Friday, October 21, 2016

Musical interlude

Yuri Kane feat. Melissa Loretta - Daylight

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Mainly Macro offers a useful definition of neoliberalism, while highlighting its relationship to austerity. And Ed Finn writes that we shouldn't be too quick to presume neoliberalism is going to disappear just because it's proven to be harmful in practice - and that it will take a massive shift in our politics to actually create real change:
We should always keep in mind that neoliberalism is as much a methodology as it is an ideology. Perhaps more so. It is the deeply entrenched doctrine through and by which corporations exert and maintain their dominant economic system. Global capitalism could not survive without the prevalence of neoliberalism, or some equivalent belief system that rationalizes its brutally inequitable operations.

No matter how vigorous the upsurge of anti-establishment populism becomes, it will never on its own topple the titans of corporate rule. That could only happen when countries have genuinely democratic governments instead of governments that function mainly as the flunkeys of big business. We live in a world where nearly all governments (including Canada’s) have embraced and deployed neoliberalism as zealously as the corporations — and on behalf of the corporations.

As long as the corporations can rely on this powerful political support, neoliberalism will remain unassailable. Without the levers of reform that only governments can provide, the dissidents can never succeed in their crusade, no matter how large their numbers. This is the grim reality.
There is some hope that, if a massive multitude of voters could be mobilized against the nabobs of neoliberalism, it could be concentrated into a powerful electoral force. What if every MP who favoured neoliberalism — or even a majority of them — were defeated in the next election and replaced by a candidate who wanted it scrapped? If duplicated in every large industrial country, could this international tsunami of anti-establishment populism sink global neoliberalism?

Simply to pose this fanciful scenario, however, exposes its improbability — if only because the destruction of neoliberalism also entails the destruction of capitalism.

Neoliberalism is the lifeblood, the very beating heart, of modern capitalism. So it will be fiercely defended by both corporations and their obsequious political allies, regardless of the social, economic, and environmental devastation it wreaks.
- Alison Grizwold discusses how the gig labour market looks disturbingly like the pre-industrial economy in its total lack of security or protection for workers.

- Aditya Chakrabortty writes that anti-social populism is a natural response to the spread of trade agreements as a substitute for democratic control over policy. Steven Shrybman analyzes (PDF) the utterly ineffective "interpretative declaration" which is supposed to offer some comfort against the obviously worrisome terms of the CETA. And Brent Patterson points out that Ontario is claiming it's bound by existing trade rules as an excuse for refusing to protect needed water sources from corporate exploitation.

- Finally, Elizabeth Goiten calls attention to the U.S. government's reliance on secret laws, while pointing out the obvious dangers of sidestepping both public review as to what laws are in place and the ability to know what legal burdens have been applied. Edward Snowden discusses the politics of fear behind C-51 and other surveillance legislation. And Matthew Behrens laments the fact that even CSIS' supposed watchdog is going out of its way to defend the use of information obtained by torture (however grossly that violates international law).

Thursday, October 20, 2016

New column day

Here, on how Brad Wall's call for Canada to stop funding international climate change adaptation and mitigation reflects just one more example of his government's tendency to kick down at the people least able to defend themselves.

For further reading...
- Gregory Beatty again documented the background to Wall's abandonment of an equalization system which would properly account for resources (in favour of a climate change policy intended to ignore the pollution they generate).
- For details on Canada's international climate contributions, see here.
- Howard Leeson writes about the futility of Wall's choice to literally tilt at windmills. And for noteworthy comments on Wall's plan itself, see the responses by Andrew Leach, Mark Cameron and Christopher Ragan, the Pembina Institute, and Murray Mandryk.
- Finally, key comments on the Wall government's latest cuts to social supports can be found here and here. And CBC reports on protests against the Saskatchewan Party's cuts to disability programs.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Owen Jones highlights the toxic stress and other health problems borne disproportionately by members of the LGBT community who face systematic discrimination. And Tayla Smith and Jaitra Sathyandran discuss how temporary foreign workers (and others facing precarious work situations) tend to suffer preventable harm to their health and welfare.

- Meanwhile, Robert Devet reports that Nova Scotia's NDP is proposing to relieve an important part of economic insecurity by making it a mandatory human rights obligation to ensure people have access to food, water, housing and basic services. Which in turn fits nicely with Trevor Hancock's reminder that we're better off investing in public health, rather than paying for after-the-fact treatment only once an illness or injury has surfaced.

- Reynard Loki discusses the impending global water crisis, while pointing out there's much to gain by ensuring people have access to clean and safe water.

- Andrew Coyne asks whether Justin Trudeau is trying to pull a fast one on electoral reform. Kelly Carmichael argues that the Libs need to be held to their clear promise to end first-past-the-post politics.

- Meanwhile, Dr. Dawg takes a more general look at how Trudeau is presiding over another term of Harperite government. Chantal Hebert points out that the list of similarities increasingly includes a refusal to engage constructively with anybody outside the federal government. And Robert Fife and Steven Chase report that cash-for-access is standard operating procedure for Trudeau's cabinet.

- Finally, CBC reports on Oxfam's latest study documenting the connection between the gender pay gap and the wider problem of inequality.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Peter Fleming writes that the promise of entrepreneurial self-employment has given way to the nightmare of systematic precarious work:
(T)he move to reclassify people as self-employed follows a very simple formula: it helps reduce labour costs and maximise profits for businesses that would rather use contractors than a permanent workforce. This includes Uber, Hermes, universities and many other organisations.

The business logic is rather brutal. If you’re self-employed then all the costs that a normal employer would cover must now be paid by you – including training, uniforms and vehicles, not to mention basic provisions for pensions and sick pay. This is the case even when a contractor works for the firm on a de facto permanent basis.
The problem is that successive governments have completely swallowed the “entrepreneurial society” propaganda that is spouted by neoliberal economists. As a result, the laws and regulations that protect the permanent workforce don’t apply here. Not even the minimum wage. Clearly this has been exploited by employers.
Perhaps the message cuts to the heart of the self-employment movement. It’s all about power. While some may end up on top, most workers find themselves perilously dependent on an employer, and with few rights or protections, not to mention less pay.

What can be done? Well, the airline pilots had the right idea. The only way to rebalance what is now a very unequal power relationship is to collectivise. Workers at Deliveroo and Uber have arrived at similar conclusions.

The so-called “gig economy” sounds glamorous and fun, like trendy graphic designers working from a laptop in a Shoreditch cafe. Sadly it’s turned out to be something of a bad gig for many struggling to make ends meet. The conflict between workers and capitalism hasn’t disappeared. It might have got even worse.
- Hina Alam reports on a new Forum poll showing widespread public support for a $15 minimum wage across Canada.

- Tom Parkin rightly pushes back again the claim that we should encourage pay-for-play health care due to the cost of ensuring that everybody has access. And Steven Hoffman makes the case for an increase in public health resources to prevent injuries and illness rather than merely reacting after they've materialized.

- Meanwhile, Laurie Monsebraaten highlights how many people would benefit from a public child care system based on their inability to afford daycare now.

- Abbas Rana discusses Bradley Birkenfeld's thus-far-rejected efforts to help Canada to recover billions in tax revenues from offshore accounts.

- Finally, Neil MacDonald writes that Canada is increasingly reliant on the war business - and the Trudeau Libs are putting large amounts of time and energy into furthering that niche.

On false prophets

It wasn't long ago when a series of Canadian federal elections saw Stephen Harper and his Conservatives take more and more power - culminating in over four years of a false majority government - even as upwards of 60% of voters opposed virtually everything it stood for.

Some of us then figured it was worth doing something to fix the first-past-the-post system which Harper was able to exploit - especially when every national opposition party included electoral reform among its top priorities as part of the effort to oust Harper.

But Justin Trudeau has apparently given up the pretense of caring about implementing a system which represents Canadians. Instead, he's abandoning the promise that we'd seen our last FPTP election - because he's apparently perfectly happy trading an artificial claim to barely-checked power with Harper-style Conservatives as long as his party gets a turn.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Nestled cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Peter Rossman explains why the CETA falls far short of the mark in accounting for anybody's interests other than those of big business. And Dani Rodrik discusses the dangers of laissez-faire fundamentalism, particularly to the extent it threatens to undermine the foundation of a functional society:
(T)he lesson from the 1980s is that some reversal from hyper-globalization need not be a bad thing, as long as it serves to maintain a reasonably open world economy. As I have frequently argued, we need a better balance between national autonomy and globalization. In particular, we need to place the requirements of liberal democracy ahead of those of international trade and investment. Such a rebalancing would leave plenty of room for an open global economy; in fact, it would enable and sustain it.
The key challenge facing mainstream political parties in the advanced economies today is to devise such a vision, along with a narrative that steals the populists’ thunder. These center-right and center-left parties should not be asked to save hyper-globalization at all costs. Trade advocates should be understanding if they adopt unorthodox policies to buy political support.

We should look instead at whether their policies are driven by a desire for equity and social inclusion, or by nativist and racist impulses; whether they want to enhance or weaken the rule of law and democratic deliberation; and whether they are trying to save the open world economy – albeit with different ground rules – rather than undermine it.
- Michael Enright writes about the obvious failure of Canada's corporate sector to convert billions in giveaways into economic investment. And that track record in relying on the corporate sector offers all the more reason to be wary of Justin Trudeau's plan to sell off what's left of our common wealth.
- Casey Quinlan examines how corporations are using underfunded public school systems in the U.S., while Daniel Boffey notes that private schools in the UK are creating new barriers for poor children.

- Sarah Smarsh theorizes that the rise of Donald Trump can be explained in part by the failure of the media and other cultural institutions to provide a voice for many working people. And David Beers warns us that we shouldn't trust the mainstream right to recognize the risk of a Trump-style demagogue.

- Finally, Dougald Lamont reminds us why we shouldn't pretend the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation stands for anything other than unaccountable corporate influence. And DeSmog Canada examines the grossly insufficient state of political finance regulations in British Columbia.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Vanessa Williamson writes that plenty of Americans want to see wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share of taxes - only to have that strong desire ignored by policymakers. And Joseph Stiglitz and Erika Siu discuss the glaring need for stronger tax enforcement around the globe.

- Andrew Coyne rebuts the assumption from Brad Wall and others that there's no cost to ignoring the harms of climate change.

- Murray Mandryk points to the Saskatchewan Party's slashing of funding for teachers for Northern Saskatchewan as a prime example of austerity being inflicted most directly on the people who can least afford it.

- Geoff Leo pieces together the story of the Saskatchewan Party's Global Transportation Hub scandal - now featuring a second, failed attempt to enrich Brad Wall's cronies at public expense before the purchase which was ultimately pushed through. And the question which figures to reverberate for some time given the Saskatchewan Party's refusal to answer it is which shady operator was granted privileged access to Bill Boyd to that end.

- Karen McVeigh reports on Nevsun's use of forced labour and intimidation tactics in Eritrea as the latest example of mining-industry abuses around the world which should be a source of significant shame for Canada.

- Finally, John Washington tells the story of a widespread strike among U.S. prisoners being exploited for their cheap labour whose large-scale protests have received virtually no public attention. And Larry Schwartzol and Abby Shafroth point out how prison debt prevents people who have served a sentence from building a life afterward.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Most! Progressive! Ever!

Shorter Bill Morneau:
I take great pride in the fact that other elites are starting to come around to my party's "make a show of dropping at least a few crumbs for the plebes" philosophy.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Ellen Gould comments on how the CETA and other trade deals constrain democratic governance - and the fact that corporate bigwigs are threatening any government which considers giving effect to popular opposition doesn't exactly provide any comfort. Meanwhile, Scott Sinclair points out the dangerous effects of the CETA on Canadian public services and water security.

- In a column from September, Robbie Nelson points out the need for our political system to rein in corporate excesses (particularly in the financial sector). And Sebastien Malo points out the World Bank's observation that nowhere near enough investment is going into planning for the effect of climate change on people living in poverty and precarity. 

- Fran Boait writes that capital-focused quantitative easing has done far more to increase inequality than to boost growth - signalling the need for fiscal and economic policy to be used to benefit workers. Jordan Brennan studies the value of investing in people rather than imposing austerity in Nova Scotia. And Armine Yalnizyan discusses how an improved minimum wage leads to bottom-up development. 

- Nicholas Keung reports that a federal fee grab is severely reducing the number of applicants for Canadian citizenship.

- Finally, Lana Payne discusses the challenges that reality-averse candidates like Donald Trump pose for the media. And Matt Taibbi notes that Trump has exploited and amplified the absolute worst elements of the U.S' aristocratic political system. But I wouldn't take that commentary as reason to buy into Jeffrey Tucker's repudiation of politics in general when it can instead offer us a basis to build a political environment that actually builds community.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Joel Wood highlights the social cost of carbon as a crucial reason to work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions rather than insisting on doing the absolute least the rest of the world will tolerate. And needless to say, Brad Wall's idea of an argument for the position that we should have no policies aimed at actually reducing emissions is rather less than compelling - particularly given Chelsea Harvey's warning that we can't rely on technology to remove emissions from our atmosphere later on.

- Max Ehrenfreund notes that for all the criticism too often leveled toward public housing, it actually produces dramatic improvements in the opportunities for children who grow up in it:
Comprehensive new data published this week challenges the cultural consensus on public housing. For all their flaws, housing projects can have remarkable positive effects on the children who grow up in them, researchers conclude in a paper published by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research.

Children who spend more time in public housing will earn hundreds of dollars more each year than they would have if their parents had not received housing assistance from the government during those years. Children who benefit from public housing are also less likely to be imprisoned, according to the data.

Not having to worry about paying private-sector rents, parents might have more time to spend on their children — helping them with their homework, keeping them out of trouble and guiding them to a more successful adulthood, the researchers theorize.
- Meanwhile, Dawn Foster writes that the differential treatment of owned housing (which can be inherited) and rental tenancies (which can't) results in inequality being exacerbated over the course of multiple generations.

- Nicole Kozloff, Carol E. Adair, Luis I. Palma Lazgare, Daniel Poremski, Amy H. Cheung, Rebeca Sandu and Vicky Stergiopoulos study the success of Housing First programming in assisting homeless youth. But Laurie Monsebraaten and Hina Alam point out the desperate lack of federal and provincial funding to support municipal housing programs.

- And in a similar vein, a group of citizens concerns about B.C.'s education cuts highlights the dangers of relying on fund-raising rather than public revenue to fund necessary educational services. 

- Finally, Kate McInturff examines the gender gap across Canada's cities, and finds that the major cities on the prairies are clustered near the bottom when it comes to gender parity.