Thursday, July 21, 2016

New column day

Here, on how the City of Regina's actual treatment of key information runs contrary to its stated commitment to open government.

For further reading...
- Natascia Lypny's report on the City's delays and denials of access to information about Regina's new stadium and wastewater treatment plant is here
- I previously wrote about the City's initial open data policy announcement here, featuring this warning which seems particularly on point:
(E)ven the most cynical governments are often eager to use selective “open government” (in the form of limited operational data) as a distraction from opaque political decision-making – with a one-way flow of politically-convenient information substituted for any particular effort to interact with citizens or respond to their concerns. So while we should look forward to what can be done with the information that is included in the city’s data portal, we should keep an especially close eye on what’s left out and how information is handled going in the opposite direction.
- And the new policy discussed in the column is found here (PDF).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Light blogging ahead

Off hither and/or yon for a few days. Try to entertain yourselves.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Lucy Shaddock offers a response to the Institute for Fiscal Studies' report on poverty and inequality in the UK, while McKinsey finds that hundreds of millions of people in advanced economies are seeing their real incomes stagnate or decline. And Mariana Mazzucato and Michael Jacobs provide their take on what the UK needs to reduce inequality:
Can May succeed in building an economy of broadly shared prosperity? Only if she is willing to govern with the revolutionary zeal seen in that speech. To address the problems she identified will require a complete departure from Osborne’s failed plans. But more than that, it will require a departure the orthodox economics that shaped them.

Policymaking over the past half-century has relied on a narrow school of economic thought, dominated by a simplistic idea of “markets” and “market failures”, of “competition” and “shareholder value”. May’s new agenda will need to draw on a much richer palette.

...(M)arkets are not external forces that bind firms to inevitable choices. They are created by the decisions made inside private and public institutions, as well as pressures from civil society. So not only can policymakers fix “market failures”, but they can also actively reshape and create markets for better ends.
- Andre Picard rightly argues that global targets to reduce the spread of AIDS can't be met without a thorough effort to fight poverty and prejudice.
 
- Chris Hatch weighs in on the need to revamp how Canada evaluates and regulates pipelines and other environmental risks. Will Horter notes that there's no reason for optimism based on the Libs' attempt to paper over the National Energy Board's failings. And the Toronto Star criticizes the Libs' lack of follow-up on a loud announcement about removing and banning asbestos.

- Jim Bronskill reports on the Communications Security Establishmen's newfound refusal to provide even statistical data about the sharing of information which may lead to torture.

- Finally, Marc-André Miron, Marie-Claude Bertrand and Cym Gomery point out that the typical talking points against proportional representation lack any basis in reality.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Clingy cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan points out the choice between a basic income and the provision of basic services, while making a strong case to focus on the latter:
At the federal level, the cost of raising everyone’s income above the poverty line is an estimated $30 billion a year. The Alternative Federal Budget shows we could permanently expand the stock of affordable housing, child care, and public transit; and almost eliminate user costs for pharmacare, dental care and post-secondary schooling for half the annual cost ($15 billion).

After a decade, we would have expanded access to more high-quality, affordable necessities of life, not just for the poor but for everyone.

A little more, and you could have free access to community and recreation centre programming, expanded mental health services, universal access to low-cost internet, and more legal aid. The net result: greater participation, greater mobility, greater potential, greater health.

Both a basic income and a basic service model put more money in people’s pockets, one with a cash transfer, one by offsetting the costs of necessities.

Basic income requires everyone to pay more to provide a small number of our most vulnerable neighbours more choice and more dignity. Basic service also requires we pay more, and also helps the most vulnerable, but benefits everyone by making incomes and markets matter less. It builds both potential and solidarity, and is a far easier sell in an era of slow growth.

Basic income talk has fired imaginations across the globe. Mr. Segal’s exercise offers a unique opportunity to test whether we’re better off when we have more income, or need less of it.
- Meanwhile, Susan Prentice, Linda White and Martha Friendly offer a useful outline to build a national child care system. And Bill Curry reports on this week's health care summit - though there's reason for concern in both the Libs' unwillingness to negotiate funding with the provinces, and their apparent inclination to eliminate universality in favour of means-testing. 

- And in case we needed a reminder as to the importance of shared knowledge of problems, Elizabeth Payne reports on how a week of management eating the meals previously served to patients at the Ottawa Hospital led to a revamping of the menu.

- Larry Elliott reports on the Institute for Fiscal Studies' report showing that the insecurity now facing middle-class families in the UK is comparable to the burden on households recognized as living in poverty a generation ago. But on the bright side, Jessica Elgot writes about Labour's plan for a national investment bank to both spur economic development, and give the public a greater stake in prosperity.

- Finally, Andrew Mitrovica points out why we should be skeptical of the security state's attempts to proclaim itself essential in the wake of attacks which it can never prevent.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Alana Semuels examines new research showing a decline in U.S. social mobility within an individual's working life:
Carr and Wiemers used earnings data to measure how fluidly people move up and down the income ladder over the course of their careers. “It is increasingly the case that no matter what your educational background is, where you start has become increasingly important for where you end,” Carr told me. “The general amount of movement around the distribution has decreased by a statistically significant amount.”

Carr and Wiemers used data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, which tracks individual workers’ earnings, to examine how earnings mobility changed between 1981 and 2008. They ranked people into deciles, meaning that one group fell below the 10th percentile of earnings, another between the 10th and 20th, and so on; then they measured someone’s chances of moving from one decile to another. But the researchers wanted to see not just the probability of moving to a different income bracket over the course of a career, but also how that probability has changed over time. So they measured a given worker’s chances of moving between deciles ​during two periods​, one from 1981 to 1996 and another from 1993 to 2008.​

They found quite a disparity. “The probability of ending where you start has gone up, and the probability of moving up from where you start has gone down,” Carr said. For instance, the chance that someone starting in the bottom 10 percent would move above the 40th percentile decreased by 16 percent. The chance that someone starting in the middle of the earnings distribution would reach one of the top two earnings deciles decreased by 20 percent. Yet people who started in the seventh decile are 12 percent more likely to end up in the fifth or sixth decile—a drop in earnings—than they used to be.

Overall, the probability of someone starting and ending their career in the same decile has gone up for every income rank. “For whatever reason, there was a path upward in the earnings distribution that has been blocked for some people, or is not as steep as it used to be,” Carr said.
- Meanwhile, Alissa Quart notes that precarity and economic insecurity reach a long way up the income spectrum. Trish Kelly discusses the growth of working poverty in Vancouver. And Rachelle Younglai reports that an increasing number of Canadians with advanced degrees are mired in poverty despite the work they've put into their education.

- Laurel Gregory reports on the lack of accessible child care for lower- and middle-income families.

- Tom Parkin examines the record amount of lobbying happening at the federal level - and it's particularly worth noting the anti-social causes which are being pushed repeatedly. And the CP reports on the ongoing effects of the Cons' moves to undermine regulations.

- Finally, Aldo Caliari comments on the importance of establishing and enforcing international standards for fair taxes, rather than allowing the wealthy few to exploit tax havens.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Aditya Chakrabortty sums up George Osborne's legacy - and give or take a Brexit vote, it looks awfully familiar for corporatist governments in general:
The multi-million-pound spending spree wasn’t justifiable, admitted Osborne, according to Laws’ recent memoir, Coalition. “It will only really be of help to stupid, affluent and lazy people, who can’t be bothered to put their savings away into tax-efficient vehicles!” said Osborne. “But it will still be very popular – we have polled it.”

Disabled people could kill themselves to put an end to the government’s reign of terror, and the chancellor would shrug. Working-class kids could live on foodbank lunches and ministers would claim they had no alternative. But shovelling cash at the people seen as undeserving by their very own benefactor? That, Mr Austerity would happily do. Anything to buy votes.
...
Osborne’s fiscal rules have been either broken or discarded, and where their replacement should be is instead a complete vacuum. The man praised for his “strategic grip” by his former permanent secretary admitted last month that he hadn’t bothered coming up with a post-Brexit strategy. Britain is adrift in what could be the choppiest waters in decades without a fiscal policy, a paddle – or even a map.

None of this is accidental. All of it could have been foreseen – indeed, was foreseen by some of us. But it is the direct result of a sniggering callousness that punished the poor while rewarding the rich, that promised greater power for the provinces while shunting ever more money to central London, that bilked the young of their futures while bribing their grandparents all the way to the ballot box.
- Jeffrey Sachs, Brooke Güven and Lisa Sachs point to TransCanada's claim against the U.S. for rejecting Keystone XL as a prime example of how trade agreements give the corporate sector unacceptable power over governments acting in the public interest.

- Peter Hannam reports on Australia's problem with abandoned gas wells, showing that the resource industry's expectation of being able to take profits while leaving messes for someone else to clean up is far from unique to Canada. And Natasha Geiling finds industry spokesflacks again trying to claim that oil spills are an economic plus due to the work involved in cleaning them up.

- Mia Rabson discusses how criticism of people living in poverty is generally based on nothing but ignorance and misinformation.

- Finally Doug Cuthand writes that it's long past time to start reversing the damage done by the Cons' dumb-on-crime agenda. But it's worth noting that as in so many other areas, that means more than just resetting laws to where they stood before while allowing their consequences to remain in place.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Abi Wilkinson argues that we can't expect to take anger and other emotions out of political conversations when government choices have created nothing but avoidable stress for so many:
Actions can certainly be morally unacceptable. In my opinion, emotions cannot. Really, it’s a manifestation of extreme privilege to insist that people engage with politics in a calm and emotionless way. The further you are from experiencing any negative effects of the policy you’re debating, the more cushioned and secure your social position, the easier it is to adhere to the Oxford Union norms of cool detachment and skilful argument.

MPs might only be human, but they also hold a power over the lives of 70 million fallible, vulnerable human beings. Telling people that they’re wrong to feel anger towards an individual who voted to restrict housing benefit and place them at risk of homelessness is patently absurd. Similarly, journalists hold an unusual level of social power that makes them a reasonable target of scrutiny.
...
Broadly speaking, there are two forms of political argument. Either you defend a specific policy as the rational, logical option in the circumstances that exist, or you question the rules of the game. People on the political right are prone to presenting things such as spending cuts as morally neutral decisions, determined by economic reality. Leftwing criticism commonly argues that logic presented as natural is really no such thing, but rather that it’s a question of priorities. Political priorities are, unavoidably, a moral issue.

None of which is to say that I think calling Theresa May a “monster” is a productive, useful form of political commentary. I simply think that anger is a natural, human response to circumstance. Condemning petty name-calling more vigorously than we condemn the suffering and disempowerment that often leads to such expressions of frustration seems topsy-turvy to me. Jo Cox wasn’t simply any politician, she threw herself into defending refugees, migrants and other marginalised groups. No MP deserves to be a victim of violence, but what the politicians actually do with their power does matter.
- Meanwhile, Maude Barlow comments on the increasing public skepticism of free trade dogma.

- Ryan Meili and Christine Gibson weigh in on how fair wages lead to far better social and health outcomes for children. And Josh Cohen discusses how the expectation to cling to a rung on the upper middle class ladder creates undesirable pressures on children.

- Dean Beeby reports on Policy Horizons Canada's recommendations on how to create a social safety net which will provide security for precarious workers.

- Jeremy Nuttall points out several of the Libs' most prominent promises which have thus far dropped off the radar since they won power. And Tom Spears notes that contrary to any promises of transparency, the RCMP is backsliding both by destroying documents which were supposed to be released, and ending their policy of making past disclosures publicly available.

- Finally, Chris Tollefson makes the case to start from scratch in developing an environmental assessment system which will have both the credibility and the mandate to meaningfully evaluate proposed developments.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Musical interlude

Radical Face - Ghost Towns

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- France St-Hilaire, David Green and Craig Riddell offer some needed policy prescriptions to fight inequality in Canada:
As first steps toward expanding the share of the economic pie going to workers, the minimum wage should be gradually increased to $15 and the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) significantly expanded. Of course, that economic share would be more secure if workers’ bargaining rights were strengthened. As less than 20 percent of the private sector is unionized, traditional unionization laws have failed to provide the workforce with a voice in their working conditions and sufficient bargaining power to share in economic growth. Moving beyond the traditional approach by granting stronger rights to all workers — union and non-union — holds more promise. As well, the inordinate rise in the share of income held by the 1 percent in recent decades suggests that the bargaining power of top earners should be reduced, particularly through measures related to CEO pay and better corporate governance.

Taking a longer view, several studies have linked early childhood education and family income when the children are young to improved human capital, employment and earnings outcomes at older ages. We believe that initiatives in these areas should be combined with a more radical approach to alter risk-averse attitudes toward education among low-income families by, for example, providing free tuition and some subsidies for higher education for their children.
- Meanwhile, Jerry Dias writes about the futility of trying to push through the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement in the wake of the Brexit vote. But Murray Dobbin notes that much of the public is unaware of the real effects of trade agreements in general due to minimal and corporate-slanted coverage.

- Carolynn Look reports on Deutsche Bank’s status as the latest financial actor to recognize that cheap money for banks isn't doing much to boost the overall economy.

- Michal Rozworski argues strongly against the Libs' plans to fund new infrastructure by selling off existing public assets - no matter what name is used for the process. And Murray Mandryk recognizes the folly of even contemplating a selloff of SaskTel when it's both making money for Saskatchewan's public and investing in greater access than people would have otherwise.

- Finally, Anna Dimoff reports on LEAF's work to establish that a lack of child care violates the human rights of families who need it. Alexia Fernandez Campbell discusses the connection between higher wages and healthier children. And Kendall Worth highlights the importance of recognizing the relationship between mental illness and poverty - rather than focusing any conversation solely on instances of the former in the absence of the latter and other exclusionary factors.