Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Upturned cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- thwap nicely summarizes how we've allowed our economy to rely on (and feed into) the whims of a small group of insiders, rather than being harnessed for any sense of public good:
(W)hat's changed today is that the wealthy clearly have more money than they know what to do with. And it's rendered our economies top-heavy. Financialization and financial speculation. Which does nothing for ordinary people. Tax-cuts to wealthy and the corporations just go into the banks and into speculation. Tax-increases to the wealthy and the corporations can help mitigate government deficits without harming the economy themselves. Because the wealthy aren't doing anything productive with the money we've been allowing them to miser. We'll get more bang for the buck taxing and spending than we will allowing them to hoard it and gamble with it.
- And Toni Pickard makes the case for a guaranteed annual income to ensure that Canadians can rest assured they won't fall into deep poverty.

- Sarah Treanor compares Norway's use of its oil wealth to that of the UK, and concludes that trust is a major factor in the development of a sovereign wealth fund which now offers massive benefits to an entire country:
"For this kind of system to work, you need to have an enormous level of trust," says Prof Cappelen. "Trust that the money isn't going to be mismanaged - that it's not going to be spent in a way you don't like.
...
"We trust the government. We believe our tax money will be spent wisely. once you start trusting that others are contributing their share then you are happy to contribute yours."

So is Norway rich because of Norwegians high level of trust, or are its citizens trusting because they are rich?
"I think it is both," says Prof Cappelen. "High levels of trust make economic growth easier." 
- But of course, trust and security need to be based on reasonable expectations as to how our public officials will act - and there's not much room for optimism based on the ones holding power at the moment. On that front, Iglika Ivanova points out that our tax system has been systematically warped to favour the wealth over the past 50 years, while PressProgress documents the sharp decline in EI benefit availability for unemployed workers. Doug Nesbitt takes a look at the pattern of Canadian governments and other employers looking to demolish retirement security for their workers past and present. David Sirota reports that Chris Christie is just one of many U.S. governors instead using pension funds as a means to reward political supporters with big-money, zero-accountability investment contracts (h/t to David Dayen). And David Cay Johnston notes that a tiny "prosperous class" is taking the vast majority of U.S. wage gains, leaving effectively nothing for upwards of 90% of workers.

- Finally, Murray Dobbin weighs in on the need to value and promote kindness, rather than celebrating ruthlessness in politics and business alike:
The stronger the imperative to compete, the weaker become family, community and friendship connections, because in rampant consumer capitalism -- promoted and reinforced by television culture -- such connections are seen as irrelevant. Or worse, they are seen as weak and inefficient means, if not actual barriers, to the end of achieving more stuff. We are competing in a zero-sum game whose rules are written by those with psychopathic tendencies. As Fred Guerin writes in Truthout, "Obedience, docility, amorality and careerism will be duly rewarded. Those who can regularly suspend any desire they have to think from the perspective of another, or on behalf of a more universal or common good will be promoted."

Guerin is getting at the real roots of our crisis in democracy. It is not first-past-the-post voting systems, or the cancellation of government funding for parties, or even the role of TV advertising. It is at its core our gradual acquiescence "to things that are contrary to our individual and communal interests." This acquiescence, say Guerin, is the "consequence of very gradual political and corporate indoctrination that consolidates power not only by inducing fear and uncertainty, but also by rewarding unbridled greed, opportunism and self-interest."

Is there an antidote to this death-culture? Can we reclaim our capacity to think beyond our immediate self-interest and regain our political agency -- our ability to act as citizens and not just consumers? Can we begin to create a shared space where we can actually imagine a future worth having, talk about big ideas and recover the notion that we can act in concert for the broader good?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Robert Jay Lifton discusses the "stranded ethics" of a fossil fuel industry which is willing to severely damage our planet in order to protect market share:
Can we continue to value, and thereby make use of, the very materials most deeply implicated in what could be the demise of the human habitat? It is a bit like the old Jack Benny joke, in which an armed robber offers a choice, “Your money or your life!” And Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.” We are beginning to “think over” such choices on a larger scale. 

This takes us to the swerve-related significance of ethics. Our reflections on stranded assets reveal our deepest contradictions. Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth. We may well speak of those shareholder-dominated principles as “stranded ethics,” which are better left buried but at present are all too active above ground.
...
The climate swerve is mostly a matter of deepening awareness. When exploring the nuclear threat I distinguished between fragmentary awareness, consisting of images that come and go but remain tangential, and formed awareness, which is more structured, part of a narrative that can be the basis for individual and collective action.

In the 1980s there was a profound worldwide shift from fragmentary awareness to formed awareness in response to the potential for a nuclear holocaust. Millions of people were affected by that “nuclear swerve.” And even if it is diminished today, the nuclear swerve could well have helped prevent the use of nuclear weapons.

With both the nuclear and climate threats, the swerve in awareness has had a crucial ethical component. People came to feel that it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to engage in nuclear war, and are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren.
- But Mike De Souza reports on ALEC's latest meeting - demonstrating that there are plenty of well-funded corporations (including TransCanada and other tar sands operators) and their pet legislators doing everything in their power to make sure ethics get shouted down in any political discussion of climate change.

- Travis Lupick discusses how the Cons' anti-social crime policies are creating more dangerous prisons.

- Meanwhile, Tim Harper comments on Stephen Harper's aversion to asking "why". And Don Lenihan points out that Canada's premiers may be less than accepting of federal-provincial relations that consist of nothing other than Harper imposing on the provinces while refusing to accept questions, examine evidence or offer explanations - with Harper's intransigence toward missing and murdered aboriginal women being the most appalling example at the moment.

- Finally, Ajamu Nangwaya discusses the contrast between organizing people to better give voice to their own concerns, as opposed to merely mobilizing them toward others' causes - and emphasizes the ultimate need to do far more of the former.

Reused column day

For those wondering, my Leader-Post column was on hiatus last week, but will return this week.

In the meantime, I'll point back to this post and column as introductory reading for Janet French's new report on SaskTel's disclosure of customers' personal information to government authorities. (And I'll add here one comment which didn't make it into the report: as a provincial Crown corporation, SaskTel is subject to additional provincial privacy laws which give consumers some extra means to challenge the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- James Meek writes about the UK's privatization scam, and how it's resulted in citizens paying far more for the basic services which are better provided by a government which actually has the public interest within its mandate:
Privatisation failed to demonstrate the case made by the privatisers that private companies are always more competent than state-owned ones – that private bosses, chasing the carrot of bonuses and dodging the stick of bankruptcy, will always do better than their state-employed counterparts. Through euphemisms such as "wealth creation" and "enjoying the rewards of success" Thatcher and her allies have promoted the notion that greed on the part of a private executive elite is the chief and sufficient engine of prosperity for all. The result has been 35 years of denigration of the concept of duty and public service, as well as a squalid ideal of all work as something that shouldn't be cared about for its own sake, but only for the money it brings. The magic dust of the market was of little use to the bosses of the newly privatised Railtrack in the mid-1990s. They thought they could sack people with impunity – not just signalling and maintenance staff but expert engineers and researchers – and carry out a massive line-upgrade cheaply with the most advanced new technology. Unfortunately the people who could have told them that the new technology didn't exist were the people they had sacked. As a result, the company went bust in 2002, and had to be renationalised.

Privatisation failed to make firms compete or give customers more choice – said to be the canonical virtues of privatisation. Pretty hard, you would think, to privatise water companies, when they are all monopolies, with nobody to compete with, and can't offer customers a choice – neither the choice of which supplier to use nor the choice of whether to take a service or not. And yet the English water companies were privatised, and in such a way that customers have been overcharged ever since. The privatisers loved competition, but the actual privatised competitors hate it. The competitive vision of those who designed Britain's electricity privatisation – a rumbustious, referee-supervised free-for-all between sellers and makers of electricity old and new, large and small – has degenerated into an opaque oligopoly of a handful of giant players.
...
A tax is generally thought of as something that only a government can levy, but this is a semantic distortion that favours the free market belief system. If a payment to an authority, public or private, is compulsory, it's a tax. We can't do without electricity; the electricity bill is an electricity tax. We can't do without water; the water bill is a water tax. Some people can get by without railways, and some can't; they pay the rail tax. Students pay the university tax. The meta-privatisation is the privatisation of the tax system itself; even, it could be said, the privatisation of us, the former citizens of Britain. By packaging British citizens up and selling them, sector by sector, to investors, the government makes it possible to keep traditional taxes low or even cut them. By moving from a system where public services are supported by progressive general taxation to a system where they are supported exclusively by the flat fees people pay to use them, they move from a system where the rich are obliged to help the poor to a system where the less well-off enable services that the rich get for what is, to them, a trifling sum. The commodity that makes water and power cables and airports valuable to an investor, foreign or otherwise, is the people who have no choice but to use them. We have no choice but to pay the price the toll-keepers charge. We are a human revenue stream; we are being made tenants in our own land, defined by the string of private fees we pay to exist here.
- Meanwhile, Paul Watson compares Norway's well-planned savings and use of oil resources for public benefit to Canada's increasingly reckless rush to give away every resource a multinational corporation can rip out of the ground:
They’re succeeding because Norway holds an unshakable principle, one that has survived political shifts to the right and left since huge offshore oil reserves were discovered in 1969.

The canon was set four decades earlier in a national debate over ownership of hydro-electric projects, and it bridged a generation, from waterfalls to oil wells: Norway’s natural resources belong to the people.

“International companies resisted the model very much, but they had no choice. They had to accept it,” says Terje Hagen, an economist at the University of Oslo. “I think the agreement in parliament was quite broad.”
Norway’s current Conservative-led coalition government justifies one of the world’s highest tax rates on oil company profits this way: petroleum and natural gas are finite resources that generate higher profits than other enterprises and therefore command higher taxes.
...
Norway’s government takes 78 per cent of oil company profits in tax, which quickly runs to billions of dollars a year. The fund multiplies through investments in stocks, bonds and property holdings.

It is quickly closing in on $1 trillion, just 18 years after Norway made an initial investment of around $345 million in 1996.

The government spends a portion of the profits each year on improving people’s lives while staying true to the earlier generation who decided it would be wrong to splurge on themselves.

By Norwegian standards, Canada has squandered a lot of its resource riches instead of locking up the royalties and taxes oil companies pay into long-term investments and enjoying the benefits of steadily growing profits.

A small but growing group of policy analysts think Canadians should overcome their history of provinces often jealously guarding resource revenues and do more sharing for the long-term, national good.
- The Vancouver Sun reports on BMO's study into the cycle of debt and stress facing younger Canadians.

- And speaking of gratuitous stress on workers, Don Pittis recognizes the fundamental unfairness of allowing Quebec's government to wriggle out from under agreed pension benefits at the expense of employees who have counted on what they've been promised, while Honour Our Deal has an update on the similar attack on Regina civic pensions. But the CP reports that the New Brunswick NDP is taking a stand to protect needed retirement income from other parties who would gleefully legislate it out of existence.

- Finally, James Surowiecki discusses the economics behind the development of prescription drugs - and how the lack of incentive to develop effective new antibiotics may prove just as deadly for us in the future as the similar neglect in combating Ebola is in the developing world today.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

On broken connections

The CP reported here on Sana Hassainia's resignation from the NDP caucus and the immediate aftermath. And it's worth taking a look at both the narrow view that seems to have led Hassainia (among others) to choose to be isolated from party politics, and the unfortunate response from the NDP.

I haven't commented much personally on the Gaza crisis, so I'll quickly summarize my take on the NDP's official position. Initially, Mulcair did seem all too eager to take the same line as the other federal leaders: the NDP's position included no questioning whatsoever of Israel's incursion into Gaza, and gave little voice to Palestinian humanitarian considerations. But to be clear, that position doesn't seem to have been forced on other NDP MPs, who have taken at least some of their own action from the beginning.
 
And that wasn't the end of the matter either. In no small part in response to what seems to have been some strong internal pressure, the NDP's official position has come to include both far more recognition of the Gaza humanitarian crisis, and direct criticism of the IDF's most galling actions.

Now, that position doesn't go as far as some within the NDP - including Hassainia herself - would like to see. But it's well worth noting that internal influence seems to have had a real effect on the party's public position - an area in which the NDP stands alone among federal parties. And one would think an MP hoping to shape the course of events would recognize the opportunity offered by a place within that type of caucus and party.

Instead, Hassainia resigned from the NDP caucus - making for a particularly interesting choice in light of the normal pressures on MPs. 

The best explanation as to why most MPs toe the party line is the need for party support and leadership approval in future elections. And Hassainia's decision not to run again in 2015 would have eliminated any perceived need to curry Mulcair's favour - or indeed to remain within the caucus at all.

But by the same token, Hassainia's intention not to run again also left her effectively immune to the most obvious forms of leadership control over an individual MP. And it's hard to see how she'd expect to have more influence as an independent with no plan to run for office again than as a caucus member for the next year.

Which leads to a more general problem for many of the people who are (at times rightly) frustrated with top-down party politics. To my mind, the only practical means of reversing that unfortunate trend is to ensure that parties themselves are forced to be responsive to members through effective internal mechanisms. And the choice to walk away from the most significant group of reasonably like-minded people in the country hardly seems likely to build the movement needed to ensure that check is in place.

Meanwhile, Mulcair's response to Hassainia's departure unfortunately seems to reflect the worst of politics as sport. Just as individual activists should have every reason to want to maintain a relationship with like-minded people within the party structure, so too should any party want to maintain the best possible relationship with people who agree on most issues - as appears to be the case for Hassainia.

Instead, the choice to personally criticize Hassainia as she departed - particularly on questionable grounds - merely ensures that somebody who was willing to run for the NDP an election ago (and the people around her) will have reason to carry a grudge long after the immediate context of her departure would otherwise have been forgotten. And all to accomplish little more than to entrench as "us versus them" mentality.

In sum, then, Hassainia's resignation should serve as a cautionary reminder of what should be obvious points. Activists are best served cultivating party connections rather than withdrawing from the only system that can possibly effect the change they seek; likewise, parties are best served working to build and maintain positive connections among people of all levels of involvement and connection (including those who have raised tough questions), rather than going out of their way to attack anybody who dares to wander out of their tent. And the more we forget those simple principles, the harder it will be to build a people-powered alternative to the politics we recognize as problematic.

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Matthew Yglesias writes that while increased automation may not eliminate jobs altogether, it may go a long way toward making them more menial. And Jerry Dias recognizes that we won't see better career opportunities emerge unless we make it a shared public priority to develop them:
(I)ncreasingly, the people I meet – both in the labour movement and outside (including in some business circles) – talk about the need for greater dialogue on the issues of the day, particularly as they relate to jobs and the economy. People have expressed to me an urgent need to bring the best ideas together to come up with real solutions to us move out from under the dark shadow of long-term chronic underemployment. People are also expressing their frustration that we are being told that good jobs are a thing of the past. We know good jobs are possible. And people are telling me they want labour, business and government leadership to work together to ensure we all have access to good jobs.
...
The Good Jobs Summit will bring together seemingly disparate parties – industry, government, NGOS, students, academic institutions, workers and trade unions – to discuss the need for decent jobs and come up with solutions. Up for discussion will be the chronic underemployment of young, overqualified workers; growing precarity in the labour market; how we can make ‘bad jobs’ better and where the good jobs will come from in the economy of today and in the future.
...
I’m confident that we can do better, that we can create an economy that churns out far more good jobs than bad, that creates an environment where precarious employment is a thing of the past, and that everyone who is able to work can find a decent job that helps support themselves and their family.
- But Graham Lanktree notes that the Cons are instead looking to push CETA on the country - which figures to both drive away existing jobs, and limit the ability of Canadian governments to support new ones. Which means that it's no wonder Canadians are increasingly pessimistic (PDF) about both their own positions, and the overall prospects for workers. And Andrew Jackson observes that tax giveaways to businesses - likely the only public policy tool not taken off the table by the corporate trade movement - don't do anything at all to boost innovation or development.

- John Thompson rightly slams Stephen Harper for rejecting an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women based on nothing more than wilful stupidity. And Catherine Latimer comments on the Cons' elimination of factual research into criminal justice policy lest their "tough on crime" posturing be exposed for its ineffectiveness.

- The New Republic weighs in on the Cons' silencing of climate scientists, while the Ottawa Citizen editorial board calls on the Cons to let them speak. And Michael Spratt discusses the Cons' broader fight against inconvenient reality and the evidence which tends to expose it.

- Finally, near the top of the list of areas where we have reason to worry about the Cons' aversion to facts lies their willingness to ignore safety standards for Arctic deep-water drilling. And Lana Payne reminds us what happened last time the Cons figured they could let the oil industry handle public safety for itself.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Musical interlude

Serge Devant feat. Second Sun - Shadow

Friday Afternoon Links

This and that to start your weekend.

- Robert Reich discusses how the increasing concentration of corporate wealth and power is undermining the U.S.' democracy, while noting that there's only one effective response:
We entered a vicious cycle in which political power became more concentrated in monied interests that used the power to their advantage – getting tax cuts, expanding tax loopholes, benefiting from corporate welfare and free-trade agreements, slicing safety nets, enacting anti-union legislation, and reducing public investments.

These moves further concentrated economic gains at the top, while leaving out most of the rest of America.

No wonder Americans feel powerless. No surprise we’re sick of politics, and many of us aren’t even voting.

But if we give up on politics, we’re done for. Powerlessness is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The only way back toward a democracy and economy that work for the majority is for most of us to get politically active once again, becoming organized and mobilized.

We have to establish a new countervailing power.

The monied interests are doing what they do best – making money. The rest of us need to do what we can do best – use our voices, our vigor, and our votes.
- Bryce Covert notes that service-sector jobs in particular have seen wages decline even since the 2008 crash, while Matthew Yglesias makes the case as to why there's plenty of room for employers to pay more than they've thus far bothered to do. And Freddie deBoer highlights the patent absurdity of blaming workers for acting on the promise that higher education would lead to economy opportunity:
So all the kids who heard the clarion call and rushed out to get CS degrees, or to drop out under the advice of Peter Thiel, and start coding in their basements– are they all chumps? Do they deserve scorn? Do they deserve to be unable to scratch out a living? Of course not. Like so many others, most of them did what their society told them to do to pursue the good life: work hard, go to school, and try to provide value for people so that you can earn a living. They were sold on a social contract that is failing them. No one can be reasonably expected to predict what skills the economy will value five, ten, twenty years in advance. The urge to call out others for what you perceive as their bad choices is destructive in a labor economy where, despite gains in overall unemployment rate, workers still have remarkably little bargaining power, thanks to underemployment, lack of benefits, low pay, and poor hours. Rather than succumbing to our petty insecurities by blaming others for their economic conditions, we need to look at the macroeconomic factors that are hurting our labor markets. We need to recognize that automation and artificial intelligence are pushing us towards a new era of work– one with tremendous potential productivity gains, but also tremendous uncertainty for labor, even educated labor. It’s time to stop calling people chumps and start building the kind of social system that can guarantee basic material security for all of our people, so that we can all share in the staggering gains of efficiency and productivity that technology is bringing about.
- Mariana Mazzucato observes that the answer to Europe's failed austerity drive should be greater movement toward long-term public investments - not more of the same cuts-at-all-costs attitude that's obviously done nothing but harm.

- And Andre Picard reports that the Canadian Medical Association isn't accepting the Cons' excuses for abandoning public health care.

- Finally, David Climenhaga rightly questions the theory that we should answer threat to political leaders by silencing voices online, rather than actually protecting the politicians affected. And Marva Burnett writes that in fact, there's still a significant digital divide facing lower-income Canadians which demands a strong policy response to encourage greater access to a world of information.

On political evolution

Both Chantal Hebert and the combination of Bruce Anderson and David Coletto have written recently about the state of federal politics in Quebec, with particular emphasis on what we can expect as the Bloc Quebecois appears to crumble. With that in mind, I'll offer a quick reminder as to one of the more subtle factors behind the 2011 Orange Wave - and how things have changed less than we might think at first glance.

As I've mentioned before, the NDP's relatively strong push into Quebec happened to coincide with an election where both the Cons and Libs had obvious reasons not to put much effort into the province - based in large part on the Bloc's success in campaigning against their preferred themes.

Which isn't to say that the NDP was obviously ahead of its competitors at the start of the campaign (see: polling prior to April 2011 passim). Instead, its increased strategic focus figures mostly to have counterbalanced the Libs' and Cons' historic advantages. And with no national party going into 2011 with much expectation of winning over a substantial amount of Bloc support, the outcome might be seen as reflecting two factors: not only the popularity of Jack Layton, but also the growth of natural voter preferences in a rare case where political targeting played a relatively small role.

Of course, that's all changed going into the next federal campaign. Now that the obvious obstacle to growth in Quebec for all of the federal parties is seemingly disintegrating, every party has an incentive to test its prospects within a much larger pool of available voters and seats. And there's reason to think the NDP, Libs and Cons have all done just that.

In turn, that makes the lack of change in voter support just as noteworthy as any further shift would have been. The NDP's change in leadership from Jack Layton to Thomas Mulcair hasn't affected its massive advantage on that question. And renewed pushes from both the Libs and Cons haven't significantly altered the party standings aside from the Bloc's further decline - which, as noted by Anderson and Coletto, may actually bolster the NDP's position compared to its competitors.

Not that any party can rest on its laurels now: after all, it's the illusion of stability over an even longer period that caught nearly everybody off guard in the last election. But if 2011 showed us what the Quebec electorate looks like following relatively little work to cultivate party interests, the last few years seem to indicate that voters are comfortable with the landscape.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Olga Khazan writes about the connection between lower incomes and obesity in the U.S. And Truthout discusses how poverty and other stressors can directly affect individual and communal genetics for generations:
(A) study by researchers at University College London's Institute of Child Health found that, thanks to epigenetics, children whose parents and grandparents were born into poverty can, themselves, carry the scars of that past poverty with them for the rest of their lives. That's because children born to families who've lived generations in poverty inherit genes configured to help them survive that poverty, but as the researchers pointed out, turning those genes on can make those children more susceptible to health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer when they're adults.

And epigenetic changes - genetic changes caused by the circumstances of life - have previously been linked to a variety of mental disorders too, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
...
Because of epigenetics, whenever there's war, violence, poverty, famine or just about any other stressful situation, not only are our bodies changing, but those of future generations will, too.

That's why it's so important that we do everything possible to protect future generations by making the world work well today.
- And Rachel Malena-Chan highlights how much more an individual can both benefit personally and contribute to the community with a basic income in place to meet essential needs.

- Jordan Weissmann questions whether the spin about reduced global inequality making up for increased country-level inequality is the least bit accurate - particularly since it relies on ignoring unreported wealth. 

- Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Gagnon suggests that a national pharmacare program could provide both economic and health benefits. But Nick Fillmore contrasts the public's actual concerns about higher drug prices and other consequences of the CETA against the media's eagerness to declare that nobody can possibly question more corporate-friendly trade deals.

- The Montreal Gazette's editorial board weighs in on the need to put public safety first when it comes to regulating dangerous business activity. But we can instead expect plenty more policies at the federal and provincial levels alike aimed at letting business do what it likes in the pursuit of short-term profits, regardless of the obvious dangers to the public - combined with the occasional gratuitous swipe at public servants in order to distract from corporate giveaways.

- And finally, Frances Russell wonders whether the Cons' fraudulent vote suppression in 2011 is only a prelude to a wider, more desperate attempt to keep power in 2015.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Leonhardt offers a revealing look at the relative priorities of wealthier and poorer regions of the U.S. And Patricia Cohen discusses the disproportionate effect of inequality and poverty on women:
It’s at the lowest income levels that the burden on women stands out. Not only are they more likely than men to be in a minimum-wage job, but women are also much more likely to be raising a family on their own.

“Inequality is rising among women as well as men, but at the bottom, women are struggling with some dimensions of these problems that men aren’t, which is raising and supporting these families as single heads of households,” said Francine Blau, an economist at Cornell University.

So while the number of families living on less than $2 per person per day doubled between 1996 and 2011, according to the National Poverty Center, it tripled among families headed by a lone woman.

Wages are only one part of the problem, said Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, whose 1989 book, “The Second Shift,” described how fathers rarely chipped in with housework and child care even when their wives were working full-time. She notes that as men’s economic opportunities decline, so do their marriage prospects. The increase in poor single mothers means that many of the lowest-wage workers are not getting any help in the second shift.
- But while that example reflects market outcomes rather than policy choices, sometimes right-wing disdain for vulnerable people is actually made explicit. And Lizanne Foster exposes the B.C. Libs' apparent hostility toward special needs children - whose learning supports are being put on the chopping block as "wage benefits".

- Andy Blatchford reports on the Transportation Safety Board's findings about the Lac-Megantic rail explosion. The Globe and Mail editorial board highlights the failure of Transport Canada to properly regulate an increasingly dangerous industry, while Paul Wells notes that the history of railway self-regulation extends back to the Libs' stay in power.

- Meanwhile, in another prime example of the conflict of interest inherent in letting corporations (and their hand-picked consultants) regulate themselves, David Dayen discusses how the U.S.' big banks avoid public regulation by instead choosing their own investigators.

- The Star points out that the Cons' obsession with austerity and deficits is entirely political. But it's also worth recognizing that any talk of balancing a budget is purely temporary: as soon as the red ink stops flowing for a year, their plan is to start slashing taxes again to make sure the federal government lacks the capacity to repair the Cons' damage. And David MacDonald charts the public revenue already lost to a decade and a half of corporate tax giveaways.

- Finally, Marilyn Reid takes a look at how CETA fits into the Cons' general philosophy of suppressing wages and rendering work more precarious.