Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Alert cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Robert Reich describes how U.S. voters are rejecting the concept of a ruling class from both the left and the right - while noting that it's vital to get the answer right as to which alternative is worth pursuing. And Owen Jones sees Jeremy Corbyn's rise as an inevitable response to the emptiness of New Labour in the UK:
Corbyn’s campaign has been unique in the Labour leadership campaign in actually offering coherent policies and a fleshed-out economic strategy: a radical housing programme; tax justice; democratic public ownership of utilities and services; a public investment bank to transform the economy; quantitative easing to invest in desperately needed infrastructure; a £10 minimum wage; a National Education Service; a costed abolition of tuition fees; women’s rights; and so on. His campaign is making astounding headway – against the odds – because it offers a coherent, inspiring and, crucially, a hopeful vision. His rivals offer little of any substance. What’s left for them?
...
If those in the self-described “centre-left” offered a coherent, inspiring vision, the Corbyn phenomenon would never have happened. They have failed to develop one. If they want to regain momentum within their own party – let alone win over the country – they should sideline the voices of negativity and learn how to inspire people. And however much they resort to cod psychology or sneering about the Corbyn phenomenon, the truth remains: they made it possible.
- Andrew Nikiforuk reminds us that the storm currently swamping Canada's economy was entirely predictable - and indeed predicted by those who didn't buy the Cons' belief in a narrow resource economy. And Louis-Philippe Rochon duly slams the Cons for now making matters worse with gratuitous austerity as another recession forms on their watch:
There may be a time and place to balance the books but now is not the time. Every economist today will tell you that Harper's pursuit of balancing the federal budget in times of crisis and indeed, in times of recession, is simply a bull-headed and wrong idea.

It does not help the economy; in fact, it hurts it — and hurts it deeply. At the very least, it is preventing the economy from taking flight and keeps it well anchored in a depressed state.

What we need now is more fiscal stimulus.
...
We are well aware of the absence of empirical support in favour of austerity, yet austerians like Harper insist on claiming that their approach is somehow superior, that contractions in fiscal stimulus will somehow, magically, be expansionary.

Imagine geocentrists being shown proof that the earth actually revolved around the sun, and dismissing the new science as fuddleduddlery. This is the world in which austerians like Harper live: first, deny fiscal stimulus can make any positive contribution to economic growth, despite the mountain of scientific evidence. Next, deny the mountain exists.

In the face of the lack of evidence and empirical support for their views and policies, one can only conclude that ideology and powerful interests are what keep these ideas afloat.

This is where Harper's policies come in: adopt policies that bring rewards to those who support you to the detriment of the rest, since they will contribute to your party that will get your elected and perpetuate those failed policies.

In this world, austerity and balanced budgets have nothing to do with economics. It's all politics.
- Michael Plaxton explains the "caretaker convention" which should limit how much more the Cons' ongoing power is used now that the campaign is officially underway.

- Finally, Ian Welsh offers a useful summary of what's at stake in October's election, while kev takes a first look at some of the policy choices on offer. Karl Nerenberg sets out the record that each party will have to defend. Greg Lyle examines the current party standings and paths to victory. Luke Savage rightly laments the state of election coverage which seems bent on focusing more and more on the trivial at the expense of the substantive. And Warren Bell writes about how the election may serve as a decision point for the CBC in particular, as the Cons have taken several steps to suggest it won't last in its current form if they have any say in the matter.

Monday, August 03, 2015

On control freaks

While we're on the subject of Stephen Harper's campaign to insult Canada, let's note the significance of his choice of attacks on Tom Mulcair.

As others have pointed out, the "career politician" complaint makes absolutely no sense as an attempt to contrast Mulcair against Harper - who has been in politics longer, and has far less of an outside resume, than his NDP counterpart.

But it might be explained if the Cons see a need to contrast Mulcair against Justin Trudeau - particularly to revive the latter's campaign enough to create the vote splits which the Cons need to have any hope of survival when two-thirds of Canadian voters want them gone.

In other words, the Cons look to be banking on being able to control not only the message they're sending to possible supporters, but also the behaviour of voters who have long since ruled them out. And it's doubtful that even a doubled expense limit will leave enough room to make that happen - particularly given the credibility issues arising when the Cons' messages are now as contradictory as they are ill-founded.

On unconventional strategies

One might think that needlessly picking fights with every single person one can name is something less than an ideal campaign tactic. But Stephen Harper has other ideas

Or put another way, Stephen Harper is campaigning as Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, only with more anti-social tendencies.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Chantal Panozzo discusses the lack of work-life balance which serves as the default in the U.S. - and notes how preposterous precarious work looks once a person has experienced an alternative:
Before I moved to Switzerland for almost a decade, American Reality was all I knew. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment making $30,000 a year in a job where I worked almost seven days a week with no overtime pay and received 10 days of paid time off a year.

In other words, for the hours worked, I was making minimum wage, if that. The glamour of this job was supposed to make up for the hours, but in reality, working every weekend is a ticket to burnout — not success.

My husband and I were so accustomed to American Reality that when he was offered an opportunity to work in Switzerland, we both thought about travel and adventure — not about improving our quality of life. It hadn't occurred to us that we could improve our quality of life simply by moving.

But without realizing it, or even asking for it, a better life quality came to us. And this is why, now that I'm back, I'm angry that my own country isn't providing more for its people.
- Travis Lupick highlights why we should encourage the development of supportive housing rather than assuming there's anything to be gained by trying to push it away.

- Daniel Tencer reports on how the TPP would have prevented Crown entities including the CBC from operating in the public interest rather than as a commercial body - meaning we may have dodged a bullet in the breakdown of last week's talks. And Alice Olstein points out how trade agreements and control by financial elites have led Puerto Rico to fiscal disaster.

- Jacqueline Nelson writes about the confusing and ineffective patchwork of funding for prescription drugs in Canada.

- Finally, ThinkPol reports that the Cons have pushed any public access to documents evaluating the constitutionality of their two-tiered citizenship and terror legislation until after election day.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

On end goals

We can fully expect Canada's election campaign to feature plenty more talk about possible coalition outcomes - which are favoured by the public, and may represent the best way to ensure the Cons' replacement if Stephen Harper again tries to cling to power. And as I've noted before, there remains little reason to take the Libs seriously in their threats not to cooperate.

But I'll take a moment to answer the latest excuse as to how the Libs are trying to present themselves as a party of change while needlessly ruling out what may prove to be the only way to get there - that being in a junior role in a coalition might be a fatal blow to the party.

Back when a coalition was formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats after the UK's 2010 election, I had this to say about the difference between what the Lib Dems negotiated for and what the NDP has pursued in past election cycles when it's sought to be the junior coalition partner:
Particularly during the 2008 coalition discussions, the NDP has consistently made clear that its top priority has been securing positive policy outcomes. And in order to reach those, it's been willing to trade off any expectation of top cabinet positions such as deputy Prime Minister, as well as to work in structures where its goal of electoral reform isn't on the table.

In contrast, the two largest benefits for the Lib Dems in their agreement seem to have little to do with substantive policy. Instead, Nick Clegg's appointment as deputy PM and the promised referendum on an alternative vote model look to be the main carrots for the Lib Dems in an agreement loaded with conservative policy priorities with only a modicum of mitigation for the worst off.
In other words, a party negotiating from a third-place position doesn't have a lot to gain merely from pursuing cabinet positions rather than policy accomplishments, particularly if it has no clue what it wants to achieve once it gets a seat at the cabinet table. And the subsequent annihilation of the Lib Dems offers evidence in favour of that argument.

But a third-place party which has a genuine policy vision will find few better opportunities to see it brought to life than in at the negotiating table and the cabinet table alongside a party seeking which needs its support to win a majority in Parliament.

Now, it's true that it's possible to support legislation on a case-by-case basis without a more formal coalition. But if anybody's needlessly confusing the issue, it's the party which is prematurely ruling one of those options out in the absence of anything even remotely approaching a defensible reason.

Moreover, a coalition which signals the availability of a stable alternate government to the Governor General forms an important subset of the cooperation options which can usefully be pursued - placing a significant onus on the Libs to provide a better explanation than they've deigned to provide so far.

In sum, if there is a reason for the Liberal Party to exist other than inertia, that reason should offer a justification to work with others - as well as the promise of building the party in the future through the accomplishments achieved under the coalition. We should then expect the Liberals to be able to articulate what they'd want to pursue (under a coalition or otherwise) if they do end up as the third party in a minority Parliament - and to be willing to work with the NDP and others to get it done.

On the other hand, if the Liberal Party is so confused about its own reasons for existence as to have no idea what values or policies are important enough to make cooperation worthwhile, then it's hard to see what Canadian voters could possibly have to gain by keeping it around. And so the more the Libs whine that they'd be doomed if they tried to work with anybody, the harder it is to escape the conclusion that they're broken beyond repair either way.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Frank Pasquale and Siva Vainhyanathan write that we shouldn't mistake schemes intended to get around employee standards and other laws for innovations worth celebrating or embracing:
Uber has confronted admittedly stifling restrictions on taxi driver licenses in France by launching a service called UberPop. Several authorities in Europe have ruled UberPop illegal, but Uber kept it operating anyway as it appealed. Now France has charged Uber’s general director for France, Thibaud Simphal, and the company’s director for Western Europe, Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty with enabling taxi-driving by non-professional drivers and “deceptive commercial practices”.

One could make a strong argument that France would benefit from more taxi drivers and more competition. But that’s for the people of France to decide through their elected representatives. The spirit of Silicon Valley should not dictate policy for the rest of the world. New York, Paris, London, Cairo, and New Delhi all have different values and traffic issues. Local needs should be respected.

Consider what it would mean for such a universalising approach to prevail. The business model of Uber would become that of law-flouting bosses generally. Reincorporate as a “platform”, intermediate customer requests and work demands with an app, and voila!, far fewer laws to comply with. Worse, this rebel attitude signals to the larger culture that laws and regulations are quaint and archaic, and therefore hindrances to progress. That could undermine faith in republican government itself.

In the 1950s and 60s, Southern governors thought they’d found a similar tactic to avoid the civil rights laws that they most despised. Though the strategy failed, the idea still animates reactionaries. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, now running for president, has even suggested that the US supreme court’s recent gay marriage decision should effectively be nullified by sovereign states.

Of course, a republic can’t run without authorities who follow the rule of law. Civil disobedience by citizens can be an important challenge to corrupt or immoral politicians, but when corporate leaders themselves start breaking the law in their own narrow interests, societal order breaks down.
- Tyler Hamilton writes about the unnecessary risks caused by the poorly-regulated transportation of hazardous chemicals. And Mychaylo Prystupa reports that one of the Cons' last acts before calling an election was to take another step toward letting oil executives regulate their own industry, while the ITF highlights how the Cons' cutbacks and anti-regulation dogma led directly to the damage caused by the English Bay oil spill.

- Boyd Tonkin writes about the increasing significance and permanence of inherited wealth in the UK. And Simon Wren-Lewis reminds us that the public is broadly against needless austerity and insufficient government - meaning there's no reason to settle for political parties who are inclined to presume otherwise.

- And finally, Derrick O'Keefe discusses how the Cons' bloated federal election campaign looks more like a long goodbye than a plan with much prospect of convincing voters to keep putting up with their abuses.

Good to go

A few images which may or may not become highly relevant in just a few minutes.




Saturday, August 01, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ezra Klein talks to Bernie Sanders about how to build a more fair economy in the U.S. and around the globe. And Lynn Parramore interviews Tony Atkinson about the options available to rein in economic inequality - and why we should be working on putting them in place:
LP: Some of the possible prescriptions you discuss, such as a basic income for all citizens, may sound radical, but you point out that they are actually already implemented as policy in many countries in various ways. Are ideas like basic income getting more attention and traction now?

TA: Definitely. A lot of people I’ve talked to about the book, in different places, say, “Oh! I never knew we could do that kind of thing.” It’s a tragedy, in a way, that our political system has become very narrowly focused and not willing to at least debate these ideas.

The basic income is very close to the idea Thomas Paine put forward in the 1790s. (Paine’s proposal, by the way, is on the website of the U.S. Social Security Administration). That proposal is something that I and many others think is really interesting, which is that everyone, on reaching the age of 18 or so, should receive a capital payment. It would be like a negative capital tax. That idea was also proposed years ago in America by Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law at Yale.

A capital payment, or capital grant, would contribute to solving the problem of the intergenerational distribution of income, which is something I stress in the book. That is a serious problem, which I found, for example, in discussions with Korean journalists and economists. They are very worried about generational divide — concerned that the older people have benefitted from growth and the younger people are struggling to find jobs and so on. Some of the measures I propose are designed to take money away from my generation and give it to younger generations. The capital grant certainly would do that.

LP: You’ve been a strong critic of claims that we can’t afford to do much about inequality. How do you react to such claims?

TA: I think that the question about whether we can afford it has two dimensions. One is the extent to which addressing inequality involves redistribution —whether in involves some people, like myself, paying higher taxes to finance a more effective system of social protection, for example. On the other hand, it’s a question about how far these measures and other measures would tend to reduce the size of the cake, to put it in a rather hackneyed metaphor.

The second argument is the one I spend more time discussing, which is to say that in the kinds of economies in which we live, there are a number of directions in which we can both make the distribution fairer and contribute to making our economies more efficient and more productive for everyone. That’s very much within the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s way of looking at the world because I’m really saying that the economic model we’ve had to think about is one in which intervention tends to reduce the size of the cake. Yet if you think about a different economic model, you have to allow for the fact that there are corporations with monopoly power. You have to allow for the fact that we have workers who have very little countervailing power, and so on. There are, in fact, ways in which the current situation is inefficient.
- Thomas Mulcair tells Christopher Majka why he's committed to combating inequality in Canada:
For the first time in our history, the current generation is going to have less than their parents and their grandparents. That's never happened before in the history of Canada. We're far too wealthy to just stand by and watch that happen -- there's no reason for it. There's no reason for having 800,000 kids going to school hungry in the morning in Canada. That's a shame that we don't have to put up with. There's no way we have to put up with third world conditions on Canada's First Nations reserves. And I for one do not consider it inevitable that the seniors who built this country should wind up living in deep poverty. We're going to change that. My job, as a social democrat, has always been to decrease inequality in our society. That's our priority.
- Meanwhile, Stephen Harper offers his own idea of how the economy should operate - involving increasing individual debt which is rebranded as "consumer confidence" rather than an unfortunate necessity.

- Finally, Dana Nuccitelli writes that contrary to the spin of climate change denialists, we're actually learning by the year just how accurate global warming projections have been. And Ethan Cox argues that instead of criticizing people for failing to go far out of their way to opt out of the dirty energy economy we're stuck with, we should be working collectively on a cleaner, fairer society for everybody.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

By invitation only

Yes, Paul McLeod's report that Stephen Harper will go through a three-month election period without meeting a single person who hasn't been previously vetted by partisan operatives is pretty much the logical extension of the Harper Cons' attitude toward the public. But it's worth offering a reminder how that relates to the flood of propaganda going in the other direction.

Any place in Stephen Harper's campaign - or any consideration by his government - is by invitation only.

The few people who receive personal invitations due to their perceived political value - the Carsons and Duffys, Porters and Del Mastros - know they'll be taken care of.

But it's the converse that matters to most Canadians: if you're being advertised to rather than invited in, Harper has no intention of going anywhere near you. And that's as true for his policy choices as it is for his physical proximity.

So anybody being excluded from Harper's line of sight should have every reason to make sure he no longer has any power to decide who or what matters in Canadian politics.

Grifts within grifts

Shorter Saskatchewan Party Ministry of P3 Giveaways:
There's always a risk that the corporate giants we're paying to take over government operations might be more interested in making money than the public interest. We're pretty sure the only answer is to pay off more corporate giants.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Musical interlude

Foals - What Went Down

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Shannon Gormley points out how the Cons' actions to strip voting rights from Canadians abroad sticks out like a sore thumb compared to an international trend of recognizing that citizenship doesn't end merely because a person crosses a border. And Peter Russell and Semra Sevi lament that it's too late to reverse the damage before this fall's federal election, while the Star makes the broader point that we should be encouraging rather than limiting voter participation.

- Andrew Nikiforuk exposes how the U.S.'s green light to fracking has led to far more dangerous "shallow fracking" than anticipated - though it shouldn't come as much surprise that a poorly-regulated industry would engage in more risky practices than it would if public safety was properly taken into account.

- Ben Makuch reports that Stephen Harper is spending hundreds of millions of dollars for its own Star Wars program even as he denounces any suggestion of using public money to actually help people.

- Meanwhile, Jo Snyder makes the case for pharmacare as a means of reducing inequality. And Don Cayo notes that it's equally viable as a matter of economic policy.

- Finally, the Star argues that the Cons' economic spin consists of nothing but smoke and mirrors, while L. Ian McDonald sees it as more of a matter of theatre. And the CP reports on yet another month of economic decline on Stephen Harper's watch.

On institutional improvements

Shorter Carol Goar:
When it comes to Canada Post, the only options are cuts, sell-offs or more cuts. Because who could possibly want better service which also increases public revenue?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

New column day

Here, reminding us that it's our communities who ultimately pay the price for the poorly-thought-out election announcements from senior levels of government that we've seen so frequently recently.

For further reading...
- CTV reported on last week's Evraz Place expansion announcement, while the Leader-Post offered an all-too-obvious example of cheerleading for a shiny new project while paying no attention to the opportunity costs involved.
- Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Party's regular announcements and re-announcements of what proved to be an ill-thought-out scheme for new school construction have lasted from last July to last November to just last month.
- And finally, CBC reported on City Council's hasty revision to the plan foisted on it by the province, while Shawn Fraser offered his take on the school debacle.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alan Freeman discusses the need for an adult conversation about taxes to replace the Cons' oft-repeated policy of ignorance:
Focusing on low taxes is great politics. It’s also a really dumb way to run the economy of an advanced industrialized country. Getting taxes right is a complex balance. Raise them too high — particularly taxes on income — and you risk creating disincentives for productive work, which can make your economy uncompetitive. Set them too low and you threaten the social programs and public goods that are fundamental to our values as a society — things like universal Medicare, safe highways and a sound education system.

In the U.S., where the low-tax gospel has become ingrained in the political system, the damage is there for all to see. The inability to raise the federal gasoline tax — it’s been stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993 — has exaggerated the country’s infrastructure deficit by impoverishing the road system and mass transit services while discouraging energy conservation. At the same time, budget shortfalls at the state level have resulted in large tuition increases at state universities, leading to high student debt and contributing to America’s sorry record on social mobility.

So far, the Harper Conservatives seem to be delivering low taxes while still providing most of the government services and entitlements that we all value. But that’s largely because the federal government doesn’t deliver the really expensive programs — like health care — and has washed its hands of a long-term role in designing their future by unilaterally setting a funding formula that will keep its transfers under strict control, no matter how much it actually costs the provinces to deliver the services.

The upshot is that Ottawa is in fine fiscal fettle going forward, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office, which last week reported that Ottawa’s outlook is so rosy that it can afford to increase spending or cut taxes significantly over the coming decades. The provinces and municipalities, on the other hand, won’t have enough money because of the impact of an aging population on health-care costs. A solution would be to increase federal transfers for health or shift tax room to the provinces, says the PBO. But such is the allergy to taxes (look what happened to Vancouver’s proposed regional transit tax) that politicians everywhere are reluctant to move in that direction.
- Jim Stanford and Jordan Brennan take a thorough look (PDF) at the Cons' economic record, leading to the conclusion that tax baubles, indiscriminate trade deals and feckless management have led to by far the worst economic performance of any Canadian government since World War II. And Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew note that the Cons' impending giveaways in order to get the TPP signed will only make matters worse.

- Paul Buchhelt highlights how corporations are cheating the public education system in the U.S. And Hazel Sheffield reports on Wall Street's lobbying for Puerto Rico to shut down its schools in the interest of putting creditors ahead of people.

- The CP reports that privatized power has gone awry in Alberta, as a major provider has been found to have deliberately triggered power outages at peak times in order to drive up prices.

- Jordon Cooper writes about Saskatoon's new status as the city with the highest crime rate in Canada, and points out that any improvement will require some sorely-needed leadership in dealing with poverty and exclusion. And Jesse Bauman notes that a more fair minimum wage improves living conditions for everybody, not just the workers who see their wages directly increased.

- Finally, Bryan Palmer makes the point that today's policy issues surrounding precarious work are just the latest incarnation of the dispossession which has regularly faced vulnerable workers.

Trampled

Elizabeth May tells us that her idea of a grassroots movement is a finely manicured lawn carefully maintained to suit the aesthetic preferences of its owners:
May said she didn’t want to thwart local efforts towards co-operation with other parties, but that she thinks she, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair should be the ones to discuss how grassroots co-operation should work.
To be clear, there were plenty of problems with the Kelowna red-green pact which May seems to have nixed: it didn't make a lick of sense in terms of either reciprocity (since the Liberals were offering nothing in return for a Green candidate's withdrawal) or anticipated outcomes (since the NDP is in a far better position than the Libs to challenge the Cons in the seat). And so it's entirely justifiable that the deal itself would come under scrutiny.

But it's one thing for May to highlight where a specific arrangement has gone awry, and quite another for her to say generally that the plebes should be quiet until party leaders have decided how their activity should be channelled. And if anybody harboured any illusions that the Greens saw their own grassroots activists as significant political agents rather than easily-controlled minions, May seems to have decisively shattered them.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Tavia Grant is the latest to note that the potential for driverless vehicles necessitates some consideration as to how to account for people who currently rely on driving jobs. And Vivek Wadhwa makes the case for a new form of capitalism which isn't designed to leave people behind:
Countries such as India and Peru and all of Africa will see the same benefits — for at least two or three decades, until the infrastructure has been built and necessities of the populations have been met.

Then there will not be enough work even there to employ the masses.

Slim’s solution to this is to institute a three-day workweek so that everyone can find employment and earn the money necessary for leisure and entertainment. This is not a bad idea. In the future we are heading into, the cost of basic necessities, energy, and even luxury goods such as electronics will fall low enough to seem almost free — just as cell-phone minutes and information cost practically nothing now. It is a matter of sharing the few jobs that will exist in an equitable way.

The concept of a universal basic income is also gaining popularity worldwide as it becomes increasingly apparent that declining costs and the elimination of bureaucracies, make it possible for governments to provide citizens with income enough for the basic necessities. The idea is to give everyone a stipend covering living costs and to get government out of the business of selecting what social benefits people should have. The advantage of this approach is that workers gain the freedom to decide how much to work and under what conditions. Enabling individual initiative in the work that people pursue, in fields ranging from philosophy and the arts to pure science and invention, will result in their enrichment of their cultures in ways we can’t foresee.
- Meanwhile, Jordan Weismann slams the right's attempt to invent a "success sequence" which conveniently leaves out the economic security necessary for people to be able to plan out their lives.

- Paul Krugman discusses how the past cost-based justification for slashing social programs has been thoroughly undermined in the U.S. - though of course the memo has been conspicuously shredded by Republican presidential candidates. And Arkadi Gerney, Anna Chu and Brendan Duke highlight how the U.S.' middle class is increasingly getting squeezed out.

- Laurent Bastien Corbeil reports on the RCMP's use of deceptive social media accounts to infiltrate and monitor activists, while Clare Wahlen reports on revelations that CSIS operates dozens more foreign stations that previous acknowledged. And Stephen Castle discusses how the UK's absurd secrecy surrounding security issues has resulted in the media being unable to report anything about the trial of an individual who's since been acquitted.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan writes that the ballot question this fall should centre on Stephen Harper's abuse of the trust of Canadian voters.