Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Dana Nuccitelli discusses new research into the real costs of fossil fuels which aren't reflected in the sticker price for a dirty energy economy:
A new paper published in Climatic Change estimates that when we account for the pollution costs associated with our energy sources, gasoline costs an extra $3.80 per gallon, diesel an additional $4.80 per gallon, coal a further 24 cents per kilowatt-hour, and natural gas another 11 cents per kilowatt-hour that we don’t see in our fuel or energy bills.
Shindell estimates carbon pollution costs us $32 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted in climate damages, and another $45 in additional climate-health impacts like malnutrition that aren’t normally accounted for.

But Shindell also estimates that carbon emissions are relatively cheap compared to other fossil fuel air pollutants. For example, sulfur dioxide costs $42,000 per ton, and nitrous oxides $67,000 per ton! However, less of these other pollutants are released into the atmosphere during modern fossil fuel combustion.
The key conclusion from Shindell’s study is that fossil fuels only seem cheap because their market prices don’t reflect their true costs. In reality they are remarkably expensive for society, but taxpayers pick up most of those costs via climate damages and other health effects. Those who argue that we need to continue relying on fossil fuels – like former popular science writer Matt Ridley – just aren’t accounting for the costs of pollution.
- Meanwhile, Katie Valentine reports that Costa Rica has managed to generate all of its electricity through renewable sources in 2015 - and that even as it's still in the process of converting to clean power sources. But then, Justin Mikulka observes that the real effects of our energy choices bear no resemblance at all to the spin we're fed by dirty energy producers.

- The Canadian Bar Association, the Economist and Murray Dobbin all weigh in against the gross abuses of power which the Cons want to pass into law through bill C-51. And Scott Vrooman argues that we should be especially worried that so few Canadians actually know what's in the terror bill being rammed through Parliament.

- And in a related point based on the "lawful activity" standard already pointed out by Craig Forcese, Len McCluskey highlights the need for unions and activists to be able to break bad laws in defending their rights. Ralph Surette points out that we should expect to see even more activism in response to extreme measures aimed at suppressing opposition and dissent, while Elizabeth Renzetti comments on the importance of the power of protest. And Doug Saunders notes that the Cons' supposed commitment to the rule of law is rather selectively aimed at protecting the powerful from the public interest.

- Finally, Lana Payne duly slams the Cons for fanning the flames of intolerance. And Jeffrey Simpson wonders if the dog whistles which represent the Cons' sole message at the moment will be worn out by the time Canadians go to the polls.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Musical interlude

The Wonder Years - There, There

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Both Edward Keenan and the Star's editorial board take note of Thomas Mulcair's plan for urban renewal, with particular emphasis on its appeal across party lines:
Speaking directly to Toronto city council and Mayor John Tory, who won election largely on the basis of his promised SmartTrack “surface subway,” Mulcair said he would be a partner on transit: “Together we will get the people of Toronto moving.”

No wonder Tory declared himself “gratified and pleased” with Mulcair’s approach. Other elements of the NDP’s urban agenda include:
  • Appointing a minister responsible for urban affairs — someone to advocate for cities in federal cabinet when key decisions are made.
  • Delivering long-term, stable funding for affordable housing.
  • Identifying, within the first 100 days of taking office, “worthy extensions” of social housing investments that are set to expire and highlighting new spending necessary to ease a crisis in affordable housing.
  • Introducing $15-a-day child care nationwide, and funding 164,000 daycare spaces in the Greater Toronto Area alone. This should be of significant help to the 20,000 families in this city currently on waiting lists for affordable care.
  • Accelerating immigration process-times so families can be reunited faster — an important consideration in Toronto, which serves as a magnet for newcomers to Canada.
These are all valuable initiatives. Mulcair is demonstrating a clear understanding of Toronto’s needs and has made addressing them a welcome priority.
- Meanwhile, Carmichael Outreach is offering a series of proposals to address Regina's shortage of affordable housing. But as Wanda Schmockel reports, developers are determined to avoid having a dime spent on those efforts when it could instead be funnelled toward new profit centres. 

- Michael Geist follows up on how C-51 stands to harm Canadians' privacy. And Democracy Watch calls attention to the complete lack of internal and public accountability within CSIS as another reason to be concerned about handing over unchecked powers.

- L. Ian MacDonald discusses the need to move beyond the Cons' primeval politics in talking about security and culture, while Michael Den Tandt notes that the Cons' goal is to have us soaking in fear. Tim Harper observes that the bigoted bozos who were once so desperately suppressed by the Cons' central command now represent the party's most prominent public faces. Michael Spratt writes that the Cons are wrong on both the law and the facts in their anti-niqab fearmongering. And John Cartwright highlights the role of organized labour in pushing back against prejudice and inequality.

- Finally, Richard Trumka points out that attacks on unions serve the sole purpose of suppressing wages and working conditions. Bryce Covert discusses how work is far from a guarantee that a family can escape from poverty. And Robert Reich observes that we shouldn't count on employment relationships or other work conditions returning to how they previously operated:
We need a new economic model.

The economic model that dominated most of the twentieth century was mass production by the many, for mass consumption by the many.

Workers were consumers; consumers were workers. As paychecks rose, people had more money to buy all the things they and others produced — like Kodak cameras. That resulted in more jobs and even higher pay.

That virtuous cycle is now falling apart. A future of almost unlimited production by a handful, for consumption by whoever can afford it, is a recipe for economic and social collapse.

Our underlying problem won’t be the number of jobs. It will be – it already is — the allocation of income and wealth.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On prospects for change

The latest round of discussion about the possibility of a coalition to offer something better than the Harper Cons has taken an noteworthy turn. At this point, everybody but the Libs seems to have settled on the position that there's no real obstacle to a coalition government - and the Libs' spin machine has responded with little more than a plan to fabricate mistrust between themselves and the NDP.

But no matter how far that effort goes, the foreseeable outcomes of the next election feature a low probability of anybody holding a majority, and a strong prospect that the NDP and the Libs working together can deliver the change each of their voters would like to see.

So how far does Justin Trudeau think he'll get telling Canada that cooperation is too much hard work to be worth pursuing, and that we should instead settle for another term of hopeless Harper government?

[Edit: fixed wording.]

New column day

Here, on the need and opportunity to show some vision in our provincial budgeting and planning - even if the Wall government has no interest in bothering.

For further reading...
- I posted previously on the Sask Party's habit of locking Saskatchewan into ill-advised long-term contracts which serve nobody's interests but the corporations involved.
- Karri Munn-Venn discusses the UK Energy Research Centre's report on which fossil fuels we can afford to exploint here.
- Likewise, Ivan Semeniuk and Shawn McCarthy report on the Acting on Climate Change study showing how Canada can eliminate the use of non-renewable power generation and cut greenhouse gas emissions in a hurry if it has the political will to do so.
- Murray Mandryk offers his own take on the important decisions which the Saskatchewan Party continues to kick down the road.
- And finally, the CCPA's Alternative Federal Budget offers an example of what we should expect out of our governments.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- David Vognar argues that we should push for a guaranteed annual income not only as a matter of social equity, but also as a means of building human capital.

- Mike Benusic, Chantel Lutchman, Najib Safieddine and Andrew Pinto make the case for stronger sick leave policies across Canadian workplaces:
Canada’s current sick leave policies are not supporting the health of individuals and communities. First, employees are forced to choose between staying home when ill (losing income and potentially placing their job at risk) or to go to work (worsening their health and potentially infecting others). A CDC study of nearly 500 food service workers revealed that more than 50% had worked while knowingly ill. When asked why, half of the workers reported they did not want to lose income and a quarter did so for fear of losing their job. Obviously, those working in the food industry have a clear potential to transmit pathogens.

Second, sick workers are driven to clinics or emergency rooms: not for medical care but merely for proof they are ill – a paternalistic custom enshrined in business and many provincial sick leave rules. In delegating physicians into a policing role, clinical hours get chewed up by administrative tasks. When these illnesses are due to larger outbreaks, physicians are doubly burdened – by the sick who need treatment and the sick who need notes. The Ontario Medical Association discourages requiring sick notes for this reason, and also because of the real risk of transmission to others in the health care environment. Forcing infectious people into our waiting rooms who won’t benefit from treatment is burdensome for the patient and risky for all of those in the office.

Third, a comprehensive paid sick leave policy in Canada is economically sound. Missing work is costly, estimated to be $16.6 billion dollars annually in lost productivity, but research is beginning to show that being sick at work (presenteeism) is incredibly costly as well – up to three times as much as absenteeism for depression and pain.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of equity. All workers should have access to sufficient paid, job-protected sick leave to help them recover from illnesses without losing income and to reduce the risk of infecting others. As well, it’s a matter of respect: having an employee ‘prove’ an illness is nonproductive and onerous for all.
- Meanwhile, Sara Mojtehedzadeh discusses Dorcas Martey's example of how a lack of effective sick leave forces people engaged in precarious work to put their health on hold in order to keep afloat financially. And Julia Belluz points to Alheil Picazo's story as an example of how much room there is to improve Canada's health care system.

- Joanna Kerr rightly lambastes the Cons for trying to pretend that anybody who cares about civil liberties must be a terrorist. And Alison reminds us of the Cons' history of using public resources to monitor and attack the environmental movement, while Jim Bronskill reports that protest activity in general is already in CSIS' cross-hairs. 

- Finally, the European Federation of Public Service Unions weighs in on the false promise of P3s. And Kev highlights how the lure of low taxes has led us to accept public services which are both insufficient to begin with, and extremely precarious in their fiscal footing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- CBC reports on the latest research showing that Canada would save billions every year with a national pharmacare plan. And Thomas Walkom argues that politics are standing in the way of what should be a no-brainer from a policy standpoint.

- Richard Gwyn writes that most Canadians seem to be willing to put up with nearly anything in order to keep a relatively secure job - even as it's far from sure that many workers can count on that being available.

- Lawrence Martin discusses the Cons' strategy of provocation, pandering and prejudice as a substitute for running on a defensible record - though he does win a place on the list of pundits who continue to hold out for some shame from a government which has never shown a trace of it. Dan Leger writes that the latest outbreak of bigotry reflects the Cons' own extremism. And Don Lenihan asks whether truth and values still matter as long as the Cons are on the political scene, while noting that the best antidote to cynical politics is a healthy dose of reflection:
Rove’s fingerprints are all over the Harper PMO, from micro-targeting to the use of wedge issues to play one group off another. The gun registry, the crime agenda and the energy pipelines are all examples.

We can also include talking points, omnibus legislation, time allocation, committee interference, and media control in this bag of tricks. All are quintessential Rovian tactics.

And the abandonment of truth? Here too the Harper government has followed suit, showing a sometimes ruthless willingness to deny, discredit and even suppress evidence that conflicts with its positions. It has done so on crime and climate change, for example, and is now doing so on the new security law, C-51.

But last week may have been a turning point of some kind. The Harper government seemed to be taking this Rovian story-telling to a new level.
But when the three opposition leaders rose to challenge both him and Canadians to take a step back from our emotions and reflect on the nature of our political rights, a very un-Rovian thing happened.

Many commentators began arguing that Muslim women’s right to wear the niqab was more important than their feelings of suspicion and doubt.

In Rovian politics, this is not supposed to happen. The public isn’t supposed to be reflective and rational, especially when they’re scared.

Of course, these responses came mainly from members of the political class. I don’t know what would have happened if the debate had carried on. Would ordinary people also have risen to the occasion? I couldn’t help wondering what Rove would say.

The clear lesson from last week is that we have two very different views of politics in our country and they appear to be getting ready to square off.
- Michael Harris reminds us that Mike Duffy's trial figures to offer a valuable look into the manipulations of the Harper PMO just in time for the federal election. And Andrew Mitrovica worries that the same command-and-control political dynamic which has us waiting for a trial to spill the truth about the Cons has left CSIS shrouded in secrecy.

- Finally, Taylor Bendig points out the Wall government's massive - and growing - expenditures on private highway consultants.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Face-down cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Harvey Kaye discusses how the rich's class warfare against everybody else has warped the U.S. politically and economically. And PressProgress observes that the Cons' reactionary politics have produced miserable results for Canadian workers.

- Which isn't to say the Cons plan to learn any lessons anytime soon, as James Fitz-Morris reports on the PBO's report showing how little anybody stands to gain from the massive cost of income-splitting. And Frances Woolley points out the utter frivolity of other vote-buying tax baubles, while also lamenting how much time is being spent studying pointless policy choices.

- Jim Stanford offers a primer on the investor-state dispute mechanisms being used to limit democratic decision-making in favour of corporate control around the globe. But Thomas Piketty writes that instead of handing still more power to our corporate overlords, we should instead be looking at a wealth tax as the best means of reining in inequality:
The ideal solution would be a global progressive tax on individual net worth. Those who are just getting started would pay little, while those who have billions would pay a lot. This would keep inequality under control and make it easier to climb the ladder. And it would put global wealth dynamics under public scrutiny. The lack of financial transparency and reliable wealth statistics is one of the main challenges for modern democracies.

Of course there are alternatives. China and Russia, too, must deal with wealthy oligarchies, and they do it with their own tools – capital controls, and jails whose bleak walls can contain the most ambitious oligarchs. For countries that prefer the rule of law and an international economic order, a global wealth tax is a better bet. Maybe China will come round to it before we do. Inflation is another potential solution. In the past it has helped lighten the burden of public debt. But it also erodes the savings of the less well off. A tax on vast fortunes seems preferable.

A global wealth tax would require international co-operation. This is difficult but feasible. The US and the EU each account for one-quarter of world output. If they could speak with one voice, a global registry of financial assets would be within reach. Sanctions could be imposed on tax havens that refused co-operation. Short of that, many may turn against globalisation. If, one day, they found a common voice, it would speak the disremembered mantras of nationalism and economic isolation.
- Jim Bronskill reports on CSIS' involvement in monitoring peaceful protests long before the Cons' terror bill is pushed through Parliament. Brent Patterson discusses the connection between that existing attitude and C-51. And Pete Dolack writes about Stephen Harper's contempt for any citizen activism.

- Finally, John Schwartz writes that for the first time, 2014 saw economic expansion without an increase in greenhouse gases caused by energy production - signalling that we're not limited to assuming a correlation between the two.

Monday, March 16, 2015

On choosing forums

In addition to grossly misrepresenting the NDP's position in opposition to C-51, Yves Messy makes the bizarre argument that we should decline to fight against the Cons' terror bill through the political system, and instead count on courts to rein in its excesses. So let's look at what's wrong with that theory.

At the outset, the structure of C-51 makes it difficult for some of the most important provisions to be challenged at all. As I've noted before, the entire point of providing CSIS with the power to act in secret is to ensure that people don't know what's being done - meaning we'll have no idea what exactly to try to enjoin through the courts. And particularly if the public sends the message that it'll accept implausible assertions of national security without question, we can fully expect to see a Con or Lib government to stonewall against the release of any evidence which might shed light on the issue.

And even after it's clear how rights are being violated under C-51, it's a lengthy and costly process to have the courts pronounce on the issue.

What's more, a lack of alternative proposals and objection to the Cons' plans may itself affect the results of a court proceeding. In applying section 1 of the Charter, courts consider both the importance of the policy at issue and the existence of other options to meet the objective being pursued by the government - meaning that a failure to discuss both the real stakes and the availability of alternatives might well weaken the argument against C-51.

That said, let's set aside the delay in discovering and challenging abuses arising out of a secret police force as well as the damage done to the argument against it by failing to raise alternatives. Even there, there's a basic question which Messy seems to want to ignore.

Do we really want and expect government power to expand to fill every single crack in our constitution?

After all, the point of review under the Charter is not to actually evaluate the public policy merits of any given government action. Instead, the courts only determine whether a particular action has crossed into the realm of being constitutionally impermissible - while anything short of that standard is left to be decided by the political processes which Messy wants to abandon.

In effect, then, a lack of political opposition in the name of letting the courts decide concedes the question of whether we should have a pervasive security state. Messy thus suggests that we should see no problem with governments seeking out and exercising every shred of unaccountable power they can possibly get their hands on, rather than even considering the possibility of less intrusion into individual freedoms than the most they're permitted to pursue under the Charter.

Now, it's fair to point out (as Dr. Dawg does here) that we may not yet have the strength we should as a body politic to fight off the Cons' creeping authoritarianism. But the logical response to that reality is to get down to work - not to decree that an election year is no time for citizens or parliamentarians to exercise their democratic muscles.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jon Talton discusses how the increased automation of our economy stands to disempower workers and exacerbate inequality if it's not combined with some serious countervailing public policy moves. Peter Gosselin and Jennifer Oldham comment on the broken link between productivity and wages. And Conor Dougherty and Quentin Hardy expose how employers are cheating employment laws by using game-style rewards for employees who overwork themselves.

- Meanwhile, Amien Essif points to Germany's paid internship model as one way of ensuring people aren't squeezed at their most vulnerable point while entering the workforce.

- Lucy Hooker reports on the continued connection between excess wealth and antisocial behaviour. And Dennis Howlett suggests that we not go out of our way to reward undue selfishness by gutting the CRA's ability to prosecute major tax evasion.

- H.G. Watson interviews Chris Hedges about the place of C-51 as a particularly extreme example of a disturbing trend toward monitoring and stifling free speech:
In terms of this particular bill, do you think that this fits into a wider trend of similar legislation in the western world?

Of course it fits into a wider trend -- not only into the western world but in Canada. Canadians are monitored as closely as U.S. citizens are as closely as British citizens or any other. This is a global phenomenon and the corporate state -- and Harper is representative of the corporate power and the corporate state -- seeks this kind of control because they know what is coming with climate change and the inevitable financial collapse that is looming now that global speculators are back on a spree as they were before 2008. With a flick of a switch essentially we have both the legal and physical mechanisms through the creation of massive security forces -- militarized police forces -- to in essence declare a militarized state both in Canada and the United States. Or should we have another catastrophic act of domestic terrorism anything like that, all the mechanisms are there... we have to fight it now.
What would you propose as a way of them making sure people don't feel like they are alienated or isolated?

Don't take away their rights. Don't take away their right to privacy; don't take away their right to dissent.

Don't take away -- you know, a functioning democracy is a mechanism by which reform: incremental and peaceful reform can be carried out. When you [shut down] that mechanism you inevitably radicalize, especially your disenfranchised.
- But then, David Pugliese notes that the Cons are making no secret of their desire to silence anybody whose speech doesn't mirror tar sands talking points.

- Finally, Zunera Ishaq presents a compelling argument against the Cons' attempt to pretend their anti-Muslim bigotry is somehow intended to serve the people targeted:
My desire to live on my own terms is also why I have chosen to challenge the government’s decision to deny me citizenship unless I take off my niqab at my oath ceremony. I have taken my niqab off for security and identity reasons in every case where that’s been required of me, such as when I have taken a driver’s license photo or gone through airport security. I will take my niqab off again before the oath ceremony without protest so I can be properly identified. I will not take my niqab off at that same ceremony for the sole reason that someone else doesn’t like it, even if that person happens to be Stephen Harper.

I am not looking for Mr. Harper to approve my life choices or dress. I am certainly not looking for him to speak on my behalf and “save” me from oppression, without even ever having bothered to reach out to me and speak with me.

And by the way, if he had bothered to ask me why I wear a niqab instead of making assumptions, I would have told him that it was a decision I took very seriously after I had looked into the matter thoroughly. I would tell him that aside from the religious aspect, I like how it makes me feel: like people have to look beyond what I look like to get to know me. That I don’t have to worry about my physical appearance and can concentrate on my inner self. That it empowers me in this regard.

While I recognize that it’s not for everyone, it is for me. To me, the most important Canadian value is the freedom to be the person of my own choosing. To me, that’s more indicative of what it means to be Canadian than what I wear.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Lydia DePillis and Jim Tankersley write that U.S. Democrats are recognizing the need for concerted pushback against the Republican's attacks on organized labour - and rightly framing the role of unions in terms of reducing the inequality the right is so keen to exacerbate.

- And another obvious advantage to greater labour power would be a stronger push against the extractivist ideology that's turning pensions and public utilities into corporate cash cows at our expense. 

- Sean McElwee and Catherine Ruetschlin discuss the multi-generational impact of systemic discrimination - while noting that the U.S. Supreme Court seems inclined to lock in the disadvantage faced by the groups who face it due to past policy choices.

- Alex Boutillier reports that the Cons' attempt to turn Muslims into an object of fear runs contrary to CSIS' own research showing white supremacists to be the largest source of "lone wolf" attacks around the world.

- Finally, Ryan Gallagher offers one example of the gross abuse of surveillance technology, as New Zealand has used NSA systems to intrude on both democratic governments and anti-corruption activists. And PressProgress notes that the Cons are gleefully recruiting candidates who in addition to their racist beliefs are determined to stop "Greenpeace and the intellectuals of this world" as being contrary to their worldview.