Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Commons: Looking on the bright side of global warming

The Scene. For sure, Peter Kent’s task is an unenviable one. He who must stand and take responsibility for the Harper government’s oft-lamented environmental policy—he who must be regularly derided by the opposition’s critics—is owed all of our empathy and perhaps even some of our charity.

But if anyone is to hold the title of Environment Minister, it might as well be Mr. Kent. He may lack the swirling bombast and fierce dismissiveness of John Baird, but after so many years in front of a television camera, he is an unflinching pitchman. And having, as a journalist, spent so many years listening to the spin of political and professional communicators, he is now an awesome weaver of words and assertions.

There he was a few weeks ago, for instance, responding to a question from the NDP’s Megan Leslie about reported job cuts at Environment Canada. “There has been a great deal of misreporting and uninformed comment on this issue,” he lamented. “There is a great difference between 776 permanent employees who might be affected, 300 positions which will be declared surplus, and the much-smaller actual number of employees who may eventually be separated from the department.”

Conservatives expected to delay court hearings into 2006 ad campaign expenses

The Conservative Party is expected to once again delay court hearings on Wednesday into Elections Canada’s charges that four top Conservative officers approved or masterminded a scheme to divert $2-million in advertising expenses for the 2006 election campaign.

PARLIAMENT HILL—The Conservative Party is expected to once again delay court hearings on Wednesday into Elections Canada’s charges that four top Conservative officers approved or masterminded a scheme to divert $2-million in advertising expenses for the 2006 election campaign.

A lawyer acting for the four Conservatives, including Toronto Senator Irving Gerstein, head of the party’s fundraising arm, and Ontario Senator Doug Finley, the director of the national election campaign, has so far twice asked for delays since the charges were laid last February under the Canada Elections Act, following an investigation of nearly three years.

A spokesman for the federal Public Prosecution Service of Canada declined to comment on the case, but indicated in an interview with The Hill Timeson Tuesday that another postponement is expected, following one last March and another in June, when the legal team acting for the Conservatives asked for a three-month delay to examine more than 27,000 pages of evidence documents.

Report warns middle-income neighbourhoods to vanish

Canada's most populous city faces some key challenges that, if not addressed, could reduce quality of life for over half the population by 2025, according to a new report by the Toronto Community Foundation.

The foundation released its Vital Signs report Tuesday, an annual check-up that measures the quality of life of Torontonians when it comes to issues ranging from affordable housing to crime.

This year's report, titled The World Needs Toronto To Succeed, tells a tale of two cities: On the one hand, the city is healthier, greener and has lower crime rate than ever before. But the report also says Toronto is plagued by gridlock, high youth unemployment and overpriced housing.

Europeans aren't bailing out Greece, they're bailing out banks

The euro zone’s 17 members are currently voting on a larger, more powerful, bailout fund: the European Financial Stability Fund. Officials want €440-billion for the kitty, with new powers to buy European government bonds and invest directly in banks. The goal is to enhance the confidence of financiers in euro zone bonds and banks – countering speculative attacks that have pushed up interest rates and shaken confidence. All members must approve the expansion, likely by mid-October.

The expansion, however, has sparked lots of public grumbling: “Why should taxpayers in countries that followed the rules bail out countries that didn’t?” This sentiment won’t stop any country from approving the expansion (Germany, the linchpin, endorsed it last week). But it will constrain politicians’ subsequent efforts to rein in the crisis.

The public’s ire, while understandable, is misdirected. It isn’t Greece and other weak states being bailed out. It’s the banks that lent money to those countries. If it were only about letting Greece default, that would have happened two years ago. It’s the feared collapse of banks in France, Germany and elsewhere – causing a credit freeze and continental depression – that officials are racing to prevent.

Candidate-Specific Super PACs Offer End Run For Maxed-Out Donors: Study

WASHINGTON -- Further indicating that candidate-specific super PACs are being used to end-run traditional campaign contribution limits, a new analysis finds that Restore Our Future, the super PAC formed to support former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's candidacy for president, is being primarily funded by donors who have already maxed out on direct contributions to Romney's campaign.

The analysis confirms a separate analysis conducted by ABC News in August that examined donations to the Romney campaign and Restore Our Future, as well as to President Barack Obama's reelection effort and the Obama-supporting Priorities USA Action super PAC.

As a result of the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, super PACs can now accept unlimited corporate and personal contributions. They are legally required to be independent of candidate committees, whose contributions are capped.

But the unexpected and meteoric rise of candidate-specific super PACs -- which nevertheless claim to be independent of those candidates' campaigns -- has set watchdogs howling.

House GOP Targeting Title X In Push To Axe Family Planning Programs

WASHINGTON -- Title X, the federal family planning grant that funds birth control and preventative health services for more than five million low-income people annually, saves U.S. taxpayers massive amounts of money in Medicaid costs, but GOP lawmakers are trying to axe the program for the second time this year in the name of slashing the deficit.

The cost of covering a Medicaid-funded birth, including prenatal care, delivery, postpartum and infant care for a year, was an estimated $12,613 in 2008, according to a May 2010 Guttmacher Institute study. This far outpaces the cost of providing birth control and other contraceptive services to low-income women at Title X-funded clinics, which averages only $257 per client per year.

Crunching the numbers, every dollar the U.S. government spends on family planning services to help people plan how many children to have and when to have them saves taxpayers about $3.74 in Medicaid birth-related costs. The government spends about $300 million a year on the Title X program, but in 2008 alone, it saved the country $3.4 billion dollars in return.

Alberta Oil Sands The Target Of Europe's Dirty Fuel Label

Canada's oil sands are facing another public-relations defeat with the news that the European Commisssion (EC) will propose designating bitumen extracted from the sands as a particularly dirty type of oil.

The EC, an executive body comprised of all EU member countries, plans to propose that tar sands oil be given a carbon emission value of 107 grams per megajoule of energy, compared to 87.5 grams of carbon for conventional crude oil.

The European Parliament must approve the proposal before it becomes law.

The proposal is meant to be part of the EU's Fuel Quality Directive, a plan that aims to reduce carbon emissions from transportation by six per cent by 2020.

For Canada's oil exporters, the EC move is a potential public relations disaster. Besides the negative optics of oil sands bitumen being singled out as an extra-dirty form oil, exporters and government officials worry that it could set a precedent that the U.S. -- Canada's largest oil market -- could follow in the future.

Harper turns off taxpayer-funded tap for political parties as promised

It’s just one short paragraph on page 204 of the 642-page Keeping Canada’s Economy and Jobs Growing Act. And it does what Stephen Harper has wanted to do for years – eliminate the $2 per-vote taxpayer subsidy for political parties.

On Tuesday, Mr. Harper’s government tabled the bill, fulfilling a promise from the May election to get rid of the taxpayer funding, which is estimated to cost $30-million annually.

It’s a move the Prime Minister has been itching to make but couldn’t because of his minority government. During the spring campaign, he blamed the frequency of elections on the taxpayer subsidy, which he said allowed political parties to get “enormous cheques” whether “they raise money or not.”

Progressive streak still alive in Canada


Notwithstanding the results of the May federal election, the progressive current that has long shaped Canada’s modern politics is by all indications still running strong.

In the face of a Conservative dam in Parliament, it is springing up in unlikely places, sometimes with unintended or unexpected consequences.

While the eyes of federal Conservative brain trust were peeled on a too-close-to-call Ontario campaign, a Joe-Clark-style Red Tory has slipped into power in Stephen Harper’s stronghold of Alberta.

Alison Redford’s election as the leader of Alberta’s Conservative party and premier-designate is the latest in a string of potentially game-changing results for Canada’s national politics.

It comes on the heels of the NDP surge of the last federal election in Quebec and almost a year to the day since Calgary surprised the country by setting its sights on a left-leaning mayoral candidate.

Toronto Mayor Ford accused again of using cellphone while driving

After admitting to breaking the law two months ago, Mayor Rob Ford vowed to give up talking on his mobile while driving. But a new allegation has surfaced accusing him of just that.

Sarah Barrett, a semi-retired small business owner, said she saw Mayor Ford driving and talking on his cell phone on Monday.

“There was no question that it was Rob Ford,” said Ms. Barrett. “How could you not recognize him? And he had his phone on his ear.”

It was between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., near Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue, when she said she first saw him in his bronze Chevrolet minivan with the licence plate “ROB FORD.”

Both Ms. Barrett and Mr. Ford were driving westbound, she said; she started off in the left lane, he was in the right. Later, he went behind her vehicle and then pulled ahead. Before that, she saw him on his cellphone and tried to catch up, to tell him to stop. Later, she could see him punching the buttons, she said, likely texting or dialling.

Occupy Wall Street: Why So Many Demands for Demands?

Everybody has a piece of advice for the protesters at Occupy Wall Street. They should put their clothes on. They should stop raising their fists. They should fact-check their handwritten signs. They should appoint leaders who can give pithy quotes to reporters. They should get with an electoral program. Nicholas Kristof even offered to help them out with a neat list of demands, in case those holding signs saying “We Are the 99%” just needed to have the unfairness of the carried interest rule explained to them.

Indeed, their failure to present demands is the most frequently heard criticism of the OWS protesters, not just in the mainstream press but from veteran leftists as well. What do these wan, angry young people want, anyway?

If you spend an hour or two down at Liberty Plaza, as I did with my 8-year-old daughter this past weekend, it’s clear enough. She got the point, at least: especially from the signs that read, “You should teach your kids to share,” and, “Give my mom her money back!! A single working mom…not fair!”

It’s not that the demands being suggested by OWS’s volunteer policy advisors in the blogosphere are not worthy ideas. At a time when we desperately need to rein in financial speculation and change the incentives on Wall Street, a financial transactions tax is a terrific policy proposal. Dean Baker has been talking about it for years. The thing is, we on the left don’t have a scarcity of policy ideas. We are positively bursting with them. Create a housing trust fund! A national infrastructure bank! And, yes, sure, eliminate the carried interest loophole so fat cats don’t get a bigger tax break than working people. (Some even have more radical ideas, which are quite sensible too.) But at best, we get a polite hearing for these ideas, which then fade away or are hopelessly watered down. We simply lack the power to put them into practice.

House of Cronies: Is Freddie Mac Incompetent or Corrupt?

Three years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, we're not any closer to purging the rot at the heart of our financial-regulatory complex. Last December, Bank of America agreed to pay $1.35 billion to Freddie Mac for nearly 800,000 faulty mortgage loans that Freddie had bought from Countrywide, which has since been acquired by BofA. The full story, as told by the inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (i.e.: FHFA, Freddie's regulator), is a classic tale of institutional corruption.

The background is that Countrywide, then the country's largest originator of exotic mortgages, sold 787,000 loans to Freddie Mac. Under the terms of the sale, if it later turned out that some of those loans were defective, Freddie could sell them back to Countrywide for their full face value. Many of those loans were indeed defective due to inflated appraisals, fictional stated incomes, or other reasons.

The Downside of an Early Primary Dash: Super-Secret Super PACs

New Year's in Iowa. Campaign ads over Christmas. These are some of the dismal prospects facing campaign junkies now that the 2012 calendar is once again being pushed into early January.

But there's another consequence to the frontloaded primary schedule: A virtual black box for campaign cash.

The first campaign-finance reporting deadline for the new Super PACs, which can accept donations of unlimited size but must report their donors, isn't until Jan. 31.

That's the newly decreed date of Florida's primary, which is expected -- after a lot of early-state jostling and threats of a New Hampshire primary sometime around Halloween -- to be the fifth contest on the calendar.

Thus, that influential -- often decisive -- streak of early-state primaries will be over by the time we find out who gave to the Super PACs.

Study: Income Inequality Kills Economic Growth

Corporate chieftains often claim that fixing the US economy requires signing new free trade deals, lowering government debt, and attracting lots of foreign investment. But a major new study has found that those things matter less than an economic driver that CEOs hate talking about: equality.

"Countries where income was more equally distributed tended to have longer growth spells," says economist Andrew Berg, whose study appears in the current issue of Finance & Development, the quarterly magazine of the International Monetary Fund. Comparing six major economic variables across the world's economies, Berg found that equality of incomes was the most important factor in preventing a major downturn. (See top chart.)

In their study, Berg and coauthor Jonathan Ostry were less interested in looking at how to spark economic growth than how to sustain it. "Getting growth going is not that difficult; it's keeping it going that is hard," Berg explains. For example, the bailouts and stimulus pulled the US economy out of recession but haven't been enough to fuel a steady recovery. Berg's research suggests that sky-high income inequality in the United States could be partly to blame.

So how important is equality? According to the study, making an economy's income distribution 10 percent more equitable prolongs its typical growth spell by 50 percent. In one case study, Berg looked at Latin America, which is historically much more economically stratified than emerging Asia and also has shorter periods of growth. He found that closing half of the inequality gap between Latin America and Asia would more than double the expected length of Latin America's growth spells. Increasing income inequality has the opposite effect: "We find that more inequality lowers growth," Berg says. (See bottom chart.)

Berg and Ostry aren't the first economists to suggest that income inequality can torpedo the economy. Marriner Eccles, the Depression-era chairman of the Federal Reserve (and an architect of the New Deal), blamed the Great Crash on the nation's wealth gap. "A giant suction pump had by 1929-1930 drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth," Eccles recalled in his memoirs. "In consequence, as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When the credit ran out, the game stopped."

Many economists believe a similar process has unfolded over the past decade. Median wages grew too little over the past 30 years to drive the kind of spending necessary to sustain the consumer economy. Instead, increasingly exotic forms of credit filled the gap, as the wealthy offered the middle class alluring credit card deals and variable-interest subprime loans. This allowed rich investors to keep making money and everyone else to feel like they were keeping up—until the whole system imploded.

Income inequality has other economic downsides. Research suggests that unequal societies have a harder time getting their citizens to support government spending because they believe that it will only benefit elites. A population where many lack access to health care, education, and bank loans can't contribute as much to the economy. And, of course, income inequality goes hand-in-hand with crippling political instability, as we've seen during the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

History shows that "sustainable reforms are only possible when the benefits are widely shared," Berg says. "We hope that we don't have to relearn that the hard way."

Source: Mother Jones  

The NDP and its enemies

It would be nice if politics were a polite discussion conducted to help the public make up its mind, but that is not how political life works.

In battling the Liberals, Stephen Harper proved adept at defining his adversaries for the Canadian public. Neither Stephane Dion nor Michael Ignatieff ever recovered from high intensity negative Conservative advertising campaigns conducted before an election was called.

The next New Democratic leader can expect similar personal attention. As well, NDP ideas are going to get roughly treated. On policy questions, the Conservatives can count on high-profile support from its shock troops: the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and the National Citizens Coalition (Stephen Harper, ex-president). It is one thing to face Stephen Harper in the House of Commons; it is quite another to face concerted opposition from the enemies of the NDP outside parliament.

As New Democrats reflect on who should become the next leader, party supporters need to consider who will be best suited to handling the public attacks that will come from the major business lobby groups, and their bought and paid for media. Protecting the status quo, or seeking further advantages, is what matters to big economic players trying to influence policy outcomes.

Salvaging a Faulty Crime Bil

The Tories have an opportunity to show they really care about reducing harm to victims by adding a commitment to crime-prevention programs.

On Sept. 20, Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson fulfilled an election promise by introducing the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which toughens prison sentences for certain convicted criminals. Among its nine sections are proposals for more severe punishments for sexual predators of children, drug traffickers, and youth involved in serious violence. The act also provides a stronger role for victims in the parole hearing. What it lacks, however, are sections that would actually prevent crime rather than simply react to it. It also lacks sections that would increase the federal role in providing dignity and services to victims, the majority of whom will not benefit from the current provisions in the bill, since their offenders will not reach a parole hearing.

The act is a retread of nine Tory proposals that were not approved in the previous Parliament. But Nicholson’s justification for the bill is no retread. Surprisingly, he now uses facts to justify the bill. The memorandum announcing the legislation focuses on the number of offences recorded by the police in a single year, including 440,000 violent crimes, 200,000 cases of breaking and entering, and 85,000 cases of impaired driving. Instead of debating whether police are recording fewer crimes, he cites a Statistics Canada report showing that only 31 per cent of victims of crime go to the police. He also draws attention to a government report that demonstrates that victims of crimes suffer $14 billion in tangible losses and another $68 billion in intangible losses to quality of life.

Afghanistan Will Pay for NATO's Failures

[Series] If history is any guide, the legacy of the most recent international intervention will be the continuity of conflict in the lives of Afghans.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the commencement of NATO's intervention in Afghanistan, The Mark begins a three-part series examining the outcomes and legacy of the Afghan war. Part 1 argues that the NATO military intervention has been a massive failure. It suggests that, with the war almost assuredly lost, Afghans are likely to face an all-too-familiar future of violent conflict.

As we pass the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the beginning of the invasion of Afghanistan, just as NATO’s war begins to wind down, the legacy of the Afghanistan intervention is certain to become a hot topic of debate. A sober analysis of the failures of the intervention and its consequent implications for Afghanistan in a post-NATO landscape suggest the hope for any positive legacy is very bleak.

Of course, for the Afghans, the immediate legacy will be a continuation of the war, albeit in a different and likely much bloodier form. In 1919, French General Ferdinand Foch reacted to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which brought an end to the First World War, with the prophetic statement: "This is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years." The same could perhaps be said of the 2001 Bonn Agreement, which paved the way for a new western-backed Afghan regime in the aftermath of the ouster of the Taliban. In this case, however, the armistice period will likely be shorter.

ANALYSIS | F-35 jet a bargain at $65M?

It's not every day that a defence contractor tells you you're planning to pay way too much for their latest high-tech gizmo.

But don't say it can't happen. When buyers are drowning in debt and sticker shock sets in, it's only natural for sellers to announce that they've got a great deal, just for you.

Still, who knew we could snag 65 state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jets for just $65 million a pop?

If that sounds like a lot, you obviously don't spend much time shopping for fighter jets. That price is a cool $10 million less for each fighter than Canada's Defence Department has already budgeted. Let's see: we ordered 65 planes … multiply that by a saving of $10 million each and … hey! We could save a ton of money here!

As strange as it may seem, that is what Lockheed Martin vice-president Stephen O'Bryan told CBC News in an interview at the company's vast F-35 manufacturing plant in Fort Worth, Texas, last week. Sure, the early prototypes are hideously costly — more than $150 million a copy, but Canada won't be buying until 2016, when production is at full speed, says O'Bryan, so the cost of each jet will fall.

By then, he says, "average unit price of the airplane would be $65 million." Is that with an engine? "Yes, sir."

An ex-fighter pilot who flew "shock and awe" missions in Iraq, O'Bryan says he means a "fully combat airplane," including an $11-million engine, sensors, guns, stealth coatings, the works. What about all those estimates that it's going to cost much, much more than $65 million? O'Bryan has locked on to that little missile before you even launch it.

"Some people use different numbers and those numbers are not necessarily relevant," he says. They include development costs, he adds, which Canadians will not pay. So, can we count on that price of $65 million each in 2016 when we have to pay up?

"You can!" says O'Bryan.

But can we really?

Those who have followed this tangled tale from the beginning will know, like Senator John McCain, that we have come a long way since Lockheed Martin first told us their new fighter would cost only $65 million. That was 10 years ago, before an epic saga of delays, software snafus, design changes, restructurings and runaway cost overruns which now has the project five years behind schedule. Even the hawkish McCain, who's no stranger to fighters, calls the F-35 program "a train wreck."

He said that in May, at a hearing of the Senate armed services committee which featured his searing indictment of the F-35 program. Instead of $65 million, he said, the real cost of each F-35 would be $133 million and will likely go higher.

Since he got that number from the Pentagon, the assembled Pentagon brass could only nod glumly and agree that the program is "unaffordable" unless a way is found to drive the cost down. McCain doesn't see that happening. We must start looking for options, he said. Consider this ominous exchange between McCain and Ashton Carter, the Pentagon's chief buyer:

McCAIN: "Right now, it's not an affordable program and the sustainment costs are not affordable — is that correct?"

CARTER: "That is correct. If you believe … if we live the estimates, we can't afford to pay that much."

McCAIN: "It seems to me we have to start at least considering alternatives."

Easy to say — but where is that alternative? Defence Minister Peter MacKay, visiting the Pentagon last week, said bluntly that it doesn't exist.

"The reality is," said MacKay as Defence Secretary Leon Panetta stood beside him, "this is the best and only fifth-generation aircraft available to Canada."

Little else available

So, doesn't that mean that Lockheed Martin has the taxpayer over a barrel? Back at the F-35 plant, program boss Stephen O'Bryan says, "I wouldn't say so right now. There's always competition."

There's really nothing on offer, however, that has the stealth capabilities of the F-35, and its "interoperability" with the U.S. and its allies — assuming they all go ahead with their plans to buy it.

And there's the rub: what if they don't? Some of those allies, like the U.S. itself, are awash in debt. Some are delaying or reducing their orders. Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page thinks the real price will be closer to $148 million a plane. Such doubts are so widespread that there is talk of what the aviation industry tactlessly calls a "death spiral."

A "death spiral" is where fewer orders mean smaller economies of scale, leading to higher prices for each plane, leading to fewer orders, which means … well, you see where this is going.

We're not there spiralling downward yet. But it's easy to see why Lockheed Martin might be very keen to keep buyers on the line with promises of low, low prices. And Canada has no signed contract yet. In 2016, who knows what the real cost will be?

A money-saving plane

The question of the real cost has dogged Ottawa for years. The former Liberal government signed up for the F-35 program because, for our $65 million, we'd get a so-called "fifth-generation" stealth fighter, loaded with the latest technology. Who needs a boring old heads-up display for the pilot when he can now have a helmet-mounted one? He turns his head and the display moves with him! Or it will, if they ever get the thing to work. So far, it doesn't.

But the plane was not just supposed to be advanced. It was also going to be cheap. It would be a multi-purpose design which would eliminate the need to build different planes for different tasks — bombing runs, or carrier takeoffs, or Harrier-type vertical landings. (Actually, that last part isn't going too well, either. The Pentagon has put the vertical-landing version of the F-35 on "probation" for two years.)

The theory was that the U.S. and its allies would have one common airframe, one production line, one engine … think of the economies of scale!

Well, the Pentagon, Lockheed Martin and allied governments around the globe are thinking hard now. The plan could still fly if buyers hang in. But will the bargain prices come true? For a clue, check the Israeli defence budget. The Israelis, like John McCain, know something about fighters, and currently their budget for 20 planes is not anywhere close to $65 million each. It's more than double that: $137 million each.

Perhaps they don't believe in deals that seem too good to be true.

Source: CBC 

Why unions matter

Are unions more of a problem than a solution today?

Anti-union sentiment has accelerated since the global crisis of 2008 brought economies to their knees and left public finances in a mess.

Widespread frustration with fragile growth and soaring debt has been channeled towards unions, which are increasingly characterized as an elite, irrelevant, and a drag on the economy.

But consider this: No country has ever achieved widespread prosperity and created a large middle class without strong unions.

Generations of hard-fought union struggles brought Canadians the eight-hour day and the weekend; workplace health and safety legislation and employment standards; income supports for new parents and training for unemployed workers; public pensions and minimum wages; protections for injured workers and equal pay for equal work.

Testing John Baird, the Tories’ artful dodger

If you were picking the most valuable player on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s front bench, you wouldn’t be far off in pointing to John Baird, the Foreign Affairs Minister. A close second is Jim Flaherty, the Finance Minister. Rounding out the top group are Heritage Minister James Moore and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

What gives Mr. Baird special status is his effectiveness in the role of the government’s defuser-in-chief. He’s the dean of damage control, the team’s most artful dodger. Every government needs one of these guys. Under the Chrétien Liberals, it was Herb Gray. The Gray Fog, as he was called, gave such plodding indecipherable responses to questions that he left everyone in a state of semi-consciousness.

Mr. Baird uses a different technique – the court jester. With quips and merriment and outrageous bafflegab, he makes light of everything. When the going gets tough, the PM looks over to Bairdsie. The minister dons his dancing slippers, does his array of pirouettes and glissades, and Bob’s your uncle. If you can leave ’em laughing, you win every time.

Vandals target Liberal supporters

Police are investigating election-related vandalism after one vehicle’s brake line was cut and the tires of 10 others were slashed at homes with Liberal campaign signs.

A car’s brake line was cut last week on Broadbent Ave., near Midland and Eglinton Aves., in the Scarborough Centre riding, police said.

The vehicle’s owner was uninjured, said Const. Tony Vella, adding the man got into his car, noticed the brake pad was soft and immediately stopped the vehicle. He noticed a fluid leak and called police.

The tires of nine vehicles were punctured in the midtown St. Paul’s riding this weekend. The wall of a house in the area of Eglinton Ave. E., between Yonge St. and Mount Pleasant Rd., was spray-painted with graffiti that said “Lieberal scum.”

The tires of another car in the Parkside Dr. and Bloor St. W. area were also slashed.

In all the incidents, the victims had a Liberal party sign on their lawns, said Vella.

The Commons: If you don’t support MacKay, you don’t support the troops

The Scene. For a full 13 questions this afternoon, the opposition insisted on pressing the government about matters—the economy, trade, the separation of powers in a proper functioning democracy—unrelated to whether or not the Defence Minister should be ashamed or at least embarrassed.

Finally, the Speaker called on the NDP’s Tarik Brahmi, a francophone apparently of Algerian descent, who nonetheless looks to me like a tough English soccer fanatic.

“Mr. Speaker, according to a release by the Canadian Press, the Defence Minister was kept out of key decisions about Canada’s role in the Afghan war,” he said. “This was a top defence priority, yet the Prime Minister was calling all the shots. The Prime Minister could have used some advice. Most agree our efforts should have focused more on peace talks and diplomacy. Is he still making foreign policy and defence decisions on his own, or does he now let his cabinet in the room?”

The Ever-Changing Narrative Of Occupy Wall Street Mass Arrests

More than 700 individuals were detained this weekend in a dramatic mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge. Before the march across the bridge began, however, it seemed the police were prepared for an entirely different kind of encounter.

NBC reporter Richard Engel tweeted the following message:

5 Reasons Why 'Occupy Wall Street' Won't Work

It's easy to hate Wall Street. In movies, bankers are portrayed as heartless, greed-driven jerks. Some people blame the recent financial crisis and the recession that followed on Wall Street duping Americans into signing up for predatory mortgages. Others say that these rich bankers, traders, and investors don't pay enough money in taxes. These and other anti-Wall Street attitudes have led to a protest in Lower Manhattan that continues to grow. But for a variety of reasons, it isn't likely to accomplish anything.

Faced With Perry's "Niggerhead" Controversy, Conservatives Slam…Herman Cain

As Texas Gov. Rick Perry deals with the fallout from the revelation that his family leases a hunting camp called "Niggerhead," Herman Cain is facing his own backlash—for suggesting that the Perrys' conduct was "insensitive."

According to the Washington Post, Perry's family leases a piece of land referred to by local residents as "Niggerhead"; the word is carved into a rock at the entrance of the property. The rock was painted over sometime after the Perry family began renting the property in the 1980s, although the offending word is still "faintly visible." Locals interviewed by the Post provided comic rationalizations for why the name isn't offensive. Haskell County Judge David Davis told the paper, "It's just a name…Like those are vertical blinds. It's just what it was called." Perry, for his part, told the Post that the term was an "offensive name that has no place in the modern world."

Rick Perry Signed 2007 Mandate Requiring 30 Minutes Of Daily Exercise For Texas Students

WASHINGTON - Rick Perry is big on exercise. And in 2007, he decided Texas public school students should be, too.

On Aug. 30, 2007, the Texas governor mandated 30 minutes of exercise a day for students, signing a bill that required each student to engage in "moderate or vigorous physical activity ... throughout the school year."

"This legislation will help make children healthier today for a healthier Texas tomorrow," Perry said at the time.

The mandate reflects a more aggressive view of the role of government than Perry has been sounding in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Jane Nelson, required students in kindergarten through fifth grade to perform 30 minutes of exercise per day. Students in grades six through eight were given the flexibility to do longer or shorter individual periods of exercise, as long as they met a target of 135 minutes over one week or 225 minutes over two weeks.

Monsanto, World's Largest Genetically Modified Food Producer, To Be Charged With Biopiracy In India

Add a new word to your lexicon: Biopiracy.

That’s what U.S.-based agribusiness giant Monsanto has been accused of in India, where the government is planning to charge the company with violating the country’s biodiversity laws over a genetically modified version of eggplant.

In doing so, India has placed itself at the focal point of the movement to challenge genetically modified crops, which opponents say are destroying traditional crops and threatening farmers’ livelihoods.

"This can send a … message to the big companies [that] they are violating the laws of the nation," K.S. Sugara of the Karnataka Biodiversity Board told France 24 (see video below). "It is not acceptable … that the farmers in our communities are robbed of the advantage they should get from the indigenous varieties."

Yes we can—stop the Keystone XL pipeline

Obama’s base turns up the heat on the oil sands pipeline

One day in early September, some dozen Democratic activists showed up at the Washington state headquarters of Obama for America, the President’s re-election campaign organization in Seattle. They cornered the state director, Dustin Lambro, and called on the President to block TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring crude oil from the Alberta oil sands through the U.S. Midwest to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, potentially doubling exports of oil sands crude to the U.S. “It’s not an issue I know much about,” Lambro said. So the activists gave him an earful.

“We want to get the message to President Obama,” said a bearded man in a baseball cap, “that if you want us to vote for you this time around, this is what you’ve got to do.” Added a woman: “If you want us to work for you, that’s more important. We all worked for you.” Said a grey-haired business owner: “I was a campaign donor for Obama. I raised money for him. I raised a lot of money for him. We can’t afford to have Barack Obama keep compromising on the issues and the values that endeared him to his faithful.” By the end of the encounter, Lambro offered: “I’ll call my boss in Chicago. She’ll relay the message to the senior leadership of the campaign.”

Rob Ford can’t fight city hall

The Saturday after the worst week in Rob Ford’s political life, the mayor of Toronto and his councillor brother Doug attended the inaugural game of Toronto’s new women’s lingerie football team, the Toronto Triumph, in which players wear bras, hot pants, garters and shoulder pads, and for which Doug’s daughter Krista is captain. “How these puppies are going to stay in place beats me,” Krista, in her early 20s, wrote before the game on Twitter, an apparent reference to her breasts. “All I care about is: not missing a single tackle & leaving it all.”

The Triumph lost badly, 48-14, to the Tampa Bay Breeze. For the Fords, the losses did not end there. Bad news has dogged them for weeks, a situation so intriguing to many Torontonians that it often pushes Ontario’s provincial elections off the city’s front pages. Much of that fascination has to do with the intense culture war under way between the Fords and Toronto’s downtown elite. If Krista’s LFL—the Lingerie Football League—is the most powerful symbol of the conflict, it is by no means the only one. No politician in recent Canadian history has had as polarizing an effect as Mayor Ford and his brother Doug, generating an industry of Tweedledum and Tweedledee caricatures and promoting a level of civic engagement at city hall not seen in years.

All grown up: the Occupy Wall St. movement takes shape

“The whole world is watching.” Roughly 1,000 protesters were chanting as much on the Brooklyn Bridge this Saturday, after they were kettled by the NYPD (some may recall the technique from the G20 protests in Toronto), and shortly before 700 of them were arrested. They were right. As Jeff Jarvis put it on Twitter, “The beauty of the #occupywallstreet Pied Piper arrest is that the demonstrators’ video cameras outnumbers the cops’ and media’s.”

Two weeks in, the once-amorphous Occupy Wall Street protest in downtown Manhattan has begun to take form. The NYC General Assembly—the activist group central to the protest—finally published a mission statement late Sunday, which reads like a declaration of human rights. Labour unions and college students across New York City are planning walkouts to join the group in a solidarity march this coming Wednesday.

Feds poised to bring in House seats bill, to increase urban, suburban ethnic ridings

The federal government is set to introduce legislation to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons and it could affect which political party will hold sway over the country’s so-called “ethnic” ridings.

Generally speaking, visible minority and immigrant populations are heavily concentrated in Canada’s urban and suburban areas, the same areas that are likely to see new seats in the coming years, and likely to gain increased importance by the time the next federal election rolls around.

An examination of the top 41 ridings that have 40 per cent or more of immigrant populations shows that prior to the 2011 election, the Liberal Party represented 30 of the 41 ridings, but after the election they were left with only 10. The Liberals still hold three of the top five ridings with the highest percentage of immigrants.

In contrast, the NDP managed to gain a number of Canada’s heavily immigrant ridings; prior to the election the NDP held six ridings with immigrant populations over 40 per cent, after the election they had 12 such seats.

Critics continue to slam feds’ omnibus crime bill

The federal government says its massive and sweeping omnibus crime bill C-10, called Safe Streets and Communities, pushed through the House at second reading last week and now at the Commons Justice Committee, will, among other things,“deter terrorism,” and “target sexual offences against children and serious drug offences,” but opposition critics say the controversial bill goes too far.

Opposition critics say the bill, which combines nine bills that died on the Order Paper in the last Parliament, goes overboard for sentencing for minor crimes, will put thousands more into prisons, will toughen penalties for youth, will make it more difficult to get pardons, and will cost the provinces between $2-billion and $13-billion over the next five years.

“They keep playing to their base support. They’re just ideologically locked into this,” said NDP MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont.), his party’s justice critic. “As soon as you get an intelligent government they’re going to reverse this.”

Mr. Comartin said that Bill C-10, the 152-page omnibus bill, is financially unsustainable and, if passed, will not bode well for the provinces.

“You can go to any one of the states in the U.S. that have tried this, and I don’t think there’s any exception, they’ve all had to reverse course and they’re coming the way we decided to go as a country 30 to 40 years ago,” Mr. Comartin said.

Koch Brothers Flout Law Getting Richer With Secret Iran Sales

In May 2008, a unit of Koch Industries Inc., one of the world’s largest privately held companies, sent Ludmila Egorova-Farines, its newly hired compliance officer and ethics manager, to investigate the management of a subsidiary in Arles in southern France. In less than a week, she discovered that the company had paid bribes to win contracts.

“I uncovered the practices within a few days,” Egorova- Farines says. “They were not hidden at all.”

She immediately notified her supervisors in the U.S. A week later, Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries dispatched an investigative team to look into her findings, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its November issue.

By September of that year, the researchers had found evidence of improper payments to secure contracts in six countries dating back to 2002, authorized by the business director of the company’s Koch-Glitsch affiliate in France.

“Those activities constitute violations of criminal law,” Koch Industries wrote in a Dec. 8, 2008, letter giving details of its findings. The letter was made public in a civil court ruling in France in September 2010; the document has never before been reported by the media.

Koch Brothers’ Iran Ties and Activist Salaries Show Tea Party’s True Face

The Tea Party has gone to great lengths to portray itself as a grassroots, populist movement that grew organically. And, yes, when CNBC’s Rick Santelli first sparked the movement, the Tea Party was indeed organic.

As the group’s scope and influence grew, however, it became further entrenched in and intertwined with the Republican establishment, a fact perhaps best illustrated by the rise of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks becoming a bellwether for the Tea Party’s electoral initiatives.

Now, over two years later, the Tea Party has become nothing more than a glorified baby brother for the Republican Party, as many political observers have noted.

“Far from an uprising against Wall Street and big business, Tea Partiers are among the most pro-big-business segments of the electorate, the poll found: 54 percent rate big business warmly; only 20 percent coolly,” wrote ‘Salon’s’ Joan Walsh last year, after reviewing surveys of the movement’s members. “They are likewise far from the independent, nonpartisan movement some in the media seem to believe they are: The Tea Party is strongly affiliated with the GOP: 86 percent of movement supporters and activists either identify with or lean toward the Republican Party…”

Hudak Defends PC Flyer Amid Liberal Charges Of Homophobia

AMHERSTBURG, Ont. - Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is defending a piece of campaign literature on sex education that the rival Liberals have branded as homophobic.

"I think they reflect (Premier) Dalton McGuinty's out-of-the-mainstream policy ideas to have a sex-ed curriculum that would begin with grade ones," Hudak said during a campaign stop at an elderly couple's home in Amhurstburg.

Hudak, who is the father of a four-year-old daughter who started junior kindergarten this fall, said kids in Grade 1 should be learning the alphabet or math instead.

"I just think this shows another example of how Dalton McGuinty's lost touch with mainstream Ontario, and the NDP? I mean, they're just right behind them. I don't agree with it."

The Tory flyer (see below) urges parents to vote against the Liberals for "keeping parents in the dark" about what's being taught in schools.

It says Ontario's sex-ed curriculum teaches "cross dressing for six-year-olds" and suggests that teachers allow students to hold their own gay pride parade in their school.

The literature paraphrases from a handbook provided to Toronto teachers that was obtained by The Canadian Press, which the Liberals say has been completely misrepresented by the Tories.

State for Sale

A conservative multimillionaire has taken control in North Carolina, one of 2012’s top battlegrounds.

In the spring of 2010, the conservative political strategist Ed Gillespie flew from Washington, D.C., to Raleigh, North Carolina, to spend a day laying the groundwork for REDMAP, a new project aimed at engineering a Republican takeover of state legislatures. Gillespie hoped to help his party get control of statehouses where congressional redistricting was pending, thereby leveraging victories in cheap local races into a means of shifting the balance of power in Washington. It was an ingenious plan, and Gillespie is a skilled tactician—he once ran the Republican National Committee—but REDMAP seemed like a long shot in North Carolina. Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 and remained popular. The Republicans hadn’t controlled both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly for more than a century. (“Not since General Sherman,” a state politico joked to me.) That day in Raleigh, though, Gillespie had lunch with an ideal ally: James Arthur (Art) Pope, the chairman and C.E.O. of Variety Wholesalers, a discount-store conglomerate. The Raleigh News and Observer had called Pope, a conservative multimillionaire, the Knight of the Right. The REDMAP project offered Pope a new way to spend his money.

Feds To Announce Job-Creation Plan

The federal government will announce a job-creation program on Tuesday, the CBC has learned.

The program, Hiring Credit for Small Business, is a tax cut aimed at small businesses and entrepreneurs interested in expansion but reluctant to add workers because of increased overhead costs, especially Employment Insurance premiums.

"Every time a small business hires an additional worker, it results in additional costs — everything from training to EI premiums," says a memo sent to the Conservative caucus and obtained by the CBC.

The program will give "the small business owner a tax cut equivalent to the additional EI premiums, up to $1,000," the memo says. "As a result, a small business could hire an additional worker at a salary of up to $40,000 or two part-time workers at a salary of up to $20,000 each and they would not have to pay additional EI premiums."

The government believes as many as 525,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country will be interested in taking part in the program, which the memo says is part of the "strong mandate" for job creation and economic growth given to the majority Conservatives in the last election.

"Canada has now created nearly 600,000 net new jobs since July 2009," the memo says, adding the new program is "an important part of our low-tax plan to complete the economic recovery."

Source: Huffington 

Keystone Pipeline Lobbyist Had Cozy Relationship With State Department Staffers, New Emails Show

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal continued their assault Monday on what they consider a corrupt federal approval process for the project, releasing dozens of new email messages between State Department employees and a lobbyist for the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada.

The emails, part of a growing cache obtained by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, focus on the interaction between TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott, a former deputy campaign director for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's failed 2008 presidential bid, and representatives of the State Department, which is currently weighing approval of the Keystone XL project.

While no emails between Clinton and Elliott have been released, the newest messages reveal a cozy and solicitous relationship between Elliott and State Department staff -- particularly one member of the senior diplomatic staff at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Marja Verloop.

A War on Voting: Could Redistricting and Voting Law Changes Help Republicans Win in 2012?

A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice warns changes to voting laws could strip the voting rights of more than 5 million people — a higher number than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections. Its findings reveal some 3.2 million people in Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin do not have the state identification they will now need to vote. Others will be kept from the voting booth by tougher restrictions for convicted prisoners and laws requiring proof of U.S. citizenship. In 2012, states that have cracked down on voting rights will account for 63 percent of the 270 Electoral College votes needed for a presidential victory. We speak with Ari Berman, author of the new article in Rolling Stone magazine, “The GOP War on Voting," and with ProPublica reporter Lois Beckett, who co-wrote, "The Hidden Hands in Redistricting: Corporations and Other Powerful Interests," about how money is helping re-shape Congressional districts along partisan lines, a practice known as gerrymandering.

Source: Democracy Now! 

McCallion: a ‘real and apparent’ conflict of interest

The mayor was unrepentant and the premier was uncommitted after the judge behind the Mississauga inquiry found Hazel McCallion in a conflict of interest.

Mississauga’s beloved 90-year-old mayor acted in a “real and apparent conflict of interest” while pushing hard for a real estate deal that could have put millions of dollars in her son’s pocket, Judge Douglas Cunningham found.

But McCallion stuck to her guns Monday, as she did during the lengthy inquiry into the failed land deal, lauding Justice J. Douglas Cunningham’s report while dismissing his central finding.

“I did nothing wrong . . . That's his opinion that (my actions) were improper,” McCallion told reporters after release of the 386-page Mississauga judicial inquiry report.

“I did it on behalf of the good of the citizens of Mississauga to obtain our objective” — a luxury hotel and convention centre to help give her city a true downtown and cap an amazing 30-plus year run as mayor.

Later, she conceded: “If I had known what I know now ... I certainly wouldn’t have gotten involved in the process, there’s no question about it. …

The PM's overzealous glorification of the flag is a joke

Two years in jail for preventing someone from displaying a Canadian flag? This is too silly for words. “A wacky solution to a non-existent problem,” wrote La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert.

As if there weren’t more pressing issues to deal with, the Harper government is going to war against apartment buildings that forbid residents from flying small Canadian flags on their windows or balconies. I live in a condo where we’re not allowed to encumber our windows with posters, commercial signs, banners or flags of any kind, whether it’s a Maple Leaf, a fleur-de-lys or the emblem of Saudi Arabia. If this bill is passed, the amiable manager and elected administrators of my building would be liable to a fine or even risk a jail sentence.

Forget the earnest English-Canadian tourists who affix Maple Leaves to their backpack to avoid being taken for Americans. Showing off your country’s flag when you’re safely at home has a political meaning. It is often a sign of intense nationalism, which usually appeals to extreme-right parties in most developed countries (an exception is the United States, where many homeowners flaunt the Stars and Stripes on their lawn). Even in France, where the famous tricolore is cherished, the national flag is not displayed on private residences, even on July 14, the national holiday.

In Quebec, it is quite unusual to see flags exhibited on a balcony or a lawn outside election or referendum campaigns, and then they are political statements: a fleur-de-lys means that the resident is a sovereigntist; a Maple Leaf means he’s a die-hard federalist. But most people, especially in the cities, are discreet about their political allegiances.

Occupy Wall Street Protesters Remain Defiant After Brooklyn Bridge Arrests

NEW YORK -- The day after the police took custody of an estimated 700 marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge, protesters in Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park said those arrests would only strengthen their resolve to demonstrate against corporate power.

The park, renamed Liberty Square by some protesters, was packed on Sunday afternoon with hundreds of tourists, well-wishers, musicians, union members and mostly younger protesters who had slept through the cold, rainy night in well-worn sleeping bags.

The well-stocked kitchen, the constant video livestream and the trickle of people arriving in labor union t-shirts and uniforms attested to the increasing sophistication of the operation. Even Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner and fierce critic of free-market economics, made an appearance to give demonstrators a pep talk.

Sunday afternoon's events were mostly calm, with no major actions planned like Saturday's march. Despite the arrests, the volunteers in the park maintained an efficient system of self-organization. "Mic check!" one leader could be heard yelling. "I need help with the laundry!"

Stephen Harper's Office Kept Peter MacKay, Defence Minister, Out Of Loop On Afghanistan

TORONTO - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office was so seized with controlling public opinion of Canada's shooting war in southern Afghanistan that even Defence Minister Peter MacKay wasn't always in the loop, says a new book about the conflict.

"The Savage War," by Canadian Press defence writer and Afghanistan correspondent Murray Brewster, paints a portrait of a PMO keen to preserve its tenuous grip on minority power and desperate to control the message amid dwindling public support for the war.

MacKay, who took over Defence from Gordon O'Connor in August 2007, was blindsided by the Harper government's decision later that year to set up a blue-ribbon panel to review the mission headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, Brewster writes.

"It wasn’t discussed with the broader cabinet, no," the minister says in the interview. "I didn’t know all of the specifics."

Professional tea party cashes in

If you’ve got fundraising muscle, it pays to be tea party.

That’s the takeaway from recently released financial reports for five of the biggest conservative groups that latched onto the small-government movement.

The groups — Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, Leadership Institute and Tea Party Express – raised $79 million last year. That’s a 61 percent increase from their haul in 2009, when the tea party first started gaining traction, and an 88 percent increase over their tally in 2008, according to a POLITICO review of campaign reports and newly released tax filings.

And the two biggest groups — Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks — tell POLITICO they’re planning to raise and spend a whopping $156 million combined this year and next, laying the groundwork for what could be a massive tea party organizing push against Democrats and the occasional moderate Republican in 2012.

It’s an entirely different story for the ragtag local groups that form the heart of the tea party, which struggle to raise cash.