Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Nutty cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Larry Elliott reports on Oxfam's latest study on wealth inequality, showing that 26 extremely rich people now own as much as half of the world's population. And Ronald Quaroni notes that half of Saskatchewan families are on the brink of insolvency - the highest level of any province in an already-bleak national survey.

- Given that inequality and individual insecurity, it should be little surprise that trust in government and social institutions is eroding (as Louis Putterman points out). And Matt Taibbi highlights how the U.S.' political establishment fails to understand the public's understandable frustration:
I have no idea if Ocasio-Cortez will or will not end up being a great politician. But it’s abundantly clear that her mere presence is unmasking many, if not most, of the worst and most tired Shibboleths of the capital.

Moreover, she’s laying bare the long-concealed fact that many of their core policies are wildly unpopular, and would be overturned in a heartbeat if we could somehow put them all to direct national referendum.

Take the tax proposal offered by Ocasio-Cortez, which would ding the top bracket for 70 percent taxes on all income above $10 million.

The idea inspired howls of outrage, with wrongest-human-in-history Alan Greenspan peeking out of his crypt to call it a “terrible idea,” Wisconsin’s ex-somebody Walker saying a 5th grader would know it was “unfair,” and human anti-weathervane Harry Reid saying “you have to be careful” because voters don’t want “radical change quickly.”

Except polls show the exact opposite. Almost everyone wants to soak the rich. A joint survey by The Hill and Harris X showed 71 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents, and even 45 percent of Republicans endorse the Ocasio-Cortez plan.

Is it feasible? It turns out it might very well be, as even Paul Krugman, who admits AOC’s rise makes him “uneasy,” said in a recent column. He noted the head of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers estimated the top rate should be even higher, perhaps even 80 percent.

We’ve been living for decades in a universe where the basic tenets of supply-side economics — that there’s a massive and obvious benefit for all in dumping piles of money in the hands of very rich people — have gone more or less unquestioned.

Now we see: once a popular, media-savvy politician who doesn’t owe rich donors starts asking such questions, the Potemkin justifications for these policies can tumble quickly.
- Andrea Janus reports on the widespread food waste in Canada - particularly within the food industry rather than at the consumer level. And Daniel Tencer examines how Canada's housing market has become thoroughly unaffordable for far too many.

- Finally, any Saskatchewan readers are encouraged to participate in what little public consultation the Moe government is offering when it comes to the province's library system - and particularly to point out that libraries do far more than merely lending materials.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Eric Levitz exposes the unsoundness of the right-wing excuses for allowing the accumulation of obscene wealth. And Toby Sanger weighs on the effect of increased tax rates on extremely wealthy individuals - along with the other policies which need to accompany more progressive taxation:
(T)here isn’t much evidence that raising top income tax rates actually leads to a large out-migrations. Significant differences in income tax rates in the New York City region haven’t led to many people moving to take advantage of lower tax rates, except for those in retirement age. Other lifestyle factors, including the quality of life and public services, tend to be much more important for people, especially for those with higher incomes.

There’s also little convincing evidence that those with top incomes significantly reduce their work efforts in response to higher income tax rates to the degree that it would result in lower revenues.  Instead, most economists agree that by far the largest behavioral response to higher top income tax rates involves tax avoidance (and evasion) by income shifting. When there’s income shifting for tax purposes, the income often shows up in other places, although taxed at a lower rate.

For those with the money and means, this can be achieved in many ways, some legal and others illegal, including by taking advantage by the lower rates of tax for private corporations, lower rates of tax on stock options, capital gains, and investments, use of private family trusts, tax evasion and taking advantage of tax havens.

Canada’s wealthy are already so proficient at using these loopholes and other means to reduce their taxes that the average reported income tax rate on the very top 0.01% is actually lowerthan the income tax rate on the top 0.1%. If we included the offshore and other unreported income of the wealthiest, their tax rates would be even lower still.

What this all means is that there is considerable room to increase top income tax rates, but it must be combined with much more significant actions to eliminate tax loopholes and preferences that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy, by more serious action to crack down on use tax havens and by more aggressive enforcement and penalties against wealthy tax evaders and those who profit from them.
- Francine Kopun reports on a proposal to alleviate Toronto's housing crisis by developing currently-unused properties. And CBC News discusses Daniel Dutton's observation that investment in social supports produces immense returns in the form of reduced health care costs.

- Meanwhile, Sarah Giles, Danyaal Raza and Rupinder Brar remind us why a privatized health care system produces worse outcomes for everybody except profiteers. 

- Mitchell Anderson warns against being distracted by populist theatre by governments working against their citizens in substance.

- Finally, George Monbiot writes that any genuine crisis of masculinity lies in the culture of fear and repression which has caused readily-avoidable harm to men and women alike.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Penney Kome writes about the importance of treating poverty as a social disease rather than a purely individual circumstance. And Jackie Esmonde and Todd Gordon discuss how Doug Ford is using the social effects of poverty to force workers to put up with whatever treatment employers see fit to inflict:
While the severity of poverty in Canada in 2018 is less than a century ago, today’s austerity agenda broadly follows a similar pattern: attaching poverty conditions to social assistance and promoting the general vulnerability of workers. These conditions are, of course, experienced in different ways by different people. Women who rely on social assistance, for example, face a punishing level of surveillance of their relationships and reproductive choices. Women, particularly racialized women, also face a level of discrimination in the labour market that makes them most likely be amongst the working poor.

Legal coercion is also a key component of the austerity agenda, notably in Ontario’s legal prohibitions on panhandling through legislation such as the Safe Streets Act and more aggressive law-and-order police practices.

However politicians may frame their actions towards social assistance as being in the best interests of the poor, it is clear their intention lies elsewhere. They are well-aware that social assistance rates are grossly inadequate, that welfare is punitive and degrading and that the consequences are terrible: homelessness, illness, reliance on shelters and food banks, and stagnation of wages for many workers. And as the inquests into the deaths of Kimberly Rogers and Grant Faulkner show, people die as a direct result of Ontario’s miserable social assistance programs.
Driving these political decisions is the desire to continue re-making labour markets by deepening and extending precarity in order to contain labour costs while boosting labour productivity – to set the conditions, in other words, for strengthened capitalist profitability on the backs of workers. With the unravelling of the relative economic stability of the post-World War Two period, a new urgency was felt by capital to reset labour relations, shift the balance of power in favour of employers, and drive down the expectations of workers and the unemployed. But, despite definite success with this agenda, economic volatility and intensified competition between corporations (from both domestic and international sources) are the new norm of the neoliberal period. So too, therefore, is the constant attack on workers.
Forced into the labour market, former benefits recipients are likely to end up at its bottom end, where work is the most unsafe, precarious, and low paying. While the expansion of the labour market with more extremely desperate workers may not immediately affect the conditions of workers with better wages and working conditions, especially if they have the benefit of a union, this nevertheless marks another move by governments in their ongoing and longer-term project of re-engineering working-class expectations for good jobs and a decent life. But expanding the layer of extremely desperate and vulnerable workers could over time also translate into a further softening of working conditions for other workers, as bad jobs continue to become the norm, more companies turn to this expanding pool of workers to stay competitive, and workers with better working conditions are willing to make concessions in order to avoid the growing bottom end of the labour market.
- Alison Pennington comments on the connection between stagnant wages and the decreased effectiveness of sectoral bargaining in Australia. And Leo Gerard highlights the indignity of forcing people to work without pay - as the Trump administration is doing to hundreds of thousands of federal workers during the course of its shutdown.

- Stephen Gandel writes that the Trump tax scheme which was already recognized as a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich has proven even more regressive and costly than advertised. Mark Engler and Andrew Elrod point out the need for a tax system which prevents (rather than encouraging) the undue accumulation of wealth. And John Rapley offers a reminder as to why we can't count on the charity of the obscenely rich to meet social needs.

- The Australia Institute studies how consumers have paid the price for the ideological privatization of their electricity sector.

- Finally, Ethan Lou discusses the environmental impacts of Bitcoin as a classic conflict between artificial value and real-world harms to the public.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Linda McQuaig writes that Canada's federal government should look at buying the soon-to-be-vacated GM plant in Oshawa to begin production of electric vehicles. But Nav Persaud notes that even when the Trudeau Libs make promises about using government power and resources for the public good, they ultimately end up going along with the wishes of the corporate sector.

- E. Tammy Kim writes that instead of relying on corporations to address housing shortages, cities should ensure the actors who cause and profit from rising rents are taxed to cover the cost.

- Ivana Kottasova reports on a new study showing how the global environment can't handle the damage caused by the U.S.' increase in fossil fuel production and consumption. And Fatima Syed reports on Doug Ford's extension of anti-government dogma to the treatment of endangered species in Ontario.

- Meanwhile, Erika Shaker examines the predictable effects of Ford's plan to undermine student newspapers and organizations as part of a more general attack on post-secondary education, while Nora Loreto points out that it particularly stands to weaken students' voices in the general public. And Martin Regg Cohn views the false promise of tuition cuts as following in the PCs' buck-a-beer tradition of counterproductive, faux-populist policies.

- Claire Clancy reports on recent findings of Alberta's Elections Commissioner concluding that Rebel Media and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation have broken election laws. And Elizabeth Thompson reports that a single guilty plea and small fine looks like it may close the door on any public knowledge of SNC Lavalin's system of illegal federal political donations to the Libs and Cons.

- Finally, Trish Hennessy discusses some trends to watch for - and positive change to pursue - in the year ahead.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Simon Ducatel discusses how wealth inequality is at the root of continued poverty and deprivation, while Charles Plante notes that anti-poverty strategies in Canada currently serve mostly to capture credit for existing policies rather than to guide the development of new ones.

- Grace Blakely points out the role that capital controls should play in ensuring that the wealthy pay their fair share toward social development and increased equality. And Duncan Cameron writes about Olivier Blanchard's recognition that public debt is entirely acceptable as long as it results from worthwhile investments.

- Cindy Blackstock highlights how the continued lack of progress on Indigenous child welfare is entirely the result of governments failing to act on policies which they know to be effective.

- Andrew Longhurst makes the case for a move away from fee-for-service payment of physicians.

- Finally, Rick Smith challenges Macleans' attempt to equate the left and right in their contributions to Canada's political scene:

On all of the major questions facing humanity today—climate change, inequality, defending and deepening pluralism in an age of globalization —the left is working to find answers. True, in some areas we are still coming up short. For all the achievements of left movements in the 20th century, from the welfare state to universal healthcare to progressive labour legislation, inequality remains a deep and abiding fact of Canadian life. Despite successfully making the environment a major issue of public concern, there is still much work to be done if we are to avert the coming climate crisis. Racism and the discriminatory treatment of racialized Canadians are still tragic realities, human rights and equity laws notwithstanding.

Challenges like these and the moral necessity of tackling them is precisely what animates today’s left in Canada and abroad. Yes, their urgency may inspire impassioned, even angry critiques of the political status quo and what can sometimes be difficult, needlessly fractious debates within our own ranks. Some believe this makes the left and right fellow travelers amid the ongoing crisis of liberal democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While prominent left-wing figures like Bernie Sanders or Jagmeet Singh indeed give expression to anger, its targets are corporations who exploit their workers or extremely wealthy people who don’t pay their fair share of taxes. The ultimate goal of this anger is to overcome visible injustices and make material gains for working people, young and old, across all sections of society. The same can be said for groups like Black Lives Matter or #MeToo, which are giving constructive expression to justified anger at discrimination and bigotry on both sides of the border.

The right is not, to put it kindly, either doing the same or searching for answers to the major challenges facing our societies today. In conservative parties across the country, climate change denialism (or its close cousin foot-dragging-ism) runs rampant—as evidenced by the recent actions of the Ford government in Ontario and the persistent hostility of the conservative movement to common-sense environmental policies such as cleaning up electricity production, or electric vehicle mandates or carbon pricing.

With the stakes being as high as they are in politics today, debates will inevitably prove divisive and difficult. But in their attempts to grapple with our anxious political moment, pundits and commentators alike should be careful not to conflate individuals and movements fighting injustice with those pursuing it as their animating principle.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Damian Carrington reports on new research showing that it's possible to stop climate change in its tracks - but only by beginning to phase out fossil fuel infrastructure immediately. And Ryan Cooper comments on the problems in responding to an immediate crisis with mushy centrism rather than a determination to act:
America can't afford another eight years of a moderate party fiddling while the climate burns, or even making things worse, which is exactly what happened during the Obama years. Democrats in those days failed to pass a climate bill that wasn't even that great, and it took the administration five years after that to put out an executive order that was just as inadequate. In the meantime, the Obama administration ushered in a massive expansion of American oil and gas drilling that has made the U.S. the biggest producer of both oil and natural gas in the world. Part of the motivation was that natural gas is cleaner fuel than coal climate-wise, but methane (the main component of natural gas) itself is much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and it turns out leaks more than cancel out the relative climate benefit. Whoops!

If they are to take the moral responsibilities of governing the United States seriously, moderates can't just hide behind "better than Trump." The scientists say we have about a decade to cut our emissions by 45 percent. If lefty ideas like a Green New Deal are too radical for moderates, then by God they better come up with something that achieves the same objective.
- George Lakoff discusses the need to counter the language of hate which underlies Donald Trump's demand for a wall (along with so much other right-wing political strategy internationally).

- Meanwhile, Tanya Talaga notes that Justin Trudeau's cabinet shuffle is an ominous sign for Indigenous peoples. And Susan Delacourt points out that it will also likely serve as an excuse to delay any national pharmacare program.

- Finally, Natalie Mehra warns Doug Ford against following through on his apparent plans to privatize Ontario health care.