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.]

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Stintz bid for facts on Crosstown line derailed

The debate over the future of Toronto transit has reached a boiling point with the head of the TTC storming out of a commission meeting, councillors accusing colleagues of suppressing information and the province demanding the city stop dithering on the country’s most costly transit file.

TTC chair Karen Stintz was out-voted Tuesday by other allies of Mayor Rob Ford on a request that transit staff report on the controversial $8.4-billion Eglinton Crosstown light rail line, including the pros and cons of burying the portion east of the Don Valley. Mayor Ford is unequivocal that the entire line must run underground, as outlined in a deal he struck last March with the McGuinty government. That deal has yet to get the required approval of city council and there are questions about whether the mayor has the support he needs to get his deal done.

Ms. Stintz was one of a small group working on a compromise that included street-level trains on the eastern leg of the route, with the money saved directed to the mayor’s promised Sheppard subway extension and improving service on Finch Avenue West.

This week the mayor dug in his heels, saying a “subway” was what the taxpayers of Scarborough wanted, claiming his success at the ballot box gave him the mandate to push forward. Tuesday’s vote at the TTC meeting was taken by the mayor’s critics as further evidence of his determination to fight rather than compromise, with some painting it as a political manoeuvre designed to end-run council.

Stephen Harper is 'starving the beast'

Back in 1984, when Ronald Reagan was about to run for his second term in office, Republicans were arguing about how to run against Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, who had proposed tax increases.

Administration officials, led by Bob Dole, wanted to make the following pledge: "We therefore oppose any attempts to increase taxes which would harm the recovery."

Newt Gingrich, then a young rabble rouser, wanted to go farther, and he attacked Dole as "the tax collector of the welfare state."

The Republicans compromised by inserting a comma in the sentence, so that the pledge ruled out all tax increases: "We therefore oppose any attempts to increase taxes, which would harm the recovery."

That comma is the punctuation point that separates traditional conservatives — who sometimes increased taxes — from modern conservatives, who won't agree to them under any circumstances. They want, as Grover Norquist put it, government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

The no-tax-increase position is now dogma — 95 per cent of Republican congressmen have signed Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Pledge — but it is worth recalling that conservatives arrived at this position out of frustration with their inability to sell the public on spending cuts.

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, NDP MP, Says Pension Debate Signals Major Social Restructuring

OTTAWA — A 27 year-old NDP MP is urging young Canadians to pay attention to a pension debate heating up on Parliament Hill, suggesting that a fundamental restructuring of society is taking place.

Rookie MP Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe told The Huffington Post Canada she’s personally concerned by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s purported plans to limited Old Age Security payments.

“As a young person, I am worried and I’m concerned because we are talking about what kind of society we want not just the type of pension changes for the seniors of tomorrow,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

Blanchette-Lamonthe, the NDP’s deputy critic for seniors, will table an opposition day motion Thursday calling on the House of Commons to reject “calls by the prime minister to balance the Conservative deficit on the backs of Canada’s seniors by means such as raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security (OAS) and calls on the government to make the reduction and eventual elimination of seniors’ poverty a cornerstone of the next budget.”

The Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois say they support the motion but it won’t pass a scheduled for vote on Monday without the support of the majority Conservative government.

“Mr. Harper has made vague announcements that lead us to believe that the age of eligibility for Old Age Security will be raised, so this is a motion that aims to open the discussion on the topic to ensure that our most vulnerable seniors don’t get stuck with a bill,” the MP for Pierrefonds-Dollard said.

Conservative MPs push back on OAS musings

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's musings about possible changes to Old Age Security have resulted in a public backlash -- and complaints from his own MPs.

Conservative MPs have been overwhelmed with emails and phone calls from constituents who have been concerned about their retirement pensions since Harper mused on the need to revise OAS last week in Davos.

Sources have told CTV News that MPs told Harper during a Conservative caucus meeting Wednesday that reforming pensions "is not a vote winner" and complained they were taken by surprise by the plan.

The government has since toned down their language from the "transformative" changes that Harper spoke about in Davos.

The Commons: The Russians are coming for our pensions

The Scene. “Oui ou non?” Nycole Turmel demanded. “Oui ou non?”

Will the Prime Minister be cutting Old Age Security benefits, she asked, yes or no? Will the age of eligibility be raised to 67, she wondered, yes or no?

“We want an answer,” she concluded.

In response, the Prime Minister had two answers. “Mr. Speaker, I was very clear. This government will not cut benefits for our seniors. I am very clear,” he declared. “At the same time, we will protect the system for generations to come.”

After jetting off to Switzerland and standing proudly before the global elite and bragging of his stewardship and boasting of “major transformations” to come, the Prime Minister seems suddenly shy. It is as if,  having scaled the rhetorical heights, he was suddenly reminded why he generally avoids high places. And so now he is attempting to stall, perhaps even soothe, with a sleight of hand.

Of course simply stalling won’t carry all the days between now and the delivery of the budget in March. So there is also scorn. Good ole dependable scorn.

“It is for the opposition to scare seniors,” Mr. Harper concluded, “it is for us to protect seniors.”

Senator apologizes for rope comment on murderers

Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu has backtracked from controversial comments he made Wednesday about having ropes in the jail cells of convicted killers that prompted an accusation that the Quebec senator broke the law.

His office issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that said a comment he made earlier in the day to reporters was "inappropriate" and that he regrets not clarifying his views on repeat criminals.

The comments that set off the controversy were made when Boisvenu was asked for his views on the death penalty.

"No, I'm not in favour of the death penalty. I think people need to be given a chance. But other cases should be reconsidered," Boisvenu said, and he went on to talk about convicted murderers who are deemed to have no chance at rehabilitation. He gave serial killer Clifford Olson as an example.

"Basically I think that every murderer should have a rope in his cell and he can decide on his own life. But I'm against the death penalty," Boisvenu said in French. He then talked about the cost of housing convicted killers in jail and also referred to the Shafia family case, in which a mother, father and their son were convicted on Sunday of murdering four members of their own family.

Statscan’s chief economic analyst quits

Statistics Canada’s chief economic analyst has quit, citing concerns that internal debate at the agency is being stymied.

Philip Cross made his name as a straight-shooting analyst who scrutinized Canada’s economic cycles through recessions and recoveries and put them into historical context.

But after 36 years at Statistics Canada, most recently as its high-profile chief economic analyst responsible for the quality of major economic statistics, he is leaving the agency, The Globe and Mail has learned.

In an interview, he cited several reasons for the departure. For one, Statscan’s recent move to make data available for free on its website – starting Feb. 1 – will allow him to access data, crunch the numbers and analyze economic trends on his own.

Dismay over the handling of changes to the long-form census is another key reason, he said. Mr. Cross is concerned that the free exchange of ideas at the agency is diminishing, and that internal dissent is no longer being tolerated by senior managers – particularly when it comes to discussions about the 2011 census and new national household survey.

Checking Rob Ford’s polling: Do Scarborough residents want a subway?

The people of Scarborough told Rob Ford they wanted subways last weekend.

That’s what the mayor told media on Monday, responding to the recent campaign to revive an above-ground option for transit on Eglinton Ave.

“I was out in Scarborough over the weekend; people came up to me and said they want subways. That’s it,” he said.

Ford’s answer represents the same kind of anecdotal polling used in his other surveys — like the time he was facing criticism during the core service review and noted that wherever he went, “nine out of 10” people were telling him: “Rob, stay the course.”

The numbers are nearly impossible to check since his worship doesn’t make his schedule public and the media can’t tag along to these places of nearly unilateral support and uniform opinion.

Until now.

Since it’s public knowledge that Ford was at the Eglinton Square mall this past weekend for a “community walk” in his bid to lose weight, the rare chance to check in on Rob Ford’s polling sample presented itself.

Mayor Rob Ford goes on the offensive for his transit plan

One day after Mayor Rob Ford’s allies on the TTC board blocked a report on the potential pitfalls of his plan to tunnel the entire Eglinton LRT, Ford himself went on the offensive to dismiss alternatives to his vision.

“I campaigned on building subways and I stand behind that commitment 100 per cent, because it is the right thing to do,” Ford said at an outdoor rush-hour news conference at Eglinton and Victoria Park Aves. “Putting trains down the middle of congested, jammed-up streets like the one behind us is not the answer. It is wrong.”

Tuesday’s vote was a bruising defeat for TTC chair Karen Stintz, who supports running part of the LRT above-ground and using the $2 billion saved for other transit projects. When asked whether Stintz should stay on as TTC chair, Ford said “the commission spoke loud and clear in how they voted.”


Stintz repeated Wednesday that she has no plans to resign. She’s looking forward to steering the TTC’s customer service initiatives and new performance standards, she said. But she stressed that the Eglinton issues need a public debate.

On Wednesday, Ford was flanked by supportive councillors Michelle Berardinetti, Gary Crawford, Mike Del Grande and Norm Kelly. Seven of 10 city councillors from Scarborough have signed a letter supporting Ford’s plan to bury the LRT.

Foreclosure Deal Would Give States Future Authority To Punish Firms

Feb 1 (Reuters) - A proposed settlement to resolve mortgage abuses by top U.S. banks will give states broad authority to punish firms that mistreat borrowers in the future, according to documents seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

Under the settlement, which states are currently reviewing to decide whether they will join, the states and a separate "monitoring committee" will have the authority to go to court to enforce the terms and seek penalties of up to $5 million per violation.

A strong enforcement mechanism could help the states and the Obama administration sell the deal to the public, after left-leaning activist groups have questioned whether the negotiations were too lenient on the banks.

States have just a few more days to make a decision, and an announcement of a settlement could come as early as next week, people familiar with the talks said.

The settlement, expected to be filed as a consent judgment in federal court in Washington, D.C., will last for 3-1/2 years , according to documents laying out the pending deal's enforcement terms.

Joseph Smith, the banking commissioner in North Carolina, is expected to serve as the monitor on the settlement, people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

Cybersecurity Legislation Gaining 'Momentum' In Congress

After introducing dozens of cybersecurity bills and holding months of hearings on threats from hackers, Congress is moving toward a vote on legislation to secure the nation's computer networks.

Thus far, more than 30 cybersecurity bills have been unveiled on Capitol Hill, emerging from a wide range of committees, including Commerce, Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he plans to combine those proposals into comprehensive legislation and bring that bill to the Senate floor early this year. When he does, it will be the farthest that major cybersecurity legislation has ever advanced in Congress.

What that final bill will include has become increasingly clear in recent days as a draft of the legislation has circulated around Washington. Though not finalized, the legislation is similar to a White House proposal issued last May, according to people who have seen a draft of the bill.

The White House proposal calls for increasing penalties for computer hacking, giving more authority to the Department of Homeland Security to protect critical infrastructure from cyberattacks, offering incentives to private companies to encourage them to improve cybersecurity, and promoting information sharing about cyber threats between the public and private sectors.

Occupy Oakland's Black Panther Roots

On Sunday night, a day after the mass arrest of some 400 Occupy Oakland protesters—and journalists including one of my Mother Jones colleagues—many of those who'd been released met outside City Hall to let off steam. Broadcasting through a speaker in a bicycle trailer, members of Occupy Oakland's Anti-Repression Committee denounced the use of "teargas, rubber bullets, and assault grenades." The crowd chanted, "Fuck the cops!" But anger at those who'd encouraged police violence by throwing rocks, ransacking the inside of City Hall, and burning an American flag was hard to find. A veteran member of Occupy Oakland later told me that proponents of nonviolence had largely quit speaking up at Oakland meetings for fear of being shouted down.

The militancy of Occupy Oakland contrasts sharply with the culture of Occupy Wall Street in New York City, where I was embedded this fall. In the weeks leading up to the occupation of Zuccotti Park in September, experts schooled groups of young people in peaceful protest tactics. Calls to occupy the park invariably stressed nonviolence, and the movement's official "Declaration of Solidarity," adopted later that month, proclaimed that "we have peaceably assembled here." Occupiers took turns waving an American flag on the night of the eviction, and even during the most confrontational demonstrations that followed, enforced a code of restraint. During an effort to shut down the New York Stock Exchange, for example, I saw garbage bags that had been tossed into the street by a few rogue protesters get picked up by other activists and put back on the sidewalk. A young anarchist I was shadowing denounced the incident as "stupid black-block shit," showing his disdain for anarchism's militant wing.

Federal Gun Advisers Testified On Gun Registry Bill

Information released this week by the federal government has some opposition MPs thinking twice about testimony they heard a few months ago.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews tabled a list of the experts serving on his firearms advisory committee Monday, in response to a written question from a Liberal MP.

The advisory committee includes several people who appeared before a parliamentary committee last fall to support government legislation to scrap the long-gun registry.

When Murray Grismer testified before the public safety committee last fall, the Saskatoon police officer made it clear he was appearing as an individual who supported the bill to abolish the long-gun registry.

"My comments here today are mine and mine alone," Grismer told MPs on the committee.

But according to the documents, Grismer and three others who appeared before the committee are members of the panel that provides advice and expertise to Toews, the minister responsible for the bill to scrap the registry.

Grismer and the others did not disclose their membership on the advisory panel to the MPs on the committee.

Canadians are unable to afford prescription drugs

One in 10 Canadians are not able to adhere to their prescriptions due to the cost of prescription drugs, found Michael Law et al. in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. But more than just numbers, the study asked who are those one in 10 and found something truly troubling. The people in Canada who are the most unlikely to adhere to prescription medication due to cost are: those who do not have drug insurance (public or private), those who earn the lowest income ($20,000 or less), and those who are in the poorest health or have multiple conditions -- in other words, those who could benefit the most from pharmacare.

Our need for pharmacare

Two-thirds of Canadians pay out-of-pocket for prescription drugs each year, which totals $4.6 billion or 17.5 per cent of total spending on prescription drugs. Almost 10 per cent of Canadians reported not filling or renewing a prescription or trying to make a prescription last longer because of out-of-pocket expenses.

While 26.5 per cent of people who reported cost-related nonadherence to prescription drugs had no drug coverage, 6.8 per cent of Canadians who did have drug insurance reported cost-related nonadherence. This meant that lacking insurance was associated with a four-fold increase in the odds of cost-related nonadherence to prescription drugs. Not having drug insurance was the largest associated factor with cost-related nonadherence. This is also the area that the study's authors found to be the most amenable to being addressed through changes to public policy.

Meet Mario Monti, Italy’s ‘Mr. Serious’

If one were to pick a movie title to describe Mario Monti, it would surely be A Serious Man. Italy’s current prime minister couldn’t cut a more starkly different figure from his bigmouth, scandal-prone predecessor. An economics professor and the head of one of Italy’s most prestigious universities before he was tapped to lead the country in November of last year, Monti earned the nickname “Super Mario” for taking on Germany’s powerful regional banks and then Microsoft during his tenure as European Union commissioner for competition in the early 2000s. His time in Brussels proved he was everything that Silvio Berlusconi was not: a man of measured words and bold action.

And he did not disappoint. Less than a month since taking over at Palazzo Chigi, the government headquarters in Rome, Monti had rushed through parliament a draconian, $40-billion austerity plan aimed at eliminating Italy’s public deficit by 2013. He pleased Germany, calmed the markets, and still had well over 50 per cent popular support. Italians saw the pain coming, but simply gritted their teeth.

In Brussels, he received a warm welcome from both Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy—European newspapers were quickly abuzz with rumours that the Franco-German power duo had become a trio. And in some business circles, where France’s president is privately called “Merkel’s fool” for his seeming lack of backbone vis-a-vis the chancellor, people saw in Monti a man who would speak the truth to Europe’s most powerful country. In a September op-ed piece, the professor had pointedly reminded Berlin that it was “none less than Germany and France” that broke the EU’s deficit rules in 2003, “thus sending a ‘don’t worry about fiscal discipline’ [message] to Greece and all the others.”

Conservative reforms to old age pensions would hurt low-income seniors most, says Bob Rae

OTTAWA—Opposition MPs say low-income seniors would be the real victims of expected changes to a key element of Canada’s Old Age Security program.

“It will have a very dramatic effect on low-income seniors, particularly low-income single women,” Liberal interim leader Bob Rae said Wednesday.

As the Liberals stepped up their efforts to head off the Conservatives’ proposed changes to future pensions, the party said the vast majority of Canadians receiving OAS have average incomes well below $40,000.

Rae also said making seniors wait two more years — to age 67 — to receive OAS would mean the poorest retirees would also have to wait to obtain the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), an additional support payment for seniors with less than $16,368 in income. That’s because receiving GIS is tied to approval for OAS payments, the Liberals noted. They also released a background document showing more women retirees rely on GIS than men.

Rae added that postponing eligibility for OAS would mean more costs to provinces, which would need to support low-income seniors. “It’s not just a download onto poor people, it’s also a download onto the provinces,” he told reporters.

Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper mused last week about long-term reforms to OAS to save Ottawa money, speculation has focused on the possibility the government would change the eligibility rules. But the Conservatives have not provided any details of Harper’s plan except to say current retirees or those near retirement age need not worry.

“A senior will not lose a single penny, nor one near retirement,” Harper said in the Commons. But he repeated his desire to make changes to OAS that will reduce federal costs over the long term.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty confirmed his budget, expected in March, will contain no immediate changes to retirement benefits. But the government is reviewing all pension issues, he told CBC-TV. “So we could take some steps in the budget to say, ‘All right, here are some of the things that could be done in the future in order to make sure that these programs are sustainable in the long term,’ “ Flaherty said in an interview from Israel, where he is on government business.

Original Article
Source: Star 
Author: Les Whittington 

Doug Ford violated code of conduct with ‘intimidating language,’ integrity commissioner says

Toronto’s integrity commissioner says Councillor Doug Ford violated council’s code of conduct when he used “intimidating language” toward an activist at City Hall in July.

The integrity commissioner, Janet Leiper, says Ford should formally apologize. In an interview, Ford angrily said he has no plans to do so —asserting, without evidence, that the activist made his complaint on behalf of city unions.

“This is the left-wing union group trying to track us down. They’ll do anything to take us down. It’s all a bunch of crap and nonsense as far as I’m concerned,” Ford said.

Leiper released her report on the confrontation on Wednesday, the same day she released a separate report chiding Mayor Rob Ford, Doug Ford’s brother, for failing to provide proof that he complied with a 2010 council order to repay lobbyists whose charitable donations he improperly solicited.

Leiper’s Doug Ford report validates the account of Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, a left-leaning activist and former library board member who challenged the campaign financial statements of both Fords in 2011.

“The preamble of the code of conduct states that ‘the public is entitled to expect the highest standards of conduct from the members it elects to local government.’ In behaving as he did during this incident, Councillor Ford departed from that standard,” Leiper wrote.

Mayor Rob Ford hasn’t proved he repaid lobbyists, integrity commissioner says

Mayor Rob Ford has not proved that he complied with a 2010 council order to repay lobbyists whose donations to his football charity he improperly solicited, Toronto’s integrity commissioner says in a new report.

The integrity commissioner, Janet Leiper, released the report the same day she released a separate report criticizing Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, for violating council’s code of conduct by using “intimidating language” toward an activist.

Leiper says her office asked Rob Ford six times over 13 months for confirmation that he had complied with the 2010 reimbursement order. In late October, after almost 14 months, Ford sent her letters from three of the lobbyists in which they said they did not want to be reimbursed.

Four days later, Leiper wrote, “I wrote to Mayor Ford to confirm his obligation to obey council's decision. I advised Mayor Ford that asking lobbyist-donors for the additional favour of forgiving repayment could amount to a breach of the Lobbyist Code of Conduct.”

Ford, she wrote, has not responded to this correspondence. His spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Leiper found that 11 lobbyists or clients of lobbyists had donated a total of $3,150 to the foundation, in amounts between $50 and $500, between August 2009 and May 2010. Seven had lobbied Ford or had registered an intention to lobby him.

The Rob Ford Football Foundation helps schools start football programs. Ford, who coaches Etobicoke’s Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School Eagles, solicited donations using his official city letterhead.

Council agreed with Leiper’s finding that Ford, then a councillor, improperly solicited donations from lobbyists, improperly used his influence to obtain donations, and improperly used city property and services to obtain donations.

Original Article
Source: Star 
Author: Daniel Dale 

David Higgs, Ex-Credit Suisse Trader, Pleads Guilty To Misleading Investors In Subprime Mortgages During Financial Crisis

NEW YORK — The desire to fatten year-end bonuses motivated a Credit Suisse executive and two of his employees to conspire to hide the deteriorating condition of the U.S. housing market in 2007 to keep the value of bonds based on subprime mortgages artificially high, authorities said Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Kareem Serageldin, the financial company's former managing director and global head of structured credit, was slated to receive nearly $7 million in compensation in 2007 before the company learned about the fraud and withheld $5.2 million of his pay. The fraud was blamed as part of the reason the company was forced to take a $2.65 billion write-down of its 2007 year-end financial results.

"It is a tale of greed run amok," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. "They papered over more than a half billion dollars in subprime mortgage-related losses to secure for themselves a big payday at the same time that many people were losing their homes and their jobs."

Serageldin, 38, a U.S. citizen living in England, wasn't in custody and there were no immediate plans to seek his extradition on charges of conspiracy, falsifying books and records, and wire fraud, all of which carry a potential penalty of 45 years in prison, Bharara said.

"I would encourage him to come to the United States and answer the charges against him," the prosecutor said.

'Gasland' Journalists Arrested At Hearing By Order Of House Republicans

WASHINGTON -- In a stunning break with First Amendment policy, House Republicans directed Capitol Hill police to detain a highly regarded documentary crew that was attempting to film a Wednesday hearing on a controversial natural gas procurement practice. Initial reports from sources suggested that an ABC News camera was also prevented from taping the hearing; ABC has since denied that they sent a crew to the hearing.

Josh Fox, director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Gasland" was taken into custody by Capitol Hill police this morning, along with his crew, after Republicans objected to their presence, according to Democratic sources present at the hearing. The meeting of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment had been taking place in room 2318 of the Rayburn building.

HuffPost has obtained exclusive video of the arrest of Josh Fox. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, can be heard at the end of the clip asking Republican Chairman Andy Harris (R-Md.) to halt the arrest and permit Fox to film the public hearing. Harris denies Miller's request as Fox is escorted out of the hearing in handcuffs.

Netanyahu's unnecessary committee on settlements

Netanyahu seeks to bypass the State Prosecutor's Office and the Civil Administration, which more than once have pledged to the High Court that its rulings would be honored.

In the Likud leadership contest, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has portrayed himself as the antithesis of his challenger, the Jewish Leadership faction's Moshe Feiglin, who represents extremists among West Bank settlers. But Netanyahu's policy on settlements and unauthorized West Bank outposts, as with his "peace policy," shows that he deserves the loyalty of those extremists no less than Feiglin does.

At a time when he is making flowery speeches about his commitment to a two-state solution, Netanyahu hasn't spared any effort to create facts on the ground that make a fair and rational division of the West Bank and East Jerusalem more remote. Netanyahu isn't the first prime minister who, during negotiations with the Palestinians, has taken care of the settlements and channeled public funds to them. Since the 1970s, Israel has declared about 900,000 dunams (about 225,000 acres ) "state lands" in order to allocate them to the settlements.

Netanyahu hasn't just made do with an outdated Ottoman law to entrench Israeli control over the West Bank. He has cooperated with lawbreakers who have taken control of private Palestinian land and set up communities there without permits from the defense minister and the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration.

To advance his policy and satisfy the settlers, Netanyahu has often invented ways to bypass High Court rulings and make a mockery of what remains of the rule of law in the territories. At the beginning of the week, he created a committee of jurists headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy to "examine policy tools and operating principles on construction in Judea and Samaria whose status is not regularized."

Among the matters the committee will consider is how to get illegal outposts out from under High Court evacuation orders. In this way, the prime minister seeks to bypass the State Prosecutor's Office and the Civil Administration, which more than once have pledged to the High Court that its rulings would be honored.

Original Article
Source: Ha'aretz 
Author: Haaretz Editorial 

Bertha And William Garrett, Detroit Residents Who Fought Eviction, Allowed To Buy Back Home

A Detroit husband and wife who have spent months worrying that they might be evicted from their home of 22 years received word on Tuesday morning and learned they will be able to stay.

William and Bertha Garrett, who have lived on Pierson Street in Detroit for more than two decades, have been fighting their bank foreclosure for more than a year. They attempted to buy back their home with no success -- until this week, they said.

Two weeks ago the couple got formal notice of an eviction. On Monday, a contractor attempted to place a dumpster on the Garrett property, a step required before an eviction can take place, according to city code.

But also on Monday, members of Moratorium Now, Occupy Detroit and Homes Before Banks rallied at the Detroit office of the Bank of New York Mellon Trust Co., the trustee of the Garretts' mortgage. The family's supporters also blocked the contractor from placing the dumpster.

On Tuesday morning a representative of Statebridge Co., a servicer for their mortgage, called the family to say the company would accept their offer of $12,000 to buy back their home, said the Garretts' daughter, Michele Finley.

Mitt Romney: 'I'm Not Concerned About The Very Poor'

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said on Wednesday that he's "not concerned about the very poor," citing the social safety net in place for that segment of the populace and adding that he's focused on the middle class.

"I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it," the Republican front-runner said Wednesday on CNN, following his victory in the Florida primary. "I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling."

CNN's Soledad O'Brien pressed him on his comments, adding that they may sound odd for Americans who are very poor.

"Well you had to finish the sentence, Soledad," he replied. "I said 'I'm not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net but if it has holes in it, I will repair them.' The challenge right now -- we will hear from the Democrat party the plight of the poor. And there's no question it's not good being poor and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans."

"We have a very ample safety net," said Romney. "And we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor."

Programs in the "safety net" are also suffering during the economic recession. Medicaid, for example faces cuts as states attempt to balance budgets at a time when more people are using the program. GOP lawmakers have also eyed cuts in food stamps as food prices rise, even though more Americans are using the the program as a consequence of the economic recession.

Eric Schneiderman: The Right Man, the Right Moment

In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama announced what Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect, describes as maybe “the most fateful political and economic development of the election year”—the formation of an interagency task force to finally investigate the mortgage and lending practices that led to the collapse of the economy and trillions of dollars in lost wealth, with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman named as co-chair.

It remains to be seen whether Schneiderman will be given the extensive resources and manpower he needs to conduct a thorough and aggressive investigation, or if the Wall Street faction within the Administration will stonewall the process. But I’m confident in this: Schneiderman is the right man for the job, and he’s not about to let himself be co-opted for the president’s re-election bid. Throughout his career he’s been a steadfast champion of causes because they are right, not because they are popular or politically expedient. He’s been successful because he works to move voters closer to his positions, and sets a course toward a better future and better possibilities. If he’s being obstructed, he’ll let people know.

Already, Schneiderman and a few other State Attorneys General have protected the people’s interests by drawing a firm line during negotiations between the federal government, the bankers and their fellow attorneys general on a foreclosure settlement. When most were ready to cave and grant the Big Banks wide immunity—putting their egregious and likely fraudulent behavior into a sealed box never to be examined—Schneiderman refused to sign on, even when he was kicked out of the negotiations. Although no deal is yet finalized, early indications are that it will be a far better one for the public than anyone anticipated, leaving the bulk of bad behavior on the table for possible prosecution (including the securitization and peddling of toxic mortgages, mortgage origination fraud, foreclosure mills and other acts of malfeasance.)

80 Percent of Chicken Growers Never Sanitize Poop-Filled Crates

I was going to call this post "The Poultry Industry's Dirty Secret," but then I got to thinking: Isn't that too broad? It raises the question of which dirty secret—the fact that it turns independent family farmers into low-income serfs? Intentionally feeds arsenic to chickens, which ends up both in meat and in ground water? Severely damages one of the nation's most productive fisheries with tainted chickenshit? Routinely sends out chicken that's infected with pathogens resistant to several antibiotics?

So I added the parenthetical modifier "latest." This one shocked even me. Reports the meat-industry trade journal Meatingplace (sub required):
Survey results seem to indicate that about 80 percent of poultry growers don’t ever sanitize their crates, according to an Auburn University survey of 10,317 farms. What’s more, just 18.3 percent sanitize their trucks and trailers—two areas that contribute to the spread of Salmonella and Campylobacter.
What does this mean? First it's important to get some definitions straight. For background, this Humane Society of the United States report (PDF) delivers a pretty good overview of how poultry facilities work. Every year, HSUS informs us, the industry raises 9 billion birds in sheds the size of 1.5 football fields (about 450 feet) lengthwise and 40 feet wide. These factory-style facilities hold as many as 20,000 chickens, with enough space to offer each about a letter-size piece of paper's worth by the time they reach market size.Naturally, such conditions—along with the industry's zeal to get birds to fatten as quickly as possible—leads to all manner of injury and disease, HSUS reports:
Between 5-7 weeks of age, broiler chickens spend 76-86 percent of their time lying down, depending on the degree to which they suffer from lameness. This unusually high level of time spent lying down is thought to be related to fast growth and heavy body weight, and, in turn, leads to breast blisters, hock burns, and foot-pad dermatitis. Because sheds are sometimes cleared of litter and accumulated excrement only after several consecutive flocks have been reared, the birds often must stand and lie in their own waste and that of previous flocks.
As I've written so many times before, these sad birds are kept alive by daily doses of antibiotics—and so it's no surprise that in 2008, Johns Hopkins researchers found not only poultry-house manure, but also flies that find their way into the houses, to be rife with bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics.
Next, the birds, often wounded and feces-caked, are moved into crates to be taken for slaughter—the very crates that, the new poll tells us, are never sterilized at most facilities. There, for the rough passage to the slaughterhouse—"noise, vibration, motion, overcrowding, feed and water deprivation, social  disruption, and temperature extremes" (HSUS)—the crates are stacked onto those big trailers you may have seen on the highway. And those vehicles, as Meatingplace shows, are typically never sterilized, either.

And that's where US meat birds spend their last days just before getting slaughtered, cut, and packed for the nation's dinner tables and eateries. One more gross fact: These hell-on-wheels trucks have been shown to spew a haze of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their wake as they thunder down the highway—and it can penetrate your car.

I guess among the poultry industry's grand array of dirty secrets, the bit about the fetid crates and trucks is pretty small. But it certainly doesn't send me groping for a chicken nugget.

Original Article
Source: mother jones 
Author: Tom Philpott 

Komen Kills Grants for Planned Parenthood Breast Cancer Screenings

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the ubiquitous charity dedicated to fighting breast cancer, is cancelling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of grants to Planned Parenthood that help pay for cancer screenings, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

Komen has been under pressure from anti-abortion groups to drop its funding for Planned Parenthood, which received $680,000 from the anti-cancer group in 2011. Most recently, abortion foes forced a Christian publisher to stop printing pink Komen bibles and pressured bookstores to take them off shelves. Groups have also called on supporters to boycott Komen entirely, and decried the group as a "lie from the pit of Hell." But Komen says the anti-abortion groups' activism didn't play a role in its decision, which it claims is the result of a new internal policy forbidding it from funding any organization that's currently under investigation in Congress. (Planned Parenthood is the target of a congressional investigation, but that probe is led by an anti-abortion lawmaker who has sought to end all federal support to the group.)
One thing the AP piece misses, however, is that pressure to end the Planned Parenthood funding may have also come from within Komen itself. Karen Handel was named senior vice president at Komen in April 2011, and is now "leading the organization's federal and state advocacy efforts." But before joining Komen, she was a candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary in Georgia, and was critical of Planned Parenthood. "[S]ince I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood," she wrote in a blog post, and pledged to eliminate all state funds for breast and cervical cancer screening to the group if she were elected governor.

Handel was criticized during the campaign for a vote she made as a county commissioner to provide grant money to Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings. The issue was a contentious one in the Republican primary, with Handel responding to that criticism by attacking her opponent for voting to fund Planned Parenthood in the state legislature.

That's not to say that Handel is definitely behind Komen's decision to drop funding to Planned Parenthood; I have no idea what role she may have played, if any, and Komen didn't immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.

The anti-abortion groups' campaign to force Komen to cut its funding for Planned Parenthood has been going on for several years, but this is the first time Komen has caved on the issue. Planned Parenthood issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon noting that it is "alarmed and saddened" that Komen had "succumbed to political pressure" in ending the grants, which have paid for 170,000 clinical breast and 6,400 mammogram referrals since the groups began their partnership in 2005.

Original Article
Source: mother jones 
Author: Kate Sheppard 

Controversial Contractors Paid $2.4M By Canadian Forces

The Canadian Forces spent $2.4 million last year on training at a facility run by Xe Services, the U.S. private security company formerly known as Blackwater.

The company and its training facility were used to teach precision shooting and defensive driving, as well as VIP escort requirements and close quarter combat techniques, according to documents tabled Monday in the House of Commons.

It appears the training provided by Xe instructors was for precision shooting and defensive driving. The documents note much of the training in VIP escorting and close quarter combat was done by CF instructors and standards personnel.

Special forces members also had precision shooting and defensive driving training at the facility, although for operational security reasons the government wouldn't say how many trained there.

The Department of National Defence made 14 call-ups in 2011 against a standing offer arrangement with Xe, for a total of $567,729, the documents say. Public Works, which is in charge of federal procurement, made another six call-ups and awarded one contract, spending $1,819,023.48. The total spent between the two departments in 2011 was $2,396,346.86.

Residential School Survivors: Commissioners Vow To Keep Stories Remembered

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - One of the commissioners hearing the stories of residential school survivors says the information will be preserved to ensure it is never forgotten.

Marie Wilson says part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's mandate is to establish a national research centre to contain all that is known about the dark period in Canadian history.

The federal commission started its hearings Tuesday in Prince Albert, Sask.

Art Fourstar described how an RCMP officer and school supervisor forced their way into his house while he was playing on the floor and his mother was making bannock.

He says the officer held his mother back while he was grabbed by a supervisor and thrown into the car.
Fourstar, who was just four years old, tried to escape, but was tied down and later beaten before being driven to a school in Byrtle, Man.

"Going from home from my mother to residential school, it was like going from daylight to darkness, from love to hatred."

Taliban Will Control Afghanistan With Support From Pakistan, Says Leaked Report

KABUL, Feb 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. military said in a secret report the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, are set to retake control of Afghanistan after NATO-led forces withdraw from the country, raising the prospect of a major failure of western policy after a costly war.

Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, confirmed the existence of the document, reported by Britain's Times newspaper and the BBC. But he said it was not a strategic study.

"The classified document in question is a compilation of Taliban detainee opinions," he said. "It's not an analysis, nor is it meant to be considered an analysis."

Nevertheless, it could be interpreted as a damning assessment of the war, now dragging into its eleventh year and aimed at blocking a Taliban return to power.

It could also be seen as an admission of defeat and could reinforce the view of Taliban hardliners that they should not negotiate with the United States and President Hamid Karzai's unpopular government while in a position of strength.

Police ‘whitewashing’ crime stats, study says

The majority of Canadian police forces are “whitewashing” crime statistics by refusing to provide information about the race of people they come into contact with, says a new report by two Ontario criminologists.

Only a minority of police agencies — 20 per cent — have policies restricting them from releasing the data, but nearly 60 per cent suppress it anyway, the report says.

The findings are to be published Wednesday in the Canadian Journal of Law and Society.

Withholding the information makes police less accountable and makes it more difficult for researchers to study how race may influence policing, said Paul Millar, a Nippissing University criminal justice professor, who conducted the study with Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto Centre for Criminology.

Getting to the heart of that issue is important given what’s already known about blacks being stopped more often by police and aboriginal people being overrepresented in jails, they say.

“There’s no reason we should not use every tool possible to make police more even-handed in dealings with the public,” said Millar. “Our society is becoming more diverse, not less.”

In two series in 2002 and 2010, the Star found blacks were treated more harshly and stopped more often than whites. The series analyzed Toronto Police Services data obtained through freedom of information requests.

Millar and Bempah also relied on freedom of information legislation to review information provided by 94 police forces to Statistics Canada through uniform crime reporting surveys.

Police representatives have input into what information gets collected, Bempah said.

Deputy ministers of justice also have a say. Twenty years ago, when a decision was made not to collect race-based data, there was simply “no appetite” among the ministers for doing so, said John Turner, chief of StatsCan’s policing services program.

In two decades, race-based crime data has gone from being a taboo subject, labelled by former Toronto police chair Susan Eng as an affront to notions of equality, to what some see as a necessary tool in fighting racism.

Original Article
Source: Star 
Author: Tracey Tyler 

Multiculturalism exposed as a sham

So, is "multiculturalism" dead now?

This is a question that might have come to anyone's mind, while reading through news reports and commentary on the Shafia "honour killings." And I don't just mean after the verdict was announced on Sunday, but from the beginning of the Kingston trial. For the indulgence of "multiculturalism" went right out the first window, on Day One.

Trial by jury is inevitably supplemented with trial by media in a free country. And the media, like their audience, are a hangin' judge. One did not have to be a lawyer to be vexed, while trying to establish what hard evidence the Crown had against Mohammad Shafia, his "second wife" Tooba Yahya, and his son Hamed Shafia, now convicted of the murders of three daughters and the "first wife."

As all three accused consistently and vehemently maintained their innocence, I've tried the mental exercise of looking at the case from the defence side. The evidence presented beyond the courtroom to the public struck me as persistently circumstantial. Which is not to say a huge pileup of circumstantial evidence doesn't make a case.

But, what if? What if the car in the Kingston Mills lock had, somehow, got there by accident? And while we're being hypothetical, what if the accused, and perhaps also their lawyers, had botched their defence from cultural misunderstandings?

Canada will be on the sidelines in search for Middle East peace

John Baird take note: the world’s greatest Holocaust scholar doesn’t have much use for politicians who shamelessly pander to Israel or use that dread event to advance their agendas.

Canada’s Foreign Minister should add Professor Deborah Lipstadt to his reading list. This is what she had to say after watching Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in a debate sponsored by the Republican Jewish Committee, as their appearance degenerated into an obsequious competition to see which candidate could offer the most unequivocal and fact-twisting declaration of support for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel:

“It was unbelievable. It made me cringe. I couldn’t watch it…Israel doesn’t do everything right.”

Her opinion of the candidates hadn’t improved much by the time Newt Gingrich decided at a later debate that the Palestinian people were an illusion. He reached that conclusion after cashing a cheque for $5 million donated to his campaign by an American billionaire who is also a powerful supporter of Israel.

“You listen to Newt Gingrich talking about Palestinians as an invented people – it’s out-Aipeckiing AIPAC, it’s out-Israeling Israel. There’s something about it that’s so discomforting. It’s not healthy. It’s a distortion.”

Rhetoric and indignation on OAS reform gets in the way of constructive dialogue

Prime Minister Harper made a stir at Davos, Switzerland, last week by talking about “transformational” reforms covering pensions, energy and regulations. His suggestion of changes to Old Age Security (OAS) and possibly public pensions more broadly garnered enormous attention. Unfortunately, the lion’s share of the discussion to date has been more heated rhetoric and indignation than informed, constructive dialogue. There is no doubt that Canada, like other industrial countries is facing an aging society. The government has shown leadership in raising an issue that will have to be solved either proactively and thoughtfully now, or reactively and potentially in crisis in the future.

The late Democratic Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, famously said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. So, as we now debate possible reform of Canada’s public pensions what facts are pertinent in helping us discern productive from unproductive reforms?

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute commissioned a study by McGill economist and former senior finance department official, Christopher Ragan, to estimate the coming demographic deficit. Ragan calculated that by 2040 Canada would face a $67 billion deficit (in today’s dollars) based on current policies and demographic change.

We already see some of these pressures in the projected costs for OAS and related seniors’ income programs. The federal government expects retirement income programs to increase from $35.9 billion last year to $46.7 billion by 2015-16, an increase of 30 percent in just five years. By 2015-16, these retirement income programs will consume almost one of every five dollars of federal program spending.

Pension row might be PM's distraction

It might just be me and my overly suspicious nature, but has anyone else considered that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's so-called assault on public pensions is really about something else?

The prevailing notion to date has been the PM's recent pronouncements on austerity and runaway pension costs, made high upon a mountain top in Switzerland overlooking several ruined European economies, should be taken at face value. Given the nature and style of this prime minister, there is reason for seeing his message for exactly what it is.

After all, Harper's Davos message of the dangers of continued massive social spending and presumptions of inevitable Western economic prosperity seemed designed for domestic consumption in advance of the Parliamentary session and budget later this month.

And announcing it this way fits with both his philosophical views and rather ham-handed way of doing things.

Tuesday's further developments, which saw the Conservative government already moving to limit debate on its pension bill, were justified by Government House Leader Peter Van Loan with the laughable notion that this issue had been thoroughly debated in the last federal election campaign 10 months ago. Van Loan took the position the results of that campaign showed "enthusiastic support" for pension reform, including the creation of new Pooled Retirement Pension Plans

Old age benefits now slated for cost-cutting by Stephen Harper

The great austerity blitz is not going as smoothly as planned.

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper took his sales pitch for fiscal discipline to an international meeting of political and business leaders in the Swiss town of Davos. He had three objectives: to boast about his exemplary economic stewardship; to scold his European counterparts for their profligacy; and to send a message home that he intends to trim retirement benefits, tighten Canada’s immigration rules and seek more free trade deals.

He ran into resistance on all three fronts:

  His claim that “Canada has economically outperformed most industrialized countries during these recent difficult years” was immediately shot down.

“Canada’s GDP performance is only mediocre when compared to other OECD countries,” argued Jim Stanford, economist for the Canadian Auto Workers. Using statistics published by the Paris-based OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), he showed that Canada ranked 17th of 34 industrialized countries in economic growth between 2007 and 2011.

Court scolds Harper ministers over handling of international prison transfers

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and his two Conservative predecessors have been criticized in a recent Federal Court decision for repeatedly failing to provide adequate reasons when refusing to let Canadians jailed abroad be transferred to a prison in Canada.

The ruling is the latest case to pit the government against judges who say the public safety minister has not used his discretionary powers in a transparent, reasonable way.

Critics say that it would be better to transfer applicants to the Canadian prison system, where they would be registered and eventually paroled under supervision, rather than have them serve their sentences abroad and be returned without notification to authorities in Canada.

As part of its omnibus crime bill, the Conservative government wants to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act to give the public safety minister more discretion when dealing with transfer applications.

In the latest court case, Mr. Justice Robert Barnes ruled on Jan. 19 that Mr. Toews didn’t provide proper grounds to explain why he turned down a bid by Richard Goulet, a Quebec man serving time at a low-security penitentiary in Pennsylvania for smuggling marijuana.

Economists say budget cuts risk more harm as Canadian economy shrinks

Politically, it may be the perfect time for an austerity budget. But news of a sudden contraction in the Canadian economy has economists suggesting that deep cuts now risk doing more harm than good.

Statistics Canada reported Tuesday that the economy contracted 0.1 per cent in November, following zero growth in October. The news came as Ottawa works behind the scenes on what is shaping up as a landmark budget for its cuts.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t have to face voters again until the fall of 2015, giving him plenty of time for controversial cuts to fade in the public’s consciousness. His competition – the NDP and the Liberals – are both without permanent leaders. And internally, Conservative MPs who were never happy with stimulus spending in the first place are pushing hard for deep spending cuts in areas like the CBC.

On Bay Street, BMO Nesbitt Burns deputy chief economist Doug Porter raised concerns that while Ottawa is ahead of schedule this year on its deficit target, talk has ramped up of late that the upcoming budget will unveil cuts that will be deeper and come sooner than what the Conservatives signalled last year.

Conservative MPs take issue with funding of safe abortion advocate

OTTAWA — An internal government document says $6 million in funding to an organization that provides abortions in developing countries was guided by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Muskoka Initiative on maternal and child health — but not actually part of it.

The document was obtained by Postmedia News through access to information and emerges at a time when several Conservative backbenchers are agitating to have abortion added to the parliamentary agenda despite the government's objections.

In September, the Canadian International Development Agency quietly revealed it had approved $6 million in funding over three years for International Planned Parenthood Federation projects in five countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Sudan and Tanzania.

CIDA Minister Bev Oda's office said none of the IPPF projects being funded by Canada would include abortion.

But critics, including three Conservative MPs, noted the NGO is a strong advocate for safe abortions in developing countries and alleged the funding decision did not fit with the government's own promise that the Muskoka Initiative would not support abortion.

"People have asked how funding IPPF squares with the repeated statement that Canada will not fund abortion internationally," Saskatchewan Conservative MP Brad Trost said in a statement on his website on Sept. 28.

Tories won't commit to MP pension cuts

OTTAWA — The federal Conservative government won't commit to scaling back lucrative pensions for MPs, as it searches for billions of dollars in cuts to federal programs and considers overhauling Old Age Security.

Federal politicians of all stripes are under increasing pressure to take a haircut on what spending watchdogs call a "gold-plated" pension plan, especially as government reins in expenditures to help eliminate a $31-billion deficit by 2015-16.

The screws have been tightened even further as the government looks for billions of dollars in cuts to federal programs and considers increasing the qualifying age for Old Age Security to 67 from the current 65.

The final decision on politicians' pensions falls with Treasury Board president Tony Clement, who said Tuesday all spending — including pensions for MPs — will be examined. But the government refuses to commit to cutting pension benefits for parliamentarians.

"We're reviewing the matter and all options are on the table," Clement told reporters Tuesday, but he wouldn't say whether that will actually amount to trimming the benefits.

The Conservatives were forced to explain themselves after government House leader Peter Van Loan seemed to indicate on Monday that the Tories would push for the secretive, multi-party Board of Internal Economy to trim pension benefits for MPs.

No one paying attention should be surprised by Harper government's fake pension 'crisis'

Does it really surprise anyone that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is preparing an attack on ordinary Canadians' retirement security when even the advice of the government's own experts affirms there's no evidence such change is required?

Does it really surprise anyone that's he's doing it now, just when he'd persuaded us he was a really fine, avuncular, sweater-wearing fellow, possibly holding a pussy cat, who said absolutely nothing about this topic during his recent election campaign?

Seriously, people, this is the neo-Con modus operandi -- when the opportunity presents itself, manufacture a "crisis" and move swiftly to "resolve" it while the opposition is still silently bug-eyed with astonishment and trying to remember where the facts were filed.

If you're feeling any surprise, then you really weren't paying attention. Indeed, if the implications for generations of Canadians weren't so serious, it would be tempting to tell anyone over 50 who voted for the Harper Conservatives that they sort of deserve that "Kick Me" sign someone scotch-taped to their backs.

The bankster-fuelled financial crisis in Europe provides plausible cover in this regard -- never mind that, as even the usually reliably Conservative Globe and Mail pointed out on Monday, Canadian pensions aren't in trouble the way European pensions are because Canada already "spends far less than the OECD average on public pensions."

A number is never just a number: Grey power

• 0

Number of times Prime Minister Stephen Harper campaigned on proposed changes to Canada's Old Age Security (OAS) during the 2011 federal election.

• 1985

The last time a prime minister (Brian Mulroney) tried to change the public pension system without campaigning to do it during the federal election. A seniors' movement dubbed Grey Power forced him to back off. (Source and source)

• 1952

Year Canada implemented the Old Age Security Act. The OAS plays a role in replacing pre-retirement earnings. (Source)

• 38

Percentage of Canadians covered by a workplace pension, making public programs such as the OAS important, especially to lower-income Canadians. (Source)

• 39

Percentage of lowest-income Canadian parents who reported in 2009 that they were not preparing financially for their retirement. (Source)

• 1 in 2

Number of middle-income baby boomers in Canada who face a severe cut to their living standards in old age, due to falling employer pension coverage. (Source)

• 65

The most common pensionable age within OECD countries and Canada's official retirement age. (Source)

• 67

The speculated hike in OAS age eligibility following Prime Minister Harper's ominous warnings of changes in Davos on January 26, 2012. (Source and source)

• $12,192

Amount seniors could lose if Canada pushes the OAS eligibility age from 65 to 67. (Source)

• Half

Number of all low-income Canadian men who will collect an OAS/GIS cheque for only 10 years. The poorest 20 per cent of Canadians pass away 5.6 years earlier than the richest 20 per cent. (Source)

• 4

Percentage of GDP the OAS and CPP combined cost Canada; a bargain compared to Germany and Belgium's 10 per cent and Italy's 14 per cent. (Source)

• 4.4 per cent

Canadian poverty rate among seniors in the mid-2000s, one of the lowest among OECD nations, whose average is 13.3 per cent. (Source)

• 5-10

Number of years the Harper Conservatives say they would take to phase in the proposed OAS changes. (Source)

• 75

Percentage of Canadian seniors over the age of 65 who are "reliable voters," meaning they voted in the previous federal, provincial and municipal elections. Nearly 90 per cent vote in federal elections. (Source)

• October 19, 2015

Canada's next federal election.

Original Article
Author: Trish Hennessy  

Harper's border deal expands the national security state

The Canada-U.S. "Beyond the Border" agreement announced in December 2011 promotes bilateral "friendship, sharing, and collaboration." These are excellent values. They are instilled in kindergarten. But if Canada wants to build an adult relationship with the United States, we need to openly address issues of civil rights, due process and accountability.

Nowhere is this more the case than with respect to the dramatic changes proposed for North American security. Numerous privacy concerns have already been raised with respect to increased data-gathering and cross-border information sharing. Very little attention, however, has yet been directed to the worrisome proposals for more integrated cross-border law enforcement.

Under the Beyond the Border agreement, the Shiprider pilot program will be standardized. Shiprider is an extension of Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs) which enable bilateral information and intelligence-sharing across the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Office of Border Patrol, the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The main target of IBETs has been organized crime such as drug smuggling, contraband weapons and human trafficking.

The Shiprider program will extend IBETs to shared waterways and seaways, and will also permit cross-border law enforcement. Designated RCMP and U.S. Coast Guard officers will jointly operate vessels on patrol, and will be authorized to enforce the law on either side of the border. The Harper government has also tabled legislation, Bill C-60: Keeping Canadians Safe (Protecting Borders) Act, that would bestow these designated officers with enforcement capabilities equivalent to the RCMP -- anywhere in Canada!

How the GOP Stokes Racism

Associating African Americans with 'poor and lazy' welfare recipients, GOP candidates are employing tactics that exploit racial fears and animus for their own political gain.

Republican presidential contenders Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich ramped up their racially bigoted rhetoric in their primary two weeks ago to convince white Euro-Americans that if they voted for them, their interests would always trump those of other racial groups. A day before the Iowa caucuses, Santorum, while denouncing state efforts to enroll poor citizens in the Medicaid program, implied that being black is synonymous with being poor and lazy: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” Days later, in South Carolina, Gingrich tapped into his bigoted repertoire to proclaim U.S. President Barack Obama “the greatest food-stamp president in American history.” In addition, during the Jan. 16 South Carolina debate, Gingrich lectured a member of the audience about the amount of federal handouts blacks receive, bringing into question African-Americans’ work ethic.

Though the allegations that Gingrich and Santorum have made are easily refutable, they nevertheless have their intended effect. Gingrich and Santorum use these tactics to exploit white Euro-Americans’ racial fears and animus for their own political gain. Despite Gingrich’s claim that he merely spoke factually about the outcome of Obama’s public-assistance policy, he surely knew, through political focus-group testing, that his racially coded discourse about Obama would resonate with many white Euro-American Republicans who view African-Americans as welfare cheats. Though racial prejudice and stereotypes among white Euro-Americans are less overt than in the past, studies consistently show that many Euro-Americans' perceptions of blacks as lazy and undependable lead them to cognitively associate African-Americans with welfare. This negative association, together with stereotypes about African-American work ethics, fuels Euro-American opposition to welfare policies.

The Commons: The case of actions v. words

The Scene. “Mr. Speaker, once again, I think the government has been repeatedly clear when it comes to retirement income, such as old age security,” the Prime Minister clarified.

And on that note, his second sentence. ”We have no intention,” he said, “of changing any benefits.”

Clearly. At least so far as those with no short term memory could be concerned. For the rest of those listening, there was what the government had sent up Wai Young to say no more than 90 seconds earlier. ”We will implement any changes fairly,” the dutiful backbencher reassured the House with the last intervention before Question Period, “allowing lots of time for notice and time to adjust.”

So the government has no intention of making changes. But if—for whatever reason—it should be struck with such intent sometime between now and the tabling of this spring’s budget, you are to be assured that those changes will be implemented fairly. Indeed, even with these changes existing only in the theoretical, the government presently lacking even the intent to make them, Ms. Young managed today to congratulate her side for having had the courage to change. “In fact,” she reported, “the National Post gets it with its front page headline today, ‘Tories on the right side of pension reform.’ ”

Elected Senate would give it legitimacy, but could create legislative gridlock, say experts

The Senate Reform Act, which once passed is intended to eventually lead to an elected Senate, would likely change the dynamic between the House and Senate and lead to a stronger resistance towards Lower House business, say leading experts.

“If you have an elected Upper House there is more potential than there already is for disagreement between the two Chambers, and that’s what you see in Australia, for example, which has an elected Senate and occasionally there is really grid-lock between the two Chambers,” said Jonathan Malloy, a professor of political science at Carleton University, and a Parliamentary expert.

David Smith, a University of Saskatchewan professor and a leading authority on constitutional governance, said having two elected Chambers could result in different party control, and said “if not gridlock, you’d get a lot more resistance” from an elected Senate.

But there are many questions about Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act, which has received second reading in the House. The bill will bring in nine-year terms and establish the framework for provinces to voluntarily hold Senate elections. The are still concerns about its constitutionality, its use of retroactively-imposed term limits, its potential to create gridlock between Parliament’s two Chambers, and there are no concrete guarantees there will ever be an entirely elected Senate. The Conservative government’s proposed Senate reforms “will certainly make things more complicated,” said Prof. Malloy.

Opposition parties say Conservatives now vulnerable on pension issue, and ‘they’re desperate to change the channel’

PARLIAMENT HILL—Prime Minister Stephen Harper cut short debate to push forward an obscure bill on private pension funds Tuesday to divert attention from the uproar over his plan to reduce or amend Old Age Security payments, the opposition parties claimed.

“It’s like a magician, they keep you distracted with one hand, while they pick your pocket with another,” NDP MP Wayne Marston (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, Ont.) told The Hill Times following Tuesday’s Question Period, just hours after the Conservative majority passed a time-allocation motion for the 11th time in this Parliament to limit debate. The bill will create the new Pooled Retirement Pension Plans, but the bill had not budged after the government tabled it in the House last Nov. 17.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan (York Simcoe, Ont.) said the government brought in time allocation on the debate because the Conservatives campaigned on the need for new PRPPs in the last election and said there was “enthusiastic support” for the new pension. Mr. Van Loan criticized the opposition parties for focusing on delay tactics.

“Why are they so determined to keep Canadians from having that option? It [time allocation] allows for debate to continue but it ensures we will actually make decisions,” said Mr. Van Loan.

But Liberals and New Democrats said the unexpected move on Bill C-25, which they said was a modest attempt at pension reform that lets corporations “off the hook” and focuses on employee-pooled funds, was a signal the reaction to government warnings about changes to either CPP eligibility or Old Age Security payments, or both, which was fiercer than the government expected.