Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Verhaege discusses how unchecked capitalism is changing our personality traits for the worse:
There are certain ideal characteristics needed to make a career today. The first is articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible. Contact can be superficial, but since this applies to most human interaction nowadays, this won’t really be noticed.

It’s important to be able to talk up your own capacities as much as you can – you know a lot of people, you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt and you recently completed a major project. Later, people will find out that this was mostly hot air, but the fact that they were initially fooled is down to another personality trait: you can lie convincingly and feel little guilt. That’s why you never take responsibility for your own behaviour.

On top of all this, you are flexible and impulsive, always on the lookout for new stimuli and challenges. In practice, this leads to risky behaviour, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces. The source of inspiration for this list? The psychopathy checklist by Robert Hare, the best-known specialist on psychopathy today.

This description is, of course, a caricature taken to extremes. Nevertheless, the financial crisis illustrated at a macro-social level (for example, in the conflicts between eurozone countries) what a neoliberal meritocracy does to people. Solidarity becomes an expensive luxury and makes way for temporary alliances, the main preoccupation always being to extract more profit from the situation than your competition. Social ties with colleagues weaken, as does emotional commitment to the enterprise or organisation.
Our presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful – that is, “make” something of ourselves. You don’t need to look far for examples. A highly skilled individual who puts parenting before their career comes in for criticism. A person with a good job who turns down a promotion to invest more time in other things is seen as crazy – unless those other things ensure success. A young woman who wants to become a primary school teacher is told by her parents that she should start off by getting a master’s degree in economics – a primary school teacher, whatever can she be thinking of?

There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.
- Meanwhile, Robert Reich discusses how the U.S. economy is serving only the interests of the wealthy few. And Alan Pyke exposes another egregious (and seemingly widespread) form of tax evasion, as U.S. banks skim off a billion dollars each year as their fee for systematically transferring stock ownership to avoid having the real owner pay taxes on dividends.

- Danielle Martin and Steve Morgan make the case for a national pharmacare plan. But Amir Attaran weighs in on Health Canada's abject failure to protect the public from dangerous drugs under a government which simply doesn't care whether needed medications are either available or effective:
Consider the case of Ranbaxy, a pharmaceutical company from India. Last year, the FDA successfully prosecuted Ranbaxy for manufacturing adulterated drugs and misleading it with false, fictitious and fraudulent drug testing data — crimes for which Ranbaxy paid $500 million (U.S.) in criminal and civil penalties. Fortune Magazine, among other sources, alleges that this fraud was not isolated, but that Ranbaxy managers were aware of data falsification affecting “more than 200 products in more than 40 countries.” No wonder the FDA, after failed inspections, banned several Ranbaxy factories from accessing the United States market.

But not in Canada. Even though former Ranbaxy executives say they are “confident there were problems” with drugs sold here, after the criminal conviction Health Canada refused to ban Ranbaxy’s factories, and instead negotiated with the company to voluntarily pull a few of its medicines off the market for testing; Health Canada won’t say which ones. Worse, Health Canada routinely lets drug importers like Ranbaxy choose who inspects their foreign factories. Private consultants hired by companies, and not arm’s length government inspectors, often do so.

That is the deplorable state of drug regulation in Canada today: rather than enforce the law with vigour as the FDA does, Health Canada negotiates with companies like Ranbaxy that have committed terrible crimes and lets them cherry-pick their inspectors. Ranbaxy medicines banned as unsafe in the United States are on the shelves of Canadian hospitals and pharmacies today.

...(O)ur bigger problem is not legal but cultural, namely the indolent, lapdog attitude of ministers like Ambrose and the public servants at Health Canada, who seem to lack any understanding of how governments should regulate. As we learned by the carnage of Lac-M├ęgantic and the deaths from the listeriosis outbreak, regulation does not mean bargaining or pleading with the industry that you are regulating. It means ordering them, with a big stick in hand.
(Though I will sound a note of caution about Attaran's desire to instead hand over responsibility for quality control to the FDA in light of the risk that the U.S.' own regulatory structure could be gutted at any time.)

- Chantal Hebert points out that the Cons' fixation on fossil fuel extraction is facing significant obstacles at home as well as abroad.

- Finally, Aaron Wherry discusses the Cons' war on relevancy as their basis for opposing a simple requirement that they actually answer the questions posed to them in Question Period, while Kady O'Malley offers a few alternatives to try to keep MPs on topic (though all seem both more complicated and less effective than the NDP's proposal). And Andrew Mitrovica argues that we need to keep our eye on the bigger political picture, rather than being too easily distracted by sideshows like Paul Calandra and Ezra Levant.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Aaron Wherry reviews what the last week has told us about the functioning (or absence thereof) of our House of Commons - and points out that the most important problem is one which hasn't yet surfaced in headlines or memes:
(T)he most important sentence delivered last week about the state of our Parliament might’ve been found not on any screen, speaker or widely read page, but on page four of the Parliamentary Budget Office’s quarterly expenditure review: “The Government has refused to release data that is necessary for the PBO to determine whether the recent spending cuts are sustainable.”

That much didn’t inspire even a single question last week (though there was one question about a different refusal to provide the PBO with information). Maybe because this is such old news. But minding the collection and expenditure of public funds is arguably the primary reason we have a Parliament: the idea from which our Parliament began to grow in the 13th century. That we have a profound problem in this regard is hardly news. But to dismiss that concern is merely to dismiss 700 years of progress.
- And lest there's any doubt, the Cons are once again taking a stand against their ever having to answer for anything - this time, by opposing the NDP's simple motion to require the government to provide merely relevant answers in question period.

- Meanwhile, Michael Harris notes that recent days have also offered a continuation of some familiar and dangerous patterns when it comes to the Harper Cons' foreign policy choices:
The prime minister long ago used up any “benefit of the doubt” account he might once have had on foreign affairs. His analysis a decade ago would have had Canada front and centre in the last Iraq debacle — which anyone who takes a second to think about it knows set the stage for this latest ISIS fiasco.

The old thesis is back. One can bomb one’s way to peace in the Middle East without telling the folks back home what’s going on. You know, like Viet Nam. Only undemocratic war mongers believe that. And for that matter, only war mongers celebrate the beginning of the First World War, the way Harper did.
Harper has done this much for the country. He has shown us that even in an age as shallow as this one, marketing has it limits. Harper’s UN speech was in the same category as the contest to name his new cat. If he thinks that talking peace and motherhood will allow him to send Canadians to fight and die in Iraq without debate, if he thinks he can foist weeping losers on the public in important positions, if he thinks he can replace inconvenient facts with made-up versions, he has forgotten it is no longer 2006.
- And Mark Kennedy reports that truth and reconciliation aren't anywhere on Harper's agenda at home either - as he's refusing to meet with the chair of the commission he himself appointed to examine Canada's shameful legacy of residential schools.

- Finally, Tom Sullivan discusses how P3s are failing to live up to their promise of a free lunch around the developed world. And Jim Holmes notes that a combination of vanishing funding, false assumptions and broken promises is turning Regina's wastewater P3 into a bad deal as well.

On choosing sides

Shorter L. Ian MacDonald:
Anybody doubting whether it's worth going to war in Iraq based on minimal information and questionable reasoning had best take a cold, hard look at the dangers of being on the wrong side of history. But of course, anybody demanding a war in in Iraq based on minimal information and questionable reasoning can count on the full and indefinite support of Very Serious People around the globe, no matter how appallingly wrong the decision proves to be.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Sunday reading.

- Frances Russell notes that the corporate sector is laughing all the way to the bank (and often an offshore one at that) after fifteen years of constant tax slashing, while Canadian citizens haven't benefited at all from the trickle-down theory. And Jordan Weissmann points out that a recent survey on CEO pay is just the latest example of Americans both severely underestimating the level of inequality in their country, and still preferring a far more equal distribution of wealth.

- Elisabeth Babcock writes that in addition to providing a reasonable standard of living, any effort to ameliorate poverty needs to include a concerted effort to overcome the individual stresses created by precarious life. And Chuk Plante reminds us how poverty and exclusion are intertwined with health and economic outcomes.

- Mitchell Anderson highlights how the FIPPA and other business-biased trade deals serve to undermine not only any hope of people-oriented policy, but also the personal and social protections enshrined in Canada's constitution:
Perhaps most importantly, the deal fails to protect aboriginal rights under the Constitution. The implications of this omission are profound. While our federal government has a duty to consult First Nations, Chinese state-owned companies can sue Canada through a secret international arbitration panel for any such accommodation that affects their economic interests.

This would essentially fetter the Crown, which could be successfully sued by either Chinese interests or First Nations depending on whether they respect aboriginal title or not. Put another way, while the FIPA does not specifically override First Nations Charter protections, it could make providing those protections prohibitively expensive. The Hupacasath First Nation on Vancouver Island challenged the FIPA in court based on exactly these concerns and their decision at the Federal Court of Appeal is expected any day.
 With the prospect of a change in government in 2015, many Canadians are hoping for a period of rebuilding public institutions. The FIPA, however, could lock in Harper’s draconian cuts to federal environmental laws for almost eight electoral cycles — effectively an eternity by political standards.

Future governments could revisit the legislative changes by the Harper government, but if they affect Chinese interests in comparison to what is on the books now, we have to pay. How much? According to the terms just agreed to by Ottawa, the sky’s the limit.

Harper famously proclaimed, “You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it.” He has made surprising progress on that dubious goal, and like most politicians I’m sure would like to keep it that way long after he has left office.

This trade deal will persist for as long as we’ve had the Charter. But unlike the Charter, which was the result of months of good-faith negotiations between opposing political parties, the FIPA seems instead an undemocratic and underhanded endgame to lock in our prime minister’s ideological legacy.
- Meanwhile, Mike De Souza reports that the Cons are once again encouraging the oil industry to flout what few environmental laws are left on the books - this time issuing a drilling permit while studiously ignoring scientific evidence about the danger the drilling would pose to endangered beluga whales. Which means that it's more than understandable that affected communities like North Bay are raising concerns about the Energy East pipeline even as it avoids some of the risks and costs of its even more controversial counterparts.

- Finally, as part of Right to Know Week, Sean Holman unveils a new movement - and hashtag - intended to expose government secrecy in Canada.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Bruce Johnstone points out that one can't justify Stephen Harper's gross dereliction of duty in addressing greenhouse gas emissions based on any system of principles other than climate change denialism. And Tony Burman criticizes the Cons for burying their heads in the oil sands, while pointing out that we have plenty of work to do as citizens to replace them with leaders who actually contribute to the most important crisis facing humanity.

- Meanwhile, Jeremy Nuttall reports on the NDP's work to stop damaging the planet in the name of unfettered resource extraction - this time focusing on Nathan Cullen's bill to stop tankers from operating off British Columbia's north coast.

- Paul Krugman reminds us why concentrated top-end wealth doesn't actually result in improved lives even for the few who take a perpetually larger share of our resources:
If you feel that it’s bad for society to have people flaunting their relative wealth, you have in effect accepted the view that great wealth imposes negative externalities on the rest of the population — which is an argument for progressive taxation that goes beyond the maximization of revenue.

And one more thing: think about what this says about economic growth. We have an economy that has become considerably richer since 1980, but with a large share of the gains going to people with very high incomes — people for whom the marginal utility of a dollar’s worth of spending is not only low, but comes largely from status competition, which is a zero-sum game. So a lot of our economic growth has simply been wasted, doing nothing but accelerating the pace of the upper-income rat race.
- Neil Irwin chimes in on the sad reality that any economic growth in the U.S. is being skimmed off the top by the wealthiest 10% - meaning that the vast majority of workers and citizens don't have anything to gain from corporatist policies even if they did (contrary to all evidence) contribute to GDP growth. And Jennifer Erickson discusses the middle class squeeze which has seen costs rise even as incomes stagnate or fall.

- Finally, PressProgress exposes how the Harper Cons' belief in the magical effect of corporate tax slashing has proven utterly false in reality. And Truthout makes the case for finally repudiating trickle-down economics in favour of policies designed to improve citizens' lives, while Joe Gunn contrasts our options in reducing either poverty or tax rates.

On deflection

Shorter Your Corporate Overlords:
It turns out most of the information we supplied to get a free pass on importing disposable foreign workers was laughably inaccurate. And we're outraged that anybody was foolish enough to believe us.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Musical interlude

Starecase - See (Timo Maas Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Don Pittis makes the case for a guaranteed annual income on economic and social grounds:
The young would be some of the biggest beneficiaries. Students could use the money to pay for their education, thus eliminating student loan programs. Students from poor families could afford to take courses to improve their skills.

The old age security system could disappear. So would the baby bonus itself. The demogrant would supplement government programs such as minimum wage, EI, CPP/QPP, disability allowance – all resulting in bureaucratic savings.

But going back to my original question: if you got free money, would you continue to work?

Experimental programs, including one in Dauphin, Man. in the 1970s, show that the answer is yes.

As Pereira points out, scratching out a living on the demogrant alone (which some suggest would vary with local living costs) would mean you could never have a house or a car, or any of the minor luxuries we all expect.

But there is another reason to introduce the demogrant. And that is the changing nature of work in the automated age.

Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, worries that we are on the way to a world where robots do most of the work, driving up unemployment to levels never seen before.

"How do we get an income into people's hands so that they can survive, so that they are not on the street?" Ford asks.
- And Olivia Carville points out that due to the shredding of the social safety net, disabled Ontarians are actually more likely to live in poverty and rely on food banks than was the case two decades ago.

- In the wake of the news about the passing of two giants of Canada's progressive political blogosphere, let's offer up this week's examples of the Cons' Mostly Competent Government: an appalling objection to indigenous peoples' rights buried far out of sight, and a much-trumpeted set of grain shipping regulations which has been rendered one-seventh as effective as promised because the Cons couldn't be bothered to check for typos.

- Meanwhile, Carol Linnitt highlights the Cons' Orwellian messaging on climate change. And Matthew Paterson expands on how Canada is being left behind as the rest of the world starts to deal meaningfully with the most important challenge facing humanity.

- Finally, Katrina Orlowski discusses the role millenials can and should play in changing Canadian politics.

On practical obstacles

Shorter Andrew Scheer:
A functional democratic Parliament is everybody's responsibility. And to be more precise, my responsibility for a functional democratic Parliament is to enforce complete unaccountability - and indeed punish anybody who questions that choice - until the Conservative Party instructs me otherwise.
(For further reading, Michael Den Tandt, Mia Rabson and Tasha Kheiriddin weigh in as well.)

[Edit: added link.]

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda McQuaig reminds us that while growing inequality may have different impacts on older workers as compared to younger ones, it arises based on fault lines which have nothing to do with age:
(T)he suggestion that seniors as a group receive too much government support is absurd. Rich seniors, who need it least, are dramatically over-subsidized by government. Poor seniors — the ones who need more help — have been all but abandoned by the Harper government.

For that matter, the precarious financial situation faced by the young is part of the erosion of economic security for working people in general, as an increasingly powerful corporate sector pushes governments to redesign tax and trade laws in its favour, and to weaken union and workplace protections. This has allowed corporations to scoop up an increasingly large share of national income, at the expense of labour.
(I)t’s now common to have two-tier workplaces, where new hires receive pay and benefits that are a fraction of what long-time employees receive.

But it’s corporations that have created this highly unequal situation, by taking advantage of vulnerable younger workers. Unions have fought bitterly against the two-tier workplace, knowing it will weaken worker solidarity.

Both Maclean’s and Stewart-Patterson suggest that young people could deal with their plight by launching a tax revolt — the Right’s favourite cause — which would lead to further cuts to our social safety net. How convenient it would be for conservatives if it could enlist young people in an anti-tax crusade.

A much better solution for young people would be a stronger social safety net: increased government subsidies for university and college tuition, a universal child care program and direct investments in job creation, particularly for youth.

Above all, the Right wants to ensure that the anger of disaffected young people doesn’t end up aimed at the corporate elite — as it was during Occupy Wall Street’s campaign against the growing wealth and power of the ‘one per cent’.
- Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias highlights Pavlina Tcherneva's findings on increasing inequality in periods of U.S. economic expansion - as economic growth is now managing to take place at the same time as further erosion of income for the bottom 90%. But Thomas Edsall notes that far too few people are willing to talk about the progressive taxation and social investments necessary to improve matters.

- Huffington Post Canada takes a look at OECD data and finds that Canada's proportion of low-paying jobs (at 22% of all jobs) is among the worst in the developed world. And Louis-Philippe Rochon discusses how the Cons are determined to put the screws to workers even more by undermining any attempt to organize:
There is strong evidence to suggest that higher unionization rates translate into higher salaries, which in turn fuels consumption-based economic growth with less, not more, household indebtedness.  Yet, the decline of unionization in Canada and elsewhere in the last 4 decades has had devastating results.

If we look at the post World War II era, from 1945 to now, we notice two very distinct periods with very striking differences.

Consider, for instance, the period right after World War II from, say 1945 to roughly the early 1970s, which is what many economists now refer to as the Golden Years — and for a reason. Unionization in Canada was growing and the Canadian economy underwent a massive expansion. In fact, unionization grew steadily throughout this period, as did hourly earnings.
Since the 1970s, however, Canada changed for the worse.

This is where unionization began to decrease. It peaked at roughly 37 per cent in the early 1970s and began a slow decline, as did hourly earnings.

As a result of that and other influences, the Canadian economy slowed down and unemployment has been, on average, substantially higher. As for inflation, after hitting record highs, it has been tamer in the last few years but mostly as a result of weak increases in wages. As of 2013, unionization in Canada stands at a shocking 30 per cent (as a share of non-agricultural paid workers).

So what’s going on? Higher unionization means stronger unions, and stronger wage gains. Economies grow as a result of spending. So higher wages mean more consumption and growth. It’s that simple.

When governments try to quell unions and labour movements, they are actually hurting prospects for domestic growth. The same logic applies when governments reduce public spending, but that is a matter for another day.
- Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew examine how the risks arising out of the CETA far outweigh any plausible benefits. And to be clear it's worth making sure that any trade deal can be justified on its own terms - rather than signing on to any of them based solely on the desire to be seen as generally friendly toward business (or the argument that it might be possible to minimize the damage later).

- Finally, Gwynn Guilford makes the case for improved paternity leave as the best means of both encouraging parental participation in the workforce, and ensuring that the responsibility for raising children doesn't fall disproportionately on women.

New column day

Here, on how the politics and economics of energy production are changing around the world - and how Canada is being left behind due to governments focused solely on pushing oil interests.

For further reading...
- Again, Vivek Radhwa discusses the progress that's being made in developing - and broadly implementing - renewable alternatives to fossil fuel energy. And Clean Energy Canada studies how we're missing the boat.
- Aaron Wherry reminds us that Stephen Harper was at least once willing to talk about climate change - but only apparently when he saw no political choice. And again, there's been a pattern of Con and Sask Party politicians abandoning any pretense to public service in favour of explicit oil lobbying - with Rob Merrifield and Tim McMillan serving as just the latest examples.
- Justin Ling points out that any question as to the federal government's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has been answered in the affirmative.
- The Guardian reports on the People's Climate March which saw half a million citizens around the world call for action against climate change, while Monica Araya and Hans Verolme see it as just the start of a new movement for clean energy.
- CBC reports on Leona Aglukkaq's speech to the UN, while Rosemary Barton offers photographic evidence that nobody much cared what she had to say.
- Finally, Thomas Walkom makes the case that Harper's absence from the UN climate summit may have been for the best. But that's hardly a vote of confidence since it's based entirely on the view that Harper would only have shown up to obstruct proceedings anyway.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Joe Cressy argues that we need to take strong progressive positions to highlight the kinds of public investment which need to be made, rather than buying into right-wing spin about slashing taxes and eliminating public institutions:
Public investment is about social justice, taking care of people and making sure our communities have affordable housing, public transit, child care, clean air to breathe and water to drink.

Now, when progressive candidates talk about investing in communities, we are often labeled as ‘tax-and-spenders,’ as if that were something to be ashamed of.

The reality is that taxing, spending, and regulating are the core functions of government, no matter who holds office. The difference lies in how you prioritize spending.

Instead of running from the word ‘tax,’ we need to look at what we are actually doing with our resources. Are we taxing fairly, and are we investing in things that will make life better? That should be the ‘bottom line.’
- Which fits nicely with Ken Neumann's view that we should demand better in the next federal election (and in our political system generally), not just settle for any alternative.

- Meanwhile, Celia Carr laments the stigmatization of people living in poverty. And Danielle Kurtzleben notes that based on our actual standards of fairness, we should instead be far more critical of CEOs who extract massive amounts of wealth at the expense of workers.

- Jason Fekete reports on the Cons' obscene expenditures on media monitoring and communications

- Finally, Barrie McKenna discusses how the fetishization of small business leads to our spending billions on programs which don't accomplish anything of value. And I'll note that we shouldn't merely be drawing distinctions between small and large businesses either, as we'd do far better to highlight the importance of public services - as Janet Newbury does:
We don't have to choose between supporting the public sector and economic prosperity: investing in the public sector is good for our economy.

A good jobs plan for B.C. would enhance the public sector -- particularly supporting jobs in health and human services. It would replace the current trend towards temporary, resource-dependent jobs with a commitment to maintaining stable, permanent jobs that contribute to societal well-being. Creating and maintaining public sector jobs can foster our social and economic well-being by ensuring the quality of vital gap-reducing social services, and by building a strong and stable workforce in B.C.