Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Edward Keenan weighs in on the role a basic income could play in a job market marked by increasingly precarious work:
I am an enthusiastic supporter of better workplace protections and wages. I have a good, unionized, stable job. I like it. But regulation of work and workplaces isn’t likely adequate to solve the problem we face. No matter how high minimum wages are, they will not help people unable to get a job that pays them. And there are a lot of reasons to think that no matter how good workplace safeguards are, the number of people who can expect to hold a conventional job will continue to drop.
A post-jobs world seems unlikely to be a post-work world. Most people want to be productive, but are forced by economic circumstance to do things they hate doing. If we all had the equivalent of a trust fund, I think most of us would do as many trust fund kids do: we’d throw ourselves into creative and artistic projects, charitable enterprises, politics and community work, entrepreneurship — the fulfilling (and useful) labour that is difficult or risky to depend on financially, and so is now overwhelmingly the province of the privileged.

It is a long-promised science fiction premise: a world in which people are freed from the drudgery of mindless work they hate and able to pursue the things they love. The future’s looming crisis isn’t a lack of jobs; it’s a lack of the income those jobs have traditionally distributed. Solve the latter problem, and the post-job world looks like nothing to fear.
- Meanwhile, Ian Gough points out how a focus on short-term returns and benchmarks prevents us from pursuing upstream policies which could do far more good in the long run.

- Andrew Jackson discusses the damage needless austerity is doing to the global economy. And John Cartwright argues that a push toward renewable energy could do wonders for our economy and our environment alike by freeing us from the twin traps of austerity and fossil fuel dependence.

- Finally, Ralph Surette is rightly livid that the Cons are spending their time and our money building monuments to Stephen Harper rather than a better Canada. But Lana Payne writes that the public is more than ready for change, rather than wanting any part of making the Harper legacy more permanent.

On fragile fixes

Some high-profile commentators seem to be accepting a highly dubious conclusion about the federal election date expected this fall. So let's take a quick look at what a "fixed" election date actually means for a government which has no qualms about breaking the rules - and why the fact that we're seemingly on track for an October election doesn't mean we can rule out an abrupt change in course if it suits the Harper Cons' purposes.

Here's what the Canada Elections Act now says about election dates:
56.1 (1) Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.
(2) Subject to subsection (1), each general election must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election, with the first general election after this section comes into force being held on Monday, October 19, 2009.
Of course, we know from his 2008 election call that Stephen Harper sees no problem treating the fixed date as flexible when it comes to calling an early election. But since it's probably too late for him to see any advantage in doing that this year, does he have any avenue to delay an election?

I don't see how the answer is anything but "yes". After all, the election date in section 56.1 is itself a product of a statute passed by Parliament. And so if Harper were determined to delay an election, it would seem a simple enough matter to recall Parliament to either change the wording of section 56.1(2) to fit some preferred future date, or eliminate any mandatory wording altogether.

Alternatively, the election writ itself arises out of the advice of the Prime Minister. So what would happen if Harper simply advised the Governor General not to issue the writ necessary to start an election campaign if he were once again ready to provoke a constitutional crisis for political gain? My guess would be a flurry of litigation - but probably not an election until that was resolved.

So Harper almost certainly has some options to avoid running the fall election on schedule. But we wouldn't expect him to exercise any of those options until absolutely necessary - which is why we haven't had much reason to talk about a possible delay until now.

One way or another, Harper's main decision still comes down to the question of whether his prospects are better in an election this fall, or in one at some other date.

Given that the October election date was set by the Cons' own legislation, we have to assume that the Cons' re-election plans involve reaching voters just in time for that date - with years of governmental messaging going into that effort. And those years of planning, not the fixed date, figure to be the main factor that would keep them on schedule if the polls suggest any hope that their strategy might actually work.

But if it's clear by the end of summer that the Cons don't stand a chance in a fall election, they're not without some means of hunkering down in office for a little while longer. And I've yet to see any reason to think that devotion to fixed election dates is the first principle Stephen Harper would place above his desire to cling to power.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Friday, June 26, 2015

On rewriting

There's plenty of justified outrage over Stephen Harper's unelected Senate lapdogs choosing to tear up the Parliamentary rule book to force through an attack on unions in the form of Bill C-377. But I'm wondering whether the procedural move used to end debate might itself affect the validity of the bill.

On that front, is there any precedent for a bill becoming law after being passed as a private member's bill in one chamber, but as a government bill in the other given that both chambers have specific rules governing the review and approval of each type of bill?

And if not, isn't there an argument to be made that even if C-377 passes on the Cons' artificial terms in the Senate, it then won't have been approved at all in the House as a government bill?

(Meanwhile, I'd also be curious as to what other procedural options are available if the Senate opposition wants to push back against the holding of a vote. But hopefully those are under close examination already.)

Musical interlude

Motionchild & Will Holland feat. Tiff Lacey - Arctic Kiss (Andy Duguid Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jim Stanford discusses the need to inoculate citizens against shock doctrine politics, as well as the contribution he's hoping to make as the second edition of Economics for Everyone is released:
I suppose it is fitting (if tragic) that this new edition is being released into an economic environment that is still marked by fear, fragility and hardship. And this highlights a key theme of Economics for Everyone – and one of my key personal motivations as an economist whose career has been rooted in trade union and social justice settings (rather than in academia or business). Things will not get better for working people, if only the economy could recover, deficits be eliminated, and stability attained. Because this pattern of repeating crisis and growing polarisation is hard-wired into the DNA of modern capitalism: an economic system organised around the self-serving decisions of a surprisingly small and privileged segment of society. This crisis, no different from the last or the next, was not an unpredictable, unpreventable, one-off occurrence: a “black swan” event. Rather, it was the predictable, preventable result of an economy that puts the interests of financial wealth above the interests of the vast majority in working and supporting themselves. And it will happen again, unless and until we change the fundamental rules of the game.
(U)nemployment, stagnation, precarity, and austerity are not inevitable. They are the consequence of conscious choices by economic elites more concerned with protecting their privilege than with “growing the pie.” We possess the collective capacity to work and produce, and hence “pay for,” the consumption and services that we need for a decent life. The biggest hurdle may be political, not economic. How can we inspire, prepare, and mobilise large numbers of people into a common cause that puts people and the planet first on the economic pecking order, and fights for a world of sustainable full employment?

I believe that a central ingredient in our strategy must involve a deliberate strategy to build popular economic literacy among our communities and movements. For starters, we must have our own analysis of the current crisis: what happened, why it happened, what can be done to insulate working and poor people from its effects, and how to prevent it from happening again. We must have enough knowledge, and enough confidence, to reject false claims about why we are suffering, and what we can and can’t do about it.

And then we must go further. We need an inclusive, accessible and activist system for training our leaders and activists in the broader fundamentals of critical economics and political economy. And we need to do it systematically and energetically. Every social movement (unions, anti-poverty groups, equality campaigns, environmentalists, and others) needs to build this kind of education work into their overall movement-building strategy. This will strengthen our collective understanding of how the specific challenges we face stem from a common source: the structures and dynamics of financialised, globalised, aggressive capitalism. That understanding, in turn, will strengthen our collective ability to resist the regressive demands of employers and governments, and to fight for progressive change – both incremental and transformative.
- Meanwhile, Harsha Walia writes that Canada's immigration is doing exactly what the Cons want it to in handing a ready supply of disposable labour while limiting the opportunity for immigrants to find a place in Canadian society. But Ava Tomasula Y Garcia offers an example as to how our governments can create incentives for better corporate behaviour by pointing to Connecticut's new legislation requiring employers to pay back double any wages wrongly withheld from employees.

- Katie Hyslop, Chris Wood and David Ball are examining the challenges facing Canadians who are fighting a losing battle to find affordable and acceptable housing.

- Jim Bronskill reports that the Cons' intrusion into personal privacy through their new terror bill goes far beyond anything CSIS ever saw as necessary for public safety purposes. And Aaron Wherry looks at what comes next now that C-51 has been passed with Con and Lib support - though it's worth asking questions not only about how new secret police powers and information sharing might be treated after this fall's federal election, but also how they might be used to intrude on the election itself.

- Finally, Paul Jay interviews Kevin Zeese about the the TPP as the latest means of concentrating power in corporate rather than public hands, while Amy Kapcynzki writes (PDF) about its effect on health policy. And Brent Patterson discusses how the CETA be an obstacle to any meaningful action to combat climate change.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The abyss calling the kettle black

I've previously written that the Libs tend to be entirely incoherent when they can't make any claim to votes by default - and that the lead in the polls earned by Tom Mulcair and the NDP raised a real possibility that would happen again.

But I'll readily acknowledge that this goes far beyond my expectations.

Yes, for those scoring along at home: the federal leader of the Liberal Party is trying to score political points by noting another federal leader's past association with a Liberal Party.

I suppose that's one way to take "they're all the same" messaging to a ludicrous extreme. (And heck, it even applies to Stephen Harper as well.) But if having once joined the Libs is a problem, surely voters will take the cue not to make that mistake now.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Thomas Edsall discusses how increased atomization is making it more difficult for people to join together in seeking change, no matter how obvious it is that there's a need to counter the concentrated power and wealth of the privileged few:
The cultural pressures driving inequality are...reinforced by heightened competition that has accelerated the decline of unions, served to justify the Republican refusal to raise minimum wages and undermined the workplace stature of employees. The result has been not only surging incomes at the top and little or no growth for the rest, but a withdrawal of community from those who need it most.

All of which brings us back to the question of why there is so little rebellion against entrenched social and economic injustice.

The answer is that those bearing the most severe costs of inequality are irrelevant to the agenda-setters in both parties. They are political orphans in the new order. They may have a voice in urban politics, but on the national scene they no longer fit into the schema of the left or the right. They are pushed to the periphery except for a brief moment on Election Day when one party wants their votes counted, and the other doesn’t.
- Meanwhile, Canadians for Tax Fairness highlights a new petition campaign to demand that Canada's political parties promise a more fair tax system in this fall's election. And Karl Nerenberg warns that the Cons have moved to make it more difficult for progressive voters to be heard.

- Natalie Kitroeff reports on a new Economic Policy Institute study showing how childhood poverty starts to create an unfair playing field as early as kindergarten. And David MacDonald examines how the wealth gaps which give a small number of people a head start only increase through the course of a person's life.

- Finally, Brad Plumer discusses the difficulty in motivating politicians to act on climate change when the benefits lie decades down the road (and are may not be readily noticeable in light of the damage already done to our planet). But George Monbiot rightly argues that we should be able to marshal our love of each other and the world around us as a rallying force. And Emma Howard reports on a Dutch legal precedent which may lead toward greenhouse gas reductions being ordered by courts where governments fail in their responsibilities.

New column day

Here, on how Regina and its citizens did fairly well responding to a water shortage - but has plenty to learn in applying the lesson to the wider collective challenge of climate change.

For further reading...
- The water shortage began a month ago, with CBC's coverage here and here largely describing the problem and the City's initial response. And CTV reported on the end to the immediate restrictions here.
- In contrast, Rob Kuznia reports on Rancho Santa Fe's appalling response to California's drought, which has given rise to mandatory water use reductions.
- The National Resources Defence Council connects climate change to a drastically increased risk of drought across much of the U.S. And the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative finds (PDF) the same effect applies to Canada's Prairies.
- Finally, for just a couple of examples of Saskatchewan's pitiful record on greenhouse gas emissions, see CBC's report here and Statistics Canada's provincial data here. And CBC reports on the City's pushback against John Klein's effort to take even a few modest steps in offering cleaner transportation alternatives.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Sheila Block points out the problems with the spread of low-paying, precarious jobs. And PressProgress fact-checks the CFIB's attempt to make as many workers' lives as precarious as possible by suppressing minimum wages and standards.

- But Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports that Ontario's provincial government is making matters worse by handing millions of dollars to the same temp agencies who are most aggressively flouting employment standards laws. And the Star warns of the need to ensure that Toronto's plan to fight poverty actually leads to action.

- Meanwhile, Ezra Klein points out the importance of how we label life without stable work in discussing the radically different perception of involuntary unemployment compared to early retirement:
Saying "I'm unemployed" is very different than saying "I retired at 32, and it's amazing." The question is, can someone who doesn't start with much social status — Ferriss is a Princeton graduate, Mr. Money Mustache an ex-software engineer — manage the same trick?

This is one of the questions that will decide whether a post-work world becomes a dystopia. Does whatever replaces work get branded more like unemployment or more like extreme retirement? What happens when you tell someone you just met on Tinder that you don't have a full-time job, but you really love hiking?

I am not worried that a post-work world can't be a good world. I am just worried that it won't be — that guilt-free early retirement will be a luxury reserved for people who can get good jobs, and denied to people who can't.
- Finally, Heather Mallick writes that we should all learn from Harry Leslie Smith's experience about the importance of a functioning society. And Duncan Cameron reminds us that it's only a tiny group of financial elites who stand to profit from the austerity that does so much damage to the vast majority of citizens.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Huddled cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Mark Anderson reports on the Change Readiness Index' findings that the growing concentration and inequality of wealth is making it more and more difficult for countries to deal with foreseeable disasters. But Jon Queally points out that a concerted effort to quit abusing fossil fuels could do a world in making our world both more fair and more sustainable.

- James Galbraith suggests that the EU is guilty of gross malpractice in how it continues to treat Greece in the face of overwhelming public opposition to austerity. But as David Dayen points out, the course of treatment makes a lot more sense if the goal of creditors is to make the patient suffer as a warning to others.

- Andrew Nikiforuk interviews Gus Van Harten about the pernicious effects of the Cons' FIPA trade deal with China:
Just how lopsided is this investment deal with China?

I have followed these treaties for a long time and reviewed hundreds of them. One thing that stands out for me in the deal with China is the unequal rights of market access. In the FIPA -- and I've never seen this before -- the Harper government gave Chinese investors a right of access to Canada's economy, but did not get the same right for Canadian investors in China. That was an extraordinary concession to China.

So, the FIPA requires Canada to open its economy and resources to Chinese companies in general, but it lets China keep a closed economy. China can also keep favouring its own companies at home, in areas like intellectual property, approvals and tax levels. The FIPA is clearly more about giving Chinese investors the freedom to buy what they want in Canada than it is about protecting Canadian investors in China.

How else is the FIPA lopsided? It lets Canada and China block specific investments, but is lopsided on this issue, again in favour of China. China has belts and suspenders to keep unwanted Canadian investors out. Canada has given up the belt and kept a thinner pair of suspenders to keep Chinese investors out.

Treaties like the FIPA are also lopsided in favour of foreign investors, who get far more powerful protection than anyone else does in international law. That comes at a cost to taxpayers and voters. With the FIPA, this part of the deal also favours China simply because the Chinese own more in Canada than Canadians do in China.
- Don Braid writes that Rachel Notley's NDP government is not only challenging corporatist dogma in Alberta, but also building a new coalition of previously-marginalized voters who figure to benefit from more progressive governance. And Laurie Monsebraaten reports on Toronto's new - if still somewhat vague - plan to fight poverty in Canada's largest city.

- Finally, tcnorris offers a roadmap for an NDP government in working to abolish the Senate.

Mostly competent government

To nobody's surprise, Stephen Harper's brand of economic management means election slush funds throwing tens of millions of dollars away for no public benefit.

And it also means public servants going unpaid due to the failure of the Cons' supposed attempts to make government more efficient.

Do we dare take the risk of having another, more responsible party in charge of our public purse?

Monday, June 22, 2015

On failures of strategy, calculation, politics, principle and general humanity

Shorter Justin Trudeau:
Nobody could have foreseen that Canadian voters would judge me based on my actions rather than my self-proclaimed brand.

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Sean Illing writes about the utterly misplaced view of the privileged few that they can or should be treated as immune from the environmental realities facing everybody:
I see the decadence of the people in Rancho Santa Fe as a microcosm of America today, particularly corporate America. What these people exhibit, apart from their smugness, is a complete absence of any sense of collective responsibility. They can’t see and aren’t interested in the consequences of their actions. And they can’t muster a modicum of moderation in the face of enormous scarcity. Every resource, every privilege, is theirs to pilfer with impunity. These people are prepared to endanger an entire ecosystem simply to avoid the indignity of brown golf courses; this is what true entitlement looks like.

The wealthiest Americans – and their apostles in government – tell us that it’s the poor people who are entitled, who take and exploit and keep more than they deserve. But that’s a half-truth, and a dangerous one at that. Entitlement has many faces, the most destructive of which is on display in Rancho Santa Fe. These adolescent upper-crusters are entitled because they believe they have a right to everything they can get hold of – regardless of the costs. They believe living with others carries no obligations. Anyone who places their right to pristine golf courses above their responsibility to respect communal resources is a social toxin, a privileged parasite eating away at the foundations of society. It’s important that their actions be seen in this context.

There’s a lesson in Rancho Santa Fe and in California more generally. What’s happening there foreshadows our future. We’re confronted with crises on a number of fronts. From climate change to economic inequality, our institutions – and the people controlling them – are failing us. Changes are necessary, but a segment of society (the 1 percent, we’ll call them) is unwilling to sacrifice; they’re too invested in power, in comfort. Whether it’s oil profiteers distorting climate science or Wall Street banks undermining efforts to regulate the financial industry, entrenched interests are doing everything possible to preserve the status quo, even when so doing threatens to upend the whole system – just like the people of Rancho Santa Fe.
- Meanwhile, Jan Zalasiewizc reports on new research showing that even without accounting for the effects of climate change, humanity has managed to cause mass extinctions on a planetary scale.

- Cathy Crowe makes the case for a national housing program as a necessary step toward a healthier and more secure society, while the Star backs a plan to provide housing to 20,000 homeless Canadians over the next three years. And Marco Chown Oved reports on the types of abuses private landlords can carry out by imposing arbitrary fees while evicting a tenant, then permanently trashing the tenant's credit rating if that blackmail doesn't succeed.

- Paul Seesequasis writes that the Cons' terror bill is a serious obstacle to reconciliation as it stands to prevent aboriginal people from seeking both sovereignty and respect. And Fram Dinshaw reports that Canada's Muslim community - which figures to be one of the first targets of covert attacks - has already been intimidated into silence about the dangers of C-51.

- Finally, Elizabeth Renzetti interviews Harry Leslie Smith about his fight to build on the hard-won social gains people have made over the course of his life.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jeff Spross argues that in addition to ensuring that employees are fairly paid for the overtime hours they work, we should also be pushing to ensure people aren't required to work as much to begin with. And Angella MacEwen points out that any spin about increasing wages is based almost entirely on a proportional increase in hours worked, rather than workers receiving any benefit from improved productivity.

- Meanwhile, Cory Doctorow highlights new research showing that the CEOs who manage to squeeze the most money out of businesses actually perform worse than the ones who aren't so focused on enriching themselves.

- Thomas Walkom writes that the Cons' much-trumpeted trade agreements are accomplishing nothing even on their own terms.

- Andrew Mitrovica duly slams anybody willing to take the uncorroborated word of the security state as a basis for reporting. John Baglow reminds us that the Libs aren't any better than the Cons when it comes to that tendency - as evidenced both by the star candidacy of Bill Blair, and their inexcusable cowardice in response to the Cons' terror bill. And PressProgress shows what happens when the Cons try to pretend C-51 is anything but a direct and unmitigated attack on Canadians' rights.

- Finally, Susan Delacourt comments on the connection between a first-past-the-post electoral system and the view that voters should be microtargeted for advertising rather than included meaningful policy discussions:
We still like to pretend that political parties are looking for a big, pan-Canadian victory, but the reality is that political success in this country has been built in recent years by finding the tools and tactics to do microtargeting effectively. Technology and big data have turned this strategy into a much more precise science for all parties.

In short, we all know now that rewards don’t go to the political players with the big picture; they go to the ones who think small. An election that required a 50-per-cent-plus victory in the popular vote, on the other hand, would force parties to seek broad, pan-Canadian appeal.
(I)f politics is about thinking small, government should be about thinking big. This is where Harper was on the right track on May 2, 2011 — promising to take an approach to government that he did not take to political campaigning, mindful of the needs and concerns of people who didn’t vote for the Conservatives.

It proved to be an over-ambitious promise, though. The past four years have been littered with examples of the politicized opposite: selective audits of charities seen as unfriendly to Conservatives, PMO press releases that sound an awful lot like party fundraising letters, cabinet ministers trotted out to slam court rulings or scientific findings that rile up the Conservative “base.” Pages and pages of tax provisions have been created to give “boutique” favours to microtargeted segments of the population — budgets for Dougies. Measures for Zoes? Not so much.