Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Abi Wilkinson argues that we can't expect to take anger and other emotions out of political conversations when government choices have created nothing but avoidable stress for so many:
Actions can certainly be morally unacceptable. In my opinion, emotions cannot. Really, it’s a manifestation of extreme privilege to insist that people engage with politics in a calm and emotionless way. The further you are from experiencing any negative effects of the policy you’re debating, the more cushioned and secure your social position, the easier it is to adhere to the Oxford Union norms of cool detachment and skilful argument.

MPs might only be human, but they also hold a power over the lives of 70 million fallible, vulnerable human beings. Telling people that they’re wrong to feel anger towards an individual who voted to restrict housing benefit and place them at risk of homelessness is patently absurd. Similarly, journalists hold an unusual level of social power that makes them a reasonable target of scrutiny.
Broadly speaking, there are two forms of political argument. Either you defend a specific policy as the rational, logical option in the circumstances that exist, or you question the rules of the game. People on the political right are prone to presenting things such as spending cuts as morally neutral decisions, determined by economic reality. Leftwing criticism commonly argues that logic presented as natural is really no such thing, but rather that it’s a question of priorities. Political priorities are, unavoidably, a moral issue.

None of which is to say that I think calling Theresa May a “monster” is a productive, useful form of political commentary. I simply think that anger is a natural, human response to circumstance. Condemning petty name-calling more vigorously than we condemn the suffering and disempowerment that often leads to such expressions of frustration seems topsy-turvy to me. Jo Cox wasn’t simply any politician, she threw herself into defending refugees, migrants and other marginalised groups. No MP deserves to be a victim of violence, but what the politicians actually do with their power does matter.
- Meanwhile, Maude Barlow comments on the increasing public skepticism of free trade dogma.

- Ryan Meili and Christine Gibson weigh in on how fair wages lead to far better social and health outcomes for children. And Josh Cohen discusses how the expectation to cling to a rung on the upper middle class ladder creates undesirable pressures on children.

- Dean Beeby reports on Policy Horizons Canada's recommendations on how to create a social safety net which will provide security for precarious workers.

- Jeremy Nuttall points out several of the Libs' most prominent promises which have thus far dropped off the radar since they won power. And Tom Spears notes that contrary to any promises of transparency, the RCMP is backsliding both by destroying documents which were supposed to be released, and ending their policy of making past disclosures publicly available.

- Finally, Chris Tollefson makes the case to start from scratch in developing an environmental assessment system which will have both the credibility and the mandate to meaningfully evaluate proposed developments.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Musical interlude

Radical Face - Ghost Towns

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- France St-Hilaire, David Green and Craig Riddell offer some needed policy prescriptions to fight inequality in Canada:
As first steps toward expanding the share of the economic pie going to workers, the minimum wage should be gradually increased to $15 and the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) significantly expanded. Of course, that economic share would be more secure if workers’ bargaining rights were strengthened. As less than 20 percent of the private sector is unionized, traditional unionization laws have failed to provide the workforce with a voice in their working conditions and sufficient bargaining power to share in economic growth. Moving beyond the traditional approach by granting stronger rights to all workers — union and non-union — holds more promise. As well, the inordinate rise in the share of income held by the 1 percent in recent decades suggests that the bargaining power of top earners should be reduced, particularly through measures related to CEO pay and better corporate governance.

Taking a longer view, several studies have linked early childhood education and family income when the children are young to improved human capital, employment and earnings outcomes at older ages. We believe that initiatives in these areas should be combined with a more radical approach to alter risk-averse attitudes toward education among low-income families by, for example, providing free tuition and some subsidies for higher education for their children.
- Meanwhile, Jerry Dias writes about the futility of trying to push through the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement in the wake of the Brexit vote. But Murray Dobbin notes that much of the public is unaware of the real effects of trade agreements in general due to minimal and corporate-slanted coverage.

- Carolynn Look reports on Deutsche Bank’s status as the latest financial actor to recognize that cheap money for banks isn't doing much to boost the overall economy.

- Michal Rozworski argues strongly against the Libs' plans to fund new infrastructure by selling off existing public assets - no matter what name is used for the process. And Murray Mandryk recognizes the folly of even contemplating a selloff of SaskTel when it's both making money for Saskatchewan's public and investing in greater access than people would have otherwise.

- Finally, Anna Dimoff reports on LEAF's work to establish that a lack of child care violates the human rights of families who need it. Alexia Fernandez Campbell discusses the connection between higher wages and healthier children. And Kendall Worth highlights the importance of recognizing the relationship between mental illness and poverty - rather than focusing any conversation solely on instances of the former in the absence of the latter and other exclusionary factors.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

New column day

Here, questioning why so many of our political leaders spend so much time talking about pipelines which are neither economically necessary nor environmentally sustainable.

For further reading...
- J. David Hughes' study cited in the column is here (PDF). And Bruce Cheadle reported on the federal government's internal analysis showing that Canada's current transport capacity is plenty until at least 2025.
- Jason Proctor reported on the Federal Court of Appeal's decision finding the Cons' approval of Northern Gateway to be unconstitutional due to the lack of dialogue with First Nations during the assessment process. 
- Don Pittis points out why we can't realistically expect oil prices to rise to any point which would make substantially greater production feasible.
- Finally, Peter Prebble argues that it's long past time for Saskatchewan to start taking climate change seriously.

Update: Or, to more concisely sum up the entire case for pipelines at this point:
The message, [said TransCanada CEO Russ Girling about Energy East], is "build it and we'll see what happens."
Your mileage may vary as to whether that should represent anybody's top public policy priority.

[Edit: updated link.]

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Dani Rodrik comments on the need for a far more clear set of policy prescriptions for left-wing political parties to present as an alternative to laissez-faire corporate domination, while noting there's no lack of source material worth considering:
The good news is that the intellectual vacuum on the left is being filled, and there is no longer any reason to believe in the tyranny of “no alternatives.” Politicians on the left have less and less reason not to draw on “respectable” academic firepower in economics.

Consider just a few examples: Anat Admati and Simon Johnson have advocated radical banking reforms; Thomas Piketty and Tony Atkinson have proposed a rich menu of policies to deal with inequality at the national level; Mariana Mazzucato and Ha-Joon Chang have written insightfully on how to deploy the public sector to foster inclusive innovation; Joseph Stiglitz and José Antonio Ocampo have proposed global reforms; Brad DeLong, Jeffrey Sachs, and Lawrence Summers (the very same!) have argued for long-term public investment in infrastructure and the green economy. There are enough elements here for building a programmatic economic response from the left. 
A crucial difference between the right and the left is that the right thrives on deepening divisions in society – “us” versus “them” – while the left, when successful, overcomes these cleavages through reforms that bridge them. Hence the paradox that earlier waves of reforms from the left – Keynesianism, social democracy, the welfare state – both saved capitalism from itself and effectively rendered themselves superfluous. Absent such a response again, the field will be left wide open for populists and far-right groups, who will lead the world – as they always have – to deeper division and more frequent conflict.
- Meanwhile, Michael West offers offers an inside look at offshoring and other forms of corporate tax avoidance which have been used to keep businesses making a fair contribution to the society which makes their own success possible.

- Matthew Herder, Trudo Lemmens, Joel Lexchin, Barbara Mintzes and Tom Jefferson highlight the gross lack of transparency surrounding prescription drugs in Canada. And Leila Salehi makes the case for a national pharmacare program.

- Joseph Heath points out why it's nonsensical to try to turn the social insurance provided by the Canada Pension Plan into (yet another) individual retirement savings vehicle.

- Aarian Marshall writes that U.S. municipalities are being forced to let infrastructure decay for lack of any source of funding to maintain it. And Roger Harrabin examines how climate change stands to further harm the utilities we rely on.

- Finally, Ashifa Kassam discusses the need for Canada to confront our own racism past and present, rather than making any claim to superiority based on high-profile incidents in the U.S. and elsewhere. And Susana Mas reports that the Libs continue to drag their heels on even the most basic promises to First Nations, including the removal of their longstanding 2% funding cap.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Glenn Greenwald interviews Alex Cuadros about his new book on how Brazil has been warped politically and economically by the whims of its billionaire class. And PressProgress takes a look at the impact of economic inequality on Canada's cities.

- Sharon Wright examines how draconian restrictions on social benefits are based on false assumptions as to why people need help to ameliorate poverty.

- David Bush and Gerard Di Trolio argue that while corporate apologists treat NAFTA as evidence that trade agreements have nothing but upside, the Canadian public has learned better. Cecile Barbiere notes that European countries have taken back the authority to decide for themselves whether to be locked into the CETA, while Michael Geist writes that the agreement looks to be in trouble. And Arthur Neslen notes how the TTIP and other trade deals could sabotage any effort to address climate change. 

- John Anderson highlights how U.S. online media empires are escaping paying taxes while profiting off of their business in Canada - and argues that it's long past time to stop letting them have a free ride.

- Finally, Sophia Reuss discusses the lip service being paid to public participation in Parliament's electoral reform committee. And Alison summarizes Jean-Pierre Kingsley's appearance - including his preference for a proportional system in urban areas. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Luxuriating cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- David Dayen highlights the treatment of workers as the most fundamental difference between Scandinavian countries which have achieved both prosperity and social justice, and the U.S. and others which have sacrificed the latter for false promises of the former:
But societies make choices at a more elemental level. You understand more about Sweden by seeing men with strollers in Stockholm neighborhoods at 2:00 in the afternoon than by reading any white papers on social spending. Those men have an expectation of work/family balance that allows them to bond with their offspring and be an equal partner in child-rearing. The policy comes after that expectation takes hold in the public consciousness. 

Indeed, Sweden has the most generous parental leave policy in the world. Families receive 480 days off at 80 percent of their wages, which can be split between mother and father (and 60 days must be specifically allocated to the father). Sweden and Denmark also offer a “universal child benefit” to families with children, virtually eliminating child poverty. You see that pro-family policy manifested in the streets as you dodge young couples pushing prams. High-quality day care is subsidized by the state as well, in case both parents want to continue working. This lets Swedish and Danish families pick their preferred path, one that’s typically forced by circumstance in America. 
Once you see the society-wide belief in what workers deserve, you recognize why they must have generous services to actualize this vision. World-class infrastructure is a pro-worker policy. The average Dane can choose between 24-hour subways running every four minutes, buses with dedicated lanes and turning arrows, well-kept and prompt trains, or wide bike lanes on every major street. They have options to get to work beyond soul-deadening waits in traffic. That makes them more productive and more available to spend time with families away from work.

Tuition-free higher education gives people choices for their field of study. Universal health care programs ensure they don’t go broke if they get sick. Union density of between 67 and 70 percent make some labor market regulations, like the minimum wage, irrelevant, because fair wages are bargained and even non-union workers have leverage. These policies fit into a coherent whole, where everyone understands that they collectively pay for services that give them the freedom to make choices about their lives.
- Meanwhile, Chris Dillow sketches a useful outline for a policy agenda based on individual security and control. And Lillian Mongeau discusses the hidden long-term costs of insufficient child care.

- Jake Johnson discusses how social democracy serves as the needed alternative to exclusionary nationalism. And Derrick O'Keefe points out that it's important to focus on the "capital" aspect of foreign capital when recognizing which forces are restricting access to housing and other citizens' needs.

- Jerry Dias and Joel French each comment on the value and practicality of a $15 minimum wage for Alberta.

- Finally, O'Keefe points out that Justin Trudeau is doing little but echoing the Harper Cons' foreign policy - but with virtually none of the scrutiny. And Steven Chase points to the use of Canadian-made equipment in Saudi Arabia government raids as an example of how both our previous and current federal governments have chosen to ignore glaring human rights issues.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Joseph Stiglitz writes about the political consequences of economic policies which have siphoned wealth to the lucky few, and writes that it's long past time to start challenging the corporate power which has made citizens into an afterthought:
(L)arge portions of the population have not been doing well. The neoliberal agenda of the last four decades may have been good for the top 1%, but not for the rest. I had long predicted that this stagnation would eventually have political consequences. That day is now upon us.

On both sides of the Atlantic, citizens are seizing upon trade agreements as a source of their woes. While this is an over-simplification, it is understandable. Today’s trade agreements are negotiated in secret, with corporate interests well represented, but ordinary citizens or workers completely shut out. Not surprisingly, the results have been one-sided: workers’ bargaining position has been weakened further, compounding the effects of legislation undermining unions and employees’ rights. 

While trade agreements played a role in creating this inequality, much else contributed to tilting the political balance toward capital. Intellectual property rules, for example, have increased pharmaceutical companies’ power to raise prices. But any increase in corporations’ market power is de facto a lowering of real wages – an increase in the inequality that has become a hallmark of most advanced countries today. 

Across many sectors, industrial concentration is increasing – and so is market power. The effects of stagnant and declining real wages have combined with those of austerity, threatening cutbacks in public services upon which so many middle- and low-income workers depend.
The result of all this downward pressure on wages and cutbacks in public services has been the evisceration of the middle class, with similar consequences on both sides of the Atlantic. Middle- and working-class households haven’t received the benefits of economic growth. They understand that banks had caused the 2008 crisis; but then they saw billions going to save the banks, and trivial amounts to save their homes and jobs. With median real (inflation-adjusted) income for a full-time male worker in the US lower than it was four decades ago, an angry electorate should come as no surprise. 

Politicians who promised change, moreover, didn’t deliver what was expected. Ordinary citizens knew that the system was unfair, but they came to see it as even more rigged than they had imagined, losing what little trust they had left in establishment politicians’ capacity or will to correct it. That, too, is understandable: the new politicians shared the outlook of those who had promised that globalization would benefit all.
- Meanwhile, Carla Power examines the lack of social mobility in the UK as a contributing factor to the Brexit vote. And Thomas Edsall discusses how growing inequality and financial precarity have fuelled the rise of right-wing populism generally.

- Charlie Sorrel points out that U.S. municipalities are increasingly squeezing revenue from fines and penalties out of the working class rather than making any effort to collect fair taxes from those who can afford to pay them.

- Adam Allington examines the National Institute on Retirement Security's research finding that women are disproportionately likely to face poverty due to lower wages and greater care-giving responsibilities. 

- Finally, Kristy Kirkup reports on Cindy Blackstock's efforts to get the federal government to recognize that fair treatment for First Nations services is an obligation to be met immediately, not an option to be approached when it's convenient. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- J. David Hughes discusses the ultimate problem with new pipeline construction, as it's incompatible with any reasonable effort to meet even Canada's existing commitments to rein in greenhouse gas emissions:
Under a scenario where Alberta’s oilsands emissions grow to its cap, and B.C.’s LNG industry is developed to the level planned, economic sectors outside of oil and gas would have to shrink emissions by more than half (55 per cent) in order for Canada to meet the Paris commitment. This is simply not feasible, barring an economic collapse.

Industry’s response to these concerns is to claim that “new technology” just around the corner may somehow drastically reduce oilsands emissions. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says we should “bet” on it.

Although small incremental improvements in technology are certainly possible, and progress has been made over the years, counting on a silver bullet is wishful thinking. And all the technology in the world won’t change the reality that allowing oilsands emissions to grow to the level allowed under Alberta’s cap will require drastic reductions in other sectors.

I also took a close look at the need for new oil pipelines. Growing oilsands emissions to Alberta’s cap would see an increase in bitumen production of about 45 per cent from 2014 levels. A review of existing pipeline and rail export capacity from Western Canada reveals that existing infrastructure can accommodate this growth without new pipelines (and still have a 15 per cent margin to allow for outages and maintenance). Bottom line: no new pipelines are needed.
Developing a climate plan to meet Canada’s Paris Agreement commitments is a challenging but achievable task for the federal government. Doing so while meeting Alberta’s and BC’s oil and gas production growth aspirations, however, will be virtually impossible. 

The oil and gas industry is certainly not going away any time soon, but if Canada is serious about meeting its climate commitments it is time for the prime minister and premiers to do the math and stop telling us we can have it all.
- Meanwhile, James Wilt examines the mining industry's federal lobbying spree - and the tax giveaway it's managed to wring out of the Trudeau Libs. And Norman Farrell exposes British Columbia's gleeful giveaways to Imperial Metals in contrast to their inflexibility in dealing with mere citizens.

- Adrian Morrow discusses how the Ontario Libs' political financing reforms fall far short of actually addressing the problems of undue influence they were supposedly intended to solve. But Douglas Todd notes that British Columbia (like Saskatchewan) represents an example of how matters could be worse due to a complete lack of interest in regulating outside funding. 

- Finally, Tammy Robert highlights [update: and expands on] the most glaring problems with the Saskatchewan Party's GTH land scandal (and the insufficient report from the provincial auditor general). And Farrah Merali and Mike Laanela follow up on the province's ship-'em-somewhere-else strategy to deal with homeless people by noting that there's no vindication in following an abhorrent policy.