Thursday, February 06, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Donovan Vincent reports on the Institute for Social Research's study showing Canadians are highly concerned about income inequality:
“People think the income gap has gotten worse. What was surprising to me was the universality of this belief. Younger people, older, higher levels of education, lower, men and women. The fact is, a wide cross-section of Canadian society believes that the income gap has gotten bigger, or much bigger in the last five years,” survey author David Northrup said in an interview.

“Usually we see a lot more variation in opinion in social ideas like this,” added Northrup, director of survey research at York who co-authored the report with York professor Lesley Jacobs.

“One of the fundamental bedrocks of being a Canadian is thinking we have a fair society. This survey is going against that grain.”

When it came to explaining the income gap, 70 per cent of respondents said there just aren’t enough jobs that pay a decent wage, while 60 per cent said the flight of jobs to countries that pay low wages is a major reason for the expanding income gap. About two-thirds of Canadians, 65 per cent, blamed “increasing salaries to business leaders” as a major reason for the widening income gap.
- Meanwhile, the CCPA's alternative federal budget offers plenty of means to address Canada's burgeoning inequality and lack of social progress. And Bill Moyers points out that a substantial number of businesses stand to do better if they can appeal to a strong middle class.

- Claire McIlveen writes that the Cons' elections legislation falls far short of what was promised, while Chantal Hebert and Steven Chase both note that it fits the Cons' pattern of suppressing voter turnout and other public participation at every available opportunity. And in case there was any doubt about elections legislation receiving more scrutiny than anything else the Cons are pushing, they're are following their usual pattern of shutting down debate (and presumably amendments as well) to ensure the truth doesn't come out until after the legislation is forced through Parliament.

- Alex Boutilier writes that the PBO has called out the Cons' compulsive dishonesty about sick leave taken by federal public servants. And John Nicol and Dave Seglins report that in the lead up to the Lac-M├ęgantic disaster, Lisa Raitt was receiving - and granting - a steady stream of requests for exemptions from rail safety rules.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom recognizes an important distinction between the NDP and its federal competitors:
What would the New Democrats do if they won power? In an open letter to Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Toronto MP Peggy Nash, the party’s finance critic, provides a few hints.

Her letter marks a welcome respite from the usual political bromides about the horrors of fiscal deficits. Putting government spending and revenue into balance is a worthy abstract goal. But in the real world, it can cause more harm than good.

Nash gets this. She warns Flaherty that in his rush to balance the books, he risks prolonging a slump that has already lasted six years.

She notes — correctly — that unemployment remains stubbornly high and that the savants of the International Monetary Fund predict more trouble for the Canadian economy.

Indeed, IMF economists have gently suggested to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that it delay its budget balancing plans should the economy turn particularly sour.
Still, (Tom Mulcair's) New Democrats are on the right track. They understand that Canada’s economic priority should be jobs and incomes. They understand government has a role to play in this. They are not quite as terrified of breaking away from the orthodoxy of balanced budgets as they used to be.

They may not be saying much. But unlike, say, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, they are saying something.

New column day

Here, taking a closer look at the City of Regina's 2014 budget - which offers a clear demonstration that the perpetual promise of growth doesn't do anything to fund the municipal services citizens count on, resulting in current residents paying for the poor decisions of the city administration.

For further reading...
- The City's budget documents can be found here
- Both CBC's initial report and the Leader-Post's editorial focus on the mill rate increase (which seems to me to hide more than it reveals). And Paul Dechene starts the Prairie Dog's work in digging somewhat deeper.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Light blogging ahead

There'll be little if any blogging in this space for the next week. (Since we should probably test once and for all whether readers are happier avoiding political talk during the Olympics.)

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Zoe Williams interviews George Lakoff about the need for progressive activists and parties to work on changing minds rather than merely pursuing an elusive (and illusory) middle ground:
(T)he left, he argues, is losing the political argument – every year, it cedes more ground to the right, under the mistaken impression that this will bring everything closer to the centre. In fact, there is no centre: the more progressives capitulate, the more boldly the conservatives express their vision, and the further to the right the mainstream moves. The reason is that conservatives speak from an authentic moral position, and appeal to voters' values. Liberals try to argue against them using evidence; they are embarrassed by emotionality. They think that if you can just demonstrate to voters how their self-interest is served by a socially egalitarian position, that will work, and everyone will vote for them and the debate will be over. In fact, Lakoff asserts, voters don't vote for bald self-interest; self-interest fails to ignite, it inspires nothing – progressives, of all people, ought to understand this.

When he talks about the collapse of the left, he clearly doesn't mean that those parties have disintegrated: they could be in government, as the Democrats are in the US. But their vision of progressive politics is compromised and weak. So in the UK there have been racist "Go home" vans and there is an immigration bill going through parliament, unopposed, that mandates doctors, the DVLA, banks and landlords to interrogate the immigration status of us all; Hungary has vigilante groups attacking Roma, and its government recently tried to criminalise homelessness; the leaders of the Golden Dawn in Greece have only just been arrested, having been flirting with fascism since the collapse of the eurozone. We see, time and again, people in need being dehumanised, in a way that seems like a throwback to 60 or 70 years ago. Nobody could say the left was winning.
Lakoff's work on the conceptual systems around morals and politics (and how they show up in language) has yielded two-dozen metaphors for morality, most of them universal across cultures. Of those, the two key frames informing political judgment involve the idea of government as a family: the strict-father model (conservative) versus the nurturant-parent model (progressive).
If the two systems are poised in pure opposition, if they are each as moral, as metaphorical, as anciently rooted, as solidly grounded as the other, then why is one winning? "Progressives want to follow the polls … Conservatives don't follow the polls; they want to change them. Political ground is gained not when you successfully inhabit the middle ground, but when you successfully impose your framing as the 'common-sense' position."
- And Sean Holman highlights USA Today's challenge to its readers as to why they focus more on celebrity gossip than substantive news.

- The CCPA takes a look at the cost of living in Regina - and finds that a living wage for a family with two working adults would be $16.36 per hour.

- Alison cuts through some of CSEC's spin about its tracking travellers passing through Canadian airports. And Ron Diebert asks what we can do now that we know about CSEC's belief that it can spy on Canadians with impunity:
The CSEC presentation describes ubiquitous surveillance programs clearly directed at Canadians, involving data associated with Canadian airports, hotels, wi-fi cafes, enterprises and other domestic locations. The presentation outlines the challenges of discerning specific internet addresses and IDs associated with users within the universe of bulk data, paying special attention to challenges involving the movement of people through airports. It outlines results of experiments undertaken at a medium-sized city airport, which could possibly mean Calgary or Halifax, and which includes observations at “other domestic airports,” “hotels in many cities” and “mobile gateways in many cities.” Observations are made with detailed graphs of specific patterns of communications, noting differences as to how individuals communicate upon arrival and during departure, how long they spend in transit lounges, wi-fi cafes, hotel visits and even places of work. The objectives, the presentation says, are to separate the “needle from the haystack” – the haystack being, of course, all of us.

The presentation specifies that at least some of the bulk data from these locations was obtained through the cooperation of what’s only described as a “Canadian Special Source,” which is likely a Canadian telecommunications provider. If so, such revelations would make a mockery of Canadian carriers advertising their services as a “safe haven” from the snooping U.S. National Security Agency. From an accountability and oversight point of view, moving data hosting from the United States to Canada is like moving from a dimly lit cave to a pitch-black tunnel at the back of the cave.

What’s this mean for Canadians? When you go to the airport and flip open your phone to get your flight status, the government could have a record. When you check into your hotel and log on to the Internet, there’s another data point that could be collected. When you surf the Web at the local cafe hotspot, the spies could be watching. Even if you’re just going about your usual routine at your place of work, they may be following your communications trail.

Ingenious? Yes. Audacious? Yes. Unlawful? Time for the courts to decide...
The revelations require an immediate response. They throw into sharp relief the obvious inadequacy of the existing “oversight” mechanism, which operates entirely within the security tent. They cast into doubt all government statements made about the limits of such programs. They raise the alarming prospect that Canada’s intelligence agencies may be routinely obtaining data on Canadian citizens from private companies – which includes revealing personal data – on the basis of a unilateral and highly dubious definition of “metadata” (the information sent by cellphones and mobile devices describing their location, numbers called and so on) as somehow not being “communications.” Such operations go well beyond invasions of privacy; the potential for the abuse of unchecked power contained here is practically limitless.
- Tabatha Southey suggests that the solution to Julian Fantino's contempt for Canadian veterans should be a fairly simple one if the Cons were willing to listen to reality. But then, the Cons and their provincial counterparts don't tend to fit that bill - as Murray Mandryk points out in discussing the Sask Party's vehement refusal to conduct a fair evaluation of P3s compared to public alternatives.

- Finally, Paul McLeod reports that the Cons have effectively eliminated federal anti-smoking programs in Canada - replacing the public health priority of reducing smoking with an industry-favoured push against contraband cigarettes alone.