Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Noah Smith writes that far too many Americans (like people around the globe) face needless barriers to thinking, and suggests that the key public project of this century may be to remedy those problems:
The biggest threat to clear-headedness comes from drugs. The twin epidemics of opioid-painkiller dependence and heroin abuse destroy people’s lives and harm productivity. There is a strong correlation between opioid use and unemployment, and it’s no great stretch to assume that the former helps cause the latter. A recent Goldman Sachs report concluded that drug abuse resulted in large productivity losses throughout the economy. Even when opioid and opiate users stay at their jobs, they probably become less productive.

A second, much-discussed problem is lead pollution. A flood of research is finding that even small amounts of lead exposure in childhood can lead both to worse academic performance later in life, and to more criminal behavior. Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that American children are far more exposed to lead than most people realize. Lead paint contaminates soil, lead pipes contaminate drinking water, and a variety of commercial products from cosmetics to electronics contain bits of lead. The U.S. is allowing its people to be poisoned with heavy metals, and both their intelligence and their self-control is being degraded as a result.

But drugs and lead aren’t the only forces preventing Americans from being able to think clearly. Poverty is another. Everyone knows that the U.S. is a very unequal country, but few think about the damage that causes to American minds. A growing body of research shows that poor people have different brain structures from other people. Mental problems can and do cause poverty, of course, but poverty also exposes people to many of the forces that are known to cause post-traumatic stress disorder -- violence and unstable family situations -- in addition to brain-damaging malnutrition. Let's hope that new long-term studies will clarify just how much poverty damages the brain, although the mechanisms are already pretty obvious.

Violence in general probably causes lots of long-term harm to the minds of American children. The U.S. as a whole has a high murder rate for a rich country -- 4.2 homicides per 100,000 people, about three times as high as France or the U.K. Some U.S. cities, however, have murder rates as much as 10 times the national average -- St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans and Detroit stand out. Millions of American children are probably getting some form of PTSD as a result of growing up in these cities.

When all these factors are added up, they represent a severe threat not just to Americans’ quality of life, but to the productivity of the U.S. workforce. Policy makers, economists and other intellectuals should start thinking more about how to beat back this multipronged assault on national clear-headedness.
- Doug Saunders discusses how the wealthiest few in Canada are almost entirely ghettoized, and offers a couple of suggestions to rein in inequality and rebuild the social links which once connected the 1% to everybody else. And Luke Savage comments on the great CEO revenue heist which allows corporate magnates to avoid tax on 50% of one of their main sources of income.

- Meanwhile, Marco Chown Oved and Robert Cribb report on a first discussion of corporate transparency - though it's telling that the Trudeau Libs are intent on preserving the "privacy" of people benefiting from the privilege of limited liability. And Dean Beeby reports on the Libs' continued plans to sell off airports and other public services.

- Nikil Saval traces how laissez-faire theory is now recognized as flawed by all but its most dogmatic adherents.

- Finally, Zarqa Nawaz writes about Saint-Apollinaire's embarrassing rejection of a cemetery for Quebec City Muslims.

New column day

Here, on the noteworthy successes of the first year of Regina's Housing First program - along with the appalling failure of our provincial and municipal governments to fund a full version.

For further reading...
- CBC reported on the program as it was introduced, while Kendall Latimer followed up with a report from this week's anniversary announcement.
- Regina Homelessness offers both background information on the state of housing and homelessness in Regina, as well as a summary of the results of Housing First.
- And finally, even Licia Corbella recognizes the importance of social housing based on the difficulty people face finding a place to live in Calgary and the public costs of homelessness.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Mike Konczal responds to a pathetic attempt to drain the word "neoliberal" of all meaning (which seems to have won favour with Canadian Libs desperately trying to disassociate themselves from their own governing ideology) by discussing its application in both the political and economic spheres. And Steven Hall examines how neoliberal economics have been a failure even on their own narrowly-focused terms:
Sure, growth for the sake of growth is not what we should aim for — it is indeed ‘the ideology of the cancer cell’, to use the words of Edward Abbey. But there is no evidence that less progressive taxes have promoted growth anyway. There is no evidence that more inequality has contributed towards growth. There is no evidence that deregulation has contributed to growth or to stability or social well-being. There is no credible evidence that trickle-down economics works. None whatsoever. It is a fallacy. An article of faith, perhaps — but not of science.

Almost everything which almost all policy makers have taken for granted and asked us to take for granted for more than a generation has been proved wrong. We were closer to the truth, it seems, in the 1950s and 60s, and there must be some lessons for us there.
- Meanwhile, Nick Bunker points out new research suggesting that corporate concentration and a lack of meaningful competition is a major factor in the decline of business investment over the past few decades.

- Scott Sinclair, Stuart Trew and Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood review the U.S.' plans for NAFTA renegotiations. Lawrence Herman points out a few of the U.S. demands which would most clearly tilt the playing field against Canada. And Michael Geist offers some suggestions as to what Canada should be asking for to protect our interests in intellectual property freedoms and the protection of individual data.

- But for anybody hoping for a strong Canadian position, Linda McQuaig notes that the Trudeau Libs have already demonstrated their eagerness to capitulate to Donald Trump's most senseless demands by announcing gigantic military expenditures for no apparent reason.

- Finally, Andre Picard weighs in on how Canada's continued poor ranking among our international peers shows the need for more and better investment in our health care system.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Feline oversight.




Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Tom Parkin writes that the economic boost provided by an expanded child benefit offers another indication of how action to fight poverty ultimately helps everybody. And Dylan Matthews discusses how much more could be done through a well-designed basic income - while recognizing the pitfalls of pale imitations.

- Ginella Massa reports on a rent strike among Toronto tenants which has brought landlords to the table to discuss rents as a clear demonstration that collective action can achieve substantive results.

- Annabelle Olivier reports on Quebec's deal with generic drug manufacturers to reduce drug costs by $300 million per year. But Martin Regg Cohn notes that Canada's provinces can do far more to make prescription drugs affordable by cooperating to make pharmacare a national priority - including by making sure the public interest in affordable medication is protected in any future NAFTA discussions.

- Meanwhile, Kelly Grant points out that Canada ranks poorly compared to other developed countries in health outcomes due largely to patchy access to dental care and needed medications.

- Debi Daviau notes that the public pays the price when essential support services for program delivery are put in corporate hands. 

- Finally, Thomas Woodley discusses how the Trudeau Libs have followed the Harper Cons' pattern of tacitly supporting the proliferation of nuclear weapons rather than pushing for disarmament.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- The Guardian's editorial board weighs in on the undue gains going to the 1% while everybody else faces stagnation or worse:
While the rest of society have shared in an equality of misery following the crash, the top 1% – households with incomes of £275,000 – have now recovered all the ground they lost during the world’s worst post-second world war slump. The share of income going to the very richest is now 8.5%. That’s double their share in 1985. The question has to be asked: has the value of the 1% in society doubled in the last 20 years? What have all these higher earners – in the City or in the boardrooms – done that has been so socially useful to see their share of total wages go up so much?

It’s not that we are richer as a nation. The economy is about £300bn smaller than would be expected if the crash had not happened. Remember the recession was caused by the financial sector’s innovations – the excessive leverage; the perverse incentives; the fraudulent promotion of risky products as safe – and its promotion that greed was the ultimate good. While public spending as a proportion of GDP might be roughly constant since the crash, the country’s needs are higher, so there’s a feeling of less to go round. This has happened while there’s been a quiet secession of the successful.

All the rise in inequality is due to this group racing away with the goodies from the economy, while the rest of us are being squeezed closer together. For the very wealthy, rules are bent to suit their needs. When a dividend tax was readied for 2016-17, the very wealthy took their payments early and avoided £800m, money that could have been used for schools and hospitals. More than £100m of that tax saving was enjoyed by 100 people. Can you imagine a supermarket worker asking to bring forward his pay to avoid a tax charge? The richest in our society are not worth the rewards they give themselves. It’s because they have captured ideologically the political process that these absurdities continue.
- Meanwhile, Katie Forster discusses new research showing a severe spike in anxiety and depression among UK residents facing austerian welfare cuts.  

- David Crouch reports on Sweden's renewed effort to rein in inequality - though it too has decades of corporatist damage to repair.

- CBC reports on Calgary's closure of social housing units due to a lack of means to repair them. And Rebecca Marroquin reports that Saskatchewan's domestic abuse shelters are operating at capacity (and thus having to turn away or waitlist spouses in need of a safe place to stay).

- Maura Forrest highlights the dysfunction behind the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. And Gloria Galloway points out that First Nations are trying to address the child suicide crisis which has seen so little national attention - but need stable funding to make real progress.

- Finally, Terry Glavin criticizes the Libs' chumminess with an abusive Chinese regime - which is put in stark relief by the death of human rights activist and Nobel laureate Liu Ziaobo.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Larry Elliott reports on a Resolution Foundation study showing that while the UK's 1% has fully recovered from the 2008 financial crash, the rest of the population hasn't been so lucky and has faced extended stagnation at best:
Families on low and middle incomes had seen their living standards rise by just 3% since 2002-03. Once housing costs had been taken into account they were no better off than they were 15 years ago. Two in five said they were unable to afford to save £10 per month, while 42% say they could not afford a week away on holiday at least once a year, up from 37% before the financial crisis.

Adam Corlett, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The incomes of the top 1% took a short, sharp hit following the financial crisis. But they’ve recovered rapidly since and the very richest households have now seen their share of the nation’s income return to very high pre-crisis levels.

“In contrast, for millions of young and lower-income families the current slowdown comes on top of a tough decade for living standards, providing a bleak economic backdrop to the shock election result.
- Meanwhile, the North York Harvest Food Bank talks to Elaine Power about the potential benefits of a basic income - including relieving individual economic stress. And Jessica Bohon tells her story about the social stigma attached to poverty.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the rise in the number of temporary employment agencies in Ontario, while highlighting that their main purpose is to keep workers in precarious situations. And the Economist points out that many abuses could be avoided simply by enforcing existing employment protections.

- David Bell takes note of the predictable public health effects of the removal of fluoride from Calgary's water supply.

- Finally, Tim Gray highlights the massive liabilities being left behind by the tar sands which look to exceed every nickel oil companies have paid (or are expected to pay) in royalties.