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.]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

China Warns U.S. To Stay Out Of Sea Dispute

BEIJING (Reuters) – China urged the United States on Wednesday to leave the South China Sea dispute to the claimant states, saying that U.S. involvement may make the situation worse, its most direct warning to Washington in recent weeks.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai's comments to a small group of foreign reporters ahead of a meeting with U.S. officials in Hawaii this weekend come amid the biggest flare-up in regional tension in years over competing maritime sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Tension has risen in the region in the past month on concern that China is becoming more assertive in its claim to waters believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Part of the waters are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

"The United States is not a claimant state to the dispute in the South China Sea and so it's better for the United States to leave the dispute to be sorted out between claimant states," Cui said.

"While some American friends may want the United States to help in this matter, we appreciate their gesture but more often than not such gestures will only make things more complicated," he said.

"If the United States wants to play a role, it may counsel restraint to those countries that have been taking provocative action and ask them to be more responsible in their behavior," he said.

"I believe the individual countries are actually playing with fire and I hope the fire will not be drawn to the United States."
While China has called for disputes to be resolved bilaterally, others, including the Philippines, have urged a multilateral approach.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Small Businesses Bash 'Tax Holiday' Plan For Corporate Titans

WASHINGTON -- Debra Ruh runs TecAccess, a small business that works with large companies and the federal government to help make their tech products accessible to people with disabilities. The 11-year-old central Virginia-based operation has always been small -- at its peak before the economic crash, Ruh had 35 employees. Ruh says she always reached out to workers who themselves lived with disabilities. The cause is close to Ruh's heart: Her 24-year-old daughter was born with Down Syndrome. But it's also good business: People with disabilities can tell when a new product does or does not work well.

But TecAccess took a huge hit with the recession. TecAccess's most important lender, Virginia Business Bank, failed, taking down her line of credit with it. Since then, she's been struggling to get the credit needed to fund basic operations. Although she runs about $2 million a year in total sales, Ruh's costs made the firm unable to keep employing 28 of her workers. Today, she's down to seven employees.

"We need to hire people, but we don't have the cash or the credit to do it," Ruh says.

Things could be worse. Unlike many small businesses, TecAccess has actually survived the crash. But Ruh is frustrated with the current debate over fixing the U.S. economy, which seems to be focused on tax perks for the wealthy and large corporations, while ignoring the plight of ordinary workers and small firms like her own. Any proposal that might have any small chance of creating jobs or stimulating the economy seems to require huge front-end profits for corporate titans.

Case in point: the current quarrel over a corporate tax "repatriation" holiday. The plan is widely viewed by economists, tax experts and small business owners as a useless government giveaway to a handful of multinational corporate behemoths. But several companies and a Wall Street friendly think tank are now touting the idea as a new "stimulus" to create jobs.

Lobbyists for Microsoft, Oracle, Pfizer, Apple and other major firms are currently pushing to inject the holiday into congressional negotiations about raising the federal debt ceiling. The companies say they currently have about $1 trillion in cash stashed abroad that they are unwilling to bring back to the U.S. at the statutory 35 percent corporate tax rate. But if Congress will grant companies a one-time tax holiday, allowing that money to be brought back to the states at a rate of about five percent, companies would be willing to do it. Corporate titans acknowledge that they'd be getting a sweetheart deal, but they say as it stands, the U.S. is never going to get their money anyway.

"Bring the money back," says Doug Thornell, and adviser for the WinAmerica Campaign, a group of about a dozen multinational companies and several trade groups lobbying for the holiday.

The trouble is, this has been done before, and it didn't work. In 2004, Congress approved almost the exact same plan. According to an review by economists Roy Clemens and Michael Kinney for Tax Analysts, a total of 364 companies brought back $284 billion of overseas cash for the 2004 tax holiday. But even during the economic boom years of the housing bubble, the fresh cash did not create new jobs or investments. Instead, the economists say, companies simply used the cash to enrich their shareholders, using the money to buy up their own stock, driving share prices higher.

A 2009 paper by three researchers with the National Bureau of Economic Research came to a similar conclusion: "A $1 increase in repatriations was associated with an increase of almost $1 in payouts to shareholders," the researchers wrote.

What's more, an April analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 10 of the biggest players in the WinAmerica Coalition are sitting on a combined $47 billion in domestic cash. If the companies aren't using their excess U.S. cash to create jobs, they aren't very likely to spend any money they bring in from overseas on jobs, either.

"Big businesses, they're not sitting around going, 'God we've got this market opportunity, and I wanna hire people, but I don't have the money to hire people,' " says Brian Setzler, President of TriLibrium, a business advisory firm based in Portland, Oregon, that mostly works with small firms. "They're sitting on cash. And if there were market opportunities there, they'd deploy it."

Cutting the tax rate from 35 percent to 5 percent represents about an 85 percent reduction in the amount companies would have to hand over to Uncle Sam. While the Congressional Budget Office has not analyzed the implications of such a move for the federal budget deficit, the Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan congressional committee focused on tax policy, has. The committee's conclusion? "Bringing the money back" would actually cost the government $78.7 billion over ten years, as companies scored a sweetheart tax deal on cash they planned to bring back to the country anyway.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Harper vs. Unions: Labour Battle In the Making Over Back-To-Work Bills: Expert

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - The Conservative government is spoiling for a fight with Canada's labour movement, says the head of one of the largest public sector unions in the country.

Two sets of labour disputes triggering immediate back-to-work legislation within the space of a week are ringing alarm bells in union shops across the country, said John Gordon, the national president of the Public Sector Alliance of Canada.

"The style this government has taken, the tone it is setting, is going to have repercussions," he said.

"We will not stand back idly and watch the government do this. If they are pushing for a major battle on the labour front they are going in the right direction."

The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is currently trying to referee the dispute between Canada Post and its locked-out employees via back-to-work legislation that would force each side to submit its final offer to an arbitrator who would pick the better choice.

The government has said it hopes the threat of legislation compels the two sides to reach their own agreement; Air Canada and its striking workers announced an agreement only hours after the Tories introduced back-to-work legislation to end that dispute last week. The airline workers had been on strike for a day when the bill was brought forward.

Wages, however, are a major difference between the two bills.

The Air Canada legislation made no mention of how much employees should get paid. The Canada Post bill sets out wage increases which the Canadian Union of Postal Workers says are less than what Canada Post put forward in its final offer.

The last time postal workers were legislated back to their routes in 1997, the bill also provided lower wages than what management had on the table.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Wisconsin State Assembly Approves Measure Allowing Concealed Weapons In Public

MADISON, June 21 (Reuters) - The Wisconsin state Assembly approved a measure on Tuesday allowing qualified state residents to carry concealed weapons in public.

Assembly lawmakers passed the proposal 68-27. Their colleagues in the state Senate approved the measure last week and Republican Governor Scott Walker has indicated he will quickly sign the bill into law.

It would make Wisconsin the 49th state to remove bans on concealed weapons.

Backers of concealed carry said it makes the streets safer by allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves.

Opponents said they worry that such laws will increase the likelihood that minor disputes escalate into deadly confrontations. They also insist there is no evidence that the passage of so-called "concealed carry" laws result in lower rates of violent crime, as proponents claim.

Once Wisconsin makes the measure law, Illinois will be the only state that does not have a concealed carry law on the books.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

As Robert Gates retires from the Pentagon top job, he sounds a grim warning: America is losing its grip

Aboard the Pentagon jet on his last foreign trip as secretary of defense, Robert Gates takes a moment to peer across the American horizon—and the view is dire: the U.S. is in danger of losing its supremacy on the global stage, he says.

“I’ve spent my entire adult life with the United States as a superpower, and one that had no compunction about spending what it took to sustain that position,” he tells NEWSWEEK, seated in a windowless conference room aboard the Boeing E-4B. “It didn’t have to look over its shoulder because our economy was so strong. This is a different time.”

A pause.

“To tell you the truth, that’s one of the many reasons it’s time for me to retire, because frankly I can’t imagine being part of a nation, part of a government … that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.”

Such a statement—rather astonishing for the leader of the world’s preeminent fighting force—may open the administration to charges of not believing in American exceptionalism, an opening the GOP is already trying to exploit. But these days Gates is less worried about political crossfire and more focused on the legacy of his own tenure, which bridged the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

He is determined to define his own legacy as Pentagon boss, and eager to push back against one of the more vocal criticisms of his tenure: the belief among many liberals and some con-servative budget hawks that in a time of deep indebtedness, he hasn’t been willing to chop enough of a defense budget bloated by a decade of war.

Don’t expect him to apologize. In Gates’s mind, it’s other political leaders with less experience who are confused.

“Congress is all over the place,” Gates says at one point. “And the Republicans are a perfect example. I mean, you’ve got the budget hawks and then you’ve got the defense hawks within the same party. And so I think there is no consensus on a role in the world.”

Gates, who’ll be succeeded by CIA chief Leon Panetta, wins bipartisan accolades for restoring morale at the Pentagon and, more important, repairing relations with Congress, which had grown distrustful of the Defense Department under Rumsfeld.

Bridging two administrations, Gates gets credit for stabilizing Iraq, though the key decisions that led to success—a surge of troops and the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus to oversee the strategy—predated his arrival.

Petraeus says Gates knew that his real contribution was to buy time in Washington for the strategy to succeed. “ ‘Your battle space is Iraq. My battle space is Washington,’ ” Petraeus recalls Gates telling him.

Gates concedes he was sometimes on the wrong side of an issue. For instance, he was gun-shy about using ground troops to kill Osama bin Laden, arguing that Obama should opt for an airstrike instead. Gates hesitated because he feared a repeat of the bungled 1980 attempt to free American hostages in Iran that killed eight U.S. servicemen. “I was very explicit with the president in one of the discussions,” Gates acknowledges. “I said: ‘Mr. President, I want truth in lending. Because of experience, I may be too cautious, you know.’?”

Full Article
Source: Newsweek 

Florida's Teachers Union Sues State Over Pension Reform, Plans Further Action

Florida's largest teachers union filed suit on Monday to stop the enactment of new pension reform laws, the first lawsuit of potentially many that seek to halt the Sunshine State's education agenda.

"The state has taken an ax to the budget instead of a scalpel," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association (FEA), in an interview with The Huffington Post. "They're turning their backs on teachers, law enforcement, firefighters, nurses. It's not the way to go."

Florida's Republican legislature passed a bill in April that requires state employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their pension plans. The legislation, championed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, passed along party lines with Democrats calling it an income tax.

This law, Ford said, is one of many passed this legislative session that his group opposes. "We have been analyzing all the issues that came about as a result as this session and we're continuing to look at many other issues for future suits potentially," he said. Ford specifically mentioned class size changes, using standardized tests for 50 percent of teacher evaluations and merit pay for teachers as issues the FEA might potentially protest in court "down the road, over the next few weeks."

Florida joined many states in passing sweeping education bills this legislative session. These laws, including Florida's, often tied teacher pay with performance on standardized tests.

"There are issues revolving around collective bargaining and the changes in the scope of bargaining in this education bill that we've had a problem with because we have a constitutional right to bargain for sound wages and conditions of employment," Ford said. "The evaluation is a condition of employment and now it's a condition of the salary."

The pension reform package could have been averted by taxes, according to the FEA president. "Even in this year, they gave more tax cuts," he said. "They continued to reduce the revenue to the state and claimed it's a budget shortfall."

The lawsuit filed Monday alleges that the pension law is unconstitutional, breaking with a legal contract established in 1974 that makes pensions noncontributory. Ron Meyer, the lawyer representing the FEA in the suit, said a hearing scheduled for next Thursday will weigh their requested injunction of the law. The FEA's injunction request seeks to hold the first 3 percent that would be removed from salaries this year in a fund that would be restored to teachers' salaries should the union ultimately win.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Rand Paul to America's Hungry Seniors: Let Them Eat Private Charity

In tough economic times, senior citizens often pay a brutal toll. Already saddled with limited means and poor health, it can be a struggle for some seniors even to get regular meals. A 2009 study found that 5 million seniors face the threat of hunger, which is over 11 percent of all senior citizens in the country.

A Senate subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders, held a hearing Tuesday on the “human toll and budget consequences” of senior hunger. Panelists shared tales of woe from older Americans unable to get enough food, and urged increased funding for nutrition programs under the Older Americans Act of 1965.

This might have been non-controversial a few years ago, but not with the Tea Party in town. The hearing produced a fierce debate between Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, and Senator Rand Paul, the prototypical Tea Partier, about whether the government should even perform simple tasks like feeding hungry senior citizens.

Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for the Administration on Aging, began by assessing the problem. Of the millions of hungry senior citizens assisted by the federal government, 24 percent simply do not have enough money or food stamps to purchase enough food. Beyond poverty, millions of other seniors have trouble getting meals because they are either functionally impaired or live alone. Seniors in rural areas, far from grocery stores and perhaps family members, are particularly vulnerable. For around 60 percent of the seniors assisted by the government, the meals they are provided make up half or more of their daily food intake.

In written testimony, one panelist shared the story of Peggy Shannon, a 63-year-old administrative assistant in California who was laid off in 2008, two years before retirement. Unable to find work, Shannon was forced to choose between paying for either medications or meals—both requirements, especially given her severe diabetes. “The stress of her situation caused her to lapse into a deep depression where she isolated herself in her apartment and cried most of the time,” the testimony read. “Her deep pride and embarrassment over her situation prevented her from reaching out to family and friends.”

Though Shannon found food through a government-assisted program, her situation underscores how the recession is particularly endangering those already near retirement. Since the downturn, 80 percent of aging agencies have seen requests for home-delivered meals increase, with one in five of them unable to fulfill all of the requests.

“From a moral perspective, it is clear to me that in this great nation, no one should go hungry, especially those that are old and frail and unable to take care of themselves,” Sanders said.

But there’s a financial element as well—medical care for senior citizens is a massive driver of overall health care costs, and ensuring basic nutrition among seniors is a simple way to control those costs. One day in a hospital is equivalent to the cost of a one-year supply of home-delivered meals, according to the subcommittee’s research.

Mary Jane Koren, a geriatrician and vice-president of the Commonwealth Fund, noted that seniors often suffer health problems and are put in nursing homes after falling down. Poor nutrition leads to decreased muscle strength, meaning a higher chance of falling—and weaker seniors are more likely to be gravely injured in such a fall. Koren noted that by 2020, the annual cost of medical care for seniors who fall is expected to reach $54.9 billion—many magnitudes more than the approximately $2 billion per year the federal government spends on nutrition assistance for senior citizens.

Senator Paul, however, explicitly rejected this logic. “It’s curious that only in Washington can you spend $2 billion and claim that you’re saving money,” he said. “The idea or notion that spending money in Washington somehow is saving money really flies past most of the taxpayers.” Instead, Paul touted the “nobility of private charity” as opposed to government-funded “transfer programs.” He suggested privatizing Meals on Wheels and other government assistance for hungry seniors.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Top 10 New Orwellian Euphemisms for the War in Libya

Rather than call the conflict in Libya a war, the Obama administration has introduced a new phrase into the popular lexicon. "The way I like to put it is, from our standpoint at the Pentagon, we're involved in a limited kinetic operation," says Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. President Obama has consistently used the same locution. As critics ridicule it, Obama and his loyalists may find themselves in need of new Orwellian euphemisms for waging this war. I humbly offer a few suggestions for how they can describe our efforts in Libya going forward.

10) A multilateral hazing rite to initiate Libya into the fraternity of free nations.

9) Operations abroad characterized more by their energy than any animus toward what I'll refrain from calling the enemy.

8) The U.S. military's unconventional audition for the upcoming season of Robot Wars.

7) A live ammunition training exercise meant to ensure the preparedness of American troops should they ever need to drive a North African dictator from power.

6) Stimulus spending to create or preserve jobs for hard-working Americans who happen to work in munitions factories.

5) A variation on the successful beer summit held with Professor Gates that shows deference to Libyan cultural taboos surrounding alcohol by substituting Predator drones.

4) A non-hostile military engagement to which the Pottery Barn rule is obviously inapplicable -- the French wouldn't even stoop to breaking things in such a store.

3) A support mission where America is a mere pit crew to the NASCAR drivers of NATO.

2) A determination to lend France and Britain sufficient munitions and refueling capability to give their efforts a new lease on life.

1) An overture to the Libyan people of hope and regime change.

Source: The Atlantic 

How Did 2011 Go So Wrong? America's Two-Speed Recovery

When Jim O'Neill, Goldman Sachs's celebrated Asset Management director, dubbed 2011 "the year of the USA" two days before Christmas last year, his brand of optimism wasn't rogue. He was merely the loudest member of a growing crowd of market cheerleaders.

The poison and crud from the recession had finally worked its way through the economy, they said. Corporations were flush with cash and ready to hire. Financial institutions were swimming in profits and ready to lend. Housing prices had taken a beating, but that was a good thing in way. Homes were affordable again, and families who had spent two years shedding debt were itching to buy something big.

So how did 2011 turn out so poorly? Six months later, unemployment is still above 9%. Small business sentiment, which fell for the third consecutive month in May, is lower than a year ago. Real wage gains still look like a pancake, and the American Consumer -- the world's greatest engine of growth -- is showing up like LeBron James in the fourth quarter of a Finals game.
High gas prices hurt consumers and businesses. Europe's never-ending debt trauma hurt exports and the stock market. But you can't blame it all on the rest of the world. You can't even blame it all on Washington.

Economists at the IMF like to talk about a global "two-speed recovery." That means China is battling inflation with 9% yearly growth, while Europe and the U.S. are fighting double-dips with sub-2% growth. But there's a two-speed recovery at home, as well. Financial companies and multinationals are enjoying record profits, and the stock market has recovered better than most analysts expected.

But the wealth isn't trickling down. Small businesses -- which account for 99 percent of all companies and two-thirds of all hires -- are selling into a weak consumer market. Banks know it, so they're withholding loans. It's a cappuccino economy: The top is as frothy as the bottom is static.

At the top of the economy, financials and multinationals are growing, but they're making do with fewer workers. At the bottom of the economy, small businesses aren't growing, and they're not hiring workers. Two speeds, one reality: It's hard out there for a worker.

Full Article
Source: The Atlantic 

FBI Knocks Websites Offline

The FBI took a series of websites offline on Tuesday in a raid on servers owned by DigitalOne, according to the company, the New York Times reported.

Among the sites knocked offline were those belonging to the Curbed Network, a New York publisher behind the blogs Curbed (real estate), Eater (restaurants), Racked (shopping) and Gridskipper (travel).

The reason for the raid remains unknown, and the FBI did not comment, according to The New York Times, but it's possible it is related to recent news involving LulzSec and Anonymous.

Sergej Ostrumow, an employee at DigitalOne, told the Times: “This problem is caused by the F.B.I., not our company."

Bookmarking site Pinboard, also affected by the downtime, posted this message on the raid:

Just received word from our hosting company that they were raided by the FBI who pulled some racks of equipment. No word on whether our server was among those machines, or whether it is just offline. In the meantime the site is running on a backup server with reduced capabilities (see below). All bookmarks are intact.
Websites affected by the raid remain offline at this time.

Source: Huffington 

Message in Harper's back to work law against CUPW is that labour will be put in its place

The Harper government's legislation to end the lock out at Canada Post sends a strong message to Canadian labour. They intend to lower the wages and benefits of public sector workers and they could give a damn about collective bargaining rights.

The CUPW bill is brutally anti-union and it comes only days after strike breaking legislation against CAW Air Canada workers was introduced, but not passed when the union struck a last minute compromise deal. These back-to-back attacks on unions leave no doubt that there is no place for unions and collective bargaining in shaping Canada's economy under Harper, and that this government will act harshly and decisively to put unions in their place.

The law will be vigorously opposed in Parliament by the NDP opposition, but a modified version of this legislation will either pass within days or be mirrored in a forced settlement between the union and Canada Post.

This trampling of union and democratic rights from the Conservatives is not unexpected and the Canadian Labour Congress and its major affiliates must now determine how to fulfill the action plan it adopted to respond to this predicted assault.

The postal legislation has three main parts. First it writes the term of the agreement and sets the wage increases for each year until 2015. The wage increases are 1.75 per cent, 1.5 per cent, 2 per cent and 2 per cent. These are effective wage controls imposed on the federal public sector -- and it is even a little less than what Canada Post offered the union in bargaining.

The legislation then sends all the remaining issues in dispute to a form of arbitration called "Final Offer Selection." These include a number of very contentious concession demands by Canada Post, including demands for a ten-year, two-tier wage system before a new employee earns full wages, and a two-tier pension benefit for new employees with an older retirement age.

"Final Offer Selection" is particularly offensive to unions. Each side presents a so-called "final offer" to the arbitrator who then picks one that is binding. Breakthroughs for workers, however justified, are almost impossible in this form of arbitration and unions are forced to present an offer that is usually just a more "reasonable" version of what the employer is demanding. The union then becomes complicit in what can be very unfair results for workers.

But this law is much worse than that. The legislation also contains criteria for the arbitrator to choose what is reasonable. In the case of the CAW legislation, the law would have forced an arbitrator to make an award "competitive with non-union" airlines. In this case, the law requires the arbitrator to "be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries and provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure the short- and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of Canada Post..."

Full Article

Reflections on the NDP convention

The New Democratic Party met in convention this weekend. What happened and what did it mean?

A good place to start is that just shy of 98 per cent of delegates gave Jack Layton a vote of confidence. A not-inconsiderable thank you to the most successful leader in the NDP's 50-year (in its current form) history.

Then, there was quite a celebration. One hundred and three members of Parliament on stage, being rapturously received. A strong Quebec delegation right in front, setting the tone for much of the debate (the NDP has become the national political institution where French and English-speaking Canadians talk about this country and work together to get results). And a national team that looked at itself, gave itself a shout-out, and committed itself to do more.

There is an interesting issue embedded in this. We are in an age of Internet voting, which reduces political engagement to sitting alone at home in front of a screen. Conventions are the antithesis to this. They are tribal moments, bonding moments, when the core of a political party looks itself in the eye and re-commits to its work. I had a conversation recently with a member of the performing company at the Stratford Festival who put his finger on this matter. We were discussing the complexities of filming a Shakespeare play and broadcasting it on television and the Internet. "This stuff is interesting, but you know, nothing really is ever going to replace being there," he said. Those of us lucky enough to attend the NDP's convention in Vancouver this weekend will know what he means. One of the challenges facing all political parties is finding ways to broaden out the experience without losing it.

Full Article

Former CIA Agent Glenn Carle Reveals Bush Admin Effort to Smear War Critic Juan Cole

Former top CIA counterterrorism officer Glenn Carle has revealed the Bush administration sought damaging personal information on Juan Cole, an academic and prominent critic of the Iraq war, in an attempt to discredit him. Carle says the Bush White House made at least two requests for intelligence about Cole, whose blog "Informed Comment" rose to prominence after the Iraq invasion. Carle refused to carry out the request. In a joint interview, Carle and Cole join us to discuss the explosive revelation and why Cole is now calling for a congressional investigation. "I think I was targeted because this was a propagandistic administration … full of people who thought they could pull the wool over the American people’s eyes," says Cole. "The Bush administration was starkly at odds with the intelligence community as a whole—the CIA, in particular, and the National Intelligence Council even more so," Carle says. “I do know the context of tension and hostility between the Bush administration and the intelligence community, and more broadly, any critic of their policies.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Harper's majority can't guarantee Senate reform

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying again to pass Senate reform legislation, this time with dramatically improved odds of success thanks to Conservative majorities in both the House of Commons and the Senate.

Legislation to create nine-year term limits and encourage provinces to hold Senate elections should enjoy smooth sailing in Parliament this fall. Yet many hurdles remain, given fierce opposition from some provinces and the fact that the proposed law could ultimately land before the Supreme Court of Canada.


The Conservative Senate Reform Act combines two measures that previously were in separate bills: elections and term limits. The Constitution says it is the governor-general (acting on the advice of the prime minister) who is responsible for summoning a “fit and qualified person” to fill a Senate vacancy. The government wants to change this and appoint senators who win provincial elections. Mr. Harper did just that in 2007 when he named Alberta farmer Bert Brown to the Senate.

The case of Mr. Brown – a dedicated Senate reform advocate – shows an elected Senate is possible. The fact that no other province has yet followed suit shows why it remains a long way off. Still, B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced this month that her province is moving toward Senate elections. Saskatchewan also supports the idea.

NDP Leader Jack Layton warns the law will create a half-elected “monster” that will continue to cost taxpayers nearly $100-million a year.

Term limits

In a slight change from previous versions, the government’s latest Senate reform legislation calls for non-renewable terms of nine, rather than eight, years. Senators appointed before Oct. 14, 2008 – including Mr. Brown – would not be affected.

Changing the Constitution, which lays out the rules governing the Senate, requires the support of at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population. But the government argues a constitutional amendment isn’t necessary. As evidence, it points to a 1965 change, approved by Parliament, requiring senators to retire at age 75, where previously they had served for life.

But by combining term limits with elections – a much more fundamental change – Mr. Harper has ensured that the entire package will ultimately be dismissed in court, says Liberal Leader Bob Rae.

“I find it strange that he would think electing six senators from Alberta when there are 24 from Ontario is some sort of democratic breakthrough. To me, it’s all nonsensical,” he said. “It’s an incredible waste of Parliament’s time to go through all of this and then find that none of it is constitutional.”

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Tory bill legislates Canada Post wage rates

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.

The government had threatened back to work legislation in the case of striking Air Canada workers, who reached a tentative deal with the airline last week.

In addition to the unusual step of setting wages, Bossenberry said it also uses the final offer selection process, where each side presents its final offer, and the arbitrator, who is appointed by Raitt, chooses a winner and a loser.

Unlike mediation-arbitration, there is no back and forth or attempt to find a middle ground.

The legislation also sets out penalties if the union or Canada Post defies the legislation, including up to $50,000 a day for union or company official, and up to $100,000 a day for the company or union. Individuals would face up to $1,000 a day.

“I think workers right across the country should be aware if this is the respect that the working class gets in Canada, I’m concerned,” Bossenberry said.

Even though both sides insist they want to hammer out their own agreement, they seem entrenched in their own positions. Talks are continuing, but there is little progress.

When mail volumes began to plummet, Canada Post announced plans to move to home delivery only three days a week. It then locked the workers out last week.

Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan said introducing back-to-work legislation is one thing, but “to start to prescribe what wage settlements should be is Draconian.

“It’s usually left to an arbitrator to decide. It’s unheard of,” said Ryan, noting that even in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker has been taking on public sector workers, he did not set out wage settlements.

Carla Lipsig-Mummé, a York University professor who specializes in work and labour relations, called it highly unusual to put in a wage settlement as well as bring in back-to-work legislation in a lockout situation.

She believes this legislation could be subject to a court challenge on the grounds of contravenes charter protections, including the right to collective bargaining.

The legislation also states the arbitrator should be guided by the terms and conditions of what workers in other comparable postal industries face as well as flexibility to ensure the short-term and long-term viability of Canada Post.

It also says “the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a direct result of the new collective agreement.”

For organized labour, the Harper government’s swift action to bring in back-to-work legislation, in the Canada Post and Air Canada disputes sends a strong message.

“They have placed the labour movement on notice that the right to strike doesn’t really exist in Canada, even in the private sector,” said Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan. “(Harper) has thrown down the gauntlet, and said your move is next.

“We’ve got to respond,” said Ryan, adding there were no specific plans in the works though he mused about the one-day general strike launched in the 1970s in opposition to wage and price controls.

“We stand on the shoulders of labour leaders who came before us and fought for these rights. We have an obligation to fight for them.”

Source: Toronto Star 

Conservatives' sweeping reform bill sets stage for Senate showdown

OTTAWA — Ontario is poised to join Quebec in a constitutional showdown with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his plans for Senate reform.

Quebec has already served notice that it is preparing to challenge Harper’s go-it-alone approach to changing the Senate — arguing that he can’t change a basic institution of Parliament without the support of the provinces.

And on Tuesday, as legislation was unveiled in Ottawa to change the term limits and selection of senators, Ontario’s Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Monique Smith took that same view, saying that a legal challenge is among the options being weighed by her province.

“We do believe it requires provincial consent to move forward,” Smith told the Star after the Senate-reform bill was introduced.

If the federal Conservative government continues to argue that the Senate can be changed without that provincial consent, “we would look at our options at that point,” Smith said. A legal challenge is among the options on the table, she confirmed.

Such a battle would pit Harper’s majority government against Canada’s two largest provinces and threaten to open up the kind of constitutional quagmire that swallowed up the last Conservative majority government in Canada in the 1980s and early 1990s.

It also could be a sign of a new frontier opening up in opposition to Harper’s Conservatives.

Harper’s main headaches were caused by his federal political rivals when he had minority control in Ottawa from 2006 to the recent election. But with a majority in Parliament, easily able to pass his legislation, Harper may be forced to look increasingly to the provinces for potential obstacles to his plans.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, a former Ontario premier, agrees that Harper is out on a constitutional limb in trying to change the Senate without provincial consent.

“Look, the Senate is a child of the Constitution of Canada. It doesn’t belong to Stephen Harper,” Rae said. “It’s all nonsensical. The Senate, if there’s going to be reform, it has to start with the provinces and the federal government sitting down and trying to get to an answer. And that’s the beginning and the end of it.”

Constitutional expert Ned Franks also calls the new legislation “dead in the water.”

“That one is sure to get shot down by the Supreme Court because that’s a substantial reform and that can’t be done without the consent of the provinces,” Franks told the Star’s Richard J. Brennan this week.

Ontario is now officially in favour of abolishing the Senate — a position also championed by the NDP opposition in Parliament, as well as several provinces such as Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

“If the government is going to insist on reforming the Senate, we think it should be abolished,” Smith said, echoing Premier Dalton McGuinty’s recent declarations on that same score.

The Senate-reform legislation introduced Tuesday treads cautiously around changing the upper chamber, whose members are currently appointed by prime ministers to serve until the age of 75.

Rather than calling for elections outright, for instance, which would require a constitutional amendment, the bill instead “supports” provinces in holding “consultations” with voters on who should be appointed to the Senate. Some provinces, such as Alberta, have been moving toward Senate elections in recent years.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Tim Harper: Senate dean gives reform failing grade

On the Star’s front page of Sept. 13, 1979, Attorney-General Roy McMurtry was promising a citizen review of police complaints, Ted Kennedy was rumoured to be challenging Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination and half a million people were fleeing Hurricane Fred.

On Page 2, the paper reported that Prime Minister Joe Clark was likely to appoint Lowell Murray to the Senate.

He did.

And he’s still here.

Murray’s future is secure — retirement with his wife, even a new dog — but he’s not so certain about the future of the place he has represented for 32 years.

Murray, representing a party that no longer exists, appointed by a prime minister who last brushed his teeth at 24 Sussex more than three decades ago, has had a distinguished career in the Senate.

But had he been appointed today, in Stephen Harper’s proposed brave new Senate world, he would have been forced to find other unemployment by 1988, at the age of 51, instead of leaving on his 75th birthday this September.

That would have been just fine for the dean of the Senate.

He says he probably would have left when Clark was defeated the next year rather than look for work at age 51.

Murray has sat in cabinet, led the Senate for his Progressive Conservatives when he was outnumbered three-to-one and has earned the right to provide some sober second thought on Harper’s Senate reform bill, introduced Tuesday.

Murray thinks it’s a mess.

It might surprise Harper that Murray sides with New Democrats.

He would call a referendum on the future of the body he has represented for 32 years.

“That would lead to a proper debate on the matter,’’ Murray says.

“We ask Canadians, do we need one? And, if so, what kind of a Senate?

“And if a majority in 10 provinces said they don’t need it, then it’s done.’’

Under Harper’s legislation, the provinces and territories would be “strongly encouraged’’ to have voters choose a list of proposed senators to be appointed by the prime minister.

Senators appointed after October 2008 would be limited to one nine-year term.

As New Democrat David Christopherson points out, that is nine years, with a total salary of $1 million, an annual pension of about $35,000, with the senator being prohibited by law from ever being accountable to voters.

“It may technically be Senate reform, but it’s not democracy,’’ says Christopherson, his party’s democratic reform critic.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Toronto police swear off G20 kettling tactic

Toronto police will never again use the controversial crowd control technique known as kettling, which was employed for the first and last time in the city’s history during last year’s G20 summit.

The decision was revealed to the Star in a police statement Tuesday, along with the information that two Toronto police superintendents were “responsible” for commanding and controlling G20 policing in the city outside the security fence.

On June 27, the final day of the G20 summit, some 300 protesters and bystanders were boxed in, or kettled, by riot police at Queen St. and Spadina Ave. for about four hours.

Not long after the enclosure, rain began to fall in torrents as some stood shivering in summer dresses and tank tops.

“The crowd control technique implemented at Queen & Spadina on June 27 will not be used again by the Toronto Police Service,” spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said in the statement, a response to a list of G20-related questions sent by the Star.

The incident, broadcast live on TV, was the dramatic climax of the summit weekend, which saw black-clad rioters rampaging through downtown Toronto and the largest mass arrest in Canadian history.

The vast majority, if not all the people detained at Queen and Spadina, were released without charge shortly after 10 p.m.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star