Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

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

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

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

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

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

On selective interest

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

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

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

Friday, August 19, 2016

Musical interlude

Oliver Heldens - Melody

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

New column day

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

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

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Elevated cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Nora Loreto slams the Wynne Libs' "red tape" gimmick, while highlighting the need for people to claim a voice in rules largely intended to protect them as workers and consumers:
One person's red tape is another person's health and safety, but Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne hopes that workers won't make this connection.

Wynne's government has ripped off an initiative from the U.K. called the (cut the) Red Tape Challenge. It seeks input into how to get rid of regulations and save money in all aspects of Ontario's economy.

When the initiative was launched in March, Wynne was reported to have said this: "One of the conditions of success is to free up businesses from unnecessary paper work, inspections and reporting....This will give owners and employees more time to focus on growing their company's productivity and competitiveness and growing their business."

No word on whether or not the inspections that showed how widespread Employment Standards Act abuses are, are in Wynne's crosshairs.
If any unions have involved themselves in this process, or are actively boycotting it in protest, their communications has been buried by the communications of the Ontario government, because there doesn't seem to be anything out there. A crowdsourced campaign can be cheap and even fun to derail, and considering what's riding on the process's outcome, it's concerning that the Ontario Federation of Labour and other Ontario unions don't seem to have made this "challenge" a priority.

In Britain, union leaders called the Red Tape Challenge a red herring and a sham, and it seems nearly certain that the Ontario process deserves such labels too. For any money to be put into this dog and pony show is an outrage, especially one that has the potential to undermine workplace regulations that labour activists have fought for over generations.
- And Jeff Spross points out that the most lucrative crime in the U.S. is wage theft which seldom gives rise to meaningful punishment.

- Meanwhile, for those actually interested in making government more effective rather than merely reversing any attempt to protect the public interest, the Mowat Centre offers some useful ideas on how to improve public employment supports. And Sarah Tranum and Alia Weston suggest a few ways to better fit our social safety net to a precarious-work economy.

- Matt Phillips interviews Joseph Stiglitz about the failings of the Eurozone - and particularly the consequences of austerity being imposed by a foreign central bank with little apparent regard for any impact on citizens.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board rightly argues that any reasonable child protection system should aim to provide resources needed within a family, rather than taking children away from parents merely because they live in poverty. And Jordon Cooper weighs in on how the Saskatchewan Party's cuts to disability income serve little purpose other than to prevent vulnerable people from living with dignity.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Branko Milanovic points out how the commodification of our interactions may create an incentive for short-term exploitation:
Commodification of what was hitherto a non-commercial resource makes each of us do many jobs and even, as in the renting of apartments, capitalists. But saying that I work many jobs is the same thing as saying that workers do not hold durably individual jobs and that the labor market is fully “flexible” with people getting in and out of jobs at a very high rate. Thus workers indeed become, from the point of view of the employer, fully interchangeable “agents”. Each of then stays in a job a few weeks or months: everyone is equally good or bad as everyone else. We are indeed coming close to the dream world of neoclassical economics where individuals, with their true characteristics, no longer exists because they have been replaced by “agents”.

The problem with this kind of commodification and flexibilization is that it undermines human relations and trust that are needed for the smooth functioning of an economy. When there are repeated games we try to establish relationships of trust with people with whom we interact. But if we move from one place to another with high frequency, change jobs every couple of weeks, and everybody else does the same, then there are no repeated games because we do not interact with the same people. If there are no repeated games, our behavior adjusts to expecting to play just a single game, a single interaction. And this new behavior is very different.
Increasing commodification of many activities, the gig economy and flexibilization of labor market are just a part of the same change; they should be seen as a movement toward a more rational, but ultimately more depersonalized, economy where most of interactions will be one-shot contacts. Holding of many jobs and the shortness of interactions make investing in cooperative behavior prohibitively expensive. This Is the key reason why I am less optimistic than others that we are moving toward a society with a more collective, or “nicer” ethos. Actually, I think we are moving in the opposite direction.
- Sandro Contenta and Jim Rankin report on new research showing how poverty, race and other factors influence the removal of children from their families by Ontario's Child Services. And Jake Johnson discusses the place of race in the U.S.' ongoing class war.

- Tom Parkin examines how Justin Trudeau is falling far short of his promises of reconciliation with First Nations. And Jason Warick highlights the racist assumptions behind much of the institutional response to Colten Boushie's shooting, while John Baglow exposes the virtual lynch mob that has formed to try to justify the killing. 

- Finally, Ian Millhiser examines how fines and fees imposed by the criminal justice system can trap an already-poor family in a further cycle of debt. And Michael Powell writes about the Rio Olympics as a painful example of billions being spent on an elite vanity project while people living in poverty are forced to do without necessities.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Shorter Tim Naumetz on the NDP's consistent stance opposing Bill C-51, a position supported by 17% of respondents in a recent poll (with plenty more undecided):
Boy, it's weird that a political party would take stand on a policy issue despite the public being less than fully on board at the moment.
Shorter Tim Naumetz on the Cons' position refusing to countenance any criticism of or change to Bill C-51, a view supported by 19% of the public in the exact same poll:

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- James Stewart examines how Donald Trump could be paying zero taxes using shelters designed specifically to enrich real estate developers while serving no social purpose. And Alexandra Thornton and Brendan Duke point out the "pass-through" loophole being exploited more and more by U.S. corporations.

- Daniel Tencer reports that the Libs' plan to make it easier for employers to exploit foreign workers comes at a time when any labour shortage is coming to an end. Scott Vrooman discusses how the media is being distracted by Justin Trudeau's PR stunts when it should be calling attention to issues like the Libs' willingness to arm human rights abusers.

- Jhumka Gupta and Reginald Tucker-Seeley discuss the connection between prejudice and social health. And Paul Wells points out that the Libs' interest in social policy seems to be limited to its ability to attract and benefit big money from abroad.

- Rob Ferguson examines how the Ontario Libs' election financing legislation is set up to benefit nobody but themselves. And it still amazes me that a review process started as a response to a government pay-for-access scandal is clamping down on other parties' activities while doing nothing about that issue.

- Finally, Katharine Hayhoe lists just a few of the ways in which climate change stands to affect our health.