Saturday, September 02, 2017

Book Review: Politics Without Stories

David Ricci's Politics Without Stories was released in the midst of an election campaign which upended many assumptions about U.S. politics. But it nonetheless offers a plausible explanation for much of the U.S.' political environment as it's continued to evolve - while leaving open what strike me as interesting questions as to whether what he observes is merely a U.S. phenomenon, or whether it applies more broadly.

As his basis for comparison, Ricci notes that U.S. conservatives have generally united around a few "alpha stories" of traditional values, free enterprise and small government. He then takes the position that there's no comparable set of dominant liberal narratives to provide a durable reference point for voters, asserts that this represents an important electoral handicap for U.S. Democrats compared to Republicans, and sets out to explain the discrepancy.

In the process, Ricci first questions whether leading liberal writers and politicians have made a meaningful effort to tie their subject-specific stories into themes, and points out the "list syndrome" as the frequent basis of policy development.

More importantly, Ricci questions whether even an ideal "alpha story" would actually appeal to a liberal audience. He theorizes that a left-wing audience is likely to be less receptive to overarching narratives than one on the right - for reasons including "pragmatic" disenchantment, as well as a focus on smaller outrages and incremental policy proposals over broader themes.

In particular, Ricci identifies each of Naomi Klein's main works as offering useful alpha stories - yet notes that they have failed to become as dominant as the right's primary messages due to the failure of liberals to adopt and repeat them.

On some points, Ricci's assertion of meaningful differences between left and right seems to be somewhat forced. It's not as if conservatism lacks its own single-issue thinkers or laundry-list policy prescriptions: most campaigns of any partisan stripe include a combination of historical themes which at least somewhat fit the "alpha story" model, and proposals aimed toward immediate issues. And the implicit argument that Democratic voices are more fixated on small outrages than their Republican counterparts is thoroughly implausible (see: "but her e-mails!"). (Though to be fair, one might see a parallel to the "alpha story" issue in the comparative willingness of Republican surrogates to repeat, and audiences to accept, small stories with their associated political messages.)

Meanwhile, to the extent there is an identifiable difference between both the politicians and the audiences in the U.S., it seems odd that Ricci spends little time engaging with George Lakoff's work - which offers both a parallel explanation as to the core differences between the liberal and conservative mindset at present, and a more promising set of alternatives than Ricci is willing to propose.

That said, the most interesting part of Ricci's argument from my standpoint is the postscript comparing Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign to Bernie Sanders' - particularly to the extent it's echoed in Canada's divide between the Liberals and the NDP.

Ricci views Sanders as having succeeded in offering a compelling story at least on a temporary basis - which he views as potentially being the best U.S. liberals can expect to achieve. In contrast, he views Clinton (and the party establishment which rallied behind her) as the epitome of the type of story-less politics which creates an inherent disadvantage for the Democratic Party. And the results of the 2016 presidential campaign don't suggest otherwise, particularly when compared to the electoral rise of Sanders' UK analogue in Jeremy Corbyn.

But Canada's experience shows that it is possible for a natural governing party to be built almost entirely on politics of convenience rather than consistent narratives - and indeed to force competitors on both sides to feel compelled to adopt a similar posture. And it's worth both considering and challenging Ricci's view of a political culture which inevitably spills across the border in working to develop and tell the stories which might best serve the goal of building progressive politics in Canada.

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the federal NDP's leadership campaign.

- Eric Grenier offers his take on the membership numbers released this week - including Jagmeet Singh's impressive signup totals. And Sarah Boesveld summarizes the state of the campaign and what's at stake.

- Kevin Taghabon's detailed interview with Guy Caron is worth a read in full, but particularly for Caron's take on when economic activity should be nationalized. 

- A few more Quebec MPs have offered their endorsements beyond those I've previously linked to - including Robert Aubin and Karine Trudel supporting Caron, and Brigitte Sansoucy endorsing Niki Ashton. And the United Steelworkers' backing of Caron makes clear that labour support is well distributed between the candidates.

- Ashton is promoting a Labour Day march in Toronto which may serve as a valuable indicator as to how far she's progressed in assembling the type of movement she wants to build.

- Finally, Michael Harris discusses Singh's potential to win over minority voters based on being able to offer perspective based on shared experience rather than Justin Trudeau's platitudes.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Stefan Stern writes that our current corporate culture needs to be changed in ways going far beyond reining in excessive executive compensation:
Wage inequality is also a symbol of something more fundamentally wrong in the business world. Too many corporations are competing to achieve the wrong results in the wrong way, led astray by perverse incentives that produce bad outcomes. And the excessive rewards for those at the top are a prize for the people who play this game best.
This text was a compromise and a (weary) triumph of drafting. It was an attempt to acknowledge, in law, that business should consider its impact on many stakeholders. But it has not changed the world. It has served, in practice, to enshrine “shareholder primacy”, that is, the idea that businesses should worry about their shareholders first and above all, before thinking about anything else. This is a bad idea with bad consequences. And it has proven hard to shake off.

This is where the link to excessive CEO pay comes in. These complicated pay packages are structured to produce huge bonuses if share price targets are hit. The majority of shareholders are pretty impatient with businesses that do not deliver regular and repeated earnings increases over the short and medium term. The sort of long-term investment that might raise company performance many years from now, boosting productivity and wages for ordinary workers, is harder to push through. This in part explains why corporate Britain is notoriously sitting on a “cash pile” estimated to be as large as £700bn.
Instead of investing, what do corporate leaders do with all this cash? They pay “special dividends” to their shareholders, or buy back their own shares, thus boosting the share price and ensuring that their bonuses (so-called long-term incentive plans) will trigger a bonanza in two or three years’ time. That’s right: “long-term” is no more than five years away. 
- And in Canada's own example of corporate privilege running amok, Kevin Carmichael notes that "small business" lobbyists are leading the charge to try to preserve artificial tax loopholes based on incorporation. 

- Andrea Germanos discusses Donald Trump's unilateral cuts to the anticipated pay of U.S. civilian public workers.

- Canada Without Poverty weighs in on how disasters produce disproportionate damage for people already facing poverty.

- Elizabeth Raymer examines the effect of mandatory minimum sentences, finding that they increase incarceration rates without doing anything to deter crime. But Stephen Quinn's interview with Andrew Scheer makes clear that the Cons won't be changing their practice of ignoring all available evidence as to the effects of their policies.

- Finally, John Ivison points out how Justin Trudeau's idea of an accountable national security apparatus is to personally select representatives from other parties to receive secret access to whatever information he deigns to provide.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Musical interlude

The War on Drugs - Pain

On structural barriers

As the NDP's federal leadership race approaches its conclusion, Tom Parkin has been doing some noteworthy writing on some of the issues which voters may want to keep in mind. And I'll start with Parkin's discussion as to how some of the systems which most deserve to be modeled may not translate easily to Canada's political realities.

In particular, Parkin notes that the Nordic model which holds plenty of appeal for social democrats may not be as easily implemented in a federal system where crucial authority over social and labour policy is held by the provinces:
We should import the Nordic model, say many Canadian social democrats. But—is it coincidental?—the Nordic countries all have a fundamentally different political constitution than ours. They are all unitary nations without provinces, states or territories. Canada is a federation with powers constitutionally divided between two levels of government.

Social democrats at the head of a unitary state have all policy levers and pulleys close at hand. A single Cabinet runs economic ministries, training, health care, education and welfare. It sets laws to shape and encourage—or not—collective bargaining. It runs capital and credit organizations such as the central bank, public pension funds, development banks and housing market credit agencies. In unitary states, a Cabinet can co-ordinate policies that adopt and adapt the social democratic model. We don’t.
Understanding federalism and getting the alignment right means a federal NDP leader who is constantly bolstering provincial NDP sections and always has something to say that will be well-received in provincial capitals—at least among social democrats, whether in government or opposition.
Such a stance could also support the NDP’s recent and hard-won success in Quebec. A helpful federal partner that encourages the social democratic development of Quebec—rather than blocks it—could provide a pathway to reorient the Quebec left—regardless of language—to the project of Canada, rather than separation.
But what none of the current federal leadership campaigns have talked about—not specifically, anyway—is how clean energy transition and diversification (or another strategy) could help develop an economy based on social partnership and the stability the unitary Nordics have developed.
The point is that to achieve what social democrats hope for, federal New Democrats need to understand and leverage Canada’s federal structure. Water cannot run uphill. Time cannot go backward. And social democracy cannot be implemented from Ottawa.

Creating the social partnership that is the core of social democracy—in the Nordic model, anyway—is a provincial undertaking which can greatly benefit from a strong federal ally. Federal New Democrats need to be social democratic federalists, constantly looking for ways to support provincial social democratic projects in ways that will strengthen social partnerships. It means being powerfully strategic and bold in the places where the opportunities for structural economic change lie.

Social democratic federalism would not only politically align the federal party and provincial sections while setting out a path to social democracy. It may also create an enduring bond among progressives in Quebec and across Canada through an attractive and practical alternative to both separatism and neo-liberalism. It’s time to look with clear eyes about how social democrats make change. Our federal constitution has been a brake on success. But perhaps, with the right strategy, it can become an engine for change.
It's certainly fair to note the difficulties in promising federal action in areas where provinces have both the ability and the inclination to reject it. But it's also worth pointing out (as Parkin does) that Canada's most valued social programs are already the product of cooperation between the federal and provincial governments - and recognizing how jurisdictional barriers have been and can be overcome.

Parkin mentions partisanship as an issue, with particular reference to Kathleen Wynne's choice to thumb her nose at the NDP's 2015 child care plan. But while that may serve as an unfortunate example, it would also figure to rule out the type of ambition which the NDP should be seeking to support.

After all, if the threshold for building a national program is to have one party in power in all provinces at once such as to completely align federal and provincial interests, then it's going to be awfully difficult to make the case that change for the better is ever feasible. And indeed, the Libs themselves would surely be thrilled to operate based on that principle - pointing to the fact that a few provinces have yet to elect NDP governments, and thus claiming that they're the only party which can ever hope to achieve national progress (while glossing over their disinclination to do so).

Moreover, leaving political calculations aside, there's strong evidence to suggest the federal government can be both powerful and opportunistic in shaping provincial decisions - and there's also room for it to act on its own toward many of the points raised by Parkin.

Remember that it was just last year that negotiations broke down between Ottawa and the provinces as a group on health care funding. Within two months, most provinces and territories had accepted virtually all of the federal government's terms. And the final holdout gave in last month, as the pressure to accept incremental funding increases outweighed any disagreement over either the form or content of the federal government's demands.

Few provincial governments would figure to have done anything of the sort in responding to party promises during a federal election campaign: after all, then they'd be in a position to either demand more, or benefit their own party by holding out. But the situation changes when immediate funding is at stake - and so an elected government is in a much better position to actually shape the terms of provincial action.

Of course, that shouldn't be the preferred means of developing national policy. And on the opportunism side, there's plenty of room for the federal government to merely take up the invitations of the body which already pursues change based on the consensus of the provinces.

The provinces' original desire to discuss health care at a common table serves as one prime example as to where a federal government looking for coast-to-coast-to-coast cooperation on a key issue could have found a receptive audience. The Council of the Federation has long been pushing for pharmacare, and has expressed consensus support for improved primary care and seniors' care among other steps toward a healthier Canada. And of course the provinces have already signed on to child care programs which have been limited only by the federal Libs' cynicism and stinginess.

As a result, there's little reason for concern that significant improvements in Canada's social structure couldn't be brought about with the provinces' agreement.

Finally, while the federal government may lack the ability to set up a full bureaucracy to administer all aspects of economic policy, it surely has the authority to set up or manage exactly the "capital or credit organizations" discussed by Parkin. Moreover, it can also establish both public enterprises of its own to act directly where it sees a benefit in doing so, and coordinating bodies to equalize and stabilize economic decision-making across levels of government.

To be clear, Parkin is right in arguing that the NDP needs to be conscious of the limits of federal jurisdiction, and plan its mix of immediate proposals and future plans accordingly. But we shouldn't use federalism as an excuse to shy away from discussing the types of social and economic structures needed to support a more fair society.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Alex Himelfarb writes about the need to expand our idea of what's possible through collective action:
Is Trump the product of over forty years of attacks on the very idea of government, of decades in which government seemed to back away from our lives, when the best it could offer was the promise to get out of the way, making itself smaller through endless tax cuts and less able to protect us through deregulation and privatization, when it increasingly tied its hands through so-called trade deals which did more to protect investors than promote trade, when the benefits of (slower) growth fell primarily to the already very wealthy? Is this why one might elect someone so clearly incapable of governing – because it doesn’t matter? Because too many believe government can’t do much for them anyways? Is this why so many will opt for someone who distracts and entertains or expresses their anger or allows them to vent their hate and scapegoat others? Part circus. Part tribalism.

If there’s truth in all of this, then pointing out the lies and incompetence and general unfitness, however important, is indeed not enough. What’s needed is also to expand the political imagination, to restore a belief that important, in fact essential, things can only be achieved together – but in fact can be achieved. What’s needed is not just an alternative to Trump but an alternative to the status quo, to the view that people are pretty much on their own and government is largely overhead. This means a restoration of a sense of the collective, the common good, an agenda to tackle together what people could never achieve on their own: reversing growing inequality, precarity, climate change and our deteriorating environment, building inclusive community and renewing democracy in the political process and in the workplace.

It’s not good enough to defend government or the path we’re on. It’s time to promise to transform government, to restore the sense that it can be an instrument for progress towards the common good.
- Meanwhile, Russell Cobb discusses Oklahoma's example of the failure of a state which is falling below basic thresholds of civilization through austerity and fossil fuel reliance.

- Brad Reed notes that the chemical manufacturer whose Texas facilities are exploding managed to avoid safety standards by lobbying the Trump administration. And Jacob Remes weighs in on the unequal effects of disasters.

- Toby Sanger highlights the fact that Ontario's corporate employers can easily afford to pay fair wages - making their complaints about doing so all the more galling. Jared Bernstein offers a reminder that wages still aren't catching up in what's supposed to be a relatively strong U.S. job market. Sarah Marsh examines some of the difficulties facing workers in precarious jobs in the UK - including the threat of punishment for trying to seek care for a sick child. And Noah Smith points out that perpetually larger and more dominant companies tend to harm workers, consumers and economic growth all at once by focusing solely on their own wealth and clout.

- The Pembina Institute examines the importance of retrofitting existing buildings as part of our effort to fight climate change.

- Finally, Linda McQuaig laments Justin Trudeau's choice to silence Canada's longstanding voice for nuclear deescalation.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Leadership 2017 Platform Analysis - Jagmeet Singh

Having once expressed my concern that Jagmeet Singh would use his front-runner status as a means to avoid releasing much policy, I'll again note that he's instead offered up a detailed and thoughtful policy agenda.

And while much of what he's presented is relatively similar to the contents of Ashton's platform (and in some cases Caron's), a few elements do stand out:
- using the tax system to fight climate change both through taxes on high-emission vehicles, and incentives and rebates toward positive investments;
- providing for the collection of LGBTQI2S+-specific health data to ensure that care is available to meet patients' needs;
- amending the Working Income Tax Benefit both to be phased out more gradually, and to be paid more frequently;
- eliminating tax write-offs for entertainment and other corporate perks;
- providing specific protection for temporary workers, including the application of labour standards and a right to be made permanent within a cumulative total of six months of work; and
- aiming toward multiple additional benefits in federal infrastructure projects, including emission reduction, fair work and community benefits.

Like Angus and Caron, Singh has restricted his policy proposals to a few areas of particular interest. And that's particularly unfortunate given the level of thought put into the ones he's addressed: it would be a plus to see some detail given to areas like health care where relatively little is on the table other than Ashton's broad plans.

But Singh has provided both a strong indication as to which areas he'd prioritize, and a willingness to defend those choices where they prove controversial. And that can only help voters in deciding where to rank him in a strong group of candidates.

Leadership 2017 Platform Analysis - Guy Caron

If Niki Ashton stands out in having received relatively little attention for her policy development, Guy Caron looks to be on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Having justifiably portrayed himself as the policy wonk candidate and built his campaign largely around a basic income proposal which continues to provoke important discussion, Caron hasn't faced much attention in other policy areas. And so he's been able to avoid answering for what's otherwise been a fairly thin policy agenda.

Aside from the basic income, other points distinct to Caron include:
- specific refugee protections for climate migrants;
- a 7-hour work day for jobs within federal jurisdiction;
- a list of new revenue options including taxes on foreign e-commerce profits and limiting RRSP contributions; and
- Quebec-oriented commitments including the application of Bill 101 language requirements to federally-regulated industries in Quebec along with a bilingualism requirement for Supreme Court judges.

But Caron largely stops at his areas of specific strength: his Quebec policy is his lone effort at outreach to a specific segment of the progressive movement (in stark contrast to the range of proposals developed by Niki Ashton and Jagmeet Singh), and his strict avoidance of matters within provincial jurisdiction leaves him with little room to offer proposals on social programs aside from the basic income.

Now, one can argue that the result is that Caron's overall policy package is internally consistent and easy to judge in terms of his personal priorities. (And lest there be any doubt, Caron has expressed his personal support for additional progressive ideas during the course of the debates, while identifying the impossibility of implementing them solely at the federal level.) But it remains to be seen whether members will want to be bound by Caron's limited scope of operations.

Leadership 2017 Platform Analysis - Niki Ashton

As I've noted previously, Niki Ashton's debate strategy doesn't often seem to involve discussing policy at length. And that's a shame, because she's done more than any other candidate to raise (and propose solutions to) a broad range of issues.

While Ashton has primarily emphasized her proposals for free tuition and social ownership, other parts of her platform which deserve further attention include:
- an immediate path to citizenship for migrant workers and temporary foreign workers, coupled with a plan to ensure that anybody who comes to Canada to live is similarly able to become a citizen;
- a reworking of prisons to improve the education and training available for offenders, while also providing labour protection for prison labourers;
- a jobs plan which explicitly aims toward sustainable full employment; 
- introducing a Financial Activities Tax aimed specifically at banking profits and bonuses, along with a "Robin Hood" tax on transactions which has been more extensively discussed elsewhere;
- including preventative dental care in the Canada Health Act (alongside plans for pharmacare and mental health).

Unfortunately, the lack of discussion of those proposals by either Ashton or her competitors has also left little scope to address either their respective priority, or any potential issues with them. And it's not clear that the current shape of the campaign will leave much time for clarification.

But Ashton deserves ample credit for developing a broad set of ideas which merit further discussion within the NDP no matter how members wind up voting in the leadership race. And anybody who hasn't heard as much policy detail as they'd like in the rest of the leadership campaign may want to give Ashton's policies a much closer look.

Leadership 2017 Platform Analysis - Charlie Angus

While most discussion around the NDP's leadership campaign has revolved around the ebb and flow of news cycles, it's always worth a closer look as to what the candidates see as worth highlighting. So I'll be taking a look at the policies on offer from the candidates, starting with Charlie Angus.

While Angus has been vague on some points in the leadership debates, he's offered interesting and distinctive proposals in a few others, including:
- the devolution of Indigenous program delivery to the community level, accompanied by a plan to dismantle the INAC structure which currently oversees it;
- a housing plan which would use existing CMHC surpluses to provide for a right to housing, both through social housing and through credits toward the cost of other forms of construction; and
- a push toward cooperative economic development, including giving workers the legal right of first refusal over a closing business.

Aside from those points, there isn't much in Angus' platform which isn't broadly reflected in the plans of his challengers. And more problematically, Angus' platform leaves more questions than answers both in some of what it promises, and particularly what it omits.

On climate change, Angus' lack of clarity on pipelines is matched by the absence of any specific targets (or plans to meet them). And in a policy area where the supply of ideas and promises has long exceeded the political will to act, the proposal of a national advisory council leaves a worrisome amount of room for further delay. 

Meanwhile, Angus' urban agenda seems to utterly miss the jurisdictional basis of municipal operations, proposing the creation of "neighbourhood corporations" and altered municipal governance models which make no mention of the provincial role in establishing and governing municipalities.

And Angus lacks specific plans in areas ranging from justice and ethics to health care and child care (though pharmacare does show up as a subpoint in his "working class" policy).

At best, those omissions might be explained by Angus' plan for membership-driven policy development. But that too represents a lot more deflection than detail.

As a result, Angus more than any other candidate has left NDP members with little more than a "trust me" when it comes to policy. And while a series of high-profile endorsements coupled with a career's worth of activism and advocacy offers some basis to do so, I'd be much more comfortable if Angus had provided a more clear indication was to which policies he'd pursue if given the chance.

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the federal NDP's leadership campaign.

- Althia Raj reports on the final membership numbers for the leadership campaign announced this week, showing a similar number of eligible voters to the 2012 campaign (at just over 120,000). And Eric Grenier chats with Aaron Wherry about the significance of the membership totals, while Kyle Duggan discusses Jagmeet Singh's reported contribution to the membership.

- UFCW has announced its endorsement of Singh, while Cory Collins concludes his series of interviews with the candidates with a discussion with Singh. Alex Balingall reports on Alexa McDonough's endorsement of Caron, while Clothilde Goujard discusses Caron's efforts to get voters to imagine a greener NDP economy. And Marc Pare talks to Charlie Angus about his standing as the first round of balloting approaches.

- Helene Buzzetti's coverage of Sunday's debate includes some discussion as to how the most recent dispute over Quebec's Bill 62 its into broader questions about the intersection between religion and politics. And Caron has written about his take on the significance of secularism in Quebec. 

- Finally, Chantal Hebert offers a reminder that there are no guarantees in voting patterns (particularly in Quebec).

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Sarah Anderson studies how corporate tax cuts enrich CEOs, but don't do anything to help workers. And she then follows up with this op-ed:
If claims about the job-creation benefits of lower tax rates had any validity, these 92 consistently profitable firms would be among the nation’s strongest job creators. Instead, we found just the opposite.

The companies we reviewed had a median job-growth rate over the past nine years of nearly negative 1 percent, compared with 6 percent for the private sector as a whole. Of those 92 companies, 48 got rid of a combined total of 483,000 jobs.

At the companies that cut jobs, chief executives’ pay last year averaged nearly $15 million, compared with the $13 million average for S&P 500 companies.

Instead of tax-rate cuts for these big corporations, the coming tax debate in Congress should focus on making wealthy individuals and big corporations pay their fair share.

American multinationals hold $2.6 trillion in profits “offshore,” on which they would owe $750 billion in federal taxes if the money was repatriated. In most cases, these foreign profit stashes are merely an accounting fiction. Companies retain full access to these funds for use in the United States and could, if their executives so chose, use them to create jobs here.

Ordinary Americans have to pay all the taxes they owe each and every year. Offshore corporations should be required to do the same.
- Meanwhile, Bryce Covert points out how the Amazon-Whole Foods takeover - like other unchecked corporate consolidation - can be expected to harm workers in the long run.

- Jerry Dias discusses how NAFTA served to convert desirable jobs in Canada (and the U.S.) into exploitative ones in Mexico. But Sean Higgins reports that it's the Trudeau Libs who are fighting to preserve corporate-biased dispute resolution systems which have been used mostly to challenge Canadian governments.

- Scott Santens reminds us of the devastating ripple effects of personal financial insecurity which could be solved with a basic income. And Frances Ryan writes about the UK Cons' thoroughly inhumane policy of punishing people for being too ill to report for social services appointments.

- Finally, Selena Randhawa talks to Indigenous people about the suicide epidemic among First Nations youth and the hopelessness which drives it.

New column day

Here, on how simultaneous leadership campaigns in both of Saskatchewan's main parties seem unlikely to spark much new interest or discussion due to the familiar players and strategies involved.

For further reading...
- CBC has reported on each of the candidate announcements: Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon in the NDP campaign, and Tina Beaudry-Mellor, Jeremy Harrison, Gord Wyant, Ken Cheveldayoff and Alanna Koch in the Sask Party's race (with Scott Moe expected to join shortly).
- The most memorable moments so far in either campaign have come from Harrison's thoroughly laughable attempt to position himself as a crusader against the GTH corruption which he personally tried to cover up. And Geoff Leo continues to break news about the Bill Boyd/Brad Wall scandals which seem to have precipitated Wall's hasty departure.
- Finally, I'll link back to my posts on the Saskatchewan NDP's previous leadership campaign as a useful starting point to assess the new race.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Naomi Klein offers her take on why we need to talk about climate change when its effects are most visible:
(E)very time we act as if an unprecedented weather event is hitting us out of the blue, as some sort of Act of God that no one foresaw, reporters are making a highly political decision. It’s a decision to spare feelings and avoid controversy at the expense of telling the truth, however difficult. Because the truth is that these events have long been predicted by climate scientists. Warmer oceans throw up more powerful storms. Higher sea levels mean those storms surge into places they never reached before. Hotter weather leads to extremes of precipitation: long dry periods interrupted by massive snow or rain dumps, rather than the steadier predictable patterns most of us grew up with.

The records being broken year after year — whether for drought, storm surges, wildfires, or just heat — are happening because the planet is markedly warmer than it has been since record-keeping began. Covering events like Harvey while ignoring those facts, failing to provide a platform to climate scientists who can make them plain, all while never mentioning President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, fails in the most basic duty of journalism: to provide important facts and relevant context. It leaves the public with the false impression that these are disasters without root causes, which also means that nothing could have been done to prevent them (and that nothing can be done now to prevent them from getting much worse in the future).
(T)he right will waste no time exploiting Harvey, and any other disaster like it, to peddle ruinous false solutions, such as militarized police, more oil and gas infrastructure, and privatized services. Which means there is a moral imperative for informed, caring people to name the real root causes behind this crisis — connecting the dots between climate pollution, systemic racism, underfunding of social services, and overfunding of police. We also need to seize the moment to lay out intersectional solutions, ones that dramatically lower emissions while battling all forms of inequality and injustice (something we have tried to lay out at The Leap and which groups, such as the Climate Justice Alliance, have been advancing for a long time.)

And it has to happen right now – precisely when the enormous human and economic costs of inaction are on full public display. If we fail, if we hesitate out of some misguided idea of what is and is not appropriate during a crisis, it leaves the door wide open for ruthless actors to exploit this disaster for predictable and nefarious ends.
- Noah Smith examines how the uneven ownership of assets - and particularly the concentration of stocks in the hands of the rich - exacerbates income and wealth inequality.

- Kevin Milligan examines the anticipated effects of closing tax loopholes for small businesses. And Michael Wolfson points out the problems with any attempt to paint equal taxation of money held in private corporations as an attack on doctors. 

- The Council of Canadians reveals the overwhelming public response in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

-  Amarnath Amarasingam and Ryan Scrivens discuss the need to acknowledge and respond to the rise of right-wing hate groups in Canada. And James Wilt calls out the corporate media for legitimizing an outlet dedicated to nothing else. 

- Finally, Robert Jago writes that John A. MacDonald's legacy is amply captured by the continuing discrimination facing Indigenous people in Canada - and that we should focus more on the action necessary to bring about reconciliation for the present and future.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Exploratory cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- David Sirota talks to Naomi Klein about the push by right-wing politicians and corporate media outlets alike to stifle any discussion of how fossil fuels contribute to the climate change fuelling Hurricane Harvey. Matt Taibbi laments how the media contributed to the development of a public so poorly informed as to elect Donald Trump. And George Monbiot highlights a few of the questions we should be asking about the devastating effects of climate change-related disasters:
To talk about climate breakdown (which in my view is a better term than the curiously bland labels we attach to this crisis) is to question not only Trump, not only current environmental policy, not only current economic policy – but the entire political and economic system.

It is to expose a programme that relies on robbing the future to fuel the present, that demands perpetual growth on a finite planet. It is to challenge the very basis of capitalism; to inform us that our lives are dominated by a system that cannot be sustained – a system that is destined, if it is not replaced, to destroy everything.
We were warned about this. In June, for instance, Robert Kopp, a professor of Earth sciences, predicted: “In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit. Its exposure to sea-level rise – made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes – poses a major risk to its communities.”

To raise this issue, I’ve been told on social media, is to politicise Hurricane Harvey. It is an insult to the victims and a distraction from their urgent need. The proper time to discuss it is when people have rebuilt their homes, and scientists have been able to conduct an analysis of just how great the contribution from climate breakdown might have been. In other words, talk about it only when it’s out of the news. When researchers determined, nine years on, that human activity had made a significant contribution to Hurricane Katrina, the information scarcely registered.

I believe it is the silence that’s political. To report the storm as if it were an entirely natural phenomenon, like last week’s eclipse of the sun, is to take a position. By failing to make the obvious link and talk about climate breakdown, media organisations ensure our greatest challenge goes unanswered. They help push the world towards catastrophe.
- But to be fair, a few observers have raised important points about how political choices have contributed to the damage caused by Harvey - including Michael Mann on the role of climate change,  Natasha Geiling on the lack of planning for foreseeable events, and Steve Russell on how a lack of regulations exacerbated the damage in Houston in particular.

- Meanwhile, in an observation made well in advance of the latest headline-grabbing storm, Leah Platt Boustan, Maria Lucia Yanguas, Matthew Kahn and Paul Rhode highlight how catastrophic events exacerbate inequality. And James Cook talks to some of the people who couldn't afford to flee from a hurricane.

- Amanda Ghazale Aziz offers perspectives from four women trying to get by on less than a living wage. And Rajiv Prabhakar studies how women disproportionately tend to opt out of pension plans due to immediate affordability concerns.

- Finally, the Economic Policy Institute studies the effect unions have in improving workers' lives. But Nora Loreto comments on the need for labour to lead the way in building social movements which do more than just protect limited workplace gains.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- The Star's editorial board offers a needed response to the Fraser Institute's tired anti-social posturing:
The study’s greatest failing, however – the omission that ultimately renders its statistics meaningless – is that it makes no mention whatsoever of what we get in return for our tax money. Nowhere does the report mention “public services” or “programs,” nowhere “roads” or “schools.” It’s true that taxes as a percentage of our income have risen over the last 56 years, by around 7 per cent, but consider what they have bought: medicare, for instance, and the Canada Pension Plan, to name just two programs established after their baseline year of 1961.

Not only are these and other aspects of our social safety net arguably central to our national identity – the civilization, you might say, for which taxes have been the price. But they have also yielded exceptional value for money.
By delinking taxes from the services they buy, the Fraser Institute has long fed into a false narrative that for decades was in the ascendancy: that any tax is a bad tax and any cut a free good. In recent years, however, that view has begun to fall out of favour, and not just on the left. The IMF, the OECD, and other past champions of austerity have all made the case that the costs of tax cuts often outweigh their benefits and taxes and the collective action they pay for are essential if we are to meet our biggest challenges.

A few years ago it was almost unthinkable that a Canadian politician could run successfully on the promise of raising any taxes ever. But in the last federal election, both the New Democrats and the Liberals promised tax hikes for at least some Canadians that would have seemed political suicide in recent elections past.

The Fraser Institute’s annual anti-tax litany was always bogus. Now, thankfully, it’s starting to look out of touch.
- And Larry Elliott writes about a new study showing that there's both a significant need to collect more public revenue from the rich, and ample room to do so.

- Richard Florida highlights the connection between increasing inequality and rising rents, while Erica Alini reports on the trend of people who can't afford to own a home in larger cities speculating on the value of housing in smaller towns. Kevin Page and Tina Yuan discuss how the next federal budget could deliver a much-needed reduction in poverty and homelessness. And Alan Broadbent comments on the importance of getting the big things right when developing social supports, rather than letting people suffer while policy-making is oriented toward creating a large number of insufficient programs.

- Finally, Tom Parkin highlights how the Alberta NDP's choice to invest in people rather than slashing and burning to exacerbate a downturn has resulted in a far stronger economic position than the opposite strategy from the Sask Party.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Leadership 2017 Candidate Rankings - August 27

We'll have to wait until next week to learn about the final membership count for the federal NDP's leadership campaign. But today's Montreal debate and other developments result in one shift in the rankings - while an opportunity for another one has been lost for now.

1. Charlie Angus (1)

While the other three candidates spent a substantial amount of time on Guy Caron's Quebec strategy (including a brief media flare-up over Bill 62 and religious freedom), Angus's response in both the debate and the media was to provide the most succinct answer possible while two of his competitors struggled to find their footing.

That success in navigating a tricky issue, combined with a fairly strong showing in the final French-language debate, helps to keep him at the front of the pack for now. But again, the relative position of Angus and Singh by this time next week will be determined in no small part by the membership numbers.

2. Jagmeet Singh (2)

In contrast to Angus, Singh took some time to respond to Caron - making for the second time Singh has been conspicuously slow to address a key issue. But once he spoke out publicly, his initial position seemed to offer a distinct and powerful alternative: while Caron's positioning ultimately focuses on jurisdictional deference over (or at least parallel to) correctness in principle, Singh offered a strong stand as to the importance of not disproportionately attacking minorities.

But if his debate message on the same issue didn't specifically backtrack on his public statement, it also failed to highlight what could have been an important contrast not only for him, but for the party's overall debate. And that represents a missed opportunity for Singh to turn the tables on Caron and Ashton in putting principle ahead of political calculation on a hot-button issue.

3. Guy Caron (4)

Caron made some progress in a crucial week for his campaign - both in again setting the agenda with his own proposals, and in outdebating his competitors on his home turf. But while he was the most comfortable candidate in today's debate by far, I'm not sure he was quite convincing enough to start the type of shift he needs in member support.

The end result is that Caron moves ahead of Ashton for now - based less on their likely first-choice support than on his growth potential if he lasts past the first ballot.

4. Niki Ashton (3)

Finally, Ashton drops to the bottom of the rankings due to two unforced errors: one involving her questionably wading into Manitoba's provincial leadership campaign, the other her muddled response to religious accommodation and Quebec's culture.

Those new problems only seem to echo a few earlier faux pas which similarly created negative impressions of Ashton - whether based on disagreement on the merits, or simply matters of political judgment. And I'd expect that growing narrative be a significant hurdle as she tries to win support beyond her initial base.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Seth Hanlon and Alexandra Thornton review the evidence from the U.S. showing that tax handouts to the rich don't produce job gains for the general public. And Binyamin Appelbaum reports on Janet Yellen's warning that financial deregulation produces bubbles, not sustainable growth.

- Alan Freeman is rightly skeptical about the alarmist rhetoric from a few doctors seeking to protect tax loopholes which allow them to avoid paying normal rates out of their high incomes.

- Ben Tarnoff discusses how the corporate sector is just now beginning to extract value from our personal information - including by tailoring prices to maximize what's charged to each individual.

- Rob Tress writes about the environmental movement's success in ensuring that Energy East and other projects are evaluated based on their full climate impacts.

- Finally, Tamara Khandaker warns not to be fooled by the right's attempts to rebrand itself away from its reliance on bigotry, fear and hatred. And Doug Cuthand highlights how Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party regularly use "rural crime" as a dog whistle for policies intended to atack Indigenous people.