Saturday, March 16, 2019

On obvious motives

Murray Mandryk is absolutely right in his point as to why Scott Moe and his government shouldn't be using the trappings of power to intervene in Alberta's election campaign. But in claiming there's no explanation, he unfortunately misses Moe's obvious and problematic motive for doing so.

After all, it's been no secret for quite some time that the ironically-named Saskatchewan Party's fund-raising strategy includes regular appeals to - and massive donations from - corporate Alberta. And both his predecessor and Moe himself have clung stubbornly to a model which allows outside donors to swamp Saskatchewan's sources of party revenue whenever they see fit.

Given the Saskatchewan Party's choice to retain a system in which out-of-province donors form a major part of its fund-raising constituency, there can't be any doubt as to why Moe sees an incentive to stick his nose into Alberta politics to build his profile with those extraprovincial sources of funds. And the choice to serve Calgary corporations rather than Saskatchewan voters is an even more important and urgent problem than any loss of decorum.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Linda McQuaig highlights the false promise that a market aimed at enriching billionaires will somehow benefit anybody else. Chris Giles reports on the continually-expanding gap between soaring CEO pay and stagnant wages for workers in the UK. And Anna North discusses how the U.S.' college admission bribery scandal connects to the psychology of wealth - as the most privileged few try to launder their fortune in order to give their heirs a fraudulent leg up through the prestige of elite universities.

- Meanwhile, Robert Reich points out the perpetual Republican lie that the deficits they've caused with tax giveaways to the rich should be explained (and addressed) as matters of social program costs. And PressProgress notes that Canada's level of social spending continues to be among the lowest in the developed world, at a lower proportion of GDP than in 1990.

- Rebecca Solnit offers well-earned praise and encouragement to the climate strikers who are driving leaders toward much-needed action.

- Brenna Owen reviews the updated version of Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie's Slow Death by Rubber Duck, including its recognition that some of the most harmful substances identified around the time of its previous publication (notably bisphenol A) are now being foisted on people in unanticipated ways even after being removed from other products.

- Finally, David Climenhaga discusses how Jason Kenney is succumbing to the perils of conservative politics in Alberta. And his observations look all the more apt now that Kenney's campaign's manipulation of the UCP's leadership race is under investigation by the RCMP.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Musical interlude

Darude & Ashley Wallbridge feat. Foux - Surrender

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Nathan Robinson discusses how the language of "meritocracy" is used to entrench structural inequality:
The inequality goes so much deeper than that, though. It’s not just donations that put the wealthy ahead. Children of the top 1% (and the top 5%, and the top 20%) have spent their entire lives accumulating advantages over their counterparts at the bottom. Even in first grade the differences can be stark: compare the learning environment at one of Detroit’s crumbling public elementary schools to that at a private elementary school that costs tens of thousands of dollars a year. There are high schools, such as Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, that have billion-dollar endowments. Around the country, the level of education you receive depend on how much money your parents have.

Even if we equalized public school funding, and abolished private schools, some children would be far more equal than others. Two and a half million children in the United States go through homelessness every year in this country. The chaotic living situation that comes with poverty makes it much, much harder to succeed. This means that even those who go through Singer’s “front door” have not “gotten in on their own”. They’ve gotten in partly because they’ve had the good fortune to have a home life conducive to their success.

People often speak about “equality of opportunity” as the American aspiration. But having anything close to equal opportunity would require a radical re-engineering of society from top to bottom. As long as there are large wealth inequalities, there will be colossal differences in the opportunities that children have. No matter what admissions criteria are set, wealthy children will have the advantage. If admissions officers focus on test scores, parents will pay for extra tutoring and test prep courses. If officers focus instead on “holistic” qualities, pare. It’s simple: wealth always confers greater capacity to give your children the edge over other people’s children. If we wanted anything resembling a “meritocracy”, we would probably have to start by instituting full egalitarian communism.
There’s something perverse about the whole competitive college system. But we can imagine a different world. If everyone was guaranteed free, high-quality public university education, and a public school education matched the quality of a private school education, there wouldn’t be anything to compete for.
- Nick French similarly writes that an expensive and exclusive university system serves mostly to create social immobility. Jamiles Lartey points out that there are plenty of legal mechanisms used to give children from rich families unfair advantages beyond the illegal ones exposed this week. Patti Bacchus focuses in on the problems with exclusive private schools in particular. Matt Kwong contrasts the right's trumped-up complaints about affirmative action against the actual factors which prevent fair access to post-secondary education. And Clare Lombardo notes that it's particularly pernicious that accessibility standards for students with disabilities are being illegally exploited for cash.

- Franklin Foer discusses the broader battle - and lack of success - against political and economic systems based on corruption. And Charlie Angus points out how the SNC-Lavalin scandal pulls back the curtain on Ottawa's similarly compromised power culture, while David Pugliese reports on the illegal outing of an attempt to find out about defence industry abuses as an example of the steps governments willingly take to undermine reporting of corporate wrongdoing.

- Finally, Matthew Taylor, Arthur Neslen and Libby Brooks report on the massive climate strikes taking place today involving students from around the globe. Matt Ford notes that an emerging generation is rightly seeing the threat of impending climate breakdown as its motivating cause. And Abraham Gutman writes that a people-driven Green New Deal may be the source of hope needed to end multiple forms of despair - including the addictions crisis created by the pharmaceutical industry.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Eugene Lang takes note of the connection between rising populist anger and stagnant or falling wages for far too many people. And Chloe Rockarts writes about Jason Kenney's plans to make matters even worse in Alberta by declaring war on workers.

- Both Drew Kann and Stephen Leahy discuss new research showing how our window to meaningfully avoid extreme climate breakdown is closing - and how we need to mobilize all the resources we can to preserve a habitable planet. Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood discusses the final report from Canada's Just Transition Task Force which recognizes the need for a shift toward cleaner energy with support for the workers currently relying on unsustainable employment.

- Canadians for Tax Fairness offer a modest set of budget priorities which would result in increased revenue and reduced inequality.

- PressProgress highlights the Canadian Federation of Nurses' Unions' case study in corporate influence outweighing the public interest, as the Libs are allowing pharmaceutical giants to dictate the terms of any prescription drug policy.

- Finally, Don Pittis writes about the growing movement to enforce anti-trust law against tech monopolists. Ole Hendrickson offers some suggestions to counter the corporate capture of public institutions - including by setting up inclusive and transparent decision-making structures to reduce the effect of back-room lobbying.  And Laurie Macfarlane reminds us that we're already in a planned economy - meaning that our most important decision is whether to allow the wealthy to be the only ones with authority to make the plans which determine our collective future.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan comments on the need for a widespread and sustained challenge to the corporate powers which currently dominate political and economic decision-making:
(P)ublic and private investments are the twin engines that propel shared prosperity. But where will the money come from for the public role? Labour is taxed more heavily than capital, but labour’s share of GDP is falling in most places, and within labour’s share inequality is rising. Meanwhile, as fewer companies dominate more markets, globe-straddling corporations are becoming larger and more difficult to regulate and tax. In a period that begs for more international coordination, the backlash against globalization and rise of nationalism may hobble rather than strengthen protections of the weak against the strong.

The antidote — people more involved in the decisions that affect them, more diversity at the table — has challenges too. Social dialogue is the secret sauce of better, more durable decision-making; yet tripartite processes (labour, business, government) have limits.

Business interests are consistent and well-organized. Newly elected governments may be determined to undo the work of their predecessors. Labour does not speak with one voice, and the most exploited workers are rarely represented by a union or covered by basic social protections. In local or global processes, shared problem-solving is often dominated by corporate interests, bringing us back to the beginning: popular rejection of business-as-usual.

Still, history is laden with examples of the weak wresting power from the powerful, creating more bountiful futures for all. A century ago millions of women seeking equality, workers without protections, and a tsunami of immigrants collided with the interests of a handful of corporate titans and politicians.

Shift happened. It’s happening again. Women, workers and migrants don’t wield much power, but, as a new generation of leaders are showing the world, they are the people who change the power dynamics of societies that are stuck in a rut. Buckle up. It’s always a bumpy ride when the status quo is faced with a renewed vision of power and purpose.
- Franklin Foer discusses how kleptocracy has become the primary economic model in the U.S. and around the globe. And Marie-Danielle Smith reports that the OECD is understandably monitoring any preferential treatment of SNC-Lavalin as an indicator of the tolerance of corruption in Canada.

- Sarah Cox reports on British Columbia's massive liabilities attached to orphaned fracking sites - signalling that the problem already identified in Alberta is more widespread than previously publicized.

- Jim Stanford offers some observations on the renewed push for a living wage. And Robert Booth and Matthew Holmes report on the promising move toward a four-day work week among an increasing number of UK businesses.

- Finally, Raizel Robin discusses the case to treat secure access to food as a human right, rather than a market commodity which is out of reach for far too many.

[Update: Corrected day. It's Thursday somewhere, right?]

Monday, March 11, 2019

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Andrew Mitrovica gives due credit to Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott for showing there's some honour to be found in Canadian politics - though the Libs' subsequent loyalty tests have made it all too clear how limited that is. And Alan Freeman warns of the unfairness of a two-tier justice system in which well-connected businesses never answer for their crimes.

- The Canadian Press reports on the Saskatchewan Party's continued disregard for treaty rights and the safety of Indigenous people when it sees an opportunity to pander to exclusionary voters.

- Meanwhile, Chris McGreal discusses the destruction and absorption of family farms by U.S. agribusinesses.

- Edward Keenan reports on the unexpected passage of Mike Layton's longstanding plan to make wastewater polluters pay as an example of the value of persistence in politics.

- Vanessa Branch highlights the many ways in which homeless people are excluded from their communities due to a lack of public resources to accompany the best efforts of civil society and volunteer groups.

- Finally, Brandie Weikle reports on a new survey showing a majority of Canadians to be unhappy with their current work income.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Ellie Mae O'Hagan writes about the need for economic equality to be at the core of any push to eliminate the gender gap. And PressProgress highlights how the Trudeau Libs have gone in the wrong direction with tax handouts which favour wealthy men.

- The BBC reports on Michelle Bachelet's message that inequality tends to go hand in hand with violations of human rights. And Ephrat Livni points out how the gig economy is based on little more than blatant attempts to evade a century's worth of protection for workers. 

- Alan Pyke discusses the Republicans' choice to reduce the IRS' resources to rein in large-scale tax evasion while encouraging increased scrutiny of low-income earners. Paul Morgan-Bentley reports on the open use of tax havens in the UK, while also pointing out how the Cons have raised large amounts of money from the people hoarding wealth offshore. And Jim Waterson and Alex Hern report on the massive pro-Brexit spending by a secretive group funded entirely by dark money.

- Charlie Smith writes that we shouldn't be surprised by the reality that Justin Trudeau is far more interested in serving SNC-Lavalin than citizens. And Jen St. Denis reports on a push by Democracy Watch and Dogwood for closer scrutiny of corporate donations to Canadian politicians and parties.

- And finally, Karl Nerenberg discusses the alternative the NDP can offer to a status quo of alternating Lib and Con corruption schemes:
For the NDP, the imperative of the current crisis is more an issue of responsibility than crass political opportunity.

Canadians deserve a viable alternative to the wounded Trudeau government other than the not-very-comforting Harper Conservatives, led by Scheer.

To position themselves as that progressive alternative, NDPers have to do more than call for an independent inquiry. They have to formulate clear, muscular, well-formulated -- and perhaps outside-the-box -- policy proposals.

For instance, what should the federal government do if SNC-Lavalin were to become a target for foreign takeover, perhaps piece by piece. Is there any course of action that would save jobs and expertise, and protect shareholders, other than in effect condoning corporate criminality by letting the company off the hook for serious crimes committed overseas?

What about some form of public, cooperative or community ownership? The Quebec government's public pension fund, the Caisse de dépôt et placement, already owns a significant chunk of SNC-Lavalin's publicly traded shares. Would it now be a good idea for the federal government to enter into talks with the Quebec government about a possible joint federal-provincial effort to transform SNC-Lavalin into some sort of entirely publicly owned entity? That is the sort of bold and creative thinking a focused and serious progressive party should be doing right now.