Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ezra Schemes And Dreams

I would say that Ezra Levant should be careful about the company he keeps, but I doubt that there is more that can bring down his reputation other than simply being Ezra.

The merchant of malice and division, repugnant to the morally sane, has launched a new scheme to keep his rapidly-sinking Rebel Media afloat, a suspect retirement savings fund.
After struggling through rocky times in 2017, Levant is apparently now looking to diversify Rebel Media’s revenue streams, teaming up with an Alberta-based wealth management firm to offer Levant’s aging viewers the opportunity to stash their nest eggs in an alt-right website.

“The fund is directed at investors seeking to save for retirement or in retirement that desire modest, regular, steady income,” reads an information sheet promoting the fund. The sheet also notes the Rebel Freedom Fund is a match made in heaven for those looking for “both a financial and ideologically based investment.”
For those of sufficiently-strong constitution, here is a promotional video for the fund, led by Dale Wells:

Interesting the company that Ezra keeps. Consider Mr. Wells himself.
On the firm’s website, Wells says “we don’t invest traditionally,” explaining the firm focuses on “one-on-one” investments like financing movies and mortgages instead of mutual funds because the markets are “manipulated” – “I don’t want to say corruption,” Wells cautions, even though “I might feel that.”

“There’s no standard of acceptable practices or accounting or anything that you could follow along anymore because it’s all manipulated,” he adds.
That Mr. Wells believes that there is "no standard of acceptable practices or accounting" is evidenced by his own checkered past.
According to Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada records, Wells was disciplined by the regulators in 2011 for “business conduct unbecoming to the public interest” when he “acted in the role of an advisor without being registered as one.”

Specifically, the panel found that Mr. Wells committed a violation by entering into an arrangement to supply a financial services company with his own computer-generated research that recommended buy and sell opportunities related to mutual funds in return for a fee, and that this information was used regularly by that firm to make trades in an investment fund. In doing so, Mr. Wells acted as an advisor within the meaning of the Alberta Securities Act without being registered as such, contrary to IIROC Rule 29.1.

In its decision, the panel reviewed the requirements to be registered as an advisor under Alberta Securities law, and concluded "the evidence clearly established that the Respondent [Mr. Wells] held none of these qualifications."
As a consequence, Wells was levied a $25,000 fine and received
a three (3) year prohibition from conducting securities related business in any capacity while in the employ of, or associated with any Member of the MFDA, effective from August 1, 2014 to July 31, 2017.
Newly-freed from that ban, it appears that Wells may be up to his old habits, given his pairing up with that malevolent trickster Levant.

That the benighted might wish to risk some of their cash on this scheme is of no consequence or concern to me. What this episode does serve to illustrate, however, is the demographic that is being targeted, the same one, of course, that supports Levant's reactionary rants, mistruths, and distortions: the stupid, the gullible, and the sorely ill-educated.

It is almost enough to make this retired teacher despair at education's obvious failings.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Dying Cause

As a reasonably rational individual, I no longer look upon the ongoing cascade of gun massacres in the United States with either horror or sadness; the only real emotion I have left for that country is profound disgust. How else can it be viewed when it puts some mythically-infused Second Amendment rights above the safety and lives of its children?

Despite its hubristic clamour about being "the greatest country on earth," in my mind the U.S. is but an abjectly failed nation.

Even the latest tragedy, which saw 17 children and teachers murdered in Parkland, Florida, has left the NRA unbowed.
The head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, leveled a searing indictment on Thursday against liberal Democrats, the news media and political opportunists he said were joined together in a socialist plot to “eradicate all individual freedoms.”

Wayne LaPierre can rail all he wants about elites who don't care about American schools. What is important, however, is that finally, real pushback is being exercised. There is, of course, the valiant and passionate efforts of American students who are all too often the victims of NRA-induced gun madness. But add to that the fact that many national business are starting to take something of a stand, which I would call a good but modest start, against the NRA.

It began with a Twitter announcement by First National Bank of Omaha:
Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA. As a result, First National Bank of Omaha will not renew its contract with the National Rifle Association to issue the NRA Visa Card.
That was followed by
car rental company Enterprise (which also owns Alamo and National) announc[ing] they would no longer be offering discounts to NRA members.
The pressure and the momentum are building:

Subsequently, more companies have severed their ties with the merchants of death:
Both Allied Van Lines and North American Van Lines, moving companies operated by the same parent company, offered unspecified discounts for NRA members. On Friday, the parent company announced those benefits would be ending.
That has been followed by Insurer Chubb Ltd, Avis and Hertz car rentals and Symantec. As well, both Delta and United Airlines are ending their discounts to the annual gun-toters' convention. The Best Western hotel chain has done the same. I'm sure more will follow.

However, given the deeply-ingrained nature of American gun madness, it would be simplistic to think that success in bringing about even a modicum of sanity to gun laws is assured. Consider the NRA's reaction to this corporate hand-washing:
In a statement released Saturday afternoon, the group accused companies of “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.”

“Let it be absolutely clear. The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world.”
Fanaticism has always been a force difficult to tame, let alone defeat. It will take more than passionate students and corporations that have recently grown a conscience. It will take the collective goodwill and rationality that I'm sure still resides in parts of the Unted States.

The question remains to be answered, however, is whether even all of these forces combined will be enough to defeat the powers of darkness epitomized by the National Rifle Association.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Crowdsourcing, Anyone?

Like millions of people around the world, I have been deeply impressed and moved by the passionate conviction with which young people, spearheaded by the survivors of the horrific shootings in Parkland, Florida, are organizing and demonstrating to bring some sanity to the gun laws of the United States. Their biggest obstacle, of course, are the politicians bought and paid for by the NRA.

Today's Star has a flurry of letters about the national obsession that has resulted in far too many unnecessary deaths. To my mind, the best suggestion for remediation comes from Scott Heaslip, of Stouffville, who writes:
I have a suggestion for the young people concerned that their elected officials refuse to support effective gun control measures. They should crowd source a fund to hire a team of lawyers and private investigators to look into the backgrounds and business activities of those elected officials who are more interested in the continued support of the National Rifle Association than protecting the lives of their fellow citizens. These officials may then develop the backbone to do the right thing.
That is the kind of campaign many, many people, I'm certain, would be happy to get behind.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Conspiracy, Anyone?

Probably because I am in possession of a reasonably well-functioning brain and had the benefit of a good education, conspiracy theories have never held any particular allure for me. You know the kind I mean, the ones about faked moon landings, undersea ufo bases, and the machinations of the Illuminati who are plotting to achieve a new world order, thereby subverting all that is good and holy.

Yet such enjoy great currency, thanks largely, I suspect, to the Internet.

Now, in the wake of the Parkland school shooting tragedy, the conspiracy machine has a new target: a survivor of the shooting who is turning out to be a passionate and eloquent spokesman for gun control, David Hogg. The Toronto Star reports the following:
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, are among those targeted by conspiracy theories about the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people.

Similar hoaxes were spread online following other mass shootings, including the 2012 assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

In Florida, an aide to a state representative on Tuesday emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter a screenshot of them being interviewed on CNN and said, “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis [sic] when they happen.”
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie called the remarks “outrageous and disrespectful.”
Runcie called such attacks “part of what’s wrong with the narrative in this country. If someone just has a different type of opinion, it seems that we want to somehow demonize them or colour them as being somehow illegitimate instead of listening. We’ll never get beyond that if, as soon as you show up, you’re demonized.”

You can learn more about this from this NBC report:

The other day, I posted about Russian infiltration of American social media, their goal being to sow division and discord. Seems to me that Americans need little outside help in that regard.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Time To Be Atwitter?

I couldn't help but think of this story concerning trolls spreading fake news about Black Panther-related violence when I saw this:

Do I detect a pattern developing?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Is Black Panther A Band Aid?

For the past several days, much media attention has been devoted to the film Black Panther, hailed by many as a break-through cinematic achievement featuring an all-Black cast and depicting a fictitious futuristic African nation, Wakanda, which never experienced the scourge of colonialism. That, plus a cast of powerful Black women who form the backbone of the nation. All of this has propelled the movie into stratospheric earnings and a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

All of the above is certainly noteworthy and impressive, and far be it for me to disparage such an accomplishment. I enjoy a solid diverting film as much as the next person, but I cannot help but wonder whether that very diversionary quality is something all should be concerned about. To follow my logic, I ask that you watch two brief news clips, one from an American and one from a Canadian source:

It is nice that high-profile people like Serena Williams and Octavia Spencer are providing the means for young Black people to see the film, and, as made clear in the second clip, little Julian now has a black superhero to look up to and inspire him. Indeed, in Canada a group in Calgary is fundraising to reserve an entire theatre of 350 seats, to take children, tweens and teens to the movie, which has been called historic, on Feb. 24.

The message, to me, is clear: Black people are hungry for role models, those who can inspire them in their own lives. As the one young fellow in the first clip says, "It's our time to shine."

All of which strikes me as both deeply sad and disturbing. Think about it for a moment: a fictional cinematic superhero is the basis upon which people are building their hopes for a more fulfilling life. While not wholly baseless (the employment and empowerment of black actors and a multitude of ancillary businesses), the truth is they are finding self-worth and meaning in something that doesn't exist, a cinematic chimera.

And, I would argue, that particular media hype and slant is making it easier to ignore the underlying issues that make Black lives so difficult, both in Canada and the United States.

Think, for example, of the systemic racism that makes it harder for Black people to find good, sustaining jobs than their white counterparts. Think, as well, of the culture of poverty and the ghettoization that have kept too many from mainstream society for far too long. Think of police checks, carding, etc. etc., all institutional barriers to equality and success.

And yet, the dark subtext of the media coverage of Black Panther seems to be that if young Black people can be inspired by a movie, by God, they will have the capability of picking themselves up by their bootstraps and making something of their lives. In other words, they are ultimately the authors of their own misfortunes.

Victim blaming, anyone?

The media response to movies like Black Panther, it seems to me, simply encourages old stereotypes about Black people and does nothing to address the need for systemic change, equality of opportunity and other measures that would make both the United States and Canada truly countries of opportunity for all.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

On Political Prostitution

As the spectacle of political prostitution plays out in the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race (Carbon tax? Absolutely not!) (New efficiencies - not new taxes!) Star letter writer Norah Downey of Midland appears to have taken the full measures of the candidates:
PC party sitting down to eat itself alive, Cohn, Feb. 16

After hearing the Progressive Conservative leadership candidates present their arguments indicating why he or she is best to lead their party into the next election — nicely summed up in Martin Regg Cohn’s column — I have a suggestion for the party.

Along with voting to choose a leader on March 10, party members should vote to change the official name of the party. “Progressive” needs to be dropped. It really is just the “Conservative” party, or perhaps the “Stuck in the Past Conservative” party — because things were so much better in the past when Mike Harris trimmed the fat by slashing welfare payments and freezing minimum wage.

It’s 2018, with challenges such as climate change, precarious employment, people unable to find affordable housing and daycare, a growing dependency on food banks and our youth often misinformed about sex learned from the internet and social media.

We need leaders who are prepared to tackle these problems for the betterment of our society. I fear none of these four dinosaurs are up to the challenge.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Ugly American

I'll let the oleaginous Republican Senator Ted Cruz stand in for the rest of his ilk:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Less Than Meets The Eye?

Given its recent rather dubious pursuits of lost tax revenue, I readily admit that I don't know what to make of the latest report that the CRA has actually begun to pursue monies lost to offshore tax havens.

Zach Dubinsky reports the following:
Canada Revenue Agency officers, backed up by police, raided locations in three provinces Wednesday as part of a criminal tax-evasion probe stemming from the Panama Papers, the agency said.

About 30 criminal investigators from the CRA executed three search warrants in the Toronto area, Calgary and West Vancouver, with assistance from the RCMP and the West Vancouver police, the CRA said in a statement online.
My first reaction, upon reading this, was that it was bloody-well about time. However, then I started wondering whether or not this was a move intended more for public consumption than fiscal rectitude in advance of the upcoming federal budget, full of sound and fury and perhaps signifying little.

Consider the evidence.
Last year, CRA assistant commissioner Ted Gallivan told the Star his priority was going after lawyers and accountants who orchestrated offshore tax evasion schemes for “dozens” of clients.

Last month, the Star reported that tax authorities around the world had recovered more than half a billion dollars in tax through their investigations into the Panama Papers.
By contrast, Canada has recovered nothing.

Additionally, in recent months, the CRA has had domestic targets in its sights, targets that in some cases seem like easy, even dishonorable, pickings.

The Guardian from Prince Edward Island reports that citizens, some among our most vulnerable, are feeling the tax man's wrath:
A 25-year-old Stratford woman struggling to pay off her student debt has been hit with a $15,000 tax bill by the Canada Revenue Agency over her tips.

Anita Casey is one of dozens of servers with the Murphy Hospitality Group who received letters three weeks ago saying they were being audited over their tips, retroactive two years.

“It’s pretty crazy that they’re coming after the poor young population who are in school and just trying to support themselves,’’ Casey told The Guardian.
Then there is the CRA operation targeting people's postal codes:
The Canada Revenue Agency's Postal Code Project is targeting the wealthiest neighbourhoods in all regions of the country, those with gold-plated postal codes, where auditors will pore through the tax filings of every well-heeled resident, address by address.

They're looking for undeclared wealth, signs that a taxpayer is actually richer than their income tax filings suggest.

"Comparing someone's lifestyle — cars, boats, houses — to their reported income helps us identify people who are non-compliant," said CRA spokesperson Zoltan Csepregi.
A well-publicized initiative, it has the whiff of class-warfare about it, one that will inevitably prompt some to look upon the wealthy with suspicion and disdain. And perhaps yet another effort at misdirection, given their singular absence of progress on bringing the offshore havens to account?

Our country is renowned for its "snow washing," a testiment to the ease with which money can be hidden and laundered thanks to Canada's laws facilitating shell companies. It will therefore take more than a well-publicized raid to convince me that the Trudeau government and the Canada Revenue Agency are serious about making corporate evaders pay their fair share.

As Fox Mulder would say, "I want to believe." However, I shall wait to see the money before I am convinced that serious changes are underway.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ain't Love Grand?

A little something for you incurable romantics on this most 'sacred' of days.

H/t Theo Moudakis

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Parochial Post?

While I realize that a post about Ontario politics is likely of little interest to those living elsewhere, I believe what has happened in my province serves as a solid object lesson about the creeping privatization of public assets.

I have written in the past about Premier Kathleen Wynne's betrayal of the province. Upon winning a majority in the last election (after the holder of the balance of power, the NDP's Andrea Horwath, decided to go for the gold and triggered an unnecessary election), Wynne announced the sell-off of 60% of one of the province's crown jewels, Hydro One, despite the fact that it generated just under $1 billion in annual revenue. Her avowed purpose was to "broaden ownership" (how much broader can public ownership be?) and use revenues from the sale to finance transportation and other infrastructure projects.

Now, a report by the Financial Accountability Office (FAO) confirms the folly of that sale:

To sum up, as Rob Ferguson reports,
It would have been $1.8 billion cheaper for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government to borrow money for transit and infrastructure projects than sell a 53-per-cent stake in Hydro One.
Even more distressing,
...the provincial treasury will lose $1.1 billion in dividends from Hydro One this year and an average of $264 million annually until the 2024-25 fiscal year.
So one has to ask, why didn't Wynne simply borrow the money for these infrastructure projects? My belief is that, despite some progressive policies, hers is essentially a neoliberal regime, committed to the notion that government should play only a supporting role so that the depredations of the corporate agenda can prevail. That, and, as New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns observed,
“It was all about making the books look good [i.e., a balanced budget] for the election".
What can the rest of Canada learn from this debacle? If nothing else, it teaches all of us to remain vigilant about our public assets, and to keep a steady eye, for example, on the Trudeau government, which is currently studying privatization of our major airports.

In the latter case, my prediction is we will hear nothing more about it until after the next federal election. Should the Liberals secure another majority, be ready for the next round of corporate nest-feathering at the expense of our federal treasures.

Monday, February 12, 2018

For Canadian Banks, It Is Never Enough

It is not enough that banks are making record, some would say obscene, profits. Nor is the fact that the banks' regulatory body, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, has not conducted an unannounced audit since 2005. No, it would seem that these institutions want as much as they can extract, even from those customers who fall victim to banking errors and incompetence.

The thinking person must ask, "Why are they being given virtual carte blanche by our government?"

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tiger Williams' Disgrace

Let me be clear. I have not been a fan of hockey since I was a boy, when only six teams constituted the NHL. However, I am struck by the disparity in details between a newspaper and a television news report surrounding the conduct and arrest of former Leaf enforcer Tiger Williams for incidents that occurred on a military flight to Latvia, a flight intended to boost the morale of Canadian troops overseas.

Here is how the Toronto Star reports it:
Former NHL player Dave “Tiger” Williams has been charged with sexual assault and assault following incidents on-board a Canadian military flight as he headed overseas for a morale-boosting visit with deployed troops.

“The charges related to reported incidents during a Canadian Armed Forces flight to Latvia,” said navy Lt. Blake Patterson, spokesperson for Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and military police.

“The accused was a passenger . . . the victim reported the assault during the flight,” he said Friday in an interview.

Williams could not be reached for comment. However, his lawyer, Michael Lacy, issued a statement urging people to hold off judgment.

“I understand from the police it is alleged that Tiger inappropriately touched the complainant over clothing on the buttocks,” Lacy said. “Tiger denies any wrongdoing and is confident he will be vindicated.” official told the Star he believed the hockey player remained on the tour and was not sent home [emphasis mine].
Now here is the unsanitized version of the event, as reported by Global News. You need only watch about the first 52 seconds to learn of two crucial details omitted from the Star report, details of Williams' behaviour that can only be described as shameful and disgraceful:

For me, the stories are significant for two reasons:

First, the disparity between the two underscores the importance of getting our news from a variety of sources for a fuller picture of events.

Second, if Williams' conduct was as egregiously inappropriate as the Global News report suggests, why did the military not take immediate action against him, rather than letting him continue his participation in the tour?

Or is all of the military's recent talk about 'zero tolerance' for sexual harassment and assault merely PR and essentially meaningless?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Who Do You Trust?

When it comes to a choice between believing a government with a vested interest in protecting a $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and independent reports that those armaments are being used against domestic populations, I tend to side with the later.

Consider the evidence.

The Saudi Arabian National Guard, a buyer of Canadian-made light armoured vehicles, posted this photo on Twitter in November, 2015. It shows combat vehicles being moved to Najran, a Saudi town near the border with Yemen.

Two years ago, the following was reported in the Globe and Mail:
Canadian-made armoured vehicles appear to be embroiled in Saudi Arabia's war against Yemeni-based Houthi rebels – caught up in cross-border hostilities that critics say should force Ottawa to reconsider a $15-billion deal to sell Riyadh more of these weapons.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis – who are aligned with Iran – has already been accused by a United Nations panel of major human-rights violations for what its report called "widespread and systematic" air-strike attacks on civilian targets. Along the Saudi-Yemen border, constant skirmishes pit Houthi fighters against Saudi ground forces such as the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

...a retired Canadian general consulted by The Globe and Mail, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified the LAVs being transported to Najran as fighting vehicles made by General Dynamics Land Systems. Stephen Priestley, a researcher with the Canadian American Strategic Review, a think tank that tracks defence spending, also identified the LAVs as Canadian-made.

Critics say having Canadian-made arms enmeshed in a conflict that has claimed more than 2,800 civilian lives should prompt Ottawa to rethink the recent $15-billion deal to sell hundreds or thousands more to the Saudis.
And last summer, a video emerged appearing
to show for the first time Canadian-made light armoured vehicles being deployed by Saudi security forces in an operation against militants in the Shia-populated eastern part of the kingdom.

Add to the above the fact that Saudi Arabia is a notorious abuser of human rights, so much so that a group of British lawyers has launched a campaign to remove the country from the UN's Human Rights Council.

None of this, however, has forked any lightning with the Trudeau government. The Toronto Star reports that an investigation by the Canadian government has concluded that there is "no conclusive evidence" that the above is true, and so the arms deal will continue.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told a Commons committee Thursday the “independent objective opinion” of her departmental officials [can there truly be independence in a government department?] did not determine that was the case. When the NDP asked for the report to be publicly released, the minister deferred to her department.
As frequently happens with Mr. Trudeau's regime, while they continue to give Saudi Arabia carte blanche in its abuses, they are vowing to toughen up the export permit process.
Governments should be required to deny permits where there is a “substantial risk” that an export on Canada’s control list “could be used to commit human rights violations,” Freeland said.

Freeland said the Liberal government will accept amendments to enshrine such an obligation in law, via a bill now before Parliament to allow Canada to accede to the international Arms Trade Treaty. At the same time, she said, pre-existing contracts would be honoured, meaning the Saudi contract would not be subject to review under new criteria.
That kind of fancy footwork may provide a measure of political cover for a government aiding and abetting the Saudis. However, one can't help but wonder how reassuring it will be to those domestic populations who will continue to be abused by the Saudis and quite possibly fall victim to the Light Armoured Vehicles that Canada will continue to ship to the repressive nation.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Will It Be Vision Or Political Expedience?

In yesterday's post, I wondered whether Jagmeet Singh and the NDP will embrace a form of radical progressivism as it prepares for the 2019 federal election or instead hew to more mainstream policies that they think will make them more electable. In today's Star, two letter-writers offer some important perspective.

Rose DeShaw, of Kingston, Ont., reminds us of a time when the thirst for power was secondary to New Democrats' agenda:
American politics has changed Canadian politics. What we need is not a populist wave or to win big but to build a solid, basic set of public values that express a new and deep intention to reverse the trend of inequality in society by establishing policies of support for all women, men and children in their lives.

The important thing for the NDP is to once again become the conscience of the Canadian government. The old CCF/NDP was concerned with pressing government to improve the lives of Canadians, not by winning elections but by changing the policies of the larger parties to bring in the baby bonus, a national health act, pensions and social insurance, to name a few.
Ken Sisler, of Newmarket, Ont. reminds us of the the failure of our governments thus far, and the vital need for progressive politics:
Yes, it is time for a Bernie-Sanders-style, left-wing populist movement in Canada. The system has failed poor people and working-class people. We need universal pharmacare, dental care, child care, vision care and a $15 national minimum wage. These are not radical ideas. Many countries already have these programs.
We await with bated breath to see what road leader Jagmeet Singh chooses.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Leap Of Faith?

Thus far, I have been singularly underwhelmed by the performance of federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. First, although a well-established Ontario MPP and deputy leader of the provincial party, he showed an unseemly timidity in refusing to seek a federal byelection seat when he had the opportunity. That decision has obviously kept him out of the House, ensuring that he is a largely unknown commodity to both the country and, to an extent, his own caucus.

I also take exception to the way he cheapened his engagement to Gurkiran Kaur by inviting a photographer from The Canadian Press and a reporter from Toronto Life to document his proposal.

Finally, there was his rush to judgement in suspending NDP MP Erin Weir from the caucus without even knowing anything about the harassment allegations against him. I guess he wanted to show he is no slouch in the #MeToo movement.

But I am willing to cut Singh some slack if he proves not to be just an opportunistic politician angling to become Justin Trudeau 2.0 The definitive test will be how he reacts to a movement that has gathered impressive momentum in both the U.S. and Great Britain: radical progressivism.

Susan Delacourt writes :
For the past two years, the Leap Manifesto has been a disruptive force within New Democratic Party politics. Now, on the eve of the federal NDP convention this month, top organizers for U.S. Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders and British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn are coming to town to lend the Leap movement support.

That leftist movement — led by prominent Canadian activists Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis — will stir things up whether the current NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, likes it or not.
Supporters of Bernie Saunders in the U.S. and Jeremy Corby in the U.K, along with those from the Momentum U.K. movement believe they have common cause with The Leap Manifesto, in which Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis played pivotal roles.
The Leap Manifesto is a declaration, fewer than 1,500 words in total, calling for some sweeping policies to deal with global problems such as climate change, and income inequality. Among the recommendations are an end to all pipelines and international trade deals, as well as calls for national child care program and studies into a basic, guaranteed income.
Given the popularity of Saunders and Corbyn in their respective countries, the disastrous election of Donald Trump, and the disappointing refusal of Justin Trudeau to keep his promises, organizers are convinced the time is propitious to harness a populist left agenda. Says Sanders adviser Becky Bond:
“It really wasn’t about Bernie,” she says. “It really was about a movement of people that are really ready for big change and being able to tap into all of those people and work together to make the change, whether the politicians have it on the agenda or not.”

The ideas linking Leap, Momentum and the Sanders campaign are large ones: fighting climate change, the power of banks and corporations and income inequality.

“When I was handed the Leap Manifesto I saw that this was also happening in Canada . . . a movement of people organizing themselves, not behind a politician, but behind a set of ideas that we could fight for,” said Bond.
Such radical ideas have not found a happy home within the NDP power structure. The question we are therefore left to ponder is this: Will Jagmeet Singh rise to the occasion as the new leader and embrace this momentum, or will he, like Justin Trudeau 1.0, prove to be yet another politician bent only on securing and maintaining power?

Friday, February 2, 2018

Seeking Some Substance - Part 2

In Part 1, I tried to establish that there is a gross discrepancy between the rhetoric and the reality of Justin Trudeau's promise to makie sure corporations pay their fair share. Indeed, if truth be told, his government has done little or nothing to alter the CRA ethos, imposed during the Harper era, to give the corporate world an easy taxation ride. For example, as outlined in the previous post, where other countries are recovering significant sums previously lost to offshore tax evasion and avoidance, Canada has thus far recovered nothing.

The CRA, it appears, would rather indulge in some domestic spying than go after the real evaders:
The Canada Revenue Agency's Postal Code Project is targeting the wealthiest neighbourhoods in all regions of the country, those with gold-plated postal codes, where auditors will pore through the tax filings of every well-heeled resident, address by address.

They're looking for undeclared wealth, signs that a taxpayer is actually richer than their income tax filings suggest.

"Comparing someone's lifestyle — cars, boats, houses — to their reported income helps us identify people who are non-compliant," said CRA spokesperson Zoltan Csepregi.
Class warfare, anyone? Or how about a little misdirection to distract people from the real villains of the piece, the corporations?

In fact, the CRA is really not making any effort to conceal their true motives:
"The Postal Code Project also has the potential to demonstrate to the public that the CRA is actively working towards its fairness objective, which speaks to our integrity as an organization."
While not opposed to this measure, Diana Gibson of the Ottawa-based Canadians for Tax Fairness
said it deals with only a small part of the problem.

"It's a good step. It's a small step," arguing that Canada's big corporations are responsible for about two-thirds of the country's tax avoidance problems.

"We applaud it, even if it's small," she said. "It's nowhere near adequate."
While this government-approved misdirection is taking place,(and one would be exceedingly naive to believe the CRA acts independent of government direction) a new report by The Tax Justice Network shows that Canada is, effectively, one of the world’s more attractive “onshore tax havens.”

Every two years, the Network releases its Financial Secrecy Index, which shows how much
a country’s legal system facilitates global financial crimes such as money laundering and tax evasion.

Canada is No. 21 on the list, slightly higher than its 2016 ranking at No. 23. The higher the ranking, the more financially secret a country is.

“It’s a bad exam grade on the state of the country’s financial secrecy laws,” said Arthur Cockfield, a tax law scholar and policy consultant at Queen’s University. “It means that if you’re a crook or a super rich person who wants privacy, then you can use our corporate laws to hide the identity of the ultimate owner of the shares (of your company).”
You can read the details at the above link, but Cockfield draws a damning conclusion:
“The hypocrisy is that Canada is part of the OECD, forcing countries like the Bahamas, like Panama, to change,” Cockfield said. “We use our power to make them change their laws, but that just makes Canada (a) more attractive place for these crooks. We won’t change our laws.”
So, to repeat the question posed in Part 1 of this post, "What is to be done?"

There are some obvious answers, like closing the loopholes that allow this corporate cheating to take place. That is exactly what a strange alliance between the NDP and the Conservatives (politics does indeed make for strange bedfellows) is calling for:
“The system is designed for multinationals and big companies to avoid tax,” said NDP tax critic Pierre-Luc Dusseault in an interview. “The system is the problem.”
And that worm, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre, chimed in:
“Those who have the financial means to set up complex arrangements are always better off under regimes that are highly complex.”

“The smaller, leaner entrepreneurial businesses can’t afford to have large legal and tax accounting departments that allow them to game the system. So they are automatically at an unfair and unjustified disadvantage,”
Do not forget that we are talking about some very, very significant lost tax revenue that the individual has to make up:
In 2016, Ottawa collected $3.50 in income tax from individuals for every $1 it collected from businesses.

The Star/Corporate Knights investigation revealed that Canada’s 102 largest corporations collectively avoided $62.9 billion in income taxes over the past six years. On average, that’s $10.5 billion less per year than if they paid the official corporate tax rate.

It’s also an average of $100 million missing from the public purse per company, per year.
The message about tax cheating is filtering down to the average citizen as well, with
more than 27,000 Canadians [having signed] a petition calling on the government to raise corporate taxes and close tax loopholes.

The petition also asks the government to consider imposing a special levy on banks, which are the country’s biggest tax avoiders.

While the Big Five banks are collecting record profits, their income tax rates have dropped to the point where companies in the banking sector paid 1/3 the rate of other large Canadian companies in 2015.

At 16 per cent, the tax rate paid by the biggest Canadian banks is the lowest in the G7.
Canada is hardly a passive victim of tax avoidance and evasion. It is clearly a facilitator. If Justin Trudeau's speech in Davos about the need for corporations to pay their fair share is to be seen as anything more than his usual pious pontifications, it is long past due that he finally prove that he is no longer interested in giving these entities the free ride they have thus far enjoyed.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Primer On Trump's Mendacity

You probably don't need this, but it is an incisive analysis of the multitude of lies that permeated Trump's State of the Union Address.