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.]

Friday, February 10, 2012

Prime Minister Stephen Harper boasts about Canada’s economic performance while jobs vanish and pensions shrink

We haven’t yet reached the six-week mark, but 2012 has already brought more upheaval to our lives than the 2008-2009 recession.

When the year began we thought the cornerstone of Canada’s pension system, the 60-year-old Old Age Security program, was sturdy. We considered it our one reliable source of retirement income at a time when market forces were battering private pensions and personal savings.

Then, out of the blue, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that his government intended to curb the growth of Canada’s retirement income system. He disclosed his plan at a conference in Switzerland, providing no details. Economists at home were left to guess the specifics; actuaries to dispute the urgency; and Canadians to revise their financial plans in a vacuum.

We thought we had a functioning, collective bargaining system in this country as we headed into 2012.

Then we watched Caterpillar Inc., the owner of a productive locomotive firm in London, bust its union (the Canadian Auto Workers), thumb its nose at both the community and the Ontario government, then close the factory, throwing its 460 workers on the scrap heap and walking away with the company’s patents and technology.

Why the NDP silence on Palestine?

As pronouncements on Palestinian statehood at the UN are fiercely debated around the world, on the ground in Palestine the violent realities of Israeli military occupation and apartheid continue without reprieve.

In Canada, despite broad international support for peace with justice in Palestine, illustrated by the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, Palestine has in recent years seldom been highlighted as a foreign policy priority by the NDP. The subject, for instance, has only rarely been mentioned in the current NDP leadership race.

Today the diverse voices supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom in Canada rarely find an echo in Ottawa's halls of power. Palestine, however, remains a central international issue for grassroots social justice movements across Canada, a fact that NDP leadership contenders seem to be largely sidestepping, despite actively courting support from progressive activists.

It seems that the ongoing struggle of millions of displaced Palestinian refugees, many of whom reside in impoverished refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, or live under the Israeli military siege on Gaza, is far away from the minds of politicians working in Ottawa or campaigning across Canada.

As activists move toward the annual Israeli Apartheid Week, which this year takes place March 5-9 in Canada, let us take concrete action that will project the Palestinian struggle in ways that NDP politicians are forced to address.

Grassroots activism in Canada has contributed significantly to the global BDS campaign. In Montreal 500 artists signed an open letter to support the movement, and major unions are deeply involved. Despite this, some NDP politicians continue to expect support from the same activist networks working to build the BDS movement, while stepping all over the rights of Palestinians.

Disruptive Technologies and the National Interest

RIM and Twitter's clashes with foreign governments over encryption point to a problematic tension emerging between the imperatives of market access and national security.

In exchange for access to markets, Twitter recently agreed to grant governments the power to block certain messages. This, as well as the seemingly bloodless and amicable boardroom coup resulting in the replacement of RIM’s co-CEOs, is an effect of the foreign-investment deal-breaker that nobody wants to talk about: its intersection with national security.

In May 2011, shortly after Apple dominated the mobile market with the iPhone, iPad, and app store, the future of RIM appeared to be hanging on whether its PlayBook tablet would help it regain the market initiative. In an interview about the PlayBook launch, a BBC correspondent asked co-CEO Michael Lazaridis how RIM was handling an ongoing issue with the government of India, in which the state had demanded access to encrypted user communications. Lazaridis ended the interview gruffly, citing national-security concerns, and perhaps drawing more attention to the issue rather than diverting it. In fairness, the company had been deftly cornered, since there was no reason to believe competitors like Huawei or Apple would display the same principled compunction RIM did about government snooping. As Lazaridis said, RIM had been “singled out” on the encryption issue. The result, however, was that a shadow of uncertainty had been cast on the publicity for the tablet launch, and questions about RIM’s ability to secure access to Asian markets were now in play. At that critical moment for the company, the story of RIM was no longer about the PlayBook. After further market uncertainty about the direction of the company, the RIM board replaced the co-CEOs within the year.

Accept bailout deal or face catastrophe, Greek PM tells cabinet

Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos told his turbulent coalition government on Friday to accept a harsh international bailout deal or condemn the nation to catastrophe.

“We cannot allow Greece to go bankrupt,” he told a cabinet meeting. “Our priority is to do whatever it takes to approve the new economic program and proceed with the new loan agreement.”

Mr. Papademos, the sole technocrat in a coalition of feuding politicians, tried to assert his authority after six cabinet members resigned over European Union and International Monetary Fund demands for yet more pay, pension and job cuts in return for the financial rescue.

“It goes without saying that whoever disagrees and does not vote for the new program cannot remain in the government,” he said in televised remarks.

Greece faces bankruptcy unless it gets the funds from the IMF and EU by March 20 when it has to repay €14.5-billion ($19-billion U.S.) in maturing bonds.

A former central banker, Mr. Papademos tried to raise Greeks’ spirits as the nation enters its fifth year of recession, saying economic growth would return in 2013 despite accusations that the austerity is merely driving Greece into a downward spiral.

The great call of China

TV reporters travelling with Stephen Harper to China this week are desperate for some colour to go with all the talk of pipelines. The Prime Minister’s Office, more adept at serving up pageantry than it used to be, has served up a couple of old standbys.

Mark Rowswell, a television entertainer who has been famous in China as “Dashan” for longer than Harper has been in politics, was designated as Canada’s goodwill ambassador to China. And in this trip’s worst-kept secret, a Saturday visit to the Chongqing Zoo is designed to ensure the Harpers will be followed home by some cuddly panda bears for the Calgary Zoo.

The message sent by those announcements is one of continuity and sure value. The message sent by just about everything else in today’s China is one of constant turmoil. Harper’s predecessors used to arrive in Beijing as rare emissaries from the outside world. These days, the outside world sends visitors at such a heady tempo that Harper was in some danger of being run over on arrival by the next carpetbagging potentate if he didn’t clear off the VIP runway lickety-split.

Bring in 'anti-scab' laws now, NDP says

New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael points to OCI-FFAW dispute as proof of 'deteriorating' labour environment

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael says Ocean Choice International's use of replacement workers on the Newfoundland Lynx is proof that "anti-scab" legislation is necessary in the province.

Michael noted that the Lynx situation follows Vale's use of replacement workers during a lengthy strike at its Voisey's Bay site in Labrador.

Early Thursday morning, RCMP in Bay Roberts detained picketing union members and helped shepherd replacement workers hired by OCI to the Lynx. The police were enforcing a court order OCI had won earlier in the week.

"We have a real deteriorating situation with the private sector here and labour, and government has to step in," Michael told On Point with David Cochrane.

"And the only way is by bringing in anti-scab legislation."

Meanwhile, NDP labour critic Dale Kirby wants the labour minister, Terry French, to intervene in the Lynx dispute.

"He has not had a word to say about this, has given tacit approval by saying nothing," Kirby said.

"Maybe he is the minister for scab labour, I don't know, but he's certainly not doing his job as the minister of labour."

Kirby said the government must immediately table legislation in the house of assembly that stops companies from using replacement workers.

Without it, Kirby said, other employers will see this situation as permission to weaken workers' rights and benefits.

Original Article
Source: CBC 
Author: cbc news 

Changes to OAS won’t take effect before 2020, Flaherty says

Canadians aged 57 and up can rest easy. They won’t be affected by the Conservative government’s plans to change Old Age Security.

Everyone else may want to have a real close read of this year’s budget.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, 62, says any changes to Old Age Security won’t take effect until at least the year 2020, putting a potential date on the reforms for the first time.

The minister made the comment to reporters Friday at an event in Oshawa with local Conservative MP Colin Carrie, 52. The minister was asked if the budget will provide details of the OAS changes the government has been hinting at in recent weeks.

“The timing of what we do will involve more than one budget and we will – we will announce some steps forward, but we certainly need to plan ahead,” he said. “And this is not for tomorrow morning. This is for 2020, 2025 so that people who are middle-age and younger today, like Colin – not me – can be assured that they will have these social programs properly funded, fiscally responsible, that they’ll be there for them in the future.”

Brewing scandal in China could be a reality check for Harper

It’s the biggest political scandal to hit China in years, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper is about to land in the middle of it.

Bo Xilai, the charismatic and controversial Communist Party boss of Chongqing – the last stop Mr. Harper’s five-day, three-city visit to China – was until this week seen as a rising political star, all but certain to be promoted to the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo during a once-in-a-decade transfer of power that begins this fall.

Then came the disappearance of his right-hand man, the former police chief and deputy mayor of Chongqing, Wang Liqun, in a cloak-and-dagger mystery worthy of a Cold War thriller. The swirling intrigue may dash Mr. Bo’s hopes of reaching the pinnacle of power, while providing a grim reminder of the opaque and sometimes-dangerous ways power works in this authoritarian state.

His whereabouts unknown, Mr. Wang is under police investigation and on what state media have called “vacation-style treatment.” The forced hiatus comes after he made a mysterious, unsanctioned visit on Monday to the United States consulate in Chengdu, several hours’ drive west of Chongqing.

The reasons why Mr. Wang went into the consulate – and what he said to the diplomats stationed there – has not been revealed. The consulate was surrounded by dozens of police vehicles who set up roadblocks until Mr. Wang emerged and gave himself up. “He did visit the consulate and he later left the consulate of his own volition,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department confirmed.

OAS not in crisis, no need to soak the seniors plan

Say what you will of Stephen Harper’s success in scaring Canadian seniors with his recent musings about cutting seniors’ benefits. It does not warrant the public debate that the most charitable of the PM’s critics on this issue have tepidly welcomed.

The affordability of a higher-quality health care system does merit debate. Also affordable housing, the cornerstone of poverty reduction. Also education reform that better matches students with a workplace that, as a business think tank complained last week, is suffering a “desperate shortage” of skilled workers despite 1.42 million Canadians out of work.

The PM is wrong about the sustainability of Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, paid to the poorest Canadians. And Canadians have let him know it.

In the short space of a week, an overtly partisan actor – a Liberal Party distracted by a leadership campaign – was able to collect 12,000 signatures in an online petition opposing cuts to seniors’ benefits.

On his return from swanning with the swells in Davos, the improbable venue where Harper first floated his soak-the-seniors idea, the PM was given an earful from his own caucus. They have been inundated with complaints from constituents fearful and angry about the prospect of either themselves or someone they love being deprived of some portion of their average modest $500 a month in OAS payments. (That’s $6,000 a year, considerably below the poverty line. Hence the Guaranteed Income Supplement paid to the poorest seniors.)

CAW boss suggests Caterpillar’s Electro-Motive takeover broke the rules

TORONTO—The head of the Canadian Auto Workers union is accusing Caterpillar Inc. of not following the rules in its 2010 takeover of a London, Ont. locomotive plant it has decided to shut down.

CAW national president Ken Lewenza has written a letter to Industry Minister Christian Paradis, calling on him to release the financial details of Caterpillar’s takeover of Electro-Motive Canada.

The federal government has said that the takeover was never looked at by Investment Canada because it fell under the $300-million threshold.

But Lewenza says no public, independently verifiable data supports that claim and Caterpillar’s own financial statement reported US$1.3 billion in assets associated with the takeover.

The American-based heavy equipment maker announced last week that it will close its Electro-Motive plant in London, Ont., a month after it locked out about 450 workers.

Lewenza says if the data associated with Caterpillar’s purchase of Electro-Motive turns out to be inaccurate, the government can impose penalties, including annulling the acquisition.

Original Article
Source: Star 
Author: canadian press  

‘Let’s just say my goal is not to be the Mitt Romney of the NDP leadership campaign’

PARLIAMENT HILL—NDP MP and leadership candidate Niki Ashton is down, at the bottom in fact, in terms of her leadership campaign contributions and donors posted by Elections Canada last week. But she is definitely not out.

On the eve of one of the most important debates to take place in the NDP’s six-month race, the first official French-language only face-off this coming Sunday in Québec City, Ms. Ashton, 29, told The Hill Times Thursday she plans to hang in until the final ballots are cast in the party-wide election to be held March 24.

 “Yes, absolutely,” Ms. Ashton (Churchill, Man.) said, playing up the ground campaign she’s been working on since Nov. 7 when she became the last candidate to launch, and playing down her appearance at the bottom of the list when Elections Canada last week posted financial contributions to the party’s eight leadership contenders as of Dec. 31.

Ms. Ashton had raked in only $10,215, from at least 58 donors whose names and donations were included in the report because they gave more than $200 each, and likely from many more other supporters who gave less.

Arrested Bay Roberts trawlermen released from jail

Police have released unionized crewmembers who were detained early Thursday near the fishing vessel Newfoundland Lynx in Bay Roberts.

The two dozen men were released around 7 a.m. after spending about two hours in custody. No charges were laid.

The locked-out crew had been preventing replacement workers from boarding the Lynx, which is owned by Ocean Choice International.

At 1:30 a.m. Thursday, the busload of replacement workers arrived in Bay Roberts.

A few hours later, RCMP officers moved in and began removing unionized crewmembers from the picket line. They were taken to the detachment in nearby Harbour Grace.

The Mounties then escorted the replacement workers across the picket line, many of whom ran from their bus to the trawler at about 4 a.m., according to the wife of one union worker at the scene.

"They were like thieves in the night," said Beryl Fisher.

"They ran, they were frightened to death."

The Newfoundland Lynx left port shortly thereafter.

After they were released, the union workers moved their picket line to OCI's headquarters in Paradise.

Original Article
Source: CBC 
Author: cbc news 

OCI processing request rejected

Fisheries Minister Darin King is saying no to OCI's proposal to ship unprocessed fish out of the province.

"The provincial government sees no other option but to reject the groundfish proposals submitted by Ocean Choice International," King said Thursday.

"This decision is based on consideration for what is in the best interest of the people of this province."

OCI president and CEO Martin Sullivan said it's unfortunate the two sides couldn't reach a deal. He said the company will now ponder its options.

"Now that we have government’s decisions on our proposals at hand, Ocean Choice International will determine the next steps for its business,” said Sullivan.

"Last fall OCI made its position on the future of the fishing sector very clear. If we are to meet consumer demands and explore new markets, we need to embrace change, a change in product offering and a change in how we do business. It's the right thing to do for a sustainable fishery in our province. The message is the same today."

Two Tibetans killed by security forces, says report

Two Tibetan brothers who have been on the run since taking part in anti-government protests two weeks ago have been shot dead in south-west China's Sichuan province, a US-funded broadcaster has reported.

Radio Free Asia said the men were shot and killed after being surrounded in Luhuo county on Thursday. The county was the site of anti-government protests on 23 January.

Radio Free Asia identified the two as Yeshe Rigsal, a 40-year-old monk, and his 38-year-old brother, Yeshe Samdrub, citing sources in the area and in the Tibetan exile community in India.

There has been a recent upsurge in violence in Tibetan areas. The Chinese government blames criminals encouraged by outside forces, but activist Tibetan groups say repressive policies by China are the cause.

Luhuo and other Tibetan areas of Sichuan have been cut off because of the violence and it was impossible to independently confirm the Radio Free Asia report. Telephone calls to the Communist party propaganda department and the public security office in Luhuo rang unanswered, as did a call to the party propaganda department in Ganzi prefecture, which oversees the county.

Radio Free Asia also reported that another Tibetan had set himself on fire, the latest in a series of self-immolations that Tibetan activists groups say have been carried out to protest against government policies and to call for the return of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetans' spiritual leader fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

The radio station said the unidentified monk set himself on fire in the Yushu area of neighbouring Qinghai province, which was the scene of protests on Wednesday. It was not known whether he survived.

If confirmed, the incident would bring to at least 18 the number of monks, nuns and lay Tibetans who have set themselves on fire over the last year, mostly in traditionally Tibetan areas of Sichuan province.

There were reports of three other self-immolations a week ago, but the government has denied it and there are doubts within the exile community.

Original Article
Source: guardian 
Author: Associated Press in Beijing  

Ramarley Graham, Unarmed Teen, Illegally Killed By New York Police, Lawyer Says

NEW YORK -- A week after police shot to death an unarmed 18-year-old in his grandmother's Bronx apartment, questions continue to swirl around the aggressive police tactics that led to the fatal confrontation.

Ramarley Graham died last Thursday after Richard Haste, 30, a New York police officer, kicked down the door of his grandmother's apartment and shot Graham in the chest while he attempted to flush a bag of marijuana down the toilet. Graham was unarmed and police did not have a warrant to enter the home.

Graham's death has sparked street protests in Wakefield, a low-income neighborhood with a large African-American and Caribbean immigrant population, with many decrying the police actions as brazenly illegal.

"They had no business kicking down the door. They went too far," said Tyrone Harris, 27. "They need to go to jail just like any other citizen."

Jeffrey Emdin, an attorney representing Graham's mother, also called the police tactics unlawful. "They illegally entered the home," Emdin said. "They had no right to be inside. They had no right to use force."

Apple, Accustomed to Profits and Praise, Faces Outcry for Labor Practices at Chinese Factories

Protesters visited a half-dozen Apple stores around the world to deliver petitions calling for reforms in the working conditions at factories run by Apple’s suppliers in China. The protests come on the heels of recent revelations of harsh conditions and onerous work environments at Apple’s controversial Chinese supplier Foxconn, where more than a dozen employees have committed suicide. We’re joined by New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who helped break the story about the human costs of Apple products for workers in China. We’re also joined by Mike Daisey, whose acclaimed one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," is based partly on his visits to Apple’s Chinese factories and his interviews with the workers there. "I want Apple to take real responsibility," Daisey says. "They have the resources to change this overnight."

Source: Democracy Now! 
Author: -- 

50-State, $25B Mortgage Settlement: Relief for Struggling Homeowners or Bailout for Big Banks?

The U.S. Justice Department has unveiled a record mortgage settlement with the nation’s five largest banks to resolve claims over faulty foreclosures and mortgage practices that have indebted and displaced homeowners and sunk the nation’s economy. While the deal is being described as a $25 billion settlement, the banks will only have to pay out a total of $5 billion in cash between them. We speak to one of the settlement’s most prominent critics, Yves Smith, a longtime financial analyst who runs the popular finance website, "Naked Capitalism." "The settlement, on the surface, does look like it’s helping homeowners," Smith says. "But, in fact, the bigger part that most people don’t recognize is the way it actually helps the banks with mortgages on their own books... The real problem is that this deal is just not going to give that much relief."

Source: Democracy Now! 
Author: -- 

What Happens After an Iran-Israel War?

Notwithstanding the never-ending stream of all those based-on-reliable-intelligence-sources analyses, it is doubtful whether these same analysts would be willing to bet whatever is left of their 401K retirement accounts on their predictions that Israel will -- or will not -- attack Iranian nuclear sites this year.

And while research institutions have conducted interesting exercises to try to figure out the military, diplomatic and economic repercussions of a confrontation between Israel and Iran, the dictum that no military plan survives the contact with the enemy applies also here -- in addition to the unintended consequences, blowbacks and the proverbial 'black swans' that are bound to show up even in the unlikely scenario under which Israel achieves all or most of its military goals.

If I can put my ten cents worth of strategic thinking, it seems to me that the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the American fiasco in Iraq helped tip the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and the Levant in the direction of Iran and its allies. And that made it more likely that Israel and other Sunni Arab players that regard the Islamic Republic as a threat to their core national interests would use all their available resources to deprive Iran from having access to a military instrument that would allow it to formalize the new regional balance of power.

In his magisterial study of the 1812-1814 military campaigns in Europe, Russia Against Napoleon, historian Dominic Lieven suggests that while Tsar Alexander recognized that France would never be able to control Europe, he also concluded that the price of adhering to Napoleon's Continental System would have undermined Russia's position as a great power and that the Russians had no choice but to use the full power of their military to prevent that from happening.

RBC Consumer Confidence Outlook: Canadians Quickly Losing Economic Optimism, Report Says

Canadians are rapidly losing confidence in the economy and their own economic prospects, a new report from RBC has found.

The bank’s Consumer Confidence Outlook reports that the number of Canadians expressing optimism has dropped by nearly half in the past two years: From 56 per cent in 2010, to 32 per cent this year.

More than half of Canadians have changed their shopping habits as a result of concerns over the economy, the report stated.

Even booming Alberta wasn’t spared the negativity, with 43 per cent of residents expressing confidence about their prospects, down from 48 per cent a year ago.

"We're becoming more concerned about employment prospects in Canada," chief RBC economist Craig Wright said in a statement. "The past two years have started out with strong employment numbers and then finished on a weak note. Unfortunately, we've now seen 2011's year-end weakness spill over into the beginning of this year. This, combined with the current unsettled environment due to ongoing concerns about the U.S. and European economies, leaves us cautious about the outlook for 2012."

Vander Zalm Guilty Of Defamation

Former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm has been found liable of defaming the province's one-time conflict of interest commissioner Ted Hughes.

A B.C. Supreme Court civil trial jury delivered the verdict Thursday afternoon in Vancouver, with a recommendation that Vander Zalm pay Hughes $60,000 damages. The final damages amount will be up to the judge hearing the case, who will announce a decision at a later date.

Hughes had sued Vander Zalm for statements he made in a self-published autobiography.

Hughes headed an inquiry in 1991 that found then-premier Vander Zalm had violated the province's conflict-of-interest regulations during the sale of a theme park he owned.

The finding prompted Vander Zalm's resignation as premier.

In his 2008 autobiography, Vander Zalm suggested that Hughes was self-interested and politically biased in his conduct of the inquiry.

Hughes, 84, said he was shocked and depressed at reading the passages that referred to him.

Vander Zalm's lawyer told the court that the way his client portrayed key players like Hughes were fair comment.

Original Article
Source: Huff 
Author: cbc 

Comparing two carbon bombs: Liquid Natural Gas plants vs. Enbridge pipeline

With the spotlight on the federal government's aggressive push to export tar sands bitumen via the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, and from there by tanker on to China, the B.C. government reclaimed some attention on the energy file when it released its Natural Gas Strategy last week. With lots of glossy pages, but little detailed content, it is reflective of Premier Clark's signature style. The short of it is that shale gas from B.C.'s Northeast is to be pipelined to Kitimat and loaded onto tankers in liquid form (LNG) to be exported to China. Between LNG and Enbridge, little Kitimat is poised to become an export platform for the two most environmentally controversial practices of the oil and gas industry -- shale gas and tar sands extraction -- all to appease the endless appetite for energy coming from the curious blend of totalitarian police state and unbridled capitalism that is modern China.

But while the Enbridge pipeline has huge swaths of B.C. up in arms, particularly First Nations and "radical environmentalists," the LNG plans, which already have been approved and have an export permit, have not. Bitumen from the tar sands has a bad name, but natural gas does not. Perhaps because we call it "natural" gas not methane; perhaps because of its familiarity from being piped into many B.C. homes. Natural gas has long been touted as the cleanest of the fossil fuels -- about half the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on a lifecycle basis as coal. The advent of hydraulic fracking in deep shale gas deposits closes that GHG gap considerably (according to one study, there is no difference), but it also raises huge local environmental justice issues in the form of contaminated aquifers (water supplies), tailings ponds and even earthquakes (see a great report by my colleague Ben Parfitt).

A review of the numbers, though, shows that the LNG plants will be even worse than the Enbridge pipeline in terms of GHG emissions. Last summer, I crunched the numbers on carbon content of the fuel that will go through the LNG plants -- just the emissions from combusting the fuel, whether that is in China or B.C., NOT including the extraction, processing and transport emissions -- and found that when all of the plants are up and running by 2020, emissions will be between 81 and 112 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 per year. The uncertainty relates to the throughput of the pipes; if anything, the true figure by 2020 will be closer to the latter.

Julian Fantino’s New Heavenly Defence For Canada’s F-35 Purchase

Julian Fantino had a new defence Thursday for the Harper’s government’s purchase of the controversial F-35 stealth fighter. It seems that the procurement, and all other purchases for the Canadian Forces the government has underway for that matter, are shrouded in holiness and decency.

Associate Defence Minister Fantino found himself being questioned (once again) in the Commons about the F-35 purchase, with opposition MPs mentioning the report from Michael Byers that appeared in the new issue of the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal.

Fantino dismissed the report, saying that it came from Byers who he said was not only a leftist but also a failed NDP candidate. As well, the report was done in conjunction with the Rideau Institute, and Fantino said everyone knows they are leftists as well.

The NDP’s Matthew Kellway pointed out that the Byers report outlines the large number of technical problems with the F-35 (which by the way were originally raised by the Pentagon and U.S. officials). After all, he said, the Canadian government just found only last month that the F-35 can operate at night since that was when it conducted its first night flight. The Byers report, said Kellway, drives home the fact that the F-35 is a troubled and expensive program.

Not so, retorted Fantino, one of the biggest supporters of the F-35 purchase in the Harper government.

“The member opposite is referring to a failed NDP candidate who wrote this report, critical of everything that is holy and decent about this government’s efforts to provide our military men and women with the resources,” Fantino responded.

Kellway had his own take on Fantino’s comments. “It’s on a wing and a prayer that they’re moving forward on the F-35,” he said. “There’s no reasonable grounds, there’s no evidence available to suggest that this is the right plane, which is why we’re proposing that they put it out to tender, to determine what the right plane is.”

Below a photo of the F-35, an aircraft sent from heaven?

Original Article
Source: ottawacitizen  
Author: David Pugliese 

Canada pulls out of NATO surveillance project

Canada is pulling out of a NATO surveillance project 20 years in the making that will use unmanned aerial vehicles to collect information.

The Alliance Ground Surveillance project was conceived in 1992. Canada signed a memorandum of understanding with 13 other countries, including the U.S., Germany and Norway, in 2009.

The program, with its main operating base in Italy, would have cost Canada up to $450 million over 20 years for acquisition and in-service support. But it's now seen as a legacy project that's not affordable because of global economic conditions and Canada faced with having to make decisions over where to spend its defence budget.

A spokeswoman for the Department of National Defence said the full withdrawal will be effective in spring of 2012.

"NATO has been informed of these decisions. The details of our withdrawal are still under discussion with NATO," Kim Tulipan said in an emailed response to a question from CBC News.

China mishears Harper’s human-rights whisper

Like any smart tourist, Stephen Harper spent his first morning in Beijing at the stunning Temple of Heaven, its main structure a magnificent sight etched against one of those perfect blue skies that authorities in the smog-encrusted lair of Mao conjure up every now and then for visiting dignitaries.

Even better for our man in China, just a few Tiananmen Square tank lengths away is the ever-popular Echo Wall, not to be confused, of course, with that other great wall.

This one is a circular, brick edifice that was built, for reasons unknown, so that a person can whisper something along one side of the wall and have it heard clear as a bell by someone a fair distance away. So they say …

Of course, this may be apocryphal, but I have it on some authority that this is where Ha Po (as the PM is known in the People’s Republic) chose to raise the ticklish issue of human rights, which, as you know, he would never sell out for “the almighty petro-dollar.”

Mr. Harper faced the Echo Wall and said in a low voice: “Canada is concerned about the lack of human rights in China.”

A hundred metres distant, Chinese President Hu Jintao shouted back: “What did you say? I couldn’t hear you.”

And that was that.
Original Article
Source: Globe 
Author: Rod Mickleburgh 

‘Shelving differences’ is the way to do business, China’s Vice-Premier tells Canada

Endorsing Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new approach to dealing with the Middle Kingdom, the man slated to become China’s next leader encouraged Canada to “shelve” political differences while accelerating economic ties and energy sales.

Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who is widely expected to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao in a power transfer that will begin later this year, said “never before has China-Canada business co-operation been so deep based and wide ranging” and added there was still “a long way to go” before the relationship achieved its potential, particularly when it comes to energy.

“Canada is one of the countries with deep energy and resource reserves,” he told Canadian and Chinese business executives who gathered in a hotel ballroom on the edge of Tiananmen Square. Meanwhile, Mr. Li said “China is facing mounting resource and environment pressure.”

It was the first time a member of China’s incoming generation of leaders has spoken about the relationship between Beijing and Ottawa. Mr. Li is expected to be promoted to a more powerful position in a Politburo shuffle this fall and eventually take over as premier next spring under Vice-President Xi Jinping, who is expected to become president.

The Commons: The wild west

The Scene. Joe Comartin stood up, stepped forward and ventured a novel theory.

“Mr. Speaker,” the NDP House leader posited, “you cannot be half for torture. You are either for or against.”

Given those choices, the Defence Minister decided to go with latter. ”Mr. Speaker, our government has always respected the law and our position is clear,” Peter MacKay reported. “Canada does not approve of the use of torture and does not engage in this practice.”

Alas, this simple equation seems only to make perfect sense if you leave it at that.

For Mr. MacKay’s benefit, Mr. Comartin returned to his feet to review yesterday’s rhetoric. “Yesterday, the Minister of National Defence acted irresponsibly by suggesting that Air Canada Centre was a prime target for terrorists. Then the Minister of Public Safety soon followed with his own hypothetical scenarios about planes full of Newfoundlanders being blown up. All of this is to back up their irresponsible message to other countries that Canada is in the market for information based on torture,” he recounted. “The government should oppose torture, no question about it. When will it rescind the directive?”

Here then the Defence Minister decided to revisit Mr. Comartin’s first point. “Mr. Speaker, let me be clear again, Canada does not condone torture and does not use torture,” he said. “However, Canada will use information to save lives.”

How the government wants to trick us into saving more

According to how economists have long imagined us, the way we plan for retirement works somewhat like this:
  • Phase one: straight out of school, we calculate how much money we’re going to need after our working days are over, and lay down a carefully thought-out savings plan;
  • Phase two: as we climb the corporate ladder, we’re happily shaving larger and larger slices off our paycheques, pouring the cash into carefully selected and closely monitored investments;
  • Phase three: we bid good-bye to our fellow co-workers of a lifetime and joyfully retire to freedom sixty-…. whatever.

Now, many of us have little to do with this picture-perfect rational saver: We don’t know how to figure out how much money is enough; we’ve had so many temp jobs before landing the steady gig that it was impossible to plan (or so we tell ourselves); we have an instinctive aversion to payroll withdrawals; and we forever postponed filling out the paperwork to enrol in our company’s pension plan.

It’s dangerous to keep money out of politics

OAKVILLE, ONT.—When it comes to politics, money is the root of all evil.

Or so says conventional wisdom. Money, we are told again and again, is a toxin that must be expunged from the democratic process.

The theory goes something like this: Too much money in politics means the “rich” can unfairly influence public policy decision-making.

 This is why politicians of all ideological stripes like to pass laws which are designed to regulate, control and otherwise restrict the role money plays during election campaigns. The idea is to set a “level playing field.”

Yet, what if I were to say that restricting the flow of political cash can actually undermine democracy in Canada and that our democratic system would be better served if we allowed money to flow more freely?

Yes, I know such a view is tantamount to sacrilege, but hear me out.

Budget might eventually set off biggest Cabinet overhaul in years

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 wilfully 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.

Tactically there is something to be said for allowing one’s critics to overshoot their target. The latest episode of the debate over medicare funding has demonstrated just that.

Can Canada’s flawed copyright bill be stopped?

Free speech is a great thing, but what happens when the powers that be don’t listen to what’s being said? Does that diminish the value of being able to say whatever you want?

It’s a question thousands of Canadians are asking themselves right now as the federal government will over the next few months push through new copyright legislation – Bill C-11 – that willfully ignores their concerns.

The chief issue with the legislation is a clause that would make it illegal to break digital locks on electronic content or devices. While C-11 introduces a raft of new beneficent rights for the ordinary person, such as making it explicitly legal to copy a CD onto an iPod or mash-up content into a YouTube video, many are worried that the lock provision will act as a negative “super-clause” that will trump all the other good stuff.

In other words, if you want to copy that CD onto your iPod, go right ahead – unless the record label that produced it says you can’t. Want to delve into the electronic guts of your video game console, laptop or DVR to see how it works, perhaps with an eye to improving it? That’ll be off limits because the manufacturer says so.

Alberta bets energy rush won't stop

The Premier of Alberta is staking the province’s fiscal health on surging growth in the oil sands, betting that bitumen royalties will more than double in five years despite uncertainty about energy prices.

Production of oil sands bitumen is set to climb sharply in the coming years, as energy giants spend billions to build new projects and tap the province’s vast reserves. The growing revenue from bitumen royalties will help replace natural gas revenue, and support the government’s expanded spending while warding off new taxes.

Bitumen royalties will reach $9.916-billion in 2014-15, more than double the forecast for 2011-12, according to the province’s budget released Thursday. In total, non-renewable resource revenue, which includes cash from land sales, will hit $15.971-billion by 2014-15, the government said.

The oil sands boom is in full swing, as companies rush to complete projects and capture strong prices for crude oil.

But Alison Redford’s oil-based budget is a gamble, since factors beyond the new Premier’s control could thwart her plans.

“The big one is obviously the pace of development. If companies decide to scale down, that’s going to be a big impact,” said

The real villain of Caterpillar shutdown? Mindless free trade

The Caterpillar plant-closing saga is not simple. Yes, the company’s actions were odious. Caterpillar clearly had no intention of keeping its newly purchased London locomotive plant open — and closed it as soon as the company’s preferred location, Indiana, passed anti-union laws.

And yes, Canada’s governments behaved shamefully. Ottawa said last week’s plant closing — with the loss of 450 middle-class jobs — was the Ontario government’s business. Queen’s Park blamed Ottawa. Neither did anything.

But the real villain is unrestrained globalization. As long as goods and capital are free to move unimpeded across national borders, companies — even nice ones — will locate where wages are cheap.

All of this could be changed. But to do so would require the fundamental rethinking of belief in the unalloyed virtue of free trade, a belief that the country’s political and business classes accept on faith.

Should Caterpillar Inc., a notoriously anti-union company, have been better scrutinized in 2010 when it offered to buy all of Illinois-based Electro-Motive Diesel’s operations — including its London assembly plant? Perhaps.

But even if this relatively small purchase had come under the purview of Canada’s foreign investment laws, it’s not clear that any government of any political stripe would have blocked the sale.
When the Liberals were in government, they approved all foreign takeovers. The new New Democrats, meanwhile, are desperate to be seen as business-friendly.

Pension protest: Seniors, labour activists occupy 22 Ontario Tory MP offices

Scores of labour activists and seniors occupied the offices of 22 Conservative MPs in Ontario on Thursday afternoon to protest possible changes in the retirement income system.

Supporters of the so-called “Blue-Grey” Alliance converged on constituency offices including the one for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty for more than two hours.

Spokesmen for the group said the protests were peaceful and several MPs scheduled meetings with seniors and their supporters in the next few weeks.

The group will also start holding town hall meetings in communities across the province to raise public awareness during the next month, said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.

“Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper will soon know he will have the biggest fight of his life on his hands if he tries to go forward with any of this,” said Ryan, who joined a sit-in at Flaherty’s office in Whitby.

The Old Age Security (OAS) program became a hot issue last month when Harper suggested in a speech in Davos, Switzerland, that Canada is considering changes.

Harper did not refer to OAS, but there is speculation the government would look at raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67 to control rising program costs.

Orville Thacker, president of the Ontario Federation of Union Retirees, said in a statement they are “fed up” with the Harper government undermining the rights of women, workers and, now, vulnerable seniors.

“He’s about to learn the same lesson that seniors taught two prime ministers before him: if you touch seniors’ rights, you do so at your own peril,” he said.

Thacker added the majority of seniors are living on $25,000 a year or less after paying a lifetime of taxes.

“OAS pensions are what pays for food and rent for seniors living on fixed incomes and it helps others get by with a little bit of dignity,” he said.

In addition to the occupations in Ontario, activists and retirees held sit-ins at three MP offices in New Brunswick. Support groups also organized a noon hour rally in St.John’s, Nfld.

Original Article
Source: Star 
Author: Tony Van Alphen  

Karen Stintz: the great right hope

How the TTC chair went from being one of David Miller's leading adversaries to the most vocal proponent of his Transit City legacy.

Back then, she was known as “the unofficial leader of the opposition” and was considered a leading candidate to run against Miller for mayor. This week, when she led a revolt to torpedo Rob Ford’s transit plan, Stintz once again became the unofficial leader of the opposition, at least for the time being.

Stintz’s career has been both fascinating and frustrating to watch since she arrived at City Hall in 2003. A civil servant with master’s degrees in journalism and public administration, she answered an ad in the paper placed by a group of Ward 16 residents looking to unseat a long-serving councillor.

Cooperation and charisma

It isn’t all more prisons and less freedoms. Yes, it has been tough watching the sludge come pouring out of Parliament since Harper got his majority last May. But there’s an exciting window of opportunity open right now. It is a limited-time offer, though, so try not to sleep through it.

I’m talking about the NDP leadership race. And frankly, if you’re not a supremely dedicated NDP loyalist or a seriously addicted political junkie, it’s almost impossible not to be nodding off at the mere mention. Really, how could it be otherwise?

Eight candidates, all of them not Jack. And of course they basically agree on most things. The party isn’t like the Liberals, making it all up as they go along. But let’s pause there for a minute, because there is no better reminder of how heavy the cost of poor leader-picking can be than a look back at the Libs.

When the NDP chooses its new head on March 24, the consequences will play out for a long time. But don’t relax and think there’s plenty of time till then. February 18 is the last chance to get voting rights if you want to be a player in this historic moment. Believe me, it’s worth it. Because here’s the billion-dollar question: who can actually defeat the Tories in the next election?

And here’s the open window that makes it wise to invest the 10 bucks to get yourself an NDP membership if you don’t already have one. In a respectable but lacklustre field of maybe’s, there is one candidate who goes beyond the party’s traditional wing- and-a-prayer to offer a credible plan that says, “Yes, we will win.”

Nathan Cullen is the 39-year-old come-from-behind candidate who is turning heads with his skilled communication and charisma. He’s the breath of fresh air the party and the country need.

Rob Ford’s political death wish

Could this be the week the city actually rolls back the last 16 months of minority rule and returns to the broad Toronto  consensus of the last 40 years?

Events of the last couple of weeks, and this one in particular – council’s transit rebellion and the triumph of CUPE 416 in the court of public opinion – have made it clear that the majority of residents are looking for responsible and progressive government, not a right-wing revolution.

What seems to be reasserting itself is that characteristic Toronto mix of fiscal conservatism and social progressivism. In this model, the one we know best, budgets are balanced and, slowly, progressive changes are enacted. At the same time, taxes are kept low, the lowest in the GTA, and debt levels remain below those of most mid-sized and large Canadian and U.S. cities.

Fast-forward to this week. Media observers seem to assume the settlement with CUPE 416 is a Rob Ford victory. It is certainly not a loss. But CUPE 416 and its president, Mark Ferguson, can clearly be credited with an excellent strategy that insures they will remain critical players in city decisions and grassroots politics.

While we don’t know all the terms yet, some job security for employees appears to have been negotiated, and despite all the mayor’s team’s invective about overpaid workers, CUPE members, according to reports, appear to have achieved yearly increases of around 1.5 per cent a year and more or less maintained their benefits.