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, January 21, 2012

Occupy The Courts Clashes With Supreme Court Police In Citizens United Protest

WASHINGTON -- The Occupy movement came to the Supreme Court on Friday to protest the Citizens United decision on its second anniversary. What began as a peaceful gathering, complete with an a capella group of mock jurists and "Sesame Street" parodies, turned into a near-melee on the Court's steps leading to 11 arrests, according to a Court spokesperson.

The group Move to Amend had organized Occupy the Courts to protest at courthouses throughout the United States on Friday. The group supports a 28th constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people and that campaign contributions are not a form of speech.

Move to Amend's rally, which started about noon across from the Supreme Court, was relatively orderly, anger over corporate influence mixing with optimism and good spirits. Among a couple of hundred demonstrators were a busload of self-described progressive Democrats from New Jersey and a Minnesotan currently living in Sweden.

"When the Supreme Court decision came down in 2010, I was outraged," Laird Monahan, the American expat, told The Huffington Post. "I expected to see rioting in the streets. I expected to see people marching on Washington with pitchforks and torches. And after five days, everyone went back to sleep."

What if 'Citizens United' Actually United the Citizens?

After a long, dark period of stagnant progressive momentum and pay-to-play politics, this week saw a flurry of progressive victories that could upset the conventional wisdom about a post–Citizens United world.

This morning’s announcement by Harry Reid that the Senate is postponing the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) vote would have been almost unimaginable as recently as a week ago, when PIPA and its House counterpart, SOPA (the Stop On-line Piracy Act), were considered done deals. Only a handful of disgruntled geeks stood in the way of an industry power grab that would have blessed online censorship and stifled innovation. But the bills’ promoters failed to anticipate the power of “Blackout Wednesday” to popularize the outrage. Suddenly, it wasn’t just geeks. Congress started fielding calls from people unable to sell couches on Craigslist and harried parents of students desperate to consult Wikipedia for school papers. Thus sounded the death knell for the bills.

While the tactical decision to pull down popular sites in protest of these bills were tailored to the Internet blackout bills, the other two major victories this week—the rejection of the massive Keystone oil pipeline and the submission of 1.9 million signatures to recall union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker—were also made possible by fusing old-school community organizing with innovative netroots strategies.

Citizens United Turns 2—and It's Still Wrong

In January 2010, the Supreme Court handed down the landmark decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that political spending by corporations could not be prohibited by the government, under the First Amendment. One of the court's rationales for why the public shouldn't worry about undue influence by high-spending companies was that shareholders (i.e.: the public) could always pressure companies to spend the money in their interest. As it turns out, that's not always the case.

Last September, I argued on this site that corporations should be required to disclose their political activities and spending. The problem, I wrote, was that if corporations' political spending were left up to individuals, like executives or directors, those individuals could advance their personal interests by directing money to their preferred political organizations. As I wrote:
Corporate executives often own a lot of stock, so they have an incentive to support politicians who will be friendly to their companies. But they are also rich people, so they have an incentive to support politicians who will reduce taxes on the rich (and especially taxes on gains from stock)--even though lower taxes mean less money for the infrastructure spending that many businesses want and even the Chamber of Commerce wants.
Since then, Harvard law professor John Coates has put some effort into figuring out just what corporations are doing with their political spending, and how it affects their shareholders. The short answer, revealed in his new working paper, is that political activities are bad for shareholders.

Florida Republicans' Plan to Block Out the Sunshine

In their longstanding fight to privatize the state's prison system—and a lot of other public services—Republican lawmakers in Florida are trying a new angle: doing it in secret.

Proposed Committee Bill 7170, introduced Tuesday in the GOP-dominated state legislature, aims to prevent "information relating to the outsourcing or privatization of an agency function" from being reported to the voting public "until after the contract for such functions is executed." In other words, taxpayers wouldn't get to know about government work turned over to a contractor until after the contract has been signed. The bill is expected to come to a floor vote later in the recently convened spring session; with Republicans holding supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature and Rick Scott sitting in the governor's office, it could become law by this summer.

The proposal is "very disturbing," Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis told the committee that passed the bill on Wednesday. "The language is pretty broad," she said. Another local activist speaking at the hearing called the measure an attack on "the transparency, accountability and due diligence of this body and citizens of this state."

Florida has long been known for having some of the country's most stringent sunshine laws. Currently they require that any government agency planning to contract out work must release a host of supporting information to the public, including cost-benefit analyses, business plans, and an assessment of the impact such a move would have on services. The new bill gets rid of those requirements for any privatization and outsourcing plans that come from the legislature.

In 1959, when I was a precocious smarty-pants still in grade school, I wrote a fake letter to Doris Blake, the New York Daily News advice columnist. I pretended to be a teenage girl "in trouble." I spun a tale of a liquor-soaked prom night and passing out in the back of a car. I included a cast of entirely fictional characters—a worthless boyfriend, a mentally unstable mother, a strict, brutal father. I ended my letter with: "Now I think I am pregnant. Please help me. I am desperate."

I'm not sure what I expected, but my letter was not printed, and no advice was forthcoming. The silence was utter. Possibly Miss Blake, like Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts, had a drawer where such letters were tossed. If so, the other letters in that drawer were no doubt a lot like mine—except that they were not written by wiseass children. They were real. And for the writers of those letters, the silence was real. And I remember thinking: Gee, what if I really were that girl I made up? What would I do?

One summer night some years later, when I was not quite 18, I got knocked up. There was nothing exciting or memorable or even interestingly sordid about the sex. I wasn't raped or coerced, nor was I madly in love or drunk or high. The guy was another kid, actually younger than I, just a friend, and it pretty much happened by default. We were horny teenagers with nothing else to do.

Nature, the ultimate unsentimental pragmatist, has its own notions about what constitutes a quality liaison. What nature wants is for sperm and egg to meet, as often as possible, whenever and wherever possible. Whatever it takes to expedite that meeting is fine with nature. If it's two people with a bassinet and a nursery all decorated and waiting and a shelf full of baby books, fine. If it's a 12-year-old girl who's been married off to a 70-year-old Afghan chieftain, fine. And if it's a couple of healthy young oafs like my friend and me, who knew perfectly well where babies come from but just got stupid for about 15 minutes, that's fine, too.

In the movies, newly pregnant women trip, fall down the stairs, and "lose the baby." Ah. If only it were that easy. In real life, once that egg is fertilized and has glided on down the fallopian tube, selected its nesting place, and settled in, it's notoriously secure, behaves like visiting royalty. Nature doesn't give a fig about the hostess's feelings of hospitality or lack of them. If the zygote's not defective, and the woman is in good health, almost nothing will shake it loose. Anyone who's been pregnant and didn't want to be knows this is so.

45% Rent Hike 'Unbelievable,' East Van Tenants Say

Tenants in an East Vancouver apartment building are fighting the landlord’s attempts to impose a 45-per-cent rent increase.

Many of the tenants are living on seniors’ and disability pensions and say that big a rent hike would be a financial disaster for them.

“I've been going to the food bank up here, which is where I'm going now, and that helps,” said tenant Adeline Saunders.

Saunders, 57, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, said her disability pension doesn't cover her bills now, and if her rent goes up, she'll be forced to choose between heat and food.

“Even though they say they put the double windows in here, it’s still freezing in here," said Saunders.

Three dozen seniors live in the 42-year-old building on East 6th Avenue, called Lions Manor, which is undergoing renovations and safety upgrades.

The building is owned by the Mount Pleasant Housing Society, a non-profit organization set up by the Mount Pleasant Lions Club.

Tenant Andy Lai, 72, said he is stressed after receiving notice of the planned hike.

“It’s unbelievable that the rent increase is so much more than the allowable legal limit,” said Lai.

In 2012, B.C. landlords are allowed to raise rents by 4.3 percent.

Is Harper the Last True Neo-Con?

"Can't we just start acting as though pre-2006 Harper was some other guy entirely who just happened to share the same name by a wild coincidence?"

So wrote a commenter on Aaron Wherry's blog a few months ago, understandably frustrated with trying to keep a handle on all of our PM's wild ideological fluctuations in the years since his swearing-in.

Old Stephen Harper opposed big government and runway spending. New Harper has presided over a 22 per cent spending hike. Old Harper was critical of unchecked immigration and multiculturalism. New Harper brags about ratcheting immigration rates to 57-year highs. Old Harper felt no shame embracing the cause of social conservatism. New Harper couldn't stand up for gay marriage fast enough the second the rumour mill started grinding against him.

Yet a CBC interview with the PM this week revealed that in at least one important realm Harper's stripes have barely changed at all. Speaking of the nuclear threat posed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran, the Prime Minister declared himself officially "frightened," before lapsing into the same sort of rhetorical bluster he's used since his days as an opposition bench booster for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

"I've watched and listened to what the leadership in the Iranian regime says, and it frightens me," he said. "In my judgment, these are people who have a particular fanatically religious worldview, and their statements imply to me no hesitation of using nuclear weapons if they see them achieving their religious or political purposes."

Though predictably guarded and obtuse in his views regarding what should be done next, what Harper did say probably offered precious little to alleviate anyone hoping that Canada would stay neutral amid the next great Mid-East crisis. Quoting President Obama's position that "all options are on the table" Harper referred to the "growing consensus" of international leaders that "when we talk about these issues, we talk about the full range of questions around these issues."

Canada Migrant Workers Prone To Abuse, Exploitation Due To Lax Government Oversight: Advocates

A federal program that brings more than 15,000 seasonal workers to Canada each year lacks proper government oversight, leaving some migrants prone to abuse and appalling living conditions, advocates say.

For decades, seasonal workers from Jamaica, Mexico and other Caribbean countries have poured into rural Canadian communities under Ottawa’s Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (CSAWP) and the Temporary Foreign Workers program. The CSAWP began as a pilot project in 1966 with 263 Jamaican workers and rapidly expanded to answer Canada’s shrinking agricultural work force.

Overseen by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the program is supposed to safeguard workers from exploitation, but critics say there’s little federal accountability. Complicating the matter is the fact the program is administered by a private, non-profit organization in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island called FARMS – Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services. (Its Francophone equivalent in Quebec and New Brunswick is known as FERME.)

The CSAWP “really suffers from a lack of government oversight by the Canadian government in terms of monitoring working conditions and living conditions, regulating them and sanctioning abusers,” said Kerry Preibisch, associate professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph.

Migrant workers are housed in a variety of different accommodations. Most live on the farmers’ properties in bunk houses, barns or trailers. Some live away from the farms in motels or apartment buildings. Generally, accommodations are paid for by the employer.

People keep saying, ‘Don’t blame S&P.’ My response: ‘Why the hell not?’

I keep hearing people say don’t blame the rating agencies. My first reaction is why not? After due and sober reflection my considered response is why the hell not?

Standard & Poor’s has put the agencies back into the headlines by downgrading a slew of eurozone governments and robbing France of its cherished triple A rating. There is something unsettling about S&P’s eagerness to grab the headlines. A cynic might see the theatrical nature of its pronouncements as a rather vulgar marketing tool. Moody’s and Fitch seem a lot quieter.

This time, though, S&P had wisdom to impart. Its serried ranks of economists, analysts and financial wizards were offering startling insights. Fiscal retrenchment, they intoned, would not alone repair the public finances of eurozone countries. The weak economies needed growth in order to revive flagging tax revenues. Wow! Who would have thought it? Perhaps S&P is hunting a Nobel Prize.

I suppose it would be unkind to recall at this point that the rating agencies have been in the vanguard of those telling politicians to pile austerity on austerity, and threatening an instant downgrade for anyone that dared even think about Keynes’s paradox of thrift.

S&P, after all, has also offered us a second searing revelation: the threat to sovereign solvency is not simply a reflection of the deficits and debts of individual states. No. There is also a problem of European governance. The process is cumbersome. The 17 eurozone states struggle to take quick, decisive action.

Please minister? MPs must go through Toews to get to Paulson

Parliamentarians who want to have lunch — or even an informal chat — with the country’s new top cop are being told they’ll have to book an appointment through the public safety minister.

The edict was communicated this week to Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, the former head of the Senate security and defence committee, when he tried to corral RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson for a private get together.

“I apologize (sic) for any delay but I’ve become aware of some guidelines from the Department of Public Safety in terms of engaging with Parliamentarians and Senators so I may have to respectfully ask you to route your request for a meeting through Minister’s Office or the Department,” Paulson wrote in a Jan. 16 email obtained by The Canadian Press.

Kenny is a consummate Ottawa insider with deep connections in the defence, policing and intelligence community — associations that date back decades. He was stunned by the response, especially since the newly-minted commissioner had been his guest before being promoted, and he’d had unfettered access to nine of Paulson’s predecessors.

“As a parliamentarian, I won’t tolerate being muzzled and I’m surprised that you as the Commissioner of the RCMP, a supposedly independent organization, are telling me that you have been,” Kenny responded in an email.

Paulson, in an email response to Kenny, denied being muzzled.

Uncertainty about Harper’s attendance tainting First Nations conference

When Stephen Harper sits down with the Assembly of First Nations for a long-awaited conference Tuesday, much of his front bench will be with him. But aboriginal leaders are wondering if that gives credence to emerging reports that the prime minister will only stay for the morning.

The names of 11 ministers attending the one-day meeting was released by Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan’s office Friday. It lists Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, Treasury Board President Tony Clement, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, Environment Minister Peter Kent, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency minister of state Bernard Valcourt.

Linda Duncan, the NDP’s aboriginal affairs critic, had called for the big portfolios to come to the table with Harper. The list met her approval.

“The significant ministers are there,” she said. “But what role will they be playing?”

Friday’s announcement comes as the summit’s final agenda is clouded in uncertainty. While a draft version seen by chiefs indicated Harper would give an opening and closing address, they are now hearing the prime minister may leave the conference early, in order to prepare for the Davos Economic Forum meeting in Switzerland, which begins Wednesday.

“We’ve heard that at lunch he’s going to leave,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told iPolitics.

Softwood lumber will top agenda when Ed Fast heads to Washington

Prepare for more news on softwood lumber.

Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Ed Fast, is due to meet Monday in Washington, D.C. with U.S. trade representative, Ron Kirk.

iPolitics confirmed Friday that they’ll be talking about softwood lumber, though a spokesman from Kirk’s office would not provide further details.

While other such trade issues as potential ‘buy American’ provisions, and the Keystone XL pipeline have dominated headlines, the contentious lumber deal between Canada and the U.S. has slipped from view. But Canada’s recent expressed interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could return the softwood lumber deal to the fore.

In a letter to the Office of the United States Trade Representative on Friday, the U.S. Lumber Coalition suggested Canada’s participation in the TPP talks could allow the United States to permanently address three remaining irritants in the longstanding softwood lumber dispute.

The letter identified three problem areas: log export controls, NAFTA’s Chapter 19 review of anti-dumping and countervailing duty decisions, and the more familiar irritant — the provinces’ use of timber ownership to provide a competitive advantage to domestic industry.

In the letter, the coalition quotes a recent statement from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “Too often, national favorites enjoy preferential access to government resources,” she said. “That gives these companies, whether they are wholly owned or partially owned by a government, an unfair advantage … We are working to include a chapter on state-owned enterprises in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

In such a case, the price of participation could be steep for Canada’s softwood lumber exporters.

Original Article
Source: iPolitics 
Author: Colin Horgan 

Odd names, odd numbers: A timely guide to super PACS

Sure, there’s the GOP symbol, but the real elephant in the room at any of the Republican debates since December has been the super PAC, the turbocharged political action committee able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political ads — as long as that spending isn’t co-ordinated with a particular campaign.

Mitt Romney supporters used Restore OurFuture to tank Newt Gingrich in Iowa, while Gingrich supporters relied on Winning OurFuture for revenge in South Carolina.

Jon Huntsman’s campaign would probably not have lasted as long as it did without Our Destiny. Now that Rick Perry is out of the race, throwing his support to Gingrich, the real question is what will happen to the war chest of Make Us Great Again.

But those are just the super PACs you’ve already heard about — the ones that candidates grouse about at debates, with Romney calling one Winning Our Future ad that portrayed him as a corporate raider probably the biggest hoax since Bigfoot.

With today’s South Carolina primary, it’s worth taking a step back and to consider all the confusing names, and all the confusing money that might be spent in the coming months.

It’s also worth considering how the United States got to this new frontier, which even campaign operatives say is messy: Two years ago on Saturday, the Supreme Court, in its ruling on Citizens United vs. FEC, cracked open the door for super PACs. Two months later, a federal appeal court’s decision in vs. FEC threw it wide open. Now, registering as a super PAC is as simple as sending a letter and a form to theFEC.

Republic senators ask EPA to revisit contentious draft report on fracking

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Ten Republican senators have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to subject a draft report that theorizes a link between hydraulic fracturing and groundwater pollution in a Wyoming gas field to a more rigorous level of scientific review than currently planned.

The senators include James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Inhofe is ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Murkowski the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

They sent the request involving groundwater pollution in the tiny Wyoming community of Pavillion to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a letter Friday.

“I hope that after receiving this letter, Administrator Jackson will agree to our reasonable request. If she does not, the Pavillion study can have no credibility,” Inhofe said in a news release.

While the EPA hasn’t classified the report as the senators have requested, the report will undergo the same level of review they are seeking, EPA spokesman Rich Mylott said.

“This includes ensuring the expertise, balance, conflict of interest and independence of the reviewers; transparency; and public involvement,” Mylott said.

Anonymous uses new tactics to recruit in ‘hacktivist’ attack on U.S. government

The closure of, the file-sharing site that the U.S. authorities claim distributed half a billion dollars’ worth of pirated content, reawakened the chaotic force of Anonymous.

In two waves of attacks on Thursday and Friday, the hacktivist group mobilized its largest campaign of cyber activism since its supporters came out in force for WikiLeaks in December 2010.

Anonymous claims that about 5,600 people were involved in launching attacks on U.S. government sites, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice and the White House, as well as entertainment industry sites such as Universal Music, the Recording Industry Association of America and MGM, knocking them offline for an hour or more.

The New Zealand police force’s website was also taken down by the same method — a flood of traffic that overwhelmed its servers — after Kim Dotcom, Megaupload’s chief, was arrested in Auckland.

These “distributed denial of service attacks,” as they are known, are a longstanding tactic of both online activists — who compare them to a sit-in protest — and cyber gangsters — who demand money from their victims before halting the attack.

It's time to list Iran's Revolutionary Guard as terrorists

Iran's Supreme Court has now confirmed the death sentence of Iranian-born web programmer Saeed Malekpour, a Canadian permanent resident. Malekpour was convicted of "crimes against Islam" and "spreading corruption on Earth" - which have emerged as classic trumped-up charges in the Iranian pattern of the criminalization of innocence. For supposedly creating pornography websites in Iran, Malekpour is set to receive the death penalty.

Malekpour maintains his innocence, insisting that image-uploading software he developed as a web programmer was used by an illicit site without his knowledge or consent. The international community spoke out against his death sentence when it was first handed down, and Iran moved to suspend it; however, with the escalation of rhetoric between the West and Iran - and the case disappearing from the radar screen - Malekpour is back on death row.

When he was first arbitrarily arrested in 2008 - while visiting his ailing father in Iran - Malekpour was taken to the notorious Evin prison in Iran, where he spent a year in brutal solitary confinement without charge, without access to legal representation or visitation. He subsequently "confessed" to his "crimes" on state television, a not unknown form of show trial.

Writing from prison, Malekpour says his initial confession to the charge had been "extracted under pressure, physical and psychological torture" as well as threats. He recounted in particular an instance when "interrogators stripped me while I was blindfolded and threatened to rape me with a bottle of water." He described his detention in similarly horrific terms: "While I remained blindfolded and handcuffed, several individuals armed with cables, batons, and their fists struck and punched me. At times, they would flog my head and neck."

It should be known that Iran has been on an execution binge. This past December, Amnesty International reported on the escalation of Iranian executions, even by wonton Iranian standards. Six hundred people were put to death between the beginning of 2011 and November alone. While many of these executions were for alleged drug-related crimes, this category, too, recently has become a catch-all for the suppression of dissidents.

According to Malekpour's family, the death sentence was reinstated under pressure from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has emerged as the epicentre of Iran's four-fold threat to human rights, peace and international security: The IRGC plays a central role in Iran's domestic repression, international terrorism, incitement to genocide, and nuclear proliferation. Further, as the Iranian Human Rights Documentation Center at Yale University notes, the IRGC is responsible for the murder of political dissidents both inside and outside of Iran.

This case should serve as the wake-up call that the Canadian needs to sanction the IRGC and list it as a terrorist entity. The United States has already labelled it as a terrorist group, while the UN and EU have imposed various sanctions against the IRGC and its leaders. It is regrettable that Canada continues to dither with regard to listing it as a terrorist entity here in Canada.

I introduced legislation in this regard several years ago, and have called on the Canadian government to list the IRGC as a terrorist entity both in Question Period and during House debate. The Conservatives continue to respond that they need more time to study and consider the issue. Frankly, the IRGC's well-documented international criminality should have been evidence enough of the need for the Can-adian government to act. But Malekpour's case should prove the point beyond any doubt: The IRGC represents, and indeed embodies, the worst of the Iranian regime, including the targeting of Canadians.

The hope is that pressure from the international community may yet convince Iran to drop the false charges in this case and free Malekpour - allowing him to return to Canada. But however this case ends, the time has come to sanction the IRGC, and list it as a terrorist entity.

- Irwin Cotler is the Member of Parliament for Mount Royal and the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. He is Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran, which has protested Malekpour's conviction and death sentence.

Original Article
Source: National Post 
Author: Irwin Cotler 

It's time for America's allies to step up

American taxpayers have shelled out trillions of dollars over the years to provide the kind of stability that Canadians and other allies need to prosper in an interdependent world.

The Americans have certainly made military mistakes - Vietnam and Iraq come most immediately to mind. But as far back as the First World War the Americans have overridden isolationist sentiments at home to try to advance liberal western values abroad, at great cost in terms of money and lives lost.

Now they are pulling back.

The 2012 U.S. military budget is more than a trillion dollars - 4.7 per cent of the country's GDP. Faced with an unsustainable national debt, President Barack Obama has pledged to cut nearly $500 billion over the next decade.

The message is clear: while Washington will continue to try to play the role of the world's top cop, it may not show up on the beat quite as often.

That's not a good thing, because for all America's international mistakes, the benefits to Canadians and other allies - most of whom spend far smaller proportions of GDP on defence - have been profound.

Unfortunately, the need for Washington to put its books in order in the coming years is also profound. Which means that Canada and other like-minded countries need to carefully assess how much damage the U.S. military pullback is likely to do in terms of lessening resistance to the real threats that are out there.

We must also be wary that if those threats appear to be becoming more unmanageable offshore, the Americans may decide that hunkering down at home beats trying to put out fires around the world. Isolationism might actually work for America, but it certainly won't work for any of its allies.

Would Canada and its military partners have come out on the winning side in two world wars had U.S. leaders not overcome isolationist instincts and joined the fight? Probably not. The Americans may have been late, but they proved essential.

Top donors to conservative advocacy group also donated to Conservative Party, documents show

OTTAWA — More than half of the top donors to a conservative advocacy organization that released a video attacking interim Liberal leader Bob Rae also gave money to the Conservative Party.

Of those who made donations of $1,000 or more to the National Citizens Coalition during the election campaign, 54 per cent also made contributions to the Conservative Party over the past five years, election records show.

Some gave as much as $10,500 to the group.

The donation pattern shows that even if the organization once led by Stephen Harper claims no direct links to the Conservative Party, it still draws on a similar base for its support.

Donations to third parties do not have the same cap that applies to contributions to political parties, which are now limited to $1,200 annually.

That leaves a loophole in Canada’s election finance laws: Contributors can give large sums to advocacy organizations to fund political advertising that they couldn’t legally give to parties or candidates. Unlike contributions to political entities, however, they are not tax-deductible.

Although spending by these groups is regulated during the campaign, there are no limits on what they can spend on political advertising outside the writ period.

Effectively, advocacy groups such as the National Citizens Coalition or the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, or labour unions such as CUPE or PSAC, are free to take unlimited donations and advertise as much as they like before an election.

They can function like the political action committees or “PACs” that dominate U.S. politics by raising money and running ads with at least the appearance of independence from the candidates they support.

Little-known ad agency wins the most federal contracts

The Conservative spending spree on government ads was very good to Al Albania.

The veteran ad man’s little-known Ottawa agency, Acart Communications, won more contracts than any other firm as Ottawa turned on the taps to promote its recessionary spending.

A Globe and Mail analysis of ad contracts for a 2½-year period beginning in the spring of 2009 reveals Acart beat out large international ad firms like KBS+P and Ogilvy Montreal.

Marketing Magazine recently published a list of Canada’s top-10 ad agencies for 2011, but editor-in-chief Tom Gierasimczuk had never heard of Acart when asked by The Globe. Neither had his colleagues. The magazine’s archives found three brief mentions of the firm. “It’s certainly not a prominent company,” Mr. Gierasimczuk said.

Yet the firm Mr. Albania, 66, set up nearly 40 years ago appears to have found the sweet spot for winning federal ad contracts in post-sponsorship Ottawa. Acart has produced Economic Action Plan ads for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada that highlight retraining programs and was also hired for campaigns focused on elder abuse and the H1N1 virus.

There is no evidence to suggest Acart owes its success to political favouritism. In the wake of the sponsorship scandal that saw ad dollars flow to Liberal-connected ad firms in Quebec, Ottawa approved new rules in 2003 aimed at ensuring contracts are won on merit. Mr. Albania, who has no obvious political connections, appears to have figured out what it takes to navigate the system created by the bureaucracy that grades bids on a 1,000-point scale. Acart secured a coveted spot in a pre-approved pool of ad firms that can submit bids and continues to win contracts with near-perfect scores.

What Michael Ignatieff could teach Mulcair about multiple allegiances

If Thomas Mulcair wins the NDP leadership, he will be the third consecutive Leader of the Opposition to have his commitment to Canada questioned.

His sin: holding dual citizenship while seeking office. Stéphane Dion was guilty of the same. Michael Ignatieff, meanwhile, had the gall to spend much of his career outside of Canada, including a brief stint as a professor — and you have to spit this out for full effect — at Harvard.

For his part, Mulcair says that he took out French citizenship two decades ago, after being separated from his wife and children — all dual citizens — at a checkpoint in Madrid.

“It sent a shiver down my spine not to have the same travel documents as my kids and my wife,” he said on Tuesday.

Then why not all travel on Canadian passports? The question did not come up this week, but rest assured that it will. Because even though his NDP opponents have largely laid off the issue so far, the matter of Mulcair’s dual loyalties — and dual loyalties are, by definition, what dual citizenship entails — is not going anywhere.

Mulcair and his flacks are doing a fine job of spinning the story. They have chosen their lines well.

“A lot of the cultural communities who have been so assiduously courted by the Conservatives over the past six years are going to be surprised to learn that the Conservative prime minister believes that you’re more Canadian if your family doesn’t have a dual background,” Mulcair said on Tuesday. For good measure, he also made mention of his efforts against sovereignty during both Québec referendum campaigns.

For B.C.’s Liberal Premier, Harper conservatism the key to success

Not long after Christy Clark became B.C. Premier, Dimitri Pantazopoulos, a pollster tied to Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, packed up his family, left Ottawa and moved to Victoria.

The Pantazopoulos family is spending their first winter there. The kids are settling in, they bought a puppy and they are marvelling at the temperate climes.

But the move wasn’t for lifestyle. Mr. Pantazopoulos, who worked with Stephen Harper in the early days of the Reform Party and has polled for right-of-centre candidates, – Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and former Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien – was lured west by Premier Clark, a Liberal.

Initially appointed her principal secretary on the strength of the voter tracking he had conducted for her successful leadership bid last year, he is now focused on interprovincial relations. Ms. Clark is also minister of that portfolio.

Then, last week, Ms. Clark named another former Harper conservative and strategist, Ken Boessenkool, as her chief of staff. He starts next month.

Although the relocation of two former strategists does not a trend make, their ascension to key roles in the B.C. Premier’s office certainly indicates that after having turned political Ottawa blue, Mr. Harper’s brand of conservatism is being exported.

Vigil for Farshad Mohammadi, who was shot by Montreal police

On January 6, 2012 Montreal police shot and killed Farshad Mohammadi, a homeless man, downtown at métro Bonaventure, the first police killing of the year. In response the Howl! arts collective is calling on people in Montreal to gather in remembrance and solidarity with Farshad Mohammadi. Howl! calls on community members, and particularly artists, to commemorate and express remembrance for Farshad Mohammadi via placard signs, song and poetic verse. As winter winds blow across Montreal, let us remember the struggle for justice and dignity of people on the streets.

As Canada’s Conservative government moves to enforce economic austerity measures that place the burden of the financial crisis on poor and working people, let us also mark this police killing within the growing calls for social and economic justice in Quebec and Canada.

Details of the killing remain unknown, however the clear facts stand as a horrific reminder of police violence in Montreal. There has still been no accountability, nor justice, for the many victims of police violence in Montreal. Fredy Villaneuva, Mohamed Anas Bennis, Quilem Registre, all the way back to Jean-Pierre Lizotte and Anthony Griffin, were all killed as a direct result of police action. Since 1987, in Montreal, more than 60 people have been killed by the Montreal police, most recently Mario Hamel and Patrick Limoges killed in June, 2011. Let us stand united in solidarity against police killings and violence.

Original Article
Author: RabbleTV 

Police union vows to block G20 charges

The head of the Toronto Police Association says he intends to challenge any attempt to lay disciplinary charges against five officers involved in the 2010 arrest of G20 protester Adam Nobody.

Mike McCormack said Friday that the investigation took too long.

"The association takes the position on a point of principle," he said. "These things should be concluded within a reasonable timeframe, like any other investigation."

Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) has concluded five officers used unnecessary force and "discreditable conduct" when they piled on top of Adam Nobody while arresting him on June 26, 2010.

The OIPRD report was first revealed by CBC News on Friday.

The OIPRD has ordered Toronto's police chief to hold a hearing for the five, even though the events were more than a year and a half ago. Normally, charges under the Ontario Police Services Act must be laid within six months of an alleged incident. So before any charges against the officers could proceed, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair would first have to ask the Police Services Board for permission to lay charges against the officers.

National chief strives to build sense of trust between Harper, first nations

It is a gathering aimed at improving the lives of some of Canada’s most disadvantaged people, but Stephen Harper’s initial face-to-face with first-nations leaders is expected to be more about building relationships than taking concrete action.

Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who has been working for more than a year to arrange the meeting that will take place in Ottawa on Tuesday, says he will consider the event a success if both sides walk away feeling an increased sense of trust.

“What first nations have been seeking is a commitment on the part of the Crown to really renew the historic relationship as real partners, and that goes back to the treaty relationship,” Mr. Atleo said in an interview on Friday.

The many issues facing Canada’s first nations – from complex matters of treaty rights to the basic needs for water, housing and education – cannot possibly be tackled in any substantial way during the brief hours between the opening ceremony and the closing prayer.

The Conservative government, which is promising the participation of at least 10 cabinet ministers and other high-ranking officials, sees the meeting as a chance to expand upon a joint action plan it has crafted with the AFN. Its spokesmen say the intent is to identify practical ways to improve the quality of life and long-term economic prosperity of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.

Union chief calls for end to Caterpillar’s Electro-Motive lockout

The chief of the Canadian Auto Workers union has again urged American heavy-equipment giant Caterpillar to end the lockout at its locomotive plant in London, Ont., and return to the bargaining table.

Ken Lewenza's call came as thousands of union and community members prepared to gather in London's Victoria Park today for a mass rally.

They will be demanding an end to the three-week lockout of nearly 500 workers at Caterpillar's Electro-Motive plant.

The workers were locked out after they rejected a contract offer that would have cut wages in half and slashed benefits at a time Caterpillar is reporting record profits.

Mr. Lewenza says it's time for the management to get back to the bargaining table and negotiate “a fair and equitable” contract.

He also called on the federal government to “stand up for Canadian jobs.”
Original Article
Source: Globe 
Author: the Canadian Press 

The day the oil-sands battle went global

It was the 2009 annual summer retreat of the Green Group – the chief executives, presidents and executive directors of the largest environmental organizations in the United States – and their Canadian counterparts had wrangled an invitation for the first time.

The U.S. environmental movement appeared to be on a roll, with a new ally in the White House, the House of Representatives on the verge of passing a climate bill, and guarded optimism about a breakthrough at the United Nations summit in Copenhagen later that year.

That June, the green leaders gathered at the Airlie Center, a historic farmhouse turned conference centre an hour's drive from Washington, in rural Virginia. Billed as an “island of thought,” Airlie is a sylvan retreat for American progressives: It was there that Martin Luther King Jr. laid plans for the Poor People's Campaign and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson announced plans for the first national Earth Day.

For the Canadian eco-activists, the Airlie session had an equivalent significance, marking the moment when the broad and powerful U.S. environmental movement turned its focus – and well-financed campaign tactics – against Canada's booming oil sands.

The concerted attack that began there set the stage for this week's decision by the White House to reject a proposed oil-sands pipeline through the U.S. heartland.

Toews denies muzzling RCMP, blasts Liberal senator’s bid for ‘secret’ access

OTTAWA—Public Safety Minister Vic Toews lashed out at a Liberal senator Friday, and denied the Conservatives have moved to muzzle the Mounties or restrict access to the new RCMP boss.

Toews said Friday the Conservatives merely continued a Liberal policy of monitoring what information the RCMP conveys to parliamentary committees.

His office produced a letter that former Liberal public safety minister Anne McLellan wrote in the fall of 2005 to then-commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli in 2005.

It said she expected the RCMP to give her officials full briefings on information the Mounties would communicate in committee appearances, and complete information on issues so she would be fully briefed for question period debates.

The letter did not address requests for private meetings with RCMP officials by MPs or senators.

Toews publicly scolded Sen. Colin Kenny for seeking “a special access, secret meeting” with RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.

Kenny went public Thursday with emails from Toews’ office that said Kenny could meet Paulson only if other political representatives also attended.

Why there will be a war in the Middle East this year

There will be a war in the Middle East within the next several months, triggered by an Israeli attack on Iran, and this is how it will happen. Like the Iraq war, it will be a fatal blend of political arrogance and near criminal risk-taking, and this should come as no surprise to us because we know the political players. But we should also know that the time to prevent it is running out.

In Iran, the government is reeling from colossal economic and political pressures. There are signs of desperation. Western sanctions over its nuclear program are biting and there is an open power struggle among key government leaders. The murders since 2010 of four nuclear scientists — most certainly masterminded by agents of Israel’s Mossad — are deeply humiliating. With parliamentary elections in March regarded by many as the most important in the history of the Islamic republic, the pressure within Iran to hit back at Israel in some damaging way is inevitable — and this will happen soon.

In Israel, the calculation is also overwhelmingly political. The fractious government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is obsessed with the prospect of a nuclear Iran even if the evidence is still unclear how imminent that threat is. Netanyahu is also driven by his bitter rivalry with President Barack Obama. There is growing speculation the prime minister will trigger early Israeli elections in June to shore up his political position before Obama, as Netanyahu believes, is re-elected in November. He knows his best opportunity to attack Iran will be shortly before the U.S. election when he figures Obama would be politically cornered. But Netanyahu needs a pretext to act in “self-defence” and that is why Mossad is still covertly at work inside Iran. Iran will have to retaliate before Israel can act — and this will happen soon.

In the United States, Obama is caught up in the morass of election-year politics. His likely Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, is accusing the president of being weak on Iran: “If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” The U.S. and its European allies now have a deadline of July 1 to impose a full embargo of Iranian oil. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, claimed on Wednesday that a decision to launch a pre-emptive strike is “very far off.” But U.S. defence officials, according to the Wall Street Journal, are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to strike Iran — and this will happen soon.

Library cuts averted for now, but battle may continue

Margaret Atwood has won. Just barely. For now.

Six months after a consultant’s suggestion of closing libraries sparked a public outcry and the famous feud between Atwood and Councillor Doug Ford, council voted this week to spend $3.9 million to avoid any cuts to branch hours or programs in 2012.

Both Mayor Rob Ford and the chair of the library board, right-leaning Ford ally Councillor Paul Ainslie, opposed the proposal to provide the extra funding. It passed by one vote, 22-21 — with Councillor Ron Moeser, who usually votes with Ford, absent recovering from surgery.

Ford’s executive committee had added another $3.1 million back to the library budget last week. The library ended up with a $10.1 million cut rather than the $17 million Ford originally wanted; the $10.1 million will come from internal efficiencies, new revenues and 100 job cuts, not major service reductions.

“I’m very pleased that council responded to the thousands of residents of the city of Toronto who said ‘don’t touch our libraries.’ I have never seen that level of community engagement and commitment, to any city service, ever,” said Councillor Janet Davis, a left-leaning library board member who led the opposition to the cuts.

The $3.9 million council added Tuesday was taken from the city’s estimated $154 million 2011 surplus. Because the surplus is one-time money, Ford allies say council will again face a hole next year.

“I won’t support closing library branches,” Ainslie said, “but I think we’re certainly going to go through the whole discussion, if not ‘battle,’ again, this year or sometime in the near future, over library hours, and why some branches are open at times when everybody has pointed to the fact that they’re not very well-utilized. It’s a business model that I don’t think is sustainable in the long run.”

Davis acknowledged that the $3.9 million is not a permanent solution, but she said Ford may seek less severe cuts from the library in future budgets than he did in this one.

“There is no doubt we’ll have to revisit the library budget again next year, and the adequacy of its funding,” Davis said. “But I hope that next year both the mayor’s office and the city manager will recognize that getting the level of savings they asked for this year out of the library budget is not a good strategy. I think there’ll be a new level of respect for the value Torontonians place on their library.”

Original Article
Source: Star 
Author: Daniel Dale 

ORNGE architect George Smitherman brokered meeting between Korean officials and ORNGE

Former health minister George Smitherman, the political architect of ORNGE, acted as an unpaid consultant last fall, brokering a meeting between South Korean business officials and ORNGE’s for-profit firm.

The South Korean officials wanted to purchase ORNGE expertise to set up an air ambulance service.

Smitherman told the Star neither he nor his consulting company, G and G Global Solutions, received payment for the meeting. He said he was acting as “ambassador” for Ontario.

Smitherman was the minister who created ORNGE in 2005. In a news release in July of that year, he described it as a not-for-profit, government funded service that would “streamline our air ambulance system to better ensure that emergency coverage improves across the province, especially in northern and rural communities.”

An ongoing Star investigation has revealed that in the six years since ORNGE was created, the focus of top executives like Dr. Chris Mazza, founder and former president, had shifted from building Ontario’s service to attempting to “leverage” public assets in a series of consulting ventures overseas.

The struggle against Sopa and Pipa is not over

Has Sopa, the draconian copyright legislation under consideration by the American Congress, been firmly put to rest? You might imagine that, while the dust settles from a series of mini-explosions this week in the copyright arena, as a bill that once seemed certain to be enacted has stalled.
But you would be mistaken to think it's dead. The powerful interests backing Sopa (Stop Online Piracy Act), which proponents say is aimed to stop the worst of the worst infringers, are unhappy with this week's events, but they have not remotely given up. And they still have time and money on their side.

For the moment, however, it's plain that the internet community made a huge impact on Congress with a mass online protest that led to a flooding of lawmakers' email accounts and phone/fax lines. Dozens of lawmakers either backed away from earlier support or announced that they'd gone from neutral to against.
Meanwhile, proponents of a non-censored internet got support from Neelie Kroes, the EU commissioner for the digital agenda, who tweeted on Friday:
Glad tide is turning on Sopa: don't need bad legislation when should be safeguarding benefits of open net.

Watchdog accuses officers of excessive force at G20

Six months after one provincial police watchdog decided there wasn't enough evidence to lay criminal charges against several officers accused of beating G20 protester Adam Nobody, a different agency has ordered that five policemen face disciplinary hearings in the incident.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director concluded constables Michael Adams, Babak Andalib-Goortani, David Donaldson, Geoffrey Fardell and Oliver Simpson used excessive force after tackling Mr. Nobody to the ground.

The 174-page report of the investigation also offers a detailed description of the tireless efforts of one Toronto police investigator to identify colleagues who allegedly beat Mr. Nobody.

While the 28-year-old stagehand praised the result, the police union launched a bid to block the charges, on the grounds that the investigation had taken too long.

“I'm happy that more truth is coming out,” Mr. Nobody said Friday. “It's a great relief having the officers named and up for review.”

The OIPRD, however, did not entirely absolve him. It accepted the statements of officers that Mr. Nobody was agitating a crowd of protesters on the lawn of Queen's Park in the early evening of June 26, 2010 and that he was reaching for a container that appeared to contain a flammable liquid. The report concluded police thus had a valid reason to arrest him.

Harper did what he had to do to resurrect conservatism

Stephen Harper has long been a lightning rod for controversy in Canada. At the same time, the PM's influential role in changing the ideological underpinnings of Canadian conservatism has gone virtually unnoticed.

There has been an astonishing amount of obtuse commentary on Harper, with pundits blithely throwing around terms such as "elected dictator," "authoritarian," "demagogue," and "control freak." He has been compared to a North Korean communist tyrant and an Italian fascist dictator. And as someone who has known Harper since 1996 (we obviously haven't spoken much in recent years), I've become fed up with these ridiculous assessments of his political ideas and leadership skills. Trust me: I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly with this PM, and most of what you hear and read just ain't true.

So, I'm going to devote the next two columns to a topic that could be best described as part history, part "inside baseball," and part personal analysis. My hope is some of the perceptions Canadians have of this PM can be modified - and that Harper's legacy in Canadian political history will finally be fully understood.

Last November, I suggested the term "Harpertism" to describe a new political phenomenon in which Harper "strategically became the figurehead for Canadian conservatism, adjusted it, modified it, and re-branded it as a moderate - and heavily watered down - version of fiscal conservatism." For the record, my term has absolutely nothing to do with Lawrence Martin's Harperland, a breezy and uninformative book that I tore apart in a review for the C2C Journal in November 2010. Harperland attempts to depict the PM in a negative fashion, as someone who wants to increase executive power at all costs. In my view, Harpertism is neither bad nor good; it just is what it is. But you have to acknowledge its brilliance: It developed under the radar, caught most people off-guard, and led Conservatives back to the promised political land.

How Aboriginal Rights Could Stop Enbridge

The debate over the proposed Enbridge tar sands pipeline is raging in Canada, but its destiny was in reality settled on November 26, 2010, in a community centre in Williams Lake, British Columbia.

Chiefs and leaders from 60 First Nations gathered there to sign a declaration banning the transport of Alberta tar sands oil across their lands to the Pacific coast -- an export route to Asia and California championed by the Canadian Prime Minister ever since U.S. activists delayed construction of the Keystone XL, and now an even greater priority since Obama's full denial of that pipeline.

By last month, the number of First Nations in B.C. and Alberta opposed to Enbridge's Northern Gateway had risen to 130, an unprecedented show of unity and power.

"We are an unbroken wall of opposition," says Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik'uz First Nation.

So when Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver ignited controversy last week by accusing environmental "radicals," "jet-setting celebrities," and U.S. "foreign interests" of hijacking public hearings for the pipeline's approval, he was avoiding the issue: The decisive threat to this latest corporate oil scheme are Canada's Indigenous nations.

There's no doubt environmentalists, municipalities, and citizens oppose Enbridge's $5.5 billion plan for many of the same reasons as First Nations: The 730-mile pipeline would carry 500,000 barrels a day of dirty oil across hundreds of fish-bearing rivers and lakes, cut through tracts of pristine wilderness, then launch supertankers through treacherous waters. Oil spills and other disasters -- think Exxon Valdez, which happened not far from the B.C. coastline -- are a certainty.

But it is First Nations who are the loudest and strongest in protest, and who most deserve backing. They are the ones most affected by the industrial operations dotting and criss-crossing their traditional territories. Enbridge's pipeline would pose a permanent danger to B.C.'s Fraser River watershed -- and so the many First Nations who rely on it for their food, livelihoods, and cultural sustenance see the project as a threat to their very survival. Living and depending on these lands, they are their first and fiercest defenders.