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.]

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

March 29 federal budget won't detail cuts

The federal budget will be delivered on March 29, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced Wednesday, but it won't contain all the details of the government's planned spending cuts.

All government departments were asked over the last year to find savings amounting to between five and 10 per cent of their budgets, with the ultimate goal of cutting $4 billion in spending annually.

Flaherty told reporters the results of the spending review won't be laid out in detail in the budget.

"There's not going to be intimate detail," he said. "We never have all the intricacies in the budget. The budget would have to be 1,000 pages if we did that. There will be enough information that it will be comprehensible — that it will describe what we're doing in terms of the deficit reduction action plan and much more than that."

Flaherty described the plan as "a jobs-and-growth budget" and said cuts are "just one aspect of it."

He would not indicate how deep the cuts will reach when he presents the budget in exactly one month.

Ford bids for Sheppard compromise

Mayor Rob Ford is making a last-minute bid to salvage his Sheppard subway plans, working behind the scenes to forge a compromise, but it doesn't appear he'll be able to win over enough councillors before a crucial vote March 15.

“The sense I get is the mayor is prepared to take a compromise,” said Councillor John Parker, a TTC commissioner who met with the mayor Tuesday to discuss the fate of the line.

Mr. Parker said he was prepared to look seriously at extending the Sheppard subway one or two more stations, with an “elegant” transfer to a light-rail line. But he said that's not what the mayor is talking about.

“What the mayor is talking about is taking the subway as far as he can take it with a view that when the money is available he'll take it further,” Mr. Parker said after attending a packed town hall meeting on transit in midtown Toronto Tuesday night.

Mr. Ford also met Tuesday with at least two other councillors – former ally and TTC chair Karen Stintz and centrist Councillor Josh Colle. Those meetings came less than a week after the mayor invited two key swing voters, Ana Bailao and Mary-Margaret McMahon, into his office to see if they would consider new levies such as a parking tax or road tolls to help pay for a subway.

Reconsider pot prohibition, international panel urges Harper

The Global Commission on Drug Policy says it's “very weird” that Canada is taking a tougher line on marijuana when governments across the globe are reconsidering the war on drugs.

In an open letter Wednesday to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Brazil-based commission calls on Canada to stop pursuing the “destructive, expensive and ineffective” prohibition of pot.

Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court of Canada judge, former Brazilian president Fernando Cardoso, former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson are among the signatories to the letter that warns Canada is repeating “the same grave mistakes as other countries.”

“Building more prisons, tried for decades in the United States under its failed war on drugs, only deepens the drug problem and does not reduce cannabis supply or rates of use,” says the letter. “Instead, North American youth now report easier access to cannabis than to alcohol or tobacco.”

The commission includes an ideological cross-section of world leaders, among them George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state in the Reagan Republican presidency, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo and Paul Volker, the former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Flaherty won't reveal 'intricate detail' of cuts in March 29 budget

Canadians will have to wait another month before finding out how the Conservatives will change Old Age Security and cut federal spending, as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty confirmed his 2012 budget will be released March 29.

Even then, after months of hints and suggestions about what may be on the chopping block as Ottawa moves to erase its estimated $31-billion deficit, there will still be questions about what is being cut.

Last March, the Conservatives launched a year-long process called the Deficit Reduction Action Plan, led by a special subcommittee of cabinet that scoured through hundreds of proposed cuts from all federal departments. The 2012 budget was billed then as the unveiling of that work.

But Mr. Flaherty said his budget will not include “intricate detail” about where the axe will fall.

“The budget would have to be a 1,000 pages if we did that,” he said. “But there'll be enough information that it'll be comprehensible, that it will describe what we're doing in terms of the Deficit Reduction Action Plan, and much more than that. This is a jobs and growth budget.”

Harper dismisses robo-call scandal as ‘smear campaign’ by sore losers

Stephen Harper is now categorically denying the Conservative Party machine was behind misleading robo-calls that confused voters in Guelph and elsewhere, calling the entire matter a “smear campaign” by the NDP and Liberals.

“The Conservative Party can say absolutely and definitely it has no role in this,” the Prime Minister told the Commons Wednesday.

He challenged the NDP to produce proof of the misdeeds and send it to Elections Canada.

In the absence of evidence, Mr. Harper said, he thinks this is merely a scorched-earth exercise by parties that lost the spring election.

“Otherwise I think we just conclude this is simply a smear campaign without any basis.”

Wednesday was the fifth Question Period where the Tories have fielded allegations they engaged in dirty tricks designed to sway the election. Documents from Elections Canada detailing the watchdog’s investigation have shown how detailed the scheme was in one Ontario riding.

Japan defence chief 'may cancel' F-35 deal

Japan's defence chief said Wednesday the country may cancel its $4.7 billion order for the US-built F-35 stealth jet if Washington fails to stick to the proposed price and deadlines.

Defence Minister Naoki Tanaka said a formal contract for the initial four units which Japan wants by March 2017, out of a total of 42 jets, was expected to be signed before this summer.

But, he told parliament: "If the situation comes to the point where (the US) cannot work out the proposal by that time, we will have concerns for Japan's defence capability.

"We would have to look at either cancelling the contract or opting for another model."

Japan in December chose Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth jet for its next-generation mainstay fighter over two other jets -- the Boeing-made F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Conditional sentence changes to cost millions

A provision in the federal government's omnibus crime bill that restricts conditional sentences will cost the provinces and territories more than $100 million a year, according to a new report from the Parliamentary budget officer.

The change makes conditional sentences available only to non-violent offenders sentenced to less than two years in jail. These sentences are often served under community supervision. This means that under the new provisions, more offenders will end up incarcerated.

According to Kevin Page's report, the cost to the provinces and territories of ending conditional sentences for most offenders would have hit $137 million based on 2008-09 data. This includes the cost of a trial for offenders who would choose to take their chances in court when they previously would have pled guilty and faced guaranteed jail time.

Page said Tuesday that Statistics Canada data shows that the daily cost of incarceration is $160, compared to community supervision at $10.

In addition, offenders will spend less time under supervision, Page said, when their sentences are shortened with credit for time served and good behaviour.

Criminal Libor Probe: DOJ Investigating World's Biggest Banks On Global Benchmark Rate

NEW YORK, Feb 28 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a criminal probe into whether the world's biggest banks manipulated a global benchmark rate that is at the heart of a wide range of loans and derivatives, from trillions of dollars of mortgages and bonds to interest rate swaps , a person familiar with the matter said.

While the Justice Department's inquiry into the setting of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, was known, the criminal aspect of the probe was not.

A criminal inquiry underscores the serious nature of a worldwide investigation that includes regulators and law-enforcement agencies in the United States, Japan, Canada and the UK.

Several major global banks, including Citigroup Inc , HSBC Holdings Plc, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and UBS AG, have disclosed that they have been approached by authorities investigating how Libor is set.

No bank or trader has been criminally charged in the Libor probes. It wasn't clear which banks or traders the Justice Department is targeting in its criminal probe.

Virginia Mandatory Ultrasound Bill Passes In State Senate

The Virginia Senate narrowly passed a bill on Tuesday by a vote of 21-19 that would require women to have an ultrasound procedure 24 hours prior to having an abortion.

The Senate passed a similar bill earlier this month that would have required women to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound procedure. After that bill stirred up a firestorm of controversy, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) helped House Republicans write and pass a revised bill that mandates the more common transabdominal procedure, even when it's not deemed medically necessary or the woman does not want to have it.

Senate Democrats charged that even though the controversial transvaginal procedure would not be mandated, the bill still constituted government overreach into women's personal medical decisions and the doctor-patient relationship.

"We have taken out the state required rape from the bill, but the way it is now is still an assault because it's an unwanted touching," Sen. Janet Howell (D) told HuffPost on Monday, "and the woman is being coerced to have that happen in order to exercise her constitutional right to an abortion."

Republicans, meanwhile, framed it as an informed consent issue, arguing that the bill would enable pregnant woman to discover the age of the developing fetus before deciding whether to terminate the pregnancy.

The bill now goes to McDonnell, who is expected to sign it into law.

"Virginia will have a strong women's right to know bill to provide the information necessary to make fully informed consent," he said of the bill at a Politico panel on Friday, "So I think it's the right decision."

This story is developing...

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Laura Bassett

Growing Number Of Americans Can't Afford Food, Study Finds

Here in the United States, growing numbers of people can't afford that most basic of necessities: food.

More Americans said they struggled to buy food in 2011 than in any year since the financial crisis, according to a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit research group. About 18.6 percent of people -- almost one out of every five -- told Gallup pollsters that they couldn't always afford to feed everyone in their family in 2011.

One might assume that number got smaller wrapped up with the national unemployment rate falling for several consecutive months. In actuality, the reverse proved true: the number of people who said they couldn't afford food just kept rising and rising.

The findings from FRAC highlight what many people already know: The economic recovery, in theory now more than two years old, has done little to keep millions of Americans out of poverty and deprivation. Incomes for many haven't kept pace with the cost of living, and for a large swath of the country, things today are as bad as ever, or worse.

Water Pipe Study: United States Needs $1 Trillion For Drinking Water Lines Over Next 25 Years

Plugging the leaks in water pipes and building new ones to keep up with a growing population could cost the United States $1 trillion over the next 25 years, according to an industry study released Monday.

That study unearths a subject few Americans think about: buried drinking-water mains. As with aging highway infrastructure, however, the vast network of pipes built out during the boom years of the 20th century is now nearing the end of its life span.

"We've known for a long time that pipe networks are aging. We didn't appreciate the magnitude of the challenge," said Tom Curtis, deputy executive director of the American Water Works Association, which commissioned the report. "The size of the need was startling even to water professionals."

The report did not include wastewater lines, which could double the national price-tag.

Unlike other areas of infrastructure investment, Curtis said, utilities have invested in fixing drinking water lines -- but the need is about to ramp up as many lines reach the end of their lives. If water utilities try to delay repairs, he said, that would eventually translate into more money for repairs and new lines.

Barack Obama Waives Rule Allowing Indefinite Military Detention Of Americans

WASHINGTON -- The White House released rules Tuesday evening waiving the most controversial piece of the new military detention law, and exempting U.S. citizens, as well as other broad categories of suspected terrorists.

Indefinite military detention of Americans and others was granted in the defense authorization bill President Barack Obama signed just before Christmas, sparking a storm of anger from civil libertarians on the left and right.

The new rules -- which deal with Section 1022 of the law -- are aimed at soothing many of their gravest concerns, an administration official said. Those concerns are led by the possibility that a law that grants the president authority to jail Americans without trial in Guantanamo Bay based on secret evidence could easily be abused.

"It is important to recognize that the scope of the new law is limited," says a fact sheet released by the White House, focusing on that worry. "Section 1022 does not apply to U.S. citizens, and the President has decided to waive its application to lawful permanent residents arrested in the United States."

Natasha Loder, Economist Journalist, Detained At Mitt Romney Event

A reporter for the Economist was handcuffed by police officers at Mitt Romney's campaign victory rally during the Michigan primary on Tuesday.

Natasha Loder, a Midwest reporter for the magazine, came into conflict with police at the event in Novi, MI after she tried to hear Romney's victory speech in person, instead of in a press filing center.

Chad Livengood, a reporter at the Lansing bureau of the Detroit News, initially tweeted that she had been arrested for sitting in a doorway at the crowded event, which reporters were being blocked from entering.

Livengood also snapped photos which showed a woman sitting on the floor, surrounded by police. He then clarified his earlier account. He said that he, Loder and other journalists had been blocked by Secret Service officials from entering the ballroom, even though there was space. Loder, he continued, had sat in a doorway in protest and been led away in handcuffs.

Loder told the New York Observer that she and the other reporters had merely been trying to hear Romney's speech unencumbered by a video delay. They went and stood outside the door of the event, which was open, but a security guard told her he would close it. According to Livengood, several reporters began arguing with the guard. The argument attracted police, who placed Loder in handcuffs after she refused to exit. She was then released.

“I just said, ‘Look, I’m sorry, I just wanted to do my job,’” she told the Observer.

Toby Harnden, the U.S. executive editor of the Daily Mail, was also present at the event and tweeted about the incident.

Harnden later told HuffPost that one of the problems at the Romney event was that "many reporters were not given passes to get into the actual event room, including a number of British and other foreign reporters but also Geoff Earle, the New York Post’s Washington bureau chief, and others." Harnden continued:

    "Despite there being wide open spaces clearly visible in the press area, the event staff (not from the Romney campaign) on the door would not let any of us in. They then tried to close the doors so we couldn’t even listen to the speech. When the Economist reporter sat down so the doors couldn’t be closed a Novi police officer handcuffed her and she was frog-marched off. The event staff said the Secret Service had told them to close the doors but no agents were present. A Romney press aide who arrived declined to intervene in the handcuffing or to let any reporters into the room or even to keep the doors open. Another Romney aide later arrived and let me into the room as common sense seemed to return."

A Romney spokesperson told HuffPost that the situation was "strictly a police matter."

Original Article
Source: Huff

Tory Pollster Faces Misconduct Probe By Industry Watchdog

OTTAWA - The market research industry's watchdog is launching a full-blown investigation into a Conservative pollster involved in an alleged misinformation campaign against Liberal MP Irwin Cotler.

Brendan Wycks, executive director of The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, said Tuesday the watchdog has received seven formal complaints of professional misconduct against Campaign Research Inc.

Campaign Research was behind a phone campaign last fall in Cotler's Montreal riding, in which constitutents complained they were falsely told their MP was about to or had resigned and that a byelection was imminent.

The company was given time to resolve the matter to complainants' satisfaction but was unable to do so.

As a result, the voluntary, self-regulatory MRIA is now striking a three-member complaints panel to investigate the matter more thoroughly. If Campaign Research is found to have violated the association's code of conduct, the company could face sanctions, ranging from a public reprimand to suspension or even expulsion from the MRIA.

Nicole Eaton: Green Charities Using Foreign Cash To Fight Oil Sands Development, Argues Tory Senator In Launching Inquiry

OTTAWA — Promising to reveal information that would make "your blood boil," a Conservative senator opened a new front in the federal government’s attack against environmentalists Tuesday.

“There is political manipulation. There is influence peddling. There are millions of dollars crossing borders masquerading as charitable donations,” Senator Nicole Eaton declared as she launched an inquiry in the Senate into the “interference of foreign foundations in Canada’s domestic affairs” and their “abuse” of Revenue Canada’s charitable status.

It’s the latest move in what environmental groups view as the Conservatives full-out war against them. Using never before seen tactics, they say the Tories are trying to limit dissent by threatening to revoke their charitable statuses and smearing — all with the aim of limiting their effectiveness in fighting projects such as the development of Alberta's oil sands.

Eaton suggested Tuesday that billionaire foreign foundations have quietly moved into Canada and, under the guise of charitable donations, are trying to manipulate domestic policies for their own gain.

Citing figures from west coast blogger Vivian Krause, Eaton said U.S. foundations have poured at least $300 million into the environmental movement in Canada since 2000.

Interpol: 25 Suspected Anonymous Hackers Arrested In New Crackdown

PARIS — Interpol said Tuesday that 25 suspected members of the loose-knit Anonymous hacker movement have been arrested in a sweep across Europe and South America.

The international police agency said in a statement that the arrests in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Spain were carried out by national law enforcement officers working under the support of Interpol's Latin American Working Group of Experts on Information Technology Crime.

The suspects, aged between 17 and 40, are suspected of planning coordinated cyberattacks against institutions including Colombia's defense ministry and presidential websites, Chile's Endesa electricity company and national library, as well as other targets.

The arrests followed an ongoing investigation begun in mid-February which also led to the seizure of 250 items of IT equipment and mobile phones in searches of 40 premises in 15 cities, Interpol said.

In Chile's capital, Subprefect Jamie Jara said at a news conference that authorities arrested five Chileans and a Colombian. Two of the Chileans are 17-year-old minors.

High Arctic Research Station Forced To Close

Canada's northernmost research laboratory is shutting down due to lack of funding.

The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, Nunavut, which made key measurements last winter used to detect and analyze the largest ozone hole ever detected over the Arctic, will cease year-round operations on April 30. At that time, its equipment will be removed and the building will remain available only for intermittent, short-term projects.

"When you run out of money, there's no alternative but to close the lab," Jim Drummond, a Dalhousie University researcher who is the principal investigator for PEARL, said Tuesday.

The station has been tracking ozone depletion, air quality and climate change in the High Arctic since 2005. But the Canadian Network for Detection of Atmospheric Change, an informal network of university researchers that runs the station, hasn't been able to secure the $1.5 million annual funding required to continue running the station all year round.

Global Partners Committed to F-35: USAF

Declining orders for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from Washington’s international partners reflect economic pressures in those countries, not a lack of commitment to the multinational program, the top U.S. Air Force general said Feb. 28.

The Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, said military leaders in Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy and other countries helping to develop the new fighter have told him they remain committed to buying the stealthy new fighter “as soon as their economic circumstances permit.”

“It should not be read as a diminished commitment to pursuing this capability over the longer term,” Schwartz told a hearing by the House Armed Services Committee on the fiscal 2013 budget request from the Air Force.

Canada is hosting a meeting of the international partners at its embassy in Washington on Friday to get an update about the program and what effect Washington’s plans to postpone orders for 179 F-35 jets for five years will have on the jet’s price.

Washington insists it still plans to buy 2,443 of the new planes at a cost of $382 billion over the next two decades.

Tories overestimated OAS costs by hundreds of millions

OTTAWA — As debate over the sustainability of the country's Old Age Security system continues, new figures show the Conservative government has overestimated the cost of the system by hundreds of millions of dollars in three of the past four years.

While the government says the differences are to be expected and remain well within normal ranges, the opposition is arguing they raise further questions about the government's long-term projections about the OAS system's unsustainability.

A government report tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday shows that while the government had anticipated paying out $29 billion in OAS during this fiscal year, the actual amount was $410 million less.

The report says the difference is because there were fewer beneficiaries than expected and the average payout per person was lower than projected. In addition, more beneficiaries paid back their benefits than anticipated.

The government also overestimated in 2010-11, doling out $356 million less than the initial projection of $28 billion, and in 2008-09, when it was off by $368 million.

Lessons from Greece on democracy and debt-bondage

It is a truism to say that democracy began with the Greeks -- less so to say that it originated in popular rebellion against debt and debt-bondage. Yet, with the Greek people ensnared once more in the vice-grip of rich debt-holders, it may be useful to recall that fact. For the only hope today of reclaiming democracy in Greece (and elsewhere) resides in the prospect of a mass uprising against modern debt-bondage that extends the rule of the people into the economic sphere.

Across virtually all the ancient world, to fall into irretrievable debt was to enter into bondage to the rich. For millennia, the poor typically had no collateral for loans beyond their bodies and their labour. The result in ancient Greece, as Aristotle acknowledged, was that "the poor ... were enslaved by the rich" (Aristotle, The Constitution of Athens, Ch. 2. Scholars are uncertain as to whether this text was written by Aristotle or by one of his students).

The End of the Petroleum Era

[Series] Those who argue that there will never be a final "oil crisis" fail to recognize resource limits.

This is Part 2 in a three-part series focusing on fossil-fuel dependence and the intersection of energy and the environment. Part 1 discussed our dependence on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs due to its unmatched efficiency as an energy source. Part 2 discusses the finite nature of oil and gas, and what that means for the future of our energy economy.

The petroleum age began with some large discoveries of oil made in Texas in the early 20th century, coinciding with the appearance of affordable motorcars. Demand has always been larger in the United States than anywhere else, and consumption there overtook the rate of domestic discovery and supply in the 1970s. Since the 1930s, the world has increasingly depended on supplies from giant and super-giant fields in the Middle East and places such as Nigeria and Venezuela. In 1956, M. King Hubbert, a geologist with Shell Oil, predicted that global demand would begin to exceed supply in the year 2000.That this did not happen is largely because of the stream of sources that could not have been predicted in the 1950s, including oil and gas from deep offshore and unconventional sources such as the oil sands. But such sources are not infinite, and current estimates place the moment of “peak oil” – when demand finally begins to outstrip supply – in the middle of this century.

Tory Tactics and Our Rotten Political Climate

Forget 'hidden agendas' – the robocalls are consistent with how the Conservatives have governed.

The fact that the Conservative party engaged in an organized and systematic voter-suppression campaign last spring should not come as a shocking revelation. This is the way politics now works in Canada. It is ugly and sordid, and what we heard last week only scratches the surface.

The Conservatives didn’t invent dirty tricks. And the Liberals are far from pure as the driven snow. Just this week, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae was forced to admit that a Liberal party staffer was behind Vikileaks, the Twitter account that posted private details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ life. Rae’s apology was swift and graceful. What a Liberal staffer did was repugnant and there can be no excuse for it. One has to wonder whether this junior staffer was freelancing, whether he told anyone about what he was doing, and whether any members of caucus were aware of it. Bob Rae should get to the bottom of those questions immediately.

Time to panic about the housing market

Back in the heady days of 2005, America looked like an awfully nice place to buy a house. Home prices were marching ever upwards. Home ownership was at record levels. Mortgage rates were at historic lows. Unemployment was falling while the economy was growing at a healthy clip.

Home sales had started showing their first signs of slowing that year, but that didn’t sway the National Association of Realtors from its persistently sunny view of the country’s housing market. “We’re confident that housing is landing softly,” David Lereah, the association’s chief economist, wrote in a November 2005 report just before house prices started a descent that would eventually wipe out nearly $30 trillion in global wealth.

Looking back, the signs of a country burying its head in the sand about a housing bubble seem obvious: the well-told tales of tricky teaser rates, of mortgage fraud and of gigantic home loans handed out to buyers with no income or assets. Household finances were even sketchier. In 2005, the average American owed $1.30 in debt for every dollar of income. Home equity was eroding as Americans pulled more than $900 billion out of their homes to buy cars, granite countertops and put their kids through college.

The Commons: The Prime Minister tries to bluster it all away

The Scene. The Prime Minister was full of indignation. All of it righteous in quality.

He chopped and swiped with his hand. He pumped his fist and jabbed his finger. He raised his voice and he scolded and he challenged and he dismissed. How dare the NDP, they who once propagated a phone campaign that directed disenchanted voters to call Lise St. Denis’s office, accuse him of wrongdoing. Who were they to stand here and challenge him? And with what evidence exactly? And the Liberals, they having recently employed someone who posted to Twitter excerpts of the Public Safety Minister’s divorce proceedings—perhaps they might just go ahead and apologize to the government for suggesting anything untoward.

It was a fine show. All the more so when delivered by the leader of a party that pleaded guilty three-and-a-half months ago to violating the Elections Act.

Perhaps buoyed by Mr. Harper’s bullishness, Pierre Poilievre decided to get cheeky. Noting that the NDP’s Alexandre Boulerice had asked about automated calls, Mr. Poilievre suggested that if the member had evidence he could press 1. If he wished to apologize, he could press 2. And if he had the wrong number, he could hang up and try his call again.

“Who’s calling?” “The Conservatives.”

Last spring, just days before the federal election, I filed into the Conservative party war room and took my seat. Everyone who’s had this experience knows the drill: an empty desk, a forlorn looking computer, some sort of phone and five weeks of exhilaration and hell staring you in the face.

Now, we’ve had some highly publicized disagreements with Elections Canada in the past, so the campaign leadership made it clear to everyone before they stepped into the building that accountability standards were to be incredibly high. We added new language to our volunteer and employee agreements, and even had an in-house independent accountability officer available to us at all times.

Have we been accused of being aggressive and rough-and-tumble in the past? Of course. Did we go after Liberal leaders with everything we had? You bet. But did the campaign organize a widespread voter suppression exercise in the 2011 campaign? No way.

And yet, in a matter of only a few days, we’ve gotten to a place where any misleading or erroneous call by a campaign or individual anywhere in the country during 2011 federal election is being treated as the work of Conservative masterminds. But some things don’t add up.

Washington’s pipeline war

President Barack Obama’s denial of a permit for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has not stopped a shadow battle from unfolding on Capitol Hill over the proposed link from Alberta’s oil sands to the Gulf Coast. Congress is teeming with proposed legislation for and against the pipeline, which has been transformed from a mere infrastructure project into a political litmus test on American energy policy. And while Obama’s decision may have led to some hand-wringing over the state of Canada-U.S. relations, it’s hard to recall another time that a Canadian government cause has garnered as much support and attention in Congress—usually a more challenging arena for Canadian interests given the parochial concerns of lawmakers.

For Republicans who control the House of Representatives, the pipeline has become Exhibit A in their case against Obama’s energy policy—while for Democrats it has become a way to make common cause with environmentalists. And both pro-pipeline Republicans and anti-pipeline Democrats are littering Congress with bills aimed at keeping the pipeline issue alive for their supporters. It is a phantom fight, because in this bitterly polarized election year there are few bills of any sort that can pass both the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate, and garner the required signature of the President to become law. But that hasn’t stopped either side from using the legislative process to keep the spotlight on the pipeline and the oil sands.

Tories imported 'American style dirty tricks' and now they're getting caught, says outraged NDP MP

PARLIAMENT HILL—A furious NDP MP Pat Martin exploded Tuesday over the latest revelations in the robocall election affair, denouncing Conservative Party operatives allegedly at the root of it “dirty little bastards” who put the integrity of Canada’s electoral system at risk.

Mr. Martin’s (Winnipeg Centre, Man.) outburst came after Question Period was for the second day dominated with allegations members of the Conservative Party used a speed-dial call centre in Alberta in an attempt to dupe Liberal supporters in Guelph, Ont., into believing their polling stations had changed on voting day during the 2011 federal election. The robocalls were placed with voices that identified the callers as representatives of Elections Canada.

Following a report posted during Question Period by Postmedia News and the Ottawa Citizen, quoting court documents showing a person who arranged the calls through RackNine Inc. of Edmonton used the name Pierre Poutin of Separatist Street in Joliette, Que., to register a disposable cell phone involved in the scam, Mr. Martin blew up.

Strategy, tactics, communications, big bureaucracy: welcome to lobbying

There are currently 5,165 registered federal lobbyists. Some are extremely good tacticians and strategists. Some excel at face-to-face meetings. Some know the intricacies of the way governments run and use it to their advantage. Some are excellent communicators, which is a big part of the GR industry. And in the cut-throat lobbying world, lobbyists say there’s no real “best lobbyist,” unless you want to ATIP the Canada Revenue Agency and find out who’s making the most money. But lobbying is much more than that. The lobbyists on The Hill Times’ Fifth Annual Top 100 Lobbyists list possess one or, most likely, more of the above qualities.

“There are two elements of the lobbying universe of what we need to know. You need to know how decisions are made in government—the steps, the timelines, where the decision-making authority lies, the machinery of government—and you also need to know why decisions are made. That’s the political element. As a basic prerequisite to having anything intelligent coming out of your mouth is a fundamental understanding of those two and how they interact. If you look at the list, you see people who have had in-depth experience in the bureaucratic or political worlds or both. It helps to have an interest in politics as well,” one lobbyist, who did not want to be identified, told The Hill Times.

Leaked Stratfor Email Suggests Secret U.S. Indictment of WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange

he whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has published an internal email from the private intelligence firm Stratfor that suggests the U.S. Justice Department has obtained a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The email is one of around five million obtained from Stratfor’s servers by the hacker group, Anonymous. "Somehow you have a private intelligence company, Stratfor, a 'shadow CIA,' as people have called it, having information about this sealed indictment—secret again—that Julian Assange doesn’t have, that WikiLeaks doesn’t have, that his lawyers don’t have," says Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who is a legal adviser to both Assange and to WikiLeaks. "What you see here is secrecy, secrecy, secrecy." News of the indictment comes less than a week after Army Private Bradley Manning was arraigned for allegedly leaking classified U.S. military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

Conservatives’ communications strategy needs work

OAKVILLE, ONT.—Best laid plans often go astray. This is true for mice, for men, and also it seems for Conservative Party strategists.

Case in point is the Conservative government’s proposed internet surveillance law otherwise known as Bill C-30.

As is well-known by now, the plan for this bill definitely went astray.

But why?

After all, on paper, at least, this issue must have seemed like a sure winner to the Conservative brain trust.

Bill C-30 is designed to give authorities more power to police the internet so they can crack down on child pornographers.

This “law and order” stuff has typically played well for the Conservatives when it comes to galvanizing public support.

But in this case something went horribly wrong.

Robocalls phone number registered to 'Pierre Poutine'

A telephone number used to place automated calls directing voters to the wrong polling station in Guelph, Ont., in the last federal election was registered to a "Pierre Poutine" of Separatist Street, Joliette, Que., court documents reveal.

The documents also show a link between the national Conservative campaign to the call centre through which the automated calls were made.

The documents were sworn by an Elections Canada investigator and filed in Edmonton court to get a production order for Racknine, the call centre used to make the robocalls. A production order requires documents to be made available to law enforcement officials within a specified time.

The allegations contained in the document have not been tested in court.

The investigator is looking into allegations somebody claiming to be from Elections Canada telephoned people in Guelph and falsely told them their polling stations had moved.

Records obtained from Bell Canada "identified the phone 450-760-7746 subscriber as 'Pierre Poutine of Separatist Street, Joliette, Que.,'" according to the sworn production order.

Fraudulent calls a sophisticated attempt to disrupt an election

A political operative hiding behind the alias “Pierre Poutine” engineered an off-the-books scheme using robo-calls and a disposable cellphone to discourage opposition voters from casting ballots in an Ontario riding last May, Elections Canada alleges.

Documents retrieved from an Edmonton court for the first time describe in detail exactly how Canada’s elections watchdog believes someone linked to the Conservative campaign in Guelph, Ont., tried to suppress the vote for rival candidates on May 2, 2011. This comes as opposition parties accuse the Tories of election misdeeds across a broader array of ridings – about 30 throughout the country.

The allegations laid out by Elections Canada paint a picture of a sophisticated dirty tricks campaign, one that is likely to damage the governing Conservatives despite their insistence that any wrongdoing was the work of a rogue political aide.

Former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley said he has never encountered a vote suppression scheme on the scale of the one alleged in Guelph.

“Absolutely not, I can say that honestly,” he said in an interview. “This is the first I hear of something of this scope.”

Canadians need an aboriginal history lesson

Among the 20 recommendations released last week by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating the residential schools scandal, those directed to teaching the history of the period garnered the most attention.

Implicit in the TRC’s interim report is that the history of residential schools is not being taught. As such, the recommendations join a long list of occasions during which Canadians have been reminded of how their educational system is letting them down when it comes to teaching them about their country’s past.

But this reminder has another, constructive dimension: It highlights the practical and vital value of a history education as well as the instrumental role it can play in closing a rift between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.

While it’s true that history can be abused and be divisive, the study of the past can also have a positive impact. It can be used to heal and to develop understanding and empathy, and it can encourage critical discourse among people. More obviously, studying history is one of the most important components of active citizenship. Learning about your country is essential.

Tories throw ministerial responsibility under robo-call bus

Michael Sona is living every political aide’s worst nightmare. The 23-year-old Tory resigned last week in the growing shadow of the Conservative robo-call controversy. His name is now forever affixed to the fallout.

Adam Carroll will meet a similar fate. The recently resigned Liberal staffer published details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’s divorce on Twitter under the handle Vikileaks30. Thanks for the memories.

Every staffer lives in the shadow of self-immolation. Every tweet, every joke, every Facebook message invites the prospect of personal catastrophe. If you screw up, the error is permanent, carved into stone by Google, Twitter, and 24-hour news.

Dire consequences deter indiscretion. Even the most bull-headed staffers would rather ask permission than forgiveness – as Mr. Carroll now knows, the latter often ends in revising your résumé.

Former Tory staffer urges ‘guilty party’ to take blame in robo-call controversy

A key Conservative campaign worker in Guelph in the last election is calling on the “guilty party” to step forward and acknowledge his or her role in the ongoing robo-call controversy.

Emerging from a week-long silence, former Conservative staffer Michael Sona is denying any involvement in the automated phone calls that directed voters in the Ontario riding of Guelph to the wrong polling station last year. Mr. Sona was the director of communications to candidate Marty Burke during the election campaign.

He resigned last week from his position in the office of Conservative MP Eve Adams, but he said he did so only because the controversy prevented him from doing his job.

“I have remained silent to this point with the hope that the real guilty party would be apprehended. The rumours continue to swirl, and media are now involving my family, so I feel that it is imperative that I respond,” Mr. Sona said in a statement to CTV News.

'Made in Canada' is hard to find

The  words 'Made in Canada' on products are hard to find  these days, not impossible, but hard.

Call me a nationalist, but I try to employ my neighbours when exercising my purchasing power.  My husband and I finally took the plunge recently and bought a couch at Barrymore to last us until our 50th wedding anniversary.  The best part about it was that it’s manufactured not 10 km from my home. Even the men who delivered the sofa work for the company and treated that couch with the respect it deserved.

Curtains for the master bedroom are next on my list, but replicating the couch purchase for ready-made-drapes is proving impossible. I can find cosmetics, toiletries and local fashion such as Cake and Fresh Collective - but it’s difficult finding home décor products made on this side of the Pacific.

 If I could sew, life would be dandy, but the last time I made curtains, an elderly neighbour examined them and exclaimed, “Dear, they’re beautiful! Here, let me take them home and fix them.” And she did. They still hang in my daughter’s bedroom.

Allegations of fraud, sleaze a turnoff to voters

OTTAWA—Pierre Poutine from Separatist Street?

Why not toss a disposable cellphone registered to this fictional character into the toxic mess playing into the nation’s capital?

It played perfectly into the tenor of debate over the past couple of days, climaxed by a Tuesday Question Period dust-up over alleged election fraud in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper merely parried allegations of sleaze from the opposition benches by tossing their sleaze back at them.

It’s quite an appealing picture — previously anonymous Twitter details of a cabinet minister’s divorce, robo-calls by the NDP aimed at an MP who defected to the Liberals and sanctimonious stonewalling on the government side.

There may have been orchestrated vote suppression last spring, but there’s a lot of vote suppression going on here every day.

This country already has a problem with voter engagement, fuelled by an overriding view among many Canadians that their votes don’t count, that all politicians are the same, that they all play dirty.

Mayor Rob Ford’s subway dream for Sheppard could be dead March 15

City council will gather ahead of schedule, on March 15, to decide what kind of transit the city wants built on Sheppard Ave. E.

The meeting, originally slated for March 21, is expected to spell the end of Mayor Rob Ford’s move to extend the Sheppard subway.

The city gave notice Tuesday that the meeting would happen during March Break to avoid conflicts with other meetings.

It is expected the panel charged with recommending the best transit for Sheppard will advocate light rail on the road, rather than the subway extension Ford promised in the election.

“It’s the vote the province has been waiting for,” said TTC chair Karen Stintz.

Council’s endorsement of a Sheppard plan is among the signals Premier Dalton McGuinty says the province needs to move ahead on spending $8.4 billion for Toronto transit.

ORNGE fiasco could hurt Ontario’s ability to cut deficit: Former deputy health minister

The ORNGE fiasco represents a “colossal failure” of governance and accountability and is hobbling the province in its ability to cut the deficit, a former deputy health minister says.

Michael Decter, who served as deputy in the former Bob Rae government and continues to be a leading Canadian expert on health systems, told an audience of senior health officials Tuesday that the scandal at Ontario’s air ambulance service is making it difficult for the province to ask the health sector to cough up millions in savings.

“In my view it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the sector,” Decter said, noting that Don Drummond’s recommendations on paying down the $16 billion deficit were released earlier this month, just two months after the Star first broke the story about improprieties at ORNGE.

The different players in the sector can be adversarial, Decter said, referring to the fact that hospitals, doctors, community agencies and others often compete for funding and authority.

While they have been known to put their differences aside and work for the common good during tough times in the past, this time it’s different, he told about 300 people at a Breakfast with the Chiefs event at St. Michael’s Hospital, a speakers’ series organized by Longwoods Publishing.

Some ORNGE helicopters unable to enter U.S. airspace

Some ORNGE helicopters are forbidden from entering U.S. airspace and must land at the border and use land ambulances to cross to American cities.

A leaked government memo, initially obtained by the Progressive Conservatives, shows ORNGE is awaiting FAA approval.

The letter, dated Monday, says there is a delay in receiving necessary U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approval for ORNGE chopper flights across the border. Ontario funds the scandal-plagued ORNGE $150 million a year to provide air ambulance service.

“ORNGE helicopters based out of Toronto, London, Ottawa and Sudbury are not able to fly into the U.S. at this time,” according to a statement released by ORNGE.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Deb Matthews said the issue relates to ORNGE’s new AgustaWestland helicopters, and not its older fleet of Sikorsky helicopters, which have approval for cross-border flights.

Only one patient in the last fiscal year has had to be transported by helicopter in the U.S., said ORNGE spokeswoman Jennifer Tracey.

Compared to robo-scandal Vikileaks is a prank

Ottawa’s Vikileaks and robo-call affairs are being treated as equivalents. They are not.

The robo-call affair involves allegations of electoral fraud. If, as suggested by Liberals and New Democrats, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives deliberately misrepresented themselves to voters before last May’s election, it is a serious police matter.

The Vikileaks affair, in which a Liberal staffer released on the Internet publicly available details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ messy divorce, was at worst in bad taste.

At best, it was an example of brilliant — if nasty — guerrilla theatre.

The robo-call allegations are twofold. One is that political operatives in some ridings (most notably Guelph) used live or automated telephone calls to direct voters unlikely to support their party to non-existent polling stations.

In some cases the callers fraudulently identified themselves as officials of Elections Canada, the non-partisan body that oversees voting.

Dirty tricks against Cotler trigger misconduct probe for Tory pollster

The market research industry's watchdog is launching a full-blown investigation into a Conservative pollster involved in an alleged misinformation campaign against Liberal MP Irwin Cotler.

Brendan Wycks, executive director of The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, said Tuesday the watchdog has received seven formal complaints of professional misconduct against Campaign Research Inc.

Campaign Research was behind a phone campaign last fall in Mr. Cotler's Montreal riding, in which constitutents complained they were falsely told their MP was about to or had resigned and that a by-election was imminent.

The company was given time to resolve the matter to complainants' satisfaction but was unable to do so.

As a result, the voluntary, self-regulatory MRIA is now striking a three-member complaints panel to investigate the matter more thoroughly. If Campaign Research is found to have violated the association's code of conduct, the company could face sanctions, ranging from a public reprimand to suspension or even expulsion from the MRIA.

Harper Conquers Canada, One Robocall at a Time

The widening "robocall scandal" is deeply disturbing -- as is its media coverage.

The language we use to describe a situation, the words that a journalist uses in their coverage of an issue, literally frame the issue and how we think about it.

This isn't a story about "dirty tricks," it's about election fraud. This isn't "stupid," it's illegal. This isn't "folly," it was a deliberate, systematic, strategic, targeted campaign to steal the election. This isn't "voter suppression," it's stealing democracy.

We should not treat this as some petty misdemeanor. This is a grave threat to our very basic freedom. This is a threat to our democracy. This is corruption.

You would expect this in some tin-pot dictatorship--not in Canada.

The stakes are much, much higher than most people or commentators realize. Harper won his "majority" with 6,848 votes. That's the difference between a Conservative candidate getting elected and the second place candidate in the 14 closest races that the Conservatives "won."