Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Tiffany Crawford interviews Kirsten Zickfeld about the contradiction between new fossil fuel infrastructure and any serious attempt to reverse our climate breakdown. Murray Mandryk offers a reminder of the local costs of climate change. Fatima Syed highlights how Doug Ford's supposed climate plan consists of nothing more than a determination to scrap anything which has already been working, while the Calgary Herald's editorial board calls out both Ford and Jason Kenney for their utter lack of anything constructive to contribute. And Simon Enoch recognizes that the new strategy of climate defeatism only highlights the urgency of immediate action:
We can certainly lament the fact that the discourse on climate action has sunk so low that shrugging our shoulders has become a valid argument from our political leaders. But we can also take solace in the fact that the opponents of real climate action have been forced to make such a terrifyingly prosaic argument. It means they recognize that their previous arguments of denial and delay are running out os steam. The realities of global warming are becoming too evident to even entertain denial, while the speed of climate change is making delay look more and more reckless. Urgent, radical action will soon be the only reasonable means forward to a sustainable future. The only response the defeatists can muster is to foreclose that future altogether. Let climate defeatism be the sad last gasp of those who have stood in the way of climate progress for the past thirty years and are about to be swept aside by history.
- George Eaton points out that the UK Conservatives' austerity (like that of other governments) has failed even on its own terms. Jerry Dias responds to Ford's attacks on a fair minimum wage by noting that there hasn't been any meaningful tradeoff between real gains in wages for workers, and the jobs which the business lobby wrongly claims to be at risk. And Simon Lewsen comments on the shameful presence of hunger in the midst of Canada's wealth - including the reality that food may be the most easily-cut expense item in households living in poverty. 

- Tim Pearson discusses how governments elected under proportional representation systems are more likely to take care of both our environment and our economy, rather than being focused solely on single-party political interests.

- Finally, Meagan Day looks at the Trump administration as a prime example of the dangers of putting corporate autocrats in charge of the public sector.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Musical interlude

Ladytron - Runaway

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Michael Harris writes that we shouldn't expect politicians to lead the way toward the action we need to combat climate change. Katie Dangerfield reports on new research showing that the economic effects of carbon pricing are modest, while ignoring climate change will have massive costs. But Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood examines how the USCMA figures to lock in a fossil-fuel economy while failing to pay even lip service to our most fundamental challenge.
- Amanda Agan and Michael Makowsky study the social effects of a higher minimum wage, including a decrease in criminal recidivism.

- The CP reports on Doug Ford's latest move to prioritize cheap intoxicants over necessary public services.

- Finally, Naomi Klein discusses Donald Trump's standing as the U.S.' most glaring example of dynastic privilege being used to suppress the hopes of anybody who doesn't share the same fortune. And Christo Aivalis comments on the ongoing relevance of Mouseland as a metaphor for Canadian politics:
The story of Mouseland—which can be seen here in animated form—described a society where mice formed the majority of the population, and yet consistently elected governments comprised of cats. Those cats—be they white cats or black cats or spotted cats—passed laws that benefitted them, often to the detriment of the mice majority.

The story turns for Douglas when a little mouse comes along with a bold idea, which is that instead of electing a government of cats, they should choose their leadership from amongst themselves. Of course, that little mouse was branded a dangerous subversive and was locked up, but as Douglas says, “you can lock up a mouse or a man but you can’t lock up an idea.”

The allegory is clearly meant to apply to Canadian society, and Douglas makes that explicit: “Now if you think it strange that mice should elect a government made up of cats, you just look at the history of Canada…and maybe you’ll see that they weren’t any stupider than we are.” For him, the story of Canadian politics was one where Liberal and Conservative cats ruled the roost while the masses of mice languished in poverty, precarity, and inequality. But when pioneering mice like J.S. Woodsworth stepped up to form the Labour Party and eventually the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, they offered a new path forward.
Mouseland is clearly a populist narrative. In our own times, many people, especially among the centrist elite, have equated populism with Trumpian far-right politics. Certainly, the right has been successful at tapping into popular discontent with the status quo, and has been able to portray wealthy leaders like Trump and Ford as regular joes. But as I’ve noted in other venues, populism is an essential component to any left wing programme which sincerely seeks to represent the masses of working-class people. Mouseland is just the sort of fable that sparks a populist understanding of politics, where the 99% of mice stop deferring to the feline elite, and start doing politics differently. Where politicians who share their life experience are elected to represent them, and in turn can pass good laws—that is—laws that are good for mice.

One of the Canadian left’s key failings over the past couple decades has been a belief that we have to move beyond class conflict as a vehicle for social, political, and economic change; that regular Canadians don’t see themselves as mice anymore, or simply see themselves as cats-in-waiting. Some of this may well be true, but the reality is that class conflict isn’t going anywhere, and the social and economic elite understand this best of all. The left in Canada needs to centre politics of the many over the few, even if that makes enemies among the people unlikely to support them in the first place. Mouseland may well just be a fable, but it is nonetheless instructive, and can be used in part to illustrate a class consciousness among the masses of people in this country, matching that class solidarity which has never dissipated among the wealthy and well-connected.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

New column day

Here, following up on this post about the potential for a truly federal carbon pricing system if right-wing provincial governments keep griping about having the ability to develop alternatives.

For further reading...
- Anna Desmarais reports on the NDP's push for climate change policy to meet the standards set out in the latest IPCC report. And Gerald Butts for one has been echoing the language of a "moral obligation" - though without apparently prodding the Libs to any action beyond a public relations blitz.
- Brent Patterson highlights how the Libs have thus far fallen short of any reasonable standard of action to combat our climate breakdown. And Karl Nerenberg calls out Jason Kenney and Doug Ford for demanding even less.
- Finally, Gary Mason argues that anybody blustering against a carbon tax has an obligation to offer up an alternative. Mark Cameron and David McLaughlin suggest that carbon tax rebates may tilt the balance of public opinion in favour of meaningful pricing. And David Reevely points out that a refusal to rein in climate change now will result in costly attempts to adapt in the future.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Charles Smith writes about the importance of a living wage as a matter of fairness and justice. But Stephanie Taylor reports on Regina City Council's lamentable vote against ensuring that the people who make the city function are able to earn enough to live. 

- Meanwhile, Ipsos surveys the impact of debt on Canadian households - with nearly a quarter of respondents considering themselves overwhelmed by what they owe.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh examines some of the recently-passed protections for workers which are on the chopping block under Doug Ford's anti-labour government. And Trish Hennessy worries that Ontario's workers will end up worse off than they were before the Wynne Libs' last-gasp attempt to appear progressive.

- Scott Sinclair notes that the small amount of good news in the new USMCA involves some reduction in the power of investor-driven dispute resolution. But Alexander Panetta examines a few of the ways in which the deal puts more power in the hands of the U.S. to dictate economic terms to Canada and Mexico.

- Finally, Yves Engler makes the case for free public transit as a means of improving both local equality and the global environment.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Evelyn Forget makes the case for a national basic income which would provide a more stable fiscal base for Canada's provinces as well as its citizens. And Dennis Raphael writes about the social murder resulting from the wanton destruction of income supports and other policies which save lives. 

- Meanwhile, the CP reports on the recommendation of British Columbia's provincial auditor that it actually track the effects of tax expenditures, rather than merely taking for granted that they serve any useful purpose.

- Mel Watkins writes that the mistakes Canada made by giving up sovereignty in previous trade deals laid the groundwork for the latest NAFTA concessions. And Brent Patterson notes that the USCMA includes special protection for GMOs in order to benefit US agribusiness regardless of the risks for Canadian producers and consumers.

- The CP takes note that our current emission reduction targets fall far short of what's needed to rein in catastrophic climate change. And in case we needed more reminders of the immediate dangers associated with fossil fuels, Jesse Ferreras reports on the explosion and fire caused by an Enbridge pipeline rupture in B.C., while Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon talks to one of the workers in the immediate vicinity of the Irving Oil refinery explosion.

- Finally, Ed Broadbent and Hugh Segal argue that it's long past time for Canada to pursue electoral reform:
What used to be unusual occurrences in our system – minority governments – are fast becoming the norm both provincially and federally. Three of the past five federal elections have produced minority governments. With a first-past-the-post electoral system, this can be a recipe for increasing instability.

The reason for this is that such a system exaggerates the effects of even tiny swings in voting: Just a few votes in a single riding can be the difference between a majority and a minority government. As a consequence, parties that find themselves in a minority situation often engage in a constant game of “chicken,” continually jockeying for advantage with an eye to a snap election. In proportional systems, such gamesmanship is rare. A small change in the vote for a party only results in a small change in the number of seats. There’s no point in triggering a snap election. So people get on with governing. And, knowing a number of parties are likely to be elected causes leaders to be more collaborative and less confrontational with each other. This makes for better government.

The evidence of the past few months is clear. Given the realities of Canadian voting trends, converting our provincial and federal electoral systems to proportional ones needs to be an immediate priority. We hope that Quebec, B.C. and PEI get the ball rolling and we look forward to seeing other Canadian provinces and the federal level following their example as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with friends.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Matt Taibbi interviews Bernie Sanders about the concentration of wealth in a few large financial institutions - and the importance of regulating them in the public interest before they once again crash the economy as a whole.

- John Stapleton argues that there's no reason why inheritances should be the most reliable path toward financial security when we can afford a basic income for everybody. And CBC talks to Evelyn Forget about her push for a basic income based on her research into Manitoba's experience with one. 

- Leonid Bershidsky points out why employment statistics which fail to account for underemployment are misleading as a measure of precarity. And Michael Hicks writes that any complaints about a labour shortage reflect the refusal of employers to offer wages and working conditions capable of attracting workers. And Christopher Hope reports that a four-day work week may form part of UK Labour's plan to ensure that workers benefit from increased productivity and corporate wealth. 

- Matt McGrath points out a few of the important takeaways from the IPCC's latest climate change report (PDF summary). Stephen Leahy notes that in addition to highlighting the risk of slipping toward multiple degrees of temperature increases, the IPCC recognizes that we're seeing more severe results than anticipated even from smaller increases. Bloomberg's editorial board weighs in on the need for far more ambition in fighting climate change. And Justin Worland points out that the pathetic lack of concerted action to reduce the damage we're doing to our planet can't be blamed on any shortage of options.

- Finally, Alex Boutilier reports on the rise of far-right extremism online in Canada.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Simon Wren-Lewis notes the importance of including the working class among the groups identified as part of a progressive movement. And Gary Younge writes about the importance of genuine identity politics (as opposed to the cynical right-wing counterpart) as a means of identifying and addressing structural inequality:
(N)ot all identities count as equal. The more power they carry, the less likely the carrier is to be aware of it as an identity at all. Nobody asks me: “When did you come out as straight?” or “How did you balance travelling as a foreign correspondent with raising children?” because straight men don’t get asked that. What is often dismissed as “identity politics” might be more accurately just called “politics” originating from the concerns of less advantaged groups.

It’s not difficult to see why the right has a problem with this. Their agenda is centred on preserving and extending privileges that already exist. Denigrating equal rights campaigners as “grievance politics” practitioners, the irony is that they practise the very methods they lampoon. Railing against liberal elites, feminists, migrants and Muslims, they have cornered the market in victimhood. Trump’s presidential campaign made an unvarnished appeal to white, Christian Americans – what is that if not an identity?

The left has always been more confused. Those with a crude notion of class contend that politics driven by identity divides people, dilutes solidarity, and diverts energy from addressing material concerns such as pay and conditions. This fundamentally misunderstands identity, politics and class.

When British women are being paid 18% less than men, gender is a material concern; when for every $100 in wealth a white person has in the US an African-American has just $5, race is a material issue. Likewise, if there is no lift and you’re disabled. If you can’t get married to the person you love and can’t leave them your pension, sexual orientation is a material issue. If you can’t walk down the street without fear of the police stopping, searching or shooting you, or if you cannot control decisions about your own fertility, those are material issues. Acknowledging diversity does not undermine solidarity. Indeed by rendering it more inclusive and better informed, it should make that solidarity more effective. “Labour in the white skin,” wrote that flaky identity hipster, Karl Marx, “can never free itself as long as labour in the black skin is branded.”
- Meanwhile, Jacky Habib reports on the spread of right-wing hate in Canada - including a particularly drastic increase in violent hate crimes. And Alex Boutilier reports on the need for law enforcement to respond before hatred turns to violence.

- Travis Lupick discusses Chris Hedges' latest book on the causes and effects of the U.S.' crumbling democracy.

- CBC News reports on new research showing that the effects of childhood abuse include lasting alterations to a victim's DNA.

- Finally, Auden Schendler and Andrew Jones write about the need to respond to yet another damning report about climate inaction by demanding and making change rather than accepting defeat. But the CP reports that the Libs' plan is to continue to do nothing more.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

On necessary measures

I've previously linked to columns by Paul Wells and Jen Gerson on the coordinated right-wing attack on carbon pricing. (And even the Notley government has made a show of withdrawing from a coordinated federal climate change plan, though without abandoning its own climate change policy.)

But let's not assume that what's being treated as a convenient political argument for now won't produce some blowback. To the contrary, the unilateral withdrawal of provinces from any federal system might ultimately favour the development of stronger federal climate regulation.

From a legal standpoint, one of the primary arguments around the federal government's power to price carbon (among other climate change measures) surrounds the question of whether fighting climate change can be categorized as a "national concern" which cannot effectively be dealt with by the provinces acting independently. On that front, see e.g. Manitoba's legal opinion (PDF) on a "backstop" strategy - particularly to the extent it relied on the assumed fact that a province planned to adopt equally effective measures which failed to receive federal recognition.

Saskatchewan's sad excuse for a plan is the most obvious example of a province falling woefully short of that presumption. But in assessing the necessity of federal action, there might have been some argument available that a single province continuing to stumble in the wrong direction wouldn't have an important enough effect to preclude the achievement of national goals.

With Ontario now on the climate denial side - ceding any claim to basing policy on evidence in favour of anti-tax bombast - there's now no question that the current set of provincial defectors is of a sufficient size to undermine any national action. And every province which adds its name to the list of objectors (and trashes its own climate change measures in the process) will only strengthen that position, making it more likely that courts will recognize a need for federal action in response to a provincial-level vacuum. 

What's more, that point may prove important in political as well as legal terms. In time, enough provincial recalcitrance might lead to a push for a federal plan which serves as a national governing system rather than a mere "backstop".

To be clear, such a system wouldn't necessarily need to represent a less cooperative form of federalism in the sense of failing to account for the position of provinces willing to act in good faith; instead, it could incorporate provincial preferences through a federally-applied system. And it's not out of the question that the provincial governments who retain a strong interest in fighting climate change could decide the best path toward that end involves a national system - which as a bonus could result in public pressure being directed toward the federal level.

Of course, it would be preferable to see provinces take climate change seriously on their own, particularly given the seeming preference of a Lib majority government to treat the issue (like most) as one of symbolism rather than substance.

But the more conservative premiers refuse to exercise their power responsibly when it comes to the planetary threat of climate change, the more likely it is that the federal government will see a need to increase its own level of responsibility. And the end result could be a national system that's both more consistent, and even more likely to survive whatever evidence-free arguments might be made against it in court.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Bob Lord discusses how the concentration of wealth in the U.S. has pushed beyond even the obscene levels of the Gilded Age. Sunil Johal and Armine Yalnizyan examine (PDF) both Canada's inequality and polarization of wealth, and a few of the options to rein them in. And David Sirota highlights how a new aristocracy considers itself to be above any laws or other accountability:
Since Skilling’s conviction 12 years ago, our society has been fundamentally altered by a powerful political movement whose goal is not merely another court seat, tax cut or election victory. This movement’s objective is far more revolutionary: the creation of an accountability-free zone for an ennobled aristocracy, even as the rest of the population is treated to law-and-order rhetoric and painfully punitive policy.

Let’s remember that in less than two decades, America has experienced the Iraq war, the financial crisis, intensifying economic stratification, an opioid plague, persistent gender and racial inequality and now seemingly unending climate change-intensified disasters. While the victims have been ravaged by these crime sprees, crises and calamities, the perpetrators have largely avoided arrest, inquisition, incarceration, resignation, public shaming and ruined careers.

That is because the United States has been turned into a safe space for a permanent ruling class. Inside the rarefied refuge, the key players who created this era’s catastrophes and who embody the most pernicious pathologies have not just eschewed punishment – many of them have actually maintained or even increased their social, financial and political status.
...(T)o paraphrase Leona Helmsley, accountability is for the little people, immunity is for the ruling class.

If this ethos seems familiar, that is because it has preceded some of the darkest moments in human history – the eras of violent purges, authoritarian dictators and sharpened guillotines. There is no guarantee that is our future – and let’s hope it isn’t our destiny. Whether or not things proceed in that terrifying direction, though, the moral question remains: what can be done to restore some basic sense of fairness and justice?
This is no easy way forward and there are no shortcuts – but if we avoid this path, then the accountability-free zone will fortify itself and we will probably see the rise of an institutionalized form of moral hazard that dooms us to a tragic repetition of history.
- Meanwhile, Mark Bou Mansour weighs in on the effect of the "finance curse" in which overall well-being in the UK has been treated as secondary to the profits of the banking sector.

- Both Paul Wells and Jen Gerson discuss how carbon taxes have turned into political targets, particularly for politicians catering to oil industry donors. And David Climenhaga offers a reminder that carbon pricing alone actually represents a market-focused, right-wing response to a problem which might be more obviously (and easily) dealt with by regulation.

- Kathryn May reports on PIPSC's push for public services to be insourced rather than outsourced. And Richard Partington notes that a substantial proportion of workers with casual contracts would prefer more stable employment - signalling that their precarity is a matter of a lack of choice rather than an exercise of it.

- Finally, Matthew Hays makes the case for the elimination of the notwithstanding clause from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.