Saturday, June 30, 2012

Instant analysis by American historian on Supreme Court decision on Obamacare

From CNN website, June 29, 2012
The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that President Obama's health care law is constitutional, but that won't end the debate over ObamaCare and what to do about the health care system.

For many, the debate has shifted from the courtroom to the campaign trail. Presidential historian and author Douglas Brinkley talked to CNN about how the Supreme Court decision will play into the 2012 U.S. election and how history will regard the vote.
CNN: How does health care affect the campaign and the election going forward, and specifically, the debates between Obama and Mitt Romney?
BRINKLEY: President Obama got a lot of momentum. And in politics, the big mo' is everything. June looked like a Romney month, and now the president is ending this month with the wind in his sail. [The health care vote news] sort of buried the Holder contempt story; nobody in the media's really talking about it.
So for Barack Obama, this was big. In fact, he was calling it the Affordable Care Act for so long he may actually want to embrace the term "ObamaCare." ...
Mitt Romney has staked out that he's dissenting with the Supreme Court decision. One of the more brutal debates this year will be re-arguing this health care debate. There's so many tentacles and loose parts that it will drag on with us all the way to next year.
Related: The world of the health care issue
CNN: The crux of this legislation, the individual mandate, was upheld by the court. But when Obama was a presidential candidate in 2008, here's what he had to say about these mandates: "Sen. Clinton says I'm going to make universal health care by mandating that everybody buy it. But if people can't afford it, it doesn't matter what the mandate is, they're not going to buy it." Well, he changed his mind, didn't he? Weren't they originally put forth by certain Republicans, trying to stop "HillaryCare"?
BRINKLEY: Yes. This is like a tennis ball going all over the net, all over the place. I don't think Americans fully understand what's occurred today. Very few people have really read this report.
Related: Breaking down the court's decision
But what you've got here is President Obama has a massive political victory. He was about to be clubbed really. This was almost D-Day for him.
I think President Obama is now in a very good stead to say, "I passed the Affordable Care Act (or it's been proven constitutional), I got Osama bin Laden and I saved General Motors." He has three real historic accomplishments to present on a week when he's seeming to be ahead in the key swing states.
CNN: The president talked about the day as something we're going to look back on 10 or 20 years from now. You're the presidential historian – How will history look back on the day?
BRINKLEY: I think it will be [remembered as when] Supreme Court Justice John Roberts made his name, etched his name in history. Many people thought since Bush vs. Gore in 2000 that it was very partisan court. But this [latest vote] showed how Roberts had ... deep thought. He really played the constitutional lawyer and justice here. I think his stock goes very high, just as Charles Evans Hughes did with FDR and Social Security - a Republican that backed Social Security.
And the world can only hope that President Obama regains the White House for a second term, given the alternative, the multiple emergencies both inside the U.S. and around the world, and the steady hand he has held to the tiller while also holding his adminstration's feet to the fire of most of those contingencies and the need for a comprehensive vision and understanding of both the political and historic realities of this time, without a reductionist version of events and circumstances that can only be held by someone who champions his contribution as a successful businessman, especially one who successfully "outsourced" millions of American jobs while working at Bain capital.

Who will speak for Canada, if sovereignists win in Quebec?

By Donald Savoie, Globe and Mail, June 29, 2012
Donald J. Savoie is the Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at the University of Moncton.

What if Quebec once again plunges Canada into a national unity crisis? The prospect is hardly far-fetched given that the Parti Québécois appears poised to win the next provincial election. A PQ government would spare no effort, through a referendum or a manufactured crisis, to put Quebec’s sovereignty at the top of its political agenda.

I was recently asked how many Canadians from outside Quebec would now rush to a Montreal “love-in” for national unity? In my view, not many. This time, I suspect, one would be hard-pressed to fill more than a few buses from New Brunswick. I also suspect that many Canadians would sit back, cross their arms and say, “Over to you Quebeckers – you decide.”
Times have changed. Western Canada is more confident today than in 1995 that it could fly solo, if it had to. Ontario appears to have lost interest in national unity, the provincial government and Ontario-based think tanks seemingly focused on the message that Ontario is not getting its fair share of federal government spending. Ontario is now no different from the other regions in believing it is being shortchanged by Ottawa. John Robarts, Bill Davis and David Peterson would not approve.
Many in Atlantic Canada are increasingly aware that national political institutions and national policies have, over the years, hurt their region’s economy. Ottawa recognized years ago that national policies inherently favoured Central Canada and started to send guilt money our way in the form of transfer payments. These payments served to make our region economically dependent on them. Atlantic Canadians also know that Ottawa has, since the mid-1990s, been slowly but surely closing its transfer payment tap to the region. Disheartened Atlantic Canadians now seem inclined to say, “Who cares? If Quebec wants to go, let it.” Oh! If only things could be that simple.
The political landscape, both nationally and in Quebec, has also changed. Who in Quebec would now lead the “No” side? Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien were all Quebec native sons willing to step up to the plate in defence of a united Canada. If the PQ should win power, the provincial Liberals would very likely begin the search for a new leader. However, even a cursory look at Quebec’s political scene reveals few credible voices on the horizon able or willing to speak strongly for Canada.
For many Canadians, the Quebec brand is hurting. The provincial government is running a huge deficit and trying to cope with a crippling debt. However, it is unable to stare down a group of university students fighting for lower university tuition rates, despite the fact that they already enjoy the lowest rates in Canada.
Many Canadians are baffled at the social unrest generated by a small group of students. Why are there so few voices from the political, business, academic and artistic communities speaking out? Jacques Villeneuve did just that recently and reported a few days later that he had “received a pack of injurious and insulting e-mails”and that he was castigated by many on social media sites in the name of democracy – go figure. I was surprised to see Mr. Villeneuve left dangling in the wind by Quebec’s elites.
We may well be sleepwalking into a perfect storm. Canadians are not where they were in 1995 on national unity. More than ever, Quebec federalists will find themselves alone in pleading the merits of a united country, all the while knowing that the rest of Canada has lost interest in their cause. Yet, the “No” side appears bereft of such leaders in Quebec in the event of a new national unity crisis in the form of another Quebec referendum on sovereignty or a manufactured incident.
The other important point is that although we may have grown tired of a Quebec-focused national unity debate, seeing different regions heading off in different directions is not without significant consequences. Untangling Canada’s various political and economic arrangements would hardly be a simple matter. Current developments in the European Union and its member states, which have less demanding institutional arrangements than Canada, offer important lessons that we should heed.
For my part, I remain firmly convinced that a united Canada is worth fighting for and better than any alternative. I also believe that those Canadians who argue that we would all be better off without Quebec gloss over the huge political and economic costs of getting there. That said, new leaders are needed in Quebec willing to stand up for a united Canada.
First, a hearty thanks and kudo's to M. Savoie for his courage and insight in even writing and publishing this piece! The subject is not one that is either popular or engaging for many Canadians these days for a host of reasons, many of which M. Savoie has outlined.
Second, he is right that there do not appear to be any federalist leaders in Quebec who could and would capture the public imagination about the reasons, with passion, for keeping Canada united. While on the federal front, the Harper government is a political eunuch with respect to national unity, given its obsequiousness to the corporate world, the economic fight linked to the bolster of the Canadian military and the connection to the British crown, while ignoring the environment. These are not positions with which the Quebec public, whether sovereignist or federalist, agree or find compelling. And the danger is also that Quebecers could legitimately perceive Canada in nothing more than 'dollar terms' making it even more reasonable and legitimate to seek their 'fortune' elsewhere. Supporting an asbestos mine with federal dollars is not going to enhance the stature of the federal government in Quebec, or for that matter anywhere, given the substance's carcinogenic properties.
Third, watching the various regions of the country heading off in various and different directions is not a political landscape that supports national unity, even though there will be some who say that the only issue that really matters is how each region is faring on the balance sheet. Trouble with that picture is that the balance sheet is restricted to dollars and cents, and excludes the important matters like culture, history, language, the arts and the things at the "heart" of any relationship, like trust, reciprocity and mutual respect.
Fourth, untangling the many knots that, over the last century and a half, have helped to forge this unlikely nation together, inspite of rather monstrous odds, but through the vision and collaboration of different leaders knitting disparate threads into a rather attractive political, social, cultural and historic, if somewhat loose, federal tapestry, would be a complicated and tortuous task for all participants.
Fifth, and finally, like M. Savoie, I also hold the firm conviction that this country is far better than any alternative, worthy of a protracted and strenuous and diligent fight to preserve her and yet the readiness to face what Savoie calls 'the perfect storm' of a PQ victory in the next provincial election, their raising the cry once again for separation, and the deafening silence that could be felt deeply in the Quebec forests, skyscapers and along the internet on the federalist side could be tragic.
Tomorrow, as Canadians celebrate another July 1 birthday, we would all do well to ask ourselves who, among current and potential political and thought leaders, inside Quebec and in the rest of Canada, could and would defend the country's unity effectively, boldly and dependably, in the face of another sovereignist insurgency, even though it will unlikely be military in nature. Thomas Mulcair, for all his strengths (and they are substantial) cannot be the lone voice for a future federalist Canada and needs the kind of help that could, conceivably come from a new Liberal Party leader.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Dog Days of Hopelessness....?

I don't know if the 'dog days of summer' have struck early or not. I do not know if lethargy and lassitude and a sense of revisiting the "existential moment," that moment in which one fully realizes one's own meaninglessness can or should even recur after seven decades.
Nevertheless, that is what it feels like these days.
Yesterday, with the upholding of the Affordable Care Act by the U.S.  Supreme Court, contrary to most expectations, with Justice Roberts proving the unpredictable by siding with the liberal majority on mandates, by finessing them as a "tax" and thereby within the constitutional power of the federal government, I thought I would be jumping for joy. The U.S. has finally moved into the twentieth century, by beginning to provide affordable health care for its millions currently living on the edge, if they have survived this far.
However, with the news came the threat to repeal and replace by Romney and his Republican super-pac's, funding by the Koch brothers, Adelson and many other millionaires, as well as billionaires.
Also with the new came word that the President would have to do something he has heretofore not accomplished, that is sell the benefits of the bill, if he expects to be re-elected.
And then there was the hot-to-boiling-over pot of Syria generating another meeting in Brussels, where there are hints that Russia may finally have come to its senses, and begun to see the error of supporting Assad. And still, Egypt has a new Muslim Brotherhood president to be sworn in this weekend, with who-knows whoat repercussions for the entente with Israel, upheld in the past by Mubarak and his predecessors. And then there is Iran, and the word and subterfuge games around her ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, no closer to resolution than many months, and many meetings ago, and the world waits.
At home, in Canada, we are watching the slash and burn of some 20,000 civil servant jobs, with no respect for union contracts, seniority, performance or future prospects, in terms of the delivery of services to the public. And while that is going on, we all know that First Nations people are starving, drinking excessively and getting sick without adequate access to health care on many reserves across the country. And the government insists it will purchase those 65 Fighter Jets, and construct several millions worth of new prison cells, given their crime bills longer sentences and increased arrests, in wars that all research demonstrates, are better fought with compassion and rehabilitation than with more concrete cells.
And just yesterday morning the city of Kingston issued warnings for two Lake Ontario beaches, contaminated with e-coli, from the city's overflowing sewage system, which no one anywhere, city, province or federal governments, has either the money or the political will to correct, on the greatest fresh-water body (the Great Lakes) in the world.
And we hear of petty crimes, shootings, lootings and white collar crime perhaps at no greater rates than previously, but still on top of everything else, it brings one down, in  the sense that caring and hoping for change are both pollyanna pipe dreams in the sense of making a substantial difference.
I can and do admire the thousands of young people who are starting their own "foundations" for helping the third world, the child soldiers, the refugees, the starving and the destitute, and pray that their efforts will be rewarded in the long term, because what I see from the official voices of official governments is mostly tepid, luke-warm, placebo's of extended 'caring' without a sign that they intend to do anything real about many of the clear, unequivocal and serious issues that face the globe, now and in the foreseeable future.
Protocol, political correctness, anality, political infighting for personal and party advantage...and the large does of personal ego's intruding into the public discourse....these are the ingredients that seem to be stirring the public debates...with little, if any, positive results.
I think I am living on the set of a play being acted by deaf actors following a script written by Edward Albee, (Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe) only now the issues that leaders are screeming about are not only the alcoholism of one of the combatants, but global survival issues, like poisoning the air, water and land, poisoning the education of young people by driving them to greater and greater efforts in a Darwinian jungle of competition for money, money and more money...and poisoning the administration of so many institutions with high-tech thinking and metaphors, not merely the hardware.
It is as if we are living the next generation of what Lionel Tiger called the industrialization of not only production but reproduction, and we have taken that to the next level, by technologizing relationships, business, education, medicine, law and even government.
We still cling to shibboleths like "hours worked" as opposed to "results achieved" thereby chaining workers to the time clock, but even if we were to release those chains, we would still be the most critical, judgemental, unforgiving and tyrannical generation of people the world have ever seen. It used to be that only leaders and giants of commerce were cut-throat. We have democratized those skills, and now everyone is like the woman who, in the middle of a rain storm on Fifth Avenue, when Michelle Landsberg was attempting to enter a taxi, pushed her aside, jumped into the cab and shouted, "This is New York, Honey!" without a thought of apology, respect or even guilt for having literally stolen the cab from Michelle.
That is my picture of the way the world operates....and I not only don't want the cab; I begin to cease to want even to be playing any part in this stampede to extinction that I see playing out right in front of my eyes, and the eyes of everyone else.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court, the issue for the presidential campaign?

Sometimes history works in ways that individuals do not control. Today, in the U.S. may be one such day.
The Supreme Court will hand down its decision on the affordable care act, likely gutting the mandate clause that requires citizens to pay for health insurance, or pay a penalty. The clause exists in order to provide a funding base for the new coverages for the 30 million who previously did not have health care, and for inclusion of those with pre-existing conditions. However, for the government to require anyone to "purchase" something is, for conservatives a reach too far of government power, and should the mandate clase be struck down, the Court will, inevitably have turned itself into one of the most contentions issues in the presidential race.
Also today, the House of Representatives will vote on the contempt charge against Attorney General Eric Holder, for allegedly witholding files on the "Fast and Furious" gun-running escapade that resulted in the death of one border guard, before Holder cancelled the ill-planned and poorly executived scheme, to provide guns for the low levels of the drug trade over the border with Mexico, in order to solicit information and hopefully arrests of the 'king pins' in that drug war.
Should Holder be held in contempt, and should the Supreme Court gut the Affordable Care Act, President Obama will have had his worst day in the White House since inauguration in January 2009.
And the campaign for the White House will turn on the Supreme Court's decision to "over-step the will of the elected representatives, a bi-partisan vote that finally provided a modicum of health care, after decades of failure under presidents of both parties since the mid-1990's.
Should Obama run "against the Court" as much as against his official opponent, Romney, he will have both his own scholarship to draw on (he taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago) and a growing history of conservative "activist" judges, the very cancer that Dubya vowed to excise when he made his most controversial and most conservative appointments to the court, in Roberts and Alito, to accompany Scalia, sometimes Kennedy and Thomas. It is those five who will be the target of the Obama presidential campaign. They have already drawn fire from the President in their decision on Citizens United, opening the vaults of corporations and individuals to contribute as much as they like to political campaigns.
So will this next several weeks see an historic campaign between the executive branch, in the person of Obama and the court, as represented by Romney? And if so, will this struggle finally break the hold of the conservative cabal on the political, economic and health care lives of the nation?

Just how are job cuts being carried out in public service?

Hannah Thibideau's CBC report on another round of slash and burn of 4000-plus jobs in the public service did not seem surprising, yesterday, until she noted that, in a specific department where 5 people work, if there are only 3 positions remaining, those 5 would have to compete for the three remaining jobs, and seniority would not apply. In some cases, job notices indicate the job no longer exists and that person is "out", in others, the notice says the person's job is "affected". Those "affected" apparently will be competing for the remaining positions.
Never mind the emotional stress created when former colleagues are now competing for the crumbs left after Harper's austerity program takes hold. The process looks, to this observer, suspiciously like a silent and surreptitious way to gut the unions, and to remove any employee whom the government finds 'difficult' or simply unwanted.
Perhaps this is an overly cynical interpretation of what is being reported. However, with this government, we already know that they hold the labour movement in contempt, that they will do anything to emasculate those unions whose workers have staffed the public service for decades with distinction.
What are the criteria to be met by competitors for the remaining positions?
Who will do the interviews for those competitions?
What panel will provide both oversight and review and possibly appeals to the decisions taken on the competitions for the remaining positions?
What role will the unions play in this silent, secret and inhumane drama that will unfold in the privacy of the publoic service offices over the next several months, if any?
What happened to the contracts that previosly existed between the employer, the Canadian government and the Canadian people, and the thousands of workers whose lives have been and will be turned upside down in order for the government to spend millions on purchases for which they have no mandate, and there is no demonstrated need?
This is not only a national disgrace, it is also a human tragedy, trampling, eviscerating the decades of  struggle for worker rights and benefits by a government whose need for power has not even been fully exposed, and whose manipulation of people in order to serve its ideological goals is historic.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Louise Arbour: For Justice and civilians, don't rule out regime change

By Louise Arbour, Globe and Mail, June 26, 2012
Louise Arbour
Louise Arbour is president and CEO of the International Crisis Group.
Civilian casualties in Syria shock our consciences, but there is also a frustrating acknowledgment that military intervention there might do more harm than good. The best option to protect Syrians is peace; ending the conflict should also end the massacres. But is the reverse true? Would an initiative aimed solely at protecting civilians resolve the conflict? Not necessarily.

Responsibility to protect – the emerging principle that states can intervene in other states to prevent mass atrocities, invoked in the case of Libya – suffers from the same uncomfortable relationship with peace that justice does. In both cases, the desired objective – protecting civilians or bringing criminals to justice – falls short of, or is often even at odds with, the objective of peace. Humanitarian or judicial objectives address only the manner in which the conflict unfolds, not its ultimate resolution.

In Libya, this dilemma was resolved by merging the three objectives. First, justice: The United Nations Security Council referred the matter to the International Criminal Court. Second, civilians: It authorized “all necessary measures” to protect them. Third, presumably hoping to achieve the first two objectives, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization undertook to bring an end to the conflict by effecting (or supporting, depending on your perspective) regime change.
But the manner in which this happened, with NATO widely thought to have overinterpreted its mandate, exposes weaknesses in the current approach. Under both international criminal justice and R2P, the interventionist role of the international community is predicated on the fact that the state in crisis, which has the primary responsibility for protecting its people and dispensing justice, is “unwilling or unable” to do so.
This language of inability or unwillingness is overly diplomatic. It obscures the reality that in many modern conflicts, including those in Libya and Syria, the state itself, or at least its officials, have embarked on a deliberate rampage against part of the population. This is a huge leap from “unwilling or unable.”
If a state launches a massive criminal enterprise against its people, why should “all necessary measures” fall short of disabling those responsible, including by forcibly removing them from power? This is what was done against Moammar Gadhafi in Libya – in my view entirely predictably. (Disclaimers to the contrary were neither credible nor honest.)
Interestingly, although the Security Council has approved “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, it has not done so to enforce its referral of cases to the ICC. Had that happened, and had states been prepared to act upon its authority and intervene militarily to arrest such indicted war criminals as Mr. Gadhafi and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the link between the enforcement of justice and regime change would have been immediately apparent. Instead, by leaving arrest warrants idle for years, the international community not only condones impunity but eviscerates justice of much of its deterrent effect.
In the same way, should a military intervention to protect Syrian civilians refrain from toppling the regime? Assuming that military action came to be seen as a viable option – which I doubt, in light of its likely adverse consequences for Syria and the region – why should it not be designed to remove Bashar al-Assad’s regime? After all, how else could it credibly purport to protect Syria’s people from him?
The only reason not to tie regime change explicitly to the protection of civilians or justice is that doing so would make an already elusive Security Council consensus in support of intervention completely unattainable. The solution seems instead to be doing it by stealth or deceit, as in Libya. Or not at all, as with the unenforced ICC indictments.
Which is fine, as far as it goes. Political negotiations, not war, should drive regime change (or, in its more palatable form, “transition”). But disassociating the other two pressing concerns – civilian protection and justice – from regime change, at least officially, leaves them hostage to a political process that has no teeth.

Deborah Coyne enters Liberal Leadership Race

By Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press, in Globe and Mail, June 27, 2012
Deborah Coyne
(Deborah) Coyne, 57, has been involved in public policy debates for decades, as a lawyer, university professor, constitutional activist and author of numerous books and articles on a variety of issues. She is probably best known for her role in advising former Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells during his fight against the Meech Lake constitutional accord and for spearheading efforts to rally public opinion against the subsequent Charlottetown accord.

It was during those constitutional wars that Ms. Coyne’s relationship with Pierre Trudeau, an influential figure in scuppering both accords, flourished, resulting in Sarah’s birth in 1991.
Given her experience with past constitutional conflicts, it is perhaps not surprising that some of the central ideas Ms. Coyne is advancing now as a leadership contender are aimed at depoliticizing divisive federal-provincial issues.
Among the more novel ideas on 23 different subjects outlined on her campaign website, are proposals to:
•Replace sporadic first ministers meetings with a formal council of Canadian governments, based on the model used by Australia and designed to create a “more collegial and collaborative” mechanism for tackling issues in need of a national response, including criminal justice, the environment and energy.
•Create an independent advisory commission tasked with reforming and managing equalization and other federal transfer payments to provinces in a manner that promotes “greater equity and equality of opportunity for all Canadians, regardless of residence.”
•Expand the powers of the national health council to facilitate consensus on national health care standards, including the best mix of public and private care.
Among other things, Ms. Coyne is also calling for a carbon tax and a reassessment of the utility of supply management for dairy products. The one-time Liberal candidate – she was a sacrificial lamb put up against then-NDP leader Jack Layton in 2006 – rejects the notion of a Liberal-NDP merger.
Her vision for the country also includes some echoes of Pierre Trudeau’s philosophy – such as her view that the country needs a strong national government to impart a sense of common purpose and to demonstrate that Canada is “more than the sum of its parts.
Nor does she shy away from defending Mr. Trudeau’s 1982 deal to patriate the Constitution with a Charter of rights, maintaining that national leaders need to “seize every possible opportunity” to counter the “old canard” that Quebec was “excluded” from the deal.
Still, Ms. Coyne bristles at suggestions that “somehow I’m just a mouthpiece for things that Pierre Trudeau may have said in the past.”
“Whatever I’m saying there is not at all just repeating, it’s what I’ve come to learn in my years of experience, most of which were long before I even met Pierre Trudeau” in the mid-1980s.
She points out that her views on things like collective rights and special status for Quebec are shared by millions of Canadians, manifested in public opposition to the Meech and Charlottetown accords. To ascribe them to one person, namely Mr. Trudeau, does a “disservice” to Canadians, she says.
Politics is so very "personal" in Canada, and Ms Coyne, obviously a bright mind, a scholar and an intellectual force to be reckoned with by the Liberal Party, will have to overcome her 'link' with Pierre Trudeau, in order to capture the leadership. She protests that she is not 'mouthing' Pierre Trudeau's thoughts, vision and words but that millions of Canadians hold the same views. And that is true.
However, her life is coloured by her close association with the former Prime Minister, and in public life, clones are usually considered somewhat "less than."
That is clearly not necessarily fair, just nor warranted. It is merely a notion over which we have trouble climbing. Public identity, no matter how that identity is secured, is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to shed.
Should she be able to get her ideas heard, understood and supported by a large number of both party members and associates, and establish her own 'political identity and style' she would be a formidable opponent for others seeking the leadership.
Clearly, she has a vision for a strong central government that works consistently and diligently with the provinces, and a vision of how to sustain the health care system for the long term. She is also demonstrably a technocrat and a policy wonk, so, again on the personal level, she will be challenged to project a public identity that 'connects' with ordinary Canadians.
Ms Coyne's entering the race early and  committing to the party will, however, provide some necessary traction for others who might still see the party as unlikely to emerge from the wilderness. Should Martha Hall Findlay also enter the race, as many expect, there will be two outstanding intellects with solid proposals and the capacity to capture the imagination of the rank and file of the party, even before some of the more 'expeccted' candidates decide whether or not to run.
This is clearly going to be a very interesting and historically pivotal leadership race, given the state of both the Liberal Party and the current state of governance in Canada.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Conservative cabal on U.S. Supreme Court RULES: elections can be bought!

Citizens United
Editorial New York Times, June 26, 2012
The Supreme Court examined the Arizona immigration law in minute detail, but when it came to revisiting the damage caused by its own handiwork in the 2010 Citizens United case, it couldn’t be bothered. In a single dismissive paragraph on Monday, the court’s conservative majority refused to allow Montana or any other state to impose limits on corporate election spending and wouldn’t even entertain arguments on the subject.

It is not as if those five justices could be unaware of the effects of Citizens United, and of the various court and administrative decisions that followed it. They could hardly have missed the $300 million in outside spending that deluged the 2010 Congressional elections or the reports showing that more than $1 billion will be spent by outside groups on Republican candidates this year, overwhelming the competition.
They might also have seen that many of the biggest donations are secret, given to tax-free advocacy groups in defiance even of the admonition in Citizens United that independent contributions should be disclosed.
If the justices were at all concerned about these developments, they could have used the Montana case to revisit their decision and rein in its disastrous effects. The only conclusion is that they are quite content with the way things worked out.
The court’s five conservative justices struck down a Montana law that prohibited corporate spending in elections — a law passed in 1912 not out of some theoretical concern about money corrupting elections but to put an end to actual influence-buying by copper barons.
State officials told the court that fighting corruption required them to maintain limits on corporate election spending. A series of friend-of-the-court briefs urged the justices to allow other states to impose similar laws, citing the out-of-control spending unleashed since 2010.
Those pleas were summarily rejected by the court’s majority, which refused to hear arguments on the issue. “There can be no serious doubt” that Citizens United applies to Montana, the court said.
That’s true, in the literal sense that Supreme Court decisions apply to the states. But the frustration of the dissenters, led by Justice Stephen Breyer, was clear. He said grave doubt had been cast on the majority’s belief, expressed in Citizens United, that independent expenditures do not give rise to corruption or even give the appearance of corruption. But he said the majority had made it plain that it hasn’t the slightest interest in reconsidering or altering its decision.
Congress can — and should — require disclosure of secret donations. The Internal Revenue Service should crack down on political organizations that pose as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations to avoid current disclosure rules.
But, for now, the nation’s highest court has chosen to turn its back as elections are bought by the biggest check writers.

Does NATO consider Turkey important enough to warrant her remaining in the alliance?

By Soner Cagaptay and Col. Richard Outzen Special to CNN, from CNN website, June 26, 2012
Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. Col. Richard Outzen is a foreign area officer in the U.S. Army
For the moment, at least, Turkey has found comfort in NATO’s security. But Ankara’s long-term commitment to the alliance should not be taken for granted, because Turkey has at least two strategic alternatives to NATO.

The first is remaining ideologically agnostic, grouping with other emerging economic powers to maintain a truly nonaligned and balanced strategic approach. This entails acting in unison with the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. (Though the “R” in that acronym could go missing if Turkish-Russian differences on Syria are exacerbated further.)
The second alternative is to recognize that Turkey has more in common with other emerging democracies than with economically dynamic authoritarian regimes. This form of nonalignment would place Turkey in a wider group referred to as IBSATI — India, Bra­zil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia. Although IBSATI would leave more room for Turkish coop­eration with the West than BRIC alignment, it could still preclude joint coordination with NATO.
For now, BRIC remains an analytic tool for investors more than for geo-strategists, and IBSATI is more of a pipe dream. Nevertheless, NATO should jealously promote and guard its “leading acronym” status in Ankara.
Buoyed by record-breaking economic growth over the past decade, the Turks are, once again, feeling powerful. Consequently, many Turks view world politics according to their desire to become a global player. So to maintain Turkey’s long-term commitment to NATO, the alliance should consider making Ankara feel important.
From Crisis to Cooperation: Turkey's Relations with Washington and NATO
It could, for instance, design a program for new democracies in the Arab world, similar to its post-Soviet Partnership for Peace initiative, and grant Turkey status as the lead nation in this endeavor. A NATO mechanism with a heavy Turkish flavor would excite far fewer antibodies among Arab partners than bilateral security cooperation programs run by individual Western nations. It would also give NATO an opportu­nity to invest in Turkey without a large armed presence.
For its part, the United States could cement Ankara’s commitment to NATO by protecting Turkey’s most vulnerable security flank: the Kurdistan Workers Party. Whenever Washington has appeared tone-deaf to Turkish con­cerns over Kurdish separatism and terrorism, as it did in the run-up to the Iraq war, Ankara’s response has been predictably bad.
On a practical level, NATO has made it clear that it sees Turkey as an indispensable member. During the recent NATO summit in Chicago, Turkey fea­tured prominently in discussions of the alliance’s future strategic posture and defense capabilities. This conviction was further underlined with NATO’s recent decision to switch its land forces headquarters from Ramstein, Germany, to Izmir, Turkey.
Indeed, Tur­key remains a necessary cornerstone of NATO as much in 2012 as it did in 1952. This is the silver lining of the Arab Spring: Turkey’s commitment to NATO, now revived, can be boosted further.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay and Col. Richard Outzen.
According to these writers, while still an important member of NATO, Turkey has options:
  1. BRIC    (Britain, Russia, India, China)
  2. IBSATI — India, Bra­zil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia.
  3. Remain AGNOSTIC, without formally joining any alliance
  4. Enhanced role within NATO, as lead on democracy programs for Middle East
Will Washington pay attention to the caveat regarding the Kurdish separatism and terrorism? Unknown, but perhaps, with the Syrian attack on Turkey's jet bringing the Turks into the headline on that stage of the Wimbledon-like, multiple-court stages of geopolitics, there is now a stronger chance.
Will NATO exercise the kind of imagination that these writers are proposing, including the multi-country program to help with the development of democracy in the Middle East, where, God knows it is certainly needed, even if those in charge resist?
As a nation whose wealth and stature are clearly growing, Turkey cannot and must not be taken for granted by NATO, especially as the Syrian conflict continues to escalate and calls for military intervention, even from what are considered moderate voices, increase.

PM's daughter left in pub, while millions of children left in poverty

By Elizabeth Renzetti, Globe and Mail, June 15, 2012
It was, in a strange way, a good week for the news to emerge that Mr. Cameron had left his child behind, because it obscured all the news about the millions of other children being left behind in his government’s ferocious austerity push. The pub story overshadowed Oxfam’s report that growing income gaps in the country mean that Britain is facing “a return to levels of inequality not seen since Victorian times.” It overshadowed news that the government has failed to reach long-standing targets for reducing child poverty (there are either 2.3-million or 3.6-million children living in poverty, depending on whether you factor in housing costs or not.) Everyone reported Nancy-in-the-loo, but there was little coverage of a report that said one-third of British parents of disabled children had to take out loans last year to pay food and electricity bills – a situation that will be made worse by the government’s slashing of disability allowances.

I’m not saying that Mr. Cameron deliberately left his child in The Plough in order to divert attention months later during a bad news week. No, the poor man probably felt as guilty as anyone would who’d left his child in a pub, on top of a car, or indeed in a farmer’s field. Now if only he’d start feeling guilty about all the other children he’s forgotten.
There is a real insight in Ms Renzetti's piece, that apparently has more application than just to Britain.
It seems that a Prime Minister's daughter who escaped to the loo, and was overlooked by her parents for a bare 15 minutes, can and does cause more alarm than 2.3 or 3.6 million other children living in poverty.
That curse on the public consciousness is merely touted as another of the rather bleak statistics facing many countries in this period of belt tightening.
The PM"s opponents, including the media, will delight in their heyday, at the PM's expense.
However, those millions of children whose lives are blighted every day go unnoticed, unmentioned, unnamed and undervalued. And for that omission, we are all responsible.
And not just in Great Britain.
There is a growing blind spot to the plight of poverty among children, almost as if they are not important, unless and until, of course, they emerge into the shadows of the night causing trouble, getting the attention of police and law enforcement, and then they become "just another bad apple" in a barrel that have grown lazy and indolent.
It seems the adult community vacillates between indulgence of their children and ignoring them, and that includes the part of the adult community responsible for social policy, the government. We indulge them at birthdays, Christmas (in the west) and at graduation when it is our pride they are feeding by their accomplishment. Of course, there are individual parents whose daily attention verges on smothering their children. For them, one wonders who needs whom more, parents or children, and the fiscal ledger seems out-of-sight-out-of-mind.
However, with respect to public policy, we are generally a careless, self-indulgent, and narcissistic lot, the adult community, and Ms Renzetti's piece highlights our feeding at the trough of public gossip at the PM's expense, without paying so much as a 'fig' for the millions in real and serious and unstoppable danger. And his awareness of our carelessness permits his policy....and he knows that too!

Monday, June 25, 2012

From Fox News to Vatican Press Officer...that's a career move?

By Nicole Winfield and Victor L. Simpson, The Associated Press, in Toronto Star, June 25, 2012 
VATICAN CITY—The Vatican has brought in the Fox News correspondent in Rome to help improve its communications strategy as it tries to cope with years of communications blunders and one of its most serious scandals in decades, officials said Saturday.
Greg Burke, 52, will leave Fox to become the senior communications adviser in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, the Vatican and Burke told The Associated Press.
“I’m a bit nervous but very excited. Let’s just say it’s a challenge,” Burke said in a phone interview.
He defined his job, which he said he had been offered twice before, as being along the lines of the White House senior communications adviser: “You’re shaping the message, you’re moulding the message, and you’re trying to make sure everyone remains on-message. And that’s tough.”
Burke, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, is a member of the conservative Opus Dei movement. Pope John Paul II’s longtime spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, was also a member of Opus Dei and was known for the papal access he enjoyed and his ability to craft the messages John Paul wanted to get out.
Now that's a career move that demonstrates a vaccuum of both theology and journalistic professionalism, having to wordsmith for two employers of the calibre of Fox News and the Vatican.
Is that analogous to moving from the deck of the Titanic to the Hindenburg?
Or, perhaps more appropriately, moving from the horse and buggy to only the horse, in the gallop into the past?
Whatever metaphor applies, Mr.Burke is not without both courage and perhaps a strong component of naivety. However, after working for Rupert Murdoch, one could have served a useful and appropriate apprenticeship in making the proverbial "outhouse" look, sound and smell like a "palace"....perhaps there are a few real estate markets in the U.S. that could use Mr. Burke's moxy....clearly it will take more than truth-telling to warrant holding the new post for longer than a few days or weeks.
Good luck!

Glenny advocates for treaty banning peacetime use of cyberweapons

By Misha Glenny, New York Times, June 24, 2012
Misha Glenny, a visiting professor at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, is the author of “DarkMarket: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You.”

The decision by the United States and Israel to develop and then deploy the Stuxnet computer worm against an Iranian nuclear facility late in George W. Bush’s presidency marked a significant and dangerous turning point in the gradual militarization of the Internet. Washington has begun to cross the Rubicon. If it continues, contemporary warfare will change fundamentally as we move into hazardous and uncharted territory.
It is one thing to write viruses and lock them away safely for future use should circumstances dictate it. It is quite another to deploy them in peacetime. Stuxnet has effectively fired the starting gun in a new arms race that is very likely to lead to the spread of similar and still more powerful offensive cyberweaponry across the Internet. Unlike nuclear or chemical weapons, however, countries are developing cyberweapons outside any regulatory framework.
There is no international treaty or agreement restricting the use of cyberweapons, which can do anything from controlling an individual laptop to disrupting an entire country’s critical telecommunications or banking infrastructure. It is in the United States’ interest to push for one before the monster it has unleashed comes home to roost.
Stuxnet was originally deployed with the specific aim of infecting the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Iran. This required sneaking a memory stick into the plant to introduce the virus to its private and secure “offline” network. But despite Natanz’s isolation, Stuxnet somehow escaped into the cyberwild, eventually affecting hundreds of thousands of systems worldwide.
This is one of the frightening dangers of an uncontrolled arms race in cyberspace; once released, virus developers generally lose control of their inventions, which will inevitably seek out and attack the networks of innocent parties. Moreover, all countries that possess an offensive cyber capability will be tempted to use it now that the first shot has been fired.
Until recent revelations by The New York Times’s David E. Sanger, there was no definitive proof that America was behind Stuxnet. Now computer security experts have found a clear link between its creators and a newly discovered virus called Flame, which transforms infected computers into multipurpose espionage tools and has infected machines across the Middle East.
The United States has long been a commendable leader in combating the spread of malicious computer code, known as malware, that pranksters, criminals, intelligence services and terrorist organizations have been using to further their own ends. But by introducing such pernicious viruses as Stuxnet and Flame, America has severely undermined its moral and political credibility.
Flame circulated on the Web for at least four years and evaded detection by the big antivirus operators like McAfee, Symantec, Kaspersky Labs and F-Secure — companies that are vital to ensuring that law-abiding consumers can go about their business on the Web unmolested by the army of malware writers, who release nasty computer code onto the Internet to steal our money, data, intellectual property or identities. But senior industry figures have now expressed deep worries about the state-sponsored release of the most potent malware ever seen.
During the cold war, countries’ chief assets were missiles with nuclear warheads. Generally their number and location was common knowledge, as was the damage they could inflict and how long it would take them to inflict it.
Advanced cyberwar is different: a country’s assets lie as much in the weaknesses of enemy computer defenses as in the power of the weapons it possesses. So in order to assess one’s own capability, there is a strong temptation to penetrate the enemy’s systems before a conflict erupts. It is no good trying to hit them once hostilities have broken out; they will be prepared and there’s a risk that they already will have infected your systems. Once the logic of cyberwarfare takes hold, it is worryingly pre-emptive and can lead to the uncontrolled spread of malware.
Until now, America has been reluctant to discuss regulation of the Internet with Russia and China. Washington believes any moves toward a treaty might undermine its presumed superiority in the field of cyberweaponry and robotics. And it fears that Moscow and Beijing would exploit a global regulation of military activity on the Web, in order to justify and further strengthen the powerful tools they already use to restrict their citizens’ freedom on the Net. The United States must now consider entering into discussions, anathema though they may be, with the world’s major powers about the rules governing the Internet as a military domain.
Any agreement should regulate only military uses of the Internet and should specifically avoid any clauses that might affect private or commercial use of the Web. Nobody can halt the worldwide rush to create cyberweapons, but a treaty could prevent their deployment in peacetime and allow for a collective response to countries or organizations that violate it.
Technical superiority is not written in stone, and the United States is arguably more dependent on networked computer systems than any other country in the world. Washington must halt the spiral toward an arms race, which, in the long term, it is not guaranteed to win.
"Stuxnet has effectively fired the starting gun in a new arms race that is very likely to lead to the spread of similar and still more powerful offensive cyberweaponry across the Internet. Unlike nuclear or chemical weapons, however, countries are developing cyberweapons outside any regulatory framework."
And such development, while still appearing to give the advantage to the U.S., is unlikely to preclude both their development by potential enemies, like China and Russia, not to mention North Korea, Iran and other potential satellite countries in either of those two countries' orbits. Even with a nuclear proliferation treaty, which attempts to prevent the spread of those weapons, the world still faces real threats from countries who either refuse to comply with the terms of the treaty they signed, or continue to live outside its parameters.
Without even a modest treaty, the "wild west" would be an appropriate metaphor for the current, and foreseeable future pictures. In the "wild west" without any legal framework, sheer power, now including secret knowledge of the enemy, does and will rule.
And such an unmonitored, undocumented and unpredictable terrain provides only jeopardy for all potential players/combatants/competitors/opponents.
Reluctance to open discussions, on the part of the U.S. is hardly surprising; however, reluctance and refusal to do so serves best the interests of those countries who prefer an unregulated "playing field" especially one in which increasing numbers and depth of resources will be deployed, generating new findings, which could quickly and easily render any treaty obsolete.
Is it possible that in two decades, those responsible will look back to this period of unregulated development of cyberweaponry as the greatest failure of omission of the current group of world leaders, and not their failure to come to grips with the fiscal crisis that seems to be on the front burner of many stoves?

Union Leader:Trade deals dangerous for secrecy and self-sabotage of Canada

From Letters to the Editor, Globe and Mail, June 22, 2012
So far we know CETA, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will give European corporations new rights and powers. Faced with a decision or regulation they see interfering with their bottom line, EU investors will be able to sue the Canadian government in a closed-door tribunal. As recent NAFTA cases brought by AbitibiBowater, Exxon Mobil, and Murphy Oil show, these investor rights pose a threat to public policy-making. It’s telling that Australia refuses to sign a TPP that includes investor-state dispute resolution.

Equally disturbing, CETA’s protections for Canadian public services are weak and uneven, while EU protections are strong across the board. Drinking water systems, health care, and other vital public services aren’t protected from European corporations seeking to force their way into what they see as a lucrative and untapped market. Ed Fast (Minister for International Trade) glibly assures us that CETA is good for jobs, the economy, and Canadians. If he’s so sure, he should lift the cone of silence and let Canadians judge for themselves – before any deal gets inked.
Paul Moist, National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Ottawa
If CETA is to be considered a model for anticipating and for interpreting future trade negotiations between Canada and the TransPacific Partnership, for example, not only the secrecy but also the precise clauses should be cause for public alarm once again about both the motives and the methods of the Harper government.
"It’s telling that Australia refuses to sign a TPP that includes investor-state dispute resolution."

So why is Canada playing "lap-dog" or "poodle" to the European Union in these negotiations?
There is clearly a sign of some desperation on the part of the Canadian government, if the investor-state resolution favours the EU and could conceivably cost Canadians enormously.
Chanting the mantra, "good for jobs, the economy and Canadians" is no assurance that CETA will serve the long-term interests of Canadians, individually or collectively. It is a mantra that every member of the current Canadian government literally chants whenever they are asked a question, no matter the topic. The other mantra behind which they hide is "we received a majority mandate to govern in the interests of all Canadians" if that also somehow warranted whatever it is they are trying to do at the time.
Imagine the debates when our children and grandchildren are in parliament, when Canadian water has been siphoned off by both American and European enterprises to quench insatiable thirsts on both continents. And that is just one of the many potential dangers in any trade negotiation between Canada and the rest of the world.
Leaders strutting around the world, underwriting bridges between Windsor and Detroit, or lecturing the EU on how to fix the debt/deficit crisis, or publicly agreeing to work with the PQ in Quebec, should the separatist party win the next provincial election, (as seems quite possible), ought rather to be paying attention to the details under the headlines of their public positions, because that is where the real dangers lie, and in keeping those details secret, this government is setting themselves, but more importantly the country, up for serious problems long after they have been deposed.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What next for Muslim their candidate is President of Egypt

Quote from Christiane Amanpour on CNN a few minutes ago:
The Muslim Brotherhood said they would not contest the Egyptian Presidential election! And they did!
The Muslim Brotherhodd said they would not contest the Parliamentary elections in Egypt! And they did!
Now, the Muslim brotherhood declares that it wants to "work with everyone, Christians, seculars, the military, to form a new government for Egypt. What else will it do, that it said it was not going to to?
Or is the new question, "What will it not do that it said it would do?
Now the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Morsi, has been declared the winner in the presidential run-off, and Egypt faces a tectonic struggle between the military and the Muslim street. Morsi was imprisoned by Mubarak for some 17 months, and his opponent in the presidential vote was a former number two under Mubarak.
Will Egypt be the first Middle Eastern country to have experienced the Arab Spring of 2011, to move to an Islamic state, including Sharia law, the subjugation of women and the reversal of the Mubarak 'entente' with Israel?
"Wanting friendly relations with the rest of the world," as reports indicate is the desire of the new government will necessarily include the United States, and becoming friends with the U.S. no matter who is in the White House, includes respect for the government and people of Israel. Is that even possible, under the new president? Will the people in Tahrir Square this morning even silently and passively agree to that?
The eyes of the world, once again, are on the hundreds of thousands of celebrators in Cairo's main public square, this morning, and while it is not violent, in action, will there be violence, as a result of the declaration of Morsi as president?

Martha Hall Findlay offers to slay scared cow of supply management

By Andrew Coyne, Postmedia News June 22, 2012
Canada's supply management system — which enriches a small number of farms at the expense of consumers rich and poor — has been uncriticized by virtually every Canadian politician, writes Andrew Coyne.Photograph by: Ian Smith , Vancouver SunThere are issues that are more important than supply management. There are parties that have more support than the Liberal party, and there are people with a higher profile than Martha Hall Findlay. How is it, then, that an academic paper by a former Liberal MP on an issue that remains obscure to most Canadians has raised such a fuss? I can think of a few reasons.
One is the issue itself — the system of supply quotas that has governed dairy, poultry and egg production across Canada for the last four decades. It is timely, with the announcement that Canada will be joining negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a nascent free-trade bloc the government is anxious Canada should be part of, admission to which was until now conditional on the elimination of supply management. It may still be: the government has not been forthcoming on what terms it has accepted, or would in future.
If the government were of a mind to get rid of supply management — it swears it is not — that is perhaps the only basis on which it could: our trading partners made us do it. Certainly it would not dream of doing so otherwise. Such is the power of the supply management lobby, especially dairy, that a suffocating consensus has settled over the issue, of a kind rarely seen in a democracy. Consensus is not even the word. Every party strives to outdo the others in the fulsomeness of its support. And not just every party: every member of every party, in every province and at every level of government. It's quite creepy.
Yet virtually every economist or policy analyst of note agrees that supply management is a disgrace. The primary effect of the quotas — the intended effect — is to drive up the price of these foods, staples of most Canadians' diets, to two and three times the market price. The burden of these extraordinary price differentials, of course, fall most heavily on the poor, a fact that ought to trouble self-styled "progressives" but evidently doesn't.
But it isn't only consumers who pay. Since the quotas are tradable, the premium over market prices gets capitalized into the value of the quota. The right to a cow's worth of milk production, for example, runs to about $28,000, meaning a farmer looking to get into the industry faces an initial outlay, for the typical 60-cow farm, in excess of $1.5 million — just for the quota, never mind the cows, the barn and the rest.
All this we do to ourselves, quite apart from the annoyance it causes our prospective trade partners, and the risk this represents to our export-oriented sectors. Indeed, the system isn't even serving the interests of dairy farmers, rightly considered. While they remain confined to the domestic market, Australia, New Zealand and other dairy exporters are catering to the expanding middle class in fast-growing emerging markets.
So for Hall Findlay to come out against it is noteworthy in itself. Though not currently an MP — she's an executive fellow at the University of Calgary's School of Policy — she's a well-regarded figure in the Liberal party who is widely expected to run for party leader. Quite on her own, she has made it thinkable for an elected politician to get on the wrong side of the dairy lobby. Her paper makes a particular contribution in this regard, pointing out how few dairy farms there really are: fewer than 13,000 across the country, a force (more than 300 farms) in just 13 ridings.
That Hall Findlay may be a candidate for leader is the second reason her intervention has had such impact. This is not, conventionally, how one kicks off a leadership bid — by taking firm hold of what is considered one of the deadliest "third rails" in Canadian politics. Nor can it be dismissed as a mere tactic: the paper is deeply researched, and obviously sincerely held. One suspects this will not be the last such controversial stand she will take, but rather signals her intent to set out a sharply different vision for her party.
That's good for her, and better for the party. It is exactly the kind of bold break with the status quo the Liberal party needs to make. Certainly it is the kind of debate it needs to have. For that matter, it is the kind of debate, the kind of politics, we all need, which is perhaps the greatest import of Hall Findlay's initiative.
We have grown used to a politics in which no one ever says or does anything the least bit risky, and no one ever tells the truth unless by accident. Our politics has become, quite literally, a fantasy world, and nowhere more so than with regard to supply management. The unwillingness until now of anyone, literally anyone, to speak out against such a clearly indefensible policy speaks of a deeply entrenched culture of falseness and opportunism.
While far from the most pressing issue before the nation, the divide between experts and evidence, on the one hand, and the political class, on the other, gives it unusual symbolic weight. Indeed, it can serve as a kind of litmus test, a benchmark of political seriousness. If you cannot bring yourself to say it is wrong to make poor families pay three times the market price of milk to prop up a handful of wealthy farmers, you are not in the business of serious politics.
In India, cows literally are sacred.
In Canada, "cows" of this political variety are also sacred, in a different way.
To be publicly willing, diligent and courageous enough to offer to "slay" such a political cow as 'supply management' is analogous to Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac to comply with God's directive.
A political career, or at least one in the incubator, is both literally and figuratively, put 'on the line'.
There is a kind of vigour, too, in Hall Findlay's defence when she appeared on CBC's Power and Politics just this week to debate a representative of Canada's dairy farmers.
Backyard barbecues, for the purpose of generating support for a potential leadership candidate, are relatively easy, not too costly, especially if one can find willing "hosts" to fund those events, and perhaps somewhat effective. However, knowing how to "schmooze" over a hunk of beef and a Molson's Canadian, or even a Belgian Stella Artois, is not even comparable to "kindergarten" for the kind of pressure the next Liberal leader will face.
Policy, researched policy positions, specifically articulated by candidates who have committed to and learned the file, and especially those positions that are sure to garner both heat and light is at least equivalent to undergraduate graduation, if successfully pulled off. Positioning a leadership candidacy, and potentially a national political party's fortunes on a policy that threatens to deconstruct the "favourable" yet highly parochial position of dairy farmers, for example, is something Martha Hall Findlay can claim to be at least attempting.
Should she be able to be as well informed, based on thorough research, and as articulate on other policy holes in the swiss cheese of Canadian politics under Harper and his gang, on issues like the environment, or on eliminating poverty, or on a health care policy that, using reliable data on both demographics and innovation, foresees at least a decade out, or on our national need for enlightenment in foreign policy and foreign aid, Ms Hall Findlay could become a highly credible and serious candidate, with the gravitas and potentially the style and 'charisma' ( a word too often reserved exclusively for male candidates) that could see itself on red Liberal posters and ads in the 2015 election.
For more on her somewhat unequivocal thoughts on the future of the Liberal Party, her paper on the subject, "Not Right, Not Left but Forward can be found here:
She is also Chair of the 2012 Couchiching Conference as noted in this intro from that site;
Chair, 2012 Summer Conference
Martha Hall Findlay is the Chair of the 2012 Couchiching Summer Conference. She is a former Member of Parliament, and held several senior shadow Cabinet positions, including that of Associate Finance; Transport, Infrastructure and Communities; Public Works and International Trade. In 2006, Martha was a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada and her “Big Red Bus” campaign was highly praised for substance and intelligence. Before politics, she worked extensively as a lawyer, senior executive, and successful entrepreneur both in Canada and internationally. Martha is now an Executive Fellow at the school of public policy at the University of Calgary.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court over-steps own rules to declare its anti-union ideology

Editorial, New York Times, June 22, 2012
The Supreme Court’s ruling this week in Knox v. Service Employees International Union is one of the most brazen of the Roberts court. It shows how defiantly the five justices act in advancing the aggressive conservatism of their majority on the court.

The court’s moderate liberals were rightly dismayed by the majority’s willingness to breach court rules in pursuit of its agenda. In this labor union case, there is no getting around that the legal approach is indistinguishable from politics. The court’s five conservatives ruled that in 2005, Local 1000 of the Service Employees International Union should have sent a notice to all nonmembers it represented when it imposed a temporary 25 percent increase in union dues for public-sector employees in California to fight two anti-union ballot measures.
The court said the union infringed on the free speech rights of the nonmembers by not giving them the chance to prevent the use of their dues to support expressions of political views unrelated to collective bargaining. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with this narrow judgment only.
This produced a 7-to-2 ruling on that specific question. But Justice Samuel Alito Jr., writing an opinion representing the conservative five only, went far beyond this principle, which has been settled law since 1986.
The majority held that “the union should have sent out a new notice allowing nonmembers to opt in to the special fee.” Justice Alito described the longtime rule allowing union charges to nonmembers unless they opted out of paying part of the dues as “a remarkable boon for unions” that approaches “the limit of what the First Amendment can tolerate.” For the first time and on its own initiative, the court mandated an opt-in requirement.
To reach this decision, Justice Sotomayor explained in an opinion joined by Justice Ginsburg, “the majority breaks our own rules and, more importantly, disregards principles of judicial restraint that define the court’s proper role in our system of separated powers.” Under the court’s rules, only the questions set out in the appeal are to be considered by the court.
As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in a dissent joined by Justice Elena Kagan, “each reason the court offers in support of its ‘opt-in’ conclusion seems in logic to apply, not just to special assessments, but to ordinary yearly fee charges as well.”
The conservative majority strode into the center of the bitter debate about right-to-work laws preventing unions in 23 states from requiring nonmembers to pay any union expenses, including those supporting collective bargaining that benefits nonmembers. It used this narrow case to insert itself into that political controversy when there was no reason to do so.
So much for the Court's "objectivity" and non-partisanship and "independent legal judgements"....that's all merely theatre for the conservative majority. Clearly, this decision can be seen as a signal about the forthcoming decision on Health Care mandates. Now, we can expect that same majority very shortly to overturn the "mandate" requirement in the Health Care Reform Act, the clause which requires individuals to puchase health care, as the only way in which affordability became part of the watered-down bill that President Obama signed after months of political wrangling.
And if and when that decision hits the streets, the partying in the Republican party, in the Tea Party and in the coffers of the super-pacs that fund the Romney campaign, all of whose financial resources were uncapped by this same court, will be heard around the globe.
Such a decision will, in effect, overturn the most important piece of legislation achieved in the Obama presidency, and although it is modelled on the Massacheusetts plan, inaugurated when Romney was governor, striking down even the mandate clause will continue a long shadow of political decisions that began under the presidency, and the appointments to the court of George W. Bush....
Judicial restraint, as argued by both Justies Sotomayer and Ginsberg, has now been brashly breached, given the effective insertion of the court into the presidential campaign once again!
These five justices, apparently, are not satisfied with their ruling on Citizens United that opened the bank vaults of the conservative rich to the Republican party, as leverage enough to buy the presidency. They are continuing their assault on unions, in this most recent decision, and will likely strike a death-blow to the health reform bill, in their overstretch of their reach beyond their court-boundaried decisions.
While unions are already weakened, (a mere 12% of workers are members, as compared with nearly 40% only a few years ago, the court's trampling on them when they are "down" is another sign that the political monsters are in charge in Washington, and that money can buy them and the rights and responsibilities of governing....
Watch out, in November, when their capture of both houses of Congress and the White House will turn the U.S. into the puppet regime, it has already effectively become....the puppet to the rich!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Liberal party brooms in danger of sweeping honourable past away

Letter to Globe and Mail, June 22, 2012
With due respect to Michael Ignatieff (The Liberal Party Belongs To The Young – June 20), that “old mantra” that Liberals are “fiscal conservatives with a social conscience” was the core philosophy of the party of Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien that kept it in government for decades. The best half of the Conservatives and the best half of the New Democrats put Liberals squarely in the centre of the political spectrum, and in the hearts of Canadians.

We are above all a people of prudence and conscience. The new brooms that swept the Liberal past away failed to allow for that.
John Bryden, former Liberal MP, Lynden, Ont.
It is becoming more and more clear that desperation, at least in the Liberal Party, permits a purging of what is considered "old" in favour of what might be considered by some, including Mr. Bryden and your scribe, as rampant ageism, in a 'youth take-over' that will merely pander to issues barely relevant to the adult and senior segments of the electorate.
In some cases, 'former' needed to be in party president, Apps.
In other cases, previous practices, as in twisting the rules to permit the anointed one to mount the chair of leader, also needed to be replaced.
Third, the former bag-men approach to fund-raising was clearly wide open to abuse which still haunts the party's public perception.
Fourth, the "messiah" complex as the defining parameter for electing a new leader has to "go"...
However, there are far too many policies, attitudes, personalities and bridges, culminating in a party/national culture of modesty, mutual respect for all, including political enemies, and pragmatic vision built in the name of the country that became Canada, primarily under the Liberal governments of outstanding leaders and cabinets, for the past to be wiped clean from the Liberal party 'slate'.
Captive to neither big business nor big labour, the Liberals were able to balance, for the most part, the interests of differing languages and cultures, different economic sectors, and with less success, disparate regions. There is still much work to do to bring the disparate regions into a working relationship, not based on passive acceptance but on vigorous debate on all issues, in predictable, frequent and regular public discussions about how best to make the federation function.
But, and this has become painfully evident in the most recent government's approach, the economy is not the nation; the markets not the holy grail of the country's people, and the wealthy not the owners of the best and the brightest minds, hearts and visions of both the present and the future prospects for Canada. In fact, pandering to the market, trade, investment and the corporate blind/mind-set has left the people of the land hanging by a thread 'out to dry' as the vernacular puts its.
Bringing only a youth-cadre back into the Liberal party will further balkanize the country (and the party), where ageism is already a far-too-virulent virus. In fact the party missed a significant opportunity when it permitted the last convention to be over-run by "youth" and failed to select Sheila Copps as party president.
Ignatieff makes less contribution by pointing only to the youth than he would if he remained silent while the party's future is both debated and decided.
It was he, after all, who promised to "keep my mouth shut" from future debates, when he so eloquently addressed the most recent convention. Perhaps he could start by keeping that one simple promise.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

C.I.A. facilitates arms to Syrian rebels while Russia supplies Assad in PROXY war

By Eric Schmitt, New York Times,  June 21, 2012
WASHINGTON — A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.
The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.
The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.
The clandestine intelligence-gathering effort is the most detailed known instance of the limited American support for the military campaign against the Syrian government. It is also part of Washington’s attempt to increase the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has recently escalated his government’s deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule. With Russia blocking more aggressive steps against the Assad government, the United States and its allies have instead turned to diplomacy and aiding allied efforts to arm the rebels to force Mr. Assad from power.
By helping to vet rebel groups, American intelligence operatives in Turkey hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside of Syria and to establish new ties. “C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,” said one Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by American counterparts.
American officials and retired C.I.A. officials said the administration was also weighing additional assistance to rebels, like providing satellite imagery and other detailed intelligence on Syrian troop locations and movements. The administration is also considering whether to help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service. But no decisions have been made on those measures or even more aggressive steps, like sending C.I.A. officers into Syria itself, they said.
The struggle inside Syria has the potential to intensify significantly in coming months as powerful new weapons are flowing to both the Syrian government and opposition fighters. President Obama and his top aides are seeking to pressure Russia to curb arms shipments like attack helicopters to Syria, its main ally in the Middle East.
“We’d like to see arms sales to the Assad regime come to an end, because we believe they’ve demonstrated that they will only use their military against their own civilian population,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said after Mr. Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, met in Mexico on Monday.
Spokesmen for the White House, State Department and C.I.A. would not comment on any intelligence operations supporting the Syrian rebels, some details of which were reported last week by The Wall Street Journal.
Until now, the public face of the administration’s Syria policy has largely been diplomacy and humanitarian aid.
The State Department said Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would meet with her Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, on the sidelines of a meeting of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in St. Petersburg, Russia, next Thursday. The private talks are likely to focus, at least in part, on the crisis in Syria.
The State Department has authorized $15 million in nonlethal aid, like medical supplies and communications equipment, to civilian opposition groups in Syria.
The Pentagon continues to fine-tune a range of military options, after a request from Mr. Obama in early March for such contingency planning. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators at that time that the options under review included humanitarian airlifts, aerial surveillance of the Syrian military, and the establishment of a no-fly zone.
The military has also drawn up plans for how coalition troops would secure Syria’s sizable stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons if an all-out civil war threatened their security.
So, is Syria to be seen in a frame known as a "humanitarian crisis" or rather a "proxy war" between growing lists of unnamed, and therefore unaccountable combatants, led apparently on one side by Russia, and on the other by United States?
From our limited vantage, the humanitarian crisis is the victim of political and military and 'other' interersts that use human blood as their trophies in this campaign.
Let's try to imagine Ms Clinton and Mr.Lavrov in conversation about Syria:
Clinton: We need to bring this conflict to a peaceful resolution.
Lavrov: I agree, so when are your C.I.A. officials going to stop arming the Syrian rebels?
Clinton: When your government stops sending arms to the Assad regime.
Lavrov: We are not sending anything to the Assed regime, outside our the limits of those contracts that were signed some time ago, certainly having nothing to do with today's carnage.
Clinton: Our evidence suggests that you are, indeed, supplying the Assad regime with military equipment including attack helicopters and other arms.
Lavrov: Your evidence is unsubstantial, unproven and therefore not worthy of rebutting.
Clinton: Your claim to the highroad is equally unsubstantiated, unproven and unworthy of credibility.
Lavrov: I just received a very important text message that I am needed back at the Kremlin. I suggest we post for friendly photos before I leave.
Clinton: And when will we discuss this matter further, since this conversation seems to have ended in a dead end?
Lavrov: I'll call you when I have something more to say.
Clinton: Thanks for your time today...
Try to imagine the scenario as you would expect it to play out....and think about the consequences, especially the consequences in terms of lost lives, broken lives and repairing the damage after the carnage.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

OECD Report slams Canada's approach to foreign aid ...and...and...and...

By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press, in Globe and Mail, June 20, 2012
The Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said Tuesday that a decade’s worth of progress by Canada through doubling its aid spending could be reversed by the recent budget cut to overseas development.

This year’s federal budget cut $380-million, or 7.5 per cent, from Canada’s $5.3-billion annual aid budget.
The report urges Canada to adopt a plan to boost aid from its current 0.31 per cent of GDP to 0.7 per cent, the international target for aid spending first espoused by former Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson.
And it says that while Canada has done good things in Haiti and Afghanistan, it still lacks a broad vision on how it wants to do development in the Third World.
“Canada lacks a clear, top-level statement that sets out its vision for development co-operation,” the report said.
“The new approach to Canadian aid is not yet supported by sufficient or transparent decision-making criteria, complicating its processes and public accountability and constraining discussions with key stakeholders, including Parliament.”
The six-month, peer-reviewed study of Canada’s aid program was conducted by the OECD development assistance committee with the help of France and the Netherlands.
The report commends Canada on a number of fronts, including its decision to largely untie food aid, which allows developing countries to buy food locally for less money.

“Canada lacks a clear, top-level statement that sets out its vision for development co-operation,” the report said.

“The new approach to Canadian aid is not yet supported by sufficient or transparent decision-making criteria, complicating its processes and public accountability and constraining discussions with key stakeholders, including Parliament.”
  • Imagine, no clear, top-level statement of vision for development co-operation
  • Imagine also, new approach not supported by sufficient or transparent decision-making criteria
  • Imagine that omission complicating its processes and public accountability and constraining discussion with key stakeholders, including Parliament.
Where to begin to unpack the OECD report's criticism of Canada's foreign aid "program"?
First, how can there be a top-level statement of vision for development co-operation, when this government, while mouthing platitudes about econommic growth and jobs, has no vision for any of its policies, other than "if it concurs with the base's position, we will adopt it"...because we need to be free from any long-term commitment to any program, especially one for which there is little or no political pay-back, like foreign aid.
Next, the new approach is not supported by sufficient or transparent criteria...nor is any other "approach" taken by this government for any of its many files...
  1. new prison construction and longer sentences when crime rate is significantly declining across the country
  2. the end of the long-gun registry when all police forces used it up to 1000 times daily in their pursuit of criminals and criminal activity
  3. the end of the long-form census, when all the professional and academic voices in the land demonstrated their need for its information to do any long-term planning
  4. a fiat of 6% for health care funding, without a single conversation with the premiers into whose lap the ball falls for implementation
  5. cuts to budgets in fisheries, in spite of four (4) former ministers (2 Liberal and 2 Conservative) who articulate the devastating impact these cuts will have on the fisheries and the environment
  6. the purchase of billions of dollars of fighter jets and both armed and unarmed ships, in a world facing more and more danger from cyber-intervention, terrorist gangs and their impromptu bloodshed anywhere, everywhere and any time
  7. such bungled processes of procurement that even the parliamentary watchdogs, including the Auditor General, have written scathingly about lack of oversight, and no clear process and no acountability on the spending of literally billions
Finally, the omission of clear decision-making criteria making public accountability difficult (let's agree it is literally impossible) and contraining discussion with stakeholders, including Parliament.
This government holds discussions, one has to assume, only with itself, certainly not with Parliament, and obviously not with other agencies such as non-govermental agencies, and governments themselves, who are also participating in the foreign aid theatre, while Canada plays whatever hand it is holding close to its vest, and while Canada remains dumb in the literal sense of that word, at the table where such discussions for collegial, collaborative planning might make every country's aid more effective, less overlapped and more efficient.
For Ms. Oda to indicate that her department will consider the recommendations of the OECD seriously would have to mean that the government is about to undergo some radical transformation in the way it habitually conducts itself, on all files. And that, ladies and gentlemen, "just ain't goin' to happen"!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Frank McKenna: Let's build an oil pipeline from coast to coast

By Frank McKenna, Globe and Mail, June 19, 2012
The last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven in 1885. This was a remarkable accomplishment pitting the indomitable will of our early railroad pioneers against the rugged Canadian terrain. In a country where gravitational forces often move north and south, this ribbon of steel has helped knit the country together both symbolically and economically.

It is time for another bold project, national in scope: A pipeline network extending from coast to coast. This essential infrastructure project would be good for all regions of Canada. It would be an extraordinary catalyst for economic growth. It would be a powerful symbol of Canadian unity.

Much has been made recently about who wins and who loses from Western oil sands. This is the wrong way to look at it. We should turn this challenge into a nation-building exercise rather than encourage a corrosive debate pitting one region against another.
Although the ripple effect of oil-sands development across this country is well documented, a national pipeline, subject to a thorough environmental and regulatory review, would put the issue beyond dispute. The burning platform for the West and for Canada is obvious. We sell almost all of our oil to one customer, the U.S. and we are paying a bitter price for the lack of competition for our resources.
Currently, we suffer two discounts, a West Texas Intermediate differential and a heavy oil differential. At various times this year, these differentials have amounted to as much as $37 per barrel. By one estimate, $630-billion in additional GDP will be forgone over the next 25 years. This is value destruction of monumental proportions. Quite naturally, these price differentials are also slowing down the pace of production and could result in new investments being postponed or cancelled altogether.
It is a simple matter of fact that the U.S. will always remain our primary customer and we need better pipeline access to the U.S. The appropriate approval processes to secure this access are well advanced.
But we also need market diversification. This would require pipeline access to the West Coast and the East Coast. The former is more difficult for a variety of reasons. However, East Coast access is particularly promising.
Firstly, a lot of the pipeline capacity is already in place. Secondly, the East has a significant number of refineries that need access to Western crude.
Just as Western producers are suffering from being captive to U.S. pricing, our East Coast refineries are suffering from being captive to global suppliers. They need Western crude and are currently accessing some of their requirements by rail car, even though it is a more expensive option than pipelines. If we were able to sell Alberta crude into Eastern Canada, where oil is bought at the higher overseas price, we would create better value for Western producers and better netbacks for Eastern refineries. Plus, we would reduce the glut in Cushing, Okla., which could, in turn, impact the price differential.
An Eastern alternative also offers several other huge advantages. Refineries in the East could be upgraded to process heavy oil and even bitumen, which would help address the heavy oil differential. This would result in large capital projects in the East that would mobilize the skilled work force that is currently working in Western Canada. Access to large modules shipped on tidal water and a lower cost of construction would help improve the economics of creating more value-added activity in Canada.
It would also help relieve capacity constraints in the Western basin, which might make other projects much more affordable. Furthermore, having access to tidal water would allow Western crude to be exported into the refinery-dense Eastern seaboard of the U.S. or even overseas to Europe or Asia depending on market economics.
The virtue of the Eastern alternative is that a lot of the pipeline infrastructure is already in place. The repurposing of existing pipelines would allow Western crude to be brought all the way to Quebec, supplying a number of refineries en route.
The missing link is a pipeline from Quebec to Saint John. Construction of this pipeline would allow for access to tidal waters for export and a crude source for the Irving Refinery in Saint John, currently the largest refinery in Canada, a complex structure, capable of using heavy oil or even bitumen from Alberta.
There is mounting support for this project. Political leaders across the political spectrum in Atlantic Canada have voiced their support. It has also attracted support from leaders as diverse as Danielle Smith of the Wildrose Party in Alberta and Thomas Mulcair, leader of the federal NDP.
The Premier of Alberta, Alison Redford, has demonstrated great national vision in talking about “sharing the wealth” of Alberta's oil sands and she is proposing the concept of a national energy strategy. A national pipeline infrastructure could be the foundation for such an important national policy initiative.
Finally, this pipeline could do away with the old debates pitting one region against another. Each region would be a winner. Each region would be a link in a strategic value chain. Each region would deliver tangible benefits to the betterment of the entire country.
Amazing to hear from someone who
a) knows the numbers
b) knowns the provincial and national political system
c) knows the international oil market
d) believes in building a stronger Canada...
                                                                speaking about a national project in the middle of an arid debate over the Conservative government's successful economic strategies!!
While there will inevitably be federal-provincial tensions over such a "national vision" and while there will be strong arguments from those who oppose "mega projects" as a part of our history not our future, nevertheless, we welcome Mr. McKenna's endorsement of this national oil pipeline, and urge all thoughtful and insightful and courageous political and industry leaders to give the matter some serious consideration.
I bet if we were to "mind" McKenna's mind for other national projects, we would be surprised at the wealth of his imagination!