Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Broadbent Institute details Rhys Kesselman's research on how the Cons' expanded TFSAs are nothing but a giveaway to the wealthy. And Dean Beeby reports on their withholding of EI supplements from the families who most need them - paired with a complete lack of responsibility or contrition now that the problem has been discovered.

- Matt Saccaro discusses the widespread burnout among U.S. workers as huge increases in hours worked and productivity have done nothing to improve wages or living conditions over a period of decades. And Bill Tieleman slams the Cons for gratuitously attacking the unions who offer the best chance of improving the lives of workers.

- Marc Lee summarizes the Cons' failed energy and climate change policies, as their only accomplishment has been to set back both our opportunities and our expectations when it comes to building a sustainable economy.

- Dr. Dawg writes about Aaron Driver's case as an appalling example of an individual being locked up for precrime. And Shannon Gormley argues that we don't face a choice between security and privacy, and that in fact overreaching legislation like C-51 threatens both:
So if a mass surveillance apparatus had only one job — preventing terror attacks — it might have fallen under the proud ownership of a trash collector by now. But cyber spies have other uses. It’s bleakly effortless to imagine a government getting creative with a system ostensibly designed to track security threats but — oh, what’s this? — also tracks every digital movement of political opponents, economic competitors, media critics and internal whistleblowers.

We needn’t imagine much. We already know: that Britain’s spy agency has listed investigative journalists as security threats and that its sticky tentacles have pocketed emails from the world’s top news organizations; that the NSA has mused that within the next 10-20 years it might conduct surveillance in a such a way that its “findings would be useful to U.S. industry”; that it has spied on Brazilian oil company Petrobras; and that its Five Eyes counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, has spied on an American law firm representing Indonesia when Indonesia was in a trade dispute with the U.S and — another exemplar of generosity of spirit — offered to share its findings with the U.S.

But even if surveillance agencies had a track record of intercepting and only targeting security threats, we might be troubled by something more fundamental: the assumption that privacy rights aren’t part of what people need secured.

A privacy violation is a serious security breach. When we can’t make a call to a client or send an email to a lover or type a character into a search bar without an overpaid 20-something in a far-off cubicle being able to know about it, then it’s not just our privacy that has being rudely violated. It’s our security as well.

And more besides. If people are partly made by what they think, and partly made by the ways they choose to share their thoughts, then in an age where our communication with each other is monitored relentlessly and without our consent, how is our personhood not under attack?
- But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association makes clear that the fight over C-51 is far from over, as voters will have every opportunity to judge Canada's political parties on their response to a threat to our civil rights. And Justin Ling reports on new polling confirming that its principled opposition to the Cons' fearmongering has been an important element in the NDP's rise in the polls.

Monday, June 29, 2015

On delay tactics

Following up on this post, let's look in a bit more detail as to how the Cons might try to make excuses for a delay in this fall's expected federal election - and why they might be happy to use the more questionable means to do so.

As noted in the previous post, the fixed election date set in October was set by an act of Parliament, and could easily be changed through the same process given the Cons' well-whipped majorities in both chambers. So why then might Stephen Harper prefer to ignore or flout legislation rather than changing it?

Let's start by asking what factors might stand to work in the Cons' favour during a campaign whenever it arises.

From an issue standpoint, there doesn't seem to be much room for doubt that barring some miraculous, pork-based turnaround on the economy, the Cons' lone remaining perceived strong point is security. Their only extended stay atop public opinion polls in the last few years came about in the wake of security concerns last fall. And if they do decide to delay the election, I'd expect that plan to be based on either the hope that somebody will hand them a crisis to be seen responding to, or the expectation that they can manufacture a threat.

But given that the Cons' message (embodied in C-51 among other actions) that democratically-elected officials can't be trusted with security, I'm not sure they'd want to send the message that Parliament should make the call as to what trumped-up threat would explain a delayed election. Nor would they likely want to saddle their MPs with having to explain votes against the same election date they previously approved.

Instead, any decision to delay the election would fit best with the Cons' expected core message if it's made solely by Stephen Harper, coupled with the theme that Canadians should take his word for what's best for them.

Of course, there would surely be a backlash against a decision to delay an election that way. But I'm not sure the Cons would much object to that: in fact they'd likely point to easily-foreseen protests as evidence of instability to rationalize the delay after the fact, and also focus further public attention on the Cons' issue of choice.

Again, it will likely be some time before we see whether Harper decides to follow his own law. But it's not hard to see how a legally-dubious executive action to ignore it could fit into the Cons' wider strategy - and we should be prepared to make sure that course of action isn't rewarded.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Emmanuel Saez examines the U.S.' latest income inequality numbers and finds that the gap between the wealthy few and everybody else is still growing. The Equality Trust finds that the UK's tax system is already conspicuously regressive even as the Cameron Cons plan to make it more so. And Tom Clark reviews Anthony Atkinson's Inequality, featuring the observation that even returning to the distribution of the 1970s will require major (if needed) changes to the economic assumptions we've meekly accepted since then.

- Andrew Mitrovica comments on the Cons' pandering to - and repetition of - anti-Muslim prejudice. And Rick Salutin notes that Canada's shameful treatment of aboriginal people arose out of exactly the same view that cultural difference should be treated as barbarism:
If you opt for zero tolerance, you may destroy something that could be useful now or later. The way to handle "barbaric" practices like forced marriage isn't with a cultural blunderbuss; it's by outlawing particular acts like kidnapping and child marriage, which are already illegal here without attacking any specific cultures.

The point isn't who has the better culture. It's that you never know what challenges you may face in the future and what cultural resources might prove useful and adaptable in facing them. If Scott and Macdonald had succeeded in killing the Indian in the child, through the schools program, we'd be without the resources which First Nations cultures afford us now -- and for whatever crises get thrown up by the always ornery future.

On the other hand, the precedents for declaring what's culturally barbaric and therefore dispensable, are pretty scary, as the exhaustive, heart-rending and indeed poetic work of the TRC on the residential schools program, sadly shows.
- Meanwhile, Michelle Shephard reminds us that what little terrorist risk there is to Canadian safety comes primarily from the bigoted right rather than the people they're so eager to dehumanize.

- Amy Minsky reports on the hundreds of millions of dollars the Cons have spent detaining refugee claimants - as they'd prefer to spend a guaranteed $292 per day per immigrant to lock people up than allow anybody to participate in Canadian society.

- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall looks into a single photo op which offers a galling indication of how much public money is being wasted on the Cons' self-aggrandizement. And John Barber reports on Stephen Harper's latest monument to poor taste, while Bill Waiser slams their disregard for history and truth.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Carol Goar discusses the contrasting messages being sent to Canada's middle class in the lead up to Canada's federal election campaign - and notes that the real decision for voters to make is whether they're happy with marginally higher nominal incomes at the expense of greater inequality and more precarious lives. Mark Goldring makes the case for an economy oriented toward what's best for people rather than short-term profits:
Tackling inequality requires that people, not profit constitute the bottom line. We need everyone who is in a position of influence - business leaders, financiers, politicians, civil servants - to put the interests of ordinary citizens back at the heart of every decision he or she makes. To borrow from Steve Hilton, David Cameron's former adviser, we need an economy that is "more human".

After all, what's the point of building a prosperous economy but to ensure a prosperous future for all who live in it? The American political philosopher John Rawls suggests that we encourage those most able to generate wealth so that it can be used to help those who are less fortunate. Call it wealth for a greater purpose. Oxfam wholeheartedly agrees.

We are looking to our leaders - here in the UK and around the world, public and private sector, to find ways to break down structures that perpetuate poverty and keep individuals from realising their full potential in life. That means fair wages to ensure people can live dignified lives and find pride in their work, and investment in essential public services that poor people in particular, depend on. It means more progressive tax systems and cracking down on big companies and billionaires who avoid paying their fair share of tax - here and in poor countries - through complex accounting tricks. It's about properly regulated financial markets that behave with integrity to spur innovation, commerce and enterprise, rather than simply multiply individual bonus pots.

Reducing inequality may seem an impossible task but the rewards are potentially huge - in tackling poverty, improving social cohesion and human well-being.
- Kelly Foley and David Green write (PDF) that for all the benefits we can expect from improved education, we shouldn't pretend that it serves as a magic bullet against inequality. And Andrew Jackson points out that the same strength in organized labour needed to fight inequality is itself a key to educational achievement.

- Peter Poschen argues we can create good jobs and fight climate change at the same time. And Paul Solotaroff reports on widespread child health problems in one Utah fracking town as a microcosm of the choices we face in weighing oil money against our health. 

- Finally, Les Whittington writes about the Cons' efforts to escape accountability for their actions from the media which is supposed to report in the public interest. And Michael Harris wonders what will happen to the Harper Cons if Canadians stop buying the fear they're so focused on peddling.

On inevitable abuses

Justice James Stribopoulos sees the G20 human rights abuses as highlighting the problems with handing over poorly-defined powers to law enforcement:
In an essay published in a new book on policing during the summit, Justice James Stribopoulos blames the abuses that took place on an absence of specific legislation to “confine, structure and check police discretion” during large events, which he says is “long overdue.”
“Unfortunately, without that, the legal framework that helped facilitate the civil liberties abuses that marked the G20 Summit in Toronto will persist,” he writes in Putting the State on Trial. “And that, I fear, will make a repeat appearance somewhat inevitable.”
And surely the need for checks and balances is even more obvious when it comes to secret police. So let's see how the terror bill passed by the Cons and the Libs does on that front (emphasis added):
Bill C-51 erodes the distinction between CSIS’s traditional intelligence gathering role by giving it broad new powers to engage in law enforcement–type activities. Under Bill C-51, CSIS would be able to take “measures” to reduce threats to the security of Canada. For example, s. 12.1(1) of the proposed act states,
If there are reasonable grounds to believe that a particular activity constitutes a threat to the security of Canada, the Service may take measures, within or outside Canada, to reduce the threat. 
The power under s. 12.1 is broadly defined, giving CSIS virtually unfettered authority to conduct any operation it thinks is in the interest of Canadian security. The definitions are so broad that they could apply to almost anything...
Of course, it may take far more time for any "measures" to become known given that they can be carried out in secret. But we can safely say that C-51 is based on exactly the same philosophy of unfettered authoritarianism that led to the G20 abuses - and it's entirely foreseeable that we'll see the same results.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Edward Keenan weighs in on the role a basic income could play in a job market marked by increasingly precarious work:
I am an enthusiastic supporter of better workplace protections and wages. I have a good, unionized, stable job. I like it. But regulation of work and workplaces isn’t likely adequate to solve the problem we face. No matter how high minimum wages are, they will not help people unable to get a job that pays them. And there are a lot of reasons to think that no matter how good workplace safeguards are, the number of people who can expect to hold a conventional job will continue to drop.
A post-jobs world seems unlikely to be a post-work world. Most people want to be productive, but are forced by economic circumstance to do things they hate doing. If we all had the equivalent of a trust fund, I think most of us would do as many trust fund kids do: we’d throw ourselves into creative and artistic projects, charitable enterprises, politics and community work, entrepreneurship — the fulfilling (and useful) labour that is difficult or risky to depend on financially, and so is now overwhelmingly the province of the privileged.

It is a long-promised science fiction premise: a world in which people are freed from the drudgery of mindless work they hate and able to pursue the things they love. The future’s looming crisis isn’t a lack of jobs; it’s a lack of the income those jobs have traditionally distributed. Solve the latter problem, and the post-job world looks like nothing to fear.
- Meanwhile, Ian Gough points out how a focus on short-term returns and benchmarks prevents us from pursuing upstream policies which could do far more good in the long run.

- Andrew Jackson discusses the damage needless austerity is doing to the global economy. And John Cartwright argues that a push toward renewable energy could do wonders for our economy and our environment alike by freeing us from the twin traps of austerity and fossil fuel dependence.

- Finally, Ralph Surette is rightly livid that the Cons are spending their time and our money building monuments to Stephen Harper rather than a better Canada. But Lana Payne writes that the public is more than ready for change, rather than wanting any part of making the Harper legacy more permanent.

On fragile fixes

Some high-profile commentators seem to be accepting a highly dubious conclusion about the federal election date expected this fall. So let's take a quick look at what a "fixed" election date actually means for a government which has no qualms about breaking the rules - and why the fact that we're seemingly on track for an October election doesn't mean we can rule out an abrupt change in course if it suits the Harper Cons' purposes.

Here's what the Canada Elections Act now says about election dates:
56.1 (1) Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.
(2) Subject to subsection (1), each general election must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election, with the first general election after this section comes into force being held on Monday, October 19, 2009.
Of course, we know from his 2008 election call that Stephen Harper sees no problem treating the fixed date as flexible when it comes to calling an early election. But since it's probably too late for him to see any advantage in doing that this year, does he have any avenue to delay an election?

I don't see how the answer is anything but "yes". After all, the election date in section 56.1 is itself a product of a statute passed by Parliament. And so if Harper were determined to delay an election, it would seem a simple enough matter to recall Parliament to either change the wording of section 56.1(2) to fit some preferred future date, or eliminate any mandatory wording altogether.

Alternatively, the election writ itself arises out of the advice of the Prime Minister. So what would happen if Harper simply advised the Governor General not to issue the writ necessary to start an election campaign if he were once again ready to provoke a constitutional crisis for political gain? My guess would be a flurry of litigation - but probably not an election until that was resolved.

So Harper almost certainly has some options to avoid running the fall election on schedule. But we wouldn't expect him to exercise any of those options until absolutely necessary - which is why we haven't had much reason to talk about a possible delay until now.

One way or another, Harper's main decision still comes down to the question of whether his prospects are better in an election this fall, or in one at some other date.

Given that the October election date was set by the Cons' own legislation, we have to assume that the Cons' re-election plans involve reaching voters just in time for that date - with years of governmental messaging going into that effort. And those years of planning, not the fixed date, figure to be the main factor that would keep them on schedule if the polls suggest any hope that their strategy might actually work.

But if it's clear by the end of summer that the Cons don't stand a chance in a fall election, they're not without some means of hunkering down in office for a little while longer. And I've yet to see any reason to think that devotion to fixed election dates is the first principle Stephen Harper would place above his desire to cling to power.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Friday, June 26, 2015

On rewriting

There's plenty of justified outrage over Stephen Harper's unelected Senate lapdogs choosing to tear up the Parliamentary rule book to force through an attack on unions in the form of Bill C-377. But I'm wondering whether the procedural move used to end debate might itself affect the validity of the bill.

On that front, is there any precedent for a bill becoming law after being passed as a private member's bill in one chamber, but as a government bill in the other given that both chambers have specific rules governing the review and approval of each type of bill?

And if not, isn't there an argument to be made that even if C-377 passes on the Cons' artificial terms in the Senate, it then won't have been approved at all in the House as a government bill?

(Meanwhile, I'd also be curious as to what other procedural options are available if the Senate opposition wants to push back against the holding of a vote. But hopefully those are under close examination already.)

Musical interlude

Motionchild & Will Holland feat. Tiff Lacey - Arctic Kiss (Andy Duguid Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jim Stanford discusses the need to inoculate citizens against shock doctrine politics, as well as the contribution he's hoping to make as the second edition of Economics for Everyone is released:
I suppose it is fitting (if tragic) that this new edition is being released into an economic environment that is still marked by fear, fragility and hardship. And this highlights a key theme of Economics for Everyone – and one of my key personal motivations as an economist whose career has been rooted in trade union and social justice settings (rather than in academia or business). Things will not get better for working people, if only the economy could recover, deficits be eliminated, and stability attained. Because this pattern of repeating crisis and growing polarisation is hard-wired into the DNA of modern capitalism: an economic system organised around the self-serving decisions of a surprisingly small and privileged segment of society. This crisis, no different from the last or the next, was not an unpredictable, unpreventable, one-off occurrence: a “black swan” event. Rather, it was the predictable, preventable result of an economy that puts the interests of financial wealth above the interests of the vast majority in working and supporting themselves. And it will happen again, unless and until we change the fundamental rules of the game.
(U)nemployment, stagnation, precarity, and austerity are not inevitable. They are the consequence of conscious choices by economic elites more concerned with protecting their privilege than with “growing the pie.” We possess the collective capacity to work and produce, and hence “pay for,” the consumption and services that we need for a decent life. The biggest hurdle may be political, not economic. How can we inspire, prepare, and mobilise large numbers of people into a common cause that puts people and the planet first on the economic pecking order, and fights for a world of sustainable full employment?

I believe that a central ingredient in our strategy must involve a deliberate strategy to build popular economic literacy among our communities and movements. For starters, we must have our own analysis of the current crisis: what happened, why it happened, what can be done to insulate working and poor people from its effects, and how to prevent it from happening again. We must have enough knowledge, and enough confidence, to reject false claims about why we are suffering, and what we can and can’t do about it.

And then we must go further. We need an inclusive, accessible and activist system for training our leaders and activists in the broader fundamentals of critical economics and political economy. And we need to do it systematically and energetically. Every social movement (unions, anti-poverty groups, equality campaigns, environmentalists, and others) needs to build this kind of education work into their overall movement-building strategy. This will strengthen our collective understanding of how the specific challenges we face stem from a common source: the structures and dynamics of financialised, globalised, aggressive capitalism. That understanding, in turn, will strengthen our collective ability to resist the regressive demands of employers and governments, and to fight for progressive change – both incremental and transformative.
- Meanwhile, Harsha Walia writes that Canada's immigration is doing exactly what the Cons want it to in handing a ready supply of disposable labour while limiting the opportunity for immigrants to find a place in Canadian society. But Ava Tomasula Y Garcia offers an example as to how our governments can create incentives for better corporate behaviour by pointing to Connecticut's new legislation requiring employers to pay back double any wages wrongly withheld from employees.

- Katie Hyslop, Chris Wood and David Ball are examining the challenges facing Canadians who are fighting a losing battle to find affordable and acceptable housing.

- Jim Bronskill reports that the Cons' intrusion into personal privacy through their new terror bill goes far beyond anything CSIS ever saw as necessary for public safety purposes. And Aaron Wherry looks at what comes next now that C-51 has been passed with Con and Lib support - though it's worth asking questions not only about how new secret police powers and information sharing might be treated after this fall's federal election, but also how they might be used to intrude on the election itself.

- Finally, Paul Jay interviews Kevin Zeese about the the TPP as the latest means of concentrating power in corporate rather than public hands, while Amy Kapcynzki writes (PDF) about its effect on health policy. And Brent Patterson discusses how the CETA be an obstacle to any meaningful action to combat climate change.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The abyss calling the kettle black

I've previously written that the Libs tend to be entirely incoherent when they can't make any claim to votes by default - and that the lead in the polls earned by Tom Mulcair and the NDP raised a real possibility that would happen again.

But I'll readily acknowledge that this goes far beyond my expectations.

Yes, for those scoring along at home: the federal leader of the Liberal Party is trying to score political points by noting another federal leader's past association with a Liberal Party.

I suppose that's one way to take "they're all the same" messaging to a ludicrous extreme. (And heck, it even applies to Stephen Harper as well.) But if having once joined the Libs is a problem, surely voters will take the cue not to make that mistake now.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Thomas Edsall discusses how increased atomization is making it more difficult for people to join together in seeking change, no matter how obvious it is that there's a need to counter the concentrated power and wealth of the privileged few:
The cultural pressures driving inequality are...reinforced by heightened competition that has accelerated the decline of unions, served to justify the Republican refusal to raise minimum wages and undermined the workplace stature of employees. The result has been not only surging incomes at the top and little or no growth for the rest, but a withdrawal of community from those who need it most.

All of which brings us back to the question of why there is so little rebellion against entrenched social and economic injustice.

The answer is that those bearing the most severe costs of inequality are irrelevant to the agenda-setters in both parties. They are political orphans in the new order. They may have a voice in urban politics, but on the national scene they no longer fit into the schema of the left or the right. They are pushed to the periphery except for a brief moment on Election Day when one party wants their votes counted, and the other doesn’t.
- Meanwhile, Canadians for Tax Fairness highlights a new petition campaign to demand that Canada's political parties promise a more fair tax system in this fall's election. And Karl Nerenberg warns that the Cons have moved to make it more difficult for progressive voters to be heard.

- Natalie Kitroeff reports on a new Economic Policy Institute study showing how childhood poverty starts to create an unfair playing field as early as kindergarten. And David MacDonald examines how the wealth gaps which give a small number of people a head start only increase through the course of a person's life.

- Finally, Brad Plumer discusses the difficulty in motivating politicians to act on climate change when the benefits lie decades down the road (and are may not be readily noticeable in light of the damage already done to our planet). But George Monbiot rightly argues that we should be able to marshal our love of each other and the world around us as a rallying force. And Emma Howard reports on a Dutch legal precedent which may lead toward greenhouse gas reductions being ordered by courts where governments fail in their responsibilities.

New column day

Here, on how Regina and its citizens did fairly well responding to a water shortage - but has plenty to learn in applying the lesson to the wider collective challenge of climate change.

For further reading...
- The water shortage began a month ago, with CBC's coverage here and here largely describing the problem and the City's initial response. And CTV reported on the end to the immediate restrictions here.
- In contrast, Rob Kuznia reports on Rancho Santa Fe's appalling response to California's drought, which has given rise to mandatory water use reductions.
- The National Resources Defence Council connects climate change to a drastically increased risk of drought across much of the U.S. And the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative finds (PDF) the same effect applies to Canada's Prairies.
- Finally, for just a couple of examples of Saskatchewan's pitiful record on greenhouse gas emissions, see CBC's report here and Statistics Canada's provincial data here. And CBC reports on the City's pushback against John Klein's effort to take even a few modest steps in offering cleaner transportation alternatives.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Sheila Block points out the problems with the spread of low-paying, precarious jobs. And PressProgress fact-checks the CFIB's attempt to make as many workers' lives as precarious as possible by suppressing minimum wages and standards.

- But Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports that Ontario's provincial government is making matters worse by handing millions of dollars to the same temp agencies who are most aggressively flouting employment standards laws. And the Star warns of the need to ensure that Toronto's plan to fight poverty actually leads to action.

- Meanwhile, Ezra Klein points out the importance of how we label life without stable work in discussing the radically different perception of involuntary unemployment compared to early retirement:
Saying "I'm unemployed" is very different than saying "I retired at 32, and it's amazing." The question is, can someone who doesn't start with much social status — Ferriss is a Princeton graduate, Mr. Money Mustache an ex-software engineer — manage the same trick?

This is one of the questions that will decide whether a post-work world becomes a dystopia. Does whatever replaces work get branded more like unemployment or more like extreme retirement? What happens when you tell someone you just met on Tinder that you don't have a full-time job, but you really love hiking?

I am not worried that a post-work world can't be a good world. I am just worried that it won't be — that guilt-free early retirement will be a luxury reserved for people who can get good jobs, and denied to people who can't.
- Finally, Heather Mallick writes that we should all learn from Harry Leslie Smith's experience about the importance of a functioning society. And Duncan Cameron reminds us that it's only a tiny group of financial elites who stand to profit from the austerity that does so much damage to the vast majority of citizens.