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, March 30, 2012

Under-enrolled by 71,000 students, Toronto schools face tough choices

With a staggering 71,000 fewer students than the province says it has room for, the Toronto District School Board faces having to close the rough equivalent of 171 schools now that Queen’s Park no longer will help pay to keep under-used schools open.

While the tough new policy targets many of almost 800 schools across Ontario whose student loads fall short of capacity by a total of nearly 327,000 students, it is the Toronto board that will be hardest hit by the scrapping of top-up dollars for declining enrolment.

Across its 461 elementary schools, the board has 48,030 fewer students than its official capacity. In its 98 high schools, it is operating 23,397 students under capacity. Those statistics leave the board’s enrolment falling short by the rough equivalent of 143 elementary schools and 28 high schools at their current size.

“Closing anywhere near that many schools would cause destruction to our system and we’d start to go down the path of American cities that have had the heart taken out of them by losing schools,” warned board chair Chris Bolton.

Trayvon Martin shooting: Teen’s body showed no sign of a fight, says funeral director

MIAMI—The funeral director who oversaw slain U.S. teenager Trayvon Martin’s burial says he saw no signs of a fight on the body.

Richard Kurtz says he prepared the body for interment and saw no marks on Martin’s hands, face or body other than the gunshot wound that killed him.

The 17-year-old Martin was killed Feb. 26 by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the Florida city of Sanford, where Martin was visiting. Zimmerman has claimed self-defence and says Martin attacked and beat him.

The results of an autopsy have not been released while the death remains under investigation by state and federal authorities.

Zimmerman has not been charged, leading to racially-tinged protests around the country. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother Hispanic.

Original Article
Source: Star
Author:  ---

Gas prices: How Wall Street helps pump prices defy supply and demand

When it comes to gasoline prices, it would seem that the law of supply and demand has been revoked.

Pump prices in the GTA have jumped by about 12 per cent since the New Year. At a current average of $1.29 per litre – forecast by some experts to reach $1.70 by mid-summer – gas prices are near their record level of 2008.

The hardship for consumers is obvious but not the culprit. Supply of crude oil is abundant. And demand is stable. Yes, demand continues to grow in the emerging super-economies of China and India. But it’s flat in America, still by far the world’s biggest energy consumer. And it’s on the decline in a Europe that recently slipped into recession.

A round-up of the usual suspects reveals just one – speculation – that appears complicit in our pump-price discontent.

 • Supply. We’re in the midst of a boom in crude production. In 2012, Canada will produce crude at a rate almost one-third higher than the average annual production of the 2000s.

And the U.S., now the world’s fastest-growing oil producer, supplies about 80 per cent of its consumption. U.S. dependence on imported oil is at a 17-year low.

Stephen Harper, Dalton McGuinty on similar tracks

OTTAWA—Within months if not weeks, it will be difficult — at least in Central Canada — not to run into someone who is directly hit by the austerity measures of the federal and provincial governments.

In Ontario, that may be downright impossible.

As ideologically different as they may be, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty have opted for similar tracks to restore their government finances to health.

They have placed the burden of their belt-tightening exercises not on taxpayers but on the public servants who deliver their programs.

In Ontario, anyone who draws a paycheque from the province — from teachers to nurses to social workers to bureaucrats — is about to fall under a salary freeze.

At the federal level, about 20,000 public service jobs are slated to disappear. And that is only a beginning as more jobs will go as the impact of some of the cuts announced in Thursday’s budget filter down to the hosts of agencies, organizations and crown corporations that depend on federal funding.

The bulk of those jobs are in Ontario.

Canada Budget 2012: Cuts For Public Service, Investment For Business In Conservative Spending Plan

OTTAWA — The Conservative government’s first majority budget focuses on business-friendly incentives aimed at creating jobs while reducing the size of the public sector and eliminating or cutting many programs that don’t jibe with the party’s ideology.

“It signals a very profound change in direction,” said Ian Lee, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.

“This is going to be a transformational budget and ironically, not because of the budgetary stuff in the budget, it’s going to be transformational because of so many policy initiatives, changes and direction,” he added.

Budget 2012, titled Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity, has the Tories slashing $5.2 billion from public services — a figure they’ll reach by 2014-2015.

Some of the departments hardest hit include National Defence, which is wrapping up operations in Afghanistan, Public Safety, Health Canada and the International Assistance Envelope. The federal government will spend $900 million to eliminate approximately 19,200 federal jobs (including attrition), mostly in the national capital region.

NDP Tied With Tories In New Poll After Thomas Mulcair Takes Reins

Canadians are warming up to the New Democrats now that Thomas Mulcair has taken over the reins, with the party neck-and-neck with the Conservatives and way ahead in Quebec in a new poll.

The survey from Forum Research was conducted March 26-27 and polled 1,638 Canadians, capturing public opinion after the March 24 leadership convention and during Mulcair’s first two days as opposition leader in the House of Commons.

The New Democrats are tied with the Conservatives for the lead at 35 per cent support. Though a pre-convention poll suggested that the two parties were tied at 30 per cent, this Forum survey indicates that the NDP has pulled even with the Conservatives not because of Tory losses, but because of NDP gains.

Indeed, the Conservatives have barely moved since Forum was last in the field on March 2. The Tories have slipped only two points, compared to the seven point gain for the New Democrats.

It is the Liberals who have suffered, dropping six points to only 19 per cent support, the same share of the vote the party took in the 2011 election. Thomas Mulcair wants to expand the party’s base toward the centre, and he appears to be doing just that.

Angelo Persichilli Quits Job As Stephen Harper's Communications Director After Just 7 Months

Angelo Persichilli, Stephen Harper's Director of Communications has quit.

Persichilli told his staff Friday morning the time had come for him to leave the Prime Minister's Office, just seven months after taking the job.

"This is a prestigious position that requires extremely intense effort and very long hours, which at a certain age, are not an option for a long period of time," he wrote in a letter to the press gallery.

Persichilli, who is 63, is a former Toronto Star columnist and a past editor of an Italian newspaper. He was brought it by Harper's Chief of Staff Nigel Wright last September to replace the PM's longtime aide Dimitri Soudas.

Persichilli said he would stay on until his successor is appointed.

It is widely speculated that Andrew MacDougall, the associate director of communications, will take over the top job.

Persichilli is the second senior staff in Harper's communications shop to call it quits recently.

Indefinite Detention Targeted By GOP As House Committee Weighs Proposals To Revise Provision

WASHINGTON — Facing a conservative backlash, House Republicans are working to change a new law that allows the indefinite detention without trial of terrorist suspects, even U.S. citizens seized within the nation's borders.

Republicans and Democratic lawmakers said this week that the GOP majority on the House Armed Services Committee was weighing several proposals to revise the provision on indefinite detention that was part of the far-reaching defense bill that Congress passed in December and President Barack Obama signed into law.

Last year, Congress' approach to handling terror suspects divided Republicans and Democrats, pitted the White House against lawmakers and drew fierce opposition from civil liberties groups. The anger still lingers, and GOP leaders are under pressure from a number of rank-and-file members, tea partyers and libertarians to change the law.

"I intend to help put as much political pressure on this issue as possible," said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., whose staff has spoken to the Armed Services panel. "I intend to spend a lot of time – and I already have been doing so – making the public aware of this issue so we can get the change we need to address it."

Bank of America Sold Card Debts to Collectors Despite Faulty Records

In a series of 2009 and 2010 transactions, Bank of America sold credit card receivables to an outfit called CACH LLC, based in Denver. Co. Each month CACH bought debts with a face value of as much as $65 million for 1.8 cents on the dollar. At least a portion of the debts were legacy accounts acquired from MBNA, which Bank of America purchased in 2006.

The pricing reflected the accounts' questionable quality, but what is notable is that the bank could get anything at all for them. B of A was not making "any representations, warranties, promises, covenants, agreements, or guaranties of any kind or character whatsoever" about the accuracy or completeness of the debts' records, according to a 2010 credit card sales agreement submitted to a California state court in a civil suit involving debt that B of A had sold to CACH.

In the "as is" documents Bank of America has drawn up for such sales, it warned that it would initially provide no records to support the amounts it said are owed and might be unable to produce them. It also stated that some of the claims it sold might already have been extinguished in bankruptcy court. B of A has additionally cautioned that it might be selling loans whose balances are "approximate" or that consumers have already paid back in full. Maryland resident Karen Stevens was the victim of one such sale, which resulted in a three-year legal battle (see related story).

Bank of America declined requests to comment for this story, other than to say through spokeswoman Betty Riess that it works with credit card customers to try to resolve delinquent debt issues. CACH did not respond to several phone and email messages seeking comment on the terms of its purchases.

Republican Budget Represents a Bleak Future for America

This week the House voted on budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2013. The Republican budget, put forward by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, was presented as "a choice between two futures" that would show a stark contrast between their priorities and those of Democrats.

They were absolutely right: the choice could not be more clear. The Republican budget presents the American people with a vivid picture of the direction its authors want to take this country. Its vision consists of ending the Medicare guarantee and cutting taxes for the wealthiest among us, while putting jobs and our economic recovery at risk.

By ending the Medicare guarantee, the Republican budget shifts increasing costs to seniors and the disabled over the next several years. It reopens the Medicare Part D "donut hole" -- that is now closing, thanks to the Affordable Care Act -- which will lead to $44 billion in increased drug costs for seniors by 2020. Furthermore, their budget turns Medicaid into a block grant program and slashes its funding by one-third over the next decade, jeopardizing access to health care and nursing home care for seniors, the disabled, and low-income Americans. And it repeals the patient protections and the cost containment policies of the Affordable Care Act.

The Price of Oil: Saudi Hypocrisy, Our Gullibility

One is compelled to pull out that old chestnut, "There he goes again." The face of Saudi oil, and de facto senior voice of the OPEC cartel, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi entertained us to one of his seminal dissertations, expounding on Saudi Arabia's concerns for the well being of all mankind.

Stating the case clearly, that Saudi Arabia "... remains the world's largest producer and the country with the largest proven reserves, so it has a responsibility to do what it can to mitigate prices." No argument here.

Yet that bit of wisdom is prefaced by the oldest of canards, "Needless to say Saudi Arabia does not control the price: it sells its crude according to international prices." A truly bizarre declaration coming from the leading protagonist of the cartel, OPEC, whose primary function is to limit the supply of oil to world markets to control, and within the limits of the world's tolerance, to maximize the price of crude oil in the market place. Clearly their efforts have been so successful that the limits of tolerance have now been reached and letting off a little steam has become part of the ritual.

The ritual is encapsulated in the mantra repeated in Mr. Ali Naimi's pronouncement: "The bottom line is that Saudi Arabia would like to see a lower price . It would like to see a fair and reasonable price, that will not hurt the economic recovery, especially in emerging and developing countries...". A statement that automatically elicits our well inculcated and programmed hosannas whenever such mumblings come out of Riyadh.

Scott Walker Recall Election Ordered By Government Accountability Board

MADISON, Wis. — The recall election ordered Friday for embattled first-term Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker quickly turned into a possible rematch when the Democrat he narrowly defeated in 2010 announced he was jumping into the race.

Walker expressed confidence he would hold on to his seat shortly after the Government Accountability Board ordered the election, after more than 900,000 signatures were collected supporting a recall in the wake of Walker's push against union bargaining rights. It marks only the third recall of a governor in U.S. history.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced hours later he would challenge Walker, shaking up a Democratic primary race that had been led by union-backed candidate Kathleen Falk. Barrett has publically clashed with unions who were urging him not to get into the race.

In an email to supporters, Barrett said he would begin campaigning immediately to win the primary that looms just 39 days away on May 8. The general election is June 5.

Hours earlier, Walker said he was ready to defend his record just 15 months into his tumultuous term.

The Potato Movement: Greeks Helping Each Other in Hard Times

On Friday, March 30, European finance ministers are meeting to discuss increasing the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the rescue fund for nations that have needed bailouts on finding themselves unable to pay massive debts, all while their economies have imploded. Those countries include Spain, which is on a general strike about labor reforms today, Ireland, Portugal and Greece, where austerity measures have crippled an economy in its fifth year of recession.

This video (via When the Crisis Hits the Fan) satirizes how desperate Greeks have become to get a job.

The rising costs of higher learning

MONTREAL - May 1968. A student revolt in France turns into a mass movement with 10 million workers on strike in a tumultuous spring that almost brings down the Charles de Gaulle government.

One result of the uprising was the promise of a free university education - a topic that is being hotly debated today in France and other European countries with no or low tuition fees while they cope with crumbling economies.

Quebecers are now seven weeks into a widespread strike by university and CEGEP students over the politically charged and divisive issue of tuition fees.

Students have been squaring off with police on a daily basis as they block buildings, streets and bridges in a bid to have their battle cry heard.

And while the real battle is focused on forcing the Liberals to rescind a planned $325-a-year tuition increase over five years, to begin this September, student leaders persistently raise the idea of their ultimate goal: no tuition fees at all.

Is the idea feasible?

The Institut de recherche et d'informations socio-économique (IRIS) calculates the cost of free tuition in Quebec at about $400 million to $700 million a year.

NDP leader Mulcair says Prime Minister Harper broke promises

OTTAWA - Opposition leaders were quick to denounce the Flaherty budget issued Thursday as brutal for seniors and Quebec while doing little to create much-needed employment.

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair pounced, saying the Conservative government - as he predicted a day earlier - is recklessly cutting essential services such as Old Age Security.

Mulcair reminded reporters Prime Minister Stephen Harper last June pledged not to cut pension or transfers to the provinces for health.

"We can see that Stephen Harper is not a man of his word," Mulcair told The Gazette. "They got elected on a promise to create jobs. They're confirming now tens of billions of dollars in cuts to health care."

Muclair based his healthcut argument on Harper's decision to unilaterally impose a new health transfer funding formula on the provinces.

He said that means provinces will end up cutting costs by allowing for more and more private services, which runs against the principles of the Canada Health Act.

CBC, NFB and Telefilm to see 10% cut

MONTREAL - Cuts to CBC, Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board of Canada could lead to a significant reduction in Canadian film and TV production, and will almost certainly lead to layoffs at the CBC.

The federal budget includes 10-per-cent cuts to CBC, Telefilm Canada and the NFB.

"The Harper government has broken its election promise and has cut the CBC's budget by 10 per cent," said Ian Morrison, spokesman for watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

"It's a vindictive action. In English-speaking Canada, about one-third of Canadian TV viewing is Canadian content and CBC is by far the largest player in that one-third. So it will reduce Canadians' access to Canadian programming."

Morrison said the move might be good for Hollywood because CBC may have to buy more U.S. programming if it can't afford to finance local shows.

One positive for the cultural milieu is that Stephen Harper's government has maintained the same level of funding for the Canada Council for the Arts, which will continue to receive $181 million annually.

Statement from Katimavik – reaction to budget

It is with extreme disappointment that we learned today that the Government has decided to end its funding commitment to Katimavik.

Today’s announcement comes as a surprise, since we are entering the third year of a funding agreement whose terms end March 31st, 2013. The decision is even more surprising considering that the recently made public Canadian Heritage summative evaluation of our programs makes very clear how Katimavik’s programs are not only relevant, important and valuable, but also how the organization attains its targets and the programs tie in with government-wide priorities and the department’s strategic objectives.

For the past 35 years, Katimavik has helped shape a civically responsible Canada by harnessing the power of our young volunteers to help those in need in communities across Canada. In that time, over 30 000 Canadian youth have made a difference in communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast. They participated in our program gaining valuable work, life and leadership skills all the while fostering community development and civic engagement. Their parents had peace of mind knowing that their sons and daughters were participating in a structured, time-tested program, while they navigated the transition from emerging adulthood to adulthood.

In the coming days, our Board of Directors and management staff will be convened to plan the next steps.

Feds attack charitable sector in budget for being too political, say opposition MPs

PARLIAMENT HILL—Opposition MPs say a surprise allegation in the federal budget that Canadian charities are violating federal rules limiting their political advocacy is retribution for widespread opposition from environmental groups to the massive Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline across British Columbia.

The obscure provision in the budget Thursday to beef up the Canada Revenue Agency’s “enforcement tools” to monitor political activities of charities demonstrates the partisan nature of the Conservative government, opposition MPs said.

NDP MP Megan Leslie (Halifax, N.S.) told The Hill Times the measure is one of several provisions that show the budget, aside from its main thrust of public service spending cuts, is all “pipeline, pipeline, pipeline.”

“The over-arching theme here is this is a budget for the great pipeline to China,” Ms. Leslie said. “This is about pipelines, pipelines, pipelines, and at any cost.”

“Whether it is going after charities, who might have a different opinion, cutting the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy and cutting Environment Canada and not relying on science and evidence, or whether it’s going after the Environmental Assessment Act and weakening it, that’s what this budget says to me, it’s all about pipelines,” Ms. Leslie said.

Pasty tax sparks threat of bakers' march

The head of the bakery chain Greggs has threatened the government with "a march of the bakers" as it steps up its campaign to block VAT on pasties with a national petition.

Amid ongoing embarrassment for the coalition over the surprise budget announcement of changes to VAT on hot takeway food – dubbed the "pasty tax" – Greggs' chief executive, Ken McMeikan, said the chain was inviting its 6 million customers to sign petitions at its 1,600 UK shops from Friday.

A petition has already been set up on Downing Street's online scheme by bakers' trade associations but in a Radio 4 interview McMeikan said Greggs would be launching its own.

McMeikan said he was concerned that the VAT imposition could force small, independent bakeries out of business, and pledged to join forces to block the proposal during the six-week consultation period.

"My concern is that many small bakers – independent bakers – have (already) gone to the wall. The bakery industry has always been a key part of the high street."

He warned that the chancellor could expect to face "a march of the bakers" as affected businesses joined forces.

Trayvon Martin killing: witness says he saw Zimmerman walk away uninjured

A man who says he saw Trayvon Martin shot dead claims that the Florida teenager and his killer, George Zimmerman, were scuffling on the ground at the time with one on top of the other.

The first eyewitness account of the 17-year-old's final moments emerged on Thursday night more than a month after the boy lost his life in an altercation with a neighbourhood watch leader in a gated community in Sanford.

The anonymous man said he reported to police details of what he saw on the evening of 26 February, which included watching the gunman walking away from the fight apparently uninjured.

It contradicts an allegation from Zimmerman's father earlier in the day that the unarmed black teenager broke his son's nose during the incident and also left him with bloody injuries from slamming the man's head repeatedly on to a concrete pavement. The eyewitness says he saw no blood and that the entire confrontation took place only on grass.

"I saw two men on the ground, one on top of the other. I felt they were scuffling and I heard gunshots which to me were more like pops," he said in an interview broadcast on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, his voice disguised to protect his identity.

George Zimmerman, After the Shooting

In just a week, the investigations—picked up by state and federal officials last Monday—into Trayvon Martin’s death are moving beyond the inert primary investigation by the Sanford, Florida police department.

Late Wednesday, ABC News uncovered a video that shows George Zimmerman with Sanford police officers just after he shot and killed Martin a month ago. Zimmerman did not appear to have observable injuries—neither on his nose nor on the back of his head—which is distinctly at odds with the statement that Zimmerman gave and the account that the Sanford police initially released. On Tuesday, we learned that the lead investigator on the case, Chris Serino, filed an affidavit on the night of the shooting, declaring that he was not convinced by Zimmerman’s account, and which recommended that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter. Still, although the revived investigations into Martin’s tragic death are underway, the legal case against George Zimmerman still needs to be made.

Revised plan for Port Lands slammed

Ken Greenberg, a member of the team that designed the proposed riverside park at the mouth of the Don River, says revisions to the award-winning plan will strip the Port Lands of “all that is special.”

The suggested changes are part of a review of the Port Lands plan by the city and Waterfront Toronto and are expected to save as much as $150-million. They will also create larger areas for development.

Mr. Greenberg, a prominent architect and urban designer, said his team was never consulted by the city or Waterfront Toronto about possible changes to its design – advice he says he would have been happy to give.

The revisions would “gut” the original design, he said.

“This has been value engineered into total mediocrity,” Mr. Greenberg said. “What is happening here? Have we become so mean-spirited that we can no longer produce generous public spaces that celebrate our waterfront?”

Raise Minimum Wage By 35 Percent, Peg It To Inflation: Senate Dem

WASHINGTON -- Legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Thursday included a litany of measures aimed at boosting income for low-wage workers, most notably raising the minimum wage significantly and pegging it to inflation.

Along with spending on school modernization and renewable energy development, the Rebuild America Act calls for raising the minimum wage from the current federal level of $7.25 to $9.80 -- a 35 percent hike -- over the course of two and a half years, then indexing it so it rises with the cost of living. For restaurant servers and other tipped employees, the minimum wage before tips would leap from the current $2.13 to $6.86, and then track at 70 percent of the normal minimum wage.

The bill would also require employers to offer their workers paid sick days, make more white-collar workers eligible for overtime pay that they're currently exempted from, and give more workers the right to join a union.

In short, Harkin's bill, pitched as a prescription to rebuild the American middle class, hits all the right notes for worker advocates who say low- and middle-income earners are falling behind. The package was quickly praised by groups such as the AFL-CIO federation of labor unions; the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers; and the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a national group representing restaurant employees.

Rick Santorum 2012 Campaign: Repeating Missteps Of The 2006 Calamity

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Miner remembers watching a fat piece of sausage splatter with a thud against a picture of Sen. Rick Santorum adorning the side of the senator’s campaign RV.

It was fall 2006, and Miner, then a Santorum intern, was helping feed a group of Pittsburgh Steelers fans tailgating outside of Heinz Field. But it was a tough sell -- especially because the Santorum volunteers were peddling snacks and campaign literature to rowdy, buzzed hordes. The crowd eventually turned on the volunteers, and a weapon of choice was Polish.

"Fuck you, Rick Santorum!" Miner recalls the sausage-tosser shouting.

In short order, the tailgaters assailed the Santorum volunteers with whatever they could get their hands on: sausage, cookies, half-empty cups of beer, and beer cans.

"For the most part it was pretty unpleasant," recalls Bryan Nagy, who had joined his friend Miner for the event so he could get some free food. "A lot of booing. Some people would spit in the general direction of the bus."

The event was supposed to build camaraderie and sell Santorum as a beloved member of Steeler Nation. Yet, like much of that brutal 2006 campaign that ended Santorum's Senate career, it simply reinforced the impression that Santorum -- whom the electorate had come to regard as sanctimonious and out-of-touch -- played for the away team.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012): Alice Walker & Frances Goldin on the Life of the Legendary Poet & Activist

The legendary poet, essayist and feminist Adrienne Rich, who died on Tuesday at the age of 82, was one of the most celebrated poets of the last half-century and a lifelong advocate for women, gay and lesbian rights, peace and racial justice. Rich drew widespread acclaim for her many volumes of poetry and prose, which brought the oppression of women and lesbians into the public spotlight. She was a key figure in the women’s movement and an uncompromising critic of the powerful. In 1997, Rich famously declined to accept the National Medal of Arts in a protest against the Clinton administration, writing that art "means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage." We remember Rich’s life with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker and Rich’s literary agent Frances Goldin.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Workers of Canada Unite -- Against a Budget for the One Percent

For the past two decades, Canadian governments and Bay Street financiers have been conducting an ideological experiment on our economy. Their hypothesis: The only option to manage government finances is to cut public spending and drastically reduce tax revenues.

For a select few, this experiment has been an overwhelming success. Corporate profits and the salaries of top executives are steadily rising. Our corporate tax rate is the lowest of any G7 country, and our effective rate is lower than virtually all high income OECD countries.

But it's a sharply different story for Canadian workers. Spending cuts have meant stagnant wages, cuts in benefits, calls to claw back pensions, and efforts to dismantle vital public services.

Attempts to shrink our way to an economic recovery have been futile. The inequity between the richest and poorest in our society is growing at the fastest rate amongst developed nations, according to the OECD. This is harming our economy, dragging down Canadian workers, and eroding the middle class.

It's time for this failed experiment to end.

Whether it's public health care, community infrastructure, child care, or seniors' care, public services are the great equalizers of our society. They need to be strengthened, not torn apart. We need to move to a better tax system, where everyone pays their fair share.

Canada's Largest Social Housing Project Favours the Rich?

Reporters (even columnists) like the Sun's Sue-Ann Levy are rare and to be valued by their employers (and readers) more than their paycheques may indicate.

Recently, the dogged Sue-Anne has been rattling the cage over what's called the revitalization of Regent Park from low-income, affordable housing, to mixed-income housing where, presumably, the complex will more or less reflect society in general.

As a theory this makes sense, and with luck it sometimes works out.

The focus of the fuss over the Regent Park revitalization is that Councillor Pam McConnell snagged one of the prime, 1,200-square foot condos for $400,000-plus, while many former residents were moved out with the assurance that they could return -- a promise that was reneged on.

After Sue-Ann's digging and documentation, Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC) announced that former Ontario Chief Justice Patrick LeSage would conduct an independent review of the Regent Park condo purchases.

This has got people like Pam McConnell squeaking: Witch hunt, unnecessary, scape-goating, waste of time and money, right wing paranoia, envy, and all that.

Without having a clue about what Justice LeSage will or won't find in his review, I'll be surprised if he finds anything that's overtly illegal.

OAS Cuts: Budget For 2012 Outlines Federal Government's Plans For Pension Program

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered a budget today that cut less than the government warned, but didn't spare Old Age Security from planned changes while also taking on civil service and MP pensions.

The budget cuts $5.2 billion in spending over the next three years, at the low end of the $4 to $8 billion range Flaherty had prepared Canadians for.

Among the departments hardest hit by the cuts are the Department of Finance, the Privy Council Office - the civil servants who provide administrative support to the Prime Minister’s Office – as well as Transport Canada and the Treasury Board. National Defence lost the most money overall, with cuts hitting $1.1 billion by 2014-15.

Flaherty said the budget was created for the long-term and it offers few of the targeted tax credits his government usually includes.

Changes to the age of eligibility for OAS will start in April 2023, rising gradually to age 67 from 65 by Feb. 1, 2029, affecting those born after April 1, 1958.

Those who choose to work longer will be able to defer their OAS for up to five years, giving them a higher pension later. And the government will start enrolling seniors automatically for OAS and GIS, rather than making them apply, a move the NDP suggested earlier this month.

Why the budget spares boomers on OAS

While the pre-budget hype was that Canadian baby boomers were going to have to delay their retirement after Thursday’s federal budget was unveiled, their Findependence Day has not been severely postponed for anyone who is now 54 years old or older as of March 31, 2012.

As expected, the Old Age Security eligibility age will rise gradually from the current 65 to 67 but this doesn’t start to happen until 2023, according to the just-released budget.  When you add the 11-year notification of this change to the six-year phase-in between 2023 and 2029, I’d agree with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that Canadians [or their financial planners] have “ample time to make adjustments to their retirement plans.”

For younger people born on or after Feb. 1, 1962, OAS eligibility will be age 67. Technically, boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 but in my view, if you were born between 1962 and 1964, you likely didn’t grieve over the JFK assassination and can hardly be considered a true baby boomer.

Walking While Black: Killing of Trayvon Martin Evokes Memories of Civil Rights Martyr Emmett Till

hereThe killing of Trayvon Martin has drawn comparisons to that of civil rights martyr Emmett Till, who was slain at the age of 14 in Mississippi in 1955. We’re joined by Cynthia Dagnal-Myron, a writer who was taught by Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley. Dagnal-Myron is a former reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times and Arizona Daily Star who has also spent over 20 years as a teacher and administrator. Her most recent article for is "For Trayvon and Emmett: My 'Walking While Black' Stories." Comparing the Jim Crow era to today, Dagnal-Myron says, "I don’t know how much progress has been made. ... [In] your day-to-day life, if you’re an African-American woman or man, you still feel the things that my parents felt. ... You’re still treated the way that my parents were afraid that I would be treated. It’s just an everyday thing for me. So, for those who think that it’s over, they’re not walking in our shoes."

Source: Democracy Now!
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The Commons: Back to black along a road paved in copper

In keeping with tradition, the Finance Minister was applauded simply for showing up. Jim Flaherty arrived two minutes after four and, upon realizing his existence, the Conservatives stood and cheered. Poor Peter Stoffer, attempting to contribute to a debate on the Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act, was drowned out entirely.

With Mr. Flaherty in the room, the Speaker announced that the House would be moving on to government orders. The minister stood and his Conservative colleagues treated him to a second standing ovation. He proceeded with the procedural niceties required to table the budget documents and when he was finished there was more applause.

“Looking ahead,” he said when he’d finally begun, “Canadians have every reason to be confident.”

Twasn’t it ever thus? Has a Finance Minister ever stood in this place and tabled anything other than a prudent, forward-thinking masterstroke that cast us ahead to a more brilliant future? Is it possible that Archibald McLelan and Edgar Nelson Rhodes or another of Mr. Flaherty’s predecessors once rose and pleaded for the House’s mercy or confessed that he was only vaguely sure of the numbers?

Likely not. Indeed, within a few paragraphs, Mr. Flaherty was referencing the hopeful words of Sir George Eulas Foster, our eighth finance minister.

Top court blocks government's effort to restrict Afghan human rights info

OTTAWA — An appeal by the Department of Foreign Affairs to block an Ottawa law professor from getting a better look at reacted documents that detail the status of human rights in Afghanistan won't be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Department of Foreign Affairs had been trying to prevent University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran from gaining further access to the departmental reports.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, announced Thursday, not to hear the government's appeal, it is expected that Attaran will gain further access to the documents.

Attaran first asked for annual reports from foreign affairs for the years 2001-06, but was given redacted copies of the reports from 2002-06. The department said no report existed for 2001.

After filing a complaint with the information commissioner that the redactions were excessive, Attaran received another set of copies with fewer redactions, but the professor wasn't satisfied and took his case to Federal Court, asking for a further review by a judge.

The Federal Court was declined a further review of the documents, with the exception of two sections of a report that had already been released and publicly reported on.

Federal budget 2012: It’s about cutbacks, no matter what Flaherty says

Keen not to resurrect the adage that “Tory times are tough times,” federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is eager to have you know that his budget Thursday will be long on stimulating growth and short on austerity.

“If you concentrate on the savings [the expected $7 billion or so in spending cuts in the March 29 budget], you’re going to miss most of what the budget is about.”

Why should we believe that from a regime of small-government ideologues heady with their first majority mandate, and free to slash at will?

The anticipated $7 billion in cuts is, after all, at the top end of the $4 billion to $8 billion range that Flaherty’s department earlier signaled.

That magnitude of cuts would seem counter-intuitive, given Canada’s remarkable good fortune on the deficit-reduction front. Ottawa’s improving fiscal health would, one might expect, ease the pressure on Ottawa to enhance Canada’s attractiveness to foreign investors on the altar of Canada’s least advantaged – a misguided preoccupation of many debt-strapped governments.

Flaherty, failing again as he has in his entire tenure as finance minister to hit a future budget target, is on a path to eradicating the deficit as much as two years earlier than his forecast 2016-17.

Mulcair challenges Harper on budget in first face-off as NDP Leader

Stephen Harper has finally faced off against Thomas Mulcair in the first confrontation between the two men who will fight to form the next government in the 2015 election.

Mr. Mulcair, the new Leader of the NDP and the Official Opposition, started off a pre-budget Question Period by reminding the Conservative government of recent promises, stating that they are now at risk.

“Everything indicates the Conservative budget will be synonymous with cutbacks and job losses. A few months ago, the Prime Minister promised textually, in this House, that he would not touch pensions, would not cut health transfers to the provinces, would not touch services to the population?” Mr. Mulcair said. “Will the Prime Minister live up to his word, or will he break his promise?”

The Prime Minister answered that his party won last year’s election and is governing accordingly.

“This government has gone in front of the population and won a mandate for its budget, its Economic Action Plan, and we will govern under that mandate,” Mr. Harper said.

Mr. Harper also congratulated Mr. Mulcair for his victory, but Mr. Mulcair did not seem impressed.

Harper’s very political budget

Revolution, ladies and gents! Light the torches! In his December year-end interviews, Stephen Harper used the term “major transformations” a half-dozen times. He made fun of earlier majority prime ministers. They let the bureaucrats put them to sleep! For years! No chance of that happening to Harper. Major transformations, coming right up.

Fast forward to this afternoon. “We will eliminate the penny,” Jim Flaherty told the Commons. It was literally the first new policy measure he announced. “Pennies take up too much space on our dressers at home.”

Now you know why Trudeau and Mulroney and Chrétien were such snoozers. It was the pennies. Weighing them down all day. Cluttering their dressers at night. Pennies wear a guy down. Harper, the Interac Prime Minister, will be fleet of foot, full of vim, and ready for —

— major transformations? No. I don’t have a searchable electronic text of Flaherty’s speech, but I do not see the word “transformation” anywhere in it. The rhetoric is altogether more reassuring. “The reforms we present today are substantial, responsible, and necessary,” he said, and “We will stay on course,” and “We will maintain our consistent, pragmatic, and responsible approach to the economy,” and “We will implement moderate restraint in government spending.”

Fraudulent robocalls 'absolutely outrageous': chief electoral officer

Fraudulent robocalls pretending to come from Elections Canada are "absolutely outrageous" and should not be tolerated in a democracy, the chief electoral officer told parliamentarians Thursday.

"These are very serious matters that strike at the integrity of our democracy," said Marc Mayrand.

"Whether it was organized or bigger or whatever, the fact that electors, at least that we know in Guelph (Ont.), were misdirected by calls falsely made on behalf of Elections Canada is absolutely outrageous."

Mayrand suggested that Parliament consider strengthening the penalties for breaches of the elections law and said that the fines and jail sentences under the current regime are "disproportionately light."

"It should be sanctioned severely and we need to look at the legislation to see if we have the right framework in a modern democracy."

Mayrand was addressing MPs on the Procedure and House Affairs committee in his first public appearance since Elections Canada's investigation into the calls made was revealed last month.

Tory MP Breitkreuz lauded guns for teen girls, student's mom says

OTTAWA — Saskatchewan Tory MP Garry Breitkreuz found himself in hot water Thursday after an Ottawa mother complained he told a Grade 10 class that everyone in Canada should be armed — especially girls.

Dianna Sakisheway wrote a scathing letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews this week. Her complaint stems from a speech Breitkreuz — known as the father of the legislation to repeal the long-gun registry — gave during a career day at Canterbury High School on March 7.

"I am outraged at the irresponsible conduct of the federal government in promoting gun violence to schoolchildren," she wrote. "You have gone much too far."

"Mr. Breitkreuz spent most of his allotted time discussing firearms and cited a Texas study that showed women who carry guns are less likely to get raped, including a specific number of women who avoided rape as they were armed," Sakisheway wrote in another letter obtained by Postmedia News. "Stop assaulting the sensibilities of our children."

Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal MP Judy Foote — who was copied on the letter of complaint to Toews — raised the issue in question period Thursday.

‘Concerned citizens’ interrupt Flaherty’s budget speech

A group of about 16 protesters who say they are concerned about cuts to programs and services were escorted from the House of Commons after they interrupted Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget speech.

Wearing identical tee shirts, they stood in the visitor’s gallery and shouted “Where are we in the budget?” as Mr. Flaherty delivered his annual financial plan on Thursday afternoon.

They were taken by security guards to the basement of the Centre Block then released about a half hour later without being charged.

“We’re just a bunch of concerned citizens who really wanted to highlight how bad this budget is,” said Jo Wood, 73, who spoke for the group as they left the building.

“The pretext is that we are running out of money and have to go in to all this austerity when actually we feel that things like prisons and military jets and so on are being heavily funded,” said Ms. Wood who said she and her cohorts were not affiliated with any political party or organization.

“So we think it’s a matter of priorities and we think they’ve got the wrong priorities for the average Canadian,” she said.

10 Countries Spending The Most On Health Care: 24/7 Wall St.

24/7 Wall St.: This week, the Supreme Court considered President Obama’s health care reform law. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act expands health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. If the law is overturned, health care costs covered by the federal government would drop substantially.

While government spending on health care could decline, that will not result in lower health care costs. Based on data published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on global health issues, 24/7 Wall St. identified the countries where health care costs are the highest per person.

Spending a great deal on health care does not result in a healthier population. Of 34 OECD member countries, only three that spent the most per person have citizens that live the longest. The United States spends more than any other country but only has the eighth-lowest life expectancy in the OECD. Japan, meanwhile, spends $2,878 per person — about $5,000 less than the U.S. — and has the highest life expectancy among developed nations.

According to OECD chief media officer, Matthias Rumpf, health care spending does not result in better treatment. In countries that spend more, he says, people opt for expensive tests and elective procedures that drive up costs. To discourage excess in Germany, for example, citizens are penalized if they see a specialist without first consulting their doctor.

Ryan Budget: Early Education Cuts Would Pull More Than Two Million Kids From Public Preschool

Even as a growing body of research attests to the importance of early childhood education as an antidote to poverty, the House is preparing to pass a Republican budget that would slash funding for Head Start, a federally funded program that provides a wide range of services to a million young children living in poverty and their families."

The plan, proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who chairs the House Budget Committee, would eliminate slots for about 200,000 children in 2014, according to an analysis by the National Education Association. Over the next decade, the NEA estimates, more than two million children would lose opportunities to attend Head Start centers as a result of the cuts.

As it stands, only 30 percent of eligible children participate in the program, but children's advocates tend to argue that the program should be expanded, not diminished.

The proposal "translates directly into lost opportunities and outcomes for our students," Roberto Rodriguez, President Barack Obama's education policy advisor, said on a Thursday call with reporters. "It really has the potential of turning us backwards."

Trayvon Martin's Email And Facebook Accounts Allegedly Hacked By White Supremacist

A white supremacist hacker claims to have broken into Trayvon Martin's email and social networking accounts and posted his private messages online.

"I realize that some of this information might be to [sic] extreme to believe," a hacker named Klanklannon wrote, according to Gawker, which has an original copy of the message thread posted to the popular, unruly message board 4chan. "That's why I offer you evidence. Here are my sources."

Editor's note: Some readers may find language in this article objectionable.

A slide posted to the message board titled "Trayvon Martin Used Marijuana Habitually," apparently shows a conversation between Martin and a friend about getting high. Another alleged that Martin was a drug dealer and showed a picture of Martin standing "aggressively with a large amount of cash in his hand."

Paul Ryan Budget: House Passes Plan 228-191

WASHINGTON — A divided House approved a $3.6 trillion Republican budget on Thursday recasting Medicare and imposing sweeping cuts in domestic programs, capping a battle that gave both political parties a campaign-season stage to spotlight their warring deficit-cutting priorities.

But the partisan divisions over the measure, which is dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate, also underscores how tough it will be for lawmakers to achieve the cooperation needed to contend with a tsunami of tax and spending decisions that will engulf Congress right after this fall's elections.

"This is very easy," Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group that advocates debt reduction, said of House passage of a budget that will go no further in Congress. "When you get to the budget bomb at the end of the year, it's for real. You're going to actually have to pass something."

GOP 'War On Women' Loses Momentum In The States

At this time last year, GOP-controlled state legislatures across the U.S. were passing a record number of laws restricting women's access to reproductive health care. Now in the spring of 2012, as those same lawmakers attempt to impose new, harsher restrictions, they're meeting with a great deal more resistance from women.

In the past two weeks, four conservative state legislatures -- in Tennessee, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Arizona -- have backed off of controversial anti-abortion or anti-contraception bills after facing significant public backlash over the proposals. Women who previously weren't as politically active in those states have come out of the woodwork to protest, women lawmakers have introduced "message amendments" that target men's health, and legislators are personally hearing from angry women through Facebook posts, emails and phone calls to a noticeably higher degree than previous years.

"I would say there's some cautious optimism," said Elizabeth Nash, an expert on state policy for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health policy research organization. "I do think the attention that has been paid to all of these restrictions is beginning to have an impact."

Foxconn Factory's Violations: iPad Factory Workers' Grievances Detailed In Report

The results of an audit of three Foxconn factories that manufacture Apple products has turned up "serious and pressing" violations of Chinese labor laws, according to a report by the Fair Labor Association, a non-profit commissioned by Apple to investigate Foxconn's facilities.

A team of five to seven inspectors from the FLA visited three different Foxconn factories -- two in Shenzhen, one in Chengdu -- and spent up to five days at each conducting hundreds of interviews with workers and managers in an attempt to understand what labor problems existed at the manufacturing facilities of China's largest employer.

According to the FLA's 13 page report, the non-profit "observed at least 50 issues related to the FLA Code and Chinese labor law, including in the following areas: health and safety, worker integration and communication, and wages and working hours." (See the full report below.)