Saturday, July 04, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul de Grauwe points out that the European push to force Greece into continued austerity is the most important factor holding back a recovery, as the country would be fully solvent if it were being allowed to borrow money on anything but the most draconian of terms. And Paul Mason criticizes the war that's been declared against the Greek public for trying to pursue democratic governance - while noting that the public's justified dissatisfaction isn't going away regardless of the result of the impending referendum.

- Sherif Alsayed-Ali responds to the news that the UK's intelligence agencies have been conducting illegal spying against Amnesty International - and it's worth noting that Bill C-51 will make Canada's sweeping powers and lack of oversight even worse than the UK's:
Our concerns about mass surveillance are not limited to human rights organizations, although this is already very worrying. Mass surveillance is invasive and a dangerous overreach of government power into our private lives and freedom of expression. In specific circumstances it can also put lives at risk, be used to discredit people or interfere with investigations into human rights violations by governments.

We have good reasons to believe that the British government is interested in our work. Over the past few years we have investigated possible war crimes by UK and US forces in Iraq, Western government involvement in the CIA's torture scheme known as the extraordinary rendition programme, and the callous killing of civilians in US drone strikes in Pakistan: it was recently revealed that GCHQ may have provided assistance for US drone attacks.

The obfuscation, secrecy and determination to avoid any meaningful oversight is worthy of a tin-pot dictatorship. It is time for serious public scrutiny of the behaviour of the British government. We need to know what surveillance programmes the government is operating, what spying they consider to be fair game, and why.
- Andrew Cohen sees the Cons' "Memorial to the Victims of Communism" as a monument to crass and destructive politics.

- Finally, Robin Sears highlights why the Cons' division and narrowcasting are doomed to fail as a strategy for building a natural governing party. And Thomas Walkom writes that the cult of personality around Stephen Harper is leading the Cons to shut out natural allies in the name of worshiping their leader.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Musical interlude

Mumford & Sons - Believe (Kyau & Albert Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jerry Dias sees the forced passage of an unamended Bill C-377 as a definitive answer in the negative to the question of whether the Senate will ever justify its own existence. And Nora Loreto emphasizes that the bill has no purpose other than to attack unions:
The amendments contained in C-377 to the Income Tax Act are sweeping, broad and idiotic. If Canadians need any example that the Harper Conservatives care more about personal vendettas than good governance, the proof is wrapped up in C-377.

C-377 requires a ridiculous level of compliance from labour organizations and trusts. It forces unions, labour organizations, labour federations, organizations comprised of different unions, labour trusts and professional associations to publically report all expenditures of over $5000 and itemize exactly what that the money was dedicated to.

Everyone's salaries, everyone's timesheets and all contracts will be made public. This places an enormous burden on the bureaucratic structures of the labour movement.
It's easy to see why the Harper Conservatives hate unions. Unions are the final major roadblock in their campaign to fully transform Canada. Unions demand rights for working people, decent wages and benefits, all which constitute barriers towards full-scale and unregulated resource extraction and international trade deals.

Unionization and labour rights are fundamental within a free and democratic society. The ability of working people to gather, elect their own leadership and direct their own political campaigns is a tenet of democracy. It is the membership who has the right to make demands of the leadership; no one else.
- Meanwhile, Daniel Tencer points out that public service workers and unionized workers tend to have the type of secure retirement we should all be able to plan on. And May Warren reports on the effects of precarious work in Guelph.

- Iman Sheikh writes that immigrants to Canada tend to be disproportionately healthy on arrival only to see their health decline - which surely signals there's far more work to do in making sure new Canadians have access to needed social supports.

- Charles Mandel interviews Bill McKibben about Canada's obstructionist role in global climate talks under the Harper Cons. But Kim Covert notes that the precedent recently set by a Dutch court in mandating emission reductions could well be followed here if our politicians don't live up to their responsibilities first.

- Finally, Michael Grunwald examines the most recent leak from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including its massive handouts to big pharma at the expense of the health care system of every participating country. And the CCPA's latest issue of the Monitor nicely covers the false promise and serious damage done by trade agreements.

On closed-door decisions

Memo to Don Lenihan:

It's well and good to point to past backroom policy debacles such as utterly unwanted Crown corporation giveaways as examples of a complete lack of public engagement.

But before lauding Kathleen Wynne as the face of open government, might it be worth noting that she's doing the exact same thing on too short a time frame for public consultation, while paying lip service to "dialogue" after it's too late?

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Daniel Marans reports on Bernie Sanders' push for international action against austerity in Greece and elsewhere. And Binoy Kampmark documents the anti-democratic and antisocial ideology on the other side of the austerity debate.

- Noah Smith writes that while there's no discernible connection between massive pay for CEOs and actual corporate performance, there's a strong link between who an executive knows and how much the executive can extract.

- The CP reports on UNESCO's push to study the impact of the tar sands on Wood Buffalo National Park. And Tavia Grant breaks the news that Health Canada is just getting around the acknowledging the long-recognized dangers of asbestos.

- Stephen Maher comments on the Cons' manipulations of the Canada Elections Act to limit voting among poor Canadians. And Michelle Ghoussoub reports on the Council of Canadians' fight to reverse the restrictions.

-Finally, John Baglow notes that the Cons' especially villainous run of recent actions looks to reflect the death throes of Stephen Harper's government. Steve Sullivan calls out the Cons for seeking to terrorize Canada's electorate. And Michael Harris argues that Harper is a tyrant in the true sense of the word, while Andrew Coyne writes that Harper is truly alone as the federal election campaign approaches.

New column day

Here, following up on these posts about the possibility the Cons might decide to ignore their own fixed election date and delay the election expected for October 19. 

For further reading...

- The Canada Elections Act is here. And for an interesting comparison, see Saskatchewan's fixed election date provision from the Legislative Assembly Act, 2007:
8.1(1) Unless a general election has been held earlier because of the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, the first general election after the coming into force of this section must be held on Monday, November 7, 2011.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), general elections following the general election held in accordance with subsection (1) must be held on the first Monday of November in the fourth calendar year after the last general election.
(3) If the writ period for a general election to be held in accordance with subsection (2) overlaps with the writ period for a general election to be held pursuant to subsection 56.1(2) or section 56.2 of the Canada Elections Act, the general election must be held on the first Monday of April in the calendar year following the calendar year mentioned in subsection (2).
(4) In this section, “writ period” means the period commencing on the day that a writ is issued for an election and ending on polling day for that election.
Which gives rise to a couple of noteworthy points. First, unlike the federal legislation, Saskatchewan's doesn't explicitly leave room for any discretion to alter the date. And second, Saskatchewan's own election date will be in flux until the moment the writ drops (or doesn't drop) federally.

- The Federal Court of Appeal's decision on the limited effect of the federal fixed election date is here. Amy Minsky explained here why we shouldn't take the federal law too seriously. And Andrew Coyne rightly recognized here that we should consider it a serious problem that we need to plan for the readily foreseeable prospect that Stephen Harper would ignore his own law.

- Finally, Alice nicely summarizes some of the more dysfunctional aspects of the federal electoral system, and suggests that fixing our electoral machinery should be an important priority for the next Parliament:
And I'm not saying it's job one for a new government to kick off a better process to fix this all, but it's surely in the top 100. Because the constant gaming of the system, the constant ramming of bills through Parliament without consideration of their constitutionality or practicality, is what's responsible for the current completely farcical mess.

If you support a fixed election date, think through what ALL the implications of that are. If you want pro-rated expense limits for longer writs, consider whether there should be any limits to them or the writ length at all. If you want to control political party, government, and third party advertising and promote transparency in the pre-election period, think that through as well. There is also a looming crisis in political finance after the next election, since most parties have been unable to fully replace the per-vote subsidy in their fundraising efforts, but could now face election campaigns with unknown and unknowable expense ceilings, given the new pro-rating of the spending limits. It would not surprise me at all if that was in part the motivation for a group like Engage Canada to intercede and try to prevent the re-election of a Conservative majority government, which would soon have no adequately-financed opposition at all.

If it were not a third rail in politics these days to suggest another Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Finance, I would say it might almost be called for: to maintain our distinctive Canadian democracy, and avoid the worst pitfalls of the US permanent campaign. At the very least, amendments to the Elections Act should receive far more attention and study from Parliamentarians than they are now.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Worth considering

Shorter National Post:
Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP are keeping their campaign promises. For some reason, we think this should be a warning rather than a beacon of hope for the rest of Canada.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The Star's editorial board writes that five years after police committed serious human rights violations at Toronto's G20 summit, nobody seems to have learned any lessons from the abuses. And David Lavallee tells his story of being interrogated for a "precursor to terrorist behaviour" based solely on his having filmed a pipeline for a documentary.

- Ian Gill argues that the impending federal election will may represent a last opportunity to take Canada off of a path toward environmental destruction. And Brian Kahn notes that the rest of the world is predictably shifting toward cleaner energy whether we're on board or not.

- Gillian Steward reports on Rachel Notley's precedent-setting participation in the UN's next climate-change conference (in contrast to past Alberta premiers who tried to fight climate action). And Dennis Howlett points out that to the extent there was any doubt, Saskatchewan is now Canada's worst climate laggard.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on widespread wage theft in Ontario, along with the distinct lack of enforcement mechanisms to reliably recoup what workers are owed.

- Finally, Robyn Benson highlights how the Cons had to break every rule in the book to force Bill C-377 through the Senate. And Bill Tieleman writes that the result is to impose exactly the type of useless red tape the Cons claim to oppose everywhere else on Canada's labour movement.

On half measures

Having written this column a couple of weeks back on electoral financing in Saskatchewan, I'll take a moment to address this letter to the editor in response from R. Curtis Mullen.

It's indeed true that Saskatchewan has spending limits which apply during an election campaign. But the Canada Elections Act does in fact regulate both donations and campaign spending, leaving little room for anybody to argue that it's an "either"/or situation.

More importantly, though, campaign spending limits fall short of addressing the principled basis for donation restrictions on two fronts.

First, they do nothing about the problem of concentrated donations.

However a party is limited in spending its money, it may still have a strong incentive to run its campaigns (and its other operations) to please donors who contribute a disproportionate share of their funding. And the combination of lax donation rules and limited spending could in fact make it all the more likely that a party would be bought at an affordable price by one or more wealthy donors.

And second, they do nothing about pre-campaign spending by a party.

That's been less an issue in Saskatchewan than on the federal scene as the advertising we currently see tends to be funded out of government or caucus coffers. But surely it's not hard to see how a gusher of unregulated funding could swamp our public discourse - leaving little room for other voices to push their way back into the mix during an election campaign.

It may well be worth also considering other options to improve our political system, such as regulations on third-party campaign advertising as suggested by Mullen. But that reality only signals that we should be having a conversation about the changes which ought to be made - not settling for matters as they stand as the Wall government seems inclined to do.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Entranced cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Broadbent Institute details Rhys Kesselman's research on how the Cons' expanded TFSAs are nothing but a giveaway to the wealthy. And Dean Beeby reports on their withholding of EI supplements from the families who most need them - paired with a complete lack of responsibility or contrition now that the problem has been discovered.

- Matt Saccaro discusses the widespread burnout among U.S. workers as huge increases in hours worked and productivity have done nothing to improve wages or living conditions over a period of decades. And Bill Tieleman slams the Cons for gratuitously attacking the unions who offer the best chance of improving the lives of workers.

- Marc Lee summarizes the Cons' failed energy and climate change policies, as their only accomplishment has been to set back both our opportunities and our expectations when it comes to building a sustainable economy.

- Dr. Dawg writes about Aaron Driver's case as an appalling example of an individual being locked up for precrime. And Shannon Gormley argues that we don't face a choice between security and privacy, and that in fact overreaching legislation like C-51 threatens both:
So if a mass surveillance apparatus had only one job — preventing terror attacks — it might have fallen under the proud ownership of a trash collector by now. But cyber spies have other uses. It’s bleakly effortless to imagine a government getting creative with a system ostensibly designed to track security threats but — oh, what’s this? — also tracks every digital movement of political opponents, economic competitors, media critics and internal whistleblowers.

We needn’t imagine much. We already know: that Britain’s spy agency has listed investigative journalists as security threats and that its sticky tentacles have pocketed emails from the world’s top news organizations; that the NSA has mused that within the next 10-20 years it might conduct surveillance in a such a way that its “findings would be useful to U.S. industry”; that it has spied on Brazilian oil company Petrobras; and that its Five Eyes counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, has spied on an American law firm representing Indonesia when Indonesia was in a trade dispute with the U.S and — another exemplar of generosity of spirit — offered to share its findings with the U.S.

But even if surveillance agencies had a track record of intercepting and only targeting security threats, we might be troubled by something more fundamental: the assumption that privacy rights aren’t part of what people need secured.

A privacy violation is a serious security breach. When we can’t make a call to a client or send an email to a lover or type a character into a search bar without an overpaid 20-something in a far-off cubicle being able to know about it, then it’s not just our privacy that has being rudely violated. It’s our security as well.

And more besides. If people are partly made by what they think, and partly made by the ways they choose to share their thoughts, then in an age where our communication with each other is monitored relentlessly and without our consent, how is our personhood not under attack?
- But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association makes clear that the fight over C-51 is far from over, as voters will have every opportunity to judge Canada's political parties on their response to a threat to our civil rights. And Justin Ling reports on new polling confirming that its principled opposition to the Cons' fearmongering has been an important element in the NDP's rise in the polls.

Monday, June 29, 2015

On delay tactics

Following up on this post, let's look in a bit more detail as to how the Cons might try to make excuses for a delay in this fall's expected federal election - and why they might be happy to use the more questionable means to do so.

As noted in the previous post, the fixed election date set in October was set by an act of Parliament, and could easily be changed through the same process given the Cons' well-whipped majorities in both chambers. So why then might Stephen Harper prefer to ignore or flout legislation rather than changing it?

Let's start by asking what factors might stand to work in the Cons' favour during a campaign whenever it arises.

From an issue standpoint, there doesn't seem to be much room for doubt that barring some miraculous, pork-based turnaround on the economy, the Cons' lone remaining perceived strong point is security. Their only extended stay atop public opinion polls in the last few years came about in the wake of security concerns last fall. And if they do decide to delay the election, I'd expect that plan to be based on either the hope that somebody will hand them a crisis to be seen responding to, or the expectation that they can manufacture a threat.

But given that the Cons' message (embodied in C-51 among other actions) that democratically-elected officials can't be trusted with security, I'm not sure they'd want to send the message that Parliament should make the call as to what trumped-up threat would explain a delayed election. Nor would they likely want to saddle their MPs with having to explain votes against the same election date they previously approved.

Instead, any decision to delay the election would fit best with the Cons' expected core message if it's made solely by Stephen Harper, coupled with the theme that Canadians should take his word for what's best for them.

Of course, there would surely be a backlash against a decision to delay an election that way. But I'm not sure the Cons would much object to that: in fact they'd likely point to easily-foreseen protests as evidence of instability to rationalize the delay after the fact, and also focus further public attention on the Cons' issue of choice.

Again, it will likely be some time before we see whether Harper decides to follow his own law. But it's not hard to see how a legally-dubious executive action to ignore it could fit into the Cons' wider strategy - and we should be prepared to make sure that course of action isn't rewarded.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Emmanuel Saez examines the U.S.' latest income inequality numbers and finds that the gap between the wealthy few and everybody else is still growing. The Equality Trust finds that the UK's tax system is already conspicuously regressive even as the Cameron Cons plan to make it more so. And Tom Clark reviews Anthony Atkinson's Inequality, featuring the observation that even returning to the distribution of the 1970s will require major (if needed) changes to the economic assumptions we've meekly accepted since then.

- Andrew Mitrovica comments on the Cons' pandering to - and repetition of - anti-Muslim prejudice. And Rick Salutin notes that Canada's shameful treatment of aboriginal people arose out of exactly the same view that cultural difference should be treated as barbarism:
If you opt for zero tolerance, you may destroy something that could be useful now or later. The way to handle "barbaric" practices like forced marriage isn't with a cultural blunderbuss; it's by outlawing particular acts like kidnapping and child marriage, which are already illegal here without attacking any specific cultures.

The point isn't who has the better culture. It's that you never know what challenges you may face in the future and what cultural resources might prove useful and adaptable in facing them. If Scott and Macdonald had succeeded in killing the Indian in the child, through the schools program, we'd be without the resources which First Nations cultures afford us now -- and for whatever crises get thrown up by the always ornery future.

On the other hand, the precedents for declaring what's culturally barbaric and therefore dispensable, are pretty scary, as the exhaustive, heart-rending and indeed poetic work of the TRC on the residential schools program, sadly shows.
- Meanwhile, Michelle Shephard reminds us that what little terrorist risk there is to Canadian safety comes primarily from the bigoted right rather than the people they're so eager to dehumanize.

- Amy Minsky reports on the hundreds of millions of dollars the Cons have spent detaining refugee claimants - as they'd prefer to spend a guaranteed $292 per day per immigrant to lock people up than allow anybody to participate in Canadian society.

- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall looks into a single photo op which offers a galling indication of how much public money is being wasted on the Cons' self-aggrandizement. And John Barber reports on Stephen Harper's latest monument to poor taste, while Bill Waiser slams their disregard for history and truth.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Carol Goar discusses the contrasting messages being sent to Canada's middle class in the lead up to Canada's federal election campaign - and notes that the real decision for voters to make is whether they're happy with marginally higher nominal incomes at the expense of greater inequality and more precarious lives. Mark Goldring makes the case for an economy oriented toward what's best for people rather than short-term profits:
Tackling inequality requires that people, not profit constitute the bottom line. We need everyone who is in a position of influence - business leaders, financiers, politicians, civil servants - to put the interests of ordinary citizens back at the heart of every decision he or she makes. To borrow from Steve Hilton, David Cameron's former adviser, we need an economy that is "more human".

After all, what's the point of building a prosperous economy but to ensure a prosperous future for all who live in it? The American political philosopher John Rawls suggests that we encourage those most able to generate wealth so that it can be used to help those who are less fortunate. Call it wealth for a greater purpose. Oxfam wholeheartedly agrees.

We are looking to our leaders - here in the UK and around the world, public and private sector, to find ways to break down structures that perpetuate poverty and keep individuals from realising their full potential in life. That means fair wages to ensure people can live dignified lives and find pride in their work, and investment in essential public services that poor people in particular, depend on. It means more progressive tax systems and cracking down on big companies and billionaires who avoid paying their fair share of tax - here and in poor countries - through complex accounting tricks. It's about properly regulated financial markets that behave with integrity to spur innovation, commerce and enterprise, rather than simply multiply individual bonus pots.

Reducing inequality may seem an impossible task but the rewards are potentially huge - in tackling poverty, improving social cohesion and human well-being.
- Kelly Foley and David Green write (PDF) that for all the benefits we can expect from improved education, we shouldn't pretend that it serves as a magic bullet against inequality. And Andrew Jackson points out that the same strength in organized labour needed to fight inequality is itself a key to educational achievement.

- Peter Poschen argues we can create good jobs and fight climate change at the same time. And Paul Solotaroff reports on widespread child health problems in one Utah fracking town as a microcosm of the choices we face in weighing oil money against our health. 

- Finally, Les Whittington writes about the Cons' efforts to escape accountability for their actions from the media which is supposed to report in the public interest. And Michael Harris wonders what will happen to the Harper Cons if Canadians stop buying the fear they're so focused on peddling.

On inevitable abuses

Justice James Stribopoulos sees the G20 human rights abuses as highlighting the problems with handing over poorly-defined powers to law enforcement:
In an essay published in a new book on policing during the summit, Justice James Stribopoulos blames the abuses that took place on an absence of specific legislation to “confine, structure and check police discretion” during large events, which he says is “long overdue.”
“Unfortunately, without that, the legal framework that helped facilitate the civil liberties abuses that marked the G20 Summit in Toronto will persist,” he writes in Putting the State on Trial. “And that, I fear, will make a repeat appearance somewhat inevitable.”
And surely the need for checks and balances is even more obvious when it comes to secret police. So let's see how the terror bill passed by the Cons and the Libs does on that front (emphasis added):
Bill C-51 erodes the distinction between CSIS’s traditional intelligence gathering role by giving it broad new powers to engage in law enforcement–type activities. Under Bill C-51, CSIS would be able to take “measures” to reduce threats to the security of Canada. For example, s. 12.1(1) of the proposed act states,
If there are reasonable grounds to believe that a particular activity constitutes a threat to the security of Canada, the Service may take measures, within or outside Canada, to reduce the threat. 
The power under s. 12.1 is broadly defined, giving CSIS virtually unfettered authority to conduct any operation it thinks is in the interest of Canadian security. The definitions are so broad that they could apply to almost anything...
Of course, it may take far more time for any "measures" to become known given that they can be carried out in secret. But we can safely say that C-51 is based on exactly the same philosophy of unfettered authoritarianism that led to the G20 abuses - and it's entirely foreseeable that we'll see the same results.