Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Paul Buchheit highlights how inequality continues to explode in the U.S. by comparing the relatively small amounts of money spent on even universal federal programs to the massive gifts handed to the wealthy. Christian Weller and Jackie Odum offer a U.S. economic snapshot which shows exactly the same widening gap between the privileged few and everybody else. And Matt Cowgill examines the policies which tend to exacerbate inquality.

- Meanwhile, Thomas Edsall discusses how predatory businesses are turning others' poverty into further opportunities to extract profits:
Sentinel is a part of the expanding universe of poverty capitalism. In this unique sector of the economy, costs of essential government services are shifted to the poor.

In terms of food, housing and other essentials, the cost of being poor has always been exorbitant. Landlords, grocery stores and other commercial enterprises have all found ways to profit from those at the bottom of the ladder.

The recent drive toward privatization of government functions has turned traditional public services into profit-making enterprises as well.

In addition to probation, municipal court systems are also turning collections over to a national network of companies like Sentinel that profit from service charges imposed on the men and women who are under court order to pay fees and fines, including traffic tickets (with the fees being sums tacked on by the court to fund administrative services).
Collection companies and the services they offer appeal to politicians and public officials for a number of reasons: they cut government costs, reducing the need to raise taxes; they shift the burden onto offenders, who have little political influence, in part because many of them have lost the right to vote; and it pleases taxpayers who believe that the enforcement of punishment — however obtained — is a crucial dimension to the administration of justice.

As N.P.R. reported in May, services that “were once free, including those that are constitutionally required,” are now frequently billed to offenders: the cost of a public defender, room and board when jailed, probation and parole supervision, electronic monitoring devices, arrest warrants, drug and alcohol testing, and D.N.A. sampling. This can go to extraordinary lengths: in Washington state, N.P.R. found, offenders even “get charged a fee for a jury trial — with a 12-person jury costing $250, twice the fee for a six-person jury.”

This new system of offender-funded law enforcement creates a vicious circle: The poorer the defendants are, the longer it will take them to pay off the fines, fees and charges; the more debt they accumulate, the longer they will remain on probation or in jail; and the more likely they are to be unemployable and to become recidivists.
- Laurie Monsebraaten reports that child poverty in Toronto is reaching epidemic levels, while Robert Reich looks at the connection between inequality and education.

- Mike De Souza reveals that the Cons have ordered public servants to start deleting e-mails - particularly ones which might show how political interference affects the civil service's work.And Jakeet Singh comments on Stephen Harper's aversion to sociology and other factual analysis as to how policies affect people.

- Finally, Dennis Howlett argues that all levels of government in Canada need to rein in tax evasion in order to be able to fund the public services we all value:
Most provincial and territorial governments rely on the Canada Revenue Agency to raise their revenue. Provincial services and programs need a revenue stream provided by an efficient and fair system. But under the CRA’s watch, Canadian money in tax havens has ballooned to an all-time high — an estimated $185 billion in 2013.  Almost $63 billion of that is in the popular tax haven of Barbados — an island paradise that is one-tenth the size of PEI, where the premiers are enjoying their late summer gathering.

They need to declare that the holiday is over. It is time bring our Canadian tax dollars home so they can be put to use doing useful things like funding health care and education.
Provincial governments are responsible for nominating members of the CRA Board of Management. Those members could be directed to strongly encourage the agency to give higher priority to tax haven related compliance efforts. It is a strategy that could have important results.

The provincial representatives on the CRA Board of Management also need to ask:
  • Why the CRA is wasting so much of its scarce capacity harassing development and environmental charities that have been critical of the Harper government.
  • Why does the CRA refuse to work with the Parliamentary Budget Officer and calculate the Tax Gap to measure missing revenue as is done in many other countries? This could help them set priorities and do a better job of going after the most important tax cheats.
  • Is going after the self-employed, small business and other “low hanging fruit” the best use of staff?
  • Have cuts to the CRA’s budget undermined its ability to go after really big tax cheats who play the system? Has more revenue been lost than money saved from staff cuts?
  • Is there sufficient technical expertise to follow up on leads from CRA’s tipster hotline?
  • Does the Justice Department have the capacity to properly prosecute major tax cheats in the courts?

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