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 08, 2011

Israel expropriates Palestinian land in order to legalize West Bank settlement

Construction in the West Bank settlement of Modi’in Ilit.
For the first time in three years, the state has confiscated uncultivated land in the West Bank. The land will be used to legalize a nearby settlement outpost.

Last week, acting on orders from the government, the Civil Administration declared 189 dunams of land belonging to the Palestinian village of Karyut to be state land, so as to retroactively legalize houses and a road in the Hayovel neighborhood of the settlement of Eli. This would seem to violate Israel's long-standing commitment to the United States not to expropriate Palestinian lands for settlement expansion.

An Ottoman land law dating from 1858 allows uncultivated land to be declared state land. This law, which is still in force in the West Bank, is what was used to carry out the expropriation.

According to last Sunday's decree, the lands in question belong to the village of Karyut. Hayovel was built on these lands in 1998 as a temporary outpost, and later permanent houses and an access road were built. A 2005 report on the outposts by attorney Talia Sasson concluded that Hayovel was built on private Palestinian land.

After the Peace Now and Yesh Din organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice against the construction in 2005 and 2009, the Civil Administration reviewed the land's legal status. Since Jordan, which ruled the West Bank from 1948-67, had never registered them in its land registry, the Civil Administration reclassified them as under review. This meant that any place that was still cultivated in the late 1990s would remain private land, but the rest could be declared state land.

In 2004, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised U.S. President George W. Bush to stop this practice, and this promise was later reiterated by his successor, Ehud Olmert. In his speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "We have no intention to build new settlements or set aside land for new settlements. But there is a need to have people live normal lives and let mothers and fathers raise their children like everyone in the world."

This is the current government's first such expropriation of lands. The last lands to be similarly expropriated were 20 dunams near Betar Ilit that were declared state land in November 2008 to allow the construction of a gas station.

The declaration is another move toward retroactively legalizing Hayovel. The Palestinians now have 45 days to appeal to the military appeals committee. But the road to full legalization is still long, as the entire settlement of Eli lacks an approved master plan.

Peace Now chairman Yariv Oppenheimer said Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were going to great lengths to legalize isolated outposts deep in the territories, even if this involves land expropriations, but "as far as evictions are concerned, the state is dragging its feet." He said this will encourage settlers to keep building illegally.

Eli's mayor, Kobi Eliraz, said he is glad the state is making progress toward formalizing the status of the Hayovel neighborhood.

Source: Ha'aretz 

A Real Threat to Privacy

Among the most deliberate and abhorrent mass violations of privacy committed in recent memory did not come as a result of technology, social services, databases, hackers, thieves, leakers, or governments. It was an act of a news organization, News Corp., which hacked into the phones of a reported 4,000 people, including not just celebrities but dead children and the families of the victims of terrorism and war.

Power corrupts.

The oh-so-rich irony is that this comes from the same company that, through its Wall Street Journal, fancies itself the protector of our privacy. The Journal would have us believe that web sites, technology companies, advertisers, and retailers are the enemies of privacy. No, it was their own corporate colleagues, their fellow journalists.

The solution to this threat to privacy is not to change technology or even the law. It is to enforce the laws, norms, and mores that already exist and hold to account the criminals and those responsible for their actions. That is, the managers of News Corp. That is, the Murdoch family.

This is not a matter of technology but of corruption.

Killing the offending News of the World is -- I agree with the Guardian -- a deeply cynical act. Some relatively small number of the paper's employees was responsible for these acts -- they're presumed to be gone already. Now all of them are out of a job. Now a 168-year-old newspaper is dead -- and it's not as if we have any to spare. But the bosses responsible for the coverup remain.

The Murdochs apparently believe that they have amputated the offending limb and that's that. But the toxin still flows in the bloodstream.

Mind you, I'm not your stock Murdoch basher. I worked for News Corp. in the '90s, when I was TV critic at TV Guide, when the company owned it. I launched a magazine there and then went to work briefly at Delphi Internet when the company bought it (escaping in the nick of time before the first of many News Corp. internet disasters ensued). When News Corp. bought Dow Jones, I told reporters that I had not seen interference from Murdoch the way I had at revered Time Inc. That is to say, I defended Murdoch.

A further disclosure: My next book, Public Parts, was to be published, like my last one, by News Corp.'s HarperCollins. But I pulled the book because in it, I am very critical of the parent company for being so closed. It's now being published by Simon and Schuster.

One more disclosure: I write for and have consulted for the Guardian, which has dogged this story brilliantly and triumphally.

Now having said all that, I'll say this: News Corp. and its culture are simply corrupt. I'll ask you this: Could you imagine such crimes occurring at Google? Wouldn't these crimes mortally damage its brand? Could you imagine News Corp. taking Google's pledge to do no evil? Those are rhetorical questions. The answers are obvious.

I'm most appalled that News Corp.'s crimes occur under the banner of journalism. Ah, professional journalism, which holds itself up above the supposedly nonexistent standards of bloggers and mere citizens and witnesses. Journalism, here to protect, educate, inform, and represent us.

I doubt we'll end up with a Nixonian moment: What did Rupert know and when did he know it? But we can't say the same for his son, James. See the Guardian's annotation of James' statement today (a new form of journalism, by the way), which only raises more questions. He is in charge of News International, the offending division. He is set to take over the company. The company is almost set to take over Sky.

I'm generally a critic of regulating speech and thus media. But the UK regulates media and I can't imagine a better time to do so. What will the government do? If it allows the Sky acquisition to go through, then it makes a lie and laugh of its authority. Meanwhile, what can the profession do to amputate this diseased arm, News Corp.?

I know I sound strident here. I know some will properly accuse me of being late to the bonfire, having just confessed that I'd defended Murdoch. But the two go together. I was willing to give the Murdochs their rope. Now they've hung themselves with it.

The story's a long way away from America. But News Corp. isn't. Now all of us who live under its influence deserve to ask what they will do to fix the company's corrupt culture that allowed these crimes. We can ask. But I don't expect answers.

Source: Huffington 

Elections And The Premiers: Why Dalton McGuinty Is Worse Off Now Than Four Years Ago

Ontario and Manitoba are setting up for some closely contested elections in October.

But the last elections in the two provinces in 2007 were also supposed to go down to the wire, and in the end the incumbent governments beat their rivals by 10 points. Will the same thing happen in the fall?

Four months prior to the October 2007 election in Ontario, two polls by Ipsos-Reid and Environics indicated a neck-and-neck race between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, with about 40 per cent of Ontarians intending to vote for the governing Liberals and about 38 per cent expecting to vote for John Tory’s PCs.

But on election night, the Liberals bumped up their support to 42 per cent while that of the Progressive Conservatives tanked to only 32 per cent. Part of that swing was attributed to Tory’s disastrous campaign pledge to extend public funding to faith-based schools, a promise he had to back away from amid widespread opposition.

This election may be different. In order for Dalton McGuinty to win his third election, he will need an even more dramatic shift in support during the campaign.

The last polls by Forum Research and Ipsos-Reid put the PCs in the lead with about 41 per cent, well ahead of the Liberals at 30 per cent and the NDP at 21 per cent. If the same kind of change in voting intentions occurs over the summer as it did in 2007, the Liberals will have an outside chance of pulling off a victory.

The situation in Manitoba, however, is far rosier for the incumbent. In March 2007, two months before the May election, the PCs and the governing New Democrats were tied at 40 per cent apiece in a Probe Research poll. But during the campaign, the NDP roared ahead to finish with 48 per cent support, outpacing the Progressive Conservatives by 10 points.

The most recent poll paints a similar picture: the NDP and PCs are tied at 44 per cent, with the Liberals at only nine per cent. Premier Greg Selinger is in the same position that his predecessor, Gary Doer, was four years ago. If the cards fall this year as they did then, Selinger should be able to win his first election as NDP leader.

Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador are also having elections in the fall, but their outcomes are not in doubt.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

The riddle of the middle

It's like a bad riddle: almost everyone thinks they belong to it, but few can define what it is.

Politicians claim to champion it, but it's increasingly difficult to determine what it actually wants.

And, often, when we talk about it, we're really only referring to part of it -- the part that doesn't really belong to it at all, but likes to think it does.

What is it?

It's the middle class.

The CCPA Growing Gap Project did extensive public opinion research to look at issues around income inequality and poverty-how it's experienced and how it's perceived. But something else was revealed: as my colleague explained to me, it doesn't matter if you make $25,000 or $150,000; everyone self-identifies as "middle class."

Now, obviously the vast majority of Canadians understand there's a world of difference between life as experienced by someone living right around the poverty line and someone among the richest 5% of income earners. So how can both extremes (representing that massive swath of humanity not in a position to light cigars with $100 bills -- at least not every day -- but not living on the street either) possibly see themselves as part of the same class?

Is "middle class" simply a label that speaks to how people want to think of themselves and be perceived?

Perhaps its real significance is as a term that de-stigmatizes both ends of the spectrum. It allows the well off to feel less pretentious (less "elite," to use a term co-opted by neoconservatives to describe postal workers) and the working poor feel less financially insecure.

We talk about the "disappearing middle class," but while disposable income is flatlining and decent jobs are vanishing, the middle class label isn't. On the contrary, it's being stretched like an elastic band to accommodate an enormous range of people with very different lives and financial realities.

People who make less can aspire to the notional lifestyle middle class evokes, and people who make more can take comfort in a label that allows them to have more, yet still be considered ordinary, down-to-earth folks.

But I think constant use and acceptance of this term allows us to avoid addressing the persistent financial struggle experienced by too many, the accumulation of wealth by too few, and the difference in between.

I think the over-use of "middle classism" provides us all with a convenient way to avoid the fact that far too many people constantly face the heartbreaking struggle of paying the rent or feeding the kids, while others bring in six figures and can top up their RRSPs each year quite comfortably.

I think it relies on the illusion of economic commonality -- even, dare I say it, a solidarity -- that is a useful pretense come election time when parties of all stripes champion the "middle class."

The distribution of wealth has shifted, but the self-identification as middle class has not; if anything, identification of and with the middle class has expanded to include more people than ever. And rather than political leaders addressing the vast disparities across the economic spectrum, we hear how their policies will benefit the "middle class" when even a cursory analysis reveals the real beneficiaries of many of these policies are those with much higher incomes (the very upper crust of the middle, so to speak).

Full Article

As Debt Talks Threaten Medicare, Social Security, Study Finds U.S. Spending $4 Trillion on War

As part of ongoing debt negotiations, the White House has proposed slashing more than $4 trillion from annual budget deficits over the next decade — twice what Obama had proposed earlier. While much of the talk in Washington centers on taxes, Social Security and Medicare, far less attention is being paid to the growing cost of the U.S. wars overseas. A new report from Brown University has estimated the true cost of the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will end up costing approximately $4 trillion — far more than the Bush or Obama administrations have acknowledged. The authors of the study reveal that because the war has been financed almost entirely by borrowing, $185 billion in interest has already been paid on war spending, and another $1 trillion could accrue in interest alone through 2020. We speak with Neta Crawford, co-director of the Costs of War Project, and a Professor of Political Science at Boston University.

Source: Democracy Now! 

How the right knocks over democratic building blocks

We are living in a moment of wrenching disconnect between the severity and complexity of the challenges that we face as a society, and the apparent inability of our institutions to respond to these challenges. Our society is becoming less equal, our prosperity is becoming less secure, and our economy is ripping at the fabric of nature. Yet, while a majority of Canadians still hold progressive values, and while many conservatives care deeply about these issues, we are experiencing a creeping erosion of our ability to achieve progress through our democracy.

While it is too early to tell for sure, I expect that the new Harper government will continue its strategy of slowly dismantling the post-war consensus that established a powerful role for government in creating common goods, from secure pensions to universal health care and an ever-more educated population. The essence of the strategy is to publicly attack government while gradually damaging its ability to contribute to society and expanding the role of the private sector. This strategy contrasts with the "shock doctrine" identified by Naomi Klein in her book of that title, a strategy to use public confusion during crises to ram through free-market policies, and it reflects Prime Minister Stephen Harper's desire to move the Canadian political centre to the right and make his party the "natural governing party" of Canada.

Like the shock doctrine, the creeping erosion strategy was first implemented by the right-wing governments that rose to power in the 1980s. It is a powerful approach because it creates the conditions for further rightward shifts. For example, these governments repeatedly created massive public deficits by cutting taxes while raising security spending, and then they used these manufactured deficits to justify cuts to social programs. The Harper government's agenda of tax cuts, spending on fighter jets and prisons, and subsequent "we have no choice" cuts to social spending is a standard example of this tactic.

This creeping erosion undermines our belief that we can and should work together through our democracy to achieve progress. Again, the strategy is powerful because it continually creates the conditions that reinforce its own arguments by making the problems it identifies even worse. When the Harper government is secretive, authoritarian or incompetent it is also re-enforcing its political agenda to persuade Canadians that government cannot be trusted and that it is not the answer to our shared challenges. Similarly, policies that expose Canadians to greater economic insecurity, from trade deals to deregulation and union busting, also make Canadians more afraid of change, and therefore more resistant to government interventions in the economy that are designed to reduce inequality or protect the environment.

The upshot is a decline in our trust in our institutions, and in our society. When people believe that government is dominated by self-interested elites, or that their neighbours will find a way to cheat the system, then they are far more likely to oppose collective approaches to problems that involve any short-term cost or uncertainty. This decline in public and social trust is not just a consequence of political strategy, it is highly connected to the longer term decline in "social capital," identified by the likes of Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, but the creeping erosion strategy is designed to cynically leverage this decline for political power.

To counter this strategy we must inspire people to work together for progress through democracy, instead of retreating into their private lives.

On the one hand, this means establishing a narrative for change that transcends single-issue demands on government by talking explicitly about the role of government in improving people's lives.

On the other hand, we need to go beyond treating democracy as an end unto itself. While abuses of government power and a broken electoral system are wrong, they do not motivate people who no longer view government as a place where they should invest some of their hopes for a better life. Instead, we need to link democratic process with outcomes that people care deeply about. Democracy is not just an abstract ideal, democracy is a practice whose application has given us the programs that Canadians still strongly support because they express their values and make their lives better.

Ultimately, we need to combine our advocacy on issues with advocacy about the process of government decision-making about those issues. In recent years there has been an explosion of interest and innovation in more participatory processes for government decision-making. These processes take advantage of the skilled facilitation of dialogue between experts and diverse citizens through online and face-to-face engagement. These processes can build trust. They can build bridges between progressives and conservatives. They can generate the new ideas, relationships and support that are necessary to tackle the major challenges that we face together. To revitalize the role of government as a force for the common good, we have to make government more open, inclusive and connected to people.

Of course, in the near term, activists and advocacy organizations are going to be more focused on resisting the most destructive elements of the Harper's governments agenda. In this context, we have the opportunity to inspire people about the potential for progress through democracy. We need to experiment with new ways of embodying democratic practices within our own organizations. We know that when people feel a genuine sense of engagement and ownership over the campaigns and organizations that they participate in, they will give far more of their time, energy, money and creativity to the cause. We also know that practical democracy is challenging, and that we must be easy on ourselves as we experiment with new methods and make mistakes.

As creeping erosion diminishes our experience of progress through democracy, organizers need to step up their practice to provide it. This is particularly true for younger Canadians who have never had this positive experience. So many people deeply desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. It is up to us to create the conditions in which more and more Canadians get to live that experience.

Full Article

Sordid Tales from the Red Market

[Q&A] A new book chronicles the global trade in body parts.

Journalist Scott Carney’s recent book, The Red Market, chronicles the various ways – from South Asian blood farms to ancient temples where devotees’ hair is sold for wigs – in which the world is steadily commodifying the human body. According to Carney, recent advances in medicine have made the market for body parts all the more lucrative.

THE MARK: How did you come to write The Red Market?

SCOTT CARNEY: I started out as a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I had finished all the course work for my PhD and was just about to head abroad to do my field work. But I had a problem, in that I didn't get the grants that I needed to actually do my research, so I was sort of looking at this nebulous future. During the summer, a friend of mine said, “Scott, you need some money. Why don't you go join a clinical trial?” People can make a lot of money really quickly by renting their bodies to pharmaceutical companies, and I thought that was a great idea.

So I signed up for this clinical trial. I just called the company, and it turned out it was testing a new drug that was basically a reformulation of Viagra. So I was going to be locked in a room with 30 guys who were hopped up on these erectile-dysfunction drugs. One, I thought it was hilarious to have that done, and two, I was interested in the way that our bodies were being commodified – I was already thinking in anthropological ways.

So I went there, and I met all these people who were professional guinea pigs, literally going from clinical trial to clinical trial around the country, and making about $60,000 a year doing this. And it was just sort of weird to be in that situation. I made my money from that trial – about $2,500 – but I also wrote about the experience in the weekly paper there, and for a website called I realized I could make money writing, which was sort of groovy, and also that there's this whole underground industry that seems a little bit like prostitution. It’s potentially dangerous, because you're testing these chemicals that may or may not be great for you.

I'd been studying in India for years – I'd been going there since about 1998 – and, after some background research, I found out that this clinical-trial business was really big in India, as well. In fact, clinical trials were being outsourced there. I travelled to India, and I began writing for Wired magazine. I eventually got more and more involved in different aspects of this “body business” – probably because of that first experience [in the clinical trial].

There's a second nail in the coffin to my academic career, which I write about in the book. When I went to India, I went as a program director for an abroad program, and one of my students died on the trip, and I was responsible for bringing her body back to the United States. After she died, all these people came out of the woodwork with interest in her body. There were morticians involved, there were insurance companies trying to move her body back to the U.S., there was her family, and there was the police, who initially suspected murder. And it struck me that, as a person, when she was alive, she had a certain control over her body that she relinquished in death. I started thinking about what it means to have the body as an object, first as something that has a soul or some ineffable value in it.

THE MARK: How did your research bring you to the attention of what you call the “Red Market”?

CARNEY: I continued to be interested in this idea of the physical self versus the commercial self, and the interplay between those two. I was living in South India with my wife, when, in the village next to where we lived, everyone sold their kidneys all at once. I was sort of in the middle of it all, and I broke the story for the international media. Everywhere I looked, I felt like more stories about the body being commercialized were happening around me – there were these kidney sales, there were the blood farmers … I even tracked groups of grave robbers around. And I just sort of followed it – it sort of happened incidentally. I would finish one story and look up and another would just land in my lap.

THE MARK: And your book draws on all of this.

CARNEY: Yeah. I looked at children who were kidnapped and sold into adoption. I looked at bones that were robbed from graves and sold as medical skeletons to the western world – actually, through a Canadian bone broker. I looked at surrogacy clinics where women rented and sold their wombs. I looked at human egg selling in Cyprus, Spain. And I looked at many other things. It's really a very wide book in terms of content; I'm looking at these broader concepts of the commercialization of flesh.

THE MARK: What did you find that shocked you the most?

CARNEY: It's still shocking to me that the body can be sold – that we can look at the body only for its parts, and not for being a human. I don't think I've ever really gotten over that concept. But as for particular events, there was this one moment in India where literally 80 women all lined up and showed me their abdomens, and they all had kidney-extraction scars. That was shocking. I was also shocked talking to police and doctors who had received people who had literally been kidnapped for their blood. It's all of these things.

Source: The Mark 

Victory for Media Diversity: Court Strikes Down FCC’s Attempt to Relax Media Ownership Rules

A federal appeals court has overturned part of a Federal Communications Commission rule that made it easier for a single company, like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, to own a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in a single market. The ruling marks the second time the appeals court has intervened in the commission’s attempts to relax media ownership rules. We speak with Brandy Doyle, policy director for the Prometheus Radio Project, the organization that filed lawsuit, Prometheus v FCC. “Media consolidation has a particularly terrible impact on ownership by those who are historically disenfranchised in the media system like women, people of color, workers, the poor, anyone whose voice is not already represented in our media,” says Doyle.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch Shuts Down Flagship U.K. Newspaper Amidst Scandal Over Illegal Surveillance

Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is engulfed in a growing scandal after new evidence emerged that his reporters in Britain paid corrupt police officers for story tips and hacked the voicemails of thousands of people, from child murder victims to the families of Britain’s war dead. On Thursday, Murdoch shocked the country by shutting down the newspaper at the center of the scandal — the News of the World — Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday newspaper. Founded in 1843, the tabloid’s final edition will be this weekend. Earlier today, one former reporter for the paper, Andy Coulson, was arrested on corruption and phone hacking charges. Until January, Coulson served as British Prime Minister David Cameron’s director of communications. Meanwhile, Murdoch is attempting to pull off a $12 billion takeover of the television network, British Sky Broadcasting. But today, Britain’s culture secretary announced its decision on the Sky deal will be delayed because of the ongoing scandal. We speak to Ryan Chittum, who has been writing about the scandal for the Columbia Journalism Review.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Workers File New Suit Against Wisconsin Anti-Union Law; Prison Labor Could Replace Public Employees

Wisconsin’s public unions have filed a new lawsuit against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining law. The lawsuit from two Madison chapters of the AFL-CIO alleges the law is unconstitutional because it exempts public employees such as police and firefighters, thereby violating equal protection rights. This week, opponents of the law have raised alarm over public workers could lose their jobs to Wisconsin prisoners because of the gutting of collective bargaining. Wisconsin prisoners have previously been used for a limited number of state projects, but officials will now have greater leeway to assign them to jobs previously reserved for unionized employees.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Sen. Sanders: Hands Off Social Security in Debt Talks

The meeting between the White House and congressional leaders about raising the national debt ceiling was held following news reports Obama is now backing significant cuts to Medicare spending and retirement benefits under Social Security in return for Republican support. Although most Republicans continue to oppose a deal, Obama received a major boost on Thursday when House Speaker John Boehner said he supports Obama’s efforts to reach an agreement. Speaking on the Senate floor, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders denounced any proposal targeting Social Security.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: "We of course need a vigorous debate about how we deal with the deficit crisis and our national debt, but Social Security independently funded with a $2.6 trillion surplus — having not contributed one nickel to the national debt — should not be part of that debate."

Source: Democracy Now! 

IRS Drops Investigation Of 5 Donors Who Contributed To Politically Active Nonprofit Groups

WASHINGTON -- The Internal Revenue Service is dropping its investigation of five donors for making contributions to the kind of nonprofit groups that have become popular for spending millions of dollars on political ads in the past few years, the agency announced Thursday.

The IRS was trying to determine whether the donors owed federal gift taxes for the donations. However, IRS spokesman Frank Keith said Thursday the law on gift taxes is unclear, so the agency is closing the cases and won't open any new ones until it reviews whether additional guidance or legislation is necessary.

"The Internal Revenue Service has little history to draw from in this area and the limited guidance we previously issued on this matter is almost thirty years old," Keith said. "While we review the need for additional guidance or legislation, we will not use resources to pursue examinations on this issue. Any future action we take will be prospective and after notice to the public."

At issue is whether contributors to the tax-exempt organizations – many of them donate six-figure and seven figure amounts – have to pay the 35 percent gift tax on their donations.

The IRS did not name the donors or the nonprofit groups to which they contributed. But the agency's confirmation of an investigation in May could have had a chilling effect on politically active groups that have become integral to campaigns.

In the 2010 congressional elections, a number of groups incorporated as nonprofits under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code spent millions on political ads without disclosing their donors. The groups predominantly supported Republican candidates and causes in 2010, though both parties are expected to use them in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

Several key Republican members of Congress questioned whether the investigation was politically motivated. The IRS said the examinations were started by career civil servants and there was no influence from anyone outside the agency.

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he is troubled that the IRS did not explain why the investigations were started in the first place. He said the guidance issued by the IRS left open the door for future audits, after new guidance is issued.

"I will continue my investigation until the complete story behind the actions of the IRS has been told," Camp said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said the decision to drop the investigation "ensures that the IRS remains free from even the hint of undue political influence. It cannot be turned into an arm of political retribution or payback. It must remain independent."

Source: Huffington 

Rob Ford’s big retreat

The cumulative effect of the Mayor’s bullying has come home to roost over his pride snub. Those on council willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in the past can’t now.

It’s a twisty drive in to Fawn Lake, across a narrow steel bridge that spans the Muskoka River, over crests in the road too steep to see the other side and past neatly kept cottages on what used to be farmland.

Here, near the end of an old logging road that runs along the north shore, on what’s known as Stephenson’s Point, is where Mayor Rob Ford comes when he doesn’t want to be found, to the cottage that’s been in the Ford family since the late 1960s, when the mayor was knee-high.

The place can be tricky to find, since Fawn is also known to locals as Deer Lake, and there are at least three Deer Lakes within 100 kilometres.

Fawn is tiny, taking a mere 20 minutes to paddle from end to end – less with the wind at your back. Which makes the Fords’ brown Viceroy in a clearing stand out all the more from the other cottages.

There are a couple of bigger ones. Two of them, brand new, are being built on 40 hectares further up the road, but a few properties have little more on them than a trailer or hunting cabin. The lake is inhabited by a handful of locals year-round. While the local municipality picks up garbage, the narrow road leading to the Fords’ place isn’t plowed in winter. A sign advises motorists to use the road at their own risk.

The cottage a few doors up from the Fords’ is on the market for half a million.

But none have anywhere near the beach frontage of the Fords’ (looks like sand was trucked in) or the number of water toys tied to the dock. There’s a volleyball net and play sets for the kids, and a big name to go with the spread – El Rancho Grande. Beauty. I think the name was big brother Doug’s idea, since he’s listed as the owner of the place on records kept at the Muskoka District land registry office.

Yep, it’s the party place to be for frolics in the sun, and gives the impression that the Fords are a fun-loving family.

I can almost see Rob now, chillin’ on one of the two family motorboats, soaking up his fave tunes, maybe some Supertramp or a little Zeppelin. Who needs the Pride parade when you’ve got this?

Talk about a backlash.

Who could have foreseen the mayor taking his biggest licks to date on the gay thing? In one way the push-back is karmic. What was Ford’s unlikely election victory, after all, if not the defeat of the “gay elites” (embodied by his chief rival, George Smitherman) that supposedly used to run this town, right? Check the vitriol spewed by Ford symps online over criticism by both the left and right in the media of the mayor’s Pride rebuff for proof of that out-there mindset.

In politics it’s usually the unexpected that kills.

After an audacious seven-plus months at the helm hammering out an ambitious – some would say ruthless – agenda, the unlikeliest slight, one of many,  has become a defining, if not the defining, moment in Ford’s tenure.

Many of his usual friends in the conservative media have deserted him.

They’ve been a little too quick, however, to chalk up this shemozzle to bad communications. They don’t know the half of it.

Truth is, Ford’s political staff have been trying for two months to get the boss to agree to attend at least one Pride event. But he flat-out refused. He was going to spend the weekend at the cottage with his family, and that was that. There was no budging from that position.

Right up to the last moment, the mayor’s spokespeople left the door open to a surprise appearance at the parade.

But it was all a ruse, for damage-control purposes. If memory serves, he was unequivocal about the matter of his Pride non-participation when asked about it during the election, too.

Enter big brother Doug, the councillor from Ward 2, to muck up the waters. When asked about Rob’s decision, he at first said he’d see what he could do to change his mind. Doug was singing a different tune 24 hours later, defending the mayor for wanting to spend time at the cottage. Mom was brought out to a ribbon-cutting to tug the public heartstrings. All that was missing was a doctor’s note. Controversy had turned to spectacle.

And inside the mayor’s office, some were putting the blame on Doug for sowing doubt about the mayor’s Pride intentions. Holy Moses! Doug a political liability? But it’s not the first time he’s spoken out of turn.

Indeed, some among the mayor’s staff wish Doug would “just shut the fuck up,” as one put it. The media have been accustomed to think protector Doug’s speaking for the mayor, but that’s not always true.

Maybe if the mayor made himself more available to the press corps there’d be less room for confusion about his intentions.

But he’s still a work in progress on the PR front, and that’s putting it mildly. You never know what Rob might say after he offers up the expected sound bite. He’s got flat feet.

It’s Doug who’s seen as the brains in the family, the engine that drives the Ford machine at City Hall. But it’s Doug who’s the political neophyte, as anyone who’s heard him speak at council can attest. The words “train” and “wreck” come to mind.

There’s no disputing that the brothers Ford are close. They’re in near-constant communication. But there’s a family dynamic at play between the two, maybe even a hint of sibling rivalry.

And the Ford brothers couldn’t be more different. Doug’s got the big car, the big house, the big money from the family biz, the big ideas: Ferris wheels on the waterfront, tunnels under the Gardiner, NFL football.

The mayor drives a minivan and lives in a modest bungalow. He manages the books for the family’s multimillion-dollar labelling business, but it’s unclear how much of the family fortune Rob’s been cut.

What’s clear from the Pride fiasco is that fatigue is setting in. The cumulative effect of the Fords’ bullying has come home to roost over Pride.

Those on council willing to give the mayor the benefit of the doubt in the past will have a harder time aligning themselves with him now.

That group would include those in the inner circle perhaps contemplating mayoral runs of their own in the future. Here’s looking at you, Karen Stintz and Michael Thompson.

The doubts are beginning to set in right at the top, among the mayor’s political staff, about whether Ford will be able to carry the vote on the big-money items coming up for council’s consideration, not the least of which is the Core Services Review.

The Pride wrangle has caused his allies to have a few second thoughts about their affiliation with the brand. The honeymoon may be over.

Source: Now Magazine 

Bob Vander Plaats, Iowa Social Conservative Kingmaker, Unveils A New Pledge For 2012ers

A few weeks ago, we delved into the world of pledges that the members of the GOP field were being pressured into signing. Turns out we should have held off! Last night, news broke that Bob Vander Plaats -- who managed to successfully parlay a failed bid for the Iowa statehouse into a new gig as go-to social conservative kingmaker -- was set to unveil yet another one of these pledges. And today, under the auspices of his organization, The Family Leader, that pledge is now public. And it's a dilly!

The pledge is titled "The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence upon MARRIAGE and FAMILY" (emphasis in the original), and what follows is pretty standard-issue Christian conservative rhetoric on the definition of marriage and the sanctity of same, but it comes with a fiscal twist that basically makes it clear that Vander Plaats does not cotton to the notion that social issues can be divorced from economic concerns.

The pledge reads as follows:

The Candidate Vow: Therefore, in any elected or appointed capacity by which I may have the honor of serving our fellow citizens in these United States, I the undersigned do hereby solemnly vow to honor and to cherish, to defend and to uphold, the Institution of Marriage as only between one man and one woman. I vow to do so through my:
--Personal fidelity to my spouse.
--Respect for the marital bonds of others.
--Official fidelity to the U.S. Constitution, supporting the elevation of none but faithful constitutionalists as judges or justices.
--Vigorous opposition to any redefinition of the Institution of Marriage - faithful monogamy between one man and one woman - through statutory-, bureaucratic-, or court-imposed recognition of intimate unions which are bigamous, polygamous, polyandrous, same-sex, etc.
--Recognition of the overwhelming statistical evidence that married people enjoy better health, better sex, longer lives, greater financial stability, and that children raised by a mother and a father together experience better learning, less addiction, less legal trouble, and less extramarital pregnancy.
--Support for prompt reform of uneconomic, anti-marriage aspects of welfare policy, tax policy, and marital/divorce law, and extended "second chance" or "cooling-off" periods for those seeking a "quickie divorce."
--Earnest, bona fide legal advocacy for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the federal and state levels.
--Steadfast embrace of a federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which protects the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman in all of the United States.
--Humane protection of women and the innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy - our next generation of American children - from human trafficking, sexual slavery, seduction into promiscuity, and all forms of pornography and prostitution, infanticide, abortion and other types of coercion or stolen innocence.
--Support for the enactment of safeguards for all married and unmarried U.S. Military and National Guard personnel, especially our combat troops, from inappropriate same-gender or opposite-gender sexual harassment, adultery or intrusively intimate commingling among attracteds (restrooms, showers, barracks, tents, etc.); plus prompt termination of military policymakers who would expose American wives and daughters to rape or sexual harassment, torture, enslavement or sexual leveraging by the enemy in forward combat roles.
--Rejection of Sharia Islam and all other anti-woman, anti-human rights forms of totalitarian control.
--Recognition that robust childbearing and reproduction is beneficial to U.S. demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial health and security.
--Commitment to downsizing government and the enormous burden upon American families of the USA's $14.3 trillion public debt, its $77 trillion in unfunded liabilities, its $1.5 trillion federal deficit, and its $3.5 trillion federal budget.
--Fierce defense of the First Amendment's rights of Religious Liberty and Freedom of Speech, especially against the intolerance of any who would undermine law-abiding American citizens and institutions of faith and conscience for their adherence to, and defense of, faithful heterosexual monogamy.
Most of what's encoded in the pledge is easily endorsed by the majority of the current GOP field (though Jon Huntsman, I'll remind you, is dead-set against pledge-signing of any sort). The pledge does strive for rigorous consistency (if not practicality), as seen in its preamble: "We acknowledge and regret the widespread hypocrisy of many who defend marriage yet turn a blind eye toward the epidemic of infidelity and the anemic condition of marriages in their own communities." Alexander Burns points out, however, that the "divorce piece in particular would be an awkward position for any presidential candidate to hold in a general election." (For Newt Gingrich, it will be awkward at any point on the campaign calendar.)

I'm interested in the tenability of the call for the "prompt termination of military policymakers who would expose American wives and daughters to rape or sexual harassment, torture, enslavement or sexual leveraging by the enemy in forward combat roles" and the human trafficking clause. In a technical sense, these clauses should imperil the livelihoods of many private military contractors who continue to receive taxpayer money despite the fact that they engage in these very activities with impunity. Challenging these contractors would be something of a watershed moment in contemporary policymaking, as there is currently a dearth of willpower to rein in these malefactors -- and I'd be willing to bet that few, if any, of the current GOP candidates are even remotely interested in intervening.

For what it's worth, here's my favorite part:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President.
I'm going to be generous and assume these statistics are accurate. Still, I'm not particularly amenable to the hinted argument that a child is better off being born into conscription than being raised by a single parent or same-sex couple. I guess we're going to find out what presidential candidates beg to differ!

If Rick Santorum isn't at the front of the queue to sign this, someone should really go and check to make sure he's okay.

Source: Huffington 

In Debt Talks, Social Security Cuts Are on the Table

While the political jousting continues, President Obama and congressional Republicans are moving closer to a multi-tiered deal that would include changes in Social Security benefits, tax reform, increases in various user fees, and large-scale cuts in annual spending, according to numerous sources close to the negotiations.

No agreement exists and both sides continue to shadow box even as they move cautiously around the underlying policy and unpredictable political reaction any one or all of these potential shifts might incite. On Social Security, it's unclear if Obama is willing to raise the retirement age or merely accept changes in inflation-adjustment calculations that would reduce benefits but not alter the program's basic architecture. Administration officials have said a proposal from Obama's Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission to raise the Social Security income cap are among the ideas being considered if there is a comprehensive deal in the making.

In the nitty-gritty of negotiations, Republicans have made clear to Obama if he wants to spare domestic "investments" funded through discretionary spending he need only embrace structural changes to Social Security or Medicare. Republicans contend altering current benefit schedules would extend solvency for Social Security and put bigger deficit-reduction numbers on the board, giving Obama more room for annual discretionary spending. And both sides are still fighting over how much to cut future defense spending within the context of annual discretionary spending. Democrats want deeper cuts than the GOP and the GOP wants to guard against any legislative bias in favor of defense cuts over non-defense discretionary savings. Like every other issue, much has been discussed and dissected -- but nothing has been agreed to.

Obama meets on Thursday at the White House with the bicameral, bipartisan leadership. The session doesn't appear to be designed to settle matters but to continue the active discussions that have been taking place and improve the atmosphere heading into what all sides agree is a vital five or six days to cut a deal.

Sources involved in the talks say it will require at least 16 to 17 legislative days to pass a bill of the size and complexity now under consideration through Congress. This timeline does not include hours required to draft the bill into legislative language -- a process that could last one or two days. This scenario would require working through weekends and the House canceling a scheduled recess for the week of July 18 (already a foregone though unannounced conclusion).

Obama and Congress are trying to beat an August 2 deadline for when the U.S. government runs of out of funds to pay its debts and falls into technical default -- which carries with it an unpredictable set of circumstances that could roil domestic and global stock markets, increase interest rates, and bludgeon an already limping economic recovery.

Obama and Congress are seeking a deficit-reduction deal of at least $2 trillion, a target defined by GOP demands that deficit reduction exceed the amount of debt authority given to the Treasury Department. A boost of $2 trillion in borrowing authority above the current $14.3 trillion limit would extend solvency until after the 2012 election -- longer if economic growth triggers larger-than-expected revenue flows.

Importantly, none of the thorny issues such as how much to cut Social Security, how high to raise user fees, or how to trade lower income and corporate tax rates for the abolition of corporate tax favors and subsidies have been resolved. There is general agreements in some areas: Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said on Wednesday, for example, that Republicans have already agreed to up to $200 billion in higher user fees.

Full Article
Source: The Atlantic 

No, Let's Not Slash the Minimum Wage

Karl Smith agrees with Casey Mulligan that reducing the minimum wage would boost the job market:
I understand that there are sophisticated studies showing a limited impact of the minimum wage on employment. My judgment is impacted by those studies. Nonetheless, they are climbing a steep hill against intuition and a supply and demand paradigm that has proved incredibly powerful in the past.
It may not be the case that the minimum wage cut employment by 800K but I have a hard time swallowing that it does not impede recovery and exacerbate long term unemployment.
I can’t imagine that there are no workers at all in America whom it is profitable to hire at $4.75 an hour but unprofitable to hire at $7.25.
This kind of stuff bothers me on a bunch of different levels. Let's count the ways:
  • You either believe empirical studies or you don't. If you have reason not to believe them, then let's hear it.
  • Intuition about supply and demand just flatly won't work in this case. We're talking about a market with (probably) low elasticities and a huge number of confounding factors that could push it in multiple directions. It's easy to see that a small increase in the minimum wage could be overwhelmed by other factors and lead to either a very small or zero impact on employment levels.
  • Are there jobs where it's profitable to hire at $4.75 but not at $7.25? Well, there must be some, but we're talking about such low skill levels here that there very well might not be many. That's why empirical studies are so important. The effects are just too small to intuit.
  • Is this really what we've come to? That we should provide a (probably very small) boost to the job market by allowing businesses to hire people for $9,500 per year instead of $14,500? Seriously? I mean, this is the ultimate safety net program, aimed squarely at working people at the very bottom of the income ladder. If we're willing to throw them under the bus, who aren't we willing to throw under the bus?
There are, obviously, nuances here. Maybe you think we should do away with the minimum wage and instead beef up the EITC or something similar. Or maybe we should directly subsidize higher wages instead of making businesses pay them directly. For a variety of non-economic reasons I don't think that's a good idea, but reasonable people can differ. But what it's hard to differ about is that this is pie in the sky. If we reduce the minimum wage, nothing is going to take its place and we all know it. It would increase corporate profits and dramatically reduce the wages of the poorest workers, and that's about it. Employment would probably be affected only marginally, and nothing would take the place of that lost income. Welcome to America.

Source: Mother Jones  

Scary Maps of the New Climate Normal

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just updated its Climate Normals for the United States. Per agreement of the World Meteorological Organization, "normals" are calculated per decade, rather than per year. NOAA's latest update is crunched from weather data compiled from 1981 to 2010. 

The new annual normal temperatures for the US strongly reflect a warming world. 

July Maximums, 1981–2010 compared to 1971–2000.
January Minimums, 1981–2010 compared to 1971–2000. Credit: NOAA.

In the two images above you can see the differences between the old normals (1971 to 2000) and the new normals. The top image shows changes in July maximum temperatures. The bottom shows changes in January minimum temperatures. Warmer temperature changes are orange and red. Cooler temperature changes are blue.
A few notables:
  • On average, the contiguous US experienced the lowest temperatures on January nights and the highest temperatures on July days.
  • Both January minimum temps and July maximum temps changed in the past three decades—though not equally.
  • Parts of the Great Plains, the Mississippi Valley, and the Northeast experienced slightly cooler July maximums from 1981–2010 compared to 1971–2000 (top map).
  • Far more striking are the January minimums (bottom map). Nighttime January temps were higher everywhere except the Southeast. Warmer nights were most pronounced in the northern plains and northern Rocky Mountains.
  • In some places the new normal were several degrees warmer than the old normal.
Source: Mother Jones 

Climate Change: Still Worse Than You Think

While I was on vacation last week I took a side trip to New Haven to visit Jeff Park, an old high school friend who's now a geology professor at Yale. We ate some pizza at Frank Pepe, walked around the campus a bit, and then dropped by his office, where he had a stack of reprints of his latest journal article. Take one, he said. Maybe it'll be good fodder for the blog.

The title is a mouthful: "Geologic constraints on the glacial amplification of Phanerozoic climate sensitivity," coauthored with Dana Royer. (The Phanerozoic, in case it's slipped your mind, is the geologic eon spanning approximately the last 500 million years.) Roughly speaking, the article is an updated look at a computer model that estimates how much climate reacts to a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The model originally concluded that a doubling of CO2 produces a temperature increase just under three degrees Celsius, an estimate that's in pretty good agreement with other models. So far, so good. But 500 million years is a long time, and several researchers have proposed that climate sensitivity might vary over that period depending on whether or not the earth is in an ice age. So in the new paper, the authors modeled glacial and non-glacial eras separately. And the best fit with the data suggests that climate sensitivity does indeed change depending on glaciation. In fact, during an ice age, the most probable climate sensitivity is six to eight degrees Celsius for a doubling of CO2, more than twice the previous estimate.

Why do we care? As the authors drily put it, "Because the human species lives in a glacial interval of Earth history, this modeling result has more than academic interest." You see, the most recent ice age in human history is the one that started about 30 million years ago and continues to the present day. We're living through a glacial interval right now, and that means that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere might produce a temperature increase of six to eight degrees Celsius, not the mere three degrees Celsius most commonly estimated.

This is just one model. There are lots of parameters to fit, there are only two glacial intervals to test, and the error bars are fairly large. In other words, it might be wrong. But it's one more data point in an increasing series of data points suggesting that climate change is worse than we thought—though "worse" is something of an understatement. Six degrees isn't just a bit warmer here and there; it's a global catastrophe that would likely produce mass extinctions, dead oceans, large-scale desertification, coastal cities underwater, and billions dead. And unless something changes, we're well on pace for a doubling of CO2 before the end of the century. Buckle your seat belts.

Source: Mother Jones 

The Annals of Media Criminality: News of the World; Welcome home, Tubby!

Trust Rupert Murdoch, this decade's Great Spokesman for wolverine capitalism,* to come up with a "market based solution" to criminality!

Consider the case of the News of the World's hacks hacking into the cell-phone voice mail of British murder victims, Taliban victims and bombing victims, not to mention their lawyers. Caught red-handed, what did Murdoch and his influential minions do? Why they shut down the entire operation and fired all the people who had nothing to do with their crimes!

And if the threat of prosecution ever comes close to the ringleaders of this persistent pattern of criminality -- one of whom worked until recently in the British Conservative prime minister's office, and some of whom are members of Murdoch's bazillionaire clan -- count on it that even from this side of the Atlantic we'll be able to hear their anguished cries of "haven't we suffered enough?"

This brings to concept of collective punishment so perfectly to the world of capital and media that one wonders why they aren't teaching courses about it in Canadian business schools. Of course, maybe they are, and it's just that we poor working sluggos can't afford the tuition.

After all, it worked in international relations -- when attacked by Saudi Arabians from Germany, for example, George W. Bush sent the U.S. Marines into Iraq. And it worked in the auto industry -- when the bosses at General Motors marketed crappy cars, the masses called for the heads and the pensions of the poor schmucks who worked on the assembly line.

But this is even better, because the hapless journos of the World are being punished for the outright criminality of their bosses. Given that, one would think their punishment ought to be more severe than the mere loss of their livelihoods and pensions!

Thankfully, their bosses will be able to continue doing business under a different name, keep only the employees they like, further extend their media monopoly and continue to call the shots for the rest of us. God's in his heaven, and all's right with the World, as it were.

If only Lord Tubby had thought of that, he'd be a free man today -- although the National Post would be out of luck.

Speaking of his Lordship, was columnist Lawrence Martin having a sly little joke at our expense in the pages of the Globe and Mail this week when he argued that Stephen Harper and his neo-Con government should ignore Tubby Black's recent criminality south of the Medicine Line and welcome the disgraced non-citizen back to Canada?

After all, Martin wrote, "for our Conservative government, there should be no reluctance to open the doors. Lord Black has played such a significant role in the renaissance of the right in Canada that he is owed the party's gratitude."

Basically, Martin argued, Lord Black led the destruction of Canada's media as a cornerstone of democracy, helping through the creation of the National Pest to turn the once-useful institution into the far-right, monochromatic, dishonest, drivel-obsessed, hate-fuelled source of propaganda and piffle it has become today. (I'm paraphrasing.) This, in turn, he says, was a key factor in the success of neo-Con radicals like Harper, a sentiment with which sensible Canadians are forced to agree.

"You don't hear many prominent Conservatives defending Conrad Black today, but you have to wonder how much harder it would have been for their like to rise from the depths without him," Martin concluded, to a chorus of basso-profundo hear-hears.

Now, normally, because of longstanding practice in the Canadian newspaper industry, a piece like this would need a label across the top that says HUMOUR and a placeline out of Miami in order to be published, which is why Canadian comics have to go to Los Angeles if they want to crack jokes with words like "Diefenbaker" in them.

But this one seems to have slipped through the net. Unless, of course, Martin didn't intend to write something humorous, in which case we may have to concede he he's onto something.

This is why you can expect folk here in Edmonton to start agitating to roll out the welcome mat for Peter Pocklington. Sure, Peter Puck sent Wayne Gretzky packing to Comedy Central and gave Burns weenies a name they could never live down, but by God he put this city on the map!

I mean, really, people, who else could have made us the world-class city we are today? After all, Calgary had already grabbed all the white hats!

Surely you'd agree that a fellow who did what Canadian labour relations and meat packing what Lord Black did for Canadian journalism should be given the same warm welcome home proposed by Martin, notwithstanding a recent spot of trouble?

Alas, while we're at it, we're going to need to decide who has to be punished for their crimes… Any suggestions?


Auditor slams watchdog’s lack of oversight

A provincial watchdog agency that oversees projects such as dams, mines and power plants is not doing enough to monitor and regulate projects it has approved, says a report by British Columbia Auditor-General John Doyle.

And along with shortfalls that include a lack of routine site inspections and vague wording of commitments that companies are supposed to keep, B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office is falling down on its obligation to share information with the public, Mr. Doyle concluded.

“The audit found that the Environmental Assessment Office cannot assure British Columbians that mitigation efforts are having the intended effects because adequate monitoring is not occurring and follow-up evaluations are not being conducted,” Mr. Doyle said in his report, released Thursday. “We also found that information currently being provided to the public is not sufficient to ensure accountability.”

The EAO was created in 1995 with the mandate of ensuring that major projects meet environmental, economic and social sustainability goals.

Of 219 projects that have undergone or are currently undergoing an environmental assessment, 53 per cent have been approved and only one has been refused certification.

Mr. Doyle did not assess the process leading up to certification, but focused on follow-up and compliance, where he found shortcomings that include a lack of routine site inspections. Between 2000 and 2004, the EAO ran a pilot program to verify compliance at three projects.

The projects were found to be mostly in compliance, but issues of noncompliance were “identified and rectified when possible,” the report says.

Despite those positive results, the pilot program did not lead to a full-time system and “formal site inspections are not carried out regularly by the EAO.”

The report included six recommendations, including that the Environmental Assessment Office “ensure commitments are clearly written in a measurable and enforceable manner.”

B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake on Thursday said the office has already started to make changes in how it tracks projects and that the government will implement all of Mr. Doyle’s recommendations by late 2011.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

The Tea Party versus the ‘freeloaders’

What does the Tea Party want? As the debt ceiling debate rages in Washington, that should be the central question in U.S. political discourse. After all, it is the rise of the Tea Party that revitalized the Republican Party in 2009 and gave it the muscle to deliver a shellacking to the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. And it is the radicalism of the Tea Party and the freshman legislators it elected that is often blamed for the uncompromising stance of the Republicans in the current budget negotiations.

That’s why “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” a recent study of the Tea Party by Theda Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist, and graduate students Vanessa Williamson and John Coggin, is so important. An expanded version of the paper, which appeared this spring in the journal Perspectives on Politics, will be published as a book by the Oxford University Press later this year.

Prof. Skocpol is an unashamed progressive, but what is striking about her team’s work is its respect for the Tea Party and its members. “Commentators have sometimes noted the irony that these same Tea Partiers who oppose ‘government spending’ are themselves recipients of Social Security,” the paper notes. “Don’t they know these are ‘big government’ programs?”

The usual assumption of the news media elites is that the Tea Party’s worldview is inchoate or just plain uninformed. “I think the pundit class tends to treat popular ideologies as products of ignorance,” Prof. Skocpol told me. But when she and her colleagues delved deeper, including distributing questionnaires to Tea Party activists and interviewing many of them, the scholars found that “what appear to be contradictory or uninformed views of federal government programs make better sense once we understand how Tea Party activists view themselves in relation to other groups in society.”

When it comes to the size of government and its proper role, Prof. Skocpol and her colleagues found the Tea Partiers had a clear and coherent point of view, but one that does not fully jibe with the orthodoxies of libertarian ideologues or of elite, ultraconservative, Republican Party doctrine.

The central tension for the Tea Party grassroots isn’t between the Big Brother state and the freedom-loving individual, or between inefficient government spending and effective free markets. Instead, the researchers found that the fundamental distinction for Tea Partiers is not state versus individual, it is the division of their country into “workers” versus “people who don’t work.”

Some of those “people who don’t work” are the young. And the Tea Party rank and file, 70 to 75 per cent of whom are over 45, are worried that the feckless youth are taking over the country and emptying the state’s coffers. These young “freeloaders” include the Tea Partiers’ own relatives. One man told the researchers: “My grandson [is] 14 and he asked, ‘Why should I work, why can’t I just get free money?’ ”

“The conditions for young adults to establish themselves have changed radically,” Prof. Skocpol told me. “It is harder for young adults. They may live at home longer. And that manifests itself in ways that are easy to condemn morally. The older generation is having a little trouble understanding what is happening to their children and especially grandchildren.”

The other group of government-supported non-workers the Tea Party is worried about is illegal immigrants, which is often equated with racism. But the researchers take great pains to point out that for Tea Partiers, the immigration issue isn’t race-based; it is about deserving, income-earning citizen and unauthorized, foreign freeloader.

Important political implications can be drawn from this research. First, there is a latent but potentially vast divide between the grassroots and the conservative elite on the most important U.S. fiscal issue – the twin entitlements of Social Security and Medicare. Cutting these programs is a core tenet of faith for the Tea Party’s funders and its intellectuals, but its members view them as earned benefits that belong to hard-working Americans as surely as do their homes and private savings.

The second take-away is for the Democrats. It has become conventional wisdom that the way to make social welfare programs affordable is to direct them at the people who really need them. But this study of the Tea Party suggests that the government programs that earn long-term public support, including among conservatives, are those that are perceived to be both universal and deserved.

Helping the poor is well and good, but when times get tough, the institutions we are willing to pay for are those that assist virtuous, hard-working people – in other words, ourselves.

Source: Globe & Mail 

Union plans national fight against federal cuts

One of Canada's biggest unions warns they're taking their fight across Canada in preparation for cutbacks as the federal government tries to balance the budget.

John Gordon, the head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said his members are going to go to communities to explain what losing services could mean.

"We're going to point out that they're making cuts to those programs. We're also going to talk to the other politicians. We're going to talk to the people who live in those communities," he said.

A number of federal officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Treasury Board President Tony Clement have promised not to cut health and education transfers to the provinces. Clement, the minister with authority over the public service, has said he believes he can find many of the savings the government needs through attrition as civil servants retire or take jobs in the private sector.

While he admits it's still early in the process, Gordon says it's clear some services will have to be cut. The Conservatives say they want to find $4 billion a year in savings to help balance the budget by 2014.

"They're saying they can get 11,000 people per year through attrition. We're saying there's going to have to be some cuts because some of the programs, people won't be leaving, so they're going to have to find and adjust them," Gordon said, warning he doesn't believe Canadians' health and safety won't be affected.

"They've already announced the cut to search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador. If search and rescue in the coastlines of Newfoundland is not something to do with health and safety, what is?"

The government has already announced several rounds of layoffs based on last year's program review.

Source: CBC news