Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Time to Undo ALEC's Damage

No longer able to defend themselves on Voter ID and “Kill at Will” legislation they helped popularize—as much as they tried—the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is finally dropping both from their agenda, announcing today that they will focus on free market, anti-regulation policies. In a statement from Indiana state Representative David Frizzell, also ALEC’s national chairman:

    “Today we are redoubling our efforts on the economic front, a priority that has been the hallmark of our organization for decades. Fostering the exchange of pro-growth, solutions-oriented ideas is precisely why ALEC exists.
    “To that end, our legislative board last week unanimously agreed to further our work on policies that will help spur innovation and competitiveness across the country.

    “We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles, and have made changes internally to reflect this renewed focus.

    “We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy. The remaining budgetary and economic issues will be reassigned.

    “While we recognize there are other critical, non-economic issues that are vitally important to millions of Americans, we believe we must concentrate on initiatives that spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.

An Elite Consensus We Can't Afford

“Why can’t we all get along?” The iconic question has become the fixation of much of Washington’s chattering class. David Brooks and Thomas Friedman censure President Obama for blowing the “Grand Bargain” or not embracing the recommendations of Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the deficit reduction commission. Self-proclaimed bipartisan efforts—No Labels, Americans Elect—call for putting aside partisan squabbles and electing moderates who can get things done.

All this chatter leaves out one thing—any sense of reality. The old bipartisanship, such as it was, was built on the postwar economy that worked for everyone. Top-end taxes were at 90 percent, providing the resources to invest in essential programs such as the interstate highways, the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe, the G.I. bill and housing subsidies that educated a generation and built the suburbs.

In those days, U.S. companies exported goods rather than jobs, and a decent argument could be made that what was good for General Motors was in fact good for America. It wasn’t perfect. The “other America” lived lives of quiet desperation. Segregation still was brutally enforced. But the bipartisan consensus reflected an economy that was working for many, not just the few.

Original Article
Source: the nation
Author: Katrina vanden Heuvel

New York: The Front Line in the Political Money Wars

Forget Washington, DC. The real front line in the battle to get big money out of politics is in Albany, New York's capital and a rough-and-tumble hotbed of political corruption and dysfunction.

On Wednesday, a new campaign, Fair Elections for New York, will launch to implement a taxpayer-funded public financing system for statewide elections and slash the contribution limit for political donors. Behind this effort is more than the usual cast of good-government and watchdog types. Fair Elections for New York's coalition includes powerful business leaders and philanthropists, big political donors, environmentalists, religious leaders, labor unions, ethics watchdogs, and more, all of whom say they're sick of the status quo in New York.

As the New York legislature resumes business in Albany in the coming weeks, the fair elections campaign will blanket the state with mailers and robocalls and lobby state lawmakers to pass a package of campaign finance reforms. Specific legislation is still in the works, but supporters say they want the state's public financing system to look like New York City's, which gives candidates $6 for every $1 they raise up to $175 per donor. The reform coalition also wants to lower the contribution limit for individual donors from $55,900 to $2,000, while limiting individuals who do business with the state to $400 in donations.

Romanow Blasts Harper's Charter View

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on “the wrong side of history” by failing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms to avoid stirring up lingering resentment in Quebec, says former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.

In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CBC’s Power & Politics, Romanow believes bitter divisions have dissipated over time, and that Harper is in a “very, very small minority of Canadians” not marking the occasion as a historic milestone.

“I’m saddened a bit that the prime minister would not recognize it as an important contribution to Canada’s nation-building, an articulation of our values and our responsibilities," he said. "However, he’s entitled to his point of view."

The prime minister called the 30th anniversary an “interesting and important step,” but noted the charter remains inextricably linked to the patriation of the constitution — and divisions around that remain “very real.”

Harper also noted the charter had roots in the Bill of Rights established by former Progressive Conservative prime minister, John Diefenbaker, in 1960.

Romanow suggested the statements were unnecessarily partisan in tone.

Oil industry woes weigh down Canadian economy

Troubles facing the Alberta oil patch could become troubles for the Canadian economy.

For much of 2012, Canada has faced a dual threat from divergent oil prices, with international crude selling more than $30 (U.S.) a barrel above some Canadian product. Oil prices have sagged in Canada amid growing problems shipping to markets outside Alberta.

Gasoline prices, meanwhile, have soared. The disparity has afflicted consumers with higher pump prices, while trimming profits to energy companies – a kind of double economic penalty.

In a rate decision released Tuesday, the Bank of Canada warned: “If sustained, these oil price developments could dampen the improvement in economic momentum.” The central bank is expected to include an analysis of how oil prices affect the Canadian economy in its quarterly forecast, which will be released Wednesday.

The bank specifically pointed to the fact that global oil prices are now “considerably higher” than those received by Canadian producers.

The prominence of current oil price discounts in the bank’s analysis is another sign of the growing national importance the energy industry is playing in Canada.

PMs from Calgary opposites

Canada has had two Conservative prime ministers from Calgary. One is determined to undo the other's legacy.

Richard Bedford Bennett created three pivotal national institutions during his one term as prime minister from 1930 to 1935. In the midst of the Great Depression, he established the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Stephen Harper has destroyed the CWB. He's on track to cripple the CBC, perhaps fatally. He likes the Bank of Canada. But he was gung-ho to deregulate banking while opposition leader.

There are similarities -- and striking dissimilarities -- between Canada's two Calgary prime ministers.

First, the similarities. Neither were native Calgarians. Bennett was born in Hopewell Hill, N.B., Harper in Toronto.

Both are Conservatives. Neither were Progressive Conservatives. Bennett led the party before it renamed itself the Progressive Conservatives in 1942. Harper became leader of the reborn Conservative Party in March 2004, four months after it dropped the word Progressive from its name following the merger of the PCs and the Canadian Alliance.

Sweden has no army

George W. Bush once told his inner circle that Sweden had no army.

The subject came up because one of his foreign policy advisors suggested that Swedish troops would be acceptable to both Israel and Palestine as peacekeepers.

The president demurred. Not only did Sweden have no army, he said, it was also a neutral country and therefore unsuitable for any military mission. After a delicate attempt to inform the commander-in-chief about a wonderful place called Switzerland, which indeed had no army and was neutral, the room of cowed advisors fell silent.

Aura of office is a funny thing. It is excellent camouflage for third-rate minds and shady characters. It can sometimes turn otherwise estimable men into pant-wetting school-boys. It can make conscientious people fall silent over the things that matter to them most – a death rattle for the soul. And it can set the stage for the worst of all possible developments in a democracy – the office used to sanctify the man.

The Harper government now operates in the Sweden-has-no-army universe. These days in Ottawa, saying it makes it so. That’s why after a week of crushing revelations of malfeasance, Peter MacKay is still there to make a mockery of cabinet responsibility and the quaint requirement of telling the plain truth to Canadians. That’s why the prime minister is spouting nonsense about two sets of F-35 figures, offering the underwhelming argument that they measure different things. The only thing the public should be measuring is the length of his nose.

Commerce officer cuts coming to Foreign Affairs

Cutting the number of government commerce officers across Canada could mean a more regional and specialized approach to trade promotion and investment, say analysts, but they also argue it is unlikely the government will downsize teams working on big trade deal talks.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, a union representing 57,000 government employees, announced on April 11 that 53 commerce officer positions in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade would be affected, and that notices were handed out to employees.

Union president Gary Corbett said the government informed him that 35 of these positions would be eliminated.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Caitlin Workman confirmed that these positions would be cut, but she said only 48 individuals had received notices that their positions would be affected.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada also announced 21 of its members in DFAIT received notices, but the type of positions affected are less clear.

Ontario was the most affected, Mr. Corbett said, with 15 notices being handed out. In the Atlantic region and Quebec, 13 and 10 notices were handed out in each, respectively, while eight were handed out in Winnipeg, five in Edmonton, two in British Columbia and the Yukon.

Canada Telecom Rule Changes Threaten National Security

Canada’s plan to allow foreign companies such as VimpelCom Ltd. (VIP) to increase their stakes in the country’s telecommunications providers poses a “considerable risk” to national security, Public Safety Canada warned.

“The security and intelligence community is of the view that lessening or removing restrictions from the Telecommunications Act, without implementing mitigation measures, would pose a considerable risk to public safety and national security,” Daniel Lavoie, a senior official with Public Safety, said in a letter to Industry Canada.

The letter, which was marked “secret” and dated Feb. 25, 2011, was obtained by Bloomberg News under Canada’s freedom-of- information law.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced plans last month to allow foreigners to own as much as 100 percent of telecom operators with less than 10 percent of market share by revenue.

The new rules, designed to increase investment and competition in the sector, pave the way for the likes of Amsterdam-based VimpelCom, which operates in Russia and Algeria, to increase its stake in Wind Mobile, a Toronto-based carrier that began operating in 2009.

Smooth-talking heritage minister tries to peddle reannounced youth programs

There are two outstanding salesmen in Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

One is Jason Kenney, the energetic, fast-talking immigration minister. The other is James Moore, the media-savvy, fluently bilingual heritage minister.

Both have been spending a lot of time in Toronto recently.

Kenney met editorial boards and delivered speeches spelling out how he intends to overhaul the immigration system and defending his plan to dissolve the eight-year backlog of unprocessed applicants.

Most business leaders, editorialists and pundits were impressed. They backed his plan to be more selective in admitting newcomers and welcomed Kenney’s can-do attitude.

Moore took a different tack. Rather than seeking public approval, he went straight to his core constituency: artists, creators, cultural leaders and organizers of youth exchanges. His mission was to soothe ruffled feathers after his government’s March 29 budget, which chopped funding for the CBC, the National Film Board and Telefilm Canada and shut down Katimavik, a national volunteer service for young people launched by Pierre Trudeau 35 years ago.

Alberta needs a real progressive opposition, not a fake progressive conservative one

Astonished to find itself with its back against a Wildrose wall, rejected by its traditional supporters, Alberta's so-called Progressive Conservatives are putting the full-court press on New Democrats and Liberals to hold off a Wildrose Apocalypse by voting PC.

Polls suggest lots of voters are wavering. As a Conservative cabinet minister told me yesterday in Calgary Airport, many genuinely progressive voters in that town are seriously pondering holding their noses and voting Tory.

All I can say is "Don't do it, people!"

At a time like this, in a place like this, there’s no way a vote for the NDP is a throwaway. Au contraire!

Yes, Albertans are fed up to the teeth the PC party and its arrogant ways. But remember, the Wildrose Party and the Conservative Party are the Same Party, Castor and Pollux, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. This PC-Wildrose split? It's a family feud. And it's just not that nice a family!

We don't need a far-right opposition in Alberta to oppose a far-right government. We need a real opposition that will fight for the values and principles a majority of Albertans still share, even if sufficient numbers of them are conned into voting for one or other of the Wildrose-PC doppelgangers.

Is the federal immigration system a failure? The Harper government seems to think so, but the stats tell a different story

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney sees deep flaws in Canada’s immigration system. For too long, he argues, the system has been drawing ambitious newcomers who arrive here ready to work only to find their qualifications aren’t recognized, their experience isn’t valued, or their skills aren’t in demand. “We’ve got to stop this practice,” he said in a major speech in Toronto last month, “of inviting highly trained people to come to Canada if they don’t have jobs or they’re not likely to succeed in the labour market.”

As one of the most visible federal ministers, Kenney has made sure his critique of the system he runs is widely heard and broadly accepted. In particular, companies echo his complaints about Canada bringing in 250,000 newcomers a year, and still failing to provide the workers they need to fill gaps, particularly in the fast-growing West. But as Kenney continues his withering attack, it’s worth asking: Is the federal program really the unmitigated disaster he suggests? Not by international standards, where Canada is rated highly for its successful integration of immigrants into the economy, or even by some of the yardsticks Kenney has been using to argue Canada’s existing immigration system needs to be completely overhauled.

Omar Khadr transfer request in Ottawa's hands

Omar Khadr is anxious to return to Canada and "become a contributing member of our society," his Toronto lawyer says, as the federal government confirmed today the Canadian Guantanamo Bay prisoner's fate is now in its hands in the form of a transfer application.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toew's office said it has received a completed application from Khadr to transfer to Canada from the U.S. military detention centre in Cuba, and a decision will be made "in accordance with Canadian law."

Khadr, 25, is the last Western prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, where he is serving an eight-year sentence for killing a U.S. soldier when he was 15.

The Toronto-born Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 to five charges brought before a controversial U.S. military tribunal, including killing Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer in Afghanistan in July 2002.

Khadr has been in custody at Guantanamo since then. He has been eligible to return to Canada since last October under terms of a plea deal.

However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has been reluctant to accept Khadr, but is also concerned the 25-year-old could again associate with extremists if he were to return to Canada a free man after serving his full sentence in U.S. custody.

Canada sideswiped by high world oil prices: Bank of Canada

The Canadian economy has been hurt as global oil prices have climbed even as the saturated U.S. market drove down the price of Canadian crude, the Bank of Canada said Wednesday.

In its monetary policy report issued Wednesday, the central bank noted that the domestic economy typically benefits when world oil prices climb because Canada is a net oil exporter.

But the usual patterns have been broken because Canadian crude prices have not matched the runup in international oil, but consumers and businesses are paying product costs that tend to be priced off the global market.

While international prices paced by North Sea Brent have risen since October, North American crudes such as West Texas Intermediate (CL-FT102.67-1.53-1.47%) have not kept pace. And Canadian crude prices, including the leading benchmark Western Canada Select, have actually declined this year.

“This is why the evolution of oil prices since January have been unfavorable to Canada,” the central bank says.

“The increase in the price of our oil imports raises production costs for Canadian firms and also puts upward pressure on gasoline prices, since about half of the gasoline purchased in Canada is produced using refined petroleum priced off Brent.”

Mayor Ford says he’s skipping Pride parade again

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has confirmed he won’t march in this summer’s Pride Parade, saying for the second year in a row that he’ll keep his family’s tradition of going to the cottage that weekend instead.

“No, no I’m not attending Pride,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“It’s on Canada Day. I’m going up to the cottage with my family like I’ve done for as far I can ...” he said, before trailing off.

Mr. Ford left the door open to attending other Pride Week festivities. “We’ll see,” he said, adding he takes his schedule “event by event.”

Mr. Ford said much the same thing last year.

In the end, he didn’t appear at a single Pride event, despite intense public pressure and a private meeting with Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, whose late son was gay.

Councillor Adam Vaughan, a frequent critic of Mr. Ford, said the mayor is entitled to a private life, including a weekend away at the cottage.

But he doesn’t want to see Mr. Ford “snub” the entire celebration again this year, especially with World Pride coming to Toronto in 2014.

“If he misses the parade and attends the flag-raising, I think we’ll all see that as a step forwards,” Mr. Vaughan said.

Original Article
Source: Globe
Author:  Kelly Grant 

Judge orders rights tribunal to revisit native welfare complaint

Native groups have won a key Federal Court decision ordering the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to take another look at their complaint that Ottawa is discriminating against them by underfunding child welfare services on reserves.

The litigation is critical because, activists say, the government is arguing the Human Rights Act does not apply to federally-funded services for first nations, thus shielding Ottawa from any discrimination complaints alleging that it failed to finance natives adequately for clean water, housing, education or health care.

In a ruling released Wednesday, Madam Justice Anne Mactavish said the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal was wrong in siding last year with Ottawa’s position and dismissing the complaint.

“The decision was unreasonable as the Tribunal failed to provide any reasons as to why it could not consider the complaint,” Judge Mactavish wrote in her 109-page ruling.

She ordered the rights board to appoint another panel to review the complaint again.

The complaint was filed in 2007 by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations.

Gas prices: Do oil speculators fuel higher pump prices?

Can cracking down on oil speculators add up to cheaper prices at the pump?

U.S. president Barack Obama unveiled a plan Tuesday to throttle oil price manipulation by market speculators as part of a bid to lower gasoline prices.

Obama wants the U.S. Congress to strengthen federal supervision of oil markets, increase penalties for market manipulation and allow regulators to slap energy traders with stiffer financial requirements to back up their trades.

Proponents of the plan say that when hedge funds and huge investment firms such as Goldman Sachs buy up futures contracts to bet on the direction of the price of oil, it drives up the price of the commodity, and by extension, the price of gasoline.

Others argue that the two are separate, that the derivatives have no underlying effect on the physical price of oil – just as betting on which team will win doesn’t affect the game itself.

Here’s a primer on the debate.

Police in US handcuff 6-year-old for tantrum; schools wrestle with when to call cops

ATLANTA - A 6-year-old who threw a tantrum at her U.S. school was taken away in handcuffs, firing up a debate over whether teachers and police are overreacting with disruptive students.

Salecia Johnson's family lashed out Tuesday over her treatment and said she was badly shaken, while the school system and the police defended their handling of the incident.

Civil rights advocates and criminal justice experts say frustrated teachers and principals across the country are calling in the police to deal with even relatively minor disruptions.

Some juvenile authorities say they believe it is happening more often, driven in part by an increased police presence at schools over the past two decades because of tragedies like the Columbine school massacre. But numbers are hard to come by.

"Kids are being arrested for being kids," said Shannon Kennedy, a civil rights attorney who is suing the Albuquerque, New Mexico, school district, where hundreds of kids have been arrested in the past few years for minor offences. Those include having cellphones in class, burping, refusing to switch seats and destroying a history book. In 2010, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for inflating a condom in class.

Political 'spin' comes very close to telling lies

In the midst of the robocall scandal Postmedia columnist Andrew Coyne tweeted that "everyone in politics is trying to con you one way or another." Response from Canadians was supportive. Disagreements came, not surprisingly, from politicians.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, for one, expressed surprise at the number of people agreeing with Coyne, describing the tweet as "cynical" and failing to "stand up to any kind of scrutiny."

Nenshi probably missed recent polling numbers released by the Manning Centre for Building Democracy in which 58 per cent of Canadians described politicians as "unprincipled." Only one per cent had a "very-favourable" opinion of politicians, probably close to the proportion of people actively involved in the political process.

In releasing the poll numbers, the centre described the robocall scandal as "deplorable," noting it was eroding public confidence. Ironically, the Manning centre itself is less concerned with building democracy than it is with strengthening the political right. Any way, the observation seems a little late in the day considering the poll results. Another percentage point of erosion before public confidence becomes non-existent.

It's possible that only one per cent of Canadians have it right, but it's also possible Canadians are expressing a view consistent with their experience.

Unlike our allies, we glossed over the F-35's costs

The Auditor-General’s report on the F-35 procurement process was at once a key bit of clarity about the most expensive weapons program in Canada’s history and another reason for Canadians to think this mess is unique. Canada, however, is just one of many countries disenchanted with the F-35’s spiralling costs.

News coverage here almost always mentions the other countries purchasing the F-35 as an afterthought, but the multinational nature of this procurement program is quite useful for understanding this process.

In addition to Canada and the United States, countries such as Australia, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom are participating in the F-35 program. Two key reasons are motivating this combined effort: economies of scale and interoperability. The U.S. sought to save money by compelling its services to buy variants of the same plane, contrary to the tradition of each branch having one or more fighters of its own. One plane meant that the research and development costs could be spread over the entire American and international purchase. The more planes purchased, the more these initial costs could be spread out.

Albertans: Gripped by Stockholm Syndrome?

On Aug. 23, 1973, Jan Erik Olsson walked into a bank in Stockholm, and after a botched robbery attempt, held four people hostage inside the vault for five days. Olssen was finally arrested and the hostages were freed, but there was a more lasting legacy to this ordeal.

In what became widely known as Stockholm Syndrome, psychologists identified the puzzling affinity the captives developed towards their kidnapper. The hostages apparently feared the police more than their captor and one even phoned the Swedish Prime Minister from inside the bank to say she was very displeased with his attitude and demanded that that the robber be allowed to go free.

Which brings us the Alberta provincial election. The Wildrose Alliance seems poised to form the new provincial government, ending 40 years of majority rule by the provincial Conservatives. As usual, the province's relationship with the fossil fuel industry is a central issue in this campaign and the Wildrose Alliance is fielding a slate of candidates where 15 per cent are from the oil industry.

Not surprisingly, Wildrose wants to grant further concessions to the oil and gas sector in spite of repeated independent reports calling for increased resource rents -- and three successive budget deficits. In the midst of an oil boom, the richest province in confederation and the engine of what Prime Minister Harper calls a "global energy superpower" can't seem to balance the books. Yet the mood among Alberta voters seems to be that even more pain on the part of the people is needed.

House Conservatives Struggle To Get Excited About Mitt Romney

WASHINGTON -- Conservative House Republicans on Tuesday tried to find things about Mitt Romney that make them excited about their likely presidential nominee, but just about all of them seemed to fall short.

"We're excited about the opportunity to beat Barack Obama more than anything," Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said in response to a question about conservatives' level of enthusiasm for Romney. The question was posed to a dozen conservative lawmakers who took part in a panel discussion hosted by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation.

"I think Gov. Romney is the nominee," Jordan continued. "You're going to see conservatives unite behind him and do everything we can to help him win this November."

Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) concurred with Jordan and said "the excitement, the passion ... will come from getting Barack Obama out of the White House."

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) similarly avoided directly saying he is enthusiastic about Romney. "I am excited that the process is over," he said. Labrador said he still hasn't endorsed anyone, but nonetheless urged conservative Republicans to "get behind a nominee. It's time for conservatives to get excited."

Earth? Scientist Muses On Alberta Wildrose Leader's Views

Remarks by Alberta Wildrose party Leader Danielle Smith on climate change have at least one top scientist wondering if she believes in a flat Earth as well.

Smith said Monday that the science around climate change is not settled.

University of Alberta biologist David Schindler says he wonders if Smith thinks the flat Earth debate is still going on.

He says scientists may debate how quickly greenhouse gases will warm the Earth, but the basic theory is no longer challenged.

Schindler says Smith's statement _ which is longtime Wildrose policy _ betrays ignorance about what's really going on in science.

Calgary political scientist Duane Bratt suggests Smith is probably doing the bidding of her party's backers in the energy industry.

A published American study looked at more than 1,300 research papers on climate and found that 97 per cent of them supported the standard theory of climate change.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Canadian Press

Kony 2012: Ugandans Criticize Popular Video for Backing U.S. Military Intervention in Central Africa

We look at the controversial video, "Kony 2012," that targets Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group notorious for kidnapping children, forcing boys to become fighters, and using girls as sex slaves in Central Africa. Released on March 5, it was viewed more than 100 million times online in just under a week, making it the most viral video in history. We speak with two Ugandans about the impact of the film and how the Kony 2012 campaign calls for U.S. military intervention in Central Africa to fight the LRA. Milton Allimadi is publisher and editor-in-chief of Black Star News. Victor Ochen is a survivor of the LRA war and director of African Youth Initiative Network, based in northern Uganda.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Conservative Tie With NDP In Polls May Be Broken In The Suburbs

As another poll pegs NDP and Tory support at almost dead even, the dividing line between supporters of the government and supporters of the opposition is becoming clearer.

A new Ipsos-Reid poll for the National Post released Friday indicates the Conservatives have the support of 34 per cent of Canadians, compared to 33 per cent for the New Democrats. This is the fifth consecutive survey to put the margin between the two parties at two points or less. All were taken after the Mar. 24 NDP leadership convention, but unlike the other polls this is the first one to see the Conservatives slip from the high-30s.

Since Ipsos-Reid's last poll in early March, this marks a three point drop for the Tories and a four point gain for the New Democrats. The Liberals were down two points to only 21 per cent, echoing other recent results.

Though the country is splitting between right and left, this division is not uniform. Both the Conservatives and the NDP can lay claim to specific demographics.

The Conservatives perform best among male voters aged 55 years or older, rural Canadians, high-school graduates, income earners of $30,000 or more and people born in Canada.

Environmental Review Reform: Ottawa Streamlines Assessment Rules For Natural Resource Projects

TORONTO - A major overhaul of environmental assessment rules for big projects will create jobs and growth, the federal government announced Tuesday, sparking resource industry praise and fierce criticism from environmental groups.

First signalled in last month's budget, the Conservative government said proposed new rules would encourage investment by avoiding wasteful duplication and setting strict time limits for project reviews.

"We intend to focus federal assessment efforts on major projects that can have significant environmental effects, such as energy and mining projects," Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said.

"Streamlining the review process ... will attract significant investment dollars and give every region of our country a tremendous economic boost."

The plan calls for three organizations — the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission — to conduct reviews, down from 40 government departments that can currently be involved.

Ottawa would defer to provincial reviews that meet national standards, and reviews would be limited to 12 months for standard assessments, rising to a maximum of two years.

Ron Leech, Wildrose Candidate, Apologizes For 'White Advantage' Comment

CALGARY - A Wildrose candidate in the Alberta election is apologizing for suggesting he has an advantage in his ethnically diverse riding because he is white.

"I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage. When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks, they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community," Ron Leech said on the "South Asian" program which aired on CHKF-FM, a multicultural radio station in Calgary.

Leech offered an apology for his remarks Tuesday. He said he had made them on the spur of the moment and hadn't put his point across very well.

"I apologize if something was said at the moment ... that misrepresented the community or myself," Leech said at a campaign stop in Calgary.

"What I was trying to say, which didn’t come out that way and I apologize ... is that it’s not a disadvantage for me to be Caucasian to represent the diverse cultures of my riding."

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith was not aware of the comments when asked by reporters about them Tuesday, but said she wasn't concerned after they were read to her.

Green assessments 'important' and 'meaningful,' bureaucrats said

OTTAWA — Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is weakening federal oversight measures that were once described by his department as "meaningful" and "important levers" to address "significant environmental impacts," of industrial development, a newly released presentation has revealed.

The slide show, produced by Natural Resources Canada along with other documents as part of a June 2009 meeting involving senior bureaucrats and the CEOs of oil companies, suggested that strong federal environmental assessments, also known as EAs, were "the primary tool to achieve results," in the face of criticism about the footprint of the oilsands industry on land, water and air.

"EAs are a process to predict and evaluate possible effects and propose mitigation measures," said the presentation, released to Climate Action Network Canada through access to information legislation. "They provide a meaningful opportunity for the public to influence decisions about projects."

The presentation, prepared for discussions in Calgary involving the industry leaders and government officials such as Kevin Lynch, who was then the clerk of the Privy Council Office, noted that the provinces had jurisdiction over their own natural resources, but that the federal government had "more specific regulatory responsibilities" to protect the environment in areas such as the management of fish and fish habitat, migratory birds, navigable waters, water quality, species at risk, health and aboriginal consultations.

U.S. Navy Starts Search for a Sixth Generation Fighter

The F-35 program is still ongoing and infamously over budget, yet the U.S. Navy is kicking off the early steps in the search for a sixth generation fighter to replace the current F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. This first step in searching for new fighter aircraft is a Request for Information from companies interested in participating with the program.

The document reads, "To support OPNAV N98’s request, this is a Pre-Material Development Decision (MDD) market survey for the purpose of determining market interest, feasibility, and capability of potential sources and does NOT constitute a Request for Proposals. NO SOLICITATION DOCUMENTS EXIST AT THIS TIME."

You may be wondering if this means that the F-35 as far as the Navy's concerned could be dead. Well, this new program has no bearing on the F-35 - the Navy document states the new sixth generation fighter will complement the F-35 and a planned unmanned aircraft.

"The intent of this research is to solicit Industry inputs on candidate solutions for CVN based aircraft to provide multi-role capability in an A2AD operational environment. Primary missions include, but are not limited to, air warfare (AW), strike warfare (STW), surface warfare (SUW), and close air support (CAS).

Federal bureaucrats could pocket more than $50,000 for cutting budgets

Some federal government executives could be awarded performance pay and bonuses exceeding $50,000 this year — depending in large part on their success in cutting budgets and staff in their departments.

According to an internal Treasury Board directive, those at the very top of the government’s executive ranks, in the EX-04 and EX-05 classifications, are eligible to earn up to 26 per cent of their salary in bonuses and performance pay, known as “pay-at-risk.” The calculations would be based on what the executives were earning as of March 31.

Salaries at the EX-04 and EX-05 level ranged from $148,600 to $195,300 last year. That means an executive in those classifications who surpasses expectations can receive between $38,636 and $50,778, according to the directive.

However, not all government executives are eligible for the same percentage in performance pay. Under government guidelines, the best those in the EX01 to EX03 category who surpass expectations can hope for is 15 per cent of their salary. That means the most they can earn in performance pay and bonuses is between $15,400 and $23,145.

At the other end of the spectrum, an executive who does not meet performance expectations can end up not taking home a cent in performance pay.

$5.2B in spending cuts amounts to only half of upcoming government reductions, report shows

OTTAWA — The unrolling of the Conservatives’ $5.2 billion in spending cuts, which has public servants on tenterhooks about their jobs, is only half of the reductions that federal departments will be swallowing over the next three years

A recent report by Parliament’s spending watchdog examines the cumulative impact of the spending cuts that departments are facing, showing the magnitude of the reductions announced in the 2012 budget are about the same size of those that departments are still wrestling to absorb from two previous budgets.

It’s unclear whether the spate of job losses announced in the past several weeks come from the reductions in the 2012 budget or from previous rounds of spending cuts. Departments, however, have to shed $5.5 billion this year and two-thirds of those cuts were announced in the 2010 and 2011 budget.

Departments have sent thousands of notices to public servants since the budget alerting them their jobs are being affected by reductions. The most recent came Tuesday when the National Research Council told staff that it was winding down research operations that would affect 54 employees in Winnipeg and Calgary, most of whom would be laid off by the summer.

Tories deny deleting robo-call records after NDP invokes Watergate

The Conservative Party is categorically denying it has destroyed computer records that might aid Elections Canada’s investigation into fraudulent robo-calls.

New Democrats are accusing the Tories of erasing digital logs that track access to the Conservative voter database, known as the constituency information management system (CIMS).

The Official Opposition even invoked the U.S. Watergate scandal, suggesting the Conservatives now have “their Rose Mary Woods moment.”

The party is basing the charge on a Postmedia report that says Elections Canada investigators are asking questions about one Conservative staffer’s use of the CIMS database but the records appear incomplete.

Elections Canada has been combing through internal Conservative Party e-mails and database records as it tries to close in on Guelph robo-call scammer “Pierre Poutine.” The watchdog is probing misleading calls that sought to suppress the vote during the 2011 federal ballot, both in Guelph and across a swath of other ridings.

Turning back the clock on environmental checks and balances

What is puzzling about Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver's announcement today of a streamlined environmental review process is the sense of urgency -- almost panic -- to get resources out of the ground and to market, as quickly as possible.

"There is a growing appetite for our energy resources from the world's dynamic, emerging economies," the Minister said. "But we have to act fast. We have to seize the moment!"

The only question he did not answer is: Why?

What's the hurry?

Our natural resources are not going anywhere. And those "dynamic, emerging economies" we seek to service -- are they planning to close shop soon?

On previous occasions, Oliver has said that we in Canada do not have the capital to develop our resources on our own. We need foreign investors -- including the human rights-challenged Chinese.

Unlike those meddlesome donors to environmental groups, foreign investors have only one real motive -- profit for themselves and their shareholders.

ALEC Drops Push for Voter ID, Stand Your Ground Laws After Public Outcry Sparks Corporate Exodus

After a massive corporate exodus prompted by growing scrutiny of its activities, the secretive right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has announced it will stop pushing so-called Stand Your Ground and voter ID laws. Our guest Lisa Graves says this is an attempt by ALEC "to try to keep its donors and try to have the press move along." She notes, "ALEC’s broader agenda, which it calls its jobs agenda, is extraordinarily extreme itself," noting that one of its bills would cut off one’s right to sue if one’s loved one is killed by a drug approved the Food and Drug Administration, even if the drug is later recalled. Graves is executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which built "ALEC Exposed," a website showcasing more than 800 model bills the group has pushed in states nationwide. We’re also joined by Rashad Robinson, executive director of, which has criticized corporations for working with ALEC to pass laws that hurt people of color, young people and the elderly, especially voter ID laws. "You can’t come for black folks’ money by day and try to take away our vote by night," Robinson says.

Source: Democracy Now!
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A Witch Hunt for Environmentalists

As the government clamps down on environmental groups and charities over baseless allegations of impropriety, it also moves to gut Canada's environmental-assessment process.

These days, Canada seems to be a country of monologues. On complex and multifaceted issues like the environment or the economy, we are increasingly dividing ourselves along partisan lines, pushing our own agendas, and entirely dismissing any counterarguments, debate, discussion, or dialogue. The federal budget is worrisome evidence of this trend.

The matter of Canada’s environmental review and assessment process – especially pertaining to the controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline – is a case in point. Starting with a pre-emptive strike in an open letter by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver in January that called environmental groups “radicals” who “don’t take into account the facts,” any opposition to the pipeline is being maligned, effectively limiting the ability for those opposed to the pipeline to voice their opinions.

This trend continued last week when a scheduled review-panel hearing at Bella Bella was cancelled due to peaceful protests, perhaps foreshadowing what will become par for the course under the government's newly unveiled plan to “streamline” environmental assessments, including those related to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. The plan will see the government cut the number of federal departments involved in environmental assessments from 40 to three and will hand significant oversight responsibilities to the provinces in order to eliminate "red tape."

Not in my backyard: Calgarians fight a suburban oil well

Albertans aren’t known for their opposition to oil wells, given crude’s importance to the province. Then again, most wells aren’t located behind a Wal-Mart and Sleep Country mattress store, let alone just steps from a residential neighbourhood. That’s the prospect facing residents of Calgary’s Royal Oak neighbourhood in the city’s northwest this summer as a deadline nears for a local oil company to drill a well virtually in their backyard. And much like opponents of high-profile projects such as the Northern Gateway through British Columbia and the Keystone XL pipeline into the U.S., they’re doing everything they can to stop it.

Drilling for oil in the suburbs might sound unusual, but with oil prices at near-record highs, energy companies are keen for new sources of crude anywhere they can find. Calgary, along with many other Alberta centres such as Red Deer and Medicine Hat, has plenty of the stuff. The company drilling in Royal Oak, Kaiser Exploration, estimates there could be up to six million barrels of oil in that well alone, enough to keep it active for the next 50 years.

U.S. Republican and Conservative campaign managers met last month in Ottawa at height of robocalls controversy

PARLIAMENT HILL—Campaign managers for national conservative and right-wing parties from around the world, including the Conservative Party of Canada and the U.S. Republican Party, held a two-day meeting in Ottawa last month at the height of the controversy over vote-suppression tactics in the 2011 federal election.

The gathering of campaign organizers from parties that are members of the International Democrat Union, founded by the former Conservative British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and other Conservative leaders in 1983, was the latest in a series of meetings the association holds and was coincidentally planned just prior to the revelations in February that Elections Canada was investigating fraudulent robocalls that targeted Liberal voters in Guelph, Ont., on election day last May 2.

The buildup to the meeting and its schedule are posted on the IDU’s website, along with several newsletters since 2007 that are strongly supportive of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary West, Alta.), including a lengthy description of what the IDU called a “power grab” by the opposition parties in November 2008, when the Liberals and NDP, with support from the Bloc Québécois, attempted to form a coalition to replace the Harper Conservative government over allegations it had failed to respond to the economic crisis that was taking hold globally, and a surprise budget proposal to eliminate federal subsidies for political parties.

Katimavik is worth saving

I owe a lot – my very existence, actually – to Katimavik’s power to bring people together. My parents went to the same university at the same time, but didn’t meet until both, after graduating, went to work as group leaders with a new youth initiative called Katimavik.

It was 1977, and they attended a Katimavik orientation in Lac St. Joseph, Que., where they met briefly. My mom went off to Baie-Comeau, Que., and then Yellowknife; my dad went to work in Arundel, near Mont Tremblant. They worked for Katimavik on and off for five years, got married and had me. I’m told that makes me a “Katimababy.”

My mom told me Katimavik means “meeting place” in Inuktitut, and that she worked there, with kids, way up North after university. So my mom and dad met at “meeting place.” The serendipity was lost on me at the time, but my parents didn’t just find each other in the program, they started on a journey to find themselves, too.

I read last week that as government-funded youth initiatives go, Katimavik is too costly, that it’s not worth saving. I spent a few hours on the phone with my parents as they recounted their experiences there. My mom remembered the short Yellowknife days, and how she felt safer with a 12-year-old Inuit boy in the woods while playing a survival game, than she could ever imagine feeling with any city adult in the same situation. Mom, who has spent the past 20 years as a community co-ordinator in the non-profit housing industry, says she learned as much from those kids as she taught them.

Taxing the rich: Not as easy as it sounds

Announced in 2008 and implemented in fiscal 2010-2011, the British government imposed a substantially higher marginal tax rate on the country’s top 1 per cent of income earners, raising the rate from 40 per cent to 50 per cent, and simultaneously revoking the personal exemption traditionally granted to all taxpayers.

The London-based Institute for Fiscal Studies, an independent research organization, calculated that the higher rate was originally expected to transfer £3-billion ($4.7-billion) from the top 1 per cent to the bottom 99 per cent. It didn’t come close.

When George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, revoked the 50-per-cent tax rate last month in his third budget in two years, he reported that the Treasury had broken even in the experiment – or had almost broken even. Apparently the Treasury lost £3-billion in this transaction, on the one hand, and gained £2.9-billion on the other.

“No chancellor can justify a tax rate that collects next to nothing,” Mr. Osborne told the BBC. “It’s as simple as that.”

He called the previous Labour government’s “bash the rich” experiment a failure, a triumph of spin over substance. He said people with taxable incomes of more than £150,000 produced essentially the same tax revenue with a marginal tax rate of 40 per cent as they produced with a marginal rate of 50 per cent.

Of 100 new federally appointed judges 98 are white, Globe finds

In the past three and a half years, the federal government has appointed 100 new judges in provinces across the country – and 98 of them were white.

As Canada marks the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – a document that enshrines the rights of equality and diversity – a Globe and Mail review of superior court appointments reveals at least one area that falls short: the very judiciary responsible for upholding and interpreting the country’s laws.

According to figures compiled by The Globe, the exceptions were two Métis judges appointed in B.C. and Nova Scotia. Only in the territories, where three aboriginal judges have been appointed since 2009, does the federal appointment process better reflect the community.

The lack of diversity among judges raises searching questions in a country where one in five citizens belongs to a visible minority and where many people can expect to see a bench that does not reflect them.

The opaque nature of the appointment process is equally startling. Judges with vast powers of interpretation under the Charter are still appointed behind closed doors. To obtain a glimpse of recent patterns, The Globe has used Internet searches and culled information from judicial sources and law firms where judicial appointees worked.

France election 2012: Extreme right reshapes politics with immigration focus

NANTERRE, FRANCE—At first glance, there’s nothing especially remarkable about Chez Tonton compared to most other modest resto-bars. There’s a well-used espresso maker, a haze of smoke and a dozen men engrossed in Sueca, a Portuguese card game.

But then behind the bar the postcard-sized flyers come into view. All for candidates from the Front National, France’s extreme-right, anti-immigrant political party.

France 2012 election: President Nicolas Sarkozy trails socialist Francois Hollande, says poll

Near the back, a larger FN poster adorns the wall. And upstairs, in the private room, two giant autographed portraits of the notorious Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader, and his daughter Marine, the current chief.

The Front’s unmarked headquarters is just down the road, and Chez Tonton has become its unofficial downtime haunt. Marine Le Pen said that if she wins the April 22 election, she’ll celebrate there, as opposed to some haughty endroit in the centre of Paris.

“All my clients are with her,” said Manuel Domingues, Tonton’s 50-year-old owner. “We love her. We need her. France needs her.”

How Canada's green credentials fell apart

MOST people around the world, if they think of Canada at all, think of it as the national equivalent of the nice boy they'd like their daughter to marry. A bit boring, perhaps, but unfailingly polite, and someone you can always count on to do the right thing. That is a stereotype, of course, but like most stereotypes there is some truth to it, as those of us who live here recognise.

Lately, though, that nice boy has turned into a bit of a bully. Last year, the Conservative Party of Canada, led by Stephen Harper, won a parliamentary majority after being in a minority government for five years. It has since staked out an aggressively right-wing position on many issues, notably science and the environment.

The Harper government has abandoned Canada's climate commitments, cut back on science spending and muzzled government scientists who might stray from the official line. Hardly the cuddly Canada the world thought it knew.

That is a big change for a country with a proud history in science and environmental policy. In the 1980s, under conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, Canada led the way in international policies to control acid rain and chlorofluorocarbons: the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is the most successful piece of international environmental legislation ever enacted.