Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson comment on the moral and practical harm done by continued inequality:
Inequality matters because, as a robust and growing body of evidence shows, the populations of societies with bigger income differences tend to have poorer physical and mental health, more illicit drug use, and more obesity. More unequal societies are marked by more violence, weaker community life, and less trust. Inequality also damages children’s wellbeing, reducing educational attainment and social mobility.
You might think that evidence of harm, alongside the growing concerns of world leaders, academics, business, civil society, and government would be enough to turn this problem around. But from our perspective as social epidemiologists working on inequalities, the record on tackling health inequalities does not inspire optimism. Decades of research has led to a consensus among public health academics and professionals that we need to tackle the structural determinants of health if we want to reduce health inequalities; yet this has not happened and health inequalities have not diminished. In many cities in the UK and US, for example, we continue to see life expectancy gaps of five to 10 years, and occasionally 15 to 20 years, between the richest and poorest areas.

The long term failure, even of ostensibly progressive governments, to tackle these glaring injustices is perhaps one of the reasons why public opinion has swung so strongly away from the established political parties. And the public’s sense of being left behind will only be exacerbated by the negative health effects of austerity, which are starting to emerge in our health statistics.
During the last generation, economic growth ceased to improve health, happiness, and the quality of life in rich countries. Now, more than ever, we need an inspiring vision of a future capable of creating more equal societies that increase sustainable wellbeing for all of us and for the planet.
- On that front, Andrew MacLeod examines how British Columbia's disability income assistance is nowhere near enough to allow people to live with security and dignity. And Lynne Fernandez and Simon Enoch write that Brad Wall and Brian Pallister seem determined to inflict austerity measures which will make matters even worse for people already facing an uphill battle to get by in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

- David Cay Johnston highlights how Donald Trump's economic policy looks to instead reflect nothing more than allowing the corporate sector to shamelessly fleece the public without repercussions. And Sean McElwee, Jesse Rhodes, and Brian Schaffner discuss how big money distorts the U.S.' political system.

- Finally, Jesse Winter reports on today's protests against Justin Trudeau's broken promise of electoral reform, while PressProgress weighs in on the unprecedented 100,000 signatories to Nathan Cullen's petition demanding the Libs live up to their commitments. John Ivison notes that Trudeau's tone-deafness is making him a punchline for progressive Canadians, while Greg Squires examines the bridges he's burned among core voting groups. But Karl Nerenberg argues that the greatest danger arising out of the preservation of first-past-the-post is to Canadian democracy, not merely to the Libs' political fortunes.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Musical interlude

Tame Impala - Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Bruce Campbell points out how Donald Trump's blind hatred toward any type of regulation can impose costs in Canada and elsewhere to the extent we're bound by trade deals which make "harmonization" an expected standard. And Pia Eberhardt recognizes that there's no point in locking ourselves into the CETA as a response to Trump's view of trade - though that excuse should ring particularly hollow given that the same voices pushing it were demanding exactly the same corporate privileges when Barack Obama was setting the U.S.' trade policy.

- Meanwhile, the Tax Justice Network highlights the latest revelations from the Panama Papers showing that thousands of U.K. intermediaries have been facilitating offshore tax evasion.

- Sheila Block examines the effects of Ontario's increased taxes on the 1%, and concludes that they substantially increased public revenues without doing anything to affect gross incomes.

- The Star's editorial board makes the case for Canada to suspend its "safe third party" agreement with the U.S. until there's some reason to think refugees are actually going to receive a fair hearing under the Trump administration.

- Finally, Tom Parkin writes that Justin Trudeau's broken promise of electoral reform was exactly what made him seem different from his failed predecessors. And Laurin Liu calls out Trudeau for using women as political cover for his most dubious choices.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Simon Enoch explains why the Sask Party's plans to inflict an austerian beating until economic morale improves is doomed to failure:
It is now abundantly clear that the Saskatchewan government’s “transformational change” agenda is in reality a not-so-subtle euphemism for provincewide austerity in response to the current economic downturn. Premier Wall’s recent comments suggesting “very deep cuts” to education, health care, municipal revenue sharing and civil service salaries make it clear that the government’s plan for the economy is to “cut its way to growth.”

The problem with this plan is that it is exactly the worst possible course of action to take while the province is still mired in economic stagnation.

As a latecomer to economic downturn, Saskatchewan has the advantage of being able to assess the efficacy of policy responses by those who have gone before us, as national and state-level governments across North America and Europe have sought to effectively respond to the economic downturn inaugurated by the 2008 financial crisis. What this wealth of examples clearly demonstrates is that austerity measures undertaken during an economic downturn have the perverse effect of prolonging economic stagnation, increasing unemployment, exacerbating deficits and hindering economic recovery.
In addition to the economic argument against austerity, there is also a moral one that governments must consider. Austerity assumes that everyone shares in the pain of cuts equally. This is simply not true. Given that austerity measures primarily target public spending for programs and services, the effect will be to punish those who rely on these programs and services far more than those who do not — in particular the poorest and most vulnerable in the province. It seems particularly cruel to put the burden of cuts on those at the bottom of the income distribution who were least likely to have shared in the province’s prosperity during the boom period, and may have even been negatively impacted by the rising living costs associated with the boom years.

The sad truth is that the government relied far too much on inflated resource prices as a major source of revenue during the boom period. These resource revenues were effectively used to subsidize tax cuts that with the end of the commodity boom now appear unwise and unsustainable. The decline of revenues now has the government contemplating certain tax increases. As the government considers new sources of revenue, we would ask the government to consider the moral argument of austerity — ensuring that those least able to absorb tax increases are not asked to bear the majority of the burden for the rest of us.
The Saskatchewan government is in its current fiscal position because it made certain choices during the economic boom that have now come back to haunt us. The government needs to seriously consider the available evidence on austerity and recognize that the path it has set upon — while perhaps politically the easiest — is not necessarily the wisest.
- Meanwhile, Jeff Labine reports on some of the effect of the Sask Party's cuts - including limiting the ability of school divisions to work on ensuring higher graduation rates.

- But Geoff Leo's latest revelations about the Global Transportation Hub scandal signal that good advice to the Wall government from anywhere - including from officials pointing out the foolishness of lining donors' pockets at the public's expense - tends to be ignored and buried.

- Marc Lee highlights B.C.'s giveaway of natural gas resources. And Brad Plumer points out that solar energy is new far outperforming coal in generating jobs, while being well on its way to doing the same in terms of power sources.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom notes that Bill Morneau seems to be following the all-too-familiar pattern of confusing the concept of free money for rich people (and an attitude of "let them eat cake" for everybody else) with a viable economic plan. And Michal Rozworski goes into more detail about the bad ideas on tap from Morneau's hand-picked advisory council.

New column day

Here, expanding on this post about the Libs' electoral reform betrayal - and the likelihood that it will encourage future Stephen Harpers to exploit the distortions created by first-past-the-post.

For further reading...
- I've linked to plenty of other commentary on the Libs' broken promise here, here and here. And we can add new material from the Council of Canadians and Shawn Garbutt, along with a useful refresher from Max Fawcett.
- The Government of Canada page highlighting the problems with first-past-the-post was once here - though it (along with other related content) seems to have now been removed. But fortunately Jason Wagar has preserved it for posterity.
- And finally, the formal petition sponsored by Nathan Cullen pushing for the Libs to live up to their promise is here - and rapidly approaching its 100,000th signature.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Louis-Philippe Rochon writes that while American voters had to know what they'd get in casting their most recent ballots, far too many Canadians may have believed the Libs' promises of something else:
On this side of the 49th parallel, however, when Canadians elected Trudeau a little over 15 months ago, on Oct. 19, 2015, we were led to believe he was some sort of a progressive politician with respect to social and economic issues, which essentially is what got him elected.

What a difference a year makes.

In recent months Trudeau has behaved very little like a progressive economist and has instead embraced with great fanfare some oddly conservative policies. In doing so, has Trudeau revealed himself to be a conservative wolf in liberal clothing? If so, it would appear the fix is in: Canadians voted for one guy but got another.  It was the classic political bait and switch: the great Canadian hoodwink.
[Under a privatized structure,] any infrastructure project will easily cost twice as much over a 30-year period. In other words, for any project, Canadian taxpayers will end up holding the fiscal bag through higher fees and taxes, whereas the government could finance the project at much cheaper rates. This makes no economic sense, which raises the question, is the government doing this simply as a way of thanking their financial supporters?

There is a more sinister argument looming under all this, and it regards the role of public spending and the privatization of the state. Indeed, with all these musings about privatizing airports, ports and public spending, Trudeau is in fact championing the privatization of the state itself, robbing it further of its powers to create jobs and regulate unstable markets. This is clearly not what Canadians were expecting when they elected him last year.
- Christopher Majka highlights how Justin Trudeau's choice to break a core promise on electoral reform can only be explained by his taking Canadian voters for fools, while Scott Baker and Mark Dance write that it's bound to fuel voter cynicism. Tom Parkin discusses Trudeau's dishonesty on the issue, while Lawrence Martin emphasizes the damage the decision will do to Trudeau's core brand. And Karl Nerenberg points out how the retention of first-past-the-post is a gift to the right wing.

- Meanwhile, Michael Taube rightly observes that the Liberals' choice to nix electoral reform doesn't mean the issue will disappear. And Michael Morden and Michael Crawford Urban comment on the need for improved voter turnout as a means of ensuring better governance.

- Jugal Patel reports on a giant crack in Antarctica's ice shelf as yet another vivid reminder of the drastic effects of climate change.

- Finally, Andre Picard rightly questions why the Quebec City mosque massacre hasn't led to a discussion of gun control.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Floored cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Kevin Young, Tarun Banerjee and Michael Schwartz discuss how capital uses the exact tools it's working to take away from labour - including the threat of strikes - to impose an anti-social agenda on the public:
Capitalists routinely exert leverage over governments by withholding the resources — jobs, credit, goods, and services — upon which society depends. The “capital strike” might take the form of layoffs, offshoring jobs and money, denying loans, or just a credible threat to do those things, along with a promise to relent once government delivers the desired policy changes.

Government officials know this power well, and invest great energy and public resources in staving off fits by malcontent capitalists. The profoundly rotten campaign finance system is just one manifestation of business’s domination over government policy. The real power resides in the corporate world’s monopoly over the flow of capital.
Dewey’s analysis calls for the elimination of concentrated economic power — that is, the elimination of capital’s capacity to disrupt a nation by withdrawing investment. Only by targeting the “substance” of corporate power — rather than its shadow, the government — can major progressive change be achieved and sustained.

Expanding on this insight, we believe that progressive social movements should directly target business elites. They are the main enemies of change, but they also have the power to facilitate reforms if they face sufficient pressure. If movements can alter capitalists’ cost-benefit calculations, government action favorable to popular interests becomes much more likely.

Workers’ rights movements in the 1930s and civil rights struggles in the 1960s succeeded largely by exerting pressure on business owners, who eventually supported progressive policy reforms as a way of cutting their own losses. Business elites’ structural power was greatly mitigated — and in fact harnessed to movement goals — when activists imposed high enough costs.

Ultimately, the capital strike teaches us that reform is not enough. Power over investment brings power over the political process.
- Speaking of which, Bill Curry and Sean Silcoff report that Bill Morneau's hand-picked economic advisers are pushing the Libs to delay retirement for working Canadians.

- Jean Comte reports on the EU's efforts to develop a common list of tax havens - with Canada currently looking to be among the candidates for facilitating tax evasion.

- Jim Edwards examines how the UK's economy is only getting more unequal with time, due in large part to the gap between homeowners benefiting from soaring property prices and renters facing stagnant wages and higher costs.

- Toni Pickard argues that progressives should make the case for a fair and generous basic income to ensure that a policy receiving support across partisan lines isn't used to undermine the welfare state. And Poverty Free Saskatchewan's submission to SaskForward points out some transformational changes which could end poverty in the province.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board highlights why we shouldn't take a bare request to "trust us" as the basis for providing unaccountable power to a surveillance state. And Elizabeth Thompson reports on the use of public resources to monitor peaceful activists for an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Sarah-Taïssir Bencharif discusses her experience facing prejudice against Muslims in Canada. But Ashifa Kassam reports on the growing public response to violence, as communities across the country formed "rings of peace" around mosques during their prayers on Friday.

- Meanwhile, Maher Arar points out how Canada's security state has been built around Islamophobia. And Manisha Krishnan argues that any real security threat comes from the radical right.

- But then, Kyle Curlew makes the point that we should be more skeptical of the basis for an unaccountable and intrusive security state to begin with. And CSIS' wanton intrusions into personal privacy (which it can't even be bothered to document) look to reinforce the position that the only reasonable direction to pursue is that of dismantling baseless surveillance.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board writes that it's long past time for the federal government to stop breaking its promises and obligations to Canada's First Nations.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Claudia Chwalisz points out that in addition to relying on a distortionary electoral system, the Trudeau Libs' majority was built on a bubble which now seems likely to pop. Michael Harris wagers that Canadians will remember the broken core promise when they go to the polls in 2019. John Ivison highlights how Trudeau's personal choice to nix electoral reform feeds into exactly the cynicism which he claimed to want to end, while Aaron Wherry traces the shift from promising better to delivering the same old betrayal of the public trust. Alison documents some of Trudeau's past false statements about being open to something other than his own preferred system. And Stephen Tweedale and John Geddes expose the patent absurdity of the Libs' excuses for breaking a crucial commitment.

- Meanwhile, Brent Patterson notes that oil barons have had no problem getting their slightest whims catered to by Trudeau and his government - including by having an anticipated NAFTA renegotiation biased toward oil exports rather than any other public priority.

- Theda Skocpol offers a guide to rebuilding the U.S. Democratic Party which should serve as a useful checklist for progressive organizing elsewhere as well. And CBC reports on Elections Saskatchewan's report on the 2016 election - pointing particularly to the lack of voter turnout.

- Geoff Leo reports on still more evidence trickling out about the Saskatchewan Party's Global Transportation Hub scandal - this time confirming that the most damning decisions were made solely at the political level without the knowledge of the officials whose organizations were used to make land purchases.

- Finally, Ashley Cowburn reports on the UK Labour Party's move to study a basic income in advance of the next election.