Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Nora Loreto rightly challenges the instinct to respond to tragedy with blame in the name of "responsibility", rather than compassion in the interest of making matters better:
Blame is the projection of grief, sadness or fear. It is the projection of our own inadequacies; of our own feelings of, "oh god, that could be my kid" wrapped up in "thank god I'm a better parent than that." It pretends that all things are equal, that all family situations are equal and all children are essentially the same.

But it’s malicious. Blame, when targeted towards individuals, shifts the focus to their perceived personal failings. It starts from a place that believes that some parents just don’t love their children as much as others.

When applied to the proper structures, the process of applying blame changes entirely. Why are Indigenous children on reserve ten times more likely to die in a fire? Is it because a single First Nation stopped paying for fire services (because those fire services weren't being delivered)? Or is it because Canada still refuses to fund First Nations communities properly leaving local leadership to be in a perpetual state of balance, ready to collapse at any moment?

And how could household debt ballooning, good jobs disappearing and social services evaporating not have an effect on the already precarious lives of many parents?

Personal blame is a function of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism tells individuals that there is no such thing as community and that you are wholly responsible for your own decisions. It ignores broader social forces, like what happens when parents can’t make ends meet and are forced to work longer just to get by. It erases the fact that we are not equal and society demands minimal effort from some and maximum effort from others.

It also tells us that there is no one left to help you: not the state, not your neighbours. It places enormous strain on grandparents, aunts and uncles or close friends and other family. It erases the thousands of people who are ready to help regardless of the circumstances.
- Paul Krugman eviscerates the myth that decades of declining wages as a share of income are the result of skill mismatches and education issues rather than a choice to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few:
(W)hile the education/inequality story may once have seemed plausible, it hasn’t tracked reality for a long time. “The wages of the highest-skilled and highest-paid individuals have continued to increase steadily,” the Hamilton Project says. Actually, the inflation-adjusted earnings of highly educated Americans have gone nowhere since the late 1990s.

So what is really going on? Corporate profits have soared as a share of national income, but there is no sign of a rise in the rate of return on investment. How is that possible? Well, it’s what you would expect if rising profits reflect monopoly power rather than returns to capital.

As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.

Now, there’s a lot we could do to redress this inequality of power. We could levy higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and invest the proceeds in programs that help working families. We could raise the minimum wage and make it easier for workers to organize. It’s not hard to imagine a truly serious effort to make America less unequal.

But given the determination of one major party to move policy in exactly the opposite direction, advocating such an effort makes you sound partisan. Hence the desire to see the whole thing as an education problem instead. But we should recognize that popular evasion for what it is: a deeply unserious fantasy.
- Meanwhile, as Krugman notes, the solutions to inequality are far from complicated (even if we know they won't be implemented without a fight from a privileged few who consider themselves above the rest of us). On that front, Scott Santens looks at new evidence that cash transfers to the people who need it most produce massive social and economic gains. Lawrence Mishel writes that wage increases can have much the same effect. And Justin Worland reports on polling showing massive U.S. support for a more progressive tax system.

- Tom Sandborn reports on a few cases of employers being held to account for workplace deaths. But Lydia DePillis notes that in other areas, employers are severely restricting workers' ability to chart their own futures by attaching non-compete conditions to a wide range of jobs.

- Carol Linnitt highlights some good scientific advice from our federal civil service that's managed to find its way into the public eye, as officials have thoroughly rejected Kinder Morgan's failure to account for the impact of oil tankers on whales. And in a similar vein, Paola Loriggio reports on the Transportation Safety Board's observation that the Cons have done nowhere near enough to ensure rail safety after the Lac-Megantic disaster.

- Finally, Michael Harris discusses how Stephen Harper is playing Canadians for suckers in trying to scare us into keeping him in power. And Kent Roach comments on the need for an adult conversation about security, in stark contrast to the Cons' fearmongering talking points.

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