Tax Evasion, especially corporate tax evasion

Those of you who receive Secrecy News eMails from the Federation of American Scientist’s website ( will be aware that there is a lot of interest in the USA government in reining in tax evasion, particularly large corporations. Rich people are being targeted as well. Recently a ‘merger’ in the USA (pharmaceuticals, as I recall) was blocked because it would, in effect, be a reverse takeover. In this manoeuver, a small company ‘becomes’ the head office by ‘taking over’ a large company. Profits are declared in the country of HQ of the small company.

The Americans are trying to shore up tax losses caused by legal, as well as questionable, means. Law changes and regulatory attitude changes should be expected.

So it is no real surprise that the EU is also trying to close corporate tax loopholes. Here you will find a page which includes the new idea of publicizing corporate earnings and taxes, wherever they do business. I will give a small quote, emphasis mine.

For the mining, forestry and the other extractive industries, campaigners say the rules are undermined by companies only having to report on countries where the extraction takes place — meaning the use of offshore financial centres remains concealed. They also say the information required is less detailed than for the banks.

“We need a tool that covers all types of large multinational corporations, and ensures that the public can see whether multinational corporations are really paying taxes in the countries where they do business,” Ms Ryding said.

That sounds like a good idea. However, there may be complications. Leakers of tax deals in Luxembourg are being supported by France (they are French nationals) but are being prosecuted. You can read this here. I will quote a few interesting words from the ending, emphasis mine.

The scandal put pressure on European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who led Luxembourg when many of the tax breaks were implemented.

He has denied wrongdoing and has backed new EU rules to make corporate taxation more transparent.

And don’t think the British are innocent here either; apparently, David Cameron moved to keep ‘trusts’ out of the tax crackdown in 2013. You can read this here. I will give a small quote, emphasis mine.

David Cameron intervened personally to prevent offshore trusts from being dragged into an EU-wide crackdown on tax avoidance, it has emerged.

In a 2013 letter to the then president of the European council, Herman Van Rompuy, the prime minister said that trusts should not automatically be subject to the same transparency requirements as companies.

The EU planned to shine a light on the dealings of offshore bodies by publishing a central register of their ultimate owners but, in a letter unearthed by the Financial Times that remains publicly available on the government’s website, Cameron said: “It is clearly important we recognise the important differences between companies and trusts … This means that the solution for addressing the potential misuse of companies – such as central public registries – may well not be appropriate generally.”

The prime minister’s personal involvement in the EU-wide debate emerged as he continued to face questions about his family’s connections to Blairmore Holdings Inc, the offshore trust set up by his late father, the existence of which was revealed in leaked papers from the database of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.

So, to recap:

The European Union is putting pressure on tax havens.
This effort is headed by Jean-Claude Juncker.
Jean-Claude Juncker was head of Luxembourg while the tax havens were being set up.
Britain is much interested in putting pressure on tax havens.
David Cameron is heading Britain.
David Cameron shielded offshore trusts from the tax inquisition.
David Cameron’s family apparently owns an offshore trust.

So, for the first dumb question, is the fox guarding the hen-house?

The $ numbers I’ve seen in CRS reports are staggering.

So, for the second dumb question, can we expect a lot of pushback from corporations and their lobbyists?

French citizens are being prosecuted in Luxembourg for whistle blowing about tax evasion schemes.

The last dumb question is this: is it conceivable that some tax haven jurisdictions are, in effect, run for the purpose of being tax havens? Is the government of Luxembourg negatively motivated to help ‘out’ tax evasion?

On Large Fields, and Fencerows

Here you will find a Nature article on field edges, and an experiment. The results may surprise you. I will quote the abstract, which is enough.

Setting aside some farmland as wildlife habitat might not reduce crop yields.

Richard Pywell at the Natural Environment Research Council’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, UK, and his team studied 56 fields at a farm growing wheat, oilseed rape and field beans over 6 years. Along field edges, 0%, 3% or 8% of the total cropped area was set aside as habitat for birds, pollinators and other wildlife. None of the crop yields in the three experiments decreased, despite the difference in crop area. In fields without any habitat set aside, yields at the edges were poor, whereas in fields with habitat margins, the wildlife seemed to boost yields by increasing the productivity per unit area.

For beans, the yield was 35% higher in the fields where the most land was set aside.

The article is dated October 2015. I have a Nature subscription and was able to find it. What made me want to look was a more recent article (also in Nature) about crops in marginal land in Africa.

Planting trees (acacia, I think) amongst the crops increased yields in soils that were depleted, often from overgrazing. The trees made leaves in the rainy season, and dropped them, fertilizing the crops with carbon and fixed nitrogen.

Another strategy was to mix in other plants: ones that grew later than the legumes, for example, in the midst of the main crop. These were anti- to boring insects. At the edges, another plant which attracts borers, and later traps their larvae in sap. Both these plant types could be used for animal fodder. On alternate seasons, maize could be grown instead of legumes.

The effect was to greatly increase yield on what was poor soil, from a tenth of the ideal yield in North America, to three times that.

So, what’s my point? My point is that, our huge agribusiness farms are not the most efficient in terms of crop yield per acre. I suspect they are optimized for cash yield per acre, which takes into account human labour costs and the lost time moving from one small field to another.

I also think studies have shown that fields in North America that have margins with ‘wild’ plants growing there, have better pollination and are more robust against insect pests.

Of course, nothing will change. Facts don’t matter, only profit does. This in a world where even our own people often go hungry. Something like 80,000 food bank visits per month in Toronto (central) alone.

So, now for the mandatory dumb questions.

Could we use more food production, if it were affordable to the poor?

Are the African countries facing tough conditions more able to adapt than we are?

Is this because our agribusiness is more or less concentrated, whereas in Africa it is still relatively small farms for most of the cultivated area?

(I must note that, when the African farmer does not own the worked land , he or she is less likely to invest in its replenishment. This is, imho, the problem with slum housing here as well, but that’s an entirely other post for a different day, eh?)

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Three Things that Take Too Long

There are a lot of things that take too long, but I will content myself by blogging about three different instances. Then I will ask the mandatory dumb questions, eh?

  1. Nobel Prizes
  2. Coming to Trial in Canada
  3. Affordable housing, as in waiting-for.

Nobel Prizes. Since these are easily found in Wikipedia, I will let you do your own checking and simply give two examples.

Robert A Mundell, Canadian economist who laid the theory behind the Euro, did this work in the 1970‘s and received the Nobel Prize in 1999.

Albert Einstein, who received the Nobel Prize in 1921 for the photoelectric effect. (They were afraid to give him the prize for Special Relativity, also papered in 1905, because it was deemed to controversial.) Einstein produced this paper in 1905.

Police investigations, especially of police, especially in Toronto, Canada. I will provide one hotlink here and then quote from this one famous instance. Emphasis mine.

The lead investigator in one of Toronto’s major corruption trials is being blamed for much of the delay that led to charges being tossed Monday against two former high-profile police officers.

After almost six years, Superior Court Justice Bonnie Croll stayed the charges against Det.-Const. William McCormack – son of a former Toronto police chief – and Const. Rick McIntosh, once the popular president of the Toronto police union, ruling that delays had breached their right to a fair trial.

McCormack and McIntosh were accused of shaking down bar owners in the Entertainment District.

Affordable Housing. Here is a hotlink to one case; there are thousands. I will give a  quote; as always, emphasis mine.

Tilley believes the stress of relying on soup kitchens, food banks and used clothing depots to survive is behind his worsening heart condition.“I had open heart surgery last year,” he says. “The wait is actually killing me.”But after nine years, Tilley’s wait may soon be over. Local housing officials contacted him last week to say an affordable unit may be available soon.

Now for the dumb questions.

As a society, we permit ridiculously long wait times.

Einstein enjoyed surfing a wave of fame, so for him, the sixteen year wait for the Nobel was perhaps not critical. However, almost nobody has ever heard of Robert A. Mundell, even in Canada. And he waited some twenty years for his recognition. Imagine getting this at a younger age: its effect upon career, social life, self-image.

Our police system takes too long. Six years to get the G20 cops to trial. Six years to bring charged police officers to trial. Eighteen month investigations. Meanwhile, justice suffers.

Some 3.2% of Ontarians are in or waiting for affordable housing. It takes nine years in one example. There are others, with even longer wait times.

Now, for the dumb questions, really.

What kind of society are we, that we allow delays to weaken our recognition system, weaken our court system, and weaken our social safety net?

Why do we allow this? Are we all asleep?

Resonance: by Gary Beck

(This is a cut&paste of a review posted on Amazon as a Kindle Book Review Team member.)

Over a hundred poems, on the human condition and social challenges

four stars

As always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later. On to the work!

From the first poem, Dire Prediction, you will begin to grok Beck’s voice and one of his main themes, social commentary.

Beck’s introduction claims a distance from ‘literary’ poetry, which is fair; however, his claim not to use literary devices such as metaphor is simply misleading, as in this from Possession: “the memory of your too brief possession /paints your face upon a plaster-peeling ceiling, /splays your thighs across a molting rug /preens your breasts upon a eunuch bed, /amiable and insolent.”  Thus we find Beck’s second theme, interpersonal relationships, with few holds barred.

For almost shockingly simple social commentary, turn to Radiation Rhapsody. If you’re into pacifism, turn to Before They Turn to Dust. Then turn to This Is the Voice of One Man Singing – About the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962. Written in slang/dialect, this is one scary insight, blending social condition and concern about war.

If you’re scrolling for the tiny carps, you can stop here. Maybe an echo or two; in short, nothing. Back to the good stuff.

For a poem that mixes anti-war and the human condition, turn to Rant.

In Zoo Threat, we have a poem that forces an uncomfortable experience upon the reader. A favourite in this collection.

For more examples of subtle metaphor, turn to Estranged, where we find this: “I touch you often, /though you never hear my fingers /whisper that I need more than your reluctant flesh/ …”

I should mention that there are some prose poems, and they are quite enjoyable as well. I had several other poems noted, but this should be enough to give you a feel for what’s on offer here.

That said, how do I come up with four stars? My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. This is, imho, clearly four stars from this curmudgeon, and highly recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Reducing Sugar in Soft Drinks: is this a good idea? Some sour grapes.

The UK is about to add a tax to producers of drinks that contain sugar. Depending on the amount of sugar per 100 ml, the tax will be levied at one of two rates (in British pence, of course.)

Supposedly this is to counter obesity.

This is a mistake.

Here is a nature article on this topic. I will add a few quotes for those of you who cannot reach the original content. As always, emphasis mine. Note: NAS = non-caloric artificial sweetener.

Suez and colleagues added an NAS supplement (saccharin, sucralose or aspartame) to the diets of mice, and found that the sweeteners altered the animals’ metabolism, raising blood glucose to significantly higher levels than those of sugar-consuming mice. This was true both for mice fed a normal diet and for those on a high-fat diet — a model for a situation in which NAS supplements might be used to control weight. Because variations in diet have been shown to directly lead to changes in the populations of bacteria that occupy the gut, the authors examined whether these bacteria were responsible for the metabolic changes that they observed. And, indeed, when they used antibiotics to deplete the gut bacteria, they found that this eliminated NAS-induced glucose intolerance in mice fed either diet.

Let me summarize, having read all three articles when this came out:

  • all three artificial sweeteners actually raise blood sugar levels.
  • this is caused by a change in gut bacteria in the test animals.

Now for the dumb questions:

  • will drink makers in the UK, to save tax money, reduce the amount of sugar in their products, and adding artificial sweeteners instead?
  • are many of us already doing this to ourselves, e.g. with ™ Coke Zero, and other ‘sweetener’ choices?

and finally,

  • Nature is a UK-produced science journal, actually one of a large family of top-rated science journals. Is the UK bureaucracy unaware of the UK’s own research results?