Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Bruce Johnstone points out that one can't justify Stephen Harper's gross dereliction of duty in addressing greenhouse gas emissions based on any system of principles other than climate change denialism. And Tony Burman criticizes the Cons for burying their heads in the oil sands, while pointing out that we have plenty of work to do as citizens to replace them with leaders who actually contribute to the most important crisis facing humanity.

- Meanwhile, Jeremy Nuttall reports on the NDP's work to stop damaging the planet in the name of unfettered resource extraction - this time focusing on Nathan Cullen's bill to stop tankers from operating off British Columbia's north coast.

- Paul Krugman reminds us why concentrated top-end wealth doesn't actually result in improved lives even for the few who take a perpetually larger share of our resources:
If you feel that it’s bad for society to have people flaunting their relative wealth, you have in effect accepted the view that great wealth imposes negative externalities on the rest of the population — which is an argument for progressive taxation that goes beyond the maximization of revenue.

And one more thing: think about what this says about economic growth. We have an economy that has become considerably richer since 1980, but with a large share of the gains going to people with very high incomes — people for whom the marginal utility of a dollar’s worth of spending is not only low, but comes largely from status competition, which is a zero-sum game. So a lot of our economic growth has simply been wasted, doing nothing but accelerating the pace of the upper-income rat race.
- Neil Irwin chimes in on the sad reality that any economic growth in the U.S. is being skimmed off the top by the wealthiest 10% - meaning that the vast majority of workers and citizens don't have anything to gain from corporatist policies even if they did (contrary to all evidence) contribute to GDP growth. And Jennifer Erickson discusses the middle class squeeze which has seen costs rise even as incomes stagnate or fall.

- Finally, PressProgress exposes how the Harper Cons' belief in the magical effect of corporate tax slashing has proven utterly false in reality. And Truthout makes the case for finally repudiating trickle-down economics in favour of policies designed to improve citizens' lives, while Joe Gunn contrasts our options in reducing either poverty or tax rates.

On deflection

Shorter Your Corporate Overlords:
It turns out most of the information we supplied to get a free pass on importing disposable foreign workers was laughably inaccurate. And we're outraged that anybody was foolish enough to believe us.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Musical interlude

Starecase - See (Timo Maas Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Don Pittis makes the case for a guaranteed annual income on economic and social grounds:
The young would be some of the biggest beneficiaries. Students could use the money to pay for their education, thus eliminating student loan programs. Students from poor families could afford to take courses to improve their skills.

The old age security system could disappear. So would the baby bonus itself. The demogrant would supplement government programs such as minimum wage, EI, CPP/QPP, disability allowance – all resulting in bureaucratic savings.

But going back to my original question: if you got free money, would you continue to work?

Experimental programs, including one in Dauphin, Man. in the 1970s, show that the answer is yes.

As Pereira points out, scratching out a living on the demogrant alone (which some suggest would vary with local living costs) would mean you could never have a house or a car, or any of the minor luxuries we all expect.

But there is another reason to introduce the demogrant. And that is the changing nature of work in the automated age.

Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, worries that we are on the way to a world where robots do most of the work, driving up unemployment to levels never seen before.

"How do we get an income into people's hands so that they can survive, so that they are not on the street?" Ford asks.
- And Olivia Carville points out that due to the shredding of the social safety net, disabled Ontarians are actually more likely to live in poverty and rely on food banks than was the case two decades ago.

- In the wake of the news about the passing of two giants of Canada's progressive political blogosphere, let's offer up this week's examples of the Cons' Mostly Competent Government: an appalling objection to indigenous peoples' rights buried far out of sight, and a much-trumpeted set of grain shipping regulations which has been rendered one-seventh as effective as promised because the Cons couldn't be bothered to check for typos.

- Meanwhile, Carol Linnitt highlights the Cons' Orwellian messaging on climate change. And Matthew Paterson expands on how Canada is being left behind as the rest of the world starts to deal meaningfully with the most important challenge facing humanity.

- Finally, Katrina Orlowski discusses the role millenials can and should play in changing Canadian politics.

On practical obstacles

Shorter Andrew Scheer:
A functional democratic Parliament is everybody's responsibility. And to be more precise, my responsibility for a functional democratic Parliament is to enforce complete unaccountability - and indeed punish anybody who questions that choice - until the Conservative Party instructs me otherwise.
(For further reading, Michael Den Tandt, Mia Rabson and Tasha Kheiriddin weigh in as well.)

[Edit: added link.]

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda McQuaig reminds us that while growing inequality may have different impacts on older workers as compared to younger ones, it arises based on fault lines which have nothing to do with age:
(T)he suggestion that seniors as a group receive too much government support is absurd. Rich seniors, who need it least, are dramatically over-subsidized by government. Poor seniors — the ones who need more help — have been all but abandoned by the Harper government.

For that matter, the precarious financial situation faced by the young is part of the erosion of economic security for working people in general, as an increasingly powerful corporate sector pushes governments to redesign tax and trade laws in its favour, and to weaken union and workplace protections. This has allowed corporations to scoop up an increasingly large share of national income, at the expense of labour.
(I)t’s now common to have two-tier workplaces, where new hires receive pay and benefits that are a fraction of what long-time employees receive.

But it’s corporations that have created this highly unequal situation, by taking advantage of vulnerable younger workers. Unions have fought bitterly against the two-tier workplace, knowing it will weaken worker solidarity.

Both Maclean’s and Stewart-Patterson suggest that young people could deal with their plight by launching a tax revolt — the Right’s favourite cause — which would lead to further cuts to our social safety net. How convenient it would be for conservatives if it could enlist young people in an anti-tax crusade.

A much better solution for young people would be a stronger social safety net: increased government subsidies for university and college tuition, a universal child care program and direct investments in job creation, particularly for youth.

Above all, the Right wants to ensure that the anger of disaffected young people doesn’t end up aimed at the corporate elite — as it was during Occupy Wall Street’s campaign against the growing wealth and power of the ‘one per cent’.
- Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias highlights Pavlina Tcherneva's findings on increasing inequality in periods of U.S. economic expansion - as economic growth is now managing to take place at the same time as further erosion of income for the bottom 90%. But Thomas Edsall notes that far too few people are willing to talk about the progressive taxation and social investments necessary to improve matters.

- Huffington Post Canada takes a look at OECD data and finds that Canada's proportion of low-paying jobs (at 22% of all jobs) is among the worst in the developed world. And Louis-Philippe Rochon discusses how the Cons are determined to put the screws to workers even more by undermining any attempt to organize:
There is strong evidence to suggest that higher unionization rates translate into higher salaries, which in turn fuels consumption-based economic growth with less, not more, household indebtedness.  Yet, the decline of unionization in Canada and elsewhere in the last 4 decades has had devastating results.

If we look at the post World War II era, from 1945 to now, we notice two very distinct periods with very striking differences.

Consider, for instance, the period right after World War II from, say 1945 to roughly the early 1970s, which is what many economists now refer to as the Golden Years — and for a reason. Unionization in Canada was growing and the Canadian economy underwent a massive expansion. In fact, unionization grew steadily throughout this period, as did hourly earnings.
Since the 1970s, however, Canada changed for the worse.

This is where unionization began to decrease. It peaked at roughly 37 per cent in the early 1970s and began a slow decline, as did hourly earnings.

As a result of that and other influences, the Canadian economy slowed down and unemployment has been, on average, substantially higher. As for inflation, after hitting record highs, it has been tamer in the last few years but mostly as a result of weak increases in wages. As of 2013, unionization in Canada stands at a shocking 30 per cent (as a share of non-agricultural paid workers).

So what’s going on? Higher unionization means stronger unions, and stronger wage gains. Economies grow as a result of spending. So higher wages mean more consumption and growth. It’s that simple.

When governments try to quell unions and labour movements, they are actually hurting prospects for domestic growth. The same logic applies when governments reduce public spending, but that is a matter for another day.
- Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew examine how the risks arising out of the CETA far outweigh any plausible benefits. And to be clear it's worth making sure that any trade deal can be justified on its own terms - rather than signing on to any of them based solely on the desire to be seen as generally friendly toward business (or the argument that it might be possible to minimize the damage later).

- Finally, Gwynn Guilford makes the case for improved paternity leave as the best means of both encouraging parental participation in the workforce, and ensuring that the responsibility for raising children doesn't fall disproportionately on women.

New column day

Here, on how the politics and economics of energy production are changing around the world - and how Canada is being left behind due to governments focused solely on pushing oil interests.

For further reading...
- Again, Vivek Radhwa discusses the progress that's being made in developing - and broadly implementing - renewable alternatives to fossil fuel energy. And Clean Energy Canada studies how we're missing the boat.
- Aaron Wherry reminds us that Stephen Harper was at least once willing to talk about climate change - but only apparently when he saw no political choice. And again, there's been a pattern of Con and Sask Party politicians abandoning any pretense to public service in favour of explicit oil lobbying - with Rob Merrifield and Tim McMillan serving as just the latest examples.
- Justin Ling points out that any question as to the federal government's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has been answered in the affirmative.
- The Guardian reports on the People's Climate March which saw half a million citizens around the world call for action against climate change, while Monica Araya and Hans Verolme see it as just the start of a new movement for clean energy.
- CBC reports on Leona Aglukkaq's speech to the UN, while Rosemary Barton offers photographic evidence that nobody much cared what she had to say.
- Finally, Thomas Walkom makes the case that Harper's absence from the UN climate summit may have been for the best. But that's hardly a vote of confidence since it's based entirely on the view that Harper would only have shown up to obstruct proceedings anyway.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Joe Cressy argues that we need to take strong progressive positions to highlight the kinds of public investment which need to be made, rather than buying into right-wing spin about slashing taxes and eliminating public institutions:
Public investment is about social justice, taking care of people and making sure our communities have affordable housing, public transit, child care, clean air to breathe and water to drink.

Now, when progressive candidates talk about investing in communities, we are often labeled as ‘tax-and-spenders,’ as if that were something to be ashamed of.

The reality is that taxing, spending, and regulating are the core functions of government, no matter who holds office. The difference lies in how you prioritize spending.

Instead of running from the word ‘tax,’ we need to look at what we are actually doing with our resources. Are we taxing fairly, and are we investing in things that will make life better? That should be the ‘bottom line.’
- Which fits nicely with Ken Neumann's view that we should demand better in the next federal election (and in our political system generally), not just settle for any alternative.

- Meanwhile, Celia Carr laments the stigmatization of people living in poverty. And Danielle Kurtzleben notes that based on our actual standards of fairness, we should instead be far more critical of CEOs who extract massive amounts of wealth at the expense of workers.

- Jason Fekete reports on the Cons' obscene expenditures on media monitoring and communications

- Finally, Barrie McKenna discusses how the fetishization of small business leads to our spending billions on programs which don't accomplish anything of value. And I'll note that we shouldn't merely be drawing distinctions between small and large businesses either, as we'd do far better to highlight the importance of public services - as Janet Newbury does:
We don't have to choose between supporting the public sector and economic prosperity: investing in the public sector is good for our economy.

A good jobs plan for B.C. would enhance the public sector -- particularly supporting jobs in health and human services. It would replace the current trend towards temporary, resource-dependent jobs with a commitment to maintaining stable, permanent jobs that contribute to societal well-being. Creating and maintaining public sector jobs can foster our social and economic well-being by ensuring the quality of vital gap-reducing social services, and by building a strong and stable workforce in B.C.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tunnelling cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Robert Reich discusses how our economic system is set up to direct risk toward the people who can least afford to bear it (while also directing the spoils to those who need them least):
Bankruptcy was designed so people could start over. But these days, the only ones starting over are big corporations, wealthy moguls, and Wall Street.

Corporations are even using bankruptcy to break contracts with their employees. When American Airlines went into bankruptcy three years ago, it voided its labor agreements and froze its employee pension plan.

After it emerged from bankruptcy last year and merged with U.S. Airways, America's creditors were fully repaid, its shareholders came out richer than they went in, and its CEO got a severance package valued at $19.9 million.

But American's former employees got shafted.

Wall Street doesn't worry about failure, either. As you recall, the Street almost went belly up six years ago after risking hundreds of billions of dollars on bad bets.

A generous bailout from the federal government kept the bankers afloat. And since then, most of the denizens of the Street have come out just fine.

Yet more than 4 million American families have so far have lost their homes. They were caught in the downdraft of the Street's gambling excesses.
There's no starting over for millions of people laden with student debt, either.

Student loan debt has more than doubled since 2006, from $509 billion to $1.3 trillion. It now accounts for 40 percent of all personal debt -- more than credit card debts and auto loans.

But the bankruptcy law doesn't cover student debts. The student loan industry made sure of that.
Economies are risky. Some industries rise and others implode, like housing. Some places get richer, and others drop, like Atlantic City. Some people get new jobs that pay better, many lose their jobs or their wages.

The basic question is who should bear these risks. As long as the laws shield large investors while putting the risks on ordinary people, investors will continue to make big bets that deliver jackpots when they win but create losses for everyone else.
- And Murray Dobbin discusses how an age of constant anxiety is making it more difficult for working Canadians to stand up for themselves.

- Meanwhile, Pedro Nicolaci da Costa notes that even the financial sector which has done so much to exacerbate inequality is starting to take notice of the problem. The Washington Post weighs in on how Sam Brownback's experiment in even more extreme corporatism has proven exactly as disastrous as we should have expected. And Paul Krugman debunks the Republicans' spin that inequality is a matter of merit rather than structural unfairness, while the CP reports on the Conference Board of Canada's research showing an unprecedented generational divide.

- Moira Donovan points out the sad state of early childhood education in Nova Scotia. CBC News reveals that injured Canadian soldiers are being forced to keep quiet about their injuries in order to secure some pension income. And Karl Nerenberg writes about the Cons' continued war against refugees - this time consisting of an attempt to deny even the most basic standard of living.

- Finally, Stephen Maher discusses the need to acknowledge and confront Canada's legacy of genocide toward aboriginal peoples.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Linda Tirado writes about life in poverty - and the real prospect that anybody short of the extremely wealthy can wind up there:
I haven’t had it worse than anyone else, and actually, that’s kind of the point. This is just what life is for roughly one-third of Americans and one in five people in Great Britain. We all handle it in our own ways, but we all work in the same jobs, live in the same places, feel the same sense of never quite catching up. We’re not any happier about exploding welfare costs than anyone else is, believe me. It’s not like everyone grows up and dreams of working two essentially meaningless part-time jobs while collecting food stamps.

It’s just that there aren’t many other options for a lot of people. In fact, the Urban Institute found that half of Americans will experience poverty at some point before they’re 65. Most will come out of it after a relatively short time, 75% in four years. But that still leaves 25% who don’t get out quickly, and the study also found that the longer you stay in poverty, the less likely it becomes that you will ever get out. Most people who live near the bottom go through cycles of being in poverty and just above it – sometimes they’re just OK and sometimes they’re underwater. It depends on the year, the job, how healthy you are. What I can say for sure is that downward mobility is like quicksand. Once it grabs you, it keeps constraining your options until it’s got you completely. I slid to the bottom through a mix of my own decisions and some seriously bad luck. I think that’s true of most people.

While it can seem like upward mobility is blocked by a lead ceiling, the layer between lower-middle class and poor is horrifyingly porous from above. A lot of us live in that spongy divide.
- Meanwhile, Rebecca Vallas and Melissa Boteach offer ten suggestions to improve the plight of workers across the income spectrum. And oddly enough, neither state-imposed indentured servitude nor a world-lagging set of policies on temporary employment makes the list.

- Ashley Renders points out that in planning to reduce our reliance on dirty energy, it's essential to have cleaner alternatives available. But Vivek Radhwa writes that we're not far off with the renewable energy sources we've already developed.

- Joseph Heath observes that hard power is of extremely limited effectiveness in dealing with both armies around the world and crime at home.

- Finally, Aaron Wherry discusses the price of democratic accountability. And Glen McGregor reminds us that the Cons will tolerate nothing of the sort - as most recently evidence by their systematic disposal of any comment critical of the FIPA.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that to end your weekend.

- Paul Krugman notes that a concerted effort to combat climate change could be as beneficial economically as it is important for the future of our planet:
Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.

On one side, there has been dramatic progress in renewable energy technology, with the costs of solar power, in particular, plunging, down by half just since 2010. Renewables have their limitations — basically, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow — but if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality.

On the other side, it turns out that putting a price on carbon would have large “co-benefits” — positive effects over and above the reduction in climate risks — and that these benefits would come fairly quickly. The most important of these co-benefits, according to the I.M.F. paper, would involve public health: burning coal causes many respiratory ailments, which drive up medical costs and reduce productivity.
- But Mike De Souza documents what the Harper Cons have chosen to do in blocking any progress whatsoever. And Josh Wingrove reports that they've been similarly unwilling to see tar sands operators held to their legal obligations when it comes to polluting rivers, while Sean Holman points out how the mining sector has similarly been held to be above the law in British Columbia.

- Which is to say that Naomi Klein's call for a climate health movement arising out of civil society rather than government seems all the more important in Canada:
What is most terrifying about the threat of climate disruption is not the unending procession of scientific reports about rapidly melting ice sheets, crop failures and rising seas. It’s the combination of trying to absorb that information while watching our so-called leaders behave as if the global emergency is no immediate concern. As if every alarm in our collective house were not going off simultaneously.

Only when we urgently acknowledge that we are facing a genuine crisis will it become possible to enact the kinds of bold policies and mobilize the economic resources we need. Only then will the world have a chance to avert catastrophic warming.

It’s not simply that our leaders aren’t leading us – at an appropriate gallop – away from fossil fuels and towards the renewable energy revolution that is both technologically and economically feasible. It’s that most of them are doubling down on the very energy sources that are most responsible for the crisis, cheering on the extractive industries as they dig up the most greenhouse gas-intensive fossil fuels on the planet: oil from the tar sands, gas from fracking, extra-dirty lignite coal.
Naming climate change as a clear and present danger is not a solution in itself, of course. But it is the critical first step. Forcefully expressing our collective sense of urgency will help us resist the next attempt to tell us that some manufactured economic imperative is more important than the stability of the planet – whether it’s the supposed need for more government austerity, or the need to grow the economy at any cost. That sustained sense of urgency will allow us to demand the kinds of bold action required to get off fossil fuels, and move to a regenerative economy, in the brief window we have left. 
- Frank Graves comments on the economic stagnation facing large numbers of Canadians, while Benjamin Lanka reports on the connection between poverty and educational success. But the good news is that we're not lacking for some available solutions, as Nathaniel Downes notes that a $15 minimum wage in Seatac, Washington has led to both greater economic growth as well as a far better life for the workers who can now take home a living wage.

- Finally, Michael Harris writes that the Cons' plan for 2015 involves little more than deflection and distraction. And Frances Russell highlights the contrast between Harper's lofty rhetoric about democracy in the Ukraine and his consistent attacks on anything worthy of the title at home.