Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- The Economist discusses how a tiny elite group is taking a startling share of the U.S.' total wealth:
The ratio of household wealth to national income has risen back toward the level of the 1920s, but the share in the hands of middle-class families has tumbled (see chart). Tepid growth in middle-class incomes is partly to blame; real incomes for the top 1% of families grew 3.4% a year from 1986-2012 while those for the bottom 90% grew 0.7%. But Messrs Saez and Zucman reckon the main cause of falling middle-class net worth is soaring debt. Rising home values did little to raise middle-class wealth since mortgage debt also soared. The recession battered home prices but left the debt untouched, further squeezing middle-class wealth.
On the other side of the spectrum, the fortunes of the wealthy have grown, especially at the very top. The 16,000 families making up the richest 0.01%, with an average net worth of $371m, now control 11.2% of total wealth—back to the 1916 share, which is the highest on record. Those down the distribution have not done quite so well: the top 0.1% (consisting of 160,000 families worth $73m on average) hold 22% of America’s wealth, just shy of the 1929 peak—and exactly the same share as the bottom 90% of the population.
- Meanwhile, Lana Payne points out that the Cons are looking to set up the same level of inequality in Canada by pushing tax giveaways at the top end of the income spectrum. And Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert rightly challenge the regressive claim that pushing people toward marriage is somehow a solution to inequality.

- Thomas Walkom and Jeffrey Simpson are both duly skeptical as to whether Stephen Harper will do anything of substance in response to the new greenhouse gas emission reduction agreement between the U.S. and China. But even if we should fully expect continued stonewalling from the Cons, it's not such a bad thing for Harper to be forced to explain that choice.

- Harsha Walia calls out the Cons' "managed migration" which serves primarily to limit individual rights and freedoms:
While Canada is often cast as a liberal counterpoint to aggressive U.S. immigration enforcement tactics, the U.S. has actually pointed to Canada as the model to implement for U.S. migration policy. This is because Canada has perfected a system of managed migration to ensure the steady supply of cheap labour within neoliberalism while entrenching racialized citizenship.
Canada currently accepts more migrants under temporary permits than those who can immigrate permanently. Permanent residency for refugees, skilled workers and family members is restricted, citizenship is becoming harder to get and easier to lose, but the migrant worker program is exploding.

These changes are drastic. The number of family-class immigrants dropped by 10,000 in the first four years the Conservative Party of Canada formed government.

According to Avvy Yao-Yao Go, Director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, "Thirty years ago, family-class immigrants made up the majority of all immigrants. Today, they account for less than 20 per cent of the total intake."
For the few refugees and migrants who do become permanent residents or citizens, the battle for secure legal status doesn't end there. The Immigrant Criminalization law that passed last year allows for deportations of thousands of permanent residents who have been convicted for minor offences including traffic offenses.

And the new Stealing Citizenship law makes it possible to revoke citizenship from dual nationals or even from Canadian-born children who have the possibility of accessing dual citizenship.
- Finally, David Broockman and Joshua Kalla examine the effectiveness of direct personal contact with voters - both in making an immediate impression, and actually inspiring people to vote. And it's well worth contrasting Broockman and Kalla's findings that genuine conversations represent the most important result of door-to-door canvassing against Derek Willis' claim that it's a problem for volunteers to have their own principles and values rather than merely seeking to match a voter's preexisting views.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Musical interlude

Moist - Freaky Be Beautiful

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jonas Fossli Gherso discusses the unfortunate (and unnecessary) acceptance of burgeoning inequality even by the people who suffer most from its presence. And Ryan Meili interviews Gabor Mate about the ill health effects of an economic system designed to keep people under stress:
(T)he very nature of the system in which people live their lives is a significant source of illness. Now there are obvious factors like environmental pollution, toxins, and then of course there are the social determinants of health that you write about in A Healthy Society: the impact of poverty, the impact of inequality, the impact of history and continued racism. There’s an article in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix today about sentencing practices in the courts of Saskatchewan. People who are identified as Aboriginal are likely to get double the sentences of people who are not identified as Aboriginal. That’s going to have a health impact.

But I’m going to go beyond even that and say that even the people who are not on the wrong end of economic inequality or systemic racism are still made ill just by how we live our lives. The stress that we live under, the competition, the aggressiveness, the uncertainty, the loss of control that we experience in our lives. The gender inequalities, these are not just social phenomena, they have an actual impact on community health. The isolation people are experiencing.
- Meanwhile, Charles Smith points out how young workers are losing out as a result of policy choices designed to maximize employer leverage at their expense:
Canadian young people are among the most educated in the world. According to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2014 Canada had the highest percentage of university or college trained population in the world. Recognizing that, Statistics Canada reported in 2010 that most OECD countries were more successful than Canada in employing individuals with university or college education.

In other words, the problem with finding full and meaningful employment is not necessarily a problem with individual young people, but a broader problem of government and private sector employers.
Outside the classroom, students are demanding social change, pushing our organizations in new and exciting directions, challenging traditional pedagogy, and creating a new generation of community and ecological awareness.

At the University of Saskatchewan, young women are challenging traditional forms of power by creating new organizations and demanding justice in public and private life. Indigenous students are reclaiming space and demanding greater access to opportunities long denied to them.

All of this suggests that today's students are multi-talented, skilled and ready to lead. It is time that government and private employers recognized this by promoting an industrial policy designed to create meaningful full employment.
- Alan Kors reports on Stephen Lewis' advice in advocating for child care as a public good, not a benefit limited to those who immediately find spaces. And Jeffrey Simpson highlights how much work there is to be done in fixing a tax system built around the Cons' trinkets and baubles.

- Finally, Michael Den Tandt recognizes that the Cons' interest in Canadian troops goes no further than using them in photo ops. And Michael Harris notes that a direct clash between the Cons and the veterans they've left behind may make for an important piece of Canada's next election campaign.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Paul Krugman discusses the U.S.' multi-decade pattern of income stagnation. David MacDonald and Kayle Hatt study the price we've paid to suit the Cons' political purposes, while Kristin Rushowy reports on two new calls for a genuine child care system. And Andrew Jackson notes that the Cons' only real end goal has been to hand free money to people who don't need it:
The government forecasts a deficit of $2.9 billion in this fiscal year, (2014-15.) Yet there would almost have been a surplus this year if the government had not decided to introduce family income splitting for the current tax year of 2014, at a cost of $2.4 billion in the fiscal year 2014-15 in terms of reduced revenues.
The big winners are high income, single earner families where the higher earner has an income of at least $75,000 per year. They will receive tax refund cheques of $2,000 on the eve of the 2015 election.

In the context of rapidly rising income and wealth inequality, it is outrageous that the Conservative government’s priority is to introduce a tax measure that will actually worsen inequality and do nothing to lower child poverty or to fund a badly needed child care program.
- Meanwhile, Toby Sanger highlights how austerity has undermined Canada's economy over the past few years by replacing efficient public investment with useless tax baubles:

- Which isn't to say that we're lacking for areas where public money can still be put to better use, as Don Pittis writes about the billions being funneled by governments into making climate change worse.

- Alison observes that while deep integration with the U.S. has taken multiple forms, neither its goals nor its proponents have changed one bit over the past decade.

- Finally, both Frances Russell and Lawrence Martin partially explain the Cons' destructive policies by looking at Stephen Harper's insularity and refusal to allow either any real outside input into his plans, or any debate over his unilateral decisions.

New column day

Here, on how user reviews and the wisdom of crowds don't do us much good if businesses are able to silence anything that raises concerns about them.

For further reading...
- Laura K makes a similar point here.
- CBC reports on libel chill here, including a discussion of the Ottawa property manager which managed to intimidate a tenant into pulling an unfavourable review.
- Again, Mike De Souza discusses Exxon Mobil's attempts to silence his reporting on ALEC here. Jenny Uechl and Warren Bell expose Canada's links to the Western Energy Alliance - including its dirty war against the public - here.
- And finally, CBC reports on Kinder Morgan's attempt to silence protestors and the #kmface movement which responded, while Lauren Krugel notes that there's ample reason to doubt Kinder Morgan's own spin.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Jenny Uechi and Warren Bell expose Canada's embarrassing place as the only government participating in a climate-denial group pushing for a dirty war against the planet. But despite the Harper Cons' worst efforts, there's some good news on the climate front - as the use of solar energy is booming in the U.S., while a new bilateral deal between the U.S. and China is rapidly eliminating the Cons' traditional excuses for blocking international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

- Kathryn May reports on some of the vital public services the Cons have been slashing in the name of paying for income splitting and other tax baubles - with food safety and frontline staff addressing EI and veterans' benefits ranking at the top of the list. And Tim Harper comments on how those cuts affect Canadians directly:
A simple tally of recent reports, some gleaned by this newspaper and The Canadian Press and testimony before Parliamentary committees, gives us a partial sense of what we are sacrificing to ensure this government could get to surplus and offer its tax breaks in a pre-election period.

This week alone there was a report from the government’s public accounts showing the Harper government’s spending on marine safety had plunged 27 per cent since 2009-10 while aviation and rail safety were both down 20 per cent or more.

Transport Canada says the cuts were made on overhead, administrative and support services, but opposition critics find it hard to believe safety is not being compromised while oil shipments by rail skyrocket.

Another document obtained by CP showed Aboriginal Affairs had to shift $505 million in money earmarked for infrastructure over a six-year period to social and educational spending.

The money has bled the infrastructure fund and still not covered the shortfall on education and social spending. The infrastructure shortfall means fewer schools and more boil water orders in First Nations communities.
While you await your cheques, you might want to remember they didn’t come free. It may have already cost you from health care to security, from access to parks to treatment of our First Nations.
- Meanwhile, Kelly Grant notes that the Cons' plans to undermine the public service now include taking any real authority out of the hands of Canada's chief public health officer.

- CBC reports that the false promise of a privatized prison in Ontario has finally been deemed a failure in terms of cost and other outcomes - to the point where the province paid millions of dollars just to take back control for itself. [Update: as noted by @YouthAndWork, the story dates from 2006.]

- Finally, Thomas Walkom discusses how the Harper Cons are seeking to profit politically from their own culture of fear.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Fashionable cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Shannon Gormley points out that human rights are meaningless in the face of a government which claims the entitlement to strip people of their humanity - which is exactly what the Cons are setting out to do:
(W)hen Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced this year that, “Citizenship is not a right, it is a privilege,” most human rights advocates couldn’t take him seriously. He may as well have declared that the curvature of the earth is merely an optical illusion and the world is indeed flat, or that the second law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply to his government, which can perpetually stay in power whether or not its ministers fuel it with statements deserving serious consideration.

But while remarks such as the minister’s may not be worth taking seriously as statements of fact, they’re worth remembering as philosophical beliefs that determine policy directions. 
(T)o make simple policy changes, the government must make serious philosophical changes. It has to reverse its absurd and dangerous position that “the right to have rights” isn’t a right at all.
- Rick Salutin highlights the amount of work young Canadians already put into their efforts to break into a hostile job market. And Aaron Wherry points out that there's no reason for workers to have any confidence in a government which will proudly trumpet the funnelling of hundreds of millions of dollars to employers in the name of a jobs program without even considering whether they'll actually create any jobs in the process.

- Jen St. Denis discusses the negative effects income-splitting would have on women's earning power even in the few families who would enjoy some surface benefit. And Angella MacEwen exposes Andrew Coyne's blind spot in valuing the contributions of a stay-at-home spouse at zero (resulting in tax benefits based solely on the actual income of the other spouse).

- Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew reports on the widespread food bank use among people with full-time jobs which don't provide enough income to put food on the table. And Jordon Cooper discusses how Saskatchewan governments have come to see increasing reliance on food banks as a solution rather than a problem.

- Finally, Michael Harris writes about the Cons' exploitative relationship with Canada's veterans. And Ryan Meili comments on the connection between peace and health:
War brings injury and death by definition, but the impact of war is not limited to wartime. Long after the bullets stop flying, the destructive effects on a country continue: on its economy, its infrastructure, its psychology, its soul. War leaves behind land mines literal and metaphorical. Unexploded ordinances claim the lives and limbs of civilians. The spread of illnesses like HIV increases with the transience of wartime life. Violence and disease kill the young, the healthy backbone of the nation's families and economy. Those left behind often struggle with the emotional and psychological echoes of the trauma they survived. All of this damage leads to the perpetuation of poverty on numerous levels and, all too often, to a return to conflict and a repetition of the destructive cycle.

The road from peace to health is not a one-way street; a healthy society is less likely to find itself fighting. The same conditions that lead to higher levels of illness -- economic inequality, food insecurity, labour unrest -- can also lead to dangerous political instability. Since the early 1990s a series of global initiatives known as Peace through Health have been actively looking at the ways in which humanitarian health efforts can serve as a bridge to peaceful resolution of conflict. Well-resourced universal health systems can be a stabilizing element in both preventing and responding to violence. In this context, recent cuts to health services (including the drastic cuts to refugee health, many of whom have come to Canada to flee conflict) present a real threat to our health and security.

At this time of remembrance we are moved to think of those who sacrificed their lives in times of war so that others might live in peace. But to say "never again" to the horrors of the past means to work for peace today. A successful peace movement must recognize how injustice and inequality promote and perpetuate conflict. The world is suffering from a disease, with most gruesome symptom. As we continue to learn in health care, the most effective way to combat disease is to move upstream, to prevent sickness from starting.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Barrie McKenna looks to Norway as an example of how an oil-rich country can both ensure long-term benefits from its non-renewable resources, and be far more environmentally responsible than Canada has been to date.

- Michal Rozworski discusses how the devaluing of work is a largely political phenomenon. And Paul Mason wonders what it will take for workers who now see themselves as disenfranchised to fight back again a system that's rigged against them. 

- Speaking of which, Brendan James discusses a new study suggesting that the U.S. is past the point of being a democracy in any meaningful sense of the word. Paul Buchhelt comments on the disappearance of middle-class wealth. And John Stapleton studies (PDF) how lower-income citizens are both excluded and exploited by our financial system, while Arturo Garcia highlights Matt Taibbi's continued observation that absolutely nobody has been held responsible for financial-sector criminality even when it's crashed the economy.

- Jim Bronskill reports on Suzanne Legault's efforts to save access to information from Con cutbacks. The Star slams Tony Clement's Orwellian definition of "open government", while Sean Holman writes that even in opposition the Libs' plans don't seem to be much of an improvement. And Dan Leger writes about the spread of deliberately-cultivated ignorance among citizens across the developed world:
Here are some facts to illuminate your day: violent crime is getting worse, the country is overrun with immigrants, there’s an epidemic of teenage pregnancies and we’ve become a nation of geriatrics.

And that’s not all: 20 percent of Canadians are Muslim while the Christian population shrinks. Unemployment stalks the land.

No wonder people think we need to crack down on crime, choke off border access, enforce morality on teenagers and encourage Christian family values.

The problem is, the statements aren’t facts. They are widely held but entirely incorrect perceptions and they are common across the western world.
(G)overning from the gut by capitalizing on fear of crime, economic disruption or terrorism is a Conservative stock in trade under Stephen Harper. He’s been in power since 2006, so it works pretty well.

Of course the alternative to perception-driven politics is reliable public information; the kind you would get, say, from the mandatory long-form census. The Conservatives cancelled that in 2010.

Perhaps Canada would have better environmental policies if people were fully informed about pollution and climate change? The current government forbids scientists from telling the public about their work.
- Finally, Michael Harris notes that even as the Cons publicly claimed to have backed off their longstanding public push to buy F-35s which are ill-suited to Canada's purposes, they're in fact barging ahead with a plan to take delivery in the next couple of years.

[Edit: added link.]

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Rob Nixon's review of Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything nicely sums up why the book - and the fundamental clash it documents between corporate profit-seeking and the health of people and our planet - should be at the centre of our political conversation:
(N)eoliberalism — promotes a high-consumption, ­carbon-hungry system. Neoliberalism has encouraged mega-mergers, trade agreements hostile to environmental and labor regulations, and global hypermobility, enabling a corporation like Exxon to make, as McKibben has noted, “more money last year than any company in the history of money.” Their outsize power mangles the democratic process. Yet the carbon giants continue to reap $600 billion in annual subsidies from public coffers, not to speak of a greater subsidy: the right, in Klein’s words, to treat the atmosphere as a “waste dump.”

So much for the invisible hand. As the science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson observed, when it comes to the environment, the invisible hand never picks up the check.
In democracies driven by lobbyists, donors and plutocrats, the giant polluters are going to win while the rest of us, in various degrees of passivity and complicity, will watch the planet die. “Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews,” Klein writes. “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war.”
To change economic norms and ethical perceptions in tandem is even more formidable than the technological battle to adapt to the heavy weather coming down the tubes. Yet “This Changes Everything” is, improbably, Klein’s most optimistic book. She braids together the science, psychology, geopolitics, economics, ethics and activism that shape the climate question. 
- Meanwhile, Karl Nerenberg writes that we should see Stephen Harper's gross failure to do anything about climate change as his greatest scandal. And Bob Weber reports that NAFTA's Commission on Environmental Cooperation is just the latest environmental watchdog to be put down by the Cons - highlighting both the ineffectiveness of trade agreements in serving any interests other than profit maximization, and Harper's own hostility toward the world around us.

- John Nichols sees the U.S. as a prime (and painful) example of what happens when politics are governed by money rather than by people. But Mary Hansen and Kayla Schultz note that on at least a few fronts, voters nonetheless voted against corporate money and power in the recent midterm elections.

- Of course, that positive takeaway depends on voters actually having the chance to express their views. And Bruce Johnstone writes that the Sask Party is determined to prevent both public opinion and empirical evidence from interfering with their drive to privatize liquor retailing.

- Finally, Dr. Dawg exposes the barbarism behind the Cons' treatment of refugees and other vulnerable immigrants. But we shouldn't pretend the problem of dehumanizing perceived outsiders is limited to that issue alone, as Tabatha Southey notes that the Cons are similarly bent on depriving sex workers of their humanity.