Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Holiday cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dan Leger and Leslie MacKinnon both theorize that 2013 represented a new low in Canadian politics. But while the Cons may have taken some new steps in petty scandals and cover-ups (and Rob Ford's clown show managed to attract an unusual amount of attention), I'm not sure how any of it reflects much of a change from the attitude on display by Canada's right for the past several years.

- Similarly, while Robyn Benson recognizes the past year as raising the Cons' gratuitous union-bashing to a new level, it's hard to see that development as anything more than the continuation of a longstanding trend.

- The Star decries the Cons' selfie level of scientific discussion. Mike de Souza reports that the Cons went out of their way to avoid so much as admitting that climate change is a serious issue in response to the most recent IPCC report. And Peter Moskowitz reports on the giant ring of mercury deposits surrounding tar sands developments.

- Bruce Campbell looks back at 25 years of North American free trade, and finds that it's primarily served the corporate sector rather than citizens of any of the countries involved:
The FTA/NAFTA was a big business-driven initiative whose primary purpose was investment deregulation. Trade was important, but as a second order rather than a primary goal.

The agreements did make it easier for business to ship goods and services across the border. However, at its core were new powers and freedoms granted to corporations to facilitate their pursuit of shareholder value.

These provisions enabled corporations to move with minimal restrictions on the North American continent, shifting production to jurisdictions that offered the greatest returns in terms of regulations, subsidies, taxes, labour costs, etc.
Between 1950 and 1990, there was a steady drop in the share of national income appropriated by capital (profits) and a rise in labour’s share. In the wake of the FTA/NAFTA, that relationship reversed. Capital’s share rose dramatically; workers wages and salaries’ share fell in lockstep.

Contrary to assurances given Canadians prior to the FTA/NAFTA, big business lobbied hard to reduce program spending and taxes.

Unemployment insurance, health and education transfers, social assistance and housing programs, etc. were “harmonized downward” toward U.S. levels.
In the end, the FTA/NAFTA failed to meet the fundamental test of any major policy initiative: to better the lives of its citizens. And it helped weaken the bonds of nationhood embodied in the Canadian social state. 
- Finally, Chris Dillow discusses how gross inequality has led people with the most money and power to think they're above even the slightest interaction with the mere public - and theorizes that we won't be able to restore any level of mutual respect until we've significantly reduced income and wealth inequality. And Lydia DePellis writes that even business groups (at least in the UK) are willing to acknowledge the need for shared rather than hoarded prosperity.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Diane Coyle offers a preview of Thomas Piketty's upcoming book on inequality - featuring a prediction that absent some significant public policy intervention, we may see a return to 19th-century levels of concentration of wealth.

- Meanwhile, Murray Dobbin calls for 2014 to be the year of living consciously - including both a concerted effort to donate to fostering change, as well greater efforts to bring about change through our own lives.

- Veronica Bayetti Flores writes about the challenges in building movements which won't leave people behind:
I am so ready to let go of the America’s Next Top Radical model of social justice; it’s unsustainable, unproductive, and frankly a pretty bad strategy. It seems as though some of us – us being folks invested in the advancement of social justice in some way or another – are calling folks out sometimes not to educate a person who’s wrong, but to position themselves a rung above on the radical ladder. What’s worse, both in real-world organizing and online, this behavior is often rewarded: with pats on the back, social status, followers. We’re waiting and ready to cut folks out when they say the wrong thing. We’ve created an activist culture in which the worst thing we can do is to make a mistake.
Calling folks out in good faith – or calling in – is absolutely necessary. We cannot stand by as people leave the most marginalized folks in our communities out of the conversation, say things that are hurtful, and create projects that continue historical legacies of oppression. It’s important not just because folks need to be educated, but because the ways we organize and the stories we tell affect the lived realities and material conditions of everyone around us. To not confront oppression when you’re in a position to do so is to be complicit in its perpetuity. But it’s also important to ask ourselves why we’re jumping in. It’s cool to be angry – I’m angry as hell, and in a world in which there is so much to hate, I tend to be a hater – but when we’re trying to advance a conversation, it’s important to think about what’s going to be constructive. On the same tip, we need to learn how to react when being called out – how to meaningfully apologize, and how to move forward with new knowledge. To realize that making a mistake does not make us the living worst, and that we can move forward if we take critiques seriously and acknowledge the serious hurt our mistakes have caused.

It’s hard, and a consistent battle, but I don’t see a way out of it. We’ve long been really good at critiquing and saying what we don’t want, but to get to a world we DO want, we have to be able to dream really big. I fear that the ways that cynicism operates in our call-outs (and activism more generally) is limiting our ability to do so. How can we dream utopias if we are so afraid of being wrong?
- Mari Saito and Antoni Soldowski report on the use of homeless people as a cheap labour force to carry out dangerous remediation work at the Fukushima nuclear reactor site. And Gardiner Harris writes about India's continued efforts to make prescription drugs available to its general population - while big pharma tries to stop it from moving prices down from unaffordable levels.

- Finally, Andrew Nikiforuk tests the Cons' public claim as to why they decided to close several science libraries. And not surprisingly, their motivation has nothing to do with efficiency - but everything to do with eliminating inconvenient information.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Susan FitzGerald reports on new research showing that growing up in poverty has a significantly more damaging effect on a child's development than exposure to drugs - leading to obvious questions as to why so many governments loudly wage a nominal war on the former while allowing the latter to fester. And John Millar and Laurel Rothman highlight the need for Canada's federal government to address the social costs of poverty.

- Meanwhile, Neal Abernathy writes about the importance of the public sphere in both bringing together and reflecting the shared interests of people of all backgrounds:
What this whole incident does underscore is the absolute need for a public sphere where we join together in service of something larger than our own petty interests. Through our government we can choose to live in a city and state and country where we are guided by more than our most self-serving of instincts. This is what so much of American anti-government rhetoric misses. The rules we choose to codify as “government” do not need to proscribe our freedom; rather, they can free us from the constraints of Lord of the Flies-like living.
There is a time and a place for rugged individualism.  But I am grateful that I am dependent neither on the good will of Mr. Gopman nor the good will of any other rational self-interested individual for the common services I consume. Rather, I am relieved to rely on the good will of the public, that amorphous body in which we can all project our ambitions for a world more just and more free than one guided by the anarchy of our impulses.
 - Of course, that public sphere loses some of its effectiveness when future governments are tied down by long-term contracts entered into by past regimes. And on that front, Rosario Marchese rightly criticizes the Ontario Libs' sucker's bet on privatized financing and operation of public services:
People should worry when their government bets on its own incompetence. Such governments tend to win that bet, and it is the public who pays out.

Incompetent governments love P3s because they can pay private consortia to take the blame when things go wrong, while hiding behind third-party confidentiality to avoid transparency and accountability.

Best of all, since P3 price tags already include potential cost overruns, the government can usually boast they are delivered “on budget,” and the public has no way of knowing exactly how much it overpaid. 
- Finally, Jim Bronskill reports that the Cons are hiding behind nonsensical privacy claims to avoid providing any details about falsified safety inspection reports - meaning that Canadians using road, rail, boat or air transport can all worry that the Harper government's secrecy is making their travel less safe than it should be.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne writes that Canadians care plenty about the well-being of hungry children even if the Cons don't:
After a firestorm of shocked responses from Canadians, Mr. Moore apologized for his “insensitive comment” uttered days before Christmas. What he did not apologize for or reassess was his belief in the kind of fend-for-yourself country his remarks support.

The apology came likely because this is the season of goodwill and it is no time to remind Canadians what drives the current federal government, begging the question of why it is tolerated any time of the year.

Yet despite the outrage, despite their unending troubles, this government marches on towards its goal of building a country where we no longer truly care about the plight of our neighbours.
- PressProgress highlights the unregulated growth of the tar sands and other closely-related industries - including a massive increase in private air traffic. Terry Glavin suggests that there's only one right answer for the Harper Cons in making the final call on the Norther Gateway pipeline. And Stephen Hume isn't buying the Cons' attempts to demonize all opposition to it:
[The Conservatives are making] an argument that non-governmental organizations vowing to stop the proposed project following its approval by the National Energy Board — subject to more than 200 conditions — are somehow undermining the democratic process through intimidation, threats of violent protest, political sabotage, slander and disinformation.

This is all code. It is intended to define a category to which those who think the pipeline is a bad idea can be routinely consigned. Thus, opposition may be dismissed without assessing the merits of the objections — simply opposing the pipeline invites automatic framing of that protest as the work of enemies of the Canadian way of life.

British Columbians have heard all this rhetoric before. It is a propaganda strategy devised by giant public relations firms. It was first deployed here more than 20 years ago by the forest industry in response to protest and civil disobedience aimed at preventing the denuding of great swaths of the province with vast industrial clearcuts.
A word to the enthusiasts for this approach: It didn’t work in the early 1990s; it won’t work now.
- Meanwhile, Mike de Souza reports that having eliminated any environmental protection for nearly all of Canada's fisheries and waterways, the Cons are now slashing funding for what few water protection programs were left - even though the department itself has made clear that it needs more resources rather than less.

- Finally, Robin Sears comments on how a scandal-filled year in politics may serve to undermine trust in our political institutions. (Though the sad reality is that the politicians most responsible for that loss of trust are exactly the ones whose ideology might benefit from public antipathy toward politics.)

[Edit: added link.]

New column day

Here, on the need to keep the holiday message of peace and goodwill in mind throughout the year - while working to foster both in our homes and in the world around us.

For further reading, I'll point back to a couple of pieces about the effects of poverty and inequality on individual well-being: Moises Velazquez-Manoff's discussion of status and stress, and Jack Monroe's personal account of life in poverty. Both provide compelling examples of how individual-level peace is impossible for many who lack basic essentials - and I'd think that even a modicum of goodwill would lead anybody to push for a functional social safety net to reduce the damage.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Musical interlude

Tenishia - Where Do We Begin (Andrew Rayel Remix)

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Paul Krugman comments on the role of fear in boosting employers' authority over workers:
The fact is that employment generally involves a power relationship: you have a boss, who tells you what to do, and if you refuse, you may be fired. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If employers value their workers, they won’t make unreasonable demands. But it’s not a simple transaction. There’s a country music classic titled “Take This Job and Shove It.” There isn’t and won’t be a song titled “Take This Consumer Durable and Shove It.”

So employment is a power relationship, and high unemployment has greatly weakened workers’ already weak position in that relationship. 
Now think about what this means for workers’ bargaining power. When the economy is strong, workers are empowered. They can leave if they’re unhappy with the way they’re being treated and know that they can quickly find a new job if they are let go. When the economy is weak, however, workers have a very weak hand, and employers are in a position to work them harder, pay them less, or both.

Is there any evidence that this is happening? And how. The economic recovery has, as I said, been weak and inadequate, but all the burden of that weakness is being borne by workers. Corporate profits plunged during the financial crisis, but quickly bounced back, and they continued to soar. Indeed, at this point, after-tax profits are more than 60 percent higher than they were in 2007, before the recession began. We don’t know how much of this profit surge can be explained by the fear factor — the ability to squeeze workers who know that they have no place to go. But it must be at least part of the explanation.
- And Robyn Benson points out that temporary foreign workers serve as particularly vulnerable sources of cheap, disposable labour. 

- Meanwhile, Michael Adams and Robin Brown recognize that while the Cons may have managed to turn a few pools of new Canadians into useful voting blocs, plenty more immigrants place a high value on the economic security and cultural diversity which the Cons are eagerly shredding in the name of higher immediate profits for a few preferred industries.

- Katie Valentine expands on Alberta's replacement of public regulation of oil sands environmental issues with an industry-funded and -dominated body. And lest there be any doubt who the Alberta Energy Regulator is intended to serve, a quick look at the background of its board - complete with zero references to environmental knowledge or experience on the part of even a single member - should put that to rest.

- Finally, both David Atkins and Dartagnan ask what it means for the global financial system if it's impossible to prosecute major fraud which helped to cause the 2008 economic meltdown because the results of that fraud are seen as necessary to the continued operation of the economy as we know it.

On deflection

Shorter Preston Manning:
Mike Duffy openly flouted the Parliamentary Press Gallery's rules for years by seeking to trade his celebrity for a patronage appointment. When Stephen Harper was the only Prime Minister willing to offer that deal for political gain, Duffy proceeded to flout every new set of rules which applied to him as a Senator while serving as the Conservatives' most prominent fund-raiser, setting up a scandal and cover-up reaching to the top levels of the Prime Minister's office.

Obviously, this story demonstrates there's a problem with the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and no other person or party involved. So leave my buddy Steve alone.
Needless to say, Susan Delacourt's response detailing the actual role of the Parliamentary Press Gallery is worth a read.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Paul Krugman writes about the effect of a precarious labour market on even the relatively few workers who enjoy relatively secure employment:
(T)hese are lousy times for the employed, too. Why? Because they have so little bargaining power.

Leave or lose your job, and the chances of getting another comparable job, or any job at all, are definitely not good. And workers know it: quit rates, the percentage of workers voluntarily leaving jobs, remain far below pre-crisis levels, and very very far below what they were in the true boom economy of the late 90s...

(M)ay I suggest that employers, although they’ll never say so in public, like this situation? That is, there’s a significant upside to them from the still-weak economy. I don’t think I’d go so far as to say that there’s a deliberate effort to keep the economy weak; but corporate America certainly isn’t feeling much pain, and the plight of workers is actually a plus from their point of view.
- Priyamvada Gopal comments on the cult of the rich:
Last week, Tory MP Esther McVey, Iain Duncan Smith's deputy, insisted it was "right" that half a million Britons be dependent on food banks in "tough times". Around the same time, the motor racing heiress Tamara Ecclestone totted up a champagne bill of £30,000 in one evening. A rich teenager in Texas has just got away with probation for drunkenly running over and killing four people because his lawyers argued successfully that he suffered from "affluenza", which rendered him unable to handle a car responsibly. What we've been realising for some time now is that, for all the team sport rhetoric, only two sides are really at play in Britain and beyond: Team Super-Rich and Team Everyone Else.

The rich are not merely different: they've become a cult which drafts us as members. We are invited to deceive ourselves into believing we are playing for the same stakes while worshipping the same ideals, a process labelled "aspiration". Reaching its zenith at this time of year, our participation in cult rituals – buy, consume, accumulate beyond need – helps mute our criticism and diffuse anger at systemic exploitation. That's why we buy into the notion that a £20 Zara necklace worn by the Duchess of Cambridge on a designer gown costing thousands of pounds is evidence that she is like us. We hear that the monarch begrudges police officers who guard her family and her palaces a handful of cashew nuts and interpret it as eccentricity rather than an apt metaphor for the Dickensian meanness of spirit that underlies the selective concentration of wealth. The adulation of royalty is not a harmless anachronism; it is calculated totem worship that only entrenches the bizarre notion that some people are rich simply because they are more deserving but somehow they are still just like us.
- Meanwhile, Simon Enoch points out how the Wall government's past preaching that corporate subsidies would benefit everybody has given way to a lamentation that a booming province can't afford to do anything to assist those in need. And Dean Baker highlights the role governments have played in exacerbating inequality.

- Finally, Deveryn Ross reminds us of the need to look out for others during the holiday season (and in general).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Decorated cats.

On questionable remedies

Shorter Donald Johnson:
My preferred cure for poverty and inequality is...tax breaks for rich people!

(And if anybody's asking, I'll be happy to prescribe the same course of treatment for such conditions as gingivitis, economic sluggishness, economic vibrancy, spontaneous combustion syndrome, seasonal affective disorder, out-of-seasonal affective disorder, general malaise, and many more!)

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Bill Moyers offers up a superb summary and reading list on inequality:
Inequality in America: How bad is it? In 2011, Mother Jones published a series of charts capturing the depth of inequality in the US, which remains one of the best big-picture looks at the problem out there. We have greater inequality of accumulated wealth than income, and University of California sociologist William Domhoff’s “Who Rules America” provided the details. In The Atlantic, Max Fisher offered a map of global inequality that named the US among the most unequal wealthy countries, and Mark Gongloff reported in the Huffington Post about a study that found that we have the fastest growth in inequality in the developed world. Thomas Shapiro, Tatjana Meschede and Sam Osoro wrote a brief on the black/ white wealth gap at the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, and Brookings’ Benjamin Harris and Melissa Kearny offered 12 facts about America’s struggling lower middle class.

I’m not poor. Why should I care? Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argued in The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better that greater inequality correlates with, and may cause, all sorts of social harms – from crime to obesity to alcoholism. John Crace interviewed the authors for The Guardian, and Wilkinson penned an article for CNN. A study conducted by Sir Michael Marmot, a professor of epidemiology at University College London, found that high levels of inequality cause stress and harm the health of both rich and poor. Justin Wolfers noted that higher inequality correlates with less upward mobility. A report by the UN found that higher levels of inequality were accompanied by slower overall growth. World Bank economist Branko Milanovic found that it’s more “fun” to live in more equal societies.
- Justine Hunter writes about the litigation expected to follow from the Cons' rubber-stamp for the Northern Gateway pipeline.

- Sheila Pratt reports that 75 officers from Alberta's already non-functional environmental regulator have been lured into an industry-funded group doesn't offer much reason for confidence that public interests are going to be represented any better in the near future. And Douglas Fischer takes a look at the massive amounts of private money being used to fund climate denialism with less and less donor transparency.

- Michael Byers critiques the Cons' obsession with the North Pole. And Matthew Fisher writes that the Cons' posturing has taken away from efforts to present a sound scientific position - which may result on Canada losing out on claims it might otherwise have been able to win.

- Finally, Joel Harden reviews Brad Lavigne's Building the Orange Wave - and it's well worth noting his take on what's often left out of Lavigne's otherwise strong account:
This, as some have said, wasn’t the NDP our grandparents built. Gone were any pretensions to socialism in the party’s constitution. Absent were genuine efforts to row against the tide of established thinking.

Present instead was "social-ism," an approach Tony Blair championed (using the ideas of Anthony Giddens) to move the British Labour Party "beyond left and right." Layton’s adoption of this mantra involved repeated claims to make "Parliament work for people."

Lavigne claims the party did this at several crucial moments: during budget wrangles with Liberals in 2004 and 2005, and the parliamentary dispute of 2008-2009. I’ll leave it to others to debate the merits of those claims.

My issue is with Lavigne's view that the NDP’s rise came from a shift "beyond politics," and embrace of populist messaging, neither of which rings true for me. Lavigne’s focus on high-level strategy undermines his assessment of Layton’s strengths, and why many activists and movements held him in such high regard.

For me, the Orange Wave started with Layton’s courting of Quebec voters and reputation as an activist politician.

Unlike most NDP leaders, he didn’t antagonize Quebec on constitutional questions, was proudly green and opposed to war in Afghanistan. This made the NDP, as Lavigne explains, a magnet for public animosity in Quebec against Harper, and a rallying point for those seeking to oust him.
There’s a real difference between strategy to seek a political vision, and strategy as a political vision -- we need more of the former and less of the latter.

As Lavigne notes, the Conservatives have built a solid infrastructure to communicate their ideas and mobilize grassroots supporters. A recent study insists that the left needs a similar infrastructure to challenge corporate power and its dissemination of fend-for-yourself, neoliberal ideas. Strategists like Lavigne have an important role to play in that process, but not without the energy, and commitment, of social movements.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Michael Katz looks back at how the U.S. abandoned its poor - and how that choice continues to affect people across the income spectrum today. And Michael Valpy discusses how Canada can and should avoid travelling any further down the same path - with his "Big Four" ideas focusing on mandatory voting, proportional representation, a guaranteed basic income and protections for vulnerable workers.

- Jeffrey Simpson describes the Cons' narrow focus on about 10 per cent of the Canadian electorate in the lead up to the next federal election, while Andrew Jackson previews what we can expect out of future federal budgets. And Michael Harris laments the fact that Stephen Harper is far more interested in using public money to promote his own image than in actually governing competently:
The Tories carpetbombed the NHL playoffs in 2013 with ads for the Economic Action Plan, tagging this shameless self-promotion with EAP 2013 identifiers. The playoff ads cost $95,000 a pop. But the Harper government had to admit later that the ads did not contain any actual measures from the 2013 budget.

In other words, not only was it a freeloading political announcement paid for by Canadians on behalf of the Conservative party, it was false. The Canada Jobs Grant which was being advertised at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars didn’t even exist.

When Harper himself was forced to explain his profligate ad offensive at the public’s expense in the House of Commons, he no longer talked of informing citizens about government programs, the way Rona Ambrose had. Now it was a matter of national pride — in him.

No one is better at giving himself straight As than this PM. The new explanation went something like this: The ads were worth it because after seeing their key message — that Canada was doing better than any other developed country in tough economic times — Canadians would burst with pride at what a good government they had.

Setting aside the neck-snapping shift in the justification, there was another problem with the ads.  They weren’t true either. Canada does not have the highest growth rate in the G7 — the United States does. Outside the G7, the economies of Australia and some Scandinavian countries also grew faster than Canada’s did.

The Economic Action Plan was a propaganda vehicle originating in the Finance Department to make Canadians think Jim Flaherty is the best finance minister on the planet … you know, ‘STFU’ Jim.
Believers in that steroid pantomime known as Wrestlemania may have been taken in. People who can read are a tougher sale.
The bottom line? No prime minister has any business spending hundreds of millions of dollars of other people’s money to boast about his accomplishments. If only the PM would unmuzzle his ministers — and give a few interviews where he didn’t supply the questions in advance — the media would be delighted to offer the air time and column inches for free.

What a terrifying concept that would be for a control freak not particularly restrained by the facts — someone who would rather spend pots of public money creating them.
- John Ivison gives us advance warning that there are plenty of years of diplomatic darkness ahead if the Cons get their way.

- And finally, Dan Leger theorizes that we may look back on 2013 as the year citizens pushed back against constant surveillance in the name of security.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses the link between perpetually-increasing inequality and the loss of social trust:
Unfortunately, however, trust is becoming yet another casualty of our country’s staggering inequality: As the gap between Americans widens, the bonds that hold society together weaken. So, too, as more and more people lose faith in a system that seems inexorably stacked against them, and the 1 percent ascend to ever more distant heights, this vital element of our institutions and our way of life is eroding.

The undervaluing of trust has its roots in our most popular economic traditions. Adam Smith argued forcefully that we would do better to trust in the pursuit of self-interest than in the good intentions of those who pursue the general interest. If everyone looked out for just himself, we would reach an equilibrium that was not just comfortable but also productive, in which the economy was fully efficient. To the morally uninspired, it’s an appealing idea: selfishness as the ultimate form of selflessness. (Elsewhere, in particular in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Smith took a much more balanced view, though most of his latter-day adherents have not followed suit.)

But events — and economic research — over the past 30 years have shown not only that we cannot rely on self-interest, but also that no economy, not even a modern, market-based economy like America’s, can function well without a modicum of trust — and that unmitigated selfishness inevitably diminishes trust.
Trust between individuals is usually reciprocal. But if I think that you are cheating me, it is more likely that I will retaliate, and try to cheat you. (These notions have been well developed in a branch of economics called the “theory of repeated games.”) When Americans see a tax system that taxes the wealthiest at a fraction of what they pay, they feel that they are fools to play along. All the more so when the wealthiest are able to move profits off shore. The fact that this can be done without breaking the law simply shows Americans that the financial and legal systems are designed by and for the rich.

As the trust deficit persists, a deeper rot takes hold: Attitudes and norms begin to change. When no one is trustworthy, it will be only fools who trust. The concept of fairness itself is eroded. A study published last year by the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the upper classes are more likely to engage in what has traditionally been considered unethical behavior. Perhaps this is the only way for some to reconcile their worldview with their outlandish financial success, often achieved through actions that reveal a kind of moral deprivation.

It’s hard to know just how far we’ve gone down the path toward complete trust disintegration, but the evidence is not encouraging.

Economic inequality, political inequality, and an inequality-promoting legal system all mutually reinforce one another. We get a legal system that provides privileges to the rich and powerful. Occasionally, individual egregious behavior is punished (Bernard L. Madoff comes to mind); but none of those who headed our mighty banks are held accountable.

As always, it is the poor and the unconnected who suffer most from this, and who are the most repeatedly deceived.
- Meanwhile, David Hutton discusses the Cons' crackdown on whistleblowers and anybody else who tries to bring inconvenient truths to light. And Glen McGregor's look at the Cons' latest fund-raising pitch tells us what kind of action they're looking to punish with incessant fund-raising appeals:
The Citizen received these fundraising pitches after submitting an email address to a Conservative Party website that encouraged users to send Happy Mother’s Day greeting to Harper’s wife, Laureen.
- Grant Robertson and Kim Mackrael write that the regulatory system which we should be able to trust to ensure Canadians' safety instead did nothing in response to questions about the safety of shipping oil by rail. And ThinkProgress surveys 45 fossil fuel-related disasters from 2013 which didn't receive the coverage they deserved.

- Finally, Max Fawcett writes about the absurdity of Alberta's royalty regime which allows. And it shouldn't escape notice that Saskatchewan's resource management is even more slanted toward converting public resources into private payouts - with the public paying up to 120% of the cost of resource extractors' operations.

On voter friendliness

Others have been quick to give Chantal Hebert's take on the NDP more credence than it deserves. But while Hebert is right to note that there's more to the NDP's path forward than merely challenging Justin Trudeau, she falls into a familiar trap in assessing the party's public appeal - and indeed rewrites an awful lot of history in the process:
A strong New Democrat performance in Quebec could block the path to power for the Liberals. But it does not follow that it would pave the way for decisive NDP gains in the rest of Canada.

In 2011, Layton’s orange wave had the opposite of a tsunami effect for the NDP in the rest of the country.

If anything, soaring New Democrat fortunes in Quebec ended up tipping the balance toward a Harper majority as scores of so-called blue Liberals — in particular in Ontario — decided that switching to the Conservatives was preferable to risking a Layton-led government.
At year’s end the biggest threat to Mulcair’s national ambitions is not Trudeau but a party brand that has yet to be made voter-friendly enough to appeal to a greater number of centrist Ontarians.  
Of course, contrary to the "opposite tsunami" theory, 2011 saw the NDP post its best-ever result across the rest of Canada as well. And that result was based in no small part on the NDP being perceived as a voting option by far more voters than even the Cons - its with first- or second-choice support consistently registering upwards of 50%.

Meanwhile, it's long been the case that the Cons are ruled out as an option based on their extremism by far more voters than any other party. And even more recent polling places the Cons well ahead of any other party in the number of voters unwilling to consider them as an option.

So the issue has always been less a matter of the NDP needing to appease voters who see it as something less than a viable choice, than its need to become the first choice of voters who already include the party as a possibility.

And Hebert even manages to trip over her own reasoning about acceptable governing alternatives. It may be true (as she theorizes) that provinces familiar with NDP governments are more likely to send protest votes the Libs' way. But if that pattern holds true, then surely it follows that concrete examples of the compromises typically made by parties in power don't necessarily redound to the NDP's advantage.

With that critique of Hebert in mind, I'll suggest that the better recent take on the positioning of Canada's main federal parties comes from Frank Graves:
(T)here is a large cohort of center-left voters who would move easily from LPC to NDP, depending on who is seen as the more plausible bet to defeat Harper. We have seen just such volatility in these ranks over the past couple of years and this cohort could swing back to Mr. Mulcair again. In fact, it is Stephen Harper who, according to second-choice statistics, has the least opportunity to grow his vote.

The stage is now set for an almost unprecedented contest across three almost equally-poised parties. The contest will be for the hearts and minds of the beleaguered middle class and perhaps the newly-swollen ranks of working class and poor.

The prospects of a tie raise the spectre of a coalition government — something that frightens parties, not voters. Expect to hear party leaders deliver clear denunciations of coalitions — but remember, if current trends continue, you can expect to hear the C-word a lot more often.
Of course, in 2011 it was the only party willing to talk positively about coalitions which managed to boost its popular support. And the message that the NDP is the only party willing to do what it takes - both in terms of building a progressive movement, and in terms of working across party lines - to build a strong alternative to the Harper Cons still looks like a far better rallying cry than Hebert's proposal to paint the party beige.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Robert Reich laments the indecency of gross inequality (and the economic policies designed to exacerbate it):
(F)or more than three decades we’ve been going backwards. It’s far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.

The major reason is widening inequality. The longer the ladder, the harder the climb. America is now more unequal that it’s been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream.

Rather than respond with policies to reverse the trend and get us back on the road to equal opportunity and widely-shared prosperity, we’ve spent much of the last three decades doing the opposite.
(T)he underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society?

Conservatives answer that question by saying it’s a matter of personal choice – of charitable works, philanthropy, and individual acts of kindness joined in “a thousand points of light.”

But that leaves out what we could and should seek to accomplish together as a society. It neglects the organization of our economy, and its social consequences. It minimizes the potential role of democracy in determining the rules of the game, as well as the corruption of democracy by big money. It overlooks our strivings for social justice.

In short, it ducks the meaning of a decent society.
- And Ian Welsh points out that an economy built around unnecessary scarcity only facilitates negative outcomes in both absolute and relative terms:
We, in the West, live in scarcity economies.  The key bottleneck resources are scarce, and the decision has been made to keep them scarce.  Our entire economic policy from about 1979 can be summarized as follows: ordinary people cannot be allowed to have a real raise which translates into spending on oil.
When you live in a scarcity society, it’s almost impossible to receive permission to do anything real, and you have to put up with how your boss treats you, unless you have a very in-demand skillset, because the next job isn’t a sure thing.  Infrastructure isn’t maintained, new institutions aren’t built, and every old institution tries to create a rental stream (thus the huge increases in tuition and the huge decreases in grants.)  You can’t build high-speed rail, heck you can’t even maintain the freeways properly.  Bridges start collapsing, and so on.

This isn’t just about resource shortages.  A resource shortage may start the sequence, but it is the deliberate refusal to deal with the resource shortage which turns it from a challenge into an era, which turns a rich society into a scarcity society.
- Meanwhile, Alison's latest Dilbit takes a look at the lack of thinking behind the NEB's Gateway approval. And David Suzuki points out the lunacy of approving a pipeline based on future research to figure out exactly what harm it figures to cause:
"Spills will happen, there is no question about that," the Vancouver-based broadcaster and scientist told The Vancouver Sun. "The question, is what do you do about it?"
Among the panel's 209 conditions recommended Thursday, Enbridge should: research programs into oil-spill cleanup and the varying physical and chemical properties of the oil intended to be shipped, including studies into dispersion and remediation; conduct pre-operations emergency response exercises and develop an emergency preparedness and response exercise and training program.

"It's absurd to say we have to do state-of-the-art research and all that after the pipeline is allowed to go through," Suzuki continued. "There is no known technology that can clean up the mess once it occurs. They can't sop up most of the oil; it's simply dispersed into the atmosphere, water or land."
- Finally, both Andrew Coyne and Stephen Maher discuss the Supreme Court's ruling striking several Criminal Code provisions related to prostitution.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Musical interlude

Athenaeum - Flat Tire

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Don Lenihan is the latest to highlight the difference between citizens and consumers - as well as why we should want to act as the former:
In the old view, public debate is all about defining the public interest by establishing collective needs. This requires a very different view of public debate. Rather than seeing it as a chance to advance my wants, it asks me, as a citizen, to consider the needs of the community. This means I must listen to others, weigh their claims, examine the evidence, and make trade-offs and compromises.

When Delacourt talks about citizens having once had a sense of the common good or being willing to make sacrifices for it, we don’t need to believe there was once a golden age of civic participation to agree with her.

The real point is that, not so long ago, citizens had a much clearer sense of their responsibility—as citizens—to balance their personal wants against the public good. Rob Ford’s proclivity to treat citizens first and foremost as taxpayers—and Ford Nation’s inclination to respond—shows just how far we have strayed from this vision.
- Andrew Leach offers his take on what the National Energy Board's rubber-stamping of Northern Gateway means. And Stephen Hume points out the absurdity of the Cons' carefully-scripted process.

- Meanwhile, having managed to eliminate environmental considerations from the Gateway's environmental review process, Stephen Harper has once again kicked any possible greenhouse gas emission regulations past the next federal election. That may break the streak of consecutive "next year!" promises before it reaches an even ten - but it also seems to leave no room for any pretense that a Con government will ever regulate the oil sector.

- Andrew Jackson calls out the Cons' doublespeak on the affordability of a secure pension system. And John Geddes identifies Stephen Harper's pension rhetoric as yet another example of the Cons' beggar-thy-neighbour, every-man-for-himself philosophy.

- Finally, CAUT finds that a strong majority of Canadians both support and recognize the need for unions - while only the predictable 28% would rather see unions and workers silenced.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Reconciliation fail

Shorter Joe Oliver:
We Conservatives are so committed to building trust and relationships with First Nations, we feel we can safely ignore a report saying we're failing miserably on all fronts and instead claim all the necessary work is done. So who wants to partner up with us?

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ed Broadbent comments on Parliament's review of inequality in Canada:
In a more encouraging vein, the majority report cautiously endorses some positive proposals. Given stated support from both of the opposition parties, these could, and should, move to the top of the government agenda as we approach the 2014 federal Budget and the 2015 federal election.

The Broadbent Institute and other witnesses highlighted the need to increase the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) which supplements the incomes of working poor families, thus raising earned income from low wage jobs and helping offset unnecessary barriers to moving from welfare to work.

The majority report calls on the federal government to “formally review the WITB to determine how it could be expanded or modified to further benefit Canadians.”

The majority report, again accompanied by stronger statements from the opposition parties, further calls on the federal government “to make early childhood education and child care more accessible and affordable in all areas of the country, including through increased support for affordable early childhood and education and care programs.”

Such programs are key to removing barriers to work by single parents, mainly women, and are also important to expanding lifetime opportunities for low income children. However, the key question to ask of the Conservatives is whether they are actually prepared to fund income supports for the working poor and early childhood programs. After all, their stated priorities, following elimination of the deficit, are to cut income taxes by introducing family income splitting and by raising contribution limits for Tax Free Savings Accounts.
- Meanwhile, Martin Regg Cohn notes that Jim Flaherty is standing in the way of a secure retirement for a substantial number of Canadians while being able to look forward to multiple political pensions himself.  And Lawrence Martin looks at Peter Kent's brief stay as a Harper cabinet member - but finds that Kent himself is far more critical of the media than of the government which ignored his own recommendations.

- Dene Moore reports on the imminent release of the NEB's Northern Gateway review. But I'll offer a reminder of the reality which has largely been edited out of coverage of the NEB's hearings: rather than representing a "yea or nay" evaluation, the entire process was set up by the Cons to prohibit a "nay" conclusion.

- Frances Russell discusses the spread of low-paying work in the service sector - with a particular focus on how some employers are going out of their way to force workers to work multiple McJobs rather than receiving overtime or benefits through a single workplace.

- Finally, Heather Mallick points out the importance of tax revenue to build a functional society:
I am a tax eccentric. I like taxes and frequently rejoice at what they give me: highways, air traffic control, emergency rooms, the tracking of the emerald ash borer, abortion rights, traffic lights, schools, food safety, the RCMP’s terrific boots, policing, regulating, licensing, autopsies, compassion, all the things that make us an organized and rational nation that is a pleasure to live in. I don’t trip over small corpses on the way home. It’s rather nice.

Conservatives, on the other hand, enjoy these services while abusing taxes as the necrotizing flesh disease of Canadian life.
(T)axing is more complicated than that, as essayist Jim Stanford says. “Governments decide, in the context of the conflicting and contradictory political pressures they face, what programs they will provide. Then they figure out how to fund those programs.”

Neo-liberals cut taxes first, Stanford says, while the programs exist, thus creating a deficit that is used to justify further cuts. We are manipulated. For example, we are told that we can’t afford pensions. Neither can we raise payroll taxes to raise CPP benefits for the future.

But we can pay them if we choose to.

New column day

Here, on how James Moore's disinclination to care about his neighbours is par for the course from the Harper Cons - and how we should learn the lesson about caring and compassion that Moore and his party are so studiously avoiding.

For further reading...
- Again, Sara Norman's original story is here, while PressProgress and Laura Payton both helped to put it in context.
- My recap of Moore's other events from the week is drawn from his activity in Monday's Hansard, as well as his office's most recent statements as of the time the column was written.
- Thomas Walkom highlights the Cons' general antipathy toward the idea of social responsibility. And Andrew Coyne tries to stand up for Moore - though I don't see how a word of his defence would apply with any less force to Ebenezer Scrooge if one was motivated to treat "are there no prisons? are there no workhouses?" as an appeal to alternate means of palliating poverty.
- Finally, Bill Tieleman looks at the facts about child poverty in Canada.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Scott Doherty recognizes that Saskatchewan's failure to collect a reasonable royalty rate for potash and other natural resources is directly responsible for the province crying poor when workers are laid off. And Alex Himelfarb points out that the magical theory behind perpetual tax cuts is purely a matter of illusion rather than reality.
We are more than just consumers and taxpayers. We are citizens with responsibilities for one another; we undertake to do some things together, things that we could never do alone or that we can do much better collectively. Taxes are the way we pay for those things. They’re the price of living in Canada and the opportunities that provides.  Indeed, those opportunities exist because of the sacrifices and taxes of previous generations to build the Canada we inherited.
We demand of our leaders to explain how they are going to pay for new services but, equally, we need to demand that they explain the COSTS of their promised tax cuts ­–­­­ to our quality of life, to our democracy, to our economy.  Would we be so pleased with the next tax cuts if we knew they came with worsening traffic congestion, increased risks to food safety, longer wait times for health care, less help for the jobless and needy, rising inequality and environmental degradation?

We seem only to talk about what government costs and not about what it gives.  Too much is at stake to let our identities as “consumers” and “taxpayers” supplant our citizenship and commitment to the common good.
- Meanwhile, the Star Phoenix discusses Station 20 West - which has become a source of food, health services and community for Saskatoon's Pleasant Hill neighbourhood despite the best efforts of the Wall government to stop it.

- And on the subject of governments with absolutely no clue about the realities facing people living in poverty, Peter MacKay believes that even homeless people should have no trouble whatsoever selling some unspecified property to pay mandatory fines.

- Armine Yalnizyan questions the rationale behind the Cons' cuts to Canada Post. And Duncan Cameron expands on the postal bank option as an alternative to the Cons' slash-and-burn approach.

- Finally, Elizabeth Thompson describes Hugh Segal's philosophy of political bridge-building - which of course couldn't be much more out of place in the current Conservative Party.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Lined-up cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Bill Tieleman tears into James Moore for his callous disregard for child hunger, while PressProgress reminds us that plenty of the Cons' policy choices reflect Moore's complete lack of concern for his neighbours' children. And Polly Toynbee looks in detail at the UK Cons' attempts to turn support for needy children into a perceived political weakness rather than a matter of basic empathy and compassion:
The dirty war has begun; the early signs are that this will be the most poisonous, socially damaging election campaign for many a long year. Corrosive malice will be poured over anyone on any benefit. The Conservatives are convinced they are laying a killer trap by branding Labour as "the welfare party".
The language used by Zahawi captures a swelling theme of the election – dividing the "taxpayer" from the "benefit taker" – with this: "Many couples take the decision to delay having a third or fourth child until they are sure they can afford it." The comments that followed were heavily anti-child: "If you can't afford kids why expect the state to keep them?" and "It's a parent's responsibility to provide, not the government". There lies the great dividing line: why should the state support children at all?

As the Child Poverty Action Group eloquently argues, benefits for children not only spread the cost of living between richer and poorer, but also smooth the bumps in everyone's life cycle. When children are born costs are highest and earnings meagre, but later many will earn more, pay more tax and get less out. The banal moral truth is that children are the future, paying for the care of the childless. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says this government's legacy will be a steep rise in child poverty by 2015: a monumental £12bn benefit cut is in George Osborne's post-2015 plan.
Cameron bets the screw can be turned twice as hard, as Osborne enters the election with huge cuts to meet his impossible deficit targets. Labour has no intention of matching his plan. The only way to avoid the Tory "trap" is to tell the truth of where incomes are heading, how child poverty is soaring. Rachel Reeves lays out her policy for the first time in January. Ed Miliband has already said he'd shrink the housing benefit bill by building homes, and the dole with guaranteed jobs for the unemployed and a living wage to ease the cost of tax credits. Labour can never out-nasty the Tories, so nice is the only way to be.
- Elizabeth Benzetti highlights the absurdity of wealthy and privileged scions of the right like Conrad Black and Rob Ford putting on a "woe is us!" routine while calling for life to be worse for mere ordinary citizens. And Andrew Coyne similarly laments the infantilism and lack of principle which form the basis of the right in Canada - though he's too quick to try to distance that impulse from conservative politics.

- Anna Mehler Paperny reports on the state of minimum wage laws in Canada - with not a single jurisdiction providing for the minimum wage above the poverty line. Andrew Jackson takes a look at the composition of Canada's workforce and notes that a majority of workers may have trouble reaching what would generally be seen as a middle class lifestyle. And the Globe and Mail rightly slams Jim Flaherty for positioning himself as the primary obstacle barring the way to a sufficient Canada Pension Plan.

- David McLaren comments on the Cons' decision to restore a colonial philosophy to Canada's foreign policy. And John Baird's spin on the Cons' international priorities is accurate only to the extent that their sole concern is with profits rather than jobs.

- Finally, Sandra Azocar and Noel Somerville take a look at Alberta's experience to make the case against for-profit seniors care:
The inconvenient reality is that, because of acute staff shortages, seniors are not being fed properly and medications are not being administered properly.

The magnitude of the current staffing problem has been well documented in a recent study done by the Parkland Institute. This study, entitled From Bad to Worse — Residential Elder Care in Alberta, demonstrates the deterioration that has occurred in Alberta from 1999 to 2009.

The Parkland study quantifies the differences in care provided in public, not-for-profit and private for-profit facilities. The hours of care per patient in not-for-profit facilities was 83 per cent of that provided in publicly operated facilities. The hours of care per patient in private for-profit facilities was only 71 per cent of that provided in the publicly operated facilities.
(T)he availability of long-term care beds in Alberta, relative to the age 75-plus population, has slipped by 20 per cent and is now the second lowest of any Canadian province. This decline is on top of the 40 per cent cut in long-term care beds per capita that occurred in the 1990s. Further, over the study period, the number of assisted living beds which provide much lower level of care, has grown by 187 per cent.

All of these realities suggest that the government is pursuing a continuing care strategy that serves to divest itself of responsibility for providing care to seniors. When it comes to expanding seniors care in this province, this government has opted to give massive public handouts primarily to corporations seeking to profit from the health needs of seniors.

Ironically, Premier Alison Redford won the Tory leadership race in large part by claiming to be devoted to our public health-care system. Yet this government continues its ideologically driven efforts to shift costs and responsibility from the government to individual health care users and to promote increased private-sector participation. Sadly, this is why we are now more than ever hearing heartbreaking stories from seniors and their families that attest to the shabby state of elderly care in our province.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Heather Mallick discusses what Canada stands to lose as Canada Post is made both more expensive and less functional. Ethan Cox suggests that what's missing from Canada Post is a postal bank - which makes postal services elsewhere both more profitable, and more valuable for citizens. And the Star points out that the Cons have stood idly by while allowing the institution to fall apart.

- But then, post offices are the least of what the Cons have gone out of their way to portray as beneath them - as made clear by James Moore's rightfully-skewered declaration that he doesn't see why he should care about - or do anything to help - hungry children. 

- Meanwhile, Paul Krugman reminds us why inequality matters both economically and politically:
It’s now widely accepted that rising household debt helped set the stage for our economic crisis; this debt surge coincided with rising inequality, and the two are probably related (although the case isn’t ironclad). After the crisis struck, the continuing shift of income away from the middle class toward a small elite was a drag on consumer demand, so that inequality is linked to both the economic crisis and the weakness of the recovery that followed.

In my view, however, the really crucial role of inequality in economic calamity has been political.

In the years before the crisis, there was a remarkable bipartisan consensus in Washington in favor of financial deregulation — a consensus justified by neither theory nor history. When crisis struck, there was a rush to rescue the banks. But as soon as that was done, a new consensus emerged, one that involved turning away from job creation and focusing on the alleged threat from budget deficits.

What do the pre- and postcrisis consensuses have in common? Both were economically destructive: Deregulation helped make the crisis possible, and the premature turn to fiscal austerity has done more than anything else to hobble recovery. Both consensuses, however, corresponded to the interests and prejudices of an economic elite whose political influence had surged along with its wealth.
Surveys of the very wealthy have, however, shown that they — unlike the general public — consider budget deficits a crucial issue and favor big cuts in safety-net programs. And sure enough, those elite priorities took over our policy discourse.

 Which brings me to my final point. Underlying some of the backlash against inequality talk, I believe, is the desire of some pundits to depoliticize our economic discourse, to make it technocratic and nonpartisan. But that’s a pipe dream. Even on what may look like purely technocratic issues, class and inequality end up shaping — and distorting — the debate.

So the president was right. Inequality is, indeed, the defining challenge of our time. Will we do anything to meet that challenge?
- And Michael Valpy discusses the plight of the precariat who have been so deliberately excluded from the Cons' political calculations (other than as a source of cheap labour for their corporate benefactors).

- Fortunately, the continued efforts of the Cons and their provincial counterparts to silence the general public are only giving rise to more creative ways to influence the shape of our society. On that front, Lloyd Maybaum suggests that employees who have been arbitrarily denied the right to strike should focus their efforts and their dollars on the political system. And Ashley Renders reports on Unifor's steps to include workers who can't organize through traditional workplace union structures.

- Finally, Mariana Mazzucato makes the case for governments to serve as generators and incubators of big ideas, rather than pools of funding to be exploited for corporate benefit:
(T)he point of public policy is to make big things happen that would not have happened anyway. To do this, big budgets are not enough: big thinking and big brains are key.

While economists usually talk about things that are not done at all (or done inadequately) by the private sector as "public goods", investments in "big" public goods like the UK national health service, or the investments that led to new technologies behind putting a "man on the moon", required even more than fixing the "public good" problem. They required the willingness and ability to dream up big "missions". The current narrative we are being sold about the state as a "meddler" in capitalism is putting not only these missions under threat, but even more narrowly defined public goods.

Public goods are goods whose benefits are spread so widely that it is hard for business to profit from them (or stop others profiting from them). So they don't attract private investment. Examples include transport infrastructure, healthcare, research and education.

Even if you're an avid free-marketeer you can't avoid benefiting, directly and indirectly, from such public investments. You gain directly through the roads you drive down, the rules and policing which ensure their safety, the BBC radio you listen to, schools and universities that train the doctors and pilots you depend on, parks, theatre, films and museums that nurture our national identity. You also gain, indirectly, through enormous public subsidies without which private schools, hospitals and utility providers would never be able to deliver affordably and still make a profit. These are conferred as tax breaks, and provision of vital skills and infrastructure at state expense.
The public sector must produce public goods, and through the creation of new missions catalyse investment by the private sector – inspiring and supporting it to enter in high-risk areas it would not normally approach. To do so it requires the ability to attract top expertise – to "pick" broadly defined directions, as IT and internet were picked in the past, and "green" should be picked in the future. Some investments will win, some will fail. Indeed, Obama's recent $500m guaranteed loan to a solar company Solyndra failed, while the same investment in Tesla's electric motor won big time – making Elon Musk richer.

But as long as we admit the state is a risk-taking courageous investor in the areas the private sector avoids, it should increase its courage by earning back a reward for such successes, which can fund not only the (inevitable) losses but also the next round of investments. Instead, calling it names for the losses, ignoring the wins, and outsourcing the competence and capabilities, is ridding it of the courage, ability and brains to create the missions, hence opportunities, of the future. And without brains, all government will be able to do is not make big things happen but simply serve a private sector that is concerned only with serving itself.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Joan Walsh discusses how employers are exploiting the U.S.' wage supplement policies by taking the opportunity to severely underpay their employees - resulting in both insecure income and employment, and significant public expense to reduce the poverty suffered by full-time workers. And Lana Payne comments that the Cons' anti-worker policies figure to further exacerbate inequality in Canada as well.

- Meanwhile, lest anybody doubt the disproportionate effect of corporate power in politics, Juliet Eilperin writes that the Obama White House delayed the introduction of health, safety and environmental regulations until after the 2012 election cycle to avoid controversy - and still hasn't caught up on the backlog.

- Martin Regg Cohn writes that the Canada Pension Plan needs shoring up now. But Chris Hall reports that the Harper Cons loom as one of the most important obstacles to agreement on a more secure retirement system.

- In the same vein, the Cons are once again showing their disdain for immigrant families by severely restricting the circumstances in which it's possible to sponsor a parent or grandparent. And they're seemingly planning to pull the rug out from under Canadians who rely on social housing.

- Thomas Walkom points out how the Cons' attacks on Canada Post seem designed to avoid important decisions about underfunded pensions. And Susan Delacourt speculates about the political effect of making mail less accessible and affordable:
The more that people refuse to answer their phones or come to their doors when a politician calls, the more the parties have had to find other ways to know their voters.

The parties have been buying magazine subscription lists, for example, to find out what interests the people inside those homes. But will these subscriptions themselves become relics, when magazines, like the mail, no longer arrive on the doorstep?

What about the direct mail fundraising that has been such a source of small, individual contributions to political parties? Will those postcard-format appeals for dollars even make it from the community mailbox into voters’ homes?

People are still letting the outside world into their homes, but now the main route of entry is through a screen — whether on a television, computer or smartphone.

The milkbox is no longer the portal into suburban homes. Soon the mailbox, the place to deposit letters, bills and newspapers, will join it as a museum artifact.

Can the politician on the doorstep be far behind?
- Finally, Andrew Coyne comments on the Cons' culture of secrecy:
If the Senate scandal has had such legs, then, it is because so much of the behaviour it describes, the secrecy and deception and control from the top, has been everywhere replicated in the government’s handling of the fallout. What began as a secret deal to buy a senator’s silence has progressed through several additional layers of deception: the bogus story about Senator Mike Duffy repaying his own bogus expenses, papered over with a bogus money trail; the tampering with the Deloitte audit; the whitewashing of the Senate committee report; the series of ever more preposterous stories, after the story broke, about what Senator Duffy and Nigel Wright were up to, and whether they were fine, upstanding public servants or misguided patriots or deceitful criminals; the denials of involvement or knowledge, including to the police, by several of the principals, in direct conflict with the known facts; the mysterious mass deletion of emails by Benjamin Perrin, who may or may not have been the prime minister’s lawyer, followed by their even more mysterious discovery; the stonewalling and evasions throughout. I may have missed a stage, but I believe we are now at the cover-up of the cover-up of the cover-up.
As ever, we are confronted with the utter inability of our democratic institutions to hold those in power to account. Nor is this confined to the Senate mess. Debates in Parliament are now routinely cut short by “time allocation.” Committees now routinely meet in camera. The Parliamentary Budget Office is reduced to filing access to information requests for the departmental data to which it is statutorily entitled. The list goes on.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Krugman highlights why inequality is indeed an issue which demands action - both for its own sake, and for its impact on other goals such as economic sustainability. And Bill Moyers discusses the difference between a government responsive to its people and one completely controlled by elites:
The historian Plutarch warned us long ago of what happens when there is no brake on the power of great wealth to subvert the electorate. "The abuse of buying and selling votes," he wrote of Rome, "crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections. Later on, this process of corruption spread in the law courts and to the army, and finally, when even the sword became enslaved by the power of gold, the republic was subjected to the rule of emperors."
Why are record numbers of Americans on food stamps? Because record numbers of Americans are in poverty. Why are people falling through the cracks? Because there are cracks to fall through. It is simply astonishing that in this rich nation more than 21 million Americans are still in need of full-time work, many of them running out of jobless benefits, while our financial class pockets record profits, spends lavishly on campaigns to secure a political order that serves its own interests, and demands that our political class push for further austerity. Meanwhile, roughly 46 million Americans live at or below the poverty line and, with the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percent of kids in poverty than we do. Yet a study by scholars at Northwestern University and Vanderbilt finds little support among the wealthiest Americans for policy reforms to reduce income inequality.
I should make it clear that I don't harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy. Remember, I worked for Lyndon Johnson. Nor do I romanticize "the people." You should read my mail and posts on right-wing websites. I understand the politician in Texas who said of the state legislature, "If you think these guys are bad, you should see their constituents."

But there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens (something otherwise known as social justice) and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud. That can be the difference between democracy and plutocracy.
 - Andrew Sullivan makes a similar point in commenting on the impact of Pope Francis' discussion of market zealotry (h/t to Cathie):
(T)he way in which market capitalism has become a good in itself on the American right is, well, perniciously wrong. As soon as a system ceases to be a means to a human good, and becomes an end in itself, it has become a false idol. Perhaps the apotheosis of that idol worship was the belief – brandished on the degenerate right in the past decade or two – that markets are self-regulating. Of course they’re not, as Adam Smith would have been the first to inform you. Another assumption embedded on the American right is that more wealth is always a good thing. The Church must say no. This is a lie. Wealth is a neutral thing above a certain basic level of non-drudgery. Above that, it can be an absolutely evil, deceptive thing, distorting human souls, warping their dignity, vulgarizing their character. An American right that worships at the altar of both free markets and material wealth, and that takes these two idols as their primary goods, is not just non-Catholic. It is anathema to Catholicism and to the Gospels.
- Michael Valpy writes about the connection between extractive economics, inequality and social exclusion - while observing that those exact factors are serving to reinforce each other in Canada.

- Meanwhile, Matthew Hays offers a devastating look at how Canada is beginning to look from abroad - with Rob Ford serving only as the most prominent example of a crude, selfish and thoughtless persona. And Scott Reid points out the systematic elimination of any sense of shame from right-wing politics as a substantial part of the problem.

- Finally, John Geddes writes that the Cons' patently absurd attacks on improvements to the Canada Pension Plan are making it needlessly difficult to discuss how to ensure retirement security for Canadians. And Tammy Schirle and Kevin Milligan offer their own proposal to bolster the CPP.