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 27, 2012

'Radical' federal remarks boost fundraising, support for enviro groups

Tough talk from Ottawa about radical environmentalists and foreign-funded adversaries seems to be actually strengthening support for those groups under attack.

Environmental groups involved in the debate over Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline to the west coast report that donations have soared in recent weeks — especially after Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said U.S.-funded environmentalists and jet-setting celebrities are trying to hijack the regulatory hearings.

"We've seen an unprecedented surge of support," said Emma Gilchrist of the Dogwood Initiative, a B.C.-based group which has received $12,000 in unsolicited donations since Oliver's letter.

"We've got cheques that say, in the memo section, 'Thanks to Joe Oliver.'"

Dogwood also got nearly 25,000 new signatures on its anti-tanker petition — more than it got all of last year. Traffic to its Facebook site increased 10,000 per cent.

"We're quite disappointed to hear the things coming out of the federal government, but it has brought people together," Gilchrist said.

They're not alone.

Gateway panel urged to affirm it’s impartial

As the federal government prepares to make major changes to the way Canada reviews industrial projects, environmentalists are challenging the panel assessing the Northern Gateway pipeline to prove it’s not biased.

Over the past few weeks, federal ministers have carried out a high-profile dispute with environmental groups, some of which have been labelled “radicals.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he is working quickly to bring forward new rules creating more rapid review processes that can’t be “hijacked” by such groups. He has warned about “foreigners” gumming up regulatory processes. The clear inference was to the Gateway review.

Now, Ecojustice, a legal group representing environmental advocates, is questioning whether that political pressure is affecting the ability of the three-person joint federal review panel to properly assess Gateway, a $6.6-billion project that would carry Alberta crude to the West Coast for export to Asia and California.

In a motion filed Friday, Ecojustice asks the panel to determine whether statements from Mr. Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, “constitute an attempt by those ministers to undermine or have had the effect of undermining the panel” in a way that would create “unfairness in the hearing process.”

Ecojustice, which filed the motion on behalf of Living Oceans Society, Rainforest Conservation Foundation and ForestEthics, urges the panel to issue a statement confirming its independence.

No Conviction, No Freedom: Immigration Authorities Locked 13,000 In Limbo

WASHINGTON -- On a single day this past fall, the United States government held 13,185 people in immigration detention who had not been convicted of a crime, some of whom will not be charged with one, according to information The Huffington Post obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Instead, at a cost of roughly 2 million taxpayer dollars per day, the men and women were detained while immigration authorities sorted out their fates.

This case stands in stark contrast to the stated goal of immigration policy under the administration of President Barack Obama: to detain and deport unauthorized immigrants who've been convicted of crimes.

"ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of convicted criminal aliens, fugitives, recent illegal border crossers and egregious immigration law violators, such as those who have been previously removed from the United States," Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Nicole Navas said in a statement. "ICE's enforcement approach is enhancing public safety in communities around the country."

As the GOP presidential contest moves to Florida -- a key primary state and home to 1.5 million Latino voters -- the issue of immigration policy will move to center stage. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has positioned himself to appear as the candidate who is toughest on immigration, arguing that any of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants here without documentation should be removed regardless of circumstances -- a policy that would jam already overcrowded detention centers. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, has argued that law-abiding people with deep ties to their community and a long tenure in the United States should be given the opportunity to stay.

The End of Privacy

A few days ago Google announced a new privacy policy: If you're signed into any Google service, the information that Google collects from you can be combined with information from every other Google service to build a gigantic profile of your activities and preferences. On Tuesday I wrote that I was pretty unhappy about this, and a lot of people wanted to know why. After all, Google says this new policy will mean a better computing experience for everyone:
Our recently launched personal search feature is a good example of the cool things Google can do when we combine information across products. Our search box now gives you great answers not just from the web, but your personal stuff too…But there's so much more that Google can do to help you by sharing more of your information with…well, you. We can make search better—figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink. We can provide more relevant ads too. For example, it's January, but maybe you're not a gym person, so fitness ads aren't that useful to you. We can provide reminders that you're going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day.
So what's my problem? Easy. In that mass of good news, the real reason for Google's announcement was stuffed quietly into the middle: "We can provide more relevant ads too."

Supermarket Meat Comes From Sick Animals

At Maverick Farms, we keep a flock of chickens for eggs. It seems axiomatic to me that the happier and healthier the birds are, the better the eggs will be. So if a salesperson showed up pitching a product that would, say, boost egg production by 5 percent, while making our birds sick, but just healthy enough to keep laying, I'd send him packing. Who wants to eat eggs from a sick chicken? And why would I intentionally harm the animals who provide my eggs?

The US meat industry has different ideas. Its main goals are to maximize production while minimizing costs. Animal health matters only to the extent that the animals need to be well enough to scuttle down the slaughter line (or produce eggs, in the case of hens). Thus the industry routinely feeds livestock stuff that makes them sick.

Reporting for the newly hatched Food and Environment Reporting Network, the excellent food-safety reporter Helena Bottemiller exposes one major example: the widespread use on factory-scale hog farms of ractopamine, a drug that boosts meat production but makes hogs miserable. The drug—fed to 60 to 80 percent of pigs, Bottemiller reports—"mimics stress hormones, making the heart beat faster and relaxing blood vessels." Its effects are pretty dire:
Since it was introduced [13 years ago], ractopamine had sickened or killed more than 218,000 pigs as of March 2011, more than any other animal drug on the market, a review of FDA veterinary records shows. Pigs suffered from hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs, inability to walk and death, according to FDA reports released under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Inside Apple's Hidden Factories. Finally.

Almost everyone I know owns something made by Apple, and while most of us spend a fair bit of time obsessing about our gadgets—which apps are worth paying for? Is Siri useful or annoying?—rarely do we talk about where they came from. In part, that's because Apple wants it that way: The company is famously tight-lipped about its manufacturing process, and few outsiders have ever made it into their factories.

But now, Apple's tough facade has finally begun to crack: Recent coverage (more on this below) has provided a glimpse into Apple's vast supply chain and the massive profits it produces—more than $400,000 for every employee, according to a New York Times investigation. Here at Mother Jones, we've got a somewhat related investigation in the pipeline—come back in a few weeks for the details. Meanwhile, my colleague Dave Gilson made this handy tool.

This week, the New York Times has launched a series called "The iEconomy," and the first piece in the series focused on Apple's massive outsourcing of jobs to China. No task is too big, no deadline too tight:
One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone's screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company's dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

Rogers Misleading Advertising Case: Truth-In-Advertising Laws Violate Our Rights, Telecom Giant Says

Telecom giant Rogers is arguing before an Ontario court that truth-in-advertising rules are a violation of its right to freedom of expression, according to a news report.

Postmedia’s Sarah Schmidt reports that Rogers is challenging a $10-million fine levied on it for misleading advertising by the federal Competition Bureau by arguing that being forced to test its products before making claims about them is a violation of freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The case involves Rogers’ Chatr wireless brand, which the Competition Bureau found last November had engaged in “misleading advertising” with its claims that Chatr users experience "fewer dropped calls than new wireless carriers" and have "no worries about dropped calls".

After reviewing technical data, the bureau concluded that “there is no discernible difference in dropped call rates between Rogers/Chatr and new entrants.”

According to Rogers' submission to the Superior Court of Ontario, the testing rule "prohibits and penalizes entirely truthful claims, including claims made on a reasonably held belief that such claims are entirely accurate and claims that are proven to be entirely accurate through post-claim testing. Not only are these types of claims entirely harmless, but they play an important role in consumer choice and may have a significant positive impact on prices and product innovation.”

Labour And Globalization: As Conflicts Go International, Unions Follow Suit

On any battleground, common wisdom has long held that defeating an adversary often owes a great deal to one’s ability to think like the enemy.

So it comes as little surprise that as transnational corporations use their global reach to cut costs -- and workers’ pay -- the labour movement has begun to take a similar tack. From picket lines to backroom discussions, big labour is banding together across sectoral, national and international borders in an attempt to capitalize on the very forces that for years have been employed against them.

As Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, explains, “There’s only one way we can fight globalization, and that’s to reach out to unions around the globe.”

It’s a strategy that’s being implemented on many fronts in an effort union leaders describe as labour’s best -- and only -- chance for survival.

This week in Washington, D.C., Public Services International, an umbrella organization representing 20 million workers from nearly 150 countries, is holding a meeting of North American public sector unions -- which Canadian Union of Public Employees national president Paul Moist says is the first of its kind in more than 30 years.

Clement signals tough stance with public service unions

Treasury Board President Tony Clement served notice Thursday that he won’t allow federal public service unions to get in the way of the government carrying out its multibillion-dollar deficit reduction action plan.

Speaking to the Empire Club in Toronto, Clement accused public service unions of collaborating with the NDP to frustrate the government’s plans.

“Sustainable services by a right-sized public service should be uncontroversial goals,” Clement said. “Unfortunately, public sector union bosses, working hand-in-glove with the NDP opposition, only want to perpetuate the status quo. Their only solutions seem to be: hire more, tax more, spend more.”

“Ladies and gentlemen: this is both irresponsible and unsustainable. This stand pat approach by the unions and the NDP will actually translate into mediocre public services, at high cost, to a frustrated public.”

Clement vowed not to give in.

An alternative budget: Economists warn against austerity

The Harper government should avoid fiscal austerity while the Bank of Canada keeps monetary policy loose, a group of economists warned on Thursday.

“If you follow austerity measures — yes, your fiscal deficit will go down, but so will growth,” Stephany Griffith-Jones, program director at Columbia University’s Institute for Policy Dialogue, told a group that included many NDP MPs on Parliament Hill Thursday.

“Because the debt-to-GDP indicator is accounted not just by the amount of debt, but also by the level of GDP, you can have debt to GDP actually increase,” Griffith-Jones said.

Griffith-Jones was one of many economists invited to weigh in at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Alternative Federal Budget Roundtable 2012.

The full-day event, which was sponsored by NDP finance critic Peter Julian, also attracted other NDP MPs including Guy Caron, Raymond Côté and Wayne Marston, all of whom were repeatedly told the government should never have stopped its fiscal stimulus.

“We have to question some of the conventional wisdom on fiscal affairs, even though everyone is concerned about budgets, deficits and debt,” Canadian Auto Workers economist Jim Stanford argued.

De Beers lobbies for permission to drain lake for diamond mine

Diamond giant De Beers Canada is lobbying several politicians for permission to drain a lake and gain access to power lines for its planned Gahcho Kue diamond mine in the Northwest Territories.

The proposed $650 million mine, which is currently before regulators, requires lowering the Kennady Lake north of Yellowknife and completely draining parts of it.

De Beers has met with several northern MPs and one senator to gain permission through ministerial authorizations to drain the lake, according to filings under the federal lobbyists’ registry released last week.

But at least one of those MPs denied that the meetings with De Beers revolved around the Gahcho Kue mine.

“We didn’t discuss that at all at our meeting,” said Conservative MP Ryan Leef, who represents neighbouring Yukon.

“We did do a high-level overview of their interest in the North,” he said.

Jailed just in time for the holidays, and the PM's trip to China

It has become a judicial tradition in China. A holiday rolls around and – just as Western journalists and diplomats are heading for the airports – China’s court system rapidly processes its most sensitive cases.

It was on Christmas Day in 2009 that dissident writer Liu Xiaobo (who has since received the Nobel Peace Prize) was sentenced 11 years in jail for his role in drafting the pro-democracy manifesto Charter 08.

Christmas isn’t a widely celebrated holiday in China, but Beijing’s strategy worked in terms of making sure its critics were distracted. Mr. Liu’s sentencing was back-page news, if it was covered at all, in that week’s thin holiday newspapers in North America and Europe, and only a handful of Western diplomats were present outside the courtroom to show their concern over the process. The rest of the press and diplomatic corps were home eating turkey.

This year saw a string of high-profile decisions handed down in late December. Pro-democracy writer Chen Wei was given a nine-year sentence on Dec. 23, convicted of the same “incitement to subvert state power” charge that was used against Mr. Liu. Three days later, on Boxing Day, fellow dissident Chen Xi was jailed for 10 years on the same charge. Both men were among the original 303 signatories of Charter 08.

More information officers, less information

Here’s a simple statistic from which two tales flow: In the first five years of the Harper government, the number of information officers in the federal government grew by 16 per cent, to 4,459 from 3,855.

The two tales are these: that the increase in information officers reflects the abiding, daily preoccupation of the Harper government with controlling and disseminating information; and that under the Harper government, spending has swelled greatly, as have the number of civil servants.

Everyone with even the slightest acquaintance of this government knows of its mania for information control. Although information officers have grown in number throughout the government, all messaging (down to the finest details) is controlled in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council office, where, predictably, the number of people working on information has also grown.

Media calls, requests for information, press releases, general media strategy, requests for interviews, required answers and everything else associated with developing and disseminating the government’s “line” is co-ordinated centrally.

Such centralization raises the question why information officers have grown throughout the government, when much of their job, at least in terms of releasing information, is to make as little of it public as possible.

Harper wins when voters snooze

It is hard to decide what is more astonishing: Prime Minister Stephen Harper's inconsistencies and course corrections, or the fact they have done no serious damage to his standing in the polls.

His original appeal - even to those who don't share his vision - rested on his image as a solid, personally incorruptible, straight shooter. Said what he meant, meant what he said. Limited in life experience, uncompromising in his free-market views; but principled and predictable.

An incomplete portrait, as it hap-pens.

He accused critics of wanting to "cut and run" in Afghanistan, but, after nearly a decade of futile struggle, conceded the war was unwinnable and began withdrawing Canadian forces. He was never going to downplay China's human rights abuses in the name of the "almighty dollar" - until it became useful, recently, to ardently court China as a customer for tarsands oil.

There were other surprises: Mulroney-style Senate appointments, the unsavoury Chuck Cadman affair, the creative use of G8 funding to help Tony Clement secure re-election, the inexcusable defence of an EI watchdog agency that has done no work, has no immediate work to do, yet has already cost the treasury $3.3 million, with no end in sight.

Costly federal appointments office has nothing much to do

In the six years since the Harper government came to power, Canadian taxpayers have spent millions of dollars on supporting a federal appointments commission that doesn't exist.

The money has disappeared into a bureaucracy set up to support the commission — a bureaucracy that seems to have just about everything except a commission to support.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally announced the creation of the Public Appointments Commission in the spring of 2006, one of the first acts of his newly elected Conservative government and a centrepiece of its much-touted accountability policy.

At the same time, the government created a new federal department called the Public Appointments Commission Secretariat to support the commission with a budget of more than $1 million a year.

By cabinet decree, the secretariat reports directly to the prime minister.

In theory, the commission was to oversee the hiring process for hundreds of federal boards and agencies, ensuring appointments are made on merit and not just doled out to partisan pals of the party in power.

It all sounded like a good idea at the time.

But on the same day Harper introduced the new commission, he also announced its first commissioner would be respected Alberta businessman Gwyn Morgan, a prominent Conservative and friend of the PM.

A month later, the federal opposition parties voted to block Morgan's appointment.

Harper has no plan for possible oil shortage

Smallpox is a scary disease. It kills a fifth of those infected, and scars and blinds many survivors. Canada has been smallpox free since 1962 and the world since 1977. But, Canada has a smallpox contingency plan. So does Britain. The chances of a smallpox outbreak are remote, but I am happy to pay taxes so Canada can employ people to fight its return. That's what governments are for.

Canada stands on guard for just about every other imaginable disaster too. Click onto Public Health Canada's "Get Prepared," and you find detailed advice and plans on a long list of emergencies. But there is one glaring omission. Canada has no plan to deal with an international oil shortage even though one is almost certain to hit soon.

Just think about Iran closing the strait of Hormuz after a U.S. attack -- 40 per cent of ocean-bound oil shut in at one blow. Canadians, who face special conditions of long cold winters, would be immediately affected. Some could even freeze in the dark.

This country imports half its oil, and a growing portion comes from OPEC countries. We are as dependent on Middle East oil as the U.S., yet have no plan to direct domestic oil to Canadians. Canada is the only country in the 27-member International Energy Agency without strategic petroleum reserves.

Why Conservatives Don't Do Foreign Policy

The Tories need to take a page from Reagan-era conservatives and focus on generating foreign-policy ideas within conservative circles.

News reports note that the Canadian government’s new foreign-policy memo to cabinet is awfully “slim.” This is not comforting, but neither is it surprising, since the government and conservative movement in Canada from which it arises have a track record for undervaluing, and hence underperforming in, the broader foreign-affairs arena. Conservatives of course challenge the notion that they lack foreign-policy expertise. But when asked to name a prominent Canadian academic, think tank, or former senior official who identifies as conservative and is expert in a foreign-policy area – other than relations with the U.S. and Israel, economics, or defence – they have trouble.

Conservatives do understand that foreign policy is important. The problem is more structural: Without conservatives speaking to, and educating, other conservatives on foreign policy, the subject has become marginalized within their circles. This is especially true in the rise of the Reform/Alliance side of the conservative movement. The absence of conservative conversations on foreign policy has led to a negative feedback loop where party leadership views foreign policy as unimportant and is then reinforced in this belief by the conservative base. The fact that most foreign-policy discussions in Canada are thus (by default) conducted by groups seen as “left of centre” only reinforces this distance. And, to be fair, sitting in on a discussion of foreign policy on any Canadian university campus makes this point for conservatives.

How Newt Gingrich pulled this one off

“I am a grandiose thinker,” Newt Gingrich proclaimed in one of his more modest utterances of the recent presidential debates. Indeed, there is little that isn’t grandiose about the former House Speaker: from his proposals for a lunar colony to mine minerals to his more earthy appetites, from the partisan victories to his fall from political grace, the moral indignation and the moral failures, and, now, his latest breathtaking political resurrection. Newton Leroy Gingrich, history professor and maker of history, lover of policy minutiae and women he’s not married to, has become the sudden front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. With the Jan. 31 Florida primary on the horizon, Gingrich smashed Mitt Romney’s well-oiled political machine and beat him soundly in South Carolina—a state that has consistently predicted the party’s nominee for the last 32 years—grabbing a comfortable lead in polls of likely voters.

But national polls also show that more than half of Americans have an unfavourable opinion of Gingrich, and that Barack Obama could beat him handily if the election were held today. His sudden surge has many Republicans wondering how they got here.

Stephen Harper’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-him approach

Paul Wells on why Harper works harder than any prime minister in his lifetime to take himself out of the picture

On the eve of his meeting with national Aboriginal chiefs, Stephen Harper sat down with a Radio-Canada reporter to talk about some other stuff. She asked him why he doesn’t get along with Quebec voters. The federal Conservatives’ boosting of the royals, their nomination of a unilingual auditor general, their tough-on-crime bills don’t go down well with Montreal commentators.

As any of his predecessors would, Harper disputed the question. Quebecers like our sensible policies just fine, he said in effect, and we like Quebecers too. Then he made a bold claim: “I think our approach to federalism truly weakened the Bloc Québécois,” he said, “and we saw the downfall of the Bloc.”

Really? When I posted that excerpt on my blog, a lot of readers made fun of it. If Harper did chop down the mighty oak that Lucien Bouchard and Gilles Duceppe built, it fell in an odd direction: toward Jack Layton’s NDP, which won 59 seats in Quebec. The Conservatives won five. Even the Liberals, with seven Quebec seats, did better there.

The dangers of decentralization

My interests in the past 50 years as imam of the Ismaili community have been primarily focused on Africa, South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East – and on improving the quality of life for the people who live there. The more I think about this matter, the more I am convinced that one of the critical barriers to progress is the way in which governing processes occur.

The so-called Arab Spring has brought special attention to this challenge, illustrating that it is easier to rally people in opposition to a particular government than to forge agreement about new governing processes. But, while this pattern has recently been more dramatically evident, it has been a reality for a very, very long time.

In my life, the two moments which contributed most dramatically to this condition were the fall of the British and French colonial empires after the Second World War and then the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire two decades ago. The process continues today, as developing nations re-examine the structures under which they are governed.

In some cases – I think here of Kenya’s new constitution – power has been diffused, in response no doubt to pressures from ethnic, economic, religious and other centrifugal forces. One risk of decentralization is that it can place more decision-making power into the hands of communities that have had less access to education and governing experience, and less exposure to national and global issues.

Perhaps this is why, in some cases, the trend has been to consolidate governing authority – such as in Afghanistan, with the aim of overcoming inertia and inefficiency, as well as fragmented and provincial outlooks.

Justices: Constitution protects Redford Lutheran school from fired teacher's suit

Religious groups won new protection against job-bias lawsuits Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court tossed a case filed by a teacher fired from a Lutheran school in Redford.

The Constitution protects churches from employment-discrimination claims by ministers, justices unanimously said.

The court also said Cheryl Perich fell within that exception, in part because the church that ran Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School conferred the title of "minister" on her.

"The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. "But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission."

The Ferndale woman's lawyer, James Roach, said Wednesday the ruling was "very, very discouraging."

"I thought we would get at least some of the justices on board," Roach said of the 9-0 ruling.

He declined further comment, saying he was still reading through the opinion.
Church lawyer Kevin Theriot said the decision was correct.

"The Supreme Court was right to conclude that the government cannot contradict a church's determination of who can act as its ministers," he said in a prepared statement.

Perich and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were seeking to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act, contending that the school had discriminated against her because she had been diagnosed with narcolepsy. The Obama administration argued that the Constitution doesn't require any special exception for religious organizations. The government said churches, like other employers, are protected primarily by a separate First Amendment right, the freedom to associate.

Roberts called that position "untenable."

The court's reasoning doesn't necessarily preclude all religious-school teachers from suing. Roberts said the rejection of Perich's suit was based on "all the circumstances of her employment."

Original Article
Source: detroit news 
Author: Robert Snell 

Harper reaches the age of major-ity

The prime minister spoke in Davos today and promised major this and major that. A highlight of his remarks:
“But we will do more, much more. In the months to come our Government will undertake major transformations to position Canada for growth over the next generation.”
This continues a trend we’ve been following here at, and perhaps it’d be good to sum up the story to date.

1. The problem. I identified it in this blog post from December, on Harper passing Diefenbaker to become Canada’s 9th longest-serving prime minister. “Harper has already had an influence… Now he can start to make a difference comparable to anything Pearson and Diefenbaker made. If he wants. Harper’s (first?) coveted majority is already seven months old.”

Those sentences required no insight. They match what I was hearing, including from Conservatives, at the end of 2011: Uh, what’s the plan? As the anniversary of Harper’s May 2 majority election victory approaches, it’s still far from clear why he wanted this mandate. You see that uncertainty in this column from early November, when I asked a Conservative staffer whether a throne speech with a bold new vision would mark the New Year. ““Currently, you’re making that up,” my annoyingly anonymous source said. “But boy, would that ever be awesome. God, that would be great. Can you make it true?”

2. The windup. Harper gave year-end interviews in which he used the word “major” five times to characterize his plans. He even told CTV he’s seen “too many majority governments” fall asleep and get nothing big done. That led to this column, in which I asked what he has planned that tops repatriation, Canada-US free trade, or the Clarity Act.

3. The frame. Ten days ago Harper ostentatiously sent a letter to his caucus, laying out “tough, important choices” the government must “make with the Canadian people.” Wait, did I say “laying out.” I met “referring to.” So I asked what those choices might be.

4. The choice. Harper told his Davos audience (link above) “Canada’s choice” will be, “with clarity and urgency, to seize and to master our future, to be a model of confidence, growth, and prosperity in the 21st century.”

Like you, I’m saddened that the opposition parties will choose to oppose all those good things, or at least to pursue them in a manner that shuns clarity and urgency. But never mind. What’s clear is that Harper has been working toward this for several weeks; that he thinks it’s big; and that the agenda for the next, say, three months of government action is hinted at in that speech. The throne speech, to the extent we’re going to get one, was delivered today in Switzerland.

Original Article
Source: Maclean's 
Author: Paul Wells  

Prime Minister Harper unveils grand plan to reshape Canada

After five years of minority governments, Stephen Harper finally has the freedom to act.

He’s no longer looking at the limited horizon of the next budget or the next election. He’s planning on transforming Canada for a generation or more. This is Stephen Harper’s blueprint for reform.

Although short on details, Mr. Harper’s speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday made clear the sweep of his ambition. He will change how Canadians finance their retirement. He will overhaul the immigration system. He will make oil and gas exports to Asia a “national priority” and aggressively pursue free trade in India and Europe.

Several times in his speech, Mr. Harper portrayed his agenda as a fix for a generation – a fix he claimed is necessary to confront the challenges of an aging population. Canada’s demographics, he warned, pose “a threat to the social programs and services that Canadians cherish.” Preserving those social programs will likely mean cuts elsewhere.

“Western nations, in particular, face a choice of whether to create the conditions for growth and prosperity, or to risk long-term economic decline. In every decision, or failure to decide, we are choosing our future right now,” Mr. Harper said.

ORNGE air ambulance design risky to patients, top doctor discovers

ORNGE’s top doctor has checked out the medical interior of the air ambulance’s multi-million-dollar helicopters and found a disaster waiting to happen.

Dr. Bruce Sawadsky, in a report written Monday, calls the cramped interior of the brand new AW 139 helicopter a “high risk environment.”

His findings? Tough to do CPR. Hard to prop up a patient who is having difficulty breathing. Takes too long to load and unload a patient. Risky, too. Many equipment malfunctions.
Even though paramedics have been warning the province and ORNGE for more than a year, it took until this week for somebody to act. That came after new ORNGE boss Ron McKerlie discovered that the service’s medical director had never examined the problem.

Ontario taxpayers funded the $144 million purchase of the 12 helicopters (10 are flying) and the $7.2 million spent to design and install the medical interiors. The helicopters went into service December, 2010.
Created in 2005, ORNGE is Ontario’s air ambulance service, receiving $150 million a year in taxpayers’ money. Founder and former president Dr. Chris Mazza chose the name because air ambulances are often painted orange. The “A” was dropped in the name as a marketing ploy.

Sawadsky said ORNGE must fix the problems “as quickly as possible.” McKerlie said he takes this issue “incredibly seriously.”

ORNGE’s mysterious $6.7 million payment

The single binder of “marketing services” an ORNGE for-profit company did for an Italian helicopter firm is not worth the $6.7 million the ORNGE firm was paid.

That’s the assessment of Ron McKerlie, the able civil servant now running the provincial air ambulance service.

“I agree with (the Star’s) contention that the work performed does not reflect the amount of money that was paid for it,” McKerlie said in an interview.

What else the ORNGE Peel consulting firm, majority-owned by former president Dr. Chris Mazza, may have done to justify the payment is unclear.

McKerlie, alerted to this by a Star investigation, has passed all related information to the provincial Ministry of Finance, which is now investigating.

In December, the Star published a story showing that a company controlled by ORNGE founder Dr. Chris Mazza had received $6.7 million from AgustaWestland, a helicopter firm based in Italy. Agusta made the payments after ORNGE used provincial funds to purchase 12 AW 139 helicopters for $144 million.

Toronto Hydro: Executives get big bonuses while the company fails minimum reliability standards

Toronto Hydro executives have earned incentive bonuses totaling $2.9 million in the past five years despite the company’s failure to meet reliability standards set by the Ontario Energy Board.

It was Toronto Hydro chairman Clare Copeland himself who noted Toronto Hydro’s failing reliability record in a letter to Ontario Energy Board chair Rosemarie Leclair.

“Approximately 40 per cent of power outages in Toronto last year were caused by equipment failures and we have not met the OEB’s minimum reliability standards for local distribution companies for the past five years,” he wrote.

But poor reliability has not crimped incentive payments.

For example, chief executive Anthony Haines received $340,018 in incentive bonuses in 2010, out of a total compensation of $757,730. Haines’s total pay is about double that of the other top four executives at Toronto Hydro.

The aggregate total of incentive payments to the top five active executives in the five years ending 2010 was $2.9 million.

The reliability issues are the fault of fraying equipment rather than management performance, says Copeland.

Corruption Scandal Rocks Vatican, Whistle Blower Archbishop Vigano Was Transferred Against His Will

The Vatican was shaken by a corruption scandal Thursday after an Italian television investigation said a former top official had been transferred against his will after complaining about irregularities in awarding contracts.

The show "The Untouchables" on the respected private television network La 7 Wednesday night showed what it said were several letters that Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who was then deputy-governor of Vatican City, sent to superiors, including Pope Benedict, in 2011 about the corruption.

The Vatican issued a statement Thursday criticizing the "methods" used in the journalistic investigation. But it confirmed that the letters were authentic by expressing "sadness over the publication of reserved documents."

As deputy governor of the Vatican City for two years from 2009 to 2011, Vigano was the number two official in a department responsible for maintaining the tiny city-state's gardens, buildings, streets, museums and other infrastructure.

Vigano, currently the Vatican's ambassador in Washington, said in the letters that when he took the job in 2009 he discovered a web of corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to outside companies at inflated prices.

In one letter, Vigano tells the pope of a smear campaign against him (Vigano) by other Vatican officials who wanted him transferred because they were upset that he had taken drastic steps to save the Vatican money by cleaning up its procedures.

Don’t Mind the Gap

Income inequality has become a hot-button issue during this political campaign. A recent Pew Research Center poll, for example, attracted an extraordinary amount of attention when it found that 66 percent of Americans believed there were “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor — an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009.

But while Americans are hearing more and more about class conflict, there is little indication that they are increasingly divided along these lines. People don’t necessarily want to take money from the wealthy; they just want a better chance to get rich themselves. They care about policies that give everyone a fair shot — a distinction that candidates in both parties should understand as they head into the 2012 campaigns.

An awareness of economic inequality is not new. Pew surveys going back to 1987 have found an average of 75 percent of the American public thinking that the “rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” As far back as 1941, 60 percent of respondents told the Gallup poll that there was too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations in the United States.
Despite that longstanding sense of inequality, there is no more sentiment today for populist revolt than there was then. A Gallup poll last month found 54 percent believing that income inequality was an “acceptable part of our economic system” — a slight increase, in fact, over the 45 percent that held that view back in 1998.

Jobs, Jobs and Cars

Mitch Daniels, the former Bush budget director who is now Indiana’s governor, made the Republicans’ reply to President Obama’s State of the Union address. His performance was, well, boring. But he did say something thought-provoking — and I mean that in the worst way.       

For Mr. Daniels tried to wrap his party in the mantle of the late Steve Jobs, whom he portrayed as a great job creator — which is one thing that Jobs definitely wasn’t. And if we ask why Apple has created so few American jobs, we get an insight into what is wrong with the ideology dominating much of our politics.

Mr. Daniels first berated the president for his “constant disparagement of people in business,” which happens to be a complete fabrication. Mr. Obama has never done anything of the sort. He went on: “The late Steve Jobs — what a fitting name he had — created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew.”

Clearly, Mr. Daniels doesn’t have much of a future in the humor business. But, more to the point, anyone who reads The New York Times knows that his assertion about job creation was completely false: Apple employs very few people in this country.

Paying cash in hand is 'diddling the country', says HMRC's Dave Hartnett

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hartnett says that householders have a duty to ensure that other people do not evade paying their share of tax.

Paying a builder or cleaner in cash, allowing them to evade VAT or income tax, will result in even deeper government cuts to public services, he says. People who contribute to the cash economy cannot then complain about austerity measures, he adds.

“Tax provides the funding to run the country: hospitals, schools and everything else,” he says. “Every time someone pays cash in order not to pay VAT, the nation gets diddled.”

Speaking to a newspaper for the first time in 18 months, Mr Hartnett, the Permanent Secretary for Tax at HMRC, signals a major clampdown on the very rich.

Tax inspectors are building up a “head of steam” to raise billions of pounds by closing loopholes that are exploited by rich people, he says.

Campaigns are planned from April on tens of thousands of cash-in-hand builders and well-heeled people who formerly paid tax at the top rate but for some reason have stopped, he says. These follow previous operations involving hospital consultants, home tutors, plumbers and eBay traders, which have pulled in an extra £500 million in tax since 2007.

François Hollande vows to tax the rich to pay off French deficit

François Hollande, the leftwing frontrunner in the French presidential race, has vowed to make the rich pay the highest price to help drag France out of its economic crisis, while promising to pump more money into schools and state-assisted jobs.

The Socialist rural MP, who recently declared "my real adversary in this campaign is the world of finance", launched his manifesto on Thursday, a road map of how the left would deal with the financial crisis. Hollande said he would raise taxes for banks and big companies as well as France's richest people, and use the money to help wipe out the nation's crippling public deficit.

By scrapping some €29bn (£24bn) worth of tax breaks for wealthier people introduced under Nicolas Sarkozy, he said he could find €20bn to deal with the corrosion of French society: record unemployment, soaring youth jobless figures and an education system that has been shamed as one of the most unequal in Europe, where one in six children leave with no qualifications.

Hollande increased his lead in the polls after his first big rally on Sunday used Barack Obama-inspired slogans of "hope and "change". But he was under pressure to counter the charges by Sarkozy that the French left is high-spending, with its head in the clouds of idealism and little credibility on managing the world's financial crisis.

Umberto Eco: 'It's culture, not war, that cements European identity'

Outside Umberto Eco's office window in Milan looms the intimidating mass of Sforzesco castle, a reminder, with its towers and blackbirds, of various continental wars. Here once stood the 14th-century Castrum Portae Jovis – the Porta di Giove fortress – which was destroyed by the short-lived Aurea Republic of 1447. Between these walls, Leonardo Da Vinci and Donato Bramante once laboured; these very buttresses were conquered by Napoleon. And just beyond the moat – an area now invaded by tourists who have come to visit Michelangelo's La Pietà Rondanini – Marshall Radetzky's Austrian troops bombed the rioting city in 1848.

"When it comes to the debt crisis," says Eco, "and I'm speaking as someone who doesn't understand anything about the economy, we must remember that it is culture, not war, that cements our [European] identity. The French, the Italians, the Germans, the Spanish and the English have spent centuries killing each other. Today, we've been at peace for 70 years and no one realises how amazing that is any more. Indeed, the very idea of a war between Spain and France, or Italy and Germany, provokes hilarity. The United States needed a civil war to unite properly. I hope that culture and the [European] market will do the same for us."

Libyan militias accused of torture

Three months after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi, concerns are mounting about the mistreatment and torture of prisoners held by Libyan militiamen who are operating beyond the control of the country's transitional government, as well as by officially recognised security bodies.

Amnesty International warned that prisoners from Libya and other African countries have been subject to abuse. The warning comes against a background of anxiety in western capitals about Tripoli's failure to tackle security and political issues.

This week's fighting in Bani Walid, a former stronghold of the Gaddafi regime to the south of the capital, has fuelled fears that tribal rivalries and armed clashes could explode into a wider conflict. Last week, the president of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, was mobbed by demonstrators in his Benghazi office.

Ian Martin, the UN's special envoy to Libya, told the security council on Wednesday that the Bani Walid fighting did not indicate a resurgence of pro-Gaddafi sentiment, but added this warning: "The former regime may have been toppled, but the harsh reality is that the Libyan people continue to have to live with its deep-rooted legacy."

Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, said that more than 8,500 detainees were being held by militia groups in about 60 centres.

The State of the Union: Three Women

There were three men in front of the room for the State of the Union address on Tuesday night—President Obama, Vice-President Joseph Biden, and Speaker of the House John Boehner—and men made up the great majority of the chamber. The imbalance is not as far off as it was a half a century ago, but the numbers are still lopsided. (Seventeen Senators are women, and seventy-three Representatives, which also works out to just about seventeen per cent.) One of those congresswomen was about to depart for good, or at least for a long while: Gabrielle Giffords, of Arizona, who announced over the weekend that she was resigning. She had come incredibly far for this goodbye; after she was shot and six others were killed by a gunman a year ago, Obama, in one of the better speeches of his Presidency, electrified a crowd by telling them that, against what were then all expectations, “Gabbie opened her eyes.”

There was no moment like that in this address, although the sight of Obama embracing Giffords conveyed genuine joy, and that of an Arizona Republican, Jeff Flake, helping her stand up to cheer for him, real friendship. Perhaps there couldn’t be; a State of the Union is more of a ritual. And yet Giffords and other women at the speech, both legislators and guests, provided some of its most arresting, and challenging, moments.

Top 100 Climate Change Threats To The UK Listed In Government Report

The 100 most critical threats faced by the UK as a result of climate change have been identified in a government risk assessment.

Higher temperatures could see up to 5,900 more people dying as a result of hot summers, but thousands of cold-related deaths - between 3,900 and 24,000 - are likely to be avoided in winter by the 2050s, the research shows.

The costs to the UK of flooding could rise to billions of pounds a year in the coming decades, according to the first national assessment of the risks of climate change.

The UK will also face threats including water shortages, more droughts and diseases such as red band needle blight which could hit the timber industry in the next century, the assessment conducted for the Government showed.

However the changing climate will bring some opportunities to the UK, including the chance to grow new crops and even the possibility of more tourism as temperatures get milder.

The study looked at the implications of the kind of changes the UK is likely to see to its weather, from hotter summers to more extreme weather events.

University Science Degrees Cut In Favour Of Media Studies

Universities are axing science and technology degrees to make way for media studies, research has revealed.

The figures, likely to prove a blow for the government, show that the number of universities offering media studies as a degree has trebled in the the past 10 years, while physics has seen a steady downfall by nearly a third.

According to figures published by the Higher Education Policy Institute report (HEPI), the number of chemistry degrees on offer has also dropped by a fifth.

The majority of engineering and technology subjects have also seen a "marked decrease", the think tank revealed.

In September last year, David Cameron outlined the coalition's plans for "excellence" in schools to allow Britain to compete within the world market.

"We've got to be ambitious if we want to compete in the world," he said.

"When China is going through an educational renaissance, when India is churning out science graduates, any complacency now would be fatal.

"And we've got to be ambitious, too, if we want to mend our broken society. Because education doesn't just give people the tools to make a good living - it gives them the character to live a good life, to be good citizens."

However, the figures show that government plans have some way to go, with the popularity of media studies degrees rocketing, with the number of universities offering these degrees rising from 37 to 111 in the past decade.

"There have clearly been major changes in the balance of subject provision of undergraduate courses, notably a decline in Science and Technology subjects, alongside a significant increase in Creative and Performing Arts, Media Studies and Politics," the report observed.

Other significant shifts include:
  • Chemistry is now taught in 66 institutions compared with 93, 15 years ago (down by 20%)
  • Physics has seen a decrease from 69 to 47, a reduction of 32%
  • Botany is now taught in just 11 institutions compared with 22 in 1996-7
  • Politics has shown a marked increase, as have English, performing arts and journalism degrees

Mabe Blames High Dollar For 700 Job Cuts

Home appliance-maker Mabe Canada is slashing nearly 700 jobs at its Montreal plant, blaming the high-flying loonie for its woes.

Citing the higher Canadian dollar and projected losses, Mabe said Thursday neither government subsidies nor union concessions could reverse the course.

The company said the plant is unsustainable, given that 90 per cent of the dryers produced at the east-end Montreal plant are exported to the U.S.

Mabe, which also has operations in the U.S. and Mexico, said it would reduce production at the plant gradually until the end of 2014.

The announcement took workers by surprise, said union spokesman Michel Ouimet, as labour relations "weren't bad" and new contract talks were underway with management.

"The problem is an economic problem, the Buy American Act. They've decided to repatriate their production to the [United] States."

Oilsands 'Allies' And 'Adversaries' Named In Federal Documents

The federal government considers the media, the biodiesel industry and environmental and aboriginal groups "adversaries" in its attempt to advocate for Alberta's oilsands, according to documents obtained under access to information legislation.

Energy companies, the National Energy Board, Environment Canada, business and industry associations, meanwhile, are listed as "allies" in a public relations plan called the "Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy." It is dated March 2011.

The documents were obtained by Greenpeace Canada and Climate Action Network and released to the media on Thursday. The groups say Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is working hand-in-hand with the oil industry to silence critics.

"This government established a list of enemies nine months ago and has since launched a public attack on environmental and aboriginal groups that are raising concerns about the environmental and social impacts of the tarsands," Keith Stewart, co-ordinator of Greenpeace Canada's climate and energy campaign, said in a statement.

The documents indicate the strategy is to reframe the European debate on oilsands "in a manner that protects and advances Canadian interests related to the oilsands and broader Canadian interests in Europe."

Twitter To Censor Tweets In Some Countries

Twitter, according to its official description, promises to offer up the "latest information about what you find interesting."

There's now a caveat to that, however: The social media service will offer up the latest information about what you find interesting -- and what your government deems acceptable.

Twitter announced Thursday that the company now has the ability to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis, allowing the popular microblogging site to comply with local governments' request to remove or block certain content.

"Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries' limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country -- while keeping it available in the rest of the world," Twitter wrote in a blog post. "We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why."

The company noted that it has not yet exercised the option to withhold content from users in specific countries.

Once it does, it will alert its users to censored tweets by replacing the text of the post with a grayed-out tweet that reads, "This Tweet from @username has been withheld in: Country. Lean more." (See screenshot below.)

Stephen Harper vows big changes to retirement benefits and immigration policy

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper is vowing “major transformations” — including changes to Canada’s immigration system and retirement benefits — to ensure the future prosperity of the country.

Feeling the demographic pressures of an aging population, Harper told an international economic forum that big changes loom to safeguard Canada’s wealth.

“In the months to come, our government will undertake major transformations to position Canada for growth over the next generation,” Harper said in a keynote speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The Prime Minister pointedly noted that some developed nations appear to be taking their wealth for granted, a veiled poke at the continuing economic turmoil weighing down some European countries.

But it was his pre-emptive financial plan for Canada that drew the attention as Harper dropped hints of major — and likely controversial — reforms.

Indeed, his comments on retirement income changes fuel speculation that the Conservative government is planning to boost the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67 from 65. The Prime Minister offered no specifics about his government’s intentions. But he warned that an aging population risks undermining the country’s economic position “well beyond the current economic crises.”

Lawyer wants Police Chief Bill Blair investigated over G20 arrest

Prominent lawyer Clayton Ruby is calling for an investigation into Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s role — if any — in the illegal arrest and search of Jason Wall during the G20 summit in Toronto.

Ruby filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) on Wednesday based on information in the investigative findings from Wall’s original complaint, filed in December 2010.

On Sept. 7, 2011, the OIPRD concluded that Wall, who had been wearing a bandana around his neck, was arrested illegally on June 27, 2010 on a charge of wearing a disguise with intent.

The complaints agency also found there were reasonable grounds to lay misconduct charges against two officers, Const. Blair Begbie and Const. Vincent Wong, who are now subject to a Police Services Act hearing.

Ruby said information in the report suggests Blair ordered the arrests of anyone wearing a bandana, which contradicts the chief, who has stated publicly that “I wasn’t directly involved with operational decisions.”