Saturday, February 03, 2018

On personal responsibility

Since the Saskatchewan Party's leadership campaign didn't do much to test Scott Moe's track record, it will fall to the rest of us to point out the reasons why his actions need to come under careful scrutiny. And one such reason comes from Moe's actions in threatening the provincial auditor's funding after he was first elected as an MLA - together with his excuse afterward:
Scott Moe, one of the Sask. Party MLAs on the committee, said after the meeting members were acting on their own.

"The questions that I saw in there were more around the scope of the auditor's office and what exactly the office does and questions you might expect from fairly newly elected members in there."
Now, the purpose of Moe's answer was presumably to distance Brad Wall from what quickly turned into a significant public issue. But there are a couple of implications of Moe's message which are of obvious concern now that he's in power.

It's obviously a problem if Moe continues to think it's in any way appropriate to threaten the funding of any organization charged with holding his government to account.

And it's even more worrisome if a new premier thinks it's any excuse for elected officials to barge ahead with actions based on a lack of knowledge after assuming a higher office, rather than taking even basic steps to understand their jobs.

We'll see if those issues surface again now that Moe is both in a new position himself, and responsible for the actions of the people acting at his direction. But his track record gives ample reason to worry.

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Thomas Kochan takes a look at what workers would want done with the cost of corporate tax cuts if they weren't being silenced by the U.S.' corporatist political system. And Steven Greenhouse points out a new set of protests and strikes intended to make sure that advocates for low-income people are heard.

- Marjory Givens, David Kindig, Paula Tran Inzeo and Victoria Faust write about the role of power imbalances in influencing health outcomes - as well as how we can use the power we have to improve matters:
What this history also demonstrates is how a sustained imbalance in power that consistently benefits some over others can become reinforced in the systems and structures that affect decision making and resource allocation. The resulting dynamic creates persistent and avoidable inequities through the decisions produced but also through the reinforced opportunity to accrue resources, such as money, knowledge, or influence, that benefit those in positions of power. In other words, those who lack power experience inequities in opportunity and health. As stated by Anthony Iton in the documentary series Unnatural Causes, “Powerlessness is making us sick.”

Advancing equity, therefore, requires attention to power (as a determinant) and empowerment, or building power (as a process). We have seen efforts to build and exercise power to advance equity in grassroots social movements that address sustained imbalances, including the campaign for women’s suffrage, resulting in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, and the Civil Rights Movement. And although important health-promoting policies such as the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Earned Income Tax Credits have been achieved through the skillful use of power by leaders across many sectors, we also have a glimpse of how tenuous these policies may be when the systems and structures for decision making and resource allocation themselves are not changed.
We can take direct action on root causes of health inequities by translating evidence to practice and policy. We can show up in support of social justice movements. We can grow meaningful relationships with community organizers and policy makers that increase appreciation of community science and restore credibility and trust in research. We can shift the narrative around the things we know shape health, making the most of the strategic levers and influence that scientists can have. These are all ways we can use the power we have to advance health equity.
- Meanwhile, Amanda Michelle Gomez discusses how the U.S.' cuts to disease control pose a global public health risk.

- The Mound of Sound rightly calls out Justin Trudeau's appalling declaration that his government won't lift a finger to combat climate change unless new pipelines are built to make the problem worse. And Jessica Vomiero reports on Suncor's plans to mechanize ore-hauling among other Alberta operations - confirming that any push for pipelines or other tar sands-friendly policy has nothing at all to do with benefiting workers as opposed to wealthy investors and donors.

- Finally, Lana Payne discusses how adding women changes politics for the better.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Musical interlude

Phantogram - You Don't Get Me High Anymore

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses the apparent destructive belief among Davos' elites that irrational exuberance and top-heavy economic gains are remotely sustainable:
The world is plagued by almost intractable problems. Inequality is surging, especially in the advanced economies. The digital revolution, despite its potential, also carries serious risks for privacy, security, jobs, and democracy – challenges that are compounded by the rising monopoly power of a few American and Chinese data giants, including Facebook and Google. Climate change amounts to an existential threat to the entire global economy as we know it.

Perhaps more disheartening than such problems, however, are the responses. To be sure, here at Davos, CEOs from around the world begin most of their speeches by affirming the importance of values. Their activities, they proclaim, are aimed not just at maximizing profits for shareholders, but also at creating a better future for their workers, the communities in which they work, and the world more generally. They may even pay lip service to the risks posed by climate change and inequality.

But, by the end of their speeches this year, any remaining illusion about the values motivating Davos CEOs was shattered. The risk that these CEOs seemed most concerned about is the populist backlash against the kind of globalization that they have shaped – and from which they have benefited immensely.
For the CEOs of Davos, it seems that tax cuts for the rich and their corporations, along with deregulation, is the answer to every country’s problems. Trickle-down economics, they claim, will ensure that, ultimately, the entire population benefits economically. And the CEOs’ good hearts are apparently all that is needed to ensure that the environment is protected, even without relevant regulations.

Yet the lessons of history are clear. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. And one of the key reasons why our environment is in such a precarious condition is that corporations have not, on their own, lived up to their social responsibilities. Without effective regulations and a real price to pay for polluting, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that they will behave differently than they have.
- And Arwa Mahdawi comments on the "class-passing" needed for anybody to try to break through increasingly rigid class barriers.

- Polly Toynbee writes about the link between privatization, pollution and poor health in the UK. And Julia Conley discusses how Donald Trump's latest giveaway to polluters will put water quality at risk for Americans.

- Finally, Hayley Peterson reports on Whole Foods' use of stringent "scorecards" to control and punish employees, while Ellen Tannam reports on Amazon's plans to take constant monitoring to new extremes with bracelets to track warehouse employees' whereabouts at all times. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh points out how Ontario is continuing to allow employers to use temporary workers as a means of avoiding responsibility for health and safety.

Leadership 2018 Links

The latest from the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign as the Saskatchewan Party's election of Scott Moe brings the province's political playing field into greater focus (while also offering a reminder of the fallibility of leadership campaign polling).

- Trent Wotherspoon has unveiled his post-secondary education education policy (accompanied by endorsements from several young New Democrats). And Ryan Meili has offered up his anti-poverty plan.

- Meanwhile, both Jason Hammond and Jon Herriot have offered their endorsements of Meili.

- Finally, Alex MacPherson reports on the NDP's membership numbers, with just under 13,000 members eligible to vote in the leadership campaign. For reference, that's somewhat more than in 2013 (which saw just over 11,000), and roughly on par with the 2009 leadership election.

Meanwhile, for those looking to estimate the anticipated turnout, roughly 80% of all eligible voters cast ballots in both 2009 and 2013 (though some of those dropped off between ballots). If that pattern holds, then we should expect the winning candidate to need in the range of 5,200 votes.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Nathan Akehurst writes that the Carillion collapse was just the tip of the iceberg in the corporatization and destruction of the UK's public services. And Neil Macdonald points out that the Trudeau Libs are pitching privatized infrastructure as easy money for investors - and that they can only make that offer at the public's expense:
Pretty clearly, Morneau and his masters in the PMO don't want people understanding the infrastructure scheme too well. So far, it's been rather vaguely explained, something his own staff have complained about.

The official version is that the government tosses in some money, then investors arrive and jump in with an awful lot more money, enough to build roads and bridges and electrical grids and train lines and waterways and who knows, maybe even new hospitals and airports, and things will get done that simply wouldn't happen otherwise, and Canadians will have a sparkling new public square without the tiresome, conventional pain of paying for it.

Quietly, meanwhile, the government has reportedly been promising big investors a dream: lots of return, not much risk.

According to information in documents obtained by the Canadian Press, the government is promising a healthy, guaranteed "revenue stream" for years. The exact return is not specified, but such investors tend to demand between 10 and 20 per cent – "equity-like return and bond-like risk," as the Wall Street aphorism so neatly puts it. 

Best of all for the investors, according to the documents, the government is suggesting it might even chip in some extra cash to pad investors' returns. It's a path to heaven with no alternate route to hell.

And guess who will pay for all this? The cheery fog exhaled by Morneau and his fellow cabinet ministers isn't very specific about that, but there is ultimately only one bill-payer, and we all know who he, or she, is.
- Meanwhile, Fatima Syed writes that Canada's opaque financial system makes us an easy tool for tax evaders and money launderers.

- Francine Kopun reports on the latest details from the bread price-fixing scheme among Canadian grocers, with both wholesalers and retailers colluding to increase prices 15 times over a 14-year period.

- Judith Lavoie points out a new study from the David Suzuki Foundation charting unreported releases of methane from British Columbia's natural gas sector. And the Corporate Mapping Project examines the massive carbon liabilities in Alberta oil sector.

- Finally, Geoff Leo reports that the latest step in the Saskatchewan Party's plan to counter the global movement toward renewable energy by burning the dirtiest substances possible involves a project to use chemical-soaked railway ties as fuel. 

New column day

Here, expanding on this post as to how the promises which won Scott Moe the Saskatchewan Party's leadership will leave him with some difficult decisions to make in a hurry.

For further reading...
- Tammy Robert's coverage of the leadership campaign features this gem about Moe's substance-free campaign:
Moe’s campaign is unbelievably thin gruel from a man who wants to lead Saskatchewan, and personally I find it even more unbelievable that 23 MLAs – or Moe’s “Team”, as he describes them – stand behind this pablum, nevermind endorse it as what’s best for Saskatchewan people.

A Moe win is not what’s best for us – it’s what’s best for them.
- Alex Brockman has followed up on the expectations surrounding Moe's promise to reverse his government's education cuts, as well as the labour movement's continued calls to stop the Saskatchewan Party's cuts generally.
- Finally, PressProgress points out the anti-abortion messaging which help Moe to win social conservative votes - but raises questions as to whether the right to choose may be under an immediate threat.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Thomas Walkom discusses Canada's likely NAFTA decision between an even worse deal than exists now, and no deal at all - though it's worth recognizing that the latter choice shouldn't be seen as a problem. And Alex Panetta points out the Libs' total lack of transparency as to the effects of the options currently on the table.

- Trevor Hancock argues that the Canada Pension Plan should join other large public funds in making a move away from dependence on fossil fuel development.

- Meanwhile, Carl Meyer reports on a new study suggesting that Canada's primary tar sands operators may be sitting on $2 trillion in liability from carbon pollution alone. And Marco Chown Oved exposes half a billion dollars in tax avoidance by a single copper mining firm by claiming billions of dollars in profits through a Luxembourg subsidiary with one part-time employee.

- Tom Parkin discusses the need for improved protections against sexual harassment in federal workplaces. And Sabrina Nanji reports on the growing calls for effective anti-harassment rules in legislatures in particular, while Tim Harper points out the need for cultural change beyond legislation alone.

- Finally, Daniel Brown and Michael Lacy write that the Trudeau Libs are falling far short of what voters expected when it comes to justice reform. And Alex Boutilier points out that rather than fixing the abusive elements of Bill C-51, the Libs have actually expanded the unaccountable disruption of Canadians' activities without any meaningful oversight.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Trained cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Matthew Sears writes that we would be much better off prioritizing more than just cutting short-term costs and prices in making choices:
Are we really unwilling to pay more for our coffee as we are on our way to our well-paid and comfortable jobs (as mine certainly is) in order to ensure that workers are paid a liveable wage?

Can we really not summon enough social and economic imagination to think that businesses, and the real human beings that are in charge of them, can’t be at least encouraged to, well, behave a little less like businesses? I don’t know.

If it’s not cheap coffee, it’s cheap goods made through cheap labour in foreign countries that greases our wheels and to which we turn a blind eye. We no longer have chattel slaves or actively rule an empire (though, in practice, there are many in the world to whom these semantic distinctions make little difference).

But our democratic way of life, which we tend to think of as the freedom to do and live as we please and have what we want, seems awfully dependent upon others not enjoying those things.
The legacy of the Classical world isn’t all bad. Despite his faults (and he had many), we could learn a great deal from Aristotle’s ideas. These include ideas such as: The state is natural (an idea that social contract theories largely reject); we humans are at our best when we come together to ensure the flourishing, the eudaimonia, of all of society’s members.

I for one will be doing a great deal of thinking to figure out how I can help those who currently work minimum-wage jobs to be better off. I will start by not letting businesses — or politicians — off the hook simply for acting as we expect them to.
- Karen Weese comments on the high price of being poor in the U.S., while Aleksandra Sagan reports on the trickle-up economic effects of improved wages for lower-income workers. And the New York Times' editorial board points out how corporate tax cuts are mostly leading to raises only for bosses.

- Eric Levitz discusses the political cost the U.S. Democrats have paid for failing to recognize the importance of organized labour. And while Erik Loomis' response raises some questions about the feasibility of reaching better outcomes, the desirability of doing so seems beyond dispute.

- The BBC reports on Carillion's maneuvers to wriggle out of making pension contributions, ensuring that workers would bear the brunt of its failure.

- Finally, Robin Sears offers his take on how Jagmeet Singh can lead the way toward a more inclusive Canada, while Nora Loreto hopes that the memory of the Quebec City anti-Muslim massacre will spark a movement against bigotry. And Singh's message on the the anniversary of the mosque shooting goes a long way toward addressing both.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Ed Finn comments on the massive amounts of public money being funneled toward Canada's wealthiest corporations:
When it comes to listing countries on the basis of the social services they provide to citizens compared to the subsidies they heap on corporations, Canada doesn't fare well.

A study from the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy published in January reports that our federal government and the four largest provinces spend $29 billion a year subsidizing business firms.

The study's author, John Lester, says that half of these huge subsidies fail to improve economic performance and therefore constitute a colossal waste of government revenue.
While Ottawa and the provinces maintain and even increase the amounts of their tax revenue expended on business subsidies, they have proportionately limited their spending on social services.

The latest OECD report on the social expenditures of its 34 member countries ranks Canada 24th for the relatively low 17.2 per cent of GDP it spent on social services in 2016. Most of the 23 countries that surpass Canada have social spending rates of 23 per cent of GDP or more. Some, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Belgium, Italy and Ireland, have rates higher than 28 per cent. Incredibly, even the United States ranks above Canada with a social spending rate of 19.3 per cent of GDP.

The preference of Canadian governments to serve the interests of big business and the rich elite rather than the broader public interest has had appalling consequences. They include our ailing health care system, our lackluster performance on the environment, our mistreatment of indigenous peoples, and, most of all, our disgracefully steep rate of child poverty and our abysmally low level of child care.
- Elizabeth McSheffrey reports on the growing gap between the billionaire class and the rest of us. Jordan Weismann discusses the link between corporate monopsony and stagnant wages. And Alana Semuels takes note of a growing class divide within the U.S.' labour movement, which is holding its ground among white-collar workers while struggling to organize their blue-collar counterparts.

- Bridget Yard points out the squeeze facing Saskatchewan's low-income residents whose stagnant incomes need to be stretched to cover higher prices and regressive taxes.

- Laurie Monsebraaten examines the gap between the needs of Toronto's homeless citizens. And the
Telegraph reports on Jeremy Corbyn's simple and direct plan to provide houses to the people who need them.

- Finally, Edward Keenan explains why Patrick Brown and other politicians who recognize the need to address perception in every other aspect of their public presentation can't expect the benefit of the doubt in the face of credible accusations of sexual exploitation.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

On stopping the cuts

I'm less surprised than some by Scott Moe's ascent to the Saskatchewan Party's leadership in an extremely close, four-way leadership race. But it will particularly be worth keeping an eye on one aspect of the campaign which looks to have been crucial in propelling him into the Premier's office.

Unlike the other last two candidates standing, Moe responded to the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federations' #pickapremier campaign with a specific policy offering. And his promise of additional resources for education may well have been a decisive choice: the other candidates who catered to new STF members were the first to drop off the ballot, and their supporters put Moe over the top after he trailed on the first ballot.

But Moe's specific promise to the education sector alone should call into question his concurrent threat of broader public-sector cuts. And it's not hard to draw an analogy to Alberta's experience in leadership politics in seeing how he may have set a trap for himself.

After all, Alison Redford won both the Alberta PCs' leadership and a provincial election campaign by appealing to public servants and moderates against harder-right options. But having built her personal brand and support base around recognizing the value of public services, she left her party vulnerable to an opponent who could more credibly promise to defend them.

We'll thus see whether Moe tries to fund education while slashing elsewhere, or recognizes that the same principles which justify more money for education apply equally to other public services. But if he pursues the former path - or worse yet, breaks his education promise in an effort to keep his own party's anti-government voices on his side - then his campaign strategy may have given voters license to base their decisions in the next provincial election on an end to the cuts.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Noam Scheiber and Ben Casselman comment on the role of corporate consolidation in undermining pay and working conditions. And Meagan Day rebuts the claim that employers can be excused for ignoring not-yet-qualified pools of workers by pointing out that the same people once treated as unqualified are now being hired:
This relaxation of hiring standards is a stinging rebuke to right-wing economists, who for years assured us that the main reason for the stagnant post-recession employment rate was that workers themselves didn’t have the right stuff. Throughout the slow recovery, journalists from major papers made a cottage industry of finding CEOs complaining that their hiring searches were coming up empty. Conservative commentators chalked up high unemployment to a so-called “skills gap”: companies needed more qualified workers, they insisted, than were currently on offer.

But something wasn’t right. If companies really needed qualified workers, why weren’t they raising wages to attract them? Or why weren’t they lowering their qualification standards or offering training to less experienced new hires? If companies really did have jobs that desperately required filling, they would have been working harder to fill them. Some flagged this inconsistency early on. “The reason markets adjust,” wrote management professor Peter Cappelli in 2013, “is because the participants, in this case the employers, eventually learn that they either have to raise their pay or lower their expectations in order to get the workers they need.”

The right wing’s explanation for lagging unemployment rate was a classic supply-side argument. The trouble, the argument went, was that firms weren’t getting what they needed to flourish — in this case, an adequate supply of skilled labor. The Left countered with a demand-side perspective: The reason for high unemployment was that ordinary people, not companies, weren’t getting their needs met. If they had more money in their pockets, ordinary people would increase their spending, demand for goods and services would rise, and that would create more jobs. More jobs means lower unemployment, which means greater bargaining power for the already employed, who won’t have to worry about their position being undermined by vast reserves of cheap labor.

At the time, left economists pointed out that even as employers were supposedly yearning for acceptable candidates but unable to find them, wages weren’t rising. “If employers cannot get the workers they need,” wrote Dean Baker in 2013, “then they raise the wages they offer to pull workers away from other employers. This is how markets work.” The fact that this wasn’t happening, Baker and others argued, was evidence that there wasn’t a real labor shortage, and that the “skills gap” was just another name for corporate whining. Employers were putting up job ads, sure, but they were also being hyper-selective about who they hired — for instance, refusing people with criminal convictions — a good sign they weren’t really in need.
- Meanwhile, Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood examines how decarbonization can and should take into account the needs of workers in regions currently reliant on fossil fuels.

- Daniel Tencer reports on Justin Trudeau's callous suggestion that workers robbed of their pensions by corporate greed should be satisfied with Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan. (And it's particularly worth noting how those programs have been allowed to stagnate in order to leave room for exactly the type of private pensions then diverted to enrich executives and shareholders.)

- Finally, Tim Harford discusses the strengths and weaknesses of a focus on self-reported happiness as the basis for policy development. And Andre Picard weighs in on the need to invest in social supports as the most effective means of improving health outcomes.