Saturday, December 03, 2016

Saturday Afternoon #ERRE Links

A bit of electoral reform material for your weekend reading.

- Nathan Cullen points out how the Special Committee on Electoral Reform's report (PDF) serves as an effective road map to make every vote count in Canada.

- PressProgress highlights how the Libs are attacking their own campaign promises in order to preserve an unfair electoral system, while Jonathan Sas compares the Libs' scorched-earth approach and incoherent response to the remarkable level of consensus and success achieved by members of all parties on the committee.

- Craig Scott generously calls the Libs' approach one of "noble failure" - and that may have been the intention initially. 

- But the "noble" part seems to have been sorely lacking, as Michael Stewart calls out the Libs' mockery of both the MPs who worked on a broad consultation process, and the tens of thousands of Canadians who participated in it. Althia Raj notes that the Trudeau government's insults are particularly egregious since they're directed at people trying to fulfil their own promises - while also reporting that Trudeau and his inner circle would likely have been happy to accept a committee recommendation for a ranked ballot which was rejected by all parties. And Ryan Maloney points out the Libs' aversion to inconvenient math when it would help to achieve improved representation.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Stephen Hawking discusses the urgent need to address inequality and environmental destruction as people are both more fearful for their futures, and more aware of what's being taken away from them:
(T)he lives of the richest people in the most prosperous parts of the world are agonisingly visible to anyone, however poor, who has access to a phone. And since there are now more people with a telephone than access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa, this will shortly mean nearly everyone on our increasingly crowded planet will not be able to escape the inequality.

The consequences of this are plain to see: the rural poor flock to cities, to shanty towns, driven by hope. And then often, finding that the Instagram nirvana is not available there, they seek it overseas, joining the ever greater numbers of economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants in turn place new demands on the infrastructures and economies of the countries in which they arrive, undermining tolerance and further fuelling political populism.

For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.

To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations. If we are to stand a chance of doing that, the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.
- Adnan Al-Daini discusses how market dogmatism is affecting every facet of our society. And Noah Smith reminds us that some the economic theories used have been entirely falsified by real-world evidence.

- Roderick Benns highlights how a well-designed basic income could substantially improve the personal security of the people now at the most risk. But John Clarke warns against settling for an austerian model which treats an insufficient basic income as a substitute for fair wages and needed social supports.

- Bruce Cheadle reports on the International Institute for Sustainable Development's new research showing that Canada's economy is grossly overreliant on fossil fuels, as nearly all of our development has been oriented toward extracting dirty and limited resources rather than developing and applying human capital.

- Finally, Janyce McGregor reports on how the CETA and other trade agreements are designed to increase prescription drug costs - without any effort being made to assess what the price tag will be. But Kelly Crowe and Darryl Hol do note that without much fanfare, Parliament is studying a national pharmacare plan which could both reduce direct drug costs, and significantly improve health outcomes.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

New column day

Here, on the Libs' pleasantly surprising hints toward enforcing the Canada Health Act - and the Saskatchewan Party's response that it would rather fight for profit-motivated medicine than work on building a sustainable universal system.

For further reading...
- By way of background on the enforcement of the Canada Health Act at the federal level, see here and here as to the Libs' refusal to act which helped to precipitate the fall of the Martin government, and here, here and here as to how matters further deteriorated under the Harper Cons.
- Stefani Langenegger reported on how pay-for-play MRIs in Saskatchewan (along with other similar schemes elsewhere) are at least attracting some scrutiny from Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott.
- And Scott Stelmaschuk points out how the Saskatchewan Party's corporate medicine is predictably endangering sorely-needed funding.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Owen Jones argues that UK Labour needs to make far more effort to connect with working-class citizens in order to hold off the populist right, while Jamelle Bouie examines Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns as a worthwhile model for uniting groups of disaffected voters. And Wolfgang Munchau comments on the failure of neoliberal politicians to acknowledge and reverse how financial elites have twisted the global economy for their own benefit.

- Meanwhile, Miles Corak points out that a cycle of poverty is particularly acute for boys born into lower-income families.

- Jason Beattie discusses how UK attacks on recipients of social benefits are costing more money than the clawed-back benefit amounts, while creating desperate needs for people wrongly targeted.

- Gloria Galloway reports on the Auditor-General's findings that Canada's federal government is routinely failing to set or meet appropriate standards in assessing program effectiveness.

- Finally, Ed Broadbent discusses how a proportional electoral system would prevent the likes of Donald Trump from taking absolute power with a minority of support:
Consider that under our current first-past-the-post system, successive Harper and Trudeau governments have rolled to majorities with the support of fewer than four in 10 voters.

Consider that a leading Conservative leadership candidate, Kellie Leitch, has hailed the Trump victory as an exciting message that must be delivered here, as she continues to peddle her “Canadian values” mantra to the party faithful.

And consider that Van Jones, a leading CNN analyst and former Barack Obama adviser, warned at a Broadbent Institute gala this past week that a Trump-like victory could happen here. Mr. Jones urged progressives to push back with an “army of love.”

That army should be carrying PR as its weapon of choice.
 ...
We’ll leave our American friends to sort out their electoral-college concerns, but the question for Canadians is whether a PR system could block a Trump here.

The answer is yes, because PR rewards voters with a fair outcome. A party that wins 40 per cent of the vote will win only about 40 per cent of the seats, not a majority. A party winning 30 per cent will be rewarded with 30 per cent of the seats, and so on.
...
If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is serious about having voters vote their values and have that reflected in the composition of the House of Commons – and delivering on a key and oft-repeated campaign promise – the most important thing he can do is support proportional representation.

Or we could wait until an unfair system allows a Trump-style government to gain a toehold in our backyard.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Thomas Frank writes that a progressive party can only expect to succeed if it places principles of equality and workers' interests at the core of everything it does - rather than serving mostly as the voice of a wealthy professional class:
Somewhere in a sunny corner of the country, either right now or very shortly, a group of tech tycoons or well-meaning private equity investors will meet to discuss what went wrong in this election cycle. They will consider many things: the sexism and racism of Trump voters, the fundamental foreignness of the flyover, the problems one encounters when dealing with evangelicals. They will celebrate some activist they learned about from NPR, they will enjoy some certified artisanal cuisine, they will hand out prizes to the same people that got prizes at the last event they attended, and they will go back to their comfortable rooms at the resort and sleep ever so soundly.

These people think they know what liberalism includes and what it doesn’t include. And in the latter category fall the concerns that made up the heart and soul of liberal politics a few decades ago: labor and work and exploitation and economic equality.

To dedicate your life to concerns like these today is to sign up for obscurity and frustration. It’s to enter a world without foundation grants, without appearances on MSNBC, and without much job security. Nothing about this sphere of liberal activism is fashionable or attractive. Books on its subjects go unreviewed and unread. Strikes drag on for weeks before they are noticed by the national media. Labor organizers are some of the hardest-working but least-thanked people I know. Labor reporters are just about extinct. Promises to labor unions are voided almost as soon as they leave a politician’s lips.
- Meanwhile, Tom Parkin discusses how the NDP - and Jagmeet Singh in particular - may serve as Canada's antidote to the Trump brand of politics.

- Chuck Collins, Helen Flannery and Josh Hoxie examine the toxic effects of relying on gilded giving from a small number of extremely wealthy individuals to support services, rather than being able to build a base of broader funding (whether public or charitable). And Cathy Crowe makes the case for a push toward building affordable housing.

- Daniel Leblanc reports on the CRA's long-awaited progress in cracking down on offshore tax havens.

- Kevin Metcalf discusses how the new surveillance state established by C-51 is only criminalizing and isolating youth while offering no real security benefit. And Justin Ling notes that the RCMP's response to the repeated rejection of "lawful access" legislation is to push for the same powers under a different name - with Ralph Goodale and the Libs only enabling them in the cause.

- Finally, John Doyle writes about the blatant elitism behind Kellie Leitch's drive to destroy Canada's only major media outlet which isn't ultimately answerable to corporate interests.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Miles Corak asks how we should see the growing concentration of income at the top of the spectrum, and concludes that we should be concerned mostly with the breakdown between personal merit and success among the extremely privileged:
Connections matter. And for the top earners this might even be nepotism. This is not a bad thing if parents pass on real skills to their children, skills that might be specific to particular occupations, industries, or even firms. If this is the case, then it makes economic sense to follow in your father’s footsteps.
...
...But not all top earners got to where they are because of this sort of investment. In fact, sons of top-earning fathers who do not work at the same employer as their fathers are much more likely to fall out of the top than those who do.

Bad nepotism promotes people above their abilities by virtue of connections, and it erodes rather than enhances economic productivity. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution encapsulates this intuition when he speaks of a “glass floor” supporting untalented rich kids, a floor that at the same time limits the degree of upward mobility for others.

There is, however, an even larger cost. Social mobility is about a lot more than just using job contacts to make it into the top 1 percent. It is also about making investments in the health, education, and opportunities of all children and supporting families in a way that complements their efforts to promote the well-being of their kids. If the rich leverage economic power to exercise political power, they can also skew broader public policy choices—from the tax system to the education system, and other sources of human capital investment—in a way that limits possibilities for the majority.

Social mobility is turned into a race, a race through a course with many bottlenecks that the relatively advantaged are best at manoeuvring. Besides, all of this discussion refers simply to the correlation of earnings across generations, which is only a partial measure of mobility. The inheritance of material wealth, not just earnings advantage, should also be part of the way we measure and think about social mobility. Much higher incomes at the top over an extended period translate to a higher stock of wealth, and this may advantage the next generation in a way that is not tied to their earnings capacity.

All of this may start eroding the belief that labour markets are fair and that anyone can aspire to the top. It is not envy that is at the root of a connection between the well-being of the less rich and the rich, but rather a concern over fairness as equality of opportunity. If the rich cannot leverage economic power to exercise political power, then it is quite possible for the majority to live with a richer top 1 percent and be less concerned about how this minority will influence their welfare and the prospects of their children.
- Meanwhile, Meredith MacLeod reports on Credit Suisse's research showing that Canada is set to see a sharp increase in the number of millionaires over the next few years - even as Benjamin Tal notes that Canada's economy is shifting toward both part-time and lower-paying jobs. And Katie Allen rightly argues that governments which focus unduly on infrastructure as the sole basis for economic development will only exacerbate the problem by failing to account for the need for fair wages and more secure livelihoods.

- Laurie Monsebraaten reports on new research estimating the cost of poverty in Toronto alone at up to $5.5 billion per year. And the International Labour Organization assesses the cost of eliminating poverty in each country - with Canada needing to redirect only $249 million per year to lift all Canadians out of extreme and moderate poverty.

- Finally, Bruce Mutsvairo highlights the dangers of journalistic "balance" when it serves primarily to create false equivalencies and legitimize damaging policies. And George Monbiot lists the crises humanity has stumbled into, while highlighting the need for massive collective action to reverse any of them.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Janice Fine discusses how the decline of organized labour as a political force has opened the door for the likes of Donald Trump:
Just when we need them most, the main institutions that have fought for decent jobs are a shadow of their former selves. Unions that have played a singular role in forging solidarity across racial, ethnic, and gender lines can now do so only for a diminishing number of Americans. Adding insult to injury, it is not just the right that has hastened their demise; liberals have been dismissing unions for years.

Unions matter for all the reasons described above, but more than anything, they are critical to the functioning of our democracy because of the role they have played in shaping working-class political consciousness and ideology. It has been largely through unions that American workers have developed an understanding of which side of the fence they are on, who is there with them, and who is on the other side. Of course they have had stiff competition, especially in recent years, from Fox News, Breitbart, the National Rifle Association, and now from Donald Trump. But this is precisely the reason it is so important for them to have the rights and the resources to organize and build real local structures. Union locals were once citizenship schools for the working class. When unions were weakened, working-class people lost a central means through which they could develop an understanding of the world—of who was to blame for the decline in their standard of living and how to take action to correct it.
...
Working-class people of all races and ethnicities have reason to be furious. Barack Obama extended unemployment benefits during the recession, bailed out the auto industry, expanded healthcare for millions of people, and extended overtime pay to millions, but for eight years he put investment bankers in charge of the nation’s economic policies, declined to break up big banks, and preached the advantages of free trade. He froze federal salaries, extended the Bush tax cuts, worried about the deficit, and skimped on the stimulus package. His narrative of recovery conflated a rising stock market and soaring corporate profits with an improving economy for regular people.

While millions of mid-wage jobs were lost during the Great Recession, including many in the public sector, few have been added back in the recovery. The optimistic tenor of the monthly jobs report conceals a bitter truth: the economy is adding jobs, but they are disproportionately low wage. Our nation today is an especially brutal place for older workers.
...
In the absence of unions, no other institutions have arisen that have elevated the voice, needs, and aspirations of working-class people and organized at the scale they once achieved. In the absence of collective institutions, people have been known to look to charismatic men who promise to make their countries great again.

While finding meaning in the election results is by definition a complex and complicated task, no one can credibly argue that Trump’s voters felt adequately listened to in the months and years leading up to last Tuesday’s political earthquake. It is unlikely that their lot will improve in a nation’s capital under Republican rule. Had they had strong institutions to express their collective voice, I, for one, believe the outcome would have been much, much different.
- Derrick O'Keefe writes about the need for a more courageous progressive movement to stem the twin dangers of neoliberalism and exclusionism. And James Di Fiore theorizes that Charlie Angus may represent an ideal leader for that type of groundswell.

- Emily Mathieu reports on the federal government's less-than-surprising conclusion that we desperately need a national housing strategy to respond to a crisis of availability and affordability - though it's far from certain whether that will lead to action. And Christopher Cheung comments on the particular lack of family-friendly housing in urban areas.

- Meanwhile, Derek Cook argues that instead of treating poverty as a problem to be fixed solely through dispassionate and impersonal policies, rather than a social wound which needs to be healed with compassion and care.

- Finally, Carl Zimmer highlights the devastating effect global warming is having on the food chain in the Arctic. And Graham Thomson points out points out Alberta's experience with "clean coal" - and how it debunks the theory spouted by Trump and Brad Wall among few that carbon capture and storage is a remotely viable answer to the environmental dangers of relying on fossil fuels.