Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bob Morris, Indiana Lawmaker, Calls Girl Scouts A 'Radicalized Organization'

An Indiana lawmaker has decided not to support a resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts because he feels the group is a "radicalized organization" that "sexualizes" young girls and promotes homosexuality.

In a letter sent to Indiana lawmakers obtained by the Journal Gazette, Rep. Bob Morris (R-Fort Wayne) said he plans to pull his two daughters out of their Indiana Girl Scout troop because information he found online about how the organization allegedly operates. One source he mentions is conservative "news" site World Net Daily.

The Associated Press reports:
... Morris said he found online allegations that the Girl Scouts are a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood, encourage sex and allow transgender females to join. He also wrote that the fact that first lady Michelle Obama is honorary president should give lawmakers pause before they endorse the Girl Scouts.

Joe Walsh: Birth Control Debate 'Not About Women'

Opponents of U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh fired back at the conservative Illinois congressmen over the weekend after he said the national debate over birth control coverage is "not about women."

During a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing last week, Walsh told the all-male panel that President Barack Obama's plan to eliminate co-pays for birth control was an attack on religious freedom.

"This is not about women. This is not about contraceptives. We know, you've said it, we've said it up here. This is about religious freedom. This is about religious liberties," Walsh told the panel.

Since Obama announced the plan, the always outspoken Walsh has made his opinion on the matter very well known. Last week he sat down with "conservative watchdog group" Accuracy in Media and said the president "stabbed [clergy] in the back," with the contraceptive requirement.

One of Walsh's opponent's in Illinois' 8th District, however, believes her GOP rival's positions are out of step with his constituents. Iraq war veteran and Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth released a statement blasting Walsh for his stance on birth control coverage.

Santorum In '95: 'I Was Basically Pro-Choice All My Life, Until I Ran For Congress'

WASHINGTON -- Prior to entering public office, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was a self-admitted pro-choice Republican unwilling to dabble in the cultural conservative politics that now defines his presidential campaign, a review of old campaign documents and interviews shows.

This past week, the Pennsylvania Republican-turned-GOP primary frontrunner made a number of eyebrow raising statements meant to demonstrate an uncompromising posture on social issues. He's questioned President Obama's theology, argued that prenatal testing is a form of eugenics, and stated his opposition for contraception funding.

His campaign has insisted that these are side issues, but when pressed during an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday morning, Santorum's top spokesman Hogan Gidley exulted in his boss' consistency on such topics.

"I mean, that's who he is," Gidley said. "He doesn't have to tack to the right on social issues like Mitt Romney because he actually firmly believes those things."

NDP membership hits record ahead of convention

The NDP says its membership has reached a record high of 128,351 in advance of next month's leadership convention, thanks largely to big gains in Ontario and Quebec.

Close to 45,000 Canadians have joined the NDP since October, according to figures released Tuesday. Saturday was the last day people could join the party and still vote in the leadership convention next month.

"We're thrilled with the growth we've seen since the start of this leadership race and it reflects the historic growth we saw in the May 2011 election," said Sally Housser, the interim deputy national director.

"I think it's really exciting for all the people that enjoy the democratic process to have nearly 130,000 who now have the opportunity to vote for the next leader of the Official Opposition."

The NDP had 83,824 members in October, but that total, provided by the NDP Tuesday, does not include more than 2,400 people who were previously identified as "federal" members. The total number of NDP members in September, before the federal members were distributed among the provinces, was 86,545.

Rick Santorum-Linked Hospital Chain Saw Suicide Attempts, Abuse, And Loss Of Parents' Rights

WASHINGTON -- Three weeks ago, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) canceled campaign events in Florida on the eve of the state's primary to be with his ailing daughter in a Philadelphia hospital. His three-year-old, Bella, has a genetic condition that can be fatal and had contracted pneumonia. On the phone from his daughter's hospital room, the presidential candidate told reporters, "It's been a very hectic 36 hours."

Bella recovered, but Santorum rejoined the campaign with his daughter's health still on his mind. Stumping in Minnesota, he insisted that children like his daughter who are on the "margins of life" would not get adequate medical attention under President Barack Obama's health care reform law. He went so far as to invoke former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's infamous charge that the federal law would create bureaucratic "death panels."

"In top-down, government run systems, patients become commodities, and their value is based on their usefulness to society," Santorum elaborated to The Huffington Post. "Often times, those with special needs are not viewed as 'useful' by society's standards -- and far too many like our little girl have been forced to receive inadequate care and in many instances no care at all."

Super PACs Overtaking Campaign Fundraising

WASHINGTON -- An unmistakable dynamic is playing out in the money game among Republican presidential candidates: New "super" political action committees are growing more powerful than the campaigns they support.

For two of the GOP front-runners, their supportive super PACs raised more money and have more cash left in the bank than the candidates' own campaigns. Helping their efforts are major financial gifts from wealthy business executives, whose contributions can be essential to the groups' continued operations.

The Mitt Romney-leaning Restore Our Future and Newt Gingrich-supportive Winning Our Future raised a combined $17 million last month and spent nearly $24 million during the period. That financial strength allowed the groups to splash the airwaves in key primary states with millions of dollars in TV ads.

The proliferation of new super PACs continues to underscore how the groups, which can raise and spend unlimited sums, are influencing the race. Their fundraising last month provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the identities of the rich supporters who will help elect the next president, along with details on how the millions of dollars they donated have been spent.

Supreme Court To Revisit Affirmative Action In University Of Texas Case

WASHINGTON -- Affirmative action is heading back to the Supreme Court, and this time its prospects for survival are poorer than ever.

The Court announced on Tuesday that it has agreed to hear a challenge to the University of Texas' affirmative action program, which is used in sorting through applications after the automatic admission of all in-state applicants who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

The state's top 10 percent law was passed as a race-neutral way of facilitating diversity on campus after a federal appeals court in 1996 banned affirmative action in Texas' public universities. Then in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court -- in a majority opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor for herself and the Court's four liberals -- approved of certain types of race-conscious admissions practices in higher education for the purpose of achieving a diverse student body. In response, the University of Texas reinstated affirmative action, this time to assess applicants who would not be automatically admitted under the top 10 percent law.

Dalton McGuinty Tax Promise: No Tax Hike To Eliminate Deficit, Premier Vows

TORONTO - Ontario isn't waiting to bring down a budget to make decisions about which government services will be cut or reduced, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.

"We’ve made thoughtful choices already," McGuinty said about government plans to eliminate the $16-billion deficit.

"Those choices will continue, and we’re not going to wait for the budget to make more."

In his first reaction to economist Don Drummond's report on reforming government services, McGuinty said only one idea has been rejected so far: a recommendation to scrap full-day kindergarten, which will cost $1.5 billion a year when fully implemented.

"We are absolutely wed to full-day kindergarten and the plan as originally put forward," McGuinty told the legislature as it resumed after a 10-week break.

The Case Against an NDP, Liberal, Green Coalition

"War without allies is bad enough -- with allies it is hell." -- British World War II air marshal Sir John Slessor

There are only two problems facing those who want an "electoral coalition" to defeat the Stephen Harper Conservatives in the next election. It's undemocratic. And it won't work.

Despite that, social media group is promoting efforts for the New Democratic, Liberal and Green parties to "cooperate" to field a single alternative candidate to defeat the federal Conservatives in key ridings and end the Harper government.

And Internet activist group goes one step farther, even advocating in an email that its supporters consider joining the Conservative Party to oppose Harper policies from the inside, as well as join the other parties to push to "make democracy work."

Both groups support NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen's idea that the NDP hold joint nominating meetings with the Liberals and Green Party in Conservative-held ridings for the 2015 election.

Challenging indefinite detention: Chris Hedges sues Barack Obama

Attorneys Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran filed a complaint in the Southern U.S. District Court in New York City on my behalf as a plaintiff against Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to challenge the legality of the Authorization for Use of Military Force as embedded in the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by the president Dec. 31.

The act authorizes the military in Title X, Subtitle D, entitled "Counter-Terrorism," for the first time in more than 200 years, to carry out domestic policing. With this bill, which will take effect March 3, the military can indefinitely detain without trial any U.S. citizen deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. And suspects can be shipped by the military to our offshore penal colony in Guantanamo Bay and kept there until "the end of hostilities." It is a catastrophic blow to civil liberties.

I spent many years in countries where the military had the power to arrest and detain citizens without charge. I have been in some of these jails. I have friends and colleagues who have "disappeared" into military gulags. I know the consequences of granting sweeping and unrestricted policing power to the armed forces of any nation. And while my battle may be quixotic, it is one that has to be fought if we are to have any hope of pulling this country back from corporate fascism.

Who listens to the Official Opposition?

Even a casual visitor to the House of Commons notices immediately its main feature. On one side of the House sit the government members. Directly opposite, separated by a legendary two swords lengths, sits the official opposition.

At the far end of the chamber, sitting on a chair above the fray, between the two, the Speaker presides over the back-and-forth debate. With passion and rage (feigned and real), opposition members ask the government (through the speaker) why it is making a mess of things. Less often, the "government in waiting" declaims what needs to be done differently.

Canadian parliamentary democracy follows what political scientists call the Westminster model (the British Houses of Parliament are located in the City of Westminster, a borough of London). The model is openly adversarial. Much like the criminal justice system, it features confrontation. Parliamentary orators are not just convinced of the rightness of their positions; they seek to win out over each other in the court of public opinion. Debaters seek a direct clash of ideas. Often, the public has to settle for conflicts between parliamentary personalities.

Taking liberties: Canada's booming business of detention and deportation

Most Canadians would shudder at the thought of women being shackled to their hospital beds after giving birth. Yet that is exactly what happens to a specific class of women who, having come to Canada seeking safety, are detained even though they pose no threat to the public.

Detained refugees experience the trauma of being shackled and chained on their journey to and from medical care and during certain procedures in Canadian hospitals, according to a brief presented to the House of Commons last month by McGill University researchers Janet Cleveland, Cécile Rousseau and Rachel Kronick. In addition, they reported many detained refugees forgo health-care visits for fear of being shackled and humiliated.

This shameful state of affairs represents just one of the many abusive practices currently applied against some of the world's most vulnerable people once they arrive in Canada. It also shines a spotlight on the devastating consequences of both the Balanced Refugee Reform Act passed last year and Jason Kenney's further repressive Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, introduced last week.

Fallout from both pieces of legislation include increased detention and deportation of those who, through no fault of their own, have become an easy scapegoat in the so-called Global War on Terror. And the Canadian government has not been shy about tarring the millions forced to wander the globe in search of safety as the petrie dish in which the terrorist virus incubates.

Facing the Facts on Fossil Fuel

[Series] We are so accustomed to our dependence on petroleum that discussions of alternative energy futures take its convenience and efficiency for granted.

This is Part 1 in a three-part series focusing on fossil-fuel dependence and the intersection of energy and the environment. Part 1 discusses what underpins our current dependence on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs: its unmatched efficiency as an energy source.

Developed societies have enormous energy needs, which at present can only be met by large-scale energy sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear power, and hydro). An increased dependence on “unconventional” fossil fuels (oil from oil sands, shale gas) has been met with an increased level of concern about environmental issues surrounding these developments, including proposals for pipelines to carry oil-sands crude, and the “fracking” process required to release gas from deeply buried shales. Protesters, raising concerns about “Canada’s dirty oil,” would like to stop the oil-sands industry and cause pipeline projects to be cancelled. But our dependence on fossil fuels means we need to take a more holistic approach to these issues. At present, without fossil fuels, industrial production would be crippled, there would be no efficient transportation, and there would be little or no economic growth. Despite concerns about fossil-fuel emissions and impacts on climate, we must not lose sight of the critical importance of fossil fuels to developed society. Because of this, climate-change solutions cannot be focused only on Canada’s petroleum industry, which is making strides to reduce its carbon intensity.

Canada’s foreign worker boom

Since 2006, Canada’s low-wage temporary workforce population has ballooned by 70 per cent

It was the worst imaginable way to jolt Canadians toward noticing that low-wage foreign workers are an increasingly important segment of the country’s labour force. Ten workers, nine from Peru and one from Nicaragua, recruited to fill jobs vaccinating chickens, were killed, and three others badly injured, when their van ran a stop sign and collided with a truck at a rural crossroads in southwestern Ontario. The truck driver, a Canadian, also died in the crash early this month. The accident thrust the reality of who works at the lowest tiers of farming and some other sectors briefly into the news. But even with that burst of attention, the swelling statistics on migrants remain little discussed. When Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won power in 2006, 255,440 foreign temporary workers lived in Canada. By 2010, their ranks had expanded to 432,682.

They are an increasingly diverse group. A changing mix of migrant occupations signals a shift in the way employers rely on foreigners to do jobs Canadians won’t. York University immigration expert Alan Simmons says the rapid growth has come outside traditional farm and domestic work, in industries like meat-packing, warehousing and hotels. Temporary workers now greatly outnumber newcomers accepted for good. From 2006 to 2010, the number of foreigners living in Canada as permanent residents on their way to citizenship increased only 12 per cent, from 251,642 to 280,681, during a five-year span when the foreign temporary-worker population ballooned by nearly 70 per cent.

The Internet is the opposition

In today’s National Post, Andrew Coyne ponders the sudden “hysteria” that has erupted around Vic Toews’ Lawful Access legislation. Why has this Internet snooping bill suddenly inspired so much debate, controversy and activity, when a near-identical version introduced in 2005 by the Liberals was barely discussed?

After considering all possibilities, Coyne nails it: it’s the Internet, stupid. But here’s what he gets wrong: “The Internet” does not exist. Teh Internets (sic) do. Coyne considers the value of “the online community as a political force.” Interchangeably, he refers to this community as “anonymous… digital vigilantes.”

Let’s clear things up: There is no single “online community.” One hundred thousand people signed OpenMedia’s petition against Lawful Access. Thousands of people took part in the lighthearted #TellVicEverything and #DontToewsMeBro Twitter memes. The controversial Vikileaks Twitter account was likely the work of one individual. When the National Post reports that the “hacker group” Anonymous has posted a video ultimatum to Vic Toews, demanding that he resign and that Lawful Access be scrapped, it leaves unmentioned the fact that OperationVicTory could very well be the work of one individual Anon.

Meanwhile, there are other Internets. There are the listeners of my niche digital policy podcast Search Engine, who have been discussing Lawful Access since our third episode in 2007 (when the public safety minister at the time, Stockwell Day, promised that the Tories had no interest in warrantless surveillance and never would). There are the thousands of visitors to Michael Geist’s blog, where this legislation has been discussed in detail for longer still. There are the readers of online news sources like

Combined, they are the Internet. Which is to say, none of the above alone are the Internet. Which is to say, “the Internet ” is becoming a useless term. Coyne derides online activists who claim to represent ‘the public.’ He’s right—no one group can make that claim. The public is not a monolith. It is the aggregate of all voices calm and urgent, active and casual, educated and emotional. Usually the public is saying many things at once. But now and then, it says the same thing all together. In these moments, we learn that the real majority and the real opposition are one and the same.

This is no hysteria. This is the public saying “no,” any and every way it can.

Original Article
Source: Maclean's
Author: Jesse Brown

The next generation gap: equity and fairness

In the not-too-distant future, we will look back at existing governance frameworks (public as well as private) and think of them as having been, at best, quaint. How did we allow privatized returns to become so untethered from socialized risks? How did we allow the severe imbalances that are likely to preoccupy policy-makers for coming generations? Most agree that we need to find new models to collaboratively address these challenges at a global level. What emerges must focus on addressing inequalities, including those between current and future generations.

The risk of default is high. Crises in inequality and governability increasingly feed social instability. As we have seen, this can easily lead to vicious cycles, particularly in our tightly interconnected world. But the way forward is far from clear.

A starting point should be acknowledging shared responsibility for creating many of our dysfunctional systems. Heroes and victims (as well as the usual villains), have each played a role. A second step forward is to recognize that meaningful reforms must be both political and economic. How can we alter biases, incentives, cultures and behaviours in both sectors?

Toews’s 'child pornographers' gaffe aside, Bill C-30 has real dangers

In a way, we owe a debt of gratitude to Vic Toews. The hapless Minister of Public Safety, who informed Canadians that they stand with child pornographers unless they support his government's electronic-snooping bill, sparked a well-deserved uproar where others have failed for so long.

The law isn't new; similar bills had been tabled by previous governments, only to die when the minority governments fell. Privacy watchdogs have sounded the alarm time and again, but there was no outcry until Mr. Toews added his rhetorical fillip – that dash of George W. Bush – that turned a bit of workaday fear-mongering into a grand national insult.

The uproar that followed was enough to make the Conservatives blink, indicating that they're open to amending the bill – but Mr. Toews has continued to grab headlines: Nasty Twitter accounts about him, hacker threats against him, investigations and demands for more investigations.

So, with thanks to Mr. Toews for volunteering for pinata duty, it's time to move past the minister. Vic Toews' flying circus is a cartoonish distraction from troubling legislation. The dangers hidden in this bill are subtler than they might seem.

Canada’s oil sands: Not so dirty after all

Canada’s government, which has threatened a trade war over a proposed European rule to penalize oil-sands crude in a bid to clean up transportation fuels, has a powerful new argument in its favour, as new research shows other energy sources are far more dangerous to the climate.

On Thursday, a committee of the European Union will vote on a proposed fuel-quality directive intended to reduce the carbon footprint of gasoline and diesel on that continent. The directive directly penalizes oil-sands crude for its high-emissions content, using language that oil-sands supporters and others have called “flawed,” “discriminatory” and worse.

If passed, such a directive could set a precedent for other international fuel rules that challenge oil-sands products, a prospect that has deeply alarmed Canada’s political and corporate leadership. Officials have waged a years-long lobbying campaign to have it changed, enlisting the help of European nations with oil-sands interests such as Britain and the Netherlands.

Standing pat on OAS means higher taxes, crippling debt load: Finley

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley is firing back at her critics over the sustainability of Canada’s Old Age Security program, arguing everything would be sustainable were taxes “massively” increased.

But Ms. Finley says her government doesn’t want to pass on higher taxes and bigger debt loads to the next generation, meaning decisions are needed now to curb the long-term costs of government spending.

In a speech to a Toronto business audience Tuesday, Ms. Finley said demographic change require Ottawa to review government programs so that they are affordable, but also to prepare Canada for “unprecedented” labour and skill shortages over the coming years.

“Our population is aging, demographics are shifting. And it’s very, very real,” Ms. Finley said.

Toronto loses if Rob Ford wins showdown with TTC chief general manager Gary Webster

If the bull is Mayor Rob Ford; Toronto is the china shop.

Already, Ford has inflicted serious damage on the city, painful, but none of it fatal. However, if a group of his designated cronies actually does fire Toronto Transit Commission chief general manager Gary Webster Tuesday afternoon as expected, it will be time to start worrying about the future of things.

The city won’t suddenly die, of course, but missing the opportunity to build, at least partially, a transit system that can see us through the coming congestion of the 21st century will mark a turning point for the body politic, not to mention the travelling public.

In many ways, a line has already been crossed. In this mayor, Toronto has a man who knows little about basic principles and respects them less. His treatment of Webster, and the threats against other senior TTC managers, shows a contempt that goes well beyond anything seen before at City Hall.

Mortgage fraud up 150 per cent in the last year

Mortgage fraud has become big business in Canada, with a 150 per cent rise in criminal transactions detected just in the last year, according to the credit reporting agency Equifax.

“The schemes are getting so increasingly complex, there is no doubt that organized crime is involved,” says John Russo, chief legal counsel and privacy officer for Equifax Canada.

“They are working with individuals, even from jail, to come up with schemes that are bigger and better than the last.”

The levels of fraud have been escalating so wildly since 2008, Equifax has started working hand-in-hand with major lending institutions trying to flag fraudulent loans before money is handed over, Russo said in an interview Tuesday.

Largely as a result of those efforts, Equifax helped detect a $2.8 million escalation in attempted mortgage fraud just in the last year, he noted.

TTC chair Karen Stintz warns against firing Gary Webster

Although she doesn’t believe he deserves to be fired, TTC chair Karen Stintz says she’ll abide by the transit board’s decision if it axes TTC chief general manager Gary Webster at a special meeting Tuesday.

Stintz told reporters she won’t push for another special city council meeting to reinstate Webster or have her Toronto Transit Commission rivals removed from the TTC board.

But, speaking to reporters at City Hall, she warned that the stability of the TTC is at risk if Webster is removed.

“Over the last 16 months, we’ve done a lot of really good work at the TTC to improve our customer service, to improve our operational efficiency, to get our budget under control. At this time, it’s not clear to me why we would have a leadership change when all of those initiatives are just starting to get implemented.

Stintz said council is responsible for the decisions the city made to overturn Mayor Rob Ford’s plan to build underground transit and that Webster rendered his best professional opinion.

Bill C-10, Omnibus Crime Bill: Natives Unfairly Punished, Says National Chief Shawn Atleo

OTTAWA - The Assembly of First Nations accused the government of undercutting its own plans to improve conditions on reserves with the Conservatives' tough new crime bill.

National chief Shawn Atleo said that Bill C-10, dubbed the ‘Safe Streets and Communities Act,’ will have the opposite effect on aboriginal communities.

Atleo told the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee the bill will make it even harder to break the cycle of crime that many aboriginal youth find themselves in. That will make it harder to end the poverty and lack of education on reserves the Conservatives have promised to address, he said.

“The direction that this is heading in does not support the notion of First Nations creating safe and secure communities,” said Atleo, appearing by video link from his home in British Columbia. “Because the young people we are talking about right now, they are more likely to end up in jail than end up in school.”

Online Surveillance Bill Backed By Police Chiefs

Canada's top cops defended the federal government's proposed law that would help investigators track people's online communications, at a news conference in Vancouver Monday.

Both the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association say they endorse Bill C-30, a controversial online surveillance bill.

Section 17 of the bill outlines the "exceptional circumstances" under which "any police officer" can request an internet service provider (ISP) to turn over customer information without a warrant.

"We believe the new legislation will assist police with the necessary tools to investigate crimes while balancing, if not strengthening, the privacy rights for Canadians through the addition of oversight not currently in place," said Vancouver police Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke.

"We also need the privacy safeguards to ensure we’re accountable in the use of these tools, and we believe Bill C-30 provides just that."

Canada needs a security strategy

Does Canada need a national security strategy? The world is in flux with China rising and the United States, caught up in election year politicking and an economy in difficulty, slowing down and cutting back its military spending. The European Union is desperately trying to hold together, with its weaker members cutting spending in an effort to balance the books. These events will certainly affect Canada, but they may not be the most important ones to occur in the rest of 2012. There are at least four particularly dangerous scenarios unfolding at the moment, some with possible interconnections, that all have the very real potential to involve or seriously affect Canada and Canadians.

The first is in Iran, where the Islamist theocracy running the nation seems determined to acquire nuclear weapons despite warnings from Israel and the United States that this will be unacceptable. The second is in Egypt, where the possibility exists that a new government, now slowly in the process of formation, might do what it hints at doing and abrogate its non-aggression treaty with Israel and re-militarize the Sinai desert. The third dangerous scenario is in Syria, where the Assad regime has cracked down so hard on dissidents that the pressure for a humanitarian/military intervention is growing irresistible. And finally, to escape the Middle East, there is North Korea, where the newly crowned "military genius" at the helm might be impelled to threaten to use his nation's nuclear weapons to solidify his hold on power.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s new refugee law lacks balance

Since the Conservatives took power six years ago, fewer of the immigrants arriving in Canada are coming as refugees. As a share of all newcomers, refugees have gone down – from 13.7 per cent to 9.2 per cent.

Yet Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says Ottawa must to do more crack down on “bogus refugees” who are clogging up the system and costing taxpayers too much money.

He is proposing legislation that would rapidly deport two types of refugee claimants: those who come to Canada as part of a part of an “irregular arrival” (any vehicle or network suspected of smuggling people) and those who come from countries he considers safe (such as Hungary).

The minister tried this before. In March 2010, he brought in a bill almost identical to the one introduced last week. It would have done a relatively good job of filtering out would-be refugees who were not fleeing persecution or seeking asylum from violence, torture or cruel treatment. It would also have served as a deterrent to fraudsters hoping to manipulate Canada’s refugee system. But it contained too few safeguards for applicants rejected after a cursory hearing.

First nations don’t have a pipeline veto, but they do have options

The Conservative government has shown that it favours Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to carry bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the B.C. deepwater port of Kitimat. Despite this open support, there’s a risk that the Northern Gateway proposal could go the way of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline – ultimately approved in principle but held up so long it never gets built, because the market has found alternative options.

About 50 first nations lie in Northern Gateway’s path. Consultation with these first nations will be critical, so let’s look at the legal framework.

In the 1997 Delgamuukw case, the Supreme Court of Canada held that aboriginal title still exists across British Columbia where treaties have never been signed. That includes most of the province except for the northeast, where Treaty 8 was negotiated in 1899-1900. The court ruled that aboriginal title had not been extinguished by B.C.’s course of dealing with indigenous people, even though the government had assigned them to reserves and granted to others the lands on which they used to live.

Why governments can't pass a privacy bill

Unknown costs, lack of oversight, potential for misuse

The introduction of Internet surveillance legislation last week generated an immediate storm of outrage. Fuelled by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' comments that critics of the legislation were "siding with child pornographers," the bill was slammed by commentators on both the right and the left who decried the dangers of new surveillance powers and mandatory disclosure of personal information without court oversight.

The public concern should not have come as a surprise. The push for new Internet surveillance capabilities goes back to 1999, when government officials began crafting proposals to institute new surveillance technologies within Canadian networks along with additional legal powers to access surveillance and subscriber information. There have been several attempts at passing lawful access legislation, but each has died on the order paper.

Within days, Toews and Prime Minister Stephen Harper were in retreat, stating they were open to amendments and promising a full committee hearing. Having opened the door to change, the big question now is whether compromise is possible. The bill is badly in need of fixing: the oversight of surveillance capabilities remains underdeveloped, the costs associated with surveillance equipment is a giant question mark, and the fears of surveillance misuse based on the experience in other jurisdictions continues to cause concern.

A wish for a gracious Harper

Lest we forget, the nasty side of Stephen Harper is not buried very deeply. It revealed itself back in June 2004, in the frenzied finale of that year’s federal election. On June 18, the Conservatives, then in opposition, issued a pair of press releases attacking their opponents — then prime minister Paul Martin and the Liberals and Jack Layton and the NDP — for being in favour of child pornography

There was a kiddie porn/murder trial in Toronto in the news at the time, and the Conservative war room saw an opportunity to exploit the public’s revulsion. They issued a gratuitous press release headed: “The NDP Caucus Supports Child Pornography?” and a second: “Paul Martin Supports Child Pornography?” That release stated: “Today, Martin says he’s against child pornography. But his voting record proves otherwise.”

Challenged by reporters later that day, Harper did not give an inch. “I’m not going to, in any way, give the Liberal Party any break in its record on child pornography,” he said at a campaign stop. “It is disgraceful, they have had multiple opportunities to do something about it, and they have refused. … I will attack them on it, and if (the Liberals) want to fight the rest of the election on it, good luck to them.”

Toxic workplace created at RCMP, union charges

The RCMP's internal staff association is creating "a toxic workplace" for the force's thousands of civilian workers in a desperate effort at self preservation, a leading public service union is charging.

The union's attack is the latest salvo in an ongoing war over the RCMP's controversial and complex labour relations structure that is undergoing yet another internal review and is the subject of a potentially game-changing court challenge.

The Union of Solicitor General Employees accuses the RCMP's taxpayer-subsidized Staff Relations Representatives (SRRs) of "constant attacks and degrading comments" against almost 7,000 public-service employees.

"These attacks, using the employer's electronic equipment and distributed to every desk within the organization, have done nothing but create a toxic work environment for the public-service employees and no doubt for the civilian members the SRR purportedly represent," union president John Edmunds said.

Spying on Campus: New York Police Caught Monitoring Muslim Student Groups Throughout Northeast

The Associated Press has revealed the New York City Police Department monitored Muslim college students at schools throughout the Northeast, including Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. In one case, the NYPD sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York, where he recorded students’ names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed. We speak to one of the students on the trip, Jawad Rasul. He is the only student who was under surveillance to now publicly speak out about his experience. "[This is] hurting NYPD’s try and attempt at finding homegrown terrorism, because these kind of tactics actually create more hatred towards them and the other law-enforcement agencies and really destroys the trust that any youth might have developed with the government," Rasul said. We’re also joined by Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is calling for a state probe into the spying on Muslims.

Source: democracy now!
Author: --

Palestinian Prisoner Khader Adnan to be Released from Israeli Jail After 66-Day Hunger Strike

Israel’s Justice Ministry says that the authorities will not renew the detention of Khader Adnan, a Palestinian prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for 66 days. He is being held in Israel without charge or trial. Under the deal, Adnan will be released on April 17. Doctors previously said Adnan was at immediate risk of death. We speak to three guests about his case: his sister, Maali Mousa; Bill Van Esveld, researcher at Human Rights Watch; and Danny Morrison, a friend of the late Irish republican activist Bobby Sands, who died on his 66th day of a hunger strike in 1981. "[Adnan] told us that, 'I am going on this hunger strike until I have an honorable deal or getting out from this jail,'" said Mousa about her recent visit to see her brother. "But in the same time, his spirits were very high." Van Esveld accused Israel of violating international law by holding a Palestinian from the West Bank inside Israel. "It’s a violation of Israel’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions to detain people from the occupied West Bank in prisons, or hospitals, in this case, that are inside Israel," he said.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

As Calls for Intervention in Syria Grow, Vijay Prashad Urges Reevaluation of NATO Attack on Libya

Libya has just marked the first anniversary of the start of the uprising that toppled Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule. But as Libya celebrates a new era free of the Gaddafi regime, there are growing concerns the country’s lingering divisions will tear it apart. Libya remains deeply splintered by regions and factions. More than 500 militias exist throughout the country, leading to ongoing human rights abuses that resemble those under the Gaddafi regime. We speak to Trinity College Professor Vijay Prashad. "There is a serious need to evaluate what has happened in Libya as a result not only of the Gaddafi atrocities, of the rise of a rebellion, but also significantly of the nature of the NATO intervention. And that evaluation has not happened," Prashad said. "I’m afraid that is really calling into question the use of human rights as a lubricant for intervention. If we can’t go back and evaluate what has happened, I think a lot of people around the world are afraid of going forward into another intervention, where the lessons of Libya have not been learned."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

In defence of Justin Trudeau

So Justin Trudeau worries, en passant, about the direction of Stephen Harper's Canada. So he regrets how Harper's policies are seen in Quebec, given its distinctive values. So Trudeau thinks if a callous conservatism were to triumph in Canada, he could see Quebec going its own way, and he might go, too.

So what?

Oh, the horror. Social media was agog. Politicians howled. The National filled the early minutes of its puzzling broadcast with a breathless account of the hysterics in Parliament that day.

To divine these musings from Olympus, the Citizen consulted a trio of wise men. It assembled a political theorist, a political philosopher and a political scientist - really, that's how each was identified - apparently persuaded that it needed one of each to decipher the mind and motivations of "the real Justin Trudeau."

Savouring their five minutes of fame, the sages brought Trudeau under their steady gaze, divining every word, syllable and inflection, conducting a kind of pseudo psychoanalysis on the poor guy. It wasn't very flattering.

Fees for access to information requests unwarranted: commissioner

OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is flouting demands from the federal information commissioner that his department stop charging fees for access-to-information requests.

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault said trading cash for information is not the way it's supposed to work — but she has no plans to challenge the ruling in court.

"Fees must not constitute a barrier to access," the commissioner wrote in her final ruling on the matter. "I recommend that the minister direct his officials to cease charging fees for search and preparation time of electronic records."

But Joseph Lavoie, Baird's spokesman, said the department has no intention of changing its fee structure for access requests.

"Until such time as the fee regime is modernized, the minister supports the department's view that the correct interpretation of the regulations authorizes the current practice," he said.

Big government conservatives are more electable than libertarians – just ask Rick Santorum

Last night I found myself discussing Canadian politics with the talk show host, Charles Adler. The subject was a new poll that reflects on the profound political changes sweeping North America.  L’Actualite reports that 37 percent of respondents feel that their country is more Right-wing than it was ten years ago, while just 15 percent say it was more Left-wing. Certainly the popularity of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government would appear to validate that opinion. Now in his seventh year as Prime Minister, Harper has pursued “severely conservative” policies that have kept recession at bay. One liberal commentator called Harper “George Bush without the warmth and intellect.”

But there’s a paradox within L’Actualite’s findings: Canadian voters might accept that the Right has won the philosophical argument but they still like aspects of social democratic policy. The newspaper reports that “56 percent of respondents agreed that the federal government has 'an important role' in redistributing wealth and intervening in the economy 'even if it means increasing taxes.' On the other hand, 36 per cent disagreed, while eight per cent were unsure.” Men were more supportive of federal intervention than women and opposition varied from region to region. But the bottom line is this: regardless of its increasingly conservative values, Canada still wants government goodies.

Cue the outrage over forbidden donations in Alberta politics. Not.

Even the evidence the Tories are kicking government funds back to campaigns fails to stir a rise

Over the past four months, many Albertans have taken their first-ever stroll through the province’s election law. Consider the list of entities that are forbidden from contributing to partisan causes—provincial parties, riding associations or candidates. It starts out quite commonsensically. Roman numeral one, corporations owned by the province. Number two, municipalities. Number three, Metis settlements; four, school boards; five, public post-secondary institutions.

In recent months, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives have been caught accepting donations from all five of these types of “prohibited corporations.”

Calgary Lab Services, a subsidiary of the province’s health super-board that recently took over cancer testing from Calgary’s Tom Baker Centre, gave $4,700 to the PC party between 2004 and 2010. The chief operating officer of the company, Chris Mazurkewich, admitted that “this shouldn’t have happened.”

We’re about to lead the G8 in ‘cuddly’

On one hand, scoring a couple panda bears from China is quite a coup for Stephen Harper. On the other, the Prime Minister still needs to break it to Peter MacKay that neither of the pandas is voiced by Jack Black. Such are the cruel nuances of foreign policy.

But in a time of financial uncertainty, Harper’s efforts should produce tangible results. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that in 2013 the pandas alone will result in a 5.3 per cent increase in our Gross Domestic Adorability. That should be enough to ensure Canada leads the G8 not only in “cuddly” but also in “wuddly.” Your move, economic turmoil.

Harper rushed off to China last week after being spurned by the U.S. on the Keystone XL pipeline. Time for some foreign policy on the rebound. Only a few years ago, the PM belittled those who would sacrifice the Canadian values of freedom and human rights in pursuit of the almighty petro-dollar. This time around, he was saying different things about the petro-dollar. Mostly he was saying, “Gimme.”

And China’s government? Hey, maybe it isn’t really all that totalitarian anymore! Maybe it’s barely more than halfitarian! As Harper noted in a speech: “Today, the drive in from the airport is a powerful picture of how millions of people are bettering their lives through industry and investment. Without a doubt, this is its own kind of liberation.”

Canada’s police chiefs support Internet surveillance bill

OTTAWA—Canada’s police chiefs came to the defence Monday of the Conservative government’s proposed Internet surveillance bill amid mounting backlash over the legislation.

The nation’s top cops said during a Vancouver news conference the public doesn’t need to fear the bill.

“People need to focus and keep their eye on the ball,” said Warren Lemcke, Vancouver’s deputy chief constable.

“We can’t monitor your emails. We can’t monitor your phone calls. We can’t monitor your surfing unless a judge allows us to do that.”

Among other things, the bill gives authorities access to Internet subscriber information without requiring a warrant and there are concerns that it violates the privacy of Internet users.

The president of the Canadian Police Association said cops aren’t interested in monitoring the communication of Canadians who aren’t committing crimes.

Oilsands impacts posing 'financial risk' to Alberta, says PCO

OTTAWA — Collateral damage from Canada's booming oilsands sector may be irreversible, posing a "significant environmental and financial risk to the province of Alberta," says a secret memorandum prepared for the federal government's top bureaucrat.

The memorandum, released by the Privy Council Office through access to information legislation, also raises doubts about recent industry and government claims that oilsands companies are reducing heat-trapping gases produced by each barrel of oil.

The industry has suggested a shift in oilsands extraction to use steam to remove synthetic crude oil from natural bitumen deposits on site can reduce land disruption and provide for reductions in energy and emissions. But the memo, prepared for Wayne Wouters, the clerk of the Privy Council Office — the lead department in the federal government's bureaucracy — said this shift is actually accelerating the industry's impact on climate change, with emissions growth projected to be greater over the next decade than all other Canadian economic sectors combined.

"While the industry has taken steps to reduce emissions, the shift from mining to in-situ production, which is almost three times as emissions intensive as mining, is resulting in a continued acceleration of emissions from this sector," said the memo.

"The industry's approach to tailings, meanwhile, has been widely criticized, including in a recent Royal Society of Canada report, as representing a significant environmental and financial risk to the province of Alberta."

How Slavery Led to Modern Capitalism

When the New York City banker James Brown tallied his wealth in 1842, he had to look far below Wall Street to trace its origins. His investments in the American South exceeded $1.5 million, a quarter of which was directly bound up in the ownership of slave plantations.

Brown was among the world's most powerful dealers in raw cotton, and his family’s firm, Brown Brothers & Co., served as one of the most important sources of capital and foreign exchange to the U.S. economy. Still, no small amount of his time was devoted to managing slaves from the study of his Leonard Street brownstone in Lower Manhattan.

Brown was hardly unusual among the capitalists of the North. Nicholas Biddle's United States Bank of Philadelphia funded banks in Mississippi to promote the expansion of plantation lands. Biddle recognized that slave-grown cotton was the only thing made in the U.S. that had the capacity to bring gold and silver into the vaults of the nation's banks. Likewise, the architects of New England's industrial revolution watched the price of cotton with rapt attention, for their textile mills would have been silent without the labor of slaves on distant plantations.

Afghan drug war debacle: Blair said smashing opium trade was a major reason to invade but 10 years on heroin production is up from 185 tons a year to 5,800

The West is losing the heroin war in Afghanistan – ten years after Tony Blair pledged that wiping out the drug was one of the main reasons for invading the country.

Despite spending £18billion and a conflict which has so far cost the lives of almost 400 British troops, production of the class-A drug by Afghan farmers rose between 2001 and 2011 from just 185 tons to a staggering 5,800 tons.

It increased by 61 per cent last year alone.

Such has been the failure to combat the problem that more than 90 per cent of the heroin sold on Britain’s streets is still made using opium from Afghanistan.

The United Nations yesterday warned that the situation was out of control.

Declaring that the West had lost its war against the drug, a glum UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added: ‘Time is not on our side.’

The UN figures make grim reading for those who backed the invasion.

Cutting the supply of heroin was one of the prime reasons given by then-prime minister Tony Blair in 2001 for sending in British troops.

Beyond environment: falling back in love with Mother Earth

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has been practising meditation and mindfulness for 70 years and radiates an extraordinary sense of calm and peace. This is a man who on a fundamental level walks his talk, and whom Buddhists revere as a Bodhisattva; seeking the highest level of being in order to help others.

Ever since being caught up in the horrors of the Vietnam war, the 86-year-old monk has committed his life to reconciling conflict and in 1967 Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, saying "his ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity."

So it seems only natural that in recent years he has turned his attention towards not only addressing peoples' disharmonious relationships with each other, but also with the planet on which all our lives depend.

Thay, as he is known to his many thousands of followers, sees the lack of meaning and connection in peoples' lives as being the cause of our addiction to consumerism and that it is vital we recognise and respond to the stress we are putting on Earth if civilisation is to survive.

Santorum Defends 'Phony Theology' Remarks, Doubles Down On Religious Critique Of Obama

A more congenial Rick Santorum doubled down on several controversial, and religiously laden, remarks in an interview Sunday morning on CBS's "Face the Nation," where he defended his recent claims that prenatal testing results in abortions, that federally provided education was "anachronistic," and that President Obama's policies are not "based on the Bible."

"I've repeatedly said I don't question the president's faith," Santorum told host Bob Schieffer, denying what some have said was a signal that Santorum had challenged the legitimacy of Obama's Christianity. "I've repeatedly said that I believe the president's Christian -- he says he's Christian. But I am talking about his worldview, the way he addresses problems in this country, and they're different than most people view it in America."

In a speech to Tea Party conservatives on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, Santorum had dismissed Obama's politics as being based in "some phony theology."

"It's not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs," Santorum said. "It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology."

An incredulous Bob Schieffer began his interview with Santorum Sunday by asking, "What in the world were you talking about?"