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, January 20, 2012

The rise of the overclass

When Labour leader Ed Miliband used his conference speech last September to call for a fairer and more humane type of capitalism, he was greeted with widespread derision and mockery. But four months on, every leading politician in Britain is desperately trying to follow Miliband’s lead. What constitutes a fair society is no longer just a matter for academic theorists. Suddenly it’s the hottest subject in politics.
The reason is simple: growing public revulsion at a new class of super-rich who seem to be immune from the restraints that govern the lives of ordinary people. Senior bankers, private equity moguls and hedge fund managers appear cut off from the rest of us. They often pay little or no tax, increasingly live in heavily guarded enclaves, and some have little or no real allegiance to Britain. The sources of their wealth are often mysterious, and appear unrelated to merit. These feral rich pose, in their way, every bit as much of a danger to society as the rioters who stole and pillaged London streets last August.
Taxpayers spent £60 billion bailing out City bankers to save them from bankruptcy. Yet, rather than displaying contrition or gratitude, these bankers continue to pay themselves multi-million pound salaries, unimaginable sums of money to most of us.
The injustice is glaring – all the more so in a time of grinding national austerity, when living standards are falling and unemployment is rising. No wonder that, this week, David Cameron – who loves to claim that “we’re all in this together” – entered the fray with a speech trying to define what he called “responsible capitalism”. He senses that this is an issue where the Right is hugely vulnerable, as the experience of Mitt Romney, the leading Republican presidential candidate, proves.
Romney made a fortune of an estimated $250 million dollars out of financial engineering and private equity, while benefiting from tax breaks, during his business career. He paid a reported 15 per cent tax on his profits – a rate considerably lower than most Americans.

U.S. Army: Sex Crimes By Soldiers Up 97 Percent In Five Years

Military leaders vowed this week to curb sexual assaults by and against U.S. soldiers after the release of a new report revealing that violent sex crimes committed by Army personnel nearly doubled since 2006. The majority of reported sex crimes occurred on U.S. soil, the Army said.

A U.S soldier committed a violent sex crime every six hours and 40 minutes in 2011, a rate far above that of the general population, the report found.

"This is unacceptable. We have zero tolerance for this," Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, said at a press conference Thursday. "Army leaders take sexual assault seriously."

Chiarelli said the Army was confronting the problem by stepping up surveillance of barracks and cracking down on drug and alcohol abuse, a key factor in sexual assault.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also addressed the issue of sexual abuse within the military this week, announcing that the Pentagon was creating a database to track offenders and would provide increased funding to train sex crime investigators.

"Sexual assault has no place in this department," Panetta said in a press briefing on Wednesday. "It is a stain on the good honor of the great majority of our troops."

Nearly 3,200 sexual assaults were reported by service members in 2011, according to Panetta. But he said the military's actual estimate was closer to 19,000 because such assaults are "a very underreported crime."

Roe v. Wade Still Under Siege, 39 Years Later

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court voted to protect a woman's right to have an abortion in the early stages of her pregnancy. Before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, abortion was banned in two-thirds of states, and an estimated 1.2 million women a year resorted to illegal, often dangerous back-alley abortions.

Now, 39 years later, conservative lawmakers are making unprecedented moves toward reversing Roe v. Wade, and the legality of abortion is as precarious as it's ever been.

By all accounts, 2011 saw a remarkable wave of legislative attempts to limit women's reproductive rights. Some states brazenly challenged Roe with laws that would never have been considered before evangelical and Tea Party candidates swept state legislature elections in 2010. At least six states -- Alabama, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Mississippi and Oklahoma -- seriously considered laws that would ban abortion altogether.

None of these measures passed, in some cases because anti-abortion activists worried that they were so extreme that the inevitable court battles would only end up reaffirming Roe, but the states did enact more subtle limits on abortion that had a higher likelihood of standing up in court.

So-called "fetal pain" bills swept the Midwest in 2011, as five states joined Nebraska in banning abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. These bills directly challenge the Supreme Court precedent set forth in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which effectively amended Roe to say that states cannot ban abortion before the fetus is considered viable outside the womb -- usually around 22 to 24 weeks.

Eleven Shocking Facts About Campaign Finance

It’s been two years since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizen’s United vs. Federal Election Commission, allowing a torrent of secret money to flow into the political process.

To be clear, the corrupting influence of big money was distorting the democratic process for years before that decision. But it unquestionably made the problem worse, exacerbating both the volume and secrecy of campaign donations.

Here’s eleven disturbing facts about the extent to which money is playing an increasing role in our politics:

    The amount of independent expenditure and electioneering communication spending by outside groups has quadrupled since 2006. [Center for Responsive Politics     
    The percentage of spending coming from groups that do not disclose their donors has risen from 1 percent to 47 percent since the 2006 mid-term elections. [Center for Responsive Politics]
    Campaign receipts for members of the House of Representatives totaled $1.9 billion in 2010—up from $781 million in 1998. [Committee for Economic Development     
    Outside groups spent more on political advertising in 2010 than party committees—for the first time in at least two decades. [Center for Responsive Politics     
    A shocking 72 percent of political advertising by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006. [Committee for Economic Development
    In 2010, the US Chamber of Commerce spent $31,207,114 in electioneering communications. The contributions for which it disclosed the donors: $0. [Committee for Economic Development     
    Only 26,783 Americans donated more than $10,000 to federal campaigns in 2010—or, about one in 10,000 Americans. Their donations accounted for 24.3 percent of total campaign donations. [Sunlight Foundation     
    Average donation from that elite group was $28,913. (The median individual income in America is $26,364) [Sunlight Foundation     
    Amount the Karl Rove–led Crossroads GPS says it will spend on the 2012 elections: $240 million. [On the Media     
    Amount that President Obama has raised from the financial sector already for his 2012 re-election: $15.6 million [Washington Post]
Original Article
Source: the nation 
Author: George Zornick 

PIPA Vote: Sen. Harry Reid Postpones Vote, Seeking Compromise On Anti-Piracy Bill

WASHINGTON -- In a significant victory for open Internet advocates, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) both indefinitely postponed votes on controversial anti-piracy legislation.

"In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the Protect IP Act," Reid said in a written statement.

The move followed a frantic week of political jockeying on Capitol Hill amid intense online activism, in which Wikipedia and other major websites voluntarily blocked access to their content in protest of the bills. The Stop Online Piracy Act and its Senate companion, Protect IP, would have given the government broad powers to shut down entire websites accused of violating copyright laws -- without a trial or a traditional court hearing. Hollywood movie studios and other content creators would also get new powers to sue companies like banks and advertisers that do business with websites accused of piracy.

In the House, Smith had been planning to hold a committee vote on SOPA in February, which lobbyists on Capitol Hill expected to closely mirror whatever legislative language passed the Senate. While the delayed Senate vote does not necessarily mark a final failure for the anti-piracy legislation, it almost certainly delays any vote for months. During an election year in which lawmakers are particularly cautious about bringing up controversial legislation, the bill's supporters now face a steep uphill battle to pass anything on piracy at all.

Tough times call for stress balls; Defence Dept. orders 20,000 squeezable toys

OTTAWA - These are stressful times at National Defence.

Belt-tightening. Uncertainty. Maybe even pink slips.

Throw in a Cold War-style spy saga, and it's enough to push even the most unflappable worker to the breaking point.

So what does top brass do to keep its staff sane?

Order 20,000 stress balls. Orange ones.

The department needs the squeezable rubber stress-relievers on the double. The deadline for the order is the end of March — just in time for the start of the new fiscal year.

The next Conservative budget is expected to cut deep. Departments and agencies have been ordered to trim their budgets by five to 10 per cent in the hope of saving the government $4 billion annually by 2014.

It's enough to make any bureaucrat sweat.

A notice posted on a website that advertises government contracts doesn't say why National Defence needs so many stress balls, or why they have to be orange. It only says the balls are a "promotional item."

The contract will go to the lowest bidder from a list of pre-qualified companies.

The department didn't immediately answer questions about the order.

The small rubber balls are popular giveaways at trade shows. They're also an essential part of any cubicle inhabited by a repetitive-stress-injury-fearing office worker.

It wouldn't be the first time the department has passed out the malleable toys to its staff.

In October 2010, on International Conflict Resolution Day, soldiers at 8 Wing Trenton were encouraged to stop by a kiosk on the base to "pick up a stress ball, and partake of the cake that will commemorate this auspicious day," according to a military newsletter.

This week has certainly been a stressful one over at National Defence.

One of its naval officers is accused of passing secrets.

Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Delisle is now in custody after being charged with communicating information to a "foreign entity."

The government has so far refused to confirm or deny reports that the foreign power Delisle is accused of sharing information with could be Russia.

Original Article
Source: Winnipeg Free Press 
Author: Steve Rennie 

The politics of Harper’s medicare decision

A decade before medicare, the federal government financially supported hospitals across Canada; that came in 1957 under John Diefenbaker’s government. Ottawa used its spending power to bring in medicare in the late 1960s, negotiating conditions with the provinces for the money.

The 1984 Canada Health Act outlined five medicare principles that provinces had to respect; failure to do so could result in Ottawa’s withholding money. The prospect of losing federal money (and flying in the face of public opposition) enjoined provinces to end extra-billing by doctors and user fees for services.

In recent decades, Ottawa always tried to tie some of its health-care money to certain objectives, usually with only fitful success. The last major money-tying effort came under the Paul Martin government, whose $41-billion in transfers over 10 years, indexed at 6 per cent annually, had a welter of federal-provincial commitments. When Stephen Harper was campaigning for the first time, he proposed a Patient Wait Times Guarantee linked to federal money.

Now, however, Mr. Harper is going to give money to the provinces (they got federal tax points for health care a long time ago, a transfer they never mention) without any strings, conditions or demands. It’ll be the first time since medicare began that a federal government has handed money over carte blanche.

Broadly speaking, two reasons explain his decision – one theoretical, one political.

Mandy Hiscocks’ Statement to the Court

January 13, 2012

It’s not every day you get the opportunity to speak directly to a judge, and I have a lot to say. This is my first opportunity to speak since this entire process started last June so I hope you’ll hear me out until the end. I plan to take about 10 – 15 minutes at most.

I don’t know you as a person or as a judge, so my comments are directed at the legal system in general.

I want to address some of the things you said on this matter in earlier sentencing hearings, particularly your references to the KKK.

When you sentenced Peter, Adam, Erik and Leah to jail, you stated that this is not political, it is about our tactics. You mentioned the KKK, and compared their actions to those of the non-violent civil disobedience protesters of the 60s. I agree with you that the tactics used by the KKK are reprehensible. I disagree with you that that kind of violence against people is anything remotely like the property damage that occurred on the streets of Toronto during the G20 summit.

Regardless, by focusing on the KKK’s tactics and not their politics you’ve missed the point entirely. The problem with the KKK isn’t only their tactics. It’s the fact that they’re a white supremacist group.

White supremacy is defined as “an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations; for the purpose of establishing, maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.”

I don’t think you disagree with me that there is a system of wealth, power and privilege in this country. I benefit from this system every day, and so do you. We benefit on the backs of others, most of whom are people of colour.

Occupy Wall Street: On Global Scale Roughly Third Of People Aware Of Movement, Poll Finds

NEW YORK, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Only about a third of people across 23 countries are aware of the nascent U.S.-led Occupy movement against economic inequality, a global poll found on Friday as protesters prepared to take to the streets around the United States.

Under the banner "Occupy the Courts," organizers expect thousands of people to rally on Friday at 150 courthouses to mark the second anniversary of a Supreme Court ruling that protesters say allows unlimited corporate campaign donations.

While in San Francisco, activists from 50 organizations are set to "Occupy Wall Street West" with plans to target 22 bank branches and other financial industry offices and disrupt the city's financial district throughout the day.

The four-month-old movement has clearly influenced the national political conversation, with even President Barack Obama echoing some of its themes in calling for a "fair shot" and "fair share" for all.

Still, protest crowds often number in the hundreds rather than thousands of people, despite the movement's headline-grabbing antics and social media savvy.

State Tax Hikes On Wealthy Proposed By California, Maryland Governors

This week, a pair of governors called for something that just two years ago might have been politically untenable: permanent targeted state tax increases on the rich.

First, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley called on the state legislature Tuesday to approve a tax hike on individuals earning $100,000 or more and couples taking in above $150,000.

Then on Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown said his administration will attempt to place on the ballot a measure that could raise income taxes on those earning more than $250,000.

The governors' proposals are still far from becoming state tax policy. But their pitches might mark a turn toward strategies to shore up state budgets by imposing new taxes rather than the drastic cuts or temporary surcharges on the well-to-do that were commonplace during the recession, state finance experts say.

"It's early, but there does seem to be a bit of an uptick in governors proposing tax increases on the rich," said Jon Schure, director of state fiscal strategies at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank. "The public is more receptive to that idea now. They have seen a few years of what cuts look like. They know what college costs after budget cuts are made. They know that there are certain days of the week you can’t go to the library or ... how many kids are in their child's class at school. And they don’t like it."

Food Stamp Fight Looms

Gingrich has always implied that programs for people in need are really just for lazy African-Americans. He’s done it again, all over the campaign trail, most spectacularly this week in South Carolina with his straw man du jour, the “best food-stamp president.”

The facts are clear—in 2010 less than one-quarter of food stamp recipients were African-American, and nearly 30 percent of recipients had earnings (just not enough earnings to put sufficient food on their families’ tables). But good luck with the fact fight. For four full years, from 1992 to 1996, the debate about welfare targeted poor black women, even though more of those receiving what was then called FDIC were white than black. So what! By the time the Senate passed its bill and Bill Clinton signed it into law, it was so acceptable to starve and impoverish women, especially black women, that even those editorial writers and columnists who opposed the “Personal Responsiblity Act” did it on other grounds (usually, that it might harm children).

Of course, the results were felt and continue to be felt by everyone. Timothy Casey, a senior staff attorney with Legal Momentum, a women’s rights group, told the Institute for Public Accuracy this week that the 96 Act reduced benefit receipt from 60 percent of poor families, pre-reform, to only about 20 percent of poor families today, and from more than 80 percent of eligible families, pre-reform, to less than 40 percent today. “Block granting cash aid also led to sharply reduced benefits that in every state are now less than half the poverty standard.”

After 'Citizens United': The Attack of the Super PACs

We have seen the future of electoral politics flashing across the screens of local TV stations from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina. Despite all the excitement about Facebook and Twitter, the critical election battles of 2012 and for some time to come will be fought in the commercial breaks on local network affiliates. This year, according to a fresh report to investors from Needham and Company’s industry analysts, television stations will reap as much as $5 billion—up from $2.8 billion in 2008—from a money-and-media election complex that plays a definitional role in our political discourse. As Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod says, the cacophony of broadcast commercials remains “the nuclear weapon” of American politics.

We’ve known for some time that the pattern, extent and impact of political advertising would be transformed and supercharged by the Supreme Court’s January 2010 Citizens United ruling. But the changes, even at this early stage of the 2012 campaign, have proven to be more dramatic and unsettling than all but the most fretful analysts had imagined.

Citizens United’s easing of restrictions on corporate and individual spending, especially by organizations not under the control of candidates, has led to the proliferation of “Super PACs.” These shadowy groups do not have to abide by the $2,500 limit on donations to actual campaigns, and they can easily avoid rules for reporting sources of contributions. For instance, Super PACs have established nonprofit arms that are permitted to shield contributors’ identities as long as they spend no more than 50 percent of their money on electoral politics. So the identity of many, possibly most, contributors will never be known to the public, even though they are already playing a decisive role in the 2012 election season. Former White House political czar Karl Rove’s Crossroads complex, for example, operates both a Super PAC and a nonprofit. And Rove’s operation is being replicated almost daily by new political operations aiming their money at presidential, Congressional, state and local elections. “In 2010, it was just training wheels, and those training wheels will come off in 2012,” says Kenneth Goldstein, president of Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. “There will be more, bigger groups spending, and not just on one side but on both sides.”

How and Why Anonymous Took Down the FBI's Website

On Thursday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with police in New Zealand, arrested the leaders of the popular file sharing service and scrubbed the site from the internet, alleging that it supports widespread copyright infringement. Coming just a day after the internet's campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the raid was perceived by many netizens as a declaration of war.

Within minutes of the announcement, Twitter accounts associated with Anonymous, the shadowy hacker collective, announced #OpMegaUpload, a massive retaliation against government and entertainment industry websites. Just a few hours later, swarms of computers had brought down the homepages of the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, Universal Music, the US Copyright Service, the US Department of Justice, and last, but not least, the FBI. The main Anonymous Twitter account claimed that it was "the largest attack ever by Anonymous" with more than 5,600 people involved.

Direct Energy Cuts 500 Toronto Jobs, Moves To Texas

Direct Energy is moving its headquarters out of Toronto.

The move will probably mean the elimination of about 500 jobs over the next 12 to 18 months.

The company, which has its headquarters at Victoria Park Avenue and Sheppard Avenue East, will be relocating to Houston, Texas.

Most of the 500 jobs that will be cut will be corporate office staff.

The natural gas and electricity provider, which was founded in Toronto in 1986- is hoping to expand its operations across the United States.

Direct Energy will continue to employ about 2,000 people in Toronto who will mostly service heating and cooling contracts.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Canada May Sell Part of VIA Rail, Cut Routes as Costs Rise, Documents Show

Canada may sell part of VIA Rail or cut service provided by the money-losing passenger-rail company as the government looks to pare spending, documents show.

The transport ministry is “assessing several options for future support for passenger-rail services,” including “significant reductions” in service and privatizing part of the network, according to a briefing note prepared for Transport Minister Denis Lebel, which was obtained by Bloomberg News under Canada’s freedom-of-information law.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has promised to eliminate its budget deficit by the fiscal year starting April 2015, in part by cutting operating spending by at least C$4 billion ($3.9 billion) annually.

Federal money for government-owned VIA has increased in recent years as it “regularly requires additional funding to cover operating shortfalls,” according to the documents. “Privatization and public sector partnerships in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor are being assessed,” staff say in the documents, referring to the most densely-populated sections of Quebec and Ontario, including Toronto and Montreal.

VIA had an operating loss of C$261.5 million in 2010 according to its latest annual report. Annual revenue fell 5.3 percent from 2005 to 2010 to C$274.4 million, while operating expenses rose 15 percent to C$535.9 million.

Dear Tar Sands: It's Not Me, It's You

In the wake of the latest Keystone XL setback, you have to wonder whether it's starting to sink in, whether the tar sands industry and its political apologists are getting anywhere close to that feeling of "Really, it's me, not you."

For decades this industry has developed a culture of always getting its way. When confronted with opposition inside its native Alberta, it could always bully or buy its way free, knowing that the provincial government in Edmonton was another of its wholly owned subsidiaries.

Then, as Ottawa was taken over by the Calgary oil crowd in the form of the Harper government, it knew it could also rely on shameless cheerleading from the likes of Jason Kenney, Joe Oliver, and the rest of the "ethical oil" team, and also from federal Environment Minister Peter Kent, who still, after all these years, is simply reading the lines given to him.

The danger with this kind of cozy domination is that you come to believe in your own absolute rectitude, that in the face of ongoing opposition you continue to truly think that dissenters must be either confused or part of some nefarious conspiracy.

Minister won't say how many deaths are linked to probe of Ornge service

Ontario's health minister won't say how many deaths are being investigated in connection with Ornge, the scandal-ridden provincial air ambulance service.

"I don't have the number that is under investigation right now," said Health Minister Deb Matthews.

She was responding to reports that at least four deaths of patients - and possibly more - are being probed.

News last month that Ornge CEO Chris Mazza was earning $1.4 million - more than any other public servant in the province - prompted the province to replace Mazza and the entire board of directors at Ornge.

It has since surfaced that the publicly funded company had sprouted a web of for-profit offshoots, including one that received a $6.7-million payment from the Italian company that supplied its helicopters.

A team of 10 forensic auditors are inside the company's plush headquarters, known to insiders as the "Crystal Palace," and will soon issue a report.

Premier Dalton McGuinty also touted his government's own "hands-on approach" to the troubled company, referring to the decision to replace the entire board and CEO.

Without saying when, he said a meeting was held in response to the creation of private, for-profit Ornge offshoots.

Matthews has pledged an early release of a report by the provincial Auditor General.

Original Article
Source: Ottawa Citizen 

First Nations want action from PM: ‘This better be more than a photo op’

The one-day conference between First Nations and the Crown was announced in early December, as Ottawa came under fire for the housing crisis on the northern Ontario reserve. Chiefs have been calling for the meeting since their 2010 annual general assembly.

Though they’re finally sitting down to talk, the chiefs and the federal government are heading to the table with very different expectations for the conference’s outcome.

Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says their goal is to fundamentally transform the relationship between First Nations and the Crown, and have their self-government agreement honoured.

“We must stop lurching from crisis to crisis and move forward on a path to smash the status quo,” Atleo wrote in a recent letter to parliamentarians. “Canada needs to change its practices and approach to fully recognize our relationship as Nations, as outlined in the Treaties and reflective of our inherent rights to govern our own affairs.”

Meanwhile, Harper told Peter Mansbridge in an interview Monday that he is a hoping to have a “very positive dialogue” at the meeting.

“This is a long-term challenge,” Harper said. “Aboriginal people in this country are not anywhere near where we want or need those communities to be. That said, my own experience is that it will not be grand visions and declarations that achieve these things. It will be moving forward one step at a time, as we’ve been trying to do on things like water, investments in education, obviously building of trust.”

Leadership, honesty, principle in short supply on pipeline debate

Canadians need and deserve an informed conversation on the merits and relative risks of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project. That is the only way a sensible judgment can be made. Unfortunately, we are once again not being well-served by any political leader on this critical issue.

In the summer of 2010, surrounded by British Columbia MPs Ujjal Dosanjh, Hedy Fry, Joyce Murray, and Keith Martin, Michael Ignatieff announced that, if elected, a Liberal government would legislate a permanent moratorium on tanker traffic off BC’s coast. Although it wasn’t explicitly mentioned, that decision effectively meant that the Liberal Party had taken a firm position against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. Without shipping access, there would be no pipeline. For a party that prides itself on being “evidence based”, the move was decidedly free of any analysis or evidence. It was pandering politics in its purest form.

As one would expect, the NDP has stated clearly that it is opposed to tanker traffic and the pipeline. No facts here; only emotion and ideology. Their base wouldn’t have it any other way.

As for the Conservatives, up until now they have been cagey on both tankers and the Northern Gateway, but we know their position on both. They are strong supporters. Last week Stephen Harper and his Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, opened their kimono on the eve of the National Energy Board hearings by appearing to paint opponents as “radical environmentalists”. That, too, is typical is the Harper Conservatives. Theirs is a divisive and polarizing approach and evidence of a George W. Bush “you’re either with us or against us” governing philosophy.

Hackers attack U.S. government sites, Universal after shut down

Soon after the U.S. government shut down the content-sharing website, hackers attacked the public websites of the Justice Department, the world’s largest music company Universal Music, and the two big trade groups that represent the music and film industries.

In the latest skirmish in a high-profile battle against piracy of movies and music, the Department of Justice charged the founders of and several employees with massive copyright infringement.

It announced the indictment and arrests of four company executives in New Zealand on Friday, as debate over online piracy reaches fever pitch in Washington where lawmakers are trying to craft tougher legislation. A Justice Department official said the timing of the arrests was not related to the battle in Congress.

Vocal critics of the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and Protect IP Act (PIPA), quickly showed their opposition to the shutdown of

“The government takes down Megaupload? 15 minutes later Anonymous takes down government & record label sites,” a member of Anonymous said via Twitter.

Representatives with the Justice Department and Recording Industry Association of America declined to comment on the attacks. Officials with Universal Music could not immediately be reached.

G20 officers should be charged in Nobody arrest, police watchdog says

Five Toronto police officers should be charged with using unnecessary force against protester Adam Nobody during the G20 summit 19 months ago, an independent police review says.

The 174-page report by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) is based on interviews with a dozen police witnesses, the five officers involved, five civilian witnesses and Nobody himself.

The allegation that Constables Michael Adams, Babak Andalib-Goortani, Geoffrey Fardell, David Donaldson and Oliver Simpson used unnecessary force “is substantiated and is of a serious nature,” the report says.

Nobody suffered a broken right cheekbone and broken nose in the takedown on June 26, 2010.

An earlier investigation by Ontario Special Investigations Unit resulted in a single charge against Andalib-Goortani. Because other officers believed to be involved refused to testify and other evidence was insubstantial, the SIU said in December, 2010, no other charges could be laid.

The OIPRD report describes police facing a “sea of black” coming toward them with bottles they suspected were filled with feces or urine. Reports of swarming anarchist “Black Bloc” demonstrators who had earlier damaged buildings and torched police cars jacked up tensions, the report said.

Other charges against the officers did not stand up, the police review body said. Accusations by Nobody of a second assault were dismissed.

In particular, the report declared there was reasonable cause to arrest Nobody, who it said threatened police and was carrying a water bottle that could be considered a potential weapon.

The CBC obtained the confidential report and interviewed Nobody about its conclusions.

“I did not threaten to kick any officer’s heads in,” he told the CBC. The water bottle, he said, contained only a mix of water and whiskey.

The OIPRD report exonerated Sgt. Lynn Hughes and Cont. Daniel Lowe of charges of using unreasonable force and acting in a disorderly manner.

Original Article
Source: Star  

GOP Campaign Trail Filled With Revisionist History

I've just returned from a sojourn in an alternate historical universe, which is to say I've been in South Carolina, listening to the Republican presidential candidates.

These people have managed to distill modern American times down to a deliciously accessible account that goes something like this:

In the beginning there was Ronald Reagan. He was so awesome! He slashed taxes and fired pencil-necked bureaucrats, whose sole function was to antagonize salt-of-the-earth business folk. Money rained from the sky. Then Barack Obama arrived and screwed up everything. He wrote new rules designed to tie the economy in knots and kill jobs so he could realize his true aim, expanding food stamp dependency, as part of his plot to turn America into a socialist, nanny state-governed Loserville.

If you're wondering what happened to those years when the country was run by a pair of guys named Bush (and someone else named Clinton in between), they have been airbrushed out of this updated Republican history. So have a few seemingly pertinent events connected to their tenures: the dismantling of key financial regulations (particularly by Clinton), a massive redistribution of wealth to the richest households engineered by George W. Bush, and a failure to address stagnating wages and lost job opportunities for most workers all along the way.

Oh, and a nearly apocalyptic financial crisis that arrived on W's watch, prompting taxpayer bailouts of behemoth Wall Street firms while delivering the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Food Stamp Recipients Wish Critics Would Spend Some Time In Their Shoes

-- Some have advanced degrees and remember middle-class lives. Some work selling lingerie or building websites. They are white, black and Hispanic, young and old, homeowners and homeless. What they have in common: They're all on food stamps.

As the food stamp program has become an issue in the Republican presidential primary, with candidates seeking to tie President Barack Obama to the program's record numbers, The Associated Press interviewed recipients across the country and found many who wished that critics would spend some time in their shoes.

Most said they never expected to need food stamps, but the Great Recession, which wiped out millions of jobs, left them no choice. Some struggled with the idea of taking a handout; others saw it as their due, earned through years of working steady jobs. They yearn to get back to receiving a paycheck that will make food stamps unnecessary.

"I could never have comprehended being on food stamps," said Christopher Jenks, who became homeless in his hometown of Minneapolis-St. Paul after a successful career in sales and marketing.

Why Are Republicans Attacking 'Vulture Capitalism'?

The anti-capitalist rhetoric of certain Republican candidates sounds like it was ripped from the pages of The Nation. Rick Perry’s lurid description of “vulture capitalism” could have been cribbed from Alexander Cockburn or any number of other lefty writers. Newt Gingrich, likewise, denounces “crony capitalism” and asks, “Is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of people and then walk off with the money?” Right on, the left shouts. Newt sounds like one of those liberal professors poisoning young minds at elite universities.

The opportunistic cross-dressing by conservatives amounts to a battlefield conversion. Just as it’s said there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are no candidates in this year’s politics witless enough to stand up and defend the most bloodthirsty tactics of rapacious capitalism. Except one. Mitt Romney, the man the GOP will likely nominate for president. He is the “vulture capitalist” Rick Perry has in mind. Rivals cannot resist attacking Romney’s very profitable years running Bain Capital, a private-equity giant that specializes in creative destruction, eliminating jobs and sometimes whole companies to reward investors.

Romney awkwardly tries to explain why firing people can be good for the country. A hard sell, when so many people have been on the receiving end. Barack Obama will no doubt remind voters this fall that whatever anger they feel toward him, Republicans are running a “vulture” for president. How bizarre our politics have become. An Obama-Romney contest might determine which one gets tagged as the Herbert Hoover of this Great Recession.

The opportunism could have serious meaning because it reflects a deeper confusion of purpose and an insecurity in the Republican Party (Democrats have their own confusion, but that’s another story). Republicans have worked themselves into an ideological dead end that is untenable as a governing strategy. Reviving hard-nosed laissez-faire doctrine appeals to hard-core right-wingers but says nothing relevant about healing the economy or halting the steady disintegration of the broad middle class.

Why Mitt Romney Should Pay Higher Taxes

Mitt Romney, as all the world knows, made his fortune heading up a private equity firm called Bain Capital. As a result, he pays low, low income tax rates. "Probably closer to 15 percent than anything," he told reporters on Tuesday. That's a pretty sweet deal, but it's all perfectly legal. Most of Romney's income comes in the form of capital gains and carried interest, which have been taxed at 15 percent ever since the Bush tax cuts went into effect a decade ago.

So it's a good time to get a little wonky and ask why capital gains and carried interest are taxed at only 15 percent, while ordinary labor income is taxed at rates as high as 35 percent. If you're the cynical sort, you think the answer is simple: Rich people make lots of their money via capital gains and carried interest, and the Republican Party is dedicated to making the lives of rich people easy and prosperous. So they've made sure those tax rates are low.

Maybe so. But there's an official, noncynical answer too: Capital gains are profits from investments, and a high level of investment is good for the economy. Low tax rates on capital gains encourage investment and therefore benefit the entire economy.

The Abu Ghraib of Los Angeles?

On Wednesday, citing "a sick culture of deputy-on-inmate hyper-violence [that] has been flourishing for decades in the darkness of the L.A. County Jails," the ACLU sued the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department seeking better training for deputies, and better oversight, investigation, and discipline in cases involving prisoner mistreatment. With 15,000 inmates—a majority of them awaiting trial, yet to be convicted of a crime—L.A. county hosts the nation's largest jail system. In recent years, its guards have become known for a level of brutality that exceeds that of most maximum-security prisons—and sometimes crosses the line into torture.

The suit draws on information published in a report released last September by the ACLU's National Prison Project and Southern California branch. The report showed a pattern of brutal abuses carried out by what the report calls a "savage gang" of deputies who oversee the prisoners. "Like members of street gangs, these deputies sport tattoos to signal their gang membership," the lawsuit alleges. "They beat up inmates to gain prestige among their peers, and 'earn their ink' by breaking inmates' bones." The suit claims that Sheriff Lee Baca and his top brass are well aware of the system's "culture of violence" but have done little to change it.

Occupy Wall Street: Protesters To Demonstrate Outside Courthouses

NEW YORK — Protesters plan to "occupy" courthouses in more than 100 cities across the U.S. on Friday to protest a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed most limits on corporate and labor spending in federal elections.

The grassroots coalition, called Move to Amend, said the protest will kick off petition drives to gain support for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United v. FEC, a 2010 court ruling that allowed private groups to spend huge amounts on political campaigns with few restrictions. Occupy Wall Street activists are joining the protest.

"The courts created the idea that the corporation is a person with constitutional rights," said David Cobb, an Occupy the Courts organizer. "It's the justification for the whole corporate takeover of our government."

Activists in New York scrambled to move their protest after a judge ruled Thursday that demonstrators do not have a First Amendment right to protest in front of a federal courthouse.

Protesters had filed a lawsuit asking the judge to overturn the government's rejection of their permit application. The permit was denied on grounds that the courthouse poses unique security concerns.

In a statement late Thursday, Move to Amend said the rally would be moved to Foley Square, near the courthouse, and that activists would focus on organizing the protests rather than appealing the ruling.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Pope Warns U.S. Bishops On Threat Of 'Radical Secularism' In America

(RNS) "Radical secularism" is gaining ground in American society and poses a "grave threat" to the Catholic Church's freedom of expression in the public square, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of U.S. bishops on Thursday (Jan. 19).

The delegation of bishops from the mid-Atlantic region, led by Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, is in Rome for a series of regular "ad limina" visit that occur once every five years.

Benedict said bishops must help Catholic politicians understand that it is "their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith," especially regarding the respect for human life.

Catholics must be on guard to confront a "reductive secularism," Benedict said, which tries to "delegitimize the church's participation in public debate."

The pontiff warned that America's "cherished" tradition of "religious freedom" is under threat as the nation's moral consensus has been "eroded" by "powerful new cultural currents" that not only run counter to "Judeo-Christian tradition, but (are) increasingly hostile to Christianity as such."

Benedict's message echoed a recent campaign by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has warned of a "national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions" over same-sex marriage, contraception mandates and other issues.

Benedict warned that the separation of church and state must not be invoked to force the church to "be silent on certain issues," or to sideline believers in "determining the values which will shape the future of the nation".

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the bishops' conference, was not in Rome but thanked the pope in a statement for speaking "eloquently and powerfully on the threats to the church's moral witness in public life."

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Unsustainable student debt threatens future generations and the Canadian economy

It is impossible to turn a blind eye to the numbers. On average, a student in Canada graduates with $27,000 of public debt. Collectively, students owe the federal government over $15 billion and much more in provincial and private loans such as bank loans or credit cards. Loans given out by the federal government increase by roughly $1 million a day and students are taking on more debt than ever before.

The fact that tuition fees have increased four-fold over the past three decades is largely to blame for the current student debt crisis. Some students may be lucky enough to gather all the resources needed to pay for their tuition fees, but the majority of students, however, are not. Most of us require loans to put ourselves through school. That's not to mention a job paying minimum wage will not cover a year's tuition fees, never mind living costs. We pay thousands of dollars in tuition fees and often struggle to find a decent job.

Limited personal finances deny many people the chance to access education. The majority of people who have made the very difficult and complex decision to not pursue their education largely state "financial issues" as a main deciding factor. In fact, the mere thought of having to get deep into debt to get an education is enough to prevent many from pursuing higher education. This fear of personal sacrifice of debt accumulation and repayment is overwhelming to many.

Judge reserves decision on injunction against Bill C-18

Eight of the former farmer-elected directors of the Canadian Wheat Board were in court this week, seeking to stop any further implementation of Bill C-18.

In the face of protest from grain producers and a Federal Court decision criticizing the way the government had ignored parts of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, Bill C-18 became law on Dec. 15, 2011. The bill effectively ended the CWB's "single-desk" system, meaning farmers can sell their own wheat without going through the Wheat Board. Bill C-18 also meant dismissal of the 10 producer-elected members of the CWB, leaving the five government-appointed members in charge of the organization.

It was a frigid January 17 when Allan Oberg, a former director of the Wheat Board along with seven other former directors, began efforts to obtain an injunction that would halt any further implementation of the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act.

Media, farmers and interested parties crowded the small Winnipeg courtroom where the case was being heard. Many in attendance had to stand.

Colin MacArthur, council for the plaintiff, told the court that it should not be forced to rule on Justice Douglas Campbell's December ruling, which found that federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz ignored Section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act when he introduced bill C-18 to Parliament. He then proceeded to argue that ending the single-desk system had done "irreparable harm" to Western Canadian wheat and barley growers, and that an injunction should be granted until the validity of Bill C-18 was tested by the court.

A Heaping Helping of Ridicule for the Fed

Newly released transcripts expose the utter incompetence of those responsible for the preventable disaster that was the 2008 financial crisis.

In keeping with its policy of releasing transcripts with a five-year lag, the Federal Reserve Board just released the transcripts from its 2006 Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings. There is much there to cause pain and amusement.

In the latter category, there is probably nothing that can beat Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (then the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank) telling outgoing Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan:
I’d like the record to show that I think you’re pretty terrific, too. And thinking in terms of probabilities, I think the risk that we decide in the future that you’re even better than we think is higher than the alternative.
But there is more than obsequiousness on display here. There is also profound ignorance of the economy among the nation’s top economic policymakers.

Keep in mind 2006 is the year that the $8-trillion housing bubble hit its peak and began to deflate. In other words, this covers the period in which the Titanic hit the iceberg and began to take on water. But no one on this sinking ship is even thinking about the lifeboats.

There is no one in the eight FOMC meetings who suggests that the economy faces any serious turbulence ahead. There is not even discussion that a mild recession could be in sight.

Maxwell Beech’s ‘second chance’ less likely in future

The real-life story of a Brampton man who was given a reprieve by a judge and turned his life around could soon be fodder for fables.

And that’s because Bill C10, expected to pass into law in Canada by the end of March, will make second chances a thing of the past. Instead, the bill’s mandatory minimum sentences will make sure that people like Maxwell Beech go to jail.

Beech was charged with gun and drug-related offences seven years ago, but by the time he appeared for sentencing before Judge Hugh Atwood he had found God.

On that fateful day, Beech remembers, “I really deserved to have had the book thrown at me.”

But he told the judge, “I want you to know I’m a changed man,” and explained how he wanted to be a good dad to his newborn son.

Instead of sentencing Beech to the Crown’s recommended four years, Judge Hugh Atwood allowed him to serve 90 days on weekends.

On Thursday, the Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro told the story of how Beech brought a Brampton courtroom to tears this week when he stopped in unannounced to thank Atwood for giving him the chance to turn his life around. The father of four now runs his own business installing blinds and home security systems.

The Religious Right Roars Back in South Carolina


The national media like to cite the fact that a majority of Iowa Republican caucus-goers are evangelical or born-again Christians (57 percent this year) as evidence that Iowa is a bastion of social conservatism. In South Carolina, evangelical Protestants account for not just a majority of Republican voters: they are a majority of religiously active residents in the state. And not all evangelicals are the same. There is a depth and intensity to the social conservatism here. And the candidates are behaving accordingly. They aren’t changing their positions, but they are offering religious frames and justifications for them. After hearing constantly about jobs and the budget deficit, we’re starting to hear a lot more about morality, family and values.

If you drive west on Route 378 from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to the State Capitol in Columbia, you’ll pass more churches than businesses. These aren’t mega-churches in the feel-good Rick Warren mold, with their Christian rock bands and squishy environmentalism. These are typically small, plain white buildings, not much larger than the trailers and ranch houses that surround them, with modest signs advertising their Baptist or Methodist faith. This isn’t the suburban West; it’s the rural South. The gospel churches here preach is old-time religion. In the words of a lifelong resident of the region, “It’s fire and brimstone: repent or you’ll burn in Hell.”

Stop at a convenience store in Marion County, near the Pee Dee River, and you’ll see a few unusual signs. One, in the parking lot, warns that alcohol consumption is prohibited and adds “No Profanity.” (The sign says that the parking lot is under the supervision of the Marion County Police Department. A web search by this reporter could not ascertain what the penalty is for getting caught swearing in a convenience store parking lot.) In the men’s room you might find a strange admonishment on the condom dispenser: Hygeia Corp of Kannapolis, North Carolina, warns you that while they’ll sell you a condom for four quarters, the best way to avoid contracting HIV is to abstain from sex until marriage and to be monogamous within marriage.

Number of NHS patients missing waiting-time target soars

The number of patients not being treated within the NHS waiting-time limit has soared by 43% since the coalition took office, official figures show.

Department of Health data confirmed a large increase in the number of patients who have been denied the right to be treated within 18 weeks, which is enshrined in the NHS constitution.

In May 2010, the month the government came to power, 20,662 of the patients who received NHS-funded treatment in England had waited more than 18 weeks. In November 2011 that number reached 29,508 – a jump of 42.8%.

A rise of 13.9% was recorded in the last year alone, from 25,903 in November 2010 to 29,508 in November 2011. The increases are disclosed in the latest monthly data covering the NHS's Referral to Treatment stipulation that patients should have treatment, which is often surgery, within 18 weeks of being referred by their GP.

The number of patients forced to wait at least a year before being treated has also rocketed under the coalition. In May 2010, 321 of those treated had waited that long, but in November 2011 1,018 had done so – a 217% increase.

National Citizens Coalition 'never has, never will' work for Conservative Party, says Coleman

PARLIAMENT HILL—The head of the National Citizens Coalition has defended a politically charged attack ad against Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae and disputed allegations that the NCC is an agent for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

“We do not work for the Conservative Party, never have, never will,” coalition president Peter Coleman told The Hill Times on Tuesday after a Hill Times report about the attack ad raised questions about the right-wing lobby group’s motivations.

But Mr. Coleman deflected and did not directly answer a question about whether the coalition, once led by Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) after he temporarily left politics in 1997, still maintains contact with Mr. Harper or officials in the Conservative Party.

Mr. Rae has not declared whether he wants to contest the post of permanent Liberal chief in a ground-breaking party election next year—with declared Liberal Party supporters from outside Grit ranks able to vote on the leadership—but support for his potential candidacy has grown over the past few months after strong performances as interim leader in the Commons and his ability to go toe-to-toe against Mr. Harper in the daily Question Period.

The possibility that the Citizens Coalition may somehow still have ties with Mr. Harper was aired in part because of the campaign-style attack ad against Mr. Rae and also because of the partisan posture the coalition’s new director in Ottawa, prominent Conservative blogger Stephen Taylor, often takes.

Exxon: Yellowstone Oil Spill Involved More Barrels Than Estimated

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Exxon Mobil says 1,509 barrels of oil spilled into the Yellowstone River during a pipeline break in Montana last summer – an increase of more than 500 barrels over the company's earlier estimates.

Spokesman Alan Jeffers said Thursday the company recalculated the volume after discovering the pipeline was completely severed during the July 1 accident near Laurel.

Jeffers says pipeline breaches typically involve a crack or fissure. That was the assumption used to craft the initial estimate.

The company has estimated costs related to the spill of $135 million.

More than 1,000 Exxon Mobil contractors were involved in the cleanup effort. Only about 10 barrels of crude were recovered – less than 1 percent of the total spilled.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

NCC slammed for ‘disgusting character assassination’ attack ad against Rae

PARLIAMENT HILL—Several supporters who donated large amounts of money to the right-wing National Citizens Coalition last year also gave maximum allowable contributions to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative Party.

The National Citizens Coalition, which released a controversial attack ad against Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Ont.) last weekend, indirectly supported Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) and the Conservatives by attacking their opponents with advertisements placed in national newspapers and with radio stations in several electoral districts during the campaign for the May 2 election.

But because of the separation between contributions and expenses for third parties that oppose or support parties and candidates or their policies in elections, the financial contributions to the National Citizens Coalition, which Mr. Harper led for several years after he temporarily left politics in 2007, are not included under the contribution limits for Conservative donors, even though they have the same purpose—support for the governing Conservatives.

A Hill Times comparison of contribution statements the Conservative Party and the National Citizens Coalition filed with Elections Canada last year found four examples of Conservative supporters who donated more than $1,000 to the Citizens Coalition and also contributed the maximum of $1,100 to the Conservative party.

Judith R. Wilder of Toronto, who told The Hill Times she has been a supporter of the National Citizens Coalition since insurance company executive Colin Brown founded it in 1967, gave the coalition $2,000 in the midst of the campaign for the May 2 election. Conservative Party filings with Elections Canada show Ms. Wilder also contributed $1,100 to the party, on Feb. 1, 2011.

Citizens United Fallout: Coalition Asks SEC To Order Corporate Disclosure Of Political Spending

WASHINGTON -- It used to be against the law for executives to spend funds from their massive corporate treasuries to directly influence elections. But two years ago this week, the Supreme Court declared such restrictions unconstitutional -- and short of a constitutional amendment, it's hard to get around that.

The Court never said corporations should be able to spend all that money in secret, however.

So on Thursday, a coalition of campaign reform and corporate transparency advocates called attention to their petition to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission to require that corporations publicly disclose their political contributions.

"We need to know who's influencing American elections," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), one of several backers of the petition, during a conference call with reporters. "We need to know who those corporate interests are and we need to know where they are from, so we can openly determine what they want."

Of the SEC, Menendez said, "It's the least they can do."

In reaching its January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court "imagined and assumed" there were already robust reporting requirements for political spending, said Robert Jackson, a Columbia Law School professor and a chief author of the SEC petition. "We were dismayed to see the Supreme Court make that assumption because it's not the case," he said.

Tim Smith, senior vice president at Walden Asset Management, a socially responsible investment company, said members of the Corporate Reform Coalition -- which include institutional investors managing $800 billion in assets, public officials, legal scholars and good government groups -- "all share the fear that the U.S. democratic process is in danger of being bought and sold."

In control-freak kingdom, Mounties feel the pinch

Should the government be in the business of controlling whom the RCMP commissioner can and cannot see?

New Mountie boss Bob Paulson has told Senator Colin Kenny that he can’t meet with him until he gets clearance from the Ministry of Public Safety.

Strange, says Mr. Kenny. Very strange. He says he has met with no less than nine Mountie commissioners in the past and that they have never had to go to their political superiors to get prior approval. The vetting, he says, is an infringement on the independence of the RCMP and Kenny has told the commissioner he should not put up with it.

Last fall, The Toronto Star reported that the Conservatives had quietly brought in a new set of communications guidelines to keep the Mounties on a tighter leash. The report said Mountie messaging would be monitored and vetted by Public Safety in a wide range of areas. Over the years the Harper government has repeatedly been hit with the control freak label on account of its far-reaching vetting and censorship system. At one point it even made a bid to vet the communications of the Auditor-General.

The closed nature of such a system is bad enough in a democracy but, says Kenny, extending it to the national police force is taking things to a disturbing new level. Under such controls, with Conservatives overseeing access, the senator says information potentially incriminating to the government might never see the light of day.

Commissioner Paulson and Senator Kenny have exchanged several emails over the last two weeks. For Kenny, a Liberal senator who has often been critical of his party, defence and security issues have been a speciality for three decades. As such he has always enjoyed special access to security personnel. He had Paulson over to his house for dinner last year, this being prior to Paulson’s being appointed commissioner in November.

All meetings with RCMP must be approved by Conservatives, documents show

OTTAWA—The federal Conservatives are directly exerting strict communications control over the RCMP and its new top cop, documents obtained by the Star reveal.

Public Safety documents released under Access to Information show that top political staff of Minister Vic Toews oversaw and approved the design of the new RCMP communications protocol that put the national police force on a tighter leash.

As the Star first reported, that protocol requires the RCMP to flag anything that might “garner national media attention” to Public Safety Canada.

New documents show that Toews’ office had a direct hand in crafting the policy, working with the RCMP’s new public affairs director — Daniel Lavoie — a former associate assistant deputy minister in Toews’ department.

Lavoie, who moved to the RCMP from Public Safety last summer, advised his former colleagues that implementing the new protocol “will require a change of mentality” at the RCMP, even though the force already flagged important media issues to the government.

“It will make for many interesting discussions,” Lavoie wrote in an Aug. 29 email.

Lavoie’s emails show he met with outgoing RCMP boss William Elliott as the protocol was developed. None of the emails suggests Lavoie or Elliott raised any concerns about the RCMP’s independence.

Flaherty’s 2010 promise on PS pensions not meant to be permanent, spokesman says

OTTAWA — Finance Minister Jim Flaherty wants to be clear. The commitment he made in 2010 that the Conservative government wouldn’t touch federal pensions didn’t mean they would never be reviewed again.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada was banking that public servants’ paying higher contribution rates for their pensions would spare them from further changes or cuts to their pension plans. This was based on assurances PSAC President John Gordon said Flaherty gave him during a meeting with the Canadian Labour Congress’s executive council in the fall of 2010.
In that meeting, Gordon claims Flaherty confirmed the government wouldn’t be touching pensions as long as employees agreed to pay 40 per cent of the yearly contribution rates for their pensions by 2013.

The government is phasing in an increase that would boost employees’ share of contributions — which dipped to a low of 25 per cent — to 40 per by 2013. Last fall, the unions agreed to an accelerated rate increase, effective Jan.1,  to ensure the 2013 target was reached.

With all the recent speculation that pension reform was on the Tories’ radar, Gordon publicly questioned how solid that commitment was. He has since written to both Flaherty and Treasury Board President Tony Clement to “clarify” if they have changed their minds and what they plan for pensions. The union has also revived its “hands-off our pensions” campaign and petition.

The Case for a National Pharmacare Program

When one in 10 Canadians can't afford their prescriptions, the country can't afford not to bring drugs under Medicare.

One of my patients is a taxi driver in Toronto. He supports his wife and two kids. He works hard to get by, and much of this hard work goes to pay for his diabetes medications. Sometimes he can’t make ends meet and has to skip his prescriptions. There are several patients like him in my practice, and in the practices of most other family doctors.

It’s a familiar story in Canada, where one out of every 10 patients who is prescribed a drug cannot afford to take it as prescribed, according to a new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto. These are often prescription medications that have been proven to be highly effective at extending and improving life.

This figure alone may sound benign, but consider this scenario: One in 10 cancer patients aren’t given life-saving surgeries because they can’t afford them. If this were the case, there would be front-page media coverage and an ensuing national outcry. Why, then, are we not outraged about the discrepancies in access to life-saving prescription drugs?

We thank you, Dear Leader

Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver has recommended that Ethiopian immigrants say thank you to the government. We can only guess for what: Thank you for taking us out of the jungle to a villa; thank you in the name of our children who study in ghettos; thank you to the neighbors who can't stand the smell; thank you to the nightclubs that make us stay outside when we're on leave from the army; thank you to the Health Ministry for destroying our blood donations; thank you to the rabbis who force us to undergo a giyur lechumra (conversions done in cases where doubt exists ).

This week we came across another expression of thanks. The Council of Youth Movements published an advertisement: "Thank you! We congratulate the prime minister and the education minister for increasing our support during their term..."

There is a new custom in the country - no more ingratitude toward our benefactors. Who deserves thanks and congratulations? The government and the kingdom. We thank you, Big Brother and Dear Leader. After all, we know that rulers bring the money from home - if they so desire, they are generous; if they so desire, they are tightfisted. And the subjects benefit from their goodness, because they live and operate thanks to loving kindness and not by right.