Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Postal union mulling over nation-wide strike

Canada's postal workers are considering an escalation of their current round of rotating strikes, which may include a full-blown national walkout as the next step.

About 1,000 postal workers were off the job Tuesday in Moncton, N.B., and Victoria, the fifth day of rotating strikes that have already hit Montreal, Winnipeg and Hamilton, Ont.

Leaders at The Canadian Union of Postal Workers said they planned to meet later in the day to discuss strategy. Among the options under consideration is a strike at the national level, said Jeff Callaghan, CUPW national director of the Atlantic region.

"Our plans are to continue the rotating strikes," Callaghan said in an interview. "Our board is meeting later on, so we'll make that determination if there's an escalation or if we keep going with the rotating strikes. For the most part we're trying to lessen the impact on the communities that we serve, so we'll make that determination once we meet."

Both the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and negotiators for Canada Post have left the bargaining table and union officials said there is no indication when talks may resume. In an email Tuesday, Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said the ball is sitting in the union's court.

Full Article
Source: CBC News 

The $0.3 billion question

Machiavelli has nothing on these guys. Let's deconstruct for a moment the central message of today's 2011 Federal Budget, Take two: "Storm clouds are gathering in the world economy. We must rush to get our fiscal house in order, lest we be struck by another tempest. We will advance our own ambitious timetable for balancing the budget by a full year. But to do that, we must review all our programs, to find operational savings of $4 billion per year (or 5 per cent of the cost of running government). That's the kind of thing the private sector does all the time, and we will bring private sector discipline to the task."

So the budget will be balanced in 2014-15 instead of 2015-16. But wait a minute. Look back to the March version of the budget: it forecast an infinitesimal deficit of just $0.3 billion for that year. Getting that down to zero isn't actually that Herculean of a task, is it? And it certainly doesn't require $4 billion in yet-to-be-identified spending cuts.

But this got me wondering. Why on earth did the March version of the budget forecast such a small deficit for that year in the first place? $0.3 billion is about one tenth of one per cent of total revenues and spending for the government -- far lower than any reasonable measurement error, statistical rounding, or other "noise." A normal government, if they really wanted to balance the budget, would have just rounded the number to zero (or marginally adjusted one or more of the spending or revenue parameters). They thus could have claimed to be balancing the books by 2014-15 ... if that in fact matters.

Well, that budget was defeated and Canadians went to the polls. During the campaign the Conservatives issued their pledge to move forward the timetable for balance by a year. Now the budget lives up to that pledge. The strategic review process is to identify savings that will eventually deliver $4 billion per year, motivated by the desire to balance the budget a year earlier -- the rationale for which revised timetable has yet to be explained. The big debate so far has focused on the fact that the government hasn't identified the cutbacks (a point made by the opposition parties, PBO Kevin Page, and others). The Conservatives say don't worry, the review process will do that. Lost in the spin are the deeper questions, namely:

1. Why do we need to balance the budget by 2014-15 instead of 2015-16?
2. Why do we need to balance the budget at all?
3. Since the forecast 2014-15 deficit was all of $0.3 billion, why do we need a whole strategic review process and $4 billion of blood on the floor in order to eliminate it?

Full Article

You can't cut your way to growth

The Harper government's June Budget is almost entirely a reprinted version of the budget they tabled two-and-a-half months ago in March. Outside of $2.2 billion for Quebec's sales tax harmonization and the elimination of federal support for political parties, there's nothing new in the budget -- and that's the problem.

While the budget includes a few positive measures, many of which were proposed by the NDP -- such as increases to GIS payments for seniors, reintroducing incentives for energy retrofits -- they are overshadowed by what's bad and what's not there.

Most troubling are the $5 billion in cuts to public services for Canadians that will pay for their over $6 billion in corporate tax cuts with much of the benefits going to highly profitable banks, finance and oil companies. When public investments provide six times as much economic boost and jobs as corporate tax cuts, this type of trade off will endanger an already faltering economy and do nothing for the many millions of Canadians out of work or struggling with their household finances.

Minority governments forced the Harper government to introduce positive measures to deal with the economic crisis over the past two years; now they have a majority we can only expect more of the same bankrupt economic policies that got us into this economic mess.

What's in the budget? First some good news: mostly measures included as a result of pressure from the NDP before the election:

-- An increase in the Guaranteed Income Supplement with a maximum top-up of $600 a year for low-income seniors and $840 for a low-income couple. This is similar to what was included in the March budget. It provides much less than what seniors need for a decent retirement and has a steep claw-back rate, but it's still a small step in the right direction.

-- $400 million for a one-year renewal of the ecoENERGY retrofit program for houses. This too was pushed by the NDP and brings back a successful program that the Conservatives eliminated last year, but they've only committed to funding for one year.

-- A range of research, innovation and post-secondary education and training programs. Much is for promotion of the digital economy and funding grants. However, there's little additional money here. Much will be paid for through $250 million in unspecified cuts to other programs at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and it also includes more money for commercialization of universities and colleges.

-- A limited extension of the Employment Insurance work-sharing and other EI pilot projects. There's also a tax credit of up to $1,000 for small business against increases in EI premiums, but everyone else will have to pay for the EI premium increases they are going ahead with.

-- No reduction in the six per cent escalator for healthcare transfers, agreed to by Harper after the other political leaders committed to this during the election.

This is pretty much all the good that's in the budget. It's heavily overshadowed by what's bad, and by what was left out.

-- Even though 80 per cent of Canadians are opposed to further corporate tax cuts, the Conservatives have stubbornly refused to reconsider their plans to cut Canada's corporate tax rates. The Harper government's cuts will cost the federal government over $6 billion a year in lower revenues, with the lion's share -- over $2 billion a year -- going to already highly profitable banks, finance and oil companies and to their well-compensated executives.

-- Ordinary Canadians will also pay $2.2 billion for the Conservatives' regressive tax policies through this budget. This is the amount Harper promised during the election campaign to pay Quebec to match the $4.3 billion and $1.6 billion given to Ontario and B.C. to induce them to introduce Harmonized Sales Taxes last year.

-- The only other new measure different from the March budget is fulfillment of Harper's long-awaited desire to eliminate federal subsidies for political parties. This will help to entrench the Conservative party's power and make it more difficult for smaller political parties to operate.

-- While the increase in health transfers is welcomed, more of these public healthcare dollars will be making their way into the profits of private healthcare companies. Harper clearly stated in the election he wants provinces to experiment more with "alternate service delivery", code for privatized healthcare.

-- This budget also adds to the bevy of boutique tax credits Harper is so fond of. Now there's a new tax credit for children's art activities, for volunteer firefighters, examination fees and family caregivers. These may sound great in their press releases and appear like they are actually doing something in these areas, but they accomplish little except complicate the tax system and create work for accountants. The reality is a so-called $500 tax credit really provides a maximum of $75 in lower taxes. They benefit most those who need it least and do nothing to increase services provided. It's much more effective to actually increase public spending in these areas. Even the right-wing Policy Institute have recently criticized Harper's Tax Boutique."

-- There's nothing in this budget to reduce poverty, nothing for homelessness, nothing to improve childcare, and nothing to help communities provide clean water systems and pay for the cost of meeting new federal wastewater standards. There's very little for Aboriginal communities -- only a few million for replacing fuel tanks and for First Nations policing.

The challenge of climate change was ignored once again: there's a minor change to reduce some of the tax subsidies for the oil sands, but it amounts to far less than the $1 billion total tax subsidies that go to this industry -- and it's far less than the $700 million plus the oil, gas and mining industry will gain from Harper's corporate tax cuts.

-- Also missing from the budget is any solid commitment to provide retirement security for all Canadians by improving the Canada Pension Plan and Quebec Pension Plan (CPP/QPP). Every province except Alberta supported a plan to double the benefits provided through the CPP but at the last Harper's reneged on their support following pressure from the banks and business lobby who didn't want to lose the lucrative profits they get from peddling RRSPs.

-- Canada's cities and communities are facing a $120 billion plus bill needed to pay for upgrading their municipal infrastructure with little but regressive property tax revenues to pay for it. The Conservatives could have redirected more federal tax revenues to help municipalities, but have only provided vague promises to consider a long-term plan. Meanwhile, federal support for public infrastructure is set to decline in the next few years, with the Harper government increasing pressure on municipalities to privatize and engage in expensive public-private partnerships.

-- There's nothing in this budget to help really create jobs for the 1.4 million Canadians out of work and many more struggling with low wages and the rising cost of living. On the contrary, the rapid phasing out of stimulus spending and hard turn towards cutting public spending will lead to an increase in unemployment.

This budget reiterates Harper's election promise to eliminate the deficit one year earlier than they had previously committed, but there's no real detail on how we're going to get there. We know that they're planning to cut $5 billion a year from federal program spending and that federal departments have been asked to prepare budgets outlining where they would cut of five per cent and 10 per cent.

Before they gained a majority in the last election, they were playing nice, and claimed all the job losses could come from attrition of public servants, with no word on who would provide these public services after they retire. Now Harper's new hatchet man, Treasury Board head Tony Clement has admitted that many whole programs will be chopped. But where are they and what they -- we don't know yet.

What's disturbing is that the Harper government was re-elected partly on its image of being good economic managers. Economic reports show that our economy has grown almost entirely because of public stimulus and increased consumer spending. With government spending being cut, high consumer debt loads, slow employment and wage growth and our trading partners struggling, there's little to drive our economy forward. Businesses aren't going to invest their excess cash unless someone's going to buy their product.

The past two years should have provided a serious warning against the neo-conservative supply-side economic policies that resulted in the financial and economic crisis. Instead, the large deficits it created (inflated by tax cuts and spending on military hardware) and Harper's new majority now finally gives him both the excuses and the power to cut public services and persistently shrink the positive role of government in Canada.

Toby Sanger is an economist with CUPE.


“There is a Women’s Spring Beginning”: Playwright Eve Ensler and Congolese Activist Christine Schuler Deschryver on Gender Violence in Congo

A newly published study in the American Journal of Public Health estimates more than two million women have been raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2006. But women’s advocates say there is also positive news coming from the DRC. The group V-Day, a global movement to stop all forms of gender-based violence, recently held the opening ceremony for the City of Joy, a groundbreaking new community that will be run by women survivors of gender violence in the Congo. We speak with V-Day founder, Eve Ensler, the bestselling author and playwright behind The Vagina Monologues, about gender violence in DRC. We are also joined Christine Schuler Deschryver, director of V-Day Congo and the City of Joy, about the growing number of rape prosecutions in DRC. “The Congolese women are taking their power, because we told them that they don’t have to be ashamed for these rapes. The ones who are doing it have to be ashamed,” says Schuler Deschryver. We also ask Ensler about the growing rate of violence against women in Haiti and get her reaction to the sexual assault charges filed against former International Monetary Fund director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Sharpening its axes, 'Canada's party' moves to shut down Canada's capital

Before the recent election, Brian Mulroney, on the outs with Stephen Harper, chided him for not having "one big idea." The disgraced former Conservative prime minister, always looking for a way to claw himself back into public favour, still wants Canadians to see him as a successful architect of public policy; he was looking for people to agree that his record was superior to what Harper was offering Canadians.

The big idea Brian Mulroney had for Canada was not the Meech Lake Accord, or the Charlottetown Accord, or the GST, or Free Trade. His one big idea, announced in his 1984 winning election campaign, was that public servants would get "pink slips and running shoes" when the Conservatives arrived in Ottawa.

True to his word, Mulroney began a systematic attack on the public service, mocking the ethos of service to the country in the process. His government undertook layoffs of employees, shutdown government policy and research operations, and farmed out thinking about how Canada should be governed to private consultants, and major business associations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the former Business Council on National Issues (Canadian Council of Chief Executives).

Finding,and naming senior officials sympathetic to his agenda of privatization, de-regulation, and free trade was the way Mulroney left his stamp on Canada.

Mulroney's plan to "remake the country so we would not recognize it" required diminished opportunities for career public servants. For instance, rather than follow the tried and true method of promotion on the basis of merit, Mulroney appointed a friendly Montreal lawyer to the key post of deputy minister of finance.

Stephen Harper has a similar plan to diminish the federal public service, and reduce its capacity to deliver programs to Canadians. Over the next three years, under the guise of balancing the budget, the Conservatives plan $11 billion of program spending reductions. Why three years, and not four, as previously announced? Because there will be an election in the fourth year, and Harper fully intends to reduce taxes, just before Canadians next go to the polls. The rationale that spending cuts are unavoidable in order to reduce the federal budget deficit is false, since the deficit was due to the recession, and to tax reductions that began in 2000 under the Liberals, and continued under the Conservatives.

The Conservatives, who won eight of the 12 Ottawa area seats in the last election, pretend that to achieve spending cuts, 80,000 jobs can be eliminated in the next three years through retirements and attrition. Not wanting to talk about people losing jobs, and their homes, and wishing to minimize attention to the planned reductions in federal employees, the Minister for the National Capital Region, John Baird, told the Ottawa Citizen that 80,000 jobs could be cut from the public service without any layoffs. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that no more than 40,000 jobs could be abolished through attrition, and at least another 40,000 employees will have to be laid off to reach the Conservative targets.

The Conservatives elimination of 80,000 jobs means 45 percent of the 178,000 federal public service positions will disappear. Though it remains to be decided where across Canada the cuts will come, obviously the overall negative impact on the economy on the national capital region of job losses of this magnitude will be immense, since most public servants are based in the capital area. It seems Ottawa has to become a ghost town for the Conservative ideal of small government to be achieved.

Full Article

Foreclosure Fraud Price Tag: $20 Billion

WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest mortgage companies are operating on the assumption that they will have to pay as much as $20 billion to resolve claims of widespread foreclosure abuse, an amount four times what they had originally proposed, the top federal official overseeing the discussions told state officials Monday, according to people who participated in the conversation.

Associate U.S. Attorney General Tom Perrelli told a bipartisan group of state attorneys general during a conference call that he believes the banks have accepted the realization that a wide-ranging settlement to the months-long probes will cost them much more than the $5 billion offer they floated last month, according to officials with direct knowledge of the call. Perrelli said he's basing his belief on his recent conversations with representatives of the five targeted firms: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial.

Three unresolved issues remain, these people said. State and federal officials have not agreed on the scope of banks' release from liability that would accompany such a deal; negotiators continue to hammer out how much of the money pot will be split between restructuring borrowers' mortgages and bank fines, and officials are not yet near an agreement on how the coalition of state and federal government agencies will monitor and enforce bank behavior in the wake of a settlement agreement.

The settlement talks are the result of state and federal investigations launched last autumn after widespread reports that the five largest mortgage handlers illegally seized the homes of an unknown number of homeowners and improperly accelerated foreclosure proceedings by failing to amass required paperwork, in some cases allegedly lying about it to local judges. Over the past couple months, government officials have been in discussions with the banks to resolve claims of past abuses and set new standards to govern bank dealings with distressed homeowners.

The banks seek a quick resolution, according to sources who have participated in settlement talks, as falling home prices, a continuing high rate of delinquent borrowers, stagnant home sales, rising unemployment and slower economic growth batters bank stocks. Shares of Bank of America, the largest mortgage servicer, hit a two-year low Monday. Citigroup fell more than four percent. The 24-company KBW Bank Index has fallen nearly 11 percent over the past three months.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Racism in Canada: A Night at the Roxy

A woman of mixed Cree, Metis, Ojibwa and Scottish descent arrived at Vancouver's Roxy Nightclub one evening in March of 2009, and was denied entry.

Colleen Mitchell White, whose complaint against the club is going through the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, says she arrived bearing a golf club and was told she was not allowed to enter with it. She returned without it, and was then denied entry because she was wearing moccasins.

When she protested and said that her footwear of choice served her ancestors well for centuries of hunting, the doorman replied she should hunt outside since there were no buffalo inside the club.

The intriguingly named Ms. White protested, and claims she was then manhandled by the doorman and called a "prostitute." Spokesmen for the Roxy do not deny the buffalo comment, but claim Ms. White was intoxicated and unruly.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

The Commons: Opening salvos, politely spoken

The Scene. Buttoning his jacket preemptively, Jack Layton did not bother to contain his grin as he looked up at the Speaker in anticipation of an invitation to stand.

Indeed, here the Speaker announced that the House had arrived at the time set aside for oral questions and called on the leader of the opposition to begin. And here Mr. Layton, having earned this hallowed and cursed title, thus stood to bask in the applause of his bountiful caucus.

When the ovation had subsided, he congratulated the Prime Minister and the members opposite on their recent election results. And yet, he noted, something like 60% of Canadians had not voted for a Conservative government.

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

Hate crimes in Canada increased by 42 per cent in 2009

Hate crimes – especially those against Jews – jumped significantly in 2009, according to Canadian police forces.

Statistics Canada said hate crimes reported to police increased by 42 per cent, rising to more than four incidents a day from less than three a day in 2008.

While there were increases in all three main categories of hate crimes – those motivated by race, religion and sexual orientation – incidents sparked by religion rose by 55 per cent.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Officers tell their side of Adam Nobody’s G20 arrest

Three officers involved in the arrest of protester Adam Nobody during the G20 summit last year have publicly defended their actions for the first time, denying any wrongdoing in the high-profile case.

Det. Consts. Luke Watson and Todd Storey revealed their version of events in Ontario Superior Court in April, during proceedings related to another case involving alleged excessive force. In the process, they denied the accusations by Nobody, who suffered a broken cheekbone and nose during his arrest at the G20 summit in June 2010.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star  

Enough with the protesting Senate page

Good god, from the way some are covering the rogue Senate page (I shall not give her any more glory by mentioning her name) you'd have thought she was the leader of significant stature of a historical Canadian protest movement. Were you to read Heather Mallick in the Toronto Star you'd see she has taken the comparison to some absurd dimensions.

If you need proof that the page's stunt is more about the page than her message look at the fact she is being applauded and apparently being offered employment by the king of self-benefiting outrage, Michael Moore. The filmmaker has done well for himself as one of the world's foremost celebrity protesters. No issue is beyond torquing with Moore's Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey approach to subject matter distortion.

Our mini Michael Moore executed her stunt with a similar flare for the dramatic and made sure she was the star of the show. Her public relations execution after the fact was well planned and she has taken every opportunity to seize the spotlight. Mind you, it hasn't been hard to find in some places and you wonder why some suggest that different media organizations have an agenda against the government.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Ottawa Greenhouse Gas Emissions Program Hardly Made A Dent

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - A new federal government report shows that Ottawa's emissions-cutting efforts have barely made a dent to date.

The report says emissions policies led to a four-megatonne reduction in greenhouse gases in 2009, leaving total emissions at 694 megatonnes.

That means federal measures reduced emissions by a little more than one half of one per cent.

Federal policies are expected to be slightly more effective in the coming years, but emissions themselves are outpacing policy.

Environment Minister Peter Kent has said the big federal moves on greenhouse gases are still to come, with regulations for coal-fired electricity plants and the oilsands expected over the next couple of years.

Source: Huffington 

Jim Flaherty, Conservatives, Reveal Federal Budget With Few Surprises

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - Cash for Quebec and a lump of coal for their political rivals are the only new elements Conservatives have dished up in a reprised federal budget that mirrors the one delivered barely two months ago.

Armed with a majority mandate, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is forging ahead with a 2011 budget larded with low cost boutique tax breaks, modest pension help for the poorest seniors, and a vow to slay the deficit within four years.

New to the spending blueprint is $2.2 billion for Quebec as an inducement to finalize full harmonization of the provincial sales tax and with the federal GST. The budget also includes a commitment to phase out the $2-per-vote public subsidy received by all federal political parties -- a measure that will leave parties almost fully reliant on private donations.

"A month ago the people spoke," Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told the House of Commons in a brief budget speech.

"Through their democratic power they clearly signaled the need for a principled, stable government at this challenging but promising moment in our nation's history."

Flaherty's budget speech referred again and again to the voter endorsement -- and snidely noted that MPs who "took the time to read the March budget" won't find anything surprising in the new document.

Among the fiscal changes since the March 22 budget, Canada's deficit for last year has been revised downward to $36.3 billion from $40.5 billion. But this year's red ink has been revised upward to $32.3 billion from $29.6 billion.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

KKK: Trying To 'Re-Brand' Itself?

At the Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, a handful of picketers from controversial hate group the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) were siphoned off into a corner, as other military family members came to pay their respects.

Members of the hate group have become a ubiquitous presence at funerals in recent years; they can frequently be seen in packs, holding signs emblazoned with “God Hates Fags” or “Thank God For Dead Soldiers.”

But at Arlington last Monday, one group of demonstrators came out to counter-protest the WBC, catching national media attention as they handed out American flags to passersby and denounced the WBC's actions.

Full Article
Source: Huffington Post 

Low-Income Workers Cut Off From New Jobs By Lack Of Public Transit

NEW YORK -- The people are in one place, many of the new jobs in another, according to a recent report.

"Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs In Metropolitan America," a May report from the Brookings Institute, found that nearly 70 percent of people in large metropolitan areas live near some form of public transit. And despite transit route coverage varying from region to region, one rule held true: it's city dwellers with low incomes that have the best access to public transportation. Suburban communities occupied by middle-income and low-income families have the least access.

That would seem to benefit city-dwellers. But there's a problem.

Employment decentralization is increasing, and many new jobs -- whether in retail, health care, educational services or manufacturing -- are located in suburban and even further-flung exurban neighborhoods, according to the report. The task of getting to newly-created jobs has grown more difficult for low income, public transportation-dependent workers.

Most metro-area residents can only get to about 30 percent of jobs within 90 minutes using public transit, the report found. And it's even worse for those seeking low- and middle-skill jobs, as only about 25 percent of those jobs can be reached within that same timeframe using public transit.

Low-income suburbanites, a large and growing group, face trouble, too. Because of limited transit networks in most suburbs, these workers can only access 22 percent of low- and middle-skill jobs, according to the report.

Full Article
Source: Huffington Post 

'Patriotic Millionaires' Describe What They've Done With Their Bush Tax Cuts: 'I Built A Dance Floor In My House'

WASHINGTON -- Paul Egerman isn't certain how many millions he's saved from the tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush administration in the early 2000s and extended by President Barack Obama in December of last year.

"I do not know how much I've saved over 10 years but I'm sure it is several million dollars -- probably in excess of $10 million," said Egerman, founder of a medical transcription company called eScription.

And what, HuffPost asked, have you done with all that cash?

"I've kept it," he said. "I have not done anything with that money."

Egerman is part of a gang of self-described Patriotic Millionaires who wish the federal government would help itself to more of their money to address its big budget deficits. Nearly 200 millionaires have signed a letter asking congressional Republicans to consider healing budget gaps with increased revenue -- in particular, higher taxes on millionaires -- instead of just reduced spending.

The group is coordinated by the Agenda Project, a New York think tank, and Wealth for the Common Good, a network of business leaders and wealthy people that promotes "fair and adequate taxation" to support the economy.

Other millionaires on a conference call Monday morning said they had more fun with their extra money than Egerman did.

"I probably traveled a little bit more than I otherwise would have," said Frank Patitucci, CEO of NuCompass Mobility Services, a company that offers relocation management services.

"I got a bigger boat than I used to have," said Dennis Mehiel, the founder and chairman of cardboard box manufacturer U.S. Corrugated, Inc. He lamented that the construction of his 150-foot sloop didn't create any jobs for American workers. "The problem is, it was built in Italy."

Dal LaMagna, founder of Tweezerman, said he used his extra money to help the local economy in by adding stuff to his house in the Pacific Northwest.

"I just started creating jobs myself. I built a dance floor in my house -- which I really didn't need," LaMagna said, adding that he also put in a parking lot. "I just became a Dal LaMagna economic stimulus package in Poulsbo, Washington."

Full Article
Source: Huffington Post 

US Uncut Protests Apple's Tax Dodging Practices

US Uncut protested Apple stores this weekend to oppose the company’s federal tax dodging practices. The group staged a series of “dance-in” protests in stores nationwide.

Specifically, the group has taken issue with Apple’s support of the “Win America Campaign,” which would allow Apple to keep $4 billion (overall corporations would shelter $80 billion in taxes) that might otherwise have gone back to the federal government during a time of severe economic austerity. Members of the Win America coalition include Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Kodak, Google, Oracle and Adobe Systems.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Senate Republicans Block Yet Another Well-Qualified Obama Nominee

In April 2010, President Obama nominated Peter Diamond, a Nobel Prize–winning economist and MIT professor, to a seat on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. On three different occasions the Senate Banking Committee approved his nomination. Yet Republicans in the Senate, led by Alabama’s Richard Shelby, blocked his confirmation because they disagreed with his economic policy views. “Dr. Diamond is an old-fashioned, big government Keynesian,” Shelby said. Diamond, who finally had enough of the endless delay and partisan attacks, withdrew his nomination today, explaining why in a New York Times op-ed. “Last October, I won the Nobel Prize in economics for my work on unemployment and the labor market,” he wrote. “But I am unqualified to serve on the board of the Federal Reserve—at least according to the Republican senators who have blocked my nomination.”

The absence of a Nobel Prize–winning economist at the Fed at a time of economic crisis is particularly galling. L’affaire Diamond is a perfect illustration of how Senate Republicans have abused and warped Senate rules, which I blogged about last week. Diamond suffered the same fate as other well-qualified Obama nominees, like Goodwin Liu and Dawn Johnson, who Republicans stubbornly refused to confirm.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Wisconsin Protests Ramp Up With Approach of Budget Showdown, Recall Elections

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a political careerist who has never taken one elected office without beginning to position himself to run for the next, made a wild play for the national stage just weeks after being sworn in last winter as a Republican governor with Republican majorities in both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature.

Using a supposedly minor “budget repair bill” as his vehicle, Walker proposed to scrap most collective bargaining rights for state, county and municipal employees and teachers, to radically restructure state government to concentrate power in the governor’s office and to use that power to limit access to healthcare for working families and seniors while bartering off public assets in no-bid deals with favored corporations.

If he could pull it off, Walker told himself and his closest associates, he could be what Republicans have been looking for since the mid-1980s: a new Ronald Reagan. It was a dream he outlined In an extended conversation with a caller who he thought was billionaire conservative campaign contributor David Koch. “Ronald Reagan, whose 100th birthday we just celebrated the day before, had one of the most defining moments of his political career, not just his presidency, when he fired the air-traffic controllers. And, uh, I said, to me that moment was more important than just for labor relations or even the federal budget, that was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communism because from that point forward, the Soviets and the Communists knew that Ronald Reagan wasn’t a pushover,” Walker chirped, in the midst of a self-serving soliloquy. “And, uh, I said this may not have as broad of world implications, but in Wisconsin’s history—little did I know how big it would be nationally—in Wisconsin’s history, I said this is our moment, this is our time to change the course of history. And this is why it’s so important that they were all there. I had a cabinet meeting this morning and I reminded them of that and I said for those of you who thought I was being melodramatic you now know it was purely putting it in the right context.”

Now, almost four months into the fight, Walker does not look much like a new Reagan.

His anti-labor agenda has been blocked by the largest and most consistent pro-union demonstrations the United States has seen since the 1930s, along with legislative maneuvers and court orders. His personal approval ratings have flat-lined, and runs the risk of losing control of the state Senate to Democrats who are determined to block his initiatives.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

First Wave at Omaha Beach

UNLIKE what happens to other great battles, the passing of the years and the retelling of the story have softened the horror of Omaha Beach on D Day.

This fluke of history is doubly ironic since no other decisive battle has ever been so thoroughly reported for the official record. While the troops were still fighting in Normandy, what had happened to each unit in the landing had become known through the eyewitness testimony of all survivors. It was this research by the field historians which first determined where each company had hit the beach and by what route it had moved inland. Owing to the fact that every unit save one had been mislanded, it took this work to show the troops where they had fought.

How they fought and what they suffered were also determined in detail during the field research. As published today, the map data showing where the troops came ashore check exactly with the work done in the field; but the accompanying narrative describing their ordeal is a sanitized version of the original field notes.

This happened because the Army historians who wrote the first official book about Omaha Beach, basing it on the field notes, did a calculated job of sifting and weighting the material. So saying does not imply that their judgment was wrong. Normandy was an American victory; it was their duty to trace the twists and turns of fortune by which success was won. But to follow that rule slights the story of Omaha as an epic human tragedy which in the early hours bordered on total disaster. On this two-division front landing, only six rifle companies were relatively effective as units. They did better than others mainly because they had the luck to touch down on a less deadly section of the beach. Three times that number were shattered or foundered before they could start to fight. Several contributed not a man or bullet to the battle for the high ground. But their ordeal has gone unmarked because its detail was largely ignored by history in the first place. The worst-fated companies were overlooked, the more wretched personal experiences were toned down, and disproportionate attention was paid to the little element of courageous success in a situation which was largely characterized by tragic failure.

The official accounts which came later took their cue from this secondary source instead of searching the original documents. Even such an otherwise splendid and popular book on the great adventure as Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day misses the essence of the Omaha story.

In everything that has been written about Omaha until now, there is less blood and iron than in the original field notes covering any battalion landing in the first wave. Doubt it? Then let's follow along with Able and Baker companies, 116th Infantry, 29th Division. Their story is lifted from my fading Normandy notebook, which covers the landing of every Omaha company.

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Source: The Atlantic 

Kill the subsidy, but kill them all

With the impending heat death of the Liberal party—er, rather, with the approaching end of the $2-per-vote party subsidy—the commentariat is consumed with what this will mean for the various political parties, and what Stephen Harper’s motives might be for introducing it.

Well, that last bit’s obvious, isn’t it? He wants to destroy the Liberal party. Everybody knows that. But wait: maybe by obliging the opposition parties to rely more heavily on their own supporters for funds, rather than the taxpayer, he will only create a more motivated cadre of foes, while his own troops grow fat and complacent in office. Or maybe by starving the opposition of funds, he will force them to realize there is only room for one left-wing party, hastening the very unite-the-left movement that could one day be his undoing. But how could such a master strategist not see that? Maybe he wants a united left, the better to…

People. Isn’t it possible, just possible, that he’s doing this because…it’s the right thing to do?

Nah. I was just messing with you. Still, even if it’s supremely self-interested—the Conservatives raise more each year than all the other parties combined—that doesn’t mean it isn’t sound in principle. The Tories’ success isn’t a matter of a few monocled millionaires passing the top hat: their average donor gives less than $200. A system based on thousands of small contributors, inspired by a belief in a party’s principles rather than the expectation of some reward: that’s supposed to be what we all want, isn’t it? So how does it become wrong, just because the Tories are good at it and the other parties aren’t?

Abolishing the subsidy isn’t, as critics on the left object, a betrayal of Jean Chr├ętien’s reforms to party funding, which effectively banned corporations and unions from contributing and capped individual donations at $5,000 (reduced to $1,000 under Harper, or $1,100 after inflation). Neither, as the right suggests, should the corollary of abolishing the subsidy be a loosening of the other constraints. Certainly that would give substance to the left’s fears, that without the subsidy there will be pressure for a return to “big money” politics. But there’s no logical necessity for the one to follow the other.

Both groups share the same basic assumption: that if the parties are denied one source of largesse, private or public, the other must be opened to them. The possibility that the parties could simply make do with less does not seem to occur to either. But there is no fixed amount of money the parties “need” to carry out their activities. Much of what the parties spend their money on today—push-polls, attack ads, meaningless leaders’ tours—we might all be better off without, especially in these days of email and social media, which cost nothing.

Logic would rather suggest the natural corollary to a ban on corporate and union donations is a ban on government donations. Indeed, if the Prime Minister were motivated by principle—remember, I said if—he’d not only close off the per-vote subsidy, but those other spigots through which public funds flow to private parties: the tax credits on private donations, as much as 75 per cent, and the partial reimbursement of campaign expenses.

The principle I refer to is that people who want to give to political parties should do so with their own money. Corporate CEOs should not be giving their shareholders’ money, union presidents should not be giving their members’ money, and individual party supporters should not be giving the taxpayers’ money, whether in the form of subsidies or tax credits.

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Source: Macleans 

Take the roof off campaign donations

I have an idea to reform our democratic system that’s so radical it will be met with scorn, ridicule and disbelief – and that’s only what my mother will think. So what’s my idea?

Well, I propose we change the laws so that money – long considered the root of all evil in politics – can play a bigger role in our democratic process. More specifically, I suggest we scrap the current campaign finance law, which imposes a severe limit on how much money citizens can voluntarily contribute to political parties.

Right now, those individual contribution limits are set at an absurdly low level – $1,100 each for party and riding associations.

Why not allow Canadians the freedom to contribute as much as they wish, especially now that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will eliminate the “per vote” public subsidy for political parties? This at least would give the Liberals and other opposition parties a fighting chance to raise the money they would need to effectively operate.

Why is this radical? Because for a lot of Canadians the idea of lifting campaign contributions is tantamount to political heresy. After all, the conventional wisdom in this country views money as kind of corruptive poison that must be purged. Otherwise, the “rich” will use fat contributions to influence our elected leaders.

This viewpoint, while widespread, also reflects a profoundly depressing take on both politics and humanity. For one thing, it assumes politicians are for sale to the highest bidder.

The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of politicians are actually honest. They make their policy decisions based on many factors other than on who contributes to their campaigns, including ideology, party discipline and public opinion.

Why it is always assumed people who contribute large sums of money to political parties have evil motivations? Likely this reflects an ideological bias against people in business. Simply put, contribution limits are seen as a way to insulate politicians from the greedy clutches of “money-grubbing” capitalists.

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Source: Globe & Mail 

Forensic review of Ford’s election expenses urged

Can a campaign supporter also be a campaign supplier?

That question emerged as a potentially crucial distinction involving Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign RV, in the wake of the latest request by a Toronto citizen for a forensic review of Mr. Ford’s election expenses.

Retired teacher David DePoe told council’s three-person compliance audit committee Monday that the $1,808 the campaign paid Michael Robertson in rent for a campaign van for four months was well below fair market value, which he estimated to be over $200 a day.

Mr. Robertson owns Outback Storage, which is located at 318 Greenwood Ave, and declined to be interviewed. “It’s my business and my corporation and it’s my RV, and it’s a personal private matter.”

Mr. DePoe said that he and his wife in 2003 paid $12,000 to rent a used recreational vehicle for a three-month journey across North America. “That’s just a little van and that was a long time ago.”

The committee dismissed Mr. DePoe’s application, with chair Douglas Colbourne stressing that the compliance audit ordered last month will review all aspects of the mayor’s campaign finances. Mr. Ford's lawyers have appealed the order.

But after the meeting adjourned, Mr. Ford’s lawyer Thomas Barlow and Stephen Chan, a senior executive with the Ford family company Deco Labels and Tags who served as the CFO for the campaign, appeared to contradict one another about whether the van was provided to Mr. Ford by a supporter or a supplier.

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Source: Globe & Mail 

When the axe falls, will the streets fill with protests?

This is the budget that sets the clock ticking. In nine months, the alarm will sound and the real drama of this Parliament will begin.

Then we will see what a majority Conservative government looks like, and whether what activist Jamie Biggar calls “the public voice” is still alive in the land.

Budget 2011 version 2.0 is not, as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty suggests, a simple rehashing of the March 22 budget. There is one very large change.

It commits the Conservative government to eliminating the federal deficit in 2014-15, one year earlier than planned. For most governments, advancing a deficit-reduction target would be agony. It will hurt here as well.

“Is it challenging to do? It’s challenging to do,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty acknowledged at his news conference on Monday. “Is it doable? Absolutely doable.”

The challenge is particularly acute because the Conservatives are committed to preserving or increasing spending over the coming years on health and social transfers, equalization transfers, funding for native Canadians, at least some funding for cities, and defence. They know that any major cuts in direct services to people, provinces or the military could lead to a sharp and permanent loss in popular support.

What does that leave? It leaves civil-service jobs. Culture. Environment. Agriculture and fisheries. Parks. Immigration training and settlement. Regional economic development.
An $80-billion aggregate budget must lose $4-billion, or 5 per cent, with no allowance for inflation. In some places, cuts will be severe. And those who are affected will fight back.

In the past, when governments have swung the axe aggressively to save money, people have taken to the streets. Labour has brought its workers to the lawns of legislatures. Brian Mulroney and Mike Harris faced major demonstrations and public-servant strikes.

But people don’t seem to demonstrate against the Harper government, apart from the odd smatterings of curmudgeons who show up at this event or that. The unpleasantness at the G20 summit last June was more about globalization in general.

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Source: Globe & Mail 

A new mandate for Flaherty’s belt-tightening budget

Stephen Harper is using his majority to plow ahead with the same budget that triggered an election this spring: a fiscal plan that adds slightly more than $1-billion to annual federal spending for seniors, businesses and research.

There are two big differences, however.

The biggest new item is a $2.2-billion cheque for Quebec: an election promise to underwrite the province’s shift to a sales tax that more closely mirrors the GST. Unveiled during the campaign, the pledge delivered no political benefit for the Conservatives who lost more than half their seats in the province on May 2.

The second new measure takes an axe to subsidies for political parties in Canada. The Tories will phase out the $2-per vote taxpayer subsidy for federal political parties introduced by Jean Chretien in 2003.

The 374-page budget document so closely matches the earlier March 22 budget that the Finance Department resorted to using a blue font to highlight sections that are new.

The Conservatives have to move fast in passing at least some elements of their budget.

They have promised $300-million in increased aid for low-income seniors will take effect July 1 – benefit worth up to $50 per person. This means the Tories must get parliamentary approval on implementing legislation before the month is out so the cheques for the extra Guaranteed Income Supplement cash can start flowing.

The Conservatives are comfortable with the repetitive nature of the budget because it underlines the Tory campaign message that their defeat in March interrupted important fiscal measures including the fiscal plan now being re-released and passed.

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Source: Globe & Mail 

Tories pledge to slay deficit by 2014

OTTAWA—Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says Ottawa will have to axe federal programs and services to reach the goal announced in Monday’s budget update of eliminating the $32-billion deficit by 2014.

“There will be some programs that will not continue. There’s no question about that,” Flaherty told the media as he prepared to table a slightly modified version of the economic blueprint he released on March 22 before the election.

“Already we’ve seen some instances of programs that have outlived their usefulness, quite frankly,” he said of previous efforts to reduce spending.

“Governments are very good at creating programs. They’re not so good at ending them. Not every program is designed to go on forever.”

The Conservatives have run record budget deficits that reached as high as $40 billion in 2010. But Flaherty said in the earlier version of the 2011 budget that he could balance the books by 2015. Then, during the election campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to eliminate the deficit a year earlier, by 2014.

Flaherty said finding the cuts will be a challenge but added that Harper is determined to make the cuts needed to rein in federal spending, which has grown by leaps and bounds since the prime minister took power.

Flaherty said the problem isn’t convincing Canadians that Ottawa’s spending should be reduced—it’s dealing with the people who are attached to the specific programs and services that come under the knife, he explained.

The Conservatives, re-elected with a majority on May 2, will be conducting a cross-government review in hopes of finding savings through efficiencies and by not replacing some of the thousands of baby-boomer-aged federal public servants who are expected to retire in the next few years. The aim is to find cuts of $4 billion a year out of about $80 billion in operational spending.

Already in recent weeks, some government departments, agencies and museums have been trimming staff, cuts that are blamed on Ottawa’s cost-saving moves from previous budgets.

The cost-cutting vowed in Monday’s budget promise to be deeper and have a greater impact on government operations. Flaherty said there hasn’t been a serious belt-tightening in Ottawa in 15 years.

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Source: Toronto Star