Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne points out the significance of even central bankers like Mark Carney recognizing the desperate need to combat inequality. And Iglika Ivanova discusses how British Columbia's election-year surplus represents a wasted opportunity to start addressing the social problems which the Libs have been exacerbating for a decade and a half:
More than half of British Columbians surveyed in a recent poll reported they were living paycheque to paycheque, and household debt is at record highs. Unemployment is on the rise outside the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, where most job creation has been concentrated. Seniors who don’t own their own homes are living in fear of rent increases and renovictions. Over 100,000 British Columbians needed the help of food banks this year, up 3.4% from 2015. Child poverty remains stubbornly high with toxic effects on children’s health and well-being. And, our public schools are underfunded and lack the resources to properly support students with special needs.

We wouldn’t celebrate the financial management skills of parents who ended the month with money in the bank after sending their children to bed hungry. A large government surplus is much the same, and it is unconscionable given the number of people in need in our province. BC’s surplus is a wasted opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children growing up in poverty, people on disability benefits who are forced to choose between a bus pass and groceries or frail seniors who can’t access home support services and end up in hospital instead.

Instead of tackling poverty and investing in education from early childhood onwards, the BC government has earmarked $1 billion of this year’s surplus to pay down the public debt faster, and another $400 million for the so-called ‘Prosperity Fund’ that was supposed to be filled with revenues from LNG, which haven’t materialized.
Social infrastructure is the foundation upon which our economy is built. The research is clear: a healthy society is more productive, and a more-equal society is healthier and better educated. We need the talents, creativity and experience of all British Columbians to build the kind of province we all want to live in.
- Gary Bloch expands on his analysis as to how we'd all be better off in a society which eradicated poverty. And Dan Kopf points out new research showing that cash transfers to poor people tend to lead to far healthier lifestyles for the recipients - including a reduction in purchases of alcohol and tobacco products.

- Guy Dauncey offers a range of solutions to Canada's housing crisis. And Sam Cooper reports on Adam Ross' study of the widespread shell ownership of Vancouver real estate which is making it difficult to manage the housing market.

- Robin Whitaker makes the case for the Libs to keep their promise of electoral reform by delivering a system of proportional representation. Plenty of Star readers concur in the wake of Chantal Hebert's effort to spread blame elsewhere. And Andrew Coyne weighs in on the Libs' blatantly biased survey about electoral values.

- Finally, Cheryl Stadnichuk notes that Brad Wall's health care privatization is undermining universal access to care, while doing nothing to improve the province's cost picture due to the predictable loss of federal funding for pay-for-play services. 

Friday, December 09, 2016

Musical interlude

CHVRCHES - Down Side Of Me

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Hassan Yussuff and other labour leaders offer their take on how we can develop a more equitable global trade system:
The next challenge before us is to build on and improve all post-CETA trade and investment deals to ensure they meet a progressive trade model. We suggest several principles that should guide governments engaged in these negotiations.

First, civil society should be engaged, from the outset, in a democratic and transparent process. Agreements that are negotiated behind closed doors are bound to be viewed skeptically by citizens and provoke protest and social unrest.

Second, these agreements need to have iron-clad protections for public services. International treaties cannot be a short cut to privatizing valuable public services. Regulating services in the public interest cannot result in lawsuits between investors and states.

Third, these agreements need to allow for effective enforcement of labour and environmental standards. That includes sanctions in the case of violations of labour or environmental rights.

Finally, we need to emphasize the responsibilities of corporations and not just prioritize their rights. Eliminating dispute mechanisms granting special rights to foreign investors, which have proved disastrous in Canada, is an important first step toward that goal.
- Meanwhile, Dennis Howlett takes a look at the executive stock option loophole which the Libs are now preserving after promising to eliminate it as part of a more fair tax system. And Nicky Woolf reports on one intriguing example as to how inequality can be reduced through public policy, as Portland has passed a higher income tax applicable to corporations with disproportionate CEO compensation.

- Aaron Wherry explores the different meanings of "elites" which tend to result in confusion as to the real target of right-wing populist politics. And Michael Schwalbe highlights the challenges in speaking clearly about class, while pointing out the importance of framing a class analysis in terms of the end of exploitation.

- Jenna Russell and Maria Cramer write about the connection between grossly inadequate mental health systems and chronic homelessness. And Jennifer Saltman reports on Surrey's new pilot program to address those issues together.

- Finally, Bruce Campbell asks whether we've learned the lessons which should have been obvious from the Lac-M├ęgantic rail disaster.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Citizens for Public Justice laments the Libs' and Cons' joint effort to vote down the NDP's push for a national anti-poverty strategy. And Sean Speer and Rob Gillezeau make the case for an improved Working Income Tax Benefit which should be palatable across the political spectrum.

- CBC reports that Saskatchewan students are lagging behind their peers in all Canadian provinces in science, reading and math - and it's worth noting that this represents just another example of an obsession with standardized testing failing even on its own terms.

- Meanwhile, SASKforward is offering citizens a chance to have their voices heard and amplified through a process other than the ones run by the Sask Party government and its corporate benefactors.

- Robert Fife and Steven Chase report that the Libs' cash-for-access fund-raisers have explicitly been pitched as allowing people who can afford a maximum donation to buy the ear of cabinet ministers. And even the Globe and Mail isn't buying the Libs' excuses.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg discusses how the Libs' most recent survey represents nothing but a poorly-hidden effort to stifle electoral reform, while Fair Vote Canada offers a guide to avoid getting pushed toward the Libs' preference for non-proportional outcomes. And Rank and File interviews Charles Smith about labour's role in pushing for a more fair electoral system.

New column day

Here, on the crisis of liberal democracy around the globe - and how we face our own obvious risks in Canada.

For further reading...
- Yascha Mounk's research into the precarious state of democracy is discussed here by Amanda Taub. And Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz trace how a seemingly secure democracy can fall apart incrementally. 
- George Monbiot highlights the connection between the rise of radical bigots and the perception that our previous elected governments have ceded meaningful political control to the corporate sector.
- The appalling "lock her up" chants directed at Rachel Notley by Ezra Levant's rally for hate have been discussed plenty, including by Tyler Dawson, the Globe and Mail, Chantal Hebert, Tasha Kheiriddin, Danielle Paradis, Brent Rathgeber and Don Braid.
- Sarah Boon warns of the risk that Trumpism could take hold in Canada. And Jim Carr's threat to send in Canada's military to attack environmental and indigenous activists offers an indication of the Libs' own tendencies toward strongman governance. 
- Finally, Terry Glavin also examines the real dangers to democratic governance developing around the globe - while noting that the Libs' actions in dealing with the core promise of electoral reform may represent a make-or-break moment for Canada's democratic future.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Eshe Nelson interviews Richard Baldwin about the future of globalization and the possibility that the worst disruptions to workers are just beginning:
What happens to the chart on global income distribution during this phase of globalization?

It keeps going down. It will be disruptive in the G7, but instead of just in the manufacturing sector, it spreads to services. Only about 10-15% of the population works directly in manufacturing in the G7—the rest work in services. It will create great opportunities in many of the countries that have been left behind by earlier globalization, for instance almost all of sub-Saharan Africa and South America.

You say governments need to do more for the losers of globalization. How?

We have to look for inspiration from northern European countries who have comprehensive retraining, help with housing, help with relocation. Typically they have the unions, governments, and companies working together to try and keep the social cohesion. It doesn’t always work, but at least they try and most people feel that the government is helping them.

What about education? 

We need to change the education system so you spend less time when you are young learning to be hyper-specialized and more lifelong learning. The jobs that will still be here will require face-to-face skills and making networks of human interactions work. Telepresence and telerobotics won’t replace those.
- Patricia Cohen points out that wages have already been stagnant for far too many over the past few decades. And Owen Jones highlights the need for a progressive answer to a neoliberal economic model designed to limit any benefits to the wealthy few.

- Heather Whiteside discusses how the public stands to lose out from the free investor profits baked into the Libs' infrastructure bank scheme. And James Wilt points out that the Libs' privatization plans for ports will only increase the risks from oil shipping.

- Vanessa Blanch writes that the success of "housing first" pilot projects as a means of addressing homelessness still hasn't led to any sustained action. And Chris Hall reports on a needed push by 16 health organizations for mental health resources from all levels of government.

- Finally, the Star reminds us that Stephen Harper's politically-ordered attacks on charities have continued by the Canada Revenue Agency since he lost power - and calls for the Libs to put a much-needed end to them.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with reindeer.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Gary Bloch writes about the costs of poverty (and the small-minded attitude toward public supports which allows it to remain):
We also see the effects of poverty at home: the discomfort of living next to people who are struggling to survive, with the resulting anger and irritation this causes on both sides. Our children coming home from school talking about their friends who have to ask for help to go on a field trip or who hide their inadequate lunches out of shame.

To continue to avoid dealing with this situation is not only immoral, it makes no sense. This report highlights the negative side of continued poverty: poor health and lost productivity. But to read the report from another angle, it tells me that a society with no poverty would be healthier, happier, and easier to live in. We would also likely save money in the long run.

How do we get there? We know what needs to be done. There has been an endless stream of reports and commissions looking at how to address poverty. We have Toronto and Ontario poverty reduction strategies and are waiting for a federal version. We know we must address a lack of affordable housing or child care, inadequate social assistance rates, and the rise of precarious work. We are pretty sure climate change is making the situation worse.

But the biggest barrier to ending poverty is the political orthodoxy we have lived by for the past 40 or more years, grounded in austerity: that good government is small government, that social programs must shrink, and that taxes are evil. It is over this period that we have seen the most dramatic rise in poverty rates and income inequality, with a concentration of wealth in the top 1 per cent. It’s time for a rethink.

I’d be more than happy to pay more taxes if I knew that money would help my community to be healthier and happier. I feel good and hopeful when provincial and federal leaders talk about initiatives that will make life easier for those who are most vulnerable, and I am more than happy to put my money where my mouth is.
- Simon Enoch reminds the Sask Party that contrary to its austerian instincts, gratuitous cuts in a downturn serve only to make matters worse.

- David Morley discusses the need to measure our well-being in terms of health and other standards of living, rather than focusing merely on GDP. And Wenonah Bradshaw looks to Tommy Douglas' farewell speech as NDP leader as to the importance of mobilizing our resources for the good of people.

- Sheryl Ubelacker reports on the recommendations from a citizens' panel favouring a national pharmacare program to lower health costs and improve outcomes.

- Daniel Tencer follows up on David MacDonald's research into the costs of boutique tax giveaways to the wealthy which could fund the most important repairs to Canada's social safety net several times over. And the Star's editorial board offers its own call to end tax breaks for the rich.

- Finally, the BBC reports that even Mark Carney is offering a warning about public disillusionment with corporate-friendly economics - even if his goal in the process is to relieve just enough pressure to keep things substantially as they are, rather than to seriously reexamine whether our primary goal should be to facilitate capital accumulation in the first place.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- David MacDonald examines how Canada's tax expenditures systematically favour higher-income individuals over the people who actually have a reasonable claim to public support:
This study finds that Canada’s personal income tax expenditures disproportionately benefit the rich and cost the federal treasury nearly as much as it collects in personal income tax. The study examines the income distribution of benefit for the 64 personal income tax expenditures for which there is available data. Out of the 64 tax expenditures, 59 of them provide more benefit to the top 50% of income earners than the bottom half, with the largest share going to the richest 10%. The cost of those 59 expenditures totalled $100.5 billion in 2011 alone. 
And given the Libs' broken promise to act against the stock option loophole, there's reason for serious skepticism that their review of the tax system will address the most obvious favouritism for the rich.

- Daniel Tencer reports on the spread of inequality and low-wage work in Canada. And Tom Parkin discusses Peter Julian's work to build more inclusive growth as a priority both for the federal NDP and in the wider political system.

- Joe Fantauzzi studies the closely-related issue of precarious workers' reliance on predatory payday lenders, due largely to a lack of access to basic financial services which most people take for granted. And Bob Weber reports on research showing that the Nutrition North program - which tries to deal with access to food solely through subsidies rather than regulation - is doing little to promote either the availability or affordability of basic groceries.

- Finally, Moira Weigel documents the carefully-fabricated phantom enemy that is "political correctness" - and how a figment of right-wing demagogues' imaginations has become a powerful force in shaping electoral outcomes.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Simon Enoch and Christine Saulnier examine how P3s are used to privilege corporate profits over the public interest:
The CCPA has published numerous publications on the question of P3s because they have been so pervasive and so riddled with problems. There have been books written. Our organization has even published helpful guidelines outlining the 10 questions that should be asked AND fully answered before entering into these partnerships. Never are all of these questions asked and rarely are they fully answered.

In November of last year, one such report, Privatization Nation, chronicled some of the most egregious failures of privatization in Canada in recent years. We thought this to be conclusive evidence that despite 30 years of experience governments rarely seem to get privatization right, and more often get it wrong with astonishing regularity.

Despite this record, the potential bonanza awaiting private contractors through the federal government’s public infrastructure bank has brought many of the same, discredited arguments in favour of P3s back into public debate. The most pervasive of late appears to be the argument that P3 contracts provide the requisite discipline for all players to ensure on-time and on-budget completion, while constraining politicians from meddling in project design and management. However, a recent study in the UK by the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants  found no evidence that P3s were more successful at delivering projects on time because they were P3s; rather they succeeded because of the detailed way the contracts were written. There is no reason why the same sort of pre-negotiations and safeguards could not be applied to projects financed in the conventional public build model. Indeed, it begs the question of why such conditions were not previously made in traditional public procurement contracts.
The bottom-line is this: public services and infrastructure are best financed and delivered by the public sector. Private industry has a key part to play in the design and construction of public infrastructure under contract. The ‘partnerships’ become much more complex and fraught when those contracts are expanded to include private financing and operations.

P3 contracts are by their nature undemocratic — commercial confidentiality and the protection of a private corporation’s private interests are convenient political tools used to trump the public interest EVERY TIME.
- Rich Puchalsky questions how neoliberalism has become a dominant economic and social paradigm when only a few (however well-resourced) people have any attachment to it, while lamenting the lack of an obvious left alternative. And Andrew Jackson argues that any changes from private-sector digital technology will fall short of leading to economic benefits that are either fairly shared or particularly substantial.  

- Meanwhile, Barry Ritholtz follows up on Seattle's increased minimum wage and finds - as pointed out by Jackson - that improved wages at the bottom of the income spectrum led to economic growth.

- Brett Norman reports on a Baltimore pediatric clinic's noteworthy work in systematically checking and applying social determinants of health as a basis for patient care.

- Finally, Chris Welzel and Russell Dalton examine the effects of citizen allegiance and assertiveness - and find that while both contribute to improved governance, citizens can achieve more improvement in policy outcomes through critical thinking and questioning than through passive obedience.