Monday, December 31, 2018

Monday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your year-end reading.

- Kenan Malik comments on the many forms of classism. And Roderick Benns examines how Ontario's basic income recipients were able to make use of their increased income security - including by spending more time with friends, with family and volunteering in their communities.

- Susan writes about the distinction between an Alberta NDP government which treats people with dignity and respect, and Jason Kenney's UCP which goes out of its way to try to strip anything of the sort from minority group members.

- David Leonhardt discusses the fundamental importance of climate change compared to every other area of public policy debate.

- Finally, Sonia Sodha writes that rather than accepting the food industry's spin on health regulations as reflecting an excessive nanny state, we should be concerned about the unhealthy diet we're pushed to eat by corporate giants:
“What about our free will?” the anti-nanny-staters will cry at the idea of forcing manufacturers to act. But we don’t see people with placards in the street protesting against the thwarting of our right to eat a slice of bread with as much salt as a packet of crisps. The beauty of food reformulation is that because it happens gradually, our palates adjust and we simply don’t notice that certain foods are 30% less salty than a decade ago.

The free-will question needs turning on its head. The dirty secret at the heart of the food industry is that the deliciously unhealthy stuff – fat, sugar, salt – is also cheap. Cram foods full of them and it’s not only consumers who love them, but shareholders. And this, together with changing eating habits, including the popularity of ready meals and eating out, has driven up the unhealthiness of our food over time. As the food that lines supermarket shelves gets fattier, saltier and more sugary, our palates are reconditioned to crave more of it. There’s no free choice about the industry reshaping our tastes to benefit its profit margins without us even realising.

That’s why it’s not just the usual suspects who are arguing for a compulsory approach, but some industry voices as well, including the British Retail Consortium. They know that unless all food manufacturers are forced to play by the rules, progress will be limited as even responsible manufacturers are held back by first-mover disadvantage.

That won’t stop the libertarians crying foul. Perhaps what motivates some of them is a belief that this is all about individual willpower, a disdain for people just too greedy to leave some of their dinner on their plate. But it’s not Christmas levels of gluttony primarily driving our obesity crisis. An irresponsible food industry has got a lot of lives to answer for.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Paul Barratt discusses the results of a roundtable addressing inequality in Australia - with plenty of lessons worth keeping in mind elsewhere:
...(I)nequality is increasing significantly in Australia and, without a change in public policy, the problem will continue to worsen. Australia’s social security system is no longer adequate; it imposes unacceptable constraints on the growing numbers of people dealing with the consequences of poverty, unemployment, homelessness and general social disadvantage. Australia’s poor record on closing the gap between Indigenous and other Australians and between men and women is unacceptable. So is the inappropriate influence on policy decisions wielded by the corporate sector and those in the upper percentiles of wealth and income, and the failure of the current political structures to curb that influence.

The roundtable participants repeatedly drew attention to the inadequacy of the current economic model, its dependency on endless growth, its failure to engage with ecological and climate limits, and its assumption that unconstrained markets can respond to the need for the dignity and wellbeing of the whole population.
We all deserve basic human rights: food, clothing, shelter, education and modern healthcare. But we should aspire to go way beyond that, to be a genuinely intelligent and inclusive nation guided by an agreed set of national values.

It is time to reject the politically charged distinction between “lifters” and “leaners” that undermines our identity as a people committed to a fair go for all. The overwhelming majority of Australians want to have a job. They want to feel that it is a job that has meaning and they want to do it well. How productive they are depends not only upon how hard they are prepared to work but how well they are trained, how well they are led and managed, and what equipment they are furnished with.

In our wage fixation processes we need to reintroduce the concept of the living wage. We must recognise the benefits of investing in people’s education, vocational training, improved access to healthcare, public housing and a decent living standard for those who find themselves unemployed. Elimination of tax benefits like the capital gains tax discount and uncapped negative gearing against personal income, and an effective assault on multinational avoidance, could provide the wherewithal to tackle the problem.
- Matt Bruenig discusses three classifications of populist policies which can rebalance our economic structures, and notes that the three can and should be complementary to each other.

- Dawn Foster points out how social housing has been undermined in the UK by privatization and class segregation. And Joshua Schneyer and Andrea Januta report on the private operators who have turned housing for the U.S. military into a source of exorbitant profits for substandard accommodations.

- Peter Gosselin highlights how workers in their 50s and up are being pushed out of the jobs they thought would last until a standard retirement age.

- Lisa Naccarato reports on a push by Ontario doctors to ensure that migrants have access to needed health care.

- Finally, Kira Lerner discusses how deliberate confusion prevents American voters from seeing their choices reflected through elections.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Joe Vipond and Noel Keough highlight the gap between the global impetus to avoid climate breakdown and the narrow self-interest of the Alberta oil industry. Michael Bueckert discusses Jason Kenney's attempt to turn the government apparatus against the exercise of fundamental freedoms through boycotts. And Markham Hislop comments that violent rhetoric from Kenney and his supporters is entirely counterproductive. 

- Meanwhile, Janani Whitfield reports on the damage being done to Saskatchewan municipalities by oil and gas operators skipping their tax payments. Janis Searles Jones and Phillipe Cousteau write about the Taylor Energy oil spill which has been polluting the Gulf of Mexico for over 14 years. And Jennifer Ludden reports on the Trump administration's decision to let coal plants inflict mercury and other toxic emissions on unsuspecting citizens.

- Jennifer Keesmat argues that Canada's cities need to be designed for people rather than cars - particularly in light of the death toll piling up as vehicle traffic has been prioritized over pedestrian safety.

- Doug Cuthand writes on the potentially wide-ranging effects of a recent Ontario court decision finding that Canada's treaty obligations should be interpreted to recognize shared ownership and account for modern developments.

- Finally, Taylor Owen opines that after a year of even more outrages than usual, it's time for governments to meaningfully regulate the online platforms which currently exercise massive and unchecked power.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Musical interlude

Matthew Good - Bad Guys Win

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Matt McGrath and Dahr Jamail each point out some of the most important immediate effects of climate change. And Kate Marvel discusses the challenge we face in trying to avoid more severe breakdown in the longer term:
You may have heard that we have 12 years to fix everything. This is well-meaning nonsense, but it’s still nonsense. We have both no time and more time. Climate change isn’t a cliff we fall off, but a slope we slide down. And, true, we’ve chosen to throw ourselves headlong down the hill at breakneck speed. But we can always choose to begin the long, slow, brutal climb back up. If we must argue about what the view will be like when we get there, let’s at least agree to turn around first.

It’s true that we’re not going to get utopia. The planet has already warmed by one degree Celsius. Most of the coral reefs are going to die, and many of the glaciers will melt. Climate change is here, leaving grubby human fingerprints on parched, burned, flooded and melted landscapes. But we don’t have to settle for dystopia. It’s going to be worse, but it doesn’t have to be bleak. We can have a “topia,” an ordinary future where we go about ordinary lives in cities on stilts, missing what we’ve lost but looking forward to better things. There is light in the future that doesn’t come from burning.
- Meanwhile, the Mound of Sound is rightly concerned that international trade agreements will be interpreted as preventing governments from doing what's needed to salvage a liveable climate.

- Claire Cain Miller examines the cost of parenting - and the increasing inequality in how much money is available to be spent on children. And Alex Matthews-King discusses how economic factors can affect a child's brain development for life.

- Finally, Owen Jones writes about the value of the UK's council housing - and points out that MPs who live in communities with a range of incomes and life situations are far better positioned to engage with a full range of constituent concerns than those who isolate themselves in wealthy enclaves.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

New column day

Here, on the need for progressive leaders to treat consultation processes as a path to goals worth achieving rather than an excuse not to pursue them - particular in the face of right-wing politicians determined to reverse progress at the first opportunity.

For further reading...
- Ian Bailey notes that Quebec and Prince Edward Island represent the next hopes for electoral reform in Canada after the failure of British Columbia's referendum. And Crawford Kilian raises the possibility that a party merger may be the best short-term option in B.C. now that electoral reform has failed - though that would of course only worsen the problem with a limited range of choices.
- Katy Balls discusses how the UK's Brexit referendum may have turned some voters off for life (while also causing massive damage to the citizenry).
- The Globe and Mail has been tracking the massive damage being inflicted by Ontario based on Doug Ford's belief that having won power without a platform, he's entitled to radically alter policies without any regard for anybody but his cronies and donors. And Emma Graney reports on Jason Kenney's choice to pretend Alberta's next election is a formality - and to impose as much shock treatment as he can on the province if proven correct.
- Finally, Harry Cheadle writes about the Republicans' use of lame-duck sessions to undermine democracy where their opponents might otherwise be able to make use of popular mandates for change. And Ari Berman discusses how in addition to undermining specific elected officials, Republicans are also eliminating the availability of referendum processes after deciding they were being used too effectively to pass progressive policies.

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Howard Mann discusses the World Bank's new model for public-private partnerships which deliberately avoids placing any real risk with the profiteers who participate only to make money off of necessary infrastructure.

- The New York Times takes an in-depth look at the environmental damage being wrought by the Trump administration. And Jeffrey Kucik comments on the glaring lack of any meaningful environmental standards in international trade agreements.

- Hina Alam discusses the rapid deterioration of Western Canadian glaciers as yet another obvious effect of climate breakdown. And Monica Wilson notes that the crucial solution to plastic accumulation is to avoid creating waste at all.

- Ben Beckett examines some of the key fights faced by the labour movement in 2018 - and argues that the unions prepared to fight have been able to achieve some important gains.

- Finally, Michael Spence comments on the connection between policies aimed at further enriching elites, and the spread of both economic weakness and social unrest.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Wednesday reading.

- Matt Bruenig discusses the many opportunities available to expand the reach of public ownership in the U.S.:
The state can very competently own retail and manufacturing companies by simply buying up their stock and acting like an institutional investor. For instance, a social wealth fund created by the federal government could gradually buy up stock in Amazon and Walmart to get into retail and buy up stock in US Steel and General Motors to get into manufacturing. The latter is not even a hypothetical because the government did recently buy up almost all of the GM stock during the financial crisis, though it subsequently sold off its stake.

The genius of modern finance has been to create corporate ownership arrangements that allow basically anyone, including the government, to own shares of any company in any sector while being as involved (or uninvolved) as they want to be in steering the company. A federal social wealth fund, like the one I advocate, should be able to take advantage of modern shareholding institutions to expand public ownership into every aspect of the US economy.
- The Globe and Mail's editorial board offers a reminder of the need for multi-generational thinking - not in the sense of the Cons' spin about deficits and debts, but in the sense of using our collective power to build a healthy society and sustainable economy. And Matthew Taylor reports on UK Labour's plans to transition to a clean energy economy, while Liliana Camacho calls for a similar green jobs strategy in Ontario.

- Davide Castro comments on the folly of austerity - and the narrowly-defined self-interest of a few wealthy individuals which keeps it in the policy mix despite its obvious flaws. And James Brokenshire reports on the growing recognition even among UK Cons that homelessness and other avoidable problems are the result of anti-social policies - though that's not stopping them from continuing their gratuitous cuts to public services.

- Finally, Daniel Tencer points out how wage stagnation and soaring real estate prices have made it impossible for younger workers to own homes in many Canadian cities.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Gerard Di Trolio discusses the need for an active labour movement to respond to the contempt for collective action shared by the Libs and the Cons. And Nicole Goodkind reports on the Trump administration's plan to deprive workers of billions in wages by opening up new loopholes for joint employers.

- Andrew Jackson debunks the efforts of right-wing propaganda mills to try to provoke tax revolts at a time when the more serious issue is a lack of revenue to address obvious social needs.

- Michele Biss points out that the Libs' new measure of poverty falls short of recognizing the importance of needs such as child care and prescription drugs in defining an acceptable standard of living. And Jordan Press reports that the Libs disregarded their own expert report on poverty by refusing to recognize freedom from poverty as a fundamental right.

- Meanwhile, Claire Kelloway writes about the U.S.' growing reliance on dollar stores as source of (unhealthy) food as a source of ill health and inequality.

- Finally, Dan Gardner highlights how the need for universal action against a slow climate breakdown runs into our instincts to perceive threats only in the shorter term. But James Temple writes that the experience of climate-related natural disasters is beginning to bring the reality home to people who may not have fully appreciated the danger.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jeffrey Sachs writes that the fight against climate breakdown demands a concerted solution to global problem - rather than political wrangling over whether anybody will accept any responsibility for desperately-needed change. And Adam Tooze points out the foreseeable political threats posed by rising sea levels.

- James Wilt notes that a carbon tax at the levels on offer in Canada will fall far short of making a meaningful dent in our obligations - and argues that a relatively narrow issue placed front and centre for the political benefit of both the Cons and Libs is keeping us from having a necessary discussion about how to accomplish far more. And Harry Zehner writes about the problems with a neoliberal response to climate change:
In practice, neoliberalism favors the wealthy over the working class, the entrenched powers over social mobility and the individual over the collective good. It takes the training wheels off of global capitalism through deregulation and tax cuts, giving corporate powers free reign to raze the environment in the name of their bottom line. It chips away at the power of unions, collective action and the idea of social welfare, preferring to let a rigged market decide who prospers.
Neoliberalism doesn’t believe in systemic inequality. Instead, it tells those stuck in generational poverty that if only they worked harder and acted smarter, they would be rewarded by the free market’s unbiased invisible hand. The neoliberal ethos tells us climate change is a result of our personal habits, of our commute to work, of our diet, of our heating bill, while a handful of companies responsible for the vast majority of emissions get tax cuts and subsidies. Since its mainstream introduction by Thatcher and Reagan, neoliberal ideals have led to worsening wealth inequality, stagnant wages and a dwindling middle class.
It is this thinking that informs policies like Macron’s fuel tax.
The incentive-based logic behind the tax, that a high fuel price will lead people to switch to more efficient means of transportation, is faulty. Fossil fuel dependence is more than a personal choice, despite what the free-market enthusiasts would like you to believe. A working woman or man from France or the United States or Nigeria or Vietnam can’t respond to the brute force of a fuel tax if there’s no feasible alternative for them to turn to. Fossil fuel addiction exists on a structural level, not an individual one. 
By attempting to implement a surface level solution to a deeply ingrained problem, Macron handed the Right a talking point on a silver platter. His botched tax has likely set substantive climate action back years. At the same time, it has provided much needed clarity. There is only one path forward: governments must intervene to ensure affordable, ecologically friendly alternatives. Placing the burden of environmental healing on the working class isn’t just unfair; it’s impractical.
- Meanwhile, Mia Rabson reports on the Libs' claim that a move toward more efficient transportation may bridge the massive gap between the emission reductions they've promised and the policies they've offered.

- Karl Nerenberg points out how the Libs are alienating workers across the country even as they offer far more public resources to the oil sector than to other, cleaner forms of development.

- Nisha Kansal and Arnav Agarwal discuss the importance of health care as a human right, including for migrants who are currently excluded from the Canadian health care system.

- Finally, Lana Payne offers a few inspirational stories of activism to celebrate over the holidays and take as examples in the new year.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Jerry Dias writes that the holiday season will be a difficult one for far too many Canadian workers facing precarious employment and hostile governments. And the Economist discusses the long hours expected of workers in the U.S. and the UK.

- PressProgress highlights Scott Moe's condescension toward workers as part of his Christmas message. And Nora Loreto maps out at the big money and anti-worker animus behind Ontario Proud's astroturf campaign.

- Sarah Niedobl discusses the massive public demand for federal action to ensure housing is available and affordable.

- Mario Canseco examines the results of British Columbia's disappointing referendum on electoral reform, and finds that confusion with the choices represented a significant factor.
- And finally, Michael Erman and Robin Respaut report that big pharma is once again jacking up prices after temporarily holding them down in an effort to hand Donald Trump some political talking points.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Musical interlude

Trust - Capitol

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Tom Parkin discusses the contrived war between the Libs' fake progressives and the Cons' phony populists:
In Canada, under Conservatives and Liberals, income polarization continues, social programs get cut, workers’ economic strength weakens, infrastructure is turned into a finance rent-seeking scheme and oil and gas companies get billions in subsidies — currently by a government that claims to be a global climate leader.

Not surprisingly, this might make some people believe the political-economic elite and the Canadian people aren’t on the same team.

There is, of course, a perfectly rational way out of the economic and political disaster foisted on us. The high cost of everyday life needs to be unwound using policy initiatives, including a public drug plan and childcare. We need to attack money laundering and tax housing speculation. Critical monopolies like power grids should be turned into ratepayer-owned co-ops. Public investment in infrastructure needs to be delivered on-time and on-budget by ending the finance of the finance sector. And the labour market should expand bargaining power for people, especially those who are precarious and with low income. The billions being spent on oil and gas subsidies should be reinvested in what’s being labelled a Green New Deal. We should seek international trade and diplomatic alliances with countries that share our social and democratic values. We should stop arming tyrants.

It’s a pretty obvious plan. But it doesn’t help the political and economic elite. So to replace the obvious solutions, we have political fakery — in two brands. And you better believe it. Or at least one of them.

Brand A pushes the fake populist narrative that refugees are today’s crisis, tax cuts for the rich will raise wages, and the oil and gas industry needs more public subsidies. Brand B sells the fake progressive line that things are great, ending racism is one call-out away, and life-changing investments in people are just around the corner.

But surely Canadians understand that, whether it’s Brand A or Brand B, fake populists or fake progressives, Conservatives or Liberals, their reality doesn’t change.
- And Lynne Fernandez writes about the real challenges facing Manitoba (in contrast to the trumped-up deficit fears being used by Brian Pallister as an excuse to slash social investments).

- Sara Peach offers some suggestions in conducting difficult but necessary conversations about the realities of climate change. Jonathan Watts writes about the risks of climate tipping points - but also points out that they signal the value of taking action. Robert Hackett and Philippa Adams point out how mainstream coverage of pipeline issues tends to freeze out any voices other than oil industry backers. Bonnie Heilman reviews the Just Transition summit which discussed how Saskatchewan can do its part, while Vanessa Williamson comments on France's Gilets Jaunes protests (as opposed to the astroturf Alberta knockoff) as an indication that the price of climate action can't be imposed solely on the working class.

- David Climenhaga examines the corporate funding behind a "protest" which served mostly to confirm how clueless Andrew Scheer is. And Dave Cournoyer calls out the recent spate of separatist blather as the toddler's temper tantrum that it is, while Mitchell Anderson notes that reality wouldn't be kind to any Alberta attempt to go it alone.

- Finally, Sarah O'Connor examines how the UK Cons' freeze of housing benefits seems positively calculated to force people out of their homes. And Brittany Shoot discusses the obvious link between soaring rents and increased homelessness.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Anis Chowdhury highlights how industry-wide bargaining which avoids a race to the bottom on wages produces improved efficiency as well as a better standard of living for workers. But Christopher Ingraham discusses the choice of U.S. policymakers to instead pull the rug out from under 90 per cent of workers:
Bivens and Shierholz say that poor wage growth is less a function of increasing employer power and more a product of deliberate efforts to undermine worker power. Policymakers, for instance, have been reluctant to raise minimum wages, which would directly benefit workers at the bottom of the income distribution. They’ve taken steps to make it harder for workers to secure bargaining power, eroding union membership in the process. And Bivens and Shierholz maintain that the Federal Reserve has contributed to the problem by prioritizing low inflation over high employment.

Many of these policies were put in place with good intentions — to boost productivity and the health of the economy as a whole. But the data show that productivity has actually slowed since the 1970s. “Between 1973 and 2017,” Bivens and Shierholz write, “net productivity grew half as fast as it had from 1948 to 1973.”

Bivens and Shierholz conclude that if policymakers are interested in boosting wages, they should work to increase the power of workers relative to employers by prioritizing strong unions, high minimum wages and full employment. “In short, the policy movement to disempower workers not only led to less equal growth, but was also associated with significantly slower growth,” they write.
- And Brian Dew notes the result that large U.S. corporations are sitting on more cash than they know what to do with, even as workers face increasingly precarious lives.

- Brennan Neill reports on the exploitation of Canadian penitentiary inmates, who are forced to pay far more than retail prices for basic goods and personal effects due to a corporate monopoly.

- Jonathon Gatehouse rightly questions the Libs' decision to gift another $1.6 billion to the oil industry when the result is to undermine Canada's climate commitments. The Pembina Institute points out how businesses as well as citizens stand to benefit from British Columbia's transition to a lower-emission economy. And the Associated Press reports on Norway's policy-induced boom in electric vehicle sales.

- Finally, Linda Leon points out how proportional electoral systems can limit the influence of extreme parties by ensuring they can't win absolute power with a minority of support.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Trevor Tombe highlights how equalization actually works - and how the bleatings of Jason Kenney, Scott Moe and other demagogues would serve only to eliminate anything worthy of the name.

- Mary O'Hara rightly argues that child poverty in the UK and U.S. is an outrage demanding an immediate response - and the same holds true in Canada as well. Alexandra Zannis comments on the need to move from temporary holiday charity to a commitment to human dignity and public support throughout the year. And Al Wiebe writes about his experience of poverty during the holiday season.

- Elizabeth Warren makes the case for a government generic drug manufacturer to ensure that public health isn't at the mercy of corporate rent-seeking. And Mariana Mazzucato discusses the importance of mission-oriented governance, including recognition of the positive role governments can and should play in economic development.

- Meanwhile, Murray Mandryk points out the lack of even a basic maintenance plan at SaskPower as a painful example of a vital public service being neglected.

- Finally, Max FineDay writes that reconciliation is only possible if everybody works toward it - and that there's far too little indication that non-Indigenous Canadians are prepared to put in the effort.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Proximate cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Luke Savage highlights the distinction between photo-op liberalism and any genuine commitment to social progress:
This may be the reason liberal thought endlessly obsesses over the language used in political debate and often seems to place a higher value on its tone and quality than on its content or outcome. It’s also why, I suspect, today’s grinning Trudeaus and Obamas seem so much more preoccupied with how things are perceived to be going than with how they actually are, and value the sanctity of procedures over the implications they may ultimately have for ordinary people’s lives.

The animating mission here is less to combat injustice than to efficiently manage discontent: to take the temperature of the popular mood, strain it of radical aspiration, then serve it back wrapped in the most aesthetically pleasing package liberalism’s practitioners can assemble, and pray like hell nobody notices when the gold paint loses its luster at the first sign of a market hiccup, budget deficit, foreign intervention, or genuine challenge from the left.
In theory, modern liberalism is a set of ideas about human freedom, markets, and representative government. In practice, or so it now seems to me, it has largely become a political affect, and a quintessentially conservative one at that: a set of reflexes common to those with a Panglossian faith in capitalist markets and the institutions that attempt to sustain them amid our flailing global order. In theory, it is an ideology of progress. In practice, it has become the secular theology of the status quo; the mechanism through which the gilded buccaneers of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and multinational capital rationalize hierarchy and exploitation while fostering resignation and polite deference among those they seek to rule.
- Ben Potter writes that Australia's largest carbon polluters are seeking the same kind of free ride being given to Canada's. And Mia Rabson reports that the Libs have decided to hand another $1.6 billion in free money to the oil sector rather than making any meaningful investment in a transition to clean energy.

- Kieran Leavitt and Trevor Howell report on the emerging story about Jason Kenney's manipulation of the UCP leadership campaign. Michael Laxer writes that a propensity for bullying and vengeance may be part of the downfall of Doug Ford and his party. And Paul Krugman weighs in on the Republicans' rejection of democracy.

- Finally, Wency Leung reports on a pilot project testing the effectiveness of social prescriptions for Ontario patients. And Karl Nerenberg discusses the NDP's plan to deal with opioid addictions by decriminalizing addiction while ensuring that the corporations responsible pay their fair share.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- The Guardian's editorial board writes that there's no excuse for political choices which leave people homeless - and no reason not to starting correcting ongoing breaches of the right to housing. And Emily Mathieu reports on the push for Toronto to declare a state of emergency over its persistent homelessness.

- Matthew Taylor comments on how gratuitous austerity has left English children without the essentials of life, including basic food and clothing. And the Economist notes that school nutrition is among the social priorities being slashed by the Trump administration in the name of corporate profits.

- Meanwhile, Brad Delong examines the effect of Trump's corporate tax giveaway, while noting that the corporate shills who claimed that freebies for business would lead to benefits for anybody else have faced no apparent remorse over their predictable failure:
The economists who predicted that tax cuts would spur a rapid increase in investment and sustained growth have now been proven wrong. If they were serious academics committed to their discipline, they would take this as a sign that they have something to learn. Sadly, they have not. They have remained silent, which suggests that they are not surprised to see investment fall far short of what they promised.

But why should they be surprised? After all, it would be specious to assume, as their models do, that investment can rapidly rise (or fall) as foreign investors flood into (or flee) the US. Individuals and firms do not suddenly ratchet up their savings just because the after-tax profit rate has increased. While a higher profit rate does make saving more profitable, it also increases the income from one’s past savings, thus reducing the need to save. Generally speaking, the two balance out.

All of those who published op-eds and released studies supporting the corporate tax cuts last year knew (or should have known) this to begin with. That is why they have not bothered to investigate their flawed forecasts to determine what they may have missed. It is as if they knew all along that their predictions were wrong.
- Finally, David Suzuki points out the health benefits of taking action against climate change. And Karl Nerenberg comments on the need to treat climate breakdown as a civilizational threat, though Fiona Harvey writes that the latest UN agreement falls far short of the mark. And Marc Jaccard highlights the problems with getting hung up on carbon taxes rather than the greater goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Linda Solomon Wood writes that Canadians need to be wary of fake news being propagated in our midst:
(W)e face a continuous, deliberate, planned assault on the truth. Not just on the facts themselves, but on truth as an idea. On truth as a value worth defending. And for those who believe in that value, for those who believe the pursuit of truth is in any way sacred, this is war. “Fake news” is a tactic, not a strategy. The strategy is to:
  • undermine our trust in democratic institutions
  • undermine our trust in sources of information
  • and undermine our trust in each other
  • and to put whole nations under its spell.
Fake news is the tool of choice for authoritarians. Authoritarianism and hate have something in common: a simple, dramatic story. The truth will always be messier. To prevail, truth needs space and focused attention. And this work, this war, needs skilled storytellers, thousands and thousands of trained journalists, who are experienced and compassionate, and people like you, who will subscribe to and pay for real news. We need journalists more than ever to tell good, honest stories that let us better know each other. It will take thousands of journalists empowered by millions of readers. It will take a tsunami of truth.
- Bob Mackin examines yet another astroturf arrangement being set up by the B.C. Libs' big-money backers. And David Climenhaga notes that it's hard to tell outside agitation from homegrown right-wingers when it comes to yet another tiresome spiel about Alberta separatism.

- Tom Parkin writes that there's nothing new in the Libs' attacks on labour rights - and that the latest attempt to squelch the right to strike doesn't figure to end any better than the Cons' versions.

- Alex Paterson discusses the economic and human costs of poverty in Canada. And Roderick Benns points out the positive effects of a basic income in reducing stress and anxiety.

- Finally, Lisa Girion exposes the link between baby powder and asbestos - and how decades of children were put at risk by a corporate actor with no regard for legal obligations or public interests.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz examine the source of a labour market which is offering little to workers, and conclude the issue is less increased employer power than the systematic destruction of workers' bargaining power:
  1. The biggest change in relative power between typical workers and their employers in recent decades has been a collapse of workers’ power. There is some evidence of increasing absolute employer power (e.g., through increased market concentration), but our view is that the bigger change remains the collapse of workers’ power.
  2. This collapse of worker power has been overwhelmingly driven by conscious policy decisions that have intentionally undercut institutions and standards that previously bolstered the economic leverage and bargaining power of typical workers; it was not driven simply by apolitical market forces.
  3. ...The lodestar for economic policy should be balanced—not necessarily competitive—labor markets. Many of the policy changes that have undercut workers’ power cannot be characterized as simply being “uncompetitive” per se. In competitive markets in economics textbooks, both employers and employees lack power. But in real-world labor markets, employers rarely lack for power, and our strong view is that policymakers should care more about balancing labor market power between employers and workers than about trying to create labor markets that are competitive in the textbook sense of the word.
- Meanwhile, Alex MacPherson reports on Scott Moe's feckless response to the predictable realization that corporate decisions have resulted in Saskatchewan losing the head office jobs that were supposed to have been preserved when PCS was sold.

- John Foster offers a reminder that pipelines won't help at all with the fundamental problem that oil has a finite lifespan as a viable industry - and that bitumen in particular doesn't hold much of a business case in the foreseeable future. The Economist points out that the tar sands are a particular barrier to Canada's climate change promises. And Normand Mousseau writes that while we're nowhere near a pace to reach even Canada's current unambitious emission reduction targets, it's entirely possible to get there with a reasonable amount of political will.

- Carl Meyer reports on Alberta's delays in implementing pollution restrictions. But in some promising news, Jeff Lewis reports on British Columbia's steps to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells.

- Finally, Nathan Jensen examines the general ineffectiveness of corporate incentives as a means of benefiting anybody other than the businesses looking to exploit the public.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Musical interlude

Orbital - Belfast

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jim Stanford discusses the decline (PDF) of Australia's enterprise bargaining system (and associated lack of wage growth).

- Patrick Butler reports on the tens of thousands of people who will be homeless for the holidays in the UK due in large part to the Conservatives' austerity. And Jennifer Quesnel reports on the likelihood that Saskatchewan families will face the same fate due to the Moe government's slashing of support programs. 

- Chuck Collins and Helen Flannery discuss the dangers of relying on philanthropy rather than sustainable public systems to meet vital needs. And Marianne Bertrand, Matilde Bombardini, Raymond Fisman, Bradley Hackinen and Francesco Trebbi study how charitable donations are used to increase corporate influence over government decision-making.

- Gary Yohe and Michael Mann points out that the U.S. is already facing thousands of avoidable deaths due to climate change, with far more looming in the future if we don't change course quickly. And Cory Coleman reports on the Saskatchewan Environmental Society's blueprint (PDF) for a provincial plan which would actually lead to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

- Finally, the Globe and Mail's editorial board notes that Doug Ford's arbitrary and evidence-free politics raise just as many concerns for businesses as for citizens. And Fatima Syed reports on retroactive cuts to the Ontario College of Midwives as yet another prime example.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alex Hemingway and David Macdonald point out the appalling wealth gap between British Columbia's privileged few and most of the population.

- ProPublica reports that the IRS is being used to exacerbate the similar gap in the U.S. by focusing its limited resources on the working poor rather than on wealthy individuals and corporations thumbing their noses at any social obligations. And Elizabeth Thompson notes that Canada still hasn't seen a single charge or conviction arising out of the Panama Papers.

- Nick Saul rightly argues that Ontario needs to focus on raising wages and incomes in order to respond to rising food prices and other costs of living.

- Dan Leger writes that the rise of bigotry in politics is fueling a growing number of hate crimes. And George Monbiot highlights a UK example of how the Koch brothers are bankrolling the descent into barbarism.

- Finally, Ryan Meili makes the case for the Saskatchewan NDP's renewable energy plan as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also providing tangible economic benefits for participants. Matthew Taylor reports on London's declaration of a climate emergency (matched with a push toward carbon neutrality by 2030). And Peggy Lam reports that plenty of businesses are calling for a rapid transition to zero-emission vehicles as another crucial step in averting climate breakdown.

New column day

Here, on the outside interference becoming the norm in elections everywhere - and the Saskatchewan Party's choice to avoid even the slightest steps to ensure that provincial elections are centered on citizens rather than corporate messaging.

For further reading...
- I've previously written about the need to address the dangers of corporate money in Saskatchewan politics.
- Graeme Gordon and Jonathan Goldsbie reported on the funding behind the Ontario Proud astroturf operation, while PressProgress has previously pointed out its corporate fund-raising pitch.
- And finally, Stuart Thomson reports on the House of Commons ethics committee's hearings into election integrity. And Carl Meyer notes that Ontario Proud left MPs with plenty of unanswered questions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Joe Pinsker offers a reminder that the wealthiest individuals are primarily concerned with positional rather than absolute gains - meaning that nothing useful is accomplished by diverting wealth toward them other than to drive up the price of status symbols. And Thomas Piketty thoroughly debunks Emmanuel Macron's excuses for abolishing France's wealth tax and otherwise governing solely for the benefit of the wealthiest few.

- Abby Olena discusses the Great Dying to be expected when oceans warm up to levels intolerable for the species which live there. The Canadian Press reports on the obstacle Canada's oil and gas industry presents in any attempt to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carl Meyer reports that the existing TransMountain pipeline bought by the federal government may be a money sink even before a nickel is spent on any expansion.

- PressProgress exposes how Jason Kenney arranged for a sham candidate to enter the UCP's leadership race for the sole purpose of attacking Brian Jean.

- Mike Crawley reports on the dark corporate money behind Ontario Proud's bigoted anti-refugee advertising in that province's most recent election campaign. And Martin Regg Cohn examines the first proceedings of Doug Ford's kangaroo court, while Robyn Urback takes note of the high cost of Ford's false efficiencies.

- Finally, Rachel Langford discusses the risks of Ford's lowering of standards for child care in the name of profit. And Alex Hemingway comments on the importance of taking health and safety into account in establishing policy for ride-sharing services.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Decorated cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Thomas Piketty sets out a proposal to start addressing inequality across the EU. Derek Thompson discusses how the U.S.' economy has been designed to squeeze younger workers at every turn, while Sean Coughlan points out that UK youth are skeptical that social mobility is a realistic prospect. And Miles Corak proposes unconditional learning bonds for less-wealthy families as one means of leveling the playing field.

- Matt Price comments on the importance of pursuing a large-scale transition to a cleaner and fairer economy in Canada - though he does miss the reality that the labour movement is already leading the push in that direction.

- Sharon Riley reports that most of the oil well sites certified as being "reclaimed" even under Alberta's already-insufficient regulatory system fall far short of meeting the definition. And the CP reports on a new study showing that the vast majority of oil sector emissions will get a free pass in the Libs' carbon pricing scheme.

- Meanwhile, Nick Falvo offers some considerations for Alberta's budget - including the importance of finally taking in a reasonable amount of tax revenue.

- Finally, Noah Smith writes about the impending battle over corporate monopolies, with particular attention to the effect of corporate dominance on workers in addition to consumers.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Avi Lewis contrasts the real crises which demand our attention against the manufactured ones which are instead promoted by far too many of our political leaders:
Even for those of us who have not yet experienced personal loss and trauma from climate catastrophe, the juxtaposition of our genuine planetary emergency with cynically manipulated fake crises is getting painful. It’s gaslighting on a national scale. We are bombarded by endless coverage of the fake crisis in the oil patch while the real crisis of all life everywhere is so often rendered invisible.

We are living in a state of planetary emergency. It has been declared by scientists, Indigenous leaders, social movements, and communities that were already living in a state of daily emergency long before the extent of the climate catastrophe became clear. We have solutions that will truly benefit everyone — especially those most marginalized and under attack by the current extractive system, and those currently working in industries that need to be wound down.

But we can’t get started until this emergency is felt — viscerally — by a great many more people, especially the hardest to reach: our political leaders. That’s precisely what is happening in the United States, where a generation of complacent corporate Democrats is suddenly being challenged by a crowd of impatient millennials, bursting with the urgency of their generation, creating an emergency for the political status quo. Apparently, losing power is the only crisis that politicians can really understand.
 - David Moscrop argues that it's long past time for climate change defeatists to get out of the way of the people with the hope and vision necessary to do the work to avert total climate breakdown.

- Stephen Cornish observes that Husky's uncontrolled SeaRose oil spill shows how reckless it is to approve offshore drilling and other projects which threaten water with contamination. And Andrew Nikiforuk confirms that fracking operations have been the cause of earthquake activity in B.C., leading to at least a temporary shutdown. 

- George Monbiot exposes how the Koch brothers are buying political influence in the UK and elsewhere - and choosing to do so by funding hate. And Monia Mazigh comments on the resulting increase in hate crimes in Canada and the U.S. - even as right-wing parties blithely ignore the dangers they've created and exacerbated for minority-group members.

- Hamid Dabashi notes that Justin Trudeau's Potemkin progressivism is no better for our long-term hopes than the reactionary politics of Donald Trump and his ilk.

- Finally, Sam Pizzigati examines who stands to lose and gain from GM's massive job cuts.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Charles Smith and Larry Savage write that Justin Trudeau's use of back-to-work legislation against postal workers may have far more significant consequences than he seems to have anticipated. And Christo Aivalis examines the next steps for Canada's labour movement - as well as their importance for the country as a whole:
...In a time of growing inequality, all Canadians need to think about the questions unions face: At what point does the concentration of economic power in the hands of massive multinational corporations limit workers’ ability to respond through the traditional means of collective bargaining? At what point does this power threaten to control the destinies of entire communities and regions, rendering the democratic will of Canadians, if not irrelevant, then certainly compromised? And will endemic automation – even if it’s farther away than some people fear – only serve to disenfranchise the masses in favour of an ever-consolidating elite with more control than ever? These were the essential forces that led to these setbacks for UNIFOR – after all, how could an American company unilaterally decide to gut a Canadian town, leaving both workers and government holding the bag? – but those issues will come to workplaces and communities everywhere before long.
When it comes down to it, we need economic systems that reflect the democratic principles we so cherish, the ones through which we define so much of our Canadian identity. Unions have been a force for generations, giving workers at least some input into the operation of their workplaces, and organized labour will always have an irreplaceable role in building and preserving a democratic spirit that goes beyond the ballot box. It is in all our interests that unions succeed in organizing the workplaces of the present and future, that our governments enact policies that assist in this process, and that we as citizens retain a skeptical eye towards the further concentration of economic power in unaccountable private hands.

If unions fail, our democracy may well be at stake.
- Helia Ebrahimi discusses the connection between economic stressors and a hundred thousand suicide attempts in the UK in the last year alone. And Kwame McKenzie points out how it's only the people already facing the most challenges who are being asked to sacrifice by Doug Ford's government.

- Henry Grabar writes about Minneapolis' decision to end single-family zoning which has long served as a major source of housing segregation. And Douglas Todd comments on the complex relationship between immigration and housing in Vancouver - including the reality that more for-profit development does nothing to ease the lack of housing availability for the people who most need it, regardless of their place of origin.

- Roberta Lexier and Avi Lewis argue that it's long past time for Canada's corporate welfare bums to start paying their fair share for a country that serves the best interests of its citizens. And Yanis Varoufakis and David Adler highlight the need to fundamentally reshape and empower sources of collective decision-making - including international institutions - in order to be able to respond to our common problems.

- Finally, Peggy Nash and Tracey Raney point out how more equitable representation and power-sharing is a necessary component of any plan to end gender-based violence.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Chris Dillow discusses the connection between the failure to understand the role of luck in producing unequal outcomes, and the perpetuation of policies which exacerbate inequalities:
As Ed Smith writes in his lovely book, Luck: “randomness is routinely misinterpreted as skill.”

Why do people do this? I suspect it’s not just because of a lack of statistical literacy: many of the subjects in the experiments I’ve cited had taken statistics classes. It’s also because of two reinforcing biases. One is the outcome bias. We judge a performance by its result so if a team wins the game, or if a fund manager beats the market, we infer that they did well rather than got lucky. The other is the narrative fallacy. We are story-telling animals. We seek links between things and detailed explanations even if the truth is only that a bit of good luck happened, then a bit of bad. I suspect that most football punditry is like this.

All this is about how we attribute skill rather than luck to other people. But of course, we also do so to ourselves, and asymmetrically: good results are down to skill and bad to luck. A study of day traders has confirmed what you probably suspected:
Retail day traders in the forex market attribute random success to their own skill and, as a consequence, increase risk taking.
The upshot of all this is that the successful are apt to become bumptious arrogant prats because they attribute their success to their own talents rather than luck. And observers are apt to take them at their inflated self-estimation.
This, of course, colours our whole social and political structure. Our tendency to see skill where there is just luck causes the successful to have an exaggerated sense of entitlement and the rest of us to be overly deferential to them. Very few people are luck egalitarians. This is one way – of perhaps many – in which inequality sustains itself.
- Meanwhile, Harry Glasbeek argues that capitalism (as opposed to democracy or liberalism) lies at the core of Canada's political power structure, resulting in the government's willingness to hand out corporate welfare at the drop of a hat while attacking workers and lower-income residents. And Rebecca Jennings examines some of the problems with a culture of CEO worship.

- Kristin Rushoway and Laurie Monsebraaten discuss how Doug Ford's plan to shred the regulatory state in Ontario will endanger children in child care. John Michael McGrath points out that a campaign promise not to do any harm to Ontario's greenbelt has been scrapped in favour of a scheme which will allow for its destruction at the whim of any municipality. And Edward Keenan notes that Ford has relabeled virtually any type of public protection from corporate excess and abuse as "red tape" to be systematically destroyed.

- Finally, Michelle Zilio reports on the consistent message from experts in the field that Andrew Scheer's anti-immigration bleatings about a UN migration compact lack any basis in fact. And Andrew Coyne connects the Cons' message to that of nativist and racist parties internationally.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Musical interlude

Zuckerbaby - Overexposure

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Anna Bawden reports on new research from the Health Foundation showing the multiple ways in which young people face the burden of growing economic inequality. And Owen Jones points out that working-class children have borne the brunt of the UK's financial crisis and subsequent austerity:
(R)eal per-pupil spending in English schools has fallen by 8% since 2010. One all too little discussed scandal has been a reduction in funding for sixth formers of more than a fifth.

This is vandalism. It inflicts damage not just on the young people directly affected but on the nation’s future. Think of the unnecessary poverty created later in life by the failure to offer support to struggling pupils. It’s a false economy, too: the state will have to spend more, later, to support those let down at school. But it is more profound than that: think of the lost talents that would otherwise have enriched our society and culture.

The children of the most privileged will be fine, of course, not least the top 7% sent to private schools. Those in comfortable, rather than overcrowded houses; who have good diets; who don’t suffer the stress of poverty when young; who have the “cultural capital” of university-educated parents – they will generally continue to realise their potential. So the bankers who threw Britain into crisis, and then kept their shiny limousines, multiple homes and luxury holidays, will have forced other people’s children to pay for what they did, not their own.
Consider the full gamut of this government’s impact on young people. The scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance, a small amount of money to support aspirational young working-class people, and the trebling of university fees. The decimation of youth services: in London alone, 81 youth clubs and council youth projects have been cut since 2011, and a real-terms cut on children and youth services of nearly a billion pounds in just six years. A generation driven into an unregulated, rip-off private rental sector, lacking basic security, dependent on their landlords’ whims. The explosion of insecure jobs, at a time when living standards for young people have fallen most steeply. It is a list as incriminating as it is long.

It has become almost a cliche that Brexit sucks the oxygen out of the political conversation, depriving growing social crises of the attention they need. The irony is that many of the injustices that helped fuel the Brexit vote in the first place have been even more ignored since, despite the pathetically empty promise by Theresa May at the start of her term in office to cure the “burning injustices” in modern society.
- Similarly, Brad Hershbein writes that the 2008 economic meltdown presented a double whammy for much of the U.S.' middle class, including both initial losses and a lack of much recovery compared to other groups of workers.

- David MacDonald and Toby Sanger examine the savings to be achieved through a universal pharmacare program. And the Wall Street Journal reports on the predictable failure of the Trump tax giveaway (among other corporate giveaways) to do anything to make drugs more affordable in the U.S.

- Guy Verhofstadt argues that after far too many broken promises that corporate choices will protect consumer privacy, it's time for stronger public regulation of social media platforms.

- Finally, Hassan Yussuff discusses the importance of paid employment leave to enable people to break cycles of domestic violence.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

New column day

Here, on the fundamental need for governments to provide a secure source of income and benefits - and the choice of the Trudeau Libs and Moe Sask Party alike to instead make citizens bear the brunt of political choices.

For further reading...
- The National Post offered a backgrounder on the Phoenix pay system which has resulted in federal civil servants getting shortchanged on the money they've earned for public service. The Auditor General reported on its inexplicable failings. And CTV reported on the continuing rallies to draw attention to hundreds of thousands of still-outstanding issues.
- Terry Farrell reported on Canada Post's orders which resulted in the delay of benefit cheques which CUPW specifically agreed to keep delivering. CUPW called out Patty Hajdu's misleading attempt to then use management decisions to attack workers' right to strike. And Nora Loreto pointed out that no government can reasonably expect labour peace while going out of its way to undermine the bargaining processes which are supposed to keep conflict contained.
- D.C. Fraser reported on how a rental supplement cut by the Saskatchewan Party will result in a year's gap in coverage since a federal replacement has been delayed - and since Scott Moe and company don't care enough about renters to fix the mess they've made.
- Finally, I'll point again to Noah Smith's post on the many facets of poverty and insecurity in order to highlight the importance of a government willing to reduce all of the drivers of precarity.