Saturday, May 07, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- David Rosen discusses the connection between poverty and more general social exclusion:
Poverty is a form of social powerlessness.  The poorer you are, the weaker you are, the harder your life; everything is about survival.  Poverty can be analyzed in two complementary ways – who and where.  By “who,” poverty refers to people based on their gender, race and age; by “where,” poverty refers to the location it is experienced, whether in cities, suburbs or rural areas as well as different parts of the country.  Both who and where are relative concepts reflecting the social structure of inequality.

The poor pay dearly for their poverty.  Most troubling, their lives are insecure, a constant struggle not simply to make ends meet but to live day-to-day.  Little can be taken for granted, whether a job, a home or one’s health.  Education is a luxury; obesity a common condition; drug use – and overdoses – a way to blunt the pain; suicide increasingly is a way out; and mortality rate for the poor are on the rise.

Poverty in America continues to be a hidden crisis, at once widespread, deepening and evermore painful.  In 1964, Pres. Johnson called for a “war on poverty” and now, a half-century later, one can only hope that Mrs. Clinton — if she wins in the November beauty contest — will champion a 21st century “war on poverty,” but one that addresses what Harrington identified as the systemic “culture of poverty,” the underlying racism and inequality that institutionalizes poverty.
- Alan Thomas studies some of the institutional changes needed to reduce gross imbalances in both income and political power. And Fern Hill compares our immediate (and laudable) response to the crisis facing displaced residents of Fort McMurray against our blithe acceptance of the unmet needs of so many other Canadians.

- Robert Sweeny catches the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberals trying to pull a fast one on the public by leaving massive cuts and corporate giveaways out of their budget announcement. And CUPW notes that contrary to the spin from Con and Lib governments alike, Canada Post continues to be highly profitable (with obvious room to become more so by adding in postal banking).

- Leslie Young reports on the Auditor General's findings that Canada is doing a woeful job of collecting and maintaining the data needed to provide public services.

- Finally, the Leader-Post editorial board calls for Brad Wall and his party to start complying with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by eliminating religious ceremonies (including a daily prayer) from legislative proceedings.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Musical interlude

CHVRCHES - Leave A Trace

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- David Crane identifies the good news in the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report on climate change - which is that we can meet our greenhouse gas emissions targets through readily feasible policy choices as long as our federal government cares enough to make them. And Steven Staples points out that it's entirely possible pair efforts to fight climate change with good jobs, though we can't take the latter for granted:
(A) green job revolution will not happen by itself, no matter how well meaning the intentions.

The York University project, Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, recently noted an alarming gap in the government climate strategies between rhetoric and reality. A report for the project by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that while provincial governments frequently speak of “jobs and opportunities,” there are few tangible policies and programs in Canada to support job creation and professional development in the context of a green energy transition. Instead, most governments see the creation of green jobs as a consequence of transitioning to a cleaner economy rather than a policy target in and of itself.

It’s becoming apparent that workers need to get involved to ensure that government policies include job creation as a central tenet of Canada’s climate change strategies.
Now—with oil prices low, a new Paris agreement on emissions reductions, and a persistent employment problem—is exactly the right time for the government, employers and unions to achieve a just transition that brings about a green economy built on fairness and co-operation.
- Janine Jackson interviews Brendon DeMelle about Exxon's decades-long global warming denialism. And John Geddes rightly criticizes Justin Trudeau's attempt to edit climate change out of the causes of extreme weather events.

- Meanwhile, Ernest Scheyder and Terry Wade examine the wave of bankruptcies hitting the U.S. oil industry - signalling that the reality of radical change based on lower global prices is hitting far beyond Canada's producers. 

- Dan Roberts reports on the Obama administration's move to crack down on some forms of international tax evasion.

- PressProgress calls out the Fraser Institute's attempt to gloss over the lack of support for child care by counting upper-class giveaways aimed at future post-secondary education (among other things) as child care funding.

- Finally, Andrew Coyne offers an explanation of the Libs' incoherent changes to the Senate. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jim Dwyer writes about the cumulative effect a childhood in poverty has on individual development. And Lee Elliot Major calls out the self-perpetuating exclusion set up by the wealthy to preserve their privilege:
A survey found that the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ now helps to finance 25% of all UK mortgage transactions as parents give their children a leg-up onto the property ladder. In many parts of London buying a property is now out of bounds for all but the wealthiest offspring. Exclusive enclaves for the next generation of elites are being created – within walking distance to the nation’s most influential best-paid jobs in the capital.

These trends echo a similar seemingly unstoppable pattern witnessed across the Atlantic. The New York Times reported that the top 20 per cent of the income distribution in the United States is separating itself from the rest of the population — by geography and by income, as well as by education. Citing a raft of recent academic studies, the author argued that ”this self-segregation of a privileged fifth of the population is changing the American social order and the American political system, creating a self-perpetuating class at the top, which is ever more difficult to break into.”
- In keeping with that trend, Eric Morath discusses how the gig economy is exacerbating inequality by producing more returns for the people who already have the most. And Patrick Caldwell points out how Kansas' extreme giveaways to the rich have failed on every conceivable front.

- Michael Babad examines how much more difficult it is even for younger workers with steady employment to buy a home due to prices far outpacing incomes.

- Toba Bryant studies the policy options and processes which can be pursued in working to ameliorate income inequality. 

- Finally, Carter Vance asks when we can expect to see the Libs take any of their promised steps to fix even the worst parts of C-51 - and the answer looks to be no time soon.

New column day

Here, contrasting Brad Wall's giveaway of public money to subsidize take-out meals against his choice to make healthy food less accessible to the people who need it most in Saskatoon's inner city.

For further reading...
- The Star-Phoenix reported on the history of Station 20 West, as well as the public backlash against the Saskatchewan Party's choice to pull provincial funding from the project and the eventual closure of the Good Food Junction.
- Meanwhile, Rachel Engler-Stringer studied the effect of the store while it lasted:
(O)f residents in the neighbourhoods surrounding the Good Food Junction, over a third have household incomes of less than $20,000, and more than half are less than $30,000. With household incomes this low, and given what we know about the cost of housing in Saskatoon, it’s likely that a large proportion of households in Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods are buying minimal if any food, let alone at the Good Food Junction.

We also studied sales data at the Good Food Junction over a one-year period. We found that a large proportion of sales were for less than $10, which is not enough to support even a not-for-profit store. Small purchases are consistent with low incomes and people having very little money with which to buy food.

Our analysis also showed those living near the Good Food Junction spent more on vegetables and less on meat and prepared foods than people living further away. This tells us the store was being used for the importantly nutritious foods they couldn’t buy anywhere else,  and not just to buy the same foods available in neighbourhood convenience stores.

We also followed about 150 regular Good Food Junction shoppers for a year and asked them questions about their health, how they access food, and their household characteristics. We found 1 in 3 were ‘moderately food insecure’, compromising on the quality and quantity of food they were eating due to not having enough money. More than 1 in 5 were ‘severely food insecure’, eating less food regularly and sometimes skipping eating for whole days. This means that over half of the shoppers we studied were struggling with some form of food insecurity, much higher than the Canadian average of 8%.

Researching door-to-door we also asked them if they used community food resources. This includes charities like the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre, Good Food Boxes and community gardens organized by CHEP, and many others. Almost 3 in 4 households used at least one of these community food resources, with some using up to 4 of them. More than 40% of households reported using charitable food sources such as food bank hampers and meal programs, another figure far higher than the national average of 3%.

All of this data put together tell us one of the main reasons for the Good Food Junction closing, is that many people in the neighbourhood are just too poor to shop there (or anywhere else). They are instead  having to resort to charity to feed themselves and their families. That should not be acceptable anywhere, let alone in a rich country such as ours.
- Finally, Kevin O'Connor reported on the new subsidy to Skip the Dishes. And Murray Mandryk is one of many highlighting the Saskatchewan Party's picking of winners and losers - but not so much the priorities it sees as important in the first place.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Robert Reich discusses how our economy is rigged so that the self-proclaimed risk-takers actually can't lose:
I don’t want to pick on Ms. Mayer or the managers of the funds that invest in Yahoo. They’re typical of the no-lose system in which America’s corporate and financial elite now operate.

But the rest of America works in a different system.

Theirs is cutthroat hyper-capitalism – in which wages are shrinking, median household income continues to drop, workers are fired without warning, two-thirds are living paycheck to paycheck, and employees are being classified as “independent contractors” without any labor protections at all.

Why is there no-lose socialism for the rich and cutthroat hyper-capitalism for everyone else?

Because the rules of the game – including labor laws, pension laws, corporate laws, and tax laws – have been crafted by those at the top, and the lawyers and lobbyists who work for them.
- Meanwhile, Daniel Tencer reports on the Canada's increasing stratification and decreasing social mobility. Maggie Thompson discusses the crushing burden of student loan debt on young workers from poor backgrounds. And Sarah Jane Glynn looks at the difference in paid leave and workplace flexibility among different types of workers - with those benefits serving as just one more area where precarious work tends to be more difficult.

- Brian Postl and Pierre-Gerlier Forest write about Canada's urgent need to invest in indigenous health. And the Star's editorial board lists child care and pharmacare among the social needs calling for immediate attention from the federal government.

- Jeremy Nuttall reports on Nathan Cullen's justified concerns that the Libs' only plan for electoral reform is to put it off.

- And finally, Geoff Leo exposes the exorbitant fees being demanded by Saskatchewan's government for information about the shady Global Transportation Hub land dealings.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Yard cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Tom Parkin writes about the growing divide between the lucky few who are siphoning wealth out of Canada, and the mass of people facing a precarious economic future.

- PressProgress highlights much the same distinction by examining the types of workers who make less in a year than Christy Clark's donor-funded car allowance. Andrew MacLeod reports on the connection between the B.C. Libs' donations and real estate developers. And Derrick O'Keefe points out that Clark (and her corporate-funded peers) are counting on the public not paying attention to who's pulling the strings.

- Roderick Benns talks to Daniel Blaikie about the prospect of a basic income. And Murray Mandryk takes a look a Saskatchewan's budget which shows relatively large amounts of money toward education, social services and policing producing lamentable results.

- Mike De Souza exposes Enbridge's direct role in dictating what the National Energy Board reported about its pipeline safety failings. 

- Finally, Alex Boutilier reports on the Communications Security Establishment's attempts to avoid providing an honest account of its breaches of privacy. And Jim Bronskill and Dean Beeby offer some useful suggestions to modernize Canada's access to information laws.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Ben Schiller talks to Joseph Stiglitz about the link between technology and inequality - and particularly the lack of current incentives to work on improving standards of living rather than capturing windfalls. And Don Pittis suggests that we should focus on building up new ideas, rather than constantly caving to the demands of corporate behemoths.

- Chris Buckley points out how Ontario's labour laws are falling far short of meeting the needs of vulnerable workers.

- Meanwhile, Charlotte Helston responds to the spin that it's somehow easy for a homeless person to "just get a job". And Andrea Hill reports on the human cost of homelessness in La Ronge - with a community of 3,000 people seeing multiple deaths every year due to a lack of support services.

- Derek Leahy discusses Marc Jaccard's view that regulation, not pricing, is the most important element of an effective plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the oil industry is doing everything in its power to avoid a meaningful discussion of its role in overheating our planet - including threatening Canadian universities, and flooding the airwaves with advertising which far exceeds climate change coverage.

- Finally, Robert Shiller discusses the importance of public attitudes and stories in shaping economic outcomes. But it's worth noting that Shiller's point should lead us to seek to avoid veering off toward either irrational exuberance or excessive pessimism - not to try to operate in denial of the real weaknesses which have led to previous recessions.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Robert Frank comments on the connection between recognizing the luck and social support which lead to one's own success, and being willing to fund a state which will ensure opportunities for everybody:
I've seen even brief discussions of the link between success and luck temper the outrage many wealthy people feel about taxes. At an intuitive level, it's not puzzling that successful citizens like Schwarzman might view mandatory taxation as unjustified confiscation of what's rightfully theirs. But extensive public investment was an essential precondition for the economic prosperity of those very same tax protesters, and we can't have public investment without taxes.

Sensible views about taxes or any other subject do not reliably triumph over less sensible ones in the short run. But we should all take comfort in the fact that the long-run historical narrative bends toward truth. One reason is that when evidence for a particular view becomes compelling, the number of people who embrace it tends to snowball. Beliefs are contagious.

Public opinion shifts one conversation at a time. In my own recent conversations with highly successful people, I've seen opinions change on the spot. Many who seem never to have considered the possibility that their success stemmed from factors other than their own talent and effort are often surprisingly willing to rethink. In many instances, even brief reflection stimulates them to recall specific examples of good breaks they've enjoyed along the way.

So I hope you'll talk with your friends about their experiences with luck. In the process, you may persuade them to support a more ambitious program of public investment. But even if not, you'll almost surely hear some interesting stories.
- Meanwhile, Dean Beeby writes about RESP grants as just one example of how programs labelled as helping people in need actually benefit higher-income families. But on the bright side, Bryan Mullan reports that a small investment by the Canada Revenue Agency in investigating tax evasion produced three times the expected return in public revenue.

- Karthik Ramanna and Allan Dreschel discuss the corporate war against accountability. And Chris Sagers points out that antitrust law represents a readily-available - but seldom-used - option to address the growth of unrestrained corporate power.

- David Dayen rightly asks what social purpose hedge funds serve - and suggests that it's time both to redirect public assets which currently prop them up, and to stop giving them special regulatory treatment. 

- Finally, Andrew Jackson highlights the Parliamentary Budget Officer's attempts to wring information out of a Lib government whose first inclination was to be even more secretive than its predecessor - and finds that the information eventually produced shows stagnation or cuts in social investments. And CBC offers a reminder of the potential of open government.