Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Don Pittis writes that it will take far more than words and sentiments to reverse the trend of growing income inequality. Elaine Power points out that Ontario's social assistance programs - like those elsewhere - far fall short of meeting basic human needs. And Christopher Mackie reminds us that the effects of poverty go well beyond immediate financial consequences:
Canada has free, high-quality healthcare for everyone. So why do the richest 10% of people live seven years longer than the poorest? Deep poverty can be associated with a drop in life expectancy of 20 years or more. If we look at both life expectancy and years lived with disability, the rich are 39% healthier than the poor.

Income affects health in several ways, including the direct impact on the resources needed for healthy living, access to healthy physical environments and access to healthy social environments.

Poverty limits access to nutritious food, recreation opportunities, adequate housing, and the education needed to pull oneself out of poverty. Each year, the Middlesex-London Health Unit issues a report that compares the cost of nutritious food to income received from minimum or welfare wage. This Nutritious Food Basket Report consistently shows that it is impossible for people on low income in London and Middlesex County to afford healthy food once basic costs such as rent and utilities are paid.
The benefits of policies that address poverty go far beyond simply helping the poor. Research has consistently shown that everyone is better off in societies that are more equal. Comparisons of countries which are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) consistently show that in societies that are most equal, even the poor are healthier than the rich in societies that are the least equal. In other words, greater income equality means better health for everyone – including the rich.

This paradox – that my income is linked with my health, but that my society’s income equality is also linked with my health – is not fully understood. One theory is that it is linked with the social environments we live in. More unequal societies tend to be more competitive, with fewer opportunities for upward mobility. This can be associated with stress and hopelessness. Stress is linked with a number of health problems from heart disease to cancer. Hopelessness can be devastating, reducing motivation to seek employment and leading a person to neglect their health or even engage in self-harming behaviours like addiction to alcohol and drugs.

In more equal societies, a feeling that friends, neighbours and fellow citizens will offer help when needed can be motivational, even leading to an increased sense of self-worth. Reduced stress can allow us to see past day-to-day challenges and make better decisions for the long term.
- Christopher Adams exposes how employers are exploiting millenial workers. And Evelyn Kwong and Sara Mojtehedzadeh report on a temporary employee's workplace death in Toronto, while Adam Hunter discusses the appalling trend of people being killed on the job in Saskatchewan.

- Tonda MacCharles reports on the Libs' discussion paper on security laws. And Jeremy Nuttall notes that there's ample reason for concern that they want to make matters even worse by reviving dubious "lawful access" provisions rather than correcting even the overreach found in Bill C-51.

- The Star's editorial board writes that we should be strengthening our universal public health care system rather than destroying it as Brian Day and others want to do.

- Finally, Kathy Tomlinson details how Canada's tax laws are being flouted by the investors making millions off of the explosion of Vancouver's real estate market.

On available alternatives

Shorter Murray Mandryk:
A poll which shows the NDP picking up support from dissatisfied Saskatchewan Party voters proves my point that the NDP can't possibly pick up support from dissatisfied Saskatchewan Party voters.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Musical interlude

Big Data feat. Jamie Lidell - Clean

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- David Miller weighs in on the high costs of austerity and the knowing deception of the right-wing politicians who pretend cuts don't have consequences:
It's a kind of political and economic law: these kinds of budget cuts always result in worse service. And there is a corollary: the conservative politicians who demand such cuts always refuse to accept responsibility for them, and pretend there is no connection between the actions they took and their direct repercussions.

They often get away with this because the consequences aren't immediately obvious to the general public, or only hit politically disempowered parts of the population. For example, in the 1980's and early 1990's, the TTC deferred maintenance as a way of coping with budget challenges. Deferred maintenance is another word for a cut. It's pernicious, because citizens can't easily see the cut and exercise their right to vote against it, yet it can have serious consequences. A tragic subway crash of 1995 in which three people were killed had a number of causes, the most critical of which was the failure of a fail-safe arm — a safety mechanism specifically designed to prevent an accident when a train misses a signal.  It didn't work, and if it had, the accident would not have occurred. Following the accident, a coroner’s inquest found “underfunding since the mid-1980s has contributed to the deterioration of the system and has jeopardized the safety of the TTC.”  As result, the transit commission changed its practices to make the maintenance of a state of good repair its highest spending priority.

The effect of these kind of hidden cuts is felt at all orders of government —  the Walkerton contaminated water disaster is a good example of provincial actions directly leading to a tragedy — but it is particularly challenging for cities because the vast majority of municipal spending is on actual day-to-day services...
In all of these situations, the conservative politicians advocating the cuts use euphemisms like “efficiency” to pretend their policies are not going to affect people when they know, or ought to know, that isn't true.  In the case of Toronto, any experienced elected official knows that expenditure constraint has a direct impact on services.  Yet we still see politicians calling for the TTC to provide better service at the same time as giving directions calling for significant budget cuts.  They pretend the cuts won’t have an impact and hope that the public will not notice.  But slowly and eventually, they will. 
- Katie Hafner writes about the devastating impact of social isolation on seniors. And Jonathan Charlton reports that the Saskatchewan Party's health cuts are set to exacerbate the problem in Saskatoon among other negative effects on people. 

- Douglas Campbell and Lester Lusher examine the causes of growing inequality in the U.S. and find that it can be traced largely to upper-class tax slashing rather than trade.

- Luke Harding reports that Denmark has become the first country to buy leaked data from the Panama Papers in order to fully investigate tax evasion.

- Finally, Neil MacDonald writes that while the long-awaiting inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women will represent an important opportunity to examine systemic racism, it won't have the effect it should unless all of Canada pays attention.

Just so we're clear...

Making any move to push out a still-respected interim leader just as he returns to the Parliamentary setting where he does his best work would be foolish.

Abandoning a long-term base of voters who want to see sustainable choices in both environmental and economic policy in an attempt to take second place in the Most Mindless Opposition Pipeline Cheerleader Awards would be no less so.

There's plenty actually worth focusing on this fall as a matter of both principle and political opportunity - including threats to health care and civil liberties, as well as the possibility of a more fair electoral system. And party members and Canada as a whole need the NDP to live up to the challenges, rather than letting anonymous backbiting get in the way.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

New column day

Here, on the connection between unionization and secure employment income - and the importance of encouraging the former if people otherwise face no real hope of achieving the latter.

For further reading...
- Again, Jake Rosenfeld, Patrick Denice and Jennifer Laird's Economic Policy Institute study showing how unionization boosts non-union pay is here.
- The Canadian Payroll Association's latest survey showing both the precarity of many households and the widespread belief that economic conditions won't improve is reported on by the CP here. And other polling showing generational pessimism has been reported for Canada, the U.S. and the UK respectively.
- The Center for American Progress offers its roadmap to build a strong and secure middle class - with increased union power playing an important role.
- Finally, Branko Milanovic writes (PDF) that we should expect the rich to prioritize increased inequality rather than shared growth in pursuing their own desire for concentrated wealth - signalling the importance of a concerted effort to push back.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Naomi Klein writes about the racism and dehumanization behind climate change denialism and inaction. And George Monbiot reminds us of the dangers of overheating oceans, while Michael Wines interviews Todd Halihan about the earthquakes and other harms caused by fracking.

- Meanwhile, Chris Wood and Michael Beer note that due to the obvious industry capture of the National Energy Board, Canada doesn't have a federal regulator fit to evaluate the public interest when it comes to oil and gas projects - and of course a similar problem applies at the provincial level.

- Sarah O'Connor writes about the precarious circumstances of workers trying to make a living off of the gig economy. But lest anybody think that a traditional job necessarily equates to a secure paycheque, Kyle Duggan reports on the costs of fixing the failing Phoenix pay system which has been bleeding public servants ever since it was implemented.

- Ian Welsh proposes that we ensure a secure and affordable supply of needed drugs through public manufacturing and distribution. And Seth Klein and Patrick Leyland point out why privatized surgeries and other medical services only increase the burden on a public health care system.

- Finally, CBC reports on Laura Eggertson and Kirsten Patrick's call for a national suicide prevention strategy. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Alan Freeman is duly appalled by Apple's attempt to throw itself a pity party with the money it's hoarding rather than paying in fair corporate taxes. And James Mackintosh reports on Jeroen Dijsselbloem's response to Apple's utterly tone-deaf position that it's entitled to its entitlements, while the Globe and Mail weighs in with the view that nobody is above paying their fair share.

- George Monbiot reminds us that successful action against one corporate-biased trade deal only accomplishes so much when another is always just around the corner. And Jim Stanford questions whether it's in Canada's interest to make major concessions to expand a trading relationship with China which already involves massive trade deficits.

- Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini conclude that excessive management is costing the U.S. economy upwards of $3 trillion per year. And Steven Musil discusses how management as it stands continues to impose unequal pay regardless of whether women attempt to negotiate a fair deal.

- The Globe and Mail argues that charities should enjoy the same freedom of speech as other organizations, rather than facing strict and arbitrary restrictions on their ability to advocate for the worthy causes they're founded to promote.

- Finally, Paul Wells comments on the urgent need for funding for basic research in Canada - even as the Libs seek headlines for building shiny new research centres.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Brightened cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Erin Seatter interviews Adam Lynes-Ford about Brian Day's latest attack on universal Medicare. And Ricochet's editorial board highlights how Day is ultimately fighting only to exacerbate inequality:
Discrimination against racialized and Indigenous patients fosters health disparities across our country and sometimes leads to death.

Poverty hurts Indigenous people in particular, and it’s understandable if you think the wide income gap between them and other groups in our country means privatized health care will leave them behind.

But fret not. Privatization will give them the kick they need to find their bootstraps. Want health care? Make money. Want a physician to check for diabetes instead of assuming you’re drunk? Hand over dollar bills, preferably the red or brown ones. Just throw yourself into the capitalist economy, and you’ll soon get past all that labour discrimination and be able to fork out the cash to be treated right.

Like Ali, and like the founding father of oppressive medicare, Tommy Douglas, Day used to be a boxer too.

“If you’re competitive and you think you’re right, you want to keep going until there’s a final outcome,” said Day.

That’s why he won’t stop until universal health care is down for the count.
- Oliver Milman discusses the climate effects of rapidly increasing ocean temperatures. And Merran Smith and Dan Woynillowicz comment on the need for Canada to pull its weight in shifting to clean renewable energy, while Jackie Wattles and Matt Egan point to Oklahoma's rash of earthquakes as yet another consequence of insisting on chasing fossil fuels against all rational analysis.

- But Ethan Lou reports that the Trudeau Libs are instead aiming to grease the skids for foreign-owned oil development.

- Tammy Robert exposes the Wall government's use of federal immigration funding (backed by provincial guarantees) to inflate a housing bubble. And the Leader-Post's editorial board questions why the Saskatchewan Party is picking the pockets of school divisions and health regions.

- Finally, Kiran Rana takes note of the difficult job market facing new university graduates.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Labour Day reading.

- Jared Bernstein comments on the prospect of a labour revival which can boost the prospects of unionized and non-unionized workers alike. And Thomas Walkom makes the case for closer identification between the NDP and Canada's labour movement:
Labour needs a political party because unions, on their own, are a declining force. Only 29 per cent of the Canadian workforce is unionized. The number continues to fall.

This has happened because the economy, once characterized by large manufacturing plants, is now dominated by smaller service firms that, under current labour laws, are more difficult to unionize.

The decline of well-paying union jobs is one of the key factors behind the rise in income inequality that politicians routinely fret about.

Yet to reverse this trend would require a total rethinking of employment and labour laws, most of which were designed in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Among other things, the laws must be amended to eliminate the loophole that allows so many employers to pretend their workers are independent contractors who do not qualify for benefits or statutory protection.

As well, labour relations laws would have to be changed to allow unions organizing, say, fast-food franchise outlets, to take on the ultimate employer.

These are just a couple of examples. The point is that, if unions are to survive, labour laws must be rethought.

That in turn requires a political party willing to do the rethinking.
- And CBC reports that Ontario's NDP looks to be taking that advice by looking to facilitate both certification and collective bargaining - though there's still more to be done in examining the broader trends affecting unionization rates.

- Mark Dearn discusses how the CETA figures to undermine democratic governance in Canada and Europe alike. And the CP reports on Justin Trudeau's attempt to stifle discussion of the actual terms of corporate control agreements by indiscriminately bashing anybody who raises reasonable questions about business-oriented trade deals.

- Michael Winship points out how profiteering around the EpiPen the fits into a wider pattern of pharmaceutical price gouging and other anti-social behaviour.

- Finally, Lyndal Rowlands writes that developed countries have a strong stake in working toward meeting global development goals - and suggests it's long past time that we started acting like it.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Saqib Bhatti and Stephen Lerner point out that the struggle for power between labour and capital is far from over, and that the next step may be to engage on wider questions of economic control:
For too long most unions defined their mission narrowly as winning higher wages and benefits for unionized workers without challenging how companies were managed or how capital was invested and controlled. Unions accepted that it was management’s job to run companies and the broader economy, and that the unions’ primary job was to get as much as possible for their members.

This still dominates labor’s thinking: we focus on income inequality but not wealth inequality; we focus on how to raise the bottom, but not how to stop wealth from concentrating at the top; we deal with our direct employers, but not those who really control the broader socioeconomic conditions in which our members work and their families live.

We have bought into the notion that the boss is entitled to endless profits and should be allowed to have control of the business and the economy as long as our members win incremental improvements in every contract. But that bargain no longer works.
(U)nions don’t typically enter into negotiations with the investors. They deal with their direct employer, even though in many major companies investors, even the CEOs, are ultimately constrained by the pressures put on them by investors.

Unions need to start looking to these actors higher up the food chain, to the people who control the money in the public sector as well as the private sector.

In the public sector, state and local officials accurately decry the fact that there is not enough money in public coffers to properly fund public services. However, the reason why there isn’t enough money is that corporations and the wealthy have waged a sustained war on taxes over the past forty years to avoid paying more.

Increasingly, these corporations are owned by Wall Street investors seeking to cut taxes in order to increase their return on investment. These wealthy few have a large part of their wealth tied up in the financial sector.

By trying to squeeze pennies out of public officials while letting the billionaires and bankers off the hook, public-sector unions are fighting with one hand tied behind their back.
- Gabriel Winant also offers a noteworthy look at the state of the U.S.' labour movement. And Tom Parkin points out how a larger self-identified working class may be an increasingly important force in Canadian politics, while Sid Ryan comments on the state of the relationship between Canadian labour and the NDP.

- Mersiha Gadzo identifies plenty of the ways in which Justin Trudeau has combined a sunny disposition with the same dark actions we'd expect from the Harper Cons. But Nora Loreto argues that progressive activists will need to develop new strategies to address Trudeau rather than Harper.

- Finally, Sir Michael Marmot discusses the social causes of economic inequality, while pointing out the need to ensure a greater focus on all social determinants of health.