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, May 02, 2012

The opposition must ask better questions about the F-35

What did members of Parliament learn from Tuesday’s public accounts committee hearing on the F-35 procurement? Mostly that arguing with senior officials about costs and accounting methods is a frustrating experience, one where the opposition is at a disadvantage. Unless New Democrat and Liberal MPs hone their questions regarding the planned sole-source acquisition of new fighter aircraft, they will find that their ability to hold the government to account over the F-35 will soon dissipate. It is time for the opposition parties to ask better questions about the F-35.

Since the Auditor General’s latest report was tabled in early April, opposition parties and pundits have been fixated on his finding that the government excluded $10 billion in operating, personnel, and contingency costs from the stated price of the F-35 acquisition. Although the government was aware of these estimated life-cycle costs, ministers chose to present only the aircraft’s acquisition and sustainment cost when the decision to buy the planes was announced in the summer of 2010. This omission has been upheld as evidence that the Conservative government lied to Parliament and Canadians about the true cost of the planned procurement.

Opposition members hoped that senior executives involved in the F-35 process might be compelled to corroborate this assessment before the public accounts committee. It did not happen.

Travels in Harperland

On my recent book tour to promote Thieves of Bay Street, I have journeyed to Alberta, Montreal and Ottawa. In so doing, I have gotten a taste of the Canada which Stephen Harper and his merry band of Tories are trying to forge.

In Calgary, I arrived in time for the final weekend of the Alberta provincial election. The Wildrose Party was poised, given the polls and political scuttlebutt, to become the new government, toppling the long reign of the PC Party. Wildrose is very much a Harper proxy, run by the same political consultants that guided him to power. And quietly backed by the powerful oil patch. Wildrose also had wrapped itself in bigotry, reflected by a couple of its wannabe MLAs who condemned gays and made tactless remarks about people of colour. The immature party leader, Danielle Smith, refused to condemn or dump them, which made Albertans come to their senses and vote back into power the moderate PCs. Still, the whole exercise reflected the alarming rise of the right-wing corporatist, pro-privatization and bigoted elements stalking the land.

Israeli president says Israel should go into Iran with a coalition

JERUSALEM -- If Israel heads toward a military strike on Iran, they shouldn't go it alone, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Tuesday in an interview for the Global News program The West Block with Tom Clark.

The president's comments pile onto the deluge already heard in the debate on the issue, with several current and former officials taking a public stance against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the issue.

"Iran is trying to be the mother and father of terrorism," Peres said of the potential nuclear threat. "It's not a matter of gestures, or that sort of thing. It must be organized. It's better to do (it with) a coalition. I think that's the right way to do it."

Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Israeli Denfence Minister Ehud Barak have taken hard-line positions that all options, including an independent attack, are on the table.

Peres' comments have been echoed, both by the country's top military officer, who suggested during an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and by former prime minister Ehud Olmert that the threat Iran is posing less urgent than Netanyahu is letting on.

Peres, too, tried to cool the rhetoric in his exclusive one-on-one interview.

Japan's rising F-35 bill prompts questions for Canada

OTTAWA — Hopes that Canada can still buy 65 F-35s for $9 billion appear to have taken another hit this week after it was revealed that Japan will be paying significantly more than some had expected for each of its stealth fighters.

The Defense Security Co-operation Agency, which handles foreign military sales in the United States, notified Congress on Monday of the "potential sale" of F-35s to Japan.

The Japanese deal, which has not yet been concluded, totals $10 billion for 42 F-35s and associated costs like spare parts, training, tools, testing equipment and logistical support.

This works out to about $238 million per aircraft.

In contrast, Canada had budgeted in July 2010 to spend about $138 million for each of its 65 F-35s, when all associated costs are rolled in.

Japan is not a member of the eight-country consortium that has been involved in developing the F-35 since 1997, which means it was expected to pay more for the stealth fighters than countries like Canada.

Environment Canada confirms WaterSense on chopping block

Environment Canada has confirmed it will cease funding for a water efficiency labeling program popular with both industry and environmental — but it took a while getting there.

The department is cutting funding for WaterSense due to constraints stemming from the federal budget, iPolitics revealed yesterday. Both industry and water conservationists say the program saved money for plumbing manufacturers and consumers.

When initially asked about the cuts, an Environment Canada official denied the government has anything to do with the label program.

“Environment Canada is not the administrator of the WaterSense program,” Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the department, said in an e-mail. “WaterSense is a voluntary program sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.”

A second, more detailed question asking if Environment Canada was ending the plans to promote WaterSense in Canada it had announced in January 2011 got little more.

“Our response to the question is as was indicated,” Johnson replied via e-mail Wednesday morning.

When eventually reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, though Johnson confirmed that funding to popularize WaterSense would be cut.

'F-35' dropped from new fighter jet secretariat name

The government has changed the name of a new body set up to handle the process to replace Canada's CF-18 fighter jets after criticism it was biased in favour of the embattled F-35.

Opposition MPs pointed to the F-35 secretariat's name as a sign the government wasn't being honest when MPs said they would start over on the process to buy new fighter jets.

Public Works and Government Services Minister Rona Ambrose confirmed the name change Wednesday in Halifax. The body is now called the national fighter procurement secretariat, she said, adding the name change signals a change in policy.

"I think it's self-evident that the change in policy is that the government is, as we've indicated, hitting restart with this process," Ambrose said.

"One of the reasons for establishing the secretariat is to ensure that we have independently validated information about everything that we need to consider, including the aircraft, and so that will be part of the mandate for the secretariat."

"They will come back to us once they've done that comprehensive, independently validated work and make a recommendation to the government."

Occupy Toronto: Barrick Gold Chief Peter Munk Says He'd Love To Defend Record To Occupy Protesters

TORONTO - The head of the world's largest gold producer says Occupy protesters have the wrong idea about his company.

And Barrick Gold founder and chairman Peter Munk says he'd love to take that message straight to his firm's detractors.

Munk told investors today he "would love to go outside" and engage the demonstrators that descended on Barrick's annual general meeting in downtown Toronto.

Munk, 84, says he would highlight all the voluntary contributions Barrick makes in the countries where it operates, and not just talk about job creation.

However, Munk did say that when confronted with demonstrators a day earlier "wiser" and "less hot-blooded" voices than his persuaded him not to ask his driver to take him to the protest.

Dozens of protesters shouted their disapproval of Barrick Gold's business practices outside the meeting Wednesday, including a few dressed in gold-sequined outfits.

They chanted "Down with Barrick" and brandished signs from a park across the street from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, accusing the mining giant of perpetuating economic inequality as part of the wealthy "one per cent."

North Carolina Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment 1 Reportedly Written To Protect 'Caucasian Race'

The wife of a North Carolina state senator reportedly told poll workers during early voting Monday that an amendment sponsored by her husband was intended partially to protect the Caucasian race.

Jodie Brunstetter is the wife of state Sen. Peter Brunstetter (R), a supporter of Amendment 1, which would change North Carolina's Constitution to permit only heterosexual marriage.

According to the alternative Yes! Weekly, writer and campaigner Chad Nance spoke to a pollworker who told him that Jodie Brunstetter said, "The reason my husband wrote Amendment 1 was because the Caucasian race is diminishing and we need to uh, reproduce."

Nance has volunteered for a group working to defeat the marriage amendment and was until recently the campaign manager for a Democratic candidate for Congress. Nance resigned from the campaign to speak about Jodie Brunstetter's alleged remarks, according to Yes! Weekly.

Nance also spoke to Jodie Brunstetter, who said that she had used the word "Caucasian" in discussing the amendment, but that her remarks were taken out of context.

"We are looking at the history of the United States and it is already law about what marriage is," Brunstetter told Nance, according to Yes! Weekly. "Between a man and a woman."

"I'm afraid they have made it a racial issue when it is not," Brunstetter said of the poll workers. Pressed on whether she had used the word "Caucasian," she said, "I probably said the word," but that she hadn't used it in a race-related manner.

The blog said Brunstetter's campaign could not be immediately reached for comment.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: --

Tories can likely push pipelines, but not without delays in court

The Conservative government probably has enough power to override growing opposition in B.C. to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipe-line and the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion - but not enough clout to prevent the projects from getting snagged in the courts for years.

The Tories announced last month in their budget that the federal cabinet will have the ability to overrule the National Energy Board on major projects considered by Ottawa to be in the "national interest."

But legal experts say aboriginal groups in B.C. and even a provincial government under the NDP could mount legal challenges that could add to the projects' legal and financial risk.

"I think we could see some constitutional battles reaching the courts. But I can't predict the outcome at this point," said University of B.C. constitutional law professor Elizabeth Edinger. "But there will certainly be a serious attempt to delay."

Edinger said new legislation giving cabinet the trump card over energy projects of "national interest" gives the Harper government the "final say" politically. But cabinet's new powers may not give the Tories enough of a "leg up" legally. Edinger said the courts would probably not consider themselves constrained by the "national interest" claim when considering legal issues arising from the two pipeline projects.

Accountability questions arise in cross-border policing law

The Harper government's plan to permanently legalize the ability of certain American agents to cross the border and enforce Canadian law in shared waterways will include aerial police surveillance over land, raising several questions over national jurisdiction and police accountability in the minds of opposition and academic observers.

But a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the plan is an important partnership between the two countries, and improves the border's safety, efficiency, and effectiveness.

The cross-border policing plan, officially known as Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations and colloquially as Shiprider, started as a series of pilot projects allowing agents to cross each other's maritime border and enforce each other's laws at one-time events like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and the G20.

Now, the government is moving to entrench this idea permanently in Canadian law by changing the RCMP Act, the Criminal Code, and the Customs Act. The changes were bundled in the Harper government's Budget Implementation Act, tabled in the House on April 26.

If passed, these amendments would also pave the way for a new land-based version of the program by this summer, according to the Canada-US perimeter security plan. The RCMP has said this land-based program could hand US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration agents access to Canadian soil.

Sovereignty project has had reverse effect

As we mark the one-year anniversary of Stephen Harper’s majority win, it is appropriate to reflect on the state of Canada’s national unity, particularly in light of the comments made recently by Michael Ignatieff that essentially characterized Quebec’s separation from Canada as being inevitable if devolution of power and attempts at accommodation continue.

The reality is that while Canada’s unity is challenged, it is not jeopardized.

Technically speaking, national unity has never been in better shape. The Clarity Act has proven to be a phenomenal obstacle for separatists to circumvent. In the 1995 referendum, following what many Quebeckers viewed as the rejection of Quebec by Canada as a result of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, the “Yes” side failed to obtain even a majority of votes on an unclear question. With no trigger resembling the failure of Meech on the national scene at the present time, it would be difficult to imagine Quebec separatists causing enough fury in the province for them to obtain a clear majority on a clear question.

On a more profound level, however, it is worth noting that Quebec separatists have failed in their most basic of goals: to convince Quebeckers that independence for Quebec can only be achieved through sovereignty. The sovereignty project has actually had the reverse effect of its intended goal for Quebec — it has created a situation in which Quebec is dependent on Canada simply to keep its economy afloat.

National projects tend to be collectivist in nature. Decades of high spending have led to Quebec having the largest debt-to-GDP ratio of any Canadian province. Even some sovereigntists eventually realized the problem at hand and coalesced into the lucides faction, although they were eventually defeated by the solidaires, who favoured big government.

Stephen Harper’s Tories risk undermining themselves

Prime Minister Stephen Harper still dreams of firmly entrenching his Conservatives as Canada’s party as he savours his first full year of majority government.

But whether “Canadians are moving with us,” as he claimed in a triumphant speech after last year’s May 2 election, is very much in question. Public opinion still appears to be in play. Recent polls put the Conservatives and the New Democrats under Thomas Mulcair in a statistical tie in terms of voter support, though the Tories would take more seats in an election. Bob Rae’s Liberals trail well behind.

Fickle as polls are, Harper is not connecting as he might have hoped. Moreover the Tories are showing signs of vulnerability that could hurt them over time. They are lucky the opposition has been splintered and weak.

The Prime Minister’s admirers credit him, reasonably enough, with making good on promises of low taxes, deficit-cutting, a tough-on-crime agenda and a robust military. Yet the Tories have left themselves open to criticism for weakening Ottawa’s national role, for ministerial arrogance and lack of accountability, for demonizing critics and for making divisive policy on the fly. Left unchecked, these attitudes will play into the opposition’s hands. Governments defeat themselves, after all.

The birth of a banana republic

In most parliamentary democracies, the government answers to Parliament. In Canada, Parliament answers to the government.

Many trace Parliament's decline back to 1969, when then-Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau declared MPs became "nobodies" once they were "50 yards from Parliament Hill."

Parliament itself is now the "nobody."

Parliamentary committees do the bulk of parliamentary governance. Away from the partisan clashes of question period and major debates, MPs are expected to work collegially for the public good.

Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, committees have become highly polarized and hyper-partisan. Shockingly for a democracy, they now operate mostly in secret, away from the electorate's prying eyes.

A secret democracy isn't a democracy.

Last week, the Conservative majority on Parliament's standing committee on the status of women not only defeated an opposition motion to hear testimony on the sexual harassment of female members of the RCMP -- a motion new RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson welcomed -- but moved the committee behind closed doors where they voted not to hear further testimony from female members of the force.

A Canadian Spring for Harperland?

Now that Stephen Harper has had his Wizard of Oz moment, can a Canadian Spring be far behind?

The curtain has been well and truly whipped away from the PM’s self-promoting deceptions and he is revealed for what he is: a power-tripper on a mission to give Canada an extreme makeover that only the super-rich and the semi-comatose could endorse. And he is doing it with virtually no debate, creating something of a new phenomenon in Canadian politics; sole-source public policy.

We have Peter MacKay to thank for the official revelation — belated though it was. The minister of defensiveness has finally dished after weeks of embarrassing prevarications. It turns out the whole Harper cabinet was in on the F-35 whopper, an exercise that both the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General saw for what it was — a studied deception.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office had an even better description of the same process stateside. The Pentagon’s top weapons’ purchaser, Frank Kendall, said the plan to buy the F-35 was “acquisitions malpractice.” In this country, two sets of books were produced – one containing the real scoop, the other the “communications” version for the Great Unwashed. It turns out interim Liberal leader Bob Rae was dead right — the PM and cabinet knew they were lying to Canadians about the true costs of the F-35 during an election and Stephen Harper is ultimately accountable.

This is not “strong, stable government” a la Harper’s PR mantra. It is oppressive, dictatorial regime-building that would do any petro-state proud.

France’s next president, François Not Sarkozy

François Hollande was in Nevers today, in the Burgundy region south of Paris. Five days before the runoff vote in France’s presidential election, and on May Day, the Socialist candidate had come to lay a wreath at the grave of Pierre Bérégovoy, two-time socialist finance minister and then prime minister during the last days of the Socialist parliamentary majority from 1992 to 1993.

I was in Paris 19 years ago tonight when I heard Bérégovoy had shot himself to death. I’ll never forget where a bunch of us students were when we heard the news. It wasn’t just grief over the Socialists’ legislative defeat that made him do it; it was a personal humiliation. As budget minister in the 80s and again in the 90s, he had to rein in Socialist spending while defending social-democratic goals. He had been attempting a similar feat — think Chrétien or Clinton or Schröder a couple of years later — when France’s voters tossed his party out. He’d lost his party’s favour for being a bad Socialist, and the electorate’s for being a Socialist. It was brutal treatment at history’s hands, and he killed himself.

Of course everyone thought the world of him as soon as he was dead. The last honest man, focused on results instead of image, why can’t politics be more like him, all of that. Today he is not often mentioned. In France as in other places, politics is polarized, the engaged voters are the ones who like to pick a side, and Bérégovoy remains essentially a confusing figure.

Ontario’s taxing march to socialism

Churchill said socialism was the equal sharing of misery. If so, Ontario has moved a bit closer to egalitarian hardship with its ideological tax increase on people it supposes to be rich: people with taxable incomes of $500,000.

And closer to socialism, too. By the Liberal government’s own reckoning, the tax increase will move $470-million a year from the private sector to the public sector, a significant incremental expansion of the state; further, it will remain as long as the province runs a budget deficit – which is to say forever.

It is an elementary principle of economics that you get more of what you subsidize, less of what you tax. With this tax hike, Ontario’s consumption of wealth will increase and Ontarians’ savings will decline. And it is savings, once put to productive work, from which all blessings flow. Premier Dalton McGuinty’s deal with New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath has nothing to do with economics. It is entirely political.

In part at least, it is a populist incitement of hatred of “the rich.” But high incomes don’t make a person “rich.” As Statistics Canada observed, in a major analysis of income distribution in Canada in 2007, the rich can be identified only by an absolute measure of wealth – not by employment income.

Union wants New York to pass legislation that protects freelance workers

The New York-based Freelancers Union has issued what amounts to the world’s longest and perhaps largest invoice — with a bill of over $13.5 million — to highlight legislation that is being considered by the New York State Senate.

The legislation calls on the Department of Labor to protect the rights of freelancers who have been stiffed by companies and not been paid for their work. Victims would be able to file a complaint which will be investigated, the legislation says.

If found valid, workers would then be entitled to have 100 per cent of what they’re owed paid to them as well as the money for attorney’s fees and any interest on the amount owed.

The legislation, which is co-sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, has been passed in New York State’s legislative assembly and now awaits a vote in the New York Senate. Union organizers hope it will be passed before the Senate rises at the end of June.

The invoice — which will be delivered to lawmakers in May — has been created to bring national and international attention to what the Freelancers Union believes is a growing and distressing problem.

“This new part of the workforce has been largely ignored,” said Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of the Freelancers Union.

“The world’s longest invoice makes it very visible and real and shows this is really happening.”

North Carolina Pastor Sean Harris: Parents Should 'Punch' Their Gay-Acting Children

A North Carolina pastor's horrific anti-gay tirade is making the blogosphere rounds.

Sean Harris, senior pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, spoke at length in support of North Carolina's proposed Amendment 1, which would define marriage in the state constitution as between one man and one woman and would outlaw civil unions and domestic partnerships, during an hour-long sermon on Sunday. In this clip, provided by Jeremy Hooper of the blog Good as You, a man identified as Harris is heard urging his congregation to attack their children if they appear to be exhibiting behavior outside of gender norms.

Texas Attorney General Compares Planned Parenthood To Terrorist Organization

Just two hours after a U.S. district judge stopped a Texas law that would have eliminated Planned Parenthood's participation in the state's Women's Health Program, Federal Appeals Judge Jerry E. Smith issued an emergency stay that lifted that order.

In the appeal for the emergency stay, a team of attorneys led by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott compared Planned Parenthood to a terrorist organization.

"Planned Parenthood does not provide any assurance that the tax subsidies it receives from the Women’s Health Program have not been used directly or indirectly to subsidize its advocacy of elective abortion," Abbott wrote in his motion to stay the injunction. "Nor is it possible for Planned Parenthood to provide this assurance."

"Money is fungible, and taxpayer subsidies -- even if 'earmarked' for nonabortion activities -- free up other resources for Planned Parenthood to spend on its mission to promote elective abortions ... (because '[m]oney is fungible,' First Amendment does not prohibit application of federal material-support statute to individuals who give money to 'humanitarian' activities performed by terrorist organizations)."

May Day Protests Show Occupy Wall Street, Liberal Establishment Bonds

A little over six months ago, Stephanie McGuinness was camping out in Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of a new movement that often shunned politicians and community groups and other bastions of the liberal "establishment."

On Tuesday, as thousands gathered for May Day rallies around the country, McGuinness stood in New York's Bryant Park, handing out literature and chatting up passersby in her new role as an intern for the bastion of the liberal establishment that is the broadcast network Democracy Now.

Over the winter and spring, as Occupy Wall Street largely faded from the headlines, activists in the movement kept busy meeting with members of community groups and other pillars of the traditional left. The ties that have been forged between these two distinct outgrowths of the left signal what many describe as a broad change in the Occupy movement. "We recognized that people have been working for the same changes for centuries," said McGuinness. "And it's obvious that we need to listen to them and take a step back from being the only voice for progressive causes."

To hear McGuinness and others tell it, she is just one of a large number of Occupy activists who have recently joined with community organizations and other progressive groups fighting for the "99-percent" long before Occupy Wall Street popularized the phrase.

Ruben Diaz Compares Abortion To The Holocaust

Bronx Pentecostal minister and New York State Senator Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx) compared abortion to the Holocaust Tuesday during a rant against a piece of pro-choice legislation.

According to The New York Observer, Diaz wrote in an email to his supporters that, "[Hitler] chose to send the Jews to Auschwitz," adding, "That was not their choice, that was Hitler’s choice. Murderers, assassins and criminals are pro-choice. They choose to put a gun to your head and take your life. That is not your choice. That is their choice.”

"What God says here is, that if you hurt a pregnant woman and she loses the baby you have to pay a penalty not because it was a blob of tissue that you killed, but because it was a life."

Etzion Neuer, deputy director of the New York Anti-Defamation League, told The New York Daily News that Diaz's invocation of Hitler in an abortion debate was "incredibly offensive" and marginalized the memories of the millions who perished in the Holocaust. Diaz "crosses the line when he uses Hitler or the Holocaust to make his point,” Neuer said.

The Purpose of Spectacular Wealth, According to a Spectacularly Wealthy Guy

Ever since the financial crisis started, we’ve heard plenty from the 1 percent. We’ve heard them giving defensive testimony in Congressional hearings or issuing anodyne statements flanked by lawyers and image consultants. They typically repeat platitudes about investment, risk-taking and job creation with the veiled contempt that the nation doesn’t understand their contribution. You get the sense that they’re afraid to say what they really believe. What do the superrich say when the cameras aren’t there?

With that in mind, I recently met Edward Conard on 57th Street and Madison Avenue, just outside his office at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he helped build into a multibillion-dollar business by buying, fixing up and selling off companies at a profit. Conard, who retired a few years ago at 51, is not merely a member of the 1 percent. He’s a member of the 0.1 percent. His wealth is most likely in the hundreds of millions; he lives in an Upper East Side town house just off Fifth Avenue; and he is one of the largest donors to his old boss and friend, Mitt Romney.

Unlike his former colleagues, Conard wants to have an open conversation about wealth. He has spent the last four years writing a book that he hopes will forever change the way we view the superrich’s role in our society. “Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong,” to be published in hardcover next month by Portfolio, aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conard writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off. This could be the most hated book of the year.

Death of a Fairy Tale

This was the month the confidence fairy died.

For the past two years most policy makers in Europe and many politicians and pundits in America have been in thrall to a destructive economic doctrine. According to this doctrine, governments should respond to a severely depressed economy not the way the textbooks say they should — by spending more to offset falling private demand — but with fiscal austerity, slashing spending in an effort to balance their budgets.

Critics warned from the beginning that austerity in the face of depression would only make that depression worse. But the “austerians” insisted that the reverse would happen. Why? Confidence! “Confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the former president of the European Central Bank — a claim echoed by Republicans in Congress here. Or as I put it way back when, the idea was that the confidence fairy would come in and reward policy makers for their fiscal virtue.

The good news is that many influential people are finally admitting that the confidence fairy was a myth. The bad news is that despite this admission there seems to be little prospect of a near-term course change either in Europe or here in America, where we never fully embraced the doctrine, but have, nonetheless, had de facto austerity in the form of huge spending and employment cuts at the state and local level.

Eurozone Unemployment Hits 10.9 Percent, A Record High

LONDON — Pressure is growing on Europe's leaders to focus less on austerity and more on stimulating growth as the 17 countries that use the euro face record high unemployment and a recession that is spreading across the region.

Eurozone unemployment rose by 169,000 in March, official figures showed Wednesday, taking the rate up to 10.9 percent – its highest level since the euro was launched in 1999.

The seasonally adjusted rate was up from 10.8 percent in February and 9.9 percent a year ago and contrasts sharply with the picture in the U.S., where unemployment has fallen from 9.1 percent in August to 8.2 percent in March.

Europe's rising unemployment reflects the downturn in the eurozone economy as governments enact austerity measures – spending cuts and higher taxes – to reduce their budget deficits and slow the growth of their debts. Eight eurozone countries – including Greece, Spain and the Netherlands – have seen their economies shrink for two straight quarters or more, the common definition of a recession.

Austerity has been the main prescription across Europe for dealing with a debt crisis that's afflicted the continent for nearly three years and has raised the specter of the breakup of the single currency. Three countries – Greece, Ireland and Portugal – have already required bailouts.

Occupy Activists Resurrect May Day for Americans

Unlike the rest of the world’s democracies, the United States doesn’t use the metric system, doesn’t require employers to provide workers with paid vacations, hasn’t abolished the death penalty, and doesn’t celebrate May Day as an official national holiday.

Outside the US, May 1 is international workers’ day, observed with speeches, rallies, and demonstrations. Ironically, this celebration of working-class solidarity originated in the US labor movement in the United States and soon spread around the world, but it never earned official recognition in this country. Since 2006, however, American unions and immigrant rights activists have resurrected May 1 as a day of protest. And this year, in the wake of Occupy Wall Street and the rebirth of a national movement for social justice, a wide spectrum of activist groups will be out in the streets to give voice to the growing crusade for democracy and equality.

The original May Day was born of the movement for an eight-hour workday. After the Civil War, unregulated capitalism ran rampant in America. It was the Gilded Age, a time of merger mania, increasing concentration of wealth, and growing political influence by corporate power brokers known as Robber Barons. New technologies made possible new industries, which generated great riches for the fortunate few, but at the expense of workers, many of them immigrants, who worked long hours, under dangerous conditions, for little pay.

What Obama's Counterterrorism Chief Won't Say About Drone Strikes

White House Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan officially acknowledged the administration's targeted killing of Al Qaeda members abroad for the first time in a speech on Monday. But Brennan didn't tell the whole story: He largely rehashed the legal rationale for targeted killings of specific Al Qaeda suspects, instead of defending the use of more controversial "signature strikes," in which targets are selected based on a "pattern of behavior."

Brennan defended targeted killings as an effective tool against Al Qaeda that helps minimize civilian casualties and likened the use of drones to laser surgery, saying: "It's this surgical precision—the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumor called an al Qaeda terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it—that makes this counterterrorism tool so essential."

Although Brennan told the audience that there are "rigorous standards" for determining who can be targeted for death, he declined to explain how the supposedly careful, even surgical process for deciding who to kill could possibly apply to signature strikes, which target people who are "suspected of militant activities but who haven't necessarily been identified by name." The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Obama administration is planning to expand the use of signature strikes in Yemen.

To borrow Brennan's cancer metaphor, if targeted strikes on particular suspected Al Qaeda militants help excise cancerous tumors, signature strikes sound a little like flicking a scalpel around inside a patient's abdomen. I'm no medical expert, but that sounds to me like it would inevitably kill the patient.

Original Article
Source: mother jones
Author:  Adam Serwer

Time to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Industrial Agriculture?

Like a good buffet, Nature's recent meta-analysis comparing the productivity of industrial and organic agriculture offered something for every taste.

For enthusiasts of large-scale, chemical-intensive agriculture, there was this headline finding: Yields on organic farming—the amount of crop produced per acre—are on average 25 percent lower than those of industrial farming.

And for biodiversity fans like me, the study had a caveat: Most of organic's so-called yield penalty lies in grain crops like wheat; for fruit and some vegetables, organic ag is nearly (but not quite) as productive as its chemical-laced counterpart.

It was interesting to see how the story played around the web. Time's Bryan Walsh, who has been a critic of Big Food in the past, saw the study as the occasion to stop worrying and learn to love industrial agriculture—or at least marvel at its efficiency. "Whole Food Blues: Why Organic Agriculture May Not Be So Sustainable," declared Walsh's headline. "Conventional farming gets more and more crop per sq. foot of cultivated land—over 170 bushels of corn per acre in Iowa, for example—which can mean less territory needs to be converted from wilderness to farmland," he wrote. (Parke Wilde of Food Policy has a good rejoinder to Walsh.)

Saskatchewan Triple Bunking: Don Morgan Justice Minister Says Public Safety First Priority

REGINA - Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan says if maintaining public safety means it's necessary to triple-bunk prisoners in cells, then so be it.

Morgan was responding to questions from the Opposition New Democrats about overcrowding in correctional centres.

NDP Leader John Nilson asked about the impact of Bill C-10, the federal bill that increases sentences for drug and sex offences and reduces the use of conditional sentences such as house arrest.

Critics say the changes will do nothing for public safety and will increase jail populations.

Morgan says the province wants to get drug dealers and sex offenders off the street and will make space in jails if needed.

He says the bill will impact the jail population, but he won't speculate on how much.

The exchange in the legislature came after Saskatchewan's ombudsman noted in his annual report released Monday that correctional centres in Saskatchewan already house almost twice as many inmates as they were designed to hold.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: CP

Target Canada: Zellers Employees Slated To Lose Their Jobs Launch 'Target Fairness' Campaign

Thousands of Zellers workers slated to lose their jobs when more than 100 stores across Canada are converted to Target locations beginning next spring are ramping up a national campaign to protest the mass firing, calling on the public and government to intervene.

Though the small number of unionized workers that will be affected by the takeover may have some legal recourse to protect their jobs, the outlook for the vast majority is nowhere near as optimistic.

It’s a situation that one labour expert says should serve as a poignant reminder of the precarious nature of non-unionized work, which has become a hallmark of Canada’s growing retail sector, where the relatively low-skilled nature of jobs has made workers particularly vulnerable.

As Ryerson University’s Maurice Mazerolle told The Huffington Post Canada: “Unless you have a unionized contract or are protected by statute or one of the grounds by discrimination, then what you are seeing from Target could apply anywhere, to any company, to anybody working in this country.”

According to Kevin Shimmin, national representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW), Target’s plan to assume control of the leases of the Hudson Bay Company-owned stores -- but drop as many as 10,000 Zellers employees from the payrolls -- sent shockwaves through the workforce when it was announced earlier this year.

Toronto conference highlights global resistance to Canadian mining

At the recent Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated: "Looking to the future, we see increased Canadian mining investment throughout the Americas - something that will be good for our mutual prosperity and is therefore a priority of our government." Over 60 per cent of the world's mining corporations are registered on the Toronto Stock Exchange and the CEOs and chairmen of these companies are among the most influential players in Canadian foreign policy.

Indeed, the Canadian government's recent decision to tie foreign aid to Corporate Social Responsibility projects carried out by mining-funded NGO programming demonstrates the driving motor behind Canada's foreign policy agenda: economic benefits for Canadian business.

With the price of gold currently sitting at a historical high of $1,640 per oz, the stakes in the business are high. The CEO of Canadian gold giant, Goldcorp, received $11.4 million in 2011, up from $9.7 million in 2010. Barrick Gold's CEO has been named the highest paid CEO in Canada, bringing in over $24 million in 2009. That breaks down to approximately $13,000 per hour. This is the 1 per cent.

What is the post-colonial state?

The rise of new regions of power in recent decades has provoked much discussion of understanding the post-colonial state. While the global influence of the U.S. and the European Union appears to have diminished in past years, the significance of some post-colonial states, such as India and Pakistan, has consistently increased. The challenge for progressive thinkers is to formulate a theoretical model that can coherently explain the specific and general trajectories of these countries.

One of the obstacles to this enterprise is that today's progressive thinker is caught in an uncertain philosophical-methodological situation. The two dominant radical intellectual frameworks to interpret recent developments are those of political economy and of postmodernism. The former emphasizes the role of capitalism and the capitalist state in configuring every aspect of our lives, while the latter focuses on the role of modern Western culture in constructing our experience and our interpretation of that experience.

If an activist-scholar chooses to anchor research in a political-economic approach, postmodern thinkers will reply that such approaches are Eurocentric. The postmoderns understand that the analysis of the capitalist state remains trapped within a set of categories that were initially formulated to explain Western societies; the imposition of those conceptual frameworks onto non-European groups or countries often conceals more than it reveals.

Scenes from the class struggle in Canada

We have all heard the story of how the Canadian banks weathered the storm of the post-2008 recession as a kind of Rock of Gibraltar, proving the soundness of Canada's financial sector and fiscal model. It has been pointed to, again-and-again, by the mindless financial pundits that the media trot out to tell us that the sky is not falling and the system works just fine.

In fact, when Occupy Toronto began, there was no end to the preening of the imbecilic peacocks of the business commentary community (a truly sad crowd, they are not actually rich... they just make a living kissing the asses of the rich) spouting off with a bunch of nonsense about how, to loosely paraphrase, "the people in New York may have a point but our banking sector is just fine. It is not like the USA."

In between moments of pontificating on the perils of doing anything other than what the Conservative government of Canada has done, our Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, told the world in no uncertain terms, that, "In Canada, we did not suffer a single bank or federally regulated insurance company bailout or failure. Our country's financial institutions stood solid and steadfast, based on sound risk management and supported by a very effective regulatory and supervisory framework."

Well, it turns out Jim may have been being more than a little disingenuous.

It seems that, in fact, Canada's big banks were dipping deeply into the proverbial gravy train that populist rich kids like Toronto's pseudo-mayor like to ramble on about. To the tune of $114 billion.

Today's the anniversary of a year of Tory majority rule: It just doesn't get any better than this!

Tory times, as the old saying goes, are terrible times. So it should surprise no one that as we mark the first anniversary of Stephen Harper's majority victory today, the country is increasingly polarized, students are in the streets of Quebec where separatism is again rearing its head, and mean-spirited pink slips are being handed out right and left to public employees accompanied by the pitiless rah-rahs of the Online Tory Rage Machine, parts of which apparently operate out of the United States.

Here in Edmonton and presumably anywhere else in Canada "law-abiding gun owners" can buy an inexpensive Russian SKS assault rifle, complete with a bayonet and an unlimited supply of dirt-cheap full-metal-jacketed 7.62 mm ammunition, all without the nuisance of having to register any of it. A great gun for gopher hunting, they say, and one supposes the bayonet is particularly useful in that regard.

Indeed, you may need your SKS to hunt gophers if you want to eat before your pension kicks in, which pretty soon won't be until you're a couple years closer to 70 thanks to Harper's neo-Con need to save money for military hardware at the expense of the elderly while fostering a sense of economic crisis.

If squirrels and gophers just won't do the trick, maybe you can wander up to Banff or Jasper and pick off an elk or a big-horn sheep -- by the sound of it there won't be nearly as many Park Service employees watching out for you as there used to be.

Councillor joins fight to keep long-gun data

A Toronto city councillor will bring forward a motion next week that, if passed, will call on Ontario to join forces with Quebec in fighting against the deletion of data in the federal long-gun registry.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam will introduce the motion at the next city council meeting.

A text of the planned motion was not immediately available on Tuesday evening, but Ms. Wong-Tam said it would call on the province to do everything in its power to try to maintain the data in the long-gun registry and allow police across the province to access it.

It would also call for the city’s lawyers to look into ways to intervene.

The federal government passed legislation to end the long-gun registry, which received royal assent last month. It has always said that the bill necessarily involves deleting all of the data the registry contains.

Quebec is fighting the decision in the courts.

“We’re trying to make it pretty clear, as the council in Mississauga just did unanimously and as the Quebec provincial assembly has done, that we think [the registry] is extraordinarily important to create a safe environment,” said Councillor Adam Vaughan, who will second the motion.

Harper and Mulcair clash over Tory majority record

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair presented different interpretations of the Conservative government's performance over the last 12 months as they marked the one-year anniversary today of an election that was historic for both parties.

Both leaders allowed cameras into their weekly caucus meetings on Parliament Hill on Wednesday morning to capture their anniversary speeches.

Harper congratulated his MPs for a job well done in the last year, but he cautioned that the party's vision for Canada and ongoing global challenges means "there can be no resting on the laurels of victory or the satisfaction of accomplishment."

Harper warned that the financial turmoil experienced in the past few years "may not in many countries be a passing phenomenon," and that economic power is shifting in historic ways and that, "we, as Canadians, must decide that we will be on the right side of that history."

The prime minister said last May 2 was a milestone when Canadians gave the Conservatives a "mandate to secure their prosperity," and that's what they are doing.

Harper's real agenda visible in budget bill

A senior Conservative adviser opines the prime minister would have a throne speech this fall to set out a fresh legislative agenda — if only the government could find some new initiatives to announce.

A year after the country last went to the polls, Stephen Harper has assumed the near-dictatorial powers of a majority government, apparently with no grand plan for using them.

Instead, the government's way ahead for the coming months was quietly slipped into Parliament one morning last week in an innocuous-sounding legislative bill presented by one of the Conservatives' least prominent ministers.

Officially, Bill C-38 is called the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, and implements some of the provisions in the recent federal budget — "and other measures."

Those "other measures" happen to include repealing or replacing a number of federal statutes in their entirety, and amending more than 50 other acts of Parliament.

In effect, this is the government’s agenda for the spring and perhaps beyond.

Needless to say, the economy will continue to dominate the Harper agenda going forward as the government implements spending cuts and moves towards balancing the books.

What happens when oil becomes unaffordable?

When the first OPEC oil shock hit in the 1970s, President Nixon responded by lowering the national speed limit to 55 miles per hour in a bid to conserve energy. But speed limits aren’t the only thing that can change when oil prices go up. Right now, we’re seeing that rising crude prices can influence much more than just how fast you can drive your car. High oil prices change the speed at which your economy can grow.

Just as people require food, economies require energy. The relationship is straightforward: economic growth is a function of energy consumption. With national economies around the world once again forced to pay more than $100 (U.S.) for every barrel of oil consumed, a critical question must be asked -- what happens when the world’s most important source of energy becomes unaffordable?

A glance at the latest GDP numbers is already telling us the answer. Economic growth has downshifted into a much lower gear nearly everywhere you look. Europe is struggling to keep its head above water, North America is stagnating and even the hard-charging economies of the BRIC nations are starting to groan under the weight of high energy prices.

Chris Mazza’s girlfriend glided into VP job at ORNGE

ORNGE founder Dr. Chris Mazza used air ambulance money to fund a consulting job for his water-ski-instructor-turned-girlfriend. That was the beginning of a meteoric rise that saw Kelly Long reach associate vice-president of ORNGE just before she and Mazza lost their jobs in late December.

Long is expected to testify Wednesday at a Queen’s Park committee probing ORNGE. Mazza is to testify May 16.

More on the ORNGE investigation

Long’s background was waitressing and teaching watersports when she was hired by Pathway Group, a public relations and lobby firm, in December 2005. According to ORNGE and Pathway insiders, Mazza wanted Long to build her resumé and eventually join him at ORNGE, where he was president and chief executive officer.

Records of payments provided by ORNGE show it has paid Pathway Group $380,000 since 2005, with the biggest annual chunk ($128,000) in 2006, the year Long worked there. Records do not show the total amount Long was paid by Pathway or ORNGE.

Back in late 2005, ORNGE was just being created by the Ontario government. At the time, Mazza had just begun using Pathway Group, a partnership of consultants, some Liberal, some Conservative.

Royal Canadian Air Force still wants F-35 fighter jet, committee hears

OTTAWA – Canada’s military is determined to purchase the F-35 fighter jet rather than a cheaper or more reliable alternative despite a recent flood of criticism and controversy surrounding the U.S. aircraft.

That was the word from the head of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps, who was testifying Tuesday at a House of Commons committee along with a panel of defiant senior government officials who have come under fire for their handling of the program to replace the current fleet of CF-18 jets.

“Currently from an air force perspective we are focused on delivering the transition to the F-35,” Deschamps said.

And the defence department still believes it can purchase a full fleet of 65 jets in the coming years for the fixed $9-billion budget that has been set aside. That belief is based on a per-jet price of $85-million.

The decision to stick to a plan that has been in the works since Canada signed on to the U.S.-led Joint Strike Fighter program in 1997 comes after Auditor General Michael Ferguson reported last month in an audit that the total cost to Canada for the jets would be $25-billion. That price tag includes $10-billion to operate the jets over 20 years that was never reported to the public.

Toronto garbage fee hurts city mission

To save a little money, would you: (a) be more prudent in your expenditures; (b) watch your expenses more carefully; or (c) snatch food from the mouths of the poor?

This city claims it is doing (a) and (b); inadvertently or not, however, the masters of Toronto’s financial universe are doing (c).

I dropped by at lunch the other day to see my pal, Father Roberto. He is the modest genius whose mission, St. John The Compassionate, feeds and clothes the poor and provides real jobs in one of the best artisanal bakeries in the city.

The padre was in his office, looking at a new garbage and recycling bill that would ultimately cost St. John some $17,000 a year. The fee is one of those little things that slipped by unnoticed during the last budget process. Oh, no, not so fast: it slipped the notice of anyone with a heart.

Father Roberto said, “We feed about 100 people every day at lunch; also about 20 in the morning, and 20 snacks a day. We serve 3,000 meals a month.”

I smelled pasta Bolognese.

“Sometimes we have two sittings. In winter, there tend to be more people; the ones who live on the streets often line up at 5:30 a.m.; they are the ones who walk all night, they’re not part or the system, I never see them during the day.”

Cairo clashes leave 11 dead, dozens wounded

CAIRO—Suspected supporters of Egypt's military rulers attacked predominantly Islamist anti-government protesters outside the Defence Ministry in Cairo Wednesday, setting off clashes that left 11 dead as political tensions rise three weeks before crucial presidential elections.

Protesters have been camped outside the Defence Ministry for days demanding an end to the military rule that replaced Hosni Mubarak, the longtime authoritarian leader ousted 14 months ago in a popular uprising.

Most of the protesters were supporters of disqualified presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Islamist. He was barred from running because his late mother held dual Egyptian-U.S. citizenship, something that rendered him ineligible under election laws.

Several presidential candidates announced the suspension of their campaigns, accusing the military rulers of failure to stop the bloodshed. Several key political parties, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, also boycotted a meeting with the ruling generals in protest. The meeting, however, went ahead as scheduled to discuss efforts to create a panel to draft a new constitution.

“We blame the military council for the bloodshed,” Osama Yassin of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party told state television.

Toronto Councillors Expense $117K In First Quarter

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, spent nearly $1,500 of their own money to create a webpage for their “Cut the Waist” challenge that launched in January.

On Tuesday, the city released figures on the first-quarter spending of the 44 city councillors and the mayor, including the personal funds that the Fords spent on their website.

In terms of public funds, the city councillors and the mayor together spent $117,034.01 of taxpayer money on their office, constituency and other expenses. That works out to an average of $2,600.76 per elected representative.

About 28 per cent of the total expenditures related to communication costs.

According to the figures released by the city, Coun. Doug Ford did not spend any city money in the first quarter. He was the only councillor to not to do so. The mayor's office spent $3,822.98, with $2,222.60 going to office equipment and supplies.

Coun. Michelle Berardinetti had the highest expenses during the first quarter, which amounted to $11,060.91.

Environmental Charities 'Laundering' Foreign Funds, Kent Says

Some charitable environmental groups in Canada are "laundering" funds from offshore donors to obstruct Canada's environmental assessment process, Environment Minister Peter Kent says.

Kent made the comment Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview on CBC's Power & Politics when asked by host Evan Solomon to clarify a comment he made earlier on CBC Radio's The House.

In The House interview that aired Saturday, Kent said the government has been concerned charitable agencies have been used "to launder offshore foreign funds for inappropriate use against Canadian interest."

Kent stood by that characterization on Power & Politics Tuesday.

"Essentially what our government is doing through the finance committee is investigating allegations that offshore funds have improperly been funnelled through — laundered if you will, that's a fairly accurate word — through Canadian organizations that have charitable status to be used in ways that would be improper given that charitable status," Kent told Solomon Tuesday.

Pressed whether the use of the word "laundering" suggests criminal activity, Kent said: "There are allegations — and we have very strong suspicions — that some funds have come into the country improperly to obstruct, not to assist, in the environmental assessment process," Kent said.

Quebec Student Protests: Hardliners Emerge To Heckle Student Leaders

MONTREAL - Divisions in Quebec's protest movement erupted into public view Tuesday, with masked demonstrators disrupting a news conference held by the province's more moderate student groups.

The bizarre scene, featuring black-clad anonymous spectators heckling the student leaders, raised new questions about whether the Charest government can ever negotiate a satisfactory settlement with the various protest factions.

"This illustrates that the student movement is not monolithic," said Education Minister Line Beauchamp. "Frankly, it's getting a little hard to follow."

The two student groups holding the news conference were trying to release a series of proposals to the government, aimed at resolving a weeks-long dispute over tuition.

Even before their so-called "counter-offer" was made, it was already doomed. The seven-point plan included a proposal for a tuition freeze, something the Charest government has repeatedly called a non-starter. The rejection from Beauchamp was swift and adamant Tuesday.

But even that offer — the one deemed unacceptable by the government — did not go far enough, according to the small group that crashed the event.

Quebec's Jean Charest questions federal push for environmental streamlining

OTTAWA — Quebec Premier Jean Charest says he's "intrigued" by the federal government's efforts to streamline environmental reviews, explaining that the process is already very efficient in his province.

"In Quebec, we have not had the issue that other provinces have had and I'm not sure why," Charest said after delivering a speech to an environmental conference discussing Canada's role at the upcoming Earth Summit in Brazil.

"Every time this was raised at meetings . . . I've always been intrigued by why it has not worked as well elsewhere and (in) Quebec, it has worked well. Mind you, we believe that the processes need to be effective, predictable and we'll work to that end."

Charest's environment minister, Pierre Arcand, said a few weeks ago that Quebec saw some positive aspects of potential federal reforms, but the premier, who was Canada's environment minister when Parliament adopted the Environmental Assessment Act, noted that the legislation already allows the different levels of government to work together.

"In Quebec, we've very well mastered the ability of doing joint assessments," said Charest.

Critics blast Conrad Black's planned return to Canada

The revelation that disgraced media baron Conrad Black will be allowed to return to Canada upon his release from a U.S. prison prompted outrage in the House of Commons Tuesday from Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.

Mulcair demanded to know why Canada has granted a temporary resident permit to Black – a man with a criminal record who gave up his Canadian citizenship more than a decade ago.

Black paid a $200 fee in March for a one-year resident permit, valid from early this month.

Black is expected to be released from a Miami prison this week after serving about half of the remainder of his 13-month sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice. He gave up his Canadian citizenship in 2001 in order to get a seat in Britain's House of Lords.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told Mulcair that privacy rules prevented him from answering questions about Black's return. He said such decisions are made by citizenship and immigration officials, not politicians.

Speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons, Kenney did say that he had been anticipating a request from Black to return to Canada.

The Commons: Give us your tired, your poor, your convicted

The Scene. Thomas Mulcair had news. Or, rather, he’d read the news. And so he had a question.

“Mr. Speaker, the member for Trinity-Spadina and I last year asked why Gary Freeman, who lived in this country peaceably for 40 years and had several children, was not being allowed back in the country. The answer was an event that happened in Chicago in the sixties and he had served a short jail time. They said that because he was not a Canadian he was not allowed back in,” the leader of the opposition recounted.

“We just learned that the British criminal Conrad Black will be allowed in despite serving a second term in a federal American penitentiary,” he reported. “Why the double standard?”

The New Democrats seated around him stood to applaud.

“What about the French citizen who leads the NDP?” chirped Conservative backbencher Jeff Watson.

One should have known then that this would not end well.

“Mr. Speaker, matters such as this are a matter of personal privacy. I cannot comment on specific cases without a privacy waiver,” Mr. Kenney demurred at first. “Having said that, I can advise in respect to this individual that I indicated to my department that I would not have any involvement in an application from that individual, and that his application would be treated by highly trained independent members of our public service.”

U.S. voter fraud convict calls Canada's robocall scandal 'sophisticated'

A Republican political operative who spent three months in an American prison for making illegal political calls says that fraudulent calls in the last Canadian election are likely an American import.

In his 2008 book How to Rig an Election, Allen Raymond tells the story of his 10-year political career, which ended abruptly when he was convicted of jamming the New Hampshire Democrats' phone bank during a Senate election.

When the FBI closed in, officials on the Republican National Committee cut off Raymond, and rather than face 25 years in prison, he co-operated with the investigation.

Raymond, who now works in Washington as a lobbyist for a labour organization, suspects whoever made illegal voter-suppression calls in Canada in the last election likely learned their dirty tricks south of the border.

"We have a lot of elections down here," he said. "We essentially have them every year, whether it be state or federal. So if you're a political operative and you live in Canada, it might make a lot of sense to come to the United States and gain some experience, and in gaining that experience you might pick up some bad traits."

How Stephen Harper is remaking the Canadian myth

The $20 bill is the most common currency in the land. The paper version in your wallet features Bill Reid’s iconic sculpture The Spirit of Haida Gwaii. The futuristic new polymer note, unveiled Wednesday, will honour the military instead.

On the first anniversary of Stephen Harper’s majority government, much attention has focused on tax and spending cuts, the law-and-order agenda, the Prime Minister’s promotion of free trade and the increasing estrangement of Quebec.

But the Conservatives are also bent on transforming the idea of Canada, by changing the national myth.

Many of this country’s most cherished symbols and values – the flag, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, peacekeeping, public health care, multiculturalism – are the product of Liberal policies.

The Harper government seeks to supplement, or even supplant, those symbols with new ones, and old ones revived. These new symbols are rooted in a robust, even aggressive nationalism that celebrates the armed forces, the monarchy, sports, the North and a once overshadowed Conservative prime minister.

Original Article
Source: Globe
Author: John Ibbitson AND Erin Anderssen 

Cabinet ministers' drivers made $600,000 in overtime

OTTAWA — Drivers hired to shuttle federal cabinet ministers around Ottawa charged taxpayers more than $600,000 in overtime above their annual salaries last year, a CTV News investigation has found.

An analysis of timesheets for each minister's driver -- from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011 -- reveals that almost every chauffeur racked up hundreds of overtime hours, with payouts averaging more than $20,000.

Each of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 26 ministers and 11 junior ministers that year -- a total of 37 -- were entitled to a car and driver, who were paid between $46,883 and $50,755.

The chauffeur for one minister rang up a tab of more than $40,000 above his annual salary.

Sedans and SUVs, often black with tinted windows, can be seen all over the capital. Drivers sit around waiting for their bosses to come back from a meeting or lunch, ready to ferry them in the back of a taxpayer-supplied set of wheels.

But this perk comes with a hefty price tag.

The drivers' paperwork, obtained by CTV News under the Access to Information laws, shows that it wasn't uncommon for them to put in at least 20 hours a week in overtime waiting for their bosses.

The analysis reveals that the drivers who serve the Public Works and Government Services Minister Rona Ambrose accumulated the most overtime: more than 1,000 hours costing taxpayers $40,074.

May Day in Spain: Indignados against austerity

Spain is not Greece, as everyone I meet here assures me.

However, the violent clashes in the streets of Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona over the introduction of labour reforms that would make it easier to fire workers still hang in the air here. April 29 saw demonstrations organized by the PSOE (the main left wing political party in Spain) in conjunction with trade unions. Forty thousand people were out on the streets of Madrid, and there were smaller but no less heartfelt demonstrations in at least 55 cities, towns and villages ranging from Avila to Zamora.

Austerity hurts

The series of "No Se Juega con la Educacion y la Sanidad" (loosely translated: "Don't Play Games with Education and Healthcare") protests were organized by major trade union centrals like the UGT and the Comisiones Obreras.

As in Canada, the austerity agenda hits hardest at public services and those who are most at risk are children, pensioners and the unemployed.

About Conrad Black's return: Canadians deserve honest answers

Let's mark this international day of the worker by having a grown-up discussion about the readmission to Canada of Conrad Black, the former Canadian citizen and newspaper tycoon, now that he is about to be released from prison in the United States.

We can do this without saying much at all about Lord Black, complimentary or otherwise, other than to acknowledge that he is no longer a citizen of this country and that he was convicted of a criminal offence in a neighbouring democracy with a properly functioning judicial system.

As a result of a ruling of the Canadian Supreme Court, as the Globe and Mail reported yesterday morning, Lord Black cannot be admitted to this country "without the special permission of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration."

According to the Globe, "a government official said Monday that the court wasn't referring specifically to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and that it will be bureaucrats in his department who will decide whether Lord Black gets a dispensation." (Emphasis added.)

Politics in an Uncertain Age

Our collective psyche is uneasy these days. It’s been this way at least since the 2008 financial crisis, and might go back as far as 9/11.

Signs of economic recovery are tempered by austerity budgets and job cuts. The financial crisis has become a sovereign debt crisis that officials in Europe deal with seemingly by moving the moment of reckoning into the future and … hoping. Young people everywhere are contemplating lives that don’t live up to what their parents enjoyed, increasing the likelihood of intergenerational conflict. Anti-austerity violence in numerous European countries, and England’s worst riots in decades, remind us that the unrest is not as unthinkable as we often presume. When people are satisfied with life, they don’t riot. Nor do many imagine just how attractive radical political options can become when times change.

As one sign that times have, in fact, changed, the Occupy movement has filled screens, papers, and parks around the world. Its demands don’t necessarily fit together, but its message still resonates: Things are not alright. “Democracy” is dominated by the wealthy, gridlocked in the U.S., and diminished in Canada as the primacy of Parliament is repeatedly violated. The state can’t guarantee our protection from terrorism, or from capital, but it still manages to send our soldiers to fight unwinnable wars. It hardly bears mentioning that these issues often obscure that other problem called global warming, which won’t go away on its own.

Canada, blacklisted again

You can set your watch to it.

The inclusion of Canada on the U.S. Trade Representative’s annual “301 Priority Watchlist,” ostensibly a blacklist of the world’s 10 worst abusers of intellectual property, has become as predictable as tax day. Each year for the past four years, we’ve been told that we are a nation of pirates and thieves, keeping company with epic bootlegger nations like Russia and China. And each year, no proof is given to back up the smear. The USTR provides no hard facts or data illustrating the extent of piracy and counterfeiting in Canada. Instead, the report simply reminds us that we haven’t adopted the right kind of intellectual property laws. And what kind is the right kind? The American kind, naturally.

So what are the consequences of being on the Priority Watchlist? Officially, none. The list results in no sanctions or penalties from our NAFTA partner. It is meant to shame us, along with any other country that has resisted pressure from American lobby groups to use our laws to protect their outdated business models. The list is explicit in this, stating baldly that Canada’s inclusion is “subject to review if Canada enacts long awaited copyright legislation.”

That legislation is coming this summer. Bill C-11 will make it illegal for Canadians to install a program that, say, lets you transfer a Kindle book to a Kobo eReader. It will also open the door to lawsuits against Canadians who do so anyhow, like the tens of thousands of lawsuits against individual music downloaders that have failed to curb piracy in the U.S.

It seems that America’s shame list has worked.  We’ve caved in, prioritizing the pressure from a foreign nation’s industry against the rights of our own citizens to do what they want with their own property.

Personally, I’ll be ashamed when we’re off the 301 Watchlist.

Original Article
Source: maclean's
Author:  Jesse Brown

Top DND official says Cabinet made decision to exclude $10-billion in F-35 costs to Parliament, and DND says feds still plan to acquire controversial fighter jets

PARLIAMENT HILL—Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Cabinet knew prior to the last federal election the controversial F-35 stealth fighter jets project would cost $10-billion more over the next two decades than the government stated publicly, a House of Commons oversight committee heard Tuesday.

The top public servant in National Defence told the Commons Public Accounts Committee that Cabinet was aware as early as 2010 that the project would cost a total of at least $25.1-billion including acquisition, sustainment, and operating costs over 20 years, but “decided” to publicly exclude the operational costs when it defended the program publicly.

National Defence Deputy Minister Richard Fonberg made the statement as he was being grilled by opposition MPs over the government’s response to a report last month from Auditor General Michael Ferguson that criticized National Defence for leaving out $10-billion in costs for the controversial project when DND told Parliament in early 2011, prior to the May 2 federal election, that the planes would cost a total of $14.7-billion.

Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) and Defence Minister Peter MacKay (Central Nova, N.S.) were also citing the $14.7 billion figure as the election approached, in part because of a Liberal Party promise it would suspend the sole-sourced 65 F-35s, still in development and testing phases under the supervision of prime contractor Lockheed Martin at its Texas production facilities, in favour of an open competition.

Oil, dissent and the future of Canada

“Mommy, why does the government think you are a terrorist?”

The question came from my son the day after the news media reported that the federal government was contemplating changing the definition of domestic terrorism to include environmentalism.

I spent the past couple of years working internationally and came home to what I thought was an important debate over Canada’s future energy landscape. With Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s open letter attempting to silence Canadians who want to participate in that debate and attacking those concerned about the rapid expansion of the oil sands, pipelines and tanker traffic, I realized that what we are facing is a much bigger issue of democracy and freedom of speech. When this was followed up with an attack on environmental charities, many opinion leaders recognized we are experiencing a witch hunt.

With the 2012 budget, I watched in horror as the government in Ottawa gutted the environmental laws that protect our air, water and fisheries. Many of Canada’s opinion leaders are now wondering if we are dealing with an all-out war on nature.

As I reflect on the events of the past few months, I realize we are engaged in a fight for the soul of Canada.

Sarkozy draws on fear as campaign enters final days

As he faced thousands of flag-waving supporters in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, Nicolas Sarkozy cast an old-fashioned presidential image, and matched the appearance with frequent references to General Charles de Gaulle, founder of both the modern French republic and of Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative party.

In reality, though, Mr. Sarkozy was fighting desperately for control of the presidency in the final moments of an election that has gone terribly awry. His televised hour-long speech on May Day, a national holiday, was one of his few remaining chances to regain the lead, along with a televised debate on Wednesday night.

Still falling several percentage points behind Socialist Party Leader François Hollande, Mr. Sarkozy was drawing on one of the few resources he commands – fear – to persuade people to vote for him.

Fear, first of all, of outsiders: Mr. Sarkozy used the speech to echo some of the rhetoric of extreme-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose anti-immigrant National Front captured 18 per cent of the vote in first-round elections. Now that it’s narrowed to a two-way race, the President is hoping to draw some of her voters into his fold.

In this case, he reiterated his promise to bring back passport checks and border crossings, which Europe has not had for 15 years. And he suggested, darkly, that this was needed because of an existential threat: “We don’t need to close our border entirely,” he said to loud cheers, “but we want to defend a European civilization.”

One-state solution to Mideast peace may arrive by default

For nearly 20 years, Israelis and Palestinians have been arguing, agonizing and negotiating over a two-state solution that would allow them to coexist side by side.

But as the peace process stalls yet again, and Jewish settlements expand on Palestinian territory, some high-profile Israelis, as well as Palestinians, have begun to think the once-unthinkable: that a one-state solution may arrive by default.

“Even those who endorsed it say the two-state solution is less and less realistic,” says Ilan Pappé of the University of Exeter, one of Israel’s controversial “new historians.”

“To be on the ground for five minutes confirms it. Whatever the solution is, it would have to include Jews and Palestinians in the same framework. Whether it’s a binational state or one democratic state is still open for discussion.”

Pappé, who is speaking Wednesday at the University of Toronto, admits that most Israelis receive the message with “angst” if not anger.

“It’s not what I want to happen, but what I believe will happen. Peace talks have been futile, and they may start again. But really significant talks based on that paradigm can never succeed.”

Pappé is not alone in his appraisal.