Saturday, November 07, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Thomas Walkom takes a broad look at the problems with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while noting that the Trudeau Libs don't seem inclined to address them at all. Deirdre Fulton sees the final text as being worse than anybody suspected based even on the previous leaked drafts. Doctors Without Borders notes that its concerns about access to medications haven't been dealt with at all. And David Dayen examines how the TPP will affect the financial-sector regulations which would otherwise to serve to avoid or respond to economic meltdowns:
Banks and other financial institutions would be able to use provisions in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership to block new regulations that cut into their profits, according to the text of the trade pact released this week.

In what may be the biggest gift to banks in a deal full of giveaways to Hollywood, the drug industry and technology firms, financial institutions would be able to appeal any national rules they didn’t like to independent, international tribunals staffed by friendly corporate lawyers.

That could nullify a proposal by Hillary Clinton to impose a “risk fee” on financial firms — or the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders plan to reinstate the firewall between investment and commercial banks.
(N)ow, for the first time, financial institutions could make an ISDS claim based on not receiving a “minimum standard of treatment.” This is the most flexible type of claim. “Over time, tribunals have interpreted this to mean that the company gets compensation if the change in policy disappoints their expectations of future profits,” said Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Article 11.2 of the agreement confirms that financial services providers are covered under the minimum standard of treatment obligation. This means that almost any change in financial regulations affecting future profits could be challenged in an extra-judicial tribunal, even if they equally applied to foreign and domestic firms and even if they were enacted in response to a crisis.
- Greg Suttor offers some suggestions to turn Justin Trudeau's vague messages about housing into a substantive policy. And Martha Friendly makes the case that Trudeau's answer as to why it's time for gender parity in the federal cabinet applies equally to the need for a national child care system.

- Meanwhile, Astrid Brousselle and Damien Contandriopoulos point out that the federal government will need to act quickly to enforce the Canada Health Act against Quebec's moves to allow user fees which are serving as barriers to universal care.

- Finally, John Klein highlights the City of Regina's appalling decision to deal with the lack of anywhere besides bus benches for homeless Reginans to taking away the benches.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Musical interlude

Banks - Brain

Surprise, surprise

Brad Wall's publicly-funded lobbying to sell Alberta oil in the U.S. (while ignoring the needs of the province which he actually leads) has proven to be as successful as it was well-thought-out. This should come as a shock to precisely nobody.

Just Not Ready, Civil Rights Edition

So let's get this straight: Ralph Goodale's plan to address the unconstitutional civil rights intrusions imposed under Bill C-51 (which his party waved through in the face of widespread opposition) leave them in place indefinitely while the Libs figure out what they can get away with keeping.

Needless to say, we should expect any government's starting point to be to minimize any interference with our Charter rights at all points - not to leave existing abuses in place as the default option. And if the Libs aren't willing to offer that possibility, we should fully expect the NDP to do so.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Roderick Benns interviews Michael Clague about his work on a basic income dating back nearly fifty years. And Glen Pearson's series of posts about a basic income is well worth a read.

- Meanwhile, Julia Belluz interviews Sir Michael Marmot about the connection between inequality and poor social health. And Gillian White writes about a lack of access to credit (and the resulting reliance on payday lenders) as just one of the many extra stresses facing people with lower incomes.

- Jamie Livingstone is optimistic that Scotland has hit a tipping point in reversing inequality. And Carol Goar looks for reason to hope in the fact that the Libs' new cabinet at least includes some responsibility for social justice issues - though Daniel James Wright points out that the pursestrings are being controlled by a rookie MP with strong corporate connections and little inclination toward progressive policy.

- Erin Obourn offers a survey of a few of the major problems with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And others are highlighting issues ranging from the entrenchment of temporary foreign workers, attacks on digital freedom including access to source code, limitations on personal privacy, damage to Canada's auto sector and the draconian enforcement of more harsh intellectual property provisions

- Finally, Paul Hanley weighs in on the Saskatchewan Party's appalling mismanagement surrounding the Boundary Dam coal plant.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jim Stanford examines what Canada's federal election says about our attitudes toward economic choices:
(P)rogressives need to advance our own economic agenda, to fill the vacuum left by the failure of the Conservative vision. The modest infrastructure spending and small, temporary deficits that form the centerpiece of the Liberal macro plan certainly do not constitute an alternative agenda. So we have a lot of work to do.

In conclusion, I believe that the power of progressive economic ideas has become modestly stronger in Canada. The federal election campaign both reflected progress that was already underway (on issues like inequality and climate change), and incrementally contributed to that progress (through the way that some key issues, like deficits and pensions, were addressed by the competing parties and received by Canadians). Of course, the new Liberal government has a modest agenda, it will be receptive to business demands, it will compromise and abandon key promises, and its vague commitment to “change” will soon be tarnished. Alex Himelfarb, speaking to the Ontario CCPA’s excellent post-election roundtable, summed it up perfectly: This government will do less harm, and be open to more good, than the last one. But how much good it does, depends totally on how much it is pushed by us.

My judgment on whether the election advanced or undermined progressive economic ideas is not based on who won, so much as on how economic discourse among Canadians – so-called “common sense” – has evolved and is evolving. That is more important in the long run. The end of the election is just the beginning of our continuing work as advocates on all of those issues, as we continue to engage in the ongoing “battle of economic ideas.” But I am somewhat more optimistic about the prospects of that work than I was a year ago.
- Karen Ho examines how the myth of meritocracy serves only to lock in entrenched privilege. John Bingham reports on new research showing that the gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor is growing rapidly in the UK, while Geoff Leo reports that cardiac rehabilitation in Regina is being limited to the people who can afford to pay for it. And Desmond Cole makes a compelling case against giving in to the threats of the rich who don't want to contribute to a stronger society.

- Meanwhile, Glen Pearson makes the case for a basic income to ensure everybody has some measure of income and life security. And Tom Cooper discusses the spread of living wages as another way to ensure economic progress is shared more widely.

- Ashley Renders and Hilary Beaumont confirm that Justin Trudeau doesn't plan to bring anything more than Stephen Harper's climate change plan (or lack thereof) to the Paris conference this month. And Jenny Uechl reports on the sorry state of environmental regulation in Canada by looking at the treatment of whistleblowers who have raised concerns about pipelines with the National Energy Board.

- Finally, Andrew Mitrovica offers some suggestions to create oversight under Bill C-51 - though his most important point is that the proper solution would be to scrap it entirely.

New column day

Here (via PressReader), arguing that there's no longer any escaping the fact that Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party can't be trusted to be either honest or reasonable about its biggest and costliest decisions.

For further reading...
- Mike McKinnon reported here on the glaring gap between what Brad Wall knew about the failings of the Boundary Dam carbon capture and storage project, and the propaganda he spread publicly starting last year. Geoff Leo has exposed one set of design issues which have been withheld from the public. And the Canadian Press raises the question of what SaskPower is supposedly trying to sell abroad.
[Update: See also McKinnon's later report questioning the business case for Boundary Dam in the first place.]
- Meanwhile, Ryan Ellis reported here on the ballooning costs of the Regina bypass (including a P3 maintenance scheme), while the concerns of affected residents about the location of the Tower Road interchange have been brushed of. And CBC reported here on the simple request for traffic lights to ensure safer travel in the short term.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Thom Hartmann highlights how trickle-down economics have swamped the U.S.' middle class:
Creating a middle class is always a choice, and by embracing Reaganomics and cutting taxes on the rich, we decided back in 1980 not to have a middle class within a generation or two. George H.W. Bush saw this, and correctly called it “Voodoo Economics.” And we’re still in the era of Reaganomics – as President Obama recently pointed out, Reagan was a successful revolutionary.

This, of course, is exactly what conservatives always push for. When wealth is spread more equally among all parts of society, people start to expect more from society and start demanding more rights. That leads to social instability, which is feared and hated by conservatives, even though revolutionaries and liberals like Thomas Jefferson welcome it.

And, as Kirk and Buckley predicted back in the 1950s, this is exactly what happened in the 1960s and ’70s when taxes on the rich were at their highest. The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the consumer movement, the anti-war movement, and the environmental movement – social movements that grew out of the wealth and rising expectations of the post-World War II era’s middle class – these all terrified conservatives. Which is why ever since they took power in 1980, they’ve made gutting working people out of the middle class their number one goal.

We now have a choice in this country. We can either continue going down the road to oligarchy, the road we’ve been on since the Reagan years, or we can choose to go on the road to a more pluralistic society with working class people able to make it into the middle class. We can’t have both.

And if we want to go down the road to letting working people back into the middle class, it all starts with taxing the rich.
- Meanwhile, Robert Reich discusses how the U.S.' economy is rigged to generate perpetually increasing inequality.

- Eric Ravenscraft writes about the high cost of living in poverty. Marc Spooner argues that ignoring the plight of Saskatchewan's homeless people makes everybody worse off. And Valerie Tarasuk makes the point that funneling waste through food banks does nothing to help a systematic lack of access to food or other necessities of life.

- Brent Patterson makes the case for public hearings before Canada gets locked into the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But Derrick O'Keefe writes that the corporate media has been teaming up with the Libs and Cons to make sure serious criticisms of the TPP are waved away.

- Finally, Rosario Marchese writes that it's not too late for the Wynne Liberals to reverse their disastrous Hydro One privatization, while Kelly McParland notes that the selloff involves all the financial planning and foresight of needlessly taking out a payday loan. And CBC reports that Ontario is already following the consistent pattern of privatized electrical utilities leading to higher rates for customers (in addition to lower public revenues).

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Covered cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Teresa Ghilarducci laments both the state of the union movement in the U.S., and the lack of any public discussion as to how to rebuild the strongest voice most citizens have against corporate excesses. And Bob Bryan recognizes that unions are nothing short of necessary to a balanced economy, while Alana Semuels writes about the lack of good jobs created when businesses "onshore" to anti-labour jurisdictions.

- Meanwhile, Zeeshan Aleem highlights how Minnesota has thrived after raising both upper-end taxes and its minimum wage. And Trish Hennessy takes a look at the success of living-wage employers in Ontario.

- Sean McElwee theorizes that it may be possible to encourage even the U.S. Republicans to accept meaningful income redistribution as long as it takes the form of tax credits rather than direct spending.

- Steven Hoffman and Patrick Fafard suggest a few "easy wins" for Justin Trudeau's first actions in office. And for those thinking bigger, Roy Romanow and Greg Marchildon make the case for a national pharmacare program.

- Finally, the CCPA's latest Monitor focuses on climate change in the lead up to the Paris conference later this month. Fiona Harvey reports that the latest UN review of international climate change commitments suggests that the targets set to date fall far short of what's needed to limit the damage to two degrees Celsius. And Christina Figueroa is optimistic that the world is ready for meaningful action against climate change, while Derrick O'Keefe highlights how Paris will test Justin Trudeau's willingness to put the public good over the interests of oil barons.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Andrew Jackson discusses a few of the choices the Trudeau Libs need to get right in order to actually set Canada on a more progressive fiscal path:
Progressives who worry about growing income inequality will note two key features of the new government's tax plans. First, the plan is not quite as redistributive as it looks at first sight since it  leaves out below-average income workers. Second, the net effect is not to expand the federal income tax base.

True, the Liberal platform talks of examining some loopholes, such as the favourable taxation of stock options, but it rejected major revenue-raising measures – including higher corporate taxes or higher income taxes on anybody except the top 1%. This leaves little fiscal room to fund needed social programs such as child care or pharmacare.
The key problem facing the new government is that its three major short-term promises – child benefits, income tax cuts and infrastructure investment  – effectively use up all of the fiscal resources it has at hand, including temporary deficits.

This shows up in the Liberal platform in the very modest amounts allocated to new spending on health care (which goes from just $400 million in year one to $1 billion in year four.) This is far from the amounts needed to offset the Harper government's pending cuts to transfers to the provinces, as the premiers will quickly point out when they meet with the new Prime Minister.

The Liberal platform also allocates very limited new funds to such “priorities” as educational and other programs for indigenous peoples, employment insurance reform, social housing programs, environmental programs, enhanced government regulatory capacity, and the list goes on. Short-term term deficits cannot sustain needed long-term public investments in all of these areas.

We can expect few surprises and some very welcome new policies from the Trudeau government in the next budget. But progressives will have to press hard for broader tax reform to expand the choices at hand.
- And Frances Woolley uses the example of pumpkin seeds to point out that rhetoric about "waste" is far too easily substituted for genuine value judgments about resource allocation.

- Bruce Johnstone summarizes the burgeoning disaster that is the Boundary Dam carbon capture project - featuring Brad Wall regularly misleading the province by substituting hoped-for outcomes for actual ones even as he tries to sell non-functional technology to other gullible buyers. And Murray Mandryk is skeptical as to whether Wall's coal cheerleading and climate inaction will accomplish anything at the upcoming Paris climate change conference.

- Mark Gollom writes that there's little time to waste in ensuring that Canada has a more fair electoral system in place for the next federal election. And Stuart Parker argues that we need to set a higher standard on that front than "anything but first-past-the-post".

- Finally, Renata D'Aliesio exposes the epidemic of suicide among Canadian veterans - along with the Cons' callous attempts to hide the problem while portraying themselves as defenders of the military.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Lana Payne surveys some of the glaring warning signs about the Trans-Pacific Partnership for anybody who thinks a government's job is to further the interests of citizens rather than corporations:
These deals are no longer about free trade. Rather, as I pointed out in my last column, they are about negotiating “managed investors’ rights” deals on behalf of the world’s most powerful corporations.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has pointed out these new trade agreements “are becoming particularly bad. It used to be that trade agreements were negotiated over tariffs … the consumers gained. The new agreements are about getting rid of regulations. We’re talking about regulation over the environment, safety, economy, health. The consumers, who are not at the table, get screwed.”

So why are our governments doing this? Why would they trade away some of their own power to enact laws that protect the citizens of their respective countries or weaken their ability to act in the best interests of their countries?

It is clear that too many governments have been co-opted by global corporations. The question is will Canada’s new federal government act to change this, or will its record mirror that of the government they just replaced who, despite signing multiple trade agreements, had the worst exports record of any government since the Second World War?
- But sadly (if predictably), Justin Trudeau has decided to ignore serious concerns about the loss of democratic authority and citizens' interests, and instead cheerlead for the TPP.

- Meanwhile, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Robert Gebeloff offer a detailed and revealing look into the use of arbitration clauses to prevent consumers from having any realistic avenue of relief against corporate abuses.

- Andrew Jackson, David Climenhaga and Naomi Lakritz each look at the Alberta NDP's first budget and find a far more responsible government than the province ever had under the previous PC dynasty.

- Raquel Fletcher reports on the continued scourge of poverty in Saskatchewan (which still isn't being addressed by the Wall government). And Kirsten Downer offers a look at what life looks like in Sweden compared to less equal countries, while Henry Aaron points out how a more progressive tax system can rein in inequality while also boosting social outcomes.

- Finally, for a few more noteworthy takes on the NDP's federal election campaign (if not necessarily ones with which I agree entirely), see what Duncan Cameron, Bill Tieleman, Nora Loreto, Fraser Needham and Tom Parkin have had to say.