Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Naomi Klein discusses how Canada's longstanding - if far from inevitable - identity as a resource economy is standing in the way of both needed action on climate change and reconciliation with First Nations:
In Canada, cultivation and industrialization were secondary. First and foremost, this country was built on voraciously devouring wildness. Canada was an extractive company – the Hudson’s Bay Company – before it was a country. And that has shaped us in ways we have yet to begin to confront.

Because such enormous fortunes have been built purely on the extraction of wild animals, intact forest and interred metals and fossil fuels, our economic elites have grown accustomed to seeing the natural world as their God-given larder.

When someone or something – like climate science – comes along and says: Actually, there are limits, we have to take less from the Earth and keep more profit for the public good, it doesn’t feel like a difficult truth. It feels like an existential attack.
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The trouble isn’t just the commodity roller coaster. It’s that the stakes grow larger with each boom-bust cycle. The frenzy for cod crashed a species; the frenzy for bitumen and fracked gas is helping to crash the planet.
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Today, we have federal and provincial governments that talk a lot about reconciliation. But this will remain a cruel joke if non-Indigenous Canadians do not confront the why behind those human-rights abuses. And the why, as the Truth and Reconciliation report states, is simple enough: “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”

The goal, in other words, was to remove all barriers to unrestrained resource extraction. This is not ancient history. Across the country, Indigenous land rights remain the single greatest barrier to planet-destabilizing resource extraction, from pipelines to clear-cut logging.
- Susan Delacourt highlights Charlie Angus' frustration with the Libs' Teletubbie political style, while Tony Burman notes that Middle East relations represent just one more area where Justin Trudeau's actions couldn't be much further from his rhetoric. 

- But Ethan Cox' report on an Indigenous treaty alliance also signals what may the most effective response - as rather than allowing the Libs to feign friendship while pursuing another agenda, First Nations are presenting a united and direct contrast to Trudeau's plans. And Doug Cuthand points out the widespread protest against the Dakota Access pipeline as the latest and largest example of that solidarity being put into action.

- Meanwhile, Marc Lee signals what we might expect from a federal climate change action plan based on the working groups currently reviewing the options.

- Laurie Monsebraaten reports on a needed push to ensure that child care funding is used to create not-for-profit spaces. And Ashifa Kassam points to Wellington's loss of water rights to Nestle as a prime example of what happens when corporate dollars trump public needs.

- Finally, Alon Weinberg discusses why now is the time to implement a proportional electoral system in Canada. And Craig Scott makes the case for mixed-member proportional over the other options under consideration.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Musical interlude

Tame Impala - New Person, Same Old Mistakes

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Scott Sinclair, Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Stuart Trew study the contents of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Sinclair and Trew also highlight why Canadian progressives should oppose the deal, while Howard Mann notes that the same criticisms, including a gross transfer of power to the corporate sector and the absence of any concern for developmental and environmental issues, apply to all of the new generation of corporate rights agreements. But the Council of Canadians notes that not only are the Trudeau Libs pushing ahead with every single trade agreement currently on the table, they're also trying to lay the groundwork for a similar deal with China - even if it comes with both a blind eye to human rights violations, and an obligation to approve a tar sands pipeline.

- Bill McKibben examines how new climate data shows that we need a nearly immediate transition away from dirty energy in order to meet the Paris conference commitment to rein in global warming. And Seth Klein and Shannon Daub call out the new form of climate denialism - which pays lip service to the science of climate change, but attempts to detach it from any policy steps to improve matters.

- Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson argue that there's no reason to keep hewing to neoliberal orthodoxy when decades of evidence show how it exacerbates inequality and harms health:
Even before the 2008 global financial crisis, neoliberalism was causing what the University of Durham’s Ted Schrecker and Clare Bambra have called “neoliberal epidemics.” As Schrecker and Bambra and many others have shown, income inequality has profoundly damaging and far-reaching effects on everything from trust and social cohesion to rates of violent crime and imprisonment, educational achievement, and social mobility. Inequality seems to worsen health outcomes, reduce life expectancy, boost rates of mental illness and obesity, and even increase the prevalence of HIV.

Deep income inequality means that society is organized as a wealth-based hierarchy. Such a system confers economic as well as political power to those at the top and contributes to a sense of powerlessness for the rest of the population. Ultimately, this causes problems not only for the poor, but for the affluent as well. 
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Careful analysis of statistical data debunked the idea that stressed executives are at a higher risk for heart attacks. Now, it has debunked the 1980s myth that “greed is good,” and has revealed the extensive damage inequality causes. It was one thing to believe these myths decades ago, but when experience and all the available evidence show them to be mistaken, it is time to make a change. 

“Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error,” said the Roman philosopher Cicero. Now that we know how inequality harms the health of societies, individuals, and economies, reducing it should be our top priority. Anyone advocating policies that increase inequality and threaten the wellbeing of our societies is taking us for fools.
- And Ashley Quan points out how a basic income could alleviate many of the harms caused by precarious financial situations.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom rightly notes that a federal crackdown on extra-billing under the Canada Health Act is long overdue.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Branko Milanovic examines whether the U.S.' tax system is actually progressive all the way to the top of the income spectrum - and finds that there's not enough data about the treatment of the extremely wealthy to be sure. And Robert Cribb and Marco Chown Oved discuss the latest Panama Papers revelations showing the large-scale stashing of Canadian assets in the Bahamas.

- Laura Wright reports that Canada's federal government has approved secret surveillance technology which leaves the public in the dark as to which of its communications are subject to eavesdropping.

- Meanwhile, the federal government is rather less interested in the public safety concerns involved in documenting the fires on the First Nations reserves within its jurisdiction - having abandoned that task in 2010.

- Ross Belot writes that there's no point in approving and building new pipelines at the moment other than political posturing. And the CP reports on the connection between air pollution from tar sands developments and the health of residents of the area.

- Finally, Adnan Al-Daini is encouraged by Sweden's move toward a repair-not-replace mindset, and suggests the idea should spread further:
If more countries followed the Swedish example, think of the impact that would have globally on our CO2 emissions. Manufacturing goods is energy intensive. The website “Fix it-Don’t replace it” gives the example of the iphone6 where 85% of its lifecycle’s carbon footprint is from manufacturing it, not using it and another 3% from shipping it.

Climate change is with us already and such measures are needed as a matter of urgency. Such a proposal should not be a party political issue. Good quality jobs would be created in the country where the appliance is used. It would save the consumer money, and it is good for the environment.

Could we do something similar in Britain?  Does this have to be a political issue and parties have to have it in their manifestos before it could happen?  I don’t see where disagreement between parties could arise.

New column day

Here, examining how Chris Hamby's brilliant reports on the effect of investor-state dispute settlement terms in past trade agreements should inform our choices in discussing new ones.

For further reading...
- Haley Edwards offers another worthwhile look at the effects of ISDS provisions. 
- Marc Montgomery reports on the reasons to doubt a Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with Europe would offer any real benefits for Canada.
- Nika Knight offers a summary of the Trade in Services Agreement which has largely gone undiscussed - and indeed, was planned to be so secretive as to suppress any information about its negotiation for five years after coming into effect.
- And Julian Rose examines the dangers of the combination of CETA, the mirror agreement between the U.S. and EU, and the TISA.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Paul Wells argues that climate change and First Nations reconciliation - two of the issues which the Libs have tried to turn into signature priorities - look set to turn into areas of weakness as Justin Trudeau continues his party's tradition of dithering. And Martin Lukacs writes that Trudeau's handling of continuing injustice facing First Nations has involved an awful lot of flash but virtually no action:
The extractivist worldview—bent on treating everything as a commodity—that lay behind Stephen Harper’s resource agenda just as powerfully shapes Trudeau’s. In fact, the Liberals’ attempt to wrap themselves in the UN Declaration without embracing its central right may constitute a new, more subtle form of extraction: the extraction from Indigenous territory of consent itself.

Liberal moves to extract and manufacture consent and support for outdated policies are evident elsewhere: restoring funding to the Assembly of First Nations, a government-dependent organization that has since plumped frequently for them; appointing an Indigenous Justice Minister, even though Indigenous critics argue she has sided with the government agenda throughout her political career; and agreeing to call an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, but with a mandate far short of what impacted families wanted. As the weight of reality presses against Trudeau’s rhetoric, the ability to generate consent is crumbling.

Reconciliation is a powerful hope, an uplifting prospect, a deeply desired new relationship that Trudeau has compellingly invoked. But if reconciliation does not include the restitution of land, the recognition of real self-government, the reigning in of abusive police, the remediation of rivers and forests, it will remain a vacant notion, a cynical ploy to preserve a status quo in need not of tinkering but transformation. It will be Canada’s latest in beads and trinkets, a cheap simulation of justice.
- Guy Caron discusses the CRA's role in Canada's two-tier tax system. Stephen Punwasi comments on the connection between Canada's willingness to facilitate tax avoidance, and the real estate bubbles driving housing prices far beyond what working-class Canadians can afford. And Marc Lee then highlights the connection between soaring urban real estate prices and increased inequality. 

- David Ball notes that many municipalities are retaking control over their own services after learning that the promises of efficiency through privatization are entirely illusory.

- Richard Orange points out Sweden's intriguing idea of reducing taxes on repair services to discourage people from throwing out consumer goods. But I'd wonder whether that step alone would make a dent if it isn't paired with a concerted effort at training potential repair workers for a job which the corporate sector would prefer to eliminate.

- Finally, Paul Mason makes the case for economics to be based on real-world observations of human behaviour, rather than insular mathematical models whose assumptions about market efficiency bear no relationship to reality. And Branko Milanovic discusses the need to measure and reduce inequality as part of a global development strategy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Feline escapes.



Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Arthur Neslen points out how new trade agreements figure to make it impossible for governments to meet their environmental commitments. And Corporate Europe Observatory highlights how the CETA will give investors the ability to dictate public policy.

- The Economist discusses the effect of high executive compensation in the U.S., and finds that corporations that shovel exceptionally large amounts of pay to their CEO get sub-par returns for their money.

- Penney Kome writes that the sugar industry's work to mislead the public about its own health represents just one more example of the dangers of presuming that an undiluted profit motive is anything but antithetical to the public interest.

- On the bright side, Giles Parkinson notes that on a level playing field, solar power has become more affordable than any alternative no matter how dirty.

- Finally, Owen Jones discusses how a strong progressive movement needs to respond to being unfairly dismissed and derided by the corporate media:
A defeatist attitude – and a condescending one, too – says that the media programme people with what to think, reducing the electorate to Murdoch-brainwashed zombies. But a clever approach can neutralise media hostility. Take Sadiq Khan: he was subjected to one of the most vicious political campaigns in postwar Britain, portrayed by the press – including London’s dominant newspaper, the Evening Standard – as the pawn of Islamist fundamentalist extremists. He could have bellowed his frustration every single day, and would have been more than entitled to do so. But he didn’t. He focused on a positive, optimistic message, and not only won the election – he had glowing personal ratings, too.

Momentum, too, presented a masterclass last weekend in dealing with hostile media. Rather than taking aggressive swipes at the media, it framed a response to Dispatches before it was even aired. It projected disappointment rather than fury; it gave a platform to Momentum activists who contrasted sharply with the media portrayal; it was witty; and it showcased what it actually did, using the attack as an opportunity to get its own message across. And there is a lesson there. The left is bitterly accustomed to living with almost farcically hostile media in a country where the press is as much a sophisticated political lobbyist as a means of information. A natural response is to become grouchy, to shake fists angrily, or simply boycott the media altogether. It’s an approach that fires up some of the most dedicated leftwing activists, but it’s a strategic mistake. And both Khan and Momentum show the left can rebut media hostility – and even thrive.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Michael Harris argues that it's long past time for the Trudeau Libs to start living up to their oft-repeated promise of real change - rather than merely slapping a friendlier face on the same old regressive Con policies.

- Tom Parkin notes that Canada's working class has been left out of the Libs' economic plans. And as an example of the spread of precarity, Laurie Monsebraaten reports on the increased Food Bank use by Toronto residents of working age and with advanced education.

- Matt O'Brien points out that a massive success in exposing financial-sector fraud isn't about to deter the Republicans from wanting to trash Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and any other form of regulation.

- Andre Picard argues that Saskatchewan should be declaring HIV/AIDS to be a provincial public health emergency. But instead, the primary focus of the province's health system seems to be on slashing workers rather than caring for anybody. And on that front, the Leader-Post makes the case that we need a real debate as to whether we should raise enough revenue to keep our health care system on its feet - rather than simply having the Saskatchewan Party decree that cuts are the only option.

- Doug Saunders highlights new research showing that schools with a higher proportion of immigrant populations have significantly less bullying (along with other superior outcomes).

- Finally, Eric Stoner interviews George Lakey about Scandinavia's path toward durable egalitarian policy - and the prospect of other countries following the same course.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Andrew Jackson discusses how the rise of right-wing, prejudiced populism can be traced to the failures of global corporate governance. And Dani Rodrik argues that it's time to develop an international political system to facilitate - rather than overriding - democratic action:
Some simple principles would reorient us in the right direction. First, there is no single way to prosperity. Countries make their own choices about the institutions that suit them best. Some, like Britain, may tolerate, say, greater inequality and financial instability in return for higher growth and more financial innovation. They will opt for lower taxes on capital and more freewheeling financial systems. Others, like Continental European nations, will go for greater equity and financial conservatism. International firms will complain that differences in rules and regulations raise the costs of doing business across borders, but their claims must be traded off against the benefits of diversity.

Second, countries have the right to protect their institutional arrangements and safeguard the integrity of their regulations. Financial regulations or labor protections can be circumvented and undermined by moving operations to foreign countries with considerably lower standards. Countries should be able to prevent such “regulatory arbitrage” by placing restrictions on cross-border transactions — just as they can keep out toys or agricultural products that do not meet domestic health standards.
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Third, the purpose of international economic negotiations should be to increase domestic policy autonomy, while being mindful of the possible harm to trade partners. The world’s trade regime is driven by a mercantilist logic: You lower your barriers in return for my lowering mine. But lack of openness is no longer the binding constraint on the world economy; lack of democratic legitimacy is.

It is time to embrace a different logic, emphasizing the value of policy autonomy. Poor and rich countries alike need greater space for pursuing their objectives. The former need to restructure their economies and promote new industries, and the latter must address domestic concerns over inequality and distributive justice.
- William Lazonick and Matt Hopkins note that already-appalling estimates of the gap between CEOs and other workers may be severely underestimating the problem. And Iglika Ivanova laments British Columbia's woefully insufficient changes to its minimum wage which will keep large numbers of workers in poverty.

- In one positive development for corporate accountability, Telesur reports that the International Criminal Court is now willing to take jurisdiction over land grabbing, environmental destruction and other corporate crime.

- Harry Stein writes that there are significant economic and social gains to be achieved by better funding social infrastructure.

- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall interviews Robert Fox, the NDP's new national director, on the plan to building a more activist party - both in the sense of better engaging with existing activists, and developing a culture of ongoing action. And Robin Sears offers a long-term path for the NDP to once again lead Canada toward progressive policies.