Saturday, May 09, 2020

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- The Book Dad highlights how labour unions can help to reduce the economic uncertainty workers otherwise face. Nicholas Kristof points out that workers elsewhere already have far superior wages and benefits to what's treated as the default in the U.S. (and to a lesser extent Canada). And Steven Greenhouse writes that U.S. union activism is spiking as workers are put in danger by the coronavirus. 

- Jamelle Bouie highlights the racist conception of "liberty" behind the U.S.' COVID-19 denial movement, while PressProgress examines the bizarre groups behind the Canadian equivalent. And Michael Hiltzik notes that a callous disregard for the lives of anybody aside from a few wealthy insiders is nothing new in the U.S., while Ethan Cox notes that Canada is also rife with corporate hacks eager to trade lives for temporary profits. 

- Stephanie Taylor and Kyle Benning each report on some of the Saskatchewan businesses who have seen the provincial government announce their reopening without taking steps to ensure they can do so safely. But as long as it's golf you're after, the Sask Party is prepared to dedicate its constant attention to updating and relaxing any health requirements.

 - Finally, David Macdonald analyzes how the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have disproportionately fallen on vulnerable workers. And Kim Brooks writes that the appropriate approach to Mothers' Day should be to ensure equal pay and opportunities, not merely offer a one-time gift as an excuse for continued unfairness.

On necessary steps

Following up on the status of Saskatchewan's pending provincial election, let's note how it fits into one Scott Moe's refusal to reconvene the Legislature.

Here's what the Chief Electoral Officer has had to say about the province's options:
On Monday, Michael Boda sent Premier Scott Moe and the House leaders in government and Opposition a set of recommendations on what is needed before people cast their ballots.

"This has to be in the very near future. We are not talking weeks from now, but days from now in order to confirm that I would be getting assistance," Boda told CBC News on Tuesday.
Boda said he will need legislators to work together to give him the emergency powers to adjust the electoral process in order to "reduce risk of COVID-19 and adjust for inefficiencies that come as a result."

Section 7 of the Election Act does not afford the chief electoral officer powers during a pandemic.

Boda said if, for example, there needs to be an increase in absentee ballots, he would need to adjust the system to secure more of those ballots.
In other words, the Chief Electoral Officer has made clear that even if Scott Moe has run out the clock on any opportunity to move toward a full mail-in system, legislative changes will be needed in the very near future to allow him to do his job. And the Saskatchewan Party's response has slow-play any response even while claiming to accept the recommendation.

Even if there weren't many other compelling reasons to recall Saskatchewan's legislature immediately, it's a must if we're going to have a safe and fair election. And if Moe is once again prioritizing political games over fundamental concerns including public health and electoral integrity, then Saskatchewan's citizens will have every reason to take away his control over our government.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Musical interlude

Kim Petras - Heart To Break

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Irfan Dhalla argues that we have a choice between merely containing COVID-19 and outright eradicating it - and that we'll be far better off pursuing the latter option. And Jim Pankratz writes that we should be entirely willing - and indeed happy - to deal with the amount we borrow collectively to avoid the worst of a pandemic, rather than accepting a massive death toll in a futile attempt to maintain a facade of economic activity.

- Meanwhile, Donna Lu reports on the positive effects of Finland's basic income experiment even before it was overlaid with an immediate health risk associated with service work. 

- Keith Leslie highlights how for-profit service has long been recognized as a problem in Ontario's long-term care homes. And Amina Jabbar and Danyaal Raza make the case to eliminate the profit motive, while Kathleen Harris recognizes a growing movement for a national and universal public system.

- Doug Cuthand writes about the dangers of the spread of COVID-19 through northern Saskatchewan.

- Chloe Alexander and Anna Stanley expose how the fossil fuel sector is trying to exploit the coronavirus to dodge environmental obligations and demand public money to prop up an industry already dying of natural causes. And Josh Sigurdson reports that Scott Moe is pushing for a bailout for the CFL while refusing to offer anything more than pennies for people facing immediate shortages of housing, food and other necessities.

- Finally, Charlotte Hill, Jacob Grumbach, Adam Bonica and Hakeem Jefferson rightly argue that voters shouldn't be forced to vote in person - particularly in the midst of a pandemic where the result is a danger to the health of everybody involved. But Arthur White-Crummey reports that Elections Saskatchewan is warning that it isn't ready for a ballot by mail this fall - in large part because Moe's games around a snap election prevented it from preparing through 2020 so far.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Polly Toynbee writes that the coronavirus has highlighted how poverty kills - and how a concerted fight against inequality is a precondition to a healthier society:
This time the coronavirus epidemic touches everyone, as all can see who is harmed most. This time, double the death rate for the low-paid, their coffins soon piling up twice as fast in Blackpool or Middlesbrough as in the richest parts of the country, may deliver a shock on the political Richter scale rarely registered before.

Years of research show the social gradient of death is not a poverty cliff-edge but that it runs in a straight line from bottom to top: on the graph people get gradually healthier as they get richer...
What kills is inequality itself. Beyond the struggle to get by, it’s the stigma of disrespect, the lack of choice or agency. Disempowerment makes people ill and die young.

Marmot’s report in February measured the steep deterioration in health inequality in England since 2010: the rise in child poverty, insecure work, food banks, worsened living conditions “with insufficient money to lead a healthy life”, and the loss of children’s centres. “Austerity,” he warned, “will cast a long shadow over the lives of the children born and growing up under its effects.”

Is he surprised that Covid-19 is not a leveller, but has double the death rate in deprived districts? “It’s exactly what I expected,” he told me this week. “Most diseases follow the social gradient. The poor are most likely to suffer hypertension, COPD [a lung condition], obesity – all carrying a greater risk of fatal infection. The poor are older biologically, ageing faster.”
...Inequality is responsible for the longevity decline, and this government has no chance of reversing it without radically transforming life chances. Five more years of healthy life? We must hold the government’s feet to the fire on that promise. The virus has shone a light on the facts of British life and death.
- Meanwhile, both John Harris and Max Fawcett write that the need for a public income backstop in the wake of COVID-19 should help to make the case for a basic income more generally.

- Kim Stanley Robinson discusses both the ongoing risks arising from the disruption of the status quo ante, and the opportunity to plan out the society we want to build. And Ryan Meili points out the importance of ensuring that any reopening plan prioritizes people over corporate interests, while Katrina Miller sets out a test to determine whether any bailout proposal fits that bill. 

- Aaron Wherry writes about fundamental unfairness of the risks of COVID-19 being borne disproportionately by people already facing the challenges of low incomes and insecure work - particularly when conservative politicians are eager to push more and more people into that type of precarity. David Macdonald finds that over half a million low-income workers are effectively being threatened with the loss of their current income supports if they refuse unsafe work. Sujatha Gidla discusses how the workers continuing to provide services in the course of a pandemic are being treated as sacrificial rather than essential. And David Fairey makes the case for paid sick leave as one necessary boost to the security available to workers, while PressProgress calls out Cargill for instead creating deliberate incentives for workers to stay on the job while sick and contagious.

- Finally, David Sheppard argues that the collapse in demand and prices in the wake of the coronavirus is only a preview of what the future holds for the fossil fuel sector. And Mike Moffatt and John McNally discuss how to rebuild our economy while also ensuring that we do our utmost to avoid a climate calamity.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Focused cat.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Sheila Block highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified the profits accruing to the wealthy few while putting added pressure on everybody else. Chris Brooks notes that the corporate push for "reopening" is occurring with full knowledge that it represents a sacrifice of workers' lives. And Guy Ryder writes about the need for a new and better normal when it comes to protecting workers.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the failure of Ontario's Ministry of Labour to uphold a single complaint about work safety in the face of COVID-19. And Richard Florida points out that workers have largely been left to themselves to demand change in the system designed to treat them as expendable.

- Meanwhile, Jason Koebler reports on Tim Bray's resignation from Amazon over its firing and smearing of workers trying to ensure the safety of themselves and their colleagues.

- Canadians for Tax Fairness notes that in addition to endangering the lives of employees and then using racial prejudice to blame them for a COVID-19 outbreak, Cargill's billionaire owners have a well-documented history of using tax havens to avoid contributing to the public good. 

- Finally, Lucas Edmonds discusses Brian Pallister's disaster capitalism as he uses a crisis to try to further undermine Manitoba's already-precarious public services. And Colin Mcaullife and Jason Ganz respond to Marc Andreesson by calling out the political barriers to building a better world:
(T)he question remains: why has the US refused to use public resources for the benefit of the public? The answer is again a matter of political power. The ruling class has made the conscious choice that every aspect of life should be a site for profit extraction, and that the public sector exists primarily to create and maintain the conditions that allow extraction to occur. While some refer to this as “unfettered capitalism”, the truth is that capitalism is itself a system of fetters that are placed on society to allow private property owners to accumulate money by taking it from the productive parts of the economy.

This is why we have ostensible social insurance programs that are designed to humiliate people who are struggling and force them to jump through hoops or else be denied their benefit. The government lacks the infrastructure to send checks to individuals, but it possesses the infrastructure to shore up the finances of banks and large corporations at the snap of a finger. State capacity exists in abundance, but it is deployed for the benefit of a small number of private property owners, not for society as a whole. The idea that this state of affairs represents a lack of desire on the part of ordinary people and not an immoral and unjustified set of priorities on the part of the small number of people in the country who are capable of setting policy is manifestly untrue.
Acknowledging the role of public investment in innovation leads to two important conclusions. The first is that we should do a lot more of it, perhaps by as much as 3-4% of GDP per year. Contrary to narratives about public spending “crowding out” private investments, there is good reason to believe that public R&D actually “crowds in” private R&D. One paper estimated that a 10% increase in public R&D spending would induce an additional 4.3% in private R&D spending. A large expansion in public R&D would also create millions of jobs, and not just for those who are highly educated. Research facilities can sustain vibrant communities with opportunities available to people from all walks of life.  

The second conclusion is that once we recognize that innovation in modern economies requires that we socialize much of the associated costs and risks, then we also must ensure that the benefits that come from projects that are ultimately successful are broadly shared. This should be accomplished both in financial terms, by using a portion of the profits generated by successful projects on social spending, as well as in nonfinancial terms, by prioritizing development of technology with high societal value.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Scott Aquanno writes about the role the Bank of Canada has played so far in responding to COVID-19, while also recognizing that a new public bank could and should do far more to ensure we invest in a sustainable economy rather than plunging into austerity.

- Paul Krugman discusses the disconnect between the dire reality facing most of the U.S.' population, and the partial rebound of stock prices based on the expectation that it will still be possible to extract wealth from the general public. Tracey Tully writes about the continued spread of massive food bank queues in states with no lack of overall wealth. And Jonathan Mijs points out some of the lessons about inequality which are highlighted by the coronavirus crisis.

- PressProgress exposes Amazon's lobbying of the federal government before it was handed logistical responsibility which would normally have been kept within the public sector.

- Madeleine Cummings reports on the plight of migrant workers who don't share the access to health care that keeps other Canadians comparatively healthy in the midst of a pandemic.

- Finally, Louise Kyle writes that any vaccine for COVID-19 needs to be treated as a public good available to all, rather than a profit centre meted out only to people who can pay big pharma's prices. And Carl Bergstrom and Natalie Dean explain why a vaccine is ultimately the only viable option to reach herd immunity by pointing out the ramifications of allowing a deadly disease to run rampant. 

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jason Warick reports on the concern of doctors that Scott Moe's insistence on reducing protections against the spread of COVID-19 doesn't take into account the health of older or less healthy residents. And Sheri Lecker notes that the social isolation imposed so far - and continued in most existing plans - is particularly difficult for our most vulnerable neighbours.

- Meanwhile, Alicia Bridges reports on the Saskatchewan Health Authority's choice to keep the public in the dark about a Lloydminster outbreak as Moe was pushing the "reopening" line.

- Meredith Haggerty notes that a business lockdown has many consumers rediscovering the concept of thrift. And Michael Roberts examines the psychological effects we can expect even once we move past the direct limitations on activity.

- Heather Scoffield points out that Justin Trudeau's relief plans have failed to respond to the gender effects of the coronavirus crisis. Jeff Booth argues that COVID-19 will allow us to put an end to crony capitalism if we push for that result. And Robert Palmer sees an opportunity to finally apply reasonable taxes to rich people and large corporations, while Atul Shah makes the case to include limits on the use of tax havens as part of the price of public bailouts for businesses.

- Finally, Ian Welsh notes that COVID-19 has exposed our inability to do even basic things like provide personal protective equipment for workers.