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.]

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Israel's Balkan Strategy

Amid the ocean of reports full of both misinformation and disinformation regarding Israel's likely plans concerning Iran's nuclear project, not enough attention is being paid to what is already happening, as opposed to what may or may not happen.

I'm referring to the interesting and seemingly successful Israeli strategy of getting close to countries surrounding Turkey. The latest was the visit of PM Netanyahu in Cyprus and the unprecedented agreement signed between the two countries which would allow Israeli troops, both naval and aerial, to be stationed in the small island nation in times of emergency.

PM Netanyahu is a right-wing Israeli leader, the lightening rod of many left-wingers all over the world. His host was President Demetris Christofias, a member of the AKEL party, the communist party of Cyprus, the only communist leader of any member nation of the EU. What seemed to be political science fiction just some time ago became a reality, and this is just one example of the shifting sands of Mediterranean and South European politics.

Some weeks ago, the leader of Muslim Albania visited in the Knesset and gave a rousing pro-Israel speech. Netanyahu also cemented close, personal relationships with former left-wing Greek PM George Papandreo, the son of Andreas Papandreo, whose term as Greece's PM was characterized by well-displayed public enmity towards Israel. Simultaneously, Israel has solidified its friendly relations with Bulgaria and Romania.

Romney as Director Saw Marriott Defy IRS

Mitt Romney has long had close ties to hotel operator Marriott International Inc. (MAR) The candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, whose full name is Willard Mitt Romney, was named after the chain’s founder, J. Willard Marriott, a friend of his father. He joined the company’s board in 1993, and has served on it for 11 of the past 19 years, including six as chairman of the audit committee.

During Romney’s tenure as a Marriott director, the company repeatedly utilized complex tax-avoidance maneuvers, prompting at least two tangles with the Internal Revenue Service, records show. In 1994, while he headed the audit committee, Marriott used a tax shelter known to attorneys by its nickname: “Son of BOSS.”

A federal appeals court invalidated the maneuver in a 2009 ruling, siding with the U.S. Department of Justice, which called Marriott’s transaction and attempted tax benefits “fictitious,” “artificial,” “spectral,” an “illusion” and a “scheme.” Marriott had argued the plan predated government efforts to close such shelters.

Employing another strategy, Marriott legally avoided hundreds of millions of dollars in income taxes thanks to a federal tax-credit program criticized and allowed to expire by Congress. Marriott has also shifted profits to a Luxembourg shell company. During Romney’s years on the board, Marriott’s effective tax rate dipped as low as 6.8 percent, compared with the federal corporate statutory rate of 35 percent.

What Bible Is Santorum Reading?

When conservative Congressman Todd Akin a few months back suggested that liberalism was a "hatred of God," I postulated that given the overwhelming support for liberal and progressive values in the Judeo-Christian Bible, perhaps he had never bothered to actually read the Bible. With Rick Santorum's recent comment that Obama's agenda is "Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology," I am now beginning to wonder if Santorum, Akin, and other conservatives are just reading a different Bible entirely than the one I read.

Because here's the thing: while you can -- if you really work hard to do it -- find verses here and there supporting a more conservative political point of view on certain specific issues, there is simply no way to read the Bible I read and not come to the conclusion that it is overwhelmingly supportive of helping the poor, showing mercy to the weak, refraining from judging, treating others as you would treat yourself, calling on the wealthy to give their money to the poor, and all kinds of other liberal, lefty, progressive values. You would have to ignore a great deal of Genesis and Exodus, with their talk of being our brother's keeper and bringing justice to the poor, oppressed slaves in Egypt; you would have to skip over a great many of the verses of Psalms with its poetry about justice and mercy for the poor and the widow; you would have to avoid the books of the Prophets almost entirely since so much of what they are angry about is the Israelite society's mistreatment of poor people and immigrants in their midst. Then there is the New Testament, where between St. Paul, the relatives of Jesus, and the big guy himself, there are so many verses on these subjects that it is virtually impossible to ignore them.

Obama Tax Plan Would Raise Taxes On Private Equity And Hedge Fund Chiefs

Part of the tax proposal announced by the Obama administration on Wednesday would shut down a controversial loophole that allows hedge fund managers and private equity executives to pay taxes at a lower rate than many working people.

The administration's plan seeks to close tax loopholes for corporations and individuals. At the same time the proposal would lower the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 35 percent.

Hedge funds managers and private equity executives pay a different tax on their profits--which often comprise the bulk of their income --than most wage earners pay on their regular income. Hedge fund and private equity gains are taxed as “carried interest" at 15 percent. The Obama administration proposal would tax these profits at regular income rates of up to 35 percent.

“Currently, many hedge fund managers, private equity partners, and other managers in partnerships are able to pay a 15 percent capital gains rate on their labor income,” a relevant section of the proposal reads. “This tax loophole is inappropriate and allows these financial managers to pay a lower tax rate on their income than other workers.”

Corporate Tax Reform: Be Careful What You Wish For

Pretty much every discussion of tax reform these days ends with an agreement that we need to broaden the base and lower the rates. Well, the White House today will release the broad outlines of a plan to do just that on the corporate side of the federal tax code.

According to advance info from this morning's NYT, the proposal will be to cut the current top corporate rate of 35 percent down to 28 percent, and to close a bunch of loopholes to make up the difference. Some other features include:
  • a lower rate -- 25 percent -- for manufacturers;
  • a minimum tax rate on foreign earnings to discourage tax sheltering by multinationals;
  • added incentives for R&D (probably making that tax credit permanent, something the administration has long supported) and clean energy investments;
  • a bunch of other loophole closures...
And therein lies the rub. It is widely recognized that many corporations already pay far less than the statutory rate -- from the WaPo story on the proposal:
Today, the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent is one of the highest in the world, but an abundance of loopholes and deductions means that many companies pay far less than that -- or nothing at all. Companies in the United States pay almost half the taxes than companies do in other rich countries, compared to the size of the economy, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Rick Santorum Defends Satan Comments

Rick Santorum is making no effort to distance himself from his 2008 remarks about Satan attacking America.

Last week Right Wing Watch dug up a speech Santorum made while McCain and Obama were campaigning. Listen below, and here are some sound bites:

    "Satan has his sights on the United States of America!"

    "Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition."

    "This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country - the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost 200 years, once America’s preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.”

Chris Christie's High Profile Absence From Mitt Romney Campaign Keeps Speculation Alive

NEW YORK -- You might say that if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wanted to discourage speculation that he'll make a surprise entry into the Republican presidential primary, he could try a little harder.

Christie once again denied Wednesday that he has any intention of joining the race, but admitted that he has been asked to get in by influential Republicans.

“What I say back to them is I’m supporting Mitt Romney and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he wins the nomination and is going to become president come January 2013,” Christie said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I don’t know how many times I have to say it. The answer is no."

Nonetheless, Christie has made a number of small moves lately that are curious enough to encourage, at the least, whispers about his intentions. Such speculation has reemerged in recent weeks at high levels inside the Republican party, as The Huffington Post first reported earlier this month.

Christie went on CNN Tuesday night to sit down with Piers Morgan, identifying himself as a "surrogate" for former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, whom he has endorsed.

Corporations Don't Need a Tax Cut, So Why Is Obama Proposing One?

The Obama administration is proposing to lower corporate taxes from the current 35 percent to 28 percent for most companies and to 25 percent for manufacturers.

The move is supposed to be "revenue neutral" -- meaning the administration is also proposing to close assorted corporate tax loopholes to offset the lost revenues. One such loophole allows corporations to park their earnings overseas where taxes are lower.

Why isn't the White House just proposing to close the loopholes without reducing overall corporate tax rates? That would generate more tax revenue that could be used for, say, public schools.

It's not as if corporations are hurting. Quite the contrary. American companies are booking higher profits than ever. They're sitting on $2 trillion of cash they don't know what to do with.

And it's not as if corporate taxes are high. In fact, corporate tax receipts as a share of profits is now at its lowest level in at least 40 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, corporate federal taxes paid last year dropped to 12.1 percent of profits earned from activities within the United States. That's a gigantic drop from the 25.6 percent, on average, that corporations paid from 1987 to 2008.

Super PAC Contributions Overwhelmingly Concentrated Among Few Donors

Super PACs, the political groups flexing their muscles in a presidential race for the first time, are disproportionately funded by a handful of donors.

USA Today analyzed super PAC donations since Jan. 1, 2011, and found that one out of every four dollars came from just five spectacularly wealthy donors -- Harold Simmons, owner of Contran; Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam; Houston home builder Bob Perry and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. All of the donors donated to Republican-leaning groups.

In a similar vein, the Associated Press found that of the $60 million collected by candidate-aligned super PACs, $33 million came from just 24 individuals. Every presidential candidate, including President Barack Obama, has a donor who has made a contribution of $1 million or more to his aligned super PAC.

The findings are a stark showing of how Citizens United and subsequent lower court rulings have altered the campaign finance landscape. Super PACs are allowed to accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations, of which they must disclose, but they are not allowed to legally coordinate with the candidates they support.

Occupy National Convention To Be Held In Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA -- A group of protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement plans to elect 876 "delegates" from around the country and hold a national "general assembly" in Philadelphia over the Fourth of July as part of ongoing protests over corporate excess and economic inequality.

The group, dubbed the 99% Declaration Working Group, said Wednesday delegates would be selected during a secure online election in early June from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

In a nod to their First Amendment rights, delegates will meet in Philadelphia to draft and ratify a "petition for a redress of grievances," convening during the week of July 2 and holding a news conference in front of Independence Hall on the Fourth of July.

Any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who is 18 years of age or older may run as a nonpartisan candidate for delegate, according to Michael S. Pollok, an attorney who advised Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge last year and co-founded the working group.

"We feel it's appropriate to go back to what our founding fathers did and have another petition congress," Pollok said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We feel that following the footsteps of our founding fathers is the right way to go."

Afghanistan Cash Flow Pouring Out, Hawala Regulation Looms To Combat Money Laundering

A new proposal by Afghanistan's Central Bank aims to stem the flow of billions of dollars streaming out of the cash-strapped country, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

In a move that targets the traditional hawala banking system, Afghanistan's central bank governor Noorullah Delawari has proposed legislation to limit the amount of money that can be taken outside the country to $20,000 in a single trip.

TIME explains that hawala is an underground banking system, off the ledger, where a lack of contracts, bank statements and record-keeping allows vast sums of money to move across international borders in just a few hours. Hawala can refer to financial transfers in the formal banking sector, but it generally refers to "money transfers that occur in the absence of, or are parallel to, formal banking sector channels," according to the International Monetary Fund. Though legal by definition, the system has been used by terrorists and drug traffickers to transfer massive amounts of money without leaving a paper trail.

At present, there are no restrictions on how much cash can be transfered through Kabul's airport. An estimated $4.6 billion in cash -- more than the country's government budget -- left Afghanistan in 2011, though the actual figure is likely higher, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. has pressured Afghanistan to curb money laundering and terrorist financing. Afghanistan is highly dependent on foreign aid, as the CIA Factbook notes, yet aid money is often misused or stolen.

Furthermore, the Associated Press reports that the U.S. and Afghanistan have been in discussions for nearly a year about a partnership past 2014, when the Afghan government is expected to control the nation's security. U.S. forces are already transitioning out of a combat role.

According to the UN, Afghanistan is responsible for about 90 percent of the world's opium production.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: --

The Memo that Larry Summers Didn’t Want Obama to See

For the past three years, Washington journalists and politicos have obsessed over a 57-page memo that Barack Obama’s incoming economic team prepared for him in late 2008. The document has achieved such totemic status for good reason: It decisively shaped the Obama administration’s initial response to the economic crisis. The memo outlined the president-elect’s options for dealing with the teetering banks, the cash-strapped automakers, and the country’s tidal wave of foreclosures. Above all, the memo laid out options for a massive stimulus package—the mix of tax cuts and government spending designed to end the recession and boost employment. The economic team presented the contents of the memo to Obama at his transition headquarters on December 16, 2008, at which point they collectively settled on a proposed stimulus of nearly $800 billion.

Last month, my friend and former colleague, Ryan Lizza, wrote a much-discussed piece in The New Yorker based on a copy of this and several other previously-unpublished memos. The piece and the corresponding memo described the stimulus options that Obama’s team—including Larry Summers, his top economic adviser, and Christy Romer, soon to be his chief White House economist—ultimately sent him. The options ranged from about $550 billion to just under $900 billion.

The GOP’s Long War Against Women and Sex

Aspirins and short skirts and contraception, oh my! The last few weeks have seen a slew of Republican gaffes concerning women’s sexuality. From Rick Santorum’s billionaire supporter Foster Friess’s waxing nostalgic about the good old days when women put aspirin "between their knees” in lieu of contraception to an online furor over whether the young conservative women at CPAC dressed too provocatively—the GOP has a major woman problem on their hands.

Their fear of sex—of women’s sexuality in particular—has become a major media talking point, and a source of outrage among American women. But what I don’t understand is why anyone is surprised. Republicans have long based their agenda for women in a deep-rooted disdain for all things female. We’ve been down this road many, many times before.

When a picture of Congressman Darrell Issa’s all-male panel on birth control (the make-up of which prompted several Democratic women to walk out of the hearing) hit the Internet and mainstream media—I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar picture of George W. Bush signing the “partial birth” abortion ban, surrounded by a group of smiling clapping men. All men. (Santorum was one of them.)

Occupy Un-Occupies Its Own Strike Campaign

The next major action planned by Occupy Wall Street is a nationwide general strike set for May 1, and to promote it they've started producing a lot of great-looking works of propaganda that largely downplays the involvement of Occupy itself. The videos, posters, and paintings promoting the strike that actually mention Occupy tend to place it in the background rather than as the central component. Organizers say they're aiming a much larger audience than the folks who camped or protested in city squares last fall. "A general strike really needs to be general," organizer Joe Sharkey said. "May Day is a traditional day for workers movements and revolution, so I think that’s the main emphasis. It’s to broaden the appeal and not just attach it to Occupy. People have preconceived notions of what occupy is or isn’t."

The ambitious action, which calls for people to skip work, school, chores, shopping, and basically everything else, coincides with International Workers Day (also known as May Day), which celebrates the labor movement on the anniversary of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago during which police opened fire on striking workers. There are usually a lot of protests and marches on May 1, but the nationwide general strike is an Occupy concept, first suggested by Occupy Los Angeles last November and organized nationally through sites such as InterOccupy, which arranges conference calls between Occupy organizers in various cities. Now a Facebook page for the strike has 11,600 followers last we checked, and the hashtag #M1GS has begun cropping up in strike-related tweets. Many of those tweets share posters and artwork that targets specific demographics, rather than simply promoting Occupy.

Original Article
Source: the atlantic wire
Author: Adam Martin

Obama Budget: Grow Prisons and Keep Gitmo

President Obama's budget request for fiscal year 2013 includes cuts to everything from Medicare and Medicaid to defense and even homeland security. But federal prisons are among its "biggest winners," according to an analysis by the Federal Times. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is seeking a 4.2 percent increase, one of the largest of any federal agency, which would bring its total budget to more than $6.9 billion.

So what kind of criminals are we spending all this money to incarcerate? If you're thinking terrorists and kidnappers, think again. According to the Sentencing Project, only 1 in 10 federal prisoners is locked up for a violent offense of any kind. More than half are drug offenders—hardly surprising, since federal prosecutions for drug offenses more than doubled between 1984 and 2005. The 1980s also produced mandatory minimum sentences, which meant we were not only sending more people to prison, we were keeping them there far longer—a perfect formula for an exploding prison population.

JSF Production Might Be Further Slowed

The Pentagon’s Defense Acquisitions Board (DAB) of top weapons buyers recertified the tri-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program during a Feb. 21 meeting, but high sustainment costs might force the Pentagon to slow production down further or trim flight hours for aircrew, a senior defense official said.

The Pentagon had to recertify the program due to a 2010 breach in the Nunn-McCurdy rule, which occurs when the unit cost of a program goes above a certain level. The DAB meeting was chaired by acting Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall.

The Pentagon still needs to do some additional work on cost, the senior defense official said. Because of the way sustainment costs are calculated, affordability is still a problem, and that might mean that the number of aircraft bought in the near term might be further truncated or that flight training hours are curtailed, he said. The numbers are expected to fluctuate during the next five years.

Additionally, costs associated with military construction still have to be sorted out.

Canada creeps towards becoming a closed society

Nick Fillmore asks a question The Regina Mom has been grappling with for years: "Is Stephen Harper displaying fascist-like tendencies?" Ever since Naomi Wolf published "Ten Steps To Close Down an Open Society" at the Huffington Post in April, 2007, an essay has been brewing on TRM's computer. (Yes, TRM admits to being a slow writer.)

Wolf's research for that article became the book, The End of America, which documents "how open societies become closed societies." Her family's friends, Holocaust survivors, urged her to explore a few texts and the result was what she called a "blueprint" that has been adapted by several societies when making a shift from an open to a closed society. In the HuffPo piece she named 10 significant pieces of the blueprint and showed how they were at work in the USA at that time. To complement Nick Fillmore's work, TRM thought she'd finally share, in point form, what she discovered by placing Wolf's blueprint on Canada.

Documents strike at heart of denial machine

When hackers broke into an Internet server at East Anglia University in the U.K. and selectively released massive amounts of correspondence from the world's leading climate scientists, folks at the Chicago-based Heartland Institute were quick to exploit it. 

Heartland president Joseph Bast wrote: "The release of these documents creates an opportunity for reporters, academics, politicians, and others who relied on the IPCC to form their opinions about global warming to stop and reconsider their position."

He may have been correct, although "reconfirm" would have been a better word than "reconsider" as seven independent investigations cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing and confirmed the credibility of their research.

Now the tables have been turned on the libertarian "charitable" organization, which devotes its resources to questioning the reality of climate change and the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke, among other issues.
Heartland is just one of many organizations dedicated to spreading doubt and confusion about legitimate science. These groups share a lack of transparency and an agenda to promote corporate interests at the expense of human health, the environment, and even the economy (if we believe the economy should function primarily in the interests of citizens rather than corporations).

Can Germany rescue its ailing neighbours?

Though it’s better known for its caviar service in first class and its swank lounges at Frankfurt International Airport, much of the excitement at Lufthansa last year took place at its comparatively drab cargo operations. The carrier’s hulking MD-11 freighters hauled 18 per cent more tonnes of time-sensitive goods—ranging from German-made luxury car parts to pricey chemicals—in 2011 than the year before, when a previous record was set. Even more impressive is the destination for many of those planes: “China remains the core market for air-freight transportation out of Germany with growth at 26 per cent,” says Florian Pfaff, a manager for Lufthansa Cargo.

Apparently, not everyone is losing jobs to Guangdong province.

Despite the deepening eurozone crisis, Germany is booming. While Ottawa might like to brag about its performance through the Great Recession, the real miracle story belongs to Germany, and its manufacturing and export-driven economy. The country of 82 million has enjoyed GDP growth of three per cent or better for the past two years, while exports topped $1.3 trillion for the first time ever in 2011. Unemployment, meanwhile, is sitting at a 20-year low of 6.7 per cent, compared to Canada’s 7.6 per cent. And although it experienced a run on its banks in 2008, Germany has no housing bubble, boasts a high personal savings rate and slays deficits with near-religious zeal.

Online surveillance bill setup costs estimated at $80M

It's going to cost at least $80 million to implement the government's lawful access bill to force internet and telecommunications service providers to collect customer information in case police need it for an investigation, CBC News has learned.

C-30, a bill to update Canadian law when it comes to crimes committed online, will cost $20 million a year for the first four years and $6.7 million a year after that, Public Safety Canada told the CBC's Hannah Thibedeau on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews wouldn't provide any more information about the costs. It's not clear if those are the only costs associated with the legislation.

The bill, also known as the online surveillance bill, would force internet and telecommunications service providers to install equipment to collect information on customers in case police obtain a judicial warrant to retrieve it.

A spokesman for Canada's telecommunications industry said whatever the costs, it's up to the government to compensate the companies.

With B.C. budget, Clark establishes her conservative credentials

In the early 1980s, government restraint sent thousands of people into the streets in British Columbia in protest. On Tuesday, the government of Premier Christy Clark introduced a budget as tightfisted as any the province has seen in 30 years.

Still, it’s unlikely to ignite the kind of social unrest unleashed by the earlier restraint budgets of Social Credit premier Bill Bennett.

There were enough early references in Finance Minister Kevin Falcon’s budget speech to Greece and to the perils of governments that disregard basic economic imperatives that it was easy to tell the direction his fiscal plan would take. What was surprising was the degree to which the B.C. Liberals both cut and held the line in key spending areas and began bending the cost curve downward in other traditionally big-spending portfolios, such as health and education.

B.C. is the most fiscally conservative government in the country at the moment.

“The landscape is littered with governments that have forgotten the importance of managing spending and taxation prudently,” Mr. Falcon said in his budget speech. “Now they find themselves in very dire situations.”

145 Black Bears Killed In Alberta Oil Sands

The clash between industry and wildlife in Alberta’s oil sands took a steep toll on black bears last year, with 145 of the animals killed by Fish and Wildlife conservation officers.

It was the highest annual cull in recent history. Nearly half of the black bears were shot after they were attracted to oil sands camps in the Fort McMurray region by food and garbage, The Calgary Herald reports. Another 51 were shot on residential properties.
Watch a YouTube video below of a black bear foraging for garbage at the Wapasu Creek Lodge, a big facility that houses workers on projects in the northeast area of the Athabasca oil sands.
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, which manages wildlife in the province, said bear occurrences in the oil sands region nearly doubled from the year prior, when 52 bears were shot, and an official blamed a berry crop failure for the increase.

As The Calgary Herald reports:
Environment and wildlife conservation groups were outraged by the number of black bear killings. They immediately blamed the deaths on lax garbage management and a lack of proper monitoring and regulation by the provincial government. “It’s a very disturbing fact to hear and it’s one more cost of oilsands development that we need to look at,” said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace.
The oil sands have long been under fire for how much they contribute to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to a secret federal memo unearthed through access to information, emissions growth from the oil sands is projected to be greater over the next decade than all other Canadian economic sectors combined.

And a trade war is brewing between Canada and the European Union over a proposal that would effectively ban oil sands bitumen from Europe.

But the problem of wildlife impacts is also getting more attention, with a recent outcry by environmental groups over a government plan to protect woodland caribou populations in the oil sands by poisoning thousands of wolves.

The plan was lambasted by the National Wildlife Federation, the largest conservation organization in the United States, with four million supporters.

Oil sands giant Syncrude Canada was ordered to pay a $3-million penalty for the 2008 deaths of 1,600 ducks in one of its toxic tailings pond, as CBC reported, among the hundreds of birds and waterfowl believed killed in similar facilities.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: --

Drummond-style restraint would be Ontario’s Greek tragedy

For Ontario, the real lesson from Greece is not the danger of debt. It is the danger of overreacting to that debt.

This is not how the debate is usually framed. The standard argument, articulated most recently by Liberal government adviser Don Drummond (and repeated Tuesday by Premier Dalton McGuinty), is that debt and deficit will career out of control unless public spending is dramatically curbed.

Ontario’s debt may seem manageable now, Drummond’s four-person commission wrote in a report released last week. But so did the debt of hard-hit Spain just four years ago.

“Even Greece, the poster child for rampant debt, carried an Ontario-style debt load as recently as 1984,” the report warned.

In this, Drummond is correct. As a percentage of gross domestic product, Spain’s debt did double between 2007 and 2011. But that doubling happened not because Spanish government spending was out of control.

China is a nasty regime that wishes us ill

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s greatest prime minister, had two sage pieces of advice for Canadians about trade. First, free trade with the United States is the indispensable cornerstone of our prosperity. Second, we should build on that primary relationship by seeking markets wherever they are to be found.

A century later, that is still good advice. Specialize, but diversify. We have free trade with the U.S., to whom we send the lion’s share of our exports, but we want to reduce our dependence on that single market. Put that unease about our dependence on America together with their recent erratic behaviour over the Keystone XL pipeline, for example, and Canadian eyes turn, quite naturally, to China and its vast expanding market.

Yet there is a powerful but inarticulate ambivalence in the minds of Canadians about drawing closer to China. In the media that ambivalence is usually portrayed as a reservation about China’s treatment of its own people, or its “human rights record” at home.

Outsourcing: the new way to balance government budgets in Canada

Mayor Rob Ford outsourced Toronto’s budgetary woes to a consulting firm last spring. He didn’t pay KPMG much — $350,000 for a two-month review of the city’s core services — and he didn’t get much. The hired cost-cutters produced an “inventory of opportunities” almost all of which municipal bureaucrats had recommended and council had rejected in the past. It rejected most of them again.

Premier Dalton McGuinty handed off Ontario’s fiscal predicament more deftly. He appointed Don Drummond, a retired bank executive and former federal public servant, to come up with a plan to rein in provincial spending. He gave him 10 months to do a thorough job and paid him $1,500 a day. (Drummond billed for only 50 days). The premier got his money’s worth: a comprehensive restructuring plan for his government and those that follow. He also got an adviser willing to do what he had never done: tell Ontarians the whole painful truth and show them the consequences of inaction.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper quietly hired private consultants in late summer to advise his government on how to cut $4 billion. It’s unlikely taxpayers will ever know whether the $19.8 million contract to Deloitte was worth the price. In fact, the only way they know about the arrangement at all is that an enterprising journalist from the Canadian Press filed an Access to Information request.

All three levels of government have highly trained public servants who are paid to provide well-researched, impartial financial advice. Yet all three have turned to outsiders.

Refugee lawyers say bill would create conditional permanent residence

An immigration bill introduced last week in Parliament opens the door for refugees resettled in Canada to have their permanent residence status stripped of them and for them to be deported, even years after their arrival, say refugee lawyers.

The government says there's nothing new happening; it's just streamlining a current two-part process into one step.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney tabled Bill C-31 in the House on Feb. 16. The bill—which encompasses another bill on human smuggling, and new biometrics measures—is meant to speed up the refugee system to send fraudulent claimants packing quicker.

The bill resurrects aspects of a bill the Conservative government originally introduced in March 2010 that was revised through opposition pressure and passed with cross-party support in June 2010, but never fully implemented.

Mr. Kenney said more changes were needed. Among the changes proposed in Bill C-31, claimants from certain so-called safe countries wouldn't have access to a new appeal mechanism and would have their claims further fast-tracked.

Canada under Conservatives not what it used to be

It is interesting that Laurent Le Pierrès seems to believe Canada hasn’t fundamentally changed, and he can still look his "country in the mirror" ("Justin jumps in where angels fear to tread," Feb. 17 column). I was also happy to read that he thinks our nation has survived worse crises than a Conservative majority. I’m just not sure he’s right.

First, we’ve never had a Conservative majority in Canada before; we’ve had Progressive Conservative ones. And we certainly have never had a neo-conservative majority that espouses neo-liberal unfettered capitalism that enriches only, well, the already rich. We do now. The Harper government comprises hardline ideologues slinging insults and slogans from an outdated and discredited handbook used by George W. Bush in the U.S. for eight long, war-filled years, which have left our southern neighbour in a politically and economically polarized shambles.

Now, the government is intent on imposing the same failed Republican ideologies on Canada. It was bad enough even before Stephen Harper had a majority. Twice he prorogued Parliament, showing his contempt for democratic process and coalitions, which, ironically, he tried to orchestrate himself when he was in opposition. He managed to transform Canada from a highly respected beacon of democracy and peace on the world stage into an aggressive pariah that has made many people around the world ask, "What has happened to Canada?"

UK Minister: Rise in Cost of F-35 Fighters 'Unknown'

The British Government "doesn't know" how much the price of new aircraft carrier fighter jets will rise because of cancellations abroad. Defence Equipment Minister Peter Luff told the Commons order changes from other countries would have "implications" for the price of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF).

The Lockheed Martin-built jets are due to be purchased to fly from the UK's Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers which are currently under construction.

Speaking during Defence Questions in the Commons, shadow defence minister Alison Seabeck said: "What is the intention around the F-35 programme, in particular given rumoured reductions in orders from the USA, Australia and Canada?

"Do you expect the price of each F-35 to rise and have you taken a view on exactly the point at which they become unaffordable?"

Mr Luff replied: "The honest answer is we don't know. The Americans are not reducing the total numbers of JSF but changing the profile of those purchases. Other partner nations are indicating they are going to reduce their actual off take.

"This is likely to have implications for JSF prices particularly in the early stages which is when this country intends to procure its (fighters).

"There are implications, we are watching them very carefully and I'm happy to talk to you separately about the implications for the UK." (BFBS)

Original Article
Source: defpro
Author: --

Base OAS on fairness, not just a higher retirement age

Rhys Kesselman is the Canada Research Chair professor in public finance with the School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University

Controversy over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s proposed hike in the Old Age Security eligibility age has been far too narrow in the policy options considered. OAS reform is just one piece of the much more complex puzzle of improving the retirement income system.

By now the critics have demolished the fiscal sustainability rationale for an OAS age change, and they have properly noted the adverse effects on lower earners unable to work to age 67 and the likely shifting of federal savings to higher provincial welfare costs.

While the necessity of fiscal savings has been overstated, the pressures from unprecedented demographic change on all aspects of Canadian public policy are undeniable. With a rapidly aging population, public pension costs including OAS/GIS will mount, public costs of health care and long-term care will soar, all at the same time that the proportion of working-age taxpayers will be shrinking.

U.S. officials tell Tories war on drugs has failed

A high-profile group of current and former U.S. law enforcement officials has written to the Conservative government with a surprising message: Take it from us, the war on drugs has been a “costly failure.”

The officials are urging Canada to reconsider mandatory minimum sentences for “minor” marijuana offences under its “tough-on-crime bill” and say a better approach would be to legalize marijuana under a policy of taxation and regulation.

“We are … extremely concerned that Canada is implementing mandatory minimum sentencing legislation for minor marijuana-related offences similar to those that have been such costly failures in the United States,” their letter reads. “These policies have bankrupted state budgets as limited tax dollars pay to imprison non-violent drug offenders at record rates instead of programs that can actually improve community safety.”

The letter was signed by more than two dozen current and former judges, police officers, special agents, drug investigators and other members of the advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The release of the letter comes just days after four former attorneys general in British Columbia called for the repeal of Canada’s marijuana prohibition laws, saying they had done nothing but fuel organized crime and gang violence.

Spending cuts, pension reform make 2012 budget difficult to complete

Jim Flaherty said recently that he still hopes to present the federal budget before the end of March, the traditional deadline. The betting in Ottawa is that he’ll rise in the House next week to announce March 27 as the day.

But don’t ink that date in. Those who know are saying that the Finance Minister may hold off until April. Budget 2012 has proven remarkably difficult to put to bed.

Typically, the federal budget is brought down on a Tuesday in February or March to be ready for the new fiscal year, which begins April 1. If there’s an exception, it’s usually for an obvious reason: Budget 2006, to cite one example, didn’t arrive until May because the Conservatives had only come to power that February.

But there is no compelling circumstance to delay this year’s budget, other than the sheer difficulty of writing it.

The first problem is economic uncertainty, brought on mostly by the troubles in Europe. The new deal for Greece that European finance ministers ratified Tuesday may bring some short-term calm, but economic growth projection are even more unreliable this year than usual.

With Trillions On the Table Nobody Plays Fair, and Everyone Plays for Keeps

The Fed has been engaging in closed door meetings to change rules for banks. It wasn't until Victoria McGrane and Jon Hilsenrath at the Wall Street Journal asked for the results of votes that the Fed posted them on its web site. Since June 2010, the Fed has held only two public meetings on the changes. But just on the topic of derivatives alone it held 14 meetings with JPMorgan Chase, 12 meetings with Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs, and 11 meetings with Bank of America, Barclays, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.

How effective will the Fed's regulations be after it has taken so much input from banks that vigorously lobbied against the already impaired Dodd-Frank Act?

Without knowing more about the meetings, no one can say for sure, but based on the events since the September 2008 on-going financial crisis, I can take an educated guess. The banks will largely have their way in diffusing effective regulation. After all, they've been remarkably adept at preventing the enforcement of perfectly good laws and regulations already in place before during and after the bailouts.

Not only have the banks been defiant, but so have luminaries in the financial community -- at least until they were called out on it.

Religion And Politics Don't Mix, Major Religious Groups Tell Presidential Candidates

After Rick Santorum ignited controversy over the weekend by saying President Barack Obama has a "phony" and "different theology" that's not "based on the Bible," and amid ongoing discomfort among some politicians and religious figures over Mitt Romney's Mormon faith, a coalition of major religious organizations is calling on presidential candidates to keep religion out of politics.

On Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Interfaith Alliance released a "statement of principles" on religion in political campaigns that calls on candidates vying for office to feel comfortable explaining their religious conviction to voters but also warn that "there is a point when an emphasis on religion becomes inappropriate and even unsettling in a religiously diverse society such as ours.”

Rick Santorum Questioned Obama's Faith In 2008, Said There's No Such Thing As A Liberal Christian

In stark contrast to comments made earlier this week, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum addressed the issue of now-President Barack Obama's Christian faith in a 2008 interview with the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life, Buzzfeed reported Tuesday.

When asked if he believed Obama is a "sincere liberal Christian," the former Pennsylvania senator said he didn't believe that sort of ideology exists, and that Obama's church, United Church of Christ in Chicago, had "abandoned Christendom" and used a non-literal interpretation of the Bible.

"I don't think there is such a thing," he said of Obama as a liberal Christian. "To take what is plainly written and say that 'I don't agree with that, therefore I don't have to pay attention to it,' means you're not what you say you are. You're a liberal something, but you're not a Christian."

Santorum made headlines last week after telling an Ohio crowd that Obama subscribes to "some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible."

Obama Administration To Propose Cutting Corporate Tax Rate From 35 Percent To 28 Percent

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday proposed a lower corporate tax rate and an end to dozens of loopholes he said helps companies move jobs and profits overseas. "It's not right and it needs to change," he said.

The president wants to lower the corporate tax rate from the current 35 percent, the highest in the world after Japan. Under his plan, manufacturers would receive incentives so that their effective tax rate could be even lower.

Obama's election-year plan would set a new 28 percent corporate tax rate, still higher than the 25 percent rate sought by congressional Republicans.

"It's a framework that lowers the corporate tax rate and broadens the tax base in order to increase competitiveness for companies across the nation," Obama said in a statement.

Corporations would have to give up dozens of cherished loopholes and subsidies that they now enjoy. Corporations with overseas operations would also face an unspecified minimum tax on their foreign earnings.

Nancy Grace, Policymaker

When the not-guilty verdict came down in the Casey Anthony trial last summer, TV personality Nancy Grace exploded in a cable news paroxysm for the ages: “Somewhere out there, the devil is dancing tonight.” The polarizing former prosecutor had massively expanded her national following with her nightly crusades against the 25-year-old Anthony, an unemployed single mom charged with killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. When, soon thereafter, Grace announced she would be joining the cast of Dancing With the Stars, critics had a field day. But her leap into the world of bedazzled spandex was not half as alarming as a less widely discussed foray, into the arena of panic-driven policymaking.

Grace has been a key cultural force behind the emergence of Caylee’s Law, a hasty piece of tough-on-crime legislation currently being considered in more than a dozen US states. Born as an average citizens’ petition on the popular social media website in the whipped-up hours following Anthony’s acquittal, the appeal accumulated more than 1.3 million signatures—the single fastest-growing campaign in the website’s history. (This had much to do with Grace plugging it on her evening news show, applauding the chance to “actually do something” and scorning those who “just stand by and twiddle their thumbs.”) Caylee’s Law requires parents to report a missing child to the police within twelve, twenty-four or forty-eight hours, depending on the state or, in the case of a child’s death, within one to two hours. (A note to the blissfully Anthony-ignorant: a prime issue at stake in the sensationalized trial was the disturbing length of time it took—a full month—for the Anthony family to report Caylee missing). New Jersey Governor Chris Christie became the first governor to sign the bill into law last month—a particularly strict version that makes the failure to report a missing child punishable by up to eighteen months in prison. New Jersey State Senator Nicholas Sacco, who sponsored the legislation, called it “a well-thought-out bill,” adding that it “would not have prevented what happened, but would have had a greater penalty attached to it.”

The Conservative War on Women's Sexuality

If you have been surprised to see an uptight prig such as Rick Santorum leading the Republican primary field in national polls, you shouldn’t be. Recent events have demonstrated that conservative positions on social issues are as much about repressing women and reversing the gains of the women’s movement as they are about saving the lives of the unborn.

The young people I saw at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington the week before last looked to me exactly like what you would expect from a bunch of college Republicans. They were dorks. They wore suits. Maybe some of the women’s suit skirts were short, but I was hardly scandalized.

But we learned last week that much of the conservative movement is still living in a different century—and I don’t mean the twentieth—with regard to women’s sexuality. Conservative bloggers were horrified that some young women at CPAC were dressed provocatively and engaged in loose sexual behavior with the young men in attendance.

Keystone XL Would Raise Gas Prices, Not Lower Them

A basic Republican attack on President Obama is shaping up for the 2012 election: the national debt is too high, the unemployment rate is too high, and gas prices are too high.

Two of these three issues find a home in the Keystone XL pipeline—the boilerplate Republican argument is that the White House not only killed a project that could provide jobs in construction and maintenance, but also exacerbated higher gas prices by denying the markets more oil. Rick Santorum charged in Ohio yesterday that Obama’s “radical environmentalist policies” were threatening the economic recovery and driving up fuel prices. Mitt Romney has been sounding similar notes.

Unfortunately, there’s an all-too-typical problem with the Republican line on Keystone: it’s completely unsupported by the facts. On the jobs front, the Cornell Global Labor Institute estimates the project would create only 2,500 to 4,650 short-term construction jobs—not the “hundreds of thousands” of jobs claimed by House Speaker John Boehner.

The failure of austerity politics

“We are headed to a Greece-type collapse,” GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has warned repeatedly, while indicting President Obama’s stimulus plan. Romney promises to slash spending and balance the budget to unleash growth.

Only now his warning provides a starkly different caution. Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Britain — the countries that have responded to the economic crisis by focusing on slashing their deficits — are sinking. And the ruin inflicted on Greece threatens its democracy, as riots and resistance spread.

The advocates of austerity — here and in Europe — have argued that cutting spending and reducing deficits, even with interest rates already near zero, would revive the economy. The irresponsible — other than the banks — would be disciplined. This would reassure investors and “job creators,” and they would invest and start to hire again. With an added refrain about deregulation, this remains the mantra chanted ceaselessly by Republicans.

In the United States, President Obama resisted, but in Europe, austerians — led by Angela Merkel in Germany and the new Tory government of David Cameron in Britain — won the day. But what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman justly derided as the “confidence fairy” didn’t show up. Turns out businesses lacked customers, not confidence. And the countries that followed that advice have been sinking into recession or worse ever since. Unemployment is soaring — in Spain and Greece youth unemployment is at 50 percent; poverty is spreading. According to one important indicator — changes in GDP since the recession began — Britain is faring worse than it did during the Great Depression. And to add insult to injury, Moody’s, the bond rating service, has cut the ratings on the debt on six European countries — including Italy, Portugal and Spain — as Europe’s economy contracted last quarter.

Are Apple's New China Auditors Toothless Tigers?

Apple caved—sort of. For the first time in its history, the beloved electronics company has started allowing labor inspectors with the Fair Labor Association into the factories that churn out Apple's most popular products, the company said Monday.

The announcement is clearly a reaction to This American Life's searing narrative on workers and working conditions in Chinese factories (including Apple's), "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory," as well as the New York Times' devastating "iEconomy" series, which sparked protests at Apple stores nationwide. One of the stories in the series, on the human costs of manufacturing the iPad, revealed dangerous, if not inhumane, working conditions at Apple suppliers. The story begins with this anecdote:
The explosion ripped through Building A5 on a Friday evening last May, an eruption of fire and noise that twisted metal pipes as if they were discarded straws.
When workers in the cafeteria ran outside, they saw black smoke pouring from shattered windows. It came from the area where employees polished thousands of iPad cases a day.
Two people were killed immediately, and over a dozen others hurt. As the injured were rushed into ambulances, one in particular stood out. His features had been smeared by the blast, scrubbed by heat and violence until a mat of red and black had replaced his mouth and nose.

Ottawa’s relationship with Assembly of First Nations makes some natives uneasy

Manitoba chiefs have joined those in Saskatchewan in condemning an action plan to improve the lives of native people, saying it was crafted without their input by the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government.

The rejection strikes another blow at attempts by AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo to forge a new relationship with Ottawa.

Many native leaders are wary of government intentions as they prepare to fight for a share of revenues from resources that lie within their traditional territories and as Prime Minister Stephen Harper promotes the construction of a pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific across first-nations lands.

In a letter to Mr. Atleo, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says the federal Conservative government and the AFN have been developing plans and statements that were not approved by the first nations in his province.

Specifically, Mr. Nepinak objects to an “outcome statement” that was released at the end of a meeting in January between the chiefs and Mr. Harper. That statement endorsed a joint action plan launched last summer by the AFN and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan that lays out broad steps for promoting first-nations prosperity.

In the Electro-Motive shutdown, an unsettling message for Canadian industry

It’s a wintry Wednesday afternoon, and Vince Gugliotta and his son are playing ball hockey. Five-year-old Orlando slaps the ball, and once again it sails high over the fence behind his dad, landing in an inaccessible parking lot beside a battered toy dump truck.

“No high slap shots!” Mr. Gugliotta says. His son smiles. But he knows the balls are not retrievable. They’ve landed in the lot of Caterpillar Inc.’s locomotive factory in London, Ont., a 62-year-old plant the company abruptly closed on Feb. 3.

Mr. Gugliotta, who still drops by the picket line outside the shuttered plant, lost his job as an assembler that day. The worst of it? His wife, Sarah Smith, who also worked in the plant, lost her job too. And just like that, the family with four children between the ages of 1 and 8 slid from solid middle class to no income at all.

The swiftness of the closure has left them reeling. Electro-Motive Canada (a subsidiary owned by Caterpillar (CAT-N116.001.000.87%)) initially cut its work force last summer. The company then asked its staff for a wage cut of up to 50 per cent. When workers said no, it never returned to the bargaining table, despite entreaties from London’s mayor and the union.

Highway 407 workers go on strike

Call centre and customer service workers at 407 ETR, the company that owns the toll-operated Highway 407, went on strike Wednesday morning.

Kevin Sack, ETR’s vice-president of communications and government relations, said 105 workers will walk off the job after weeks of negotiations between the company and CAW Local 414.

“The operation and maintenance of the highway are not affected,” said Sack.

Sack said the ETR call centre will remain open “with reduced hours” and advised customers to consult the company website.

ETR customer service staff often deal with drivers seeking new transponders or people who have questions about their bills or want to set-up pre-authorized payment plans.

Original Article
Source: Star
Author: Josh Tapper

Mitt Romney: Obama Administration Has 'Fought Against Religion'

SHELBY TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Tuesday that President Barack Obama's administration has "fought against religion" and sought to substitute a "secular" agenda for one grounded in faith.

Obama's campaign seized on the characterization, calling Romney's comments "disgraceful."

Romney rarely ventures into social issues in his campaign speeches, but people participating in a town hall-style meeting one week before the Michigan primary asked how he would protect religious liberty.

"Unfortunately, possibly because of the people the president hangs around with, and their agenda, their secular agenda – they have fought against religion," Romney said.

The Obama campaign linked Romney's remarks to recent comments by rival Rick Santorum, who has referred to Obama holding a "phony theology" only to say later that he wasn't attacking Obama's faith but the president's environmental views.

"These ugly and misleading attacks have no place in the campaign and they provide a very clear contrast with what President Obama is talking about: how to restore economic security for the middle class and create jobs," said Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman.

Just don't watch me, Ottawa's actions say

OTTAWA -- The most commonly uttered word on Parliament Hill these days is "privacy."

The second should be "ironic."

Ironic in that what should be private is fast becoming less so, and what should be public is quickly disappearing behind closed doors.

On one hand, the government has introduced legislation that would force Internet service providers (ISP) to give the government private information about clients -- names, addresses, IP addresses, email addresses -- without a warrant. An IP address identifies your computer when you go online and can be used to track Internet habits.

Legal experts say under this law, if the government wants to know who owns an IP address that visits certain websites, all they need to do is track the ISP that owns it (easy as pie) and then demand the ISP tell them who owns the account connected to the IP address. Alternatively, the government might have a name and want the IP address associated with that person.

Under this bill, the government can get such information without having to prove there is a criminal investigation and without a warrant.

Stephen Harper and the new politics of consumerism

An easy lens for understanding most public policy is that of consumers versus producers.

Consumers are all of us. We buy milk, or rides on transit, or songs. Some of us buy a lot and some of us buy only a little, but our purchases are aggregated out over thousands of products purchased multiple times. As a result, the time devoted to thinking about all but the biggest purchases is usually brief. Consumers are interested in keeping prices down generally, but are often price insensitive to particular products for lack of a point of reference.

Producers make – typically – one thing. Milk, or transit services, or songs. They sell one thing into the marketplace and spend almost all of their time thinking about it. They are very, very, very interested in keeping the prices of their items as high as possible. They devote enormous effort to marketing, or increasing the perceived value of an item relative to its cost.

A lot of government policy is devoted to managing the tension between producers and consumers, or more accurately, managing the very high demands placed on them by producers against the broad general interest of consumers that is only weakly felt in the system.

All fossil fuels must be cut to avoid global warming, scientists say

OTTAWA — Two Canadian climate change scientists from the University of Victoria say the public reaction to their recently published commentary has missed their key message: that all forms of fossil fuels, including the oilsands and coal, must be regulated for the world to avoid dangerous global warming.

"Much of the way this has been reported is (through) a type of view that oilsands are good and coal is bad," said climate scientist Neil Swart, who co-authored the study with fellow climatologist Andrew Weaver. "From my perspective, that was not the point. . . . The point here is, we need a rapid transition to renewable (energy), and avoid committing to long-term fossil fuel use if we are to get within the limits (of reducing global warming to less than 2 C)."

The commentary, published in the British scientific journal, Nature Climate Change, estimated the impact of consuming the fuel from oilsands deposits — without factoring in greenhouse gas emissions associated with extraction and production — would be far less harmful to the planet's atmosphere than consuming all of the world's coal resources.

Conservative spending cuts could tip Canada into recession, federal union economists say

OTTAWA — The Conservative government could tip Canada into a recession if it reduces federal spending by up to $8 billion, says an analysis by the union representing government economists and social scientists.

Claude Poirier, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, said that if the Conservatives press ahead with spending reductions of $8 billion by 2014-15, Canada’s gross domestic product will fall by more than $10 billion and draw an embattled economy into a recession.

“Either the government isn’t aware of the impact its expenditure reduction program will have and is prepared to risk plunging the country into recession, or the government has not gauged this impact properly and is tinkering with the Canadian economy to satisfy an ideological imperative,” said Poirier.

The results of the spending and operational spending review that will be announced in the upcoming budget have been kept under wraps under the guise of cabinet secrecy. With few details about the cuts, unions and other organizations have been struggling to estimate the job losses and their ripple effect on the Canadian economy.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said the government has released so few details about the upcoming cuts that it is difficult to come up with much more than rough guess.

Poll shows falling confidence in Canada Pension Plan

Nearly half of all Canadians have little or no confidence in the future of the Canada Pension Plan, according to a new Nanos Research survey.

Forty-eight per cent of Canadians polled said they were either "somewhat not confident" or "not confident" in the CPP (or the Quebec Pension Plan, for the Quebec sample).

That's up from 41 per cent in a 2010 Nanos survey.

The poll, conducted for CTV News and The Globe and Mail, comes as the Conservative government is considering changes to public pension plans, citing upcoming demographic changes.

Forty-one per cent of Canadians said they were confident or somewhat confident in their public pension plan. A majority of Canadians, 59 per cent, said they believed public pension payments will be reduced in the future.

Canadians' confidence in private company pensions was similar to the public pension numbers.

The world that made Don Drummond

In his opening paragraphs to the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx noted that people "make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."

It is one of the most basic and fundamental insights into the way our society, its politics and its mass thinking work, and yet its meaning is often forgotten or ignored.

We, as people exist in a context, and that context shapes the way we think and the way we act. That context is sometimes of our own making, in part or in whole, but regardless, it is inescapable and it frames the way we think, react and act as a society, often imperceptibly.

This social discourse evolves constantly, and the actions of politicians and political advocates help to shape what becomes the essential framework of their day.

The citizens of Ontario have come under a kind of full-frontal ideological assault recently, delivered to them by an agent of their own provincial Liberal government, the former TD Bank economist Don Drummond. His commissioned report has recommended deep cuts to programmes that millions depend on. It disgracefully calls for the imposition of user fees on things like school buses (as one small example), massive cuts to health care, farcical ideas such as ending all-day kindergarten or cutting access for seniors to medication. It seeks to undo the little that the Liberals can claim as their attempts to reconstruct an inclusive civil society in the wake of the Harris years.

Head of Cabinet’s strategic operating review looks to private sector to employ public service layoffs

Treasury Board President Tony Clement says he is confident that Canada’s private sector will be able to absorb thousands of job cuts from the federal government as the governing Tories’ remain committed to eliminating the deficit within the next three years.

“I think our economy is performing well,” Mr. Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) told media following Question Period on Feb. 14, crediting the federal government’s handling of the 2009 recession for enabling the feds to begin scaling back stimulus spending while maintaining low tax rates. “We campaigned on, and have been acting on the belief that we have to continue to create new jobs in the private sector for our economy to expand and grow, and that includes being a low tax jurisdiction that spends within its means.”

Since the Conservatives formed their first majority government in the spring of 2011, much of the debate in Ottawa has focused on fiscal policy. The government plans to eliminate its $32.3-billion deficit through a combination of $11-billion in spending cuts over the next three years and increases in tax revenues as economic growth rebounds.

As Greece Erupts, BBC’s Paul Mason on "The New Global Revolutions" over Austerity, Inequality

Greece is bracing for protests after eurozone finance ministers concluded a deal that will provide a $170 billion bailout in return for another round of deep austerity cuts. The bailout is opposed by several unions and left-wing groups in Greece over new cuts and layoffs imposed on public sector workers. We’re joined by Paul Mason, economics editor at BBC Newsnight and author of the new book, "Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions." He has just returned from Greece. "What makes the headlines are, of course, the riots," Mason says. "What doesn’t make so many headlines is what is happening to real people... We are living in a time where the world has, in the last couple of years, erupted in a way that many people thought they would never see again since the 1960s... The underpinnings of this new global unrest are that...people are sick of seeing the rich get richer during a crisis."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

TTC chief Gary Webster fired

TTC chief general manager Gary Webster has been relieved of his duties, following a vote during a special meeting of transit commissioners Tuesday.

In a motion describing termination "without just cause," the transit commission voted 5-4 to fire Webster, who has worked at the service for 35 years, just two weeks after he expressed open defiance to a subway plan championed by Mayor Rob Ford. His ouster comes a year before he was set to retire.

"This was not how I expected this to end — certainly not how I wanted it to end," Webster told reporters shortly after his termination. "But clearly the choice has been made to replace me as chief general manager and I accept that."

TTC chair Karen Stintz, a vocal supporter of Webster's, thanked the outgoing senior manager for his years with the commission.

Stintz told reporters she was left cold by the decision to sack a manager that many councillors defended passionately as a trusted public servant who, for years, ran the third-largest transit system in North America.

Ottawa water rates to jump over next decade

Taxpayers in Ottawa should prepare for a big jump in water and sewer rates after the city's environment committee approved a long-term plan to replace pipes across Ottawa.

The plan to invest $2.1 billion over 10 years will see the average annual rate in Ottawa to jump to more than $1,000 by 2020-21, a 74 per cent increase over a decade.

The city said it needs to raise rates for a number of ongoing projects, including the replacement of all pipes on roads where construction work is being done.

Councillors said they wanted to avoid a situation like last year's Woodroffe Avenue water main break, with some suggesting if the city did not pay now, they would pay later.

The plan calls for a six per cent increase in 2012, raising the average annual rates this year to $668.19.

Rates would rise seven per cent in 2013 and 2014, six per cent in 2015 and 2016 and then five per cent in the foreseeable future after that.

City council is expected to approve the plan Wednesday.

Original Article
Source: CBC
Author: cbc

Montreal doctors accused of taking bribes

Two Montreal cardiologists are facing disciplinary action over allegations they received hefty kickbacks to push patients to the top of the waiting list, the Quebec College of Physicians says.

The college's investigation uncovered at least two doctors who were allegedly taking envelopes of cash in exchange for providing faster service, Dr. Charles Bernard told CBC News.

"It's awful," said Bernard, who heads the college. "It's unacceptable … Usually, physicians have a good job, a good pay. It's very difficult for me to understand that."

The investigation was triggered 14 months ago, when a Montreal woman told the news media she had paid a $2,000 cash "incentive" to have her mother bumped to the top of a waiting list.

After the investigation, the college said two cardiologists from Montreal would face a disciplinary hearing later this year in connection with such incidents. Bernard would not discuss the details of the cases, as nothing yet has been proved.

B.C. budget aims for fiscal prudence

The B.C. government has tabled a tough, stay-the-course budget intended to cap spending, sell off "non-strategic assets" and rein in the deficit with very few handouts to taxpayers or businesses on Tuesday.

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said the "fiscally prudent" budget would limit overall spending increases to two per cent in coming years and keep the government on track to balance the budget by 2013/2014.

Falcon said the government would finish the current fiscal year with a $2.5-billion deficit, which would be cut to $1 billion in the 2012/2013 fiscal year.

Former deputy minister and political commentator Bob Plecas told CBC News he thought the budget was "the toughest budget we've had since '83."

Key to the government's plan to reducing the deficit is the sale of $700-million worth of what Falcon called "non-strategic surplus assets," including its monopoly on wholesale liquor distribution and unused land held by the government, health authorities and school boards.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair immediately criticized the sell-off, saying it was the equivalent of paying your mortgage by selling your home and living on the street.

Shameful firing of TTC manager widens gap between Ford and councillors

Turning a grey transit official into a popular hero is quite a trick, but that is just what the administration of Mayor Rob Ford has accomplished by firing Toronto Transit Commission chief general manager Gary Webster.

As Mr. Webster walked into a special TTC gathering on Tuesday to meet his fate, cheers broke out in the public gallery. Supporters were handing out “I (heart) Gary Webster” buttons. When the 5-4 vote to sack him was announced three hours later, the audience shouted “shame.” Even Bob Kinnear, the sharp-tongued transit-union leader, came to Mr. Webster’s defence.

What explains the extraordinary reaction to his firing? Mr. Webster is hardly the first official to be replaced by his political masters. The TTC is not the most popular institution these days, and the axing of its manager would normally cause little distress to most people.

But there is something different about this. Mr. Webster is being fired just days after a public meeting in which he spoke his mind, in the most calm and respectful manner, about his views on the best way to expand Toronto’s transit network. Those views differ sharply from the mayor’s.

Iran says it will pre-emptively strike anyone who threatens it

As pressure mounts over Iran's nuclear program, a top Iranian general warned Tuesday that the nation will pre-emptively strike anyone who threatens it.

The statement by General Mohammed Hejazi continues the defiant tone Tehran has taken in its confrontation with Western countries that claim it is developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

“We do not wait for enemies to take action against us,” said Gen. Hejazi, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. “We will use all our means to protect our national interests.”

Gen. Hejazi heads the military's logistical wing.

The U.S. and Israel have not ruled out strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Iran also said Tuesday that a visiting UN team did not plan to inspect the country's nuclear facilities and will only hold talks with officials in Tehran.

B.C. budget raises corporate taxes

British Columbia is dropping out of a decade-long race with its chief provincial rivals to attract corporate investment with low tax rates, tabling a budget on Tuesday that proposes the first corporate-tax hikes since the B.C. Liberal Party came to power in 2001.

With a provincial election just 15 months away, the B.C. Liberals are taking on the challenge of rising program costs amid muted economic growth. In doing so, B.C. is setting out the stark choices facing other deficit-ridden provinces.

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon’s answer is to forfeit corporate-tax bragging rights so he can put his government’s target to balance the budget next year within reach.

Posting a surplus in 2013 as required by B.C. law is key to maintaining the province’s fiscal credibility, Mr. Falcon said in his budget speech in the Legislature. “Around the world, the landscape is littered with governments that have forgotten the importance of managing spending and taxation prudently.”