Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Kaylie Tiessen offers some important lessons from Ontario's child poverty strategy - with the most important one being the importance of following through. And Christian Ledwell encourages Prince Edward Island's MPs to lead a push toward a basic income, while PressProgress calls out the Fraser Institute for trying to badger the new federal government into ignoring inequality and poverty altogether.

- Lisa Sachs and Lise Johnson write that the TPP is designed to entrench rules which favour wealthy investors while ruling out the public interest altogether in most government decision-making. Christopher Smillie notes that Canadian trades workers in particular look to lose out as a result of the TPP's open door to temporary foreign workers. Mark Dearn writes that the latest round of agreements involving Europe is designed to give disproportionate power to the oil sector in particular. And David Dayen points to a case where even dolphin-safe labelling was held to violate WTO rules as an example of the corporate intrusion into basic regulations.

- Meanwhile, Rick Salutin writes that ill-advised trade deals which undermine the livelihood of citizens only play into the hands of xenophobes and the politicians who encourage them. And Omer Aziz questions Justin Trudeau's decision to discriminate arbitrarily against male Syrian refugees.

- Michael Harris points out the RCMP's demand for unlimited online surveillance and makes the case for wariness in response.

- Finally, Lana Payne discusses the potentially dangerous effect of polls, with particular reference to Newfoundland and Labrador's election where policy seems to have been thoroughly wiped off the map.

Burning questions

Does anybody actually believe for a second that a Republican-dominated Congress will be more willing to ratify a climate change treaty simply because it doesn't contain binding targets?

And if not, doesn't a deliberate failure to include binding targets mean primarily that even if countries can agree on a treaty which could be ratified in a different political environment, it will never have any meaningful effect?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Musical interlude

Roger Sanchez - Another Chance

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Mariana Mazzucato discusses the futility of slashing government without paying attention to what it's intended to accomplish. And Sheila Block and Kaylie Tiessen are particularly critical of Ontario's short-term sell-offs which figure to harm public services and revenues alike in the long run:
The sale of Hydro One isn’t the only longer-term pain that is being inflicted by today’s economic update. The Finance Minister has recommitted the government to medium program expenditure growth of less than 1 per cent.

A continuation of the government’s deficit elimination plan means that government spending on public services will continue to fall far behind both inflation and population growth...

In 2015-16, government spending is 5.7% below what it would have been if real, per capita spending simply stayed at 2010 levels.

That’s a $6.9 billion gouge in public services that makes itself known through the affordable housing waitlist, the missed targets in the Ontario poverty reduction strategy, and the growing class sizes students and teachers find themselves facing.

Once again, we find ourselves calling for an adult conversation, but this time it is about both taxes and deficits.
- Nora Loreto looks to Quebec's anti-austerity strikes as an important example of what workers can do when they join together. And Susan Berfield details Wal-Mart's efforts to stop social progress through security state-style surveillance of its employees (and anybody who might seek to improve their wages and working conditions).

- Greg Quinn reports on Mike Moffatt's observation that tax revenue collected at the federal level is far less easily avoided than that based on a single province's system. And Canadians for Tax Fairness highlight a few of the worst offenders amount Canada's corporate tax avoiders. 

- George Monbiot comments on a public environmental survey which actually revised participants' answers to suit business interests - while noting that the technological glitch responsible was all too consistent with the conservative pattern of subverting the idea of public consultation.

- Finally, Marc Lee takes a look at Alberta's new climate change plan. And Martin Lukacs rightly recognizes that it should represent only the start of a shift away from the dominance of the oil sector.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

New column day

Here, on how Brad Wall is looking like more and more of a climate change laggard compared to every other leader in Western Canada.

For further reading...
- CTV broke down the state of provincial climate commitments here. But as John Klein noted, the Saskatchewan Party has long since tried to hide its former promises.
- I've previously linked to reporting and analysis on Alberta's recent climate change plan. And CJOB reports that Manitoba will be unveiling its new plan shortly.
- Environment Canada has data on emissions by province here, including British Columbia's drop since 2005 (along with every other province east of Manitoba).
- Meanwhile, for background information on emissions by industry and sector, see Environment Canada's national sectoral breakdown here, as well as Saskatchewan's more specific one here.
- Finally, CBC reported on SaskPower's recent renewable energy announcement, while SaskPower's own explanation and analysis seems to be limited to a blog post (offering all the more reason to think it's more posturing than policy). And Murray Mandryk offered his take on the announcement as well.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- George Monbiot discusses the inherent conflict between consumption and conservation:
We can persuade ourselves that we are living on thin air, floating through a weightless economy, as gullible futurologists predicted in the 1990s. But it’s an illusion, created by the irrational accounting of our environmental impacts. This illusion permits an apparent reconciliation of incompatible policies.

Governments urge us both to consume more and to conserve more. We must extract more fossil fuel from the ground, but burn less of it. We should reduce, reuse and recycle the stuff that enters our homes, and at the same time increase, discard and replace it. How else can the consumer economy grow? We should eat less meat to protect the living planet, and eat more meat to boost the farming industry. These policies are irreconcilable. The new analyses suggest that economic growth is the problem, regardless of whether the word sustainable is bolted to the front of it.
- And David Roberts argues that Alberta's new climate change plan is well-designed precisely because it includes measures to cut down on consumption rather than aspiring to right-wing notions of revenue neutrality.

- Adrienne Montani makes the case for a plan to reduce child poverty in British Columbia. And Leilani Farha writes that the anticipated arrival of a new group of refugees should serve as an opportunity to evaluate and improve the plight of people already living in poverty.

- Meanwhile, Thomas Walkom points out that the Libs' pattern of walking back their most immediate post-election promise to help Syrian refugees bodes poorly for the rest of their campaign commitments.

- Finally, Don Lenihan comments on the psychology of the politics of fear:
Terrorism is effective not because groups like ISIS are so powerful, but because they are so good at turning our own psychology against us. Suicide bombings fool the brain into believing an evil empire is invading our shores.
There is a vicious circle here that, ironically, turns us all into ISIS recruits, first, by getting us to agree to play the game by their rules; and then by drawing us deeper and deeper into its clutches. At the same time, talk of the need for ever-greater security and surveillance invades our public discourse. The politics of fear starts creeping in.

The moral is that the terrorist threat to our freedom and safety comes less from the thugs at ISIS than from ourselves. We hold ourselves hostage to a discourse of fear, then use it to sideline democracy in order to protect ourselves from the very threat we have manufactured.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wednesday Night Cat Blogging

Playtime cats.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Ball talks to Joseph Stiglitz about inequality and its causes - including the spread of corporate control through trade agreements:
What would you say is the dominant cause [of growing inequality]?

The weak economy, partly associated with austerity, has led to a weak labour market. The official unemployment rates don't indicate the real weaknesses. In the U.S. there's a huge amount of disguised unemployment -- people who have dropped out of the labour force or are working part time. That's why wages have stagnated.

You saw that so vividly in the three years at the beginning of our so-called "recovery," from 2009 to 2012, when 91 per cent of all the gains went to the top one per cent. That's obviously a huge increase in inequality... African-Americans, Hispanics, low-income Americans, and high school graduates have not recovered. You might say it's been a lopsided recovery.

The recession was really bad for the poor. They lost their jobs and lost their homes. But even before that, you saw really significant increases in inequality in an economy that was supposedly performing very well. So [the cause of inequality] is beyond just austerity.
A number of trade deals passed by Canada -- the TPP and the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China that we're locked into for 31 years, for example -- are seen in traditional economics as the gold standard.

The TPP is a very bad agreement that will increase inequality. Inequality isn't just about income -- it's also about standards of living. There are several [worrying] provisions. The worst is the investment agreement provision, which effectively restricts the ability [of states] to regulate and protect health, safety, the environment, even economic regulations important for stability. These are things that are particularly important to ordinary citizens. The regulations are meant to protect our society.
- And Blayne Haggart notes that the intellectual property provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership represent a new - and particularly dangerous - form of protectionism in favour of the businesses who already have the most.

- Marc Lee offers his twelve-point plan for a federal government wanting to get serious about climate change.

- Craig Scott discusses both the opportunity we have to push for meaningful electoral reform, and the danger that the Libs will see fit to gum up the works to protect the system which led to their own false majority. And Elizabeth Thompson reports on just one more of the many absurdities of handing over unfettered executive power based on a modest minority of votes, as the Cons were able to lock in a large number of long-term patronage appointments which will last for multiple terms of government to come.

- Finally, Susana Mas reports on the NDP's work to make sure the Libs don't turn away refugees in the name of political convenience and a false claim to security concerns. But unfortunately, the Libs haven't taken long in backtracking from even their core promises.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- David Olive talks to Robert Reich about his work fighting inequality:
There are certain irrefutable facts besides water always running downhill. There is no arguing, for instance, that the U.S. era Reich describes as the “Great Prosperity” — the three-decade span between the late 1940s and the late 1970s — was characterized by high rates of taxation on the wealthy; heavy government investment in the people; and the peak level of unionization in America’s private-sector workforce.

That was the era of high and rising household income in Canada and the U.S., and of heavy state investment in public education that yielded the world’s smartest workforces. It was the era of government investment in the Interstate and Trans-Canada highway systems that boosted economic productivity. It was the era in which more than one-third of private-sector workers belonged to a union.

And it was during that era that America’s burgeoning middle class made the U.S. a superpower, and raised Canada into the ranks of the world’s most affluent countries.

Especially in Canada, with a Medicare system more comprehensive even than Obamacare, rocket science is not required to restore a fairer distribution of our collective wealth. Raise taxes on the rich. Use the money to invest in people — their health, education and essential services. And stop thwarting the efforts of those workers who seek to organize their workplaces.

“It’s just common sense,” says Reich of simply taking the steps required to bring back the Golden Prosperity years. He leans forward, a look of weariness and mild frustration crossing his face. “Isn’t it?”
- Aditya Chakrabortty discusses the meaning of austerian economics designed to inflate bubbles for the rich at the expense of the poor. Genevieve Lajoie reports that Quebeckers are strongly opposed to the provincial austerity being protested by the province's workers. And Melissa Healy highlights new research showing that inequality on both the individual and the social level is linked to less charitable giving by the wealthy.

- Joshua Rapp Learn points out a few of the ways in which climate change is getting very personal for Atlantic Canada. And Naomi Klein discusses what's being lost in the French government's crackdown on any public activism around the Paris climate conference:
The people facing the worst impacts of climate change have virtually no voice in western debates about whether to do anything serious to prevent catastrophic global warming. Huge climate summits like the one coming up in Paris are rare exceptions. For just two weeks every few years, the voices of the people who are getting hit first and worst get a little bit of space to be heard at the place where fateful decisions are made. That’s why Pacific islanders and Inuit hunters and low-income people of colour from places like New Orleans travel for thousands of miles to attend. The expense is enormous, in both dollars and carbon, but being at the summit is a precious chance to speak about climate change in moral terms and to put a human face to this unfolding catastrophe.

The next thing to understand is that even in these rare moments, frontline voices do not have enough of a platform in the official climate meetings, in which the microphone is dominated by governments and large, well-funded green groups. The voices of ordinary people are primarily heard in grassroots gatherings parallel to the summit, as well as in marches and protests, which in turn attract media coverage. Now the French government has decided to take away the loudest of these megaphones...
When governments and corporations knowingly fail to act to prevent catastrophic warming, that is an act of violence. It is a violence so large, so global and inflicted against so many temporalities simultaneously (ancient cultures, present lives, future potential) that there is not yet a word capable of containing its monstrousness. And using acts of violence to silence the voices of those who are most vulnerable to climate violence is yet more violence.

In explaining why forthcoming football matches would go on as scheduled, France’s secretary of state for sport said: “Life must go on.” Indeed it must. That’s why I joined the climate justice movement. Because when governments and corporations fail to act in a way that reflects the value of all of life on Earth, they must be protested.
- Meanwhile, Andrew Nikiforuk weighs in on the fragility of our sources of groundwater. And Mike De Souza reports on a stop-work order resulting from a toxic leak from a TransCanada pipeline.

- Finally, Geoffrey Rafe Hall is the latest to comment on the NDP's campaign and what comes next.

Monday, November 23, 2015

On incomplete care

Shorter Dustin Duncan:
I'm pretty sure a health care system can't do more than two things at a time. And for the ministry I'm overseeing, surgery is no longer one of them.

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Upstream offers a summary of the Canadian Institute for Health Information's latest report, with particular emphasis on growing inequality in health metrics due to social factors despite increased funding into the the health care system.

- Jamie Golombek is the latest to highlight how most Canadians - including workers on the bottom two-thirds of the income scale - will get nothing from the Libs' "middle-class" tax baubles. And Iglika Ivanova follows up on Statistics Canada's look at food bank use by pointing out that nominal economic growth in British Columbia isn't reaching the people who need it.

- Jill Lepore discusses how a political system can be distorted by an outsized focus on polls.

- Jodie Sinnema reports on the Alberta NDP's detailed climate change plan, which was unveiled yesterday in advance of the Paris conference. PressProgress points out that the plan has earned support from all kinds of sources. And Rick Smith explains why we should recognize it as a major progressive win, while Mike Hudema takes particular note of the end of indefinite tar sands expansion.

- And finally, Joshua Keep is hopeful about the ongoing Newfoundland and Labrador election campaign - and particularly the strong progressive position from the NDP in a campaign where stopping the right isn't a serious issue. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Louis-Philippe Rochon explains how higher taxes on the wealthy can be no less a boon for the economy than for the goal of social equality:
In fact, empirical analysis shows that while the relationship between higher taxes and economic growth is complex, there is no proof that raising taxes on the wealthy will lead to slower economic growth.  In fact, in many countries, including Canada, higher growth rates in the post-Second World War era have been associated with much higher marginal tax rates.
Between 1940 and 1980, the top marginal income tax rate in Canada was much higher, at well over 70 per cent. Despite these high rates, Canada's economy prospered. In other words, with a proposed new tax bracket in Canada of a mere 33 per cent, we are still far from reaching past levels, and even further away from levels that would be detrimental to tax revenues or even growth. We could increase it even higher with no repercussions on growth or even job creation, and the benefits of a less unequal wealth concentration could even have a positive effect on the economy.
(H)ow can we explain higher taxes on the rich and higher growth? It seems counterintuitive. Yet, it isn't, for two reasons. First, higher taxes on the top one per cent reduce income inequality. Many studies show that a more even (or less uneven) distribution of wealth and income contributes to higher spending and growth.

In the case of Canada, the higher tax rate for high-income earners is compensated by lower taxes on the middle class, who then will have more money to spend. Since the top one per cent save a higher proportion of their income, raising taxes for them won't affect their consumption, just their savings.

Second, by collecting more tax revenues, governments can spend more, and there is a definite and proven correlation between higher government spending and higher economic growth, despite all the non-Keynesian naysayers. The data is clear on this.
- Juliette Jowit discusses the pathetic pace being made on the path toward gender pay equity. And Maureen Conway points out the need for both public policy and labour relations decisions oriented toward improved long-term outcomes - particularly given the glaring failure of short-term thinking over the past few decades.

- The Associated Press reports that a particularly egregious example of employer abuses is resulting in rare but well-deserved jail time for the perpetrator.
- Charles Mandel discusses John Brennan's observation that climate change is already (and will increasingly become) a major source of political instability, while David Roberts offers a useful analogy to gravity in assessing its effects. And Geoff Stiles offers a proposal as to how Canada can go from being a laggard to a leader at the Paris climate change conference.

- Finally, Doug Saunders writes about the importance of integration in order to combat extremism of all kinds. Tabatha Southey reminds us that hatred and ignorance between ethnic and religious groups only tend to reinforce each other. And John Cartwright notes that there's a particular need to speak out against bigotry in the wake of an election campaign where multiple parties including the deposed government deliberately stoked it for their political advantage.