Saturday, March 07, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Alan Rusbridger explains the Guardian's much-appreciated effort to provide both space and analysis of the need to fight climate change. And Naomi Klein makes the case for a Marshall plan-style response to transition the world to a sustainable society, while highlighting the need for a public push to make that happen.

- Meanwhile, Jim Stanford discusses the fallout from the Cons' single-minded obsession with oil development. And Thomas Walkom calls out their blatant attempt to avoid discusses the economy now that they've left it sputtering.

- On that front, Edward Keenan writes that Stephen Harper's fearmongering seems more like a parody of over-top-top rhetoric than anything which could possibly be taken seriously:
On occasion, the Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has shown an inclination to take on the role of the press — by producing and distributing its own approved news items to print and broadcast media through the PR agency News Canada Ltd., for example. It now appears it has decided to do the work of satirists, too. How else to explain the transparent layers of irony running through the Conservatives’ public communications, the ham-fisted illustrations of doublespeak that so effectively lay bare the cynical, hollow heart and totalitarian inclinations of their new legislation?

One imagines the frustrated novelists and comedians in the Conservative StratCom writers room shaking their heads at the efforts of editorial cartoonists and TV sketch troupes: You call that parody? Let us show you how this is done.

“They hate us because we love freedom and tolerance.”

See, the devastating self-skewering element of this line is that it is nominally intended to serve as the justification for a proposed law, Bill C-51, that will restrict freedom. And it is offered at a time when members of the government are using the bill as a means of whipping up intolerance against Muslims to score cheap political points. Here we have a piece of legislation that would, among other things, curtail freedom of speech fairly broadly on matters related to terrorism and give an espionage agency domestic policing powers that allow it, in secret, to be specifically exempted from honouring the Charter of Rights.

An extra-constitutional secret police and surveillance agency, and criminal penalties for expressions of dissent. If “we love freedom and tolerance” isn’t the perfect punchline to explain that, what is?
- But the spin has had real-world consequences, as Chris Selley laments the fact that the Cons' scare tactics have managed to interfere with a a cheerleading competition scheduled for the West Edmonton Mall. And Humberto Dasilva comments on how the terror push both relies on and encourages xenophobia, while Haroon Siddiqui exposes the McCarthyite hearings being held by the Con-dominated Senate.

- Finally, CBC examines how the millionaire investors being prioritized for immigration purposes actually contribute less tax revenue than the refugees the Cons want to shut out.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Musical interlude

Age of Electric - Enya

On dumbed-down messages

Shorter Tom Lukiwski:
When it comes to terror laws, we Conservatives have no time for "legal jargon" like rights, life, liberty or justice. In fact, we'd like you to focus solely on one word.

On clear oversight

Shorter Chuck Strahl:
I can't see why a secret police service should be overseen by anybody other than the MPs who are willing to break their own rules to inflict it on the public in the first place.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Tavia Grant, Bill Curry and David Kennedy discuss CIBC's analysis showing that Canadian job quality has falled to its lowest level recorded in the past 25 years:
Several reports have concluded that the country’s job market is not as strong as it looks and now a study from Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce paints an even worse picture. According to the bank’s analysis, job quality has fallen to its lowest level in more than two decades. A CIBC index that measures 25 years worth of data on part-time versus full-time work, paid versus self-employment and compensation trends, has fallen to its lowest level on record.

The Bank of Canada’s new measure of labour market indicators also showed “slack” in the jobs market and it has noted “ongoing labour market challenges” such as a low participation rate among core-aged Canadians. Another report from the Toronto-Dominion Bank last month pointed to more weakness than the unemployment rate suggests.

The trend has implications for the broader economy. A lack of hours along with a prevalence of lower-wage jobs and self-employment underscore why many households are having difficulty shoring up savings and why consumer spending may taper off this year.

As household finances get squeezed, the risk is that debt – already near record levels – could grow further, leaving people more vulnerable to any type of economic shock.
- Wojtek Gwiazda interviews Jordan Brennan about the connection between corporate trade agreements and inequality. And Joan Fitzgerald discusses why water and other essentials need to be responsibly managed as public goods, rather than being used solely as short-term profit centres.

- Carol Goar writes that several provincial governments have made it more difficult to develop an effective national pharmacare system by needlessly slashing their provincial programs.

- Andrew Coyne slams the Cons' latest attempt to equate preposterous sentencing restrictions with a defensible crime policy. And Ashley Csanady examines some of the flaws in more detail - with a rightful focus on the absurdity of putting an individual's freedom in the sole hands of a minister.

- Finally, Rick Mercer rants about the Cons' politics of fear:

Thursday, March 05, 2015

New column day

Here, on the many problems with building social benefits and employment policies alike on a foundation of distrust.

For further reading...
- Rick Mercer rants about the obstacles the Cons are throwing in the way of veterans. And the CP follows up on the Cons' response to Paul Franklin's case here.
- CBC reports here on the Cons' plans to slash existing sick leave for the federal civil service.  Kathryn May points out the complete lack of any justification for that course of action, and has since noted that the plan is further being extended to out-of-scope positions. And Robyn Benson offers a thorough dismantling of the reasoning behind forcing people to work while sick.
- Emma Graney reports on the Sask Party's similar push to force sick Saskatchewan public-sector workers back to work sooner.
- Oliver Wright writes about Gus O'Donnell's observation that privileged politicians are often utterly clueless about the programs they oversee and the people who depend on them.
- Finally, Bryce Covert and Josh Israel discuss the utter waste of time and money involved in drug-testing welfare recipients.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Edward Keenan is the latest to point out that any reasonable political decision-making process needs to include an adult conversation about taxes and why we need them:
This week, when asked about the prospect of raising taxes beyond the rate of inflation in coming years, John Tory called the idea “an admission of failure.”

This is distressing to hear. Consider the context: Tory’s current budget turns out to require a lot of dipsy-doodling that edges the city perilously close to its debt ceiling while hiking TTC fares and garbage fees. Meanwhile the unexpected bills keep rolling in: lookee here, Metrolinx just tossed another $95 million onto the city’s obligations! Whoah, lookee there, Toronto’s Union Station obligations just went up another $60 million because the province and feds are telling us to stuff our pleas for help. That’s without beginning to even ponder the 10-figure numbers involved in keeping the TTC and social housing in good enough shape that they can safely continue operating.

What Tory calls admitting failure, we might instead call “math.”

It’s difficult math to face up to, but it’s the result of more than a decade of childishly pretending we can avoid the calculations by thinking happy thoughts and wishing on the first star to the right.
The federal and provincial governments have refused to rain money on us from their own tax revenue. The quest for “efficiencies” has been on a long time, but has never shown the potential to be a miracle cure for our revenue woes. The City of Toronto needs to raise more money, either through property taxes or new “revenue tools.”

Maybe people don’t want to hear that. But telling it to them straight is not “admitting failure.” It’s owning up to reality, in the hopes of avoiding a civic failure that will follow if we continue to act like children who can’t handle basic math.
- But then, Ian Welsh reminds us that often what's right is also what's most efficient - as in the case of providing homes for the homeless.

- Bruce Western and Linda Forman Naval make the point that governments should make a concerted effort to make work available to released offenders - particularly if the alternative is to exploit current prisoners. But Jacob Boon reports on Drew Butler's sad example of how people are instead treated even after serving a sentence in full.

- Meanwhile, Thomas Walkom writes that while the Cons fearmonger about terrorism, they're deliberately ignoring the far greater security threat posed by climate change. And Thomas Mulcair presents the NDP's case against the Cons' terror bill.

- Kimberly Brown reports on the Canadian government's shameful interventions in Mexico on behalf of human rights abuses in the mining sector.

- Finally, Paul Adams muses about what we could expect from a Lib government and reaches exactly the right conclusion (if not one which is any surprise based on historical precedent): when it comes to the economy and social programs, Justin Trudeau and his party will be exactly as progressive as the NDP can force them to be and not an iota more.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats at rest.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Carol Graham discusses the high financial and personal costs of poverty:
Reported stress levels are higher on average in the U.S. than in Latin America. Importantly, the gap between the levels of the rich and poor is also much greater, with the U.S. poor reporting the highest levels of stress of all cohorts. Of course ‘stress’ is a complex phenomenon, however: “Good” stress is associated with the pursuit of goals, while “bad” stress is associated with struggling to cope. Bad stress, which is associated with an inability to plan ahead, lower life satisfaction levels, and worse health outcomes, is more common at the bottom of the distribution.

Pain, worry, sadness, and anger (reported as experienced the day before or not) are also all significantly higher among low income cohorts than among wealthy ones, while reported satisfaction with life as a whole is significantly lower...
There are also big differences in reports of chronic suffering across income groups, according to a recent study by Ronald Anderson. Those with incomes below the poverty line were twice as likely to report chronic pain and mental distress as those earning $75,000 or more, and three to five times more likely to have extreme pain or extreme distress.

Experiencing discrimination is also associated with stress. Among other things, discrimination raises the transaction costs of simple things such as getting a loan or buying a home. Maternal stress related to discrimination is associated with lower birth weights—which are linked to worse outcomes on a number of progress indicators—thus passing disadvantage on to the next generation...
- And Eli Hager comments on the spread of new debtors' prisons in the U.S. as just another areas where people living in poverty are facing gratuitous obstacles.

- Gaspard Sebag reports on McDonalds' widespread tax evasion. And while we can fully expect any corporation to argue that it's managed to stay in a legal grey area, Jon Stone finds that the public isn't prepared to tolerate that kind of hair-splitting from corporations who aren't paying their fair share.

- And there's particularly little reason to see any meaning in bare compliance with the letter of the law when, as Michael Gould-Wartofsky writes, the game is rigged in favour of the wealthy to begin with. Speaking of which, the Globe and Mail weighs in on how tax-free savings accounts have been designed to devour Canada's federal budget in the name of transferring wealth upward.

- Mark Dowie covers the failure of Stephen Harper's all-in bet on the tar sands from a U.S. perspective.

- Finally, Tim Harper rightly argues that Canada needs to stop any slide into intolerance - no matter  how determined the Cons are to push us in that direction for political gain. And PressProgress highlights how the combination of bigotry and gross intrusions into civil liberties has even right-wing commentators slamming the Harper Cons.

Monday, March 02, 2015

On full information

Michael Harris' latest is well worth a read in offering a guide to avoiding the worst consequences of election-year spin. But it's worth noting that his most important advice is only presented as an afterthought:
Final note on street-proofing your vote? Inform yourself. Look at what the people who want their power renewed have done with it so far, and at what those who seek power say they will do if they get it.

Above all, don’t cast your ballot out of fear.
While the warnings found earlier in Harris' piece may be helpful as examples of what candidates shouldn't do and what the public may want to avoid, any voter's election-year calculus should be based on one core question: which candidate and government will best represent the interests of one's self and one's fellow citizens?

The combination of horse-race talk, partisan spin and one-way messaging which we know all too well is then problematic precisely because it's designed to push voters down self-serving shortcuts in answering the core question. But by focusing more on avoiding the former than addressing the latter (as Harris seems to suggest as his order of priorities), voters may well leave themselves vulnerable to different forms of manipulation.

The inevitable end result of each elections is that somebody will be elected to represent each riding. While parties and candidates will have their own ideas as to how people should decide who that will be, it's the civic duty of each voter to decide what matters most, compare the parties' and candidates' positions, and cast a ballot accordingly. And shutting out the spin is only a small part of that process.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Janine Berg writes about the need for strong public policy to counter the trend of growing inequality. And Gillian White traces the ever-increasing divergence between worker productivity and wages in an interview with Jan Rivkin:
White: Some say that the decrease of collective bargaining has played a role in creating the gap, how true do you think that is?

Rivkin: There are a number of causes, one is the underlying shift in technology and globalization. Another is systematic underinvestment in the commons, which is a set of shared resources that every business needs in order to be productive: an educated populace, pools of skilled labor, a vibrant network of suppliers, strong infrastructure, basic R&D and so on. A third is shifts in institutions and politics and bargaining power, which is embodied in the decline in collective bargaining and the weakening of labor unions. There's no question that that is part of the story. How large a part? I don't think anyone has a well-informed perspective.

White: Is there a way to rectify the situation, to close the gap or at least create better outcomes for workers?

Rivkin: There are some forces at work that are unstoppable and we probably wouldn’t want to stop them even if we could. Forces of globalization, technological change—those genies are out of the bottle. But there are other parts of they dynamic that are purely choice. The damage done by underinvestment is a self-inflicted wound.

We need a movement toward cross-sector collaboration for rebuilding the commons and for sharing prosperity. We're seeing multiple examples of businesses that have realized that it’s in their interest to make sure that their workers are well educated, are skilled, that their supply networks are healthy, that the infrastructure in the cities where they operate is strong.

Investing in the commons should not be a substitute for raising wages, but wages are determined in a competitive market. It's impossible, for a company to justify paying an employee more if that employee hasn't been appropriately productive for the company. I think that business leaders just need to recognize that companies can't thrive for long if their communities are struggling.
- But of course, it's rather difficult to encourage public action to solve a serious problem when individuals can be punished merely for pointing it out. And Alina Tugend reminds us that without the protection of either a union or a constitution which limits the action of a government employer, workers may be risking their jobs merely by commenting on political matters. 

- Kate McInturff answers some key questions about the wage gap between male and female workers. And Heather Mallick decries the increased expectation that young workers will put up with providing unpaid labour.

- Ted Fertik and Dan Cantor offer some lessons which progressives in the U.S. and elsewhere should draw from Syriza's rise in Greece, with these in particular standing out:
Lesson 2: Against the oligarchs and the "totalitarianism of the market" which serves as a cover for their interests, we, the forces of democracy, have to fight back.

Only a few benefit from the oligarchs' policies, but they have the power and they have a grip on the political system. The oligarchs prevent the creation of a genuinely fair electoral playing field via a rigged campaign finance system and the rollback of voting rights. The oligarchs bring in cheap immigrant labour but prevent immigrants from getting citizenship. The oligarchs buy politicians.
Democracy -- real democracy -- is a threat to them.

America gave birth to the idea of popular sovereignty, but who in America today believes that it is the people who rule? We will get policies for the rest of us when the rest of us have real political power.
Lesson 8: No mourning for the golden days.

The immediate policies that the new Greek government proposes to implement are all rollbacks of "reforms" that were forced on them by their creditors. That could have been presented as going back to some tolerable previous status quo. Instead, the new government has denounced the old as corrupt and undemocratic, saying that it intends to destroy once and for all the grip of the country's oligarchs on power.

There is no going back to 1965. Young people in particular -- and who can deny that the youthfulness of Syriza and Podemos is part of their appeal? -- will not be moved by policies purporting to return us to an America of which no one under 45 has any living memory.
- Finally, Tabatha Southey laments the surface popularity of a terror bill whose glaring flaws would almost certainly sink in with a reasonable amount of study. Tonda MacCharles discusses the type of more-effective soft security which is being ignored in favour of the Cons' push for barely-fettered secret police. Michael Geist points out how dishonest the RCMP has been in exercising far less power than security services would have under C-51, while Jim Bronskill notes that the Cons are seeking to foist sweeping powers on CSIS after having broken a promise to create effective oversight. And Pete Dolack comments on the criminalization of dissent in Canada.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Still awaiting confirmation that his birth, prophesied by a swallow, ignited a bright star in the sky that immediately changed the season from winter to spring and caused an awe-inspiring double rainbow to appear

There are reasonable responses to a Prime Minister's being unable to attend the Canada Winter Games. And then there's Bal Gosal's reply, which sounds much more like the type of understated message we'd expect from a toady of your neighbourhood megalomaniac dictator:
Speaking at the Otway Nordic Ski Center Saturday, Gosal insisted Harper is "probably the greatest sports fan in our country."

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan counters the Cons' spin on tax-free savings accounts. And Rob Carrick points out that raising the limit on TFSAs would forfeit billions of desperately-needed dollars to benefit only the wealthiest few in Canada:
TFSAs are Swiss army knives – a financial knife, corkscrew, screwdriver and more. But doubling the annual contribution limit of $5,500 is a bad idea.

Message to the federal government: Please don’t, because we can’t afford it.
A report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer this week says the federal government would lose $14.7-billion a year in revenue by 2060 and the provinces would lose $7.6-billion a year. That’s a tremendous amount of money to forgo in a country with a population aging as quickly as ours.

The latest population estimates from Statistics Canada suggest that seniors will account for 25.5 per cent of the population by 2061, up from 14.4 per cent in 2011. You can imagine what this trend will mean for government spending on health care and income programs such as Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

In fact, Ottawa was so concerned about the sustainability of OAS – it’s funded from general government revenue – that it announced that it would gradually increase the age of eligibility to 67 from 65 starting in 2023. Ottawa saved a whack of money doing that. Now, it’s looking at depleting the savings it realized with a higher TFSA contribution limit.
- Thomas Walkom offers some suggestions to save Canadian capitalism from its own most destructive impulses. And Don Lenihan discusses another set of big ideas worth considering, while recognizing that none of them will come to pass without a more effective political process.

- Elizabeth Douglass writes that between plunging prices and increasing recognition of safety and climate risks, 2015 is off to a rather rough start for the oil industry. And that's before doctors start highlighting pollution and climate change as serious health issues - which Kyle Plantz reports to be a foreseeable and desirable possibility.

- Meanwhile, Bruce Johnstone reminds us that farmers are still suffering from the Cons' choice to prioritize the use of rail to transport oil.

- Aarian Marshall discusses what the Cons' census vandalism has cost Canada:
Though Peterborough’s situation is particularly difficult, it’s not an anomaly. In 2006, 93.5 percent of Canadians responded to the then-mandatory long-form census. In 2011, 68.6 percent returned the NHS. This is despite the fact that census officials distributed more surveys to compensate for the predicted drop in response rates—to one in three Canadians in 2011 instead of the one in five in 2006. Still, Statistics Canada withheld 2011 NHS data for 1,128 of 4,567 Canadian census subdivisions. “[A]pproximately 25 percent of geographic areas do not have reliable National Household Survey data available for their use,” Canada’s auditor general wrote in a 2014 report.
“Because of the move to the voluntary NHS, Canada is a richer, whiter, more educated country now,” says Ryan Berlin, a Vancouver-based economist and demographer with the non-profit Urban Futures Institute. Berlin is making a joke here, one that’s been making the rounds in Canadian academic conferences for the past few years. But he’s not wrong. Certain populations—low-income residents, immigrants, the disabled, aboriginal peoples, and those without a firm grasp of the English language—were far less likely to return the voluntary census. These are also often the communities most in need of social programs. The question marks are particularly disconcerting in the wake of the worldwide  recession. Where are the needy? Canada isn’t entirely sure.

While statisticians with the Canadian government do have sophisticated mathematical tools to help estimate how many underserved citizens they missed, the 2011 still survey left glaring uncertainties. In one example, the NHS found that Filipinos were the most represented group among immigrants who entered Canada between 2006 and 2011. But a footnote in the Statistics Canada release notes that this result is “not in line with administrative data from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada which provides the number of recent immigrants by their country of birth settling in Canada each year.” Why the gap? It could be sampling errors, it could be response patterns, or it could be an “under or over estimation of certain groups of recent immigrants in the NHS.” Officials say they just can't be certain why they don’t know what they don’t know.
Academics also stress that census data is often used as a benchmark, to check whether other data sets derived from alternative sources are correct. Now there appears to be no universally-acknowledged set of numbers against which to check one’s own work.
- Finally, PressProgress points out that the Harper Cons and their mouthpieces seem to be the only people alive - whether in Canada or elsewhere - who don't think the tragic and ongoing history of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada merits a public inquiry. And Stephen Maher highlights the complete disconnect between the Cons and Canada's First Nations who rightly expect far better.