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 14, 2011

Mandatory Minimum Terms for Cannabis Cultivation: How Crazy Are the Harper Conservatives?

One of the most foolish and costly planks of the Conservatives' so-called 'get tough on crime' agenda is their plan to impose mandatory minimum terms of six months imprisonment on those who grow at least six marijuana plants.

It is instructive to consider the likely impacts of such a proposal. A 2005 study of seven years of marijuana cultivation arrests in British Columbia revealed that more than 80 per cent of growers did not have guns or traps at their sites, were not involved in organized crime, and were not involved in any theft of electricity. In other words, most marijuana cultivation takes place without imposing significant threats upon the surrounding community.

Further, and this apparently needs to be said repeatedly -- the consumption of cannabis is much less likely to lead to significant harm and premature death than the consumption of the perfectly legal and socially acceptable drugs -- alcohol and tobacco -- even when rates of use are taken into account.

There is a very real sense in which we -- or at least the Tories -- are operating without a shred of science on our side. Why are they doing this? The costs of jailing marijuana cultivators will soar into the billions of dollars within a few years -- and it will be the provinces, not the federal government, that will have to pay for the construction and operation of these new provincial facilities. Why have the provinces been so silent? Are they looking to create prison industries in rural areas of their jurisdictions, shoring up longstanding unemployment, and potentially converting these voters to their cause? Do they not care about the costs and the consequences of putting thousands of non-violent offenders in jail? Could this money not be better spent on health care, or other more useful collective endeavors?

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Torture, Botched Rendition Investigations Dog CIA

WASHINGTON — Two of the CIA's biggest mistakes made under President George W. Bush are coming under fresh scrutiny.

The CIA's inspector general has resumed asking questions about a botched operation in which the agency mistook a vacationing German citizen for a terrorist, then captured him and held him for months in a secret prison. The Justice Department, meanwhile, has opened a torture and war crimes grand jury investigation into the interrogation and death of a prison at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Both incidents have long been known to the public for years and have been investigated repeatedly. The new developments show that the Justice Department is still not ready to close the book on the 2003 death of prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi, and the CIA is still sorting through the internal mistakes that led to Khaled el-Masri's wrongful capture and interrogation.

The investigations are also certain to prompt criticism from Republicans who want these matters put to rest, especially after the CIA located Osama bin Laden and oversaw the raid that killed him last month.

The inquiries were confirmed by people close the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigations are being conducted in secret. The investigation into al-Jamadi's death was first reported by Time magazine.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Gay Marriage Bill Nixed By French Parliament

PARIS -- French lawmakers on Tuesday rejected a bill presented by the opposition Socialist Party seeking to legalize same-sex marriage, despite growing public support for gay rights.

The vote reflected opposition to gay marriage among President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives and the strain of traditional values that runs through many parts of France – away from the gay-friendly bars and neighborhoods of Paris.

The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, turned down the measure by 293 votes to 222. Opposition was led by Sarkozy's UMP, while Socialists and other leftists supported the bill, which said "marriage can be contracted by two people of different sexes or of the same sex."

Supporters say France has fallen behind the curve on gay rights, as nearby countries like Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands have legalized gay marriage.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

The unions at Canada Post and Air Canada are fighting a rearguard action

Which is worse, a mail strike or an airline strike? I’d say an airline strike. It’s bound to make flying even more miserable than it already is. But I won’t miss my junk mail at all.

The union battles at Air Canada and Canada Post are watersheds. They are not mainly about pay. They are about something far more valuable – pensions. Management and unions are fighting over a lucrative entitlement that is slowly disappearing from the private sector. Union leaders portray this as nothing less than a battle for the middle class.

If you’ve got a pension plan like the one these workers have, it’s probably the most valuable asset you own. It’s probably worth a lot more than your house. A good defined-benefit (DB) pension plan will pay out a guaranteed amount of money – often a handsome sum – for 20 or 30 years. Who wouldn’t want one?

But across the private sector, these plans are slowly disappearing. That’s because they cause tremendous headaches for management. Promises that looked cheap in the early days turn out to be ruinously expensive when the time comes to pay up. As the number of retirees mounts, the impact on payroll costs can become enormous. Remember General Motors? Its pension costs were so gigantic that it was really a pension fund with a car company attached.

Air Canada and Canada Post also have big legacy problems. Air Canada’s pension deficit is $2.1-billion. In the next four years, it will have to kick in another $1.6-billion in contributions. “We are an airline of 26,000 employees supporting 29,000 retirees,” said the CEO, Calin Rovinescu. The airline simply can’t compete against a young company like WestJet, which has no unions and no pension plan either (it has profit-sharing). Canada Post, a business in precipitous decline, faces a pension deficit of $3.22 billion. Although its pension plan’s investment returns have been good lately, the projected cost of future pensions has surpassed the growth in the plan’s assets.

To dig themselves out of the pension hole, both Air Canada and Canada Post want to change the deal for future employees. Instead of a deluxe defined-benefit plan, where the payouts are guaranteed, new employees would get a much stingier defined-contribution plan, which basically gives you a lump sum (no guarantees of how much) when you retire. The rest is up to you. This type of plan shifts the risk from the company to you, and if you live too long, tough luck. Usually, these plans ultimately pay out far less.

No wonder the unions are fighting like hell. They say that management’s aim is to create two tiers of workers, the old and the new. And they’re right.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Next stop: ‘Spadina-McDonald’s’ station?

Toronto subway trains will be pulling into stations named after burger joints and pizza parlours if the mayor and his brother have their way.

Etobicoke councillor Doug Ford says the city should be selling naming rights to just about everything but city hall in order to raise badly needed funds – including transit stations.

“As long as it is called the right name – Spadina, McDonald’s – whatever,” he said Tuesday. “It brings in revenue. I honestly don’t believe anyone cares.”

That’s a view shared by his sibling, the mayor. “Sure, we would look at that,” said Rob Ford when asked about selling subway station naming rights.

The city’s executive committee will consider ways to increase revenue from naming rights at its meeting next week In 2009, the city raised more than $7-million from 87 sponsorship agreements, says a staff report prepared for that meeting.

The city is facing a $774-million funding gap in its budget for next year and Mayor Ford said selling naming rights or signs on highways and bridges could generate badly needed cash. “I think we have to get the private sector in. If they want to advertise, let them advertise,” he said.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Lessig: Copyright isn't just hurting creativity: it's killing science (video)

Copyleft crusader and Harvard professor Larry Lessig gave a new talk at CERN last week about copyright and how it has affected open access to academic or scientific information, with a bit of commentary about YouTube Copyright School. As usual, it’s blistering commentary. “It’s time to recognize that free access – as in ‘free’ as in speech access – is no fad, and it’s time to push this non-fad war broadly in the context of science,” says Lessig.

Whereas copyright tends to focus on protecting an artist’s ability to make money from her work, a scientist doesn’t use similar incentives. And yet, her work is often kept within the gates of the ivory tower, reserved for those whose universities or institutions have purchased access, often at high costs. (There are exceptions, the open database the most notable among them.) For science in the age of the internet, which wants ideas to spread as widely as possible to encourage more creativity and development, this isn’t just bad, argues Lessig, convincingly: it’s immoral.


Obama warns of 2nd financial crisis

Congress must raise the American national debt ceiling or risk causing another global financial crisis, says U.S. President Barack Obama.

In an interview Tuesday with NBC's Today show, Obama said "the full faith and credit of the United States is the underpinning not only of our way of life, it's also the underpinning of a global financial system. We could actually have a reprise of a financial crisis, if we play this too close to the line. So we're going be working hard over the next month," he said.

But Obama also expressed confidence that Republican leaders want to avoid such a situation and said he expected lawmakers will reach agreement on how to increase the debt limit "in a sensible way."

The government has said it will exceed its $14.3-trillion debt ceiling on Aug. 2.

Later in the day, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, urged Republicans to support a vote to raise the ceiling. He said threatening to block the increase to gain deeper cuts in federal spending could backfire and worsen the economy.

Bernanke, in a speech in Washington, renewed warnings that even a short delay in making payments on the nation's debt would cause severe disruptions in financial markets, damage the dollar and raise serious doubts about the nation's creditworthiness.

Full Article
Source: CBC News 

Ottawa to legislate end to Air Canada strike

The federal government will introduce legislation Tuesday night to end the Air Canada strike and "ensure continuing air service for passengers," Labour Minister Lisa Raitt says.

The details of the new legislation are not yet clear, but Raitt told the House of Commons Tuesday she was concerned the walkout by customer service and sales staff will have an effect on Canada's economic recovery.

Air travellers across the country are facing some delays after Air Canada customer service and sales staff went on strike at midnight when their union failed to reach an agreement with the airline

After a few early-morning delays in Atlantic Canada and Montreal, flights were reported cancelled or delayed at Toronto's Pearson Airport. Lineups were expected at gates, as passengers boarded their flights. An Air Canada spokesman attributed slower boarding to managers learning their new jobs.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline is treating the work stoppage the same way it would a severe winter storm or some other irregular operation.

"We have a contingency plan that is quite robust," said Fitzpatrick. "We have 22,000 other Air Canada employees who will continue to show up and work.… We are planning to work a full schedule."

Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza said the union, which represents the 3,800 workers, had tentatively agreed with the airline on some contract issues, but the two sides remained far apart on pensions and wages.

Full Article
Source: CBC News 

Robert Mueller's Questionable Extension as FBI Director

This morning, the Washington Post reported on some deeply disturbing accusations against the Federal Bureau of investigations. Last fall, FBI agents armed with twenty-three subpoenas raided seven homes, mainly in the Midwest. The targets of this “mysterious, ongoing nationwide terrorism investigation” had one thing in common: they were all either involved with the peace movement or were politically active labor organizers. The bureau will not comment on what is being specifically investigated, though some court documents indicate the FBI is looking into “material support” of Colombian and Palestinian groups designated as terrorist organizations by the government.

The New York Times reported another troubling story yesterday—FBI agents have been given significanlty more leeway to “search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.”

In light of this news, it’s especially surprising that an extension of FBI director Robert Mueller’s term is barely being contested in the Senate. As we noted last week, President Obama is having so much trouble getting people appointed to administration posts that even the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been without a permanent director for months. But Mueller is running into few roadblocks.

Most cabinet appointees serve indefinitely, until they either resign or are replaced by the president. However, Congress imposed a ten-year limit on the FBI director’s term in 1976 following the Church Committee investigation of J. Edgar Hoover’s forty-eight-year reign, which revealed shocking abuses of power: illegal wiretaps, the infiltration of antiwar and civil rights groups, spying on members of Congress, a smear campaign against Martin Luther King Jr. and several other serious transgressions.

Though Mueller was reportedly looking forward to retirement this September when his term expired, President Obama asked him to serve two additional years. “Given the ongoing threat facing the United States, as well as the leadership transitions at other agencies, I believe continuity and stability at the FBI is critical at this time,” Obama said last month when he asked Congress to pass a bill extending Mueller’s term.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

The End of Capitalism and the Wellsprings of Radical Hope

Why should we want to reinvent capitalism? Rather than reinvent it, we should remind ourselves why capitalism is so pernicious. We could start by stating the obvious (which, apparently, needs restating): the nature and logic of capitalism are incorrigibly avaricious. As a property system driven by the need to maximize profit and production, capitalism is a giant, ever-whirling vortex of accumulation. Anything but conservative, it’s the most dynamic and protean economy in history. As Marx observed in the opening pages of The Communist Manifesto, capitalism thrives on constant reinvention: “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.” Always seeking new ways to make money, capitalists have reinvented the system several times already. Enclosures, factories, Fordism, automation and “flexible production”—metamorphosis for the sake of profit is the only constant in capitalism. Each incarnation has featured new brands of exploitation and corruption, designed and packaged by masters of economic and managerial sophistry.

To be sure, reformers have been partially successful at shaping these reinventions: collective bargaining, regulations of business, the welfare state. Whatever victories for justice working people have won have been hard-fought and tenuous, the fruit of protracted struggle. But however ingenious or effective the reforms, they’ve been limited, if not eventually subverted, by the intractably mercenary nature of capitalism. As we can see from the history of the past forty years—an era that has been marked by a transatlantic assault on social democracy and New Deal/Great Society liberalism—the rage to accumulate remains the predatory heart and soul of capitalism. We have good reason to assume that capitalists will always seek and find fresh ways to cast off the fetters and vanquish their opponents.

But the iniquity of capitalism goes deeper than its injustice as a political economy, its amoral ingenuity in technical prowess or its rapacious relationship to the natural world. However lissome its face or benign its manner, capitalism compels us to be greedy, callous and petty. It takes what the Greeks called pleonexia—an endless hunger for more and more—and transforms it from a tawdry and dangerous vice into the central virtue of the system. The sanctity of “growth” in capitalist culture stems from this moral alchemy, as does the elevation of market competition into a model of human affairs.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

FBI to Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers As Details Emerge of Its Spy Campaign Targeting Activists

Civil liberties advocates are raising alarm over news the FBI is giving agents more leeway to conduct domestic surveillance. According to the New York Times, new guidelines will allow FBI agents to investigate people and organizations "pro-actively" without firm evidence for suspecting criminal activity. We speak to former FBI agent Mike German, who now works at the American Civil Liberties Union, and Texas activist, Scott Crow, who has been the focus of intense FBI surveillance from 2001 until at least 2008. Using the Freedom of Information Act, Crow received 440 pages of heavily-redacted documents revealing the FBI had set up a video camera outside his house, traced the license plates of cars parked in front of his home, recorded the arrival and departure of his guests and observed gatherings that Crow attended at bookstores and cafes. The agency also tracked Crow’s emails and phone conversations and picked through his trash to identify his bank and mortgage companies. “It definitely has been traumatizing at different points,” says Crow. “But if we don’t come out and be open about this, then they’ve already won, and the surveillance and the ‘War on Terror’ wins against us.”

Source: Democracy Now!  

Right Wing "Facts" V. Reality

Back in the day, Democrats and Republicans agreed on the facts and goals and argued about how to get there.

That's gone now; Democrats think Republicans are fascists and Republicans think Democrats are communists. And the longer this goes on, the more American politics becomes trench warfare -- with the country in the crossfire.

If I ask conservatives about why their facts and my facts are so different, I get nowhere. A promising email exchange collapsed when I asked my correspondent the question, and since he's bed-ridden, I doubt he's just been swamped with chores.

My guess: They think I'm calling them idiots or fools.

Well, they're not. Many conservatives I know are intelligent, civilized, educated people interested in ideas, and we can have enjoyable conversations -- as long as we avoid politics: Because then we find ourselves talking to somebody from another planet. Even when we agree on a premise, we come to completely different conclusions.

Why? My own guess is their source for facts is the right wing media, a more or less alternate reality filled with alternate facts. And they're proud of it, because they believe that everything the mainstream media says is a lie -- Rush Limbaugh even calls it the "state-run media" -- and they know the truth.

Of course, it's called the mainstream media because it reports the agreed-upon facts from a mainstream perspective -- the place both Democrats and Republicans used to come from.

The right wing media, on the other hand, takes its readers and listeners through the looking glass to another place -- very subtly, and in ways that most people wouldn't notice and are hard to uncover or explain. But it can be done.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Documentaries and the Truth We Can Still Tell (But for How Long?)

There may be an awful lot of lawyer jokes out there but for more and more documentary filmmakers, the legal challenges they are up against when trying to tell a story are no laughing matter. Forty years after the initial publishing of The Pentagon Papers, the full truth about Vietnam is finally being released. Daniel Ellsberg has stated that what he did back then as an investigative journalist was actually legal. Today, post-9/11 and Patriot Act, not only would it be illegal, it would be much more difficult to find any published information at all. Some information has indeed disappeared completely. And for those wonderfully stubborn souls who keep searching for the truth and trying to get it out there in front of audiences, they often find themselves, especially in the US, attacked by layer upon layer of lawsuits funded by corporations with deep pockets.

Take the case of Bananas! and the hell the Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten and his producer went through when putting on the screen the stories of workers who were "allegedly" suffering from infertility due to exposure to pesticides while employed by the biggest fruit company in the world. The well-known legal story of Joe Berlinger's never-ending battles with his film about Chevron's pollution and the health affects on people in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Crude, overshadowed his message at times. And some turn to fiction to avoid the lawsuits by making feature films such as Michael Clayton which refer to the wrongs of companies such as Monsanto. And the list seems to be growing longer. Documentary filmmakers have enough problems trying to find the money to get their films made, but adding to that the mountains of legal bills and the time-consuming reality of defending oneself and one's film from being sued, one imagines the corporations are hoping that the filmmakers will back down and their docs will disappear.

But they won't.

And that was obvious by the lineup at the Sheffield Doc/Fest in the UK this past week. The screenings were full of both industry folks and regular folks and the conversations in the pubs afterwards showed that documentary film attacking serious subjects is alive and well. But will many of these docs go on to have a life on television and in cinemas?

Full Article
Source: Huffington  

'Anonymous' Allegedly Demands Resignation Of Fed Chair Bernanke

If a new video purportedly by cyber-group "Anonymous" is to be believed, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has become the focus of a pointed threat.

In the video, uploaded on Saturday, the anonymous group, self-described as loosely connected and Internet based, allegedly claims that the Federal Reserve is guilty of "crimes against humanity" and calls for the resignation of Ben Bernanke. In addition, the group would seem to demand the break up of the Federal Reserve and other major banking institutions.

In response to criticism of the Federal Reserve's secrecy, Ben Bernanke this year gave the first-ever press conference by a Fed chairman. He plans to make the press a quarterly affair. The duties of the Federal Reserve include regulating bank and setting interest rates, among others.

This is not the only high-profile threat by the group -- also threatening Bank of America and Sony -- nor is it the first time the group has taken aim at Bernanke. The group first requested his resignation on March 12 of this year, in a similarly-designed video, according to Business Insider.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Plenty of targets in Tories’ deficit-fighting plan, but details are few

The Conservative government is keeping much of its deficit-fighting plan under wraps, even as details trickle out as to where the knife will fall.

Three months after the 2011 budget first stated that 12 federal organizations will cut a combined $2.6-billion over three years, many of them told The Globe and Mail they need more time before they can explain the details publicly.

On Monday, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page reported he’s still waiting for answers as to how the government is implementing a spending freeze first announced in the 2010 budget – 15 months ago. He reported that while recent government documents show more than 6,000 positions will be eliminated over three years, that covers only about one-third of the promised spending cuts.
“Where is the plan? We haven’t seen it,” said Mr. Page in an interview.

The government is making much of its new pledge to find $4-billion in annual savings this year through a process called the “strategic and operating review,” led by Treasury Board President Tony Clement.

Mr. Clement said the government believes in the effectiveness of this approach. He backed away from the idea of hiking government user fees as part of the deficit fight, an idea he raised in a speech last week.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Asbestos Advice From Health Canada Rejected By Government

CBC -- The Canadian government rejected advice from Health Canada that asbestos be added to a global list of hazardous materials in 2006, CBC News has learned.

According to documents obtained under Access to Information, a senior Health Canada bureaucrat wrote that the agency believed that chrysotile -- a form of asbestos that has been linked to cancer -- should be added to a UN treaty known as the Rotterdam Convention.

"[Health Canada's] preferred position would be to list -- as this is consistent with controlled use -- i.e. let people know about the substance so they have the information they need, through prior informed consent, to ensure they handle and use the substance correctly," wrote Paul Glover then director general of Health Canada's safe environments program, in 2006.

The 2006 Rotterdam Convention comprises a list of hazardous substances that require countries to disclose any restrictions imposed for health or environmental reasons by exporting countries. Importing countries would then decide whether to import the substance, ban it, or restrict it, something known as prior informed consent.

More than 50 countries ban the use of asbestos. But Canada, one of the leading exporters of the material, lobbied to keep asbestos off the Rotterdam list with the support of purchasing countries such as Iran and Zimbabwe. Ultimately, chrysotile asbestos did not make the list and remains off it.

Canada exports $90 million of asbestos, all of it from Quebec, every year.

While Glover noted in his email that Health Canada cannot say that chrysotile is safe, he said the agency does feel "there is science and evidence to support that chrysotile is less dangerous than other forms of asbestos."

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Tories Spent $21 Million To Secure Election Win

CP -- OTTAWA — The Conservative party said Saturday it spent $21 million to win its coveted majority in the May 2 election.

That was the maximum allowed to be spent under Elections Canada rules.

Conservative Senator and chief fundraiser Irving Gerstein told the party's policy convention that all the campaign bills have now been paid and the party has cash in the bank.

He said the party was also on track to break fundraising records for the first two quarters of this year.

But Gerstein urged the party faithful to keep the money rolling in as the Tories will need to make up for the $12 million they will lose when the government cuts the per-vote-political subsidy to political parties. The subsidy gives $2 for each vote a party wins in an election.

Ending the subsidy has been a long-time Tory goal and attempts to do it in 2008 created a political furor that almost toppled the Conservative government. But the party's majority status in the House of Commons means the government will easily get the measure through this time around.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Secret US and Afghanistan talks could see troops stay for decades

American and Afghan officials are locked in increasingly acrimonious secret talks about a long-term security agreement which is likely to see US troops, spies and air power based in the troubled country for decades.

Though not publicised, negotiations have been under way for more than a month to secure a strategic partnership agreement which would include an American presence beyond the end of 2014 – the agreed date for all 130,000 combat troops to leave — despite continuing public debate in Washington and among other members of the 49-nation coalition fighting in Afghanistan about the speed of the withdrawal.

American officials admit that although Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, recently said Washington did not want any "permanent" bases in Afghanistan, her phrasing allows a variety of possible arrangements.

"There are US troops in various countries for some considerable lengths of time which are not there permanently," a US official told the Guardian.

British troops, Nato officials say, will also remain in Afghanistan long past the end of 2014, largely in training or mentoring roles.

Although they will not be "combat troops" that does not mean they will not take part in combat. Mentors could regularly fight alongside Afghan troops, for example.

Senior Nato officials also predict that the insurgency in Afghanistan will continue after 2014.

Full Article
Source: Guardian 

City poised to take over arena’s $40 million debt

The City of Toronto is looking at taking over the debt-plagued Lakeshore Lions Arena, also known as the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence, where the Toronto Maple Leafs train.

Under a rescue plan going to council’s executive committee next week, the city would assume responsibility for repaying about $40 million borrowed to build the four-pad arena on Kipling Ave.

Since it opened in September, 2009, the centre has been making about $1.6 million a year with the major tenant being the Leafs and Marlies, and 500 hours a year of no-charge ice time allocated to the public school board, which owns the land.

But there’s been no money to cover debt payments and the Lakeshore Lions Club was in danger of defaulting, a city staff report said.

Arena president Bob Harris declined comment.

The facility — the first built in Toronto in two decades — features four NHL-sized rinks, one of which can be expanded to Olympic size. It replaced the single-rink Lakeshore Lions Arena, which opened in 1951.

And the rescue plan would not be the first time the city has decided to step in and take over from outside operators.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Postal strike hits Toronto

Canada Post’s rotating strikes hit the Toronto area at 11:30 p.m. on Monday, shutting down its biggest sorting facilities.

The Toronto and Scarborough locals — among the largest in the country — walked off the job.

That means the mail plant on Eastern Ave. and the parcel sorting plant will be affected for 24 hours.

Also, the Montreal local walked out.

Clearly, the union is hoping to make an impact by having the largest cities affected. According to the union, the move brings the number of striking workers to more than 15,000.

Canada Post had already announced that there will be no home delivery for mail on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the duration of the strike.

The union representing 48,000 postal workers called the move a “partial lockout” where its members’ hours were being cut, which would affect their paycheques, and said it is an attempt to provoke a full walkout.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Air Canada workers walk off the job

If you've got a flight booked on Air Canada, better get to the airport early.

The airline's 3,800 customer service workers walked off the job early Tuesday morning, after marathon talks failed to break an impasse over two major issues, wages and pensions.

Just after midnight, a grim-faced CAW president Ken Lewenza told reporters that they couldn't reach a deal.

“We will keep pushing the employer to get back to the bargaining table,” he said.

Lewenza said it was a unanimous decision to walk off the job and that the airline has already cancelled 69 flights, something Air Canada has denied.

Airline spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said he was disappointed by the union's job action.

“It is unfortunate that the CAW chose to put ideology ahead of their members' interest.”

Lines are expected to be long for travellers, as the unionized workers strike in nine major Canadian airports including Toronto's Pearson.

Air Canada says it will have management staff on duty to help passengers check-in and board airplanes. However, it has already warned travellers that it will have a limited number of officials on duty.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Corporate tax reform can wait -- the recovery can't

In the waning days of the 111th Congress last December, an extraordinary tax deal was reached between the Obama administration, the outgoing Democratic majority, and the resurgent Republicans that extended the Bush-era tax cuts for two years in addition to unemployment benefits. The $900 billion agreement that also lowered payroll taxes by 2% for 2011 was hailed as a “second stimulus” and led to upward revisions in GDP growth forecasts.

The bill also kicked off President Obama’s efforts to reset his relationship with the business community, whose support President Obama and his strategists feel is vital to sustaining the economic recovery and, hence, his reelection prospects. The tax bill was followed up by the naming of William Daley, a former banker, as his permanent replacement for Rahm Emmanuel as chief of staff and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt as the head of a new advisory board on economic recovery and job creation, and an executive order ordering the review of unjustifiably costly regulation – all major steps for an administration criticized for having had no one with business experience in the top ranks.

In his State of the Union address President Obama opened up another front in his efforts to repair ties with the business community by calling for a streamlining of the corporate tax code with a lower overall rate in exchange for reducing numerous loopholes that companies currently exploit.

As is oft-pointed out by the business community, the US has the second highest combined statutory corporate income tax among OECD nations at 39 (which includes an average of US states) – some 13 percentage points above the 2010 OECD average. But the reality is more subtle: the loopholes that are the target of President Obama’s ire mean that for some favored industries like biotechnology, the effective federal tax rate is only 4.5%, with the banking and petroleum industries also reporting effective rates of 17.5% and 11.3% respectively. The trucking industry by contrast pays an effective federal tax rate of 30.9 percent.

But two factors diminish the likelihood that reform will be achieved. First, President Obama has insisted that any corporate tax reform be revenue neutral – meaning that as a whole, business would see no cut in their taxes. (Simplification of the tax code would provide some gains for corporations in the form of savings on the costs of tax compliance.) Second, the wide variation in effective taxation by industry means that the possibility that reform would overcome the objections of industries that would be hurt by a rise in their effective tax rate (including those like biotechnology and information technology that the president has cited are vital to “winning the future”) quite unlikely.

But there exists another possibility for a addressing a feature of the obtuse US corporate tax code whose prospects for political success would be considerably higher: temporarily cutting taxes on the foreign earnings of American companies.

As the Congressional Joint Economic Committee report on tax competitiveness explains, there are two basic types of international tax systems: worldwide and territorial. In the latter, employed by most major economies including France, Japan, and Germany, companies pay taxes to their home country only for the income generated in that country. Thus, a German company pays German corporate taxes only on the income generated in Germany but will also pay French taxes only for the income earned in France.

The US is one of a handful of major countries that instead practices a worldwide system in which US-registered companies pay taxes not only on earnings from within the US but also on foreign earnings at the US rate less the taxes that they pay to the foreign countries. But US companies only encounter this tax when they repatriate these foreign earnings back to the US. Thus, unwilling to bring back their earnings from abroad by sacrificing it to the United States, corporations are holding an estimated $1 trillion overseas.

Full Article
Source: The Politic 

Destroying Education in the Name of the Free Market

As the families of millions of American high school students have noticed, the cost of a college education is now at the highest that anyone can remember. While loans are within the grasp of many, if not most, to pay for the expense of this education, the cost of paying back these loans often prices students out of jobs in the nonprofit or public service sector.

In the past, there were some programs available for debt relief for those students who become teachers for a given number of years, these programs have been trimmed back, or eliminated entirely, in the pursuit of balancing state budgets.

As the cost of a bachelor's degree climbs to more than $40,000 at many private institutions -- reaching almost to the median family income (approximately $50,000 per year)-- the last best hope for millions of American high school students is our nation's state or local universities. Until the 1970s, a college education at one of the City University of New York schools was entirely free. Even until the 2000s, many state schools charged only nominal tuition (almost always under $10,000). Yet in recent years these institutions have been gutted by governments desperate to cut back on spending and have suffered the efforts of a Republican Party very suddenly (and conveniently) interested in avoiding deficits.

These universities have, by some miracle, managed to keep their tuition rates significantly below those of most private universities (for example, Rutgers University costs less than $12,000 per year whereas the price tag for a year at Carnegie Mellon University is about five times that. Budget cuts, however, remain underway. Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), for example, cut $500 million from the New Jersey education budget and his administration furthermore failed to correctly file the papers to win a piece of the $400 million in funding for primary and secondary education from the federal government.

These cuts threaten the ability of state schools to provide a worthwhile higher education to students. Nonetheless, thus far American public universities have managed to survive: the quality education offered at the hundreds of state-run institutions of higher education in the United States remain a testament to the fact that, despite the perennial insistence of the GOP, the private sector is not always capable of providing better services at a lower cost. Schools such as University of California -- Berkeley, Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley Law School), University of California -- Los Angeles, University of North Carolina -- Chapel Hill, Rutgers University, University of Michigan -- Ann Arbor, University of Maryland -- College Park, and a litany of other state schools are all ranked by the US News & World Report as within the top 100, if not top 50, educational institutions in the United States.

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Source: Huffington 

Missing Iraq money may have been stolen, auditors say

This month, the Pentagon and the Iraqi government are finally closing the books on the program that handled all those Benjamins. But despite years of audits and investigations, U.S. Defense officials still cannot say what happened to $6.6 billion in cash — enough to run the Los Angeles Unified School District or the Chicago Public Schools for a year, among many other things.

For the first time, federal auditors are suggesting that some or all of the cash may have been stolen, not just mislaid in an accounting error. Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an office created by Congress, said the missing $6.6 billion may be "the largest theft of funds in national history."

The mystery is a growing embarrassment to the Pentagon, and an irritant to Washington's relations with Baghdad. Iraqi officials are threatening to go to court to reclaim the money, which came from Iraqi oil sales, seized Iraqi assets and surplus funds from the United Nations' oil-for-food program.

It's fair to say that Congress, which has already shelled out $61 billion of U.S. taxpayer money for similar reconstruction and development projects in Iraq, is none too thrilled either.

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Source: Los Angeles Times 

Koch Brothers, Grover Norquist Split On Ethanol Subsidies

WASHINGTON -- Opponents of ethanol subsidies got a boost Monday from Koch Industries as the company announced its opposition to the giveaways on the eve of a major vote in the Senate.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is pushing a vote on an amendment Tuesday that would end ethanol subsidies and eliminate tariffs on foreign supplies of the biofuel. That would allow companies to use sugar-based Brazilian ethanol, which is both cheaper and less environmentally damaging than the domestic corn-based variety.

Ethanol is a key national issue for the GOP because of the importance of Iowa's early caucus to the presidential primary. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-Utah) is skipping the state, he has said, because his opposition to the subsidies is toxic in the state. The issue has split the Republican Party, with free market advocates and deficits hawks pushing for elimination of the subsidies and corn-state politicians fighting back.

The conservative power broker Grover Norquist has battled Coburn, arguing that ending the handouts is equivalent to increasing taxes, meaning that candidates who signed a no-new-taxes pledge would be breaking their word. He has charged that Coburn "lied his way into office."

Norquist has been critical of Coburn and other Republicans who have highlighted the yawning federal deficit, arguing that the focus should be on reducing spending rather than trimming the national debt. He worries that if the American people are forced to choose between the two ways of reducing the deficit -- tax hikes or spending cuts -- they'll eventually pick tax increases.

It is rare for the Kochs to weigh in publicly on specific amendments as they've done in Coburn's case. But it might not be enough to get his amendment over the top. In order to get a vote on it, Coburn pulled a procedural move that irked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who responded by calling on his caucus to oppose the amendment on procedural grounds.

Coburn and Koch Industries have been in discussion about the political issue for several months. But ultimately, it claims, the Koch's commitment to free-market principles overrode the fact that their company benefits from the subsidies.

"Koch Industries has opposed federal mandates and subsidies for decades," the letter to Coburn reads. "Our aim is to create a free market where consumers decide winners and losers based on which products they decide to buy, instead of government picking winners and losers based on which friends or products it chooses to subsidize. One such government intervention is the tax credit that provides about $6 billion each year to blenders of ethanol."

"We hold this position despite the fact that we benefit from these tax credits," the letter points out.

Koch Industries will, however, continue to exploit the credits, if they aren't repealed.

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Source: Huffington 

Bank Of America 'Significantly Hindered' Federal Investigation, U.S. Official Says

NEW YORK -- Bank of America, the largest U.S. bank by assets, "significantly hindered" a federal investigation into the firm's faulty foreclosure practices on potentially billions of dollars worth of taxpayer-backed loans, a federal auditor told an Arizona court.

The bank withheld key documents and data, prevented investigators from interviewing bank employees or asking certain questions, and was slow to provide information, according to a June 1 declaration by William W. Nixon, a fraud examiner and assistant regional inspector general for audit for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector general's office.

Due to Bank of America's "reluctance," Nixon resorted to asking the Justice Department to issue so-called civil investigative demands last December to compel testimony, a "less effective" means of carrying out its investigation, Nixon said. His office can't compel testimony on its own.

Bank of America, the largest handler of home loans in the U.S., threw up roadblocks to the investigation, Nixon said, like preventing his team from performing a "walkthrough" of the bank's documents unit.

The bank also failed to fully comply with subpoenas issued by Nixon's team. HUD's internal watchdog issued two subpoenas requesting documents and information, and what was returned was incomplete, had conflicting information, and in some cases, the bank provided excerpts of documents rather than the complete record.

In one instance, Bank of America supplied only a third of what the watchdog requested.

Federal investigators found one bank employee who signed more than 75,000 foreclosure documents over the two-year period. If the employee worked every day during those two years, that amounts to about 103 documents signed per day, or one every five minutes.

Another Bank of America employee was found to have signed nearly 47,000 foreclosure documents over the examined period, which amounts to about 64 documents signed per day, or one every seven minutes.

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Source: Huffington 

Protecting Retirement Funds From Wall Street Speculation

The road to ruinous financialization in the United States commenced in 1963, when the Studebaker auto company went broke and left many workers without pensions. Just over a decade later, Congress passed the Employee Retirement Insurance Security Act, which requires companies that offer retirement plans to manage those investments according to federal standards, ostensibly assuring wage earners of money to live on in retirement. ERISA was originally intended to insure defined benefit pension plans against failure, but by the ’80s these plans had been pre-empted by another well-intentioned government initiative: individual 401(k) plans. As corporate managers and investment firms manipulated these plans for their own gain, retirement savings became the fuel for widespread speculation and financialization of the American economy.

Pension savings, now estimated at nearly $3 trillion, could be invested in companies to finance productive growth, in bonds to fix bridges and build schools, in education loans and environmental protection. Instead, they have become rich fodder for Wall Street money managers. In the past three decades, partly because of this pension wealth, the financial services sector has increased its overall profits from 16 percent of total corporate profits to more than 40 percent.

Rather than distribute this profit to stockholders, financial firms reduced dividend yields from roughly 6 percent to less than 2 percent. Stock turnover accelerated, increasing traders’ commissions at the expense of the investors. Every year hundreds of billions of dollars of pension capital is diverted by senior management to stock buybacks. Dividends are not returned to the economy to fund innovation and growth. Instead they are often used to fund high-risk hedge funds and help private equity companies with their “buy it, strip it, flip it” acquisitions.

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Source: The Nation 

Around the Globe, US Military Bases Generate Resentment, Not Security

As we debate an exit from Afghanistan, it’s critical that we focus not only on the costs of deploying the current force of more than 100,000 troops, but also on the costs of maintaining permanent bases long after those troops leave.

This is an issue that demands a hard look not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but around the globe—where the US has a veritable empire of bases.

According to the Pentagon, there are approximately 865 US military bases abroad—over 1,000 if new bases in Iraq and Afghanistan are included.  The cost?  $102 billion annually—and that doesn’t include the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan bases.

In a must-read article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, anthropologist Hugh Gusterson points out that these bases “constitute 95 percent of all the military bases any country in the world maintains on any other country’s territory.”  He notes a “bloated and anachronistic” Cold War-tilt toward Europe, including 227 bases in Germany.

“It makes as much sense for the Pentagon to hold onto 227 military bases in Germany as it would for the post office to maintain a fleet of horses and buggies,” writes Gusterson.

In a recent Italian documentary Standing Army, the late author and Nation contributor Chalmers Johnson says, “The unit of empire in the classic European empires was the colony.  The unit for the American empire is not the colony, it’s the military base… Things that can’t go on forever, don’t.  That’s where we are today.”

The bases—isolated from the host communities and, as Gusterson writes, “generating resentment against [their] prostitution, environmental damage, petty crime, and everyday ethnocentrism”—face growing opposition from local citizens.

Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) fellow Phyllis Bennis says that the Pentagon and military have been brilliant at spreading military production across virtually every Congressional district so that even the most anti-war members of Congress are reluctant to challenge big Defense projects.

“But there’s really no significant constituency for overseas bases because they don’t bring much money in a concentrated way,” says Bennis.  “So in theory it should be easier to mobilize to close them.”  What is new and heartening, according to Bennis, is that “there are now people in countries everywhere that are challenging the US bases and that’s a huge development.”

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Source: The Nation 

Canadian Drug Policy Coalition head: Ideology has no place

On June 2, the Global Commission on Drug Policy report was released after two years' work, denouncing the "war on drugs" as a failure and recommending political leaders worldwide adopt evidence- and rights-based approaches to drug policy. This is a pan-political group, with left- and right-wing politicians involved. 

Donald MacPherson, the director the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, spoke to about the implications for Canada.

Cathryn Atkinson: Tell me about the Global Commission report.

Donald MacPherson: The Global Commission on Drug Policy launched itself about six months ago in Geneva. They have been working on this report for some time and the main intent of this report is to put forward a sensible, reasonable step forward in drug policy. More importantly it is to demonstrate that significant leaders from around the world are calling for change.

That makes this report powerful. It's certainly a synthesis of some of the better ideas in terms of what are our next steps if we are going to move away from the war on drugs.

CA: Let's talk about the Canadian response. There have been a large group of Canadian NGOs and other groups, over 30, supporting the report. How is it important to this country?

DM: It's particularly interesting timing for us, and I think it's good timing because it is affirming what a lot of people across the country are saying about public health and drug policy and the criminalization of the drug-crime agenda. Even conservatives I know who have no problem with what our Conservative government is doing [in general] really have a problem with the tack that the federal government is taking on drug policy and criminal justice policy.

This report basically shows that the rest of the world and significant leaders in other parts of the world are moving in different directions.

It is timely for us because the Conservative government needs to take a look at what is happening globally and find out where they want to be on these issues. Clearly, the Americans are moving away from the mandatory minimum sentencing policies, prison policies, for non-violent drug offenses. That experiment has been had and it's over. Even the conservatives in the States have been saying this hasn't worked and they need to try something else.

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Protesting the coming right-wing storm on Canadian values at the Conservative Party Convention

As Conservative party elites take over Ottawa Convention Centre for the party's national convention this weekend, a coalition of groups and individuals opposing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's agenda marched through the city demonstrating that while the election is over, they are just beginning their fight against the new Tory majority.

With over 40 participating organizations and featuring an address from renegade Senate page Brigitte Depape, the lively Stop Harper rally shut down the streets of the nation's capital on Friday night with a progression that took marchers from downtown's Dudonald Park to the newly renovated convention centre. It included charged speeches and fiery ‘Stop Harper' chants, as well as playful drum circles and even games of jump ropes throughout the city's streets.

The march coincided with Stephen Harper's first major post-election address to the Conservative Party Convention and brought out roughly 300 to 400 people, said organizer Tavia Tegler.

The gathering brought together a diverse cross section of those opposing the new Conservative majority, broadcasting the message that the only way to fight back against the government's policies is to band together and strengthen social movements.

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Foreign Policy Takes Centre Stage

Nary a word was uttered about Libya or Afghanistan during the election, yet they're set to dominate Canadian politics this summer.

Canada's involvement in the NATO-led mission in Libya is up for debate in the House of Commons tomorrow, even though it's all but guaranteed to get a three-month extension. The Halifax Chronicle Herald's Scott Taylor wonders why we're “helping prop up a corrupt and hated regime against an armed rebellion in Afghanistan, while at the same time assisting armed rebels in their attempt to overthrow a corrupt and hated regime in Libya.” Afghan President Hamid Karzai's cabinet boasts warlords who have likely committed war crimes, while a harsh interpretation of Sharia law dominates the land. The faults of the Afghan regime are many, but Taylor ignores the fact that Karzai never threatened to massacre an entire city, which is why CF-18s continue to drop bombs on Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

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Source: The Mark 

Former Miss USA, Ralph Nader, Privacy Advocates Fight Full Body Airport Scanners and Invasive Pat-Downs

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to stop Transportation Security Administration’s full body scanning procedures by granting an immediate injunction. The full body scans are not mandatory for all travelers, but those who object are subject to "enhanced" pat-downs, extremely invasive manual checks. Civil rights activists argue these initiatives are inappropriate, ineffective, violate the Constitution, pose health concerns related to radiation exposure, and are insensitive to religious practices. We speak former Miss USA and actress Susie Castillo, who was recently subjected to an enhanced body pat-down and has become a vocal critic of such security procedures. We also speak with Ralph Nader and Amie Stepanovich of EPIC.

Source: Democracy Now!