Saturday, October 21, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Jeremy Nuttall interviews Nelson Wiseman about the Libs' attempts to spin their way out of a trumped-up tax controversy - and how they're making matters worse in the process. And Murray Dobbin points out that there's a long way to go in making sure the wealthy pay their fair share: 
The dimpled face of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in TV ads repeating the outright falsehoods contributed to a win-win-lose-lose outcome: The rich won by not having to play the game, small biz got a tax cut they didn’t deserve, the notion of tax fairness took a hit, as did any real increase in government revenue. The loss in revenue from decreasing the small business tax to 9.5 per cent will likely cancel out any increased revenue from what remains of the tax changes.

As the dust settles, we are left to puzzle over why Morneau and Trudeau chose this particular set of tax loopholes to close when there are so many others that would have been politically popular, would have forced the wealthy to defend their indefensible privileges, and would have brought in far more revenue.

One of the most outrageous giveaways which exclusively benefits the very wealthy is stock options. We lose a billion a year to this scam, which allows corporations to pay their executives with options to buy their company’s shares at a set, low, price. This loophole — the beneficiaries pay tax on just half the gains — also leads to CEOs driving up share prices in the short term to increase the value of their options, while discounting the long-term growth of the company.

The most costly loophole enjoyed by the wealthy is the capital gains exemption. The rationale for this break is laughable as it suggests that investing in the stock market is actually investing in new productive activity. In fact, it is nothing more than a tax break for gambling, which is exactly what anyone who invests in the stock market is doing.

There are other features of the tax system that basically reward people for already being rich — the benefits of RRSPs and Tax Free Savings Accounts accrue disproportionately to the wealthiest 10 per cent. The vast majority of Canadians — for whom these programs were supposedly established — come nowhere near the maximum contribution allowed. Capping the benefits could save billions.
The wealthy in this country can easily afford at least two new tax brackets targeting extremely high income. The myth so firmly rooted in the public consciousness and promoted by the media — that wealthy people create economic growth — needs to be challenged. It is useful to remember that in the late ’50s and early ’60s the highest marginal tax rate was over 80 per cent, and economic growth was nearly double that experienced over the past 25 years. 
Trudeau in the election campaign talked a lot about the scourge of inequality. The IMF report stated that, “between 1985 and 1995, redistribution through the tax system had offset 60 per cent of the increase in inequality caused by market forces.” Since that time, inequality in Canada has skyrocketed at the same time that the tax system failed completely to respond.
- But while Dobbin is unduly credulous about the prospect of the Libs actually living up to their promises, Luke Savage points out how their politics of spectacle are designed to distract from the type of elite-driven choices we'd expect from small-c and large-C conservatives. And the Globe and Mail has come around to the reality that Justin Trudeau is nothing but Stephen Harper with a sunnier brand, while Martin Patriquin reminds us that top-down control and contempt for the public are the historical norm for the Libs.

- Derrick O'Keefe writes that there's no room or time for neutrality in response to Quebec's Bill 62 which targets Muslim women for discriminatory treatment and isolation from basic social services. And Allison Hanes discusses the toxic mix of racism and sexism behind the bill, while Karl Nerenberg comments on its place in the broader politics of bigotry.

- Finally, Linda Nazareth highlights how Canada's social insurance system is grossly inadequate to deal with a new generation of corporate exploitation.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Musical interlude

Big Sugar - Little Bit A All Right

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Edward Harrison comments on the business-backed push to rebrand corporate control and crony capitalism as freedom. And Ryan Cooper points out that the concept of deregulation ultimately serves only to concentrate power in the hands of the wealthy few:
Government regulations can be good or bad. But for the most part, there is no such thing as no regulation at all. If government does not make those choices, then other businesses — Wall Street, most especially — will do it for them.

As an initial matter, it's important to remember that government "interference" in markets goes far beyond the usual regulatory agencies. Indeed, government creates markets, through property law, corporate law, securities law, labor law, and so on. These institutions generally get less attention from free-market types (who like to pretend that markets are some pre-political, freestanding entity), but the fact is that markets as we know them could not possibly exist without a strong state.

But when it comes to more traditional regulation, business decisions are for starters often constrained by market choices — and these almost always cut against the interest of workers.
Wall Street firms, like almost all corporations, are hierarchical, authoritarian, command-and-control organizations. (Indeed, as economist Brad DeLong wrote back in 1997, they are rather similar to the old Soviet economy in terms of structure.) These are the companies that are, by and large, writing the rules for how American business is conducted today. Everything from how much workers are paid, to how much companies will spend on innovative research, to what sort of products will be offered and precisely how they will be built — these are now under the strong influence of Wall Street, which demands quick and easy profits above every other consideration. The results are often just as bad as the most sclerotic government regulator — except this time, you can't call up your congressman and complain.

It's long since time the American people put their corporations back under democratic control.
- And Corey Robin discusses how hierarchical organizations make it difficult for anybody to jeopardize their individual positions by pointing out systemic abuses.

- Damian Carrington reports on the Lancet Commission's study showing that air pollution is responsible for 9 million deaths every year - and that its effects may only get worse.

- Meanwhile, Chris Arsenault reports on Nestle's continued extraction of water from two Ontario towns after its permits have expired.

- Finally, Tricia Wood makes the case for free public transit on the basis that mobility should be treated as a social good.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Peter Whoriskey examines how inequality is becoming increasingly pronounced among U.S. seniors. And Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson discuss how inequality contributes to entrenching social divisions:
The toll which inequality exacts from the vast majority of society is one of the most important limitations on the quality of life – particularly in developed countries.  It damages the quality of social relations essential to life satisfaction and happiness. Numerous studies have shown that community life is stronger in more equal societies.  People are more likely to be involved in local groups and voluntary organisations.  They are more likely to feel they can trust each other, and a recent study has shown that they are also more willing to help each other – to help the elderly or disabled.  But as inequality increases, trust, reciprocity and involvement in community life all atrophy.  In their place – as numerous studies have shown – comes a rise in violence, usually measured by homicide rates.  In short, inequality makes societies less affiliative and more antisocial. 

If you look at some of the most unequal societies such as South Africa or Mexico, it is clear from the way that houses are barricaded, with bars on windows and doors and fences and razor wire round gardens, that people are frightened of each other.  That is dramatically confirmed by a quite different indication of exactly the same process: studies have shown that in more unequal societies a higher proportion of a society’s labour force is employed in what is classified as ‘guard labour’ – that is security staff, police, prisons officers etc.. Essentially, these are the occupations people use to protect themselves from each other.  
Important to understanding the effects of inequality is the way it affects mental health.  An international study has shown that more unequal societies have higher levels of status anxiety – not just among the poor, but at all income levels, including the richest decile.  Living in societies where some people seem extremely important and others are regarded as almost worthless does indeed make us all more worried about how we are seen and judged.  There are two very different ways people can respond to these worries.  They may respond by feeling overcome by a lack of confidence, self-doubt and low self-esteem, so that social gatherings feel too stressful and are seen as ordeals to be avoided and people retreat into depression.  Alternatively, and yet usually still a response to the same insecurities, people may go in for a process of self-enhancement or self-advertisement, trying to big themselves up in other’s eyes.  Instead of being modest about their achievements and abilities, they flaunt them, finding ways of bringing references into conversation of almost anything which helps them present themselves as capable and successful. 

But the real tragedy of this is not simply the costs of so much additional security or the human costs in terms of increasing violence.  It is, as research makes very clear, that social involvement and the quality of social relations, friendship and involvement in community life, are powerful determinants of both health and happiness.  Inequality strikes at the foundations of the quality of life.  Status insecurity and competition makes social life more stressful: we worry increasingly about self-presentation and how we are judged. Instead of the relationships of friendship and reciprocity which add so much to health and happiness, inequality means we prop ourselves up with narcissistic purchases or withdraw from social life.  Though this suits business and sales, it is not a sound basis for learning to live within the planetary boundaries.  
Dr. Dawg, the Star's editorial board and Sadiya Ansari each criticize the Quebec Libs' bigoted attack on women who wear niqabs. And Emmett Macfarlane highlights why Bill 62's deliberate discrimination isn't likely to survive a challenge in court.

- Danyaal Raza offers some lessons for the U.S. from his experience working in Canada's health care system. And Gillian Steward writes that Donald Trump's actions to strip health insurance from Americans shows how important it is that Canada didn't settle for anything less than universality.

- Meanwhile, Ian Welsh argues that Barack Obama missed an important opportunity to reshape the U.S.' economy through both stimulus legislation and executive action.

- Finally, Susan Scutti reports on new research showing that exposure to air pollution in the womb has life-long consequences for a person's health. And Bob Weber reports on new research showing that methane releases from Alberta's oil industry may be far worse than previously assumed.

New column day

Here, on the latest confirmation from the Parliamentary Budget Office that a national pharmacare plan would both improve our health and save public money - and the Libs' and Cons' insistence on standing in the way.

For further reading...
- Brent Patterson weighs in on the Libs' refusal to work toward a national pharmacare plan, while Steve Morgan summarized the case for pharmacare.
- Patterson also discussed a Council of Canadians poll showing 91% public support for the concept, while Angus Reid has reached the same number.
- Canadian Doctors for Medicare pointed out some of the groups in support of national pharmacare. And the National Prescription Drug Utilization Information System has documented the higher costs arising out of private plans.
- The Canadian Labour Congress has developed a petition in support of pharmacare, while the Council of Canadians has set up a letter campaign.
- Finally, the Parliamentary debates on Don Davies' motion to negotiate a national pharmacare plan are here. And I discussed pharmacare here as one of the areas where a federal government could implement a key national program with the general agreement of the provinces (though I'll note that the Council of the Federation's website now seems to have been deleted).

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Drew Brown discusses how the Libs' claim to represent - or even understand - the interests of Canada's middle class is disappearing. And Steven Chase and Robert Fife expose Bill Morneau's broken promise to set up a blind trust for his assets while he makes decisions which will affect their value, while the Canadian Press reports that the consulting firm bearing Morneau's name (and in which he still holds a stake) will profit from the unwinding of Sears' pension plan.

- Paul Finch, Jared Melvin and Harpinder Sandhu suggest that land value taxes and closed loopholes could alleviate British Columbia's affordability crisis.

- Jen Gerson views Naheed Nenshi's reelection in Calgary as a much-needed rebuke to attempts by professional sports franchises to blackmail municipalities.

- Kathryn Blaze Baum discusses some of the considerations behind a possible tax on sugary drinks - though the UK's model of merely allowing their manufacturers to profit in different ways hardly seems to be the best possible outcome.

- Finally, Kate McInturff studies the best and worst places to be a woman in Canada. And Anne Kingston offers some ideas to close the persistent gender gap.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Curved cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Economist examines the latest research showing the amount of money stashed in tax havens is even higher than previously estimated. And the Guardian calls for action on the IMF's conclusion that we'll all end up better off if the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes:
The IMF’s analysis does something to redress the balance, making two important points.

First, it says that tax systems should have become more progressive in recent years in order to help offset growing inequality but rather have been becoming less progressive. Second, it finds no evidence for the argument that attempts to make the rich pay more tax would lead to lower growth. There is nothing especially surprising about either of the conclusions: in fact, the real surprise is that it has taken so long for the penny to drop. Growth rates have not picked up as taxes have been cut for the top 1%. On the contrary, they are much weaker than they were in the immediate postwar decades when the rich could expect to pay at least half their incomes – and often substantially more than half – to the taxman. If trickle-down theory worked, there would be a strong correlation between countries with low marginal tax rates for the rich and growth. There is no such correlation and, as the IMF rightly concludes, “there would appear to be scope for increasing the progressivity of income taxation without significantly hurting growth for countries wishing to enhance income redistribution”.
With a nod to the work of the French economist Thomas Piketty, the fiscal monitor also says countries should consider wealth taxes for the rich, to be levied on land and property. The IMF’s findings on tax provide ample and welcome political cover for Mr Corbyn and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, as they seek to convince voters that Labour’s tax plans are not just equitable but also economically workable. By contrast, the study challenges Donald Trump to rethink tax plans that would give an average tax cut of more than $200,000 a year for someone earning more than $900,000. The response from the US administration was predictable: mind your own business. The IMF is not naive. It knows it is one thing to make the case for higher taxes on the rich but another thing altogether to get governments to implement them, because better-off individuals have more political clout. The IMF has demolished the argument that what is good for the super-rich is good for the rest of us, but don’t expect the top 1% to give up without a fight.
- Bernie Sanders highlights the contrast between the greater equality Americans want, and the government by and for the few they're instead stuck with. And Rachel West and Harry Stein find that the Republicans are managing to overrun their own farcical talking points about the uses of government revenue - as they could in fact buy and maintain a pony for every small American child with the money they instead plan to funnel to the wealthy.

- Meanwhile, Tom Parkin writes that a distorted tax system is contributing to the erosion of Canada's middle class. Andrew Coyne discusses how the Libs' already-pathetic excuse for closing some loopholes has turned into another giveaway to corporations. And Chantal Hebert comments on the comedy of errors surrounding the Libs' tax policy.

- Kamal Ahmed points out that younger workers in the UK are increasingly having to borrow just to cover basic expenses. And Barbara Ellen writes about the patent unfairness resulting from people living in poverty having to pay more for the necessities of life.

- Finally, the Mound of Sound blasts the Libs for insisting on new pipelines rather than taking any meaningful steps toward a green transition (or even an honest accounting of the costs of fossil fuels). And Nike Block comments on Canada's longstanding and shameful history of prioritizing exploitative mining over people around the globe.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Karl Russell and Peter Goodman note that lower unemployment rates in the U.S aren't translating into higher wages. Alena Semuels points out the barriers preventing people from moving in order to pursue a higher income. And Kevin Brice-Lall interviews Jonathan Rosenblum about the need for activism to push beyond the initial fight for a $15 minimum wage:
What can you tell us about the business backlash in Seattle — how did they fight the movement for a $15 minimum wage? Given the Ontario Liberal Party’s promise of a $15 minimum, what advice do you have for activists currently fighting against business lobby?
It’s critical for us to recognize what produces concessions in the first place. In my experience bargaining union contracts and negotiating with politicians, I’ve found that it’s easy to overestimate the importance of what happens at the bargaining table. When I’ve led union negotiations I’ve emphasized to bargaining team members that what we win in the end depends 90 percent on what we do outside of bargaining, and only 10 percent on what takes place inside the room.

There are three related principles that constitute the bedrock of effective movement work in politics. First, a clear recognition that anything and everything we win in the political arena isn’t the product of political enlightenment by the establishment; it’s a concession to our power.

Second, a recognition that power — the ability to shape and influence things — is what we get when we band together and take action, whether in the streets, workplace, in halls of parliament, or through political campaigns. Our power is a function of our demonstrated ability to harm, punish, or embarrass our adversaries, to disrupt their agenda. There are no gimmicks or shortcuts to building collective worker power. And third, an understanding that the balance of power is not static, and we have to keep organizing or we’ll lose whatever gains we’ve achieved.
- Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt discusses how the decline of retail sales (at least through many familiar businesses such as Sears) figures to affect political dynamics in Canada.

- Joe Gunn highlights how Canadians are still waiting for a federal government to start fulfilling the promise of reducing poverty.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on Ontario's new guidelines for mental health claims which (like those of too many other provinces) establish an unfair double standard. And Benoit Denizet-Lewis points out the alarming increase in anxiety among teens.  

- Finally, Alex MacPherson reports on a legal opinion from Manitoba showing (to nobody's surprise) that Brad Wall's posturing against federal climate change policy has no basis in reality.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On relentless positivity

Following up on my candidate profiles for the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign, I'll point out one obvious change in dynamics since 2013 - starting with this observation from the previous campaign (emphasis added):
As long as there were four leadership candidates in the race, there were several ways to try to draw dividing lines among them. And the message that's suddenly crystallized in the media [as to a right-left split] wouldn't have registered as the most obvious classification scheme...
One could view the most important differences in the campaigns [as] geographical, with Meili/Broten and Wotherspoon/Weir largely representing Saskatoon and Regina members respectively while competing for other votes around the province. Or one could contrast the above-the-fray messages and statesmanship from Meili/Wotherspoon against the more conflict-oriented approaches of Broten/Weir.
That difference was and remains one rooted in both personality and strategy. While their forms of positive politics manifest themselves differently (Meili's to a greater extent in storytelling and political vision, Wotherspoon's more in crowd-friendly gregariousness), both candidates in the current campaign were on the upbeat side of the previous one.

And it will be worth watching whether (and if so how) that dynamic changes this time around.

In the absence of others on stage to test another candidate's vulnerabilities, neither Meili nor Wotherspoon will be able to count on other voices to do that work for them. And it will be worth watching whether both end up amplifying some more contrasting and critical messages of their own as a result.

At the same time, however, both candidates have also been strong proponents of party unity and solidarity in addition to presenting themselves as positive leaders. And a high-stakes two-way contest for the leadership will likely lead to some within the two camps seeing some opportunity in sharp attacks which both candidates figure to want to limit.

Paradoxically, the best way for both candidates to ensure that supporters don't go overboard may be to find the right level of respectful criticism in discussing and questioning each other - while emphasizing that a generally positive message is crucial to the NDP's future as a party. And we'll see who best works out that balance once Meili and Wotherspoon have to go head to head.

Leadership 2017 Links

One final roundup post from the NDP's federal leadership campaign - with a focus on Jagmeet Singh's first steps as the party's new leader.

- The Ribbon offers a roundtable discussion of Singh's victory. And Ryan Tumulty and Enzo DiMatteo each interview Singh about his campaign and his next steps.

- Brittany Andrew-Amofah discusses what Singh's victory means both for the NDP as a party, and for people of colour who might support it. Dr. Dawg tears into Terry Milewski's interview with Singh as an example of the media's double standard for minority leaders and guests, while Jade Saab is rightly frustrated about having to point out that there's more to Singh than his turban. And Jagdeesh Mann rightly notes that Singh isn't about to be pigeonholed into an overly simplistic view of the Sikh community. 

- Robin Seats discusses how Singh will need to build the NDP. Karl Nerenberg sees working-class voters and Quebec supporters as the keys to Singh's tenure.

- Finally, Noah Richler offers a valuable reminder of the role Thomas Mulcair played as leader - as well as how it should inform the party's continued work.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Ian Welsh neatly summarizes the rules needed to ensure that capitalism doesn't drown out social good:
Capitalism, as it works, destroys itself in a number of ways. For capitalism to work, it must be prevented from doing so:
  1. it must not be allowed to form unregulated monopolies and oligopolies;
  2. it must not be allowed to run bubbles; it must not be allowed to engage in mass fraud;
  3. the money gained from it must not be allowed to turn into power which controls government;
  4. and money must not, generally speaking be allowed to buy anything that matters: from health care to a good education.
Capitalism, as the standard saying runs, is a good servant, and a terrible master. Only fools let capitalists actually control anything in their society that truly matters.
- Jessica Elgot reports on Jeremy Corbyn's much-needed acknowledgment that the structural unfairness in the UK's economy demands fundamental change. And Paul Krugman highlights the many lies behind the Republicans' attempt to warp the U.S. economy even further in favour of the wealthy.

- Bruce Campbell points out the lessons we should have learned from the Lac-Megantic explosion - and contrasts them against a resulting investigation which is scapegoating a few workers while ignoring the systemic causes of a preventable disaster.

- Paul Wells examines the challenges involved in responding to Canada's opioid crisis.

- Finally, Taiaiake Alfred discusses the need to move past a colonial mindset in order to pursue reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. And Murray Mandryk writes about the Sixties Scoop and other recent and ongoing examples of systemic racism in Saskatchewan.