Saturday, September 23, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Krugman discusses how the Republicans' latest attempt to undermine U.S. health care is built on a foundation of cruelty and lies - and is entirely consistent with their usual modus operandi. And Joe Watts reports on new polling showing how popular Jeremy Corbyn's progressive policy agenda is with the UK public.

- Richard Forbes rightly argues that ending tax avoidance should be a multipartisan issue. But Murray Dobbin notes that the preservation of unfair tax preferences is instead cutting across party lines, with the Libs' Finance committee chair Wayne Easter trying to undercut even his own party's insufficient attempt to close some glaring loopholes.

- Betty Ann Adam discusses the urgent need to reduce First Nation youth suicide rates in Saskatchewan. And Joel Willick reports that Saskatchewan is set to fall short of its target for high school graduation rates both in general and among Indigenous students in particular.

- CBC reports that despite a continued need for support, a Swift Current teen shelter is being forced to close due to a lack of funds. But in contrast, Brodie Thomas reports that Calgary's investment in Housing First has led to a significant decrease in the use of emergency shelters.

- Finally, Meagan Gilmore highlights the continued problems with the federal government's Phoenix pay system, which has failing to actually pay employees while costing the public hundreds of millions of dollars. And D.C. Fraser reports on how the Saskatchewan Party has left the province's civil service with a bloated administration and far less workers actually providing public services.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Musical interlude

Arcade Fire - Everything Now

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- The Oxford Martin School has published a new report on the spread of inequality. And Noah Smith discusses the role of offshoring along with automation in stacking the economic deck against workers.

- Meanwhile, Mike Blanchfield reports on the U.S.' refusal to allow workers to participate in any opening of borders under NAFTA or other trade agreements.

- Erin Schumaker highlights how paid sick leave is crucial to both physical and mental health - while the lack thereof causes needless damage to both. 

- Diana Sarosi writes that tax loopholes and other regressive elements of Canada's tax system have particularly harmful consequences for women. And while Tim Harper notes that it's the upper end of the spectrum raising a misguided complaint against even small steps toward tax fairness, John Ivison recognizes that the attempt to pretend the closing of loopholes will affect more than a highly privileged few is doomed to fail once people are aware of the facts.

- Finally, in the wake of the Equifax personal information hack, Bryce Covert makes the case for credit reporting to be a public function rather than a source of private profit.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

New column day

Here, on how Jagmeet Singh looks to be a strong favourite as the NDP's leadership campaign reaches its first voting window - and how concerns about Quebec secularism may have been laid to rest by the challenger who previously gained the most by emphasizing them.

For further reading...
- I've previously written about Singh's prospects in Quebec among other campaign issues here, here and here.
- As I posted earlier, Guy Caron's apt response to Martine Ouellet is here:

- For further commentary on Singh's prospects, see Karl Nerenberg's take that Ouellet is ultimately complaining about nothing more than how Singh dresses, and Aaron Wherry's discussion comparing Singh to the NDP's most-beloved past leaders.
- Finally, my own leadership ballot ranking is here.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Phillip Inman and Jill Treanor write about the debt time bomb facing UK households. Jim Edwards discusses how widespread underemployment has become the norm in the UK - making unemployment alone a misleading indicator as to workers' well-being. And Owen Jones highlights how those developments are the result of deliberate policy choices by the governing Conservatives:
“Stand on your own two feet” has been a convenient rationale to redistribute wealth and power to the top, though. The individual earns money by their own efforts – a baseless myth – and therefore taxes on the rich should be slashed to reward hard effort. But it is a sincere belief among the Thatcherite true believers who designed our society that only by breaking collective bonds can the individual truly flourish, and an entrepreneurial economy be built.

That promise has never been fulfilled. Indeed, in the past five years, consumer debt has surged by nearly a fifth. That’s because we have an economic model that, even when it generates growth, is incapable of increasing living standards for millions of people. Instead, it actively breeds financial insecurity and forces millions to rely on credit.
The stripping away of secure jobs has had its impact, too, thanks to privatisation of utilities and deindustrialisation. The proliferation of zero-hours contracts, bogus self-employment and temporary and agency contracts increasingly defines modern work. This benefited employers, because casualised work is harder to unionise, and it means rights that workers once took for granted – such as a pension, or paid sick and maternity leave – can be stripped away. This is an intentional strategy by bosses, enabled by Thatcherite deregulation, and one New Labour failed to reverse. In 2009, the CBI – the bosses’ federation – called for the recession to be used to create a “flexiforce”, with a reduced core workforce and more casualised labour. And what does precarious employment mean? Sudden drops in income – and a consequent dependence on debt. The precariousness of work adds to the debt problem.
Over the past seven years, the still-hostile Tories have imposed real-terms cuts on in-work benefits, slashed disability benefits, and punished the victims of the housing crisis by taking the axe to housing benefit. The explosion of benefit sanctioning, where benefits can be stopped for the most arbitrary reasons, has left some without any money at all. Those on the receiving end have often been compelled to make up the shortfall by borrowing. A government that professes itself concerned about debt pushes poor people into it daily.
Thatcherism built our economic order on insecurity. Insecurity, we were told, was about setting the individual free. But since then we’ve learned much about insecurity, even if the Tories haven’t. It is oppressive. It leads to anxiety and stress. It forces would-be parents to delay having families. And, as we see, it saddles the individual with debt.
- Meanwhile, Chris Renwick details why a secure welfare state is more necessary now than it's ever been. And Dylan Matthews discusses new research from Mexico on the effects of a basic income - including a strong refutation of the complaint that a secure income will lead to inflation.

- Amy Wilson-Chapman charts how the wealthy around the world are hiding their cash from taxation. And Quito Maggi examines how Canada's tax system is becoming less progressive - both in the amount of revenue used for public purposes, and the source of the money collected.

- Finally, Jennifer Wells writes that limiting the use of income sprinkling is at least a small step forward toward tax fairness. But Luke Savage reminds us that the Trudeau Libs have allowed the wealthiest CEOs to avoid paying their fair share in taxes. And Jeremy Nuttall talks to Dennis Howlett about Canadians' fatigue with anti-tax rhetoric - particularly when it's being used to favour the people who already have the most.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

On principled responses

In the wake of the NDP's leadership campaign, it seems the Libs have responded by finding somebody to distill their very essence even more thoroughly than Justin Trudeau.

At least, if we can confirm that is supported by tax-sheltered trust fund dollars.

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the federal NDP's leadership campaign.

- CBC reports on Nathan Cullen's endorsement of Jagmeet Singh - which may make for one of the few shows of support capable of influencing members at this stage of the campaign.

- Althia Raj highlights Charlie Angus' rebel yell, while Alex Ballingall writes about the Star editorial board's meeting with him (which includes somewhat more direct talk about potentially approving pipelines than we've heard through much of the campaign). Rob Rousseau is the latest to write about Niki Ashton as a Canadian counterpart to Bernie Sanders. And Guy Caron's reply to Martine Ouellet's attack on Singh offers a prime example as to how the NDP can and should respond to any attempt to use religious bigotry to silence minority voices.

- Eric Grenier offers a look at some of the policies on offer from the leadership candidates. And John Geddes interviews Avi Lewis about the policy discussion within the leadership campaign - and Lewis' hope to expand what's seen as possible. 

- Finally, Tom Parkin offers his reasoning for placing Caron and Singh at the top of his ballot. Alice Funke makes a case for Singh as a step toward greater diversity and energy within the NDP, while Tim Harper discusses Singh's ability to get noticed beyond party lines as a key advantage. And Chantal Hebert analyzes the campaign while viewing Singh as the likely victor.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Matthew Yglesias offers his take on how to strengthen the U.S.' economy through full employment and improved wage and family benefits. And Richard Florida discusses how everybody can benefit if an increasingly important service sector starts to provide higher wages and better work:
The only way to close Canada’s yawning economic divide and rebuild the middle class is to upgrade the wages and working conditions of Canada’s service workers.

Increasing the minimum wage, as Ontario is doing, is an important first step. And, it is important to link the minimum wage to the steep variation in the cost of living across cities: $15 an hour buys a lot less in expensive cities like Toronto and Vancouver than in does in many smaller places. Indeed, nearly half of Canada’s low-paid service workers are concentrated in the nation’s five largest metros — Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton. But it is only a first step.

The real key is to upgrade the millions of low-wage service jobs that workers across Canada toil in. We fail as a society if 40 per cent of Canada’s workforce is condemned to toil in such low-wage precarious jobs.
It has been done before. During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Canada and other advanced nations turned low wage manufacturing work into middle-class family supporting work. Henry Ford famously initiated his $5 a day pay policy to enable blue collar workers to purchase the cars they were making on the assembly line.

The government created new labour laws that enabled workers to form unions and bargain collectively enabling blue-collar wages to rise higher. Manufacturing companies developed strategies to involve more high-paid blue-collar workers in efforts to improve quality, productivity and ultimately profits, creating a win-win cycle. The same can be done for low-wage service work, the analog of blue-collar factory work today.
- Hugh Muir discusses how only the wealthy few actually benefit from selectively open borders - including the ability to purchase citizenship or immigration rights when it becomes convenient.

- Amanda Carver writes about the importance of using evidence-based approaches to solving homelessness - including the Housing First model that has proven successful. Jordan Press writes that the Trudeau Libs are willing to talk about a right to housing, but not to back it up with any meaningful steps to actually provide it. The Star's editorial board comments on how the growing use of food banks to paper over the unmanageable cost of rent highlights the need for a housing benefit. And Robert Booth reports on new research showing how housing has become unaffordable for young workers in the UK.

- Mike De Souza highlights how the same National Energy Board which has shrouded pipeline approvals in secrecy has been entirely reckless with the personal information of journalists trying to report on its activity. And Justin Gillis discusses how human behaviour is the great unknown in trying to project the damage to be done by climate change.

- Finally, Gary Mason writes that John Horgan's NDP is finally bringing British Columbia into the 21st century with effective campaign finance rules - leaving Saskatchewan as the only laggard. And Bob Mackin's slightly dated report on the B.C. Libs' advertising spending is worth noting again, as it shows the party which is now set to scream bloody murder over public financing for political parties had no scruples whatsoever about using similar amounts of public money solely for its own self-promotion.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Grounded cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- George Eaton discusses how some U.S. state governments are taking steps to fight inequality with taxes at the top of the income scale.

- The Canadian Coalition for Tax Fairness is coming together to push for a tax system where everybody pays their fair share (including changes far beyond those put on the table by the Trudeau Libs), while the Council of Canadians lends its support to the effort. And R. Sacha Bhatia suggests that if doctors prefer being salaried employees to being paid fees for services under a tax system without massive loopholes, that move may be best for everybody involved.

- Shannon Daub and Zoe Yunker highlight how the B.C. Libs outsourced the writing of their climate change policy to the Calgary oil sector. And that history of corporate ownership of government is exactly why the NDP's move to replace big money with public investment in politics figures to be so important.

- Meanwhile, Laurie Monsebraaten reports on the challenge of getting people to believe that a basic income actually comes without strings attached after decades of welfare scolding.

- Barrie McKenna responds to the Calgary Flames' demand for a publicly-funded arena to funnel profits into Murray Edwards' hands by pointing out the lack of any public benefit to doing so.

- Finally, Fay Faraday writes that due to pay inequity, Canadian women are effectively working for free for the balance of the calendar year.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Ritika Goel writes that good jobs lead to all kinds of ancillary benefits to both the health of workers, and the strength of the overall economy:
We are in a time of increasing part-time, casual, temporary and contract work, with less access to benefits, insurance and pensions. Women, racialized people, single parents and immigrants like Michael are more likely to be in these positions of precarious work, which we know are bad for your health. 

Precarious work is linked to higher rates of repetitive strain muscular and joint conditions, as well as worse mental health. We also know that food-handling workers, like Michael, who have an infectious stomach illness cite not being able to afford taking a day off as the reason to come into work sick, potentially passing on their sickness.

A decent wage would allow Michael to contribute to his local economy by meeting his basic needs, save money to send to his family, perhaps move closer to this workplace, have time to build social connections and improve his mental health. Having paid sick days would allow him to recover when needed and not put the public at risk by handling food when unwell. In fact, having these measures implemented would allow Michael to better do his job. A study looking at employers who provide paid sick leave found that doing so was associated with fewer workplace injuries benefitting employers with a healthier workforce.

There is no doubt that the strong connection between good jobs and good health is widely proven in research. It thrills me to see that this is now also becoming a common perspective in the business world. At the Smart Employers Talk conference I attended this week, I got to hear directly from business owners who understand the importance of investing in their staff, so much that one employer referred to his workers as his company’s greatest asset. 
While I know some businesses have raised concerns about not being able to afford a $15 minimum wage, it gave me confidence to meet businesses owners from a variety of sectors who are already implementing and benefiting from these higher labour standards. They are proof that this can be done, and will benefit businesses on top of the health of workers and public health.
- Meanwhile, Paul Walsh discusses the pitch economy - where everything is a matter of constant competition - as the ultimate example of harmful precarity in work and life. And Jacqueline Nelson reports on a new study from the Bank of International Settlements showing how Canada is at risk due to high household debt levels.

- Melinda Trochu reports on a push by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to ensure that our postal system provides needed services including banking and food shipping.

- Colin Perkel reports on Canadian doctors who support tax fairness - and are fighting to avoid being lumped in with professional associations and lobbyists invoking their profession to try to hinder it.

- Finally, Ross Belot writes that the Libs' hot air on climate change hasn't been matched with anything approaching commensurate action.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Leadership 2017: The Ballot

Despite the federal NDP's candidate showcase there hasn't been much change since last week's rankings - and so I won't update those for this week. Rather than ranking the candidates based on their perceived likelihood of winning, I'll instead take the opportunity to offer my own endorsement and ballot ranking, along with some explanation as to how I've made my own choice among four strong candidates. (For further reading, Alice Funke offers a must-read summary as to the array of expectations and responsibilities for the NDP's leader.)

1. Guy Caron

The key for Caron has been to establish that he could demonstrate the capacity to grow in a campaign with relatively limited resources. And in the end, he's done just that - offering strong and popular individual policies within an effective philosophical framework, and managing to win over a far larger number of supporters on sheer personal appeal than I'd have anticipated.

The most important sticking point for me with Caron is then his tendency to put process and jurisdiction ahead of underlying values at times. That's been most obvious in his take on Quebec's Bill 62, where I'll note that he may be best served taking a lesson from Thomas Mulcair's response focusing on fundamental values rather than political calculations. And it's also been notable at other times when he's demurred on ambitious social policy proposals by pointing to jurisdictional questions.

But on the balance, Caron looks to have the best prospect of winning Canadians over to a progressive vision - just as he's won over supporters throughout the leadership campaign.

2. Jagmeet Singh

Singh too has done a highly effective job of situating worthwhile policy proposals within a framework of well-defined values. The primary factor placing him behind Caron is that those values don't overlap with the ones I'd like to see promoted to quite the same extent: on one set of key economic issues in particular, Singh has gone out of his way to express principles which are both contrary to NDP policy, and problematic from the standpoint of winning voters over to a coherent progressive philosophy.

That said, Singh's showcase today suggests that he's both tightening up his economic message, and making strides in tying it to his personal experience. And the areas of concern within the leadership race should be ones where he'll have reason to be on the proper side of any debate across party lines.  

Moreover, Singh has lived up to his own "love and courage" theme with strongly principled stances in other areas where I'd have expected him to play it safer. And that offers me enough comfort on policy to place him second in light of his success in building an organization and appealing to the public.

3. Niki Ashton

Ashton's deeply progressive platform and strategy based on the successful movement-building exemplified by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders hold a great deal of appeal to me. And today's presentation was likely her strongest in putting those together. But Ashton ranks below the top of my ballot because of some uncertainty about her ability to execute that strategy.

While Corbyn was eventually able to build up his UK Labour party despite a combination of internal grumbling and a dismissive press, he's done so based in large part on the demonstrable strength and breadth of the movement behind him. Corbyn only won the opportunity to face the general electorate by twice winning the support of a strong majority of his party's members - and it's the endurance of his personal support among members that's allowed him to withstand storms both internal and external.

Based on how the media has treated her throughout the leadership campaign, Ashton stands to match Corbyn's status as a lightning rod for press attacks. But she hasn't yet shown much of a movement behind her to answer issues as they've arisen. And so Ashton's most plausible path to victory looks to represent a potentially dangerous outcome for the NDP as a whole: the most difficult road for the party may involve a multi-ballot vote in which Ashton narrowly noses ahead despite modest enthusiasm, then has to face an onslaught of media criticism with relatively little internal support.

4. Charlie Angus

Finally, Angus finishes fourth on my ballot based on a leadership campaign which hasn't lived up to either Angus' potential or his competitors' choices in terms of either policy development or progressive values.

To be sure, Angus has been able to secure the endorsement of plenty of prominent voices who are willing to trust him. But I have to wonder whether the relatively unfocused populism he's relied on during the leadership race will be ameliorated - or produce better results - against the NDP's competition. And if not, then Angus poses the risk of losing ground in terms of both party results and issue advocacy.

Again, that's not to say Angus wouldn't have a strong opportunity to succeed as the NDP's next leader. But it does mean he falls behind his fellow candidates on that score - and thus to the bottom of my ballot.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Matt Bruenig examines who is living in poverty in the U.S. - and how policy choices result in many people who can't feasibly earn wages being stuck below the poverty line:
(C)hildren, elderly, disabled people, and students make up around 70 percent of the poor. If you add in carers and those already fully employed, the number goes to around 90 percent. There is room to activate some of these folks into the labor market, especially carers through the provision of child care and paid leave benefits. But for the most part, the poor are people who cannot and should not work.
(B)enefits already do a lot to hold down poverty. The official poverty rate in 2016 was 12.8 percent. Without benefits, it would have been 21 percent.

If we want to build on that kind of success, what we need to do is expand the coverage of the welfare state as well as the generosity of its benefits. Every child should get a modest monthly stipend paid to their parents. Minimum benefit levels for old-age and disability pensions should be increased. Students should get a living grant. Carers should get paid leave and caretaker allowances. Unemployed people should get higher benefits, and some minimum level of benefits should be available to new labor market entrants who have not yet secured a job. It is through these kinds of reforms that serious poverty reduction will ultimately be made.

Until we come to terms with the fact that market income distributions inherently leave out a massive swath of society, our system will continue to fail its poor people. Markets are not designed to get income to where it is needed. It is up to society to construct programs to do that.
- Michael Sisak and Emily Schmall report on a prime example of the U.S.' continued disaster capitalism, as FEMA has been selling off disaster trailers at cut-rate prices even as it's been scrambling to providing housing in responseto this summer's spate of hurricanes. And Josh Boak discusses how the Trump administration is pushing corporate tax giveaways in the face of abundant evidence they'll serve only to further enrich those who already have the most.

- Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood examines the state of NAFTA negotiations and concludes that there's no realistic prospect of reaching a meaningfully progressive agreement.

- Stephanie Taylor reports on the high rates of opioid poisoning in Regina and Saskatoon.

- Finally, Bruce Livesey reports on institutional racism and bigotry within CSIS and the RCMP which is both preventing them from addressing real threats, and resulting in the rendition and torture of innocent people based on their race and religion.