Saturday, May 13, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Claire Provost writes about the spread of the private security industry - which now exceeds the size of public police forces in Canada among other countries - as a means of privileging the protection of wealth over public interests.

- Meanwhile, Lana Payne comments on the importance of allowing civil servants to focus on what's best for the public, rather than serving as political tools for governing parties.

- Jamie Condiffe points out that automation is having less impact on employment relationships than is often assumed, while Bill Emmott laments how wage fearmongering has been used to divert more and more profits into corporate coffers. Martin Regg Cohn discusses what may be some positive steps toward improved wages and working conditions in Ontario - though the timing and motivation of Liberals in an election year offers reason to be wary. And Jill Petzinger reports on how unions have been able to protect the interests of employees of Tesla and other new manufacturers.

- Percy Downe writes that while it's helpful to see improved funding to combat offshore tax evasion, it remains to be seen whether that promise will lead to results. And Diana Swain and Jennifer Fowler report on how Russian criminal organizations are using Canada's secretive banking sector for money laundering purposes.

- Finally, in the wake of Brad Wall's declared intention to use the Charter's notwithstanding clause as part of the foundation of Saskatchewan's education system, Leonid Sirota discusses the danger of it serving as a tool for reactionary politicians:
The Saskatchewan government’s unwarranted and hypocritical behaviour illustrates the fundamental problem with the notwithstanding clause. In theory, it could be a means for elected representatives of the people to express reasonable disagreement with the courts on difficult philosophical issues regarding the extent of constitutional rights, as well as policy questions about what kinds of limits on these rights might be unavoidable in a free and democratic society. In practice, if Saskatchewan succeeds at normalizing the use of the clause, governments will not engage in any serious deliberation about these issues. At best, they will resort to the clause to avoid the costs of carrying out their constitutional obligations. At worst, they will do it simply in order to appear “tough,” enacting policies both unnecessary and iniquitous in a race to the constitutional bottom.

The recent proposal by Lisa Raitt, a candidate for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party, to use the notwithstanding clause to prevent protests against the building of pipelines exemplifies the latter dynamic. So do calls by nationalist politicians (and legal academics) in Quebec to dispense with the right to be tried within a reasonable time. [Allan] Blakeney thought that enlightened politicians might need to overrule courts in order to preserve social programs from encroachments by judicial reactionaries. Instead, his toxic constitutional legacy is in danger of being used by unscrupulous populists to satiate the reactionary tendencies of the electorate. Voters should keep in mind that poison tends not to be as nutritious is it might seem.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Musical interlude

Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Scott Sinclair writes that there's no reason for any party to NAFTA to see itself as being stuck with the existing agreement (or worse), while also mentioning a few ways to substantially improve the rules governing North American trade:
Canada should call Trump’s bluff by championing a fairer distribution of the benefits of trade — presumably the idea behind the Trudeau government’s ambitions to usher in a new generation of “progressive trade” agreements.

Anxiety about trade and globalization runs deep and goes beyond Trump’s core supporters.

Canada’s negotiating agenda will need to reflect that reality. It just so happens there are ways to redo or replace NAFTA to make it a better deal for workers in all three countries.

An obvious first step is to include strong, fully enforceable labour standards. Mexican workers, whose real wages have stagnated under NAFTA, and who are rarely free to join independent unions, would be the primary beneficiaries. But rising wages and improved working conditions in Mexico and many Southern U.S. states would provide support for the same in the rest of North America.
The Trump administration intends to bolster Buy American purchasing policies, which could side-swipe Canadian suppliers. But the government’s standard response — to seek an exemption for Canadian goods — has fallen short before and will fare much worse today.

Canada could instead propose reciprocal “Buy North American” policies for new public infrastructure spending. If this is rejected, Canada should maximize national economic spinoffs on its own planned public investments through Buy Canadian policies.
-  Swati Pandey and Jane Wardell report that while Canadian governments try to hand over everything in sight to the financial sector, Australia's right-wing government is instead raising taxes on banks to fund infrastructure spending.

- Gregory Beatty points out the desperate need for checks on corporate fund-raising in Saskatchewan politics.

- Jorge Barrera reports on the Trudeau Libs' dishonest approach to First Nations, as they're publicly stating a commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples while going out of its way to give effect to its terms.

- But in some good local news, Craig Baird reports on a new protocol between the City of Regina and First Nations groups. And having questioned City Council's past delay in signing on to the Blue Dot movement, I'll note that it has now approved the declaration.

- Finally, Fair Vote Vancouver highlights how a first-past-the-post electoral system accentuates the urban-rural divide in British Columbia (as in other jurisdictions).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

New column day

Here, examining how Steve Keen's warning about the UK's excessive financialization and consumer debt applies even more strongly in Canada.

For further reading...
- Keen makes reference to the BIS' international data as to the ratio of private debt to GDP:

- Again, Erica Alini reported on Ipsos' latest number as to the dire fiscal straits facing many Canadians - which can be compared to last year's numbers from here. And Noah Buhayar and Doug Alexander write about a credit rating downgrade for Canadian banks due to their exposure to consumer debt, while Tricia Phillips notes that the problem with unsustainable consumer debt also represents a parallel between Canada and the UK.
- Dan Levin exposed the B.C. Libs' tax breaks for money laundering, job outsourcing and other shady financial activity by big donors, while David Ball examined the public response. 
- Stefani Langenegger discussed the millions of dollars Saskatchewan is paying to failed P3 bidders. And Murray Mandryk chimed in on the waning credibility of the Saskatchewan Party when it comes to managing public money.
- Bill Curry reported on both the Libs' outsourcing of the design of a federal infrastructure bank to the financial firms who stand to profit from it, their rush to ram the legislation setting up the bank through Parliament without meaningful review, and the NDP's work to ensure a public debate. And Jordan Press and Andy Blatchford followed up on the obvious conflicts of interest involved in the bank's design.
- Finally, Linda McQuaig highlights just a few of the problems with an infrastructure bank not designed to serve the public interest.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Nick Falvo lists ten things to know about social programs in Canada. And Mike Crawley offers a painful example of Ontario's social safety net and employment law both falling short, as injured workers are forced to go to work even when ill or injured in the absence of paid sick leave.

- David Cay Johnston writes that while corporate tax slashing won't do anything to boost the U.S.' economy, it may do plenty to undercut businesses who have planned based on tax rates as they stand.

- Make Votes Matter makes the case for UK Labour to push for proportional representation - including by pointing out how it leads to a more fair and equal society. And Fair Vote Canada is pushing for an NDP-Green agreement on electoral reform in British Columbia.

- Meanwhile, Ethan Cox discusses what should an obvious choice facing B.C.'s Greens in deciding between giving voters the change they want, and owning another term of Christy Clark's corporatism as usual. And Vaughn Palmer notes that Clark is the most important loser from yesterday's election.

- Finally, Daphne White interviews George Lakoff about the importance of fitting political messages into frames which will resonate with voters.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Floored cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Derrick O'Keefe highlights why British Columbia's voters should be careful before lending any credence to the corporate media's call for yet another term of corrupt Lib government:
As expected, The Vancouver Sun and Province, and the Globe and Mail, published editorials urging voters to keep the Liberals in power for another four years. The uninspired prose and clichéd arguments are testament to the pure cynicism of the ruling elite in Canada.

They are also an insult to these newspapers’ own hard-working and dedicated journalists, many of whom have done important investigations exposing the dynamics of the housing affordability crisis, and the staggering corruption and cronyism that has come to define political and economic life in the “Wild West” under Premier Christy Clark and her right-wing Liberals.
No one reading these editorials would have any sense of the shocking scale of corruption and inequality that scars B.C. In the long run, these endorsements hurt the newspapers who make them more than anything. But, in the short run, given that it’s such a neck-and-neck election, they may be enough to help the Liberals cling to power for another four long years.

Compared to the rest of Canada, B.C. has a relatively thriving independent media ecosystem. But that still pales in comparison to the influence of the big, corporate legacy media. Needless to say, and regardless of Tuesday’s election results, building the reach of independent media should be a priority for anyone who wants to see progressive politics thrive.
- But lest anybody say the B.C. Libs haven't done anything to bolster collective action, let's remember that the Charter right to collective bargaining was confirmed in response to their unconstitutional trampling on the very concept of workers' rights. And now, their neglect of renters has led to the establishment of a tenants' union.

- Kai Nagata points out how the Clark Libs' campaign is funded by public money laundered into party donations. And Sarah Cox reports on the deliberate suppression of Site C budget documents until after today's provincial election.

- Martyn Brown makes the case for regime change in B.C., while Bill Tieleman warns voters seeking change that support for the Greens may only leave a corrupt government entrenched in power. Lizanne Foster asks what she's supposed to tell children about the election if that happens. And Charlie Smith provides some of the unpleasant answers.

- Finally, Erica Alini reports on the latest survey showing that most Canadians have virtually no margin for error when it comes to personal finances. And Nora Loreto highlights the Trudeau Libs' reverse Robin Hood economic plan as being certain to make matters worse.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Dean Baker notes that a reduction in required work time could go a long way toward ensuring that workers share in productivity gains.

- Meanwhile, Max Ehrenfreund writes about new research on the state of the U.S.' middle class - showing that lifetime wage earnings peaked for people born in 1942, and have been in decline most of the time since then.

- Adam Samson reports on Janet Yellen's observation that a lack of pay equity is a serious drag on the U.S.' economy. Denis Campbell highlights how the UK's health care system has been treated so poorly that trained professionals are abandoning the sector for jobs at supermarkets. And Rachel Sanders discusses the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition's findings about widespread wage theft and workplace abuse.

- Richard Starr points out the costs of the Nova Scotia Libs' preference for austerity (aside from election season). And Stephanie Taylor reports on Saskatchewan's HIV rates, which are both far above Canada's national average and rising further under a government looking to do less. 

- Erika Dyck discusses how stronger action against poverty would improve mental health outcomes.

- Finally, David Ball reports on the B.C. Libs' choice to have KPMG audit its own work on a $3.3 billion P3 bridge project. And David Beers examines the cozy relationship between the Clark Libs and the B.C. Greens, while Stuart Parker explains it as arising out of the Greens sliding into exactly the same political niche which the Libs once occupied.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the federal NDP's leadership campaign.

- Several of the candidates have been doing plenty of touring over the past week. And while not all the stops have included media coverage, you'll find features about Charlie Angus from Timmins, Sudbury (X2), North Bay, and Red Deer, along with Weyburn This Week's report on Niki Ashton's visit and the Hill Times' interview with Guy Caron.

- Meanwhile, Peter Julian has been very active in British Columbia's provincial campaign as it draws to a close.

- Joan Bryden's report on fund-raising at the federal level features a look at the early returns from the leadership campaign - including the surprising fact that Julian is in a fairly distant fourth place to date despite seemingly being ahead of the game in most other aspects of campaign organization:
New Democrat leadership contenders raised an additional $252,664. Of the four declared candidates so far, Charlie Angus led the pack with $110,765, followed by Niki Ashton with $65,521, Guy Caron with $57,235 and Peter Julian with $19,143.
- And Beatrice Britneff and Kyle Duggan follow up with a look at who's donated so far.

- Tom Parkin discusses the populist outsider element being brought to the campaign by Pat Stogran. And Marcel Nelson examines the relationship between populism and the NDP, while raising some questions about whether it represents the best choice for the party.

- Supriya Dwivedi offers some suggestions for Jagmeet Singh in building a national campaign that accounts for Quebec voters. And Parkin offers his take (along with advice from Brian Topp and Sally Housser) on how the next leader can earn support in Western Canada.

- Finally, Brittany Andrew-Amofah suggests that whatever the results of the leadership race, the NDP should be able to unite behind the theme of calling out the Libs' faux progressivism.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Branko Milanovic reviews Mike Lofgren's The Deep State, and highlights how entrenched wealth and power have hijacked our public institutions for their own benefit:
The deep state includes the old-fashioned military-industrial complex, top of Wall Street and Silicon valley, think tanks and foundations, and the mainstream media, most of them (with the obvious exceptions of Silicon valley and Hollywood) located in Washington, DC and New York. These are people who often seamlessly move between government, its legislative and executive branches, and then when not in power, populate think tanks, sit on the boards of large financial, IT or military-related companies or pen editorials for the mainstream media. They are linked by shared backgrounds, same ideology and even more strongly by shared economic interests. It could be almost said that they are all but one person, so at ease at seemingly very different tasks, Deputy Secretary of Defense, writer of an editorial in the Washington Post, analyst in a top Washington think tank. As Tocqueville wrote of another deep state from two and half centuries ago: “The nobles held identical positions, had the same privileges, the same appearance; there was, in fact, a family likeness between them, and one might almost say they were not different men but essentially the same men everywhere" (The old regime and the French revolution).

There are two very strong points of Lofgren’s book. First, Lofgren is somebody who knows the system from the inside (he worked for almost thirty years in Congress, sat on budget and armed services committees and knows personally a number of key political players). He thus brings to the book a knowledge that a political science professor just simply does not have. Second, Lofgren shows that there are strong links between domestic and foreign policy preferences of the deep state. The rising political power of the rich (documented by Larry Bartels and Martin Gilens) and increasing income inequality (documented by so many that it is superfluous to give citations) are, as Lofgren shows, intrinsically linked to domestic policy choices that reduce taxes on the rich, provide an increasing number of loopholes for the rich, curb social spending, but also (and only apparently contradictorily) increase military spending. Why the latter? Because the beneficiaries from the military spending are precisely the members of the deep state. As Lofgren argues, TARP and military spending are just the two facets of the same coin: the use of government resources for the benefit of the rich.
What Lofgren argues is that the deep state has effectively kidnapped the government. Its objective is to use this enormous money-churning machine to help its own members. But the deep state was able to kidnap the government because it was able to kidnap the Congress, that is to make sure that majority of the members of Congress vote the way that the deep state wants. They were able to do so thanks to an electoral system where winning is practically synonymous with having access to more money than your opponent. This is why Lofgren in the last chapter, where he discusses the changes that need to be done, puts the reform of electoral funding (“ Eliminate private money from public elections”) as the number 1 priority. It all starts there, and then logically unfolds further.
- Carole Cadwalladr discusses the similar takeover of the UK's democratic state, while Angela Monaghan reports on the increasing concentration of wealth in a small number of billionaires who have been able to use Brexit-related turmoil to their advantage. And Make Votes Matter highlights the strong public desire across all parties for a proportional electoral system which isn't so easily dominated by a couple of groups of insiders.

- Andy Blatchford reports that once again, growth in job numbers isn't being reflected in what Canadian workers are paid. And Jen St. Denis points out the work of the BC Employment Standards Coalition showing how often employers don't bother to pay what they owe.

- Finally, Jaime Watt writes that the reality of constant political campaigning severely limits the time and resources governments dedicate to actual governance.