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.]

Monday, March 05, 2012

Richest 1 Percent Account For Nearly All Of U.S. Recovery's Gains: Report

hereTechnically, the economy has been in recovery for two years. But it turns out the rich have been doing most of the recovering.

In 2010 -- the first full year since the end of the Great Recession -- virtually all of the income growth in America took place among the country's very wealthiest people, says an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. The top 1 percent of earners took in a full 93 percent of all the income gains that year, leaving the other 7 percent of gains to be sprinkled among the vast majority of society.

Those numbers come courtesy of Emmanuel Saez, the Berkeley economist who co-created a resource known as the World Top Incomes Database. Saez and his colleagues crunched the data on income growth from 2010, the most recent year available, and found that it was shockingly lopsided.

While much of the country is simply treading water, with a growing number of people either edging toward poverty or already there, the richest of the rich seem to be coping nicely.

How to Fund an American Police State

At the height of the Occupy Wall Street evictions, it seemed as though some diminutive version of “shock and awe” had stumbled from Baghdad, Iraq, to Oakland, California. American police forces had been “militarized,” many commentators worried, as though the firepower and callous tactics on display were anomalies, surprises bursting upon us from nowhere.

There should have been no surprise. Those flash grenades exploding in Oakland and the sound cannons on New York’s streets simply opened small windows onto a national policing landscape long in the process of militarization—a bleak domestic no man’s land marked by tanks and drones, robot bomb detectors, grenade launchers, tasers and most of all, interlinked video surveillance cameras and information databases growing quietly on unobtrusive server farms everywhere.

The ubiquitous fantasy of “homeland security,” pushed hard by the federal government in the wake of 9/11, has been widely embraced by the public. It has also excited intense weapons- and techno-envy among police departments and municipalities vying for the latest in armor and spy equipment.

In such a world, deadly gadgetry is just a grant request away, so why shouldn’t the 14,000 at-risk souls in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, have a closed-circuit-digital-camera-and-monitor system (cost: $180,000, courtesy of the Homeland Security Department) identical to the one up and running in New York’s Times Square?

Rick Santorum's Elite Background

Of all the states to hold primaries on Tuesday, everyone agrees that by far the most important is Ohio. It is the largest state voting, and it is essential for Republicans to carry in November.

But the reason Ohio is especially important this year is that Rick Santorum is in a dead heat with Mitt Romney in the Ohio polls. The reason is presumably Santorum’s appeal to conservative blue-collar voters. Thus far, Santorum has performed better in the industrial Midwest than in the service economy Sunbelt. Romney is stronger among wealthier, more educated and suburban Republicans, Santorum among the more religious, less educated, less affluent and rural. In Michigan, Santorum carried voters making less $100,000 per year and those who did not graduate from college, while those who make more than $100,000 and college graduates provided Romney with his narrow margin of victory.

Why is this? It’s not because Santorum’s proposals on taxes and spending are less skewed towards the wealthy than Romney’s. If anything, they are even more so.

When the US Government Can Kill You, Explained

On Monday, the Obama administration explained when it's allowed to kill you.

Speaking to students and faculty at Northwestern University law school, Attorney General Eric Holder laid out in greater detail than ever before the legal theory behind the administration's belief that it can kill American citizens suspected of terrorism without charge or trial. In the 5,000-word speech, the nation's top law enforcement official directly confronted critics who allege that the targeted killing of American citizens violates the Constitution.

"'Due process' and 'judicial process' are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security." Holder said. "The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process."

Who decides when an American citizen has had enough due process and the Hellfire missile fairy pays them a visit? Presumably the group of top national security officials—that, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, decides who is targetable and forwards its findings to the president, who gives final approval.

Diesel Exhaust Exposure: Increases Risk Of Death From Lung Cancer, Study Finds

WASHINGTON - There is new evidence that exposure to exhaust from diesel engines increases the risk of lung cancer.

Diesel exhaust has long been classified as a probable carcinogen. But the 20-year study from the National Cancer Institute took a closer look by tracking more than 12,000 workers in certain kinds of mines — facilities that mined for potash, lime and other nonmetals. They breathed varying levels of exhaust from diesel-powered equipment, levels higher than the general population encounters.

The most heavily exposed miners had three times the risk of death from lung cancer compared to workers with the lowest exposures, said the study released Friday by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Even workers with lower exposures had a 50 per cent increased risk, wrote lead author Debra Silverman, an NCI epidemiologist.

"Our findings are important not only for miners but also for the 1.4 million American workers and the 3 million European workers exposed to diesel exhaust, and for urban populations worldwide," Silverman wrote.

Robocalls Scandal: Protesters Take To Parliament Hill To Show Displeasure

OTTAWA - The controversy over harassing and phoney election calls drew a small crowd on Parliament Hill today as demonstrators braved bitter cold to denounce the robocalls affair.

The Ottawa rally followed a demonstration last weekend in Vancouver that attracted a few hundred people.

More protests are planned next week in Toronto and Calgary.

The robocall scandal broke after it was revealed that Elections Canada was investigating an incident in Guelph, Ont., of voters being called on the phone and told to go to polls that didn't exist during last spring's federal election.

Since then, Canadians in dozens of ridings have reported receiving similar calls, or being telephoned at inconvenient hours or harassed by people purportedly calling on behalf of political parties.

Elections Canada is now reviewing more than 31,000 reports of robocalls.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Canadian press

Mansion servant enslaved by uber-rich New York family for nearly six years

A wealthy New York woman is facing criminal charges after being accused of keeping an illegal immigrant as an indentured servant and forcing her to live in a closet for nearly six years.

Documents posted on the Smoking Gun allege that Annie George, 39, and her now-deceased husband, Mathai Kolath George, hired an illegal immigrant from the Indian state of Kerala. The immigrant, identified only as "V.M.," was promised about $1,000 a month in wages to live in the family's 34-room, 30,000-square-foot home, known as Llenroc mansion, which houses a helicopter pad, 15 fireplaces, marble flooring, 24-karat gold gilded ceilings and a glass elevator. V.M. was tasked with taking care of the Georges' four young children, along with performing household duties in the mansion located about 20 miles north of Albany.

New York's minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Even if V.M. had been allowed to leave the residence at the end of a regular 40-hour workweek, she would have been entitled to a minimum, pretax income of $290 per week, or $1,160 per month.

Instead, the "forced labor situation" (as described in the court papers) was even worse than the already-below minimum wage offer of $1,000 month. V.M. received 85 cents an hour, working 17-hour days, seven days a week, over the 67 months she was kept inside the George residence.

iPolitics analysis: Behind closed doors? Committee secrecy varies widely

The opposition points fingers at the Conservatives. The Conservatives point fingers at previous Liberal governments. They each accuse the other of fostering a culture of secrecy that takes committee meetings in camera and leaves Canadians to wonder what is going on behind closed doors.

iPolitics set out to cut through the rhetoric and find out who was right.

An analysis of 920 committee meetings and more than 85,000 minutes of committee proceedings during the current Parliament and and equivalent period in 2003 during the last Liberal majority government reveals just which era has been the most secretive when it comes to Parliament’s standing committees.

A marked shift in recent weeks risks further undermining Canadians’ right to know what their MPs are doing.

There is also a wide range when it comes to secrecy. While one of the current committees has closed its doors to the public less than 2 per cent of the time, another has now spent 62.7 per cent of its time in camera. In some cases the watchdog committees charged with keeping an eye on Parliament are the ones spending the most time cloistered away from view.

We also look at how today’s committees compare to those in 2003 when it comes to how much work they get done – how many studies they undertake, how many reports they table and how many witnesses they hear. One committee outstrips all the others when it comes to being the hardest-working committee.

You might be surprised which one. Click here for more. 

Original Article
Source: ipolitics
Author: Elizabeth Thompson

Battleground 2015: NDP vs. Conservatives on energy and environment

“It would be senseless,” Tom Mulcair said Sunday at the NDP debate in Montreal, “to stop developing the oil sands, but we should stop subsidizing them and we should internalize the carbon cost,” that last bit a slightly insiderish way of saying some sort of carbon-emission pricing mechanism should attach to oil sands products. This falls well short of wild-eyed extremism; as Mulcair likes to point out, the Conservatives have considered, but not implemented, ending subsidies to oil-sands development that were implemented under Jean Chrétien, and Stephen Harper spent the 2008 campaign pretending to offer a carbon cap-and-trade scheme, which it later took three successive Conservative environment ministers to bury without a trace.

But Mulcair’s rhetoric, like most politicians’, often jumps ahead of his substantive positions. In Montreal he mentioned that in 2010 he wrote the foreword to a book by veteran journalist Andrew Nikiforuk whose French title translates to English as “Oil Sands: Canada’s Shame — How Dirty Oil is Destroying the Planet.” (Skipping slightly off topic, one notes that Nikiforuk’s next opus is titled “The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude.”)

Pentagon Helps New Stealth Fighter Cheat on Key Performance Test

It seemed like a promising step for America’s next stealth fighter: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter passed a key Pentagon test of its combat capability. But it turns out that the family of jets cleared the mid-February exam only because its proctor agreed to inflate its grade. In essence, the military helped the F-35 cheat on its midterms.

The collusion between the Pentagon testing body, known as the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), and the F-35 program — first reported by Inside Defense — confirmed that the U.S.’ most expensive warplane met previously established performance criteria. Specifically, the review was meant to show that the jet can fly as far and take off as quickly as combat commanders say they need it to.

But the review council, which includes the vice chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, eased the standard flying profile of the Air Force’s F-35A model — thereby giving it a range boost of 30 miles. And it tacked an additional 50 feet onto the required takeoff distance for the Marines’ F-35B version, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta just took off budgetary probation.

Robo-calls: Conservative backbencher lays blame for robo-calls with Elections Canada

OTTAWA—A maverick Conservative MP has taken a new tack in the robo-call affair, pointing a finger of blame at Elections Canada for sloppy voter lists.

“Hired live phoners or automated calling systems are only as good as the data provided to them. You know the saying, ‘garbage in, garbage out,’ ” said Maurice Vellacott, the MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, in a statement released to media Monday.

“I suspect that at the end of the day, if Elections Canada has the resources to do a proper investigation, they’ll find they’re themselves significantly responsible, that tech issues with marrying EC lists to available, electronic phone lists is part of the problem, and in a few instances there may have been malfeasance by one (political) party or the other,” wrote Vellacott.

“Let’s reserve judgment until the full story comes out.”

Big Oil, authoritarianism and Canada's petrotyranny

The revelations over how the federal Tories used a robocalling firm (or firms) to contact voters in possibly 30 or more ridings during last year's election -- misleading them about where polling stations were located -- is just another example of the Harper government's undemocratic tactics. This is on top of their new online surveillance bill that would allow police to access people's private data without a warrant.

And don't forget the police brutality wielded against protesters during the G20 summit in 2010, and twice proroguing parliament in 2008 and 2009 to shut down debate on the Afghan detainee scandal and prevent opposition parties from forming a coalition government.

While the robocalling scandal was breaking, Harper was in Asia sucking up to the leaders of China, extolling the virtues of Canada's tar sands and encouraging their investment in Alberta. Harper, acting as front man for the oil patch, is desperate to have China as a customer of our dirty fuel, even if it means strip mining and poisoning all of Alberta to do so.

If robo-calls were meant to keep voters away, they failed miserably

Tales of voter suppression in the last federal election have emerged across the country. But while ridings alleged to have been targeted by these tactics were won by smaller margins than those not implicated, an analysis of these ridings indicates voter turnout was higher, not lower, than elsewhere in Canada.

In almost 70 ridings from every region of the country, allegations have been made that voters were falsely directed to polling stations by “robo-calls” or were harassed at all hours of the night by rude live callers posing as representatives of the Liberal Party. The opposition parties have blamed the Conservatives for these calls, and indeed Elections Canada has found some indication of a link between calls made in the Ontario riding of Guelph and the local Tory campaign there.

But an analysis of these ridings shows turnout averaged 61.6 per cent, slightly higher than the 60.9 per cent average turnout in ridings where no allegations of impropriety have been reported. If we only focus on the ridings in which allegations of misleading robo-calls have been made, the turnout averaged 62 per cent.

Compared to 2008, turnout increased by 4.7 per cent in these ridings. It increased by only 3.9 per cent in ridings that have not been implicated in the scandal. Turnout in neighbouring untainted ridings does not seem to have been significantly different. If these allegations of voter suppression tactics are indeed true, they do not appear to have been very successful.

Air Canada to meet with top union officials for first time since strike vote

Top leaders for the machinists’ union are meeting with Air Canada management on Monday, in hopes of jump-starting talks.

This is the first face-to-face meeting since the union’s membership voted 65.6 per cent to turn down a four-year tentative agreement that had been recommended for acceptance by the bargaining team.

The members also voted 78 per cent to give their union a strike mandate at that time.

The union said Chuck Atkinson and Dave Ritchie, president and vice-president of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, are scheduled to meet with Kevin Howlett, Air Canada’s senior vice-president of employee relations.

“We want to sit down. We want to resume negotiations,” said Bill Trbovich, a union spokesman. “I don’t think the company wants a strike any more than we do.”

Senator Charles Schumer Asks FTC To Probe Apple, Android

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. senator has urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate reports that applications on the Apple Inc and Google Inc mobile systems steal private photos and contacts and post them online without consent.

Democrat Charles Schumer's request comes after iPhone maker Apple tweaked its privacy policies last month after prodding from other lawmakers.

The distribution of third-party applications on iPhones and phones running on Google's Android system has helped create a surge in the popularity of those devices in recent years.

However, Schumer said on Sunday that he was concerned about a New York Times report that iPhone and Android applications can access a user's private photo collection.

He also referred to a discovery last month that applications on devices such as the iPhone and iPad were able to upload entire address books with names, telephone numbers and email addresses to their own servers.

The Canadian Nixon

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is in trouble with Elections Canada, the government body that runs the vote in Canada. They've accused him of overspending in the last election and have even gotten the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to raid the Conservative party's headquarters to find incriminating evidence. In response Harper and his followers have lashed out against Elections Canada, accusing it of a partisan witch hunt.

The whole sorry situation shouldn't surprise anyone who has paid attention. Every prime minister has a modus operandi. Harper's is his utter contempt, shown not once but many times, for Canadian institutions. In fact, it is not a stretch to say that Harper simply sees many Canadian institutions - Elections Canada being simply his latest target - as illegitimate, not just in need of reform but worth attacking root-and-branch.

The historian Garry Wills once observed that Richard Nixon wanted to be president not to govern the nation but to undermine the government. The Nixon presidency was one long counterinsurgency campaign against key American institutions like the courts, the FBI, the state department and the CIA. Harper has the same basic approach to politics: attack not just political foes but the very institutions that make governing possible. The state for Nixon and Harper exists not as an instrument of policy making but as an alien force to be subdued.

Canadians have never had a prime minister who has literally made his career attacking and undermining the legitimacy of Canadian institutions.

Until now.

B.C. salmon-farming critic removed from Canada but vows to continue battle

VANCOUVER - Only days after he was removed from Canada for overstaying a visitor's permit, a controversial salmon-farming critic says he has settled in Norway to "slay the dragon in its own lair."

Since 2005, British-born activist Don Staniford has been a divisive force in British Columbia's ongoing salmon-farming debate. He has been accused by the industry of going beyond rational dialogue and distorting facts and has twice been sued by B.C. companies for defamation.

But supporters see him as a tireless critic and Staniford is promising to take his battle against the industry to Europe, where he'll serve as the global campaign co-ordinator for another environmental group.

"I've gone straight to work for the Green Warriors of Norway and straight to the belly of the beast here in Norway," said Staniford, in a phone interview.

"Norway controls much of the global industry and I'm going to slay the dragon in its own lair."

The new job is significant because Kurt Oddekalv, leader of the Green Warriors of Norway, has described himself as the most "hard hitting environmental warrior" in his country.

Russian election: ‘Serious problems’ with Vladimir Putin’s win

MOSCOW—There were “serious problems” in the vote that returned Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency, the head of the major international election observer mission said Monday, adding fuel to an opposition testing its strength with plans for a massive protest rally.

Putin, now the prime minister, rolled to victory as expected Sunday to return to the Kremlin and keep his hold on power for six more years, but opponents claim the vote was rigged and the outcome was never in question.

A protest rally has been set for Monday evening on Moscow's iconic Pushkin Square, where some 12,000 police have deployed to ensure order.

The observer mission did not directly address complaints of widespread cases of people casting multiple ballots, but said the vote count “was assessed negatively” in almost a third of polling stations observers visited.

“There was no real competition, and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt,” said Tonino Picula, the head of the short-term Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observer mission.

Ottawa squanders Canada’s research advantage in environmental studies

On March 31, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences will close its doors for good. The foundation has supported university-based research into Arctic climate and ozone depletion, air quality, severe weather and our oceans for more than a decade. Established by the Chrétien Liberals, support for the foundation was discontinued when the Harper Conservatives formed government in 2006. The foundation ceased funding research in 2011 and in the past few weeks all of its employees have been given termination notices.

In its 2011 budget, the Harper government promised a new program to replace the foundation. It committed itself to delivering $35 million to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada over five years “to support excellence in climate and atmospheric research at Canadian post-secondary institutions.” The funds were to be delivered under the “Economic Action Plan” with the explicit goal of “strengthening Canada’s research advantage.” The budget expressed the need to attract “world-leading talent” and describes “investing in Arctic science” as “an important step in delivering on Canada’s Northern Strategy.”

Spying on the Koch Brothers

Author's note: When it comes to raising money, President Obama is a handy bogeyman for the Koch Brothers and vice-versa. Each uses the other to rile up their troops. In Obama's case, those troops typically give anything from pocket change to a few thousand bucks. (As of November 2011, nearly half of his campaign contributions had come from donors giving $200 or less, according to the Washington Post.) Supporters of the Kochs are more apt to deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars to the brothers' causes. In 12 months ending in June 2011, by the Kochs' own accounting, at least 40 donors who don't share their name contributed $1 million or more—and it wasn't even an election year. Given the 99-versus-1-percent zeitgeist pervading this election cycle, Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina has been reveling in the craft of Koch warfare, reports Jackie Calmes in The Caucus, the New York Times' politics blog: On Wednesday, Messina shot off this letter to Koch Industries' Philip Ellender, which was clearly intended for public consumption. In his missive worthy of a campaign ad, Messina writes:     
"[I]t's been reported that your employers and those close to them intend to spend $200 million in an attempt to defeat the President. You note in your letter that Americans for Prosperity has tens of thousands of members and contributors from all walks of life across the country, suggesting that this is the source of AFP's funding. There is just one way to verify that point: disclose those donors for the public to make that judgment." [emphasis his]

Community reaction to Vancouver protests for robocall inquiry

In his Feb. 24 column "No clear case for strategic voting pact", Greg Fingas looks back, not forward, in criticizing NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen's proposal for progressive parties to co-operate. Comparisons to the right's recent divisions are also inaccurate.

When the right was divided, it was in two parts: Reform and the old PC Party. Progressive divisions were three-fold: the NDP, many Liberals and, crucially, Quebec. (Four-fold, if you include the Greens.) When Quebec's biggest party changed from separatist to federalist, it helped create possibility elsewhere. It's that possibility that Cullen embraces.

His proposal is not rooted in failed strategic voting strategies of the past. It looks forward. By asking New Democrats to be open to cooperating with Liberals and Greens in Tory seats - competing to see which party faces the Conservative - he underlines that Canada's progressive majority exists and deserves better than a Stephen Harper majority.

The election on May 2 changed things. The issue isn't what was true before. Rather, it's what can be made true now.

A way to beat Harper

In his Feb. 24 column "No clear case for strategic voting pact", Greg Fingas looks back, not forward, in criticizing NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen's proposal for progressive parties to co-operate. Comparisons to the right's recent divisions are also inaccurate.

When the right was divided, it was in two parts: Reform and the old PC Party. Progressive divisions were three-fold: the NDP, many Liberals and, crucially, Quebec. (Four-fold, if you include the Greens.) When Quebec's biggest party changed from separatist to federalist, it helped create possibility elsewhere. It's that possibility that Cullen embraces.

His proposal is not rooted in failed strategic voting strategies of the past. It looks forward. By asking New Democrats to be open to cooperating with Liberals and Greens in Tory seats - competing to see which party faces the Conservative - he underlines that Canada's progressive majority exists and deserves better than a Stephen Harper majority.

The election on May 2 changed things. The issue isn't what was true before. Rather, it's what can be made true now.

Jamey Heath, Toronto Heath was communications director for the late Jack Layton from 2002-06 and is co-manager, Nathan Cullen campaign.

Original Article
Source: leader post
Author: Jamey Heath

A tale of two strikes at our democracy

This is a tale of two political scandals. Both strike at the heart of our democracy.

The first is a year-old scandal in which the Harper government refused to provide information about the costs of some of its programs, including corporate tax cuts, new prisons and the controversial purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets. In our system, Parliament is supreme; governments exist at the pleasure of Parliament, not the other way around.

The Commons insisted the Conservatives table the information. The government refused, thumbing its nose at the principle of parliamentary supremacy. The Commons then passed a motion finding the Tories in contempt of Parliament. So Harper called a general election, which, as we all know, the Conservatives won easily.

They won by employing two stratagems. First, they presented the contempt-of-Parliament issue as a naked grab for power by desperate Liberals, socialists and separatists. Second, they portrayed the contempt vote as just part of a parliamentary game, an “inside baseball” sort of thing, with absolutely no relevance to the good governance of the country.

Tory guns trained on Canadians

Last Thursday, commenting on the robocalls scandal dogging the federal Conservative party, the CBC's Rex Murphy remarked that: "There is nothing more pleasurable to a political animal than causing pain to an opponent.

Politicians would forgo heaven for their friends, on the guarantee they could send their enemies to hell."

While this is a bit of a caricature, an atmosphere of total war can sometimes prevail among the political class. Even in Canada, where civility is a national trait, citizens have grown accustomed to seeing their representatives fling rhetorical feces at each other in the House of Commons.

The problem is, sometimes our leaders decide to take aim not just on each other, but at the rest of us.

Recently, it looks as if members of the federal Conservatives are extending the total war mentality beyond the official Opposition, to the citizens themselves. There is no other way to explain Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' statement that opponents of Bill C-30, which would allow the RCMP to snoop on Canadian Internet users without a warrant, "can either stand with us or with the child pornographers."

Feds contributed $25 M for Calgary music centre despite financing concerns

OTTAWA — The Harper government agreed to conditionally contribute $25 million in late 2010 to construct a national music centre in Calgary, despite concerns expressed by bureaucrats about the proponent’s ability to secure sufficient private financing, according to newly released documents.

The $132.5-million project is also behind the construction schedule the proponent committed to at the time of the announcement, the more than 1,000 pages of records obtained through the Access to Information Act show.

Cantos Music Foundation president Andrew Mosker, who is spearheading the music centre, says fundraising timing has had to change, but is doing well after a renewed commitment from the provincial government.

The foundation, which operates a Calgary museum featuring one of the largest keyboard collections in the world, received commitments of $25 million apiece that year from Calgary and the federal and Alberta governments to construct the 135,000-square-foot centre.

Polling reveals what Canadians want from Flaherty budget

Budgets are the most attentively followed and important legislation that Canada’s federal governments produce. On March 29, this will prove especially true for a government that has declared the economy to be its No. 1 priority.

Faced with headlines about overzealous scoop-and-snoop legislation. a robo-call voter suppression controversy that has the government reeling and the still-leaderless NDP lurking near in the polls, the Conservatives are badly in need of some good news.

In this context, it goes without saying that it will be an important budget for the Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. At this time, a quick check-in with Canadians reveals some challenging and crucial details that decision-makers should be considering at this time.

If Jim Flaherty’s budget hits the mark, it could restore confidence and remind a restive citizenry why it bestowed a majority on Harper et al just 10 months ago. If it misfires, it will add to the growing controversies and accelerate a downward slide into a crisis of legitimacy.

Of all the areas of public preference prone to misinterpretation and distortion, none is more fraught with difficulty than charting budget priorities.

Attacking Iran, AIPAC, Israel-Palestine and Obama with Rashid Khalidi and Jonathan Tobin

herePresident Obama addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday, assuring the pro-Israel lobbying group he will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran and reiterating his unwavering support for Israel. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Obama at the White House today, we host a debate between Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University and Commentary magazine’s Jonathan Tobin. "It is true [Iran does not] have the weapon now, the question is are we going to wait until ... they are one screwdriver away from doing it or not," says Tobin. "[Iran’s] policy has been to forthrightly proclaim it wishes to destroy Israel — to wipe it off the map. Letting it have nuclear weapons is a threat to the entire region." But Khalidi argues that war with Iran "would guarantee that no responsible Iranian leadership in the future would allow Iran to be without a nuclear weapon after it had been attacked in an unprovoked fashion either by the U.S. or Israel." Khalidi adds, "It will be a disaster that would make Iraq and Afghanistan look like tea parties." Tobin and Khalidi also debate the relationship between Iran and Syria.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

Robocalls: Let’s start judging parties by their tactics

"If there is a weapon in the political consultant’s arsenal more fundamentally anti-democratic than voter suppression," writes Warren Kinsella, "I don’t know what it is."

The long-time Liberal strategist and campaign war-room operative should know whereof he speaks. Kinsella believes that Conservative ads attacking then-leader Stephane Dion kept a million potential Liberal votes on the sidelines of the 2008 election, helping the Tories eke out a minority.

As the current tale of robocalls and election-day duplicity evolves, we’re going to hear a lot more about voter suppression, how it works and what might be done about it. If anything.

Voter suppression takes many forms, but it generally signifies a party’s use of co-ordinated messaging to discourage supporters of rival parties from voting. If you can’t persuade people to vote for you, persuade them not to vote at all. It sounds illegal and probably should be, but the law isn’t crystal clear on that.

So parties spend a lot of time and money to identify their own and their opponents’ supporters. Once that’s done, they go all out to get their own people to the polls. If suppression tactics keep non-supporters home, then every one of the suppressing party’s votes carries more weight.

DND defends collecting info on Liberal MP

The Canadian Forces is defending its decision to use officers to collect information on one of Defence Minister Peter MacKay's political opponents, saying the process is no different than its efforts to gather facts for the public and news media.

But former military officers say such activities, which prompted allegations about Canadian Forces personnel "digging up dirt" on the minister's political enemies, cross the line and jeopardize the longstanding political neutrality of the military.

Air force officers recently found themselves in the spotlight after it was revealed they quietly gathered information on Liberal MP Scott Simms, a member of Parliament who criticized the decision by MacKay's office to order up a Cormorant search-and-rescue helicopter to retrieve the minister from a private fishing lodge. That flight cost taxpayers $16,000, according to reports.

But the Defence Department and the head of the Royal Canadian Air Force say there's nothing wrong with providing such information. "We provide information when it is requested of us by anyone requesting it, as long as it is not classified or does not cross the boundaries of protected information," air force commander Lt.-Gen. André Deschamps told senators at a recent meeting.

Fraud and wrong incentives in Canada's electoral system

The Toronto Star, the CBC, and newspapers in the Postmedia chain all report that the Conservatives were quite comfortable using United States based "voter contact" firms in the last election.

The Prime Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, Dean Del Mastro, glibly accused the Liberals of using such a United States-based company, but it turns out that was a case of mistaken identity and sloppy Conservative Party research.

All along, the Conservatives knew they were the ones who had gone shopping for services south of the border.

No fewer than 14 Conservative candidates, including Dean Del Mastro himself, used the Republican-allied company, Front Porch Strategies, based in Columbus, Ohio.

That company, according to the Star, has worked for George W. Bush and has been especially active in the campaign to overturn to the U. S. Supreme Court's abortion rights decision "Roe vs. Wade."

The Energy-Environment Nexus

[Series] While we need to find less harmful substitutes for fossil fuel, there is no energy source that lacks environmental consequences.

This is the final piece in a three-part series focusing on fossil-fuel dependence and the intersection of energy and the environment. Part 1 and Part 2 discussed our dependence on fossil fuels and what the finite nature of oil and gas means for the future of our energy economy. This final piece explores the environmental concerns associated with various energy sources, and our need to find less-damaging substitutes to meet our energy needs.

Like any large and complex industry, the development and distribution of petroleum requires an industrial infrastructure. Conventional oil wells and pipelines are mostly trouble-free. Hundreds of thousands of wells have been drilled in North America, and, as technology has improved, blowouts and spills have decreased in number and seriousness. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico exposed serious deficiencies in the management and oversight of the drilling operation, but not in the technology, which has permitted the establishment of over 3,800 production platforms in the Gulf alone, with few major incidents.

Mass protest against Putin's election planned

Police and troops will be out in force in the Russian capital as opposition forces plan a mass protest against the presidential elections that returned Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin.

The Monday evening demonstration at Pushkin Square in Moscow will be a test of whether the opposition can maintain the momentum that brought tens of thousands of people to a series of unprecedented protests in the months before the election.

The ITAR-Tass news agency cited the Interior Ministry as saying Monday that some 12,000 police and troops will be on duty to maintain order in Moscow.

Preliminary results announced Monday showed Putin getting more than 63 per cent of the vote against four challengers.

But opposition leaders and independent observers say there was widespread vote fraud. Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will present their findings later Monday.

Across Canada, cash-strapped governments target education

Canadian education is lurching into an era of austerity, as British Columbia’s teachers walk off the job and Ontario feuds with its educators over a new hard-line stand on compensation.

Teachers’ unions in both provinces have scorned calls for wage freezes to help curb rising education costs and manage deficits. In both cases, governments contend that restraint is non-negotiable – and savings must either come from teachers’ pockets or from programs, supplies and job cuts.

Teacher and staff costs consume as much as 85 per cent of education budgets in some provinces, and cash-strapped governments are eyeing both immediate and future contracts.

Today’s walkout in B.C. follows months of conflict between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and the province over wage and other issues. The government insists a teachers’ contract must meet a “net-zero mandate,” but B.C. kindergarten teacher Heather Mulholland says the government is battering an already bruised and underfunded system. She plans to march Monday, the first day of a three-day demonstration, her toddler son in tow.

“This is his education, “Ms. Mulholland said Sunday, referring to her 16-month-old son. “I need to stand up for the kids in my classroom but I also need to stand up for his future, too.”

States of Depression

The economic news is looking better lately. But after previous false starts — remember “green shoots”? — it would be foolish to assume that all is well. And in any case, it’s still a very slow economic recovery by historical standards.

There are several reasons for this slowness, with the most important being the overhang of household debt that is a legacy of the housing bubble. But one significant factor in our continuing economic weakness is the fact that government in America is doing exactly what both theory and history say it shouldn’t: slashing spending in the face of a depressed economy.

In fact, if it weren’t for this destructive fiscal austerity, our unemployment rate would almost certainly be lower now than it was at a comparable stage of the “Morning in America” recovery during the Reagan era.

Notice that I said “government in America,” not “the federal government.” The federal government has been pursuing what amount to contractionary policies as the last vestiges of the Obama stimulus fade out, but the big cuts have come at the state and local level. These state and local cuts have led to a sharp fall in both government employment and government spending on goods and services, exerting a powerful drag on the economy as a whole.

Harper Doth Protest Too Much

Some incredulous observers are saying that the "Robocall Affair" must be the work of a few over-zealous campaign workers. There's just no way that the Conservative party high command would ever permit, sanction, and be the driving force behind such conduct, they say.

In the House of Commons last week, Stephen Harper was fast off the mark and categorically rejected the notion that his national campaign organization had anything whatsoever to do with this situation and other alleged "dirty tricks." Harper jumped to his feet to broadly declare the complete innocence of his inner circle, as well as every single employee and contractor engaged by the Conservative party headquarters.

That is a massively sweeping statement, particularly since the organization is composed of literally hundreds of people working for the Conservative national campaign, directly and indirectly. How can Harper possibly know that all was "ethical and clean" without any meaningful internal review or investigation to confirm that it was? How can he be so sure that a staffer, staffers, or consultants engaged by CPC headquarters was not involved in dirty tricks and potentially illegal acts in some way, even peripherally?

Were we to expect anything different than a robo-wall of denial from Stephen Harper? No, prudence and sincerity would have prompted a much difference response, not the immediate leap to such absolute and decisive conclusions. Watching him in the Commons was eerily reminiscent of that infamous Bill Clinton finger-wagging moment when he declared with deep conviction in front of a global television audience: "I did not have sex with that woman..."

The case against a Conservative conspiracy

Guy Giorno and Stephen Harper are clearly confident that the Conservative campaign team had nothing to do with dirty tricks involving phone calls in the last election.

The national chair of the Conservative election campaign was emphatic on television Sunday, as the Prime Minister was in the House last week, in declaring no one at the national campaign authorized anyone to commit electoral fraud.

As a general rule, politicians never openly lie, because the consequences of being caught in one just aren’t worth it. (Think Watergate, Monica Lewinsky.) Neither of these men would take that risk.

That doesn’t mean the robo-calls affair is bogus – far from it. The Conservative leadership fostered such a hyper-partisan climate within the party that some person or persons at the riding or even regional level may have felt justified in crossing the line of legality. But this makes Mr. Harper, Mr. Giorno et al morally, not legally, culpable. Voters, not judges, will decide what punishment they deserve.

Before chairing the 2011 election campaign, Mr. Giorno was Mr. Harper’s chief of staff. He got his start in politics helping put together the campaign platform and strategy that brought Mike Harris to power in Ontario.

Meet the reporters who broke robocalls story: one’s a source guy, the other a data-geek

The Ottawa Citizen calls them “McMaher.”  That’s the cute nickname for Postmedia News reporter Stephen Maher and Ottawa Citizen reporter Glen McGregor, who landed one of the biggest scoops of the year about two weeks ago when they broke the not-so-cute story that Elections Canada, aided by the RCMP, was investigating fraudulent phone calls, or “robocalls,” made during that last election that misled voters. The story also reported that the Conservatives were conducting an internal probe. The story has since exploded onto the front pages of newspapers, political talk shows, and newscasts across the country. It has dominated Question Period every day since and it has knocked the federal government slightly off course.

Mr. Maher, 46, a former Halifax Chronicle Herald reporter, who first started on the Hill in 2003, and joined Postmedia News last August, said the story started during last May’s election campaign when he was told about a supporter for Egmont, P.E.I., Liberal candidate Guy Gallant, who had received a call asking if he supported Mr. Gallant’s campaign. But the voice on the phone sparked suspicion from the supporter because the caller had pronounced Mr. Gallant’s name in a way that no Atlantic Canadian would.

“The idea of someone making mischief in this way and purposefully trying to confuse and deceive voters in order to dissuade people from voting, it sort of stuck in my craw, the idea that someone would get up to that,” Mr. Maher told The Hill Times.

Flaherty promises jobs and growth,’ opposition MPs want cuts details in upcoming $256-billion budget

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is playing down tough austerity talk and promised “a jobs and growth budget” on March 29, but opposition MPs say Canada is “teetering on a profound economic malaise” depending on which direction the federal government decides to take the upcoming budget.

“This is a jobs and growth budget,” Mr. Flaherty told reporters last week, noting that it now runs more than $256-billion a year. “We’re talking about relatively small spending reductions, certainly nothing more than moderate spending reductions in a budget of that size.”

Mr. Flaherty told reporters that there won’t be “intimate” details about the expected cuts to the federal public service. “We never have all the intricacies in the budget. The budget would have to be a 1,000 pages if we did that. There will be enough information that it will be comprehensible,” Mr. Flaherty told reporters last week.

“We’re seeing all of these very secretive attempts to get around what should be transparent and normal allocations of where the expenditures are taking place,” said NDP MP Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.), his party’s finance critic. “We’re teetering on what is a profound economic malaise, and if the government moves to implement significant cuts, that will I think put us over the brink.”

Conservatives’ controversial internet surveillance bill C-30 could be ‘a long time in purgatory’

The government’s controversial lawful access bill, C-30, will “spend a long time in purgatory” because the government does not want to further antagonize the Canadian public, say political insiders.

“I think it will spend a long time in purgatory,” said one lobbyist who did not want to be named. “More work needs to be done and if not right, it will unnecessarily antagonize people.”

Another political insider said that the government is still wrestling with how to change the bill and will not bring it forward in the legislative process until it figures it out. “I don’t think there are any answers as yet,” the lobbyist said. “I think the government is still trying to answer these questions themselves.”

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (Provencher, Man.) said three weeks ago that the government would be sending Bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, directly to committee before second reading in order to widen the scope of acceptable amendments. During the House’s break week, the government indicated it would also be sending the bill to the House Public Safety Committee quickly when MPs returned last week but it did not move it.

Vladimir Putin: A 21st-century czar

It's just after 11 p.m., and Vladimir Putin is driving down a highway outside Moscow, hugging the inside lane as his advance and chase cars bomb along beside him, keeping the diverted traffic at bay.

The former president, current Prime Minister and presumptive president again – in short, Russia's first 21st-century czar – is on his way to a weekly beer-league hockey game. But how he'll perform alongside his rink buddies, former hockey greats Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexander Yakushev, is not top of mind.

Mr. Putin is fixated on his strategy to transform the game.

“I love this sport,” he says, holding the wheel of his armour-plated, two-door Mercedes-Benz.

Mr. Putin, a former KGB agent who turns 60 this year, has invited me to the late-night game after a dinner for foreign newspaper editors held at his luxurious dacha west of Moscow. He has slipped into jeans and a turtleneck for the outing, and ordered his stretch limo back to the garage so that he can drive himself. A videographer (Mr. Putin rarely goes anywhere without a videographer) is squeezed into the back seat.

“I want to help Russia be great again at this sport,” he says as we whiz by scenes from the new Russia.

ORNGE briefing ignored by officials with premier’s office and health, finance ministries

The Ontario government employs a small army of officials to guard the public trust.

Did they fall down on the job in failing to spot the problems in the province’s air ambulance service?

Twelve of them — including three from the premier’s office, a minister and four deputy ministers — received a detailed briefing document in January 2011 on the web of for-profit companies ORNGE was setting up.

They were told of plans to “leverage” public assets in a way that ended up enriching ORNGE founder Dr. Chris Mazza and others; how Mazza’s for-profit company had received a $5 million payment (which grew to $6.7 million) from an Italian helicopter firm that Ontario had purchased choppers from. These issues and more are now the subject of an Ontario Provincial Police investigation.

As the ORNGE story develops, questions are being asked by critics about who knew what and when. The premier’s office has refused to answer questions from the Star on the matter, always passing the questions to the health ministry, which has steadfastly accused ORNGE of lying, but never explaining why red flags were ignored. The 12 top officials who received the detailed briefing have not responded to questions from the Star.

Greece in Meltdown

The Athens neighborhood of Nea Ionia has always lived at the sharp end of history. Between the 1970s apartment blocks you can still see a few of the small cabins built to house refugees from Asia Minor in 1922; visiting in early February, I passed one neatly trimmed in green and shamrocks by a supporter of the Panathinaikos football team. As a textile industry grew to employ the new immigrants, so did support for the Communist Party; during the Axis occupation and the civil war that followed, Nea Ionia was a heartland of the hard left. But over the past two decades the factories have closed; now the building trade has dried up, and the shops are going too. The big red letters you see everywhere no longer advertise the workers’ utopia but 50 percent off.

Nea Ionia has been hit hard by the economic crisis that has devastated Greece, but it’s also organizing. The borough council was the first of more than thirty in Athens to support its citizens in refusing to pay a property tax charged through electricity bills under threat of disconnection; the government has since quietly softened its stance. In a building lent by the old textile workers’ union, the council has set up a “community general store”—a food pantry that supports about 770 people with a monthly supply of pasta, pulses, milk, flour, sugar, coffee and tinned fruit, packed in plastic bags and waiting to be collected on rows of metal shelves. The pantry is funded—after protracted legal wrangling and a refusal of help from supermarkets and corporations—from the council budget and staffed mainly by volunteers. The soft-spoken deputy mayor, Yannis Kolmaniotis, explained to me that the social services vet every family seeking aid and emphasized that nothing goes in or out of the building without a receipt—crucial in a country where too much has happened off the books.

Tory support steady despite robo-call, e-snooping uproars: poll

A month of controversy over pensions, privacy and Pierre Poutine has failed to dent support for the Conservative Party, according to a new poll by Nanos Research.

Support for the Tories remained exactly the same – at 35.7 per cent – compared to a month earlier.

Support for the Liberals climbed slightly to 29.5 per cent from 27.6 per cent, while the NDP’s numbers were essentially unchanged at 25 per cent.

The survey found jobs and the economy now dominate as the top issue of concern for Canadians, which pollster Nik Nanos said may explain why voters are largely unmoved by the daily furor in the House of Commons.

“Regardless of the noise related to the robo-call affair, there hasn’t been any material impact on Conservative support,” Mr. Nanos told The Globe. “The only way this can change is if there’s something associated with the Prime Minister or senior advisers to the Prime Minister, or the Conservative campaign.”

Council showdown looms over who should be on the Toronto Transit Commission

Confused about the direction Toronto is heading on public transit?

Join the club, says Councillor Michael Thompson, who blames the politicians for sowing confusion.

Thompson expects a showdown Monday when city council tackles the issue of who should serve on a newly constituted Toronto Transit Commission.

Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre) said people have every right to wonder what’s going on considering the constantly shifting landscape, with deals being made and then broken.

First the current nine-councillor commission was to be dissolved in favour of a seven-person commission with four councillors and three citizens; then an 11-member body with six councillors and five citizens; and finally seven councillors and four citizens.

Thompson said political egos and a desire to grab a plum post on the TTC are blocking progress on transit planning.

“The question is when is it going to end? So many people are wanting to promote their own selves and their personal interest rather than what’s best overall for our community.”

New Lenox Pipe Crash: Enbridge Shuts Down Pipeline After Explosion That Kills Two

NEW LENOX, Ill. - Enbridge Inc., (TSX:ENB) has shut down a pipeline that carries oil from Canada to the U.S. after two vehicles crashed through a fence outside Chicago and struck the pipeline, causing a fiery explosion.

Police in New Lenox, Ill., say two men were killed and three others were injured in the Saturday crash.

Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said the pipeline was shut down immediately when sensors detected a drop in pressure. A second, undamaged line was also shut down as a precaution.

Both lines carry crude oil from Enbridge's facility in Superior, Wis. to a terminal in Griffith, Ind..

Little said the undamaged line has reopened, but Line 14 remains closed and she said it likely won't be restarted until Thursday.

"Emergency crews and Enbridge crews were at the site as quickly as possible. At this time our thoughts are with the accident victims and their families," Little said on Sunday.

Conservative Government's Deal With Environmental Group Scrapped After Enbridge Pressure

OTTAWA - The Conservative government cancelled an agreement with a charity that supports environmental causes eight months after energy firm Enbridge Inc. lobbied against the deal, The Canadian Press has learned.

The federal Fisheries Department said last September it would no longer use an $8.3-million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a U.S.-based environmental trust. The foundation donated the money through charity Tides Canada, which was to distribute the funds with federal oversight to support a departmental marine-planning initiative.

The reversal came almost a year after Ottawa accepted the deal, and scrapping the arrangement went against the advice of public servants, documents show.

The grant was to provide the bulk of funding for consultations launched by the department, paying for scientific research and to gather advice from stakeholders on balancing conservation with economic use of ocean waters on British Columbia's north coast.