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.]

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Police Federation vice-chairman says privatisation could destroy service

A radical plan to give private companies responsibility for investigating crimes, patrolling neighbourhoods and even detaining suspects will have "catastrophic consequences", the leader of rank and file officers has warned.

Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the privatisation proposals would jeopardise the chance of successful investigations and convictions and lead to the "destruction of the finest police service in the world".

West Midlands and Surrey have invited bids from G4S and other large security companies on behalf of all forces across England and Wales to take over the delivery of a wide range of services previously carried out by the police.

The list of policing activities up for grabs includes investigating crimes, detaining suspects, developing cases, responding to and investigating incidents, supporting victims and witnesses, managing high-risk individuals, patrolling neighbourhoods, managing intelligence, managing engagement with the public, as well as more traditional back-office functions, such as managing forensics, providing legal services, managing the vehicle fleet, finance and human resources.

Challenging the Self-Made Myth

Over the last thirty years, anti-government arguments by conservative pundits and politicians have gained prominence, and the rhetoric this 2012 campaign season seems more toxic than ever. Republicans are relentlessly pushing the notion that lower taxes, less regulation and small government (except for defense) will magically end the recession and create a better country, and “job creators” will lift all boats.

It’s BS. As Congressman Barney Frank recently said, “I’ve never seen a tax cut put out a fire. I’ve never seen a tax cut build a bridge.”

Americans benefit every day from government—from consumer protection to roads and bridges to food and safety regulation—even people who claim to hate an “activist government” are some of the prime beneficiaries of the safety net at a moment when there are still over four unemployed workers for every available job and nearly one in six Americans lives in poverty.

But the GOP has wagered its future on ruthlessly and relentlessly attacking government—it isn’t about to let reality get in the way of its crusade.

Police To Invite Private Security Firms To Bid For Contracts In Surrey And West Midlands

Police are set to bring in private companies to investigate crimes and patrol neighbourhoods, it has been was reported.

Two forces, West Midlands and Surrey, are asking security firms to bid for contracts, worth £1.5bn over seven years, to run some services that are currently carried out by officers, according to the Guardian.

Successful firms would have a wide range of responsibilities, including detaining suspects and responding to incidents, but would not be able to arrest suspects.

In a briefing note sent to companies, which was seen by the newspaper, all services that "can be legally delegated to the private sector" are potentially up for contract.

Administrative roles, such as legal services and managing forensics, are also set to be outsourced.

The move will spark fears about privatisation within the police force. Ben Priestley, Unison's national officer for police and justice, told the Guardian: "Bringing the private sector into policing is a dangerous experiment with local safety and taxpayers' money

Labrador Mining Boom: Housing Prices Skyrocket, Families Evicted To Make Way For Miners

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - If there's a downside to Labrador's mining boom, Carrie Cabot and her family are living it.

"We're very stuck," she said from Wabush, N.L.

Cabot, her husband Damico and their two daughters, aged one and three, are being forced out of their apartment to make way for Labrador mine workers.

As expanding iron ore companies pay big money to buy up houses and apartment buildings in small communities closest to the mines, the Cabots are among those struggling to find affordable homes.

Rents have soared in Labrador West since the latest mining boom started four years ago, fuelled by demand for iron ore overseas. Provincial legislation does not restrict yearly increases.

Competition for scarce housing is so intense, it's not unusual for homeowners in Labrador City and Wabush to live in their summer cabins or basements while contractors pay $5,000 a month or more to rent their places.

Why an MRI costs $1,080 in America and $280 in France

There is a simple reason health care in the United States costs more than it does anywhere else: The prices are higher.

That may sound obvious. But it is, in fact, key to understanding one of the most pressing problems facing our economy. In 2009, Americans spent $7,960 per person on health care. Our neighbors in Canada spent $4,808. The Germans spent $4,218. The French, $3,978. If we had the per-person costs of any of those countries, America’s deficits would vanish. Workers would have much more money in their pockets. Our economy would grow more quickly, as our exports would be more competitive.

There are many possible explanations for why Americans pay so much more. It could be that we’re sicker. Or that we go to the doctor more frequently. But health researchers have largely discarded these theories. As Gerard Anderson, Uwe Reinhardt, Peter Hussey and Varduhi Petrosyan put it in the title of their influential 2003 study on international health-care costs, “it’s the prices, stupid.”

Campaign of robo-calls have no place in elections

Despite the juvenile nom de guerre “Pierre Poutine” that was used, allegedly by a Conservative operative, in Guelph, Ont., the robo-calls, if proven to have taken place, are more than a malicious partisan prank in the manner of the Liberals’ Vikileaks smear. Interfering with an elector’s ability to vote is an affront to democracy, and voter fraud is treated seriously – and properly so – as a criminal offence in Canada.

Canadians are justifiably proud of the high standard of their electoral process, even if not all partisan participants are of a correspondingly high calibre. Indeed, Elections Canada has exported its expertise, advising many countries on how to conduct free and fair elections, and also on how to consolidate representative democracy by allowing a greater proportion of the population to actually vote.

It is disgraceful then, that “suppressing votes” by directing people to the wrong polling station on election day, as allegedly occurred in Guelph, in the 2011 federal election campaign, would be considered by some excessively partisan campaign workers to be an acceptable tactic. It is not, and the RCMP and Elections Canada must vigorously investigate the claims and, if warranted, prosecute those responsible.

But who is responsible? Elections Canada has received 31,000 "contacts" or messages from Canadians about receiving such calls, yet all the political parties deny any involvement.

Robocalls' assault on election integrity demands government’s attention

Not long before the federal election that produced a majority government for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, I asked one of Elections Canada's returning officers to speak to my journalism students at Conestoga College.

From the moment she strode into the classroom, it was clear that Carolyn Hertzberger was no lightweight. Appointed in February 2007 as the returning officer for Kitchener-Conestoga, Hertzberger took command of the class with the kind of authority one would expect of a person who, throughout the year, must keep an electoral district in a state of semi-perpetual readiness for the next voting day. And on those days, her job is to co-ordinate a small army of deputies, supervisors, information officers, poll clerks and registration officers.

Hertzberger spoke with precision about election nuts and bolts, what a "writ" was, the mountain of research, reorganization and polling station re-distribution that must be done between elections, and the rules that govern voter, party and media conduct at polling stations as electors cast their ballots.

When she estimated the cost of each federal election as being northward of $280 million, a swoon of amazement, bordering on indignation, swept through the room. But it was also at this point that she delivered the most eloquent lines of her hour-long talk.

Oilsands partnership must avoid conflict of interest: Environment Canada

OTTAWA — Environment Canada says it's hoping a senior bureaucrat in charge of scientific water monitoring and research can "strengthen" government co-operation with major oil and gas companies through his new "assignment" with an oilsands industry partnership unveiled this week in Alberta.

But in a carefully worded statement, the department said Dan Wicklum, the newly appointed chief executive of the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance would be on leave from his government job, without pay, and would not be able to provide privileged advice to his new employer. Nor would he be allowed to communicate with Environment Canada employees on behalf of the industry companies in the partnership.

"We anticipate that Dr. Wicklum's assignment will bring new opportunities to strengthen collaboration and understanding between the government of Canada and the oilsands industry," wrote Environment Canada spokesman Henry Lau in an e-mail. "While on assignment, Dr. Wicklum is subject to the Values and Ethics Code for the public service . . . The Values and Ethics code is clear on the measures to be taken by public servants to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest."

Lau also wrote that Wicklum had an agreement regarding the assignment, spelling out conditions that would prevent him from exchanging internal government information with the alliance or calling on government contacts in his new role.

Step one in Canada’s quest for world domination

is to take over Iceland:
For 150 years, no country has expressed interest in adopting the Canadian dollar — the poor cousin to the coveted greenback. But now tiny Iceland, still reeling from the aftershocks of the devastating collapse of its banks in 2008, is looking longingly to the loonie as the salvation from wild economic gyrations and suffocating capital controls.
More seriously, Iceland wouldn’t be the first country to unilaterally adopt another country’s currency: Ecuador abandoned the sucre and adopted the U.S. dollar in 2000 (which not only restored financial stability, but turned the tiny country into a soccer powerhouse). And it’s hard to see why Canada would mind. The danger for Iceland is that it hands over control of its monetary policy to another country’s central bank. As we’ve seen with the euro, that doesn’t always end well.

Original Article
Source: washington post
Author: Brad Plumer 

Ex-military brass disturbed by officers meddling in Cormorant scandal

The Canadian Forces is defending its decision to use its officers to collect information on one of Defence Minister Peter MacKay's political opponents, saying the process is no different than its efforts to gather facts for the public and news media.

But former military officers say such activities, which prompted allegations about Canadian Forces personnel "digging up dirt" on the minister's political enemies, cross the line and jeopardize the long-standing political neutrality of the military.

Air force officers recently found themselves in the spotlight after it was revealed they quietly gathered information on Liberal MP Scott Simms, a member of parliament who criticized the decision by MacKay's office to order up a search-and-rescue helicopter to retrieve the minister from a private fishing lodge. That flight cost taxpayers $16,000, according to reports.

But the Defence Department and the head of the Royal Canadian Air Force say there's nothing wrong with providing such information.

Conservative MPs used U.S.-based telemarketers

CBC News has learned that more than a dozen Conservative MPs employed U.S.-based political telemarketing firms during the last federal election campaign, contrary to Stephen Harper’s statement in Parliament this week.

The prime minister and his parliamentary secretary, Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro, claimed in the Commons that the Liberals were the only party that used American calling firms.

“We’ve done some checking,” the PM said, and “we’ve only found that it was the Liberal Party that did source its phone calls from the United States.”

But documents show 14 Conservative campaigns enlisted the telephone services of an Ohio company called Front Porch Strategies.

During the election, the company made thousands of calls into each of those Canadian ridings from its headquarters in Columbus.

In fact, Del Mastro’s own campaign used the American firm twice during his successful bid for re-election last year.

Smug religiosity in Republican presidential race

The Christianity on display in the race for Republican presidential nominee is, you should forgive the expression, a godsend to nouveau atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and, posthumously, Christopher Hitchens. They're the kind of pious, pompous targets those guys would pray for, if they did.

Their Christianity is arrogant and judgmental: Rick Santorum says Barack Obama saw his church as an "avenue for power" and has a "phoney theology." In other words, he's not a real Christian like me. They're wilfully stupid in claiming Obama wages war on religion -- in a nation that places In God We Trust on its money while schoolchildren pledge allegiance to God along with country. And they're drunk with secular, imperial power: "If you were Satan," says Santorum, "who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after other than the United States." Hey, we're Number 1.

Their evangelical din drowns out Christian alternatives. Not just the long-standing social justice campaigns by mainstream churches but the most stirring case of all: African-American churches of the civil rights era, which set a vastly different example. Black theologian James Cone writes about their version of faith in his new book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

Elections Canada taps CRTC for help with deluge of robo-call complaints

Deluged with a staggering volume of grievances about fraudulent calls in the last election, Elections Canada is referring some complainants to another federal regulator – the CRTC – that also has a responsibility to police the country’s phone lines.

The ballot watchdog reported that as of Friday morning it had registered 31,000 “contacts” or messages from Canadians regarding the 2011 federal election campaign and the use of fraudulent, misleading or harassing calls designed to suppress votes. The number vastly outdistances grievances lodged after previous general elections.

It’s not clear if all these complaints are detailed, personal beefs or whether a significant number are merely Internet-generated form letters by sites such as

Still, the overwhelming number of responses is strong evidence that Canadians are concerned that American-style political tricks – such as misleading phone calls to electors – have taken firm root in federal politics.

The sheer volume also suggests the scale of the matter may be too big for Elections Canada to address by itself and the watchdog signalled Friday it may ask the RCMP to help.

Ontario goes it alone on immigration, says Ottawa’s policy hurts province

Having seen its dominant share of Canadian immigration shrink over the past decade, Ontario is fighting back.

Ontario’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Charles Sousa said Friday that federal immigration policies are hurting Canada’s largest province.

In response, Mr. Sousa announced the creation of Ontario’s first-ever immigration strategy, which he says will be crucial to the province’s economic future. He also called on the federal government to negotiate a new agreement on immigration with the province.

Speaking to the Metropolis conference on immigration research, Mr. Sousa said that although Ontario remains by far the largest recipient of new immigrants in Canada, it has suffered as a result of changes to immigration policy. The rapid growth of provincial nominee programs has drawn immigrants away from Ontario to the West and Atlantic Canada.

“In his speech to you yesterday, federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney confirmed what we’ve been saying for a long time: Federal immigration policies are hurting Ontario. Changes introduced by Ottawa over the last decade give a head start to others in this race at the expense of Ontario,” Mr. Sousa said.

Canada’s growing divide in riches

Don Berggren’s family-owned manufacturing company was on a roll until a rising loonie and the global recession clobbered his business.

Sales of its industrial cooling equipment to the automotive and plastics sectors were clipping along until the strengthening Canadian dollar hurt U.S. orders, then plunged as the financial crisis brought the economy to its knees three years ago. Mr. Berggren was forced to slash jobs, taking his work force down to 45 from 110 before the recession.

Today, however, the president of Toronto-based Berg Chilling Systems Inc. has switched gears, finding an opportunity to re-energize his business in Alberta’s vast oil fields.

Mr. Berggren has been working with his industry association over the past few years to win contracts to supply cooling equipment to the booming oil sector in Western Canada. “We were trying to find new markets to make up for the ones that were falling apart,” Mr. Berggren said.

The effort has paid off, with orders from oil sands giant Suncor Energy Inc. and two chemical plants in Alberta. Berg has supplied cooling equipment for Suncor’s oil upgrader and refinery operations to re-use or vent heat. And Mr. Berggren expects to make bigger inroads in the province as the company gains experience.

What Israel’s supporters should ask Netanyahu before any attack on Iran

As the drums of war against Iran get ominously louder, what have the friends of Israel — the true friends of Israel — been privately telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visits to Ottawa and Washington?

Are they bellicose and uncritical, urging Netanyahu to indulge his base instincts and challenge President Barack Obama before confronting the Iranians? Or are they restrained and reproachful, reminding him the stakes are enormous — for Israel, Iran and for the rest of the world — if he blows it?

If they are the latter, here are five hard questions they should ask Netanyahu to answer before Israel even contemplates an attack on Iran:

1. “Why now? The growing pressure on Iran is having a damaging impact. What is the urgency for war?”
The Iranian economy is suffering mightily from sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe. In a cover story this week headlined “Why an attack on Iran will not eradicate the nuclear threat,” The Economist put it starkly: “Iran’s economy is now at risk of great damage. The regime in Tehran is divided and has lost the faith of its people.”

Robo-calls: Tory MPs used top U.S. Republican firm during May election

Fourteen Conservative MPs signed on with a well-connected Republican company during last year’s election campaign, contrary to the party’s claims, the Star has learned.

On its website, Front Porch Strategies, a “voter contact and constituency outreach” firm based in Columbus, Ohio, boasts: “In May’s federal elections, Front Porch Strategies won all 14 of their races.”

Among their clients was Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro who, on Thursday, led the charge in the Commons over the voter dirty tricks scandal, accusing Liberals and notably Eglinton—Lawrence MP Joe Volpe of paying over $25,000 to a calling company with offices in North Dakota.

Added Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “We’ve done some checking. We’ve only found that, in fact, it was the Liberal party that did source its phone calls from the United States.”

In an interview with the Star, Del Mastro backed down on the North Dakota allegation — for which he apologized to reporters — and said: “Nobody is saying there’s anything wrong with the use of U.S. firms.”

After a raucous week in Parliament, Elections Canada confirmed Friday morning that it has received 31,000 complaints from Canadians about misleading and harassing calls since Monday.

Centrists’ message to Mayor Rob Ford: If transit taxes are coming, build across Toronto

Councillors being wooed by Mayor Rob Ford to support Sheppard subway expansion are telling him to look beyond Scarborough, especially if new city-wide fees or taxes are on the table.

In a recent meeting with Ford, centrist councillors Mary-Margaret McMahon and Ana Bailão pushed construction of a “downtown relief line” connecting the Yonge and Bloor lines. McMahon also pitched rapid transit to serve communities springing up on the eastern downtown waterfront.

“If we can find the funding pot of gold, a combination of road tolls and parking levies or whatever to build transit in Toronto, let’s spread the love,” said McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York).

Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport) wants to see a “realistic business plan” for a Sheppard subway at a March 21 special council meeting, and long-term solutions including the relief line to ease chronic overcrowding.

Ford showed no enthusiasm but “didn’t say no,” McMahon noted.

Etobicoke Centre Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby told the mayor this week she’s prepared to “look very carefully” at a realistic business plan for subway, as opposed to the cheaper surface light rail many councillors say is better suited to Sheppard’s population density.

Anonymous: Vic Toews Targeted Again In Operation VicTory After Liberal Staffer Behind Vikileaks' Ouster

Anonymous has released a new video threatening retaliation against Vic Toews after the ouster of the Liberal staffer behind the Vikileaks Twitter account.

As part of Anonymous' ongoing OperationVicTory, the group released a video titled "Vic Toews vs. Twitter II - The Internet Strikes Back" Thursday night in which a computer-generated female voice, backed by dramatic music, threatens to release new information about the Public Safety Minister. The video denounces plans to bring former Liberal staffer Adam Carroll before a Commons committee to question him about his role in the Vikileaks affair.

"Fellow Canadians, our own government is attempting to intimidate its citizens from not engaging in legal forms of protest by using their power to have them forced from their jobs and called before parliamentary committees."

Anonymous also attacks the Liberal party for allegedly forcing Carroll to resign. "The Liberal party has either fired or forced out the individual behind the Vikileaks account, despite the fact that they committed no crime, in a shameful act of political cowardice."

It urges Canadians to use all possible non-violent means to strike back at those who "seek to intimidate us into silence," citing the successful campaign against the Tories online surveillance Bill C-30, which led the to the legislation being sent to committee early where it will likely be revised.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Michael Bolen 

Israel's PM probed on allegations of lavish trips

JERUSALEM — Israel's state comptroller has questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over allegations of taking lavish, privately paid trips abroad while serving in public office.

A comptroller spokesman says staff questioned Netanyahu at his office Monday. The meeting however did not hit Israeli news until Friday as the Prime Minister began a trip to Canada and the U.S.

It is the first time Netanyahu is questioned about the allegations.

The comptroller began the probe last year following an expose on Israel's Channel 10 alleging that, between his first and second terms as prime minister, Netanyahu and his wife enjoyed expensive trips and meals paid for by wealthy associates.

Netanyahu denies the allegations and has filed a libel suit against Channel 10.

Original Article
Source: CTV
Author: The Associated Press

I, Robo-Call: What's worse than electoral fraud? A robot uprising

As a patriotic civilian who believes in democracy and freedom, the basic human right to take part in the electoral process and all that good junk, I have been in a state of perpetual horror since this story of the robo-calls came out.

If the allegations of Conservative automated phone fraud prove true, they will confirm a dreadful hunch I've been living with for quite some time – that robots tend to veer a wee to the right.

When robots were first invented, the doctor or scientist or whatever he was (mechanic?) proudly boasted to the waiting press gallery that he had “invented a machine to do man's work. And yes, it is apolitical!” Everyone clapped and drank champagne, and told one another “good show,” because it was the 1920s.

For years, the robots kept up their end of the bargain. Their little electromechanical motors whirred along in a spirit of collaboration, rather than political ideology. They could long to have human emotions all they wanted, just so long as they didn't have an opinion about taxes.

Have I misunderstood them? I've read Isaac Asimov – I mean, I haven't read any of his actual books, but I know about his Three Laws of Robotics via Will Smith and the scary, Anderson Cooper-look-alike androids from the movie of I, Robot. Was there an outtake I missed, one that explained some fourth secret mystery law, having to do with party discipline?

Exactly how dangerous is Stephen Harper?

Robo-gate, considered by many to be a concerted (if so far unproven) assault on democracy, has opened wide the simmering debate about Stephen Harper and his cronies. Are they reformers or revolutionaries? Are they simply a somewhat more ambitious form of the conservatism Canadians have known since John A., just a further notch or three along the traditional Canadian ideological continuum?

Or do they represent a radical transformation, an extreme new form of conservatism that had, until now, been relegated to the lunatic fringe of Canadian political culture? It’s hardly an academic question. You could even say that he future of Canada depends on the answer.

I don’t mean to be disingenuous here. Of course many partisans have already answered this question to their own satisfaction; that includes me, as faithful readers well know. Ever since it was formed from the American-style populist Reform Party and the dead ashes of the Progressive Conservative Party, and with a pugnaciously hard-right Stephen Harper as its leader, the usual suspects have demonized the new Conservative Party as beyond the pale.

Tories suffering from disconnect with voters not in power base

Whatever else may ail Stephen Harper’s government, it has some serious messaging issues.

On three occasions over about as many weeks, the Conservatives’ political instincts went missing in action in the heat of a parliamentary battle.

That was particularly striking this week as the government struggled without success to put allegations of vote-suppression in the 2011 campaign behind it.

On a matter that is — in political terms — more akin to a debilitating flu than to a passing cold, the Conservatives committed the cardinal sin of feeding the controversy by changing their tune virtually every day

The government kicked off the week by inviting the Liberals and the New Democrats to share whatever evidence of campaign dirty tricks they may have with Elections Canada. Harper said his party would do likewise. But he did not stick to that message.

Offshore drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence?

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board has rejected an attempt by Corridor

Resources to limit the impact of an environmental assessment process on their license to drill in the Gulf of St Lawrence (you can read the decision here).

A bit of background:
Corridor Resources filed a project description for the drilling of an exploration well on their Old Harry prospect (Exploration Licence 1105) February 22, 2011. Old Harry is a disputed boundary region, straddling Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. It has been estimated that Old Harry (see a map here – scroll down) holds up to two billion barrels of recoverable oil – this is twice the size of Hibernia, east of St. John’s N.L. There is also up to 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. If tapped, this would be the biggest offshore oil and gas resource in eastern Canada.

Quebec has had a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of St Lawrence and estuary in place since 1998, but this could be in jeopardy upon the completion of a Quebec Strategic Environmental Assessment.

All the signs point to a falling oil price – except supply

If you want a recipe for falling global oil prices, you would think this would do the trick.

The 17-country euro zone, which includes three Group of Seven countries, is back in recession. The shale deposits in the United States are gushing oil. Libyan supplies are coming back with a vengeance. Iran has not been bombed and, if the blathering Beltway pundits are right, will not be bombed before the U.S. election. The Strait of Hormuz is wide open. The latest generation of cars makes the fuel economy of your dad’s old banger look like the Exxon Valdez’s. European austerity-related taxes on gasoline and diesel are pushing down demand.

Why, then, are oil prices so high, to the point they threaten the tentative economic recoveries in debt-bombed Europe and elsewhere?

This week, oil prices went to their highest level since mid-2008, just before the collapse of Lehman Bros. triggered the same response in oil prices. Propelled partly by dubious rumours of a pipeline explosion in Saudi Arabia, Brent crude (the better global proxy than West Texas intermediate (CL-FT106.50-2.34-2.15%)) went above $128 (U.S.) a barrel on Thursday. On Friday, oil was at $124.

Toronto inside workers face no-board request

Just weeks after averting a major labour dispute with the city’s outdoor employees, Toronto is once again under threat of a strike or lockout, this time with 23,000 indoor workers.

Following the same path it took with the 6,000-member CUPE Local 416, the city has requested a “no board” report from the ministry of labour as negotiations with CUPE local 79 hit a roadblock.

This means in just a little over two weeks, the city could impose new employment conditions on its daycare workers, health inspectors, social service workers, lifeguards and long-term workers, among others. At that point, city workers would be in a legal strike position and the city could lock employees out.

Speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, Local 79 Tim Maguire accused the city of dragging its feet.

“The city needs to begin meaningful negotiations rather than threatening tactics,” he said. “After 12 weeks of bargaining the city has not budged. The city has not engaged in meaningful negotiations.”

When asked if the union would be willing to strike, Maguire said, “We’re not interested in a conflict. We want a negotiated settlement”

The Kochs vs. Cato

hereThe arch-conservative billionaire Koch Brothers have sued the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington—often mistakenly seen as merely a tentacle, if not mouthpiece, for the Kochtopus—for control of Cato. Slate’s Jacob Weisberg wryly tweeted: “Brothers sue to regain ownership of CATO. Like the Iran-Iraq War, but better.”

The lawsuit, filed in Kansas, certainly adds a new layer of rancor, and, if it goes forward, promises a glimpse inside the secretive machinations of the Kochs. But the friction between Charles Koch and the Cato Institute isn’t new—there’s a long backstory here. In fact, Charles Koch, whom many regard as the brains behind the Kochs’ powerful political and industrial empires, first broke with Cato some two decades ago, while still retaining a stake in the think tank, for reasons that have never been made public.

Occupy Wall Street Spreads To Colleges With Protests Against Student Debt

Students from colleges and high schools around the country gathered Thursday for protests and rallies called the National Day of Action for Education.

Two groups associated with the Occupy movement –- Occupy Colleges and Occupy Education -– organized the event, along with a group called the New York Student Aid Alliance.

Natalia Abrams, an organizer with Occupy Colleges, said that more than 70 schools pledged through the Occupy Colleges website to send at least 100 students each to the rallies, with some schools pledging hundreds more. She estimated turnout to be in the "mid to high thousands."

The event is the second in two days that has drawn attention to what might be described as a second wave of the Occupy movement.

Call it Occupy 2.0. After evictions ended the movement's camping phase a few months ago, the occupation went into hibernation. Activists regrouped and got more organized, focusing on specific issues. Wednesday's march targeted the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that promotes policies intended to benefit corporations. Thursday's took aim at the high cost of education.

Bank Fees Quietly Coming Back Even After Backlash

NEW YORK -- Big banks, facing declining revenues and a regulatory climate that leaves them fewer creative ways to make money, are quietly introducing or experimenting with fees that are sure to outrage customers.

Bank of America was shouted down by angry customers last fall when it tried to impose a $5 monthly fee for using a debit card. JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo backed off plans to impose their own fees.

But the major banks have imposed or are testing other fees:

_ Since November, Wells Fargo has charged $15 a month for some checking accounts unless customers have three accounts with the bank, maintain a minimum balance of $7,500 or have a Wells Fargo mortgage.

_ Some Citibank customers are being charged $20 a month unless they keep $15,000 in their accounts, up from $6,000 before December. They're also being dinged with a $2 fee for using non-Citi ATMs if their balance falls below the minimum.

_ Bank of America, even after a backlash last fall when it tried to impose a $5 monthly fee for debit card transactions, is testing a menu of checking accounts in Georgia, Massachusetts and Arizona with monthly fees of $6 to $25.

Four Fiscal Phonies

Mitt Romney is very concerned about budget deficits. Or at least that’s what he says; he likes to warn that President Obama’s deficits are leading us toward a “Greece-style collapse.”

So why is Mr. Romney offering a budget proposal that would lead to much larger debt and deficits than the corresponding proposal from the Obama administration?

Of course, Mr. Romney isn’t alone in his hypocrisy. In fact, all four significant Republican presidential candidates still standing are fiscal phonies. They issue apocalyptic warnings about the dangers of government debt and, in the name of deficit reduction, demand savage cuts in programs that protect the middle class and the poor. But then they propose squandering all the money thereby saved — and much, much more — on tax cuts for the rich.

And nobody should be surprised. It has been obvious all along, to anyone paying attention, that the politicians shouting loudest about deficits are actually using deficit hysteria as a cover story for their real agenda, which is top-down class warfare. To put it in Romneyesque terms, it’s all about finding an excuse to slash programs that help people who like to watch Nascar events, even while lavishing tax cuts on people who like to own Nascar teams.

Fed Shrugged Off Warnings, Let Banks Pay Shareholders Billions

In early November 2010, as the Federal Reserve began to weigh whether the nation's biggest financial firms were healthy enough to return money to their shareholders, a top regulator bluntly warned: Don't let them.

"We remain concerned over their ability to withstand stress in an uncertain economic environment," wrote Sheila Bair, the head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., in a previously unreported letter obtained by ProPublica.

The letter came as the Fed was launching a "stress test" to decide whether the biggest U.S. financial firms could pay out dividends and buy back their shares instead of putting aside that money as capital. It was one of the central bank's most critical oversight decisions in the wake of the financial crisis.

"We strongly encourage" that the Fed "delay any dividends or compensation increases until they can show" that their earnings are strong and their assets sound, she wrote. Given the continued uncertainty in the markets, "we do not believe it is the right time to allow transactions that will weaken their capital and liquidity positions."

Four months later, the Federal Reserve rejected Bair's appeal.

Russia's Protest Movement Finds Its Voice

When Russian activists applied for a permit to stage a rally in Moscow the day after parliamentary elections on December 4 they expected about 500 people to attend. Widespread allegations of electoral fraud and a growing sense of disillusionment with the ruling party and Vladimir Putin, however, inspired more than 5,000 people to take to the streets. “It was as much a surprise for the organizers of that particular rally as it was for the Kremlin,” says Tanya Lokshina, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch in Moscow. Five days later more than 50,000 Muscovites took part in a second rally. Even larger protests were held on December 24 and February 4. Last Sunday, in what was perhaps the most ambitious action yet, some 35,000 protesters formed a human chain along Moscow’s ten-mile Garden Ring Road, which encircles the city center. Many of the participants brought their children as well as candy, tea and cigarettes to share, white carnations and balloons, and even their white pets—cats and dogs—white being the symbol of peaceful protest.

“I would say that right now, this week in particular, the mood in Moscow is rather festive,” says Lokshina. “People are celebrating. What they’re celebrating, in part, is that for the last three months the momentum was never lost. People did not get tired. People did not go back to passivity. People did not go back to the privacy of their own kitchen. They’re still ready to take to the streets. They’re still ready to make their voices heard.”

'Nature' Journal: Canada Scientists Need To Be Set Free

TORONTO - One of the world's leading scientific journals has criticized the federal government for policies that limit its scientists from speaking publicly about their research.

The journal, Nature, says in an editorial in this week's issue that it is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.

It notes that Canada and the United States have undergone role reversals in the past six years, with the U.S. adopting more open practices since the end of George W. Bush's presidency while Canada has been going in the opposite direction.

The editorial says that since taking power in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has tightened the media protocols applied to federal government scientists and employees.

Nature says policy directives on government communications that have been released through access to information requests have revealed the Harper government has little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge.

The journal says its own news reporters have experienced firsthand the obstacles the Canadian government puts in the way of people trying to gain access to science generated by government scientists on the public payroll.