How Big Oil Dodges Facebook’s New Ad Transparency Rules
A Facebook ad in October urged political conservatives to support the Trump administration’s rollback of fuel emission standards, which it hailed as “our president’s car freedom agenda” and “plan for safer, cheaper cars that WE get to choose.” The ad came from a Facebook page called Energy4US, and it included a disclaimer, required by Facebook, saying it was “paid for by Energy4US.”
 
Yet there is no such company or organization as Energy4US, nor is it any entity’s registered trade name, according to a search of LexisNexis and other databases.
 
Instead, Energy4US — which Facebook says spent nearly $20,000 on the ads — appears to be a front for American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade association whose members include ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell. In 2015, when the Energy4US website was launched, it was registered to AFPM, which is also first on a list of “coalition members” on the site. AFPM, which did not respond to calls and emails for this article, has spent more than $2.5 million this year lobbying the federal government, including advocating for less stringent emission standards.
 
Although Facebook now requires every political ad to “accurately represent the name of the entity or person responsible,” the social media giant acknowledges that it didn’t check whether Energy4US is actually responsible for the ad. Nor did it question 11 other ad campaigns identified by ProPublica in which U.S. businesses or individuals masked their sponsorship through faux groups with public-spirited names. Some of these campaigns resembled a digital form of what is known as “astroturfing,” or hiding behind the mirage of a spontaneous grassroots movement.
 
In most cases, Facebook users would have to click on the ad and scrutinize the affiliated website to find any reference to the actual sponsor.
 
The 12 ad campaigns, for which Facebook received a total of more than $800,000, expose a significant gap in enforcement of its new disclosure policy, and they cast doubt on Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s assurance to the U.S. Senate in September that “you can see who paid for” ads. Adopted this past May in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, Facebook’s rules are designed to hinder foreign meddling in elections by verifying that individuals who run ads on its platform have a U.S. mailing address, governmental ID and a Social Security number. But, once this requirement has been met, Facebook doesn’t check whether the advertiser identified in the “paid for by” disclosure has any legal status, enabling U.S. businesses to promote their political agendas secretly.
 
“Facebook and other social media platforms that allow political advertising must do more to provide transparency to Americans on the source of the content on their platforms,” U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, told ProPublica.
 
Cortez Masto warned of this loophole before Facebook introduced its disclosure rules. In written questions to the company, she asked: “Would you let a mysterious group … run an ad on Facebook without any further information about who they are?” and “Will these transparency measures you are discussing tell you who paid the Facebook page to run the ad?”
 
Facebook told her that when users click on the disclosure, they would be able to see details about the advertiser. However, Facebook leaves it to the advertiser to decide whether to supply these details, and clicking on those disclosures for the 12 campaigns offers no new information. (Most of these ads were contributed by readers participating in ProPublica’s Political Ad Collector project.)
 
Like Cortez Masto, Richard Hasen wasn’t surprised. “It struck me when Facebook announced its rules that it was about to encounter a hornet’s nest,” said Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California’s Irvine campus and an expert on election law. “Right now, it does not seem like it’s a regime that’s set up to create effective disclosure.” Continue Reading… 
 
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Letter from Canada: Barriers Yet To Dissolve for Professionals Immigrating to Canada
As Canada plans to bump up its quota to allow increased immigration and excited Indians look to migrate, it may be prudent to board the flight with your eyes wide open. A generous dose of reality to temper your expectations of a great new life in a foreign land will help you avoid disappointment. 
 
Last fortnight, my column drew attention to job market barriers for professional immigrants, which included an unconscious racial bias towards newcomers, ignorance, stereotypes about immigrants and the demand for  ‘Canadian experience’ even in unregulated fields such as IT or marketing, which was  most frustrating for these professionals.  Given the huge response from readers, I have attempted to delve deeper into issues faced by immigrants who are in regulated professions.
 
In 2013, the Ontario Human Rights Commission said the strict requirement for "Canadian experience" demanded by many employers and some regulators is prima facie discrimination—and can only be sought in very limited circumstances.
 
Employers could neither advertise nor ask for this from newcomers. In reality, it is still used by many employers to 'filter out' international professional candidates on the very same basis.
 
That Canada generously allows so many professionals to make a life here, without a job in hand, is a great plus for aspiring migrants. But if you belong to the ‘regulated’ field, you have to be ‘technically fit’ to practice your profession in this country. In Canadian parlance, it means that unless one secures an equivalency certification, or licence, or fulfills any other mandatory stipulation by Canada's regulated professional bodies, one cannot practice here. 
 
Attaining that goal requires time, money, patience, lots of perseverance (years in some cases), and a fair bit of re-training or ‘going back to school.’ All this is expected from overseas professionals, in an effort to get them ‘at par’ with Canadian standards. 
 
The government of Canada's largest province, Ontario, (home to Toronto), sets the rules and laws for over 100 professions and trades in the province.  The government website offers  details about these regulations and claims these regulations are  to ‘protect the health and safety of workers and the public.’
 
 
In addition to licences and certifications, some regulators could also ask for ‘Canadian experience’. This requirement can be fulfilled either through apprenticeship programs, or through bridging programs that are run by colleges or universities here.
 
Many Indians who have migrated to Canada are engineers, lawyers, teachers, pharmacists, chartered accountants, physiotherapists or dental surgeons—all of them have to go through the process above, to practice their respective professions. 
 
The rules for working in healthcare and medicine are especially time-consuming. Sunaina Bhatia, a dentist who migrated from Delhi to Toronto after marriage says she has to clear three equivalency exams conducted by the National Dental Examining Board of Canada (NDEB). This will take her at least two years, after which she can then apply to the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO), the regulatory body governing dentistry, to obtain her licence to practice in Ontario. 
 
Ms Bhatia has already cleared one exam.  She has decided to take the written exam route, which will cost her a minimum of CDN $12,000. After accounting for study material and other costs, it will set her back by CDN $25,000.
 
But this is better than spending about CDN $200,000 to complete an accredited university qualifying and degree completion programme of two years, after which she would need to write the NDEB exams, and on clearing those, apply for a licence from the RCDSO.
 
Ms Bhatia says the teaching style in Canada is very different and she has learnt "many great lessons in ethics as well as a greater emphasis on safety out here."
 
However, she believes that those courses can be compressed into a “one-year-course, instead of this arduous process" she has had to follow. 
 
"A tooth is a tooth and a nerve is a nerve, and while I practised for a short time, I have people in my class (in Canada) who were dentists in Dubai and around the world for 16 years. It is a waste for those dentists who've spent decades doing just that (dentistry) overseas."
 
But this is just the way it is in Canada. Students from overseas can take any of these two routes if their university is not accredited. The idea is to get students from abroad to go through a similar set of exams and procedures that a Canadian dentist would have to go through. 
 
 
Kevin Marsh, director of communications at the RCDSO explains that only graduates of accredited dental programs in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland can apply directly to take Canada's NDEB exams. Australia, New Zealand and Ireland had specific dates in 2010, 2011 and 2012 when these accreditations took effect. Accreditation is a peer reviewed process that measures education programs, utilizing predetermined criteria, including competency to be a dental practitioner in Canada.
 
But sometimes the Canadians may have reason to worry. Last week, a report in the Canadian media said that the NDEB was looking into the certifications of some Indian students from Magadh University. 
 
Over the years, Canadian labour market studies have exposed the dismal performance of newcomers to this country. It led to public pressure and discussion.
 
Following all-party support, Ontario passed the Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act, 2006 (FARPA). It also set up the Office of the Fairness Commissioner (OFC) in 2007 to deal with some of these issues. 
 
In a study titled Academic Requirements and Acceptable Alternatives: Challenges and Opportunities for the Regulated Professions in Ontario, Jean Augustine, who was the Fairness Commissioner in 2013, called on regulators and the government to work together to boost the process of eliminating barriers. She wrote about how immigrants grapple  "with a licensing system that undervalues their international qualifications and underrates their overseas experience."
 
India had the highest number of applicants (3,579 applications) to Ontario’s regulated professions/trades with Philippines in the second place (1,602 applicants) followed by the United Kingdom (824) in 2017.
 
The OFC ‘regulates the regulator’ and monitors its registration practices. Its goal is to ensure that there are no unnecessary barriers preventing qualified persons in regulated professions from practising in Ontario.
 
The OFC regulates 40 professions, of which 13 still have some sort of ‘Canadian experience’ requirement. These apply to architects, dieticians, engineers, engineering technologists, technicians, geoscientists, land surveyors, lawyers, midwives, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, physicians, psychologists and The College of Trades (which has 23 trades under it).
 
You can find detailed reports online about the challenges and the progress made so far in these regulated fields; you can also find latest news of a specific profession on the Office of the Fairness Commissioner (OFC) website. 
 
Speaking with Moneylife, Fairness Commissioner, Grant Jameson of the OFC, said he was aware of the challenges faced by foreign professionals.  Since his appointment last year, he is actively looking into these issues and has also written to several regulators, asking them to demonstrate why these ‘Canadian experience’ requirements are considered necessary.
 
Some regulators have indeed responded by eliminating Canadian experience requirements after the OFC was set up 11 years ago. Regulators are also figuring out what kind of competencies they  determine  (of the applicant)  when they ask for  ‘Canadian experience’, and to ascertain, if these competencies can be demonstrated in other ways—besides asking for  ‘Canadian  experience.’ 
 
Since 2007, when OFC was launched, it has scrapped the Canadian Experience requirement for teachers, dental technologists, chiropodists, and most recently, forestry professionals. Many others are in the process of making changes in that direction, says an OFC spokesperson.
 
 
Unfortunately, the OFC has no authority to force regulators to change the experience requirements; it can only request them to consider alternatives. The government takes the position that professional bodies know best how to how to evaluate competency to practise a trade or profession in Canada.
 
In a freewheeling interview with the Commissioner, Moneylife discussed the discrimination issues being faced by immigrants. While Mr Jameson said that OFC does not deal with ‘employer issues’, he acknowledges the need to moving with the times. 
 
"We have a very narrow jurisdiction to look at procedures that are employed by the professional bodies in admitting new members to their profession, and this is a particularly difficult subject. It is difficult, because these regulating bodies have often existed for decades, and in a climate where they have dealt with, exclusively or almost exclusively, with Canadian educated applicants, and they have not really moved with the times to recognize that their practices are not there (yet)," he said.
 
Way back in 2012, an OFC report titled “A fair way to Go" mentioned how the “length of the registration process is a major source of frustration for internationally trained applicants." It also mentioned that the need for Canadian-experience was the source of the frustration and wanted regulators to work towards developing mutual recognition agreements with countries that send a large numbers of professional immigrants to Canada.
 
So, while there is pressure to change and things are getting relatively easier for those in ‘regulated professions’ we still have a long way to go and it is best that people wanting to immigrate to Canada are aware of what to expect when they opt to live in this lovely country. 
 
(Rakshande Italia is an Indian journalist, who immigrated to Canada in 2001 and has worked with several top newspapers in India and Canada. She can be contacted on [email protected])
 
 
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Trump and Taxes: The Art of the Dodge
From the moment during the presidential campaign that Donald Trump broke decades of precedent and declined to release his personal tax returns, the issue of Trump and the taxes he has paid (or not paid) has been the subject of widespread fascination, scrutiny and not a little controversy. That scrutiny ratcheted up significantly in recent weeks with two substantial media investigations of the tax-paying practices of Trump’s family and those of Trump in-law and White House official Jared Kushner.
 
This week’s episode of “Trump, Inc.” brings clarity to a complex subject. It identifies three patterns in the president’s approach to taxes. First, it describes a history of ignoring norms (which, for presidential candidates, include releasing tax returns). Second, it delves into a recent New York Times investigation — which concluded that the president’s family committed “outright fraud” — to show a history of breaking tax rules. Finally, it examines Trump’s ability to change tax rules to benefit himself and his wealthy peers.
 
The episode includes an interview with The New York Times’ Susanne Craig, the co-author of the expose that reported that Fred Trump passed $413 million in today’s dollars to his son Donald, who describes how she reported her article and the mysteries she and her colleagues unraveled. It also examines a second New York Times article that explored how Kushner exploited a seemingly prosaic tax technique — depreciation — to wipe out his taxable income. (Representatives of the Trumps and Kushners have denied any tax improprieties.) Finally, the episode looks at many of the ways in which Trump’s signature tax cut will redound to the benefit of the real estate industry.
 
The bigger picture? As tax expert Jenny Johnson Ware puts it in the podcast, for taxpayers who want to be aggressive, “It’s a great time.”
 
 
Correction, Oct. 24, 2018: This story originally misattributed and misquoted a statement. Jenny Johnson Ware did not say, “It’s a good time to be wealthy in the United States if you are aggressive about your tax money.” In fact, Jesse Eisinger asked, “Is it a good time to be wealthy in the United States if you are aggressive about your tax planning?” Ware responded that for taxpayers who want to be aggressive, “It’s a great time.”
 
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