Saturday, January 05, 2019

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Dennis Gruending writes about the difference between genuine populism focused on the interests of the public at large, and the discriminatory politics of the right which are often given the same label:
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a populist as someone who is “a member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people.” That is just what Douglas and others, such as Ontario MP Agnes Macphail, were doing in the early to middling years of the 20th century. The rural community was being exploited by banks, railroads, grain buyers and farm machinery companies, with the complicity of most politicians in the old line parties.
Populists, including Douglas and Macphail, were engaged in movements to bring about economic and social reforms which were badly needed. They were also dedicated to winning those reforms through the ballot box. As democratic socialists they pushed the limits of liberal democracy while remaining committed to its structures and practices.
There remains a need today for popular movements to challenge elites – including Canada’s 100 highest paid CEOs who, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, took home salaries and benefits equal to 197 times more than the average worker in 2017. The pursuit of economic and environmental justice demands research, organization, and yes, appeals to emotion. But let’s not confuse those efforts with incitements by today’s demagogues to greed, violence and racism.
[Update: IP's Twitter response is worth a look in clarifying the academic definition of "populism" to include elements of both left and right.]

- Molly McCluskey discusses the lasting positive effects of Quebec's affordable child care program - along with the fact that there's room for improvement in ensuring that everybody has access to quality public care.

- Reuters reports on Google's offshoring of tens of billions of dollars in 2017 alone. Jeff Stein examines how much more revenue the U.S. would have to improve people's lives if it applied reasonable tax rates on extreme income and wealth, while William Horobin writes that a crackdown on tax compliance has become one of the latest achievements of France's gilets jaunes protests. And Owen Jones comments on the need for the UK's fat cats to start paying their fair share.

- Aimee Picchi reports on the thousands of U.S. drug price increases resulting from the Trump administration's willingness to let big pharma dictate the terms for access to necessary medication. And Aris Folley reports on just one tragic example of a 26-year-old diabetic who died for lack of access to insulin.

- Finally, Duane Bratt writes that while anger may be a useful tool as part of an effort to take power, it's useless as a guide to exercising it.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Musical interlude

CHVRCHES - Warning Call

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Doreen Nicoll makes the case to reinstate the basic income plan eliminated by Doug Ford in Ontario. Danielle Kurtz examines a few of the ideas being proposed by U.S. Democrats in the lead up to the 2020 presidential campaign (including their own basic income model), while Steven Vogel comments on Elizabeth Warren's arguments to reduce inequality at the predistribution phase. And Brian Dew proposes a "people's dividend" drawn from the growing concentration of unneeded corporate cash. 

- Kristin Annable reports on one Manitoba patient's discovery that chemotherapy pumps used for her treatment are regularly left uninspected. 

- Amanda Vyce discusses how a national public pharmacare program may be the only way to ensure a fair deal for Canadians in light of extended monopolies over biologic medicines.

- Finally, Takashi Tsuji and Yasu Ota report on a further push through WTO structures to hand corporations the ability to keep crucial information secret regardless of any public interest. And Rodrigo Samayoa reminds us why corporations can't be allowed to throttle neutral access to the Internet:
For years, Big Telecom has been telling us that the internet requires greater flexibility to innovate and invest in the new 5G networks that will allow us to safely ride self-driving vehicles and use remote health-care apps.

We have heard this from Verizon, AT&T, Bell, Rogers and Ajit Pai, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. But none of that is surprising, is it?

Of course they want greater flexibility. Wouldn't they love to charge you extra to hook up your car to the 5G network or charge insurance companies more for remote health care?
If Canada is to remain at the forefront of innovation and freedom, we need a robust net neutrality framework that doesn't benefit those with deep pockets and vested interests. How could a streaming startup or non-profit news service compete with the likes of Netflix and Google News in a world where your access to broadband is determined by how much you can pay?

For that matter, what guarantees are there that broadband access to telehealth apps won't be determined by how much you can pay?

In the United States, evidence of throttling by ISPs is already evident, even when it comes to first responders. Just last year Verizon throttled the "unlimited" internet connection of a California fire department in the middle of a catastrophic wildfire.

Is that the flexibility we need for net neutrality?

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Wednesday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' annual report on CEO pay shows that executives are again being handed hundreds as much money as their employees - and that there's also a gender gap even at the executive level.

- The Economic Policy Institute charts the growth of inequality in the U.S. - as well as the role unions play in reducing it. And Maxime Quijoux and Guillaume Gourges point out how France's gilets jaunes protests (unlike their Canadian astroturf counterparts) could offer an opportunity to rejuvenate the labour movement.

- Saira Peesker reports on some of the Ontario employers who are following through on improved wages and working conditions, rather than taking Doug Ford's invitation to move backwards.

- Finally, Philip Doe argues that fracking would never be permitted if its effects approached the privileged people most likely to be pushing it for the sake of short-term profits. And Fiona Harvey offers some reasons to be optimistic about the environment in the year to come.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Decorated cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Glen Pearson discusses the glaring gap between what citizens actually value, and what gets done by the governments they elect through distorted political systems:
This past weekend, I wrote a column for the London Free Press, in which I stated the following:
“What polls continue to reveal is that the coming generations of leaders and voters are increasingly bent on achieving social justice, environmental reform, gender equity, affordable housing, stronger communities, and a political order in line with those values.”
A look at 2018 Pew and Gallup polls revealed some fascinating realities about American views in the midst of a white-hot Trump era.  Consider these:
  • 70% of Americans support medicare for all
  • 74% favour strong environmental laws
  • 82% want equal pay for women
  • 59% agree with free child care
  • 58% favour breaking up the big banks
  • In something of a shocker, 75% favour immigration within proper quotas
  • 62% support labour unions
  • 61% want the minimum wage increased in their respective states
  • Surprisingly, 61% wish to see cuts to the military budget
  • 71% are pro choice
This is not the America we hear about or see every day and yet it is part of the reason for the successful Democratic mid-term wave.  We are convinced that our neighbour to south is a culture of guns, but then learn that 78% of Americans don’t even own a gun.  The United States is more than we are seeing right now and what isn’t being recognized is how progressive it is.

The problem, then, is really one of politics, and much of the blame for that lies not with the politicians but with citizens themselves.  It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that 46.9% of Americans who could vote didn’t bother.  That is 106,516,046 people – almost three times the population of Canada.  With that number of citizens staying home, the majority of whom, as research and polls show, significantly support the above values, then it’s inevitable that that those of the opposite view prevail in elections and public policy.  And, yes, the electoral college in the U.S. often works against the popular vote (which conservatives lost by more than three million votes in 2016 and yet still prevailed).  What kind of democracy is it when the majority loses?  There are numerous answers to that question, but the point is that democracy itself is not served by such realities.

The other real problem is the grouping of the political, financial and corporate elites who have overseen our political and financial order and yet have failed to keep pace with the progressive instincts of their respective populations.  Voters trusted their promises, only to see jobs disappear, the environment continue under increasing threat, women still not receiving equal pay, and electoral reform frequently getting squelched.  That trust is now eroding.  The key job of the elites was to solve the primary problems of the entire citizenry, not maintain the status quo.
- Michael Sainato writes about the push toward a union by Amazon's warehouse employees seeking a more fair balance of power against an exploitative employer. And Simon Murphy exposes a UK employment agency whose appalling practices including fining workers for being sick.

- Alan Freeman comments on the combination of waste and mistreatment of employees that resulted from the Cons' and Libs' choice to impose the Phoenix pay system on the federal civil service.

- The Canadian Press reports that rural internet access is among the infrastructure which the Libs are holding hostage to the goal of finding private-sector profiteers. And Spencer Macnoughton and Conall Jones report on the desperate measures being taken by patients in need of insulin which has been priced far beyond their means.

- Finally, Paul Krugman discusses how it's possible to lay the groundwork for needed action to avert climate breakdown on an urgent basis even in the U.S.' political system where a denialist executive branch will prevent any immediate progress.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Monday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your year-end reading.

- Kenan Malik comments on the many forms of classism. And Roderick Benns examines how Ontario's basic income recipients were able to make use of their increased income security - including by spending more time with friends, with family and volunteering in their communities.

- Susan writes about the distinction between an Alberta NDP government which treats people with dignity and respect, and Jason Kenney's UCP which goes out of its way to try to strip anything of the sort from minority group members.

- David Leonhardt discusses the fundamental importance of climate change compared to every other area of public policy debate.

- Finally, Sonia Sodha writes that rather than accepting the food industry's spin on health regulations as reflecting an excessive nanny state, we should be concerned about the unhealthy diet we're pushed to eat by corporate giants:
“What about our free will?” the anti-nanny-staters will cry at the idea of forcing manufacturers to act. But we don’t see people with placards in the street protesting against the thwarting of our right to eat a slice of bread with as much salt as a packet of crisps. The beauty of food reformulation is that because it happens gradually, our palates adjust and we simply don’t notice that certain foods are 30% less salty than a decade ago.

The free-will question needs turning on its head. The dirty secret at the heart of the food industry is that the deliciously unhealthy stuff – fat, sugar, salt – is also cheap. Cram foods full of them and it’s not only consumers who love them, but shareholders. And this, together with changing eating habits, including the popularity of ready meals and eating out, has driven up the unhealthiness of our food over time. As the food that lines supermarket shelves gets fattier, saltier and more sugary, our palates are reconditioned to crave more of it. There’s no free choice about the industry reshaping our tastes to benefit its profit margins without us even realising.

That’s why it’s not just the usual suspects who are arguing for a compulsory approach, but some industry voices as well, including the British Retail Consortium. They know that unless all food manufacturers are forced to play by the rules, progress will be limited as even responsible manufacturers are held back by first-mover disadvantage.

That won’t stop the libertarians crying foul. Perhaps what motivates some of them is a belief that this is all about individual willpower, a disdain for people just too greedy to leave some of their dinner on their plate. But it’s not Christmas levels of gluttony primarily driving our obesity crisis. An irresponsible food industry has got a lot of lives to answer for.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Paul Barratt discusses the results of a roundtable addressing inequality in Australia - with plenty of lessons worth keeping in mind elsewhere:
...(I)nequality is increasing significantly in Australia and, without a change in public policy, the problem will continue to worsen. Australia’s social security system is no longer adequate; it imposes unacceptable constraints on the growing numbers of people dealing with the consequences of poverty, unemployment, homelessness and general social disadvantage. Australia’s poor record on closing the gap between Indigenous and other Australians and between men and women is unacceptable. So is the inappropriate influence on policy decisions wielded by the corporate sector and those in the upper percentiles of wealth and income, and the failure of the current political structures to curb that influence.

The roundtable participants repeatedly drew attention to the inadequacy of the current economic model, its dependency on endless growth, its failure to engage with ecological and climate limits, and its assumption that unconstrained markets can respond to the need for the dignity and wellbeing of the whole population.
We all deserve basic human rights: food, clothing, shelter, education and modern healthcare. But we should aspire to go way beyond that, to be a genuinely intelligent and inclusive nation guided by an agreed set of national values.

It is time to reject the politically charged distinction between “lifters” and “leaners” that undermines our identity as a people committed to a fair go for all. The overwhelming majority of Australians want to have a job. They want to feel that it is a job that has meaning and they want to do it well. How productive they are depends not only upon how hard they are prepared to work but how well they are trained, how well they are led and managed, and what equipment they are furnished with.

In our wage fixation processes we need to reintroduce the concept of the living wage. We must recognise the benefits of investing in people’s education, vocational training, improved access to healthcare, public housing and a decent living standard for those who find themselves unemployed. Elimination of tax benefits like the capital gains tax discount and uncapped negative gearing against personal income, and an effective assault on multinational avoidance, could provide the wherewithal to tackle the problem.
- Matt Bruenig discusses three classifications of populist policies which can rebalance our economic structures, and notes that the three can and should be complementary to each other.

- Dawn Foster points out how social housing has been undermined in the UK by privatization and class segregation. And Joshua Schneyer and Andrea Januta report on the private operators who have turned housing for the U.S. military into a source of exorbitant profits for substandard accommodations.

- Peter Gosselin highlights how workers in their 50s and up are being pushed out of the jobs they thought would last until a standard retirement age.

- Lisa Naccarato reports on a push by Ontario doctors to ensure that migrants have access to needed health care.

- Finally, Kira Lerner discusses how deliberate confusion prevents American voters from seeing their choices reflected through elections.