Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that to end your weekend.

- PressProgress takes a look at the OECD's long-term economic projections - which feature a combination of increasing inequality and slow growth across the developed world, with Canada do worse than almost anybody else on the inequality front unless we see a shift toward more progressive policies when it comes to unions, employment protections and fair taxes.

- Meanwhile, Derek Leahy discusses how much we have to lose by relying on the tar sands as our sole economic engine.

- David Cay Johnston points out that several of the largest forms of consumer debt in the U.S. - including student loans, car loans and credit card debt - could have been wiped out by the money instead handed to the wealthy through the Bush tax cuts. And David Atkins reminds us of the vicious circle of right-wing governments converting surpluses into tax cuts while nominally left-wing ones then cut services to compensate - even as the former somehow claim to be the more fiscally responsible parties:
Republicans still somehow have the brand of fiscal restraint even though Ronald Reagan dramatically increased the deficit, Bill Clinton balanced the budget, and George W. Bush blew the deficit sky-high again before ending his term with the greatest economic crash since the Great Depression. Like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama is doing his best to close the gap, even as Republicans try to blow it back open again with supply-side cuts that we already know don’t work.

But there’s a double absurdity at work here, which is that in a poor economy the country shouldn’t be trying to balance the budget at all. Paul Krugman and the Keynesians have been proven right on this question repeatedly, even as the austerity fetishists and the supply-siders have been proven wrong at every turn. We know now definitively what we should have known instinctually back in 1980: that supply-side economics is junk science and a proven failure. We also know from the European experience that austerity economics only sends countries further into recession—with the added effect of increasing deficits in the bargain, thus supposedly necessitating further cuts in a negative reinforcement loop.

Democrats are supposed to be the party of stimulus and fiscal laxity. Republicans are supposed to be the party of belt-tightening and fiscal austerity. Instead we see repeatedly that Republicans play fast and loose with the nation’s budget in order to deliver tax breaks to their wealthy friends, while Democrats spend their time closing the deficits Republicans create. But even more bizarrely, we see Democrats counterproductively pushing austerity economics when they should be pursuing Keynesian stimulus, even as Republicans ironically vote for stimulus—albeit in its weakest and worst-targeted guise—in the form of tax breaks for the rich.

When budget politics has gone this far into funhouse mirror land, it almost makes popular polling on budget issues irrelevant. How are voters even supposed to know which party represents what policies, or even which economic theory they’re working under? While Republicans are clearly more destructive and wildly irresponsible, both sides are operating in such self-contradictory opposition to their stated economic ideologies and branding that it’s a wonder voters can even make sense of it all.
- And in a prime example of how corporate-oriented policy tends to lead to our paying more for less, Alan Pyke offers an inside look into the disastrous results of Michigan's prison food service privatization scheme.

- Finally, Blake Bromley discusses the effect of Harper government's political chill on (a carefully-selected set of) Canadian charities - and how the Con-ordered attacks reflect wilful ignorance of the law:
Initially, the primary focus was on environmental groups. However it has extended to charities' activities such as protecting human rights and humanitarian aid.

The problem is not that charities should be allowed to engage in political activities. The problem is that when conducting these audits, CRA gives a meaning to "political activities" that is designed to make its political masters happy.

One can only hope that CRA audits would be governed by the rule of law rather than a political agenda.

It has not been covered in the press in Canada, but just one day before this email from the Charities Directorate and this press coverage on political activities, an important legal decision was handed down in England. The First-Tier Tribunal released its decision in an appeal of The Human Dignity Trust against The Charity Commission for England and Wales.

This decision held that "promoting the sound administration of the law" was a "fourth head" charitable purpose under the common law. This was not an expansion of the law of charity, but was recognized in cases as early as 1876 and as recent as a House of Lords decision in 1972. These common law decisions from England are recognized by the courts and CRA as being determinative of the law of charity in Canada.

Most environmental and other charities under audit are simply "promoting the sound administration of the law." This is not a political activity except in the eyes of the Harper government, which treats any recourse to the courts of law or public opinion in support of laws that conflict with the government's political agenda to be "political activities."

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