Saturday, December 31, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your year.

- Michelle Chen writes that wealth inequality and social stratification are only getting worse in the U.S. And Edwin Rios and Dave Gilson chart the diverging fates of the top .01% which is seeing massive gains, and the rest of the U.S.' population facing continued income and wealth stagnation.

- Noah Smith offers his theory as to why low interest rates haven't resulted in promised corporate investment, noting that capital has effectively been rationed by entry barriers rather than going to new development where it might have served some useful purpose.

- Markham Hislop's wish for the new year is for Canada's fossil fuel industry to respect people enough to engage with political and environmental reality, rather than insulting the public by glossing over our changing energy options. Derek Leahy discusses how a modernized transportation system could make substantial progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

- Joan Bryden reports on the federal government's underfunding of First Nations mental health services which is forcing some families to give up their children in order to allow for access to needed treatment. And Monika Dutt comments on the dangers of federal health care funding being a matter of province-by-province fragmentation rather than national standards.

- Finally, Ben Kentish reports on the UK's increase in homelessness caused by a combination of austerian housing policy and soaring rental rates. And Leilani Farha discusses why housing should be treated as a matter of needs and rights rather than profit opportunities:
What animates those in the business of housing is the idea that housing is a matter for the financial elite: a place to park surplus capital to maximise wealth, with little concern or return for people struggling to live in dignity with a decent, affordable roof over their head. This engenders inequality and exclusion and takes out the social function of housing from the equation.

The virtual silence about this type of opportunism and its implications reflects the world in which we live. The more housing is dominated by corporate and financial elites who interact with it as an asset from which to reap a profit, with scant regulations, the more people who most need human rights protections are denied access: pushed to the peripheries because they cannot afford to live in cities, or removed from their homes and rendered homeless to make way for those with economic clout.

For those pushed out, housing is not about financial securitisation. It’s about securing the right to life. They describe their experiences in terms of their struggle for dignity; they articulate their circumstances as a denial of their humanity and their human rights.
In so many ways housing is about human life, dignity and humanity. Fundamental human rights. How do we reconcile that with the dominant idea of housing as a commodity owned by faceless, nameless corporate elites who are left unaccountable to human rights obligations?

As we say goodbye to 2016 and look forward to a new year, we need to re-embrace housing for its fundamental dimensions – its social value as a place necessary for human wellbeing, where people raise families, build communities and participate in civic life. And we need to sell that notion of housing back to our governments to derail the collision course between human rights and investor interests.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Musical interlude

Delerium feat. JES - Stay

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Sam Gindin discusses the future of labour organizing in the course of reviewing Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Guilded Age:
(W)e have been struggling with how to combine building the union with raising larger, more political questions. One modest element of this, especially but not only in the public sector, is to confront the apparent constraint of fiscal budgets on what is possible and run educationals for workers on how to read budgets technically and how to understand them politically.

But the larger point is that even the best and most community-rooted unions cannot change the world by themselves and so are confined to the limits of operating under capitalism. Unions can educate about elite and local power but focusing their education on capitalism as a system rarely occurs. They can create organic leaders but not necessarily lead them to the next step of becoming organic socialist leaders. They can support political parties but do not ask what role workers and unions might have in transforming capital states to socialist states. Such things — all vital to dealing with working-class power — can only be tackled within or alongside an institution with a broader and longer-term perspective: a coherent socialist tendency or party.
- Andrew Mitrovica laments the spread of right-wing populism over the past year. And Keman Dervis warns about the dangers of corporate short-term thinking, while Frank Clemente points out the futility of relying on corporate handouts as a basis for economic development.

- But on the brighter side, Harry Leslie Smith offers a hopeful perspective that collective decency will win out over anti-social impulses in the end.

- Peter Goffin reports on the urgent need to make mental health supports available to Canadians without a price tag. And Trevor Young sets out a few suggestions from doctors to improve our current health care system.

- Finally, Idealistic Pragmatist makes a welcome (if brief) return to highlight the need to take people's public contributions seriously regardless of whether they need to use a pseudonym in offering them.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

New column day

Here, on the need for progressive leaders and activists alike to build connections beyond borders and party lines to combat a reactionary movement which spans the globe.

For further reading...
- Sam Kriss discusses how the systematic stifling of the left has given rise to the toxic politics of the right.
- Demi Lee points out why the environmental movement has every reason to fear the new pipeline alliance of Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump.
- Rowena Mason and Peter Walker report on Barack Obama's potshots at Jeremy Corbyn, together with Corbyn's response.
- Andrew Prokop examines the contest between Keith Ellison and Tom Perez for chair of the Democratic National Committee - and notes that it largely stands to exacerbate the divide between primary supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
- Julia Rampen highlights some of the connections between Trump, Nigel Farage and the rest of the right-wing echo chamber spanning both sides of the Atlantic.
- Finally, in pointing out the importance of working collectively toward common goals, I'll also note the danger of letting outside voices create splits where none exist - and Gillian Steward's attempt to paint disagreement on a single policy as an irreparable faultline within the NDP fits into that category. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Jonathan Chait sees Larry Kudlow's claim that "Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption!" as an all-too-accurate statement of the belief system underlying Donald Trump's presidency:
What has been exposed is not only the lie at the heart of Trump’s campaign, but a delusion embedded in conservatism itself. Conservatives like to imagine that their policy represents a challenge to the power structure, which they see as “crony capitalism,” a form of corruption threatened by their free-market ideas. The failures of the Bush administration (which, in fact, followed the tax-cutting, deregulatory agenda that conservatives had promised would usher in prosperity) were dismissed as the byproduct of the administration’s departures from market purism. Bush and the Washington Republicans allowed power and wealth to corrupt them, the argument went. As Bush’s popularity plunged, conservatives lacerated their party with polemics like Matthew Continetti’s “The K Street Gang,” which depicted the GOP as a self-enriching elite.

The conceptual distinction between the good kind of wealth, earned through the free market, and the bad kind, earned through political favoritism, is an absolutely vital one for right-wing intellectuals. And yet Trump is showing how easily it collapses in practice. Conservatives have treated a first family using the powers of office to enrich itself — not theoretically or in the future but right now, on an ongoing basis — as, at worst, a distraction or a problem of optics. In practice, conservatives share Kudlow’s belief that a government of and by the rich is necessarily virtuous.
- And Alana Semuels notes that Trump's victory may represent an end to the theory that the economy largely dictates electoral results, as partisanship seems to have far outweighed economic realities in influencing a decisive number of votes.

- Nick Falvo discusses the importance of taking social factors into account in developing housing policy. And Jay Walljasper highlights the importance of place as a determinant of health, while recognizing that some fairly simple steps can make a substantial difference improving how one's location influences one's well-being

- Erik Loomis highlights how garment workers in Bangladesh are trying to push for some of the minimal gains promised to be the result of globalized supply chains - and being met with state violence and firings as a result. And Deirdre Fernandes writes about the link between unemployment rates and suicide levels.

- Finally, Jerry Dias offers his take on what we can try to accomplish in 2017 after a year all too often marked by disappointments and worse.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Elephantine cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- David Brin examines the crucial role the public sector plays in driving economic development - as well as the disturbingly large movement seeking to end any further progress.

- Anna Gorman reports on California's ambitious plans to improve the health and social welfare of its most vulnerable residents. And Kate Porter reports on a citizen-driven effort to bring Ontario's basic income pilot to Smiths Falls - though it's sad that the effort is needed as a response to a dismissive town council vote.

- Mike De Souza, Robert Cribb and Marco Oved point out that in addition to allowing a bank which systematically broke the law to remain anonymous, FINTRAC gave the lobbying arm of Canada's financial industry a heads-up to prepare for the public fallout.

- Steven Chase reports on Daniel Turp's much-needed court challenge to the Libs' claim to the power to approve arms sales (such as the export of tanks to Saudi Arabia) with no regard for the human rights consequences. And it's telling that the government response is not just to claim to have considered the abuses expected to follow from the Saudi sale, but to argue that Stephane Dion is fully entitled to ignore them.

- Finally, Bal Brach reports on the sudden cut in privately-sponsored Syrian refugees being allowed to enter Canada in 2017 - signalling that the Libs' interest in the well-being of people fleeing a war zone was limited to their post-election PR campaign.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Jared Bernstein argues that the limited stimulus provided by tax cuts for the rich is far from worth the overall costs of exacerbating inequality and damaging public revenues:
I’m encountering progressives who are compelled to be at least somewhat supportive of wasteful, regressive tax cuts, like those proposed by Trump, or the ones I just wrote about in Kansas, that happen to spin off some positive fiscal impulse. While we’re closing in on full employment, there’s still slack in the job market, such FI could help absorb remaining slack.

That’s true, but there are two relevant questions: bang for the buck (multipliers), and the impacts of the cost of the tax cuts.

The Kansas cuts–particularly the zeroing out of the pass-through income–are instructive as these cuts have very low bang-for-buck in terms of jobs or incomes for middle and lower income folks. They just lower taxes for those who are already “highly liquid,” i.e., they’ve got a bunch of money already and giving them more shouldn’t be expected to boost spending (C) or investment (I) much. And since states must balance their budgets, they constrain G as well.

In terms of poor targeting, Trump-style cuts are similarly lame in terms of growth effects, as I discussed recently re the GW Bush tax cuts in the early 2000s. However, because they involve deficit spending–as I’m sure you’ve seen, the federal gov’t can run deficits–they will generate some positive FI, which we could use.

But at what cost? The opportunity costs are twofold. First, there’s the cost of tapping small versus larger multipliers: were team Trump to spend the money on infrastructure or target those with high consumption propensities, the FI would be stronger (btw, it should be noted that multipliers are smaller when the Fed’s raising rates, albeit slowly and by small increments, than when they’re lowering them).

Second, “permanent” tax cuts will mean a worsening of the revenue shortfall I’ve long worried about (the scare quotes are there because the R’s may build some BS cliff into their tax plan to accommodate arcane budget rules, but the intention is permanence). That will provide an excuse for whacking Medicaid, Medicare, Social Sec, and much other spending that’s important to the poor and middle-class. And yes, those folks are income constrained, so that part of ‘G’ gets spent and feeds back into growth.
- Danielle Ivory, Ben Protess and Griff Palmer point out how the public interest suffers when necessary infrastructure is turned into a corporate profit centre.

- Judith Lavoie discusses how the secrecy around the tar sands has made it nearly impossible for communities to plan for effective spill responses. And Genesee Keevil explores the truly unmitigated disaster that is the Yukon's Faro mine site as an example of what's left behind when a poorly-regulated resource extraction industry leaves the public with the bill to clean up behind it.

- Craig Offman and Nathan Vanderklippe report that the Libs' cash-for-access schemes look to include massive profits for the bundlers involved, as the asking price for face time with Justin Trudeau far exceeds the individual donation limit. And Dermod Travis discusses the big-money politics which the Clark Libs want to continue in British Columbia.

- Finally, Lana Payne writes about the need to push back against bullying politics in order to change them.

[Edit: fixed typo.]