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No struggle for what you believe in is ever futile.
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Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 07:26
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jo Littler writes about the illusion of meritocracy, and how it has contributed to the unconscionable spread of inequality:
Over the past few decades, neoliberal meritocracy has been characterised by two key features. First, the sheer scale of its attempt to extend entrepreneurial competition into the nooks and crannies of everyday life. Second, the power it has gathered by drawing from 20th-century movements for equality. Meritocracy has been presented as a means of breaking down established hierarchies of privilege.
The fact is, meritocracy is a myth. Social systems that reward through wealth, and which increase inequality, don’t aid social mobility, and people pass on their privilege to their children. The Conservatives have made this situation far worse by raising the inheritance tax threshold. And their reintroduction of grammar schools would involve using extremely narrow educational measures to divide children and to privilege the already privileged (often with the help of expensive private tutors). As the geographer Danny Dorling has said, it is a system of “educational apartheid”.
It is not hard to see why people find the idea of meritocracy appealing: it carries with it the idea of moving beyond where you start in life, of creative flourishing and fairness. But all the evidence shows it is a smokescreen for inequality. As Trump, May and their supporters attempt to resurrect it, there has never been a better moment to bury meritocracy for ever. - Meanwhile, Luke Harding, Nick Hopkins and Caelainn Barr discuss how anonymous corporate structures facilitate corruption and tax evasion. And Sophia Harris reminds us of the Libs' broken promise to close the stock option loophole.

- Justine Hunter reports on the B.C. Libs' continued exploitation of massive corporate donations to try to cling to power, while David Ball reports on the connection between those donations and industry lobbyists. And Kai Nagata notes that we can add U.S. trophy hunters looking for the opportunity to kill grizzly bears to the list of dubious groups supporting Christy Clark.

- Damian Carrington points out the latest research from the World Meteorological Organisation showing how carbon pollution has pushed our climate into unprecedented extremes. Emily Atkin writes that the corporate-funded climate denial industry is expanding into denying the existence of air pollution in any form. And the CP reports on the latest oil spill into a key waterway near Bragg Creek, AB.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board rightly argues that the Trudeau Libs have done nothing to earn the public's trust when it comes to the federal government's obligations and responsibilities to First Nations - meaning that it's long past time to start funding fair services on reserve.

Leadership 2017 Links

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 16:32
This and that from the NDP's leadership campaign.

- Among the coverage of the first leadership debate which I hadn't linked before, Karl Nerenberg offers both a ranking and a review. And Yves Engler asks why the first debate largely avoided foreign policy issues - though there's still plenty of campaign left in which to address them.

- Jeremy Nuttall reports on Guy Caron's plan to build the NDP's economic credibility. Althia Raj writes about Sid Ryan's possible candidacy. Dr. Dawg comments on the (overwrought) controversy surrounding Niki Ashton's reference to a Beyoncé lyric, while Jonathon Naylor rightly highlights Ashton's progressive platform and activist focus. And Cheri DiNovo is optimistic that the NDP's new leadership will provide the democratic socialist alternative Canada needs.

- Charlie Angus writes about the importance of a government willing and able to stand up for workers.

- Finally, Alex Boutilier offers a reminder as to the surprising prelude to the current leadership campaign. And Dru Oja Jay discusses the importance of also looking for opportunities to build future leaders for Canada's progressive movement - and ensuring that the NDP is the party which embodies their values.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 09:02
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Josh Bivens explains why increased fairness would likely lead to improved overall growth for the U.S.' economy:
(O)ne key driver of slow productivity growth in recent years can be fixed: the remaining shortfall between aggregate demand and the economy’s productive potential. Running the economy far below potential for a long time has led to insufficient investment to sustain rapid productivity growth. One way to close this accumulated investment gap is, of course, to simply have fiscal policymakers boost public investment. And this should indeed be a response.

But another crucial response is to ensure that the labor market and wider economy run hot enough to force businesses to boost investment simply to meet growing demand. When this is done, policymakers also need to keep the recovery strong until real wages begin consistently rising. From a policy perspective this means keeping interest rates low and not prematurely raising them due to misguided fears of inflation. The inflationary impact of a pick-up in real wages is likely to be quite muffled by the faster investment and productivity growth that will follow.

As with all macroeconomic predictions, this one about productivity rising to meet wage growth could be wrong. But the downside risk of being wrong is relatively small; a couple of years of above-target price inflation as wages push up costs. Given the many years of below-target inflation, one hesitates to even call this a “downside” of a policy that has the economy going for growth. The downside risk of reining in demand before we even test the virtuous cycle of rising wages leading to rising productivity growth, however, is enormous. The decline in potential output for 2017 between what was forecast in 2007 and what is estimated now is almost $2 trillion. If half of this—$1 trillion—could be clawed back through a policy that runs the economy hot and leads to higher productivity growth, it will be an extraordinarily consequential policy choice.- André Magnan and Annette Aurélie Desmarais examine farmland investment patterns in Saskatchewan and find that outside money is making land unaffordable for residents.

- Jason Warick discusses not only Saskatchewan's missed opportunity to build a sovereign wealth fund, but also the choices which have frittered away a boom - including $6.6 billion in tax cuts which have accomplished nothing useful. And CBC highlights the workers who are now paying the price for Brad Wall's bad governance, while also reporting that Regina is on the hook for millions more than planned to finish the stadium which Wall saw as more important than providing for Saskatchewan's people.

- Meanwhle, the CCPA studies Justin Trudeau's privatization plans while questioning why he's determined to double the price of infrastructure in order to enrich Bay Street. And Emma Gilchrist discusses the long-term costs of Christy Clark's Site C dam boondoggle.

- Finally, Sophia Harris reports on the stock option loophole left open by the Libs, while wondering whether this year's budget will see a sorely needed change toward collecting revenue from the people who can most afford to contribute it.

On pipelines to nowhere

Sun, 03/19/2017 - 15:34
I'll be taking a look at the individual candidates in the NDP's leadership race over the next little while. But before I start into that review, I'll pause to discuss the most bizarre development of the leadership campaign so far.

As I noted in reviewing the first debate, Peter Julian's choice to brand himself largely through his opposition to the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipelines figured to turn what could otherwise have been a broadly acceptable campaign into a highly polarizing one. And a combination of nonsensical reactions to Julian's message and a lack of pushback on his part has taken the division to extremes which look highly dangerous for the NDP as a whole.

At the outset, here's Julian's position on pipelines in the context of resource development generally (emphasis added):
Mr. Julian said it is “very clear” to him that the NDP must oppose pipelines and work towards transitioning to clean energy.

Mr. Julian says the government should refine and upgrade raw bitumen from the oilsands in Canada, instead of exporting it. The risk of spilling the diluted bitumen the pipelines carry was not worth the reward, he said. 
Mr. Julian said building refineries and using the resulting product in Canada would create more jobs than pipeline construction ever would, and it would decrease Canada’s dependency on oil imports. It would also eliminate the need for pipelines, he said. The same article notes that both Guy Caron and Niki Ashton are also opposed to Kinder Morgan and Energy East, and that the comparatively pro-pipeline position among the current candidates is found in Charlie Angus' slightly different emphasis as to the balance between the interests of pipeline operators and the people whose territory they use.

Somehow, that modest different in positions - coupled with Julian's emphasis on pipelines as an issue - has led to outbursts from NDP supporters which would fit far more comfortably within a Wildrose Party policy debate.

In one case, that's consisted of the classic capital-friendly position that any questioning of a business' wishes is predominantly an attack on the labour share of the resulting economic activity.

On that front, pipelines offer less wage bang for the buck of profit stashed away than nearly any other type of development Canada could pursue. And Noah Evanchuk's form of the theory is also false in attributing a hatred of refineries to Julian when he's the one candidate actually proposing to encourage more of them.

Even worse, the latest criticism of Julian from Doug O'Halloran has sunk to the level of echoing Ezra Levant's tired theme that some fabricated difference between "our oil" and "their oil" trumps the problems with locking ourselves into a future of burning carbon generally.

Unfortunately, Julian himself doesn't seem to have done much to set the record straight. And that might make sense for his campaign: to the extent he's trying to paint himself as the top choice for environmental voters (defined by opposition to pipelines), he may well have more to gain than to lose by allowing those attacks to stand unchallenged. 

But from the standpoint of talking responsibly about resource management, it could be disastrous for the NDP if its leadership debate serves to legitimize exactly the messages the party is trying to fight in the wider political scene. And hopefully the candidates who are trying to downplay the pipeline question will make that fact clear - and push both Julian and his critics toward the right balance.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 03/19/2017 - 09:02
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Heather Whiteside discusses how the privatization schemes being toyed with at all levels of government represent nothing more than reckless gambling with public money and goods:
When a federal, provincial, or municipal government builds a bridge, a highway, a school, or a hospital, we know who owns it: we, the people. But when equity changes hands, which happens frequently with these kinds of deals, the companies originally hired by the government to partner in a P3 are no longer the owners. So the private equity partners that any given government thinks it’s bringing to the poker game might not stay until the last hand is dealt.

Equity holders are the private partner of a P3 project. Their role is consequential: they run the operations and maintenance of whatever got built — a hospital, school, highway, or bridge. They set highway tolls, they collect user fees, they hire and fire staff, they set targets and standards. And they earn the revenue. Private profit, not necessarily high quality, affordable, accessible public services, would be their main priority.

When private partners sell their equity stake to new project companies after the P3 contract is struck, community projects are turned into mere budget line items in a global asset portfolio. Transactions favour the top bidder, not necessarily the best quality partner. Public assets become equity trading cards, changing ownership hands multiple times.

Whether highways or hospitals, the bottom-line determines the rules of the game and private partners are [hoarding] the gains. For instance, private equity in Vancouver’s Diamond Centre P3 hospital has already changed hands twice since 2007; but the hands of the hospital’s public partner are tied — the new equity holders hire and fire the cleaning and maintenance contractors.
Instead of opening the flood gates, the public must have a say: Canada should be taking steps to control or bar equity sales, to avoid a future where public infrastructure is exposed to remote investor decision-making, profit leeching through user fees, offshore revenue loss for communities, distorted value for money, and a lack of accountability. - Brian Alexander examines the decline of one Ohio town in noting that the instability and precarity facing far too many workers and communities can largely be traced to corporate control over economic decisions. And Jordan Press reports on a federal government study showing how many jobs are in danger of being automated in the near future, while Alexander Panetta looks at the effects of foreseeable technological changes in greater detail.

- Lana Payne writes that women are rightly tired of waiting for promises of pay equity to be fulfilled. And the Canadian Press reports on a much-needed push for Saskatchewan to join the jurisdictions moving to ensure that people facing domestic violence aren't punished in the workplace.

- Finally, Robert Cribb, Vjosa Isai and Maham Shakeel expose the growth of pay-for-play health care in Ontario - which of course makes for a growing problem across Canada due to a lack of adequate resources for our universal health care system.

Saturday Afternoon Links

Sat, 03/18/2017 - 11:15
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Robert Reich comments on the absurdity of Donald Trump's plan to shovel yet more money toward a military-industrial complex and corporate profiteers who already have more than they know what to do with.

- Sara Fraser and Laura Chapin write that food insecurity is primarily an issue of insufficient income. And Psychologists for Social Change studies (PDF) the anticipated benefits of a basic income in reducing avoidable stressors.

- Carter Sherman discusses the detrimental health effects of climate change, while Benjamin Israel highlights the health damage caused by coal in particular. And CBC reports on Kirsten Zickfeld's warning that we're rapidly running out of time to limit global warming to manageable levels.

- Gloria Galloway reports on the Libs' new "you can't make me!" position on ending discrimination against indigenous people. And Doug Cuthand questions why Saskatchewan's First Nations are suddenly being deprived of their usual right of first refusal on Crown lands up for sale.

- Finally, Noah Smith examines David Autor's work in showing that "free trade" has failed to up to its billing:
Autor, like most top economists, was once an orthodox thinker on the trade issue. He had expected American workers would adjust well to the shock of Chinese imports, finding other jobs for similar wages after a short period of dislocation. That was largely what happened in the 1980s and 1990s in response to Japanese and European competition. Instead, he and his co-authors found that trade with China in the 2000s left huge swathes of the U.S. workforce permanently without good jobs -- or, in many cases, jobs at all.

This sort of concentrated economic devastation sounds like it would hurt not just people’s pocketbooks, but the social fabric. In a series of follow-up papers, Autor and his team link Chinese import competition to declining marriage rates and political polarization. Autor told me that these social ills make the need for new thinking about trade policy even more urgent...

So, I asked, how should trade policy be changed? Autor’s answers again surprised me. He suggested that the process of admitting China to the World Trade Organization back in 2000 should have been slowed down significantly. That would have given American workers and industries time to prepare for, and adjust to, China’s competitive onslaught. He also endorsed the border adjustment tax now being considered by Congress. That tax would probably benefit U.S. exporters at the expense of importers.

But Autor went quite a bit further. He told me that the U.S. government should focus attention on manufacturing industries, and even use industrial policy to bolster the sector.

Friday Evening Links

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 19:01
Assorted content to end your week.

- Linda McQuaig discusses the need to fight fake news about Canada's health care system (and the corporate raiders trying to amplify it):
(I)t was with some pleasure last week that I watched as a Republican congressman tried to insist that Canadians routinely flock to the U.S. for health care, only to have MSNBC host Ali Velshi stop him dead in his tracks.

“Sir, I grew up in Canada,” Velshi declared. “I live in Canada. My entire family is in Canada. Nobody I know ever came to the United States for health care. I am sure you have a handful of stories about things like that. It is not actually statistically true.”

Whenever Americans start tinkering with their deeply dysfunctional health care system, we feel the reverberations up here, as right-wing commentators seek to denigrate our system of universal health care coverage, which they know sets a dangerous example.

With the ruling Republicans now poised to take health care coverage from 14 million Americans (eventually 24 million) and keep a straight face while insisting this is about increasing their “choice,” it’s worth reminding ourselves just how merciless, cruel (and stupid) so many of the Trump/Republican solutions truly are.

Health care is a particularly stark example, but it is symptomatic of the Republican keenness to fully embrace the private marketplace, even though that means abandoning vast numbers of their fellow citizens by the side of the road.
American commentators talk about how “complicated” reforming health care is. True, if you utterly reject the simple solution that works — a Canadian-style public system — it does become awfully complicated devising a solution that pleases the broader American public while also satisfying two radical extremists who together have the world’s largest fortune and a deep aversion to sharing. - But Joyce Nelson examines Toronto's apparent interest in following Chicago's disastrous path toward privatizing parking as an example of foolish U.S. ideas can infiltrate Canadian politics.

- Crawford Kilian's review of Walter Schiedel's The Great Leveler points out that past reductions in inequality have largely arisen only in times of crisis, while wondering whether we can move past that trend. And on the bright side, Laurie Monsebraaten finds that Ontario's basic income pilot project is receiving massive public support - as well as questions as to why it isn't going further sooner.

- Jason Warick reports on the millions of dollars the Saskatchewan Party is burning on barely-used rural highways while slashing services for Saskatchewan's citizens. And Adam Hunter offers a look at the laid-off workers who seem to be the only people being forced to sacrifice for Brad Wall's poor governance.

- Finally, Brendan Kennedy writes about the reality of Canada's incarceration of immigrants - making for a particularly embarrassing contrast to Justin Trudeau's attempts to claim to offer opportunities for all.

Musical interlude

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 17:22
Omnia feat. Melissa Loretta - Halo

New column day

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 17:13
Here, on the Saskatchewan Party's determination to make work more precarious - and pay and benefits harder to come by - in the public and private sectors alike.

For further reading...
- The history of the Skip the Dishes saga includes the government's plan for millions of dollars in handouts; the decision of the company not to bother following through on the deal, resulting in the cancellation of a cheque already sent out; the sale of the business to a British buyer; and most recently the uproar over an applicant being told that her questions about pay and benefits made her unfit for Skip the Dishes' "corporate culture".
- Among the other "sharing economy" actors facing needed regulatory scrutiny, see CBC's report on tax enforcement over eBay, Jeff Gray and Ross Marowits on the effort to bring Airbnb in line with housing and accommodation policy, and Mike Isaac's revelations about Uber's attempts to evade regulation.
- Again, Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja discussed the lack of stable work for new university graduates. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the continued abuses by Ontario employers who have already been caught violating employment standards.
- Meanwhile, the Wall government's plan to lay off building cleaners started in January - with observers noting that it wouldn't be expected to save money. And this week, word came out as to the 230 workers affected by having their jobs outsourced.
- Finally, in case anybody in government was actually interested in ameliorating the provincial deficit rather than attacking workers, Jason Warick has pointed out that areas including unnecessary health care usage and agricultural subsidies offer far more opportunities for savings. 

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 08:18
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Erica Johnson reports that the problem of bank employees being pushed to fleece customers (legality be damned) is common to all of Canada's major banks. And Lisa Wright reports that the result will be a national investigation. But it's appalling that it took anonymous reports to the media for systemic abuses to be noticed and addressed - particularly when an obvious alternative to leaving personal finances in the hands of a privileged few has been summarily dismissed without explanation.

- James Tapper discusses how the privatization of the UK's power market resulted in soaring rates for the public, and massive profits for the lucky (and well-connected) corporations involved.

- Meanwhile, Martyn Brown offers a detailed set of ideas to clean up British Columbia's pay-to-play political scene. And Matt Robinson reports on Christy Clark's refusal to protect renters from being gouged by her wealthy donors.

- Jacob Swenson-Lengyel argues that progressives shouldn't limit our scope to building a response to right-wing fringe movements when the general public is broadly in agreement with our values. And the Broadbent Institute introduces its Change the Game project to chart a course for social democracy in Canada.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert compares the Cons' leadership race built on anger and chaos to the NDP's developing on a foundation of shared values and policy choices. Jordan Foisy also reviews the NDP's first debate. And Peter Julian's contribution to the Ottawa Citizen focuses on the need to make Canada work for everybody, not only for elites.