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, January 31, 2012

Opposition accuses Harper of putting prisons before seniors

The opposition sharpened its attacks on Stephen Harper Tuesday, accusing the Prime Minister of denying baby boomers future pension benefits, hiding his real agenda and having his priorities so skewed he favours prisons and fighter jets over Canadian seniors.

It was heated Tuesday in Question Period as the pension issue dominated for the second consecutive day.

“If you’re born in 1955 or you’re born in 1956 or you’re born in 1957 ... there isn’t a soul out there who knows exactly how they’re going to be taken care of by this Conservative government,” charged Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae. “You are deep-sixing benefits for people who thought they were going to get them.”

The Prime Minister wasn’t immune to trading barbs, however, firing back at Mr. Rae and his record as NDP premier in Ontario during the recession in the 1980s. He dared Mr. Rae to compare his record of taking care of Ontarians with the Conservative government’s record of taking care of Canadians during this recession.

A firestorm over the pension issue erupted last week after the Prime Minister told the World Economic Forum that Canada is looking to reform its Old Age Security program because changing demographics will make it unsustainable. Although he provided no details, there was immediate speculation the government would raise the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. But the Prime Minister has promised that no senior collecting OAS now will be affected by reforms.

Canadians divided over Ottawa’s pro-Israel stand, survey shows

Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, currently visiting Israel and the Palestinian Territories, can take some comfort from a new public opinion survey on Canadian attitudes toward the Middle East.

Almost half of Canadians surveyed (48 per cent) say they believe the federal government’s policy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “strikes the right balance,” according to a new Focus Canada survey conducted by the Environics Research Group.

The policy of the government, since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, has been to take a more overtly pro-Israeli position than previous governments. And this is very much the position borne this week by the two Canadian ministers. Mr. Baird has made a point of telling just about every Israeli audience that “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.”

Not everyone agrees. Almost a quarter of Canadians (23 per cent) say the government is “too pro-Israel,” while just 3 per cent say the government’s policy is “too pro-Palestinian.” The proportion of people who say they are unable to offer a clear opinion on the matter increased this year to 27 per cent (from 23 per cent).

Environics says the number of Canadians who believe the government is too pro-Israeli rose in the Prairie provinces, as well as among older Canadians, those with higher socio-economic status and among NDP supporters. Overall, the view is strongest among Quebeckers.

Dalton McGuinty slams Electro-Motive over steep wage cuts

Premier Dalton McGuinty has taken the rare step of wading into a bitter labour dispute, publicly rebuking a U.S.-based locomotive maker that locked out 460 London workers for rejecting pay cuts of 50 per cent.

The dispute that began Jan. 1 at Electro-Motive Canada is a sharp break with the generally “fair and balanced and responsible and respectful” pattern of labour relations in Ontario, he said Tuesday.

“We have the case of an employer here which is clearly not meeting Ontario’s legitimate and recent expectations,” McGuinty told a business group in London, where his Liberal party lost two of four seats in the Oct. 6 election.

He called on Electro-Motive to “come to the table and demonstrate some flexibility,” but acknowledged he has not personally contacted company officials.

Electro-Motive Canada is owned by industrial giant Caterpillar, which last month reported annual profits rose 83 per cent to a record $4.9 billion.

Oil Spills Happen

Canada has one of the best backyards on the planet. Our Boreal Forest is the largest intact forest in the world and spans 1.3 billion acres. In addition to providing a carbon sink for CO2 emissions, the Boreal is home to many species of wolves, caribou, and bears, as well as a major source of fresh water for North America. Canada's backyard includes British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest, one of the last intact temperate rainforests left on the planet with cedar trees over 1,000 years old. Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline threatens both of them.

The geography the proposed route would take begins in Bruderheim, Alberta, travelling west through the Boreal Forest to Kitimat B.C. where the oil would be transported onto super-tankers (the size of large shopping malls) that would have to carefully navigate through the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest to get to open water. Along its journey the extracted tar sands oil would cross rocky mountain terrain prone to landslides as well as over 1,000 rivers and streams, and habitats for many different species, all of which would be devastated by a spill.

The likelihood of a spill along the route is high enough that it can be considered inevitable. The National Energy Board estimates that for every 1,000 km of pipeline, a spill happens on average every 16 years (the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline is 1,172 km), and considering that the Northern Gateway Pipeline would be shipping bitumen, a more corrosive substance than conventional oil, the likelihood of a spill is even greater.

A spill along the route would be catastrophic to the many sensitive ecological areas the pipeline crosses, but even before there is a spill there would great impact upon the local wildlife. The construction of the pipeline would fragment the woodland caribou habitat, making it harder for their already endangered populations to survive. Woodland caribou are found mainly in intact forests untouched by human development that offers shelter from predators and are richer in food sources than younger forests.

Harper's Looming Health Care Fiasco

In a speech given this past weekend in Vancouver, Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae took aim at Stephen Harper's approach to Canadian federalism, citing the issue of health care as one example in which Harper's Conservative government has adopted a non-collaborative approach.

Rae's comments are timely, particularly as our country's health care system is at a vital crossroads.

Harper's government recently announced that it would unilaterally set the levels of federal-provincial health care transfers through 2024. Supporters of this policy hold that it puts the messy debate over funding aside and allows for the issue of health care reform to be addressed more centrally -- all while respecting the constitutional jurisdictions of both the federal and provincial governments.

Critics -- and I am one of them -- counter with two important facts:

First, the unilateral offer promises increases in federal funding that are unsustainable. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's plan allows for the automatic six per cent annual increase in size of the transfer to continue for three years beyond the end of the current federal-provincial health accord in 2014.

This offer is in line with the Harper government's promise not to reduce transfers to individuals and to the provinces in order to get Canada's fiscal house in order. The result is that it is going to take longer for the feds to balance the books while the overall debt of both Ottawa and the provinces will continue to climb. The Chrétien-Martin war on the deficit was won very quickly (taking only three budgets, 1995-97) in part due to sizable reductions in the size of transfers to the provinces.

The Republicans’ 1972

After its disastrous convention in Chicago in the summer of 1968, which combined the worst old-style backroom dealing with bloody riots in the streets, the Democratic Party set up a commission to find a fairer, more equitable way of choosing delegates to the 1972 convention. The Reform Commission, as it was called, was stocked with and staffed by many of the party’s future leaders, and it met on November 18, 1969, to vote on a new set of rules. After intense debate, the Commission voted, thirteen to seven, to impose a quota system on the selection of delegates, so that blacks, women, and young people would be picked “in reasonable relationship to the group’s presence in the population of the states.” The Commission’s chairman was Senator George McGovern, of South Dakota.

McGovern went on to seek the Party’s nomination in 1972 as an insurgent candidate, with passionate grassroots support behind him. He defeated all the establishment choices—Senators Hubert Humphrey, of Minnesota, Edmund Muskie, of Maine, “Scoop” Jackson, of Washington—with the most diverse set of convention delegates in American history. In the general election, President Nixon crushed McGovern by the widest popular-vote margin in American history.

Theodore White, author of the “Making of the President” series, described the Democrats’ adoption of quotas as a decisive moment in the 1972 campaign: “It touched the roots of American culture, and the campaign of 1972 was to become one of those events in American history which can be described as cultural watersheds as well as political happenings. For many liberals, the experience was to be heartbreaking. The beautiful Liberal Idea of the previous half-century had grown old and hardened into a Liberal Theology which terrified millions of its old clients.”

The Lizza List: Florida’s Nine Best Newtisms

On Sunday, I was standing near the full bar set up in the parking lot at a Newt Gingrich rally in the enormous central Florida retirement community known as The Villages when another reporter and I imagined what life would be like if Newt Gingrich won the Presidency. We agreed that while it might be bad for civilization, it would be very good for journalism.

Gingrich is not a great Presidential candidate, but he’s quite a good political wordsmith. He’s especially fun to listen to when he’s feeling maligned by powerful forces—like the Romney campaign and its allies, who have buried Gingrich by about five to one in advertising spending here.

Here are nine of the best Newtisms from the Florida primary campaign.

1. “I’m a little bit tired of being lectured about respecting every … religion on the planet, I would like him [Romney] to respect our religion.”
2. “We nominated a moderate for president in 1996 and he lost, badly. We nominated a moderate for president in 2008 and he lost, badly. If we nominate a Massachusetts liberal, I don’t see how he defends ‘Romneycare’ as being different from ‘Obamacare.’ I don’t see how he defends his gun control as being different, his pro-abortion position as being different, or for that matter his tax increases being different.”
3. “I thought to myself, what a pathetic situation to be running for the president of the United States with nothing positive to say for yourself and nothing available, a big idea, a big vision, a big future, and all you’ve got is to tear your opponents down so they get to be smaller than you are.”
4. “The conservative movement is not going to sit back and say, ‘Oh yes, let’s let Wall Street and Mitt Romney buy the election.’ So you’re going to see a real grassroots fight. It will be people power vs. Goldman Sachs and Mitt Romney.”
5. “I’d like to have an American on the moon before the Chinese get there.”
6. “I want to see us move from one [space] launch occasionally to six or seven launches a day.”
7. “It will be an American campaign open to every American who prefers a paycheck to food stamps, who prefers the Declaration of Independence to Saul Alinsky and who prefers a strong national security to trying to appease our enemies.”
8. “As your nominee, I will not accept debates in the fall in which the reporters are the moderators. We don’t need to have a second Obama person at the debate.”
9. “Romney cut off kosher food to elderly Jews on Medicare.”

Original Article
Source: new yorker 
Author: Ryan Lizza 

Water bills rise by average of 5.7%

Consumers in England and Wales will pay an average of 5.7%, or about £20 more, for their water bills in 2012-13 following charge increases announced by the economic regulator of the water and sewerage industry, Ofwat.

But Southern Water, which is installing meters in all its customers' homes after Kent, Hampshire and Sussex were designated areas of "water stress", will increase prices by an average of 8.2% or £31, and Bristol Water is raising prices by 8.8%.

South East, a water-only company that operates in the same counties as Southern and is also installing universal water meters, is increasing prices by 4.6%, or £9.

But customers of South West will face the highest bills, with the company estimating an average charge of £543, a rise of 4.7% or £24 on 2011-12.

The rises, which are based on a rise in the retail price index in November 2011 of 5.2%, will mean an average annual bill of £376 throughout the UK. A spokesperson for Ofwat said prices would vary from customer to customer if their water was metered, or if non-metered, depending on the rateable value of their home.

In 2009 the regulator set the size of "real" rises in charges for the years 2010-2015, with the aim of keeping average bills almost in line with inflation for another three years. Ofwat says this is around 10% less than the rise asked for by water companies.

Regina Finn, the Ofwat chief executive officer, said: "We understand that any bill rise is unwelcome, particularly in tough economic times. Inflation feeds through into water bills, and this is driving these rises. We will make sure customers get value for money."

But the Consumer Council for Water said higher-than-anticipated inflation figures for the past two years meant customers had ended up paying more than they might have expected.

Dame Yve Buckland, the chair of the CCW, said: "In the current economic climate, many customers are struggling with rising household bills and the level of water debt is growing. Companies need to tell their customers very clearly what they are getting for their money and to help customers who are having difficulty paying their bill.

"Anyone struggling to pay their water bill should contact their company immediately. They can usually offer more flexible payment options, such as weekly or monthly payment plans. In some cases they may also be able to help through special assistance funds, or schemes to help eligible customers reduce their water bills."

Original Article
Source: Guardian  
Author: Jill Insley  

U.S. Intel: Iran Willing To Attack on American Soil

American intelligence officials believe that Iran might be willing to conduct attacks inside the United States. That was the big take-away from the prepared testimony Director of National Intelligence James Clapper delivered to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

The Washington Post explains that the concerns arose after the alleged plot by the Islamic Republic to assassinate the Saudi ambassador while he was in Washington came to light last year. According to Clapper, that incident "shows that some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime."

Clapper added: "We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against U.S. or allied interests overseas."

As the Post explains, up until now, the United States had been cautious about publicly stating exactly how high up they thought the alleged plot went in the Iranian government. Clapper's testimony was the first time that Khamenei has been mentioned by name in connection to the alleged plot.

Iran was of chief concern at the annual assessment of threats to U.S. security. Tensions have risen between the two countries in recent months, as Iran faces oil sanctions from the West, and the West contends with the possibility of Iran possessing technology to build a nuclear weapon.

Also discussed as a major threat were increased spying capabilities—including of the cyber variety— of China, Russia, and Iran, Reuters notes.

Original Article
Source: slatest 
Author: Abby Ohlheiser 

Richard Cordray Boycott By Senate Republicans Fizzles

WASHINGTON -- A Republican boycott of the first official Senate testimony of President Obama's consumer finance watchdog fizzled Tuesday, as only half the GOP members skipped Richard Cordray's appearance out of pique over his recess appointment.

Republican senators had vowed to block any nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but Obama went around them, putting Cordray in the job with a controversial recess appointment while senators were away for the Christmas vacation. They had been holding only "pro forma" sessions solely to prevent such appointments.

Some on the GOP side had hoped for a complete boycott, but four members of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs broke ranks.

Some Democrats seemed entertained that the boycott failed to materialize.

"I can't help but note the fact that we had a healthy attendance in committee this morning," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "That strikes me as a good thing, but also an admission that continuing to hold this nomination hostage until we agree to gut the bureau that we just passed ... means that my colleagues have dialed down some of their opposition."

AFL-CIO Super PAC, Workers' Voices, Raises Almost Four Million Dollars

WASHINGTON -- A super PAC affiliated with the labor federation AFL-CIO will announce on Tuesday that it has raised $3.7 million. It currently has $3 million of that amount on hand.

The funds raised by the group, Workers' Voices, falls short of the massive amounts of money that have been accumulated (and spent) by super PACs allied with the presidential candidates. But for the purposes originally outlined by the 11-million strong union federation, it will serve an important function.

This past summer, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka began outfitting his political operation with a super PAC for the purposes of funding a multi-cycle, issue advocacy and get-out-the-vote effort.

"What we are now focused on is doing a couple of things differently," Trumka told The Huffington Post in late August. "In the past, we would build our structure six to eight months before the election. Now we're not going to do that. We're going to focus our resources on building a structure that has total fidelity towards America's working people, both union and non-union working people. We'll do it 12 months a year, so they'll be able to transition from electoral politics, to advocacy, to accountability with no effort. And it will continue to build greater strength for workers after the election and in between elections."

Jeb Bush Lobbied On Behalf Of Infamous Medicare Swindler, Says Former HHS Secretary

WASHINGTON -- Jeb Bush personally lobbied the secretary of health and human services while his father was vice president on behalf of a hospital executive who would later be accused of defrauding the government of hundreds of millions of Medicare dollars, The Huffington Post has confirmed.

Miguel Recarey, head of International Medical Centers (IMC), also paid Bush $75,000 in the mid-1980s, money that Bush acknowledges receiving but says was tendered for real estate consultation.

With the GOP presidential campaign now focused on Tuesday's Florida primary, attention has turned to Jeb Bush, the popular former Florida governor, as observers analyze his every move for signs of a possible endorsement -- or wonder whether Bush himself will wind up the nominee after a brokered political convention.

In 1992, as his father, President George H.W. Bush, ran for reelection, Jeb Bush denied having reached out to HHS Secretary Margaret Heckler on Recarey's behalf, a denial he maintains through a spokeswoman to this day. Bush said that he only spoke to a lower-level HHS official to ask that Recarey be given a "fair hearing" with regard to his application to renew a waiver that allowed IMC to receive more than 50 percent of its revenue from Medicare. (The waiver had been granted as part of an HMO pilot project that was set to expire. The renewal was ultimately not granted.)

But now former Secretary Heckler herself, in an interview with HuffPost, has confirmed that Jeb Bush lobbied her, that she was in favor of renewing the waiver (although she left office before doing so) and that his input played a major role in her thinking.

Occupy Cracks Down on Cameras As Secrecy Replaces Transparency

One of the ways Occupy Wall Street has spread its message so broadly is through live streaming video, but after a well-known live-stream operator got accosted on Sunday, it's starting to look like some Occupy protesters are becoming pretty touchy about who controls that live feed. After Sunday's dust-up, one of the movement's best-known documenters now finds himself branded a "snitch" and receiving what he sees as threats. The changing relationship between the movement and the guy dedicated to portraying it reflects the movement's own change from a radically transparent "model community" -- in which members advocate for change by living it as they did in Zuccotti Park -- to a much more secretive network of activists who plan direct actions.

On Sunday Tim Pool, a live-streamer who gained fame for exhaustively documenting the movement's biggest actions in New York, had his camera knocked out of his hand by a masked person while filming a protest march, an incident he described in a Pastebin statement. Later, the Occupy Wall Street Twitter stream said he was trying to get a protester arrested. Now, Occupy organizers say Pool's betrayed them by capturing protesters when they didn't want to be filmed, and breaking solidarity with Occupy Wall Street by not turning off his cameras when asked. Pool, for his part, presents himself as an independent journalist and not an occupier, saying he never claimed to be part of the movement and should only respect his subjects' requests in the way normal codes of journalistic ethics require.

Despite his claim that he's not participant in the Occupy movement, Pool has occasionally acted like one since he arrived from Chicago and first started broadcasting in mid-September, living and eating with protesters in Zuccotti Park. Back in September, Pool's live-stream The Other 99 seemed very much a part of Occupy, though he stresses it was funded independently by donations, as is his current channel, Timcast. When he broadcast pretty much every minute of the big protests on Nov. 15 and Nov. 17, he was portrayed as the voice of Occupy in Time magazine and Fast Company.

Canadian Air Travel Regulations Over Gender And Appearance Spark Concern Among Transgender Rights Advocates

A number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates and media outlets are expressing concern over recent Canadian air travel regulations which they feel exclude transgender passengers from flights.

Among the first to draw attention to the regulation was blogger Christin Scarlett Milloy, who points to one specific passage which states that "an air carrier shall not transport a passenger if…the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents."

As Milloy mentioned, "It is important to note that these regulations are not actually a piece of legislation, which would have had to pass through readings and votes in the House and Senate (which is probably why it went unnoticed until now). Rather, the Identity Screening Regulations are a set of rules implemented unilaterally by the Ministry of Transportation, as part of Canada’s so-called Passenger Protect, which is essentially the Canadian Federal Government’s equivalent to the U.S.'s 'no-fly' list."

Though it is uncertain how many passengers have actually been affected by the regulations -- which Transport Canada says have been in place as interim since August 2010 -- a number of high-profile voices have nonetheless criticized the terminology. "While some will inevitably defend this move on grounds of 'security,' it is important to understand what is being required here," activist Jane Fae wrote in Pink News. "This makes the Canadian regulation looks all the more like a seriously retrograde –- and spiteful –- step."

Harper's Davos speech, fiscal profligacy and economic growth

The Prime Minister's speech at Davos was, I would bet, written by Stephen Harper himself. It bore the stamp of his long-standing contempt for the European welfare state.

He all but said that the Europeans had brought the crisis on themselves through trying to live beyond their fiscal means:

"As I look around the world, as I look particularly at developed countries, I ask whether the creation of economic growth, and therefore jobs, really is the number 1 policy priority everywhere?

"Or is it the case, that in the developed world, too many of us have, in fact, become complacent about our prosperity, taking our wealth as a given, assuming it is somehow the natural order of things, leaving us instead to focus primarily on our services and entitlements?

"Is it a coincidence that as the veil falls on the financial crisis, it reveals beneath it, not just too much bank debt, but too much sovereign debt, too much general willingness to have standards and benefits beyond our ability or even willingness to pay for them.

Anonymous And The War Over The Internet (Part II)

This is the second part of a two-part series on Anonymous, the amorphous Internet group that has emerged as a force in global affairs. In the first part, we track Anonymous' transition from pranks to politics. In this installment, we learn about its war on the government. You can read part one of the series here.

If Anonymous spans the moral range between the idealistic revolutionary and the nihilistic imp, Phoenix stands all the way at the idealistic end. His base of operations is a network of chat rooms called AnonOps, which birthed many of the overtly political attacks that have made Anonymous a front-page story during the last two years.

In the early days, anons were mostly self-proclaimed jerks who joked around on the website 4chan and played mean-spirited pranks on people for the hell of it. But in 2008, a prank on Scientology turned into a semi-serious protest movement, and some anons found themselves taking on the traditional roles of activists -- organizing demonstrations, printing up fliers. By 2010, when Phoenix saw a news program about how anons had tracked down and harassed some woman who'd tossed a kitten into a Dumpster without noticing the overhead surveillance camera, Anonymous had begun to attract people who saw themselves as the good guys. Like many other anons who showed up around then, Phoenix came armed with an arsenal of political opinions. He said he'd been fascinated by politics since he was a kid, having grown up in a country deeply colored by its history of rebellion against the British Empire.

Alberta and N.W.T. First Nations sign Fraser Declaration against Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines

Last week's signing of the Fraser Declaration on the part of First Nations in Alberta and the Northwest Territories marks a high point in a series of actions directed at the National Energy Board hearings in Edmonton.

As described in the below press release, the Fraser Declaration was led by the Yinka Dene Alliance; it is a formal declaration opposing the Enbridge Gateway project and supertankers on the B.C. coast.

Over 130 First Nations chiefs have now signed the declaration to ban crude oil exports through their traditional territories. This past December 1st saw a celebration of the Declaration that included an expansion of the breadth of the document which now includes all crude oil exports across B.C. This includes Kinder Morgan's attempts to turn Vancouver Harbour into a tar sands shipping port.

The signing demonstrates further unity and solidarity from Indigenous communities opposed to pipelines that will facilitate further unsustainable expansion in the tar sands and pose significant threats to land, water and communities.

The Council of Canadians is committed to our opposition of the Enbridge Gateway pipeline as well as the Kinder Morgan expansion and Pacific Trails pipeline. Over the coming weeks and months we will roll out an ambitious campaign working with communities, chapters, individuals and allied organizations to stop these pipelines, including an "Earth Day No Tankers No Pipelines!" call to action.

Criminal charges against Montrealer who filmed undercover police at Montreal G20 protest to be heard in court

Montreal -- The trial of a Montreal man who was arrested after taking photos of undercover police will be heard in court later this week. Scott Weinstein was arrested on July 1, 2010, during a Montreal march denouncing mass arrests at the Toronto G20 protests. Julius Grey will appear for the defence in what promises to be an important political trial.

Weinstein left the march to take a video of a group of undercover police officers, who were described as "scary-looking" by another videographer. The undercover officers had earlier attempted to enter the march, only to be repulsed by watchful activists concerned about potential violence by police provocateurs. When Weinstein approached the undercovers, they were walking as a group in a street parallel to the march.

Although Quebec courts have found filming police to be legal, the members of the SEF (Secteur emploie de la force) tactique, known as "l'Equipe bravo," surrounded the 52-year old Weinstein, removed him from his bicycle and took his camera. Weinstein put up no resistance to the arrest but went into a fetal position on the ground and yelled for help. He was brought to a police station where he was detained for several hours. When Weinstein's camera was returned to him on his release, the video of the undercovers had been erased. Destruction of criminal evidence is illegal.

A computer expert was later able to recover still images from Weinstein's video of the undercover police. The recovered digital data clearly shows that the video was erased at a time when police had possession of Weinstein's camera and Weinstein himself was detained. Recovered photos and video images with their time/date data are available to the media upon request. Video by others of part of the arrest will also be used for the defence.

"If my video supported the police claim that they warned me to back off and I then assaulted them, the police would surely have used the video evidence against me," states Weinstein. "Instead they destroyed the video evidence which supports my contention that I did nothing wrong."

Although Weinstein was later charged with assault with a weapon -- his bicycle -- the police voluntarily gave the bicycle to Weinstein's friends while he was being arrested. Had it truly been used as a weapon, police would have had to keep the bicycle as evidence.

In the 17 months since the arrest, the Crown has refused the defence's request to consider dropping the charges.

"It's not acceptable to send undercover police looking like thugs to intimidate a peaceful demonstration, especially when there are children and babies, as in this case," concludes Weinstein.

The trial is scheduled for Wednesday, February 1st at 9 a.m., at the Palais de justice, 1 Notre Dame E, Montreal.

Original Article
Author: Montreal News Wire 

Harper and pensions: the choices you make

“There are tough, important choices that must be made,” Stephen Harper wrote to his caucus 16 days ago. All righty then. Let’s talk about choices and Old Age Security. One thing I’m going to resist doing is handing out white hats and black hats. There are fewer heroes and villains in this story than, well, choices.

Here (.pdf) is the Ninth Actuarial Report on the Old Age Security Program As At 31 December 2009, tabled before Parliament three months ago. The government says it took a look at that report and had a fright. “Demographic changes will have a major impact on the ratio of workers to retirees,” it says, with the result that “Total annual expenditures are projected to increase… from $36.5 billion in 2010 to… $108 billion by 2030.”

Out went the talking points. The cost of the program will triple! Something must be done! They were more reticent about the next paragraph, which says cost of the program as a fraction of GDP is projected to rise from 2.3% in 2010 to 3.1% in 2030, before declining after that. So 2030 will indeed be a high-water mark in the entire history of the OAS program’s cost, but it’s not really a tripling because everything, including our ability to pay, will have increased in the meantime.

Still, big bump up. Point taken. But then there’s this. Here’s (.pdf) the Second Actuarial Report on the Old Age Security Program As At 31 December 1991, tabled in Parliament on Feb. 7, 1994 — about the time a 34-year-old rookie Reform MP named Stephen Harper would have been getting used to his new job. That report said the total annual cost of OAS would grow from $34 billion in 2010 (it’s in the chart on page 4) to $119 billion in 2030. An even bigger increase than the one projected by the most recent report, but pretty much the same scale. And indeed, on Page 3, that actuary 19 years ago picked 2030 as the peak date for the cost of the OAS program.

Second day back, Tories use time allocation on Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act

PARLIAMENT HILL—Prime Minister Stephen Harper approved the use of time allocation on Tuesday for the 11th time so far in this Parliament, to limit debate on an obscure private-sector pension bill the opposition parties say is an attempt to deflect attention from the firestorm Mr. Harper set off last week over the fate of government pensions for low-income seniors.

The vote, easily carried by Mr. Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) majority, means an early vote on Bill C-25, the Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act, would allow employees and self-employed people to pool contributions and set up their own pension plans outside private-sector employer plans and the Canada Pension Plan.

After the vote in the House on Tuesday, Liberal MP Mark Eyking (Sydney-Victoria, N.S.) said there is little doubt the move over the private pension bill— which the government lined up at the last minute pushing aside a long-awaited final debate on legislation dismantling the federal gun registry—is a “smoke screen” to divert attention from a storm of reaction as the future of Old Age Security came into question.

“They’re trying to make it look like they’re doing something for the pensions, it’s all smoke and mirrors,” Mr. Eyking told The Hill Times after the vote. “I think they’re in real trouble over what he said in Davos, as Bob Rae says, ‘From the perch of the Alpines, he says he’s going to pickpocket the seniors.’”

Canada Economy: GDP Shrank 0.1 Per Cent In November, StatsCan Reports

OTTAWA - Real gross domestic product unexpectedly edged down 0.1 per cent in November after showing no growth in October, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.

Lower output in the energy sector accounted for most of the November decline, as oil and gas extraction fell 2.5 per cent. Reduced production of crude petroleum, in part due to maintenance shutdowns, led the sector's decline.

There were also drops in wholesale trade, finance and insurance, and construction, the federal agency said in its report, which caught analysts by surprise.

Most had expected a 0.2 per cent rise in GDP in November.

Meanwhile, manufacturing, retail trade, accommodation and food services, professional services and real estate agents and brokers services all posted gains.

Statistics Canada said manufacturing increased 0.6 per cent, with growth based mainly in the production of durable goods.

Wholesale trade was off 0.6 per cent, although retail trade increased 0.6 per cent, a fourth consecutive monthly increase. Retail growth came from better sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers and at clothing stores.

Construction was down 0.3 per cent as both residential and non-residential building construction contracted.

Higher activity in the home resale market, particularly in Eastern Canada, produced a 2.2 per cent rise in the output of real estate agents and brokers.

The finance and insurance sector decreased 0.4 per cent, mainly as a result of lower trading on the stock exchanges.

The utilities sector was down 0.6 per cent as unseasonably warm weather cut electricity demand.

Original Article
Source: Huff 
Author: canadian press 

Top Canadian Brands: Which Influencers Are Within Our Borders?

Look around you, at your desk, your computer, inside your bag -- how many of the brands you rely upon daily come from Canada? The answer is probably far outweighed by the number coming from the U.S., as a recent study showed.

A representative sample of 1,000 Canadians were asked in an Ipsos survey which brands most influenced their lives, and only two of the top 10 answers came from Canadian companies: President's Choice (at number three) and CBC (at number six).

"When we look at the top 10 and we reflect on them, it most certainly made sense that there were some brands that were Canadian icons," says Steve Levy, President of Market Research. "These are brands that have been part of our culture, part of our fabric for a long time."

But even once ubiquitous brand BlackBerry slipped to number 14, and stores like Walmart and Ikea beat out easily recognized Canucks like Shoppers Drug Mart and Canadian Tire.

Levy noted the study examined consumers' relationships to things like innovation, relevance, presence and trust relationships, which lead to the tally.

"Because it's difficult to generate influence, time would be a factor," he explained. "Look at [number one trusted brand] Microsoft -- that's the first software company that first brought software to the masses. So while it's impressive that Facebook is the number seven most influential brand after only seven years, there is something to be said for consistency."

Original Article
Source: Huff 
Author: Rebecca Zamon 

Canada Housing Market Beginning To Resemble U.S.'s Subprime Mess, OSFI Documents Reveal

Canada’s financial regulator is growing worried that Canadian banks are following their American counterparts into the “subprime” mortgage market that blew up the financial system in 2008.

According to documents obtained by Bloomberg under access to information laws, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) is concerned Canadian banks are becoming less strict in their issuance of mortgages, handing out house loans to people who can’t prove their income and to recent immigrants.

These loans “have some similarities to non-prime loans in the U.S. retail lending market,” the OSFI reportedly wrote.

However, the situation in Canada is not as out of hand as it had become in the U.S. prior to the housing market collapse. At the peak of the U.S. housing bubble, in 2006, about one-third of all mortgages issued in the U.S. were in the “subprime” category; by comparison, only about five per cent of Canadian mortgages go to recent immigrants and people with undocumented incomes.

“It just speaks to the general easing in lending standards, which has contributed to a booming housing market,” economist David Madani of Capital Economics told Bloomberg.

OSFI’s concerns mirror those of many other market observers, who say Canada’s real estate market is in for a downturn. Capital Economics predicts a 25-per-cent correction for housing, though others suggest the market could be in for a softer landing than that.

Harper heads to China on Feb. 7

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit China for the second time from Feb. 7 to 11 this year, according to a statement posted online by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The visit is an important opportunity for Mr. Harper to strengthen his relationship with Chinese officials. Canada wants to sell its oil and other resources to the country. Mr. Harper is also interested in a bilateral investment protection agreement to give Canadian companies more security when they are doing business with China. In 2010, $44.4-billion in Chinese goods were imported into Canada, compared with $12.9-billion in Canadian exports to China.

China, meanwhile, wants to invest and own more companies in Canada’s oil sands, something to which Mr. Harper’s government appears to be increasingly receptive.

The Chinese statement, posted on Monday, says relations between China and Canada have developed well, citing trade, energy resources, science and education among the areas in which the two countries are co-operating. The statement calls Canada an important country in the Asia-Pacific region in promoting development and maintaining peace and adds that the visit will enhance trust between the two countries.

Mr. Harper’s last visit to Beijing was in 2009, and was considered a turning point in improving a previously sour relationship between the two countries.

Original Article
Source: Globe 
Author: kim mackrael 

Tories turn over salary info for CBC but not PMO

Before the House of Commons rose for the Christmas break, the New Democrats played a bit of mischief with attempts by some Conservative MPs to shake out salary details from the CBC, as part of their on-going jihad against the leftists cabal of the “state broadcaster”.

Tory MP Brent Rathgeber had tabled order paper questions to the Department of Canadian Heritage demanding to know the salaries of top CBC brass, on-air talent such as Peter Mansbridge and George Stroumboulopoulos, and the number of Corp. employees earning more than a $100,000 annually. By Parliament’s rules, the government is required to provide a response in the House within 45 days.

The NDP countered with order paper questions of their own, tabled by Quebec MP Tyrone Benskin, that used identical wording to request the  same details about the Prime Minister’s Office.

Well, the 45 days are up and the government’s responses to both threads of inquiry have been tabled.

Selling austerity from Davos

Stephen Harper does not seem to care how Canadian government policies compare to those of other countries (other than the U.S.), or want to know how other countries build (or not) their industries, and care for (or not) their citizens.

When Harper was in Davos, Switzerland, last week to address the World Economic Forum, he did not talk about the subject of the conference, The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models, or address concerns about regulation of international banking, or global trade and payments imbalances. Instead he presented his austerity plan for Canada.

Singling out retirement security for attack, the Canadian prime minister wrongly blamed the Eurozone financial crisis on government overspending for social security, ignoring that financial instability was generated by the over-leveraged banking system.

Now it is true that Northern European nations spend more on pensions than Canada. Canada sits in 23rd position among the 30 industrialized members of the OECD on overall social spending, and ranks even worse on public spending for pensions.

In fact, Canada's poor standing on pension spending puts a lie to the idea that we need to cut back on future pension spending. As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, Canada spends 2.41 per cent on public pensions while Italy spends 14 per cent. Professor Kevin Milligan projects Canadian pension spending to increase to only 3.14 per cent by 2031 as a result of our aging population. Why cut back on outlays for pensions when needs are going up, and existing levels of spending are low?

Going to Switzerland to announce his intentions to attack seniors served domestic purposes. There were no opposition politicians, or interested Canadians, around to react quickly to the news leaked to journalists on site, that Harper was ready to raise the age eligibility for Old Age Security to 67 from 65.

Topp-ling the NDP's Hope for Victory

Capable as he has been in the backroom, Topp would be the Achilles' heel of the NDP.

Come on.

The NDP leadership race is really down to four front-runners at this point: Thomas Mulcair, Brian Topp, Paul Dewar, and Peggy Nash. Three of them are MPs, one (Topp) is not.

Topp attracted some initial support, most notably from former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, the powerful Steelworkers Union, and a handful of present and former NDP MPs. He’s a personable man, holds up well in debate, and has a long history with the NDP.

But it’s time to get serious.

Topp declined to present himself as a candidate in the upcoming by-election in the Toronto-Danforth riding left vacant by Jack Layton’s passing. Instead, he wants to run in Quebec after he wins the leadership.

Citing ‘enthusiastic support,’ Tories move to cap pension bill debate

The Conservative government moved Tuesday to limit debate on a pension reform bill that will create new Pooled Retirement Pension Plans.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan argued the move to invoke a process called “time allocation” was justified because the Conservatives won the last election by campaigning on the need for PRPPs.

He said there is “enthusiastic support” for this new pension option, yet the opposition is focused on delay tactics.

“Why are they so determined to keep Canadians from having that option?” he argued in a special half-hour debate triggered by the motion. “It [time allocation] allows for debate to continue but it ensures we will actually make decisions.”

Mr. Van Loan made the accusations of delay in spite of the fact that the government only opened debate on the bill for the first time Monday.

The opposition NDP and Liberals attacked the move as “a disgrace,” arguing that it marks the 13th time the majority Conservative government has limited debate through time allocation or closure motions.

With the bells calling MPs to vote on the motion, NDP MP Chris Charlton held a hurried news conference to announce that – as opposition whip – she would be refusing to perform her ceremonial duties of walking down the aisle with Mr. Van Loan to kick off the vote as a form of protest.

She said it was “absolutely ridiculous” for the government to move time allocation after one day of debate. Ms. Charlton claimed the move is connected to controversy over Mr. Harper’s speech last week in which he signalled changes were coming to Old Age Security.

Working Poor: Almost Half Of U.S. Households Live One Crisis From The Bread Line

What does it mean to be poor?

If it means living at or below the poverty line, then 15 percent of Americans -- some 46 million people -- qualify. But if it means living with a decent income and hardly any savings -- so that one piece of bad luck, one major financial blow, could land you in serious, lasting trouble -- then it's a much larger number. In fact, it's almost half the country.

"The resources that people have -- they are using up those resources," said Jennifer Brooks, director of state and local policy at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. "They're living off their savings. They're at the end of their rope."

The group issued a report today examining so-called liquid asset poverty households -- the people who aren't living below the poverty line, but don't have enough money saved to weather a significant emergency.

According to the report, 43 percent of households in America -- some 127.5 million people -- are liquid-asset poor. If one of these households experiences a sudden loss of income, caused, for example, by a layoff or a medical emergency, it will fall below the poverty line within three months. People in these households simply don't have enough cash to make it for very long in a crisis.

The findings underscore the struggles of many Americans during what has often seemed like an economic recovery in name only. While the Great Recession officially ended more than two years ago, unemployment remains high and wages have barely budged for most workers. For more people, whether they draw a paycheck or not, a life free of deprivation and financial anxiety seems perpetually out of reach.

GOP Seeks Big Changes In Federal Prison Sentences

Every year, federal judges sentence more than 80,000 criminals. Those punishments are supposed to be fair — and predictable. But seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court threw a wrench into the system by ruling that the guidelines that judges use to figure out a prison sentence are only suggestions.

Republicans in Congress say that has led to a lot of bad results. They're calling for an overhaul of the sentencing system, with tough new mandatory prison terms to bring some order back into the process. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, brought up the subject at a recent hearing.

"A criminal committing a federal crime should receive similar punishment regardless of whether the crime was committed in Richmond, Va., or Richmond, Calif., and that's why I am deeply concerned about what's happening to federal sentencing," Sensenbrenner said.

Since the Supreme Court acted in 2005 to make the sentencing guidelines advisory — not mandatory — Sensenbrenner said, judges in places like New York City have imposed sentences below the guideline ranges almost half the time. But judges only a few hours further north in New York are still following the guidelines.

Former prosecutor Matt Miner — who also served as GOP congressional aide — says that's not justice.

"We have a federal system. There should be consistency not just in the same courthouse and on the same floor, or district by district, but across the country, and we're failing in that," Miner says.

Douglas Berman, a law professor and sentencing expert at Ohio State University, said, "The way you make sure the guidelines get due respect is to make them respectable."

A lot of people argue that ever since the Supreme Court weighed in, black men have it a lot worse.

The Tea Party Plan to Save Scott Walker

As soon as April, millions of Wisconsinites will vote on whether to oust Gov. Scott Walker—a rising Republican star and arguably the most polarizing governor in politics today—just two years into his first term in office. Walker's recall election is a referendum on his hardline conservative agenda, including curbing collective bargaining rights for state workers and slashing education funding. For Walker himself it's a pivotal moment in his young political career.

The recall fight is also a crucial test for the tea party, the populist movement that helped elect Walker in 2010, vigorously defended him during last winter's protests over his anti-union "budget repair" bill, and has been organizing to prevent his ouster. The movement's support is flagging, its clout dwindling, its buzz mostly gone. But now, tea partiers at the state and national levels are rallying around Walker's recall defense, hoping a victory could bolster the movement in a critical election year. A defeat, on the other hand, would give ammo to liberals and conservatives alike who say the tea party is all but dead.
In recent months, the Tea Party Express, a national organization, and the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, a tea party-linked political action committee, have waded into the recall fight, blasting out more than a dozen emails to supporters and launching a $100,000 "money bomb" fundraiser to help defend Walker. They argue that the outcome has national implications for the 2012 presidential election; a Tea Party Express email to supporters in January announced that Wisconsin is "Ground Zero for the Battle Against Obama's Liberal Agenda."

Ontario labour board upholds union’s complaint about ‘secret arrangement’

The Ontario government deliberately misrepresented a contract settlement with its largest public-sector union by awarding employees an additional one-per-cent wage increase as part of a “secret arrangement” to keep labour costs down, the province’s labour board has ruled.

The union that filed a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, accusing the government of bargaining in bad faith, is seeking the same 1-per-cent across-the-board top-up for its 12,000 members – compensation that could cost the government millions of dollars if awarded. The board’s ruling raises questions about whether other public-sector unions could make similar claims for financial restitution, say labour lawyers.

The government plans to seek a judicial review of the ruling, handed down on Monday. In a statement, Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar said any penalty or financial compensation must be determined at future labour board hearings.

“We will continue to make strong arguments to the [board] to try to prevent that from happening,” he said.

The case involves an agreement between the government and 38,000 members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. As first reported by The Globe and Mail, documents entered at a hearing before the labour board last May reveal the “adjustment” of 1 per cent on top of a scheduled wage increase of 2 per cent for this year, in exchange for non-wage concessions.

B.C. not ready to tip its hand on Gateway project

B.C. government bureaucrats were urging their political masters last spring to take a position on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. But a technical review due at the end of February still won’t provide an answer on whether Premier Christy Clark’s government supports or opposes the $5.5-billion proposal.

The wait-and-see approach has been entrenched since the province, under former premier Gordon Campbell, signed away B.C.’s right to conduct its own hearing. An agreement signed with Ottawa in July of 2010, making the National Energy Board the sole arbiter, provided Mr. Campbell and his ministers with cover to avoid direct questions about the proposal.

But last spring, when the NEB formally announced a hearing into the project, it looked like B.C. was ready to get off the fence. Environment Minister Terry Lake vowed to take an active role in shaping the future of Enbridge Inc.’s proposed 1,172-kilometre pipeline, which would carry Alberta oil to a shipping terminal on the British Columbia coast.

That promise was encouraging to civil servants. “Yesterday, the Joint Panel issued a hearing order for the Northern Gateway Project [attached] and it is now time for the Province to determine how we are going to get involved,” declared Patrick Russell, Forest and Lands Ministry manager in an e-mail dated May 6, 2011.

“The Gateway Project is by no means a normal project that we are used to dealing with and now that we have firm dates for the hearing the province is in a position to figure out our involvement,” he wrote.

Ottawa nixes out-of-court settlement in sponsorship civil suit

The Harper government is refusing to approve an out-of-court settlement in a civil lawsuit that was designed to speed up an RCMP investigation into key players in the sponsorship scandal.

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose said in an interview that the government is not ready to sacrifice its efforts to recoup wasted sponsorship funds in the case to facilitate the RCMP probe into the activities of a Liberal fundraiser and others, which began in 2002.

“There are two parallel tracks – one is civil and one is criminal – and I think it is important that both do their job,” Ms. Ambrose said.

Sources said a complex deal was put in place last summer in which Luc Lemay, one of the people who reaped large benefits from the sponsorship program, would reimburse taxpayers $8-million to $10-million. Mr. Lemay is among several individuals and firms who were sued by the Paul Martin Liberal government in 2005 in an attempt to recover up to $60-million.

As part of the settlement, Mr. Lemay would receive legal immunity from prosecution and become a state witness against other players in the sponsorship scandal, including former Liberal fundraiser Jacques Corriveau. This testimony is deemed essential to concluding the investigation speedily.

Covering the oilsands

The Harper government has drawn a firm line in the sand when it comes to rapid development of the oilsands and pipelines to transport bitumen to faraway customers.

On one side are the good guys — any person or organization that agrees with the government’s plans. On the other side are all the bad guys — those who question them. And according to a government strategy paper uncovered by environmental groups last week, the bad guys include aboriginals, environmentalists and the media.

Would that be all journalists and news organizations? Or just journalists who report on the environmental consequences of oilsands development? Who knows? The strategy paper tars all media with the same brush.

As usual, the truth is a lot more complicated. Harper and his team may see the media as enemies but in fact most articles about the oilsands are written from a business or finance perspective.

A 2009 study by a University of Alberta political scientist of articles about the Alberta oilsands that appeared in the Globe and Mail and National Post found that 86 per cent of the stories appeared in the newspapers’ businesses sections. Surely, that is exactly what the government wants.

Smugness doesn't look good on Canada

Welcome to the Age of Canada, in which the peaceable kingdom abandons modesty, finds smugness, talks loudly and carries a new self-importance.

Our shift in character didn't begin with the lecture Stephen Harper delivered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, but it suggested a new-found aggressiveness on one hand and a familiar sanctimony on the other.

Harper didn't have to unveil his legislative agenda in Switzerland; the purpose, allowed his advisers, was to accentuate Canada's need to avoid Europe's "stark choices." Hence, his subtle contrast between the profligate, spendthrift Europeans and the frugal, prudent Canadians. Listen closely and you hear Harper's disdain for soft social democracy.

His warning: if we don't act now to shrink the size of government, reduce debt and rethink pensions and other social benefits, we'll end up like them. And we don't want that, do we?

Given the venue, forgive the Prime Minister a little boasting. Surely Jim Flaherty "is the best finance minister on the planet," and our net debt-to-GDP ratio is "the lowest in the G-7." Of course we're the best place to do business "on the planet" and our banks are the "soundest in the world."

The wrong place to cut

Prime Minister Stephen Harper would have been wise to develop an actual plan and some rationale more compelling than cost before he floated the idea of worsening Canada's already meagre public pensions.

Speculation that the government will push Old Age Security eligibility up two years to 67 is creating alarm, and justly so. For Canada's lowest income working people, it means two more years on the job, whether they are healthy or not.

While the Canada Pension Plan retirement age will remain at 65, decoupling the OAS from that magic number effectively means some people can't afford to retire. The maximum CPP Benefit is just under $1,000 a month. Not many people can live on that. The OAS adds an-other $500 a month, on aver-age.
People with large incomes are fond of lecturing the poor on how they have to save for their own retirements, but that's tough to do when you've spent your life scraping by on $30,000 a year. At today's low interest rates, saving enough to replace the OAS's $500 a month payment would mean putting aside about $200,000.

According to a 2011 Statistics Canada study, more than 40 per cent of retirees had less than $25,000 in savings and in-vestments.

It's clear why the government is worried about old age security. The program cost $36.5 billion in 2010, but will rise to $108 billion by 2030 as the vast postwar generation advances into old age.

That's a compelling number, but solutions will be tough to find. A fair approach would phase in changes over 20 years, so that people have at least a theoretical opportunity to save more money of their own. How-ever, by the time such a gradual solution is fully in place, the problem will abate on its own as the baby boomers die off.

Quicker change would leave more money in the government treasury, but it's unfair to seniors and potential political suicide.

Canada has a wise policy of ensuring that seniors don't have to live their final years in abject poverty. This is not an entitlement. This is a commitment. An entitlement is the absurd pension MPs awarded themselves at the public's expense.

The OAS is exactly what the government itself calls it on the Service Canada website, "a modest pension."

There are plenty of ways for government to cut costs. Taking money from low-income seniors should not be one of them.

Original Article
Source: ottawa citizen 
Author: -- 

6 big Canada Pension Plan changes coming in 2012

Last week in a speech in Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Stephen Harper lit a political powder keg when he hinted at possible changes to Old Age Security benefits. He was quick to point out that the Canada Pension Plan is "fully funded, actuarially sound and does not need to be changed," but a close look at the plan shows some alterations to the CPP are already underway.

The rules governing the Canada Pension Plan are updated regularly, but most years the changes are limited to simple increases to benefit payments and premiums. Not this year.

Ottawa is bringing in a raft of new or tweaked policies to reflect that retirement these days is more of a gradual transition for many people rather than a single event. Many of these changes either begin in 2012 or are entering the next phase-in period, and they'll have a direct impact on the retirement plans of Canadians.

In some cases, the changes are big enough that people nearing retirement may want to have a chat with a financial adviser before deciding exactly when to apply for a CPP retirement pension.

“The House I Live In”: New Documentary Exposes Economic, Moral Failure of U.S. War on Drugs

This weekend the top documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival went to “The House I Live In,” which questions why the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on drug arrests in the past 40 years, and yet drugs are cheaper, purer, and more available today than ever. The film examines the economic, as well as the moral and practical, failures of the so-called “war on drugs,” and calls on the United States to approach drug abuse not as a “war,” but as a matter of public health. We need “a very changed dialogue in this country that understands drugs as a public health concern and not a criminal justice concern,” says the film’s Director Eugene Jarecki. “That means the system has to say, ‘We were wrong.’” We also speak with Nannie Jeter, who helped raise Jarecki as her own son succumbed to drug addiction and is highlighted in the film. We air clips from the film, featuring Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow;” Canadian physician and bestselling author, Gabor Maté; and David Simon, creator of “The Wire.”

Source: Democracy Now! 
Author: -- 

How long will Harper wait before making you wait for your pension?

We won’t know until the March budget exactly what changes Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has in store for Old Age Security, but we have a pretty good idea of his options, thanks to Thomas Klassen.

The York University political scientist is a leading Canadian authority on pension reform. We asked him Monday how he would change the OAS if it were up to him. His first piece of advice: “Don’t do it.”

“The OAS isn’t really a lot of money,” he observed. “The OAS isn’t going to cause the federal budget to crash.”

Proper pension reform, he strongly believes, would involve eliminating the incentives within the Canada Pension Plan for early retirement – you can start to draw on it as early as age 60 – and creating new incentives to encourage people to work longer and retire later in exchange for larger pensions.

But “changing the CPP is messy,” he acknowledged, because those changes require the consent of the provincial governments. That is why Prime Minister Stephen Harper is targeting the OAS, a federal-only program, while leaving CPP alone.

So let’s say, as is heavily rumoured, the Conservatives want to raise the age for qualifying for OAS payments from 65 to 67 years. What’s the best way to do that? Prof. Klassen’s advice: “Do it very slowly. Don’t start for 20 years, and then increase the eligibility gradually over the next two decades.”

Global corporate power and the decay of Canada

What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment.

But that was the old Canada. I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation. It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010's G8 and G20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters. And Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist.

The voices of dissent sound like our own. And the forms of persecution are familiar. This is not an accident. We are fighting the same corporate leviathan.

"I want to tell you that I was arrested because I am seen as a threat," Canadian activist Leah Henderson wrote to fellow dissidents before being sent to Vanier prison in Milton, Ontario, to serve a 10-month sentence. "I want to tell you that you might be too. I want to tell you that this is something we need to prepare for. I want to tell you that the risk of incarceration alone should not determine our organizing."

Raising the retirement age: Consider it a done deal

If Stephen Harper was to announce tomorrow that the age at which people will be eligible for Old Age Security was going to increase to 67 in the year 2025, who would protest?

Not the over 50s: they'll still be able to start claiming at 65 as planned.

Not many of the under 50s, either. Some under-50s won’t protest because they can’t be bothered. It’s not worth fighting to get a few thousand dollars of Old Age Security payments a couple of decades from now.

Other under-50s won’t protest because they believe an increase in the pension age won’t affect them: people who enjoy their jobs, and plan on working until 67 in any event; high income people, who would have to repay any Old Age Security anyway.

An increase in the OAS eligibility age might also be accompanied by an increase in the age at which RRSPs must be converted to RRIFs, or an easing of the RRIF withdrawal rules, bolstering support for a change in the pension age.

As Kevin Milligan has argued, increasing the age at which people are entitled to receive Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement won't produce huge savings. But it's not the absolute savings that matter, it's the savings relative to the political cost incurred - and for an increase in the pension age, those political costs will be manageable.

That’s why the the U.S. is raising its full retirement age, and the U.K. is raising its state pension age. We will raise our pension age because it saves money, and has little political cost.

John Baird: Iran's threat is real, not rhetoric

Though we often disagree, I have always found Gerald Caplan to be an entertaining political pundit. That said, I have never met Mr. Caplan, and I wouldn’t presume to know whom he consults or the evidence he considers in forming his political opinions.

Apparently Mr. Caplan has no such inhibitions. His recent article (“Harper and the U.S. are wrong on the Iran threat”), which minimized the threat posed by a nuclear Iran, begins with a list of prominent Israeli security and intelligence experts that, he assured his readers, the Prime Minister and I are “unlikely [to] have ever heard of.”

Mr. Caplan returns to this theme at the end of his article, wondering rhetorically: “Is John Baird meeting with [Meir Dagan] this weekend to learn why? Don’t bet on it.” Here’s a tip: don’t go to Vegas with Gerald Caplan. If Mr. Caplan had bothered to pick up the phone and ask me if I had heard of Meir Dagan or Amos Yadlin, I would have told him that not only have I heard of them, I reached out to them weeks ago to ensure they could attend a discussion of the Iranian situation while I am in Tel Aviv this week.

It’s a peculiar taunt, as Mr. Caplan had to know that, as Foreign Minister, I would be privy to a broad range of opinions and expert advice on an issue as fraught as Middle East security. Or does his disdain for those with whom he disagrees extend so far that he cannot imagine they are not merely wrong, in his opinion, but also ignorant and lazy? Perhaps it does, as Mr. Caplan later dismisses Canada’s entire foreign policy as “spin notes and sound bites.”

It might come as a surprise to Mr. Caplan that Liberal MP Irwin Cotler and I frequently discuss the problem posed by a nuclear Iran, and his counsel amounts to much more than “spin notes and sound bites.”

Auto Insurance Costs More For Poor People, Consumer Group Says

The poorest Americans are unable to buy affordable auto insurance because of insurance company bias, a consumers group charged Monday.

Insurance companies are prohibited from basing premiums on income, but can consider a driver's credit rating, home address and occupation. Those factors are essentially surrogates for income, according to the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer lobby group in Washington, D.C.

"In some areas, many responsible lower-income drivers are required to spend more than $1,000 a year for liability coverage that is often unfairly priced and provides no real insurance protection to them," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the consumer group. He called on states to improve access to low-cost insurance. California is currently the only state with a robust low-rate coverage program.

The number of miles driven -- a factor that lowers the risk of accidents and may help reduce premiums -- is inadequately weighted in the insurance industry's classification system, Consumer Federation of America argued in a report.

Occupy Oakland Flag-Burning Rekindles Old Debate

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Many in the crowd outside Oakland City Hall shouted "Burn it! Burn it!" as masked protesters readied to set fire to an American flag. That's when a woman emerged from the scrum, screaming for them to stop, that it would hurt the cause.

Moments later, the flames began, and suddenly a movement that seemingly vanished weeks ago was back in the spotlight, this time for an act of protest that has long divided the nation and now the movement itself.

The images of the flag-burning went viral in the hours after Saturday's demonstrations on Oakland's streets, with Occupy supporters denouncing the act as unpatriotic and a black mark on the movement. Others called it justified.

The flag-burning, however, raised questions about whether the act will tarnish a movement of largely peaceful protests and alienate people who agree with its message against corporate excess and economic inequality.

"I'm quite confident that the general view is that violence of this sort – whether it's symbolic or otherwise – is contrary to the spirit of the movement and should be renounced," Columbia University sociologist Todd Gitlin said.

Gitlin, who is writing a book about the movement, noted that flags have had a prominent place at the Occupy Wall Street encampments that sprang up last fall. They are typically pinned to tents or waving from wooden flagpoles.