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.]

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bobby Hull, Former Marine In Foreclosure, Wins Mortgage Modification With Occupy Help

Bobby Hull was supposed be thrown out of his house this month. Instead, thanks partly to Occupy Wall Street activists, he may get to stay.

Last week, Hull said, Bank of America offered him a mortgage modification that will allow him to stay in his Minneapolis home. Occupy Wall Street protesters, working with local community organizers, attracted national attention to the former Marine's foreclosure in December.

"I want to feel really happy and glad about all this, but the word that I put out about this is that I'm not doing this to save my house, I'm doing this to fix the system," Hull told HuffPost. "If they can modify this to help me, they can modify it for everyone else."

Hull said he is only one of millions of homeowners in foreclosure because of what he called bank "loansharking," and hoped more would see their mortgages renegotiated like his. His story was highlighted by Occupy protestors as part of Occupy Our Homes, an offshoot of the Occupy movement that focuses on the foreclosure crisis.

Corporate Immunity Looks Likely: Supreme Court Seems Ready To Side With Shell In Human Rights Suit

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Tuesday morning appeared divided along party lines, with a conservative majority ready to hold that corporations cannot be held accountable in federal courts for international human rights violations.

The Court was hearing oral argument in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which was brought under a founding-era law, commonly called the Alien Tort Statute, that allows foreign nationals to bring civil lawsuits in U.S. federal courts "for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States." The 12 Nigerian plaintiffs contend that Shell Oil's parent company aided and abetted the Nigerian government in its torture and extrajudicial killing of environmental and human rights protesters resisting Shell's operations in Nigeria in the 1990s.

The Alien Tort Statute says nothing about what types of defendants -- corporate, individual, state -- may be sued. In the past year, the four appeals courts to take on the issue of corporate liability have divided 3-to-1 in favor of those bringing the lawsuits. But Tuesday's oral argument reinforced the relevancy of another aspect of all these decisions: their partisan nature. Save one defection from each side, every Democrat-appointed judge held for corporate liability, and every Republican appointee found for corporate immunity.

Harper Will Keep Playing Dirty, So Long as we Let Him

Last election, the ballot question effectively crafted by Stephen Harper was one that presented a dichotomy in electoral choice -- between a strong, stable Conservative majority government, or a "reckless coalition" of left-wing parties.

Underlying that question, however, was a more profound message: The Conservative party won its majority by gambling that Canadians didn't care about what goes on in the Ottawa bubble, appealing to them on economic issues instead.

Here's the problem: Harper's gamble paid off. Most Canadians don't care about what happens in Ottawa. And that's a problem.

Harper's government was the first in Canadian history to unilaterally shut down Parliament through prorogation in order to circumvent a confidence motion it was certain to lose. His was the first in the history of the Commonwealth to be found in contempt of Parliament.

Occupy London Eviction: Authorities Dismantle Camp, Arrest 20

LONDON (AP) -- Authorities dismantled Occupy London's camp outside the famous St. Paul's Cathedral in a dramatic early hours raid Tuesday, clearing away one of the longest-surviving encampments inspired by the New York protest against capitalist excess.

The City of London police said 20 people had been arrested as officers removed tents and equipment from outside the 300-year-old church, where demonstrators had camped since mid-October.

As riot police surrounded the encampment, bailiffs in fluorescent jackets hauled camping equipment into waiting trucks and refuse bins – though there was little sign of the violence that has accompanied the clearance of several Occupy sites in the U.S.

Protesters waved flags and banged tambourines, though a small number crafted a makeshift wooden structure opposite the cathedral and scaled it in an attempt to obstruct the eviction.

Britain's High Court last Wednesday rejected the protesters' legal challenge to an eviction order. Local authorities claimed the camp had harmed nearby businesses, caused waste and hygiene problems, and attracted crime and disorder.

Spain Arrests 4 Suspected Anonymous Hackers

MADRID -- Police say they have arrested four suspected hackers allied to the loose-knit Anonymous movement in connection with attacks on Spanish political party websites.

A National Police statement said two servers used by the group in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have been blocked.

It said the four included the alleged manager of Anonymous' computer operations in Spain and Latin America, who was identified only by his initials and the aliases "Thunder" and "Pacotron."

The four are suspected of defacing websites, carrying out denial-of-service attacks and publishing data on police assigned to the royal palace and the premier's office online.

Tuesday's statement said the arrests were part of an Interpol operation.
Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: AP

Canada Manufacturing: Loonie's Decade-Long Soar Means Factories Won't Be Coming Back, CIBC Says

The outlook is grim for Canadian manufacturing, as a strong loonie is expected to keep labour costs high, deepening the hollowing out of the industrial heartland and boosting regional income inequality in the years ahead.

In a briefing note to investors on Tuesday, CIBC World Markets predicted that a robust Canadian dollar would drive more factory jobs south of the border, as the U.S. and Mexico continue to be seen as more “cost-effective” places to manufacture everything from automobiles to rail cars.

“[B]eyond the one-time recovery from cyclically depressed demand, the factory sector’s growth prospects look to be seriously impaired by the structural hit from a strong Canadian dollar,” economists Avery Shenfeld and Warren Lovely maintained. “Notwithstanding recent gains in manufacturing, plants will continue to be lost to international competitors.”

In their analysis, the economists detail how the rebound in the loonie has transformed the economic landscape since it dipped to an all-time monthly low of 62 cents against the U.S. dollar a decade ago, before moving to parity and beyond in recent years.

Omnibus Crime Bill Costs: Ending Conditional Sentences Could Cost Provinces Millions, Budget Officer

OTTAWA - Restricting house arrest is going to cost the provinces and territories almost $140 million a year, produce fewer convictions and reduce the time offenders are under government supervision, according to a report from the independent parliamentary budget officer.

The 97-page study is a detailed and devastating deconstruction of just one small aspect of the massive Conservative omnibus crime bill that is currently before the Senate.

Using 2008-09 data from Statistics Canada and the public prosecutors office, the budget officer provided a minutely detailed account of the impact of proposed restrictions to house arrest and other conditional sentences.

Not only does the report predict a significant, unreported cost to provincial and territorial treasuries, it raises troubling questions about the policy's effectiveness.

"In effect, fewer offenders will be punished for shorter amounts of time, at greater expense, but in provincial correctional facilities rather than the community," says the study, which took two researchers five months to complete.
"Skyrocketing costs, ineffective results," summarized Jack Harris, the NDP justice critic, in the House of Commons. "Too bad the government didn't do its homework."

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson responded: "I completely disagree with the premise of the honourable member's question."

"We've been acting on our belief with respect to conditional sentences, or house arrest, that they shouldn't be available for such crimes as sexual assault, kidnapping and human trafficking, and we'll stick by that," Nicholson told the Commons.

The justice minister's office, however, did not refute the specific cost estimates or other findings provided by the parliamentary budget office report.

Conditional sentences are only available to offenders facing less than two years jail time — sentences that by definition are served in provincial jails. Currently, judges cannot grant a conditional sentence to anyone who is considered a danger to the community, or to a criminal convicted of a serious, personal injury offence.

The new law will increase the number of offences for which conditional sentences cannot be granted, and the PBO report says it would have affected about a third of all conditional sentences in 2008-09.

Kevin Page, the independent budgetary watchdog appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, suggested the government doesn't actually have any firm research as a counter argument to his office's report.

Neither Correctional Service Canada nor the parole board provided data for the study, said Page.

And when Page's researchers went to Statistics Canada and the provinces for data, "we didn't get any sense that federal bureaucrats or the government actually had done the costing."

"We were going to the original source of the data and finding we were the first people asking these questions."

The report concludes that about 3,800 additional offenders would face jail time under Criminal Code changes to conditional sentences in Bill C-10, but that 650 would simply walk free after opting for trials they won.

And the cost per offender to Canadian taxpayers would increase to $41,000 from the current $2,600 — a 16-fold increase.

The report found that ending conditional sentences would have cost the provinces and territories $137 million in 2008-09, including the cost to the court system of offenders going to trial rather than face certain jail time. The bulk of the cost, almost $130 million, comes from increased jail populations.

And in an ironic twist, the report states that the Harper government's tough-on-crime measure would actually result in offenders being under government supervision for significantly less time.

Offenders sent to jail get credit for time in remand and earn early releases based on good behaviour, said the report. Those time credits are not available on conditional sentences. The effect would be to reduce the time an offender is under the eye of the state to 225 days, on average, from 348 days.

Page said the findings raise troubling questions about both the policy itself and government transparency.

"Why can't Public Safety, why can't Justice Canada produce similar kinds of reports for our parliamentarians?" he asked.

Just last October the government released tables that showed no cost to Ottawa for the changes in conditional sentencing and remained silent on the issue of provincial expenses.

The budget office report said the federal government will incur costs of $8 million annually, mostly for additional reviews by the Parole board of incarcerated offenders.

But the real load will be bourne by provinces and territories.

"You have to look at the provincial costs. That's what this report really says," said Page. "We're probably talking — our own estimates — something closer to three quarters of a billion dollars over five years. So there's no comparison (with the federal estimates)."

The researchers involved in the study repeatedly stressed that their estimates erred on the side of caution. The report states that its projections are "likely underestimates" and do not include the cost of building more prisons.

Note to readers: CORRECTS headline to replace 'ending' with 'restricting'

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: canadian press

How secure is our old age security?

The Harper government has now confirmed that it is planning changes to our Old Age Security system (OAS), and an increase in the eligible age from 65 to 67 is clearly being considered.

Canadians are indeed getting older. It is also true that as Canadians get older, and as we live longer, the costs of health care, OAS and other support systems will go up. But Harper’s claim that the current OAS system is “unsustainable” is simply not true, and it is completely false to suggest that the only “solution” is to just pay less to seniors over time.

So what do we do? Canadian baby boomers aren’t babies anymore. We’re getting gray; we’re getting sicker more often; our bodies are starting to creak and break down; we’re able to work less; we’re retiring; we are becoming increasingly dependent on health care and other support systems – and we’re living longer. Seniors (65 and over) represented 8% of the population in 1971, by 2011 they were 14%, and that number is expected to be over 20% by 2030 – as many as 9 million people. Of those, as many as 3 million people will be 80 or over.

Yet far too many Canadians aren’t ready, financially, to get old. Only a minority of Canadians have any pension other than the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). Many don’t get much from CPP either, as it’s based on contributions. Of the rest, only a minority have put nearly enough into RRSPs to sustain their retirement.
There’s no question that somehow we must get Canadians to save better on their own for their retirement so as to be less dependent on government handouts. People will need to work longer, because they’re living longer, and will need to be more responsible for themselves. That’s a larger discussion, but one that we must have.

In the meantime, however, the only income for many Canadians is, and will be, some CPP, the Old Age Security (OAS) payments and, for the poorest, the additional Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). Even all together, they don’t add up to much. Many Canadians, after working for a lifetime, after raising families, after paying their kids’ tuitions, won’t have enough savings for their own retirements. They will struggle to pay for rent and their food and the other necessities of life, let alone the small pleasures one should be able to enjoy in one’s twilight years.

Even now, many older people are already living in deplorable conditions — especially older women alone. (If you are wealthy, there are some lovely retirement homes for you. But those are for the few. It’s the rest that I worry about.) We need to make this problem better, not worse. Yet if we do as the Harper government is suggesting – spend even less on seniors – it could get much, much worse.

The challenge is that even maintaining the status quo will cost much more. Because of the increase in recipients and longer life spans, the cost of OAS is expected to almost triple to $108 billion a year in 2030 from $36.5 billion in 2010. All this will happen at the same time that there will be relatively fewer people actually working and paying the necessary taxes.

So yes, it will cost more – but that is not the same thing as “unsustainable”. The OAS is not a self-contained fund. OAS payments come out of general revenue, so whether Canada can afford the expected increased costs depends entirely on what the government’s priorities are. There are three basic solutions: (i) raise taxes to be able to spend the increased amounts; (ii) spend less on seniors; (iii) free up the necessary resources for seniors by cutting back on spending in other areas.

The idea of raising taxes is a non-starter for the Harper government, so that won’t be an option.

The second, spending less on seniors – which is clearly the choice of the Harper government – can’t just involve a knee-jerk raising of the eligibility age from 65 to 67. Some people who are 65 really need it; on the other hand, there are lots who are 67 who don’t. With that in mind, we should consider reducing or eliminating payments to those who don’t need them (those with a net income of $70,000 still get full OAS – only at close to $115,000 is OAS fully clawed back). That would free up some cash for those who need it more — and after all, this shouldn’t be about an arbitrary number of 65, 67, 72 or 63. It must be about need. But that won’t be enough to answer the larger challenge. There is poverty in this country, which is shameful given our overall affluence. We mustn’t make it worse.

That leaves the third option – cutting spending elsewhere. And with that, the questions are clear. Do we really need to spend $30 billion (and counting) on 65 F-35 stealth fighter attack jets? Do we really need to spend billions putting more people in more prisons, particularly when we know punishment doesn’t work to prevent crime? Do we really need to spend millions on 30 new MPs? Do we really need more jets, jails and politicians?

It’s a question of priorities – and in the Canada I want, all Canadians are able to live out their twilight years with dignity.

Original Article
Source: ipolitics
Author: Martha Hall Findlay

Democracy is the loser

The nastiness on Parliament Hill reached such a height in mid-February that even a forced, partial climbdown looks like grace and class by contrast. But it'll take a lot more than sheepish apologies in the House of Commons to clean the dirt out of Canadian politics.

There are few members of Parliament more dignified and eloquent than Liberal Leader Bob Rae. Forced to deal with his knowledge that a Liberal staffer was behind the Vikileaks Twitter account that smeared Conservative Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Rae stood up and honourably apologized. The staffer, he said, has resigned.

For his part, Conservative Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird apologized to the NDP for saying in the House on Feb. 17 that, "Today we have learned that the NDP official opposition has been caught in a nasty, dirty Internet trick. Not only has it stooped to the lowest of the lows, but it has been running this nasty Internet dirty trick campaign with taxpayer money." In his apology, Baird implied that his error was in relying on media reports, but there was nothing in any media report to remotely justify his allegation that the NDP had been "caught."

Budget watchdog contradicts Tories on cost of sentencing crackdown

New restrictions on the use of conditional sentences will lead to higher costs for Ottawa – and especially the provinces – according to a new analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

The report by Kevin Page directly contradicts Conservative assertions that the measure would not lead to higher costs for Ottawa. The changes are just one part of the government’s omnibus crime bill, C-10, which has been passed by the House of Commons and is currently being studied in the Senate.

The PBO attempts to calculate how government costs would be different if the measure was in place for the 2008-09 fiscal year. It concludes Ottawa would be on the hook for $7.9-million more in prosecution and parole review costs, while the provinces would face $137-million for higher prosecution, court, prison and parole review costs.

Considering federal and provincial governments spend hundreds of billions each year, the added costs are quite small as a percentage of total spending.

Satanic Reverses

After ten months of ruthless culling, has the Republican “base”—an excitable, overlapping assortment of Fox News friends, Limbaugh dittoheads, Tea Party animals, war whoopers, nativists, Christianist fundamentalists, à la carte Catholics (anti-abortion, yes; anti-torture, no), anti-Rooseveltians (Franklin and Theodore), global-warming denialists, post-Confederate white Southrons, creationists, birthers, market idolaters, Europe demonizers, and gun fetishists—finally found its John Connor, a lone hero equipped to terminate the Party establishment’s officially designated cyborg? So it seemed as of February 7th, the night Rick Santorum came out of nowhere to hit his trifecta, trouncing Mitt Romney in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado.

A year ago, Romney’s route to the nomination looked like the highway to Heaven. As the rich, successful, respected governor son of a rich, successful, respected governor father, Romney trod the well-worn path of dynastic inheritance, a tradition in American politics that stretches from the Adamses to the Bushes. In a party that respects order and hierarchy, or used to, Romney had another, analogous advantage: like Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Bush the elder, and John McCain before him, he had previously been the runner-up. He was next in line. It was his turn. His history as a Massachusetts moderate Mormon was a problem, of course, but not to worry: his fourth M would more than make up for it. Money talks, quite as loudly in politics as it does in conservative ideology.

Rick Santorum, Meet Hamza Kashgari

President Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religious freedom makes Rick Santorum “throw up.” “What kind of country do we live in that says only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum says. It’s a central part of his campaign strategy to distort such things as a Kennedy speech, or an Obama speech, to whip up outrage at the supposed war on religious people in America. Here’s what Kennedy said:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him… I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair.

Bending the Tax Code, and Lifting A.I.G.’s Profit

Last week, the American International Group reported a whopping $19.8 billion profit for its fourth quarter. It was a quite a feat for a company that was on its death bed just a little over three years ago, so sick that it needed a huge taxpayer bailout.

But if you dug into the numbers, it quickly became clear that $17.7 billion of that profit was pure fantasy — a tax benefit, er, gift, from the United States government. The company made only $1.6 billion during the quarter from actual operations. Yet A.I.G. not only received a tax benefit, it is unlikely to pay a cent of taxes this year, nor by some estimates, for at least a decade.

The tax benefit is notable for more than simply its size. It is the result of a rule that the Treasury unilaterally bent for A.I.G. and several other hobbled companies in 2008 that has largely been overlooked.

This rule-twisting could deprive the government of tens of billions of dollars, assuming the firm remains profitable. The tax dodge — and let’s be honest, that’s what it is — also will most likely help goose the bonuses of A.I.G.’s employees, some of whom helped create many of the problems that led to its role in the financial crisis.

What It Means to Be a Rising Public Intellectual in China

In a provocative op-ed in The New York Times on February 16, writer Eric X. Li argued that China's authoritarian, hybrid capitalist system is superior to America's liberal democratic system. As if that weren't enough, Li's column even went so far as to declare that the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown was justified:

    However, China's leaders would not hesitate to curtail those freedoms if the conditions and the needs of the nation changed. The 1980s were a time of expanding popular participation in the country's politics that helped loosen the ideological shackles of the destructive Cultural Revolution. But it went too far and led to a vast rebellion at Tiananmen Square.

    That uprising was decisively put down on June 4, 1989. The Chinese nation paid a heavy price for that violent event, but the alternatives would have been far worse.

Many of Li's critics found his logic here disquieting and distasteful, and rightly so. Yet such a perspective is not uncommon among certain Chinese elites. In fact, what Li articulated here isn't substantially different from the commonly perceived message of Zhang Yimou's hit film Hero -- that a ruthless emperor is justified, that it took extreme measures to achieve national unification. Beyond the simple Machiavellian view, Li's piece contains numerous problems, chief among them the fundamental assumption that there exists a distinct Chinese model with which to compare the U.S.

Rick Santorum's Mystery Donor

The biggest donor to the pro-Rick Santorum super-PAC in January was a man you've almost certainly never heard of: William J. Doré Sr., a megarich energy executive from Lake Charles, Louisiana, with a short but complicated history of political giving. His $1 million donation to the Red, White, and Blue Fund was one of the largest gifts of the cycle, and almost certainly the most mysterious.

Despite post-Citizens United fears of profligate dark money spending, for the most part, super-PAC donors have been loud and proud about their political aims. Sheldon Adelson, primary benefactor of the Newt Gingrich-supporting Winning our Future PAC, recently boasted to Forbes that he could spend $100 million on the race if he wanted to; on Thursday, comedian Bill Maher justified his $1 million gift to the Obama-supporting super-PAC Priorities USA by earmarking his check for "kicking ass!" Doré, however, has kept the motivations behind his sudden call to arms to himself.

"Mr. Doré is unavailable for comment," is all Doré's spokeswoman would say when reached by phone on Friday.

Cellphone Price Calculator Scrapped After Industry Lobbying: Report

The federal government’s decision to scrap a cellphone cost calculator for consumers came after lobbying from large telecom firms, and happened despite Industry Canada defending the calculator as accurate, a news report states.

The revelations come as Ottawa prepares to auction off a new block of wireless spectrum. Consumer advocates have raised concerns the government is planning to set up the auction in such a way that would favour the large telcos and reduce competition in the marketplace.

First put into development in 2007 by then-Industry Minister Maxime Bernier, the calculator project was meant to result in an online tool consumers could use to figure out which cellphone plan was cheapest for their purposes.

But in 2009, then-Industry Minister Tony Clement, who replaced Bernier, declared that the tool was “inaccurate” and scrapped the project.

According to documents obtained by Postmedia under access to information laws, Industry Canada did not agree with that assessment. Records show the department defended the calculator as an “important consumer-education tool.”
The records also show Clement’s decision came after lobbying from Rogers Communications, Telus and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA).

The calculator project cost the federal government $1.4 million. In defending the decision to kill it, Clement said the calculator was unfair because it did not include discounts on cellphone rates if a plan is purchased as part of bundled telecom services. This would disadvantage the large telecoms, as those are the companies that offer bundled discounts.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), which lobbied to have the calculator created, argues there was nothing wrong with the tool.

“It worked fantastically,” PIAC lawyer John Lawford told Postmedia Friday. "It was just like doing comparison shopping on the Internet where you can plug in what you're looking for and it compares everything and brings it up in a list."

This is not the first time it has been suggested corporate lobbying was behind the calculator’s demise; tech law expert Michael Geist made similar allegations two years ago.

The latest news comes as the federal government prepares to auction a new block of cellphone bandwidth that will likely reshape the wireless business in Canada. Consumer advocates fear the government will side with the large telcos in the auction, a move they say could kill cellphone competition in Canada.

The auction of the 700-megahertz band is expected to be announced this spring, and Canada’s big telecoms are in a public battle with new entrants for access to it. The band is nicknamed the “beach front property” of bandwidth for its ability to carry signals a long distance. The new spectrum has the ability to allow cellphone calls in elevators, deep in underground parking lots in big cities and in basements and attics in suburban areas.

Without access to it, Wind Mobile chairman Anthony Lacavera told the Huffington Post, the new wireless entrants in Canada’s market will not be able to survive.

“I could not make a business plan that makes sense without this bandwidth,” he said, a sentiment echoed by Public Mobile vice-president Bruce Kirby last week.

Public Mobile and Wind are hoping the government will create “set-asides” in the auction that would allow smaller carriers to bid without being outbid by large players. Another option for the auction would be “caps” that would limit how much any company can buy.

PIAC released a statement last week suggesting the government is leaning towards caps rather than a set-aside, a move that has the new wireless carriers worried.

Lacavera said the caps would not stop the big telcos from pushing small players out of the market, because every carrier has to buy enough bandwidth to make its share usable, and small players could be priced out of the competition.

“We’re not asking for any handouts,” Lacavera said. “We are prepared to pay full market value. We’re asking for a structure that allows us to get [the bandwidth] in the first place.”

Lacavera suggested that if the new wireless entrants lose out in the auction, they will likely end up being bought out by the dominant telecom players.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Daniel Tencer

Majority Of Canadians Think Tories' Online Surveillance Bill Shouldn't Become Law

A majority of Canadians think that the Conservatives’ proposed online surveillance Bill C-30 is too intrusive and should be defeated, according to a poll by Angus-Reid.

The poll, conducted February 23-24 and surveying 1,011 respondents on the polling firm’s online panel, found 53 per cent of Canadians believe the bill is too intrusive, compared to only 27 per cent who believe the it is necessary to fight online criminal activity.

Even a plurality of Conservative voters, or 47 per cent, thinks that the bill has gone too far. And considering that opposition to the bill is strongest in the Tory-heartland of Alberta, where 66 per cent of respondents said it was too intrusive, it is not surprising that the Conservative government has backed away from strongly supporting the proposed legislation.

Roughly 3 out of 5 Liberal and NDP supporters believe the bill is too intrusive.

Internet privacy is a story that Canadians are plugged into, as 45 per cent of respondents said they were following the story moderately or very closely. Only 25 per cent said they were not following it closely at all. Men in particular are paying attention, as 60 per cent said they were following it closely, compared to only 32 per cent of women.

Scrapping gun registry has taught Tories nothing

Having prevailed over those who fervently support the retention of the national long-gun registry, the federal Tories now run the risk of morphing into their nemeses.

Not that the government is about to reverse itself on the registry, but its approach to selling Bill C-30 - the new lawful access legislation - is quite reminiscent of how the gun registry has been defended.

Certainly there are parallels between the two pieces of legislation, in terms of the potential privacy violations, the potential vulnerability of huge databases of personal information and the potential impact on law-abiding citizens.

But the parallels go even deeper in the manner in which the defenders of both pieces of legislation are appealing to emotion rather than reason.

Just like the gun registry was, and is, so consistently linked to Marc Lepine's massacre of 14 women in Montreal - a tragedy the registry could not have prevented - the Tories are hoping to establish an emotional link of their own by naming their bill the Protecting Children From Internet Predators Act.

A lesson learned, perhaps, for supporters of the gun registry. I assume we can look forward to the Protecting Women From Homicidal Misogynists Act from some future government.

Down and dirty

Perhaps the most telling thing about the growing “robo-call” scandal in Canadian federal politics is not the lame denials by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, denials that suggest that if voter suppression took place, it was not an election tactic set by the party as a whole. Nor is it the trial balloons being floated by Conservative insiders that the scandal is the fault of “rogue operatives” in the party.

No, what’s most telling is how quickly Canadians are hearing the suggestion that the dirty tricks behaviour is something you could expect, given the Tories’ past record for playing fast and loose with the rules.

Right now, the extent of the scandal isn’t completely clear. Elections Canada is investigating a scheme that saw automatic calls misdirect Liberal supporters to non-existent polling stations on election day. There are still other cases where there were faked call centre calls, apparently meant to dissuade Liberal voters in ridings with close campaigns. (Those calls included rude and abusive callers, claiming to be Liberals, phoning late at night, early in the morning and on religious holidays, as well as using offensive fake accents with minority groups.)

Over the weekend, the federal Liberals said they could pinpoint 27 ridings where underhanded phone tactics were being used; the NDP say similar tactics were used in districts where the NDP were strong, and suggests a total of 34 federal ridings had some level of telephone tampering, either from automatic-dialling robo-callers, or from call centres.

This is not Zimbabwe - Allegations of election fraud demand serious response

Some of the Conservative reaction to the growing robocall scandal reminds us of Leslie Nielsen standing in front of an exploding fire-works factory in Naked Gun while telling a gathering crowd, "Move on. Nothing to see here."

On Monday, Tory Senator Mike Duffy blamed it on third parties. Conservative strategist Tim Powers called it opposition hysteria. On the weekend, Defence Minister Peter MacKay called it an isolated incident. In question period Monday, the unflappable Stephen Harper gave them all a lesson in crisis communications, saying that anyone with evidence of illegal acts should notify Elections Canada, as Harper says his party has done, so the agency can investigate and report back to the House of Commons. It's the only credible response.

With staff at a Thunder Bay call centre admitting they made live calls scripted by the Conservatives to mislead voters about polling station locations in hotly contested ridings, dismissing the allegations merely reinforces the reputation that this is a bullying, stop-at-nothing government that has muzzled everyone from scientists to veterans' advocates.

The more we look for phone scams, the more we find

In March 1954, newspapers in Seattle reported that some car windshields were damaged in a city 80 miles away. Vandalism was suspected. But then something strange happened.

People started to find car windshields speckled with tiny pits. Reports multiplied. Within a couple of weeks, the police had taken 242 calls from concerned citizens reporting damage to more than 1,000 cars.

The United States had recently detonated the first hydrogen bomb in the South Pacific. Could nuclear fallout be doing this? Fear mounted. The mayor of Seattle declared that local police could not cope. He called on president Dwight Eisenhower to take charge.

Then it occurred to some people that they were looking at windshields, rather than through them, for the first time. Maybe those tiny pits had always been there. Maybe they'd just never noticed them before. Maybe they were fooling themselves.

When this rather more mundane theory appeared in newspapers, calls to the police about pitted windshields abruptly declined. And then stopped altogether.

Taxpayers footing the bill for Redford blitz

As a Progressive Conservative bus rolls around Alberta with Alison Redford’s face on it, you’d be forgiven for assuming an election campaign is formally under way. Or that this month’s budget – ads for which run regularly on radio stations – has been passed. Or that government money has been steered entirely clear of political party business, as laws in other provinces require.

But none of this is the case in Alberta. With her first election as party leader looming, Ms. Redford’s government is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on campaign-style events.

It’s small potatoes in an oil-rich jurisdiction where revenue and spending are soaring, but opponents say it’s a far cry from the new era of politics Ms. Redford pledged in her ascent to winning the party leadership last fall.

There was $100,000 spent on a recent cabinet tour of the province – after several similar tours last year and a leadership campaign in which Ms. Redford zigzagged the province herself for eight months. Critics say it amounted to a whistle-stop campaign tour.

Then there was a caucus retreat to Jasper, a mountain getaway that opposition members say amounted to a campaign planning session. Taxpayers footed that bill, too, about $70,000.

Wait for all facts to be in before assigning blame in robocall affair

Like layers on an onion, the robocall issue continues to be peeled away. I expect it will for several more days, if not weeks. The reporters who broke this story and others who are following it up will undoubtedly uncover more factual information which will either add another layer to the onion or strip another layer away. This type of issue can be quite complex, one of the reasons it is always best not to jump to conclusions in the opening rounds.

Vote suppression — outside of being illegal — is an affront to our democratic values. At the time this incident occurred it would have been equally offensive to Harper, Ignatieff or Jack Layton. Putting partisan rhetoric aside, I don’t believe there is a present day political leader or one from the recent past who would have suggested or approved of such a tactic.

Whether carried out by a rogue operator or systematically, voters should be disgusted by the use of this tactic as in the end it was one of our most important democratic rights that someone tried to take away. For the good of the country we need to get to the bottom of this issue as quickly as possible.

Trotting out Conservative MPs with claims that their supporters also received harassing calls might make PMO feel better, but it won’t lower the temperature nor will it distract the public to any large extent. The Conservative brand has taken a severe hit, their problem will be how to avoid a Gomery type inquiry yet cooperate with Elections Canada so that this story is put to rest as quickly as possible. There doesn’t appear to be any easy solution for them at this point.

Tories can't hang up on phone call scandal

It doesn't have a catchy moniker yet, like most good scandals, but it likely will soon. Whether it ends up being called Robo-gate, Roboscam, the Robo-call scandal, or some other name, one thing is certain, it won't be called the great phone fizzle any time soon, much to the chagrin of the federal Conservatives.

Then again, just as interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae was building up a real head of steam levelling credible allegations of electoral tampering against the Tories during last spring's federal election, his own party's dirty tricks pulled the rug out from under him.

A completely deflated looking and sounding Rae stood in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon to announce that it was a Liberal party research staffer, Adam Carroll, using a parliamentary computer who started up the Vikileaks30 Twitter account two weeks ago that published salacious, personal information about Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' ugly divorce.

The normally spirited and eloquent Rae, was very subdued and at a loss for words before apologizing unreservedly to Toews, who accepted the apology.

Migrant workers need better integration in Canada, study urges

Good Mexican restaurants in rural Ontario, small-town church services in Spanish, and gridlocked Friday nights with busloads of men wiring money home and crowding into the local grocery store.

These are a few of the visible signs of the growth of Canada’s migrant agricultural worker programs, which are becoming an increasingly permanent fixture of the rural landscape.

The workers are often the same from year to year and they work at the same farms and shop in the same communities, typically from April through to autumn. Yet they remain mostly isolated from the Canadian mainstream and are unlikely to integrate, according to a new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

“When we talk about the 30,000 migrant workers that come to Canada annually, the majority have been here before,” said the study’s author, Wilfrid Laurier professor Jenna Hennebry. “This is not a one-off. This is people who have spent the better part of their lives, five or 10 or 25 years, coming to Canada to the same communities over and over.”

First election scandal casualty: Democracy

Truly shocking — and unnecessary.

If senior people within the Conservative Party of Canada conspired to rig the May 2011 election, what are the consequences? For Stephen Harper’s party, the penalties could be very, very significant. They range from fines and jail time to deregistration of Harper’s party and liquidation of its assets.

A recap: As has been well documented in the media, Conservatives used automated, pre-recorded robocalls to contact voters in ridings across the country to provide them with false and misleading information about polling stations. Other voters were called late at night and, they say, harassed and intimidated.

The allegations even attracted the attention of the conservative Wall Street Journal, which reported the robocalls were a “scandal” in the making. At first, Conservative flaks denied the allegations. Then, late last week, a Conservative staffer who worked on the party’s election campaign in Guelph lost his job amid the growing scandal.

Robocalls fit pattern of Conservative dirty tricks

For the Harper government, the most comforting thing that can be said of the "robocall affair" is that no envelopes stuffed with cash are involved.

Rather, the allegations relate to recorded phone calls allegedly ordered by the Conservatives in May's election in dozens of ridings.

The calls supposedly gave bum steers to Liberal-and New Democrat-minded voters to dissuade them from voting. The messages delivered false word, for example, of a switch in a polling location.

MPs unanimously endorsed on Monday an NDP motion calling on all parties to hand over to investigating authorities all documents relating to the vote suppression activity.

Robocalls are nothing new in politics; they're a valid outreach tool as long as they aren't fraudulent under Elections Canada rules.

Stephen Harper will have a challenge on his hands managing this latest controversy.

Japan wary of F-35 cost escalation

Japan has expressed concern to the US government about possible price rises involved in its Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter acquisition.

Last week, media reports from Japan cited chief cabinet secretary Osamu Fujimura as saying Tokyo had repeatedly expressed its concern about possible F-35 price increases.

In an email to Flightglobal, the Japanese Ministry of Defence outlined Tokyo's position on price increases. It said that if a price rises "without valid reasons, there is a possibility that a procurement could be cancelled".

"This message is conveyed to the US side occasionally. MoD will continue to request the US government to deliver the aircraft at the price in accordance with the content of the proposal by the period requested."

In December, Japan announced it had selected the F-35 as winner of its 42-aircraft F-X competition, the other competitors being the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon.

Lockheed has said the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35A variant can be delivered for an average unit cost of about $75 million, although that number assumes the USA and eight partner countries order more than 3,100 jets during the next 25 years.

Just say no to corporate greed: The case of Iceland

Capitalism is looking pretty mean these days. No amount of profit is enough, and no level of collateral damage to get that profit is unreasonable. And when capitalism on steroids runs amok, any extremes of public pain are justified to save the butts of those who made the mess in the first place.

Corporations understand that they have a green light to punish people ruthlessly for even a modest improvement to their bottom line (ask Caterpillar workers if you want details). Whole nations may be bled dry to shield financial institutions from the consequences of their own bad behaviour. The Greek government is deliberately creating a national great depression to appease international financial interests.

Happily there are some instances of people saying no to this madness. Iceland is a great example of people who stood up and fought for civility.

Iceland used to have a sound but not too adventurous government-owned-and-operated banking system. It more or less did what it was supposed to do to serve local needs. An orgy of neo-liberalism in the 1990s culminated in the privatization of the banks in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The mavericks who took control of the newly privatized banks took corporate greed to extreme levels. They caught the worldwide disease of speculative euphoria, and made immense profits as the country's banks started doing some pretty crazy stuff.

Is the Québec student strike a spark?

Tens of thousands of students are on the streets protesting moves by the Québec Liberal government to inflate post-secondary tuition fees by $1,625 in the next five years. A serious grassroots battle is underway as students hold major street protests, sit-ins, and direct actions.

Currently, over 65,000 students in Québec are on an unlimited general strike under the banner Ensemble, bloquons la hausse/Stop the Hike. Over a dozen additional student associations and unions are voting in the coming days whether to join the quickly expanding protest movement, now at the centre of political debate across the province.

Montreal is alive with dramatic protests. Tens of thousands took to the streets in a major demonstration last week, the largest strike action to date, emptying the schools of students. "Qui sème la misère, récolte la colère!" echoed off buildings on St. Catherine street in downtown Montreal, a popular rhyming French language slogan roughly translating to "Whoever sows misery harvests anger!"

After winding through downtown, a splinter protest moved to block the entrance to the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Riot police were quickly deployed, attacking students with batons and unleashing pepper spray indiscriminately at the bridge entrance and on surrounding city streets, as broadcast on CBC nationally.

McGuinty’s ungracious response to Premier of Alberta’s appeal for support on Keystone XL pipeline

Dalton McGuinty, the Premier of Ontario, should not have responded ungraciously to an appeal by Premier Alison Redford of Alberta for solidarity from Ontario and Quebec, in the course of her speech on Friday to the Small Explorers and Producers Association on Friday. In particular, she wants the Premiers of the two Central Canadian provinces to help articulate the importance of the Keystone XL pipeline to the country as a whole.

“If I had my preferences,” said Mr. McGuinty – using the subjunctive mood to express what grammarians call a contrary-to-fact hypothesis – “as to whether we had a rapidly growing oil and gas sector in the West or a lower dollar, I’ll tell you where I stand: with the lower dollar.”

But Mr. McGuinty cannot enforce his preferences. Such exercises of the imagination are futile. There is of course a correlation between the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar and foreign demand for Canadian commodities, and a higher dollar means that Canadian goods – both manufactured products and natural resources – are more expensive. No politician, or anyone else for that matter, can alter this relationship – though opinions may legitimately differ on how much Ontario and Quebec manufacturers benefit from Western Canadian oil and gas.

If Mr. McGuinty favours an intervention by the Bank of Canada to lower the value of the Canadian dollar, he should address himself to its Governor, Mark Carney. He can hardly expect Albertan companies to decline to sell their petroleum products beyond Canada’s borders, or to lower their prices in order to reduce the foreign demand for Canadian dollars.

Canadian premiers are bound to have their differences, but they should not treat interprovincial relationships as a dog-eat-dog, zero-sum game.

Original Article
Source: Globe
Author: editorial

BMO profit hits $1.1-billion

Profit at Bank of Montreal (BMO-T58.410.400.69%) rose 34 per cent in the first quarter, as lower credit losses and the addition of Midwestern U.S. bank Marshall & Ilsley Corp. helped make up for an otherwise bumpy quarter at its Canadian retail banking and capital markets operations.

BMO, Canada’s fourth-largest bank by assets made $1.11-billion, or $1.63 a share in the quarter. That compared to profit of $825-million, or $1.34 a share, during the same period last year.

Revenue rose 18.7 per cent to $4.12-billion.

The results beat the expectations of analysts, who were predicting profit of $1.36 a share on average. Adjusted for one-time items, BMO made $1.42 a share.

Provisions for credit losses, or the amount of money banks set aside to cover bad loans, fell sharply to $141-million, from $323-million a year ago, as fewer loans were in default.

Tories try to contain dirty-tricks damage to lone Ontario riding

The Harper Conservatives are trying to contain political damage over alleged dirty electoral tricks to one Southwestern Ontario riding as opposition rivals call for by-elections in any ridings affected by misdeeds.

The message from Tories, in private conversations Monday, was that something wrong happened in the riding of Guelph in the spring, 2011 election campaign – but that was the work of local staffers and took place without the knowledge of the national Conservative machine.

The Conservatives have been grappling with a growing list of alleged electoral misdeeds lobbed at them by the NDP and Liberals. They’ve been adamant that they ran clean campaigns and are now challenging opposition critics to offer proof to Canada’s election watchdog.

“If the NDP has any information – and I am not certain this is the case – they should give this information to Elections Canada,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the Commons.

Opposition parties have directed their fiercest fire at incidents in Guelph, a riding the Conservatives were trying to take from the Liberals. Voters complained of receiving automated telephone messages – “robo-calls” telling them their polling stations had moved.

Voters ‘primed and ready’ for deep Tory spending cuts, poll finds

Canadians appear to be in a bloodthirsty mood as the Conservative government prepares its cost-cutting 2012 budget.

Fully 74 per cent of those surveyed in a new poll by Nanos Research want to see cuts that are deeper than the 5-per-cent reduction Ottawa has set as its minimum target for federal departments.

The 2012 budget will reveal the overall results of a government-wide exercise focused on the roughly $80-billion Ottawa spends each year on direct program spending.

Yet recent signals from the Conservative government suggest deep cuts aren't coming. Rather the budget is expected to outline broad savings in line with previous pledges while providing limited details as to what will actually be cut.

The random online survey of 1,001 Canadians – weighted to match the latest census results – found broad support for spending reductions.

Did Private Spy Shop Get US Intel From Bin Laden Raid?

On May 1, 2011, not only did US special forces kill Osama bin Laden, they collected a treasure trove of intelligence from his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan—material that would be of tremendous value to analysts, both in and out of government. Less than two weeks later, Fred Burton, the vice president for intelligence of Stratfor, a private US intelligence firm, was telling colleagues within the secretive company that he could get his hands on the Abbottabad booty. If so, that would be quite a coup for Stratfor, which peddles expensive intelligence reports on economic, security, and geopolitical matters to private clients, such as major corporations, around the world.

This week, WikiLeaks published 214 internal Stratfor emails that it was provided by Anonymous, the online activist collective that hacked into Stratfor's servers and swiped 5 million emails. In one of those messages, sent by Burton to a "Secure List" of Stratfor colleagues on May 12, 2011, he noted,

    I can get access to the materials seized from the OBL safe house.

    What are the top (not 45) questions we want addressed.

Within minutes, Sean Noonan, a tactical analyst at Stratfor, wrote back:

    1 specific operational plans

    2 communications with franchise groups (like AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula])

    3. connections to anyone associated with the Pakistani state.

Israel won't warn U.S. before potential Iran strike

Israeli officials say they won't warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill.

Israeli officials said that if they eventually decide a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel's potential attack. The U.S. has been working with the Israelis for months to persuade them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Netanyahu delivered the same message to all the Americans who have traveled to Israel for talks, the U.S. official said.

Redford’s energy vision clashes with McGuinty’s view of oil-sands benefits

Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s vision of a national Canadian energy strategy has bogged down in an increasingly bitter dispute with Ontario over the economic benefits of the oil sands.

Ms. Redford had suggested Ontario should be a more vocal advocate for oil-sands development, on the grounds that related businesses benefit Ontario’s economy. That met with a rebuff on Monday from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who said Canada’s high “petro dollar” has hobbled exporters in his province.

That prompted a sharp rebuke from Ms. Redford. She said Mr. McGuinty’s “simplistic” approach to the oil sands and the Canadian dollar is based on a “false paradigm” and suggested that the leader of the country’s one-time economic powerhouse needs to broaden his outlook.

“When we talk about oil sands, it’s not about what’s in Alberta’s best interests,” Ms. Redford told reporters Monday. “It is about what’s in Canada’s best interests.”

Ms. Redford struck a decidedly different tone from her first visit to Toronto last November as Alberta’s newly minted premier. During a speech to the Economic Club of Canada, she pushed for an energy strategy that pulls together Alberta’s oil sands, the hydro power of British Columbia, and Ontario’s green energy agenda. Her speech signalled a warming of ties between Alberta and Ontario, long at odds with each other.

Split between rich and poor greater in cities, UNICEF reports

Five-year-old Kiara appears well cared for — nicely dressed, well-fed and loved. Her hair shines.

But she has worked with her family since she was three, selling trinkets in the subway trains of Buenos Aires.

There have been mishaps: she has fallen onto the train tracks while playing, and last year she broke her arm in a train door.

Almost half the world’s children live in cities. Their families are lured from their rural homes, hoping to find jobs for themselves and education for their children.

It doesn’t always work out that way. “It’s heartbreaking for parents,” says David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada. “They don’t want their children working on the street. They wish they had enough.”

In its annual report, released on Tuesday, UNICEF explores the struggles faced by families raising their offspring in the world’s slums, where one in three city-dwellers now live.

Marketing strategist Stewart Braddick plays role in Conservative party’s electoral success

OTTAWA—Stewart Braddick knows Brian Mulroney as well as former premiers Gordon Campbell and Mike Harris. He has worked for all of them.

He also knows Stephen Harper and has become an influential strategist behind the federal Conservative party’s electoral inroads.

If you’ve ever taken a call asking for donations to the Tories, Braddick, a political marketing operative at RMG — The Responsive Marketing Group — probably knows something about you, too.

The Toronto-based company specializes in identifying and making contact with segments of the population for charities or political parties. An American branch of the firm, Target Outreach, also did $300,000 worth of work for the Republican National Committee, according to, a website that tracks financial data about U.S. politics.

RMG has been a driving force behind Harper’s electoral success, but now finds itself in the crosshairs of a potential scandal involving alleged Elections Act violations.

Do You Live in a Rapist-Friendly State? (Yes, There Is Such a Thing.)

Hitting the lottery once in a lifetime will never happen to most of us, but Brian Brockington just hit the criminal justice system jackpot, not once, not twice, but three times. DNA evidence has linked him to three sexual assaults, but lucky old Brian will soon be released from prison without ever serving a single day for any of the assaults in question.

So is Brian Brockington just one of the "luckiest" men alive? Perhaps. But he had some help. Continuing the lotto metaphor, you could say the powers that be screwed up and now all of us have to pay up, starting with the women DNA evidence links him to assaulting. Or in casino terms one might say the slot machines are severely broken and those in charge of the house haven't made repairing them a priority. As a result we'll likely see a lot more Brian Brockingtons winning the criminal lotto in coming years. Allow me to explain.

As reported in the New York Daily News:

    Brockington, 35, was arrested on rape charges in 2007 and his cousin Rodney Howard, 36, was arrested two years later after their DNA matched evidence from a 1993 gun-point attack on a 29-year-old woman. But because of a police backlog, the DNA evidence from the crime wasn't processed for nearly a decade -- and prosecutors filed charges a day after the crime's 10-year statute of limitations expired, said Steven Reed, spokesman for the Bronx DA. The DA's office realized their error only after the cousins were arrested -- and prosecutors were forced to drop the rape charges.

An Open Letter To Rick Santorum From A Michigan Pastor (And Voter)

Dear Mr. Santorum:

I live in Michigan and write to you as a sister in Christ. I worship the same Christ as you do -- only radically differently. I have been touched by the stories of your daughter with Trisomy 18. When I was pregnant with our daughter we were told there was a 1-in-3 chance of her having Trisomy 18. I explained that even if our child did have Trisomy 18, we would not abort. Our daughter is strong and healthy and does not have the condition, and I pray for you and your wife in caring for your beloved little one.

I write publicly because I've heard a lot from you lately, and you have made statements in the public arena that bruise our national capacity for honest dialogue. Folks on the right are cheering you and folks on the left are deriding you -- and I imagine a lot of folks in the middle are just waiting for Nov. 7, quelling the opportunity for conversation that elections offer. Toward the end of concourse, I wish to challenge you from an educational, evangelical and experiential perspective.

The Volcker Rule: Return to Sender

Paul Volcker deserves better. In the hands of Tim Geithner's Treasury, the Rule named for Volcker supposedly limiting speculative mischief by government-guaranteed banks is fast becoming a cumbersome parody of itself.

Financial regulatory officials, at the behest of Wall Street, have turned a simple bright line into a convoluted monstrosity. The questionnaire alone, inviting comments, runs 530 pages.

The bankers and their allies in government have succeeded once again in making their financial engineering too complex to regulate. The Volcker Rule, in the spirit of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, was supposed to simplify matters. But the regulators are helping Wall Street by adding to the complexity. See Jesse Eisenger's analysis from Propublica.

The capacity of Wall Street to create new mutations of derivatives that are not quite explicitly covered by this or that sub-sub-sub rule is of course endless. In the absence of a clear line, Wall Street can always field more lawyers than the government can spare regulators, and what an awful waste of taxpayer money.

It reminds you of Mad Magazine's Spy vs. Spy, an infinite regress of move and counter-move, giving regulation itself a bad name and providing fodder for Wall Street Journal editorial mockery.

Keystone XL: White House Backs Pipeline That Will Ship U.S. Oil Overseas

WASHINGTON -- The White House is throwing its support behind a decision by TransCanada to build a portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, even though the project will result in more oil going overseas and potentially higher gas prices.

TransCanada announced Monday that it plans to begin building the southern part of the pipeline, which would ship crude oil from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf of Mexico.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama "welcomes" the news that the Canadian pipeline company is moving ahead with its plans, despite the fact that the administration halted work on the cross-border portion of Keystone through 2013 -- a move that sparked outcry among congressional Republicans -- until TransCanada works out a new route through Nebraska that avoids ecologically sensitive areas.

"As the President made clear in January, we support the company's interest in proceeding with this project, which will help address the bottleneck of oil in Cushing that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production, currently at an eight year high. Moving oil from the Midwest to the world-class, state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production," Carney said in a statement.

Corporate Personhood Case Forces Supreme Court To Hack New Path

WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument on whether corporations, like real people, can be held liable in American courts for international human rights violations.

The issue has divided four appeals courts over the past year and a half, as Democrat-appointed judges have uniformly voted for corporate liability while all but one Republican-appointed judge has come down for corporate immunity.

If that pattern holds in the Supreme Court, then the five justices appointed by Republican presidents will surely be hit with more accusations of pro-business bias: Having all voted in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to extend to corporations the First Amendment right of actual people to independently spend unlimited sums in this country's elections, they will in the current case have refused to hold corporations responsible, as real people are, for their roles in atrocities abroad.

That kind of application of corporate personhood would be enough to make a casual observer's head explode.

Stratfor Emails Published By WikiLeaks Reveal Private Intelligence

LONDON — Private intelligence firm Stratfor is in the business of shedding light on the world for its many clients. On Monday, anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks was the one shedding light on Stratfor, saying it had more than 5 million of the company's emails and would publish them in collaboration with two dozen international media organizations.

The small selection so far published on WikiLeaks' website gives a look at the daily routine of the Texas-based think tank, whose clients range from local universities to global megacorporations. One described a $6,000-a-month payment made to a Middle Eastern source, another carried bits of gossip dropped by a retired spy, and many were filled with off-color office banter.

An initial examination of the emails turned up a mix of the innocuous and the embarrassing, but WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange promised more explosive material in the coming weeks.

"What we have discovered is a company that is a private intelligence Enron," Assange told London's Frontline Club, referring to the Texas energy giant whose spectacular bankruptcy turned it into a byword for corporate malfeasance.

Leveson Inquiry: 'Culture Of Illegal Payments' At The Sun; Rebekah Brooks Tipped Off About Extent Of Hacking Probe

LONDON (AP) -- Rupert Murdoch's top-selling U.K. tabloid, The Sun, had a culture of making illegal payments to corrupt public officials in return for stories, a senior police officer said Monday, as Murdoch announced that the paper's first-ever Sunday edition had sold more than 3 million copies.

Sue Akers, a Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner, told Britain's media ethics inquiry that the newspaper openly referred to paying its sources and that such payments had been authorized at a senior level.

Her comments came the day Murdoch's company paid former teen singing sensation Charlotte Church 600,000 pounds ($951,000) in a phone-hacking settlement for violating her and her family's privacy.

Akers said Sun journalists had paid not only police officers but also military, health and other government officials. One official received a total of 80,000 pounds over several years, Akers said, and one journalist had been given more than 150,000 pounds in cash to pay his sources. She said payments went far beyond acceptable practices such as buying sources a meal or a drink.

Akers said "a network of corrupted officials" had provided The Sun with stories that were mostly "salacious gossip."

Economic shock treatment for the world

The entire world seems to be one huge advertisement for The Shock Doctrine. Naomi Klein showed in her revelatory book how the corporate-political-military-media complex exploits crises to further impose their harsh right-wing agenda -- even when they themselves created the crisis. In a sane world, the economic meltdown and deep recession of the past four years would have led at minimum to stringent regulation of financiers and speculators plus programs to assist their victims. But in this world, you have to be nuts to believe in a sane world.

In reality, everything that's happened in the past several years has gone to further empower and enrich the 1 per cent (or maybe the 5 per cent) at the expense of the rest of us. Look anywhere you want. What else does the universal demand for austerity programs mean? What else does the sudden concerted attack on public sector workers mean? What else does the intransigent line taken by multinational corporations against their unions mean? What else does the demand for "right-to-work" laws mean? What else does the widespread attack on seniors' pensions mean?

Look at poor Greece. Ms. Klein could have invented it as a pure case study for her thesis. Big economic problems, it's true. So how do you fix them? As a Greek journalist wrote matter-of-factly in The New York Times, the latest bailout program imposed by the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank "almost guarantees recession."

Are the oil sands holding Ontario up or hollowing it out?

A fascinating public debate has broken out between the premiers of Alberta and Ontario. Alison Redford kicked off the festivities by calling on Dalton McGuinty to acknowledge that spinoffs from oil sands development are worth billions to the Ontario economy:
“We in Alberta have a resource that matters to the rest of the country,” Ms. Redford recently told members of the Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada in Calgary, “It’s not enough for Alberta to be talking about the importance of Keystone in the United States. We need the Premier of Ontario talking about that. We need the Premier of Quebec talking about that, and of course, we have the Prime Minister of Canada talking about that.”
The ink on that Globe story was barely dry before McGuinty made nearly the opposite argument: that Alberta’s resource economy is driving up the dollar and sucker-punching Ontario manufacturers and exporters.
“So if I had my preferences as to whether we had a rapidly growing oil and gas sector in the West or a lower dollar, I’ll tell you where I stand: with the lower dollar.”
That sounds kind of defeatist, but it’s possible to see where McGuinty is coming from. The Globe stories I’m using for this post both quote the same study on oil-sands fallout for Ontario:
According to the Canadian Energy Research Institute, the province enjoys the lion’s share of oil-sands benefits outside Alberta. Between 2010 and 2035, Ontario is expected to see $63-billion in economic spinoffs and 65,520 oil-sands-related jobs.
$63 billion over 25 years, or $2.52 billion per year on average, is a lot of simoleons. But you need to remember how deep a hole Ontario is in:
Ontario lost nearly $154-billion worth of direct economic activity between July 2008 and December 2011 from lost factory sales alone. That’s $3.7-billion every month.
Those lost factory sales aren’t all Redford’s fault, and it’s a mug’s game to guess how the sector would have evolved if oil had been $40 cheaper, but they are McGuinty’s problem, and he seems to be sensitive about it all.

Original Article
Source: Maclean's
Author: Paul Wells

Cheat, lie, break the law? Chances are, you’re rich

The wealthy really are different from everyone else: They’re more likely to cheat, lie, and break the law.

At least that’s the unflattering conclusion of a team of professors from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the University of California, Berkeley, who ran a battery of tests involving more than 1,000 people, seeking to answer the question of whether being rich or poor influenced ethical behaviour.

In results from seven separate studies, they found a consistent tendency among those they termed “upper-class” to be more likely to break the law while driving, take valued goods from others, lie in negotiations, cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize and endorse unethical behaviour at work.

The reason for the ethical difference was simple, according to the paper being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a leading U.S. science journal. Wealthier people are more likely to have an attitude that greed is good.

Rae apologizes after Liberal staffer admits to ‘Vikileaks’ attack

The Liberals have admitted that a staff member in their research bureau was responsible for publishing personal details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’s divorce on Twitter – an embarrassing admission at a time when the party is accusing the Harper government of its own dirty tricks.

Interim Leader Bob Rae told reporters that Liberal staff member Adam Carroll was responsible for the “Vikileaks” campaign that relayed personal attacks on Mr. Toews in retaliation for the introduction of a Conservative bill that would give police new Web-snooping powers.

Mr. Rae said it was the Clerk of the House of Commons who had told the Liberals that Mr. Carroll’s name had been linked to Vikileaks after Mr. Toews asked for an investigation. The Conservatives had initially accused the New Democrats of being behind the site.

“I met with Mr. Carroll this morning. We went over what he did. He was extremely apologetic,” Mr. Rae said. “He’s a perfectly nice, hard-working individual who showed a real error in judgment.”

'Not terribly likely' Harper didn't know about robocalls, say opposition MPs

PARLIAMENT HILL—Close ties between the Conservative campaign director for the 2011 federal election and Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicate Mr. Harper must do more than he has so far to demonstrate he and top party officials were unaware of fraudulent “robocalls” and other harassing phone calls placed to Liberal and NDP voters during the campaign and on voting day, opposition MPs say.

Without directly challenging a statement from Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) last week that neither he nor the Conservative Party had any knowledge of the electoral interference, which PostMedia and the Ottawa Citizen reported last week is under Elections Canada investigation, opposition MPs told The Hill Times Mr. Harper has an obligation to divulge all he knows now about the affair.

“Given that Stephen Harper is clearly a control freak, who controls just about everything that goes on, it’s not terribly likely that he wouldn’t have known,” Green Party leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) told The Hill Times.

Rae names firm with Tory links in election calls

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae pointed to Conservative-affiliated firms Monday, demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper hand over relevant information to Elections Canada for their investigation into strange phone calls made during the 2011 federal election.

The Conservatives have denied a connection between the party's national campaign and mysterious telephone calls to voters in as many as 40 ridings. Some of the calls were harassing or abusive and implied they were on behalf of the Liberals or NDP. Others were live or automated calls directing people to the wrong polling stations on election day, May 2, 2011.

Automated calls to voters in Guelph, Ont., have been traced to Racknine, a call centre in Edmonton that was used by at least nine Conservative campaigns in the last election.

In question period, Rae said it was hard to believe the government's answers when the party controlled the information that went to the companies it uses during campaigns. He pointed to Racknine and to Campaign Research, a firm that offers voter identification and get-out-the-vote services.

"The party that has control of the information … with respect to Racknine, with respect to Campaign Research, with respect to in-person calls, robocalls at midnight, during the day," Rae said.

"They're the ones who have to come forward with the information. When is the prime minister of Canada going to take some degree of personal responsibility for what is taking place in the country?"

Campaign Research is the firm that ran a campaign last fall on behalf of the Conservatives in which callers told Mount Royal residents that Montreal MP Irwin Cotler was stepping down from his seat.

Campaign Research said that wasn't in the script provided to callers. Conservative MPs said it was a telephone campaign to identify potential supporters for the next federal election in 2015.

Both Campaign Research founders, Nick Kouvalis and Richard Ciano, have been active in the Conservative Party at the federal and provincial levels.

'Sweeping allegations'

Harper called Rae's comments "broad, sweeping allegations."

"Frankly, in most cases we don't know any details of what the basis of these allegations are. So if the Liberal Party actually has such information, let it provide it to Elections Canada and Elections Canada can investigate it," Harper said.

Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel said the calls were all "about trying to stop people from voting, whatever the technology."

"Fixing elections means that by-elections could be called. People could end up in jail," she said.

Liberal and NDP campaigns in 38 ridings say they were hit with the calls. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre told Evan Solomon, host of CBC's Power & Politics, on Monday that the party has identified 15 ridings in which Conservative supporters got "troubling" calls. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says her B.C. riding was also targeted.

NDP MP Pat Martin, also speaking to Solomon, said Campaign Research is threatening to sue him for libel over comments he made about the firm.

Former Liberal MP Anthony Rota, who lost his bid for a fourth term in Nipissing-Timiskaming, Ont., by 18 votes, says voter suppression tactics could have cost him the election.

"What I was hearing was, 'Elections Canada told us to go to the wrong poll.' Or they were sending them across town to vote in another location," he told CBC's Julie Van Dusen on Sunday.

MPs were in their ridings on a break week when Postmedia and the Ottawa Citizen revealed Elections Canada is investigating automated robocalls that tried to send voters in Guelph to the wrong polling station.

Harassing callers implied they were Liberals

But other ridings are reporting live calls sending voters to the wrong polling stations, and there are more reports of harassing calls that implied they were from the Liberal Party.

"In our case, the calls were mostly calls impersonating our campaign, being made at all hours of the night," said former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay, who lost her Willowdale riding in Toronto by 900 votes.

In some cases, Jewish voters were getting repeated calls during meal time on the Saturday Sabbath.

Other people, generally in ridings with tight races between the Liberal and Conservative candidates, reported late-night calls asking for donations or repeated calls during the day. The reports date back to mid-April.

Cotler, the subject of misleading calls last fall that told voters he was resigning his seat, says he was also targeted during the election.

"Constituents in my riding received misleading robocalls as to where they would be voting," he said Monday morning.

"Those misleading robocalls we reported to the chief electoral officer at the time with respect to the riding. We said that those calls were not only misleading in their facts but also misleading in their characterization of their origin. The people who were called in my riding were sometimes told that they were called by Liberals with respect to that information."

Cotler says Jewish voters in his riding were also hit with calls on the Sabbath, a time his campaign team had decreed no calls would be made.

"That's how we found out about it, because there was some outrage about the fact that they did receive a call on the Sabbath by people who purported to be Liberals."

Elections Canada reported last year it was looking into allegations of mysterious phone calls in Eglinton-Lawrence, a Toronto riding where Conservative Joe Oliver beat Liberal incumbent Joe Volpe. That investigation hasn't been closed.

Jeff Harrietha, a supervisor at a call centre in Northern Ontario, said some staff are thrown into the calls without any training.

"As far as the pollers were concerned, it was like a three-month job, so they would come in with a resume and be on the phone within 15 minutes," said Harrietha, who worked for Responsive Marketing Group, which the Conservatives contracted during the election. Harrietha said he sometimes had to step in when staff weren't polite.

Calls deemed unacceptable

Conservative MP Ed Holder said the misleading calls are unacceptable and "if it's happened at all … should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Holder said his campaign didn't use outside firms and "used our own resources" to get messages to voters, with the exception of calls for "activities or events during the campaign itself."

"We didn't use those calls," Holder said.

Holder's Liberal opponent, Doug Ferguson, released audio Monday of a recorded message deliberately sending a voter to the wrong location well out of her neighbourhood.

Ferguson said until everyone started comparing notes last week they did not realize how widespread these calls were. And the Liberals had other worries after May 2, he pointed out.

"We took a shellacking and, frankly, we weren't in a position to do any serious follow-up," he told CBC Radio's Karina Roman.

Tory staffer quits

Last Friday, a Conservative staffer who had worked on the campaign in Guelph left his job on Parliament Hill. Michael Sona made the news during the election campaign with allegations he'd tried to grab a ballot box at the University of Guelph, arguing it was an illegal poll. He left his job in the office of Eve Adams, parliamentary secretary to the minister of veterans' affairs.

On Sunday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay pointed to Sona's resignation and told CBC News the party doesn't need to investigate any further.

"I think they've identified the individual that was involved in this, and this is certainly not something our party condones," he said.

The opposition parties argue that's impossible, given the enormous lists of telephone numbers needed to orchestrate a cross-Canada campaign and the costs associated with live calls.

Original Article
Source: CBC
Author: Laura Pyton