Saturday, June 20, 2020

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Jason Markusoff writes about the absurdity of Jason Kenney's continued bluster about attacking the rest of Canada rather than working on improving the lives of Albertans. And Shama Rangwala and Danielle Paradis discuss the warped idea of "freedom" underlying the ideology of extractive capitalism.

- Julia Raifman, Laura Sampson and Sandro Galea study how higher rates of gun ownership lead to a higher number of completed suicides. Which means it's especially antisocial for Scott Moe to be funding a position pushing the proliferation of assault rifles and undermining municipal efforts at gun  control, while opposing any additional work on suicide prevention.

- Meanwhile, PressProgress highlights Moe's defunding of vaccines and protections for workers in the midst of a pandemic. And Arthur White-Crummey reports that the Saskatchewan Party's combination of free-flowing money for the oil sector and the police state with austerity for anything that might benefit people is only leading to cuts in Saskatchewan's credit rating.

- Finally, Matt Simon writes about the environmental threat posed by microplastic rain which is reaching even into remote and protected park areas.

Musical interlude

Tame Impala - Glimmer

Friday, June 19, 2020

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Duncan Cameron makes the case for a transition to a more fair and democratic economy. And Paris Marx proposes the development of publicly-owned options - including the increased use of passenger trains along with more accessible transit - as part of an improved transportation network.

- Rick Smith discusses how COVID-19 has been used as an implausible excuse to eliminate environmental protections. Guy Quenneville, Dave Seglins and Joseph Loiero highlight the continued pattern of rail disasters following . And Graham Thomson writes that Alberta's associate minister responsible for "red tape reduction" has no reasonable explanation for any of the regulatory destruction being imposed by his government.

- Emily Eaton, Andrea Olive and Angela Carter write about Saskatchewan's importance in the fight to avoid climate catastrophe.

- Karen-Marie Elah Perry and Jennifer Whiteside examine the failings of privatized assisted living care in British Columbia. And Marc Lee writes about the need to push back against short-term rental operators who are making needed housing unavailable to residents.

- Finally, Denise Balkisoon writes about her experience trying to call out racism in both staffing and coverage at the Globe and Mail.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Eric Levitz points out how the damage COVID-19 has caused to the U.S.' economy arises largely out of underlying ailments, including its dependence on discretionary spending by people with extreme wealth. And Robert Reich highlights how Donald Trump's racist demagoguery has distracted Americans from the continued entrenchment of the power of the corporate elite.

- Meanwhile, Nigel Wodrich and Aidan Worswick model the seemingly-underestimated amount of wealth in the hands of Canada's richest few. And Andrew Jackson discusses the need for a wealth tax to both reduce gross inequalities and wealth and power, and fund the country we want to build.

- Jared Odessky writes about the civil rights implications of allowing employers to terminate workers' employment at will. And Matthias Doepke and Ruben Gaetani study how the U.S.' college wage premium arises out of the unwillingness of employers to provide workers with either training or long-term employment.

- Finally, Emily Chung reports on the trend toward mandatory mask requirements in Canada. And the Globe and Mail's editorial board makes the case to apply them generally.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Thomas Walkom writes about the Libs' dangerous efforts to turn the page on COVID-19 as Canada's primary political concern.

- Murray Mandryk highlights how Scott Moe's budget accomplishes nothing either to address our immediate crisis, or to chart a long-term course for Saskatchewan. And Sareth Pereis writes that a budget intended to paper over severe social, health and economic challenges until after election day only ensures that we'll face far more pain in the future.

- Robyn Urback rightly slams large grocery chains for trying to take back pay increases from their workers while a pandemic continues to put them at risk every day. And Rosa Marchitelli exposes how Colliers is among the employers engaged in systematic wage and time theft from employees - but faces none of the consequences common when the shoe is alleged to be on the other foot. 

- Bryan Labby reports on new polling showing that Albertans are increasingly willing to pay a sales tax in order to properly fund public services. 

- Jennifer Koshan, Lisa Silver, and Jonnette Watson Hamilton challenge the Jason Kenney UCP's attack on peaceful expression and assembly. And Brandi Morin reports on the racial targeting underlying Bill 1.

- Finally, Owen Jones discusses how the toppling of statues is forcing the UK to confront its own ongoing racism.

On imbalanced budgets

This week’s resumption of activity in the Legislative Assembly has given rise to a familiar back-and-forth over the provincial budget. As usual, we’re seeing the government and opposition spar over how much to invest in our province, and which services should take precedence.

But over the past few months, we’ve witnessed another crucial exercise in budgeting - one which hasn’t followed on established patterns of political operation, and which may be far more telling in analyzing the priorities of Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party government.

Once the severity of the coronavirus pandemic was finally recognized in March, the province faced a brand-new task: budgeting the social activity which could be permitted, based on an inexorable tradeoff between personal freedoms and public health dangers.

At the outset, there was a great deal of uncertainty as to what level of activity would risk the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. And contrary to the oft-used theme of a “lockdown”, it was never possible to entirely eliminate the risk of community spread due to the need to preserve access to the basics of life.

By April, available modelling offered some indication that we had room to open up. Based on estimates made public by the Province of British Columbia (PDF, see p. 20, 22), it was possible to keep the infection curve flat at about 70% of normal social contact, and lower it with further restrictions.

It’s then been a matter of government discretion to determine what activities would be allowed to resume within those constraints. And Moe’s choices along the way are telling.

The first phase began with a focus on golfing, recreational fishing and boat launches. While work, school and nearly all other activities outside of the home remained on hold for the vast majority of the province, these few, male-skewed, profit-making leisure activities were made the top priority for reopening.

In contrast, despite massive public outcry from families, playgrounds remained off limits until last week. And when they were finally reopened, it was without any specific health precautions on the government’s part other than to shut off water fountains.

A month after retailers and malls were allowed to resume business, libraries and museums still haven’t been able to open their doors. And day camps were given a green light only after it was too late for many to organize for the summer.

Elective medical procedures were kept on hold until after cosmetic personal care treatments were reopened, reflecting an emphasis on perception over health.

And people in in-patient care or long-term care went an extended period of time with little or no access to family caregivers before restrictions were finally eased this month.

In effect, anything which wasn’t top of mind for the business class was ignored until that became politically impossible. Executives’ recreation was given precedence over childhood development, retail sales over public services, and business interests over connection to family. And we’ll be facing the social and mental health fallout from those choices for a long time to come.

Now, it would be nice to pretend those choices are behind us. But that’s far from a safe assumption.

The ongoing management of COVID-19 includes maintaining existing distancing protocols, and supporting new precautions such as the widespread wearing of masks. And efforts to change the subject to infrastructure announcements, or otherwise claim the worst is behind us, will implicitly contradict the need for ongoing public action.

Which is to say that our COVID budget may yet be our most important political consideration. And there’s reason to doubt that we’ll see the right choices from the Saskatchewan Party anytime soon.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats getting comfortable.

Tuesday Evening Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- James Galbraith offers a reality check to anybody counting on an immediate U.S. economic bounceback in the midst of an ongoing pandemic:
(P)eople do distinguish between needs and wants. Americans need to eat, but they mostly don’t need to eat out. They don’t need to travel. Restaurant owners and airlines therefore have two problems: they can’t cover costs while their capacity is limited for public-health reasons, and demand would be down even if the coronavirus disappeared. This explains why many businesses are not reopening even though they legally can. Others are reopening, but fear they cannot hold out for long. And the many millions of workers in America’s vast services sector are realizing that their jobs are simply not essential.

Meanwhile, US household debts – rent, mortgage, and utility arrears, as well as interest on education and car loans – have continued to mount. True, stimulus checks have helped: defaults have so far been modest, and many landlords have been accommodating. But as people face long periods with lower incomes, they will continue to hoard funds to ensure that they can repay their fixed debts. As if all this were not enough, falling sales- and income-tax revenues are prompting US state and local governments to cut spending, compounding the loss of jobs and incomes.

America’s economic plight is structural. It is not simply the consequence of Trump’s incompetence or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s poor political strategy. It reflects systemic changes over 50 years that have created an economy based on global demand for advanced goods, consumer demand for frills, and ever-growing household and business debts. This economy was in many ways prosperous, and it provided jobs and incomes to many millions. Yet it was a house of cards, and COVID-19 has blown it down.

 “Reopen America” is therefore an economic and political fantasy. Incumbent politicians crave a cheery growth rebound, and the depth of the collapse makes possible some attractive short-term numbers. But taking them seriously will merely set the stage for a new round of disillusion. As nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality show, disillusion is America’s one big growth sector right now.
- Armine Yalnizyan and Laurell Richie discuss why cancelling the CERB would figure to prove disastrous (and it's hardly to the Libs' credit that they've kicked the can down the road only another couple of months). And Heather Scoffield rebuts the arguments against a secure income in a time of crisis.

- Michael Grabell, Claire Perlman and Bernice Yeung expose the lobbying carried out by U.S. meatpackers looking to keep their employees' lives at risk. And Michael Corkery and David Yaffe-Bellany report that loud warnings about domestic meat shortages were in fact used to goose pork exports to China.

- Alice Walton reports on new research showing how face masks may be the key to controlling the spread of COVID-19 while allowing for somewhat more social interaction.

- Finally, Alex Hemingway writes that a wealth tax on the ultra-rich is within reach (and would result in plenty of beneficial outcomes). And Karl Nerenberg looks at some of the many ways to ensure the wealthy pay their fair share toward relief and recovery efforts.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Monday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Jonathan Watts reports on new research showing that even existing worst-case scenarios may underestimate the severity of the climate crisis. Anna Kanduth and Justin Leroux write about the need to start developing policy based on carbon stocks or budgets, rather than single-year flows which push action out into the future. Mitchell Beer interviews Seth Klein about the strong public support for a transition to a clean economy, even as politicians drag their heels. And Jessica Corbett writes that strong climate policy is even more popular when it's linked to improved social justice and decreased inequality.

- Rod Nickel and Jeff Lewis report on tar sands operators who are using the pandemic as excuse to stop funding emission reductions, ensuring that they continue spewing carbon pollution.

- Kelly Grant, Les Perreaux and Caroline Alphonso examine the effect of physical distancing on children, while Dakshana Bascaramurty points out how unequal access to recreation has made the pandemic far more traumatic for children already facing structural disadvantages. And Nicholas Kristof examines how countries led by women are doing far better in combating COVID-19. 

- Kyle Wiggers takes note of research showing systematic racial biases in the pricing of Uber, Lyft and other ride-share apps. And Michaelle Jean writes about the racism which imposes burdens on Black Canadians.

- Teresa Wright reports on the growing pressure on Justin Trudeau to finally keep his promise to revoke the discriminatory ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men.

- Finally, Campbell Clark questions how the RCMP had the gall to claim that a videotaped, violent assault on Chief Allan Adam should be swept under the rug.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Christine Berry offers a reminder that protecting public health is absolutely necessary for us to see any economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. And Mike Moffitt reports on the prospect that widespread mask use could prevent future waves of transmission - though it's worth noting the importance of actually encouraging and normalizing the use of masks to make that happen.

- Jim Stanford notes that once again, employers are trying to use the power of the state to force people to work for wages and working conditions which are unacceptable on their own rather than offering improvements.

- Matt Lundy examines the obstacles to getting people back to work even when both employers and employees would prefer that they return. And Vidya Shah and Erika Shaker comment on the specific difficulties raised for schools and child care centres where physical distancing isn't a realistic expectation.

- Tess Kalinowski points out how the Libs' choice to threaten jail time for CERB recipients will serve primarily to discourage people with valid claims from making them. Josh Rubin notes that in many cases, people aren't finding jobs available even as benefits are being allowed to expire. And Allan Sloan examines the far greater amounts of pandemic relief handed to U.S. businesses than to mere citizens even before the Republicans decided to obstruct any further support for people. 

- Marguerite Ward reports on polling showing that only a quarter of Americans actually think capitalism is good for society - even as its primacy is an article of faith among the political class. And Cody Feldman discusses how sovereign wealth funds could ensure that future economic development actually provides benefits for everybody.

- Finally, Jason Nickerson writes about the need to ensure that our pharmaceutical system prioritizes people's health over big pharma's profits - particularly as we face imminent questions as to how to develop and distribute vaccines and treatments for a pandemic.

[Edit: fixed typo.]