accidentaldeliberations

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If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.
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Tuesday Morning Links

il y a 1 heure 31 min
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dennis Howlett discusses what we lose when corporations are able to evade taxes, and points to some positive signs from the NDP in combating the flow of money offshore:
Federal and provincial governments lose an estimated $7.8 billion in tax revenues each year because of tax havens. The scale of the problem gets larger while the federal government cuts back on health care, food safety, rail inspections, the CBC and more.

True fiscal stewardship would recognize that staunching the flow of money offshore is the better solution. Canadian taxpayers pay the price when the CRA doesn't follow the money.
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There are some hopeful beginnings. Earlier this year, NDP National Revenue critic Murray Rankin proposed new legislation that would make it easier for government and the courts to crack down on those who are playing the system.

Rankin's bill focuses on proving "economic substance." Corporations must be able to prove a transaction has economic purpose aside from reducing the amount of tax owed. Setting up a storefront office in Cayman Islands or Switzerland and then sending large invoices back to the Canadian head office charging "management" or "licensing fees" would no longer be acceptable. Make no mistake -- there are a lot of Bay Street lawyers getting very rich taking advantage of this existing black hole in Canada's Income Tax Act.

Rankin consulted on this legislation with internationally known tax expert Robert McMechan. The Ottawa-based McMechan is the author of a recent book, Economic Substance and Tax Avoidance. He points out that the U.S, Australia and the U.K. are among the countries that have drawn the line between legitimate tax minimization and unacceptable tax avoidance. - Karen Kamp interviews Deepak Bhargava about some ways to make the case to fight against poverty:
Americans who are struggling do not see themselves in abstract language like “the poor” or “poverty.” This is partly because such language is seen as quite pejorative in America. To be poor is to have failed in pursuit of the American Dream. In too many ways, people who are poor are reviled. The first thing we need to do is stop blaming people and start talking about their real lives.
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The entry point is connecting with common lived experiences such as not being paid enough to cover the bills, making difficult tradeoffs between basic necessities, inadequate or irregular work hours or not being able to save for retirement or college. Then you have to quickly connect it to shared values. In our research, the most powerful value was family — not only do people identify family as a primary identity but it is the fear or reality of not being able to provide enough for family members that motivates people to get into the debate or take action.
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Phrases like “struggling to make ends meet,” “living on the brink,” “working for family” describe lived experience and not identity. They also have the added benefit of crossing supposed class lines. At this point in the Great Recession, it’s become the norm to live paycheck to paycheck — whether those paychecks cover a trailer home or a two story colonial in the burbs. Thus, even if people self-identify as “lower middle class,” these tested messages resonate.  - But then, as Joshua Sager notes, even the U.S.' general public is already broadly in favour of progressive policies - meaning that the greatest challenge is to translate that actual policy preference into political outcomes.

- Meanwhile, Stephanie Coontz discusses the new instability facing working families, while Emad Ahdavi highlights the threat to our long-term economic development posed by youth unemployment and underemployment. And Zach McDade offers some suggestions as to new investments which can both create jobs and address glaring social needs.

- Finally, Evgeny Morozov asks whether "algorithmic regulation" might render politics obsolete while effectively handing even more control over citizens' lives to the corporate sector. But I'd think there's a sharp distinction to be drawn between data-based governance and corporate-based governance - and a strong preference the former as distinct from the latter could actually encourage meaningful debate about the goals we ultimately want our governments to pursue.

Monday Morning Links

lun, 07/28/2014 - 07:13
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Danyaal Raza and Edward Xie write that a well-designed city environment can make all the difference in enabling individuals to live healthy lives:
What if city council took our health into account when designing neighbourhoods? An idea gaining favour in major cities around the world is “complete streets,” a city-planning concept that promotes development of streets usable by all citizens, whether they are pedestrians, cyclists, drivers or transit users. As things stand now, getting to schools, parks and stores without a car is only a dream for residents without the lush tree cover, dense transit networks and regularly spaced traffic crossings of downtown.

The science is clear: people are more likely to walk to a store if it can be reached within five to 10 minutes, while those who spent more time travelling by car had a greater likelihood of being obese. All it takes, according to a new international study, is an extra 2,000 steps a day — about 20 minutes of walking — to reduce heart attacks and strokes by 8 per cent in people at risk for diabetes. It should be no surprise, then, that building walkable neighbourhoods can discourage sprawl and prevent diabetes and its complications.
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Some innovative solutions already exist; in fact, Toronto has been a Canadian leader by creating the Toronto Food Policy Council in 1990 and adopting the bold Toronto Food Charter in 2001. The city already supports the FoodShare organization to bring grocery stands, school meals and inexpensive fresh food via mobile markets to residents who need them.

Still more can be done. A prosperous city is nourished by healthy, productive citizens. We need visionary city planning to remedy these problems with rational zoning, support for community initiatives and a city council that takes health seriously. - Meanwhile, Lynn Stuart Paramore argues that a four-day work week can be a plus for both employee well-being and employer outcomes.

- Lydia DePillis discusses how inequality can snowball, as exorbitant wealth drives up the price (and expected returns) from a limited set of positional goods. And Joyce Nelson looks at credit rating agencies as an example of big money seeking to perpetuate itself by imposing policies on everybody else.

- Will Horter wonders whether the Cons' determination to push pipelines and tankers will drive B.C. voters to seek new alternatives.

- Finally, Gerry Caplan sees a basic lack of decency as one of the defining features of the Cons. Which is why we shouldn't be surprised that Therese Casgrain - having fought for such causes as feminism, voting rights and social democracy - is being furiously erased from Canadian history in favour of further Harper hagiography.

Sunday Morning Links

dim, 07/27/2014 - 10:12
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Pierre Beaulne discusses the inequality-related problems and solutions brought into the spotlight by Thomas Piketty, and notes that they can't simply be swept under the rug:
When all is said and done, the capitalist globalization has boosted economic growth for a certain time, but has by the same token greatly increased income inequalities and exacerbated wealth concentration. Tax breaks for the highest incomes and social spending cuts have intensified the trend. In Canada, for instance, the top marginal income tax rate at the federal level has gone down from 43% in 1981 to 29% in 2010, leaving more room for high-income individuals to accumulate wealth. Worldwide, the situation is so alarming that the World Economic Forum, which can certainly not be suspected of entertaining pinko tendencies, has recognized severe income inequalities to be the main social risk in its 2011 annual report Global Risks.

Thomas Piketty’s theories are obviously subject to debate, but the conclusions which he draws throughout his work and that of his associates don’t come out of left field. On the contrary, they support and enrich our understanding of numerous previous observations. His book’s success might be due to the fact that people are looking for explanations: they are unable to reconcile news of economic performance with their own financial situation, which has never before involved so much debt. For the common good, the trends identified must lead to changes in regulation and in the direction taken by governments in their economic and tax policies. Denial is not a sustainable option.- Which isn't to say some governments won't prefer denial as a temporary option on all kinds of issues. And in a prime example, the CP reports on the Cons' refusal to include fracking chemicals on a list of pollutants (since that might serve as the basis to measure and regulate their effect on the environment).

- Marc Spooner writes that it's entirely legitimate to maintain pride in one's home while recognizing that there's room to improve - and highlights how greater focus on eliminating all kinds of inequalities would create a better Regina. And Susan Delacourt notes that we should expect politicians too to tell us the truth, rather than simply saying what's most politically convenient at a particular moment:
A couple of months ago, I spent an afternoon walking through Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood with NDP candidate Joe Cressy and municipal councillor Mike Layton, campaigning in the Trinity-Spadina byelection.

Along the way, Layton was encountering shop owners or other citizens venting their concerns and complaints about local affairs. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he didn’t just tell them they were right — he pushed back, politely and respectfully, when he thought their views or facts were off-base.

It was a demonstration of the difference between simple, “retail politics” and authentic political dialogue.

Sometimes the customers — let’s call them citizens — aren’t always right. Sometimes, when they’re really wrong, the best reply is a little less oxygen or a little more sunlight. - Meanwhile, one of Stephen Harper's long-departed spinmeisters makes it absolutely clear that the Cons aren't interested in anything of the sort - preferring being crooked as part of their jobs to dealing honestly with the public:
But the worst part of my job was having to promote and defend policies I didn’t agree with personally. When that happened, you had to do your job and toe the party line.

Don’t shed a tear, because it didn’t happen much, at least not on issues that were core to the agenda, but consider yourself fortunate if you never have to look at a camera and argue with all of your heart for something you don’t believe in. Especially when, as happens in politics, you are standing on some thin intellectual ice.

Oh, how journalists loved it when they had you in that position. “Andrew,” they’d say, “surely you don’t believe that.”

Maybe not, but it didn’t matter what I believed. I wasn’t elected. The government had an agenda and it was my job to talk about it.
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Parties — and leaders — are imperfect. And so that means as a spokesperson you’ll have to go out there and occasionally fire crooked arrows, sometimes at targets you don’t believe in or care about. - Finally, Rachel Malena-Chan argues that rather than forcing families to allocate a single leave period between two parents, a separate paid leave should be available to a secondary parent.

Saturday Morning Links

sam, 07/26/2014 - 10:05
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Deirdre Fulton discusses the UN's 2014 Human Development Report, featuring recognition that precarious jobs and vulnerable workers are all too often the norm regardless of a country's level of development or high-end wealth. And as Dylan Matthews points out (h/t to David Atkins), the lack of worker benefits from increased corporate wealth figures to make a guaranteed annual income into a logical solution:
So here's my takeaway: a negative income tax or basic income of sufficient size would, by definition, eliminate poverty. We still don't know if there'd be much of a cost in terms of people working and earning less. If there is, the effect is almost certainly small enough that a negative income tax can offset the lost earnings and remain affordable. The worst case scenario is that we eliminate poverty but see a modest decline in employment. The best case scenario is we eliminate poverty at even lower cost and don't see much of an effect on employment. That's a gamble I'm willing to take. - Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson points out that the supposed job recovery following the 2008 recession has been far less than advertised. And Angella MacEwen writes that we should see the steady flow of funds from EI premiums into general revenue as an indication that too many people are being denied benefits - particularly when a strong majority of unemployed Canadians aren't benefiting from a program they helped to fund.

- Tom Henheffer questions why the Canada Revenue Agency is being pushed by the Cons to attack progressive charities, particularly when it's being starved of resources to do its job of actually collecting revenue. Heather Mallick takes a closer look at the CRA's intrusion on Oxfam in particular. And Lana Payne sees the crackdown on charities as part of the Cons' general pattern of silencing any dissenting voices:
Binders full of enemies? Let’s try libraries.

The government has, for all intents and purposes, successfully defunded Canada’s advocacy movement — well, those advocates that disagree with them anyway, like women’s rights and child-care activists, environmental and scientific researchers. They have eliminated funding for roundtable consensus-building initiatives as well as non-governmental organizations dedicated to promoting human rights and equality for women around the globe.

The list is long and depressing.

The government has used, or rather abused, its power in so many ways that Canadians have perhaps grown immune to the attacks on democracy and civil society.
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Sadly, we have a government that relishes divisions abroad and at home. Divisions create opportunities.

Consider its aggressive attack on anyone and everyone who disagrees with their ideology or policy — charities, unions, feminists, environmentalists, scientists and academics.

And yet when Harper was in opposition, he had an entirely different view of dissent and democracy: “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern,” he said.

That time is now for his government.- But Scott Feschuk suggests we should be a bit more understanding of a figurehead who's so plainly at the mercy of his minions (at least until he's thrown them under various large vehicles).

- Finally, Ryan Meili explains why we shouldn't accept simplistic arguments to the effect that we should run our health care system more like a veterinary clinic (or indeed a European system facing different challenges).

Musical interlude

ven, 07/25/2014 - 19:43
Yuri Kane - Right Back

Friday Morning Links

ven, 07/25/2014 - 07:21
Assorted content to end your week.

- Nicholas Kristof offers a primer on inequality in the U.S., while the Washington Post reports that a think tank looking to fund research into the issue couldn't find a single conservative willing to discuss it. And PressProgress highlights the OECD's finding that the prosperity gap stands to get a lot worse in the U.S. and Canada alike absent some significant change in course to improve the lot of the 99%:
Increasing levels of economic inequality are the “new normal” and we can expect them to get worse, not better.

That’s the key takeaway from a recent study on long-run levels of income growth in Canada, Australia and the United States published by the OECD.

The study highlights the explosive rise of incomes in the top 1% over the last 30 years, and their growing share as compared to the bottom 90% and 99%. Authored by eminent Canadian economist and Broadbent Fellow Lars Osberg, it argues “there is no natural upper bound to the real incomes of the top 1% and thus no natural upper bound to their income gap with median households.”

Similar to the findings of French economist Thomas Piketty and the OECD, Osberg suggests that the balanced growth of the post-World War II era, which produced a more stable and fairer income distribution, bucked a broader trend in which inequality accumulates and deepens over generations. - Suresh Naidu, Yaw Nyarko and Shing-Yi Wang document (PDF) how tying a worker to a single employer - as the Cons continue to do through the temporary foreign worker program - serves to suppress wages. And Grace Macaluso reports on the role anti-poverty groups are playing in pushing for a living wage in Windsor.

- Meanwhile, in what's surely unrelated news, the Cons' CRA intimidation includes a new position that charities are no longer permitted to work on preventing poverty.

- Don Cayo writes about the dangers of allowing a government to intimidate critics into silence. And Steve Sullivan reminds us of the role public interest groups rightly play in ensuring that individual rights are protected:
The courts play an essential role in our democracy by interpreting and applying the laws passed by government — acting as both check and balance on the other two branches of government, the executive and legislative. No true democracy anywhere in the world gives governments unlimited powers. In Canada, the job of the courts is to make sure that what the government does is consistent with the charter and the Constitution. Our legal rights mean precisely nothing if governments can override them simply by passing a law.

Time and again, Canadians have told parties and pollsters that they treasure the Charter of Rights — that it’s part of the bedrock of our society, something that unites us. Harper probably doesn’t agree; his government pointedly refused to celebrate the 25th and 30th anniversaries of the charter’s ascent into law, while blowing millions of dollars to commemorate a war none of us were alive to remember.
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Instead of moaning about special interest groups and activist judges, Mr. Albas might want to set aside his copy of the PMO talking points and actually read what the judges are saying. They called the government’s policy on health care for refugees “cruel and unusual”. They protected safe injection sites because the evidence shows they’re saving lives. They ruled the prostitution laws the government defended were unconstitutional because they put sex workers in danger.
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When Mr. Harper thought his charter rights were being violated, he stood on his rights as a Canadian citizen and took the state to court. If the court route was good enough for him, it should be good enough for the rest of us. - Finally, Scott Harris notes that while decades of constant pro-trade propaganda may have turned support for trade agreements into a default position, Canadians strongly oppose most of the actual details of CETA (among other deals).

New column day

jeu, 07/24/2014 - 07:58
Here, looking at the sad similarities between Regina and Detroit, and noting that the crucial step we should take to avoid the latter's humanitarian tragedy is to fund our commitments to workers and residents while we have the means to do so.

For further reading...
- Tom McKay and Wallace Turbeville each discuss how the decision to run Detroit under corporate principles made a bad financial situation far worse.
- Jon Swaine reports on the recent move to shut off water for up to 100,000 residents. Monica Davey writes about the vote to slash already-meager pensions. And Dominic Rushe reports on the city's new arena costs, while Bill Bradley highlights the absurdity of a bankrupt city nonetheless finding a way to shovel free money toward a billionaire sports team owner. 
- Finally, CBC reports on the threatened termination of the City of Regina's pension plan. And the Leader-Post weighs in on the need to actually address the issue - though its contrast between workers and beneficiaries and the "longsuffering taxpayer" (who was apparently supposed to fund a new stadium without having that suffering taken into account) seems to me to signal the wrong desired outcome.

Thursday Morning Links

jeu, 07/24/2014 - 07:04
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda McQuaig criticizes the Cons' use of the tax system to try to silence charities who don't match their political message:
PEN now joins Amnesty International, the David Suzuki Foundation, Canada Without Poverty, the United Church and other groups that, having criticized an array of Harper policies, have been obliged to devote precious resources to defending themselves from a special probe of charities ordered by the Harper government.

This beefing-up of tax audits of charities is particularly striking when compared to Harper’s laid-back approach to auditing the real bad guys: corporations and citizens using offshore tax havens to cheat the government out of billions of dollars in revenue.

Indeed, the allocation of an extra $13 million to carry out audits of charities has taken place even as the government slashes the overall Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) budget by $250 million over three years and lays off hundreds of auditors.
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Internal CRA documents, obtained under access-to-information by Sen. Percy Downe, reveal that an infusion of $30 million by Ottawa in 2005 to counter “aggressive international tax planning” resulted in the collection of an extra $2.5 billion over four years.

By contrast, putting extra resources into auditing charities will almost certainly produce no additional revenue.
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(W)hile there aren’t enough auditors to go after many of the wealthy Canadian corporations and individuals hiding money offshore, the government managed to find two auditors to spend three days this week at PEN’s little Toronto office — the beginning of an audit that will go on for many months. The Harperites may be inept at using audits to collect vast sums of revenue hidden by the rich — but they sure know how to beat up on defenceless groups trying to promote the public good.- And Dean Beeby breaks the news that the Cons aren't satisfied going after charitable organizations, and instead want to be able to compile their own list of individual donors as well. But there is some push for disclosure where it's actually needed as a check on undue institutional influence, as MoveOn is calling for corporate spending in U.S. politics to be subject to public scrutiny.

- Bill Curry reports on the C.D. Howe Institute's recommendation that the federal government focus on economic development rather than deficit scolding - with Joe Oliver naturally responding that he has no interest in job creation if it might conflict with his political goals. And Rick Goldman comments on the futility of using austerity policies in the name of fighting deficits when they ultimately cause more harm than good even by that measure.

- Steven Chase discusses the latest application of the Baird Doctrine that bluster matters more than action in foreign policy - as a much-trumpeted aid announcement for the Ukraine four months ago has led to zero actual contribution from Canada.

- Finally, David Atkins connects the U.S.' drift to the right with participation in party primaries - as the Tea Party and other right-wing groups have driven Republican turnout (and thus policy oriented toward its base) while Democrats have been increasingly staying on the sidelines over the past 40 years:
When conservatives don't get what they want, they tend to double down at the ballot box. When progressives don't get what they want, many of us tend to storm away and fantasize about engaging the system outside of electoral politics somehow. This is part of why conservatives have been successful in moving the country to right.

I've brought these points up again and again. Politicians don't care about people who don't vote, and the Tea Party gets coddled because they actually vote in primaries and Democrats tend not to.

But, of course, Democratic politicians also bear a lot of the blame. It's awfully hard to get motivated to vote when you know that not much is going to change regardless of the outcome.

Even so, you can't lay the entire blame for the problem at the feet of centrist corporate Democrats. The trend toward lower turnout started in 1970, hardly the heyday of the DLC. Yes, Democratic politicians need to do a better job of advancing progressive priorities and building base enthusiasm. But progressive voters also need to come out and actually vote, too.

Wednesday Evening Links

mer, 07/23/2014 - 19:03
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Vineeth Sekharan debunks the myth that a job represents a reliable path out of poverty, while reminding us that there's one policy choice which could eradicate poverty altogether:
A job alone does not guarantee freedom from poverty. In fact, in 2012, at least one member of the household was employed in a staggering 44% of all poor households. Even in situations where an individual is employed, there may still be the need for income supplements, as well as educational and employment supports.

This is partially because of the monumental changes that have occurred in the Canadian marketplace. The growing trend that continues to emerge is precarious employment: a decline in the number of well-paid jobs, and an increase in both lower-paying jobs and temporary employment. The infographic provides an example of how an individual working part-time, at minimum wage, falls below the poverty line. Temporary employment, by its very nature, often results in incomes that are unpredictable, making households more prone to suffering from fluctuations in income. In households where families and individuals are living paycheque to paycheque, these trends are direct contributors to family poverty.

Income supplements are essential to lifting families above the poverty line. While the idea of implementing guaranteed annual incomes (GAIs) has been around for decades, it has recently resurged as a result of the rising costs associated with dealing with the symptoms of poverty rather than its causes. GAI refers to various proposals that look to implement a guaranteed minimum income for Canadians, related to the concept of a negative income tax. GAIs will provide struggling Canadians with some security from income shock. - Meanwhile, Bryce Covert points out that there's no correlation between lavish CEO pay and business performance.

- The CLC makes the case for more paid vacation time (one of the areas where Saskatchewan can be proud to be ahead of Canada's other jurisdictions) - while pointing out that workers can often win that through collective bargaining even if governments can't be bothered:
If you think you don't get enough vacation, you're right. Canada is in the bottom three of the world’s richest countries for the minimum number of paid vacation days employees are entitled to receive under the law. Every major industrialized country in the world – Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark just to name a few – all have legislation giving workers at least four weeks paid vacation time. The International Labour Organization (ILO) recommends that the period of paid vacation shouldn't be less than three weeks for one year of service.

For unionized workers, negotiations have helped the majority achieve at least the ILO recommended minimum. The great majority of unionized workers get at least three weeks of paid vacation time, and 70% get four weeks after a longer period of service. One in three unionized workers gets five weeks of paid vacation but that is typically received only after 15 years of service.- Mike de Souza reports on the Cons' attempt to suppress internal documentation showing the Canadian Environmental Network to be a valuable public resource before it was summarily axed by the Harper government - presumably for the crime of doing good work on environmental issues. And PressProgress discusses how the Cons worked to manipulate Canadians into accepting tax baubles they didn't otherwise want.

- Finally, Scott Sinclair highlights the problems with investor-state dispute settlement which takes trade dispute out of fair and transparent court systems, and argues that such mechanisms should be eliminated from trade agreements involving the EU.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

mar, 07/22/2014 - 19:37
Expressive cats.



Tuesday Morning Links

mar, 07/22/2014 - 08:16
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Sarah Jaffe examines the "bad business fee" proposal which would require employers who pay wages below public assistance levels - receiving work while forcing the public to subsidize their employees' livelihood - to at least make up the difference:
As inequality has become a hot-button issue, the solutions on offer tend to focus either on taxing the extremely wealthy or on raising workers’ wages. What makes the bad business fee particularly attractive is that it does both of those things. It makes the connection conceptually between the low wages at the bottom of the work chain and the outsized incomes at the top, and sets out both to punish companies that keep wages low, and to create value out of that punishment for the people struggling on low incomes.

In that way, the fee is win-win. If companies seek to avoid it, they end up doing something just as good for their employees, or even better. Martin says, “For me in particular, the better part is my boss may be thinking, ‘Well, I should just pay my employees better. I should just pay a living wage. I should just give Cliff some benefits.’”

To Liz Ryan Murray, policy director at NPA, the bad business fee bridges the issues of workers’ rights and taxpayers’ rights. Often conversations around public benefits get mired down in arguments about deficits and the cost to the taxpayer, ignoring the value of the programs to the people who depend on them and rarely conceiving of “the taxpayer” as a low-wage worker herself. But, Murray notes, on this issue there’s no way to split them apart — the taxpayer and the worker have the same interest in seeing big companies pay their fair share.- And Truthout notes that corporate bureaucracy tends to be far more harmful than anything found in the public sector - as a similar tendency toward complexity is paired with both a lack of accountability, and a profit motive which can be at odds with any attempt to actually meet the the needs of customers:
If I had had a problem with a government bureaucracy, like the Veterans Administration or the Social Security Administration, I could have called my senator or my congressman and they would have given hell to those agencies on behalf of me. I could lobby Congress to change the way they do things, the way vets are today successfully lobbying for changes in the VA.

But if I had stood outside of my cell phone company's headquarters and protested, they could have had me arrested for trespassing.

That's the difference between government bureaucracies and corporate bureaucracies.

Government bureaucracies are ultimately answerable to "We the People" and our elected representatives. It's called "the American system of government."

Corporate bureaucracies, on the other hand, are ultimately only answerable to their shareholders, who don't give a rat's patootie if the company they own screws their customers because that means more money in their pockets.- Adrien Schless-Meier points out that grocery stores are among the worst offenders both in paying poverty-level wages, and relying on public subsidies for employees. 

- Meanwhile, Jonathan Timm writes that employer orders not to talk about salaries tend to serve only to drive them down (while also preserving historical inequalities in the workplace). And that fits all too well with the apparent link between CEO pay disclosure and soaring executive salaries.

- Dr. Dawg discusses how the Cons are treating the CRA - like the bully pulpit that comes with power - as a tool to attack charities which dare to speak about issues which don't fit their political agenda. And the CP's list of charities facing audits seems to confirm that only progressive voices are being singled out for scrutiny.

- Finally, Daniel Tencer highlights the age-based wealth gap in Canada - as younger Canadians won't see the benefit of past increases in stock and housing values, but will instead face higher prices to try to save anything at all.

Monday Morning Links

lun, 07/21/2014 - 07:45
Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Paul Krugman calls out the U.S.' deficit scolds for continuing to invent a crisis to distract from the real problems with middling growth and high unemployment. And Bruce Johnstone singles out a few of the Cons' talking points which have somehow become conventional wisdom without having an iota of truth to them. But in case there was any doubt why the Cons aren't being exposed to their own patent wrongness, William Watson's (hardly people-friendly) column explains why - as Jack Mintz manages to qualify as the least corporate-biased member of a hand-picked budget advisory group.

- David Cay Johnston discusses how California is thoroughly disproving the claim that high-end tax increases have any negative impact on growth, as the state is actually thriving after passing significant tax increases through a referendum. And David Climenhaga points to the astroturf groups lobbying for increased exploitation of temporary foreign workers as a prime example of how zombie lies are kept undead:
(I)t cannot be mere coincidence that in almost every case the main groups calling for more TFWs turn out to have a long history of anti-union advocacy. In some cases, before the TFW issue came along, their sole purpose was attacking the right of working people to bargain collectively.

This web of anti-union advocacy groups includes the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Restaurants Canada, the Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada, the Merit Contractors Association, “Working Canadians,” and the Canadian Labour Watch Association.

Even the mysterious National Citizens Coalition, the granddaddy of all Canadian far-right AstroTurf groups, once headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, puts in a cameo appearance in this convoluted tale!

Each of these groups is not forthcoming about its finances and, it is reasonable to conclude given their purported mandates to represent to represent a different segment of the Canadian economy from “taxpayers,” to restaurant owners, to ordinary working stiffs who just want a little “freedom” in their workplace, is deceptive about its true objectives.
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The links among this well-established network of anti-union agitators have been obvious for many years.

That the same players who hold the most virulently anti-union views and the most offensive opinions about the supposed shortcomings of Canadian workers should turn out to be the loudest advocates, and in some places the only advocates, for the TFW Program suggests the true agenda behind the vociferous TFW lobby.

It is quite apparent the goals of the Canadian Taxpayers Association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, and the various trade associations involved are to weaken the bargaining power of Canadian families (including many of their own naïve members), keep wages low, keep all workers vulnerable and re-elect the Harper Government.- Meanwhile, Bill Tieleman discusses how the B.C. Liberals are using their latest deliberately-provoked confrontation with teachers to try to push a for-profit education model.

- Abrahm Lustgarten reports that after being told that there are no risks whatsoever to fracking, U.S. residents are learning otherwise the hard way:
Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation's geology as an invisible dumping ground.

No company would be allowed to pour such dangerous chemicals into the rivers or onto the soil. But until recently, scientists and environmental officials have assumed that deep layers of rock beneath the earth would safely entomb the waste for millennia.

There are growing signs they were mistaken.
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The boom in oil and natural gas drilling is deepening the uncertainties, geologists acknowledge. Drilling produces copious amounts of waste, burdening regulators and demanding hundreds of additional disposal wells. Those wells — more holes punched in the ground — are changing the earth's geology, adding man-made fractures that allow water and waste to flow more freely.
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A ProPublica review of well records, case histories and government summaries of more than 220,000 well inspections found that structural failures inside injection wells are routine. From late 2007 to late 2010, one well integrity violation was issued for every six deep injection wells examined — more than 17,000 violations nationally. More than 7,000 wells showed signs that their walls were leaking. Records also show wells are frequently operated in violation of safety regulations and under conditions that greatly increase the risk of fluid leakage and the threat of water contamination.

Structurally, a disposal well is the same as an oil or gas well. Tubes of concrete and steel extend anywhere from a few hundred feet to two miles into the earth. At the bottom, the well opens into a natural rock formation. There is no container. Waste simply seeps out, filling tiny spaces left between the grains in the rock like the gaps between stacked marbles.- Finally, USA Today rightly questions why we allow big pharma to name its price for needed medications (even as we set up byzantine legal structures to protect the resulting profits).

Sunday Morning Links

dim, 07/20/2014 - 08:34
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Mariana Mazzucato writes about the need for governments to shape markets through their own investments, rather than acting only to serve existing business interests:
The idea that at best the public sector can fix "market failures" and "de-risk" business, means that when the banks become too active in an area, they are accused of "crowding out" the private sector. That is, of taking up too big of a share of total investments (all of which in the end must be financed from savings). While some Keynesians defend such investments by arguing they actually "crowd in" – ie, government investments increase the total pie through the spending multiplier – this defence only captures half the story. Even in the boom there are plenty of areas that private finance does not dare tread. The internet was funded by public money in boom times, as were biotech and nanotech. And even if we were in a boom today, there would still be little private finance in those capital-intensive high-risk areas of clean tech.

There is a more interesting argument to justify such banks. What public spending/investment is needed for is not to fix markets but to actively shape and create them. As Keynes argued in 1926: "The important thing for government is not to do things which individuals are doing already, and to do them a little better or a little worse; but to do those things which at present are not done at all."

Rather than judge public investments as if they are acting upon existing markets, we must admit that this is their role: to create and shape markets. This should lead to indicators of performance for such public investments that capture their "mission-oriented" role.

Today's challenge is thus not only to activate the public sector, but rethink its role. I have organised practitioners from public R&D agencies and public financial institutions from all over the world to meet this week to discuss this challenge in the Commons, hosted by Vince Cable. Hopefully, it will help change the conversation. The problem is not about "fixing finance" while leaving the real economy sick, but how to change the framework to one in which socio-economic challenges can be addressed, by public and private actors alike. And key to all is admitting that the public side can be transformational. But only once it is released from the shackles of defunct thinking. - David Atkins calls out business groups for threatening to discard employees who dare to ask for a living wage, while highlighting how that campaign only shows that we shouldn't make a reasonable standard of living contingent on serving a corporate master at all:
The fact remains that within one year a bunch of server jobs will be gone because restaurants will replace order-taking with tablets. Within a decade or two we won't need truck or cab drivers anymore. IBM can already diagnose cancer five times better than doctors. The flattening of the teaching profession will continue apace as the technology and techniques behind MOOCs continue to improve. 3D printing will render much of what manufacturing remains obsolete. Anything requiring mid-level management or analysis will be done better by computer within two decades at the max, and probably sooner.

Pushing for a higher minimum wage is important. But ultimately we're going to have to decouple human dignity from "having a job." There just won't be enough jobs to go around, and tweaking the tax rates of super-wealthy just won't cut it at a certain point.- Meanwhile, Lauren Sandler discusses the U.S.' (damaging) fall to the bottom of the developed world in the availability of paid parental leave - even as evidence accumulates that such leave is ultimately a valuable investment.

- CBC reports that the City of Regina's consistent neglect of its pension obligations might result in retirees having their livelihood pulled out from under them. And Michael Smyth points out that while B.C. imposes wage limits on the vast majority of public-sector workers, it has no trouble finding money to fund under-the-table giveaways to top executives.

- Finally, Dean Beeby reports on the continued disconnect between the Cons' austerity agenda and the views of Canadians - including the ones specifically asked for their input into the federal budget, whose desire to prioritize health care and education over pipeline cheerleading was once again ignored.

Saturday Morning Links

sam, 07/19/2014 - 08:44
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz writes that while we should expect natural resources to result in broad-based prosperity, Australia (much like Canada) is now turning toward the U.S. model of instead directing as much shared wealth as possible toward the privileged few:
There is something deeply ironic about Abbott’s reverence for the American model in defending many of his government’s proposed “reforms.” After all, America’s economic model has not been working for most Americans. Median income in the US is lower today than it was a quarter-century ago – not because productivity has been stagnating, but because wages have.
The Australian model has performed far better. Indeed, Australia is one of the few commodity-based economies that has not suffered from the natural-resource curse. Prosperity has been relatively widely shared. Median household income has grown at an average annual rate above 3% in the last decades – almost twice the OECD average.
To be sure, given its abundance of natural resources, Australia should have far greater equality than it does. After all, a country’s natural resources should belong to all of its people, and the “rents” that they generate provide a source of revenue that could be used to reduce inequality. And taxing natural-resource rents at high rates does not cause the adverse consequences that follow from taxing savings or work (reserves of iron ore and natural gas cannot move to another country to avoid taxation). But Australia’s Gini coefficient, a standard measure of inequality, is one-third higher than that of Norway, a resource-rich country that has done a particularly good job of managing its wealth for the benefit of all citizens....Australia should be proud of its successes, from which the rest of the world can learn a great deal. It would be a shame if a misunderstanding of what has happened in the US, combined with a strong dose of ideology, caused its leaders to fix what is not broken.    - Meanwhile, Julian Beltrame reports that Canada's combination of corporate tax giveaways and gutting regulations has done nothing to change stagnant business investment. (Though as Armine Yalnizyan notes, that's sadly accompanied by the C.D. Howe Institute insisting on more of the same failed corporatist policies.) Don Pittis writes that stagnant wages are leaving Canadian workers with nothing to show for economic growth. And Dennis Howlett's mild optimism about Ontario's single-year budget is more than outweighed by his recognition that Ontarians are far worse off for decades of austerity and tax slashing:
For years now, Ontario governments (both Liberal and Progressive Conservative) have been inflicting austerity policies while failing to comprehensively collect revenue from large corporations and the wealthy. This sloppy fiscal management persisted - long after it was obvious that it just doesn't work.

Cuts to public services have caused a lot of pain and not much gain in terms of reducing deficits. Those cuts also boosted unemployment, slowed economic recovery and reduced tax revenue.

We can no longer afford the steep price tag that comes with avoiding revenue side solutions. Governments need to be clear about the real costs of tax cuts and loopholes.
...
After so much tax cutting, Ontario kick starting a $1 billion reversal is a pretty small step. But it is a step in the right direction. But further steps in this direction are needed in the next budget, including possibly some modest but broader income tax increases.

There's a caveat though.

Boosting taxes on the rich and on corporations will not result in more revenue if governments don't close tax loopholes and take stronger measures to go after tax cheats. On this front too, though there were some encouraging words in the Ontario budget:

"Reducing corporate tax avoidance and closing tax loopholes is a priority for the Ontario government. The government supports the principle that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes, including corporations."

Word is that Ontario government will be pushing the federal government and the Canada Revenue Agency to step up their efforts. This is welcome news. Each and every Canadian province loses revenue from corporate tax avoidance schemes that take advantage of tax loopholes and offshore tax havens. It is time for a strong stand by all provinces at the premiers meeting scheduled for August. They can no longer avoid tackling what has become a chronic problem. - Stephan Lefebvre points out how yet another set of free-trade spin is based on flat-out lies about the effect of NAFTA.

- Ethel Tungohan highlights the absurdity of the Cons' temporary foreign worker tinkering which does nothing at all to help actual workers of any kind:
If Kenney and Alexander truly want to protect temporary foreign workers from abuse, they would include robust measures that take into account the reality of these workers’ lives.

Workplace audits should be accompanied by a guarantee that abused temporary foreign workers will not be deported and will be given jobs in other companies for the duration of their stay in Canada.

Temporary foreign workers should be given open work permits that tie them to a specific industry, but not to a specific employer to mitigate abuse.

And, most importantly, the Canadian government should recognize that temporary foreign workers provide important economic contributions to Canada. Like other immigrants, they come to provide for themselves and their families. They should be provided pathways to Canadian citizenship.

If they are good enough to work, they are good enough to stay.- Finally, today is another NDP Day of Action - this time focusing on climate change to celebrate Jack Layton's birthday. You can search for an event here - and I'll point out my home riding's canvass and barbecue in particular for anybody in Regina interested in getting involved.

Musical interlude

ven, 07/18/2014 - 19:18
Watchmen - All Uncovered

Friday Morning Links

ven, 07/18/2014 - 07:52
Assorted content to end your week.

- Robert Reich discusses the rise of the non-working rich as an indicator that extreme wealth has less and less to do with merit - as well as the simple policy steps which can reverse the trend:
In reality, most of America’s poor work hard, often in two or more jobs.

The real non-workers are the wealthy who inherit their fortunes. And their ranks are growing.

In fact, we’re on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history.

The wealth is coming from those who over the last three decades earned huge amounts on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, or as high-tech entrepreneurs.

It’s going to their children, who did nothing except be born into the right family.
...
What to do? First, restore the estate tax in full.

Second, eliminate the “stepped-up-basis on death” rule. This obscure tax provision allows heirs to avoid paying capital gains taxes on the increased value of assets accumulated during the life of the deceased. Such untaxed gains account for more than half of the value of estates worth more than $100 million, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Third, institute a wealth tax. We already have an annual wealth tax on homes, the major asset of the middle class. It’s called the property tax. Why not a small annual tax on the value of stocks and bonds, the major assets of the wealthy?

We don’t have to sit by and watch our meritocracy be replaced by a permanent aristocracy, and our democracy be undermined by dynastic wealth. We can and must take action — before it’s too late. - Meanwhile, Tim Stacey offers his own prescriptions to deal with income inequality. And the Economist looks at the relationship between wealth inequality, income inequality and consumption inequality - and the fact that all three are on the rise, refuting the claim that we shouldn't worry about wealth or income as long as consumer goods are distributed more fairly. 

- James Bloodworth points out that the few gains we've made against corporate greed were won by a strong labour movement. Brian Jones discusses the stagnation of the minimum wage in recent decades when labour has been under attack. And the Mowat Centre reminds us that the precarious federal government has siphoned tens of billions of dollars in EI premiums into general revenues - turning a program intended to benefit workers when they need help most into an excuse to slash taxes for the wealthy.

- Claire Markham sees a U.S. Congressional hearing as a prime example of how not to listen to people living in poverty. (Though not listening to the poor seems to be a widely-held skill on the right.) And Robin Whitaker reminds us why charity isn't enough to deal with social exclusion.

- Finally, Rick Salutin is right to decry the place of bond ratings agencies in trying to wrest control over public policy away from democratically-elected governments. But surely the subprime meltdown in which so many AAA-rated securities turned out to be junk should prevent us from believing for a second that "their sole criterion is the math" - meaning there's reason to doubt that statements about public budgets have anything to do with actual default risks rather than appealing to the financial sector's prejudices.

Thursday Afternoon Links

jeu, 07/17/2014 - 16:23
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Marc Lee looks in detail at the risks involved in relying on tar sands development as an economic model:
The UK outfit Carbon Tracker was the first to point out this means we are seeing a “carbon bubble” in our financial markets – that  fossil fuel companies, whose business model is the extraction of carbon, are over-valued on the stock markets of the world. This analysis was subsequently picked up by Bill McKibben in his now-famous article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying Math,” which launched the fossil fuel divestment movement, plus some local content by yours truly in a CCPA report called Canada’s Carbon Liabilities.

The latest from Carbon Tracker looks at planned capital investments in oil production around the world (future reports will look at coal and natural gas). These have different costs of extraction, leading to a “carbon supply cost curve” for oil production. Carbon Tracker argues that in a world of constrained carbon, it only makes economic sense that it will be the high cost suppliers that get cut out of the action.

This logic is bad news for Alberta’s tar sands, which are among the highest cost reserves. Using an oil and gas industry database, Carbon Tracker looks at a potential $1.1 trillion of capital expenditure on oil projects between 2014 and 2025 that require a price of at least US$95 per barrel market price ($80 break-even) – i.e. those projects most likely to not go ahead in a carbon-constrained world. They find that a very large share of these projects (nearly 40%) are tar sands projects in Alberta (see Figure 7 in particular).
...
For the most part, however, the underlying assumption of Canadian financial markets, including most Canadian pension funds, is that governments of the world will not get their act together, so there is no reason to pull out from fossil fuel investments. Some skepticism that governments will be able to reach a new deal is warranted, but the probability of them doing so is not zero either. But even in the absence of a global treaty, unilateral actions by Canada’s trading partners could impose de facto carbon constraints. Examples include the Keystone XL pipeline and European Fuel Quality directives.

There is a strong possibility that, sooner or later, Canada will be living in a carbon-constrained world, a development that would have significant (and, to date, widely ignored) economic implications. In this context, “responsible resource development” implies strategic management of fossil fuel reserves in order to maximize shared prosperity, within the context of a carbon budget. The good news is that Canadians have been bombarded with several decades of budget talk about “living within our means”  – now we just have to apply that to carbon. - But Sheila Pratt highlights some more examples of the oil industry trying to buy the public's silence when it comes to questioning unfettered oil exploitation. And the Council of Canadians notes that for now, Canada is instead trying to bully the EU and other international allies into delaying any steps to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

- Meanwhile, Justin Ling writes that yet another trade agreement side-effect - this time arising out of the TPP - looks to be far more intrusive surveillance by the U.S. and other foreign states.

- Joseph Stead reports that the corporate sector is laughing at the UK's honour-system plan to improve corporate accountability. And Julian Beltrame finds that the Cons' tall tales about mythical trade barriers have far more value as entertainment than as policy analysis.

- Finally, Steven Greenhouse writes that the U.S. is finally seeing some legislative efforts to give part-time workers some security and control over their time - including a few ideas along the lines of what I'd proposed for Saskatchewan here.

New column day

jeu, 07/17/2014 - 08:08
Here, on how the recent spate of Saskatchewan women being fired for getting pregnant represents only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gender inequality.

For further reading...
- The Leader-Post reported on the increase in pregnancy-related firings here. And its editorial board weighs in here.
- Oxfam's report referenced in the column is here (PDF). And again, Shannon Gormley's column on how we project to be a lifetime away from wage equality is worth read.
- Finally, Clive Crook discusses the need for early and consistent social support to end inequality of opportunity.

Wednesday Morning Links

mer, 07/16/2014 - 10:50
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The New York Times editorial board chimes in on how Kansas serves as an ideal test case as to illusory benefits of top-end tax cuts:
The 2012 cuts were among the largest ever enacted by a state, reducing the top tax bracket by 25 percent and eliminating all taxes on business profits that are reported on individual income returns. (No other state has ever eliminated all taxes on these pass-through businesses.) The cuts were arrogantly promoted by Mr. Brownback with the same disproven theory that Republicans have employed for decades: There will be no loss of revenue because of all the economic growth!
“Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” he wrote in 2012. “It will pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business.”
But the growth didn’t show up. Kansas, in fact, was one of only five states to lose employment over the last six months, while the rest of the country was improving. It has been below the national average in job gains for the three and half years Mr. Brownback has been in office. Average earnings in the state are down since 2012, and so is net growth in the number of registered businesses....The evidence of failure is piling up around Mr. Brownback, whose re-election campaign is faltering because of his mistake. Yet he continues to cling to his magical ideology, pleading for more time. “It’s like going through surgery,” he told The Wall Street Journal last month. “It takes a while to heal and get growing afterwards.”
But it’s not clear the patient can recover from this surgery — the reserve fund, in fact, is likely to nearly run dry next year. As Kansas has clearly shown, states cannot cut their way to prosperity. They need to use every tool of government to nurture growth, and those tools require money.- And in a similar vein, Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew reports on the growing recognition that Ontario will need some significant revenue increases to avoid the Wynne Libs' plan to sell off and slash public services.

- Meanwhile, Mark Serwotka duly mocks the claim that austerity reflect financial necessity rather than a desire to ensure that a still-expanding pie serves fewer and fewer people. Simon Tremblay-Pepin examines the effect of austerity in Quebec. And PressProgress connects the dots between more active government and happier people.

- Susan Wright discusses Alberta's farce of a climate change strategy - along with the minimal chance that a strong rebuke from the province's Auditor General will result in any change for the better.

- Finally, Dale Smith expands on the vital role played by political parties - and some of the steps needed to make sure they work as they're supposed to:
What people often forget is that parties represent different things in different arenas.  The parliamentary party is a facet that is important in the day-to-day operation of parliament, and serves some of the most crucial functions of all – maintaining confidence.  This is the underlying principle by which our system of Responsible Government operates – that the government of the day has the confidence of the Chamber, so that it can continue to govern.  It maintains confidence by means of arranging its followers into a party that will support it on matters of confidence – things like spending proposals or key government programs and foreign policy decisions.  It also means that the prime minister can continue to advise the Queen or Governor General, because he or she has the confidence of the Chamber.  So you can see why it’s a pretty big deal.
...
(I)n order to fix the problems, they require more engagement from people and not less.  The problem when no more than two percent of the population – one of the lowest rates in the democratic world – are members of a political party at any given time, is that it allows a small number of people within the party to exert undue influence.  This applies for things like policy development, candidate selection and nomination races – you need more people engaged, in order to push back against top-down control and to make themselves heard and to hold the party itself to account.
...
There is, however, a uniting factor in the problems that plague both the parliamentary and electoral party structures, which is the fact that a lack of civic literacy, combined with a lack of responsibility on the part of both voters and MPs, has created a system where everyone walks around going “not my problem.”  Voters don’t want to engage in parties, and MPs don’t want to claim their rights and responsibilities, seemingly more comfortable blaming others for their lack of action (not to mention backbone).  This was confirmed in the recent book The Tragedy of the Commons, which Delacourt also cited, but to a different conclusion.  What is most striking about that book is the way in which the former MPs that were interviewed were concerned with their own self-mythologizing, insisting that they were all outsiders to the system (almost to a single MP), and that the party made them do everything.  Except that each and every one of them could have said no.

What MPs and voters alike need is a crash course in civic literacy, so that they are armed with the knowledge that is necessary to push back against the power structures that have entrenched themselves in the leaders’ offices and party hierarchies.  You don’t like the way the party elite run things?  Ensure that you have a strong enough grassroots to push back.  You don’t like how the leader’s office treats MPs like puppets?  It only takes a handful of MPs to say no, because they can’t all be fired at once without some serious questions being raised.  All it takes is a little effort.  To simply declare that parties are the problem is facile and wrong, and abolishing them just throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

mar, 07/15/2014 - 20:34
Floored cats.





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