Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Tar Sands: To the Last Drop

Chipewyan, a small town in Northern Alberta, is facing high rates of cancer -- the consequences of being the first to witness the impact of the Tar Sands project, which may be the tipping point for oil development in Canada. Dr. Schindler presents his findings of toxic contaminants in the water. Filmmaker Tom Radford describes witnessing a David and Goliath struggle.


The Commons: Two words to say so much

The Scene. John Baird seemed to stumble before catching himself.

“Mr. Speaker, our government is, and has always been,” he said this afternoon in response to a question from the NDP side, “committed to handling Afghan… Taliban prisoners in accordance with our international obligations.”

Taliban prisoners is indeed the preferred honorific. And four years after the treatment of those transferred to Afghan authorities by the Canadian Forces became a matter of public concern—four years after allegations that Canadian-transferred detainees had been punched, choked, whipped and electrocuted by Afghan officials—much of the government’s response to so many questions of human rights, war, torture and parliamentary privilege would seem to involve this two-word phrase.

Earlier this month at the Conservative party convention, Jason Kenney used the phrase to explain how in touch his party is with the common man. Yesterday, moments before thousands of pages of government documents were tabled, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson employed the phrase three times in the space of two answers. In a brief appearance before the cameras shortly thereafter, Mr. Baird and Defence Minister Peter MacKay combined to use it 11 times in English and another four en français. For good measure, Mr. Baird made one reference to “Taliban detainees.”

For the record, in the memorandum of understanding that set out the terms of the parliamentary review that was declared halted yesterday, the individuals in question are referred to as “Afghan detainees.” But so far as the government is apparently willing to recognize them, they are not so much citizens of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as they are members of the murderous enemy who gave shelter to Osama bin Laden and now threatens the lives of good Canadian men and women on a daily basis.

Perhaps it’s an unconscious verbal tic or the result of a linguistic fad—like chilaxin’ or whatever the teenagers are saying these days—that has organically spread around the cabinet table.

If, instead, it is the product of “communications” strategy—which is to say, a consciously scripted attempt to convey a specific message to the audience—we can only speculate at the intended insinuation.

Does it suggest, for instance, that the individuals in question are less worthy of concern? Does it imply, say, that anyone who expresses concern for the welfare of these individuals is somehow in league with the enemy? Could it leave the impression that such sympathizers might not possess within their souls a sufficient level of support for the troops?

Most concerning may actually be the possibility that the individuals transferred by the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities are, in fact, members of the Taliban, evildoers intent on doing our men and women harm. Read through a few of the follow-up reports included in yesterday’s release and you will note references to transferred detainees who were subsequently released by Afghan officials. Were our allies in this war letting members of our common enemy go free?

Conversely there is what Richard Colvin wrote in a memo dated April 25, 2007.

“We would recommend that Canada, for reasons of our national interest, establish—and publicly announce that we are establishing—a Canadian capacity to monitor, in both Kandahar and Kabul, the treatment of Afghan detainees following their transfer to Government of Afghanistan (GoA) control,” he reported. “In our view, this would be most effective if accompanied by an attempt to reduce the numbers of Afghans detained by Cdn regular forces and handed to GoA. In our view, detainee methodologies in the field are too expansive, resulting in the detention of a significant number of Afghans who are not/ not insurgents or combatants. This view is shared [by a senior Afghan intelligence official].”

Is it possible then that not all of the individuals transferred to Afghan authorities were evildoers? If so, would those otherwise innocent individuals be more worthy of protection from torture?

Alas, that tidy two-word catchphrase does not quite explicitly answer such questions. But in the interests of expanding the discussion, Mr. Baird rose later in the hour to read from one of the documents tabled yesterday.

“Let us look at what certain detainees had to say,” he said. “One detainee, whom I will call Bob, indicated that the food and water he was provided and the things he was given to eat included meat, rice, fruits, bread and beans. He indicated that he was treated well. That is what some of the documents released yesterday said.”

And with that said Mr. Baird returned to his seat and shared a laugh with Tony Clement and Jim Flaherty.

Of course, there was as well the detainee who reported being “beaten with electrical cables while blindfolded.” And the detainee who reported being hit with cables and wires and shocked with electricity. And the detainee who reported being punched in the mouth. And the detainee who said he’d been slapped. And the detainee who reported being knocked unconscious and then beaten with a rubber hose. And the detainee who said he’d been beaten with a power cable. And the detainee who said he’d been beaten with a cable and threatened with death and sexual assault. And the detainee who said three others had “their fingers cut and burned with a lighter.”

Mr. Baird did not bother to give any of these detainees cute pet names. They will have to make due with being known collectively as “Taliban prisoners,” however much or little that is supposed to mean.

The Stats. Asbestos, seven questions. Canada Post and the G8 summit, five questions each. Immigration and Afghanistan, four questions each. Senate, employment, poverty and flooding, two questions each. The disabled, terrorism, bilingualism, railways, fisheries and infrastructure, one question each.

John Baird, 11 answers. Christian Paradis, eight answers. Stephen Harper, six answers. Diane Finley and Jason Kenney, three answers each. Jim Flaherty and Peter Van Loan, two answers each. Steven Fletcher, Keith Ashfield, Lisa Raitt and Denis Lebel, one answer each.

Source: Macleans 

Rob Ford not changing his mind on Pride

Despite the backlash, Mayor Rob Ford says he isn’t changing his mind about skipping the Pride Parade to go to the family cottage.

“My family comes first,” Mayor Ford told reporters on Thursday who had traveled to a ribbon cutting of a medical supply store in Etobicoke. “I’m going up to the cottage. I don’t know how much more clear I can be and that’s the end of story.” He would not say if he will attend any event during the ten day festival. “I’ll take one day at a time, I’m lucky if I know what I’m doing tomorrow.”

Although not every mayor has attended, it has been a longstanding tradition for Toronto’s chief magistrate to march in the central Pride event, which draws revelers from around the world. Former mayors David Miller, Barbara Hall and Mel Lastman all marched. Criticism that Mr. Ford is not has drawn fierce criticism, with some raising the Mayor’s past controversial remarks regarding the gay community, and his stance that the city should not be funding the parade.

Mr. Ford dismissed as “nonsense” any suggestion that he is homophobic. When asked directly by a reporter if he is, Mr. Ford did not answer.

Source: National Post 

MPs slam Tories for blocking asbestos listing

Opposition MPs slammed the Harper government Thursday over Canada's opposition to putting chrysotile asbestos on an international list of hazardous chemicals.

The opposition side of the House of Commons lined up several MPs to demand why Canada refuses to let the chemical be listed in the Rotterdam Convention's Annex III.

The listing would allow countries like India, where companies import the lung cancer-causing material for construction, to deny it entry if officials don't think they can properly handle it.

"Asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known. More people die from asbestos than all industrial causes combined, yet Canada continues to be one of the largest producers and exporters in the world. We are exporting human misery on a monumental scale," said NDP MP Pat Martin. "Our position is morally and ethically reprehensible."

Liberal MP Marc Garneau says despite Industry Minister Christian Paradis' insistence that asbestos can be used safely, he should know that's not the case in developing countries.

"This minister knows full well that it's very difficult to use chrysotile in the proper working conditions. The procedures, the training, the complex equipment to use it in a safe way so that fibres aren't accidentally breathed in," Garneau said.

"He cannot assure us that this is not being used improperly in countries that import it, Third World countries ... This is willful blindness."

But Paradis returned to the response he and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver have been offering since the Rotterdam Convention meetings started in Geneva, Switzerland, earlier this week.

"We know that recent studies show that chrysotile can be used in a safe and controlled manner," Paradis said. "This is risk management, so we know that chrysotile can be used safely in a controlled environment."

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Raitt open to Canada Post bill changes

The Conservative government is open to changing its back-to-work legislation, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said Thursday as MPs stared down the possibility of an all-night debate on sending Canada Post employees back to work and ending a lockout.

"If they have real amendments, they should present them to us and we'll take a look at them … we're open to take amendments. You have to consider them. That's part of debate," said Raitt.

NDP Leader Jack Layton suggested in question period the government remove a controversial section of the bill that would give the union a lower salary than the one proposed by management in the last round of talks. The NDP plans to move an amendment to the bill Thursday evening to take out the salary portion.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the offer is fair.

"The wage rates set in the bill are only fair. They reflect what we've negotiated with federal public servants," Harper said. "The role of the Canadian government is to act in the higher interest of the Canadian population and the Canadian economy, not in the interests of those that are around the table."

NDP Leader Jack Layton said Canada Post has no reason to negotiate when the government is offering a lower salary than the corporation's management.
"The prime minister has rendered collective bargaining pointless in this country… Why bother to bargain?" he said. "It's a terrible precedent."
Harper shot back, accusing the NDP of taking the union's side.

"The government, unlike the NDP, is not beholden to one of the parties at the table. The government represents the wider interests of the Canadian economy," he said.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Police union calls for Sid Ryan to resign over ‘inflammatory’ comment

The Toronto Police union is calling for Sid Ryan to resign after the labour leader suggested police may plant agent provocateurs among the G20 protesters to incite violence.

“It’s a totally irresponsible, inflammatory and idiotic thing to say for someone in his position. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association.

“It’s a total insult to police everywhere.”

At a Wednesday news conference for the “People First!” rally, Ryan said he had concerns the police would use disguised agents to cause chaos in order to provoke a violent response from security forces.

“They’ve done it before,” said Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. “I’m concerned about that as a tactic to justify police presence and justify the spending of $1.3 billion on security.”

McCormack dismissed the comment as “cheap publicity” at the expense of Toronto police’s reputation.

“At the very least, Sid Ryan should apologize to our membership,” he said. “We’re not going to stand by and let him make these irresponsible comments.”

Ryan wasn’t the only one to raise the issue of agent provocateurs.

The Council of Canadians called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to give his assurance that no agent provocateurs will be used during the G8 or G20 protests.

“I’m deeply concerned that neither you, nor anyone in the government, nor the Integrated Security Unit itself, have ruled out the use of agent provocateurs at the upcoming G8 and G20 summits,” says Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow in a letter to Harper.

“Three undercover police officers attempted to incite violence in 2007 at the Montebello protest against the Security and Prosperity Partnership. The proof of their actions was caught on film,” Barlow wrote. “The Sûreté du Québec was forced to admit that they were police officers, dressed in black and holding rocks. Yet, to date no one has been held accountable and through his silence, Harper appears to have given tacit approval of the use of agents provocateurs.”

Source: Toronto Star 

Latest on Obama’s War Powers Act Workaround

More evidence emerged this weekend that could inflame what’s become a growing controversy about the legitimacy of U.S. operations in Libya.

We’ve been following how the Obama White House—and other administrations before it—have sidestepped the War Powers Act. As we noted, the law is supposed to limit how long a president can continue military engagements without congressional approval. The administration last week argued that the United States was playing a supporting role in the NATO-led mission in Libya and that its limited involvement did not rise to the level of “hostilities” that would require approval under the War Powers Act. (Read our earlier explainer.)

As it turns out, congressional critics weren’t the only ones who didn’t buy the Obama administration’s legal analysis. Top lawyers in the Pentagon and Justice Department also disagreed and were overruled, reported the New York Times on Saturday:

Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.”

It’s common for presidents to look for ways around the War Powers Act. As we noted, one president after another has questioned its constitutionality in the nearly 40 years since its enactment. But in developing his own argument around the law, Obama took the rare step of overruling the Office of Legal Counsel, according to the Times:

The administration followed an unusual process in developing its position. Traditionally, the Office of Legal Counsel solicits views from different agencies and then decides what the best interpretation of the law is. The attorney general or the president can overrule its views, but rarely do.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said last week that President Obama was personally involved in formulating the analysis and that he “worked with White House Counsel and his team.” President Obama ultimately sided with the argument advanced by White House counsel Robert Bauer and State Department legal adviser Harold Koh, according to the Times.

“We do not expect every person to agree with this,” Carney told reporters. “We believe that it is accurate and sound legal analysis.”

A Justice Department spokesman told the Times that the views of its lawyers “were heard, as were other views, and the president then made the decision as was appropriate for him to do so.”

Sunday marked the 90th day of the United States’ military involvement in Libya—a day that was punctuated by NATO’s admission that one of its airstrikes missed its target and may have killed civilians.

Disagreement over the War Powers Act has divided lawmakers, including those who support the operations in Libya.

As we've noted, House Speaker John Boehner, who has said the United States has a "moral obligation" to stand with the Libyan people, hasn't always been consistent about whether the president is in violation of the War Powers Act. While Boehner has criticized the White House for not abiding by the law, he has also previously questioned the law's constitutionality.

The Los Angeles Times reports today that the controversy is causing a rift within Republican ranks, as Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham openly criticized their own party over the weekend for using partisanship as a wedge on an issue where there's no real policy disagreement.

Source: ProPublica 

Newt Gingrich Charity Paid Cash To Gingrich For-Profit Business

A non-profit charity founded by Newt Gingrich to promote freedom, faith and free enterprise also served as another avenue to promote Gingrich's political views, and came dangerously close, some experts say, to crossing a bright line that is supposed to separate tax-exempt charitable work from both the political process and such profit-making enterprises as books and DVDs.

The charity, Renewing American Leadership, not only featured Gingrich on its website and in fundraising letters, it also paid $220,000 over two years to one of Gingrich's for-profit companies, Gingrich Communications. It purchased cases of Gingrich's books and bought up copies of DVDs produced by another of the former House speaker's entities, Gingrich Productions.

"The spirit of operating a non-profit organization is to work for the public good regardless of the politics that are involved," said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, in an interview with ABC News. "I believe it violates that spirit."

Asked about the allegations this morning prior to a speech in New Hampshire, Gingrich urged an ABC News reporter to focus on his speech.

"I'm not concerned about that. The American people aren't concerned about that. Try covering the speech," Gingrich said as he left a campaign event. When the reporter tried to follow up, Gingrich got in his waiting car and slammed the door.

ABC News was engaged for weeks in discussions with top Gingrich advisors about money from Gingrich's tax-exempt charity that went to his for-profit businesses -- known as related-party transactions -- which were never disclosed on the charity's tax forms. ABC News found evidence of the payments in a May 2011 audit commissioned by the West Virginia secretary of state's office. Many of ABC News's questions remained unanswered last week when Gingrich's presidential campaign team resigned en masse, citing dismay with the candidate's lackluster approach to his bid. Questions were resent to Gingrich's new team, but they did not generate a reply by the time of publication.

Full Article
Source: ABC news 

New Hampshire Minimum Wage Restricted By Republicans

New Hampshire legislators voted to override a veto by Democratic Gov. John Lynch on Wednesday, paving the way for a new law to restrict the state's minimum wage.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Carol McGuire and strongly backed by GOP leadership, automatically ties the state minimum wage to the federal minimum wage, assuring that New Hampshire's rate is as low as it can legally be.

With its minimum wage currently set at the federal rate of $7.25 per hour, New Hampshire is ensuring that it will continue to have the lowest minimum wage in all of New England. Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut all have state minimum wages between $7.40 and $8.25 an hour.

The fight over McGuire's bill led to some unusual stances for New Hampshire politicians. McGuire has been honored by the libertarian-leaning New Hampshire Liberty Alliance and enjoyed Tea Party support, yet she essentially argued that the state should defer to the feds when it comes to the minimum wage.

Meanwhile, the Democratic governor made a states' rights argument for killing McGuire's bill. Lynch said New Hampshire shouldn't relinquish its right to set its own wage rate.

The governor's spokesman, Colin Manning, told HuffPost that as a result of the law New Hampshire now "cedes state control and authority" to the federal government.

"New Hampshire has had a minimum wage law since 1949, and neither our citizens nor our businesses have called for its repeal," Manning wrote in an email. "There is no need to undermine our state's economic strategy or cede our state authority to the federal government, which is why the governor vetoed the bill."

Calls to McGuire and Republican House Speaker William O'Brien seeking comment were not returned.

But in a statement after Lynch's veto, O'Brien accused the governor of acting on "an anti-business philosophy" and "removing the 'open for business' sign" from New Hampshire by trying to maintain the current minimum wage flexibility.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Accused G20 ringleaders challenge bail conditions

Two alleged G20 riot ringleaders have launched a legal challenge of a bail condition barring them from participating in protests or public demonstrations.

Alex Hundert, 30, and Amanda Hiscocks, 37, submitted a court filing for a bail review on Thursday in Ontario Superior Court. They are among the 17 charged with conspiring to organize riots and vandalism during the G20 summit. Both were arrested in a pre-dawn raid on June 26, the first day of the summit.

Since their arrests, the pair has been subjected to a slew of restrictive bail conditions, including one banning them from planning, attending or participating in any public demonstrations.

In September, Hundert was arrested for breaching this bail condition — his second of three arrests since the G20 — after he participated in a panel discussion at Ryerson University called “Strengthening Our Resolve: Movement Building and Ongoing Resistance to the G20 Agenda.”

Hundert said Thursday the courts are overly vague in their definition of the word “demonstration,” interpreting it as including any public event where political views are being expressed.

He contends the bail condition has prevented them from engaging in their day-to-day work and violates their constitutional right to freedom of speech, expression and assembly.

“They had intended to prevent us from going to meetings where street protests might be planned and the Crown and the police have decided to apply it in such a way that says we cannot participate in our communities at all,” Hundert said. “The idea that any public meeting with any political views being expressed is a ‘demonstration’ is essentially what we’re challenging today.”

Hundert said his goal is not to have the bail condition removed, but to set a precedent and have the definition of “demonstration” clarified in a court of law.

“The filing is to prevent them from being able to use this condition in the future as a mechanism for preventing people from participating in their communities,” he said.

The bail review sought by Hundert and Hiscocks will be heard July 28, the one-year anniversary of Hiscocks’s release from jail on G20 charges.

More than 1,100 people were arrested during last year’s G20 summit weekend, the biggest mass arrest in Canadian history.

Since then, only 317 were charged with summit-related criminal offences and 59 per cent of those have had their charges withdrawn.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Fighting For America's Middle Class, Netroots Nation 2011

On Saturday, June 18th, I was given the honor of speaking at Netroots Nation 2011 in Minneapolis, the 6th annual convention of progressive grassroots leaders and activists. I was the opening speaker at Saturday's Morning Keynote session, which focused on how to save the middle class and build progressive infrastructure. I had an amazing time at the conference and met a ton of passionate activists and progressives.

It was fitting that Netroots Nation was in Minnesota this year. Minnesota is the state that sent Hubert Humphrey to the U.S. Senate, where he cheerfully waged--and usually won--great battles in the name of the young and the old, the poor and the vulnerable, the oppressed and the disenfranchised.

It's the state where Walter Mondale rose to become the living embodiment of common-sense Midwestern progressive values. And it's the state where Paul Wellstone became my hero--and the hero of a generation of progressives who believed, as he did, that we all do better when we all do better.

These Minnesotans were instrumental in establishing the America we know and love today - from building the social safety net to establishing workers' rights to investing in our manufacturing sector - they helped build the middle class. And defending those progressive values is crucial to saving the middle class today.

My speech, entitled: "The Attack on America's Middle Class, and the Plan to Fight Back," laid out some ideas on what we can do to preserve these values that began as 'progressive,' but have become simply American.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Ford won’t back down over skipping Pride parade

Mayor Rob Ford is sticking to his guns and says he will not be attending the Gay Pride Parade in Toronto on Canada Day. Instead he will spend the day with his family at the cottage – a 30 year tradition.

At a scrum outside an Etobicoke medical supply store, Ford told assembled reporters after being asked about his decision to spend the weekend at the family cottage: “My family comes first.”

When asked whether he would be attending any of the Gay Pride week events, he said: “I’ll take it one day at a time. My family comes first.”

Ford kept repeating the phrase as reporters continued to grill him on the topic. When a Star reporter asked him if he was homophobic, Ford looked away, mumbled something under his breath and didn’t answer the question.

Ford’s statement comes after former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman joined the chorus of voices urging Ford to choose the Pride festival over his Muskoka cottage.

“I think he’ll come around,” said Lastman, who in 1998 overcame deep unease with flamboyant displays of gay pride — and public nudity — and was rewarded with a hero’s welcome as he rode on an antique fire truck.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

With executive pay, rich pull away from rest of America

It was the 1970s, and the chief executive of a leading U.S. dairy company, Kenneth J. Douglas, lived the good life. He earned the equivalent of about $1 million today. He and his family moved from a three-bedroom home to a four-bedroom home, about a half-mile away, in River Forest, Ill., an upscale Chicago suburb. He joined a country club. The company gave him a Cadillac. The money was good enough, in fact, that he sometimes turned down raises. He said making too much was bad for morale.

Forty years later, the trappings at the top of Dean Foods, as at most U.S. big companies, are more lavish. The current chief executive, Gregg L. Engles, averages 10 times as much in compensation as Douglas did, or about $10 million in a typical year. He owns a $6 million home in an elite suburb of Dallas and 64 acres near Vail, Colo., an area he frequently visits. He belongs to as many as four golf clubs at a time — two in Texas and two in Colorado. While Douglas’s office sat on the second floor of a milk distribution center, Engles’s stylish new headquarters occupies the top nine floors of a 41-story Dallas office tower. When Engles leaves town, he takes the company’s $10 million Challenger 604 jet, which is largely dedicated to his needs, both business and personal.

The evolution of executive grandeur — from very comfortable to jet-setting — reflects one of the primary reasons that the gap between those with the highest incomes and everyone else is widening.

For years, statistics have depicted growing income disparity in the United States, and it has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. In 2008, the last year for which data are available, for example, the top 0.1 percent of earners took in more than 10 percent of the personal income in the United States, including capital gains, and the top 1 percent took in more than 20 percent. But economists had little idea who these people were. How many were Wall street financiers? Sports stars? Entrepreneurs? Economists could only speculate, and debates over what is fair stalled.

Now a mounting body of economic research indicates that the rise in pay for company executives is a critical feature in the widening income gap.

The largest single chunk of the highest-income earners, it turns out, are executives and other managers in firms, according to a landmark analysis of tax returns by economists Jon Bakija, Adam Cole and Bradley T. Heim. These are not just executives from Wall Street, either, but from companies in even relatively mundane fields such as the milk business.

The top 0.1 percent of earners make about $1.7 million or more, including capital gains. Of those, 41 percent were executives, managers and supervisors at non-financial companies, according to the analysis, with nearly half of them deriving most of their income from their ownership in privately-held firms. An additional 18 percent were managers at financial firms or financial professionals at any sort of firm. In all, nearly 60 percent fell into one of those

Full Article
Source: Washington Post 

If Americans Don't Get Hurt, War Is No Longer War

The Obama administration has come up with a remarkable justification for going to war against Libya without the Congressional approval required by the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

American planes are taking off, they are entering Libyan air space, they are locating targets, they are dropping bombs, and the bombs are killing and injuring people and destroying things. It is war. Some say it is a good war and some say it is a bad war, but surely it is a war.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration insists it is not a war. Why? Because, according to “United States Activities in Libya,” a thirty-two-page report that the administration released last week, “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.”

In other words, the balance of forces is so lopsided in favor of the United States that no Americans are dying or are threatened with dying. War is only war, it seems, when Americans are dying, when we die. When only they, the Libyans, die, it is something else for which there is as yet apparently no name. When they attack, it is war. When we attack, it is not.

This cannot be classified as anything but strange thinking and it depends, in turn, on a strange fact: that, in our day, it is indeed possible for some countries (or maybe only our own), for the first time in history, to wage war without receiving a scratch in return. This was nearly accomplished in the bombing of Serbia in 1999, in which only one American plane was shot down (and the pilot rescued).

The epitome of this new warfare is the predator drone, which has become an emblem of the Obama administration. Its human operators can sit at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada or in Langley, Virginia, while the drone floats above Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or Libya, pouring destruction down from the skies. War waged in this way is without casualties for the wager because none of its soldiers are near the scene of battle—if that is even the right word for what is going on.

Some strange conclusions follow from this strange thinking and these strange facts. In the old scheme of things, an attack on a country was an act of war, no matter who launched it or what happened next. Now, the Obama administration claims that if the adversary cannot fight back, there is no war.

It follows that adversaries of the United States have a new motive for, if not equaling us, then at least doing us some damage. Only then will they be accorded the legal protections (such as they are) of authorized war. Without that, they are at the mercy of the whim of the president.

The War Powers Resolution permits the president to initiate military operations only when the nation is directly attacked, when there is “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” The Obama administration, however, justifies its actions in the Libyan intervention precisely on the grounds that there is no threat to the invading forces, much less the territories of the United States.

There is a parallel here with the administration of George W. Bush on the issue of torture (though not, needless to say, a parallel between the Libyan war itself, which I oppose but whose merits can be reasonably debated, and torture, which was wholly reprehensible). President Bush wanted the torture he was ordering not to be considered torture, so he arranged to get lawyers in the Justice department to write legal-sounding opinions excluding certain forms of torture, such as waterboarding, from the definition of the word. Those practices were thenceforward called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Now, Obama wants his Libyan war not to be a war and so has arranged to define a certain kind of war—the American-casualty-free kind—as not war (though without even the full support of his own lawyers). Along with Libya, a good English word—war—is under attack.

In these semantic operations of power upon language, a word is separated from its commonly accepted meaning. The meanings of words are one of the few common grounds that communities naturally share. When agreed meanings are challenged, no one can use the words in question without stirring up spurious “debates,” as happened with the word torture. For instance, mainstream news organizations, submissive to George Bush’s decisions on the meanings of words, stopped calling waterboarding torture and started calling it other things, including “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but also “harsh treatment,” “abusive practices,” and so on.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Michigan Residents File Lawsuit Challenging Emergency Law Installing Unelected City Managers

A group of Michigan residents have filed a suit challenging a controversial new state law that allows the governor to appoint an unelected emergency manager or corporation to take over financially distressed towns and cities and effectively fire elected officials. The law empowers these unelected managers to sell off public property, shred union contacts, and privatize government services, without any input from local voters. Michigan now has unelected emergency managers running the schools in Detroit, as well as the cities of Pontiac, Ecorse and Benton Harbor. We speak to longtime Detroit resident, Edith Lee-Payne, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and John Philo, legal director of the Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, which filed the lawsuit against the state of Michigan.


Obama Plan for Afghan War Withdrawal Will Leave Troop Size at Pre-Surge Levels

President Obama’s plan to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan still leaves more in the country than when he came into office. In a televised address, Obama said he will also bring home another 23,000 troops by the end of summer in 2012, leaving around 70,000 military forces, plus thousands of contractors. We discuss the longest war in U.S. history with Gareth Porter, an investigative journalist and historian specializing in U.S. national security policy. “There is an effort here to create a narrative that, as he put it, the war is receding, the tide of war is receding, when in fact nothing of the sort is happening,” says Porter. “Clearly, the Taliban are carrying out counterattacks this year and will do so again next year. That’s not going to come to an end.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Kansas: The First Abortion-Free State?

If new guidelines from the Kansas health department are enforced, the last three abortion clinics in the state could be forced to shut their doors this summer.

Back in April, the state legislature passed a law directing the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to author new facility standards for abortion clinics, which the staunchly anti-abortion GOP governor, Sam Brownback, signed into law on May 16. The law also requires the health department to issue new licenses each year, and it grants additional authority to health department inspectors to conduct unannounced inspections, and to fine or shut down clinics.

The department wasted no time in drafting the new rules, issuing the final version on June 17 and informing clinics that they would have to comply with the rules by July 1, as the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, told the AP that inspectors were expected at their clinic in Overland Park, Kansas, on Wednesday. There are only three clinics left in the state: Planned Parenthood's, a clinic in Overland Park, and the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City.

The new requirements require facilities to add extra bathrooms, drastically expand waiting and recovery areas, and even add larger janitor's closets, as one clinic employee told me—changes that clinics will have a heck of a time pulling off by the deadline. Under the new rule, clinics must also aquire state certification to admit patients, a process that takes 90 to 120 days, the staffer explained. Which makes it impossible for clinics to comply. And clinics that don't comply with the rules will face fines or possible closure.

Women seeking abortions already have a tough time in Kansas, where providers face death threats and evictions. Earlier this year, the state  approved one law banning abortion after 20 weeks gestation, and another restricting private insurance coverage for abortions.

Full Article
Source: Mother Jones 

House Votes To Ease Offshore Drilling Rules

WASHINGTON -- The House has approved a bill removing a barrier to companies seeking to drill for oil in some areas offshore.

The measure was approved Wednesday by 253-166 vote. It would give the Environmental Protection Agency six months to decide on air pollution permits for offshore rigs or platforms exploring for oil. It also limits challenges to the EPA's appeals board and restricts which emissions can be evaluated.

Shell Oil Co. scrapped plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska in February after the appeals board said it would review its permit.

The delay has been criticized by Republicans for blocking oil production and is the primary reason for the bill.

The White House opposes the measure, saying it deprives citizens of a way to challenge permits and would also increase air pollution.

Source: Huffington 

Having a majority means never having to say you're sorry -- even about the 'Taliban Jack' slur

We're still waiting for that apology to Opposition Leader Jack Layton from the Harper Conservatives.

You know, the one they owe him for getting their on-line Tory Rage Machine ™ and their Tame Mainstream Media Auxiliary ™ to label him "Taliban Jack" back in 2006 when the New Democratic Party leader had the temerity to suggest that the so-called NATO coalition should open lines of communication to the Pashtun fighters labelled the Taliban by the West.

Alert readers will recall how Defence Minister Peter MacKay, at the time the minister of foreign affairs, sniped at Layton: "Is it next going to be tea with Osama Bin Laden? This cannot happen!"

The TRM, of course, went much farther, demonstrating with its "Taliban Jack" smear its unchallenged ability, as the famous advertisement on Craigslist put it, to "make up facts," and use "sarcasm and personal insults" to "score points" and "stir outrage." (Perhaps I should call this an alleged ad. Can it really be real? I mean, obviously it can, given the vicious creativity of the TRM, but one so rarely sees an admission of malfeasance so crystalline in its clarity that one has to wonder!)

We've known since last spring that the U.S. government was talking to the Taliban. However, that information has really gone mainstream in the past two weeks, with the noisy complaints from Afghanistan's Western-propped President Hamid Karzai about the Americans talking to his foes, and the apparent confirmation of the talks by retiring U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates in the foreign press.

It is reasonable to speculate now that the NATO-Taliban talks were meant to set the stage for U.S. President Barack Obama's declaration of victory in Afghanistan yesterday and his announcement that 10,000 American troops would be withdrawn from that country by the end of this year, with another 23,000 out by the fall of 2012.

Full Article

The attack on workers: Back(sliding) (in)to the future

The public response to recent labour disputes has been a disturbing sideshow to the return of Parliament. What's remarkable is the level of nastiness that gets tossed around, littered with references to "union stooges" and the ubiquitous "socialist dinosaurs."

Perhaps the most obvious line of attack is based on a backdrop of selfishness-"I don't have benefits/vacation/job security, so why should they?"

It is an argument borne of misplaced resentment. The understandable anger at an increasingly stratified society is being directed not at the handful of people who are benefiting handsomely from an increasingly unfair and unequal economy, but rather at those individuals and organizations trying to make that same economic system a little less unfair for themselves and eventually for others.

As a strategy, though, it's completely backwards: rather than resenting unionized workers for what they have achieved, doesn't it make more sense to say: "what great benefits-I would like to have them too" (or maybe, "I would like my kids to have those opportunities, even if I don't")? Isn't that how we improve living and working conditions for all of us?

I don't understand the apparently pervasive rationale that unless everyone (or at least the person doing the complaining) has these rights, no one should. How does that guarantee any kind of social progress? Do we reject social improvements out of sympathy for those who didn't benefit from them? Or do we initiate social progress by creating examples of good policy and practice to which we all collectively work to aspire? Like, for example, paid maternity leave-which many of us now have as a direct result of the postal workers' fight for that benefit in the 80s.

If the founders of Medicare thought that establishing public health care would be unfair to those who grew up without it, where would we be today?

But there's also another theme that's been percolating on message boards (following news stories about what has become a full-fledged lockout of postal workers by Canada Post, and the recent tabling of back-to-work legislation by the federal government)-one deeply rooted in elitism and adherence to a rigid class system.

"What makes them think they deserve more?" "You only need a grade 6 education to do their job." "Why should unskilled labour get paid $50,000 a year?"

Funny, isn't it, how people claim to respect those who do "an honest day's work." Yet when that "honest day's work" comes with decent wages, benefits, vacation days, a pension and job security-you know, if it's unionized-suddenly those same hardworking folks are "coddled," their work somehow not so "honest" anymore.

Workers are universally loved (or at least they get some rhetorical "props") when they're downtrodden...but the moment they have the gall to look beyond their "place," they're met with a wave of righteous indignation: who do they think they are, anyway?

"They think they work harder than you and me," someone responded on facebook when I voiced my support for postal workers. "Well, maybe they do," I said. I'm certainly not out there every day carrying upwards of 35 lbs of mail for hours at a time, trudging through Ottawa streets in minus 40 winters and plus 40 summers, and dealing with the realities of a job that has the second-highest rate of work-related injuries in the federal sector.

The implication is that some jobs (and the people who do them) just aren't deserving of a good wage, security, or safe working conditions. Times are tight (for working people, though not for CEOs), they have a job, and that should be enough for them. Living wages are for slackers, and unions have to get with the times.

Really? So this is the new definition of progress: household debt is at record levels and working people (particularly the younger ones who are just entering the job market) are told they have to do more and expect less while paying off student loans, raising families, and caring for aging parents.

Ironically, in resisting this so-called "new reality" for their current and future members (and more broadly, for society) unions are painted as obstructionist and out of touch. But it's our increasingly stratified system -- the one so many people, against even their own best interests, tie themselves into knots defending -- that's truly untenable.


Ford turns back on gay community by shunning Pride

We thought that someone would have been able to convince Mayor Rob Ford that when a significant Toronto community stages an annual festival known around the world, the mayor's schedule is adjusted — no, designed — to accommodate it.

We thought someone would have reminded Mayor Ford that despite his own personal or religious views, despite his unease around gay people, despite his natural or cultivated antipathy towards such Torontonians, he had to do the mayor thing — the grip and grin, the bringing of greetings on behalf of the people of Toronto.

We thought wrong. Ford proves again he's a different breed of cat.

The mayor said Wednesday he will not attend the Pride Parade, a week Sunday; neither will he grace the other Pride Week events with his presence. Instead he will be with his family at the cottage.

One of the problems of a black-and-white existence is the absence of grey, the inability to countenance a blurring of issues, and a stoic rejection of compromise in the face of compelling and competing arguments.

To many in Ford Nation, the hard-core conservative traditionalists who form Mayor Ford's base support, this is an attractive attribute.

It's an attribute the mayor possesses in spades.

It's also a trait that creates dissonance for a mayor, elected last October to serve Toronto's more than 2.5 million people — all of them — with their rainbow of issues, outlooks, religions, race, orientation, politics, philosophies and ethnicity.

Toronto, in all its glorious diversity, is a challenge to someone with a rigid outlook on life. Every weekend features another strand of city life. Runners take over the streets one weekend, cyclists the next, race cars the following week. Carnival-crazed Caribbeans run ahead of bobbing Bollywood boosters and grub-grazing Greeks on the Danforth ...

Toronto's festivals feature every conceivable ethnic group and race. If you are allergic to the mad cacophony of an integrated city then you don't run for mayor; you opt for a more monochromatic municipality off the beaten track.

Without doubt, Toronto's mayor must accept, no, embrace, everyone that's legally part of the community. Mayor Ford, instead, has turned his back on the city's gay and lesbian community. Not directly, mind you. Not yet. But symbolically, for sure.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Mayor misses out on opportunity to celebrate diversity

Rob Ford’s decision not to march in the Pride parade is profoundly disappointing. It makes him look petty, stubborn and mean. It is an embarrassment for a city that proclaims its diversity to the world.

The invitation to join the parade – still very much open, in case the mayor relents – was a golden opportunity for Mr. Ford to show he can rise above the narrow-minded provincialism he has often displayed in the past. It was a chance to grow. By turning his back on Pride, he is missing it.

Toronto has changed immensely, and for the better, since Mayor Art Eggleton refused to proclaim Gay Pride Day in the 1980s. Mayors of Toronto have been marching in the parade since Barbara Hall wore the chain of office. Police Chief Bill Blair makes a point of being there to build bridges to the gay community. So do provincial and federal cabinet ministers of all political stripes. Brian Burke, general manager of the Leafs, is marching. Why not Mr. Ford?

The mayor says he and his family have a long tradition of going up north to their cottage on the Canada Day weekend. Those times are precious, no doubt, but surely he could take a one-day break this year, his first as mayor.

Pride is a huge event in Toronto. The parade is one of the biggest of its kind in the world, bringing half a million people to march and party in the Gay Village. Once a fringe protest, it has become an established mainstream event that attracts major corporate sponsors and millions in tourist dollars.

Mr. Ford’s decision to absent himself is an unmistakable snub, not just to an important city festival but to the whole gay community. When mayors march in Pride, it sends a signal of acceptance to a once-marginalized and still vulnerable minority. Even in these days of broad tolerance and legal same-sex marriage, men and women are still shunned, bullied and beaten for being gay or lesbian. Is the mayor aware of that? Does he give a damn?

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail  

Rob Ford’s shameful Pride plans

Pride is one of Toronto's biggest tourist attractions and a massive boon to the local economy… so naturally our fiscally minded mayor is going to skip it and head to the cottage instead.

Today, Gayronto’s slowest-learning mayor Rob Ford told reporters that, instead of attending this year’s Pride parade (Toronto is home to one of the largest pride parades, this year held over the Canada Day long weekend, and in 2014 will host WorldPride ), he’ll be going to the cottage. Richie Rich defended his decision by saying, “Since I [was] a little boy we always used to go up north to to our cottage and I’m carrying on the tradition that my father had,” and that he left his mayoral campaign for the same reason last year.

It’s been well-established by Rob Ford many, many, many times that he’s not a friend to his gay constituents. Brother Doug Ford has, as usual, attempted to control the most recent damage by saying that he might come back to Toronto on the Sunday of the long weekend for the parade, despite having “20-odd people going up to our cottage for Canada Day.” (Oh, well, if there’s 20 people…) He also said, “We’ll see if I can bring Rob” and added, in classic I-have-a-black-friend Ford style, that at last year’s parade he handed out rainbow stickers. (Ford’s predecessor, one-time Fab magazine leather-daddy cover boy David Miller, marched in Pride; so did the second-most-offensive mayor, Mel Lastman.)

Aside from the lazy homophobia of not showing up for such an important event is the kind of basic economic hypocrisy that Ford made a career of criticizing. Pride is big business, with a million people attending in 2010, and $136 million being spent during pride in 2009.

Source: The Grid 

Name game

Toronto is spawning a seemingly endless supply of bad new ideas these days. The most recent is the selling of naming rights to generate a little bit of money for a city that cut taxes and now finds it can’t fund basic programs.

We’re all used to corporate names permeating public space: Rogers Centre, Air Canada Centre. So some ask, what’s the difference if we put a few more brand names on a few more public buildings or public spaces?

Is it just a matter of degree? All but the strongest critics of corporate involvement in the public realm would likely accept a plaque on the wall if a company paid for an entire new subway or LRT line.

But the sums involved in the type of sponsorship we’re talking about don’t even come close to the totals needed for a new line or a subway station renovation. Corporate payment would be in the low millions at best, while station renos cost tens of millions, and subway lines billions.

From 90 to 98 per cent of the cost  (depending on the project) would still be carried by the taxpayer. So the debate is really about whether you’d sell naming rights on major public infrastructure for the equivalent of a few hundred thousand dollars a year on a multi-million-dollar, 10- to 30-year deal, because that’s the best of what’s on offer.

Only a few North America transit systems have sold naming rights. (Examples from outside North America aren’t very useful; the context is quite different.)

In Cleveland, the transit authority got $6.25 million for a new line in a 25-year naming deal. This works out to $250,000 a year – minus $50,000 to $100,000 in likely lost revenues, since other companies were excluded from advertising as a result of the contract.

Then there’s Chicago, where Apple has offered $3.9 million to renovate one station in exchange for naming rights and exclusive advertising. In New York, the private sector paid $4 million for one station – again, a few hundred thousand annually in a multi-year deal involving loss of existing ad revenue.

It should also be noted that so far, only one station in each city has been sold, despite the fact that both transit agencies have indicated they would accept more. But the market is likely limited because the novelty is limited, and therefore the appetite of the corporate sector.

Closer to home, the Toronto Community Foundation’s station renovation project, which brought us the Museum station revamp, had to put future station renos on hold because of insufficient corporate interest.

Full Article
Source: NOW magazine  

It’s hurry up & stop on bike plan

It was evident from the mayor’s impromptu photo op atop the art bike the other day that he hasn’t been on a two-wheeler for a while.

But hey – don’t need to know how to ride a bike to come up with a bike plan, right?

Not so fast.

The mayor’s bike plan, the one with separated lanes his chair of Public Works, Denzil Minnan-Wong, has been talking up for weeks, just got a huge flat. Kaboom.

The whole crashing mess is laid out in a 40-page preliminary report tabled by city Transportation staff last week and set for discussion at today’s meeting (Thursday, June 23) of the Works Committee. The promised 14 kilometres of separated bike lanes crisscrossing the core have been reduced to a short stretch on Bloor.

The bad news in a nutshell: staff is recommending no more cash for the Bloor Bikeway EA; no more separated bike lanes on Adelaide or Richmond – only a promise of further study; rescinding approvals on bike lanes not yet implemented on Bloor West between Mill Road and Beamish; and the removal (yes, you read that right) of bike lanes on Pharmacy and Birchmount. In other words, a huge step backwards for bike riders.

The upside (if you want to call it that): bike lanes on Dawes between Danforth Avenue and Vic Park, a separated bike lane on the Bloor Viaduct from Sherbourne to Broadview, and (maybe) separated bike lanes on Wellesley and Sherbourne in 2012.

The Bloor bit is not completely bad news on the face of it until you read between the lines of the bureaucratese.

The separated lane proposed for Bloor will be “utilizing the existing designated bike lane alignment.” Which means that those imagining stylish bollards and a few trees in giant pots to take in while riding should start thinking grey concrete barriers.

The separated lanes contemplated on Wellesley and Sherbourne are not a given either, but “subject to additional assessment and consultation” – namely, the number of parking spots that would have to be sacrificed to make room for them.

Full Article
Source: Now Magazine 

Wal-Mart’s Authoritarian Culture

MONDAY’S Supreme Court decision to block a class-action sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart was a huge setback for as many as 1.6 million current and former female employees of the world’s largest retailer. But the decision has consequences that range far beyond sex discrimination or the viability of class-action suits.

The underlying issue, which the Supreme Court has now ratified, is Wal-Mart’s authoritarian style, by which executives pressure store-level management to squeeze more and more from millions of clerks, stockers and lower-tier managers.

Indeed, the sex discrimination at Wal-Mart that drove the recent suit is the product not merely of managerial bias and prejudice, but also of a corporate culture and business model that sustains it, rooted in the company’s very beginnings.

In the 1950s and ’60s, northwest Arkansas, where Wal-Mart got its start, was poor, white and rural, in the midst of a wave of agricultural mechanization that generated a huge surplus of unskilled workers. To these men and women, the burgeoning chain of discount stores founded by Sam Walton was a godsend. The men might find dignity managing a store instead of a hardscrabble farm, while their wives and daughters could earn pin money clerking for Mr. Sam, as he was known. “The enthusiasm of Wal-Mart associates toward their jobs is one of the company’s greatest assets,” declared the firm’s 1973 annual report.

A patriarchal ethos was written into the Wal-Mart DNA. “Welcome Assistant Managers and Wives” read a banner at a 1975 meeting for executive trainees. And that corporate culture — “the single most important element in the continued, remarkable success of Wal-Mart,” asserted Don Soderquist, the company’s chief operating officer in the 1990s — was sustained not only by the hypercentralized managerial control that flowed from the Bentonville, Ark., home office but by the evangelical Protestantism that Mr. Soderquist and other executives encouraged.

Wal-Mart attorneys have argued, and the Supreme Court agreed this week, that even if sex discrimination was once part of the company’s culture, it is now ancient history: if any store managers are guilty of bias when it comes to promoting women, they are at odds with corporate policy. Wal-Mart is no longer an Ozark company; it is a cosmopolitan, multinational operation.

But that avoids the more essential point, namely that Wal-Mart views low labor costs and a high degree of workplace flexibility as a signal competitive advantage. It is a militantly anti-union company that has been forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to current and former employees for violations of state wage and hour laws.

Full Article
Source: New York Times 

Free to Search and Seize

THIS spring was a rough season for the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission. The Supreme Court ruled that the police could break into a house without a search warrant if, after knocking and announcing themselves, they heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. Then it refused to see a Fourth Amendment violation where a citizen was jailed for 16 days on the false pretext that he was being held as a material witness to a crime.

In addition, Congress renewed Patriot Act provisions on enhanced surveillance powers until 2015, and the F.B.I. expanded agents’ authority to comb databases, follow people and rummage through their trash even if they are not suspected of a crime.

None of these are landmark decisions. But together they further erode the privilege of privacy that was championed by Congress and the courts in the mid-to-late-20th century, when the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement was applied to the states, unconstitutionally seized evidence was ruled inadmissible in state trials, and privacy laws were enacted following revelations in the 1970s of domestic spying on antiwar and civil rights groups.

For over a decade now, the government has tried to make us more secure by chipping away at the one provision of the Bill of Rights that pivots on the word “secure” — the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The founding fathers, who sought security from government, would probably reject today’s conventional wisdom that liberty and security are at odds, and that one must be sacrificed for the other. In their experience, the chief threat to individual security came from government itself, as in the house-to-house searches conducted by British customs officers under blanket “writs of assistance.” After the Boston lawyer James Otis Jr. eloquently challenged the writs in 1761, John Adams, who was present in the crowded courtroom, wrote of the audience’s rage, “Then and there the child independence was born.”

Independent America’s answer to those searches was the Fourth Amendment, with its requirement that law enforcement have probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime can be found at a particular place and time before a judge issues a warrant.

The ingenious feature of this demand is that it makes criminal investigations more efficient and accurate, even as it preserves liberty. If that rule and others in the Bill of Rights are followed, the police waste less time chasing false leads, make fewer erroneous arrests and leave the community safer.

In other words, the framers handed down a system in which liberty and security were fused, one inseparable from the other. So it is hard to see how safety has been enhanced by the post-9/11 expansion of counterterrorism surveillance, which has uncovered hardly any known plots and instead burdens analysts with so much irrelevant noise that they have trouble hearing the ominous melodies.

A recent study by the Breakthrough Institute found only two cases that benefited from the secret warrants made easier by the Patriot Act. The rest, the report concluded, “were broken open due to the combination of well-deployed undercover agents, information from citizen or undercover informants and tips from foreign intelligence agencies.” The two exceptions were the Portland Seven, Oregon Muslims who tried to travel to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban in 2001, and Najibullah Zazi, a Colorado resident from Afghanistan who pleaded guilty last year to planning a suicide attack in the New York City subways.

Two successes in nearly a decade might be enough to satisfy a fearful public, but it is worth noting that both cases began with old-fashioned tips — the first from a landlord, the second from Pakistani intelligence linking Mr. Zazi to Al Qaeda — and could have been pursued with the law enforcement tools available before 9/11.

The false dichotomy of liberty versus security is accompanied by another myth: that someone else’s rights are always the ones at risk, that I can give up their rights for my safety. It seems a comfortable bargain. The terrorist is covertly monitored, the drug dealer is searched and the upstanding citizen is protected.

But it does not always work that way. The constitutional system of case law and precedent applies rulings on rights universally. So, legally, if a black man in a poor neighborhood can be stopped and frisked with minimal reason, so can a white woman in a rich neighborhood — even if the police tactics differ.

American history is replete with assaults on liberties that first target foreigners, minorities and those on the political margins, then spread toward the mainstream. The 1917 Espionage Act, for example, was used to prosecute American labor leaders and other critics of the government, and the 1798 Alien Enemies Act was revived after Pearl Harbor to intern American citizens of Japanese ancestry. A similar process is taking place now, as the F.B.I. has begun using counterterrorism tools to search, infiltrate and investigate groups of American peace activists and labor leaders in the Midwest.

The Fourth Amendment is weaker than it was 50 years ago, and this should worry everyone. “Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government,” Justice Robert H. Jackson, the former chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, wrote in 1949. “Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart.”

David K. Shipler, a former Times correspondent, is the author of “The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties.” He writes the blog The Shipler Report.
Source: New York Times 

Velvet glove comes off Harper government's labour relations agenda

Even though labour relations is largely a provincial responsibility in Canada, we were worried about what would happen in this field under a Harper majority. And it didn't take long to find out.

In the disputes at both Air Canada and Canada Post, the government waded into the fray in a pre-emptive and utterly one-sided manner. With both the timing of its intervention, and the details of its proposed legislation, the government in both cases was clearly acting to assist the respective employers to take away long-standing features of the existing contracts, and facilitate the downward ratcheting of compensation.

At Air Canada, the CAW (which represents 3800 customer service and reservations agents) and the company had been bargaining toward a new contract for several months. But by the time the two parties reached the deadline of midnight June 13, they were at loggerheads. The main sticking point was the company's demand for dramatic changes in pensions, including major cuts in pension benefits for existing workers, and the complete abolition of the defined benefit pension system for future hires.

Just a few hours after the strike began, the Harper majority government indicated that it would intervene to end the strike and arbitrate an outcome. This was an unprecedented intrusion into free collective bargaining.

Air Canada, of course, is a private corporation. These were free, legal negotiations between two private parties, and the work stoppage was fully legal.

The government's claim that the work stoppage at Air Canada would jeopardize Canada's economic recovery was laughable. I doubt you could find two economists in the whole country who believe that this strike was truly threatening the recovery (such as it is!).

For a government that supposedly believes in the virtues of private business and the free market, this intrusion was surprising. Worse yet, the government's intervention clearly supported the company's position, by setting in motion a loaded arbitration process that would clearly have assisted the company in reducing pension benefits.

The two sides continued bargaining, despite the complication posed by the government's intrusion. By June 21 a tentative agreement had been reached that largely preserved pension benefits for the existing workforce. The matter of pensions for future hires will be sent to a mediation and arbitration process that will be more neutral than the one contemplated by the government legislation.

Harper government officials claim that their actions led to a quick settlement of the strike. In reality, the government's intervention made this bargaining more difficult, and probably contributed to the strike. And the intervention will likely contribute to work stoppages at other bargaining tables in the future, because of its impact on the normal processes of collective bargaining.

Even before the CAW reached the June 13 strike deadline, it was clear the company was backing away from trying to reach a deal. Now we know why. The company was in contact with government officials, and had a strong indication of what the government had in store.

They knew that the government's intervention would tip the bargaining field in their favour. In this way, the government actually contributed to the strike, by hardening the company's position. Now that companies know the government will take their side in this way, the dynamics of future collective bargaining will be altered, and the risk of future conflicts exacerbated.

In essence, the government was willing to do Air Canada's dirty work for them. It has taken an even more Machiavellian approach to the dispute at Canada Post, where the union was careful to avoid a full work stoppage. But when management locked out the workers, then the government jumped in again -- proposing wage increases that were even lower than the company was already offering!

Every single worker in Canada, whatever sector they work in, is threatened by the government's unprecedented actions. Public sector or private sector. Essential service or not.

Full Article

Tories pick bullying over boldness

For the life of me, I can't understand why the Conservative government wants to involve itself in the Canada Post lockout. There are far more benefits from not getting mixed up in the dispute between the dying Crown monopoly and its overpaid workers.

Almost no one cares yet that the mail is not being delivered. So there is little to be gained politically from passing back-towork legislation, unless the government is looking to defuse an ugly situation before it becomes ugly (although there was no indication the postal lockout would ever have become ugly).

No doubt there are small businessmen and women (and some large businesses, too) whose invoices and payments have been disrupted. I also know a woman who is impatiently waiting for word from an exclusive pre-school about whether her progeny has been accepted. And our kids are waiting for tickets to an event that may already have occurred by the time the tickets arrive.

There are probably millions of such tiny inconveniences now being foisted on Canadians as a result of the lockout. Yet each time the mail is cut off, there is less sympathy among Canadians for a continuation of our public-monopoly postal service. And there is less need for one, too.

The current lockout will undoubtedly encourage hundreds of thousands of Canadians to sign up (finally) with their banks, credit card companies, oil companies, department stores, utilities and others for electronic bill delivery and payment, and for direct deposit of cheques, too. The business Canada Post loses from the current labour dispute will never come back because a) there are alternatives to the mail -lots of them -and b) the alternatives are superior in terms of speed, cost and efficiency.

Whenever and however the lockout is resolved, there will be even fewer Canadians than there are now using Canada Post. The 17% drop off in firstclass mail volumes in the past five years will be topped by a 30% drop off over the next five.

It's simply no longer necessary for a government or a government-owned entity like Canada Post to have a monopoly over the mail. All over Europe, government postal services have been privatized. The result has generally been faster, more efficient delivery. In Germany, for instance, the privatized mail service brings letters six days a week and has a much better one-and two-day delivery record for first-class mail than Canada Post. Indeed, Deutsche Post DHL has become larger than UPS and FedEx combined.

The longer the current disputes goes on, the more public pressure could have been brought to bear on privatizing here, too.

So just why would the Tories want to bring in back-to-work legislation and perhaps even invoke closure to ram it through Parliament?

The simplest explanation is: Doing so is the path of least resistance.

Sending posties back to work will rile fewer voters than would a contentious debate over privatization, and the Tories already have a fall full of contentious debates planned -getting rid of the long-gun registry, taking away the Wheat Board's monopoly over Prairie grain, adding seats in the House of Commons for Ontario, Alberta and B.C., and ending direct taxpayer subsidies for political parties.

Still, the willingness to end the postal lockout with legislation amounts to choosing bullying over boldness. It is easier to force a settlement and ignore the question of privatization than it is to make the case for getting rid of Canada Post, even though the latter is more in keeping with the Tories' freemarket slant.

Full Article
Source: National Post  

Climate of Denial

The first time I remember hearing the question "is it real?" was when I went as a young boy to see a traveling show put on by "professional wrestlers" one summer evening in the gym of the Forks River Elementary School in Elmwood, Tennessee.

The evidence that it was real was palpable: "They're really hurting each other! That's real blood! Look a'there! They can't fake that!" On the other hand, there was clearly a script (or in today's language, a "narrative"), with good guys to cheer and bad guys to boo.

But the most unusual and in some ways most interesting character in these dramas was the referee: Whenever the bad guy committed a gross and obvious violation of the "rules" — such as they were — like using a metal folding chair to smack the good guy in the head, the referee always seemed to be preoccupied with one of the cornermen, or looking the other way. Yet whenever the good guy — after absorbing more abuse and unfairness than any reasonable person could tolerate — committed the slightest infraction, the referee was all over him. The answer to the question "Is it real?" seemed connected to the question of whether the referee was somehow confused about his role: Was he too an entertainer?

That is pretty much the role now being played by most of the news media in refereeing the current wrestling match over whether global warming is "real," and whether it has any connection to the constant dumping of 90 million tons of heat-trapping emissions into the Earth's thin shell of atmosphere every 24 hours.

Admittedly, the contest over global warming is a challenge for the referee because it's a tag-team match, a real free-for-all. In one corner of the ring are Science and Reason. In the other corner: Poisonous Polluters and Right-wing Ideologues.

The referee — in this analogy, the news media — seems confused about whether he is in the news business or the entertainment business. Is he responsible for ensuring a fair match? Or is he part of the show, selling tickets and building the audience? The referee certainly seems distracted: by Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen, the latest reality show — the list of serial obsessions is too long to enumerate here.

But whatever the cause, the referee appears not to notice that the Polluters and Ideologues are trampling all over the "rules" of democratic discourse. They are financing pseudoscientists whose job is to manufacture doubt about what is true and what is false; buying elected officials wholesale with bribes that the politicians themselves have made "legal" and can now be made in secret; spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on misleading advertisements in the mass media; hiring four anti-climate lobbyists for every member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. (Question: Would Michael Jordan have been a star if he was covered by four defensive players every step he took on the basketball court?)

This script, of course, is not entirely new: A half-century ago, when Science and Reason established the linkage between cigarettes and lung diseases, the tobacco industry hired actors, dressed them up as doctors, and paid them to look into television cameras and tell people that the linkage revealed in the Surgeon General's Report was not real at all. The show went on for decades, with more Americans killed each year by cigarettes than all of the U.S. soldiers killed in all of World War II.

This time, the scientific consensus is even stronger. It has been endorsed by every National Academy of science of every major country on the planet, every major professional scientific society related to the study of global warming and 98 percent of climate scientists throughout the world. In the latest and most authoritative study by 3,000 of the very best scientific experts in the world, the evidence was judged "unequivocal."

But wait! The good guys transgressed the rules of decorum, as evidenced in their private e-mails that were stolen and put on the Internet. The referee is all over it: Penalty! Go to your corner! And in their 3,000-page report, the scientists made some mistakes! Another penalty!

And if more of the audience is left confused about whether the climate crisis is real? Well, the show must go on. After all, it's entertainment. There are tickets to be sold, eyeballs to glue to the screen.

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Source: Rolling Stone Politics