Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Feline affection.




Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Owen Jones discusses the importance of the labour movement in ensuring that workers can get ahead in life, rather than drowning in debt:
Nights spent staring at the ceiling as worries dance manically around the brain. Taking a deep breath before opening the gas bill. Sacrificing a hot meal so your children don’t need to. Living with personal debt can be draining and emotionally exhausting, and it is the everyday experience of all too many Britons. According to a new TUC report, 3.2m British households face problem debt, meaning they spend more than a quarter of their overall income repaying unsecured borrowings (ie, excluding mortgages). For 1.6m households in extreme debt, the picture is even bleaker: more than 40% of their income goes to creditors.

This is the lived experience of Britain’s working poor, those who keep the country ticking with their hard graft and are rewarded with poverty and insecurity. British workers have suffered the longest fall in wages since Queen Victoria sat on the throne. Between 2007 and 2015, real wages fell by an astonishing 10.4% - the worst fall in any advanced nation other than Greece. Growing personal debt is the price many British workers have paid for the disastrous economic failure of George Osborne and his colleagues – one of whom is now the nation’s prime minister.
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In Nordic countries, it is the norm for workers to be unionised. Better living standards and more equality than we have in Britain are two of the byproducts. Jeremy Corbyn – near-certain to be re-elected Labour leader next month – has unveiled policies such as compulsory collective bargaining for companies with more than 250 workers. Such an approach would help lift the wages of workers, not only for their own good, but for the good of the British economy, too. But the positive case for trade unionism cannot just be left to politicians: it needs to be made by all of us. It needs to be put in a language that resonates with the millions of non-unionised workers, and particularly for younger people for whom the very notion of trade unionism seems culturally alien. Personal debt is a blight in modern Britain – and trade unionism is one of its cures.
- And PressProgress highlights how Canada's youth are also facing an unprecedented combination of large debt and minimal employment opportunities.

- Tom Parkin notes that under the Trudeau Libs, Canada's real economy isn't keeping up with the "like economy" - and that we need strong government action to improve matters at all. And the New York Times' editorial board highlights the role an affordable child care system can play in improving outcomes for parents and children alike.

- Scott Santens surveys a UK review as to how means-testing can create fatal holes in a social safety net. But Noah Zon raises some important questions as to whether a basic income represents the best way to strengthen our social supports.

- Johnny SanPhillippo points out that poverty and precarity are important factors shaping individual well-being even in the areas (mostly suburbs) which are all too often considered to be immune.

- Finally, Brooke Harrington discusses the utter futility of expecting any positive social or economic outcomes from tax haven status. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Martin Jacques writes about the inescapable failings of neoliberalism, along with the question of what alternative will come next:
(B)y historical standards, the neoliberal era has not had a particularly good track record. The most dynamic period of postwar western growth was that between the end of the war and the early 70s, the era of welfare capitalism and Keynesianism, when the growth rate was double that of the neoliberal period from 1980 to the present.

But by far the most disastrous feature of the neoliberal period has been the huge growth in inequality. Until very recently, this had been virtually ignored. With extraordinary speed, however, it has emerged as one of, if not the most important political issue on both sides of the Atlantic, most dramatically in the US. It is, bar none, the issue that is driving the political discontent that is now engulfing the west. Given the statistical evidence, it is puzzling, shocking even, that it has been disregarded for so long; the explanation can only lie in the sheer extent of the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values.
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...The hyper-globalisation era has been systematically stacked in favour of capital against labour: international trading agreements, drawn up in great secrecy, with business on the inside and the unions and citizens excluded, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being but the latest examples; the politico-legal attack on the unions; the encouragement of large-scale immigration in both the US and Europe that helped to undermine the bargaining power of the domestic workforce; and the failure to retrain displaced workers in any meaningful way.
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The neoliberal era is being undermined from two directions. First, if its record of economic growth has never been particularly strong, it is now dismal. Europe is barely larger than it was on the eve of the financial crisis in 2007; the United States has done better but even its growth has been anaemic. Economists such as Larry Summers believe that the prospect for the future is most likely one of secular stagnation.

Worse, because the recovery has been so weak and fragile, there is a widespread belief that another financial crisis may well beckon. In other words, the neoliberal era has delivered the west back into the kind of crisis-ridden world that we last experienced in the 1930s. With this background, it is hardly surprising that a majority in the west now believe their children will be worse off than they were. Second, those who have lost out in the neoliberal era are no longer prepared to acquiesce in their fate – they are increasingly in open revolt. We are witnessing the end of the neoliberal era.
- Philipp Lepenies reminds us of the dangers in evaluating an economy based solely on GDP rather than rather than measures of economic development which actually have a direct impact on people's lives. And Terry Etam takes a look at how the Alberta PCs' failure to understand the difference has left a mess for Rachel Notley to clean up.

- Seth Klein, Marc Jaccard and Clean Energy Canada are among the many looking at the B.C. Libs' new exercise in climate change deflection and procrastination (featuring backsliding from previous targets and a glaring lack of policy to meet the ones now put forward) as a cynical pre-election PR stunt.

- Courtney Bowman discusses the need for a meaningful effort to eliminate the over-incarceration of aboriginal people, while noting that the Wall government is slashing the resources needed for the task. And Michael Spratt notes that the federal Libs are looking at exacerbating the Cons' use of pointless mandatory minimum sentences.

- Finally, Kathryn Doyle reports on new research showing how food advertising affects children's eating habits.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Paolo Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo study (PDF) how the economic conditions an individual's youth influence enduring values - and find that the experience of an economic shock tends to lead to a greater appreciation of a fair redistribution of resources:
Consistent with theories of social psychology, this paper shows that large macroeconomic shocks experienced during the critical years of adolescence and early adulthood, between the ages of 18 and 25, shape preferences for redistribution and that this effect is statistically and economically significant.
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Our findings are consistent with three broad interpretations. First, evidence from social psychology (and also neuroscience) shows that young adults are particularly responsive to the external environment, implying that later experiences are less relevant in shaping behavior.

A second interpretation regarding the persistent effect of macroeconomic shocks on beliefs is consistent with Cogley and Sargent (2008). The authors argue, in reference to the Great Depression, that macroeconomic shocks are “beliefs-twisting events,” whose influence can last long, because it takes a long time to correct the pessimistic beliefs induced by the depression, through the observation of macroeconomic data.

A third interpretation is consistent with theoretical work by Piketty (1995): the author argues that shocks could change people’s belief about the relative importance of luck versus effort as a driver of success. This belief, in his model, is related to the amount of taxes that people vote for and their preferences for government intervention. We find evidence consistent with his theory: the uncertainty created by macroeconomic shocks makes people believe that luck is more relevant than effort and, as a result, increases their desire for government intervention.
- And Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser discuss the strong correlation between trust and long-term growth - signalling how much damage is done to everybody's interests when elites instead focus on short-term extraction of wealth for themselves.

- Jon Schwarz rightly lambastes Apple for refusing to pay corporate taxes to the U.S. until it's able to extract what it considers a satisfactory discount, while the UK has announced what may be a significant move to limit the tax avoidance industry. Mike Bird, Vipal Mongaand and Aaron Kuriloff report on the trend of corporations handing out massive dividends - in many cases borrowing to hand shareholders more than a business has earned in income. And Gary Fooks, Karen West and Kevin Farnsworth trace the ballooning of executive pay to a concerted effort to transfer income from other workers to the executive class.

- Michael Walker and Sarah Kaine note that a strike at the UK delivery service Deliveroo offers an important example as to how workers with precarious jobs can engage in successful collective action. And Roger Baird discusses the potential for organization throughout the gig economy.

- Meanwhile, Dean Beeby reports on the misuse of unpaid interns by the federal government - though as with the failure to pay workers under the Phoenix pay scandal, the Libs' inclination seems to be toward prolonged study rather than quickly rectifying gross violations of employment law. And Alicia Bridges reports on the continued lack of workplace safety standard compliance in Saskatchewan.

- Finally, Christo Aivalis discusses how a postal banking system would fit into the values that should inform all of our decisions about the future of public services in Canada.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Danyaal Raza discusses how climate change is manifesting itself in immediate health problems. And John Vidal highlights the latest research on the rapid melting of Arctic ice - making it particularly appalling that Canada has abandoned its main Arctic port to rot.

- Elizabeth McSheffrey notes that the Libs also have effectively cleared the way for the environmental danger of oil spills by approving a toxic chemical for cleanup purposes. And Cheryl Santa Mario reports on how a long-running spill arising out of poorly-regulated offshore oil drilling has contributed to the destruction of a scallop fishery in Newfoundland.

- Keith Slack discusses the permanent water pollution being planned by mining companies - and all too often allowed by governments ignoring the obvious risk when the responsibility to keep treating water after a mine ceases to operate is inevitably abandoned. But Marina Jimenez points out that the Libs are doing nothing to hold Canadian resource firms responsible for social and environmental responsibilities abroad.

- Canada Without Poverty talks to Laura Cattari and Wayne MacNaughton about housing issues, including the all-too-predictable path from precarious housing to outright homelessness. And Kelly Stajduhar and Ashley Mollison comment on the lack of end-of-life care for people who can't supply a stable address while their needs are assessed.

- Finally, Michael Geist writes that Canada's intellectual property rules have been set up to encouraging trolling and rent-seeking rather than research and development. And Mariana Mazzucato discusses the need to get a better return on publicly-funded pharmaceutical research.

On selective interest

Murray Mandryk is once again far too eager to laud Brad Wall to the skies for doing the bare minimum he could to avoid responsibility for the racist sentiment his party has stoked for political gain.

So let's offer a reminder as to how willing Wall was to take action when the desperate social needs of First Nations citizens were identified in the absence of the public-relations conflagration set off by Colten Boushie's murder: 
Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall, who's running for a third stint as the province's premier, said that on-reserve issues are Ottawa's responsibility and duty.

"We hope the federal government moves quickly to address the concerns that have been raised," he said.
But hey: in the aftermath of Boushie's death, it seems like Wall may be willing to dispense one program space in exchange for every dozen bigots who publicly state their approval of the killing of indigenous people. And apparently the only hope for provincial action under Wall is for more of them to dominate the headlines.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Musical interlude

Oliver Heldens - Melody

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- PressProgress points out that a large number of Canadians are justifiably concerned about our economy, with a particular desire to rein in income and wealth inequality. And Guy Caron notes that there's no reason for politicians to keep facilitating tax avoidance which exacerbates the gap between the lucky few and the rest of us: 
A basic principle of any modern democracy is equality before the law. That principle includes tax law.

Nobody likes to pay taxes. It is often said that it is the price to pay for civilization. After all, they help pay for our schools, our roads, our health-care system and a social safety net that helps decrease income inequality. However, the pill is easier to swallow when everyone pays their fair share.

It's increasingly clear that in Canada -- and in most industrialized countries -- many are not. We have a two-tier system where the wealthy and the corporations can escape their obligations, and the rest of us can't.

As early as 1992, the auditor general of Canada pointed out the dangers of this unfair situation, when it warned that "Avoidance mechanisms also have a negative effect on the equity and integrity of the tax system and on public attitudes toward voluntary compliance. Access to such mechanisms is usually limited to those who can afford expensive advice. Those who cannot, therefore, may be denied equitable or even-handed treatment."
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The problem is systemic in nature.

To put an end to tax evasion, aggressive tax avoidance, double standards and the culture of secrecy, we need to reform the system in Canada and on the international scene.
- Sadie McInnes examines how homelessness (or the threat thereof) particularly affects Canadian women. And Ben Casselman points out why a focus on extremely long hours is antithetical to any attempt to reach pay equity.

- Andrew Coyne rebuts a few of the more outlandish lines of attack against proportional electoral systems with examples of highly successful countries which use them. And Devon Rowcliffe notes that PR's international track record actually involves improvements in representational diversity and political cooperation.

- Amanda Connolly reports on the Libs' delays and half-measures in reviewing Bill C-51, while Paul Wells argues that we shouldn't be surprised that the Trudeau Libs' idea of change to the Cons' surveillance policies is limited to matters of branding rather than substance. And James Di Fiore takes a closer look at Justin Trudeau's attempt to substitute carefully-managed photo ops for actual transparency:
Inadvertently, the piece outlined one of the most glaring problems with the Trudeau government: its brain trust has placed such a high value on presenting a certain image to the public that they have replaced transparency with celebrity, a strategy meant to seduce and distract rather than inform the public.

This calculation is duplicitous; it showcases an accessible leader but one with little time to get into the specifics of the policies that run counter to Trudeau's reputation of a real progressive. Keep giving the media the casual, approachable Trudeau, but keep the centre-right material in the vault.
- Finally, Doug Cuthand discusses how the senseless killing of Coulten Boushie (and even more senseless attempts to justify or excuse it) has brought ingrained racism to the surface.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

New column day

Here, on the forces competing to determine the scope and shape of Canada's security state - and why we shouldn't think it's good enough to settle for a status quo which includes needless intrusions into our civil liberties.

For further reading...
- Jim Bronskill reported here on Randall Garrison's plans to bring C-51 back before Parliament rather than letting the Libs keep delaying. And the bill establishing a closed-door parliamentary committee to review security matters (subject to full government control over both what it sees and what it reports) can be found here.
- CBC reported here on the outline of Aaron Driver's case, while Elizabeth Thompson highlighted how the system set up under C-51 failed utterly in managing an individual who was identified as a risk. And again, Murtada Hassain discussed Driver from the standpoint of the congregants of the mosque he attended.
- Finally, Bronskill also reports on the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police's resolution calling for people to be required to hand over electronic passwords. And Susana Mas reports on Ralph Goodale's response.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Andrew Jackson makes the case for a review of Canada's tax system focused on boosting revenue from the wealthy people and corporations who can readily afford it:
These tax loopholes are costly. Partial inclusion of capital gains in taxable income costs the federal government alone $3.6 billion per year; partial inclusion of stock options costs $725 million per year; and special tax treatment of dividends costs $3.7 billion per year.

Realistic reform of these three tax preferences would likely limit them rather than eliminate them entirely. For example, the stock options deduction might continue, with a capped value and some exemption for employees in start-up companies. One might contemplate an increase in the capital gains inclusion rate to, say, 75% where it stood before 2000, with some protection for inflation, or a cap on the total amount of capital gains accrued.

Nonetheless, it is clear that significant additional tax revenues could be gained by limiting federal tax loopholes on capital income, and that this could lower the proportion of after-tax income received by the most affluent Canadians and promote greater income equality.
- Will Denayer highlights how concentrated wealth can result in centuries of inequality. And Josh Boak discusses the issue of income inequality as it's been addressed in the U.S.' election campaign.

- Eric Holthaus weighs in on the need for immediate action to rein in climate change - along with the danger that we've already caused more damage than our planet can handle.

- Meanwhile, Ben Parfitt exposes BC Hydro's recognition that fracking and its resulting earthquakes could cause severe damage to hydro dams and other existing power infrastructure. And Derrick O'Keefe suggests that if fracking can't withstand a factual debate about its impacts, we should be hesitant to allow it at all.

- Finally, while some try to argue as to the main label to be affixed to the NDP, Don Braid nicely sums up what the party stands for at all levels:
The NDP always sees Alberta from the bottom up: from the street rather than the executive suite.

That simple fact explains how Premier Rachel Notley’s government behaves. It’s a useful lens for those still deeply disoriented by the first non-conservative government since, oh, early 1935.
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The PPA dispute is just the most dramatic example of this instinctive sympathy for the underdog. More than a dozen policies reflect this, in every area from the workplace to the marketplace, from worker safety and consumer ripoffs to relations with First Nations.

The list includes minimum wage hikes; strict new controls on predatory payday loans; child tax benefits; investigating the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council; the controversial farm safety bill; a review of condo deals; allowing victims of family violence to break residential leases; an apology to victims of mistreatment in residential schools; recognizing gender identity and expression; and a post-secondary tuition freeze.
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That’s how the NDP sees the world — from down below. After decades with a government that was more comfortable with a corporate view, it takes getting used to.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Ann McFeatters reminds us of the good a government can do when it dedicates itself to identifying and responding to urgent public needs. And Bill McKibben makes the case for an all-out mobilization against climate change:
We’re used to war as metaphor: the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on cancer. Usually this is just a rhetorical device, a way of saying, “We need to focus our attention and marshal our forces to fix something we don’t like.” But this is no metaphor. By most of the ways we measure wars, climate change is the real deal: Carbon and methane are seizing physical territory, sowing havoc and panic, racking up casualties, and even destabilizing governments. (Over the past few years, record-setting droughts have helped undermine the brutal strongman of Syria and fuel the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria.) It’s not that global warming is like a world war. It is a world war. Its first victims, ironically, are those who have done the least to cause the crisis. But it’s a world war aimed at us all. And if we lose, we will be as decimated and helpless as the losers in every conflict--except that this time, there will be no winners, and no end to the planetwide occupation that follows.

The question is not, are we in a world war? The question is, will we fight back? And if we do, can we actually defeat an enemy as powerful and inexorable as the laws of physics?
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Today we live in the privatized, siloed, business-dominated world that took root under McNamara and flourished under Reagan. The actual wars we fight are marked by profiteering, and employ as many private contractors as they do soldiers. Our spirit of social solidarity is, to put it mildly, thin. (The modern-day equivalent of Father Coughlin is now the Republican candidate for president.) So it’s reasonable to ask if we can find the collective will to fight back in this war against global warming, as we once fought fascism.

For starters, it’s important to remember that a truly global mobilization to defeat climate change wouldn’t wreck our economy or throw coal miners out of work. Quite the contrary: Gearing up to stop global warming would provide a host of social and economic benefits, just as World War II did. It would save lives. (A worldwide switch to renewable energy would cut air pollution deaths by 4 to 7 million a year, according to the Stanford data.) It would produce an awful lot of jobs. (An estimated net gain of roughly two million in the United States alone.) It would provide safer, better-paying employment to energy workers. (A new study by Michigan Technological University found that we could retrain everyone in the coal fields to work in solar power for as little as $181 million, and the guy installing solar panels on a roof averages about $4,000 more a year than the guy risking his life down in the hole.) It would rescue the world’s struggling economies. (British economist Nicholas Stern calculates that the economic impacts of unchecked global warming could far exceed those of the world wars or the Great Depression.) And fighting this war would be socially transformative. (Just as World War II sped up the push for racial and gender equality, a climate campaign should focus its first efforts on the frontline communities most poisoned by the fossil fuel era. It would help ease income inequality with higher employment, revive our hollowed-out rural states with wind farms, and transform our decaying suburbs with real investments in public transit.)
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The next president doesn’t have to wait for a climate equivalent of Pearl Harbor to galvanize Congress. Much of what we need to do can—and must—be accomplished immediately, through the same use of executive action that FDR relied on to lay the groundwork for a wider mobilization. The president could immediately put a halt to drilling and mining on public lands and waters, which contain at least half of all the untapped carbon left in America. She could slow the build-out of the natural gas system simply by correcting the outmoded way the EPA calculates the warming effect of methane, just as Obama reined in coal-fired power plants. She could tell her various commissioners to put a stop to the federal practice of rubber-stamping new fossil fuel projects, rejecting those that would “significantly exacerbate” global warming. She could instruct every federal agency to buy all their power from green sources and rely exclusively on plug-in cars, creating new markets overnight. She could set a price on carbon for her agencies to follow internally, even without the congressional action that probably won’t be forthcoming. And just as FDR brought in experts from the private sector to plan for the defense build-out, she could get the blueprints for a full-scale climate mobilization in place even as she rallies the political will to make them plausible. Without the same urgency and foresight displayed by FDR—without immediate executive action—we will lose this war.
- David Camfield discusses the clash in visions as to Canada Post's future as either a long-term provider of needed public services, or an organization devoted to shrinking services and expectations for workers and the public alike. And Katie Simpson examines how federal workers are justifiably reluctant to take overtime work when they're unlikely to get paid for it.

- Bianca Wylie points out the lack of funding for Toronto's anti-poverty strategy, while recognizing the importance of following through on the commitment. And Poverty Free Saskatchewan offers its take (PDF) on a provincial budget which looks to be going backwards in the name of corporate-run "transformation".

- Finally, Alison highlights the Libs' choice to facilitate the sale of arms to human rights abusers - and their bizarre spin about revisiting the desirability of the loopholes they've opened up.