Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon

A prominent Wall Street analyst predicted this week that not a single top executive at Goldman Sachs will face criminal prosecution for the company’s role in causing the financial meltdown of 2008. “I think there is a genuine sense out there that there are two sets of rules: one for big and powerful institutions that are deemed to be too powerful to fail, and the rest of us, Main Street,” says our guest Gretchen Morgenson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning business reporter who has written extensively on how the U.S. government has failed to prosecute any of the top figures who played a role in the economic crash. Morgenson and Joshua Rosner are co-authors of the new book Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon.

Meet the Millennial Budget

As politicians bicker over the budget, the rhetoric often gravitates towards how spending choices now could pass on a massive debt to future generations. But who is asking younger generations what they want? The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network created a budget written by several thousand millennials that calls for investments in education, health care, infrastructure and green energy, while also reducing the federal debt. In this video, young people ask that their perspective be included in budget decisions that will ultimately affect them the most. They dare politicians to hold the Budget for Millennial America—the only citizen-produced deficit reduction plan—up against any of the other options


1,500 Reasons to End the Afghanistan War

As my colleague George Zornick reports from Congress, in a surprisingly close contest today, the House rejected an amendment sponsored by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) which called for a withdrawal plan from Afghanistan, preferably one that outlines an “aggressive" drawdown of troops. It lost by only eleven votes, 215-204.

Nonetheless, the vote is the strongest yet for McGovern’s exit initiative and sends a united Democratic message to the president and people that momentum may finally be shifting toward some sort of organized withdrawal plan.

As Paul Kawika Martin, the political and policy director of Peace Action, which organized over twenty organizations to support amendments that would speed up bringing troops home from Afghanistan, said today, “Congress is catching up with voters who believe It’s time to transition from extremely expensive and counterproductive Pentagon strategies in Afghanistan to political negotiations and Afghan-led aid and development.”

It's high time. As we approach Memorial Day, the number of US troop deaths in the Afghanistan War now exceeds 1,500. No more troops should die in this extraordinarily expensive war that's not making us safer.

White House, Congressional Leaders Block Open Debate on Undeclared War With Libya

President Obama committed U.S. forces to a military conflict with Libya. He did so without without following the basic dictates of the Constitution, which requires that wars be declared by Congress, or the War Powers Act, which outlines requirements and timelines for cooperating with the House and Senate after a war has begun.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich has raised this issue again and again, pressing for congressional oversight -- sometimes on his own, sometimes in the company of a handful on constitutionally-concerned Democrats and Republicans such as Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

Now, two months into the fight, Kucinich, D-Ohio, is pressing the point; demanding to know when his colleagues are going to apply the congressional oversight that is required by the Constitution and the laws of the land.

Unfortunately, while last week's votes on Libya-related amendments to the Defense Authorization bill suggest that there is a good deal of discomfort in the House with the Libyan mission, Kucinich's attempts to force a debate are being blocked by House leaders.

The House was supposed to hold a debate Wednesday on Congressman Kucinich's proposal to end U.S. involvement in the war in Libya. But the resolution was pulled from the floor calendar in a classic case of dereliction of duty.

Kucinich is not just disappointed. He is bluntly critical of the Obama White House and congressional leaders, who he suggests are avoiding the issue because they know that support for the Libyan project is dwindling.

GOP Obstructionism Reaches New Heights

On May 19th, Senate Republicans successfully filibustered the nomination of Goodwin Liu for the Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit. Under the deal reached by the “Gang of 14” in 2005, senators agreed not to filibuster judicial nominees except under “extraordinary circumstances.” Republicans used that exemption to block Liu’s nomination, even though the Berkeley law professor is widely regarded as one of the sharpest constitutional scholars in the country, earned praise from conservatives like Ken Starr and John Yoo, and was named “unanimously well-qualified,” by the American Bar Association.

The very Republican senators who filibustered Liu’s nomination once decried the tactic. “I would never filibuster any President’s judicial nominee, period,” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in 2005. But under the Obama Administration, Alexander and his ilk have had a change of heart. Their level of obstructionism keeps reaching new heights.
According to a report [pdf] from the Alliance for Justice:
Of the 105 nominations submitted by President Obama during the first two years of his term, only 62—2 Supreme Court justices, plus 16 courts of appeals and 44 district court judges—were confirmed. That is the smallest percentage of judicial confirmations over the first two years of any presidency in American history.
Judicial vacancies increased from 55 to 97 during President Obama’s first two years, whereas under both President’s Bush and Clinton, vacancies declined.
Senate Republicans used every parliamentary tool they could to obstruct and delay President Obama’s nominees, including placing secret holds on each judicial nominee who reached the Senate floor, even those that had the support of Republican home-state senators. They also denied votes on 13 nominees at the end of the 111th Congress who received no Republican opposition in committee. 

WikiLeaks Haiti: The PetroCaribe Files

When René Préval took the oath of Haiti’s presidential office in a ceremony at Haiti’s National Palace on May 14, 2006, he was anxious to allay fears in Washington that he would not be a reliable partner. “He wants to bury once and for all the suspicion in Haiti that the United States is wary of him,” said US Ambassador Janet Sanderson in a March 26, 2006, cable. “He is seeking to enhance his status domestically and internationally with a successful visit to the United States.”

This was so important that Préval “declined invitations to visit France, Cuba, and Venezuela in order to visit Washington first,” Sanderson noted. “Preval has close personal ties to Cuba, having received prostate cancer treatment there, but has stressed to the Embassy that he will manage relations with Cuba and Venezuela solely for the benefit of the Haitian people, and not based on any ideological affinity toward those governments.”

Soon, however, it became clear that managing relations with those US adversaries “solely for the benefit to the Haitian people” would be enough to put Préval in Washington’s bad graces—especially when it came to the sensitive matter of oil.

Immediately after his inauguration ceremony, Préval summoned the press to a room in the National Palace, where he inked a deal with Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel to join Caracas’s Caribbean oil alliance, PetroCaribe. Under the terms of the deal, Haiti would buy oil from Venezuela, paying only 60 percent up front with the remainder payable over twenty-five years at 1 percent interest.


According to the leaked US Embassy cables, Washington and its allies, including Big Oil majors like ExxonMobil and Chevron, maneuvered aggressively behind the scenes to scuttle the PetroCaribe deal.

Citizens United 2.0?

Campaign fundraisers are already at work on the upcoming presidential election—Obama 2012 is soliciting donations, and Republican candidates like Tim Pawlenty are spending more time meeting donors than voters.

Outside groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, which spent $50 million on the recent midterm elections, are also no doubt revving up the money machine. Crossroads and similar groups with benign names like Americans for Job Security, FreedomWorks and, yes, the US Chamber of Commerce will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the presidential race.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizen’s United, which allowed unlimited corporate expenditures on political advocacy efforts, has vastly improved the fundraising abilities of groups like American Crossroads. (Karl Rove has admitted this.) Corporations can funnel unlimited money into an outfit like American Crossroads, and then let it do the dirty work of conceiving, producing and airing advertisements that bash or support a chosen candidate.

What Citizen’s United does not allow the corporation to do, however, is contribute money directly to candidates. That remained illegal—until, perhaps, now. Last week, in a decision that received scant media attention, a Reagan-appointed federal judge in Virginia ruled that campaign finance laws banning corporations from direct contributions to candidates are unconstitutional.

US District Judge James Cacheris extended the logic of Citizen’s United to reach his decision.”For better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech,” he wrote in his fifty-two-page opinion.”Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions within [the law’s] limits, a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing.”

The Bank Lobby Steps Up Its Attack on Elizabeth Warren

On May 24 Elizabeth Warren was back on Capitol Hill testifying before Congress, defending her brainchild, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a key element of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. Warren is a major celebrity in Washington, an Oklahoma-born Harvard law professor who’s done more than anyone since Ralph Nader to put consumer protection on the national agenda. The room was packed with reporters, consumer advocates and lobbyists. GOP Representative Patrick McHenry, who chaired the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, could barely hide his disgust for the CFPB and Warren, accusing her of lying to Congress and frequently interrupting her answers. “In a few short weeks,” McHenry warned ominously, “the bureau will become a powerful instrument in the hands of progressive regulators.”

In part because it’s one of the strongest aspects of Dodd-Frank, the CFPB has become a favorite target of Republican attacks, right up there with George Soros, ACORN and Planned Parenthood. It’s been called “one of the greatest assaults on economic liberty in my lifetime” (Representative Jeb Hensarling) and “the most powerful agency ever created” (Representative Spencer Bachus). The Wall Street Journal opinion page denounced Warren and the bureau three times in one week in March. And the bureau hasn’t even officially launched!

Full Article

Court: No right to resist illegal cop entry into home

INDIANAPOLIS | Overturning a common law dating back to the English Magna Carta of 1215, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Hoosiers have no right to resist unlawful police entry into their homes.

In a 3-2 decision, Justice Steven David writing for the court said if a police officer wants to enter a home for any reason or no reason at all, a homeowner cannot do anything to block the officer's entry.

"We believe ... a right to resist an unlawful police entry into a home is against public policy and is incompatible with modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence," David said. "We also find that allowing resistance unnecessarily escalates the level of violence and therefore the risk of injuries to all parties involved without preventing the arrest."

Full Article

The Toxins in Baby Products (and Almost Everywhere Else)

A dangerous flame retardant known as "Tris" has reappeared in products designed for babies and young children, among them car seats, changing table pads, portable crib mattresses, high chair seats, and nursing pillows. (Tris, once used in children's sleepwear, was removed from these products in the 1970s, after it was identified as a carcinogen and a mutagen, a compound that causes genetic mutation.) Also found in these products, according to the same recent study, which appeared in Environmental Science & Technology, is another flame retardant, pentaBDE. This compound was banned in Europe in 2004, when its U.S. manufacturers voluntarily discontinued it after it was found to be environmentally persistent, bioaccumulative, and to adversely affect thyroid function and neurological development.

Full Article

Conservative Party Needs Multiculturalism 2.0

The 2011 Canadian federal election resulted in stability by giving majority mandate to the Conservatives during this turbulent global political and economic time.

At the same time, it brought forth a tsunami in the political landscape of Canada. Conservatives need not worry about governing, but they can't ignore the significant political disruption trend lurking underneath.

There was insignificant increase in popular votes (1.96%) for Conservative Party and majority (70%) of that increase came from Ontario only.

The Conservatives' loss of 157,000 votes in Quebec cost half of its previously held seats. As the NDP euphoria and disproportionate disillusionment with Bloc Quebecois settles (separatists' agenda still exists) in Quebec over the next four years and hopefully Conservatives don't raise any major ideological/ emotional debate, it would be easy for the Conservatives to regain at least the lost Quebec seats.

Liberals predict a young national leader from Quebec that would further erode NDP's base in Quebec and will also help reclaim more seats nationally. Over next four years, if NDP and Liberals become reasonably organized and Green party gets focused on party building, Conservatives will be in a tough spot despite doing economically well for Canada. There are examples galore around the democratic world that (aggregate) economic performance of a government doesn't guarantee re-election unless a larger part of the electorate remains connected with the government.

What Conservatives need to worry is the vote mob trend and hope that the Green Party in the interim becomes the balancing party to attract socially conscious voters (young and old alike who won't vote Conservatives) away from the NDP.

The Greens have all to gain and nothing to lose (long-term potential bigger threat) from here on in and Liberals will be in rebound mode. The NDP's socialist agenda and their electoral bubble will be exposed over next four years and history of socialist governance around the world is dismal.

The unique element of Canada is a large and ever increasing number of new Canadians. They arrive in Canada looking for a lawful country, political stability and economic opportunity. They loathed the heavy hand of government in their lives in old country. Their children are encouraged to pursue higher education to become doctors, lawyers or engineers. They want to preserve their values and raise their family and create wealth for themselves. New Canadians are Conservatives' natural vote bank and especially when Canada is inching towards becoming a majority minority country.

Historically, engagement with new Canadians has been very superficial. Politicians discuss immigration issues or visit their temples, mosques, gurudwaras and churches and learn a few words of greetings in their native languages and occasionally dress like them for photo ops.

With Majority Government, Harper Has Nothing To Lose

It's Stephen Harper's day.

As Canada's 41st Parliament opens in Ottawa today, the prime minister enjoys the first majority government in seven years.

Without the monkey of a looming election on his back, Harper can reshape the country in his party's image, though he must build bridges to an isolated Quebec.

Much more is at stake for the opposition parties. NDP Leader Jack Layton has to speak for Quebec without alienating his traditional base. The Liberals must fight to remain relevant; the Bloc Quebecois and Green Party must fight to simply survive.

While Canadians adjust to the new reality in Ottawa, all federal parties in the House of Commons will have to shift from the constant political bickering of a minority parliament to the long-term policy-making and political maneuvering of a majority situation.

But with the transformation of Canada's political landscape comes new challenges each of the parties will have to face between now and the next election, scheduled to take place in October 2015.

Do Ontarians really want to see criminals cleaning up their parks?

It worked for Rob Ford. It worked for Stephen Harper. And now, Tim Hudak hopes, it will work for him.

With his promise to bring back forced and unpaid manual labour for prison inmates, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader is going straight for the gut.

It’s not an accident that Mr. Hudak’s most populist policy announcement to date was delivered on the eve of a party convention at which he will unveil his long-awaited platform – his best chance to define himself to voters. He is presenting himself as a man who has little time for the chattering classes, the academics and lawyers and newspaper columnists who will recoil from the spectre of reviving chain gangs, and all the time in the world for the people he describes as “hard-working Ontarians who play by the rules.”

There could be no more visceral evocation of that pitch than the prospect of law-abiding families rubber-necking at criminals from provincial prisons cleaning up their local park, or picking up trash along the highway, or cleaning graffiti off city walls – the main activities that Mr. Hudak said he has in mind. And if the policy merits don’t really add up, that’s somewhat beside the point.

There are good reasons no other province has gone anywhere near what Mr. Hudak is proposing. Unlike other prison work, including what’s offered on a voluntary basis in federal prisons, it would serve no rehabilitative purpose by teaching professional skills. There is little evidence to suggest it would be a deterrent to committing crimes in the first place. The Tories’ claims that it would be revenue neutral, considering the costs of transporting and supervising the prisoners, seem dubious. And they could run into all kinds of problems with contract workers who are currently paid to do some of the tasks they want inmates to do for free.

Full Article

The Prison-Industrial Complex

In the hills east of Sacramento, California, Folsom State Prison stands beside a man-made lake, surrounded by granite walls built by inmate laborers. The gun towers have peaked roofs and Gothic stonework that give the prison the appearance of a medieval fortress, ominous and forbidding. For more than a century Folsom and San Quentin were the end of the line in California's penal system; they were the state's only maximum-security penitentiaries. During the early 1980s, as California's inmate population began to climb, Folsom became dangerously overcrowded. Fights between inmates ended in stabbings six or seven times a week. The poor sight lines within the old cellblocks put correctional officers at enormous risk. From 1984 to 1994 California built eight new maximum-security (Level 4) facilities. The bullet holes in the ceilings of Folsom's cellblocks, left by warning shots, are the last traces of the prison's violent years. Today Folsom is a medium-security (Level 2) facility, filled with the kind of inmates that correctional officers consider "soft." No one has been stabbed to death at Folsom in almost four years. Among its roughly 3,800 inmates are some 500 murderers, 250 child molesters, and an assortment of rapists, armed robbers, drug dealers, burglars, and petty thieves. The cells in Housing Unit 1 are stacked five stories high, like boxes in a vast warehouse; glimpses of hands and arms and faces, of flickering TV screens, are visible between the steel bars. Folsom now houses almost twice as many inmates as it was designed to hold. The machine shop at the prison, run by inmates, manufactures steel frames for double bunks—and triple bunks—in addition to license plates.

Less than a quarter mile from the old prison is the California State Prison at Sacramento, known as "New Folsom," which houses about 3,000 Level 4 inmates. They are the real hard cases: violent predators, gang members, prisoners unable to "program" well at other facilities, unable to obey the rules. New Folsom does not have granite walls. It has a "death-wire electrified fence," set between two ordinary chain-link fences, that administers a lethal dose of 5,100 volts at the slightest touch. The architecture of New Folsom is stark and futuristic. The buildings have smooth gray concrete façades, unadorned except for narrow slits for cell windows. Approximately a third of the inmates are serving life sentences; more than a thousand have committed at least one murder, nearly 500 have committed armed robbery, and nearly 200 have committed assault with a deadly weapon.

Inmates were placed in New Folsom while it was still under construction. The prison was badly overcrowded even before it was finished, in 1987. It has at times housed more than 300 inmates in its gymnasiums. New Folsom—like old Folsom, and like the rest of the California prison system—now operates at roughly double its intended capacity. Over the past twenty years the State of California has built twenty-one new prisons, added thousands of cells to existing facilities, and increased its inmate population eightfold. Nonviolent offenders have been responsible for most of that increase. The number of drug offenders imprisoned in the state today is more than twice the number of inmates who were imprisoned for all crimes in 1978. California now has the biggest prison system in the Western industrialized world, a system 40 percent bigger than the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The state holds more inmates in its jails and prisons than do France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the Netherlands combined. The California Department of Corrections predicts that at the current rate of expansion, barring a court order that forces a release of prisoners, it will run out of room eighteen months from now. Simply to remain at double capacity the state will need to open at least one new prison a year, every year, for the foreseeable future.

Full Article

A Meaner Canada: 'Junk Politics' and the Crime Bill

The omnibus crime bill won't make us any safer, but it could make Canada meaner.

Canada’s new Parliament is poised to reshape Canada’s criminal justice system and, in significant ways, Canada itself. Within 100 sitting days of its resumption Parliament will pass an omnibus “tough on criminals” bill that represents the biggest change to our justice system in recent memory. But these changes are coming with disturbingly little controversy or opposition. They are not part of some so-called hidden agenda. This is what most or at least many Canadians voted for and, among those who did not, few seem much worried. Political opposition has been muted. Who wants to be seen as soft on crime, soft on criminals, concerned about inmates? Whether through our active support or our indifferent silence we are all participating in a watershed moment for Canada without so much as a tough conversation. And it matters; it matters for our safety and it matters for the kind of country we are becoming. Surely one key test of any society is how we treat the most vulnerable and, even more particularly, the most despised. Justice policies offer a glimpse into the soul of a nation.

Before getting to the substance, let me admit that a very significant part of my public service career was spent in the justice sector, in what was then the Ministry of the Solicitor General (now Public Safety), the Justice Department and the National Parole Board. Let me add that in all the time I worked on these issues I never met an official, elected or unelected, who was “soft on crime”, not ever, not once. We had of course many debates, many disagreements, but without exception those charged with policy and practice cared about victims and their families, wanted to prevent crime when they could and reduce its economic and human costs when they could not. Policies and practice were guided by three imperatives: public safety – what does the evidence tell us about what works to make our homes and streets safe; freedom – how to ensure a measured response that protects our civil liberties and constrains the state and holds it accountable when our freedom is at stake; and justice – what is a just, that is, proportionate and humane punishment, when a citizen is found guilty of a crime. These are difficult questions and can rub up against each other but, on balance, we have done pretty well. Of course the system must adapt to changing times and new knowledge, but rates of crime and violence have been falling for about three decades. That does not permit complacency but nor does it suggest a need for a fundamental change of direction.

So, where are we now headed? And why?

As in any omnibus legislation, the bill contains some good things, some bad things, some very bad things, and some things that need clarification. And all of this deserves debate. The National Post did a pretty thorough and balanced review of the elements which I won’t try to reproduce here. But the direction of these proposals, on top of legislation passed in the previous session, is clear: more focus on punishment, greater use of prison as a penalty, increased police powers, and fewer protections of our privacy and civil liberties. Mandatory minimum sentences will increase prison time not only for sexual predators but for those convicted of growing a few marijuana plants. Even as police discretion is increased, the discretion of judges will be further constrained, making it harder for them to fit the penalty to the circumstances, to address aggravating and mitigating factors. House arrest will be off-limits even for some property offences. Young Offenders provisions will be toughened up. Pardons will be more difficult to get. Surveillance of our internet activity will be easier and without warrant, and preventive detention of those we fear might commit terrorist acts will continue with the process to determine its use to be secret and therefore outside public scrutiny.

Full Article

Health Care Reform: A Matter of Life and Death

My wife passed away after a six-year-long battle against two things: a very aggressive form of breast cancer, and the Canadian medical system. The first battle is now over: We lost. The second battle will continue as I fight on her behalf, and on behalf of patients like her.

I wish to thank OHIP and all the doctors – Canadian, American, and Chinese – who helped treat her. Nevertheless, my goal in this article is to inform people that our medical system has major problems. I have no statistical data, political bias, or medical education. I will not use any second-hand information to support my argument. Everything I write is based on my personal experiences with different medical institutions and systems around the world: the Mayo Clinic, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the University of Maryland Medical Center, and medical facilities in Buffalo, Detroit, Arizona, Beijing, and Hong Kong.

When Canadians encounter a major health problem, like cancer, our current medical system has the potential to become an insurmountable obstacle standing between our disease and the most advanced treatments. Sometimes, this is a matter of life and death. In my wife's case, it was that, and more: It was the difference between seeing our daughter grow up to be six years old – or only three.

Full Article

The Ball is in Harper's Court

Two Supreme Court of Canada judges from Ontario, Justices Ian Binnie and Louise Charron, are retiring this summer. By virtue of mandatory retirement at age 75, another three judges – Justices Louis LeBel and Morris Fish from Quebec, and Justice Marshall Rothstein from Manitoba – must retire by the end of 2015. This gives Prime Minister Stephen Harper a chance to replace more than half of the court by the time his majority government comes to an end in four years.

Legion are the reasons for concern as to what Harper could do with this power. His use of the power to appoint (as well as the power not to reappoint and to dismiss) outside of the judicial arena has often borne the marks of his will to control, his commitment to partisan agendas, and his ends-justifies-the-means approach to ethics. The stage has been set by powerful cabinet minister Jason Kenney, who, prior to the federal election, criticized Federal Court judges for interpreting the law differently from the government in certain cases. Nominating two Tories to the Senate, after they had already resigned from the Senate to run (unsuccessfully) for Parliament in the election, is also worth noting.

Full Article

The army will open new bases overseas

Call it imperialism ultra-lite: Bases in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe would be mostly used for emergencies.

The Canadian Forces are planning to open seven military bases around the world to assist them with missions that are increasingly global in nature. So far, deals have been struck to open bases in Jamaica and Germany, and negotiations are ongoing with Kuwait, while the Forces have their sights set on Senegal, Kenya, Singapore, and South Korea as well. The Kuwait base would be used to help supply troops in Afghanistan during the upcoming three-year training mission. Most of the bases would not have a permanent Canadian presence, but would be used in case natural disasters or armed conflicts arise nearby.


Tories to add more seats in Commons for Ontario, B.C., Alberta

The Conservative government will announce plans in Friday’s Throne Speech to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons in time for the 2015 election so that Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta voters receive the representation they deserve.

Seat redistribution is the third element of a Conservative package of reforms – the others include electing senators to fixed terms and abolishing public subsidies for parties – aimed at reshaping the political landscape at the federal level.

Together, they aim to make Parliament more democratically accountable – while also, not coincidentally, benefiting both Ontario and the West as well as the Conservative Party itself.

The government wants the complete package passed into law within a year, an ambitious agenda but possible now that Prime Minister Stephen Harper commands majorities in both the House of Commons and Senate.

Full Article

Harper: Conservatives are ‘Canada’s party’

OTTAWA—A buoyant Prime Minister Stephen Harper, fresh off a majority election win, returned to Parliament Hill Wednesday declaring that the “Conservative party is Canada’s party.”

Welcoming the new crop of Tory MPs, Harper said their victories helped the party win a “third mandate, our biggest strongest mandate, a majority mandate.”

“I really don’t get tired of using that word,” Harper said, as he addressed his 166-member caucus.

With Parliament set to resume Thursday — a month after the election — Harper said he was making good on his election pledge to hit the ground running.

“Even as a majority government — especially as a majority government — we must keep working to earn the trust of our fellow citizens,” Harper said.

“We must continue practicing the lessons of the past five years, holding to our principles but also listening, caring and adapting,” he said.

Full Article

Speaker’s job comes with impressive perks

OTTAWA — It may be the best job in Canadian politics.

On Thursday, eight members of the new, 41st Parliament of Canada will be vying for the job of Commons Speaker.

The winner has large shoes to fill — Peter Milliken, the last Speaker, held the job for 10 years, through four Parliaments (majority and minorities) and three prime ministers.


An annual salary of $233,847 — that’s $75,000 more than the average MP makes.

A country estate, known as The Farm, sitting on 1.74 hectares of rural splendour in the Gatineau Hills. It’s Mackenzie King’s former home of Kingsmere, and has been the official residence for the Speaker since 1955. It comes with a housekeeper, gardeners and other staff, and is the site of a huge, annual party for denizens of Parliament Hill.

A private apartment within Centre Block, just behind the House of Commons, and two private dining rooms, one of which is large enough to manage a sit-down dinner for roughly 50 people.

An office budget of $1,062,801, which includes hospitality expenses of $170,048.

Lots of foreign travel, visiting other parliaments and counterparts abroad, as well as hosting duties at home for all kinds of dignitaries and celebrities who visit Canada.

Full Article

Obama Gives Key Agriculture Post to Monsanto Man

Today, President Obama announced that he will recess appoint Islam A. Siddiqui to the position of Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Siddiqui is a pesticide lobbyist and Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America, an agribusiness lobbying group that represents Monsanto.

Following is a letter sent by 98 organizations to U.S. Senators in opposition to Siddiqui's appointment, and a fact sheet about him.

Dear Senator:

The following 98 organizations are writing you to express our opposition to the nomination of Islam Siddiqui as Chief Agriculture Negotiator at the office of the United States Trade Representative.  Our organizations— representing family farmers, farmworkers, fishers and sustainable agriculture, environmental, consumer, anti-hunger and other advocacy groups—urge you to reject Dr. Siddiqui’s appointment when it comes up for a floor vote, despite the Senate Finance Committee's favorable report of his nomination on December 23, 2009.

Siddiqui’s record at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and his role as a former registered lobbyist for CropLife America (whose members include Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Dow), has revealed him to consistently favor agribusinesses’ interests over the interests of consumers, the environment and public health (see attached fact sheet). We believe Siddiqui’s nomination severely weakens the Obama Administration’s credibility in promoting healthier and more sustainable local food systems here at home. His appointment would also send an unfortunate signal to the rest of the world that the United States plans to continue down the failed path of high-input and energy-intensive industrial agriculture by promoting toxic pesticides, inappropriate seed biotechnologies and unfair trade agreements on nations that do not want and can least afford them.

The United States urgently needs a trade negotiator who understands that current trade agreements work neither for farmers nor the world’s hungry. With farmers here and abroad struggling to respond to water scarcity and increasingly volatile growing conditions, we need a resilient and restorative model of agriculture that adapts to and mitigates climate change and that moves us towards energy-efficient farming.

The most comprehensive analysis of global agriculture to date, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) states unequivocally that “business as usual is not an option.” We need a new, sustainable model of biodiverse, ecologically-based agriculture that regenerates soil health, sequesters carbon, feeds communities, protects farmworkers and puts profits back in the hands of family farmers and rural communities. Siddiqui’s track record shows that he favors none of these solutions.

We call on the Senate to reject Islam Siddiqui’s nomination and reorient trade policy to serve the interests of family farmers, farmworkers, consumers and the planet.


[List of 98 organizations]

Full Article

Complainants retain high-profile lawyer in fight against Ford

The two Toronto residents who have pressed for a compliance audit of Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign spending have raised the legal stakes, recruiting prominent public law litigator Robert Centa, a veteran of the 2002 Toronto computer leasing inquiry, to provide pro bono advice as the dispute over election expenses moves into the courts.

Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler and Max Reed approached Mr. Centa about taking on the case after Mr. Ford’s lawyer, Thomas Barlow, appealed a May 13 decision by council’s compliance audit committee to move ahead with a review of the campaign’s books.

Mr. Centa is a partner with Paliare Roland LLP, and was a member of a team of lawyers from the firm that represented the city during the so-called Bellamy inquiry, which probed the links between lobbyists, some city bureaucrats, a computer leasing firm and former budget chair Tom Jakobek. More recently, Mr. Centa served as assistant commission counsel for the 2007 Goudge inquiry into pediatric forensic pathology, which focused on the findings of Charles Smith.

“It’s an important case,” he said, lauding Mr. Barlow’s expertise. “We think the interests of justice are best served when both sides have good counsel.”

The two men have questioned more than $77,000 in campaign expenses paid by Doug Ford Holdings, as well as other costs for a kick-off event incurred before Mr. Ford registered his candidacy. None of the allegations have been proven and the mayor has said he complied with the rules.

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Pre-pay policy explored to stop ‘gas and dash’ incidents

British Columbia is doing it. Police chiefs in Alberta want to do it. And now, Ontario’s exploring it.

Making it mandatory for drivers to pay before filling up is one option the Ontario government could use in an effort to curb “gas-and-dash” incidents.

One such incident May 19 resulted in the death of Mississauga gas station attendant Hashem Atifeh Rad, who was killed while trying to stop a fleeing motorist.

“We were aware of and deeply concerned about what happened in this instance,” said Greg Dennis, spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, adding the province is exploring all of its options.

“To say exactly what we’re going to do would be a bit premature since this just happened, but we do have an interest in protecting workers. We would approach this one step at a time, in discussions with the various stakeholders to consider what would work best in Ontario.”

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Tories are fundraising pros, figures show

OTTAWA—Federal Conservatives have raised more money since 2004 than their three federal political rivals combined — a fundraising feat that promises to give Stephen Harper a vital edge once he scraps public subsidies of political parties.

Monday’s budget will set the clock ticking on a phase-out of the $2-per-vote subsidy of federal political parties by 2015.

While Harper stands on principle in making the move, a Star analysis of party contributions reveals he can comfortably turn off the funding tap, confident that his own supporters will keep party coffers filled.

For the last seven years, the Conservatives have far outpaced the other parties when it comes to keeping the war chest stocked, raising more money from more supporters than their political challengers.

Since 2004, the Tories have raised $138.1 million, more than double the Liberals’ $54.6 million. The NDP pulled in $36.3 million and the Green Party got $7.9 million in donations.

But the true success of the Conservatives’ fundraising efforts lies in their grassroots support. During this time period, they got 895,971 contributions — more than three times the 296,592 contributions received by the Liberals.

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Citizens urge review judge to get to bottom of G20

Tommy Taylor had one impassioned plea for John Morden, the retired judge leading the Toronto Police Services Board’s independent civilian review of the G20: “Please help me feel safe in this city again.”

Taylor was among a diverse group of citizens who spoke Wednesday night at Metro Hall at the first of three public hearings for the review, which is examining issues surrounding police actions at the G20 summit.

About 50 people attended, and those who spoke included protesters and non-protesters, business owners, academics and some who were not even in town during the summit.

What came across most clearly was that many wounds left on the city that weekend remain unhealed.

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Fearing Passage, House GOP Postpones Vote to Halt Libya Bombing

House Republicans have postponed a vote on a measure to end the U.S. role in the bombing of Libya over fears the resolution would pass. The proposal from Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio cites the Obama administration’s apparent violation of the 1973 War Powers Act, which requires congressional approval for military action after 60 days. In a statement, Kucinich said, "I am disappointed that the President and leadership feel the need to buy even more time to shore up support for the war in Libya. It’s not surprising that some are now wondering if a preliminary vote count…came out in favor of defending the Constitution."