Saturday, April 16, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne writes about the need for a Bernie Sanders in Canada to highlight and oppose the privilege of the wealthy few:
It is in this context of blatant unfairness — rules for the rich and rules for the rest — that politicians like Bernie Sanders have become so popular.

People are angry. And rightfully so. They play by the rules. Young people did what they were told. They are more educated than at any time in history and yet they face precarious employment and uncertainty and often bucketloads of debt. People are told to lower their expectations, especially over what the state should be providing.

And along comes Bernie, who says it doesn’t have to be this way. There is wealth. The problem is not that as a society we can’t afford free post-secondary education or universal health care, the problem is as a society we can’t afford rich people who don’t pay their taxes. We can’t afford to lose billions of dollars annually in tax revenues to tax havens.

We can’t afford to have an unfair tax system and Canada’s has grown increasingly unfair.

We need a Bernie Sanders in Canada. Someone who will change the conversation and put entitlement on the table. And then squash it.
- Jim Coyle discusses the latest UNICEF report showing that the poorest Canadian children are facing increasing disparities in health and well-being. And the CP reports on the urgent need for investment in First Nations in particular to close the gap.

- Andrew Jackson points out the unfairness in using increasingly unequal lifespans as an excuse to cut pensions and other income supports in a way which places the heaviest burden on lower-income workers. 

- Tammy Robert examines Saskatchewan's archaic political fund-raising laws, and starts tracing the Saskatchewan Party's largest donors over the years. And Jon Schwarz highlights Barack Obama's take on the influence of money in politics.

- Finally, Linda McQuaig questions why we've seen a knee-jerk response attacking the Leap Manifesto, rather than the global environmental calamity it's intended to help avert.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Musical interlude

Paul van Dyk - Time of our Lives

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- George Monbiot discusses how neoliberal ideology has managed to take over as the default assumption in global governance - despite its disastrous and readily visible effects:
(T)he past four decades have been characterised by a transfer of wealth not only from the poor to the rich, but within the ranks of the wealthy: from those who make their money by producing new goods or services to those who make their money by controlling existing assets and harvesting rent, interest or capital gains. Earned income has been supplanted by unearned income.

Neoliberal policies are everywhere beset by market failures. Not only are the banks too big to fail, but so are the corporations now charged with delivering public services. As Tony Judt pointed out in Ill Fares the Land, Hayek forgot that vital national services cannot be allowed to collapse, which means that competition cannot run its course. Business takes the profits, the state keeps the risk.

The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens. The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the public sector.

Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.
- And Mike Small highlights how privatization schemes are predictably enriching private contractors at the expense of the general public without delivering the promised services. 

- Steven Chase reports on the Libs' deceptive attempt to dodge responsibility for approving the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. Alison succinctly links the sale to its known consequences, while Neil MacDonald points out that there's no difference at all between the Cons and Libs in their determination to push military exports at the expense of human rights. And both Michael Harris and the Globe and Mail's editorial board tear into the Libs for their hypocrisy and dishonesty.

- Meanwhile, Desmond Cole reminds us that Canadian torture victims are being met with utter contempt by the Trudeau Libs.

- Finally, Bruce Campbell writes that there's been virtually no progress on rail safety since the Lac-Mégantic disaster. And Mike De Souza notes that contrary to the spin of pipeline proponents, there's reason for concern that similar regulatory neglect and corporate greed connected to pipelines can result in damage on an equally large scale.

A place for discussion

Following up on yesterday's column, I'll expand somewhat on some of the decisions the NDP may want to consider as (or before) it elects new leaders. And since the recent federal convention has been treated by other commentators as everything from a shining example of party democracy in action to an absolute calamity, let's start at that level - with a particular focus on what should be seen as having worked and not in Edmonton.

I'll start by taking the view that whatever one's views on the merits, the convention's handling of resolutions related to the Leap Manifesto should be seen as an excellent example as to how policy debate can happen within a party.

Plenty of work went into developing a main resolution and informing members (and the public) about it. The convention's resolution panel examined its options, and put forward a primary resolution which addressed concerns about the original wording. The underlying issue was one which left room for thoughtful debate even among the convention's featured speakers. And the debate on the floor featured meaningful contributions from a combination of high-profile and rank-and-file members.

About all that was lacking was any sense of willingness to work with the outcome - which is unfortunate given that the resolution which passed leaves ample room for debate as to which portions of Leap should be accepted or not.

Unfortunately, time and capacity limitations make it impossible to engage in that level of discussion when it comes to all but a few resolutions at any given convention. And that seems to me to be a particularly important problem if conventions are seen as the sole direct opportunity for membership-level input into policies and choices.

But that's a problem which should be fairly readily fixed. The NDP's federal council has authority to make final decisions on policy between conventions - and the sheer volume of resolutions brought forward at every policy convention seems to me to signal some significant demand to ensure that more policy issues are dealt with.

With the council serving as a check on any mischief, there's no reason why the resolutions (PDF) which haven't yet been addressed by convention (and additional ideas put forward afterward) couldn't be made subject to systematic review and discussion through party channels. And the result of facilitating ongoing policy discussion could be to make the NDP and its policy conventions more productive in two ways.

First, it should help to narrow and clarify the issues up for discussion.

At the moment, there's a large amount of redundancy in the resolutions submitted since electoral district associations and commissions submit their own resolutions with little (if any) coordination. But the development of an ongoing policy forum should make it easier for EDAs and commissions to discuss and agree on the wording intended to address any given issue - which should reduce the number of resolutions submitted while better focusing their intent.

And second, the convention itself should run more efficiently and accomplish more if members' concerns have been addressed in advance, or can be addressed afterward.

In particular, there should be less room for argument about how much time is devoted to any specific policy - or policy in general - at a convention if there's a readily-available alternative forum in which to carry on the discussion.

Of course, it will inevitably take time for a new process to be developed and implemented. And I'd fully expect some of the past issues to remain until members' expectations adapt to a new policy review process. But in the long run, I'd think it's possible to put both convention time and members' policy interest to better use by making sure needed conversations about the NDP's direction take place on a continuous basis.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Corey Hogan makes the case for Rachel Notley's NDP to develop a progressive fix to Alberta's fiscal mess:
No matter what you decide to do, you're going to take a political hit with somebody. Credibility will be lost, capital will be spent.
Your upper income tax hike was a good start, but you and I both know it's only the minimum payment on that grand old PC legacy — Alberta's structural deficit.

Our taxes are so low they don't even pay for health care and education, let alone the rest of government. And it's not like there's no way out of this mess. If we moved to the tax rates of the next lowest-taxed province we wouldn't have a deficit at all.

If you're going to raise taxes, let's get it over with  — and better one big tax hike than three small ones. We'll be further ahead as a province and you'll have three years for us to get over it and thank you for your foresight.

Now, not 2018,  is the time to do what's necessary but not necessarily popular.
(J)ust because you need to spend your political capital doesn't mean you should waste it.

The amount you would need to win right-wing Alberta is well beyond your bank balance. Trading the goodwill of the people who voted for you in the hopes that it leads to the goodwill of people who will never like you is a sucker's bet. 
Compromising with those who will never support you is a good way to lose the support of those who do.

Pick a side. Making the person who's angry with you angrier is better than alienating your supporter.
- Thomas Walkom highlights why the Leap Manifesto bears no resemblance to the caricature being made of it by much of Canada's media. Rosemary Westwood argues that particularly based on the success of Bernie Sanders' campaign, the NDP shouldn't have to apologize for believing in the progressive and socialist principles which have worked so well for Canada. And Clare Foran discusses the future of Sanders' movement once the current presidential campaign passes.

- The Globe and Mail examines the state of money and politics in Saskatchewan - sadly including massive amounts of corporate money combined with little indication as to how it affects policy.

- Katie Hyslop writes that limitations on the availability of affordable supportive housing in B.C. can serve to tear families apart.

- Finally, May Warren reports on research showing that the majority of employment in the York region now consists of precarious work. And Jennifer Hollett examines the stressors facing precarious workers in Canada.

New column day

Last week, I wrote that the NDP should be careful about assuming that changes in leadership would necessarily help in a needed process of party renewal.

Obviously, both elected to seek out new leadership. And so in this week's column, I point out that leadership races shouldn't put on hold any answer to the broader questions about the proper structure and role of a political party. And in fact, the absence of any single person to direct a party from the top down should offer an opportunity to build grassroots involvement.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The Ontario Association of Food Banks discusses the long-term damage done by childhood poverty and deprivation:
When facing a very tight budget, food is often the budget line that gets cut in order to afford rent or hydro: you can skip a meal for a day or two and still be OK, but there are much more immediate consequences to not paying your landlord.

Instead, people in this situation often turn to food with higher calories and lower nutritional value to fill the empty feeling in their stomachs. Prices of healthy food in Ontario have skyrocketed over the last year: fresh fruit has jumped by 19.7 per cent since 2015, and fresh vegetables by 23.6 per cent, whereas the cost of candy has only risen by 0.4 per cent, while non-alcoholic beverages (such as pop) have actually dropped by 0.9 per cent.

People facing tough choices every single day -- rent or electricity? food or medicine? -- have high levels of stress. Stress can affect both your ability to take care of yourself and trigger high levels of blood glucose. Since diabetes is a disease in which your body isn't able to manage blood sugar levels, this can have even more adverse consequences.

All these things combined put low-income and First Nations people at a high risk for diabetes. Managing diabetes is itself expensive: beyond just the dietary changes required to keep it at bay, there is also the cost of prescription, supplies and equipment. Yet those who are low-income also often do not have enough or any insurance to cover these costs, because they work in precarious, low-wage jobs without benefits. 
- Tamara Khandaker writes about the suicide crisis facing Attawapiskat (among other Canadian First Nations), while the Hamilton Spectator reports on a suicide pact stopped in the nick of time. And Jorge Barrera reports on Jean Chretien's appalling response that the answer is to abandon communities rather than to make resources available.

- BJ Siekierski points out that even the Canadian Chamber of Commernce has figured out that the Cons' arbitrary limit on the number of regulations serves mostly to make governance more difficult - though their plan to let the corporate sector vet regulations isn't exactly a substantial improvement. And L. Ian MacDonald reminds us of the ugly state of corporate fund-raising in Canada which goes a long way toward explaining why businesses are allowed to write so many of their own rules to the public detriment.

- Finally, Clark Mindock and David Sirota trace the $600 billion of U.S. corporate money shifted offshore in a single year.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Lookout cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Star makes the case for a new crackdown on Canadian tax cheats to not only merely recover money withheld, but also to name and shame the people who have thus far refused to pay their fair share:
(I)f the Trudeau government is genuinely serious about clamping down, it should be prepared to name and shame miscreants with a lot more zeal than it has yet demonstrated. There’s nothing like shining the antiseptic light of day into murky corners, to discourage banks, law firms, accountancy firms and the like from enabling schemes that play fast and loose with the public treasury.

Yet while agencies such as the CRA and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) are happy to name the small fish they catch breaking the laws and regulations, that hasn’t always been the case with bigger fish.

Just last week FINTRAC, which tracks money laundering and terrorist financing among other things, announced it had levied a stiff $1.1-million penalty on a Canadian bank for failing to report a suspicious transaction and various money transfers. But it declined to name the institution involved. Meanwhile it is busy naming players who have been slapped with fines of $15,000 or less.

And CRA has drawn criticism for quietly offering an amnesty deal to unnamed multi-millionaire clients of the KPMG accounting firm who were allegedly involved in tax avoidance on the Isle of Man. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that the group was required by CRA only to pay back the taxes they owed, plus interest. Yet the CRA routinely prosecutes and names people who fail to file tax returns or otherwise run afoul of the law.

If the government hopes to “give Canadians greater confidence that the tax system is fair to everyone,” its agencies should be prepared to publicly name offenders. Cutting deals to spare Ottawa the trouble of prosecuting, or to preserve the “good name” of financial institutions and their wealthy clients, isn’t going to reassure anyone other than the scofflaws themselves.

Ottawa shouldn’t be in the business of shielding those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to insulate themselves and their assets from public scrutiny.
- CBC reports on research showing the historical role of human sacrifice as a means of social control. And while the deaths may no longer be public or deliberate, Jim Zarroli and Kevin Drum both discuss how inequality of income and wealth are still easily traced in the U.S.' survival rates.

- Steven Greenhouse looks into the movement toward a $15 minimum wage in the U.S. And Laura Bliss comments on the need to pay more attention to the workers who help to maintain the society we have, rather than focusing almost solely on disruption and innovation in evaluating individual merit.

- Finally, CBC examines ACORN's work to make affordable Internet access available to everybody - with a particular focus on tenants in non-profit housing.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jason Hinkel writes that for as much attention as global inequality has received in recent years, it may be significantly more of a problem than we've previously assumed - and getting worse as time goes by:
It doesn’t matter how you slice it; global inequality is getting worse. Much worse. Convergence theory turned out to be wildly incorrect. Inequality doesn’t disappear automatically; it all depends on the balance of political power in the global economy. As long as a few rich countries have the power to set the rules to their own advantage, inequality will continue to worsen. The debt system, structural adjustment, free trade agreements, tax evasion, and power asymmetries in the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO are all major reasons that inequality is getting worse instead of better.

It’s time we face up to the imbalances that distort our global economy. There’s nothing natural about extreme inequality. It is man-made. It has to do with power. And we need to have the courage to say so.
- Meanwhile, Thomas Piketty writes that the aftermath of the Panama Papers represents the perfect time to crack down on tax havens.

- Aaron Hutchins exposes how Canada is regularly used to anonymize income for the purposes of tax avoidance, while Justin Ling looks into Canada's pitiful record of investigating and prosecuting tax evasion. And Mainstreet finds a whopping 81% of Canadians agree that the rich aren't paying their fair share - meaning there's plenty of demand for both far more enforcement than we've seen to date, and a more progressive tax system to begin with.

- Betsy Powell and Jennifer Pagliaro examine the schemes used primarily by developers to get around Toronto's political donation limits - while noting that there are some obvious fixes available to the extent anybody's committed to reining in those abuses.

- Finally, Colin Horgan raises one of the questions which the NDP should be working on resolving at this weekend's convention and beyond - being what role a political party should actually play.