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.]

Monday, November 28, 2011

Citigroup-SEC $285m toxic mortgage deal rejected

A US judge has rejected a $285m (£184m) settlement between Citigroup and Wall Street's regulator, the SEC, over the sale of toxic mortgages.

Federal court judge Jed Rakoff ordered a trial, saying the settlement was "neither reasonable, nor fair, nor adequate, nor in the public interest".

The SEC claimed Citigroup sold $1bn worth of mortgage assets and then bet that their value would fall.

Neither the SEC nor the US's third-largest bank had any immediate comment.

In a written opinion, the Manhattan judge said the allegations against Citigroup should go to trial.

Under the settlement, agreed in October, Citigroup was to pay $285m to compensate investors for losses on the mortgage assets, which plunged in value months after the bank sold them in 2007.

Investors lost $700 million, according to the SEC, while Citigroup made about $160 million in profits.

The trial would seek to establish clarity about the financial markets and the Security and Exchange Commission's responsibility to uncover the truth, the judge said.

"Although this [settlement] would appear to be tantamount to an allegation of knowing and fraudulent intent... the SEC, for reasons of its own, chose to charge Citigroup only with negligence," Judge Rakoff said.

He said that the settlement, in which Citigroup did not admit or deny the accusations, did not give him enough information to know whether the deal was fair or correct.

"The court concludes, regretfully, that the proposed Consent Judgment is neither fair, nor reasonable, nor adequate, nor in the public interest," the judge said.

Source: BBC 

Americans shocked Harper crime bill gives more time to pot growers than pedophiles

Tough-on-crime Americans are shocked our new omnibus crime bill gives more jail time to pot growers than pedophiles.

Care2, a large online social action network with almost 17 million followers, posted a blog Thursday about one of the more peculiar elements of the legislation.

Writer Cathryn Wellner picked up on a story from the Vancouver Province that reported under the bill a person growing 201 pot plants in a rental unit would receive a longer mandatory sentence than someone who sexually assaults a toddler.

"If you're contemplating a life of crime in Canada, now is the time to switch from growing marijuana plants to preying on children," wrote Wellner.

"After years of having his crime bills defeated by the opposition, Stephen Harper is on the verge of getting his revenge. Never mind that the crime rate has been steadily dropping. Forget the failed experiment in tougher sentencing in the U.S., where the cost of incarceration is so great even conservatives are calling for reform.

"Harper promised to get tough on crime, and he plans to keep his word even if the social and economic costs far outweigh the benefits."

Readers of the article were just as unkind to our prime minister as Wellner.

"That's rediculously (sic) stupid. it proves how incompitent (sic) people can be. Raping someone is far worse than having a smoke," commented Averie K. from Sioux City, Iowa.  "I'm not for marijuana, but I'm far more against rapists!"

"Learn from Amerika's (sic) mistakes! Don't do this! You will run your country into the ground!!!!!!!!" wrote Britin J. from Anchorage, Alaska.

And finally, Victoria M. from Poulsbo Washington, kept her comment simple and to the point.

"Idiocy," she wrote.

Source: Yahoo news 

CBC would lose $532-million annually if forced to give up advertising, loss would have devastating impact on Canadian television production industry, says groundbreaking report

PARLIAMENT HILL—CBC revenue losses and new programming costs would total more than $500-million if it is forced to give up all its English and French-language advertising space to private networks, says a groundbreaking study the Crown corporation commissioned from an independent media consulting firm.

The national broadcaster would face a $368-million “hole” in its budget and, with new programming required to fill air time created by lost advertising placements and most likely sports programming, particularly the lucrative NHL market, net costs would rise by $532-million, says the study by Nordicity Group Ltd.

The chain of reaction started by the loss of ad revenues would likely lead to a devastating impact on the Canadian television production industry with the eventual loss of the equivalent of 3,600 full-time jobs in the section and a drop of $165-million in Canada’s GDP, the study says.

And Now It's Time for the Occupy Obituaries

As police slowly converge on the Occupy camps in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, The New Yorker published what can only be described as a 6,000-word punctuation mark on the outdoor phase movement. Penned by George Packer, a regular writer of war-themed retrospectives with titles like "The Last Mission" for the magazine, the piece follows one 99 Percenter, Ray Kachel, from his struggle to find a job and avoid homelessness in Seattle to being evicted from Zuccotti Park and ending up, well, homeless in New York City. There are some other characters and references to the burgeoning indoor phase of Occupy — they even have an office! — but Packer skims over a point that plenty of others are making this week. The Occupy movement doesn't actually need to physically occupy anything right now. We're on the cusp of a cultural war that might hibernate this winter, but it's far from dead. In its own obituary of sorts, the ever-edgy New York Magazine is ready to declare the next incarnation of the movement, one that will find a better home on the National Mall in Washington DC: Occupy 2012.

New York's John Heileman sums it up:
The people plotting these maneuvers are the leaders of OWS. Now, you may have heard that Occupy is a leaderless ­uprising. Its participants, and even the leaders themselves, are at pains to make this claim. But having spent the past month immersed in their world, I can report that a cadre of prime movers—strategists, tacticians, and logisticians; media gurus, technologists, and grand theorists—has emerged as essential to guiding OWS. For some, Occupy is an extension of years of activism; for others, their first insurrectionist rodeo. But they are now united by a single purpose: turning OWS from a brief shining moment into a bona fide movement.


The post-Zuccotti era of Occupy Wall Street began for Max Berger just after 1 a.m. on November 15, when he learned via text message that a forcible eviction of the park was close at hand. At 26, Berger is a redheaded Reed College alum and professional activist; his employers have included the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Van Jones’s outfit, Rebuild the Dream. By hard-core standards, he had come late to the OWS action, not visiting the park until a week after the protest got going on September 17. But Berger found himself sucked in and became one of its central players. Now, with Zuccotti under siege, he raced to the park and fired off a series of frantic tweets—before being put in handcuffs. “People singing Marley!” “Press not being let in. This is gonna be some Tiananmen shit.” “They can take this park, but they can’t stop this movement. This will backfire. We will win.”                                

Berger’s optimism was shared by his OWS cohorts. Upset as the organizers were about losing the symbolic value of the encampment at Zuccotti, the way it happened—in a late-night raid by police in riot gear, with reporters denied access and even arrested—had its own symbolic oomph. The organizers thought, too, that the eviction would confer another benefit: catalyzing turnout for the next major OWS demonstration, which was scheduled to take place two days later. And although the “day of action” on November 17 failed to shutter the stock exchange, the demo’s marquee goal, the show of force in Gotham was impressive—and replicated on a smaller scale in cities around the country.

When histories of Occupy Wall Street are written, those days in November will no doubt be seen as a watershed. In just two months of existence, OWS had scored plenty of victories: spreading from New York to more than 900 cities worldwide; introducing to the vernacular a potent catchphrase, “We are the 99 percent”; injecting into the national conversation the topic of income inequality. But OWS had also suffered setbacks. The less savory aspects of the occupations had provided the right with fuel for feral slander (Drudge: “Death, Disease Plague ‘Occupy’ Protests”) and casual caricature. Even among some protesters, there was a sense that stagnation had set in. Then came the Zuccotti clampdown—and the popular perception that it meant the end of OWS.                                

Herman Cain Uses Cartoon to Explain 9-9-9

Herman Cain, the once-surging but now-sagging GOP presidential candidate, is trying to get back on message with a new animated video explaining his proposed tax policy. The new video is smoking-free, though it does include some cartoon images of an "overgrown monster" (representing our current tax code, of course) and an undersized propeller plane flown by Obama. These images and several others are employed, like we said, to keep Cain on the message of his 9-9-9 tax code following his dip in the polls -- Real Clear Politics currently puts him in third place. But when that message got torn apart weeks ago for its comical resemblance to SimCity and its more serious effect the lower classes, it may be hard to peddle. The video, which doesn't feature Cain's image or voice once, still has a narrator touting the merits of 9-9-9: its transparency, its ability to stimulate business.

Meanwhile, Cain reassures the AP today that he's still a strong candidate and has "nothing but optimism" for his campaign. He explains that his drop to third in the poll (following accusation against him of sexual harassment, which he doesn't mention by name) instead of sixth or seventh is a good sign. Despite the decidedly better production value of this video compared to the much-mocked smoking spot, maybe a cartoon isn't the best way to go about asserting your legitimacy.

Source: the Atlantic Wire  

Black Friday: Target Shoppers Step Over Walter Vance As He Collapses, Dies

A Black Friday shopper who collapsed while shopping at a Target store in West Virginia went almost unnoticed as customers continued to hunt for bargain deals.

Walter Vance, the 61-year-old pharmacist, who reportedly suffered from a prior heart condition, later died in hospital, reports MSNBC.

Witnesses say some shoppers ignored and even walked over the man's body as they continued to shop, reports the New York Daily News.

Friends and co-workers saddened to learn of his death, expressed outrage over the way he was treated by shoppers.

"Where is the good Samaritan side of people?" Vance's co-worker Sue Compton told WSAZ-TV.

"How could you not notice someone was in trouble? I just don't understand if people didn't help what their reason was, other than greed because of a sale."

Gawker points out there is no legal obligation to come to someone's rescue, only a moral one.

While some news organizations say that no one helped the collapsed man, his wife refuted this report.

Lynne Vance said six nurses shopping in the store came to her husband's rescue and performed CPR until paramedics arrived, notes the Sunday Gazette Mail.

This wasn't the only incident to taint America's biggest shopping day.

While one customer sprayed fellow shoppers with pepper spray so she could snag a video game, another scenario involved an exhausted Target worker accidentally driving her car into a canal after working the Black Friday midnight shift.

Source: Huff 

Things to Tax

The supercommittee was a superdud — and we should be glad. Nonetheless, at some point we’ll have to rein in budget deficits. And when we do, here’s a thought: How about making increased revenue an important part of the deal?

And I don’t just mean a return to Clinton-era tax rates. Why should 1990s taxes be considered the outer limit of revenue collection? Think about it: The long-run budget outlook has darkened, which means that some hard choices must be made. Why should those choices only involve spending cuts? Why not also push some taxes above their levels in the 1990s?

Let me suggest two areas in which it would make a lot of sense to raise taxes in earnest, not just return them to pre-Bush levels: taxes on very high incomes and taxes on financial transactions.

About those high incomes: In my last column I suggested that the very rich, who have had huge income gains over the last 30 years, should pay more in taxes. I got many responses from readers, with a common theme being that this was silly, that even confiscatory taxes on the wealthy couldn’t possibly raise enough money to matter.

Occupy LA Deadline Passes, Protesters Remain At City Hall Encampment

LOS ANGELES — Wall Street protesters declared a minor victory Monday when they defied a midnight deadline to leave their tent city encampment around City Hall and police withdrew after surrounding the camp for six hours without moving in.

Four people were arrested as police cleared downtown streets to make way for morning rush hour traffic, but police said the event was largely peaceful.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said it remains unclear when the nearly two-month-old Occupy LA camp would be cleared. About half of the 485 tents had been taken down as of Sunday night, leaving patches of the 1.7-acre park around City Hall barren of grass and strewn with garbage.

"There is no concrete deadline," Beck told reporters Monday morning after hundreds of officers withdrew without moving in on the camp. The chief said he wanted to make sure the removal will be done when it was safe for protesters and officers and "with as little drama as possible."

Protesters chanted "we won, we won" as riot-clad officers left the scene.

"I'm pretty much speechless," said Clark Davis, media coordinator for Occupy LA.

Police turned back after hundreds of Occupy LA supporters showed up at the camp Sunday night as the midnight deadline for evacuation neared.

Climate Conference Opens In Durban, Focuses On Emissions Cuts

DURBAN, South Africa — With heat-trapping carbon at record levels in the atmosphere, U.N. climate negotiations opened Monday with pressure building to salvage the only treaty limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S., Europe and the developing countries laid out diverging positions at the outset, signaling tough talks ahead even as South African President Jacob Zuma called for national interests to be laid aside "for a common good and benefit of all humanity."

As if to illustrate the effects of global warming, a fierce storm on the eve of the talks flooded shack settlements and killed at least five people in the port city hosting the international gathering. In a statement, municipal officials said the toll could go as high as 10, based on unconfirmed reports. The climate talks were not affected, though the roof of the sprawling center where the conference was being held was damaged.

Scientists say such unusual weather has become more frequent and will continue to happen more often as the Earth warms, although it is impossible to attribute any individual event to climate change.

The talks face a looming one-year deadline with the expiry next December of the commitment by 37 industrial countries to cut carbon emissions, as required under the Kyoto Protocol. At issue is whether those countries would accept another period of greater emission reductions.

The Democratic Promise of Occupy Wall Street

Regular politics in Washington now resembles an ecological dead zone where truth perishes in a polluted environment. Democrats and Republicans shadowbox over their concocted fiscal crisis, neither willing to tell voters the truth, both eager to avoid blame for the damage they are doing to the country.

Out in the streets, meanwhile, the contrast with brain-dead politics is exhilarating. In Occupy Wall Street, we are witnessing a rare event—the birth of a social movement. Ordinary people are engaging in sustained grassroots protest against the political order and against citizens’ exclusion from the decision-making that governs their lives. They seek to rearrange the distribution of power, and they are doing so by injecting a creative, often playful vitality that has been missing in our decayed democracy. The protesters have slipped around the soul-deadening, high-gloss marketing of mass-communication culture. Instead, they insist that politics starts with citizens talking to one another and listening—agreeing and disagreeing with mutual respect. The open-door, nonhierarchical membership commits people to engage in what historian Lawrence Goodwyn calls “democratic conversation.”

The Occupy protesters are acting like citizens, believing they have the power to change things. Their ambition reflects a core mystery of American democracy—the fact that humble people can acquire power when they convince themselves they can. Warmhearted and broad-minded, these citizens audaciously claim to speak for the 99 percent—and despite initial ridicule and dismissal of them by much of the press, polls show they have strong public support. The Occupiers have even managed to make uptight reporters write about corporate greed.

5 Things to Know About the Durban Climate Talks

What a difference two years makes. Heading into the 15th Conference of the Parties, the annual United Nations confab on climate change, hopes were high in Copenhagen, Denmark, that world leaders would hash out a new international agreement on how to address rising temperatures. Now, two years later, many of the same questions remain as negotiators arrive in Durban, South Africa, this week.

Will the United States and leaders of major developing nations like China and India agree to legally binding emission reduction targets? What will come of the Kyoto Protocol, the current pact that guides climate goals set by industrialized nations? (Excluding, of course, the US.) Where will the promised $100 billion in long-term financing to help the poorest nations deal with climate change come from? All of these questions loom as negotiators meet in Durban from November 28 through December 10.

In order to understand what's at stake this year, context of the last few years of negotiations is helpful. Let's recap: Back in 2007, world leaders laid out a path at the climate conference in Indonesia that was expected to lead to a binding agreement two years later in Copenhagen. This was still under the Bush administration, and US negotiators were booed in Bali for resisting; they eventually agreed to that plan. Shortly thereafter, the United States elected Barack Obama, who had pledged to take action on climate change. This is why hopes were so high for Copenhagen.

Attack on the Middle Class!!

THE REMARKABLE thing about the American middle class is that we still have one, given the job losses, housing bust, and 401(k) wipeout of the past three years—and considering that for 35 years, politicians (and the bankers who own them) have been hammering away at middle-class institutions. The assault began in the 1970s, when New York City's fiscal crisis and California's property-tax revolt marked the start of a long decline in public services. Next came the recession and anti-union policies of the early 1980s, whose whip's end hit the black working class especially hard. (Automakers have long been among the nation's largest private employers of African Americans. In the late '70s, one in every 50 African Americans in the workforce was employed in the industry.) Thanks to the UAW, the automakers provided good jobs and pensions for workers who, in many cases, had a high-school education at best. When Chrysler hit the ropes in 1979, Congress did pitch in with a $1.5 billion loan guarantee (I worked on that bill as an economist for the House banking committee), but the decade that followed still pummeled autoworkers—as they did all of American manufacturing.

The consequences are still unfolding. Total employment of manufacturing workers peaked in 1979, and three decades later, we're in the endgame. Jobs in the sector are down by about a third since 2000—some 6 million lost. Most of them will never be replaced. Nothing can stop the Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, and others from making shoes and ships and sealing wax at wages we can't compete with. And nothing will.

Canada Income Inequality: Living In Unequal Cities A Health Risk To Rich And Poor, Study Finds

UPDATE: A new study from the city of Montreal provides mounting evidence of the link between income inequality and life expectancy. The study, released Monday, found life expectancy is six years longer for men in the city's wealthier neighbourhoods than it is in low-income areas. In a comparison of some of the most extreme neighbourhoods, researchers found a disparity of as much as 11 years.
The report urges expansion of the city's social services as a way to narrow the life expectancy gap, including more social assistance payments and an expansion of social housing.
As Canada’s rich-poor divide deepens, critics often point to the tome of research linking income inequality and poor health in countries like the United States as proof that, if unchecked, the growing gap could quite literally make us sick.

But new evidence brings the warning much closer to home.

Looking exclusively at the Canadian-born population, a pioneering study has found that the income differential is already having an adverse effect on the health of residents in cities with the widest gap, increasing the likelihood of succumbing to everything from alcohol abuse to colorectal cancer – regardless of individual income.

“If you are wealthy and you live in an unequal city, you have a higher risk of dying compared to someone who is just as wealthy -- or even potentially less wealthy -- as you, who is living in an area where there is lower extremes of wealth and poverty,” says lead author Nathalie Auger, a public health researcher at the University of Montreal.

Why the Climate Negotiations Matter

Though any breakthrough in negotiations is unlikely, the multilateral meetings remain a pivotal space for the growth of innovative approaches to the coming climate crisis.

With little fanfare and lower expectations, the next instalment of the UN climate-change negotiations is set to begin in Durban, South Africa. Even with ever-increasing evidence of the reality and danger of climate change, the international negotiations cannot compete with the ongoing global economic crisis for airtime, especially when the expectations for Durban are close to non-existent.

The fundamentals of political gridlock that hampered the previous two UN negotiations have not changed substantially: the U.S. will not commit to anything substantial or binding given its domestic political deadlock, upcoming presidential election, and economic woes; the EU is considering pushing for ambitious targets given that it has already reduced its greenhouse-gas emissions by almost 20 per cent since 1990, but it is preoccupied with its financial crisis; and China is beginning to show signs of leadership, especially in terms of domestic renewable-energy policy, but is not yet willing to commit to large binding reductions in carbon dioxide.

Native cigarettes are now a problem for Western provinces, too

Chief Frank Brown of the Canupawakpa Dakota Nation doesn’t smoke, but he swears by the Mohawk-manufactured cigarettes on sale at the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shack near Pipestone, Man. “We did our research and the provincial [name brand] cigarettes have a lot of chemicals in them,” he says. “We think our smokes don’t have the cancer that the province’s cigarettes do.”

Whatever the supposed health claims put forth by Brown, the Manitoba government isn’t listening. In mid-November, officials seized 90,000 contraband cigarettes, which were not authorized for sale in the province. The next day, Dakota Chundee, which doesn’t sit on reserve land, was open again, crowded with non-Aboriginal buyers.

The raid, and subsequent reopening of the smoke shack, is the latest in a growing frontier war between First Nations and western provincial governments. Unlike in Ontario and Quebec, where the booming Indian tobacco business has also been linked to gangs, not to mention billions in lost taxes, Indian cigarette sales haven’t been an issue in the West. That’s changing as western bands turn to smokes to not only fill their coffers, but to assert land claims, too.

Decency alone can’t save Parliament

This year’s Parliamentarians of the Year awards were, as ever, a grand occasion, and while I’d quibble with one or two choices, the recipients were all deserving enough. The premise of the event is a good one: there are decent, conscientious people in politics who take Parliament seriously and treat each other with respect, and it is worth recognizing them, if only to encourage others to follow their example.

Yet it was hard to escape a certain rage-against-the-darkness feeling about the whole thing. We can point to this or that exemplary individual, but it does not change the reality that Parliament is dying. Largely irrelevant, increasingly impotent, it is treated with contempt by those in power, matched only by the indifference of the general public.

The institution is caught in a death spiral, wherein each new assault on its prerogatives makes the argument for the next. The more degraded it becomes, the harder it is to rally people to its defence: it’s only Parliament, after all. So even after an unprecedented seven invocations of “time allocation”—a politer form of closure—to cut off debate in as many weeks, it wasn’t until Pat Martin’s foul-mouthed outburst on Twitter last Wednesday that the press gallery, who are paid to pay attention, could rouse themselves to make an issue of it. But their enthusiasm soon passed. All it took was last Thursday’s question period: by common consent the worst in years. Who, in all seriousness, could mount a defence of Parliament’s right to debate who had actually watched Parliament in debate?

Eurozone really has only days to avoid collapse

In virtually all the debates about the eurozone I have been engaged in, someone usually makes the point that it is only when things get bad enough that politicians finally act — eurobonds, debt monetization, quantitative easing, whatever. I am not so sure. The argument ignores the problem of acute collective action.

Last week the crisis reached a new qualitative stage. With the spectacular flop of the German bond auction and the alarming rise in short-term rates in Spain and Italy, the government bond market across the eurozone has ceased to function.

The banking sector, too, is broken. Important parts of the eurozone economy are cut off from credit. The eurozone is now subject to a run by global investors, and a quiet bank run among its citizens.

This massive erosion of trust has also destroyed the main plank of the rescue strategy. The European Financial Stability Facility derives its firepower from the guarantees of its shareholders. As the crisis has spread to France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria, the EFSF itself is affected by the contagious spread of the disease. Unless something very drastic happens, the eurozone could break up very soon.

Technically, one can solve the problem even now but the options are becoming more limited. The eurozone needs to take three decisions very soon, with very little potential for the usual fudges.

First, the European Central Bank must agree a backstop of some kind, either an unlimited guarantee of a maximum bond spread or a backstop to the EFSF, in addition to dramatic measures to increase short-term liquidity for the banking sector. That would take care of the immediate bankruptcy threat.

South Africa seeks new life for Kyoto as UN summit begins

South Africa’s environment minister is calling for co-operation between all countries, regardless of their GDP, as the seaside city of Durban takes on hosting duties of the UN climate change negotiations.

The African continent accounts for less than five per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and yet is one of the most vulnerable to its adverse effects. This presents an interesting backdrop for the talks, where issue No. 1 is whether the signatories to the Kyoto Protocol can agree to an extension, or whether it will simply expire in 2012.

South Africa is part of the Kyoto club, after ratifying it in 2002, and supports an extension of the historic agreement. Canada’s position is that it will only sign an agreement that includes all major polluters. That means Kyoto is a non-starter because developing countries including India, China – and South Africa – are not held to any binding caps.

The conflicting priorities and perspectives between Canada and the COP 17 host are well illustrated in two press releases that went out just before the conference commenced, both pertaining to Africa and climate change. One was from Peter Kent, Canada’s environment minister. The other was from Enda Molewa, South Africa’s environment minister.

U.K. secretly supporting Canada’s oilsands campaign

OTTAWA — A British media report says the U.K. government has been giving secret support at the very highest levels to Ottawa’s campaign against European penalties on its oilsands fuel, prompting environmentalists to call Britain Canada’s “partner in crime.”

The Guardian newspaper says energy giants Shell and BP, which both have major oilsands projects in Alberta, have been lobbying the government of Prime Minister David Cameron to back Canada’s fight against the European proposal.

According to documents released under freedom of information laws, at least 15 high-level meetings and frequent communications have taken place since September between Ottawa and London.

The European proposal is to designate transport fuel from tar sands as resulting in 22 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than that from conventional fuels, officially labelling Alberta’s oilsands fuel as dirtier.

Crime bill returns for final showdown - Opposition seeks 73 amendments

After failing to get a single amendment to the controversial omnibus crime bill approved during committee, the opposition is poised to try again this week when the bill returns to the House of Commons.

While the Conservatives may well invoke closure and limit debate as they have multiple times before, New Democrats, Liberals and Green party leader Elizabeth May, have nonetheless given notice on 73 new amendments and debate is scheduled to take place Tuesday and Wednesday in the report stage of deliberation on the bill.

The Conservatives are determined to push the Safe Streets and Communities Act through the Commons before Christmas and the bill is expected to become law within the first 100 sitting days of the 41st Parliament - March 16, 2012, according to the Commons calendar.

"At the report stage, we can't create new law but we can eliminate aspects of the law we find distasteful," NDP justice critic Jack Harris said, noting the amendments largely deal with the "principles" behind the bill. "Our proposals at the report stage are generally to delete the negative aspects of the act."

The official Opposition has about a dozen amendments to Bill C-10 on the notice paper. They seek to eliminate clauses that deal with conditional sentences, mandatory minimums for drug crimes, changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, a plan to replace the term "pardon" with "record suspension" and the added discretion afforded the public safety minister on matters related to the repatriation of Canadian prisoners jailed abroad.

Coming to defence of the bench

When Immigration Minister Jason Kenney complained earlier this year that "intrusive and heavy-handed" Federal Court judges were frustrating the government's efforts to deport failed refugee and immigration claimants, the Canadian Bar Association fired back.

Following Kenney's February speech at the University of Western Ontario, Rod Snow, the CBA's president at the time, issued a stiffly worded letter rebuking the minister's comments as "an affront to our democracy and freedoms.

"Your public criticism of an entire court and specific judicial decisions that you think do not advance the government's agenda can only undermine the respect and public confidence upon which our system depends," Snow wrote.

Kenney's comments and Snow's response received widespread attention, as did Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin when she publicly applauded the CBA for its "powerful public letter" this summer. What has not been previously reported, though, is that the CBA president wrote the letter at the behest of Allan Lutfy, then chief justice of the Federal Court.

In an interview with the Citizen this month, Lutfy acknowledged that he contacted Snow and drew Kenney's remarks to his attention. "I made certain that Mr. Snow ... knew of the speech," Lutfy said, adding: "He penned the letter. He said what he said."

'Victory' in Libya no cause for celebration

Last Thursday, the Defence Department staged what can only be described as a victory celebration commemorating Canada’s military campaign in Libya.

The festivities included a large contingent from HMCS Charlottetown, the Halifax-based frigate that had been on station in the Mediterranean, enforcing the arms embargo against pro-Gadhafi loyalists.

In recognition of Canada’s not-yet-fully-disclosed special forces role played in Libya, members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment also had a colour party in the parade. The skies above Parliament Hill were filled with a vast array of aircraft, including seven CF-18 fighters, a C-130 Hercules re-fueller, a C-17 cargo plane, an Aurora surveillance aircraft and even an old Sea King maritime helicopter.

Singled out for personal recognition was Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, the Canadian air force officer who had been in overall command of the NATO mission in Libya. While he was applauded by Canadian parliamentarians at the victory ceremony, Bouchard had already received high-level international praise the previous weekend.

Canada’s big problems need more than small thinking

It’s just the way it is with Parliamentary majorities: For better or worse, the party in power gets its way.

It can go big, with ambitious ideas. Ignore the polls. Reward the faithful.

Six months into Canada’s first majority in seven years, the Harper government has been busy.

But busy doing what?

The government is using its numerical advantage to fulfill old promises and redress grievances. The result is a rocket docket of legislation that, among other things, gets tough on crime, scraps the long-gun registry and revokes the Wheat Board’s grain marketing monopoly.

But red meat for the Conservative base shouldn’t be confused with big ideas to deal with an unusually challenging and uncertain economic future.

Much of the world is at risk of sliding back into recession, as governments, businesses and consumers unburden themselves of excess debt.

Canada isn’t immune. Ontario’s warning last week of sharply weaker growth – and revenues – this year and next is a harbinger. The country is facing years of having to do more with less, putting an onus on being more strategic with limited resources.

The 'sad story' in Parliament

It only accounts for 45 minutes of a workday that sometimes lasts more than 10 hours. But Question Period in the House of Commons is the public’s main window into the daily goings on in Parliament.

In 1949, almost a decade before he would be elected prime minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker proclaimed, “Parliament is more than procedure - it is the custodian of the nation's freedom.”

Twenty-two years later, the former leader said, “The quality of debate in the House is deplorable. You watch today and count how many read from prepared texts.”

We can only imagine the words Diefenbaker would use to describe modern-day proceedings in the Commons – the storied chamber where Canada’s elected representatives question, amend and vote on legislation that rules the country.

MPs and ministers don’t often use their allotted 35 seconds to stimulate thought or debate. Instead, their questions or answers frequently appear crafted with sound bites, quips, insults, and one-liners in mind.

A three-peat for prorogation? Bring on reform

Rumour has it that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is planning yet another prorogation of Parliament. This means the work of the House of Commons, including its committees, would stop and our elected officials, as a group, would be rendered incapable of performing their basic functions, including holding the government to account in Parliament.

The prorogation rumours are not surprising, given the other tactics the government has employed to “manage” opposition scrutiny. During the current parliamentary session, the Conservative government has invoked strict time limits on House debates on complex bills, including its omnibus crime legislation, and forced committee proceedings behind closed doors, out of the public eye.

Technically, the power to prorogue belongs to the Crown and can be exercised “officially” by the governor-general alone, but this would never happen without the advice of the prime minister. No Canadian governor-general has refused a prime minister’s advice to prorogue. So history would suggest that the prime minister, not the governor-general, calls the tune, regardless of where the power lies constitutionally. This is not the case in other Westminster jurisdictions.

Border deal a hard barrier for Harper’s critics to cross

The new Canada-U.S. border agreement will be unveiled at the White House by Barack Obama and Stephen Harper in early December. When they read it, some people will go ballistic.

That’s because the Beyond the Border action plan, according to those who have watched the negotiations closely, is expected to include a new entry-exit system that will track everyone coming into or leaving Canada by land, sea or air. It will be part of the continental security perimeter that is one of the key elements of the accord.

Colin Robertson, the former trade diplomat, argues in an article to be published next month in Policy Options magazine that an entry-exit system will enable the federal government to, among other things, ensure that landed immigrants are actually living in Canada.

But the proposal will play to fears that the Conservatives are selling out this country’s sovereignty and undermining privacy rights in exchange for some illusory access to American markets.

The anti-American crowd will be looking for something to bash. This should do nicely.

Harper's Ottawa: fear and loathing on Parliament Hill

OTTAWA — Go back to a familiar place after time away and it won’t be how you left it. Returning to Ottawa after a long absence, what’s noticeable isn’t so much that the city itself has changed, but the atmosphere has. Always a grey and cautious place, the political precinct of our capital seems colder and less friendly than ever. Things have changed and, in many ways, not for the better.

After eight years of mortal combat during successive minority Liberal and Conservative governments, a bitter residue remains that colours political life on Parliament Hill. The war wounds are deep on both victors and vanquished, and they are slow to heal.

Beyond that, the Harper government’s almost martial discipline has changed the way government is done. What must have seemed necessary during minority years now, with a solid majority, seems overdone.

It’s obvious that Stephen Harper didn’t get to be prime minister by slacking off or being nice. Determination, focus and a ruthless streak got him to where he is now. Sure, he shares those alpha-dog qualities with prime ministers of the past, but Harper takes it a few steps further.

Breaking with generations of democratic tradition, all cabinet meetings are scheduled in secret. No notice is given to reporters, who formerly would stake out the meetings in search of news or comment. There is little access to ministers, whose aides are also under orders to clam up.

New House seats bill fails to address urban-rural riding divide, say experts

The government’s Fair Representation Bill to increase seats in the House correctly enhances provincial representation in the Commons, but it does not address the urban-rural voting power divide, say experts who testified before the House Affairs Committee last week on Parliament Hill.

“Within each province, suburban and urban voters have much lower voting power than voters generally in rural areas and you also see discrepancies between regions,” Michael Pal, a lawyer and Mowat Centre fellow, told members of the committee last Tuesday during its study of Bill C-20, the Fair Representation Bill, which will add 30 seats to the current 308-member House of Commons if passed.

Mr. Pal explained that because the electoral boundary commissions are allowed to adjust riding boundaries by populations within 25 per cent above or below the average population in the province, it gives rural ridings more power than urban ones as they have less people and the same vote. This means representation by population is not truly achieved, he said.

“If you have a province with an average riding population of 100,000 people, the commission can deviate as low as 75,000 or as high as 125,000 people, not even using the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause. So that’s actually quite a wide deviation, which makes federal districts an outlier, both domestically and internationally,” he said, noting that he would amend the bill so that a five to 10 per cent deviation would be allowed instead.

University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman, who also testified along with the panel of witnesses last week, agreed.

The New Politics Initiative vision statement of 2001: Open, sustainable, democratic

This month marks the 10th Anniversary of the New Politics Initiative, a coalition of individuals and organizations that called for the formation of a new and more activist progressive political party in Canada.

The NPI was concerned with the relationship between progressive social movements and progressive parties, trying to better understand and strengthen the links between electoral and extra-parliamentary left activism.

In light of the Occupy movement and the NDP leadership race, we at rabble thought this was a good time to review the themes and lessons of the NPI, and consider their relevance for the future directions of the left. We begin today by re-posting the NPI's founding document. We have also invited several activists who were involved in the initiative to share their reflections with us in the coming days.

Additional contributions to this dialogue are also welcome, please send them to

The left is at a crossroads. Conservatives and business leaders trumpet a new era in which the supremacy of the market and corporate power are as natural and self-evident as they are irresistible. We have supposedly reached the "end of history", the "end of ideology": an era of apparent consensus in policy and politics, a universally accepted reality in which business calls the shots and the rest of society adjusts itself accordingly.

Despite this, however, vast numbers of people insist on continuing to fight for their basic rights to security, dignity, freedom, and environmental sustainability. They insist on continuing to make their own history, even as the spin doctors claim that history is over -- that there are no longer any alternatives. These grassroots struggles for a better world show no sign of letting up, despite the daunting power of the corporations and pro-corporate governments they confront.

Climate Conference 2011: Canada Says Kyoto Protocol 'Biggest Blunder,' May Withdraw

Global climate talks got an inauspicious start in Durban, South Africa, on Monday with reports that Canada planned to withdraw fully from the Kyoto Protocol, a carbon-limiting multinational treaty first adopted in 1997 and scheduled to expire in 2012.

Canada had already signaled that it would take a hard stance at the Durban talks, where negotiators from around the world are hoping, among other things, to extend the Kyoto agreement with a new phase of emissions reduction commitments. But the suggestion that Canada also planned to abandon its commitments under the original Kyoto protocol, which the nation appears unlikely to meet in any case, was met with deep disappointment by advocates for climate action assembled at the conference.

"Canada has been very clear that it would not be taking on a second commitment period," said Tasneem Essop, the provincial minister of environment, planning and economic development in the South African province of Western Cape and the head of the delegation for the environmental group WWF. "But abandoning the first commitment period would mean that Canada will have absolutely no integrity in the international arena.

"I believe that there will be a backlash against Canada," Essop added in a phone call. "The NGOs are very angry about this news, and Canada will have to do a lot of hard work to regain credibility."

GOP Foreign Policy: Neoconservatives Looking For A Comeback In 2012

The Republican Party is divided like never before on the issue of U.S. foreign policy, with rifts over foreign engagement, Pentagon budgeting and the efficacy of diplomacy and international institutions. This article is the second in a series examining some of the key figures and movements within the GOP foreign policy establishment and the conservative press.

WASHINGTON -- Their ideology has been declared dead, done in by two wars that have sapped the country of blood and treasure and sent its economy and international reputation plummeting.

But if neoconservatism has gone out of style with most Americans, the most controversial and consequential foreign policy philosophy since the end of the Cold War has hardly faded away. The results of the unilateralism, preemptive war and democracy-promotion that the neocons forcefully advocated and helped make the official policy of President George W. Bush's administration are still playing out as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down. President Barack Obama may have banned the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," but other elements of the "War on Terrorism" remain, from secret prisons in Afghanistan and Europe to Guantanamo Bay to the use of illegal wiretapping. And despite Herman Cain's claim that he was "not familiar with the neoconservative movement" -- among other things -- its influence is clearly on display in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Brian Topp Releases Plan Aimed At Narrowing Income Gap By Taxing The Rich

OTTAWA - The widening gap between rich and poor is today's central economic issue, says NDP leadership candidate Brian Topp.
He's promising to rescind $18 billion in annual tax breaks to corporations and the rich to close it.

Topp, generally considered a front-runner in the race to the New Democrats' March leadership convention in Toronto, says it's time for those at the top to pay more so the country can narrow the divide.

In an 11-page paper titled "Restoring Balance to Canada's Tax System," Topp argues that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have geared the tax system to favour the wealthy.

"More and more income and wealth has been concentrated in the hands of the wealthiest Canadians," says Topp.

Norway Apartheid: High School Segregates Classroom By Ethnicity, City Official Demands End To Practice

A Norwegian high school in Oslo has been accused of apartheid after segregating classrooms based on ethnic background, Norway's The Dagasvisen reports.

The Bjerke Upper Secondary School began filling one of the three classrooms with students whose parents come from immigrant backgrounds, The Telegraph reports.

Though classrooms at Bjerke high school have now been shuffled, the news came as a surprise to one city official who demanded an end to the practice.

Torger Odegaard of Norway's Conservative Party, who heads up Oslo's education program, told News And Views From Norway he was shocked by The Dagasvisen report.

After a noticeable drain of white "ethnic Norwegians" attending the high school, the principal decided to introduce the move this fall.

"We made the decision because many Norwegian students were moving to other schools because they were in classes with such a high percentage of students from other nations. They seemed to be in a minority," Gro Flaten, the principal of the school told The Telegraph.

But Robert Wright, another Norwegian politician who formerly headed up the Oslo school system, criticized Odegaard for banning the move by saying it prevented "white flight", reports The Telegraph.

The controversial decision comes at a time when Norway is grappling with an influx of immigration since the 1990s, though the recent trend has slowed amid growing employment concerns.

Integration remains a key issue for the city given immigrants now make up 28 percent of Oslo's population.

Source: Huff 

Wanted: Orthodox Rabbis to Sign Anti-Gay Declaration

When The Huffington Post first published my article "Once Upon a Gay: A Jewish Journey Through the Ex-Gay Movement," I was amazed to receive an outpouring of response: from Orthodox Jewish girls thanking me for not marrying them ("I was one of the girls you interviewed in a Manhattan hotel!"), to old ex-gay friends laughing how I "ruined the code language" of "Eskimos," and, most importantly, from religious men and women of all faiths -- some who have reconciled their faith and sexuality, but many who are still struggling.

However, I was saddened to also learn about a top-secret Declaration currently being passed confidentially among Orthodox Jewish rabbis, entitled, "Torah Declaration, Petition, re: The Torah Stance on Homosexuality" (located in full below).

Like all communities, the Orthodox Jewish one is comprised of many layers. In July 2010, Modern Orthodox rabbis around the country signed a groundbreaking Statement of Principles in "regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation" in their community. While clearly stating that the parameters of Halacha (Jewish Law) prohibit same-sex sexual intercourse, the Principles still offered a message of compassion, empathy and inclusiveness of gay and lesbian Jews within the Orthodox community. It was a huge step forward for the Jewish community.

U.N. Food And Agriculture Organization Warns 25 Percent Of Land Highly Degraded

ROME -- The United Nations has completed the first-ever global assessment of the state of the planet's land resources, finding in a report Monday that a quarter of all land is highly degraded and warning the trend must be reversed if the world's growing population is to be fed.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that farmers will have to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to meet the needs of the world's expected 9 billion-strong population. That amounts to 1 billion tons more wheat, rice and other cereals and 200 million more tons of beef and other livestock.

But as it is, most available land is already being farmed, and in ways that often decrease its productivity through practices that lead to soil erosion and wasting of water.

That means that to meet the world's future food needs, a major "sustainable intensification" of agricultural productivity on existing farmland will be necessary, the FAO said in "State of the World's Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture."

Ottawa accused of hoarding wheat board fund

The Harper government, which styles itself “farmers first,” is being accused of hoarding Canadian Wheat Board gains that should be paid to grain growers before Ottawa dismantles the marketing agency's monopoly.

A contingency fund managed by the board is on track to surpass $60-million in cash, but Ottawa says this is not money it will rebate to farmers.

Instead, the Tories plan to use available cash to underwrite the shift to a free market for the agency, and they’re in the process of raising the amount this fund can hold to $200-million.

Stewart Wells, a farmer-elected wheat board director who opposes the coming changes, says Ottawa has no right to keep money that ultimately came from grain producers.

“They are expropriating money from farmers to use to float the new grain company that Gerry Ritz is creating,” he said.

Britain's promotion of Canada's tar sands oil is idiotic

Here's the essential fact to bear in mind. The tar sands of northern Alberta are the second-largest pool of carbon on earth, second only to Saudi Arabia. It's burning Saudi Arabia, more than any other single thing, that has raised the temperature of the planet by a degree so far. But when oil was discovered in the Middle East, we knew nothing about climate change – it's not surprising that we started pumping. In the case of Canada, however, we've taken 3% of the oil from the sands. We're still at the start. If, knowing what we now know about climate change, we just keep going, then we're idiots.

That realisation explains why Americans rose up in remarkable numbers to fight the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. In August 1,253 people were arrested outside the White House during the largest civil disobedience action in a generation. Citizens ringed the president's mansion in a line a mile long and five people deep. A couple of weeks ago, the president announced that he would delay the pipeline for a new environmental review, which would cover not only the route across the country but also climate change, public health, and other issues.

Defence officials hid cost of Nortel campus renos

Senior Defence Department officials kept the multimillion-dollar price tag for renovating the Nortel campus under wraps, worried the public, media and parliamentarians might raise concerns about the bill if they found out about the cost.

Last week, the Citizen reported DND will spend more than $600 million on preparing the Nortel site to be its main location in Ottawa. That is on top of the $208 million the government spent to purchase the Carling Avenue campus.

In an email statement, DND officials claimed they did not know the cost of refitting the Nortel location.

But documents obtained by the Citizen show DND not only knew about the cost a year ago, but senior officials ordered references to it removed from public statements and documents.

Some officers say such tactics are just the tip of the iceberg of DND efforts to keep information from the public. They point to recent examples, including the decision not to inform Parliament about plans to spend $477 million on a U.S. military satellite.

While it is common for ministers to keep close tabs on information being released to the public, media and Parliament, officers say efforts by the Conservative government and Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s office have reached new levels of control. The main effort is to reduce the “risk” to the minister of questions being raised in the Commons or embarrassing articles in the media, they say.

Glenn Greenwald: Is Obama Fulfilling the Neocon Dream of Mass Regime Change in Muslim World?

Political blogger Glenn Greenwald recently wrote about retired General Wesley Clark’s recollection of an officer telling him in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks that the then U.S. Secretary of Defense had issued a memo outlining a plan for regime change within five years in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. We play an excerpt of Clark’s comments and ask Greenwald to respond. “What struck me in listening to that video ... is that if you go down that list of seven countries that he said the neocons had planned to basically change the governments of, you pretty much see that that vision, despite the perception that we have a Democratic president and therefore the neo-conservative movement is powerless, is pretty much being fulfilled,” Greenwald says.

Source: Democracy Now!  

Is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Office Putting Canadian Military Personnel At Risk?

Defence Watch

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office wants to add to his international travels by painting the Canadian Forces grey Airbus with some bright colours. But is the Prime Minister’s Office putting Canadian military lives at risk like some at DND and in the Canadian Forces worry?

This issue was first reported earlier this year, when it emerged that the Canadian Forces was objecting to the PMO’s desire to repaint the Airbus, arguing that since the aircraft can be used in a military context then having bright colours would put it, its crew and passengers at risk when it is used for military operations.

The Prime Minister’s Office said recently that one of the five government aircraft could be painted in brighter colours when the plane next goes in for maintenance. That followed a report in the Huffington Post, which stated the Airbus is scheduled to go for maintenance in August 2013.

Canada to pull out of Kyoto Protocol next month

Canada will announce next month that it will formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, CTV News has learned.

The Harper government has tentatively planned an announcement for a few days before Christmas, CTV's Roger Smith reported Sunday evening.

The developments come as Environment Minister Peter Kent prepares for a climate conference in Durban, South Africa that opens on Monday, with delegates from 190 countries seeking a new international agreement for cutting emissions.

Issues on the agenda include extending the Kyoto emission targets, a move being championed by Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate secretariat.

Kent said in the House of Commons on Nov. 22 he won't sign a document at the Durban conference that extends the Kyoto targets.

Tories increased total spending since 2006 by 21.7 per cent, Grits call it ‘horrendous’

The government plans to spend $270-billion in 2011-2012, and since the Conservatives won power in 2006, total public spending has increased by 21.7 per cent, but Liberals are calling it a  “horrendous”  problem.

“They’re trying to deal with this problem by nickel and diming certain areas of government to which they are ideologically opposed,” Liberal MP Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Sask.), a former finance minister told The Hill Times last week, noting the government’s is cutting Environment Canada and going after the CBC.  Mr. Goodale said if the government wants to curb its spending problem it has to rethink its “ideological pet projects” worth billions of dollars.

“They’re cutting 150 agricultural food inspectors, they’re eliminating or downsizing the rescue centre in Atlantic Canada, cutting back on ACOA, and Fisheries and Oceans and so forth … all of the things that they’re ideologically opposed [to],” Mr. Goodale said.

“They’re going to have to come to another decision about what you do about the fighter jets. The experts say if you put that contract out to tender, you will save 20 to 25 per cent simply by the processes of competition. They’re going to have to make a different decision about jails. Jails is turning out to be their biggest single spending item, at a time when even Newt Gingrich says they’re on the wrong track. It’s those things those multi-billion dollar ideological pet projects that are putting the fiscal security of the country at risk. It’s not a few dozen environmental inspectors.”

In U.S., Canada, new measures of the poverty line

U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Rebecca Blank -- a capable, no-nonsense, PhD in economics, and a former Dean at the University of Michigan -- to his new administration, and told her to answer a simple question: How should the United States measure poverty?

Blank did an end-run around the sad politics that has characterized discussions of poverty measurement in the U.S. by having the Census Bureau develop an entirely new indicator that reflects the realities of participating in contemporary American society.

The official U.S. poverty line remains the headline measure in spite of the fact that it was established in 1964, and was based upon what was considered a minimal but acceptable standard of living in the late 1950s.

But the Census Bureau publication of the “supplemental measure of poverty” earlier this month paints a different picture of the poor. This new poverty line is defined as the level of spending on food, shelter, clothing, and utilities that two-thirds of American families are able to exceed. Most importantly, it reflects average spending patterns during the five most recent years: the U.S. poverty line has finally moved.

Harper’s crime bill poised to pass - and Canadians still don’t know how much it costs

Stephen Harper’s crime legislation that triggered last spring’s election could pass through the Commons this week as it makes it way to becoming the law of the land - and Canadians still don’t know how much it costs.

The irony is delicious. Opposition politicians voted to find Prime Minister Harper and his government in contempt of Parliament last March - this was a historic first - for not giving up the full costs of its so-called tough on crime legislation. Now, it is poised to pass the bill and Canadians are still no wiser.

“It is a travesty that the Conservatives have told neither the Canadian people nor the provinces what all this is going to cost - with the slowing economy and big financial pressures all 'round this is even more irresponsible,” Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae told The Globe Monday morning. “Both the jets and the jails put the lie to the Conservative line about being the party of ‘fiscal prudence.’ Ridiculous.”

In fact, it was Mr. Rae’s predecessor, Michael Ignatieff, who tabled the non-confidence motion in the government last March that ultimately led to its defeat. The opposition was also concerned about the costs of the stealth fighter jets.

Occupy Toronto goes underground — on Queen West

A hulking man with his hair in a bun and face partially shielded by a flower-print scarf marches down a dark alley in determined strides.

As Antonin Smith approaches the city-owned St. Patrick Market building a few feet from Queen St. W., just east of John St., he stops abruptly and snaps his head from side to side.

Time to move.

With covert gestures, Smith ushers his confederates through an unlocked door and down the stairs at 238 Queen St. W., to an abandoned basement he hopes will represent the next phase of a stifled movement.

Occupy Toronto is moving indoors.

And it’s illegal.

“This whole basement is barricaded,” said 34-year-old Smith.

“We’re squatting this space.”

NATO ignored pleas to hold off airstrikes that killed 24 soldiers: Pakistan

ISLAMABAD—The NATO airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers lasted almost two hours and continued even after Pakistani commanders had pleaded with coalition forces to stop, the army claimed Monday in charges that could further inflame anger in Pakistan.

NATO has described the incident as "tragic and unintended" and has promised a full investigation.

Unnamed Afghan officials have said that Afghan commandos and U.S. special forces were conducting a mission on the Afghan side of the border and received incoming fire from the direction of the Pakistani posts. They responded with airstrikes.

Ties between Pakistan and the United States were already deteriorating before the deadly attack and have sunk to new lows since, delivering a major setback to American hopes of enlisting Islamabad's help in negotiating an end to the 10-year-old Afghan war.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the Pakistani troops at two border posts were the victims of an unprovoked aggression. He said the attack lasted almost two hours and that commanders had contacted NATO counterparts while it was going on, asking "they get this fire to cease, but somehow it continued."

Company grown with public money sold without tender

Toronto’s troubled public housing corporation has sold its share of a card-operated laundry business for $4.5 million — without putting it out to public tender.

Instead it sold its 35 per cent share of the business to entrepreneur Maurice Kagan and guaranteed he can operate in public housing buildings across the city until 2020.

The sale comes less than a year after city auditor Jeffrey Griffiths found the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) was repeatedly circumventing its own rules that require an “open and competitive tendering process” for contracts over $100,000. Griffiths said all potential suppliers should have “an equal opportunity” to submit a tender.

Competitors in the laundry business say they would have liked the opportunity to bid for the lucrative contract.

“There is no question that we would have been aggressive bidders,” said Stan Saibil, president of Phelps Apartment Laundries Ltd. “Toronto is a very competitive market.”

In interviews, both the TCHC and Kagan describe the move as the best value for the housing corporation. Until the Star pressed the issue, neither side would confirm a deal, reached in August, had been done.

Ford budget would close pools and shelters, cut programs, raise TTC fares

Mayor Rob Ford’s proposed 2012 budget would close some swimming and wading pools and homeless shelters, cut programs for student nutrition, AIDS prevention and arts, and reduce street sweeping.

The budget unveiled by Ford on Monday morning would also raise taxes by 2.5 per cent, hike TTC fares by 10 cents and see the ranks of city workers drop, from the complement in April, by 2,300 positions.

“We must stay the course on this budget and we will finally turn the corner and begin to breathe a bit easier,” Ford said, calling the budget a “smart” one that “slams the door on out-of-control spending.”

Cuts proposed in the budget formally presented by city manager Joe Pennachetti include:

   Closing five of the city’s 105 wading pools and two of 59 outdoor pools.

  Closing three homeless shelters — Downsview Dells, Birchwood and Bellwoods — but try to maintain the current number of beds.

   Eliminating city recreation programming at some shared-use Toronto District School Board schools and eliminate city recreation programming at some TDSB pools, for a $3 million savings.

   Cutting 58 student nutrition programs, impacting 14,049 needy children and youths; eliminate the Global AIDS initiative, cut two to three city-wide HIV/AIDS programs and three drug prevention projects.

   Cutting 138 arts programs and projects to save $1.94 million.

   Cutting community services, which support projects and services in vulnerable neighbourhoods and communities with specific focus on seniors, children and youth, by $1.72 million. That would be done by cutting 83 programs or projects and 6,000 “volunteer opportunities”.

  Closing 10 of 22 stand-alone arenas during off-peak hours (7 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Monday to Friday and eliminating 7.5 vacant positions.

  Reducing street sweeping to save $4.2 million.

  Transferring leaf collection from some Etobicoke residents to the solid waste department, saving $509,000;

   Closing visitor cafeterias in the homes for aged to save $612,000.