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.