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.]

Sunday, June 26, 2011

G20 Toronto Riot Anniversary Marked With Rally

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- TORONTO - Hundreds of people marked the one year anniversary of the G20 riots in Toronto by holding a rally at the Ontario legislature Saturday.

Demonstrators renewed a call for a public inquiry into police actions at the summit and for the resignation of Toronto police chief Bill Blair.

Some held signs with slogans like "Canada is not a police state" and "Public inquiry now."

Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan called for Blair to identify officers who beat citizen protesters.

Author Judy Rebick said Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to hold the summit in Toronto and he should shoulder the blame for the riot.

A group of people left the rally and marched through the streets of downtown Toronto.

Waving large Canadian flags white balloons and carrying banners and signs the protesters marched in a scene reminiscent of the G20 protests a year earlier.

Traffic was halted and horns honked in solidarity as the protesters shouted "our streets". The protesters marched from the legislature to Queen and Spadina where a year earlier protesters were hemmed in by police in the pouring rain for hours.

The march ended up in front of police headquarters, chanting "drop the charges, charge the police" on blowhorns as they called for all remaining charges against G20 protesters to be dropped.

Last June, the police arrested more than 11-hundred people during the G20 protests but most were released without being charged or had their charges withdrawn or dismissed.

Thirty-nine protesters reported being injured during the arrests while 97 officers were hurt during the violence that resulted in police cars being torched and store windows smashed.

John Pruyn, an amputee whose artificial leg was ripped off by police while he was arrested at the summit, also called for an inquiry and he asked why police haven't returned his eyeglasses and walking sticks.

Those at the rally say an inquiry is needed not for retribution but to get at the truth of police actions and to hold police and politicians accountable.

Speakers from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Ontario Federation of Labour, Canadian Federation of Students and Council of Canadians were among those who addressed the so-called Freedom festival.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Debt Ceiling Poll Shows Divide On Looming Deficit Crisis

WASHINGTON — It might be time for another midnight ride by Paul Revere, this time warning "the creditors are coming."

Americans seem not to have awakened to the fast-looming debt crisis that could summon a new recession, imperil their stock market investments and shatter faith in the world's most powerful economy. Those are among the implications, both sudden and long-lasting, expected to unfold if the U.S. defaults on debt payments for the first time in history.

Facing an August deadline for raising the country's borrowing limit or setting loose the consequences, politicians and economists are plenty alarmed. The people? Apparently not so much.

They're divided on whether to raise the limit, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that found 41 percent opposed to the idea and 38 percent in favor.

People aren't exactly blase. A narrow majority in the poll expects an economic crisis to ensue if the U.S., maxed out on its borrowing capacity, starts missing interest payments to creditors. But even among that group, 37 percent say no dice to raising the limit.

In Washington's humid air, talk of a financial apocalypse is thick.

There are warnings of "credit markets in a state of panic," as the House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., put it, causing a sudden drop-off in the country's ability to borrow and pushing the government off a "credit cliff."

He was characterizing a report by the government's nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that warns of a "sudden fiscal crisis" in which investors might abandon U.S. bonds and force the government to pay steep interest rates and impose spending cuts and tax increases far more Draconian than if default were avoided.

The dire warnings appear to be falling on unconvinced ears, at least so far.

Call it doomsday fatigue.

In recent times, Americans heard that things were going to go haywire with the turn of the millennium, and they didn't. They were primed for post-Sept. 11 terrorist plots that did not unfold.

They've seen Congress, a lumbering body that gets fleet of foot at the last minute, come to the brink time after time, only to pull something out of its hat. Recently, a partial government shutdown was averted in that manner.

To Robin Knight, 50-year-old teacher from Gilbert, Ariz., who's trying to stay informed on the debt crisis, Washington's tendency to cry wolf and stage histrionics on issues of the day isn't helping.

"It should be very easy to understand," she said, "but I think there are so many skewed views and time given to people screaming that it can be hard to follow."

As during the lead-up to the government shutdown that didn't happen, tortured negotiations are under way.

Republican leaders are insisting on huge spending cuts as a condition for raising the debt limit. This position finds solid support from Republicans in the poll and backing from a plurality of independents.

President Barack Obama is pushing for increased tax revenue to be part of the deal, and that insistence led House Republican leader Eric Cantor of Virginia to walk out of the negotiations this past week.

About half of Democrats in the poll said the debt limit should be raised regardless of whether it's paired with a deal to cut spending.

The survey found no significant differences by education, age, income, or even by party, in perceptions of whether a crisis is likely if the limit is not increased. There was widespread dissatisfaction with how Obama is dealing with the deficit – a new high of 63 percent disapproval on that subject – and an even harsher judgment of how both parties in Congress are doing on the issue.

Full Article
Source: Huffington

Joe Biden Warns Republicans On Debt Ceiling Talks

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday the Obama administration wouldn't let middle class Americans "carry the whole burden" to break a deadlock over the national debt limit, warning that the Republican approach would only benefit the wealthy.

Addressing Ohio Democrats, Biden said there had been great progress in talks with Republican lawmakers on a deficit-reduction plan agreement. But he insisted that his party wouldn't agree to cuts that would undermine the elderly and middle-class workers.

"We're not going to let the middle class carry the whole burden. We will sacrifice. But they must be in on the deal," Biden said in a speech at the Ohio Democratic Party's annual dinner.

Biden led efforts on a deficit-reduction plan but Republicans pulled out of the discussions last week, prompting President Barack Obama to take control of the talks.

The sides disagree over taxes. Democrats say a deficit-reduction agreement must include tax increases or eliminate tax breaks for big companies and wealthy individuals. Republicans want huge cuts in government spending and insist on no tax increases.

On tax breaks for the wealthy, Biden used the example of hedge fund managers who "play with other people's money."

"And they get taxed," Biden said. "I'm not saying they don't do good things, they do some good things. But they get taxed at 15 percent because they call it capital gains. Because they're investing not their money, (but) other people's money."

To ask senior citizens receiving Medicare to pay more in taxes when people earning more than $1 million a year receive a substantial tax cut "borders on immoral," the vice president said.

"We're never going to get this done, we're never going to solve our debt problem if we ask only those who are struggling in this economy to bear the burden and let the most fortunate among us off the hook," Biden said.

Republican leaders say without a deal cutting long-term deficits, they will not vote to increase the nation's borrowing – which will exceed its $14.3 trillion limit on Aug. 2. The Obama administration has warned that if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, it would lead to the first U.S. financial default in history and roil financial markets around the globe.

Obama and Biden are scheduled to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Monday. McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, say no agreement can include tax increases.

Biden assailed moves by GOP governors in Wisconsin and Ohio to strip away collective bargaining rights from most public workers while criticizing efforts by Republicans in Congress to alter the Medicare program. He defended Obama's handling of the economy, pointing to difficult decisions on an economic stimulus package and the rescue of U.S. automakers.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Will Higher Taxes Tank the Economy?

The main sticking point in negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on deficit reduction measures to accompany a rise in the debt limit is whether higher revenues should make any contribution. A key Republican concern is that any tax increase would depress the economy.

Given the slow patch that the economy is going through, any realistic threat to growth is one that has to be taken seriously. But the Republican position that spending cuts are expansionary while tax increases are depressing is not logically consistent. Both spending cuts and tax increases affect the economy in roughly the same way in the short run – by reducing aggregate demand. Fiscal contraction, whether on the tax side or the spending side, will have a negative effect under current economic conditions.

Of course, it goes without saying that there will be different economic effects depending on how spending is cut or taxes are raised. But the first-order effect in either case will be to reduce national income and depress growth. In the longer run, some spending cuts could well be expansionary if they altered economic behavior in a positive direction. In general, subsidies are a bad idea because they distort economic decision making and reduce growth below what would occur in a free market environment.

But the same is true for tax subsidies. If someone pays lower taxes because they produce ethanol it is really no different than just getting a government check for doing the same thing. Yet many Republicans oppose abolishing tax-based subsidies because it would be an impermissible and economically depressing “tax increase,” while eliminating budget-based subsidies would be a beneficial “spending cut” that would be economically stimulating.

Economists have known for many years that many tax cuts are nothing more than spending by another name. They call such things “tax expenditures” and there are about $1 trillion worth in the tax code. Getting rid of many of them would have exactly the same economic benefits as reducing on-budget subsidies. Nevertheless, Republicans oppose eliminating tax expenditures unless other taxes are cut because any net tax increase would depress growth. The historical evidence, however, does not necessarily support this view.

Full Article
Source: The Fiscal Times 

The Busts Keep Getting Bigger: Why?

Paul Krugman and Robin Wells

Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present by Jeff Madrick
Knopf, 464 pp., $30.00

Suppose we describe the following situation: major US financial institutions have badly overreached. They created and sold new financial instruments without understanding the risk. They poured money into dubious loans in pursuit of short-term profits, dismissing clear warnings that the borrowers might not be able to repay those loans. When things went bad, they turned to the government for help, relying on emergency aid and federal guarantees—thereby putting large amounts of taxpayer money at risk—in order to get by. And then, once the crisis was past, they went right back to denouncing big government, and resumed the very practices that created the crisis.

What year are we talking about?

We could, of course, be talking about 2008–2009, when Citigroup, Bank of America, and other institutions teetered on the brink of collapse, and were saved only by huge infusions of taxpayer cash. The bankers have repaid that support by declaring piously that it’s time to stop “banker-bashing,” and complaining that President Obama’s (very) occasional mentions of Wall Street’s role in the crisis are hurting their feelings.

But we could also be talking about 1991, when the consequences of vast, loan-financed overbuilding of commercial real estate in the 1980s came home to roost, helping to cause the collapse of the junk-bond market and putting many banks—Citibank, in particular—at risk. Only the fact that bank deposits were federally insured averted a major crisis. Or we could be talking about 1982–1983, when reckless lending to Latin America ended in a severe debt crisis that put major banks such as, well, Citibank at risk, and only huge official lending to Mexico, Brazil, and other debtors held an even deeper crisis at bay. Or we could be talking about the near crisis caused by the bankruptcy of Penn Central in 1970, which put its lead banker, First National City—later renamed Citibank—on the edge; only emergency lending from the Federal Reserve averted disaster.

You get the picture. The great financial crisis of 2008–2009, whose consequences still blight our economy, is sometimes portrayed as a “black swan” or a “100-year flood”—that is, as an extraordinary event that nobody could have predicted. But it was, in fact, just the most recent installment in a recurrent pattern of financial overreach, taxpayer bailout, and subsequent Wall Street ingratitude. And all indications are that the pattern is set to continue.

Full Article
Source: The New York Review of Books 

American Distrust Of Banks Reaches Highest-Recorded Level: Gallup

The recession might be officially over, but American views toward the institutions that brought the economic system close to collapse have never been worse.

According to a new poll by Gallup, 36 percent of Americans now say they have "very little" or "no" confidence in U.S. banks, the highest percentage on record since Gallup first started tracking that data. Those saying they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in banks has also stagnated, stuck at 23 percent for the second straight year, after falling to a low of 22 percent in 2009.

Safe to say it's been a tough year in the banks' public relations departments.

U.S. banks have spent much of the past year aggressively lobbying against the implementation of Dodd-Frank financial reform. This week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called out banks for the "huge amount of money [spent by banks] to erode, weaken, walk back" financial reform. Indeed, the largest-lobbying institutions of last year spent 2.7 percent more in the first months of this year in an attempt to combat rules including higher capital requirements and restrictions on swipe fees.

The nation's five largest mortgage servicers -- Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial -- have also been the focus of a federal investigation into whether the banks defrauded taxpayers in their handling of foreclosures, first reported by The Huffington Post in mid-May.

In addition, in April, Goldman Sachs, the nation's fifth-largest bank by assets, was accused in a Senate report of systematically misleading clients by selling them assets known to be junk and then subsequently betting against that junk.

So this year's Gallup results only further emphasize the growing animosity toward banks in America. Never before 2009 had more Americans expressed more distrust than trust in banks. That has not only been the norm for three years now, but the gap is widening.

Gallup, who has been tracking confidence in banks for over thirty years now, notes the steady decline of confidence in their release, pointing out that 60 percent of Americans had at least "quite a lot" of confidence in banks in 1979. That fell to 30 percent in the early 1990s, but then steadily rose to 53 percent in the mid-200s.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Ron Johnson Has Found A Creative Way To Recoup His Campaign Investment

Back in 2010, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold lost his Senate seat in dramatic fashion to Republican Ron Johnson, an Oshkosh businessman-turned-Tea Party mantle-wearing political insurgent. Johnson's win came after a late-summer surge in the polls that had elite election-watchers baffled, given Feingold's long history and solid reputation in the state. Johnson, for his part was best known as one of the 2010 election cycle's many self-funders -- and one of the few successful ones.

Throughout it all, Johnson cast himself as a self-made businessman and Tea Party outsider. But if you were willing to look past the self-mythologizing, it was readily apparent that his candidacy was built, in part, on donations from businesses and individuals who were showered with taxpayer money. And now, Johnson has lucked into a very creative way of earning back the millions of dollars of his own that he sunk into his campaign.

Looks like 2010's biggest bailout baby is all grown up.

One of the more amusing features of this particular election is that it ran against a piece of conventional wisdom that everyone in the media said governed the thinking of those who comprised the membership of the Tea Party: their antipathy to bailouts. Maybe this wasn't clear to everybody, but Feingold never voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in the first place, twice voted to end it and was the author of a piece of legislation that would have forced unspent TARP money to be directly applied to paying down the Federal deficit.

On the other hand, Johnson was showered with largesse from a lot of institutions that should have struck TARP-opponents as ironic. As The Awl's Abe Sauer reported in September of 2010: "Now campaign finance filings found by The Awl show that despite his vigorous denouncement of the bank bailouts, Johnson's campaign has received funding from many of the same banks who received bailouts."

Much like many of this year's tea party-associated GOP candidates, one of Johnson's core campaign points is criticism of the financial bailout. Funny then that Johnson's campaign has been the beneficiary of the largess of the very corporations he believes should not have received bailout money. For example, the cash Johnson received from the Financial Services Roundtable PAC on August 27 and the American Bankers Association PAC on July 8 and July 30 came from, amongst others, hardcore Treasury bailout beneficiaries such as JP Morgan Chase, SunTrust, Bank of America, Regions Financial, Zions and First Horizon. The money Ron Johnson received from the Bluegrass and Senate Majority Fund PACs came, in part, from one of the greatest bailout beneficiaries of them all, Goldman Sachs. Despite statements about staying out of politics this cycle, Goldman donated to both PACs on March 31 of this year. On June 24, Ron Johnson's campaign received two $5,000 donations from the Bluegrass PAC, a day later the campaign received two donations from the Senate Majority PAC in the same amounts.
To be clear, while it may not be the backbone of his funding, some of the very bailout money that Ron Johnson has criticized is now funding his campaign.
Sauer is correct that this money -- funny as it was, under the circumstances -- did not form the "backbone" of his campaign. The majority of his financial support came out of his wallet -- to the tune of $9 million.

Johnson's personal wealth is from a business he founded, PACUR, LLC, a "custom sheet extruder company" that in turn owes its success to the fact that it has a cozy relationship with packaging product manufacturer Bemis Company, Inc. If you're wondering how this cozy relationship came about, wonder no more: Bemis' CEO is Johnson's father-in-law, and PACUR's co-founder is Johnson's brother-in-law. As Jud Lounsbury reported back in September of 2010:

In the late 1970s, under the direction of Bemis CEO (and Ron Johnson father-in-law), Howard Curler, the multi-national, publicly-held, corporation was looking to open a new plastics plant in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Here's how the Oshkosh Industrial Development Corporation (Chamco) explains it: "In 1965 Bemis acquired Curwood in New London and in the late 1970s they decided to add another facility. Curler says they chose Oshkosh because it had a good transportation network and a dedicated and highly skilled workforce. As Bemis prepared to open the Oshkosh plant, Curler looked to the city and Chamco for help with site selection, to purchase land and to smooth out any problems along the way."
Meanwhile, at the same time, Howard Curler built a new, privatly-owned, plastic plant right accross the street from the new Bemis plastics plant. The new company would be headed up by his son, Patrick Curler, and would also be named after his son: PACUR. PACUR would be a "captive supplier" of Bemis and for the first few years, meaning that Bemis was their only customer.
Today, PACUR's relationship with Bemis is somewhat the same, with the vast majority of PACUR's business going to Bemis subsidiaries and Bemis being controlled by the Curler family. In addition, Bemis has built several more plastic plants in the area, including Perfecseal, which is a backyard neighbor (and big customer) of PACUR, and headed-up by another one of Johnson's brothers-in-law, Robert Krostue.
It's pretty easy to run a successful supply company and raise $9 million to use on a run for office when your wealthy father-in-law is giving you this kind of leg up.

But the new, exciting news is that Johnson's myriad connections are helping him recoup that $9 million investment in his own campaign. In Friday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Daniel Bice reports that in Johnson's latest financial disclosure report, PACUR paid Johnson $10 million in deferred compensation. Johnson -- in terse fashion -- tells Bice that the package is "reasonable" and that he's "complied with all the disclosure laws," but Bice goes on to report that Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says the arrangement looks "looks like a scheme to get around a century-old law," that "bars corporate donations to candidates." Per Bice:

After the election, in which he defeated Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, Johnson said he dialed down his active involvement with Pacur and received the deferred compensation package for serving as its CEO over the previous 13 years. Unlike most deferred package deals, however, it appears that the company had not set aside a specified amount annually that would be paid out when he left the firm. Instead, Johnson said the $10 million payment was "an agreed-upon amount" that was determined at the end of his tenure with the company.
Agreed upon with whom?
"That would be me," he said.
Johnson told Bice, "I have no idea what could be suspicious or cynical about this." Go read the whole thing, and see if you don't end up feeling suspicious or cynical!

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Is Clarence Thomas's Humble Georgia Museum a Huge Ethics Issue?

A quaint historical museum in Pin Point, Georgia, that is set to open this fall has become the target of an exhaustive ethics examination by the New York Times. Why would the Times devote almost 3,000 words to a community heritage museum? Pin Point, as it turns out, is also the birthplace of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and it was Thomas who introduced Pin Point residents to his friend Harlan Crow, a Dallas real-estate tycoon and major conservative donor, who would ultimately fund the museum. According to some legal analysts, Thomas's role in Crow's decision to donate may have troubling ethical implications.

Pin Point lies along the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor designated by Congress, a passage of coastal fishing towns settled by the descendants of slaves. Algernon Varn, whose father ran the fishing cannery there, long hoped to save the site from development, but it wasn't until he bumped into Thomas, who was in town promoting his memoir, that the project began to move forward. Thomas introduced Varn to Crow, a longtime friend. Through an exhaustive paper trail review, the Times confirmed that Crow is the anonymous donor behind the $1.3 million restoration of the property and forthcoming museum project. Varn was told to keep Crow's identity anonymous.

The question of ethics violations comes down to whether Thomas misused "the prestige of office" to persuade Crow to take on the project, said Raymond J. McKoski, a retired state judge in Illinois. (Supreme Court justices are not explicitly bound to the complex code of conduct for federal judges because it is enforced by lower ranking judges. That's right, they are literally above the law -- though the Times points to several justices who said they adhere to it regardless.) "Some of it depends on the conversations that took place," McKoski told the Times of the ethical quandary. "Who brought up the idea? How willing was Mr. Crow to do it? What exact questions were asked by Justice Thomas?"

This isn't the first time Crow has donated to projects directly or indirectly honoring Thomas. (According to the federal ethics code, judges are not supposed to know who makes a donation in their honor.) The Times gathers an exhaustive list of shady gifts and donations, including Mr. Crow's financing of a Savannah library dedicated to Justice Thomas and his gift of a bible that once belonged to Frederick Douglass. Thomas also received a $15,000 bust of Abraham Lincoln from a group affiliated with Crow.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Lawyer Says Many Unpaid Internships Are Exploitative, Illegal

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- TORONTO - Young Canadians eager to launch their careers say they're under mounting pressure to take unpaid internships that promise valuable experience and a foot in the door but rarely lead to permanent work.

Unpaid internships are replacing entry-level jobs, experts say, propelled in part by a recession that has forced companies to tighten their belts and graduates to fight for any advantage in the job market.

But some of these positions are illegal, says Andrew Langille, an employment lawyer in Toronto who has researched labour standards and case law related to internships.

"I would say upwards of 95 per cent of unpaid internships (in Ontario) are probably illegal," because interns are doing work typically performed by paid employees, he says.

"If you have an intern making coffee or researching articles . . . then they're an employee, not an intern, and they should be getting minimum wage and all the other protection that comes with the Employment Standards Act."

Companies offering unpaid internships say they're part of a sweeping shift in workplace culture, one that rewards "hungry" workers willing to go above and beyond their job descriptions.

But many young grads, while willing to pay their dues at the office, say they can't afford to work for free, particularly while saddled with student loans.

"There's people who say young people expect everything right now, they want this great-paying job," says Heather Bellingham, a 26-year-old from Oshawa, Ont., who has held a string of unpaid internships since graduating from a film and television college program. "I don't expect a lot — I would love minimum wage."

Setting and enforcing employment standards such as minimum wage falls to the provinces, except for federally regulated industries such a aviation and telecommunications.

Yet none of the provinces seem to have rules that directly govern internships. Instead, they have a patchwork of regulations mostly meant for trainees and volunteers that lay out when employers aren't required to pay minimum wage.

Under Ontario law, "trainees" can work for free under specific circumstances. The training must be similar to what's given in a vocational school. It must be for the benefit of the trainee, with little to no benefit for the employer. The trainee can't displace paid employees and isn't guaranteed a job. He or she must be warned that the position is unpaid.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Privatizing Toronto: The Hosers of "Hogtown" and the Budget

When I was in high school, I used to watch SCTV. It was a sketch comedy show that happened in this made-up TV station in the fictional town of Melonville. Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis created two particular characters that gained a lot of attention: Bob and Doug Mackenzie. They represented everything stereotypically Canadian (or maybe what became stereotypically Canadian?): toques, beer, donuts and, of course, back bacon. For better or worse these "hosers" became part of the cultural zeitgeist. I laughed at them as much as anyone else, and played their comedy record repeatedly.

I'm in my 40s now, and high school is a distant memory. Yet these days it feels like I've ended up a citizen of Melonville rather than Toronto. Instead of Bob and Doug Mackenzie, we've got Rob and Doug Ford. You see my city is facing, like, a budget crisis, eh? What Rob and Doug are sayin' is that we're short about $775 million. That's a whole bunch of two-fours, or smokes, or daycare spaces, or library branches, or public transit, or, like, whatever, eh? The only response I can muster is the nervous chuckle of a man facing inevitable doom.

I attended one of the recent consultation sessions on how to address this issue. It really came down to what services we should contract to the private sector versus what services we should eliminate. Faced with the fiscal challenge of providing services a community wants, government should back away, freeze or lower our taxes, and let the private sector charge us instead. King Harpernicus is not only firmly rooted in Ottawa, his dukes (dupes?) are in charge of Toronto as well.

The deficit referred to is in the operating budget -- money that is spent to continue providing various services for citizens. The $775 million deficit represents roughly 9 per cent of the overall operating budget for the City of Toronto in 2011. About 40 per cent of the revenues to fund the operating budget ($3.6 billion) is funded from property taxes. While it is the biggest part of the revenue pie, it isn't the majority. Sixty per cent of the revenues come from other sources like user fees (think transit fares) and the Ontario government (about $1.9 billion of our provincial taxes).

Where the debate should be focused is on the costs and benefits of each service as part of the overall operating budget. For example, according to the documents posted at the Toronto Police Service costs us roughly $1 billion annually, but so does Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (think public housing). Fire Services cost us $371.5 million, roughly as much as Parks Forestry, and Recreation or Children's Services (think daycare). Some of these services the city is required to provide as directed by the provincial government. Remember that $1.9 billion? Where does that go? Is it a fair amount for what has to be provided?

Of course, Rob and Doug won't engage in this debate, or at least they don't seem to be engaged. Instead, we hear a mix of decrees and asinine funding ideas that wouldn't make a real difference to anyone who understands the numbers. The latest is even more corporate sponsorship of public space: auctioning naming rights to TTC stations and public parks are the two that come to mind. Anyone want to pay a billion bucks a year to name subway stations or to slap their logos all over trees and playground equipment?

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

John Ivison: Today’s Tories look a lot like Liberals

It’s known as taking out the trash. At the tail-end of any given summer Parliamentary session, the government of the day dumps potentially embarrassing documents and annual reports, in the hope that MPs and reporters are more focused on upgrading their tans than on safeguarding taxpayers’ money.

This week, MPs waved through the Main Estimates, the government’s spending projections for the coming year, just as the Conservatives tabled reports from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario and the Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec.

The Conservatives used to believe that all subsidies to businesses should be cut in favour of reducing business taxes across the board. Since losing the 2004 election, when they campaigned on this ticket, the Tories have been subject to a conversion that even Paul of Tarsus would find dramatic. Proof positive was the creation of a new development agency to dispense federal largesse in southern Ontario, where, by chance, the Conservatives secured their new majority government. The Main Estimates show that these development agencies, and Western Economic Diversification, which covers Western Canada, have all seen their budgets cut, as stimulus spending has come to an end. That’s not the whole story though. While ACOA saw its budget drop $64.2-million, or 16.8%, to $317.9-million, stimulus spending from the previous year accounted for $74-million. This suggests ACOA actually sneaked through a budget increase for continuing programs. The same was true for Quebec’s development agency, which saw $158-million in Economic Action Plan spending come to an end, while the agency experienced a net decrease in planned spending of just $132-million.

In total, across the four agencies, the federal government continues to spend more than $1-billion, mainly in direct grants to businesses.

What do we get for that money? It’s hard to tell. None of them provide the number of jobs created with the money, or the amount sales have increased in the companies supported. All have rather nebulous performance targets. For example, ACOA, which receives up to three times more per person than the other agencies, hopes to increase the value of the Atlantic Canadian economy by $4.50 for every dollar spent. It also has an annual target of ensuring companies assisted have a survival rate 1.3 times higher than comparable firms. Yet, there is no suggestion in any of the reports that this is actually happening.

Not surprisingly, the current system has its supporters within the business community, notably among companies on the receiving end of federal dollars. Dennis Rossetti and his brother run Italian Home Bakery, a producer of frozen baked goods. The company received federal funds to hire more staff and help expand its Etobicoke production facility from the Southern Ontario development agency. In an interview, he lauded the government for helping to keep Canadian firms competitive against U.S. competition at a time when the currency does not provide domestic companies with an advantage. But he admits the company could have borrowed the money commercially — it was just cheaper and easier to do so through FedDev Ontario.

This is what economists call an “infra-marginal investment” — one that would have taken place anyway. The real impact is felt by taxpayers, in the form of higher taxes, and by firms not lucky enough to have been grant recipients, in the form of higher wages and rents. Even when jobs are created, federal studies have shown that they are few in number and that costs per job created are high.

Even more objectionable is the potential for abuse by pork-barrelling politicians — which is all of them. Prior to the election, the Quebec development agency distributed more than $6-million for snowmobile trail grooming machines throughout the province. The Liberals were as bad when they were in power — one C.D. Howe Institute study suggested ACOA spending in government ridings during the Chr├ętien era was 40% higher than in opposition ridings.

As Mr. Harper sits on the end of his dock at Harrington Lake this summer, he might want to reflect on all the principles he was forced to compromise in pursuit of majority government. One of them was getting out of the grants and subsidies game. He now has a four-year window in which he could, if he so desired, enact a more effective regional development policy centred on broad-based corporate tax cuts or investment tax credits. Let’s hope he puts those lazy days of summer to good use.

Source: National Post 

At the G20, Toronto was lost in the fog of war

Generals call it the fog of war. In intense military conflicts, disorder and bewilderment often reign. Commanders lose touch with their troops. Orders go astray. The shape of the battle suddenly changes, making mincemeat of the best laid plans.

So it was on June 26 and 27, 2010, when police confronted radical protesters on the streets of Toronto. “The G20 summit was an event unprecedented in Toronto in terms of the size and scope of its security demands and policing requirements,” says a report ordered by Police Chief Bill Blair. “It was also the first time that many TPS officers had experienced widespread criminality and mass public disorder.”

The result was mass confusion. The picture painted in the report is of a police force that was simply overwhelmed by the complexity of the events on that wild weekend in June. Fast-moving groups of Black Bloc vandals outflanked and outmanoeuvred riot cops. Police with little training in crowd control and the wrong equipment for the job could not react swiftly enough to the ever-changing situation.

Police commanders in the street were not fully involved in drawing up crowd-control plans and had only a hazy idea of what the plan, in fact, was. The police radio system broke down when everyone started talking at once.

At the vast holding tank on Eastern Avenue, a carefully organized system for processing prisoners rounded up on the streets fell apart completely when hundreds started pouring in on Saturday night. The single court booking officer on duty couldn’t cope with the paperwork. Waiting prisoners were herded into pre-booking cells, many still in handcuffs, and some had to cool their heels for up to 24 hours. Others had to wait several hours just to use the phone.

On the streets, messages poured into the command centre about the shifting movements of the radical protesters. The report’s minute-by-minute timeline gives a sense of how fast things were changing. At 2:29 p.m. on Saturday, a police line on Queen Street West “was breached by an aggressive crowd.” At 2:47 p.m., officers reported being attacked with golf balls, paint and rocks. At 3:37, Black Bloc vandals wrecked two police cars at King and Bay.

Police simply could not keep up. “After the deployment of officers in a particular location, the crowd would move, splinter off, and then double back.” Police had to consider the safety of their own, inadequately equipped officers. Often, commanders ordered them to withdraw rather than risk getting hurt.

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Source: Globe & Mail 

The two sides of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the G20 summit, there were two versions of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair on display.

The first was contrite, admitting that there were problems with the way officers handled protests in failing to stop a small group of black-clad vandals from smashing up the downtown, and that administrative “deficiencies” at a temporary detention centre left some arrestees without access to lawyers and medical evaluations.

The second, however, was combative, defending the decision to round up hundreds of peaceful protesters and saying that, despite a months-long review of policing at the summit, he did not know whether the RCMP or other police forces at the Integrated Security Unit headquarters in Barrie, Ont., had given orders that added to the confusion on the streets during those fateful days.

Throughout his six years in charge, Chief Blair has earned a reputation for admitting to, and grappling with, the force’s problems, from racial profiling to a lack of women and minorities serving as police. His handling of such files has burnished the force’s image and built bridges with the community – all of which has seemed very remote over the last year, in the backlash that followed the summit.

On Friday afternoon, he explained the rationale behind the most controversial decision of that weekend, to perform the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. After police failed to stop the Black Bloc during their smashing spree on June 26, the main day of protests, it was necessary to disperse – or arrest – everyone on the streets to prevent Bloc members hiding amid peaceful protesters from doing any further damage, he said.

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Source: Globe & Mail 

Judge pulled from trial after a ruling he showed bias against defendant

An Ontario judge has been removed from a case in mid-trial because he showed bias against the defendant – a 26-year-old woman who is battling Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The highly unusual move came after the woman, Krystal Lee Hill, said she could no longer expect to get a fair trial from her trial judge – Mr. Justice Gregory Pockele of the Ontario Court of Justice.

Ontario Superior Court John Kennedy concluded that Judge Pockele made inappropriately sarcastic outbursts during the initial portion of Ms. Hill’s trial. He said that Judge Pockele intemperately rejected a Charter motion by the defence without hearing legal arguments.

“I am satisfied on the onus required that the applicant has established that bias exists in this case from the trial evidence,” Judge Kennedy said. “It is ordered that the applicant should be afforded a new trial before a differently constituted court.”

Anthony Moustakalis, a lawyer who represented Ms. Hill, said that it is only the third such ruling he has seen in 27 years as a lawyer. “It is an unusual finding because the court finds actual bias, and not just an appearance of bias,” he said.

On April 26, 2009, Ms. Hill was charged with refusing to provide a breath sample after police in London, Ont., stopped the car that she and a friend were travelling in.

At her trial last November, defence counsel Peter Thorning attempted to raise a Charter of Rights issue involving her right to counsel. Judge Pockele took issue because it had been filed 13 days before the hearing, instead of the 15 days that is normally required.

Ms. Hill said that she had had trouble keeping track of the case on account of her chemotherapy treatments and a general apprehension about her health. “Honestly, it’s the last thing on my mind,” she said. “I mean, it’s always there, of course, and I know it’s there, but I can’t focus on anything else right now.”

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Source: Globe & Mail 

RCMP probes Senator Mac Harb over business trips to Bangladesh

The RCMP is investigating Liberal Senator Mac Harb for criminal breach of trust, alleging in a sworn affidavit that he travelled to Bangladesh on a special passport reserved for federal officials, where he lobbied members of the country's government on behalf of Niko Resources, a Calgary-based oil and gas company.

For nearly four years, a team of Mounties has been investigating Niko Resources' natural-gas operation in Bangladesh, and on Friday, the company agreed to pay a fine of $9.5-million after pleading guilty to trying to influence a junior Bangladeshi minister by providing him with a luxury SUV as well as a paid trip to Calgary and New York.

What didn't emerge in court, however, is that police are probing Mr. Harb, a former member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre.

The Mounties allege his travels to Bangladesh were “for a purpose other than the public good.” Mr. Harb has not been charged with a crime. He did not respond to repeated requests for an interview prior to publication of this story in Saturday's Globe and Mail, but he has been questioned by the police. However, on Saturday he released this statement.

In a statement, Niko said that it retained Mr. Harb only in a personal capacity, and “not as a Senator.” The company said it paid him $65,000 for work done between September, 2005 and July, 2006.

“The company inquired and was advised by Mr. Harb that he had obtained all of the necessary approvals from the Senate Ethics Committee to be able to carry out this engagement,” the company's statement said.

RCMP Corporal Kevin Duggan has alleged in a sworn affidavit that between 2004 and 2006, Mr. Harb travelled to Dhaka at least four times to lobby Bangladeshi officials about a dispute over natural-gas payments – despite warnings from Canada's diplomatic corps that he was not welcome. Specifically, a former high commissioner to Bangladesh told the Mounties that because Mr. Harb was “personally involved with the company” his trips were “not good for the image of Canada.”

The 72-page affidavit, which was obtained by The Globe and Mail after a year-long legal battle with the Alberta Justice Department and Niko, was released this week but, by the order of Mr. Justice William Tilleman of Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench, it was heavily redacted.

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Source: Globe & Mail  

All Conservative Senators support reform: Segal

Are there divisons in the Conservative caucus? Not over Senate reform, says Conservative Senator Hugh Segal.

"I'm telling you that when the vote comes in the Senate, the Conservative government caucus will vote as one in favour of the [Senate reform] bill. I'm completely comfortable with that. And none will vote against," Segal insisted, in an interview for host Kathleen Petty's final edition of CBC Radio's The House.

Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal introduced a bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday that would limit Senate terms to nine years. It also proposes a voluntary scheme provinces may use to hold Senate elections.

Last week CBC News reported the Senate reform bill was supposed to be introduced in the Senate itself, and Harper changed the plan out of frustration with his own Senators' concerns.

Segal dismissed the report in his interview for Saturday morning's program.

"I think [making the bill House legislation] was probably a tactical decision made by the prime minister's office so as to make sure that the elected side expresses its view first, which of course adds moral authority," he asserted.

"When things are approved by the House of Commons first with a strong vote, that tends to say to the Senate we have a duty to doff our heads to the democratic will as expressed in that prior House, so I think that's a level of assurance which shows how committed the prime minister is to these reforms."

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Source: CBC news