Saturday, July 08, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Michael Rozworski discusses the importance of workers exercising power over how our economy functions. Robert Booth reports on a forthcoming UK study showing the desperate need for improved quality of work and life among low-income individuals. And Lana Payne writes that a strong labour movement is essential to fair and sustainable economic development:
(W)hile bankers bemoan “soft wage data,” in the real world workers can tell you exactly why wages are stuck. Too much of the gross domestic product — the economic pie — continues to be hoarded by the rich and corporations, creating unprecedented inequality. And workers have had less power to demand a share of that pie.

It is this inequality and its impact on economic growth that has finally pushed central bankers to re-examine their book of conventional economic “wisdom.”

To solve the issue of stagnant wages, government must fix the rules, including by empowering unions that can make a difference on the wage front. After 30 years of attacking them, governments should let unions do what they do best — raise people up, improve living and working conditions and share the pie.

Unions don’t just bargain better wages, they negotiate better jobs.
- Trevor Nunn discusses the growth of the gap between the rich and the rest of us. And Pedro da Costa makes it abundantly clear that the most important divide is between the extremely rich who have seen soaring incomes, and everybody from the 99th percentile downward:

- Eric Reguly discusses the emergence of corporate fascism. And Alan Freeman examines Sears' move to strip pension benefits away from its former employees as an example of how the consequences of corporate failures are visited primarily on workers. 

- Andrew Jackson makes the case for an increased minimum wage. And Jon Thompson reports on Ontario's basic income pilot program and its anticipated effect on people facing poverty and homelessness in Thunder Bay.

- Finally, Justin Ling highlights the absurdity of the Trudeau Libs' choice to cover up the details of their own transparency plan. Jeremy Nuttall interviews Harry Leslie Smith about the glaring gap between appearance and reality when it comes to the Libs' choices in office. And Murray Dobbin writes that Trudeau's push for corporatized free trade will be particularly damaging to Canada's cities.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Musical interlude

Big Sugar - Diggin' A Hole

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Naomi Klein highlights how capital and power combine to turn disasters into profit-making opportunities - while noting that the Trump presidency is just such a disaster. And Linda McQuaig discusses why we should see the income tax and other collective funding mechanisms as an important step in nation-building.

- Don Pittis writes that a focus on raw job numbers misses the important question as to whether any particular job is actually livable. And Jason Moyer-Lee points out that many of the attempts to avoid employment regulations through "gig" arrangements or other contractual contortions should be expected to fail as soon as governments enforce the laws already on the books.

- Meanwhile, BlueGreen Canada points out that plenty of desirable jobs are at stake based on the federal government's choice as to whether to enforce methane regulations - but it's a failure to properly regulate dangerous greenhouse gases that would leave thousands out of work. 

- Bill Curry takes note of the Australian model which forms the basis for the Libs' privatized infrastructure plan - as well as the fact that Australia itself is backtracking after realizing the dangers of putting profits ahead of public service.

- Finally, Stephanie Taylor and Jacques Marcoux report that the City of Regina's idea of "revitalization" involves putting housing ten times closer to operational railway tracks than is recommended.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

On graceful exits

Last time fund-raising numbers were released from the federal NDP's leadership campaign, I noted the possible significance of Peter Julian's relative lack of donations. And the problem looked to be a double whammy for Julian: while any candidate would have reason for concern in not being able to fund a campaign as intended, it was especially problematic for a candidate whose brand included organizational superiority.

Today, Julian cited fund-raising as the main issue in departing from the race - presumably meaning he'd run through another quarter of disappointment.

And the race will be weaker for his leaving on a couple of fronts. First, Julian made important contributions to the issues within the campaign, notably by ensuring that all candidates thought through and clarified their positions on pipeline issues.

And second, Julian was the lone candidate with a substantial connection to British Columbia. That means the other candidates will have new opportunities to seek first-choice support in a province with a large number of members. But it also creates a risk that less people will be motivated to participate at all - and it's possible that other candidates who might have seen Julian's supporters as a source of down-ballot support will be worse off for his leaving the race.

New column day

Here, on Ottawa's Canada 150 event which was planned solely for the benefit of VIPs and businesses rather than mere people - and how that reality fits the Trudeau Libs' general governing themes.

For further reading...
- Again, CBC reported on the Canada Day fiasco, while the Ottawa Citizen published accounts from a few of the people who ran into it.
- CBC also followed up with Ottawa Tourism - which is the source of the column's observations about full hotels and restaurants being seen as a far higher priority than the well-being of participants - while also going into a bit more detail about the security arrangements.
- And Rob Drinkwater wrote about the trumped-up outrage over Justin Trudeau's omission of Alberta from his list of provinces and territories.
- Finally, Amy Minsky reports on the Libs' continued use of cash-for-access fund-raising. And PressProgress reports on polling done for Finance Canada which makes it clear the public knows that Trudeau and company aren't governing in the interests of the middle class.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Darlene O'Leary sets out the results from public consultations for a national anti-poverty strategy. And Dennis Howlett writes that our tax system could (and should) be set up to build a far more fair and supportive society.

- Meanwhile, Ryan Cooper makes the case for public services which are simple to use, rather than imposing avoidable stress on the people who are supposed to be benefiting.

- Jeff Minerd discusses how NAFTA has affected Canada's food supply by vastly increasing the quantity of unhealthy food imported from the U.S. And Scott Sinclair weighs in on the Trade in Services Agreement as the next threat to democratic control over public services.

- Didier Jacobs argues that the U.S. needs to rein in the use of shell corporations to facilitate corruption and tax evasion.

- But the CP reports that SNC-Lavalin is reorganizing itself to avoid taxes on income derived from Canadian P3 projects. And Dermod Travis notes that the B.C. Libs instead provided tax breaks to scam artists through their AdvantageBC crony support system. 

- Finally, Yanis Varoufakis comments on the false choice between the corporate establishment and the reactionary right - while appropriately labeling the latter the "Nationalist International". 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Danny Dorling writes about the connection between high inequality and disregard for the environment:
In a 2016 report, Oxfam found that the greatest polluters of all were the most affluent 10% of US households: each emitted, on average, 50 tonnes of CO2 per household member per year. Canada’s top 10% were the next most polluting, followed by the British, Russian and South African elites.

In more equitable affluent countries such as South Korea, Japan, France, Italy and Germany, the rich don’t just pollute less; the average pollution is lower too, because the bottom half of these populations pollute less than the bottom half in the US, Canada or Britain, despite being better off.

In short, people in more equal rich countries consume less, produce less waste and emit less carbon, on average. Indeed, almost everything associated with the environment improves when economic equality is greater.
It is only since the late 1970s that the 25 rich countries focused on in this article have begun to diverge widely in their levels of economic inequality. Because they have done so, a set of natural experiments has been set up which today allows research into the effects of these differences.

The preliminary conclusion, based on these natural experiments, is that the more economically equitable countries tend to perform better across a wide range of environmental measures. Once we know what the driving forces are, and become fully aware of the damage that is done by inequality in environmental as well as social terms, we will know how necessary it is to embrace change.
- Jordan Brennan makes the case as to why a fair minimum wage should be achievable by consensus in order to rein in longstanding economic unfairness.

- Anjum Sultana writes about the link between citizenship and the social determinants of health, highlighting how full inclusion leads to better results for everybody. And Seth Klein calls out the Fraser Institute for an especially dishonest and alarmist attack on Indigenous people just in time for National Aboriginal Day.

- Steven Chase reports on the Libs' refusal to be honest with Canadians about the use of Canadian troops in combat in Iraq.

- And finally, Stephanie Carvin, Aaron Wherry and the Globe and Mail each offer worthwhile reads on how the compensation being paid to Omar Khadr is the price for neglecting human rights - and how the way to avoid paying it is to respect rights in the first place.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Close cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ben Tarnoff discusses the growing number of basic public services which are being converted into private rents as profit motives are given precedence over democracy:
A profit-driven system doesn’t mean we get more for our money – it means someone gets to make more money off of us. The healthcare industry posts record profits and rewards its chief executives with the highest salaries in the country. It takes a peculiar frame of mind to see this arrangement as anything resembling efficient.

Attacking public services on the grounds of efficiency isn’t just incorrect, however – it’s beside the point. Decades of neoliberalism have corroded our capacity to think in non-economic terms. We’ve been taught that all fields of human life should be organized as markets, and that government should be run like a business. This ideology has found its perverse culmination in the figure of Donald Trump, a celebrity billionaire with no prior political experience who catapulted himself into the White House by invoking his expertise as an businessman. The premise of Trump’s campaign was that America didn’t need a president – it needed a CEO.
But government isn’t a business; it’s a different kind of machine. At its worst, it can be repressive and corrupt and autocratic. At its best, it can be an invaluable tool for developing and sustaining a democratic society. Among other things, this includes ensuring that everyone receives the resources they need to exercise the freedoms on which democracy depends. When we privatize public services, we don’t just risk replacing them with less efficient alternatives – we risk damaging democracy itself.

If this seems like a stretch, that’s because pundits and politicians have spent decades defining the idea of democracy downwards. It has come to mean little more than holding elections every few years. But this is the absolute minimum of democracy’s meaning. Its Greek root translates to “rule of the people” – not rule by certain people, such as the rich (plutocracy) or the priests (theocracy), but by all people. Democracy describes a way of organizing society in which the whole of the people determine how society should be organized.

What does this have to do with buses or schools or hospitals or houses? In a democracy, everyone gets to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. But that’s impossible if people don’t have access to the goods they need to survive – if they’re hungry or homeless or sick. And the reality is that when goods are rationed by the market, fewer people have access to them. Markets are places of winners and losers. You don’t get what you need – you get what you can afford.

By contrast, public services offer a more equitable way to satisfy basic needs. By taking things off the market, government can democratize access to the resources that people rely on to lead reasonably dignified lives. Those resources can be offered cheap or free, funded by progressive taxation. They can also be managed by publicly accountable institutions led by elected officials, or subject to more direct mechanisms of popular control.
- Rowena Mason and Anushka Asthana report on a new UK study showing how austerian politics have cut into the well-being of public-sector workers. And Jeff Perry writes that the Saskatchewan Party has been inflicting similar damage on teachers (among other public servants) even before its latest attempt to systematically transfer money from provincial workers to corporate cronies.

- Binta Baxter highlights how massive debts - including those run up through an exploitative student loan system - effectively turn workers into serfs.

- Emily Booth shares her experience as a mother just barely making ends meet. And Ainslie Cruickshank reports on the plight of the hundreds of Toronto women who face homelessness at the time they birth - while feeling compelled to pretend otherwise in order to avoid losing their children.

- Finally, CBC reports on a Canada Day security setup which could hardly have been much better designed to punish people for making the effort to share in a public event. And the Ottawa Citizen publishes letters from a few of the people affected.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the federal NDP's leadership campaign.

- Jagmeet Singh offered a must-read Multiculturalism Day take on the extra challenges faced by people fighting negative stereotypes, while also announcing his first caucus endorsement from Randall Garrison.

- However, Andrew Jackson chimed in with a note of caution about Singh's plan to fold Old Age Security into an income-tested benefit for seniors. 

- Guy Caron stepped forward to critique Phillipe Couillard's attempt to conflate Muslim faith with terrorism. And Niki Ashton proposed a health care plan which includes adding dental care and other preventative care (along with a focus on the social determinations of health) to Canada's national medicare system.

- Jeremy Nuttall's report on the latest debate (hosted by the United Steelworkers and addressing labour issues in particular) focused on the strategic voting issue. Meagan Gilmore highlighted the candidates' support for labour while noting a few areas of developing disagreement. And Christo Aivilis reviewed the candidates' performances while emphasizing the importance of winning support for the NDP in particular, not merely running against pone or more right-wing competitors.

- Campaign Research's latest polling shows Singh slightly ahead in the general public, and Charlie Angus with a narrow lead among NDP supporters and self-declared members - though the most important finding is the modest public awareness of the candidates.

- Finally, Adam Radwanski points out both the rewards and the risks in front of NDP members due to the diversity of plausible winners in the race. Tim Harper notes that all of the leadership candidates are staking out distinctly progressive positions to at least some extent, rather than limiting themselves to centrist platitudes. Tom Parkin argues that instead of making a concerted push in any particular direction for strategic purposes, the leadership candidates (and NDP members choosing between them) should place a priority on authenticity and trust. And Duncan Cameron highlights the importance of presenting a positive vision for change.

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Martin Lukacs writes that the world should able to draw plenty of positive examples from Canada's politics - though not from the corporate-focused federal Libs:
As Donald Trump rips up the Paris climate accords, it may seem easy to despair. But these provincial victories show us there is a reason to hope: the huge potential in uniting urgent environmental action with an unapologetically left-wing agenda.

The agreement signed by the B.C. Greens and NDP — the boldest declaration of an incoming government in recent Canadian history — gives a taste of what this might look like.

Consider just a few of their plans. A ban on big money donations and the introduction of proportional voting: this alone would transform an enclave of corporate power into a more functional democracy. Honouring the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: this would start to heal the colonial wounds that tear apart the province. And “employing every tool” to block the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline: this would be a message that economic development need not torch our climate commitments, which would reverberate across the country.

It’s not quite a left-wing agenda: after all, the NDP has pledged only the most modest tax hikes to redistribute the obscene hoarded wealth in Canada’s most unequal province. But in its fusion of environmental and economic action, it is historic. In coalition, the fiscally-conservative Greens and environmentally-timid NDP have expressed the best of their platforms, and canceled out the worst.
For those who believe such ambition is impossible, look to those who fought for a $15 minimum wage in Ontario. They too were scoffed at for being “unrealistic.” They were ignored at first by major labour unions and the Ontario NDP. But grassroots campaigners, led by women of colour, built a campaign that forced the hand of a weakened Liberal government. They showed that, now more than ever, people are right to nurture higher expectations.
Quebec Solidaire comes closest to expressing this transformative vision. Its prospects in Quebec – a significant jump in the polls, an influx of thousands of new members — have now been boosted by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. Before he won a by-election this week by a record margin, he made his name working alongside movements forging common cause: by fighting for free university tuition and strengthened public services, as well as against the Energy East tar sands pipeline, he has helped to articulate the holistic core of a new progressive politics. With the Parti Quebecois faltering, there is every reason to believe that such politics can win a much greater share of Quebec’s electorate — and even to hold the balance of power.
- Meanwhile, Rick Salutin argues that we should draw our national identity from genuine achievements such as our national medicare system, rather than worrying unduly about symbols for their own sake. But Tom Parkin laments the fact that far too much of our political media is easily distracted by shiny baubles such as Justin Trudeau's socks, rather than paying any meaningful attention to the choices which affect Canadians' lives.

- Campbell Clark discusses the elitism behind the Libs' push for a corporate trade agreement with China. And Robert Fife and Steven Chase report that the public doesn't share the Libs' blithe disregard for the security implications of handing technology firms to Chinese capital.  

- Carl Meyer exposes how the Libs reversed an evidence-based decision to ban
dangerous cosmetics based on corporate lobbying.

- Finally, Dean Baker examines the possible effects of a financial transactions tax - and notes that the elimination of extreme inequality based on top-end incomes linked to financial-sector rent-seeking is one of the major benefits.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Abi Wilkinson writes that we'll be far better served fighting inequality generally rather than limiting our focus to issues of social mobility:
When we talk about social mobility, we’re talking about movement between the strata of our social class system. (Generally upwards movement – nobody seems to want to discuss the fact that making room for people from poorer backwards at the top might necessitate others, born into privilege, travelling in the opposite direction.)

The ideology is meritocratic. It’s assumed that hard work and aptitude should be the only factors determining your future prospects. The goal of improving baseline living standards is framed mainly as a method of improving the opportunities of individuals born into poverty.

As long as class stratification continues to exist, though, opportunities can never be truly equal. The Time for Change report discusses the impact poverty has on children’s ability to learn but also notes that the best-paid jobs remain “deeply elitist”. Employers continue to hire in their own image, assuming that people like them will “fit in” with clients and the workplace culture. People continue to use their connections to give their children a leg up.

No amount of targeted social mobility or anti-poverty policy can truly mitigate the ability of class privilege to perpetuate through generations. And there’s a whole other moral conundrum around meritocracy that is another column in itself – about whether natural aptitude should mean you deserve a nicer life.
More mbitiously, we could try to reimagine our economic system in a way that removes or decreases the power imbalance between people in possession of capital and those who need to sell their labour to survive – while also recognising the issues of stratification within each category. The Alternative Models of Ownership report produced by the Labour party offers some ideas about how this may be achieved.

Focusing narrowly on social mobility is like affixing a fraying rope ladder between the branches of a tree, when in reality the trunk is rotting from the inside and the whole thing needs chopping down. The British Social Attitudes Survey, also released today, has found increased support for state intervention and redistribution through higher taxes. More and more of us are recognising that the current system is broken – this feels like the perfect time for a radical rethink.
- Kevin Carmichael discusses the need for Canada to address its own burgeoning inequality - as well as the danger that politicians with a short-term mindset won't see fit to bother. And the Economist takes note of the impact of high-end tax evasion in allowing the richest few to avoid making a fair contribution to the societies which allow them to succeed. 

- The Observer comments on the role governments should play in reducing the stress faced by citizens as a means of improving mental health outcomes. And Richard Friedman points out that instead, we've settled for an environment which positively breeds addictions by combining easy access to addictive goods with constant stress and anxiety.

- Finally, Romeo Saganash calls out the Libs' callousness in pushing a jingoistic celebration of a history steeped in cultural genocide.