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Libya, the UN and what we have lost…

Posted by Don McLenaghen on October 24, 2011

I think it’s time.

He’s dead and in a tangential kind of way we, those of us on the show, asked for it to happen.

There are many adjectives that have been applied to Moammar Kaddafi…revolutionary, dictator, Pan-African federalist, opportunist, Arab nationalist, mad man, anti-American freedom fighter, killer of his own people…whatever label you may apply it seems true that he was unique, anti-colonial and absolute ruler of Libya. I think it’s not a stretch that at least for Libya itself, his death is believed to be a good thing. What follows may be better or worse…time will well. Egypt seems to show that removing the dictator does not guarantee a ‘western-style free democratic society’ (whatever that may mean). Recent hints from the elections in Tunisia and the Libyan leaders point to a more theocratic government based on sharia law with blasphemy laws, curtailed freedom for women and a stricter adherence to religious dogma (maybe as extreme as the ‘based on biblical law’ of the current GOP/Tea Party).

Although I do care what happens now, the focus of this blog is my personal sense of responsibility (as minor and ethereal as it may be) for what happened…what we as “the west” did at first for and then to Libya. As our loyal listeners may remember we did a segment a number of months ago about the intervention of the UN (via the NATO). In that segment we attempted to dissect the issue of intervention.

Impact/Cost


At the heart of the debate was, as we saw it – innocent citizens being ‘murdered’ by their own government. These ‘innocents’ were the spontaneous uprising hoping to liberate themselves from a ‘hated dictator’. The local flowering of the Arab spring that had seen the removal a despised dictator in Tunisia and Egypt…who were in no small way encouraged by those of us in the free nations hoping for the same in Libya. Unlike Tunisia or Egypt and more like Syria; Libyans were not able to achieve the overthrow in a (relatively) peaceful way.

Some (maybe most in Canada?) didn’t care (it’s their problem not mine), a few thought the west (and especially the USA) was spread too thin as it was with Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and Africa. There were some who thought we (the west, NATO, the USA…) should invade with troops and put in a ‘better’ (for the West) regime.  Most people (I would like to think) thought that intervention, for humanitarian reasons, was a valid option.

The humanitarian argument was that life should be protected…that just because one is a member of a state, that the state does not have a right to kill its own citizens…in fact if a state kills its own citizens it loses its legitimacy.

That said, it is one thing to say that an illegitimate government should be deposed by its people (as it has happened in Tunisia and apparently in Egypt) and an entirely different (?) thing to have external powers (i.e. NATO, UN, USA) to commit regime change.

As stated, the majority (?) of those in favor of humanitarian intervention do not support (external) regime change.

Racism against black Africans in Libya. Guest workers equated to 'Kaddafi Mercenaries'

In spite of the moral argument a number thought  it still wrong to intervene, not because the cause was just but that once the ‘west’ was involved, our ‘ennobled’ leaders could not resist the temptation to use the military power given them to go beyond humanitarian support and use it to remove a thorn (justifiable or not) in ‘the wests’ side; that once the UN authorized military intervention, the US and Europe (and Canada) would go beyond humanitarian support and act as a proxy air force for the ‘rebels’. Implicit in this is that in supporting the rebels, UN forces (via NATO) would kill numerous ‘innocent’ people in their drive to remove Kaddafi.  As we have seen, although NATO would claim it bombed discriminately, many innocent civilians died from bombing, ‘rebel’ attacks and revenge killing (by the rebels the NATO eventually explicitly supported).

The fear went beyond just the loss of innocent life or even the hypocrisy of the ‘west’. For those who believed in humanitarian intervention but feared regime change, the biggest danger was that the UN was the author of the intervention. That if ‘humanitarian intervention’ was seen to be secret code for ‘regime change’; any attempt by the UN to ACTUALLY promote human rights…to protect the innocent…to take meaningful and concrete actions for ‘good’ would be fatally harmed by this action. That it was for the greater good that we let Kaddafi do what he would to ensure that the UN only flex its muscle for genuine (?) humanitarian causes.

Well, as I said it’s done…regime change done…revolution complete…the chickens will soon come home to roost.

We did not save lives – arguably…did we promote human rights – no…did we remain above petty politics for the sake of grander moral principles – NO! NATO (via the UN) saw an opportunity to remove a thorn and Libya is (perhaps) free of a dictator.

The cost?

The UN…

One thing that is constantly, and justly, raised is why Libya and not Syria (or Bahrain)? IF the UN were to be the neutral protector of BASIC human rights, it should have done something not only in Libya but also in Syria. Libya was easy…it did not have a ‘military’ institution (something seen as a criticism in Libya and a hindrance in Egypt).

Who stands to gain.

Kaddafi was not reliable…there was a moment of opportunity for regime change to a more malleable leader. Keep an eye open in the coming months for talk about ‘rebuilding Libyan infrastructure’…code for western takeover of Libyan oil. Kaddafi was a bastard but he did nationalize most of the petroleum industry and use that money for (what HE saw as) Libyan interests.

Syrians die because they have a ‘real’ air force…Syria is politically ‘complex’…Syrian lives are not as important as Libyans…Kaddafi was more embarrassing to the west than Assade…Assade had support from Iran, Kaddafi only African nations…Bahrain has the base for the US Navy’s 6th Fleet…ultimately, the cost to profit ratio was not worth it…Bahrain’s Spring…Syrian’s Spring…postponed because it was not easy!

Kaddafi is dead. The dead is done. I am unsure if I would still support UN intervention in Libya. If my concern was simply Libya I think I would not hesitate with my support for intervention. IF my concern was the UN…human rights…the world…I am not sure I could remain as confident.

Kaddafi is dead and with him any chance the UN will ‘forcefully’ intervene JUST BECAUSE of human rights…human suffering is involved…just because it’s the moral and right thing to do. The UN is a great idea, sadly it doesn’t seem to work as well in practice.

I mourn today, not for Kaddafi but for humanity as a whole.

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The problem with climate fatigue

Posted by Don McLenaghen on September 29, 2011

Belief in climate change exaggeration on the increase

Those of you who listened to our “Amazing Randi Redux” edition (#134), will have noticed that during the segment about ‘climate change fatigue’, me and Jenna were kinda talking past each other. The article she used as source bugged me, not so much the general theme being presented (which I took as ‘people are resistant to change, and the more you talk about change the less open they tend to be towards it’….although I am still not sure I have that right). What I was ranting about is a constant meme in our current society. In the context of the climate debate, the term “there are extremist on both sides”…that there are those who disagree with the claim of man-made climate change, and those who agree and both have equal standing…at least in the public eye.

A consistent downward trend

I think I would take issue at the term “extremist” in this context. Are people who believe in and promote evolution extremist? If I was to argue against gravity and you defended it…are you an extremist? No! I think the term…the idea that there are ‘two’ sides to every argument (and yes, I mean rational sides) is often false…as in this case. Jenna presented that the scientific evidence is incontrovertible. Not that some of the details or even the response to climate change are worthy of much debate, extreme or otherwise.

Retrograde Canadian opinion

This premise (there are extremist on both sides), and I apologise for picking on what I am sure is minor rhetorical point of her discussion, this point is symptomatic of a broader epidemic that has infected our popular discourse. We are no longer a nation…a society of people with a differing of opinion, we have become a, I shall put this in quotes, “a polarized nation of extremist on all sides”. By acceding to this you abandon both the possibility of compromise as well as conceding the ‘irrational’ arguments are equivalent to rational ones. It is a contextualization that those who wish to impede change hope to promote…in doing so, the masses become ‘fatigued’ and disillusioned…change become impossible; irrespective of whether the reality of the arguments (and those presenting them) are ACTUALLY extreme.

Is there solid evidence of climate change?

The article arbitrarily classified responses to a blog post asking why ‘climate change fatigue’. I am not condemning it as scientifically inaccurate, it was intended to be an ad-hoc subjective anecdotal ‘analysis’ of received posts and makes no great claim into sociology…and yet it does reinforce a ‘false framing’ of the discussion. It’s very framing of the ‘problem’ is part of the method of attack that the deniers use to ensure inaction on climate change…to ensure a retrogression of rational opinion on the issue.  Remember, we know the the science is sound and (scientific) consensus secure.  The article points to claims that ‘people don’t want to change”, “confirmation bias for previous views”, and views of ‘scientific conspiracy’.

Differences within political groups

See, I think these excuses were valid in the 70’s…maybe 80’s. The sad truth is that people DID accept the man-made climate change as a problem…wanted in large numbers to fix the problem…believed in the long-term solution. Remember the Kyoto Protocols were adopted in 1997…the Canadian government first believed in Climate Change before it didn’t. By the logic presented, the strong incentive was to remain committed to a belief in man-made climate change, not to deny it. That an effort (expensive and extreme) had to be made to change peoples opinion AWAY from belief in climate change…the path of least resistance (lest fatiguing) would be to maintain ones belief in climate change.

Buying a scientific opinion

Let’s not forget Climate change denialism only really started in the very late 90’s when the Kyoto protocols signaled to ‘industry’ that the political battle was not going their way. That political and popular opinion posed a viable threat to the trillion dollar business. After spending millions (billions?) of dollars over many years, both on media and ‘biostitutes’ (scientist willing to sell their credentials for money), it was only about 3-5 years ago that public opinion began to shift to a more climate skeptic position, at least in the US (thankfully less so in civilized countries).

Buying a scientific opinion

For example, according to a Pew Poll, in 2006, almost 80% of Americans believed climate change was real and 60% that it was man-made. By 2010, less than 60% thought it real and barely 34% thought it man-made. The article attempts (albeit in an coffee-shop chat way) to imply that the problem is ‘sciences’ inability to connect, with people’s ‘psychological’ make up…and seems to ignore the fact that in this one case there is a conspiracy (no, not the meeting in dark rooms kind smoking and plotting human subjugation…I think…it’s the we set up a system where it’s in their best interests to obfuscate, confuse and downright lie about the facts for their own self-interest.

The potential next President of the USA - F**K me!

So, the reason I have taken such issue with THIS example is not that I disagree with the general tone that people are resistant to change (my simplification of their simplification)…If the topic had been same-sex marriage, fracking, or a whole host of other issues I would likely have agreed. However in this case, we find that there are a cabal working to keep the masses ignorant, confused and impotent. Just because one claims ‘it’s a conspiracy’ does not mean it’s not a conspiracy. Let us not forget the lung cancer and the tobacco industry; by comparison the ‘fossil fuel industry’ is several orders of magnitude larger (i.e. millions compared to trillions) and we live in times where money’s influence of both politics and public opinion has no precedent.

 

 

 

The logic of denial

References:

http://people-press.org/2009/10/22/fewer-americans-see-solid-evidence-of-global-warming/

http://www.climatecentral.org/blogs/climate-in-context-good-charts-american-thoughts-on-climate-change

http://www.desmogblog.com/sites/beta.desmogblog.com/files/global%20warming%20denial%20industry%20PR%20techniques%20report%20March%202009.pdf

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Why should I care about the Supreme Court?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 18, 2011

Supreme Court of Canada

Where does it fit in?

Although established at the inception of our nation, the original the Supreme Court of Canada was not supreme; in fact until the British Privy Council was abolished in 1949 it was last court of appeal. There was a sort of limbo for our legal system until the repatriation of our constitution in 1982 at which point the court truly was supreme. Since 1982 not only does the Supreme Court rule on the letter of the law; they also interpret the meaning of and implementation of the Constitution and Charter of Rights as well as a unique role of answering ‘reference questions’. Reference questions occur when the Governor General (on the behalf of the PM) asks the court if a proposed law would be constitutional or not; a prejudgment of law as it were.

Why are they important?

Although parliament may make law, how that law is actually enforced in our country or IF it is allowed to remain a law at all lies in the hands of the Supreme Court. One great example was the legality of Abortion; for decades the Supreme Court upheld limitations on abortion however in 1988 the court struck down our laws and to this date we have no law on abortion…we are one of the few countries that treat abortion as a purely medical matter between doctor and patient. Similar landmarks occurred with regard to the recognition of Aboriginal rights or the definition of hate speech and the limitation of free speech.

Who are they?

Currently there are 9 members of the SC of C. By law, 3 must be appointed from Quebec, by tradition 3 from Ontario, 2 from “the West” and 1 from the Maritimes. For a case to be heard by the court, it must first be approved of by a committee of at least 3 justices. This means that before any case even reaches the Supreme Court it must first be approved by a this committee; this is the first opportunity for the ideology of the justices can influence the way our constitution and laws are implemented.

Once a case is approved, it is then heard by any from 5 to 9 judges unlike the American Court there cases are heard by the complete 9 court members. At the moment, of the 9 justices 6 have been appointed by the Liberals and 3 by the Conservatives however in the next 4 years, 4 more members are to be replaced due to forced retirement and that does not include those who quite for other reasons. This point is brought home by the recent announcement of Justice Louise Charron who is retiring early for personal reasons. At present these retirements will allow Harper to appoint at least 7 of the 9 justices.

How are they appointed?

First, there are two parts of our Canadian constitution – legislative and convention. The legislative are those parts of our constitution that are written down…such as the Constitution Act of 1982 or our Charter of Rights and Freedoms…they are physical documents that set down in words the rule of law. Another part is the convention part…those procedures that are followed not because they are prescribed in law but by tradition…they have always been done that way.

An example of this is the Governor General does not HAVE to sign a bill into law; there is no legal requirement or a legal means for the Parliament to sidestep the necessity of the Royal Assent. However, by convention the GG has never refused to give consent to a bill passed by Parliament although one Lieutenant Governor did refuse to sign three laws in 1937 that he felt were unconstitutional; a belief that was upheld by the Supreme Court/Privy Council.

The appointment of Justices to the Supreme Courts largely falls into the convention part of our constitution. Technically the GG appoints them on the advice of the Privy Council…in fact they are selected solely by the whim of Prime Minister. However by law[1] they must be members of the Bar (i.e. lawyers or judges) and by convention, the PM selects the Justices from candidates presented to him by a judicial advisory committee of the provinces ‘due’ a justice (to maintain the balance mentioned earlier. For “the west”, each province rotates, so one justice comes from BC, the next from Alberta…etc.; this also occurs in the Maritimes).

There have be over time many complaints about the power invested in the PM to “stack the deck” with ideologically friendly justices, that there was no input from the Parliament in the appointment and there was a lack of transparency in the process. In response to these criticism, Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004 attempted to set up a committee to review nominees however this process became politicised when the Conservatives on the committee refused to sign off on the report from the committee because they felt the powers they had were insufficient; desiring a system that emulated the process in the USA where justices must be voted on by the senate prior to appointment…a process that is now considered a hyper-partisan inquisition. In response, the process was amended so as to allow the committee to select the “top three” candidates from a list of 7, one of which the PM would then select. Once in power, Harper did set up a review committee for his first nominee but quickly abandoned the idea and appointed the nominee of his choice stating that the process was too slow and political.

Lesson south of the border

caveat – it has been brought to my attention that the following paragraph is presented in a less than flattering light with some literary and political licence. As my readers probably know by now my political leanings are a little left of extreme left, so in my discussion of the US Supreme Court, I hope you will understand that I believe what I am writing to be honest and fair is not exactly balanced however one may wish to read it with “a grain of salt”[2]>

After years of lobbying and concerted effort the American Supreme Court has become what appears to be the judicial branch of the Republican Party promoting a right-wing corporatist agenda. For example, Clarence Thomas[3] and Antoni Scalia[4] have been noteworthy and active participants at a number of Neo-con gatherings with Thomas’s wife being a lobbyist for the prominent Tea-party group[5]. Having successive far right justices being promoted to the court (Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito being the worst with John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy not much better), the current court has become infamous for its patrician decisions including what has been called the Supreme Court coup d’état of 2000, the Citizens United case and many more. Don’t get me wrong, with the possible exception of the ruling on the “Florida Election Recount of 2000”, the courts are not ‘creating’ law but how they interpret laws and how they word their verdicts have wide ranging implications. My point is to show why and how the justices are important.

Let’s take a look at judicial philosophy; in the US there is a debate about how the constitution should be interpreted (one I am sure will become common here). On the one side you have what are called “living constitutionalist”, who believe that when the constitution was written the authors accepted that as time changes the interpretation of the constitution would change…that like a living creature the constitution (and the law it would give rise to) would evolve. A great example is the status of African Americans and their civil liberties. As society changed so did the depth and breadth of civil liberties.

On the other hand there is what is called Literalist or Originalist. They hold that what is written is written in stone, which comparing the constitution to a ‘living creature’ one would have to be, using the words of Justice Scalia, an “idiot”[6]. To them it is from the original meaning of the words used and not the intent of the founders, which should form the basis of interpreting the constitution. For example, capital punishment has been largely banned from civilized countries because it is seen as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and therefore a violation of civil rights. Justice Scalia would argue that capital punishment, at the time of the writing of the applicable part of the constitution (8th amendment), was not seen as cruel or unusual punishment therefor it does not violate civil rights and should therefore be legal[7].

Who is on the court can have a huge impact not only on what they rule but on what they see as their powers of interpretation…the very philosophical foundation of the rule of law.

Beyond how the constitution or laws are interpreted, the scope of the ruling can also have a wide ranging impact. In the US (they tend to provide more colourful, extreme and clear examples) the case of Citizens United was to determine that a third party could release a documentary about Hilary Clinton during the Primaries in the US. Clinton got an injunction because of the bias nature of the film, Clinton argued it was actual political advertising and as such violated electioneering laws. The case in the narrow sense was an issue of broadcasting rights but out of character for this court, Chief Justice Roberts decided to rule on an issue not actually part of the plaintiffs case; that being the financing of the film. This was unusual because the plaintiff (Citizens United) had already abandoned facial complaints[8]. In a landmark decision the Roberts case essentially struck down election advertising rules.

Who is on the court can have a huge impact not only on what they rule but on what they see as the question.

In Canada, our constitution is seen differently than the American one. We follow, for now, a doctrine of interpretation called Living Tree Doctrine or Doctrine of Progressive Interpretation. Lord Sankey stated: “The British North America Act planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.” This means that the Constitution cannot be interpreted in the same way as an ordinary statute. Rather, it must be read within the context of society to ensure that it adapts and reflects changes.

Why should skeptics worry?

The worry we may have is that as PM, Harper has shown signs of being both extremely controlling and dictatorial. A number of political commentators have expressed concern and surprise at the level of control Harper has maintained over his party and the level of contempt for parliament in general. Remember the Conservatives were convicted of contempt of Parliament in part for lying to parliament and in part for refusing to provide government information to committees over public policy. In articles written in the Globe and Mail[9] and the National Post[10], concern was raised over the possible radical direction the court may take on if Harper’s selection, for the Supreme Court of the land, should be of a similar ideological mind as his own.

IF the fears that he does have intention, now that he has a majority to promote a neo-con agenda, the Supreme Court may be the only restraining force left in the land. Now although personally I find most of the conservative government’s policies wrong, many of them are open to valid debate this is not why I fear what Harper may do to our judiciary; what I worry about is the likelihood that Harper will take his tendencies to ideologically dictate political policy to the judiciary and that some of those ideologies should be of concern not just to leftist but skeptics in general. Some issues that may be of concern: Harper seems to be a Climate Change Denier, there have been many members of his party who wish to put restriction on marriage and abortion based on religious grounds, G20 has shown that there is a lack of respect of political and individual rights, and with his conviction of contempt of parliament and election fraud one must wonder where he may lead the country in the future.

As skeptics we must remain informed, aware and poised to action. We should insist that appointees to the Supreme Courts…any court…should base their decision on law or on science based principles…and not on political ideology or religious theology.

Upcoming cases…

Charter of Rights – Reasonable limits prescribed by law [11]

Legality of the Safe injection site – Does the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act violate the Charter of Rights because enforcement has grossly disproportionate effects on addicted persons

Hate Speech –

The Christian Truth Activists distributed four flyers in the mailboxes of various homes in Saskatoon and Regina in 2001 and 2002. Four persons who received the flyers filed complaints alleging that the material in them “promotes hatred against individuals because of their sexual orientation”. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission held the pamphlets, which referred to “sodomy marriage” and graphically described sexual behaviours in a derogatory manner, was hate speech.

The Christian Truth Activists argue first it does not count for it does not single out a group based on sexual orientation but a sexual behaviour and that further that IF the law does apply to sexual behaviour, then the definition of sexual orientation is overbroad in its definition.

Environmental Law[12]

Abitibi-Bowater Inc. has argued that a statutory duty to remove environmental contamination may be extinguished under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act like a commercial debt. Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act is a Federal Act that allows financially troubled corporations the opportunity to restructure their affairs to avoid bankruptcy. The Government of Newfoundland issued several environmental protection orders for Abitibi to clean up land it had contaminated by its large scale industrial activities. Abitibi argued that when it filed for a restructuring it freed itself of the obligation of the clean-up orders. The court must determine if government orders are legally equivalent to ‘commercial debit’ claims.

Intellectual Property[13]

Bell Canada argued that providing previews consisting of excerpts of works is fair dealing for the purpose of research that does not infringe copyright.

Some commercial internet sites that sell downloads of works allow users to preview the works. A preview typically consists of an extract taken from the work, for example a 30-second extract of a musical track, streamed online and accessible to consumers. On October 18, 2007, the Copyright Board of Canada decided that royalties should be collected for these communications.

Charter of Rights – Freedom of conscience and religion[14]

Mandatory attendance to an “ethics and religion” class – Ethics and Religious Culture program became mandatory in elementary schools. Based on the experience of an older child, a family requested an exemption for the course because serious harm disruption caused by forced, premature contact with a series of beliefs that were mostly incompatible with those of the family, as well as the adverse effect on the religious faith of the members of this family. The school board refused to grant the exemption.


[5] The consulting firm she set up in 2011 was Liberty Consulting; previously she was employed by Tea Party-affiliated Liberty Central and earlier by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

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A taxing issue

Posted by Don McLenaghen on November 17, 2010

In the shadow of the elections victories of the Tea Party in the US election and the recent announcement of our own Campbell government here in BC to both cut income taxes while implementing a user fee for hospital stays, I thought it would be educational to take a sceptical look at taxes and in particular tax breaks.

Taxes have been a widely used tool by governments to punish ‘sin’ (in the form of alcohol and tobacco taxes) and to promote investment (in the form of tax holidays or credits like the capital gains tax). I am not going to get too partisan here. There are valid arguments on all sides about what are appropriate taxes and at what level those taxes should be – that is a discussion for a different day and perhaps a different show. What I would like to investigate here are two things: first that cutting taxes increases tax revenue (this was called Voodoo economics by G. Bush Sr., trickle-down economics by others but economist refer to this broadly as supply-side economics) and second that tax cuts are always good.

I shall address the former first. For those of us who had access to an US media source (or those who can remember any recent political campaign) every politician was promising to cut taxes; when asked how they would pay for these tax cuts, they would either respond by saying tax cuts cost nothing or they said they will reduce spending…when asked what spending, they would say something like “that fat in the system” or “improved efficiencies” – IE they would not cut anything. For example they often say they will cut “ear-marks’, but this only accounts for $3 billion out of a budget of $3.6+ trillion (with a deficit of $1.7 trillion)…or 0.08% of budget (0.17%  of deficit).

It seems popular among voters across the political spectrum. However, the recent dual announcements of our local government show the reality of the situation. Campbell announces a popular across the board tax cut of 15%. This applies to rich and poor alike (although not equally, but again that’s a different show*). This equates to a loss of over half a billion dollars a year. That is money the government will not have to provide services…like hospital beds. The government also recently announced a user fee on hospital rooms amounting to over $200 a week. Who is going to make up for the loss in tax revenues? The sick.

Environics Poll 2007

Now don’t get me wrong, maybe we are all happy with that, but most people when asked the question do they want to cut public spending (especially healthcare), they say no…in fact it is one of the few areas people show an innate socialist tendency.

Just to put the two into perspective, the median family will save about $350 a year in taxes.  The average hospital stay for an individual is 3-10 days (depending largely on age)…that’s a fee cost of $87 to $290 (and for those of you who say “well most people will not be in hospital that long” just remember that makes the fee even more onerous because it WILL effect most those who are suffering most and likely least like to afford it).

Okay, my math may be a little dodgy (mainly due to the lack of accurate numbers for ‘average hospital’ stay or the myriad of different income/fee/taxes an individual will pay) but the point should still be obvious. The hospital fee was not to pay for the tax cut but add in the added cost of medical insurance premiums[1], camping fees[2], transit fees[3], licence fees[4], tuition[5] and so on you will get there. (for those of us old enough, we remember when ‘user fee’ was a dirty word and the fees that did exist were token…not any more).

Cost of Bush's tax cuts

The point I am getting at, is if we want social services we have to pay for them as a society. That means when someone yells “tax cuts” remember they are also saying “cut services”. Maybe something you are comfortable with…maybe not but that is the reality of it. I was going to go on to talk about the wisdom of providing robust social services but that would be straying perhaps outside the bound of a sceptic podcast so we shall stop here and address the second point.

Many have claimed, largely Republicans and Monetarists, that cutting taxes increases tax revenue. On the surface this sounds paradoxical; however there is a shred of logic to be found. The idea, goes that if you cut taxes, those who have more money will invest in the economy, the economy grows, from this larger tax base you collect more absolute dollars even though the rate is lower. The idea works in reverse as well; increasing the tax rate will cause a contraction of the economy and a reduction in absolute dollars.

Often the example of the Reagan Revolution is used to prove this point…i.e. that it works in practice. However this is a flawed claim. As many modern economists have shown[6], including noble prize winner Paul Klugmen, the Reagan tax cuts did not improve the US economy and actually made government finances worse.

It is true the US economy grew fast from 1983-89 however this is in contrast to the miasma of the severe recession of 81-2. Capitalist markets are cyclical, and this was not an unusual recovery. Private savings, something supply-side economics assumes from the masses to provide the capital for investment, continues to decline throughout the decade (7.8->4.8%). Meaning, the money for the recovery, as it was, came from spending savings and increasing personal debt. Finally, this trend is echoed in the US budget; when Reagan came to office the US debt as a % of GDP was 32.5%, when Bush Sr. left it was 66.1%. Clinton, who raised taxes, brought the rate down to 56.4%. The same happened in Canada, when we increased taxes in the 90’s and went from the ‘basket-case’ nation to arguably the country with the most stable finances.

Lastly, the multiplier effect. Not all tax cuts are equal. Tax cuts cost money; those who claim that it is not should ‘not’ collect their next pay-check and see if it costs them money. So, the current desire of governments everywhere is stimulus. When the government (or anyone really) spends money it has what is called, a multiplier effect on the economy; that is for every “Y” dollars spent it generates Y*x (or Y’) in the economy. So, if I give you a dollar and you burn it, which generates no activity in the economy, in fact it removes the dollar from circulation so has a negative multiplier effect. Now most people will spend it or ‘invest’ it (be it real investments or just in your bank account) and they have a positive effect; that is they generate more than a dollars worth of economic activity. The best way to think about this is if you spend the dollar, the merchant sells more, can now hire a new employee, and we will in turn make more dollars and spend them; the new employee generates the new value. An economist could spin a better story, but I think you get the gist of it – the one dollar generates more than a dollar of economic activity.

Relative stimulus effect

Having given the background, how do tax cuts fair as stimulus[7]? In general, every dollar of tax cuts generates $1.30 of economic activity compared to a dollar spent on increasing UI benefits would generate $1.62 or increasing food stamps generates $1.74. There is also the issue of WHO to give the cut to. Lower income people spend (out of necessity) every penny they make so a cut in their taxes (thanks to HST we ALL pay taxes even the poorest) will generate the most activity but they latterly also have the least money (the bottom 50% of household control about 3% of Canadian wealth). As you move to the other extreme, the very wealthy often ‘invest’ most of their tax cuts (earning more than they need), so less activity generated but because they make more money a big bang (the top 10% own around 58.2% of the nation’s wealth[8] in the USA its 1% owning 35%). However, in a global world, it is most likely their investments will be ‘trans-national’ or outside ‘our’ economy and thus lost completely to the system – complete fizzle.

Society, of course, is not only extremes but a lopsided slope of ‘everything-in-between’ (note percentages of wealth ownership mentioned earlier) otherwise it would be easy to define tax policy; the trick is to determine both purpose (stimulate consumption, promote manufacturing, decrease inflation) and effectiveness. History has given us lessons to learn from and one a sceptical economist should be able to apply.

<From Episode #88 of Radio Free Thinker>

[1]British Columbia Medical Services Plan Premium Increase Notice
[2]BC April fee increases
[3]Ibid
[4]BC Gov 2010 fee increase
[5]BC Gov tuition increases
[6]Supply-Side Economics Debunked – TYT
[7] Recovery Ac
[8] Inequality in Canada

* By this i mean 15% of $100k = $18k while 15% of roughly the median income, $50k = $7.5k. So, the tax applies the same but the benefit is very unequal.

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Whats up with the Census?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 30, 2010

Recently the Harper government has decided to scrap the long form census while maintain the short form…both are mandatoryalthough that fact is often missed in the media coverage. There are two main reasons to agree with Harper and two to oppose him. First is the issue of the census being mandatory, it is with a fine up to $5000. However that is never mentioned by Harper et all is that no one has EVER been fined (based upon my researcher and a meta-search of others research). So this seems a red-herring.
The other issue the Anti-LongFromers (those with a negative attitude to the long form) have is the “intrusive” nature of the questions. The modern form asks you less information that the mandatory income tax form, nor more than Employment Canada asks from its clients. In fact the big question quoted in the press is “the number of bedrooms in your residence” (something asked for property taxes). Not very intrusive and not any worse than any number of other forms in our modern society. Now a little history might put this into context and shed light on how truly ‘intrusive’ the modern form is.
History of Canadian Census(1)
Even enumerations back in the 1700s, prior to census-taking, asked highly personal questions regarding the amount of stock in a household, the number of swords and guns, race and religious beliefs. One must remember that at the time, when most of what were called Canadians were recently conquered French or English and the tension between these two groups was high.
The modern census started in 1871. That Census asked 211 questions on area, land holdings, vital statistics, education, administration, the military, justice, agriculture, commerce, industry and finance. The population field included the age, sex, religion, education, race and occupation of each person.
Number of questions grew from 216 in 1891 to 561 in 1901. The max questions were in 1921 with 565.By 1986 it was done to 55. The 2006 census had 53 plus depending on how you count questions.
Now some point that you can’t trust ‘faceless bureaucrats’ who spy on your private information and use it for mischievous or nefarious purposes. But this stereotypical portrayal of ‘mistrust of civil servants’ seems wrong. When on the 2006 Census, StatsCan provided an option where people could voluntarily allow StatsCan access to their Customs and Revenue Agency information (ie income tax forms) over 82% agreed. Trust does not seem to be an issue.
Okay, but some people just don’t want to give out any information, even if redundant. First, as mentioned earlier, you can get away with giving it a miss. The number of non-reporters was very small although some native bands boycotted en-mass. Secondly, it is import information for StatsCan to have. This information is used by government and other entities (I should note here all identifiable information is redacted and kept hidden for a period of 92 yrs(2). What is accessible is the correlated numbers, not actual forms).
Why the mandatory long form is important
It is a persistent long term data set allowing for longitudinally modelling and data-mining analysis. That is it is a consistent measure unlike any other source of information available. Because of its coverage of the population is almost complete and its very large sample size, it allowing researchers to conduct more detailed analysis of income inequality and socio-economic factors especially at the ‘tail ends’ of the curves where self-reporting often distorts.
Harper want to replace the mandatory form with a voluntarily survey(3). However this has major issues. Firstly, sample bias, if voluntary you will get self selection bias (among others). To make a sample statistically significant, efforts must be made to ensure the responders are representative. Secondly, inconsistency of data. Surveys change with time and as different departments/groups are responsible for them the quality of the questions change. StatsCan is the staffed by the best statistical and social scientist in the country, whose lives missions have been since 1871 to ensure the purity, quality and consistency of the data set. Once it becomes a survey, it is like to be transferred to other hands or more likely more dangerously divided up; making future accurate analysis impossible.
For example(4), in 2000, the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics reported average income in the bottom Percentile  of just under $8,000 , whereas the Census found incomes of $6,000 – 25% less than SLID. Average income in the top 10%  is also higher in the Census than the SLID, meaning “the ratio of the average income in the top 10%  to the average in the bottom 10%  was 16.4 according to the Census but only 11.7 according to SLID.” That is the level of poverty in the country was under reported by the survey and the degree of inequality in the nation was underestimate by almost 40%
So why the big push now, to change things?
There are sever things that could be at play. The first is meme-contagion; that is a cultural meme/virus that has spread from one society to another. There are conservative moments to get rid of the Census in the UK and the USA as well as here in Canada.
Conservative Cameron’s UK government announced recently that the UK was thinking of abolishing all its census taking and rely on other databases of information for governmental decision making(5). There is also a strong conservative movement south of the border which seems intent on dismantle the social state.
In doing my research, i noted that these critics were not so disturbed by the mandatory fine, for there no one could point to anyone actually charged (although some made reference to court challenged, but that seemed the individual suing the Census and not the Census sue the individual). Down south the issue is BIG GOVERNMENT(6). That the census is unconstitutional; great worry was made about the “spying” of census takers of people ‘private property’ and that this would somehow lead to a Gestapo state.
Another main them was that the census was a welfare scam. Many Anti-Census types complained that census takers either got paid for doing nothing (“just walking the park estimating age, race, gender”), scamming, or associated with Acorn(7).
Many Anti-Census types complain about ‘harassment’, but that is because they ‘refuse by ignoring’ to fill out form or talk to census taker. So Census workers kept asking them to fill in the form…a self created issue. None complained of legal action.
Of course there also a guilt by association. Many of the sites i visited hosted “Sarah Palin” ads, tea party support or were some libertarian/Ron-Paul forum. The “constitutional” rebels they pointed, those who said they would rather go to jain than fill out a census (remember here no one seems to have ever been charge/fines, not a risky stance to hold) are you usual right-wing nut jobs – Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh(8), Rep. Michele Bachmann  and Carl Rove(9).
Lastly, one argument i heard as to why they want to get rid of the best source of data on and of Canada is outsourcing. The UK conservatives explicitly state they want to find more ‘cost effective’ ways of getting information. This reliance on ‘third party’ or private companies for statistical data could be used as an ‘excuse’ for companies (like Visa, FaceBook) to hold large amounts of ‘personal’ data that is ‘unrelated’ to their core business.
Of course, you might be skeptical of that last one?
6) Just do a google search for unconstitutional census, you’ll get a crack full.

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