Saturday, September 03, 2016

The Breitbartist Song

Needless to say, #MakeAmericaBrannigan has been one needed source of comic relief within an alarming U.S. election campaign. But I'm not sure that should be the sole opportunity to mine Futurama for campaign material.

So without any further ado, here's The Breitbartist Song (sung of course to the tune of The Bureaucrat Song):
Stephen Bannon:
When I was four there was a hurricane in my hometown
Hunkered down with my father and mother
Everyone was alright, but I cried all night
‘Cause there was nothing I could blame on the “others”
And they said this boy’s born to be a Breitbartist
To be bigoted, angry and shoddy
I made my friends and relations show ideological certifications
To get into my tenth birthday party

Kellyanne Conway:
But something changed when we hit the campaign
I was raging, not appreciating
He forgot that it’s not about polls and votes
It’s supposed to be about the hating!

People, we didn’t choose to be Breitbartists
No, that’s what Almighty Koch made us
We’d be constantly rude, we'd denigrate and exclude
Even if nobody paid us
They say the world looks down on the Breitbartists
They say we’re ignorant, abrasive and weird
But when push comes to shove, gotta spread the hate that you love
Even if it’s not a good idea

Paul Manafort:
They said I shouldn’t cuddle up with dictators
Donald Trump:
They poo-pooed my call for shooting deserters
Mike Pence:
They said I shouldn’t abuse my state’s LGBTQs
My base would let me get away with murder!

Everybody sing - build a wall, kill them all!
Build a wall, kill them all!

Just the Breitbartists!
Build a wall, kill them all!

Just the minorities!

Sing me home!
When push comes to shove, gotta spread the hate that you love
Even if it’s not a good idea!

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Brendan Duke examines the connection between wage growth and worker productivity, and makes the case that the former may lead to the latter:
The 1929–1950 increase in wages was at first a result of several policies that directly raised workers’ wages, including the first federal minimum wage, the first federal overtime law, and the National Labor Relations Act, which made it easier for workers to join a union and bargain with their employers. The entry of the United States into World War II further drove investment higher, as the economy converted into what Gordon describes as a “maximum production regime.”

It is striking that during this period of rapid productivity growth, wages for production workers grew even faster than productivity growth did. The current debate about whether a typical worker’s compensation has kept track with the economy’s productivity typically envisions productivity growth as the precondition for wage growth. But Gordon’s research implies that the relationship can go both ways: Not only can productivity growth raise wages, but higher real wages also can boost productivity growth—the main reason for slow gross domestic product growth—by giving firms a reason to purchase capital.

Can higher wages raise productivity growth in 2017? Basic economic theory and common sense suggests that an increase in the price of labor—wages—achieved through higher labor standards will cause firms to invest in more capital, raising the economy’s productivity.
- Guy Caron points out that international tax agreements which should serve to facilitate enforcement are instead allowing the greedy rich to evade meaningful taxes everywhere, while the Star argues that no corporation should be able to avoid social responsibilities through sweetheart tax deals. And James Wright warns of an impending deal on services which may tie the hands of governments seeking to work in the public interest more directly than any existing trade agreement.

- James Walsh reports on the devastating effects of the UK Conservatives' efforts to push people out of social housing - which will of course sound far too familiar for many in Saskatchewan.

- Finally, Michelle Chen comments on the gigantic ecological deficit being imposed on future generations through unchecked climate change, while David Roberts discusses the environmental devastation (and cleanup costs) which figure to be borne by the public as the coal industry ceases to be viable. And Brent Patterson highlights a noteworthy study on the lasting effects of the Husky oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Musical interlude

54-40 - Love You All

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Armine Yalnizyan writes that the response to the European Commission's finding that Apple has dodged $20 billion in taxes may tell us all we need to know about the relative power of governments and corporations:
The EC is also investigating state support received by Amazon and McDonalds in Luxembourg, a tax haven. Expect more costly court battles about the appropriateness of laws and systems of governance.

Since the 2008 economic crisis, giant corporations have gone from being “too big to fail” to “too big to pay.”

But as the big tax avoiders get feisty, so too are voters. The Panama Papers have made people aware of the hypocrisy: when those with deep pockets don't pay, everyone else pays more. Governments are legitimately worried about their finances, and more focused on tax fairness than in decades. But as corporations both fight and rewrite the rules, occasionally cash-starved, debt-ridden nations are being enlisted to support their agenda.

The Apple story is huge. It could presage the end of tax competition, as nations co-ordinate attempts to combat absurd levels of tax-dodging. Or it could signal growing dominance of corporate power over state power. High stakes, to be sure, in the evolution of 21st-century globalization.
- Meanwhile, Allan Sloan discusses how Mylan's profiteering in ratcheting up the price of EpiPens has been paired with glaring tax avoidance. And the NDP points out the conspicuous lack of any public benefit from the Libs' and Cons' track record of corporate tax slashing in Canada.

- Alex Hemingway writes about the costs of privatizing public infrastructure. And Thomas Walkom highlights the Libs' options in reviewing Canada Post's future - which include taking an obvious opportunity to better meet a large number of social needs through a postal banking system.

- Bloomberg View rightly argues that fossil fuel subsidies are about the dumbest possible type of public policy. And Samantha Page offers another reason why that's so by pointing out the devastating health effects of oil and gas production and distribution.

- Finally, Simon Enoch offers a much-needed warning to the rest of Canada as to what Saskatchewan faces with Brad Wall in power.

On cost comparisons

Following up on yesterday's column, let's take a moment to examine just how foolish the Wall government's insistence on trying to sell off SaskTel is even as a matter of pure dollars and cents.

Again, I've previously calculated the benefit to Saskatchewan consumers with SaskTel wireless plans at $396 million per year. But that was based on a number of subscribers which has since increased to about 630,000.

Moreover, it doesn't take into account anybody whose plan through another provider features lower prices due to SaskTel's presence in the market. From SaskTel's own estimate of its market share at 70% (which surely doesn't figure to overestimate the number of competitors' subscribers), the total number of wireless subscribers whose prices are influenced by SaskTel's alternative would rise to roughly 900,000.

Applying the $55 per month difference in wireless pricing, the net cost to consumers with wireless plans would then increase to $594 million every year.

But what about the effect of eliminating the provincial operating debt, which is supposedly the Sask Party's bottom line in determining whether to pursue a sale? There, the latest provincial budget (PDF) lists total government debt charges at $297 million per year (see p. 52).

Those numbers make for a rather tidy comparison. For every dollar Saskatchewan could expect to save in interest payments by using the proceeds of a SaskTel sale to eliminate the province's operating debt, we'd pay two dollars to the remaining telecom companies due to a less competitive wireless market alone.

And that's leaving aside both other services provided by SaskTel, and the direct financial impact of losing SaskTel's ongoing profits. On the latter point, Wall has tried to fearmonger about the risk that a changing market might reduce current net income levels (estimated (PDF) to be roughly $100 million for the 2016-2017 year). But it's hardly a better position to know for certain that the number will be zero - as would be the case if SaskTel is sold off.

In sum, Brad Wall's plan to sell off SaskTel is an obvious financial loser for Saskatchewan. It's the people of the province who stand to pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year to give effect to Wall's distaste for public enterprise - and we should be nothing but suspicious of a government wanting to stick us with that bill solely to boost corporate profits.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

New column day

Here, on how we shouldn't believe any of the unenforceable promises Brad Wall and his government will make to try to pitch a SaskTel selloff - and how citizens stand to lose out from a sale.

For further reading...
- CBC reported on Wall's going out of his way to push privatization - including confirmation that his cabinet is set up to try to swing public opinion toward a selloff.
- I've written before about the difference in wireless pricing between provinces with an independent alternative, and those limited to the national Big Three providers.
- Finally, yhe CCPA examined the effects of MTS' initial privatization here (PDF). And CBC and Daniel Tencer have discussed the consumer implications of its impending takeover by Bell, while Michael Geist pointed out that the CRTC wants to see more rather than less options for consumers.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Chris Hamby's brilliant series on the effects of investor-state dispute settlement continues with articles on the shift in power from governments to corporations, as well as the developing market in settlement speculation.

- Gordon Laxer argues that if NAFTA is in fact up for renegotiation, Canada should see walking away as an important option. Linda McQuaig points out a few of the ways in which the CETA and other trade agreements serve to undermine democratic governance. And Nicole Sagener highlights a new study showing how the CETA would enrich multinational corporations at the expense of the citizens of participating countries.

- The Star makes the case for a readily-accessible child care program as one of the most important steps in closing the gender wage gap. And Roderick Benns argues that a basic income would fit with the overarching pursuit of health in all policies.

- Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel comment on the dangers of prioritizing innovation (and its associated PR boost) over less-glamorous maintenance of vital infrastructure.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom discusses the establishment pressure on Rachel Notley to abandon principle in order to appease deficit scolds. And Brent Patterson reminds us of the need for a strong social movement to put pressure on all stripes of government to take the public interest into account:
The public wants a Canada that respects Indigenous rights, that expands public health care, that has sustainable and fair trade with the rest of the world, that protects water, that has a 100 per cent clean energy future, and that has a democratic electoral system. That has always been the core vision of The Council of Canadians. Let us hold onto this dream of transformation by asking the hard questions to get us there, mobilizing for better, and demanding systemic change.

Political honeymoons are ephemeral, but movements have always been the real catalyst for social justice.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Encamped cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dennis Howlett discusses the public costs of allowing tax avoidance - as Canada could afford a national pharmacare program (and much more) merely by ensuring that the rich pay what they owe:
Eliminating tax haven use could save Canada almost $8 billion a year. That’s enough to cover universal public prescription coverage almost eight times over.

Time after time, budget after budget, poll after poll, those in charge make it sound as if we’re too poor as a country to afford the programs that would really improve Canadians’ lives. The fact that revenues are lost to poor policy on tax havens and loopholes is often conveniently ignored.
At this stage of the game, the federal finance minister doesn’t need to raise taxes to pay for pharmacare. Bill Morneau just has to make sure that Canadian multinationals and wealthy individuals pay the tax rate we already have. That isn’t happening right now.

It’s simple. Canadians can continue to support a tax system that lets the richest avoid paying $8 billion in taxes annually — or we can tell them that the party’s over. Instead of ignoring what is happening in the Cayman Islands, Panama and other tax havens, we can urge our politicians to invest the taxes owing on those billions into services that benefit individuals, families, communities and the country as a whole.
There is solid data supporting raising taxes in some areas. But that’s an argument for another day. The issue at hand right now is that we do have enough money for pharmacare — likely enough for public dental care as well. Through a series of misguided and outdated decisions driven by the tax dodge lobby, we are needlessly and destructively giving up that revenue.

It’s time to fix those old mistakes and use the tax system to help this country live up to its potential.
- Meanwhile, Owen Jones discusses a European Commission ruling finding that Apple can't validly avoid paying tax through a special arrangement with Ireland. And the Star rightly slams the Fraser Institute for presenting a misleading picture of where public revenue comes from and what it can accomplish.

- The CP reports on the Libs' plans to facilitate the use of temporary foreign workers for liquid natural gas projects in British Columbia - meaning that the last supposed benefit for the province of engaging in a dangerous industry seems to be as illusory as all the others. And Jeremy Nuttall notes that Justin Trudeau seems set to open the door even wider to entrench the use of exploitable foreign labour by multinational corporations. 

- Finally, Catherine Cullen reports on the effects of privatized health care insurance which are being presented in an effort to defend Canada's medicare system from would-be profiteers:
John Frank, a Canadian physician who is now chairman of public health research and policy at the University of Edinburgh, argues in his report that more private health care "would be expected to adversely affect Canadian society as a whole."

He cites research that suggests public resources, including highly trained nurses and doctors, would be siphoned off by the private system.

More Canadians would face financial hardship or even — in extreme cases — "medical bankruptcy" from paying for private care, he writes.

Frank even suggests there could be deadly consequences. He says complications from privately funded surgeries often need to be dealt with in the public system because private facilities are generally less equipped to handle complex cases.

"If such complications, arising from privately funded care, are not promptly referred to an appropriately equipped and staffed care facility, the patient is likely to experience death or long-term disability, potentially leading to reduced earnings and financial hardship."

Overall, "in my expert opinion," Frank writes, the change would reduce fairness and efficiency and "society as a whole would be worse off."

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jim Hightower argues that there's no reason the U.S. can't develop an economic model which leads to shared prosperity - and the ideas are no less relevant in Canada:
Take On Wall Street is both the name and the feisty attitude of a nationwide campaign that a coalition of grassroots groups has launched to do just that: take on Wall Street. The coalition, spearheaded by the Communication Workers of America, points out there is nothing natural or sacred about today’s money-grabbing financial complex. Far from sacrosanct, the system of finance that now rules over us has been designed by and for Wall Street speculators, money managers and big bank flimflammers. So, big surprise, rather than serving our common good, the system is corrupt, routinely serving their uncommon greed at everyone else’s expense.
The coalition’s structural reforms include:
1. Getting the corrupting cash of corporations and the superrich out of politics with an overturning of Citizens United v. FEC and providing a public system for financing America’s elections.

2. Stopping “too big to fail” banks from subsidizing their high-risk speculative gambling with the deposits of  ordinary customers. Make them choose to be a consumer bank or a casino, but not both.

3. Institute a tiny “Robin Hood tax” on Wall Street speculators to discourage their computerized gaming of the system, while also generating hundreds of billions of tax dollars to invest in America’s real economy.

4. Restore low-cost, convenient “postal banking” in our post offices to serve millions of Americans who’re now at the mercy of predatory payday lenders and check-cashing chains.
- Juliette Garside reports on the EU's efforts to get the U.S. to agree to basic reporting to rein in offshore tax evasion. And Heather Long points out Joseph Stiglitz' criticisms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as enriching corporations at the expense of citizens.

- Amy Maxmen notes that a non-profit system can develop new drugs far more affordably than the current corporate model - and without creating the expectation of windfall profits that currently underlies the pharmaceutical industry.

- Jordan Press offers a preview of a federal strategy for homeless veterans featuring rental subsidies and the building of targeted housing units - which leads only to the question of why the same plan wouldn't be applied to address homelessness generally.

- Alan Shanoff comments on the many holes in Ontario's employment standards (which are generally matched elsewhere as well).

- Finally, Dougald Lamont highlights the many ways in which the Fraser Institute's anti-tax spin misleads the media about how citizens relate to Canadian governments.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Chris Hamby starts off what looks to be a must-read investigation on the effect of ISDS rules by discussing how they're used to prevent governments from punishing corporate wrongdoing:
(A)n 18-month BuzzFeed News investigation, spanning three continents and involving more than 200 interviews and tens of thousands of documents, many of them previously confidential, has exposed an obscure but immensely consequential feature of these trade treaties, the secret operations of these tribunals, and the ways that business has co-opted them to bring sovereign nations to heel.
Reviewing publicly available information for about 300 claims filed during the past five years, BuzzFeed News found more than 35 cases in which the company or executive seeking protection in ISDS was accused of criminal activity, including money laundering, embezzlement, stock manipulation, bribery, war profiteering, and fraud.

Among them: a bank in Cyprus that the US government accused of financing terrorism and organized crime, an oil company executive accused of embezzling millions from the impoverished African nation of Burundi, and the Russian oligarch known as “the Kremlin’s banker.”

Some are at the center of notorious scandals, from the billionaire accused of orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme in Mauritius to multiple telecommunications tycoons charged in the ever-widening “2G scam” in India, which made it into Time magazine’s top 10 abuses of power, alongside Watergate. The companies or executives involved in these cases either denied wrongdoing or did not respond to requests for comment.

Most of the 35-plus cases are still ongoing. But in at least eight of the cases, bringing an ISDS claim got results for the accused wrongdoers, including a multimillion-dollar award, a dropped criminal investigation, and dropped criminal charges. In another, the tribunal has directed the government to halt a criminal case while the arbitration is pending.
- And Dharna Noor interviews James Henry about the need for international cooperation - at both the government and public level - to crack down on tax evasion.

- Tyler Hamilton discusses the health effects of climate change. And Joseph Erbentraut examines how a changing climate is affecting both the quantity and quality of the water we depend on. 

- Kev responds to the spread of #goodriddanceharper by pointing out that as satisfying as it was to turf the Cons from office, we're still facing most of the same anti-social policies with a more media-savvy face. And Doug Nesbitt reminds us that the Trudeau Libs are no friends of labour - with Canada Post's appalling attacks on vulnerable workers serving as just the latest example.

- Finally, the Canadian Press reports on a much-needed push for resources to address mental health in Canada.