Saturday, August 26, 2017

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the federal NDP's leadership campaign.

- Evidence for Democracy has released the candidates' responses to its questions about science in Canada. And Canadian Dimension offers replies on key issues facing Canada's left, while Drew Brown suggests that the leadership campaign should be focusing on bringing the NDP closer toward the successes of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

- Guy Caron has released his blueprint for success in Quebec - which has served to focus on one of Caron's obvious strengths as a candidate, but also raised questions as to whether the NDP should defer to provincial judgment as to whether to include people who wear religious symbols. And Chris Selley follows up on Ashton's move to largely echo Caron's position, while Chantal Hebert wonders whether the question of religious rights will dominate the rest of the leadership campaign.

- Jagmeet Singh has released his LGBTQI2S+ policy, with particular attention to ensuring services are available to youth. And Charlie Angus has offered up his urban agenda, including making housing a right and facilitating access to nutritious food.

- Meanwhile, Daniel Leblanc reports on a new Leger poll showing relatively little public awareness the leadership campaign in Quebec, but also a strong showing for Caron among those who are paying attention.

- Erin Weir argues that a strong corporate tax plan will be a crucial point for the NDP's new leader, while noting that all of the candidates except Angus have already presented one.

- Finally, Tom Parkin reminds us that the NDP's new leader will benefit from a far stronger party than the one Jack Layton first led - together with some valuable political opportunities.

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Owen Jones points out Portugal's example as a demonstration that that there is indeed an alternative to austerity - and that it's better for public finances as well as for social progress:
During the years of cuts, charities warned of a “social emergency”. Now the Portuguese government can offer itself as a model to the rest of the continent. “Europe chose the line of austerity and had much worse results,” declared the economy minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral. “What we are showing is that with a policy that restitutes income to the people in a moderate way, people get more confidence and investment returns.”

Portugal has increased public investment, reduced the deficit, slashed unemployment and sustained economic growth. We were told this was impossible and, frankly, delusional. And so British workers endured the longest squeeze in wages since the 19th century, while the coalition did not even come close to meeting its commitment to eradicate the deficit by 2015. Why? In part, because low pay means workers paying less tax, receiving more in-work benefits, and spending less money. Portugal is increasing demand; the Tories suppressed it.

Portugal’s success is both inspiring and frustrating. All that human misery in Europe – and for what? What of Greece, where over half of young people languished in unemployment, where health services were decimated, where infant mortality and suicide increased? What of Spain, where hundreds of thousands were evicted from their homes? What of France, where economic insecurity fuelled the rise of the far right?
Europe’s austerity has been justified with the mantra “there is no alternative”, intended to push the population into submission: we have to be grownups, and live in the real world, after all.

Portugal offers a powerful rebuke. Europe’s left should use the Portuguese experience to reshape the European Union and bring austerity across the eurozone to a halt. In Britain, Labour can feel more emboldened in breaking with the Tories’ economic order.

Throughout Europe’s lost decade, millions of us held that there was indeed an alternative. Now we have the proof.
- Meanwhile, Sharon Murphy discusses the growth of inequality in Canada as a result of deliberate policy choices favouring the wealthy over the rest of us.

- Lindsey Rose Bullinger and Kerri Raissian study how a higher minimum wage reduces the incidence of child neglect. And Dawn Foster highlights how precarious and low-paying jobs increase stress and create health problems.

- Emily Mathieu offers a look at Toronto through the eyes of some of its homeless residents.

- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall discusses the alt-right problem of Canadian conservatives who have nurtured a movement of hate. And Tabatha Southey rightly asks why it took so long for politicians to acknowledge and denounce it.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Abigail McKnight and Richard Reeves write about the gilded floor that prevents the wealthy from facing the realities lived by most people. Eric Levitz discusses how the Trump economy is producing plenty for the ultra-rich, but little but mediocrity for everybody else. And Michelle Styczynski points out that there's no apparent connection between the stock market and wage levels:
This leads us to ask: Are these two variables even correlated? When the S&P increases, does the real wage also increase? Correspondingly, when the S&P decreases, does the real wage decrease? From 1950 to 1975, they were largely positively correlated. But after 1975, the correlation tended to be more negative than positive. Meaning, when the S&P increases the real wage tends to decrease, and when the S&P decreases the real wage tends to increase. After 1975, on average, while one was moving up the other was moving down.

Political leaders seem to believe that what’s good for the stock market is good for the larger economy. But the data show that since the 1980s, when the stock market rises, wages barely move. Today, hourly wage earners – who constitute nearly 60 percent of the workforce – are only making slightly more on average than they did forty years ago. In fact, if the federal minimum wage kept pace with the average hourly wage and average productivity since the late 1960s, it would be over $18 per hour today.

Yet, political and business leaders still proceed as if the stock market is key to measuring the success of the economy. Perhaps the stock market tells us about the prospects of capital owners, but it certainly doesn’t tell us much about the average worker.
- Meanwhile, Citizens for Public Justice offers its proposals for the federal budget to help citizens, not merely productivity statistics. And Thomas Walkom argues that we should expect far more than mere tweaks to NAFTA's unlevel playing field between corporations and people.

- Rebecca Leber reports on what climate scientists found when they took up Exxon's invitation to compare its past research to its public denialism. And Katharine Hayhoe offers the perspective of one of the scientists whose work was made subordinate to the PR campaign to keep pushing dirty energy. 

- Finally, Jerry Dias comments on how the Cons and other right-wing parties created and nurtured the bigoted media monsters they're now trying to disavow. And Chuck Schumer discusses the connection between racism and the right's constant attacks on access to the polls.

Musical interlude

Republica - Ready To Go

Thursday, August 24, 2017

New column day

Here, asking why Justin Trudeau and Gerald Butts are so willing to offer political cover to the Trump administration (including the now-departed Steve Bannon).

For further reading...
- Ryan Lizza's report on Bannon's relationship with Butts is here. And Adam Radwanski had previously reported on the Libs' strategy of cultivating relationships with Trump's associates before commenting on the latest revelations.
- Zachary Tracer and Matt Townsend reported on the disbanding of Trump's business advisory councils after CEOs decided they weren't prepared to associate with him anymore.
- And Andy Blatchford noted that nothing Trump has done has stopped the Libs from looking for ways to give him a win on NAFTA.
- Finally, Tara Golshan reports on Breitbart News' strategy of continuing to coordinate with the Trump White House. And while I didn't make the connection in the column, it's particularly worth noting that Butts and the Libs are protecting the man behind Breitbart while making political hay out of the Canadian equivalent.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Danny Dorling wonders whether we've finally reached the point of shifting toward greater income equality, while noting the uncertainty in trying to assess pay ratios.

- Kevin Carmichael discusses how homeownership is getting pushed further and further out of the reach of young Canadian workers. And Edgardo Sepulveda writes that rent too is becoming less and less manageable for lower-income households.

- Roderick Benns talks to Danielle Martin about the role a basic income can play in ensuring everybody is able to live a decent life. And Andrew Taylor interviews Rutger Bregman about the possibility of a 15-hour work week to ensure people have time for what's truly valuable:
Bregman's notion of a shorter work week is not designed to provide more time to sit on the couch massaging the remote control.

"When I talk about the 15-hour work week, I'm talking about doing less paid work that we don't really care about so that we can do more things that are actually valuable," he said. "Whether it's volunteer work or caring for our kids or elderly. We need to update our idea of what work is."

He said shortening the work week, in tandem with implementing a universal basic income, would offer people the freedom to decide what to do with their life while providing a level of financial security.

Bregman said working fewer hours would reduce stress and workplace accidents. He also said countries with shorter working weeks had less income inequality and greater gender equality.
- Finally, Brent Patterson calls out the Libs' silence on prescription drug affordability as NAFTA negotiations threaten the public's access to needed medications.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Melanie Schmitz writes that Donald Trump's plan to hand giant tax goodies to the rich is opposed by nearly three quarters of Americans.

- CNBC reports on the skepticism among U.S. workers as to their future opportunities. And Jim Stanford offers a historical perspective on what's most recently been branded as the gig economy - but which only matches past abuses intended to limit workers' bargaining power and access to benefits.

- Meanwhile, Jessica Chin notes that Canadians are spending an unsustainable amount of their income on increasingly unaffordable housing, while Richard Partington points out increasing spending compared to earnings as another indication that workers are having to live beyond their means.

- Suzanne Fitzpatrick discusses the connection between childhood poverty and homelessness. And Clare Bonnyman writes that food insecurity has far more to do with insufficient income than with food in particular.

- Norman Farrell examines the effects of the B.C. Libs' preference for regulators who were ideologically opposed to their jobs. And Alec MacGillis takes a detailed look at the U.S.' Department of Housing and Urban Development as an example of a public agency crumbling due to the appointment of unqualified management for political purposes.

- Finally, Michael Spratt notes that the Libs seem to be back-tracking on their promise of evidence-based justice policy, and are instead using poll numbers as an excuse to retain mandatory minimum sentencing laws which serve no genuine purpose.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Angled cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Karri Munn-Venn argues for a federal budget focused on social well-being - not merely on economic productivity. And Tom Hale discusses the harm done by social isolation.

- The BBC reports on new research showing that the UK's public support for parents is falling behind the rate of inflation, resulting in even two-income families falling well below a "no-frills" living standard.

- Matthew Jenkin assembles the stories of workers dealing with low pay and precarious employment in the UK, while Dominic Rushne offers a similar look at U.S. fast food workers. And Ali Chiasson exposes how Ontario restaurants took tip money from workers to fund so-called IOUs to be collected by management.

- Elizabeth McSheffrey digs into Husky's suppression of information about its oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River. And Karen Tam Wu (among others) writes to the federal government to push for a strong move toward energy-efficient building standards to reduce how much energy Canadians use.

- Finally, Peter Gowan and Mio Tastas Viktorsson discuss Rudolf Meidner and Gösta Rehn's model to put capital ownership in the hands of workers through wage-earner funds - and suggest that it's long past time to revisit the grossly unequal distribution of capital.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson write that equality of opportunity is an illusion if people don't have the necessary equality of income to make meaningful plans:
British social mobility is damaged by the UK’s high income inequality. Economists have argued that young people from low income families are less likely to invest in their own human capital development (their education) in more unequal societies. Young people are more likely to drop out of high school in more unequal US states or to be NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) in more unequal rich countries. Average educational performance on maths and literacy tests is lower in more unequal countries.

It isn’t that young people in unequal societies lack aspirations. In fact, they are more likely to aspire to success. The sad thing is they are less likely to achieve it.

But the ways in which inequality hampers social mobility go far beyond educational involvement and attainment. In unequal societies, more parents will have mental illness or problems with drugs and alcohol. They will be more likely to be burdened by debt and long working hours, adding stress to family life. More young women will have babies as teenagers, more young men will be involved in violence.
The evidence which shows the damage caused by socioeconomic inequality is mounting. The UK government risks being on the wrong side of history if it continues to fail to address the divide – and condemn us all to its devastating impact.
- Ben Chu talks to Richard Blundell about the importance of combining fair wages with social supports to ensure people can stay out of poverty, rather than assuming the former is a full replacement for the latter. Paul Tulloch charts the large number of Canadian workers clustered at the low end of the wage scale, while the Star's editorial board weighs in on the need to improve wages. And David Bush discusses the slow path toward a $15 minimum wage being charted by the B.C. NDP.

- Matt Bruenig responds to the possibility of increased antitrust enforcement by noting the futility of merely breaking up corporate structures which remain substantially owned by broadly similar groups of people - and instead proposing that we focus on common ownership as a policy goal.

- Dean Baker notes that the development of the Zika vaccine offers a clear example of the value of publicly-funded research. And Danyaal Raza writes about the need for further public investment in the health of Canadians - particularly in the form of pharmacare and dental care for all.

- Finally, Owen Jones points out how the right-wing media has fanned the flames of bigotry and fascism.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

On closing questions

Thus far in my posts about the federal NDP leadership campaign, I haven't said much about my own preferences as between the candidates. And there's a reason why I haven't been pushing for any particular outcome just yet, as I'm still far from sure who I'll place in each position on my own ballot.

But for those who are likewise undecided, I'll offer my take on what I'll be looking for from each candidate from here on in - particularly in the last two debates which give us the best indication of the contenders' judgment under pressure as the campaign reaches its end.

Charlie Angus

One of the key themes of Jack Layton's success as the NDP's leader was that the lifetime of work he did in support of progressive causes earned him some leeway in making choices which might otherwise have been seen as controversial. And Angus' recent run of endorsements seems to suggest he enjoys much the same advantage. 

But Layton also succeeded in large part due to his work in reaching out to his caucus as well as to supportive groups. And while the leadership campaign is obviously a different context than the actual management of a caucus, Angus has presented himself as being relatively oppositional in his approach to his fellow leadership contestants.

I'll thus be interested to see if Angus is willing and able to pivot toward engaging with his competitors in a way which seems more consistent with being part of the same team once the campaign ends. And a failure to do so may be particularly problematic if he isn't able to move the needle any further in terms of caucus endorsements.

Niki Ashton

From the beginning, Ashton has been highly strategic in her approach to debates, taking many opportunities to put other candidates on the defensive. But possibly in order to minimize the risk of the same happening to herself, she's often defaulted to her talking points rather than seeming to engage with some of the questions directed toward here - even when they're at best tangentially related to the subject at hand.

To her credit, Ashton has released an extremely thorough and thoughtful set of policy proposals. But she hasn't yet changed her approach to the leadership debates, even when they delve into subjects areas where she's released detailed plans.

With that in mind, I'll be looking for Ashton to show some more willingness to get into the weeds as to policy details and analysis - with the ultimate purpose of testing her ability to explain and pitch the ideas her campaign has developed.

Guy Caron

Throughout the leadership debates so far, Caron has consistently demonstrated a superior combination of policy knowledge and good humour.

But his message has sometimes been lost in the delivery - sometimes as a product of his accent when speaking English, other times merely as a matter of timing and speaking style. And a relatively low-resource campaign - like a party facing a fund-raising disadvantage - needs to be able to make its strongest messages stick.

The upcoming Montreal debate represents Caron's chance to show that his strongest lines can land with a bit more punch in French than in English. And it's worth keeping an eye out as to whether his communication can be as sharp as his message from here on in.

Jagmeet Singh

Finally, after entering the campaign projecting a front-runner message, Singh has done extremely well in defending himself from the questions which inevitably come with that status. As a result, members shouldn't have any question about his ability to hold his ground.

What's still somewhat uncertain, however, is Singh's willingness to anchor his plans for growth in the values and policies of the NDP. And particularly given the likelihood that the campaign is headed for multiple ballots, Singh may need to reassure undecided members as to how their well-established priorities fit within his proposed movement.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Amira Elghawaby comments on the loss of empathy in Canadian politics - particularly due to a disproportionate focus on the perceived self-interest of a narrow group of upper-middle-class swing voters, rather than speaking to and about the people with the greatest need for collective voice:
A few years ago, psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley ran several studies that provide crucial insight into understanding this phenomenon. Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner wanted to investigate the role of social class. By measuring how those with more wealth, occupational prestige and education behaved while driving, they were able to conclude that those from more well-off backgrounds showed less empathy than others.

Luxury-car drivers were more likely than others to cut off other motorists, or speed past pedestrians, rather than give them the right of way. The researchers concluded that such attitudes were likely attributable to feelings of freedom and independence that negated the need to rely on others, or care about how others feel.

When governments and political parties are mostly concerned with wooing middle- and upper-class voters, it is small wonder that there is less focus on more niche social-justice issues, and more on issues perceived as directly affecting those broader segments of our society. When governments do buck the trend, segments of these privileged populations will often push back aggressively, attempting to drown out those less equipped to engage.

Take this line from a 2016 Environics study where the authors note that “acknowledgment of Aboriginal peoples as having unique rights is somewhat more evident among women, people born outside of Canada, and those with lower household incomes.”

Along with encouraging wider participation in the political process, there is urgency, too, in telling more stories to compel feelings of empathy throughout all communities.
- But in a promising sign, CTV reports that in Vancouver (as in Boston) a counter-protest has far outweighed a right-wing rally intended to foment bigotry.

- Andrew Coyne rightly argues that in the interest of genuine tax fairness, our public revenue system shouldn't encourage incorporation (or other strategic moves which allow for tax avoidance) in the first place.

- Cathleen O'Grady points out that in addition to having become entirely affordable, wind and solar power are already saving large numbers of lives compared to dirtier alternatives. Joel French discusses what needs to be done (beyond the first wave of modest carbon pricing) to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. And Hans Rollman contrasts the Libs' willingness to pump billions into questionable energy projects against their stinginess in funding equal services for Indigenous communities.

- Finally, Risa Schwartz offers some suggestions as to what a NAFTA chapter on aboriginal rights could look like. And the Globe and Mail's editorial board rightly proposes that the now-failing inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women should be turned over to Indigenous Canadians.