t like it, there is little they can do. The bill would not let them withdraw their labour in protest.

If teachers were deemed essential workers, such a strike ban might make sense. Police officers, for instance, can’t go on strike.

But if teachers were defined as essential workers, the government would have to treat them fairly. It wouldn’t be able to impose a settlement. It would have to let an impartial arbitrator decide.

And my guess is that no impartial arbitrator would give teachers less than nothing.

Tim Hudak’s Conservatives are at least up front on this issue. Hudak seems to believe that unions are evil. He is an honest troglodyte.

The Liberals are more duplicitous. They work to cripple trade unionism while protesting that they are friends to the middle class that such unions protect.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats reaching out.

On common viewpoints

I haven't yet blogged about Angus Reid's poll on how respondents see the economic issue ads released earlier this year by the NDP and Cons. But I'll take a moment to point out both the most significant conclusion so far, and the next steps for the NDP in building toward government.

Here's Angus Reid's analysis of the partisan breakdown of the responses:
The ads definitely serve to both keep the supporters of the two main parties engaged, and irk their counterparts. New Democrats believe the Tory ad is unfair, and Conservatives feel the same way about the NDP ad.

Still, it’s important to look at how other past voters react to these advertisements. The views of supporters of the Liberal Party and the Green Party are similar to those of New Democrats, particularly on the deficit and on the low confidence expressed in Stephen Harper’s leadership.

Green voters hold the same level of confidence in Thomas Mulcair (63%) that New Democrats give their current leader.
And that analysis itself leaves out plenty more examples of Lib and Green supporters reacting even more strongly than NDP supporters in the direction one might expect.

In evaluating the Cons' attacks on Tom Mulcair, a slightly higher proportion of Lib supporters classified the Cons' spin as "unfair", "offensive" and "untrue" compared to their NDP counterparts; likewise Green respondents were more likely to rate the Cons' attacks as "untrue", while having an even lower inclination to consider it "informative", "fair" or "true" than current NDP supporters.

Likewise, the NDP's economic ad struck a chord as "informative" with slightly more Lib respondents than NDP supporters, while Greens were the most likely to see it as "true" and the least likely to rate it as "untrue" or "unfair".

Now, Angus Reid's results do highlight one area for future improvement on geographic lines. Even though Ontario and B.C. respondents are broadly more in agreement with the NDP's ad than the Cons', they still rate Stephen Harper somewhat more highly on a separate "confidence in leadership" question. Which shouldn't be surprising in matching an incumbent Prime Minister against a relatively new leader - but does signal that Harper himself isn't yet wearing the distrust those respondents have for his party's spin.

But the good news is that there's plenty of time and opportunity to tie the two together. And with Libs and Greens seeming no less receptive to the NDP's message than core supporters, the main task for the NDP looks to be reaching out to enough of the large Con-skeptical audience which finds its economic message informative.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jessica Bruno reports on Tom Mulcair's first six months as leader of the NDP. But while it's certainly a plus for pundits to recognize the NDP as a viable government in waiting, perhaps the most significant development is Mulcair's ability to persuade Canadians in what looks to be the country's defining policy debate over the next few years:
Some pundits thought that the honeymoon was over when Mr. Mulcair warned that unfettered development of Alberta’s oilsands would lead to a hollowing out of Canada’s manufacturing sector this spring, a stance Mr. MacLachlan said is a “defining issue for Mr. Mulcair and the NDP.”

Mr. MacLachlan said that while his remarks initially were scoffed at, people seem to be coming around to Mr. Mulcair’s position.

“Now it seems that every political leader, particularly in B.C. from Premier [Christy] Clark to James Moore are trying to align themselves with his position on the development of the oilsands, on pipelines, and more generally on the economy,” he said.

Prof. Wiseman agreed. “His position on the oil sands, what’s striking there is at first I thought, ‘Uh oh, this is impolitic, he’s going to drop in the polls.’ But they didn’t drop and the more you got to hear what he said … his position is that polluter pays. If you put that to people, they’re in favour of that,” he said.
 - But of course, the case against the Northern Gateway pipeline in particular has been made as much by Enbridge itself as by any other party. And the revelation that Enbridge isn't interested in figuring out whether diluted bitumen might behave differently than conventional crude oil if spilled certainly can't be reassuring for anybody counting on it to clean up its own messes.

- Carol Goar writes about the desperate need for Ontario (among other provinces) to provide protection for workers.

- Finally, Alice pieces together the background behind the questions about convention contributions which led to the NDP reimbursing paid advertisers this week - while also offering an important perspective on how election law should be made:
How we got to the point where election law is being made through a series of gotchas is the sadder part. The Chretien government tolerated almost no amendments from the Reform Party to its overhaul of the Elections Act in 2000, so the Conservatives got them back with punitive retroactive amendments to the Act in 2006, which led the Liberals to exploit a slip of John Baird's at a Senate committee to launch a complaint about their convention fees, which led the Conservatives to counter-complain about the Liberals convention fees, and now the NDP's. Meanwhile, civil society groups are trying to get in on the action themselves.

Basic misapprehensions abound, such as the belief that Elections Canada can just make up its own rules (it has to implement and enforce the Elections Act as passed by Parliament, warts and all), that party activists know or could be expected to know everything that's going on in their party across the country, and/or know every nuance of our complex and always-evolving electoral legislation.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'd like to see election law made on the basis of what's good for our electoral system as a whole, and without people on either side of the issue deciding what their position is based on who they want to win, rather than a consideration of the facts and the outcome for the electoral system as a whole.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Jason Warick reports on how the Cons' decison to gut federal environmental assessments will have a particularly acute effect on Saskatchewan:
The federal government has cancelled nearly 700 environmental assessments in Saskatchewan for oil wells and pipelines, sewage lagoons, hydro projects, a major uranium tailings facility and other operations.

Saskatchewan is by far the province most affected by the cancellation of nearly 3,000 assessments nationwide.

“It’s extremely significant,” said Bram Noble, a University of Saskatchewan geography professor who has years of experience teaching and conducting national environmental assessments.

“It’s a lot to be concerned about. It’s the only tool we have.”

Noble called the decision to scrap the assessments “unprecedented” and “a step backward.”
- Meanwhile, Edward Greenspan and Anthony Doob duly call out the Cons for a dumb-on-crime mindset that's focused solely on marketing rather than public safety or crime reduction. 

- In the wake of Neil Armstrong's passing this weekend, David Atkins contrasts the mindset behind the moon landing against today's utter lack of a sense of greater common purpose:
His walk on the moon was the result of thousands of individuals working tirelessly to bring the impossible to fruition, and the result of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars (in today's money) to make one of humanity's oldest dreams come true. For that reason, we can all share in Neil's accomplishment even if only by proxy. Or at least, those of us who were alive at the time can do so. Of my generation I'm not so certain, though I would state emphatically the blame does not lie with us.

Neil's was an accomplishment undertaken at a time when we still believed we were capable of great things. A time when the common good and furtherance of the human spirit were more important than personal greed. A time when a President could utter the phrase "Ask not what your Country can do for you, but what you can do for your Country" and not be mocked for his optimism.

It was a time before Reagan. Before "Greed is Good." It was a time when a President could truly declare a "War on Poverty" without ridicule. Before the drabness of "Welfare Reform" became the sort of meager and churlish thing the press would hail as forward-thinking and bold.

It was a time when the health and wealth of the nation was seen as bound up in the heights to which our science, learning, and social justice could aspire. It was a time before we allowed our collective health and wealth to be measured by as meaningless, lackluster and empty a symbol as the the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
My generational cohorts and I know nothing but this. This all too petty, all too drab, all too villainous smallness of being. It is time for moral and spiritual rebirth.

So rest in peace, Neil Armstrong. And may my generation begin the process of rebuilding the greatness that took you to such exalted heights, and repairing the damage wrought by the Reagan Devolution. 
- Finally, Ta-Nehisi Coates' commentary on the state of race relations in the U.S. is well worth the (relatively lengthy) read.

On political legacies

Ready the fainting couch for Warren Kinsella, because I've got a scoop that he'll find shocking and appalling.

The NDP has been fund-raising for years based on appeals to Jack Layton's public image.

In fact, Layton's face and signature regularly appeared on financial appeals to his party's supporters not just in the year since his death, but in the entire time since he became the leader of the federal NDP. And one might even speculate that Layton and the NDP made a concerted effort to build his public profile, then to maximize its effectiveness as a means of raising money and otherwise encouraging NDP supporters to participate in electoral campaigns.

I can only assume this comes as an out-of-the-blue revelation to a political naif like Kinsella in light of his latest column. Because otherwise, one might have to ask some rather awkward questions.

For example, who could possibly think it surprising that a political leader - and indeed one who put ample personal effort into his own party's succession planning - would be pointed to as an example of that party's ideals after his passing?

And who could possibly look at one of the most unabashedly political lives in recent Canadian history, and conclude that it must be drained of political meaning? (Particularly when that order comes from somebody who fought tooth and nail against nearly everything Layton stood for during his lifetime, rather than anybody with even a vaguely plausible claim to speak to his wishes?)

I do hope that the above will prove enlightening for Kinsella and anybody else spending time demanding that NDP supporters erase his legacy from the historical record in order to honour it. And Warren, when you come to, you might be even more horrified at what you'll discover in your own party.