Saturday, June 09, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Trish Hennessy examines the aftermath of Ontario's provincial election, while Andrew Mitrovica traces the spread of Trumpian antisocial populism. And Doug Nesbitt offers some lessons for workers based on the province's previous PC government.

- David Roberts takes a look at our economic assumptions behind climate change policy, and notes that they're thoroughly distorted toward a lack of action.

- Linda McQuaig criticizes the Trudeau Libs for prioritizing the oil industry's profits ahead of the national interest. And Mitchell Anderson notes that the Canadian public is now one of the few actors foolish enough to spending large amounts of money trying to continue inflating a clearly-bursting oil bubble.

- Pam Palmater reminds us that Indigenous rights aren't subject to popular whims - even if public opinion still includes far too much baked-in racism. And Murray Mandryk comments on the Justice for our Stolen Children camp which is being evicted by the Saskatchewan Party in the name of  Canada Day festivities.

- Finally, Gary Mason is duly incredulous at the whining of multimillionaire Vancouver homeowners at the prospect of paying something closer to their fair share of the cost of a functioning community.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Musical interlude

The Veronicas - Cruel

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Frances Ryan highlights the disgrace of social programs designed to strip away basic supports when they're needed most:
Poverty has long been put down to mythical causes, be it a quirk of society – as if inequality is built into the earth – or an individual’s failings (why don’t they breed less? Work harder? Buy fewer cigarettes?). The JRF study is unflinching at skewering this. The reasons for destitution are complex, but the researchers point firmly to the role of “welfare” cuts that have dominated the political landscape since the global financial crash. Social security policies can, in many cases, directly lead to destitution “by design”, the report says, leaving people “without support when they most need it”. Two in five destitute people reported problems with the benefit system, with a quarter of all interviewees citing losing their disability benefits as a key trigger of their destitution.
The report documents people’s desperate solutions – piecemeal kindness and exploitation to fill in the gaps of a less secure safety net: chip shops giving free fish and chips; a local vicar helping to pay for groceries; taking a risk on a loan shark.

Some people, most achingly, had been without food off and on for so long they were almost resigned to it. This level of deprivation isn’t only about going without a meal or electricity. It’s a psychological assault: depression, severe stress and anxiety were commonly reported, with a few interviewees saying that they had even felt suicidal.

There’s a risk that, with news of surging food bank use and children going without beds or clothes, this type of extreme poverty is becoming normalised. That it is somehow a natural part of any country or that, even if it isn’t, the problem is now so big, so overwhelming, that we can’t do anything to stop it. Of course, this isn’t true. For proof, look at the fact that the researchers found destitution has actually decreased in the past two years – an improvement put down in large part to the less stringent use of benefit sanctions (as well as improvement to the job market and reductions in migration). Further commonsense changes would go a long way towards pulling more people out of hardship, from embedding local welfare funds for families to seek out in times of financial emergency, and addressing debt recovery processes, to adapting universal credit so that the benefit system is no longer characterised by delays, sanctions and freezes.

Above all, there needs to be a culture change that says everyone in this country deserves, at the very least, food in their stomach and a roof over their head – whether that’s a disabled person, a banker, an immigrant or a politician. Destitution should have gone out with the slums and workhouses.
- The Economist takes note of an increasing gap in childhood obesity as one more indication of growing inequality in the UK. And Michael Wolfson comments on the need to define a standard measure of poverty in order to better measure Canada's efforts to combat it.

- Crawford Kilian reviews Jeffrey Pfeffer's Dying for a Paycheck, but notes that any effective response to the toxic effects of work needs to involve collective action by workers. And Ed Finn's review of Joyce Nelson's Bypassing Dystopia hints at a wide range of steps needed to take back power from the corporate sector.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk rightly questions the Saskatchewan Party's decision to put the future of Wascana Park at the mercy of businesses who want to capture one of Regina's most important public spaces.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

New column day

Here, on the parallels between the presidency of Donald Trump and the danger of a Doug Ford-led government in Ontario.

For further reading...
- Hugh Mackenzie has done the math on the PCs' non-platform, finding a fiscal hole of $13.75 billion every year.
- Graeme Gordon reports on Ontario Proud's voter spam and other intervention in Ontario's election.
- Christopher Guly comments on the rise of Andrea Horwath, and I've previously discussed the parallels between this campaign and other NDP successes. But Marieke Walsh notes the risk that the NDP might win the popular vote but fall short in the seat count.
- Martin Regg Cohn questions Ford's treatment of his own family - raising obvious questions about how cavalier he'd be with a provincial treasury at his disposal.
- Finally, for some of the better commentary on what to expect, see Bryan Breguet and tcnorris. And Ryan McGreal has assembled Breguet's data into a riding-by-riding guide.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Kenan Malik reminds us of the ongoing importance of unions in fighting for fairness and equality. Frank Witsil reports on a push to rebuild labour strength in the service sector in the U.S, while Cole Stangler points out that U.S. youth have a significantly more favourable view of unions than of corporations. But Molly Gott and Derek Seidman document the attempt by the Republicans and their backers to undermine the strength of any public-sector education system and the teachers who work within it.

- Sam Pizzigati suggests using public purchasing power to encourage fairness within corporations as a way to rein in income inequality. And Philip Mattera studies (PDF) the systematic theft of wages by U.S. employers.

- Scott Santens discusses the potential for a basic income to spur creativity and innovation by reducing the downside of personal risk-taking.

- Anne Casselman comments that environmental disaster is becoming increasingly common due to a lack of climate change action and preparedness.

- Finally, Tera Hunter examines the U.S.' long history of child-snatching - which again remains an ongoing problem in Canada as well.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Enzo Dimatteo offers a reminder of Toronto's disastrous experience with the Ford governance model, while Edward Keenan worries that Doug Ford is eager to run roughshod over the city if he gets the chance. PressProgress tallies up the large number of Ontario PC candidates campaigning while facing investigations and lawsuits. Cecilia Keating examines the Ontario NDP's plan for change for the better. And Christo Aivilis writes about the role young voters will play in charting Ontario's future - or allowing Ford to do so instead.

- Nav Persaud compares the Ontario provincial parties' respective positions on prescription drugs. Samir Sinha argues that the primary solution to hallway medicine lies in ensuring that people can get the care they need without needing to occupy a hospital bed.

- Sheila Block highlights the problems with pretending that corporate tax slashing has anything to do with economic development.

- Alex Hemingway discusses how unduly low land taxes can fuel a housing crisis, while Joshua Gottlieb and David Green point out that a property surtax is both efficient and fair compared to other revenue sources (not to mention highly popular).

- Finally, Fiona Harvey writes about the carbon bubble which is set to pop as clean energy becomes far cheaper than continued reliance on fossil fuels. And Stephen Leahy discusses the billions of dollars Canada continues to spend subsidizing the oil industry every year (beyond the price of the Trans Mountain bailout).

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Sweet cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ed Broadbent examines how Doug Ford's platform (such as it is) would only further enrich the wealthy, while causing catastrophic results for everybody else:
Just imagine waking up on Friday morning and having to hear the phrase “Premier Doug Ford” for the next four years.  His record as an enabler of the irresponsible and chaotic mayoralty of his brother in Toronto, and the clear ethical failings of the Progressive Conservative Party under his leadership, point to dark days for this province should he win the June 7th election.

Mr. Ford has campaigned on a promise to slash $6-billion from the provincial budget but has refused to specify how or where.  The mathematical inevitably of this scale of cuts could involve closing 36 hospitals, firing 28,000 nurses, closing 780 schools, and firing 20,000 teachers.

In addition, Mr. Ford’s commitment to “leave no stone unturned” when it comes to privatization, means all of our health care, schools and other vital public services are at risk.

The result of these cuts and privatization will be a much more expensive life for Ontario families.  Other damaging aspects of his plan include ignoring climate change, giving big corporations a $5 billion tax cut, and providing a huge tax benefit to the richest individuals in the province.

Mr. Ford’s extraordinary support from the most extreme of social conservatives and white supremacists should make us all concerned about any administration he would lead.  I have no doubt that electing Ford as Premier would bring divisive and destructive Trump-style politics to Canada.
- Toby Sanger takes a look at the tens of thousands of jobs which stand to be lost if Ford gets his way. And Tom Parkin writes that the NDP represents the responsible progressive alternative to know-nothing right-wing populism. 

- Daneil Summers discusses how predatory pricing is making an HIV prevention medication developed largely through public research funding inaccessible to the people who need it. And Julia Lurie exposes the lurid manipulations used to push opioids.

- Thomas Gunton highlights the irrationality of the Trudeau Libs' decision to waste public money on a Trans Mountain expansion.

- Finally, Chris Terry takes a look at British Columbia's electoral reform referendum - and its place in the pattern of making electoral results fairer and more proportional.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Andrew Anthony interviews Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett about their new book on the connection between inequality and mental illness. And Danny Dorling discusses the external (and preventable) causes of many mental health issues:
People working in separate disciplines are coming to the same conclusion: that our social worlds impact on us, they can give us health or cause us harm. As the UN puts it, “mental health policies and services are in crisis—not a crisis of chemical imbalances, but of power imbalances. We need bold political commitments, urgent policy responses and immediate remedial action.” This recent report calls for a shift from biomedical models of mental distress to a more radical, human rights-based approach, acknowledging the impacts of social inequality.

Another recent report published by the British Psychological Society, “The Power Threat Meaning Framework,” looks at the contextual factors which may make us sick. PTM acknowledges power inequalities and the impact of oppression. Being on the wrong side of power can lead to feelings of entrapment, shame and humiliation, as well as a sense of lacking control.

The framework highlights links between “poverty, discrimination and inequality, along with traumas such as abuse and violence, and the resulting emotional distress or troubled behaviour.Adverse childhood experiences have a negative impact on health and wellbeing, for example.

Both The Inner Level and PTM reframe the narrative around why people get sick—refocusing the question from “What’s wrong with this individual?” to “What’s going wrong in this society?”
- Darren Bernhardt talks to Anna Cooper about the futility of trying to deal with homelessness by criminalizing and displacing homeless people, rather than dealing with the underlying causes. And Nick Saul points out that a fair minimum wage goes a long way toward ensuring that people can workers can afford a reasonable standard of living.

- Alex Press writes that the success of teachers' strikes in the U.S. offers an important reminder of the effectiveness of collective action. Mike Konczal comments on the role unions have played in reducing both economic and racial inequality, while Eric Levitz highlights how the labour movement as a whole is the antithesis of a "special interest group" but instead a positive force for the general public. And Gerard Di Trolio previews what workers in Ontario could expect from an NDP government.

- Meanwhile, David Moscrop discusses the no-brainer choice between Doug Ford's circus and the responsible social democracy of Andrea Horwath. And David Bush comments on what's at stake in Ontario's election.

- Finally, Thomas Homer-Dixon and Yonatan Strauch write about the folly of betting Canada's economic future on the hope that humanity will fail to address the existential threat of climate change.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

On history repeating

I haven't yet commented much on Ontario's provincial election campaign - and readers interested in the race will find plenty of noteworthy observers on the blogroll.

That said, it's worth noting the parallels between this campaign and a couple of the NDP's other recent breakthroughs.

To start with, Ontario's 2018 election seems to be offering an answer to one of the more interesting hypotheticals about the 2011 federal election.

In that campaign, the NDP started out well behind the Cons and Libs - but with an experienced and trusted leader who was able to contrast his own image against that of two self-perceived frontrunners who spent most of the campaign attacking each other (or three in Quebec).

By the end of the race, Jack Layton had emerged as by far the most popular of the federal leaders, including by winning over a strong plurality of Quebec voters and expanding the NDP's potential voter pool from coast to coast to coast.

But he reached that position only well into the campaign. As a result, the Libs maintained some residual support from voters accustomed to their being the default alternative to the Cons - particularly in Ontario where strategic voting campaigns based on past electoral results actually helped the Cons win three-way races. And the result was Stephen Harper's one and only majority government - albeit challenged by a strong NDP opposition.

The great what-if for the NDP was thus what would have happened if the 2011 campaign had lasted just a couple more weeks. And we may be getting our answer. 

This year, Andrea Horwath's campaign is following in Layton's footsteps. She too was largely ignored at the start of the campaign as two highly-flawed parties and leaders tried to run only against each other; she too has expanded the NDP's potential voter pool far beyond what most outside observers anticipated; she too has managed to see an already-positive reputation improve in comparison to her opponents.

But after making her move in the polls somewhat earlier in the campaign, Horwath has had enough time for voters to get comfortable with the concept of an NDP victory. And yesterday's effective concession by Kathleen Wynne means that late-deciding voters will have no doubt as to which party is actually running to provide an alternative to a Doug Ford government.

For another historical precedent, that suggests David Climenhaga might be right on the money in his long-standing comparison to Alberta's 2015 election - right down to the divided and unpopular right-wing party whose only apparent late-campaign move is to hope that voters will defer to corporate insiders in casting their ballots.

Of course, there are still some important obstacles in Horwath's way - particularly the uncertainty as to the efficiency of her party's support. But it looks entirely plausible that Horwath's wave may have crested at the right time where Layton's fell just short.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Mariana Mazzucato discusses the dangers of confusing market prices with intrinsic values:
Value has gone from being a category at the core of economic theory, tied to the dynamics of production (the division of labour, changing costs of production), to a subjective category tied to the ‘preferences’ of economic agents. Many ills, such as stagnant real wages, are interpreted in terms of the ‘choices’ that particular agents in the system make, for example unemployment is seen as related to the choice that workers make between working and leisure. And entrepreneurship – the praised motor of capitalism – is seen as a result of such individualized choices rather than of the productive system surrounding entrepreneurs – or, to put it another way, the fruit of a collective effort. At the same time, price has become the indicator of value: as long as a good is bought and sold in the market, it must have value. So rather than a theory of value determining price, it is the theory of price that determines value.
Along with this fundamental shift in the idea of value, a different narrative has taken hold. Focused on wealth creators, risk taking and entrepreneurship, this narrative has seeped into political and public discourse. It is now so rampant that even ‘progressives’ critiquing the system sometimes unintentionally espouse it.
Such assumptions about the generation of wealth have become entrenched, and have gone unchallenged. As a result, those who claim to be wealth creators have monopolised the attention of governments with the now well-worn mantra of: give us less tax, less regulation, less state and more market. By losing our ability to recognize the difference between value creation and value extraction, we have made it easier for some to call themselves value creators and in the process extract value. Understanding how the stories about value creation are around us everywhere – even though the category itself is not – is essential for the future viability of capitalism.

To offer real change we must go beyond fixing isolated problems, and develop a framework that allows us to shape a new type of economy: one that will work for the common good. The change has to be profound. It is not enough to redefine GDP to encompass quality-of-life indicators, including measures of happiness, the imputed value of unpaid ‘caring’ labour and free information, education and communication via the Internet. It is also not enough to tax wealth. While such measures are important in themselves, they do not address the greatest challenge: defining and measuring the collective contribution to wealth creation, so that value extraction is less able to pass for value creation.
- Ben Parfitt notes that British Columbia is being severely shortchanged when it comes to deriving public revenue from natural resources. And Simon Enoch and Emily Eaton examine how an oil boom tends to offer little benefit to public coffers and services even in the areas which are supposed to be prospering.

- Meanwhile, Bruce Livesey wonders whether the Libs' Trans Mountain bailout is based on a perception that Canada has signed away any ability to limit the prospect of an oil pipeline to serve Chinese investors. Michael Harris weighs on on the foolishness of paying far above market price for a project which creates massive public risks, while David Climenhaga wonders whether Trudeau plans to be bound by Kinder Morgan's side deal with the anti-worker CLAC. And Mike De Souza reports that two Kinder Morgan executives are being rewarded with $1.5 million bonuses for extracting the deal the company was able to wring out of the federal government.

- Finally, Denise Balkissoon rightly argues that Canada needs to take responsibility for the continued pattern of children being removed from their families - particularly in Indigenous and minority communities.