Saturday, April 11, 2020

On antisocialism

Plenty of attention is rightly getting paid to the unabashed evil that is the Republicans' insistence on holding previously-scheduled elections at a time when it was certain to make. But how much worse is it then for a politician to actually treat the spread of COVID-19 as an excuse to precipitate an election which wouldn't otherwise have occurred?

And similarly, Republican governors have been called out for overriding public health measures taken by local authorities. But how much worse is it to stifle municipal steps to protect against the spread of COVID-19 in the name of consistency, while simultaneously complaining about the prospect of the federal government setting stronger common standards at the national level?

Fortunately, Saskatchewan's people have thus far been responsible enough to go a long way toward limiting the spread of the coronavirus - and Moe has eventually given in on most of his worst decisions (though it's worth noting that the effective ban on stronger municipal measures remains in place).

But Moe has demonstrated that his and most powerful instinct is toward exactly the kind of antisocial choices which have resulted in no end of rightful criticism for his Republican counterparts. And it's well past time for more of Saskatchewan's media to start holding him to the same level of scrutiny they've faced.

On private interests

So far, the COVID-19 crisis has offered plenty of lessons about the limitations of delivering public goods through self-interested banks. Any relief has flowed only slowly, while the crisis has been turned into a profiteering opportunity both in the form of fine print imposing higher long-term costs on people who ask for it, and standard policies imposing higher immediate costs for people who don't.

Meanwhile, the major public-sector effort to distribute a new form of relief has been an unabashed success in terms of speed and efficiency (even if it's still too limited in scope). 

Which is to say that we're seeing further evidence that a blinkered focus (PDF) on putting banks in charge of deciding who gets money and how can't actually be justified in the name of speed or business efficacy. To the contrary, they're far more likely to dangerously limit any distribution of resources, while making any decisions only through ponderous approval processes which delay the receipt of help even where it is made available.

Instead, if we want to ensure that money actually makes it where it's needed (however that need is defined), the past month has demonstrated that the public sector is far better suited to the job.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Saturday reading.

- Henry Giroux discusses how the greatest risks arising out of the coronavirus pandemic can be traced back to neoliberal political assumptions. And Patrick Sharkey notes that the effect of the pandemic has been to reveal the U.S.' glaring inability to address collective action problems, as the not-quite-half of the population already conditioned to reject science and devalue the lives of others is able to undermine everybody else's efforts to limit the damage.

- Meanwhile, Moira Ness writes that the already-precarious lives of artists are even more challenging as a result of COVID-19.

- Rick Smith examines the environmental lessons we can draw from COVID-19 and the resulting social lockdown. And Ivan Penn highlights how renewable energy is becoming perpetually stronger from an economic perspective, while fossil fuels are proving to be unsustainable.

- Gwynne Dyer points out the next steps needed to bring COVID-19 under control - including a vaccine before it's possible to fully lift the restrictions which have become the new normal.

- Finally, Elizabeth Bruenig writes a post-mortem for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign even as his core principles and demands are being proven right by the events surrounding the U.S.' presidential election.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Musical interlude

Labi Siffre - I Got The...

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content for your long weekend reading.

- Andrej Markovcic discusses how the pursuit of profit above all else has contributed to the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effects on people - while warning that we'll only make matters worse by keeping the same warped priorities now. And Ian Welsh writes that the coronavirus may not yet be the shock needed to jolt us away from corporate-driven politics, even as it demonstrates the obvious flaws of a system where power is exercised primarily to allow for asset accumulation by the already-privileged few.

- Warren Bell discusses the crucial role of political decisions in the obvious successes and failures in responding to COVID-19. Claudia Webbe focuses on Jair Bolsonaro's calamitous refusal to acknowledge and address the pandemic. And Michael Harris rightly criticizes Justin Trudeau for trying to turn a public health emergency into a power grab - though of course others have gone far further in that direction.

- Meanwhile, Kate Ng reports on Spain's use of a basic income to offer COVID-19 relief - and the prospect that it will be maintained past the immediate crisis. And Daniel Boffey takes note of Amsterdam's decision to use Kate Raworth's doughnut model in planning its next steps.

- Finally, Marc Lee points out the significance of food insecurity as one of most obvious areas where our social safety net is failing. And Alicia Bridges reports on Scott Moe's continuing failure to provide housing and basic care even to people with the symptoms of COVID-19. 

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Damian Carrington reports on the connection between air pollution and more severe death rates caused by the coronavirus. Clyde Russell writes that there's every reason to expect clean energy to win out over fossil fuels as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, while Bob Weber reports on the path for Canada in particular. Wal van Lierop argues that what's been treated as a normal expectation of windfall profits for the oil industry will likely never return. And even the Globe and Mail's editorial board notes that Jason Kenney's willingness to dump billions of Alberta's dollars into the U.S. construction of Keystone XL is a reckless bet.

- Gil McGowan discusses how Kenney's austerity - including mass layoffs of education workers in the midst of the crisis - figures to prove disastrous for Alberta's economy. And Kyle Bakx reports on the tech employers fleeing Alberta due to the UCP's fixation on a dying industry.

- Matt Taibbi warns against providing yet another set of corporate bailouts that further incentivizes and institutionalized the reckless extraction of wealth by the richest few. And Grace Blakely discusses how to break the stranglehold of the financial sector while reviewing Anastasia Nesvetailova and Ronen Palan's Sabotage.

- Marc Lee examines the coronavirus relief package offered by British Columbia's provincial government. Angella MacEwen and Armine Yalnizyan (PDF) each point out who's included - and particularly who's left out - in the federal government's response so far. And Jacob Lorinc reports on the plight of students facing a locked-down economy and a lack of income supports.

- Finally, Anna Fifield reports on New Zealand's success in eliminating - rather than merely containing - the spread of COVID-19.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Brendan Kennedy discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be the last straw for far too many workers already facing precarious finances. And Theodore Schleifer warns of the dangers of counting on billionaires to save us from breakdowns in public capacity which they've done so much to cause.

- Christopher Ingraham writes about the reasons why essential workers are paid far less than they deserve, while Josh Eidelson takes note of the growing backlash against mistreatment. Joanna Frketich reports from the front lines in the fight against COVID-19, while Sheila Block and Simran Dhunna discuss the need to do far more for care workers at a time when they're facing greater pressures and risks than ever.  But Gil McGowan notes that Jason Kenney has chosen to kick public servants while they're down.

- Mark Hancock writes about the immense value of public services in a time of crisis. And Linda McQuaig makes the case to start manufacturing vital goods within the public sector, rather than relying on corporations to provide necessities.

- Brian Bank highlights how Canada will need to expand its manufacturing of electric vehicles in order to keep a meaningful place in the global automotive sector.

- Finally, Perry Bellegarde writes that the coronavirus pandemic is both reminding us of the existing deprivation facing First Nations, and creating an opportunity to finally remediate it. 

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Surrounded cat.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Duncan Cameron writes that while the COVID-19 pandemic has been catastrophic, we shouldn't pretend that it's at all surprising - or that the necessary responses are in doubt:
Though it has taken the world by surprise, the COVID-19 pandemic is a white swan event. It was predictable that a contagious disease without a standard treatment would strike the planet -- it is a periodic occurrence.
What is needed is to throw out the conventional thinking that dominates public policy, particularly in the wealthy G7 nations led by the U.S., that are suffering from COVID-19 illness and deaths.

Global co-operation does not arise from international trade deals that generate monopoly profits for corporations through enshrining intellectual property rights. Confronting a pandemic requires the ability to share knowledge about how to cure the virus, and eventually make vaccines and drugs for treatment widely available at the lowest possible cost, without price gouging through patent protection.
In an uncertain world, countries need a robust response to an uncertain future.

The out-of-control military spending of the U.S. and other G7 nations needs to be redirected to assure financial security, vital health and educational infrastructure, and a transition out of a fossil-fuel economy across the world.

Environmental activists, trade unionists, feminists and religious leaders have been pointing out for decades that at the planetary level, nations need to come together for common security.

Protecting citizens from climate change, famine, drought, forest fires and pandemics requires specific practices, investments and major policy shifts.

The main threats to human well-being are not military attacks that threaten national security: they emerge from the interplay of industrial society and nature; and responding effectively requires a new approach to global co-operation.
- Arwa Mahdawi writes about how the reaction to COVID-19 has highlighted the gap between celebrity culture and the reality facing most people. And Solhani Katkar writes about the cruel face of capitalism which has been exposed.

- Anelyse Weiler, Janet McLaughlin, Susana Caxaj and Donald Cole discuss the importance of protecting the rights of migrant workers in the wake of the coronavirus. But then, Stephanie Land points out that it shouldn't require a pandemic for us to care about people living in poverty and precarity.

- Alex MacPherson reports on Saskatchewan's mayors who are trying desperately to get Scott Moe's government to deal with a lack of housing and other supports in the face of COVID-19.

- Finally, David Moscrop wonders whether our democratic practices and institutions can survive the coronavirus. And Melinda Meng offers a reminder that a system of proportional representation would be far more responsive to public needs.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Mariana Mazzucato comments on the triple crisis facing our current economic system, and the importance of addressing health, environmental and economic disasters alike.

- Shannon Daub writes that it's entirely counterproductive to withhold coronavirus relief from charities and non-profits until their resources have already been depleted. And Nina Lakhani discusses the perfect storm facing both Americans now confronted with severe hunger, and the U.S. food banks trying to meet their needs.

- Jeremy Rigby points out how underlying inequalities make it impossible for a school division to provide equitable resources in the wake of the pandemic. Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Denise Lu and Gabriel Dance note that the physical distancing being painted as a form of self-sacrifice is itself a luxury beyond the means of far too many. And Ginia Bellafante reports on the efforts of Amazon workers to secure some measure of safety and dignity as they're simultaneously treated as essential to their society, and disposable to their employer.

- Finally, Neil Macdonald highlights how the Trump administration - and Republicans and their allies generally - have gone out of their way to make people worse informed and less safe. Gary Fineout and Marc Caputo examine the disastrous effect of Republicans' efforts to destroy Florida's income support system. And Yeganeh Torbati and Isaac Arnsdorf discuss how the Tea Party and other purveyors of austerity politics ensured the U.S. wasn't prepared to respond to a predictable calamity.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jim Stanford writes about the need for a new Marshall Plan to rebuild once we've won the fight against COVID-19:
For many years to come, Canada’s economy will rely on public service, public investment and public entrepreneurship as the main drivers of growth. They will lead us in recovering from the immediate downturn, preparing for future health and environmental crises and addressing the desperate conditions in our communities. The chronic weakness of private business capital spending in recent years was already indicating a growing need for public investment to lead the way. After COVID-19, it is impossible to imagine that private capital spending could somehow lead the reconstruction of a shattered national economy.

What form will this public-led reconstruction plan take? There are many priorities for public resources and economic leadership. Any and all of them would create needed jobs, provide essential services and rebuild our capacity to work, produce and spend:
  • Healthcare services and facilities. Canada’s public health infrastructure has responded courageously to the demands of COVID-19, but the crisis highlights long-standing weaknesses in our health system. We will need to invest tens of billions in repairing and improving health facilities (including related services like aged care and community health), training and employing more healthcare workers — and being better prepared for the next pandemic.
  • Transportation. Airlines and other public transportation providers have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. They will need injections of public capital and other direct measures to recover and rebuild.
  • Public infrastructure. Underinvestment in public infrastructure since the 1980s has badly undermined Canadian productivity and well-being. This is the time to commit to a sustained public investment program: increasing public capital spending by at least half (from under 4 percent of GDP today to 6 percent or higher).
  • Other public services. All attention is on healthcare services at present, for good reason. But other public services are also in need of investment and expansion: including aged care, early childhood education, disability services and vocational training. As the post-pandemic economy works off an enormous overhang of underutilized labour, expanded public services will be an engine of growth, not just a “cost.”
  • Energy and climate transitions. With the price of Western Canada Select oil falling to close to zero (and no reason to expect any sustained rebound to levels that would justify new investment), it is clear that fossil fuel developments will never lead Canadian growth again. Politicians and their “war rooms” can rage at this state of affairs, but they can’t change it: they might as well pray for a revival in prices for beaver pelts or other bygone Canadian staple exports. However, the other side of this gloomy coin is the enormous investment and employment opportunity associated with building out renewable energy systems and networks (which are now the cheapest energy option anyway). This effort must be led by forceful, consistent government policy, including direct regulation and public investment (in addition to carbon pricing). Another big job creator, already identified by Ottawa and Alberta, will be investment in remediation of former petroleum and mining sites.
In short, there’s no shortage of urgent rebuilding tasks in our economy and our communities. The case for mobilizing resources to meet those needs, under the leadership of governments and other public institutions, is compelling. We can put people to work, repair the damage of this crisis (and better prepare for the next one) and deliver essential and valuable services. All we need is a different model of organizing and leading economic activity — and some modern-day C.D. Howes – to help us imagine and implement that vision.
- David Suzuki takes note of the opportunity to change the way we live for the better. And the Financial Times' editorial board recognizes the need for more public planning and investment in the new economy.

- Meanwhile, Geoff Dembicki calls out Jason Kenney's foolhardy bet on a dying fossil fuel industry.

- Andrew Jackson discusses our options to finance the relief and recovery efforts, with emphasis on both the need to get past any obsession with deficits now and the importance of looking to wealth taxes rather than austerity once we've moved past that stage. And Camille Landais, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman comment on the need for a wealth tax in particular.

- Cam Holmstrom is rightly outraged at the Trump administration's order that 3M and other U.S. suppliers renege on their contracts to provide personal protective equipment to Canada and other purchasers. 

- Finally, Nicholas Casey discusses how COVID-19 has exposed the glaring inequalities underlying the seeming uniformity of college life. And Branko Milanovic examines the possible impact of the pandemic on inequality.