Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Owen Jones discusses the UK's experience with privatized rail as yet another example of how vital services become more costly and worse-run when put in corporate hands.

- Sean McElwee highlights still more research showing that right-wing government tends to fail even on its own terms, with Republican governments producing less economic growth than Democratic ones. But PressProgress offers one answer to McElwee's question as to why people believe otherwise by pointing to the complete lack of media pushback against the Fraser Institute's usual pattern of anti-tax misdirection.

- Hardian Mertins-Kirkwood comments on a Russian oligarch's extraction of over a billion dollars from an impoverished Venezuela (with the help of a Canadian trade agreement) as just the latest example as to how "free trade" serves mostly to enrich the wealthy at everybody else's expense. Cory Doctorow notes that real-world experience strongly supports Thomas Piketty's argument that extreme wealth tends primarily to be self-perpetuating, rather than arising or growing out of personal merit. And Ben Popken writes about EpiPen price-gouging as the latest - and perhaps the most egregious - example of rent-seeking by the pharmaceutical sector at the expense of public health.

- Eric Holthaus observes that some of the feared long-term effects of climate change are already materializing. And Elizabeth McSheffrey points out that Husky's post-spill spin campaign looks to be just the latest example of the oil industry trying to cover up the direct consequences of its choices.

- Finally, Rank and File points out the need for Ontario to move past Harris-era attacks on workers.

New column day

Here, on how Brad Wall is preaching neglect and delay as a response to violent racism (even as he's fully prepared to use as much political capital as he can muster pitching the idea of a SaskTel selloff).

For further reading...
- Wall's comments which try to minimize Saskatchewan's racism are here. And Donna Harpauer's statement of the Saskatchewan Party's plan to do nothing is here.
- Statistics Canada's latest information on the proportion of aboriginal people by province is here, while its fact sheet on aboriginal people in Saskatchewan is here. And the social indicators in the article are drawn from here and here (on incarceration rates), here (on child poverty), and here (on unemployment).
- For those looking for more direct evidence as to attitudes toward indigenous people rather than their consequences, Environics' polling confirms that Saskatchewan has the most negative perceptions of relations between aboriginal people and other Canadians as well as the highest proportion of respondents blaming aboriginal people for inequality.
- Brenda MacDougall argues for an honest discussion of racism in Saskatchewan, while the Star-Phoenix reports on some of the aboriginal leaders pointing out we can't sweep discrimination and prejudice under the rug.
- And finally, I'll point again to Nancy Macdonald's review of the gross disparities in race and power in Saskatchewan.

[Edit: updated link.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Dayen wonders whether the Obama administration's decision to end the use of private prisons might represent the needed start of a movement away from relying on poor corporate services as a substitute for public action:
Private prisons experienced more safety and security incidents. They had higher rates of assaults, inadequate medical checkups and compliance, eight times as many incidents of contraband cell-phone smuggling, and often housed new inmates in solitary confinement units, seemingly for lack of space. The report also detailed several grisly incidents since 2008: three riots in one Reeves County, Texas facility in two months; the death of a corrections officer in a riot in Natchez, Mississippi; and the closure of the Willacy County (Texas) Correctional Center, after inmates burned it to the ground.

It’s not hard to figure out why this happens. Private companies win contracts to manage federal prisons by undercutting the Bureau of Prisons’ operational costs. Unlike the government, private prison companies must also take their profit margins out of their budgets. The only way to make that work is to massively drop labor costs, corresponding to a severe degradation of the quality of prison management.
...
That reflects the problem with privatization as a whole. Private companies must carry out a government function—be it water, parking meters, mass transit, or K-12 schools—at a lower cost than the government can provide it, while taking their profit off the top. Time and again, the results reveal that to be impossible, at least if you want to provide the same quality of service. Yet we keep privatizing. Whether it’s Republicans expanding Medicaid or cash-strapped cities handing over bus service to Uber and Lyft, eventually costs shift from taxpayers to the users of the services, oversight becomes impotent as officials grow reliant on outsourcing contracts, and attempts to maximize profits lead to service breakdowns.
- But CBC reports that the worst is yet to come in Saskatchewan as Brad Wall has publicly put SaskTel up for corporate raiding.

- Jacki Andre discusses the hidden costs of living with a disability - which make it particularly unconscionable for Wall's Saskatchewan Party to be trying to squeeze pennies out of people who rely on already-inadequate disability benefits.

- Floyd Perras highlights the multiple factors that contribute to (and exacerbate) homelessness. And Rocca Perla comments on the need to include social determinants of health within medical treatment of patients.

- Pat Rich describes the Canadian Medical Association's rude awakening in finding out that Lib Health Minister Jane Philpott has no interest in its key priorities for improved care. And Alison points out how the Libs are conspicuously trying to wriggle out of their promise to end the unfairness of first-past-the-post politics.

- Finally, Anna MacDonald makes the case for stronger transparency as a means of limiting the harm of global arms dealing. But if there was any doubt that the Trudeau Libs are firmly on the side of weapons proliferation, Helene Laverdiere points out their inexplicable decision to stand against nuclear disarmament.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Feline affection.




Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Owen Jones discusses the importance of the labour movement in ensuring that workers can get ahead in life, rather than drowning in debt:
Nights spent staring at the ceiling as worries dance manically around the brain. Taking a deep breath before opening the gas bill. Sacrificing a hot meal so your children don’t need to. Living with personal debt can be draining and emotionally exhausting, and it is the everyday experience of all too many Britons. According to a new TUC report, 3.2m British households face problem debt, meaning they spend more than a quarter of their overall income repaying unsecured borrowings (ie, excluding mortgages). For 1.6m households in extreme debt, the picture is even bleaker: more than 40% of their income goes to creditors.

This is the lived experience of Britain’s working poor, those who keep the country ticking with their hard graft and are rewarded with poverty and insecurity. British workers have suffered the longest fall in wages since Queen Victoria sat on the throne. Between 2007 and 2015, real wages fell by an astonishing 10.4% - the worst fall in any advanced nation other than Greece. Growing personal debt is the price many British workers have paid for the disastrous economic failure of George Osborne and his colleagues – one of whom is now the nation’s prime minister.
...
In Nordic countries, it is the norm for workers to be unionised. Better living standards and more equality than we have in Britain are two of the byproducts. Jeremy Corbyn – near-certain to be re-elected Labour leader next month – has unveiled policies such as compulsory collective bargaining for companies with more than 250 workers. Such an approach would help lift the wages of workers, not only for their own good, but for the good of the British economy, too. But the positive case for trade unionism cannot just be left to politicians: it needs to be made by all of us. It needs to be put in a language that resonates with the millions of non-unionised workers, and particularly for younger people for whom the very notion of trade unionism seems culturally alien. Personal debt is a blight in modern Britain – and trade unionism is one of its cures.
- And PressProgress highlights how Canada's youth are also facing an unprecedented combination of large debt and minimal employment opportunities.

- Tom Parkin notes that under the Trudeau Libs, Canada's real economy isn't keeping up with the "like economy" - and that we need strong government action to improve matters at all. And the New York Times' editorial board highlights the role an affordable child care system can play in improving outcomes for parents and children alike.

- Scott Santens surveys a UK review as to how means-testing can create fatal holes in a social safety net. But Noah Zon raises some important questions as to whether a basic income represents the best way to strengthen our social supports.

- Johnny SanPhillippo points out that poverty and precarity are important factors shaping individual well-being even in the areas (mostly suburbs) which are all too often considered to be immune.

- Finally, Brooke Harrington discusses the utter futility of expecting any positive social or economic outcomes from tax haven status. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Martin Jacques writes about the inescapable failings of neoliberalism, along with the question of what alternative will come next:
(B)y historical standards, the neoliberal era has not had a particularly good track record. The most dynamic period of postwar western growth was that between the end of the war and the early 70s, the era of welfare capitalism and Keynesianism, when the growth rate was double that of the neoliberal period from 1980 to the present.

But by far the most disastrous feature of the neoliberal period has been the huge growth in inequality. Until very recently, this had been virtually ignored. With extraordinary speed, however, it has emerged as one of, if not the most important political issue on both sides of the Atlantic, most dramatically in the US. It is, bar none, the issue that is driving the political discontent that is now engulfing the west. Given the statistical evidence, it is puzzling, shocking even, that it has been disregarded for so long; the explanation can only lie in the sheer extent of the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values.
...
...The hyper-globalisation era has been systematically stacked in favour of capital against labour: international trading agreements, drawn up in great secrecy, with business on the inside and the unions and citizens excluded, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being but the latest examples; the politico-legal attack on the unions; the encouragement of large-scale immigration in both the US and Europe that helped to undermine the bargaining power of the domestic workforce; and the failure to retrain displaced workers in any meaningful way.
...
The neoliberal era is being undermined from two directions. First, if its record of economic growth has never been particularly strong, it is now dismal. Europe is barely larger than it was on the eve of the financial crisis in 2007; the United States has done better but even its growth has been anaemic. Economists such as Larry Summers believe that the prospect for the future is most likely one of secular stagnation.

Worse, because the recovery has been so weak and fragile, there is a widespread belief that another financial crisis may well beckon. In other words, the neoliberal era has delivered the west back into the kind of crisis-ridden world that we last experienced in the 1930s. With this background, it is hardly surprising that a majority in the west now believe their children will be worse off than they were. Second, those who have lost out in the neoliberal era are no longer prepared to acquiesce in their fate – they are increasingly in open revolt. We are witnessing the end of the neoliberal era.
- Philipp Lepenies reminds us of the dangers in evaluating an economy based solely on GDP rather than rather than measures of economic development which actually have a direct impact on people's lives. And Terry Etam takes a look at how the Alberta PCs' failure to understand the difference has left a mess for Rachel Notley to clean up.

- Seth Klein, Marc Jaccard and Clean Energy Canada are among the many looking at the B.C. Libs' new exercise in climate change deflection and procrastination (featuring backsliding from previous targets and a glaring lack of policy to meet the ones now put forward) as a cynical pre-election PR stunt.

- Courtney Bowman discusses the need for a meaningful effort to eliminate the over-incarceration of aboriginal people, while noting that the Wall government is slashing the resources needed for the task. And Michael Spratt notes that the federal Libs are looking at exacerbating the Cons' use of pointless mandatory minimum sentences.

- Finally, Kathryn Doyle reports on new research showing how food advertising affects children's eating habits.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Paolo Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo study (PDF) how the economic conditions an individual's youth influence enduring values - and find that the experience of an economic shock tends to lead to a greater appreciation of a fair redistribution of resources:
Consistent with theories of social psychology, this paper shows that large macroeconomic shocks experienced during the critical years of adolescence and early adulthood, between the ages of 18 and 25, shape preferences for redistribution and that this effect is statistically and economically significant.
...
Our findings are consistent with three broad interpretations. First, evidence from social psychology (and also neuroscience) shows that young adults are particularly responsive to the external environment, implying that later experiences are less relevant in shaping behavior.

A second interpretation regarding the persistent effect of macroeconomic shocks on beliefs is consistent with Cogley and Sargent (2008). The authors argue, in reference to the Great Depression, that macroeconomic shocks are “beliefs-twisting events,” whose influence can last long, because it takes a long time to correct the pessimistic beliefs induced by the depression, through the observation of macroeconomic data.

A third interpretation is consistent with theoretical work by Piketty (1995): the author argues that shocks could change people’s belief about the relative importance of luck versus effort as a driver of success. This belief, in his model, is related to the amount of taxes that people vote for and their preferences for government intervention. We find evidence consistent with his theory: the uncertainty created by macroeconomic shocks makes people believe that luck is more relevant than effort and, as a result, increases their desire for government intervention.
- And Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser discuss the strong correlation between trust and long-term growth - signalling how much damage is done to everybody's interests when elites instead focus on short-term extraction of wealth for themselves.

- Jon Schwarz rightly lambastes Apple for refusing to pay corporate taxes to the U.S. until it's able to extract what it considers a satisfactory discount, while the UK has announced what may be a significant move to limit the tax avoidance industry. Mike Bird, Vipal Mongaand and Aaron Kuriloff report on the trend of corporations handing out massive dividends - in many cases borrowing to hand shareholders more than a business has earned in income. And Gary Fooks, Karen West and Kevin Farnsworth trace the ballooning of executive pay to a concerted effort to transfer income from other workers to the executive class.

- Michael Walker and Sarah Kaine note that a strike at the UK delivery service Deliveroo offers an important example as to how workers with precarious jobs can engage in successful collective action. And Roger Baird discusses the potential for organization throughout the gig economy.

- Meanwhile, Dean Beeby reports on the misuse of unpaid interns by the federal government - though as with the failure to pay workers under the Phoenix pay scandal, the Libs' inclination seems to be toward prolonged study rather than quickly rectifying gross violations of employment law. And Alicia Bridges reports on the continued lack of workplace safety standard compliance in Saskatchewan.

- Finally, Christo Aivalis discusses how a postal banking system would fit into the values that should inform all of our decisions about the future of public services in Canada.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Danyaal Raza discusses how climate change is manifesting itself in immediate health problems. And John Vidal highlights the latest research on the rapid melting of Arctic ice - making it particularly appalling that Canada has abandoned its main Arctic port to rot.

- Elizabeth McSheffrey notes that the Libs also have effectively cleared the way for the environmental danger of oil spills by approving a toxic chemical for cleanup purposes. And Cheryl Santa Mario reports on how a long-running spill arising out of poorly-regulated offshore oil drilling has contributed to the destruction of a scallop fishery in Newfoundland.

- Keith Slack discusses the permanent water pollution being planned by mining companies - and all too often allowed by governments ignoring the obvious risk when the responsibility to keep treating water after a mine ceases to operate is inevitably abandoned. But Marina Jimenez points out that the Libs are doing nothing to hold Canadian resource firms responsible for social and environmental responsibilities abroad.

- Canada Without Poverty talks to Laura Cattari and Wayne MacNaughton about housing issues, including the all-too-predictable path from precarious housing to outright homelessness. And Kelly Stajduhar and Ashley Mollison comment on the lack of end-of-life care for people who can't supply a stable address while their needs are assessed.

- Finally, Michael Geist writes that Canada's intellectual property rules have been set up to encouraging trolling and rent-seeking rather than research and development. And Mariana Mazzucato discusses the need to get a better return on publicly-funded pharmaceutical research.

On selective interest

Murray Mandryk is once again far too eager to laud Brad Wall to the skies for doing the bare minimum he could to avoid responsibility for the racist sentiment his party has stoked for political gain.

So let's offer a reminder as to how willing Wall was to take action when the desperate social needs of First Nations citizens were identified in the absence of the public-relations conflagration set off by Colten Boushie's murder: 
Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall, who's running for a third stint as the province's premier, said that on-reserve issues are Ottawa's responsibility and duty.

"We hope the federal government moves quickly to address the concerns that have been raised," he said.
But hey: in the aftermath of Boushie's death, it seems like Wall may be willing to dispense one program space in exchange for every dozen bigots who publicly state their approval of the killing of indigenous people. And apparently the only hope for provincial action under Wall is for more of them to dominate the headlines.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Musical interlude

Oliver Heldens - Melody

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- PressProgress points out that a large number of Canadians are justifiably concerned about our economy, with a particular desire to rein in income and wealth inequality. And Guy Caron notes that there's no reason for politicians to keep facilitating tax avoidance which exacerbates the gap between the lucky few and the rest of us: 
A basic principle of any modern democracy is equality before the law. That principle includes tax law.

Nobody likes to pay taxes. It is often said that it is the price to pay for civilization. After all, they help pay for our schools, our roads, our health-care system and a social safety net that helps decrease income inequality. However, the pill is easier to swallow when everyone pays their fair share.

It's increasingly clear that in Canada -- and in most industrialized countries -- many are not. We have a two-tier system where the wealthy and the corporations can escape their obligations, and the rest of us can't.

As early as 1992, the auditor general of Canada pointed out the dangers of this unfair situation, when it warned that "Avoidance mechanisms also have a negative effect on the equity and integrity of the tax system and on public attitudes toward voluntary compliance. Access to such mechanisms is usually limited to those who can afford expensive advice. Those who cannot, therefore, may be denied equitable or even-handed treatment."
...
The problem is systemic in nature.

To put an end to tax evasion, aggressive tax avoidance, double standards and the culture of secrecy, we need to reform the system in Canada and on the international scene.
- Sadie McInnes examines how homelessness (or the threat thereof) particularly affects Canadian women. And Ben Casselman points out why a focus on extremely long hours is antithetical to any attempt to reach pay equity.

- Andrew Coyne rebuts a few of the more outlandish lines of attack against proportional electoral systems with examples of highly successful countries which use them. And Devon Rowcliffe notes that PR's international track record actually involves improvements in representational diversity and political cooperation.

- Amanda Connolly reports on the Libs' delays and half-measures in reviewing Bill C-51, while Paul Wells argues that we shouldn't be surprised that the Trudeau Libs' idea of change to the Cons' surveillance policies is limited to matters of branding rather than substance. And James Di Fiore takes a closer look at Justin Trudeau's attempt to substitute carefully-managed photo ops for actual transparency:
Inadvertently, the piece outlined one of the most glaring problems with the Trudeau government: its brain trust has placed such a high value on presenting a certain image to the public that they have replaced transparency with celebrity, a strategy meant to seduce and distract rather than inform the public.

This calculation is duplicitous; it showcases an accessible leader but one with little time to get into the specifics of the policies that run counter to Trudeau's reputation of a real progressive. Keep giving the media the casual, approachable Trudeau, but keep the centre-right material in the vault.
- Finally, Doug Cuthand discusses how the senseless killing of Coulten Boushie (and even more senseless attempts to justify or excuse it) has brought ingrained racism to the surface.