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.]

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tories relent after opposition parties filibuster on mega-crime bill in House Justice Committee

PARLIAMENT HILL—Stiff government limits on debate in Parliament that NDP MP Martin claims stirred him into cursing on Twitter spread into the Commons Justice Committee Thursday, where the Conservative majority took opposition MPs by surprise with a sudden motion to end detailed study of a controversial mega-crime bill by midnight.

The move prompted Liberal and NDP MPs to mount a filibuster, and as the day wore on to eat up committee time and stave off the Conservative committee closure, mixing allegations that the Conservatives were hijacking democracy with pointed complaints about how the 102-page crime bill, a consolidation of nine separate bills from the last Parliament, will radically transform Canada’s justice system into a punitive, lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key imitation of criminal laws and penal systems that are widely seen as a costly social and economic failure in the United States.

Despite heated exchanges the government move sparked, the two sides worked out a deal late Thursday to complete the final hearings over two days next week. But the opposition continued to insisted  the legislation contains measures that are too important to deal with in one swipe and in one bill.

Balanced Budget Amendment Fails In House Vote

WASHINGTON -- The latest Republican push for a balanced budget amendment that would force massive spending cuts to the country's social safety net died in the House of Representatives Friday, brought down by lawmakers who argued Congress can balance the budget on its own.

Requiring a two-thirds majority to pass under the Constitution, the measure failed 261-165, with several Republicans voting with the majority of Democrats against the amendment.

Analysts had warned that instituting the proposed balanced-budget requirements would likely force cuts of greater that 17 percent within seven years of the amendment's ratification. Such cuts could mean slashing Social Security by $1.2 trillion and Medicare by $750 billion by 2022, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Friday vote was held as part of the compromise to hike the nation's debt limit this past summer -- a deal that also produced the deficit-cutting super committee that now seems deadlocked.

Detroit Bridge Battle Pits City Residents Against Each Other

DETROIT -- The battle for a bridge over the Detroit River has been fierce. One one side of the fight stands a billionaire who does not want to see his monopoly on international freight traffic challenged. On the other is a headstrong governor who does not want to see his favorite infrastructure project killed. The casualties along the way have been the people of Detroit, stuck in the center of a bruising, sometimes racially-charged debate over how to revive the region's economy.

Although a state Senate committee voted down his plan for a new bridge, Gov. Rick Snyder's public pronouncements have indicated the battle may continue to rage for quite some time. Snyder and many of Michigan's leading business interests would like to see a bridge called the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) built across the Detroit River to Canada. The NITC would add a second span not far from the Ambassador Bridge, which is privately owned. Its advocates say the new bridge is crucial to the region's infrastructure and necessary to ease truck traffic congestion on the Ambassador. But thus far their efforts have come to naught as they've run up against the Ambassador's billionaire owner and his political influence.

The future of the metropolitan region's economy is held hostage as the state, and Canada, await a resolution. "We've got a lot of optimism that Detroit could be set on a path to success," said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, a Republican. Building a new bridge to expand freight trucking capacity in the state's largest city wouldn't be a magic bullet for the region's economy, he added, but "the last thing we need are more people avoiding Detroit" because of traffic congestion.

How a big US bank laundered billions from Mexico’s murderous drug gangs

During a 22-month investigation by agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and others, it emerged that the cocaine smugglers had bought the plane with money they had laundered through one of the biggest banks in the United States: Wachovia, now part of the giant Wells Fargo.

The authorities uncovered billions of dollars in wire transfers, traveller’s cheques and cash shipments through Mexican exchanges into Wachovia accounts. Wachovia was put under immediate investigation for failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering programme. Of special significance was that the period concerned began in 2004, which coincided with the first escalation of violence along the US-Mexico border that ignited the current drugs war.

Criminal proceedings were brought against Wachovia, though not against any individual, but the case never came to court. In March 2010, Wachovia settled the biggest action brought under the US bank secrecy act, through the US district court in Miami. Now that the year’s “deferred prosecution” has expired, the bank is in effect in the clear. It paid federal authorities $110m in forfeiture, for allowing transactions later proved to be connected to drug smuggling, and incurred a $50m fine for failing to monitor cash used to ship 22 tons of cocaine.

California's Welfare Families Paid Banks Millions In Fees For Public Assistance

Rodney Robinson, a single father in Los Angeles, needs government help to pay his rent. But getting that help from the state of California involves sharing the money with some of the nation’s largest banks or check cashing services.

The state distributes public assistance through so-called EBT cards, which look and work much like debit cards. But Robinson's neighborhood in South Los Angeles has only three places that allow him to use that card to withdraw enough cash to cover his monthly rent free of charge. He can visit any bank ATM, but that entails charges of as much as four dollars per transaction. A local check cashing chain charges $1.75. Grocery stores will let him withdraw cash, but only after a purchase.

"Those are your options, in this neighborhood anyway," said Robinson, 43, who has resigned himself to surrendering part of his $317-per-month check for lack of other options. "I can either pay the fee, or go buy several packs of gum to get the money and suck up a different kind of waste."

Across much of the nation, administering relief programs such as unemployment benefits and emergency rental assistance has become an increasingly substantial profit center for banks and other financial services firms, according to analysts. Like California, many states have contracted with private companies to distribute these funds. While the contracts have saved states millions of dollars in costs previously incurred for printing and mailing out checks, the agreements often give companies the ability to extract fees from recipients -- some of the nation’s most vulnerable families.

NATO beats the drums of war against Syria and Iran

If you thought the $4-trillion Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan quagmire, and the loss of standing and credibility that goes with it, would bring the declining West to its senses, well, think again.

Even as I write this, drums of war are beating in Israel and across Natodom to "bomb, bomb, bomb" Iran and Syria, and go "free" them with the drones and the missiles of "regime change."

With Libya in ruins, and its oil pledged to NATO multinationals, the screws are now tightening on Iran and Syria. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is meeting in Vienna to discuss its latest report on Iran, while Israel openly threatens to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. And the Arab League (AL) has suspended Syria to force "regime change" in Damascus.

In our "Upside Down" world, as Eduardo Galeano put it, it's the least of paradoxes that Israel is itself a widely proven though undeclared nuclear power, which has not signed the NPT (Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty), of which Iran is a member. Yet Israel, which just tested a long-range missile capable of carrying atomic warheads, is never questioned on its military nuclear activities.

Wall Street Disconnected From Protests It Views As Misguided, Misdirected

NEW YORK (Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan) - It was a telling moment at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

John Paulson, the hedge-fund trader who famously made billions betting on the collapse of the housing market, was threatened by the demonstrators with a march on his Upper East Side home in New York last month. Paulson responded by putting out a press release that described his $28 billion, 120-person fund as an exemplar of the American Dream: "Instead of vilifying our most successful businesses, we should be supporting them and encouraging them to remain in New York City."

Other captains of finance like to portray themselves as humble entrepreneurs. One owner of a multi-billion-dollar hedge fund grumbled in the midst of the financial crisis that he has to worry not only about making trading decisions but also about "all the hassles the come with running a small business."

With U.S. cities moving this week to crack down on Occupy Wall Street encampments - including the one in New York's Zuccotti Park - the staying power of the movement is in question. Whatever its future, it's clear that so far, the Occupiers haven't changed many minds on Wall Street over blame for the country's hard times. The cognitive disconnect between the protesters and the captains of finance is alive and well.

Failure Is Good

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a complete turkey! It’s the supercommittee!       

By next Wednesday, the so-called supercommittee, a bipartisan group of legislators, is supposed to reach an agreement on how to reduce future deficits. Barring an evil miracle — I’ll explain the evil part later — the committee will fail to meet that deadline.

If this news surprises you, you haven’t been paying attention. If it depresses you, cheer up: In this case, failure is good.

Why was the supercommittee doomed to fail? Mainly because the gulf between our two major political parties is so wide. Republicans and Democrats don’t just have different priorities; they live in different intellectual and moral universes.

In Democrat-world, up is up and down is down. Raising taxes increases revenue, and cutting spending while the economy is still depressed reduces employment. But in Republican-world, down is up. The way to increase revenue is to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and slashing government spending is a job-creation strategy. Try getting a leading Republican to admit that the Bush tax cuts increased the deficit or that sharp cuts in government spending (except on the military) would hurt the economic recovery.

Moreover, the parties have sharply different views of what constitutes economic justice.

Meet the Political Reform Group That's Fueled By Dark Money

An upstart political reform group called Americans Elect is looking to blow apart the Democrat/Republican duopoly that dominates American politics. Its imaginative scheme: nominating an independent presidential candidate over the Internet. The group is on the ballot in a half-dozen states, and the national buzz surrounding its initiative is growing—but so too are the questions about who's bankrolling this effort and the security of the outfit's voting procedures.

Americans Elect rose from the ashes of Unity08, a group formed in 2006 to increase access to the electoral system for independent presidential candidates. Via Americans Elect's website, registered voters can sign up as "delegates" and nominate "any American [they] believe can be a great leader." (For reference, the site offers a lengthy list of current political figures.) In April, delegates will winnow the field of candidates to six finalists,  each of whom will then select a running mate from another party (if a finalist decides not to run, he or she can decline). And in June, Americans Elect plans to hold an online convention to decide which candidate will appear on the Americans Elect ballot line.

To become certified as a political party, the group must first collect a certain number of signatures in each state. All told, Americans Elect plans to spend $10 million on this effort. So far the group has been certified in six states, including key swing states Florida and Michigan. Certification is pending in California. That's an encouraging sign for a group hoping to starting an electoral revolution.

15 Tea Party Caucus freshmen rake in $3.5 million in first 9 months in Washington

On her website, Rep. Diane Black asks constituents to join advisory panels in her Tennessee district. "I believe the best ideas to solve our nation's problems will come from people like you," Black writes, "not Washington bureaucrats and special interest groups."

Black is one of the new Republicans who rode a wave of anti-Washington sentiment into town in 2011, a self-identified member of the tea party wing that has been cast as a new kind of conservative-- fiery, unwilling to compromise and determined to downsize the government. But while many say Black and her companions have created a split in the Republican Party, it is not visible among the companies and interest groups that are donating to members of Congress.

A joint analysis by iWatch News and the Center for Responsive Politics has found that the 15 freshmen members of the Tea Party Caucus have embraced many of the same special interests that have supported Republicans for years. The fifteen combined have received over $3,450,000 during the first three quarters of this year from almost 700 different PACs.

It's an impressive haul for a group of newly elected House members. But it shouldn't be surprising that these fresh faces found new friends in Washington.

Rob Ford’s entrenched position on Toronto transit hurts our pocketbooks

At a time of mounting pressure on local leaders to deal with congestion, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s transit strategy is stuck in neutral, if not reverse. A year ago, he took office pledging to build a privately financed subway along Sheppard Avenue, a suburban arterial. But after months of evaluation, his advisers are warning that the plan isn’t realistic and must be significantly scaled back.

Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals had told Mr. Ford that if there’s cash left over from another large transit project, an east-west LRT along the midtown thoroughfare of Eglinton Avenue, he could use it for his subway plan. But Mr. McGuinty earlier this month made it abundantly clear that Queen’s Park won’t transfer those funds to the city until the Eglinton project is complete, circa 2020.

Meanwhile, critics are questioning whether the Eglinton line, known as The Crosstown, can even be built for the amount budgeted by Queen’s Park.

Netanyahu's policies have turned Israel into Iran

I don't know if Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef have their dressy robes and turbans made by the same tailor and milliner, and whether the gold decorations woven into their clothes symbolize some sort of rank in their divine status or are just foppishness. Some say it's both. They have adopted the Ottoman tradition of clerics who vied in their day with the dandyish sultans. In any case, both Khamenei and Yosef have influence on questions of war and peace. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad isn't going to push that button without authorization from Khamanei, just as our prime minister and defense minister make pilgrimages to Our Master and Teacher on the issue of the Iranian threat.

The advice Khamenei gives is within the realm of the secret. Some believe that he will not lightly approve what we fear. As for Rabbi Ovadia, his solution has been cited as the Holy One, Blessed Be He, will thwart them: "Their sword shall enter into their own heart and their bows shall be broken" (Psalms 37:15 ). Interior Minister Eli Yishai, one of the eight decisive votes in the cabinet that will determine whether or not to attack, has declared: "We have no one upon whom to rely except for our Father in Heaven." Information about what our father in heaven thinks is not really in our hands.

About two weeks ago 19 retired Israel Defense Forces generals published a letter to the defense minister and the chief of staff demanding a stop to the continuing harm to the military service of women in the IDF.

How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools

If the national movement to “reform” public education through vouchers, charters and privatization has a laboratory, it is Florida. It was one of the first states to undertake a program of “virtual schools”—charters operated online, with teachers instructing students over the Internet—as well as one of the first to use vouchers to channel taxpayer money to charter schools run by for-profits

But as recently as last year, the radical change envisioned by school reformers still seemed far off, even there. With some of the movement’s cherished ideas on the table, Florida Republicans, once known for championing extreme education laws, seemed to recoil from the fight. SB 2262, a bill to allow the creation of private virtual charters, vastly expanding the Florida Virtual School program, languished and died in committee. Charlie Crist, then the Republican governor, vetoed a bill to eliminate teacher tenure. The move, seen as a political offering to the teachers unions, disheartened privatization reform advocates. At one point, the GOP’s budget proposal even suggested a cut for state aid going to virtual school programs.

Peggy Nash, NDP Leadership Candidate, Says Canada Is Not Normal Under Harper

OTTAWA - NDP leadership hopeful Peggy Nash says Canada is no longer a "normal" country under Prime Minister Stephen Harper's direction.

The Toronto MP describes Harper's Canada as a country of growing inequality, record personal debt, hopelessness among youth and a federal government that continually tells people to expect less.

"I don't think that's normal," Nash told The Canadian Press in a wide-ranging interview Thursday.

"I think that's wrong."

Nash said Canadians have a right to expect economic, social and environmental progress, where people co-operate with each other and the government doesn't pit one group against another.

"I think we can have that kind of normal country and I'm determined that I'm going to lead that."

Nash, one of nine contenders seeking to succeed Jack Layton, who died of cancer in August, declined to peg herself as being on the left, centre or right of her party. But the onetime senior negotiator for the Canadian Auto Workers appeared pleased with a Toronto Star columnist's description of her as a "practical radical."

Labour's coming showdown with Harper

After just six months of a Conservative majority, Canada's labour movement is heading for a showdown with the Harper government. If there were illusions about the ability of the trade union movement to coexist and influence the Conservative government, there are few left today. Attacking unions and reducing their political and economic role has emerged as a central element of the Conservative political strategy. The showdown is coming because social conservatives want a fight with the unions.

Arguably, it's already underway. Harper has intervened in major labour disputes on the side of employers three times in six months. Those actions were followed by the confused, but ominous, ramblings of the federal Labour Minister, Lisa Raitt, who has suggested new Canadian law making "the economy" an essential service, and giving the government the right to intervene in any set of economically important contract negotiations.

Other, less dramatic moves by the Conservatives have reinforced the message that unions have no role in determining economic outcomes. An instructive point was the decision to remove core funding from industry sector councils, perhaps the last major labour market program that recognizes labour, and to redirect labour market funds to business associations. In another slap in the face for unions, the government reversed years of established practice and rejected the CLC's nomination for the position of Employment Insurance Workers' Commissioner, and instead appointed a person not from a CLC union.

Mortgaging the Future

Pension plans that download costs to the employee may provide short-term benefits, but the long-term consequences indicate they are not worth the cost.

Around the globe, pension plans for public-sector workers – like those for workers in the private sector – are under attack.

Most of the public-sector plans are “defined benefit” (DB) pensions, meaning that the payouts are based on a member’s earnings and years of service. In order to pay out the promised benefit, the plan’s sponsor must successfully invest member and employer contributions over a long term. In recent years, turbulent markets have eroded investments, creating a technical shortfall for some single-employer plans. As a result, critics are saying that all such plans are unsustainable. And, they ask, why should public servants get a better plan than the rest of us?

What they don’t seem to realize is that “the rest of us,” meaning private-sector workers, are increasingly not provided with pensions at all. As Moshe Milevsky and Alexandra Macqueen point out in their book Pensionize Your Nest Egg , Statistics Canada figures from 2008 show that 72 per cent of private-sector workers have no registered pension-plan coverage.

Transparency Wanting at Elections Canada

Aside from the very public ruling not to charge Conservative senators, Elections Canada continues to withhold information on more than 2,284 other rulings.

Fair elections are a cornerstone of democracy. But here we are, 144 years after Canada became a democratic country, and no one can tell whether Elections Canada is enforcing the federal election law fairly and properly.

Democracy Watch recently analyzed Elections Canada's enforcement of the Canada Elections Act since 2004. Our analysis reveals that, during this time, Elections Canada has received 2,284 complaints over violations of the act (during, and in between, elections), which it has failed to report on. It has not released details of how it has investigated and ruled on these issues.

In fact, of the more than 2,300 complaints that Elections Canada has received since 2004, it has disclosed the details of the resolution of only 53. Furthermore, it has not disclosed the number of complaints it has received each year in between elections, and there are an additional 1,874 complaints about which only a vague summary has ever been disclosed.

Where Occupy Wall Street must go from here

The tents are gone from Zuccotti Park, though tents, and their attendant grunge, were hardly what Occupy Wall Street was about. The pathologies of the streets that came with urban encampment have been, if not dispelled, at least dispersed. The pathologies of the suites — the day-to-day conduct in America’s boardrooms and largest banks — remain.

What goes on in the suites, much like what went on in the streets, isn’t illegal — at least, not most of it. Consider, for instance, Goldman Sachs’s announcement last month that it was setting aside $10 billion in compensation and bonuses for employees — a move that raised a lot of questions, though none of them on matters of legality. Goldman’s 2011 performance has been less than stellar: The day of its announcement, its stock had fallen 43 percent since the year began; its profits had decreased by 70 percent during that time as well. But compared with Goldman shareholders, its bankers were doing just fine, thank you: Their compensation for the first nine months of this year came to 44 percent of the company’s revenue, financial columnist Nils Pratley calculated, which averaged out to $293,000 for the January-through-September period. And that average factors in Goldman’s lower-paid clericals and assistants.

Conservatives telling constituents I quit, Liberal MP Cotler says

The Conservative Party is engaging in dirty tricks, calling residents of the riding of Mount Royal and telling them there is about to be a byelection, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler charged Wednesday.

Rising on a point of privilege in the House of Commons, Cotler said his office has received calls from a number of constituents in recent days saying they have received calls from a firm saying it was calling on behalf of the Conservative Party and asking if they intend to support the Conservatives in an upcoming byelection because Cotler had stepped down, or was about to step down.

“The very fact that I am standing here in this place, and otherwise discharging my responsibilities, clearly illustrates that there is no vacancy in the electoral district of Mount Royal and thus no pending byelection,” Cotler told the House.

Cotler called on Speaker Andrew Scheer to rule the phone calls constituted a breach of privilege, saying the calls have sown uncertainty in the minds of his constituents and are affecting his ability to do his job as an MP.

Occupy Wall Street November 17: Journalists Arrested, Beaten By Police

As thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters took to the streets on Thursday, journalists once again found themselves a target of police violence and arrests.

Reporters took to Twitter and, in some cases, to television to spread the word of the heavy hand police were using against them. It appeared to be a repeat of a similar scene two days earlier, when journalists were roughed up and arrested as the NYPD forcibly cleared the Occupy Wall Street encampment in lower Manhattan.

Lucy Kafanov, a reporter for the RT television network, said she was hit with a police baton while trying to film the protests. She told another reporter for her network that she had her press credentials clearly visible, but was still struck. She also said that she witnessed another reporter from the IndyMedia network being "slammed against the wall" and arrested.

"It does not seem police are making a distinction between press and protesters," she said. Other journalists reported similar incidents.

Water Pollution Regulations Underestimate Fish Consumption, Endangering Public Health

One fillet of fish a month. That's about how much seafood a Washington State resident eats, according to the assumptions used to set cleanliness standards for the state's abundant rivers, streams, lakes and coastal waters. But many experts say that estimate, which influences the safety of the state's salmon, clams and other edible aquatic life, doesn't jive with reality.

"It's a gross underestimate," says Catherine O'Neill, a law school professor and faculty fellow at the Center for Indian Law and Policy at Seattle University. She said the one-fillet-a-month metric is too low for the general population, and an even worse estimate for the large number of Asian Americans and native tribes in the Pacific Northwest, for whom seafood plays a central dietary role.

"People are recommended to eat more fish than that, irrespective of culture," O'Neill tells The Huffington Post. The American Health Association advises eating the omega-3-rich food at least twice a week.

Keystone XL: Activists Ask What State Department Is Hiding

Federal officials, responding this week to a year-old Freedom of Information Act request filed by environmental activists seeking to shine a light on the State Department's review of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, withheld or redacted portions of emails, meeting notes, agendas and other items, according to copies of the materials provided to reporters. The environmental group Friends of the Earth filed the information request in December of last year, and two earlier batches of documents were delivered without significant redactions in September and October.

The activists also say that unredacted emails in the latest document release provide further evidence supporting their claim that the State Department has been unduly influenced by representatives of TransCanada, the Calgary-based company behind the pipeline proposal. The State Department has vigorously denied those charges.

The redactions in question primarily involve emails and notes relating to meetings held by State Department staff in January and May of this year. In some cases, agenda items for the meetings have been blanked out. In others, the subject lines, the names of file attachments, or substantial passages in the body of emails are obscured.

"These documents fully prove that the State Department is in a self-conscious and active process of covering stuff up," said Damon Moglen, the climate and energy director with Friends of the Earth. "That's not what FOIA calls for."

Police Chiefs Back Gun Registry

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and opponents of the long-gun registry faced off during a committee meeting Thursday where they delivered conflicting views to MPs on the registry's effectiveness.

Two representatives of the CACP, Matthew Torigian, Waterloo Region's chief of police, and Mario Harel from the Gatineau Police Service in Quebec, testified that the registry is a cost-effective tool that is useful for investigations and that it promotes accountability among gun owners. Abolishing it will mean more costly and lengthy investigations, Harel said. The CACP believes the registry strikes a balance between individual rights and society's right to be safe and that the registry has saved lives.

Torigian said his association has given support to the Conservative government in many of its crime-fighting initiatives, including the omnibus crime bill, but not when it comes to abolishing the registry and its data, as Bill C-19 is proposing to do.

In his opening statement at the public safety committee that is studying the bill, Torigian made it clear he isn't happy with how the Conservatives have proceeded.

“Throughout the debate on this long-gun registry, there has been a disturbing attempt to discredit the view of law enforcement chiefs of police and an attempt to create divisions.”

Harper Government Tough On Democracy, Not Crime

QUEBEC - The Quebec government derided the Harper Conservatives for fast-tracking crime legislation Thursday that is bitterly opposed by several provinces as costly and counter-productive.

"This isn't a tough-on-crime measure we're seeing today — it's a tough-on-democracy measure," Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier told reporters.

"Quebec offered its collaboration, the federal government rejected it. Quebec provided 40 years of experience and know-how, the federal government commissioned a poll.

"Quebec proved that Bill C-10 encourages repeat offences and more victims, the federal government doesn't want to hear it."

Fournier said the Tories' decision to invoke closure and ram Bill C-10 through the House of Commons was both unexpected and inappropriate.

He said he will now study all measures available so that Quebec can maintain its own approach to crime-fighting.

Canada Disabled War Veterans: Benefits Were Not Entirely Disclosed, Says Ombudsman

OTTAWA - Some of the country's most severely injured soldiers were not told by Veterans Affairs Canada about all of the benefits and allowances they were eligible for under federal law, Canada's Veteran's Ombudsman says in his annual report.

Guy Parent's office discovered, in the course of investigating an individual complaint, that half of the country's 1,800 veterans who'd been assessed with a 98 per cent disability had never been informed they were eligible for federal payments outside of the veterans system.

In each of the cases, the most severely injured were entitled to an allowance for "exceptional incapacity" under the Pension Act.

Federal bureaucrats were forced by Parent to notify the hundreds of soldiers who'd been left out.

A study carried out last year by the former ombudsman, retired colonel Pat Stogran, found that the very same category of veterans were the ones most penalized by 2006 reforms to the system.

An independent audit found that the lowest ranking soldiers, with the worst wounds and disability, received less under the system. The Conservative government moved to fix that with legislation that passed in the spring of last year.

Some RCMP Harassment Allegations Won't Be Probed

The RCMP complaints commission will not investigate the handling of some of the cases of alleged sexual harassment in the force that were raised in a recent series of CBC News stories because of its limited mandate.

On Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and new RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson announced that they've asked for an investigation by the chair of the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP into claims of sexual harassment at the national police force.

Ian McPhail, the interim chair of the commission, said he is initiating a complaint into the conduct "of those unidentified RCMP members who have been notified, at any time between February 1, 2005, and November 16, 2011, of allegations of harassment by members or employees of the RCMP."

But this means the mandate is limited and the commission won't investigate anything before 2005.

Cpl. Catherine Galliford went public last week claiming she's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after years of sexual harassment since she graduated in 1991.

The Commons: Darkness in the mid-afternoon

Maybe it is just the season—as soon as the clocks are turned back each fall, Ottawa is suddenly made even darker and colder than usual—but the daily insulting of the public’s intelligence seems particularly dreary of late. For sure, it has been worse. And it may yet get worse. But has it ever seemed so witless? Has it ever felt so leaden? Is it just us or is it getting dim in here?

There is much to be said—with expletives and otherwise—about the government’s recent penchant for shutting down debate. But it is surely more than that.

It is, no doubt, certain practicalities: the temporary status of the two opposition leaders, the prolonged nature of certain disagreements or the lack of some tangible new gazebo-based outrage to focus on, for instance. But it is also the collective and universal decision that sound economics, study and evidence are not particularly necessary when formulating public policy. It is the rote demagoguery. It is general neglect. It is smug disregard. It is the willingness of grown men and women in business attire to stand and allow themselves to be used to read scripted banalities and invective into the official record.

It is not all bad, of course.

Today there was very nearly an interesting exchange about the merits of market-based versus government-managed pension funds. Afforded the day to move a motion of their choosing, the Liberals spent their time pursuing a discussion about the accessibility of safe drinking water in Aboriginal communities. And all parties seemed mostly agreed on the general sentiment, even if they apparently couldn’t help but blame each other for the trouble.

Michael Den Tandt: Harper foreign policy flawed by troubled F-35 purchase

Even Stephen Harper’s detractors will acknowledge — after a few libations and with no microphones in view — that the prime minister has generally shown a deft hand in foreign affairs. Indeed, along with economic management, this has become one of Harper’s greatest strengths.

So why, some in and around Ottawa wonder, is the Harper government so dead-set on championing the much-delayed, expensive and controversial F-35 fighter purchase, even as the project takes on ever more ballast?

Day after day in the House of Commons, opposition MPs pose pointed, scathing questions about why the government has “sole-sourced” this estimated $16-billion (including maintenance costs) purchase from U.S. aircraft maker Lockheed Martin, with no competitive tender. Day after day a trio of ministers — up to and including the prime minister himself — deliver wan responses, looking unhappy as they do so.

Polls have shown that a majority of Canadians doubt whether ultra-high-tech new fighters should be a priority. The government’s three stock arguments in their defence — it was the Liberals who launched the program in the late 1990s, our pilots deserve the best, and the industrial spinoffs will be huge — look weak in an era of looming budget cuts.

RCMP, airport security agency breaching Canadians’ privacy rights, watchdog

OTTAWA • The RCMP is breaching privacy law by holding onto the personal information of Canadians who have been convicted of a crime even after they have been pardoned, according to an audit by federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

Even though “people have a right to get on with their lives, information about their past can continue to be shared,” writes Ms. Stoddart in the report released Thursday.

The issue of questionable RCMP record-keeping comes as the Conservatives prepare to shred 10 years worth of records related to the federal long-gun registry — a process made difficult by the fact that duplicates of the records are buried deep within RCMP databases.

“The police always believe it to be in their interest to have as much information about citizens as possible … not only law-abiding gun owners but also individuals who have been cleared of crimes,” said Solomon Friedman, a criminal defence lawyer and frequent commentator on firearms issues.

Ms. Stoddart’s report focuses mainly on the Police Reporting and Occurrence System (PROS), the RCMP’s primary database. It contains records of individuals who have had run-ins with police — including suspects, victims, witnesses and offenders — from the moment an incident is reported to its resolution. About 1.6 million files are processed in the system each year.

Tim Harper: For Conservatives, contrary positions are treasonous


Megan Leslie slipped back north of the 49th parallel under the cover of darkness Wednesday night.

The country was still functioning.

No one slapped cuffs on her at the Ottawa airport.

But to hear the noise from the Conservative side of the House of Commons this week, one would think that the Halifax NDP MP and her colleague from Nickel Belt, Claude Gravelle, were treasonous subversives who should be drawn and quartered at dawn.

Their crime?

They went to Washington to provide a different point of view on the Keystone XL pipeline project and to tell American legislators that, contrary to the cheerleading of Stephen Harper and his cabinet, not every Canadian was a proponent of Alberta’s tar sands.

The absurd reaction from the perpetually angry Conservatives immediately raised the profile of the traitorous duo that otherwise might have flown into Washington and back without anyone noticing.

Occupy Wall Street Two Month Anniversary: Protesters March To NYC Financial District, Plan Day Of Events

NEW YORK — Occupy Wall Street protesters clogged streets and tied up traffic around the U.S. on Thursday to mark two months since the movement's birth and signal they aren't ready to quit, despite the breakup of many of their encampments by police. Hundreds of people were arrested, most of them in New York.

The demonstrations – which took place in cities including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston, Washington and Portland, Ore. – were for the most part peaceful. Most of the arrests were for blocking streets, and the traffic disruptions were brief.

Chanting "All day, all week, shut down Wall Street," more than 1,000 protesters gathered near the New York Stock Exchange and sat down in several intersections. Helmeted police officers broke up some of the gatherings, and operations at the stock market were not disrupted.

As darkness fell, a coalition of unions and progressive groups joined Occupy demonstrators in staging rallies at landmark bridges in several U.S. cities to protest joblessness.

Italy's new govt passes 1st confidence vote

ROME (AP) — Against the backdrop of anti-austerity protesters clashing with riot police, Italy's new premier appealed to Italians to accept sacrifices to save their country from bankruptcy, but pledged economic growth and greater social cohesion in return.

Mario Monti is under enormous pressure to boost growth and bring down Italy's high debt, not only to save Italy from succumbing to the debt crisis but to prevent a catastrophic disintegration of the common euro currency.

"Europe is experiencing the most difficult days since the end of the Second World War," Monti told parliament in his debut address Thursday. "Let's not fool ourselves, honored senators, that the European project can survive if the monetary union fails."

Monti pledged to reform the pension system, re-impose a tax on first homes annulled by Silvio Berlusconi's government, fight tax evasion, streamline civil court proceedings, get more women and youth into the work force, and — in a move aimed at setting an example for ordinary Italians — cutting political costs.

The government will decide "in the coming weeks" what new austerity measures are needed, Monti said.

The 68-year-old economist and university president described three pillars of his strategy: Budgetary rigor, economic growth and social fairness.

The 1% are the very best destroyers of wealth the world has ever seen

Our common treasury in the last 30 years has been captured by industrial psychopaths. That's why we're nearly bankrupt

If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren't responsible. Many of those who are rich today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.

The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves. He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers across eight years. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero. "The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill." Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.

Activist nun who fought Indian mining companies brutally murdered

Sister Valsa John wanted to go home. Living in self-imposed exile hundreds of kilometres away, she pined for the hut in an aboriginal village where she had built a life. She talked about the people she loved there, and the quiet of the nights. Then she added, in a voice both wistful and matter-of-fact: “If I go home, most probably they will kill me.”

They did kill her. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, a mob of 25 or 30 men carrying spears, clubs and axes burst into her house in Pachuwara, a remote village in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. They beat and hacked her to death, a week after she went home.

The “they” Sister Valsa feared were “goons” hired by the mining companies she had helped the community of Pachuwara fight. The “coal mafia” told her on more than one occasion to get out of Pachuwara or they would kill her. She had repeatedly appealed to police for protection after threats on her life.