Monday, December 31, 2012

Corporate America messing with wrong people

Professor Richard Wolff, New School University NYC, joins Thom Hartmann. Facing salary cuts, Port workers on the East Coast are threatening a strike that could impact the economy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. We'll talk about why THIS strike in particular is so important - and how - if it's successful - it could bring about a future Leisure Society for working Americans.

Death of rape victim sparks major debate in India

There's been a nationwide outrage over the gang-rape and death of a 23-year-old woman in the Indian capital of New Delhi two weeks ago. The attack has sparked a national debate about the extent of sexual violence across the country. Al Jazeera's Divya Gopalan reports from New Delhi.

World welcomes 2013 with wave of fireworks

Spectacular fireworks exploded over Sydney in a blaze of light and colour on Tuesday to ring in the New Year, as the city kicked off a wave of global celebrations from Dubai to London to welcome 2013. Australia's famous harbour city brought in the New Year on a balmy summer night with a US$6.9 million display curated by pop icon Kylie Minogue, who pressed the button to start the pyrotechnics. Al Jazeera's Dominic Kane reports.

Louis Leo IV Esq. on Obama supporters

Stephen Harper: The Seeker (and Destroyer)

Scenes from Canada's catastrophic Conservative experiment, set to Stephen Harper's rendition of The Who's "The Seeker."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Unionizing the bottom of the pay scale

The New York Times:

More than two million workers toil in food preparation jobs at limited-service restaurants like McDonald’s, according to government statistics. They are the lowest-paid workers in the country, government figures show, typically earning $8.69 an hour. A study by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning research organization, concluded that almost three-quarters of them live in poverty. And they are unlikely to have ever contemplated joining a union. 

On a full-time schedule, they could make a little over $18,000 a year, just about enough to keep a family of two parents and one child at the threshold of poverty. But full-time work is hard to come by. With fast-food restaurants increasingly using scheduling software to adjust staffing levels, workers can no longer count on a steady stream of work. Their hours can be cut sharply from one week to the next based on the business outlook or even the weather. 

The McJob is hardly a niche of the labor market reserved for the uneducated few. Rather, it might be the biggest job of our future

The American labor market has been hollowing out for decades — losing many of the middle-skilled, relatively well-paid jobs in manufacturing that can be performed more cheaply by machines or workers overseas. It has split between a high end of well-educated workers, and a low end of less-educated workers performing jobs, mostly in the service sector, that cannot be outsourced or mechanized. 

This process is not expected to reverse any time soon. According to government statistics, personal care aides will make up the fastest-growing occupation this decade. The Economic Policy Institute study found that some 57 percent of them live in poverty. 

“We must go back to the strategies of nonviolent disruption of the 1930s,” suggests Stephen Lerner, a veteran organizer and strategist formerly at the Service Employees International Union, one of the unions behind the fast-food strike. “You can’t successfully organize without large-scale civil disobedience. The law will change when employers say there’s too much disruption. We need another system.” 

In the 1990s and 2000s, the S.E.I.U. unionized tens of thousands of mostly Latino janitors from Los Angeles to Houston, including thousands of illegal immigrants, who were until then considered impossible to organize because of their legal status. It did so by putting pressure not only on the building maintenance contractors but also on the building owners who hired them, often resorting to bare-knuckle tactics. In 1990, the union asked members to mail their trash to Judd Malkin, the chairman of the company that owned buildings in the Century City complex in Los Angeles, printing his address on garbage bags. Mr. Malkin met Mr. Lerner soon thereafter. 

The second part of the S.E.I.U.’s strategy was equally important. Rather than proposing a union contract for janitors as a narrow goal, the S.E.I.U.’s “Justice for Janitors” campaign framed the effort as a broad movement for the economic rights of low-wage workers. And the union rallied local politicians, community leaders and civil rights groups to their cause.

If unions alone may be powerless, the thinking goes, they can be powerful as part of a broader social movement. “We need workers to come together in formations they haven’t done before,” says Mary Kay Henry, who heads the S.E.I.U. “The tipping point is the entire low-wage economy.”

Continue reading here.

Wal-Mart targeted on corruption, labour practices

Global investigations, protests and strikes highlight need for change at world's biggest private employer.

Indians mourn death of gang-rape victim

Mourners in the Indian capital held candle lit vigils in memory of the 23-year old Indian woman who died earlier in a Singapore hospital, following a brutal gang rape and beating on a New Delhi bus nearly two weeks ago. The unnamed woman's ordeal has galvanised people to demand greater protection for women from sexual violence. Al Jazeera's Divya Gopalan reports.

Reagan in 1991: "Why I'm for the Brady Bill"

Ronald Reagan, The New York Times:

Named for Jim Brady, this legislation would establish a national seven-day waiting period before a handgun purchaser could take delivery. It would allow local law enforcement officials to do background checks for criminal records or known histories of mental disturbances. Those with such records would be prohibited from buying the handguns.

While there has been a Federal law on the books for more than 20 years that prohibits the sale of firearms to felons, fugitives, drug addicts and the mentally ill, it has no enforcement mechanism and basically works on the honor system, with the purchaser filling out a statement that the gun dealer sticks in a drawer.

The Brady bill would require the handgun dealer to provide a copy of the prospective purchaser's sworn statement to local law enforcement authorities so that background checks could be made. Based upon the evidence in states that already have handgun purchase waiting periods, this bill -- on a nationwide scale -- can't help but stop thousands of illegal handgun purchases.

And, since many handguns are acquired in the heat of passion (to settle a quarrel, for example) or at times of depression brought on by potential suicide, the Brady bill would provide a cooling-off period that would certainly have the effect of reducing the number of handgun deaths.

Critics claim that "waiting period" legislation in the states that have it doesn't work, that criminals just go to nearby states that lack such laws to buy their weapons. True enough, and all the more reason to have a Federal law that fills the gaps. While the Brady bill would not apply to states that already have waiting periods of at least seven days or that already require background checks, it would automatically cover the states that don't. The effect would be a uniform standard across the country.

Continue reading here.

Corporate-state repression of Occupy: "terrorists"

Police used teargas to drive back protesters following an attempt by the Occupy supporters to shut down the city of Oakland.

New documents prove what was once dismissed as paranoid fantasy: totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, in a groundbreaking scoop that should once more shame major US media outlets (why are nonprofits now some of the only entities in America left breaking major civil liberties news?), filed this request. The document – reproduced here in an easily searchable format – shows a terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council. And it reveals this merged entity to have one centrally planned, locally executed mission. The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.

The documents, released after long delay in the week between Christmas and New Year, show a nationwide meta-plot unfolding in city after city in an Orwellian world: six American universities are sites where campus police funneled information about students involved with OWS to the FBI, with the administrations' knowledge (p51); banks sat down with FBI officials to pool information about OWS protesters harvested by private security; plans to crush Occupy events, planned for a month down the road, were made by the FBI – and offered to the representatives of the same organizations that the protests would target; and even threats of the assassination of OWS leaders by sniper fire – by whom? Where? – now remain redacted and undisclosed to those American citizens in danger, contrary to standard FBI practice to inform the person concerned when there is a threat against a political leader (p61).

As Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the PCJF, put it, the documents show that from the start, the FBI – though it acknowledges Occupy movement as being, in fact, a peaceful organization – nonetheless designated OWS repeatedly as a "terrorist threat":
"FBI documents just obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) … reveal that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat … The PCJF has obtained heavily redacted documents showing that FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conducting surveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country."
Verheyden-Hilliard points out the close partnering of banks, the New York Stock Exchange and at least one local Federal Reserve with the FBI and DHS, and calls it "police-statism":
"This production [of documents], which we believe is just the tip of the iceberg, is a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI's surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement … These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America."
Continue reading here.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Graffiti artists make their mark in Los Angeles

Graffiti has long been seen as a petty, but costly crime - defacing walls and structures all over the world. But its artistic and political merits are increasingly being recognised. Street art is inspiring hope in the poorest of neighbourhoods. Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds reports from Los Angeles.

India mourns death of gang-rape victim

The 23 year old woman who was gang raped and then thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi has died. She was receiving treatment at a hospital in Singapore which specialises in organ transplants. Her alleged attackers have now been charged with murder. Divya Gopalan reports from New Delhi where security's been stepped up in anticipation of protests.

Cannabis doesn't damage lungs like tobacco

The Associated Press:

Chicago - Smoking a joint once a week or a bit more apparently doesn't harm the lungs, suggests a 20-year study that bolsters evidence that marijuana doesn't do the kind of damage tobacco does.

The study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham was released Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The findings echo results in some smaller studies that showed while marijuana contains some of the same toxic chemicals as tobacco, it does not carry the same risks for lung disease.

It's not clear why that is so, but it's possible that the main active ingredient in marijuana, a chemical known as THC, makes the difference. THC causes the "high" that users feel. It also helps fight inflammation and may counteract the effects of more irritating chemicals in the drug, said Dr. Donald Tashkin, a marijuana researcher and an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Tashkin was not involved in the new study.

Study co-author Dr. Stefan Kertesz said there are other aspects of marijuana that may help explain the results.

The analyses showed pot didn't appear to harm lung function, but cigarettes did. Cigarette smokers' test scores worsened steadily during the study. Smoking marijuana as often as one joint daily for seven years, or one joint weekly for 20 years was not linked with worse scores. Very few study participants smoked more often than that.

Continue reading here.

Capitalism is neither durable or sustainable

As unemployment in the US decreases and large companies expand their profit margins, we ask if the capitalist system has proven its ability to endure and adapt. Or should Americans be considering an alternative economic system?

North Carolina urged to pardon the Wilmington 10

Democracy Now!:

As the new year approaches, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue is being urged to pardon a group of civil rights activists who were falsely convicted and imprisoned 40 years ago for the firebombing of a white-owned grocery store. Their conviction was overturned in 1980, but the state has never pardoned them. We’re joined by one of the "Wilmington Ten," longtime civil rights activist Benjamin Chavis, who served eight years behind bars before later becoming head of the NAACP. We also speak to James Ferguson, a lead defense attorney for the Wilmington Ten; and to Cash Michaels, coordinator for the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project and a reporter for The Wilmington Journal, where he has been covering the activists’ case.

Friday, December 28, 2012

There is no American Left

Salvatore Babones, Op-Ed, Truthout:

In September 2012 Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel attempted to break the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) with a bid to privatize Chicago's public schools. The mayor's proposal was based on a plan to subject teachers (and schools) to performance measurement based on students' standardized test scores.

Teachers whose students scored poorly would be fired. Schools whose students scored poorly would be closed. The students would then be farmed out to so-called "charter schools" - for the most part, for-profit institutions run by corporations like Edison Schools, Rocketship, Victory Schools, and Educational Services of America.

The CTU went out on strike with the goal of maintaining public education in Chicago, America's third largest city. Schools in Philadelphia, America's fifth largest city, have already been largely privatized, and the state of Texas is currently in the process of privatizing its local public school systems.

The Obama administration: Center-right Democrats

Rahm Emanuel is not just any Democrat. He was Barack Obama's first chief of staff, responsible for hiring many of the Obama administration's key personnel. One of Obama's appointees, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is a former "Chief Executive Officer" of the Chicago public school system. In Chicago he had promoted the expansion of for-profit charter schools.

In Washington, Secretary Duncan developed the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" program to encourage states to privatize their schools. The funding was structured as a competition. All 50 states adopted the Race to the Top program in hopes of receiving scarce federal funding during a severe recession; only 12 actually received any grants. The tournament format was designed to ensure maximum institutional impact for the smallest possible investment.

It's not just in education policy that the Obama administration has pursued a broadly neoliberal, center-right agenda. For example, President Obama has taken no action to improve minimum wages or working conditions. The US federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, with no guaranteed sick days, holidays, or vacation time.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is proudly or derisively (depending which side you're on) known as Obamacare. America has long been the only rich country without universal health insurance. Obamacare is intended to extend health insurance coverage to all Americans.

What is Obamacare really? At its heart is a requirement that all Americans will have to buy health insurance, mainly from private, for-profit insurance companies. Insurance premiums will remain largely unregulated, subject to the single requirement that insurance companies will have to accept all applicants and not be allowed to turn away those with pre-existing conditions.

People who refuse to buy health insurance will be forced to pay a $695 penalty. Given that the cost of the most basic private health insurance in the United States is far greater than this, many people are likely to remain uninsured even after Obamacare is fully implemented in 2014.

The Obama administration embraces targeted assassination and maintains a kill list - sorry, "disposition matrix" - of people it considers fair game for drone attacks. The Obama administration embraces the use of torture on people in US custody (with the sole specific exclusion of waterboarding).

The Obama administration maintains a gulag archipelago of secret CIA prisons around the world, and automatically as a matter of policy classifies as "enemy combatants" any adolescent or adult male civilians who are killed in its military operations on the logic that if they were killed, they must have been combatants.

Over the past forty years, America has become much more politically correct with regard to gender and sexualiy. Men do not openly display calendars featuring topless models on their office walls, and public gay bashing is now considered inappropriate, even in Republican circles. But gender and sexuality are issues that transcend social class. Even rich, powerful men have gay children - or may be gay themselves. Even rich, powerful men have wives.

On every other issue, America - or at least American politics - has swung violently to the right. The more social class is involved, the further to the right America has swung. Poverty was once a social disease to be cured; it is now an individual crime to be punished. Put it down to individualism, conservatism, neoliberalism, or whatever -ism you want, America is now the world's greatest reactionary force.

Continue reading here.

Germans pay the price for renewable energy

It has been over a year since German Chancellor Angela Merkel set the goal of a nuclear-free future for Germany by 2022. The widespread adoption of renewable energy, however, has left consumers bearing the burden of the changes. Some bills in Germany could even go up by 47 percent. Al Jazeera's Nick Spicer reports from Berlin.

Kucinich: sacrificing jobs for corporate profits

Democracy Now!:

As President Obama meets with congressional leaders at the White House in a last-ditch effort to reach a budget deal, we speak to outgoing Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich about the so-called fiscal cliff. If an agreement is not reached in time, $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases will go into effect on January 1. But the tax increases would not necessarily be permanent — the new Congress could pass legislation to cancel them retroactively after it begins its work next year. "We’ve been going in the wrong direction," Kucinich says. "Why haven’t we been talking about stimulating the economy through the creation of jobs? We’ve seemed to accept a certain amount of unemployment as being necessary for the proper functioning of the economy, so that for corporations it will keep wages low. That is baloney. We’re creating our own economic vice here that is entrapping tens of millions of Americans."

Female US Army veterans fight for support

The US Army now includes more women than ever before. And, like their male counterparts, women veterans face a host of medical and psychological issues when they return home from the frontlines.  When they do come back, many women say they are finding it difficult to get the help they need in a system still dominated by men. Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey reports from New York City.

Kucinich: "two party system is failing"

Democracy Now!:

Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is serving his last week in Congress after eight terms in office. Since 1997, Kucinich has been a leading progressive voice on Capitol Hill, known for actions including the bringing of articles of impeachment against George W. Bush for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, voting against the USA PATRIOT Act, advocating for ending the war on drugs, challenging U.S. warfare from Afghanistan to Libya, and pushing for single-payer healthcare to replace the patchwork, privatized U.S. system. Kucinich ran for president in 2004 and 2008 with a vow to create a Department of Peace. "The two-party system itself is failing the American people," Kucinich says. "We have to look at the culture of violence that we have in America and ... build a culture of peace."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Which stories did the media ignore this year?

There are stories that have enormous consequences on the lives of Americans but are regularly under-reported or misrepresented by the mainstream media. Project Censored, the US media watchdog group, has released their annual report examining the shortcomings of reporting in 2012.

Have US police forces become too militarized?

From assault rifles to armoured trucks, even drones. Since the 9/11 attacks the US police have becoming increasingly militarised. But does that mean more safety for Americans? Guests: George Schulz, Norm Stamper, Radley Balko.

Ed Broadbent on rising inequality

The vast majority of middle- and lower-income working Canadians have a minimal chance of suddenly vaulting into the layer of corporate executives and leading professionals who comprise most of the top 1 per cent

The situation changed fundamentally in the 1960s and ’70s, and not just because of economic growth. While unions continued to improve wages and working conditions, government invested massively in education at all levels, as well as in other public domains, with the clear goal of equalizing opportunities. Post-secondary education of all kinds became an affordable reality — and with all these changes came increased expectations for parents and kids from all families.
The political decisions and investments we made decades ago not only in public education but in health care, pensions, employment insurance and progressive income taxes made all the difference. By reducing real inequalities in life we laid the foundations for a society with genuine equality of opportunity — one where it didn’t matter that much on which side of the tracks you were born.

But we have recently been moving in the opposite direction, toward a less equal society. We are moving away from equality-promoting public services and social programs and toward tax cuts most beneficial to the affluent. This important shift in public policy came as middle-class jobs were disappearing and as earnings in the market place were becoming more unequal.

We do not yet know just how much rising inequality in the 1980s and 1990s will ultimately affect longer-term life chances. But we do know that in recent decades we have become more unequal more rapidly than most other OECD countries. We also know that today’s university students must pay thousands more in fees than students did in the 1960s and 1970s. And their multi-thousand-dollar debts upon graduation vastly exceed those of my generation.

We know that children from low-income families start at a significant disadvantage in life, partly because of poor access to food and housing and partly because their parents lack time and resources. This disadvantage can be partially offset by high-quality child care and early learning programs, but these are thin on the ground in much of Canada despite the fact that the proportion of children living in poverty is much higher than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

Michael Veall, past president of the Canadian Economics Association, tells us in a recent paper that 70 per cent of this elite group stay where they are from year to year. In fact, turnover at the top is lower than it used to be. But at the other end of the ladder there has been a great deal of movement in recent years — in both directions: not just out of poverty but into it. According to Statistics Canada, almost one in five Canadians (17.3 per cent) lived in poverty in at least one year between 2005 and 2010. 

It’s bad enough that there are so many poor Canadians at any given time, but these figures show working people move in and out of poverty. Some will lose their jobs. Some may be lucky enough to find good and steady work. But even many of those who have a job stay among the working poor and many will remain well short of a middle-class standard of living for their entire lives. While this is particularly true of many aboriginal people, recent immigrants, single parents and people with disabilities, it’s also true of many others. This is why we need strong public programs that reduce inequalities at birth and preserve a real equality of opportunity.

Continue reading here.

People & Power - Greece: The Odyssey

As another difficult year for the battered European economy ends, many Greeks have taken a bold decision to return to the land to survive. Is economic salvation to be found in Greece's rich and fertile soil?

DND censorship on soldier killed by Israeli forces

Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener and three other United Nations observers were killed in 2006 when the Israeli military targeted their small outpost with repeated artillery barrages as well as an attack by a fighter aircraft.

The Defence Department has quietly removed from the Internet a report into the killing of a Canadian military officer by Israeli forces, a move the soldier’s widow says is linked to the Conservative government’s reluctance to criticize Israel for any wrongdoing.

Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener and three other United Nations observers were killed in 2006 when the Israeli military targeted their small outpost with repeated artillery barrages as well as an attack by a fighter aircraft.

IN early 2008, the Defence Department posted on its website a 67-page report from the Canadian Forces board of inquiry into the killing. The board found Hess-von Kruedener’s death was preventable and caused by the Israeli military.

But less than a year later, the report was quietly removed from the DND website and has since remained off-limits to the public through official channels.

Hess-von Kruedener’s widow, Cynthia, told the Citizen that the decision to remove the document from the public domain was made by DND and the government in an effort to protect Israel’s reputation.

“They don’t want people reading about it,” she said. “It’s embarrassing to the Israelis and, as we know, Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper has given his unconditional support to the Israelis.”

The circumstances surrounding Hess-von Kruedener’s death and the attempts by DND and the Canadian Forces to limit access to the board of inquiry report are outlined in an article in the new edition of Legion magazine, an Ottawa-based publication sent to members of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Continue reading here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sean Lennon: artists against fracking, gun violence

All across America - gas companies are tearing up land to make room for the piping needed for hydraulic fracturing - the highly controversial process used to harvest natural gas from shale rock. And along with this destruction of land come the risks of contaminated drinking water, toxic fumes and even poisoned livestock. One of the many groups trying to shut down the dangerous fracking practice is Artists against Fracking - a group of nearly 200 members working to expose and stop the practice of fracking through mass awareness and peaceful democratic action. Musician Sean Lennon, one of the founding members of Artists against Fracking - joins us now from our New York studios.

Estonians on track for free public transportation

Estonians in the capital city of Talinn are soon to benefit from the arrival of free public transport. It is the first EU capital to make the shift and is part of a green platform adopted by Talinn's mayor, Edgar Savisaar. However, not everyone thinks the move will get cars off the road. The opposition fume that the idea is less about a clean environment and more about political opportunism. Al Jazeera's Tim Friend reports from Talinn.

Obama urged to back global U.N. arms treaty

Democracy Now!:

As the debate over gun control intensifies in the United States, work continues on an international treaty to regulate the global arms trade. On Monday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to reopen negotiations on the treaty. The United States dropped its opposition after stonewalling talks in July, a move that prompted critics to accuse President Obama of caving to congressional Republicans and the National Rifle Association in an election year. "I have not seen anywhere else in the world a gun lobby that has the same level of influence on its own government as the NRA does in the United States," says Andrew Feinstein, author of "The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade" and a former African National Congress member of Parliament in South Africa. "The U.S. buys and sells almost as much weaponry as the rest of the world combined. So what happens in the U.S. is going to have enormous impact on the rest of the world."

Bernie Sanders: don't cut earned benefits

Idle No More protests sweep Canada

A new campaign for indigenous rights and environmental justice is spreading across Canada. The "Idle No More" movement began as a series of protests against a controversial government budget bill, but has since expanded into a nationwide movement for political transformation. Aboriginal and environmental activists are calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honor treaties with aborigines; open dialogue with environmentalists; and reject tar sands pipelines that would infiltrate First Nation territories. We go to Toronto to speak with Pamela Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University and spokeswoman for the "Idle No More" movement. "We, First Nations people, have been subsidizing the wealth and prosperity and programs and services of Canadians from our land and resources," Palmater says. "And that's the reality here that most people don't understand."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Alexis Tsipras: Frontline of a financial war

Al Jazeera English:

The leader of the Greek opposition on how his country has become a "debt colony" forced to follow "criminal" policies.

It is a small country, but its problems have reverberated around the world. For almost three years, Greece has been at the centre of a global financial crisis - sinking under huge debts and threatening to bring the entire eurozone down with it.

European countries and the IMF have leant Athens billions and billions of euros - but in return for these bailouts, they have demanded severe austerity measures.

Wages and pensions have been cut, unemployment has soared, and the Greek economy is predicted to shrink by about one quarter by the end of 2013.

On the Greek streets there has been anger, with many strikes and protests.

But this past week, the S&P credit rating agency upgraded Greece. It remains clear, however, that the crisis continues and not everyone shares the government's view that things are improving.

One of the primary voices with no confidence in the current government is Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the left-wing main opposition Syriza Party.

"The debt will just keep growing and we will find ourselves in a vicious circle: new austerity measures will be taken, then our deficit will grow again, we will need more cuts, and so forth," Tsipras says.

His party says Greece has become "a debt colony", forced to follow the wrong economic policies.

"We have to have a haircut because the debt is not sustainable, and this haircut will be radical and substantial so here the IMF is right ...," he says. "But we have a model that offers a solution. It is the same model that was applied to Germany after World War II. In 1953, 28 countries - and Germany - decided that they would write off 60 percent of the German debt. And they imposed a five-year moratorium on interest payments and they added a clause that Germany would only pay the remaining interest if the German economy was growing again. I think this is a sustainable solution not only for Greece but for all the countries in southern Europe."

Many believe the young and charismatic politician is going to be the next Greek prime minister, but what, Al Jazeera asks him, would Greece look like under a Prime Minister Tsipras?

"Let's be honest," Tsipras says, "Greece has a dysfunctional public sector, nobody denies that. Greece is a country with no fair system of taxation. The rich don't pay taxes in Greece, all the burden is put on the soldiers or the poor. The rich people are protected by ministers. I am talking about the people who have sent their money to Switzerland and have evaded taxes. We will promote these reforms and I think we are the only ones that can do that, because we have no interconnections with the strong financial players in Greece."

"But," he adds, "there are some reforms we will not promote. For example, we will not ask for lay-offs in the public sector, we will transfer them .... What we want is to restructure the public sector on the basis of European standards."

On this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips talks to the Greek politician who calls the current policy in Greece "criminal" and promises to change it.

"The only way for the euro to survive is to keep Greece in the eurozone, because if one country leaves the whole puzzle will collapse. And the only way for Greece to remain in the eurozone is for Greeks to survive," Tsipras says. "As we speak there is an issue of survival. Greece is a country in humanitarian crisis. A few days ago, Greece resorted to the World Bank. The World Bank takes care of Third World countries. Greece is not a Third World country. No, that's wrong, Greece is a country of the eurozone, it was one of the 28 most developed countries of the world and suddenly a global experiment took place in Greece. The experiment failed. We cannot keep trying it."

Anti-rape protests spread across India

Defiant protesters are once again out on the streets of New Delhi for the seventh day in a row. They are demanding immediate justice for the 23-year-old girl who was brutally gang-raped in a bus last Sunday. Although the city is notorious for rapes and sexual harrassment, the viciousness of this attack seems to be a tipping point for many Indians. Al Jazeera's Subina Shrestha reports from New Delhi.

Theresa Spence interview

A short sit-down interview with Chief Theresa Spence on December 21st, 2012 from the site of her hunger strike.

John Lewis on protecting US voting rights

Democracy Now!:

As 2013 approaches, marking the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington, we spend the hour with one of the last surviving speakers from that day: Civil rights icon, now 13-term Georgia Congressmember, John Lewis. During the 1960s, Rep. Lewis was arrested more than 40 times and beaten almost to death as he served as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, marched side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., helped organize the Freedom Rides, and campaigned for Robert Kennedy’s presidential bid.

We look at the bloody struggle to obtain — and protect — voting rights in the United States with Rep. Lewis, as he reflects on the ongoing struggle for voting rights today, when 16 states have passed restrictive voting laws that critics say target people of color. "It is so important for people to understand, to know that people suffered, struggled," Lewis says. "Some people bled, and some died, for the right to participate. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool that we have in a democratic society. It’s precious. It’s almost sacred. We have to use it. If not, we will lose it."

Theresa Spence's hunger speaks to all of us

Naomi Klein, Rabble:

The greatest blessing of all, however, is indigenous sovereignty itself. It is the huge stretches of this country that have never been ceded by war or treaty. It is the treaties signed and still recognized by our courts. If Canadians have a chance of stopping Mr. Harper's planet-trashing plans, it will be because these legally binding rights -- backed up by mass movements, court challenges, and direct action will stand in his way. All Canadians should offer our deepest thanks that our indigenous brothers and sisters have protected their land rights for all these generations, refusing to turn them into one-off payments, no matter how badly they were needed. These are the rights Mr. Harper is trying to extinguish now.

During this season of light and magic, something truly magical is spreading. There are round dances by the dollar stores. There are drums drowning out muzak in shopping malls. There are eagle feathers upstaging the fake Santas. The people whose land our founders stole and whose culture they tried to stamp out are rising up, hungry for justice. Canada's roots are showing. And these roots will make us all stand stronger

Continue reading here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Is the US coal industry in trouble?

We look at how changing attitudes and economics are affecting the once-staple of American energy production. Shihab Rattansi speaks to Mike Elk, a labour journalist for the independent newsmagazine, "In these Times"; Robert Gardner, the coal campaigner for Greenpeace USA; and Alli Welton, one of the organizers of the Divest Harvard campaign.

Crazy NRA says more guns are the answer

America's powerful gun lobby, The National Rifle Association wants armed guards at every school in the US. The NRA rejected the notion that curbs on weapons would protect children. The NRA comments come a week after the Connecticut school shooting, when Adam Lanza killed 20 young children. Al Jazeera's John Terrett reports from Washington DC.

Clean up from US coal-ash disaster continues

Four years ago, the most serious US environmental disaster of its kind displaced hundreds of residents. A giant wave of coal-ash sludge spilled from a waste containment area and caused extensive environmental damage. Tom Ackerman visits the scene in Kingston, Tennessee, where the clean-up operation is still in progress.

Film compares Palestine to apartheid South Africa

Democracy Now!:

As the African National Congress voted Thursday to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel known as BDS, declaring it was "unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel," we look at a new film that examines the apartheid analogy commonly used to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Roadmap to Apartheid" is narrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Walker and puts archival footage and interviews with South Africans alongside similar material that shows what life is like for Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and inside Israel. The documentary has just been released to the public after a year-long film festival run, where it won numerous awards. We are joined by its co-directors, South African-born Ana Nogueira and Israeli-born Eron Davidson, both longtime journalists.

Note to the NRA

Friday, December 21, 2012

US cities struggling post-Hurricane Sandy

Nearly two months after Hurricane Sandy entire neighbourhoods are still covered in rubble, homes are infested with mold and hundreds of families remain without water or power. What's the biggest problem? Guests: Aria Doe, Klaus Jacob, Joel Kupferman.

First Nations protest heralds a new alliance

An IdleNoMore rally in Edmonton, 11 December 2012.

The grassroots IdleNoMore movement of aboriginal people offers a more sustainable future for all Canadians
Canada's placid winter surface has been broken by unprecedented protests by its aboriginal peoples. In just a few weeks, a small campaign launched against the Conservative government's budget bill by four aboriginal women has expanded and transformed into a season of discontent: a cultural and political resurgence.

It has seen rallies in dozens of cities, a disruption of legislature, blockades of major highways, drumming flash mobs in malls, a flurry of Twitter activity under the hashtag #IdleNoMore and a hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence, in a tepee minutes from Ottawa's parliament. Into her tenth day, Spence says she is "willing to die for her people" to get the prime minister, chiefs and Queen to discuss respect for historical treaties.

The evidence – and source of the current anger and unrest – is hard to dispute. While Canada has the world's largest supply of fresh water, more than 100 aboriginal communities have tapwater so foul they are under continual boil alert (pdf). Aboriginal peoples constitute 3% of Canada's population; they make up 20% of its prisons' inmates. In the far north, the rate of tuberculosis is a stunning 137 times that of the rest of the country. And the suicide rate capital of the world? A small reserve in Ontario, where a group of school-age girls once signed a pact to collectively take their lives.

Such realities have not stopped politicians and pundits from prattling on about the sums supposedly lavished on aboriginal peoples. The myth that aboriginals freeload off the state serves to conceal the real scandal: that most money pays for a sprawling government bureaucracy that keeps aboriginals poor, second-class, and dependent. The widespread notion that First Nations mismanage and squander what funds they do receive is simple prejudice: government reports acknowledge that communities are buried under a mountain of strict accounting; they are no more corrupt than non-native municipalities.

Billions have indeed been spent – not on fixing housing, building schools or ending the country's two-tiered child aid services, but on a legal war against aboriginal communities. Every year, the government pours more than $100m into court battles to curtail aboriginal rights – and that figure alone went to defeating a single lawsuit launched by two Alberta First Nations trying to recover oil royalties essentially stolen by bureaucrats.

Despite such odds, the highest courts of the land have ruled time and again in favour of aboriginal peoples. Over the last three decades, they have recognized that aboriginal nations have hunting, fishing and land rights, in some cases even outright ownership, over vast areas of unceded territory in British Columbia and elsewhere. And that the treaties Chief Spence is starving herself to see upheld – signed by the British Crown in the 1700 and 1800s, and the Canadian government until the early 1900s – mean the land's wealth should be shared, not pillaged.

Continue reading here.

Give Canada’s working poor a raise

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty introduced the Working Income Tax Benefit back in 2007. It needs a boost.

When Ottawa slams the door, Ken Battle opens a window. When Queen’s Park yanks down the sash, Sherri Torjman approaches the municipalities, the private sector and the public to spearhead the fight against poverty.

They refuse to give up. That is what has kept the Caledon Institute on Social Policy going for 20 years. Battle is its president; Torjman is vice-president.

The think-tank produces ideas that are pragmatic, suited to the tenor of the times and compatible with the objectives of the party in power.

Its latest campaign, launched this month, is to win parliamentary support for an increase in the Working Income Tax Benefit, a refundable tax credit introduced by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in 2007. Its purpose is to “make work pay” by topping up the earnings of the low-wage employees.

An estimated 1.5 million Canadians receive the benefit. It costs $1.1 billion a year.

Anyone with an earned income between $3,000 and $17,477 a year can apply. The maximum payment is $970 for an individual, $1,762 for a family. How much a worker receives depends on his or her earnings, other income, marital status, number of dependants and province of residence.

The benefit has been a godsend to the working poor. When it was introduced, it delivered a maximum of $500 to individuals and $1,000 to families. Three years ago, rates were raised to the current level.
But there is still one problem: It doesn’t lift most low-wage households out of poverty. The Caledon Institute outlines three ways to rectify that:

  Increase the maximum benefit.
  Broaden the eligibility criteria to include all minimum wage 
  Combine the two adjustments.

“Caledon has always been conscious of the cost of any proposal and we recognize that this is a tough time to be recommending new expenditures,” Battle and Torjman point out in their 16-page policy paper. “But there are several areas of wasteful spending which deliver substantial benefits to high-income households. We believe these funds can be better directed toward packing a solid punch on poverty.”

Continue reading here.

Poll: Hudak's hard right turn not impressing voters

 Forum president Lorne Bozinoff says a lot of the Tory planks are “just not authentic enough for people in urban areas,” which is bad news for a party with a caucus made up of mostly rural MPPs.

The Toronto Star:

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak’s swing right appears to have his polling numbers going in the wrong direction.

While the Conservatives still lead Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats and Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals, some of Hudak’s new policies seem to be hurting his party, the latest Forum Research survey shows.

The Tories are at 33 per cent, the NDP at 31 per cent, the Liberals at 27 per cent, and the Greens led by Mike Schreiner are at 8 per cent.

Forum president Lorne Bozinoff said the most recent survey suggests that some of Hudak’s right-wing proposals are not resonating beyond his diehard supporters.

“He’s maintaining his base, but he hasn’t done much in the ‘horse-race’ in a few months. He’s down a little bit — he always has a problem where he can’t close the deal,” said Bozinoff.

“They’re trying to connect with urban Ontario, which is their problem (area), but there’s just something not quite right about it.”

For example, only about a third — 34 per cent — of respondents believe compulsory union dues should be outlawed while 45 per cent disagreed with that plan and 21 per cent were unsure.

Continue reading here.

How Harper deals with First Nations

Michael Harris, iPolitics:

If you want to know why Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is on a hunger strike, it is because official apologies from on high do not feed families, build houses, install water systems or educate kids. It is because some of the poorest bands in the country have concluded that Stephen Harper has to be put on the spot.

Canada’s natives fill the prisons and jails, live in impoverished housing, disappear along highways without much of a fuss, die in infancy, drop out of high school and kill themselves at rates significantly higher than other Canadians.

Their health needs are looked after by 150 doctors and 1,200 nurses. A sickening percentage of First Nations citizens of this country get third world educations, short shrift in the courts, and virtually no consistent coverage in the media.

Harper purposely and falsely left the impression with Canadians that the Conservatives had given every person in Attawapiskat $50,000. As NDP MP Charlie Angus pointed out at the time, what the PM didn’t say was that the money was spread out over six years. So when the real calculation was done, each resident of Attawapiskat received $8,000 per year — or less than half of what is spent per capita on other Canadians on things like health and education.

As Angus put it, "Harper’s line rang out like a dog whistle to a racist base that believed that those Indians couldn’t be trusted with our money."

Continue reading here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mass shootings: profile white men

I appeared on CNN to discuss my recent article looking at how America's reaction to mass shootings is shaped by the fact that most of the shooters are white men. Had they been from another demographic, we would likely face calls for racial profiling. But that isn't the case when the demographic in question is white men. Why with only 30% of the population being white men are 70% of the mass shootings being perpetrated by white men? 

Read the Salon piece here:

Australian gun laws set example for US

A shooter killed 35 people in a single day in a 1996 shooting spree at a popular tourist spot in Tasmania. The Australian government seized this tragedy to bring in tough new gun control laws. The country does not have the world's toughest gun laws, nor the lowest rate of gun-crime. However, the chance of being murdered is one-thirtieth of that of the United States. Al Jazeera's Andrew Thomas reports from Sydney.

France's Hollande in landmark visit in Algeria

French President Francois Hollande has arrived in Algeria to announce a new era between the two countries. In a speech before the Algerian Parliament, Hollande acknowledged France's "brutal and unfair" colonial past but stopped short of giving an apology. Many Algerians, however, want an apology for the thousands who died during their war of independence 50 years ago. Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland reports from Marseilles.

America after Newtown

Could Newtown unite a country deeply divided over gun control and mental health care? We look at reactions to the shooting at Sandy Hook.

Walmart's bribes to expand in Mexico

Democracy Now!:

New details have emerged in the massive bribery scandal behind Wal-Mart’s expansion into Mexico, where the corporate giant now operates one in five of its stores. After exposing the bribery earlier this year, The New York Times has now visited dozens of Mexican towns and cities to document the payoffs the company used to get its way. We’re joined by the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter who broke the story, David Barstow. As a result of Barstow’s reporting, the Justice Department is now considering whether Wal-Mart violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a crime for American corporations to bribe foreign officials.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Climate change: more typhoons in Philippines

Scientists warn that climate change is leading to an increased intensity of storms like Bopha. And victims say they feel completely helpless when faced with such natural disasters. Al Jazeera's Marga Ortigas reports from the Compostela Valley in Southern Philippines.

UBS ato pay $1.5 billion for Libor rigging

Swiss bank UBS is set to pay a fine of $1.5b becoming the second bank after Barclays to be charged with misconduct in connection with the London Interbank Offered Rate or Libor. Libor is the rate at which banks lend to each other. It is used to price more than three hundred and fifty trillion dollars in contracts around the world. Potential losers include pension funds, insurance companies and individuals. More than a dozen banks have been caught up in the international inquiry, and there are more cases to come. Al Jazeera's Tim Friend reports from Central London.

Raúl Grijalva rejects Obama's Social Security cuts

Democracy Now!:

Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona joins us to discuss his opposition to President Obama’s offer to cut more from Social Security than from the military in the ongoing negotiations over avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff. Obama has offered to cut some $100 billion from military spending, but even more from Social Security — $130 billion by adjusting the inflation index for Social Security benefits. Grijalva says Obama’s proposal opens the door "to very long-term damage down the road."

Mulcair to Harper: heed Idle No More


Ottawa – NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to “act” swiftly, listen to the message from the Idle No More movement and re-engage with First Nations people to avoid a potential “personal tragedy” unfolding on Victoria Island in Ottawa where Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has entered the eighth day of a hunger strike.

Spence has been on a hunger strike to force a meeting between the prime minister, the governor general and First Nations leaders to discuss the treaties.

The PMO has indicated it’s unlikely Harper would participate in such a meeting and Gov. Gen. David Johnston refused to answer questions on the issue Tuesday.

Mulcair wrote a letter to Harper Tuesday calling on the prime minister to re-engage with First Nations peoples while the chief from the impoverished northern Ontario First Nations continues a hunger strike and protests sweep across the country.

“As you know, Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation has also embarked on a hunger strike, living in a (teepee) on Anishinabe traditional territory of Victoria Island in the Ottawa River, barely a kilometre from Parliament,” wrote Mulcair, who is leader of the Official Opposition. “I ask that you please act swiftly to avoid a personal tragedy for Chief Spence.”

Mulcair said in his letter that it was time for the Harper government to truly commit to “reconciliation.” Mulcair said the prime minister should take the Idle No More rallies seriously and honour the commitments he made during last January’s Crown-First Nations gathering.

“From coast to coast to coast, an unprecedented wave of grassroots action is sweeping across First Nations communities,” wrote Mulcair. “When you met with First Nations leaders less than a year ago, you committed your government to working in partnership with First Nations Canadians. The #IdleNoMore protests are proof that Aboriginal Canadians are demanding you fulfill that solemn commitment.”

Obama agrees to cut Social Security

Negotiations to avert falling off the ‘fiscal cliff’ before the end of the year have compelled President Obama to agree to cuts in Social Security payments.

Included in the spending cuts portion of the potential deal is the use of a formula called the chained consumer price index, or chained CPI, to calculate cost of living adjustments to Social Security payments.

With the chained CPI, Social Security payments would decrease over time, instead of going up with cost of living adjustments as they currently do. There are also tax increases associated with the chained CPI that hit low and modest income seniors the hardest.

Ezra Klein describes the Social Security cuts in the Washington Post:

All told, chained CPI raises average taxes by about 0.19 percent of income. So, taken all together, it’s basically a big across-the-board cut in Social Security benefits paired with a 0.19 percent income surtax. You don’t hear a lot of politicians calling for the drastic slashing of Social Security benefits and an across-the-board tax increase that disproportionately hits low earners. But that’s what they’re sneakily doing when they talk about chained CPI.

Since Social Security is funded by payroll deductions, it does not contribute to the federal deficit.

“The opponents' tactic of setting up Social Security as a false culprit in the deficit problem diverts attention away from the real causes of the deficit -- two wars not paid for, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and the costs associated with the economic crisis, such as the Wall Street bailout,” according to the Huffington Post.

The average Social Security payment is about $1,230 a month. If Obama signs a deal that includes using a chained CPI to reduce payments over time, for seniors struggling to make ends meet, life is about to get harder.

Continue reading here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Will the US ever change its gun laws?

US President Barack Obama has called for change after a gunman kills 20 children and six adults in an elementary school. Will this really be the tipping point in the gun control debate in the US? Guests: Adam Winkler, Mark Follman, Christian Heyne.

South Africa debates mine nationalization

South Africa's government says it has ruled out wholesale nationalization of the mining industry. President Jacob Zuma has promised there will be greater state intervention and possibly strategic nationalization of certain minerals. The African National Congress party will decide on how to get more out of the country's mineral wealth at its five yearly elective conference this week. Tania Page reports from Limpopo, South Africa.

Washington shows signs of taking on gun lobby

Democracy Now!:

Residents of Newtown, Connecticut, have begun holding the first of many funerals for the 26 victims killed in Friday’s shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. On Monday, Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto — both six years old — were laid to rest in small caskets. In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, a number of pro-gun lawmakers are now signaling a new willingness to soften their opposition to restrictions on weapons sales. Will the Newtown massacre lead to a new way of thinking about guns?

Drone operator quits after ordered to kill child

Drone operators: A drone pilot, left, and a drone sensor operator practice on a simulator at Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico.
The Daily Mail:

A former U.S. drone operator has opened up about the toll of killing scores of innocent people by pressing a button from a control room in New Mexico.

Brandon Bryant, 27, from Missoula, Montana, spent six years in the Air Force operating Predator drones from inside a dark container.

But, after following orders to shoot and kill a child in Afghanistan, he knew he couldn't keep doing what he was doing and quit the military.

'I saw men, women and children die during that time,' he told Spiegel Online. 'I never thought I would kill that many people. In fact, I thought I couldn't kill anyone at all.'

But it began to take its toll immediately.

The first time he fired a missile, he killed two men instantly and cried on his way home.

'I felt disconnected from humanity for almost a week,' he said.

But it was an incident when a Predator drone was circling above a flat-roofed house made of mud in Afghanistan, more than 6,250 miles away, that really sticks in his mind.

The hut had a shed used to hold goats and when he received the order to fire, he pressed a button with his left hand and marked the roof with a laser.

The pilot sitting next to him pressed the trigger on a joystick, causing the drone to launch a Hellfire missile. There were 16 seconds left until impact.

'These moments are like in slow motion,' he told the website.

As the countdown reached seven seconds, there was no sign of anyone on the ground.

Bryant could still have diverted the missile at that point.

But when it was down to three seconds, a child suddenly walked around the corner.

The next thing he saw was a flash on the screen - the explosion. The building collapsed, and the child disappeared.

Continue reading here.

"Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit"

At the first Reagan-Mondale debate in 1984, Reagan set the record straight about Social Security.

But Obama is open to cutting Social Security.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Right to work, Mr. Hudak and unions

Susanna Kelley, Ontario News Watch:

With the passage of legislation in Michigan to make it a so-called "right to work" state, PC leader Tim Hudak and several of his caucus have jumped on the idea of doing the same here.

Actually, "right to work" is an American idea, affirmed in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act that amended the National Labor (sic) Relations Act. 

It allows employees in a unionized workplace to choose to forego paying union dues, yet still get the wages and the benefits derived from the collective bargaining agreements bargained by the union.  In other words, they can get the benefits even though they are not paying the costs.

Unions call them "free riders."

The political right supports "right to work" (RTW) legislation because companies do not want to deal with unions, nor favour paying the higher wages and benefits they win.  

The right believes, correctly, that if union dues are voluntary, many people will stop paying them (why pay for what you can get for free?) thus cutting off union resources so they cannot bargain or organize effectively. Union membership will drop, further weakening unions.

And in fact, in the U.S., all of this is exactly what has happened.

Mr. Hudak has a problem here in Canada, however: the so-called "Rand Formula" in Ontario, a compromise ruling by Justice Ivan Rand in 1946. 

Contrary to what some uninformed PC's have been telling people, the Rand Formula does not force anyone to belong to a union.

It does however say that someone who benefits from wage increases and benefits derived from a union, such as collective bargaining, they must pay union dues - the opposite of the Taft-Hartley Act.

Hence, if you go to work in a unionized workplace where you necessarily benefit from the wages and benefits negotiated by the union for you, you must pay union dues.

In other words, Justice Rand said there should be no "free riders."

This is what Mr. Hudak wants changed.

Mr. Hudak says this will mean more prosperity for "hard-working families," who will be able to keep more of their pay in their own pockets rather than pay union dues.

He is also demanding that salaries of union staff and elected leaders be made public, along with any monies they spend on political activities.

Let's be absolutely clear here.

Unions are democratic organizations that come to represent employees in a workplace only after a majority of employees have voted in favour of joining.

Almost all unions already report the financial information Mr. Hudak is requesting to their members every year. Their members would rise up against them if they didn't.

Unions are also private organizations, funded with the private dues of their members - just like the conservative-friendly Albany Club in Toronto, the National Citizens' Coalition, the Canadian Federation of Small Business or the Ontario Taxpayers' Federation.

They are not public agencies like the LCBO or Ontario Lottery and Gaming.

And though union dues are tax deductible, so are the costs of business entertainment for companies.
Many businesses make tax-deductible political donations.

And most glaring of all, political parties such as the one Mr. Hudak leads are heavily subsidized by public money, as donations are tax-deductible. Yet, taxpayers have no say in their money going to support his party or any other.

Continue reading here.

Worst grade school shooting: tough gun control?

Democracy Now!:

Police say the Newtown gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, used a semi-automatic Bushmaster assault rifle, similar to the M4 carbine used by the U.S. military. He also had two handguns, a Glock 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol and a Sig Sauer. The massacre occurred just miles from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the nation’s second most powerful pro-gun lobby in the country after the National Rifle Association. We host a debate on gun control between John Velleco, chief federal lobbyist for Gun Owners of America, and Christian Heyne, legislative assistant and grassroots coordinator for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. We’re also joined by Paul Barrett, author of "Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun."

War on unions: right-to-work, Harper, Hudak

Protesters unhappy with Michigan's right-to-work legislation gathered outside of the state capitol building on Dec. 11, 2012. Last week Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law bills that ban mandatory union membership, making Michigan the nation's 24th right-to-work state. This kind of union bashing could be coming to Ontario

All three were factors in Michigan this past week as Republican legislators and Gov. Rick Snyder hastily passed a set of laws designed to strip unions of money and members. And the same thing could happen here without determined resistance from Canadians loath to see the society they’ve built turned into a warren of low-wage ghettoes.

All told, this has been a remarkably bad week for labour. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives passed legislation forcing unions to disclose key aspects of their finances, including information on salaries, expenditures and time spent on political activities. This information is to be passed to the Canada Revenue Agency and then published.

There’s merit in shedding more light on union activities, since union dues are tax-deductible, but this new law unfairly singles out labour for extra regulation. Other tax-deductible professional dues, such as law society and medical association fees, are not covered by any such rules. All should be treated on an equal footing.

Far worse is what happened in Michigan. In just five days, the state’s Senate, House and governor passed right-to-work measures allowing employees in unionized workplaces to reject union membership and refuse to pay dues. Billed as promoting freedom of choice, its effect is to sap labour’s strength and drive down wages. People are free to work all right — for longer hours, fewer benefits and less pay.

That this would happen in Michigan, of all places, underscores the challenge facing labour. This is the state where the once-mighty United Auto Workers union was born in 1935 — the organization from which our own Canadian Auto Workers sprouted. Labour won landmark victories here, with working people making solid gains that lifted them into the middle class.

Now history is flowing the other way. And in Ontario, no one’s smile is likely broader than Tim Hudak’s. The Progressive Conservative leader proposes to make Ontario a right-to-work jurisdiction as well. With Michigan going this route, it’s become easier for Hudak to sell his brand of union-bashing. 

he existing Rand formula has served this province well. Named after Ivan Rand, the Supreme Court justice who imposed it in a 1946 strike-ending arbitration, it requires everyone covered by a union contract to pay dues, whether or not they want to. That’s only fair because all under a contract share the benefits gained by the union.

Continue reading here.

Joe Scarborough breaks with NRA