Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Ed Broadbent laments Canada's failure to meet its commitment to end child poverty - and notes that the Harper Cons in particular are headed in exactly the wrong direction:
This child poverty rate is a national disgrace. It jumped from 15.8 per cent in 1989 to 19.2 per cent in 2012, according to a Statistics Canada custom tabulation for Campaign 2000.

The Harper Conservatives have continued to let down the country’s poor children and their parents. They have not increased targeted income supports for low-income families. Instead, they are expanding flat rate benefits, similar to the old family allowance program abolished as regressive by Mr. Mulroney’s government. These taxable payments are too low to have a real impact on poverty. They don’t come close to paying the costs of child care; they don’t create a single child-care space.

While failing the poor, the Conservatives are proposing new measures that disproportionately favour affluent families. Income-splitting will cost $2-billion a year and deliver no benefit at all to single parents or to two-parent families with both earners in the lowest tax bracket.

The maximum benefit of $2,000 will go mainly to very high-income traditional families with a single earner. The late Jim Flaherty appropriately rejected such unfairness while serving as minister of finance.

The growing gap between the poor and the middle-class, let alone the top 1 per cent, flies in the face of the democratic ideal that all children should have equal opportunities to develop their talents and capacities to the full.
- David Climenhaga discusses how the Cons' obsession with income-splitting is based on their desire to preserve gender inequality. James Fitz-Morris reports that the Cons have long been aware of the obvious regressive effects of tax-free savings accounts - particularly since they may allow a special class of wealthy retirees to take in money from means-tested programs because their investment income isn't counted.

- Tavia Grant writes about a new report confirming that we need our tax system to actively combat inequality in order to avoid having it get worse by default. And Michael Babad points out that the ranks and wealth of the uber-rich are growing faster in Canada than in other comparable countries.

- Meanwhile, Robert Devet highlights how arbitrary benefit cutoffs can be disastrous for people actually living in poverty. And Jesse Ferreras finds that a lopsided market (coupled with a lack of public policy action) is leaving single women and mothers in particular without adequate housing.

- Finally, Michael Harris notes that a culture of fear seems to be about the only factor the Cons still have in their favour among an otherwise unfriendly Canadian public - and that Stephen Harper has been highly selective in deciding which supposed threats to emphasize for political benefit.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

 - Lynn Stuart Parramore writes about our increasingly traumatic social and political culture, along with the response which can help to overcome it:
A 2012 study of hospital patients in Atlanta’s inner-city communities showed that rates of post-traumatic stress are now on par with those of veterans returning from war zones. At least 1 out of 3 surveyed said they had experienced stress responses like flashbacks, persistent fear, a sense of alienation, and aggressive behavior. All across the country, in Detroit, New Orleans, and in what historian Louis Ferleger describes as economic “dead zones” — places where people have simply given up and sunk into “involuntary idleness” — the pain is written on slumped bodies and faces that have become masks of despair.

We are starting to break down.

When our alarm systems are set off too often, they start to malfunction, and we can end up in a state of hyper-vigilance, unable to properly assess the threats. It’s easy for the powerful to manipulate this tense condition and present an array of bogeymen to distract our attention, from immigrants to the unemployed, so that we focus our energy on the wrong enemy.
...
Unfortunately, the cycle doesn’t end with you: trauma comes with a very high rate of interest. The children of traumatized people carry the legacy of pain forward in their brains and bodies, becoming more vulnerable to disease, mental breakdown, addiction, and violence. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on trauma, emphasizes that it’s not just personal. Trauma occupies a space much bigger than our individual neurons: it’s political. If your parents lost their jobs, their home or their sense of security in the wake of the financial crisis, you will carry those wounds with you, even if conditions improve. Budget cuts to education and the social safety net produce trauma. Falling income produces trauma. Job insecurity produces trauma.
...
When I do something as simple as nurture a friend in need, or let myself be drawn in by an artistic creation, or meet the eyes of a stranger with kindness, or plant a living tree, I’m intervening in the trauma and rewriting its trajectory — perhaps only a paragraph, but many paragraphs can make a page, and many pages, a volume.

The etymology of the word “trauma” is associated with the Greek word “wound.” To be human is to be wounded, and the ability to cope with our wounds is the essence of life’s journey. Without wounds, we can’t know our own strength and competence, and we can’t develop empathy for our fellow creatures. Moving from the static place of trauma to something fluid and transformative is the key. The trauma doesn’t go away, but it’s possible to bring it along in a way that helps us witness each other, hear each other, and help each other.
- And Monica Pohlmann interviews Armine Yalnizyan about the need to move past self-defeating policies:
Pohlmann: What keeps you up at night?

Yalnizyan: The way we are transforming our views about immigration in Canada. In the coming decades, nation states will be competing to attract people, not just capital. Population aging is occurring in all advanced industrialized nations. Without newcomers, the Canadian labour force would start to shrink in the next year or two. An unsettling trend has emerged in Canada. Public policy now favours a rise in temporary foreign workers over permanent economic immigrants. When companies say they face a skills shortage, all too often the solution is bringing in a foreign worker temporarily for what is often not a temporary shortage. These workers are tied to their employer, and can get deported if they complain about anything.

In such a workplace environment, it’s hard for any worker to ask for anything better. People are constantly looking over their shoulder, wondering, “Will they find a cheaper me?” It’s a recipe for growing friction between “us” and “them.”

The problem arises from a common view that low wages and low taxes are “good for business.” What may be good for an individual business is a dead-end path for society and the economy as a whole. Wages and taxes are never low enough for businesses. Their job is to maximize profits. But the continuous drive to lower wages and taxes erodes the economic heft of a country. The message to workers is “expect less,” even when companies grow and profits rise. The idea that labour is simply a cost, rather than the essential building block of performance, is destructive nonsense.

Middle-class jobs are being cut, replaced by more low-paid and some higher-paid work. Wages aren’t keeping up with costs for most people, and savings rates are falling. A rising proportion of Canadian households don’t have enough funds to last a month should they lose their pay cheques. We pay tribute to a large and resilient middle class as the mark of a flourishing economy around the world, but our own middle class is being squeezed in every way, ironically in the name of economic growth.
- In a similar vein, Robert Reich reminds us where jobs and economic development come from - and that funneling ever more wealth to the privileged few does nothing to help:



- Alison examines the "rejectionist" model of politics which has done plenty to eliminate the belief that it's possible to accomplish anything positive through our elected governments. And Jim Day discusses Stephen Lewis' sharp - but entirely justified - criticism of Canada's social breakdown.

- Finally, Carol Linnitt examines the Burnaby Mountain pipeline protest as an all-too-clear example of petro-politics taking precedence over all else.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Tom Sullivan's advice for Democrats south of the border that it's essential to reach out to dispossessed voters of all types of backgrounds with a compelling alternative to the status quo is equally relevant to progressives in Canada.

- But the good news is that here, somebody's actually applying it. And we're also hearing plenty about how our local reactionaries are ignoring the vast majority of families - with Ashley Splawinski offering this look at the Cons' income splitting scheme compared to the obvious alternative: 
About 86 per cent of all families including single parents would gain nothing from income splitting. Being heavily circulated due to its sudden relevance, a research paper titled, "Why income splitting for two parent families does more harm than good" published by the C.D. Howe Institute outlines that 40 per cent of total benefits would go to families with an annual income above $125,000 a year.

When we account for the large revenue cost of these new policies, it is the families that see a modest gain or no gain at all that will ultimately be paying the price through means such as public service cuts.
...
To stay within a higher tax bracket, the partner who isn't working (who is overwhelmingly likely to be a woman) is discouraged from going to work, lest she wants to pay a more taxes. It seems as though the Harper government is using these policies as a means of subtly favouring wealthy nuclear families.

This has members of the public questioning: If the Conservative government wanted to shed light on issues affecting families, why not increase access to universal child care?

We don't need to look far to find access to affordable child care. Quebec invests $2.2 billion dollars annually into its child care plan. Therefore, a family in Quebec may pay $140 monthly for childcare, yet in Ontario that same family could be paying $900.

Nationally, Canada only has regulated spots for approximately 22 per cent of youth under five years old. Quebec houses half of these spots. Child care costs nationally account for about 30 per cent of the average wage.

The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada (CCAAC) conducted a study in 2009 which found that affordable child care was not only essential to long-term poverty reduction, but by improving access to affordable child care, it supports stable labour force participation, which is vital for an increase in economic independence -- especially for women. It also found that supporting quality affordable child care would positively support a child's development, leading to improved educational outcomes.
- Fred Hahn rightly suggests that Ontario start investing in future economic development rather than pleading poverty while letting corporate giants hoard profits they can't put to any discernible use.

- Phil Tank reports on the potential for massive growth of solar energy in Saskatoon. But it remains to be seen how long it takes for us to see the assault on distributed renewable energy that's materialized elsewhere.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg writes about the Cons' attacks on the welfare of refugees in Canada. And Susana Mas reports on the Cons' "express entry" system for immigrant workers which has been designed solely at the behest of - and for the benefit of - employers looking for new pools of workers to exploit.

On targets

Shorter Chantal Hebert:
And just think how much more successful Jack Layton could have been as the NDP's leader if only the Cons had spent years attacking him rather than Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff!
Of course, it's true enough that Canada's political scene has changed - and indeed for the better in terms of the NDP's position. But if the NDP can engage its supporters, keep itself in the consideration set of potential governments and build further support for an already-popular leader in relative peace, I'm at a loss as to why Hebert thinks it should envy the party in the crosshairs of the Cons' misfiring smear machine.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Musical interlude

Markus Schulz - Perception

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Dennis Raphael and Toba Bryant write about the devastating health effects of income inequality in Canada:
Imagine the response, from industry, government and the public, if a plane was crashing every day. If there were something that killed as many people in a day as this kind of disaster, you’d expect it to provoke a similarly concentrated response.

A recent report by Statistics Canada highlights a preventable cause of premature death that is having exactly that kind of impact. This study demonstrates that income inequality is associated with the premature death of 40,000 Canadians a year. That’s equal to 110 Canadians dying prematurely each day. To put that into context, imagine a Bombardier CS-100 jet airplane full of passengers falling out of the sky every day for a year.
...
The Statistics Canada report also makes clear that these differences in health outcomes are primarily due to the material living circumstances and the associated psychosocial stresses associated with not being as well off as the wealthiest 20% of Canadians: “Income influences health most directly through access to material resources such as better quality food and shelter.” Income inequality is not only bad for our quality of life and economic productivity, it is directly related to the deaths of Canadians on an almost unimaginable scale.

Canadians are increasingly concerned about growing income inequality and are becoming more aware of its health effects. It’s time for a serious response from policy-makers, media and the public. Otherwise we’ll simply continue to watch 110 Canadians falling out of the sky every day, each day, 365 days a year.
- Meanwhile, Seumas Milne notes that the UK Cons are continuing to push pointless austerity even as its damage to the economy becomes inescapable.

- And we shouldn't be suckered into believing that austerity happens only through relatively transparent budgeting processes. In fact, recent reports show that the Cons have simply chosen not to bother with approved funding both for veterans at home, and for the world's poorest people abroad - imposing massive cuts from the amounts approved by our elected representatives without any debate.

- Carol Goar discusses how Canada is losing allies around the world due to the Cons' obstinate refusal to do anything - or even allow anything to be done - to meaningfully fight climate change.

- And finally, Michael Den Tandt comments on the Cons' disreputable politics - with Michael Sona's sentence (and the Cons' refusal to acknowledge jail-worthy wrongdoing within their own ranks) serving as just the latest example.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New column day

Here, on how the City of Regina has learned a painful lesson about the Saskatchewan Party's habit of accepting credit but not responsibility on P3 projects.

For further reading...
- Emma Graney reports on how the province forced the City to foot the bill for immediate site development costs here.
- For background on how decisions about education have been taken out of the hands of elected school boards, Joseph Garcea and Dustin Monroe examine the history of education funding in Saskatchewan (and other provinces) here (PDF).
- And finally, I'll point back to my earlier columns as to how public interests can diverge from those of both P3 proponents and higher levels of government seeking to avoid the bill for new developments.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- George Monbiot comments on the far more important values we're endangering in the name of constant financial and material growth:
To try to stabilise this system, governments behave like soldiers billeted in an ancient manor, burning the furniture, the paintings and the stairs to keep themselves warm for a night. They are breaking up the postwar settlement, our public health services and social safety nets, above all the living world, to produce ephemeral spurts of growth. Magnificent habitats, the benign and fragile climate in which we have prospered, species that have lived on earth for millions of years – all are being stacked on to the fire, their protection characterised as an impediment to growth.

Cameron boasted on Monday that he will revive the economy by “scrapping red tape”. This “red tape” consists in many cases of the safeguards defending both people and places from predatory corporations. The small business, enterprise and employment bill is now passing through the House of Commons – spinelessly supported, as ever, by Labour. The bill seeks to pull down our protective rules to “reduce costs for business”, even if that means increasing costs for everyone else, while threatening our health and happiness. But why? As the government boasted last week, the UK already has “the least restrictive product market regulation and the most supportive regulatory and institutional environment for business across the G20.” And it still doesn’t work. So let’s burn what remains.
...
Why are we wrecking the natural world and public services to generate growth, when that growth is not delivering contentment, security or even, for most of us, greater prosperity? Why have we enthroned growth, regardless of its utility, above all other outcomes? Why, despite failures so great and so frequent, have we not changed the model? When the next crash comes, these questions will be inescapable.
- Meanwhile, Michelle Butterfield writes about increased income inequality in Canada - particularly in resource-rich provinces where nominal growth is being efficiently funneled only into the pockets of those who already have the most. And Nick Hanauer points out that the loss of historical overtime pay has made a huge difference in the lives of American workers (who are now working the same extended hours without being compensated accordingly).

- Katrina vanden Heuvel discusses how citizens end up paying the price for corporate tax giveaways. But Andrew Prokop documents how ALEC is putting a well-funded thumb on the scale to make sure that public policy serves only select private interests. And Lindsay Abrams highlights one example of government power being used to undermine public interests, as Republicans have passed a bill to prohibit any scientists other than industry shills from informing environmental decision-making.

- Andy Blatchford reports that the Cons are just like their Republican cousins in abandoning any pretense of doing anything more than rubber-stamping the policy preferences of corporate lobby groups - this time pushing a tax credit based on nothing more than the CFIB's spin. And PressProgress notes that the Cons' definition of an "extremist" - which is of course their threshold for the wholesale elimination of any civil rights - includes people who advocate for renewable energy.

- Jeremy Warren reports on Saskatoon's homeless population and (unsurprisingly) finds that while Jerry Peequaquat may have received more public notice than most, his death was far from an isolated case.

- Joshua Shaw proposes that we recognize collective health as an enforceable right.

- And finally, Rick Mercer offers the definitive response to Stephen Harper's crisis management:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Slavery is freedom

Shorter Brianna Heinrichs:
Oh sure, you soft-hearted progressives think you're helping workers with your "employment standards" and your "occupational health and safety". But have you ever considered some people might prefer to have serfdom as an option?

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The 25th anniversary of Parliament's unanimous - if failed - commitment to eliminate child poverty has given rise to plenty of worthwhile commentary. Marco Chown Oved talks to Ed Broadbent about what the resolution meant at the time (as well as how it came to be ignored), while also interviewing social justice advocates about the need to effective start from scratch now. And Olivia Carville explores one life which could have been changed for the better if Canada had made good on its promise.

- Meanwhile, Dennis Raphael discusses the need to combat both poverty and inequality - with wages serving as a primary issue on both fronts. And Joseph Stiglitz highlights how inequality is undermining economic and social progress alike in the U.S.:
The extreme to which inequality has grown in the United States and the manner in which these inequities arise undermine our economy. Too much of the wealth at the top of the ladder arises from exploitation—whether from the exercise of monopoly power, from taking advantage of deficiencies in corporate governance laws to divert large amounts of corporate revenues to pay CEOs’ outsized bonuses unrelated to true performance, or from a financial sector devoted to market manipulation, predatory and discriminatory lending, and abusive credit card practices. Too much of the poverty at the bottom of the income spectrum is due to economic discrimination and the failure to provide adequate education and health care to the nearly one out of five children growing up poor. 
...
We now know that there are huge disparities even as children enter kindergarten. These grow larger over time, as the children of the rich, living in rich enclaves, get a better education than the one received by those attending schools in poorer areas. Economic segregation has become the order of the day, so much so that even those well-off and well-intentioned selective colleges that instituted programs of economic affirmative action—explicitly trying to increase the fraction of their student body from lower socioeconomic groups—have struggled to do so. The children of the poor can afford neither the advanced degrees that are increasingly required for employment nor the unpaid internships that provide the alternative route to “good” jobs.
...
(M)any of the distributional issues are related not to how much we spend but who we spend it on. If we include within our expenditures the “tax expenditures” buried in our tax system, we effectively spend a lot more on the housing of the rich than is generally recognized. Interest deductability on a mega-mansion could easily be worth $25,000 a year. And alone among advanced economies, the United States tends to invest more in schools with richer student bodies than in those with mostly poor students—an effect of U.S. school districts’ dependence on local tax bases for funding. Interestingly, according to some calculations, the entire deficit can be attributed to our inefficient and inequitable health care system: if we had a better health care system—of the kind that provided more equality at lower cost, such as those in so many European countries—we arguably wouldn’t even have a federal budget deficit today.

Or consider this: if we provided more opportunity to the poor, including better education and an economic system that ensured access to jobs with decent pay, then perhaps we would not spend so much on prisons—in some states spending on prisons has at times exceeded that on universities. The poor instead would be better able to seize new employment opportunities, in turn making our economy more productive. And if we had better public transportation systems that made it easier and more affordable for working-class people to commute to where jobs are available, then a higher percentage of our population would be working and paying taxes. If, like the Scandinavian countries, we provided better child care and had more active labor market policies that assisted workers in moving from one job to another, we would have a higher labor force participation rate—and the enhanced growth would yield more tax revenues. It pays to invest in people.
- Carol Goar remarkably sees reason for optimism about the possibility of social progress based on the rhetoric of Kathleen Wynne and John Tory. But sadly, Goar is in fact referring to that Kathleen Wynne and that John Tory. And Sheila Block notes that Wynne in particular is spending far more of her attention on shuffling pools of money around for accounting purposes than on improving the lives of Ontarians.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk writes that we should recognize Jerry Peequaquat's death as the result of multiple social failings.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Crashing cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- A Gandalf Group poll finds (PDF) that Canadians have come to perceive and expect a disturbing level of self-serving action by our political leaders. And while Dale Smith is right to note that we've largely limited the most obvious forms of corruption, there's still plenty of reason for concern that public policy is being driven by a few insiders and political cronies at the expense of the public.

- On that front, Gerald Caplan reminds us how the CRA is being used to silence only charities who promote social justice - while at the same time cutting back on collecting taxes from the people who owe the most:
The government somehow found an extra $13.4-million for the CRA to audit charities to ensure they were using tax dollars properly. As far as anyone can tell, all the new funds have been used to audit the government’s critics, none to audit its friends. The first wave of such audits mostly focused on environmental groups, but the net was later widened to include anti-poverty, international aid and human-rights groups that drive the Conservatives – and apparently the CRA – crazy.
...
Indeed the Harper government has never hidden its opposition for certain charities, like the very ones the CRA has chosen to audit. For a while, for example, outrageous attacks on “radical” environmental groups that opposed new pipelines became de rigueur for members of the Harper government.

There’s a scandal within a scandal here as well. While the CRA is disrupting the work of often tiny NGOs, the government is simultaneously laying off international tax auditors who specialized in investigating the tax avoidance strategies of 1-per-cent-ers and corporations. Tax dollars lost to the public treasury are estimated in the multi-billions, which is why the G20, including Canada, has formally made cracking down on tax evasion a priority. Except when it’s not.
- And the CRA's selective attacks on charities fit all too well with the oil companies' own strategy of bullying dissenting voices into silence.

- PressProgress points out how the Cons' climate change negligence is sinking to new depths, with spokesflacks trying to pretend that Environment Canada's own scientific data is merely an "opinion" (to be ignored since it might be inconvenient for the Cons' oil baron base). And Aaron Wherry raises plenty of worthwhile followup questions which we can count on the Cons similarly refusing to address.

- Frank Soodeen highlights how secure housing for everybody serves both social and economic purposes.

- But of course, the Cons are instead determined to destroy the federal government's capacity to help people with boutique tax baubles - which lead to Stephen Tapp's call for a more sensible tax system.

- Finally, Salvator Cusimano and Nath Gbikpi write that the Cons are following the UK's model of deliberate exclusion and marginalization for refugees.