Saturday, April 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ed Broadbent, Michal Hay and Emilie Nicolas theorize that Canada's left is on the rise. Matt Karp takes a look at the policy preferences of younger American voters, including a strong willingness to fund far better social programs than are currently available. And N+1 responds to the rise of Bernie Sanders and his progressive movement by offering its take on what a left-wing foreign policy might look like in the years to come.

- Eugene King points out the shaky reasoning behind any claim that new pipelines will meaningfully affect either the price or viability of Canadian oil. Adrian Morrow reports that Ontario looks to be a prime example as to how we're already far short of meeting any reasonable greenhouse gas emissions target - meaning that more action to increase emissions is entirely counterproductive. And Marc Lee makes the same point by comparing the effects of new pipelines to Canada's Paris climate change commitments:
(A)nnual lifecycle emissions for each of the pipelines would be greater than all of BC’s annual GHG emissions, and are equivalent to a sizeable share of Canada’s emissions (11% in the case of Enbridge; 13% in the case of Kinder-Morgan; and 24% in the case of Energy East).

This highlights a major flaw in the Paris Agreement, bold as it is. That Agreement is based on countries committing to reduce the carbon emissions within their borders, but not the carbon extracted and exported for someone else to burn. We need a different type of international framework to constrain global supplies of fossil fuels: to divvy up shares of a carbon budget for use in transition, then leaving the rest in the ground, forever.
- Anna Mehler Paperny discusses the challenge facing lower-income Canadians in trying to find housing. And Joshua Tapper highlights the relationship between poverty and poor health, while arguing there's plenty we can do to make sure that a lack of money doesn't translate into sickness.

- Geoff Leo reports on the latest damage being done to Saskatchewan communities by the Wall government's P3 obsession, as Regina is looking at having to take over an underfunded school construction project without the province bearing any of the cost of the structure it imposed.

- Finally, David Miranda writes that the corporate-driven impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil has everything to do with facilitating corruption rather than fighting it.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Musical interlude

Tritonal & Paris Blohm feat. Sterling Fox - Colors

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- The BBC reports that even UK business groups are acknowledging that excessive executive pay is leading to public concern and distrust in the state of the economy. And Alex Hern notes that Steve Wozniak for one isn't shy to point out the need for Apple and other corporations to pay their fair share in taxes.

- Meanwhile, David Morley rightly argues that it's long past time for Canada to better take care of its own children:
(T)he truth is too many of our children are unhappy and unhealthy. They don’t have a fair shot in life.

In fact, we have one of the highest proportions of children who report very low life satisfaction. That’s because nearly one quarter of Canadian children report having poor health symptoms on a daily basis. The same amount of older youth have diagnosable mental health problems. Levels of obesity have not changed. Child poverty remains high. Most areas that were assessed showed little or no improvement over the last decade.
Disadvantages start early in life – and they tend to accumulate. By investing more, and earlier on, to make sure children get a good start in life, we’ll be ensuring they finish childhood ready to make a strong entrance into adulthood. We’ll be equipping them with the confidence and skills they need to become happy and productive members of their communities. We’ll reduce the need to respond to the negative consequences of an unequal society. And, we’ll have more resources to spend on positive development opportunities for all. 
- Jorge Barrera reminds us of the history of abuse, neglect and cover-ups which led to the suicide crisis at Attawapiskat (and elsewhere). And Sean Fine and Gloria Galloway report that one of the Libs' first actions upon taking power was to let the Catholic Church out of its obligations to fund healing programs which had been part of a residential school settlement. 

- Andrew Coyne highlights how Justin Trudeau's supposedly fresh government is aging in a hurry, while Neil MacDonald is already tired of the chasm between the Libs' promises and their choices. And Jonathan Manthorpe examines how blatantly the Libs are distorting reality in order to excuse arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

- Finally, Monia Mazigh points out that the Libs have also continued the Cons' appalling double standard in treating privacy only as an excuse to avoid releasing information which would generally help individuals whose rights are being abused.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Owen Jones argues that public policy and social activism are needed to rein in the excesses of a corporate class which sees it as its job to extract every possible dollar from the society around it:
A financial elite plunged the country into calamity and effectively got away with it unscathed, while workers suffered the longest period of reduced pay since the Victorian era. Meanwhile public services, social security and secure jobs were slashed. It has become increasingly clear – as the Panama Papers underscored – that a significant chunk of our economic elite simply do not like paying tax in this country.

The problem is that this injustice is met with resignation, rather than anger. While rage at the smaller misdemeanours of the poor – such as benefit fraud – seems easy to stir, destructive behaviour on this far greater scale is discussed like the weather. The rich pay themselves ludicrous sums of money, major corporations avoid tax, sometimes it rains. It’s this resignation – stemming from a lack of faith in any viable alternative – that feeds the triumphalism of the powerful, enabling them to engage in behaviour that is ultimately destructive to the health of their beloved capitalism itself.
The High Pay Centre is right to argue for workers’ representation on remuneration boards. Stronger trade unions would also mean countervailing pressure against the concentration of wealth and power in such few hands. And protests by the likes of UK Uncut highlight the injustice of tax avoidance. All this could be helpful.

But the problem with executives such as Bob Dudley isn’t just them – it’s also us. For until we shake off this weary resignation, the well–heeled will continue to enjoy their decadent party – in the knowledge that we’re the ones paying for it.
- But of course, the Libs are headed in the direction of further privileging the corporate sector. On that front, Steven Chase reports on their refusal to allow any Parliamentary study of arms exports, while Peter Mazereeuw notes their demurral on any discussion of accountability for exploitative mining operators. 

- PressProgress highlights the fact that the underpayment of women is a matter of systemic discrimination, not personal choice. And Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood examines how the Trans-Pacific Partnership will entrench a corporate right to low-wage labour at the expense of workers throughout the Pacific region.

- Which should be a problem for all concerned, as Duff McCutcheon argues that a living wage can be just as beneficial for the employer who provides it as for the employees who earn it.

- Finally, Susan Peters discusses how poverty and other social determinants of health are finding their way into patients' medical evaluations.

New column day

Here, on how political fund-raising scandals in Ontario and British Columbia only highlight the complete lack of rules governing donations in Saskatchewan.

For further reading...
- SCOTUS' Citizens United decision is here (PDF). And Michael Hiltzik discussed its effect after the fact, while Charles Wohlforth offered a personal view on how fund-raising affects political decision-making.
- Martin Regg Cohn broke the news about Ontario's fund-raising quotas for cabinet ministers here. And Adrian Morrow followed up by exposing both a fund-raiser closely tied to the Hydro One privatization's beneficiaries, and the connection between corporate subsidies and donations.
- Meanwhile, Gary Mason reported on Christy Clark's five-figure access fees. And the CP reported on the dividing line between the B.C. Libs who want to keep the status quo as long as they can, and the NDP which is pushing for limits.
- The Globe and Mail's series on money and politics featured a column on Saskatchewan's particularly outdated rules governing political donations. And Tammy Robert has been reviewing the current state of donations in Saskatchewan.
- Finally, the CP surveys fund-raising rules across Canada. And Duff Conacher points out that any province looking to remove big-money donations from its political system will find a prime example in Quebec.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Aditya Chakrabortty comments on how massive amounts of wealth are both being siphoned out of our social systems, and used to buy the politicians who facilitate those transfers:
(A)t root, the Panama Papers are not about tax. They’re not even about money. What the Panama Papers really depict is the corruption of our democracy.

Following on from LuxLeaks, the Panama Papers confirm that the super-rich have effectively exited the economic system the rest of us have to live in. Thirty years of runaway incomes for those at the top, and the full armoury of expensive financial sophistication, mean they no longer play by the same rules the rest of us have to follow. Tax havens are simply one reflection of that reality. Discussion of offshore centres can get bogged down in technicalities, but the best definition I’ve found comes from expert Nicholas Shaxson who sums them up as: “You take your money elsewhere, to another country, in order to escape the rules and laws of the society in which you operate.” In so doing, you rob your own society of cash for hospitals, schools, roads…

But those who exited our societies are now also exercising their voice to set the rules by which the rest of us live. The 1% are buying political influence as never before.
Hirschman argued that citizens could protest against a system in one of two ways: voice or exit. Fed up with your local school? Then you can exercise your voice and take it up with the headteacher. Alternatively, you can exit and take your child to a private school.

In Britain and in America, the super-rich have broken Hirschman’s law – they are at one and the same time exercising economic exit and political voice. They can have their tax-free cake and eat it.
- Meanwhile, Jared Bernstein offers new evidence that tax cuts for the rich bear no relationship to economic development. And David Lawder reports on what looks to be a start in developing international standards to rein in tax evasion, while Rajesh Makwana points out that a global tax body may be needed to overcome corporate resistance at the national level in developed countries.

- Richard V. Reeves, Edward Rodrigue and Elizabeth Kneebone write about the multiple dimensions of poverty and inequality which put people at a fundamental disadvantage in seeking social inclusion. And Dave Lieber laments the use of the criminal justice system to lock offenders into perpetual debt servitude.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom writes that a time of low oil prices and reduced public revenues is exactly the point when it makes sense to implement consumer-level carbon pricing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Lookout cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Scott Vrooman rightly makes the point that increased wealth at the top tends to splash outside a country's borders rather than trickling down. And CBC News reports on how that process has been facilitated by KPMG and other firms wining and dining executives of the Canada Revenue Agency who are supposed to be ensuring their clients' contribution to a fair society.

- Paul Krugman describes the symptoms of robber-baron stagnation - which all too closely match the state of the U.S.' economy. And Ian Welsh outlines an economy which would serve the interests of people rather than profiteers.

- Unfortunately, the Libs seem bent on pushing the economics of destruction - not only by pushing more arms sales abroad, but also by looking to buy into another round of Star Wars missile defence schemes.

- Laurence Mathieu-Leger and Ashifa Kassam write about the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat and elsewhere. And Charlie Angus discusses the desperate need to go beyond band-aid solutions.

- Finally, John Oliver looks into credit reports and other background checks - and highlights how information which is useless at best and grossly inaccurate at worse is serving to keep people from finding work, housing and other necessities of life:

Monday, April 18, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Robert Frank discusses the essential role of luck in determining the opportunities we have - and how the advantages of a strong social fabric are too often ignored by the people who benefit the most from them:
(C)hance plays a far larger role in life outcomes than most people realize. And yet, the luckiest among us appear especially unlikely to appreciate our good fortune. According to the Pew Research Center, people in higher income brackets are much more likely than those with lower incomes to say that individuals get rich primarily because they work hard. Other surveys bear this out: Wealthy people overwhelmingly attribute their own success to hard work rather than to factors like luck or being in the right place at the right time.

That’s troubling, because a growing body of evidence suggests that seeing ourselves as self-made—rather than as talented, hardworking, and lucky—leads us to be less generous and public-spirited. It may even make the lucky less likely to support the conditions (such as high-quality public infrastructure and education) that made their own success possible.
Being born in a favorable environment is an enormous stroke of luck. But maintaining such an environment requires high levels of public investment in everything from infrastructure to education—something Americans have lately been unwilling to support. Many factors have contributed to this reticence, but one in particular stands out: budget deficits resulting from a long-term decline in the United States’ top marginal tax rate.

A recent study by the political scientists Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels, and Jason Seawright found that the top 1 percent of U.S. wealth-holders are “extremely active politically” and are much more likely than the rest of the American public to resist taxation, regulation, and government spending. Given that the wealthiest Americans believe their prosperity is due, above all else, to their own talent and hard work, is this any wonder? Surely it’s a short hop from overlooking luck’s role in success to feeling entitled to keep the lion’s share of your income—and to being reluctant to sustain the public investments that let you succeed in the first place.
- Brennan Leffler exposes how employers are all too often able to brazenly flout legal protection for workers due to a lack of enforcement. Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Geoffrey Vendeville report on the multiple disadvantages facing women in the retail sector, while Mary Cornish studies the broader gender gap. And Teuila Fuatai surveys how some workers have been fighting for a fair minimum wage across Canada.

- The Economist examines the plunging cost of solar energy which figures to radically reshape our energy choices based on comparative costs alone, while Rebecca Penty reports that tar sands operators are well past believing it's worth developing new megaprojects. Daniel Oberhaus notes that with a political push, we could end our reliance on fossil fuels within a decade. And Chris D'Angelo writes that the oil industry has gone far out of its way to make sure decisions about our energy options aren't based on facts.

- Finally, Michael Butler weighs in on the Libs' failure to move ahead with a national pharmacare plan. And the McMaster Health Forum looks to the UK's experience to argue for pharmacare in Canada.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

#YEG2016 Followup Links

While there's been plenty of ill-informed commentary since the NDP's convention last weekend, I'll take a moment to highlight a few of the followup points which deserve a read.

- Joshua Keep rightly recognizes the new leadership election as an opportunity for renewal, but no guarantee of improvement. Gerard Di Trolio focuses particularly on the prospects of an unabashedly left-wing leadership campaign. And Selina Chignall offers a look at what the NDP may be looking for in its next leader, while Samantha Power examines some of the competing forces within the party (though we shouldn't overstate the differences, particularly given that there was little apparent problem keeping all sides of any of the issues in the fold just an election cycle earlier).

- Gerald Caplan asks the question of whether the NDP's main problem has to do with its ability to be seen as a viable government. But I'd note in response that at least over the last two elections, the issue has been one of winning first-choice support rather than being in the consideration set of enough voters to contend for power.

- Nicholas Ellan offers a look at some of the tactics which worked for the Leap and Renewal movements at the NDP's convention - while discussing how they should inform the party's own work in the time to come. 

- Finally, Crawford Kilian points out that the most extreme response to the Leap Manifesto resolution amounts to an attempt to deny the glaringly obvious. And lest anybody think the issue is at all new based on the development of the Leap Manifesto itself, see my earlier discussion in this post and column.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Alexander Panetta reports on the G20's agreement on the need to crack down on tax evasion - as well as the steps Canada needs to take to get our own house in order:
The final communique warned of actions against countries that don't agree within a year to adopt bank-reporting standards being promoted by international agencies.
One section of the G20 communique applies to more countries, including Canada. It says countries must do a better job of tracking down the true owners of companies, specifically those who might be hiding behind strawmen.

Dennis Howlett says Canada is currently in non-compliance with that provision. The executive director of Canadians for Tax Fairness says oversight is especially weak in some provinces.

"Canada has a lot of work to do to comply with the international standards on transparency of beneficial ownership," he said.
A recent report by the group Transparency International said Canada runs afoul of multiple internationally-agreed standards set by the G20. It says Canadian law doesn't properly define beneficial ownership — the true identity of people drawing profit from a company. It also says authorities aren't required to track their identity, nor can they easily access their identity.
- Steven Chase confirms that the Libs' choice to approve a massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia came long after they were aware of increasing human rights abuses. And Susana Mas highlights the Libs' limited and selective disclosure of the facts they're willing to share publicly even now.

- Raul Aldaz reviews Gianluca Passarelli's study of the presidentialization of political parties around the world. And in what looks to offer a prime example, Tim Naumetz points out Justin Trudeau's plan to take any remaining policy-making levers out of the hands of the Libs' membership.

- Duff Conacher suggests that we can look to Quebec for an example in taking big money out of party politics.

- Finally, Trish Kahle discusses the need and opportunity for the labour and environmental movements to develop shared goals, rather than allowing cynical corporate interests to pit them against each other:
Environmental politics must become generalized in the labor movement, and vice versa. The language of climate justice has already begun to infuse a sense of class politics into environmentalism, and green groups’ support for recent labor struggles is a promising step forward. Initiatives like the Labor Network for Sustainability, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and the BlueGreen Alliance are helping to connect the dots. But environmentalists must go further, acknowledging that there can be no real solution to the energy crisis without the input and leadership of the people who already do the work. Understanding the climate crisis as part of neoliberalism’s larger attack on public welfare and democracy (with the impacts, like all social failings in the United States, experienced more acutely by people of color and particularly by African Americans) can help expand the terrain on which both unions and climate activists struggle.

Ultimately, we live in the world we build. That world is both social and ecological, constantly made and remade through what sociologist Jason Moore has described as “the web of life.” If organized labor—and the climate—are to have a fighting chance, unions must offer real alternatives to the world of “shared sacrifice” and dead zones, of poisoning by austerity, of cheap fuels and cheap lives. What would it take for today’s coal-belt communities, channeling the Miners for Democracy, to fight not against EPA regulations but for jobs restoring lands destroyed by mountaintop removal mining? What would it take for union activists to have a meaningful say at the next international climate talks?

This work is just beginning. But with a shared vision to guide it, labor environmentalism can take us far. Its core demand is simple: to build a world that all of us, not just the rich or white, can actually live in.