Monday, May 30, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Nick Dearden discusses how the latest wave of corporate power agreements - including the CETA - stands to undermine democracy in participating countries:
Like the US deal, Ceta contains a new legal system, open only to foreign corporations and investors. Should the British government make a decision, say, to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging, a Canadian company can sue the British government for “unfairness”. And by unfairness this simply means they can’t make as much profit as they expected. The “trial” would be held as a special tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers.
The whole purpose of Ceta is to reduce regulation on business, the idea being that it will make it easier to export. But it will do far more than that. Through the pleasant-sounding “regulatory cooperation”, standards would be reduced across the board on the basis that they are “obstacles to trade”. That could include food safety, workers’ rights and environmental regulation.

Just consider financial regulation. The ability of governments to control banks and financial markets would be further impaired. Limiting the growth of banks that have become “too big to fail” could land a government in a secret tribunal.
Finally, through something called a “ratchet clause”, current levels of privatisation would be “locked in” on any services not specifically exempted. If Canadian or EU governments want to bring certain services back into public ownership, they could be breaking the terms of the agreement.
If you needed proof that modern trade agreements are actually nothing more than an excuse to hand big business power at our expense, you need look no further than Ceta. No wonder the public outcry is growing, and opposition to TTIP is spilling over to the Canadian deal.
- Meanwhile, James Wilt takes a look at how past trade agreements have painted Canadian governments into a corner, while also pointing out the ongoing lobbying effort by one oil industry claimant to grab a massive payout.

- Robson Fletcher reports on a new Policy Horizons Canada study discussing the reality that fossil fuels may be obsolete in a matter of decades, while the Economist (in a slightly dated report) discusses how many developing countries are skipping directly to renewables rather than building new, dirty infrastructure. And Gary Fuller reports on the climate damage caused by fracking.

- Finally, Sean McElwee highlights the connection between voter mobilization and progressive stances from nominally left-of-centre politicians:
Democratic politicians use the information of their vote margin to adjust their votes: a loss in vote share leads Democrats to vote in a more conservative way than they would have otherwise. They find, “a 2.5% Democratic loss results in an average 12.8 switches per incumbent.” A study by political scientists Thad Kousser, Jeffrey B. Lewis and Seth Masket finds that after a 2003 recall election in California recalled the Democratic governor, Democratic assembly members shifted their votes to the left. Previous research by political scientists Daniel Butler and David Nickerson suggests that when legislators are given accurate information about their constituents preferences, they are more likely to vote in line with those preferences.

It’s important to note that it’s difficult to disentangle the information effect from the turnout effect. It could be that representatives are gaining information about their constituents or it could be that higher turnout and thus larger vote share leads representatives to feel that they can move left.  Either way, the core finding – that a loss in vote share causes Democratic politicians to be more conservative – has important implications.
As I’ve argued repeatedly, higher turnout could shift change the American political landscape by shifting the constraints under which politicians make policy. A study of ten OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries by Jonas Pontusson and David Rueda find that, “Left parties will respond to an increase in inequality only when low-income voters are politically mobilized.” As Matt Grossmann tells me, “Democrats nearly always fear the electoral consequences of moving too far left, whereas Republicans tend not to view ideological conservatism and electability as a trade-off.” Thus, higher turnout would signal to Democratic politicians that they have space to move to the left.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Andrea Germanos follows up on the IMF's realization that handing free money and power to corporations does nothing for the economy as it affects people's lives. And Susie Cagle examines the role of tech money - like other massive accumulations of wealth - in exacerbating inequalities in both wealth and political influence.

- Jeffrey Sachs points out that Bernie Sanders' economic policy prescriptions are exactly what the U.S. in particular needs in order to offer a more secure life for the population as a whole:
The United States unleashed the power of CEOs to enrich themselves with mega-salaries, weakened trade unions and gave massive tax breaks to the super-rich. Sanders’s policies would go after all of these unconscionable moves, bringing the United States back into line with the rest of the high-income world. He would, in short, end the age of impunity in which the rich and the powerful get their way, while the rest suffer. Sanders’s policies include higher taxes on the rich, strengthening unions, raising the minimum wage, supporting families, providing free tuition at public universities and cracking down on financial crimes.

There is nothing magical or utopian about Sanders’s recommendations. He is advocating policies of decency long ago adopted by other prosperous high-income countries. Our own neighbor, Canada, is a case in point. Canada has lower-cost health care, a life expectancy two years higher than in the United States, much lower college tuition, far lower poverty rates and, not surprisingly, more happiness (ranking sixth in the world in life satisfaction, behind Scandinavia and well ahead of the United States, which is 12th). 

Mainstream economists long ago lost the melody line. Their models are oriented to the status quo and underemphasize the benefits of public investment. They take America’s bloated health-care costs as a given, not as the result of the influence of the U.S. private health lobby. They treat low growth as natural (“secular stagnation”) rather than as the result of chronic underinvestment. They have come to accept cruelly rising income inequality and rampant impunity for financial crimes. Sanders knows better, based on worldwide experience, an abiding sense of decency and a strong and accurate vision for a brighter economic future.
- Meanwhile, Robert Skidelsky discusses the futility of trying to boost a stalled economy solely through monetary policy when direct public spending figures to accomplish far more.

- Lawrence Mishel and Jessica Schieder chart the connection between union organization and income equality.

- Finally, Elizabeth Thompson reports on the federal government's lack of a clue as to how many temporary foreign workers are actually in Canada. And it's particularly worth contrasting that lax attitude toward workers brought in at the behest of employers against the detention of immigration detainees.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Eric Reguly highlights the growing possibility of a global revolt against corporate-centred trade agreements:
(A) funny thing happened on the way to the free trade free-for-all: A lot of people were becoming less rich and more angry, to the point that globalization seems set to go into reverse.

Maybe it should. The shocks unleashed by globalization have yet to be absorbed. The senseless deregulation of financial services and the globalization that went with it set the stage for the 2008 financial crisis, whose damage remains. Real average wages for low and middle-income earners have stagnated for decades in North America and Europe. Jobs continue to shift to countries, notably China, where costs are lower and industries are moving up the value chain. Disinflation is turning into outright deflation – falling prices – in some regions.
Western governments did virtually nothing constructive to manage the worst effects of globalization on their populations, such as the loss of millions of jobs.

No wonder more and more Europeans and North Americans are not buying the free-trade hype any more. The marginal trade gains could be more than offset by greater pressure on working-class jobs or laxer regulations on, say, food quality. Europeans also fear that both TTIP and CETA are essentially undemocratic. They were negotiated almost entirely behind closed doors, and both have dispute resolution mechanisms that would allow companies to sue governments for damages if profits are hit because of changes in government policy or regulations. In effect, the provisions would rob their governments of their sovereignty.
- Ed Finn reminds us of the role citizens need to play in shaping our own future. And Cheryl Santa Maria examines the flip side to misplaced anger about leaving oil in the ground by discussing the climate chaos that would result if (for whatever perverse reason) all available fossil fuels were actually burned.

- Chris Havergal reports on Christopher Martin's advocacy for a post-secondary education based on making further learning available to facilitate social involvement, rather than on the accumulation of massive debt which narrows students' future opportunities.

- Trevor Hancock discusses the policy choices around different retirement ages - and particularly the need to take into account an individual's type of employment and life expectancy, rather than raising an overall retirement age based on unequally increased lifespans.

- Finally, the Star makes the case for a review of Canada's tax code to make sure we're not bleeding needed revenues without some important policy purpose. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Musical interlude

Seven Lions feat. Kerli - Worlds Apart

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Murray Dobbin is hopeful that we may be seeing corporate globalization based on unquestioned neoliberal ideology come to an end:
There is no definitive way to identify when an ideology begins to lose its grip on the public discourse but could this clear resistance (it is even more developed and vociferous in EU countries) be the beginning of the end of corporate globalization? I am not suggesting that developed countries' governments are going to suddenly return to the good old days of the post-war social contract. But what has allowed them to proceed for three decades with political impunity has been the power of ideology to overwhelm evidence and reason. Neoliberalism has enjoyed hegemonic status for so long it has been almost impossible for ordinary citizens to imagine anything different. But now they can -- not just because of political outliers Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders but because of Hillary Clinton, who has been a steadfast supporter of neoliberal policies, including free trade, throughout her political career.

Once members of the political elite begin to question the high priests of free trade, the spell is broken, and all sorts of alternative political narratives present themselves. It takes an accumulation of unlikely suspects breaking with the consensus before that happens and we have already seen some high-profile defectors from the TPP -- including Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, economist Jeffrey Sachs and in Canada RIM co-founder Jim Balsillie. At first the Teflon seemed to hold, but there is always a time lag when it comes to cultural change and their interventions are still playing out.
- Meanwhile, Jordan Weissmann discusses the IMF's new report finding that neoliberal policies have delivered nothing close to what was promised - though Alexander Kentikelenis, Thomas Stubbs and Lawrence King note that the IMF itself has failed even in enforcing even its own insufficient commitments to social protection.

- Laura Benson points out that there's a direct connection between donations to the B.C. Libs and policies allowing mining corporations to avoid liability for environmental damage (along with other political perks). And Jordan Press reports on the conclusion by federal auditors that corporate contractors have been overpaid by over $100 million over the past three years, mostly in "excessive profits", while Trevor Zimmerman (for Friends of Medicare) highlights how private clinics are siphoning off public money while undermining our universal health care system. 

- Tom Cooper and Trish Hennessy discuss the promising growth of the living wage movement. And David Bush writes about the importance of a fair minimum wage for all workers.

- Finally, Dominique Mosbergen reports on the passage of "right to disconnect" legislation in France allowing for employees to have their off-work time to themselves. And the Canadian Labour Congress has launched a new campaign to allow Canadian workers to retire with a secure and sufficient CPP pension.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

New column day

Here, on how the Wall government is using a partial privatization of liquor stores to open the door to the wholesale destruction of the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.

For further reading...
- The Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act is here. Bill 1, which carves SLGA entirely out of the existing law, is here (PDF) - while the Wall government's press release contains no explanation whatsoever as to why it goes to such drastic lengths. And as a reminder, here's what happened when Saskatchewan Party candidates were offered the opportunity to explain their party's plans during the provincial election campaign.
- CBC reported on the privatization of the Information Services Corporation, while Simon Enoch highlighted the gap between rhetoric and reality when it came to the Saskatchewan Party's position on the Crowns, and SOS Crowns pointed out the lack of any logic behind the sale.
- And finally, Aditya Chakrabotty discusses the connection between austerity, privatization and the deliberate destruction of common wealth.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Andre Picard writes about the widespread poverty faced by indigenous children in Canada - and the obvious need for political action to set things right:
The focus of the [CCPA's] report, rightly, is on the children among the more than 1.4 million people in Canada who identify as indigenous, about 4 per cent of the population. Half of that total are “registered Indians,” 30 per cent are Métis, 15 per cent are non-status Indians and 4 per cent are Inuit. More than half of indigenous people live in urban centres.

These figures are a lot to digest, but they should, nonetheless, be the object of much reflection for our politicians and policy makers.

They are, among other things, an eloquent illustration of the fact that Canadian society is stratified by class, by race and by income, a direct challenge to our comfy belief that we are an egalitarian, socially progressive and colour-blind country.

What we look like and where we came from have an inarguable impact on our opportunities, our income and our health. So does where we live.
- Meanwhile, the Star highlights the desperate need for more affordable housing in Ontario (as in many other places). And Bruce Johnstone notes that the Wall government is going out of its way to hide deliberate choices to raise basic utility costs.

- Angella MacEwen reminds us of the wide range of workers who earn less than a reasonable minimum wage.

- Ivan Semeniuk reports on the dangerous air pollution emanating from the tar sands even beyond their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. And Judith Lavoie takes a look at the price the public has to pay in dealing with abandoned mine sites.

- Finally, Maxwell Cameron comments on the widespread perception that the B.C. Liberal government is thoroughly corrupted. And Desmond Cole writes that the replacement of Rob Ford with John Tory hasn't changed Toronto's basic focus on favouring the wealthy at the expense of everybody else.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Light blogging ahead

Taking a break for the long weekend and a couple of days beyond. Expect little to no blogging until next week.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- James Wilt discusses a much-needed effort to map out the connections between fossil fuel corporations. And Bruce Campbell highlights how the resource sector is among the most prominent examples of regulatory capture in Canada.

- Meanwhile, Steven Chase notes that even as Stephane Dion tries to excuse the sale of arms to human rights abusers, Sweden is making a principled shift away from relying on inevitable human suffering as a profit centre.

- Michael Geist takes a look at the costs the Trans-Pacific Partnership figures to impose on Canada's economy - and the refusal of the deal's corporate backers to recognize that they exist.

- Dylan Matthews examines the impact of public tax records in ensuring improved pay equality and revenue collection. 

- John Anderson makes the case for postal banking to improve both our existing public services, and the availability of financial services for people who need them.

- Finally, Matt Gurney writes that the Trudeau Libs are indistinguishable from the Harper Cons in their total contempt for any opposition. And Chantal Hebert discusses how Trudeau's combination of figurative and literal strongarming of Parliament seems to have backfired.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Musical interlude

Jason Collett - Song and Dance Man

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Johnna Montgomerie makes the case to treat austerity as a failed experiment. But Laura Basu points out that misleading coverage of economic and fiscal news has led far too many people to see the damage done by austerity as originating from other sources.

- Meanwhile, the Economist examines how unduly strict monetary policy has led to the end of otherwise sustainable periods of economic growth. Chris Savage notes that Republican-governed Michigan is now handing the business sector more free money than it's collecting in corporate taxes. And Deirdre Fulton observes that the U.S.' own assessment shows that the Trans-Pacific Partnership isn't worth pursuing - which hasn't yet resulted in any change in the plans to keep pushing it.

- Selena Ross tells the story of Teta Bayan, the nanny who was prevented from testifying before Parliament about the temporary foreign worker program due to the Libs' preference to hear from the corporate sector first.

- CarbonBrief warns that we're a mere five years away from hitting the upper limit of the greenhouse gas emissions we can send into the atmosphere while suffering only moderate effects. Matt Smith highlights how the oil industry has chosen not to develop its own technologies which could have substantially reduced the damage we're doing to our planet. Nick Fillmore points out the glaring lack of media coverage of climate change compared to its expected consequences. And in a case in point, John Klein posts about the Saskatchewan Party's throne speech climate change denialism which has received no mainstream media attention. 

- Finally, Geoff Leo points out how the Saskatchewan Party is playing favourites with access to information requests, charging CBC a hundred thousand dollars more for less Global Transportation Hub documentation than it's prepared to supply to its ideological allies at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.