Category: policy

Who is Local?

“Ahmadi is still months away from getting permanent resident status, putting him in the unlucky group of middle-class British Columbians who have found themselves targeted by a tax purportedly imposed to crack down on rich real estate speculators from overseas”

I’ve never been this hopeless

I would not call Hamed Ahmadi unlucky, he’s a victim of the all too common policy apparatus that confuses residency with visa status. The BC non-resident tax of 15% on properties is supposed to target “foreign” (read Chinese) investors buying in Vancouver with no intentions of living there. I presume there are multiple other ways to determine residency and “localness” for the purpose of determining who lives here and who does not. The BC government, in its haste to demonstrate it was doing something, took the easy route and used visa status as a proxy.

Hamed lives and works in BC, which meets my definition of local. While a speculation tax on non-residents is a reasonable approach, using visa status to determine residency, and providing no sensible exceptions for locals with alternative paper work is lazy and thoughtless policy making, so is not providing exceptions for people with home buying applications already in process. It’s almost as if someone looked at the polls and press and wrote the law in a day.

In many ways, this is personal for me because I lived in the US for 10+ years under various non-permanent visas that left me vulnerable to these poorly designed, thoughtless policy measures. I lived in the same town for 10 years, was very much a local by the time I’d left, with a stable set of friends, family, work, places I shopped in, hiked to, causes I supported, volunteer work I did, and more. So, Hamed’s story could have been mine, and in some smaller ways, was mine for other parts of my life.

“CTV News spoke with BC Liberal cabinet minister Andrew Wilkinson on Wednesday and asked several times for comment on Ahmadi’s situation. Wilkinson responded by repeating a piece of blanket advice for the people impacted. “Those who find themselves affected by the tax should seek legal advice because individual circumstances vary,” Wilkinson said.

This is typical of policy makers who are so removed from the day to day lives of the people whose behaviour they seek to regulate. The casual assumption that regular people can afford professionals who bill at multiple hundreds of dollars an hour speaks more about the types of people these ministers hang out with than anything else. But this sounds familiar too, I needed to consult lawyers multiple times to help me with immigration paper work.

As someone with a high level of institutional trust, and who thinks governments can affect our lives for the better with sound and thoughtful policy interventions, these types of hasty policy making are deeply disappointing. There are multiple other policy measures to make housing more affordable. The CCPA just released a comprehensive document of policies, focusing on the actual problem, the lack of affordable housing. Investment in affordable housing with a focus on cohousing and social housing, and zoning changes that reduce the protections afforded to affluent property owners would go a long way.

Originally posted on Interrobang 04-August-2016

Retire the Beg Button

Photo of a button which says push to cross, with an added hashtag DontMakeMeBegBiking down the Galloping Goose Sunday on my way to the excellent Panama Flats park, I came up on the intersection of the Goose with Tillicum Road, and traffic on Highway 1 (running parallel to the Goose) was flowing. It was in the middle of a minutes long traffic cycle, the appropriate time for people on foot and on bikes to be moving through unimpeded.

Except, that orange stick figure was telling me I should not go, which meant I had to push the “Beg” button first. Voila, the orange stick figure was replaced by the white one telling me I could cross. Of course I could cross, I was moving in the same direction as traffic and it was logical! Why was this even an issue?

I abhor beg buttons, and here’s why, this has been documented repeatedly.

It’s annoying for walkers: have you ever tried to walk a few blocks, stopping to hit the button at every single intersection? Or hit the button just a few seconds too late and had to wait a whole additional cycle? But it also illustrates the backwardness of our street design: pedestrians, who are supposed to have the right-of-way, are required to press a button at an intersection in order to get a walk signal, which should happen automatically

I’ve written many an unpublished diatribe that had those exact same words!

Especially here in Victoria, pedestrians take first priority, then people on bikes (pdf), all prioritized above car traffic in the official community plan. This is true in Saanich as well. If that is the case, and our municipalities were serious about improving the non car driver’s experience, then they need to aggressively retire all beg buttons. Remove them, or note that they are not to be used. I’ve of course heard anecdotal information from people in engineering/planning that they are disabled in some places. That’s not good enough. If you are going to disable a button, you need to label it as so, say DO NOT PRESS! And, while you’re at it, time your pedestrian crossing signs to maximize crossing time. I’m tired of seeing “Do not Walk” signs come up a good twenty seconds before car traffic stops, this is not necessary, and harkens back to a car first mentality that needed to have gone away with the 20th century. Why, I crossed a 3 lane (+ wide turning cuts) in Sidney at a deliberate saunter starting after the “Do not walk” (not the warning) had come on and still had a good few seconds before the car light changed to red.

Victoria is getting better, but there are still too many intersections where cars are prioritized. Take Fairfield and Moss, corners are two shopping/office blocks, a church and a busy community center/child care. But, guess what, there’s beg buttons still, and certain times of the day when crossing Fairfield is something you have to accomplish in 10 seconds or less. Completely unnecessary.

Time for a campaign to Retire the Beg Button at traffic lights and move them all to mid block crosswalks where we can cross the road by pressing a button that will make cars stop for a few seconds.

Originally posted on Interrobang on 17-May-2016

Break the link between employment and healthcare!

Cross-posted from Interrobang:

The US Supreme Court ruled along political lines on the 30th of June, 2014 that “closely held corporations”, over 90% of all US businesses, are now free to discriminate against women (and it was specifically women and birth control) if their religion leads them to believe birth control kills babies, or that women who use birth control are Satan’s spawn (the belief does not have to be factual).

The Supreme Court says corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.

The justices’ 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies’ health insurance plans.

Salon AP coverage

I am not going to debate the wrongness of this decision, the notion that businesses can have religious beliefs, and can use them to discriminate against certain types of people is not up for debate. And, the discrimination is very specific and targeted…

The other, more ubiquitous discrimination is in the notion that the health care you get has anything to do with the work-for-pay arrangement you have with the organization you work for. I am probably the millionth person to mention this, and whole books have been written on the subject, but, the link between healthcare and your employer is wrong because it anchors discrimination. This particular egregious case goes one step further and discriminates based on gender as well, not just work status.

The US had a chance to sever health benefits from employment when they had a three-year debate on expanding health insurance coverage. Thanks to the ability of small political minorities to filibuster and block action, and a corporate-funded reluctance for change, the US kept their employer-based health insurance system in place, and with it, all the discrimination that entails. Uwe Reinhardt reiterated a number of these points recently in the New York Times.

Back Home

Is BC any better? Yes and no. Thanks to Canada’s Medicare, parts of our health care system are universal and not subject to employment ties. But, there are several exceptions making us a two-tier health care system:

  1. The health insurance tax or MSP (what our government cutely calls a “fee” in order to not call the yearly increase in this fee a tax increase): Many employers will pick up part/all of this tax for their employees, whereas one that doesn’t can pay more than 1000 dollars a year for a family. While there is an element of progressiveness to the pricing with very low-income people paying less/nothing, it is weak, families making > 30K per year pay full price.
  2. Drugs: For some reason, drugs are not covered by our “universal” healthcare system and are provided by workplace “supplemental benefits”, as if taking a thyroid pill every day is a “supplement”. The CCPA makes an excellent case for universal pharmacare, if you need more convincing. 10% of Canadians cannot fill prescriptions for financial reasons.
  3. Our public health insurance system assumes people don’t have eyes or teeth. So, if you want your cavities filled, a root canal, or want to see clearly, you need “supplemental benefits”, and these are mostly employer-provided. Oral health is a clear marker of health inequality.
  4. Mental health is not covered, this is inexcusable, as Andre Picard notes.
  5. Treatments that improve overall health, like massages, are not really covered. Once again, your employment status determines whether you have the “luxury” of holistic preventative measures to reduce stress, pain, and many other issues.
  6. Historically and currently oppressed groups, Canada’s indigenous people for example, get a short shrift on the benefits like massage, nutrition, counselling and holistic treatment they need because of disparity in employment availability.

This quote from the Andre Picard article I mentioned summarizes the discrimination.

The well-to-do pay. The middle-class scrape together the money the best they can, sacrificing so their child can get care. And those without the means wait, or do without care.

There are other side-effects. Because “benefits” are expensive, companies have a vested interest in only having certain “valuable” employees benefit. The rest get treated as contractors, have their hours strategically reduced, and much more.

It’s almost as if there’s an unspoken moral argument here, you don’t deserve good teeth or a massage if you don’t work for a living.

Yes, you can buy individual supplemental insurance, or pay per use, but neither of these are cheap because you as an individual have no bargaining power.

We in BC also have a long way to go to break the link between healthcare and employment. Will it cost the average BC resident more money? Let’s consider:

  1. A simpler system with one buyer is administratively efficient. It takes the thousands of decision points every HR administrator or group in every company/union has to make and transfers that to a single entity. Public universal plans are about four to ten times more efficient (pdf) than fragmented private plans.
  2. A bigger entity can negotiate much better rates for you, whether it is for drugs, or for dentistry, or for anything else (a bigger risk pool). If all of Canada administered one simple pharmacare system, we would negotiate much lower prices with pharmaceutical companies. We would also have better funding to run and evaluate effectiveness studies.
  3. Funding preventative, holistic healthcare means fewer hospital visits. In a universal system, there are no artificial barriers between a massage, drug treatment, surgery, stress reduction counselling, or ergonomic counseling for back pain. You don’t have to prove your work injured you in order to get the right treatment, your first point of contact with a medical professional (not necessarily a doctor) decides which path works best. You do not have to get sick enough to go to the hospital before you get treatment covered by insurance.

Pitfalls

There are concerns with a universal single-payer system:

  1. As Vox points out, if a government administering the single-payer system decides not to pay for contraception, then no one gets it. So, getting good universal healthcare is about constantly winning political battles. The good thing about universal healthcare in Canada is that it is incredibly popular, polling near 90% approval (pdf). So once quality is improved, governments will find it hard to cut back.
  2. Like any other public system, the quality of the institutions drafting policy and administering the system is vitally important. Well run public systems are efficient. But conservative movements in the last 30+ years have worked hard to dismantle the quality of public institutions and trust in such institutions. In this reality of shrinking budgets and staff levels where bureaucrat is a term of insult, ensuring that public system expansion is handled efficiently is no given. There is an entire industry of political parties, think tanks and media devoted to tearing down the concept of a publicly administered good, and ready to pounce on every little misstep (Remember the Obamacare roll out anyone?)
  3. Will employers raise wages from all the savings they get from not providing health benefits, and will these raises cover the increase in taxes we will pay for universal healthcare? Probably not right away, but it will happen eventually.

Transitions

Clearly, we can’t transition tomorrow. A public system would need to be in place and functioning before our employers get out of the health insurance business. I would phase universality in the following order:

  1. Drugs
  2. Teeth and eyes
  3. Preventative and palliative care.

We would also need to rethink the”fee for service”, where healthcare providers are paid per widget, and think about a different system closer to a salaried model, more on that in future blog posts.

Fun with maps: BC Smart meters and the 2013 election

SmartMeterVotingMapI have been MOOC’ing this summer and learning how to do maps. Geography as an adult is much more fun than my 10th grade geography class.

Chad Skelton over at the Vancouver Sun intrigued me with his data retrieval and mapping of British Columbia’s Smart Meter uptake. if you’re not from BC, here’s a short intro (#BCpoli-aware feel free to skip the next two paragraphs).

BC Hydro is the government owned (Crown Corporation) utility that produces and distributes electricity for the province of British Colombia in Canada. In 2011, BC Hydro announced its intention to spend $$$ upgrading all its electricity meters to “smart meters”. These meters are capable of being read via wifi by meter readers, and potentially also give BC residents the ability to monitor their electricity usage in near-real time.

Many concerns were raised about the smart meters. One was about the costs of the program vs. perceived benefits. The others, which gained traction were around an emerging movement in BC connecting wifi, cell signals and wifi-enabled smart meters with a whole variety of health effects. While few, if any of these health concerns have been actually causally linked to smart meters, or even to the amorphous descriptor “wifi radiation”, these health concerns have gained traction even among official bodies such as the Union of BC Municipalities, municipal councils and school boards. The BC provincial election in 2013 was a chance for people to voice their concerns. The opposition parties all brought the issue up during canvassing.

For my peer assessment mapping project, I wanted to see if areas of relatively high smart meter refusal were correlated or co-located in any way with voting against the ruling BC Liberals.

This is the map I made, my first ever map not scrawled on paper.


View Larger Map

Reading the Map

The electoral districts are colour-coded by BC Liberal Party percentage, darker means higher vote for the BC Liberals. I chose this rather than “who won” because I was looking more for an anti-BC Liberal effect. I will, at some point in time, try to overlay “who won” as well. The smart meter refusal data is in three different coloured and sized circles. Large and red means higher refusal, and small and green means low refusal. This is a hybrid of a graduated circle symbol scheme and a diverging colour scheme. Clearly, using points to represent areas is a big limitation, but it is sufficient for a quick peek.

Anything to See?

  • An overwhelming majority of people had smart meters installed, > 90% in most places. So, BC Hydro’s brute force, no options, default installation plan was mostly successful
  • Places of higher than normal refusal tended to vote against the BC Liberals. I believe this had more to do with existing anti-BC-Lib tendencies influencing smart meter refusal rather than the other way around.
  • Urban centres like Victoria and Vancouver had relatively low rates of refusal. Is this because of higher apartment proportions, or because smart meter refusal was restricted to a small number of high information, highly motivated individuals whose number varied by location and whose numbers in places like Victoria were muted by larger populations?. Note that my home area of Victoria had the most (7300) rejected smart meters, even though the percentage is small. The ageing white (l)iberal enclave of Saltspring Island (Ganges), aka hippieville, Canada had by far the highest refusal percentage. So, is this smart meter refusal map mostly a hippie population distribution map?

The take home message for me was that the anti-smartmeter movement had little influence on the election, which was most likely won on the usual and mundane issues of the economy, trust and corruption.

Methods

  1. I downloaded data on smart meter refusal from the Chad Skelton’s post and Tableau public
  2. The data from BC Hydro is categorized using their division of BC into distinct geographical billing areas. I used billing area names to geotag the information. The site http://www.findlatitudeandlongitude.com/ has a feature where addresses can be uploaded in bulk via a text interface, and the site returns the place, and latitude longitude. I added province and country to the place names, and edited ambiguous names to make the search more effective.
  3. I uploaded this table to arcgis to form one layer. Arcgis is a big and expensive GIS software, with a limited free online playpen where this map is displayed. I used graduated circles and natural breaks to represent the different levels of smart meter refusal. A big limitation to this approach is that the BC Hydro billing areas are just that, areas, not points on a map. However, the area boundaries are not available as a shape file, and geographical areas vary widely. So, the points correspond to the centre of the nearest big population area mentioned in the BC Hydro billing area description
  4. I downloaded BC electoral district shape files from Paul Ramsey of Open Geo. These shape files are an improved version of those available from Elections BC, again, thanks to Chad Skelton for pointing me in this direction
  5. Elections BC lists 2013 provincial election results information by party by district. However, there is no publicly downloadable mapped source for the election data results. I used the open source GIS desktop software QGIS to open the shape file and add the attribute of BC Liberal percentage to the shape file. I uploaded this shape file to arcgis and layered it with the smart meter refusal rate graduated circles to look for patterns.

Maps are fun to play with, and I know very very little about them, which is a great combination. Every minute I spent making this map was a learning experience. Comments and feedback, please. I think I will slowly incorporate mapping into my skill set. But I think I will use open source/free solutions in the future.

Facebook and deep customer tracking, I want my data!

To nobody’s surprise, Facebook, just like any other entity selling you stuff, or selling you to people who sell you stuff is trying to connect more and more sets of previously unconnected data. This particular case deals with brick and mortar store data that is linked with customers’ email addresses and loyalty cards.

Facebook will be using Datalogix to prepare reports for its advertisers about who, if anyone, bought more of their stuff after they ran ads on the social network. But by matching your Facebook profile with your CVS bill, this means that Facebook has the potential to know some of your most intimate details (my, that’s a lot of bunion cream you’re buying!), and the privacy concerns are enormous. When DoubleClick attempted something similar to this, user-backlash ultimately led them to cancel the project.

Can Facebook Possibly Build a Business Model That Isnt Inherently Creepy? – Derek Thompson – The Atlantic.

Corporations (more than government, open data activists!) have been deep mining our data for years. It is part of creating the information asymmetry that enables profits to be made. You may remember this story about Target (coming to Canada as soon as we can learn to say Tarjay) and how they outed a teen’s pregnancy.

 About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

Companies’ ability to reduce us to a shopping probability statistic is only going to get better as they learn to connect more of our data and computing gets faster. Can regulation keep up? Can customer outrage keep up with companies offering us coupons to keep us temporarily happy as impulse centres in our brain are carefully triggered for profit? Can customer outrage even keep up with the barrage of occurrences?

Receipt 2.0

I don’t think we can keep up. So, I want my data. I want information on what I bought, when I bought it, where I bought it in a standardized open data format. No, not a paper receipt, not a paper receipt scanner, but something that can be beamed to my phone, or emailed to me. I want to know when I buy coffee. Can I correlate my shopping habits with my mood?  Do I buy more random electronics when I need a pick me up? What is the spread in the price I paid for my favourite cereal? Do some stores price it differently on Wednesdays? I want apps that can mine my data and tell me where to buy my cereal, or when not to buy. I want apps that can tap into a product database and give me a carbon footprint, or a fair trade pass/fail, or a local product breakdown.

Also, I do not want to re-enter the same bits of data multiple times and increase error. A payment made to my dentist should be sent directly to my extended health “insurance” provider for a refund. It should also go to my tax receipts virtual pile and await reimbursement. Any tax deductions can easily be tagged and directly entered into my tax preparation software at the end of the year. if I want to expense something for work, I should just be able to tag them and send them along. I can’t imagine how much time and effort this will save in error checking, manual entry, auditing, so much more.

Some of this is possible with systems like Mint, but they operate on a payment level, not on a line item level.

The new mobile payment system Square (not in Canada yet) shows some potential, so does Intuit’s GoPayment, which is available in Canada. But these payment systems emphasize ease of payment on both sides of the transaction, not the ability to mine our own data.

Can this happen via the market with no regulatory push? I don’t see how. Reducing information asymmetry is not in corporations’ interest. So it will have to be regulated. You have our data, just give it to us.

Not to mention, this is the “free market” way to go. Think of all the innovation that can be unleashed on the consumer side. Think of the apps that can provide better financial advice, the apps that can collate data at city/regional level and help consumers make better decisions.

Will companies have to spend money to make this happen? Yes. This will not be challenging for larger companies who already spend millions deep-mining our data. What about small business? This is where small tweaks to new systems like Square or GoPayment can be the game changer. Square already charges less for a swipe than a typical Visa transaction. So, I would see local business as saving money. When I buy local, I usually feel a bit more connection with the product. Imagine seeing my decision reinforced by data from Receipt 2.0. Small local business cannot data mine, but can generate enough goodwill with local consumers to get access to their data. Unlike Target, when my corner soap store does something unethical with my data, they cannot survive the bad publicity.

Are there privacy concerns? Yes. But our privacy is already compromised the minute we pay anything other than cash, or use the internet (Tor users, stop smirking). Good regulation can address most concerns.

My information is being used to make me a consume more, I want it to make me a better “consumer”. Open data efforts have focused intensely on public and government data, while privacy activists have tried unsuccessfully to stop private data gathering. I would like open data advocates to look carefully at liberating corporate mined data as well.

Featured Image courtesy the Culturally Authentic Picture Lexicon used under a creative commons licence.

Murray Langdon and the Role of Government

Murray Langdon of Victoria area radio and news outfit CFAX talks about municipal golf courses and tries to connect the Municipality of Saanich’s role in running a golf course with a much larger question around government, and “money”.

I’ve already been inundated with a ream of people who have stated that rec centres, garbage pick-up, landscaping, etc, has always been done by the municipality. That may be true. What I’m asking is should cities and towns be doing that. For example, we know that rec centres lose money each and every year…

via Murray Langdons Comment

The role of government, whatever level it might be, is to maximise the welfare of the people it serves, not some of its people, but most of them. So, looking at government “costs” alone in deciding the role of government is dangerously incomplete. What you actually have to do is to total up the costs for government and the people being served by the government, and judge whether there is an overall benefit to a municipality providing a service. Trying to be pragmatic about it, here are some of the things I look at:

  1. Is the good/service provided discretionary? Meaning, would I be able to live a reasonably satisfactory life without the service?
  2. If the good/service is non-discretionary ( I need it for a satisfactory life), then does it show characteristics of moral hazard (if some people don’t participate, it affects everyone), and would the provision of the service benefit from risk pooling (it works better if we’re all in it together) and mitigate issues of adverse selection (people who need services most are least able to afford them)?
  3. Is the good/service market amenable? (despite what free market fundamentalists may have you believe, Adam Smith did not think that every good/service could fit into a free market paradigm). If market worthy, is there any additional benefit to having a “public option”?
  4. What parts of a good/service are a natural monopoly, and what parts are amenable to market based competition (highways vs. cars)?
  5. When looking at costs and benefits, it’s not enough just look at direct costs like construction, salaries, etc, but also at more intangible measures like decision fatigue,(after a certain threshold, every decision you take degrades the next one) social capital (community relations, cooperation and confidence), creative capital (the ability to attract people to your community), environmental capital and so much more.

Immediately, dumping golf, recreation, and water and sewage services into the same pot makes no sense.

Let’s look at golf, it’s discretionary, and given the proliferation of golf courses in the area, a reasonably competitive good/service (disclaimer: I don’t golf). If Saanich stopped providing golf services, some people would end up paying more, but this would not affect a vast majority of people in the area. So, I wouldn’t shed a tear if Saanich’s golf course was privatised (I would be happier if it became a park, but that’s a different argument!).

Let’s look at recreation centres – Murray Langdon says this:

For example, we know that rec centres lose money each and every year. But we have examples of private recreation facilities, (in Langford for example) that are not only affordable but actually make money. For some reason, people assume that if it’s not run by a municipality, it will be expensive. Well, I have news for you. It is expensive and it may be because it’s run by a municipality.

I am confused, what Langford recreation centre is he talking about? (I don’t live in Langford, or hardly ever visit) The Westshore Parks and Rec Society runs the recreation centres, and it appears to be a joint effort by Westshore communities.

West Shore Park & Recreation is governed by the West Shore Parks & Recreation Society’s Board of Directors  Each municipalities contribution, through tax requisition, assists in the operation of the parks and recreation facilities.

Putting Langford aside, clearly, the public health benefits of increased physical activity make exercise a non-discretionary item (some may disagree!) Community based (whether run by the municipality or not) recreation centres have many benefits that are not measured just by their profit-loss statements. They are often the only option for family-centric, community centric (as opposed to individual centric) recreation. I can’t go to a private gym with my partner (real) and kids (hypothetical), and have all of us participate in  activities at the same time. My partner and I would have to schedule different workouts, then enrol the progeny in a separate swimming or soccer class, find/take turns in baby sitting, etc. So, not having community based recreation increases costs to society + government, while possibly (and not always) reducing government “costs”. The social capital of having community recreation centres, the public health benefits of encouraging exercise, I could go on, the intangible benefits are high. The YMCA, which I am a member of, is a non-profit community run recreation centre, and this model works as well.

Water and Sewer – These are non-discretionary, monopoly driven services not really market based. Construction, some maintenance, value added services, may be amenable to competition, but not the management, oversight and long-term stewardship. While the BC provincial government and various Federal governments have been trying to privatise various commons resources, third-party evidence points to no cost savings.

Here’s a test: Talk about BC Liquor!

The job of a public policy analyst is to consider the costs/benefits of the society as a whole. One does not read government balance sheets the same way one would read a corporation’s balance sheet.

Photo from GibsonGolfer Flickr photostream used under a Creative Commons License.

Income Inequality = Super VIllains

From the very awesome Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Website, a reminder that income inequality causes more super villains than science, and mashing DNA 🙂  Canada’s Conference Board, which no one would accuse of being socialist, came up with a report yesterday flagging growing inequality in Canada. They flagged inequality as “raising questions of fairness”, and declared it of “moral concern”.

They are late to the party. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has been on this beat for years, and has an ongoing project called The Growing Gap about income inequality. Go read The Spirit level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett of the Inequality Trust in the UK for an epidemiological look at inequality and various social conditions.

Just wanted to share the awesome cartoon, that’s all 🙂

Americanize Me? No Thanks

The Tyee gets all feisty on the subject of American-Canadian “integration”.

It all got me to thinking about just why on earth Canadians would want to integrate into the U.S.Let’s be clear. This goes way beyond just having a bad neighbour. It’s about moving in with them.Don’t get me wrong. We can actually feel sorry for folks next door. They weren’t always this bad. But there is just no question that today they are a dangerously dysfunctional family. A lot of them are ill, but the other half refuses to come to their assistance. The old man squanders the family’s considerable income on his gun collection. They foul their own nests and squander their resources.The family behaves as if the neighbourhood’s rules don’t apply to them: they are noisy, pushy and if you try to reason with them they bully you. Hey, it’s not just our neighbourhood — they bully people all over town.

Americanize Me? No Thanks :: Views :: thetyee.ca

One more highlight…

But what about the two decade long increase in U.S. productivity, constantly touted by Bay Street as a model for Canada? According to Doug Henwood of the Guardian newspaper, much of that increase can be traced to the enormous amount of forced, unpaid overtime by both waged and salaried employees. Americans work longer hours per year than those in any other industrialized country

According to this report, Canadians worked 4 fewer weeks per year than Americans in 2002, which is good. Canada’s right in the middle of industrialized countries as far as hours worked per year goes, no need to emulate the US in that regard.

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Top Bush Advisors Approved 'Enhanced Interrogation'

THis banana republic story is not so benign.

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of “combined” interrogation techniques — using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time — on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects — whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.The high-level discussions about these “enhanced interrogation techniques” were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed — down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

Sources: Top Bush Advisors Approved ‘Enhanced Interrogation’

Once again, don’t know what to say…

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FDA Issues Dietary Supplements Final Rule

The FDA issues rules that will finally make dietary supplement manufacturers conform to some rules in the manufacturing of the products.

Which ones?

  1. Accurate potency and labeling – 30 mg glucosamine will now contain something close to 30mg
  2. Impurities Testing – All the raw materials will now be tested for impurities/contaminants. They will probably follow USP guidelines.
  3. Adverse event reporting – Manufacturers/sellers will need to report adverse events. This is after the fact safety testing, wholly inadequate, but better than what we had previously.

See something missing? Efficacy!! You do not have to prove that your product actually works! Basic safety? What is the overdose level? Interactions with other medicines/supplements? Is your dosing form actually bioavailable? Meaning, if you swallow a pill, will it actually get into your bloodstream and reach the intended target?

Who knows, but standardizing, cataloging and auditing manufacturing processes is a start, I guess. 1.5 cheers for the FDA!

I would be curious to find out how these companies are going to get audited by the FDA to prove that they’re following the quality control measures they’re supposed to implement. Guess I have to read the 815 pg bundle of joy that is the actual rule to find out more. A cursory word search on audits suggests that the manufacturers do audits on their suppliers, that the quality control unit of manufacturer perform audits on their manufacturing process, but nothing about the FDA conducting audits. Of course, calling yourself a GMP (good manufacturing processes) manufacturer is usually enough to trigger an FDA audit if you’re in pharma. I wonder how the FDA will deal with this one.

FDA Issues Dietary Supplements Final Rule

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced a final rule establishing regulations to require current good manufacturing practices (cGMP) for dietary supplements. The rule ensures that dietary supplements are produced in a quality manner, do not contain contaminants or impurities, and are accurately labeled.

“This rule helps to ensure the quality of dietary supplements so that consumers can be confident that the products they purchase contain what is on the label,” said Commissioner of Food and Drugs Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D. “In addition, as a result of recent amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, by the end of the year, industry will be required to report all serious dietary supplement related adverse events to FDA.”

The regulations establish the cGMP needed to ensure quality throughout the manufacturing, packaging, labeling, and storing of dietary supplements. The final rule includes requirements for establishing quality control procedures, designing and constructing manufacturing plants, and testing ingredients and the finished product. It also includes requirements for recordkeeping and handling consumer product complaints.

“The final rule will help ensure that dietary supplements are manufactured with controls that result in a consistent product free of contamination, with accurate labeling,” said Robert E. Brackett, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Under the final rule, manufacturers are required to evaluate the identity, purity, strength, and composition of their dietary supplements. If dietary supplements contain contaminants or do not contain the dietary ingredient they are represented to contain, FDA would consider those products to be adulterated or misbranded.

The aim of the final rule is to prevent inclusion of the wrong ingredients, too much or too little of a dietary ingredient, contamination by substances such as natural toxins, bacteria, pesticides, glass, lead and other heavy metals, as well as improper packaging and labeling.