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.]

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Harper Government sticks it to youth with budget 2012

The federal government's budget gets a failing grade when it comes to intergenerational equity.

The government has outlined priorities with clear winners and clear losers, and the line drawn in the sand places the biggest burden on my generation. From changes to the pension plan, cuts to key youth training programs and no action on the climate front, the future as imagined by Stephen Harper is not looking that appealing to me.

First, let's look at the major winners in this budget -- Harper's friends in the resource extraction sector. Big corporations and polluters will reap the rewards of significantly weakened federal environmental laws, including changes to the environmental assessment process and cuts to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The budget eliminates the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, but keeps in the over $1 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry.

As Marc Lee points out in his post on the budget, the word "climate" is only mentioned four times in the budget, and twice it is in reference to the investment climate. This is not a budget from a government that is taking the threat of climate change seriously; it is the budget of a government that is selling future generations down the drain.

Koch Brothers, Chamber of Commerce Face Possible Campaign Donation Disclosure After Ruling

WASHINGTON -- On Friday evening, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling that could begin the process of revealing the identities of secret donors to groups connected to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers.

The court ruled in Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission that the FEC rules that restricted campaign donor disclosure are not valid and must be changed to provide for disclosure.

"We are very happy to see the judge got it right," says Paul Ryan, a lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog that was a part of the team challenging the FEC rules.

Those rules state that donors to groups spending money on "electioneering communications," or advertisements that do not specifically call to elect or defeat a candidate, must only be disclosed if they specifically earmarked their donation to that particular expenditure. Since few, if any, donors to these groups ever earmark their donation for a specific election expense there was no disclosure.

That FEC rule came in the wake of the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC. That ruling overturned a ban, instituted by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, regarding direct corporate and union contributions to electioneering communications.

Trayvon Martin Case: George Zimmerman Was 'Jekyll And Hyde,' Former Co-Worker Says

In a week of leaked high school disciplinary records, police reports and police station surveillance video in the war over public perception of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, more details have emerged about Zimmerman’s history of violence.

Zimmerman, the 28-year-old Sanford, Fla., neighborhood watch volunteer who shot the unarmed 17-year-old Martin to death last month, was fired from a job securing illegal house parties for “being too aggressive,” according to the New York Daily News, which quoted a former colleague of Zimmerman’s. According to the co-worker, Zimmerman worked for two agencies that provided security for house parties from 2001 to 2005.

“Usually he was just a cool guy,” said the former co-worker, who the newspaper didn't name. “But it was like Jekyll and Hyde. When dude snapped, he snapped.” The Daily News said Zimmerman earned $50 to $100 a night for the parties. He was fired for being too aggressive with patrons.

“He had a temper and he became a liability,” the newspaper quoted the former co-worker as saying. “One time this woman was acting a little out of control. She was drunk. George lost his cool and totally overreacted,” he said. “It was weird, because he was such a cool guy, but he got all nuts. He picked her up and threw her. It was pure rage. She twisted her ankle. Everyone was flipping out.”

Portions Of Scott Walker's Anti-Union Law Struck Down By Federal Court

WASHINGTON -- Just over a year after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a measure taking away most collective bargaining rights for public workers, labor unions scored a victory as a federal court struck down portions of the law. The court ruled that the state cannot prevent public sector unions from automatically deducting dues from workers' paychecks and cannot require them to be recertified annually.

The law, known as Act 10, requires most public sector unions to hold annual votes on whether a majority of its members want to recertify the union. It also took away the rights of some unions to automatically collect dues from members' paychecks.

The court kept most of the law in place, but it ruled that the state did not have the power to pick and choose which unions could deduct dues. Under Act 10, only "public safety unions" -- those representing firefighters and police officers -- could continue to take out payments automatically.

"So long as the State of Wisconsin continues to afford ordinary certification and dues deductions to mandatory public safety unions with sweeping bargaining rights, there is no rational basis to deny those rights to voluntary general unions with severely restricted bargaining rights," the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin concluded.

The Republican War on Voter Registration

Republican state legislatures aren’t only trying to prevent voting at the polling place, they are also stopping people from becoming registered voters in the first place. These same laws that require voters to present state issued photo identification at the polling both—nominally aimed at preventing voter fraud—also sometimes contain provisions that are placing onerous requirements and stringent limitations on third party voter registration efforts.

The targets are national and statewide organizations that use volunteers or paid staffers to canvass underrepresented communities to register new voters. Often these voters are young, poor or non-white and thus lean Democratic. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice found, “54 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote. More than 25% of the voting-age citizen population is not registered to vote. Among minority groups, this percentage is even higher— more than 30% for African Americans and more than 40% for Hispanics.” Registration drives typically focuse their efforts on these historically disenfranchised populations, as well as elderly and disabled voters who may have trouble reaching a government office to register. Perversely, as the Brennan Center notes, “Instead of praising civic groups who register voters for their contribution to democracy, many states have cracked down on those groups.”

The excuse is that they wish to prevent fraudulent voter registrations from being submitted. But the result, if these rules are enforced, is that far fewer voters are registered.

The Attack on Liberal Legitimacy

We don’t know how the Supreme Court will rule on the Affordable Care Act, but if it chooses to overturn the law, E.J. Dionne’s assessment of the court’s behavior this week will look very apt:

    This is what conservative justices will do if they strike down or cripple the health care law. And a court that gave us Bush v. Gore and Citizens United will prove conclusively that it sees no limits on its power, no need to defer to those elected to make our laws. A Supreme Court that is supposed to give us justice will instead deliver ideology.

Taken in isolation, a decision to cripple or overturn the health care law is objectionable—the mandate falls within Congress’s established power to regulate interstate commerce, and the theoretical argument against it proves too much—but doesn’t necessarily threaten the Court’s legitimacy. Supreme Court justices are human, and this wouldn’t be the first time that they made an ideologically-driven decision. But if you place the Court’s (potential) action against Obamacare in the context of the last two decades, then it paints a more alarming picture.

In 1992, a Democratic president was elected for the first time in more than a decade. Almost immediately, an invigorated right-wing—driven by anger at the previous Republican president—tried nearly everything in its power to derail Bill Clinton’s first term. Soon thereafter, they won an unprecedented victory in the House of Representatives and doubled-down on their efforts, resulting in a government shutdown. But this backfired, and public disgust (coupled with a rapidly improving economy) put that president back into the White House for a second term.

Participatory Democracy: From the Port Huron Statement to Occupy Wall Street

This is the fiftieth anniversary year of the Port Huron Statement, the founding declaration of Students for a Democratic Society, issued as a “living document” in 1962. The SDS call for a participatory democracy echoes today in student-led democracy movements around the world, even appearing as the first principle of the Occupy Wall Street September 17 declaration.

As a signpost of the early 1960s, the Port Huron Statement (PHS) is worth treasuring for its idealism and for the spark it ignited in many an imagination. The Port Huron call for a life and politics built on moral values as opposed to expedient politics; its condemnation of the cold war, echoed in today’s questioning of the “war on terror”; its grounding in social movements against racism and poverty; its first-ever identification of students as agents of social change; and its call to extend participatory democracy to the economic, community and foreign policy spheres—these themes constitute much of today’s progressive sensibility.

Canada Budget 2012: CFIA Cuts Mean Food Labelling Lies Will Have To Be Policed By Consumers

The federal government’s decision to stop policing nutrition claims on food labels threatens Canadians’ health and leaves consumers with little recourse when food labels are wrong, the head of an agricultural union says.

In the budget released Thursday, the Conservative government announced it would no longer verify nutrition claims on food labels, and will instead set up a website where consumers can take their concerns directly to food producers.

“The Government will change how the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) monitors and enforces non-health and non-safety food labelling regulations,” the budget document states. “The CFIA will introduce a web-based label verification tool that encourages consumers to bring validated concerns directly to companies and associations for resolution.”

Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union, which represents food inspectors at the CFIA, said the new policy amounts to “a total farce.”

Consumers don’t have the capacity to determine whether nutrition information, such as the level of sodium or cholesterol in a food product, is accurate, he argued, adding that he disagreed with the government's assertion that nutrition labels are a "non-health and non-safety" issue.

Budget Only Confirms Harper's Dullness

The 2012 federal budget was the last silky adornment to be peeled off in Stephen Harper's long dance of seven veils with Canadian Conservatives. Turns out there's not much underneath.

For the last six years, anyone who's turned to the Conservative Party for a coherent agenda of smaller government, lower spending, substantially reformed taxation, and a fundamental reexamination of the cause and purpose of all three, has been forced to nurse on a series of defensive excuses.

First it was all about making conservatism "electable" in Canada. This entailed merging the Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives -- a party that had long since abandoned any pretence of being on the right -- and Harper's subsequent Orwellian obsession with keeping all candidates of his new big-tent as muzzled and ideologically neutered as possible. There'll be plenty of time to be feisty and right-wing once the Conservatives actually took power, they were told, but in the meantime, for heaven's sake, don't frighten the poor voters!

Then the Conservatives actually did take power, but only under the embarrassing circumstances of a minority parliament. You can't honestly expect genuinely conservative government when the House is dominated by three leftist parties, the new narrative went. Just stay quiet and hug the centre a little longer. Before you know it we'll have a majority and then the real fun can begin.

Family Denied Immigration Due To Down Syndrome

A New Democrat MP is demanding the federal government reverse a decision to bar a family from India from emigrating to Canada to join their son in B.C. because their adult daughter has Down Syndrome.

The son, Kevin Patel, of Vancouver, wanted to sponsor his parents and 27-year-old sister to come to Canada to become permanent residents.

But Immigration Canada rejected the request because it says the sister's condition could pose an excessive burden on Canada's health and social services.

NDP citizenship critic Don Davies says that conclusion is not supported by any facts, and in fact is contradicted by the evidence submitted in this case.

Davies told a news conference Friday that the refusal represents a bigoted and discriminatory view that's not in keeping with the modern understanding of people with Down.

The sister, Aditi Patel, lives with her parents who care for her, said Patel.

Immigration Enforcement Separated Thousands Of U.S.-Born Children From Parents

WASHINGTON -- In the first half of 2011 alone, nearly 46,500 parents of U.S.-born children were forced to leave the country, according to a report released on Monday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Those parents were among the 396,906 immigrants removed from the United States in the 2011 fiscal year under President Barack Obama, which set the record for deportations in one year by any president. Between Jan. 1, 2011, and June 30, 2011, 46,486 men and women were removed from the country by the government.

The Obama administration has said that undocumented immigrants with strong ties to the United States are a low priority for removals -- including parents of citizen children. There are a lot of them: At least four million citizen children of undocumented immigrants were living in the United States as of 2009, according to a 2010 report by Pew Hispanic Center.

U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants can't do much to help their parents gain legal status, and the "extreme hardship" they could face by losing their parent or moving abroad is rarely considered during the parent's removal proceedings. That means parents have to either take their children to their native country -- where they are not citizens and may not speak the language -- or leave them here.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not release the number of parents deported who were the sole caretaker of their children, or how many were married to U.S. citizens. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment and additional information on the report.

CIA Secret Prison: Polish Leaders Break Silence About Black Site

WARSAW, Poland — For years, the notion that Poland could allow the CIA to operate a secret prison in a remote lake region was treated as a crackpot idea by the country's politicians, journalists and the public.

A heated political debate this week reveals how dramatically the narrative has changed.

In a string of revelations and political statements, Polish leaders have come closer than ever to acknowledging that the United States ran a secret interrogation facility for terror suspects in 2002 and 2003 in the Eastern European country.

Some officials recall the fear that prevailed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and defend the tough stance that former U.S. President George W. Bush took against terrorists.

But the debate is sometimes tinged with a hint of disappointment with Washington, as if Poland's young democracy had been led astray – ethically and legally – by the superpower that it counts as a key ally, and then left alone to deal with the fallout.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Thursday that Poland has become the "political victim" of leaks from U.S. officials that brought to light aspects of the secret rendition program.

Protesters target McGuinty office to fight social assistance freeze

The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer was the statement repeated through the microphone Friday as grassroots organization ACORN protested the latest budget outside Dalton McGuinty's office.

There were about 50 people in attendance to speak out against the social assistance freeze and the child tax benefit cuts that were announced Tuesday in the provincial budget.

Though McGuinty was in Ottawa on Friday to speak about the budget, he was not at his constituency office during the protest. Office staff locked the door and closed the window blinds during the protest.

Kathleen Fortin is a member of the board for ACORN and has been part of the organization for four years. "I'm here to speak for those who can't speak for themselves," said Fortin.

She says that she and her partner are both on disability and can barely make the rent each month. "My boyfriend has had bladder and prostate cancer and can't work because of it. His diet is restricted and expensive. Is he supposed to stop eating properly because he no longer has enough funding to do so? No. We're just going to have to find the money we don't have," she said.

ACORN says it has about 1,600 members in the Ottawa area and they say the biggest problem here is the distrust in the political process. "We feel we're being bullied and we want it to stop," said John Redins.

New rules in budget ‘create more fear’ among politically active charities

Ross McMillan has a pretty good idea that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty aimed one part of this week’s federal budget squarely at his organization and its partners.

Mr. McMillan is chief executive of Tides Canada, a Vancouver-based charity that has been criticized by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver for funding groups opposed to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would connect British Columbia to the Alberta oil sands. Mr. Oliver has called Tides groups radicals and accused them of hijacking the regulatory hearings for the project.

The impact on Tides Canada, and other groups that oppose the pipeline, is in new measures that target how charities engage in political activity. By law, all charities are allowed to devote 10 per cent of their total resources, including money and volunteers, to political advocacy so long as the activity is part of the charity’s overall purpose and isn’t partisan. For example, a charity can denounce or support a government policy, but it can’t endorse or oppose a particular political candidate or party.

The budget doesn’t change the 10-per-cent rule, but it does go after politically active charities in other ways. For example, the budget increased sanctions on charities that don’t comply with the advocacy regulations and it announced an $8-million special audit by Canada Revenue Agency to see if charities are adhering to the 10-per-cent limit. The budget also announced restrictions on how charitable foundations fund political activities by other organizations and it introduced new reporting rules for charities that use foreign donations to fund these activities.

Eco charities face federal crackdown

The Conservative government will keep a closer eye on environment-focused charities accused of breaking rules that cap their political activity, cracking down on groups that allegedly engage in politically charged work beyond the legal limit.

Thursday's budget arms the Canada Revenue Agency with $8-million over two years to ensure charities devote resources to charitable work and to improve transparency by asking them to disclose the extent to which their political activities are funded by foreign sources.

"[Some charities] are not acting like they're a charitable institution; they're acting like they're an environmental lobbyist - that's the big objection," said Frank Atkins, a University of Calgary economist. "They're hiding behind their charitable status."

The revenue agency says a charity is allowed to devote up to 10% of its total annual resources to political activities, but Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said this week the government has received "a lot" of complaints from Canadians who worry their donations are going toward political action rather than charity work.

"There is clearly a need, in our view, for more vigilance," Mr. Flaherty said.

Conservatives to turn to Internet after pulling plug on environmental panel

OTTAWA - The proposed elimination of a key federal business and environmental panel that delivered stern warnings about Canada's climate change policies will leave a ``policy vacuum'' in the country's economic development, according to a former CEO of the group.

But the government suggests it can now get this advice from the Internet and stakeholders.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, created under former prime minister Brian Mulroney's government in 1988 in the lead-up to the 1992 Earth Summit, was one of the first forums to bring together business and environmental stakeholders to provide non-partisan research and advice on federal policies.

But members of the government, including Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Environment Minister Peter Kent, applauded, grinned and chuckled in the House of Commons Friday as NDP MP Dennis Bevington slammed Thursday's federal budget for pulling the plug on the panel that employs about 30 people.

``The reality is that the round table was created one-quarter of a century ago,'' Kent said in the Commons. ``It was created before the Internet, when there were few such sources of domestic, independent research and analysis on sustainable development. That is simply no longer the case. There are now any number of organizations and university-based services that provide those services.''

Advocates slam Tory axing of Katimavik

A program that was lauded by the United Nations, modelled by other countries and designed to teach leadership and community awareness to young Canadians was a victim of Thursday's budget cuts.

Katimavik, a Trudeau-era program, annually selects 1,100 young Canadians between the ages of 17 and 21 and sends them to diverse regions of Canada to volunteer with community-based organizations.

While many programs offer similar objectives, what differentiates Katimavik is that participants commit themselves to six-month terms, giving them a much deeper understanding of the region that they work within.

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, son of the former prime minister who began the program in 1977, has been closely involved with Katimavik, including sitting on its board of directors between 2002 and 2006.

"The decision to cut it is purely ideological," said Trudeau. "Because anything that empowers young people frightens these Conservatives, and second (Katimavik) has been associated with the Liberal party for all of its existence."

According to Trudeau, the money invested in the program is simply a way for the federal government to invest into communities.

Senior Tories fan out to sell 2012 budget

Dozens of government ministers fanned out across the country to sell the Conservative budget Friday, leaving few senior ministers in the House of Commons to answer opposition questions on a fiscal blueprint that includes a controversial scaling-back of Canada's old age pension program.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and many of his top ministers - including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Industry Minister Christian Paradis, National Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Transport Minister Denis Lebel - were not in the House of Commons to answer questions about the budget.

Instead, several Tory backbenchers moved up to fill the front benches with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird acting as the lead government spokesman for the day.

Most MPs traditionally leave Ottawa on Thursday nights to handle issues in their ridings on Fridays.

NDP finance critic and national caucus chair Peter Julian filled in for newly elected leader Thomas Mulcair, who was absent, to lead the party's attack on the federal budget in the Commons.

"Conservatives promised to create jobs and, instead, slashed the vital services that Canadian families rely on, services such as old-age security and health care. They promised jobs and growth, but, instead, what they delivered is reckless cuts," Julian said.

Baird countered that the budget is "fair" and "balanced," and "focused on jobs, economic growth and the long-term prosperity of Canada."

Ottawa's fiscal maestros

Under Stephen Harper, Canada can fairly claim to be the best-governed country among advanced democracies in the world. Thursday's federal budget locks up Canada's lead.

Right now, the major economies share a common economic problem: With the world slowly and fitfully emerging from the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, they must begin to plan to reduce their debt burdens - but not so fast that they crush demand and abort the recovery. The United Kingdom exemplifies the dangers of moving too fast: your recovery falters.

The United States exemplifies the risks of moving too slow: The inability of its political system to agree on any plan to balance the budget has cost the world's biggest economy its Triple-A credit rating.

Canada has been seeking to move at a pace that's just right - and with the 2012 budget, Canada continues to succeed. Barring an unexpected slump into renewed recession, Thursday's budget moves Canada to budget balance over the next three years. There will be no tax increases. Federal spending growth will be restrained, but outlays will still rise: from $272.9 billion in the year just ended to a projected $296.6 billion in 2015-2016.

This "steady as she goes" course has disappointed some. The Edmonton Sun denounced the budget as "Trudeauesque."

Coast guard may buy ships

MacKay: $5.2b also for choppers

The 2012 budget wasn’t kind to many federal departments but one big winner was the Canadian Coast Guard.

It will receive $5.2 billion over 11 years to upgrade its fleet of ships and helicopters. This money is above and beyond the $35 billion being spent in the national shipbuilding program.

Like most of the budget, few details of the spending were unveiled. The document does not outline what will be bought or when.

In an interview late Thursday night, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the money, which works out to almost $500-million per year, will involve building new ships and buying helicopters. It will also go to refit existing vessels and other capital projects such as buildings.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which oversees the coast guard, said the spending will be developed within the context of the shipbuilding program.

However, this does not mean the $5.2 billion will automatically be added to the workload of the Halifax and Vancouver shipyards. Instead new contracts will go out to tender.

Canada could pay more than $100M for its first few F-35s

Canada could pay more than $100 million for each of the first few F-35 fighter jets it’s scheduled to receive in 2017.

According to documents tabled in the U.S. Congress, Canada will pay around $90 million each for the first few jets that are delivered — should it sign a contract in 2013. However, that number is understood to possibly be closer to $104 million for each plane.

According to the Joint Strike Fighter program’s Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) tabled in  Congress on Thursday, the overall cost of the F-35 rose again in the last year. Aviation Week reported Friday the new SAR shows the cost of the F-35 “is inching higher, rising 4.3 per cent to $395.7 billion in the last year.”

The document tabled Thursday and obtained by iPolitics, outlines the actual and predicted quantity of planes being produced by the program. Should Canada sign a contract next year as has been planned, it would have delivery of its first jets sometime in 2017. The SAR shows the price of an F-35 at that point would be roughly $91 million — a figure that includes the engine.

However, iPolitics understands that the Unit Recurring Flyaway Cost — the cost for the airframe, engines, avionics and other equipment that come standard with every airplane — of the Canadian F-35s delivered in 2017 will actually be around $104 million per unit. That cost would likely drop in the subsequent years toward 2023, as production numbers of the planes rises.

Can James Moore be both arts champion and axe man?

When James Moore became Minister of Canadian Heritage, he says he fielded three main requests from the arts community: Don’t cut funding, make it easier to get funding by cutting red tape and be a champion for the arts. The minister who took an axe to the CBC this week, cutting its funding by 10 per cent, unapologetically clung to the idea of being a champion of the arts on Thursday, touting a budget that slashed his own department’s operations while shielding the Canada Council for the Arts, national museums and others from funding cuts.

“No cuts to the Canada Council for the Arts, no cuts to Arts Presentation Canada [now the Canada Arts Presentation Fund], festival funding – all those things that are critical to quality of life in communities across the country,” Moore told The Globe and Mail Thursday afternoon. “All of it has been protected in the budget.”

This was a big moment for Moore. Since becoming Heritage Minister in 2008, he has positioned himself as a defender of the arts – someone who, at the very least, sees their worth in terms of economic stimulus. More than that, he goes out of his way to portray himself as someone who appreciates the arts for their cultural worth – someone who gets a kick out of his portfolio. He’ll be at the Junos this weekend, rooting for fellow British Columbian Dan Mangan. He tweets about Ron Sexsmith and Deadmau5. Give him a chance, and he’ll tell you about his movie nights at the National Arts Centre – where Canadian films are shown to packed houses that may include the Prime Minister and/or his wife. He seems to have come a long way from the guy who in 2009 couldn’t identify the prominent Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan when quizzed by the Radio-Canada program Tout le monde en parle.

John Baird: In defence of 'what is right'

Canada's leaders on the global arena are no longer ready to let others take the lead. Instead, Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is liberating itself from the firm grip of "moral relativism" - in the words of John Baird, the Canadian foreign minister.

After the last election, the country is now in the process of what has been described as the most dramatic shift in post-war Canadian foreign policy history.

Baird, the man leading the foreign policy charge, is taking a strong public stand for what he calls Canadian principles of "what is right and what is wrong":

"Canada does not go along in order to get along. We will go along only if we go in a direction that advances Canada's values. We take our position based on Canadian values, based on Canadian interests and what we believe is right. We have seen people in the past administrations who would define Canadian foreign policy as whatever the international consensus was, and that is not good enough, we should take policy decisions based on what is right."

The steps Baird is taking with conservative PM Harper raises eyebrows both at home and abroad. While his policy of moral clarity encompasses staunch support of Israel and hardened rhetoric against Iran, it does not extend to a clear condemnation of Israeli settlement and occupation. And this is leading critics to ask to what extent Canada's foreign policy is under the influence of a conservative Jewish and Christian agenda.

Harper should lead by example on pension austerity, Rae says

If the prime minister is going to raise the age for Old Age Security from 65 to 67, then he should lead by example and dump a $100,000 prime ministerial pension top-up, Liberal interim leader Bob Rae gibed on Friday afternoon.

As provided for in paragraph 48 of the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act, when the prime minister turns 65 he’ll begin to receive an annual “special allowance” equal to two thirds of his annual salary — that’s in addition to his pension.

The Liberals plan to table a sub-amendment to yesterday’s budget to get rid of it, Rae said.

“Not many Canadians are aware of it, quite apart from MPs’ pensions there’s a separate allowance for the prime minister, for a retiring prime minister that was brought in in 1992 for some particular reason,” Rae told a scrum of reporters.

“I don’t know why that would be.”

Original Article
Source: ipolitics
Author: ipolitics

Federal budget poses threat to CBC, Stursberg argues

Last Thursday’s federal budget cut the CBC by $115-million. To put this in context, here are three things about the corporation that most people do not know. First, it is more successful now than it has ever been. Second, the federal budget cut is only the beginning of its woes. Third, there is a way forward, but nobody is talking about it. The CBC is at the most challenging point in its history.

Nearly every year since the 1970s, CBC’s television audiences declined. By 2004, its ratings were the lowest in its history. Almost nobody was watching. The mighty news department commanded only 12 per cent of the audience for Canadian news. The entertainment department took only 30 per cent of the audience for Canadian comedy and drama. Polls showed that Canadians found CBC television essentially irrelevant to their lives.

Starting in 2006, the CBC began to re-invent itself and re-connect with Canadians. It overhauled all its shows – entertainment, news, talk, music, everything. The results were startling. By 2010, it was clear that the CBC had been re-born. This year it is possible to say with certainty that the CBC has never been stronger.

Radio is enjoying the highest ratings in its 75-year history. The great shows – Quirks and Quarks, The Sunday Edition, As It Happens, The Current and the local shows – have never been more popular. The 10 a.m. national morning slot, once hosted by Peter Gzowski, is now home to Gian Gomeshi and Q. The audiences are larger than they were for Gzowski.

Budget 2012: The battle lines have been drawn for Canada's Indigenous peoples

The Conservative budget was released today with most mainstream political commentators wiping their brows, saying "Phewf, we thought it would be much worse!" People like Kevin O'Leary were asking why the Conservative government didn't go further to open up Canada for international investment. Others were relieved that only 19,200 federal public service jobs would be lost as opposed to the 60,000 that were predicted. Still others were wondering what the streamlined environmental review processes might mean.

The area with which I am most concerned relates to what was and was not in the budget for Indigenous Peoples. I am not surprised by this budget, in fact, it is just about exactly what I predicted it would be. What I am surprised about is how the Assembly of First Nations' National Chief Shawn Atleo could possibly think this was a good budget.

Atleo says: "The investments in education in today's budget indicate that the voices of our youth are perhaps beginning to be heard...". Well, let's look what was and was not provided for First Nation education:

For elementary and secondary education (K-12), approximately $1.5 billion in extra funding is needed this year to have an education system almost on par with the provinces. This budget only provided $100M for this year, most of which will go to early literacy (and not in our languages).

Conservatives' small-minded budget kills jobs and fails Canadians

Despite its size and the hundreds of measures it details, Harper's 2012 budget demonstrates just how small-minded their vision is. Canada faces major challenges, with 1.4 million unemployed, stagnant productivity growth, a crisis in retirement security and growing inequality.

Instead of addressing these challenges, what this budget provides is more of their failed economic policies, deep job-killing budget cuts, cuts to public pensions and a highlight: getting rid of the penny.

Not only is Harper using his new majority power to reduce the size and scope of the federal government and shrink public pensions, he is also using it to eliminate a number of iconic programs and reduce dissent from some of their potential adversaries, no matter how small. While headlines might focus on the ending of production of the one-cent coin, the budget also eliminates funding for the Katimavik program and the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy. The National Council of Welfare will have $1.1 million cut, which eliminates this valuable agency standing up for social assistance recipients.

These are just a few of the programs eliminated, many more will become apparent as more details emerge. The budget also announced plans to further restrict charities from engaging in political activities and to disclose their funding from foreign sources.

Conservative budget levies frontal assault on environment, First Nations

Only a week after record-breaking temperatures in the National Capital Region, a chill blew through Ottawa streets as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty prepared to deliver the federal budget. After five years of a minority Conservative government, all signs pointed to a strict austerity budget on March 29.

Social justice activists and concerned citizens have been organizing around the anticipated announcement of pension reform, job losses and social spending cuts. During the speech, about 17 concerned Canadians stood up in the House of Commons gallery and chanted, "This is not our budget! Where are we in your budget?" The group was detained by Hill security but later released without charges.

"We chanted for a solid 60 seconds before they moved to kick us out," said Taylor Eby, one of the participants in the demonstration. "The reason I took part in this action is because, like many Canadians, I'm frustrated with this government's lack of accountability and their unwillingness to listen to the majority who did not elect them."

Canadians opposed to the Harper government's austerity measures are rallying around the slogan Not Our Budget, and issued a press release coinciding with the action on Parliament Hill. The group expressed concern with the "gutting of environmental legislation" and cutting "services for First Nations education and health."

A New Way Forward

The NDP will not lose its principles with Thomas Mulcair. Rather, one hopes that with him they have the chance to win power and finally apply them.

Some things just happen. No one sees them coming. When they do, we can’t guess their consequences.

Case in point: First, the NDP’s sweep of Quebec in last year’s federal election and becoming the Official Opposition and thus government-in-waiting. (Even now when I write this I wonder, “Did this really happen?”) Second, Jack Layton, the NDP leader who had done the unexpected, dies at the very peak of his career, and a new leader must be found to take the party to power.

There were people in the party who said from the outset of the leadership race that who that new leader should be was a no-brainer. He or she must be the one likely to hold the most Quebec seats, most credible as a prime minister, and most able to put an end to the odious rule of Stephen Harper.
That person was, of course, Thomas Mulcair and he was, indeed, chosen at last week’s NDP leadership convention.

Why Tom Mulcair is Stephen Harper’s first real Opposition threat in years

Tom Mulcair is the most experienced opposition leader Stephen Harper has faced. Between Quebec’s national assembly and the federal Parliament, he’s been in elected politics for 18 years. Unlike Paul Martin, who had been in Parliament for nearly as long, Mulcair has been in an opposition party, Jean Charest’s Quebec Liberals, that fought its way to government. He is an effective interrogator of witnesses in parliamentary committees, a skill he should keep using. He’s smart and hungry.

For now, he’s more a danger to Bob Rae than to Stephen Harper.

Some of my colleagues have been tut-tutting Mulcair for reading from notes in his victory speech at the NDP convention and in his first performances in the House of Commons. Here in the Parliamentary press gallery, we like our political leaders spontaneous. It’s why so many of us thought Michael Ignatieff’s town-hall free-association sessions were the highlight of the 2011 election. It helps explain why apparently nobody in 30 years has ever taken Bob Rae aside and said, “Bob? Edit.”

Canada, home to the suicide capital of the world

Randy Keeper is sick of building coffins. A wiry fellow who looks younger than his 49 years, Keeper is proud of his job as a carpenter and crew leader, saying he’s built 25 houses from scratch over 17 years in Pikangikum, the reserve in northwestern Ontario where he has lived his whole life. But when it comes to the wooden boxes he builds for Pikangikum’s dead, he draws a blank. “I don’t count them,” he says from his daughter’s dining room table. He remembers the last ones, though. They were in December. “I had to make two in one day, one for an elder and one for a younger person.”

The dreams started a couple of weeks after that. In one, he’s lying face up in a freshly dug grave, watching as a coffin is slowly lowered toward him. He doesn’t know if there’s anyone inside, but he recognizes his handiwork: 100 lb. of plywood, treated pine and nails, a simple enough thing that takes him no more than 90 minutes to build. In the dream he’s alive but can’t move as it comes down on his chest, smothering him. Then he wakes up. “The elders told me to stop making them,” he says, “but I have no choice because I work for the band. I get nervous, shaky. Once the dreams happened I’d say yes out of respect for chief and council, but sometimes I don’t show up.”

MP pension reform bill to be introduced in fall

Legislation will be introduced this fall to turn the vague hints of MP pension reform made in this week's budget into concrete plans, government sources say.

Changes will be made to the age of entitlement and benefit levels, though they won't take effect until after the next election in 2015.

In the meantime, MPs will start contributing more to their own pensions next year and by 2016, will pay half.

In advance of Thursday's budget, the Conservatives hinted they would take a hard line on MP pensions, after they raised the eligibility age for Old Age Security benefits to 67 from 65.

But the budget Thursday was thin on details, sparking criticism that politicians weren't ready to take a hit while asking Canadians to take one on the chin.

"The fact that they put their own bank accounts ahead of the country at the same time as they are asking others to sacrifice, it's really disappointing," said Gregory Thomas, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Earth Hour: environmentalists say there’s renewed activism

Where do you stand on Earth Hour?

Optimistically, with environmental groups buoyed by renewed support from a re-energized citizenry? “These rituals are important for creating a sense of identity and community,” says Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada. “They look down the street and see they are with their neighbours who want to do something about climate change.”

Or, more soberly, with Harry McCaughey, a Queen’s University professor who will turn off his lights tonight and use the darkened hour for sad reflection on climate change? “My mind cannot get away from this overwhelming problem we are facing,” he says.

Donations to and membership in environmental groups are up since January, when public hearings into the Northern Gateway pipeline launched and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver accused environmentalists of a having “radical ideological agenda” funded by foreigners and abetted by “jet-setting celebrities.”

There is likely to be a more activism in the wake of the federal budget’s new rollbacks on environmental protection, says Stewart.

Federal Budget 2012: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty scrambles to limit fallout on MP pensions

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is scrambling to limit the political fallout from a budget that targets the pensions of government workers and seniors while not reducing the gold-plated pensions of members of Parliament.

The Conservatives’ budget document notes only that adjustments to MPs’ retirement arrangements will take effect in the next Parliament (likely in 2015 or 2016).

But in a single line in his budget speech in the Commons, Flaherty said the government would begin adjusting the cost-sharing burden to make MPs contribute more to their pension plans beginning in 2013.

The Conservatives have been sharply criticized for being vague about possible changes to MPs’ pensions while asking future seniors to work another two years before accessing Old Age Security payments and requiring federal public servants to pay a larger share of their pension plans.

“MPs missed an opportunity today to put Canada first and lead by example,” said Gregory Thomas, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “MPs can still retire at age 55 after just six years of service. This budget contains no specific changes to the retirement age for MPs, the number of years they need to work, or the massive pensions they can collect.”

Occupy protesters sent to hospital after clash with police

Protesters clashed with police Friday night as members of the Occupy Toronto movement marched to express outrage at the arrest of four others earlier in the day.

At least one protester was arrested during the march.

Marchers gathered in front of 52 Div. headquarters on Dundas St. W. near University Ave. The group then left the station and headed to Queen St. and University Ave. around 9 p.m.

A protester on a bicycle and a police officer got into a physical confrontation, resulting in the arrest of the protester. Police waved their batons in an attempt to moved back the crowd of protesters.

The march dissipated around 10 p.m.

Earlier Friday, four people were arrested at Osgoode Hall on University Ave., after they refused to leave the grounds. Two of the people arrested were sent to the hospital to be treated for minor injuries, according to Staff Sgt. Deb Abbott.

All four protesters face charges in connection with the incident, police said. The charges include causing a disturbance, obstructing police, assault with intent to resist arrest and possession of marijuana.

Original Article
Source: Star
Author: Tim Alamenciak

Budget’s new rules unfairly target environmental groups

The Conservatives are continuing their dishonourable attack meant to intimidate environmental groups, in a budget item that stands out for adding a needless new cost.

Non-profit groups will be required to “provide more information on their political activities, including the extent to which these are funded by foreign sources,” budget documents say. And somehow the government has found $8-million, at a time of restraint, for the Canada Revenue Agency to spend on “education and compliance,” $3-million of which is for extra audits to ensure the existing 10-per-cent rule is maintained (no more than 10 per cent of funds can be spent on advocacy). Witch-hunts don’t come cheap.

Foreign sources? It’s not illegal for Canadian charities to take money from outside the country. And why should it be? If a Canadian cancer researcher, or a program to keep inner-city youth in school, receives money from a foreign foundation, is anything wrong with that? Why, then, is it wrong for an environmental group?

We live in a globalized world – the phrase is nearly as ubiquitous as what it represents. The Canadian government is only too happy to solicit foreign capital, foreign students (it has special scholarships for them), foreign culture, foreign labour. But foreign charitable donations for advocacy? Why, they’re a threat to the Canadian way of life!

Recycling neo-liberalism in austerity budgets

At what point does something that was once new, turn into old, and make way for something newer? Twenty years? 30? 40? I ask in light of the CBC's Terry Milewski's question to NDP Leader Tom Mulcair at his first news conference. How do you expect to appeal to voters, he prodded, with a program so "antiquated"?

But hold on. If you're 30 years old, 35, even 40 (born in 1972), the only economic wisdom you've ever known is the nostrums of neo-liberalism, which began in the Reagan-Thatcher 1980s and continues into the current round of austerity budgets everywhere. You've lived entirely in a pro-business context of deregulation and "reining in" public spending. It's ancient, as old as you are. (And includes the era of those zealous neo-Liberals, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.)

Or take a Globe and Mail editorial, which asked, "Is a 'labour-friendly government' really what is needed at a time when public-sector unions have lost touch with the reality of the economy?"

Now, labour-hostile governments are all anyone under 40 has seen, starting with Thatcher and Reagan smashing the miners and air traffic controllers. The decimation of unions over that time is seriously related to the rise of social inequality (We are the 99 per cent) that marks and mars our era. Union bargaining had largely created the middle-income sector. Some labour-friendliness might restore balance and avoid the strife that inequality has led to. It would be innovative. Milewski and the Globe editorialist are basically showing their age, and a lazy refusal to think fresh.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Under-enrolled by 71,000 students, Toronto schools face tough choices

With a staggering 71,000 fewer students than the province says it has room for, the Toronto District School Board faces having to close the rough equivalent of 171 schools now that Queen’s Park no longer will help pay to keep under-used schools open.

While the tough new policy targets many of almost 800 schools across Ontario whose student loads fall short of capacity by a total of nearly 327,000 students, it is the Toronto board that will be hardest hit by the scrapping of top-up dollars for declining enrolment.

Across its 461 elementary schools, the board has 48,030 fewer students than its official capacity. In its 98 high schools, it is operating 23,397 students under capacity. Those statistics leave the board’s enrolment falling short by the rough equivalent of 143 elementary schools and 28 high schools at their current size.

“Closing anywhere near that many schools would cause destruction to our system and we’d start to go down the path of American cities that have had the heart taken out of them by losing schools,” warned board chair Chris Bolton.

Trayvon Martin shooting: Teen’s body showed no sign of a fight, says funeral director

MIAMI—The funeral director who oversaw slain U.S. teenager Trayvon Martin’s burial says he saw no signs of a fight on the body.

Richard Kurtz says he prepared the body for interment and saw no marks on Martin’s hands, face or body other than the gunshot wound that killed him.

The 17-year-old Martin was killed Feb. 26 by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the Florida city of Sanford, where Martin was visiting. Zimmerman has claimed self-defence and says Martin attacked and beat him.

The results of an autopsy have not been released while the death remains under investigation by state and federal authorities.

Zimmerman has not been charged, leading to racially-tinged protests around the country. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother Hispanic.

Original Article
Source: Star
Author:  ---

Gas prices: How Wall Street helps pump prices defy supply and demand

When it comes to gasoline prices, it would seem that the law of supply and demand has been revoked.

Pump prices in the GTA have jumped by about 12 per cent since the New Year. At a current average of $1.29 per litre – forecast by some experts to reach $1.70 by mid-summer – gas prices are near their record level of 2008.

The hardship for consumers is obvious but not the culprit. Supply of crude oil is abundant. And demand is stable. Yes, demand continues to grow in the emerging super-economies of China and India. But it’s flat in America, still by far the world’s biggest energy consumer. And it’s on the decline in a Europe that recently slipped into recession.

A round-up of the usual suspects reveals just one – speculation – that appears complicit in our pump-price discontent.

 • Supply. We’re in the midst of a boom in crude production. In 2012, Canada will produce crude at a rate almost one-third higher than the average annual production of the 2000s.

And the U.S., now the world’s fastest-growing oil producer, supplies about 80 per cent of its consumption. U.S. dependence on imported oil is at a 17-year low.

Stephen Harper, Dalton McGuinty on similar tracks

OTTAWA—Within months if not weeks, it will be difficult — at least in Central Canada — not to run into someone who is directly hit by the austerity measures of the federal and provincial governments.

In Ontario, that may be downright impossible.

As ideologically different as they may be, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty have opted for similar tracks to restore their government finances to health.

They have placed the burden of their belt-tightening exercises not on taxpayers but on the public servants who deliver their programs.

In Ontario, anyone who draws a paycheque from the province — from teachers to nurses to social workers to bureaucrats — is about to fall under a salary freeze.

At the federal level, about 20,000 public service jobs are slated to disappear. And that is only a beginning as more jobs will go as the impact of some of the cuts announced in Thursday’s budget filter down to the hosts of agencies, organizations and crown corporations that depend on federal funding.

The bulk of those jobs are in Ontario.

Canada Budget 2012: Cuts For Public Service, Investment For Business In Conservative Spending Plan

OTTAWA — The Conservative government’s first majority budget focuses on business-friendly incentives aimed at creating jobs while reducing the size of the public sector and eliminating or cutting many programs that don’t jibe with the party’s ideology.

“It signals a very profound change in direction,” said Ian Lee, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.

“This is going to be a transformational budget and ironically, not because of the budgetary stuff in the budget, it’s going to be transformational because of so many policy initiatives, changes and direction,” he added.

Budget 2012, titled Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity, has the Tories slashing $5.2 billion from public services — a figure they’ll reach by 2014-2015.

Some of the departments hardest hit include National Defence, which is wrapping up operations in Afghanistan, Public Safety, Health Canada and the International Assistance Envelope. The federal government will spend $900 million to eliminate approximately 19,200 federal jobs (including attrition), mostly in the national capital region.

NDP Tied With Tories In New Poll After Thomas Mulcair Takes Reins

Canadians are warming up to the New Democrats now that Thomas Mulcair has taken over the reins, with the party neck-and-neck with the Conservatives and way ahead in Quebec in a new poll.

The survey from Forum Research was conducted March 26-27 and polled 1,638 Canadians, capturing public opinion after the March 24 leadership convention and during Mulcair’s first two days as opposition leader in the House of Commons.

The New Democrats are tied with the Conservatives for the lead at 35 per cent support. Though a pre-convention poll suggested that the two parties were tied at 30 per cent, this Forum survey indicates that the NDP has pulled even with the Conservatives not because of Tory losses, but because of NDP gains.

Indeed, the Conservatives have barely moved since Forum was last in the field on March 2. The Tories have slipped only two points, compared to the seven point gain for the New Democrats.

It is the Liberals who have suffered, dropping six points to only 19 per cent support, the same share of the vote the party took in the 2011 election. Thomas Mulcair wants to expand the party’s base toward the centre, and he appears to be doing just that.

Angelo Persichilli Quits Job As Stephen Harper's Communications Director After Just 7 Months

Angelo Persichilli, Stephen Harper's Director of Communications has quit.

Persichilli told his staff Friday morning the time had come for him to leave the Prime Minister's Office, just seven months after taking the job.

"This is a prestigious position that requires extremely intense effort and very long hours, which at a certain age, are not an option for a long period of time," he wrote in a letter to the press gallery.

Persichilli, who is 63, is a former Toronto Star columnist and a past editor of an Italian newspaper. He was brought it by Harper's Chief of Staff Nigel Wright last September to replace the PM's longtime aide Dimitri Soudas.

Persichilli said he would stay on until his successor is appointed.

It is widely speculated that Andrew MacDougall, the associate director of communications, will take over the top job.

Persichilli is the second senior staff in Harper's communications shop to call it quits recently.

Indefinite Detention Targeted By GOP As House Committee Weighs Proposals To Revise Provision

WASHINGTON — Facing a conservative backlash, House Republicans are working to change a new law that allows the indefinite detention without trial of terrorist suspects, even U.S. citizens seized within the nation's borders.

Republicans and Democratic lawmakers said this week that the GOP majority on the House Armed Services Committee was weighing several proposals to revise the provision on indefinite detention that was part of the far-reaching defense bill that Congress passed in December and President Barack Obama signed into law.

Last year, Congress' approach to handling terror suspects divided Republicans and Democrats, pitted the White House against lawmakers and drew fierce opposition from civil liberties groups. The anger still lingers, and GOP leaders are under pressure from a number of rank-and-file members, tea partyers and libertarians to change the law.

"I intend to help put as much political pressure on this issue as possible," said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., whose staff has spoken to the Armed Services panel. "I intend to spend a lot of time – and I already have been doing so – making the public aware of this issue so we can get the change we need to address it."

Bank of America Sold Card Debts to Collectors Despite Faulty Records

In a series of 2009 and 2010 transactions, Bank of America sold credit card receivables to an outfit called CACH LLC, based in Denver. Co. Each month CACH bought debts with a face value of as much as $65 million for 1.8 cents on the dollar. At least a portion of the debts were legacy accounts acquired from MBNA, which Bank of America purchased in 2006.

The pricing reflected the accounts' questionable quality, but what is notable is that the bank could get anything at all for them. B of A was not making "any representations, warranties, promises, covenants, agreements, or guaranties of any kind or character whatsoever" about the accuracy or completeness of the debts' records, according to a 2010 credit card sales agreement submitted to a California state court in a civil suit involving debt that B of A had sold to CACH.

In the "as is" documents Bank of America has drawn up for such sales, it warned that it would initially provide no records to support the amounts it said are owed and might be unable to produce them. It also stated that some of the claims it sold might already have been extinguished in bankruptcy court. B of A has additionally cautioned that it might be selling loans whose balances are "approximate" or that consumers have already paid back in full. Maryland resident Karen Stevens was the victim of one such sale, which resulted in a three-year legal battle (see related story).

Bank of America declined requests to comment for this story, other than to say through spokeswoman Betty Riess that it works with credit card customers to try to resolve delinquent debt issues. CACH did not respond to several phone and email messages seeking comment on the terms of its purchases.

Republican Budget Represents a Bleak Future for America

This week the House voted on budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2013. The Republican budget, put forward by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, was presented as "a choice between two futures" that would show a stark contrast between their priorities and those of Democrats.

They were absolutely right: the choice could not be more clear. The Republican budget presents the American people with a vivid picture of the direction its authors want to take this country. Its vision consists of ending the Medicare guarantee and cutting taxes for the wealthiest among us, while putting jobs and our economic recovery at risk.

By ending the Medicare guarantee, the Republican budget shifts increasing costs to seniors and the disabled over the next several years. It reopens the Medicare Part D "donut hole" -- that is now closing, thanks to the Affordable Care Act -- which will lead to $44 billion in increased drug costs for seniors by 2020. Furthermore, their budget turns Medicaid into a block grant program and slashes its funding by one-third over the next decade, jeopardizing access to health care and nursing home care for seniors, the disabled, and low-income Americans. And it repeals the patient protections and the cost containment policies of the Affordable Care Act.

The Price of Oil: Saudi Hypocrisy, Our Gullibility

One is compelled to pull out that old chestnut, "There he goes again." The face of Saudi oil, and de facto senior voice of the OPEC cartel, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi entertained us to one of his seminal dissertations, expounding on Saudi Arabia's concerns for the well being of all mankind.

Stating the case clearly, that Saudi Arabia "... remains the world's largest producer and the country with the largest proven reserves, so it has a responsibility to do what it can to mitigate prices." No argument here.

Yet that bit of wisdom is prefaced by the oldest of canards, "Needless to say Saudi Arabia does not control the price: it sells its crude according to international prices." A truly bizarre declaration coming from the leading protagonist of the cartel, OPEC, whose primary function is to limit the supply of oil to world markets to control, and within the limits of the world's tolerance, to maximize the price of crude oil in the market place. Clearly their efforts have been so successful that the limits of tolerance have now been reached and letting off a little steam has become part of the ritual.

The ritual is encapsulated in the mantra repeated in Mr. Ali Naimi's pronouncement: "The bottom line is that Saudi Arabia would like to see a lower price . It would like to see a fair and reasonable price, that will not hurt the economic recovery, especially in emerging and developing countries...". A statement that automatically elicits our well inculcated and programmed hosannas whenever such mumblings come out of Riyadh.

Scott Walker Recall Election Ordered By Government Accountability Board

MADISON, Wis. — The recall election ordered Friday for embattled first-term Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker quickly turned into a possible rematch when the Democrat he narrowly defeated in 2010 announced he was jumping into the race.

Walker expressed confidence he would hold on to his seat shortly after the Government Accountability Board ordered the election, after more than 900,000 signatures were collected supporting a recall in the wake of Walker's push against union bargaining rights. It marks only the third recall of a governor in U.S. history.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced hours later he would challenge Walker, shaking up a Democratic primary race that had been led by union-backed candidate Kathleen Falk. Barrett has publically clashed with unions who were urging him not to get into the race.

In an email to supporters, Barrett said he would begin campaigning immediately to win the primary that looms just 39 days away on May 8. The general election is June 5.

Hours earlier, Walker said he was ready to defend his record just 15 months into his tumultuous term.

The Potato Movement: Greeks Helping Each Other in Hard Times

On Friday, March 30, European finance ministers are meeting to discuss increasing the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the rescue fund for nations that have needed bailouts on finding themselves unable to pay massive debts, all while their economies have imploded. Those countries include Spain, which is on a general strike about labor reforms today, Ireland, Portugal and Greece, where austerity measures have crippled an economy in its fifth year of recession.

This video (via When the Crisis Hits the Fan) satirizes how desperate Greeks have become to get a job.

The rising costs of higher learning

MONTREAL - May 1968. A student revolt in France turns into a mass movement with 10 million workers on strike in a tumultuous spring that almost brings down the Charles de Gaulle government.

One result of the uprising was the promise of a free university education - a topic that is being hotly debated today in France and other European countries with no or low tuition fees while they cope with crumbling economies.

Quebecers are now seven weeks into a widespread strike by university and CEGEP students over the politically charged and divisive issue of tuition fees.

Students have been squaring off with police on a daily basis as they block buildings, streets and bridges in a bid to have their battle cry heard.

And while the real battle is focused on forcing the Liberals to rescind a planned $325-a-year tuition increase over five years, to begin this September, student leaders persistently raise the idea of their ultimate goal: no tuition fees at all.

Is the idea feasible?

The Institut de recherche et d'informations socio-économique (IRIS) calculates the cost of free tuition in Quebec at about $400 million to $700 million a year.

NDP leader Mulcair says Prime Minister Harper broke promises

OTTAWA - Opposition leaders were quick to denounce the Flaherty budget issued Thursday as brutal for seniors and Quebec while doing little to create much-needed employment.

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair pounced, saying the Conservative government - as he predicted a day earlier - is recklessly cutting essential services such as Old Age Security.

Mulcair reminded reporters Prime Minister Stephen Harper last June pledged not to cut pension or transfers to the provinces for health.

"We can see that Stephen Harper is not a man of his word," Mulcair told The Gazette. "They got elected on a promise to create jobs. They're confirming now tens of billions of dollars in cuts to health care."

Muclair based his healthcut argument on Harper's decision to unilaterally impose a new health transfer funding formula on the provinces.

He said that means provinces will end up cutting costs by allowing for more and more private services, which runs against the principles of the Canada Health Act.

CBC, NFB and Telefilm to see 10% cut

MONTREAL - Cuts to CBC, Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board of Canada could lead to a significant reduction in Canadian film and TV production, and will almost certainly lead to layoffs at the CBC.

The federal budget includes 10-per-cent cuts to CBC, Telefilm Canada and the NFB.

"The Harper government has broken its election promise and has cut the CBC's budget by 10 per cent," said Ian Morrison, spokesman for watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

"It's a vindictive action. In English-speaking Canada, about one-third of Canadian TV viewing is Canadian content and CBC is by far the largest player in that one-third. So it will reduce Canadians' access to Canadian programming."

Morrison said the move might be good for Hollywood because CBC may have to buy more U.S. programming if it can't afford to finance local shows.

One positive for the cultural milieu is that Stephen Harper's government has maintained the same level of funding for the Canada Council for the Arts, which will continue to receive $181 million annually.

Statement from Katimavik – reaction to budget

It is with extreme disappointment that we learned today that the Government has decided to end its funding commitment to Katimavik.

Today’s announcement comes as a surprise, since we are entering the third year of a funding agreement whose terms end March 31st, 2013. The decision is even more surprising considering that the recently made public Canadian Heritage summative evaluation of our programs makes very clear how Katimavik’s programs are not only relevant, important and valuable, but also how the organization attains its targets and the programs tie in with government-wide priorities and the department’s strategic objectives.

For the past 35 years, Katimavik has helped shape a civically responsible Canada by harnessing the power of our young volunteers to help those in need in communities across Canada. In that time, over 30 000 Canadian youth have made a difference in communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast. They participated in our program gaining valuable work, life and leadership skills all the while fostering community development and civic engagement. Their parents had peace of mind knowing that their sons and daughters were participating in a structured, time-tested program, while they navigated the transition from emerging adulthood to adulthood.

In the coming days, our Board of Directors and management staff will be convened to plan the next steps.

Feds attack charitable sector in budget for being too political, say opposition MPs

PARLIAMENT HILL—Opposition MPs say a surprise allegation in the federal budget that Canadian charities are violating federal rules limiting their political advocacy is retribution for widespread opposition from environmental groups to the massive Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline across British Columbia.

The obscure provision in the budget Thursday to beef up the Canada Revenue Agency’s “enforcement tools” to monitor political activities of charities demonstrates the partisan nature of the Conservative government, opposition MPs said.

NDP MP Megan Leslie (Halifax, N.S.) told The Hill Times the measure is one of several provisions that show the budget, aside from its main thrust of public service spending cuts, is all “pipeline, pipeline, pipeline.”

“The over-arching theme here is this is a budget for the great pipeline to China,” Ms. Leslie said. “This is about pipelines, pipelines, pipelines, and at any cost.”

“Whether it is going after charities, who might have a different opinion, cutting the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy and cutting Environment Canada and not relying on science and evidence, or whether it’s going after the Environmental Assessment Act and weakening it, that’s what this budget says to me, it’s all about pipelines,” Ms. Leslie said.

Pasty tax sparks threat of bakers' march

The head of the bakery chain Greggs has threatened the government with "a march of the bakers" as it steps up its campaign to block VAT on pasties with a national petition.

Amid ongoing embarrassment for the coalition over the surprise budget announcement of changes to VAT on hot takeway food – dubbed the "pasty tax" – Greggs' chief executive, Ken McMeikan, said the chain was inviting its 6 million customers to sign petitions at its 1,600 UK shops from Friday.

A petition has already been set up on Downing Street's online scheme by bakers' trade associations but in a Radio 4 interview McMeikan said Greggs would be launching its own.

McMeikan said he was concerned that the VAT imposition could force small, independent bakeries out of business, and pledged to join forces to block the proposal during the six-week consultation period.

"My concern is that many small bakers – independent bakers – have (already) gone to the wall. The bakery industry has always been a key part of the high street."

He warned that the chancellor could expect to face "a march of the bakers" as affected businesses joined forces.

Trayvon Martin killing: witness says he saw Zimmerman walk away uninjured

A man who says he saw Trayvon Martin shot dead claims that the Florida teenager and his killer, George Zimmerman, were scuffling on the ground at the time with one on top of the other.

The first eyewitness account of the 17-year-old's final moments emerged on Thursday night more than a month after the boy lost his life in an altercation with a neighbourhood watch leader in a gated community in Sanford.

The anonymous man said he reported to police details of what he saw on the evening of 26 February, which included watching the gunman walking away from the fight apparently uninjured.

It contradicts an allegation from Zimmerman's father earlier in the day that the unarmed black teenager broke his son's nose during the incident and also left him with bloody injuries from slamming the man's head repeatedly on to a concrete pavement. The eyewitness says he saw no blood and that the entire confrontation took place only on grass.

"I saw two men on the ground, one on top of the other. I felt they were scuffling and I heard gunshots which to me were more like pops," he said in an interview broadcast on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, his voice disguised to protect his identity.

George Zimmerman, After the Shooting

In just a week, the investigations—picked up by state and federal officials last Monday—into Trayvon Martin’s death are moving beyond the inert primary investigation by the Sanford, Florida police department.

Late Wednesday, ABC News uncovered a video that shows George Zimmerman with Sanford police officers just after he shot and killed Martin a month ago. Zimmerman did not appear to have observable injuries—neither on his nose nor on the back of his head—which is distinctly at odds with the statement that Zimmerman gave and the account that the Sanford police initially released. On Tuesday, we learned that the lead investigator on the case, Chris Serino, filed an affidavit on the night of the shooting, declaring that he was not convinced by Zimmerman’s account, and which recommended that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter. Still, although the revived investigations into Martin’s tragic death are underway, the legal case against George Zimmerman still needs to be made.

Revised plan for Port Lands slammed

Ken Greenberg, a member of the team that designed the proposed riverside park at the mouth of the Don River, says revisions to the award-winning plan will strip the Port Lands of “all that is special.”

The suggested changes are part of a review of the Port Lands plan by the city and Waterfront Toronto and are expected to save as much as $150-million. They will also create larger areas for development.

Mr. Greenberg, a prominent architect and urban designer, said his team was never consulted by the city or Waterfront Toronto about possible changes to its design – advice he says he would have been happy to give.

The revisions would “gut” the original design, he said.

“This has been value engineered into total mediocrity,” Mr. Greenberg said. “What is happening here? Have we become so mean-spirited that we can no longer produce generous public spaces that celebrate our waterfront?”

Raise Minimum Wage By 35 Percent, Peg It To Inflation: Senate Dem

WASHINGTON -- Legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Thursday included a litany of measures aimed at boosting income for low-wage workers, most notably raising the minimum wage significantly and pegging it to inflation.

Along with spending on school modernization and renewable energy development, the Rebuild America Act calls for raising the minimum wage from the current federal level of $7.25 to $9.80 -- a 35 percent hike -- over the course of two and a half years, then indexing it so it rises with the cost of living. For restaurant servers and other tipped employees, the minimum wage before tips would leap from the current $2.13 to $6.86, and then track at 70 percent of the normal minimum wage.

The bill would also require employers to offer their workers paid sick days, make more white-collar workers eligible for overtime pay that they're currently exempted from, and give more workers the right to join a union.

In short, Harkin's bill, pitched as a prescription to rebuild the American middle class, hits all the right notes for worker advocates who say low- and middle-income earners are falling behind. The package was quickly praised by groups such as the AFL-CIO federation of labor unions; the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers; and the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a national group representing restaurant employees.

Rick Santorum 2012 Campaign: Repeating Missteps Of The 2006 Calamity

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Miner remembers watching a fat piece of sausage splatter with a thud against a picture of Sen. Rick Santorum adorning the side of the senator’s campaign RV.

It was fall 2006, and Miner, then a Santorum intern, was helping feed a group of Pittsburgh Steelers fans tailgating outside of Heinz Field. But it was a tough sell -- especially because the Santorum volunteers were peddling snacks and campaign literature to rowdy, buzzed hordes. The crowd eventually turned on the volunteers, and a weapon of choice was Polish.

"Fuck you, Rick Santorum!" Miner recalls the sausage-tosser shouting.

In short order, the tailgaters assailed the Santorum volunteers with whatever they could get their hands on: sausage, cookies, half-empty cups of beer, and beer cans.

"For the most part it was pretty unpleasant," recalls Bryan Nagy, who had joined his friend Miner for the event so he could get some free food. "A lot of booing. Some people would spit in the general direction of the bus."

The event was supposed to build camaraderie and sell Santorum as a beloved member of Steeler Nation. Yet, like much of that brutal 2006 campaign that ended Santorum's Senate career, it simply reinforced the impression that Santorum -- whom the electorate had come to regard as sanctimonious and out-of-touch -- played for the away team.