Friday, November 7, 2014

A Tax Cut in Name, a Tax Increase in Reality

Much has been made of the Harper Conservatives' new income-splitting tax cut. It's actually called the Family Tax Cut. The schedule on the federal income tax return will actually be called Schedule 1-A: Family Tax Cut.

While Conservative supporters came flying out of the gates praising the measures as putting money back in the pockets of Canadians, it is only doing it for a few, for those who need it least, and on aggregate, is actually increasing our personal income tax burden.

Changes impact few Canadians

54% of families in Canada with children under 18 will get no benefit from this. Another 12.8% will only get an extra $250, not nearly enough to pay for even one month of child care for one child. Of all Canadian households, only 10% will see some benefit from income splitting.

Benefits those who need it least

Who does benefit mightily? Families with one high income spouse and one low income spouse. There is a small segment of the population that will reach the $2000 cap for this program. Here is the family structure you must have to maximally benefit from this program.

1. 1 or more child under 18.
2. 2 parents
3. A combination of the following annual earnings for each parent
a. Parent A makes $75k or more and Parent B makes nothing
b. Parent A makes $150k or more and Parent B makes $25k or less.
c. Parent A makes $200k or more and Parent B makes $50k or less.

You see now why it's not so unbelievable that less than half of Canadian families will benefit.

The average income splitting benefit per couple doesn't get north of $600 until they're making more than $82000.

You can't even make the argument, as supporters of the Conservatives and this plan do, that this will be of most benefit to those who choose to stay home and care for their children. The median income of families with one breadwinner and a non-working spouse is $40000. Their benefit from this plan would be $38 or less.

It increases the personal income tax burden of Canadians

The Parliamentary Budget Officer crunched the numbers on this plan. And here is where it falls completely apart.

The Conservatives would have you believe this is putting money in the pockets of Canadians. And it is. For one whole fiscal year.

After 2014/2015 (an election year), this plan causes two things to happen.

1. The total personal income tax burden on Canadians increases.
2. Total government expenditures increase. A lot.

The government has introduced a tax cut that actually causes taxes to increase. But not enough to offset the cost of the program. 

Enough so that by 2018/2019, it will COST the government an extra $4.8 billion.

If all that were not enough to make you wince, they are taking some of your tax dollars to advertise this tax cut increase in their typical partisan fashion, even though it will not actually be a law until next year.

It eliminates the Child Tax Credit

A previous version of this post mistakenly stated that the Child Tax Benefit would be eliminated. This was untrue. Due to the similarity of the names and the reporting of both names in connection with the Family Tax Cut, it was confusing.

For the sake of clarity, the CTB is a monthly benefit paid to lower income families. The CTC is a tax credit claimed on your annual tax return that lowers your taxable income by a certain dollar amount per child under 18. 

Since the Child Tax Benefit essentially credits you $338 per child in the family, but the enhanced UCCB adds $1200 per year, it is a net benefit to taxpayers with children under 18 living at home. 

All of the above still applies. On aggregate, it will increase the total personal income tax burden of Canadians and increase federal government expenses by a substantial amount. In fact, in Budget 2014, they project growing surpluses over the next four years. This plan is evidence that a budget is only good as those who try to keep on it. This plan instantaneously wiped out almost all the surplus they were on track to record this year. And it spent 50% of the surplus for the next 4 years. Increased taxes and expenditures to give a handout to a small portion of Canadian households. 

I thought tax-and-spend was a Liberal thing? 

And I'm far from the only one to consider this plan economically and politically foolish.

Income splitting and social engineering
Income splitting is bad politics...
Income splitting won't help those who need it
Harper's family tax cut isn't great policy, or good politics
Income splitting: Huge tax cuts for rich families
Wealthy husbands will cash in big time...
7 facts about Harper's family tax plan
Did Ottawa announce a tax increase last week?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Where are we going?

If you ask me, the glory days of Canada as a world leader in quality of living have sadly passed.  That does not mean they will never return, but we are certainly at a lower point than we have been at any time in my living memory.

I remember as a child being so proud to say that Canada topped the UN Human Development Index year after year after year.  So as I've been watching Stephen Harper's Conservatives slowly erode what I consider to be fundamental Canadian values it has made me more and more nostalgic for that bygone era.

Many people will challenge this assertion and that, of course, is their democratic right.  A right protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to me as quintessential and fundamental a guiding document to Canada as the Constitution of the United States is to that nation.  A document conceived and created in a time and by a government so fundamentally different from today that it seems more like a fairy tale than factual history.

The fact remains though, that for better or for worse, Stephen Harper has completely changed the Canadian political landscape and, in doing so, he has completely changed Canada's guiding principles, our economy, our way of life, and our global reputation.  And, as far as I'm concerned, not for the better.

I've already established that by pretty much every measure, despite popular assertion to the contrary, Conservatives are not better at fiscal management than Liberals.  In fact, at the very best they are just as good and an honest interpretation of the numbers would suggest they are worse.

But what about our global stature?  One cannot quantitatively measure our global reputation, but we can certainly measure our quality of living.  And the United Nations has thankfully been doing that since at least 1990.  And as far as Canada is concerned, the data does not paint a pretty picture.

In 2002, Stephen Harper and his party became Official Opposition in Canada.  In 2006 they formed the government.  And in 2011, they formed a majority government.  Coincidence?  Maybe.

But is the HDI ranking everything?  No, of course not.  How have we fared when compared to other wealthy nations?  Certainly our HDI as a raw number has increased over time.  But we've been left in the dust by many of our counterparts.

Compared to the US, Norway, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK, we have not grown much in our HDI.  In fact you can see we started out on the top and have slowly migrated toward the lower half of these nations, being left behind mostly by Scandinavian and Northern European nations.  Norway is a great comparator as it is a northern nation with great resource wealth.  They've gone from an HDI of 0.804 in 1980 to 0.955 in 2013, a 19% increase.  Canada on the other hand has gone from 0.825 to 0.911, an increase of only 10%.  

But surely the UN HDI is not the only measure of quality of life or social progress.  That is true.  There are many others.  None have been calculated as long as the HDI, so you cannot see trends, but we can see where we stand today compared to other nations.

Social Progress Index: 7th; surpassed mostly by Scandinavians and Northern Europeans; NZ tops the list

Human Poverty Index: 8th; all Scandinavia and Northern Europe above

World Happiness Report: 6th; yup.  Scandinavia and N. Europe above.  Again.  

And, just in case you still think our health system is a bastion of perfection, the WHO World Health System Rankings: 30th.  That's right.  30th out of 191 nations.  Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Colombia are a few of the nations ahead of us that don't traditionally appear near the top of other rankings.  

Don't get me wrong.  I love Canada.  I still think it's the greatest country in the world and I hold great hope for our future.  But our current government is taking us down the wrong path.  And I look forward to 2015 when, hopefully, we make a major course correction, and my children can live through a 7 year unbeaten streak atop the UN HDI as I did in the 90s.  

One can hope.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

This Facebook graphic is full of shot

I saw the above image posted on Facebook.  Under the image, below where it says "Protect yourselves with knowledge!", is a laundry list of "knowledge" from such reliable academic sources as Natural News, run by anti-medicine, anti-science conspiracy theorist Mike Adams, and Joseph Mercola, purveyor of quackery and recipient of multiple warning letters from the FDA to stop making misleading health claims.

Normally I don't even bother with this sort of reckless disregard for science.  But this image is so wrong in so many ways, I couldn't help but try and counter the mis- and dis-information it attempts to dangerously spread.

Why is it that someone can post this and, without any valid factual references whatsoever, people start sharing it all over Facebook as though it were true?

This is a long post.  But something this complex requires detail and referencing.  I can't just post a bunch of statements and say they're true.  Unfortunately that is how people consume their health information these days.

You should indeed protect with yourself with knowledge.  But the image does not qualify as such.  It is misleading and dishonest fear-mongering.

And here's why.

1.  There is no longer an H1N1 flu shot.

There is a seasonal flu shot.

Every year, over 100 monitoring centres in over 100 countries around the world monitor active strains of influenza.  Based on all of this information, the World Health Organization makes a projection as to which strains are most likely to be active in the upcoming influenza season.  From this, the vaccine strains are decided.  It is not perfect.  If the prediction matches more than 80% to the actual circulating strains, you only have to vaccinate about 40 healthy, working age adults to prevent one case of influenza.  If the match is poor, that number doubles, and it may not be more effective than placebo.

This year those strains are Influenza A H1N1, Influenza A H3N2, and Influenza B.  There are different types of vaccines made in different fashions.  I will cover the three publicly funded in Alberta.

Agriflu: This is made by growing the selected viral strains in hens' eggs.  This process alone weakens the virus as it adapts to growing in a galline environment, making it less able to replicate in human cells.  But as a safety measure, it is inactivated using formaldehyde (Note: the amount of formaldehyde in a single flu shot is less than would be consumed by eating a single pear).  Then the viral particles are removed through a purification process and only the hemagglutinin is left behind, a protein that occurs on the surface of the influenza virus.  This protein allows the virus to attach to human cells and also causes the immune response to the virus.  So you can remove the virus and isolate the protein itself (also known as a "surface antigen") and still get the desired immune response.

Fluviral: The strains used are the same for this vaccine but it is manufactured slightly differently.  The whole virus is first inactivated using UV light, then formaldehyde, then purified, then disrupted using sodium deoxycholate.


Flumist: This is slightly different.  It is mostly used for children or individuals under 60 who would prefer a nasal spray over a needle.  The virus is replicated in eggs just like the others.  However, it is not inactivated.  It is attenuated, meaning the virus is weakened.  They adapt to grow at 25℃ and cannot replicate efficiently at body temperature.  They also cannot cause influenza.  They replicate efficiently in the nasal passage and thus induce an immune response.

There are also Intanza, Influvac, Fluad, and Vaxigrip, but they are all made with one of the above methods.

It bears repeating that not one of them ONLY contains H1N1.

They all contain the same three strains as above.

2.  Forgiving the creator of the above image for their error, and assuming "H1N1 Flu Shot" means "Seasonal Trivalent Flu Shot", let's see if they contain all of the things they mention and, if they do, if we need to be worried about it.

a.  Beta-propiolactone

i.  Is it in any of the above vaccines?
Nope.  Not a single one of the seven vaccines above contains this ingredient.

ii.  What is it?
It is a sterilizing agent that is NO LONGER USED in medical procedures or for food.

iii.  Is it a carcinogen?
It is considered "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen".  Read this as "We've done rodent studies on it and found it caused tumours in rodents but have absolutely no idea whatsoever if it has an impact on humans because those studies have not been done"  But proving that the medical establishment is not a giant killing machine intent on propagating cancer, it was removed just to be safe.

b.  Neomycin sulfate

i.  Is it in any of the above vaccines?
Vaxigrip, Intanza, Fluad, and Agriflu all contain it as non-medicinal ingredients, usually as trace amounts.

ii.  What is it?
It is an antibiotic, found in topical creams, ointments, and antibiotic eye drops.

iii.  Is it an immunotoxin?
Well, considering that immunotoxin isn't even a real word in the way it is used here, the answer is no.  It is toxic to bacterial cells, which is why it is effectively used as an antibiotic.  Not using it or some other antibiotic would risk dangerous bacterial contamination of our vaccines.

An immunotoxin in the truest sense of the word is a therapeutic molecule created through genetic recombinant technology.  An immune molecule is attached to a toxin.  The targeted cell takes up the combined molecule, upon which the toxin kills the cell.  It is investigated for its use in killing certain cancer cells and viruses.

Neomycin is not one of those things.

It does bear mentioning that some people are allergic to neomycin so should choose one of the vaccines not containing it.

c.  Polymyxin B
This is my favourite one.  It's actually outright hilarious.  This is the ingredient that made me decide I needed to respond to this ridiculous image.

i.  Is it in any of the above vaccines?

ii.  What is it?
It's an antibiotic.

It's one of the most commonly used antibiotics in the world.

Some people would know it better as Polysporin.

iii.  Is it a neurotoxin?
Well let's hope not.  Because there would be literally millions of people walking around being slowly poisoned by the little tube of cream in their medicine cabinet.

d.  Potassium chloride
i.  Is it in any of the above vaccines?
Influvac (100mcg), Intanza (20mcg), Fluviral (trace), Fluad (100mcg), and Agriflu (100mcg)

ii.  What is it?
Potassium chloride is one of those things that is both incredibly necessary and potentially incredibly toxic.  Potassium is crucial to human body function and is commonly supplemented orally as potassium chloride.  If given in high doses it can be toxic, causing cardiac conduction failure.  However, the highest dose in any of the above vaccines is 100mcg.

Is this of concern?

One banana contains roughly 400mg of potassium, 4000x the amount contained in a single vaccine.  The LD50 of potassium (the dose at which it would kill 50% of people consuming it) is 2.5g/kg (keep in mind table salts LD50 is 3.75g/kg).  So if you weighed 75kg (165lbs), that'd be 187.5 g.

This is 187.5 million mcg of potassium.

You would need to get 1.875 million vaccines at once to kill you from potassium overdose.  Even at the IV LD50 of 30mg/kg, you'd still need to receive 22500 vaccines.

So if you plan on being immortal, maybe it should concern you, but for us mere mortals it is of no concern beyond needlessly scaring people.

iii.  Is it a neurotoxin?
At the doses above, maybe.  At the doses in vaccines?  Absolutely not.  If you want a poignant example of the impact of dose on biological effects, read the Material Data Safety Sheet for table salt.

e.  Sodium taurodeoxycholate
i.  Is it in any of the above vaccines?

ii.  What is it?
It is a chemical used for isolation of membrane proteins.  It is also a naturally occurring bile acid in human bodies.

iii.  Is it a carcinogen or immunotoxin?
Well, we've already established that immunotoxin is a made up word in this sense.  What about a carcinogen?  Nope.

f.  Thimerosal
Whole books have been written about thimerosal, so I'll just stick to the focus here.

i.  Is it in any of the above vaccines?
Vaxigrip (2mcg), Fluviral (50mcg/shot).

ii.  What is it?
An organic mercury compound used as a preservative.  It is a form of ethylmercury which is broken down by the body much more quickly than mercury occurring in nature, methylmercury.

If you want to argue about one carbon atom, I ask you to consider this.

Ethyl alcohol (2 carbon groups) is consumed in mass quantities around the world every Friday and Saturday evening.  Methyl alcohol (1 carbon group) causes rapid poisoning and death.

Propylene glycol (3 carbon groups) is a relatively harmless solvent used for medical and food purposes.  Ethylene glycol (2 carbon groups) is used to keep your coolant lines from freezing and is also extremely poisonous if consumed orally.

iii.  Is it a neurotoxin?
I refer to Paul Offit's incredible book, Vaccinated, for this answer.  Yes mercury can be neurotoxic in high doses.  But in the doses and form used in vaccines, it has never been linked to neurotoxicity.

Also consider that a human child ingests about 360 mcg of methyl mercury from breast feeding in the first six months of its life.  So even the Fluviral contains less than a quarter of the mercury that a baby gets just from drinking mommy's milk.

A study done in Canada provides some of the most conclusive evidence that thimerosal is not linked to autism, one of the most common neurotoxic outcomes attributed to its use in vaccines.  Between 1987 and 1991, vaccinated children in the study received 125 mcg of thimerosal, between 1992 and 1995 225 mcg, and after 1996, 0 mcg.  The incidence of autism was actually higher in those children vaccinated after 1995 than those before.  This is likely due, as is the case with most other things thought to cause autism, to a broadening understanding and diagnostic definition of the disorder.

A massive review in the British Medical Journal concluded strongly that thimerosal does not cause autism.  Of particular interest, autism rates have risen in Denmark since 1991, the year they banned the use of thimerosal in vaccines.

Case closed.

Onto the next claim.  Here it is not that the claim is ridiculous, it is more that it is overstated.

Have vaccines actually been linked to the diseases mentioned?

1.  Narcolepsy
Here is one that is not too ridiculous.  There was an observed association between the pandemic H1N1 vaccination program in 2009 and increased cases of narcolepsy.  However, at this point it is an observed association, like ice cream consumption being associated with swimming pool drownings.  One association study suggested an increased risk of 4 additional cases of narcolepsy per 100000-person years (that is, in 100000 people over the course of one year, 4 additional cases may be associated).  However, further immunologic research has called causation into question and suggests this is likely just a fluke association.  More research is required.

2.  Guillain-BarrĂ© Syndrome (GBS)
The best research suggests the excess risk may be 1-2 extra cases per 1 million people vaccinated.  In contrast, by vaccinating 1 million people with flu vaccine, you would prevent roughly 25000 cases of influenza.

3.  Autism
So thoroughly debunked and refuted by real science it is barely worth arguing about.  See above on thimerosal.

4.  Paralysis
This is a repeat of GBS above.  Let's think of synonyms for the same disease and put them in multiple spots so people think the shot is even more scary.

5.  Dystonia
Nope.  Could find no research supporting this association.  Not even epidemiological evidence.

6.  Rheumatoid arthritis
Only correlational, not causative, associations found.  Whenever controlled studies have been performed, association disappears.

7.  Multiple Sclerosis
No increased risk from Hep B, Influenza, MMR, polio, or typhoid immunization.  Diphtheria and tetanus vaccination potentially PROTECTIVE against MS, not causative.

8.  Lupus
Nope.  No research to support this notion.

9.  Cancer
Vaccines don't cause cancer.  If anything, they prevent it.  Hepatitis B vaccine can prevent liver cancer induced by hepatitis B.  HPV vaccine was developed for the sole purpose of preventing cervical cancer in women.  And although only a concern in chickens, Marek's Disease is prevented by a vaccine against the oncogenic virus that causes it.  (All taken from Offit's book)

I'll get to death last.  But first I will tackle the other two statements in the picture.  The H1N1 shot may have been banned in some countries.  Who knows?  But it doesn't matter because IT IS NOT USED ANYMORE.  Nor could I find any supporting documentation regarding the H1N1 vaccine makers not taking their own vaccine.  However, I find it very hard to believe, given that early vaccine makers often tested their experimental vaccines on family members and drug company executives before bringing them to clinical trial (an obviously unethical practice that would not pass muster today).

10.  Death
Yellow fever vaccine has 10 reports of death associated with its use. The risk is incredibly low.  Millions upon millions of people have received this vaccine.  Risk of serious reactions is less than 1 in 1 million to 1 in 8 million.  Death from those reactions is even less common.

For other vaccines in current use, there is no conclusive links to death.

To quantify the number of deaths PREVENTED by vaccines would require a whole other article.  However, I will use the most poignant example.

Before the vaccine was commonly given, smallpox ravaged populations around the world.  In the 20th century, it is thought to have killed 300-500 million people.  In the 18th century, in Europe alone, it killed 400 000 people per year.  It almost completely destroyed indigenous populations in the Americas upon arrival of European settlers.

Some experts estimate smallpox was responsible for more deaths than all other infectious diseases combined.

Because of Edward Jenner's vaccine, humanity actually eradicated the virus from circulation.

And in case you think influenza is some annoying seasonal pest that causes mild misery, here is a history lesson.  Spanish influenza killed upwards of 100 million people in 1918.  In 1957 Asian flu killed 2-3 million people globally.  And in 1968, Hong Kong flu killed over 34 000 Americans.

Infectious disease is still the second most common cause of death worldwide.  They cause 45% of deaths in low-income countries, 63% of deaths among children, and 48% of premature deaths.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine published in November suggests that vaccines have prevented 100 million deaths in the United States alone.

Vaccines don't kill people.

Ignorance does.

Incidence of vaccine preventable diseases