January 2011 Archives

January 31, 2011



Dexter Filkins in a long piece in the New Yorker on corruption in Afghanistan:

Nine years into the American-led war, it's no longer enough to say that corruption permeates the Afghan state. Corruption, by and large, is the Afghan state. On many days, it appears to exist for no other purpose than to enrich itself. Graft infests nearly every interaction between the Afghan state and its citizens, from the police officers who demand afghani notes to let cars pass through checkpoints to the members of Karzai's government who were given land in the once empty quarter of Sherpur, now a neighborhood of grandiose splendor, where homes sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bribes feed bribes: if an Afghan aspires to be a district police officer, he must often pay a significant amount, around fifty thousand dollars, to his boss, who is often the provincial police chief. He needs to earn back the money; hence the shakedown of ordinary Afghans. In this way, the Afghan government does not so much serve the people as it preys on them. Last year, Transparency International ranked Afghanistan the hundred-and-seventy-sixth most corrupt country out of a hundred and seventy-eight, surpassed only by Somalia and Myanmar. "It's a vertically integrated criminal enterprise," one American official told me.

We Canadians can rejoice in the fact that we'll be helping to train a security force to be turned over to that government. You can send your thank you cards to Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, who didn't think it was necessary to even have a public debate on the matter.

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January 29, 2011



Kevin Drum on unions (emphasis in the original):

Unions have lots of pathologies: they can get entranced by implementing insane work rules, they can get co-opted by other political actors, and they can end up fighting progress on social issues, just to name a few. But they fight for economic egalitarianism, and they're the only institution in history that's ever done that successfully on a sustained basis. That's what makes them so indispensable to liberalism and that's what makes them the sworn enemies of conservatism.

You just can't pull labor and full employment apart. It's not a matter of emphasis. A country without a strong labor movement is almost inevitably one in which economic and political power is overwhelmingly on the side of business interests and rich people, and that means you're not going to have sustained full employment because that's not what business interests and rich people want. It's all about power, baby, power.

H/t to Steve Hynd in a post that's also worth reading.

And in the interest of full disclosure: I suppose I could follow this up with a rousing chorus of You don't get me I'm part of the union but I'm actually not. For a brief time in the eighties I worked for the federal government and paid dues to the PSAC without being a full member — I was a temporary employee or what was colloquially known as a casual. Other than that I've never been a member of a union.

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January 28, 2011

Friday night


Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out was first recorded by Bessie Smith in the Twenties. This version features Josh White.

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What thwap Said

This is another edition of What thwap Said.

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January 27, 2011

Richard Brennan has a piece in today's Toronto Star about the federal government's latest marketing effort. Since free pastry seems unlikely to impress members of a forum whose memberships can cost as much as $156,000 each, I'm no more certain of the message the feds are trying send here than Brennan was. But I would have thought the feds themselves would know.

When asked what message the government was trying to send, a spokesperson for the department of trade said she would attempt to find out.

She never called back.

Guess not. Must be more of that competent government we've heard so much about.

As for that original title, the URL tells you the hed originally assigned to the piece: Welcome to Davos eh.

H/t to The Jurist, who doesn't seem to be very impressed either.

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Title of the day

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January 26, 2011

Conservative MP Steven Blaney has harsh words for those who have encouraged a boycott of a shoe store that sells Israeli shoes.

Conservative member of Parliament Steven Blaney has accused those demonstrating for the boycott of a Montreal store selling Israeli shoes of acting like "economic terrorists."

Perhaps Blaney missed this:

Israel told U.S. officials in 2008 it would keep Gaza's economy "on the brink of collapse" while avoiding a humanitarian crisis, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by a Norwegian daily on Wednesday.


"As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge," one of the cables read.

Israel wanted the coastal territory's economy "functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis," according to the November 3, 2008 cable.

Unlike boycotting a shoe store, the collective punishment of the Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip is a violation of international law. But we're not supposed to talk about that.

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January 25, 2011

Till all the seas gang dry, my love


And a good Burns Night to all friends who share Robbie's belief that "the common man, though e'er sae puir, is king o' men, for a' that."

You don't write an ode to the haggis unless you are serious about solidarity with the people. Actually, I like haggis, don't get the icky-nasty-poo reactions to it at all. It's a steamed pudding made with ground lamb is all (including the liver, lights [lungs], and heart), and ok, it's usually steamed inside a cleaned sheep's stomach, but you don't eat that part. Along with the traditional neeps (turnips) and tatties, a bit of chutney is nice.

Burns was one of those men who just plain like women, and doesn't that seem to get some of them into a lot of trouble sometimes? I wanted to play a good live performance of "My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose," and there are some around.

Here, though, is a different love song from Scotland that I think Robbie would have loved too.

The Corries, "Wild Mountain Thyme"

("And we'll all go together, tae pluck wild mountain thyme, all around the bloomin' heather, will ye go, laddie, go?")

Tae the immortal mem'ry!

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Wanker of the day

Jack Mintz. With backup here.

Editing to add (now that I have a few minutes): Mintz is one of those who is routinely quoted in places like the National Post with nary a dissenting voice in sight. He'll issue a report that happens to support a policy that corporate Canada and the Conservatives like and his conclusions will be dutifully repeated as if no one could possibly doubt them. I've learned that when I see his name in the news I should wait a day or two and then check the Progressive Economics Forum in particular — the first of the links above — for the rebuttal that I don't usually see in the corporate media.

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Would you repeat that please?


At every opportunity?

The Harper government should move ahead with "made-in-Canada" climate change regulations - including a price on carbon dioxide emissions - rather than wait for the United States to act, a government-appointed advisory panel recommends.

In a report Tuesday, the national Roundtable on the Environment and Economy argues Canada would enhance its economic competitiveness if it acted now so as to avoid more costly actions later.

I trust that whenever Harper and his sock puppets chant that they're making the economy a priority, anyone within earshot will take the opportunity to remind them of this. Their own advisory panel has advised them that moving ahead on GHG emissions instead of stalling will help, not hurt, our economic prospects. Dealing with this is an economic issue. How could something that alters the climate not affect our economy?

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January 24, 2011

You keep using that word "competent"


I'm by no means the first to point this out but apparently it's going to have to be repeated ad nauseum.

In this morning's Montreal Gazette, L. Ian MacDonald joins the list of right-leaning pundits intent on cementing the notion that whatever failings Stephen Harper may demonstrate, he's given us competent government and especially where the economy is concerned.

Apart from the five priorities, the principal achievement of the Harper government has been navigating the economy through the dangerous shoals of the Great Recession to the safe harbour of recovery.

Which completely ignores the fact that the Harper government had already created a structural deficit through a combination of profligate spending and injudicious tax cuts before the recession hit. It also ignores the fact that Stephen Harper, Economist Extraordinaire, denied that the Great Recession was even happening until it became undeniable and then claimed that it wouldn't have any impact on Canada. And it ignores the fact that the stimulus package, such as it was, came about because the opposition forced it by threatening to bring the government down unless it changed course.

Oh, and that banking system the Conservatives are fond of bragging about? They didn't build it; they inherited it. All those jobs that have been recovered? If you look under the surface you find that in many cases we've traded permanent, full time, high-paying jobs for part-time or temporary ones.

We're talking about events that, to a great extent, have happened in the last two or three years. It's amazing how many of the people who are well paid to explain our politics to us seem to have the attention spans of two-year-olds on Christmas morning. (Ooooh! Shiny paper!)

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January 21, 2011

Friday night

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It's another Friday evening. Let's begin with Taj Mahal covering Robert Johnson, though as a commenter in the YouTube thread said: he doesn't cover´╗┐ tunes, he makes them his own.

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But I hope he was raised to share because it must be really good stuff. Ivison's reaction to the new Liberal ads released today is to claim that the Liberals are campaigning "to the left of the Dippers." He even manages to work the word "socialists" into his column.

Our two largest national political parties are digging in to have a serious debate on the economy with the huge gulf between their policy prescriptions ranging from cutting corporate taxes immediately all the way to cutting corporate taxes in the near future. If you read the Liberal statements on this issue carefully you'll find that all of this sound and fury isn't about radical change to reverse the economic trends of the last three decades or so. It's not about going back to a more progressive tax regime. It's about the timing of corporate tax cuts which both parties want to happen. Be still my beating heart.

And incidentally, Mr. Ivison, canceling tax cuts that haven't taken effect yet is not the same thing as "hiking" taxes no matter how much you might like to pretend otherwise. Of course it's just a part of the larger pretense: that there's a major difference in the extent to which the Conservatives and Liberals are willing to cater to corporate Canada.

H/t to The Jurist.

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January 14, 2011

To begin, here's Snooky Pryor leading the band on Slow Down Mama.

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The Globe and Mail's lede establishes the context:

The Harper government took office on a promise to clean up the "revolving door'" between the worlds of government and lobbying. There's just one problem: The lobbying watchdog won't tell the lobbyists what the rules are.

The "watchdog" is Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd. Here's her response to an experienced lobbyist who asked specific questions about acceptable activities during an election campaign:

'I can't tell you.' She said, 'I can only tell you after the fact if somebody lodges a complaint.'

So wade in and campaign at your peril, knowing that you may end up on the wrong side of rules that have never been spelled out. And one wonders how Shepherd would handle a complaint if there are no rules to which she can refer. On the other hand, if no one actually files a complaint you may get away with anything and everything. And it gets even better:

Several [lobbyists] say they were told by Ms. Shepherd's office that there would be no obvious conflict of interest if they were to work for the New Democrats because the NDP has no chance of forming government, but any work for the Liberals or the Conservatives could, potentially, create problems.

Um, what? Anyone up for a game of Calvinball?

Ms. Shepherd declined to be interviewed for this story.

Why am I not surprised?

Where does Harper find these people?

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January 13, 2011

Bank Job

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Another cartoon that sums up the economy. I give you Bob the Angry Flower, in Bank Job

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I must be ahead of my time


As a result of today's news, I'd be one of those furiously digging up clips of Money For Nothing to post except that I just posted one on Christmas Eve. It's still there if you're so inclined (though Knopfler changes the lyrics for that performance).

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Demand creates jobs

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You don't have to look very hard to see the Conservatives working the phrase "job creators" into any conversation that gets anywhere near economic policy. The Liberals are intent on making an issue out of delaying scheduled corporate tax cuts until the federal deficit is under control and Harper's team is doing what they generally do: chanting the same phrases over and over again as if they're some kind of magical incantations. Even though corporations are generally doing pretty well these days and already have cash on hand that isn't being spent on new hires, the Conservative mantra is that corporate tax cuts will automatically create new jobs and delaying or reversing those cuts will harm the recovery.

So it's worth repeating: businesses only create jobs if they need to expand capacity. That only happens when there's a surge in demand for the products or services those businesses supply. The surest way to increase demand is to get more money into the hands of people who will spend it. If demand rises, businesses will soon enough invest in the staff and resources necessary to cash in on that demand. And if businesses don't have the cash, they'll turn to their friendly neighbourhood bankers for a business loan. That's what banks are there for.

The federal corporate tax rate in Canada has been reduced almost every year for the last decade. If that's all it takes to get the economy booming, why isn't the economy already booming?

Say it with me now: demand creates jobs.

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CRTC proposes lowering broadcast standards

In 2003, in a Florida Court of Appeals, lawyers representing Fox News successfully argued for the right to lie to a television audience. There is an FCC policy against "distortion" of the news but the court ruled that it's just that: a policy that doesn't rise to the level of a law or a rule. Fox News claimed that its right to lie was protected under the First Amendment and the court supported that interpretation. Isn't it a good thing we have higher standards here in Canada?

From Michael Geist yesterday:

The CRTC last week quietly proposed a significant change to the rules on false or misleading news broadcasts on radio or television. The law currently provides that a broadcast licensee "shall not broadcast any false or misleading news." The CRTC is proposing to amend the law with respect to television and radio by lowering the standard to "any news that the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public." In other words, it would perfectly permissible for a broadcaster to air false or misleading news, provided that it not endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.

Gee, I wonder what might have prompted them to consider lowering the standard? Who benefits?

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January 11, 2011



The Globe and Mail's hed reads: Canada unveils another $93-million for Haiti quake reconstruction. Now doesn't that sound like the feds have come up with $93 million in new money? Until you get to the second paragraph (my emphasis):

International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda announced Canadian support for the eight new initiatives, which will be funded out of the $400-million reconstruction fund that Ottawa committed last year.

So this isn't new money at all. It's money that was long ago committed to help Haiti and the Conservatives are just now getting around to deciding how to spend it. It's entirely possible that whoever wrote the headline for Campbell Clark's article simply made an innocent mistake but in context it's still a serious error. As the article reminds us towards the end, governments like ours have been criticized for making lavish promises of aid and being slow to deliver. So here's Bev Oda employing the old politician's trick of re-announcing old money as if it's new and the casual reader who just glances at the headline will walk away with exactly the wrong impression.

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January 10, 2011

Once again on strategic voting


Based on the last several federal elections, the greatest threat to the Conservative incumbent in my riding is the NDP. Based on the last two elections, that's true by a large margin. If Michael Ignatieff comes into my riding right now and tells me that in order to get rid of Harper I have to vote Liberal, I have to conclude that either he's an idiot or he thinks I am. Neither explanation encourages me to vote Liberal.

And yes, it really ought to be called tactical voting but that's an uphill battle at this point.

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January 7, 2011

Friday night

Good evening. That seemed awfully long for a short week. To ease into the weekend, here's Johnny Shines with Sweet Home Chicago.

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