Friday, May 25, 2018

Musical interlude

CHVRCHES - High Enough To Carry You Over

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Dru Oja Jay points out the connections between improved public services, decreased inequality and meaningful action to fight climate change.

- Adam Corlett challenges spin from the UK Conservatives intended to mislead voters about the relative tax contributions of the wealthy as opposed to everybody else. And Larry Elliott reports on the harm the Conservatives' austerity has done to an underfunded public health system.

- Meanwhile, Matt Taylor writes that the U.S. is setting up the next financial crisis by once again handing reckless banksters the ability to write their own rules. 

- Andrew Jackson calls for a new Canadian trade strategy aimed at establishing a fair playing field including protections for workers and the environment in any country seeking preferential access to Canadian consumers.

- Lois Ross highlights the need for migrant farm labourers to be offered the same protections which apply to other workers.

- Laurie Monsebraaten reports on a healthy drop in food bank use in Ontario due to a combination of an improved minimum wage and increased social benefits. And Seth Klein and Iglka Ivanova point out how British Columbia can and should put an end to deep poverty in the very near future.

- Finally, Jim Stanford argues that a minor complaint over a modest mistake in the Ontario NDP's fully-costed platform serves largely to highlight the utter lack of transparency or plausibility in the scattershot promises made by Doug Ford and the PCs.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ian Millhiser writes that the Republican majority on the U.S.' Supreme Court is restoring the robber baron era:
The conceit of Gorsuch’s Epic Systems opinion is that workers and their bosses sit down like equal bargaining partners to hash out their terms of employment. “Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration?” Gorsuch begins his opinion with a question framed as if it could only have one answer. “Or should employees always be permitted to bring their claims in class or collective actions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?”

In reality, the facts of Epic Systems bear little resemblance to the civilized negotiation presented by Gorsuch. Workers at one of the companies at issue in this case received an email one day informing them that they must give up their right to bring class actions. Employees who “continue[d] to work at Epic,” according to the email, would “be deemed to have accepted” this agreement. A similar email was sent to the employees of one of the other companies that prevailed in Epic Systems.

These employees, in other words, only “agreed” to the terms proposed by their bosses in the same sense that a person accosted by a gunman in a dark alley “agrees” to give up their wallet. Their choice was to give up their rights or to immediately lose their jobs.

This is not the first time the Supreme Court ignored the fairly basic fact that employers typically have far more bargaining power than their workers — and can use this greater share of power to exploit their employees.
...
[At the time of the similar decision in Lochner v. New York,] (b)akeries often had no windows and little ventilation, filling the air with irritating flour dust and fumes. Ovens heated the workplaces into infernos. Low ceilings required many workers to crouch, and the floors were typically either dirt or rotten wood filled with rat holes.

The average bakery worker labored at least 13 hours a day in these conditions, though some worked as much as 126-hours a week. Workers, moreover, were often required to sleep on the very same tables where they prepared the dough, and the cost of these makeshift beds were then deducted from their wages.

These were the sorts of conditions that the free market offered workers who, without the law to protect them, were forced to bargain alone with their employers. Perhaps, in some narrow sense, these workers “agreed” to work countless hours among the roaches, the heat, and the raw sewage. But only a judge blinded by their own ideology could conclude that these workers had any real choice in the matter.
...
[Gorsuch] ignored the way the law was originally understood, ignored the text of the National Labor Relations Act, ignored the law’s hard-won understanding that employees and employers do not have equal bargaining power, and ignored Congress’ explicit efforts to strike a different balance of power between workers and their bosses.

It is a great day for law firms that profit off the exploitation of workers. And it is an even greater day for their clients.

The rest of us can either sign away our rights or lose our jobs.
- David Dayen comments on the severed connection between economic growth and wages in the U.S., while Sarah Anderson notes that the appalling pay gap between CEOs and frontline employees is bad for business. And Terri Gerstein calls for stronger legal action against employers who steal wages from their workers.

- Noah Smith discusses the uneven effect of a university education - with already-privileged white males seeing far more income gains from a degree than their classmates. And Martin Armstrong charts the additional work performed by women compared to men.

- Corey Mintz offers a reminder of the importance of regulations to ensure that our food is safe to eat. And Jayme Poisson and David Brusser report on a new study showing the damage done to the residents of Grassy Narrows by industrial mercury poisoning.

- Finally, Vicky Mochama criticizes the inhumane use of indefinite detention in maximum-security facilities pending determination of an individual's immigration status.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Matt Taylor discusses how the U.S.' Supreme Court has stacked the deck against workers by allowing employers to evade all types of collective action, while the Economic Policy Institute points out that a majority of workers are required to sign away their ability to seek class action remedies against illegal actions. And Elizabeth Tippett reports on the use of distorted time-keeping technology to systematically require workers to put in extra time without pay.

- Meanwhile, Jim Stanford comments on the importance of using the government's role in the economy to raise the bar for worker rights and employment standards:
Australia’s government sector is by far the largest single part of Australia’s economy.  The report documents the enormous fiscal dimensions of the economic footprint of government:
  • Total expenditures of over $660 billion per year, equal to 36 percent of Australia’s GDP.
  • Total “consumption” spending (that is, expenditures on current production of public goods and services) of over $330 billion per year (18.5 percent of GDP), and investment spending (on longer-lived capital projects) of over $85 billion (another 5 percent of GDP).
  • Direct public sector employment of close to 2 million workers, with millions more jobs indirectly dependent on government injections of spending power into the economy.
  • Fiscal and policy support for public and community service provision by arms-length non-profit agencies, worth at least another 4 percent of GDP.
  • Goods and services procured from private-sector suppliers equivalent to around 10 percent of GDP (or about $175 billion per year).
This economic footprint, if wielded consistently to achieve higher wages and better jobs, could have a powerful impact on labour market outcomes.  Moreover, through a “demonstration effect,” improved wages and labour standards would “spill over” into better practices in businesses and sectors that have no direct connection to government spending at all. 

It is ironic that Treasurers always pray for stronger wage growth in every budget they prepare, because strong wages are essential to healthy government revenues and stronger economic growth.  But governments don’t pursue obvious opportunities to help achieve that growth, by tying their own expenditure programs to stronger wages and better working conditions.
- Erika Shaker argues that an increased reliance on fund-raising rather than public revenue is only exacerbating differences between wealthier and poorer schools. And Jen St. Denis reports on hundreds of millions of dollars of takes owed which are going unpaid in the real estate sector in Toronto and Vancouver.

- Catherine Griwkowsky interviews Siobhan Vipond about the importance of child care in narrowing the pay equity gap between men and women.

- Finally, Raymond Saint-Germain and Art Eggleton highlight the need for improved social supports and evidence-based criminal justice policy to reverse a sharp increase in the number of women incarcerated in Canada.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Clutching cats.



Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Tom Parkin discusses the distinction between giveaways to the rich which are perpetually seen as carrying no price, and the expansion of the commons which is treated as intolerably costly:
(O)ffer something that is actually free and things get downright snarky. In the currently Ontario election, the NDP platform includes a free drug plan, free dental benefits and free childcare for lower income households. There’s no fee, toll or service charge. It really is free to the user, paid for through our progressive tax system.

In Horwath’s plan, tax on income over $220,000 goes up one point, tax over $300,000 goes up a second. It’s all accounted for.

Now suddenly come a wave of objections—the service “isn’t really free,” say detractors as if there is some sort of deception.

But just stop. We use lots of great free public services everyday, paid by our progressive tax system.

Roads and bridges. Parks. Schools. Health care. Libraries. Police. Firefighters. Armed Forces. Coast Guard. It’s a long list.

And it we want we can add a free drug plan, dental benefits and child care. And just like our roads and health care, they will be paid through our progressive income tax. There’s no deception.

And these new public services are right. Working people are struggling. Families with two incomes need affordable childcare. Fewer workers get union dental and drug benefits. Wages are stagnant. But executive compensation is skyrocketing. It’s fair.

Boil it all down, here’s the basic point. In our society, free money for rich people requires no explanation. Free public services, even if fully paid for, are an outrage. Go get it at my supermarket.
- But on the bright side, David Climenhaga renews his prediction that the Horwath NDP's plan for a more caring and secure society will win out over Doug Ford's attempt to get the working class to vote for exploitation by the rich.

- Meanwhile, Patrick Greenfield and Sarah Marsh highlight how the UK is criminalizing homelessness. And Justin Wm. Moyer reports on the 7 million Americans who have lost their drivers' licences - and in many cases their ability to legally meet the availability demands of most employers - to punitive traffic debt.

- Finally, The Mound of Sound takes note of the grim milestone that's seen the Earth above its normal temperature for 400 consecutive months. And Damian Carrington offers a reminder that even as the worst effects of climate change loom in the future, humanity's track record involves the widespread destruction of plant and animal species.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

-The UK's Association of Directors of Public Health speaks out (PDF) about the importance of giving children the best possible start in life - including through security in the essentials of life.

- But Christina Gibson-Davis and Christine Perchenski write about the increased inequality that is leaving a large majority of families in the U.S. with no safety net. And Matthew Stewart breaks down the U.S.' income brackets into the .1% which is accumulating wealth faster than it can spend, the 90% which is falling behind, and the 9.9% between the two which has mostly held its position.

- Melissa Davey comments on the lack of investigation and punishment of wage theft in Australia. But David Marin-Guzman reports on one noteworthy example of an employer being sentenced to a meaningful jail term - if only for contempt of court after the employer breached an order to retain funds to pay workers. 

- Christian Breyer summarizes new research showing that a 100% renewable energy system is entirely feasible and affordable. And David Fickling notes that for that reason, the next key developments in energy figure to involve storing the product of intermittent renewable sources, not looking for excuses to keep extracting and burning fossil fuels.

- Meanwhile, Wal van Lierop calls for a reality check about the future of an oil-dependent economy (and the construction of pipelines intended to extend that dependence).

- Finally, Tabatha Southey examines the parallels between Doug Ford and Donald Trump as overgrown children of privilege trying to use populist language to further indulge the advantages they've held. And Paul Wells writes about Andrea Horwath's campaign as she offers Ontario a positie alternative.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Brian Wakamo notes that Kirsten Gillibrand is pushing for postal banking in the U.S. as an alternative to predatory lenders in underserved communities.

- Glen Hodgson discusses the rising fiscal costs of climate change - even as the Trudeau Libs plan to put public money into exacerbating it. And Damian Carrington examines the looming danger of severe destruction of insect habitat from even best-case climate change scenarios.

- Meanwhile, Yonatan Strauch points out that the threat of oil embargos being used to try to bully British Columbia into risking its environment for pipelines ultimately only highlights the need to stop depending on fossil fuels. And Gary Mason comments on the need for Alberta (among other jurisdictions pushing the Trans Mountain expansion) to pay attention to British Columbia's legitimate concerns.

- Murray Mandryk argues that Scott Moe and the Saskatchewan Party need to start doing something more productive than taking potshots at the federal government - even if it's obvious that they're desperate to distract from their own failings and scandals.

- Finally, Yves Engler discusses the Libs' Bill C-59 - which goes beyond authorizing surveillance to also allow for aggressive "disruption".

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Noah Smith writes that public resentment toward the U.S.' wealthiest few is based on a genuine (and justified) concern about an economic system rigged to exacerbate inequality across generations, not mere envy toward the people who have more:
(R)esentment of the super-rich is probably not simply envy. It likely has to do with notions of fairness. As economist N. Gregory Mankiw conjectured in a 2013 essay, people are more likely to begrudge vast fortunes if they feel the wealth wasn’t earned. Technology company founders may be rich, but they mostly got that way by creating new products or services that benefit many people’s lives — think PayPal or iPhones or Facebook. Similarly, rich athletes or entertainers used their talents to make life more enjoyable for millions of Americans.

But about 38 percent of American billionaires inherited at least a substantial part of their fortunes. These heirs and heiresses tend to be less in the public eye, but they hold vast sums nonetheless. Taxing these unearned billions seems like a great way to allay public concerns about the super-rich.

Economics provides both empirical and theoretical support for the idea of taxing inheritances at much higher rates, and making the tax much harder to avoid. Surveys find that informing people about wealth inequality makes them much more likely to support higher estate taxes, but only slightly more likely to support other forms of taxation. And economic theory suggests that taxing wealthy inheritors can increase economic efficiency if many of them are bad investors.

So one idea to address popular anger over the dramatic success of a few super-rich individuals is to stop them from passing most of those fortunes on to their children. That won’t take the Elon Musks and the Mark Zuckerbergs out of the news, but it will reassure Americans that most of their crazy-rich countrymen made their own money through hard work and talent, not just the luck of having rich parents.
- George Eaton discusses the combination of popular support which is leading toward increasing public ownership of the UK's public services. And David Zarnett reports on the Wynne government's giveaway of a profitable casino for pennies on the dollar - representing just one more example of how the public loses out when neoliberal government focus on privatization over competent management.

- Adam Litwin, Ariel Avgar and Edmund Becker study (PDF) how the outsourcing of cleaning services in hospitals leads to the increased spread of infectious diseases.

- Bernard Goldstein comments on another of the Trump administration's moves to prevent regulators from doing their jobs, this time by making a policy of rejecting some of the best available environmental studies.

- Finally, following up on this week's column, Samir Shaheen-Hussain points out another policy choice which results in children being deprived of family support when it's needed most, as air ambulances refuse to allow parents to accompany Inuit children to receive care.