Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Robert Reich discusses how our economic system is set up to direct risk toward the people who can least afford to bear it (while also directing the spoils to those who need them least):
Bankruptcy was designed so people could start over. But these days, the only ones starting over are big corporations, wealthy moguls, and Wall Street.

Corporations are even using bankruptcy to break contracts with their employees. When American Airlines went into bankruptcy three years ago, it voided its labor agreements and froze its employee pension plan.

After it emerged from bankruptcy last year and merged with U.S. Airways, America's creditors were fully repaid, its shareholders came out richer than they went in, and its CEO got a severance package valued at $19.9 million.

But American's former employees got shafted.

Wall Street doesn't worry about failure, either. As you recall, the Street almost went belly up six years ago after risking hundreds of billions of dollars on bad bets.

A generous bailout from the federal government kept the bankers afloat. And since then, most of the denizens of the Street have come out just fine.

Yet more than 4 million American families have so far have lost their homes. They were caught in the downdraft of the Street's gambling excesses.
...
There's no starting over for millions of people laden with student debt, either.

Student loan debt has more than doubled since 2006, from $509 billion to $1.3 trillion. It now accounts for 40 percent of all personal debt -- more than credit card debts and auto loans.

But the bankruptcy law doesn't cover student debts. The student loan industry made sure of that.
...
Economies are risky. Some industries rise and others implode, like housing. Some places get richer, and others drop, like Atlantic City. Some people get new jobs that pay better, many lose their jobs or their wages.

The basic question is who should bear these risks. As long as the laws shield large investors while putting the risks on ordinary people, investors will continue to make big bets that deliver jackpots when they win but create losses for everyone else.
- And Murray Dobbin discusses how an age of constant anxiety is making it more difficult for working Canadians to stand up for themselves.

- Meanwhile, Pedro Nicolaci da Costa notes that even the financial sector which has done so much to exacerbate inequality is starting to take notice of the problem. The Washington Post weighs in on how Sam Brownback's experiment in even more extreme corporatism has proven exactly as disastrous as we should have expected. And Paul Krugman debunks the Republicans' spin that inequality is a matter of merit rather than structural unfairness, while the CP reports on the Conference Board of Canada's research showing an unprecedented generational divide.

- Moira Donovan points out the sad state of early childhood education in Nova Scotia. CBC News reveals that injured Canadian soldiers are being forced to keep quiet about their injuries in order to secure some pension income. And Karl Nerenberg writes about the Cons' continued war against refugees - this time consisting of an attempt to deny even the most basic standard of living.

- Finally, Stephen Maher discusses the need to acknowledge and confront Canada's legacy of genocide toward aboriginal peoples.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Linda Tirado writes about life in poverty - and the real prospect that anybody short of the extremely wealthy can wind up there:
I haven’t had it worse than anyone else, and actually, that’s kind of the point. This is just what life is for roughly one-third of Americans and one in five people in Great Britain. We all handle it in our own ways, but we all work in the same jobs, live in the same places, feel the same sense of never quite catching up. We’re not any happier about exploding welfare costs than anyone else is, believe me. It’s not like everyone grows up and dreams of working two essentially meaningless part-time jobs while collecting food stamps.

It’s just that there aren’t many other options for a lot of people. In fact, the Urban Institute found that half of Americans will experience poverty at some point before they’re 65. Most will come out of it after a relatively short time, 75% in four years. But that still leaves 25% who don’t get out quickly, and the study also found that the longer you stay in poverty, the less likely it becomes that you will ever get out. Most people who live near the bottom go through cycles of being in poverty and just above it – sometimes they’re just OK and sometimes they’re underwater. It depends on the year, the job, how healthy you are. What I can say for sure is that downward mobility is like quicksand. Once it grabs you, it keeps constraining your options until it’s got you completely. I slid to the bottom through a mix of my own decisions and some seriously bad luck. I think that’s true of most people.

While it can seem like upward mobility is blocked by a lead ceiling, the layer between lower-middle class and poor is horrifyingly porous from above. A lot of us live in that spongy divide.
- Meanwhile, Rebecca Vallas and Melissa Boteach offer ten suggestions to improve the plight of workers across the income spectrum. And oddly enough, neither state-imposed indentured servitude nor a world-lagging set of policies on temporary employment makes the list.

- Ashley Renders points out that in planning to reduce our reliance on dirty energy, it's essential to have cleaner alternatives available. But Vivek Radhwa writes that we're not far off with the renewable energy sources we've already developed.

- Joseph Heath observes that hard power is of extremely limited effectiveness in dealing with both armies around the world and crime at home.

- Finally, Aaron Wherry discusses the price of democratic accountability. And Glen McGregor reminds us that the Cons will tolerate nothing of the sort - as most recently evidence by their systematic disposal of any comment critical of the FIPA.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that to end your weekend.

- Paul Krugman notes that a concerted effort to combat climate change could be as beneficial economically as it is important for the future of our planet:
Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.

On one side, there has been dramatic progress in renewable energy technology, with the costs of solar power, in particular, plunging, down by half just since 2010. Renewables have their limitations — basically, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow — but if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality.

On the other side, it turns out that putting a price on carbon would have large “co-benefits” — positive effects over and above the reduction in climate risks — and that these benefits would come fairly quickly. The most important of these co-benefits, according to the I.M.F. paper, would involve public health: burning coal causes many respiratory ailments, which drive up medical costs and reduce productivity.
- But Mike De Souza documents what the Harper Cons have chosen to do in blocking any progress whatsoever. And Josh Wingrove reports that they've been similarly unwilling to see tar sands operators held to their legal obligations when it comes to polluting rivers, while Sean Holman points out how the mining sector has similarly been held to be above the law in British Columbia.

- Which is to say that Naomi Klein's call for a climate health movement arising out of civil society rather than government seems all the more important in Canada:
What is most terrifying about the threat of climate disruption is not the unending procession of scientific reports about rapidly melting ice sheets, crop failures and rising seas. It’s the combination of trying to absorb that information while watching our so-called leaders behave as if the global emergency is no immediate concern. As if every alarm in our collective house were not going off simultaneously.

Only when we urgently acknowledge that we are facing a genuine crisis will it become possible to enact the kinds of bold policies and mobilize the economic resources we need. Only then will the world have a chance to avert catastrophic warming.

It’s not simply that our leaders aren’t leading us – at an appropriate gallop – away from fossil fuels and towards the renewable energy revolution that is both technologically and economically feasible. It’s that most of them are doubling down on the very energy sources that are most responsible for the crisis, cheering on the extractive industries as they dig up the most greenhouse gas-intensive fossil fuels on the planet: oil from the tar sands, gas from fracking, extra-dirty lignite coal.
...
Naming climate change as a clear and present danger is not a solution in itself, of course. But it is the critical first step. Forcefully expressing our collective sense of urgency will help us resist the next attempt to tell us that some manufactured economic imperative is more important than the stability of the planet – whether it’s the supposed need for more government austerity, or the need to grow the economy at any cost. That sustained sense of urgency will allow us to demand the kinds of bold action required to get off fossil fuels, and move to a regenerative economy, in the brief window we have left. 
- Frank Graves comments on the economic stagnation facing large numbers of Canadians, while Benjamin Lanka reports on the connection between poverty and educational success. But the good news is that we're not lacking for some available solutions, as Nathaniel Downes notes that a $15 minimum wage in Seatac, Washington has led to both greater economic growth as well as a far better life for the workers who can now take home a living wage.

- Finally, Michael Harris writes that the Cons' plan for 2015 involves little more than deflection and distraction. And Frances Russell highlights the contrast between Harper's lofty rhetoric about democracy in the Ukraine and his consistent attacks on anything worthy of the title at home.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne examines the Cons' economic record and finds it very much wanting:
Inequality has deepened under Mr. Harper’s watch, job quality has declined, wages have stagnated, economic growth has been anemic, social protections have been reduced while corporate profits and CEO pay soar.
...
(E)mployment and labour force participation rates are lower today than they were in 2006, part-time employment is up, corporate taxes are significantly lower (22.1 per cent in 2006, 15 per cent today) business capital investment saw no increase and has been static at 19.1 per cent of GDP, business R&D spending as a percentage of GDP has declined, exports as a percentage of GDP from 2006 to today have dropped significantly from 36.7 per cent of GDP to 30.8 per cent.

Not exactly great economic numbers. Add to this the over $600 billion in cash being hoarded by corporate Canada and Mr. Harper is heading into a federal election with more than a few economic weak spots.

Throw in the fact that wages are stagnant and inequality is growing and the only folks doing better are those at the top who are accumulating more and more wealth under Mr. Harper’s failed economic policies.
...
Inequality and poor jobs are not inevitable. Nor are they just because of technological change and globalization, as some would want us to believe. We can, with good economic policy, make a difference for the citizens of Canada, but we have to first believe that government has a role to play.
- And Bill Curry reports on the Cons' latest moves to undermine the Canada Revenue Agency when it comes to "aggressive tax planning" and other abuses at the top end of the wealth scale - which of course only figure to make inequality worse.

- Meanwhile, Larry Haiven discusses the utter failure of corporate social responsibility as a check on business abuses. And Molly McCracken questions the point of a one-night "sleep outside" event which will mostly figure to provide cover for a complete lack of public inaction to combat homelessness.

- Jesse McLean reports that the Cons' strategy of letting drug companies decide for themselves whether their products are safe (rather than, say, meaningfully regulating them) has led to the distribution of ingredients found to be unfit for U.S. consumption. And it's hard to see how a name-and-shame approach to health and safety will do any particular good when it's directed at utterly shameless corporations.

- Finally, Jeffrey Simpson highlights the Cons' continued wilful ignorance about Iraq. And Michael den Tandt and Thomas Walkom both note that the NDP is right to challenge the deployment of troops when the Cons have no clue what they're supposed to accomplish.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Musical interlude

For a reunion weekend:

Barenaked Ladies - The Old Apartment

I went to Controllin' Steve's Talking Point Dispensarium the other night...

...and a democratic Parliament broke out.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Umut Oszu contrasts the impoverished conception of rights being pushed thanks to the Cons' highly politicized museum against the type of rights we should be demanding:
In their modern incarnation, human rights were fashioned after the Second World War and entered into widespread circulation in the 1970s and 80s, when they came to be deployed by Western governments and non-governmental organizations as part of a Cold War “battle of ideas.” Designed in predominantly civil and political rather than social and economic terms, the rhetoric of human rights has since been mobilized to focus attention upon egregious violations of such entitlements as the right to vote, the right to assemble and the right to express oneself freely.

In practice, this focus on civil and political rights has prevented human rights advocates from tackling the problem of why so many people, in Canada and throughout the world, do not have their basic social and economic rights — chief among them the rights to health, housing, education, and employment — satisfied adequately.

Further, the socio-economic conditions under which violations of civil and political rights take place are nearly always ignored, rendering every such violation a more or less isolated act of injustice, to be condemned and countered on its own terms.
...
No more than a few kilometres from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights lies Winnipeg’s North End. Well known for its inter-generational poverty and chronic underinvestment, the area has long been regarded as one of the most destitute in any major Canadian city. Closer still, in the very heart of The Forks, is a newly erected monument to Manitoba’s countless missing and murdered aboriginal women — a reminder to locals and visitors alike that the city has grappled for decades with exceptionally high levels of crime, much of it directed against First Nations peoples.
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It is one thing to document large-scale atrocities like the Holocaust, Holodomor and Armenian genocide — events as worthy of denunciation as any in humanity’s collective history. It is another thing entirely to confront the socio-economic deprivation and exploitation with which so many around the world continue to struggle. Without the latter, the former is simply garish spectacle.
- Gus Van Harten breaks down the disastrous effects of the FIPA - though the Cons have made sure that it's too late to do anything to avoid the damage. And Alison examines the connection between China's investments in the tar sands and the degradation of environmental standards.

- PressProgress points out the juxtaposition of perpetually higher unemployment and continued decreases in the percentage of jobless Canadians who have access to EI benefits.

-  Toby Sanger thoroughly debunks Stephen Harper's faith-based assertion that perpetual corporate tax giveaways pay for themselves, while Canadian for Tax Fairness notes that tax cheats can rest comfortably knowing that the CRA's ability to crack down is being systematically destroyed. Which is to say that those of us who see taxes as an important means to achieve social ends - such as, say, funding mental health services - have all the more reason for concern.

- Mike De Souza reports on the Cons' refusal to answer simple questions about their climate change negligence, while Margo McDiarmid highlights the ineffectiveness of regulations governing coal plants. And in case there was any doubt whether there's a meaningful difference between the Cons, the Saskatchewan Party and the oil lobbying industry, the seamless transitions for Rob Merrifield and Tim McMillan should put that to rest.

- Finally, Justin Ling exposes the Cons' push to get MPs to vote against trans rights - as well as their strategy of once again using the Senate to override the will of elected representatives, this time based on the Harper Cons' desire to maintain discrimination.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda McQuaig discusses how a politically-oriented audit of the CCPA fits with the shock-and-awe part of the right's war against independent (and public-minded) thought:
In the conservative quest to shape public debate in recent years, no tool has proved more useful than the think tank. Nobody understood this better than the director of the ultra-right wing U.S.-based ATLAS Foundation, who once stated that his mission was “to litter the world with free-market think tanks.”

Mission accomplished. Certainly the Canadian landscape is cluttered with right-wing think tanks — the Fraser Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Montreal Economic Institute, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Frontier Institute, just to name a few — all well-funded by a business elite keen to have its message packaged in a manner that makes it appear grounded in serious research.

These right-wing policy shops have played a huge role in implanting an ideology that treats the rich as ‘wealth creators’ who must be freed from government regulation — and whose goodwill must be constantly cultivated, lest they be discouraged from investing. This has boiled down to a simple message — government bad, private sector good — that has become the mantra of our times, the guiding force in shaping public policy.
...
For years, the corporate world has bestowed bountiful, tax-deductible resources on right-wing think tanks, allowing them to baffle the public with this sort of misinformation.

Meanwhile, alone and often ignored by the media, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives keeps churning out quality research exposing the fallacies of the right-wing arguments that have come to dominate our public conversation.

What choice is there for a paranoid, controlling, undemocratic, right-wing government but to call in the auditors?
- Meanwhile, Matt Bruenig argues that capitalism in its current form falls far short of any of the theoretical justifications for rewarding greed. Melissa Boteach and Shawn Fremstad note that matters are only getting worse even in the face of what's supposed to be an economic recovery. Andrew Brenier comments on the connection between fossil fuel use and inequality. And Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett discuss what we've learned since The Spirit Level brought the issue to the forefront:
Most important has been the rapid accumulation of evidence confirming the psychosocial processes through which inequality gets under the skin. When we were writing, evidence of causality often relied on psychological experiments that showed how extraordinarily sensitive people are to being looked down on and regarded as inferior.

They demonstrated that social relationships, insecurities about social status and how others see us have powerful effects on stress, cognitive performance and the emotions. Almost absent were studies explicitly linking income inequality to these psychological states in whole societies. But new studies have now filled that gap. That inequality damages family life is shown by higher rates of child abuse, and increased status competition is likely to explain the higher rates of bullying confirmed in schools in more unequal countries.

We showed that mental illnesses are more prevalent in more unequal societies: this has now been confirmed by more specific studies of depression and schizophrenia, as well as by evidence that your income ranking is a better predictor of developing illness than your absolute income.

Strengthening community life is hampered by the difficulty of breaking the ice between people, but greater inequality amplifies the impression that some people are worth so much more than others, making us all more anxious about how we are seen and judged. Some are so overcome by lack of confidence that social contact becomes an ordeal. Others try instead to enhance self-presentation and how they appear to others. US data also show that narcissism increased in line with inequality. The economic effects of inequality have also gained more attention. Research has shown that greater inequality leads to shorter spells of economic expansion and more frequent and severe boom-and-bust cycles that make economies more vulnerable to crisis. The International Monetary Fund suggests that reducing inequality and bolstering longer-term economic growth may be "two sides of the same coin". And development experts point out how inequality compromises poverty reduction.
- Stephanie Levitz reports on the Mowat Centre's latest study of income-splitting - which finds that in addition to being grossly inequitable in handing money to the people who need it least, the Cons' pet policy would also siphon billions out of provincial treasuries.

- Connie Walker reports on the Cons' choice to summarily discard any proposals from the Assembly of First Nations and other individuals and groups who want to see both meaningful studies and policy responses to the crisis of murdered and missing aboriginal women.

- Finally, Scott Feschuk rightly skewers Stephen Harper for a foreign policy that's all bluster and no substance.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

New column day

Here, on Justin Trudeau's remarkable demand that Stephen Harper set up a federal shun registry to make life easier for Trudeau politically.

For further reading...
- Trudeau's Question Period interview is here, with the key passage starting at about the 3:15 mark. And some Libs went so far as to trumpet the demand for a public enemies list as a show of political talent.
- Carlos Tello reports on the RCMP's interest in stigmatizing the environmental movement - which of course matches the Cons' rhetoric. And Alex Boutilier reports that hundreds of public events have already found themselves under secret surveillance over the past few years. So there shouldn't be much doubt that Harper's choice would be to cast a similarly wide (and anti-democratic) net if he were to offer a list of pariahs.
- Finally, Thomas Walkom reminds us that if we're concerned about public health and safety, we should be spending far more time addressing ebola (or similarly threatening diseases), and far less obsessing over the war on adjectives.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- In a theme all too familiar based on Brad Wall's use of millions of public dollars to pay for access to U.S. lawmakers, Simon Enoch discusses the connections between Wall and ALEC:
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough is both a member and State corporate co-chair the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). You might know ALEC as the United States’ premier “corporate bill mill.” ALEC has also been characterized by the New York Times as a “stealth business lobbyist” and as a “bill laundry” for corporate policy ideas by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
...
Some of ALEC’s more infamous model legislation includes anti-union “right-to-work” laws, anti-immigrant ID laws, protecting the secrecy of “fracking” chemicals from public disclosure, blocking sustainable energy initiatives, and enhanced corporate protection from liability and class action lawsuits.

This is not the first time that the current government has been associated with ALEC. In December of 2011 Premier Wall gave a keynote address to the ALEC States & Nation Policy Summit in Arizona warning of the dangers of U.S. environmental regulation hindering the export of Saskatchewan petroleum though pipeline projects like Keystone XL. Indeed, ALEC is currently one of the major lobbying organizations pushing for the Keystone Pipeline project, the very issue the Saskatchewan government hired Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough to lobby U.S. legislators on its behalf. Given this history, the Premier must surely be aware of what ALEC is and what it does. So does Premier Wall agree with ALEC’s tactics? Does he believe that democracy can be well-served by such deceptive techniques? Furthermore, does he agree with the content of its model legislation? If not, the Saskatchewan government should seriously re-consider using public money to retain ALEC member and supporter Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough as Saskatchewan’s lobbying voice in Washington D.C.
- Circa News reports on the OECD's latest work to combat corporate tax evasion. And Harry Stein points out that the corporate profit share of the U.S.' total national income is at a record high level and still growing, while corporate tax payments are at a historic low - and all without creating any apparent benefit for anybody who isn't wealthy enough to boast significant stock holdings.

- Andre Picard examines Statistics Canada's data on home care, and finds the state of Canadian care to be sorely lacking:
2.2 million Canadians receive home care – 8 per cent of the population over the age of 15. Most care recipients are frail seniors with chronic health conditions, but there are also many people with physical, developmental and psychiatric disabilities.

About one in seven people – 331,000 people – who got home care in 2012 did not receive all the care they needed; their needs were only partially met. Another 461,000 chronically ill Canadians needed help with daily activities but did not receive any home care at all.

Without a doubt, these numbers underestimate the real needs. Statscan surveys do not reach people living in nursing homes, long-term-care homes and hospitals – and many of them could be living at home with the proper support.

It’s very difficult to figure out who is falling through the cracks. However, Statscan does provide some clues: Low-income Canadians and immigrants are far less likely to receive home care, and one of the most underserviced groups is informal caregivers, the millions who care for their loved ones at home and don’t know where to go for help.

Between the lines, the message is that to get home care in Canada, you either need to be educated and connected enough to wring service out of the system, or you need to be wealthy enough to pay for it.
- And Brandon Sloan writes that income-contingent loans for post-secondary education ultimately ensure only that lower-paid graduates are charged more for their studies.

- Finally, Leehi Yona declares that the obstructionist Harper Cons don't speak for her (nor for many other Canadians) when it comes to climate change.