Saturday, January 26, 2019

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ploy Achakulwisat writes about the health emergencies emanating from an ongoing climate breakdown. And Andy Kroll points out that even in the U.S., a concerted effort of corporate spinmeisters and anti-environment politicians hasn't been able to override the public's concern about climate change.

- Meanwhile, Mike de Souza exposes the National Energy Board's deliberate deletion of documents which would otherwise have proven embarrassing - showing once again how a regulator which is supposed to act in the public interest has instead flouted the law to serve the interests of the fossil fuel sector. Robyn Allan writes that Justin Trudeau and other enablers of unsustainable dependence on dirty energy are wilfully ignoring where our future society and economy are headed. And Owen Jones calls out the UK's willingness to hand massive amounts of money to the oil and gas sector while demanding that low-income individuals fend for themselves. 

- Jennifer Morgan and Sharan Burrow write about the need to combat both climate change and inequality. But while they try to make the case that the main task is to convince the Davos set to care about the planet and the majority of humanity, Shawn Gude interviews Evelyne Huber about the need for workers to drive democratic change. And George Monbiot examines the role of community spaces in creating the possibility of meaningful transformation.

- Barry Ritholtz discusses the latest research confirm that increased minimum wages tend to lift lower incomes without having any negative effect on the availability of work.

- Finally, Laura Macdonald and Nadia Ibrahim highlight how the abandoned promises surrounding the new iteration of NAFTA include the suggestion that a trade deal could reduce gender inequality rather than exacerbating it.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Thursday, January 24, 2019

New column day

Here, on how the new Canada Food Guide points the way toward a far healthier food system - but falls far short of actually propelling us toward the end goal.

For further reading...
- Leslie Beck approves of the new food guide's focus on scientific evidence, while Andre Picard points out its failure to address issues of inequality which affect the availability of nutritious food for the people who need it most. The Canadian Press noted the difference in a food guide which isn't aimed at serving the meat and dairy industries. And Jake Edmiston reports on the industry replies referenced in the column.
- Again, Ronald Quaroni reported on the majority of Saskatchewan and Manitoba households on the brink of insolvency, while the Canadian Press examined the similarly alarming numbers nationally. 
- And finally, Andrea Janus reported on Second Harvest's review of food waste in Canada.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Christo Aivalis discusses the lessons the Canadian progressive movement should take from the emergence of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders in shaping the U.S.' political discourse:
What is so crucial to Ocasio-Cortez’s potential—as well as the sheer hatred she inspires among the right—is the simple fact that she acknowledges the class conflict inherent within a capitalist society. She wants to build a broad coalition, to be sure, but she knows that it will never include the very wealthiest, and so—unlike many Democrats—she isn’t bothering with the political charade. This is why—over the tut-tutting of much of the pundit class—she has proposed a 70% top marginal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans, a plan which, however unpopular with the 1%, is supported by the broad electorate. Likewise, her Green New Deal is a bold attempt to wed an impending climate crisis to a capitalist system with undemocratic and chaotic forms of production and distribution. In her view, the masses of regular people must assert their democratic priorities over the rich and their unearned wealth. If this is class conflict, than Ocasio-Cortez seems perfectly willing to embrace the branding and run with it.
The lesson in my view is clear. The elites will never back a concerted push to build a just, equal, and democratic economy, and no amount of niceties and respectability will get them to: they must be defeated through a determined political effort that unites the many against the few.
It must be put clearly that class conflict is a reality in this country, too; that the economic elite have never supported the CCF-NDP, and they never will; and that we’ll be branded as class-warriors and socialists no matter what our policies, however ambitious or modest. We need to embrace the image we have, and not be ashamed of it. We need to take the progressive policies already on our books, and put them front-and-centre. We need to stand with allies like Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, who are fighting similar fights, and we need to show Canadians that when push comes to shove, we have a vision for this country which is different than what they’ll get from the Conservatives, Liberals, and Greens. Certainly, when it comes to recent attacks on the right to strike and bargain collectively, the NDP has been workers’ only consistent ally, but we need to not only play defence, but go on the attack for the society we want to build. And if the cats get grumpy, and cry class warfare? Let them. After all, what’s wrong with battling every day to make the lives of the working-class better against those fighting tooth and nail to stop us?
- And Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman highlight the role a progressive high-end income tax could play in limiting extreme inequality.

- Meanwhile, Hugh Son and Brian Schwartz point out the inevitable counterattack from the wealthiest few against any meaningful move toward equality. And Anand Giridharadas warns that tech-sector magnates in particular are trying to give the impression of addressing social needs while locking in their wealth and power.

- Trish Garner discusses the progress British Columbia has made in addressing poverty, along with the long road left to travel before the scourge of social deprivation is eliminated. And Laurie Monsbraaten reports on some of the shattered expectations and individual precarity resulting from Doug Ford's cancellation of even a tiny basic income pilot project in Ontario.

- Finally, Alastair Spriggs reports on the World Economic Forum's recognition that even the economic fallout from climate change demands a concerted transition strategy. And David Suzuki writes that Canadian public perceptions have been thoroughly manipulated by a combination of corporate and public fossil fuel propaganda.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Nutty cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Larry Elliott reports on Oxfam's latest study on wealth inequality, showing that 26 extremely rich people now own as much as half of the world's population. And Ronald Quaroni notes that half of Saskatchewan families are on the brink of insolvency - the highest level of any province in an already-bleak national survey.

- Given that inequality and individual insecurity, it should be little surprise that trust in government and social institutions is eroding (as Louis Putterman points out). And Matt Taibbi highlights how the U.S.' political establishment fails to understand the public's understandable frustration:
I have no idea if Ocasio-Cortez will or will not end up being a great politician. But it’s abundantly clear that her mere presence is unmasking many, if not most, of the worst and most tired Shibboleths of the capital.

Moreover, she’s laying bare the long-concealed fact that many of their core policies are wildly unpopular, and would be overturned in a heartbeat if we could somehow put them all to direct national referendum.

Take the tax proposal offered by Ocasio-Cortez, which would ding the top bracket for 70 percent taxes on all income above $10 million.

The idea inspired howls of outrage, with wrongest-human-in-history Alan Greenspan peeking out of his crypt to call it a “terrible idea,” Wisconsin’s ex-somebody Walker saying a 5th grader would know it was “unfair,” and human anti-weathervane Harry Reid saying “you have to be careful” because voters don’t want “radical change quickly.”

Except polls show the exact opposite. Almost everyone wants to soak the rich. A joint survey by The Hill and Harris X showed 71 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents, and even 45 percent of Republicans endorse the Ocasio-Cortez plan.

Is it feasible? It turns out it might very well be, as even Paul Krugman, who admits AOC’s rise makes him “uneasy,” said in a recent column. He noted the head of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers estimated the top rate should be even higher, perhaps even 80 percent.

We’ve been living for decades in a universe where the basic tenets of supply-side economics — that there’s a massive and obvious benefit for all in dumping piles of money in the hands of very rich people — have gone more or less unquestioned.

Now we see: once a popular, media-savvy politician who doesn’t owe rich donors starts asking such questions, the Potemkin justifications for these policies can tumble quickly.
- Andrea Janus reports on the widespread food waste in Canada - particularly within the food industry rather than at the consumer level. And Daniel Tencer examines how Canada's housing market has become thoroughly unaffordable for far too many.

- Finally, any Saskatchewan readers are encouraged to participate in what little public consultation the Moe government is offering when it comes to the province's library system - and particularly to point out that libraries do far more than merely lending materials.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Eric Levitz exposes the unsoundness of the right-wing excuses for allowing the accumulation of obscene wealth. And Toby Sanger weighs on the effect of increased tax rates on extremely wealthy individuals - along with the other policies which need to accompany more progressive taxation:
(T)here isn’t much evidence that raising top income tax rates actually leads to a large out-migrations. Significant differences in income tax rates in the New York City region haven’t led to many people moving to take advantage of lower tax rates, except for those in retirement age. Other lifestyle factors, including the quality of life and public services, tend to be much more important for people, especially for those with higher incomes.

There’s also little convincing evidence that those with top incomes significantly reduce their work efforts in response to higher income tax rates to the degree that it would result in lower revenues.  Instead, most economists agree that by far the largest behavioral response to higher top income tax rates involves tax avoidance (and evasion) by income shifting. When there’s income shifting for tax purposes, the income often shows up in other places, although taxed at a lower rate.

For those with the money and means, this can be achieved in many ways, some legal and others illegal, including by taking advantage by the lower rates of tax for private corporations, lower rates of tax on stock options, capital gains, and investments, use of private family trusts, tax evasion and taking advantage of tax havens.

Canada’s wealthy are already so proficient at using these loopholes and other means to reduce their taxes that the average reported income tax rate on the very top 0.01% is actually lowerthan the income tax rate on the top 0.1%. If we included the offshore and other unreported income of the wealthiest, their tax rates would be even lower still.

What this all means is that there is considerable room to increase top income tax rates, but it must be combined with much more significant actions to eliminate tax loopholes and preferences that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy, by more serious action to crack down on use tax havens and by more aggressive enforcement and penalties against wealthy tax evaders and those who profit from them.
- Francine Kopun reports on a proposal to alleviate Toronto's housing crisis by developing currently-unused properties. And CBC News discusses Daniel Dutton's observation that investment in social supports produces immense returns in the form of reduced health care costs.

- Meanwhile, Sarah Giles, Danyaal Raza and Rupinder Brar remind us why a privatized health care system produces worse outcomes for everybody except profiteers. 

- Mitchell Anderson warns against being distracted by populist theatre by governments working against their citizens in substance.

- Finally, George Monbiot writes that any genuine crisis of masculinity lies in the culture of fear and repression which has caused readily-avoidable harm to men and women alike.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Penney Kome writes about the importance of treating poverty as a social disease rather than a purely individual circumstance. And Jackie Esmonde and Todd Gordon discuss how Doug Ford is using the social effects of poverty to force workers to put up with whatever treatment employers see fit to inflict:
While the severity of poverty in Canada in 2018 is less than a century ago, today’s austerity agenda broadly follows a similar pattern: attaching poverty conditions to social assistance and promoting the general vulnerability of workers. These conditions are, of course, experienced in different ways by different people. Women who rely on social assistance, for example, face a punishing level of surveillance of their relationships and reproductive choices. Women, particularly racialized women, also face a level of discrimination in the labour market that makes them most likely be amongst the working poor.

Legal coercion is also a key component of the austerity agenda, notably in Ontario’s legal prohibitions on panhandling through legislation such as the Safe Streets Act and more aggressive law-and-order police practices.

However politicians may frame their actions towards social assistance as being in the best interests of the poor, it is clear their intention lies elsewhere. They are well-aware that social assistance rates are grossly inadequate, that welfare is punitive and degrading and that the consequences are terrible: homelessness, illness, reliance on shelters and food banks, and stagnation of wages for many workers. And as the inquests into the deaths of Kimberly Rogers and Grant Faulkner show, people die as a direct result of Ontario’s miserable social assistance programs.
Driving these political decisions is the desire to continue re-making labour markets by deepening and extending precarity in order to contain labour costs while boosting labour productivity – to set the conditions, in other words, for strengthened capitalist profitability on the backs of workers. With the unravelling of the relative economic stability of the post-World War Two period, a new urgency was felt by capital to reset labour relations, shift the balance of power in favour of employers, and drive down the expectations of workers and the unemployed. But, despite definite success with this agenda, economic volatility and intensified competition between corporations (from both domestic and international sources) are the new norm of the neoliberal period. So too, therefore, is the constant attack on workers.
Forced into the labour market, former benefits recipients are likely to end up at its bottom end, where work is the most unsafe, precarious, and low paying. While the expansion of the labour market with more extremely desperate workers may not immediately affect the conditions of workers with better wages and working conditions, especially if they have the benefit of a union, this nevertheless marks another move by governments in their ongoing and longer-term project of re-engineering working-class expectations for good jobs and a decent life. But expanding the layer of extremely desperate and vulnerable workers could over time also translate into a further softening of working conditions for other workers, as bad jobs continue to become the norm, more companies turn to this expanding pool of workers to stay competitive, and workers with better working conditions are willing to make concessions in order to avoid the growing bottom end of the labour market.
- Alison Pennington comments on the connection between stagnant wages and the decreased effectiveness of sectoral bargaining in Australia. And Leo Gerard highlights the indignity of forcing people to work without pay - as the Trump administration is doing to hundreds of thousands of federal workers during the course of its shutdown.

- Stephen Gandel writes that the Trump tax scheme which was already recognized as a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich has proven even more regressive and costly than advertised. Mark Engler and Andrew Elrod point out the need for a tax system which prevents (rather than encouraging) the undue accumulation of wealth. And John Rapley offers a reminder as to why we can't count on the charity of the obscenely rich to meet social needs.

- The Australia Institute studies how consumers have paid the price for the ideological privatization of their electricity sector.

- Finally, Ethan Lou discusses the environmental impacts of Bitcoin as a classic conflict between artificial value and real-world harms to the public.