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.]

Friday, November 25, 2011

Larry King Murder: Gay Teen's Death Illustrates Schools' Challenge

LOS ANGELES -- There were many missed opportunities to prevent the murder of a 15-year-old gay student at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard.

Teachers and students saw a simmering feud between Brandon McInerney and Larry King but said they were either ignored by administrators or did little or nothing to intervene. King's mother said she pleaded with school officials to help tone down her son's increasingly flamboyant behavior. One teacher encouraged King to explore his sexuality and gave him a dress.

Nearly four years after McInerney, then 14, shot King in the head before stunned classmates, plenty of questions remain about what went wrong and what can be learned to prevent future tragedies.

King's death illustrates the difficulty schools have balancing a gay student's civil rights with teaching tolerance to those who feel threatened by or uncomfortable about someone who's different. It also highlighted the importance of setting clear policies to eliminate confusion among educators.

"Something was brewing and lots of people were uncomfortable and people didn't know what to do and where to turn," said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. "It reflects a profound inability for the adults to provide them with support and intervene when problems are developing."

Canada's Housing Market More Overvalued Than U.S. At Its Peak, The Economist Says

Canada’s housing market is more overvalued than the US’s market was at its peak, and Canadians are carrying a larger debt burden than Americans were before the crash, a report from The Economist states.

By comparing house prices to rental rate and income averages, the magazine found that Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, New Zealand, Britain, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden all have housing markets that are overvalued by at least 25 per cent.

Canada’s housing prices are overvalued by 29 per cent relative to income, and by 71 per cent relative to rental rates, the study found.

As The Economist notes, these numbers don’t necessarily mean that Canada is bound for a painful housing market crash, along with all the job losses that entails. “Adjustment could come through higher rents and wages,” the magazine reports.

However, there is little indication that rents and wages are catching up with house prices.

StatsCan’s latest report shows Canadians’ wages are actually falling, once adjusted for inflation. And rental rates in some of Canada’s largest markets -- such as Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto -- have fallen year-over-year, all of which suggests the gap between house prices and rent and income continues to grow.

Tories haven’t tracked progress on health accord, NDP charges

As the federal Health Minister begins negotiations with her provincial and territorial counterparts around the creation of a new health accord, the NDP is demanding the Conservative government provide some sort of accounting of what has been achieved by the existing deal.

The current accord, which transfers billions of dollars every year from the federal government to the provinces for health care, was signed in 2004 by the Liberals, who were in power at that time. It included a requirement that provinces and territories meet evidence-based benchmarks for the time that patients must wait for certain medical procedures.

But John Haggie, the president of the Canadian Medical Association, has told the told the Senate committee conducting a mandatory review of the 2004 accord that it lacked “clear terms of reference on accountability for overseeing its provisions,” and, as a consequence, there has been “little progress in developing common performance indicators [as] set out in previous accords.”

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry accused of blatant untruths about Barack Obama

Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been accused of telling TV viewers blatant untruths about Barack Obama.

The candidates deny their TV commercials are deceitful and dishonest but both ads selectively quote the president to make it appear he is saying one thing when he is saying another.

The advertisements have been widely scorned for crossing a line from a longstanding practice of political campaigns pushing the truth to its limits, over to misrepresentation. One ad appears to show Obama admitting he will lose next year's election if he talks about the economy. The other has him calling American workers lazy.

Romney's campaign ad is airing on TV stations in New Hampshire, which holds its primary in January. It shows the president saying: "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."

The ad appears to have the president admitting he is vulnerable on the economy. But Obama's words were from his 2008 campaign, and he was quoting a statement by a strategist for his Republican opponent, John McCain, who was the one on the back foot over the economy.

Michael Gove to send copy of King James Bible to all English schools

Every state school in England is to receive a new copy of the King James Bible from the government – with a brief foreword by Michael Gove, the education secretary, to mark the 400th anniversary of its translation. In a move intended to help every pupil access Britain's cultural heritage, every primary and secondary school will be sent a new copy of the 1611 translation by next Easter.

The initiative has been criticised by secular campaigners as a waste of money. The National Secular Society said that schools were already "awash with Bibles". It urged Gove to send out a copy of Darwin's On the Origin of Species instead.

Gove, who is proposing to write a two-line introduction for the bibles sent to schools, said of the 1611 translation: "It's a thing of beauty, and it's also an incredibly important historical artefact. It has helped shape and define the English language and is one of the keystones of our shared culture. And it is a work that has had international significance."

The National Secular Society said that Darwin's writing is "much harder to find in schools", while evangelical groups are keen to donate bibles.

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.

We Are the One Per Cent

We, too, have mobilized.

We come from near and far, by any means necessary, some on private jets, others on extremely large private jets.

But you will not find us sleeping in a park and waiting in line at a Burger King to urinate. Have you heard of Mustique? Because that’s where we have mobilized. Don’t bother trying to Google Earth us, though, because we have proprietary military software that prevents you from doing so.

Our numbers may be smaller than those demonstrating in New York and other cities, but we are still a movement, coalesced around a cause, sleeping two and sometimes three people to a villa.

Perhaps you are wondering what our cause is. Perhaps you’re wondering why we, the richest people on the planet, have come together. Perhaps you’re curious whether what we’re undertaking couldn’t technically be called a vacation. These are all good questions.

Let’s Hear from the Spies

In late 2008, the United States intelligence community produced a classified National Intelligence Estimate on the war in Afghanistan that has never been released to the public. The N.I.E. described a “grim situation” overall, according to an intelligence officer’s private briefing for NATO ambassadors.

In late 2010, there was another N.I.E. on the war. This one painted a “gloomy picture,” warning that “large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban,” the Los Angeles Times reported. This N.I.E., too, has never been published.

This autumn, intelligence analysts have again been poring over their secret district-by-district maps of Afghanistan, finding and assessing patterns. A new N.I.E. on Afghanistan is just about finished, people familiar with the latest draft told me this week. This one looks forward to 2014, when President Obama has said U.S. troops will be reduced to a minimal number, and Afghan security forces will take the lead in the war.

The new draft Afghanistan N.I.E. is a lengthy document, running about a hundred pages or more. As is typically the case, it is a synthesis, primarily written by civilian intelligence analysts—career civil servants, mainly—who work in sixteen different intelligence agencies. These days, an Estimate usually contains “Key Judgments” backed by analysis near the front of the document. There are six such judgments in the Afghanistan draft, I was told. I wasn’t able to learn what all of them were; according to the accounts I heard, however, the draft on the whole is gloomier than the typical public statements made by U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan.

Jim Flaherty At The Canadian Club: Get Spending Under Control, Pay Off Debt

TORONTO - Despite calls from some quarters to increase economic stimulus, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the government must continue doing exactly what it has been telling consumers to do: get spending under control and reduce debt.

Flaherty, who will start national consultations for the 2012 federal budget early next month, said Friday he's looking to hear ideas from Canadians on how to create jobs and growth while still keeping taxes low.

In a speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto, Flaherty said he wants to focus on getting spending under control, and that means getting rid of programs or initiatives that do nothing for the economy. He did not name any specific federal programs that might have to be cut, nor did he say where Ottawa is looking to reduce its spending.

"As we do every year, we will hear from various groups including the Opposition, calling for more spending, new programs and bigger government," Flaherty said.

Youth Voting: Young People May Just Not Want To Vote, Study Suggests

OTTAWA - A new study suggests young Canadians who say they can't get to the polls may actually mean they don't want to.

The Elections Canada National Youth Survey found that 64 per cent of people age 18-34 said the reason they didn't vote in the May 2011 election was due to issues with access.

But drilling down into the data reveals that those who say that school or work or family obligations get in the way of going to the polling station may be using that as an excuse, Elections Canada researcher Miriam Lapp said.

"What (the study) shows is that people will often cite a personal circumstance but what is really going on underneath is that they either felt that they didn't know enough about the parties or the issues, or they didn't care," she said.

What this means is that access and motivation are actually equally as important as factors when it comes to why young people aren't voting, Lapp said.

The real challenge is making voting matter, Lapp said.

American idiots - How did the campaign for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination turn into such a joke?

“We are protecting Herman Cain,” announced a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service on Nov. 18. The Godfather’s Pizza magnate became the first Republican candidate for U.S. president to request Secret Service protection in this election cycle, and a campaign spokesman told the Washington Post that Cain needed protection from reporters, who have been “trying to follow him with a lot of heavy equipment and cameras.” Cain later denied this, saying only that he needed the protection “because of the popularity of my campaign.” By the time he said that, though, his popularity was declining, with polls showing that his support was going to another candidate—Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker who resigned in disgrace in 1998 and spent most of the next few years reviewing spy novels on It was a familiar step in a bizarre campaign season: reporters stop focusing on one transparently unelectable candidate, and move on to what historian Rick Perlstein calls “the next shiny object,” an equally unelectable candidate.

The Republican campaign season, from Donald Trump’s birtherism to Rick Perry’s inability to remember which government agency he wanted to cut, has been one of the wildest in recent memory. It drove apostate conservative David Frum to lament the effect the conservative movement was having on the presidential race: in a widely discussed article, he called the parade of Tea Party candidates “a series of humiliating fizzles and explosions that never achieved liftoff.” With Republican voters fired up to beat Barack Obama but also disillusioned with politics in general, any candidate who claims to be a political outsider can get a serious look. Doug Gross, an Iowa Republican operative and former gubernatorial candidate, told Maclean’s that candidates like Cain or Trump “are products of the voters’ concerns about the failure of the current system to produce leaders who can solve problems.”

SOPA, a U.S. bill that could “break the Internet”

By now you may have heard of SOPA–the Stop Online Piracy Act–an anti-infringement bill that’s working it’s way through the U.S. House of Representatives while its companion bill PIPA–Protect Intellectual Property Act–makes its way through the Senate. Opposition to the legislation has gone viral, with over a million emails hitting Congress, carrying the phrase “Don’t Break the Internet.”

These people’s beef? There are many. A tentative summary: Critics argue that, in their desire to curb piracy, SOPA and PIPA will in effect render the Internet itself legally untenable by holding search engines, ISPs and user-generated content sites responsible for other people’s piracy. The proposed legislation targets not just infringers, but anyone suspected of being associated with them–advertisers, payment sites, even those who just link to them. With their shaky understanding of technology, the bills will potentially result in entire websites (like say, Wikipedia) being blocked due to infringements found in a small section of them. Though the bills were not designed to be censorship legislation, censorship could be the outcome, as false positives and false infringement claims could block access to millions of non-infringing sites. Before things even get to that stage, self-censorship will chill voices online that simply can’t risk possibly transgressing the bills’ overly general language. Meanwhile, censorship-circumvention tools like TOR, used to evade Net-censors in Iran and China, will be rendered illegal, as such tools can also be used to gain access to pirated content.

The effects of SOPA and PIPA will be felt throughout the world, as the way the bill defines “U.S. websites” is so broad as to cover most of the Internet itself. The list of collateral damage the bills are feared to cause goes on, and the list of the bills’ critics keeps expanding. In addition to the million+ citizens who have spoken out, the legislation is also opposed by tech companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, Mozilla, Wikimedia, and, yes, even Microsoft.

Opposition tries in vain to curtail Harper’s ‘gross overuse’ of debate limits

A motion by the federal New Democrats to prevent the Conservative government from limiting debate on the legislation it puts before Parliament has zero chance of being passed in the Commons.

But it does give the opposition the opportunity to rail against what it perceives to be the government’s subversion of democracy.

Joe Comartin, the veteran New Democrat now serving as his party’s House Leader, asked the Commons Friday to find that “the thorough examination and debate of proposed legislation on behalf of Canadians is an essential duty of Members of Parliament, and that the curtailment of such debate limits the ability of Members to carry out this duty and constitutes an affront to Canadian democracy.”

Mr. Comartin’s motion asks Speaker Andrew Scheer to recommend that closure and time allocation on debate when a minister can justify that sort of curtailment and the Speaker is satisfied that the justification outweighs the duty to thoroughly discuss proposed legislation. The motion also says criteria should be established to determine what are reasonable grounds to limit debate.

New Democrats say the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on track to match the record of former Liberal government of Jean Chrétien, which limited the parliamentary discussion on six bills, with nine separate time allocations, between Jan. 29, 2001 and October 1, 2002, Mr. Comartin said.

Time to pay down debt, Flaherty says

Despite calls from some quarters to increase economic stimulus, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the government must continue to do exactly what it has been telling consumers to do: get spending under control and reduce debt.

Mr. Flaherty, who will start national consultations for the 2012 federal budget early next month, said Friday he’s looking to hear ideas from Canadians on how to create jobs and growth while still keeping taxes low.

In a speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto, Mr. Flaherty said he wants to focus on getting spending under control, and that means getting rid of programs or initiatives that do nothing for the economy. He did not name any specific federal programs that might have to be cut, nor did he say where Ottawa is looking to reduce its spending.

“As we do every year, we will hear from various groups including the Opposition, calling for more spending, new programs and bigger government,” Mr. Flaherty said.

Occupy Everywhere: Michael Moore, Naomi Klein on Next Steps for the Movement Against Corporate Power

How does the Occupy Wall Street movement move from "the outrage phase" to the "hope phase," and imagine a new economic model? In a Democracy Now! special broadcast, we bring you excerpts from a recent event that examined this question and much more. "Occupy Everywhere: On the New Politics and Possibilities of the Movement Against Corporate Power," a panel discussion hosted by The Nation magazine and The New School in New York City, features Oscar-winning filmmaker and author Michael Moore; Naomi Klein, best-selling author of the "Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism"; Rinku Sen of the Applied Research Center and publisher of ColorLines; Occupy Wall Street organizer Patrick Bruner; and veteran journalist William Greider, author of "Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country."

Source: Democracy Now! 

We Are the 99.9%

“We are the 99 percent” is a great slogan. It correctly defines the issue as being the middle class versus the elite (as opposed to the middle class versus the poor). And it also gets past the common but wrong establishment notion that rising inequality is mainly about the well educated doing better than the less educated; the big winners in this new Gilded Age have been a handful of very wealthy people, not college graduates in general.

If anything, however, the 99 percent slogan aims too low. A large fraction of the top 1 percent’s gains have actually gone to an even smaller group, the top 0.1 percent — the richest one-thousandth of the population.

And while Democrats, by and large, want that super-elite to make at least some contribution to long-term deficit reduction, Republicans want to cut the super-elite’s taxes even as they slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the name of fiscal discipline.

Heritage Department Queen's Diamond Jubilee Needs More Flags

OTTAWA - The Conservatives have never been shy about flying the flag for the monarchy.

Now the government is ordering even more Diamond Jubilee flags to mark Queen Elizabeth's 60th year on the throne.

Canadian Heritage has put out a tender for 2,250 large flags carrying the maple leaves and crown that form Canada's official Diamond Jubilee emblem.

Taxpayers won't know the cost of the 90-by-180-centimetre flags until the contract — with an option for up to 2,000 more — is actually awarded.

This order comes a few weeks after Canadian Heritage paid $55,135 for 500,000 hand-held Diamond Jubilee flags.

The purchase is the latest in a series of preparations commemorating the day Queen Elizabeth became sovereign on the death of her father, King George VI.

The government also ordered a new painted portrait, a stained-glass window, a medal and coins.

Other pro-monarchy moves by the Conservative government include restoring the word "royal" to the names of the navy and air force, and insisting the Queen's picture be displayed in embassies and at Foreign Affairs headquarters.

Source: Huff 

The return of non-violence

This is a time of rejuvenation for non-violence. The Occupy movements were built on what one writer called "the courage of young people to fly into conflict on Gandhi's wings." The Arab Spring won its tenuous victories non-violently. A leader of the Tunisian Islamist party said recently, "I wish in the West they would focus on our non-violence when they talk about Islam, how the masses of people did not react to the incredible violence thrown at them." He meant this in contrast to the bloody civil war that Algerian Islamists fell into after being robbed of their election victory in 1992.

The U.S. civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King in the 1950s and 1960s was a high point for non-violence. But that was also a time when young activists were enthralled by freedom fighters and national liberation wars. Among African-Americans, the Black Panthers challenged King. They said change must come "by any means necessary," and they preferred guns.

The non-violent movement itself lacks an extensive history. If you exclude Jesus of Nazareth (turn the other cheek) due to ambiguity (I come not to bring peace but a sword), it fills a small bookshelf with brief texts -- as if the idea was to do something, not write something -- over a short time span. It includes Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi, King and, near the start, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He wrote The Masque of Anarchy in 1819 after the "Peterloo" massacre of protesters against economic crisis and lack of democracy by British cavalry. It was called Peterloo as an ironic comment on Britain's defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.

Goar: Queen’s Park offers crumbs to Ontario’s poor

Next week, welfare rates go up — but not by enough to buy a child a Christmas present, to put healthy food on the table or even to stave off eviction for many families.

On Dec. 1, the province’s 475,000 neediest people get a 1 per cent raise. For an individual, that amounts to an extra $7 a month. For a single parent raising two children, it is $9 more.

Keep in mind that consumer prices are rising by 3 per cent, so the modest increase will be gobbled up by inflation.

This adjustment will leave a single person on welfare — a woman escaping domestic abuse, a mentally ill man wandering the streets, a laid-off worker excluded from the employment insurance system — 66 per cent below Canada’s low income cut-off. It will leave a single mom with two preschoolers 56 per cent below the poverty line.

The poor won’t complain. They know they have no chance of moving Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Social activists won’t raise their voices. They now consider this a lost cause.

Ontarians won’t decry their government’s lack of compassion. They accept that lifting welfare recipients to the poverty line is unaffordable.

Clement under fire for hiring $90,000-a-day consultant to suggest savings

Treasury Board president Tony Clement came under fire Thursday for the government's plans to find billions of dollars in cuts - including from the auditor-general's office - but still spend millions on external consultants.

Clement was grilled for an hour in front of a House of Commons committee on the government's spending initiatives and plans to find $4 billion in annual cuts by 2014-15, as well as the looming chop to the auditor-general's budget.

The minister and his officials also faced several questions on why the federal government will spend at least $360 million this year on Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's nuclear reactor division that it just sold for only $15 million plus royalties.

As the government searches for savings, Clement faced questions on why he's looking to streamline a federal auditor-general's office that's facing an eight per cent cut to its budget and 10 per cent chop to its staff. The auditor-general will also stop performing some basic financial audits of close to 20 federal boards, agencies and commissions. "We know that [the AG's office] has been very useful in the past ... why are you planning on cutting the office of the auditor-general? Doesn't it save taxpayers money?" asked NDP MP Mathieu Ravignat.

Clement said he recognizes the independence of the auditor-general's office but sent letters to the officers of Parliament to see if they, like federal departments and agencies, could voluntarily trim their budgets between five per cent and 10 per cent.

Immigrant settlement money shuffled among provinces

The federal government will cut $31.5 million from immigrant settlement services in Ontario while boosting funds to every other province in 2012, the second year in a row Ontario's share of the money has declined.

The shuffle of funds means that, on balance, Ottawa will spend $6 million dollars less on services to help immigrants find language-training, jobs and housing next year. That's despite the fact that the number of newcomers is expected to hit an all-time high next year.

The government earmarked $583 million for settlement services across Canada for 2011-12, down from $622 million the year before.

That amount will drop another $6 million for 2012-13 to a total of $577 million across Canada, according to figures obtained by CBC News.

For the current year, Citizenship and Immigration Canada budgeted $346.5 million for Ontario, a decrease from $390 million the previous year. For 2012-13, it'll drop again to $314.9 million. A loss of $31.5 million.

Mounties wanted ‘low-key’ probe into G20 activities, documents show

The RCMP recommended an investigation into its G20 activities be kept “low-key,” noting that it played a limited role in the controversial mass arrests and detentions that occurred outside the summit, internal documents show.

The force’s G20 conduct is facing renewed public scrutiny following revelations that it spied on Ontario activists for a year and a half before the Toronto summit, but police still failed to stop the smashing rampage that took place in the streets that weekend.

In an August, 2010, briefing note to then RCMP commissioner William Elliott, bureaucrats suggested a proactive review of the force’s role in the G20 would be “low-key and measured.”

The note, obtained under Access to Information law, said the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP had proposed the review. Senior brass would have an opportunity to examine the findings and remove sensitive information, the note said.

It said that the watchdog had other, more public options available to it, but cautioned that those could carry “a significant stigma” and leave members feeling as though they were being pre-judged.

Despite the recommendation in the briefing note, which was internal to the RCMP, the force’s watchdog launched a public investigation in November, 2010, and says it expects to publish its report in the coming months.

Tories keep ‘as many things secret as the CBC,’ watchdog says

Conservative MPs are expressing concern about the CBC and its reluctance to release its corporate secrets under access-to-information laws – but the government itself has something to answer for on this issue, a leading democracy advocate says.

Duff Conacher, the co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, points out that the Conservatives have failed to keep their campaign promise of 2006 to strengthen the Access to Information Act.

As part of their accountability package, Mr. Conacher points out the Tories would require all government and government-funded institutions to create records detailing all their actions and decisions, and to give the Information Commissioner the power to order the disclosure of any record, especially if it is in the public interest.

“The Conservatives broke their promises because they wanted to keep just as many things secret as the CBC does,” Mr. Conacher says in a letter to media on Friday.

In a report on the news website iPolitics, Elizabeth Thompson says Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber wants to use Parliament “to obtain information on everything from how much the broadcaster spends on booze to the perks and paycheques of such CBC stars as Peter Mansbridge, George Stroumboulopoulos and comedian Rick Mercer.”

Leaked UN Libya Report Warns Of Illegal Detentions

A leaked UN report seen by a British newspaper says thousands of Libyans are being illegally detained in post-Gadhafi Libya.

The report — due to be presented to the UN Security Council next week, but seen by The Independent — says that political prisoners held under Moammar Gadhafi have been released, but notes that as many as 7,000 prisoners are in "prisons and makeshift detention centres" with no access to due process.

Among the prisoners are women being held under male supervision and children being held alongside adults, the leaked report says.

There are also allegations of abuse and mistreatment, and of prisoners being held merely because they are from sub-Saharan Africa — where rebels believed Gadhafi recruited mercenaries.

The UN report seen by the British paper also contains allegations of war crimes by both Gadhafi loyalists and opposition fighters during the gruelling fight for Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown.

Chief Justice Robert Bauman: B.C. Justice System 'In Peril'

VANCOUVER - B.C.'s justice system is "threatened, if not in peril," says the chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court, who calls on lawyers to help educate the public on the importance of the institution.

Chief Justice Robert Bauman delivered a blunt speech to the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association last weekend saying government underfunding has left the courts close to dysfunctional.

"Our judicial system is one of the best in the world. But it is threatened, if not in peril," Bauman said in the opening sentence of his speech.

"The stability and integrity of our courts and judicial system are being slowly eroded by a lack of funding."

With power centralized more than ever, with complete dominance of Parliament, with absolute control of his party, Stephen Harper is the most powerful prime minister in Canadian history. Or, if you prefer something a little less dramatic, one of the most powerful. I think everyone can agree on that.

But is it good or bad that Stephen Harper is so powerful? About that, we will not agree because our answers are likely to be determined by our ideological and partisan preferences. If you lean Stephen Harper’s way, you’re likely to cheer. If not, you’ll boo. Which makes for a lot of noise but not much light.

So let’s ask a different question: Is it good for any leader to be so powerful?

That’s a big question. A full answer would have many facets. I’ll only mention one. But it’s a critical one.

It’s the effect power has on a leader’s judgment.

Yes, it does have an effect. People sometimes find that surprising. We tend to think that good judgment is an inherent trait, so you either have it or you don’t and it’s irrelevant whether you happen to have power or not. But much research shows that’s not true. The latest is an insightful series of studies.

The first involved a survey of junior to mid-level managers at various organizations. The researchers — psychologists Kelly See, Elizabeth Morrison, Naomi Rothman, and Jack Soll — asked the managers about their authority and their confidence in their judgments. Then they went to co-workers and asked them how good these managers were at listening to the views of others and incorporating what they heard into their decisions.

Lobbyists zero in on Commons finance committee

Lobbyists are zeroing in on members of the House of Commons finance committee, a group of MPs who are seen to have influence in Ottawa as they begin closed-door talks on a pre-budget report.

In spite of the constant talk of Parliament’s declining influence as power becomes concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office, lobbyists still want the ear of individual MPs.

Nearly 5,000 contacts with MPs have been reported since the government approved a new rule just over a year ago requiring lobbyists to disclose their meetings with MPs. A Globe and Mail analysis of data from the Commissioner of Lobbying found many of the most-lobbied MPs have a connection with the House of Commons finance committee.

“I think that shows the importance of the finance committee,” NDP finance critic Peter Julian said.

The 2012 federal budget is months away, but the finance committee started working on a pre-budget report on Thursday that must be tabled no later than Dec. 16. The committee members spent months in Ottawa and across the country listening to groups with an interest in the outcome.