Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ryan Meili writes about the fundamental importance of trust in both politics and medicine - and the corrosive effects of corporate donations in both:
When we talk about the problems with political donations, we're not really talking about campaign financing. We're talking about something much more fundamental. We're talking about trust.
We're talking about the way that the public views political leaders. Do they trust us to do the right thing? Do they trust us in our interactions with companies, in our interactions in handing out contracts, to be objective? To make the best decisions for this province and its people, rather than for companies seeking favourable laws and contracts?

Our primary goal is not to help any particular business or any particular company. Our primary goal is to achieve the best for the people of this province. One way to measure this is to look at the health outcomes of our policy choices. In fact, the health field offers us some important insights on this question of trust.
Physicians realize that trust is our greatest asset, with the public and with our patients. If we want our patients to take our advice and change their behaviour, we need to have their solid trust. Those of us in elected life should also want to be trusted as a profession. For the good of the public, we want people to be able to trust that we are not being influenced, and corporate donations impede that trust.
- Ian Gill and Robert Jensen each review Naomi Klein's forthcoming No Is Not Enough, particularly in its recognition that Donald Trump's election represents a logical progression in the growth of politics based on dominance and distraction rather than the public interest. And Dawn Foster emphasizes that the lesson to be drawn from Grenfell Tower fire is to end the culture of deregulation and austerity which creates greater risks for everybody - not to tear down towers which can provide desperately-needed housing when properly maintained.

- CBC reports on Monika Dutt's work educating physicians about the social determinants of health. And Doug Saunders and Tom Cardoso explore the connection between childhood geographical backgrounds and income later in life, while Miles Corak examines the distribution of poverty in Canada. 

- Erica Alini reports on the Northern Policy Institute's latest research on the role a basic income could play in ensuring food security for people with low incomes. And Tanvi Misra discusses the growing recognition of the importance of unions in reducing inequality.

- Finally, Jorge Barrera reports on the Trudeau Libs' decision to go to court to escape the federal government's obligation to stop discriminating against Indigenous children.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Musical interlude

Odds - Truth Untold

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Patrick Gossage discusses the desperate need for Canadian governments at all levels to take meaningful action to eliminate poverty:
The reality is that low-income Canadians are invisible and lack political clout. In Toronto, they are concentrated in downtown areas close to the gleaming bank towers, in huge clusters of dilapidated rental towers not far from the crosstown expressways, or in pockets of subsidized low-rise units near major intersections. Tens of thousands drive by these areas daily, ignorant of the lives led there. In the nation’s capital, where politicians cook up policies to relieve their plight, Canadians living under the poverty line are totally unseen.
At the very sharp end of the poverty issue are youth at risk: those who grew up in poor living conditions, often in single-parent families, who have dropped out of school and have little hope of employment. Governments are notably absent from programs to help them. The myriad of government training programs and assistance for students mean nothing to this cohort, because few graduate from secondary school. They are forgotten.

With no way to make money, many are lured into drug dealing at an early age and join gangs. They are the stuff of sad headlines. A young man who was in one of Dixon Hall’s youth programs went to jail for a minor offence. When he got out, he went home, where he was confronted by a gang member and shot through the screen door. These crimes are seldom solved.

Programs for youth in poor communities are woefully understaffed. Believe me, it’s hard to raise money for them. Society largely gives up on youth at risk, and they are dramatically detached from the much-vaunted programs to solve poverty that politicians brag about.

The volunteer and social service sector is often their only avenue of support and training. It was long ago, under Prime Minister Paul Martin, that Ottawa killed federal support for women’s and youth training programs run by these agencies. It is long past time for governments to take up this role again, and to get serious about relieving the crisis in affordable housing.

As citizens, we must leave our comfortable suburbs or downtown enclaves and find out about the reality of poverty through the agencies that work in poorer neighbourhoods. We must be outspoken advocates for disadvantaged Canadians and insist that our politicians learn first-hand how poor people struggle. Only then will governments stop planning, studying and promising and start acting.
- Solomon Israel reports on the Parliamentary Budget Office's new report showing how Canadian consumer debt is skyrocketing. And David MacDonald's study of the issue finds that in an unfortunately first, Canadian individuals and corporations are racking up debt faster than their peers anywhere else in the developed world. 

- Meanwhile, Geoff Dembicki highlights a few realities about the real estate sector which go a long way toward explaining the combination of soaring housing costs, rising debt and increasing paper wealth for a lucky few. And Conor Darcy discusses how increased nominal wealth in the UK is doing nothing at all for most citizens - while pointing out how a wealth tax could help to ensure a more fair distribution of gains.

- Don Pittis writes that Canadian wages aren't keeping up with what would be expected in light of a low unemployment rate - while also noting how economic policy aimed at favouring capital over labour has contributed to the gap.

- Finally, CUPE points out the many problems with the Libs' plan to turn large public infrastructure into a private profit centre. And Andrew Coyne writes that subjecting the infrastructure bank to sorely-needed scrutiny would have represented a useful role for the Senate - so naturally, it chose to amend the Libs' budget only on the far less significant issue of liquor tax inflation.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alex Collinson discusses how insecure work makes it impossible to reliably structure an individual's life:
Many respondents told us about how difficult it is to budget without knowing how much you’ll be earning from one week to the next.
The number of hours we are given every week changes, which sometimes makes it difficult to make ends meet.
Concerns about bills and budgets causes sleepless nights. These concerns also force those in insecure work to take any shift they’re offered, regardless of the personal impact.
It isn’t steady and I hardly get work but always have to be available to work just in case they phone. When they do phone I have to drop everything and say yes otherwise I can’t pay bills.
The precarious financial situation created by insecure work puts all of the power in the employers’ hands. It provides employers with the freedom and financial benefits of a flexible workforce, while burdening workers with financial risks and worries.
It’s not just the worker that loses out from insecure working.

The rise of low-paid self-employment and zero hours contracts is costing the economy billions every year in lost tax revenues.

That means we all lose out as a result of employers using zero hours contracts and shady “self-employment”.
- McKinsey examines the economic gains which would result from fairness for women in the workplace. And Michael Reich, Sylvia Allegretto and Anna Godoey are the latest to find that Seattle's minimum wage hike produced substantial wage gains while doing nothing to limit the availability of jobs, while Doruk Cengiz, Arindrajit Dube, Attila Lindner and Ben Zipperer find (PDF) similar results over a large number of U.S. minimum wage increases.

- Ben Doherty reports on a new study showing that Australia (like many other countries) is failing to adequately plan for the security and humanitarian consequences of climate change. The Economist discusses how our oceans are being used as dumping grounds rather than being treated with any respect or foresight. And Lynda Collins, Dayna Scott and David Boyd argue that we should ensure potentially dangerous chemicals are restricted until proven safe, rather than encouraging their deployment until their harms are indisputable.

- Marc Lee notes that British Columbia has plenty of fiscal room to fund the social policies which form the basis for the NDP/Green governing agreement. But Nick Falvo points out the challenges facing Saskatchewan and other oil-reliant provinces which have failed to account for the volatility of resource prices - but which still have a long way to go in meeting basic social requirements.

- Finally, Tammy Robert highlights the gap between Brad Wall's long-cultivated image, and the arrogance and gloom that surround his government. And Geoff Leo connects the dots between the Global Transportation Hub, Brightenview and the continued abuse of pay-for-play immigration schemes.

New column day

Here, on how a misguided war against "red tape" contributed to the deaths of dozens in the Grenfell Tower fire - and how we're at risk of becoming casualties as well.

For further reading...
- Details about the UK's obsession with red tape can be found in archives including the home page and housing and construction page.
- The Telegraph offers a summary of the Grenfell Tower fire. Robert Booth and Calla Wahlquist report on the safety concerns which had been brushed off for five years, while Samuel Osborne highlighted how two women who attempted to call attention to fire safety were threatened with legal action before becoming victims of the blaze. Sarah Knapton and Hayley Dixon set out some of the failures which led to the Grenfell tragedy, while Knapton also reports on the cheaper, fireproof cladding which contributed to the deaths of dozens. The Huffington Post offers eyewitness accounts of the fire, including the desperate attempts of residents to save their children while being unable to escape themselves. And Ann Pettifor discusses the role of deficit hysteria (another hallmark of regressive government) in causing the tragedy.
- Ontario's Red Tape Challenge site is here, while its express reference to the UK's precedent is here (h/t to Joshua Mandryk). And Nora Loreto discussed the dangers of the Wynne government's anti-regulatory stunt here.
- Finally, a list of the Saskatchewan Party's attacks on regulation (in the guise of both red tape and "modernizing") is here, while "Red Tape Awareness Week" continues to be a regular feature of the Saskatchewan Party's governing PR apparatus. And the statute requiring ongoing reporting on the latter front is here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Richard Seymour follows up on Jeremy Corbyn's electoral success by highlighting the importance of a grassroots progressive movement which stays active and vibrant between election cycles:
Labour needs only a small swing to win a majority if there were to be another election, and current polling suggests they would get it. On top of this, the government’s appalling handling of the Grenfell fire, in contrast to Corbyn’s widely welcomed intervention, has blown apart May’s already shaken personal authority. It has also exposed a wider crisis of legitimacy for the growth model that has dominated British society since the 1980s – neoliberalism, wherein markets and competition are sacrosanct. There is a moment of radicalisation taking place, such as we have not seen in years, and it could propel to office the most radical, reforming government since 1945. So, the ‘eyes on the prize’ mentality makes sense. 

But proximity to government raises urgent strategic problems, unique in Labour’s history. The current Labour leadership is, for the first time, systematically trying to drive British politics to the Left. Its method of doing so has been to lever into political activity and electoral engagement large groups of people long abandoned by the political system, by making them a political offer they haven’t heard in years. It relies on people being excited enough by the alternative to fight for it. And it is how Labour turned Tory seats red, marginals into safe seats, and safe seats into towering majorities, with thousands of activists ignoring the defensive campaign run by Labour HQ and campaigning through Momentum.
Labour’s manifesto is a compromise between a traditional Labour agenda, and that of the radical left. It is rather that the compromises Corbyn would be forced to make would be determined, largely, by the political momentum within the country. 
A Corbyn-led Labour government would, quite unusually, need an activist, critical base to hold its feet to the fire. Activists, of course, are always free to go further than their leaders, to build support for ideas going further than ministers are able to go. But in the event of a Labour government, paradoxically, as Corbyn and his allies negotiate with far more powerful institutions, activists may need to build public pressure and even protest in support of government policy.

Corbyn is right to call for permanent campaign mode. But if he is to lead the most reforming government since 1945, the campaigning must not end after election day.
- In one area where there's room for public protest to make a significant difference in government policy, Kathleen Harris offers a look at the Libs' security state legislation - which among other things goes beyond even the spread of state authority under C-51 by extending disruption powers to the Communications Security Establishment. And Ryan Maloney reports on the Libs' broken promises on access to information - as well as Thomas Mulcair's pointed critique in response.

- Karl Nerenberg writes that disrespect for Parliament is just one more area where it's impossible to tell the Trudeau Libs apart from their predecessors.

- Finally, Bill Tieleman writes that the Clark Libs are standing in the way of desperately-needed governance by clinging to power as temporary placeholders. And Mike Harcourt argues that B.C. needs to put an end to the Site C debacle for once and for all.

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the NDP's federal leadership campaign.

- Kristy Kirkup reports on the release of Jagmeet Singh's climate change policy statement.And Charlie Angus has offered his road map toward a transition to renewable energy, while the CP reports on his plan for a more fair relationship with Indigenous peoples.

- Meanwhile, Len Gillis reports on Angus' focus on winning support beyond party lines based on his role as a voice for Northern Ontario.

- Guy Caron has unveiled his first major endorsements of the campaign, including ones from Jean Crowder, Chris Charlton and Ruth-Ellen Brosseau

- Tom Parkin discusses how the race has featured meaningful policy discussions which are sorely lacking elsewhere in Canada's political scene.

- Finally, Robin Sears argues that the candidates should be careful to make sure that their positioning within the leadership race don't cause undue harm to the broader party. But while I somewhat agree with what I take to be his underlying sentiment, I strongly disagree with his examples.

Surely it's fair to ask candidates to answer questions about their position on major campaign issues - as Singh has done since the debates where he previously demurred on questions about pipelines. But Sears not only seems to expect candidates to avoid asking questions about fellow contenders' positions, but also to shelve their own proposals merely because they might not be convenient for all groups within a party. (That's surely a recipe for politics utterly devoid of values and content - exactly what Parkin laments outside the NDP.)

And it's off base to suggest that any candidate - and particularly a female leadership candidate - should shy away from raising legitimate policy questions merely because they don't serve the interests of a female premier.

Where Sears' point does have some validity, though, is in more personal questions which seem aimed at treating candidates as out-group members.

On that front, I'd particularly point to Angus' line of questioning pushing Singh to commit to running federally regardless of what happens in the leadership race or elsewhere.

That might create an exploitable soundbite in the leadership contest. But it's not at all fair to push that expectation on a candidate who has demonstrated his federal bona fides by running - and nearly succeeding - in a seat which was seen as a long shot for the NDP before he started working for it. And indeed, Angus' demand would seem to be counterproductive: Singh's current position and profile within the Ontario NDP might well do more to help the party at both the provincial and federal levels than a non-leadership role federally.

In sum, we should expect and encourage leadership candidates to identify and debate genuine differences of policy and principle. But we should take care not to let the leadership campaign sink to the level of unfair personal criticism - both because we should expect more out of our politicians generally, and because of the importance of all candidates and their teams being able to work together once the campaign is done.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Feline face-offs.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Aditya Chakrabortty describes the Grenfell Tower fire as nothing less than social murder of the UK's poor:
Austerity is at the heart of the Grenfell story. Think of the firefighters, who have seen stations closed and colleagues laid off by May, when she was home secretary. Consider the nurses treating the dying and the maimed, who will be on lower pay now than they were in 2009.

Most of all, remember this: the cuts made since 2010 were the poor picking up the tab for the venality of rich bankers. The two are jammed up next to each other in Kensington and Chelsea, one of the richest and most unequal patches of land in the world. Just minutes away from Grenfell, you can find a house for sale at £30m (albeit “in need of full modernisation”). The residents of the investment-starved Tower died last week did so partly because of the greed of their neighbours.

To judge by the nods and winks since the election, May’s government is preparing for the beginning of the end of austerity. I’ll believe it when I see teaching assistants getting a pay rise or benefits for the working-age poor going up. In any case, it will be too late to undo the damage already done. In their book, The Violence of Austerity, the academics Vickie Cooper and David Whyte collect the evidence. Together with their co-authors, they record how the disability assessment process in England is “associated” with an extra 590 suicides. How cuts to local government funding mean that Liverpool council no longer has a single dedicated health and safety officer. How austerity has meant more people dying sooner.

Spending cuts, deregulation, outsourcing: between them they have turned a state supposedly there to protect and support citizens into a machine to make money for the rich while punishing the poor. It’s never described like that, of course. Class warfare is passed off as book-keeping. Accountability is tossed aside for “commercial confidentiality”, while profiteering is dressed up as economic dynamism. One courtesy we should pay the victims of Grenfell is to drop the glossy-brochure euphemisms. Let’s get clear what happened to them: an act of social murder, straight out of Victorian times.
- Larry Elliott reports on the Resolution Foundation's research showing that higher property values are severely exacerbating inequality in the UK. And Kate Wilson examines the realities facing Vancouver's renter class - with even full-time professionals facing the threat of imminent homelessness as housing becomes less and less affordable.

- Which goes a long way toward explaining why large numbers of B.C. voters are now eager to see Christy Clark accept her expected defeat.

- Meanwhile, Alex Hemingway offers advance warning of the anti-social hysteria which is sure to accompany a new NDP government. And Simon Wren-Lewis discusses how austerity can't be justified in honest terms.

- Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood studies the fossil fuel dependency of Canada compared to its international peers, noting in particular that there's plenty of room for developed countries to reduce their dependency while maintaining a high standard of living.

- Finally, Duncan Cameron discusses how the Trudeau Libs' foreign policy is virtually indistinguishable from the Harper Cons'.

Monday, June 19, 2017

On shows of confidence

As British Columbia's MLAs decide how to respond to the Clark Libs' latest attempt to avoid the results of an election which plainly showed that voters wanted change, let's offer this reminder.

In 2008, Stephen Harper's Cons established that they held the confidence of Parliament through a vote on a throne speech which made no mention of austerity, nor of kneecapping the Cons' competition.

After introducing a fiscal update which ran contrary to that basis for claiming confidence, Harper then used the earlier vote as his excuse to shut down Parliament and escape a vote of non-confidence which would otherwise have brought down his government.

In other words, the throne speech vote has to be based not merely on agreement with some words (including in this case ones which the Libs deliberately refused to utter when they had a chance to try to earn support), but confidence that approving them is worth being stuck with Christy Clark evading any democratic accountability. And on that standard, there's no reasonable choice for any non-Lib MLA to do anything but vote for change.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Phillip Inman discusses how austerity has proven to be an all-pain, no-gain proposition for the general public which is facing stagnant wages and higher consumer debt.

- Pedro Nicolaci da Costa is duly skeptical of employer complaints about "skills gaps" which in fact arise out of their refusal to offer reasonable wages. And Daniel Tencer reports on a new BMO study suggesting that stagnant wages (particularly at the lower end of the income scale) are largely a production of automation.

- Mariana Mazzucato comments on the dangers of treating the concept of infrastructure as an economic cure-all, especially when it's designed to promote corporate profits rather than public interests. And Peter S. Goodman notes that there are plenty of cautionary tales about the dangers of turning public goods over to big business.

- Meanwhile, Katherine Tyler examines the possibility that corporations could be held accountable for facilitating human rights abuses under a proposal from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

- Finally, Evan Wood discusses what a new British Columbia government can do to address that province's opioid crisis. And Alicia Bridges highlights how a lack of education and awareness is resulting in both the spread of HIV/AIDS in Saskatchewan, and far worse outcomes for the people who become infected.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

On interim measures

I haven't yet posted on Trent Wotherspoon's announcement that he's stepping down as the Saskatchewan NDP's interim leader to consider joining the permanent leadership race. But I'll take a moment to note why I hope he'll decide not to follow through on the possibility.

At the outset, it's true that while some parties have set explicit rules against interim leaders pursuing the permanent job, the NDP chose not to do so. And indeed, I didn't want to see that type of restriction imposed when Wotherspoon was elected to the interim position.

At that time, my primary concern was uncertainty as to whether there would otherwise be a leadership vacuum. And Wotherspoon's own assurances that he didn't intend to seek the permanent leadership seemed consistent with the expectation that any change in direction would be the result of external factors, including a meaningful concern about what other alternatives might be available.

Now, the leadership campaign is beginning to come together. One strong candidate is already in the race, while a substantial movement is working to draft another well-respected MLA.

Moreover, the NDP's improved position in the polls figures to open the door to other potential leadership candidates who might be more interested in what now looks to be a far less daunting political situation than what the party faced a year ago.

That is, as long as the result of the leadership campaign itself doesn't seem to be a foregone conclusion.

If Wotherspoon were to enter the leadership race, however, the likely result would be a two-person contest between himself and Ryan Meili - with very little room for anybody else to gain much traction. And so a Wotherspoon candidacy now would risk limiting the benefits of a leadership campaign in attracting new potential leaders and supporters.

It's for the best that Wotherspoon has avoided jumping directly from the interim leadership into the race. And indeed, I'd take that as a signal that the timing of his announcement reflects a genuine effort not to hold the interim position while there's any thought of running for the permanent job.

But to the extent he's still weighing his options, it would be best if he ultimately takes a pass on the leadership campaign - ensuring that the important work he's done as interim leader serves as a benefit to his party and province, rather than casting a question mark over the NDP's leadership campaign.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Nina Shapiro comments on the price of privatizing public goods. And George Monbiot weighs in on how the Grenfell Tower fire confirms that what corporatist politicians deride as "red tape" is in fact vital protection for people:
For years successive governments have built what they call a bonfire of regulations. They have argued that “red tape” impedes our freedom and damages productivity. Britain, they have assured us, would be a better place with fewer forms to fill in, fewer inspections and less enforcement.

But what they call red tape often consists of essential public protections that defend our lives, our futures and the rest of the living world. The freedom they celebrate is highly selective: in many cases it means the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor, of corporations to exploit their workers, landlords to exploit their tenants and industry of all kinds to use the planet as its dustbin. As RH Tawney remarked, “Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows.”
Crucial public protections have long been derided in the billionaire press as “elf ’n’ safety gone mad”. It’s not hard to see how ruthless businesses can cut costs by cutting corners, and how this gives them an advantage over their more scrupulous competitors.

The “pollution paradox” (those corporations whose practices are most offensive to voters have to spend the most money on politics, with the result that their demands come to dominate political life) ensures that our protections are progressively dismantled by governments courting big donors.

Conservative MPs see Brexit as an excellent opportunity to strip back regulations. The speed with which the “great repeal bill” will have to pass through parliament (assuming that any of Theresa May’s programme can now be implemented) provides unprecedented scope to destroy the protections guaranteed by European regulations. The bill will rely heavily on statutory instruments, which permit far less parliamentary scrutiny than primary legislation. Unnoticed and undebated, crucial elements of public health and safety, workers’ rights and environmental protection could be made to disappear.

Too many times we have seen what the bonfire of regulations, which might sound like common sense when issuing from the mouths of ministers, looks like in the real world. The public protections that governments describe as red tape are what make the difference between a good society and barbarism. It is time to bring the disastrous deregulatory agenda to an end, and put public safety and other basic decencies ahead of corner-cutting and greed.
- Jane Philpott rightly points out how double-billing is contrary to the spirit of the Canada Health Act and the goal of an effective universal health care system - though it's worrisome that her response to the growth of the practice is merely to express concern, rather than taking real steps as the minister with authority to actually implement a policy response. And The Sunday Edition discusses how overtreatment and overdiagnosis create both dangers for patients, and added costs for our health care system.

- Gary Younge writes that Jeremy Corbyn has fundamentally changed the rules of UK politics by mobilizing voters who had previously been ignored. Naomi Klein discusses the importance of offering the public a substantial vision worth voting for. Rick Salutin looks at the parallels between Corbyn and Bernie Sanders in winning over younger voters with unabashed left-wing policy, while Matt Taibbi hopes that corporate-focused centrists will no longer be taken seriously when they claim they're the best progressive voters can hope for. And Sam Kriss takes Corbyn's success as an opportunity to recognize that socialist policies are in fact broadly popular.

- Finally, Brett Murphy explores how the trucking industry is set up to exploit drivers. And Graeme Wood reports on a push to ensure that contracting-out arrangements don't serve as a means to evade paying fair wages at Vancouver's airport.