Friday, December 18, 2020

Musical interlude

 Lianne La Havas - Weird Fishes

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jeremy Samuel Faust, Harlan Krumholz and Rochelle Walensky write about the false - and dangerous - assumption that COVID-19 would pose few risks for young adults. 

- David Cyranoski examines how restaurants and other crowded businesses have proven to be regular transmission grounds for the coronavirus, while pointing out how occupancy limits can help to avoid that outcome. But CBC News reports on Dale MacKay's recognition that restaurants and their employees are likely far better off being supported through public relief, rather than having to keep working at limited capacity while increasing the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.

- Rosa Saba reports on the confusing information given to many Canadians who applied for the CERB and are now receiving CRA warning letters threatening to retrench what little support they've had through a pandemic. Jolson Lim reports on Jagmeet Singh's push for forgiveness for self-employed people caught in a lack of distinction between net and gross income, while Melanie Doucet and Rachel Gouin call for amnesty for former foster children who applied in order to have some income after aging out of care. But Catherine Cullen reports on the Libs' refusal to offer any relief to people who applied based on the advice of the government. 

- Meanwhile, Yves Engler weighs in on the Libs' concurrent refusal to relax intellectual property restrictions to allow less wealthy countries to have access to COVID-19 vaccines within a reasonable period of time.

- Finally, Mike De Souza and Julia Wong report on the Alberta Energy Regulator's warnings that the province's oil industry was polluting land and water - and recklessly failing to set money aside to remediate it - long before the coronavirus hit. And Sharon Riley asks what happens now that leaking for tar sands tailings ponds is becoming common knowledge as the sector faces being wound down.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- David Hope and Julian Limberg study (PDF) the effects of tax cuts for the rich  - concluding that they lead to worsened inequality while generating no significant benefits for anybody but the few who are able to hoard wealth as a result. And Danyaal Raza and Edward Xie make the case for a wealth tax to both reduce inequality, and fund needed investments in a healthier society.

- Luke Savage writes about the increasing prevalence of hunger in the U.S. - which has only been exacerbated by a pandemic in which governments have offered little support. The Washington Post examines how the U.S.' largest companies have slashed employment during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic even while continuing to rake in immense profits. And David Doorey offers some suggestions for a substantial rethinking of a labour relations model which has done far too little to empower workers.

- Rosa Saba discusses the state of labour in food and beverage manufacturing - noting that employers' complaints about a lack of workers appear to be based entirely on an expectation that people will take subpar wages to help support their profit margins. And Andrew Lupton reports on the persistently high number of construction workers killed on the job in Ontario.

- Marc Lee and Seth Klein write about the need for a managed wind-down of fossil fuel extraction and just transition to clean energy in British Columbia. And Lee also joins Hadrian Metrins-Kirkwood to point out how the federal Libs' new climate plan rings hollow - and will have less effect than needed - when it's paired with a costly commitment to continuing fossil fuel production. 

- Finally, Robyn Urback argues that we'd be far better off if Scott Moe and his government cared to devote anywhere near the attention and effort to controlling COVID-19 than they've wasted fighting against any carbon tax or price.

On non-goals

The combination of Paul Merriman's appalling use of poll numbers as a measure of COVID success - followed by Scott Moe's feckless response - has rightly been the subject of plenty of criticism. But it's worth a reminder that there's nothing new in either of their messages - such that those criticisms are properly seen as addressing structural problems with the Saskatchewan Party, not personal foibles or slips which can plausibly be minimized.

Let's remember after all that Moe's own reaction to public awareness of the coronavirus was to use it as an excuse to hold a snap election. And even after that plan fell apart, the Saskatchewan Party gleefully attacked Ryan Meili as "Dr. Doom" for attempting to have the government take COVID-19 seriously, delayed and minimized any response to the coronavirus in order when it wasn't convenient for their own budget message...and bragged about polling results which were supposed to show a romp in the making. 

So there's absolutely no air of reailty to Moe's attempt to spin Merriman's message as being a one-time mistake. To the contrary, it fits perfectly into the Saskatchewan Party's longstanding pattern of behaviour prioritizing polls and political interests over the lives of Saskatchewan people.

But the more important part of Moe's attempt at damage control is this:

Moe said he doesn’t know if there is a measure of success when it comes to tackling the virus.


“I don’t know that that’s a measure of success … the answer to that question. What are people going to recall when they talk about COVID in two years is something that I most certainly am thinking about today,” said Moe.

“How do you measure success (against) a virus that we are still sorting out, trying to learn?”

Of course, one answer would be to compare Saskatchewan to jurisdictions which have actually been successful in fully containing COVID-19. And there's no reasonable explanation as to why Moe has chosen needless viral spread and human suffering over real public health measures which would be far better for people and the economy alike.

But even if we assume Moe is incapable of the type of leadership necessary to defeat COVID-19 entirely, one of the issues consistently raised by Meili and the NDP has been the need for clear objective standards and thresholds to inform our reaction to the spread of the virus.

At times, we've received that from the chief medical health officer Dr. Shahab. But it appears that even nine months into a pandemic, Scott Moe still can't even conceive of the possibility that we could set defined markers of our success (or lack thereof) in responding to COVID-19.

Needless to say, a government's refusal to accept that it's even possible to define success makes it virtually certain that we'll make no meaningful effort to achieve it. And that only figures to set the stage for many more abject failures to come.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Elisabeth Rosenthal writes about the need to ensure that our public health messaging includes the graphic details of the severe threat of COVID-19. And Josh Kovensky points out one of the crucial questions still unanswered about the vaccines we're hoping to rely on - as it's not clear they'll prevent transmission even if they protect the people who have been vaccinated.

- Meanwhile, Maclean's highlights how data from the release of prisoners to minimize the spread of COVID offers us a compelling indication that we can significant reduce prison populations without any harm to public safety. 

- CBC News reports that Saskatchewan is predictably in the same position as Alberta when it comes to federal funding for oil well reclamation: having begged for massive amounts of federal money in the name of COVID relief, the Moe government isn't bothering to put most of that money to use until future years. 

- Noelle Allen discusses how protest is crucial to bringing about any meaningful social change. 

- Finally, Lawrence Mishel, Lynn Rhinehart and Lane Windham examine the deliberate choices made to undermine the ability of American unions to organize people toward collective action.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Monday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Paul Wells writes that the Libs' latest climate announcement represents at least some break from their tendency to take the easy way out on tough policy choices, while Canadians for Tax Fairness offers a thumbs-up to the first national plan to meet any (however insufficient) climate target. But if we're looking for other readily-available steps to make a Canadian contribution to the protection of a liveable planet, the Financial Times reports on the UK's plan to stop subsidizing overseas fossil fuel extraction. And Jeremy Appel asks why we haven't paired a carbon tax with a Green New Deal (particularly as the cost of cleaner energy is plummeting), while Maria Fernanda Espinosa notes that we have an opportunity to transition to a cleaner environment by putting climate progress at the heart of a COVID recovery. 

- Ian Sample reports on new research showing how COVID-19 causes the production of "auto-antibodies" which severely exacerbate its damage. And Krysia Collier and Dawna Friesen highlight how the coronavirus can damage the brain. 

- Meanwhile, Richard Cuthbertsen writes about the readily-foreseeable financial cliff looming in front of people who were facing poverty before now-expiring relief programs were put in place.

- Danielle Groen examines what needs to be done to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine around the globe. And Geoffrey York discusses the eminently reasonable fear that wealthier countries will hoard the vaccines that are being developed and produced.

- Finally, Lana Polansky writes about the use of intellectual properly laws to create cultural monopolies while stifling any genuine creativity.

On preferential treatment

Chris Selley's thread trying to justify a fully effective anti-COVID strategy does manage to make an extremely strong statement. But it's not the one he means to - and it speaks volumes about Canada's warped priorities if we accept his examples and reasoning in the context of the violent law enforcement that we have been told to accept for far less valid purposes. 

The core of Selley's argument is this:

So let's unpack the problems with this line of thinking.

The first issue is the assumption that any excessive enforcement action taken by Australian police is a necessary component of a full lockdown strategy. And that's a readily disputable point.

Some of us don't see a contradiction between recognizing the harmful excesses and wrongful choices associated with the pursuit of a necessary cause - least of all to the point of abandoning the latter in the bare hope of avoiding the former.

By way of analogy, Canada has rightly apologized for the heinous internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II. But that wrongful treatment of people in the name of an underlying conflict doesn't serve on its own as anything approaching a full answer to the question of whether that conflict as a whole was worth pursuing. And indeed, most of us would rightly be ashamed of the former while recognizing the justification for the latter. 

That said, Selley is also glaringly wrong in assuming that the tactics he decries don't surface in Canada. And it's telling when they're actually used, and what consequences tend to result.

There are plenty of more recent instances of protesters being dispersed and mass-arrested, often in a violent manner, for the exercise of free speech rights, most of them fitting into the same pattern described below. 

But let's remind ourselves of perhaps the most prominent example in the past few decades: the mass arrest and kettling of 1,100 people protesting the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto.

So what devastating consequences were there for the architects of that calculated assault on civil rights? Well, a single officer ended up facing some loss of paid vacation days. And the chief in charge saw his career derailed to the point of finding his way into the federal cabinet with responsibility for public safety. 

Of course, those were mass arrests in the interest of protecting powerful and privileged people from being exposed to the existence of dissent. Which brings us to the question actually raised by Selley's examples. 

Is it the case that we're willing to grant a superpriority to the convenience of the wealthy and powerful in all circumstances - both in allowing for the use of force to insulate them from criticism, and in rejecting any law enforcement which might ensure they don't blithely endanger the entire population with their disregard for public health?

Or do we have enough of a sense of social cohesion to recognize that even the richest may have to face some change to the life they normally purchase when the common good is at stake?

Selley may well be right as to where the lines are currently drawn. But if so, that speaks to a desperate need to redraw them - not to a reason to claim we can't do what Australia has already done.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Andrew Jackson summarizes and discusses Lance Taylor and Ozlem Omer's new book showing how the combination of wage suppression and growing inequality is the result of the conscious policy choice to weaken workers' collective bargaining power:

Taylor and Omer argue that the period since about 1980 has been one of persistent wage repression, the result of steadily falling union bargaining power and political influence over issues such as labour rights, the minimum wage and unemployment insurance benefits. Downward pressure on wages has meant that real inflation adjusted wages have risen little for the bottom 90%, and by less than the rate of growth of productivity. 

Taylor and Omer calculate that the share of capital in US national income has risen by eight percentage points of GDP since 1970. While the share of labour has correspondingly fallen. This has contributed massively to the rise of the income share of the top 1%, who have household incomes now averaging over $3 million per year and receive the majority of income from capital. 

The argument that extreme economic inequality is a major cause of economic stagnation is not new. But Taylor and Omer connect the dots in the data to confirm the diagnosis. Their analysis suggests that capital has become far too strong to sustain a robust economy and that an increase in labour bargaining power should be welcomed rather than resisted.

- Chuck Collins and Omar Ocampo point out that the billionaires seeing their fortunes grow thanks to pandemic profiteering can easily afford to share the spoils with the workers who enrich them - including by offering needed protection from COVID-19 rather than exposing them to injuries and illness. And Aidan Harper makes the case for a four-day work week (without a drop in salary) as a huge step in both increasing the relative power of workers, and allowing for desperately-needed balance between what's expected of workers and what they can realistically provide.

- Meanwhile, CBC News reports on the need for additional income supports to put an end to food insecurity. And Nick Falvo highlights how single people in particular face benefit amounts which are grossly insufficient.

- Eric Adams refutes the right-wing claim that there's some tension between Charter rights and effective public health measures. And Stephanie Taylor talks to Kyle Anderson about the desperate need for Saskatchewan to reduce viral spread as the holiday season approaches, even as the Moe government continues to drag its heels on any effective break in transmission.

- Patty Winsa reports on the increasing presence of poorly-regulated for-profit COVID test providers in Ontario. And Niclas Rolander reports on the vicious cycle of overwork and burnout among Swedish health workers facing the consequences of COVID-19.

- Finally, Emily Mertz reports that Saskatchewan ranks just behind Alberta as the provinces facing the most stress and the worst psychological health - even as the governments of both refuse to lift a finger to address either root causes or treatment.