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If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.
Updated: 19 min 44 sec ago

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

3 hours 34 min ago
Cuddled cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

13 hours 43 min ago
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Bill Maher offers some simple math and important observations about inequality:



- And Gary Engler proposes ten ways to build a better economic system.

- Vanessa Brcic points out that corporatized medicine is as unethical as it is inefficient. And Garry Patterson laments the premiers' weak response to the Harper Cons' attacks on health care.

- Dean Beeby reports that the CRA's investigation of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is focused squarely on the question of whether the CCPA is adequately complying with the Cons' definition of rightthink, while Dr. Dawg is duly appalled. And I'll also point out that the CCPA example surely answers Matt Gurney's rhetorical questions about CRA bias: surely it can't be anything but a gross abuse of power if Canada's tax authority is conducting investigations which respond solely to the concerns of Stephen Harper's former staffers (who may themselves have had inside knowledge that such complaints would be met with new money).

- Meanwhile, Shelina Ali discusses how anti-SLAPP legislation can help to ensure a genuine exchange of ideas despite corporate attempts to silence criticism.

- Finally, the Star writes about Barack Obama's push for global action against climate change - and how that focus may finally drag Canada along for the ride despite Stephen Harper's determination to value oil profits ahead of human welfare.

On healthy proposals

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 14:13
Paul Wells seems quite disappointed not to have received more attention for his recent piece on Thomas Mulcair's speech to the Canadian Medical Association. So let's take a closer look at why the angle Wells took didn't seem like much of a revelation - and what might be more significant in Mulcair's plans.

At the outset, I don't see much basis for surprise that after consistently and rightly criticizing the Cons for their health-care funding choices, Mulcair would follow up by saying he'd act differently if he had the power to do so. Which means that the headline promise highlighted by Wells is best seen as the flip side of the NDP's oft-used policy currency, not some significant new discovery. 

Now to be fair, we may not be able to take for granted that a party's opposing a policy in opposition represents a commitment to reverse it while in government (see: cuts, GST, and their omission from subsequent opposition party platforms). And indeed the Libs are following that same pattern when it comes to Harper's health-care slashing: they won't hesitate to criticize the Cons' funding cuts explicitly and implicitly, but they apparently don't want to commit to doing anything differently.

But it's hardly news that the NDP has questioned the combination of cuts to anticipated health care spending, and the Cons' less equitable distribution of the money they'll deign to put into the health care system. And Mulcair is calling only for a return to the exact level of increases already offered by past Libs and Con governments alike - which, even if continued, still figured to do little more than restore the federal government to half of its past role in funding the existing health care system.

In other words, if we've defined a "big directional policy announcement" downward to the point where incrementally-increased federal funding qualifies (particularly if accompanied by no expectation of associated policy outcomes as suggested by Wells), that would say far more about how little we've been trained to expect from our federal government than about any drastic impact from Mulcair's speech.

Fortunately, it's not clear that Wells has any basis to suggest that Mulcair's plans don't involve some meaningful policy choices beyond turning on the funding taps slightly more:


Or for those who want part of the speech in writing, here's Barbara Sibbald's report from the same speech:
An anticipated budget surplus in 2015 should be used to cancel proposed cuts to health care, maintained Mulcair.
While money may not be the solution for problems facing health care, it is "definitely a necessary precondition," he said. "Mr. Harper, it's time keep your word to protect Canadian health care."
In keeping with an underlying theme of the annual meeting, Mulcair pointed to seniors care as a primary health care challenge and later told reporters that he favours a Royal Commission on physician-assisted suicide. The NDP is the only federal party with a national strategy for seniors care, including a policy on aging and palliative care.
In his speech to CMA, he quickly moved on to other challenges, criticizing federal cuts to refugee health as "cruel and thoughtless."  
He also decried the "awful" state of some First Nations' reserves and food security in Canada. "It's totally unacceptable… that 800 000 children go to school each day without having eaten." The NDP is the first federal party with a pan-Canadian food strategy.
On the topic of military health, Mulcair slammed the government for shutting down nine Veterans Affairs service centres this year and pledged to reopen them if elected. So no, Mulcair isn't talking about handing over more money to the provinces while otherwise following in the Cons' laissez-faire footsteps. Instead, he's treating increased funding to the provinces as only a "precondition" to systemic improvement - pointing specifically to Libby Davies' report which discusses how federal investments can be used to change health care delivery for the better by agreement with the provinces.

Meanwhile, Mulcair also highlighted a far more significant role for the federal government in meeting its own responsibilities. And he connected health funding to a number of other related issues which the Cons tend to keep in their own silos, reflecting the NDP's recognition that public health necessarily involves more than hospitals and doctors' offices alone (including a direct mention of studying the social determinants of health).
Which is to say that while restored transfer payments may reflect bigger headline numbers, they're far from the only departure from the philosophy of Canada's federal governments, in some cases dating back several decades or more. And if there's a clear point of distinction we should draw from Mulcair's speech, it's the NDP's belief that the federal government can and should play a positive role in creating a healthier society.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 08:56
Miscellaneous material for your Labour Day reading.

- Andrew Jackson discusses the future of Canada's labour movement, while Gil McGowan highlights the fact that unionization can be no less important in Alberta and other booming areas than elsewhere. And Jerry Dias notes that there are some reasons for celebration this year.

- But Edward McClelland points out that far too many labourers who would benefit from organization are instead hostile to the idea of unions. And Timothy Noah finds another gap between labour and U.S. centrist liberals - which is mirrored by the relationship between unions and large-L Liberals in Canada.

- Speaking of which, Tracy Sherlock writes that disastrous past decade-plus for B.C.'s education system can be traced back to the Lib government's hostile response to the inclusion of special needs supports and other student priorities in teachers' collective bargaining agreements. 

- Kathy Tomlinson reports on how the Cons' efforts to undermine Canadian labour are leading to grossly unsafe working conditions for Canadian and imported workers alike. And Geoff Leo exposes yet another employer laying off qualified Canadian workers with help from the Cons' temporary foreign worker program.

- Steven Greenhouse addresses the epidemic of wage theft which is making living conditions all the worse for some of the U.S.' most vulnerable workers.

- Finally, Hedrick Smith (as adapted by Yes) documents how the spread of inequality in the U.S. is the result of deliberate policy choices. And Sean McElwee offers five reasons why politics haven't yet served to reduce inequality, particularly if voters have misplaced faith in upward mobility while ignoring its inevitable counterpart:
According to research from Carina Engelhardt and Andreas Wagner, around the world people overestimate the level of upward mobility in their society.


They find that redistribution is lower the when actual social mobility is [sic] but also lower where perceived mobility is higher. Even if voters perceive the level of inequality correctly, their tendency to overstate the level of mobility can undermine support for redistribution. In another study Alberto Alesina and Eliana La Ferrara find that, Americans who believe that American society offers equal opportunity (a mythology) are more likely to oppose redistribution. Using data from 33 democracies, Elvire Guillaud finds that those who believe they have experienced downward mobility in the past decade are  32% more likely to support redistribution. A relatively strong literature now supports this thesis. ... [A] massive public education campaign about the extent of income inequality is neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve the kind of redistributive policies liberals favor. The real obstacles to policy action on inequality are more deeply ingrained in the structure of American politics, demographics, and interest group coalitions. Insofar as there is a role for better information to play, it likely relates not to inequality but to social mobility which remains widely misperceived and is a potent driver of feelings about the justice of economic policy. As John Steinbeck noted, "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires." Stronger unions, more lower income voter turnout and policies to reduce the corrupting influence of money on the political process would all work to reduce inequality. It will take political mobilization, not simply voter education to achieve change.

#MacKayTees

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 10:58
I won't claim to match Stephen Lautens' collection of #MacKayTees. But I will add a couple to the mix.

First, making using of a picture which fortuitously made its way around the Internets yesterday:


And second, encapsulating conservatism in four small words:

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 09:02
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Eric Reguly examines Apple as a prime example of how supposed market successes actually reflect the private capture of public investments - and suggests the public should benefit financially from its investments which facilitate corporate growth:
Apple is such a runaway success that its profits pile up like snowdrifts in the Rockies. At last count, Apple was sitting on $165-billion (U.S.) in cash and securities. That’s more than the GDP of Hungary.

What to do with the windfall?
...
Here’s another idea: Give the surplus cash back to the taxpayer.

It will never happen, but if you believe that the stakeholders who are responsible for Apple’s success should be rewarded, taxpayers would certainly take precedence over the hedgies. Greenlight and its ilk had absolutely nothing to do with Apple’s journey from garage start-up in 1976 to the world’s most valuable tech company. They did not provide any of the capital. Apple has tapped the public markets only once, in 1980, when its initial public offering raised $97-million (U.S.). In fact, taxpayers provided the lion’s share of the funding for many of the key inventions that are built into every Apple device.
...
(W)hat powers the iPad, iPhone and iPod? Lithium-ion batteries developed by the U.S. Department of Energy. How about the devices’ liquid-crystal display? That came from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. The Internet, GPS, SIRI (the intelligent personal assistant used in Apple's operating system) and DRAM cache did not start life as Jobs’s back-of-the-envelope doodles. They came out of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and other government bodies.

Governments also supplied much of Apple’s brainpower. Thousands of its engineers and technicians have been recruited from the finest U.S. (and Canadian and British) universities. “Operating in the United States, Apple should recognize that the knowledge base on which its success has been built can be traced back to government investments,” said academics William Lazonick, Mariana Mazzucato and Öner Tulum in a 2013 paper titled “Apple’s Changing Business Model: What Should the World’s Richest Company Do with All Those Profits?”

The concept of imposing a special fat-profits tax on a single company is legally absurd and morally dubious, but the concept of imposing taxes on the supernormal profits of companies that benefit the most from government spending (such as those in the technology and defence industries) is not. - Kev points out how employers see even their own employees as disposable tools rather than people worthy of human dignity. And Yvonne Roberts discusses what economy built on that assumption means for far too many workers:
Entrepreneurship is the pulse of a thriving economy but, according to the thinktank the Resolution Foundation, one in four who, like Almond, became self-employed in the last five years would rather work for a boss; their situation is involuntary. As employers use ever more aggressive tactics to reduce labour costs and restrict  collective action, productivity is suffering and patterns of employment initially viewed as temporary are becoming permanent. The gap between the richest and the rest widens. This is not unique to the UK.
...
This story of wage stagflation and the working poor is just as applicable in Britain. Beyond chancellor George Osborne's talk of economic recovery, the stories are legion of families and communities across the whole of Britain who are only just managing to keep afloat.  No matter how often Osborne says it, it doesn't make it true. Large numbers of Britons are not in recovery. The gulf between those getting by and those getting on grows each month.

In the UK, as elsewhere, underemployment, a lack of investment in training and low pay are rife. Forty per cent of part-timers, mainly women, would like longer hours, according to one survey. At the same time, for many on low pay the last several years have seen the cost of living soar as their wage packet has shrunk.
...
 Huge income disparities and increased casualisation of the workforce also means higher costs for the taxpayer subsidising low wages. Research last year by Landman Economics showed that the cost to the exchequer of millions of workers paid less than the living wage – "wage dodging", as the GMB calls it – is £3.23bn a year in social security spending and lower tax receipts. In a paper published last month, academics Dr Lydia Hayes and Professor Tonia Novitz considered how the cake could be sliced more fairly. They say economic inequality was at its lowest when 58% of workers were in trade unions and 82% of wages were set by collective bargaining. By 2012, 26% of the workforce was in trade unions and only 23% covered by collective bargaining, while the gap between top earners and the lowest is higher than at any time since records began.

Among the recommendations Hayes and Novitz make is sectoral bargaining to set terms and conditions across particular industries, and the right for employees to join a union without repercussions. Other proposals from the High Pay Centre include worker representation on company boards, remuneration committees, a maximum pay ratio and a legally binding target for the reduction of inequality.- In a similar vein, Elise Gould and Frances O'Grady make the case for wage growth (and political and economic environments which put workers in a position to demand it) in the U.S. and the U.K. respectively.

- Nicholas Kristof discusses the appalling link between race and wealth inequality in the U.S. Josh Fullan and Josh Lorinc report on a program encouraging Toronto students to see how different their city looks at varying income levels. And the AP reports that 40 per cent of Michigan's households lack enough income to meet basic needs. (Which most of us see as a problem to be solved, with the notable exception of the Fraser Institute which claims that Michigan's anti-worker policies and consequent impoverishment of its citizens make for a goal to be pursued.)

- Finally, Jeffrey Simpson highlights the absurdity of Stephen Harper making yet another publicity tour of Canada's North while refusing to so much as acknowledge climate change which is radically altering the region.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 09:06
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Gerald Caplan suggests that Rogers and Bell might be ripe for nationalization - though it's also worth pointing out that we don't have to guess what happens when a Crown delivers telecommunications services:
The British Labour Party has begun to make the case that market fundamentalism, or neoliberalism, is not necessarily the best way for society to operate. Specifically, it’s been trying to show that private enterprise is not always superior to public enterprise.

Beginning with Margaret Thatcher, British governments have denuded the UK of almost all public enterprises, from British Airways to the Royal Mail. The Labour Party Opposition wants to remind Brits that some entities actually make more sense under public auspices. Fortunately for them, I am in a position to offer my Labour comrades foolproof evidence for their gambit. Two words: Rogers and Bell.
...
Long ago, when I was co-chairing the federal task force on Canadian Broadcasting, a few creative Canadians advocated that the telecommunications oligopolies be put under public ownership. It made perfect sense and was even arguably the Canadian way, like the CBC. But it was a political non-starter. No government has been prepared to consider it. The Harper government has tried to make easy political points by calling for a another major national player to join the game, as if that would force the existing predators to shape up. It’s a bad joke on us poor suckers.

But maybe it’s not too late for a real solution. Hey, Tom Mulcair: bringing Bell and Rogers and Telus and Shaw under public ownership? Now that’s a cause worth marching for. You’d unite suffering Canadians in their tens of millions from coast to coast to coast, getting them out onto the streets at last. Occupy Rogers! Occupy Bell! Everyone’s mad as hell at these guys, so why do we still have to take it?- The Vancouver Sun is right to highlight the importance of the labour movement in advance of the Labour Day weekend. Meanwhile, B.C.'s provincial government has repeatedly attacked workers with unconstitutional legislation before shifting to a strategy of trying to bankrupt teachers rather than funding a functional education system - which apparently doesn't rate a mention.

- Robyn Benson discusses how the Cons are further restriction workers' access to employment insurance, as well as what unions and workers can do to fight back:
Under restrictive new rules introduced by the Harper government, working people who have paid into the EI fund for years receive no assistance when they find themselves jobless. Sure, they can always appeal, and then wait more than a year for a hearing. There used to be 1,000+ part-time referees to hear their cases: that’s now down to fewer than 70 people, trying to handle a backlog of 10,000 appeals. And after a lengthy delay, more than 80% of claimants lose their appeals anyway. Small wonder, we might think: the new EI appeals tribunal members are Conservative appointees, and several have donated money to the Conservative party.

New EI policies, designed to hurt rather than help; new appeal mechanisms, rigged against claimants; and employee cuts everywhere, made without rhyme or reason across the public service, as the Parliamentary Budget Office has just reported. And those cuts are far from over.

This is obviously a recipe for disaster from an unemployed person’s point of view. But it’s no picnic for our front-line workers in charge of the EI programs, either. All too frequently they get blamed for the bad policies they are required to administer. Yet it is government-created backlogs and delays and tight new rules that are the problem here, even if that very government has pointed the finger at its own employees on occasion to cover up its poor decision-making, and gone after conscientious whistle-blowers who object to being ordered to treat EI claimants unfairly.
...
It’s pretty easy to see how common cause can be made here. This Labour Day, we should re-commit ourselves to forging these natural alliances between ourselves and the general public. We’re in for a challenging few months with the current round of collective bargaining—maybe the toughest period we’ve ever experienced as a union. But we’re not facing this government alone. Countless Canadians have their own reasons to want the Harper government gone, and can’t wait until the federal election next year. Time to join forces, folks. We’re going to need each other.  - Andrew Duffy reports that in the absence of a functional census, Statistics Canada is now looking for alternatives which will involve amalgamating far more information about Canadians through a bevy of government databases in the hope of assembling the information which can no longer be collected directly.

- Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt wonders whether mandatory voting may be the best way to ensure broad public participation in the political decisions which affect us all.

- Finally, Jane Taber and Shawn McCarthy report on the agreement of Canada's premiers as to the outline (PDF) of a national energy strategy. But one point in particular stands out:
A Canadian Energy Strategy should:
...
  • Maintain the highest degree of environmental safeguards and protection, including by addressing climate change, climate resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally.
Which is to say that even Canada's oil-producing provinces are able to agree that a federal energy strategy should take into account the need for global emission reductions - leaving no justification at all for the Cons' habit of cheerleading for fossil fuels without accounting for the environmental damage done by their use elsewhere.

Musical interlude

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 20:15
Lahox - Feel

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 07:44
Assorted content to end your week.

- Ralph Surette suggests that Nova Scotia's tax and regulatory review pay close attention to the fact that it can do more than simply slash both:
Nova Scotia already has relatively low corporate taxes and lower than average taxes for the highest earners. Yet none of this can seem to get into the conversation that has us as high-tax, anti-business and anti-everything. I invite the review committee to pin down where we actually stand on the comparative tax scale.

I also invite it to take note of what's going on next door. New Brunswick Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, who's 25 per cent ahead of the governing Conservatives in the polls as the election campaign opens, has vowed to create a new tax bracket for those making over $150,000 and to rescind a 2012 cut of the business property tax, raising $63 million a year in all.

What's more, the New Brunswick Business Council supports him -- president Susan Holt having stated that, with regard to the property tax cut, business didn't ask for it and the province would have been better off putting the money on its deficit.

Indeed, if not in Nova Scotia, here, there and elsewhere you find business-people acknowledging that governments have to pay their bills and it can't all be done by cutting. - Meanwhile, Alessandro Demaio comments on the growth of economic and social inequality in Australia. David Dayen points out that tax giveaways to private corporations tend to be an utter waste of public resources. And Paul Krugman highlights the need for a far stronger European challenge to austerity and other right-wing policies which are failing miserably even on their own terms.

- Andrea Rexer notes that there are glaring unanswered questions about the CETA which by design won't be dealt with until it's too late (and then only in an unaccountable special commission). 

- Gregory Beatty talks to Charles Smith and Andrew Stevens about the state of labour. And even Tasha Kheiriddin discusses the increasing importance of the labour movement in federal politics - though of course she can't do so without prominently featuring plenty of easily-debunked anti-worker propaganda.

- Finally, Clare Demerse makes the case for a national clean energy strategy to both boost our economy and protect Canada's environment:
While Canada’s fossil fuel and large hydro resources are not evenly distributed, all of Canada’s jurisdictions have opportunities to develop clean technologies like wind and solar power. As highlighted by the National Roundtable on Environment and the Economy in its 2012 report, Framing the Future, Canada’s low-carbon strengths and opportunities truly run from coast to coast to coast.

But to seize these opportunities in a coherent and coordinated way, we need a national vision and strategy.
...
The Canadian energy strategy should become the home for clean energy initiatives that premiers work together to deliver—ideally with more partnership from Ottawa. Here are three areas that would make a difference for tackling climate change and speeding up the deployment of clean energy in Canada:
  • New investment in transmission lines and smart grids to supply clean energy across Canada, and allow for increased clean power exports to the United States 
  • Stronger policies, and incentives, along with infrastructure investment, to spur the use of electric vehicles in Canada, and 
  • A more coherent approach to pricing carbon pollution. Some provinces are already among North America’s leaders in carbon pricing, while others are still thinking about how to start charging for pollution. With Ottawa missing in action on carbon pricing, provincial coordination is currently our best shot at laying the foundation for a national approach to making polluters pay.

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 08:25
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Paul Buchheit highlights how inequality continues to explode in the U.S. by comparing the relatively small amounts of money spent on even universal federal programs to the massive gifts handed to the wealthy. Christian Weller and Jackie Odum offer a U.S. economic snapshot which shows exactly the same widening gap between the privileged few and everybody else. And Matt Cowgill examines the policies which tend to exacerbate inquality.

- Meanwhile, Thomas Edsall discusses how predatory businesses are turning others' poverty into further opportunities to extract profits:
Sentinel is a part of the expanding universe of poverty capitalism. In this unique sector of the economy, costs of essential government services are shifted to the poor.
In terms of food, housing and other essentials, the cost of being poor has always been exorbitant. Landlords, grocery stores and other commercial enterprises have all found ways to profit from those at the bottom of the ladder.
The recent drive toward privatization of government functions has turned traditional public services into profit-making enterprises as well.
In addition to probation, municipal court systems are also turning collections over to a national network of companies like Sentinel that profit from service charges imposed on the men and women who are under court order to pay fees and fines, including traffic tickets (with the fees being sums tacked on by the court to fund administrative services)....Collection companies and the services they offer appeal to politicians and public officials for a number of reasons: they cut government costs, reducing the need to raise taxes; they shift the burden onto offenders, who have little political influence, in part because many of them have lost the right to vote; and it pleases taxpayers who believe that the enforcement of punishment — however obtained — is a crucial dimension to the administration of justice.
As N.P.R. reported in May, services that “were once free, including those that are constitutionally required,” are now frequently billed to offenders: the cost of a public defender, room and board when jailed, probation and parole supervision, electronic monitoring devices, arrest warrants, drug and alcohol testing, and D.N.A. sampling. This can go to extraordinary lengths: in Washington state, N.P.R. found, offenders even “get charged a fee for a jury trial — with a 12-person jury costing $250, twice the fee for a six-person jury.”
This new system of offender-funded law enforcement creates a vicious circle: The poorer the defendants are, the longer it will take them to pay off the fines, fees and charges; the more debt they accumulate, the longer they will remain on probation or in jail; and the more likely they are to be unemployable and to become recidivists. - Laurie Monsebraaten reports that child poverty in Toronto is reaching epidemic levels, while Robert Reich looks at the connection between inequality and education.

- Mike De Souza reveals that the Cons have ordered public servants to start deleting e-mails - particularly ones which might show how political interference affects the civil service's work.And Jakeet Singh comments on Stephen Harper's aversion to sociology and other factual analysis as to how policies affect people.

- Finally, Dennis Howlett argues that all levels of government in Canada need to rein in tax evasion in order to be able to fund the public services we all value:
Most provincial and territorial governments rely on the Canada Revenue Agency to raise their revenue. Provincial services and programs need a revenue stream provided by an efficient and fair system. But under the CRA’s watch, Canadian money in tax havens has ballooned to an all-time high — an estimated $185 billion in 2013.  Almost $63 billion of that is in the popular tax haven of Barbados — an island paradise that is one-tenth the size of PEI, where the premiers are enjoying their late summer gathering.

They need to declare that the holiday is over. It is time bring our Canadian tax dollars home so they can be put to use doing useful things like funding health care and education.
...
Provincial governments are responsible for nominating members of the CRA Board of Management. Those members could be directed to strongly encourage the agency to give higher priority to tax haven related compliance efforts. It is a strategy that could have important results.

The provincial representatives on the CRA Board of Management also need to ask:
  • Why the CRA is wasting so much of its scarce capacity harassing development and environmental charities that have been critical of the Harper government.
  • Why does the CRA refuse to work with the Parliamentary Budget Officer and calculate the Tax Gap to measure missing revenue as is done in many other countries? This could help them set priorities and do a better job of going after the most important tax cheats.
  • Is going after the self-employed, small business and other “low hanging fruit” the best use of staff?
  • Have cuts to the CRA’s budget undermined its ability to go after really big tax cheats who play the system? Has more revenue been lost than money saved from staff cuts?
  • Is there sufficient technical expertise to follow up on leads from CRA’s tipster hotline?
  • Does the Justice Department have the capacity to properly prosecute major tax cheats in the courts?

New column day

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 08:15
Here, on how Brad Wall is kicking Ontario while it's down by demanding that it let stimulus funding leak out of a province which actually needs it - and how Saskatchewan and other provinces stand to suffer too if Wall helps the Cons impose similar restrictions across the country.

For further reading...
- The Leader-Post reported on the Sask Party's own rejection of the TILMA here, while Matthew Burrows noted Saskatchewan's overall consensus not to pursue it here.
- I posted here on the absence of any substantive differences between the TILMA which Wall rejected based on public pressure, and the NWPTA which he signed in secret without consultation. And Erin Weir addressed the problems with those agreements here.
- Lucas Kawa points out Sylvain Leduc and Daniel Wilson's work on the value of infrastructure spending here, noting that while it's generally a good investment under almost any circumstances, it can be several times as valuable if paired with stimulus effects in a depressed economy.
- Finally, Stuart Trew and Kayle Hatt discuss the dangers of the Cons' attacks on provincial government policy-making authority.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:13
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Reevely writes about the stench of corporate corruption hanging over a privately-sponsored premiers' conference. And Paul Willcocks nicely contrasts the professed belief by politicians that campaign contributions don't unduly policy against the expectations of everybody else affected by the political system - including big donors themselves:Most people figure that money matters. That when someone who gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to a party calls a politician, they get access and a chance to ask for favours. That they are buying special treatment.

The people taking in all that cash, unsurprisingly, disagree.
... But most people think they can be bought, or at least influenced. Research has found 90 per cent of Canadians think people with money have a lot of influence over government. Last year, an Angus Reid poll found 70 per cent of British Columbians want union and corporate donations banned. ... Even more significantly, the donors believe they are buying future benefits by backing the winning side.

They don't say that. They talk about supporting the democratic process, and ensuring the election of a government that will create an environment that advances the interests of their shareholders or, in the case of unions, their members.

But that's baloney.
...
If donors believe they are buying special access or treatment with their donations, it's hardly surprising the public shares that view.

I can't read politicians' minds. Maybe Bennett would be no quicker to return a phone call from Murray Edwards because he has given a lot of money.

But I know people and the way organizations work. If Edwards is known as a pal of the premier, someone who can deliver millions in donations over the life of a government, at least some government employees will be unable to entirely forget that connection when faced with a subjective decision affecting his interests.- Meanwhile, Iglika Ivanova discusses the dangers of the deregulation which has been bought with so much corporate money over the past few decades. And Bob Weber reports that after previously telling First Nations that they could have their say on the environmental devastation caused by the tar sands through hearings into regional plans rather than individual project reviews, Alberta is now trying to shut them out of that process as well.

- Justin Gillis reports on the U.N.'s latest study showing that climate change continues to exceed even the most alarming projections from a few years ago, while the Washington Post editorial board laments the deterioration of any prospect of political action in the U.S. And CBC reports on an MIT study showing that a cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions would result in massive reductions in health care costs - though of course it's oil money (and its human embodiment in the PMO) preventing that system from coming about in Canada.

- Michael Butler highlights the need to make health care more effective and affordable - rather than handing massive giveaways to big pharma through the CETA.

- Finally, David MacDonald points out that while the much-discussed Burger King/Tim Horton's takeover may result in plenty of tax avoidance in the U.S., it won't actually increase Canadian revenues - meaning that it instead reflects a corporation using gaps in international tax law to avoid paying its fair share to anybody.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 19:43
Upturned cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 07:39
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- thwap nicely summarizes how we've allowed our economy to rely on (and feed into) the whims of a small group of insiders, rather than being harnessed for any sense of public good:
(W)hat's changed today is that the wealthy clearly have more money than they know what to do with. And it's rendered our economies top-heavy. Financialization and financial speculation. Which does nothing for ordinary people. Tax-cuts to wealthy and the corporations just go into the banks and into speculation. Tax-increases to the wealthy and the corporations can help mitigate government deficits without harming the economy themselves. Because the wealthy aren't doing anything productive with the money we've been allowing them to miser. We'll get more bang for the buck taxing and spending than we will allowing them to hoard it and gamble with it.- And Toni Pickard makes the case for a guaranteed annual income to ensure that Canadians can rest assured they won't fall into deep poverty.

- Sarah Treanor compares Norway's use of its oil wealth to that of the UK, and concludes that trust is a major factor in the development of a sovereign wealth fund which now offers massive benefits to an entire country:
"For this kind of system to work, you need to have an enormous level of trust," says Prof Cappelen. "Trust that the money isn't going to be mismanaged - that it's not going to be spent in a way you don't like.
...
"We trust the government. We believe our tax money will be spent wisely. once you start trusting that others are contributing their share then you are happy to contribute yours."

So is Norway rich because of Norwegians high level of trust, or are its citizens trusting because they are rich? "I think it is both," says Prof Cappelen. "High levels of trust make economic growth easier." - But of course, trust and security need to be based on reasonable expectations as to how our public officials will act - and there's not much room for optimism based on the ones holding power at the moment. On that front, Iglika Ivanova points out that our tax system has been systematically warped to favour the wealth over the past 50 years, while PressProgress documents the sharp decline in EI benefit availability for unemployed workers. Doug Nesbitt takes a look at the pattern of Canadian governments and other employers looking to demolish retirement security for their workers past and present. David Sirota reports that Chris Christie is just one of many U.S. governors instead using pension funds as a means to reward political supporters with big-money, zero-accountability investment contracts (h/t to David Dayen). And David Cay Johnston notes that a tiny "prosperous class" is taking the vast majority of U.S. wage gains, leaving effectively nothing for upwards of 90% of workers.

- Finally, Murray Dobbin weighs in on the need to value and promote kindness, rather than celebrating ruthlessness in politics and business alike:
The stronger the imperative to compete, the weaker become family, community and friendship connections, because in rampant consumer capitalism -- promoted and reinforced by television culture -- such connections are seen as irrelevant. Or worse, they are seen as weak and inefficient means, if not actual barriers, to the end of achieving more stuff. We are competing in a zero-sum game whose rules are written by those with psychopathic tendencies. As Fred Guerin writes in Truthout, "Obedience, docility, amorality and careerism will be duly rewarded. Those who can regularly suspend any desire they have to think from the perspective of another, or on behalf of a more universal or common good will be promoted."

Guerin is getting at the real roots of our crisis in democracy. It is not first-past-the-post voting systems, or the cancellation of government funding for parties, or even the role of TV advertising. It is at its core our gradual acquiescence "to things that are contrary to our individual and communal interests." This acquiescence, say Guerin, is the "consequence of very gradual political and corporate indoctrination that consolidates power not only by inducing fear and uncertainty, but also by rewarding unbridled greed, opportunism and self-interest."

Is there an antidote to this death-culture? Can we reclaim our capacity to think beyond our immediate self-interest and regain our political agency -- our ability to act as citizens and not just consumers? Can we begin to create a shared space where we can actually imagine a future worth having, talk about big ideas and recover the notion that we can act in concert for the broader good?

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 07:44
Assorted content to start your week.

- Robert Jay Lifton discusses the "stranded ethics" of a fossil fuel industry which is willing to severely damage our planet in order to protect market share:
Can we continue to value, and thereby make use of, the very materials most deeply implicated in what could be the demise of the human habitat? It is a bit like the old Jack Benny joke, in which an armed robber offers a choice, “Your money or your life!” And Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.” We are beginning to “think over” such choices on a larger scale. 
This takes us to the swerve-related significance of ethics. Our reflections on stranded assets reveal our deepest contradictions. Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth. We may well speak of those shareholder-dominated principles as “stranded ethics,” which are better left buried but at present are all too active above ground. ...
The climate swerve is mostly a matter of deepening awareness. When exploring the nuclear threat I distinguished between fragmentary awareness, consisting of images that come and go but remain tangential, and formed awareness, which is more structured, part of a narrative that can be the basis for individual and collective action.
In the 1980s there was a profound worldwide shift from fragmentary awareness to formed awareness in response to the potential for a nuclear holocaust. Millions of people were affected by that “nuclear swerve.” And even if it is diminished today, the nuclear swerve could well have helped prevent the use of nuclear weapons.
With both the nuclear and climate threats, the swerve in awareness has had a crucial ethical component. People came to feel that it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to engage in nuclear war, and are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren. - But Mike De Souza reports on ALEC's latest meeting - demonstrating that there are plenty of well-funded corporations (including TransCanada and other tar sands operators) and their pet legislators doing everything in their power to make sure ethics get shouted down in any political discussion of climate change.

- Travis Lupick discusses how the Cons' anti-social crime policies are creating more dangerous prisons.

- Meanwhile, Tim Harper comments on Stephen Harper's aversion to asking "why". And Don Lenihan points out that Canada's premiers may be less than accepting of federal-provincial relations that consist of nothing other than Harper imposing on the provinces while refusing to accept questions, examine evidence or offer explanations - with Harper's intransigence toward missing and murdered aboriginal women being the most appalling example at the moment.

- Finally, Ajamu Nangwaya discusses the contrast between organizing people to better give voice to their own concerns, as opposed to merely mobilizing them toward others' causes - and emphasizes the ultimate need to do far more of the former.

Reused column day

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 07:04
For those wondering, my Leader-Post column was on hiatus last week, but will return this week.

In the meantime, I'll point back to this post and column as introductory reading for Janet French's new report on SaskTel's disclosure of customers' personal information to government authorities. (And I'll add here one comment which didn't make it into the report: as a provincial Crown corporation, SaskTel is subject to additional provincial privacy laws which give consumers some extra means to challenge the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information.)

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 08:51
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- James Meek writes about the UK's privatization scam, and how it's resulted in citizens paying far more for the basic services which are better provided by a government which actually has the public interest within its mandate:
Privatisation failed to demonstrate the case made by the privatisers that private companies are always more competent than state-owned ones – that private bosses, chasing the carrot of bonuses and dodging the stick of bankruptcy, will always do better than their state-employed counterparts. Through euphemisms such as "wealth creation" and "enjoying the rewards of success" Thatcher and her allies have promoted the notion that greed on the part of a private executive elite is the chief and sufficient engine of prosperity for all. The result has been 35 years of denigration of the concept of duty and public service, as well as a squalid ideal of all work as something that shouldn't be cared about for its own sake, but only for the money it brings. The magic dust of the market was of little use to the bosses of the newly privatised Railtrack in the mid-1990s. They thought they could sack people with impunity – not just signalling and maintenance staff but expert engineers and researchers – and carry out a massive line-upgrade cheaply with the most advanced new technology. Unfortunately the people who could have told them that the new technology didn't exist were the people they had sacked. As a result, the company went bust in 2002, and had to be renationalised.

Privatisation failed to make firms compete or give customers more choice – said to be the canonical virtues of privatisation. Pretty hard, you would think, to privatise water companies, when they are all monopolies, with nobody to compete with, and can't offer customers a choice – neither the choice of which supplier to use nor the choice of whether to take a service or not. And yet the English water companies were privatised, and in such a way that customers have been overcharged ever since. The privatisers loved competition, but the actual privatised competitors hate it. The competitive vision of those who designed Britain's electricity privatisation – a rumbustious, referee-supervised free-for-all between sellers and makers of electricity old and new, large and small – has degenerated into an opaque oligopoly of a handful of giant players.
...
A tax is generally thought of as something that only a government can levy, but this is a semantic distortion that favours the free market belief system. If a payment to an authority, public or private, is compulsory, it's a tax. We can't do without electricity; the electricity bill is an electricity tax. We can't do without water; the water bill is a water tax. Some people can get by without railways, and some can't; they pay the rail tax. Students pay the university tax. The meta-privatisation is the privatisation of the tax system itself; even, it could be said, the privatisation of us, the former citizens of Britain. By packaging British citizens up and selling them, sector by sector, to investors, the government makes it possible to keep traditional taxes low or even cut them. By moving from a system where public services are supported by progressive general taxation to a system where they are supported exclusively by the flat fees people pay to use them, they move from a system where the rich are obliged to help the poor to a system where the less well-off enable services that the rich get for what is, to them, a trifling sum. The commodity that makes water and power cables and airports valuable to an investor, foreign or otherwise, is the people who have no choice but to use them. We have no choice but to pay the price the toll-keepers charge. We are a human revenue stream; we are being made tenants in our own land, defined by the string of private fees we pay to exist here. - Meanwhile, Paul Watson compares Norway's well-planned savings and use of oil resources for public benefit to Canada's increasingly reckless rush to give away every resource a multinational corporation can rip out of the ground:
They’re succeeding because Norway holds an unshakable principle, one that has survived political shifts to the right and left since huge offshore oil reserves were discovered in 1969.

The canon was set four decades earlier in a national debate over ownership of hydro-electric projects, and it bridged a generation, from waterfalls to oil wells: Norway’s natural resources belong to the people.

“International companies resisted the model very much, but they had no choice. They had to accept it,” says Terje Hagen, an economist at the University of Oslo. “I think the agreement in parliament was quite broad.” Norway’s current Conservative-led coalition government justifies one of the world’s highest tax rates on oil company profits this way: petroleum and natural gas are finite resources that generate higher profits than other enterprises and therefore command higher taxes.
...
Norway’s government takes 78 per cent of oil company profits in tax, which quickly runs to billions of dollars a year. The fund multiplies through investments in stocks, bonds and property holdings.

It is quickly closing in on $1 trillion, just 18 years after Norway made an initial investment of around $345 million in 1996.

The government spends a portion of the profits each year on improving people’s lives while staying true to the earlier generation who decided it would be wrong to splurge on themselves.

By Norwegian standards, Canada has squandered a lot of its resource riches instead of locking up the royalties and taxes oil companies pay into long-term investments and enjoying the benefits of steadily growing profits.

A small but growing group of policy analysts think Canadians should overcome their history of provinces often jealously guarding resource revenues and do more sharing for the long-term, national good.- The Vancouver Sun reports on BMO's study into the cycle of debt and stress facing younger Canadians.

- And speaking of gratuitous stress on workers, Don Pittis recognizes the fundamental unfairness of allowing Quebec's government to wriggle out from under agreed pension benefits at the expense of employees who have counted on what they've been promised, while Honour Our Deal has an update on the similar attack on Regina civic pensions. But the CP reports that the New Brunswick NDP is taking a stand to protect needed retirement income from other parties who would gleefully legislate it out of existence.

- Finally, James Surowiecki discusses the economics behind the development of prescription drugs - and how the lack of incentive to develop effective new antibiotics may prove just as deadly for us in the future as the similar neglect in combating Ebola is in the developing world today.

On broken connections

Sat, 08/23/2014 - 16:01
The CP reported here on Sana Hassainia's resignation from the NDP caucus and the immediate aftermath. And it's worth taking a look at both the narrow view that seems to have led Hassainia (among others) to choose to be isolated from party politics, and the unfortunate response from the NDP.

I haven't commented much personally on the Gaza crisis, so I'll quickly summarize my take on the NDP's official position. Initially, Mulcair did seem all too eager to take the same line as the other federal leaders: the NDP's position included no questioning whatsoever of Israel's incursion into Gaza, and gave little voice to Palestinian humanitarian considerations. But to be clear, that position doesn't seem to have been forced on other NDP MPs, who have taken at least some of their own action from the beginning.
 
And that wasn't the end of the matter either. In no small part in response to what seems to have been some strong internal pressure, the NDP's official position has come to include both far more recognition of the Gaza humanitarian crisis, and direct criticism of the IDF's most galling actions.

Now, that position doesn't go as far as some within the NDP - including Hassainia herself - would like to see. But it's well worth noting that internal influence seems to have had a real effect on the party's public position - an area in which the NDP stands alone among federal parties. And one would think an MP hoping to shape the course of events would recognize the opportunity offered by a place within that type of caucus and party.

Instead, Hassainia resigned from the NDP caucus - making for a particularly interesting choice in light of the normal pressures on MPs. 

The best explanation as to why most MPs toe the party line is the need for party support and leadership approval in future elections. And Hassainia's decision not to run again in 2015 would have eliminated any perceived need to curry Mulcair's favour - or indeed to remain within the caucus at all.

But by the same token, Hassainia's intention not to run again also left her effectively immune to the most obvious forms of leadership control over an individual MP. And it's hard to see how she'd expect to have more influence as an independent with no plan to run for office again than as a caucus member for the next year.

Which leads to a more general problem for many of the people who are (at times rightly) frustrated with top-down party politics. To my mind, the only practical means of reversing that unfortunate trend is to ensure that parties themselves are forced to be responsive to members through effective internal mechanisms. And the choice to walk away from the most significant group of reasonably like-minded people in the country hardly seems likely to build the movement needed to ensure that check is in place.

Meanwhile, Mulcair's response to Hassainia's departure unfortunately seems to reflect the worst of politics as sport. Just as individual activists should have every reason to want to maintain a relationship with like-minded people within the party structure, so too should any party want to maintain the best possible relationship with people who agree on most issues - as appears to be the case for Hassainia.

Instead, the choice to personally criticize Hassainia as she departed - particularly on questionable grounds - merely ensures that somebody who was willing to run for the NDP an election ago (and the people around her) will have reason to carry a grudge long after the immediate context of her departure would otherwise have been forgotten. And all to accomplish little more than to entrench as "us versus them" mentality.

In sum, then, Hassainia's resignation should serve as a cautionary reminder of what should be obvious points. Activists are best served cultivating party connections rather than withdrawing from the only system that can possibly effect the change they seek; likewise, parties are best served working to build and maintain positive connections among people of all levels of involvement and connection (including those who have raised tough questions), rather than going out of their way to attack anybody who dares to wander out of their tent. And the more we forget those simple principles, the harder it will be to build a people-powered alternative to the politics we recognize as problematic.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 08/23/2014 - 09:10
This and that for your weekend reading.

- Matthew Yglesias writes that while increased automation may not eliminate jobs altogether, it may go a long way toward making them more menial. And Jerry Dias recognizes that we won't see better career opportunities emerge unless we make it a shared public priority to develop them:
(I)ncreasingly, the people I meet – both in the labour movement and outside (including in some business circles) – talk about the need for greater dialogue on the issues of the day, particularly as they relate to jobs and the economy. People have expressed to me an urgent need to bring the best ideas together to come up with real solutions to us move out from under the dark shadow of long-term chronic underemployment. People are also expressing their frustration that we are being told that good jobs are a thing of the past. We know good jobs are possible. And people are telling me they want labour, business and government leadership to work together to ensure we all have access to good jobs.
...
The Good Jobs Summit will bring together seemingly disparate parties – industry, government, NGOS, students, academic institutions, workers and trade unions – to discuss the need for decent jobs and come up with solutions. Up for discussion will be the chronic underemployment of young, overqualified workers; growing precarity in the labour market; how we can make ‘bad jobs’ better and where the good jobs will come from in the economy of today and in the future.
...
I’m confident that we can do better, that we can create an economy that churns out far more good jobs than bad, that creates an environment where precarious employment is a thing of the past, and that everyone who is able to work can find a decent job that helps support themselves and their family. - But Graham Lanktree notes that the Cons are instead looking to push CETA on the country - which figures to both drive away existing jobs, and limit the ability of Canadian governments to support new ones. Which means that it's no wonder Canadians are increasingly pessimistic (PDF) about both their own positions, and the overall prospects for workers. And Andrew Jackson observes that tax giveaways to businesses - likely the only public policy tool not taken off the table by the corporate trade movement - don't do anything at all to boost innovation or development.

- John Thompson rightly slams Stephen Harper for rejecting an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women based on nothing more than wilful stupidity. And Catherine Latimer comments on the Cons' elimination of factual research into criminal justice policy lest their "tough on crime" posturing be exposed for its ineffectiveness.

- The New Republic weighs in on the Cons' silencing of climate scientists, while the Ottawa Citizen editorial board calls on the Cons to let them speak. And Michael Spratt discusses the Cons' broader fight against inconvenient reality and the evidence which tends to expose it.

- Finally, near the top of the list of areas where we have reason to worry about the Cons' aversion to facts lies their willingness to ignore safety standards for Arctic deep-water drilling. And Lana Payne reminds us what happened last time the Cons figured they could let the oil industry handle public safety for itself.

Musical interlude

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 19:56
Serge Devant feat. Second Sun - Shadow

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