Tuesday, December 24, 2013

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.

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