Posts Tagged ‘government’

Pride and…?

Those of you who know me, know that I am a huge Jane Austen fan. (No, this is relevant, I swear!) Recently I finished reading a book about the laws and customs of nineteenth-century England, with the cumbersome title of “What Jane Austen Ate And Charles Dickens Knew”, by Daniel Pool. It’s a fun read if you like that sort of thing, as well as being a really good resource for looking things up in.

Not to mention, it was a good distraction from the news this week, since I would otherwise have pretty much spent every evening glued to the television watching the progress of the Gulf oil slick. (Someone explain to me why newscasters persist in referring to it as a “spill”. It’s not like it spilled out of a tanker. If it were a spill, we’d know how much oil there was, for one thing. Okay, pedantic linguist hat off.)

Anyway, here’s an interesting fact from this book: “[e]xcept for railway shares, no one would have had stocks or bonds from private companies until the second half of the century, for the excellent reason that even the smallest shareholders were 100 percent liable to the extent of all their goods and land for any debt incurred by the business of which they were part owners”.

In other words, if a company did something like, oh, let’s say, caused an entirely avoidable disaster due to not putting in failsafe machinery that they had promised they were going to and wiped out a large chunk of the fisheries industry to the tune of several billion dollars a year, then anybody who owned stock in this hypothetical company, which I expect would include all of its upper management, could have everything they owned seized to pay off their debt. No claiming that the corporation is somehow a separate entity; your creditors could come in and take your fancy cars and your million-dollar house and your big fat bonuses that you “earned” at the same time as working people everywhere were losing their jobs and their homes.

I’m not necessarily advocating this (well, not really). There are very good reasons why stocks don’t work this way anymore. Mostly it seems to have to do with encouraging innovation and helping new companies raise capital; also a lot of people’s savings are in stock investments, and they’d be as hard hit as petroleum executives, or more so, by having to be on the hook for this. But at the same time, I can’t help thinking that it would be really good to bring some personal responsibility back into the system. Because I guarantee you, in five years the management at BP are still going to be in cushy jobs (whether there or elsewhere) and the people whose livelihoods they made collapse aren’t going to see much if anything in the way of assistance from them.

There are people who are working on this. (There are people working on everything!) There are municipalities that have already abolished corporate personhood and others that are working on it.

I’m not without hope on this issue. I don’t expect the oil leak to be the wake-up call that some people are hoping it will, because I’m pretty sure that a lot of major corporations are run by sociopaths (ecopaths?). But I do think it’s something visible enough (unlike climate change) that people will get together on it. Most people are not scientists, and the climate change “debate” is murky and unclear to them. Oil washing ashore in Louisiana is pretty damn clear. Maybe we’ll be able to stop new offshore drilling because of this, maybe it’ll convince more people to buy electric cars, maybe maybe maybe. Maybe this will finally be enough.

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Added value

Well, it’s the end of April, which means that if you’re like me, you’ve left your taxes until the last minute and are now staring at a screen full of incomprehensible formulae and sweating tiny drops of blood from your forehead. Outside the sun is shining and people with more organizational skills, or possibly their own accountants, are playing frisbee in the park. I am strongly tempted to just go back to bed and give up this whole “responsible adult” thing as a bad idea.

So, in a futile effort at procrastination, here are some interesting tax-related links for y’all:

You probably already know about Conscience Canada, which supports a Peace Tax Trust Fund, allowing people “to divert the military portion of their taxes, to be held in trust until there is a law respecting conscientious objection to military taxation.” They have things you can send in with your taxes if you just want to make a symbolic objection, or if you actually want to withhold money from the government. Either way, a good cause.

Here’s a breakdown of the US Federal Budget for 2009 from PhD Comics, for those Americans who are interested in where their money actually goes. (For instance, some of it goes to the National Helium Reserve, which is $1.6 billion in debt. Feel proud!)

The Green Party explains how a carbon tax would work. This is a lot clearer than most explanations I’ve run across.

I tried to find something amusing to end with, but you know what, all the tax jokes on the internet are deeply sad, so never mind.

And…action!

So I’m watching the hockey game the other night (go Habs!) and a commercial comes on for the Conservative government’s “Economic Action Plan”. (They’ve decided to spend our tax money making ads telling us how wonderful they are, you see.) So the announcer’s listing off all the ways the Conservatives are helping the economy, and one of the things he mentioned was “We’re improving roads and bridges!”

Sorry…roads and bridges? You’re bragging about that? Isn’t that, I don’t know, one of the absolute basic things the government is supposed to take care of? That’s like me expecting to be congratulated for showing up at the office in the morning and opening my mail. When did fulfilling the minimum expectations of your job become something to be singled out for special praise?

Of course, the sad part is, given the catastrophic failure of foresight that the Conservatives’ “environmental policy”, maybe this really is the best they can manage.

In other news, check out this article from Examiner.com mentioning Right Relationship!

Oh, and the STM (the Montreal public transit authority) has just announced that it will now be announcing service outages via Twitter. So if you get a tweet saying “Attention a tous les voyageurs: Mmph mrph mrmble mrph mph” you’ll know why.

Rights of Nature

From the Towards an Eco-Economy blog comes an interesting referral to UK environmental lawyer Polly Higgins and her proposal to expand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to all life forms.

60 years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the devastation of the humanitarian crisis of the Second World War. Now we have a planetary crisis. Over the past 35 years there has been an ever increasingly loud voice of those calling for proper protection of the planet. There are over 500 pieces of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ law, social documents and individual manifestos that refer to the environment, but until now there has not yet been a comprehensive codification of the Rights of the planet, nor a recognition of our role as trustees and the responsibilities that brings with it.

Go there and watch the video; it’s well worth it.

Like I been sayin’…

The New Economics Foundation, a British think tank, released an interesting report the other day recommending that the work week be cut to 21 hours.

“So many of us live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume, and our consumption habits are squandering the earth’s natural resources. Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours. We could even become better employees – less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive. It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future.

Which means I’ve finally got documentation to point to when people try to tell me I’m doing it wrong. Ha!

Seriously, though, it sounds like a great idea. I have not yet read the whole report, which is available free as a great big PDF, but the summary is encouraging. Although I do look forward to seeing how they deal with some of the inevitable problems that would arise. For instance, if doctors and nurses were to only work 21 hours a week, we’d need, like, three times as many. (I don’t know what the numbers are like for Britain, but I assume they’re pretty busy over there too.) The NEF talks about encouraging “active training to combat skills shortages and to help long-term unemployed return to the labour force”, but I’m not sure how we’d manage that here with regards to health services, seeing as the government has already been trying to incentivize like mad to get more people to enroll in medical training.

But that’s the kind of thing these think tanks specialize in figuring out, so I’m sure they’ve got answers for it.

New Year News

So here are some interesting things from around the internet on this the first EcoMonday of the new year:

Other Worlds Are Possible: the sixth report from the New Economics Foundation. If you’re looking for something to read that isn’t wholly pessimistic, this is pretty interesting stuff. Note that it’s a PDF download and pretty big.

Law requiring solar energy heaters in new homes – well, I guess if any state was going to do this, Hawaii’s the one to start it.

Chemical regulations that might actually work: the Environmental Defense Fund’s blog discusses the EPA’s new “Chemical Action Plans”.

Peace Teaching: stories from North Kivu, the Congo – by Zawadi Nikuze.

The Obligatory Bicycle-Related Link.

Finally, things to write to your MP about! Here are some private members’ bills you may be interested in.

Establishing a National Ecosystems Council

Prohibiting the Export of Water

Establishing an Oil and Gas Ombudsman

And then there’s The Tartan Day Act – yeah, I don’t know either.

Read all about it

Interviews! Today we’ve got a great interview with Peter Brown from The Lionel Show, which, as usual, WordPress will not let me embed directly. But fear not; just click here and it ought to either play or download, depending on how paranoid your media player settings are.

Also there’s a print interview at Investor’s Business Daily with quotes from Geoffrey Garver. Well worth reading, although quite short.

Was going to post another interview, but the interviewer was so clueless that it’s not even worth giving them the link traffic. Yes, it’s important to engage with people of all views, no matter how bizarre, but at some point it just becomes inefficient to keep pouring our energy and effort down that big ol’ hole. The scientific evidence on climate change is in. There’s as much consensus as there’s ever going to be, because the people who are still unconvinced are the people who aren’t likely to be persuaded by scientific evidence anyway. Can we just declare ourselves to have won the debate (and if there’s ever been a better definition of a Pyrrhic victory, I can’t think of it, because I’m pretty sure we’d all be delighted for the other folks to have been right, yes?) and then proceed to ignore them?

And yeah, I realize we can’t, because some of them run countries. Which is one of a number of things that keep me up at night. (Car alarms are another.)

I guess we’ll see the final shape of world opinion soon, as Copenhagen grinds onward. Keep watching the skies!