Monday, October 22, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Thom Hartmann writes about the billionaire-funded push toward outright fascism in the U.S. as a response to the growth of the middle class in the 20th century:
(U)nregulated markets—particularly markets not regulated by significant taxation on predatory incomes—invariably lead to the opposite of a healthy middle class: they produce extremes of inequality, which are as dangerous to democracy as cancer is to a living being.

With so-called “unregulated free markets,” the rich become super-rich, while grinding poverty spreads among working people like a heroin epidemic. This further polarizes the nation, both economically and politically, which, perversely, further cements the power of the oligarchs.

While there’s a clear moral dimension to this—pointed out by Adam Smith in his classic Theory of Moral Sentiments—there’s also a vital political dimension.
The Republican candidates’ and their billionaire donors’ behavior today eerily parallels that day in 1936 when Roosevelt said, “In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for.” President Roosevelt and Vice President Wallace’s warnings are more urgent now than ever before.

If Trump and the billionaire fascists who bankroll the Republicans succeed in destroying the last supports for America’s enfeebled middle class, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—and succeed in blocking any possibility of Medicare for All or free college and trade school—not only will the bottom 90 percent of Americans suffer, but what little democracy we have left in this republic will evaporate. History, from Greek and Roman times through Europe in the first half of the 20th century, suggests it will probably be replaced by a violent, kleptocratic oligarchy that no longer shrinks from words like “fascist.”
- And Toni Hassan discusses the need to reduce inequality in order to allow for individual security and well-being.

- Bloomberg's editorial board offers a few (if less-than-ambitious) suggestions to rebalance employment relationships which have become increasingly distorted in favour of giant corporations. And Claire Tran reports on Generation Progress' mapping of the U.S.' student debt, including the observation that unmanageable debts are most common for students who need to pursue degrees in order to overcome other structural disadvantages.

- CBC reports on Apple's extreme measures to try to avoid any affordable or consumer-based repairs to its products.

- Finally, the New York Times' editorial board laments the disenfranchisement of voters for nothing but bare political gain.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jennifer Pagliaro and David Rider report on Toronto's longstanding internal knowledge of the costs of austerity. And Ed Conway highlights a new budget showing the austerity gap in the UK - though as the Equality Trust points out, that could be made up with a fraction of the wealth hoarded by by the UK's richest 1,000 people.

- Meanwhile, Richard Vize writes about the UK's increasing infant mortality rates caused by needless cuts to social benefits and services. Maia Szalavitz examines the connection between more severe inequality and higher homicide rates. And Richard Florida notes that geographic inequality in the U.S. is only getting worse with time.

- Brooke Harrington comments on the lack of any consequences attached to bad behaviour by the wealthiest Americans.

- Peter Dietsch and Michael Guenco suggest a few first steps to make sure that Canada collects a fair share of revenue from the people who have the most wealth to contribute.

- Finally, Matthew Yglesias discusses how proportional representation could solve the most glaring problems with the U.S.' decaying political system.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Kate Aronoff interviews Mariana Mazzucato about The Value of Everything, including some important discussion about the relationship between governments and markets:
Aronoff: You talk a lot about the power of the state in shaping markets. What does the idea that the government should only intervene to tweak markets get wrong?

Mazzucato: How we talk about governments and markets is very problematic. In traditional economic theory, governments are just fixing market failures. And I talk about governments—if they’re actually well organized—as different types of public institutions in society. I see them as co-creators of wealth. They co-create and co-shape markets, not just fix them. Regulation is even a problematic phrase, because it sounds like the market is just there and created by others, and the government is just there to regulate it and make it a bit more stable. Redefining markets is central to what I believe we should be doing, and that leads to very different types of policy.

Aronoff: Are there any places where you think the private sector simply shouldn’t play a role? What’s the balance?

Mazzucato: There are two issues. Whether it’s public or private ownership, a key problem is how public and private meet, right? So in the UK—take the railways. Forget for a minute whether they should be public or privately owned. If you are going to privatize them, you better get the contract right. In exchange for what he got in the contract to buy the public railway system, [Virgin CEO] Richard Branson—who bought the rails—should have been forced to promise that he would invest in the rail system and make it more efficient and more green. Whether it’s water or energy, companies should be made to invest profits in, for example, renewable energy, but also in methods that will improve the product itself and the value to the consumer. In the drive for outsourcing and privatization, these contracts have been written problematically.

Then the question is, should some areas be fully public? Well sure, those areas which are absolutely fundamental. I believe medicine is one of them. Essential medicine like vaccines are a human right. It’s very hard to apply the profit model there. Instead of companies just trying to charge a lot of money in order to recoup their cost, you could have the government set a prize for any company that wants to come in and produce this drug that will solve a certain disease, and lay out the metrics for evaluating whether that drug is what we’re looking for.
- Don Lenihan writes that climate change represents the ultimate example of an issue where obvious long-term needs are being ignored due to short-term political motivations on the part of voters and politicians alike.

- Chuka Ejeckam highlights how British Columbia's electoral reform referendum could be a first step toward change across Canada, while Andrew Coyne notes that London, ON's municipal election will offer a first example of ranked ballots in action. And Seth Klein offers his take on the three more proportional systems on the ballot.

- And finally, Martin Regg Cohn's criticism of Doug Ford's patronage highlights one of the main problems with first-past-the-post: when elections are seen primarily as a means of saying "no" to incumbents, it's all too easy to get stuck with an even worse alternative.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Musical interlude

The Postal Service - Such Great Heights

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Rupert Neate reports on the latest Credit Suisse study showing that wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of a few ultra-rich individuals. And Lawrence Mishel and Julia Wolfe take note of a similar trend for U.S. wages, particularly when it comes to the soaring amount being claimed by CEOs.

- Sharon Treat discusses how the USCMA only figures to put large corporations even further beyond the reach of any regulation in the public interest. And Marie Aspiazu points out its effect on digital rights, including its extension of already-excessive copyright terms.

- The Star's editorial board takes a look at the costs of Doug Ford's cancellation of Ontario's cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. And both Lars Osberg and the C.D. Howe Institute make the case for full fee-and-dividend systems - though it's still worth raising the value of ensuring that some money collected as a result of carbon pollution actually gets applied to reducing the scope of the problem.

- Finally, Simon Enoch argues that climate sanctions may be needed to ensure that the worst offenders don't undermine any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And George Monbiot writes that in the absence of sorely-needed government action to avert a total climate breakdown, there looks to be little alternative but civil disobedience.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Don Pittis writes that the disastrous results of the U.S.' giveaways to corporations and wealthy individuals - including a ballooning deficit which isn't contributing to any improvement in the rate of economic growth, together with an expectation that people will pay the price in cuts to health and social programs - should serve as an important warning to anybody pushing Canada to join the race to the bottom. And Jim Tankersley refutes the predictable claim that Donald Trump's tax cuts for the rich have represented anything but a needless cut to public revenue.

- Matt Henderson writes that our choice in dealing with imminent climate breakdown is between making needed contributions now, or forcing future generations to pay a far heavier price later. And Tony Coulson notes that there's general support for carbon pricing as part of a plan to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. But David Climenhaga points out the concentration of ownership in the fossil fuel sector which leaves a wealthy elite with little interest in caring about either public opinion or the future of our planet. And Roy Culpeper and Susan Tanner discuss how that tiny group of selfish oil barons has thus far dictated the terms of Canadian climate policy.

- Terry Parker responds to corporate objections to community benefit agreements by pointing out the importance of ensuring that major construction projects help the community at large.

- Finally, Meghan McDermott highlights the flaws in a few of the arguments being pushed by the "no" side in British Columbia's electoral reform referendum. And Seth Klein points out why voters should be happy to see minority legislatures which are both more cooperative and more accountable - in addition to actually reflecting voters' preferences.

New column day

Here, discussing the Price of Oil collaborative's latest report on how the Saskatchewan Party is requiring provincial regulators to keep the public at risk in order to avoid having oil operators answer for their sour gas pollution.

For further reading, I've previously written about the the same issue based on an earlier series of reports here; see also my related post, including links to previous media work dating back to 2015.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Robert Cribb, Patti Sonntag, Michael Wrobel, P.W. Elliott and Carolyn Jarvis examine the Saskatchewan Party government's utter refusal to monitor or regulate pollution caused by the oil industry - and the people who have been kept at risk as a result. And Geoff Leo takes a look at the anti-regulation and pro-austerity dogma that led to the collapse of a brand-new bridge in the RM of Clayton.

- Leslie Hook and Caroline Binham report on the warning by central banks around the globe of the need for financial decisions to both minimize and mitigate the risk of climate breakdown. And Fatima Syed reports on the billions of dollars Ontario will lose as a result of Doug Ford's destruction of cap-and-trade carbon pricing.

- Annika Koljonen points out that while the U.S. and UK are seeing stagnant or falling life expectancies as a result of corporatist political decisions, Finland is seeing the largest improvements among affluent countries in the world due to needed social investment. And Aditya Chakrabortty discusses how even the IMF has had to recognize that the UK's privatization schemes were nothing more than a neoliberal scam:
Let’s start with the IMF itself. Last week it published a report that barely got a mention from the BBC or in Westminster, yet helps reframe the entire debate over austerity. The fund totted up both the public debt and the publicly owned assets of 31 countries, from the US to Australia, Finland to France, and found that the UK had among the weakest public finances of the lot. With less than £3 trillion of assets against £5tn in pensions and other liabilities, the UK is more than £2tn in the red. Of all the other countries examined by researchers, including the Gambia and Kenya, only Portugal’s finances look worse over the long run. So much for fixing the roof.

Almost as startling are the IMF’s reasons for why Britain is in such a state: one way or another they all come back to neoliberalism. Thatcher loosed finance from its shackles and used our North Sea oil money to pay for swingeing tax cuts. The result is an overfinancialised economy and a government that is £1tn worse off since the banking crash. Norway has similar North Sea wealth and a far smaller population, but also a sovereign wealth fund. Its net worth has soared over the past decade.
The other big reason for the UK’s financial precarity is its privatisation programme, described by the IMF as no less than a “fiscal illusion”. British governments have flogged nearly everything in the cupboard, from airports to the Royal Mail – often at giveaway prices – to friends in the City. Such privatisations, judge the fund, “increase revenues and lower deficits but also reduce the government’s asset holdings”.

Throughout the austerity decade, ministers and economists have pushed for spending cuts by pointing to the size of the government’s annual overdraft, or budget deficit. Yet there are two sides to a balance sheet, as all accountants know and this IMF work recognises. The same goes for our public realm: if Labour’s John McDonnell gets into No 11 and renationalises the railways, that would cost tens of billions – but it would also leave the country with assets worth tens of billions that provided a regular income.

Instead, what this IMF research shows is that the Westminster classes have been asset-stripping Britain for decades – and storing up financial trouble for future generations.
- Finally, Maryse Zeidler reports on the Elizabeth Fry Society's push to ensure that the Canada Child Benefit is actually accessible to the vulnerable children who need it most.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Expectant cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ben Chu reports on the conclusion from the chief economist of the Bank of England that decreased unionization in the UK is responsible for reducing wages for all workers by .75% per year over the past 30 years.

- Hassan Yussuff warns that Doug Ford's insistence on reversing any gains for workers at the first opportunity will put many women in avoidable danger. And David Climenhaga comments on Jason Kenney's plans to similarly launch an all-out attack on workers, with no regard for evidence or public input.

- Eliza Barclay and Umair Irfan offer a list of suggestions to avert climate breakdown, while Noah Smith discusses the importance of clean energy development in China as part of the global fight against climate change. Matt Henderson points out the unfairness of pushing carbon debts onto future generations, while Brent Patterson makes the case for holding corporations to account for their carbon pollution.

- The Star's editorial board weighs in on the need to reduce traffic congestion in Toronto. And Kim Willsher reports on the success of Dunkirk's implementation of free public transportation.

- Finally, Sheila Block comments on the absurdity of obsessing over artificial limits on tax revenue:
Any politician promising better public services without touching property taxes isn’t telling the whole story.

Just to maintain the status quo — which shouldn’t be the goal in an expanding city — Toronto would need property tax increases that grow with both population and inflation. That would be about 50 per cent higher than inflationary increases only.
We see the impact of this unsustainable fiscal approach all around our city: dangerous crowding in subway stations, a desperate need for repairs in Toronto Community Housing, flooded streets during climate events, insufficient shelter beds in the height of winter, timid investments in the city’s poverty reduction strategy, and digital line ups to get kids into recreational programs.

Did I mention $30 billion in unfunded capital projects?

Even worse, each year that we delay increasing property taxes has an impact on both our current and future capacity to fund essential city services.

But what if we approached property taxes in a grown-up fashion?

As grown ups, we know that we’re better off changing the oil in our cars on schedule as part of a good maintenance program. We know that dealing with the mould in the basement as soon as possible is the best financial and health strategy. And when we can, we know that putting money aside for our retirement is the prudent thing to do.

We are doing none of this for our larger home, the City of Toronto. We are letting the mould spread. We are emptying our saving accounts. We are not investing in our children’s futures.
As residents, we also don’t get a free pass. Voters who choose tax-freezing candidates must come to terms with deteriorating public services and sticking the bill to our kids and grandkids.