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, December 08, 2011

Attawapiskat First Nation must pay Ottawa $1,300 a day to run its finances

OTTAWA—The federal government is forcing the troubled Attawapiskat First Nation to pay a private-sector consultant about $1,300 a day to run its finances — even though the government’s own assessments say the third-party management system is not cost-effective.

Aboriginal Affairs officials told The Canadian Press they have an agreement to pay Jacques Marion of BDO Canada LLP a total of $180,000 to look after the reserve’s accounts from now until June 30.

The money comes from the Attawapiskat First Nation’s budget.

That rate over the course of a year would run up to $300,000 and easily pay for at least one nice, solid house, notes Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit.

“And (Aboriginal Affairs) should pay for this over and above First Nations existing budgets,” he said.

Instead, the band will soon find itself cutting off educational assistants and aides for special-needs children in order to scrape together the money to pay the consultant, said New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, whose northern Ontario riding includes Attawapiskat.

Japan Whale Hunt Funded By Tsunami Disaster Budget

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan is spending 2.3 billion yen ($29 million) from its supplementary budget for tsunami reconstruction to fund the country's annual whaling hunt in the Antarctic Ocean, a fisheries official confirmed Thursday.

Tatsuya Nakaoku, a Fisheries Agency official in charge of whaling, defended the move, saying the funding helps support Japan's whaling industry as a whole, including some whaling towns along the devastated northeastern coast. One ship on the hunt is based in Ishinomaki, a town hit badly by the March 11 tsunami, he said.

The budget request was made to beef up security and maintain the "stable operation" of Japan's research whaling, he said, which has faced increasingly aggressive interference from boats with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Conservationist group Greepeace blasted the funding move, claiming it was siphoning money away from disaster victims.

Richard Cordray Nomination Blocked By Senate Republicans, Obama Hints At Recess Appointment

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked an effort to put someone in charge at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a move that prevents the newly formed agency from supervising some of the same nonbank entities that triggered the financial crisis.

The Senate voted 53 to 45 to reject a procedural motion to begin debate on confirming Richard Cordray as the CFPB director. The motion required 60 votes to pass. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) was the lone Republican to side with Democrats in seeking to begin debate.

Update: 12:20 p.m. -- Moments later, President Barack Obama responded with a veiled threat to install his nominee by recess appointment. Speaking to the press after the vote, he said it makes "absolutely no sense" for Republicans to block Cordray given his credentials and the fact that many of them actually would support him if not for their opposition to the structure of the agency itself.

Asked directly if he would consider a recess appointment of Cordray once the Senate adjourns, Obama said only, "I will not take any options off the table."

Obama Will 'Reject' Attempt to Restart Keystone XL

Last week, we flagged an attempt by Representative Lee Terry of Nebraska to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved within weeks—something the Obama administration has delayed until at least 2013, if the project even survives that long. Terry is crafting a measure that would take the power to approve Keystone XL away from the Obama administration and give it to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency. His bill would also require FERC to approve the pipeline within thirty days.

Terry plans to attach this bill to a big year-end package that would extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. But when asked about Terry’s plan by a reporter yesterday during an appearance at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama said he would reject any package that contains provisions on Keystone XL:
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. I have Keystone questions for both of you. Mr. President, we’ve got some House Republicans who are saying they won’t approve any extension of the payroll tax cut unless you move up this oil pipeline project. Is that a deal you would consider? […]
PRESIDENT OBAMA: First of all, any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut I will reject. So everybody should be on notice.
And the reason is because the payroll tax cut is something that House Republicans, as well as Senate Republicans, should want to do regardless of any other issues. The question is going to be, are they willing to vote against a proposal that ensures that Americans, at a time when the recovery is still fragile, don’t see their taxes go up by $1,000. So it shouldn’t be held hostage for any other issues that they may be concerned about.
Obama’s  threat is quite significant, because the political mechanics had suddenly became dangerous for pipeline opponents. Democrats and the White House are extremely eager to get a payroll tax cut and extended unemployment insurance passed, and Republicans have been pushing hard on Keystone XL in recent weeks—so there was real concern that, in the final horse-trading over the desperately sought economic measures, Democrats might let the Keystone XL provision survive. Obama didn’t explicitly say the word “veto,” but he has no doubt served at least a warning to Congressional leaders not to allow the Keystone provision through.

Source: the Nation 

Monsanto (Still) Denies Superinsect Problem, Despite Evidence

Back in August—as I reported here—something strange began to happen in isolated Iowa corn fields: Otherwise healthy corn plants were falling over, their roots devastated by a ravenous insect called the corn rootworm.

The weird part wasn't pest outbreaks in vast corn fields; farmers know that when you plant a huge amount of land with a single crop, you're also providing a friendly habitat for insects that like to eat that crop. The odd part was that the fields were planted with seed engineered by Monsanto precisely to kill the corn rootworm. Monsanto's product—known as Bt corn—had failed; rootworms were developing resistance to it.

At the time, the EPA—which is responsible for registering pesticide-containing crops like Monsanto's—maintained an icy silence on the matter. But last week, the agency released a report (PDF) that, in calm bureaucratese, rebuked Monsanto for its "inadequate" system for monitoring. It's one of those delectable reports written not by political appointees or higher-ups, but rather by staff scientists reporting what they see. The document offers a fascinating glimpse into the way the agency conducts business with Monsanto.

Alabama Students Limited In Teacher Gifting Under New Law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An Alabama teacher who accepts a Christmas ham or a $25 gift card from a student is breaking Alabama's ethics law. The possible penalty? Up to a year in jail and a $6,000 fine for the teacher who accepts the gift.

The law, which took effect earlier this year and is considered one of the toughest in the country, limits what public officials and employees can receive as gifts to a "de minimis" value, but it doesn't define that amount. With most schools about to get out for the holidays, the State Ethics Commission has been flooded with calls about what students can give.

"The bottom line for me is, our teachers are being forced to make a decision between breaking the law or breaking a child's heart," said Amy O'Neal, a teacher at Pine Crest Elementary School about 30 miles southeast of Birmingham.

In an advisory opinion Wednesday, the Ethics Commission said "hams, turkeys or gift cards with a specific monetary value are not permissible." Items of nominal value, such as homemade cookies, coffee mugs and fruit baskets, are acceptable. The commission didn't give a dollar amount for student-teacher gifts.

Attawapiskat Crisis: Ottawa Offers Evacuation To Troubled Reserve

OTTAWA - The government is prepared to evacuate some residents of a Northern Ontario reserve until better housing can be brought in, the aboriginal affairs minister says.

The other immediate solution to the reserve's housing shortage would be to retrofit a sportsplex and a healing centre as short-term accommodations, John Duncan told Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence in a letter sent Wednesday.

Duncan said an assessment of the community suggests 15 modular homes would address the needs of families currently living in shacks and tents.

Duncan said the manager is prepared to buy the homes immediately so they can be delivered as soon as the winter roads open.

Evacuation or the retrofit are two options for the interim, he said.

Canadian Wheat Board applications a success! Judge rules against the Conservative government

On Dec. 7, 2011, Justice Campbell of the Federal Court issued a declaration that the Minister of Agriculture, Gerry Ritz, acted in breach of his statutory obligation to hold a plebiscite of farmers before abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board's "single desk" mandate for marketing wheat and barley.

Justice Campbell expressed no hesitation in granting a request by the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian Wheat Board that "the Minister's conduct is an affront to the rule of law."

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Council of Canadians, Food Secure Canada, and the ETC Group (the "Interveners") were given public interest standing in the applications for the purpose of addressing important international trade and constitutional questions raised by the Minister's actions. The Court's decision repeats and adopts the Interveners' submissions on these two key points.

Section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act forbids the Minister from introducing legislation that would exclude wheat or barley from the Board's exclusive marketing mandate without first consulting the directors of the Board, and allowing the producers of the grain to vote on any proposed exclusion. Nevertheless, without doing either, the Minister tabled Bill C-18 to abolish the Board's single-desk mandate. The bill also removes another fundamental democratic right farmers enjoyed on the Act, which was to elect directors to represent them on the Board.

Putin accuses U.S. of funding protests, warns of crackdown

MOSCOW—Prime Minister Vladimir Putin strongly criticized U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday, accusing her of encouraging and funding Russians protesting election fraud, and warned of a wider Russian crackdown on dissent.

By describing Russia's parliamentary election as rigged, Putin said Clinton “gave a signal” to his opponents.

“They heard this signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began their active work,” Putin said in televised remarks. He said the United States is spending “hundreds of millions” of dollars to influence Russian politics with the aim of weakening a rival nuclear power.

Putin's tough words show the deep cracks in U.S.-Russian ties despite President Barack Obama's efforts to “reset” relations with the Kremlin. Ahead of the election, President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to deploy missiles to target the U.S. missile shield in Europe if Washington failed to assuage Moscow's concerns about its plans.

Clinton has repeatedly criticized Sunday's parliamentary vote in Russia, saying “Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation.”

Mumia Abu-Jamal Spared Death Penalty After Prosecutors Drop 30-Year Bid for Execution

Philadelphia prosecutors have announced they will no longer seek the death penalty for the imprisoned journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. For decades, Abu-Jamal has argued racism by the trial judge and prosecutors led to his 1982 conviction of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Two years ago, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower judge who set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence after finding jurors were given confusing instructions that encouraged them to choose death rather than a life sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court then ordered the court to re-examine the decision. In April, that ruling was upheld, and prosecutors had to determine whether Abu-Jamal would get a new sentencing hearing in court before a new jury. On Wednesday, Philadelphia prosecutor Seth Williams said he opted for a life sentence rather than face more lengthy appeals. Pennsylvania law now requires Abu-Jamal to be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Gaze Into the Exploding Universe of Dark Money

If Citizens United was the Big Bang of a new era of money in politics, here's the parallel universe it formed: rapidly expanding super-PACs and nebulous 501(c) groups exerting their gravitational pull on federal elections. A group's size in the chart below is based upon all known fundraising or spending since 2010…so keep an eye out for dark matter.


Russia Elections: Vladimir Putin Slams Hillary Rodham Clinton For Supporting Protesters

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin strongly criticized U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday, accusing her of encouraging and funding Russians protesting election fraud, and warned of a wider Russian crackdown on dissent.

By describing Russia's parliamentary election as rigged, Putin said Clinton "gave a signal" to his opponents.

"They heard this signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began their active work," Putin said in televised remarks. He said the United States is spending "hundreds of millions" of dollars to influence Russian politics with the aim of weakening a rival nuclear power.

Putin's tough words show the deep cracks in U.S.-Russian ties despite President Barack Obama's efforts to "reset" relations with the Kremlin. Ahead of the election, President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to deploy missiles to target the U.S. missile shield in Europe if Washington failed to assuage Moscow's concerns about its plans.

Clinton has repeatedly criticized Sunday's parliamentary vote in Russia, saying "Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation."

Transport officials reveal $170M diverted from Green Infrastructure Fund

Nearly 20 per cent of the federal government’s Green Infrastructure Fund has been quietly diverted to such things as oil and gas exploration, a natural gas pipeline and grants to forestry companies, top officials revealed Wednesday.

Testifying before members of the transport committee, Deputy Transport Minister Yaprak Baltacioglu said $617 million of the $1 billion fund has been committed to 17 projects, but $170 million of the fund has been used for things unrelated to green infrastructure.

“$170 million has been allocated to other priorities outside this program — the funds are transferred out,” she explained. “This also includes a reduction of $45 million for the strategic review.”

The remaining money is reserved for projects that are under consideration.

“At this point, it has virtually all been committed,” said John Forster of Infrastructure Canada.

The testimony comes as questions swirl around the government’s Green Infrastructure Fund, a five-year, $1-billion fund created in 2009 to “improve the quality of the environment and lead to a more sustainable economy over the long term.”

Harper’s deal to do a deal

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is promoting the new Beyond the Border deal as an ambitiously “large vision,” the biggest breakthrough in Canada/U.S. affairs since the North American free trade pact. And President Barack Obama found a few words in Washington on Wednesday to hail the “greater convergence” that it will bring to continental security and trade.

But that’s the view from 40,000 feet. Down in the weeds, the deal looks less like the bold Action Plan that Canadians were led to expect to ease America’s chronic 9/11 anxieties and to bolster trade, and more like a cautious work in progress that will be figured out, fought over, and rolled out in pilot projects for years to come. As the perfunctory Obama/Harper meeting indicated, and the documents make plain, it’s a plan to come up with a plan, mostly, with pertinent details to follow.

“We intend for the Beyond the Border Working Group to report (to Harper and Obama) in the coming months,” says one text, “and after a period of consultation, with a joint Plan of Action to realize the goals of this declaration, that would, where appropriate, rely on existing bilateral border-related groups, for implementation.”

How the U.S. blackmailed Canada

Finally, the stars aligned and after a 10-year effort there is consensus with the Americans on what might be done to ease border restrictions. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama announced Wednesday a plan establishing an agenda for improvements to cross-border goods and services traffic. In exchange, Canada will provide the United States with personal information on millions of Canadians and become part of a North American security zone.

Fundamentally, the consensus signals Canada signing on to the American-centric view of the world on security matters. In the process, Canadian security institutions will be more closely integrated with those of the United States.

The Feb. 4, 2011, meeting between Harper and Obama produced a "Declaration," an intent document on "a shared vision for perimeter security and economic competitiveness." This week's meeting produced an "Announcement" on the same subject. It should be emphasized that these are not formal treaties or even formal agreements, although there could be greater formality in the future. They are expressions of hope.

Canada a willing patsy in one-sided border deal

The new Canada-U.S. border deal is a classic of its kind. America gets more say in how Canada handles its affairs. Canada gets — well, Canada gets not much.

The deal announced on Wednesday in Washington by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama will soon see U.S. customs officials operating in Canadian ports and more armed U.S. agents operating on the Canadian side of the border.

Canadian airlines will be required to set up U.S.-style security systems to gather information on travellers entering or leaving Canada — and then pass the information along to the U.S.

The U.S. will be given an effective veto over who enters Canada. In the bureaucratic language of the accord, this is referred to as a “shared responsibility between Canada and the United States concerning those entering the perimeter.”

Canada will be required to give more information about its citizens and residents to the U.S. By 2013, the countries promise to put in place a “systematic and automated biographical information-sharing capability” and by 2014 a “biometric information-sharing capability.”

The two countries will also “coordinate and share resources on how people become radicalized and turn to violence.”

Political honesty a fading value

Has lying become acceptable behaviour for politicians? It's a serious question. Society is, at its core, a network of relationships. Relationships rely on honest communication for survival. If dishonesty and amorality become the norm in politics, than democracy and society are threatened.

And recent behaviour by federal Conservatives raises questions about whether the governing party considers dishonesty normal and nothing to apologize for.

Start with Defence Minister Peter MacKay's use of a military helicopter last year to ferry him from a Newfoundland fishing camp to catch a plane for a government announcement in Ontario.

When MacKay's use of the Cormorant helicopter was reported this year, he maintained the trip was a "rare" chance for him to observe a search and rescue exercise.

"After cancelling previous efforts to demonstrate their search-and-rescue capabilities to Minister MacKay over the course of three years, the opportunity for a simulated search and rescue exercise finally presented itself in July of 2010," a statement from his office said.

One can split hairs about whether MacKay lied. But emails released under freedom of information requests show he didn't tell the truth.

Harper government's mean streak rears head - Opposition, natives are victims of its petty nastiness

If the Harper government has an Achilles heel, it has to be a propensity - on display yet again this week - to be nasty, to repeatedly do what is politically expedient rather than what's correct.

The latest, stark example of such behaviour: Conservatives have been phoning people in Liberal MP Irwin Cotler's Mount Royal riding, suggesting to voters Cotler is leaving politics, and asking if they'd support a Conservative in the riding.

The 61-year-old veteran MP, a one-time federal minister of justice and attorney-general, a Yale University graduate who has taught at Harvard, a respected lawyer and human rights activist, a past president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, says he has no intention of retiring.

That leads to the conclusion the Conservatives' phone campaign is simply a political dirty trick, which is now backfiring due to media exposure.

Federal nastiness was again on display when it was revealed last week that Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands and leader of the Green party, was unable to get accreditation from Ottawa to attend the Durban conference on climate change.

Absurdly, May was accredited through the government of Papua New Guinea, enabling her to attend official meetings in South Africa.

In the RCMP, women not wanted

For Sherry Benson-Podolchuk, the harassment began soon after she arrived at her first RCMP posting in Tisdale, Sask.

It was 1990 and she was 27, the only woman stationed in the Prairie community. She would soon become the victim of a steady stream of sexually laced comments from colleagues, and she was given nicknames that had sexual connotations.

One day, she went into the bathroom and closed the door of her stall. It fell on top of her and split open her head. Some of her fellow officers had thought it would be funny if they removed the screws that kept the door secure. On another occasion, she opened her locker to discover a dead prairie chicken dripping blood all over her belongings.

And on it went throughout much of her career. When she permanently injured her shoulder during a shotgun training exercise in 1994, the force started a medical discharge process. Even though the Mounties accommodated officers who suffered debilitating injuries playing recreational hockey, they weren’t prepared to make room for a woman who’d seriously hurt herself on the job.

Saving for deposit on a home 'will take 31 years'... but in 1993 it only took eight

Millions of families will have to save for more than 30 years to raise the deposit required to get on to the property ladder, a study reveals today.

The report highlights the crippling impact of high property prices and the demand for large deposits on cash-strapped families.

In 1993, a typical family had to save for eight years to raise a deposit for a mortgage to buy a house. Now they have to save for 31 years.

As a result, many have little or no chance of ever being able to get on to the property ladder, says the Resolution Foundation think-tank.

Its report, published today, highlights how families forced to rent instead are paying such extortionate prices that they have less chance of saving for a deposit.

It shows how they are being ripped off by ruthless lettings agents, an industry which is totally unregulated and has only voluntary codes of conduct.

Rents have rocketed to an all-time high in Britain, which means tenants have less chance of being able to afford to save for a deposit.

Harper trading tighter security for new border deal

Stephen Harper is promising to slap stricter security on travelers and goods in Canada’s latest attempt to secure a new border deal with the U.S. -- one that would expedite Canadian trade across an American frontier that has grown congested with anti-terror measures since 9/11.

The prime minister announced during a Wednesday White House visit that Canada plans to track entries and exits as part of a perimeter security pact with the United States, a deal that requires Canadians to march in lockstep with the Americans on threat monitoring.

In return for these security concessions, Barack Obama’s administration is agreeing to ease obstacles to trade plaguing Canadian businesses at the Canada-U.S. border -- a payoff that Mr. Harper is betting will mean increased commerce, jobs and economic growth.

At the same time, Canada and the U.S. are pledging to harmonize regulations in 29 areas from food to health to eliminate minor differences that block trade.

The Conservatives bill the Obama talks as the biggest step forward in Canada-U.S. cooperation since the 1993 NAFTA deal.

How peace vanished from Israeli discourse

The hope of peace has vanished from the sky of our lives and the Palestinians' lives, and Israel bears critical responsibility for this

It happens a lot. A figure once significant in our lives fades away gradually. Not with a slam of the door or a tough fight, but almost imperceptibly, a kind of slow evaporation, until one day we suddenly notice he has completely disappeared.

That's how peace has vanished from our lives. Nobody talks about it anymore; even the negotiations about it, the longest in history, are officially dead - and we didn't even notice. There is no peace, no negotiations, not even a dream. The only context it's mentioned in, if at all, is the awful danger lurking within it. It doesn't occur to anyone that there are also conditions of real peace, with few risks and the promise of another reality - that in peace there is no shooting, for example. Only in war.

Last week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted his detailed answers to the Quartet, failing to elicit even a yawn around here. Jerusalem didn't even bother to respond. This week the prime minister gave his ambiguous speech at Ben-Gurion's grave, and it didn't occur to anybody he was talking about the most forgotten notion in our lives.

Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of "courageous decisions" and said "we are all here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision." He spoke about the founding father "who understood that that decision carried a heavy price, but realized that not making that decision had a heavier price" - and everyone knew what he meant.

Russia's anti-Putin protests grow

Russia's anti-government protest movement has gathered momentum as tens of thousands of people said they were prepared to take to the streets this weekend in the biggest challenge to Vladimir Putin's rule.

With concern inside the Kremlin growing, Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president, met their security council, including the interior and defence ministers, the head of the federal security service (FSB) and the country's foreign intelligence chief, to discuss the situation.

Helicopters hovered in the skies over Moscow, while the police presence on the streets of the Russian capital remained strong following two protests that led to hundreds of people arrested.

The movement was triggered by a disputed parliamentary election result that protesters say wildly overstated the popularity of Putin's United Russia party.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former premier who oversaw the end of the Soviet Union, on Wednesday called on the Russian authorities to annul the election result and hold a new vote. "More and more people are starting to believe that the election results are not fair," he told the Interfax news agency. "I believe that ignoring public opinion discredits the authorities and destabilises the situation."

How Obama's Embrace Turned Teddy Roosevelt Into a Socialist

What was Fox News to do when Barack Obama went to Kansas and delivered a speech that echoed the “New Nationalism” address Teddy Roosevelt used to renew and redefine his political prospects? Obama’s oratory was not quite as radical as that of the former Republican president, but it was close enough is spirit and content to create concerns on the part of Fox commentators that the current president might be tapping into the rich vein of American progressive populism that actually moves the masses.

So the network of economic royalism did the only thing it could.

Fox broke away from Tuesday’s speech right at the point where Obama was most closely following TR’s line, with references to how the former president had declared: “Our country…means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy…of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.” And the recognition by Obama that “today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what [Roosevelt] fought for in his last campaign: an eight-hour work day and a minimum wage for women, insurance for the unemployed and for the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax.”

Obama had the quote right. And he had the history right.

What was Fox to do?

No problem. They dismissed Teddy Roosevelt as a socialist.

Mayor Tin Ear Mocks Occupy Wall Street

I’ve always suspected that Mayor Bloomberg’s handlers keep him in a giant plastic bubble cut off from world events, but last night confirmed my suspicions when the mayor delivered one of the strangest, tone-deaf performances of his political career. While Occupy chapters in nearly two dozen cities participated in direct actions to reclaim foreclosed homes on behalf of needy families, Bloomberg invited an exclusive media pool to dine at Gracie Mansion for his annual holiday press party, and in order to make light of his recent bad publicity.

Bloomberg has been widely criticized for his handling of Occupy Wall Street’s eviction from Zuccotti Park last month in which reporters were denied access to the park, roughly treated by police, and in some cases, threatened by officers. Rosie Gray, a writer for the Village Voice tried to beg her way into gaining access to the plaza. “I’m press!” Gray reportedly exclaimed, to which a female officer replied, “not tonight.”

Josh Harkinson from Mother Jones had a more intimidating encounter with police. When an officer physically dragged him away from the park, Harkinson demanded to know why he couldn’t observe NYPD actions. “Because this is a frozen zone. It’s a police action going on. You could be injured,” the officer replied.

Occupy Wall Street Has a Drone: The Occucopter

It's pretty well-established that Occupy Wall Street is no fan of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, but after one Occupy-friendly videographer test-flew a video-capturing drone he hopes to use to film protests, it looks like they've got something very specific in common. Tim Pool, who operated a widely viewed live feed the day police cracked down on protesters in Zuccotti Park and again during the massive Nov. 17 protest, posted video Tuesday night from his newest reporting tool, which he's calling the Occucopter. It's basically the same device reporters at The Daily have been using since August: A toy helicopter that comes stock with a video camera. It's pretty fun to watch the test flights, and footage of the protests Pool plans to shoot on the Occucopter will likely be dramatic. But so far, the Occupy legal team isn't holding its breath for a groundbreaking new tool to capture evidence of misconduct.

A Russian Awakening?

MOSCOW, Russia -- Shortly after seven on Tuesday evening, at the protest against the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Moscow's central Triumfal'naya Square, about a mile north of the Kremlin, protesters chanted, "Down with Putin!" "Putin Get Out!" "Russia Without Putin!" and, most ominously in a country where the only real leader is a strong leader, "Putin is a Coward!"

Police in riot gear separated the 1,500 or so predominantly young demonstrators from members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, who played drums and maintained an insistent (and unimaginative) chorus of megaphone counter-chants, mostly "Putin Russia!" and "Putin Medvedev!" At times, Nashi's leaders appeared to coordinate their movements with police, with whom they seemed to be on friendly terms.

News of similar rallies in other parts of Moscow filtered quickly through social media and text messages. Within an hour, and more and more young people streamed onto Triumfal'naya from all quarters, shouting new refrains -- "Free elections!" "Count my Vote!" -- that bespoke what had drawn them onto the streets.

Never forgotten - Province marks anniversary of Montreal Massacre

It was a day that was traumatic for Canada and yet it is a day the nation has sworn never to forget — Dec. 6, 1989, the Montreal Massacre.

That day an enraged gunman named Marc Lepine roamed the halls of Montreal’s École Polytechnique shouting “I hate feminists,” and shooting dead 14 women.

The incident infuriated Canadians and in 1991 the anniversary of the shootings was proclaimed to be a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Now, 22 years later, more than 100 people gathered Tuesday at Memorial University’s department of engineering to mark the solemn anniversary.

Ailsa Craig, with MUN’s department of sociology, MCed the event and gave the opening remarks.

“Dec. 6 is a day on our calendars. It’s a day when we mark the loss of 14 young women killed because of their gender — but that was not an isolated event,” Craig told the packed lecture theatre.

“Gender violence is part of the fabric of how we live. It’s in our homes, our schools, our places of work, in the laws that we make and in the laws that are repealed. We need to remember not just that day, but that Dec. 6 was a day just like any other day. In some ways Dec. 6 was ordinary,” she added.

Society, she concluded, must continue to work toward a day when gender-based violence is anything but ordinary.

Religious groups oppose required gay-straight alliances in schools

The religious right in Ontario is taking exception to an Ontario law that will force schools to al-low gay-straight student alliances.

Several representatives from Catholic, Evangelical Christian and Orthodox Jewish communities said they cannot accept legislated sexual tolerance laid out in the province's new anti-bullying law.

"When you are forcing teachers, Christian teachers, Jewish teachers, Muslim teachers to teach things that are contrary to the values that they hold, to teach that there are six genders and that you are not attached to the gender of your anatomy - that may be an offence to many Ontarians," says Charles McVety, president of the Canada Christian College in Toronto. "To force especially Christian classrooms or schools to have homosexual clubs would of course be an affront to their family values. And what does this have to do with bullying? Nothing."

Openly gay Ottawa teenager Jamie Hubley, who suffered from depression, killed himself in October after being bullied. Hubley's parents say the 15-year-old was crushed when students at his high school ripped down posters for a Rainbow Club he was attempting to form. Hubley saw the club as a place for gay students and anyone else who self-identified as an outsider.

Religious freedoms panel drawn largely from western religions

Panellists invited to closed-door consultations on a new Office of Religious Freedom were drawn almost exclusively from western religions, primarily Christianity, according to documents obtained by CBC News.

The six official panellists were invited to help lay out parameters for the proposed office during a half-day meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in October.

Each speaker gave a short address before the floor was opened to questions and discussion from some 100 participants who were also invited.

The official panellists were:
  • Thomas Farr, first director of the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom.
  • Father Raymond De Souza, Roman Catholic priest and columnist.
  • Anne Brandner of the Global Peace Initiative and formerly of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
  • Don Hutchinson, vice-president with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
  • Frank Dimant, C.E.O. of B'nai Brith Canada.
  • Susanne Tamas of the Ba'hai Community of Canada.

Senate in no rush to pass omnibus crime bill

When it comes to the Harper government's omnibus crime legislation, the Senate's sober second thought will carry over into the new year, calling into question the government's previous claim that the bill is urgent and a top priority for the Conservatives.

In an interview with the CBC's Julie Van Dusen on Wednesday, Government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton did not include C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, on her short list of legislation she expects the Senate to pass into law before Christmas.

"The commitment that the government made was to pass the crime bill within 100 sitting days," LeBreton said. "It's sometime in mid-March.

"We fully expect it will be debated in the Senate, and will go to committee, legal and constitutional affairs, and it will be there I expect for quite some time."

European leaders say oilsands cannot escape climate legislation

DURBAN, South Africa — European leaders warned Canadian oilsands producers Wednesday that they should not expect any special exemptions from proposed climate legislation in their parliament designed to reduce pollution from transportation fuels.

Responding to suggestions from Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver that a vote on the proposal was being delayed until January because of internal divisions among member countries, European representatives at an international climate change summit said they were committed to adopting it after a debate.

"Oilsands have to be qualified like any other crude," said Jo Leinen, chairman of the European Parliament's environment committee, following a news conference. "The commission is now reflecting on it and proposing an indicator for oilsands from Alberta."

The existing European proposal incorporates an evaluation of different types of fuels along with their estimated impact on the atmosphere, with oilsands actually considered to be less polluting than oil shale and coal converted to liquid fuel.

Crime bill threatens to undo decades of reform, former justice adviser warns

Harsh federal sentencing policies are propelling the country back to a time of massive prison overcrowding and riots, according to a senior Department of Justice adviser who recently retired, David Daubney.

With a government omnibus crime bill on the verge of becoming law, Mr. Daubney said he felt compelled to issue a warning that federal priorities threaten to undo decades of correctional research and reform.

“Overcrowding is already severe at both the federal and provincial levels,” Mr. Daubney said in an interview. “It’s going to get tougher, and prisons will be more violent places. We may go back to the era of riots in prisons. I’m afraid it is going to get worse before it gets any better.”

The interview with Mr. Daubney, who developed expertise in sentencing policy as a Progressive Conservative MP in the 1980s and joined the Justice Department in 1990, provided a rare glimpse into the backroom mechanics of the Justice bureaucracy.

Mr. Daubney said that, since the mid-2000s, the Justice Department has asked for less and less research to be undertaken and typically ignores recommendations against policies such as mandatory minimum sentences or prison expansion.

The most awkward moment of the 41st Parliament

Sticking to a script has been maligned of late, but sometimes it might actually help things. Case in point: Wednesday.

It started with a point of order from Bloc Québécois MP André Bellavance, who wanted an apology from Jim Hillyer for hand gestures he made during the House vote on Bill C-19, the legislation that effectively ended the gun registry.

Hillyer, some might recall, is the Conservative MP for Lethbridge who was mostly invisible during the election. At the time, according to The Globe and Mail, he earned the name The Man Who Wasn’t There “from a local newspaper after failing to show up at a pair of debates, repeatedly refusing interview requests and declining to speak to a local blogger who used Twitter to track him down while he was door knocking.”

During the vote on C-19 on Nov. 1, Hillyer pointed his fingers in a gun-like fashion and waved them up and down. A video of it was posted Tuesday, the 22nd anniversary of the shootings at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. The gun registry, lest we forget, was established by the Chrétien government as a direct result of that event.

Privacy, civil liberties advocates issue statement of principles on Canada-U.S. perimeter agreement

In advance of today's anticipated Canada- U.S. border deal signing in Washington, D.C., privacy and civil liberties advocates are releasing a 12-point statement of principles (see below) they hope will help guide public and parliamentary debate in the months to come. The joint statement of principles was developed over the past few months and represents basic concerns with the trade-off expected behind the anticipated deal. The organizations listed below are available for comment on their statement as well as the content of the anticipated 32-point Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness action plan.

"Past efforts to harmonize security measures across the border in an effort to ease the flow of goods and trade have suffered from a large democratic deficit and excessive influence from parties with a direct financial interest in continued or improved access to the U.S. market," says the statement. "Not one initiative or recommendation in the border action plan should be implemented or substantially negotiated with the United States prior to an extended public and parliamentary debate in Canada."

The statement is distinct from a core legal principles statement released earlier this week by U.S., Canadian and EU privacy watchdogs.

Scandal's slippery slope

In the era of Conservative minority governance, scandal management operated according to three basic principles: (1) deny, obfuscate, delay, repeat as necessary; (2) nobody cares about this crap except journalists and lefties; and (3) the Liberals were worse. It was nothing if not effective.

The Conservatives successfully faced down everything from the prorogation backlash to the long-form census debacle, Afghan detainee abuse, Helena Guergis's supposed airport meltdown and her husband Rahim Jaffer's Busty Hooker affair, and Bev Oda's "not" of disputed parentage.

None of these issues concerned corruption, at least. The overall impression, correct so far as we know, was of a relatively clean and law-abiding government. And it was certainly true that the Liberals, at the time the only real alternative, offered a less than compelling remedy.

Some commentators have puzzled over the Conservatives' behaviour in majority governance. Instead of mellowing, they seemed to have lunged out of their shackles, clutching a list of grudges. Parliament is more sour than ever.

When it comes to controversy, they seem to be getting bolder. Consider Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan's astonishing defence of a poll, commissioned by his party, which insinuated to voters that Liberal MP Irwin Cotler had stepped down, or was planning to step down, thus leading to a by-election in his Montreal riding.

Normal people would call this "lying." But for Mr. Van Loan, this is a matter of our fundamental freedoms: "To say that one cannot speculate on [Mr. Cotler's] future, that that form of freedom of speech should forever be suppressed, is to me an overreach that is far too great." This bold defence of BS has not gone unnoticed. Former Conservative strategist Bruce Anderson called it "wrong on every level," which is about right.

Tory government using 'authoritarian tactics' to push through Wheat Board, long-gun registry bills, says Mendes

PARLIAMENT HILL—The Conservative government is using “authoritarian tactics” by overriding existing laws to deliver on longstanding promises to the Conservative Party’s base in Western Canada, a leading expert in constitutional law says.

A Federal Court ruling Wednesday found the government’s rush to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s powers without consulting grain growers, as required by the existing Wheat Board Act, is an “affront to the rule of law.”

The dramatic ruling prompted University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes and opposition MPs to link tactics the government is using to end the Wheat Board monopoly with legislation that will end the federal long-gun registry and, contrary to federal record protection laws, destroy its entire database of information on firearms and their owners.

In both cases, the critics said, the Conservatives are using extraordinary overrides in new legislation to do what they could not otherwise do under the limits and restrictions of existing law.

Occupy Our Homes: Far From Wall Street, Protesters Find A New Focus

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Since losing hold of Zuccotti Park skeptics have wondered how Occupy Wall Street would remain focused. On Tuesday, far from the skyscrapers of Manhattan's financial district, protesters gave answer, sharpening focus from a broadly anti-wall street sentiment to take action on the nation's foreclosure crisis.

The new campaign, Occupy Our Homes, teams up with a number of community groups long-focused on housing issues and homelessness. It also comes with a specific agenda: putting homeless families into the millions of homes that have been taken over by banks and sat empty since the housing bubble popped, and helping those families on the verge of foreclosure resist eviction.

In the last three weeks, Occupiers have been struggling to find a new space in Manhattan's heavily-policed financial district to occupy; out in East New York, Brooklyn, there is plenty of free space. The neighborhood where protesters and community activists convened Tuesday afternoon has the highest foreclosure rate in the city -- some 16.8 per 1,000 homes receiving filings last year -- and the streets are packed with foreclosed homes and vacant lots ringed with barbed wire.

Since 2006, more than 4 million American homes have been taken over by banks, according to RealtyTrac, a California-based real estate data firm. A map of foreclosures in East New York on RealtyTrac's website appears as spotted as chicken pox.

David Axelrod: Mitt Romney Is A Martini Party Member Wanting Tea Party Cred

In more direct terms than usual, a top adviser for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign charged former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with being a lifelong member of the country's elite who is concerned principally with serving members of his own class.

David Axelrod, the president's top communications aide, declined to call the potential Republican nominee an "elitist" outright, instead saying that he would let this publication make that determination. But the descriptors he applied to Romney left little doubt about how the Obama campaign has decided to brand its still-likely opponent.

"The Republican Party has split into two parties. You have got the Tea Party and the martini party," Axelrod said, at a briefing of reporters in New York City, sponsored by Bloomberg View. "By orientation, Romney is more of the martini party set. He's spent the last six years banging on the door of the other group trying to win admission, abrogating one fundamental principle after another to try and prove his mettle to them. But they are just not buying."

Jamie Dimon Blasts 'Rich Is Bad' Rhetoric

NEW YORK — Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., is railing against bashing the rich.

Dimon was responding Wednesday to a question at an investor conference about the hostile political environment towards banks.

"Acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and that everyone who is rich is bad – I just don't get it," said Dimon at the conference, which was organized by Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Dimon said he's worked on Wall Street for much of his life and contributed his fair share.

"Most of us wage earners are paying 39.6 percent in taxes and add in another 12 percent in New York state and city taxes and we're paying 50 percent of our income in taxes," Dimon said in defense of his fellow Wall Street bankers.

In his presentation to investors, Dimon warned that investment banking revenue at JPMorgan Chase in the fourth quarter would be flat and that the bank's private equity unit would post a loss. That's because clients and companies have been less active in markets in the fourth quarter, a particularly volatile period because of uncertainty surrounding the European debt crisis.

Dimon said the bank hopes to pay slightly higher dividends and buy back stock next year if regulators allow it. Following the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve, which regulates banks, has to approve the largest banks' plans of raising capital, buying back shares or paying out dividends.

Source: Huff