Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Robert Reich comments on the absurdity of Donald Trump's plan to shovel yet more money toward a military-industrial complex and corporate profiteers who already have more than they know what to do with.

- Sara Fraser and Laura Chapin write that food insecurity is primarily an issue of insufficient income. And Psychologists for Social Change studies (PDF) the anticipated benefits of a basic income in reducing avoidable stressors.

- Carter Sherman discusses the detrimental health effects of climate change, while Benjamin Israel highlights the health damage caused by coal in particular. And CBC reports on Kirsten Zickfeld's warning that we're rapidly running out of time to limit global warming to manageable levels.

- Gloria Galloway reports on the Libs' new "you can't make me!" position on ending discrimination against indigenous people. And Doug Cuthand questions why Saskatchewan's First Nations are suddenly being deprived of their usual right of first refusal on Crown lands up for sale.

- Finally, Noah Smith examines David Autor's work in showing that "free trade" has failed to up to its billing:
Autor, like most top economists, was once an orthodox thinker on the trade issue. He had expected American workers would adjust well to the shock of Chinese imports, finding other jobs for similar wages after a short period of dislocation. That was largely what happened in the 1980s and 1990s in response to Japanese and European competition. Instead, he and his co-authors found that trade with China in the 2000s left huge swathes of the U.S. workforce permanently without good jobs -- or, in many cases, jobs at all.

This sort of concentrated economic devastation sounds like it would hurt not just people’s pocketbooks, but the social fabric. In a series of follow-up papers, Autor and his team link Chinese import competition to declining marriage rates and political polarization. Autor told me that these social ills make the need for new thinking about trade policy even more urgent...

So, I asked, how should trade policy be changed? Autor’s answers again surprised me. He suggested that the process of admitting China to the World Trade Organization back in 2000 should have been slowed down significantly. That would have given American workers and industries time to prepare for, and adjust to, China’s competitive onslaught. He also endorsed the border adjustment tax now being considered by Congress. That tax would probably benefit U.S. exporters at the expense of importers.

But Autor went quite a bit further. He told me that the U.S. government should focus attention on manufacturing industries, and even use industrial policy to bolster the sector.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Linda McQuaig discusses the need to fight fake news about Canada's health care system (and the corporate raiders trying to amplify it):
(I)t was with some pleasure last week that I watched as a Republican congressman tried to insist that Canadians routinely flock to the U.S. for health care, only to have MSNBC host Ali Velshi stop him dead in his tracks.

“Sir, I grew up in Canada,” Velshi declared. “I live in Canada. My entire family is in Canada. Nobody I know ever came to the United States for health care. I am sure you have a handful of stories about things like that. It is not actually statistically true.”

Whenever Americans start tinkering with their deeply dysfunctional health care system, we feel the reverberations up here, as right-wing commentators seek to denigrate our system of universal health care coverage, which they know sets a dangerous example.

With the ruling Republicans now poised to take health care coverage from 14 million Americans (eventually 24 million) and keep a straight face while insisting this is about increasing their “choice,” it’s worth reminding ourselves just how merciless, cruel (and stupid) so many of the Trump/Republican solutions truly are.

Health care is a particularly stark example, but it is symptomatic of the Republican keenness to fully embrace the private marketplace, even though that means abandoning vast numbers of their fellow citizens by the side of the road.
American commentators talk about how “complicated” reforming health care is. True, if you utterly reject the simple solution that works — a Canadian-style public system — it does become awfully complicated devising a solution that pleases the broader American public while also satisfying two radical extremists who together have the world’s largest fortune and a deep aversion to sharing.
- But Joyce Nelson examines Toronto's apparent interest in following Chicago's disastrous path toward privatizing parking as an example of foolish U.S. ideas can infiltrate Canadian politics.

- Crawford Kilian's review of Walter Schiedel's The Great Leveler points out that past reductions in inequality have largely arisen only in times of crisis, while wondering whether we can move past that trend. And on the bright side, Laurie Monsebraaten finds that Ontario's basic income pilot project is receiving massive public support - as well as questions as to why it isn't going further sooner.

- Jason Warick reports on the millions of dollars the Saskatchewan Party is burning on barely-used rural highways while slashing services for Saskatchewan's citizens. And Adam Hunter offers a look at the laid-off workers who seem to be the only people being forced to sacrifice for Brad Wall's poor governance.

- Finally, Brendan Kennedy writes about the reality of Canada's incarceration of immigrants - making for a particularly embarrassing contrast to Justin Trudeau's attempts to claim to offer opportunities for all.

Musical interlude

Omnia feat. Melissa Loretta - Halo

Thursday, March 16, 2017

New column day

Here, on the Saskatchewan Party's determination to make work more precarious - and pay and benefits harder to come by - in the public and private sectors alike.

For further reading...
- The history of the Skip the Dishes saga includes the government's plan for millions of dollars in handouts; the decision of the company not to bother following through on the deal, resulting in the cancellation of a cheque already sent out; the sale of the business to a British buyer; and most recently the uproar over an applicant being told that her questions about pay and benefits made her unfit for Skip the Dishes' "corporate culture".
- Among the other "sharing economy" actors facing needed regulatory scrutiny, see CBC's report on tax enforcement over eBay, Jeff Gray and Ross Marowits on the effort to bring Airbnb in line with housing and accommodation policy, and Mike Isaac's revelations about Uber's attempts to evade regulation.
- Again, Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja discussed the lack of stable work for new university graduates. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the continued abuses by Ontario employers who have already been caught violating employment standards.
- Meanwhile, the Wall government's plan to lay off building cleaners started in January - with observers noting that it wouldn't be expected to save money. And this week, word came out as to the 230 workers affected by having their jobs outsourced.
- Finally, in case anybody in government was actually interested in ameliorating the provincial deficit rather than attacking workers, Jason Warick has pointed out that areas including unnecessary health care usage and agricultural subsidies offer far more opportunities for savings. 

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Erica Johnson reports that the problem of bank employees being pushed to fleece customers (legality be damned) is common to all of Canada's major banks. And Lisa Wright reports that the result will be a national investigation. But it's appalling that it took anonymous reports to the media for systemic abuses to be noticed and addressed - particularly when an obvious alternative to leaving personal finances in the hands of a privileged few has been summarily dismissed without explanation.

- James Tapper discusses how the privatization of the UK's power market resulted in soaring rates for the public, and massive profits for the lucky (and well-connected) corporations involved.

- Meanwhile, Martyn Brown offers a detailed set of ideas to clean up British Columbia's pay-to-play political scene. And Matt Robinson reports on Christy Clark's refusal to protect renters from being gouged by her wealthy donors.

- Jacob Swenson-Lengyel argues that progressives shouldn't limit our scope to building a response to right-wing fringe movements when the general public is broadly in agreement with our values. And the Broadbent Institute introduces its Change the Game project to chart a course for social democracy in Canada.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert compares the Cons' leadership race built on anger and chaos to the NDP's developing on a foundation of shared values and policy choices. Jordan Foisy also reviews the NDP's first debate. And Peter Julian's contribution to the Ottawa Citizen focuses on the need to make Canada work for everybody, not only for elites.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Wanda Wyporska writes that growing inequality is primarily the result of political choices:
If it seems ridiculous that 1,000 people work harder or offer more value than 40 per cent of the population, that’s because it is.

This level of inequality isn’t natural or desirable, it’s not about fair competition between people of differing abilities, or about people’s relative ‘productive capacity’ or any of the myriad excuses offered by inequality apologists. It is true that certain, perhaps inevitable, changes to our economy and businesses have exacerbated inequality – we know for example, that the changing nature of jobs has, in part, led to greater inequality.

However, the real drivers of inequality have come from political choices. These include a sustained attack on trade unions and the role of collective bargaining in driving up low wages, a relentless cutting of high-rate tax levels paid by the wealthiest, and the wholesale attack on social security.

Unfortunately, our current Government appears to have committed to similar policies. A planned increase to the income tax threshold will benefit better-off households, as will the expected increase in the higher rate threshold. At the same time, the roll-out of Universal Credit will see many low-income households have their support cut. A recent report from the Resolution Foundation estimated these policies would see inequality increase to record levels by the end of the current parliament.

Inequality widens the rungs on the ladder, making it harder and harder for people to move up. Moreover, the fear of falling back and forfeiting social status is increased, creating additional pressures and stresses on us all, even the well-off. Worst of all, inequality makes it harder for people to understand and appreciate the lives of those on different rungs of the ladder to them. In effect, greater equality is the glue that binds us, and weakening this glue causes social relations to unravel.
- Alan Freeman discusses the many tax goodies oriented toward the wealthy which the Trudeau Libs have no apparent interest in eliminating. And Will Fischer and Barbara Sard note that the U.S.' spending on housing provides far more to wealthy property owners while doing virtually nothing for people who actually need assistance.

- Brent Patterson writes about Alberta's ban on for-profit plasma clinics, while wondering when other provinces will also work on taking the profit motive out of the supply of plasma. And Don Davies makes the case for a universal national pharmacare program.

- Finally, Mariam Baldeh points out how the harmful consequences of discrimination include poor health outcomes.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Monday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Jordon Cooper rightly argues that Brad Wall's plan to slash education will only doom Saskatchewan to be further trapped in boom-and-bust resource cycles. And Toby Sanger discusses (PDF) how Saskatchewan can get back on track without imposing cruel cuts on the people who can least afford them.

- Jason Warick reports on the community-based organizations who stand to see both reduced funding and increased needs as a result of the Wall government's austerity. And Sandro Contenta highlights how poorly-designed social supports can lead to worse results at a higher cost - featuring the sad example of children being placed in a foster home due to unsafe living conditions at a cost far greater than the price of repairing their grandmother's house.

- Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja note that in the face of designed precarity, even a university degree doesn't come close to ensuring access to stable employment. And Pamela Cornell identifies both economic uncertainty and health risks as the key reasons to demand a basic income.

- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall and Christo Aivalis offer their takes on the first NDP leadership debate. And Ed Broadbent challenges us to renew Canada's social democratic vision:
Social democracy can be defined as the full application of democratic and social justice principles, not simply to our political institutions, but also to our economy and society.

Social democrats believe in a market-based economy, but not in a market-shaped society. In addition to traditional liberal political rights, individuals have economic and social rights. These must be secured in part by taking some services such as health and education out of the market.

And genuine equality of opportunity requires a high level of substantive economic equality. This can only be achieved by redistributing wealth and income through taxation or by means of universal social programs, which are rights of citizenship.

Social democrats also support a strong government role in the economy to secure economic stability, full employment and decent, well-paid jobs and to counter concentrated corporate power. A more fair and efficient economy is built upon public regulation of the market, a diversity of forms of ownership, including public ownership, and worker representation on boards and other means of participating in economic decision-making through trade unions.
Celebrating past successes is clearly not enough. In a very real sense, social democracy will have to be fundamentally renewed if it is to regain momentum and be fully relevant to today’s challenges. This means, among other things, rebuilding social democracy as a social movement closely linked to other progressive forces in society; articulating an economic agenda that will regulate rather than abandon a globalized economy; and finding effective policy levers to create decent jobs for all, to promote greater equality, and to build an environmentally sustainable economy.

Leadership 2017: First Debate Review

One of the most important renewed challenges facing the federal NDP in the wake of its drop to third in Canada's party standings is that of earning positive public attention. And for the candidates and the party alike, yesterday's inaugural leadership debate served primarily as an important introduction.

Many viewers may have been relatively unfamiliar with the contenders. And they should have been able to develop a fairly strong idea where they're starting from in the leadership campaign.

Niki Ashton was obviously the most comfortable with the format (presumably helped by her having run in the 2012 race as well). And she presented an effective case for movement politics as a response to neoliberal economics, if leaving plenty of room for discussion as to what that will ultimately mean.

Guy Caron's campaign launch has focused on policy (particularly a basic income). But the first debate highlighted how that will fit into a wider campaign: he had a ready answer for many of the economic questions being raised, leaving him ample time to also level pointed criticism at the Trudeau Libs.

In contrast, Charlie Angus elected not to pursue the leader-of-the-opposition position which seemed a natural fit. Instead, he stayed soft-spoken, positive and folksy to good effect - raising the question of whether he may be able to run as the most likeable spokesperson for the values shared by all of the candidates.

And most interestingly, Peter Julian looks to have started the campaign by emphasizing what may be some relatively polarizing issues around pipelines. On paper, Julian looked to have the best chance of winning as everybody's second choice - but his specific criticism of Kinder Morgan and Energy East seems likely to both improve his first-choice support from environmental voters, and limit his voter pool in the case of multiple ballots.

Naturally, we can expect future debates to involve a bit more direct clash between the candidates once their opening themes have had a chance to sink in. And there's certainly ample room for another candidate or two to join the fray.

But for now, members and other viewers were able to see four candidates who check all the boxes for an effective potential leader, while being able to decide among some contrasts in policy and style.

For more, see what Marie-Danielle Smith, John Geddes and Aaron Wherry had to say.