Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- David Giles reports on the increasing cost of living in Saskatchewan. And Barbara Ehrenreich writes about the future of the U.S.' working class - including the reality that its major recent success has involved improving minimum wage levels:
Now when politicians invoke “the working class,” they are likely to gesture, anachronistically, to an abandoned factory. They might more accurately use a hospital or a fast-food restaurant as a prop. The new working class contains many of the traditional blue-collar occupations — truck driver, electrician, plumber — but by and large its members are more likely to wield mops than hammers, and bedpans rather than trowels. Demographically, too, the working class has evolved from the heavily white male grouping that used to assemble at my house in the 1980s; black and Hispanic people have long been a big, if unacknowledged, part of the working class, and now it’s more female and contains many more immigrants as well. If the stereotype of the old working class was a man in a hard hat, the new one is better represented as a woman chanting, “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” (The people united will never be defeated!)

The old jobs aren’t coming back, but there is another way to address the crisis brought about by deindustrialization: Pay all workers better. The big labor innovation of the 21st century has been campaigns seeking to raise local or state minimum wages. Activists have succeeded in passing living-wage laws in more than a hundred counties and municipalities since 1994 by appealing to a simple sense of justice: Why should someone work full time, year-round, and not make enough to pay for rent and other basics? Surveys found large majorities favoring an increase in the minimum wage; college students, church members and unions rallied to local campaigns. Unions started taking on formerly neglected constituencies like janitors, home health aides and day laborers. And where the unions have faltered, entirely new kinds of organizations sprang up...
- Meanwhile, Christopher Pollon, Christopher Cheung and Chris Wood point out the tax policy roots of the growing wealth gap between people who can afford to own homes, and people who are stuck in the rental market.

- Craig Wong reports that the Canada Revenue Agency expects to identify $400 million in taxes owed this year - and more in future years - by cracking down on tax havens. But the Department of Finance's study on tax expenditures highlights the fact that there's an awful lot more potential revenue being left on the table (and often for questionable returns).

- Finally, Scott McAnsh and Amir Attaran discuss how investor-state dispute settlement provisions such as those in the CETA can be disastrous for the environment:
Bilcon’s win (so far) in the NAFTA tribunal sends a chill over environmental policy in Canada. The Joint Review Panel put weight on socio-economic factors as part of the environmental assessment, but got into trouble for it. This is highly likely to make future panels shy away from socio-economic considerations in their assessments. It may also make the federal government cautious about including a consideration of socio-economic impacts in any new environmental assessment legislation — a review of which is currently ongoing.

If every negative environmental assessment risks hundreds of millions of dollars under an ISDS system run amok, how many environmental assessments will governments allow to be negative, and what does that mean for the future of environmental protection?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Musical interlude

Hooverphonic - You Love Me To Death

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Paul Wells discusses how the Justin Trudeau Libs have been reduced to bluster and reannouncements as a substitute for their promise of improved equality. And Michael Harris notes that some of the people who were crucial to Trudeau's election in B.C. are seeing through his dishonesty.

- Meanwhile, John Paul Tasker reports that a year has passed since the federal government was ordered to stop discriminating against children on reserve. And APTN highlights the fact that the federal government has absolutely no idea when it might deign to comply with its obligations.

- Steven Chase points out that the Libs' approval of the takeover of a large B.C. retirement home chain by Anbang Insurance includes no assurances about jobs. And the Globe and Mail's editorial board is skeptical of putting a public service in the hands of a shadowy organization which has been rejected by potential business partners and regulators due to its lack of transparency.

- Patti Tamara Lenard discusses the need for progressives to push Canada to live up to its self-proclaimed reputation for openness and tolerance. And Carmen Cheung and Samer Muscati expose one example of our falling far short, as a Syrian 16-year-old was condemned to solitary confinement after seeking out a better life as a refugee. 

- Finally, Danyaal Raza and Joel Lexchin write about the need to ensure that the public interest in a sustainable health care system doesn't get lost in disputes as to physicians' compensation. And Raquel Figueroa and Nadia Pabani offer some policy suggestions to ensuring that people facing diabetes and other health conditions can afford to treat them:
What we now need is all levels of government (municipal, provincial and federal) to take concrete actions to improve our collective health. This means taking action in four areas:
  • income equity with policies, such as a basic income guarantee, that ensure everyone can afford their most basic needs;
  • decent employment with policies that ensure people are not discriminated based on their chronic conditions and can take paid leave when they are sick;
  • affordable housing, which includes a housing first policy, to ensure everyone’s right to shelter and eliminate the need to sacrifice other basic needs for rent;
  • affordable medications and supplies with better policies, like pharmacare, that ensure people can afford necessary medications and supplies to better manage and prevent diabetes complications.
Almost one in three Canadians has diabetes or pre-diabetes, and a significant number of them cannot afford to manage their condition. This is unacceptable. To really take action on diabetes, we must acknowledge the significant role that poverty plays, create space in our own practices to mitigate its effects and then demand our government take responsibility to break that link.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Frances Ryan discusses the precarity facing far too many UK residents who are a single missed bill payment away from financial disaster:
There are now 19 million people in this country living below the minimum income standard (an income required for what the wider public view as “socially acceptable” living standards), according to figures released by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) this month. Around 8 million of them could be classed as Theresa May’s “just about managing” families: those who can, say, afford to put food on the table and clothe their children but are plagued by financial insecurity. The other 11 million live far below the minimum income standard and are, the JRF warns, “at high risk of falling into severe poverty”.

We are entering a period not simply of growing hardship in this country but of what I would call precarious poverty: the sort that isn’t characterised by the traditional image of lifelong, deep-seated deprivation, but which can hit in a matter of days: a broken washing machine, a late child tax credit payment, an injury that leads to time off work.

In an economic climate that is normalising low-income families having to live hand to mouth, increasingly, for a whole economic class, one small unexpected cost can trigger a spiral into debt.
...
The average UK household now owes a record £12,887, even before mortgages are taken into account, according to the TUC. Around 1.6m households are in what is termed extreme debt: that means paying out 40% or more of their entire income to creditors.

This is not a problem that’s going away, as wages stagnate, benefits are cut and prices rise. This is a sign of what’s to come. As we enter a five-year squeeze on living standards that’s set to be worse than the aftermath of the global crash, there is a real risk that millions of families will not be able to keep their heads above water. Precarious poverty will soon be hard to ignore.
- And Sarah O'Connor reports that contrary to conventional wisdom, younger workers are actually more likely than their predecessors to cling to the jobs they have (and likely missing out on higher wages as a result) - with high debt loads and poor prospects elsewhere looming as obvious explanations.

- Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu examine the financial background of politicians, and note that the disproportionate number of wealthy people in positions of power looks to have everything to do with inequality of political opportunity rather than voter preferences.

- Emilie Taman questions the Libs' choice to sign away Canadian sovereignty and individuals' privacy by empowering U.S. border guards to limit our freedom. And Kelsey Johnsen reports that the Libs are also endangering refugees by ignoring the Trump administration's clear declarations that they won't receive any fair opportunity to claim asylum in the U.S.

- Finally, Barry Saxifrage discusses Canada's highly risky bet on dying dirty fuels at a time when they're becoming obsolete due to both environmental factors and cheaper alternatives.

New column day

Here, on how Justin Trudeau is about the least plausible possible advocate as to the importance of building trust in leaders and public institutions.

For further reading...
- The text of Trudeau's Hamburg speech is here. And both Paul Wells and Susan Delacourt wonder whether it signals a shift in the Libs' plans, though the more plausible reading looks to be that it merely reflects the gap between their rhetoric and actions.
- Daniel Tencer rightly argues that if Trudeau was serious about empowering the public, the last thing he'd be doing is pushing the CETA and other trade deals designed to give businesses a veto over public policy.
- And Duncan Cameron also addresses the Libs' predictable choice to govern from the corporate right, no matter how much progressive posturing they offer on the stump (or when they're spouting empty words).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Daniel Tencer reports on Pierre Kohler and Servaas Storm's study showing that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement figures to cost jobs and wages in Canada and across Europe. 

- Jim Tankersley explains the initial rise of the stock market since November's U.S. election, while offering reason to doubt that any boost will last. And Robert Reich points out that Donald Trump's actual plans are only likely to cause economic harm in the long run.

- Joseph Stiglitz writes that the only way to ride out Trump's stay in office will be to stay alert and resist.

- Molly Worthen tries to offer some places to find hope during Trump's tenure - though she conspicuously doesn't include any particular reason to include Canada on the list. And Andrew Mitrovica reminds us that we're far from free of bigoted demagogues, while Laurel Russwurm notes that Justin Trudeau has chosen to preserve an electoral system which favours them.

- Lauren Heuser makes a case for electoral reform based on the U.S.' cautionary tale as to the limitations of a duopoly. And Rick Smith points out that the Libs' refusal to work on a more fair electoral system in Canada seems to be based primarily on their desire to foment right-wing extremism to give them something to run against.

- Finally, Sonia Sodha examines the returns so far from Finland's experiment with a basic income.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Familial cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Buchheit comments on the continued spread of global inequality - as a combination of top-heavy gains and lost wealth among all but the privileged few has reduced to 6 the number of billionaires with as much wealth as half of humanity.

- Bill Curry reports on Justin Trudeau's cynical pitch for the type of personal security for workers which he's doing nothing to implement in Canada. And Rick Salutin highlights the problem with politicians prioritizing the desire to look smart over the inclination to do good, while Mike Colledge theorizes that public trust in government is declining in no small part due to its withdrawal from areas where it should be helping people.

- Lewis Perkins discusses the prospect of developing a more sustainable economy by encouraging the development of products designed for reuse and repair, rather than quick replacement. (Though it's worth noting that in light of the large number of people currently lacking access to many of the comforts we take for granted, the wider results could also include broader distribution as well as a reduced environmental footprint.)

- And Hassan Yussuff, Robert Walker and Steven Fish point out the need for a transition toward a cleaner economy which accounts for the circumstances of workers who currently depend on the resource sector.

- Jared Bernstein comments on the importance of a labour regulator which understands the needs of workers generally.

- Finally, Andre Picard writes that the real problem facing Canada's health care system isn't wait times in narrow areas, but the lack of a cohesive primary care structure to avoid pushing problems into sickness care. And Hasan Sheikh notes how a lack of access to primary dental care feeds into the overuse of emergency rooms.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Martin Lukacs argues that the way to avoid a Canadian Donald Trump is to ensure people have a progressive challenger to the corporate establishment:
Trudeau’s social liberalism has been partnered with the very economic policies that have cemented inequality and savaged people’s quality of life—and which are now fuelling such unprecedented rage at politicians. The Liberal government’s plan to privatize our world-class public sector, a pro-business trade agenda, tax loopholes for the rich, the short-changing of healthcare, and climate policies that go easy on polluting corporations: this is a sure-fire recipe to continue enriching the wealthy and pissing off the rest of us.

For four decades, the Liberals as much as the Conservatives have been shredding our social programs and starving state spending, showing through such neoliberal policies their true colours: subservience to the corporate elite. These kind of policies are what have created such fertile ground for the new right-wing populism that has viciously triumphed in the United States and is now emerging in Canada.
...
It’s long past time to direct anger in the right direction. A report produced last month by Oxfam revealed that two individuals—David Thomson and Galen Weston Sr—own as much wealth as the bottom 30 percent of Canadians, or 11 million people. Why is the New Democratic Party not broadcasting this scandalous fact from every conceivable pulpit? The rich are treated to off-shore havens and historic low tax rates rates, while the rest of us have to make do with less and less, roiled by anxiety that our children will have it even worse. Canada is practically screaming for a bold and unapologetic redistributive agenda.
...
There are no quick fixes, no easy way of stopping O’Leary or spurring Trudeau. It will take face-to-face organizing among hundreds of thousands of people in Canada, part of a task of fostering new momentum behind left-wing movements. But the country is as primed for it as it ever will be. You don’t want a Canadian Trump to ascend in Canada? Start building this progressive populist alternative.
- Meanwhile, Michael Laxer responds that the crucial part of that analysis is the presence of a genuine left-wing option. And Stephany Griffith-Jones offers her suggestions as to the alternative progressive policies needed to give voters a real choice.

- Noah Richler highlights how the Libs' sudden reversal on electoral reform reflects their contempt for Canada's voters (and associated sense of entitlement). And James Wilt examines just a few of the Libs' key broken promises when it comes to the environment and indigenous rights.

- Stephen Hume discusses how a meager, election-year trinket from Christy Clark falls far short of what's needed to ensure that British Columbians with disabilities can live with dignity, while the Star's editorial board is rightly skeptical about the federal Libs' delays on a national anti-poverty strategy. And Nick Falvo and Chidom Otogwu write that Rachel Notley's Alberta NDP offers an example of how to turn a commitment to poverty reduction into action - while also noting there's still plenty left to be done.

- Finally, Jordan Brennan discusses how corporate mergers serve only to enrich insiders at the expense of the broader economy. And Nick Dyrenfurth writes that it's long past time to stop pretending that self-regulation is an answer to excessive executive pay and inequality (among other problems which involve the corporate extraction of wealth from society at large).

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Jordy Cummings exposes the shady side of Justin Trudeau's shin persona. Dimitri Lascaris interviews Nora Loreto about Canada's relationship with the U.S. And Michal Rozworski challenges Trudeau's decision to serve as a prop for Donald Trump rather than defending Canadian values:
The point to remember is that there would be intense pressure from within the US business world to prevent a trade war in the first place. Given today’s highly integrated supply chains, even a proportionately small volume of trade can still be crucial. It matters less that trade with Canada accounts for just 5% of GDP if some of that 5% is specialized parts and inputs that can cripple production. And it’s not that easy to replace Canadian-made goods in this case: doing so would require long-term investments with considerable fixed costs in plant and equipment. It could be done, but it won’t be the result of one critical statement.

Nevertheless, Trudeau acts as if that’s a real risk. Even if there might be no personal love lost between our cosmopolitan neoliberal leader and his nativist protectionist counterpart, officially this week it was all smiles and handshakes. Trudeau ducked questions from reporters at his joint press conference, stating, “The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they chose to govern themselves.” This condescension misses the fact that a majority thinks that even worsening trade relationships would be a price worth paying for standing up to Trump—nevermind that fears of a worsening are overblown. Past prime ministers have been willing to stand up to US presidents over smaller things despite the trading relationship.

Trudeau has to be aware of Canada’s unequal standing in its relationship with the US but he doesn’t have to cower in the corner waiting for a strike from the bully that may never come. Being in less powerful in a trading relationship doesn’t equate to moral paralysis in other spheres. Economic disruption cannot be a cover for lack of spine. My hunch is that Trudeau knows this—that his failure to stand up to Trump is cowardice that has its source in political calculation not economic necessity.
- Brent Patterson comments on the need for Canada to seriously evaluate the dangers of the CETA and other corporate control agreements. And Stuart Trew and Scott Sinclair map out the road ahead as CETA undergoes scrutiny from the EU's member states.

- Alex Hemingway and Iglika Ivanova examine how the B.C. Libs have gone out of their way to impose a regressive tax system. And Marco Chown Oved reports on the Conference Board of Canada's study showing that Canada may be missing out on up to $50 billion every year in uncollected taxes.

- Meanwhile, the Economist notes that one of Trump's first major moves has been to facilitate bribery and corruption by allowing resource giants to conceal payments to foreign governments.

- Finally, Dan Durcan and Faiza Shaheen take a look at the realities of work in the U.K., where reasonable surface numbers of jobs are outweighed by the fact that the new work is generally low-quality and precarious.

On non-solutions

Tammy Robert thoroughly documents how Brad Wall's billion-dollar deficit has nothing to do with either resource revenues (being Wall's primary excuse for blowing up the budget), or public services (which are his first target for attacks):
I can’t consider the way the Saskatchewan government has handled the prospect of streamlining public service – or even this deficit – credible, because all they’ve demonstrated so far is that they’re primarily interested in brazenly protecting their political tails by dividing and confusing the narrative, instead of even pretending to consider well-planned or strategic spending decisions.

What I know for sure that the mess we’re in is not just about reduced resource and taxation revenue (the latter of which has been at a record high, thanks in part to both increased population numbers and a run of successful years in agriculture).

No, the financial dumpster fire we’re fighting has everything to do with the fact that this government has jacked up spending – even with the best of intentions – to unsustainable levels, and has simultaneously ran out of money trees, aka the GFSF and the Crown Corporations, to continue to fund their spending habits.
Meanwhile, in case anybody was under the illusion that the Saskatchewan Party's current spin about a sudden budget crisis represents anything but an excuse to open up a new front in Wall's long-running war on public servants, here's his finance minister (emphasis added):
Doherty said the goal would be to hold compensation costs steady or reduce them if possible.

The austerity measures would be maintained over the long term, not just for the upcoming year, he said.
If Wall wanted to deal with the full range of options to improve Saskatchewan's fiscal picture, provincial employees would be well down the list of logical places to look. (On that front, CBC's look at the revenue effect of tax changes shows that merely mirroring Manitoba's PST could pay for all of the province's public service salaries another time over.)

And if he was acting reasonably in response to budget problems which he thought were temporary, he'd be asking for "sacrifices" which fit that bill - rather than demanding permanent reductions in the standard of living experienced by the people who keep Saskatchewan running, while asking nothing of his corporate benefactors other than that they keep funneling copious amounts of money into his political machine.

Instead, Wall is making abundantly clear that he sees his own billion-dollar deficit as nothing more than one more excuse to keep slashing away at Saskatchewan's workers. And it's about time that both the blame and the responsibility for fixing Wall's mess were placed squarely on his shoulders.