Saturday, February 20, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Sarah Anderson, Marc Bayard, John Cavanagh, Chuck Collins, Josh Hoxie and Sam Pizzigati offer an outline as to how to fight back against growing inequality:
§ We need to see inequality as a deep systemic problem. Piecemeal interventions have not helped slow or reverse the pace of wealth concentration. We’ve now hit inequality warp speed. Inequality grew steadily between the 1970s and the early years of the 21st century, with the rules that govern our economy encouraging both wage stagnation and wealth updraft. But since the economic meltdown of 2008, even larger swaths of income and wealth gains have flowed to the top 1 percent.

§ We need to concentrate more on wealth concentration. Most of our national discourse on fighting inequality has involved income inequality. But the even deeper problem involves the maldistribution of our national and global wealth. We need to address both wage and asset inequality.

§ We need to go beyond “good government” reforms. Real democracy can never flourish alongside massive personal and business fortunes. As long as wealthy individuals and giant corporations can buy elections and dictate policy, we will never reverse extreme inequality.
§ Most of all, we need game changers. If you’re playing in a game where the rules turn out to be rigged, you need to change the game.
- Andrew Jackson makes the case for fiscal policy to promote growth (rather than to slash public activity). And Sean McElwee points out that at least in the U.S., there's no need to be shy about discussing austerity, as one of the major fault lines within the Republican Party is between an upper class which endorses it and the broader base which knows better.

- Meanwhile, Canadians for Tax Fairness proposes a set of relatively simple changes which could result in a far more progressive tax system, along with a healthy boost in public revenue. And Forum finds growing public support for a basic income as one obvious destination for an increase in tax revenue.

- The Cape Breton Post writes about the desperate need for a stronger system of retirement security. And Lana Payne is optimistic that we'll see an improved Canada Pension Plan before too long.

- Finally, the Council of Canadians offers its support to the idea of postal banking.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Shocked, I say

Surely nobody could have predicted that a federal climate change plan of doing no more than every province would accept would be doomed as long as Brad Wall has anything to say about it.

But if there's a silver lining, it's this: the fact that Wall is actually attacking the idea of a "level playing field" in order to stand out as an oil industry shill and climate laggard may go some ways in ensuring there's a more responsible party leading Saskatchewan by the time the Libs figure out what they're doing.

Musical interlude

Grimes feat. Blood Diamonds - Go

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Larry Elliott writes that the OECD is calling on its member states - including Canada - to stop pushing destructive austerity and instead focus on needed public investments.

- Ian Welsh points out the problems with monetary policy aimed solely at inflation rather than growth (and designed to undercut any wage gains). And Duncan Cameron notes that the Bank of Canada's mandate is even more skewed toward the wealthy at the expense of workers.

- Serina Sandhu reports on a UK court ruling pushing back against cuts to funding for individuals who have faced domestic violence.

- And Elana Lamesse comments on the false economies involved in slashing the supports needed for inmates to reintegrate after being released from jail.

- Finally, Owen Jones discusses the anti-democratic nature of the U.K. Cons' ban on boycotts. And both the Cons and Libs are pushing the same authoritarian line in attacking boycotts and divestment on the part of Canadians.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

New column day

Here, pointing out that the Global Transportation Hub land flipping scandal highlights Brad Wall's consistent willingness to hand out free money to business cronies - contrasted against his fight to avoid funding basic services like health and education.

For further reading...
- CBC has led the way in reporting on the Global Transportation Hub dealings. And Murray Mandryk writes about the provincial auditor's impending investigation.
- By way of comparison to the Saskatchewan Party's eagerness to hand tens of millions of dollars to land speculators, the Star-Phoenix reported on its refusal to do anything to account for the needs of school boards based on increased enrolment, while CKRM notes the same when it comes to an influx of refugees. And CBC reports on David McGrane's study showing that education has been underfunded by billions under the Sask Party.
- On the health front, CJME reported on cuts to surgical services in Regina, while the Canadian Press discussed layoffs in Saskatoon. And CBC noted the gross waste arising from the Sask Party's "lean" cult.
- Finally, in what may be the most appalling stories of cuts yet, CBC reports on the effect of radical cuts to Saskatoon's Lighthouse homeless shelter, while Betty Ann Adam notes that North Battleford's Lighthouse may be in danger of closing altogether.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Nick Powdthavee discuss how the rise of an exclusive class of the rich increases stress and decreases well-being for everybody else.
Using data from the World Top Incomes Database and the Gallup World Poll, we compared the share of taxable income held by the top 1% in each country with reported levels of life satisfaction over the last 30 years. We found that a 1% increase in the share of taxable income held by the top 1% hurts life satisfaction as much as a 1.4% increase in the country-level unemployment rate.

This is a stark reminder that it’s not just about how much you have, nor even how much you have relative to everyone else, but also how much the top 1% has. With that level of income accumulation, even if you are a member of the relatively well-to-do middle class some things start getting priced beyond your reach, such as housing.

In addition, there may be psychological reasons driving the correlation between rising top incomes and decreased average wellbeing: a rise in the share of income held by the richest 1% could make you feel as if your chance of moving up the ladder is growing increasingly beyond your reach.

This is particularly true for certain groups of people. We found that people who are young, less educated or on low incomes tend to suffer more as the richest get richer.
- Meanwhile, the CP finds that nearly half of Canadians are barely averting insolvency. Gary Mason points out how British Columbia's latest budget sprays cash at everybody except the people who actually need it. And Sean Swan comments on the need to address class economics in order to deal with inequality.

- Terri Coles writes about the growing political movement for a basic income in Canada, while Jonathan Brun makes the case for Quebec to lead the way. And Jonathan Sher reports on the push from London's top public health official for a living wage.

- Charlie Angus reminds us of Canada's chronic underfunding of First Nations. And Anna Mehler Paperny reports on the appalling mortality rates for young children in Canada's North, together with their obvious social causes.

- Finally, Hugh MacKenzie discusses the advantages of ensuring secure public pensions, rather than counting on millions of retirees to save for themselves (with the financial services sector taking its substantial cut off the top).

On threshold questions

Althia Raj is predictably dispensing Lib talking points about the potential outcomes of the NDP's leadership review. So to set the record straight, let's examine what the numbers actually mean.

There's exactly one threshold which produces a binding outcome:
At every convention that is not a leadership convention; a secret ballot vote will be held to determine whether or not a leadership election should be called. If 50% plus one delegate supports the calling of a leadership election, such an election will be held within one year of the convention vote.
So yes, 50%+1 is indeed the standard to set in motion a mandatory leadership election process.

In contrast, any other threshold being thrown around within the pundit class is simply a matter of judgment. Any leader has the discretion to step down at any time - and talk of 70% or any other number represents pure speculation as to whether Mulcair might choose to resign his post, even though he's won in terms of the formal requirement to stay on without further review. And whatever numbers anybody else throws out, we wouldn't necessarily expect a matter of personal judgment - as distinct from voting process - to be defined in advance.

At the same time, nothing in the NDP's process suggests that a leader could lose on a majority vote, but deny the vote has any significance after the fact by claiming uncertainty about voters' intentions. Because that would just be asinine.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Thomas Piketty writes that regardless of the end result, Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign may mark the start of a fundamental change in U.S. politics:
Sanders’ success today shows that much of America is tired of rising inequality and these so-called political changes, and intends to revive both a progressive agenda and the American tradition of egalitarianism. Hillary Clinton, who fought to the left of Barack Obama in 2008 on topics such as health insurance, appears today as if she is defending the status quo, just another heiress of the Reagan-Clinton-Obama political regime.

Sanders makes clear he wants to restore progressive taxation and a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). To this he adds free healthcare and higher education in a country where inequality in access to education has reached unprecedented heights, highlighting a gulf standing between the lives of most Americans, and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system.
- Richard Shillington studies the economic status of Canadian near-seniors and finds that very few people are prepared for retirement. And PressProgress points out that the result may be a reversal of Canada's past success in fighting seniors' poverty.

- Meanwhile, Iglika Ivanova reviews B.C.'s provincial budget and finds that it's falling far short of what's needed to rein in poverty and inequality.

- Amir Attaran reminds us of the money Canada's health system is wasting on artificially high prices for generic drugs.

- Matthew Behrens weighs in on the next steps for Canada's surveillance state (including C-51) and argues that we shouldn't settle for secret, after-the-fact parliamentary reviews of state disruptions.

- Finally, Maciej Gorecki examines the possibility that voter turnout trends may be driven more by social expectations and maturation than by individual habit-forming.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats vs. gravity.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Danny Dorling comments on the dangers posed by inequality, while pointing out that it's simple enough to ensure a more equal society as long as that's made a primary goal of government:
It is not hard to reduce inequalities and to improve health and happiness once that is your actual goal. It is much harder to maintain high and rising levels of economic inequality because you constantly need to find more people to exploit and impoverish if you are to become richer and richer; and you have to fight off others who will always try to take your place at the top of the steepest of inequality slopes; as well as the growing number opposed the high inequality in general. Increasing fairness in education reduces later economic inequality. Taxing people fairly reduces the incentives of those who are greedy to try to always take more. Ensuring that basic human rights are protected over housing, that rents don’t become too high, that people cannot be evicted so easily, makes us all more equal and prevents a very small group of landlords becoming richer and richer. Spending a decent amount on health services protects those who fall ill the most, and often become (or already are) the poorest. In Western Europe only Greece and Italy now spend a lower proportion of their GDP on health care as compared to the UK. Switzerland spends twice as much per person, the Netherlands 59% more, Germany 49% more, France 27% more. The best-off 1% in Switzerland take half what the best-off 1% in the UK take each year. There is no shortage of policies you can adopt, if you believe that we all deserve respect.
- Meanwhile, Ben Sichel writes that many educational concerns can be traced back to poverty and inequality. And Teuila Fuatai reminds us that a basic income has been shown to relieve against multiple kinds of stressors and health issues.

- Mary Ornsby reports on the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty's study showing that province's shelter system is breaking down. And Andre Picard examines the national problem of precarious housing:
On any given night, there are about 35,000 homeless people across Canada, and the number of families and children among them is growing at an alarming rate, a new report reveals.

One in every seven users of homeless shelters is a child, according to Putting an End to Child & Family Homelessness, being published Monday by the advocacy group Raising the Roof.

The report shows that family use of shelters has jumped 50 per cent in the past decade, and their length of stay has increased markedly in recent years to an average of more than 50 days.

Further, nightly shelter use is just the tip of the iceberg. About 235,000 people used homeless shelters at some point last year, and that doesn’t include the “hidden homeless” who crash with family and friends, or live in their cars.

All told, about 3.1 million Canadians are precariously housed, living in crowded, sub-standard housing or in unaffordable housing (meaning more than 30 per cent of their income goes to housing costs), and many of them are one rent payment away from homelessness.
- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the difficulty workers face trying to recover stolen wages. And Barbara Yaffe exposes what appears to be widespread tax evasion on income from house flipping.

- Finally, David Roberts discusses how the scope of climate change makes it difficult for people to easily process the need to act.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Claire Provost writes that corporate trade agreements are designed to make it more difficult to pursue fair tax systems:
Governments must be able to change their tax systems to ensure multinationals pay their fair share and to ensure that critical public services are well funded. States must also be able to reconsider and withdraw tax breaks previously granted to multinationals if they no longer fit with national priorities.

But their ability to do so, to change tax laws and pursue progressive tax policies, is limited, thanks to trade and investments agreements. In rapidly developing ‘corporate courts’, formally known as investor-state dispute settlement system (or ISDS), foreign investors can sue states directly at international tribunals.
Because control over taxes is seen as core to a country’s sovereignty, many states have included tax-related ‘carve-out’ clauses in these trade and investment treaties to limit ability of corporations and other investors to sue over such disputes. But a growing number of investor-state cases have in fact challenged government tax decisions – from the withdrawal of previously granted tax breaks to multinationals to the imposition of higher taxes on profits from oil and mining.
(E)ven the prospect of an ISDS case can be a powerful deterrent for states considering actions against multinationals. These cases can drag on for years, and are extremely expensive. Even if a state successfully defends itself, it often ends up facing million dollar legal bills regardless. The only safe course of action is to never challenge multinational corporations - a dangerous prospect for the public interest that could thwart necessary, progressive action for tax justice.
- Michael Winship interviews Naomi Klein about the inability of markets to deal with the threat of climate change. And Mike De Souza reports on the complete imbalance between corporate and public interests at the moment by pointing out how thoroughly Stephen Harper's National Energy Board appointees have undermined any attempt to enforce pipeline safety rules.

- Christina Pazzanese examines the connection between economic inequality and democratic disenfranchisement in the U.S. And Tom Mulcair writes about a few of the ways the federal budget could lessen inequality in Canada.

- Finally, John Oliver duly slams the spread of voter ID laws as a means of rigging elections at the expense of voting rights:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- PressProgress highlights the disturbingly large number of Canadians spending more than half their income on a restrictively-defined set of basic necessities. And Elaine Power points out what a basic income could do to end food insecurity and improve public health:
We know from the social determinants of health literature that there is a gradient in health, such that people who live in poverty are much more likely to develop chronic diseases requiring dietary management, such as diabetes and heart disease. Being food insecure makes it impossible to eat properly to manage these conditions. We also have evidence that for those who are precariously food secure, getting a diagnosis of a chronic disease may be enough to tip the household into food insecurity. This may be a result of the extra associated costs of the disease (e.g., paying for blood sugar monitoring equipment) or because of the disruption of the careful management strategies, or some combination.

Canadian research published last summer shows that as food insecurity worsens, health care costs rise. In the most food insecure households, where people were skipping meals, health care costs were 76% higher than in households that were food secure. When the cost of prescription drugs was added in, health care costs were 121% higher in the most food insecure households compared to food secure households. This means that reducing food insecurity, by addressing poverty, will save money in the health care system.
A basic income guarantee could replace social assistance, with all its problems, as well as supplement earned income. An adequate basic income would virtually eliminate food insecurity in this country. This is one of the major ways in which basic income would operate to save us money, by improving health and saving costs in the health care system.
- Kev offers a worthwhile call for togetherness order to succeed as individuals, while Maggie Wente, Michael McClurg and Bryce Edwards discuss Canada's gross underfunding of First Nations as a prime example of how we're falling short of that basic principle.

- Lucy Shaddock writes about the importance of a unified labour movement as the strongest force to reduce inequality. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on organizing among fitness instructors to make employers' actions match their promises, while Drew Millard interviews Tom Slee about how the "sharing economy" in fact grinds down working conditions for everybody.

- Finally, Michael Geist observes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is resulting in massive changes to Canada's intellectual property law long before it's been ratified - and even as the Libs pretend to be interested in hearing from the public.

On permanent campaigns

Luke Savage is right to point out that Canada's permanent campaign has merely taken on a different dynamic under the Trudeau Libs, rather than actually coming to an end with the Harper Cons losing power:
Again, branding is the key here.

As a part of its Sunny Ways™, the government has displayed a visible fondness for the affirmation of process. It is “pro-trade” and appears to be pro-TPP, but it will “broadly consult”; it is pro-electoral reform but non-specific about what that reform will be (consultation first); it was elected around a very specific and widely trumpeted set of economic proposals, but it has yet to put these into a budget or even schedule one because it has to consult first.
The political dexterity this approach affords the Liberals is staggering, as these past 100 days have already demonstrated. Justin Trudeau and his party espouse no ideology, and contend to embody the political preferences of all. It is an approach to politics which, to quote Peter C. Newman, promises “as little as possible but as much as necessary”.

The campaign never ends.
That said, it's worth noting what that means for the NDP and progressive activists.

It's all too true that the Libs seem inclined to govern as nothing but Cons with smiles on their faces - and Justin Trudeau has wasted little time in showing us the results.

But the scope of what's seen as "possible" and "necessary" is different for a party which has relied largely on progressive voters to win power than for one whose pitch for support is aimed solely at the right wing of the political spectrum. And so at this point in Trudeau's stay in power, the most important role for those of us whose distrust of the Libs has been borne out in practice is to ensure that they have no viable political choice but to live up to their promises and avoid introducing new regressive choices into the mix - rather than simply waiting to see what happens, and hoping to challenge their credibility later.