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.]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Harper’s bullying causes labour pains

Ken Lewenza called it “distasteful, immoral and unconstitutional.’’

In the Prime Minister’s Office, around the Conservative cabinet table and in the corporate suites of Air Canada, they had another name for it.

It was called victory.

In the ideological world of Stephen Harper, where unions are not to disrupt business and their collective bargaining rights are to be ignored, labour disputes will be met with the biggest, most blunt instrument that a majority government has in its arsenal.

In the Air Canada settlement announced Thursday, the bully won.

Under the threat of back-to-work legislation, Lewenza and the Canadian Auto Workers had nowhere to go.

They settled for essentially what was on the table when their members walked.

Organized labour in Canada better duck.

The twin interventions in labour disputes at Air Canada and Canada Post have drawn back the blinds on one unshakeable tenet of the Harper majority.

He will not let unionized workers take a bite out of this economy, even if, in the case of Air Canada, it hadn’t even nibbled quite yet.

Harper is also sending a powerful message to other unions that are trying to protect long-held pension rights and to any public service unions itching for a fight with him over looming government cuts.

And he is again displaying the cozy relationship this government has with Air Canada, a romance so strong it sparked an unnecessary diplomatic split with the United Arab Emirates.

Publicly, the lightning-quick threat of back-to-work legislation was all about protecting the fragile Canadian economy.

But the real reason was the future of workers’ pensions in this country and the burden these are becoming for Canadian business.

When the government bailed out Air Canada in 2009, it was with the specific condition that they get their pension costs under control.

So, in this case, if Air Canada needed a little bit of help to deal with a pesky union, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt was only too happy to oblige.

While Raitt said the legislation, tabled but not even yet debated, focused both sides at the table, in reality what it did was rattle the union to the point that it signed something it had already rejected.

Even though the airline said its management staff replacing unionized customer service employees meant business as usual, Raitt maintained she had to intervene before service was interrupted.

The Harper government then allowed a company it owns, Canada Post, to lock out its workers then signalled it would legislate them back to work, taking away their bargaining rights.

Jack Layton and his New Democrats have called the measures “draconian” and an attack on workers who have endured cutbacks and now face lost pensions, while Air Canada CEOs walk away with millions.

By bringing down such a club, so early in the bargaining process Harper can do nothing but buy a heap of hostility from working men and women in this country.

Already Lewenza was musing about a Canadian Labour Congress-led war against the Harper government, challenging the constitutionality of its back-to-work threats.

Raitt said since 1950, back-to-work legislation has been used by the federal government 32 times and she has never used it before.

What she didn’t say was that in a minority government, she wouldn’t have been able to get away with it.

It’s not as if Air Canada is a chronic strike problem for this or any other government.

They have not had a work stoppage since pilots walked off the job 13 years ago.

CUPW, for all its history of labour militancy, has had 14 years of peace with its employer.

But in the new world of the Harper majority, none of this matters.

An assault on workers’ rights is underway.

Source: Toronto Star  

Air Canada reaches tentative deal with striking workers

Air Canada staff are headed back to work on Friday morning after the union representing its customer service staff reached a tentative agreement with the airline.

"We have a unanimous tentative agreement recommended by the bargaining committee," Canadian Auto Workers union president Ken Lewenza told reporters at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

"It was a tough battle," he said, adding that the union was "reasonably successful" in the bargaining process.

The sticky issue of pensions is now partly resolved. Existing employees will not see a change in their benefit plan, Lewenza said, but a different plan for new hires will have to be hammered out with the help of a mediator.

"There's no question we would have preferred to win it at the bargaining table," Lewenza said.

The new agreement, which will last four years, will be presented to the union membership for ratification in the next four or five days.

It trumps a move by the government to table back-to-work legislation on Thursday. The law, which will not be debated, would have forced picketers back to work by early next week and forced an arbitrated settlement.

Full Article
Source: Ottawa Citien 

Misdirection in Goldman Sachs’s Housing Short

Goldman Sachs appears to be trying to clear its name.

The compelling Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report on the financial crisis is wrong, the bank says. Goldman Sachs didn’t have a Big Short against the housing market.

But the size of Goldman’s short is irrelevant.

No one disputes that, by 2007, the firm had pivoted to reduce its exposure from mortgages and mortgage securities and had begun shorting the market on some scale. There’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t we want banks to reduce their risk when they see trouble ahead, as Goldman did in the mortgage markets?

Nor should shorting itself be seen as a bad thing. Putting money behind a bet that a stock (or bond or commodity or derivative) is overpriced is necessary for the efficient functioning of capital markets. Short-sellers can keep prices from getting out of whack and help deflate bubbles.

The problem isn’t that Goldman went short and reduced risk — it’s how.

To establish many of its short positions, the Senate report says, Goldman created new securities, backed them with its good name, and then strung together misleading statements to its customers about what it was actually doing. By shorting the way it did, the bank perverted the market instead of correcting it.

Take Hudson Mezzanine, a $2 billion collateralized debt obligation created by Goldman in 2006. In marketing material, the firm wrote that “Goldman Sachs has aligned incentives with the Hudson program.”

I suppose that was technically true: Goldman had made a small investment in the C.D.O. and therefore had an aligned incentive with the other investors. But the material failed to mention the firm’s much larger bet against the C.D.O. — a huge adverse incentive to its customers’ interests.

Goldman told investors that the Hudson assets had been “sourced from the Street,” which most investors would understand to mean that Goldman had purchased the assets from other broker-dealers. In fact, all the assets had come from Goldman’s own balance sheet, the Senate report found.

In his April 2010 testimony to the Senate, Goldman’s chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, argued that Goldman was merely making a market in these securities and derivatives, matching willing and sophisticated buyers and sellers. But Goldman was acting like an underwriter, not a market maker.

As the underwriter, Goldman threw its marketing muscle behind Hudson Mezzanine and other C.D.O.’s. When the bank’s salespeople ran into trouble selling the securities, they begged for help from the executives who created them. One requested material to give to clients about “how great” the sector was. One needed the aid to get a client to invest, to be “THERE AND IN SIZE,” according to e-mails cited in the report.

Full Article
Source: ProPublica 

Toll Road Privatization: As Ohio Considers It, Indiana Serves As Cautionary Tale

WASHINGTON -- In two weeks, the cost of traveling the 157-mile length of the Indiana Toll Road will rise more than 2 percent, from $8.80 to an even $9, for those who pay the toll in cash. The fare will jump a full buck for truckers hauling semi-trailers, from $35.20 to $36.20.

The July 1 toll hike may not seem so painful, until you consider that those tolls were about half of their soon-to-be rates only five years ago -- and that they hadn’t risen for two decades prior to that. Even harder to swallow for some drivers, truckers in particular, is the fact that their growing contributions go not to the State of Indiana but to overseas investors who've leased the toll road from the state.

"Saying we're less than thrilled would put it really mildly," says Todd Spencer, executive vice president at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade group that represents truckers. "In Indiana, over the span of a few years, we've watched truck tolls more than double."

In 2006, under the orchestration of Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), the state struck a deal to lease the road for a period of 75 years to Australia-based Macquarie Group and Spain-based Cintra. The investors paid the state $3.8 billion upfront in exchange for the right to collect tolls. The investors are required to maintain and upgrade the road for the duration of the lease.

It's still too early to tell how good or how rotten a deal the state got. In fact, there are those who believe Macquarie and Cintra may have greatly overpaid for the highway, and Daniels himself has gloated that the arrangement was "the best deal since Manhattan was sold for beads." (Daniels' office did not respond to questions about the deal.)

But what can't be denied is that the road is getting more expensive to travel on. And no one knows how expensive it might get. (So far the rates have not been raised on drivers with transponders, but that will change in 2016, when those drivers will start paying the cash rates.) The road's leaseholders can now raise the toll annually at one of three rates -- at a flat two percent, at the percentage increase in the consumer price index or at the percentage increase in gross domestic product -- whichever is highest. Over the course of the coming decades, Hoosiers can expect to learn a hard lesson in compound interest, long after Gov. Daniels is gone.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Coal Ash Industry Sees Massive Job Losses If EPA Rules Proceed

An industry-funded report released late Wednesday suggests that federal regulation of coal combustion residuals, or coal ash, currently being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency would result in as many as 316,000 lost jobs and as much as $110 billion in lost economic activity over a 20-year period.

But environmental groups were quick to label the report as a cynical and misleading ploy timed to coincide with markup of legislation aimed at blocking the EPA from regulating coal ash -- which contains a variety of chemicals like arsenic, selenium, lead and mercury -- as hazardous waste.

Coal ash disposal is currently unregulated at the federal level, but the EPA is weighing two options for bringing the post-combustion leftovers from power plants under the purview of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Under the first option, coal ash -- which can include a wide range of waste materials like fly ash, bottom ash and others -- would be treated as a "special waste" under Subtitle C of that legislation, which governs hazardous wastes. A second option would deal with the material under Subtitle D of the statute, which governs non-hazardous wastes. This option would simply set national guidelines, but leave it to states and the industry to implement them. The coal ash industry opposes both of these regulatory designations.

The United States produces more than 130 million tons of coal ash annually, according to the American Coal Ash Association, an industry group. Roughly 43 percent of that is used as an additive in concrete products, bricks, shingles and other materials. The rest is disposed of in loosely regulated holding ponds and landfills.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

JPMorgan Chase Challenges Capital Requirements As Regulators Prepare Basel Rules

Executives at JPMorgan Chase aren't happy about the prospect of the government telling them how much money they must hold over for a rainy day.

The Federal Reserve is considering increasing the amount of solid capital that the largest banks must hold against losses, a measure proposed by international regulators. When banks are required to hold a higher portion of their financing as capital reserves, it reduces their relative amount of borrowing and gives them a stronger buffer, regulators say, making the financial system safer by discouraging risk and bolstering a bank's defenses.

But this extra requirement for the largest banks will hinder these institutions' ability to make loans and compete internationally, said JPMorgan chief risk officer Barry Zubrow, in prepared remarks for a Congressional hearing Thursday.

Nearly three years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a debate rages about how best to mitigate the next crisis, while still allowing banks to perform their role in financing to the broader economy. Zubrow's comments echo a sentiment expressed across the banking industry for months: that hindering the ability of banks to take risks hurts their ability to extend loans. In JPMorgan's case, the current requirements are sufficient, Zubrow said, and the bank's performance during the financial crisis should be enough proof.

"The regulatory pendulum clearly has now begun to swing to a point that risks hobbling our financial system and our economic growth," Zubrow said in his prepared testimony.

JPMorgan has been a vocal skeptic of new regulations. The firm's chief executive Jamie Dimon asked a pointed question of Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke last week, expressing a fear that the host of new rules will critically hamper the financial sector. Bernanke conceded that he wasn't aware of any research that could allay Dimon's concern.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Obama Administration Caved On For-Profit College Regulations, Insiders Say

A year ago, the Obama administration crafted a set of proposed regulations aimed at limiting abuses by the swiftly growing for-profit college industry.

The initial draft threatened severe consequences for institutions that churned out large numbers of graduates with outsized debts and meager job prospects: Schools would quickly lose access to the multi-billion dollar pool of federal student aid dollars that supplies the vast majority of their profits.

But when the Department of Education delivered the final rules earlier this month, they were substantially weakened from the initial draft, adding a three-year grace period before severe sanctions will kick in -- a major triumph for the industry’s lobbyists and their relentless pressure campaign on the Obama administration.

Those familiar with the deliberations say the industry successfully convinced the Obama administration to soften the rules by sowing fears that a stricter approach would prompt Congress -- also the target of intense lobbying -- to step in and revoke the regulations altogether.

“It’s absolutely accurate to say they caved in to the industry,” said Robert Shireman, a former deputy undersecretary of education, who was involved in crafting the original draft of the regulation. “But I understand the political dynamics of being in an administration and needing to take a step forward in the face of a hostile Congress. The right thing for this issue is for it to survive.”

A Department of Education spokesman declined to comment directly on Shireman’s assessment, but defended the regulation, saying the rules will go a long way toward “Helping programs improve, weeding out bad actors in the industry and protecting the interests of students and taxpayers.”

The industry's lobbying was so well-financed and well-coordinated that it altered the view of what was possible inside the Obama administration: The focus shifted from seeking to craft the strongest rule to instead making do with incremental progress, avoiding the sort of action that would trigger congressional intervention aimed at protecting the industry.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Hayden, Chertoff Buck Republican Call To Bring Troops Home From Afghanistan

WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman want a faster withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and a growing number of GOP members of Congress have also concluded it's time to end the fight.

But two former U.S. officials who helped lead President George W. Bush's war on terrorism say the killing of Osama bin Laden and the mounting cost of the Afghan campaign are no reason to leave just yet.

"We will be in a stronger political position for a political outcome for this if we sustain relatively constant force levels through this fighting season and for at least the 2012 fighting season," said Michael Hayden, the former director of both the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, at a policy briefing Thursday. "Give war a chance."

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said that despite rising anger among lawmakers over Pakistan's duplicity -- the latest outrage, its reported arrest of informants who helped make the successful raid on bin Laden's complex possible -- President Barack Obama should not high-tail it out of the region.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Employee Ownership: The Road to Shared Prosperity

Several years ago I met Drew Morris, the CEO and primary owner of a 500-person solenoid manufacturing company, at a restaurant within sight of his factory just outside Rochester, New York. At the time he was approaching retirement and had just begun the process of selling his successful business to his employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP. As we waited for lunch to be served, a television nearby displayed a Wall Street ticker and a well-coiffed anchor prattling on excitedly about the latest financial news. During a pause in our conversation, Morris, most assuredly not a man of the left, suddenly jabbed his finger at the TV. “That’s not capitalism!” he sneered. He then pivoted in his seat and pointed forcefully out the window toward his plant: “That’s capitalism!”

Morris’s terminology may have been indistinct, but his meaning was very clear. Starting in 1910, his family and other members of that upstate community built something out of nothing. Generations of workers and their families had earned a living at his company. Morris was justifiably proud of what they had created and optimistic about what lay ahead for the business. But he was also angry about the financial culture that had emerged and seemed to take over during his career. That culture, centered on Wall Street, dominating the airwaves, had claimed the mantle of capitalism. But Morris disagreed with the claim. He did not respect that culture; it did not represent him.

Morris is not alone. The National Center for Employee Ownership, in Oakland, California, estimates that 11,000 companies, collectively employing more than 12 million workers, have followed the ESOP path. They operate in all sectors of the economy and range in size from fifty to nearly 150,000 employees. Many of the owners of these businesses are hostile toward or at least skeptical of government. So it is ironic that they learn that the solution to their succession challenge is made possible by federal law. Employees are not likely to have enough disposable cash to purchase the company when their employers decide to sell. ESOP tax laws make the sale possible by permitting the creation of legal trusts, established on behalf of employees, that can borrow the necessary funds. As the loans are paid off, employees take ownership of the firm.

In the thirty-six years since the first ESOP law was passed, the concept has gained broad bipartisan support. California Representative Dana Rohrabacher, one of the most conservative members of Congress, sees ESOPs as a training ground for a property-loving and therefore conservative working class. On the other end of the spectrum, left-leaning Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sees ESOPs and similarly structured cooperative ownership companies as vehicles for retaining jobs in the United States while striking at the heart of an otherwise plutocratic economic system.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Fighting Foreclosure in Boston

Twenty-four-year-old Harvard Law School student Sam Levine parks the silver Nissan hybrid he has driven into Boston’s working-class Mattapan neighborhood. The wind hits him in the face as he steps onto Thetford Avenue. He is wearing black jeans, his dark hair slightly mussed and gelled into place. With him are two fellow students, third-year Marielle Macher and second-year Avis Bohlen. Marielle is wearing a coat under which is a red T-shirt with the words Project No One Leaves written on the front. Avis is power-dressed in a skirt and svelte sweater. The trio could pass for actors in a Gap ad.

It had taken about an hour to reach Mattapan from the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, with Sam navigating Boston’s notorious traffic. During the ride, the group passed the time talking about jobs they were lining up for the summer and musing on the female voice commands of Marielle’s GPS gadget. The students believe “she” is moody today.

As the lawyers-in-training approached their target neighborhood—cruising the back streets past Harambee Park, where a gaggle of long-necked geese spotted the grass, into a landscape of ramshackle, untended homes—they read off a list of twenty-four recently foreclosed properties published in a local realty journal. They are stopping at each house on the list, scouting to see if the property seems abandoned (broken or boarded-up windows, weeks of uncollected mail, trash strewn in the yard and so on). If it does, they move on. But if there is even a glimmer of a chance that the house is still inhabited, they park and approach the front door. When a resident answers, they quickly go into their patter about foreclosure rights and the danger of scam artists—who may be (or may already have been) in contact, promising the moon in exchange for a few thousand dollars—and they explain that Harvard’s law students are willing to work gratis on the case.

When no one’s home, they hang a red plastic bag on the door knob or slip it through the mail slot. Inside is literature about the foreclosure process; the Legal Aid Bureau, which has been working with several other regional law schools to offer legal services to owners and tenants facing foreclosure; and Project No One Leaves (PNOL), a consortium made up of lawyers, activists and a community development financial institution that is pursuing an innovative strategy to keep local residents in their homes.

Since the housing market collapsed, more than 3,500 homes in Boston have gone into foreclosure; some weeks, more than 100 properties are repossessed. In this city, as elsewhere in the country, a disproportionate number of shoddy subprime loans were issued to African-Americans—their terms deliberately obfuscated, their punitive provisions setting up borrowers to fail. As a result, from 2006 onward a huge number of the foreclosures in Boston have claimed properties owned by African-Americans. The scale of the dispossession is threatening to wreck not just individual aspirations but entire neighborhoods.

Boston Community Capital (BCC), the literature explains, has been buying distressed properties from banks and then selling them back to the original owners at just above the current market value, thus allowing the owners to stay in their homes with a more affordable monthly payment on a new, fixed-rate mortgage. It’s a good deal for everyone involved: the banks sell the foreclosed properties for more than they would typically expect, the owners get to keep their homes, neighborhoods that would otherwise end up increasingly abandoned and dilapidated get a shot at staying afloat, and BCC captures funds by selling the property at 25 percent more than what it paid. BCC also locks in a chance at bringing in more money by having each owner sign an agreement stipulating that BCC will receive a share of the profit if the owner flips the home, a move that encourages residents to stay put.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

The Ingrates of Wall Street

My June 13 New York Times carries the sad and confusing tale of the trouble that the Obama campaign is encountering in pumping Wall Street for 2012 cash. Apparently, the president “enraged many financial industry executives a year and a half ago by labeling them ‘fat cats’ and criticizing their bonuses.” As a result, “executives at large investment banks, a group that gave generously to Mr. Obama in his last campaign, are remaining on the sidelines for now.”

This is—excuse me—a bit rich. Wall Street’s refusal to pony up for Obama’s second term is an example of ingratitude mixed with ineptitude on the grandest scale imaginable. Obama’s words practically constitute a Candygram compared with what many in the media—to say nothing of “real people”—were saying and doing when they found out that these “fat cats,” who had cost them their jobs and their homes, would be rewarded with billions in taxpayer dollars. Recall that at one of Obama’s early press conferences on the financial crisis, a nearly hysterical Ed Henry (of CNN) demanded to know why the president waited “days to come out and express that outrage…. Why did it take so long?” The issue in question was the bonuses AIG executives awarded themselves after receiving billions in bailout funds. Recall also that unlike the European Community, which instituted strict compensation limits on its bankers, the Obama administration declined to place any limits, even for companies saved by the taxpayer-funded TARP program. In 2008, the year of the big bailout, one trader—Andrew Hall of the Phibro energy trading unit, which TARP participant Citigroup sold to Occidental Petroleum—took home $100 million. The years 2009 and 2010 turned out to be record breakers on Wall Street, as total compensation and benefits at the top New York banks, investment banks, hedge funds, money-management firms and securities exchanges hit $128 billion and $135 billion, respectively, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Such decisions were consistent with the administration’s position, as Paul Krugman put it, to “protect the interests of creditors, no matter the cost.” During the fight over the financial reform bill, the administration consistently took the positions for which the banks were lobbying. Obama and his team were eager to weaken the “Volcker Rule,” which sought to prevent “large, systemically important banking institutions [from] undertaking proprietary activities that represent particularly high risks and serious conflicts of interest,” e.g., Goldman Sachs betting against the collateralized debt obligations it had just sold its customers. At the same time that banks were given massive loans at or near 0 percent from the Fed, they could turn around and lend to consumers at a 100 percent profit. The administration sided with the banks in keeping the Consumer Financial Protection Agency inside the Federal Reserve, where its independence might be easily compromised. Finally, nothing was done to address the central problem: allowing banking institutions to become so large as to be “too big to fail.” The banks that caused the 2008 crisis have significantly increased their share of global assets since they almost brought down the entire economy.

And yet we learn from the Times’s “DealBook” that the folks at Treasury are spending a great deal of quality time with these bankers, even as they seek to defenestrate those reforms that somehow survived. “In February, Treasury officials met with finance industry executives and lobbyists from about three dozen banks, asset management companies and trade groups.” Goldman alone scored four meetings. Consumer groups, meanwhile, “made few appearances on the agenda, except on the calendar of Elizabeth Warren,” whom Obama is declining to appoint to run the new consumer bureau, owing to the objections of bankers and the lackeys in both parties whose campaigns they fund. The above represents a small fraction of the beneficence bestowed on bankers by the Obama administration, and yet from the perspective of Wall Street’s many multimillionaires there is the biggest gift of all: the costly extension of the Bush-era tax cuts to those making more than $250,000, whose benefits will be enjoyed primarily by the multimillionaires who can be found complaining about the “socialist” in the White House.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Should All Kids Go to College?

On June 8, President Barack Obama visited Northern Virginia Community College. He rolled up his sleeves and tooled around under the hood of a hybrid car that students were learning to repair. Later, he gave a speech on the importance of more Americans gaining access to higher education—not just at four-year universities but at community colleges and occupational training programs too.

“The goal isn’t just making sure that somebody has got a certificate or a diploma,” Obama said. “The goal is to make sure your degree helps you to get a promotion or a raise or a job. And that’s especially important right now.”

The president’s remarks departed significantly from the “college for all” rhetoric that frequently dominates the education policy debate. That conversation burst open in February, when the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report called “Pathways to Prosperity.” The report noted that of the 47 million American jobs expected to be created between now and 2018, about two-thirds will require some sort of education beyond high school, yet a much smaller proportion will require a four-year college degree. About 14 million of these new jobs will be in “mid-skill” occupations that require just a post-secondary certificate or associate’s degree: jobs such as dental hygienist, construction manager and electrician. Such occupations can provide a path into the middle class; indeed, 27 percent of workers with occupational licenses earn more than the average recipient of a bachelor’s degree.

In the context of an economy where unemployment hovers above 9 percent, and the job outlook is particularly bleak for low-skilled workers—those who, in previous generations, would have depended on the now-decimated manufacturing sector—these projections brought new urgency to an old debate, one that has divided American social reformers for more than a century. Do poor and working-class kids have the same need for a liberal arts education as their middle-class and affluent peers? Or does the reality of inequality in America—the sheer unlikeliness of climbing from poverty into the intelligentsia within a single generation—call for a more practical approach to educating the poor, with a focus on technical skills that prepare a child for the world of work?

The Harvard report—warmly embraced by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—set off a storm of criticism from self-declared education reformers, who rose to defend the “college for all” approach. “While I agree that all students could benefit from more exposure to the world of work, I vehemently disagree with the [Harvard] authors’ main argument: that we already tried preparing all students for college and it didn’t work,” wrote Kati Haycock, president of the Washington, DC, think tank Education Trust, which focuses on closing the achievement gap and was a major player in advocating for No Child Left Behind and, more recently, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program. “Most schools still resist the idea that all kids can and should be college-ready. By continuing long-standing, unfair practices of sorting and selecting, they create what is essentially an educational caste system—directing countless young people, especially low-income students and students of color, away from college-prep courses and from seeing themselves as ‘college material.’”

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Cut Wall Street Down to Size With a Financial Speculation Tax

If you want to transform the economy, you have to cut Wall Street down to its proper size. One way to do that is to tax the short-term speculative activities that dominate and distort financial markets.

For ordinary investors, the costs would be negligible, like a tiny insurance fee to protect against crashes caused by speculation. But for the highfliers who are most responsible for the financial crisis, the tax could raise the cost of highly leveraged derivatives trading and stock-flipping enough to discourage the most dangerous behavior.

Remember the “flash crash” of May 6, 2010, when the Dow plummeted nearly 1,000 points? If a tax of only 0.25 percent on each transaction had been in place for just the twenty most frenzied minutes of that day, traders would’ve faced $142 million in fees.

And remember AIG’s credit default swaps? A financial speculation tax might not have stopped those greed-crazed fools, but at least Uncle Sam would’ve taken in about $1.1 bil-
lion on the deals.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research predicts that a tax on trades of stocks, derivatives and other financial instruments would curb excessive speculation while generating around $150 billion a year. That would be enough, for example, to fill projected Social Security shortfalls, with dough left over for other domestic and international needs.

So US politicians must be jumping on this as a solution to the country’s deficit problems, right? Not exactly. For more than a year, a diverse array of labor, consumer, environmental, global health and other progressive organizations have been hammering away on them, as part of a broader international campaign. But while legislators have introduced eleven bills to create various forms of speculation taxes, none have gained serious momentum.

In 2009, according to a WikiLeaks cable, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried the diplomatic equivalent of a rugby maul to get Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on board with a G-20 agreement on financial speculation taxes. Such international coordination, while not necessary, would help address concerns about potential tax avoidance.

But Brown, too, wound up empty-handed. Geithner’s explanation: “I have not seen the version of that that I think works.” Perhaps he’s been too busy bailing out Wall Street to research the issue. Around the world more than a dozen countries already collect some form of tax on financial transactions. A British levy on stock trades alone raises between $5 billion and $6 billion per year.

If more countries begin raising massive revenues from speculation taxes, US politicians may see the light. And the prospects for progress elsewhere are strong. In March the European Parliament called for an EU-wide transactions tax, based on a report that projected nearly 200 billion euros a year from a tax of 0.01–0.05 percent on each trade.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced plans to launch a “coalition of pioneers” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others at the November G-20 leaders meeting. This would be a prime opportunity for President Obama to stand alongside them and vow to do what’s right for the country’s short-term fiscal crisis and the world’s long-term health and stability. Let’s hope he doesn’t view this moment instead as a good time for a restroom break.

Source: The Nation 

Seven Republican Dwarfs

They assumed the stance of the Seven Dwarfs, not as a matter of physical but rather intellectual stature. Not one of the candidates for the GOP presidential nomination who debated Monday night rose to a point of seriousness in addressing the nation’s grievous problems. Instead, they ever so playfully thumbed their collective noses at any possible meaningful government reaction to the mess that we are in. It was Herbert Hoover warmed over, leaving Barack Obama secure in the mantle of FDR whether he deserves that tribute or not.

Obama, who has been inconsistent and weak in reining in the Wall Street greed that got us into this deep economic morass, is now under no pressure from the opposition to improve his performance. The Republican knee-jerk reaction—government bad, big business great, and don’t dare say that the Wall Street scoundrels who created this crisis need a timeout—gets Obama off the hook from legitimate criticism he needs to hear. As The Wall Street Journal headlined the non-debate: “Candidates Run Against Regulation.”

It’s as if the sound government regulation of the financial industry implemented in response to the Great Depression—not its polar opposite, the radical deregulation fueled by Republican free market zealots—was the source of our banking meltdown. 

How dare these Republican candidates en masse ignore the truth that it was precisely the legislation that their party pushed through Congress, and that Democrat Bill Clinton shamefully endorsed, that launched the era of unregulated credit default swaps and mortgage-based securities that came close to destroying the entire economy. The failed policies involved are the cause of the 50 percent run-up of the national debt, 9.1 percent unemployment, an all-time high in poverty and the prospect of 50 million people being driven from their homes.

The Republican debate dashed any expectation that some populist candidate would rise from that side of the aisle, and in an honest way tap into voter resentment over the deep hurt that the Wall Street superrich have put on ordinary Americans. Instead, the candidates made regulation the enemy, rather than the misdeeds that responsible legislation is intended to curtail. 

Full Article
Source: Truthdig 

Sound and Fury, but Few Facts, at Rep. King's 'Prislam' Hearing

The idea behind this morning’s hearing by the House Homeland Security Committee is that America is endangered by an increasing number of violent jihadis who are being recruited to the cause in prison. The committee chairman, Representative Peter King, described it as a danger that “remains real and present, especially because of Al Qaeda's announced intention to intensify attacks within the United States.”

King’s hand-picked panel largely agreed. Patrick Dunleavy, the former deputy inspector general for the New York State Department of Corrections—who conveniently has a book coming out in the fall about “the shocking link between America’s prisons and terrorism”—described “sustained efforts [by Al Qaeda] to target inmates.”

The problem, however, is that there is no real problem. Bert Useem, a professor at Purdue University who was the lone panelist not sympathetic to King’s cause, noted that of the 1.6 million people currently incarcerated in the US prison system, there have been only twelve terrorism cases with some evidence that the offender became radicalized in prison. “If prison was a major cause of jihadi radicalization, you’d expect to see more,” he told the committee.

King and his panelists had their own evidence. They didn’t offer any pesky statistics, but rather florid descriptions of terrorists who, while incarcerated, turned violent under the influence of prison Islam—or “prislam,” as it came to be known during the hearing.

But even this anecdotal evidence falls apart under closer inspection. For example, King raised the case of James Cromitie, who will be sentenced tomorrow for his role in planning attacks on an Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, and two synagogues in New York City.

According to King, Cromitie “was radicalized in a New York State prison.” He is “not alone,” King warned. But in fact, the government has made no claim that Cromitie nor any of his co-conspirators hatched their plot in prison, nor that their prison experience contributed to their crimes. Inmates and chaplains at the New York state prison where Cromitie was incarcerated said he did not take part in any of the Islamic prayer meetings.

Moreover, Cromitie’s lawyers have portrayed him as the victim of an altogether different kind of recruitment. They allege that a government informant paid Cromitie $250,000 to plan the terror attacks. When Cromitie expressed reluctance, the informant pressed on, according to court documents. “I told you…I can make $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother. What can I tell you?” he said.

King was equally dishonest when he invoked the case of Jose Padilla, who was convicted of trying to set off a radioactive bomb in the United States. King’s version of events, as described in his opening statement, is that Padilla “converted to Islam in a Florida jail,” and that “while on the inside, Padilla met a fellow inmate who led him to a radical mosque.”

In reality, the Broward County Sheriff said at the time there was no record of Padilla requesting to meet with an imam, attending Islamic classes, or requesting a name change while incarcerated there. A family friend told CNN that he converted to Islam after he married a Muslim woman in 1996 and moved to the Middle East.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Republicans Reject the Middle—Again

This morning I had the pleasure of talking with Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist and fellow MSNBC contributor Clarence Page. Motivated by Monday night’s debate in New Hampshire, he and I discussed the current field of GOP candidates. I indicated my distress at hearing so many of them parrot the talking points of the Tea Party and my surprise that the new litmus test for being prolife required the candidates to reject a right to abortion even in the case of rape, incest and threat to the life of the woman. In response, Page reminded me of the 1964 Republican National Convention when Nelson Rockefeller was booed by Goldwater delegates. It was a useful reminder.

In 1964 the Republican Party was at war with itself and the convention highlighted the fronts of the battle. Rockefeller largely derailed his own opportunity for the nomination when he divorced his wife of three decades and married a much young woman. By 1964 standards this behavior violated the basic rules of ethical personal conduct expected of serious contenders for national office. But it was not his personal life that was booed by conservative convention delegates. They shouted at Rockefeller when he insisted on the need for “honest Republican liberalism that has kept this party abreast of human need” and warned that “the Republican Party is in real danger of subversion by a radical, well-finaced, highly disciplined majority.”

Republicans booed Rockefeller as the civil rights movement was marching toward greater equality for African-Americans. They booed Rockefeller as American women were challenging centuries of narrow, repressive social and economic practices. They booed Rockefeller as Americans rattled with fear over a Communist threat to American domestic security and international hegemony. They booed Rockefeller as the changing world evoked a heightened sense of vulnerability for those who had wielded power and privilege for so long. It is almost laughable that someone of the family legacy and monied heritage of Rockefeller could stand in as symbol of the changing world of 1964. But the very fact that he was interpreted as frighteningly left of the GOP center is an indication of how far right the party had moved. So in 1964 the GOP rejected Rockefeller Republicanism and embraced Goldwater extremism.

I couldn’t help but notice similar patterns of rejecting traditional conservatism in exchange for radical rightism in the GOP candidates on Monday night. They seemed intent on vaulting over most reasonable responses in a rush to position themselves as far to the right as the stage would allow.

The Republican extremism of 1964 was disastrous in the short term. Goldwater carried only six states and President Johnson secured the largest popular vote margin in modern presidential history. But I am not interested in comparing 2012 to 1964 to reassure Democrats that it is easy to beat extremists in the general election. Because while 1964 was a short-term loss, the conservative strategy has paid huge electoral dividends to Republican Party over the past fifty years.

Republicans secured their position as the national party of the South in 1964 and they have held it ever since. Recall that Nixon enthusiastically embraced Goldwater in 1964 and was shortly elected president himself. Nineteen sixty-four was also the conservative coming-out party for a young Ronald Reagan who was then elected governor of California two years later and went on to become the icon of the contemporary GOP. Interestingly though, the GOP rejection of Rockefeller ultimately sealed the fate of an ambitious, young moderate who could never again gain a significant following among Republicans: George Romney. It will be instructive to see if his son chooses to run to the right in order to secure the nomination his father could never obtain.

Source: The Nation 

As Executive Pay Soars, Worker Pay Stagnates

NEW YORK -- What a glorious day to be an American worker! Pay is skyrocketing, the Great Recession is hardly a memory and leaders in Washington are putting labor concerns at the front and center of their agendas -- provided you are a worker who happens to be at the top of the corporate organizational chart.

In the latest sign of the growing disconnect between reality as enjoyed by corporate chieftains and that experienced by pretty much everyone else, compensation for chief executives of publicly traded companies in the S&P 500 last year leaped by more than 28 percent compared to 2009, according to a new survey from Equilar, a research firm that tracks executive pay.

Among those enjoying perches at the top of the pyramid, according to a table on Equilar's site: John G. Stumpf, chairman and chief executive of Wells Fargo, the bank recently accused in a confidential federal audit of cheating taxpayers in its handling of foreclosed homes, pulled down $17.6 million; Lloyd Blankfein, overseer of Goldman Sachs, the banking giant that has become synonymous with malevolent Wall Street shenanigans, took home $14.1 million; and Jeffrey Immelt, chief of General Electric, netted $15 million in pay last year and is now tasked with helping President Obama create American jobs.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

New Jersey Union Workers Protest Cuts To Benefits, Collective Bargaining Rights

TRENTON, N.J. -- Hundreds are rallying at the state capital to protest legislation being considered that calls for New Jersey government employees to pay more for health care and contribute more to their pensions outside of collective bargaining.

Union workers and supporters are gathering in Trenton, and busloads more are backed up along a highway heading to the Statehouse.

Two large television screens flashed pictures of union workers holding signs that read in bloody red letters: pension betrayal. Nearby, stood a 10-foot inflatable rat.

Jersey City police officer Mark Razzoli on Thursday called Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver "a sellout" for agreeing to the deal, which he says was nothing short of union busting.

Razzoli, who says he worked at ground zero on 9/11, called the deal disgraceful to those first-responders and blamed politicians for raiding pension funds in flush years.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Is U.S. Attack on Libya Legal? Rep. Dennis Kucinich Debates Former Reagan Attorney Robert Turner

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 10 members of Congress sued President Obama for violating the War Powers Act of 1973 by failing to obtain congressional approval for military operations in Libya longer than 60 days. We host a debate between Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, one of the Congress members suing President Obama, and Robert Turner, who worked as an attorney in the Reagan White House and is a longtime critic of the War Powers Act. "President Obama’s position is absolutely clear: we are not engaged in war in Libya and thus if the War Powers Resolution were constitutional, it still would not apply," Turner says. "I ask you, if another country sent 2,000 planes over the United States and some of those missions dropped bombs on us, would that be an act of war against the United States?," says Kucinich. "That is exactly what we have done in Libya."

Source: Huffington 

White House to Congress: We Don't Need Your Authorization On Libya

WASHINGTON -- The White House finally made its case to Congress on why it doesn't need lawmakers' approval to forge ahead with military operations in Libya: Because we're not at war.

Senior administration officials said Wednesday that the fact that the U.S. is only playing a support role in the NATO-led military effort in Libya -- that is, no U.S. troops on the ground and no potential for casualties -- and only plans to be involved for a short time means Obama doesn't need congressional authorization per the War Powers Act to proceed.

"We are confident that we're operating consistent with the resolution," an administration official said on a conference call with reporters. "That doesn't mean that we don't want the full, ongoing consultation with Congress or authorization as we move forward, but that doesn't go to our legal position under the statute itself, and we're confident of that."

The call came hours before the White House submitted a detailed, 32-page report to Congress that maps out the administration's legal justification for Obama continuing to call the shots on Libya without congressional approval.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Will Canada Play Nice With Other Countries?

Harper needs to learn that true friendship is about hard truths, not self-interest.

In a recent comment on his vision for Canadian foreign policy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “We know where our interests lie and who our friends are, and we take strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations” – enemies, presumably – “whether popular or not.” It is too early to say how this claim will translate into concrete foreign policy, but it’s a worrying sign that Harper doesn’t seem to understand what friendship means, and that he hasn’t learned much since 9-11 about dealing with enemies, either. Aligning friendship with interest, and enmity with principle, is a dangerous mistake. We must also be principled with our friends, and pursue our interests thoughtfully in relation to our enemies.

Treating enemies solely according to “principle” is a problem for three reasons. First, if we treat our enemies according to principle alone, we risk becoming brutal toward them for the sake of preserving our principles, including the freedom, toleration, and rule of law for which Canada has stood – in principle, though not always in practice. Second, slavish adherence to principle can make us brutal toward our own people when they begin to question our attempts to preserve those principles. Lastly, adherence to principle in dealing with enemies can give rise to costly and unnecessary strategic errors that harm our interests.

The U.S. domestic and international responses to 9-11 taught us all of these things. In the name of freedom and toleration, innocent citizens of foreign countries – including Canadian citizens Maher Arar – were incarcerated, tortured, and sometimes killed in countries that conveniently lacked the freedoms for which the U.S. claimed to fight. Moreover, the chill toward – and occasional violence against – those on the political and academic left who challenged the conduct of the “war on terror” showed an abandonment of principle at home. Finally, the foreign incursions and invasions launched after 9-11 – the legacy of which continues, and is even being expanded, today – have won the U.S. few friends abroad, and have deepened enmities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, mostly recently, Pakistan, in exchange for no clear strategic benefit. Canada ought to learn these lessons well – especially if Harper envisions a more assertive Canadian foreign policy.

The problem with Harper’s view of friendship is more complicated. He neatly aligns the pursuit of Canadian interests with the cultivation of international friendships: Our friends can be useful as we pursue our ends. But that is an impoverished understanding of friendship. Friends should not just be useful; they should also be admired and loved, and they should challenge us as much as we challenge them. They should not be inert tools that we employ when it suits us.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

The quiet cuts

The hunt for the government’s mysterious cuts—as initiated by our Paul Wells—continues. Bill Curry finds $45-million taken from the Green Infrastructure Fund. Meanwhile, Tim Naumetz reviews the main estimates.

Almost all of the government’s security and public safety programs are increasing either modestly or substantially, including a 21 per cent hike in spending for the Correctional Service to $2.98-billion. The Canada Border Services Agency is receiving a 14 per cent increase, to $1.84-billion, and the Office of the Correctional Investigator, responsible for hearing complaints from offenders, is going up by 21 per cent, to $4.3-million. 
But spending by the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is being reduced by 5.9 per cent to $414.6-million … The National Research Council will have its spending cut by 7.8 per cent to $690,836,000. Spending by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is set to drop by 10 per cent to $118,264,000 … The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission is targeted for a 20 per-cent reduction in its spending, to $4.5-million from $4.7-million. Among the other agencies where cuts are planned, the Public Health Agency of Canada is set to have its spending cut by 8.2 per cent to $622-million.
Source: Macleans 

The Commons: The NDP disappoints John Baird

The Scene. In an attempt perhaps to preempt the Prime Minister’s dismissal, Bob Rae attempted a preface. ”The Prime Minister is constantly saying that those of us who quote the Auditor General are not telling the truth,” Mr. Rae posited. “So let me simply quote the Auditor General very directly with respect to the activities of the President of the Treasury Board and ask him one simple question.”

With the parameters thus set, the interim Liberal leader proceeded. ”The Auditor General said that he found what the government did ‘unusual and troubling,’ ” he reported. “I would like to ask the Prime Minister, is the Auditor General telling the truth when he says those words?”

Would it surprise you to learn that the Prime Minister sidestepped the specifics of this question? If so, you should be commended on the open-hearted naïveté with which you approach the world.

“Mr. Speaker, as the government has said before, we have looked at the Auditor General’s report in its entirety,” Mr. Harper recounted, shrugging both physically and rhetorically. “It does make some interesting recommendations and observations. The government has made very clear that it will take those into account in the future and act on those recommendations.”

If the Prime Minister would not play along, the opposition would have to amuse itself. Indeed, on this note, the NDP has found a novel way around its self-imposed ban on off-the-record outbursts and heckling in the House: namely that all the mockery one might wish to impart can be committed to the official record under the guise of holding the government to account.

First though, a polite enough question from Nycole Turmel on the government’s approach to spending cuts. Duly addressed on a matter related to his portfolio, Tony Clement stood to respond.

This though was mere set-up.

“Mr. Speaker, now that we know that the President of Treasury Board is able to get up,” Alexandre Boulerice said with the next opportunity, “I’d love to give him the chance for a third time to explain himself to Canadians about the use of the Border Infrastructure Fund for projects in his riding, located 300km from the border.”

Alas, Mr. Clement was not interested in the opportunity. Instead, again, it was John Baird, rising this time to rhyme off a few of the projects funded—neglecting, oddly, to mention any of the gazebos, public toilets or bike racks—before returning to the Prime Minister’s carefully chosen platitudes. ”The Auditor General raised some legitimate concerns and observations about how the government could do a better job and this government has accepted those recommendations,” he reassured.

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

Tory resistance to Senate reform puts Harper in bind, pollster says

With cracks emerging in Conservative caucus unity on the issue, pollster Nik Nanos says the Prime Minister’s plans to reform the Senate by imposing term-limits should be a no-brainer.

“First of all Senate reform has been on the radar for the Reform Party, Canadian Alliance and Stephen Harper for a very long time,” the Nanos Research president said, noting that Mr. Harper has spent his time in government creating the perfect conditions for his Senate reform proposals.

He has packed the Senate with more than 30 appointments – people he has looked in the eye and explained his “vision” for the Red Chamber, Mr. Nanos said. It appeared that he had their buy-in.

And not only does he have the upper hand in the Senate, he won a majority in the Commons on May 2. Mr. Nanos figures the Prime Minister is asking himself what more he can do?

“On appearance everything has aligned for Stephen Harper to easily deliver on one of his priorities of [democratic reform],” the pollster said. “But what we’re seeing now is some rumblings, some of which are emanating from his own caucus.”

More than rumblings – it’s a mini-revolt. A letter leaked to the media by Conservative Senator Bert Brown revealed the divisions in the Conservative caucus over these proposed reforms.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Hébert: Tories blame media while rewriting history

Over the past three federal elections, few top Conservatives have spent as much time sharing a campaign glass house with the parliamentary media as veteran senator Marjory LeBreton.

Since 2006, the Senate House leader has been a constant presence aboard Stephen Harper’s election tours, often acting as intermediary between the front and the back of the plane.

In an opinion piece published in the post-election edition of Policy Options, LeBreton uses that unique vantage point to cast stones at a media she describes as disconnected from the very story it purported to cover in the lead-up to the May 2 vote.

One of her underlying contentions is that the parliamentary press largely missed the big story of the last campaign because it was too busy drinking its own bathwater through the social media to look a looming Conservative majority in the face.

There are well-documented risks attendant to stone-casting from glass houses and this commentary is not immune to them.

LeBreton’s primary subjects are the journalists who manned Harper’s tour, a media contingent subject to daily ministrations at the hands of Conservative spin doctors.

Her thesis suggests that access to the unvarnished truth is part of the package that is included in the prohibitive price of a media seat on a leader’s tour.

If I have learned anything from covering more than 20 federal and provincial elections, it is that nothing could be further removed from reality.

LeBreton devotes much space to the gap between the expectation of the many journalists on the tour of a minority government and the majority outcome of the vote — a gap she attributes to a collective blind spot toward the Conservatives that distorted the coverage of the Harper campaign.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

James: Corporatization of city just a sign of the times

Pardon me if I’m not bent out of shape over the Brothers Ford’s intention to put corporate names on many of our city-owned assets and facilities. Parks. Subway stops.

Yes, it smacks of the commercialization of our city; it fits the creeping corporatization of city hall under the pro-business, anti-union regime; and yes it’s gauche, unsettling, and signals a city down at the heels, approaching bankruptcy and desperate enough to sell the family jewels.

But it’s a sign of the times.

Remember the old Maple Leaf Gardens, when Leaf centre Dave Keon seemed forever on a breakaway. As Foster Hewit’s voice rose a couple octaves in anticipation, there were no board signs in the television frame, no corporate logos, except the Maple Leaf, on the ice — just pure off-white ice, a fallen goalie, and another short-handed goal.

Now, you don’t even notice the sign-cluttered boards at every arena. It’s visual white noise.

Caribana, even before the original operators went to court to appropriate the name to the point where it can’t be used to describe the Caribbean-inspired jump-up in August, was the Scotiabank Caribana festival last year. Some of us found it offensive. But the bacchanal was as frenzied and feverish and authentic as ever.

Nuit Blanche is no less a cool event because a corporation has tagged it with its logo.

The Royal Ontario Museum wouldn’t have completed its transformation without extensive naming rights — even though it was tax dollars that started the renaissance. Michael Lee Chin gave the ROM $30 million and his name is attached to the addition.

When the Jameses moved into Bathurst Manor at the turn of the millennium, the kids discovered the splash pad at the nearest park behind the Irv Chapley Community Centre.

Their dad knew of Chapley and his years of public service as North York city councillor for the area. But the kids wouldn’t have been less impressed with the refreshing cool-down on a hot day had Ripley’s replaced Chapley on the name plate.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Porter: Do we want private sponsors for public playgrounds?

Little R. V. Burgess Park finally got its playground.

Remember R.V. Burgess Park? It’s the scrap of grass penned in between buildings at the centre of Thorncliffe Park — the city’s playpen. There are more kids here than anywhere else in the city. A 700-student kindergarten school is going up next door.

For five years, all those kids had nothing to play with here but swings and gravel. Then last month a second-hand jungle gym arrived from nearby Leaside Park, which got a brand-new structure.

Beggers can’t be choosers, and most of the people who live in those crowded towers surrounding R.V. Burgess are flat broke.

“It wasn’t my first choice,” says Amy Sutherland, a member of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, watching her 3-year-old son, Caleb, digging in the dirt nearby. “But you’ve got to take whatever you can get.”

Here’s the thing: our public parks system is already broken. The Brothers Ford have that much right.

But is asking big companies like McDonald’s to sponsor our parks the answer?

I listened to Doug Ford on CBC Radio Wednesday morning. He said people in his “riding” — it’s actually a ward — would be happy with a “Flagstaff Park sponsored by Kraft” if it meant replacing their 30-year-old park equipment.

They probably would just continue calling it Flagstaff Park, as people still refer to the Rogers Centre as the SkyDome. But I hate it.

I hate the endless commercials before movies. I hate the flat-screen televisions in my dermatologist’s office and hair salon, flashing a monotonous loop of clear complexions and silky tresses that roll so relentlessly, I feel seasick. I hate the condom ads on the back of the toilet stalls. Remember the days when the only entertainment a girl could get while peeing was reading “John is a Jerk” and “I love John?”

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Former CIA Officer: Bush Admin Tried to Smear Prominent Academic, War Critic

A former top counter-terrorism officer at the CIA is claiming the Bush administration sought damaging personal information on a prominent critic of the Iraq War in order to smear him publicly. Speaking to The New York Times, the former officer, Glen Carle, says the Bush administration made at least two requests for intelligence about Juan Cole, a Middle East expert and professor at the University of Michigan. Cole, who has been a frequent guest on Democracy Now!, maintains the popular blog "Informed Comment," which rose to prominence after the Iraq invasion. Carle says he was personally approached by his National Intelligence Council supervisor, David Low, who told him the White House wanted "to get" Cole, adding: "What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?" When Carle responded the spying would be unlawful, Low apparently told him: "But what might we know about him? Does he drink? What are his views? Is he married?" Carle says he refused to carry out the request, only to find out months later of a second attempt to collect intelligence on Cole. Carle says Low personally wrote a memo containing derogatory claims about Cole, but he is unsure if it ever reached the White House. A CIA spokesperson denied Carle’s account. Legal experts say the spying on Cole would violate federal laws barring CIA spying and data collection on U.S. citizens. Democracy Now! reached Professor Cole just before going to broadcast.
Juan Cole: "Well, it’s just outrageous that the Bush administration should be using CIA resources to—not only spy on an American citizen, on American soil—but to direct them to destroy the person’s reputation. This is just sabotage and we should remember that this was a period in which the nation was facing enormous challenges—capturing bin Laden, destroying Al Qaeda, understanding what was happening in Afghanistan and Iraq—and that any resources should be diverted to this kind of political shenanigans at that time is absolutely criminal."
Cole is now calling for a Congressional investigation into the Bush administration’s efforts to discredit him.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Flawed Titan of the Fed

In the fall of 2008, with the global economy in shambles and panic spreading throughout the financial system, a seemingly humbled Alan Greenspan—the former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve—appeared before Congress and admitted the unimaginable: there was a “flaw” in his world view that had prevented him from foreseeing the worst credit crisis in American history.

And so begins The Flaw, David Sington’s new documentary about the origins of the financial crisis. The movie, which opened in London last week, makes a compelling argument that the nature of American capitalism has changed in recent decades, giving rise to unstable levels of inequality and a mistaken belief in the self-correcting power of free markets. The Flaw focuses largely on the housing market and offers a far less blistering critique of Wall Street than Inside Job¸ Charles Ferguson’s 2010 Oscar-winning documentary. Yet in both films, Greenspan, who spoke with NEWSWEEK at his office in Washington, D.C., is cast in a similar role—as someone who personifies much of what went wrong with the economy.

Since the housing bubble burst, and Wall Street teetered on the brink of collapse, Greenspan—once widely hailed as the oracle of the American economy—has seen his standing plummet. Most recently, Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize–winning economist and columnist for The New York Times, wrote that Greenspan is continuing “to cement his reputation as the worst ex–Fed chairman in history”—a searing statement even for someone on the left.

And yet what continues to drive much of the criticism of Greenspan is not so much his record at the Fed but his recent political commentary. Despite his 2008 mea culpa, Greenspan has largely remained steadfast in his faith in laissez faire, arguing against the government’s stimulus package and recent financial regulation. As Congress continues to fight over long-term spending and the future of entitlements, it is precisely this sort of stubborn libertarianism that has enraged Greenspan’s critics and once again cast a spotlight on his legacy.

When Greenspan retired five years ago, his reputation seemed unimpeachable. Despite fears that he would govern the central bank as a conservative ideologue—he was once a disciple of the radical libertarian writer Ayn Rand—during the early ’90s, Greenspan proved to be a pragmatist and a highly successful technocrat, according to Brad DeLong, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. One of the central bank’s two primary jobs is to keep prices stable and employment high. On both fronts, Greenspan’s record, from 1987 to 2000, was strong, according to friends, former colleagues, and even critics. “The years that Alan Greenspan was chair were years of unprecedented growth and price stability,” says Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary.

Full Article
Source: Newsweek