accidentaldeliberations

Subscribe to accidentaldeliberations feed
If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.
Updated: 50 min 23 sec ago

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

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




Tuesday Morning Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Morning Links

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

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

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

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

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

Reused column day

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

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

Sunday Morning Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On broken connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Morning Links

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

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

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

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

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

Musical interlude

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

Friday Afternoon Links

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 16:08
This and that to start your weekend.

- Robert Reich discusses how the increasing concentration of corporate wealth and power is undermining the U.S.' democracy, while noting that there's only one effective response:
We entered a vicious cycle in which political power became more concentrated in monied interests that used the power to their advantage – getting tax cuts, expanding tax loopholes, benefiting from corporate welfare and free-trade agreements, slicing safety nets, enacting anti-union legislation, and reducing public investments.

These moves further concentrated economic gains at the top, while leaving out most of the rest of America.

No wonder Americans feel powerless. No surprise we’re sick of politics, and many of us aren’t even voting.

But if we give up on politics, we’re done for. Powerlessness is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The only way back toward a democracy and economy that work for the majority is for most of us to get politically active once again, becoming organized and mobilized.

We have to establish a new countervailing power.

The monied interests are doing what they do best – making money. The rest of us need to do what we can do best – use our voices, our vigor, and our votes.- Bryce Covert notes that service-sector jobs in particular have seen wages decline even since the 2008 crash, while Matthew Yglesias makes the case as to why there's plenty of room for employers to pay more than they've thus far bothered to do. And Freddie deBoer highlights the patent absurdity of blaming workers for acting on the promise that higher education would lead to economy opportunity:
So all the kids who heard the clarion call and rushed out to get CS degrees, or to drop out under the advice of Peter Thiel, and start coding in their basements– are they all chumps? Do they deserve scorn? Do they deserve to be unable to scratch out a living? Of course not. Like so many others, most of them did what their society told them to do to pursue the good life: work hard, go to school, and try to provide value for people so that you can earn a living. They were sold on a social contract that is failing them. No one can be reasonably expected to predict what skills the economy will value five, ten, twenty years in advance. The urge to call out others for what you perceive as their bad choices is destructive in a labor economy where, despite gains in overall unemployment rate, workers still have remarkably little bargaining power, thanks to underemployment, lack of benefits, low pay, and poor hours. Rather than succumbing to our petty insecurities by blaming others for their economic conditions, we need to look at the macroeconomic factors that are hurting our labor markets. We need to recognize that automation and artificial intelligence are pushing us towards a new era of work– one with tremendous potential productivity gains, but also tremendous uncertainty for labor, even educated labor. It’s time to stop calling people chumps and start building the kind of social system that can guarantee basic material security for all of our people, so that we can all share in the staggering gains of efficiency and productivity that technology is bringing about.- Mariana Mazzucato observes that the answer to Europe's failed austerity drive should be greater movement toward long-term public investments - not more of the same cuts-at-all-costs attitude that's obviously done nothing but harm.

- And Andre Picard reports that the Canadian Medical Association isn't accepting the Cons' excuses for abandoning public health care.

- Finally, David Climenhaga rightly questions the theory that we should answer threat to political leaders by silencing voices online, rather than actually protecting the politicians affected. And Marva Burnett writes that in fact, there's still a significant digital divide facing lower-income Canadians which demands a strong policy response to encourage greater access to a world of information.

On political evolution

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 08:04
Both Chantal Hebert and the combination of Bruce Anderson and David Coletto have written recently about the state of federal politics in Quebec, with particular emphasis on what we can expect as the Bloc Quebecois appears to crumble. With that in mind, I'll offer a quick reminder as to one of the more subtle factors behind the 2011 Orange Wave - and how things have changed less than we might think at first glance.

As I've mentioned before, the NDP's relatively strong push into Quebec happened to coincide with an election where both the Cons and Libs had obvious reasons not to put much effort into the province - based in large part on the Bloc's success in campaigning against their preferred themes.

Which isn't to say that the NDP was obviously ahead of its competitors at the start of the campaign (see: polling prior to April 2011 passim). Instead, its increased strategic focus figures mostly to have counterbalanced the Libs' and Cons' historic advantages. And with no national party going into 2011 with much expectation of winning over a substantial amount of Bloc support, the outcome might be seen as reflecting two factors: not only the popularity of Jack Layton, but also the growth of natural voter preferences in a rare case where political targeting played a relatively small role.

Of course, that's all changed going into the next federal campaign. Now that the obvious obstacle to growth in Quebec for all of the federal parties is seemingly disintegrating, every party has an incentive to test its prospects within a much larger pool of available voters and seats. And there's reason to think the NDP, Libs and Cons have all done just that.

In turn, that makes the lack of change in voter support just as noteworthy as any further shift would have been. The NDP's change in leadership from Jack Layton to Thomas Mulcair hasn't affected its massive advantage on that question. And renewed pushes from both the Libs and Cons haven't significantly altered the party standings aside from the Bloc's further decline - which, as noted by Anderson and Coletto, may actually bolster the NDP's position compared to its competitors.

Not that any party can rest on its laurels now: after all, it's the illusion of stability over an even longer period that caught nearly everybody off guard in the last election. But if 2011 showed us what the Quebec electorate looks like following relatively little work to cultivate party interests, the last few years seem to indicate that voters are comfortable with the landscape.

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 07:53
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Olga Khazan writes about the connection between lower incomes and obesity in the U.S. And Truthout discusses how poverty and other stressors can directly affect individual and communal genetics for generations:
(A) study by researchers at University College London's Institute of Child Health found that, thanks to epigenetics, children whose parents and grandparents were born into poverty can, themselves, carry the scars of that past poverty with them for the rest of their lives. That's because children born to families who've lived generations in poverty inherit genes configured to help them survive that poverty, but as the researchers pointed out, turning those genes on can make those children more susceptible to health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer when they're adults.

And epigenetic changes - genetic changes caused by the circumstances of life - have previously been linked to a variety of mental disorders too, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
...
Because of epigenetics, whenever there's war, violence, poverty, famine or just about any other stressful situation, not only are our bodies changing, but those of future generations will, too.

That's why it's so important that we do everything possible to protect future generations by making the world work well today.- And Rachel Malena-Chan highlights how much more an individual can both benefit personally and contribute to the community with a basic income in place to meet essential needs.

- Jordan Weissmann questions whether the spin about reduced global inequality making up for increased country-level inequality is the least bit accurate - particularly since it relies on ignoring unreported wealth. 

- Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Gagnon suggests that a national pharmacare program could provide both economic and health benefits. But Nick Fillmore contrasts the public's actual concerns about higher drug prices and other consequences of the CETA against the media's eagerness to declare that nobody can possibly question more corporate-friendly trade deals.

- The Montreal Gazette's editorial board weighs in on the need to put public safety first when it comes to regulating dangerous business activity. But we can instead expect plenty more policies at the federal and provincial levels alike aimed at letting business do what it likes in the pursuit of short-term profits, regardless of the obvious dangers to the public - combined with the occasional gratuitous swipe at public servants in order to distract from corporate giveaways.

- And finally, Frances Russell wonders whether the Cons' fraudulent vote suppression in 2011 is only a prelude to a wider, more desperate attempt to keep power in 2015.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 07:58
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Leonhardt offers a revealing look at the relative priorities of wealthier and poorer regions of the U.S. And Patricia Cohen discusses the disproportionate effect of inequality and poverty on women:
It’s at the lowest income levels that the burden on women stands out. Not only are they more likely than men to be in a minimum-wage job, but women are also much more likely to be raising a family on their own.
“Inequality is rising among women as well as men, but at the bottom, women are struggling with some dimensions of these problems that men aren’t, which is raising and supporting these families as single heads of households,” said Francine Blau, an economist at Cornell University.
So while the number of families living on less than $2 per person per day doubled between 1996 and 2011, according to the National Poverty Center, it tripled among families headed by a lone woman.
Wages are only one part of the problem, said Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, whose 1989 book, “The Second Shift,” described how fathers rarely chipped in with housework and child care even when their wives were working full-time. She notes that as men’s economic opportunities decline, so do their marriage prospects. The increase in poor single mothers means that many of the lowest-wage workers are not getting any help in the second shift.- But while that example reflects market outcomes rather than policy choices, sometimes right-wing disdain for vulnerable people is actually made explicit. And Lizanne Foster exposes the B.C. Libs' apparent hostility toward special needs children - whose learning supports are being put on the chopping block as "wage benefits".

- Andy Blatchford reports on the Transportation Safety Board's findings about the Lac-Megantic rail explosion. The Globe and Mail editorial board highlights the failure of Transport Canada to properly regulate an increasingly dangerous industry, while Paul Wells notes that the history of railway self-regulation extends back to the Libs' stay in power.

- Meanwhile, in another prime example of the conflict of interest inherent in letting corporations (and their hand-picked consultants) regulate themselves, David Dayen discusses how the U.S.' big banks avoid public regulation by instead choosing their own investigators.

- The Star points out that the Cons' obsession with austerity and deficits is entirely political. But it's also worth recognizing that any talk of balancing a budget is purely temporary: as soon as the red ink stops flowing for a year, their plan is to start slashing taxes again to make sure the federal government lacks the capacity to repair the Cons' damage. And David MacDonald charts the public revenue already lost to a decade and a half of corporate tax giveaways.

- Finally, Marilyn Reid takes a look at how CETA fits into the Cons' general philosophy of suppressing wages and rendering work more precarious.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 19:10
Cats in motion.



Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 08:01
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli discuss the worrisome spread of climate change denialism, particularly around the English-speaking developed world. But lest we accept the theory that declining public knowledge is independent of political choices, Margaret Munro reports that the Cons are suppressing factual scientific information about Arctic ice levels to avoid the Canadian public being better informed, while Tom Korski exposes a particularly galling example of their vilifying top scientists for reporting their results. And John O'Connor reminds us what's been done to anybody who's dared to speak out about the effect of unfettered tar sands development on local residents.

- Jim Bronskill reports that Transport Canada had been directly warned that safety standard exemptions granted to MMA would put workers and the public at risk in advance of last year's explosion in Lac-Megantic. And Bruce Campbell offers another study (summarized here) as to how regulatory failure was behind the disaster.

- Bloomberg reports that the U.S.' recovery has seen stagnant wages for most workers compared to gains at the top. And Henry Blodget highlights the even more glaring gap between corporate profits and earned incomes:
There's no "law of capitalism" that says that companies have to pay their employees as little as possible. There's no law of capitalism that says companies have to "maximize short-term profits." That's just a story that America's owners made up to justify taking as much of the company's wealth as possible for themselves.

Ironically, this short-term greed on the part of America's owners is likely reducing their long-term wealth: Companies can't grow profits by cutting costs forever, because their profits can't grow higher than their revenues. At some point, revenue growth needs to accelerate. But that won't happen until companies start sharing more of the wealth they create with the folks who create it — their employees.- Michael Butler examines the readily foreseeable effects of the leaked CETA text in detail - with particular emphasis on its potential damage to Canadian health care.

- Finally, the Ottawa Citizen calls for a renewed investigation into Robocon in light of Michael Sona's conviction. And Lawrence Martin points out the most important question left unanswered by the finding that Sona was just one part of a larger scheme to defraud voters:
The term “vote suppression” is a euphemism. When a member or members of a political party run an operation to prevent citizens from voting for another party, it’s tantamount to trying to fix an election result. It’s attempted vote-rigging.

For corrupt political acts, you can’t get much worse. It’s certainly more egregious than abusing housing allowances or misusing government planes, the kinds of allegations that have brought down some prominent politicians lately.
...
So who else was there? Was the operation carried out with the knowledge or input of any of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s top lieutenants? Will we ever find out?

Mr. Sona, with whom I have had several conversations, did not testify at his own trial. But he is considering whether to come forward in coming weeks or months with what he knows about the whole sordid business. If it’s true that others were involved, he should name them.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 06:24
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Rebecca Vallas, Melissa Boteach and Shawn Fremstad write about the need for a new social contract. And Drew Nelles takes a look at the role of a guaranteed basic income in ensuring a fair standard of living for everybody:
Although implementing basic income would undoubtedly require a reorganization of social assistance provision, with some programs being eliminated or absorbed, it cannot be used as an excuse to dismantle what’s left of the welfare state. Instead, it’s a hopeful idea because it could act as just the opposite: the beginning of a turn away from the anti-tax, anti-social-spending policymaking that has dominated the West since the 1980s.

Indeed, I suspect that the idea of basic income has caught on for the same reason that Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century became a bestseller earlier this year. It neatly distills the era we live in: it reflects our burgeoning concern about class disparity, and it represents a symbolic reversal of the ideology that got us here. The post-recession, post-Occupy age has seen people—if not politicians—begin to reckon seriously with the threats of income inequality and wealth concentration. Basic income is an appealing solution in its simplicity and elegance: why not just give people money? Even if it remains, for now, more of a thought experiment than a concrete policy proposal, basic income is valuable for that reason. It forces us to ask what we owe each other.- Meanwhile, Natasha Singer discusses how the "sharing economy" is serving as the latest cover for increasingly precarious work:
Technology has made online marketplaces possible, creating new opportunities to monetize labor and goods. But some economists say the short-term gig services may erode work compensation in the long term. Mr. Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, argues that online labor marketplaces are able to drive down costs for consumers by having it both ways: behaving as de facto employers without shouldering the actual cost burdens or liabilities of employing workers.

“In a weak labor market, there’s not much of a floor on what employers, or quasi employers, can get away with,” Mr. Baker contends. “It could be a big downward pressure on wages. It’s a bad story.”

Labor activists say gig enterprises may also end up disempowering workers, degrading their access to fair employment conditions.

“These are not jobs, jobs that have any future, jobs that have the possibility of upgrading; this is contingent, arbitrary work,” says Stanley Aronowitz, director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Technology and Work at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “It might as well be called wage slavery in which all the cards are held, mediated by technology, by the employer, whether it is the intermediary company or the customer.”- On the other end of the spectrum, Joseph Heath notes that some within the 1% are now stashing their children as well as their tax-sheltered money in the Cayman Islands to avoid the mere general public. And Darwin offers yet another thorough debunking of the Fraser Institute's spin on taxes.

- Alison examines Canada's international arms sales, including weapons exports to both sides of conflicts in the Middle East. 

- Finally, Robyn Benson previews this weekend's People' Social Forum. And for those who haven't yet seen Canadians for an Inclusive Canada - a group which is seeking to coordinate action against the Cons' anti-family immigration policy - it's well worth a look (and a signature).

On permanent campaigners

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 15:53
Plenty of people have pointed out other pieces of Paul Wells' interview with Justin Trudeau. But one exchange seems particularly telling in defining Trudeau's perception of leadership and politics:
Q: What do you have to get done when Parliament comes back?A: Continue to do what we’re doing, which is build the team, build the plan. Draw in great, credible candidates from across the country and put together a set of solutions and policies that are going to give this country a better government.
Q: So the campaign’s already begun?A: I think the way politics is done these days—certainly, if you look at the attack ads that started the day after I won the leadership—yeah, the campaign started a long time ago.In other words...

Faced with a direct and simple question, Trudeau can't name a single thing he wants to accomplish in Parliament, whether in terms of policies which can be pursued now or areas where the Cons should be held to account. Instead, when asked specifically about the fall session of Parliament, his answer is that he intends to keep ignoring how Canada is actually being governed today in order to work exclusively on next year's election campaign.

And Trudeau also doesn't have any interest in changing the absolute worst practices the Cons have inflicted on Canadian politics. Instead, somebody supposedly pitching a transformation from Harper's modus operandi is nonetheless fully prepared to allow him to dictate "how politics is done these days" - and match him in treating politics as a game where the only question is who wins the prize of holding government power.

All of which seems to confirm that Trudeau is offering no difference at all from Harper's contempt for democratic institutions, nor his cynical and self-serving view of the role of leaders. And we'd best recognize how Trudeau plans to offer more of the same with a red backdrop before anybody falls into the trap of handing him power based on the promise of change.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 08:47
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Bert Olivier is the latest to weigh in on Paul Verhaeghe's work showing that the obsessive pursuit of market fundamentalism harms our health in a myriad of ways:
What does the neoliberal “organisation” of society amount to? As the title of the book indicates, it is market-based, in the tacit belief that the abstract entity called the “market” is better suited than human beings themselves to provide a (supposedly) humane structure to the communities in which we live. But because neoliberal capitalism stands or falls by the question, whether profit is generated or not, it means that human economic activities in such a society have to generate optimal profit.

Predictably, according to the profit-driven dictates of the market, workers/employees in every organisation, from small companies to large corporations and even what used to be regarded as public institutions such as schools and universities, have been increasingly subjected to a regime of relentless competition, linked to rewards (such as promotion and bonuses) for productivity and punitive measures (no promotion, no bonuses, being fired) for lack of it. This has gone hand-in-hand with quasi-legal measures to ensure the productivity of employees and the identification of those who are not productive, such as the imposition of production-deadlines, self-assessment and company audits. Not even schools and universities have been exempted from this. It was not difficult to guess what effect these transformations in working conditions would have on people’s health.

Among those focused on by Verhaeghe are psychiatric conditions (the incidence of which has multiplied) like depression, eating and personality disorders and depression. Nor is it difficult to guess why this should be the case – if one feels that, no matter how hard you try, it is just not possible to be as productive, or as innovative regarding product-design as some of your colleagues, depression and anxiety are likely to assert themselves sooner or later.
...
One should keep in mind that income inequality is directly linked to differences in social status. And not surprisingly, Verhaeghe points out that low social status has a “determining effect on health” (2014: location 2375). He therefore arrives at the startling conclusion, that even in “prosperous … Western Europe, it isn’t the quality of health care … that determines the health of the population, but the nature of social and economic life. The better social relationships are, the better the level of health” (location 2375). And health has been deteriorating steadily under the neoliberal regime. Need I say more?- And Tyler Cowen points to research on the connection between financial stress and physical health, as mortality patterns in a study of workers correlate with paydays. 

- Meanwhile, Patricia Pearson aptly observes that one mental health concern which happens to coincide with the devaluation of social relationships is being relabeled as a virtue:
The celebration of remorselessness is everywhere. Friends on Facebook have lately been reporting their scores on widely circulating psychopathy quizzes that ask users to agree or disagree with statements such as, “I never feel remorse, shame or guilt about something I’ve said or done.”

“I’m 19-per-cent psychopath!” they announce. Or: “I scored five out of 10!” As if the chilling absence of human empathy I witnessed as a crime reporter in covering trials like that of serial killer Paul Bernardo had become a fun little personality quirk.

What fire, exactly, are we playing with? Have we taken a tolerance of difference, of identity, of moral relativism, too far?
...
The diagnosis may be clinical, but the issue, fundamentally, is moral. What kind of a society do we wish to inhabit, with what kinds of leaders and heroes?
...
Real-life psychopaths do not resemble charming, focused and ruthless business leaders and politicians, or breathtakingly intelligent investigators like Sherlock Holmes. Instead, they are impulsive and greedy. Their conduct destroys companies and devastates communities. In his book The Psychopath Test, British journalist Jon Ronson points to Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel Toto Constant, a charming brute whom he interviewed in New York, and Al Dunlap, a prime corporate predator who eviscerated the labour force at Sunbeam. These men, Mr. Ronson argued, would be much closer approximations of a clinically assessed psychopath than the fair-minded Dexter.
...
Any bid to normalize or even celebrate psychopaths’ absence of emotional intelligence is disturbing to those who see compassion and empathy as critical to social growth. “Empathy is actually the essence of a life that contributes to civil society,” says Mary Gordon, the Canadian founder of a celebrated school program called Roots of Empathy, which is now working, for example, with Protestant and Catholic children in Northern Ireland to overcome decades of violent hostility. “If we cannot connect, we cannot collaborate.” - The Vancouver Sun decries the stench of corruption as mining companies get special treatment and avoid responsibility for their environmental disasters after greasing the wheels with the Clark Libs. And David Frum (!) discusses the dangers behind the use of private donations to influence the management of public pension assets:Finding ways to use public funds for private benefit has been one of the longstanding preoccupations of American finance. The villain-hero of Theodore Dreiser’s novel The Financier gets his start by persuading the treasurer of Philadelphia to let him invest city funds to enrich them both. The United States has progressed since those times, but perhaps not as far as you might suppose...
...
To put it bluntly: Nobody needs to pay an intermediary $13 million to entice investors into a great deal. These fees only make sense when the goal is to attract state funds into deals that cost too much, deliver too little, or are burdened with fees that are too high. Placement-agent fees are in themselves, and almost inherently, warning signs of trouble.

And yet in our belief that it’s politicians who are always and everywhere to blame for everything that goes wrong in a political system, we consign to the financial pages the abundant evidence that the most fundamental vulnerability of state pension plans to corrupt influence is located less in politicians’ need for campaign funds, and much more in the weak governance of state pension plans themselves.  - Finally, Jim Bronskill reports on the Cons' priorities when it comes to trade barriers: while they're eager to sign agreements preventing governance in the public interest, they have no interest in discussing how to reduce or even competently manage restrictions set up purely out of spite.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 08/16/2014 - 08:14
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Amanda Connelly reports on the Alberta Federation of Labour's latest revelations as to how the temporary foreign worker program has been used to suppress wages. And Jim Stanford reminds us that the employment picture for Canadians remains bleak even after Statistics Canada's job numbers were revised:
(F)ull-time employment is now estimated to have declined by about 20,000, instead of the original 60,000.  Not exactly something to boast about.  60,000 part-time jobs were created (same as the original report).  The unemployment rate is the same as the original report — and exactly the same as 18 months ago.  The participation rate is unchanged from June: higher than in the original report, but still stuck at its lowest level since 2001.

I published a Globe and Mail commentary on Canada’s stagnant labour market based in part on the original LFS report.  Today’s revised numbers do not materially change the argument I made there, which is that Canada’s much-vaunted economic recovery was over-rated in the first place, and in fact ran out of steam a long time ago.  There has been no sustained labour market progress for over three years.  The employment rate is languishing just a hair above its level in June 2009 — the trough of the recession.  That means job-creation since the trough of the recession has only just kept up with growth in the working-age population (ageing demographics is part of that story, too, on top of poor job-creation).
...
The U.S. unemployment rate has dropped 1.7 points since January 2013.  Canada’s hasn’t budged.  The stark difference in macro policy stance between the two countries is clearly an important factor behind this take of two recoveries: American policy is emphasizing job-creation, and mobilizes conventional and unconventional levers to get there, while Canadian policy is dominated by orthodox concern with balancing the budget.

In short, I think Canada’s relative underperormance (sic) since 2011 will become increasingly damaging to the Harper government, given how much it has invested in its reputation (deserved or not) as the “best economic managers.”- Brian Gifford writes that more progressive taxes could go a long way toward getting our economy on the right track:
To promote strong economic growth, tinkering won’t do. Neither will clinging to failed orthodoxies of tax cuts and cutbacks. We can do much better. Why increase taxation? To invest in new services that will help grow the economy and improve social conditions. Quebec’s universal child-care program saves governments money by increasing women’s participation in the workforce and enabling them to pay more taxes. Housing chronically homeless people saves on emergency services costs. A universal Pharmacare program would reduce drug costs and fewer people will be deprived by unaffordable medications from getting treatment they need. We could go on.
...
Growing the economic pie is important, but only when equality is increased at the same time. It is not an either-or choice: some policies do both while others grow the economy while undermining equality. Given the empirical evidence, we really are at a point where cash-strapped jurisdictions such as Nova Scotia must justify why they are not leveraging the tax system to alleviate poverty and broaden social supports. We cannot afford not to commit to serious social investments to achieve greater equality and economic growth. - But of course, tax dollars are of limited use if an anti-social government won't allow them to be used for anything but its own perpetual campaign. And the Cons' insistence that a modest amount of housing spending be used on photo-op-friendly new construction rather than maintaining existing infrastructure makes it clear that they're fully focused on PR rather than actual housing needs.

- Instead, the Cons are again obsessed with getting governments at all levels out of the business of improving citizens' lives. And the CETA is providing a prime example, as both Les Whittington and Andrea Rexer write that "buy local" policies which can serve as important economic stabilizers are being trashed at all levels of government.

- Finally, the CP reports on the Carbon Tracker Initiative's list of oil projects which are least likely to make a profit if prices aren't extremely high. (And it's well worth noting that many of the projects with the lowest likelihood of any return are also the ones with the most damaging environmental effects - including deepwater drilling as well as tar sands operations.) Meanwhile, Chris Mooney discusses the growing scientific case as to the dangers of fracking.

Musical interlude

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 20:13
Dinka - Elements (EDX Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 06:36
Assorted content to end your week.

- Glen McGregor reports on Michael Sona's conviction as part of the Cons' voter suppression in 2011. But both Michael den Tandt and Sujata Dey emphasize that Sona's conviction was based on his being only one participant in the wider Robocon scheme - and that Stephen Harper and company remain fully responsible for covering up the rest of it.

- Meanwhile, Carol Goar duly mocks Tony Clement's attempt to talk up open government while serving as one of the least accountable ministers in the most secretive Canadian government ever.

- And Justin Ling discusses the myriad of areas in which the Cons are signing away Canadian sovereignty through closed-door trade deals while refusing to admit to what they're doing. 

- David Sirota writes about Los Angeles' attempts to reverse credit swap arrangements which are handing hundreds of millions of dollars from the public to the financial sector - and points out in the process that the city spends more on giveaways to Wall Street than on its own roads.

- Mike de Souza exposes Alberta's sad publicity campaign intended to greenwash the tar sands - or at least muddy the waters in the U.S. But Bob Weber reports that long after that misinformation campaign intended to portray Alberta oil as well-regulated and environmentally responsible, Alberta's government is refusing to regulate pollution based on its assertion that it has no clue how to do so.

- Finally, David Gratzer examines the urgent need for stronger public policy on mental health:
Mental illness is a human tragedy. A patient – off work and sick with depression – recently told me what he missed most from his old life: the ability to laugh. Stuck in darkness, he wished to laugh again. Health-care professionals like me hear such things too often: stories of lost jobs, lost loves, lost years. A recent Danish study suggests that more than a third of the population will have some form of mental illness over their lifetime, with mood and anxiety disorders being the most common.

Mental illness is also a societal tragedy. By one estimate, 500,000 Canadians missed work today because of a mental health problem. The lost productivity and direct health expenses have an economic cost; in a recent analysis for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the value was pegged at $50-billion a year. Labour economist Richard Layard argues that such estimates are inherently conservative: Mental illness casts a long shadow, over our jails and emergency departments, with total costs of more than 8 per cent of a country’s GDP.

But if mental illness is devastating, common, and costly, there is good news. In many cases, it’s also highly treatable.
...
Yet studies show that people with mental illness routinely fall through the cracks. Only about 1 in 3 will get the health care they need. A pathetic paradox, then: Psychiatry has never been better able to help people yet many don’t get the help they need.

Pages