Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Monday, May 07, 2012

A web of privilege supports this so-called meritocracy

Shortly after Mitt Romney's failed 2008 campaign for the Republican nomination his son Tagg set up a private equity fund with the campaign's top fundraiser. One of the first donors was his mum, Anne. Next came several of his dad's financial backers. Tagg had no experience in the world of finance, but after two years in the middle of a deep recession the company had netted $244m from just 64 investors.

Tagg insists that neither his name nor the fact that his father had made it clear he would run for the presidency again had anything to do with his success. "The reason people invested in us is that they liked our strategies,'' he told the New York Times.

Class privilege, and the power it confers, is often conveniently misunderstood by its beneficiaries as the product of their own genius rather than generations of advantage, stoutly defended and faithfully bequeathed. Evidence of such advantages is not freely available. It is not in the powerful's interest for the rest of us to know how their influence is attained or exercised. But every now and then a dam bursts and the facts come flooding forth.

Ulpana illegal outpost must be gone by July, Israeli government is warned

The Israeli government has been given a fresh deadline for the controversial demolition of a Jewish outpost built on private Palestinian land after the supreme court rejected its request to renege on an earlier commitment.

In a ruling that will be vehemently opposed by pro-settler parties and factions, the court said five apartment buildings in Ulpana, on the edge of the Beit El settlement in the West Bank, must be evacuated and demolished by 1 July.

The government had agreed to a 1 May deadline, a year after the court declared the buildings to be illegal under Israeli law. Under international law, all Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal.

But faced with stiff resistance from within the coalition, the government requested a delay to allow it to reconsider its policy on how to deal with illegal outposts in the West Bank. The issue had significant consequences involving "diplomatic, public and operational considerations," the government petition said.

Putin’s Inauguration: Satire and Violence

For a man so allegedly beloved by his people as Vladimir Putin believes himself to be—he cried at his victory rally in March, which he then ascribed to the wind—it was a strange sight to see his black cortege speed through the deserted streets of Moscow on the way to his third Presidential inauguration. No parade wave from the new President; he sat behind the most tinted of windows. Not a soul cheered from the sidewalks as Putin and a phalanx of security sped to the Kremlin; they had all been cleared and the streets and metros cordoned off. The people may have elected him, but this was not an event for the people.

Even the Queen of England, elected by no one, I thought, waves to her subjects.

I sat watching Putin’s frigid Presidential ritual with Sasha and Masha, the two “Persidents” of Ruissia, a farcical country whose borders happen to coincide coincide with Russia’s. They are the authors of the KermlinRussia twitter account, which started as a biting parody of the twitter feed of the now departed Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev. It has become a wildly popular satire of Russia’s bizarre, “Sopranos”-like political system and economy. If Russia had a Stephen Colbert, it would be Sasha and Masha. (I profiled the anonymous duo, and you can catch a glimpse of them in David Remnick’s recent account of Russia twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.)

Vladimir Putin seeks close U.S. ties, missile shield guarantee

MOSCOW — Moscow will seek closer ties with the United States but will not tolerate interference in its affairs and wants guarantees a U.S. missile shield will not be used against Russia, under terms of a decree signed by President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Putin set out foreign policy priorities in a wide-ranging document signed hours after his inauguration to a six-year term as president, veering little from an article he wrote on the subject during the election campaign.

Moscow wants to bring cooperation with Washington “to a truly strategic level” but relations must be based on “equality, non-interference in internal affairs and respect for one another’s interests”, the decree said.

Russia will “consistently stand up for its policy in connection with the creation by the United States of a global missile defence system, seeking firm guarantees it is not directed against Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces”.

Canadian conservatism is dead

You know how in the The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the East gets squished by Dorothy’s falling house? Well, today the hopes and dreams of Canada’s conservative movement are in pretty much the same flattened condition as that unfortunate witch. Basically all that remains now is for a Munchkin coroner to examine what’s left of conservative aspirations and proclaim, “they’re not only merely dead, they’re really most sincerely dead.”

Time of death: April 23, when Alberta’s conservative-leaning Wildrose Party, after being swept up high on the winds of the polls, came crashing down to Earth with a disappointing thud. What made this event the equivalent of an ideological house crushing is not so much the result of the vote, but rather how that result is being interpreted. Experts are blaming the Wildrose loss on its conservative agenda. They say Wildrose was just too radical to win.

Neo-Nazi party has election breakthrough in Greece, leader warns ‘time for fear has come’

Fed-up Greek voters took to the polls Sunday to deliver a devastating blow to the political establishment and made hard turns to both the far-left and the far-right, with both a Communist Party and a Neo-Nazi party winning a significant number of seats.

Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn won its first seats in the Greek parliament since the end of the military junta in 1974, winning 21 out of 300 seats.

The party’s leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, warned rivals and reformers that “the time for fear has come” after his breakthrough.

“The time for fear has come for those who betrayed this homeland,” he said at a news conference, flanked by young men with shaved heads.

“We are coming.”

Golden Dawn won about 7% of the popular vote.

Breivik's Monstrous Dream—and Why It Failed

Bodø is the last stop on the Norwegian State Railway. This city of 47,000 people lies above the Arctic Circle and is sandwiched between dramatic snow-covered mountains and the cold Norwegian Sea. The winding highways have signs reminding drivers to watch out for moose. This is the kind of slow-paced city where not a lot happens—the last place on earth you would expect the global “counter-jihad” movement to hit home.

But Bodø’s quiet, along with the rest of Norway’s, was destroyed last year on July 22 when Anders Behring Breivik, a self-described “commander in Norway’s resistance movement,” exploded a 2,100-pound homemade car bomb in central Oslo, killing eight people and injuring more than 200 others in a first salvo against his perceived “Islamic colonization of Europe.” Disappointed that the explosion hadn’t caused the government headquarters to collapse (as his trial testimony has made clear), the then 32-year-old Oslo native decided to implement his Plan B, driving twenty-five miles northwest to the island of Utøya, where the youth division of Norway’s ruling Labor Party was holding its annual camp. Heavily armed and wearing a police uniform he had purchased over the Internet, Breivik systematically hunted down, shot and killed sixty-nine people, most of them teenagers, over the course of a harrowing seventy-nine minutes, before surrendering to police. “You shall die today, Marxists!” he cried while executing some of his victims. He killed people from fifty-five municipalities across Norway, including 17-year-old Espen Jørgensen, the newly elected leader of Bodø’s Labor Party youth division, shot three times in the back while protecting another teenager.

American Dinosaurs: What's the Matter With Health Care and Education?

The problems with our nation's health care system are of course very different from the challenges facing our national education system. But when you look under the hood, you could make a strong argument that the problems are actually very much the same.

Consider the structure of American health care over the past few decades. One can think of it as serving four levels of clients: those with no insurance, those with Medicare or Medicaid, those with employer-provided insurance, and those wealthy enough to pay for all their health care services in cash, including concierge services.

Most of those who were uninsured went without any health care services much of the time. When they did get services, it was typically in the hospital emergency room when their condition was so far advanced that treatment was very expensive and delivered only at the point when a favorable outcome was very unlikely. Those on Medicare and Medicaid were insured, but the reimbursement rates were so low that many doctors simply did not take Medicare or Medicaid patients, and the doctors that did had to see very large numbers of patients to make ends meet, leaving little time for each one.

Lehman Docs Show Wall Street Arrogance Led To Financial Collapse

If one wants to understand the full complicity of Wall Street in the Great Recession, look no further than the voluminous package of pre-collapse Lehman Brothers documents that have been made available by the law firm Jenner & Block LLP, which has acted as the coroner in the Lehman post-mortem.

Most important, the cache dispels the myth that Dick Fuld, chief executive officer of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., and his close associates were unaware of the risks their business faced in 2007 and 2008. That would be bad enough, but the more devastating reality is that Fuld and his sycophants were warned repeatedly but were blinded by their hubris.

The records confirm, yet again, that the “forces-out-of- our-control” argument we hear from Wall Street leaders is bunk. It is the ill-advised behavior of one banker after another, day in and day out, that leads to the sort of devastating financial crisis we are only now emerging from.

Why is Our Public Discourse Aping Shock Jock Talk Radio?

The challenges were immense, but I took it on as a task of goodwill. We had been asked to assist in the peace negotiations between North and South Sudan, held in Kenya, and mediated by a very able and respected Kenyan ex-general.

It had been Africa's longest-running civil war and everything was on the table -- religion, tribalism, race-relations, oil, the rights of women and so on. There were to be three rounds of negotiations held over a couple of years -- extensive, frustrating and exhausting. Vitriol, obstinacy, blame, harsh words -- all these eventually gave way to what was ultimately a peace deal.

But what else was Canada going to do? We believed in democracy and supported United Nations efforts for decades in countries around the world. It's what we did best, and everyone knew it. We assist countries unfamiliar with democratic debate, finding the commonalities, or striking a compromise, and remind them that peace and citizenship matter. We have been world experts at it. This is democracy in action -- messy, guided, open, but eventually respectful and more dignified than enemies had experienced.

Germany Austerity Policies: Berlin Unmoved By Votes In France, Greece

BERLIN, May 7 (Reuters) - Germany is ruling out any substantive shift in its approach to Europe's debt crisis despite a rising chorus of opposition to Berlin's austerity policies that reached a crescendo in Sunday's elections in Greece and France.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in Berlin on Monday, rejected the notion that Europe was on the brink of a major policy shift after Socialist Francois Hollande defeated her fellow conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Greek voters punished ruling parties who slashed spending to secure a foreign bailout.

Shunned by Merkel, who publicly backed Sarkozy's campaign, Hollande repeatedly criticised Germany's focus on budget cuts and labour law reforms as the solution to Europe's debt crisis. Many saw his victory and the outcome in Greece as heralding a shift in Europe toward higher-spending growth-oriented policies.

Real Soldiers Don't Get PTSD

I was momentarily heartened on Friday when I heard that amidst the federal government's deep cuts was some trimming of the defense budget. A little balance, I thought. So far, the slashing of the civil service has fallen heavily on policy makers, statisticians and folks that run emergency oil spill offices.

My sense of relief lasted until the headline was over.

Turns out the Department of National Defence (DND) is eliminating the jobs of medical professionals involved in suicide prevention and monitoring post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). They are closing an Ottawa clinic serving these clients, and shutting DND's Deployment Mental Health Research Section, cutting specialists and epidemiologists who research and monitor PTSD rates, trauma and depression. What did I expect?

These cuts come shortly after the release of a department report on the increase of suicides in the Canadian Military, and in the midst of a military complaints hearing examining how the Forces dealt with the suicide of Afghanistan veteran Cpl. Stuart Langridge. In the U.S. since 2009 the suicide rate of veterans and soldiers exceeds the number that have died in active duty.

Environmental Review Reform: David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace, Others Blast Tories For 'War On Nature'

TORONTO - Canadian conservation groups have launched an anti-budget campaign condemning federal changes that they say will weaken the country's environmental safeguards.

Organizations including the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace and Equiterre have banded together to oppose what they call a Conservative attack on nature and democracy.

In a series of ads today, they're calling on Canadians to black out their websites on June 4 to voice their disapproval for the omnibus federal budget bill that contains sweeping environmental provisions.

They hope individual Canadians and organizations will alter their websites in ways like making their home pages black.

Is Canada prepared for an oil disaster?

VICTORIA — A ring of proposed pipeline and resource development projects surrounding Vancouver Island would dramatically increase the number of tankers and freighters in nearby waterways, and there are growing fears — on both sides of the border — that Canada is not prepared to deal with a major oil spill.

Projects in the works include Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipelines, the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Washington and the Raven Underground Coal Project in Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley.

If approved, many more tankers would ply waters near Vancouver Island.

Sheila Malcolmson, chairwoman of the Islands Trust, the land-use and planning agency for British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, said she has peppered the federal government with questions about oil spill response plans.

Ombudsman says review board failing to give veterans benefit of doubt

OTTAWA - The Harper government moved quickly Monday to limit the damage of a scathing report from Canada's veterans ombudsman, who accused a review agency of being secretive and unfair to ex-soldiers in search of benefits.

Federal Court challenges arising out of decisions from the Veterans Review and Appeal Board were the subject of an exhaustive study by the ombudsman office.

The office found that 60 per cent of the cases were returned to the agency, which is supposed to provide veterans fair, sympathetic hearings, because it did not give veterans the benefit of the doubt and did not generously interpret the law surrounding compensation.

The criticism mirrors complaints earlier this year from an outspoken board member, Harold Leduc, who claimed his private medical information was spread around the board in an effort to discredit him because he often sided with ex-soldiers.

Ottawa insider seen as candidate for CRTC chair

The Harper government is preparing to announce a new chair for Canada’s telecom and broadcast regulator and industry players believe officials are leaning towards an Ottawa insider and veteran public servant named Jean-Pierre Blais.

Mr. Blais’s record suggests he would be a relatively cautious hand at the helm of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, telecom industry sources say.

Unlike former chair Konrad von Finckenstein, telecom insiders predict Mr. Blais would be relatively compliant with Conservative government policy leanings and endeavour to keep the CRTC out of the headlines. Those who know Mr. Blais say he is more of a conciliation-minded type who would seek compromise on issues rather than strike out independently with bold initiatives.

The UN in Canada: bringing together the Eaters and the Producers

Mr. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, made his first official organized stop on his grand 10-day Canadian tour on Sunday in Montreal.

At a panel discussion, held at the Universite de Montreal, there were representatives from People's Unions, Greenpeace, Food Independence groups, and professional food-gatherers' alliances. The main issues identified by the groups included poverty and access to healthy food, Aboriginal peoples, governance, the industrial food model and international issues.

The full-day conference presented testimony to the UN Rapporteur that should make Canadians less concerned about a $16 glass of orange juice charged by a minister and more concerned with the shelf-price of $16 for a carton of orange juice in some northern communities.

Mass protests in Spain emblematic of the popular anger in Europe

This is the final installment of our three-part report on May Day in Spain. Part I looked at the political context in Spain, where austerity has been met with the Indignados movement that has inspired people worldwide. Part II provided an account of the massive May Day protests in Spain, in which an estimated one million people took part. 

May 1 may have come and gone in Spain but the echoes of the mobilizations still remain.

Walking past a large bank branch near Bilbao Metro station late the other night, I met a small group of people taping up posters for a little 15-M inspired 'exchange' event where all were invited to bring in items to trade with each other. No comfort for capitalism there. Ana, who speaks a little bit of English, invites us to attend if we are still around.

Sarkozy, fini

Well, so much for that guy.

During his five years in Elysée Palace, Nicolas Sarkozy came up with one plan after another that had nothing to do with his election promises or with France’s most pressing problems. His economic reforms were amazingly consistent: they made every problem worse. He had one advisor who took care to ensure he never made sense on economics, and another who used to write fan notes about Jean-Marie Le Pen. He rigged a public appointment for his son and took a vacation on a billionaire’s yacht. When he was nominated as his party’s candidate five years ago he assured everyone, “I’ve changed.” This turned out to be optimistic.

Sarkozy is essentially a silly man and France is well rid of him. François Hollande, the new president-elect, is no providential talent. He’s loaded up the agenda for his first year in power with busy work that probably won’t help. (Perhaps lost in that pile of projects, but worth noting as a sign of the times, is Hollande’s plan to pull troops out of Afghanistan before the end of the year.) But his election is encouraging for two reasons. First, it’s possible he’ll manage the economy about as well as anyone in France ever does, as his Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand eventually learned to do. Second, it gets Sarkozy out of the way. If he’d hung on, his country would have been absurdist performance theatre for another five years and the Socialists would be guaranteed of victory in 2017. This way his party has a chance of finding a serious candidate for that next election. I nominate this guy. Meanwhile it’s still a pretty country.

Original Article
Source: maclean's
Author: Paul Wells

France's Hollande to buck Europe's austerity trend

Political upheavals in Europe, including a newly elected anti-austerity president in France and a Greek election that created a fractured parliament, are rattling economic markets and adding uncertainty to plans for eurozone spending cuts.

Socialist François Hollande, who swept to victory in France on Sunday, is insisting austerity measures announced by defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy are not the only way to fix Europe's financial woes.

In his victory speech to supporters, Hollande said his win over Sarkozy sent a clear message that France did not want to be crippled by austerity measures. He said the message that change is coming is for people across Europe.

"In all the capitals, beyond government leaders and state leaders, there are people who, thanks to us, are hoping, are looking to us, and want to put an end to austerity," Hollande said.

Europe in turmoil as France and Greece reject austerity

"Les carottes sont cuites" — the carrots are cooked. Not a call to a Michelin meal but to a political burial and a bitter stew that is still on the stove.

The words are those of France's outgoing prime minister, François Fillon, the second most important leader in the country, a man chosen by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

His remarks are the French culinary equivalent of the jig is up, and the verdict, uttered more than two weeks ago, suggests that Sarkozy's team knew long before Sunday night what to expect.

In losing to the Socialist leader François Hollande, Sarkozy narrowly avoided an ignominious new record — that of being the shortest-serving French president in the history of the Fifth Republic.

Georges Pompidou still holds it, but Pompidou left office in a coffin, dead of cancer a month short of five years in office. He was popular and was mourned. Sarkozy wasn't and won't be.

Does temporary foreign workers program create second class of labourers?

Five years of dealing with temporary foreign workers affected Yessy Byl in a way she did not expect. There were the stories, from the more than 1,000 people she spoke with in her job as a labour advocate, of neglect and mistreatment – overtime not paid, commitments not honoured, hefty “hiring fees” deducted from weekly cheques. And yet many of them wouldn’t make a formal complaint for fear they’d be fired just for speaking out.

It left her deflated and disillusioned. “My faith in this country has been badly shaken,” she says. “I have to remind myself: There are some good employers.”

For Ms. Byl, and many other critics, Canada’s growing numbers of temporary foreign workers have raised important questions about the kind of country we are becoming, and how a nation that has long welcomed immigrants is establishing a burgeoning second class of labour, devoid of many of the rights to democratic participation and workplace choice other Canadians enjoy.

As Canadian employers struggle to address a burgeoning labour shortage, temporary foreign workers have become a pillar of the economy – there are now more than 300,000 here, triple the number a decade ago. Visiting workers once associated with harvest time in Canada’s orchards and tobacco fields now turn up everywhere from fast-food chains and abattoirs to the Alberta oil sands.

Mental-health strategy calls for complete overhaul, $4-billion commitment

Canada’s mental-health system is underfunded and poorly co-ordinated and needs a complete overhaul to meet the needs of patients and their families, the Mental Health Commission says in its long-awaited national strategy.

The 152-page document recommends an immediate infusion of $4-billion annually for mental-health care; calls on employers to implement psychological health and safety standards to protect workers; says efforts to divert people with severe mental-health problems out of the justice system and into care need to be accelerated; and embraces a “housing first” philosophy to get homeless people suffering from mental illness off the streets.

The Globe and Mail obtained a copy of the strategy, entitled “Changing Direction, Changing Lives,” under embargo but is publishing before the Tuesday release date because of leaks to other media outlets.

Is the ‘biggest bull market in history’ ahead?

The latest news from the embattled outposts of Europe, more troublesome U.S. numbers and further signs of a slowdown in China and other emerging economies are helping to reignite talk of a double-dip on a global scale.

A large swath of Europe is already back in recession and unemployment has climbed to levels not seen in 15 years, underscoring the claims of prominent critics that the harsh German austerity regimen is quite likely to kill off seriously ill patients long before they can reap the undoubted long-term benefits of the medicine. The growing backlash against heavy budget-cutting has added large dollops of political risk and social instability to the region’s worsening economic outlook.

Battered Spain may still be solvent, as the government insists. But foreign investors continue shedding Spanish debt and money is flying out of the country’s banks, which are being propped up by the European Central Bank. ECB loans to Spanish banks shot up to €316.3-billion ($411.8-billion) in March, almost triple the total of last November.

Calling it a ‘Trojan horse,’ NDP asks to split sweeping Tory budget bill

The NDP is presenting a formal motion to have the Conservative government’s budget bill split into several pieces, arguing the legislation is too expansive to be studied by a single committee.

At more than 420 pages, the budget-implementation legislation is attracting considerable controversy for the breadth of measures it includes, many of which have not been clearly explained.

The NDP argues most of the measures in the Tory legislation have little to do with the budget document that was released in March. By splitting the bill, the NDP argues MPs will be able to hear from more witnesses in committee who have expertise in the wide-range of areas that are affected.

“We feel this bill is like a Trojan horse. ... We’re just discovering all of the implications of this bill,” NDP finance critic Peggy Nash told reporters Monday.

The NDP says the bill includes several measures that concentrate power in the hands of cabinet ministers. “These are radical changes,” Ms. Nash added.

Smell of rotting fish coming from Ottawa

The Harper government has signalled its intent to assault the structure of the independent East Coast fishery, with the apparent aim of opening it up to more corporate control. Given what’s at stake for Atlantic Canada, it had better be all hands on deck for this fight, as the billion-dollar lobster, crab and shrimp sectors and the coastal economies they support risk being thrown into anarchy.

It has already happened in British Columbia — and else­where — with fishermen, their communities and native bands being gradually squeezed out.

The question is not merely whether the Atlantic fishery needs “reform" — it does, in many particulars. The 33-organization Atlantic fisheries coalition opposing the Harper move acknowledges this, but says progress was being made.

The real problem with any reform is with the government itself. It is devious, secretive, ideology-driven and therefore untrustworthy. We need not refer to the F-35s, the G8 and other scandals on a lengthening list.

Is the Air Force's F-22 fighter jet making pilots sick?

Military officers rarely speak out against their services, but in our lead story you'll hear from two elite pilots who question the safety of Air Force's most sophisticated, stealthy, and expensive fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor. Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Joshua Wilson have chosen to stop flying the F-22 because they say during some flights they and other pilots have experienced oxygen deprivation, disorientation, and worse. They are concerned about their safety in the air, as well as the long-term health consequences. The Air Force says it is doing all it can to investigate and solve the problem, and are keeping the jets in the air with careful supervision of the pilots.

The following script is from "The Raptor" which originally aired on May 6, 2012. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Karen Sughrue, producer.

The shiniest jewel in the Air Force is its F-22 Raptor, a sleek, stealth fighter jet that the Pentagon says can outgun and outmaneuver any combat plane anywhere in the world. But for all its prowess, the Raptor has yet to be used in combat. It was designed to go up against an enemy with a sophisticated air force, which means it sat on the sidelines during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving its 200 pilots to fly mainly training missions.

Rodney Brossart, American Arrested Using Predator Drone, Had Rights Violated, Lawyer Says

Bruce Quick, attorney for the first American arrested using an unmanned drone says his client was subject to "guerrilla-like police tactics."

Quick tells U.S. News that Lakota, N.D., resident Rodney Brossart should not have been arrested and that authorities had no legal right to use the drone to aid in his capture.

"The whole thing is full of constitutional violations," Quick told U.S. News. "The drone use is a secondary concern."

Brossart was in a dispute with authorities over the ownership of six cows that had meandered onto his land. The Grand Forks SWAT team borrowed a Predator drone from the Department of Homeland security to make sure it was safe to arrest Brossart, authorities told the paper.

Douglas Manbeck, who is representing the state of North Dakota, told UPI that the SWAT team used the drone only after warrants were issued.

Vladimir Putin Sworn In For Third Term As Russia's President

MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin took the oath of office in a brief but regal Kremlin ceremony on Monday, while on the streets outside thousands of helmeted riot police prevented hundreds of demonstrators from protesting his return to the presidency.

Putin, 59, has ruled Russia since 2000, first as president and then during the past four years as prime minister. The new, now six-year term will keep him in power until 2018, with the option of running for a fourth term.

"I consider serving the fatherland and our people to be the meaning of my whole life and my duty," Putin said in addressing 3,000 guests in a Kremlin hall glittering with gold leaf.

Despite unprecedented security measures in the center of Moscow, where streets were closed to traffic and passengers prevented from exiting subway stations, at least 1,000 opposition activists tried to protest along the route Putin's motorcade took to the Kremlin. Police picked out anyone wearing the white ribbons that are the symbol of the anti-Putin protest movement.

Canada's Economy Hits Brakes As Europe Swoons, U.S. Employment Falters

OTTAWA - U.S. employment numbers disappointed for the second consecutive month on Friday. This upcoming Friday, it's likely Canadians' turn to be disappointed.

After a strong start to the year, the economies in Canada and systemically important nations appear to have entered a synchronized late winter-early spring swoon that few saw coming.

Less than a month after the Bank of Canada upgraded growth prospects for both Canada and the U.S. and downgraded risks in Europe, the roof hasn't exactly caved in, but the puddles are forming on the kitchen floor.

The European recession has gone from mild to scary, with some major nations such as Spain posting depression-era 25-per-cent jobless rates. Emerging markets have slowed. The United States posted its second consecutive below consensus employment report of a mere 115,000 jobs added in April. Even in Canada, gross domestic product shockingly fell in February by 0.2 per cent.

Ottawa should offer exit strategy to bands bogged down in treaty talks: report

VICTORIA - Ottawa needs to consider a flexible exit strategy for British Columbia First Nations frustrated and debt-challenged by slow-moving treaty negotiations, says a special report prepared for federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan.

The 47-page report by former Campbell River, B.C., mayor James Lornie, appointed Duncan's special B.C. treaty representative last year, states First Nations treaty negotiations debt now tops $420 million, which is insurmountable and an unsustainable barrier to reaching treaties.

The report doesn't suggest dumping the treaty process after more than 20 years of negotiations, but states First Nations need the option to leave the table without feeling intense pressure to pay off debts and with nothing to show after years of talks.

First Nations should also be allowed to return to negotiations at a later date, it adds.

"I consider that the single most important response that the federal government can make is to re-commit to treaty-making as a federal priority, and to commit to that priority at every level of the federal system," stated Lornie in the report.

Ministers singing different tunes on charitable organizations

I’m suspicious of people who ask for charitable contributions, but I wasn’t always this way. I used to trust them.

Things took a turn for the worse a couple of years ago after a CBC story reported on some Canadian NGOs that were farming out their fund-raising activities to pros, who then skimmed off a healthy percentage for their efforts.

The report has since been widely discussed and responded to by the sector, but the impact was swift and significant. In marketing jargon, the brand was damaged.

Now Environment Minister Peter Kent has accused charities of laundering funds.

This not only ratchets-up Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s charge that environmentalists are “radicals,” it moves the issue to a whole new level. It is one thing to accuse people of having fanatical views, quite another to say they are engaged in activities usually associated with organized crime.

NDP, environmental groups rally against budget bill

The NDP says it will no longer stand by and watch as the Conservatives "shut down" debate on its budget bill, as a coalition of environmental groups launches a national ad campaign to protest proposed changes to environmental laws in the bill.

In an interview airing on CBC Radio's The House on Saturday, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said the party is reaching "a breaking point" with such behaviour from the government, and is contemplating "legal" as well as "parliamentary" options.

"This is the 18th time that the Conservatives have invoked closure; it's unprecedented," Mulcair told host Evan Solomon.

Conservative MPs voted last week to limit debate on the 431-page budget implementation bill, leaving all MPs with less than a week to debate it at second reading stage before it heads to committee.

Conservative MPs justified the vote by saying there will be "more debate" on this bill than the Liberals ever had on any of their budget bills.

"We can't have a Parliament that's not open to the public that elected it," said Mulcair, adding that "as the Official Opposition, we're going to have to take some tough decisions in the coming weeks and months."

Tories debate how best to keep middle-class voters

There is a quiet debate under way within the Conservative caucus. While not everyone – perhaps not even a majority – agrees, senior figures within the caucus are convinced the party’s future hinges on the outcome of that debate, and they believe Stephen Harper shares their concern.

Some Conservatives are asking themselves whether the party is in danger of losing the middle class.

Suburban middle-class voters in Ontario are the bedrock of this majority government. In each election since 2004, more and more of them have abandoned the Liberal Party and switched to the Conservative Party, because they believe that Mr. Harper understands them and governs in their interest.

The Conservatives think that these middle-class workers don’t want ambitious national programs, state-sponsored support, affirmative this or subsidized that. They just want jobs.

Black is the new Red: Why Stephen and Jason love Conrad more than they love Canadians

Let's be honest with ourselves, Canadians. Did any of us ever truly doubt -- even for an instant -- that the "Conservative" government of Stephen Harper would not welcome Conrad Black back to the Canadian fold as soon as the American correctional authorities escorted him to the border and handed him his coat and hat?

Do you now imagine Lord Black isn't here in Canada to stay?

Well, if you do, disabuse yourself of that notion!

Whatever you may think about Lord Black’s renunciation of his Canadian citizenship, the incontrovertible legal facts of his criminal conviction in the United States, or the appropriateness of welcoming this divisive former citizen and jailbird back to Canada, he has a blank cheque to remain in this country as long as he pleases: one year, five years, whatever.

Environmentalism has Failed

Environmentalism has failed. Over the past 50 years, environmentalists have succeeded in raising awareness, changing logging practices, stopping mega-dams and offshore drilling, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But we were so focused on battling opponents and seeking public support that we failed to realize these battles reflect fundamentally different ways of seeing our place in the world. And it is our deep underlying worldview that determines the way we treat our surroundings.

We have not, as a species, come to grips with the explosive events that have changed our relationship with the planet. For most of human existence, we lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers whose impact on nature could be absorbed by the resilience of the biosphere. Even after the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago, farming continued to dominate our lives. We cared for nature. People who live close to the land understand that seasons, climate, weather, pollinating insects, and plants are critical to our well-being.

Privy Council Office to cut $17.6-million in budget, 139 employees

The Privy Council Office, the powerful non-partisan bureaucratic machinery behind the political Prime Minister’s Office, could cut 139 employees and $17.6-million in its budget this year.

“At the PCO, our spending is nearly all on salaries. We don’t administer programs so it’s not complicated for us to provide an overall picture. It’s about staffing cuts,” Bill Pentney, deputy secretary to the Cabinet for plans and consultations told the Government Operations Committee on April 30.

In March, the PCO, which spent $159.931-million in 2010-2011, employed the equivalent of 1,017 full-time workers. By April 1, that number had decreased to 987, according to the PCO.  On April 11, PCO management told 139 people that their jobs could be cut. Those people will find out between June and November if their jobs will be eliminated, said Michelle Doucet, assistant deputy minister of corporate services.

Gateway Designed to Pump Far More Crude than Advertised

British Columbians are becoming more aware of two major oil pipeline proposals -- Enbridge's Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline. These pipelines have been advanced by the government of Canada on behalf of large, multinational oil companies as well as the Chinese government's mega national oil companies, Sinopec, PetroChina and China National Offshore Oil Company.

These are huge companies with a huge appetite for getting crude oil to Asia as quickly as possible. To make sure the pipelines go ahead, the Harper government has introduced a new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act allowing cabinet to overrule a National Energy Board no-go decision on both the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan's proposals. The new federal rules speed up the process and limit the participation of many individuals and organizations in public hearings.

On Strike: Quebec Students Boycott Classes for 12 Weeks to Protest Proposed Tuition Hikes

For the past three months, students across the Canadian province of Quebec have waged an unprecedented strike against rising tuition. On Friday, more than 100 students were arrested in Victoriaville. One protester reportedly lost an eye after being shot by a police projectile. The future of the strike is now up in the air. Over the weekend, the government proposed an offer to end the strike, but student leaders say they are refusing to recommend the deal to student protesters who will vote on the offer on 150 campuses over the next three days.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

ExxonMobil’s Dirty Secrets, from Indonesia to Nigeria to Washington: Steve Coll on “Private Empire”

We continue our conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Steve Coll, author of the exhaustive book, "Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power." He examines the controversial role ExxonMobil has played in Afghanistan and Indonesia, where it operated lucrative gas fields amidst a bloody war for independence. Coll also discusses the corporate giant’s involvement in the controversial natural gas drilling process known as "fracking" and the role its lobbyists could play in the upcoming U.S. election. Click here to see part one of this interview.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

After Austerity

NEW YORK – This year’s annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund made clear that Europe and the international community remain rudderless when it comes to economic policy. Financial leaders, from finance ministers to leaders of private financial institutions, reiterated the current mantra: the crisis countries have to get their houses in order, reduce their deficits, bring down their national debts, undertake structural reforms, and promote growth. Confidence, it was repeatedly said, needs to be restored.

It is a little precious to hear such pontifications from those who, at the helm of central banks, finance ministries, and private banks, steered the global financial system to the brink of ruin – and created the ongoing mess. Worse, seldom is it explained how to square the circle. How can confidence be restored as the crisis economies plunge into recession? How can growth be revived when austerity will almost surely mean a further decrease in aggregate demand, sending output and employment even lower?

Pollsters say they didn’t get Alberta election wrong

Polling companies were widely criticized for missing out on forecasting the Progressive Conservatives’ majority win and Wildrose’s epic fall in last month’s Alberta election, but two leading pollsters who tracked the Alberta electorate throughout the course of the campaign say the Wildrose Party’s support simply collapsed in the final hours, and political parties should take note.

Pollsters were first in line for post-election ridicule following Alberta’s April 23 election, which saw the incumbent Progressive Conservatives come from behind to defeat the front-running Wildrose Alliance. Wildrose led the PCs by between eight and 12 points in polling conducted throughout most of the four-week campaign, and were projected to form a majority government by the final week.

Election night results refuted the polls, however, with Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives capturing 44 per cent of the popular vote and a 61 seat majority. In the end it was Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Alliance that trailed by 9.5 percentage points. The Prairie-populist revival was able to claim only 17 of the Alberta Legislature’s 87 seats with 34.5 per cent of the popular vote. Both the Liberals and the NDP fell just shy of 10 per cent of the popular vote, and took five and four seats, respectively.

MPs need new office to help them analyse $255-billion spending estimates, say experts

Governance experts say Parliament and MPs need a behind-the-scenes team of experts to help them better analyse the federal government’s estimated $255-billion in annual spending estimates.

The team would be called the “Financial Analysis Service,” said Peter Dobell, a former public servant, founder of the Parliamentary Centre, and an expert on strengthening Parliament, who made the suggestion to MPs last week before the House Government Operations Committee.

Mr. Dobell said the team should consist of a dozen people “with extensive experience in government and financial services who could, as a result, understand the complexity of government finances, which are really pretty difficult to penetrate.”

Mr. Dobell spoke to the House Government Operations Committee May 2. The MPs are studying how to reform the way Parliament looks at the estimates.

Feds to repeal Kyoto Act in budget bill, critics slam move

The federal government is eliminating an accountability measure when it comes to the environment by repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, say critics who believe the Conservatives don’t have the  “courage”  to do the right thing on climate change.

“The most important thing about C-288 was that it was about accountability. It was forcing the government to say what they were doing or not doing in terms of climate change and emissions reductions etc., etc. By repealing the bill, they don’t have that obligation anymore to be accountable to what they do or don’t do. For a government that said accountability was important, there’s a huge contradiction here,” said former Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez, who introduced Bill C-288, the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, in 2006.

It was one of the rare private member’s bill that passed all legislative stages to become law in 2007. It aimed to “ensure that Canada meets its global climate change obligations under the Kyoto Protocol” and forced the government to develop a climate change plan. It also required the environment minister to seek advice from the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) on the effectiveness of the plans and required the environment commissioner to track the progress of the implementation by submitting an annual report to the House Speaker.

How would Harper fare in a French-style run-off election?

Voters in France took part in the second round of their presidential election Sunday, choosing François Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy after the two had topped the list in the country’s first round of voting. But what if Canada adopted a similar electoral system?

While the French were voting for a president, their country’s legislative elections use the same sort of run-off system. One of the advantages of this method of voting is that the victor is assured of winning an outright majority (at least when two names are on the second ballot; some have more depending on the first round’s results). Canada’s first-past-the-post system, on the other hand, can result in candidates winning their riding with only one-third of the vote or less.

The thought of Canadians voting à la française makes for an interesting counter-factual. What if the 2011 federal election had been run in this manner?

For this exercise, second rounds of voting take place in all ridings where no candidate won a majority of ballots cast. In these run-off elections, only the top two candidates from the first round make it to the second round. “Second choice” polling data from the end of the 2011 election campaign has been used to determine how the second round of voting might plausibly play out.

Vladimir Putin sworn in as Russia’s president as riot police detain protesters

MOSCOW—Vladimir Putin took the oath of office in a brief Kremlin ceremony on Monday, while on the streets outside thousands of helmeted riot police prevented hundreds of demonstrators from protesting his return to the presidency.

Putin, 59, has ruled Russia since 2000, first as president and then during the past four years as prime minister. The new, now six-year term will keep him in power until 2018, with the option of running for a fourth term.

“I consider service to the fatherland and our nation to be the meaning of my life,” Putin said in addressing 3,000 guests in a glittering Kremlin hall.

Despite unprecedented security measures in the centre of Moscow, where streets were closed to traffic and passengers prevented from exiting subway stations, at least 1,000 opposition activists tried to protest along the route Putin’s motorcade took to the Kremlin. Many wore the white ribbons that are a symbol of the anti-Putin protest movement.

The demonstrators, separated into several groups, were met by helmeted riot police. A total of 120 were detained, including opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Rob Ford talked of tearing down house contrary to agent’s comments at hearing on bid to buy parkette

Mayor Rob Ford talked on tape less than two years ago of plans to tear down his house and build a “nice” new one, contrary to his agent’s suggestion Friday to an agency considering Ford’s bid to buy parkland next door.

Ford was represented at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority hearing by Ross Vaughan, who said he is a longtime family friend and the real estate agent for the purchase of their Etobicoke home.

Vaughan said Ford is making the unprecedented bid to buy a 2,600-square-foot grassy parkette, with three trees and a hedge, out of security concerns “for their children, primarily” that arose after he became mayor in fall 2010. Ford plans to erect a new security fence with a “buffer” to his home, he said.

Asked by Toronto Councillor Maria Augimeri if Ford has any plans to tear down and expand his home, Vaughan told the TRCA executive that, based on property values in the upscale area, it would be “very unwise,” to tear down the solidly built bungalow.

More power to the ‘people’s House’ - Changes needs to hold government to account

No one who follows Parliament closely believes that this linchpin of Canadian democracy is an effective, robust and well-functioning institution.

Governments and oppositions alike have openly lamented multiple problems which are often attributed (somewhat ambiguously) to parliamentary ‘dysfunction.’ Our argument is that the most fundamental problem with our democracy is that too much power over Parliament has become concentrated in the hands of Canadian prime ministers. This power makes it difficult, if not impossible at times, for the House of Commons to hold government to account.

Where does this excess power reside? In three places.

First, prime ministers enjoy virtually unchecked access to the Crown’s reserve powers, which include summoning, proroguing and dissolving the House. This means that the prime minister can decide when elections are called, when and for how long the House sits, and even, in some circumstances, whether or not the government has the confidence of the House.

Pull environment from budget bill: Opposition and activists

The federal Conservatives are being targeted by the Official Opposition as well as environment groups gunning for changes to legislation in the government's omnibus budget bill now before Parliament.

A range of groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, launched an ad campaign Monday called "Black Out, Speak Out" that urges Canadians to darken their websites June 4.

A full-page newspaper ad with a black background published Monday reads: "The future of our land, water and climate are at risk . . . and so are the voices of Canadians."

"Silence is not an option."

Activists claim the Tories have declared "war on democracy and the environment" accusing the government of weakening the country's environmental safeguards.

One of most anti-environmental governments in the world

Experts on sustainable development say the majority governing Conservatives made significant strides on conservation and banning toxic substances during their five years of minority rule, but the Tories are now abandoning environmental efforts altogether, and some fear the most recent federal budget’s focus on development over the environment risks further damaging Canada’s international reputation.

“Canada has custody over one of the largest environments in the world. It’s resource rich, and that gives us a special responsibility—one which this government is not exercising,” Maurice Strong told The Hill Times last week. “It’s very discouraging, and we’re going to pay a very heavy price for the policies of this government.”

Mr. Strong has represented Canada internationally in a variety of capacities over the past 50 years, beginning with his tenure as deputy minister for External Aid—now CIDA—in the early 1960s and served as Petro-Canada’s first chair after it was established in 1975. He is credited with convening one of the largest summits of world leaders in history, as secretary general of the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Ottawa should halt its smear campaign against pipeline detractors

Environment Minister Peter Kent’s unsupported accusations of “money laundering” involving foreign and Canadian environmental charities are part of an apparent campaign of the Conservative government to smear and intimidate groups opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Mr. Kent’s accusation in Parliament and media interviews, and the pattern they are a part of, suggest the government is improperly taking sides between the environment and business – trying to discredit those who raise environmental concerns in a public-hearing process mandated under federal law.

This pipeline may well prove a financial boon to Canada, but there are legitimate environmental concerns that need to be heard, including the danger of oil spills in environmentally sensitive waters. The pipeline will take bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., before it is loaded on ships bound for Asia. Business and the environment do not exist on two separate planes, where one matters and the other doesn’t.

After six years in government, Harper is getting sloppy

Stephen Harper’s government is starting to show its age.

The Prime Minister has led the country for six years. He has outlasted 11 of his predecessors, including John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson, R.B. Bennett, Alexander Mackenzie and Paul Martin.

He is still going strong; passing legislation, reshaping national institutions and firmly controlling the political agenda. But a telltale sloppiness is creeping in.

This is the point at which the Prime Minister either renews his government or lets the small mistakes — the ethical lapses, the hyperpartisanship, the unilateral pronouncements, the dubious accounting, the displays of arrogance — turn into costly, corrosive habits.

The problem is correctable. But Harper has taken no action to correct it.

Turning point against austerity: Left makes big gains in Greek elections

Today's general election in Greece has turned out to be a historic turning point in Greek politics, with implications for the whole of Europe.

Combined with the ousting of President Sarkozy in France - and this week's UK local election results and the poor showing for Merkel's Conservatives in German regional elections today - it indicates the political crisis generated by austerity.

Since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, Greek politics has been dominated by two parties: the centre-left PASOK and the centre-right New Democracy. Since 1981, these two parties have consistently scored at least 77 per cent between them in general elections. Yet they have a combined total of around 35 per cent today - an extraordinary collapse.

This is almost entirely due to their role in imposing severe austerity and their culpability in the crisis. The economy dominated the election. The country has been shaken by mass protests and general strikes against the deep cuts imposed on the people.

Hungarian thugs who intimidate Roma -- can they be stopped?

Without meaning to, a representative of the Hungarian Government confessed to a Canadian Parliamentary Committee, on Wednesday, that his government has had a great deal of trouble controlling extreme right "militias" that persecute and intimidate the Hungarian Roma people.

The Hungarian official is Imre Helyes, head of the consular section at the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa, and he was testifying before the Commons Immigration Committee that is considering the new refugee reform, Bill C-31.

Mr. Helyes made that remarkable admission in response to a question from a Conservative member who asked if there was "discrimination against the Roma in Hungary."

Mr. Helyes was visibly ill at ease with the question but, after a fairly long pause, managed to squeeze out an uncomfortable "no" in response.