Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Infrastructure Problems In U.S. Go Far Beyond Dollars

NEW YORK -- When travelers from abroad come to this city, the financial and cultural capital of the world's richest nation, two dilapidated and depressing airports greet them. The clogged runways, the leaking roofs, the maddening taxi lines, the lost travelers bumping into each other -- all these depredations are just part of flying the friendly skies to JFK or LaGuardia.

Jetsetters' laments about subpar airports, now almost a cliche, may not have been foremost on President Obama's mind when he gave his State of the Union address on January 24. But they may actually be more representative of the country's nagging infrastructure problems than the images invoked by the "crumbling roads and bridges" he referenced in that speech.

The problems America faces with its infrastructure are often much less headline-grabbing than the 2005 collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minnesota, which focused national attention on the subject in a way that has set the tone of discussion ever since. They are more often on the order of lost productivity and lost opportunity. They include other problems Obama referenced in his speech, like "a power grid that wastes too much energy; an incomplete high-speed broadband network."

If the struggle to fix America's infrastructure problem were a movie, it would be less Michael Bay than Woody Allen: not a lot of action, but also not much in the way of mass fatalities. Since 2005, there haven't been any more terrifying bridge collapses. Instead, the United States has failed to innovate and failed to maintain some key pillars of its infrastructure that are often less visible. People aren't dying, but the country is slowly losing its edge.

Obama Wall Street Fundraising Evaporates As Donors Flee To Romney

President Barack Obama has been abandoned by the world of finance.

Over the course of the 2012 election, his presidential campaign has received about one dollar in donations from the financial sector for every five dollars given to his top competitor, Mitt Romney, according to figures provided by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). During the final three months of 2011, however, the margin has widened dramatically.

The Huffington Post examined campaign contributions from four highly influential finance sectors to both Obama and Romney. Using categories compiled by CRP, the 20 most politically active commercial banks, hedge funds, securities firms and "private equity and investment" firms were pinpointed (i.e. those with the strongest history of political donations); some lists overlapped. But between them, 68 separate companies were identified.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Romney raised $1.49 million from employees of those 68 companies while the president's reelection campaign raised just $127,000 -- an 11.7-to-1 ratio. It was the most lucrative quarter for Romney yet.

"Clearly it was a great quarter for Romney, in terms of fundraising from Wall Street and from securities and banking firms, in particular the biggest one," said Sheila Krumholz, CRP's executive director. "It is not surprising that he was able to do that. It is just surprising how rapid the shift has been towards him and away from Obama."

Saad Allami, Montreal Muslim: Workplace Quip Made Me A Terror Suspect

MONTREAL - A Muslim man alleges he's become a terror suspect simply because of a workplace quip -- he says all he did was tell his sales staff to ''blow away'' the competition at a trade show.

Now Saad Allami is seeking $100,000 from the Quebec provincial police force, one of its sergeants and the provincial Justice Department.
Allami says in a Quebec Superior Court filing that he was arrested in January 2011 and accused of being a terrorist because of a pep talk he gave fellow employees.

Allami was a sales manager for a telecommunications firm when he sent out a text message to staff urging them to "blow away" the competition at a New York City convention.

He alleges that, three days later, he was arrested without warning by Quebec provincial police and detained for over a day while his house was searched.

Allami says he has no links to terrorist organizations or the Islamic movement and that police acted without any evidence or research.

Allami worked for a telecommunications company. Some of his colleagues later said they were held at the Canada-U.S. border for hours on account of the false allegations against their work associate.

Provincial police spokesman Guy Lapointe says he is aware of the filing, but the force won't comment any further on the case as it is before the courts.

The allegations have not been proven in court and the application is to be presented at the Montreal courthouse on March 5, according to the documents filed.

Original Article
Source: Huff 
Author: -- 

Senate Expenses: Members Of Upper Chamber Reject Call For Independent Audit

OTTAWA — Senators are refusing to accept an outside auditor’s call for an independent check of spending after a scathing audit two years ago found inadequate rules had led to the misuse of some expense accounts.

The Senate’s internal economy committee rejected a recommendation by Ernst and Young to implement a “second level approval process” for senators’ expense claims.

In a report tabled in the Senate Thursday, senators said instead of justifying their spending to a bureaucrat or to one another, they would implement regular sample testing of their expense claims.

“We said no, no, we will audit ourselves every year, internally and every couple of years, we’ll have an external audit, (where the auditors) can audit the senators’ offices, so they’ll pick 10, 20 senators,” Senator David Tkachuk, the chair of the Senate’s committee on internal economy, budgets and administration told The Huffington Post Canada.

If a senator goes to Toronto, Tkachuk said, the independent auditors will be able to look at the paper trail and ask the senator what public business he or she was there to conduct.

“What was it? Who did you meet with? And then the auditor has to be satisfied this is a legitimate business trip,” he said.

Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu: Tory Senator Says His Idea To Let Killers Hang Themselves Has Lots Of Support

OTTAWA - A Conservative senator says he's been inundated with expressions of support for his unusual idea of providing rope to help murder convicts commit suicide in prison.

Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu says he's received 500 to 600 messages of support in only one day.

Boisvenu had made an apparently off-the-cuff suggestion that killers be given rope in their prison cell — so that they could decide whether to hang themselves.

Although he apologized immediately for the language he used Wednesday, on Thursday he was sounding a little less apologetic.

He said it appeared many Canadians agreed with him.

''The comments I got from 500 people, maybe even 600, said the media are exaggerating this,'' Boisvenu said.

''Also, these people are saying, 'What Mr. Boisvenu said, that's just what people think.' The people who wrote to me, the majority are victims.''

The Commons: Good help is hard to find

The Scene. Seated almost directly across the aisle from his opposition critic, Jason Kenney shook his head as the NDP’s Don Davies read the indictment.

“Mr. Speaker, just last month the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism told Canadians how solemn he thought our citizenship ceremonies are, and they are indeed serious occasions,” Mr. Davies recalled. “Now, however, we learn that his office is fine just faking it. It was his office that arranged to have employees pose as fake new citizens in a made-up ceremony for a misleading news conference. Can the minister explain why he forced government employees to pose as fake new citizens and mislead Canadians?”

However fake the display, Mr. Kenney was quite sure his responsibility had been overstated here.

“Mr. Speaker, that is completely untrue. The only misleading going on is coming from that member,” the Immigration Minister scolded. “Every year CIC officials do a good job organizing special citizenship and reaffirmation ceremonies across the country including sometimes in studio televised ceremonies to raise the profile of citizenship. Today, I became aware that one small reaffirmation ceremony last year had logistical problems that were poorly dealt with—”

The opposition side descended into laughter and even a little desk thumping (it being hard, one supposes, to slap one’s knee when seated at a desk).

“Mr. Speaker, today I became aware that in a reaffirmation ceremony last year following logistical problems that the situation was poorly handled,” Mr. Kenney continued after the Speaker had restored order. “I regret that, but that in no way should undermine the importance and value of special reaffirmation ceremonies which we encourage all Canadians to participate in.”

Harper targeting pensions

Prime Minister Harper announced to his billionaire friends in Davos his intention to make changes to Canada's retirement system. True to form, Stephen Harper circumvented the parliamentary process to make an announcement that would radically transform our social safety net.

I understand the frustration and despair of seniors about the cost of living and lack of support during the aging process. I also understand the fear of hundreds of thousands of seniors who are wondering what will happen to our pension system.

New Democrats are fighting tirelessly to protect our pension system so that persons with disabilities, seniors and all Canadians can retire with dignity and security. It is unacceptable for me to see this government spend billions in corporate tax reductions and then threaten to slash social programs.

It is high time we review our tax system so that everybody pays their fair share. The occupy movement brought this debate to the public stage. If we want to win in 2015 and put forward policies that would restore real social justice, we must give ourselves the means. We must, obviously, put an end to tax shelters, but we must also thoroughly review our tax system in order to regain real progressivity.

Meanwhile, New Democrats will continue pressuring the Conservative government to:

-  increase the Canada Pension Plan and Quebec Pension Plan by progressively doubling the amount of benefits, from 25 per cent to 50 per cent of retirees' earnings;

-  gradually increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement to which registration would be automatic;

-  take measures to make prescription drugs more safe and affordable.

In closing, we learned that the Treasury Board President, Tony Clement, plans to cut between four and eight billion dollars in the next budget. This amount could represent more than 10 per cent of spending! Mobilization of all civil society actors will be necessary to make the government back down. Rest assured that I will be right there with you to fight against these regressive measures.

Alexandre Boulerice

MP for Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie

Treasury Board Critic

Original Article
Author: Alexandre Boulerice  

Tory Senator: My let-killers-hang idea has lots of support

A Conservative senator says he’s been inundated with expressions of support for his unusual idea of providing rope to help murder convicts commit suicide in prison.

Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu says he’s received 500 to 600 messages of support in only one day.

Mr. Boisvenu had made an apparently off-the-cuff suggestion that killers be given rope in their prison cell – so that they could decide whether to hang themselves.

Although he apologized immediately for the language he used Wednesday, on Thursday he was sounding a little less apologetic.

He said it appeared many Canadians agreed with him.

“The comments I got from 500 people, maybe even 600, said the media are exaggerating this,” Mr. Boisvenu said.

“Also, these people are saying, ‘What Mr. Boisvenu said, that’s just what people think.’ The people who wrote to me, the majority are victims.”

Mr. Boisvenu was a prominent victims’ rights advocate whose daughter was murdered, and who lost another daughter in a car accident. He was named to the Senate last year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Mr. Boisvenu suggested this week that he might agree with the death penalty in limited cases, because it could save the state on incarceration costs. He cited the multimillion-dollar cost of jailing killers like Clifford Olson and the Shafias.

Mr. Boisvenu said capital punishment could be used only in cases where there was no hope of rehabilitation.

But he added that he was against systematic capital punishment and he also stressed that Mr. Harper has made it clear he doesn’t want to reopen the debate. Canada abolished capital punishment in 1976 and the last executions were in 1962.

Original Article
Source: Globe 
Author: The Canadian Press 

Harper to promote seal products on China trip

In a bid to resurrect Canada’s flailing sealing industry, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make seal product exports a priority on his trip to China next week.

The Conservatives have been pushing to open the Chinese market for more than two years, but little materialized from a tentative deal that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced in early 2011.

“Our government will continue to vigorously defend this humane and highly regulated industry and to seek new international markets for Canadian seal products, including China,” Mr. Harper said in a statement released on Thursday.

Although the sealing industry is a small fraction of Canada’s fishing industry on the Atlantic coast, the annual hunt is a hot political topic in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the Conservatives hold many seats and most of the country’s 11,000 registered seal hunters live.

Russia used to be Canada’s largest buyer of seal items, but banned the import of harp seal pelts two months ago, and the European Union has had a ban in effect since 2010. Animal activists say these two bans ring the death knell of the East Coast’s commercial seal hunt.

Harper in China: Prime Minister urged to speak forcefully and publicly against human rights abuses in China

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper should demand the release of 10 prisoners jailed in China and make human rights a “central focus” of his trip to Beijing, says a Canadian coalition of rights advocates.

“Canadian influence with China is growing and we no longer need to be meek,” said Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada.

China’s thirst for Canadian oil and natural resources gives Harper the clout to publicly and forcefully press human rights concerns when he travels to China amidst a crackdown on political dissent and Tibetan protests now taking place, the groups say.

“To soft-pedal or worse, ignore these concerns risks sending a message that Canada is not concerned,” Neve said. “It is time to be confident and recognize that human rights can be put on the table without damaging trade.”

Canada Internet Service: Country Drops On Rankings Of Broadband Speed

Canada has fallen nine spots in one year on a global ranking of Internet speeds, as the country fell behind European and Asian countries in expanding its broadband infrastructure.

The latest report from the Akamai data network shows Canada tied with Hungary for 14th place among the world’s major Internet-using countries.

That’s down from ninth place in the same survey six months earlier, and down from fifth place a year earlier.

A year ago at this time, Canada was in a three-way tie with Sweden, Taiwan and the U.S. for fifth place in the survey. It is now in a two-way tie with Hungary for 14th place.

The average broadband download speed in Canada went from 5.0 Mbps in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 5.9 Mbps in the fourth quarter of 2011, but because other countries saw considerably larger increases in download speeds, the Canada's jump was not enough to maintain Canada’s position on the rankings.

Many observers have pointed to a relative lack of competition among Canadian Internet service providers for Canada’s lacklustre performance on the Internet in recent years. (The country once led the world in broadband penetration.)

However, recent growth among independent ISPs does not appear to have changed the downward trend in Canada’s rankings. Canada’s major ISPs, which own the physical Internet infrastructure, have put in place wholesale pricing structures that make it difficult if not impossible for resellers to offer faster speeds.

A recent CRTC ruling replaced the controversial usage-based billing model for ISPs with a capacity-based model, meaning small ISPs won't be forced to implement usage caps, but may result in higher retail prices for broadband.

The use of traffic throttling among some large ISPs also affects Canada’s rankings, as Akamai’s data is based on real-time monitoring of Internet traffic. After years of consumer anger, Bell Canada recently announced it is moving away from the use of traffic throttling.

That put pressure on Rogers, another major ISP, to stop using the practice as well. The CRTC, Canada’s telecom regulator, found last month that the company had violated regulations surrounding the use of traffic throttling.

As consumers have grown more aware of problems with Internet competition and download speeds, complaints about ISPs to the CRTC have soared.

Original Article
Source: Huff 
Author: Daniel Tencer 

Omnibus Crime Bill: Senate Begins Hearings On Legislation Tories Say Needs Amendments

OTTAWA - The Conservative government's massive new crime bill is getting a sober second look from the Senate, and the controversial legislation is expected to see government-sponsored changes.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews testified Wednesday to kick off 11 days of public hearings, which under normal circumstances would get a rubber stamp from the Tory-dominated Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs.

"Canadians deserve to feel safe in their homes and that means violent criminals need to be off the streets," Nicholson told the committee.

But in the Harper majority's haste to push the crime bill through Parliament last fall, some specific flaws were overlooked by the House of Commons committee charged with examining the legislation in detail.

Liberal Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister, had repeatedly pointed out ways to broaden the bill so that terrorism victims and their families could sue state sponsors of terror.

Late last November, Toews ended up attempting to introduce similar changes after Conservative MPs on the committee doing a clause-by-clause review repeatedly voted down the Liberal proposals.

But the Speaker ruled that Toews' amendments should have been made at committee, leaving it to the Senate to mop up the mess.

Government Of Canada Salaries: Feds Release List Of Bureaucrats Who Earn More Than $100,000, But Won't Release PMO Data

OTTAWA — The Conservative government won't say how many of its political staff earn more than $100,000 but it has no problem revealing how many bureaucrats bring home six-figure salaries.

Ten per cent of the federal workforce, 23,585 full-time permanent employees earned more than $100,000 a year, the government said in documents tabled in the House of Commons this week.

Slightly more than one per cent, 1.2 per cent, of employees earn more than $150,000 a year. Approximately half of those individuals are judges and senior public servants appointed by cabinet to head various government departments, agencies and arms-length corporations.

The report was tabled the same day Tony Clement, the president of the Treasury Board, refused to tell the House of Commons how many political staff in the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet ministers' offices earn six-figure salaries.

Clement pointed interested parties to a website which provides a pay scale for employees. “Under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, the names and exact salaries of personnel cannot be released,” Clement said on Monday.

Pandas In Canada: Beloved Bears Could Be Coming To Canadian Zoos

Canadians who love giant pandas have had to travel abroad to catch a glimpse of the beloved bears. But that could be changing soon.

Sources have told The Globe and Mail that two pandas will likely be heading to Toronto and that there will be an announcement sometime next week. According to the newspaper, the announcement will probably coincide with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to China.

Postmedia is reporting that Toronto won’t be the only Canadian city to host the bamboo-loving bears if they come to Canada; the Toronto Zoo will likely take turns caring for the giant pandas with the Calgary Zoo and the Granby Zoo in Granby, Que. The news outlet adds that each zoo will likely receive the duo for at least 18 months.

The reported loans to Canada are part of China's long history of 'panda diplomacy'. A practice that reportedly dates back to the seventh century. More recently, the lovable animals have been used by once-ostracized communist China to build ties to the rest of the world. The Telegraph reports that between 1958 and 1982 China gave more than 20 pandas to a number of different countries.

Auction 2012: Big Money's Next Trade Goal Is 'NAFTA With Asia'

Auction 2012 is a weeklong series in collaboration with "The Dylan Ratigan Show" and United Republic.

The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement soured the American public on trade deals that were supposed to boost the economy -- remember the giant sucking sound that followed? -- but it left America's globe-spanning corporate behemoths panting for more.

Since then, powerful business interests have cheered the signing of 19 more such agreements. The three most recent, with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, won congressional approval in October.

These trade agreements have been an enormous boon to multinational corporations, making it easier for them to shift production to lower-cost countries, move capital across borders, expand into new markets and overcome foreign legal hurdles. They are consistently a top priority for the big-business lobbying groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, the Financial Services Roundtable, the American Farm Bureau, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the Retail Industry Leadership Association.

Despite being hawked as job-creating measures that open the world to American goods, however, these trade agreements have historically resulted in massive outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing jobs and increases in exports.

Denny Rehberg, GOP Congressman And Senate Hopeful, Blasts Child Labor Regulations

WASHINGTON -- In a speech expounding on the rift between rural America and Washington D.C., Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) vowed Thursday to use his funding powers to stop the Obama administration from implementing new child-labor rules pertaining to agricultural work, accusing the "urban" Labor Department of meddling in a "rural" industry it doesn't understand.

"This is one of those situations where I think the Department of Labor is overstepping its boundaries, its knowledge base, and frankly I think you're sitting around watching reruns of "Blazing Saddles" and that's your interpretation of what goes on in the West," Rehberg, who holds the Labor Department's purse strings for the House of Representatives, said as he lectured a labor official during a hearing Thursday. "And it's not anymore."

Last year, the Labor Department proposed new rules governing what kinds of potentially dangerous tasks minors can and cannot perform on farms and in grain facilities. Although child and worker advocates said the new rules were long overdue, the proposals created an uproar among farmers and agricultural trade groups, who argued that the rules could hurt family-farming traditions.

Although the original proposals largely exempted family farms, the Labor Department bowed yesterday to the farming industry, further widening the exemptions it had already put forward. But that didn't stop Rehberg and GOP members of the House agriculture subcommittee from piling on the department Thursday, using the hearing as an opportunity to put forth their rural bona fides.

Syria Crisis: Russia Will Not Stop Arms Sales To Assad Regime

BEIRUT (AP) - Russia will not stop selling arms to Syria, a top defense official said Thursday, as Moscow stands by its longtime ally despite mounting international condemnation over the Syrian regime's bloody crackdown on a 10-month-old uprising.

Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said his country is not violating any international obligations by selling weapons to Damascus.

"As of today there are no restrictions on our delivery of weapons," he told journalists in Russia, according to the country's state news agencies. "We must fulfill our obligations and this is what we are doing."

Moscow has been one of Syria's most powerful allies -€” along with Iran - as Syria tries to crush the revolt against President Bashar Assad. The U.N. estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed in the government crackdown.

Moscow's stance is motivated in part by its strategic and defense ties, including weapons sales, with Syria. But Russia also rejects what it sees as a a world order dominated by the U.S. Last month, Russia reportedly signed a $550-million deal to sell combat jets to Syria.

Tracey Cooper-Harris, Gay Army Veteran, Sues Over Denial Of Military Benefits

WASHINGTON — A gay Army veteran and her wife sued the federal government on Wednesday after they were denied military benefits granted to straight spouses.

The lawsuit announced in Washington involves a 12-year veteran of the Army, Tracey Cooper-Harris. After leaving the Army she married Maggie Cooper-Harris in California in 2008. Two years later, Tracey Cooper-Harris was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and she has received disability benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a result. But her application for additional money and benefits that married veterans are entitled to was denied.

The couple's lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in Los Angeles, argues that a federal law and military policy that resulted in the denial of benefits are discriminatory and unconstitutional.

If the couple were straight they would receive about $125 more a month in disability payments as a result of Tracey Cooper-Harris' illness, which has no cure. In addition, Maggie Cooper-Harris would be eligible for approximately $1,200 a month in benefits as a surviving spouse after her wife's death. The pair would also be eligible to be buried together in a veterans' cemetery.

"We're only asking for the same benefits as other married couples. We simply want the same peace of mind that these benefits bring to the families of other disabled veterans," said Tracey Cooper-Harris at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday.

NYPD Document: Gather Intel Info At Shiite Mosques

NEW YORK — The New York Police Department recommended increasing surveillance of thousands of Shiite Muslims and their mosques, based solely on their religion, as a way to sweep the Northeast for signs of Iranian terrorists, according to interviews and a newly obtained secret police document.

The document offers a rare glimpse into the thinking of NYPD intelligence officers and how, when looking for potential threats, they focused their spying efforts on mosques and Muslims. Police analysts listed a dozen mosques from central Connecticut to the Philadelphia suburbs. None has been linked to terrorism, either in the document or publicly by federal agencies.

The Associated Press has reported for months that the NYPD infiltrated mosques, eavesdropped in cafes and monitored Muslim neighborhoods with plainclothes officers. Its spying operations were begun after the 2001 terror attacks with help from the CIA in a highly unusual partnership.

The May 2006 NYPD intelligence report, entitled "US-Iran Conflict: The Threat to New York City," made a series of recommendations, including: "Expand and focus intelligence collections at Shi'a mosques."

The Future Is Not What It Used to Be: On 'El País'

On May 15, 2011, a day since known as 15-M, tens of thousands of young Spaniards swarmed into the streets. Unemployment had reached 21 percent nationwide—43 percent among 16- to 24-year-olds—and the government of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was preparing further spending cuts with barely a glance in the direction of the country’s 5 million jobless. A week before regional elections, and then for close to a month afterward, Madrid’s Puerta del Sol became the hub of nationwide demonstrations. Scores of signs were strung up along a languishing construction site on the east lip of the plaza, where a landmark billboard featuring the cheerily behatted mascot for the renowned Spanish sherry Tío Pepe had recently been removed to make way for an Apple store.

Demonstrators made their way up the sloping glass outcropping of the metro station to lead chants decrying political corruption and ineptitude. “They don’t represent us” was one refrain, and the words reverberated with an almost festive trill. Several protesters wearing tuxedos and top hats in mock imitation of fat-cat bankers tossed Monopoly money into the crowds and puffed on gnarled, unlit cigars. Whole families arrived, drawn to the spectacle of rollicking civic engagement; parents proudly urged their children to applaud. One demonstrator held a sign that read, Am Fed Up and Would Like to Debate Anything. People peeled away from the crowd and gamely approached him, emboldened by his invitation to spar.

The protests of 15-M, reprised in June and October to more dramatic effect, hardly diminished the zeal for austerity among the political class. But the rallies did help clear the air, and inspired protesters in Spain and abroad, including Occupy Wall Street. A mass movement called Democracía Real Ya (Real Democracy Now) had materialized out of the ether, organized on Facebook in the manner of the Arab uprisings. Until then, Spain’s “lost” or “defrauded generation,” as it is known, had existed in the public imagination as a set of unemployment statistics. Now, faces and voices were attaching themselves to the numbers. Most of the self-proclaimed indignados are between 19 and 30, and go by the moniker ni-ni: neither students nor workers. Without union representation and cynical about voting, they live outside the country’s fragile, and contracting, social compact.

How the GOP Is Resegregating the South

North Carolina State Senator Eric Mansfield was born in 1964, a year before the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote for African-Americans. He grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and moved to North Carolina when he was stationed at Fort Bragg. He became an Army doctor, opening a practice in Fayetteville after leaving the service. Mansfield says he was always “very cynical about politics” but decided to run for office in 2010 after being inspired by Barack Obama’s presidential run.

He ran a grassroots campaign in the Obama mold, easily winning the election with 67 percent of the vote. He represented a compact section of northwest Fayetteville that included Fort Bragg and the most populous areas of the city. It was a socioeconomically diverse district, comprising white and black and rich and poor sections of the city. Though his district had a black voting age population (BVAP) of 45 percent, Mansfield, who is African-American, lives in an old, affluent part of town that he estimates is 90 percent white. Many of his neighbors are also his patients.

But after the 2010 census and North Carolina’s once-per-decade redistricting process—which Republicans control by virtue of winning the state’s General Assembly for the first time since the McKinley administration—Mansfield’s district looks radically different. It resembles a fat squid, its large head in an adjoining rural county with little in common with Mansfield’s previously urban district, and its long tentacles reaching exclusively into the black neighborhoods of Fayetteville. The BVAP has increased from 45 to 51 percent, as white voters were surgically removed from the district and placed in a neighboring Senate district represented by a white Republican whom GOP leaders want to protect in 2012. Mansfield’s own street was divided in half, and he no longer represents most of the people in his neighborhood. His new district spans 350 square miles, roughly the distance from Fayetteville to Atlanta. Thirty-three voting precincts in his district have been divided to accommodate the influx of new black voters. “My district has never elected a nonminority state senator, even though minorities were never more than 45 percent of the vote,” Mansfield says. “I didn’t need the help. I was doing OK.”

John Baird: Israel Visit End With Foreign Affairs Minister Calling For 'Redoubled' Sanctions Against Iran

HERZLIYA, Israel - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird wrapped up his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories Wednesday with the hope Israel's leaders will continue to support the international community's stronger sanctions against Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

"The sanctions are beginning to have a good effect," Baird told a news conference at the Herzilya Conference on the Balance of Israel's National Strength and Security.

"They take time to work, and I think you have seen in the last two or three months they certainly are beginning to have an effect."

It's critical to redouble international efforts against Iran's nuclear plans, he added. "We must continue to take every single diplomatic measure, to close any loopholes and continue the discussions about going forward in the future."

During his talks with Israeli leaders, Baird said he also heard concerns about the "abysmal" human rights situation in Iran, which is also fuelling tensions in Southern Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Bahrain.

Canada Income Inequality: Study Shows Government Policies Growing Less Effective At Narrowing Gap

As debate about income inequality mounts, a new study underscores how important public investment in social programs like education and health care is in narrowing the rich-poor divide.

At a time when Ottawa prepares to beat back the deficit with public spending cuts, the findings also show that the effect of Canada’s social safety net on narrowing the income gap waned in the early 2000s.

“There seems to be a decline in the role of transfers on inequality in Canada,” says Andrew Sharpe, director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards in Ottawa, and co-author of the study by the New York-based Levy Institute of Bard College.
More on income inequality at Mind The Gap: CEO Compensation Jumps 27 Per Cent As Wages Stagnate.. Toronto's Cabbagetown A Striking Example Of Disappearing Middle Class.. Which Canadian Cities Are Seeing The Fastest Ghettoization?.. FULL COVERAGE..

Federal Budget 2012: Jim Flaherty To Put Business Innovation At Top Of Agenda

OTTAWA - Policy-makers have talked about business innovation endlessly — now the Harper government says it is determined to do something about it.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pledge last week to make innovation a key element of the upcoming budget opens the window to the first comprehensive rethink in many years on the way Ottawa doles out more than $6 billion to stimulate research and development, say experts.

And depending on how seriously Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty take to the task, they add, the project has the potential to achieve the lofty goal the prime minister is assigning it: sustaining the economy as the workforce ages and shrinks.

"Canada's choice will be, with clarity and urgency, to seize and to master our future, to be a model of confidence, growth and prosperity in the 21st century," Harper told the attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.

Improving innovation and competitiveness, however, has been the goal of governments long before Harper came to office, and according to a 2010 measure, Canada still ranks 14 of 17 peer countries.
This despite Canadian governments having been among the most generous in funding for research and development.

Senate Canada: Partisan Newsletters Funded By Taxpayers Given Go Ahead By Upper House

OTTAWA — Using taxpayers’ dollars to send partisan mailings is A-OK, Canada's senators have finally decided.

“There are only 105 of us, George (Liberal Senator George Furey) and I have basically talked to our caucuses and said, you know, when you do your newsletter be careful, don’t be excessively partisan,” Conservative Senator David Tkachuk told The Huffington Post Thursday.

“You can still be partisan, I mean we are a debating society, we fight and we argue, but when you put them down, put them down in a way that promotes discussion rather than an attack,” he added.

Tkachuk, the chair of the Senate's committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, said the newsletters are now going through a new vetting process by communication staff and if any alarm bells go off, a group of senators will determine whether or not a certain partisan newsletter can be printed and mailed.

"We do check them now, we just make sure before they are printed that they are not a propaganda piece," he said.

The primal passions of our law-and-order men

The bizarre eruption by Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu became much more understandable yesterday with the news of the family tragedy he had gone through. His 27-year-old daughter Julie was abducted, raped and murdered in 2002 by a repeat offender.

Any father who has experienced something as horridly traumatic as that can be excused for having views on crime that are somewhat adrift of the norm. The senator’s words – give them a rope in their cells so they have the option of hanging themselves – and the ensuing controversy should not be seen as an indication the government wants to reopen the death penalty.

Safe to say there are many in this Conservative Party — the most right-wing government in Canadian history — who favour it. But the prime minister, who handled the brouhaha well yesterday, realizes that Canadian public opinion would not tolerate a move in that direction.

Because the senator’s outrageous recommendation grabbed all the headlines, a more serious development on the justice and jails front was barely noticed, it being a court ruling on the government’s callous approach to Canadians incarcerated abroad. Breaking with the country’s traditional humane approach, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews refuses to allow these prisoners to be transferred to serve out their sentences in Canadian institutions.

A Federal Court ruling by Justice Robert Barnes flayed Toews and two Tory predecessors in the portfolio who, in some cases, rejected the recommendations from their departments and who did not provide explanations for their decisions.

Are the Conservatives orchestrating pre-budget debate?

OTTAWA—If there is a method to the apparent Conservative madness of letting a national debate on the sensitive issue of pensions escalate, it is that the government is leading the opposition parties up the proverbial garden path.

One of the cardinal rules of political marketing is that one does not willfully let an opponent frame a major debate. As top-notch partisan operators, the Conservatives usually need lessons on that score from no one. Yet for the better part of a week, they have been allowing the Liberals and the NDP to turn a nascent national conversation on pensions into an aggressive opposition soliloquy.

That would suggest (a) the government’s spin doctors have gone on strike for better wages — an unlikely proposition in a non-union shop — or (b) the opposition parties are being enticed to lay siege to a mountain that will turn out to be a molehill.

By comparison to opposition suggestions that elderly Canadians are about to be reduced to lining up in soup kitchens by an uncaring government, it is hard to think of an actual policy that will not come across as benevolent.

Federal Budget 2012: Government not backing down on plan for cuts to Old Age Security

OTTAWA—Despite the uproar over proposed changes to Old Age Security, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is not backing away from its plan to save money by cutting pension benefits.

No details have been released but it is widely believed the Conservatives will unveil plans to gradually raise eligibility for OAS benefits by two years to age 67. In the Commons Thursday, Harper repeatedly refused to answer opposition questions about what the government has in mind for seniors.

But Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made it clear the Conservatives are sticking to their plan to cut spending on OAS, which provides a monthly cheque to qualifying Canadians beginning at 65.

“We do need to take action to ensure the long-term sustainability of these programs,” Flaherty told reporters in a telephone conference from Israel, where he is on government business.

And he brushed aside arguments from opposition MPs and some economists that the government is creating a crisis that doesn’t exist. These critics say the increase in pension costs in Canada over the next few decades will not be large enough to threaten Ottawa’s fiscal stability.

Why free Statscan data is good for all Canadians

Frances Woolley is a professor of economics at Carleton University, where she teaches public finance. Her recent Economy Lab posts can be found here.

Statistics Canada is now making its CANSIM data freely available on-line. A direct link to the data can be found on the Statcan home page.

The wealth of economic data provided by CANSIM will be a boon for businesses and skilled analysts -- people who know how to translate CPI numbers such as January 1949 = 10.9 and December 2011 = 136.8 into an annual inflation rate, and need detailed economic indicators for their business forecasts. Yet what does it mean for the typical Canadian?

For people who are interested in broad economic and social indicators such as per capita GDP, health expenditures as percentage of national income, or infant mortality rates, there are other sites that provide more data, and have better graphics facilities, such as the Gapminder website, the World Bank, or the United Nations Human Development program. Tellingly, in a recent blogpost, Kevin Milligan used life expectancy data from The CANSIM life expectancy data only go back as far as 1992/4;’s data go back to 1921. These other sites also provide international data, which helps put Canada’s experience into perspective.

Tories slam opposition for creating pension panic, mum on details

The Harper government is accusing the NDP and Liberals of deliberately stoking fear and confusion among Canada’s seniors, as it moves to reassure Canadians that it is not poised to take away pension benefits.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley made the charges as MPs debated Thursday the NDP’s opposition motion calling on the government to cease and desist from trying to reduce its deficit on the backs of seniors. The controversy is over proposed changes to Old Age Security, which the Harper government has hinted at without providing details.

“... They are intentionally misleading Canadians and particularly our seniors about the Old Age Security Program and I would like to put an end to that today,” charged Ms. Finley. “Let me confirm right now that our government will ensure the security of retirement benefits for Canadian seniors and for future generations.”

The Harper government has repeatedly tried to reassure concerned Canadians that their pension benefits are not in jeopardy. At the same time, it is accusing the oppositions of manufacturing a crisis.

The problem is, however, that neither the Prime Minister nor his ministers have outlined what the reforms may entail. And so the vacuum of information has been filled by speculation from the opposition, which has charged the government is poised to raise the eligibility age to 67 from 65. The Prime Minister has not confirmed this.

Ottawa gets a pre-budget warning: cut the spending sprees

March Madness is the name of the famous American college basketball tournament. It also refers to the breeding season of the European hare. But that’s not what Tony Clement was talking about when he sent a letter Thursday warning government departments against it.

The Treasury Board President is concerned by the annual spending spree that bureaucrats sometimes indulge in as March 31, the end of the fiscal year, approaches. A copy of his letter prohibiting the practice was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

“In the past, we have heard stories about what is known in Ottawa circles as ‘March Madness,’ when organizations spend unused operational funds on things such as new furniture, promotional items, stockpiling of IT hardware, and other purchases that fall outside of existing contractual obligations,” Mr. Clement wrote in a letter that went out Thursday to all ministers, deputy ministers and heads of crown corporations.

The departments splurge in March because they fear that if they come in under budget, the budget for the next year will be cut.

Massive scandal threatens to disrupt India’s cellphone market

NEW DELHI—India’s top court ordered the government on Thursday to cancel 122 cellphone licenses granted to companies during an irregular sale of spectrum that has been branded one of the largest scandals in India’s history.

The verdict will likely disrupt the country’s massive cellphone market and is a further embarrassment for the scandal-riddled government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The 2008 sale of second generation, or 2G, cellphone spectrum at cut-rate prices in a bewildering “first-come, first-served” process netted the government only 124 billion rupees ($2.5 billion CDN). Government auditors said the sale might have cost the treasury as much as $36 billion in potential revenue.

The court ruled that the 122 licenses granted in that deal be scrapped and that a fresh auction for licenses be held in the next four months.

Analysts expect the new auction to raise an estimated 1 trillion rupees ($20 billion). That might be less than the spectrum would have garnered at the time because of the subsequent introduction of 3G technology here and the consolidation of the main market players.

Such a windfall would be welcome in New Delhi, which has been struggling with a growing fiscal deficit.

Founder of ORNGE Chris Mazza fired

ORNGE has fired air ambulance founder Dr. Chris Mazza with no offer of a severance package.

The news came as ORNGE placed ORNGE Global, the for-profit entity Mazza created, into bankruptcy.

Also terminated was Maria Renzella, chief operating officer of ORNGE Global.

ORNGE said no severance package has been offered to either.

Both executives were on extended sick leave. A bankruptcy trustee has been appointed by the Ontario courts to wind up the affairs of the company.

ORNGE Global was created as a consulting firm and senior executives at the non-profit ORNGE Ontario were paid as consultants.

Some of its funding came from a $6.7 million payment from the Italian firm that received $144 million off Ontario taxpayer-financed funds when it sold helicopters to ORNGE.

An ORNGE spokesman said the bankruptcy does not affect the operation of the provincial air ambulance service.

U.S. No-Fly list doubles in past year to 21,000 known or suspected terrorists

WASHINGTON—Even as the Obama administration says it’s close to defeating Al Qaeda, the size of the government’s secret list of suspected terrorists who are banned from flying to or within the United States has more than doubled in the past year, The Associated Press has learned.

The no-fly list jumped from about 10,000 known or suspected terrorists one year ago to about 21,000, according to government figures provided to the AP. Most people on the list are from other countries; about 500 are Americans.

The flood of new names began after the failed Christmas 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner. The government lowered the standard for putting people on the list, and then scoured its files for anyone who qualified. The government will not disclose who is on its list or why someone might have been placed on it.

The surge in the size of the no-fly list comes even as the U.S. has killed many senior members of Al Qaeda. That’s because the government believes the current terror threat extends well beyond the group responsible for the September 2001 attacks.

“Both U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities and foreign services continue to identify people who want to cause us harm, particularly in the U.S. and particularly as it relates to aviation,” Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole said in an interview.

Road tolls, parking fees needed to pay for Sheppard subway, Chong report concludes

As a report leaked Thursday suggesting Mayor Rob Ford’s pledge to build a Sheppard subway extension is “feasible,” opponents to his transit plan were crafting a “realistic” alternative headed to council soon.

The looming transit showdown is a massive test for Ford that, after his recent failure to convince council to back his 2012 budget, could see the once-mighty mayor rendered a virtual lame duck just over a year into his four-year mandate.

Ford was expected to release the 188-page “Toronto Transit: Back on Track,” report by former councillor Gordon Chong early next week. However, media outlets, including the Star, obtained copies.

Chong makes an unabashedly political argument for the superiority of subways over surface light rail transit and suggests a number of “revenue tools” to raise billions of dollars over 50 years to get the Sheppard line built.

The tools, suggested by management consultant KPMG, include tax increment financing, new charges on property developments and the sale of city-owned land and “air rights” above it.

But the tax-averse, car-friendly Ford would also have to embrace a combination of “road pricing” (zone-based tolls, expressway tolls, and vehicle-kilometre-travelled fees); parking pricing (parking sales tax; parking space levy); a special regional sales tax; a special gas tax; a passenger vehicle charge and an employee/payroll tax.

Immigration ministry blames bureaucrat for Sun News citizenship ceremony slip-up

OTTAWA—Red-faced immigration officials say a bureaucrat is to blame for having department staff pose as new Canadians at a citizenship ceremony staged for television.

Officials in Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office were scrambling Thursday after Canadian Press reporter Jennifer Ditchburn broke the news of how the reaffirmation ceremony televised on the Sun News Network last fall went awry.

As cameras rolled, 10 “new Canadians” held flags and smiled as the TV hosts talked about they had “finally” received their citizenship.

In fact, six of them were bureaucrats, hustled down to act as last-minute stand-ins to fill out the crowd, according to department documents obtained by Canadian Press.

Documents released under Access to Information legislation show that just a few weeks before Canada’s Citizenship Week last October, Kenney’s staff directed departmental officials to add a last-minute citizenship ceremony at the network to their list of scheduled events.

BBC under fire for 'censoring' Palestine lyric

The BBC is under attack for using sound effects to mask the lyric "free Palestine" from a performance by rapper Mic Righteous on BBC Radio 1Xtra.

The corporation is being accused of bias after effectively editing the words from Mic Righteous's improvised set, in which he expressed his views on subjects ranging from the American government to poverty and the floods in Pakistan.

The song was recorded for Charlie Sloth's late night hip-hop show on 4 December, but protests have been mounting since the performance was rebroadcast as part of a "best of" from the show on 30 April.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign on Wednesday posted a statement on its website urging listeners to write to the BBC and the Radio Times to complain, and to post their views on Sloth's 1Xtra home page.

Describing the edit as an "extraordinary act of censorship", the campaign asked why the BBC did not ban the song "Free Nelson Mandela" when it was released in 1984. At the time, Mandela was still considered a terrorist by many western governments.

FoxConn planning to build intelligent robot factory

The parent of iPhone manufacturer FoxConn has formalised plans to build an automated factory in Taiwan. Hon Hai Precision Industry Company's Chairman Terry Gou has signed a letter of intent with Taichung Mayor Jason Hu outlining plans to construct an 'intelligent robotics kingdom' in the Central Taiwan Science Park over the next few years.

In July, Gou told workers at an event that the company were planning to introduce three million robots in order to perform simple procedures, cut rising labour costs and improve operational efficiency. In addition, replacing human workers with robots could also be seen as a measure to reduce the amount of well-publicised suicides at FoxConn's manufacturing facilities.

This plan now seems to be gaining traction with Gou also presiding over a ground-breaking ceremony for an intelligent robotics technology research facility and the inauguration of a FoxConn factory dedicated to the development and production of automation equipment. President Ma Ying-Jeou also attended the ceremony in support of Hon Hai's continued investment in Taiwan.

The ambitious project will look to generate around $4 billion in production value within the next five years, creating 2,000 jobs in the process.

Hon Hai's subsidiary FoxConn is one of the world's biggest electronics sub-contractors with clients including Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Nintendo. The company plans to invest around $224 million in this latest project.  

Original Article
Source: manufacturing digital 
Author: Christopher Davies  

UConn Rape Sketch Video Outrages Students, TV Station Apologizes

Students from the University of Connecticut have organized a meeting to discuss a possible sit-in, rally and protest in response to a comedy sketch about rape that aired on the school's student-run television station UCTV, according to an announcement posted to Facebook.

The sketch, which aired once in November and then again on Jan. 30 as part of the UCTV television series "Shenanigans," was posted to Gawker's website today after being removed from the station's website following complaints from students.

The sketch depicts a young woman fleeing through campus at night, apparently from a rapist. To her relief, the woman comes across one of the university's many "Code Blue Phone Kiosks," GPS-equipped emergency phone systems that allow students to call UConn's 911 services directly and wait for campus police as the machines flash warning lights.

But when the woman tries to use the emergency system to summon help, it misunderstands her words and a robotic voice calls her a "cock gobbler" and "howler monkey bitch" who is "crying rape," which gives the attacker enough time to catch up and strangle her in the parking lot.

American Airlines Wants To Eliminate 13,000 Jobs, End Pension Plans

DALLAS -- The parent of American Airlines wants to eliminate about 13,000 jobs – 15 percent of its workforce – as the nation's third-biggest airline remakes itself under bankruptcy protection.

The company proposes to end its traditional pension plans, a move strongly opposed by the airline's unions and the U.S. pension-insurance agency, and to stop paying for retiree health benefits.

AMR Corp. said Wednesday that it must cut labor costs by 20 percent. It will soon begin negotiations with its three major unions, but the president of the flight attendants' union quickly rejected the company's ideas as unacceptably harsh.

CEO Thomas W. Horton said Wednesday that the company hopes to return to profitability by cutting spending by more than $2 billion per year and raising revenue by $1 billion per year.

AMR lost $884 million in the first nine months of 2011, and $904 million for December alone. It has lost more than $11 billion since 2001.

"We are going to use the restructuring process to make the necessary changes to meet our challenges head-on and capitalize fully on the solid foundation we've put in place," Horton said in a letter to employees.

AMR's 88,000 employees have braced for bad news for weeks. AMR, American and short-haul affiliate American Eagle filed for bankruptcy protection in November. Horton said in December that the company would emerge from bankruptcy with fewer workers.

The Democrats Who Unleashed Wall Street and Got Away With It

That Lawrence Summers, a president emeritus of Harvard, is a consummate distorter of fact and logic is not a revelation. That he and Bill Clinton, the president he served as treasury secretary, can still get away with disclaiming responsibility for our financial meltdown is an insult to reason.

Yet, there they go again. Clinton is presented, in a fawning cover story in the current edition of Esquire magazine, as "Someone we can all agree on. ... Even his staunchest enemies now regard his presidency as the good old days." In a softball interview, Clinton is once again allowed to pass himself off as a job creator without noting the subsequent loss of jobs resulting from the collapse of the housing derivatives bubble that his financial deregulatory policies promoted.

At least Summers, in a testier interview by British journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News, was asked some tough questions about his responsibility as Clinton's treasury secretary for the financial collapse that occurred some years later. He, like Clinton, still defends the reversal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, a 1999 repeal that destroyed the wall between investment and commercial banking put into place by Franklin Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression.

"I think the evidence is that I am right about that. If you look at the big players, Lehman and Bear Stearns were both standalone investment banks," Summers replied, referring to two investment banks allowed to fold. Summers is very good at obscuring the obvious truth -- that the too-big-to-fail banks, made legal by Clinton-era deregulation, required taxpayer bailouts.

The Komen Foundation Pinkwashes Anti-choicers, Punks Planned Parenthood

Remember when anti-choicers got LifeWay Christian Resources to pull its pink-covered Here’s Hope Breast Cancer Bibles from Walmart and other stores because one dollar of every sale went to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation? The antis were upset that the wealthy and influential breast-cancer charity made grants to Planned Parenthood for breast exams and mammograms for low-income women. And remember when Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, told his flock to stop raising money for Komen because someday in the future it might endorse stem cell research? Crazy, right?

The anti-choice movement can be so clumsy, and so weird, we forget that it is also smart and strategic and busy busy busy. Because while you were shaking your head over pink Bibles and stem-cell futurology, Komen was hiring Karen Handel as senior vice president for public policy. Handel is not your typical philanthropy administrator. She is a Republican pol, a former Georgia secretary of state, who ran in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, with endorsements from Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and anti-immigrant finger-pointing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. At that time she described herself as “staunchly and unequivocally pro-life,” opposed to stem cell research and a fan of crisis pregnancy centers—places that have repeatedly been shown to use scare tactics and misinformation to dissuade women from seeking abortions. She vowed to eliminate from the state budget pass-through grants to Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screenings. Interestingly, she had previously supported these grants, using the exact arguments defenders of Komen’s PP grants are making now: PP is the only organization capable of doing the work—reaching low-income women, for whom the PP clinic is often the only medical care the get—and the grant money does not fund abortions. Handel’s turnaround shows you how quickly the anti-choicers have claimed formerly neutral turf: in only a few years a relationship deemed normal and good—in Georgia!—and the only existing way of providing needed services was branded with the mark of the beast.

Playwright Michael Healey leaves Tarragon after play involving PM is nixed

Award-winning playwright Michael Healey has left Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre in a dispute over a new drama he’s written featuring a character based on Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In an interview on Wednesday evening, Mr. Healey, 49, confirmed he closed his office at the theatre last Sunday, ending a residency with the Tarragon dating to 2001. He said the action was precipitated by a Tarragon decision late last month not to program his latest play, Proud, for the theatre’s 2012-13 season. Mr. Healey, who has been critical of the Harper government, said the company’s artistic director Richard Rose told him there was “concern the play could potentially libel Stephen Harper,” even though the playwright earlier had received a lawyer’s opinion stating that that would not be an issue “as long as it’s clear the play is a work of fiction.”

Mr. Rose confirmed Mr. Healey’s departure but did not elaborate on the specifics. “We hope and expect to work with Michael in the future as we have great admiration for his work,” he said in an e-mail.

Proud exists only as a first draft, Mr. Healey said, and is subject to many revisions. It was written “very quickly” shortly after Mr. Harper achieved a majority government in May, 2011, and conceived as the concluding drama in a trilogy “about Canadian societal virtues” that began with Generous and Courageous, both Tarragon productions that won Dora Awards as best new plays in their respective debut seasons.

Mr. Healey, who won a Governor-General’s Award for his 1999 play The Drawer Boy, said that, while Mr. Harper’s name is not used in Proud, one of four characters is called “Mr. Prime Minister,” the setting is the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa – and it’s “very clear this character is the current Prime Minister. I don’t want to be cute about that. I want to talk directly about the current political climate to get at the other things I wanted to get at.” Proud, he added, ends 20 years from now, with a character delivering a monologue on the Harper legacy.

Mr. Healey asserted his portrayal is “incredibly sympathetic. I’ve gone to great lengths to embody the Prime Minister’s point of view. ... In fact, my plan was to play the part myself because I wanted to avoid a situation where an actor comes in with preconceived negative notions about the guy . . . I’m not interested in polemic, in running down a laundry list of his short-comings or his government’s. I want it to be a Shavian event [as in George Bernard Shaw] where one guy stops talking, and you say, ‘That guy is absolutely right’ until another guy starts talking and you say, ‘No that guy’s absolutely right.’”

Other theatre companies are looking at Mr. Healey’s draft, but he acknowledged it may be too late for any of them to schedule it for 2012-13. As a result, he indicated he might consider producing it himself.

Original Article
Source: Globe 
Author: james adams 

Peter MacKay: Pakistan's Ties To Taliban Irks Defence Minister

OTTAWA - Defence Minister Peter MacKay had some tough words for Pakistan following the leak of a secret NATO report that's made for grim reading among allied countries.

The documents, obtained by the BBC, say western military commanders believe that Pakistan is helping guide attacks on coalition troops and that captured Taliban fighters are confident they'll take over Afghanistan once foreign troops leave.

The notion that Islamabad — or some elements of the country's military or intelligence service — are pulling the strings of the insurgency is not new, MacKay said following question period Wednesday.

But he suggested patience is wearing thin.

"If they are a reliable all, if they are a country that wants to see Canada, the United States, Great Britain and other NATO allies continue to work in the region to bring about peace and security throughout the region, then their co-operation is required and, in fact, it's demanded," MacKay said.

The report said Pakistan's advice and safe havens are critical to the Taliban, even if some Taliban commanders are uncomfortable taking instructions from the Inter-Service Intelligence agency, the Pakistan intelligence service.

There is also skepticism that the newly trained Afghan National Army will be able to handle the guerrilla force on its own — a perception that's hammered home in interviews with 4,000 captured Taliban, who boast that they're just biding their time until NATO leaves.

MacKay dismissive of bleak NATO report on Afghan mission

OTTAWA — Defence Minister Peter MacKay is dismissive of a NATO report that casts a bleak light on the alliance’s decade-long effort to keep the Taliban from regaining control of Afghanistan.

The report, “State of the Taliban,” presents a damning assessment of the war, now entering its 11th year. Based on 27,000 interrogations of some 4,000 captured Taliban fighters, the report describes them as highly motivated, possessed of strong morale, and confident they will regain control of Afghanistan once western forces leave.

NATO officials have downplayed the report’s significance, arguing that the Taliban is much weaker after losing hundreds of fighters and much territory in the past year.

On Wednesday, MacKay echoed that view, arguing that the legitimacy of its assessment is doubtful given that it relies on interviews with captured fighters with a particular point of view to promote.

“We are continuing to see fighters being taken off the battlefield,” said MacKay. “Their followers, similarly, are diminishing. Their leadership is in disarray. And the support for the Taliban in Afghanistan continues to fall.”

Best pension reform would be to take from the rich seniors

A much savvier political option for the Harper Conservatives than raising Old Age Security eligibility to 67 from 65 would be taxing back all benefits from all 65-plus seniors not decidedly low income.

If they do anything else, they will be pegged as mean-spirited and excessively ideological.

Because the truth is, Canada, while better off than most developed countries, continues to have a fair number of low-income seniors, mostly women - a group that inspires empathy from most Canadians.

The Stephen Harper crowd can rightly be criticized for some of their past policies in which they went out of their way to favour upper-income groups.

For example, the government has promised, once the federal budget is balanced, to allow income splitting for tax purposes for higher income Canadians.

It's already providing tax benefits for families of children enrolling in often-costly sports programs.

As for OAS, Conservatives have not yet specified what they'll do. But they're properly highlighting a need for reform in the face of a demographic challenge posed by retiring baby boomers.

Chinese ambassador before Harper visit: China wants Arctic status

MONTREAL - China may use the upcoming visit by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to try convincing him that it deserves a more prominent role in the Arctic.

Next year Canada begins a two-year term as chair of the Arctic Council, which comprises the eight nations that ring the North Pole.
Even though it has no Arctic territories, China wants a place at that table.

Zhang Junsai, the Chinese ambassador to Canada, told a Montreal audience on Wednesday that his country should be allowed to be there.

"Of course, China wishes to be an observer," he said.

The Arctic region may contain as much as one-quarter of the Earth's untapped oil and gas, reserves that will become more accessible as temperatures rise and polar ice caps melt.

Meanwhile, China covets additional energy and resources to power its fast-growing economy and is already investing heavily in Canada's oilsands. That theme of energy exports is expected to play a central role in Harper's upcoming trip.

In his speech Wednesday to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, Junsai focused on bilateral relations between Canada and China, and on Harper's visit. Junsai said he believed the trip would have a very positive impact on relations.

Report says Northern Gateway pipeline will create ‘price shock’ across Canada

EDMONTON — A new report says the Northern Gateway pipeline will boost crude oil prices $2 to $3 per barrel annually over the next 30 years, causing significant damage to consumers, businesses and the Canadian economy.

The economic assessment of the $5.5-billion project by former Insurance Corporation of British Columbia CEO Robyn Allan says the price shock will have “a negative and prolonged impact on the Canadian economy by reducing output, employment labour income and government revenues.”

Allan, an economist who researched the impact of the pipeline proposal out of curiosity, says it has been touted by proponents as a nation building enterprise, but it really represents a “serious economic risk” to the Canadian economy.

“The emperor has no clothes,” Allan said in an interview. “We’re told it is a gross producing economic opportunity, but in fact it’s an oil price shock to the economy.”

Allan said when the price of oil goes up, that means Canadian consumers and businesses will pay more for anything produced by that oil.

Federal cuts will force big job losses, union says

OTTAWA — Canada's public service could face job losses of up to 50,000 if the Conservative government drives departments to cut deeper and faster than expected, says the union representing federal government economists.

Claude Poirier, president of The Canadian Association of Professional Employees, said the union estimates 110,000 jobs could disappear — including 50,000 in the public service — if the Conservatives press ahead with spending reductions of $8 billion by 2014-15. The union launched a major study several months ago to get a handle on the economic impact of the government's proposed spending cuts. The final study won't be released until later this month.

"If they do that, there is a major risk of creating a recession," said Poirier. "We're not fear-mongering. We are just reacting to the information the government is leaking.

"The only job creation from the Conservative government in this period will be additional seats in the House of Commons and more staff for MPs," he added.

The scale of the reductions estimated by the union are in line with the latest projections from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which estimates job losses could hit between 98,000 and 108,000 with deeper cuts. Of those, 53,000 would disappear in the public service, with the rest coming in the private sector.

What is behind Conservative comments on abortion and the death penalty?

Abortion and the death penalty.

Two hot button topics. Two topics Stephen Harper has tried scrupulously to avoid since becoming prime minister.

During the past few days, however, those two topics have burst to the fore as backbench Conservative MPs and senators have started to speak out in a way they haven’t for the past six years.

Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, a social Conservative, publicly denounced the “ironclad” grip the Prime Minister’s Office has had on the right of MPs to speak their minds. Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth is freely talking about his initiative to review the definition of who is legally a human – a move some see as an attempt to re-open the debate on abortion.

Wednesday, Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu’s comments about capital punishment were reported internationally after he mused about giving murderers a length of rope in their cells and allowing them to decide what to do with it.

While Boisvenu, whose own daughter was murdered, later withdrew his suggestion that murderers commit suicide, his statement did not withdraw his comment that capital punishment should be an option for some killers like Clifford Olson who were beyond rehabilitation.

Harper has said there are times where he personally thinks capital punishment is appropriate but he has maintained his government will not revisit either abortion or capital punishment.

Nevertheless, the comments by members of Harper’s own caucus have some observers wondering. Some question whether Harper’s near total control of his caucus is slipping as backbenchers who have come to the realization they aren’t going to get into cabinet tire of issues they care about not being addressed. Others, point to the comments as proof the government has had a hidden social conservative agenda all along and is trying to reopen issues like abortion and capital punishment “through the back door.”

Federal bureaucrats posed as ‘new Canadians’ for Sun News event

Six federal bureaucrats were drafted to pose as new Canadians for a citizenship reaffirmation ceremony broadcast on the Sun News network, an event requested by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office.

The bureaucrats smiled and held Canadian flags as the TV hosts referred to a group of 10 people as “new Canadians” that had “finally” received their citizenship.

Documents released under Access to Information legislation show that just a few weeks before Canada’s Citizenship Week last October, Mr. Kenney’s staff directed departmental officials to add a last-minute citizenship ceremony at the network to their list of scheduled events.

Bureaucrats scrambled to work out the logistics, suggesting to the minister’s office that Sun News could cover one of the 13 scheduled ceremonies in Ontario – four of them in Toronto, including one at the Air Canada Centre.

One senior bureaucrat at the registrar of Canadian citizenship expressed concern to Mr. Kenney’s office that Sun News seemed to want to feature “only” the oath, which might short-change new Canadians from the full ceremony experience.

“We have to keep in mind that the ceremony should first and foremost be a special (sic) for the new citizen, most of whom will want family and friends (sic) attend this very special day in their lives,” the bureaucrat wrote.

"Gasland" Director Josh Fox Arrested at Congressional Hearing on Natural Gas Fracking

The Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox was handcuffed and arrested Wednesday as he attempted to film a congressional hearing on the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as fracking, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently reported caused water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming. Fox directed the award-winning film, "Gasland," which documents the impact of fracking on communities across the United States, and is now working on a sequel. Fox says he was arrested after Republicans refused to allow him to film because he did not have the proper credentials. "We wanted to report on what happened [at the hearing]. I was not interested in disrupting that hearing. It was not a protest action," says Fox. "I was simply trying to do my job as a journalist and go in there and show to the American people what was transpiring in that hearing, so that down the line, as we know there will be a lot of challenges mounted to that [Pavillion, Wyoming] EPA report—and frankly, to the people in Pavillion, who have been sticking up for themselves and demanding an investigation into the groundwater contamination—and to make sure that people could view that in a larger forum than usually happens."