Saturday, July 09, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne discusses how inequality and insecurity inevitably serve as the key explanation for the rise of right-wing populism. And Adam Johnson rightly challenges the theory being presented by some that the answer to expressions of frustration by people left out of policy decision-making is to restrict democracy even further, while Adela Jones points out that the Trans-Pacific Partnership looms as yet another means of allowing corporations to dictate public choices.

- Meanwhile, Luke Kawa comments on new research showing that the general practice of corporations is to mislead the public in order to ensure insider gains:
(R)esearchers developed two hypotheses: either managers make disclosures in a timely matter (and their forward-looking information is quickly reflected in stock prices) or members of the C-Suite actively "lean against the wind" to understate good or bad news — or even offer the completely wrong impression of what's transpired since the last quarter ended.

Their findings suggest that guidance (or "bundled forecasts") provided by managers as well as the general tone of the conference call (analyzed using a "bag of words" approach) "point toward rejection of Timely Disclosure in favor of the Leaning Against the Wind alternative."

"Managers’ forecasts and tones in conference calls are, according to objective measures, more pessimistic when managers have positive post-quarter information, suggesting that at announcement they actively manage down investor expectations and stock price," they write.
A cynic, however, might suggest that by suppressing the stock price by failing to disclose accurate information about the current quarter, managers are giving themselves the opportunity to acquire shares  at a discount to what they would've otherwise paid, once the blackout period is over.

The evidence is with the cynics.

The team found that the relationship between underwhelming-to-negative commentary and forecasts from management (in spite of a real-time corporate sales indicator suggesting robust activity) and a positive return in the period starting a few days after earnings were reported is stronger and more reliable when insiders are purchasing shares during this period. "This implies that insiders understate their private information to purchase undervalued stocks prior to the price increase," they write.

"Unfortunately, we do not see any coherent alternative hypothesis — other than managerial manipulation for personal gain — to explain our particular rejection of the Timely Disclosure Hypothesis," the team concludes.
- Olivia Ward reports on UNICEF's latest study showing that tens of millions of child deaths around the globe are expected to result from inequality between now and 2030.

- Ryan McGreal observes that Canada Post's excuse for planning to lock out workers is based entirely on a crisis which it manufactured for itself. And David Climenhaga notes that the media seems far less inclined to warn about the consequences of shutting down a vital public service when it's management choosing to make that happen.

- Finally, Dean Beeby reports on a CRA investigation which revealed tens of millions of dollars worth of rebate and incentive income hidden by drugstores - yet resulted in no charges.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Musical interlude

Slammerkin - Morning

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Trevor Hancock writes that if we're going to designate anything as a public health emergency, poverty should top the list:
I was pleased to see the B.C. Ministry of Health use the powers of the provincial health officer to designate opioid drug overdose deaths a public-health emergency. But this is not the only, nor is it the largest, such emergency.

Of the likely candidates for designation as a public-health emergency, none seem as important as poverty, especially in B.C.
Personal experience and common sense, as well as a great deal of evidence, tell us that poverty results in poorer health. There is little doubt that inequalities in income translate to inequalities in health, which translate into additional health-care costs. It is time the B.C. government recognized that if opioid overdose deaths are an emergency, poverty is a far greater and more long-lasting emergency.

We need a concerted plan to reduce poverty and the health inequalities and economic impacts that result. Among other things, this plan needs to include a fair minimum wage, so people who work full time are not left in poverty, a level of social assistance that respects human dignity and a solid commitment to ensure that no child in B.C. grows up in poverty.
- Frances Ryan points out that major social issues like child poverty and the failures austerity have been driven out of the U.K.'s headlines as a result of the Brexit vote.
- Don Pittis writes that we shouldn't expect the public to put up with trade deals which undermine employment, while Daniel Kitts interviews Maude Barlow as to what type of agreement would actually be worth pursuing. And John Holmes and Jeffrey Carey take a look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership's fine print to see how it looks to undermine Canada's auto sector.

- James Wilt discusses how lobbying rules are easily evaded by the corporate interests whose influence over government is most problematic. And Mike De Souza reports on Jean Charest's secret meeting with the National Energy Board after he had been hired as a consultant by TransCanada as a glaring example.

- Finally, Christo Aivalis points out that the major issue in dispute between CUPW and Canada Post is the former's refusal to sell out future workers. And H.G. Watson outlines the issues being bargained while pointing out the need for the Trudeau Libs to rein in management run amok.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

New column day

Here, on the impending premiers' summit - and the need for any new deal on internal trade to recognize that provinces have to maintain the ability to foster their own economic development.

For further reading...
- Bill Curry and Robert Fife reported here on the pre-summit PR campaign to force the provinces to sign on, while Gordon Isfeld followed up.
- Meanwhile, Angella MacEwen offered a far more reasonable take on domestic trade:
Proponents are trying to argue that a negative list is ‘modern’ – but it’s just privatization and deregulation through the back door. As I told Blacklock’s Reporter, implementing a negative list to solve Canada’s internal trade barriers makes about as much sense as using a chain saw to trim your fingernails.
- Finally, Linda McQuaig highlights the entirely valid reasons for questioning the spread of "trade" agreements which entrench corporate power. And John Milloy's take on the need to listen to the public and take its interests into account is worth a look for those who haven't seen it yet.

[Edit: updated link.]

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Reuters reports on Tidjane Thiam's recognition that inequality and underfunded education likely played roles in the Brexit vote's outcome. And David Blanchflower rightly argues that the UK will need economic stimulus in the wake of the vote - though I'd be less optimistic as to the prospect of it being provided in light of the corporatist dogma of the current government.

- James Wilt challenges the claim that we should let oil barons off the hook for climate change and instead place the blame on everybody as consumers of fossil fuels:
(I)n addition to ignoring technological alternatives (public transit, geothermal heating, passive solar homes) and other ways of living life (Indigenous land-based communities or inner-city attempts at minimalism like No Impact Man), such visual rhetoric implies that oil and gas companies simply provide the goods that people demand to maintain their “average” lifestyles.

But it wasn’t “average” North Americans who knowingly spread climate misinformation, funded climate denying organizations, leased record amounts of land to oil and gas companies, invested in highways over public transit, created and maintained subsidies to fossil fuel companies and promoted the construction of pipelines and export facilities that will neutralize any emissions reductions made in other sectors.

We live in a society in which responsibility for everything is being offloaded onto the individual,” says William Rees, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and originator of the “ecological footprint analysis.” “It’s this ‘there’s no such thing as society.’ That’s just not true. The real things, the real game-changers here, would be regulations imposed by government.”

But the “we” rhetoric  conveniently ignores the incredible access that oil and gas companies have to government via ongoing lobbying efforts.

For instance, since the Liberals were elected in October, Suncor has met with federal officials 54 times, including three times with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Imperial Oil and Shell Canada have contributed an additional 37 and 38 meetings, respectively.

Industry organizations have also done their fair share of lobbying, including the Petroleum Services Association of Canada (52 meetings), Canadian Gas Association (45 times), the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association (44 meetings) and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (36 meetings).

Most Canadians simply don’t have that kind of pricey access to pressure governments to shape policies. Nor can many throw large amounts of money at political parties during campaigns or pay thousands for exclusive access to premiers at fundraisers.
- Meanwhile, Adrian Morrow uncovers the identities of the donors paying for access to Kathleen Wynne. And CBC reports on Justin Trudeau's stay at "summer camp for billionaires".

- Jim Pugh makes the case as to how a basic income would be better for business than perpetual insecurity. And Steven Greenhouse examines the move toward organization among on-demand workers.

- Finally, Victoria Wiebe discusses the need to better coordinate primary health care and mental health resources.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- John Milloy discusses the difference between trade and corporate control - while noting that recent "trade agreements" have tended to favour the latter without being the subject of meaningful public debate:
For far too long, elites have characterized trade discussions as too complicated for the general public to understand. It’s time we engaged ordinary citizens. My only plea is that we don’t ignore the growing power and influence that multinationals and foreign investors are gaining through these agreements.

Modern-day trade agreements are not simply about country to country relations. Most also contain something known as Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. These allow foreign investors and corporations to challenge a government’s policies, actions or decisions if they believe they will hurt their bottom line. To make matters worse, these matters are not dealt with through a country’s regular judicial system but instead by special trade tribunals that lack the same procedural protections as a court.

Not only is the process questionable, but it also allows corporations to challenge matters such as environmental, health and labour protections that they feel hurt their business. Under NAFTA, for example, corporations have challenged Canadian laws designed to prohibit the export of PCB waste; ban gasoline additives suspected of being neurotoxins; restrict fracking; and stop development in environmentally sensitive areas. In 1994 the tobacco giant Philip Morris International threatened a NAFTA suit if the federal government went ahead with plain packaging rules for cigarettes.
As the frequency of these challenges increases, are we going to start to see the erosion of vital programs — like public healthcare – as companies challenge the lack of private competition in these areas? Reminiscent to what happened in Canada, Philip Morris recently brought a claim against the Australian government’s plain-packaging laws for cigarette packs. Although unsuccessful, it does demonstrate the steps that corporations will take to challenge domestic policies.
It is worth questioning, however, the constraints being placed on us as we negotiate more and more trade agreements.  Sadly, few Canadians are even aware of them.  It took European complaints rather than Canadian ones, for example, to force changes to the Canadian European free trade agreement to provide greater protection for governments against foreign corporations.

As a nation we may decide that these infringements on our freedom of action are worth it, but let’s have the discussion.  Trade brings many benefits but isn’t it time we wake up to the full costs.
- And Deirdre Fulton notes that substantial public opposition has forced the European Union to give countries a say in whether to push forward with CETA.

- CBC reports on the provincial auditor's report (PDF) examining the Wall government's gross mishandling of land acquisitions for the Global Transportation Hub. And Tammy Robert thoroughly excoriates the Saskatchewan Party for its dishonesty and incompetence in dealing with carbon capture and storage.

- Mike de Souza exposes the veil of secrecy over pipelines which are found to be "ticking time bombs" by the National Energy Board. And Charles Pierce notes that the U.S. doesn't even have that level of monitoring of its own pipelines.

- Finally, Tom Stafford examines the underlying elements of trust - and finds that expertise tends to rank well below affinity in determining what people are willing to consider credible.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Inclined cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jeff Guo reports on Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson's research showing how the U.S. went from standing out internationally for its relatively equal distribution of wealth, to being equally exceptional in its inequality:
In the Revolutionary era, inequality in America was dramatically lower than it was in England or the Netherlands, in part because of the abundant opportunity (enjoyed at the expense of the Native Americans), and in part because of the kinds of people who immigrated.

We get some impression of this from historical documents. George Washington predicted that the young nation would allow even the lower classes to prosper thanks to “the equal distribution of property, the great plenty of unoccupied lands, and the facility of procuring the means of subsistence.” In his chronicle of the young United States in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville famously said that “nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of condition among the people.”

The new data not only confirms these anecdotal accounts, but it also puts the past in perspective. According to Lindert and Williamson’s calculations, today’s income inequality may be the highest the nation has ever known. 

“We went from one of the most egalitarian places in the world to one of the least,” Williamson said. “What happened?”
- Julius Grey and L.M. Casgrain discuss how economic inequality is harming Canadian democracy. And Thomas Walkom points out the inevitability that the public will eventually get fed up with being told there is no alternative to economic systems which leave them perpetually more vulnerable.

- But in case anybody was under the illusion that the Trudeau government has changed much of anything on that front, Jeremy Nuttall reports on how the Libs have stacked the parliamentary deck in favour of the continued exploitation of temporary foreign workers.

- Finally, Angella MacEwen examines the economic stimulus effects of a higher minimum wage. And Michael Mendelson, Sherri Torjman and Ken Battle study the effects of a bolstered Canada Pension Plan, while recognizing there's still room for improvement in ensuring a fair retirement income for all.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Mark Karlin interviews Richard Wolff about the relationship between unfettered capitalism and poverty:
How is poverty an inevitable by-product of capitalism? Doesn't this make all these charitable drives "to eliminate poverty" disingenuous because it cannot be eliminated in a capitalistic system?
Poverty has always accompanied capitalism (as Thomas Piketty's work documents yet again). As an economic system, it has proven to be as successful in producing wealth at one pole as it is in producing poverty at the other. Periodic "rediscoveries of" and campaigns against poverty have not changed that. Capitalism's defenders, having long promoted the system as the means to overcome both absolute and relative poverty (i.e. to be an equalizing system), now change their tune. They either abandon equality as a social good or goal or else try to avoid discussing poverty altogether.

Why do you see another economic implosion, as we saw in 2008, as inevitable under the current capitalistic economic order in the US?

While "inevitable" is not a word or concept I use, my sense of what has happened in and to the US economy sees reason to believe another 2008-like implosion is quite likely. The reason is this: no real changes have been made in US or global capitalism. Corporate capitalism proved strong enough and its critics weak enough to enable the imposition of austerities as the chief policy response everywhere. So the speeding train of capitalism is "back on track," resuming its rush toward stone walls of excess debt, stagnant mass incomes, capital relocating overseas, etc. The too-big-to-fail and the too-unequal-to-be-sustained have only become bigger and more unequal.
- Beat the Press rightly notes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership serves primarily as protectionism for the rich rather than a means of freeing anything. And LOLGOP argues that Donald Trump offers about the most compelling example possible as to the value of inheritance taxes to prevent previous generations from locking in wealth and power.

- Jon Sanderson discusses how economic deprivation in turn tends to foment distrust and prejudice. And the Vancouver Sun editorial board highlights the need to do more to ensure an adequate supply of housing, while Chris Seto raises the question of what happens to children who rely on school nutrition programs when school is out for the summer.

- Jordan Press reports on a 2015 presentation by federal civil servants of the social and economic benefits of multicultural inclusion - which of course didn't stop the Cons from choosing xenophobia instead in an effort to cling to power. 

- Finally, Bruce Campion-Smith reports on the Libs' scheme to sell off Canada's airports for short-term funding, while Brent Patterson points out just a few of the more glaring problems with that plan. And PressProgress notes that if given its druthers, the Fraser Institute would go as far as to privatize Canada Day.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading:

- Ross Douthat (!) discusses the distinction between actual cosmopolitanism, and the global elitism that's instead come to dominate international power relations:
Genuine cosmopolitanism is a rare thing. It requires comfort with real difference, with forms of life that are truly exotic relative to one’s own. It takes its cue from a Roman playwright’s line that “nothing human is alien to me,” and goes outward ready to be transformed by what it finds.

The people who consider themselves “cosmopolitan” in today’s West, by contrast, are part of a meritocratic order that transforms difference into similarity, by plucking the best and brightest from everywhere and homogenizing them into the peculiar species that we call “global citizens.”

This species is racially diverse (within limits) and eager to assimilate the fun-seeming bits of foreign cultures — food, a touch of exotic spirituality. But no less than Brexit-voting Cornish villagers, our global citizens think and act as members of a tribe.
(I)t’s a problem that our tribe of self-styled cosmopolitans doesn’t see itself clearly as a tribe: because that means our leaders can’t see themselves the way the Brexiteers and Trumpistas and Marine Le Pen voters see them.

They can’t see that what feels diverse on the inside can still seem like an aristocracy to the excluded, who look at cities like London and see, as Peter Mandler wrote for Dissent after the Brexit vote, “a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations.”

They can’t see that paeans to multicultural openness can sound like self-serving cant coming from open-borders Londoners who love Afghan restaurants but would never live near an immigrant housing project, or American liberals who hail the end of whiteness while doing everything possible to keep their kids out of majority-minority schools.

They can’t see that their vision of history’s arc bending inexorably away from tribe and creed and nation-state looks to outsiders like something familiar from eras past: A powerful caste’s self-serving explanation for why it alone deserves to rule the world.
- Meanwhile, the Economist also recognizes the reasons for anger at a neoliberal economic model which has left far too many people worse off.

- Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel highlight the connection between denial of race and gender discrimination, and the belief that inclusive language doesn't matter.

- Mike Soron comments on the need to fight back against "climate conservatism" which pays lip service to protecting our planet from man-made pollution while denying the possibility of actually doing anything. And Steven Poole points out how zombie ideas manage to continue spreading long after they've been disproven - with the pecuniary interests of people who profit from their acceptance looming as one of the most obvious explanations.

- Dean Beeby reports that contrary to their campaign promises, the Libs are encouraging the Canada Revenue Agency to continue pursuing charities politically targeted by the Cons for daring to pursue social justice.

- Finally, Shane Bauer offers a long-form look at a private prison from the perspective of a newly-hired correctional officer.