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Wednesday Morning Links

6 hours 27 min ago
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- In a theme all too familiar based on Brad Wall's use of millions of public dollars to pay for access to U.S. lawmakers, Simon Enoch discusses the connections between Wall and ALEC:
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough is both a member and State corporate co-chair the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). You might know ALEC as the United States’ premier “corporate bill mill.” ALEC has also been characterized by the New York Times as a “stealth business lobbyist” and as a “bill laundry” for corporate policy ideas by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
...
Some of ALEC’s more infamous model legislation includes anti-union “right-to-work” laws, anti-immigrant ID laws, protecting the secrecy of “fracking” chemicals from public disclosure, blocking sustainable energy initiatives, and enhanced corporate protection from liability and class action lawsuits.

This is not the first time that the current government has been associated with ALEC. In December of 2011 Premier Wall gave a keynote address to the ALEC States & Nation Policy Summit in Arizona warning of the dangers of U.S. environmental regulation hindering the export of Saskatchewan petroleum though pipeline projects like Keystone XL. Indeed, ALEC is currently one of the major lobbying organizations pushing for the Keystone Pipeline project, the very issue the Saskatchewan government hired Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough to lobby U.S. legislators on its behalf. Given this history, the Premier must surely be aware of what ALEC is and what it does. So does Premier Wall agree with ALEC’s tactics? Does he believe that democracy can be well-served by such deceptive techniques? Furthermore, does he agree with the content of its model legislation? If not, the Saskatchewan government should seriously re-consider using public money to retain ALEC member and supporter Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough as Saskatchewan’s lobbying voice in Washington D.C.- Circa News reports on the OECD's latest work to combat corporate tax evasion. And Harry Stein points out that the corporate profit share of the U.S.' total national income is at a record high level and still growing, while corporate tax payments are at a historic low - and all without creating any apparent benefit for anybody who isn't wealthy enough to boast significant stock holdings.

- Andre Picard examines Statistics Canada's data on home care, and finds the state of Canadian care to be sorely lacking:
2.2 million Canadians receive home care – 8 per cent of the population over the age of 15. Most care recipients are frail seniors with chronic health conditions, but there are also many people with physical, developmental and psychiatric disabilities.

About one in seven people – 331,000 people – who got home care in 2012 did not receive all the care they needed; their needs were only partially met. Another 461,000 chronically ill Canadians needed help with daily activities but did not receive any home care at all.

Without a doubt, these numbers underestimate the real needs. Statscan surveys do not reach people living in nursing homes, long-term-care homes and hospitals – and many of them could be living at home with the proper support.

It’s very difficult to figure out who is falling through the cracks. However, Statscan does provide some clues: Low-income Canadians and immigrants are far less likely to receive home care, and one of the most underserviced groups is informal caregivers, the millions who care for their loved ones at home and don’t know where to go for help.

Between the lines, the message is that to get home care in Canada, you either need to be educated and connected enough to wring service out of the system, or you need to be wealthy enough to pay for it.- And Brandon Sloan writes that income-contingent loans for post-secondary education ultimately ensure only that lower-paid graduates are charged more for their studies.

- Finally, Leehi Yona declares that the obstructionist Harper Cons don't speak for her (nor for many other Canadians) when it comes to climate change.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 18:10
Babied cats.




On paid access

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 16:13
Shorter Brad Wall:
As far as I'm concerned, paying large sums of money to cynical political operatives for insider access to decision-makers is just how business gets done with the U.S. government. Also, please don't draw any obvious inferences about how business gets done with my government.

Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 08:28
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- In the context of Scotland's referendum on independence, Polly Toynbee reminds us why fragmentation can only serve to exacerbate inequality - a lesson worth keeping in mind as the Cons look to devolve responsibility for taxation and public services in Canada:
What’s to be done? The answer from all sides is “localism”. Westminster’s monstrous hegemony must be broken up with devolution. If Scotland goes, rump UK will be bereft and depleted. But if Scotland stays, monumental home-rule promises made in the last week’s panic will offer Scotland immense tax, spending and borrowing powers that, says the London School of Economics’ Tony Travers, England will rightly resent. Already the Barnett formula gives the Scots more per capita, but look what happens now: under Osborne austerity, whatever extra Scotland spends or borrows will come out of the Treasury’s UK total – and that means less for the rest. Good to break Osborne’s unnecessarily extreme cuts planned for after the election, but cities, regions, counties, all will want equal freedom from Treasury handcuffs biting into local leaders’ wrists.

At first sight, how attractive it looks for each locality to raise tax and spend its share of national income as best suits local circumstance. Localism sounds comforting. It is indeed high time to give back powers Margaret Thatcher stripped out and replace the millions of council homes she sold. Labour would give local health and wellbeing boards some NHS powers. Schools and further education should be returned too. Borrowing to build, councils should sell bonds.

But alarm bells ring when groupthink grips all parties. For social democrats there are as many dangers as opportunities. Unlike more equal federal countries, England is so grotesquely unequal in geography and class that London and the south-east make all the money, the rest take it. Redistribution from the south must limit the scope for local tax-raising.
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I don’t know the answers to these conundrums, but dashing for devo is dangerous. The deepest recession of our lifetime was bound to rouse anti-politics wrath. The idea of Britain is hollowed out by 30 years of selling everything national (with even Royal Mail gone), trashing the public service ethos, sacking public staff, letting predatory capitalism rip while wages fall, pricing everything and valuing nothing. The logic of localism risks leading in the end to less national identity and less fair distribution of wealth. Good politics will revive if strong ideas hold the imagination, keeping enough people together with common goals. - Meanwhile, Elizabeth Lee Ford-Jones writes about the emergency of a million Canadian children living in low-income homes - signalling that there's an awful lot of work to be done to fight poverty on a national scale.

- Trish Hennessy looks at the positive spillover effects of a $15 federal minimum wage. And Angella MacEwen discusses how greater bargaining power for workers is ultimately a must if we want to build a more fair society:
Workers' bargaining power has been restricted in two ways. First, workers employed through the Temporary Foreign Worker program are tied to a single employer. Second, many are not allowed to unionize. If a worker is unhappy with the wages or working conditions of their job, they can neither band together to demand better, nor walk across the street to a better employer.

The result is that employers do not have to raise wages to attract and keep workers. If there is a sufficient supply of vulnerable labourers, then current non-TFWP workers may be easily disciplined with the treat of being replaced by a willing temporary worker.

Limiting the pool of workers whose bargaining power is restricted may improve the situation of non-TFWP workers somewhat, if it means that they are less likely to believe the threat of being replaced. But it does nothing to improve the situation for temporary workers.

If there is a need for more low-skilled workers in Alberta, then Alberta should open up temporary and permanent immigration for low-skilled workers. But all workers should be allowed to move between employers, and to bargain wages and working conditions through the union of their choice. The best way to enforce employment standards is by giving workers the power to stand up for themselves.- Nick Cohen observes that more and more of our political and social culture carries an entry fee which most families can't afford - turning the arts, journalism and politics into domains of privilege rather than public participation. And Paul Krugman laments that a top-down push for austerity is leading much of the developed world back toward stagnation or recession.

- Finally, Mike De Souza reports that the Cons have given up on even the facade of consulting about greenhouse gas emissions for the tar sands - signalling that a change in government is an absolute must if Canada is to become anything other than a climate scofflaw.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 05:10
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Dan Lett discusses Stephen Harper's callous disregard for missing and murdered aboriginal women - and how it should serve as a call to Canadians generally to take a broader look at the causes of social inequality:
Why so much resistance to a broader, sociological analysis? A national inquiry of that kind would pose awkward questions and reveal uncomfortable realities about the diminishing role of the federal government in the lives of all Canadians.

A national inquiry would delve into questions such as familial dysfunction, child welfare, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, economic disparity and the shortcomings of the education and health-care systems. An examination of that scope would touch on issues that affect both aboriginal and non-aboriginal citizens.

An inquiry would no doubt expose growing income inequality and the ever-diminishing federal contribution to education, social programs and health care. And how that shrinking support tends to disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable in our society.

A commission of inquiry would be, to put it mildly, a potent and biting indictment of the culture of successive federal governments that have, for decades, placed the health and welfare of the neediest Canadians well below other, less profound policy goals.- Murray Brewster explores the wide world of policy areas which the Cons have shrouded in cabinet secrecy.

- Meanwhile, the CP reports on how secretive meetings with oil lobbyists look to have been behind the Clark Libs' push to weaken environmental protections. Les Whittington exposes the Wall government's preference for back-room dealing - along with its willingness to spend millions in public dollars to try to buy influence in Washington. And Mike De Souza traces the connections between ALEC, the tar sands and Keystone XL.

- Mike Moffatt weighs on on how the Cons' latest EI scheme will only make employment more precarious in mid-sized businesses by offering employers incentives to fire workers.

- Finally, Daphne Bramham writes about the need for us to be involved in public life as citizens, not merely as taxpayers:
To be a citizen means to belong, to have responsibilities, rights and shared values. It means having a stake in the future and, in democracies, a voice in determining what that future might look like.

In Canada, it means having the guarantee that laws will be applied fairly to every person and every institution (including governments), as well as the right to an education and health care.

That is why we pay taxes. It’s the cost and the duty of belonging.

As the terminology has shifted from citizen to taxpayer over the past three decades, maybe it is only coincidental that the gap between rich and poor has widened.

Perhaps it’s also only coincidence that voter turnout has spiralled downward as the poor and the young (too many of whom are unemployed or under-employed and often burdened by huge debts from post-secondary education fees that have nearly tripled in the last two decades) decide not to bother exercising their franchise.

A growing body of economic research confirms that wealth isn’t the best predictor or guarantor of happy or healthy societies.

What matters more is feeling connected, belonging and having a say. In other words, being a full citizen.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 09:06
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Naomi Klein discusses how entrenched corporate control through trade and investment agreements will prevent us from making any real progress against climate change. And Cory Doctorow weighs in on the Cons' FIPA sellout of Canadian sovereignty, while highlighting the NDP's petition to stop it.

- Meanwhile, Les Whittington writes that CETA will severely limit Canada's ability to regulate banks - which, as Barry Ritholz observes, only sets us up for predictable financial abuse which will never be properly investigated or punished:
Political access and lobbying go part way toward explaining the absence of prosecutions and, therefore, the lack of convictions [for financial sector criminality]. To understand why there were no convictions of senior bankers, you need to understand a bit of criminal law in the U.S. The American form of jurisprudence requires a criminal indictment to bring someone to trial. No indictment, no trial, no conviction. Where bankers and their lawyers have been so successful is stopping prosecutions before they begin. You don’t get to the conviction part if prosecutors don’t bring indictments.

As we have repeatedly shown, Treasury Department officials, including former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, had convinced prosecutors in the Justice Department of the dangers of prosecuting banks and bankers for the economy. This showed up in the news coverage over the years, and is still going on. Just consider this recent Bloomberg News article with the headline “Criminal Charges Against Banks Risk Sparking Crisis.”

So what crimes could we imagine? How about fraudulent mortgage underwriting; robo-signing and foreclosure perjury; falsifying Libor rates; manipulating gold and other metal prices; money laundering for drug kingpins and terrorists; and participating in Ponzi schemes. This is hardly an all-inclusive list and I could certainly make it longer.

If only the list of attempted prosecutions was as long.- Bruce Johnstone points out the limitations of a government which insists on its own impotence in cultivating genuine economic development. But unfortunately, the Leader-Post's editorial board undercuts a rare effort to build an alternative to total dependence on the corporate sector - in this case, when it comes to a municipal development agency.

- Katie Raso reminds us why we need to fight against for-profit health care which discriminates based on the ability to pay. And Mollie Reilly offers a galling example of what happens when that discrimination rears its ugly head.

- Finally, Andrew Cash highlights the fight against "pay-to-pay" rackets as an example of how public pressure can result in at least some policy changes.

On redemocratization

Sat, 09/13/2014 - 16:57
Adrian Morrow reports on Andrea Horwath's speech to the Ontario NDP's provincial council. And there's certainly plenty of reason for relative optimism about a message which both reflects a clear argument for big-picture progressive thinking, and recognizes at least part of the importance of the NDP's base. That said, I'll note that there's still one area which leaves something to be desired in Horwath's message:
Party sources say the election campaign was too undemocratic, run by a handful of people close to Ms. Horwath who decreed there would be no big picture pledges. The campaign also focused too strongly on winning Southwest Ontario – a region hard-hit with the decline of the manufacturing sector – at the expense of Toronto and the GTA, the sources said. The populist approach, they contend, made it harder for some in the party to feel they were fighting for anything important and consequently led to a lack of motivation.

Ms. Horwath made a bid to correct both problems Saturday.

In a speech that bordered on liturgy, she rhymed off example after example of progressive values – from universal health care to fighting poverty to better pensions to public transit – that she would embrace over the next four years. And she tugged at NDP heartstrings, at one point referencing the party’s revered late federal leader, Jack Layton.

“Love is better than anger, as a good friend reminded us a few years ago. We are the party of hope. We are the party of optimism,” she said. “In a time when the very, very few continue to amass so much for themselves while everyone else is falling behind, we have never been more relevant.” She also promised to make the party more internally democratic.

“Every single New Democrat should be able to see themselves in our campaigns,” Ms. Horwath said. “We must reach out as broadly as possible, both within our party and to our allies in our movement, when crafting both our commitments and our campaigns.”So what's wrong with that past passage in particular?

It's surely a must for any leader to be willing to speak to the values favoured by party supporters, and to design policy consistent with those values. But Horwath still appears to be taking the position that the crucial actor is "we" in the sense of the party leader and her (or his) closest advisers - reflecting a commitment to an increased baseline for consultation, but not necessarily an interest in true democratic decision-making at the party level.

Put another way, while we should be able to expect at least future campaigns and policy proposals (and hopefully general decision-making) from the Ontario NDP to better reflect members' values with Horwath as leader, her intention is still to decide personally where that commitment begins and ends.

That view of the relationship between a commanding leader and a subservient party is of course entirely consistent with the practices of the NDP's competitors. But unlike the Libs (who will generally follow their leader anywhere for lack of any coherent value structure) and the PCs/Cons (who count deference to authority as a key component of their actual value structure), the NDP actually has something to lose in settling for a top-down model.

In effect, the concession that politics must be practiced along the lines preferred by the other parties only helps the Libs and Cons to argue that the NDP doesn't live up to its own values, and thus doesn't offer an improvement on what we're stuck with now. And to avoid validating that line of attack, we should expect the NDP at all levels to advocate for - and offer - decision-making mechanisms which allow for grassroots debates and decision-making, rather than treating party members as just one more focus group to be taken into account by a leader who exercises sole control.

In making that observation about the need for the NDP's leadership to value something more than their own power, however, I'll also note that far too many political activists have been willing to reinforce the same dichotomy from the opposite side.

I've yet to hear anybody offer a reasonable explanation as to how frustration with a single leader justifies abandoning exactly the party system which should provide an alternate and more democratic source of policy ideas and strategic direction. In fact, a trigger-happy view of one's own membership based on dissatisfaction with a leader both diminishes the stability of a party's general value system, and further entrenches the view that the leader is solely responsible for defining the party.

And that's especially counterproductive within a party whose extensive (and growing) progressive network still offers by far the strongest opportunity for activists to shape both electoral results and governing priorities.

In sum, while Horwath has taken some important steps in speaking to core New Democratic values, there's still plenty of work to be done in better putting them into effect. And we'll only see the best possible results at all levels if both the leaders who have centralized power and the critics who have responded by turning their back on party involvement are willing to work toward that end.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 09/13/2014 - 09:02
This and that for your weekend reading.

- James Meek observes that decades of privatization in the UK have eliminated public control over housing and other essential services - and that privatization takes far more forms than we're accustomed to taking into consideration. And Rick Salutin offers his take on the latter point:
Economist Mariana Mazzucato's new book, The Entrepreneurial State, takes a bold step in "debunking" this fake construct. (Steve Paikin interviewed her on TVO this week.) She doesn't just argue that public spending (on defence) was crucial in basic advances like computers and the Internet. That's well-known. She also shows how U.S. public money funded product innovation way down the line, including some of the smallest details of the iPhone! She says the necessity of venture capital is highly exaggerated. Private investors are now far too focused on short-term profit to take real risks. It's governments that do it. The private sector then steps in when results are assured, to take the credit and the profits.

You could read her book as a blow on behalf of the public sector in the debate. But it works even better as a rejection of the debate's terms. There's no neat private-public division, that's just spin. There's actually society, a complex hybrid. Take the process of fixing potholes. Is that public or private? Or busing students to public schools. Even at those levels, it's all entwined. You cannot unscramble this omelet or neatly separate its ingredients back out. - Meanwhile, Robert Benzie examines the Ontario Libs' plan to hand over the province's public resources based on marching orders from Bay Street, while Rob Ferguson reports on Andrea Horwath's anti-privatization push.

- Daniel Tencer examines expert reactions to the Cons' latest plan to suppress jobs and wages, and finds precisely nobody other than the CFIB with anything positive to say about it.

- Sharon Murphy writes that directing our attention toward poverty and other social determinants of health is both more humane then funding merely reactive systems, and more likely to result in an improved return on our public investments. And Andre Picard discusses the health consequences of insufficient access to dental care (particularly among Canadians with low incomes).

- Dene Moore reports on the obscene amount of political intervention the Cons are imposing in scientific discussions, finding that 16 separate communications operatives interfered in a single request to interview a single scientist about his work. And the Star calls for Health Canada to stop suppressing its findings about defective and dangerous prescription drugs.

- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall notes that the Cons' backroom dealings on the FIPA trade and investment agreement with China resulted in their completely caving when it came to Canadian interests, while the NDP is leading the charge to stop the sell-out. And Katie Valentine reports that while Stephen Harper can't rush through giveaways to Chinese business fast enough, he also can't be bothered to show up for the U.N.'s climate summit.

Musical interlude

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 19:45
Bissen - Exhale (Sean Tyas Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 07:01
Assorted content to end your week.

- Rick Smith discusses the growing public appetite to fight back against burgeoning inequality - along with the need to make inequality a basic test for the fairness of any policy:
(I)t is significant that a finance minister of our decidedly right-wing government showed the political courage to criticize a policy that will clearly make inequality worse. This test — whether a policy choice will exacerbate inequality — should be the test for any government in making political choices.
...
[The Broadbent Institute's wealth inequality] data, though disheartening, can help focus the minds of Canadians and our elected officials to understand the urgency of taking action to combat inequality.

Because in the end this situation is the result of political choices, not some inevitability. As Ed Broadbent, a long-time champion of combating economic inequality, has explained, “Democratic politics, at its best, is about choosing what kind of society we want to live in.”

And deep and persistent inequality shouldn’t be a characteristic of Canadian society. - Meanwhile, Rebecca Vallas and Joe Valenti criticize one policy choice which does little other than entrench wealth inequality, as asset limits which prohibit people from accessing social assistance if they own even a modest vehicle strip people of their assets and trap them in poverty without serving any useful purpose. And in a similar vein, Angelina Chapin laments Ontario's insufficient social supports which result in parents having to choose between food and school supplies for their children.

- Bryce Covert weighs in on how unpredictable hours in the retail sector cause nothing but stress and frustration for workers. And Peter Cappelli points out the futility of telling workers to seek more education when employers are more interested in employees who have received on-the-job training (which they don't want to provide themselves).

- Harsha Walia rightly argues that after thirteen years of sacrificing rights to a war against a vague concept, it's about time to replace unfocused fear with solidarity.

- Finally, Glen Thompson exposes the latest attempts by the oil industry to make sure nobody can be held responsible for the environmental risks it wants to impose on the Canadian public:
The new [Kinder Morgan] pipeline, it seems, is as complicated as the first mission to the moon, with a robust 15,000 page draft plan, guiding a small army of civil engineers, scientists and project leads. It took no less than nine expert presenters with technical analysts standing by, to present an hour and a half project overview to the FVRD Board. Sitting two rows deep, the project leads extolled advanced science and gleaned wisdom distilled from forensic analysis of past catastrophes. The presentation team successfully stick-handled their way through the Boards member's queries; air quality, the depth of the pipeline in deep rooted agricultural crops, financial compensation capacity and riparian protection.

The second event was a long afternoon of Kinder Morgan being slow cooked by fully qualified, and at times pointed, questions from a highly informed group of community leaders, advocates and government agency analysts. Kinder Morgan walked away roughed up, limping a bit, but uninjured. Every concern it seemed, had a graph, a published opinion or a mitigation plan and supposedly every bit of it, was reasonable, given the daunting task of moving extremely heavy oil, over mountains, in February.

At the FVRD meeting, a single phrase, made by the pipeline's head director, hung in the air like a high fly ball. I'll never forget the finality in his voice, "Once the oil leaves the dock, Kinder Morgan holds no obligation or responsibility, even 10 metres out -- that's the carrier's liability." Nobody caught the ball.

The oil cargo that was loaded into the Exxon Valdez traveled safely through the supply pipeline from Prudhoe Bay without incident. The Alaska coast disaster had nothing to do with the pipeline, and everything to do with the carrier. The Kinder Morgan director's sharp statement pulls the sheet off the question: Who will take Kinder Morgan's oil out of the Port of Vancouver?

On intended consequences

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 16:24
Shorter Joe Oliver:
Hey, I've got a bright economic idea! Let's pay businesses not to pay workers!If there's any long-term bright side to the Cons' announcement, it's that it should serve so nicely to undercut any "job creation" or "better off" narrative: surely every opposition party can identify workers who end up being denied jobs or raises to keep employers below the EI contribution threshold, and point to the Cons as the source of the problem. But on the balance, surely we'd all be better off if Oliver simply walks this one back.

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 08:45
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- The Broadbent Institute studies wealth inequality in Canada, and finds not only that the vast majority of Canada's capital resources remain concentrated in very few hands but that the disparity continues to grow:
The new Statistics Canada data show a deeply unequal Canada in which wealth is concentrated heavily in the top 10% while the bottom 10% hold more debts than assets.
  • The majority of Canadians, meanwhile, own almost no financial assets besides their pensions. The top 10% of Canadians accounted for almost half (47.9%) of all wealth in 2012.
  • In 2012, the bottom 30% of Canadians accounted for less than 1% of all wealth; the bottom 50% combined controlled less than 6%. 
  • The median net worth of the top 10% was $2,103,200 in 2012. It rose by $620,600 (41.9%) since 2005. In contrast, the median net worth of the bottom 10% was negative $5,100 in 2012, dropping more than 150% from negative $2,000 in 2005.
- Meanwhile, PressProgress highlights a new international study on the declining wage levels and job quality faced by Canadian workers over the past forty-plus years. And T.M. Scanlon summarizes how growing inequality erodes our basic social foundations.

- Harriett McLachlan offers her take on what it's like to live in poverty:
What is it like to live in a world built for people not living in poverty?

I think a person who is poor is more vulnerable or susceptible to getting hurt along the road of life, the impact of which is deeper and longer lasting than folks who are not poor. The way our society is constructed, each time a poor person gets hurt they never fully recover, they are still wounded when they are hit by the next roadblock. 

Poverty is like [a] Mack Truck coming at you, barrelling towards you, and you only have a split second to jump out of the way. As you dodge one, you see another truck barrelling towards you and if you’re not careful or unlucky you can be hit by a third and by a fourth one that was not possible to see right away. How do you strategically manoeuvre towards safety in fractions of a second? How is it even possible to sustain this ‘escaping’ behaviour over the long-term? How can a person be a productive and contributing member of society under such challenging circumstances? That’s what the world is like for me living in poverty. 
...
Are there any other questions that you think I should ask you?

One question I would want to answer is: if you had money, what would change? Poverty has a way of impressing upon a person their identity. So that when one comes to define themselves as poor, all the negative images associated with being poor are woven together with who you are. A person who is poor, especially in long term poverty, most likely see themselves through a lens of negativity. The lens is bleak, without life, without hope. 

I never wanted poverty to define me. I volunteered for forty years giving to others so I wouldn’t be suffocated by the heavy weight of poverty consistently upon me. A person is still a person regardless of poverty. 

Poverty is such a restricting force, like when you see old metal cars compressed by huge machines, stacks of flattened cars waiting to be towed away to a scrap yard. Poverty can be like that on a person, very crushing. There is a strength of heart that is needed to counter that or poverty will compress the life out of you. For me it is important to define who I am independent of my circumstances. That can be a very challenging thing to deal with on a day-to-day basis when the weight of poverty is especially heavy.- Marc Lee points out that British Columbia doesn't lack the means to properly fund its public education, meaning that it's purely by choice that the Clark Libs are trying to strongarm the province's teachers into accepting low wages and unduly difficult class conditions.  And Lizanne Foster reminds us that the primary explanation for that choice is the desire to privatize education.

- PSAC notes that the Cons are trying to force federal public servants to go to work sick rather than maintaining a sound sick leave system. And the Saskatchewan NDP reveals how workers see Saskatchewan's health care system from the inside - with strong majorities of workers finding that neither managers nor the Sask Party government are listening to how to better ensure a healthy province.

- Finally, Linda McQuaig discusses the Cons' plans to boost military spending for no particular reason (other than to ensure public money isn't used for more positive purposes).

New column day

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 08:14
Here, on how the corporate sector is taking advantage of Brad Wall, Michael Fougere and their respective administrations at the expense of citizens who both fund and rely on public services.

For further reading...
- Murray Mandryk and the Leader-Post editorial board each weighed in recently on the latest developments from the smart meter debacle.
- CBC reported on the province's decision to let Deveraux Developments walk away from its commitment to build affordable housing, as well as Donna Harpauer's subsequent declaration that she's entirely sympathetic toward Deveraux (and by implication, not so much toward people who need homes), as well as the response by both the NDP and a procurement expert that it's foolish to let a business off the hook for a simple contractual commitment. And the Prince Albert Daily Herald rightly challenged Harpauer's spin that we can afford not to have any available housing because nobody is actually homeless, while Mandryk pointed out the respective treatment of people and businesses in the Deveraux case.
- Finally, the CBC's story on Emterra and the handling of glass food containers by the City of Regina's recycling program is here. And in keeping with the theme of the column, the City's late-breaking response couldn't have been much more carefully drafted to insulate Emterra from criticism.

Wednesday Evening Links

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 17:18
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Scott Clark and Peter DeVries criticize the Cons' choice to prioritize right-wing dogma over sound economic management:
What should Canada do? For starters, the passive approach isn’t working. In the face of global economic uncertainty and a secular decline in growth, Canadian policy makers need to get at the levers that can strengthen growth at home.

...Of course we have options — they just happen to be ones that clash with the Conservatives’ hands-off economic orthodoxy. The Harper government is committed to lower taxes, lower spending, balanced budgets and smaller government. But why should Canadians accept these as the only options? There’s nothing inevitable in this climate about years of sluggish growth. It’s a choice — a political choice.

So with its energies directed at the coming election, the Harper government finds itself stuck in a dilemma of its own making. It wants to run on a record of good economic management but it wants to define that record as narrowly as possible — as simply eliminating the deficit. In fact, as we argued last week, the government could kill the deficit this year, one year ahead of their political schedule. But getting rid of a deficit you created doesn’t make you a good economic manager. Healthy economies grow at a healthy rate. Ours isn’t.
...
Why not stabilize the debt ratio at 30 per cent of GDP? Why shouldn’t a government borrow to make new investments when ten-year, thirty-year, and fifty-year interest rates are at historically low levels? Surely that’s what future generations would want us to do. - And Stephen Kimber reminds us of the yawning gap between Harper and the Canadian public - while recognizing that it's also worth demanding that a new government actually improve on the Cons' attitude toward what brings us together as a country:
What are Canadians most proud of? Well, start with medicare, followed by international peacekeeping and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Not to forget multiculturalism, bilingualism and the Canadarm.
...
But...there is a jangling disconnect between what Canadians say they believe in and the values Stephen Harper has enshrined in Canada's laws and practices since his party won the majority of seats in the 2011 election.
...
[Harper has] cut the netting from under our social safety net, slashed public services, done a 180-degree foreign-affairs pirouette from global honest broker to ideological barking dog, glorified the military while denigrating veterans, stealthily imposed a new unilateral medicare funding formula to eviscerate national health-care standards and download costs on to the provinces, imposed tough-on-crime legislation and mandatory minimum sentences despite evidence they don't work, attacked the courts, eliminated the long-form census, muzzled scientists, destroyed important data, emasculated environmental protections, audited charities and environmental critics, cut taxes for the rich while leaving gaping loopholes for offshore tax cheats, gutted the CBC, passed Orwellian legislation like the Fair Elections Act to make elections anything but…

The list goes on. When I asked on Facebook recently "what a post-Harper government would need to do to undo Harper's disastrous re-making of Canada," I got close to 100 responses with at least three dozen different specific suggestions.

All of this means the scheduled 2015 federal election should not simply be another rascal-changing exercise.

The 60 per cent of us who didn't vote to radically change our country's laws and values must now ask those who would seek to replace Stephen Harper not simply what they will do for our country but what they will undo to give us back our country.- Meanwhile, Tavia Grant reports on the financial squeeze facing far too many Canadians. Frances Woolley discusses the gender politics of taxation. And Carol Goar notes that the Ontario Libs' spin about addressing poverty isn't being matched with actions:
Anti-poverty advocates have learned to welcome crumbs from the Ontario Liberals.

That is what they got in the five-year poverty reduction strategy unveiled by Deputy Premier Deb Matthews last week. The 56-page blueprint consisted of recycled promises, long-term goals, soothing language and self-congratulations (despite the fact she fell far short of her last five-year target.)

But social activists lauded the government for its good intentions, its comprehensive framework and its long-sought acknowledgement that homelessness is a provincial responsibility. They politely overlooked the fact that the minister did not raise welfare rates, did not provide a nutrition allowance, did not address the shortage of child care spaces and did not offer rent supplements.

Do these advocates really speak for people living in poverty?

It seems unlikely. Good intentions don’t fill empty stomachs or pay the rent. Families in need don’t care which government does what.

Does easy praise encourage the government to aim low?

That seems highly probable. As long as Matthews can win public plaudits for saying what “stakeholders” want to hear, she needn’t risk bold action. As long as those who claim to represent the poor are onside, she needn’t back up her words with money. - Rank and File documents the Honour Our Deal movement which is looking to preserve the pensions earned by municipal workers in and around Regina. And Brigitte Noel reports on the heinous conditions faced by a temporary foreign worker who has since died on the job.

- Finally, PressProgress duly mocks Gwyn Morgan - not long ago one of the key figures behind one of the world's most corrupt businesses - for complaining that he and his ilk have managed to give corporations a bad name.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 20:05
Connected cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:59
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Andrew Jackson examines the effect of a federal minimum wage - and how it would benefit both workers and employers.

- Dylan Matthews offers a primer on a basic income, featuring this on how a secure income has little impact on individuals' willingness to work:
As noted above, a real basic income has never been implemented across a whole country, which makes macroeconomic effects hard to predict. But we do have some experimental evidence on the question of work effort, drawn from the negative income tax experiments in the US and Canada in the 1970s. Those studies found that work effort declined when a negative income tax was imposed, as predicted, but that the effect was quite small. Moreover, most of the reduction in work effort appeared to come from people taking longer stints of unemployment. That can be a bad thing, but it can also mean that people aren't settling for second-best jobs and holding out for ones that are better fits for them. That'd actually be good, economically. Additionally, the work effect reduction for young people appeared to come entirely from increased school attendance— also a desirable outcome.

Another factor is underreporting. Negative income taxes provide an incentive for beneficiaries to underreport their incomes so as to get a bigger benefit — and that's exactly what happened in the US negative income tax experiments. For the experiment in Gary, Indiana, when participants' reported incomes were cross-referenced with official government data on their earnings, the reduction in work effort went away entirely.- Sean Holman reveals how British Columbians have been kept in the dark as to the dangers of mining activity. And Damien Gillis notes that so far, the only person punished in the wake of the Mount Polley environmental disaster was the whistleblower who lost his job for pointing out that Imperial Metals' tailings pond was about to fail.

- Finally, Carol Goar discusses how Canada's remand system represents both a glaring waste of money, and an all-too-common form of indefinite detention for people who haven't had a chance to answer the charges against them.

On advance notice

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:30
Between Joan Bryden's report, Paul Wells' interview and Murray Dobbin's column among other coverage, there isn't much room for doubt that the federal NDP's economic focus - including a national minimum wage alongside a restored retirement age of 65 and reversal of corporate tax cuts - is earning some media and public attention. And we can surely expect plenty more as Thomas Mulcair fleshes out the details as he's promised to do this fall. But what can we take from both the substance of the NDP's policy proposals unveiled so far, and the choice to introduce them a year away from the anticipated election date?

Let's start by noting that conventional political wisdom has long been trending away from meaningful engagement with voters on policy. At all levels of government, the unfortunate tendency has been toward introducing a grab bag of policies more out of force of habit than any expectation that they deserve discussion - with those policies often serving more to obscure a party's real intentions than to reveal them.

But the federal NDP has often offered an exception to the rule, due in no small part to its desire to win some public notice when the media would otherwise be inclined to focus solely on a horse race between two other parties.

Of course, part of the NDP's long-term plan has always been to ensure itself a constant place in that horse-race coverage. And there are still two obvious if distant paths toward that end result: either the Libs' choice to bet the party on Justin Trudeau could fail (leaving a strong NDP-Con clash of ideas), or the Cons could crumble like the PCs did in 1993 (allowing the Libs to assume the explicit right-wing position they have in British Columbia).

In the meantime, it makes a world of sense for the NDP to stake its claim once again as the party of ideas - particularly since this time, it has far more resources behind it to reach the media and voters alike. 

So what about the content of the recent announcements? There, Mulcair seems to have learned at least a few lessons from Andrea Horwath's loss of "core left" and "new labour" support. And so instead of taking the NDP's base for granted, he's starting with proposals which serve largely to consolidate those groups of voters (while remaining palatable across the spectrum).

Of particular note, the minimum wage proposal looks ideally placed as an idea whose overall impact might far exceed its direct effects. While a relatively small number of workers fall under federal jurisdiction, even the NDP has rarely emphasized the concept that the federal government can lead the way in improving standards across the board. And particularly if the minimum wage proposal is just the opening salvo in addressing labour and employment rights more generally, there's plenty of room to present ideas which will make for both sound policy and effective politics.

To be clear, the few ideas presented so far almost certainly won't be enough to rally the base for the next year-plus. And so I'd expect the detailed plans being presented to follow a similar theme: ideas which core supporters will see as worth fighting and donating for, and which force the Libs (and to a lesser extent the Cons) to show their hand as to whether they plan to support business interests over the public.

We'll find out fairly soon how effective that effort is. (And Mulcair can help matters by not stepping on his own policy direction - as Wells seems to have had no trouble pushing him toward anti-tax tropes.) But the resolve to change minds on matters of policy is exactly what differentiates a functional political party from a mere leadership vehicle, and it's a plus to see the federal NDP pursuing the former role.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 07:35
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Bryce Covert writes that U.S. workers are receiving a lower share of economic output than at any point since 1950 - and that the decline in wages has nothing to do with the quality or quantity of work:
Workers aren’t earning less because they’re slacking off — just the opposite. Their productivity increased 8 percent between 2007 and 2012 while their wages actually fell, a trend that has been going on since at least 1979. And they’ve been speeding up since the recession, increasing their productivity last summer at the fastest pace since 2009.

The productivity has helped out corporations. They saw record high profits last year, rising to $1.68 trillion, and they have been rising steadily for some time, more than fully recovering what they lost to the financial crisis. Yet workers are getting little of that money. Profits have risen nearly 20 times faster than workers’ incomes since 2008, and on the whole workers have seen a lost decade of stagnant wage growth.- Meanwhile, Rachel Aiello reports on the Cons' challenge in trying to explain how the trickle-down policies they've pushed have produced nothing but a widening income gap, while Mark Gongloff addresses the similarly disastrous effect of austerity and corporatism in Europe.

- Carol Goar highlights one more economic trend crying out for explanation and remediation, asking whether the part-time and precarious jobs consistently generated by the Cons' anti-labour policies are the new normal for Canadian workers.

- But naturally, the Cons have no interest whatsoever in actually addressing the concerns of workers - as they're too busy using public money to subsidize the promotion of weapons exports.

- Finally, John Millar discusses the effects of poverty and inequality - along with the urgent need to dedicate public resources to eliminating both:
Here's what the evidence says about the devastating outcomes of poverty: poorer health, more chronic disease, more avoidable deaths, social injustice, increasing demand and costs for healthcare services and reduced productivity of the workforce. On a large scale and over the long-term, inequality can also slow the economy and erode democracy, political and social stability.
...
Economists call what we need "a judicious redistributive approach" -- that is, to raise government revenues via natural resources, taxes on the wealthy (income, estates, capital), regulation of offshore tax havens, and taxes on externalities, such as pollution, tobacco, alcohol and sugar. Governments should direct these revenues toward social investments such as income support, education, healthcare and infrastructure.
...
We are paying dearly for inaction. It would cost taxpayers less to eradicate poverty than to continue to pay for poverty-related policing, corrections, housing and healthcare. In B.C., the estimated cost to implement a poverty reduction plan is $4 billion annually, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Right now, poverty costs the province up to $9.2 billion per year. Businesses and governments must take measures now to reduce poverty and inequities. It is time for concerned citizens to demand action.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 09/07/2014 - 09:25
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- The Tyee's recent series on important sources of inequality is well worth a read, as Emily Fister interviews Andrew Longhurst about precarious work and Sylvia Fuller about the role of motherhood.

- David Cole asks just how corrupt U.S. politics have become, while Frances O'Grady observes that U.K workers don't believe for a second that their employer can't afford to pay living wages. Robert Reich sees Detroit as a prime example of wealthy individuals shirking their responsibility to pay for the public goods they enjoy. And Joseph Stiglitz notes that gross imbalances in political influence result in markets and other institutions serving only the privileged few rather than the general public:
What we have been observing – wage stagnation and rising inequality, even as wealth increases – does not reflect the workings of a normal market economy, but of what I call “ersatz capitalism.” The problem may not be with how markets should or do work, but with our political system, which has failed to ensure that markets are competitive, and has designed rules that sustain distorted markets in which corporations and the rich can (and unfortunately do) exploit everyone else.
Markets, of course, do not exist in a vacuum. There have to be rules of the game, and these are established through political processes. High levels of economic inequality in countries like the US and, increasingly, those that have followed its economic model, lead to political inequality. In such a system, opportunities for economic advancement become unequal as well, reinforcing low levels of social mobility.
Thus, Piketty’s forecast of still higher levels of inequality does not reflect the inexorable laws of economics. Simple changes – including higher capital-gains and inheritance taxes, greater spending to broaden access to education, rigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws, corporate-governance reforms that circumscribe executive pay, and financial regulations that rein in banks’ ability to exploit the rest of society – would reduce inequality and increase equality of opportunity markedly.
If we get the rules of the game right, we might even be able to restore the rapid and shared economic growth that characterized the middle-class societies of the mid-twentieth century. The main question confronting us today is not really about capital in the twenty-first century. It is about democracy in the twenty-first century.- On the bright side, people can generally recognize corruption where it exists, as Thomas Frank points out what happens when corporate scams are put to the test in court: a California jury refused to accept a prosecution argument that mortgage lenders cared whether loan applications were accurate (in a trial aimed only at punishing borrowers while painting banks as victims). But Yves Smith makes clear that the greediest of the greedy are only getting more insistent on securing perpetually larger rents over growth in equity.

- Alison writes that a botched war after he first tried to push Canadian troops to Iraq over public objections, Stephen Harper has finally managed to get that done - while scrupulously ignoring any of the lessons that should be obvious from the U.S.' previous disastrous stay. And Peter Bergman and David Sterman observe that the politicians shrieking about North Americans being recruited into foreign fighting forces are doing so without any basis in reality.

- Finally, Michael Spratt slams the Cons' counterproductive spin on crime:
How can a government so keen to combat lawlessness make such a botch of its own laws? How can a government composed of law-and-order types be so astoundingly ignorant of how the law actually works?

The answer seems obvious: This government doesn’t really care about fighting crime, about victims, about respecting our most fundamental law — the Constitution. What they do care about is politics — and for Stephen Harper, wrapping himself in his crime-fighter cape is a lot more important than passing laws that work, or make sense.

That the Conservatives are indifferent to the pursuit of justice is something demonstrated by their actions, not their words. They cut the Department of Justice’s research budget by $1.2 million. According to an internal government report, the Justice Department’s research budget was slashed just as an internal report for the deputy minister was warning its findings “may run contrary to government direction” and have “at times left the impression that research is undermining government decisions” and is not “aligned with government or departmental priorities.”

Why stop at suppressing the dissenting opinions of the experts when you can stifle them altogether?

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 09/06/2014 - 08:39
This and that for your weekend reading.

- Andrew Jackson writes that public investment is needed as part of a healthy economy, particularly when it's clear that the private sector isn't going to put massive accumulated savings to use. Bob McDonald notes that we'd be far better off using public money to fund basic research instead of funnelling it toward the business sector. And Ed Keenan looks to Ontario for examples of how far more money is flowing into questionable corporate handouts than toward basic human needs.

- Meanwhile, Lana Payne exposes the Cons' efforts to both downplay and reduce the federal funds available to improve both economic and social conditions if they had any interest in getting things done:
Martin serially underestimated the size of federal surpluses, surpluses the Conservatives quickly spent when they took power, mostly on reckless corporate tax cuts. The Conservatives then continued the trend started by Martin, who had reduced federal corporate taxes to historic lows. Apparently not low enough for the Conservatives, who lowered them again and again.

This has been the extent of Canada’s tax debate for a generation: tax cuts. Even the political left has bought into the mantra, to a certain extent. Political parties, for the most part, want to avoid having an adult conversation on what a fair tax system in Canada would look like.And, as a result, there is little to no fiscal room to build and deliver on the needs of the next generation of Canadians or to meet the demands of an aging population.

The Conservatives have continued the austerity agenda, slashing programs and services and laying off more than 20,000 employees.  They have overstated the size of the deficit. Indeed, for the first three months of fiscal year 2014-15, the federal government has been in official surplus.

The parliamentary budget officer (PBO) has been critical of the federal government’s continued austerity, noting that the measures have slowed economic growth and resulted in fewer jobs. The PBO has also predicted a $7-billion surplus for 2015.

These slash-and-burn austerity policies have served to keep the expectations of Canadians low, but they have also fundamentally changed and diminished the role the federal government has played in Canadian society.

This, of course, has been the point and some of the rationale behind the reckless tax cuts — empty the federal coffers, strangle the expectations of Canadians and then repeat.- Linda McQuaig writes about the costs of allowing corporations to engage in tax-evasion maneuvers like the Burger King/Tim Hortons takeover:
We’re always told we should try to lure corporations here with low taxes. But such a strategy — even if it did result in some benefit to Canada — is ultimately self-defeating.

The more we cut our tax rates, the more other countries feel obliged to cut theirs. Round and round it goes, with less and less revenue for vital public programs everywhere. It’s a race to the bottom only corporations can win.

Instead, we should be supporting the Obama administration in its efforts to stop international corporate tax dodging. The White House is now locked in a fierce battle with powerful corporations over tax inversion schemes and also over the U.S. corporate tax rate, which — at 35 per cent — is one of the highest in the world. Corporations want it slashed.

The outcome of this showdown will affect us all. If the multinationals succeed in coercing the mighty United States government to cut its corporate tax rate, it will be much harder for less powerful countries to resist the corporate tax-cutting juggernaut.

The race to the bottom will be on in earnest — with the corporate world happily handing out steroids.- Mike De Souza reports that the Cons refuse to let Health Canada or its scientists talk about the effects of oil-industry toxins on Alberta residents (other than to dismiss out of hand the research which actually shows harm to human health caused by the tar sands).

- Finally, Rick Salutin highlights the foreign policy that's actually threatening us at home at abroad:
Yes, there’s a threat of domestic 9/11-type attacks by ISIS: either in the name of global proselytization or to teach the West what it’s like to be bombarded at home. But it’s the predictable result of western policies since 9/11: invasions, occupations, brutalizations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Western leaders and policy mavens knew these would elicit further 9/11s. That’s what I find despicable. They surely try to stop them but eventually some will probably get through — and they’re prepared to accept those, along with the terrorization of their own populations, as the price of their agenda.

In other words, they don’t invade or attack to stop future 9/11s. They accept future 9/11s as the cost for invasions and attacks with other purposes.

Such retaliations can arise in any society that’s been buffeted by outsiders, though they’re easier to mount in the globalized era. They already occurred in Ireland and Algeria. They often come from religion-based groups because those have deep roots and seem better able to survive repression than secular resistance movements. Occupiers like the U.S. are willing to risk the retaliation since, though terrifying and barbaric, it doesn’t menace them existentially: neither economically nor militarily. They’ll survive, and meanwhile have an excuse to tighten the screws on domestic dissent, further eroding personal security.

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