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 21, 2011

Proposed legislation offers lower wages than Canada Post’s last offer

In a rare move, the proposed back-to-work legislation to end the postal dispute sets out a wage settlement that is actually lower than Canada Post’s last offer.

“We’re really disappointed in the Conservative government’s position,” said Gayle Bossenberry, first national vice-president for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. “The legislation is very restrictive.”

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt introduced the legislation on Tuesday, which outlines a wage settlement of 1.75 per cent in the first year, 1.5 per cent in the second year, and 2 per cent each in the final two years.

At the bargaining table, Canada Post has offered 1.9 per cent in each of the first three years, followed by 2 per cent in the final year.

The union, which represents 48,000 members, estimates the difference works out to about $875 for a full-time employee over the course of the four-year agreement.

While it may be rare to impose a wage deal, it’s not unheard of. In 1997, when the Liberal government ordered postal workers back to work after a two-week strike, it imposed a settlement that was less than Canada Post’s last offer, 5.15 per cent over three years instead of 5.25 per cent.

During question period, NDP Leader Jack Layton questioned the decision to impose wages, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended the move.

“The wage rates laid out in the legislation are the rates that this government agreed to with its other public service workers, and that is a fair settlement for Canada Post workers as well,” Harper said.

While the NDP has vowed to delay the legislation, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan told reporters that he expects the legislation will pass on Thursday or Friday, and then would go to the Senate. Mail service likely won’t resume until next week.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Greek politicians shaken by ‘permanent’ protests

ATHENS – At the heart of Greece’s angry protests against painful economic reforms are a diverse group of demonstrators camped in front of parliament, united in hatred for politicians they blame for pushing the country to ruin.

Although their anger, like that of many other Greeks, is visceral, the permanent protest is mostly peaceful, only erupting into violence last Wednesday when the Finance Ministry was firebombed during clashes with riot police.

Behind the protests is a belief that foreign powers are forcing Greeks to swallow medicine so bitter it could kill the patient and that fat cat politicians and millionaires have dodged pain and stuffed their wallets while Greece heads for catastrophe.

“Why should I pay? I haven’t done anything wrong. I can’t afford a yacht or a pool like they can,” said Panagiotis Karydas, 50, a car mechanic who has voted for both the main political parties in the past.

“If I owe ten euros to the tax office they come after me. Why don’t they go after politicians?” he asked in the Syntagma Square protest camp.

Greece could be the first sovereign default in the euro zone unless Prime Minister George Papandreou rams through more unpopular austerity in exchange for international aid.

The square in front of the shuttered parliament building is scene of a permanent protest, bedecked with banners and filled with small tents where demonstrators sleep.

They include students, some of Greece’s army of jobless, pensioners whose savings have evaporated, workers, professors, and economists from all sides of the political spectrum.

Every evening a crowd that starts with a few hundred and often swells to several thousand rhythmically pushes open hands towards parliament, a highly offensive gesture in Greece, and chants derogatory slogans comparing MPs to common criminals.

Full Article
Source: National Post 

Kelly McParland: NDP’s crusaders need some victims to rescue

It would be interesting to know how Jack Layton imagines the New Democratic Party when he’s lounging around Stornoway admiring what a lifetime on the public payroll has brought him.

The rhetoric was flying fast and free on the weekend, as the NDP leader and like-minded associates sought to nudge party members into recognizing that Canada has changed since 1961, when the party really was new. The economy has been altered fundamentally, and the workplace along with it. Canadians don’t earn money in 2011 the same way they did 50 years ago. “Hard-working Canadians” today aren’t the same people they were then.

Layton wanted to stop identifying the party as socialist in nature, recognizing that it sends voters scurrying in the opposite direction. It was a commendable idea, but ran up against the party’s Woodstock faction. If they want to keep pretending The Who is going to turn up in a field in upstate New York and belt out ‘My Generation’ one more time, no one’s going to persuade them otherwise.  So Layton will be forced to bide his time before trying to nudge them forward again.

Full Text
Source: National Post 

The Commons: Philosophical riddles

The Scene. Bob Rae called it deception. The government, he said, had promised during the election campaign to achieve necessary public service savings through employee attrition. Now, he noted, they were dismissing civil servants by the hundred.

“Why,” he asked, “did the government deceive the people of Canada before the election?”

Here the Prime Minister, like the Public Works Minister the day before, declined the opportunity to loudly champion his recent achievement in the pursuit of proudly held principles.

“Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada employs hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “When it is necessary to make adjustments to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are well spent, we always make sure, wherever possible, that we do that through attrition or reassignment.”

It is in this case an odd quirk of the system —a philosophical riddle—that ensuring taxpayers’ dollars are well spent involves eliminating a department—Audit Services Canada—that was created for the expressed purpose of ensuring taxpayers’ dollars are well spent.

“In this case, we are cutting expenditures that are not necessary,” Mr. Harper assured. “They are duplicative, and will not affect the audit service of the Government of Canada.”

On this crisis of irony, the NDP’s Nycole Turmel next stood to wonder why the government was eliminating jobs at at time when it was explicitly committed to creating them and how an exercise in auditing public expenditures could involve eliminating 92 auditors. Summoning all the authority of his preposterously wordy title—”Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, for Official Languages and for the Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec”—Jacques Gourde informed the House that the government had been given a “clear” mandate to balance the federal books and that on that count it had gone about rooting out the “worst performing programs and priorities.”

And on that note we returned to the small matter of the G8 Legacy Fund.

It seems now that the RCMP are somehow to some extent involved. Or at least that three Mounties recently had a chat with Marlene Jennings, the former Liberal MP who wrote to the director of public prosecutions in April to suggest there might be something in these gazebos and public toilets worth investigating.

Perhaps something will come of this. Perhaps not. In the meantime, opposition MPs will be afforded the implied authority of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to justify their concerns.

“Mr. Speaker, it has been two weeks since the Treasury Board president was taken down to the Auditor General’s principal’s office and he has been hiding under his desk since. We now know why,” Charlie Angus posited. “There is a criminal investigation into how $50 million was diverted into his riding.”

From his seat, Tony Clement shook his head, apparently disappointed with Mr. Angus’ characterization or tone.

“I suggest the RCMP read the Auditor General’s report, which lays out in excruciating detail how the three amigos, the mayor, the hotel manager and the minister, diverted money for these dubious pork-barrel projects,” Mr. Angus continued. “I would ask the missing member for Muskoka if it is not time to come clean in this House.”

Expressed in the hypothetical, this was not quite a question. But then there could be no reasonable expectation that Mr. Clement would stand and respond anyway.

“Mr. Speaker, another day and another public relations stunt from the opposition,” John Baird sighed instead. ”Let us look at what the Auditor General said in his report. I would remind you, Mr. Speaker, that the Auditor General is an independent officer of Parliament, mandated to report to this House. The report says, ‘…no evidence to suggest there was a deliberate attempt to mislead.’ It also says, ‘I am not aware of any specific law that was broken.’ “

On these words does the government now apparently wish to stand. If the RCMP ends up declining to pursue the matter, a portrait of Tony Clement might be hung beside the bike racks in South River with that inscription engraved underneath.

“Mr. Speaker, I would like to quote the man who has disappeared in this House,” Mr. Angus offered with his supplementary, “who said yesterday in committee that it was factually incorrect to say that money was diverted, while page 37 in the Auditor General’s report clearly contradicts him. If he wants to take that up with the cops, I am sure it is going to go very well for him.”

Mr. Clement was once more moved to shake his head.

“I would like to say to this House,” Mr. Angus continued, “If he gets away with this $50 million scheme, then start counting your spoons and silverware dear public, because they’ve just given this man the keys to the Treasury Board.”

Mr. Angus was quite demonstrative here and there were great groans from the government side. Amid all the noise though no question mark had actually been tabled.

“Mr. Speaker, I have listened with great interest to the comment by the member opposite,” Mr. Baird said upon standing. “I did not hear a question.”

Indeed. And so we have a minister who won’t entertain questions and an opposition member who is done posing them. Just in time for summer break we have reached stalemate.

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

RCMP to probe $50 million G8 legacy fund, after scathing auditor’s report

OTTAWA—The RCMP is looking into allegations that the Harper government misappropriated funds in order to lavish $50 million on a cabinet minister’s riding prior to last year’s G8 summit.

The probe comes on the heels of an auditor general’s report earlier this month, which concluded the government “did not clearly or transparently” explain how the money was going to be spent when it sought Parliament’s approval for a G8 legacy fund for Tony Clement’s riding.

The Mounties’ involvement was prompted by a complaint from former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings. She was interviewed for an hour last week by three RCMP officers.

“My sense is that they’re taking it very seriously,” Jennings said in an interview Tuesday. “My sense is that they’re looking at this to see if there are any elements of proof that there may have been wilful intention to mislead Parliament.”

Jennings, who was defeated in the May 2 election, first sought an investigation in the midst of the election campaign. Her complaint was prompted by an early draft of the auditor general’s report, which was leaked mid-campaign to The Canadian Press.

The early draft was much more blunt than the final version released on June 9. It concluded the government “misinformed” Parliament about the G8 legacy fund and suggested it may have acted illegally.

In an April 15 letter to the director of public prosecutions, Jennings said the government may have willfully violated two appropriations acts and the Financial Administration Act, which stipulate that the government must disclose how it intends to spend the money when it seeks parliamentary approval for funding.

Jennings said she never heard back from the public prosecutor’s office. But she did eventually receive a May 24 letter from the RCMP, advising her that “the matter is with ‘A’ Division Commercial Crime Section.”

The day after the final auditor general’s report was released, she received a call from Cpl. Ray Warner asking her to meet with him. She was interviewed by Warner and two other officers last Wednesday.

There was no immediate comment Tuesday from the RCMP. The issue revolves around the way in which the government won parliamentary approval to create the G8 legacy fund in 2009.

The government received approval for an $83-million border infrastructure fund which was supposed to relieve congestion at border crossings. It did not disclose that $50 million of that fund was to be devoted to infrastructure projects in Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s Parry Sound-Muskoka riding, 300 kilometres away from the border.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

“Don’t Believe the Hype About U.S. Debt”: Sally Kohn Says Increasing the Debt Is a Good Idea

Vice President Joe Biden met with congressional negotiators last Thursday to discuss ways to curb the federal deficit and permit new borrowing after August 2, the day the U.S. government is expected to reach its $14.3 trillion borrowing limit. Democrats want to curb the federal deficit by pushing for new taxes and eliminating many tax loopholes, while Republicans have called for steep spending reductions but no new taxes.

To discuss the ongoing debate over how to curb the federal deficit, Democracy Now! recently spoke with Sally Kohn, author of a May 24 USA Today op-ed titled Don’t Believe the Hype About U.S. Debt.

SALLY KOHN: You know, this is the time when we should be worrying about other things than public spending. I mean, the fact of the matter is that corporations are sitting on record levels of capital. They’re not spending it. There’s new news out that, if anything, they’re not spending it on jobs; they’re spending it on new, you know, manufacturing equipment. So the problem is, in this situation, like it or not, government is the spender of last resort. And the irony with all this, when everybody says, “Well, government should be tightening its belt, so is everyone else,” you know, we let corporations — we actually encourage corporations in this country to borrow and carry debt ratios sometimes three, sometimes four, 14, 50 times higher than government.

Boeing, IBM, JPMorgan. JPMorgan has a debt-to-income ratio of 50 to one. The United States government? One to one. So, why is it that debt is good for private corporations, for successful private corporations, so they can invest in the future of their business, but not good for the government, especially at a time of anemic tax receipts, because we’ve cut taxes, among other things, and because the economy is sluggish? Why shouldn’t we use government to invest in the future of our nation and the future of our citizenry?

Source: Democracy Now! 

Radioactive Tritium Has Leaked From Three-Quarters Of U.S. Nuclear Plants: AP Investigation

BRACEVILLE, Ill. -- Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping, an Associated Press investigation shows.

The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation.

Tritium, which is a radioactive form of hydrogen, has leaked from at least 48 of 65 sites, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records reviewed as part of the AP's yearlong examination of safety issues at aging nuclear power plants. Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard – sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.

While most leaks have been found within plant boundaries, some have migrated offsite. But none is known to have reached public water supplies.

At three sites – two in Illinois and one in Minnesota – leaks have contaminated drinking wells of nearby homes, the records show, but not at levels violating the drinking water standard. At a fourth site, in New Jersey, tritium has leaked into an aquifer and a discharge canal feeding picturesque Barnegat Bay off the Atlantic Ocean.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Labor Regulators To Propose New Rules Quickening Union Elections

WASHINGTON -- In a move that will surely provoke Republicans and business interests, the National Labor Relations Board announced Tuesday morning that it will propose significant new rules for the union election process, streamlining procedures and possibly making it easier for American workers to unionize.

The rules proposed by the NLRB will undergo a public-comment period, but if adopted, the amendments will define the amount of time parties can litigate before and after an election, allow for the electronic filing of election documents, defer litigation on voter eligibility until after an election and consolidate all post-election appeals into a single appeal.

Overall, the new rules could make it harder for employers to stall elections and easier for unions to organize new members. Right now, elections typically take place within two months of organizers having gathered a sufficient number of signatures from workers -- a generous amount of time, organizers argue, that employers can use to pressure workers not to unionize. The NLRB’s new rules would certainly shorten that period, though it’s hard to say by how much.

“One of the most important duties of the NLRB is conducting secret-ballot elections to determine whether employees want to be represented by a labor union,” said NLRB Chairman Wilma B. Liebman in a statement. “Resolving representation questions quickly, fairly, and accurately has been an overriding goal of American labor law for more than 75 years.”

Union officials were quick to praise the NLRB and its proposed rules. Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the country, said in a statement that the changes would help fix a “broken, bureaucratic maze” that allows employers to stall the election process.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Oil Companies, Refiners Investigated For Possible Market Manipulation

This would help to explain those high gas prices.

Late Monday, federal regulators announced an investigation into whether oil companies and refiners have manipulated markets, raising oil prices to their benefit, according to a letter released by the Federal Trade Commission to the Senate yesterday and cited by The Hill.

The Federal Trade Commission plans to investigate why some oil refineries were shut down for maintenance, which can lead to higher oil prices, according to The Wall Street Journal. It is also investigating whether refiners engaged in other anti-competitive practices or provided misleading information to federal officials, the FTC letter said.

The FTC has authorized the use of compulsory process to demand records from oil refineries, according to McClatchy Newspapers. Under law, the FTC can impose penalties on companies that manipulate the price of oil, The Washington Post reported yesterday.

The news comes at a time of great prosperity for oil refiners. Profit margins of U.S. refiners have nearly doubled since the beginning of 2011, even though refiners have been using only 81.7 percent of their capacity: a seven percent reduction from the same period in 2010, according to yesterday's FTC letter.

Market manipulation, if real, would be making a bad situation only worse for consumers. U.S. oil prices have risen to nearly $115 per barrel this year, according to The Wall Street Journal. That's a 47 percent increase from oil prices last year, as the oil price in June of last year hovered around $78 per barrel, according to CNN.

Full Article
Source: Hiffington 

Walmart Case: Supreme Court Aids The Powerful

Thank the Supreme Court for one thing: In its appalling decision in the Walmart gender discrimination case handed down Monday, the justices supplied future historians with a brilliant symbol of how the United States has essentially become a giant gated community enjoyed by the powerful, with most of the citizenry living outside and struggling to nourish themselves.

Walmart is nothing if not a monument to the benefits of mass organization, an exemplar of all the good things that can be extracted by those who assemble themselves into a single large-scale entity. As the largest retailer on earth, the company is generally able to dictate the terms of trade with the thousands of merchants who keep the shelves of its stores stocked with cut-rate goods, tapping factories in China and middlemen traders in Latin America. Walmart has a habit of placing multiple orders with multiple factories for the same products, then forcing each to accept lower prices at the last minute or walk away with nothing.

By dint of its scale, it is able to capture the lowest prices for just about everything, from shipping to labor to contracting services. At its global procurement office in the southern China boomtown of Shenzhen, Walmart makes representatives from surrounding factories sit together in a bare-bones waiting room before they get a chance to negotiate with the retailer's agents. Should the reps balk at Walmart's price, they know that the buying agent can just step out into the waiting room and find someone else from another factory -- someone desperate enough to deliver for whatever the company is paying. This is the power of being not only huge but organized into one entity.

Strip away the myriad technicalities, and what the Supreme Court essentially decreed this week is that Walmart's employees -- or really any group of people who happen to work for a colossal corporation -- are not entitled to organize themselves similarly to enhance their power to pursue their own interests.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Tories to big labour: This is just the start

If you’re keeping score in national politics, mark up a quick and inexpensive point for the Conservative government, and on the labour front of all things.

Last week’s tentative settlement of the Air Canada strike came as the "strong, stable majority government" was about to end it with a crude but effective measure: back-to-work legislation. It didn’t even have to pass the bill; just waving it around brought the Canadian Auto Workers union to heel.

Simultaneously, back-to-work orders were being drawn up to end the work stoppage at Canada Post. The government argued a prolonged strike-lockout would harm economic recovery, unlikely as that is in this digital age.

The labour moves kept the sun shining on Stephen Harper, who seized a golden political opportunity from the disputes at two unpopular corporations with historic government ties. At almost no risk, he could appear decisive while also undermining key federal NDP supporters.

Moving to impose labour peace offered the Harper government the chance to show leadership against a poorly supported foe. Who even cares what the disputes are about? It’s not like big unions are a Tory constituency. What was ignored was the fact that both corporations are grappling with long-term structural problems relating to pensions and the aging workforce.

Full Article
Source: The Chronicle Herald 

The Commons: Why so bashful?

The Scene. Here was Rona Ambrose’s chance. Late in the hour, the New Democrats had sent up Nycole Turmel with an urgent bulletin. ” ‘Public Works managers informed their employees Monday the department will shed about 700 jobs over the coming three years, including the elimination of 92 auditors,’ ” she informed the House, reading aloud from a freshly published news report.

“Is it true?” Ms. Turmel wondered.

And so here stood Ms. Ambrose, afforded a great opportunity to loudly and proudly luxuriate in those “Conservative values”—those “Canadian values,” as the Prime Minister is lately fond of putting it. Here she was practically invited to not only confirm the hundreds of public sector jobs eliminated, but proclaim her government’s belief in those hallowed principles of conservatism: limited government, fiscal prudence, personal liberty and the righteousness of the unfettered market. Here was her chance to champion with soaring prose, or at least exclamation points, a new awakening of freedom, a new day for an empowered nation casting off the shackles of tyranny.

Instead, she said this: “Mr. Speaker, as part of our continuous efforts to become more efficient and more effective, Public Works has achieved the strategic review target set out by Treasury Board.”

To Ms. Turmel’s yes or no question, this seemed the most banal way possible—a lullaby of bafflegab—of confirming the affirmative.

“These savings will provide the room to continue paying down debt and investing in the priorities of Canadians, including lowering taxes for families,” she continued. “Retirement and attrition will provide the public service with the flexibility to manage these decisions without substantial job losses.”

The Conservative side did then leapt up to chant Ms. Ambrose’s surname the way the faithful had chanted the Prime Minister’s a week and a half ago. Indeed, while the Conservatives seem quite proud of what they’ve accomplished electorally, they are rather humble—downright shy even—about what they are doing in the way of exercising the power derived thereof.

It is, of course, mildly problematic that the government of conservative values is not always one of orthodox practice. And explaining that away does not always make for the best applause lines.

Today, for instance, the government side was first made to face complaints that the Prime Minister’s own department had often failed to obey the government’s own rules on hospitality spending. In the absence of the Prime Minister, his parliamentary secretary, Dean Del Mastro, was compelled to stand and direct the House’s attention to the fact that the government might’ve spent even more on hospitality than it already did. “Mr. Speaker, our government has cut spending on hospitality by more than 30 per cent over and above the previous government’s record,” he reported.

Like Ambrose’s mild-mannered, mostly implied salute to the vague notion of smallerish government, this equally failed to stir up a rousing chorus of “Har! Per!”

There is, as well, the continued frontbench presence of Tony Clement, he who is nominally charged with guiding the government towards greater efficiency, but he who is subject to daily taunts about the millions in public funds spent to build gazebos and public toilets around his riding.

The New Democrats find the latter egregious enough that they have assigned two shadow ministers—Alexandre Boulerice and Charlie Angus—to the task of shaming Mr. Clement. Alas, neither have yet so wounded the President of the Treasury Board’s self-respect that he has felt it necessary to stand and respond.

In his place, it has been John Baird’s job to stand and obfuscate and, most awkwardly, enthuse selectively about the millions that were spent for the purposes of a weekend meeting.  ”Mr. Speaker, I am happy to describe some of these projects and what was done. There is an airport in North Bay. The government helped resurface the runway so that planes could land on it,” he happily reported. “There is a provincial highway in that part of rural Ontario that was repaved. That is important. A community centre was also built. It is now available for the benefit of the people in that municipality. I could go on.”

Indeed, he could, probably for much of the entire hour, what with all the taxpayer-funded trinkets now scattered around Muskoka that could be detailed and explained at length.

But were Mr. Baird at all interested in matching his words with both Ms. Ambrose’s words and his government’s “own efforts to become more efficient and more effective,” he would, of course, have to say something quite different. Something like, say, “We’re supposed to be a major industrialized country. A major industrialized country surely has conference sites where it can host significant dignitaries without having to spend millions of dollars sprucing up the environment.”

Something like this would, presumably, require the exile of Mr. Clement to the furthest reaches of the backbench. But, for the record, these words were spoken some 16 years ago, on the eve of a G7 summit in Halifax. At the time it was reported that the Liberal government of the day was due to spend $8.1 million tidying up the host city (or less than a sixth of what was put toward stocking Mr. Clement’s riding).

They were spoken by a young agitator named Jason Kenney, who, in one of life’s little ironies, now occupies the seat along the frontbench immediately to the right of Mr. Baird and Mr. Clement.

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

Conservatives table Canada Post back-to-work bill

The Conservative government tabled legislation Monday that could send locked-out Canada Post employees back to work. The move came just hours after the union and management returned to the negotiating table.

Canada Post announced late last Tuesday that it was locking out employees after nearly two weeks of rotating strikes by the union.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt introduced the bill in the House of Commons after question period at 3 p.m. ET. Little else could be done on the bill Monday, which is an "opposition day" in the House with debate controlled by the NDP.

Raitt says she's open to meeting with the two sides, as she did by phone at noon Monday, to help them in the process.

"We're here to put people back to work because it affects the national economy and their process isn't working," she said after tabling the bill.

The bill would force the two sides into final offer selection binding arbitration, meaning each side tables its final offer and the arbitrator picks one or the other.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

More public sector layoffs to come, Clement warns

Expect more government layoffs based on last year's strategic review, Treasury Board President Tony Clement said Monday.

That's outside of the savings the government expects to have by not replacing the roughly 11,000 civil servants who leave their jobs every year. And that's before they look at further cuts in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

On Monday, the Globe and Mail reported Public Works and Government Services Canada was laying off 700 staff over three years.

"I would say there are more [layoffs] coming, yes," Clement said after appearing at a House committee. "This was part of the 2010 strategic review, this is not part of the go-forward strategic and operating review."

He wouldn't say how many cuts to expect or which departments would be affected next.

"The strategic review has to go through a process of identifying potential layoffs and informing those individuals. I'm not going to do it by informing the media. The individuals in question should get the notice first," Clement said.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

At High Court, Wall Street Whips Main Street—Not Once but Twice

The United States Supreme Court Monday decided two of the most anticipated decisions of its current term. Each case generated some degree of unanimity among the justices. In each instance, the Court handed an important victory to corporate interests. And, in both rulings, the majority justified its result by asserting that the law does not easily allow a plaintiff--whether a person or a state, whether for monetary damages or to save the planet--to choose the means and manner of litigation. Monday surely was not a good day for the little guy on the American legal scene.

In Walmart v. Dukes, the Court ruled that a huge class action lawsuit against Walmart--based upon allegations of employment discrimination against female employees-- could not proceed in its broad current form. The claims against the company were too diverse and the questioned policies by Walmart's managers too disparate, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Court's majority, to establish the "commonality" required for "class" status under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

In American Elec. Power v. Connecticut, the closely-watched global warming case, the Court ruled that the Clean Air Act and environmental regulations precluded a so-called "public nuisance" lawsuit brought by several states to limit carbon dioxide emissions from huge power plants and the Tennessee Valley Authority. When Congress clearly creates a means to reduce such emissions, and when there is a regulatory scheme in place as well, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority, "we see no room for a parallel track" based upon federal common law.

To Connecticut and the other states which had sought to use the courts to force the power companies to reduce their emissions, Justice Ginsburg said: "No, you have to fight this battle on Capitol Hill, through legislation, or through the rough and tumble of administrative law at the Environmental Protection Agency." To the 1.5 million potential Walmart plaintiffs, all of them women, Justice Scalia said: "No, you have to fight this battle on your own, individually and based upon your own specific allegations, and you cannot band together against the retail giant." Walmart had fought for this very result in this very case for 10 years.

It's hard to predict precisely how the Dukes opinion will impact class action litigation going forward--not every company is Walmart, of course--but it's clear that the Court's ruling will not help future plaintiffs when they try to join together to litigate their claims against corporate powerhouses. You could tell that by the gleeful emails sent out by tribunes of the corporate defense bar after Dukes was announced. Indeed, for general counsels all over the nation, you would have thought Monday was like Christmas and the Fourth of July wrapped into one.

Full Article
Source: The Atlantic 

Nikki Haley's Pay-to-Play Politics

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s star has maintained a rather controlled burn across America’s conservative galaxy in the lead-up to the 2012 elections, and the national narrative providing much of its thrust has focused on her personal biography and the hypnotic allure of a new kind of identity politics in the Old South.

Increasing talk of this rapidly rising Tea Party governor—at 39 the youngest in the nation, and South Carolina’s first female and ethnic minority chief executive—as vice presidential timber is no surprise. Indeed, it’s been an easy sell: a suburban, stiletto-heeled daughter of Sikh immigrants from India takes on the good old boys, and, presto, we have a fresh-faced free-market force for the conservative cause. “I think I am very aware that I am the flavor of the month,” Haley said on a recent radio show when the talk turned to the GOP veepstakes.

Dukes v. Wal-Mart and the Limits of Legal Change

The Supreme Court yesterday unanimously slapped down the largest civil rights class action suit in history—on a dry technicality. Justices agreed that Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the ten-year-old sex discrimination lawsuit, should not proceed as a class action because the lower courts had not followed proper procedure in certifying it. While the Court’s decision is discouraging, no one should imagine that it represents an end to the fight for justice at Wal-Mart.

Dukes represents an effort to redress a massive pattern of inequity at the nation’s largest private employer. Women were paid less than men in just about every position at the company, and promoted into management at far lower rates, despite higher performance evaluations than their male colleagues. No position was too minor to be exempt from male privilege—there were very few male cashiers, for instance, but those few were paid better than female cashiers. Departments were segregated, with women selling baby clothes and men selling electronics, and the predominantly male departments paid better. (Plaintiff Cleo Page was told that customers would feel more “comfortable” buying sports equipment from a man.) Lower courts had ruled that Dukes should proceed as a class action, and even Wal-Mart’s own lawyers had urged the company to settle, but the company was determined to keep fighting all the way to the Supreme Court—and obviously, had the resources to do so.

The Supreme Court ruling is a big victory for Wal-Mart, for large corporations everywhere hoping not to be sued, and, not least, for right-wing ideologues who hate to see the free market gummed up with disputes over fairness and social justice.

It’s a devastating defeat for the women who have spent years of their lives trying to change Wal-Mart through this lawsuit. Women like Betty Dukes, the lead plaintiff, a pastor in her Pittsburg, California church who has been telling her “David and Goliath” story to her congregation for years, hoping to inspire them to stand up to injustice in their own lives. Women who were given such astounding explanations for the inequality right before their eyes: Kathleen Macdonald, a clerk in Aiken, South Carolina, found out that her male co-workers were paid better—it was no secret, she says, “They bragged about it!”—and when she asked why, was told by her supervisor that “God made Adam first.” He did feel that some men take this prerogative to “an extreme—when they beat their women.”

The decision is also a defeat for workers and consumers everywhere who might have a beef with a large corporation—as it certainly sends the message that this sort of fight is getting tougher and tougher to win. It’s particularly dispiriting as a measure of our shared values: conservatives like Scalia were expected to back Wal-Mart, but even the supposed “liberals” on the court ultimately decided that business interests should trump the rights of workers.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

State Of The Ocean: 'Shocking' Report Warns Of Mass Extinction From Current Rate Of Marine Distress

If the current actions contributing to a multifaceted degradation of the world's oceans aren't curbed, a mass extinction unlike anything human history has ever seen is coming, an expert panel of scientists warns in an alarming new report.

The preliminary report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) is the result of the first-ever interdisciplinary international workshop examining the combined impact of all of the stressors currently affecting the oceans, including pollution, warming, acidification, overfishing and hypoxia.

“The findings are shocking," Dr. Alex Rogers, IPSO's scientific director, said in a statement released by the group. "This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children's and generations beyond that."

The scientific panel concluded that degeneration in the oceans is happening much faster than has been predicted, and that the combination of factors currently distressing the marine environment is contributing to the precise conditions that have been associated with all major extinctions in the Earth's history.

According to the report, three major factors have been present in the handful of mass extinctions that have occurred in the past: an increase of both hypoxia (low oxygen) and anoxia (lack of oxygen that creates "dead zones") in the oceans, warming and acidification. The panel warns that the combination of these factors will inevitably cause a mass marine extinction if swift action isn't taken to improve conditions.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Police under fire as fresh statistics show charges dropped in 59% of G20 cases

Farrah McBride went to the G20 protests in downtown Toronto, upset by news of vandals smashing windows.

But the assistant manager at a restaurant supply store was transformed from spectator to prisoner when police arrested virtually everyone in front of the Hotel Novotel on The Esplanade on the night of Saturday, June 26, 2010.

She says she was held, handcuffed, at the temporary Eastern Ave. detention centre without adequate water, food or her correct anti-anxiety medicine.

She suffered a severe anxiety attack before she was released without charge after 18 hours.

“It opened my eyes. I never imagined this would ever happen in Canada,” says McBride, 29. “I totally lost respect for police. I can’t even look at them now.”

More than 1,100 people were held over the Toronto G20 weekend, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history.

Only 317 people were charged with summit-related criminal offences.

And of those, 187 have seen their charges withdrawn, stayed or dismissed, according to statistics released by the Ontario attorney general’s ministry Monday. Just 24 pleaded guilty.

“It’s a classic example of police overcharging,” says lawyer Clayton Ruby, whose law firm represents three G20 detainees suing police.

It’s a well-known game in Ontario, where defendants are told: “We’ll withdraw the charges that have no foundation if you plead guilty to charges that are in fact defendable (by police),” Ruby says.

One solution is to have Crowns screen charges before they are laid, as occurs in British Columbia, Ruby says.

Normally, 30 per cent of all charges are withdrawn or stayed by the prosecution, says University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach. The fact that the G20 figure is double that raises questions about the arrests, he says.

Nathalie Des Rosiers, General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says demonstrators were targeted while simply exercising their democratic rights.

“Many charges were bogus,” she says.

Charges against 100 demonstrators, mainly from Quebec, sleeping in a University of Toronto gym on Sunday, June 27, were later withdrawn because police barged in without a warrant — an elementary legal error, Des Rosiers says.

In addition, 39 defendants took diversion, in some cases making charitable donations to have their charges dropped even if they felt they did nothing wrong, she says. Eleven entered peace bonds.

Moreover, several defendants endured long delays in their cases because Crowns took hours to review video evidence, she adds. “You don’t arrest people and then say, ‘I’m going to watch video and see if I have any evidence to tie you to this,” she says.

Des Rosiers says the best way to get to the bottom of what went wrong at G20 is to hold a full public inquiry, an option rejected by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Crown spokesperson Brendan Crawley maintains it was the prosecution’s duty to carefully review the “substantial” G20 evidence before deciding whether to proceed.

Toronto police deny they laid too many charges.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Nearly 700 federal job cuts coming at Public Works: unions

OTTAWA—The federal Conservatives will cut 687 public service jobs over the next three years in the Public Works department alone, unions announced Monday.

Three major unions were notified Friday that the exercise is expected to save about $100 million. Individual workers learned early Monday afternoon their jobs were on the chopping block.

Under collective agreements, the federal government will attempt to make other reasonable job offers, train employees to work in other areas, or offer severance packages for them to leave.

In all, nearly 300 people will feel the cuts this year, starting with federal economists, policy analysts and auditors.

The Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), which represents some 14,000 members, says 103 federal economists and policy analysts who work in the consulting services branch of Public Works providing analysis for all federal departments are to be cut.

Although the department has offered an eight-week transition period in which to help employees find other work, CAPE president Claude Poirier said the cuts are worrisome.

It raises concerns about what kind of scrutiny proposed legislation or program cuts will receive in the future, and the Canadian public should be concerned, said Poirier, that “we’re going to see more and more decisions made by this government on an ideological basis, instead of on a learned basis.”

“Are we going to start building prisons for unreported crime?” he asked. “Having less and less (sic) really skilled advisors means you’re going to start making your decisions on other bases,” Poirier added, pointing to the elimination of the long-form census that was popular with the Conservatives’ political base, but he said found no support among professional policy analysts.

The balance of the employees affected by Monday’s notices that went out internally — about 180 people — are employees unionized with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) or the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPS).

Poirier predicted much deeper job cuts are to come. He said the Conservatives made a “pitch” during the election that the spending cuts could be painless because some 80,000 public servants would retire over the coming four years. But Poirier said the number is wrong, and that Treasury Board officials have told the unions that the number is closer to 40,000.

Therefore, he said, the federal government will have to find another 40,000 jobs to eliminate — a drastic slashing that he predicted will cost the federal public service “a huge gap in knowledge and corporate memory.”

Source: Toronto Star 

Ottawa moves to end postal disruption

OTTAWA—The Harper government is hoping the threat of back-to-work legislation will spur a negotiated end to the postal dispute that has stopped mail delivery nationwide.

Declaring the two sides have had an “ample amount of time” to reach a settlement, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said she was ready to force an end to the work stoppage at Canada Post using legislation she introduced Monday.

Under the proposed law, an arbitrator would choose between the final offer from management or the union’s final offer, a scenario Raitt conceded could leave one side on the losing end.

“That’s the danger of asking Parliament to settle your dispute,” she said. “Your dispute should be settled at the table between the parties who know the issues the best.”

Still, Raitt continues to hold out hope for a negotiated deal after getting Denis Lemelin, head of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra together on a conference call Monday.

“I encouraged them to look at each other’s offers and to narrow the dispute if they could to find a deal — and if they couldn’t, if the issues were too big, to find their own process,” Raitt told reporters.

The back-to-work legislation could take several days to become law, in part because of opposition from New Democrats, who accuse the Conservatives of meddling in collective bargaining.

“Why is the government interfering in these negotiations, and trampling on collective bargaining?” New Democrat MP Yvon Godin asked in Question Period.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Justices Curb Class Actions

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court threw out a sweeping sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc., ruling Monday that the 1.6 million women allegedly victimized had too little in common to form a single class of plaintiffs.

The case split the court 5-4 along its ideological divide, with Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion concluding the allegations against Wal-Mart were too vague and the evidence too weak to establish the common injury essential to encompass all women employed since 1998 in the roughly 3,400 U.S. Wal-Mart stores.

The decision is sure to reverberate in other employment class actions, with lower courts scrutinizing more carefully the factors that constitute a class for the purpose of bringing mass claims.

Wal-Mart defense attorney Theodore Boutrous said the ruling would have a significant impact on other pending gender class-action suits, including against Costco Wholesale Corp. The Costco suit alleges a "glass ceiling" for women at the store level. Costco, which has denied the allegations, declined to comment Monday. Brad Seligman, a lawyer for the Wal-Mart plaintiffs who also represents the Costco plaintiffs, said the latter case is far narrower, focusing on two job classifications—store manager and assistant store manager—and is unlikely to be affected by Monday's ruling.

Full Article
Source: Wall Street Journal 

Just 24 guilty pleas in G20 mass arrests

More than 1,100 people were arrested during last summer’s G20 Summit, but almost a year later, just 24 have been convicted.

According to statistics released Monday by Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history resulted in 317 correctly listed as charged with G20-related criminal offences.

In 187 cases – or 58 per cent of the total facing criminal charges – those charges were withdrawn, stayed or dismissed.

Another 39 defendants took advantage of “direct accountability” – often called diversion – where they, for instance, could give money to charity in return for their charges being dropped.

Eleven were subject to peace bonds.

Just 24 have pleaded guilty.

The vast majority of the arrests were on June 26 and 27, 2010, the weekend of the Summit.

Of 330 people listed as charged, nine were on the docket in error and four were charged with drug offences only.

Cases have yet to be completed for 56 people, including nine for whom arrest warrants are still outstanding.

Forty-seven defendants have had their matters adjourned and will be back in court on or before Oct. 5.

Source: Toronto Star 

Bachmann Playing With House Money

Bachmann’s Congressional Spending Shows Close Links to Political Activity

On Nov. 5, 2009, at the behest of Rep. Michele Bachmann, thousands of tea party activists descended on the Capitol to vent their rage over the health care overhaul bill pending before Congress.

The assembled activists chanted, "Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" and waved signs opposing a government takeover of health care — but they may not have known that the same government was paying for the event.

According to House expense reports, Bachmann and three conservative GOP colleagues — Reps. Tom Price (Ga.), Steve King (Iowa) and Todd Akin (Mo.) — each paid $3,407.50 that day, a total of $13,630, to a sound and stage company called National Events, apparently for the sound system used at the rally.

The money came from the Members' taxpayer-funded office accounts, despite House rules prohibiting the use of these funds for political activities. Bachmann's office insists the expense was a proper use of official funds.

Bachmann billed the event as a "press conference," which can be funded from official accounts. But no questions were taken from the press and, unlike most press conferences, it opened with a prayer, the national anthem and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

A few days earlier, the Minnesota Republican had appeared on a Fox News talk show and made an appeal for activists to come to D.C. for the event, promising to help them lobby Congress against the bill.

"I'm asking people to come to Washington, D.C., by the carload," Bachmann said. "I'd love to have every one of your viewers join me so that we can go up and down through the halls. Find Members of Congress, look at the whites of their eyes and say, 'Don't take away my health care.'"

Full Article
Source: Roll Call 

Supreme Court Blocks Climate Change Lawsuit Filed By States

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court blocked a federal lawsuit Monday by states and conservation groups trying to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The court said that the authority to seek reductions in emissions rests with the Environmental Protection Agency, not the courts. The ruling was 8-0.

EPA says it will decide by next year whether to order utilities to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The lawsuit targeted the five largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States, four private companies and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Obama administration sided with the power companies in this case.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said the Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants.

The landmark environmental law leaves no room for what Ginsburg described as a parallel track, "control of greenhouse gas emissions by federal judges."

On the other hand, Ginsburg said, that the states and conservation groups can go to federal court under the Clean Air Act if they object to EPA's eventual decision.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Supreme Court Sides With Wal-Mart In Sex Bias Case

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday blocked a massive sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart on behalf of female employees in a decision that makes it harder to mount large-scale bias claims against the nation's biggest companies.

The justices all agreed that the lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. could not proceed as a class action in its current form, reversing a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. By a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, the court said there were too many women in too many jobs at Wal-Mart to wrap into one lawsuit.

The lawsuit could have involved up to 1.6 million women, with Wal-Mart facing potentially billions of dollars in damages.

Now, the handful of women who brought the case may pursue their claims on their own, with much less money at stake and less pressure on Wal-Mart to settle. Two of the named plaintiffs, Christine Kwapnoski and Betty Dukes, attended the argument. Kwapnoski is an assistant manager at a Sam's Club in Concord, Calif. Dukes is a greeter at the Walmart in Pittsburg, Calif.

In a statement, Wal-Mart said, "The court today unanimously rejected class certification and, as the majority made clear, the plaintiffs' claims were worlds away from showing a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy."

Dukes and Kwapnoski said they were disappointed in the ruling, but vowed to push ahead with their claims. Both women spoke on a conference call with reporters.

"We still are determined to go forward to present our case in court. We believe we will prevail there," Dukes said.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

New Wisconsin Budget Grants Broad Power to Gov. Walker to Remake State Health Programs

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is set to sign a two-year budget that provides tax breaks for state businesses, individual taxpayers and multi-state corporations yet includes zero state sales or income tax increases, and limits the amount schools and local governments can raise property taxes.

Furthermore, the budget contains deep cuts in education spending, health care and programs for the poor. The state will slash aid to public schools by $800 million over two years, and cut Medicaid by $500 million by increasing co-pays and deductibles. Poor families will see a reduction in their income tax credits if they have two or more children.

Critics of Gov. Walker’s myopic plan fear -- by granting tax breaks to corporations, freezing property taxes, and slashing the social safety net -- the governor will bleed Wisconsin dry in the long run.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Supreme Court Decides That Walmart's a 'Too-Big-for-Justice' Corporation

And you thought “too big to fail” banks were a problem.

Now, the US Supreme Court has created a new protected class: the “too big for justice” corporations.

The High Court on Monday rejected a massive job discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., on the grounds that the class-action status that could potentially involve hundreds of thousands of current and former female workers was too large.

In other words, because there is reason to believe that Walmart discriminated against hundreds of thousands of women, as opposed to just a few, the company cannot be held to account for any lawlessness.

That’s a big win for Walmart, and for other large firms that may not choose to treat employees fairly.

At the same time, it’s a big loss for working Americans—and especially for working women. This case, which began as Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., had the potential to be a groundbreaking gender-bias action. Its significance to working women cannot be underestimated; the women who sued, led by veteran Walmart employee Betty Dukes, argued that 1.6 million current and former female employees of Walmart employees were subject to discrimination—passed over for claimed promotions, tracked into lower-wage positions and generally paid less than male employees.

Individual women can still sue Walmart. But their options and opportunities will be limited by their isolation and economic circumstance. As Walmart Watch notes: Walmart Associates live on poverty-level wages and often do not have access to benefits. Walmart’s average sales associate makes $8.81 per hour, according to IBISWorld, an independent market research group. This translates to annual pay of $15,576, based upon Walmart’s full-time status of thirty-four hours per week, well below the poverty line for a family of four. Additionally in 2010, Walmart’s health insurance covered only 54 percent of their associates while tens of thousands of associates qualify for Medicaid and other publicly subsidized care.”

Even if individual suits succeed, the court’s ruling suggests that Walmart will not have to deal with the issues that would have been raised were it to end up on the losing end of a class-action suit.

When the Supreme Court says that the nation’s largest private employer cannot be taken to task for discriminating against its current former employees because that discrimination appears to have taken place on a massive scale, it is signaling that that the justices have made a ominous choice not just with regard to business but with regard to civil society and democracy. They will protect corporations before they protect workers and citizens.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

WikiLeaks Haiti: The Post-Quake 'Gold Rush' for Reconstruction Contracts

Disaster capitalists were flocking to Haiti in a “gold rush” for contracts to rebuild the country after the January 12, 2010, earthquake, according to a secret cable from US Ambassador Kenneth Merten.

The February 1, 2010, cable was obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to the Haitian newspaper Haïti Liberté, which is collaborating with The Nation on a series of reports on US and UN policy toward the country.

“THE GOLD RUSH IS ON!” Merten headlined a section of his 6 pm situation report—or SitRep—to Washington. “As Haiti digs out from the earthquake, different [US] companies are moving in to sell their concepts, products and services,” he wrote. “President Preval met with Gen Wesley Clark Saturday [January 29] and received a sales presentation on a hurricane/earthquake resistant foam core house designed for low income residents.”

Former US presidential candidate and retired general Wesley Clark—along with professional basketball star Alonzo Mourning—was fronting for InnoVida Holdings, a Miami-based company, which had pledged to donate 1,000 foam-core panel-built houses for Haiti’s homeless.

“AshBritt [a Florida-based disaster recovery company] has been talking to various institutions about a national plan for rebuilding all government buildings,” Merten continued in his dispatch. “Other companies are proposing their housing solutions or their land use planning ideas, or other construction concepts. Each is vying for the ear of President in a veritable free-for-all.”

One man who had the ear of President Préval was Lewis Lucke, Washington’s special coordinator for relief and reconstruction, who was heading up the entire US earthquake relief effort in Haiti. He met with Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive two weeks after the quake, and at least one more time after that, according to the cables. Lucke, a twenty-seven-year veteran of the US Agency for International Development, had overseen multibillion-dollar contracts for Bechtel and other companies as USAID mission director in postinvasion Iraq.

Lucke stepped down as Haiti relief coordinator in April 2010, after only three months, telling his hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, “It became clear to us that if it was handled correctly, the earthquake represented as much an opportunity as it did a calamity…. So much of the china was broken that it gives the chance to put it together hopefully in a better and different way.”

Within eight weeks of stepping down, Lucke had signed a lucrative $30,000 per month agreement with AshBritt and its Haitian partner, GB Group (which belongs to one of Haiti’s richest men, Gilbert Bigio). Lucke helped them secure $20 million in construction contracts.

But in December 2010, Lucke sued AshBritt and GB Group for almost $500,000. According to the Associated Press, he claimed the companies “did not pay him enough for consulting services that included hooking the contractor up with powerful people and helping to navigate government bureaucracy.” Before the lawsuit was settled, Lucke had already joined masonry product supplier MC Endeavors. The firm sent out another of many press releases this past May advertising its ability to build homes and applauding Haiti’s newly inaugurated President Michel Martelly’s declaration: “This is a new Haiti that is open for business now.”

The post-quake “gold rush” described by Ambassador Merten began as Haitians were still being pulled from the rubble. Since then, USAID has doled out nearly $200 million in relief and reconstruction contracts. By this April, just 2.5 percent of the money had gone to Haitian firms, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Lucke, for one, is not bashful about making a fortune off others’ misfortune. “It’s kind of the American way,” he told Haïti Liberté. “Just because you’re trying to do business doesn’t mean you’re trying to be rapacious. There’s nothing insidious about that…. It wasn’t worse than Iraq.”

Source: The Nation 

Obama's Bush-Like Approach to Executive Power

The president's reasons for skirting the War Powers Resolution sound a lot like his predecessor's justifications for torture

Over the weekend, I got the chance to ask a panel of former executive-branch lawyers the question that's been bugging me.

In 2002, the Bush administration really, really wanted to torture terrorism suspects. But torture was and is against international and American law. The lawyers came up with a nifty idea: they would redefine torture. Under applicable law, to torture means to inflict "severe physical or mental pain or suffering." But from now on, as Jay S. Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel wrote, that "suffering" "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Paging Jack Bauer.

In 2011, the Obama Administration really really wanted to take part in the NATO mission supporting rebels in Libya. The War Powers Resolution (WPR) requires the President to ask Congress for authorization within 60 days of introducing U.S. Armed Forces into "into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances." The administration didn't want to do that, so a couple of its lawyers suggested redefining "hostilities." Here's the Administration's explanation, from a report submitted to House Speaker John Boehner in mid-June:

The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of "hostilities" contemplated by the Resolution's 60 day termination provision. U.S. forces are playing a constrained and supporting role in a multinational coalition, whose operations are both legitimated by and limited to the terms of a United Nations Security Council Resolution that authorizes the use of force solely to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack or threat of attack and to enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo. U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.
My question was: Is there a significant difference between these two examples?

The lawyers I spoke to argued that there are some differences. First, they said, the administration's definition of "hostilities" is one that has been discussed almost since the WPR was adopted in 1973; Bybee's definition of "suffering" was drawn from an irrelevant federal statute that concerns "an emergency medical condition for the purpose of providing health benefits." Peter Shane of Ohio State University, who served in the Carter Administration Office of Legal Counsel, crisply stated, "a first-year law student handing in that answer in a legislation class would have gotten a failing grade." Second, they argued, the Bush Administration always maintained that, whether it violated the law or not, all laws restricting the Commander in Chief from pursuing terrorism were unconstitutional. By contrast, this administration has consistently said that it recognizes the WPR as binding law. Finally, of course, the torture memo was secret when issued (and some other such memos still are); the public is getting the chance to debate the Obama rationale in real time.

I think those differences are significant; but I am not sure they would convince the ordinary American.

I am not sure they convince me.

First, what practical difference does it make if the administration accepts the law if it then juggles the definitions to avoid it? The result is nonetheless to expand the executive's unchecked authority over the use of military force. Second, how convincing is the current administration's distinction? The word "hostilities," in ordinary use, means "acts of warfare." In most parts of the world, dropping missiles out of Predator drones is seen as such an act (ask the Taliban), and that, among other things is what the U.S. military is doing in Libya.

The administration has given the term what lawyers call a "purposive" interpretation. In this kind of reasoning, a lawyer deduces the meaning of a term from the purpose of the body using it. A safety regulation banning "vehicles in the park" might formally cover Little Sluggo's matchbox car set, but surely banning toys was not the purpose of the law. In the WPR case, they reason, the purpose of the War Powers Resolution is first to keep U.S. forces out of escalating conflicts like Vietnam and second to reduce U.S. casualties. Since the the Libya mission doesn't present those possibilities, it isn't "hostilities."

The definition of torture, in contrast, works directly against the aim of U.S. law. Those laws aim to prevent torture; thus, reading its definition as narrowly as possible is an attempt to sabotage, not comply with, the intent of the statute's framers.

But are these differences without a distinction? Who says the WPR is concerned solely with preventing escalation and U.S. casualties? Isn't it conceivable that some of the Members of Congress actually didn't want U.S. forces inflicting casualties either? That by requiring congressional authorization they wanted to break our national habit of throwing bombs into volatile situations? That they simply believed the text of the Constitution requires authorization for any sustained foreign use of the weapons of war?

My confidence in the Administrations' reasoning isn't bolstered by reports that Obama got approval to defy the WPR by finessing the advice of his Office of Legal Counsel and the general counsel of the Department of Defense. The Bush Administration tended to keep shopping for pliant government lawyers until it got the answer it needed; it specialized in end runs around the careful regulations the executive branch follows to ensure it remains within the law.

It's certainly possible that, if Obama had sought authorization, the Republican majority in the House would have refused. But how grave was that danger? To the best of my knowledge, no Congress has ever refused to approve military force when formally asked to do so. It's one thing for Boehner to object behind closed doors, another thing for Republicans to vote publicly to keep Gadaffy in power.

And even if Obama did lose, that wouldn't be the end of the world for anyone. It would have sparked a bitter debate about the U.S. role in the world, to be sure. But the Constitution is designed to foster that kind of debate, not suppress it.

Obama promised to do better than Bush. Maybe he has. I wish I were persuaded.

Source: The Atlantic 

The Education of Michele Bachmann

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has a reputation for saying nutty things. Perhaps you've heard. To the congresswoman's critics, her overheated accusations—suggesting, for instance, that President Obama would create "re-education camps" for American kids or that Census data might be used as a tool for mass incarceration—are just the product of mindless conspiracy theorizing.

But that misses the point. There is a method to Bachmann's madness (such as it is) that her critics don't always understand. Long before she emerged as a bomb-throwing cable news fixture, Bachmann, who announced on Monday that she's running for president, cut her teeth in a different sort of campaign that mirrored the religious and constitutional arguments she uses today to attack President Obama's policies. As a culture warrior working with a nonprofit education watchdog in the Twin Cities suburbs, she laid the foundation for her political career by railing against the Profile of Learning, a state curriculum standard that she and her allies argued was leading the nation toward a pantheistic, pro-abortion, one-world society.
Bachmann's activism began in 1999, when she ran for a seat on the Stillwater school board. It may have seemed like an unusual move for a parent who home-schooled her children, but Bachmann was unequivocal: the Profile needed to go. Bachmann ultimately lost, but she was just getting started.

Shortly after the election, Mary Cecconi, a school board member who survived the anti-Profile challengers, traveled to a local church to see her opponent, joined by a self-styled education policy specialist named Michael Chapman, give a presentation on the Profile. The duo was traveling the state to discuss the ideology and constitutionality (or lack thereof, in their view) of the curriculum standards on behalf of the Maple River Education Coalition (MREC), one of a handful of groups of concerned parents and educators that popped up to battle the Profile.

"There were a lot of people calling out amens, and a tremendous amount of kind of a visceral love pouring out for her," Cecconi recalls. "Chapman was supposed to be the headliner but there was no question that she was the star."

Full Article
Source: Mother Jones 

You Can't Go Camping in a Tax Credit

Recently, I went camping in Virginia's Westmoreland State Park, which was created in 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression. To fix up the parkland and to make it accessible as a recreation area, the state called in Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which built campgrounds and modest cabins that offered state residents the opportunity of cheap recreation and fresh air.

Nearly 80 years later, the cabins are sill standing as an incredible legacy to Roosevelt’s approach to massive unemployment in the 1930s. They are reminders of a bygone time when public officials deemed massive unemployment sufficient grounds to spend money putting people on the public payroll until the economy recovered. Such an idea today seems almost unimaginable. Presently, all the political solutions to high unemployment seem confined to such a narrow set of ideas: tax credits, tax cuts, and now, budget cuts, too.
But no one ever built a campsite with a tax cut. All of the ephemeral efforts the federal government has tried in the past two years to jumpstart the economy may have resulted in massive corporate profits, but they have done little to put people into jobs. The unemployment rate has stuck where it is at nearly 10 percent, and there’s not much in the works that suggests it will improve any time soon. More than 5.5 million people are unemployed and not receiving any sort of unemployment benefits. By January this year, about 1.4 million people had been unemployed for more than 99 weeks, and lots of them were over 45.

You’d think that now might be a good time to revisit some of the old temporary jobs programs like the ones that built the Westmoreland State Park. After all, government money spent employing people on major public works projects has one of the biggest stimulative effects on the economy of any of the options considered two years ago in the Obama stimulus package. For every tax dollar spent on infrastructure, the economy gets a $1.59 boost in GDP, according to Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Analytics.

But Republicans have taken their Ayn Rand philosophy to the extreme, and many Democrats have fallen into line, so that any consideration of public works for the common good is simply off the table. Not only are new projects out of the question, but already, Republicans, along with Obama, too, have taken a whack at the one remaining program that resembles the old CCC: the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The corporation is the nation’s largest public service organization, whose best-known program is AmeriCorps (basically a domestic version of the Peace Corps). It provides jobs to about 100,000 people, many of whom are recent college graduates facing one of the worst job markets of any recent generation. AmeriCorps volunteers receive a small stipend for their service and about $5,000 towards college costs. They build houses for Habitat for Humanity, tutor poor inner city kids, clean up parks and serve meals to old people. AmeriCorps volunteers were on the ground in a flash after the Joplin, Missouri tornado, staffing a missing persons hotline and helping with the recovery. It’s stuff like that that’s earned the program bipartisan support over the years.

At least it did. In April, House Republicans pushed through a nonbinding resolution calling for the elimination of the funding for CNCS, and for a while, it looked like the program would be killed off entirely. In the end, the organization was spared, but the final deal brokered to avert a government shutdown over the fiscal year 2011 budget cut CNCS’s funding by about 6 percent, or about $75 million, resulting in the loss of 6,000 AmeriCorps positions. Rep. Paul Ryan's 2012 budget proposal calls for defunding CNCS completely.

The first wave of cuts is already starting to have an impact, as dozens of nonprofit programs that relied on AmeriCorps and CNCS volunteers are closing their doors. For instance, the state of Pennsylvania has zeroed out its Pennsylvania Conservation Corps, which, among other things, provided workers who helped fight the spread of invasive plants that were choking off area waterways and staffed community mental health centers and boys and girls clubs.

Hardest hit have been programs involving seniors. About $12 million of the corporation’s budget cut came from the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, which helped recruit and field volunteers for a host of community programs. Those programs are about to disappear everywhere from Fort Dodge, Iowa to the Conejo Valley, California. Lots of those volunteers were working in places like food pantries that have become swamped during the recession.

Full Article
Source: Mother Jones 

Overworked America: 12 Charts that Will Make Your Blood Boil

In the past 20 years, the US economy has grown nearly 60 percent. This huge increase in productivity is partly due to automation, the internet, and other improvements in efficiency. But it's also the result of Americans working harder—often without a big boost to their bottom lines. Oh, and meanwhile, corporate profits are up 20 percent. (Also read our essay on the great speedup and harrowing first-person tales of overwork.)

You have nothing to lose but your gains

Productivity has surged, but income and wages have stagnated for most Americans. If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000.

Growth is back...

...But jobs aren't

Sorry, not hiring

The sectors that have contributed the most to the country's overall economic growth have lagged when it comes to creating jobs.

The wage freeze

Increase in real value of the minimum wage since 1990: 21%
Increase in cost of living since 1990: 67%
One year's earnings at the minimum wage: $15,080
Income required for a single worker to have real economic security: $30,000

Working 9 to 7

For Americans as a whole, the length of a typical workweek hasn't changed much in years. But for many middle-class workers, job obligations are creeping into free time and family time. For low-income workers, hours have declined due to a shrinking job market, causing underemployment.

Labor pains

Median yearly earnings of:
Union workers: $47,684
Non-union workers: $37,284

Dude, Where's My Job?

More and more, US multinationals are laying off workers at home and hiring overseas.

Proud to be an American

The US is part of a very small club of nations that don't require...

Digital overtime

A survey of employed email users finds:
22% are expected to respond to work email when they're not at work.
50% check work email on the weekends.
46% check work email on sick days.
34% check work email while on vacation.

The second shift

Working moms pick up more child care and household duties than working dads—about 80 minutes more every day. Meanwhile, dads enjoy nearly 50 more minutes of watching TV and other leisure activities on a daily basis.

Chore wars

Thanks, guys—you're pitching in more than twice as much as you did in the '70s. But women still get stuck with the majority of work around the house.

Source: Mother Jones