Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Scott Santens rightly notes that even if every single person without a job was willing to accept absolutely anything, we have no reason to expect job markets to make enough work available to support a livelihood for everybody:
(T)here are more unemployed people than jobs available across each sector of the job market, even including health care, and that one's considered practically a slam dunk at this point in terms of finding employment.

There are simply not enough jobs for everyone to have a job all at the same time.

Doesn't this sound kind of familiar? This idea that we walk around and around looking for something along with others looking for the same thing, only to find that some, and possibly even us, must in the end be excluded from what we seek?

It sounds like a game we all played as kids...

The job market is actually a game of musical chairs.

There is however a key difference between a game of musical chairs and the way our job market works, and that's that when the music stops in musical chairs, the winner is sitting while the loser is just left standing. But because the only way to gain access to the resources we need to survive is through the earning of income, those unable to earn an income aren't just left standing. They are left in poverty. And poverty hurts.

So now let's imagine a game of musical chairs played on a hot bed of coals. There are 10 people and 5 chairs, the same ratio as exists right now in 2015. Everyone is hopping around trying not to get burned, when the music stops. Five people are rewarded with security from pain, and five people begin to burn.
- Ella Bedard examines the demographic shifts within the union movement over the past few decades. And Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig describes the massive benefits the workers who form part of the movement earn through collective bargaining.

- Meanwhile, Nicole Charky discusses how just-in-time scheduling places massive burdens on workers to serve the sole purpose of expanding corporate profit margins. And Ethel Tungohan looks at human rights abuses by an Ontario employer as yet another example of the dire need for change in Canada's use of temporary foreign workers.
- Josh Hoxie points out that calls for austerian belt-tightening invariably seem to leave plenty of money to be showered on those who already have the most. And LOLGOP comments on the grossly outsized influence the wealthy few exert on U.S. politics.

- Finally, Leehi Yona calls out the Cons' continued climate negligence going into the U.N.'s next set of climate change negotiations, while Scott Vrooman suggests we should stop being so polite about the issue. Crawford Kilian reports on the scientific case to stop new tar sands developments. And Andrew Nikiforuk observes that Alberta is now among the many jurisdictions facing an increased danger of earthquakes due to fracking.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Musical interlude

Grimes & Bleachers - Entropy

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Chris Mooney takes a look at the positive side of social influences on behaviour, as new research shows a correlation between spending time with neighbours and an interest in the environmental issues which affect us all. But Adam Stoneman documents how another form of social interaction - that of wealth flaunting - promotes conspicuous consumption which benefits nobody.

- Tim Harper slams the Cons for looking to attack aboriginal Canadians rather than work with them - a particularly serious problem in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report. Don Martin writes that Stephen Harper's staged apology has proven to be entirely empty. And Stephen Maher reminds us that the past genocide by Canada's settlers against First Nations went far beyond culture alone.

- Justin Ling's notorious interview in which the Cons' Immigration Minister Chris Alexander equated wearing a niqab with terrorism is here. And Paul Wells follows up with a scathing counter to Alexander's wilful ignorance about his party's legacy of racism.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg offers his own roundup of what we can expect now that the Cons' terror bill has been forced through Parliament. And CBC reports on one case of an individual being detained indefinitely without charges even before C-51 offers legislative cover for the disappearing of anybody who proves inconvenient.

[Update: fixed link.]

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Michael Hiltzig examines the evidence showing that austerity serves as a major obstacle to economic growth. And Ian Hussey argues that Alberta (like other jurisdictions) is out of budgetary balance due to a lack of income rather than any need to cut social supports.

- Branko Milanovic studies (PDF) the historical relationship between inequality and long-term economic growth and finds no reason to think the former does anything but impede the latter:
More political power and patronage implies more inequality. The frequent claim that inequality promotes accumulation and growth does not get much support from history. On the contrary, great economic inequality has always been correlated with extreme concentration of political power, and that power has always been used to widen the income gaps through rent-seeking and rent-keeping, forces that demonstrably retard economic growth.
- In a similar vein, Gonzalo Vina reviews Anthony Atkinson's Inequality - What Can Be Done? and highlights the primary theme that inequality is a matter of choice rather than inevitability. And Suzanne Goldenberg and Helena Bengtsson report on the gusher of money being used to fund climate change denial one of the more obvious ways in which accumulated wealth is grossly distorting policy choices.

- Andrew Coyne makes the case for a strong emphasis on a minimum income rather than just a minimum wage.

- Malcolm French offers a useful reminder as to what we can expect to happen immediately following this fall's federal election. And I'll point back to my own warning as to what can go wrong if the Harper Cons choose not to give up power without a fight.

- And finally, Ethan Cox interviews Ed Broadbent about Canada's current political scene.

New column day

Here, on how the Senate's failure to provide any second thought on C-51 may serve as the ultimate signal that it has nothing useful to offer Canadians.

For further reading...
- PressProgress' look at the Senate's sad history is well worth a read. The CBC reports on the Auditor General's findings about the widespread abuse of public money. And Ian Austen offers a U.S. perspective on what comes next for the Senate.
- Meanwhile, Karl Nerenberg explains why abolition is well within reach if anybody is willing to take a leadership role in pursuing it without reopening other constitutional issues. And Warren Kinsella argues that Tom Mulcair's determination to reach that goal is both the right and the smart course of action.
- In contrast, Brad Wall refuses to lift a finger toward the cause, even as he highlights why abolition makes a world of sense.
- Finally, Stuart Trew examines what happens now that the Cons' terror bill has been passed, while Joanne Cave suggests we can do better than settling for a false sense of security. Wes Regan comments on the Cons' and Libs' choice to set fire to Canadians' civil rights. And PressProgress reminds us of the Cons' dishonesty in pushing C-51.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The Ottawa Citizen rightly slams Stephen Harper for failing to take climate change and energy policy seriously, while Mel Hurting points out Harper's general economic failures in relying on dirty resource extraction rather than trying to build a cleaner and stronger economy. And PressProgress exposes the Cons' laughable claim to have done anything at all to move toward renewable and sustainable energy.

- Peter Mazereeuw follows up on the work of Canadians for Tax Fairness in documenting tax evasion and calling for a crackdown on tax havens.

- David Dayen traces the history of corporate trade agreements in the U.S., including the role of the Office of the United States Trade Representative in placing short-term business interests over all other policy priorities. Michael Geist reminds us why we should be wary of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And Claire Provost and Matt Kennard explore the history - and increasing danger - of investor-state dispute settlement, while pointing out that a willingness to sell out to corporate interests seems to have little effect on actual trade and investment:
Investors have used this system not only to sue for compensation for alleged expropriation of land and factories, but also over a huge range of government measures, including environmental and social regulations, which they say infringe on their rights. Multinationals have sued to recover money they have already invested, but also for alleged lost profits and “expected future profits”. The number of suits filed against countries at the ICSID is now around 500 – and that figure is growing at an average rate of one case a week. The sums awarded in damages are so vast that investment funds have taken notice: corporations’ claims against states are now seen as assets that can be invested in or used as leverage to secure multimillion-dollar loans. Increasingly, companies are using the threat of a lawsuit at the ICSID to exert pressure on governments not to challenge investors’ actions.

“I had absolutely no idea this was coming,” Parada said. Sitting in a glass-walled meeting room in his offices, at the law firm Foley Hoag, he paused, searching for the right word to describe what has happened in his field. “Rogue,” he decided, finally. “I think the investor-state arbitration system was created with good intentions, but in practice it has gone completely rogue.”

Other countries have already decided to cut their losses, and tried to get out of these trade treaties. Shortly after settling the lawsuit with foreign mining companies over its new post-apartheid mining rules, South Africa began to terminate many of its own investment agreements.

“What was concerning for us was that you could have an international arbitration – three individuals, making a decision – on what was in effect a legislative programme in South Africa that had been arrived at democratically, and that somehow this arbitration panel could potentially call this into question,” said Xavier Carim, a former deputy director-general in South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry. “It was very, very clear that these treaties are open to such wide interpretations by panels, or by investors looking to challenge any government measure, with the possibility of a significant payout at the end of the day,” said Carim, who is now South Africa’s representative to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva. “The simple fact is that these treaties give you very little benefit and they just pose risk.”

Before moving to terminate its agreements, the South African government commissioned an internal study to help determine whether such treaties actually did help boost foreign investment. “There was no pattern between signing treaties and getting investment,” Carim explained. “We’ve had huge investments from the US and Japan and India and a number of other countries where we don’t have investment treaties. Companies don’t come and invest in a country or not because it does or doesn’t have a bilateral investment treaty. They invest if there is a return to be made.”

Brazil has never signed up to this system – it has not entered into a single treaty with these investor-state dispute provisions – and yet it has had no trouble attracting foreign investment.

Parada said it would take “a broad consensus of determined states” in order to truly rein in this system. “The states that created the system are the only ones that can fix it,” he said. “I have not seen a critical mass of states with the political will [to do this] … much less a broad consensus. But I still hope it happens.”
- Keith Leslie reports that Canada's provincial health ministers are increasingly calling for a national pharmacare plan - meaning that we're lacking only federal leadership to put one in place. And the Star argues that it's long past time to make pharmacare a reality.

- Finally, Robyn Benson is optimistic that there are winds of change set to clear the air for Canadians.


Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party is trumpeting the "success" of a hiring freeze in which the entire government saved $8 million in a quarter - or roughly $32 million per year - by not hiring staff.

Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party has increased the cost of consultants in the Ministry of Highways alone by roughly $50 million per year by using more expensive outside contractors rather than hiring staff.

Anybody else think the Saskatchewan Party might be freezing the wrong kind of spending?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Handy cats.

On end dates

There's no doubt that Stephen Harper characteristically did everything in his power to put off any meaningful international action on climate change. But it's worth noting that his procrastination only resulted in a more definitive statement from the G7 as to where the global economy is ultimately headed:
Mindful of this goal and considering the latest IPCC results, we emphasize that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century.
Of course, that common destination might be reached in one of two ways. On that front, we can count on Harper to insist that we spend this century extracting and burning everything we can get our hands on, rather than spending a single moment preparing for generations to come.

And of course we have to think Harper's real intention is simply to set another future goal that won't be met (and for which he can't be held solely accountable). 

But Harper has set up a ready counter any time he tries to pretend that we have no choice but to equate fossil fuel resources with the national interest.

Now, Harper himself has agreed that decarbonisation is required within the lifespan of both the people and the industry already operating in Canada. And if the only question about our long-term energy policy is when we start planning our transition toward the inevitable end of fossil fuels, there's precious little excuse for continued delay.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Daria Ukhova summarizes the OECD's findings on the links between inequality, poverty and the economy:
Inequality, economic growth, and poverty. In the new report, the OECD has tried to establish the links between these three phenomena, which so far have been mostly explored in pairs, as the relationship between inequality and growth and the relationship between inequality and poverty. While confirming previous arguments about the negative impact of inequality on growth and on poverty, the OECD has gone a step further, arguing that the mechanism through which inequality actually undermines growth is through the channel of human capital. Specifically, they find that higher levels of inequality result in worse educational attainment, skills and employment among the poorest 40%, which then translates into lower levels of human capital and lower growth. The report, however, does not explore the underlying causes of this relation. Comparing the low and high income inequality countries in terms of degrees of their educational systems’ privatization or labour market flexibilisation could shed light on the questions re why poor people in more unequal countries ‘invest’ less in their human capital.

Horizontal and vertical economic inequality. By dedicating a whole chapter to looking at how the changes in women’s economic activity in recent decades have affected the dynamic of economic inequality among households, the OECD has done a great job of mainstreaming a debate that until recently was primarily heard only at feminist economics conferences. Looking at how other types of horizontal inequality (ethnic, racial, etc.) affect current trends of vertical economic inequality could become another important step in making mainstream economic debates less gender- and colour-blind.

Precarisation of work and inequality. Although the OECD prefers to refer to this phenomenon as a rise of non-standard work or NSW (under which they include temporary contracts, part-time employment and self-employment), by making an argument about NSW being a primary driver of the recent growth of inequality, the OECD seems to be actually moving away to some extent from its earlier position on the need to flexibilise labour markets. The issue that remains unaddressed by the report is why have the labour markets become so flexibilised in the first place? Addressing this question would probably require a degree of reflexivity by the OECD that the format of such report, unfortunately, does not allow.
- Andrew Heisz and Brian Murphy study the importance of taxes and transfers in reducing income inequality, while Trevor Hancock rightly reminds us that taxes should be considered the price we pay for civilization. And Thomas Piketty reviews Anthony Atkinson's new book on how to develop a more equitable society.

- But Christopher Ingraham points to the U.S. as a prime example of how the outsized influence of extreme wealth can lead the tax system to be outright regressive, with the super-rich seeing their tax rates go down as their income goes up.

- Finally, Human Rights Watch and Margaret Atwood each weigh in on the dangers of Bill C-51, while Lawrence Greenspon highlights the risk that the Cons' terror tactics will set up the next sorry chapter of human rights abuses in Canada's already-checkered history. And Susana Mas reports on the latest invasion of privacy from the Cons, as their new omnibus budget bill includes the mandatory collection of biometric information from visitors.


In response to the apparent return of Gilles Duceppe to federal politics, I'll offer a quick rerun on the state of the Bloc Quebecois:
Once the 1995 referendum was in the rear-view mirror, however, the Bloc recognized that it would need to stand for more than sovereignty alone. And so it developed a strategy of running hard against the government of the day (which was always its strongest Quebec opponent) and serving as an opposition on behalf of Quebec alone.

That strategy was highly effective at stoking frustration against sitting governments. But in the last few election cycles, it proved somewhat vulnerable when competing opposition parties entered the picture: in 2006 the Cons did better than anticipated as the Bloc hammered away at Lib scandals, and in 2008 the Libs managed to gain ground as the Bloc launched its culture war against Stephen Harper.
In effect, the Bloc has always succeeded by overwhelming a single national opponent which bears the burden of government in a one-province, one-front battle. But there's no way they're avoiding a multi-front challenge in 2015 - and starting from a tenth of their former caucus size and a dwindling membership will only make that challenge all the more difficult.
It's true enough that Duceppe at least figures to offer a more credible face for the Bloc than any alternative during an election campaign - which figures to improve the party's chances of surviving to fight another day.

And it may be that the Bloc can completely revamp its previous strategy to counter a popular opposition party which can both launch effective critiques against the sitting government, and offer an alternative. But I don't see much having changed since 2012 to suggest that the Bloc will ever again be the broad-based opposition party it was for nearly two decades - and if the strongest leader still in the Bloc ranks can't gain back some ground this year, the party's end may well be nigh.

Monday, June 08, 2015

On damaging positions

I haven't commented yet on the latest wave of federal polls primarily because I don't see them radically changing my existing take on Canada's impending election. But I'll briefly address what looks like an overreaction to the latest numbers by Michael Harris.

By way of context, here's my previous analysis as to how the Cons have done in attacking Trudeau:
Justin Trudeau’s honeymoon as Liberal leader has come to an end, due to both the usual Conservative barrage of attack ads and his own missteps (most notably his ill-advised support for the Conservatives’ draconian terror bill).

But unlike his predecessors, he’s still seen as a neutral force rather than a glaring liability by the public — which is a far better net assessment than Harper can claim. So if the Conservatives’ top priority has been to turn Trudeau into Dion or Ignatieff, that job isn’t yet done.
(T)he Conservatives’ strategy has generally been based on attacking a single opponent to neutralize the possibility that any other party will be seen as a reasonable alternative.

But given the Conservatives’ own dwindling poll numbers, the public’s appetite for change is great enough for them to face serious challenges from two parties and leaders with more appeal than their own.

And given the contrasts developed by the NDP and Liberals, it doesn’t look like the Conservatives can do anything to undermine one without benefiting the other. From this point on, any more pointed attack against Mulcair and the NDP will only help Trudeau and the Libs, and vice versa.
In contrast, Harris looks at effectively the same numbers showing public ambivalence toward Trudeau and sees it as reflecting irreparable damage:
While the stars were aligning for Mulcair, Trudeau was struggling with the fact that more people disapproved than approved of him by a narrow margin — 47 to 46 per cent, within the margin of error. It would seem a big part of that was the strategic decision to support Bill C-51.
It was, like a lot of things in politics, a judgment call. As things turned out, at least so far, it looks like another example of bad judgment.

Support for C-51 has plummeted as Canadians learn more about it, particularly in Quebec. The Liberals have stuck by their support of the legislation, not wanting to make the leader look like a flip-flopper. Advantage Thomas Mulcair, who has publicly and vociferously attacked the legislation, along with Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

Ironically, it is the PM and his party who may end up paying the price for the unexpected developments on the progressive side of Canadian politics. The Conservatives always knew they needed to keep the left side parties in a near dead heat to exploit the same weird splits that gave them a majority last time. They have pounded Trudeau to the point they might have damaged him irreparably and in so doing, handed the would-be splits to the NDP.
So which is the more plausible view of the Cons' actions so far - that they've gone too far in damaging Trudeau, or haven't gone far enough?

Let's start by asking this: is there actually such a thing as doing too much damage to the Libs for the Cons' political purposes?

If Trudeau were truly damaged beyond repair, then the Cons would have an obvious path forward: turning their guns entirely toward Mulcair in advance of the election, a plan which they could pursue secure in the knowledge that Trudeau wouldn't be in a position to offer an alternative.

I highly doubt that the Cons (or indeed many other observers) would see that to be the case. And I have my doubts as to whether we ever will - not because there's any question the NDP is a serious threat to form government, but because we're far from the point where the Libs can be ruled out entirely.

Meanwhile, one might also take Harris as pointing out a difference in Trudeau's perceptions between Quebecs progressive base and elsewhere. But even if one assumes that to be true, it hardly reflects an indication that the Cons can afford to stop attacking him.

After all, if Trudeau is seen as roughly neutral nationally while being less popular in Quebec, then by implication his numbers must be slightly positive elsewhere even in the face of the Cons' attack ads. And any failure to suppress that support would make the Cons vulnerable to losing seats to the Libs in the rest of Canada as the centre-right splits against them.

None of the above is to suggest the Cons aren't in some significant trouble. But their real problem is that they have too many viable opponents, not too few - and there may not be enough time and ad blitzes left to counter both of them.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- The World Bank's latest World Development Report discusses how readily-avoidable scarcity in severely limit individual development. Melissa Kearney and Philip Levine write that poverty and a lack of social mobility tend to create a vicious cycle of despair. And James Ridgeway examines the deliberate interference aimed at preventing many of the U.S.' poor from ever building secure lives.

- Meanwhile, Mark Thoma reminds us of the role the labour movement needs to play in ensuring greater equality across the income spectrum. And Deirdre Fulton writes that the first tentative steps toward improving the minimum wage as a matter of public policy have proven highly successful (contrary to the warnings of the corporate sector).

- The CP reports on Canada's embarrassing international status as one of the main obstacles to progress when it comes to climate change. And Harsha Walia writes that we'll need an alliance between labour, First Nations and environmental activists to produce a sustainable economy.

- Jessica Desvarieux reports on the extreme secrecy surrounding the TPP, while Dean Baker highlights how the arguments being made to try to push it on unsuspecting citizens are getting ever less plausible. And Stuart Trew and Scott Sinclair comment on its disastrous implications for Canada.

- Sean McElwee writes about the U.S. media's bias both in how it talks about issues, and in its choices as to which topics to cover.

- And finally, Katrina vanden Heuvel discusses the importance of public libraries as an essential source of economic and social benefits:
While it would be wonderful to assume that all media are available to all New Yorkers at all times—and that the only thing standing between us and the world is a sticky connection or a malfunctioning server—this simply isn’t so. And if you spend a morning observing a job-search program at the public library—where recent immigrants, perhaps, and parolees and recovering addicts sign up for their first email addresses and struggle with a QWERTY keyboard for the first time—you recognize such a sentiment as woefully naïve. As The New York Times editorialized last month, “The libraries are where poor children learn to read and love literature, where immigrants learn English, where job-seekers hone résumés and cover letters, and where those who lack ready access to the Internet can cross the digital divide.” Imagine everything you did today that utilized the Internet—checked your checking-account balance, ordered a birthday present for a friend, read your hometown newspaper—and now imagine having to go to the library, during library hours, to do it. Can’t make it to your local branch between 10 and 6 (between 1 and 6 at many Queens locations)? Tough luck. Hop on the bus and try again tomorrow during your 20-minute lunch break.

Beyond mere fairness, there are viable economic reasons for sustaining New York City’s public libraries. In 2010, the City of Philadelphia spent $33 million on its public libraries; private donations contributed $12 million more. Subsequent to the funding, the value of an average home located within one quarter-mile of one of the city’s 54 public library branches rose $9,630. In the aggregate, the public libraries contributed $698 million to home values in Philadelphia, which translated into an additional $18.5 million in property taxes for the city and school district. Other studies have demonstrated that for every tax dollar that libraries take in, communities receive anywhere between $2.38 and $6.54 in return. Simply put, it’s not just cruel to starve our libraries—and the communities that utilize them. It’s bad for business, and bad for America.