Saturday, August 05, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Crawford Kilian writes that Donald Trump's presidency is merely a symptom of the wider disease of undue deference to wealth. And Matt Karp comments on the need for progressives to identify the problem rather than soft-peddling class divisions:
What distinguished the Bernie Sanders campaign more than any other issue — including his support for free college or Medicare for All — was that he named his enemy. Among his other objectives, Sanders’s attacks on “the 1 percent” were an attempt to reorder American politics around class lines: not with a stale disquisition on stratification, but by tapping into Americans’ anti-billionaire sentiment, religiously excluded from mainstream politics by both parties but thrumming powerfully just below the surface.

This bold gambit was not enough to defeat Hillary Clinton in a closed Democratic primary, but it did make Sanders the most popular active politician in the United States. If Americans truly hate class politics, and all prefer to see themselves as future CEOs, why is our favorite political leader a disheveled old man who spends most of his time yelling about rich people?

America’s anti-billionaire majority is still out there, waiting to be awakened again. But before that happens, the deal is going to have to get a whole lot better.
- Jarrett Walker discusses how elite projection results in the development of plans suited only for the benefit of a privileged few.

- Donna Swift is duly skeptical of the bluster emitted by Loblaws and other businesses who want to keep employees below a living wage in order to slightly boost their profit margins. And Paul Sonn points out how the apocalyptic predictions of minimum-wage alarmists have proven utterly wrong in practice.

- CBC identifies a few of the significant effects climate change is already having on British Columbia. And James Wilt suggests a few options for Alberta to rein in methane emissions quickly and efficiently.

- Finally, Anna Mehler Paperny highlights the disproportionate number of Canadian prisoners who die while legally innocent.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Musical interlude

I Mother Earth - Rain Will Fall

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Greg Jericho writes about Australia's increasing income stratification and wealth inequality. Matt Bruenig examines what sets the Nordic countries apart from the rest of the world - including high unionization levels and substantial public ownership of industry along with their well-funded social programs. And their success with that formula stands in stark contrast to Noah Smith's observations about supply-side economics:
(R)elatively few critics have focused on what I see as the weakest part of Cogan et al.’s essay -- the claim that lower taxes, deregulation and reduced government spending can boost growth significantly.

Tax cuts have generally proven to be a big bust during the past few decades. Former President George W. Bush pushed through a series of substantial tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, but growth failed to return to 1990s levels. More recently, experiments with lowering taxes at the state level have showed very disappointing results. The most glaring example is Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s tax-cutting program, begun in 2012. In the years since Brownback slashed taxes, the state’s finances have been drowning in red ink. But economic growth didn’t pick up, and Kansas has lagged behind its neighbor Nebraska in both labor supply and income per person...
(P)olicy makers shouldn’t listen to the supply-side orthodoxy. Deregulation could have some positive effects if done right, but tax cuts and austerity -- even if they could both be accomplished at the same time -- are policies with very little promise. To boost growth, the U.S. should look to other policies, like better infrastructure, stronger antitrust enforcement and more investment in research and technology.
- Mike Konczal discusses how public utility regulation produces both economic and social benefits compared to allowing rent-seeking businesses to run amok.

- Keith Reynolds takes a look at how the Libs' ideological focus on P3s resulted in massive avoidable costs for British Columbia.

- Meanwhile, Stephanie Taylor reports that social housing units are next on the Saskatchewan Party's list of public assets to be sold off for private profit. And this as another study demonstrates that the cost of social housing more than pays for itself in reducing the costs of providing services related to homelessness. 

- Finally, Cindy Blackstock and Sebastian Grammond argue that ending funding disparities in child welfare and other areas of social development is a necessary first step toward reconciliation with First Nations. And James Munson reports on the Libs' sudden move to cut First Nations out of consultations on new environmental laws.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

New column day

Here, on what the Wall government means when it talks about entering into "partnerships" with the corporate sector - and why Saskatchewan's citizens shouldn't stand to be cut out of the Crown assets now owned for public benefit.

For further reading...
- Others have also noted the "partnership" phrasing used by the Saskatchewan Party in identifying the future beneficiaries of its largesse. 
- Bil 40 is found here. And its effect on existing Crowns has been identified as both SGI and SaskTel have been looking to cede operations to private businesses.
- The "partnership" phrasing for SLGA is found among other places in its past annual plans (PDF).  And the latest job cuts - which are being spun as having been expected all along - were nowhere to be found when the Saskatchewan Party was announcing (PDF) and implementing its wholesaling changes.
- Finally, Adam Hunter reports on the Balgonie bypass fiasco. And in case there was any doubt that planning for a roundabout was supposed to include consideration of the needs of farm equipment, here's the information page from SaskBuilds' proudly-proclaimed partner.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Charles Mathewes and Evan Sandsmark write that it's long past time to start treating the excessive accumulation of wealth as something to be questioned - rather than accepted as an inevitability, or worse yet admired:
The idea that wealth is morally perilous has an impressive philosophical and religious pedigree. Ancient Stoic philosophers railed against greed and luxury, and Roman historians such as Tacitus lay many of the empire’s struggles at the feet of imperial avarice. Confucius lived an austere life. The Buddha famously left his opulent palace behind. And Jesus didn’t exactly go easy on the rich, either — think camels and needles, for starters.

The point is not necessarily that wealth is intrinsically and everywhere evil, but that it is dangerous — that it should be eyed with caution and suspicion, and definitely not pursued as an end in itself; that great riches pose great risks to their owners; and that societies are right to stigmatize the storing up of untold wealth..
Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.” Wealth, it turns out, leads to behavioral and psychological maladies. The rich act and think in misdirected ways.

When it comes to a broad range of vices, the rich outperform everybody else. They are much more likely than the rest of humanity to shoplift and cheat , for example, and they are more apt to be adulterers and to drink a great deal. They are even more likely to take candy that is meant for children. So whatever you think about the moral nastiness of the rich, take that, multiply it by the number of Mercedes and Lexuses that cut you off, and you’re still short of the mark. In fact, those Mercedes and Lexuses are more likely to cut you off than Hondas or Fords: Studies have shown that people who drive expensive cars are more prone to run stop signs and cut off other motorists
So the rich are more likely to be despicable characters. And, as is typically the case with the morally malformed, the first victims of the rich are the rich themselves. Because they often let money buy their happiness and value themselves for their wealth instead of anything meaningful, they are, by extension, more likely to allow other aspects of their lives to atrophy. They seem to have a hard time enjoying simple things, savoring the everyday experiences that make so much of life worthwhile. Because they have lower levels of empathy, they have fewer opportunities to practice acts of compassion — which studies suggest give people a great deal of pleasure. They tend to believe that people have different financial destinies because of who they essentially are, so they believe that they deserve their wealth , thus dampening their capacity for gratitude, a quality that has been shown to significantly enhance our sense of well-being. All of this seems to make the rich more susceptible to loneliness; they may be more prone to suicide, as well.
The story of how a stigma fades is always murky, but contributing factors are not hard to identify. For one, think tanks have become increasingly partisan over the past several decades, particularly on the right: Certain conservative institutions, enjoying the backing of billionaires such as the Koch brothers, have thrown a ton of money at pseudo-academics and “thought leaders” to normalize and legitimate obscene piles of lucre. They produced arguments that suggest that high salaries naturally flowed from extreme talent and merit, thus baptizing wealth as simply some excellent people’s wholly legitimate rewards. These arguments were happily regurgitated by conservative media figures and politicians, eventually seeping into the broader public and replacing the folk wisdom of yore. But it is hard to argue that a company’s top earners are literally hundreds of times more talented than the lowest-paid employees.

As stratospheric salaries became increasingly common, and as the stigma of wildly disproportionate pay faded, the moral hazards of wealth were largely forgotten. But it’s time to put the apologists for plutocracy back on the defensive, where they belong — not least for their own sake.
- Meanwhile, Matt Bruenig discusses how right-wing "success sequence" spin tries to gloss over the real causes of poverty with moralistic additions.

- Claire Bott discusses Evelyn Forget's new research on the salutary effects of a basic income in the Mincome experiment. And CBC News reports on a new study showing the high costs of addressing homelessness and mental health issues only on a reactive basis, rather than giving people a stable base from which to start.

- Finally, Jean-Frédéric Morin, Laura Mordelet and Myriam Rochette discuss how the environment has been treated in Canadian trade agreements - noting particularly how modern agreements contain stronger and more thorough protections than Canada's default language. And David Dayen points to a recent award against Argentina as a glaring example of how the ISDS which Justin Trudeau is fighting to keep privileges the financial class over the general public. 

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Angella MacEwen offers her suggestions as to what a fair and progressive trade agenda should look like:
Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms are especially unpopular, as they prioritize investor rights over investor responsibilities. Canada and Mexico have had similar dismal experiences under NAFTA — while the US has never lost a NAFTA investor-state case. ISDS chapters should be eliminated from progressive trade agreements, and any new investor protections should be subsidiary to national judicial processes and privilege state-to-state settlements.

The most effective way to compensate and transition people who lose out from economic shocks — whether from trade, automation or a variety of other sources — is to have a well-financed social safety net and universal public services. Employment Insurance and associated active labour market policies are important, but so are universal health care, child care, affordable housing and other elements of the welfare state. This is why public services must be fully carved out.

Transparency and accountability are missing from the current trade model. We need more than token stakeholder meetings or vague gender chapters to correct this gap. Environmental, human rights and gender audits can reduce exploitation and guide policy-makers toward better policy. Initial audits would be enhanced by a public system for regular monitoring and assessment of specific outcomes over time.

Finally, economic development strategies, such as strategic government procurement and community benefit agreements, must be available to domestic governments at all levels.

All of these areas represent untapped opportunities for significant improvements based on an alternative vision of a real “progressive trade agenda” — one that truly puts workers and the environment first.
- And Jim Stanford discusses how Canada is better off for Petronas having pulled away from its plans for a giant, unsustainable LNG project.

- Christine Saulnier takes a look at the lessons which should be learned from Nova Scotia's disastrous experiment with P3 schools. But Kelly Grant reports that the Trudeau Libs aren't much interested in being informed of the dangers of privatization run amok, as they pushed ahead with approvals for private plasma donations in the face of warnings from Canadian Blood Services.

- Which is to say that the Globe and Mail's understandable push for the Libs to put human rights ahead of profits when it comes to arms exports is likely to meet with something less than a receptive audience.

- Finally, Phil McDuff points out how a shift from first-past-the-post politics to a proportional electoral system would actually offer the public control whose absence resulted in the UK's Brexit vote (among other signs of citizen discontent).

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Outbound cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Cathy Crowe writes that there's no excuse for putting off action to provide housing to people who need it - not only because of the inhumanity of waiting, but because there's plenty of evidence as to what works:
Over the years big money, at least according to my standards, has gone to academics and health researchers who examine the social determinants of health. For 30 years, I’ve studied their work and quoted from their articles and reports. I believe them. Poverty, lack of housing or shelter, racism, unemployment or low wages negatively impact on health and increase the chance of an early death.
This week Toronto Public Health released a glimpse of the homeless death data they are collecting. The numbers are shocking: 46 people died while homeless between January and June of this year. That number now surpasses Toronto stats for death by homicide or in traffic accidents. The average age of a homeless person's death is 50. That’s 30 years younger than the Canadian average. Shocking, but it confirms all the social determinants of health research.

What's more alarming is what we're not being told, what is being contemptibly held back by Toronto Public Health until the one year mark of the research in 2018. This includes: What was the gender breakdown of deaths, how many were youth, what were the medical causes of death, how many were suicides, how many were overdoses, how many were traumatic deaths such as hypothermia, how many occurred outside or in a shelter or hospital? So much information collected by the city that could guide solutions today but no, the gap between research and action just widens.

One has to wonder if it’s ethical to not release data when there is such widespread concern but perhaps more frightening, who is influencing the decision to stay silent and why?
- But sadly, the CP reports that the same Saskatchewan Party government which can't be bothered to fund housing programs which more than pay for themselves is looking to nickel-and-dime social assistance recipients to death.

- Matthew Yglesias notes that the U.S. Democrats are making a sorely-needed push for renewed antitrust enforcement.

- Andrew Nikiforuk examines how Christy Clark's plan for permanent high prices as the basis for liquefied natural gas development went so wrong in the face of entirely predictable market realities. And Jacqueline Hansen offers a warning about Canada's unsustainable reliance on real estate transaction fees.

- Alan Broadbent and Noah Zon offer some important perspective on Ontario's employment standards by asking which elements of the employer-biased status quo are actually defensible. And Morgan Lowrie reports on continued calls for needed protections in Canada's temporary foreign worker system - for the benefit of both immigrant workers and domestic ones alike.

- Finally, Valerie Wilson, Janelle Jones, Kayla Blado and Elise Gould discuss the persistent wage gap facing black women in the U.S.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Cole Eisen points out how Sears - like far too many other businesses - has deliberately depleted employees' pension funds while extracting billions of dollars for executives and shareholders:
Sears Canada’s woes stem from what appears to be a methodical process of value extraction. While Sears’s pension funding position deteriorated from a $220-million surplus in 2008 to a $110-million funding shortfall last year, its leadership funnelled cash out of the firm. Over the period, Sears Canada paid out more than $1.4-billion through special dividends and share buybacks, with a large chunk of the proceeds going to Eddie Lampert – chief executive of Sears’s U.S. parent company – who holds a combined 45-per-cent stake in the Canadian subsidiary personally and through his hedge fund ESL Investments. After selling off real estate and profitable divisions of the company for cash, Sears’s Canadian leadership – recently approved to receive millions in bonuses – are now poised to make the gutting of the once-iconic brand complete by slashing pensions and benefits.

These practices are not unique to Sears, but reflect a fixation on short-term gains that drives corporate decision making in Canada. Of the firms in the S&P/TSX 60 Index, 40 sponsor defined-benefit pension plans of which 34 recorded funding deficiencies for both 2015 and 2016. As the total net pension funding position among these firms collapsed from a $560-million surplus in 2007 to a $13-billion shortfall last year, they paid out a staggering $410-billion to shareholders. Share repurchases and special dividends can be a legitimate course of action in certain circumstances, but these payouts are also used for inflating share values and triggering quarterly executive performance bonuses. With nearly 80 per cent of U.S. chief financial officers admitting to turning down projects expected to produce positive returns in the long run to avoid lower quarterly earnings, the distortion short-term pressures yield becomes apparent.

While pension funding obligations are just one item on corporate balance sheets, the practice of starving plans while disgorging value reflects an economy-wide embrace of attitudes that privilege short-term payouts over investment and innovation. These attitudes reflect the ongoing financialization of the private sector and pose a serious threat to Canada’s future economic prospects.
- Meanwhile, Michael Savage points out the U.K.'s culture of employer breaches of basic employment standards. And Morgan Lowrie reports on the abuse of temporary foreign workers who face a combination of legal risks and language and cultural barriers in any attempt to stand up for themselves.

- Ben Kentish exposes the U.K. Cons' choice to respond to expert recommendations to control dangerous acids by disbanding their expert panel and putting the public at risk with dangerous deregulation.

- Similarly, Joe Romm writes that the Trump administration is going out of its way to shut down energy efficiency policies which would save billions for the American public while also reducing environmental damage.

- Finally, Michael Harris discusses how the Trudeau Libs are a do-nothing government in the areas where they're spending the most time courting international media attention. But Jordan Press reports that while the Libs may be happy to drag their heels on such trifles as health, education and environmental protection, they're in a frantic rush to privatize as much infrastructure as possible even before they've formally set up the mechanism to do so.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Leadership 2017: The Role of Endorsements

In previous leadership links posts, I've highlighted a few endorsements which have struck me as particularly significant. That said, I haven't tried to compile anything approaching a comprehensive list.

To put the past endorsements in context, I'll take a moment for now to look more broadly at where the endorsement count currently stands - and why there are only a small number of future endorsements which would figure to have much impact on the campaign.

I've previously commented on the role of endorsements, with particular emphasis on the initial threshold for candidate viability. On that front, any notable lack of people willing to publicly declare support for a candidate is surely a red flag for a campaign.

Fortunately, all four remaining candidates have long since passed the point of any concern: all have supporters both among current or recent caucus members, and among key NDP constituencies.

The other primary effect of endorsements is then to serve as a show of momentum during the course of the campaign.

Endorsements in general provide both a positive piece of news for a candidate, and validation for anybody considering supporting the candidate. (Mind you, Peter Julian's withdrawn candidacy offers a stark example of the limitations of endorsements alone.)

Of course, endorsers can do much more to advance a candidate's campaign than just lend their name to a press release. And that's where the depth and quality of support among the declared endorsers may be more important than their quantity.

Meanwhile, an endorsement may also carry disproportionate weight based on the identity of the endorser.

There are a few people whose endorsements (particularly coupled with a strong push to recruit and persuade members) could make a significant difference to any candidate. There's a reason why Charlie Angus went out of his way to treat Ed Broadbent's attendance at an event as a show of support, and other party "saints" (to use the term thrown around by Robin Sears among others) would also have a substantial impact by lending their support to one candidate over the others. And to the extent Julian and any substantial number of his supporters end up agreeing on a potential leader, that could send a strong signal as to the preference of the party's Quebec caucus and activists.

A somewhat larger number of people might be able to move the needle by making an endorsement which is seen as counterintuitive, encouraging members to see a candidate differently by signalling support from unexpected corners. Among the areas to watch on that front might be prominent supporters for Angus from francophone Quebec, or people perceived as party establishment figures getting behind Guy Caron or Niki Ashton.

Missing from that list is any possible support for Jagmeet Singh. And there's a reason for that: as the latest entrant in the race and lone candidate from outside the federal caucus, he's already been the beneficiary of the widest range of endorsements so far, covering substantially all of the bases which could otherwise have been seen as potential weak points.

That means Singh has less to prove than his competitors in terms of winning future endorsements. But it also means the marginal impact of new support is likely to be somewhat reduced. And if the campaign is going to shift from its current alignment, a wave of endorsements in another direction might be important as either a cause or an effect.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- David Sirota interviews Thomas Frank about the U.S. Democrats' obsession with educational achievement as a cure-all - and their consequent loss of touch with the large numbers of citizens suffering from economic policies which left them behind:
Sirota: What do you think that the Democrats didn't do right in the election, and even more importantly, what are they not doing right right now?

Frank: Look, you can talk about the tactical blunders and the things that brought them down: email scandal, or the premium increase in Obamacare, and all that stuff matters. The way I look at it is that this is a long-term problem. This is a culmination of a very long-term problem with the Democrats very gradually, but definitely, abandoning the interests of working-class voters, identifying themselves instead with a more affluent group, with the affluent white-collar professionals.

It starts in the 1970s with the Democrats removing organized labor from its structural position in the Democratic party, and then it goes up through Bill Clinton getting NAFTA done, the free trade deals that the Democrats have ... By the way, in my opinion, free trade or the trade agreements, I should say, was probably the issue that if there was one issue that really did Hillary in, I think that's what it was: the trade deals under the Clinton administration, Obama sort of dropping the ball on labor's various issues, doing these incredible favors for Wall Street while he blew off the concerns of union.

The ultimate evidence is what's happening with inequality. It gets worse and worse and worse every year. It's very easy to show how the Democrats have forgotten about organized labor, but what is really striking is the passion that they show for the knowledge industries, which includes Wall Street, Silicon Valley, big pharma, that sort of thing.
- Carole Cadwalladr interviews Al Gore about the connection between worsening climate change and big-money oil-sector propaganda. And Patrick Radden Keefe discusses the lack of consequences for financial elites even when caught in corrupt activities.

- Norman Farrell examines how B.C. policy under Christy Clark's Libs was designed solely to enrich her corporate benefactors - to the point where the natural gas industry was paid hundreds of millions of public dollars to extract resources for its own profit. But Martyn Brown points out how a Lib-friendly media is trying to saddle John Horgan with the blame both for Clark's failings, and economic realities far beyond provincial control. 

- Upstream's submission on a national strategy to fight poverty emphasizes the importance of prevention - both in addressing poverty and its health consequences.

- Finally, Noah Smith discusses how the payday lending industry serves only to make matters worse for the people already facing the most precarious financial circumstances. And Faiza Shaheen notes that in food as in financial services, sustainable options are becoming increasingly unavailable to residents of poorer neighbourhoods while unhealthy ones are proliferating.