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Monday Morning Links

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 07:49
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Aaron Wherry reviews what the last week has told us about the functioning (or absence thereof) of our House of Commons - and points out that the most important problem is one which hasn't yet surfaced in headlines or memes:
(T)he most important sentence delivered last week about the state of our Parliament might’ve been found not on any screen, speaker or widely read page, but on page four of the Parliamentary Budget Office’s quarterly expenditure review: “The Government has refused to release data that is necessary for the PBO to determine whether the recent spending cuts are sustainable.”

That much didn’t inspire even a single question last week (though there was one question about a different refusal to provide the PBO with information). Maybe because this is such old news. But minding the collection and expenditure of public funds is arguably the primary reason we have a Parliament: the idea from which our Parliament began to grow in the 13th century. That we have a profound problem in this regard is hardly news. But to dismiss that concern is merely to dismiss 700 years of progress. - And lest there's any doubt, the Cons are once again taking a stand against their ever having to answer for anything - this time, by opposing the NDP's simple motion to require the government to provide merely relevant answers in question period.

- Meanwhile, Michael Harris notes that recent days have also offered a continuation of some familiar and dangerous patterns when it comes to the Harper Cons' foreign policy choices:
The prime minister long ago used up any “benefit of the doubt” account he might once have had on foreign affairs. His analysis a decade ago would have had Canada front and centre in the last Iraq debacle — which anyone who takes a second to think about it knows set the stage for this latest ISIS fiasco.

The old thesis is back. One can bomb one’s way to peace in the Middle East without telling the folks back home what’s going on. You know, like Viet Nam. Only undemocratic war mongers believe that. And for that matter, only war mongers celebrate the beginning of the First World War, the way Harper did.
Harper has done this much for the country. He has shown us that even in an age as shallow as this one, marketing has it limits. Harper’s UN speech was in the same category as the contest to name his new cat. If he thinks that talking peace and motherhood will allow him to send Canadians to fight and die in Iraq without debate, if he thinks he can foist weeping losers on the public in important positions, if he thinks he can replace inconvenient facts with made-up versions, he has forgotten it is no longer 2006. - And Mark Kennedy reports that truth and reconciliation aren't anywhere on Harper's agenda at home either - as he's refusing to meet with the chair of the commission he himself appointed to examine Canada's shameful legacy of residential schools.

- Finally, Tom Sullivan discusses how P3s are failing to live up to their promise of a free lunch around the developed world. And Jim Holmes notes that a combination of vanishing funding, false assumptions and broken promises is turning Regina's wastewater P3 into a bad deal as well.

On choosing sides

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 07:03
Shorter L. Ian MacDonald:
Anybody doubting whether it's worth going to war in Iraq based on minimal information and questionable reasoning had best take a cold, hard look at the dangers of being on the wrong side of history. But of course, anybody demanding a war in in Iraq based on minimal information and questionable reasoning can count on the full and indefinite support of Very Serious People around the globe, no matter how appallingly wrong the decision proves to be.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 09/28/2014 - 08:48
Miscellaneous material for your Sunday reading.

- Frances Russell notes that the corporate sector is laughing all the way to the bank (and often an offshore one at that) after fifteen years of constant tax slashing, while Canadian citizens haven't benefited at all from the trickle-down theory. And Jordan Weissmann points out that a recent survey on CEO pay is just the latest example of Americans both severely underestimating the level of inequality in their country, and still preferring a far more equal distribution of wealth.

- Elisabeth Babcock writes that in addition to providing a reasonable standard of living, any effort to ameliorate poverty needs to include a concerted effort to overcome the individual stresses created by precarious life. And Chuk Plante reminds us how poverty and exclusion are intertwined with health and economic outcomes.

- Mitchell Anderson highlights how the FIPPA and other business-biased trade deals serve to undermine not only any hope of people-oriented policy, but also the personal and social protections enshrined in Canada's constitution:
Perhaps most importantly, the deal fails to protect aboriginal rights under the Constitution. The implications of this omission are profound. While our federal government has a duty to consult First Nations, Chinese state-owned companies can sue Canada through a secret international arbitration panel for any such accommodation that affects their economic interests.

This would essentially fetter the Crown, which could be successfully sued by either Chinese interests or First Nations depending on whether they respect aboriginal title or not. Put another way, while the FIPA does not specifically override First Nations Charter protections, it could make providing those protections prohibitively expensive. The Hupacasath First Nation on Vancouver Island challenged the FIPA in court based on exactly these concerns and their decision at the Federal Court of Appeal is expected any day.
 With the prospect of a change in government in 2015, many Canadians are hoping for a period of rebuilding public institutions. The FIPA, however, could lock in Harper’s draconian cuts to federal environmental laws for almost eight electoral cycles — effectively an eternity by political standards.

Future governments could revisit the legislative changes by the Harper government, but if they affect Chinese interests in comparison to what is on the books now, we have to pay. How much? According to the terms just agreed to by Ottawa, the sky’s the limit.

Harper famously proclaimed, “You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it.” He has made surprising progress on that dubious goal, and like most politicians I’m sure would like to keep it that way long after he has left office.

This trade deal will persist for as long as we’ve had the Charter. But unlike the Charter, which was the result of months of good-faith negotiations between opposing political parties, the FIPA seems instead an undemocratic and underhanded endgame to lock in our prime minister’s ideological legacy.- Meanwhile, Mike De Souza reports that the Cons are once again encouraging the oil industry to flout what few environmental laws are left on the books - this time issuing a drilling permit while studiously ignoring scientific evidence about the danger the drilling would pose to endangered beluga whales. Which means that it's more than understandable that affected communities like North Bay are raising concerns about the Energy East pipeline even as it avoids some of the risks and costs of its even more controversial counterparts.

- Finally, as part of Right to Know Week, Sean Holman unveils a new movement - and hashtag - intended to expose government secrecy in Canada.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 09/27/2014 - 09:13
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Bruce Johnstone points out that one can't justify Stephen Harper's gross dereliction of duty in addressing greenhouse gas emissions based on any system of principles other than climate change denialism. And Tony Burman criticizes the Cons for burying their heads in the oil sands, while pointing out that we have plenty of work to do as citizens to replace them with leaders who actually contribute to the most important crisis facing humanity.

- Meanwhile, Jeremy Nuttall reports on the NDP's work to stop damaging the planet in the name of unfettered resource extraction - this time focusing on Nathan Cullen's bill to stop tankers from operating off British Columbia's north coast.

- Paul Krugman reminds us why concentrated top-end wealth doesn't actually result in improved lives even for the few who take a perpetually larger share of our resources:
If you feel that it’s bad for society to have people flaunting their relative wealth, you have in effect accepted the view that great wealth imposes negative externalities on the rest of the population — which is an argument for progressive taxation that goes beyond the maximization of revenue.

And one more thing: think about what this says about economic growth. We have an economy that has become considerably richer since 1980, but with a large share of the gains going to people with very high incomes — people for whom the marginal utility of a dollar’s worth of spending is not only low, but comes largely from status competition, which is a zero-sum game. So a lot of our economic growth has simply been wasted, doing nothing but accelerating the pace of the upper-income rat race.- Neil Irwin chimes in on the sad reality that any economic growth in the U.S. is being skimmed off the top by the wealthiest 10% - meaning that the vast majority of workers and citizens don't have anything to gain from corporatist policies even if they did (contrary to all evidence) contribute to GDP growth. And Jennifer Erickson discusses the middle class squeeze which has seen costs rise even as incomes stagnate or fall.

- Finally, PressProgress exposes how the Harper Cons' belief in the magical effect of corporate tax slashing has proven utterly false in reality. And Truthout makes the case for finally repudiating trickle-down economics in favour of policies designed to improve citizens' lives, while Joe Gunn contrasts our options in reducing either poverty or tax rates.

On deflection

Sat, 09/27/2014 - 07:41
Shorter Your Corporate Overlords:
It turns out most of the information we supplied to get a free pass on importing disposable foreign workers was laughably inaccurate. And we're outraged that anybody was foolish enough to believe us.

Musical interlude

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 18:01
Starecase - See (Timo Maas Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 06:47
Assorted content to end your week.

- Don Pittis makes the case for a guaranteed annual income on economic and social grounds:
The young would be some of the biggest beneficiaries. Students could use the money to pay for their education, thus eliminating student loan programs. Students from poor families could afford to take courses to improve their skills.

The old age security system could disappear. So would the baby bonus itself. The demogrant would supplement government programs such as minimum wage, EI, CPP/QPP, disability allowance – all resulting in bureaucratic savings.

But going back to my original question: if you got free money, would you continue to work?

Experimental programs, including one in Dauphin, Man. in the 1970s, show that the answer is yes.

As Pereira points out, scratching out a living on the demogrant alone (which some suggest would vary with local living costs) would mean you could never have a house or a car, or any of the minor luxuries we all expect.

But there is another reason to introduce the demogrant. And that is the changing nature of work in the automated age.

Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, worries that we are on the way to a world where robots do most of the work, driving up unemployment to levels never seen before.

"How do we get an income into people's hands so that they can survive, so that they are not on the street?" Ford asks.- And Olivia Carville points out that due to the shredding of the social safety net, disabled Ontarians are actually more likely to live in poverty and rely on food banks than was the case two decades ago.

- In the wake of the news about the passing of two giants of Canada's progressive political blogosphere, let's offer up this week's examples of the Cons' Mostly Competent Government: an appalling objection to indigenous peoples' rights buried far out of sight, and a much-trumpeted set of grain shipping regulations which has been rendered one-seventh as effective as promised because the Cons couldn't be bothered to check for typos.

- Meanwhile, Carol Linnitt highlights the Cons' Orwellian messaging on climate change. And Matthew Paterson expands on how Canada is being left behind as the rest of the world starts to deal meaningfully with the most important challenge facing humanity.

- Finally, Katrina Orlowski discusses the role millenials can and should play in changing Canadian politics.

On practical obstacles

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 05:59
Shorter Andrew Scheer:
A functional democratic Parliament is everybody's responsibility. And to be more precise, my responsibility for a functional democratic Parliament is to enforce complete unaccountability - and indeed punish anybody who questions that choice - until the Conservative Party instructs me otherwise.(For further reading, Michael Den Tandt, Mia Rabson and Tasha Kheiriddin weigh in as well.)

[Edit: added link.]

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 07:56
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda McQuaig reminds us that while growing inequality may have different impacts on older workers as compared to younger ones, it arises based on fault lines which have nothing to do with age:
(T)he suggestion that seniors as a group receive too much government support is absurd. Rich seniors, who need it least, are dramatically over-subsidized by government. Poor seniors — the ones who need more help — have been all but abandoned by the Harper government.

For that matter, the precarious financial situation faced by the young is part of the erosion of economic security for working people in general, as an increasingly powerful corporate sector pushes governments to redesign tax and trade laws in its favour, and to weaken union and workplace protections. This has allowed corporations to scoop up an increasingly large share of national income, at the expense of labour.
(I)t’s now common to have two-tier workplaces, where new hires receive pay and benefits that are a fraction of what long-time employees receive.

But it’s corporations that have created this highly unequal situation, by taking advantage of vulnerable younger workers. Unions have fought bitterly against the two-tier workplace, knowing it will weaken worker solidarity.

Both Maclean’s and Stewart-Patterson suggest that young people could deal with their plight by launching a tax revolt — the Right’s favourite cause — which would lead to further cuts to our social safety net. How convenient it would be for conservatives if it could enlist young people in an anti-tax crusade.

A much better solution for young people would be a stronger social safety net: increased government subsidies for university and college tuition, a universal child care program and direct investments in job creation, particularly for youth.

Above all, the Right wants to ensure that the anger of disaffected young people doesn’t end up aimed at the corporate elite — as it was during Occupy Wall Street’s campaign against the growing wealth and power of the ‘one per cent’.- Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias highlights Pavlina Tcherneva's findings on increasing inequality in periods of U.S. economic expansion - as economic growth is now managing to take place at the same time as further erosion of income for the bottom 90%. But Thomas Edsall notes that far too few people are willing to talk about the progressive taxation and social investments necessary to improve matters.

- Huffington Post Canada takes a look at OECD data and finds that Canada's proportion of low-paying jobs (at 22% of all jobs) is among the worst in the developed world. And Louis-Philippe Rochon discusses how the Cons are determined to put the screws to workers even more by undermining any attempt to organize:
There is strong evidence to suggest that higher unionization rates translate into higher salaries, which in turn fuels consumption-based economic growth with less, not more, household indebtedness.  Yet, the decline of unionization in Canada and elsewhere in the last 4 decades has had devastating results.

If we look at the post World War II era, from 1945 to now, we notice two very distinct periods with very striking differences.

Consider, for instance, the period right after World War II from, say 1945 to roughly the early 1970s, which is what many economists now refer to as the Golden Years — and for a reason. Unionization in Canada was growing and the Canadian economy underwent a massive expansion. In fact, unionization grew steadily throughout this period, as did hourly earnings....Since the 1970s, however, Canada changed for the worse.

This is where unionization began to decrease. It peaked at roughly 37 per cent in the early 1970s and began a slow decline, as did hourly earnings.

As a result of that and other influences, the Canadian economy slowed down and unemployment has been, on average, substantially higher. As for inflation, after hitting record highs, it has been tamer in the last few years but mostly as a result of weak increases in wages. As of 2013, unionization in Canada stands at a shocking 30 per cent (as a share of non-agricultural paid workers).

So what’s going on? Higher unionization means stronger unions, and stronger wage gains. Economies grow as a result of spending. So higher wages mean more consumption and growth. It’s that simple.

When governments try to quell unions and labour movements, they are actually hurting prospects for domestic growth. The same logic applies when governments reduce public spending, but that is a matter for another day.- Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew examine how the risks arising out of the CETA far outweigh any plausible benefits. And to be clear it's worth making sure that any trade deal can be justified on its own terms - rather than signing on to any of them based solely on the desire to be seen as generally friendly toward business (or the argument that it might be possible to minimize the damage later).

- Finally, Gwynn Guilford makes the case for improved paternity leave as the best means of both encouraging parental participation in the workforce, and ensuring that the responsibility for raising children doesn't fall disproportionately on women.

New column day

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 07:50
Here, on how the politics and economics of energy production are changing around the world - and how Canada is being left behind due to governments focused solely on pushing oil interests.

For further reading...
- Again, Vivek Radhwa discusses the progress that's being made in developing - and broadly implementing - renewable alternatives to fossil fuel energy. And Clean Energy Canada studies how we're missing the boat.
- Aaron Wherry reminds us that Stephen Harper was at least once willing to talk about climate change - but only apparently when he saw no political choice. And again, there's been a pattern of Con and Sask Party politicians abandoning any pretense to public service in favour of explicit oil lobbying - with Rob Merrifield and Tim McMillan serving as just the latest examples.
- Justin Ling points out that any question as to the federal government's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has been answered in the affirmative.
- The Guardian reports on the People's Climate March which saw half a million citizens around the world call for action against climate change, while Monica Araya and Hans Verolme see it as just the start of a new movement for clean energy.
- CBC reports on Leona Aglukkaq's speech to the UN, while Rosemary Barton offers photographic evidence that nobody much cared what she had to say.
- Finally, Thomas Walkom makes the case that Harper's absence from the UN climate summit may have been for the best. But that's hardly a vote of confidence since it's based entirely on the view that Harper would only have shown up to obstruct proceedings anyway.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 08:15
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Joe Cressy argues that we need to take strong progressive positions to highlight the kinds of public investment which need to be made, rather than buying into right-wing spin about slashing taxes and eliminating public institutions:
Public investment is about social justice, taking care of people and making sure our communities have affordable housing, public transit, child care, clean air to breathe and water to drink.

Now, when progressive candidates talk about investing in communities, we are often labeled as ‘tax-and-spenders,’ as if that were something to be ashamed of.

The reality is that taxing, spending, and regulating are the core functions of government, no matter who holds office. The difference lies in how you prioritize spending.

Instead of running from the word ‘tax,’ we need to look at what we are actually doing with our resources. Are we taxing fairly, and are we investing in things that will make life better? That should be the ‘bottom line.’- Which fits nicely with Ken Neumann's view that we should demand better in the next federal election (and in our political system generally), not just settle for any alternative.

- Meanwhile, Celia Carr laments the stigmatization of people living in poverty. And Danielle Kurtzleben notes that based on our actual standards of fairness, we should instead be far more critical of CEOs who extract massive amounts of wealth at the expense of workers.

- Jason Fekete reports on the Cons' obscene expenditures on media monitoring and communications

- Finally, Barrie McKenna discusses how the fetishization of small business leads to our spending billions on programs which don't accomplish anything of value. And I'll note that we shouldn't merely be drawing distinctions between small and large businesses either, as we'd do far better to highlight the importance of public services - as Janet Newbury does:
We don't have to choose between supporting the public sector and economic prosperity: investing in the public sector is good for our economy.

A good jobs plan for B.C. would enhance the public sector -- particularly supporting jobs in health and human services. It would replace the current trend towards temporary, resource-dependent jobs with a commitment to maintaining stable, permanent jobs that contribute to societal well-being. Creating and maintaining public sector jobs can foster our social and economic well-being by ensuring the quality of vital gap-reducing social services, and by building a strong and stable workforce in B.C.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 18:27
Tunnelling cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 07:07
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Robert Reich discusses how our economic system is set up to direct risk toward the people who can least afford to bear it (while also directing the spoils to those who need them least):
Bankruptcy was designed so people could start over. But these days, the only ones starting over are big corporations, wealthy moguls, and Wall Street.

Corporations are even using bankruptcy to break contracts with their employees. When American Airlines went into bankruptcy three years ago, it voided its labor agreements and froze its employee pension plan.

After it emerged from bankruptcy last year and merged with U.S. Airways, America's creditors were fully repaid, its shareholders came out richer than they went in, and its CEO got a severance package valued at $19.9 million.

But American's former employees got shafted.

Wall Street doesn't worry about failure, either. As you recall, the Street almost went belly up six years ago after risking hundreds of billions of dollars on bad bets.

A generous bailout from the federal government kept the bankers afloat. And since then, most of the denizens of the Street have come out just fine.

Yet more than 4 million American families have so far have lost their homes. They were caught in the downdraft of the Street's gambling excesses.
There's no starting over for millions of people laden with student debt, either.

Student loan debt has more than doubled since 2006, from $509 billion to $1.3 trillion. It now accounts for 40 percent of all personal debt -- more than credit card debts and auto loans.

But the bankruptcy law doesn't cover student debts. The student loan industry made sure of that.
Economies are risky. Some industries rise and others implode, like housing. Some places get richer, and others drop, like Atlantic City. Some people get new jobs that pay better, many lose their jobs or their wages.

The basic question is who should bear these risks. As long as the laws shield large investors while putting the risks on ordinary people, investors will continue to make big bets that deliver jackpots when they win but create losses for everyone else.- And Murray Dobbin discusses how an age of constant anxiety is making it more difficult for working Canadians to stand up for themselves.

- Meanwhile, Pedro Nicolaci da Costa notes that even the financial sector which has done so much to exacerbate inequality is starting to take notice of the problem. The Washington Post weighs in on how Sam Brownback's experiment in even more extreme corporatism has proven exactly as disastrous as we should have expected. And Paul Krugman debunks the Republicans' spin that inequality is a matter of merit rather than structural unfairness, while the CP reports on the Conference Board of Canada's research showing an unprecedented generational divide.

- Moira Donovan points out the sad state of early childhood education in Nova Scotia. CBC News reveals that injured Canadian soldiers are being forced to keep quiet about their injuries in order to secure some pension income. And Karl Nerenberg writes about the Cons' continued war against refugees - this time consisting of an attempt to deny even the most basic standard of living.

- Finally, Stephen Maher discusses the need to acknowledge and confront Canada's legacy of genocide toward aboriginal peoples.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 07:52
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Linda Tirado writes about life in poverty - and the real prospect that anybody short of the extremely wealthy can wind up there:
I haven’t had it worse than anyone else, and actually, that’s kind of the point. This is just what life is for roughly one-third of Americans and one in five people in Great Britain. We all handle it in our own ways, but we all work in the same jobs, live in the same places, feel the same sense of never quite catching up. We’re not any happier about exploding welfare costs than anyone else is, believe me. It’s not like everyone grows up and dreams of working two essentially meaningless part-time jobs while collecting food stamps.

It’s just that there aren’t many other options for a lot of people. In fact, the Urban Institute found that half of Americans will experience poverty at some point before they’re 65. Most will come out of it after a relatively short time, 75% in four years. But that still leaves 25% who don’t get out quickly, and the study also found that the longer you stay in poverty, the less likely it becomes that you will ever get out. Most people who live near the bottom go through cycles of being in poverty and just above it – sometimes they’re just OK and sometimes they’re underwater. It depends on the year, the job, how healthy you are. What I can say for sure is that downward mobility is like quicksand. Once it grabs you, it keeps constraining your options until it’s got you completely. I slid to the bottom through a mix of my own decisions and some seriously bad luck. I think that’s true of most people.

While it can seem like upward mobility is blocked by a lead ceiling, the layer between lower-middle class and poor is horrifyingly porous from above. A lot of us live in that spongy divide. - Meanwhile, Rebecca Vallas and Melissa Boteach offer ten suggestions to improve the plight of workers across the income spectrum. And oddly enough, neither state-imposed indentured servitude nor a world-lagging set of policies on temporary employment makes the list.

- Ashley Renders points out that in planning to reduce our reliance on dirty energy, it's essential to have cleaner alternatives available. But Vivek Radhwa writes that we're not far off with the renewable energy sources we've already developed.

- Joseph Heath observes that hard power is of extremely limited effectiveness in dealing with both armies around the world and crime at home.

- Finally, Aaron Wherry discusses the price of democratic accountability. And Glen McGregor reminds us that the Cons will tolerate nothing of the sort - as most recently evidence by their systematic disposal of any comment critical of the FIPA.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 09:11
This and that to end your weekend.

- Paul Krugman notes that a concerted effort to combat climate change could be as beneficial economically as it is important for the future of our planet:
Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.
On one side, there has been dramatic progress in renewable energy technology, with the costs of solar power, in particular, plunging, down by half just since 2010. Renewables have their limitations — basically, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow — but if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality.
On the other side, it turns out that putting a price on carbon would have large “co-benefits” — positive effects over and above the reduction in climate risks — and that these benefits would come fairly quickly. The most important of these co-benefits, according to the I.M.F. paper, would involve public health: burning coal causes many respiratory ailments, which drive up medical costs and reduce productivity.- But Mike De Souza documents what the Harper Cons have chosen to do in blocking any progress whatsoever. And Josh Wingrove reports that they've been similarly unwilling to see tar sands operators held to their legal obligations when it comes to polluting rivers, while Sean Holman points out how the mining sector has similarly been held to be above the law in British Columbia.

- Which is to say that Naomi Klein's call for a climate health movement arising out of civil society rather than government seems all the more important in Canada:
What is most terrifying about the threat of climate disruption is not the unending procession of scientific reports about rapidly melting ice sheets, crop failures and rising seas. It’s the combination of trying to absorb that information while watching our so-called leaders behave as if the global emergency is no immediate concern. As if every alarm in our collective house were not going off simultaneously.

Only when we urgently acknowledge that we are facing a genuine crisis will it become possible to enact the kinds of bold policies and mobilize the economic resources we need. Only then will the world have a chance to avert catastrophic warming.

It’s not simply that our leaders aren’t leading us – at an appropriate gallop – away from fossil fuels and towards the renewable energy revolution that is both technologically and economically feasible. It’s that most of them are doubling down on the very energy sources that are most responsible for the crisis, cheering on the extractive industries as they dig up the most greenhouse gas-intensive fossil fuels on the planet: oil from the tar sands, gas from fracking, extra-dirty lignite coal....
Naming climate change as a clear and present danger is not a solution in itself, of course. But it is the critical first step. Forcefully expressing our collective sense of urgency will help us resist the next attempt to tell us that some manufactured economic imperative is more important than the stability of the planet – whether it’s the supposed need for more government austerity, or the need to grow the economy at any cost. That sustained sense of urgency will allow us to demand the kinds of bold action required to get off fossil fuels, and move to a regenerative economy, in the brief window we have left.  - Frank Graves comments on the economic stagnation facing large numbers of Canadians, while Benjamin Lanka reports on the connection between poverty and educational success. But the good news is that we're not lacking for some available solutions, as Nathaniel Downes notes that a $15 minimum wage in Seatac, Washington has led to both greater economic growth as well as a far better life for the workers who can now take home a living wage.

- Finally, Michael Harris writes that the Cons' plan for 2015 involves little more than deflection and distraction. And Frances Russell highlights the contrast between Harper's lofty rhetoric about democracy in the Ukraine and his consistent attacks on anything worthy of the title at home.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 09/20/2014 - 08:15
Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne examines the Cons' economic record and finds it very much wanting:
Inequality has deepened under Mr. Harper’s watch, job quality has declined, wages have stagnated, economic growth has been anemic, social protections have been reduced while corporate profits and CEO pay soar.
(E)mployment and labour force participation rates are lower today than they were in 2006, part-time employment is up, corporate taxes are significantly lower (22.1 per cent in 2006, 15 per cent today) business capital investment saw no increase and has been static at 19.1 per cent of GDP, business R&D spending as a percentage of GDP has declined, exports as a percentage of GDP from 2006 to today have dropped significantly from 36.7 per cent of GDP to 30.8 per cent.

Not exactly great economic numbers. Add to this the over $600 billion in cash being hoarded by corporate Canada and Mr. Harper is heading into a federal election with more than a few economic weak spots.

Throw in the fact that wages are stagnant and inequality is growing and the only folks doing better are those at the top who are accumulating more and more wealth under Mr. Harper’s failed economic policies.
Inequality and poor jobs are not inevitable. Nor are they just because of technological change and globalization, as some would want us to believe. We can, with good economic policy, make a difference for the citizens of Canada, but we have to first believe that government has a role to play. - And Bill Curry reports on the Cons' latest moves to undermine the Canada Revenue Agency when it comes to "aggressive tax planning" and other abuses at the top end of the wealth scale - which of course only figure to make inequality worse.

- Meanwhile, Larry Haiven discusses the utter failure of corporate social responsibility as a check on business abuses. And Molly McCracken questions the point of a one-night "sleep outside" event which will mostly figure to provide cover for a complete lack of public inaction to combat homelessness.

- Jesse McLean reports that the Cons' strategy of letting drug companies decide for themselves whether their products are safe (rather than, say, meaningfully regulating them) has led to the distribution of ingredients found to be unfit for U.S. consumption. And it's hard to see how a name-and-shame approach to health and safety will do any particular good when it's directed at utterly shameless corporations.

- Finally, Jeffrey Simpson highlights the Cons' continued wilful ignorance about Iraq. And Michael den Tandt and Thomas Walkom both note that the NDP is right to challenge the deployment of troops when the Cons have no clue what they're supposed to accomplish.

Musical interlude

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 17:39
For a reunion weekend:

Barenaked Ladies - The Old Apartment

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 06:08
Assorted content to end your week.

- Umut Oszu contrasts the impoverished conception of rights being pushed thanks to the Cons' highly politicized museum against the type of rights we should be demanding:
In their modern incarnation, human rights were fashioned after the Second World War and entered into widespread circulation in the 1970s and 80s, when they came to be deployed by Western governments and non-governmental organizations as part of a Cold War “battle of ideas.” Designed in predominantly civil and political rather than social and economic terms, the rhetoric of human rights has since been mobilized to focus attention upon egregious violations of such entitlements as the right to vote, the right to assemble and the right to express oneself freely.

In practice, this focus on civil and political rights has prevented human rights advocates from tackling the problem of why so many people, in Canada and throughout the world, do not have their basic social and economic rights — chief among them the rights to health, housing, education, and employment — satisfied adequately.

Further, the socio-economic conditions under which violations of civil and political rights take place are nearly always ignored, rendering every such violation a more or less isolated act of injustice, to be condemned and countered on its own terms.
No more than a few kilometres from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights lies Winnipeg’s North End. Well known for its inter-generational poverty and chronic underinvestment, the area has long been regarded as one of the most destitute in any major Canadian city. Closer still, in the very heart of The Forks, is a newly erected monument to Manitoba’s countless missing and murdered aboriginal women — a reminder to locals and visitors alike that the city has grappled for decades with exceptionally high levels of crime, much of it directed against First Nations peoples.
It is one thing to document large-scale atrocities like the Holocaust, Holodomor and Armenian genocide — events as worthy of denunciation as any in humanity’s collective history. It is another thing entirely to confront the socio-economic deprivation and exploitation with which so many around the world continue to struggle. Without the latter, the former is simply garish spectacle. - Gus Van Harten breaks down the disastrous effects of the FIPA - though the Cons have made sure that it's too late to do anything to avoid the damage. And Alison examines the connection between China's investments in the tar sands and the degradation of environmental standards.

- PressProgress points out the juxtaposition of perpetually higher unemployment and continued decreases in the percentage of jobless Canadians who have access to EI benefits.

-  Toby Sanger thoroughly debunks Stephen Harper's faith-based assertion that perpetual corporate tax giveaways pay for themselves, while Canadian for Tax Fairness notes that tax cheats can rest comfortably knowing that the CRA's ability to crack down is being systematically destroyed. Which is to say that those of us who see taxes as an important means to achieve social ends - such as, say, funding mental health services - have all the more reason for concern.

- Mike De Souza reports on the Cons' refusal to answer simple questions about their climate change negligence, while Margo McDiarmid highlights the ineffectiveness of regulations governing coal plants. And in case there was any doubt whether there's a meaningful difference between the Cons, the Saskatchewan Party and the oil lobbying industry, the seamless transitions for Rob Merrifield and Tim McMillan should put that to rest.

- Finally, Justin Ling exposes the Cons' push to get MPs to vote against trans rights - as well as their strategy of once again using the Senate to override the will of elected representatives, this time based on the Harper Cons' desire to maintain discrimination.

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 07:55
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda McQuaig discusses how a politically-oriented audit of the CCPA fits with the shock-and-awe part of the right's war against independent (and public-minded) though:
In the conservative quest to shape public debate in recent years, no tool has proved more useful than the think tank. Nobody understood this better than the director of the ultra-right wing U.S.-based ATLAS Foundation, who once stated that his mission was “to litter the world with free-market think tanks.”

Mission accomplished. Certainly the Canadian landscape is cluttered with right-wing think tanks — the Fraser Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Montreal Economic Institute, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Frontier Institute, just to name a few — all well-funded by a business elite keen to have its message packaged in a manner that makes it appear grounded in serious research.

These right-wing policy shops have played a huge role in implanting an ideology that treats the rich as ‘wealth creators’ who must be freed from government regulation — and whose goodwill must be constantly cultivated, lest they be discouraged from investing. This has boiled down to a simple message — government bad, private sector good — that has become the mantra of our times, the guiding force in shaping public policy.
For years, the corporate world has bestowed bountiful, tax-deductible resources on right-wing think tanks, allowing them to baffle the public with this sort of misinformation.

Meanwhile, alone and often ignored by the media, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives keeps churning out quality research exposing the fallacies of the right-wing arguments that have come to dominate our public conversation.

What choice is there for a paranoid, controlling, undemocratic, right-wing government but to call in the auditors?- Meanwhile, Matt Bruenig argues that capitalism in its current form falls far short of any of the theoretical justifications for rewarding greed. Melissa Boteach and Shawn Fremstad note that matters are only getting worse even in the face of what's supposed to be an economic recovery. Andrew Brenier comments on the connection between fossil fuel use and inequality. And Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett discuss what we've learned since The Spirit Level brought the issue to the forefront:
Most important has been the rapid accumulation of evidence confirming the psychosocial processes through which inequality gets under the skin. When we were writing, evidence of causality often relied on psychological experiments that showed how extraordinarily sensitive people are to being looked down on and regarded as inferior.

They demonstrated that social relationships, insecurities about social status and how others see us have powerful effects on stress, cognitive performance and the emotions. Almost absent were studies explicitly linking income inequality to these psychological states in whole societies. But new studies have now filled that gap. That inequality damages family life is shown by higher rates of child abuse, and increased status competition is likely to explain the higher rates of bullying confirmed in schools in more unequal countries.

We showed that mental illnesses are more prevalent in more unequal societies: this has now been confirmed by more specific studies of depression and schizophrenia, as well as by evidence that your income ranking is a better predictor of developing illness than your absolute income.

Strengthening community life is hampered by the difficulty of breaking the ice between people, but greater inequality amplifies the impression that some people are worth so much more than others, making us all more anxious about how we are seen and judged. Some are so overcome by lack of confidence that social contact becomes an ordeal. Others try instead to enhance self-presentation and how they appear to others. US data also show that narcissism increased in line with inequality. The economic effects of inequality have also gained more attention. Research has shown that greater inequality leads to shorter spells of economic expansion and more frequent and severe boom-and-bust cycles that make economies more vulnerable to crisis. The International Monetary Fund suggests that reducing inequality and bolstering longer-term economic growth may be "two sides of the same coin". And development experts point out how inequality compromises poverty reduction.- Stephanie Levitz reports on the Mowat Centre's latest study of income-splitting - which finds that in addition to being grossly inequitable in handing money to the people who need it least, the Cons' pet policy would also siphon billions out of provincial treasuries.

- Connie Walker reports on the Cons' choice to summarily discard any proposals from the Assembly of First Nations and other individuals and groups who want to see both meaningful studies and policy responses to the crisis of murdered and missing aboriginal women.

- Finally, Scott Feschuk rightly skewers Stephen Harper for a foreign policy that's all bluster and no substance.