Saturday, February 04, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- George Monbiot examines how politics in the UK and the U.S. are dominated by unaccountable corporate money. And Stephen Maher and B.J. Siekierski report that both the Libs and Cons are fully on board - as Rona Ambrose managed to take (however justified) umbrage at Justin Trudeau's vacation on a private island while she herself was being entertained on a billionaire's yacht.

- Alex Hemingway points out the similarities between the corporate infrastructure giveaways being planned by Trudeau and Donald Trump alike. And Paul Krugman discusses the particular menace raised by Trump in dealing with the world:
(T)his administration doesn’t seem prepared on any front. Mr. Trump’s confrontational phone calls, in particular, don’t sound like the working out of an economic or even political strategy — cunning schemers don’t waste time boasting about their election victories and whining about media reports on crowd sizes.

No, what we’re hearing sounds like a man who is out of his depth and out of control, who can’t even pretend to master his feelings of personal insecurity. His first two weeks in office have been utter chaos, and things just keep getting worse — perhaps because he responds to each debacle with a desperate attempt to change the subject that only leads to a fresh debacle.

America and the world can’t take much more of this. Think about it: If you had an employee behaving this way, you’d immediately remove him from any position of responsibility and strongly suggest that he seek counseling.
- Graham Readfeam exposes how the coal industry has turned its inaccurate talking points into the basis for far too many policy choices.

- The CP reports on yet another Tundra Energy oil spill in Saskatchewan - which should remind us how little claims about corporate responsibility have to do with reality.

- Finally, Deborah Aarts highlights the approach millenials take to the workplace - and notes that a reasonable expectation that they not be subjected to abuse is being read as being "coddled" by the higher-ups wanting to be able to exploit them.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Friday Evening Links

Assorted content for your Friday reading.

- Aditya Chakrabortty writes about the devastating combination of an urgent need for collective action on the key issues we face, and a deeply-entrenched political aversion to anything of the sort. And Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett highlight how the UK Cons are going out of their way to exacerbate the crisis of inequality while pointing out the only means to combat it:
Inequality is not driven by forces beyond our control but by politics and policy choices. The Resolution Foundation report says that the cuts in benefits to working-age people over the next four years are the main reason why inequality will rise. In the past, income differences widened because the incomes of the richest rose fastest. But the Resolution Foundation say that in future, living standards will fall among almost the entire bottom half of the working-age population. That will not simply make people more uncomfortable. It will damage democracy and the whole social fabric, making us a more antisocial society.
Previous major reductions of inequality have depended on powerful political movements. Inequality was very high in the 1920s but then declined – at first rapidly and then more slowly – from the 1930s until the 1970s. The modern rise in inequality started in about 1980 with neoliberal economics under Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and has now returned us to 1920s levels of inequality. This pattern of declining inequality in the middle decades of the 20th century reflects the rise and fall of the labour movement and the fear of communism. The rise and fall of trade union membership is, in one country after another, almost a mirror image of trends in inequality. As trade unions got stronger, inequality declined and vice versa.
Studies have shown that people in more equal societies are more willing to help each other, trust each other, and to take part in community life. The evidence also suggests that they are less out for themselves and more responsive to the common good. But with rising inequality all that fades: trust and community life decline and violence increases...
Some academics argue that it takes a catastrophe to reduce inequality. But there is no shortage of solutions. What we need, and what is now beginning to emerge, is a mass movement capable of driving egalitarian policies forward. Taxes and benefits should be more redistributive than they are, but above all we need to reduce inequalities in incomes before tax. 
- Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood examines what the Trump administration and the end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership mean for trade - particularly in creating a new opportunity to include labour and the environment in our trade discussions if anybody cares to do so.

- Rachel Grey offers ten reasons why Canada needs a national housing plan. And Adetayo Bero discusses how stable housing can be crucial to mental health treatment.

- Meanwhile, Sarah DelVillano rightly criticizes the trend toward criminalizing poverty and the poor.

- Finally, Allison Hanes warns against letting casual hate slide when it can far too easily give rise to violence. And Caroline Biotteau reminds us that the people responsible for protecting security have long been aware that the most imminent risk of that violence originates in right-wing bigotry - even as both government and media have gone out of their way to fabricate other threats.

Musical interlude

Three Drives - Greece 2000

Thursday, February 02, 2017

New column day

Here, on how we shouldn't be impressed with our political leaders' reactions to the bigotry on display in Donald Trump's Muslim ban and the Quebec City mosque shooting - but should see the popular response as a far more useful starting point for progress.

For further reading...
- I posted here on how Brad Wall has pushed exactly the same anti-immigrant messages underlying Trump's ban.
- Lama Mourad argues that Canada can't plausibly treat the U.S. as a safe destination for refugees who have been declared in advance to be persona non grata. And Sukanya Pillay looks in more detail at how we can respond to Donald Trump's Muslim ban.
- But Kathleen Harris reports on the Trudeau Libs' intention to do nothing whatsoever in the face of obvious humanitarian dangers.
- Jasmine Ramze Rezaee discusses how both provincial and federal politicians have stoked the anti-Muslim prejudice that led to the Quebec City shooting. And Rachel Lau reports on the spate of hate crimes that followed it.
- Finally, Shaun King offers a U.S. perspective on the mosque attack, while rightly arguing that injustice anywhere needs to be recognized and fought everywhere.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Andrew Coyne and Rob Mason each discuss Justin Trudeau's broken promise of a fairer electoral system. Chantal Hebert observes that the commitment itself - however frequently and fervently repeated - looks to have been little more than a cheap campaign prop. And Karl Nerenberg highlights how the Libs sucked in "strategic" voters with a promise they've done nothing but try to avoid keeping, while Ethan Cox places the false hope of electoral reform within a pattern of Lib lies.

- Andre Picard comments on the key issues which need to be addressed in Canadian health care - and particularly the importance of properly defining and funding medically necessary services, rather than letting user fees serve as a barrier to access.

- Carmen Lawrence asks who's really running Australia at a time when government choices seem to be oriented solely toward enriching corporate supporters:
It’s clear Australians are increasingly wary of the power of big business; in the latest post-election survey by researchers at the Australian National University, 74% responded “yes” to the proposition that “big business has too much power”, with 56% (up from the last survey) agreeing that “government is run for a few big interests”.
In the face of frequent revelations about corporate wrongdoing and corruption – including participation in foreign bribery, accelerating levels of tax avoidance and evasion, fraudulent misrepresentation of financial products, systematic underpayment of wages, and environmental vandalism – governments, state and federal, have not responded with robust measures to deter such practices. Nor have they made good use of the powers they already have to take effective action, despite evidence of clear abuses of corporate power.  
- And Sarah Cox raises similar concerns in British Columbia, where the Clark Libs are engaged in a scorched-earth campaign to stifle critics while pushing the controversial (but business-friendly) Site C project to the point where the public can't vote to stop it.

- Finally, Elise Stolte reports on a positive development out of Edmonton's City Council, which has voted to apply a subset clause to private reports to make sure they can be publicly reviewed once information is no longer sensitive.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

On false change

The Libs have made it official that they're breaking their promise of electoral reform with no reason other than their own blinkered refusal to acknowledge the consensus in support of a more proportional system. But particularly in light of Justin Trudeau's past claims that all anybody really wanted was a change in government, let's remember exactly what it is that made a change in government and a change in electoral systems seem so tightly tied together - and what Trudeau is ultimately endorsing.

After all, the Harper majority which came before Trudeau was built on a systematic appeal to the vulnerabilities of FPTP. Unlike any other electoral system under consideration, that system rewarded a strategy aimed at targeting 30% of voters as firm supporters and another 10% as marginal ones - no matter how much the rest of the country was left out.

That's how we ended up stuck with absolute power in the hands of a Prime Minister whose views were far to the right of a strong majority of the country - and with the disastrous governance that resulted.

Now, Trudeau has chosen to saddle us with the continued potential for exactly that type of perverse result on us for election cycles to come, even after making a core promise to change matters for the better.

So we've confirmed today that just because it suits his own purposes in the short term, Trudeau is perfectly happy with a system which could hardly be better designed to favour the next Stephen Harper to exploit its distortions. Which means that in addition to not delivering the real change he promised Trudeau is personally trying to ensure we're stuck with more of the same to come.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Peter Martin reports on the Australia Institute's recent study showing that corporate tax levels have little to do with foreign investment:
New research ridicules the Prime Minister's claim that cutting the company tax rate will boost foreign investment, pointing out that almost all of Australia's foreign investment applications already come from countries with much lower tax rates.

The analysis by the Australia Institute finds that 97 per cent of the applications to Australia's foreign investment review board come from countries with lower company tax rates. By value, 71 per cent of applications come from countries with lower rates.

"All of this raises the question – if Australia is already successful at attracting foreign investment why would we give tax cuts to foreigners?" said the report's author David Richardson, a senior research fellow at the self-described progressive think tank.

"History shows that when Australia's company tax rates were adjusted in the past, foreign investment did not go the way expected. When the rate climbed to 49 per cent in the 1980s there was a rise, not a drop in investment."
- Dennis Gruending challenges Chrystia Freeland's unquestioning devotion to free trade agreements which haven't benefited anybody other than the wealthy few in practice. Patrick McDonnell writes about the effects of NAFTA and its possible repeal on Mexico - featuring the observation that the pattern of workers seeing little benefit from a corporate-driven trade deal applies just as much to the country which started with the lowest wages. And the ITF highlights how a trade deal with China may lock in ongoing abuses against workers.

- Rank and File provides a handy mythbusting guide to the effects of a more fair minimum wage.

- Finally, Jordon Cooper offers a reminder that more strict rules against panhandling don't do anything to change the social factors which drive it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Benched cats.


So which of these quotes conflating immigration with terrorism is from the bigoted autocrat provoking protests around the world for his widely-acknowledged lack of human decency...
[The leader] is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering [his country] until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.
[The leader] stated, "Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life."
...and which one is from the premier currently trying to get in front of the parade headed in the opposite direction only when it suits his political interests?
[If] even a small number of individuals who wish to do harm to our country are able to enter [it] as a result of a rushed refugee resettlement process, the results could be devastating. The recent attacks in Paris are a grim reminder of the death and destruction even a small number of malevolent individuals can inflict upon a peaceful country and its citizens.
[My jurisdiction] will be fully supportive of any delays in resettling...refugees in order to ensure appropriate screening and security checks...
I note that refugee resettlement is one of the items to be discussed at our meeting next week. With that in mind, I am asking that you would have the appropriate officials provide [leaders] with a complete intelligence briefing on the terrorist threat that exists [in our country] today and on how the federal government plans to ensure that no ISIS-trained operatives are able to enter [the country], either as part of a refugee resettlement or in any other manner.
Suffice it to say that Byelection Brad's sudden claim to be an advocate against bigotry is about as credible as Donald Trump's past bloviations about defending the public from the greed of the financial sector.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Terry Glavin argues that Canada's response to Donald Trump's Muslim ban needs to consist of more than the platitudes offered by Justin Trudeau, while Tom Parkin and Chantal Hebert point out that even Trudeau's words to date have unduly downplayed Trump's dangers. And Andrew Coyne writes about the common hatred behind multiple attacks on Muslims - along with the politicians and pundits who have encouraged it.

- Meanwhile, Owen Jones writes that it will take a strong popular resistance to answer Trump's abuses of power. Martin Lukacs notes that the same principle applies to pushing for more humane refugee and immigration policies in Canada, while Heather Libby makes a compelling case that we need to offer more than thoughts and prayers in response to the Quebec mosque attack. And PressProgress highlights Ed Broadbent's suggestions as to how to make a difference.

- Jeremy Nuttall reminds us that Trump isn't the only recent U.S. president to facilitate the use of torture - and that Canada is still waiting on the Libs to reverse the Harper Cons' willingness to play along.

- Robin Sears discusses the importance of journalists in exposing and countering the power of a corrupted state.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg examines Donald Trump's selective interest in limited government - as he's fully dedicated to using the power of the state to enrich himself and his corporate cronies. And Charles Pierce takes a look at the consequences - both intended and unintended - of the demolition of a functional regulatory system.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Branko Milanovic offers his take on how the U.S.' version of liberalism paved the way for Donald Trump and his ilk both by buying into corporatist assumptions about success, and by treating electoralism as the basis for political organization:
In economics, liberalism espoused “neo-liberalism” which was the replacement economic ideology for social-democracy. It championed, especially under the Clinton-Blair duo, financial liberalization, much smaller welfare state, and so-called “meritocracy” which essentially meant the ability of the rich to place their kids into the best schools out of which 90% would graduate and thus “meritocratically” claim later in life huge wage premiums. Free trade agreement privileged, as Dean Baker has written, the interests of the rich in advanced economies through protection of patents and intellectual property rights and with scant or no attention to labor rights.
Corruption.  A corollary of this hyper-economicism in ordinary life was the corruption of the elites who espoused the same yardstick of success as everybody else: enrichment by all means. Avner Offer documents this shift in his analysis of where social-democracy went astray with “New Labor” and “New Democrats”. The corruption of the political class, not only in the West but in the entire world, had a deeply corrosive and demoralizing effect on the electorates everywhere.  Being politician became increasingly seen as a way to acquire personal riches, a career like any other, divorced from any real desire either to do “public service” or to try to promote own values and provide leadership. “Electoralism”, that is doing anything to be elected, was liberalism’s political credo. In that it presaged the populists.
Pensée unique. Liberalism introduced a dogmatic set of principles, “the only politically correct way of thinking” characterized by identity politics and “horizontal equality” (no differences, on average, in wages between men and women, different races or religions) which left actual inequality go unchecked. A tacit hierarchy was introduced, where the acceptance of these watered-down principles of equality combined with economic success, was the requirement to be “non-deplorable”. Others, those who did not do well economically or did not adhere to all the tenets of the mainstream thinking, were not only failures but morally inferior.
- John Cavanagh points out that free trade negotiations ultimately have far less to do with the relative bargaining power of the countries at the table, than with generally stacking the deck for businesses against people in all jurisdictions involved.

- Sarah Kendzior discusses the fallout of Trump's election, with even employees within the national park service being turned into enemies of the state for failing to devote themselves solely to the promotion of the president.

- Dylan Matthews writes about the cruelty which forms the animating principle behind Trump's refugee ban, while Benjamin Wittes is struck by the combination of malevolence and incompetence.  And Stephen Smith reports on a call for Canada to do the least it ought to - which is to end an agreement which bars refugees merely because they've set foot in what's supposed to be the safe haven of the U.S.

- And finally, George Lakoff offers one example as to how to start reframing the choices we face: rather than accepting a corporate-focused assumption that regulations represent "red tape" to be trashed at the first opportunity, we should treat them as essential protections from corporate misdeeds.