Saturday, February 07, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- John Hood discusses how the privilege of the political class makes it difficult for elected representatives to understand, let alone address, the problems of the precariat. And Lawrence Mishel and Will Kimball document the continued connection between the erosion of unions and income inequality.

- Lizzie Dearden reports on one proposal to rein in corporate abuses, as Ed Miliband intends to crack down on tax cheats and the jurisdictions which harbor them. And Carol Linnitt suggests that Canada's public corporations should be required to disclose their political expenditures.

- But unfortunately, the Harper Cons remain stubborn in their insistence on instead using the power of the state solely to attack social justice advocates.

- Lana Payne calls out the Harper Cons for trying to change the subject from real economic failures to imagined security threats. Jeffrey Simpson worries about the treatment of terror as a partisan issue, while Susan Delacourt is particularly concerned about the risks of gross intrusions into civil rights by a government which long since eradicated any trace of independent thought or oversight from its ranks. And after trying to wrongfully lump the opposition parties together before, Thomas Walkom tears into the Libs for their cowardice when it comes to human rights:
Justin Trudeau’s decision to back controversial new anti-terror laws says much about him and his Liberal party.

It says first that the Liberals don’t want to be on the wrong side of what they believe to be public opinion, that they are determined not to be caught flatfooted if Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes national security an election issue.

That is the crassly political element of Trudeau’s acquiescence.

But the party’s decision to vote for Harper’s Bill C-51 shows something else as well.

It shows that the Liberals agree with the Conservatives that civil rights aren’t that important.
- Finally, Doug Saunders connects vaccinations and the census as examples of areas where we should expect to accept minor inconveniences due to the broad social results at stake. Tavia Grant reports that businesses are no less frustrated than policymakers at the self-inflicted lack of accurate data resulting from the shredding of the long-form census. And Adam Radwanski points out how political parties are collecting and crunching more data than ever in trying to reach voters.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Musical interlude

Iris - Saving Time

How to destroy the climate in three easy steps

1. Abandon all previous targets and commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
2. Set a new target which one intends to ignore.
3. Make clear to the world that developing policies to actually meet the new target is somebody else's problem, no matter how obvious it is that the result will be failure.

Of course, we recognize how asinine and ineffectual that combination is when it originates with Stephen Harper. Who's willing to do the same when it's the Anointed One?

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Gregory Beatty reports on Saskatchewan's options now that it can't count on high oil prices to prop up the provincial budget. And Dennis Howlett writes about the need for a far more progressive tax system both as a matter of fairness, and as a matter of resource management:
Just a few years ago, the question of tax fairness was relegated to the world of activists and progressive economists. But you know something has shifted when a U.S. president goes on national television and talks about the urgent need to eliminate tax loopholes that benefit only the very rich. That shift is further amplified when he portrays taxes not as a burden but a responsibility — as a way to pay for investments such as education and health.
Even a passing knowledge of history will tell you that profound gaps between rich and poor don't end well. But although that gap deepens every year here in Canada, our leaders haven't been paying attention.

We've been led to believe that tax reform is the stuff of nerds, wonks and high-priced lawyers. In fact, tax reform belongs to us all. Combined with some good old-fashioned political will, it can build bridges (literally and figuratively), invest in students, heal the health-care system and relieve a lot of stress on ordinary Canadians. 
Canada is a wealthy country. But wealth guarantees neither brains nor prosperity. The squandered opportunity of Canada's resources and a delayed federal budget because of a dip in oil prices is a sad reminder of that. 
- Andrew Lodge discusses how the TPP is designed to take needed medicine out of the hands of the world's poor in the name of higher profits for big pharma. And David Sirota observes that the secrecy surrounding the deal can be explained by the fact that the public would be outraged to know what's being traded away.

- Nick Falvo offers some important observations about both the need for secure social housing, and the apparent disinclination of all levels of government to make it available.

- Finally, Boris, Aaron Wherry and the Globe and Mail editorial board all slam both the fearmongering behind the Cons' terror bill, and the Libs' cowardice in letting the Cons gut Canadians' rights in the name of political convenience. And Tim Harper highlights the NDP's role as the lone party in Parliament standing on principle and doing its job.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

New column day

Here, on why we can't expect our federal political parties to answer some of our most important questions without some significant public pressure - and how we can build that pressure for ourselves.

For further reading, I'll point back to my earlier posts on what I'd hope to see happen before the writ period, including
- an effort to define the Harper Cons beyond what we'll see from the opposition parties; and
- a strong push to make the opposition leaders and candidates talk about working together toward change.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Joe Gunn reminds us that ignoring the issue of poverty won't make it go away. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on a national campaign demanding a plan to deal with poverty at the federal level.

- Roderick Benns discusses the prospect of a guaranteed annual income with Wayne Simpson. And Whitney Mallett is the latest to look in depth at how the successful Mincome basic income plan might spread much further:
Critics of basic income guarantees have insisted that giving the poor money would disincentivize them to work, and point to studies that show ​a drop in peoples' willingness to work under pilot programs. But in Dauphin—thought to be the largest such experiment conducted in North America—the experimenters found that the primary breadwinner in the families who received stipends were in fact not less motivated to work than before. Though there was some reduction in work effort from mothers of young children and teenagers still in high school—mothers wanted to stay at home longer with their newborns and teenagers weren’t under as much pressure to support their families—the reduction was not anywhere close to disastrous, as skeptics had predicted.
The recovered data from “Mincome,” as the Dauphin experiment was known, has given more impetus to a growing call for some sort of guaranteed income. This year, the Swis​s Parliament will vote on whether to extend a monthly stipend to all residents, and the Indian government has already begun replacing aid programs with direct cash transfers. Former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich has called a BIG “alm​ost inevitable.” In the US, Canada, and much of Western Europe, where the conversation around radically adapting social security remains mostly hypothetical, the lessons of Dauphin might be especially relevant in helping these ideas materialize sooner rather than later.

There are other compelling arguments for a guaranteed income now. Despite record corporate earnings, most people are not benefitting. Wages are stagnant, unemployment is high, ​student debt and health care costs are soaring, and the job market is not rewarding those who are already employed with enough money for a decent way of life. The so-called ​Uberization of the workforce, in which workers are paid by the task rather than on a salary or under an established hourly rate—is increasing the precariousness of work. (And that's not to mention ​robots and artificial intelligence taking away jobs.) As the concept of universal healthcare spreads and minimum wage is debated, conversations around reconsidering or expanding social security are growing.
- Ryan Meili interviews Harsha Walia about the importance of building healthy connections between immigrants, refugees and our wider communities.

- Michael Adams and Maryantonett Flumian muse about some of the causes of low voter participation rates. But as Craig Scott points out, the Cons' message to (selected) voters that their democratic involvement isn't welcome can't be helping matters.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom rightly argues that even if the Cons would accept some parliamentary oversight over new CSIS powers, that wouldn't represent an acceptable tradeoff for the public. Karl Nerenberg offers four reasons to be alarmed by C-51. And the Winnipeg Free Press concludes that the Cons' terror bill risks far too much for no apparent benefit.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- 24 Hours offers a debate as to whether or not we should pursue a basic income - though it's striking that the "con" case is based almost entirely on a message that a secure income for everybody can't be achieved, rather than any argument that it shouldn't.

- Gabriel Bristow writes about the next battle against austerity, this time arising out of general strikes in Belgium. And Tara Ehrcke muses about what a Canadian equivalent to Syriza could pursue by way of people-friendly policies, while Trish Hennessy looks at the middle-class economics which will likely define our next election campaign.

- Carol Goar examines Mariana Mazzucato's argument that we should value entrepreneurial government:
It takes government-led goal-setting backed up with public funds — Mazzucato calls this mission-based investment — to generate transformative knowledge, spawn technical breakthroughs and improve the economic outlook for everyone, including those at the bottom of the income pyramid. She identified a few such missions.

“I think the green challenge is so overwhelming that it could be a game-changer,” she said. But there are other strong candidates. “Who is thinking about adapting to an aging population? Who is reimaging the labour-intensive personal-care sector?”

The first imperative, Mazzucato acknowledged, is changing public opinion. She is making an all-out effort to debunk the myths underlying the private-sector-good/public-sector-bad mindset...
It is not the specific that interests Mazzucato; it is the idea that governments can pull together multi-talented teams of problem-solvers, spur innovation, marry science and industry and trigger waves of economic growth.

“We have a cartoonish image of the state as a dinosaur,” she says. “In fact, in countries that owe their growth to innovation, it is a key partner of the private sector — and often a more daring one.”
- And Kaylie Tiessen notes that constant corporate tax cuts - whether aimed at big or small businesses - haven't produced any of the promised gains.

- Eve-Lynn Couturier proposes some ways to make municipal revenue more secure. But unfortunately, Brad Wall is headed in the opposite direction, forcing Saskatchewan municipalities to budget based on revenues which he's threatening to withdraw in order to deflect from his government's mismanagement at the provincial level.

- Finally, Derrick O'Keefe describes how the Harper Cons plan to rely on terrorist hysteria as their core message in the lead up to the federal election campaign.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cat renovation nightmares.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Elizabeth Stoker Bruening discusses the effect of poverty at the family level, particularly when coupled with policies designed to force workers to chase jobs far away from home and family:
If you want to see the right-wing denuded of its usual bluster about family values and welfare, visit this Economist post, published in response to Nick Kristof’s remembrance of a friend who fell on hard times and passed away. The piece argues that the problem isn’t a paucity of empathy for poor people who rely on welfare, but perhaps an excess of it; furthermore, the piece goes on to suggest that poor people who rely on disability benefits should, in order to get off of welfare, pack up and move away from family and friends in search of jobs.

“We ought to feel for those stuck in this sort of terrible quandary,” the article’s author writes. “Yet empathy can't change the fact that when people need jobs, they have to go to where the jobs are.” The quandary the author refers to is the problem of preferring to rely on disability income and to stay among family and friends rather than moving to an entirely new place alone in order to relinquish benefits.
(W)elfare of a certain stripe appears to resist the massive social dislocation brought on by free-market capitalism, wherein people must move at the whim of their employers. Contrary to the undermining-effect imagined by right-wing commentators who oppose welfare, therefore, something like a universal basic income could be extremely helpful in terms of stabilizing families and rooting communities in place.

In other words, the demands of capital and the obligations of family are often at cross-purposes rather than functioning in tandem. Contrary to the opinions of the wealthy, the poor do not “have it easy” on welfare, though public assistance might help some people remain with their support networks of family and friends rather than disappearing into the national ether in search of a job, whether or not such a job ever actually becomes available. Rather than making the case for harsher regulations on welfare, The Economist makes a good conservative case for a more expansive welfare regime: one that would really shore up family life.
- And in case there was any doubt as to the human cost of policies which demand that workers endure whatever stress the market may see fit to inflict, Tanya Talaga reports on research showing that Greece's devastating austerity has cost hundreds of lives in addition to livelihoods.

- Meanwhile, Dave McGrane proposes four steps toward a far more effective and family-friendly child care policy.

- Michael Madowitz comments on the continuing U.S. pattern of modest GDP growth based on a combination of soaring profits and stagnant wages. And Katherine Trebeck writes that we should be focusing on a sustainable economy and society, rather than pushing a mindset of disposable consumerism.

- Finally, Dave describes the Cons' fearmongering and media restraint surrounding their terror bill as North Korean, while thwap hears echoes of public manipulation far closer to home. And Tim Harper discusses just a few of the more glaring omissions from the bill.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Paul Mason discusses the effect a guaranteed annual income could have on individuals' choices about labour and employment:
A true, subsistence level basic income would close to double [existing social spending in the UK]. But it is imaginable, in the short to medium term, if you factor in the benefits.

The first would be to eradicate low-paid menial work. Why slave 10 hours a day with mop and bucket for £12k when you get £6k for free? Corporations would rebalance their business models towards a high pay, stable consumption, low-ish profit world, and the tax take would rise as a result. All tax relief for the poor would end.

The second benefit, though less tangible, would come to the spiralling healthcare budgets of western societies. Drugs are dear, collaborative networks of peer educators and self-help groups come for free, at least in theory, once everyone is being paid simply to exist, and has the time and freedom to contribute. This is the view taken by the prophets of peer-to-peer economics, who envisage a new, collaborative production sector...

The rest of the fiscal gap would be closed through raising tax – so this is not a cheap or easy solution. It would be a pathway to a different kind of economy. But for both left and right it would challenge the last vestiges of what Gorz called “the utopia based on work” which has sustained us for two centuries, but may no longer.
- Ben Cohen and John Bonifaz discuss the Sunlight Foundation's research showing that each $1 worth of corporate money in U.S. politics produces a return of $760. (Which is particularly jarring considering the billions of dollars now being spent each election cycles.) And Jacques Peretti highlights how extreme concentration of wealth affects the people who accumulate it.

- Lindsay Abrams interviews Ed Struzik about the damage the Harper Cons are doing to Canada's Arctic region:
I’m interested in your perspective on this as a Canadian citizen. The Harper administration’s treatment of the Arctic has been highly criticized — and I personally have never been able to speak with a Canadian government scientist.

It’s almost surreal what’s happened since the Harper government has come into power. Like you said, it’s extremely difficult to get a government Canadian scientist to talk to you. I live in Edmonton, Canada where two of the government’s polar bear scientists live, and I know them. But they cannot talk to me on the record about anything about polar bears. I’ve been in the field with them in the past and participated in the capture of polar bears, and yet in the last six or seven years, I have not been able to get an interview with any of them.

And I think this reflects the attitude of this government. With the decision by President Obama this week to expand the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and to put vast areas of the Arctic Ocean off limits to oil and gas development — in Canada, what we’re seeing is an attempt to accelerate oil and gas development, to do nothing about polar bears or beluga whales, to essentially ignore all that we’ve learned in the past 10 and 20 years in the Arctic. It’s bizarre. Twelve years ago, the Canadian government literally bribed a foreign company to ship coal through the Northwest passage to prove that this is a viable shortcut. As our environment commissioner has pointed out, the Northwest passage hasn’t even been charted properly. The navigational aids there are antiquated and we don’t have the ice-breaking capabilities to really prove that ships can go through there safely, so what the hell are they doing? I mean, it’s crazy and it’s inexplicable.
- And while the Cons march onward in the wrong direction, Brendan Haley explains why we can't expect the provinces and territories to correct our course on climate change or energy policy without federal leadership. And Bob Weber reports that the Cons have been well aware for years that there's no reliable data on the environmental effects of bitumen spills (even as they've resisted any effort to protect the environment while that information is lacking).

- Finally, Justin Ling looks in depth at the Cons' intrusive terror bill, while the Globe and Mail calls for it to be voted down. And Michael Harris points out that Stephen Harper's fearmongering arises primarily out of his own weakness.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

On simple questions

Gerald Caplan goes far beyond what's necessary in proposing that the NDP and Libs develop a pre-election cooperation pact intended to lead to a party merger. But as highlighted by the conversation started by Fern Hill's Tweet, we can take his suggestion as a starting point in discussing what we expect from Canada's opposition parties.

Each opposition party has ample reason to include the glaring need for change from a corrupt and ineffective Con government as part of their core message. So far, only the NDP is willing to even discuss post-election cooperation to ensure a change in government, while the Libs have stuck to the line that they're only interested in power for themselves. (Of course, that was way back when Justin Trudeau was still talking about acting on climate change, so who knows how the position has changed?)

We do know from both 2008 and 2011 that the Libs' public facade doesn't necessarily match their willingness to pursue a coalition. But if we want to reinforce the message that removing Stephen Harper from power is the top priority, we can't afford to have any leaders leaving open the possibility that he'll be left in power when our elected representatives have enough strength in numbers to ensure a change in government.

So I'll suggest that anybody with the opportunity to ask questions or otherwise interact with opposition candidates and leaders focus attention on this issue: are you willing to work with other parties if necessary to remove the Cons from power? And if not, under what conditions would you leave Harper in power in a minority Parliament?

My guess is that if members raise enough hue and cry, every party will eventually acknowledge that opposition cooperation is a valid and reasonable means of bringing about change - and that it's a lot easier to justify cooperating to change governments than to explain what conditions would make it worth leaving the Cons in power. But unless supporters make clear that there's a price to be paid for pretending otherwise, we'll go through another campaign with opposition parties and candidates undermining the theme that Harper has to go.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Doug Saunders observes that Syriza's strong election victory may signal a sea change as to whether austerity is inevitable, while Adnan Al-Daini notes that the financial sector can no longer take for granted that its profits will be placed above the interests of actual people. Which means that Joe Oliver may get even more lonely lecturing Canada's provinces that the economic beatings will continue until morale improves.

- Speaking of whom, Canadians for Tax Fairness highlights how Oliver has long known that the Cons' income splitting plans represent nothing more than a giveaway to the high-income families who need it the least. And Barret Weber writes that it's long past time for Alberta to fund its public services through a progressive tax system, rather than regressive taxes and unstable resource royalties.

- David Cay Johnston highlights how the U.S. is still seeing growing profits and declining personal incomes. And Cole Moreton likewise notes that the UK's elections should see plenty of discussion about a growing wealth gap and continuing poverty. 

- David Suzuki writes that free trade agreements are increasingly resulting in Canada trading away any ability to protect its environment. And Glenn Kessley destroys the myth that free trade agreements bear any relationship to jobs even under the faith-based theory intended to promote them.

- Finally, Nancy MacDonald writes about the festering prejudice against First Nations in Winnipeg in particular. But Max FineDay is right to point out that Canada's shameful legacy of racism continues to affect systemic relationships far beyond the boundaries of any one city:
Being so deeply immersed in both Native and non-Native communities I knew from a young age that these two worlds did not fit together. I remember some of my friends telling me that their parents didn’t want me over at their home for fear I might come back and rob it later. This prejudice was normal growing up nêhiyaw in Saskatoon. I don’t bring these issues up because they defined my childhood – they didn’t – and they certainly don’t define me today. But these are the types of stories that you will hear from Native people, if you take the time to listen.

If you asked a Native person, whether in Vancouver, Saskatoon, Caledonia, or Halifax, if there is a tension between Native and Canadian communities, few would hesitate to say yes. Our story, the story of Canada, is one of both mistreatment and indifference. That mistreatment and indifference have lead to Native peoples being on the negative side of almost every statistical category. No one relishes the fact that there’s still racism in our communities, but ignoring it as we like to do isn’t making anything better.

Maclean’s is right that Winnipeg has a race problem, but wrong to deflect the focus from the underlying, systemic issues that are almost always the cause of bad outcomes for Native peoples everywhere in Canada. The article reports that much of the violence we hear about is perpetrated by Native people against other Natives without further analysis into the systemic inequalities that affect Native peoples in every part of society. That’s what Canadians need to hear.

More than individual acts of prejudice or of violence, they need to hear about the systemic inequalities that they themselves never see. Individual acts of racism, violence, and intolerance are powerful, yes, but systemic racism is what maintains Canada’s ongoing settler colonialism (which depends on dispossessing Native people of their land and sovereignty).

In an article dealing almost exclusively with racism directed toward Native people, the only mention of colonialism was a quote from the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations that put colonialism in the past tense. There was only one sentence about treaties. Maclean’s understands that racism is taking place, and that it is destructive, but it has very little understanding of why.