Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Polly Toynbee discusses how the public shares in the responsibility for a political class oriented toward easily-discarded talking points rather than honest discussion:
Intense mistrust of parties is growing dangerously with each generation: with fewer than 1% of the population members of a political party, people understand less about the necessary compromises. Our poll's "angry" voters say they want politicians to say what they believe, not mouth the party line-to-take. Too many MPs are pitifully thin on vocabulary and imagery, short on wit, warmth, passion or imagination. Some exceptions – the TUC's Frances O'Grady, Kenneth Clark, Shirley Williams – have the gift of sounding like themselves, as if they believe what they say. Put the journalist Owen Jones on a platform and he blows your socks off. The public trusts Margaret Hodge's authentic passion on tax-dodging companies, though Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage suggest verbal felicity can be an actor's knack, not proof of honesty. Authenticity – or a semblance of it – is rare political gold dust.

But don't forget that politicians speak robotically for a reason – and voters share the blame. Voters say they dislike party discipline, wanting MPs to speak their consciences, yet as every original thought becomes a newsworthy "gaffe" and "split", voters also punish parties severely for any sign of disunity. Voters are contrary. If they want more electoral choice, why did they reject a small improvement in the AV referendum? They say they want honesty, but they don't always reward it.
On the doorstep, no candidate dare wag a finger to remind these angry citizens that they have duties too. No one tells them they should inform themselves better on things they care about, with reliable facts at a click of a mouse. Who dares tell them that complaining is no use if they take no part in the democracy that rules their life? Russell Brand nihilism is not OK – and where is he now? Is he out there doing something – anything at all, protesting, rioting – organising or still not arsed? In the end it's the arsed who keep any kind of democracy going – and the rest should zip their lip unless they are ready to get off their arses now and then. Don't get angry, get even. But brave would be the vote-wooing politician who dared give voters back a bit of their own medicine on the doorstep.
- Joe Mihevc writes that outsourcing and privatization may have seriously impeded the City of Toronto's response to its recent ice storm. And In the Public Interest reviews the damage done to the U.S.' public services by out-of-control privatization.

- Jody Heymann and Douglas Barthold remind us of Canada's advantage over the U.S. in health outcomes, while noting that there's plenty more we should be doing to boost the social determinants of health:
Beyond medical care, we need to address further how social conditions shape health. The countries outperforming us make effective social investments to promote health and well-being among children and adults alike. Just to name two: they provide job protected paid leave from work to meet health needs, and overwhelmingly, they ensure children receive early childhood education.

While Canada is far ahead of the U.S. in measures to promote population health, this work remains uneven and lags behind many competitors. Some provinces, like Quebec, have invested heavily in universal access to early childhood care while others provinces have done very little on this front.

The same can be said for basic working conditions like job protected sick leave, which remains spotty across the country. Affordable housing has become scarce in most of Canada’s urban centres.
Poverty rates in Canada, while lower than the U.S., have been on the rise – and poverty is one of the leading determinants of poor health.

If Canadians are going to continue to increase life expectancy, we’ll need to invest in preventing disease and promoting health, while ensuring that we learn the most efficient ways to spend health care dollars for those who do become sick.
- PressProgress takes a look at the Cons' false spin about income splitting - as well as the realities of a policy designed to funnel money toward wealthy two-parent families which can afford to have an adult out of work.

- Finally, CBC reports on the latest oil-by-rail disaster in Casselton, North Dakota. And while it's for the best that luck was on the side of Casselton's residents as a massive fire led to no casualties, that fortune shouldn't stop us from look at both the causes of the incident, and the overall dangers of relying on shipping explosive substances with questionable regulation.

1 comment:

  1. On the Polly Toynbee piece I have to note that Russell Brand, whatever he may be, is far from a nihilist, and that kind of facile distortion, accompanied by literally telling him to shut up if, basically, his criticisms are different from hers, kind of undermines her position (or at least, her claim to stand for that position herself).
    It's sort of odd; nobody ever seems to genuinely argue with Russell Brand. I mean, his position seems to be: British electoral politics is dead, completely pointless, and some kind of major upheaval is needed to change who has the power. Since there is no such upheaval available just at the moment, his plan is to use his abilities and soapbox as a satirical comedian to bring more people to his position until eventually there is such an upheaval.

    Given his beliefs, his resulting approach is about the most effective he has access to (that is, not very effective, but still more effective than any organized British Socialist or Anarchist group). But nobody ever seems to debate him seriously on those beliefs, they say asinine things like believing them makes him a nihilist, or that he should be taking up arms or throwing cobblestones or something rather than, as they do, using words and publicity to sway opinions. I think the British establishment are a tad afraid of Russell Brand.