Saturday, March 30, 2013

Someday, this could all be ours

Yesiree, frequent standardized testing sure does help teachers focus on what's most important...
Ms. Parks admitted to Mr. Hyde that she was one of seven teachers — nicknamed “the chosen” — who sat in a locked windowless room every afternoon during the week of state testing, raising students’ scores by erasing wrong answers and making them right. She then agreed to wear a hidden electronic wire to school, and for weeks she secretly recorded the conversations of her fellow teachers for Mr. Hyde.

In the two and a half years since, the state’s investigation reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury.

Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison. 

During the decade she led the district of 52,000 children, many of them poor and African-American, Atlanta students often outperformed wealthier suburban districts on state tests.

Those test scores brought her fame — in 2009, the American Association of School Administrators named her superintendent of the year and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, hosted her at the White House.

And fortune — she earned more than $500,000 in performance bonuses while superintendent.

On Friday, prosecutors essentially said it really was too good to be true. Dr. Hall and the 34 teachers, principals and administrators “conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistle-blowers in an effort to bolster C.R.C.T. scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores,” the indictment said, referring to the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Krugman discusses how a myopic focus on slashing taxes and services figures to cheat future generations out of desperately-needed social structure:
You don’t have to be a civil engineer to realize that America needs more and better infrastructure, but the latest “report card” from the American Society of Civil Engineers — with its tally of deficient dams, bridges, and more, and its overall grade of D+ — still makes startling and depressing reading. And right now — with vast numbers of unemployed construction workers and vast amounts of cash sitting idle — would be a great time to rebuild our infrastructure. Yet public investment has actually plunged since the slump began.

Or what about investing in our young? We’re cutting back there, too, having laid off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers and slashed the aid that used to make college affordable for children of less-affluent families.

Last but not least, think of the waste of human potential caused by high unemployment among younger Americans — for example, among recent college graduates who can’t start their careers and will probably never make up the lost ground.

And why are we shortchanging the future so dramatically and inexcusably? Blame the deficit scolds, who weep crocodile tears over the supposed burden of debt on the next generation, but whose constant inveighing against the risks of government borrowing, by undercutting political support for public investment and job creation, has done far more to cheat our children than deficits ever did.

Fiscal policy is, indeed, a moral issue, and we should be ashamed of what we’re doing to the next generation’s economic prospects. But our sin involves investing too little, not borrowing too much — and the deficit scolds, for all their claims to have our children’s interests at heart, are actually the bad guys in this story.
- Murray Mandryk and Bruce Johnstone both point out similar factors at play in the Sask Party's latest budget - with long-term needs being ignored in favour of short-term corporatist posturing. And the Huffington Post points out how similar mistakes have resulted in four decades of wage stagnation.

- Meanwhile, Stephen Maher is the latest to write that the Cons' blatant environmental neglect may be hurting even the short-term interests of Stephen Harper's corporate masters:
(T)he government goes all out to promote the [oil] industry, to the detriment of other, legitimate interests, to the point that it is reasonable to assume that it is influencing policies that it should not.
Given the stealth style of the Harper government, the refusal to give honest explanations of its decisions, we must seek a pattern in its actions:

* In 2011, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto accord that required us to cut our emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Conservatives have failed to introduce any measures to meaningfully reduce emissions, save copycat legislation mimicking American auto standards and rules full of loopholes for coal-burning plants.

* In two omnibus bills that followed the budget of 2012, the government made hundreds of changes to legislation affecting environmental protections, making it remarkably easier to get federal approval for potentially damaging resource projects and dramatically cutting the number of environmental reviews.

* The government has acted to muzzle federal scientists who study anything remotely connected to climate change, requiring that they receive approval from political masters before discussing their research with the public, leading to complaints from foreign science journals and jeopardizing international scientific co-operation.
(I)t is not clear whether it is in the long-term best interest of the industry to risk Canada appearing to be an environmental pariah, since Ottawa can’t push through the pipelines the industry wants without the co-operation of other governments.

It’s not the industry’s job to balance those competing interests, and there is reason to doubt that they are pushing Ottawa to kill research on fresh water, or muzzle scientists, or avoid meetings about desertification.

In fact, if the public comes to believe the industry is exerting unwarranted influence on public policy, there will eventually be a backlash, which isn’t good for shareholders.

The Conservatives’ hyper-aggressive approach may actually be counterproductive to the industry, the kind of power-drunk overreaching that led to the National Energy Program all those years ago.
- Les Leopold notes that some alternative models have worked far better than a business-first approach - with the Bank of North Dakota standing out as an example of a public institution which has both provided value to citizens, and helped to avoid dangerous financial risks. And Next Year Country reproduces Clifford Singer's review of Reclaiming Public Ownership as an example of how new public institutions may yet prove an important part of our future.

- Finally, Andrew Coyne, Dr. Dawg and Nathan Cullen all have plenty of worthwhile points to make in response to the question of Con MPs' right to make (however distasteful) statements in the House of Commons. And Cullen in particular looks to have nicely identified the problem with the Cons' assertion that Stephen Harper's central command should be able to override any interest in parliamentary representation:
Recently, the Chief Government Whip used a hockey analogy, however poorly applied in this case, and equated his role as Whip of the Conservative Party to that of a hockey coach deciding which player goes on the ice.  He suggested that the Speaker was basically the referee and that it is not your place, Mr. Speaker, to interfere with his choices.  I would simply offer this, Mr. Speaker, that if a coach insists on only sending so-called goons onto the ice simply to pick fights, there is no question that the referee will intervene to give some hope that an actual game might be played. 

I think the analogy should stop here Mr. Speaker, because what is happening in this House is not a game. This is the House of Commons, where we, as parliamentarians, must deal every day with complex matters which have a direct impact on the lives of the Canadians who have elected us, who trust us to manage the affairs of this country.

And, Mr. Speaker, I believe that by changing the nature of statements and using them to mindlessly attack the Official Opposition instead of using that time to raise the issues that matter to the people who have elected them, the Conservatives are clearly abusing the Standing Orders.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Musical interlude

The Tea Party - Waiting On A Sign

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- While there's room to question whether we should accept spending as self-definition in the first place, Zoe Williams is right to make the point that arbitrary restrictions on benefits serve to put yet more barriers to full social participation in front of the people who can least afford them:
Replacing cash with vouchers has a number of damaging effects. First, it's infantilising. Crisis loans delivered this way take on the shape of pocket money or charity. Second, it's stigmatising, as asylum seekers on the Azure card often point out – people don't want strangers to be able to make judgments about what they're buying, and whether they should be buying it. People want privacy in their financial transactions. Call them crazy. Third, it erodes the idea that the public purse is something we all created together and, in a crisis, are entitled to draw on it. Yes, I'm talking about a culture of entitlement – culture is a culture of entitlement. Modern civilisation is built upon pooling resources and being entitled to a share in them.

Fourth, and to my mind most important – though all of these effects are vitally important – something very significant happens when you expel people from the sphere of money. In the moment of exchange, everyone is equal; you don't have to prove that you're worthy of that purchase, your status is bestowed by the fact that you can pay for it, and you are worth as much in that moment as anybody else who can pay for it. There's a fillip of power in the process; it's why people who like shopping like shopping, and it is especially important when – for some reason that is probably financial – you spend a lot of the time feeling powerless. Give people a voucher instead, and they are not equal. Asda may be getting the same amount of money for the same amount of food, but charity and condescension have crept into the transaction – or maybe pity. But nobody wants their groceries served with pity.
I see those pragmatic arguments now as a Maginot line, and food stamps marched in over the undefended territory of human dignity. When you relegate people to a world outside money, you create a true underclass: a group of people whose privacy and autonomy are worth less than everyone else's, who are stateless in a world made of shops.
- But then, the corporate sector seems to have decided that self-worth gets in the way of its profit motive. And so the future of the labour movement - discussed by Richard Littlemore - figures to be an important factor in determining whether human dignity has any place in public policy discussions.

- Meanwhile, Paul Wells writes that Stephen Harper has led Canada to a world outside meaningful budgets, as heavily-advertised (but ill-defined) "plans" have replaced any semblance of accountability for public spending.

- Finally, Tim Harper expands on the Cons' decision to be the lone pariah state which can't be bothered to cooperate in documenting and combating desertification:
At a time when a parade of federal ministers (including Baird) and provincial premiers, including Alberta Premier Alison Redford, have been invading Washington to tout this country’s supposed “green credentials” in a bid to win presidential approval for the final phase of the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision like this simply blows up all that work.

Walking away from a convention that is dealing with a problem that has been at least accelerated by climate change reinforces the world’s view, including a widely-held view in Washington, that the Harper government is all about resource development and exports, barely paying lip service to climate change.
The Canadian move comes on the eve of an April 9 UN meeting bringing scientists, governments and civil society organizations together in Bonn. It is billed as the first ever cost-benefit analysis of desertification, land degradation and drought.

We’re not coming.

Three days ago, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced an additional $51 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of the Sahel, citing a “complex crisis of drought, flooding, failed harvests, and disrupted livelihoods.’’

Baird pulled us out of the UN program trying to prevent it.

Wonder how green we look to Kerry now?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Edward Greenspon discusses the importance of a public service whose focus extends beyond the narrow interests of the government of the day:
The hundreds of thousands of Canadians who work for governments, particularly those employed - in the evolving argot of recent decades - as knowledge workers or symbolic analysts or members of the creative class, are, in a sense, servants. They owe a duty of loyalty to carry out the programs and policies of the elected government of the day.

But they also have a broader public duty to the pursuit of truth and the open exchange of information integral to democracy. Thus we have Freedom of Information laws and whistleblower legislation. We also have public servants regularly appearing before Parliamentary committees, which tells us they are not meant merely to be seen and not heard. Rather, they are fair witnesses to facts and trends that shape the progress of the nation, laying down a base of understanding from which political discourse can flower.
The tension between their public and servant roles does not render their jobs impossible, merely challenging. In the normal run of things, governments protect them from the worst effects of this tension by listening to their advice, not disclosing it and not blaming them for decisions taken by the political class. All three, of course are periodically breached. The extraordinary resignation of the country's Chief Statistician a couple of years ago flowed not from the government's refusal to heed his advice on the census, but rather his minister's mischaracterization of that advice.
- Meanwhile, Andrew Coyne slams the Cons for their typical budget dishonesty. Glen McGregor reports on the public money being used to defend Jason Kenney and Alykhan Velshi's attacks on George Galloway - featuring the Harper Cons' mission statement of "Defamation and misfeasance in public office. Ongoing." And Murray Mandryk discusses the Sask Party's implausible evasiveness when it comes to the misuse of IPAC funding.

- The CP reports on the Cons' decision to isolate Canada as the lone country withdrawing from a global treaty on desertification. But I suspect the answer as to why they're doing it is fairly straightforward, as a government seeking to edit out of existence all references to scientific research, poverty and environmental issues surely had little interest in this:
The UN body has a research committee dedicated to finding ways to stop the spread of droughts that lay waste to farmland across the planet, particularly Africa.

Scientists, governments and civil society organizations are headed to Bonn next month "to carry out the first ever comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of desertification, land degradation and drought," says a notice from the United Nations Environment Program.

"Also, for the very first time, governments will provide concrete data on the status of poverty and of land cover in the areas affected by desertification in their countries."
- Finally, it shouldn't come as any surprise that on-reserve schools receive up to 50% less funding than off-reserve equivalents. But there's little indication that our current provincial and federal governments see that gap as a problem - meaning that improvement seems highly unlikely until at least the next election cycle.

New column day

Here, applying the recently-approved Somerset development as an example of why we should expect elected representatives to do more than just remind us that we're on our own in dealing with health and environmental issues.

For further reading, see:
- reports from CBC and Vanessa Brown; and
- commentary from Edward Dodd and Paul Dechene.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Brendan Haley explains why the Cons' let-them-build-pipelines economic approach is doomed to fail from the standpoint of prosperity as well as that of sustainability:
There is a certain spirit of defensiveness and vulnerability behind the Conservatives’ economic choices. Ideologically incapable of admitting that the private sector can run into real problems, Flaherty pleads for corporations to start spending money again but has no policies aimed at making that happen. Unwilling to recognize the benefit of pro-active government policy the Conservatives see the bitumen sands as their sole salvation. Yet, such an economic trajectory could be disrupted if the world decides to take action against climate change.

Far from promoting economic security, the Conservatives appear incapable of dealing with the economy’s most vexing problems (dead money, personal debt, productivity, pollution) and their reaction in the face of their confusion is to pigeon-hole the country into a rather vulnerable long-term economic position, placing all of our bets on a global economic trajectory dependent on climate catastrophe.

In contrast to the conservative confusion, a social democratic agenda is especially suited to today’s challenges. More proactive government strategies are needed to deal with the private sector’s stagnation and loss of direction. Smart government strategy can coordinate economic activity towards building a green, diverse, and innovative economy.
- Paul Hanley nicely points out the Cons' Orwellian doublespeak on the environment. And Julia Dima reports that the Sask Party is continuing to hack away at a barely-existent set of environmental budget items.

- Brian Singh offers up a mixed bag of strategic suggestions for Canada's opposition parties. But I remain highly skeptical that "out-Con the Cons" is a winning strategy in either electoral or policy terms - as the same simplistic messaging and top-down policy-making which have helped the Cons make teh argument that government is merely a brand rather than a source of collective power figure to cause major problems for anybody whose road to success involves drawing more people in.

- Finally, I'll highlight a few post-campaign posts from the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership race - including Aaron Genest's discussion of simulated outcomes, Jason Hammond's comments on the effect of social media, and Liz James on the importance of the "long win".

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Curved cats.

Book Review: The Blaikie Report

Among other highlights of the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership convention this month, I was able to meet and chat with longtime NDP MP (and later MLA) Bill Blaikie, who attended in large part to introduce party members to The Blaikie Report. And I appreciate the opportunity to review the book - particularly given that others have already had their say since its release.

Blaikie's book reads in part as autobiography, in part as polemic. And on both fronts, he nicely highlights how little Canadian politics have changed over the past several decades, with the appropriation of religious messaging by the far right serving as one of the few genuinely radical developments.

Blaikie starts by tracing his own social gospel views back to the CCF-NDP's early leaders and beyond, describing the social gospel as reflecting a religious critique of capitalism (which itself gets treated by far too many political actors as an infallible matter of faith).

Blaikie then applies the social gospel lens to his dizzying range of political experience - from culture wars to constitutional wrangling to the passage of the Canada Health Act. And whatever the source of one's concern about corporatist government, the themes found in Blaikie's book will be highly familiar to anybody involved in social democratic circles - from countering astroturfed "taxpayer" outrage by pointing out the preferential treatment granted to corporations, to the meaning and importance of sustainable development.

That said, a few chapters particularly stand out not merely as reflections on Blaikie's experience, but as arguments worth expanding on when it comes to issues which are still central to Canadian political debate. Chapter 8 makes a strong case as to the longstanding difference in political cultures between the NDP and the Libs - and how issue advocates can't expect to succeed in changing the terms of policy discussion without clearly articulating which party best reflects their underlying goals. And Chapters 15-16 offer both blistering criticism of the "chosen powerlessness" associated with free trade agreements, and a reminder that citizens' movements have been able to effectively counter the supposedly inexorable movement toward ever more corporate power.

But of course, any public movement depends on rallying together as many citizens as possible. And the NDP at all levels will do well to keep in mind Blaikie's core argument that a social democratic movement and party can only succeed by reaching out to voters and communities who share our values - whether or not those values are rooted in faith.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ruy Teixeira discusses Branko Milanovic's finding that on a global scale, income inequality is almost entirely locked in based on an individual's place of birth and parents' income:
Milanovic asks “How much of your income is determined at birth?”  The answer: 80 percent of your income can be accounted for by the country of your birth and the income level of your parents.  That leaves just 20 percent for age, sex, race, luck and, of course, hard work.  Wow.

In the final section of his book, Milanovic looks at global inequality in the broadest possible context—the level of inequality among all individuals in the world, irrespective of nation.  These levels are very high.  The world gini is around 70, higher than even such profoundly unequal societies as Brazil and South Africa which are “only” around 60.  Given such a high level, it is perhaps not a surprise that, according to Milanovic, the bottom 77 percent of the world’s population receives only 20 percent of the world’s income.  At the other end, the richest 1.75 percent of the world’s population also receives 20 percent of the world’s income, as does the next richest 3.6 percent.  So a little more than 5 percent of the world’s population receives 40 percent of total world income.  Now that’s inequality!
- Of course, one of the most sure ways of smoothing out global imbalances is to allow people to change location. And Natalie Brender writes about the Cons' moves to instead stigmatize immigrants at every turn - including by turning raids into reality TV.

- Meanwhile, Unmuzzled Science documents the Cons' whipped Parliamentary vote against the very idea of science.

- Barbara Yaffe overlooks the obvious problems in political non-competition pacts by pitching yet another version - with the sole "analysis" consisting of adding together raw 2011 vote totals in the absence of any recognition that all non-Con votes are not necessarily interchangeable. But Chantal Hebert recognizes that Labrador is yet another example where the elimination of voter choices figures to do more harm than good.

- Finally, Erin Weir makes the point that both Saskatchewan's overall fiscal picture and the economic case for Keystone XL would look a lot better if the Wall government cared about getting a fair return for publicly-owned resources.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Deep thought

If a non-Con federal government even hinted at this kind of policy in dealing with provinces, the western Village would collapse under the weight of its own hysterical shrieking. But because it only involves Stephen Harper trying to extort resources from First Nations, I don't expect to hear of it again.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tanya Gold discusses how the UK Cons - like other right-wing parties around the globe - are seeking to minimize the effectiveness of government by declaring that anybody who can benefit from social support is inherently undeserving:
How many benefits have been unfairly removed or reduced? But there is meaning behind this farce; it was no mistake. This is a rehearsal for the future of the welfare state, as seen through Tory spectacles – they are resentful at paying for anything. Need is now irrelevant.

The PR for the project, enthusiastically pursued by the Tory press, is ongoing, if unsophisticated. Its purpose is to incite so much contempt for benefit claimants in the wider population, and so much denial about who, and who is not, a benefit claimant, that we will dumbly watch children live in revolting conditions without complaint. Any kind of state intervention is now a blissful boon deserving of a kiss on the ministerial boot. Last week Alan Milburn, the government's luckless adviser on social mobility, said it was "vanishingly unlikely" that the government will meet its child poverty targets. No it won't; of course it won't. Far better to change the way child poverty is measured or, in common speak, stop counting the bodies.

"Benefit queen" stories are dripped on the media, courtesy of DWP moles, as if they were representative; and Ukip, that wonky opportunist, jumps on the bandwagon, seeking to make benefit claimants pay for necessities by electronic card, so they cannot squander their bags of taxpayer gold on Sky TV, cider, ciggies, condoms and, presumably, membership of the Communist party of Great Britain. The project chugs on, fuelled by distortion and lies, denouncing the weak, praising the strong – the changes to childcare funding announced last week will largely benefit the wealthy. Who is surprised?
- Meanwhile, if we didn't already have enough examples of the Harper Cons doing exactly the same thing, Jane Kittmer's story epitomizes anti-socialism in action - as in keeping with the Cons' orders to slash EI payments, a new mother diagnosed with breast cancer is being denied benefits.

- Alice nicely details why voters are headed to the polls in Labrador for a by-election. And the NDP looks to be well prepared in choosing Harry Borlase as its nominee.

- Glen McGregor finds that the Stepher Harper-based branding of all federal government activity which was controversial a few years ago is now standard operating procedure. And Alison highlights a particular egregious example.

- Finally, Joseph Schwartz notes that while the corporate press is offering grudging recognition that egalitarian Scandinavian economies have outperformed the rest of the developed world, it's also going out of its way to keep omitting crucial points about why they work so well:
[The Economist] praises Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway for accomplishments often touted by social democrats—low poverty rates, egalitarian distribution, and efficient public services. But the magazine argues that these are now “centrist” societies because they balance their budgets, allow for consumer “choice” within their public services, and nurture risk-taking entrepreneurs. The Economist sheepishly admits that these countries funnel over 50 percent of their GDP through the public sector (versus a meager 30 percent in the United States and 36 percent in Great Britain). But Adrian Woolridge’s “special report” places inordinate emphasis on how the Nordic nations’ have trimmed their (still) generous paid leave, sick day, and disability benefits, while touting Sweden’s switch from a defined-benefit to defined-contribution public pension plan.

The Economist never once mentions that the Nordic economic model of growth-with-equity derives from the continued existence of a powerful labor movement (union density is above 70 percent in each country, versus 11.3 percent in the United States and 17 percent in Great Britain). Nor does it tell us that the historical dominance of social democracy means that Nordic conservative parties resemble Obama-style Democrats. Even as social democratic parties move in and out of government, the “Nordic model” draws heavily upon the egalitarian values of its labor movement and social democratic parties.

The publics in these countries trust government because the social democrats built their welfare state upon a vision of comprehensive and universal social rights. All members of society receive publicly financed health care, child care, and education. The central government ensures that these goods are financed equitably and are of high quality—so the upper-middle class remains loyal to these services and gladly pays the high taxes to support them. The Nordic nations long ago recognized that means-tested programs end up being poorly funded and unsustainable because they are often opposed by those just above the poverty line. (The vicious politics of “welfare reform” in Britain and the United States depended upon only the poor being eligible for child-care support from the state.)
The feature also fails to mention the crucial role that trade union power and policy played in the creation of the Nordic model. From the 1950s onward, Nordic unions adhered to a “solidaristic wage policy” bargaining strategy, fighting for higher-percentage wage gains for the lowest-paid workers. The aim was both to decrease wage differentials between skilled and unskilled workers and to force corporations to transition out of inefficient industries. Unions opposed a “race to the bottom” model of capitalist development in favor of a high-wage, high-productivity model grounded upon union power.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

On unbalanced trade

When it comes to trying to justify perpetually-increasing restrictions on democratic governance in the guise of "free trade" agreements, advocates present two polar opposite views as to what such agreements are intended to accomplish.

The first - and more plausible - view of the actual and intended effect of trade agreements is that they primarily serve the purposes of the parties who push and negotiate them. When corporate interests and their pet Randians meet behind closed doors to draft agreements which will be subject to zero public accountability, it's a safe bet that it's the general public which stands to lose out as a result. And there's certainly a constituency for the view that democracy should be subordinate to the profit motive - making trade agreements into a rational if cynical strategy to tie the hands of elected officials while ensuring that business ultimately rules everywhere.

But that constituency is rather smaller than the number of people who might be persuaded that there's a problem with encouraging plutocrats write the rules of international trade in a way which lets them override the democratic will of the public. And so we also tend to hear another excuse for free trade agreements: that such agreements aren't intended to protect wealthy investors or corporate interests at all, but instead to ensure the availability of the greatest range of goods and services at the lowest possible cost to consumers.

In principle, this second argument is entirely vulnerable to a fairly obvious criticism. If the need for free trade agreements is based solely on a desire to reduce and ultimately eliminate our own tariffs, then there's a far more direct path to that goal: reduce and eliminate our own tariffs, rather than signing agreements which carry a myriad of other consequences including asymmetrical rights for businesses to extort their desired policy from states. But most of the time, we don't get to test whether advocates of the consumer-focused position will be as interested in tariffs when they aren't linked to government suicide pacts.

Well, the Harper Conservatives have created just such an opportunity. In the midst of a campaign to lock Canada into ever more dubious free trade agreements - granting preferential trade and investment status to Colombia despite (if not because of) its recent history of anti-labour goon squads, granting China a multi-decade stranglehold over Canadian public policy, and apparently increasing the cost of prescription drugs to appease big pharma as represented by European negotiators - the Cons have declared that they're implementing an increase in tariffs on imports from developing countries. Which in principle represents both a beggar-the-poor philosophy from the perspective of those who see tariffs as primarily affecting producers, and a direct cost to Canadian consumers for those who see trade policy primarily in terms of purchasing power.

Now, it could be that there's a long game being played by the Cons: the affected countries might well get pushed into negotiating free-trade agreements if their exporters demand some means of reversing the tariffs. But once again, that explanation wouldn't hold water as a matter of consumer interests: the end result would simply be the elimination of the Cons' new tariffs, accompanied by a superfluous set of giveaways to the investor class.

In other words, the Cons have made clear that their gleeful pursuit of any free trade agreement which another country can find time to sign is rooted solely on the first argument: as a means of exacerbating inequality in wealth and power, with consumer interests serving at best as an excuse to implement that agenda. And I'll be curious to see whether we see adherents to the second theory show anywhere near the level of concern about the Cons' direct and deliberate increase in consumer prices that they tend to offer whenever progressive voices point out the real effects of free trade agreements.

Update: Following up on the conclusion above, Stephen Gordon and Mike Moffatt step up to the plate.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Slightly Aged Column Day

Here, on how Brad Wall's willingness to see the long form census scrapped suggests that his government's push toward mandatory annual standardized tests for all students can't be explained by any real interest in evidence-based policy - and how the move looks to damage students' education in substance rather than providing any useful information.

For further reading...
- Wall's position on the census is discussed here, as he helped to block any agreement among Canada's premiers on trying to reverse the shredding of the long form census.
- Emma Graney's initial report on the Sask Party's mandatory testing scheme is here, while Janet French followed up as to the government's lack of any clear explanation what it was doing and why. And Jennifer Graham reported on the Wall government's refusal to consider classroom cap sizes or other steps which would actually encourage individualized attention to students' educational needs.
- Michael Zwaagstra makes the (easily rebutted) case for standardized testing here.
- Finally, No SK Tests has offered a steady stream of reading material on how an obsession with standardized testing may hurt Saskatchewan students.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Alan Feuer writes about New York City's brilliant use of "big data" to connect the dots in making public policy. And the examples look like a rather compelling reason why we should be looking to expand public-sector data collection and analysis as part of any remotely viable regulatory structure - rather than following the right-wing model of reducing the public sector to checking whether private-sector actors have filed paperwork claiming to have complied with the law.

- Chantal Hebert theorizes that the Harper Cons may be facing their seven-year itch. Alison's updated list of Perps with Perks offers an obvious reason why Canadians are indeed getting sick of Harper's stay in power.

- But then, Lana Payne notes that having been caught in so many electoral violations (and egregious cover-ups), it's long past time for the Cons to face some legal consequences to go with public-opinion concerns.

- Joan Bryden's coverage of the Libs' leadership race highlights the failure of the Libs' "supporter" model: even having eliminated any membership requirement for leadership voters, the Libs will still have less eligible voters than the NDP did in the vote which elected Tom Mulcair. And that failure to achieve significant follow-through on widely-trumpeted sign-up number - even with Justin Trudeau receiving fawning media coverage throughout the campaign - suggests the change in relative positioning signalled by the 2011 election continues to apply.

- And finally, Sixth Estate offers some compelling reasons to give up on the Globe and Mail as a general source of editorial content.