Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Joel Wood highlights the social cost of carbon as a crucial reason to work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions rather than insisting on doing the absolute least the rest of the world will tolerate. And needless to say, Brad Wall's idea of an argument for the position that we should have no policies aimed at actually reducing emissions is rather less than compelling - particularly given Chelsea Harvey's warning that we can't rely on technology to remove emissions from our atmosphere later on.

- Max Ehrenfreund notes that for all the criticism too often leveled toward public housing, it actually produces dramatic improvements in the opportunities for children who grow up in it:
Comprehensive new data published this week challenges the cultural consensus on public housing. For all their flaws, housing projects can have remarkable positive effects on the children who grow up in them, researchers conclude in a paper published by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research.

Children who spend more time in public housing will earn hundreds of dollars more each year than they would have if their parents had not received housing assistance from the government during those years. Children who benefit from public housing are also less likely to be imprisoned, according to the data.

Not having to worry about paying private-sector rents, parents might have more time to spend on their children — helping them with their homework, keeping them out of trouble and guiding them to a more successful adulthood, the researchers theorize.
- Meanwhile, Dawn Foster writes that the differential treatment of owned housing (which can be inherited) and rental tenancies (which can't) results in inequality being exacerbated over the course of multiple generations.

- Nicole Kozloff, Carol E. Adair, Luis I. Palma Lazgare, Daniel Poremski, Amy H. Cheung, Rebeca Sandu and Vicky Stergiopoulos study the success of Housing First programming in assisting homeless youth. But Laurie Monsebraaten and Hina Alam point out the desperate lack of federal and provincial funding to support municipal housing programs.

- And in a similar vein, a group of citizens concerns about B.C.'s education cuts highlights the dangers of relying on fund-raising rather than public revenue to fund necessary educational services. 

- Finally, Kate McInturff examines the gender gap across Canada's cities, and finds that the major cities on the prairies are clustered near the bottom when it comes to gender parity.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Musical interlude

Gorgon City feat. ROMANS - Saving My Life

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- George Monbiot discusses the importance of recognizing our social connections in making our political choices, rather than treating the world as merely a collection of unconnected individuals:
It is not hard to see what the evolutionary reasons for social pain might be. Survival among social mammals is greatly enhanced when they are strongly bonded with the rest of the pack. It is the isolated and marginalised animals that are most likely to be picked off by predators or to starve. Just as physical pain protects us from physical injury, emotional pain protects us from social injury. It drives us to reconnect. But many people find this almost impossible.

It’s unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat. It’s more surprising to discover the range of physical illnesses it causes or exacerbates. Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people. Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%. This is partly because it enhances production of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.

Studies in both animals and humans suggest a reason for comfort eating: isolation reduces impulse control, leading to obesity. As those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder are the most likely to suffer from loneliness, might this provide one of the explanations for the strong link between low economic status and obesity?

Anyone can see that something far more important than most of the issues we fret about has gone wrong. So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain? Should this question not burn the lips of everyone in public life?
- Meanwhile, Meghan Joy and John Shields discuss the folly of putting programs in the hands of the corporate sector through social impact bonds which prioritize single contractual metrics over broad social outcomes. And Murray Dobbin criticizes corporate control over hospital food as a prime example of necessities being turned into cash cows, with no benefit for either the public purse or the people being served.

- Jim Stanford points out that implausible denials of the downside of corporate globalization will only strengthen the rise of divisive and destructive alternatives. Paul Waldie reports that two of Belgium's regions may put the ratification of the CETA on hold indefinitely. And Rob Ferguson highlights one of the reasons that's for the best, as the largest award ever under NAFTA has just been ordered due to Ontario's change in renewable energy policy. 

- Finally, Sam Levin reports that multiple social media sites handed over access to user data to a private security firm to track individual Black Lives Matter protesters.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New column day

Here, on Regina's upcoming municipal election - and the need for voters to break with expectations to elect a municipal government far more willing to stand up for its constituents than the one we've had in recent years.

For further reading...
- Elections Regina's main page is here. David Robert Loblaw is providing a handy central resource site here. And the QCIB has the tape from the one mayoral debate so far here.
- Geoff Leo reported on the City's suppression of a report on provincial downloading during the election campaign which would have offered the public a chance to do something about it. And the Leader-Post's editorial board weighs in on the problems with the City's actions.
- Finally, Tiffany Paulsen notes that Saskatoon faces much the opposite situation confronting Regina voters: it has a hotly contested mayoral race, but virtually no competition for the council seats which will have the voting power to set the city's direction.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Alex Himelfarb discusses why a proportional electoral system can be expected to produce better and more representative public policy:
The adversarial approach often means major policy lurches when the government changes. For example, the Harper government undid some important initiatives of the previous government, including the Kelowna Accord, signed by all provinces and aboriginal leaders, and child care agreements signed by all provinces, to name a couple. Now we are watching the current Liberal majority spending much of its legislative time undoing Harper government initiatives (e.g., restoring the census, and undoing various refugee and immigration policies). We see similar lurches with virtually every change of government, but especially when that change also represents a significant shift in ideology.

These policy lurches belie the claims that our FPTP system offers stability. They undermine our capacity for long-term planning, even long-term thinking, and waste considerable legislative time effectively going around in circles. Such policy lurches are far less common in countries with more proportional systems, where cross-party co-operation is the norm. It’s not surprising, therefore, that political scientist Arend Lijphart (2012), who has undertaken the most extensive comparison of policy outcomes in countries with differing electoral systems, found that for those issues that require a long view and policy continuity, countries with proportional systems—where coalitions are the norm—outperform FPTP countries.

For example, countries with proportional systems score significantly higher on Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index, which measures how well human health and ecosystems are protected. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions. Countries using PR were more ready to pay the price of strong environmental policies, more likely to use renewable energy, and therefore produced a lower share of carbon emissions (Orellana, 2014; Cohen, 2010). The greater co-operation and continuity in proportional systems evidently yield environmental dividends.
Orellana further argues that PR-elected governments are less inclined to “quick-fix” solutions and, because of the greater diversity of their governments and parliaments, more open to policy innovation.   For example. they are more likely to have adapted their welfare and tax policies to changes in the economy and labour market.  Orellana also demonstrates that they tend to be policy leaders on highly sensitive issues such as assisted dying, LGBT rights and freedom to marry.  This openness to change and policy innovation is particularly relevant in a fast-changing world where old nostrums and standard practices are increasingly part of the problem. It should be no surprise, then, Orellana (2014; 2016) and Lijphart (1994; 2012) also find better fiscal performance in countries with PR. There is even some evidence, though it is admittedly mixed, that countries with PR produce more robust economic growth (Knutsen, 2011).
Public policy can only benefit from a system that is less vulnerable to special interests, in which every vote influences the outcome; a system that yields more diverse representation reflective of the diverse values and interests of the electorate, and promotes less adversarial elections and more co-operative parliaments. Governments elected by PR would experience fewer policy lurches, take a longer view, be more responsive to the interests of the many, and even, arguably, more creative and open to policy innovation.
- David Madland points out how a modernized system of labour laws (including more widespread multi-employer bargaining) would produce far better outcomes for workers. Augusta Dwyer writes that a shorter work day could result in substantially improved productivity to go with an improved quality of life. And both Rana Foroohar and Peter Fleming observe that unions need to play a central role in defining and improving working conditions.

- Matt Huber argues that progressives shouldn't settle for a market-based frame in discussing why and how we need to combat climate change. And David Suzuki points out the folly in assuming we can dig our way out of the environmental hole we're now facing.

- Finally, CBC reports on the World Health Organization's recommended tax on sugary drinks as a means to improve public health outcomes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Layered cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Baratunde Thurston makes the point that even beyond income and wealth inequality, there's an obviously unfair distribution of second chances in the U.S. depending on one's race and class. Denis Campbell reports on the link between poverty and childhood obesity, while Jen St. Denis highlights how poverty can cause and exacerbate mental health problems.

- Kyle Bakx points out how a systematic effort to encourage people living in poverty to file their tax returns can result in help getting where it's needed most. And conversely, the Star 's editorial board writes that piling fines on people with no means to pay them serves no useful purpose.

- David Cay Johnston examines the U.S.' tax rolls and finds a large number of wealthy Americans paying no income tax at all:
In 2014, the latest year for which we have data, more than two million of the 148.6 million tax-filing households reported negative incomes. The number of such households has been rising for years. In 1994 it was 0.8% of income tax returns, but in 2014 it hit 1.4%. That's one in 73, up from one in 125.

Some of these households have one-time losses, usually from failed business. But many must be wealthy, too, benefiting from liberal tax avoidance laws set by Congress.

My detailed analysis of the official data shows that those who reported negative incomes on average are wealthier and enjoy more cash flow by far than the average American.

Some surprising facts:
  • More than a fourth of these non-taxpaying households had paying jobs in 2014.
  • These households had vastly more investment income than all but the top half of 1% of all households.
  • One in three negative-income households reported receiving taxable interest, compared to 29% of all taxpayers. The average amount they reported was $6,939. For comparison, those making $75,000 to $100,000 in 2014 reported average taxable interest of just $860.
What we do not know is how many of these are people reporting negative income just once – and how many, like Trump, have reported negative income year-after-year, despite huge incomes that they collect free of income tax.
When you get to even richer households, Donald Trump territory, you still find negative-income taxpayers: The 410,300 tax households reporting incomes of $1 million or more in 2014 had an average income that was more than $3.3 million. But 444 of these million-dollar-plus households – about one in 900 – paid no income tax.
- Doreen Nichol rightly argues that children living on reserves shouldn't face continued systemic discrimination, while Jody Porter reports that First Nations residents needing medical travel are facing regular breaches of privacy compared to other patients. And CBC reports that the Idle No More movement is rightly demanding that Justin Trudeau live up to his promises, rather than pretending that rhetoric is enough to make up for continued unfair treatment.

- In a similar vein, Nathan Cullen discusses the need to hold the Libs to their promise of electoral reform. And Tavia Grant reports on the Libs' failure to follow through on a commitment to ban the use of asbestos.

- Finally, Judith Lavoie comments on the need for renewed anti-SLAPP protection to allow people to participate meaningfully in public debates about the issues that affect them. And Michael Geist offers his suggestions for the future of Canadian journalism.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Bruce Johnstone notes that rather than further attacking public services which have already been under siege throughout his stay in office, Brad Wall and his government should be looking to question Saskatchewan's inexplicable giveaways to businesses:
Well, if Doherty is looking for some “low-hanging fruit” to make our tax system more “competitive, simple and fair,” he might want to start plucking a few of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent every year on subsidies, exemptions and tax breaks for rural Saskatchewan, especially the farm sector.
According to the 2016-17 budget, the rationale for tax exemptions or tax expenditures for certain sectors, like manufacturing, farming and small business, is to allow governments to “attain some of their social and economic goals by reducing the taxes paid by certain taxpayers.”

But provincial auditor Judy Ferguson couldn’t find any justification for the fuel tax exemption. Her 2016 report says the government “has not clearly defined, in a measurable way, its fuel tax exemptions for farmers and primary producers.” And the fuel tax program is getting more expensive; since 2010, the cost has increased by $22.5 million, she said.
When the provincial government or its third-party agencies, like health districts, start cutting funding to emergency shelters, laying off nurses, closing down community correctional facilities, shutting down northern educational programs, reducing subsidies to low-income families and people with disabilities, then it’s time to take a long, hard look at the revenue side of the ledger.

Like Doherty said, everything should be on the table.
- Sujata Dey highlights the difference between trade and plutocracy, while noting that the agreements sold as promoting the former are almost entirely oriented toward entrenching the latter. Daniel Gros points out that we're all worse off as a result of blind faith in big business, while even Lawrence Summers is recognizing the reality that the combination of economic stagnation and inequality is unsustainable. And Maude Barlow and José Bové discuss the damage the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement would do to the public interest.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the needed push for decent work in Ontario - while noting that businesses are predictably trying to avoid offering anything of the sort. And Hannah Finnie notes that the millenial generation is seeing bleak employment prospects as its reward for pursuing unprecedented levels of education - but points out that a renewed union movement is vital to ensuring security for new workers.

- Finally, Michael Vonn warns that CSIS is assuming all the powers of a secret police force - which we should see as antithetical to government by and of the people.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Cindy Blackstock offers a reminder of Canada's long and shameful history of discrimination against First Nations children. And Donna Ferreiro takes a look at some of the faces of the Sixties Scoop which saw Indigenous children separated from their families due solely to racial and cultural prejudice.

- Matt Apuzzo, Sheri Fink and James Risen document the mental scars left behind by the U.S.' torture program under the Bush administration. And Neil Strauss offers a contrast between the increasing use of the politics of fear, and the decreasing real-world justification for the political spin:
Around the globe, household wealth, longevity and education are on the rise, while violent crime and extreme poverty are down. In the U.S., life expectancy is higher than ever, our air is the cleanest it's been in a decade, and despite a slight uptick last year, violent crime has been trending down since 1991. As reported in The Atlantic, 2015 was "the best year in history for the average human being."

So how is it possible to be living in the safest time in human history, yet at the exact same time to be so scared?

Because, according to Glassner, "we are living in the most fearmongering time in human history. And the main reason for this is that there's a lot of power and money available to individuals and organizations who can perpetuate these fears."

For mass media, insurance companies, Big Pharma, advocacy groups, lawyers, politicians and so many more, your fear is worth billions. And fortunately for them, your fear is also very easy to manipulate. We're wired to respond to it above everything else. If we miss an opportunity for abundance, life goes on; if we miss an important fear cue, it doesn't.

"The more we learn about the brain, the more we learn it's not something that's supposed to make you happy all the time," says Andrew Huberman, a Stanford neurobiology professor who runs a lab studying fear. "It's mostly a stress-reactive machine. Its primary job is to keep us alive, which is why it's so easy to flip people into fear all the time."

In other words, our biology and psychology are as flawed and susceptible to corruption as the systems and politicians we're so afraid of. In particular, when it comes to assessing future risks, there is a litany of cognitive distortions and emotional overreactions that we fall prey to.
- Meanwhile, Scott Santens argues that one of the most important functions of a basic income may be to turn down the amount of fear and stress people experience a a result of income insecurity.

- Cassie Werber highlights the World Economic Forum's conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions can be decoupled from growth, while Andrew Nikiforuk discusses Robyn Allan's study showing the Trudeau Libs are relying on flawed advice to the contrary. And Rick Smith offers a hopeful take that Canada may be turning the corner in acting to fight climate change - though I'd caution there's a difference between recognizing the right direction, and generating the necessary momentum to reach a destination.

- Finally, Margaret McGregor and Lisa Ronald question why Christy Clark's B.C. Liberal government is insisting on inferior, for-profit senior care rather than allowing for public facilities.