Saturday, February 27, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Katie Hyslop contrasts Canada's longstanding recognition that housing is a human right against the gross lack of policy action to ensure its availability:
Canada has signed and ratified the 1976 United Nations' International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and in Article 11 it does recognize "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions."

"Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right," the next sentence of the covenant says.
Canada has also ratified the UN's International Convention on Women's Rights, and had a hand in drafting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Both of these also mention a right to housing, either as part of a right to "a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family," or on a basis of equity with men who enjoy a right to adequate housing.

"Essentially, Canada has committed on the international scene to respecting a right to adequate housing for every resident in Canada," said Margot Young, law professor at the University of British Columbia.
Evidence that Canada is failing to deliver on that right is in our overcrowded shelters, tent cities, or sidewalk camps, where an estimated 235,000 people experience homelessness every year. By definition, it would seem, their right to housing as guaranteed by the covenants Canada has signed, is being denied. 
The Canadian Homelessness Research Network estimated in a 2014 report that a comprehensive national housing strategy that included maintaining and expanding social and indigenous housing, as well as rental and home owner subsidies, could be implemented for about $4 billion a year -- twice what the federal government has been spending on social housing in recent years. Offsetting that, however, would be annual savings in emergency and social services that the Network estimated at $7 billion.

But the pay off would be more than financial, Larkin says. "One of my hopes would be that it would change the social structure of our cities," she says, "to accept that we should have diversity in all of our cities, that people who are not the richest of the rich should also be allowed to live in Vancouver, and that people should be able to age in place."

Meanwhile, Canadians may have a moral right to adequate housing enshrined in international covenants -- and our federal government has signed on in principle. But 40 years later, it's still not ready to put that principle into action. Getting it to do so, experts agree, will be a job for politics rather than the law.
- Meanwhile, Vineeth Sekharan examines the connection between adverse childhood experiences and later homelessness. And Denise Leduc documents how the Wall government's attacks on Saskatchewan corrections conditions are leading to dangerous results for inmates and their children.

- Art Eggleton makes the case for Canada to test - and ultimately implement - a basic income. 

- Tom Randall discusses how a major shift toward electric vehicles may be just a few years away - and would fundamentally reshape our current level of reliance on oil.

- Finally, Jim Bronskill reports on Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault's call for cabinet offices to be included in Canada's access to information legislation. And Andrew Mitrovica points to a recent hearing with CSIS and RCMP officials as a prime example of how we can't leave oversight of state action solely in the hands of MPs.

On failed obstruction

I've written several times before that any federal climate change plan was doomed to fail if it allowed Brad Wall a veto over any emission reductions.

Well, it appears the Trudeau Libs have finally come to terms with that reality, indicating their intention to set national standards if it's not possible to reach agreement with the provinces. And Wall can hardly complain about the predictable result of his stubbornness - particularly when he's continuing it by declaring his refusal to sign on to any climate action whatsoever.

After all, a premier whose government obstinately refuses to engage in any good-faith discussion about a national priority can't reasonably be surprised when the federal government decides to move ahead without him. And what's more, he can't expect to have the input we'd otherwise want in shaping a plan which he intends to obstruct at every turn.

So the end result of Wall's decision to plant himself athwart provincial consultation yelling "stop" is merely to ensure that Saskatchewan has less say than it should in the outcome. And while it's for the best from a policy perspective that the Libs are moving ahead without Wall, Saskatchewan voters should look to their current premier for the answer as to why we won't have a meaningful place at the table in shaping the federal plan.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Musical interlude

Gusgus - Over

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Sean McElwee examines how the wealthy control the U.S.' political system, while public opinion plays far too little role in policy choices:
A comprehensive study by Grossmann finds that public opinion was a significant factor in 25 percent of policy changes since 1945. More influential factors have included interest groups (49 percent) and presidents exercising political capital (60 percent).

Why? First, public opinion is volatile, particularly among low-income people. While the rich are consistently in support and the middle class consistently opposed, the lowest decile fluctuates between support and opposition. As political scientist Chris Tausanovitch notes, “Although the preferences of higher income constituents account for more of the variation in legislator voting behavior, higher income constituents also account for much more of the variation in district preferences.” In other words, because low-income Americans have less clearly defined preferences, their opinions vary less, so politicians may be less likely to respond to them.

Political scientists Joseph Daniel Ura and Christopher Ellis argue that less-educated individuals, who are disproportionately low-income, are less likely to align their preferences about government size with class interest. This suggests that higher income opinion is more clearly defined.

Second, the decline of labor unions makes it difficult for low-income Americans to accurately identify and lobby for policies that are in their interest. In a recent study, political scientists Torben Iversen and David Soskice show that low-income people with little political information and who aren’t union members are more likely to support a right-wing party than those who are members of a union and high political information. Their work lines up with that of Anthony Fowler and Michele Margolis, who find that informing people about Republican and Democratic policies using objective information leads them to shift toward supporting Democrats.
(P)olicy is biased toward the rich. Diagnosing how this bias occurs is the key to prescribing remedies. It’s clear that lack of effective mobilization — in terms of voting and other political activities — is at the core of disproportionate representation. The overwhelming power of the donor class further hampers equal representation.

There are many possible solutions. Automatic voter registration would reduce barriers to participation in election. This step is being implemented in Oregon, which has already added 10,000 voters since the beginning of the year. Other states are likely to follow. Stronger unions would be able to push more successfully for policies that benefit the working and middle class. Finally, public financing of elections would create a more diverse pool of donors.

All of these policies are favored by majorities of Americans. The problem is that this might not matter.
- PressProgress takes a look at Canadian public opinion on the lack of opportunities for young workers. And Manisha Krishnan debunks an attempt to paper over the difficulties facing the vast majority of young Canadians by tying them to "average" wealth held by a lucky few.

- Helen Ward discusses research showing that children from poor families in the UK are far more likely to have special needs - and less likely to receive any support for them when they arise.

- Roderick Benns notes that among the many reasons for concern among Ontario's provincial budget, there's some upside in the plan for a basic income pilot program.

- Finally, Neil Macdonald highlights how the Trudeau Libs' "sunny" marketing gives way to something much darker in practice.

[Edit: fixed title.]

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alison Griswold points out how little systemic information we have about the growing gig economy. And both Scott Santens and Richard Reeves make the case for a basic income to provide financial security where an increasingly precarious labour market won't.

- Meanwhile, Branko Milanovic argues that we may be approaching a reversal of the trend toward inequality - but that if we don't get there through peaceful politics, it may take a major shock like wide-scale war:
The pro-inequality trends will be very hard to overturn during the next generation, but eventually they may be – through a combination of political change, pro-unskilled labour technological innovations (which will become more profitable as skilled labour’s price increases), dissipation of rents acquired during the current bout of technological efflorescence, and possibly greater attempts to equalise ownership of assets (through forms of ‘people’s capitalism’ and workers’ shareholding).  

Now, these are of course the benign factors that, I think, will ultimately set inequality in rich countries on its downward path. But history teaches us too that there are malign factors, notably wars, in turn caused by domestic maldistribution of income and power of the elites (as was the case in the World War I), that can also do the job of income levelling. But they do it at the cost of millions of human lives. One can hope that we have learned something from history and would avoid this destructive path to equality in poverty and death.
- PressProgress highlights the Libs' plans to break their promise to close a stock option loophole. And Steven Chase and Robert Fife report on the compelling evidence that any armoured vehicles Canada sells to Saudi Arabia - with the Libs' approval - will be used to attack civilian targets.

- Brent Patterson summarizes a new paper on how the Trans-Pacific Partnership could limit Canada's ability to preserve and manage its fresh water. And Marc Jaccard writes that a full plan to deal with environmental issues such as climate change needs to include regulation alongside "market" solutions.

- Finally, Simon Enoch exposes the Saskatchewan Party's complete failure to do their homework on the costs of privatizing liquor retailing.

New column day

Here, on Brad Wall's preference for unethical oil over sustainable development.

For further reading...
- Again, Shawn McCarthy reported here on Wall's new declaration that he won't accept carbon pricing or regulation of any kind. And CBC reported here on his desire for federal stimulus dollars to go toward shuttering and cleaning up oil wells (and thereby taking their former operators off the hook).
- Tracy Johnson reports on the recent declaration by Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi that the world's cheapest producers will be keeping the taps open rather than cutting down production to boost prices. And Yadullah Hussein follows up by pointing out the resulting plunge in oil prices.
- Finally, Paul Hanley rightly raises the point that we should be lessening our reliance on the oil sector in general.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Ian Welsh discusses the attitude of meanness underlying so much of the U.S.' political and cultural scene.

- Ryan Meili and Adrienne Silnicki write about the dangers of relying on paid plasma donations. And Alexa Huffman and Whitney Stinson report that the Sask Party's obsession with cutting public services has pushed Regina's hospital system beyond its capacity.

- On the bright side, Carol Goar observes that the Cons' lack of compassion toward refugees led some in the medical profession to take on a more activist role than they'd done previously - which could produce lasting benefits even as the Harper cuts are reversed. But Catherine Rolfsen notes that there's still a long way to go in meeting the needs of the new refugees arriving in Canada.

- Debra McAuslan talks to Roderick Benns about the social benefits of a basic income. And Teuila Fuatai points out that employers can benefit significantly from a living wage.

- Finally, Peter Zimonjoc reports on some of the "disruption" CSIS has already started to engage in since Bill C-51 was passed. And Ian MacLeod highlights a decade of illegal sharing of metadata by the Communications Security Establishment - which we should see as an entirely expected outcome when a secretive security apparatus has substantial power and no effective accountability.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats amidst chaos.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Elaine Power discusses how a basic income can build both individual security and social solidarity:
We work for lots of different reasons, not just money. And most of us do work that is never paid. To start, we need to change our ideas about work, not just counting the activities that get paid. For many of us, the most meaningful activities in our lives are unpaid. Maybe more of us would chose to spend our time doing those more meaningful activities when a basic income is implemented. But a basic income is never going to provide a luxurious standard of living. Most people would chose to have paid employment for all its benefits, including monetary benefits, to have a better standard of living.

Moreover, I think a basic income could help us shift the ethos of our times, which is about grabbing as much as we can for ourselves without regard for others or for the common good. I think we rise (or descend) to the expectations put upon us. If we set up expectations that everyone has something to contribute to the common good, even simple contributions like picking up garbage by the side of the road, I think ordinary people would rise to these expectations. While there has been much fear-mongering and divisiveness in recent political discourse, our new federal government seems intent to appeal to the “better angels of our nature.” I think a basic income could reinforce this and encourage us all to do the work that we are able to do to make the world a better place.
Basic income would help us rebuild a sense of social solidarity and enable us to collectively reimagine how to live together, more sustainably, on the planet.

I think a basic income will lessen the depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness that our insecure, unstable and competitive world induces. It will help enable us to draw out the best of ourselves and each other. I hope we will become a more compassionate, caring and just society. It will take more than 10 or 20 years but basic income is essential to creating “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
- Meanwhile, the Social Planning and Research Council discusses (PDF) the connection between precarious work and predatory payday lending. But in case anybody was expecting a change in federal government to change any priorities between the lucky few at the top of the corporate pyramid and the rest of us, James Bagnall reports that the Libs are breaking their promise to close the executive stock option loophole.

- Leonid Bershidsky points out that Bernie Sanders' platform - which is being treated as radical in the U.S. - would fit comfortably within the centre-right portion of the political spectrum in most of the developed world. And Robert Reich writes that it's thus not too surprising that American voters are sick of an establishment which hasn't taken the public interest into account in divvying up the spoils of economic development.

- Seth Klein and Armine Yalnizyan offer an example of what a serious plan to fight poverty would look like.

- Finally, Alex Boutillier reports on one more way C-51 is establishing an unaccountable and pervasive surveillance state, as the Communications Security Establishment is now able to engage in hacking and other "disruption" on behalf of CSIS.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Miles Corak argues for a "second-chance" society to make up for the damaging effects of inequality - though I'd argue that while he has the principle exactly right, it's worth defining it as "no person left behind" to avoid any suggestion that people have a limited number of chances:
Canadians need to build a “second chance” society so that the consequences of bad luck or bad choices don’t matter as much.

There is a whole host of ways our social programs built up in an era of stable and steady job growth need to be refitted for a polarized labour market hard-wired to generate inequalities. We don’t just need unemployment insurance, as much as we need “wage” insurance that will top up the earnings of someone with a long work history who is laid-off and forced to take a lower paying job.

We don’t just need quality education, but also full tuition relief through income-contingent loans that tailor repayments and forgiveness to a graduate’s income. Rather than strapping them to low paying jobs to pay-off debts, they need to be given the room to drop back into school to get a different diploma or degree.

We don’t just need infrastructure as make-work or to maintain our bridges, roads, and sewers, but also as social infrastructure to enhance all of our lives, regardless of our incomes: transportation networks that work, housing, neighbourhoods, and parks that buck the market tendency to segregate and separate.

But the final ingredient of Canada’s success needs to be nurtured no less than the twins of social investment and social insurance. That, of course, is a sense of identity that values and even fosters diversity, where newcomers not only “integrate” but the mainstream also bends, adapts, and redefines itself. A broad sense of citizenship, and a culture of community and sharing are all the more important now in an era of inequality.

Ultimately the most corrosive dimension of inequality is that it feeds a sense of entitlement among the lucky, and a sense of shame among the unlucky, and this perverts our long run capacity to collectively invest, support, and care for ourselves and our children. This is the deepest foundation of social mobility in Canada, and something that we should continue to celebrate and value, but also something that we need to continue to nurture.
- Meanwhile, Leah Askarinam writes about the positive results when low-income parents are able to go back to school.

- Mitchell Anderson argues that we should treat real estate as a public resource, while Rob Carrick writes that the promise of homeownership as a source of economic security has proven false for far too many Canadians. And on that front, Luke Kawa reports on Canada's soaring private debt - which is particularly stark in comparison to the U.S. in light of its well-documented real estate bubbles.

- Finally, Citizens for Public Justice offers its suggestions for the federal budget - with a strong focus on both reducing poverty, and tackling climate change. And Jacqueline Howard points out that Canada's Prairies represent one of the regions which stands to be affected most as our climate changes.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- The Star-Phoenix duly calls out the Wall government's short-sighted slashing of funding for homeless shelters:
Regardless of how the government frames the changes, access to services is being denied to some of the most vulnerable people in the communities of Saskatoon and North Battleford.

And the government is saving money or aims to save money in the long run. This is short-sighted.

Taking away essential services only shifts the costs. The provincial government may be saving money, but the municipalities funding police may find their resources strained.

Studies have proven that housing the homeless can be far cheaper than leaving them on the streets and letting police and other emergency services deal with them. Offloading the cost and deflecting the criticism offers the attraction of making the province’s books look slightly better while sticking to the perception no cuts are being made.
Social Services officials need to realize their tightening of rules has really ripped holes in the social safety net and is allowing the most vulnerable to slip through. It will cost us all more in the long run.
[Update: And Cathie points out how the decision fits into the Saskatchewan Party's usual modus operandi.]

- Meanwhile, CBC reports on the federal government's refusal to fund medically necessary services for First Nations patients.

- Paul Willcocks reviews how the Christy Clark Libs' budget is designed to exacerbate inequality. And the Vancouver Sun is particularly critical of a rapidly-growing health care premium.

- Aleksandra Sagan highlights how increasing food prices are putting ever more pressure on lower-income households.

- Kelsey Johnston reports on the Libs' decision to abandon the Canadian Wheat Board or anything remotely resembling it. And PressProgress charts how farmers are suffering as a result of the ill-advised choice with the Libs are seemingly backing.

- Finally, Monia Mazigh looks at the Canadian Border Services Agency's extended detention of asylum seekers as an example of what happens when a state security apparatus lacks both a clearly-defined purpose and any meaningful accountability.