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.]

Monday, February 27, 2012

U.S., Iran Poised For Mine Warfare In The Persian Gulf

If the tense confrontation with Iran ignites into war, strategists say they expect Iran will strike with thousands of deadly sea mines to try to halt oil tanker traffic and take out American warships.

In the shallow, crowded waters of the Persian Gulf, mines pose a sobering challenge. When the U.S. Navy has faced a massive mine threat there in the past, it has failed to protect even its own ships.

Now, both Iran and the United States seem poised to fight it out again. Iran has acquired a stockpile of 2,000 to 3,000 mines, including "smart'' Chinese-built mines that could track and target U.S. warships, according to a report by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.The 660-pound warhead carried by one such mine could puncture the hull of a U.S. aircraft carrier, the report says.

But the Navy says this time it's prepared for a mine war, with a four-ship fleet of high-tech counter-mine vessels patrolling the Gulf, along with airborne sensors, robot submarines, a squadron of mine-hunting dolphins and sea lions on standby -- and two decades worth of operational experience off the coast of Iran.

The Coalition Against Iranian Oil: Winners and Losers

On January 23, the E.U. enacted new sanctions targeting Iran, including an oil embargo, with the aim of pressuring Iran's economy in order to spur changes in the government's stance over its nuclear program. The current E.U. ban on Iranian oil is actually the third attempt by outside powers to use oil as a tool of economic pressure on Iran in the last 50 years.

The first instance occurred in 1951, following the nationalization of Iranian, when the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (known today as British Petroleum) imposed sanctions against Iranian oil and sought to prevent other countries from purchasing. However, this attempt failed to dissuade other foreign purchasers.

The second attempt took place, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, when the U.S. implemented an oil embargo against Iran and stopped importing Iranian oil. Prior to this action, the U.S had been a major consumer of Iranian oil, importing about 500 thousand barrels of oil per day. However, the U.S. embargo had a negligible effect on Iranian output, as Iran succeeded in redirecting its oil to other markets after a few months.

Now in early 2012, the effectiveness of using an oil embargo as a tool of economic pressure is being questioned once again: will the current E.U. ban on Iranian oil force Iran to change its attitude regarding its nuclear program? If the oil ban leads to a dangerous oil price rise in the midst of fragile global economy, how many countries are actually willing to stop buying oil from Iran? And how long can such an embargo be maintained?

Mandatory Ultrasound Laws Violate Women's Rights and Bodies

For decades, the radical right has been chipping away at women's access to reproductive health care. After the 2010 elections, these attacks escalated into an outright War on Women. Now, the Republican presidential primaries are offering a disturbing glimpse into the supposed conservative vision for this country. In this right-wing utopia, women will no longer be able to exercise the right to control their bodies, plan their families or safeguard their own health. The church and the state will tell women what is best for them, and religious entities' "liberty" will consistently trump individual women's right to live and work free from discrimination and in accordance with their own religious and moral beliefs.

Much of the current he-man chest thumping is done for the benefit of voters who might be swayed to cast their ballots for the GOP based largely on social issues. And, as demonstrated in Virginia this week, conservative politicians are perfectly capable of putting on the brakes when proceeding with a piece of their anti-woman agenda appears to be backfiring.

Still, the right-wing commitment to keeping women in check is surprisingly strong and reveals a frightening disrespect, even contempt for women who aren't sufficiently submissive. Turning the clock back includes shaming women for their sexuality and punishing them for terminating a pregnancy (which is still legal, by the way). This brings us to one of the more degrading tactics up the radical-right sleeve: mandatory ultrasound laws.

Keystone XL: TransCanada To Build Texas, Oklahoma Leg Of Pipeline Ahead Of Approval

CALGARY - Energy giant TransCanada plans to build the most urgently needed portion of its controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline as a US$2.3-billion stand-alone project.

The Gulf Coast project will be subject to regulatory approvals, but because it will not cross the Canada-U.S. border, it will not need the U.S. presidential approval that tripped up the company's original proposal to pipe crude from Alberta to Texas.

The Calgary-based pipeline company (TSX:TRP) said Monday the Cushing, Okla., to Gulf Coast leg — meant to relieve a supply glut of oil in the middle of the U.S. and boost prices and producers' bottom lines — should be in service by mid to late 2013.

"The Gulf Coast Project will transport growing supplies of U.S. crude oil to meet refinery demand in Texas," said TransCanada CEO Russ Girling in a release

"Gulf Coast refineries can then access lower cost domestic production and avoid paying a premium to foreign oil producers. This would reduce the United States' dependence on foreign crude and allow Americans to use more of the crude oil produced in their own country."

Omnibus Crime Bill Amended By Senate Committee

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee passed Conservative amendments to the government's controversial omnibus crime legislation Monday morning, signalling the government's admission that at least some parts of the bill need changing.

C-10, an omnibus bill folding together some nine previous pieces of Conservative legislation the government did not pass in previous minority Parliaments, was pushed through the House of Commons before Christmas and is in the final stages of review before the Senate committee.

The committee is mid-way through its clause-by-clause review of the 152-page bill's provisions and could complete its work by the end of the day Monday.

The Conservative amendments passed so far include changes to the provisions allowing victims of terrorism to sue those responsible for the crimes.

Canada supports dark side of international finance

You can say one thing for the powers that be in the banking industry. They've got a lot of nerve.

This past week, our own finance minister, Jim Flaherty, along with Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, came out strongly in opposition to a modest proposal to regulate the U.S. banking system.

Their interventions followed a concerted effort by American bank lobbyists to spark international opposition to U.S. regulatory reforms.

What a shameful spectacle. Less than four years ago, the world was holding its breath for fear the crisis in the hyper-deregulated U.S. financial system would cause a second Great Depression. Now Canada and other foreign governments, cheered on by U.S. banking interests, are doing their best to block U.S. legislation that would curb the industry's worst excesses.

The initiative Flaherty and Carney attacked is a proposal by Paul Volcker, the former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Simply put, the "Volcker rule" would prevent financial institutions -- U.S. or subsidiaries of foreign banks -- that are backstopped by U.S. taxpayers from behaving like hedge funds and trading for their own account.

The gun lobby reloads

Thought gun advocates would be celebrating the demise of the gun registry? Think again.

The final House of Commons vote to end the federal firearms registry was greeted Feb. 15 on Parliament Hill with a low-key cocktail party. Long-time opponents of the 1995 Liberal gun control bill, still spoken of hissingly out West as C-68, gathered to celebrate with the Prime Minister. Perhaps surprisingly, there was little visible jubilation on the Prairies about the end of a nearly 20-year fight. The streets of Alberta and Saskatchewan did not live up to Torontonian fantasies of whooping cowboys discharging rifles into the air like Pashtuns at an Afghan wedding.

Gun owners, sellers and political advocates know the private member’s bill to end the registry must still traverse the Senate. Quebec has promised litigation to prevent the destruction of the information in the database. And while the registry radicalized a generation of sportsmen, the gun control debate did not begin with C-68; with a vast array of social networks and institutions now in place for the political defence of gun ownership, it won’t end there, either.

No need for Canada's Jim Flaherty to be aggressive in budget: BMO

Flaherty need not cut aggressively
BMO Nesbitt Burns wonders today why there's so much fuss over the need by Canada's finance minister to slash aggressively in his upcoming budget.

Deputy chief economist Douglas Porter notes that Canada's finances are in much better shape than anticipated in its current fiscal year, its deficit narrowing by almost $10-billion in the first nine months to $17.7-billion from $27.4-billion a year earlier.

The fiscal year ends March 31, and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is preparing his next budget, expected in about a month.

"Even if we assume no further gains in the final three months of fiscal year 2011-2012, and even allow for some slippage, the full-year deficit will still come in at around $25-billion, or less than 1.5 per cent of GDP," Mr. Porter said in a research note.

"That compares with a $33.4-billion gap the prior year, the latest estimate of $31-billion for this year, and even below the forecast of $27.4-billion for next year. For all the talk about Ottawa preparing to cut more aggressively, it’s fair to again to ask ... precisely why? The current plan seems to be working quite well all by itself."

As The Globe and Mail's Bill Curry reported this weekend, Mr. Porter is not alone among economists in believing there's little pressure on Mr. Flaherty for deep cuts.
Original Article
Source: Globe
Author: Michael Babad

Canada’s banks look to squeeze out more profit in tight times

Canada’s banking sector has long been a place of consistent, almost-magical growth, even as other industries struggled in a recession. But the magic show appears to be coming to an end.

As the country’s largest banks begin to unveil first-quarter numbers this week, analysts and investors will be looking past the gaudy profit numbers that will inevitably come from the banks. Instead, they will watch for more subtle, but crucial, signs of slowing growth.

“After so many consecutive strong years for the personal and commercial banks in Canada, the current fiscal year feels like the sector may finally be out of rabbits to pull from its hat,” CIBC World Markets analyst Robert Sedran said in a research note previewing quarterly earnings season for the banks.

Several forces – including persistent low interest rates, lofty consumer debt levels, and upheaval in Europe – are all weighing on the sector, pointing to a slowdown and highlighting the need for top bank executives to find a few new tricks.

TransCanada forges ahead with Keystone XL southern leg

TransCanada Corp. (TRP-T42.390.390.93%) said it will spend $2.3-billion to immediately build the southern leg of its proposed Keystone XL pipeline, aiming to fill a shortage of crude supply to refineries while the company works to make the full Alberta-to-Texas line a reality.

Calgary-based TransCanada plans to connect the major North American oil hub at Cushing, Okla., to the Texas Gulf Coast, where giant heavy oil refineries are running under capacity due to shipping constraints from Cushing. The bottleneck has weighed on prices for crude shipped to Cushing, as supplies in storage grow.

The move to build the southern leg will allow TransCanada to begin meeting refiners’ demand for crude, while getting on with a key piece of the full Keystone XL plan to link Alberta’s oil sands to the Texas refineries. The plan was derailed late last year when the U.S. government ruled against the line’s route through an environmentally sensitive area of Nebraska.

TransCanada is working on a new route and said it intends to reapply for permission to build the entire controversial project within weeks.

McGuinty rebuffs Redford's oil-sands plea

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has rebuffed Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s plea to publicly defend the oil sands, saying the country’s high “petro” dollar has “knocked the wind” out of exporters in his province.

Ms. Redford, in Chicago for a few days talking up Alberta’s oil and gas industry, has said Mr. McGuinty needs to do his part to help tell her story: that Ontario’s economy is the second-largest beneficiary from the production of the gooey bitumen.

Mr. McGuinty flat out rejected that assertion, saying the harm caused by the high Canadian dollar relative to the U.S. greenback far outweighs any spin off benefits Ontario might derive from Alberta’s oil and gas sector.

The value of the Canadian dollar has soared from just 67 cents in 2003 to over $1 last year, Mr. McGuinty told reporters on Monday. The “petro dollar,” he said, has been driven by global demand for oil and gas from Western Canada.

Conservatives set to back motion to end aboriginal education funding gap, fulfilling Shannen’s Dream

OTTAWA—When the House of Commons reconvenes Monday, the focus will rightly be on allegations of electoral fraud and signs of any Conservative climb down on the Internet surveillance bill.

But shortly after the featured bout, the Commons is also expected to make history later in the day.

The government has signalled it will back an NDP motion declaring that all First Nations children in this country are entitled to the basic human right of access to high quality education.

The motion also commits the government to closing the funding gap between aboriginal education and provincial school systems.

There have been many feel-good, non-binding symbolic motions passed in this chamber over the years.

In his last act in the Commons as NDP leader in 1989, Ed Broadbent convinced Parliament to back a resolution promising to end child poverty in this country by 2000.

Dalton McGuinty to Rob Ford: Full council approval needed on Toronto transit plan

Premier Dalton McGuinty is brushing aside Mayor Rob Ford’s charge that it would be “political suicide” not to run the Eglinton Ave. LRT fully underground.

And the premier made it clear that Ford should believe Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli when he said the provincial government will only consider transit plans approved by full city council — not the mayor alone.

“I think we’ve all been very clear in this regard,” McGuinty told reporters Monday, a day after Ford said on his first Sunday radio show on Newstalk 1010 that, “I don’t think (McGuinty) actually said it himself.”

“I gotta get a radio show, obviously,” the premier quipped.

“We have a responsibility to listen to decisions adopted by council as a whole,” he added after a breakfast speech to hundreds of municipal politicians in town for a convention.

The province has promised $8.4 billion towards public transit upgrades in Toronto, with Ford’s plan for more subways defeated in a recent city council vote.

Putin assassination plot news greeted with skepticism in Russia

MOSCOW—Security forces have foiled a Chechen-linked plot to assassinate Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, state television said Monday in a report likely to boost support for the Russian leader in a presidential election less than a week away.

Other candidates questioned the timing of the report, which comes as Putin and his party face unprecedented protests following a scandal-marred parliamentary election. The Communist Party candidate called the report a “cheap trick.”

The report, which included televised confessions, said the suspects were arrested in Ukraine and linked to a Chechen rebel leader who has claimed responsibility for terror attacks in Russia.

Putin has portrayed himself as a strong protector of Russia's national interests and has counted the victory over Chechen separatist rebels as one of the key achievements of his 12-year rule. The report casting him as a terrorist target could draw public sympathy and help secure his victory by a wider margin.

The Era of Tax Cut Stupidity that Starved BC

A decade ago, neatly coinciding with British Columbia's 37th general election, began one of the world's greatest-ever commodity booms.

The province's newly-minted BC Liberal government, sworn into office in June 2001, was presented with an historic opportunity to reap windfall revenues from the development of British Columbia's abundant natural resources -- coal, copper, natural gas, forest products and the like -- and the economic activity associated with their extraction and export.

It did not happen.

Instead, the BC Liberals deliberately enacted massive tax cuts -- intended to benefit the province's wealthiest families and individuals, and most-profitable corporations -- and effectively knee-capped government revenues.

Today, the receipts generated by Victoria's Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) -- B.C.'s main financial account -- have sunk to a level not seen since the late 1960s/early 1970s.

Robocall fraud is obvious, Conservative concern less so

Last week, Liberal leader Bob Rae warned that the federal political culture of Canada is ‘entering into a kind of Nixonian moment.’ This all-thumbs assertion lacks definite substance and grip — we’re in a kind of like, you know, moment thing — but has its use. For almost a year we’ve known of the Robocall mess, media reports having been issued since election day. Now the plot, and the rot, thicken. Here I refer to the top-shelf work of Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor of Postmedia News, under our present analogy the Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of this vote suppression scandal. Reviewing the evidence they’ve patiently assembled, can you now doubt a wide and active campaign of fraud in the 2011 election?

The Nixon side-glance bears its dangers and limitations. Nonetheless I’ll abuse it further by noting the departure of Michael Sona, the closest we shall likely approach the issue of consequences. His situation brings to mind the sad case of Frank Wills. You’ll recall him as the Watergate janitor-whistleblower who, in sharp contrast to Nixon and all the rest, died impoverished and unemployable. My point is, try not to harbour any getting-to-the-bottom-of-things, or even less likely the top, optimism.

What Ails Europe?

Things are terrible here, as unemployment soars past 13 percent. Things are even worse in Greece, Ireland, and arguably in Spain, and Europe as a whole appears to be sliding back into recession.

Why has Europe become the sick man of the world economy? Everyone knows the answer. Unfortunately, most of what people know isn’t true — and false stories about European woes are warping our economic discourse.

Read an opinion piece about Europe — or, all too often, a supposedly factual news report — and you’ll probably encounter one of two stories, which I think of as the Republican narrative and the German narrative. Neither story fits the facts.

The Republican story — it’s one of the central themes of Mitt Romney’s campaign — is that Europe is in trouble because it has done too much to help the poor and unlucky, that we’re watching the death throes of the welfare state. This story is, by the way, a perennial right-wing favorite: back in 1991, when Sweden was suffering from a banking crisis brought on by deregulation (sound familiar?), the Cato Institute published a triumphant report on how this proved the failure of the whole welfare state model.

Paperless Child Support Payments May Cost Poor Fathers Only Source Of Income

WASHINGTON -- Old child support debts could cost thousands of poor men their only income next year because of a policy aimed at reducing the cost to the government of mailing paper checks to pay federal benefits.

The Treasury Department will start paying benefits electronically next March. It will stop issuing the paper checks that many people rely on to safeguard a portion of their benefits from states trying to collect back child support.

States can freeze the bank accounts of people who owe child support. A separate Treasury Department rule, in place since last May in a preliminary form, guarantees them the power to freeze Social Security, disability and veterans' benefits that have been deposited into those accounts.

Once paper checks are eliminated, about 275,000 people could lose access to all of their income, advocates say.

"It's kind of Orwellian, what's being set up here for a segment of the population," says Johnson Tyler, an attorney who represents poor and disabled people collecting federal benefits. "It's going to be a nightmare in about a year unless something changes."

In many cases, the bills are decades old and the children long grown. Much of the money owed is interest and fees that add up when men are unable to pay because they are disabled, institutionalized or imprisoned.

Most of the money will go to governments, not to the children of the men with child support debts, independent analyses show. States are allowed to keep child support money as repayment for welfare previously provided for those children.

In some instances, the grown children are supporting their fathers.

The rule change illustrates how a politically desirable goal like cracking down on so-called deadbeat dads can have complicated, even counterproductive, effects in practice.

"The rule doesn't look at the fact that the money is mostly interest, the money is going to the state, the kids are usually adults, and it's leaving the payer with nothing," says Ashlee Highland, a legal aid attorney who works with the poor of Chicago.

Highland says her office has clients in eviction, in foreclosure and unable to pay their bills because of states' aggressive efforts to collect back child support.

Marcial Herrera, 44, has had his bank account frozen repeatedly since 2009, blocking his access to $800 a month in government benefits. Unable to work because of a severe back injury he suffered in 2000, Herrera fell behind on child support. He owes more than $7,000 – not to his 22-year-old son, but to the state of New York, because his son received welfare years earlier.

Herrera sought help in court and had his son speak on his behalf, but the judge could not erase the thousands he already owed.

"I'm just waiting for them to lock me up," he says. "I don't see no other way of me repaying that debt."

A legal aid attorney suggested Herrera collect his benefits by paper check. It costs him $15 to cash the check each month, but at least he can be sure that he will have money to pay his bills.

States have had the ability to freeze accounts for years. That's why people like Herrera rely on paper checks to safeguard part of their income.

Starting next March, that option will disappear. The Treasury Department will deposit federal benefits directly into bank accounts or load them onto prepaid debit cards. Either way, state child support agencies will be able to seize all of it.

Electronic payments are expected to save the government $1 billion over the next 10 years, the Treasury Department says. It costs the government about $1 to mail a check, compared with about 10 cents for an electronic transfer.

The Treasury Department understands that forcing people into direct deposit could deprive them of all of their income, say officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the rule-writing process.

States can garnish only 65 percent of benefits before the federal government sends them out. But the limit does not apply once the money is in an account and states ask banks to freeze it, according to a Treasury Department memo obtained by The Associated Press.

A Treasury spokesman declined to discuss the policy. The officials who spoke on condition of anonymity say they believe the policy is legally unavoidable. They described a dilemma: Restrain states trying to collect child-support debts or risk depriving thousands of people of their only income.

Treasury's legal justification assumes that receiving a paper check is still an option, says Tyler, the Brooklyn attorney.

Letting state agencies seize the money contradicts the public stance of the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency in charge of child support collections. The department does not want states to collect child support so aggressively that poor people lose their only income, spokesman Ken Wolfe says.

"Child support enforcement – getting that money and passing it on to parents and children – is a measure to fight poverty, and it doesn't make sense to accomplish that by impoverishing somebody else," he says.

Wolfe said HHS is developing guidelines for states to "make sure we're not putting someone into deep poverty as a result of an automatic collection." He declined to provide details of those plans.

Lawyers from HHS agreed with Treasury's decision to let states seize benefits, according to the Treasury memo.

An early version of the Treasury department rule protected people from having their federal benefits frozen by debt collectors – including private collection agencies and states seeking back child support.

State child support agencies replied in public comments on the proposed rule that blocking their access to people's benefits would cause great harm to parents and children receiving child support.

HHS research suggests the policy could deepen the hardship for people who collect benefits as well.

People who owe large amounts of child support are almost universally poor. Among those owing $30,000 or more, three-fourths had no reported income or income of less than $10,000, HHS says. Many had their earnings interrupted by disability or jail time and are unlikely to repay the child support debt, the government-sponsored research says.

The usual methods of collecting back child support often don't work with the poor. States typically start by garnishing wages. If that doesn't work, they can suspend driver's licenses, revoke passports and take away professional credentials.

Those measures have little effect on poor people without jobs who rely on federal benefits. They have no wages to garnish and no passports. Many can't afford a car and do not need a driver's license.

State child support agencies echo the HHS view that child support enforcement should not be so draconian that people end up with nothing.

"You don't want the noncustodial parent to go out and be living on the streets. You're not going to collect anything at that point," says Tom Shanahan, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The Idaho department requires people who owe child support to show good faith by paying a minimum amount and seeking jobs when they are out of work, Shanahan says.

The White House is reviewing the final version of the rule. Its impact so far has been limited, legal-aid lawyers say, because people can still use paper checks. A White House spokeswoman did not respond a request for comment.

In a letter sent last week, the National Consumer Law Center and dozens of other groups called on the head of the Social Security Administration to withdraw his support for the rule.

"While both current and past due child support orders should be paid," the letter said, it should not result "in the complete impoverishment of recipients" of federal benefits.

The issue has failed to raise alarm in part because most people feel little in common with men labeled deadbeat dads, says John Vail, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Litigation who provided legal services for the poor for decades.

"There's not a lot of sympathy for deadbeat dads, and justly so," Vail says. "But everybody's got limits, and I think people who have never walked a mile in some of those old, worn-out shoes are a little quick to rush to judgment about what that life might be like."

Original Article
Source: Huff

Lucy Lawless, 'Xena' Actress, Arrested With 5 Greenpeace Activists In Oil-Drilling Ship Protest

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Police on Monday arrested actress Lucy Lawless and five Greenpeace environmental activists after the group spent four days protesting aboard an oil-drilling ship docked in New Zealand.

Police removed the group from their perch atop a 174-foot (53-meter) drilling tower on the Noble Discoverer in Port Taranaki. Lawless and six activists climbed the tower early Friday in an attempt to raise awareness about oil drilling in the Arctic and prevent the ship from leaving.

One of the activists left the tower Saturday and was initially charged with unlawfully boarding a ship. All seven activists, including Lawless, have now been charged with burglary, a more serious charge. All have been released and are due to appear in a New Zealand court Thursday.

Chartered by oil company Shell, the ship had been due to leave over the weekend for the Arctic to drill five exploratory wells.

Lawless, 43, a native New Zealander, is best known for her title role in the TV series "Xena: Warrior Princess," and more recently for starring in the Starz cable television series "Spartacus."

WikiLeaks: Stratfor Confidential Emails Published

LONDON, Feb 27 (Reuters) - The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks began publishing on Monday more than five million emails from a U.S.-based global security analysis company that has been likened to a shadow CIA.

The emails, snatched by hackers, could unmask sensitive sources and throw light on the murky world of intelligence-gathering by the company known as Stratfor, which counts Fortune 500 companies among its subscribers.

Stratfor in a statement shortly after midnight EST (0500 GMT) said the release of its stolen emails was an attempt to silence and intimidate it.

It said it would not be cowed under the leadership of George Friedman, Stratfor's founder and chief executive officer. It said Friedman had not resigned as CEO, contrary to a bogus email circulating on the Internet.

Some of the emails being published "may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic," the company statement said.

NYPD Surveillance: White House Helped Pay For Surveillance Of Muslim Neighborhoods

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Monday it has no control over how the New York Police Department spends millions of dollars in White House grants that helped pay for NYPD programs that put entire American Muslim neighborhoods under surveillance. In New York, the police commissioner said he wouldn't apologize.

The White House has no opinion about how the grant money was spent, spokesman Jay Carney said. The Associated Press reported Monday that the White House money has paid for the cars that plainclothes NYPD officers used to conduct surveillance on Muslim neighborhoods and paid for computers that stored even innocuous information about Muslim college students, mosque sermons and social events.

The money is part of a little-known grant intended to help law enforcement fight drug crimes. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135 million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, known as HIDTA. It's unclear exactly how much was spent on surveillance of Muslims because the HIDTA program has little oversight.

At Country Club, a Rally to "Save the 1 Percent"

Pete Woiwode figures that if the 1 percent is going to take a stand against the 99 percent, it might as well be at a country club.

"I mean, we have a right to golf," the 29-year-old community organizer proclaimed on Saturday. He was wearing a khaki suit and standing under the palms of Pleasanton, California's Castlewood Country Club, where a dozen or so protesters had gathered near the 14th hole, next to a tent on which someone had written, "Save the 1%!" The group had come together to support Castlewood's two-year lockout of its unionized cooks, dishwashers, and janitors—people who "are asking for so much," Woiwode told me as another demonstrator sipped Perrier. "They are asking for health care and asking for their good jobs back. Why don't they go out there and find other jobs?"

Pleasanton, a town of 70,000 southeast of Oakland, is fertile territory for a 1 percenter movement; the Census Bureau ranks it as the nation's wealthiest mid-sized city. Located a short drive from the cute Main Street, the grounds of the Castlewood Country Club once surrounded a 53-room mansion inhabited by Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the mother of the Gilded Age newspaper magnate. Porsches typically clog the club's parking lot and weekend warriors zip past its fairway on carbon-fiber Kestrels. On this day, one of them slowed down just enough to shout a single word at the Save-the-1-Percenters: "Idiots!"

Whether the biker thought the protesters ridiculous or just not rich enough was hard to say. Instead of the club's de rigueur golf shirts and yoga pants, members of the group sported a faded top hat, wrinkled knickers, and a full-length evening gown of questionable vintage. Woiwode's suit seemed ill-tailored and his Dockers the knockoff kind, but he didn't let that curb his enthusiasm. "The real idiots are the people who are talking about trying to spread the wealth around," said Woiwode (who works for anti-poverty groups in Oakland when he's not advocating for the rich). He clutched a handmade placard that read: "Can I pay you to hold this sign? (It's heavy)".

The conflict between Castlewood and its employees began three years ago during labor contract negotiations, when the club's new management told employees that it would no longer cover as much of their health care costs. Workers whose families had received free health insurance would have to pay $739 a month, or 40 percent of their average salary, according to their union, Unite Here Local 2850. When negotiations broke down in early 2010, the club locked out its workers and hired scabs in violation of labor laws, the union alleges. The National Labor Relations Board will hear final arguments on the case on Thursday.

This past Saturday, not everyone was in on the joke. Observing the protest from the doorway of the nearby golf house, a club member told me that that the "Save the 1 Percent" message "seems a bit contradictory."

Closer to the demonstration, a union backer furrowed her brow as the mock 1-percenters launched into another chant: "The wealthy, united, will never be indicted!"

"Whoever you are, support the workers," she chided. "Do a chant for the workers!"

A few minutes later, several hundred union members marched to the club and staged a mock confrontation with the 1-percenters. "We won't be silenced!" Woiwode yelled at them through a bullhorn. "We own the media!"

Organized by Unite Here and members of Occupy Oakland's labor solidarity committee, the protest reflected a marriage of strategies. In recent years, California unions have embraced mock demonstrations, most notably in the lead-up to the 2010 gubernatorial election, when the California Nurses Association drew attention to the wealth of former eBay CEO Meg Whitman by hiring an actress to make appearances as "Queen Meg." And of course, the 1 percent vs. 99 percent concept (and fixation on the ultra-rich) has roots in this fall's Occupy Wall Street protests.

Speaking to reporters at the edge of the protest, Castlewood spokesman Vintage Foster said that the club offered a health package comparable to what other country clubs in the area provided and was justified in passing on rising health care costs to its workers. "Every company has had to go through this," he argued. "That's why Obama pushed through health care reform. It's a societal issue, not specific to Castlewood."

But Unite Here organizer Sarah Norr told me that the union offered to accept lower wages in exchange for better health benefits, saving the club money over the package it had offered prior to the lockout. "This is not about economics for them," she said. "It's about a philosophical opposition to workers having a union and having rights."

With very few actual club members present at Castlewood (union organizers claimed the golfers had "locked themselves out"), it fell to "Save the 1 Percent" on Saturday to represent the clubgoers' perspective. Holding up their signs behind Foster as he did TV interviews, the group seemed frustrated that he wasn't more outspoken. "I mean, I am the victim here," said a woman in a purple evening gown. "I've had parties over here with my children, and I've had to cross picket lines saying people want health care. How am I supposed to explain that to my children?"

Original Article
Source: mother jones
Author: Josh Harkinson

Should Wyoming Build an Aircraft Carrier?

Update: A little Internet scrutiny goes a long way, apparently: The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that the aircraft provision has been scrapped. We take full credit. Details here.

On Friday, the Wyoming House of Representatives advanced a bill to set up a task force to prepare for the total economic and political collapse of the United States. Per the bill, the panel would investigate things like food storage options and metals-based currencies, to be implemented in the event of a major catastrophe.

Then it goes three steps further. An amendment by GOP state Rep. Kermit Brown*, calls on the task force to examine "Conditions under which the state of Wyoming should implement a draft, raise a standing army, marine corps, navy and air force and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier." As the bill's GOP sponsor, state Rep. David Miller, explained to the Casper Star-Tribune, "Things happen quickly sometimes."

Vladimir Putin Assassination Attempt: Russia, Ukrainian Special Services Reportedly Foil Plot, Arrest Suspects

MOSCOW — Security forces have foiled a Chechen-linked plot to assassinate Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, state television reported Monday in a broadcast likely to boost support for Putin's bid to regain the presidency.

Other candidates immediately questioned the timing of the report, which comes just days before Sunday's presidential election and as Putin and his United Russia party face unprecedented protests following a scandal-marred parliamentary election in December.

The Communist Party candidate called the assassination report a "cheap trick."

Putin has portrayed himself as a strong protector of Russia's national interests and has counted the victory over Chechen separatist rebels as one of the key achievements of his 12-year rule. The state television report casting Putin as a terrorist target could draw public sympathy and help secure his victory by a wider margin.

The report, which included two televised confessions, said suspects in the assassination plot have been arrested in Ukraine and were linked to a Chechen rebel leader who has claimed responsibility for other terror attacks in Russia.

The Answer to Rising Gas Prices? Better Consumer Choice

Gasoline prices are rising in the United States -- always bad news for an incumbent president.

Accordingly, President Barack Obama travelled to Miami to repeat his energy message, which can be summed up as follows: Help is on the way. The U.S. government is investing in new energy technologies -- and in time, those investments will pay off in the form of cheaper energy and new jobs:

    "Our job is to help outstanding work that's being done in universities, in labs, and to help businesses get new energy ideas off the ground -- because it was public dollars, public research dollars, that over the years helped develop the technologies that companies are right now using to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock."

The implicit promise here is that new forms of energy will preserve the familiar American way of life. Electrical motors or fuel cells may replace internal combustion engines, but Americans will continue to commute long distances to work in individual vehicles -- or so this kind of talk suggests.

But what if the most cost-effective energy solution is not to change the energy we use, but rather to change the way we use energy?

Pensions: Harper government pits generations against each other

The two generations that followed the baby boomers got a raw deal.

In grade school, they learned in portables, as governments adjusted to the ebbs and flows of enrolment. By the time they reached university, tuition fees had shot up so much that they had to take on heavy debts, unlike their parents. When they graduated, they couldn’t get the jobs for which they had trained, couldn’t launch their careers, couldn’t buy homes or start families.

It would be unfair, as Human Resources Minister Diane Finley told Canadians last week, to saddle them with the costs of government benefits they can’t afford.

It’s what she didn’t explain that left young people, their parents and their grandparents frustrated and worried.

The demographic trends Finley flagged in her speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto were not new. Her government knew the workforce was shrinking when it took office in 2006. It knew Canada’s dependency ratio (the number of retirees relative to the number of workers) would soon start rising. Number-crunchers had been urging governments to wake up for years.

Justin Trudeau’s silly but telling tirad

Those who are remotely familiar with the Trudeau family have always known that Justin Trudeau takes more after his mother than his father. Like Margaret, he is charming, sociable, warm and emotional, but even though he had a close relationship with his father, he didn’t inherit Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s steely determination, his sharp, cerebral mind, and certainly not his political judgment.

This is why the infatuation of so many anglophone Liberals with Justin Trudeau has always been incomprehensible on this side of the Ottawa River. From the day the photogenic eldest son delivered a moving eulogy at his father’s funeral, he has been touted in many circles as Pierre Trudeau’s natural successor, the one with the “royal jelly” – as if, in a weird nostalgia for monarchy, the Liberals longed for a Trudeau dynasty.

Now, though, after the recent outburst of Trudeau fils – who essentially told the CBC that he’d rather embrace Quebec separatism than live in a Canada dominated by the “Harperites” – the Liberals have probably come down to Earth and realize that this young man is more of a liability than a future leader.

Here is a Canadian who’s ready to renounce his citizenship and accept the breakup of the country because he doesn’t like the government of the day? What would happen if he didn’t like the policies of the future government of a separate Quebec? Would he emigrate back to Canada?

Feds’ lack of information on upcoming spending cuts as Canada heads into budget ‘unique’

The federal government should “do the right thing” and make sure that the details of billions of dollars of the coming cuts to the public service are given to the public and Parliamentarians, says Liberal Treasury Board critic John McCallum.

“For a government that claims to be transparent and accountable, it’s unacceptable for them to hide this information,” said Mr. McCallum (Markham-Unionville, Ont.).

A recently leaked memo from the Treasury Board Secretariat instructed departments not to include the details of their cuts under the strategic and operating review in their upcoming Reports on Plans and Priorities.

Publication of the reports had been delayed by TBS last fall, from their traditional publication date in March until the week of May 7, Mr. McCallum noted.

Cabinet’s Treasury Board Subcommittee on the Strategic Operating Review, led by Treasury Board President Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.), is examining departmental proposals for the strategic and operating review. Federal organizations have come up with plans for five or 10 per cent cuts to their budgets, for at least $4-billion in savings.

Robocalls an isolated incident, says Peter MacKay

The Conservative Party does not need to look into "robocalls" made during the last federal election any further, Defence Minister Peter MacKay says.

"It's certainly not something our party condones," MacKay said Sunday of the fraudulent calls to voters. "It's inappropriate behaviour to say the least."

But he told CBC News in New Glasgow, N.S., that he believes the calls directing people to wrong or non-existent polling places were isolated incidents.

Such calls, known as a voter-suppression tactic, are illegal under the Elections Act. Both the NDP and the Liberals say at least 34 federal ridings were targeted during the last election, including two in Nova Scotia.

Voters in the Ontario riding of Guelph complained they were deliberately misdirected to non-existent polling stations through an automatic or "robodialing" operation.

Energy is a second harvest

The real environmentalists, says U.S. energy analyst Robert Bryce, are farmers who use pesticides. Writing in the winter issue of City Journal, magazine of the Manhattan Institute, Mr. Bryce notes that global production of cereal crops doubled between 1968 and 2005 though agricultural acreage remained the same: 3.7 billion acres. Citing U.S. Department of the Interior research, he reports that – without chemically intensive agriculture – the world would have needed another 4.3 billion acres to feed itself in the same 40-year period. “Where in the world – literally – would we have found an extra 4.3 billion acres of land,” he asks, “an area just slightly smaller than South America?”

Fortunately, says Mr. Bryce, world agriculture didn’t go organic in the 1960s – or, for that matter, since. Farmland used for organic cultivation on a large scale produces 23 per cent less corn, per acre, than conventional agriculture, 50 per cent less wheat. Extrapolated to global dimensions, organic farming could have seriously reduced the world’s food supply.

Yet the world will confront almost as big a task in the next 40 years or 50 years as it did in the last 40 or 50. Population will increase by 2.3 billion (to 9.3 billion); combined with rising affluence in the developing world, the world will need to increase food production by another 70 per cent – or more. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, for its part, says that 90 per cent of the additional calories needed by 2050 “will have to come through higher yields per acre.”

Why tax withholding is more than a free loan to Ottawa

A key element of our tax system since the Second World War is tax withholding. Withholding is the amount of money deducted per pay cheque and sent to the Canada Revenue Agency by your employer to cover your tax liability for the year. The intent of withholding is to collect the amount of taxes owed by an individual in a given year through a series of small regular payments. Why is withholding a key feature in most personal income tax systems?

Withholding was added to our tax system in the 1940s, thanks in part to Milton Friedman, who was involved in the development of the withholding tax in the United States. Once implemented in the U.S. it did not take long for it to be effected in Canada. During the war, governments in the U.S. and Canada were faced with having to fund a very costly endeavour, and these costs were incurred daily. There became an immediate need to raise an enormous amount of revenues regularly to fund these regular costs. If you ignore the effects of inflation, the answer to the problem of raising revenue quickly was easy: print or borrow. But if you want to avoid inflation, you need to use tax money. Hence, withholding was implemented.

Conservative scripts misdirected voters in 2011 election, say call centre staff

OTTAWA—Callers on behalf of the federal Conservative Party were instructed in the days before last year’s election to read scripts telling voters that Elections Canada had changed their voting locations, say telephone operators who worked for a Thunder Bay-based call centre.

These weren’t “robo-calls,” as automated pre-recorded voice messages as commonly known. They were live real-time calls made into ridings across Canada, the callers say.

In a new twist on new growing allegations of political “dirty tricks,” three former employees of RMG — Responsive Marketing Group Inc.’s call centre in Thunder Bay — told the Star about the scripts.

A fourth remembered directing people to voting stations but did not remember passing on any message that a voting station had changed.

However, one employee was so concerned that something was amiss she says she reported it to her supervisor at the RMG site, to the RCMP office in Thunder Bay and to a toll-free Elections Canada number at the time.

The Inner Workings of the Denial Machine

Documents expose the Heartland Institute, a "charitable" organization, as engaged in secretive lobbying and public-relations efforts aimed at stalling measures to protect the environment.

When hackers broke into an internet server at East Anglia University in the U.K. and selectively released massive amounts of correspondence from the world’s leading climate scientists, folks at the Chicago-based Heartland Institute were quick to exploit it.

Heartland president Joseph Bast wrote: “The release of these documents creates an opportunity for reporters, academics, politicians, and others who relied on the IPCC to form their opinions about global warming to stop and reconsider their position.”
He may have been correct, although “reconfirm” would have been a better word than “reconsider” as seven independent investigations cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing and confirmed the credibility of their research.

Who are the Real Bullies?

Bullying at schools is an important issue, but the real worry is how adults continue to support policies that adversely impact their kids.

On Feb. 13, B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced that her government will roll out a new comprehensive policy to deal with bullying in schools.Dealing with schoolyard bullying is important, but focusing only on child bullies and ignoring the adult ones is misguided and, unfortunately, nothing new. What we really need is a comprehensive policy that includes consequences for the policy choices that adults make that negatively affect children.

According to Dr. Dan Olweus, an expert on bullying, “a person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”

Voter suppression allegations story won’t stick to Tories, unless directly linked to PM, says Nanos

Last week’s explosive news story that the governing Conservatives could be responsible for voter suppression during the last election campaign “will be their demise,” says an opposition MP, but one of the country’s leading pollsters can’t see any of it sticking.

“This is the kind of thing that brings governments down,” NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Man.) told The Hill Times. “The number of indiscretions has reached critical mass but the difference between this issue and previous indiscretions is that it’s so easy to understand. This is an issue of basic fairness. The in and out scandal was a complicated financial transaction that takes awhile to explain. This one, you know, any school kid could understand. It’s wrong to lie to people for your own self interest. It sullies our democracy. It speaks to a conspiracy to defraud.”

Mr. Martin in a press conference last week called the issue the Conservatives’ “Groupe Action,” referring to the Liberal sponsorship scandal in the early 2000s, and taking it further, he said it was Prime Minsiter Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) “Watergate.”

“This will be their demise. I absolutely believe this will be the demise of the Harper Conservatives because it reveals their true nature and character and it’s so distasteful that Canadians will recoil with revulsion,” he said.

But Nanos Research pollster Nik Nanos said the Conservatives have had to deal with a number of other scandals and know how to manage them. More importantly, he said this won’t bring down the government unless there’s a direct connection to the Prime Minister.

“I think for Canadians that are sensitive to these types of things, it’s just another example of a pattern of behaviour with the Conservatives. In terms of their popular support, I can’t really see this having a significant impact because the reality is this particular issue doesn’t touch the Prime Minister at all,” Mr. Nanos told The Hill Times. “I think that’s one of the reasons the Conservatives have been able to weather the storm on a lot of other issues.”

In addition, he said, there’s a lot of Canadian cynicism toward politics today that won’t move any numbers. “I would expect that most people believe that all the parties engage in a lot of these unsavoury activities in one way or another,” he said. “A lot of this has to do with the level of cynicism that exists out there. … It doesn’t move the numbers as much.”

Postmedia’s Stephen Maher and the Ottawa Citizen’s Glen McGregor broke the story of the robocalls on Feb. 23. Mr. Maher told The Hill Times he was looking into live, deceptive calls that were being made. Months later, Mr. McGregor began looking into “dirty tricks” allegations against the Conservative party in the riding of Liberal incumbent Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Que.). By Christmas, the wheels had started moving, but things kicked into high gear last month, said Mr. McGregor.

“Over months we interviewed Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, Greens, volunteers, people who work in the electoral robo-dial business, party organizers, activists, candidates, campaign managers. We used Access to Information requests, we created a spreadsheet of instances of this, looking for a pattern, and we developed, eventually, some confidential sources who were able to help us put the pieces together,” Mr. Maher said.

While Mr. Maher said he is a “real source guy,” Mr. McGregor said he is more of a “data-geek,” and the two essentially spearheaded their respective areas of expertise in putting together the story, though there was plenty of crossover.

“We used Elections Canada records, we both did a lot of interviewing, and obviously there’s some key sources involved who really helped us nail it down,” said Mr. McGregor. “We interviewed so many people who worked on so many different campaigns, in different ridings, that it became a huge data management job.”

Putting together their research involved hundreds of pages of documents, like phone records, and the pair eventually assembled a massive spreadsheet to connect each riding with corresponding allegations, said Mr. McGregor.

Mr. McGregor said the ATIP request from Elections Canada that was referenced in their first, breaking, story was actually filed by someone else. The pair had been looking to file their own ATIP request when they noticed that one asking about all email traffic on election day had already been released.

In the course of developing their story, the pair did file ATIP requests of their own but they haven’t received a response yet, said Mr. McGregor.

This is the third project the pair have tackled together—they first worked together while Mr. Maher was still working for the Halifax Chronicle.

Mr. Maher said this is among the most important stories he’s covered, but in terms of explosiveness he said it was on a similar scale to a story he wrote about Lisa Raitt having called the isotope shortage crisis “sexy.”

Mr. McGregor said this story is tied in terms of importance with his writing on the in-an-out scandal that rocked Parliament last year.

“The story landed on the Thursday of an off-week so it got a tremendous amount of media pick-up, which we always like. Lots of other people got into the story, we immediately had reactions from the Prime Minister, from the Conservative party, from the Opposition parties as well…I guess if you want to get reaction to a political story, that was about as good as we can hope for,” said Mr. McGregor. “It certainly made a splash.”

Mr. Maher and Mr. McGregor found that Elections Canada received complaints about automated calls on May 2, election day, last year. Voters in as many as 18 ridings received phone messages from a service pretending to be calling on behalf of Elections Canada, telling them that their polling station had been moved, and misdirecting people to a new location. Once they got to the new location and realized there was no polling station, some voters likely didn’t bother to go to the real polling station.

The calls seem to have been targeted at Liberal and NDP voters in hotly-contested ridings that the Conservatives were hoping to take from incumbents. Voters have also complained about being inundated with annoying or harassing pro-Liberal or NDP calls at all hours of the day.

Elections Canada launched an investigation into the robocalls’ source. They have been traced back to an Edmonton-based company called RackNine, an automated phone messaging service that has been affiliated with the Conservative Party’s national campaign, and the local campaigns of at least 12 candidates. Some of them included the campaigns of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.), Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose (Edmonton-Spruce Grove, Alta.), Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal (Edmonton-Sherwood Park, Alta.) and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, Alta.), among others, according to Elections Canada records. It was employed to do advertising, conduct surveys and do tele-town halls.

RackNine CEO Matt Meier said last week that he had no idea his company was being used as a vehicle for impersonating Elections Canada. Mr. Meier also stated that whoever was behind the robocalls attempted to hide their identity from his company, and that the company doesn’t monitor its outgoing calls. He also said that he knows which account was used for the calls, and who it belongs to, but would not reveal the owner due to privacy concerns and fear of interfering with the official investigation, according to the Postmedia/Citizen story.

The Prime Minister said last week that he and his party had “no knowledge of these calls.”

The Conservatives have launched their own investigation, reportedly led by their lawyer Arthur Hamilton.

Jenni Byrne, the Conservatives’ 2011 national campaign director, said in a statement last week that the party “was not involved with these calls and if anyone on a local campaign was involved they will not play a role in a future campaign.” In addition, she said her party ran a “clean campaign.”

“Voter suppression is extremely serious and if anything improper occurred those responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Ms. Byrne said in a statement.

QMI Agency reported last week that the Conservatives have singled out Michael Sona, a staffer who worked on the campaign of Tory Guelph candidate Marty Burke, who ran against Liberal MP Frank Valeriote, who was re-elected. Mr. Sona now works for Conservative MP Eve Adams (Mississauga-Brampton South, Ont.). Mr. Sona was let go from his job on Friday.

Mr. Martin said the Conservatives are doing everything to throw “some kid” under the bus and doesn’t believe for a second that it was a “rogue” staffer. “It’s just not plausible. Where would they the voters’ list?” he said.

“They’ve found a 23-year old who’s dispensable,” Mr. Martin said. “That’s not good enough this time. Nobody believes that an over enthusiastic 23-year-old devised this scheme.”

He noted that when police do an investigation they look for motive and opportunity in suspects. Mr. Martin said he believes the Conservatives had both.

“Political parties don’t just track their own supporters in an election campaign. They also track where the opponents live,” he said, pointing out that his own campaign had a system of tracking support that his team coded from one to four.

He explained that ones meant they were NDP supporters and would vote for him. Twos meant he had their support in the past and was likely to vote for him. Three meant they most likely were not NDP supporters and would vote for someone else, and the four meant “I’m a Conservative and I’m voting for a Conservative and I will never vote for you.”

He said using this system, it would be easy to do a robocall to the people on the number four list and direct them to the wrong polling station. “That would be a really dirty trick. That would be indescribably sleazy and apparently that’s what they did on a massive scale right across the country,” he said.

Liberal MP John McCallum (Markham-Unionville, Ont.) said at a press conference last week that the calls affected a number of competitive Liberal ridings and that the Conservatives were the only ones to gain from them.

“We don’t have a smoking gun pointing to Stephen Harper and to the Conservative Party, but we do know that these actions benefited the Conservative Party and we do know this strategy has been in their tool kit for some time. So there are definitely suspicions,” said Mr. McCallum.

Mr. McCallum said it’s important to get all the facts and prevent something like this from happening again. “Even if it’s just one seat, it’s important, it’s a matter of principle. Did they win a seat using dirty tricks, possibly illegal, tricks? That’s wrong and something should be done to fix it. Maybe this is just the tip of the iceberg. We know of certain cases, there may be other cases out there,” he said.

Mr. Martin said “there’s not a snow ball’s chance in hell that this will come before a Parliamentary committee,” which is why there needs to be an extra-Parliamentary investigation.

“I suggested that it’s time to invite Justice [John] Gomery back. People thought I was joking, I’m not kidding. This is the stuff that warrants a full public inquiry because the stakes are so high and the damage is irreparable if we don’t arrest it and nip it in the bud right now,” said Mr. Martin.

Conservative pundit Tim Powers, vice-president of Summa Strategies, said it would be a waste of public resources at this point to call royal commission on the issue.

“Pat has never met a circumstance he couldn’t stretch to the outer limits of credulity. Pat’s comments aside, I think it’s important to get all the facts here and figure out what happened and who actually did this,” he said, noting that Mr. Harper and Ms. Byrne took the right approach by dealing with the issue head on. “What is there to stick at this point, until we get to the bottom of it?”

Mr. Powers said the issue will unfortunately take over Question Period when there are more pressing issues to debate. “Oh absolutely, God forbid, we talk about the economy, let’s create yet another incident and affix the word scandal to it. I’m sure it will happen, but that’s politics,” he said. “In fairness, the Tories if given the same opportunity in opposition would probably launch a similar critique of their opponents.”

Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau (Westmount-Ville Marie, Que.) agreed that a public inquiry at this is “over the top,” and speaking for himself and not his party, he said that MPs should wait to see the results of Election Canada’s investigation before jumping to conclusions.

He told The Hill Times that the Liberals only have nine questions per day in Question Period and “there are so many things to discuss” so he will prioritize accordingly.

Mr. Martin said, however, that the health of Canada’s democracy is more important.

“They can cut ribbons and give away money all they want to try and change the channel, but all the public is thinking of is, ‘Holy shit, these guys cheated their way in.’ We’re kind of mourning the death of the innocence of Canadian democracy. It’s been compromised by very bad people and that’s all people who are calling me are thinking about,” he said. “It makes me furious and the more Canadians realize what went on they’re furious too. All other issues pale in comparison frankly.”

  Targeted ridings which received robocalls on the May 2, 2011 election

Cambridge, Ont. Conservative incumbent Gary Goodyear NDP candidate Susan Galvao 14,150 25.7%
Davenport, Ont. NDP Andrew Cash Liberal incumbent Mario Silva 10,139 25.8%
Edmonton East, Alta. then Conservative incumbent Peter Goldring NDP candidate Ray Martin 6,986 15.3%
Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont. Conservative Joe Oliver Liberal incumbent Joe Volpe 4,036 8.3%
Egmont, P.E.I. Conservative incumbent Gail Shea Liberal candidate Guy Gallant 4,469 23.3%
Elmwood-Transcona, Man. Conservative Lawrence Toet NDP incumbent Jim Maloway 284 0.9%
Guelph, Ont. Liberal incumbent Frank Valeriote Conservative candidate Marty Burke 6,322 10.7%
Haldimand-Norfolk, Ont. Conservative incumbent Diane Finley Liberal candidate Bob Speller 13,107 26%
Halton, Ont. Conservative incumbent Lisa Raitt Liberal candidate Connie Laurin-Bowie 23,303 28.7%
Kingston and the Islands, Ont. Liberal Ted Hsu Conservative candidate Alicia Gordon 2,651 4.3%
Kitchener-Conestoga, Ont. Conservative incumbent Harold Albrecht NDP candidate Lorne Bruce 17,221 32.3%
Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. Conservative incumbent Peter Braid Liberal candidate Andrew Telegdi 2,144 3.3%
Mississauga East-Cooksville, Ont. Conservative Wladyslaw Lizon Liberal candidate Peter Fonseca 661 1.5%
Oakville, Ont. Conservative incumbent Terence Young Liberal candidate Max Khan 12,149 20.9%
Ottawa-Centre, Ont. NDP incumbent Paul Dewar Conservative candidate Damian Konstantinak 19,628 30.3%
Parkdale-High Park, Ont. NDP Peggy Nash Liberal incumbent Gerard Kennedy 7,313 14.3%
Prince Edward-Hastings, Ont. Conservative incumbent Daryl Kramp NDP candidate Michael McMahon 16,127 29.5%
Simcoe-Grey, Ont. Conservative Kellie Leitch NDP candidate Katy Austin 20,590 32%
South Shore-St. Margaret's, N.S. Conservative incumbent Gerald Keddy NDP candidate Gordon Earle 2,866 6.9%
Saint Boniface, Man. Conservative incumbent Shelly Glover Liberal candidate Raymond Simard 8,423 19.5%
St. Catharines, Ont. Conservative incumbent Rick Dykstra NDP candidate Mike Williams 13,631 27.1%
St. Paul's, Ont. Liberal incumbent Carolyn Bennett Conservative candidate Maureen Harquail 4,591 8.3%
Saint John, N.B. Conservative incumbent Rodney Weston NDP candidate Rob Moir 7,135 19.2%
Sudbury, Ont. NDP incumbent Glenn Thibeault Conservative candidate Fred Slade 9,768 21.5%
Thunder Bay-Superior North, Ont. NDP incumbent Bruce Hyer Conservative candidate Richard Harvey 7,371 20%
Victoria, B.C. NDP incumbent Denise Savoie Conservative candidate Patrick Hunt 16,349 27%
Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont. NDP incumbent Joe Comartin Conservative candidate Denise Ghanam 7,270 16.3%
Winnipeg South Centre, Man. Conservative Joyce Bateman Liberal incumbent Anita Neville 696 1.8%
—Source: Elections Canada, compiled by Laura Ryckewaert

Conservative Candidates’ RackNine Expenses

Candidate Riding Name Total Election Expenses Paid Amount Paid to RackNine
Rona Ambrose Edmonton-Spruce Grove, Alta. $91,906.95 $7,118.33
Leon Benoit Vegreville-Wainwright, Alta. $40,186.49 $4,724.36
Ryan Hastman Edmonton-Strathcona, Alta. $78,271.90 $6,751.65
Stephen Harper Calgary Southwest, Alta. $86,090.45 $117.75
Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, Alta. $103,428.32 $1,715.56
Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, Alta. $55,648.49 $4,231.50
Cathy McLeod Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, B.C. $103,204.56 $328.52
Lavar Payne Medicine Hat, Alta. $52,403.81 $26.01
Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, Alta. $88,646.00 $580.30
Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, Alta. $82,952.06 $2,500
Lee Richardson Calgary Centre, Alta. $84,778.96 $6,236.87
Tim Uppal Edmonton-Sherwood Park, Alta. $108,276.59 $1,779.75
—Sources: Elections Canada candidate returns and campaign expense documents, compiled by Jessica Bruno

Original Article
Source: hill times

Internet surveillance bill backlash, internet ‘guerilla war’ take Canada across political Rubicon, ‘hugely disturbing’

PARLIAMENT HILL—Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ explosive suggestion that opponents of the government’s sweeping internet surveillance bill side with child pornographers, and the threat of government control over the web, have sparked an internet “guerrilla war” between the Conservatives and anonymous foes that the government may be unable to defeat, says Nanos Research pollster Nik Nanos.

And, after opponents of the legislation, Bill C-30, circulated personal details of Mr. Toews’ divorce on the worldwide activist internet platform Anonymous, along with a warning that more was coming and other Members of Parliament had to watch their words, NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.) told The Hill Times the furor Mr. Toews and the legislation sparked have taken Canada across a “political Rubicon.”

Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro (Peterborough, Ont.) said he believes the Anonymous threat against MPs, warning them not to try to “score political points” by linking Anonymous to any specific political party, looked like an attempt at intimidation.

Expect a ‘watershed’ federal budget, say experts

Canada faces a “watershed” budget this spring, as the government stares down a variety of choices for the country’s financial direction in the wake of cuts and instability abroad, say experts and those with ties to the government.

“It’s the fine line that they’re having to walk between continuing to try and make sure the economic recovery continues, and at the same time obviously trying to rein in some of the rising costs that we’ve had over the last few years,” said Christopher Stoney, professor of public administration at Carleton University and co-editor of How Ottawa Spends.

It is this fine balance, along with the financial instability in Europe, that could be causing delays in releasing the 2012 budget, say sources.

“It is no doubt a very challenging time to be writing a budget,” said Derek Burleton, TD Bank Financial Group’s vice-president and deputy chief economist.

“You’re dealing with a much wider range of possibilities,” he explained, adding that the confirmation of another bailout for Greece last week has reduced the risk of near-term market uncertainty affecting Canada.

Robocall election controversy spreading

The robocall controversy appears to be broadening, with opposition parties claiming the number of ridings affected by voter-suppression calls in the last federal election is greater than first thought.

New Democrat MP Pat Martin says he is aware of at least 34 ridings that received automated phone calls , although his party lists only 29.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said his party is aware of 27 ridings, but he expects the number to rise by Monday, when the House of Commons resumes.

The opposition are accusing the Harper Conservatives of orchestrating a campaign of dirty tricks in the May 2 election, but the Conservatives have denied the charges.

Elections Canada and police are currently believed to be looking into reports that automated calls in as many as 18 ridings falsely advised voters that the location of their polling stations had changed.

Martin said he is firm on his number and has since heard of two more ridings, but was not yet adding them to his list.

In another development, lawyers for RackNine Inc., an Edmonton-based automated dialling company that worked on the Conservative campaign, has sent a letter to Martin demanding an apology or face a defamation suit for comments he made about the company. Martin says he has no intention of apologizing.

Original Article
Source: CBC
Author: Canadian Press

Plot to assassinate Putin uncovered

Russian and Ukrainian special services have arrested a group of suspects over an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia's state television reported Monday.

Channel One said the suspects, linked to a Chechen rebel leader, were preparing to kill Putin in Moscow immediately after next Sunday's presidential vote, in which he is all but certain to reclaim the presidency.

The station said the suspects had been arrested in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa following an accidental explosion that occurred on Jan. 4 while they were trying to manufacture explosives at a rented apartment.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the report to the ITAR-Tass news agency, but refused to make any further comment.

The station said the source for its information was Russia's Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency dealing with domestic security. It was impossible to independently verify the claim made in the program.

Mr. Harper, dissent is vital to democracy

As leader of the opposition, Stephen Harper was clear on the vital role of dissent in a democracy: “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”

In power, however, Mr. Harper’s Conservatives seem to have taken a page out of a U.S. election campaign: Smear your opponents early and often to avoid dealing with the substance of their arguments. Think of the advertising campaigns against Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, “Taliban Jack,” or more recently, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’s demand that the opposition “either stand with us, or with the child pornographers.”

What should alarm those concerned about Canada’s democracy, however, is how the Conservatives have brought this election war-room mentality into government itself. Rather than engaging with citizens or organizations who disagree with their policies, Mr. Harper’s government has sought to attack, even criminalize them.

Voter-suppression scandal will be a test of Harper’s leadership

Opposition attacks over the alleged voter-suppression scandal will fill Question Period Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday.

The NDP and Liberals believe they have smoking-gun proof that the Conservative Party broke all the rules and the law, too, in its effort to win last May’s election. They don’t have that proof, at least not yet.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a major problem. How he deals with it will tell us whether the comforts of majority government have dulled his political instincts.

Elections Canada and the RCMP are investigating some pretty serious stuff in at least one riding, Guelph, where one or more Conservative party workers may have impersonated Elections Canada officials in an effort to lure Liberal voters to a non-existent polling station. How much of that kind of thing went on, and how high knowledge of the activity went in the party, is the all-important question.

People who know a lot about election campaigns, and who talked freely in exchange for confidentiality, point out several things. First, we can be reasonably certain that Mr. Harper, who is Leader of the Conservative Party as well as Prime Minister, knew nothing about what was going on in Guelph or elsewhere. Campaign officials protect their leaders from that sort of direct knowledge.

Ontario urged to speak up for oil sands

Supporters of Alberta’s oil sands say Ontario needs to do more to publicly defend the resource, including standing up for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, since its economy is the country’s second-largest beneficiary from the production of the gooey bitumen.

According to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, in Chicago for a few days talking up her province’s oil and gas industry, Quebec also needs to do its part to tell Alberta’s story. This is particularly important, she said, on the issue of the $7-billion pipeline that would link Canada to Texas, a project delayed by the White House.

And the rookie Premier, set to soon visit New York and Washington as well, isn’t alone. Pundits and industry are also calling on the have-not provinces to come to oil-rich Alberta’s aid.

“We in Alberta have a resource that matters to the rest of the country,” Ms. Redford recently told members of the Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada in Calgary, “It’s not enough for Alberta to be talking about the importance of Keystone in the United States. We need the Premier of Ontario talking about that. We need the Premier of Quebec talking about that, and of course, we have the Prime Minister of Canada talking about that.”