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.]

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Health Insurance Premium Hikes Called 'Excessive' by Federal Regulators

Health insurance premium hikes in nine states as high as 24 percent are "excessive" and should be blocked, the federal Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday. The agency will have to depend on states to take action, however, because the federal government lacks the authority.

The health care reform law enacted in 2010 requires health insurance companies to present premium hikes of 10 percent or more for federal review. Since the law took effect, the Department of Health and Human Services has reviewed and made public more than 180 rate-review proposals for health plans that cover 1.3 million individuals and small-business employees.

Big annual health insurance premiums became a heated issue during the congressional debate over health care reform in February 2010, just one month before the legislation passed, when a California subsidiary of the insurance giant WellPoint sought to raise rates on its 800,000 customers by as much as 39 percent. At the time, President Barack Obama said he was "very disturbed" by what WellPoint's Anthem Blue Cross proposed.

Bill Lee, Sanford Police Chief, Steps Down Temporarily Over Trayvon Martin Case

SANFORD, Fla. -- At a hastily called press conference Thursday afternoon, Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. announced that beleaguered police Chief Bill Lee Jr. is stepping down temporarily amid growing anger over his handling of the investigation into the killing of Trayvon Martin. Bonaparte told reporters that he hoped the move would "restore calm to the city of Sanford" and help speed the case through the legal process. He said that the city has not yet appointed an interim chief.

"I am aware that my role as the head of the department has become a distraction," said Lee at the press conference. "I have come to the decision to temporarily remove myself."

Lee's resignation comes just hours before a massive rally, scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday night in a local park and led by Rev. Al Sharpton. Thousands are expected to attend as the wave of resentment and anger has spilled from this city of just over 50,000 to as far away as New York City. Discontent over the handling of the case has also gone viral online, with almost 1 million people signing an online petition, and celebrities like Spike Lee and Gabrielle Union taking to Twitter to speak out for justice.

Turner Clayton, head of the local NAACP, said he'd been meeting with city officials for more than a week, pushing for Lee's firing or resignation. He said that while Lee's temporary resignation is a good start, ultimately the community wants his permanent removal.

"I'm elated that the chief decided to step aside and allow the city to heal," Clayton said, "But it will be a whole lot better if he just goes ahead and resigns permanently. This is just a temporary fix for right now, of course, we're looking for a permanent fix."

Obama Administration Releasing New Rules To Expand Ability To Hold Citizens' Data

WASHINGTON — The U.S. intelligence community will now be able to store information about Americans with no ties to terrorism for up to five years under new Obama administration guidelines.

Until now, the National Counterterrorism Center had to immediately destroy information about Americans that was already stored in other government databases when there were no clear ties to terrorism.

Giving the NCTC expanded record-retention authority had been called for by members of Congress who said the intelligence community did not connect strands of intelligence held by multiple agencies leading up to the failed bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas 2009.

"Following the failed terrorist attack in December 2009, representatives of the counterterrorism community concluded it is vital for NCTC to be provided with a variety of datasets from various agencies that contain terrorism information," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement late Thursday. "The ability to search against these datasets for up to five years on a continuing basis as these updated guidelines permit will enable NCTC to accomplish its mission more practically and effectively."

The new rules replace guidelines issued in 2008 and have privacy advocates concerned about the potential for data-mining information on innocent Americans.

Joe Oliver's speech coloured by "racism": First Nations Grand Chief

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was dogged by criticism in Vancouver today for describing many First Nations communities as “socially dysfunctional” at a Vancouver Board of Trade breakfast today.

Questioned on the remarks by reporters, Oliver said he was merely speaking about a lack of economic opportunities, and denied accusations of paternalism towards First Nations people. But the head of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, which represents First Nations in BC, said Oliver's comments are representative of a pattern.

“It goes beyond paternalism – there's definitely a colour of racism in a lot of his remarks towards Indigenous or Aboriginal or First Nations people," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told The Vancouver Observer.

“We certainly don't appreciate those incredibly ignorant public declarations. It serves no purpose but to intensify an already volatile situation. It's not helpful. Regardless of his excuses, his intent is very clear: shamelessly cheerleading the corporate agenda as it pertains to these large-scale resource development projects.”

"It's about the environment, stupid"

Signs show Harper Conservatives’ popularity beginning to slip

Federal politics is getting as wonky as the weather. A new poll has the leaderless NDP sitting in first place, while this week’s by-election in Toronto-Danforth had the Liberals, under interim leader Bob Rae, experiencing a mini-revival.

The Environics poll had the Conservatives and NDP tied on 30%, with the Liberals back on 20% support. In the by-election, Liberal Grant Gordon saw his party’s share of the vote rise by 11%, even though he lost to New Democrat Craig Scott.

The common trait in both these stories is the relative decline of the Conservatives. Most polls have been showing the Tories slipping since the party won nearly 40% of the vote in last May’s election but the Environics survey suggests they are actually in danger of relinquishing first place. In the Danforth by-election, Conservative support tumbled 9% to just 5%.

These are worrying numbers for the Harper government. Some of the slide can be blamed on the robocall saga and fears about the upcoming budget. But there is a deeper malaise. Too many middle-class Canadians, particularly in Eastern Canada, feel they are under siege.

F-35 delays may cost Australia billions

Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith has decided to delay an order for more JSF F-35 fighters.

The Royal Australian Air Force is scheduled to receive a second batch of 58 Joint Strike Fighters, and Smith's decision to delay the order is being criticized, as it may increase their final cost.

Both Ministry of Defense and industry critics say the decision could create the air warfare capability gap the government says it is trying to avoid, The Canberra Times reported Thursday.

Last month Smith told Parliament he worried that ''a delay in the production of the Joint Strike Fighter and the aging of our classic Hornets'' would create an air warfare capability gap.

Lockheed Martin Vice President Tom Burbage told a parliamentary defense committee the postponement of plane orders by the U.S. and other governments impacted by the global financial crisis was ''the single largest contributor to the increases in the unit cost of the F-35,'' and he urged the Australian government to ''stay the course'' to keep the production line for the sophisticated fifth-generation stealth fighter running at maximum efficiency.

Original Article
Source: UPI
Author: --

MacKay boosts F-35 hopes

OTTAWA - Defence Minister Peter MacKay's enthusiasm for the F-35 fighter jets could put him on a collision course with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"We're still very sure that the F-35 is the right aircraft," MacKay said following an unrelated announcement Thursday in Winnipeg.

That's very different from Harper's comments on the F-35 in question period last week.

"Obviously we will sign a contract when and if it is the appropriate thing to do," Harper said.

Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino also stressed last week the "decision has not yet been made" to buy the F-35.

That leaves open the possibility Canada could go a different route to replace the CF-18 fighters, which have been flying since 1982.

Fantino has already said officials are looking at alternatives to the F-35.

Paradis stays put in cabinet despite ethics rebuke in Jaffer case

Conservative Minister Christian Paradis is refusing to resign despite being found in a conflict of interest for helping former caucus colleague Rahim Jaffer meet with senior bureaucrats on a controversial green-energy project.

In a hard-hitting report on Thursday, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said Mr. Paradis contravened Section 7 of the Conflict of Interest Act as he offered preferential treatment to Mr. Jaffer, who was an MP from 1997 to 2008. She expressed particular concern over the fact Mr. Paradis directed bureaucrats at Public Works Canada to hold the planned meeting even after Mr. Jaffer’s arrest on drug and driving charges in 2009.

“I believe that Mr. Paradis assisted Mr. Jaffer because he wanted to help a former caucus colleague. This preferential treatment was therefore based on the identity of Mr. Jaffer,” Ms. Dawson said in her report.

Mr. Paradis refused to step down, saying in a written statement that he will take “further precautions” in his future dealings with people seeking government funding.

“The Commissioner said today that these reports are educational tools to help us understand how conflict of interest rules work,” he said. “It must further be emphasized that there was never any prospect or question of an advantage or financial gain on my part.”

Massive student tuition march paralyzes Montreal

Tens of thousands of Quebec students descended on downtown Montreal Thursday afternoon for the latest in a series of escalating protests against proposed tuition hikes.

An imposing crowd, considerably larger than the one at Montreal's famous 1995 pre-referendum rally, formed a kilometres-long sea of opposition to Quebec's tuition increases, scheduled to take effect later this year.

In a spring laden with student demonstrations against the Quebec government, this was easily the largest.

The parade of protest was so long that its front end would be a full neighbourhood – or even two – away from the tail end.

An organizing group boasted that the protest spanned 50 city blocks.

There were no violent incidents involving the chanting, placard-waving throng.

There were, however, reports of some protesters carrying sticks, that police confiscated.

TransCanada looks east as Gateway pipeline gets bogged down

TransCanada Corp. (TRP-T43.560.761.78%) is proposing a major shift in the way oil moves across Canada, urging the oil patch to consider a massive $5.6-billion new pipeline system that would carry large volumes of western crude to refineries in Ontario, Quebec and beyond.

The East Coast Pipeline Project, as TransCanada has dubbed it in presentations to energy companies, could do more than supply the east with fuels made from oil sands crude. It could serve as an alternative to Northern Gateway, the controversial West Coast export pipeline project from TransCanada competitor Enbridge Inc. that has faced a wall of opposition from first nations and environmental groups.

The TransCanada proposal would send 625,000 barrels a day across the country to Montreal, Quebec City and potentially Saint John, N.B., where Irving Oil Ltd. runs a large refinery. Tanker exports could then also take the crude to Europe or Asia.

The proposal is conceptual, and the company has not disclosed public details about a project that may never be built. But it comes amid a period of turbulence for the Canadian oil patch, which is confronting numerous obstacles to moving its oil to market, and is considering a large variety of novel options as a result.

Thousands of students march in Montreal against tuition-fee hikes

MONTREAL—Several thousand students are marching through the streets of Montreal in the biggest protest yet against proposed tuition hikes in Quebec.

The chanting, placard-waving throng is snaking its way along downtown streets and is headed for Old Montreal.

There are no immediate reports of any incidents.

The protest comes two days after the provincial budget and a blunt refusal by Premier Jean Charest’s government to back down on the hikes.

The province is nearly doubling tuition fees over five years, to about $3,800. It will reach its target with a series of $325-a-year increases. However, the tuition fees in the province will still be among the lowest in Canada even after the hikes.

Students have been staging almost daily protests for the last several weeks and blocked a major commuter bridge on Tuesday. Police have also ramped up tactics and have used chemical sprays against the demonstrators.

The government has toughened its own tone lately.

Tories poised to launch daring cutbacks to public pensions in federal budget

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, emboldened by the power of a majority government, are poised to launch daring cutbacks to public pensions that could spark inter-generational tension among Canadians.

With Finance Minister Jim Flaherty set to reveal the details in his budget next Thursday, the outlines of what likely lies ahead are becoming plain:

• The backbone of the pension system — Old Age Security (OAS) —will be slashed for future seniors, likely by extending the age of eligibility to 67 from 65. The purpose is twofold: Keep Canadians in the workforce longer to boost the economy and provide taxes to government and; limit the costs of the OAS system by ensuring there are fewer beneficiaries. The big question Canadians will learn in the budget: When do the cutbacks start — expectations are it won’t be for another decade — and how gradually are they to be implemented?

• The pension plan for members of Parliament — long criticized as “gold-plated” because of its generous benefits — will be scaled back. This will provide political cover for the governing Tories during the expected OAS public controversy so that they can claim they are also making personal sacrifices. The key question will be whether the changes amount to tinkering — MPs must now serve six years to qualify, and they can start drawing benefits at age 55 — or if the plan is blown up and turned into a private pension scheme that costs the taxpayers significantly less.

Leak suggests F-35 fighter jet purchase fraught with errors

Canada's auditor general has both National Defence and Public Works in his sights when it comes to the troubled F-35 stealth fighter program, say senior government sources.

A draft copy of the scathing review, circulating in Ottawa for weeks, suggests the air force didn't do its pricing homework and government officials failed to follow procurement rules, say those who've read it.

It's not clear whether the language will be toned down in the final report, Michael Ferguson's first as auditor general, when it's released April 3.

But federal officials familiar with the document note no final decision on purchasing the multi-role fighter has been made, and may take a year or two.

"It's bad, (but) how can the auditor general be auditing a purchase that hasn't taken place?" said one senior official, who asked not to be identified.

"The process to select, you can look at. They are pre-supposing a decision to acquire has taken place and it hasn't."

Public service unions abandon neutrality to challenge expected Conservative cuts

OTTAWA — The white-collar professionals who work in the federal government are breaking their silence as loyal and neutral public servants with the launch of an unprecedented social media campaign that attacks the Conservatives’ looming spending cuts as undermining the health and safety of Canadians.

The campaign, called Professionals Serving Canadians, is led by a coalition of six unions that represent more than 75,000 professionals, from scientists and lawyers to pilots and finance officers. They have never joined forces against the policies of the government their members work for. The unions representing professionals have historically stuck to bread-and-butter worker issues such as wages, shunning the broader labour movement and steering clear of getting involved in policy issues.

But in a pre-launch rally, union leaders said the health, safety and security of Canadians, which they believe will be compromised by anticipated budget cuts of up to $8 billion a year, is more important than the tradition of an invisible and neutral public service. The campaign, which cost $7 per member, publicly kicks off on Thursday.

The unions, which collectively represent most public servants, are girding for the March 29 federal budget, which is expected to announce the results of the deficit-reduction action plan. Departments had to offer plans for five- and 10-per-cent reductions to help reach the government’s targets for cuts.

Harper about to go to 'third rail' by making pension changes

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, emboldened by the power of a majority government, are poised to launch daring cutbacks to public pensions that could spark inter-generational tension among Canadians.

With Finance Minister Jim Flaherty set to reveal the details in his budget next Thursday, the outlines of what likely lies ahead are becoming plain:

- The backbone of the pension system — Old Age Security (OAS) — will be slashed for future seniors, likely by extending the age of eligibility to 67 from 65. The purpose is twofold: Keep Canadians in the workforce longer to boost the economy and provide taxes to government and; limit the costs of the OAS system by ensuring there are fewer beneficiaries. The big question Canadians will learn in the budget: When do the cutbacks start — expectations are it won't be for another decade — and how gradually are they to be implemented?

- The pension plan for members of Parliament — long criticized as "gold-plated" because of its generous benefits —will be scaled back. This will provide political cover for the governing Tories during the expected OAS public controversy so that they can claim they are also making personal sacrifices. The key question will be whether the changes amount to tinkering — MPs must now serve six years to qualify, and they can start drawing benefits at age 55 — or if the plan is blown up and turned into a private pension scheme that costs the taxpayers significantly less.

Toronto's Inside City Workers Vote to Strike, May Join Picketing Library Staff

On Tuesday, Toronto's 23,000 inside workers overwhelmingly voted in favour of a strike mandate, unless a contract is successfully negotiated with the city.

The inside workers' union, CUPE Local 79, gave formal notice that its members would be willing to go on strike as early as Saturday.If contract negotiation remains unsuccessful, Toronto's inside workers will join 2,300 striking library employees, who started picketing on Monday.

Toronto's inside workers includes city child care workers, nurses, janitors, parks and recreation staff and ambulance dispatchers. The union's city contract expired on Dec. 31, 2011. On Tuesday, over 85 per cent of its members voted in favour of a strike.

The members of both CUPE Local 79, and CUPE Local 4948, the Toronto Library Workers Union, are fighting to protect their job security, and basic employment rights.

Jim Jordan Suggests Elections Drive Solyndra Investigation

WASHINGTON -- After months of investigations into Solyndra and other Department of Energy loans failed to produce a smoking gun, one Republican lawmaker let slip why House Republicans have kept up the charge.

In an interview following yet another hearing in which Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified about the Department's loan guarantee program, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) appeared to admit that Republicans' ongoing probes of the program -- from which the bankrupt California-based solar company Solyndra and others benefited -- are largely a play to win votes in November.

"Our staff will continue to dig into it and see," Jordan told Environment & Energy Daily. "But what I hope happens is we stop doing these kind of things ... this whole cronyism approach to the marketplace.

"Ultimately, we'll stop it on Election Day, hopefully. And bringing attention to these things helps the voters and citizens of the country make the kind of decision that I hope helps them as they evaluate who they are going to vote for in November."

Jordan's press secretary, Meghan Snyder, called HuffPost on Thursday to discuss the context for Jordan's statement.

Canada Budget 2012: Civil Servants Plee For Tories To Come Clean On Federal Cuts

OTTAWA - The country could see seniors left in the cold, fisherman stranded on cliffs and unsafe food getting to stores if the Conservative government proceeds with billions in spending cuts, public servants warned Wednesday.

Though thousands of civil servants could face layoffs after next week's federal budget, they said their worry isn't about saving their own jobs.

"It's about public safety," said Merv Wiseman, a 35-year veteran of the Canadian Coast Guard.

The Conservatives aim to slash between $4 and $8 billion a year in government spending to erase the deficit by 2015-2016. The last budget called for expenditures of just over $270 billion with a deficit of about $33 billion.

While the focus is on cutting program spending, jobs connected to those programs will disappear and one estimate has said as many as 60,000 positions could be at risk.

Wiseman joined union leaders, the head of a veterans' organization and front-line government service employees at an emotional news conference Wednesday that saw workers plead for the government to think before it acts.

Access to water on Canada's reserves

Fresh water. Canada has more of it than almost any other country on Earth. According to the United Nations Development Program, over 99.8 per cent of Canadians have access to pure drinking water and safe sanitation.

But try telling that to Mike Gull. "Our water smells like raw sewage right now," says Gull, head of the water treatment program at Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario. "It's very septic. There's lots of bad stuff in here, lots of dead organic matter."

Chief Connie Gray-McKay of Mishkeegogamang First Nation, 500 km northwest of Thunder Bay, has similar concerns. "Our water smells like iron and magnesium. People have allergic reactions to it, and their laundry turns yellow."

Attawapiskat and Mishkeegogamang are among the 112 reserves, out of 633, where the water is not considered safe to drink, according to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. In the past, says Merrell-Ann Phare of the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Research, as many as one in three reserves have lacked safe water. There are no statistics kept on how many people are affected, but "you're talking about quite a few people," says Phare.

The ‘shadow MP,’ his salary and his pub stop with Harper

A government employee described by Liberal Irwin Cotler as his “shadow MP” working on the federal payroll has offered some clues about his job and his publicly funded salary.

Mr. Cotler has raised concerns that Saulie Zajdel, the Conservative candidate he defeated in last year's election, is earning a government paycheque while trying to undermine him in his Montreal riding.

The Conservatives initially refused to discuss Mr. Zajdel's duties at all – let alone his salary. After several months, Heritage Minister James Moore shared some details, explaining Mr. Zajdel works in his Montreal office as a non-partisan liaison with local multiethnic communities.

Now, new details have been emerging about Mr. Zajdel's work.

He spoke publicly in Mr. Cotler's riding about Canada's relationship with Israel; he attended some events with Prime Minister Stephen Harper including a happy-hour pub stop; and he revealed he earns less than the “six digits” he hopes for.

Mr. Zajdel remarked on his salary during the Prime Minister's visit to Montreal, a trip that included an announcement a few hundred metres outside Mr. Cotler's Mount Royal riding last week.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford shuts down transit debate

Mayor Rob Ford shut down the Sheppard Ave. transit debate Wednesday night to stop council from voting for light rail and then fled into an elevator to escape reporters’ questions.

The bizarre scene, described as “scattered and desperate” by centrist councillor Josh Colle, included Ford failing to delay the vote until April 4 — a bid that triggered mayhem on the council floor. The council meeting resumes Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

Ford allies denying routine permission to let last night’s meeting run past 8 p.m. also apparently prevented another spectacle — a mayor who rode to victory pledging to “end the war on the car,” publicly supporting creation of a $100-per-spot tax on commercial parking spots to fund subway building.

Council’s centre and left members who support LRT on Sheppard were fuming after Ford bolted down a hall into an elevator, a press aide blocking reporters scrambling behind.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” said Councillor Joe Mihevc. “People were witness to a filibuster that was shameless,” and will backfire, he said.

Scarborough Councillor Glenn de Baeremaeker called the 13.5-hour delay “a very desperate tactic by a very desperate man. The mayor saw defeat just minutes away and just said ‘Let me escape.’”

These high-income docs want the rich to pay

Here’s a novel idea. A new organization of well-paid doctors thinks that they — and other high-income earners — should pay more in taxes.

“Who knows?” physician Michael Rachlis, one of the founders of Doctors for Fair Taxation, told me Wednesday. “Maybe we’ll start a trend. Maybe we’ll see a Lawyers for Fair Taxation start up.”

I’m not going to hold my breath. Still, it’s refreshing to see someone stand up for a more progressive tax system.

The conventional wisdom these days is that progressivity in taxation — the notion that people should pay proportionally more as their incomes rise — is counterproductive.

Most governments don’t have the nerve to scrap progressive taxation entirely. So they’ve been doing it gradually by reducing the number of income-tax brackets and by raising more money through user fees and consumption levies like the HST.

They’ve have been aided and abetted in this by mainstream economists who argue, usually without any proof, that taxes on income discourage people from working.

Israel 'turning blind eye' to West Bank settlers' attacks on Palestinians

Jewish settlers in the West Bank are conducting a systematic and expanding campaign of violence against Palestinian farmers, families and children with the Israeli authorities turning a blind eye, according to confidential reports from senior European Union officials.

In two reports to Brussels from EU heads of mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah, obtained by the Guardian, the officials found that settler violence against Palestinians has more than tripled in three years to total hundreds of incidents.

"Acts of settler violence are becoming a serious concern for the Israeli state which has so far failed to effectively protect the Palestinian population," says the report sent to EU ambassadors in Brussels last month.

The report notes 411 attacks by settlers last year resulting in Palestinian casualties and damage to property, against 132 attacks in 2009.

The campaign of intimidation is especially targeted at Palestinian farmers and their livelihood, the reports found, noting that settlers damaged or destroyed Palestinian olive groves en masse.

Around 10,000 trees were destroyed last year. But last autumn's olive harvest season was quieter than previous years.

Northern Gateway jobs just 'pipe dreams': report

A new report claims that the promise of 10s of thousands of new jobs created by the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is just a "pipe dream."

Estimates of job creation promoted by Enbridge, the company behind the pipeline, are about 10 times too high, according to economist Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"I think there are a lot of wild claims being made about the economic benefits of the pipeline, that it's in Canada's national interest, but if you look really closely there are fairly few jobs being delivered by the pipeline," he told CTV News.

The proposed $5.5-billion Enbridge pipeline would take Alberta oil to Kitimat, where it would be loaded on tankers bound for Asia.

Enbridge has claimed the project will create 63,000 person-years of employment. That's another way of saying the project will create the equivalent of 21,000 full-time jobs over the period of its three-year construction.

That estimate includes construction jobs, but also jobs the company estimates will be created as spinoffs when the people employed in the construction spend their wages. It also includes the jobs created from the pipe manufacture.

LRT Lifeline to Scarborough

You had to know that Rob Ford, who I’m told likes to kick back by watching UFC, wasn’t going to give up on his Sheppard subway scheme without a fight.

The propaganda offensive to save his subway ahead of yesterday’s (Wednesday March 21) council vote has been nothing short of breathtaking in its audacity. Witness the bafflegab at Monday night’s meeting of Ford front group Subways Are for Everyone (SAFE) at Scarborough Town Centre.

If I had to come up with a title for the night, it might be something like Rob Ford And The Death Of Reason. Who needs transit science when hysteria will do?

Ford has been busy using his weekly radio show to play divide-and-conquer, trying to convince Scarborough residents that LRT is a plot concocted by downtown lefties to saddle them with second-rate transit.

That sentiment was in ample evidence at Monday night’s meeting.

The literature being handed out was enough to make you wonder if riding LRT is a death trap: flyers with info culled from a quick Google search or two about teens killed by LRT in Edmonton in 2010 and three crashes of the Seattle LRT before it even opened in 2009. Ooh, scary.

Budget 2012: pensioners fund tax cut

George Osborne's gamble in cutting the top rate of income tax to 45p came under mounting assault after the chancellor announced that his generosity to Britain's richest 300,000 households would be accompanied by a "stealth tax" on pensioners, a fresh £10bn attack on welfare and continued cuts to child benefit.

Osborne insisted that the centrepiece of his third budget was a move to take a million low earners out of tax through the biggest increase in personal allowances for 30 years.

But Labour accused the chancellor of funding this giveaway through a "granny tax", pointing out 4.4 million taxpaying pensioners would lose on average £84 a year as a result of the plan to freeze their personal allowances. They claimed Osborne had thrown away any pretence that he was a one-nation Conservative.

Faced by the Labour charge that he was being a friend to millionaires, and not the millions, Osborne insisted that higher stamp duty on house sales worth more than £2m and a general clampdown on tax avoidance by the wealthy would more than compensate for the small amount of revenue lost by trimming the 50% tax rate to 45% from next April.

James King, Elizabeth Warren Rival, Drops Out Of Massachusetts Senate Race

It's a great week to be Elizabeth Warren.

On Tuesday, a new poll showed her leading Scott Brown in Massachusetts's heated U.S. Senate race. Now, one of her challengers has quit the race.

Democrat James King, a corporate lawyer, announced on Wednesday his decision to drop out and endorse Warren, The Republican reports.

"We looked at our goals of defeating Scott Brown and rebuilding Sen. Ted Kennedy's legacy, and decided that the best way to accomplish that at this point is to support Elizabeth Warren," he told the paper.

King is the 5th candidate to drop out of the primary. Warren's sole challenger in the Democratic field is Marisa DeFranco, an immigration lawyer.

It's no surprise that Warren's Democratic competitors are leaving the race. Not only is she a well-known consumer advocate, her campaign has fundraised a staggering amount of money. In just one day in January, she raised $1,000,000.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Alana Horowitz

George Zimmerman Unprotected By Self-Defense Law in Trayvon Martin Killing, Florida Lawmakers Say

Republican state lawmakers in Florida responsible for a controversial 2005 self-defense law said it shouldn't apply to a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, in February.

Police in Sanford, Fla., declined to charge George Zimmerman, 28, saying they lack evidence refuting his claim of self-defense in the fatal confrontation. Under the 2005 law, called Stand Your Ground, Florida residents can use lethal force against an attacker if they believe their life is threatened, regardless of the location.

In recorded calls to police, Zimmerman describes following Martin in his car and calls him 'suspicious.' A dispatcher tells him not to pursue Martin, but Zimmerman persists. In statements to police, Zimmerman claimed that Martin then attacked him and he shot the teenager in self-defense, police said.

Martin weighed nearly 100 pounds less than Zimmerman and was found carrying only a bag of Skittles candy and a can of iced tea. Police said that without evidence proving that Zimmerman attacked Martin first, they had no grounds to charge him with a crime.

Dennis Baxley, a Republican state representative and co-author of the 2005 self-defense law, said Zimmerman negated his ability to claim immunity under the law by chasing Martin.

Walking While Black

Every parent raising black sons knows the dilemma: deciding how soon to have the talk. Choosing the words to explain to your beautiful child that there are some people who will never like or trust him just because of who he is -- including some who should be there to protect him, but will instead have the power to hurt him. Training him how to walk, what to say, and how to act so he won’t seem like a threat. Teaching him that the burden of deflating stereotypes and reassuring other people’s ignorance will always fall on him, and while that isn’t fair, in some cases it may be the only way to keep him safe and alive.

But sometimes it isn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to protect Trayvon Martin. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon’s English teacher said he was “an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness.” Trayvon loved building models and taking things apart, his favorite subject was math, and he dreamed of becoming a pilot and an engineer. Instead, he was gunned down by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain vigilante who profiled him, followed him, and shot him in the chest. His killer, George Zimmerman, saw the teenager on the street and called the police to report he looked “like he’s up to no good.” At the time Trayvon was walking home from the nearby 7-11 carrying a bottle of Arizona iced tea and a bag of Skittles for his younger stepbrother, leaving many people to guess that the main thing he was doing that made him look “no good” was wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the rain and walking while black. George Zimmerman’s decisions made that suspicious enough to be a death sentence.

Trayvon Martin 'Million Hoodie March' March Draws Hundreds In New York City

NEW YORK — The parents of a black teenager shot to death by a Hispanic neighborhood watch captain in Florida told hundreds of people at a march in his memory on Wednesday that they won't stop until they get justice for him.

"My son did not deserve to die," the teenager's father, Tracy Martin, said after thanking the crowd.

Martin's son, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was killed Feb. 26, in Sanford, Fla. He was returning to a gated community in the city after buying candy at a convenience store. He was unarmed and was wearing a hooded sweat shirt, called a hoodie.

The neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, has not been charged in the shooting. Zimmerman has said the teen attacked him and he shot him in self-defense.

On Wednesday night, demonstrators chanted "we want arrests" during the Million Hoodie March in Manhattan's Union Square.

Are Corporations Taking Tax Breaks on Their Dark Money Contributions?

The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision opened the way for unlimited corporate spending on politics and has led to the proliferation of nonprofit political groups that do not have to disclose the identities of their donors. But corporations may be getting another benefit from anonymous donations to these groups: a break on their taxes.

It all starts with the so-called social welfare groups that have become bigger players in the political world in the wake of Citizens United, which knocked down restrictions on campaign activity by such groups.

Tax experts say it's possible that businesses are using an aggressive interpretation of the law to wring a tax advantage out of their donations to these groups.

It's almost impossible to know whether that's happening, partly because the groups—also known by their IRS designation as 501(c)(4)s—aren't required to disclose their donors. (That's why the contributions have been dubbed "dark money.")

The NRA Wants the Law Protecting Trayvon Martin's Killer in All 50 States

The National Rifle Association continues to press more states to adopt Florida-style "stand your ground" laws like the one that's made it difficult to prosecute George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in late February. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense despite the fact that Martin was unarmed. Since "stand your ground" laws allow people who feel threatened to use deadly force—even if they have an opportunity, as Zimmerman did, to safely avoid a confrontation—Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged. (If you haven't heard about the Martin case, get the full rundown in our explainer.)

The proliferation of these laws is part of a deliberate lobbying campaign by the NRA. In 2005, at the NRA's urging, Florida became the first state to pass a "stand your ground" law. Before that, most states required you to retreat from a confrontation unless you were inside your own home. Now 24 states have these "stand your ground" laws, which critics call "shoot first" laws (Gawker's pseudonymous blogger "Mobuto Sese Seko" calls the laws "a great, legally roving murder bubble") because they authorize citizens to use deadly force even if the person who makes them feel threatened is, like Martin, unarmed.

Bill McKibben: Winter Heat Wave Underscores Need for Obama to Reject, Not Fast-Track, Keystone XL

As President Obama heads to Oklahoma today to announce the fast-tracking of the southern portion of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas, we speak with’s Bill McKibben. The pipeline approval comes two months after Obama rejected a proposal for the 1,300-mile Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta tar sands oil fields to Texas after large protests by environmental groups. It also comes at a time when much of the nation is experiencing a heat wave that some scientists and meteorologists have linked to climate change. Spring only began on Tuesday, but it has felt like summer this week throughout much of the Northeast, Midwest and parts of Canada. Record temperatures have been recorded in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Buffalo and many other cities and towns. Some 36 states set daily high temperature records last Thursday.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Rick Mercer Robocalls Rant: Comedian Calls For Action From Governor General (VIDEO)

Rick Mercer has delivered another robocalls rant and this time he wants action.

The host of the "Rick Mercer Report" is calling for the Governor General to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the widening election scandal.

Mercer says there is no hope of the cabinet calling a judicial inquiry to investigate their own party, because "That's like asking Don Cherry to donate his brain to science. It's not going to happen."

While Mercer says listening to the PM's parliamentary secretary Dean Del Mastro play the blame game makes him want to punch himself in the face, it's the prospect of all the people who believe voting is useless being proved right that really scares him.

So far, the only investigation into the fraudulent election robocalls is from Elections Canada. And results from that probe aren't expected any time soon.

Media attention is already slowing down, but action from the GG would undoubtedly bring the story back to the top of the national debate. Your move David Johnston.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Michael Bolen 

Health Funding Canada: Alberta Wins At Other Provinces' Expense Under New Scheme, Data Suggests

OTTAWA - New calculations in Quebec's budget this week show changes to the structure of federal health-care transfers will handsomely reward Alberta at the expense of all other provinces.

Ottawa is moving toward a pure per-capita system of calculating how much each province should receive in federal health-care funding, starting in 2014.

The new system means the existing equalization component in health transfers — intended to even things out among have and have-not provinces — will disappear.

According to Quebec's calculations, the change means Alberta will receive $1.1 billion extra each year, on average.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford said in Calgary on Wednesday night that the figure outlined in the Quebec budget document is correct but she said it ensures that everyone is treated equally.

"There's really a fundamental difference of perspectives with respect to this," she told reporters.

City of Toronto’s inside workers vote for strike mandate

An “overwhelming majority” of the City of Toronto’s inside workers have given their union a mandate to strike, the union says.

CUPE Local 79, representing 23,000 workers, announced the result of Tuesday’s strike vote in a new release early Wednesday morning.

Over 85 per cent of voting workers supported the strike mandate, Local 79 president Tim Maguire said at a Wednesday news conference. He called turnout “historic” but refused to give an actual figure.

The release said that having the mandate in down-to-the-wire talks with city negotiators this week will “assist the union in reaching a fair settlement, as well as protect workers from potential threats the city may make to strip workers of basic employment protections,” by unilaterally changing their terms and conditions of employment.

The inside workers will not join library staff on the picket lines this weekend unless Mayor Rob Ford’s administration moves to unilaterally impose working conditions, Maguire said.

Harper targeted over Nordion’s bomb-grade uranium deal with Russia

Stephen Harper flies to Seoul next week for a nuclear security summit where not everyone will see his country as a model player: A Canadian company is accused of frustrating efforts to wean the world off bomb-grade uranium.

Ottawa-based Nordion Inc. is the world’s biggest producer of medical isotopes, the life-saving radioactive tools used to diagnose and treat cancer and other diseases. But it relies on materials drawn from highly enriched uranium – and has cut a 10-year deal to get supplies from Russia.

That has a coalition of American arms-control advocates and non-proliferation experts, and some members of the U.S. Congress, complaining that Canada is slowing efforts to ensure bomb-grade uranium does not fall into terrorists’ hands.

Mr. Harper signed on to efforts to reduce the civilian use of highly enriched uranium (HEU), as a key part of the first nuclear security summit U.S. President Barack Obama convened in 2010. But Canada’s willingness to move quickly is being questioned.
Like all nations that produce medical isotopes, Canada has pledged to phase out the production of HEU-based isotopes for the more expensive low-enriched uranium (LEU) version. Nordion, the biggest player in the global isotope market, supplying half of U.S. needs, is considered central to these efforts.

But in the fall of 2010, Nordion entered into a 10-year deal with a Russian company to ensure a steady source in the years ahead. While the deal includes a commitment to work on converting to LEU, the timeline has not been set. And it means Nordion could use Russian supplies to get around the provisions of a bill before the U.S. Congress to tighten controls on American HEU.

As a result, critics say, Russia now has less incentive to get rid of its HEU – despite the fact that both Canada and the U.S. have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to secure Russian nuclear materials – and Nordion has less incentive to convert to LEU more quickly.

In addition, they say, because Nordion’s HEU-based isotopes are cheaper to produce, others converting to LEU can’t compete, and that’s unlikely to change now that Nordion has a long-term supplier in Russia.

“This deal basically makes it impossible for people using the safer material to compete,” said Miles Pomper, a Washington-based senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “It discourages other countries from converting, which means there’s more HEU in other places, too.”

Even some arms-control advocates acknowledge that, from a business point of view, Nordion had little choice.

Because Canada is not a nuclear-weapons state, it does not enrich uranium, so Nordion usually imports material extracted from U.S. HEU stockpiles. It uses the federally owned research reactor in Chalk River, Ont., to process it for medical use.

But that reactor, beset by leaks and problems from 2007 to 2009 that triggered global shortages of medical isotopes, is set to close in 2016. The government mothballed two new MAPLE reactors that were slated to take over, sparking Nordion to launch a $1.6-billion lawsuit against Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., a Crown corporation.

Nordion says it is collaborating on projects to develop new ways to produce isotopes without HEU, but vice-president Tamra Benjamin said by email that “the large-scale commercially viable application of these new technologies is still several years away.” Eliminating access to HEU-based materials would “have a detrimental effect on tens of thousands of patients around the world,” she said.

Canadian federal agencies are financing research into non-HEU isotope production. And with the U.S. medical market so dependent on Nordion’s products, it’s questionable how far the U.S. can go in pressuring Canada to move more quickly. But Mr. Harper can expect pressure in the hallways in Seoul.

Chad Westmacott, an analyst at the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, said it’s not the countries’ intent that’s questioned, “but actual timelines.”

“There’s probably going to be a lot of talk about this on the side,” he said.

Original Article
Source: Globe
Author: jeremy torobin

Federal budget may rile environmentalists

Next week's budget will propose a streamlined environmental assessment process, something that will delight the oil patch and give provinces a larger say over resource development.

But one part under consideration for the package — reforms to the Fisheries Act that would end federal oversight over much of the country's fresh water — is proving difficult for some provinces to swallow, sources say.

The environmental changes will be pitched as part of a major theme of the budget: get government out of the way and let corporations flourish.

They will reflect commitments made increasingly frequently by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his environment and natural resource ministers, to remove barriers to investment and development.

Specific legislative amendments and regulatory fixes will likely be introduced later, with the budget merely outlining the new direction.

Concerns of scientist 'muzzling' driven by impatient reporters: Kent

Complaints about the "muzzling" of Canadian government scientists are being driven by "a very small number of Canadian journalists who believe that they're the centres of their respective universes," says Environment Minister Peter Kent.

In a wide-ranging interview, the Harper government's point man on all things green defended his department's media policy surrounding its own researchers, which was recently criticized at a February conference in Vancouver during a panel discussion titled "the muzzling of Canada's federal scientists."

"A number of journalists who have wanted to set their own agenda on who they talk to, and when, and on a number of occasions, have tried to drag our scientists into policy discussions rather than sticking with the strict science of their positions," Mr. Kent said.

Canada made international headlines in December when Mr. Kent announced the government's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding international climate treaty in the United Nations. While pundits continue to laud and criticize the decision to scrap the treaty, the government is remaining steadfast in its position.

"Too Crooked to Fail": Matt Taibbi Says Bailouts, Fraud are the Secrets to Bank of America’s Success

In his new article, "Bank of America: Too Crooked to Fail," Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi chronicles the remarkable history of the rise of Bank of America, an institution he says has defrauded "everyone from investors and insurers to homeowners and the unemployed." Taibbi describes how the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly propped up the financial institution, which received a $45 billion taxpayer bailout in 2008. Bank of America has also received billions in what could be described as shadow bailouts. The bank now owns more than 12 percent of the nation’s bank deposits and 17 percent of all home mortgages. Taibbi also recounts how fraudulent practices by Bank of America and other companies ravaged pension funds. "Most people think of [the mortgage crisis] as some airy abstraction — you know, bankers ripping off bankers," Taibbi says. "That’s not what it is. It’s bankers stealing from old ladies and retirees."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Pentagon: Trillion-Dollar Jet on Brink of Budgetary Disaster

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the supposed backbone of the Pentagon’s future air arsenal, could need additional years of work and billions of dollars in unplanned fixes, the Air Force and the Government Accountability Office revealed on Tuesday. Congressional testimony by Air Force and Navy leaders, plus a new report by the GAO, heaped bad news on a program that was already almost a decade late, hundreds of billions of dollars over its original budget and vexed by mismanagement, safety woes and rigged test results.

At an estimated $1 trillion to develop, purchase and support through 2050, the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 was already the most expensive conventional weapons program ever even before Tuesday’s bulletins. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are counting on buying as many as 2,500 F-35s to replace almost every tactical jet in their current inventories. More than a dozen foreign countries are lined up to acquire the stealthy, single-engine fighter as well.

With cuts already hitting services, union wants Tories to show budget hand

Public servants are stepping out of the backrooms to issue rare public warnings that government cutbacks are already hurting vulnerable Canadians like veterans and seniors plus putting food and marine safety at risk.

At a pre-budget event on Parliament Hill organized by the Public Service Alliance of Canada – the largest federal public-sector union – civil servants shot back at criticism they are simply fighting to protect their jobs.

In a string of speeches, union members working with Service Canada, the Coast Guard, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Veterans Affairs told specific stories of how previous rounds of federal cuts are directly impacting Canadians.

Their warnings come in advance of the March 29 federal budget that will confirm the results of a new and more ambitious round of cuts aimed at finding between $4-billion and $8-billion a year in permanent spending reductions.

Harper's fallback plan: Yell at the ref

The House of Commons was tense. "We have, on numerous occasions, called for a judicial inquiry into the scandal," the Opposition leader said. "In order to reassure us that there will be no interference in the investigation into the prime minister's own party, is he prepared to agree to a judicial inquiry, yes or no?"

The prime minister was having none of it. "Mr. Speaker, the honourable member has just said that the RCMP is doing its job well and is doing its duty as far as these matters are concerned." Be patient and let the investigation proceed, he said.

The Opposition leader jumped back up. "Mr. Speaker, I gather from that answer the Prime Minister still refuses to hold an independent judicial inquiry into this ongoing scandal."

The prime minister was a stone wall. "The RCMP is doing very independent work and the auditor general, who is a very independent officer of this House, and both of them are doing their jobs as they have to. I have nothing else to add."

NDP ties Tories in popular support

The New Democrats will begin their leadership convention on Friday with a remarkable wind filling their sails. For the first time in 25 years, the polling firm Environics has them in first place, tied with the Conservatives.

That wind isn’t quite as brisk as it might seem: The NDP is not doing better in public opinion, the Conservatives are simply doing much worse. And the Bloc Québécois is surging in Quebec.

Still, first place is first place. The last time Environics had the New Democrats in first – in that instance, all on their own – was under Ed Broadbent during the free trade debate in 1987.

The survey by Environics Research Group provided to The Globe and Mail has the two parties at 30 per cent support among voters. That’s about the same percentage of the popular vote that the NDP earned in the May 2 general election. For the Conservatives, it represents a drop of 10 points.

Quebec tuition fight about keeping education accessible, students say

Students in Quebec are organizing a "national day of action" on Thursday as part of their fight to keep university education in the province accessible to all.

Tens of thousands of students were expected to take part in rallies in Montreal and Quebec City to protest the 75 per cent increase in post-secondary education tuition fees that the Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest introduced in the budget it tabled Tuesday.

The increase, which the Charest government had already forecast in its 2011 budget, will see fees for Quebec residents rise by $325 a year for five years, starting in the 2012-13 academic year and continuing until 2016-2017.

(Compare tuition fees across the country.)

Joël Pedneault, vice-president of external affairs for the Students' Society of McGill University in Montreal, is an active member of Quebec's student movement and is helping co-ordinate some of the activities taking place Thursday.

Inside Rick Santorum holds up an "Etch-a-sketch" while addressing supporters at a "Get Out The Vote" rally in Mandeville, Louisiana on Wednesday. Romney draws fire over ‘Etch A Sketch’ Locked in a fight over whether Toronto’s transit future is with LRT or subways Toronto city councillors picks up where they left off Wednesday. Furious Ford goes on the attack French special unit policemen leave the scene Thursday where Mohamed Merah was killed in a police raid on the apartment in Toulouse where he had been holed up. Toulouse killings suspect dead Bell Mobility's photo illustration of the proposed cross/cellphone tower, as posted on Councillor Mike Cluett's website. Can you spot the cellphone tower? Brian Miller, 27, a former contestant on the show Redemption Inc., was arrested in Stittsville, Ont. on Sunday. Redemption Inc. star charged in crime spree Known to police: No need for review of Toronto police contacts with “racialized” youth, act now, says watchdog group

Toronto police officers should provide citizens they stop and question with carbon copies of cards used to document encounters that typically result in no arrest or charges, a police watchdog group suggests.

Police should also provide monthly reports to the Toronto Police Services Board on “carding” activities, including the race and ages of those being stopped, the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition says in a briefing to the board, which meets Thursday.

On the agenda — and in the wake of a Star series that found police continue to disproportionately stop and document black and brown people — is a recommendation by board chair Alok Mukherjee that the city’s auditor general conduct an independent review of police contacts with the public, particularly youth of different ethno-racial backgrounds.

Mukherjee is proposing the auditor general also look at how the police practice of documenting citizens may have affected public trust and to report back by the end of 2013.

None of that is needed, says the coalition, headed by former Toronto mayor John Sewell.

ORNGE: Taxpayer funds increased while need for air ambulance decreased

The Ontario government threw $50 million in funding increases at ORNGE over five years but never checked how taxpayers’ money was being spent, the provincial auditor general has found.

In a searing indictment of the provincial Health Ministry’s slack oversight, auditor Jim McCarter and his team reported Wednesday that ORNGE air ambulance bought more aircraft than it needed; purchased a fleet of land ambulances that often sat idle; and used public money to fund a controversial real estate deal that put $9 million into a for-profit company owned by ORNGE executives.

The only action the Ministry of Health appears to have taken since it created ORNGE in 2006 was to increase its annual funding from $97 million to $150 million.

“To the nose of this watchdog, this did not pass the smell test,” McCarter said, referring to the real estate deal and a series of “questionable” financial transactions his team uncovered.

Ontario budget: Dwight Duncan to adopt half of Drummond’s 362 cost-cutting recommendations

The Ontario government will adopt half of economist Don Drummond’s 362 cost-cutting recommendations in Tuesday’s austerity budget, the Star has learned.

Only a few of Drummond’s suggested cutbacks — mostly related to education — are being disregarded outright, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Wednesday.

“We have rejected 16 of Drummond’s recommendations. You will find in the budget that we’re moving on a little more than half of them. And on the balance, they require more study,” he said in an interview.

That means almost 96 per cent of Drummond’s landmark Feb. 15 report on reforming public services will be enacted or remains under active consideration.

Duncan stressed the government would not be proceeding with the former TD bank economist’s recommendation to eliminate 70 per cent of the 13,800 non-teaching positions — 9,660 jobs — created in Ontario since 2002-03.

ORNGE’s land ambulance service also a problem, says auditor Jim McCarter

ORNGE’s airborne misadventures have come crashing to earth and extend to its land ambulances as well, says Auditor General Jim McCarter.

Since 2008, ORNGE has received nearly $13 million a year to transfer a projected 20,000 patients by road. But it transports only about 15 per cent of that number, or 3,000 people, McCarter discovered in his probe of the troubled agency.

The government gave the money blindly and never bothered to find out “how many transfers ORNGE has actually made,” the report noted.

“We are not getting what we are paying for,” McCarter said Wednesday during the release of his report. “The ministry was in the dark, they just didn’t know.”

Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees wasn’t surprised there are big problems in ORNGE’s land services.

“That is another one that is brewing,” Klees said. “The number of stories I am getting about what is going on in land ambulance transfers is huge, we just haven’t had the time to talk about it.”

TDSB budget: Unions call proposed cuts ‘bullying'

Calling it “short-sighted,” a “punch in the eye” and a case of “economic bullying,” union officials lambasted Toronto District School Board trustees Wednesday over a staff proposal to cut hundreds of jobs to help erase an $85 million deficit.

Outraged officials of teachers’ and support workers’ unions urged the board’s human resources committee to reject a recommendation to cut 430 education assistants, 134 school secretaries, 200 high school teachers and 39 elementary vice-principals, among others, to save $51 million.

But caught between what some called “heart-wrenching” cuts and the gut-wrenching threat of government takeover if they don’t balance their books, the committee chose not to take any stand on the cuts, tossing the political hot potato ahead one week to a special meeting of the whole board March 28 dedicated to the staffing issue.

For many, Wednesday became a chance to express anger at the idea of such sweeping cuts, although the total number of jobs that would be lost is about 200 because the board has just hired more than 400 early childhood educators and expects to need 215 more elementary teachers because of rising enrolment.

The Conservatives’ covert war on the environment

For the first time in Canadian history, the federal government is systematically weakening the environmental laws intended to protect this country’s magnificent natural heritage. For four decades, since the dawn of the modern environmental era, governments in Ottawa — Liberal and Progressive Conservative, majority and minority — have passed new eco-laws and strengthened existing laws. Until now.

Using an under-handed tactic pioneered by anti-environmental Republican lawmakers in the U.S., Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative government is surgically undermining the laws intended to protect Canada’s air, water, soil, biodiversity, and ecosystems.

During the 1990s, the Republican-controlled Congress attempted to roll back key environmental laws including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. When their frontal assaults were rebuffed, the Republicans resorted to dirty tricks. Instead of directly targeting environmental laws, the Republicans attached anti-environmental riders to laws that enjoyed wide bi-partisan support, such as omnibus spending bills or payroll tax cuts. These riders were buried deep in lengthy pieces of legislation that few politicians were likely to read, and their obscurity made it difficult for environmentalists to generate public opposition.

Trayvon Martin and the Parameters of Hope

Were the elements of the Trayvon Martin story—the plaintive cry for help punctuated by a gunshot; the image of a Martin, seventeen and looking young for his age, in a football jersey; the iced tea and Skittles he carried—not so indelible, the events would seem like something from a Tom Wolfe novel: in a Presidential election year, an unarmed black teen is shot by a Hispanic man in a county the African-American President narrowly lost, in a state that accounts for twenty-nine electoral votes, resulting in demands that the Attorney General (also black) open an investigation. The miasma of racism in this storyline is compounded by a police department’s refusal to make an arrest, gun laws that confuse jurisprudence with football and suggest that a good offense is now the equivalent of self-defense, and wild rumors of a black militia preparing to occupy the town and take the shooter into custody. That Al Sharpton will be covering a planned rally rather than leading it is perhaps an irony too far even for Wolfe. More than that, the case, like similar ones, highlights the complicated matter of expectations and a black Presidency. Call it the parameters of hope.