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Friday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 07:52
Assorted content to end your week.

- Robert Reich discusses the rise of the non-working rich as an indicator that extreme wealth has less and less to do with merit - as well as the simple policy steps which can reverse the trend:
In reality, most of America’s poor work hard, often in two or more jobs.

The real non-workers are the wealthy who inherit their fortunes. And their ranks are growing.

In fact, we’re on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history.

The wealth is coming from those who over the last three decades earned huge amounts on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, or as high-tech entrepreneurs.

It’s going to their children, who did nothing except be born into the right family.
...
What to do? First, restore the estate tax in full.

Second, eliminate the “stepped-up-basis on death” rule. This obscure tax provision allows heirs to avoid paying capital gains taxes on the increased value of assets accumulated during the life of the deceased. Such untaxed gains account for more than half of the value of estates worth more than $100 million, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Third, institute a wealth tax. We already have an annual wealth tax on homes, the major asset of the middle class. It’s called the property tax. Why not a small annual tax on the value of stocks and bonds, the major assets of the wealthy?

We don’t have to sit by and watch our meritocracy be replaced by a permanent aristocracy, and our democracy be undermined by dynastic wealth. We can and must take action — before it’s too late. - Meanwhile, Tim Stacey offers his own prescriptions to deal with income inequality. And the Economist looks at the relationship between wealth inequality, income inequality and consumption inequality - and the fact that all three are on the rise, refuting the claim that we shouldn't worry about wealth or income as long as consumer goods are distributed more fairly. 

- James Bloodworth points out that the few gains we've made against corporate greed were won by a strong labour movement. Brian Jones discusses the stagnation of the minimum wage in recent decades when labour has been under attack. And the Mowat Centre reminds us that the precarious federal government has siphoned tens of billions of dollars in EI premiums into general revenues - turning a program intended to benefit workers when they need help most into an excuse to slash taxes for the wealthy.

- Claire Markham sees a U.S. Congressional hearing as a prime example of how not to listen to people living in poverty. (Though not listening to the poor seems to be a widely-held skill on the right.) And Robin Whitaker reminds us why charity isn't enough to deal with social exclusion.

- Finally, Rick Salutin is right to decry the place of bond ratings agencies in trying to wrest control over public policy away from democratically-elected governments. But surely the subprime meltdown in which so many AAA-rated securities turned out to be junk should prevent us from believing for a second that "their sole criterion is the math" - meaning there's reason to doubt that statements about public budgets have anything to do with actual default risks rather than appealing to the financial sector's prejudices.

Harper's Perfect Storm

Northern Reflections - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 06:38
                                                                           http://www.huffingtonpost.ca

Now that the RCMP has thrown the book at Mike Duffy, Stephen Harper finds himself at the centre of a perfect storm. It's a storm entirely of his own making. And, at last, Andrew Coyne writes, we will get some answers:

The biggest question to be answered remains: why? Not only why did Mr. Wright make the payment — which, remember, was not to “the taxpayer” but to Mr. Duffy, in secret and on condition that he remain silent about it — but why were so many other senior people in and around the government, as we learned from the trove of emails unearthed by the RCMP, so utterly transfixed with the task of paying Mr. Duffy’s falsely claimed expenses? Why not just leave him to face the consequences of his own actions?
The answer to that question may turn out to be sheer stupidity. But, given who Duffy claims to be -- someone who knows where the bodies are buried -- there are other questions which need to be answered -- questions that involve Stephen Harper:

What involvement or knowledge did the prime minister have, particularly with regard to the $90,000? In a sense, it does not matter: that so many people close to him were so ready to act in such an unethical fashion is damning enough in itself. But in a sense it is all that matters: partly because the prime minister has been so vehement in his denials of any foreknowledge, and partly because the set of circumstances required for this to be true seem so implausible.

Among other things, it requires us to believe not only that Mr. Wright and everyone else around the prime minister lied to him for months on end about how Mr. Duffy’s expenses were repaid, but that Mr. Wright lied to the others: that having told him at a meeting in February of 2013 that Mr. Duffy would repay his own expenses, he then told his fellow conspirators the prime minister was “good to go” with an earlier plan for the party to pay them; and that when Mr. Wright later told the prime minister’s former communications director, Andrew MacDougall, that “the PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy” he was lying then, too.
Unlike others who Mr. Harper has thrown under the bus, Duffy will not go quietly.  If he goes down, he may just take the prime minister with him. If that were to happen, justice would truly be done.


While Harper Fiddles, Canada Burns

Politics and its Discontents - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 05:17


There have been so many developments on the climate front of late that, collectively, give us a pretty stark warning and yet the media, the public and our political leadership are tuning out. We seem to be culturally embracing a sort of Andean fatalism that seems to precede abrupt civilizational decline. Perhaps we’re hampered by the fact that it’s a moving target that repeatedly exceeds our ‘worst case scenarios’. Far from being pessimists we constantly underestimate the onset of climate change even as severe events increase in frequency, intensity and duration. Maybe that’s why Harper (and his rivals) aren’t coming forward with any meaningful responses. They’re all avowed fossil fuelers and, having staked out that turf, any significant reduction in Canada’s GHG emissions would have to be borne by every other sector of the economy and the Canadian people. Who would risk the public wrath when pretending to act and doing nothing remains an option? There’s a rank and dangerous cowardice that runs through the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democrats alike. God save the Queen. The Canadian people can fend for themselves.


The other day came news of a mysterious crater in Siberia that Russian scientists determined was caused, not by a meteorite, but by an eruption of subsurface gas released by thawing permafrost – a global warming event. We’ve known for several years that the ancient permafrost that girds the high north was “perma” no more. The tundra was drying out, catching fire, and exposing the permafrost below that it once shielded. The permafrost was a sink for massive quantities of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, or, as the energy industry calls it, natural gas.

On the heels of the Russian crater story comes a report from Climate Central about fires spreading unchecked across the Northwest Territories.

“The amount of acres burned in the Northwest Territories is six times greater than the 25-year average to-date according to data from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

“Boreal forests like those in the Northwest Territories are burning at rates "unprecedented" in the past 10,000 years according to the authors of a study put out last year. The northern reaches of the globe are warming at twice the rate as areas closer to the equator, and those hotter conditions are contributing to more widespread burns.

“The combined boreal forests of Canada, Europe, Russia and Alaska, account for 30 percent of the world’s carbon stored in land, carbon that's taken up to centuries to store. Forest fires like those currently raging in the Northwest Territories, as well as ones in 2012 and 2013 in Russia, can release that stored carbon into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Warmer temperatures can in turn create a feedback loop, priming forests for wildfires that release more carbon into the atmosphere and cause more warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's landmark climate report released earlier this year indicates that for every 1.8°F rise in temperatures, wildfire activity is expected to double.”

The Climate Central report indicates that the massive amounts of airborne soot from these forest and tundra fires could accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet far faster than we had ever imagined, perhaps by the end of this century. Ice, being white, reflects most solar energy back into space. Soot, being black, absorbs the solar energy and it passes into the ice beneath, causing melting. The melt run-off should wash away the soot except that these fires just keep adding more soot. And, of course, the fires that generate the soot also release ever more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Forest fires release the CO2 from the trees. Tundra fires release CO2 and expose the permafrost below that releases methane.

As for the Greenland ice sheet and the prospect of losing all or most of it by the end of this century, here’s what you need to bear in mind. When that ice sheet is gone, and it will eventually, it will create 23-feet of sea level rise. You’ve probably seen plenty of graphics of what three or four feet of sea level rise will mean around the world. The reality is that we tend to build our major cities where there’s navigable water. In Canada that’s Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. With Lake Ontario at 75 metres above sea level, Toronto should be safe from inundation but Montreal, on the St. Lawrence and at 6 metres is vulnerable and, as for Vancouver, well let’s just say that False Creek, Coal Harbour and Burrard Inlet will be a whole lot bigger and the Lower Mainland an awful lot smaller.

So, with the prospect of runaway climate change steadily worsening, with major population centres and critical infrastructure at increasing risk, surely this must be at the very top of our Lord and Master’s priority list, right? What’s that, no? His priority is flogging as much of the world’s highest-carbon oil as quickly as he can push through the pipelines and supertanker ports to carry it, really? Surely the opposition parties are going to shut this down as soon as the voting public gives Harper the boot, right? Wrong? Oh dear. Maybe it’s time to caulk the dinghy.


MoS, the Disaffected Lib.

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Thursday Afternoon Links

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:23
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Marc Lee looks in detail at the risks involved in relying on tar sands development as an economic model:
The UK outfit Carbon Tracker was the first to point out this means we are seeing a “carbon bubble” in our financial markets – that  fossil fuel companies, whose business model is the extraction of carbon, are over-valued on the stock markets of the world. This analysis was subsequently picked up by Bill McKibben in his now-famous article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying Math,” which launched the fossil fuel divestment movement, plus some local content by yours truly in a CCPA report called Canada’s Carbon Liabilities.

The latest from Carbon Tracker looks at planned capital investments in oil production around the world (future reports will look at coal and natural gas). These have different costs of extraction, leading to a “carbon supply cost curve” for oil production. Carbon Tracker argues that in a world of constrained carbon, it only makes economic sense that it will be the high cost suppliers that get cut out of the action.

This logic is bad news for Alberta’s tar sands, which are among the highest cost reserves. Using an oil and gas industry database, Carbon Tracker looks at a potential $1.1 trillion of capital expenditure on oil projects between 2014 and 2025 that require a price of at least US$95 per barrel market price ($80 break-even) – i.e. those projects most likely to not go ahead in a carbon-constrained world. They find that a very large share of these projects (nearly 40%) are tar sands projects in Alberta (see Figure 7 in particular).
...
For the most part, however, the underlying assumption of Canadian financial markets, including most Canadian pension funds, is that governments of the world will not get their act together, so there is no reason to pull out from fossil fuel investments. Some skepticism that governments will be able to reach a new deal is warranted, but the probability of them doing so is not zero either. But even in the absence of a global treaty, unilateral actions by Canada’s trading partners could impose de facto carbon constraints. Examples include the Keystone XL pipeline and European Fuel Quality directives.

There is a strong possibility that, sooner or later, Canada will be living in a carbon-constrained world, a development that would have significant (and, to date, widely ignored) economic implications. In this context, “responsible resource development” implies strategic management of fossil fuel reserves in order to maximize shared prosperity, within the context of a carbon budget. The good news is that Canadians have been bombarded with several decades of budget talk about “living within our means”  – now we just have to apply that to carbon. - But Sheila Pratt highlights some more examples of the oil industry trying to buy the public's silence when it comes to questioning unfettered oil exploitation. And the Council of Canadians notes that for now, Canada is instead trying to bully the EU and other international allies into delaying any steps to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

- Meanwhile, Justin Ling writes that yet another trade agreement side-effect - this time arising out of the TPP - looks to be far more intrusive surveillance by the U.S. and other foreign states.

- Joseph Stead reports that the corporate sector is laughing at the UK's honour-system plan to improve corporate accountability. And Julian Beltrame finds that the Cons' tall tales about mythical trade barriers have far more value as entertainment than as policy analysis.

- Finally, Steven Greenhouse writes that the U.S. is finally seeing some legislative efforts to give part-time workers some security and control over their time - including a few ideas along the lines of what I'd proposed for Saskatchewan here.

Media (mis)management of the Gaza conflict

Dawg's Blawg - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:20
With the abrupt removal of NBC’s key reporter on the ground in Gaza, Ayman Mohyeldin, who witnessed and reported on the killing of four Palestinian kids playing football on a beach, it becomes that much clearer that we in North... Dr.Dawg http://drdawgsblawg.ca/

A Blast From The Past

Politics and its Discontents - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 08:58
I am sure that some politicos would prefer certain things remain buried in what seems to be a collective public amnesia. Thankfully, the Internet is the gift that just keeps on giving, as this piece from Press Progress reminds us:

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New column day

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 08:08
Here, on how the recent spate of Saskatchewan women being fired for getting pregnant represents only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gender inequality.

For further reading...
- The Leader-Post reported on the increase in pregnancy-related firings here. And its editorial board weighs in here.
- Oxfam's report referenced in the column is here (PDF). And again, Shannon Gormley's column on how we project to be a lifetime away from wage equality is worth read.
- Finally, Clive Crook discusses the need for early and consistent social support to end inequality of opportunity.

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