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Monday Morning Links

12 hours 30 min ago
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- David Dayen explains how fiscal policy intended to ensure growth for everybody is instead sending all of its benefits to the top end of the income scale - and thus failing to ensure any growth at all:
(L)et’s examine how central banks try to revive economies. They mainly try to lower interest rates in a variety of ways. This entices consumers to borrow cheaply, spurring more economic activity. Plus, consumers can refinance into lower interest rates on their current loans, saving them money that they could choose to spend. Without high returns from safe assets like Treasury bonds, investors push capital to business investment and other economic pursuits. And finally, banks with low borrowing costs can increase access to credit for individuals and small businesses.

Loose monetary policy has worked throughout recent history, but not since 2008. Take for example mortgages, the largest consumer financial product in the economy. Thanks to Federal Reserve actions, typical U.S. mortgage interest rates dropped from 6 percent to 3.3 percent from 2008 to 2013, even as the main federal funds rate was stuck at zero. Sufi uses this to discount the “zero lower bound” hypothesis as a cause of ineffective monetary policy: Through quantitative easing and other measures, the U.S. was able to reduce key consumer interest rates.

Yet housing didn’t contribute to economic growth in those years. That’s because too many households were locked out of accessing the low rates. They either lost their homes to foreclosure, or were “underwater,” owing more on their mortgages than the house is worth. As of March 2012, 70 percent of mortgage borrowers were paying interest rates of 5 percent or higher, even though the market rate was 3.8 percent.

The only people left to benefit from refinancing or purchasing mortgages were high-income earners with good credit scores, who have a lower “marginal propensity to consume,” meaning that they are more likely to save additional dollars than spend them. Citing research correlating high-debt households with higher propensity to consume, Sufi concludes, “The inability of heavily indebted borrowers to refinance has depressed spending.”
If too many people fall into debt anyway, then aggressive debt relief is the best way for the economy to bounce back, relieving this clog in the distribution of monetary policy benefits. As we know, the U.S. ignored this policy idea after the recession, using a poorly designed loan modification program that did little for homeowners on their biggest debt burden. Not only did that leave millions to suffer, but it helped cancel out central bank activities and stunted economic growth.

If you follow this logic, policies that reduce inequality would also help enormously. A family that earns a decent living doesn’t have to go into hock to keep up with their monthly budget. They therefore maintain a stronger balance sheet and lower debt burden when times are tough, and Fed policies can more easily reach them. Inequality spurs household debt, and household debt spurs financial shocks and longer economic downturns. Therefore, the challenge of reversing inequality doesn’t just affect those losing out in the modern economy — it affects every one of us. - Meanwhile, Tamara Khandaker reports on yesterday's Jobs Climate Justice rally aimed at fighting inequality and environmental degradation at the same time. And Stephen Leahy writes that we need to stop building new carbon-burning infrastructure in a matter of years to limit climate change to an even remotely manageable level, while Fiona Harvey highlights the OECD's research emphasizing the non-viability of coal power in particular.

- But lest we think the effort to ensure a cleaner, more prosperous future will go unopposed, Jenny Uechi reports on the oil industry's underhanded attempts to block climate change experts from even having a seat at the corporate table. And Mychaylo Prystupa finds that the Cons continue to put the job of regulating the resource industry in the hands of its executives, while Sue Bailey exposes the complete lack of knowledge as to how to contain the consequences of Arctic offshore drilling.

- Fred Hahn comments on the importance of keeping Hydro One and other critical infrastructure in public hands.

- Finally, Carol Goar writes about Dr. Stephen Hwang's efforts to identify and fight the social determinants of poor health.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 09:04
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Scott Santens argues that a basic income represents the best way to ensure that the gains from technological advancement are shared by everybody. And Thom Hartmann makes the case for a guaranteed income based on its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, while Mark Sarner sees it mostly as a mechanism to reduce poverty.

- Meanwhile, Lane Windham highlights the need for social benefits to be pursued through public policy rather than through employment relationships alone. And Sean McElwee writes that increased voter turnout in the U.S. figures to bring out far more progressive citizens to have their voices heard:
To examine how boosting voting might affect policy on inequality, I asked Pew about its inequality survey. These data also show that the nonregistered population is more liberal than the registered population. Pew asked people which would do more to reduce poverty: “Raising taxes on wealthy people and corporations in order to expand programs for the poor” or “Lowering taxes on wealthy people and corporations in order to encourage more investment and economic growth.” While majorities of both registered and nonregistered Americans say that raising taxes on the wealthy would do more to reduce poverty, nonregistered respondents were more supportive than registered ones (59 percent and 51 percent, respectively). In addition, while 69 percent of registered respondents supported raising the minimum wage, 82 percent of nonregistered Americans did. While 60 percent of registered respondents supported a one-year extension of unemployment benefits, 69 percent of those who are not registered did. These findings conform to other research suggesting nonregistered Americans favor a far stronger economic role for government.
(I)f states with the lowest class bias — New Hampshire, for instance — had the same high class bias as, say, Kentucky, the change would lead to a decrease of 17 percent in support for the introduction of bills related to welfare and 22 percent in bills related to housing. The opposite is also true: Decreasing the class bias of the electorate would lead to more bills related to these issues. In a recent paper, Franko finds that lower class bias leads to more spending on health care for children, higher minimum wages and more anti-predatory-lending policies.

Parties can change the composition of the electorate, but they have failed entirely to bolster voting among the poor. According to ANES data, only 37 percent of those earning less than $30,000 reported receiving contact from either party regarding the 2012 elections, compared to 47 percent of those earning more than $100,000. And this sort of outreach makes a difference. Using the ANES data set, I examined Americans earning less than $60,000 who did not vote in 2008. I found that 41.5 percent of those who were contacted by a party voted in 2012, compared with only 28.1 percent of those who were not contacted by a party. When I removed the control for those who did not vote in 2008, the effect became much stronger, with 85 percent of those earning less than $60,000 who were contacted by a political party voting in 2012, compared with only 64 percent of those who were not contacted by a party. - But then, there's plenty of room for more progressive policy even with the electorate we already have - as Mainstreet finds that Alberta's voters are supportive of NDP platform planks including a higher minimum wage and meaningful carbon pricing even as the corporate press demands that Rachel Notley discard them.

- The Ottawa Citizen notes that the Cons' election strategy is all smoke and mirrors at this point. And PressProgress highlights the bleak economic reality which they're trying to deny.

- Finally, Tabatha Southey's fake interview with Kory Teneycke eviscerates the Cons' fearmongering, featuring what would strike me as a devastating conclusion for anybody with a conscience:
Me: So, will you be using more terrorist video as the campaign goes on?You: What in God’s name have I done with my life that I can legitimately be asked this question?

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 07/04/2015 - 10:36
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul de Grauwe points out that the European push to force Greece into continued austerity is the most important factor holding back a recovery, as the country would be fully solvent if it were being allowed to borrow money on anything but the most draconian of terms. And Paul Mason criticizes the war that's been declared against the Greek public for trying to pursue democratic governance - while noting that the public's justified dissatisfaction isn't going away regardless of the result of the impending referendum.

- Sherif Alsayed-Ali responds to the news that the UK's intelligence agencies have been conducting illegal spying against Amnesty International - and it's worth noting that Bill C-51 will make Canada's sweeping powers and lack of oversight even worse than the UK's:
Our concerns about mass surveillance are not limited to human rights organizations, although this is already very worrying. Mass surveillance is invasive and a dangerous overreach of government power into our private lives and freedom of expression. In specific circumstances it can also put lives at risk, be used to discredit people or interfere with investigations into human rights violations by governments.

We have good reasons to believe that the British government is interested in our work. Over the past few years we have investigated possible war crimes by UK and US forces in Iraq, Western government involvement in the CIA's torture scheme known as the extraordinary rendition programme, and the callous killing of civilians in US drone strikes in Pakistan: it was recently revealed that GCHQ may have provided assistance for US drone attacks.

The obfuscation, secrecy and determination to avoid any meaningful oversight is worthy of a tin-pot dictatorship. It is time for serious public scrutiny of the behaviour of the British government. We need to know what surveillance programmes the government is operating, what spying they consider to be fair game, and why. - Andrew Cohen sees the Cons' "Memorial to the Victims of Communism" as a monument to crass and destructive politics.

- Finally, Robin Sears highlights why the Cons' division and narrowcasting are doomed to fail as a strategy for building a natural governing party. And Thomas Walkom writes that the cult of personality around Stephen Harper is leading the Cons to shut out natural allies in the name of worshiping their leader.

Musical interlude

Fri, 07/03/2015 - 18:13
Mumford & Sons - Believe (Kyau & Albert Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 07/03/2015 - 09:02
Assorted content to end your week.

- Jerry Dias sees the forced passage of an unamended Bill C-377 as a definitive answer in the negative to the question of whether the Senate will ever justify its own existence. And Nora Loreto emphasizes that the bill has no purpose other than to attack unions:
The amendments contained in C-377 to the Income Tax Act are sweeping, broad and idiotic. If Canadians need any example that the Harper Conservatives care more about personal vendettas than good governance, the proof is wrapped up in C-377.

C-377 requires a ridiculous level of compliance from labour organizations and trusts. It forces unions, labour organizations, labour federations, organizations comprised of different unions, labour trusts and professional associations to publically report all expenditures of over $5000 and itemize exactly what that the money was dedicated to.

Everyone's salaries, everyone's timesheets and all contracts will be made public. This places an enormous burden on the bureaucratic structures of the labour movement.
It's easy to see why the Harper Conservatives hate unions. Unions are the final major roadblock in their campaign to fully transform Canada. Unions demand rights for working people, decent wages and benefits, all which constitute barriers towards full-scale and unregulated resource extraction and international trade deals.

Unionization and labour rights are fundamental within a free and democratic society. The ability of working people to gather, elect their own leadership and direct their own political campaigns is a tenet of democracy. It is the membership who has the right to make demands of the leadership; no one else.- Meanwhile, Daniel Tencer points out that public service workers and unionized workers tend to have the type of secure retirement we should all be able to plan on. And May Warren reports on the effects of precarious work in Guelph.

- Iman Sheikh writes that immigrants to Canada tend to be disproportionately healthy on arrival only to see their health decline - which surely signals there's far more work to do in making sure new Canadians have access to needed social supports.

- Charles Mandel interviews Bill McKibben about Canada's obstructionist role in global climate talks under the Harper Cons. But Kim Covert notes that the precedent recently set by a Dutch court in mandating emission reductions could well be followed here if our politicians don't live up to their responsibilities first.

- Finally, Michael Grunwald examines the most recent leak from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including its massive handouts to big pharma at the expense of the health care system of every participating country. And the CCPA's latest issue of the Monitor nicely covers the false promise and serious damage done by trade agreements.

On closed-door decisions

Fri, 07/03/2015 - 07:49
Memo to Don Lenihan:

It's well and good to point to past backroom policy debacles such as utterly unwanted Crown corporation giveaways as examples of a complete lack of public engagement.

But before lauding Kathleen Wynne as the face of open government, might it be worth noting that she's doing the exact same thing on too short a time frame for public consultation, while paying lip service to "dialogue" after it's too late?

Thursday Evening Links

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 17:54
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Daniel Marans reports on Bernie Sanders' push for international action against austerity in Greece and elsewhere. And Binoy Kampmark documents the anti-democratic and antisocial ideology on the other side of the austerity debate.

- Noah Smith writes that while there's no discernible connection between massive pay for CEOs and actual corporate performance, there's a strong link between who an executive knows and how much the executive can extract.

- The CP reports on UNESCO's push to study the impact of the tar sands on Wood Buffalo National Park. And Tavia Grant breaks the news that Health Canada is just getting around the acknowledging the long-recognized dangers of asbestos.

- Stephen Maher comments on the Cons' manipulations of the Canada Elections Act to limit voting among poor Canadians. And Michelle Ghoussoub reports on the Council of Canadians' fight to reverse the restrictions.

-Finally, John Baglow notes that the Cons' especially villainous run of recent actions looks to reflect the death throes of Stephen Harper's government. Steve Sullivan calls out the Cons for seeking to terrorize Canada's electorate. And Michael Harris argues that Harper is a tyrant in the true sense of the word, while Andrew Coyne writes that Harper is truly alone as the federal election campaign approaches.

New column day

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 07:36
Here, following up on these posts about the possibility the Cons might decide to ignore their own fixed election date and delay the election expected for October 19. 

For further reading...

- The Canada Elections Act is here. And for an interesting comparison, see Saskatchewan's fixed election date provision from the Legislative Assembly Act, 2007:
8.1(1) Unless a general election has been held earlier because of the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, the first general election after the coming into force of this section must be held on Monday, November 7, 2011.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), general elections following the general election held in accordance with subsection (1) must be held on the first Monday of November in the fourth calendar year after the last general election.
(3) If the writ period for a general election to be held in accordance with subsection (2) overlaps with the writ period for a general election to be held pursuant to subsection 56.1(2) or section 56.2 of the Canada Elections Act, the general election must be held on the first Monday of April in the calendar year following the calendar year mentioned in subsection (2).
(4) In this section, “writ period” means the period commencing on the day that a writ is issued for an election and ending on polling day for that election.Which gives rise to a couple of noteworthy points. First, unlike the federal legislation, Saskatchewan's doesn't explicitly leave room for any discretion to alter the date. And second, Saskatchewan's own election date will be in flux until the moment the writ drops (or doesn't drop) federally.

- The Federal Court of Appeal's decision on the limited effect of the federal fixed election date is here. Amy Minsky explained here why we shouldn't take the federal law too seriously. And Andrew Coyne rightly recognized here that we should consider it a serious problem that we need to plan for the readily foreseeable prospect that Stephen Harper would ignore his own law.

- Finally, Alice nicely summarizes some of the more dysfunctional aspects of the federal electoral system, and suggests that fixing our electoral machinery should be an important priority for the next Parliament:
And I'm not saying it's job one for a new government to kick off a better process to fix this all, but it's surely in the top 100. Because the constant gaming of the system, the constant ramming of bills through Parliament without consideration of their constitutionality or practicality, is what's responsible for the current completely farcical mess.

If you support a fixed election date, think through what ALL the implications of that are. If you want pro-rated expense limits for longer writs, consider whether there should be any limits to them or the writ length at all. If you want to control political party, government, and third party advertising and promote transparency in the pre-election period, think that through as well. There is also a looming crisis in political finance after the next election, since most parties have been unable to fully replace the per-vote subsidy in their fundraising efforts, but could now face election campaigns with unknown and unknowable expense ceilings, given the new pro-rating of the spending limits. It would not surprise me at all if that was in part the motivation for a group like Engage Canada to intercede and try to prevent the re-election of a Conservative majority government, which would soon have no adequately-financed opposition at all.

If it were not a third rail in politics these days to suggest another Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Finance, I would say it might almost be called for: to maintain our distinctive Canadian democracy, and avoid the worst pitfalls of the US permanent campaign. At the very least, amendments to the Elections Act should receive far more attention and study from Parliamentarians than they are now.

Worth considering

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 19:24
Shorter National Post:
Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP are keeping their campaign promises. For some reason, we think this should be a warning rather than a beacon of hope for the rest of Canada.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 12:11
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The Star's editorial board writes that five years after police committed serious human rights violations at Toronto's G20 summit, nobody seems to have learned any lessons from the abuses. And David Lavallee tells his story of being interrogated for a "precursor to terrorist behaviour" based solely on his having filmed a pipeline for a documentary.

- Ian Gill argues that the impending federal election will may represent a last opportunity to take Canada off of a path toward environmental destruction. And Brian Kahn notes that the rest of the world is predictably shifting toward cleaner energy whether we're on board or not.

- Gillian Steward reports on Rachel Notley's precedent-setting participation in the UN's next climate-change conference (in contrast to past Alberta premiers who tried to fight climate action). And Dennis Howlett points out that to the extent there was any doubt, Saskatchewan is now Canada's worst climate laggard.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on widespread wage theft in Ontario, along with the distinct lack of enforcement mechanisms to reliably recoup what workers are owed.

- Finally, Robyn Benson highlights how the Cons had to break every rule in the book to force Bill C-377 through the Senate. And Bill Tieleman writes that the result is to impose exactly the type of useless red tape the Cons claim to oppose everywhere else on Canada's labour movement.

On half measures

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 10:51
Having written this column a couple of weeks back on electoral financing in Saskatchewan, I'll take a moment to address this letter to the editor in response from R. Curtis Mullen.

It's indeed true that Saskatchewan has spending limits which apply during an election campaign. But the Canada Elections Act does in fact regulate both donations and campaign spending, leaving little room for anybody to argue that it's an "either"/or situation.

More importantly, though, campaign spending limits fall short of addressing the principled basis for donation restrictions on two fronts.

First, they do nothing about the problem of concentrated donations.

However a party is limited in spending its money, it may still have a strong incentive to run its campaigns (and its other operations) to please donors who contribute a disproportionate share of their funding. And the combination of lax donation rules and limited spending could in fact make it all the more likely that a party would be bought at an affordable price by one or more wealthy donors.

And second, they do nothing about pre-campaign spending by a party.

That's been less an issue in Saskatchewan than on the federal scene as the advertising we currently see tends to be funded out of government or caucus coffers. But surely it's not hard to see how a gusher of unregulated funding could swamp our public discourse - leaving little room for other voices to push their way back into the mix during an election campaign.

It may well be worth also considering other options to improve our political system, such as regulations on third-party campaign advertising as suggested by Mullen. But that reality only signals that we should be having a conversation about the changes which ought to be made - not settling for matters as they stand as the Wall government seems inclined to do.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 17:35
Entranced cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 06:13
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Broadbent Institute details Rhys Kesselman's research on how the Cons' expanded TFSAs are nothing but a giveaway to the wealthy. And Dean Beeby reports on their withholding of EI supplements from the families who most need them - paired with a complete lack of responsibility or contrition now that the problem has been discovered.

- Matt Saccaro discusses the widespread burnout among U.S. workers as huge increases in hours worked and productivity have done nothing to improve wages or living conditions over a period of decades. And Bill Tieleman slams the Cons for gratuitously attacking the unions who offer the best chance of improving the lives of workers.

- Marc Lee summarizes the Cons' failed energy and climate change policies, as their only accomplishment has been to set back both our opportunities and our expectations when it comes to building a sustainable economy.

- Dr. Dawg writes about Aaron Driver's case as an appalling example of an individual being locked up for precrime. And Shannon Gormley argues that we don't face a choice between security and privacy, and that in fact overreaching legislation like C-51 threatens both:
So if a mass surveillance apparatus had only one job — preventing terror attacks — it might have fallen under the proud ownership of a trash collector by now. But cyber spies have other uses. It’s bleakly effortless to imagine a government getting creative with a system ostensibly designed to track security threats but — oh, what’s this? — also tracks every digital movement of political opponents, economic competitors, media critics and internal whistleblowers.
We needn’t imagine much. We already know: that Britain’s spy agency has listed investigative journalists as security threats and that its sticky tentacles have pocketed emails from the world’s top news organizations; that the NSA has mused that within the next 10-20 years it might conduct surveillance in a such a way that its “findings would be useful to U.S. industry”; that it has spied on Brazilian oil company Petrobras; and that its Five Eyes counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, has spied on an American law firm representing Indonesia when Indonesia was in a trade dispute with the U.S and — another exemplar of generosity of spirit — offered to share its findings with the U.S.
But even if surveillance agencies had a track record of intercepting and only targeting security threats, we might be troubled by something more fundamental: the assumption that privacy rights aren’t part of what people need secured.
A privacy violation is a serious security breach. When we can’t make a call to a client or send an email to a lover or type a character into a search bar without an overpaid 20-something in a far-off cubicle being able to know about it, then it’s not just our privacy that has being rudely violated. It’s our security as well.
And more besides. If people are partly made by what they think, and partly made by the ways they choose to share their thoughts, then in an age where our communication with each other is monitored relentlessly and without our consent, how is our personhood not under attack?- But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association makes clear that the fight over C-51 is far from over, as voters will have every opportunity to judge Canada's political parties on their response to a threat to our civil rights. And Justin Ling reports on new polling confirming that its principled opposition to the Cons' fearmongering has been an important element in the NDP's rise in the polls.

On delay tactics

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 16:04
Following up on this post, let's look in a bit more detail as to how the Cons might try to make excuses for a delay in this fall's expected federal election - and why they might be happy to use the more questionable means to do so.

As noted in the previous post, the fixed election date set in October was set by an act of Parliament, and could easily be changed through the same process given the Cons' well-whipped majorities in both chambers. So why then might Stephen Harper prefer to ignore or flout legislation rather than changing it?

Let's start by asking what factors might stand to work in the Cons' favour during a campaign whenever it arises.

From an issue standpoint, there doesn't seem to be much room for doubt that barring some miraculous, pork-based turnaround on the economy, the Cons' lone remaining perceived strong point is security. Their only extended stay atop public opinion polls in the last few years came about in the wake of security concerns last fall. And if they do decide to delay the election, I'd expect that plan to be based on either the hope that somebody will hand them a crisis to be seen responding to, or the expectation that they can manufacture a threat.

But given that the Cons' message (embodied in C-51 among other actions) that democratically-elected officials can't be trusted with security, I'm not sure they'd want to send the message that Parliament should make the call as to what trumped-up threat would explain a delayed election. Nor would they likely want to saddle their MPs with having to explain votes against the same election date they previously approved.

Instead, any decision to delay the election would fit best with the Cons' expected core message if it's made solely by Stephen Harper, coupled with the theme that Canadians should take his word for what's best for them.

Of course, there would surely be a backlash against a decision to delay an election that way. But I'm not sure the Cons would much object to that: in fact they'd likely point to easily-foreseen protests as evidence of instability to rationalize the delay after the fact, and also focus further public attention on the Cons' issue of choice.

Again, it will likely be some time before we see whether Harper decides to follow his own law. But it's not hard to see how a legally-dubious executive action to ignore it could fit into the Cons' wider strategy - and we should be prepared to make sure that course of action isn't rewarded.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 09:18
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Emmanuel Saez examines the U.S.' latest income inequality numbers and finds that the gap between the wealthy few and everybody else is still growing. The Equality Trust finds that the UK's tax system is already conspicuously regressive even as the Cameron Cons plan to make it more so. And Tom Clark reviews Anthony Atkinson's Inequality, featuring the observation that even returning to the distribution of the 1970s will require major (if needed) changes to the economic assumptions we've meekly accepted since then.

- Andrew Mitrovica comments on the Cons' pandering to - and repetition of - anti-Muslim prejudice. And Rick Salutin notes that Canada's shameful treatment of aboriginal people arose out of exactly the same view that cultural difference should be treated as barbarism:
If you opt for zero tolerance, you may destroy something that could be useful now or later. The way to handle "barbaric" practices like forced marriage isn't with a cultural blunderbuss; it's by outlawing particular acts like kidnapping and child marriage, which are already illegal here without attacking any specific cultures.

The point isn't who has the better culture. It's that you never know what challenges you may face in the future and what cultural resources might prove useful and adaptable in facing them. If Scott and Macdonald had succeeded in killing the Indian in the child, through the schools program, we'd be without the resources which First Nations cultures afford us now -- and for whatever crises get thrown up by the always ornery future.

On the other hand, the precedents for declaring what's culturally barbaric and therefore dispensable, are pretty scary, as the exhaustive, heart-rending and indeed poetic work of the TRC on the residential schools program, sadly shows.- Meanwhile, Michelle Shephard reminds us that what little terrorist risk there is to Canadian safety comes primarily from the bigoted right rather than the people they're so eager to dehumanize.

- Amy Minsky reports on the hundreds of millions of dollars the Cons have spent detaining refugee claimants - as they'd prefer to spend a guaranteed $292 per day per immigrant to lock people up than allow anybody to participate in Canadian society.

- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall looks into a single photo op which offers a galling indication of how much public money is being wasted on the Cons' self-aggrandizement. And John Barber reports on Stephen Harper's latest monument to poor taste, while Bill Waiser slams their disregard for history and truth.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 06/28/2015 - 10:21
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Carol Goar discusses the contrasting messages being sent to Canada's middle class in the lead up to Canada's federal election campaign - and notes that the real decision for voters to make is whether they're happy with marginally higher nominal incomes at the expense of greater inequality and more precarious lives. Mark Goldring makes the case for an economy oriented toward what's best for people rather than short-term profits:
Tackling inequality requires that people, not profit constitute the bottom line. We need everyone who is in a position of influence - business leaders, financiers, politicians, civil servants - to put the interests of ordinary citizens back at the heart of every decision he or she makes. To borrow from Steve Hilton, David Cameron's former adviser, we need an economy that is "more human".

After all, what's the point of building a prosperous economy but to ensure a prosperous future for all who live in it? The American political philosopher John Rawls suggests that we encourage those most able to generate wealth so that it can be used to help those who are less fortunate. Call it wealth for a greater purpose. Oxfam wholeheartedly agrees.

We are looking to our leaders - here in the UK and around the world, public and private sector, to find ways to break down structures that perpetuate poverty and keep individuals from realising their full potential in life. That means fair wages to ensure people can live dignified lives and find pride in their work, and investment in essential public services that poor people in particular, depend on. It means more progressive tax systems and cracking down on big companies and billionaires who avoid paying their fair share of tax - here and in poor countries - through complex accounting tricks. It's about properly regulated financial markets that behave with integrity to spur innovation, commerce and enterprise, rather than simply multiply individual bonus pots.

Reducing inequality may seem an impossible task but the rewards are potentially huge - in tackling poverty, improving social cohesion and human well-being. - Kelly Foley and David Green write (PDF) that for all the benefits we can expect from improved education, we shouldn't pretend that it serves as a magic bullet against inequality. And Andrew Jackson points out that the same strength in organized labour needed to fight inequality is itself a key to educational achievement.

- Peter Poschen argues we can create good jobs and fight climate change at the same time. And Paul Solotaroff reports on widespread child health problems in one Utah fracking town as a microcosm of the choices we face in weighing oil money against our health. 

- Finally, Les Whittington writes about the Cons' efforts to escape accountability for their actions from the media which is supposed to report in the public interest. And Michael Harris wonders what will happen to the Harper Cons if Canadians stop buying the fear they're so focused on peddling.

On inevitable abuses

Sun, 06/28/2015 - 07:47
Justice James Stribopoulos sees the G20 human rights abuses as highlighting the problems with handing over poorly-defined powers to law enforcement:
In an essay published in a new book on policing during the summit, Justice James Stribopoulos blames the abuses that took place on an absence of specific legislation to “confine, structure and check police discretion” during large events, which he says is “long overdue.”“Unfortunately, without that, the legal framework that helped facilitate the civil liberties abuses that marked the G20 Summit in Toronto will persist,” he writes in Putting the State on Trial. “And that, I fear, will make a repeat appearance somewhat inevitable.”And surely the need for checks and balances is even more obvious when it comes to secret police. So let's see how the terror bill passed by the Cons and the Libs does on that front (emphasis added):Bill C-51 erodes the distinction between CSIS’s traditional intelligence gathering role by giving it broad new powers to engage in law enforcement–type activities. Under Bill C-51, CSIS would be able to take “measures” to reduce threats to the security of Canada. For example, s. 12.1(1) of the proposed act states,
If there are reasonable grounds to believe that a particular activity constitutes a threat to the security of Canada, the Service may take measures, within or outside Canada, to reduce the threat. The power under s. 12.1 is broadly defined, giving CSIS virtually unfettered authority to conduct any operation it thinks is in the interest of Canadian security. The definitions are so broad that they could apply to almost anything...Of course, it may take far more time for any "measures" to become known given that they can be carried out in secret. But we can safely say that C-51 is based on exactly the same philosophy of unfettered authoritarianism that led to the G20 abuses - and it's entirely foreseeable that we'll see the same results.

Saturday Afternoon Links

Sat, 06/27/2015 - 11:10
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Edward Keenan weighs in on the role a basic income could play in a job market marked by increasingly precarious work:
I am an enthusiastic supporter of better workplace protections and wages. I have a good, unionized, stable job. I like it. But regulation of work and workplaces isn’t likely adequate to solve the problem we face. No matter how high minimum wages are, they will not help people unable to get a job that pays them. And there are a lot of reasons to think that no matter how good workplace safeguards are, the number of people who can expect to hold a conventional job will continue to drop.
A post-jobs world seems unlikely to be a post-work world. Most people want to be productive, but are forced by economic circumstance to do things they hate doing. If we all had the equivalent of a trust fund, I think most of us would do as many trust fund kids do: we’d throw ourselves into creative and artistic projects, charitable enterprises, politics and community work, entrepreneurship — the fulfilling (and useful) labour that is difficult or risky to depend on financially, and so is now overwhelmingly the province of the privileged.

It is a long-promised science fiction premise: a world in which people are freed from the drudgery of mindless work they hate and able to pursue the things they love. The future’s looming crisis isn’t a lack of jobs; it’s a lack of the income those jobs have traditionally distributed. Solve the latter problem, and the post-job world looks like nothing to fear. - Meanwhile, Ian Gough points out how a focus on short-term returns and benchmarks prevents us from pursuing upstream policies which could do far more good in the long run.

- Andrew Jackson discusses the damage needless austerity is doing to the global economy. And John Cartwright argues that a push toward renewable energy could do wonders for our economy and our environment alike by freeing us from the twin traps of austerity and fossil fuel dependence.

- Finally, Ralph Surette is rightly livid that the Cons are spending their time and our money building monuments to Stephen Harper rather than a better Canada. But Lana Payne writes that the public is more than ready for change, rather than wanting any part of making the Harper legacy more permanent.

On fragile fixes

Sat, 06/27/2015 - 08:59
Some high-profile commentators seem to be accepting a highly dubious conclusion about the federal election date expected this fall. So let's take a quick look at what a "fixed" election date actually means for a government which has no qualms about breaking the rules - and why the fact that we're seemingly on track for an October election doesn't mean we can rule out an abrupt change in course if it suits the Harper Cons' purposes.

Here's what the Canada Elections Act now says about election dates:
56.1 (1) Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.
(2) Subject to subsection (1), each general election must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election, with the first general election after this section comes into force being held on Monday, October 19, 2009.Of course, we know from his 2008 election call that Stephen Harper sees no problem treating the fixed date as flexible when it comes to calling an early election. But since it's probably too late for him to see any advantage in doing that this year, does he have any avenue to delay an election?

I don't see how the answer is anything but "yes". After all, the election date in section 56.1 is itself a product of a statute passed by Parliament. And so if Harper were determined to delay an election, it would seem a simple enough matter to recall Parliament to either change the wording of section 56.1(2) to fit some preferred future date, or eliminate any mandatory wording altogether.

Alternatively, the election writ itself arises out of the advice of the Prime Minister. So what would happen if Harper simply advised the Governor General not to issue the writ necessary to start an election campaign if he were once again ready to provoke a constitutional crisis for political gain? My guess would be a flurry of litigation - but probably not an election until that was resolved.

So Harper almost certainly has some options to avoid running the fall election on schedule. But we wouldn't expect him to exercise any of those options until absolutely necessary - which is why we haven't had much reason to talk about a possible delay until now.

One way or another, Harper's main decision still comes down to the question of whether his prospects are better in an election this fall, or in one at some other date.

Given that the October election date was set by the Cons' own legislation, we have to assume that the Cons' re-election plans involve reaching voters just in time for that date - with years of governmental messaging going into that effort. And those years of planning, not the fixed date, figure to be the main factor that would keep them on schedule if the polls suggest any hope that their strategy might actually work.

But if it's clear by the end of summer that the Cons don't stand a chance in a fall election, they're not without some means of hunkering down in office for a little while longer. And I've yet to see any reason to think that devotion to fixed election dates is the first principle Stephen Harper would place above his desire to cling to power.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

On rewriting

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 17:57
There's plenty of justified outrage over Stephen Harper's unelected Senate lapdogs choosing to tear up the Parliamentary rule book to force through an attack on unions in the form of Bill C-377. But I'm wondering whether the procedural move used to end debate might itself affect the validity of the bill.

On that front, is there any precedent for a bill becoming law after being passed as a private member's bill in one chamber, but as a government bill in the other given that both chambers have specific rules governing the review and approval of each type of bill?

And if not, isn't there an argument to be made that even if C-377 passes on the Cons' artificial terms in the Senate, it then won't have been approved at all in the House as a government bill?

(Meanwhile, I'd also be curious as to what other procedural options are available if the Senate opposition wants to push back against the holding of a vote. But hopefully those are under close examination already.)