Saturday, November 29, 2014

On inconsistent statements

Shorter Leona Aglukkaq:
It's libellous to suggest that I privately demanded that Sam Tutanuak apologize for exposing the fact that my constituents are going hungry. But while I have your attention, I may as well take the opportunity to publicly demand that Sam Tutanuak apologize for exposing the fact that my constituents are going hungry.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Thomas Walkom points out that with oil prices in free fall, we're now seeing the inevitable consequences of the Cons' plan to build an economy solely around unstable resource revenues:
Sensible countries try to lessen their dependence on volatile commodities. Canada, whose economy has been dominated by resource exports since the 16th century, spent much effort over the years trying to do break free from this dependence — usually by encouraging secondary manufacturing.

The aim was to diversify the economy so that offsetting forces were created. A fall in oil prices, for instance, might hurt Alberta’s petroleum sector. But the consequent cheap energy would aid Ontario manufacturers and the country could keep on an even keel.

For years, this was the unstated theory behind what was in effect a crude form of industrial strategy.

Much of the time, it more or less worked.
Harper has his own unspoken industrial policy. It can be summed up in a word: pipelines.

The Conservatives have used federal government power to override or repeal any kind of environmental regulation that might interfere with the export of oil, by pipeline, from the tarsands.

Harper wants pipelines from Alberta to reach the Pacific coast, the Gulf of Mexico and New Brunswick — all to transport oil that, if prices continue their slump, will be uneconomic to ship.

The fall in oil prices does, on its own, create some countervailing offsets. Low oil prices mean a low Canadian dollar; a low dollar benefits Canadian manufacturers exporting to the U.S.

But for this low dollar to work effectively there must be enough Canadian manufacturers willing to take advantage of it.

Thanks in part to globalization and in part to the actions of this particular government, there aren’t.
- Meanwhile, Bill Curry points out how a drop in resource prices will affect the Cons' budgeting in the short term. And Raphael Lopoukhine notes that there's reason for doubt that investors will want to be involved in Harper's planned petro-state as increased costs of production meet lowered revenues for the dirtiest tar sands projects.

- Seth Klein challenges the business lobby's constant griping about even the most basic steps to offer workers a reasonable standard of living - such as a fair minimum wage.

- Dylan Robertson reports on the Parliamentary Budget Officer's latest recognition that the Cons aren't willing to provide accurate information about the costs of their plans to anybody - even the office created specifically to ensure transparency in budgeting.

 - And finally, the Star's editorial board makes the case for a national pharmacare program.

On corporate takeovers

CTV reports on the funnelling of money from SNC-Lavalin into the Cons' coffers. And we shouldn't be surprised to see that connection in light of the Cons' attitude toward corporate wrongdoing.

But it's especially worth noting what's missing from the Cons' denials of involvement:
Elections Canada records reveal that 10 top SNC-Lavalin managers and their wives wrote personal cheques in 2009 to two federal Conservative riding associations that showed little chance of winning.

A total of $25,000 was funnelled to the ridings of Laurier-Sainte-Marie and Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier.
Approximately $30,000 was then transferred out to Megantic-L’Erable, the riding of then-public works minister Christian Paradis...
In a statement on Friday, the Conservative Party said: “Neither Minister Paradis nor his riding association had any reason to believe these donations were anything other than the lawful, individual donations they were. It appears SNC deliberately concealed the alleged wrongdoing from the targets of their actions, including from Minister Paradis.”
One might be able to paint the Megantic-L'Erable riding association as merely a recipient of a windfall which simply didn't turn down money being made available from within its own party.  (Though there's reason for skepticism on that front too until the scheme is investigated.)

But what about the two ridings which received the donations in the first place then passed the money along - and who are left out of the Cons' list of people who didn't have reason for concern about the donations? 

Are the Cons acknowledging that they don't have any basis to defend either how the money showed up on their doorstep in the first place, or how it was then directed to Paradis? Or is the Cons' claim that SNC-Lavalin took over their riding associations to the point of being able to "deliberately conceal" major donations from, and transfers within, their own party?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Musical interlude

Matthew Good Band - Indestructible

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jeremy Warren reports on the latest Canadians for Tax Fairness events working to ensure that Cameco and other megacorporations pay at least their fair share. And Sheila Block and Kaylie Tiessen point out that Ontario could do plenty to reduce its deficit by reining in regressive tax giveaways.

- APTN documents the devastating reality that people who can't afford overpriced food in Northern communities are having to forage through garbage dumps in order to scrape by. And naturally, Leona Aglukkaq and the Cons are concerned...that anybody's finding out about that fact, leading them to try to gag the officials speaking up.

- Which is to say that if the Cons were to apply the standard proposed by Michael Harris - taking the simple step of removing each cabinet minister who can reasonably be seen as the last person fit for the job - they'd be left with no cabinet at all.

- Gary Mason observes that there's ample reason for an increasing number of political leaders to raise red flags about pipelines - as that stance merely reflects the public's concern about climate change and other environmental damage:
Despite conditional approval from the National Energy Board, most believe the Northern Gateway pipeline will never get built because of opposition to it. The courts have given First Nations new powers to fight developments that encroach on their land. Outside of aboriginal communities, public opinion regarding pipelines is at best divided – although there seems to be a growing societal angst about climate change that is palpable.

Kinder Morgan, which also wants to add a pipeline to the West Coast, is encountering that sentiment now. Protests at Burnaby Mountain, where the company is trying to do some exploratory work, have become daily events and have spawned arrests and ugly international headlines. Once upon a time, the odds of the Kinder Morgan pipeline going ahead were considered extremely good. Not any more.
 - And CBC reports on Kinder Morgan's failed attempt to criminalize opposition to its pipeline expansion.

- Finally, the new chair of the Transportation Safety Board argues that Canada is well short of having appropriate regulations in place to be able to count on the safe shipment of oil by rail.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

New column day

Here, on the growing (and increasingly interconnected) movement to save our local and global environment alike from fossil fuel extraction.

For further reading...
- The latest pipeline under discussion is of course TransCanada's Energy East. And it's worth countering the message from Brad Wall (amplified by Murray Mandryk here) that our only choices are to approve one pipeline to facilitate tar sands extraction, or to use even more dangerous means to do just as much damage to our planet.
- Meanwhile, Mitchell Anderson discusses how public resources are being used to favour Kinder Morgan's interests over those of the public on Burnaby Mountain.
- PressProgress points out how the Cons have made pipelines into a toxic issue with many Canadians. And West Coast Native News examines the history of oil spills in Saskatchewan.
- Finally Linda McQuaig comments on the vital role of government in moving us to a cleaner economy - as well as the sad reality that the Cons are instead pushing us backwards.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood discusses the close connection between the energy sector and inequality in Canada - with the obvious implication that policies dedicated to unduly favouring the former will inevitably produce the latter: 
(T)he real story from last week’s Stats Can report isn’t that Canada is turning the tide on inequality, but that the energy sector is a key driver of income inequality in Canada. Massive investment in the oil sands has benefited the wealthiest earners to the exclusion of most other Canadians, and those immense gains have simply been slightly reduced from their 2006 high.

The long-term trend in Canada is still towards greater inequality, as a new TD Bank report explains (PDF), and Alberta is still the most unequal province, which is exacerbated by new oil sands investments.

In other words, what’s good for the oil sands is good for Canada’s wealthy—and vice versa. However, no such connection exists with the incomes of the bottom 99%, even in cities like Calgary. Does that really justify such incredible investment in the oil sands? It’s a debate we should be having.
- But then, as Frances Russell writes, attacking the poor to benefit the rich is par for the course for the Cons. And Bruce Cheadle reports that Stephen Harper has chosen to make reckless cuts to the public service with full knowledge as to how they undermine desperately needed programs.

- Evan Radford reports on the appalling state of child poverty in Saskatchewan, with over a quarter of the province's children living below the poverty line. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh points out that child poverty is common even in households with one or more working parents.

- Tom Sullivan notes that at least a few U.S. governments are trying to keep employers from exploiting precarious workers, only to face a predictably self-absorbed response from the corporate sector. And Michelle Chen examines the $1 billion in tax loopholes exploited every year by Wal-Mart alone.

- Both Ryan Meili and Vivek Goel discuss the absurdity of trying sever public health from broader public policy.

- And finally, Brent Patterson looks at one of the more novel abuses of free trade agreements, as corporate Canada is warning the federal government against cracking down on corruption lest it interfere with profit-making opportunities.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cat sitters.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Daniel Tencer reports on a couple of important recent warnings that Canada is in danger of following the U.S. down the path of extreme corporatism and inequality:
Speaking at a fundraiser for the left-leaning Broadbent Institute, Reich said Canada is facing the same inequality-growing “structural problems” that the rest of the developed world is facing. Those two structural problems are globalization and automation, he said.

He noted that businesses in the digital era require far fewer employees, citing the example of WhatsApp, the messaging app bought by Facebook. At the time it was purchased for $19 billion, it had 450 million users and just 55 employees.

“This is the new economy,” Reich said.

A new report from TD Bank cites the same two factors as being causes of growing inequality, but also notes that Canada used to do a better job of equalization through taxation.

“Although Canadians take pride in the country’s more equitable outcomes [than the U.S.], Canada does less income redistribution than many think. Canada’s ranking on income equality falls from 9th place in the OECD on the basis of [income before taxes] to 19th place on the basis of after-tax and transfer income.”
- Meanwhile, Tim Harper follows up on Stephen Lewis' blistering criticism of the state of Canadian politics under the Harper Cons. And they've only added to the list of jaw-droppingly callous actions lately by refusing consent on the NDP's renewed motion to end child poverty, as well as by voting against a UN motion against glorifying Nazism and neo-Nazism.

- Barrie McKenna finds that the Cons' own supposed priorities are once again all spin and no action, as a much-ballyhooed manufacturing fund has funded exactly zero projects since it was introduced a year and a half ago.

- Diane Cardwell reports on the falling cost of solar and wind energy, as renewables have reached a price level similar to that of dirty fossil fuels. And Geoff Dembick reports on Unifor's work in highlighting the fact that environmentally responsible development and good jobs are entirely compatible goals.

- Finally, Paul Rosenberg interviews George Lakoff about the lessons progressives still need to learn in framing public policy debates.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Ed Broadbent laments Canada's failure to meet its commitment to end child poverty - and notes that the Harper Cons in particular are headed in exactly the wrong direction:
This child poverty rate is a national disgrace. It jumped from 15.8 per cent in 1989 to 19.2 per cent in 2012, according to a Statistics Canada custom tabulation for Campaign 2000.

The Harper Conservatives have continued to let down the country’s poor children and their parents. They have not increased targeted income supports for low-income families. Instead, they are expanding flat rate benefits, similar to the old family allowance program abolished as regressive by Mr. Mulroney’s government. These taxable payments are too low to have a real impact on poverty. They don’t come close to paying the costs of child care; they don’t create a single child-care space.

While failing the poor, the Conservatives are proposing new measures that disproportionately favour affluent families. Income-splitting will cost $2-billion a year and deliver no benefit at all to single parents or to two-parent families with both earners in the lowest tax bracket.

The maximum benefit of $2,000 will go mainly to very high-income traditional families with a single earner. The late Jim Flaherty appropriately rejected such unfairness while serving as minister of finance.

The growing gap between the poor and the middle-class, let alone the top 1 per cent, flies in the face of the democratic ideal that all children should have equal opportunities to develop their talents and capacities to the full.
- David Climenhaga discusses how the Cons' obsession with income-splitting is based on their desire to preserve gender inequality. James Fitz-Morris reports that the Cons have long been aware of the obvious regressive effects of tax-free savings accounts - particularly since they may allow a special class of wealthy retirees to take in money from means-tested programs because their investment income isn't counted.

- Tavia Grant writes about a new report confirming that we need our tax system to actively combat inequality in order to avoid having it get worse by default. And Michael Babad points out that the ranks and wealth of the uber-rich are growing faster in Canada than in other comparable countries.

- Meanwhile, Robert Devet highlights how arbitrary benefit cutoffs can be disastrous for people actually living in poverty. And Jesse Ferreras finds that a lopsided market (coupled with a lack of public policy action) is leaving single women and mothers in particular without adequate housing.

- Finally, Michael Harris notes that a culture of fear seems to be about the only factor the Cons still have in their favour among an otherwise unfriendly Canadian public - and that Stephen Harper has been highly selective in deciding which supposed threats to emphasize for political benefit.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

 - Lynn Stuart Parramore writes about our increasingly traumatic social and political culture, along with the response which can help to overcome it:
A 2012 study of hospital patients in Atlanta’s inner-city communities showed that rates of post-traumatic stress are now on par with those of veterans returning from war zones. At least 1 out of 3 surveyed said they had experienced stress responses like flashbacks, persistent fear, a sense of alienation, and aggressive behavior. All across the country, in Detroit, New Orleans, and in what historian Louis Ferleger describes as economic “dead zones” — places where people have simply given up and sunk into “involuntary idleness” — the pain is written on slumped bodies and faces that have become masks of despair.

We are starting to break down.

When our alarm systems are set off too often, they start to malfunction, and we can end up in a state of hyper-vigilance, unable to properly assess the threats. It’s easy for the powerful to manipulate this tense condition and present an array of bogeymen to distract our attention, from immigrants to the unemployed, so that we focus our energy on the wrong enemy.
Unfortunately, the cycle doesn’t end with you: trauma comes with a very high rate of interest. The children of traumatized people carry the legacy of pain forward in their brains and bodies, becoming more vulnerable to disease, mental breakdown, addiction, and violence. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on trauma, emphasizes that it’s not just personal. Trauma occupies a space much bigger than our individual neurons: it’s political. If your parents lost their jobs, their home or their sense of security in the wake of the financial crisis, you will carry those wounds with you, even if conditions improve. Budget cuts to education and the social safety net produce trauma. Falling income produces trauma. Job insecurity produces trauma.
When I do something as simple as nurture a friend in need, or let myself be drawn in by an artistic creation, or meet the eyes of a stranger with kindness, or plant a living tree, I’m intervening in the trauma and rewriting its trajectory — perhaps only a paragraph, but many paragraphs can make a page, and many pages, a volume.

The etymology of the word “trauma” is associated with the Greek word “wound.” To be human is to be wounded, and the ability to cope with our wounds is the essence of life’s journey. Without wounds, we can’t know our own strength and competence, and we can’t develop empathy for our fellow creatures. Moving from the static place of trauma to something fluid and transformative is the key. The trauma doesn’t go away, but it’s possible to bring it along in a way that helps us witness each other, hear each other, and help each other.
- And Monica Pohlmann interviews Armine Yalnizyan about the need to move past self-defeating policies:
Pohlmann: What keeps you up at night?

Yalnizyan: The way we are transforming our views about immigration in Canada. In the coming decades, nation states will be competing to attract people, not just capital. Population aging is occurring in all advanced industrialized nations. Without newcomers, the Canadian labour force would start to shrink in the next year or two. An unsettling trend has emerged in Canada. Public policy now favours a rise in temporary foreign workers over permanent economic immigrants. When companies say they face a skills shortage, all too often the solution is bringing in a foreign worker temporarily for what is often not a temporary shortage. These workers are tied to their employer, and can get deported if they complain about anything.

In such a workplace environment, it’s hard for any worker to ask for anything better. People are constantly looking over their shoulder, wondering, “Will they find a cheaper me?” It’s a recipe for growing friction between “us” and “them.”

The problem arises from a common view that low wages and low taxes are “good for business.” What may be good for an individual business is a dead-end path for society and the economy as a whole. Wages and taxes are never low enough for businesses. Their job is to maximize profits. But the continuous drive to lower wages and taxes erodes the economic heft of a country. The message to workers is “expect less,” even when companies grow and profits rise. The idea that labour is simply a cost, rather than the essential building block of performance, is destructive nonsense.

Middle-class jobs are being cut, replaced by more low-paid and some higher-paid work. Wages aren’t keeping up with costs for most people, and savings rates are falling. A rising proportion of Canadian households don’t have enough funds to last a month should they lose their pay cheques. We pay tribute to a large and resilient middle class as the mark of a flourishing economy around the world, but our own middle class is being squeezed in every way, ironically in the name of economic growth.
- In a similar vein, Robert Reich reminds us where jobs and economic development come from - and that funneling ever more wealth to the privileged few does nothing to help:

- Alison examines the "rejectionist" model of politics which has done plenty to eliminate the belief that it's possible to accomplish anything positive through our elected governments. And Jim Day discusses Stephen Lewis' sharp - but entirely justified - criticism of Canada's social breakdown.

- Finally, Carol Linnitt examines the Burnaby Mountain pipeline protest as an all-too-clear example of petro-politics taking precedence over all else.