Saturday, September 09, 2017

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the federal NDP's leadership campaign in advance of tomorrow's final official debate. (Though the Huffington Post is advertising another to come on the 27th.)

- Elizabeth McSheffrey paints Charlie Angus' purpose as being to rebuild public trust in politics as a means of giving a voice to people.

- Jagmeet Singh's response to a heckler ranting about Sharia law with a call for love and courage has received attention on an international scale. And Jeffrey Ansloos views the incident as emblematic of a test for Canada's left in responding to religious diversity.

- Peter Julian's endorsement of Singh offers one more example of a key party figure with strong Quebec ties rejecting any concern about his prospects in the province - though it's particularly worth watching whether any of Julian's own Quebec endorsers follow suit.

- Djaouida Sellah's support for Charlie Angus, Scott Duvall's backing of Guy Caron and Morgane Oger's endorsement of Niki Ashton also provide noteworthy boosts as the campaign reaches the home stretch. (Meanwhile Pat Stogran's endorsement of Angus looks like more of a double-edged sword - Stogran certainly has his followers, but any association between his poorly-thought-out attacks on the NDP and Angus' campaign may raise concerns among the core supporters Angus is relying on.)

- Finally, James Laxer argues that now is the moment for the NDP to reemphasize democratic socialist values.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Naomi Klein examines how climate change has contributed to a summer of extreme weather disasters, while David Suzuki highlights how we can work with nature to respond to increased flooding. And Emily Atkin discusses the outsized damage 90 corporate behemoths have done to our climate.

- Meanwhile, Abacus Data polls Canadians about energy development, and finds both strong support for a shift toward renewables and an expectation that we'll begin a transition away from fossil fuels (even among the provinces and parties which operate based on demanding increased production). And Dave Cournoyer rightly argues that Alberta (like other provinces) needs to start reducing its reliance on ongoing resource royalties.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh offers a disturbing look at how fake temp agencies are used to saddle workers with precarious employment and unacceptable working conditions. And Adam Turner talks to Dennis Skinner about ensuring that the working class is represented in government.

- Monika Dutt rebuts the claim that privatized health care does anything but undermine the public system Canadians depend on. And Alex Munter makes the case for mental health care to be added to our public health care system.

- Finally, Alan Freeman asks for some reasonableness on all sides of an overheated debate over a proposal which involves closing only a few tax loopholes for a modest revenue benefit.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Musical interlude

Phantogram - When I'm Small

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Rachel Sherman writes about the steps taken by wealthy Americans to hide how much they spend to paper over income inequality:
Over lunch in a downtown restaurant, Beatrice, a New Yorker in her late 30s, told me about two decisions she and her husband were considering. They were thinking about where to buy a second home and whether their young children should go to private school. Then she made a confession: She took the price tags off her clothes so that her nanny would not see them. “I take the label off our six-dollar bread,” she said.

She did this, she explained, because she was uncomfortable with the inequality between herself and her nanny, a Latina immigrant. She had a household income of $250,000 and inherited wealth of several million dollars. Relative to the nanny, she told me, “The choices that I have are obscene. Six-dollar bread is obscene.”

An interior designer I spoke with told me his wealthy clients also hid prices, saying that expensive furniture and other items arrive at their houses “with big price tags on them” that “have to be removed, or Sharpied over, so the housekeepers and staff don’t see them.”
The ways these wealthy New Yorkers identify and avoid stigma matter not because we should feel sorry for uncomfortable rich people, but because they tell us something about how economic inequality is hidden, justified and maintained in American life.

Keeping silent about social class, a norm that goes far beyond the affluent, can make Americans feel that class doesn’t, or shouldn’t, matter. And judging wealthy people on the basis of their individual behaviors — do they work hard enough, do they consume reasonably enough, do they give back enough — distracts us from other kinds of questions about the morality of vastly unequal distributions of wealth.

To hide the price tags is not to hide the privilege; the nanny is no doubt aware of the class gap whether or not she knows the price of her employer’s bread. Instead, such moves help wealthy people manage their discomfort with inequality, which in turn makes that inequality impossible to talk honestly about — or to change.
- And Chris Bryant discusses how the UK's aristocracy has retained massive amounts of wealth and power based solely on hereditary entitlements.

- Scott Courtney highlights the importance of offering voters a genuine workers' party to rein in structural inequality. And Robert Greene II writes about the need for progressive organization to be patient and aimed toward lasting policy change, not reflected only in immediate reactions to events.

- Joseph Stiglitz points out the utter lack of preparation for foreseeable natural disasters such as hurricanes as a prime example of market failure which needs to be addressed through collective action. And David Sirota discusses the role of corporate secrecy and deregulation in endangering the first responders who were willing to put their health and lives on the line without being informed of the risks they faced.

- Finally, Katherine Ellen Foley reports on new research showing that the papers used to question the reality of climate change can all be traced back to faulty assumptions, methodology or analysis.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

New column day

Here, on how little Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party ultimately seem to have learned from the fall of Grant Devine and the PCs.

For further reading...
- Geoff Leo continues to report on the GTH scandal, including the recent revelation that the Saskatchewan Party went out of its way to look for excuses to pay high prices for land. Alex Soloducha reports that Wall has been interviewed by the RCMP as part of its investigation. And Micki Cowan revealed that Wall's office had issued a warning to Bill Boyd about trading off of governmental titles before praising him effusively.
- Finally, Jason Warick reported on Devine's finger-pointing and denial in lieu of recognition of his own government's failings.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Matthew Hoffmann discusses the reality that addressing climate change will require substantial changes to how we currently live - but that we don't have a reasonable choice but to put in the work to make the transition.

- Michael Wolfson writes that the Libs' plans to limit some tax goodies for incorporated businesses are entirely fair to doctors and to other high-income workers. But Jeremy Nuttall points out Alexandre Boulerice's apt observation that a loud fight over one small tax loophole is providing cover to leave many more to be exploited.

- Meanwhile, PressProgress highlights new research (PDF) from the CCPA showing how unequally income is distributed in Ontario - with the top 10% of the population taking in more than the bottom 60%. And Rajeev Syal reports on UK research showing that many workers are struggling with poverty and unable to meet their basic needs.

- Finally, CBC reports on the findings (PDF) of the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition showing how far too many workers are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. And Lynn Desjardins discusses the push to include improved work protections in NAFTA - though Brent Patterson warns that the Trudeau Libs may instead join the Trump administration's race to the bottom in the name of "harmonization".

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the federal NDP's leadership campaign.

- NDP McGill has prepared handy summaries of the background and policy proposals of each of the leadership candidates.

- Tim Harper writes that Charlie Angus is relying on the NDP's grassroots as the foundation for his campaign - particularly compared to the new members signed up by Jagmeet Singh.

- Althia Raj takes an extended look at Guy Caron's political background and goals within the race. And John Ibbitson and Joel-Denis Bellavance each discuss Caron's place in the campaign - including the endorsement of Brian Topp, whose role as a strategist and strong leadership contender would figure to give Caron a significant boost if he's substantially involved in the campaign.

- Ryan Maloney reports on today's Canadian Nurses Association town hall featuring all four leadership candidates.

- Finally, Chris Watson offers his take on the importance of standing up against Quebec's Bill 62 and other anti-human rights legislation.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Ben Chu reports on a new study showing that the UK's economy is broken in failing to translate GDP gains into any help for workers whose wages are falling. And the Canadian Press reports on the latest survey showing how many Canadians are just barely getting by in the face of unsustainable personal debt levels:
A new survey by the Canadian Payroll Association suggests nearly half of workers are living paycheque to paycheque due to soaring spending and debt levels.

The poll found that 47 per cent of respondents said it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their paycheque was delayed by even a single week.

The survey, which polled 4,766 Canadian employees between June 27 and Aug. 5, also found that 35 per cent said they feel overwhelmed by their level of debt.

For the first time in the survey's nine-year history, more respondents found mortgages on principal residences the most difficult debt to pay down, with 32 per cent of respondents selecting this option compared to 23 per cent who cited credit card debt.

Results from the poll indicate that the primary reason for increased debt is higher overall spending. Of the major reasons for increased spending, 32 per cent of respondents pointed to higher living expenses while 25 per cent mentioned unexpected expenses.
- Stephen Gordon writes that the Libs should be able to ensure that the wealthy pay at least a bit more tax to ensure stronger social supports. And Aalya Ahmad argues that the labour movement should renew its push to reduce the work week expected of workers.

- Stephen Tweedale discusses how a NAFTA provision reining in the U.S.' anti-labour laws would make eminent sense in order to ensure fairer trade.

- CBC reports on Food Secure Canada's efforts to establish a national school nutrition program.

- Finally, Nancy Krieger discusses the dangerous health effects of structural racism. And Hilary Beaumont finds that the Libs' promises to fix just one aspect of discrimination against First Nations (the lack of safe water) have seen plenty of shiny announcements paired with backsliding in terms of actual drinking water advisories.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Passed-out cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ed Finn discusses how corporate giants exert far more influence than we generally know - or should be willing to accept. And Joseph Schwartz and Bhaskar Sunkara comment on the difficulty in achieving durable social-democratic policies while economic power is concentrated in the corporate elite.

- Thomas Walkom notes that Donald Trump's distaste for NAFTA may ultimately serve Canada well in ensuring we don't rely so heavily on the U.S. And Adrian Morrow reports on Canada's current push for an end to U.S. anti-labour laws such as "right to work" schemes - which will find at least some support south of the border, though there's plenty of reason for skepticism that the Libs will do more than abandon it at the first opportunity.

- Aaron Wherry writes about the Trudeau Libs' painfully slow steps toward preparing for the disasters caused by a changing climate.

- Alex Brockman reports on the Libs' decision to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into Yukon roads to be used solely for the benefit of the mining industry.

- Meanwhile, Ashley Joseph traces the connections between the historical abuse of Indigenous Canadians (including in residential schools) and continuing health problems.  

- Finally, Frances Coppola discusses how austerity after the 2008 financial crisis produced disastrous results - particularly in Greece where it was inflicted most harshly.

Monday, September 04, 2017

On discriminatory treatment

Following up on this post, let's take a look at Tom Parkin's other recent post which offers plenty of food for thought. Parkin's view broadly matches Guy Caron's position on Quebec's treatment of people who wear niqabs - but seems to me to fall short of making the case for deferring to Quebec's politicians when it comes to basic principles of inclusion and nondiscrimination.

At the outset, Parkin and Caron both disagree on the merits with legislation such as Bill 62 denying service to women based on what they wear. So the argument boils down to whether there's a particular reason to hold back in discussing harmful legislation - or offer artificial "respect" to a view which is both wrong in policy, and based in part on discriminatory intent - because of the nature of the body which has passed it.

And the NDP hasn't established a strict standard along similar lines before. For example, it worked on banning the mining and sale of asbestos in the face of a unanimous resolution of the National Assembly to continue the industry, and before any Quebec politician spoke out on the same side of the issue.

In addition to being on the right side of history on the merits, that action wasn't apparently seen as problematic based on the application of the Sherbrooke Declaration (PDF) - and certainly doesn't seem to have affected Jack Layton's strategy for building bridges in Quebec.

But is there something different in the combination of political and public views about the niqab? There, one has to ask whether any position is likely to hold up in the face of scrutiny. 

Needless to say, the prime example on that front is the federal Bill C-51 - which was viewed as a political slam-dunk for the Harper Cons until they ran into principled opposition from the NDP. Within months, Canadians had turned against the bill and the government which introduced it, while rewarding the party which had the backbone to speak up.

To be sure, there's no guarantee that public opinion would similarly change on Bill C-62. But it's dangerous to assume that public opinion is set in stone, particularly when one side of an issue hasn't been given a full hearing on the merits. And there's plenty of reason to doubt that the politics of exclusion in Quebec are as much a winner as they're assumed to be.

Key precedents include both the Parti Quebecois' fall from power as it tried to run on its Charter of Values, and the fact that the top two vote shares in 2015 federally (covering 62% of the popular vote) went to parties which opposed the Cons' attempt to discriminate against people who wear a niqab.

Moreover, there's an obvious opening to introduce new policies based on NDP values to Quebec's political scene.

It's undoubtedly for members of the new Quebec-based party to decide what their priorities are, and the federal party should pay close attention one way or the other. But I'd suggest some of the most important opportunities for the NPD-Quebec involve areas where it's possible to stand apart from the existing parties - and Bill 62 is one example where unanimity among current politicians may not match the public mood, particularly if there's a distinct choice on offer.

And that could lay the groundwork for what I'd hope will be the NDP's long-term plans to retake progressive terrain from the Libs.

In 2015, the difference in the effect of the niqab issue between the Libs and the NDP arose from the fact that the former was never challenged as the loudest voice on the side of opposing discrimination, while the latter hadn't yet spoken up on similar cultural issues. But that effect could be reversed if there's a link between a federal NDP and a Quebec counterpart which both take a forceful position against discrimination, while the Liberal brand is split from one level to the other. 

To conclude, there's always reason for skepticism about the political choice to stay silent in the face of false conventional wisdom. And even from the standpoint of political calculation, the NDP is likely better served confirming that voters who care about minority rights can count on it, rather than answering fundamental questions with an awkward silence or a jurisdictional dodge.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Labour Day reading.

- Ed Finn offers a reminder of the rights and benefits we now take for granted which were won only through labour organization:
Look back at Canada’s 150-year history, and you’ll find that many of the basic rights and benefits we all enjoy were originally fought for and won by unions. Unions were in the forefront of the struggles for public health care, for public education and pensions, for improvements in employment conditions and the minimum wage.

Most employees today work 40 hours or less a week instead of 50 or more, because in the 1950s the railroad unions went on strike for a shorter work week with the same pay. They won that historic battle, a labour victory that led in a few years to the adoption of the 40-hour work week as a standard schedule for all workers, unionized or not.

Later, the provision of year-long legislated paid parental leave was initiated at the bargaining table by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which made it a priority in negotiations. This gain, too, soon became a universal benefit.

In both the private and public sectors, it was the unions, through collective bargaining, that also pioneered overtime pay, sick leave, paid vacations, jointly funded pension plans and other now-taken-for-granted employment benefits.

Without the unions, striving arduously over the years in so many ways, in cities and towns from coast to coast, the socioeconomic strands that hold our country together today would not be nearly so sturdy.
- Neil Irwin examines the career paths of janitorial workers a few decades ago compared to today as a prime example of how outsourcing and other precarious work arrangements limit the opportunity for workers to advance. David Well comments on the desperate need for public policy aimed at better protecting and accounting for the interests of workers caught in those traps. Lawrence Summers points out the role governments need to play in facilitating labour organization. And David Olive highlights the benefits of a more fair minimum wage.

- But Helaine Olen points out how the Trump administration is instead engaged in concerted attacks on the U.S. labour force. And Michael Paarlberg writes about the dishonesty in Trump's promises to protect workers.

- Suzanne Moore discusses the importance of  the UK McDonald's strike and other shows of solidarity within the precarious workforce. And Lana Payne offers a reminder that the labour movement needs to focus particularly on young workers.   

- Dennis Gruending points out that the benefits of union extend far beyond their membership or even workers generally, while Alejandra Bravo writes about the importance of worker organization as a means to spur social change. And Kira Lerner reports on the efforts of U.S. unions to do just that in the Midwest where standards have been deteriorating rapidly under corporatist governors, while Gregory Beatty highlights how Brad Wall's contempt for workers has tarnished his legacy.

- Finally, the Canadian Labour Congress discusses its push for a national pharmacare program as the latest major project to build a better Canada for everybody, while Hassan Yussuff makes the case for the plan in the Star.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Leadership 2017 Candidate Rankings - September 3

The major development since last week has of course been the release of the NDP's national membership numbers. And as would have been expected, they lead to a change at the top - though it's worth putting their impact into perspective rather than taking every sign-up as an automatic vote.

1. Jagmeet Singh (2)

While Singh's claim to have signed up 47,000 members has given rise to some controversy, much of the issue seems to come from some confusion as to who's included in that number. In particular, it's highly likely that a substantial number of Singh's counted memberships consisted of renewals rather than first-time supporters - which couldn't necessarily be seen as separate from the pools of voters who have already been polled as known members.

But while those voters might not be as solidly in Singh's camp as people signing up for the express purpose of supporting him, it's still noteworthy that a candidate who got off to a late start seems to have managed to perform that strongly even in the renewal category where some low-hanging fruit would have been available to candidates starting early. And a campaign apparatus capable of achieving that looks to be at a huge advantage in maintaining and converting support once the voting window opens.

2. Charlie Angus (1)

Meanwhile, Angus' drop is due solely to Singh's strong showing in the membership numbers. But if Angus now looks likely to be substantially behind Singh on the first ballot, he'll have some work to do in establishing himself as the preferred final-ballot choice for supporters of the remaining candidates.

3. Guy Caron (3)

Caron holds his position thanks to another strong week in terms of both endorsements, and setting the terms of the campaign debate. But there still looks to be a long way for him to go in trying to reach a final ballot - and while Caron's position on Quebec's Bill 62 may have succeeded in attracting some positive attention, it will also offer a strong basis for contrast if he is one of the last two candidates standing.

4. Niki Ashton (4)

Finally, Ashton also stays in place in the absence of any significant change from the previous week. But as noted here, she may have an opportunity to demonstrate that her movement-building strategy has progressed further than might be obvious from the leadership campaign so far.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- George Lakey describes how Denmark has built the world's happiest society by building a political movement and an economic model centred around providing for everybody:
Using the crisis as an opportunity, the Social Democrats secured the foundation of the Nordic model, the most successful economic national model yet invented for the common good. The Danish majority loved it, and the unions and family farmers retained political control of the country for the rest of the century. The model became so hegemonic that all the parties were forced to embrace it to remain relevant at all, even the new “right-wing” party that hates immigration while still promoting a robust version of the Nordic model.

What shall we call that model? Describing Denmark as a “welfare state” is, I think, seriously misleading. The Nordic design isn’t welfare for the needy—that’s the old approach that has not worked for any nation in the world, ever. Instead, the Nordic model provides universal services given to all, whatever their income, as a matter or right, supported by progressive taxation that re-distributes income and wealth.
The Danish people did not produce utopia, nor are they first in every measure. Norway has more social ownership of the means of production than Denmark does, and Sweden generates more innovation as measured by patents. The Danes did not end the push-back from the economic elite. Class struggle remains a reality in Denmark, as it does everywhere.

The Danes did, however, end centuries of domination by their 1 percent and empowered the democratic majority to make decisions about the future direction of the economy. They designed a different economy, one that centers labor instead of capital, correctly understanding this shift to be the pre-condition for the abolition of poverty. They also turn to nonviolent direct action to do the heavy lifting when they see it is needed, rather than putting all their eggs in the parliamentary basket.
- Meanwhile, Chris McGreal comments on the promise of democratic socialism as a needed hope for a growing movement of young Americans. Aditya Chakrabortty points out the deprivation and inequality that's leading to a first-ever strike among workers at UK McDonald's. And Rachelle Younglai discusses the Canadian workers who are being left without any hope of stable employment.

- Christopher Cheung interviews Geoff Dembicki about the trend of young voters making their decisions based on climate change - and the prospect that a cohort suckered once by the Trudeau Libs won't be fooled again.

- Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan call out climate change denialists when numerous ongoing disasters are demonstrating the human costs of inaction. And Rick Salutin criticizes much of the coverage of Hurricane Harvey as "rescue porn" which neglects needed analysis as to how damage happened and could be prevented.

- Finally, Alheli Picazo offers some suggestions in dealing with prejudice among people who are willing to listen and reconsider their assumptions.