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No struggle for what you believe in is ever futile.
Updated: 25 min 53 sec ago

New column day

11 hours 38 min ago
Here, on how the City of Regina has learned a painful lesson about the Saskatchewan Party's habit of accepting credit but not responsibility on P3 projects.

For further reading...
- Emma Graney reports on how the province forced the City to foot the bill for immediate site development costs here.
- For background on how decisions about education have been taken out of the hands of elected school boards, Joseph Garcea and Dustin Monroe examine the history of education funding in Saskatchewan (and other provinces) here (PDF).
- And finally, I'll point back to my earlier columns as to how public interests can diverge from those of both P3 proponents and higher levels of government seeking to avoid the bill for new developments.

Thursday Morning Links

11 hours 47 min ago
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- George Monbiot comments on the far more important values we're endangering in the name of constant financial and material growth:
To try to stabilise this system, governments behave like soldiers billeted in an ancient manor, burning the furniture, the paintings and the stairs to keep themselves warm for a night. They are breaking up the postwar settlement, our public health services and social safety nets, above all the living world, to produce ephemeral spurts of growth. Magnificent habitats, the benign and fragile climate in which we have prospered, species that have lived on earth for millions of years – all are being stacked on to the fire, their protection characterised as an impediment to growth.

Cameron boasted on Monday that he will revive the economy by “scrapping red tape”. This “red tape” consists in many cases of the safeguards defending both people and places from predatory corporations. The small business, enterprise and employment bill is now passing through the House of Commons – spinelessly supported, as ever, by Labour. The bill seeks to pull down our protective rules to “reduce costs for business”, even if that means increasing costs for everyone else, while threatening our health and happiness. But why? As the government boasted last week, the UK already has “the least restrictive product market regulation and the most supportive regulatory and institutional environment for business across the G20.” And it still doesn’t work. So let’s burn what remains.
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Why are we wrecking the natural world and public services to generate growth, when that growth is not delivering contentment, security or even, for most of us, greater prosperity? Why have we enthroned growth, regardless of its utility, above all other outcomes? Why, despite failures so great and so frequent, have we not changed the model? When the next crash comes, these questions will be inescapable.- Meanwhile, Michelle Butterfield writes about increased income inequality in Canada - particularly in resource-rich provinces where nominal growth is being efficiently funneled only into the pockets of those who already have the most. And Nick Hanauer points out that the loss of historical overtime pay has made a huge difference in the lives of American workers (who are now working the same extended hours without being compensated accordingly).

- Katrina vanden Heuvel discusses how citizens end up paying the price for corporate tax giveaways. But Andrew Prokop documents how ALEC is putting a well-funded thumb on the scale to make sure that public policy serves only select private interests. And Lindsay Abrams highlights one example of government power being used to undermine public interests, as Republicans have passed a bill to prohibit any scientists other than industry shills from informing environmental decision-making.

- Andy Blatchford reports that the Cons are just like their Republican cousins in abandoning any pretense of doing anything more than rubber-stamping the policy preferences of corporate lobby groups - this time pushing a tax credit based on nothing more than the CFIB's spin. And PressProgress notes that the Cons' definition of an "extremist" - which is of course their threshold for the wholesale elimination of any civil rights - includes people who advocate for renewable energy.

- Jeremy Warren reports on Saskatoon's homeless population and (unsurprisingly) finds that while Jerry Peequaquat may have received more public notice than most, his death was far from an isolated case.

- Joshua Shaw proposes that we recognize collective health as an enforceable right.

- And finally, Rick Mercer offers the definitive response to Stephen Harper's crisis management:

Slavery is freedom

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 15:00
Shorter Brianna Heinrichs:
Oh sure, you soft-hearted progressives think you're helping workers with your "employment standards" and your "occupational health and safety". But have you ever considered some people might prefer to have serfdom as an option?

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 09:31
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The 25th anniversary of Parliament's unanimous - if failed - commitment to eliminate child poverty has given rise to plenty of worthwhile commentary. Marco Chown Oved talks to Ed Broadbent about what the resolution meant at the time (as well as how it came to be ignored), while also interviewing social justice advocates about the need to effective start from scratch now. And Olivia Carville explores one life which could have been changed for the better if Canada had made good on its promise.

- Meanwhile, Dennis Raphael discusses the need to combat both poverty and inequality - with wages serving as a primary issue on both fronts. And Joseph Stiglitz highlights how inequality is undermining economic and social progress alike in the U.S.:
The extreme to which inequality has grown in the United States and the manner in which these inequities arise undermine our economy. Too much of the wealth at the top of the ladder arises from exploitation—whether from the exercise of monopoly power, from taking advantage of deficiencies in corporate governance laws to divert large amounts of corporate revenues to pay CEOs’ outsized bonuses unrelated to true performance, or from a financial sector devoted to market manipulation, predatory and discriminatory lending, and abusive credit card practices. Too much of the poverty at the bottom of the income spectrum is due to economic discrimination and the failure to provide adequate education and health care to the nearly one out of five children growing up poor. 
...
We now know that there are huge disparities even as children enter kindergarten. These grow larger over time, as the children of the rich, living in rich enclaves, get a better education than the one received by those attending schools in poorer areas. Economic segregation has become the order of the day, so much so that even those well-off and well-intentioned selective colleges that instituted programs of economic affirmative action—explicitly trying to increase the fraction of their student body from lower socioeconomic groups—have struggled to do so. The children of the poor can afford neither the advanced degrees that are increasingly required for employment nor the unpaid internships that provide the alternative route to “good” jobs.
...
(M)any of the distributional issues are related not to how much we spend but who we spend it on. If we include within our expenditures the “tax expenditures” buried in our tax system, we effectively spend a lot more on the housing of the rich than is generally recognized. Interest deductability on a mega-mansion could easily be worth $25,000 a year. And alone among advanced economies, the United States tends to invest more in schools with richer student bodies than in those with mostly poor students—an effect of U.S. school districts’ dependence on local tax bases for funding. Interestingly, according to some calculations, the entire deficit can be attributed to our inefficient and inequitable health care system: if we had a better health care system—of the kind that provided more equality at lower cost, such as those in so many European countries—we arguably wouldn’t even have a federal budget deficit today.

Or consider this: if we provided more opportunity to the poor, including better education and an economic system that ensured access to jobs with decent pay, then perhaps we would not spend so much on prisons—in some states spending on prisons has at times exceeded that on universities. The poor instead would be better able to seize new employment opportunities, in turn making our economy more productive. And if we had better public transportation systems that made it easier and more affordable for working-class people to commute to where jobs are available, then a higher percentage of our population would be working and paying taxes. If, like the Scandinavian countries, we provided better child care and had more active labor market policies that assisted workers in moving from one job to another, we would have a higher labor force participation rate—and the enhanced growth would yield more tax revenues. It pays to invest in people.- Carol Goar remarkably sees reason for optimism about the possibility of social progress based on the rhetoric of Kathleen Wynne and John Tory. But sadly, Goar is in fact referring to that Kathleen Wynne and that John Tory. And Sheila Block notes that Wynne in particular is spending far more of her attention on shuffling pools of money around for accounting purposes than on improving the lives of Ontarians.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk writes that we should recognize Jerry Peequaquat's death as the result of multiple social failings.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 19:36
Crashing cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 06:35
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- A Gandalf Group poll finds (PDF) that Canadians have come to perceive and expect a disturbing level of self-serving action by our political leaders. And while Dale Smith is right to note that we've largely limited the most obvious forms of corruption, there's still plenty of reason for concern that public policy is being driven by a few insiders and political cronies at the expense of the public.

- On that front, Gerald Caplan reminds us how the CRA is being used to silence only charities who promote social justice - while at the same time cutting back on collecting taxes from the people who owe the most:
The government somehow found an extra $13.4-million for the CRA to audit charities to ensure they were using tax dollars properly. As far as anyone can tell, all the new funds have been used to audit the government’s critics, none to audit its friends. The first wave of such audits mostly focused on environmental groups, but the net was later widened to include anti-poverty, international aid and human-rights groups that drive the Conservatives – and apparently the CRA – crazy.
...
Indeed the Harper government has never hidden its opposition for certain charities, like the very ones the CRA has chosen to audit. For a while, for example, outrageous attacks on “radical” environmental groups that opposed new pipelines became de rigueur for members of the Harper government.

There’s a scandal within a scandal here as well. While the CRA is disrupting the work of often tiny NGOs, the government is simultaneously laying off international tax auditors who specialized in investigating the tax avoidance strategies of 1-per-cent-ers and corporations. Tax dollars lost to the public treasury are estimated in the multi-billions, which is why the G20, including Canada, has formally made cracking down on tax evasion a priority. Except when it’s not.- And the CRA's selective attacks on charities fit all too well with the oil companies' own strategy of bullying dissenting voices into silence.

- PressProgress points out how the Cons' climate change negligence is sinking to new depths, with spokesflacks trying to pretend that Environment Canada's own scientific data is merely an "opinion" (to be ignored since it might be inconvenient for the Cons' oil baron base). And Aaron Wherry raises plenty of worthwhile followup questions which we can count on the Cons similarly refusing to address.

- Frank Soodeen highlights how secure housing for everybody serves both social and economic purposes.

- But of course, the Cons are instead determined to destroy the federal government's capacity to help people with boutique tax baubles - which lead to Stephen Tapp's call for a more sensible tax system.

- Finally, Salvator Cusimano and Nath Gbikpi write that the Cons are following the UK's model of deliberate exclusion and marginalization for refugees.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 07:00
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Richard Wike notes that inequality is properly being recognized as a higher priority around the globe. But Steven Rattner observes that recognition of the issue isn't doing anything to resolve it, as income and wealth concentration are only getting worse. And Linda McQuaig discusses the need for far more political attention to the gap in Canada:
Apart from the obvious issue of fairness, this diversion of money to the top raises other issues that should be central to meaningful public debate.

For instance, there is growing evidence that a high level of inequality hurts economic growth -- presumably something voters might want to know. A staff report released earlier this year by economists at the International Monetary Fund noted: "Recent empirical work finds that high levels of inequality are harmful for the pace and sustainability of growth."

Even more worrisome is the impact on democracy, as Canada's 70 billionaires and hundreds of multi-millionaires become ever more dominant in the political sphere, with an effective veto over a range of economic policies.

It's hard to imagine a development more crucial to the future of Canadian democracy. Just don't expect to hear much about it during the coming election campaign.- Meanwhile, Yves Smith highlights another obvious (and dangerous) trend as corporate profits continue to grow at the expense of wages.

- Chris Dillow points out that it's utter folly to expect "innovation" in the private sector to accomplish anything other than to further enrich the wealthy - and that if we want to see new financial instruments developed for the public good, we'll only get them through public control:
(W)hy do we get so much "dark" innovation and so little "bright"? Banks are guilty not just of sins of commission - mis-selling and rigging markets - but of sins of omission, not developing good products sufficiently.

The answer lies in the basic economics of innovation - that the social benefits (or costs!) of it often differ from the private benefits. (There is, of course, nothing unusual about financial innovation in this regard.) The type of innovation that occurs will depend not upon its social utility, but upon whether its proceeds can be appropriated privately. And this incentivizes dark innovation. "Crap" and "shitty" CDOs which can be sold to fools - sometimes in a different division of the same bank - will be produced, whereas products with big external social benefits need not be. It might be no accident that a big chunk of the good innovation we've had in recent decades - such as index funds or venture capital trusts - has received nice tax breaks.
Herein, I suspect, lies an under-rated argument for intelligent state control (or even ownership) of banks. Such control might be necessary to rejig incentives towards bright innovation and away from dark. Mariana Mazzucato's argument (pdf) that the state can be entrepreneurial might be especially valid for the financial sector.- Susan Prentice and Holly McCracken follow up on this weekend's child care convention by reminding us how much good could be done for the cost of just one of the Cons' tax giveaways. And Aaron Wherry muses about the budget debate we might have seen if the Cons were willing to allow Parliament to discuss their latest fiscal update, rather than presenting it in an isolation chamber to stifle any response.

- Finally, Michael Harris writes that after a decade of relying on campaigns designed to win over just enough swing voters at election time to overcome general public unpopularity, Stephen Harper is now losing even his party's base.

Sunday Afternoon Links

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 11:27
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Eric Reguly opines that the best way to ensure that banks (and other businesses) operate under the law is to make sure that individual executives are held accountable for failing to do so:
(I)f fines and the odd firing are no deterrent to bad bank behaviour, what is? The obvious answer is shareholder rage. The trouble is, shareholders are not enraged. They have not grabbed pitchforks and torches and stormed CEOs’ houses when the multibillion-dollar fines are paid to secure settlements. Instead, they meekly accept the fines as if they are a cost of doing business, a sleaze tax, if you like.

In some cases, the bank shares actually rise when the fines are announced. The reason? Because in each of the settlements, the fines could have been far worse and, in no case, have the penalties threatened to put the banks out of business. The era of destroying terminally vice-ridden companies is, apparently, long gone. The last time that happened was in 2002, when Arthur Andersen, one of the Big Five accounting firms, was convicted of obstruction of justice for shredding documents in the Enron case. Some 85,000 employees eventually lost their jobs. Regulators and the governments that employ them no longer have the appetite for collateral damage in the form of massive job destruction.
...
Unless senior executives are put on criminal trial or, at a minimum, marched out the door in shame, shorn of their lavish bonuses and corporate golf-club memberships, the rotten culture of the banks will not change. Why would it? The traders in the currency scandal who worked for HSBC, Citi, UBS and other biggies decided that the chances of them getting caught were minimal and kept going. And if they were to get caught, it would be the bank – that is, the shareholders – not them, who would be on the hook for fines worth fortunes.

The bank fines are getting so big and frequent that you can be forgiven for suspecting a mutually beneficial racket is in progress. The banks pay big fines for settlements that leave their businesses and executive ranks largely intact. The regulators typically pocket some of the fines and pad out government treasuries. Shareholders are the main losers. To break this absurd cycle, and to encourage banks to operate morally, a little prison time would do the trick.- And Bessma Momani reports on both the unfortunate reality that governments haven't made the effort to cooperate in ensuring that corporate income is taxed at all, and the tentative steps being taken by the G20 to correct that gross loophole.

- Josh Bivens highlights the fact that tax cuts and other giveaways to employers haven't done - and can't be expected to do - anything to improve wages:
Mr. Leonhardt pointed out the dismal wage trends for the vast majority of American workers in recent decades and how it would be a heavy policy lift to reverse them. This seems right to me. But then he wrote:

“Washington could definitely do more to help growth: better infrastructure, a less burdensome tax code, a less wasteful health care system, more bargaining power for workers and, above all, stronger schools and colleges, to lift the skills of the nation’s work force.”

As they might say on “Seinfeld,” you can’t “yada yada“ more bargaining power for workers. It’s the most important part of the story.

The root of the U.S. wage problem (which is, in turn, the root of America’s inequality problem) is that most workers aren’t seeing their wages keep pace with overall productivity growth. The policies on Mr. Leonhardt’s list are worthy, but most would not reliably close this gap between productivity and pay. Boosting the bargaining power of workers would.- Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson suggests that employers need to bear the cost of building their future workforce rather than letting hundreds of billions of dollars sit idle. And Chuck Collins proposes a combination of inheritance tax revenue, and an educational opportunity fund to ensure greater equality both between and within generations.

- The Hamilton Spectator laments the woeful state of child care in Canada.

- And finally, David Miller writes that refusing to do anything about climate change is no longer an option.

Juxtaposition

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 05:35
The minister responsible for the plight of Saskatchewan's homeless people:
In response to a CBC iTeam question about the waiting list for social housing faced by homeless people Harpauer said, “you’re assuming that there’s these desperate homeless people.”The plight of Saskatchewan's homeless people:
Saskatoon police have confirmed that a 42-year-old homeless man was found dead inside the cab of a an abandoned semi-trailer in an alley off Avenue K. ... There is no confirmation on the cause (of) Peequaquat’s death, but police said it did not appear suspicious.

Severight said he did have addictions issues and he had been homeless since being cut off social assistance.I do hope Harpauer will clarify how much more desperate someone like Jerry Peequaquat needs to become in order to receive some help.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 11/15/2014 - 06:02
This and that for your weekend reading.

- The Economist discusses how a tiny elite group is taking a startling share of the U.S.' total wealth:
The ratio of household wealth to national income has risen back toward the level of the 1920s, but the share in the hands of middle-class families has tumbled (see chart). Tepid growth in middle-class incomes is partly to blame; real incomes for the top 1% of families grew 3.4% a year from 1986-2012 while those for the bottom 90% grew 0.7%. But Messrs Saez and Zucman reckon the main cause of falling middle-class net worth is soaring debt. Rising home values did little to raise middle-class wealth since mortgage debt also soared. The recession battered home prices but left the debt untouched, further squeezing middle-class wealth.
...
On the other side of the spectrum, the fortunes of the wealthy have grown, especially at the very top. The 16,000 families making up the richest 0.01%, with an average net worth of $371m, now control 11.2% of total wealth—back to the 1916 share, which is the highest on record. Those down the distribution have not done quite so well: the top 0.1% (consisting of 160,000 families worth $73m on average) hold 22% of America’s wealth, just shy of the 1929 peak—and exactly the same share as the bottom 90% of the population.- Meanwhile, Lana Payne points out that the Cons are looking to set up the same level of inequality in Canada by pushing tax giveaways at the top end of the income spectrum. And Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert rightly challenge the regressive claim that pushing people toward marriage is somehow a solution to inequality.

- Thomas Walkom and Jeffrey Simpson are both duly skeptical as to whether Stephen Harper will do anything of substance in response to the new greenhouse gas emission reduction agreement between the U.S. and China. But even if we should fully expect continued stonewalling from the Cons, it's not such a bad thing for Harper to be forced to explain that choice.

- Harsha Walia calls out the Cons' "managed migration" which serves primarily to limit individual rights and freedoms:
While Canada is often cast as a liberal counterpoint to aggressive U.S. immigration enforcement tactics, the U.S. has actually pointed to Canada as the model to implement for U.S. migration policy. This is because Canada has perfected a system of managed migration to ensure the steady supply of cheap labour within neoliberalism while entrenching racialized citizenship.
...
Canada currently accepts more migrants under temporary permits than those who can immigrate permanently. Permanent residency for refugees, skilled workers and family members is restricted, citizenship is becoming harder to get and easier to lose, but the migrant worker program is exploding.

These changes are drastic. The number of family-class immigrants dropped by 10,000 in the first four years the Conservative Party of Canada formed government.

According to Avvy Yao-Yao Go, Director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, "Thirty years ago, family-class immigrants made up the majority of all immigrants. Today, they account for less than 20 per cent of the total intake."
...
For the few refugees and migrants who do become permanent residents or citizens, the battle for secure legal status doesn't end there. The Immigrant Criminalization law that passed last year allows for deportations of thousands of permanent residents who have been convicted for minor offences including traffic offenses.

And the new Stealing Citizenship law makes it possible to revoke citizenship from dual nationals or even from Canadian-born children who have the possibility of accessing dual citizenship.- Finally, David Broockman and Joshua Kalla examine the effectiveness of direct personal contact with voters - both in making an immediate impression, and actually inspiring people to vote. And it's well worth contrasting Broockman and Kalla's findings that genuine conversations represent the most important result of door-to-door canvassing against Derek Willis' claim that it's a problem for volunteers to have their own principles and values rather than merely seeking to match a voter's preexisting views.

Musical interlude

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 18:17
Moist - Freaky Be Beautiful

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 06:35
Assorted content to end your week.

- Jonas Fossli Gherso discusses the unfortunate (and unnecessary) acceptance of burgeoning inequality even by the people who suffer most from its presence. And Ryan Meili interviews Gabor Mate about the ill health effects of an economic system designed to keep people under stress:
(T)he very nature of the system in which people live their lives is a significant source of illness. Now there are obvious factors like environmental pollution, toxins, and then of course there are the social determinants of health that you write about in A Healthy Society: the impact of poverty, the impact of inequality, the impact of history and continued racism. There’s an article in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix today about sentencing practices in the courts of Saskatchewan. People who are identified as Aboriginal are likely to get double the sentences of people who are not identified as Aboriginal. That’s going to have a health impact.

But I’m going to go beyond even that and say that even the people who are not on the wrong end of economic inequality or systemic racism are still made ill just by how we live our lives. The stress that we live under, the competition, the aggressiveness, the uncertainty, the loss of control that we experience in our lives. The gender inequalities, these are not just social phenomena, they have an actual impact on community health. The isolation people are experiencing. - Meanwhile, Charles Smith points out how young workers are losing out as a result of policy choices designed to maximize employer leverage at their expense:
Canadian young people are among the most educated in the world. According to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2014 Canada had the highest percentage of university or college trained population in the world. Recognizing that, Statistics Canada reported in 2010 that most OECD countries were more successful than Canada in employing individuals with university or college education.

In other words, the problem with finding full and meaningful employment is not necessarily a problem with individual young people, but a broader problem of government and private sector employers.
...
Outside the classroom, students are demanding social change, pushing our organizations in new and exciting directions, challenging traditional pedagogy, and creating a new generation of community and ecological awareness.

At the University of Saskatchewan, young women are challenging traditional forms of power by creating new organizations and demanding justice in public and private life. Indigenous students are reclaiming space and demanding greater access to opportunities long denied to them.

All of this suggests that today's students are multi-talented, skilled and ready to lead. It is time that government and private employers recognized this by promoting an industrial policy designed to create meaningful full employment.- Alan Kors reports on Stephen Lewis' advice in advocating for child care as a public good, not a benefit limited to those who immediately find spaces. And Jeffrey Simpson highlights how much work there is to be done in fixing a tax system built around the Cons' trinkets and baubles.

- Finally, Michael Den Tandt recognizes that the Cons' interest in Canadian troops goes no further than using them in photo ops. And Michael Harris notes that a direct clash between the Cons and the veterans they've left behind may make for an important piece of Canada's next election campaign.

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 06:55
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Paul Krugman discusses the U.S.' multi-decade pattern of income stagnation. David MacDonald and Kayle Hatt study the price we've paid to suit the Cons' political purposes, while Kristin Rushowy reports on two new calls for a genuine child care system. And Andrew Jackson notes that the Cons' only real end goal has been to hand free money to people who don't need it:
The government forecasts a deficit of $2.9 billion in this fiscal year, (2014-15.) Yet there would almost have been a surplus this year if the government had not decided to introduce family income splitting for the current tax year of 2014, at a cost of $2.4 billion in the fiscal year 2014-15 in terms of reduced revenues.
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The big winners are high income, single earner families where the higher earner has an income of at least $75,000 per year. They will receive tax refund cheques of $2,000 on the eve of the 2015 election.

In the context of rapidly rising income and wealth inequality, it is outrageous that the Conservative government’s priority is to introduce a tax measure that will actually worsen inequality and do nothing to lower child poverty or to fund a badly needed child care program.- Meanwhile, Toby Sanger highlights how austerity has undermined Canada's economy over the past few years by replacing efficient public investment with useless tax baubles:


- Which isn't to say that we're lacking for areas where public money can still be put to better use, as Don Pittis writes about the billions being funneled by governments into making climate change worse.

- Alison observes that while deep integration with the U.S. has taken multiple forms, neither its goals nor its proponents have changed one bit over the past decade.

- Finally, both Frances Russell and Lawrence Martin partially explain the Cons' destructive policies by looking at Stephen Harper's insularity and refusal to allow either any real outside input into his plans, or any debate over his unilateral decisions.

New column day

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 06:39
Here, on how user reviews and the wisdom of crowds don't do us much good if businesses are able to silence anything that raises concerns about them.

For further reading...
- Laura K makes a similar point here.
- CBC reports on libel chill here, including a discussion of the Ottawa property manager which managed to intimidate a tenant into pulling an unfavourable review.
- Again, Mike De Souza discusses Exxon Mobil's attempts to silence his reporting on ALEC here. Jenny Uechl and Warren Bell expose Canada's links to the Western Energy Alliance - including its dirty war against the public - here.
- And finally, CBC reports on Kinder Morgan's attempt to silence protestors and the #kmface movement which responded, while Lauren Krugel notes that there's ample reason to doubt Kinder Morgan's own spin.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 06:17
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Jenny Uechi and Warren Bell expose Canada's embarrassing place as the only government participating in a climate-denial group pushing for a dirty war against the planet. But despite the Harper Cons' worst efforts, there's some good news on the climate front - as the use of solar energy is booming in the U.S., while a new bilateral deal between the U.S. and China is rapidly eliminating the Cons' traditional excuses for blocking international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

- Kathryn May reports on some of the vital public services the Cons have been slashing in the name of paying for income splitting and other tax baubles - with food safety and frontline staff addressing EI and veterans' benefits ranking at the top of the list. And Tim Harper comments on how those cuts affect Canadians directly:
A simple tally of recent reports, some gleaned by this newspaper and The Canadian Press and testimony before Parliamentary committees, gives us a partial sense of what we are sacrificing to ensure this government could get to surplus and offer its tax breaks in a pre-election period.

This week alone there was a report from the government’s public accounts showing the Harper government’s spending on marine safety had plunged 27 per cent since 2009-10 while aviation and rail safety were both down 20 per cent or more.

Transport Canada says the cuts were made on overhead, administrative and support services, but opposition critics find it hard to believe safety is not being compromised while oil shipments by rail skyrocket.

Another document obtained by CP showed Aboriginal Affairs had to shift $505 million in money earmarked for infrastructure over a six-year period to social and educational spending.

The money has bled the infrastructure fund and still not covered the shortfall on education and social spending. The infrastructure shortfall means fewer schools and more boil water orders in First Nations communities.
...
While you await your cheques, you might want to remember they didn’t come free. It may have already cost you from health care to security, from access to parks to treatment of our First Nations. - Meanwhile, Kelly Grant notes that the Cons' plans to undermine the public service now include taking any real authority out of the hands of Canada's chief public health officer.

- CBC reports that the false promise of a privatized prison in Ontario has finally been deemed a failure in terms of cost and other outcomes - to the point where the province paid millions of dollars just to take back control for itself. [Update: as noted by @YouthAndWork, the story dates from 2006.]

- Finally, Thomas Walkom discusses how the Harper Cons are seeking to profit politically from their own culture of fear.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 16:51
Fashionable cats.




Tuesday Afternoon Links

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 13:28
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Shannon Gormley points out that human rights are meaningless in the face of a government which claims the entitlement to strip people of their humanity - which is exactly what the Cons are setting out to do:
(W)hen Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced this year that, “Citizenship is not a right, it is a privilege,” most human rights advocates couldn’t take him seriously. He may as well have declared that the curvature of the earth is merely an optical illusion and the world is indeed flat, or that the second law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply to his government, which can perpetually stay in power whether or not its ministers fuel it with statements deserving serious consideration.

But while remarks such as the minister’s may not be worth taking seriously as statements of fact, they’re worth remembering as philosophical beliefs that determine policy directions. 
...
(T)o make simple policy changes, the government must make serious philosophical changes. It has to reverse its absurd and dangerous position that “the right to have rights” isn’t a right at all.- Rick Salutin highlights the amount of work young Canadians already put into their efforts to break into a hostile job market. And Aaron Wherry points out that there's no reason for workers to have any confidence in a government which will proudly trumpet the funnelling of hundreds of millions of dollars to employers in the name of a jobs program without even considering whether they'll actually create any jobs in the process.

- Jen St. Denis discusses the negative effects income-splitting would have on women's earning power even in the few families who would enjoy some surface benefit. And Angella MacEwen exposes Andrew Coyne's blind spot in valuing the contributions of a stay-at-home spouse at zero (resulting in tax benefits based solely on the actual income of the other spouse).

- Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew reports on the widespread food bank use among people with full-time jobs which don't provide enough income to put food on the table. And Jordon Cooper discusses how Saskatchewan governments have come to see increasing reliance on food banks as a solution rather than a problem.

- Finally, Michael Harris writes about the Cons' exploitative relationship with Canada's veterans. And Ryan Meili comments on the connection between peace and health:
War brings injury and death by definition, but the impact of war is not limited to wartime. Long after the bullets stop flying, the destructive effects on a country continue: on its economy, its infrastructure, its psychology, its soul. War leaves behind land mines literal and metaphorical. Unexploded ordinances claim the lives and limbs of civilians. The spread of illnesses like HIV increases with the transience of wartime life. Violence and disease kill the young, the healthy backbone of the nation's families and economy. Those left behind often struggle with the emotional and psychological echoes of the trauma they survived. All of this damage leads to the perpetuation of poverty on numerous levels and, all too often, to a return to conflict and a repetition of the destructive cycle.

The road from peace to health is not a one-way street; a healthy society is less likely to find itself fighting. The same conditions that lead to higher levels of illness -- economic inequality, food insecurity, labour unrest -- can also lead to dangerous political instability. Since the early 1990s a series of global initiatives known as Peace through Health have been actively looking at the ways in which humanitarian health efforts can serve as a bridge to peaceful resolution of conflict. Well-resourced universal health systems can be a stabilizing element in both preventing and responding to violence. In this context, recent cuts to health services (including the drastic cuts to refugee health, many of whom have come to Canada to flee conflict) present a real threat to our health and security.

At this time of remembrance we are moved to think of those who sacrificed their lives in times of war so that others might live in peace. But to say "never again" to the horrors of the past means to work for peace today. A successful peace movement must recognize how injustice and inequality promote and perpetuate conflict. The world is suffering from a disease, with most gruesome symptom. As we continue to learn in health care, the most effective way to combat disease is to move upstream, to prevent sickness from starting.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 06:53
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Barrie McKenna looks to Norway as an example of how an oil-rich country can both ensure long-term benefits from its non-renewable resources, and be far more environmentally responsible than Canada has been to date.

- Michal Rozworski discusses how the devaluing of work is a largely political phenomenon. And Paul Mason wonders what it will take for workers who now see themselves as disenfranchised to fight back again a system that's rigged against them. 

- Speaking of which, Brendan James discusses a new study suggesting that the U.S. is past the point of being a democracy in any meaningful sense of the word. Paul Buchhelt comments on the disappearance of middle-class wealth. And John Stapleton studies (PDF) how lower-income citizens are both excluded and exploited by our financial system, while Arturo Garcia highlights Matt Taibbi's continued observation that absolutely nobody has been held responsible for financial-sector criminality even when it's crashed the economy.

- Jim Bronskill reports on Suzanne Legault's efforts to save access to information from Con cutbacks. The Star slams Tony Clement's Orwellian definition of "open government", while Sean Holman writes that even in opposition the Libs' plans don't seem to be much of an improvement. And Dan Leger writes about the spread of deliberately-cultivated ignorance among citizens across the developed world:
Here are some facts to illuminate your day: violent crime is getting worse, the country is overrun with immigrants, there’s an epidemic of teenage pregnancies and we’ve become a nation of geriatrics.

And that’s not all: 20 percent of Canadians are Muslim while the Christian population shrinks. Unemployment stalks the land.

No wonder people think we need to crack down on crime, choke off border access, enforce morality on teenagers and encourage Christian family values.

The problem is, the statements aren’t facts. They are widely held but entirely incorrect perceptions and they are common across the western world.
...
(G)overning from the gut by capitalizing on fear of crime, economic disruption or terrorism is a Conservative stock in trade under Stephen Harper. He’s been in power since 2006, so it works pretty well.

Of course the alternative to perception-driven politics is reliable public information; the kind you would get, say, from the mandatory long-form census. The Conservatives cancelled that in 2010.

Perhaps Canada would have better environmental policies if people were fully informed about pollution and climate change? The current government forbids scientists from telling the public about their work. - Finally, Michael Harris notes that even as the Cons publicly claimed to have backed off their longstanding public push to buy F-35s which are ill-suited to Canada's purposes, they're in fact barging ahead with a plan to take delivery in the next couple of years.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 11/09/2014 - 09:24
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Rob Nixon's review of Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything nicely sums up why the book - and the fundamental clash it documents between corporate profit-seeking and the health of people and our planet - should be at the centre of our political conversation:
(N)eoliberalism — promotes a high-consumption, ­carbon-hungry system. Neoliberalism has encouraged mega-mergers, trade agreements hostile to environmental and labor regulations, and global hypermobility, enabling a corporation like Exxon to make, as McKibben has noted, “more money last year than any company in the history of money.” Their outsize power mangles the democratic process. Yet the carbon giants continue to reap $600 billion in annual subsidies from public coffers, not to speak of a greater subsidy: the right, in Klein’s words, to treat the atmosphere as a “waste dump.”

So much for the invisible hand. As the science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson observed, when it comes to the environment, the invisible hand never picks up the check....In democracies driven by lobbyists, donors and plutocrats, the giant polluters are going to win while the rest of us, in various degrees of passivity and complicity, will watch the planet die. “Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews,” Klein writes. “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war.”...To change economic norms and ethical perceptions in tandem is even more formidable than the technological battle to adapt to the heavy weather coming down the tubes. Yet “This Changes Everything” is, improbably, Klein’s most optimistic book. She braids together the science, psychology, geopolitics, economics, ethics and activism that shape the climate question.  - Meanwhile, Karl Nerenberg writes that we should see Stephen Harper's gross failure to do anything about climate change as his greatest scandal. And Bob Weber reports that NAFTA's Commission on Environmental Cooperation is just the latest environmental watchdog to be put down by the Cons - highlighting both the ineffectiveness of trade agreements in serving any interests other than profit maximization, and Harper's own hostility toward the world around us.

- John Nichols sees the U.S. as a prime (and painful) example of what happens when politics are governed by money rather than by people. But Mary Hansen and Kayla Schultz note that on at least a few fronts, voters nonetheless voted against corporate money and power in the recent midterm elections.

- Of course, that positive takeaway depends on voters actually having the chance to express their views. And Bruce Johnstone writes that the Sask Party is determined to prevent both public opinion and empirical evidence from interfering with their drive to privatize liquor retailing.

- Finally, Dr. Dawg exposes the barbarism behind the Cons' treatment of refugees and other vulnerable immigrants. But we shouldn't pretend the problem of dehumanizing perceived outsiders is limited to that issue alone, as Tabatha Southey notes that the Cons are similarly bent on depriving sex workers of their humanity.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 09:43
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- The Globe and Mail reminds us why we should demand the restoration of an effective census, while Evidence for Democracy is making a public push toward that goal. And Tavia Grant discusses how the destruction of effective data collection is affecting Canadian workplace:
Reliable, complete and up-to-date labour market data is a crucial component of government policy, influencing everything from educational priorities to immigration.

Yet, fallout from faulty or missing labour market information has made headlines on a number of issues this year alone. It’s been hard to pinpoint the size of the temporary foreign worker program (The Globe and Mail has reported that some employers say the tally for their organizations is miscounted).

Some TFWs are working on First Nations reserves with high unemployment rates – but it is unclear just how high jobless rates are on reserves. And earlier this year, the Finance Department had to correct its estimates of job vacancies when it emerged it was relying on a software program that was skewed by including Kijiji listings.

Statscan itself has faced budget cuts and staff reductions, while a memo has shown Employment and Social Development Canada has cut spending on labour market information by more than 20 per cent over the past two years.- PressProgress documents a week in the life of the Fraser Institute's corporate shilling. And Stephen Leahy comments on big oil's dirty war against our planet and the people who seek to protect it:
(W)e already know how to make the low-carbon transition because it is "hardly rocket science," said Bob Watson, former chair of the IPCC.

To reiterate the steps: big increases in energy efficiency, massive roll outs of renewable energy, shutting down most coal plants, a carbon price, etc. There are dozens of studies on how to do this with no new technology. All of this can be achieved with very little extra cost to the global economy, according to The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

These studies end up concluding that what's missing in a shift to low-carbon living is political will or political courage. Left unsaid is the incredibly powerful and influential fossil fuel industry, their bankers, investors, lawyers, public relations consultants, unions and others all fighting desperately to keep humanity addicted to their products.

That means opposing low-carbon alternatives and branding grandparents who worry about their grandchildren's future as "green radicals."

"Think of this as an endless war," public relations consultant Richard Berman told oil and gas industry executives last June in Colorado.

It's a dirty war against environmental organizations and their supporters. Industry executives must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger of the public against green groups and individuals...- Roberto Ferdman discusses how disparities in income are reflected in infant nutritional health - which then tends to produce habits which last a lifetime.

- Alison examines the connections between the Cons' pension board appointees and the use of offshore tax havens.

- Finally, Michael Harris notes that Stephen Harper's support for, and promotion of, convicted election fraudster Dean Del Mastro is entirely consistent with his judgment in managing his party and Canada's government. And Thomas Walkom notes that Chris Alexander is just the latest MP to be put to work trying to trash vulnerable people and their supporters.

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