Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Hugh MacKenzie comments on the continued need for an adult conversation about public revenue, including the importance of bringing in enough in taxes to fund the services which serve everybody's best interests:
The disconnect between public services and the taxes we pay to provide them that has dominated the Canadian political narrative for the past quarter-century isn’t just quirk of politics that we can just file under the heading “lies our politicians keep telling us.” That disconnect matters. It invites us to vote for a property tax freeze, a sales tax cut, an income-tax cut — even if it doesn’t benefit us much. It invites us to disregard the reality that governments have a responsibility to ensure the ability to pay for the public services that we depend on.
None of the tax cutters ever has the guts to be honest with people about the impact of reduced revenue on public services. But the pattern has been repeated over and over again across Canada.
In 1992, the five-year average of total government expenditures as a share of GDP was 48.6 per cent. In 2016, the five-year average was 40.1 per cent — in the context of today’s $2 trillion economy, that’s worth $170 billion in lost spending on public services.

We see clear crisis indicators of decline everywhere we look:
  • Crumbling public infrastructure. 
  • An elementary and secondary education system whose funding cannot meet the needs of today’s students. 
  • Post-secondary tuition that is now more than triple what it was 25 years ago. 
  • The lack [of] affordable housing and the rise in homelessness. 
  • A public health insurance system that excludes the fastest growing component of health care costs (pharmaceutical drugs) and that is straining to meet the needs of an aging population.
And now, in Ontario, here we go again, with a clear denial of the link between taxes and public services “no dollar is better spent — than the dollar that is left in the pockets of the taxpayer” elevated from meaningless political rhetoric to a line in the official Throne Speech of the new provincial government.

Nine years on, the report card on the adult conversation we need to have about taxes and public services can be summed up in two phrases: missing in action; and still badly needed.
- Meagan Day discusses the gap between CEOs and the rest of us as highlighted by Bernie Sanders' town hall on work and inequality. Debbie Weingarten notes that the vacations taken for granted by many aren't available to people scraping by in precarious work situations. And Maham Abedi writes about the personal stress caused by poverty.

- M.H. Miller writes about the crushing effect of personal debt on U.S. workers. And Hailie Salvian reports on Saskatchewan's number of mortgages in arrears which is disturbingly high both in historical context, and in comparison to every other Canadian province.

- Finally, Nicholas Keung reports on an audit showing how Canada's treatment of immigrants is already biased toward arbitrary long-term detention, while Nora Loreto fully expects matters to get worse with Bill Blair having been put in charge of a new anti-immigrant portfolio due to his lock-'em-up track record. Lana Payne calls out the Cons for stoking xenophobia as a matter of cynical political calculation. And Dan Zakreski reports on the attack on Abu Sheikh as yet another example of the violence being perpetrated in the name of bigotry.

[Edit: added link.]

Friday, July 20, 2018

Musical interlude

Borgeous - Wildfire

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Brett Scott pulls back the curtain on the cashless society, and notes that it (like so many "financial innovations") is largely the result of banks seeking profits with no interest in how they harm people who don't have money to burn:
Financial institutions, likewise, are trying to nudge us towards a cashless society and digital banking. The true motive is corporate profit. Payments companies such as Visa and Mastercard want to increase the volume of digital payments services they sell, while banks want to cut costs. The nudge requires two parts. First, they must increase the inconvenience of cash, ATMs and branches. Second, they must vigorously promote the alternative. They seek to make people “learn” that they want digital, and then “choose” it.
Digital systems may be “convenient”, but they often come with central points of failure. Cash, on the other hand, does not crash. It does not rely on external data centres, and is not subject to remote control or remote monitoring. The cash system allows for an unmonitored “off the grid” space. This is also the reason why financial institutions and financial technology companies want to get rid of it. Cash transactions are outside the net that such institutions cast to harvest fees and data.

A cashless society brings dangers. People without bank accounts will find themselves further marginalised, disenfranchised from the cash infrastructure that previously supported them. There are also poorly understood psychological implications about cash encouraging self-control while paying by card or a mobile phone can encourage spending. And a cashless society has major surveillance implications.
The UK government has chosen to champion the digital financial services industry. This is irresponsible and disingenuous. We need to stop accepting stories about the cashless society and hyper-digital banking being “natural progress”. We must recognise every cash machine that is shut down as another step in financial institutions’ campaign to nudge you into their digital enclosures.
- Reade Pickert and Alan Bjerga note that any economic recovery in the U.S. has largely left behind the working poor, leaving tens of millions of people reliant on the food stamps which the Trump administration wants to take away.

- Nicole Mortillaro explores the record-breaking temperatures which are endangering lives around the globe. But Peter McCartney writes that instead of treating climate change as the threat that it is, Canadian governments are still subsidizing the industry which relies on making matters worse - including through ongoing giveaways to liquid natural gas operators in British Columbia.

- Finally, Drew Brown calls out the Libs for reinforcing the Cons' attempt to negate the humanity of large classes of immigrants. And Shanifa Nasser reports on the hate-based beating of Mohammed Abu Marzouk as the price of validating the political choice to demonize minority groups.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

New column day

Here, on the need for Canada's immigration policy to actually respect the human dignity of refugees and asylum seekers - contrary to both the rhetoric of the Cons and the actions of the Libs.

For further reading...
- The Canadian Press reported on the Cons' anti-immigrant advertising - as well as their response clarifying that they're equally hostile to immigrants of all colours and backgrounds.
- Tom Parkin has pointed out the need to stop relying on the "safe third country" agreement to abandon asylum seekers to the whims of the Trump administration. And Andray Domise writes about Canada's complicity in the U.S.' actions.
- Brian Hill has reported on Canada's separation of child refugees from their parents. And Petra Molnar and Stephanie J. Silverman call for an end to Canada's large-scale immigration detention industry.
- Finally, Douglas Quan reports on the Libs' move to echo the Cons' anti-immigrant messaging by appointing a notorious human rights violator to a cabinet position aimed at treating immigrants as "irregular".

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- George Monbiot discusses the dark money behind much of the political turmoil in the UK and elsewhere, while questioning why the secretive and self-interested funding of astroturf groups should receive favourable tax treatment:
A mere two millennia after Roman politicians paid mobs to riot on their behalf, we are beginning to understand the role of dark money in politics, and its perennial threat to democracy. Dark money is cash whose source is not made public, and which is spent to change political outcomes. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, unearthed by Carole Cadwalladr, and the mysterious funds channelled through Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party to the leave campaign in England and Scotland have helped to bring the concept to public attention. But these examples hint at a much wider problem. Dark money can be seen as the underlying corruption from which our immediate crises emerge: the collapse of public trust in politics, the rise of a demagogic anti-politics, and assaults on the living world, public health and civic society. Democracy is meaningless without transparency.

The techniques now being used to throw elections and referendums were developed by the tobacco industry, and refined by biotechnology, fossil fuel and junk food companies. Some of us have spent years exposing the fake grassroots campaigns they established, the false identities and bogus scientific controversies they created, and the way in which media outlets have been played by them. Our warnings went unheeded, while the ultra-rich learned how to buy the political system.
While dark money has been used to influence elections, the role of groups such as the IEA is to reach much deeper into political life. As its current director, Mark Littlewood, explains, “We want to totally reframe the debate about the proper role of the state and civil society in our country … Our true mission is to change the climate of opinion.”

Astonishingly, the IEA is registered as an educational charity, with the official purpose of helping “the general public/mankind”. As a result it is exempted from the kind of taxes about which it complains so bitterly.
- William Barber offers a needed reminder that the war on poverty in the U.S. is far from over - and indeed needs far more people committed to the fight. And CBC News reports on Angus Reid's findings about the state of poverty and precarity in Canada.

- Meanwhile, Arjumand Siddiqi and Odmaa Sod-Erdene point out that the minimal and conditional social assistance available in Canada and other peer countries doesn't appear to correlate with any improvement in personal health.

- Eleanor Ainge Roy examines research into a four-day work week offered by one New Zealand employer, and finds it to have been a complete success in improving both work and personal outcomes.

- Finally, David Moscrop makes the case for mass pardons as a necessary corollary to the legalization of marijuana and the disproportionate punishment of minoritie for the past use of a soon-to-be-legalized substance.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Osmond Chui writes that Australia is no exception to the trend of modest economic growth being entirely hoarded by the wealthiest few, while work and life are ever more precarious for everybody else:
What makes people angry about excessive executive pay is the growing gap between executive pay and normal wages – making it look as though insecure work and wage theft is rewarded. The sunny, optimistic image of the Australian economy that business and the Coalition are trying to sell just doesn’t match their experience.

There is one economy for the bosses and one for everyone else. While executive pay is soaring and a record number of companies are profitable, the amount that everyday Australians are getting is shrinking. Their sense of unfairness and resentment is compounded by the pursuit of corporate tax cuts and the growing sense that their work is driving those profits but they’re missing out on the rewards.

Even though Australia has experienced the longest period of uninterrupted growth in the developed world, the proportion of GDP that’s being paid to workers has hit an all-time low. Australia is among countries with the highest growth in income inequality in the world over the past 30 years, according to the International Monetary Fund. While the economy has been growing, wages have been stagnating. While median ASX100 CEO pay rose by 12.4% in a single a year, real median household incomes only grew by 2.7% between 2007-08 and 2015-16.

At the same time, work is increasingly insecure. 40% of Australians workers are now in insecure work. Australia has the third highest level of part-time work in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Centre for Future Work has found that less than half of the labour force are full-time workers with access to leave. There has also been a disappearance of “good jobs”, jobs that are full-time and not low paid, with analysis by Peter Whiteford finding that only 55% of men and only 30% of women are in such roles.
In a climate of insecurity, employers are increasingly brazen. It is no surprise that stories of wage theft fill the media, catching everyone from local restaurants to celebrity chefs. The most galling bit is that wage theft is not only a business model but that CEOs are actually rewarded for such bad behaviour.

We’re living in a lucky country for some, and reining in executive pay is just the tip of the neoliberal iceberg. Forcing companies to adopt CEO pay ratios would be a start but that alone won’t address the anger that is a symptom of our broken economic model.
- And Stephen Bell discusses how growing inequality ultimately harms economic development for everybody

- The Angus Reid Institute examines the increasing public awareness that poverty and precarity are the norm for far too many Canadians. And Matt Humphrey reports on British Columbia's consultations around poverty - with special emphasis on the recognition that discrimination and poverty are closely linked.

- Dale Marshall points out that provincial temper tantrums over carbon pricing are only likely to backfire in the end.

- Finally, Seth Klein and Vyas Saran debunk the claim that a more proportional electoral system will in any way empower the far right. (Though it's worth noting the claim is mostly being made by the same people who have welcomed the alt-right into their own parties in the first place.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Enlightened cats.

Tuesday Morning LInks

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- James Wilt examines how Canada lets the corporate sector get away with paying far less than a fair price for our natural resources. And Marc Lee points out the massive subsidies British Columbia has handed to the natural gas industry in particular. 

- Christo Aivalis discusses the need to put public ownership on the table to ensure the availability of necessary services in the face of both business collapses and warped market incentives:
(I)n a recent announcement, Greyhound Canada has decided to end its passenger bus lines west of Ontario, leaving over 400 people unemployed, and numerous communities without access to reliable public transit. The company discontinued the lines because they are unprofitable. This follows the Saskatchewan Party’s dismantling last year of the Saskatchewan Transport Company [sic], which was founded a crown corporation dedicated to delivering public transit regardless of profitability.

The crux of the matter, however, goes beyond the Greyhound news. Indeed, this episode shows that, when it comes to essential services, Canadians cannot depend on the private sector to provide them. This issue along with many others has re-ignited the debate around the role of public ownership in a democratic society. A society in which private capital is predominate cannot be just and democratic. The only solution is to assert democratic priorities over the organization of the economy.
...If we are to build a just society, we require a just economy. And while that must include better social programs financed through redistributive taxation, the democratic socialist project is not encompassed by social programs alone; it must concern itself with the democratization of the economy. And while this shouldn’t be done solely through state ownership—worker, community, and consumer cooperatives all being viable mechanisms here—public control will nonetheless be a central plank. In that spirit, let’s make 2019 the year in which the left re-asserts economic democracy as the cornerstone for a better Canada.
- Robson Fletcher takes a look at the composition of the minimum-wage workforce in Alberta. And Katharine Murphy reports on Australia Labour's plan to ensure that temporary workers aren't paid less than the permanent employees they so often replace.

- Richard Florida offers a reminder that it's people already living in poverty who will bear the most severe effects of climate change. And Justine Calma discusses the lives already being lost to extreme heat in New York City.

- Finally, Paula Cocozza writes about the unreasonable expectation of perfection being placed on young adults. And John Lancaster comments on the contrast between the unrealistic assumptions and expectations underlying far too much economic theory, and the reality of the human condition.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Paul Krugman highlights how work requirements and other barriers to social benefits serve only to needlessly increase poverty without improving employment rates. And Patricia Cohen writes about the growing gap between soaring profits and eroding wage gains in the U.S., while Irina Ivanova reports that Donald Trump's giveaway to the rich has only made matters worse. 

- Meanwhile, Benjamin Butterworth reports on Jeremy Corbyn's proposal that children learn about workers' rights as part of a standard curriculum.

- Andrea Horwath makes the case for Ontario to welcome people in need of asylum - not demonize them as Rob Ford's cabinet is choosing to do. Tom Parkin argues that Canada can't become complicit in the U.S.' decision to slam the door in the face of refugees and asylum seekers. And Rupert Neate points out that borders are entirely open for those wealthy enough to buy their way into the UK.

- Joel Lexchin responds to a few of the Ford government's attacks on a universal public pharmacare system.

- Finally, Matthew Green identifies the problems with governments treating housing as a commodity rather than a right.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Scott Santens writes about the flaw in markets which fail to distinguish between goods and services which lack value, and those which people lack the money to acquire through the market.

- Lisa Cox reports on new research suggesting that the harm we've already done to our planet's climate may be twice as severe as previously assumed. And Bora Plumptre examines how Canada's emission reductions in other sectors have been - and will continue to be - almost entirely outweighed by additional carbon pollution from the oil and gas sector.

- Meanwhile, Nora Loreto contrasts the willingness of Canadian governments to pour billions into moving diluted bitumen for export against their stinginess in ensuring people are able to travel within Canada.

- On that front, Pam Palmater weighs in on the importance of transportation as a means for Indigenous people to protect themselves and their families. And Alexandra Collins highlights how a lack of available housing perpetuates cycles of violence against poor women.

- Finally, Reinhart Reithmeier and Peter Love point out why we need our political leaders to understand the value of science. And the Western Producer calls out Jason Kenney for ignoring the evidence favouring safety protections for agricultural workers.