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, December 02, 2011

Scott Walker Administration Unveils Policy To Have Protesters Pay Police, Cleanup Costs

The administration of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) unveiled a policy Thursday to hold protesters in the state Capitol liable for extra police or cleanup, in the aftermath of massive demonstrations earlier this year against anti-union legislation.

Under the policy, groups of four or more inside state buildings and 100 or more people outside the Capitol must obtain permits at least 72 hours in advance of protests. Groups could be charged $50 per hour per Capitol Police officer, while costs for other law enforcement agencies will vary. The police could also require advance payment and liability insurance or a bond. Cleanup could be charged to organizers.

The policy also makes it clear that spending the night in the Capitol, taping signs to Capitol walls not intended for signs, allowing the sale of food or other items in the Capitol and using sound equipment that would interfere with the building are all not allowed.

The policy is effective immediately. The administration says no one will be denied a permit based on the content of their event.

Michael Bloomberg In MIT Speech: Cut Teachers By Half, Large Classes OK

In remarks Thursday that have since sparked some controversy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tackled school improvement -- through a suggestion to halve the teaching force. Bloomberg's office responded Friday by saying the statement was taken out of context.

"If I had the ability to just design the system and say 'ex cathedra this is what we're going to do,' you would cut the number of teachers in half and weed out all the bad ones," Bloomberg said while speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to CBS New York. "And double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students."

The mayor also told the audience that in districts across the country, teachers are no longer hired from the top of their classes and instead, are culled from "the bottom 20 percent and not of the best schools," reports.

At a news conference later Thursday, Bloomberg emphasized a focus on teacher quality, saying that while he would prefer smaller classes with more effective teachers, he's "in favor of" putting highly effective teachers in front of larger classes if finances are limited.

Occupy Y'all Street: Occupy Atlanta Fights Foreclosure, Fannie Mae Demands Protesters' Emails

This is the second in a series of stories and short films on under-publicized Occupy sites. The first is here. Stay tuned in the coming days for more from our road trip through the South.

SNELLVILLE, Ga. -- The day after Fannie Mae evicted a police officer and his family from their suburban Atlanta home, the government-owned mortgage giant demanded the family turn over all its correspondence with members of Occupy Atlanta, according to court documents.

In early November, Christopher Rorey, an officer with the DeKalb County Police Department, had invited the activists affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement to his quiet neighborhood in Gwinnett County, about 25 miles outside of Atlanta. The Rorey family had spent 13 months fending off foreclosure. They were on their second lawyer and second civil suit. After losing a last ditch court hearing, attended by Occupy protesters, an eviction was imminent. The Roreys were down to last options.

A large storage bin now occupied their driveway. Slowly, next-door neighbors had started to help fill it. Belongings ringed the darkened living room in neat stacks. In the front room, more was piled on the couch; the big-screen TV had been moved out of the way. The finished basement had been stripped clean except for a lone black leather office chair. In the kitchen, the cabinets had been emptied, and the stove had been put in the bin on the driveway.

The demonstrators set up large orange-and-blue tents on the Rorey front lawn, unrolled bedding in their basement, and hung signs from their porch that read: "THIS HOME IS OCCUPIED" in rainbow colors.

The organizers said they liked the fact that Christopher, 43, was a cop. And they liked the Roreys' story.

Chopper Use Prompts Calls For Apology From Opposition MPs demand

OTTAWA - Members of Parliament continue to hammer away at Defence Minister Peter MacKay over his use of a military helicopter to fly him from a Newfoundland fishing camp in 2010.

New Democrats and Liberals are both demanding an apology, but the government is fending off the attacks by saying it has slashed the use of government aircraft by cabinet ministers.

MacKay says he used the helicopter as part of a search-and-rescue exercise, but Defence Department emails suggest the pickup was explicitly set up to retrieve the minister under the "guise" of a training operation.

Opposition MPs say that's the equivalent of commandeering an ambulance or fire truck as a private taxi.

MacKay wasn't in the Commons for question period.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan brushed off the helicopter questions, saying they have already been answered.

Source: Huff 

You can’t compare Canada’s F-35 costs with Norway’s, Fantino tells MPs

The minister in charge of buying equipment for the military says there is no comparison between what Norway and Canada will pay for the F-35 stealth fighter.

Julian Fantino, the associate defence minister, told a House of Commons committee Thursday that “each country has its own separate and distinct formula” for calculating how much they’ll spend on each aircraft.

The opposition New Democrats pointed out earlier this week that Norway estimates it will spend $40 billion for 52 of the radar-evading fighters — considerably more than the $16 billion the Harper government says it will spend for 65 jets.

Fantino says the Norwegians are asking that the F-35 be able to fire different kinds of weapons and he suggested those considerations are driving up the cost for that country.

Norway and Canada are purchasing the same base model of stealth fighter — known as the F-35A. It is capable of taking off from standard runways, unlike the two other variants meant for aircraft carriers and short runways.

Government military hiring spree hurting services to public

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has increased staffing for the military and security at the same time it is cutting public servants who provide services to average Canadians, NDP Treasury Board critic Alexandre Boulerice charged Thursday.

“The security and military obsession of that government is in the process of undermining the public services that are the closest to people in their daily life — whether it is old age pension services, whether it is guaranteed income supplement services or employment insurance. It is worrying.”

Boulerice’s comments came after iPolitics revealed Thursday that a senior privy council official told a group of 1,200 top public service executives that the sharp increase in Canada’s public service over the past five years has largely been the result of the Conservative government’s priorities such as defence and the border.

“The Canadian forces has grown, DND has grown,” William Pentney, deputy secretary to the cabinet, plans and consultation, told a seminar designed to help public service executives prepare to implement the government’s strategic and operating review (SOR). “DND is running a bigger budget than anyone ever in the history of DND or the military has ever run — ever, ever, ever,” said Pentney, a former associate deputy minister for defence. “(There’s) the border services agency. So a number of areas of growth are related simply to investments in government priorities.”

Pentney warned the executives that there will have to be public service layoffs and described the situation that will unfold as the government’s deficit reduction action plan is implemented as “grim.”

Boulerice, however, said the government’s priorities are out of step with the priorities of Canadians.

The Plight of Sri Lanka's Internally Displaced

The Sri Lankan government is actively undermining efforts to address a growing humanitarian crisis.

Something rotten is going on in Sri Lanka. More than two years after comprehensively dispensing with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elaam (LTTE), the government is at risk of losing the peace. Rather than reducing the presence of the armed forces in occupied areas and promoting a stable transition, the government is militarizing the country. Far from realizing the promised peace dividend, the North and East now consist of a patchwork of military installations and high-security zones.

An index of just how putrid the situation has become can be discerned by the plight of so-called “internally displaced people.” This label is hardly new to the citizens of this island nation. Sri Lankans, and, in particular, Muslim and Tamil minorities (but also Sinhalese), have suffered successive waves of internal displacement since the early 20th century. Internationally financed development schemes in the interior of the country resulted in mass displacement during the 1950s and 1970s. Since the onset of war in the 1980s, the numbers have swelled again, with hundreds of thousands more relocating abroad as refugees.

Surprisingly few people actually know how many displaced people there are in the country today. The answer seems to depend on who is asked.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are well over 300,000 Sri Lankans still internally displaced after decades of war and more recent natural disasters, including the 2004 tsunami. Many of them languish in temporary “welfare centres” or with friends and relatives. Relief agencies claim that an additional 190,000 displaced people were voluntarily “relocated” either back to their place of origin or to a permanent settlement since the end of hostilities in 2009.

The real shame of Attawapiskat

After seeing the images of Attawapiskat First Nation beamed around the country in recent days, a viewer could hardly be blamed for not believing that they were looking at a part of Canada, or that the people enduring this travesty are their aboriginal neighbours. Plywood walls, plastic-covered windows, 20 people sharing a two-bedroom house, a one-burner hot plate to cook for a whole family, lack of insulation, plumbing or electricity – the scene is tragic and heartbreaking.

But the people of such remote reserves have been living in a dire situation for a long time. The real shame of Attawapiskat is that the people who knew these conditions existed never told Canadians about them. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives knew. Shawn Atleo’s Assembly of First Nations knew. But it has taken a tragedy to reveal the stark truth.

It’s Mr. Atleo’s job as AFN national chief to know if his people are living under deplorable conditions. Each elected chief in the assembly has a responsibility to let him know. It’s then his responsibility to tell Canada about it and demand action.

In turn, the federal government has the responsibility to act. The job of an aboriginal affairs minister includes informing government when people are suffering. With that knowledge, it’s the responsibility of a prime minister to inform Canadians and tell us what the government intends to do about it.

Ford defends layoff plans as overdue effects of amalgamation

Mass layoff plans that could put as many as 1,190 city staff out of work just finish a job that should have been done when the megacity was created, Toronto mayor Rob Ford says.

The job cuts will eliminate more than 2,300 positions, including posts at public libraries, the TTC, police and other agencies.

A detailed list of the layoff plans – part of a proposed 2012 budget that will go before council in January – show that about half of the reductions will come through eliminating vacant positions, buyouts or deferred hiring. The rest will come through layoffs, including as many as 666 unionized workers now at city departments.

“Obviously, it’s going to save taxpayers millions of dollars,” Mr. Ford said on Thursday in his first comments about the layoff plan.

“In the private sector, when you merge two or three companies together, you don’t need three receptionists, you need one. You don’t need two or three bookkeepers, you need one,” the mayor told reporters. “When you merged seven municipalities together 13 years ago, the number of employees should not have gone up. If anything, it should have gone down. And that’s what we’re trying to do now; we’re trying to streamline and be more efficient. And that’s what the taxpayers elected me to do, run a leaner government.”

The city has about 53,000 workers. The mayor said that number has swelled by about 8,000 since amalgamation.

Minister: China wants to build U.S. roads, rails

China wants to convert some of its mountain of U.S. government debt into investment in renovating American roads and subways, the commerce minister said Friday.

Speaking to a business group, Chen Deming said China wants closer co-operation with the United States in infrastructure, clean energy and technology.

Such investments would tie China more closely to Western economies and might help defuse fears Beijing will use its $3.2-trillion in foreign reserves -- some $1.15-trillion of that in Treasury and other U.S. government debt -- as a political weapon.

“We hope to achieve cooperation in the area of infrastructure,” Chen told members of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.

Chen said he was amazed at the high quality of American subways and other infrastructure when he visited 20 years ago but many roads, railways and ports today need renovation.

“China is willing to turn some of our holdings of your debt into investment in the United States, hoping to create jobs for the United States,” he said.

Also this week, the chairman of China's sovereign wealth fund said it wants to invest in projects to improve British roads and infrastructure. He said that would help to boost feeble global economic growth.

Year of labour strife looms: report

Welcome to the year of labour strife.

The chances of work stoppages in Canada’s public sector are heightened next year as government workers -- many of whom will see their contracts up for renewal -- get frustrated by demands for more concessions, a Conference Board of Canada report predicted Friday.

The public sector accounts for a fifth of Canada’s labour force and a number of large public sector institutions will be at the bargaining table next year.

Federal and provincial governments are focused on eliminating budget deficits, “and this will limit their ability or willingness to offer much more than modest wage increases,” said Karla Thorpe, director of the board’s leadership and human resources research.

“The sense of frustration among public sector unions is growing because they accepted restraint at the outset of the recession. As a result, the potential for job action in the public sector will be greater in 2012 than in previous years.”

Major bargaining will take place next year between government and health-care workers in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The governments of B.C., Ontario, and Newfoundland will also be at the table, and so will the Toronto District School Board and Canada Revenue Agency.

The City of Toronto, for its part, “appears set on a course that could lead to conflict with its civic unions,” the Conference Board’s annual industrial relations outlook said.

Its prediction comes after the federal government intervened this year in high-profile labour disputes involving Air Canada and Canada Post.

Less conflict is expected in private-sector bargaining next year. Large organizations headed for the bargaining table next year include the Canadian Media Production Association, which represents film and TV workers, while the Detroit Three automakers will also be negotiating with the Canadian Auto Workers.

Source: Globe&Mail 

Native band signs deal with Enbridge over controversial pipeline

The Gitxsan, a native group based in northwestern B.C., has agreed to take a stake in the contentious Northern Gateway project.

"Over time we have established a relationship of trust with Enbridge, we have examined and assessed this project, and we believe it can be built and operated safely," Hereditary Chief Elmer Derrick said Friday in a statement.

"We believe that the construction of this pipeline is of vital importance to the future of Canadian energy security and prosperity."

The announcement comes a day after Enbridge said that native opposition to the project was not unanimous and that the company was talking to bands that were interested in taking a stake in the project. Enbridge has agreed to provide up to 10 per cent equity in the project to eligible aboriginal communities and has also agreed to provide financing to bands to allow them to take advantage of the offer.

That statement by the company was in response to statements Thursday by native leaders in Vancouver, where they gathered to sign a declaration opposing the project, saying that more than 130 nations in western Canada that oppose the pipelines “form an unbroken wall of opposition from the U.S. border to the Arctic Ocean.”

A Little Straight Talk on National Defense

The Economist's Roger McShane is unimpressed with all the doom-mongering over proposed cuts to the Pentagon budget:
So by how much will the defence budget decline over the next decade? That could be seen as a trick question, because in nominal terms it will grow. Prior to the supercommittee's failure, the defence budget was slated to increase some 23% between 2012 and 2021. Now, according to Veronique de Rugy, the Pentagon will have to make do with a 16% boost…Or to put it another way, as Lawrence Korb does, the "sequestration will return defense spending in real terms to its FY 2007 level, the next to last year of the Bush administration, when no one was complaining about devastating levels of spending."
…But these numbers have not quieted the critics. And perhaps the most ardent among them has been [Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta. My colleague cites a statement from the secretary, in which he lists the tragic results of a 16% increase: "We would be left with our smallest ground force since 1940, the fewest ships since 1915 and the smallest Air Force in its history." Here's another fact: America already has the fewest ships since 1916, despite a 70% increase in defence spending between 2001 and 2010.
We could, of course, have thousands of ships and tens of thousands of warplanes if we wanted. But that would mean buying lots of PT boats and swarms of F-4s instead of a dozen Nimitz- and Ford-class supercarrier groups and a few hundred F-35s. We don't have a small number of ships and planes because we're too cheap to buy more, we have them because that's what the Pentagon wants. Modern war makes a small number of superadvanced weapons systems more effective than a bunch of cheap cannon fodder.

Defence spending - Always more, or else

ACCORDING to most everyone, as a result of the supercommittee's failure last week, the Pentagon will face devastating cuts to its spending over the next decade. So says John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who warned that "these cuts represent a threat to the national security interests of the United States"; and Buck McKeon, who vowed, "I will not be the Armed Services Committee chairman who presides over the crippling of our military"; and the president's own defence secretary, Leon Panetta, who sees America becoming a "paper tiger". My own colleague mulled the "terrible swift sword" falling on defence last week, much like the rest of the media.

So by how much will the defence budget decline over the next decade? That could be seen as a trick question, because in nominal terms it will grow. Prior to the supercommittee's failure, the defence budget was slated to increase some 23% between 2012 and 2021. Now, according to Veronique de Rugy, the Pentagon will have to make do with a 16% boost. According to Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, that means funding would fall by 11% in real terms from FY2012 to FY2013, then grow by slightly more than the rate of inflation for the rest of the decade. Or to put it another way, as Lawrence Korb does, the "sequestration will return defense spending in real terms to its FY 2007 level, the next to last year of the Bush administration, when no one was complaining about devastating levels of spending."

The moment protesters found a plain-clothes cop in their midst

Usually, it is the police who kettle protesters. The tables were turned, though, when demonstrators unmasked and surrounded a plain-clothes officer who had infiltrated their midst during this week's public sector protests.

The hoodie-wearing interloper was discovered by protesters from the Occupy movement from St Paul's while they were attempting to take over a building near Piccadilly Circus in central London on Wednesday.

The incident, which occurred outside the offices of the mining company Xstrata, was captured on video by The Independent (above, left). Protesters asked the man whether he worked for the Metropolitan Police. He can be seen in the film nodding and answering: "Yeah, I'm a Met Police officer, yeah."

At that, one of the group said: "Right, let's circle him so he can't go anywhere." Protesters duly surrounded the officer, chanting "shame on you". Within moments the chants turned to "scum, scum, scum". One protester was heard to say: "He has no uniform and no [badge] number... we have no way of identifying him, so how are we supposed to complain about him."

Peter MacKay has his cockamamie helicopter story and he’s sticking to it

The best thing about Peter MacKay’s slippery justification for his free ride on the Canadian Forces Cormorant is that it could be true. It probably is true, sort of.

There’s no question the defence minister was on holiday at a remote fishing camp. True, he was leaving his holiday to attend government business.  It might even be true that he’d been angling for a look-see at the helicopter’s search-and-rescue capabilities — he’s a gung-ho kind of guy, and that’s the sort of thing he’d get a kick out of. It’s also entirely believable that high-ups in the air force recognized the advantages of showing off the Cormorant’s capabilities. So when the minister rises in the House of Commons and tells his version of the tale, he’s probably not uttering a total falsehood. Technically.

Whether it accurately reflects events as they actually unfolded is another story. Thanks to email traffic contained in Department of Defence records, (now you understand why Harper hates making information public?)  we know that Colonel Bruce Ploughman, a bright spark at DND, realized right away that this was trouble waiting to happen, and tried to convey that message to his colleagues.

“When the guy who’s fishing at the fishing hole next to the minister sees the big yellow helicopter arrive and decides to use his cell phone to video the minister getting on board and post it on Youtube, who will be answering the mail on that one?” he asks, with remarkable perspicacity.

The rise — in Canada of all places — of right-wing nationalism

If someone had predicted a few years ago that Canada would fall into the embrace of right-wing nationalism, they would have been sent off to the nearest home for the mentally encumbered.

A nationalism of the left, maybe. We had some of that, at least as conservatives saw it, in the Trudeau years with the National Energy Program, the Committee for an Independent Canada and the like.

Pierre Trudeau was part of a political culture that was always to the left of the Americans. At one point, the State Department labelled him a pot-smoking leftist. Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan’s defence secretary, mocked our armed forces, saying you could put our entire military on a football field and still have room for the game. In his pre prime-ministerial days Stephen Harper himself lamented how Canada had a European-styled socialist bent.

To look now however is to see the dramatic degree to which the political culture is being reshaped. Patriotism pivots on pride in a resurrected military and morality-based missions. Pride in country is now linked to our refurbished armed forces and what Harper sees as moral crusades. National security, law and order, tighter immigration standards and bumper-sticker sports populism are among the features of a new right-wing nationalism. It is an accelerating trend and many Canadians worry that Harper, the anti-Trudeau, is taking it too far.

Because there are moderate elements to his Conservative government’s policy-making, such as its work on the economy, the big shift isn’t always apparent. But the changes, as enumerated below, reveal a shakedown that sees the ideology and methodology of our governing party closely aligned with those of American Republicans.

Harper wants 'accountable' First Nations self-government

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that First Nations communities must develop "strong, accountable" systems of self-government in the long run, as Ottawa grapples with a housing crisis in the remote First Nations community of Attawapiskat.

Local leaders in the Northern Ontario town of 1,800 declared a state of emergency about a month ago, as winter moved in and some residents were living in unheated tents, while many others suffered in crowded, substandard housing.

The crisis has propelled the issue of living conditions in First Nations communities onto the national agenda, and will likely be a hot topic during scheduled talks between the Crown and aboriginal leaders on Jan. 24.

Harper's long-term goal is to see "strong, accountable systems of self-government for aboriginal communities," he said Friday during a press conference in Burlington, Ont.

"I think we all realize we're not going to get there in one giant leap, but I continue to look forward and continue to enjoy working with Chief Atleo and other communities to move us in that direction," he told reporters.

Union slams ‘absurd choice’ between balanced budget, public services

Canada’s largest public-sector union is launching a new social media campaign to protest the job losses and service cuts it says will result from the government’s effort to reduce the deficit.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada says Canadians are being asked to make “an absurd choice” between a balanced budget and strong public services.

It has created a web-based commercial that features a giant squirrel ransacking a public office, which is posted to a Facebook page at that was launched Friday.

“The government is making people choose between the deficit and public services and that’s an absurd choice because we are saying there are other choices,” PSAC national president John Gordon said in a telephone interview on Friday. “It’s kind of like asking, ‘Would you like to pay down your mortgage.’ Everybody’s going to say yes. Well then, ‘What about feeding your kids?’”

The public-sector unions are preparing for the loss of tens of thousands of jobs as Treasury Board President Tony Clement presses ahead with a government-wide austerity program to rein in a multi-billion-dollar deficit.

Mr. Gordon is worried about what is going to happen to federal employees “but, more importantly, if our members are not there, then services in communities all across this country are going to be disrupted.”

Tories face fresh hurdle with U.S. call to slow F-35 jet production

The Conservative government’s purchase of 65 stealth fighter jets, which has been lambasted by the opposition, is taking more heat after an American defence recommendation that delivery of the planes be delayed because of newly discovered cracks and “hot spots.”

The director of the Pentagon’s F-35 program says the production of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter should be slowed because of problems that turned up during fatigue testing and analysis.

That prompted more questions from New Democrats, who have criticized the Canadian government’s intention to purchase 65 of the jets – at a cost estimated to range between $16-billion and $30-billion – for the contract’s untendered nature and escalating price tag.

“All reasonable people agree the F-35 program has been a fiasco,” NDP MP Christine Moore said Friday during Question Period in the House of Commons. “Today it’s Vice-Admiral David Venlet, the Pentagon’s man in charge of the F-35s. He says the F-35s are riddled with flaws. Why is the Minister [of Defence] isolating Canada from it’s allies with its blind support of a failed program?”

Julian Fantino, the Associate Minister of Defence, replied that the government is constantly monitoring Canada’s involvement in the fighter program. “As of now, the F-35 program is on track,” he said.

Conservative waging never-ending black-ops campaign


So, here is the Conservative strategy for its Quebec revival, beginning in the Montreal riding of Mount Royal.

If you can’t win it, try to steal it by spreading lies, sowing confusion, destabilizing the rightful winner and wallowing in the slime.

By spreading false rumours about the imminent retirement of Liberal MP Irwin Cotler and flooding the riding with calls about a bogus looming byelection, the Conservatives managed to do something else quite remarkable.

They have reinforced the cynicism rampant about politicians in this country, sending their trustworthiness down yet another mine shaft.

For two weeks, Cotler, a former justice minister, has complained about calls coming into his riding, an apparent Conservative black-op, asking voters for their support in the coming byelection.

But his retirement is not imminent and there is no byelection.

Democracy Not in Store for Eurozone Members

The past two weeks have seen a dizzying array of proposals from virtually every organ of the EU claiming that they can make the eurozone more efficient, durable, and solvent. If you noticed that no one is saying that they will make the eurozone more democratic, you're not the only one. And the most anti-democratic organ which is being set up is a permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (EMS).

The ESM will not only be a permanent bailout fund, it will have the ability to raise funds from member states without democratic accountability, while also making it impossible to leave the eurozone if the rest don't want you to.

The ESM is intended to replace the current bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility. The ESM was signed in July of this year and is expected to be ratified sometime in 2013 by the signatories. It purports to enshrine for all time the various legal inadequacies of the EFSF.

The ESM will raise 700 billion euro from eurozone members in pro-rata shares by GDP. The Board of Governors is made up of finance ministers of countries that do and do not get bailed out as well as who does and does not get punished for not paying their share, and vote mostly by qualified majority. Member state contributions are mandatory, the obligation to pay enforceable in the European Court of Justice. Contributions can be raised without limit if the Board of Governors agrees. All future members of the euro must sign on to the ESM.

False rumours about Liberal MP are free speech: Tories

OTTAWA - The federal Liberals are demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper accept responsibility for a voter-identification campaign the Grits call a "phone campaign of lies" in the Montreal riding of Mount Royal, represented by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler.

Cotler has complained his privileges were breached by phone calls to his constituents, asking about who they'd support "in the pending or imminent byelection" there.

However, Cotler says he isn't resigning and there's no imminent byelection.

On Thursday, Liberal MP Geoff Regan called on the prime minister to "apologize for this outrage against democracy, shut down his dirty tricks team and call on Elections Canada to investigate."

The Tories didn't respond to Regan, but earlier in the week, Government House leader Peter Van Loan said spreading rumours about resignations plagued even Canada's first prime minister.

"Sir John A. Macdonald, in the greatest tradition of democracy, understood it to be part of normal discourse," Van Loan said. "It is not a kind of speech that should begin to be chilled at this point."

Cotler rejected the free speech defence of what he called "push-pull" tactics.

"You can't engage in this pernicious dissemination of false and misleading and prejudicial information about a member because it's a breach of privilege," he said.

The Tories have also been victims of similar tactics, meant to implant an idea in voters' minds.

Ahead of the 2004 election, the Liberals engaged in a "push poll," asking Ontarians whether they'd still support the Tories if they knew the party "had been taken over by Evangelical Christians."

Source: IFPress 

Killing the Euro

Can the euro be saved? Not long ago we were told that the worst possible outcome was a Greek default. Now a much wider disaster seems all too likely.       

True, market pressure lifted a bit on Wednesday after central banks made a splashy announcement about expanded credit lines (which will, in fact, make hardly any real difference). But even optimists now see Europe as headed for recession, while pessimists warn that the euro may become the epicenter of another global financial crisis.

How did things go so wrong? The answer you hear all the time is that the euro crisis was caused by fiscal irresponsibility. Turn on your TV and you’re very likely to find some pundit declaring that if America doesn’t slash spending we’ll end up like Greece. Greeeeeece!

But the truth is nearly the opposite. Although Europe’s leaders continue to insist that the problem is too much spending in debtor nations, the real problem is too little spending in Europe as a whole. And their efforts to fix matters by demanding ever harsher austerity have played a major role in making the situation worse.

The story so far: In the years leading up to the 2008 crisis, Europe, like America, had a runaway banking system and a rapid buildup of debt. In Europe’s case, however, much of the lending was across borders, as funds from Germany flowed into southern Europe. This lending was perceived as low risk. Hey, the recipients were all on the euro, so what could go wrong?

For the most part, by the way, this lending went to the private sector, not to governments. Only Greece ran large budget deficits during the good years; Spain actually had a surplus on the eve of the crisis.

Al Franken Calls On Carrier IQ To Explain Mobile Tracking Software

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is calling on a developer to provide details of hidden software installed on smartphones that logs numerous details about users' activities.

In a letter sent Thursday to Carrier IQ president Larry Lenhart, Franken asked for an explanation of what the company's software records, whether it transmits data to a third party and whether the data presents any security or privacy risks. Franken said the software's capabilities may violate federal laws.

Earlier this week, security researcher Trevor Eckhart posted a video detailing how Carrier IQ's software -- which has the same name -- logs every text message, web search and phone number typed on a wide variety of smartphones and reports them to the mobile phone carrier.

The application also logs a user's location and the URL of websites searched on the phone, even if the user intends to encrypt that data using a URL that begins with "HTTPS," Eckhart said in the video. The software always runs when Android's operating system is running and users are unable to stop it.

Occupy Wall Street Protests Heighten Tension Between Police And Media Nationwide

NEW YORK -- As police crack down on the Occupy Wall Street movement, journalists covering the story continue facing arrest, harassment, and restrictions on movement during midnight raids.

Such heavy-handed tactics over the past couple months have increased tensions between the police and the press across the country, from New York City's "free speech zones" to Los Angeles' "First Amendment area."

John Ensslin, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, expressed concern this week over the "alarming trend" of arrests and detentions -- one that doesn't appear to be dying down even as many camps are cleared.

Early Wednesday morning, Los Angeles police arrested two journalists covering the eviction of Occupy protesters, bringing the total to 30 since September. Meanwhile, other journalists didn't face the threat of arrest in Los Angeles only because they were part of the LAPD's designated press "pool." This group was permitted to cover the Occupy LA eviction nearby without risk of arrest for unlawful assembly -- a media restriction that rankled some in the press corps.

Millions Of Vacation Days Will Be Left Unused By American Workers

American workers are giving their companies a boost by not using all those vacation days.

U.S. workers on average won't use two of their vacation days by the end of the year, according to a survey from travel website Expedia, despite many of them making less while the corporations that employ them continue to see profits rise. That means 226 million unused days in total, CNNMoney calculated, or $34.3 billion-worth of time.

The tendency to work instead of vacation may be one way workers' economic troubles are helping their employers. American workers' said their top reason for not taking a vacation was because they couldn't afford it, according to the Expedia survey.

The recent findings mirror other reports signaling that U.S. workers are letting their vacation days go to waste. A survey released earlier this month from travel website, Hotwire, found that the typical American worker will have accumulated more than one week's worth of unused vacation days by the end of the year.

Euro Crisis and the Transformation of European Democracy

As non-democratic market forces overtake popular will, the continent may have to fundamentally alter how it governs

With the financial crisis, the debt crisis, and the worldwide coverage of Occupy Wall Street, capitalism has been under fire publicly for quite some time in Europe. Since the debt crisis started to show real potential for damaging the euro zone, both the euro and the European Union have had their futures dissected as well. The question has been this: can the European federal project survive the debt crisis? But now, that question is being repeated with a more melodramatic substitution: can democracy survive the debt crisis?

At first across-the-pond glance, this public hand-wringing seems to suggest that the continent should be sedated until it can pull itself together. Why is "democracy" -- the entire concept and practice -- being brought into this?

It turns out the debate breaks down into two sets of dualities -- two fundamental conflicts the European commentariat feels are being stoked by the current crisis. The first is democracy versus capitalism. American viewers might immediately see this as the "Occupy" duality, European edition. The debate over capitalism has probably been more explicit and vibrant in Europe than in Manhattan, and existed prior to the "Occupy" movement, but the point is that the rhetoric is familiar, though the catalyst is different. The second is democracy versus bureaucracy, specifically bureaucracy at the European level. Fascinatingly, both duality debates seem to take the story of Greece as their departure point.

Peter MacKay: Minister Accused Of Misleading Commons Over Helicopter Pickup On Fishing Trip

OTTAWA - Opposition MPs accused Defence Minister Peter MacKay of misleading the House of Commons over his use of a military helicopter to fly him out of a Newfoundland fishing lodge.

Reports indicate a senior military officer warned against using one of the three search-and-rescue Cormorant helicopters serving the Atlantic coast to pick up MacKay.

On Thursday, New Democrat defence critic David Christopherson said MacKay was clear in late September that he only used the helicopter as part of a "previously planned search-and-rescue operation."

But details from emails published by the Toronto Star indicate the pickup was orchestrated specifically to extract the minister from his fishing trip, "under the guise" of a training exercise.

"I can't outright say whether he misled (Parliament)," Christopherson said outside the Commons.

"But it certainly looks to me like he misled it. The documents certainly do not back up the minister's story."

Senate Kills Effort To Ban Indefinite Military Detentions Of U.S. Citizens

WASHINGTON -- Senators compromised Thursday on a bill that attempts to spell out the military's right to detain Americans indefinitely, killing a bid to bar the practice but passing an amendment that says current laws on the matter stand.

The provision in the National Defense Authorization Act aimed to codify a string of court cases and current anti-terrorism practices involved in the capture and treatment of terrorism suspects. It initially opened what opponents saw as the prospect of letting the military haul away any citizen about whom it had suspicions.

The new amendment specifies that the current practices may not change, although it also says explicitly that the military can pursue Americans at home.

"Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States," says the compromise amendment, which passed 99 to 1.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was the lone opponent.

The passage may head off a showdown with the White House, which had threatened to veto the entire bill on the grounds that the section on detentions tied the hands of counterterrorism officials in law enforcement and the military.

The White House did not immediately weigh in on the new measure.

Omnibus Crime Bill: Mental Illness Not A Consideration

OTTAWA - Justice Minister Rob Nicholson ignored questions Thursday about how a massive new crime bill will deal with Canadians living with mental illness, including young offenders who find themselves being sentenced as adults.

The Conservatives voted down this week all 88 amendments proposed by the opposition parties on Bill C-10, including one by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler that would have allowed judges to take into consideration mental illness when handing down new mandatory minimum sentences.

The Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers told MPs who were studying the bill this fall that if they only made one change to the bill, it should be to recognize people with mental illnesses need treatment before they are put in jail.

Other groups such as the Canadian Pediatric Society have also raised the issue with the government with respect to young offenders, who can sometimes be tried as adults for serious crimes and be handed mandatory minimum sentences. Statistics suggest 70 per cent of young offenders suffer from some form of mental illness.

Northern Gateway Pipeline: First Nation Leaders Say They Are Closing B.C. Borders To Pipeline

VANCOUVER - First Nations' leaders in British Columbia say they've built "an unbroken wall of opposition" from the U.S border to the Arctic Ocean against a proposed $5.5 billion petroleum pipeline.

The leaders announced Thursday that several First Nations have added their names to the Save the Fraser River Declaration, bringing the total number of signatory nations in B.C. to 61 and effectively closing the province's borders to the Northern Gateway project proposed by Enbridge (TSX:ENB).

The leaders announced they are also opposed to any efforts by Kinder Morgan to export Alberta tar-sands crude oil from B.C.'s south.

"North or south, it makes no difference. First Nations from every corner of B.C. are saying absolutely no tar sands pipelines or tankers in our territories," said Jackie Thomas, chief of the Saik'uz First Nation, in a media release.

The Saik'uz First Nation is located west of Prince George, B.C.

"We have banned oil pipelines and tankers using our laws, and we will defend our decision using all the means at our disposal," added Thomas.

But Enbridge (TSX:ENB), the company behind the project, quickly fired back, stating many First Nations are still interested in partnering on the project.

Attawapiskat: Firing back at the racist rants and ignorant responses with facts

I still intend to get a series of posts out clarifying issues like First Nations housing, health care, education and so on, but I have a confession. I haven't been staying away from the comments sections of articles about Attawapiskat.

I know. It's not healthy. There are so many racist rants and outright ignorant responses that it can bog you down. Where do you even begin, when the people making these comments do not seem to understand even the bare minimum about the subject?

Well, I try to answer questions with facts. Here are some of those facts, if you're interested.

Harper said Attawapiskat got $90 million, where did it all go!?

Yes, Prime Minister Harper is apparently scratching his head about where $90 million in federal funding to Attawapiskat has gone. Many commentators then go on to make claims about lack of accountability, and no one knowing what happens to the money once it is 'handed over' by the federal government.

Let's start simple.

First, please note that $90 million is a deceptive number. It refers to federal funding received since Harper's government came into power in 2006. In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Attawapiskat received $17.6 million in federal funds. The document linked to shows the breakdown of federal funds in case you wanted to know how much is allocated to things like medical transportation, education, maternal health care and so on.

Thus, $90 million refers to the total of an average of about $18 million per year in federal funding since 2006.

As an aside, you will often see the figure of $34 or $35 million in funding given to Attawapiskat a year. This actually refers to total revenues. As noted, federal funding was $17.6 million, and provincial funding was $4.4 million. The community brings in about $12 million of its own revenue, as shown here. So no, the 'government' is not giving Attawapiskat $34 million a year.

The Self-Inflicted Recession

There are simple solutions the European Central Bank can yet pursue to avoid a systemic crisis.

The economic news out of the eurozone is getting worse every day, and so is the contagion to the rest of the world. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), the club of 34 mostly high-income countries, has now lowered its projection for eurozone growth for 2012 from two per cent (in May) to just 0.2 per cent. According to its report, the 17-member eurozone economy already “appears to be in a mild recession.” For the U.S., the forecast for next year was lowered from three per cent to 2.1 per cent.

Forecasts for China, India, and Brazil have also been lowered significantly since May. From Asia to Latin America, the problems of the eurozone are reverberating as international banks contract credit, big investment projects are cancelled or postponed, stock markets and real-estate prices fall, and investor and consumer confidence drops.

The Commons: The power and the responsibility

The Scene. Peter MacKay stepped out into the foyer just long enough to turn and walk up the stairs. The small horde of reporters that had been waiting for him were left to shout questions at his retreating figure. For the record, the back of his head had no comment.

“I would suggest to the minister, if he’s open to advice,” the NDP’s David Christopherson offered to a different gaggle of reporters a few minutes later, “that he get to a microphone fast and come clean and tell the true story and then ask for forgiveness.”

It is often said that with great power comes great responsibility and maybe that was even true at some point. At it is, it would be more accurate to say that with great power one is afforded the authority to decide what one wants to take responsibility for. And that modern power means, and depends on, doing everything to avoid ever saying sorry.

It is Mr. MacKay’s current predicament that his plea of innocence on the charge that he was frivolously airlifted out of a fishing trip at taxpayer expense now seems to be contradicted by the written record. The phrase “under the guise of” is involved. And if the minister has an explanation for the discrepancy, he is not yet ready to say so.

PM wanted to do most damage to opponents by cutting political donations, opposition MPs say

PARLIAMENT HILL—Newly-released government accounts showing the scope of a generous tax benefit for donations to political parties are evidence, opposition MPs say, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was targeting the opposition parties when he selected outright vote subsidies for the chopping block instead of other forms of taxpayer support.

The $2-a-vote subsidy is slated to end within four years under a budget measure the government is rushing through the Commons before the Christmas recess, but the tax credits for political donations, which benefit the Conservatives most, cost the government millions of dollars more per year, documents tabled in the Commons show.

The accounting tabled in the House of Commons this week reveals the cost of the tax credits, worth up to 75 per cent of a political donation depending on the amount, totalled $36.3-million for the 2010 tax year.

The per-vote subsidies that year totalled far less, $27.3-million for all five main parties, with the Conservatives receiving $10.4-million compared to $7-million for the Liberals and $5-million for the NDP.

With the Conservatives raising $17.4 million in donations in 2010, much more than the NDP and Liberals combined, they would have benefitted most from the tax-credit incentive to donors.

B.C. First Nations form 'united front' against pipeline

First Nations leaders will not allow the proposed Enbridge and KinderMorgan pipelines to cross their unceded territory, saying they will stand in front of bulldozers if they have to.

The pipelines would run from Alberta's oilsands to the B.C. coast, carrying oil to tankers for export to the US and Asia.

"Everyone involved — including myself — have made commitments that we'll do whatever it takes legally and otherwise," said Haisla elder Gerald Amos.

He said they will resort to civil disobedience to halt the pipelines.

"I am prepared to do as others have done before me in our communities and stand on the line to prevent any machinery moving onto the site."

E-mails contradict MacKay’s explanation for chopper request

Defence Minister Peter MacKay asked for a helicopter airlift from a Newfoundland fishing vacation in order to catch a plane to Ontario, e-mails show – a request that contradicts his earlier explanation that he’d tasked the chopper to participate in a search-and-rescue demonstration.

Records released by the Department of National Defence show that three days before the controversial 2010 flight, Mr. MacKay’s office requested a helicopter on the grounds he had a last-minute need to “unexpectedly” head to London, Ont.

A chopper wasn’t necessary, military officials noted in one e-mail, estimating that Gander Airport was a two-hour trip by boat and car from the fishing camp.

One senior officer raised early concerns about public fallout.

“When the guy who’s fishing at the fishing hole next to the minister sees the big yellow helicopter arrive and decides to use his cell phone to video[tape] the minister getting on board and post it on YouTube, who will be answering the mail on that one?” Colonel Bruce Ploughman asked in an e-mail.

A lieutenant-colonel involved in preparing the flight went on to describe the July 9, 2010, chopper trip as being conducted “under the guise of … SAR [search and rescue] training.”

Air force warned about backlash over MacKay’s chopper flight

OTTAWA—A senior air force officer warned against using a search-and-rescue helicopter to pick up Defence Minister Peter MacKay from a fishing trip last year because of the backlash that would occur if the public found out, according to emails obtained by the Toronto Star.

The estimated cost for the flight aboard the Gander-based Cormorant helicopter was $16,000. A cheaper alternative route from the fishing camp to the Gander, Nfld., airport would have involved a 90-minute boat ride followed by a 30-minute drive, according to defence department messages obtained through the Access to Information Act.

Word of MacKay’s flight leaked out this fall, raising questions about politicians using military resources for their personal business. He has insisted the flight was a chance to carry out a long-delayed search-and-rescue (SAR) demonstration.

The Star sought information that would show the arrangements made for the 25-minute flight on July 9. The emails received have raised doubts about MacKay’s version of events.

“The documents certainly do not back up the minister’s story,” said David Christopherson, the NDP defence critic.

Doug Ford to Star: Drop dead

Councillor Doug Ford said again Thursday that Mayor Rob Ford will not send official communications to the Star until the newspaper issues a front-page apology for a 2010 article the mayor says was false.

John Honderich, chair of Torstar Corp., which owns the Toronto Star, wrote in a Thursday column that the Star would file a complaint with council’s integrity commissioner over the mayor’s exclusion of its reporters from the email list he uses to notify the media of his appearances and public statements.

Honderich wrote that the complaint would not try to compel Ford to speak to Star reporters. Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, nonetheless portrayed it as an attempt to do so.

“No one can force anyone to talk to anyone,” he said in a brief interview during a council meeting.

“You can quote me: if you apologize on the front page, it’s done. You can go to the Supreme Court and try to get Rob to talk to the Star — he won’t talk to you. He just won’t. Until you do it. It’s simple: put that one-liner (apology) in there, it’s over,” he said.

Ford’s spokesperson, Adrienne Batra, declined to respond to the Star’s request for comment, as is her policy. Standing with Doug Ford, however, she agreed when he said the Star must say “we regret the error” before the mayor relents.

Pools, arenas, zoos on budget hit list revealed at last

Mark Hazelden and his fiancée moved into their gritty-but-improving Lansdowne Ave. neighbourhood expecting to have children who will play and splash in MacGregor Playground.

He was upset Thursday to learn from the Star that his playground’s wading pool is among five slated for closure in Mayor Rob Ford’s proposed 2012 budget.

“I think it’s wrong-headed. If you look at the neighbourhood, more and more strollers are here and (housing) developments are coming and softening what has been a hard edge on the city,” he said. “To remove a community gathering point is the wrong thing for a community on the upswing.”

The proposed budget unveiled by Ford on Monday includes $88 million worth of cuts, including the wading pools, two swimming pools and closing 10 arenas on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

City staff had refused to release the list of affected facilities, arguing that city unions and workers whose jobs could be affected needed to be notified first. The city released the list Thursday after the Star obtained it independently and published the lists.