Saturday, November 11, 2017

On suspended animation

It would be nice to be able to share Michael Geist's view that the latest TPP by another name represents a substantial improvement over the original. But to my mind, the real story of the CPTPP is how little it changes.

In principle, I'd have hoped to see a group of parties which didn't include the U.S. (supposedly the driving force behind some of the most draconian provisions of the TPP) actually discuss and reach agreement on alternative language for issues which had been pushed solely by a party which has left the table. But instead, the result of the CPTPP is merely to adopt the same problematic language, while suspending its operation for the moment.

Needless to say, that moment is sure to end as soon as the U.S. decides it wants in again - which the same corporations who lobbied so hard to dictate the terms of the first TPP will surely push whenever the opportunity arises.

At that point, in the absence of some alternative structure which can be seen as having any multilateral agreement  - not to mention in light of the insistence of the parties to the CPTPP that the original was an acceptably "balanced outcome" - there figures to be little prospect that the original terms won't then snap into place at the U.S.' insistence.

As a result, the predictable outcome of the latest round of negotiations is to give the Libs a chance to claim they've meaningfully improved the existing TPP, while potentially locking us into a course which will see its worst terms come into effect. And so the public response to the CPTPP needs to take aim at not only what would immediately be imposed, but what would be far too likely to follow.

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Abacus Data has polled the Canadian public on climate change, and found far more appetite for meaningful action than we generally hear from the political class (and particularly right-wing parties):
Twenty years ago, when the world’s leaders were debating the Kyoto Accord, a case could be made that politicians who chose to be early champions of action to reduce emissions were running a certain amount of political risk.  The public consensus on the need to act was not fully formed, the risks of inaction not as widely perceived, and the alternatives to producing high levels of carbon seemed elusive and expensive.

Today, in Canada, the risk equation has changed. The bigger political peril lies in appearing indifferent to a matter of widespread and growing public preoccupation.

Half of Canadian voters (49%) won’t consider a party or a candidate that doesn’t have a plan to combat climate change.  Only 6% prefer a party or a candidate that ignores the issue.  The rest (44%) are “willing to consider” a party that doesn’t make the climate a priority.
Canada’s political parties do not all see eye to eye on climate change, but our numbers reveal that many Conservative voters share the sentiments of other voters: 85% believe there is a moral responsibility to act, and two thirds (67%) see a looming financial disaster if we fail to do more.  It is inaccurate to imagine a “conservative base” that broadly rejects the need to act on the climate issue.  Most 2015 Conservative Party voters believe the world faces a catastrophe if we do too little and that action will create new opportunities for the economy.
- Meanwhile, Michael Harris criticizes the Libs for being asleep at the switch when it comes to the potential environmental calamity arising from neonic pesticides. 

- Lana Payne writes about the sense of entitlement behind the offshoring of wealth to avoid taxes. And Thomas Walkom notes that governments are finally being forced to pay attention to the problem - but seem all too likely to leave plenty of loopholes to be exploited by the wealthy.

- Martin Regg Cohn discusses the politics behind perpetual poverty. And Trish Garner rightly argues that social supports should be sufficient to provide for basic human dignity.

- Colin Phillips points out the need for a national housing strategy backing by meaningful investments.

- Finally, Kevin Schnepel studies the connection between work opportunities and recidivism rates among people released from prison, and finds that stable jobs with fair wages are crucial in reducing the likelihood of repeat offences.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Thomas Frank asks how we've allowed billionaires to escape any responsibility for the maintenance of civilization by moving their wealth offshore:
I know that what the billionaires and the celebrities have done is legal. They merely took advantage of the system. It’s the system itself, and the way it was deliberately constructed to achieve these awful ends, that should be the target of our fury.

For decades Americans have lashed out against taxation because they were told that cutting taxes would give people an incentive to work harder and thus make the American economy flourish. Our populist leaders told us this – they’re telling us this still, as they reform taxes in Washington – and they rolled back the income tax, they crusaded against the estate tax, and they worked to keep our government from taking action against offshore tax havens.

In reality, though, it was never about us and our economy at all. Today it is obvious that all of this had only one rationale: to raise up a class of supermen above us. It had nothing to do with jobs or growth. Or freedom either. The only person’s freedom to be enhanced by these tax havens was the billionaire’s freedom. It was all to make his life even better, not ours.

Think, for a moment, of how this country has been starved so the holders of these offshore accounts might enjoy their private jets in peace. Think of what we might have done with the sums we have lost to these tax strategies over the decades. All the crumbling infrastructure that politicians love to complain about: it should have – and could have - been fixed long ago.

Think of all the young people saddled with catastrophic student-loan debt: we should have – could have – made that unnecessary. Think of all the decayed small towns, and the dying rust belt cities, and the drug-addicted hopeless: all of them should have – could have – been helped.

But no. Instead America chose a different project. Our leaders raised up a tiny class of otherworldly individuals and built a paradise for them, made their lives supremely delicious. Today they hold unimaginable and unaccountable power.
- Matti Kohonen discusses how tax-avoiding businesses have stayed ahead of regulators and governments. And James King highlights the consequence that only the privileged few are seeing any gains in wealth.

- Jerry Dias rightly argues that Canada shouldn't be wasting time on trade deals like the TPP which serve only to further the grip of the corporate sector at the expense of citizens. But needless to say, the Trudeau Libs couldn't be less concerned about that prospect.

- Voices-Voix offers a report card on the Libs' time in office to date. And Laurin Liu comments on the dog-whistle politics Jagmeet Singh will need to fight in order to offer a governing alternative.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board weighs in on the need for improved parental leave for everybody - not merely the wealthier families who can take advantage of a longer leave period without extra income.

Musical interlude

Phantogram - Don't Move

Thursday, November 09, 2017

New column day

Here, on how beyond the scandals and failures we've seen to date, the Global Transportation Hub was always built on a dangerous desire to allow businesses to escape rules and democratic oversight.

For further reading...
- Geoff Leo reports here on Brightenview's use of benefits for "rural" investors to try to fill a warehouse mall integrally connected to the City of Regina.
- The GTH's bylaws and standards are here, including the adoption of the City of Regina's tax bylaw. And the City's listing of GTH land among its own industrial zones can be found here.
- And the GTH's controlling statute is here, featuring this as to the relationship between its unelected board and affected municipalities:
19(1) Notwithstanding The Cities Act, The Municipalities Act or The Planning and Development Act, 2007, the authority has the exclusive authority to grant all approvals required for a development within the transportation logistics hub, and neither the city nor any other municipality within which the transportation logistics hub is located shall restrict or in any way control development within the transportation logistics hub.
Update: Needless to say, the fact that GTH spaces are being marketed through flat-out fictions also speaks volumes about the Wall government's level of respect for the public.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- The Star's editorial board argues that the Paradise Papers prove the need for a crackdown on offshore tax avoidance. Zach Dubinsky and Harvey Cashore report on one nine-figure scheme cooked up by BMO. And Oxfam offers its list of suggestions to end the UK's tax scandals.

- Meanwhile, Nick Hopkins reports on tax evaders' proud claim they'd secured enough access to top politicians to avoid anything of the sort. Marco Chown Oved exposes how the Harper government similarly gave privileged access and special treatment to tax avoidance lobbyists. And Linda McQuaig comments on the role of Leo Kolber as a fixer for offshoring with the Libs and Cons alike.

- Vitor Mello discusses the rise of neoliberalism and its development as an all-too-rarely questioned starting point for economic debate. And Dani Rodrik writes about the various degrees of neoliberalism - while noting that the more extreme versions fail even on their own terms. 

- Similarly, Noah Smith points out that true supply-side economics include recognition of the value of infrastructure, research spending and other public investments - while the ideological insistence on presenting demand-side solutions solely in terms of tax giveaways misses the opportunity to generate broader growth.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board offers its take as to how to end the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canada's prisons.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Andrew Jackson writes that widespread precarity in work is keeping wages down even as unemployment stays relatively low:
(W)age pressures and inflation might remain persistently low even with a low unemployment rate due to the seemingly inexorable rise of precarious work. Marx's reserve army of the unemployed has become a reserve army of the precariously employed.

Consider this: Of the 247,000 new jobs created over the past year (October to October), almost one in three (29.7 per cent) were temporary positions. The overall incidence of temporary work is now 13.8 per cent or about one in seven jobs, and it is much higher among young workers, women and recent immigrants.

The rise of temporary work suggests that many employers, particularly in private services, do not need to offer secure employment to attract workers. Nor do they need to offer decent wages to the precariously employed.
Employment has become more and more polarized as middle-class, middle-skill jobs have been lost to globalization and technological change. At the low end of the job market, there is fierce competition for even insecure and badly paid employment. But even those in more secure, high-skilled jobs are affected.

It seems that more secure jobs are being lost throughout the economy as many of the permanent, full-time positions vacated by retiring baby boomers are replaced by the temporary and contract jobs on offer to new entrants to the work force.
- Josh Bivens offers a reminder that corporate tax giveaways do nothing at all to improve wages for workers. And Nouriel Roubini points out that the U.S. Republicans' plan to further enrich the Trump class represents a slap in the face to the 99%, while Jared Bernstein is examining its effects piece by piece.

- Tom Parkin discusses how the Libs' plans on issues ranging from pensions to infrastructure are aimed at enriching the corporate sector at the expense of workers. And Christo Aivalis writes about the golden opportunity for Jagmeet Singh to own the issue of tax fairness, while PressProgress is compiling a growing list of Libs and Cons who have made use of tax havens to avoid paying their fair share.

- Finally, Carl Meyer points out the need for far more work in assessing and acting on the health effects of environmental damage. And Jodi McNeill notes the especially toxic legacy of the tar sands.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Surrounded cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Wanda Wyporska writes that increasing inequality is the main factor behind public distrust and discontent with our politics:
Rising inequality is not inevitable, it is largely a result of the political and economic decisions taken by governments. This is clear from the varying levels of inequality in EU countries, and the processes by which these have come about.
Perhaps the most obvious area in which countries have been more or less effective in keeping inequality in check is taxation and fiscal redistribution. While many European countries have seen top income tax rates fall in recent years, with expected subsequent increases in inequality, more equal countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Finland have retained top income tax rates of well over 50 per cent. Fiscal redistribution drastically reduces inequality in all developed countries, including the UK and US, but there are significant differences between them. Predictably, the Nordic countries have higher rates of redistribution than the UK, but so do other more equal countries such as Belgium, France, Germany and Ireland.

Taxation and redistribution of income are not the only effective methods by which to tackle inequality. Japan’s redistribution rate is low compared to many other developed economies, but starting from a much lower level of market inequality, it results in a lower overall level of economic inequality. This points towards important measures to reduce inequality beyond ‘tax and spend’ approaches.
In much of Europe and the rest of the developed world, we are at a crossroads. For many, the dividing line is between protectionist nationalism and a globalised, liberalised approach to politics and economics. However, this misses a more important, older divide – between those who wish power and wealth to remain concentrated in the hands of a few, and those who wish to see control and prosperity enjoyed by the many. The lesson from Europe is that there are measures that can reduce inequality that do not involve retreats into nationalist agendas or reduced worker’s rights. If governments are to survive ongoing turmoil and build legitimacy, they will need to look at these and new ideas to build more equal, fairer societies. 
- Drew Brown discusses how the Paradise Papers revelations show the contrast between Justin Trudeau's "middle-class" messaging and his government of, by and for the wealthy and entitled few. Alex Boutilier and Robert Cribb report that the Canada Revenue Agency has been fighting efforts to even calculate how much revenue is being lost offshore. And David Cay Johnston writes that tax rules haven't kept up with the wealth and influence they need to be able to regulate.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh examines the widespread violence and abuse faced by health care workers.

- Dirk Meissner reports on Jagmeet Singh's much-needed message that drug addiction, poverty and mental health be treated as social issues rather than criminal justice ones. And Anne Kingston discusses the lack of logic and compassion in omitting dental care from our public health system.

- Finally, Ethan Cox writes that Valerie Plante's successful campaign for mayor of Montreal should offer an example as to how progressive parties and candidates can win by shifting the frame of political debate.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy studies the large-scale use of offshore tax avoidance in the corporate sector, just in time for the Paradise Papers to reveal another set of tax avoidance loopholes being kept open for the benefit of Justin Trudeau's insiders. And Matthew Klein proposes that governments take non-voting equity stakes of corporations up front, rather than having to try to navigate a myriad of tax avoidance techniques to ensure a business pays its fair share.

- Eric Levitz argues that gross imbalances of wealth and influence within the U.S.' political system are more of a threat to a functional democracy than any outside intervention. And the Equality Trust weighs in on the need to encourage civic engagement by placing people on a more equal footing:
With the rungs on the ladder this far apart it is little wonder that social mobility is severely lacking according to the government’s own Social Mobility Commission. Citizenship is a two-way process; in order for people to engage in a positive way with the state, then the state must engage with its citizens in a positive way and protect and respect them. This vast material inequality is now beginning to seep through to matters of life and death with life expectancy levels stalling and infant mortality rates beginning to rise.

The fact that so much of the nation’s wealth is (and is very acutely perceived and felt to be) concentrated in London and the South-East also aggravates this sense of being left behind in other parts of the UK. This is also compounded by disparities in income and wealth between old and young, urban and rural, white and BME communities as well as between men and women – all of which are component parts of our overall economic and social inequality. The only way to overcome all these divisions between us is to actively plan to reduce them. We need the government to commit to a national mission of economic and social renewal based firmly on reducing the gap between rich and poor in the UK.
- Maggie Gillis reports that the simple step of opening up a school for community use can tap into a desire for social connection - making it all the more egregious that governments like that of Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party are trying to shut down or privatize the spaces which can be used for that purpose.

- Meanwhile, Paul Dechene discusses the poverty which remains as a blight on Saskatchewan even through what was supposed to have been a period of prosperity.

- Finally, Beatrice Britneff reports on the Libs' use of a proposed bill which hasn't even been passed yet to limit public access to information.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Andre Picard argues that Bernie Sanders' trip to highlight Canada's health care system shouldn't be taken as an indication we lack plenty of room for improvement. And Margot Sanger-Katz writes that Sanders indeed learned lessons about the holes in our health coverage.

- David Suzuki discusses the importance of ensuring that we're governed by people working toward the public interest, not the profit motive of the fossil fuel sector (or other exploitative industries). Patrick Metzger highlights how we're already paying a price - even beyond the harm to our planet - for a lack of meaningful climate change policy. And Janice Paskey discusses the "creative sentencing" that has allowed polluters to further their own interests even after having being responsible for environmental atrocities.

- Hayley Bennett notes that messages to promote environmental action might be more effective if they're framed to fit within social dominance theory - though it's worth noting that decoupling climate change from other important narratives about unfairness and exploitation may repel many essential allies in the fight.

- Meanwhile, Ian Welsh offers up a theory of change which explains that while changing set minds may be prohibitively difficult (especially in the absence of an imminent shock), longer-term change is downright inevitable. And Jessica Vomiero reports on a new study showing how pollution is linked to stress and anxiety.

- Finally, Chris Murphy offers a brief look at the privilege he recognizes for himself - while Hadiya Roderique goes into much greater depth about the disadvantages and wrenching choices facing minority students trying to find their way into the legal profession.