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.]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bradley Manning treatment in custody concerns MEPs

More than 50 members of the European parliament have signed an open letter to the US government raising concerns about the treatment of Bradley Manning, the US soldier in military detention for allegedly leaking classified US documents to the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks.

The call on the US government comes before a pre-trial hearing – Manning's first appearance in court – which begins on 16 December.

The MEPs said internal investigations into Manning's treatment in custody, which included solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, inspections by officers every five minutes from 5am onwards and removal of his clothes, had been marred by "clear conflicts of interest".

They call for US authorities to grant Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, access to Manning.

Mendez has made repeated requests for access to the military base where Manning is held, all of which have been refused by US authorities.

Why Judge Rakoff Was Right to Block the Citigroup Settlement

On a day when Barney Frank, the feisty Democrat who co-authored the 2009 financial-reform bill, announced that he will be stepping down from Congress, it was fitting that the fallout from the financial crisis of 2007-2008 was back in the headlines. In refusing to accept the $285 million proposed settlement between the Securities and Exchange Commission and Citigroup over the sale of toxic mortgage securities, Judge Jed S. Rakoff, of the U.S. District Court, did the American public a great service.

At issue is not just the $700 million in losses that investors suffered as a result of purchasing a particularly unwholesome credit default obligation (C.D.O.) that Citi put together, marketed, and bet against just as the housing market was collapsing. What is at stake is the government’s overall failure to bring to book Wall Street for its conduct during the credit bubble. More than three years after the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, none of the other Wall Street firms involved in creating and selling subprime securities has received anything more than a slap on the wrists. And so far the Justice Department hasn’t brought criminal charges against anybody.

The Politics of Dissolution

You can’t get much further apart on the socio-economic ladder than Peter Thiel and Ray Kachel. The former is a Silicon Valley billionaire entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and hedge-fund manager, with sharply conservative-libertarian views; the latter is, currently, a homeless man in New York City, with left-wing politics and about two dollars to his name. It was coincidence, not the urge to make an obvious point about inequality in America, that landed my Profiles of Thiel and Kachel in successive issues of the magazine. Yet these men have something to do with each other, something beyond the fact that both made a living, in very different capacities, in Web technology. (Thiel, who is something of a technophobe when it comes to digital devices and social media, co-founded PayPal and helped Facebook and other companies get started; Kachel, whose computer hardware and software became his last source of capital before he went broke, and whose main connection to the world is Twitter, was a journeyman video and audio editor in Seattle.) Or that both are pleasant, thoughtful, unafraid interview subjects, easy to converse with over many hours of talk. Or that they both like sci-fi.

Iraq Veterans Against The War Releases New Statement: The 1 Percent Is Profiting From Our Sacrifices

Unemployed for two years and still recovering from a war injury, Dottie Guy has just about blown through her life savings. While the Iraq veteran qualifies for disability payments, she has no idea when the agency will set a date for her hearing.

"I have no income right now and it's scary," Guy, 29, told the Huffington Post.

The former military policewoman is just one of about 2,000 disgruntled veterans who say they've risked their lives and well-being only to come home to a country that profits from their sacrifices. Iraq Veterans Against The War issued a statement Monday saying that they feel betrayed by the nation's leaders and will continue to join the Occupy Wall Street protests to broadcast their grievances.

"The VA services are abysmal," Guy said. "But yet the corporations who are making all this money from these wars are living high off the hog."

Veterans have found a natural sounding board in the Occupy movement. Faced with surging unemployment and a need for better health services, this vulnerable community has leveraged the protests to help galvanize, educate and empower veterans.

IVAW said that its membership has increased about 10 percent since Marine Corps veteran Scott Olsen was seriously injured at Occupy Oakland in October.

Fannie, Freddie Improperly Foreclosed On Homeowners, Costing Government Billions: Watchdog

WASHINGTON — A government watchdog said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac improperly foreclosed on homeowners and cost the government billions of dollars by not holding major banks to strict underwriting requirements.

The report released Tuesday also said the Federal Housing Finance Agency gave "undue deference" to Fannie and Freddie officials and didn't scrutinize more than $35 million in bonuses and compensation to Fannie and Freddie executives.

FHFA's inspector general had previously released each of the findings on an individual basis. But the semi-annual report to Congress sketched a portrait of abuse at the two mortgage giants that the government failed to stop.

Fannie, Freddie and the FHFA didn't respond to the report. But they have responded to similar allegations in previous reports.

Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million loans. The Bush administration seized control of the mortgage giants in September 2008.

Opposition MPs Try Again To Amend Crime Bill

Opposition MPs are not giving up on their attempts to amend the omnibus crime bill as debate resumed in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act is now at the report stage after the justice and human rights committee finished its hearings last week and dealt with it clause by clause. The NDP and Liberals failed at the committee to make any substantive changes to the controversial piece of legislation, which combines nine previous bills, but they will be trying again this week.

NDP justice critic Jack Harris, Liberal justice critic Irwin Cotler and Green Party MP Elizabeth May proposed 88 amendments to the bill. Most of them involved deleting clauses from Bill C-10. They are limited in what they can propose because amendments at this stage are only eligible for debate if they have not already been dealt with during the committee.

When debate began around 11 a.m. ET, Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled a number of the amendments ineligible for debate because he said they could have been presented at committee or were defeated there. He divided the remaining amendments into five different groups.

The opposition parties weren't the only ones that tried to change the bill, however. The Conservatives had a number of their own proposals. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews had six amendments, all related to measures in the bill that would allow victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators of terrorism and their supporters. All of the government's amendments were deemed ineligible for debate.

PMO says PM has no plans to prorogue Parliament

PARLIAMENT HILL—Prime Minister Stephen Harper has no plans to prorogue Parliament during its winter recess, despite a rush of major bills through the Commons in the past two months, the PMO says.

“The government has no plans to prorogue,” Andrew MacDougall, Mr. Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) associate director of communications, told The Hill Times in response to opposition speculation the government might be planning to reset its Parliamentary agenda in the new year.

“There are too many important pieces of legislation before Parliament left to pass,” Mr. MacDougall said in an email to The Hill Times.

In follow-up questions to the statement Mr. MacDougall sent late Monday night, Mr. MacDougall on Tuesday morning also ruled out a possibility the Commons might adjourn on Dec. 9 for its Christmas break, a week earlier than its scheduled recess on Dec. 19.

Opposition MPs had been hearing rumours about the early holiday break, based in part on the fact that the Senate normally sits for a week longer than the Commons before the winter recess, as well as Parliament’s summer break, in order to complete debate and passage of legislation that has arrived from the Commons. If the Commons sits until Dec. 16, the Senate might have to continue sitting through to Dec. 23.

'Bad, scary' guns amendment shot down by Tories

The bill to end the long-gun registry is heading back to the House without changes after Conservatives shot down an NDP amendment that would have kept sniper rifles registered.

The House public safety committee went clause by clause through the bill and voted to send it back to the House of Commons without changes. It's one of the last steps for the bill before it proceeds to the Senate.

The committee's chair, Kevin Sorenson, will present the report Wednesday.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who has voted in the past to end the registry, said he can't support a bill that will allow more urban assault rifles into society. He pointed to examples of rifles that are not made for hunting.

NDP MP Jack Harris referred to the type of weapon as "bad, scary" guns, which are unrestricted but had been tracked through the long-gun registry. Harris argued they fall outside the realm of prohibited weapons but are still something that should be registered.

Tories weigh cuts to MP budgets in wake of Commons expansion

Sensitive to opposition charges that a new bill adding 30 seats to the House of Commons will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, the Harper government is vowing to find savings by cutting MPs’ office budgets.

“We’ll be taking a look at our own backyard and try to determine how we run Parliament more efficiently,” Dean Del Mastro, the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, told The Globe on Tuesday.

The Liberals have come out against the government’s proposed addition of new seats – 15 to Ontario, six each to Alberta and British Columbia and three to Quebec – saying it would be too costly. They estimate it would cost taxpayers between $14.8-million and $18.2-million a year, plus $11.5-million for each election.

The Grits floated a proposal of their own this month that caps the Commons at its existing 308 seats but redistributes them among the provinces. “Canadians don’t want more MPs,” Quebec Liberal Marc Garneau argued at the time.

Mr. Del Mastro said the cost-cutting exercise will begin once the government’s bill passes into law. There is a push on to get the legislation, which is still before the House, into the Senate and given royal assent before the Christmas break so that ridings can be realigned in time for the 2015 election.

How Paulson Gave Hedge Funds Advance Word

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson stepped off the elevator into the Third Avenue offices of hedge fund Eton Park Capital Management LP in Manhattan. It was July 21, 2008, and market fears were mounting. Four months earlier, Bear Stearns Cos. had sold itself for just $10 a share to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM)

Now, amid tumbling home prices and near-record foreclosures, attention was focused on a new source of contagion: Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac, which together had more than $5 trillion in mortgage-backed securities and other debt outstanding, Bloomberg Markets reports in its January issue.

Paulson had been pushing a plan in Congress to open lines of credit to the two struggling firms and to grant authority for the Treasury Department to buy equity in them. Yet he had told reporters on July 13 that the firms must remain shareholder owned and had testified at a Senate hearing two days later that giving the government new power to intervene made actual intervention improbable.

“If you have a bazooka, and people know you have it, you’re not likely to take it out,” he said.

Occupy Student Debt: Students Urged to Refuse to Pay Off Loans As Schools Hike Tuition

Monday was a day of action for university students on both coasts angered by the rising cost of tuition and the crackdowns on their recent protests. In California, students temporarily shut down a meeting of the University of California Board of Regents to protest a series of tuition hikes and the violent response to protests at UC-Berkeley and UC-Davis. Wary of a massive demonstration, the regents met by conference call from four different campuses but were still forced to switch venues after being confronted by chanting students at three of the four sites. In New York City, about a thousand students marched outside a meeting where City University of New York trustees voted to authorize annual tuition increases through 2015. The protests were the latest in a long-running battle against tuition hikes and education cuts that originated on UC campuses two years ago and quickly spread across the country. We speak with two guests who helped launch the "Occupy Student Debt Campaign" Pledge of Refusal, which asks student signatories to refuse their student loan debt until a number of education reforms are implemented, including free public education. Pamela Brown is a Ph.D student in Sociology at The New School, and Andrew Ross is a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Battlefield America: U.S. Citizens Face Indefinite Military Detention in Defense Bill Before Senate

The Senate is set to vote this week on a Pentagon spending bill that could usher in a radical expansion of indefinite detention under the U.S. government. A provision in the National Defense Authorization Act would authorize the military to jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect — anywhere in the world — without charge or trial. The measure would effectively extend the definition of what is considered the military’s "battlefield" to anywhere in the world, even within the United States. Its authors, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have been campaigning for its passage in a bipartisan effort. But the White House has issued a veto threat, with backing from top officials including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and FBI Director Robert Mueller. “This would be the first time since the McCarthy era that the United States Congress has tried to do this,” says our guest, Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, which has gathered signatures from 26 retired military leaders urging the Senate to vote against the measure, as well as against a separate provision that would repeal the executive order banning torture. “In this case, we’ve seen the administration very eagerly hold people without trial for 10-plus years in military detention, so there’s no reason to believe they would not continue to do that here. So we’re talking about indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens, of lawful U.S. residents, as well as of people abroad.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Kansas Sodomy Law Repeal Sought By LGBT Activists

A Kansas-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy group is calling for the repeal of a law criminalizing "unnatural" sexual activities, including homosexual sex.

As the Associated Press is reporting, the Kansas Equality Coalition notes that homosexual sex is considered a criminal offense under the state's law, even though the U.S. Supreme Court's Lawrence vs. Texas ruling rendered the law essentially unenforceable in 2003. Oral and anal sex are reportedly also classified as "unnatural" under the legislation, although as Maggie Astor notes in the International Business Times, the law was mostly used to target same-sex couples.

"We believe that the current statute, while ultimately unenforceable, is an affront to thousands of law-abiding gay and lesbian Kansans," Thomas Witt, chairman of the Kansas Equality Coalition, is quoted by the Lawrence Journal-World as saying. "This law technically criminalizes our relationships and leaves us open to harassment by unscrupulous authorities who may still make arrests under the provisions of this statute."

As the AP notes, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback created of the Office of the Repealer in January in an effort to get rid of outdated, unreasonable laws and those that conflict with other regulations; state repealer Dennis Taylor, who also serves as secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration, has reportedly received suggestions from citizens not just on the longstanding sodomy law but also on more recent legislation, like the state's indoor smoking ban.

Still, as ThinkProgress is noting, Brownback -- who has endorsed GOP candidate Rick Perry and publicly opposes same-sex marriage -- may be a difficult lawmaker to sway on the issue.

Source: Huff 

Study: Common Herbicide Causes Menstrual Trouble

Yet again, scientists have looked at populations routinely exposed to the widely used herbicide atrazine and found trouble.

The latest: In a study published by Envionmental Research (summarized here), researchers found evidence that atrazine could be causing menstrual irregularities and low estrogen levels in women, even when it appears in drinking water at levels far below the EPA's limit of 3 parts per billion.

The study compared women ag-intensive areas of Illinois, where atrazine has been shown to leach into drinking water from farm fields, were significantly more likely to experience menstrual irregularities and low estrogen levels than women in ag-intensive areas of Vermont, where atrazine use is much lower.

The Vermont/Illinois paper comes on the heels of an analysis of the Agricultural Health Study—an ongoing look at people who regularly apply pesticides and their spouses—that found similar trends among women exposed to atrazine; as well as a 2009 study finding that atrazine levels in drinking water tracked with low-weight birth incidences in Indiana.

How 2008 Radicalized Me

Now that Bloomberg has peeled another layer off the Federal Reserve onion, we know a bit more about just how much money they spent rescuing the banking system in 2008. Matt Yglesias sums up his reaction, and I think he gets it exactly right:
NOT SCANDALOUS — Lending vast sums in a banking panic.

DUBIOUS — These weren't penalty rates.

DEFENSIBLE — Erring on the side of activism.

THE REAL SCANDAL — Abandoning activism for the rest of us: If I had fully understood what the Fed was doing in the fall of 2008 and the winter of 2008-2009, the truth is that I would have defended it all....The real scandal has only emerged with clarity in the subsequent years. Having ensured the basic stability of the banking system, monetary policymakers in America proceeded to forget all about their go-getter attitude and ability to reach deep into the practical and legal toolkit in order to get what they want. We're heading into the winter of 2011, with three years of mass unemployment under our belt and no end in sight. That's not happening because the Fed was too generous with the free money for banks at the height of the crisis. It's because once the acute phase of the banking crisis ended, suddenly we returned to small thinking and small-c conservatism. But it can't be both. If in a time of crisis, the right thing to do is to get "crazy" then there's plenty more crazy stuff the Fed could be doing to boost overall spending in the American economy. Or if the right thing to do is to stay orthodox and ignore the human consequences, then there was no reason not to stay orthodox three years ago and refuse to lend at anything other than a penalty rate.

Recipe for a breach of privacy rights

Canadian judges and politicians have grown too old and out of touch with the reality of today's digital world to be trusted to make sound policy decisions, according to Ontario's Privacy Commissioner.

Speaking at the Privacy & Information Security Congress 2011 conference in Ottawa on Monday, Ann Cavoukian expressed her frustration with recent judicial decisions that she believes trivialize Canadian privacy rights.

She also criticized the federal government's planned "lawful access" legislation - Bill C-50 and Bill C-51 - which Cavoukian believes will amount to a major breach of rights and freedoms.

"We are talking about the expansion of surveillance without judicial authorization. This should scare you," she said.

"It has nothing to do with having something to hide. In a free and democratic society, why does the state have the ability to order the citizen to reveal personal information? There is nothing written anywhere (in law) that says the state can ask for whatever it wants."

Cavoukian said the federal government's proposed legislation could have a profound impact on privacy rights. She has sent a 20-page legal analysis of the legislation, which would make it legal for police forces to snoop on Internet users without requiring a warrant from a judge, to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

After the Tory witch hunt against the CBC, who’ll be next?

The Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, who represents the good people of Edmonton-St. Albert, wants to know how much money is earned by Pastor Mansbridge, Rick Mercer and George whazzisname. Also, such things as how much the CBC spends on liquor and hotels.

Rathgeber tabled questions about the CBC in the House of Commons on Friday, in an effort to use Parliament to get answers. According to interviews Rathgeber has given, inquiring minds among the good people of Edmonton-St. Albert want answers about salaries and perks at the CBC. Apparently it preoccupies them, when they’re not talking about the Oilers. Rathgeber said that reaction to a personal blog post about the CBC had emboldened him to further his inquiries.

In his most recent blog post, written after his CBC comments, Rathgeber announced that he is “troubled” by a decision to fund the Royal Alberta Museum. From the CBC to museums – one wonders where Rathgeber and his Conservative colleagues in government are going? We might want to be alert to that. But, first, back to the CBC.

The CBC has got itself into a pickle over its attempts to block certain Access to Information requests, mainly made by Quebecor, owner of the Sun newspapers and Sun News Network, about how much it spends on this and that.

Why is Norway Estimating $40 Billion for 52 F-35s While Canada Says 65 F-35s Cost Around $14 Billion?

The latest questions in the House of Commons on DND’s F35 purchase are focusing on the differences of costs between Norway’s purchase and Canada’s acquisition of the Joint Strike Fighter.

Norway has put the total cost at around $40 billion for 52 aircraft (although the lowest figure sometimes used is around $27 billion. Norwegian officials acknowledge that while they are highly supportive of the purchase they do not know the actual final cost).

So the question has arisen in the Commons about why is Canada spending $14.7 billion (DND’s estimate for total F35 procurement and 20 years of maintenance) and Norway is spending much more.

“Norway has acknowledged that the true cost of their 52 F-35s will be $40 billion or more,” NDP procurement critic Matthew Kellway said Monday.

He repeated the party’s call to put the next generation fighter project out for open bidding.

The Conservative government won’t be doing that of course. Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino did not answer the question about the discrepancy in the cost that Norway is paying versus what Canada will pay.

Political players calling the tune on DND's move

On Oct. 19, 2010, the Department of Public Works and Government Services planned to hold an event at the old Nortel campus on Carling Avenue to announce that the federal government had agreed to buy the sprawling collection of office buildings and move 10,000 Department of National Defence workers out of downtown.

A set of talking points prepared for the event said: "Consolidating the majority of its NCR (National Capital Region) operations onto the Campus will reduce operational and accommodation costs, strengthen departmental security, and enable the DND/CF to work more efficiently and effectively."

This is likely all true. The government of Canada got a good deal here, picking up 400 acres of land, 12 big buildings containing more than two million square feet of office space for $208 million. It should be cheaper to consolidate DND operations there, moving workers from 48 different locations around the city.

DND thought it had a good news story.

At 5: 50 p.m. on Oct. 18, though, a Public Works official sent out an email to 10 officials: "We have just been advised by our Minister's office that the announcement has been cancelled and will not go forward tomorrow morning as planned."

Tit for tat: NDP wants to see top PMO salaries, expenses

The New Democrats are countering a request by a Conservative MP to see the salaries of top CBC on-air personalities by asking for the same level of disclosure of pay for senior staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, including chief of staff Nigel Wright and communications director Angelo Persichilli.

Conservative Brent Rathgeber last week tabled an order paper question calling on the public broadcaster to reveal how much it pays anchor Peter Mansbridge and comedian Rick Mercer, as well as produce a list of all CBC staff making more than $100,000 annually. The CBC might have an out via the Broadcast Act and it is uncertain whether it will be required to comply with the request.

But it’s hard to see how the Prime Minister’s Office can dodge the NDP’s request to produce the salaries and benefits paid to, among others, former directors of communications Dimitri Soudas, now with the Canadian Olympic Committee, and Kory Teneycke, who now helps run Sun News Network.  The request also asks for hospitality and travel expenses.

The employees named are “exempt staff,” whose salaries are supposed to be pegged to the pay ranges for equivalent positions in the public service. Where exactly they land in those ranges is not known.

Redford government's legislative record: A broken promise a day?

The list of promises broken by Alberta Premier Alison Redford just seems to keep growing.

Indeed, you could argue it grew again late last week with the mysterious disappearance of a reference to not making middle-class and low-income taxpayers pay for big arenas to further enrich billionaires from one of Redford's recent speeches.

We wouldn't have known about this one, of course, until the government handed over the cash to Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz (net worth, $2.4 billion) sometime after the next provincial election had it not been for an embarrassing fumble for some poor sluggo in the Pubic Affairs Bureau, the Progressive Conservative Party's publicly financed in-house advertising agency.

And, theoretically I guess, we won't really know it's a broken promise until the cash is on the billionaire's barrelhead. That interpretation notwithstanding, presumably speechwriter's head is going to have to roll because the line wasn't deleted that explained that building outdoor rinks in Alberta villages and hamlets is a better use of our tax dollars, than "being squandered on superfluous things like pro hockey arenas."

This is sentiment with which most of us can agree, so the only real surprise is that it made it into even an early draft of the speech!

Conservative government proroguing Parliament 'plausible,' say opposition MPs

PARLIAMENT HILL—A government decision to fill the Senate’s sitting agenda from now until possibly the last week before Christmas has fuelled Opposition speculation Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to ensure passage of "promises-made" legislation for the Conservative Party’s base in case the government decides to prorogue Parliament in January.

“I am hearing how they might want to prorogue, start fresh with a new Throne Speech,” NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Man.) told The Hill Times on Monday. “I think there is some substance to it.”

Liberal MP Geoff Regan (Halifax West, N.S.) confirmed he also has been told by at least one Conservative that the government plans to prorogue to lay out a new agenda for the next year and that while the Senate extends its Chamber sittings to a full five days a week through December, the Commons may adjourn on Dec. 9, a week earlier than currently scheduled.

MPs said the scenario is plausible considering the extent to which the government has used time allocation to limit debate on major bills, including a budget implementation bill that will end government subsidies for federal political parties—a blow to the Liberals and New Democrats—another to scrap the federal long-gun registry and another that will end the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly over grain marketing in western Canada. A fourth bill to add 30 seats to the House of Commons, with the majority going to Ontario, is also among those the government wants to pass by Christmas.

Under this PM, the state is everywhere

What does the Grey Cup football game have to do with the Canadian military? Not much, you say. True enough. But chalk up another public-relations triumph for the governing Conservatives. They turned the opening ceremonies of our annual sports classic into a military glorification exercise.

For our part in the NATO Libya campaign, the Defence Minister took bows on the field. A Canadian flag was spread over 40 yards. Cannons boomed.

The blending of sport and the military, with the government as the marching band, is part of the new nationalism the Conservatives are trying to instill. It is another example of how the state, under Stephen Harper’s governance, is becoming all-intrusive.

Conservatism, as defined by Ronald Reagan, was about getting government off the backs of the people. Conservatism, as practised by team Harper, is more akin to an Orwellian opposite. State controls are now at a highpoint in our modern history. There is every indication they will extend further.

The propaganda machine has become mammoth and unrelenting. The parliamentary newspaper The Hill Times recently found there are now no fewer than 1,500 communications staffers on the governing payroll. In the days of the King and St. Laurent governments, there were hardly any. In recent decades, the numbers shot up, but Mr. Harper is outdoing all others, a primary example being his institution and maintenance of a master control system wherein virtually every government communication is filtered through central command.

'Harper Government' Not 'Government Of Canada': Documents Reveal Wording Directive, Contradict PMO

OTTAWA - Federal public servants were trying to understand the wholesale "harperization" of Government of Canada communications six months before a spokesman for the prime minister emphatically denied any change in policy or practice.

New documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act directly contradict published claims by Stephen Harper's chief spokesman that bureaucrats have not been directed to replace the words Government of Canada with "Harper Government" in departmental news releases and backgrounders.

Top former civil servants say the wording change marks a disturbing new trend in the politicization of the bureaucracy — and breaches both communications policy and the civil service ethics policy.

Insiders say ongoing editing skirmishes continue between some government departments with strong leadership and the Privy Council Office, the bureaucracy known as PCO that serves the prime minister.

Budget built on secret funds and failed promises

The greatest government budget in the history of mankind — Toronto’s mayor says so – is a deceitful document built on exaggerations and failed promises.

It proposes to increase taxes and fees, cut municipal services and lay off staff — in direct contravention of what Mayor Rob Ford guaranteed voters a year ago.

After a summer of turmoil — a fiscal crisis created as a pretext to privatize unionized jobs, reduce the size of government and devalue the importance of grants to vulnerable groups and citizens — the proposed cuts are not nearly as draconian as feared.

Alas, the mayor has already extracted his pound of flesh. Make that half a pound. Garbage collection is being privatized, in part. Arts grants will lose 10 per cent funding, though not be eliminated. Transit is being diminished. The workforce is shrinking, though not nearly as fast as the impossible rate Ford promised.

As it turns out, Toronto can pay its bills. The claims of budget Armageddon were inflated to apocalyptic levels to scare city staffers into chopping off their digits and sacrificing our children.

Security agencies should collect race-based stats, says rights commission

OTTAWA—National security agencies should collect race-based and other statistics about their operations in order to track whether they discriminate on the basis of characteristics like race, disability, religious or ethnic origin, says the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

A special report to Parliament by the federal commission calls for mandatory transparency and accountability from the dozen or so agencies that do the bulk of national security work in the post-9/11 era. At a minimum, it says, the RCMP and CSIS should be compelled to report on their actual practices.

Tracking would not only improve the effectiveness of security measures like the screening of travellers, secondary inspections, or compiling no-fly lists, watch lists or other security measures, but it would “bolster public support for new and existing security initiatives,” says the report.

National security agencies go out of their way to insist they do not target anyone as suspicious based on racial or ethnic background. It’s a practice called “racial profiling.”

But they fail to monitor their own practices, according to the report.

“Good policy is not enough,” it says.

Facing $139M surplus, Ford wants to cut $88M in services

Mayor Rob Ford wants to cut $88 million worth of city services next year while squirreling away a $139 million windfall from this year’s unexpectedly high revenues.

Ford unveiled a “responsible” 2012 budget on Monday that doesn’t rely on such uncertain cash injections to balance the books.

Critics accused the mayor of cooking the books to “create a crisis” and push cuts that will inflict needless suffering. But Ford will fail, they predicted, to persuade a majority of councillors to vote them into reality.

Those cuts include closing some swimming and wading pools; eliminating programs for recreation, student nutrition, the arts and HIV prevention; reducing arena hours despite a dire ice-time shortage; extending allowable wait times for ambulance calls; shuttering three homeless shelters; and halting mechanical leaf collection and sidewalk snow plowing for many suburban Torontonians.

The city’s workforce would be cut by 2,300 positions, to 53,252, through attrition and a significant but undetermined number of layoffs.

Herman Cain Affair Allegations Prompt Republicans To Call For His Exit

WASHINGTON -- Herman Cain's rise in the Republican primary polls several months ago was always viewed warily by the GOP establishment. Many believed the longtime businessman was more engaged in his book tour than his presidential bid. And so while the crowds on the campaign trail may have liked what they heard, at some point, the thinking went, the fad would fade.

At this point, it can't fade quickly enough. On Monday, Ginger White, a longtime friend of Cain's, told an Atlanta-based Fox affiliate that they had engaged in a consensual, 13-year-long extramarital affair. Jumping in front of the story, Cain denied the allegation in an interview with CNN before the Fox report aired. But as White becomes the third woman to level accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior at Cain, some inside the GOP tent -- worried about the side effects the "circus" is having on the party at large -- are no longer willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"Cain is irrelevant, and the quicker he gets out of the race the better it will be," said Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican strategist. "My fear is that he marches to the beat of his own drum and he may try to drag it on and deny and deny and deny. And my sense is that will likely be the pattern here. But there is no way he can be the nominee of our party. The quicker he gets out, the better for him and for us."

McGuinty defends $1,500 daily fee for finance adviser

Premier Dalton McGuinty is defending his $1,500-a-day cost-cutting czar as the Progressive Conservatives dial up the pressure for a mandatory public sector wage freeze.

The money paid to former TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond is “eight times the pay of an average worker in this province and nearly 20 times the pay of somebody is making minimum wage,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Monday.

In London, Ont., McGuinty said in this period of slow economic growth it’s important to get “solid and wise advice on how we can manage government costs.”

“We need to find a way to get better value for our tax dollars,” he added after visiting a local business in the city, where his Liberals lost two seats in the Oct. 6 election.

Horwath said she fears Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens will bear the brunt of cuts that Drummond will recommend in his report due in January.

“Why is it that the only people being asked to make sacrifices are those who can least afford them right now?”

New U.S.-Canada border plan raises privacy concerns

Canada's new border action plan will feature a new entry-exit control system that will allow the United States to track everyone coming and leaving Canada by air, land and sea, CTV News has confirmed.

The new, 32-point border action plan will be signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama when the pair meet at the White House in Washington next week.

But despite concerns about privacy stemming from personal information that will be shared with American authorities, the federal government insists there is little to worry about.

"When I go to the United States today, you have to provide your home, your birth date, your passport information, your travel information," said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. "Whenever we look at security, we keep in mind privacy concerns are tremendously important to Canadians, and that's something we feel very strongly about."

But the office of the privacy commissioner has already pointed out that that the federal government has yet to share any details of the new border rules.

Facts, Figures, and Other Minor Details

Shoddy citation habits, distorted data, now par for the course in another wayward column from Margaret Wente.

The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente has been on a tear lately. Her target? Universities, lazy students, feminist professors, and sloppy research. But do Wente’s practices merit a passing grade? In one of several recent articles, she mocked three student “faces” of the Occupy movement. None of the borrowed profiles and quotes was properly attributed, and one individual, “John,” turned out not to be from the Occupy protests at all. His bio and quote came from a U.S. Democratic Party webpage about student loans, an error finally acknowledged by an Editor’s Note.

Wente’s most recent target is the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which she presents as part of a “grievance industry” that must “stretch its definitions of assault and abuse to ridiculous extremes to keep its numbers up.” Wente contrasts the association’s “cooked up” numbers with the declining rates of rape cited in Steven Pinker’s new book. “Pinker’s data come from the U.S. Bureau of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey, and are the best there are,” she writes. This may be true. What Wente fails to recognize, however, is that if the bureau’s data are, indeed, “the best there are,” then her claims fall flat.

The Commons: Convictions without courage

The Scene.“Kyoto is in the past,” Peter Kent intoned today at an announcement about something else. Not that he was confirming his government’s intention to withdraw from it. But not that he was denying it either. “This isn’t the day,” he explained.

Doing stuff is easy. It’s justifying the doing that’s hard. And so Mr. Kent is not yet ready to say for sure that the government is willing to do something about what it now only implies. The correct day for that is apparently scheduled to be a month from now, just before Christmas. But then someone who knew as much went and told the evening news. Only now Mr. Kent is insisting on pretending that didn’t happen. ”I wonʼt comment on a speculative report,” he said this morning.

He will say that the previous Liberal government’s decision to commit to the protocol was “one of the biggest blunders they made.” And the Prime Minister did once dismiss the whole thing as a “socialist scheme.” And the Conservative platform in 2006 didn’t even mention it. And successive governments have now spent more than a decade successfully ignoring it. And the current government has said it won’t extend past next year its commitment to it. But let it not be said that the government is prepared to actually withdraw from it. At least not yet. At least not that Mr. Kent is willing to say.

Not that the government’s unwillingness to announce a decision stops the opposition from lamenting that decision.