Saturday, August 08, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Robin Sears discusses the hubris behind the Cons' early election call, while Tim Naumetz notes that the extended campaign is just one more issue where the Cons are offside of the vast majority of the public. And the Guardian comments on the reasons for optimism that we're nearing the end of Stephen Harper's stay in power.

- The Ottawa Citizen makes the case for better economic management than we've been able to expect from the Harper Cons. And Alan Freeman weighs in on the costly frivolity of the Cons' latest tax credit scheme.

- And for commentary on this week's debate which goes beyond surface impressions, the Guardian analyzed the debate as it happened. The CCPA offered up some issues which deserved discussion, while Vice followed up on a number of the issues raised in the debate itself. And Ian MacLeod debunked Stephen Harper's preposterous claims about C-51.

- Althia Raj points out there was relatively little talk of a coalition or other forms of inter-party cooperation. But it's worth pointing out that it was the Cons who assumed it was a winning issue in the past - signalling that their lack of interest in mentioning it signals that they no longer see it as a winning issue. 

- Jane Hilderman discusses the connection between a health democracy and a healthy society:
(T)he imbalance between those who contribute to our democracy and those who the report finds are "checking out" is a stark one — in the 2011 federal election there was a 36% gap between the cohort with the highest turnout (ages 65-74) and that with the lowest (ages 18-24). Meanwhile the political process now repels more citizens than it attracts, particularly young Canadians. As a consequence our political system is becoming less representative, leading to inequalities between Canadians who participate and those who do not. The failure of many Canadians to contribute to our political life — or to see it as a way to make meaningful change — should serve as a warning sign to anyone interested in our society's well-being.

The challenge is that a majority of Canadians no longer feel politics is serving them. If a majority of Canadians no longer felt the healthcare system had their best interests in mind, its legitimacy would begin to crumble. The same goes for our politics. If the majority of Canadians are withdrawing from the political process, the health of our democracy is in peril.
- Meanwhile, Ralph Surette is right to highlight the Cons' contempt for Canada's democratic institutions. But I will note that it makes sense for the opposition parties to focus on the problems which voters experience directly to make clear that those abuses have wider implications.

- Finally, Joseph Heath comments that our political system has seen its priorities almost entirely reversed, with the substantive decisions of legislators and political parties now seen almost solely as a means to the end of electoral outcomes rather than the other way around.

Burning question

So apparently this week's Macleans debate went ahead despite the exclusion of a party leader with seats in Parliament who wanted to be heard. Which raises the question: how is it that Elizabeth May didn't refuse to participate, as she demands everybody else do when the shoe is on the other foot?

Friday, August 07, 2015



Also, pay no attention to this guy:
Justin Trudeau:  The reason environmental groups in Canada and across the United States are so concerned about Canadian oil is because Mr. Harper has turned the oil sands into the scapegoat around the world for climate change. He is – has put a big target on our oil sands, which are going to be an important part of our economy for a number of years to come, although we do have to get beyond them.
Update: Or indeed this one

Musical interlude

The Hotelier - An Introduction To The Album

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Christos Tsiolkas talks to Yanis Varoufakis about the Troika's appalling contempt for Greek democracy. And Barbara Ehrenreich laments the fact that only well-off people are given any meaningful opportunity to speak about poverty and deprivation - though that should highlight the need for workers to organize to ensure their voices are heard:
There are many thousands of people like these – gifted journalists who want to address serious social issues but cannot afford to do so in a media environment that thrives by refusing to pay, or anywhere near adequately pay, its “content providers.” Some were born into poverty and have stories to tell about coping with low-wage jobs, evictions or life as a foster child. Others inhabit the once-proud urban “creative class,” which now finds itself priced out of its traditional neighborhoods, like Park Slope or LA’s Echo Park, scrambling for health insurance and childcare, sleeping on other people’s couches. They want to write – or do photography or documentaries. They have a lot to say, but it’s beginning to make more sense to apply for work as a cashier or a fry-cook.
This is the real face of journalism today: not million dollar-a-year anchorpersons, but low-wage workers and downwardly spiraling professionals who can’t muster up expenses to even start on the articles, photo-essays and videos they want to do, much less find an outlet to cover the costs of doing them. You can’t, say, hop on a plane to cover a police shooting in your hometown if you don’t have a credit card.

This impoverishment of journalists impoverishes journalism. We come to find less and less in the media about the working poor, as if about 15% of the population quietly emigrated while we weren’t looking. Media outlets traditionally neglected stories about the downtrodden because they don’t sit well on the same page with advertisements for diamonds and luxury homes. And now there are fewer journalists on hand at major publications to arouse the conscience of editors and other gatekeepers. Coverage of poverty accounts for less than 1% of American news, or, as former Times columnist Bob Herbert has put it: “We don’t have coverage of poverty in this country. If there is a story about poor people in the New York Times or in the Washington Post, that’s the exception that proves the rule. We do not cover poverty. We do not cover the poor.”

As for commentary about poverty – a disproportionate share of which issues from very well paid, established, columnists like David Brooks of the New York Times and George Will of the Washington Post – all too often, it tends to reflect the historical biases of economic elites, that the poor are different than “we” are, less educated, intelligent, self-disciplined and more inclined to make “bad lifestyle choices.” If the pundits sometimes sound like the current Republican presidential candidates, this is not because there is a political conspiracy afoot. It’s just what happens when the people who get to opine about inequality are drawn almost entirely from the top of the income distribution. And there have been few efforts focused on journalism about poverty and inequality, or aimed at supporting journalists who are themselves poor.
- Pam Frache explains why a fair minimum wage should be seen as a necessary step in boosting the lot of vulnerable workers - if far from the only change that should be made toward that end. And Scott Piatkowski points out the Libs' utter incoherence in addressing the NDP's promise of a $15 federal minimum wage, while Andrew Langille sets the record straight and concludes that 135,000 workers would benefit directly (to say nothing of the many more who would see indirect benefits from bottom-up wage growth).

- Meanwhile, Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the massive amounts of wages stolen by Ontario restaurants, along with the lack of effective mechanisms to ensure their collection.

- Finally, Travis Lupick reports on the surveillance and disruption of peaceful environmental activists in Canada - along with the atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust it's designed to foment among people who want to work for the good of their communities.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

And the verdict is...

Having set out my criteria for watching tonight's leaders' debate in today's column, I'll offer a quick rundown as to my evaluation.

Justin Trudeau was by far the weakest of the lot in terms of both depth and flexibility of thought from the very beginning, answering Paul Wells' question about whether he could do more than what was in his party's economic platform by merely reciting talking points about the exact plan which was being challenged. And matters didn't improve for Trudeau throughout: at best he was aware enough to find allies among the other leaders on some points, but he offered little by way of either detail or explanation as the discussion progressed on any issue.

(Meanwhile, his final statement in which his occasional tendency toward word salad gave way to word compost can't be described as much beyond cringe-inducing.)

Elizabeth May was rarely the subject of anybody else's direct challenges, which served to limit her involvement at times but also to allow her to pick her spots. To her credit, she mostly did so to good effect - though it's unclear how and why she managed to completely reverse her position on suppression of democratic governance in the name of trade in the course of a minute between the domestic and international scene.

Rather than playing matters entirely safe, Thomas Mulcair offered more new content than any of the other leaders (including both examples from his experience and memorable lines aimed at Stephen Harper), and found opportunities to work it into the debate. The downside is that it was tough to tell much about Mulcair's response to the unexpected when he didn't face much by way of surprises, but it hardly seems a problem to have been prepared.

Finally, Stephen Harper stuck almost entirely to talking points we've heard dozens of times before (the bulk of which have long since been debunked) and was the lone leader to distinctly fail to acknowledge anybody else's points even on legislation where he had another party's support. At best, one can say that Harper hewed more to the chosen topics and went into slightly more depth than his spokespeople tend to - but that's hardly a ringing endorsement.

In sum, when it came to the leaders' judgment, Trudeau seemed out of his element, May held her own within her chosen niches, Mulcair was thoroughly prepared and Harper appeared isolated in his own bubble. Which is to say that while the debate had its interesting moments, we may have learned less than we might have hoped.

New column day

Here, with my suggestions as to what viewers should watch for in tonight's leaders' debate - particularly in a campaign where we'll have ample opportunity to see everything but interaction between party leaders.

For further reading...
- David Reevely describes the staging behind most of the campaign events we'll see between now and election day. And Scott Reid takes a look at the preparation which goes into each debate as well.
- Macleans offers a primer on tonight's debate. And Aaron Wherry, Bruce Anderson, Laura Payton, and Chantal Hebert all note a few additional points to watch for.
- Finally, Rick Salutin laments the new boutique debate format.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Michael Leachman debunks the claim that progressive tax rates on the rich cause any problems from an economic development standpoint. And Daisy Srblin argues for a strong and unapologetic movement toward a fairer tax system:
It is now up to the left to provide an alternative. Let’s stop tinkering with a broken model, and instead come up with something new and radical, based on the fundamental principles of  redistribution and fairness.

What could this system look like? The Fabian report ‘Tax for our Times’ provides plenty of ideas. Reasserting the salience of tax as a tool for good is vital – more needs to be done to connect the payment of taxes to the funding of strong, popular services, argues Fabian general secretary Andrew Harrop. Next, says LSE Professor Howard Glennerster, the left needs to commit itself to shifting the burden of taxation away from earned income and on to wealth, where inequalities are much greater. We should tax property and assets far more progressively.
More than this, we need to discuss tax in a way that is value-driven. A fairer tax system is a moral imperative; reform is an essential step in the path to a more equal society, and the left should be unapologetic about this. A redistributive tax and benefits system will enhance social mobility, allowing people to fulfil their potential, irrespective of background.

The left must therefore push for this vision of society and proudly defend tax, shaping its future reform by making the debate more publicly accessible. Tax reform should neither be locked away by politicians from public view, nor left to the expert few: it needs to be put back in the hands of the many. The public want to contribute to a system that is fair, and the left must show them how that might look.
- Meanwhile, the OECD's Employment Outlook examines how income inequality tends to be sustained over the course of one's life.

- Marc Lee examines the Cons' home renovation tax bauble and finds it to be as useless as most of their election-buying schemes. And PressProgress highlights the fact that Canadians don't buy a word of the Con's economic spin:
Stephen Harper thinks his economy is "head and shoulders above" the rest of the industrialized world, but what do the Canadian people think?

Well, according to a newly released internal report prepared for the Privy Council Office (that's the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister's Office, by the way), the three words Canadians thought best describes Stephen Harper's economy are "uneven," "fragile" and "weak."
As the report explains, "there was a fairly consistent narrative across locations to explain the choice of those words":
"The economy was seen as uneven mostly because of the regional disparities in growth, wealth and job creation. Some also talked about income inequalities, perceived shrinking of the middle class and local poverty as signs that the economy was uneven. Fragile was another key choice of attribute for the state of the economy. This sense of fragility was created mainly by participants’ impressions that Canada was vulnerable to shocks that may not be of its own doing. The drop in oil prices and the subsequent devaluation of the Canadian dollar were seen as signs of that fragility. Almost all participants were aware of the sharp decline in oil prices and of the devaluation of the Canadian dollar."
- Finally, Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood studies the effect of investor-state dispute settlement as used by resource corporations to undermine environmental policy. And Thomas Walkom writes that we should be hearing far more about the dangers of the TPP while voters are in a position to challenge its imposition.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

On unforeseen consequences

In retrospect, we should have figured that when the Cons made submission to enhanced interrogation a requirement for entry into their campaign events, they were setting themselves up for this kind of audience reaction:

But rest assured, if nobody's happy to see Harper arrive or speak, there are plenty of Canadians who will be ecstatic to see him leave.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Michael Hiltzik discusses how corporate apologists are trying (but failing) to minimize the existence and importance of income inequality. Lawrence Martin notes that the rest of Canada's economic indicators are similarly signalling that Conservative dogma is of absolutely no use in the real world. And Michael Geist observes that among the new "caretaker" rules is a provision allowing the Cons to keep trying to inflict the TPP as their parting shot at Canada even if their election plans are going nowhere.

- Michael Harris points out just a few of the whoppers which Stephen Harper will have to try to sell over the course of the federal election campaign. And it's well worth noting that Harper will need to do so while being trusted by virtually nobody outside his party's core supporters.

- In contrast, Antonia Zerbisias comments that Thomas Mulcair's has seemed impervious to attacks so far. (Though there's no doubt that he'll be tested more during the campaign than he has been yet.)

- Judy Shum comments on the progress made by the Housing First program in providing a secure base for previously-homeless Saskatoon residents.

- Finally, Hugh MacKenzie counters the Fraser Institute's latest attempt to pitch retirement only for the few. Noralou Roos and Evelyn Forget make the case for a guaranteed annual income to make sure everybody enjoys enough security to make choices. And CBC reports that university students in Newfoundland and Labrador are set to start receiving grants rather than being buried under a lifetime of student loan debt.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Alert cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Robert Reich describes how U.S. voters are rejecting the concept of a ruling class from both the left and the right - while noting that it's vital to get the answer right as to which alternative is worth pursuing. And Owen Jones sees Jeremy Corbyn's rise as an inevitable response to the emptiness of New Labour in the UK:
Corbyn’s campaign has been unique in the Labour leadership campaign in actually offering coherent policies and a fleshed-out economic strategy: a radical housing programme; tax justice; democratic public ownership of utilities and services; a public investment bank to transform the economy; quantitative easing to invest in desperately needed infrastructure; a £10 minimum wage; a National Education Service; a costed abolition of tuition fees; women’s rights; and so on. His campaign is making astounding headway – against the odds – because it offers a coherent, inspiring and, crucially, a hopeful vision. His rivals offer little of any substance. What’s left for them?
If those in the self-described “centre-left” offered a coherent, inspiring vision, the Corbyn phenomenon would never have happened. They have failed to develop one. If they want to regain momentum within their own party – let alone win over the country – they should sideline the voices of negativity and learn how to inspire people. And however much they resort to cod psychology or sneering about the Corbyn phenomenon, the truth remains: they made it possible.
- Andrew Nikiforuk reminds us that the storm currently swamping Canada's economy was entirely predictable - and indeed predicted by those who didn't buy the Cons' belief in a narrow resource economy. And Louis-Philippe Rochon duly slams the Cons for now making matters worse with gratuitous austerity as another recession forms on their watch:
There may be a time and place to balance the books but now is not the time. Every economist today will tell you that Harper's pursuit of balancing the federal budget in times of crisis and indeed, in times of recession, is simply a bull-headed and wrong idea.

It does not help the economy; in fact, it hurts it — and hurts it deeply. At the very least, it is preventing the economy from taking flight and keeps it well anchored in a depressed state.

What we need now is more fiscal stimulus.
We are well aware of the absence of empirical support in favour of austerity, yet austerians like Harper insist on claiming that their approach is somehow superior, that contractions in fiscal stimulus will somehow, magically, be expansionary.

Imagine geocentrists being shown proof that the earth actually revolved around the sun, and dismissing the new science as fuddleduddlery. This is the world in which austerians like Harper live: first, deny fiscal stimulus can make any positive contribution to economic growth, despite the mountain of scientific evidence. Next, deny the mountain exists.

In the face of the lack of evidence and empirical support for their views and policies, one can only conclude that ideology and powerful interests are what keep these ideas afloat.

This is where Harper's policies come in: adopt policies that bring rewards to those who support you to the detriment of the rest, since they will contribute to your party that will get your elected and perpetuate those failed policies.

In this world, austerity and balanced budgets have nothing to do with economics. It's all politics.
- Michael Plaxton explains the "caretaker convention" which should limit how much more the Cons' ongoing power is used now that the campaign is officially underway.

- Finally, Ian Welsh offers a useful summary of what's at stake in October's election, while kev takes a first look at some of the policy choices on offer. Karl Nerenberg sets out the record that each party will have to defend. Greg Lyle examines the current party standings and paths to victory. Luke Savage rightly laments the state of election coverage which seems bent on focusing more and more on the trivial at the expense of the substantive. And Warren Bell writes about how the election may serve as a decision point for the CBC in particular, as the Cons have taken several steps to suggest it won't last in its current form if they have any say in the matter.

Monday, August 03, 2015

On control freaks

While we're on the subject of Stephen Harper's campaign to insult Canada, let's note the significance of his choice of attacks on Tom Mulcair.

As others have pointed out, the "career politician" complaint makes absolutely no sense as an attempt to contrast Mulcair against Harper - who has been in politics longer, and has far less of an outside resume, than his NDP counterpart.

But it might be explained if the Cons see a need to contrast Mulcair against Justin Trudeau - particularly to revive the latter's campaign enough to create the vote splits which the Cons need to have any hope of survival when two-thirds of Canadian voters want them gone.

In other words, the Cons look to be banking on being able to control not only the message they're sending to possible supporters, but also the behaviour of voters who have long since ruled them out. And it's doubtful that even a doubled expense limit will leave enough room to make that happen - particularly given the credibility issues arising when the Cons' messages are now as contradictory as they are ill-founded.

On unconventional strategies

One might think that needlessly picking fights with every single person one can name is something less than an ideal campaign tactic. But Stephen Harper has other ideas

Or put another way, Stephen Harper is campaigning as Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, only with more anti-social tendencies.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Chantal Panozzo discusses the lack of work-life balance which serves as the default in the U.S. - and notes how preposterous precarious work looks once a person has experienced an alternative:
Before I moved to Switzerland for almost a decade, American Reality was all I knew. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment making $30,000 a year in a job where I worked almost seven days a week with no overtime pay and received 10 days of paid time off a year.

In other words, for the hours worked, I was making minimum wage, if that. The glamour of this job was supposed to make up for the hours, but in reality, working every weekend is a ticket to burnout — not success.

My husband and I were so accustomed to American Reality that when he was offered an opportunity to work in Switzerland, we both thought about travel and adventure — not about improving our quality of life. It hadn't occurred to us that we could improve our quality of life simply by moving.

But without realizing it, or even asking for it, a better life quality came to us. And this is why, now that I'm back, I'm angry that my own country isn't providing more for its people.
- Travis Lupick highlights why we should encourage the development of supportive housing rather than assuming there's anything to be gained by trying to push it away.

- Daniel Tencer reports on how the TPP would have prevented Crown entities including the CBC from operating in the public interest rather than as a commercial body - meaning we may have dodged a bullet in the breakdown of last week's talks. And Alice Olstein points out how trade agreements and control by financial elites have led Puerto Rico to fiscal disaster.

- Jacqueline Nelson writes about the confusing and ineffective patchwork of funding for prescription drugs in Canada.

- Finally, ThinkPol reports that the Cons have pushed any public access to documents evaluating the constitutionality of their two-tiered citizenship and terror legislation until after election day.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

On end goals

We can fully expect Canada's election campaign to feature plenty more talk about possible coalition outcomes - which are favoured by the public, and may represent the best way to ensure the Cons' replacement if Stephen Harper again tries to cling to power. And as I've noted before, there remains little reason to take the Libs seriously in their threats not to cooperate.

But I'll take a moment to answer the latest excuse as to how the Libs are trying to present themselves as a party of change while needlessly ruling out what may prove to be the only way to get there - that being in a junior role in a coalition might be a fatal blow to the party.

Back when a coalition was formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats after the UK's 2010 election, I had this to say about the difference between what the Lib Dems negotiated for and what the NDP has pursued in past election cycles when it's sought to be the junior coalition partner:
Particularly during the 2008 coalition discussions, the NDP has consistently made clear that its top priority has been securing positive policy outcomes. And in order to reach those, it's been willing to trade off any expectation of top cabinet positions such as deputy Prime Minister, as well as to work in structures where its goal of electoral reform isn't on the table.

In contrast, the two largest benefits for the Lib Dems in their agreement seem to have little to do with substantive policy. Instead, Nick Clegg's appointment as deputy PM and the promised referendum on an alternative vote model look to be the main carrots for the Lib Dems in an agreement loaded with conservative policy priorities with only a modicum of mitigation for the worst off.
In other words, a party negotiating from a third-place position doesn't have a lot to gain merely from pursuing cabinet positions rather than policy accomplishments, particularly if it has no clue what it wants to achieve once it gets a seat at the cabinet table. And the subsequent annihilation of the Lib Dems offers evidence in favour of that argument.

But a third-place party which has a genuine policy vision will find few better opportunities to see it brought to life than in at the negotiating table and the cabinet table alongside a party seeking which needs its support to win a majority in Parliament.

Now, it's true that it's possible to support legislation on a case-by-case basis without a more formal coalition. But if anybody's needlessly confusing the issue, it's the party which is prematurely ruling one of those options out in the absence of anything even remotely approaching a defensible reason.

Moreover, a coalition which signals the availability of a stable alternate government to the Governor General forms an important subset of the cooperation options which can usefully be pursued - placing a significant onus on the Libs to provide a better explanation than they've deigned to provide so far.

In sum, if there is a reason for the Liberal Party to exist other than inertia, that reason should offer a justification to work with others - as well as the promise of building the party in the future through the accomplishments achieved under the coalition. We should then expect the Liberals to be able to articulate what they'd want to pursue (under a coalition or otherwise) if they do end up as the third party in a minority Parliament - and to be willing to work with the NDP and others to get it done.

On the other hand, if the Liberal Party is so confused about its own reasons for existence as to have no idea what values or policies are important enough to make cooperation worthwhile, then it's hard to see what Canadian voters could possibly have to gain by keeping it around. And so the more the Libs whine that they'd be doomed if they tried to work with anybody, the harder it is to escape the conclusion that they're broken beyond repair either way.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Frank Pasquale and Siva Vainhyanathan write that we shouldn't mistake schemes intended to get around employee standards and other laws for innovations worth celebrating or embracing:
Uber has confronted admittedly stifling restrictions on taxi driver licenses in France by launching a service called UberPop. Several authorities in Europe have ruled UberPop illegal, but Uber kept it operating anyway as it appealed. Now France has charged Uber’s general director for France, Thibaud Simphal, and the company’s director for Western Europe, Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty with enabling taxi-driving by non-professional drivers and “deceptive commercial practices”.

One could make a strong argument that France would benefit from more taxi drivers and more competition. But that’s for the people of France to decide through their elected representatives. The spirit of Silicon Valley should not dictate policy for the rest of the world. New York, Paris, London, Cairo, and New Delhi all have different values and traffic issues. Local needs should be respected.

Consider what it would mean for such a universalising approach to prevail. The business model of Uber would become that of law-flouting bosses generally. Reincorporate as a “platform”, intermediate customer requests and work demands with an app, and voila!, far fewer laws to comply with. Worse, this rebel attitude signals to the larger culture that laws and regulations are quaint and archaic, and therefore hindrances to progress. That could undermine faith in republican government itself.

In the 1950s and 60s, Southern governors thought they’d found a similar tactic to avoid the civil rights laws that they most despised. Though the strategy failed, the idea still animates reactionaries. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, now running for president, has even suggested that the US supreme court’s recent gay marriage decision should effectively be nullified by sovereign states.

Of course, a republic can’t run without authorities who follow the rule of law. Civil disobedience by citizens can be an important challenge to corrupt or immoral politicians, but when corporate leaders themselves start breaking the law in their own narrow interests, societal order breaks down.
- Tyler Hamilton writes about the unnecessary risks caused by the poorly-regulated transportation of hazardous chemicals. And Mychaylo Prystupa reports that one of the Cons' last acts before calling an election was to take another step toward letting oil executives regulate their own industry, while the ITF highlights how the Cons' cutbacks and anti-regulation dogma led directly to the damage caused by the English Bay oil spill.

- Boyd Tonkin writes about the increasing significance and permanence of inherited wealth in the UK. And Simon Wren-Lewis reminds us that the public is broadly against needless austerity and insufficient government - meaning there's no reason to settle for political parties who are inclined to presume otherwise.

- And finally, Derrick O'Keefe discusses how the Cons' bloated federal election campaign looks more like a long goodbye than a plan with much prospect of convincing voters to keep putting up with their abuses.

Good to go

A few images which may or may not become highly relevant in just a few minutes.