Sunday, 19 May 2013

Senate Residency Requirements

The easy part of analysing the ongoing scandal gripping Canadian senators' Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin that culminated in their decisions to leave the Conservative caucus over the last two days is condemning them as individuals.  These two people were Conservative appointees, appointees of a Prime Minister who in a previous life admonished the Senate for its uselessness, patronage, waste and culture of entitlement and who it turns out, through this saga, came to embody those very things.  The comment boards on line show a lot of booing, name-calling and righteous indignation, but there is no need to let our emotions get the better of us on this issue.  There is no debate to get fired up over.  These two individuals represent geographical regions they do not actually reside in, and so the multiple six figures of travel and housing expenses they have claimed over the last three years are invalid and bogus.  Simple.  And if you think resigning from the Conservative caucus means they quit their jobs or have somehow been punished, think again.  They will continue to sit in the Senate, collecting 168,000 in salary a year with impunity.  We as a nation are powerless to do anything about it.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, as the Conservative government stymied all attempts to hold it to account and make it admit wrongdoing with lies, obfuscation, defiance and insults on several occasions during the 2006-2011 minority years. In fact, I've never heard a Conservative party apology or admission of wrongdoing in my life.  That's how these guys roll: they're divine.  So don't expect any accountability now that they have a majority: bring on the next wave of patronage appointments of party-friendly hacks and the next prorogue.  Nothing else to see here, so save your negative emotions for more important things.

But while we're here, let's ask ourselves why does it matter that a Senator is a "full-time" resident of PEI or Wadena, Saskatchewan?  Does somebody (especially big important Senators who worked for CTV in Ontario for 40 years) really need to be in their little remote buttfuck community when they already spend over 150-200 days a year in Ottawa?  Can't property ownership, historical ties and regular visits suffice?  After all, it's not a requirement for Canadians to live where they work, including in instances with real economic consequences like overpaid city workers whose wages are indexed to the high cost of living in that city fuelling real estate bubbles in the suburbs.  It's a really badly kept secret that many MPs, including the two opposition party leaders who intend to make hay out of this Senate scandal, do not actually live in their ridings.  This is well known yet is accepted and does not dominate headlines.  Are we past caring where people actually live in our new "global village", in which it can be argued that location matters less than ever? I answered yes when I wrote about the mobility of labour and the impossibility of stopping it two days go.

In this case the answer is still no.

When it comes to a position that almost exclusively consists of privileges that are inherited from the times of the aristocracy, residency does matter.  You are getting paid a ridiculous amount of money to represent a region; it is an insult to people in that region and to Canadian taxpayers to not reside in it.  Residency, despite our advances in travel and technology, is not a passé requirement; there is no substitute for living in a community, supporting its businesses, having your kids in its schools, using its roads, parks, and medical facilities and knowing to see people who walk down its streets.  Everybody has to do this somewhere - I have done it many places - but its hard to think of another job it as essential for as politician.  Think of how hollow, vague, and corny the average politician's speech is, and then imagine it after you find out they don't even live in the district whose name "The people of..." they repeat with tourette's like repetitiveness.  Forcing politicians to live in the riding they represent would go a long way to ending the culture of entitlement so endemic in the Canadian political class; by forcing them to adhere to basic bureaucratic framework like everyone else (like living where you say you live), we eliminate one more opportunity for crass political opportunism.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Rob Ford is on Crack

That explains the last three years.

Do I need to say anything else?

Probably just that I have become so accustomed to this idiot that I had to read the headline in four different newspapers before it sunk in.  I have become so good at tuning out the daily dose of Rob Ford moron antics that it turns out he smoked crack and I was like "Oh yeah? Hmmm. *Yawn*.  First of all because its not surprising, second of all because it was abundantly clear to most people with a pulse that this guy should never have got within a telescope's view of the public eye from the get-go, never mind mayor.  Each passing day confirms that, to the point where a crack-smoking video surprises no-one and probably isn't going to change anything.

It just slightly eclispses his brother admitting he drinks 4 litres of chocolate milk every day.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Who Cares Where Stuff is Made?

In recent weeks, the issues of off-shoring, sweat-shops, and labour mobility have resurged to occupy the news headlines once again.  The collapse of a textile factory in Bangladesh that left hundreds dead produced a temporary black mark on one of the eyes of the hydra of multi-billion dollar conglomerates that sources its garments in this part of the world.  Suddenly, twenty years after Kathie Lee Gifford cried on tv about her orphan-manufactured Wal-Mart clothes line (wow, I'm really dating myself here), there is collective shock and disgust that our clothes are still made in the third world.

Meanwhile in Canada, home of Loblaw Inc. who among others manufactured its own Joe Fresh line of clothes in that very factory that collapsed, much hand-wringing and griping has recently occurred over the issue of temporary foreign workers (or TFWs, as informed pros now calls them).  A haystack that was set fire to by one bitter obsolete employee at Canada's largest bank turned into a several-week long shit-storm during which it was revealed that not only this big bank but ALL the big banks, as well as politicians' office staff, lawyer firms, big telecom, and all the other six-figure earner employing, ridiculously profitable industries in this fair land were making use of the program.  In the face of all this anger, indignation, and angst at these two separate but related cases we must ask: Why all this uproar over what gets made or who does what where?

Please understand me: the title of this article, or that last sentence, do not mean I am an indifferent or callous to the plight of individuals trying to obtain economic security anywhere.  As sad as the deaths of 380 Bangladeshis are, I believe it is more constructive to pose basic questions than fall into righteous indignation, because I don't think they have been answered, and they provide more insight than righteous indignation.  You've probably already had more than enough of that in the mainstream media.  And the response to it doesn't allow us to cut any further to the heart of the matter: the anti-capitalist crowd sharpens its axes in preparation of marathon grinds and CEOs of multi-nationals hurriedly crowd-surf to podiums on their PR departments hands to reassure the world (and shareholders) that they are compassionate, well-meaning individuals.

The Globe and Mail, the virtuous paragon of humanity that it is, reminded us that deep down inside, we are all shareholders.  It asked the tough question days after the Bangladeshi disaster.  Something about the country being torn between this now crucial industry for its economy and the fact that, well, it's a dangerous and miserable occupation for all who do it and now the whole world knows that.  Okay, not that it didn't know before but its been reminded (humans have very short attention spans, and technology hasn't exactly helped the situation).  To put that in very impolite terms, what exactly do people in Bangladesh have better to do than sew $12 tank tops for 14 cents an hour?

I'm not sure, because I've never been to Bangladesh.  But I know there's a reason the clothes are being made there, and not in Central African Republic or Afghanistan (two dirt poor countries that come to mind).  Big, bad multinationals don't just walk into places they aren't wanted in 2013; they are aided by the tax deals and backroom handshakes of compliant governments, eager to get people earning incomes , paying taxes, and working 14 hours a day with no time to wonder how the government made their lives such shit.

The people of Bangladesh didn't ask for sweatshops, the government got them because it evidently made attracting them a top priority, and people didn't exactly turn their nose up at the work when it arrived.  North Americans' clothes have evidently followed a path of rising incomes through Asia, from Hong Kong to China down through Laos and Cambodia with extended stays in Phillipines, Indonesia and Vietnam.  All these countries have robust economies and excellent growth rates.

Does that mean the average person there doesn't still have an awful grind to get through to live day to day?  No.  But businesses will move anywhere or explore all options available to them to reduce costs and create value for their customers and shareholders.  If I draw the ire of some well-meaning "progressive" about promoting a "race to the bottom" then I reassure him or her that I would be interested in a system that rewarded people for their hard work and initiative and did not create instability and inequality at the same time.  The argument that this process also leads to worker exploitation and environmental destruction is, of course, irrefutable, but as the last five years in the wake of the widespread awareness of climate change have shown, people seem to be more interested in working to survive than figuring out how to solve really big complicated problems that involve coordinating the efforts of 7 billion individuals, millions of companies, and 192 sovereign states.  So nobody is really accountable to anybody and everyone just keeps telling themselves I'm just going to take care of business and do what I need to do until this cluster fuck all gets sorted out.  As of right now it seems pretty hopeless.

Anyway those same leftists are the ones pounding their chests in the media when Caterpillar closes a plant in London Ontario to move 500 km down the road to Indiana where wages are less than half, or when B.C. imports Chinese coal miners.  They are all about "protecting the environment" and "protecting Canadian jobs" which exposes them to be grovelling for the same working-stiff, joe six pack votes as all the other parties.  So the environment part is really just lip service.  Witness NDP leader Andrea Horwath this week in Ontario holding out her support to prop up a minority government over road tolls, badly needed to fund transit in a city choking worse than any in North America on its own traffic congestion.  It's so much easier for her (and so agonizing for everyone else) to blather on some bullshit platitudes about "families" and "ordinary folks" than to attempt to tackle a complex but urgent problem.

This is symptomatic of a larger problem of Canadians being alienated from and uninformed about where their "economy" that is the "most important issue" in every election actually comes from.  Corporations which employ Canadians and pay them good salaries have many operations abroad and make a lot of profits abroad.  And these companies and others import from abroad so that we can have cheap goods here.  Maybe it is not that simple but we could do a lot more to figure out how society should be run and be part of the solution instead of listening to idiot politicians constantly telling us that we are all entitled to good jobs and cheap goods and no pain because we are special.  If we were special we would be totally insulated and sell-sufficient; technology and petroleum have made that impossible.  Whether you think that is fortunate or unfortunate depends on your perspective, but what is 100% certain is that there is no turning back, and that's why I don't care who makes what and does what where.  I know there is still lots of work to do in Canada.