Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Encamped cats.





Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dennis Howlett discusses the public costs of allowing tax avoidance - as Canada could afford a national pharmacare program (and much more) merely by ensuring that the rich pay what they owe:
Eliminating tax haven use could save Canada almost $8 billion a year. That’s enough to cover universal public prescription coverage almost eight times over.

Time after time, budget after budget, poll after poll, those in charge make it sound as if we’re too poor as a country to afford the programs that would really improve Canadians’ lives. The fact that revenues are lost to poor policy on tax havens and loopholes is often conveniently ignored.
...
At this stage of the game, the federal finance minister doesn’t need to raise taxes to pay for pharmacare. Bill Morneau just has to make sure that Canadian multinationals and wealthy individuals pay the tax rate we already have. That isn’t happening right now.

It’s simple. Canadians can continue to support a tax system that lets the richest avoid paying $8 billion in taxes annually — or we can tell them that the party’s over. Instead of ignoring what is happening in the Cayman Islands, Panama and other tax havens, we can urge our politicians to invest the taxes owing on those billions into services that benefit individuals, families, communities and the country as a whole.
...
There is solid data supporting raising taxes in some areas. But that’s an argument for another day. The issue at hand right now is that we do have enough money for pharmacare — likely enough for public dental care as well. Through a series of misguided and outdated decisions driven by the tax dodge lobby, we are needlessly and destructively giving up that revenue.

It’s time to fix those old mistakes and use the tax system to help this country live up to its potential.
- Meanwhile, Owen Jones discusses a European Commission ruling finding that Apple can't validly avoid paying tax through a special arrangement with Ireland. And the Star rightly slams the Fraser Institute for presenting a misleading picture of where public revenue comes from and what it can accomplish.

- The CP reports on the Libs' plans to facilitate the use of temporary foreign workers for liquid natural gas projects in British Columbia - meaning that the last supposed benefit for the province of engaging in a dangerous industry seems to be as illusory as all the others. And Jeremy Nuttall notes that Justin Trudeau seems set to open the door even wider to entrench the use of exploitable foreign labour by multinational corporations. 

- Finally, Catherine Cullen reports on the effects of privatized health care insurance which are being presented in an effort to defend Canada's medicare system from would-be profiteers:
John Frank, a Canadian physician who is now chairman of public health research and policy at the University of Edinburgh, argues in his report that more private health care "would be expected to adversely affect Canadian society as a whole."

He cites research that suggests public resources, including highly trained nurses and doctors, would be siphoned off by the private system.

More Canadians would face financial hardship or even — in extreme cases — "medical bankruptcy" from paying for private care, he writes.

Frank even suggests there could be deadly consequences. He says complications from privately funded surgeries often need to be dealt with in the public system because private facilities are generally less equipped to handle complex cases.

"If such complications, arising from privately funded care, are not promptly referred to an appropriately equipped and staffed care facility, the patient is likely to experience death or long-term disability, potentially leading to reduced earnings and financial hardship."

Overall, "in my expert opinion," Frank writes, the change would reduce fairness and efficiency and "society as a whole would be worse off."

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jim Hightower argues that there's no reason the U.S. can't develop an economic model which leads to shared prosperity - and the ideas are no less relevant in Canada:
Take On Wall Street is both the name and the feisty attitude of a nationwide campaign that a coalition of grassroots groups has launched to do just that: take on Wall Street. The coalition, spearheaded by the Communication Workers of America, points out there is nothing natural or sacred about today’s money-grabbing financial complex. Far from sacrosanct, the system of finance that now rules over us has been designed by and for Wall Street speculators, money managers and big bank flimflammers. So, big surprise, rather than serving our common good, the system is corrupt, routinely serving their uncommon greed at everyone else’s expense.
...
The coalition’s structural reforms include:
1. Getting the corrupting cash of corporations and the superrich out of politics with an overturning of Citizens United v. FEC and providing a public system for financing America’s elections.

2. Stopping “too big to fail” banks from subsidizing their high-risk speculative gambling with the deposits of  ordinary customers. Make them choose to be a consumer bank or a casino, but not both.

3. Institute a tiny “Robin Hood tax” on Wall Street speculators to discourage their computerized gaming of the system, while also generating hundreds of billions of tax dollars to invest in America’s real economy.

4. Restore low-cost, convenient “postal banking” in our post offices to serve millions of Americans who’re now at the mercy of predatory payday lenders and check-cashing chains.
- Juliette Garside reports on the EU's efforts to get the U.S. to agree to basic reporting to rein in offshore tax evasion. And Heather Long points out Joseph Stiglitz' criticisms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as enriching corporations at the expense of citizens.

- Amy Maxmen notes that a non-profit system can develop new drugs far more affordably than the current corporate model - and without creating the expectation of windfall profits that currently underlies the pharmaceutical industry.

- Jordan Press offers a preview of a federal strategy for homeless veterans featuring rental subsidies and the building of targeted housing units - which leads only to the question of why the same plan wouldn't be applied to address homelessness generally.

- Alan Shanoff comments on the many holes in Ontario's employment standards (which are generally matched elsewhere as well).

- Finally, Dougald Lamont highlights the many ways in which the Fraser Institute's anti-tax spin misleads the media about how citizens relate to Canadian governments.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Chris Hamby starts off what looks to be a must-read investigation on the effect of ISDS rules by discussing how they're used to prevent governments from punishing corporate wrongdoing:
(A)n 18-month BuzzFeed News investigation, spanning three continents and involving more than 200 interviews and tens of thousands of documents, many of them previously confidential, has exposed an obscure but immensely consequential feature of these trade treaties, the secret operations of these tribunals, and the ways that business has co-opted them to bring sovereign nations to heel.
...
Reviewing publicly available information for about 300 claims filed during the past five years, BuzzFeed News found more than 35 cases in which the company or executive seeking protection in ISDS was accused of criminal activity, including money laundering, embezzlement, stock manipulation, bribery, war profiteering, and fraud.

Among them: a bank in Cyprus that the US government accused of financing terrorism and organized crime, an oil company executive accused of embezzling millions from the impoverished African nation of Burundi, and the Russian oligarch known as “the Kremlin’s banker.”

Some are at the center of notorious scandals, from the billionaire accused of orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme in Mauritius to multiple telecommunications tycoons charged in the ever-widening “2G scam” in India, which made it into Time magazine’s top 10 abuses of power, alongside Watergate. The companies or executives involved in these cases either denied wrongdoing or did not respond to requests for comment.

Most of the 35-plus cases are still ongoing. But in at least eight of the cases, bringing an ISDS claim got results for the accused wrongdoers, including a multimillion-dollar award, a dropped criminal investigation, and dropped criminal charges. In another, the tribunal has directed the government to halt a criminal case while the arbitration is pending.
- And Dharna Noor interviews James Henry about the need for international cooperation - at both the government and public level - to crack down on tax evasion.

- Tyler Hamilton discusses the health effects of climate change. And Joseph Erbentraut examines how a changing climate is affecting both the quantity and quality of the water we depend on. 

- Kev responds to the spread of #goodriddanceharper by pointing out that as satisfying as it was to turf the Cons from office, we're still facing most of the same anti-social policies with a more media-savvy face. And Doug Nesbitt reminds us that the Trudeau Libs are no friends of labour - with Canada Post's appalling attacks on vulnerable workers serving as just the latest example.

- Finally, the Canadian Press reports on a much-needed push for resources to address mental health in Canada.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Erika Hayasaki surveys the developing body of research on how poverty and deprivation affect a child's long-term brain development:
Early results show a troubling trend: Kids who grow up with higher levels of violence as a backdrop in their lives, based on MRI scans, have weaker real-time neural connections and interaction in parts of the brain involved in awareness, judgment, and ethical and emotional processing.
...Though it’s still largely based on correlations between brain patterns and particular environments, the research points to a disturbing conclusion: Poverty and the conditions that often accompany it—violence, excessive noise, chaos at home, pollution, malnutrition, abuse and parents without jobs—can affect the interactions, formation and pruning of connections in the young brain.

Two recent influential reports cracked open a public conversation on the matter. In one, researchers found that impoverished children had less gray matter—brain tissue that supports information processing and executive behavior—in their hippocampus (involved in memory), frontal lobe (involved in decision making, problem solving, impulse control, judgment, and social and emotional behavior) and temporal lobe (involved in language, visual and auditory processing and self-awareness). Working together, these brain areas are crucial for following instructions, paying attention and overall learning—some of the keys to academic success.
...
The second key study, published in Nature Neuroscience , also in 2015 , looked at 1,099 people between ages 3 and 20, and found that children with parents who had lower incomes had reduced brain surface areas in comparison to children from families bringing home $150,000 or more a year.

“We have [long] known about the social class differences in health and learning outcomes,” says Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. But neuroscience has now linked the environment, behavior and brain activity—and that could lead to a stunning overhaul of both educational and social policies, like rethinking Head Start–style programs that have traditionally emphasized early literacy. New approaches, he says, could focus on social and emotional development as well, since science now tells us that relationships and interactions with the environment sculpt the areas of the brain that control behavior (like the ability to concentrate), which also can affect academic achievement (like learning to read). 
- Adria Vasil discusses the worldwide trend of water being made available first (and for inexplicably low prices) to for-profit bottlers over citizens who need it. And Martin Regg Cohn examines how the story is playing out in Ontario in particular.

- Mike De Souza reports on how the National Energy Board, rather than acting as a neutral regulator, misled Denis Coderre to try to take free PR for both the NEB itself and fossil fuel development in general. And Carrie Tait points out how the Husky oil spill is raising questions about Saskatchewan's fully captured regulatory system. 

- Ian MacLeod reports on a sudden and unexplained increase in CSE interception of private communications.

- Finally, Andray Domise discusses what Colten Boushie's shooting and its aftermath say about the blight of racism in Canada.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Musical interlude

Vanessa Peters - 206 Bones

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on a new Ontario study recommending a strong investment in child care to reduce the gender wage gap.

- Allan Moscovitch, Nick Falvo and David Macdonald offer a useful primer on social supports for seniors in Canada. And Marybeth Shinn, Scott Brown, Michelle Wood and Daniel Gubits examine (PDF) several options to address homelessness, finding that permanent housing subsidies are most effective in promoting housing stability and other benefits.

- James Wilt makes the case for the Libs to put an end to fatally-flawed pipeline review processes, rather than pretending that the Cons' biased structures serve as anything but rubber stamps which do nothing to confer social license. But Travis Lupick notes that restrictive rules around supervised injection sites are just another area where the Libs' plan is to continue on with the policies they criticized while in opposition.

- Jeremy Deaton and Mina Lee chart the health effects of climate change. And Shayndi Raice points out that paid sick leave works wonders in reducing the spread of the flu.

- Finally, Guy Caron continues his series discussing tax evasion by pointing out the urgent need for government follow-up when tax avoidance schemes surface in the public eye.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Owen Jones discusses the UK's experience with privatized rail as yet another example of how vital services become more costly and worse-run when put in corporate hands.

- Sean McElwee highlights still more research showing that right-wing government tends to fail even on its own terms, with Republican governments producing less economic growth than Democratic ones. But PressProgress offers one answer to McElwee's question as to why people believe otherwise by pointing to the complete lack of media pushback against the Fraser Institute's usual pattern of anti-tax misdirection.

- Hardian Mertins-Kirkwood comments on a Russian oligarch's extraction of over a billion dollars from an impoverished Venezuela (with the help of a Canadian trade agreement) as just the latest example as to how "free trade" serves mostly to enrich the wealthy at everybody else's expense. Cory Doctorow notes that real-world experience strongly supports Thomas Piketty's argument that extreme wealth tends primarily to be self-perpetuating, rather than arising or growing out of personal merit. And Ben Popken writes about EpiPen price-gouging as the latest - and perhaps the most egregious - example of rent-seeking by the pharmaceutical sector at the expense of public health.

- Eric Holthaus observes that some of the feared long-term effects of climate change are already materializing. And Elizabeth McSheffrey points out that Husky's post-spill spin campaign looks to be just the latest example of the oil industry trying to cover up the direct consequences of its choices.

- Finally, Rank and File points out the need for Ontario to move past Harris-era attacks on workers.

New column day

Here, on how Brad Wall is preaching neglect and delay as a response to violent racism (even as he's fully prepared to use as much political capital as he can muster pitching the idea of a SaskTel selloff).

For further reading...
- Wall's comments which try to minimize Saskatchewan's racism are here. And Donna Harpauer's statement of the Saskatchewan Party's plan to do nothing is here.
- Statistics Canada's latest information on the proportion of aboriginal people by province is here, while its fact sheet on aboriginal people in Saskatchewan is here. And the social indicators in the article are drawn from here and here (on incarceration rates), here (on child poverty), and here (on unemployment).
- For those looking for more direct evidence as to attitudes toward indigenous people rather than their consequences, Environics' polling confirms that Saskatchewan has the most negative perceptions of relations between aboriginal people and other Canadians as well as the highest proportion of respondents blaming aboriginal people for inequality.
- Brenda MacDougall argues for an honest discussion of racism in Saskatchewan, while the Star-Phoenix reports on some of the aboriginal leaders pointing out we can't sweep discrimination and prejudice under the rug.
- And finally, I'll point again to Nancy Macdonald's review of the gross disparities in race and power in Saskatchewan.

[Edit: updated link.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Dayen wonders whether the Obama administration's decision to end the use of private prisons might represent the needed start of a movement away from relying on poor corporate services as a substitute for public action:
Private prisons experienced more safety and security incidents. They had higher rates of assaults, inadequate medical checkups and compliance, eight times as many incidents of contraband cell-phone smuggling, and often housed new inmates in solitary confinement units, seemingly for lack of space. The report also detailed several grisly incidents since 2008: three riots in one Reeves County, Texas facility in two months; the death of a corrections officer in a riot in Natchez, Mississippi; and the closure of the Willacy County (Texas) Correctional Center, after inmates burned it to the ground.

It’s not hard to figure out why this happens. Private companies win contracts to manage federal prisons by undercutting the Bureau of Prisons’ operational costs. Unlike the government, private prison companies must also take their profit margins out of their budgets. The only way to make that work is to massively drop labor costs, corresponding to a severe degradation of the quality of prison management.
...
That reflects the problem with privatization as a whole. Private companies must carry out a government function—be it water, parking meters, mass transit, or K-12 schools—at a lower cost than the government can provide it, while taking their profit off the top. Time and again, the results reveal that to be impossible, at least if you want to provide the same quality of service. Yet we keep privatizing. Whether it’s Republicans expanding Medicaid or cash-strapped cities handing over bus service to Uber and Lyft, eventually costs shift from taxpayers to the users of the services, oversight becomes impotent as officials grow reliant on outsourcing contracts, and attempts to maximize profits lead to service breakdowns.
- But CBC reports that the worst is yet to come in Saskatchewan as Brad Wall has publicly put SaskTel up for corporate raiding.

- Jacki Andre discusses the hidden costs of living with a disability - which make it particularly unconscionable for Wall's Saskatchewan Party to be trying to squeeze pennies out of people who rely on already-inadequate disability benefits.

- Floyd Perras highlights the multiple factors that contribute to (and exacerbate) homelessness. And Rocca Perla comments on the need to include social determinants of health within medical treatment of patients.

- Pat Rich describes the Canadian Medical Association's rude awakening in finding out that Lib Health Minister Jane Philpott has no interest in its key priorities for improved care. And Alison points out how the Libs are conspicuously trying to wriggle out of their promise to end the unfairness of first-past-the-post politics.

- Finally, Anna MacDonald makes the case for stronger transparency as a means of limiting the harm of global arms dealing. But if there was any doubt that the Trudeau Libs are firmly on the side of weapons proliferation, Helene Laverdiere points out their inexplicable decision to stand against nuclear disarmament.