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.]

Friday, July 01, 2011

What could possibly go wrong? Ohio passes law allowing gun owners to carry guns in bars

Lawmakers in Ohio have voted to allow gun owners to carry guns in bars.

The state has ruled that it is acceptable for drinkers to conceal their weapons as they prop up bars.

The Ohio General Assembly passed the bill in a 55-38 vote despite opponents complaining that guns and alcohol would endanger public safety.

Also included in the controversial law is a change to the restrictions on how guns can be transported within the Midwest state.

The state Senate, which had already passed a similar bill, passed a concurring measure by a 25-7 vote.
Now if Republican Governor John Kasich agrees the measure, residents will be able to take concealed handguns into licensed establishments.

The ruling means that shoppers could take hidden weapons into shopping malls and sports stadiums.
kasich headshot

Backing: Republican John Kasich fully backs the guns and drink plan

Businesses do have an opt out and can ban concealed weapons on their premises for safety reasons.

But the Cincinnati Bengals of the National Football League, have already said they will not allow gun-toting fans to bring firearms into the stadium.

Jim Irvine, the head of Buckeye Firearms Association, a political action committee for gun owners that supported the legislation, said the measure brought Ohio's laws regarding the rights of gun owners in line with those in other states with concealed carry rules.

The law also prohibits gun owners from consuming alcohol or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs when they carry their weapons into bars.

Recent analysis by the Columbus Dispatch newspaper of the state's public records and data from 2009 revealed that there were an average of 34 gun related incidents took place across the state's seven largest cities.
Guns were found to be present in more than 12,500 incidents investigated in the county in Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown.

Full Article
Source: Daily Mail  

JPMorgan: Tax Holiday Would Pack 'Bigger Punch' Than Fed Policies

Thomas Lee, chief equity strategist at JPMorgan, would really, really like a tax repatriation holiday.

Lee released a report this Monday in which it asserted that a repatriation holiday -- a one-off occasion where companies could bring overseas earnings into the U.S. at dramatically reduced taxation rates -- could carry “a bigger punch than QE.”

QE refers to quantitative easing, the Federal Reserve’s long-running program of asset purchases intended to stimulate the economy. The latest round of quantitative easing, known as QE2, came to an end on Thursday.

During QE2, the Fed spent eight months buying up $600 billion in medium-term Treasury securities. The strategy has received mixed reviews, especially as it comes to an end.

According to Lee's report, a tax repatriation holiday would do a comparable amount of good for markets and the economy in general.

Lee’s report estimated that companies could have as much as $1.4 trillion parked overseas, and that they might bring between $500 billion and $1 trillion into the U.S. if Congress passes a proposal allowing business to repatriate cash at a 5.25 percent tax rate, rather than the standard 35 percent.

“In our view, this carries greater positive implications for equities compared to QE,” Lee writes. “In other words, from a market’s perspective, this likely represents a substantial catalyst.”

However, Lee’s findings stand in marked contrast to another report issued by JPMorgan in May. That release, compiled by JPMorgan researchers, concluded that even if a tax holiday is passed, most of the money would likely be reinvested overseas. In other words, it “would not result in a flood of repatriation,” according to CNBC.

JPMorgan is far from the only major corporation to call for a repatriation holiday recently. In mid-June, advocates at a corporate conference in Washington, D.C. referred to the proposed repatriation holiday as “the next stimulus.”

JPMorgan recently agreed to a $153.6 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding allegations that it misled investors about a mortgage securities transaction.

Full Article
Source: Huffington  

Kansas Abortion Law Challenged By Clinics In Federal Court

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Kansas still has one abortion provider, but two others that don't have state licenses were hoping to persuade a federal judge to block a new licensing law and health department regulations they consider burdensome.

The state attorney general's office argued ahead of a Friday hearing in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., that a license granted to a Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri clinic disproves critics' contention that the new Kansas rules are designed to cut off access to abortion.

The licensing law was part of a wave of anti-abortion legislation enacted across the nation this year, but had none of its three providers received a license, Kansas would have been the only state in the nation without a clinic or doctor's office performing abortions.

Its regulations tell providers what drugs and equipment they must stock, set acceptable temperatures for procedure and recovery rooms and set minimum sizes for some rooms. Supporters believe those rules will protect patients. But abortion-rights advocates have called the licensing process a "sham" because Gov. Sam Brownback is an anti-abortion Republican, and abortion foes pushed the law through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Planned Parenthood received a license Thursday from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, after initially being denied but having inspectors visit its clinic in Overland Park a second time. The new licensing law and the accompanying regulations, drafted over a few weeks, took effect Friday.

The lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia was filed earlier this week by Drs. Herbert Hodes and Traci Nauser, who provide abortions and other services at the Center for Women's Health, also in Overland Park. The state's other provider is the Aid for Women Clinic in Kansas City, and it's seeking to intervene.

The attorney general's office attached the Planned Parenthood license in a court document filed Thursday evening, shortly after the health department confirmed it had granted a license to one of the state's providers and Planned Parenthood identified itself as the recipient.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Obama Pushes Tax Increases In Debt Ceiling Talks With Republicans

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is renewing an old fight with the business community by insisting that $400 billion in tax increases be part of a deficit-reduction package. His proposals have languished on Capitol Hill, repeatedly blocked by Republicans, often with help from Democrats.

Some would raise big money. Limiting tax deductions for high-income families and small business owners could raise more than $200 billion over the next decade. Others are more symbolic, such as scaling back a tax break for companies that buy corporate jets.

The corporate jet proposal would raise $3 billion over the next decade, according to GOP congressional aides. That's a relatively small sum in the big scheme of Washington budgets, but Obama and Democrats call attention to it repeatedly in their effort to portray Republicans as defenders of corporate fat cats.

No matter how Democrats characterize their proposals as revenue raisers or plugging tax loopholes, GOP leaders oppose them all, arguing that raising taxes in a bad economy would only make matters worse.

"If we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and natural gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars," Obama said this week, "then that means we've got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship, that means we've got to stop funding certain grants for medical research, that means that food safety may be compromised, that means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden."

The White House has identified about $600 billion in tax increases it wants over the next decade. About $400 billion of them were offered as part of deficit-reduction talks led by Vice President Joe Biden. That would be paired with more than $1 trillion in spending cuts.

Some of the tax proposals are vague and budget experts have yet to calculate just how much they would raise. For example, limiting deductions for high-income families and small businesses could raise anywhere between $210 billion and $290 billion, depending on what threshold is established as high income.

Obama is proposing to eliminate $41 billion in tax breaks for oil and natural gas companies, raise taxes on investment fund managers by $21 billion and change the way many businesses value their inventories for tax purposes. The change in inventory accounting would raise an estimated $70 billion over the next decade, hitting manufacturers and energy companies, among others.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Unemployment: No Extended Benefits For People Laid Off From Now On

WASHINGTON -- After this week, workers laid off through no fault of their own will not be eligible for any of the generous extended unemployment benefits layoff victims have received from the federal government since 2008.

States typically provide the first 26 weeks of unemployment insurance and Congress has provided extensions during every recession since the 1950s. But the current extensions, which give the unemployed an unprecedented 73 additional weeks of aid in some states, are set to expire at the beginning of January.

"There's a real potential cliff coming for unemployed people," emailed Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. "The federal unemployment programs all expire at the end of this year. This means that anyone who is laid off on July 1st or later, will ONLY receive state benefits unless Congress acts to keep these needed programs up and running."

It's not incredibly likely that Congress will be in the mood to keep these programs up and running. Even when Democrats controlled the House of Representatives last year, Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Senate caused delays every time the aid needed to be reauthorized. With Republicans in control of the House, additional federal spending to support the economy will be even less popular. (Earlier this year, the GOP pushed a bill that would allow states to redirect federal funds for jobless benefits.)

Spokesmen for Republican leaders in the House either did not comment or did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

In December, Democrats only managed to preserve the benefits through this year by attaching them to two years of continued tax cuts. Several Dems grumbled that the benefits would be in trouble come January 2012.

"The rich get everything they wanted," Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) told HuffPost in December. "They don't care about the other stuff because they know it will all go away. The unemployment benefits -- we're gonna be fighting that one this time next year, right in the middle of when [Republicans] are in control. What chance do we have then? Zero."

Nearly 4 million people are currently collecting benefits under the federal programs, according to the latest data from the Labor Department. As of May, 6.2 million people had been out of work for six months or longer. The average unemployed person had been out of work for 39.7 weeks.

Federal unemployment benefits have never been dropped with a national unemployment rate above 7.2 percent.

"Quite frankly, this will be nothing short of a disaster –- for those workers and their families, and for local economies across the country," Conti said. "It's not too early for Congress to hold good-faith and open-minded negotiations about how to keep these federal programs up and running until the economy recovers enough, and creates enough jobs, that the programs are no longer needed."

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

A Stunning Development in the Swipe Fee Debate

Earlier this month, we reported on the Senate battle over “swipe fees,” which banks charge merchants for processing credit or debit cards. It appeared the story was over, and an effort by banks to maintain high swipe fees was vanquished—but an eleventh-hour action by the Federal Reserve yesterday has given Wall Street yet another astonishing victory in Washington.

The average swipe fee in America is 44 cents, the highest rate in the world. In December, the Federal Reserve released an analysis saying that banks could still make profit by charging 12 cents per transaction, and under the Dodd-Frank financial reform, planned to enforce this cap starting today.

Banks—which collect $20 billion every year from swipe fees—naturally did not want this revenue reduced by almost 75 percent. Early this year, they launched a massive lobbying campaign to pass a bill by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) that would delay the Federal Reserve’s cap. Retailers, who claim high fees drive up prices and hurt the bottom line of small stores, had their own well-funded campaign to defeat the bill, and ultimately prevailed. On June 8, Tester’s bill failed to win a cloture vote.

It was a ridiculously expensive battle, utilizing hundreds of lobbyists and tens of millions of dollars in contributions and advertising. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) joked that it was a “full employment” bill, because “everybody who is a lobbyist in Washington is working on this amendment.” Senator Lindsey Graham told the Huffington Post that “everybody and their grandmother’s lobbying on this” and added it was in the “top ten” of brutal and well-funded lobbying battles that he’s seen.

The takeaway was that Wall Street could be defeated in Washington, but perhaps only by an equally well-funded special interest. As it turns out, even that assessment undersold the banks’ influence. Yesterday, less than twenty-four hours before their rules were to go into effect, the Federal Reserve announced it would cap the fees at as high as 24 cents, not 12.

In announcing that the Fed would double the proposed cap, chairman Ben Bernanke said “I think this is the best available solution that implements the will of Congress and makes good economic decisions.” Alongside the Senate fight, Wall Street has also been pressuring the Fed to help them out, and apparently their pleas have been heard.

Even though the 12-cent cap imposed a 75 percent reduction, the profit margin on 12 cents was still 70 percent. When Bernanke spoke of a “good economic decision” by doubling that cap, he could only have been speaking of bank balance sheets.

Moreover, the Fed’s action essentially exempts debit-card swipes from the regulation. As Zach Carter explains at the Huffington Post, the 44-cent swipe fee average is actually a composite of two different averages. When you swipe your card at a store and choose “credit” and provide a signature, the average fee charged by banks is 56 cents. When you choose debit and enter a PIN number, the average fee is 23 cents.

Thus, by capping swipe fees at 24 cents, the Fed is basically freeing all debit card transactions from regulation. Retailers are not pleased. "The Federal Reserve very clearly did not follow through on the intent of the law," Mallory Duncan, chairman of the Merchants Payments Coalition, told Huffington Post. "The [Fed] board members are overwhelmingly bankers, so they decided to take several billion more from the public and give it to the banks,” he added in comments to The Hill.

Duncan also said retailers will be looking at ways to “challenge” the Fed’s ruling. Washington lobbyists, call your office.

Source: The Nation 

Minnesota Government Shutdown 2011: Budget Deal Unreached

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota stumbled into its second government shutdown in six years on Thursday, with a partisan divide over taxes and spending to close a $5 billion deficit becoming only more bitter as a midnight deadline came and went without agreement.

Any hope of a last-minute budget deal between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders evaporated around 10 p.m., when Dayton appeared to say he and Republicans were still fundamentally divided over how much the state should spend the next two years and that he saw no chance of avoiding a shutdown.

"It's significant that this shutdown will begin on the Fourth of July weekend," Dayton said. "On that date we celebrate our independence. It also reminds us there are causes and struggles worth fighting for."

Republicans appeared again minutes later, and tried to hang blame for the shutdown around the governor's neck. They said the two sides were closer than he admitted, and they criticized his refusal to call a special session so lawmakers could pass a "lights on" budget bill to keep government running. Dayton refused, saying he's been clear for months that he would only agree to a total budget approach.

"I think the governor's insistence that we pass a full budget is not going to be of much comfort to Minnesotans who are going to see delays on the highways because construction projects stop," said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo. "It's not going to comfort people who can't use our state parks, or who can't get a driver's license."

The two sides didn't meet again ahead of the deadline.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Lessons of the Canada Post lockout

Recent events tell us a lot about some of the challenges facing working people in Canada today.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) began a rotating strike action on June 2nd, after over seven months of negotiations with Canada Post Corporation (CPC) for a new contract covering some 48,000 postal workers. CUPW members had voted almost 95% in favour of authorizing a strike if necessary, with a turnout that set a record for the union.

The reasons why postal workers were so determined to strike if need be are not hard to understand. Starting in Winnipeg, CPC management is introducing new machinery and reorganizing work. Under the new system letter carriers must now carry two or more bundles of mail, leading to more work-related injuries. Inside workers face cuts in full-time positions, more evening and night shifts, and a faster pace of work.

CPC has been a profitable Crown Corporation for the last 15 years yet management was insisting that workers make major concessions. As postal worker Cindy McCallum Miller put it, the employer was aiming to "gut our collective agreement for the next wave of workers as they plan for a future where workers have weaker rights, benefits and protection."

Postal workers' past struggles won a living wage (approximately $50,000/year on average), benefits and rights for what was once low-wage work. CPC went into negotiations demanding that new hires receive lower pay and a worse pension than current workers. Management also wanted workers to give up their sick leave rights and accept an inferior Short Term Disability plan. These concessions would be steps towards the goal -- shared by Conservative and Liberal federal governments -- of a privatized postal service whose workforce is smaller, cheaper and has many fewer rights.

Many media commentators initially claimed that the strike wouldn't have much impact. But the rotating local strikes did affect some businesses and therefore CPC's revenue, without causing much disruption to most people's postal services. CPC tried to provoke CUPW into calling an all-out strike but failed. So on June 14 CPC locked out the workers.

The next day the Conservative federal government announced it would bring in legislation to force an end to the dispute. It appears that CPC's goal all along was government intervention to impose the kind of settlement on postal workers that it was unable to achieve through collective bargaining. The lockout gave the government the excuse it was waiting for.

It's no secret that the Conservatives hate CUPW -- the union has consistently opposed the corporate agenda, defended public services and supported social justice struggles. So it was no surprise that when the final vote on the back-to-work bill was held in the House of Commons "the Conservative benches erupted in cheers and back-slapping."

What wasn't as predictable was just how aggressively anti-worker the legislation would be. Many media reports have mentioned that it imposes wage increases lower than CPC's previously-tabled offer (also well below the inflation rate for consumer prices). But that's not its worst aspect by any means.

The law dictates that the new collective agreement for urban postal workers will be determined by an arbitrator appointed unilaterally by the Minister of Labour, using a method called final offer selection (FOS). FOS is uncommon in Canada, and is very rare in back to work legislation.

In this case, the union and the employer are each required to submit a final offer covering the many disputed issues. The arbitrator will then select one offer or the other in its entirety. In addition to allowing the Conservatives to handpick whoever they want as the arbitrator, the law includes guidelines that the arbitrator must follow in choosing a settlement. These are clearly designed to weight the outcome in favour of weakening postal workers' rights and benefits, including their pension plan. This puts intense pressure on CUPW officials to submit a final offer that includes concessions they would never have agreed to in bargaining, in the hope that the arbitrator will pick their offer rather than an even-worse one from the employer.

With this law the Conservatives are sending a signal to unionized workers: if you resist the concessions that employers demand you risk ending up with an even worse outcome. The Harper government's move against CUPW encourages provincial governments to intervene in similar ways against striking or locked-out workers in their jurisdictions.

The legislation threatened earlier this month against workers at Air Canada -- a private company, unlike CPC -- who had just gone on strike sent the same message. Public sector workers are not the only ones who should be concerned about governments intervening yet again on the side of employers to suspend the basic democratic right of workers to collectively negotiate their wages and working conditions.

Just how hostile the Tories are to unions isn't the only lesson here. Another is that unions confronted by governments need much more solidarity action by other people than CUPW received in order to avoid defeats. The sympathy strikes that took place in British Columbia to support hospital workers in 2004 and teachers in 2005 point to what's needed to improve the odds for unions attacked by governments. For this reason the call by the Fredericton labour council for a National Day of Action to support CUPW and Air Canada workers was a small step in the right direction.

Full Article
Source: Rabble 

The Left and the end of Harper

I have a dream about the end of Harper, in which he is driven from office, a reviled figure.

His will be a name invoked by parents to scare their little children. He will live on as a historical footnote in the style of R.B. Bennett and Calvin Coolidge, his ideological predecessors remembered for doing exactly the wrong thing in the face of a global slump, in Bennett's and Coolidge's cases the 1930s Depression.

His legacy will be the movement built to defeat him, a network of vibrant community-labour coalitions in cities and towns across the country and new informal connections between neighbours, co-workers and cultural community members forged through petitioning, marching, occupying or simply sharing analysis in conversation.

Harper also has a dream about how his time in office ends, and it could not be more different. In Harper's dream, the Tories have built a new majority party, rooted in superb fundraising and a highly sophisticated system of micro-matching messages to specific communities. The new Conservative majority will be unassailable, dominating political discussion and debate and backed by a thoroughly pro-Tory media consensus.

Whether my dream or Harper's ultimately prevails will depend primarily on the effectiveness of the Left. And if you look honestly at the state of the Left at this moment, you might find my dream improbable.

Quite simply, the Left has lost much of the social weight it had up until the late 20th century, as our capacity to shape public debate and influence policy has withered. At one point, the Left has a real presence in neighbourhoods and workplaces, and was a serious reference point in union meetings, movement activism and broader political discussion. The perception that there was a socialist alternative meant that the persistence of capitalism was in question. Now, it is taken for granted and, to be blunt, the Left is largely marginal and fragmentary; stuck in old modes of thinking and infected with a sectarian ethos that seeks out the enemies on our side rather than focussing on solidarity against the real enemy.

It is clear that the Harper government will force people into fighting back, and indeed is already doing so. These fights will not automatically rebuild the Left, but they will provide conditions in which it is necessary and possible to do so. However, the Left must engage in a conscious transformative process if a new Left capable of defeating the Harper agenda is to emerge out of the these fightbacks. Specifically, it is crucial to build a new anti-capitalist Left, oriented ultimately to overturning the whole system from through mass democratic insurgency and founded on the premise that our power lies in our capacity for collective action in the streets, workplaces and neighbourhoods.

Effective collective action doesn't just happen. Sure, militant protests can erupt quite spontaneously, but to be effective in facing down determined opponents like the Harper government, activists must develop strategic spaces and methods of democratic decision making. Wisconsin activists Andrew Sernatinger and Adam Breihan described a moment in the occupation of the State Capital building in Madison, when protesters were figuring out how to control the building. All it took to derail this action was for high-profile activist Jesse Jackson to come along and lead folks out of the building to hear a speaker. There was no capacity among the activists for analysis or decision making to resist this "friendly" tactic for breaking up the occupation.

Effective collective action is nurtured by the infrastructure of dissent, the range of formal and informal organizations through which we develop our capacities to analyze (mapping the system), communicate (through official and alternative media channels), and take strategic action in real solidarity. As ways of life and work change, the infrastructure of dissent that thrived in one set of conditions can wither.

For example, a particular kind of solidarity was nurtured in pre-World War Two communities such as Drouillard Road in Windsor, Winnipeg's North End or the Spadina/Kensington Market area in Toronto. In those places, your neighbours were often also your co-workers, creating a certain kind of solidarity. Further, the struggle for basic democratic and social rights (ranging from unionization to human rights protection to social assistance) led to the development of a wealth of organizations ranging from cultural halls to radical bookstores, and from anti-capitalist political organizations to sports and leisure clubs.

After the war, real though very partial victories led to widespread unionization, very real gains at the bargaining table and the expansion of social services, changing the political agenda. Work was relocated away from heavily unionized areas and the service sector began to grow dramatically. Suburbs expanded and automobile use increased, so that work and home became geographically distant and the likelihood of neighbours being co-workers declined. The networks and organizations that had thrived in a particular political and social situation eroded.

The 1960s saw the emergence of new forms of infrastructure of dissent, grounded in new struggles and ways of life. Militant liberation movements, such as those in Algeria, Vietnam, the Caribbean, Latin America and southern Africa inspired new forms of solidarity activism. The national struggle in Quebec and new levels of indigenous activism redefined the political agenda. Political communities forged around anti-racism, feminism, environmental activism and sexual liberation mobilized powerful struggles. Students became more prominent in activism, based in part on the increased participation in post-secondary education which brought in more students from working class and diverse ethnic backgrounds. Young workers played a key role in defiant activism in plants and offices, and much of the public sector was unionized.

The 1960s New Left spoke a new language, created new symbols, danced to different sound and organized a wide range of new publications, political and cultural groups, and networks. It revitalized elements of the old left and forged new political projects. Ultimately, it took a deliberate counter-offensive to demobilize these movements and erode the gains they made.

This counter-offensive began in the mid-1970s and cohered as the neo-liberal agenda to slash public services, strengthen market forces and reorganize work along lean production lines, which included a "just-in-time" workforce in which more employees were hired on a part-time and contract basis. The counter-offensive, waged by corporations and the state, had a number of dimensions which I cannot trace out here.

This counter-offensive, combined with significant changes in work and life, eroded the infrastructure of dissent that emerged out of the 1960s or survived from earlier struggles. One of the key tasks of the next New Left is to identify, nurture and learn from the infrastructure of dissent that is currently in formation.

Migrant rights struggles have been a crucial site for new forms of effective militant action and organizing capacity across North America and Europe, including vibrant groups like No One is Illegal and Migrante. The Palestine solidarity movement has been highly effective at using the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israeli goods and institutions to build alliances and reframe discussion and debate around the Middle East. Anti-poverty organizing has been an important source of resistance to the neo-liberal agenda, and the 20th anniversary of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty marks the durability of new forms of dissent infrastructure. Indigenous struggles, globally and within the Canadian state, offer a crucial challenge not only to the neo-liberal state, but also to a Left that has often framed politics so as to marginalize first peoples and their nations. Finally, there are hopeful signs that the anti-capitalist Left is finding new ways to work together in organizations like the Greater Toronto Workers' Assembly, bringing together activists from a range of movements and organizations.

An anti-capitalist Left seeking to engage with broader layers of the population must find ways to engage with the NDP, the largest mass organization with roots in the Left. Certainly the recent electoral success of the NDP in Quebec poses a new the challenge of building a pan-Canadian radical left that is committed to the principle of Quebec self-determination as well as indigenous sovereignty.

However, we must also be very clear that the NDP is focussed on presenting itself as a responsible alternative government in waiting, and will not provide any leadership in challenging the Harper agenda through militant activism in our streets, neighbourhoods and workplaces.

The renewal of the infrastructure of dissent in the anti-Harper fight will not just happen through our activism, but will require that we make time for serious discussion and debate. We need a new ethos for these discussions, thoroughly anti-sectarian with a genuine commitment to learning from each other even where we strongly and openly disagree. A spirit of open-endedness must set the tone, in which we admit we are seeking answers to emerging problems that are not already covered in the great books. We need to sharpen the anti-capitalist frame, making it truly integrative: ecological, queer, feminist, anti-racist, and anticolonialist. If we can do that, then it is possible that my dream for Harper's fall will come true.

Full Article

Minnesota on the Brink

The GOP's opposition to tax hikes for the rich is about to send 36,000 workers packing.

Imagine if every generation in your family had a history of gainful employment with the same company, which was renowned all over the state for having better wages, hours, and benefits than any other employer. While you were growing up, maybe your parents and grandparents encouraged you to work for the same company, because they knew it would pay you fairly for the hours you put in, and that it would take care of you after retirement. Now, imagine that the same employer has shut down indefinitely, meaning that you and 36,000 others are now on the streets with nowhere to go.

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, that employer is the state of Minnesota. At 5 p.m. today, the state of Minnesota is laying off tens of thousands of loyal employees, all of them victims of the same obstructionist politicking that pollutes Washington.

Just as congressional Republicans are threatening to bring about another crippling recession by forcing the U.S. to default on the national debt, Minnesota Republicans are refusing to accept any alternative to their cuts-only budget, meaning the entire state government will shut down. Minnesota’s largest employer is about to padlock its doors, and Republicans are willing to take away the livelihoods of 36,000 of their constituents in order to score petty political points.

Gov. Mark Dayton is asking for a modest three per cent tax increase for the wealthiest two per cent of Minnesotans, shifting the tax burden for those earning above $193,687 from 8.1 per cent to 11.1 per cent. This is nothing compared to the tax burden of Minnesotans earning less than $11,201 per year, who already pay 22.1 per cent of their income in taxes. However, the Republican-controlled state legislature stubbornly adheres to president of Americans for Tax Reform Grover Norquist’s “No New Taxes” pledge, and is ready to shut the government down so the richest two per cent won’t have to pay even just 10 per cent less, proportionally, than the poorest of the poor.

Starting July 1, a college professor teaching a summer class at a public university won’t have a job to go to. Her students won’t get to complete a class credit, and won’t even have a school to attend.

By the end of the month, during one of the busiest and most prosperous seasons in the American tourism industry, not one state park in Minnesota will be open to host campers, hikers, or sportsmen, ensuring that the state will lose untold millions in revenue.

By the end of the business day on Thursday, June 30, folks who depend on the state of Minnesota for a steady paycheck will be forced to either draw unemployment or depend on the money they saved for retirement to pay the bills and stay fed and clothed.

So, at 5 p.m. today, when the doors of the state capitol are padlocked, U.S. Uncut Minnesota will fight back with sustained, non-violent resistance until obstructionist Republicans accept their governor’s modest, reasonable, necessary tax increase.

After today, 36,000 people in Minnesota won’t have jobs. And, by the next election cycle, Minnesota Republicans will have to explain why they should be able to keep their own jobs while allowing their constituents working in state government to lose theirs. Hopefully, like an elephant, the people never forget.

Source: The Mark 

Ottawa pumps up military role in citizenship ceremonies

The Conservative government is strengthening the symbolic power of the military in public life by having a member of the Canadian Forces play a prominent role in citizenship ceremonies.

In an operational bulletin issued earlier this year, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration said highlighting the service of members of the armed forces is a way to underline to every new Canadian the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship.

The bulletin, which describes military service as one of the highest expressions of citizenship, states that members of the military should be seated on the main platform with the citizenship judge, that they can stand in the receiving line congratulating new citizens and that they may give a two- to three-minute speech. Where possible, the bulletin says the preference is for veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

The increased prominence of the military at these ceremonies is in keeping with other gestures made by Stephen Harper’s government. The new citizenship handbook, Discover Canada, for example, which was introduced by Minister Jason Kenney in 2009, placed much more emphasis on Canadian military history than the preceding guide.

Michael Fellman, a professor emeritus of history at Simon Fraser University, said it’s part of a gradual militarization of Canadian culture under the Conservatives.

“The Tories are in a long-range campaign to change Canadian values and make them more conservative,” Prof. Fellman said. “This is a way to show that the military is at the core of the meaning of citizenship.

“It’s an attempt to imbue new citizens with awareness of the military, and the military means a whole host of other things, sacrifice for freedom and all that stuff and it rallies people around these very chauvinistic values. It’s not the Canada I prefer to think about.”

Mr. Kenney’s office did not respond to an interview request.

RCMP officers in red serge have for a long time held prominent roles at citizenship ceremonies, so the inclusion of the military is not without parallel.

Major Pete Saunders, a member of the air force who served overseas in support of the war in Afghanistan, has participated in four citizenship ceremonies over the last year. He said he sat on stage with the citizenship judge, a representative of the citizenship and immigration ministry, the local MPP, an RCMP officer and a representative of the local native band.

“What we want to impress upon [the new citizens], much in the same way as the RCMP officer, is that we’re here to serve them. We’re not here to beat them down. We’re not here to cause them fear,” Major Saunders said. “That’s central to our message, so they understand that when we go on operations it’s at the behest of a democratically elected government and they have a hand in who that government is.”

Citizenship ceremonies often involve new Canadians from countries with a history of military dictatorship. Sending a message that in Canada the uniform is a symbol that can be trusted is important, Major Saunders said.

In its operational bulletin, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration issued instructions that the military member should be officially recognized during the ceremony and thanked for his or her service and dedication to Canada.

The citizenship judge or presiding official is asked in their opening remarks to say something along the lines of this sample text from the bulletin: “As a Canadian citizen, you live in a democratic country where individual rights and freedoms are respected. Thousands of brave Canadians have fought and died for these rights and freedoms. The commitment to Canada of our men and women in uniform should never be forgotten or go unrecognized. We thank them.”

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Source: Globe & Mail 

U.S. Set to Probe CIA Jail Deaths

WASHINGTON—Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a full criminal investigation into the deaths of two prisoners interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency.

But, substantially narrowing the scope of a Justice Department probe of the agency's activities following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mr. Holder ruled out prosecution in about 100 other instances in which the CIA had contact or alleged contact with terror detainees.

The move announced Thursday was greeted with a measure of relief by the CIA and some Republican supporters in Congress after years of divisive debate about the agency's role. There are, however, critics on either side: Some feel that any investigation is unwarranted and would undermine U.S. intelligence efforts. Others, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, partly welcomed Mr. Holder's announcement but found the focus on only two deaths insufficient.

Mr. Holder said he accepted the recommendations of John Durham, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, who since 2009 has been examining the treatment of CIA detainees. Two U.S. attorneys under President George W. Bush have previously reviewed the CIA detainee cases and declined to prosecute. Mr. Durham will continue to lead the investigation.

Mr. Holder's didn't name the prisoners whose deaths were being investigated. Justice Department prosecutors led by Mr. Durham have been using a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., to investigate the death of Gul Rahman at a CIA prison called the Salt Pit in Afghanistan in 2002, and the death of Manadel al Jamadi at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Criminal investigations of CIA activities are rare. The last major investigation of CIA officials related to the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. A CIA contractor in 2006 was convicted of beating an Afghan detainee, Abdul Wali, who died at a U.S. base in Afghanistan in 2003. The contractor is serving six years in prison.

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Source: Wall Street Journal  

New Jersey Legislature Votes To Keep State In Greenhouse Gas Initiative

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Two bills aimed at keeping New Jersey in a regional greenhouse gas reduction pact received final approval from the Legislature Wednesday, but the fate of the state's participation was no closer to being resolved.

Gov. Chris Christie announced in May he was pulling the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, by the end of the year. Democrats fast-tracked three bills through the Legislature to try to stop him.

New Jersey is one of 10 states currently participating in the pact, which seeks to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases believed to be a factor in global warming. To emit the pollutants, energy producers must acquire permits that can be bought and sold among plants, making it fiscally prudent to rein in their emissions.

The Assembly voted 43-34 Wednesday to approve a measure requiring the state to stay in the pact. The Senate had already passed the legislation, and it now heads to Christie's desk for his signature. Because the bill is a direct rebuke to Christie's announcement, it appears almost certain he will veto it.

"He's made his decision, which was final and within his authority," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said after the bills were introduced.

Another measure passed by the Assembly on a 44-34 vote characterizes any withdrawal from the pact as an infringement on the Legislature's intent to support anti-global warming initiatives. As a legislative resolution, that measure does not require Christie's signature, but it is also non-binding, meaning the Republican governor can ignore it if he chooses.

In announcing the withdrawal, Christie called the pact a failure and said it had been ineffective in curbing pollution. There is also disagreement on whether the program has driven up energy costs. Environmental activists have said New Jersey is abandoning its status as a leader in ecological protections.

Despite the lingering uncertainty, environmentalists quickly praised the votes Wednesday.

"By passing this bill, the Legislature has acted to protect New Jersey's environment and green economy and to prevent the governor from pulling out of RGGI and abandoning the funding from RGGI," said Jeff Tittel, Director of New Jersey Sierra Club.

Tittel said the votes indicate that lawmakers would be likely to support legislation preventing the regulatory changes that would be required before the state could withdraw from the pact.

Source: Huffington  

Citizens United Says "Socialist" Obama "Only Cares About Himself"

Donald Trump and Glenn Beck are socialists.

So are the Kardashians. All of them. And probably Anthony Weiner.

In fact, they may be "entrenched" everywhere, as Sen. Joseph McCarthy once said about communists, "no longer [just] a creeping threat...but a racing doom."

Don't take it from me. These revelations come from a phone conversation between a friend of mine and a woman named Tiffany from the arch-conservative Presidential Coalition. Which is an arm of Citizens United, a powerful non-profit organization that recently talked the Supreme Court into dropping a ban on political advertising by corporations and unions.

Tiffany was also introduced on the call as an assistant to Dick Morris, former Clinton campaign manager, turned hooker/tabloid victim, turned Republican avenging angel and media personality.

So these people all know a thing or two about power and what's hidden in its boggy depths.

My friend, who asked not to be identified for fear of being identified, recorded this phone chat (you can listen to it below). He had donated money to the 2008 John McCain presidential primary campaign and regularly gets pitches for Republican causes. But this one got to the root of all the "socialism" rhetoric pinballing around the political circuits.

The call began with a recorded message from Morris. President Obama has "rammed down our throat" a 14 trillion dollar deficit, the Morris avatar said. "As one of the top conservative supporters in your area, you have been selected to take part in a survey. So much is at stake in the coming months. Please hold the line and I'll send you back to my assistant who will fill you in on the details."

That's when Tiffany came on. "The Presidential Coalition exists to educate the American public on the value of having principled, conservative Republican leadership at all levels of government, especially the White House," she said, mirroring the language from the Coalition's website.

Then she asks the survey question: "...which conservative leader, past or present, most shares your vision for America and can make our country great again?"

"None of them," my friend said. He's not really a top conservative in his area. "I think they're all horrible."

Unflapped, Tiffany consoled him. "Well, it's still early, sir." (Does that mean we're waiting for Sarah Palin?) "We just absolutely cannot afford to wait any longer to stop Obama's dangerous socialist agenda!" Tiffany said. Boom. It's out in the open.

"Can you tell me what the socialist agenda is?" my friend asked. Tiffany doggedly followed the script. "We're going on the offensive now with a full media onslaught."

"I understand that. And you said you wanted to "Stop Obama's socialist agenda." Did I miss that or did you say that?"

"What sir?"

"Did you say that or did I mishear you?"

"No I did say that."

"Ok. What is the Obama socialist agenda you're talking about?"


"He only cares about himself, sir."

There we are. Socialism is self-love. A socialist is narcissistic, self-serving, egotistical and, as my thesaurus says, "blinded by one's own glory."

Wow. There really are a lot of socialists out there.

Dick Morris may actually not be one because he refused to talk to me for this post. Likewise Citizens United press spokesperson Jeff Marschner, who was out to lunch when I called but never returned several messages I left on his voicemail. And Citizens United, which wants to restore the U.S. government to "citizens' control" and "assert American values," does not mention selfishness as one of those values. Besides, you can't be united with anyone else when you're only thinking about yourself.

Maybe this was just a case of a political boiler room speed dialer getting lost in her boilerplate script. Personally, I think Mr. Beck and Mr. Trump are simply great showboating conservatives and ideological bomb-throwers, not communards. We can't have enough of those to help us get off our lazy, socialist duffs and out of complacency.

Or, the Presidential Coalition call could actually tell us a lot about threats to our way of life.

But I'm still not so worried. If socialists are the vain people Tiffany suggests, they'll just as likely trip over their own imposing shadows as they will get elected President of the United States.

Ronald Reagan won that Morris/Presidential Coalition survey, by the way, getting three times the votes of his closest competitor, Mike Huckabee.

The extravagantly self-referential socialist, Donald Trump, came in a disappointing fifth with seven percent.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Minnesota Government Shutdown: State Could Close Doors Friday

A simmering labor dispute in Minnesota could erupt into a full-blown state government shutdown just in time for the July 4th holiday weekend if a $5 billion budget gap isn't closed by the end of Thursday.

Across the border from where Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) launched his assault on public sector employees' collective bargaining rights, a conflict over Minnesota's budget threatens to temporarily lay off more than 20,000 state workers. Only this time, Gov. Mark Dayton, from the state's Democratic Farmer Labor Party, is facing off against intransigent Republican legislative leaders.

State parks and zoos are scheduled to close, potentially infuriating thousands of Independence Day campers, revelers and barbecuers. If the Thursday midnight deadline is not met, the state capitol would shut its doors. Non-critical functions like road construction would screech to a halt, creating an economic ripple effect that would raise the state unemployment rate by as much as a whole percentage point.

"This is going to be a tough shutdown," said David Lillehaug, an attorney for the governor, on Wednesday.

Read updates about the Minnesota shutdown on a HuffPost live blog here.

Dayton is proposing progressive income tax increases to fix the state budget, which faces a huge gap over the next two years, while the GOP is demanding further spending cuts. Both sides said they were attempting to compromise. But time is running out, and even if an agreement is reached Thursday, it may not come soon enough to avoid a partial shutdown.

If the shutdown occurs, "It's the largest single layoff that's ever occurred in the state of Minnesota," said Jim Monroe, head of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE). Monroe estimates that more than 8,000 of his union's members would be temporarily out of a job, and the effects on the state as a whole would be "almost unimaginable."

The budget battle fight has taken on the ideological cast of a clash between an unapologetic progressive, Dayton, and Tea Party-favored state legislators. The state's House and Senate are both dominated by Republican majorities. David Schultz, an adjunct professor at the Hamline University School of Law in Saint Paul, Minn., told HuffPost the showdown is the result of "a real enormous game of constitutional chicken."

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Source: Huffington