Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

China's Way Forward

Idle factories, moored container ships, widespread bankruptcies, massive migration back to the hinterlands, strangely clean air—the signs of depression are everywhere in China. Because it makes so many of the goods the world isn’t buying now, China stands to be worse hit than the rest of the world —just as America was during the Depression, when it was the world’s sweatshop. But like America then, China will use tough times to design innovative products that will get it the high profits and the high-value jobs Americans kept to themselves for decades. And that is very bad news for the United States, unless it uses tough times to reinvent itself, too.

Our apartment in Beijing overlooks one of the city’s long-distance bus terminals, where people arrive from the countryside to find work or sell wares, and depart for visits or permanent returns to their home villages. Early last summer, the terminal was jammed, and most of the passengers were leaving town.

Why So Afraid, Board of Trade?

As I read about the fawning receptions by the Vancouver Board of Trade for former premier Gordon Campbell and the present premier, I found it nauseating and bewildering -- but expected.

The theme of the business folks response was, evidently, that Campbell/Clark have kept the accursed NDP from power and that no careless depletion of the public purse should interfere with the worship of gods and goddesses, no matter what financial screw-ups took place on their watch.

The myth these stalwarts of the free market perpetuate is that the NDP were so fiscally incompetent that they can never ever be trusted again, and that any qualification of that dogma means some sort of treachery to the holy cause.

(The last NDP government claimed that they had two balanced budgets, with the last one not on such a thin foundation as its predecessor. The quarrel with the last one is that it required a healthier dividend from BC Hydro than the Opposition thought advisable.)

Iran, Canada and the Petro State

Whenever North Americans fill up their vehicles with gasoline these days they should reflect on their ongoing contribution to the dysfunctional status of petro states and the Islamic Republic of Iran in particular.

Iran's civilian nuclear power ambitions, of course, have set off a grand political tiff with the United States and Israel. Both suspect the nation wants to make atomic weapons too.

The United States, which pioneered the globe's oil addiction, has imposed trade sanctions while pundits have begun to beat war drums. Israel, which has quietly eliminated a few Iranian nuclear engineers, has hinted about pre-emptive strikes.

As a consequence, North American motorists, whose driving habits and penchant for cheap oil transformed Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia into bona fide petro states decades ago, are now paying a higher price at the pumps for the most volatile of global commodities.

It seems that the masters of oil can't make a move these days without jinxing their motorized slaves even when the cheapness is gone.

News What If More Bankers Had a Social Conscience?

It goes without saying: we all hate big banks.

Since 2008, we've seen debt-bloated financial behemoths collapse only to be propped back up with public cash. We've seen their stone-faced executives herded before legislative sub-committees only to offer non-apologies, warn against regulation, and justify their record-breaking bonuses. We've had to memorize esoteric acronyms, like CDO and CDS, only to see them for the glorified casino chips that they are. To better express our abhorrence, we've called them "banksters," "fat cats," and, describing the most notorious of all the Wall Street titans, "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity."

Nearly five years after the crisis, the global economy may be in a slow recovery (or so some forecasters tell us), but the reputation of high finance remains in a deep depression.

Responsible banking? Take a hike, Jimmy Stewart. If ever there were an oxymoron for the 21st century, this would be it.

Tories didn’t declare payments made to robocalls company, can’t explain why

OTTAWA — Elections Canada investigators probing the robocalls scandal are interviewing workers on the Conservative campaign in Guelph, Ont., and trying to determine why payments made to an Edmonton voice-broadcasting company were not declared in financial reports filed with the agency.

In recent days, the agency has spoken to at least three workers from the campaign of Conservative candidate Marty Burke, including the official agent responsible for ensuring the campaign’s financial report was accurate.

Elections Canada wants to know why the costs of automated calls the campaign has admitted sending out never appeared in the campaign’s expense report, as required by law.

Andrew Prescott, the deputy campaign manager, said he is co-operating with the investigation and handing over bills he received from RackNine Inc. for a series of robocalls promoting Burke events during the election.

The same company was used to transmit misleading Elections Canada calls on election day.

Occupy Education: Dozens Of Protesters Demonstrating In State Capitol Arrested

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Highway Patrol officers arrested dozens of protesters who refused to leave the state Capitol Monday night after repeated warnings, capping off a day of protests over cuts to higher education that saw thousands descend upon Sacramento.

CHP Capt. Andy Manard said police expected the number of people arrested to be 68. They would be charged with trespassing, he said.

Police started pulling out protesters who remained in the Capitol rotunda around 7:30 p.m., more than an hour after they began warning them with a bullhorn to leave. Protesters chanted "We're doing this for your kids," as they were lifted up by the arms one-by-one, handcuffed with plastic ties and led them away.

"We gave them about seven or eight opportunities to avoid arrest," Manard said. "We wanted to give them every opportunity to leave. Having that many arrests puts a stress on the jails too."

He said the protesters would be taken to the Sacramento County Jail.

Several lawmakers watched from a second-floor balcony.

Iran: UN Inspectors To Be Allowed Into Secret Parchin Complex

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran says it will allow U.N. inspectors access to a secret military complex where the U.N. nuclear agency suspects secret atomic work has been carried out.

A statement issued by the country's permanent envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran says it will allow U.N. officials to visit the Parchin complex, southeast of Tehran in a gesture of good will.

The statement says the visit requires an agreement on a guidelines for the inspection. It was carried by the official ISNA news agency Tuesday.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: --

Minority Students Face Harsher Discipline, Fewer Options, New Federal Data Shows

Minority students have less access to advanced courses, more inexperienced teachers and face tougher disciplinary consequences than their counterparts, a new trove of federal data shows, affirming long-held beliefs about disparities in the classroom.

Civil rights advocates expect this data, collected during the 2009-10 school year, will provide new ammunition for compliance reviews, advocacy and lawsuits involving educational fairness in America.

"The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said on an embargoed phone call Monday afternoon. "It is our collective duty to change that." Duncan is expected to make similar remarks Tuesday at Washington, D.C.'s Howard University.

The numbers, to be released Tuesday, are jarring. Black students are more than three-and-a-half times as likely as white students to be suspended or expelled, according to the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights' survey, known as the "Civil Rights Data Collection." More than 70 percent of students arrested in school or handed over to law enforcement were black or Hispanic.

Login with Facebook to see what your friends are reading Enable Social Reading i Prison Deaths And Overcrowding: Are The Two Linked?

Daniel can’t talk about the three prison inmates who have died in custody over the last five years - two of the victims for legal reasons, the other because it was too “horrendous”.

The prison officer, who spoke to The Huffington Post UK on the condition of anonymity, says: “Two of them are subject to corner's court. I can't talk about the one that's not. I don't want to talk about it because it was horrendous.”

He adds: “Up-and-down the country we've had a fair share of deaths of custody.”

A fair share, to be precise, is 44 so far this year and 193 in 2011, according to figures from the Howard League for penal reform.

In the larger prisons, the numbers are worse. Eighty-two people died in the 25 largest prisons in Britain last year, prompting the Howard League to warn of the damage of overcrowding.

For Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, it’s simple: people should not be dying in the custody of the state.

U.S. Can Kill American Citizens Without Trial: Eric Holder

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that the decision to kill a U.S. citizen living abroad who poses a terrorist threat "is among the gravest that government leaders can face," but justified lethal action as legal and sometimes necessary in the war on terror.

Holder's comments broke the administration's silence on the legal justifications for its decision to kill American-born al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki five months ago in Yemen. In a speech at Northwestern University law school in Chicago, he described al-Awlaki as concocting plans to kill Americans but he never explicitly acknowledged the administration responded by targeting the cleric for death.

Instead the attorney general outlined a three-part test for determining when a targeted killing against a U.S. citizen is legal. He said the government must determine after careful review that the citizen poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the U.S., capture is not feasible and the killing would be consistent with laws of war.

The Obama administration has refused to release the Justice Department legal opinion on al-Awlaki's killing under the Freedom of Information Act and is in court opposing efforts to have it made public.

In Super Tuesday's Shadow, Ohio's Poorest Struggle To Rise

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Exit the Madison Avenue Expressway onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just beyond a road sign advertising the Museum of Industry and Labor, and an elegant, pre-war building, red brick and multi-gabled, rises on your right. Built in 1931 and the former home of the West Federal YMCA branch, it is now owned by the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley, which houses dozens of this town's homeless residents.

Cleavon McClendon, who recently lost his job working at a Bob Evans restaurant, is among them.

"I lost Bob Evans due to Sundays," says McClendon, 36. "Sundays are their best days, busiest days, and they needed me there on Sundays as much as possible, but I couldn't be there because I don't have transportation and the bus don't run on Sundays. The bus don't run on Sundays, period."

Unable to pay his bills, he then lost his apartment and soon washed up at the side door of the mission. It was not his first time here, and his story is not unusual in a city, and a region, struggling to re-invent itself after the steel industry largely vanished.

Iowa Moves to Keep Its Factory Farms Shielded From View

On Friday, Iowa governor Terry Branstad signed a bill that will make it much more difficult for animal welfare advocates to sneak cameras into Iowa's factory livestock farms. The bill's fate is being watched nationwide, because Iowa's factory farms grow more hogs and keep more egg-laying hens than those of any other state.

The news got me to thinking of my own attempt, years ago, to peer inside an animal factory.

I was on a tour of a rural Iowa county, given by some farmers who were angry that massive hog-raising facilities had been plunked down in their community (I wrote about it here). At one point, we got out of the van so I could gape at two rows of such low-slung buildings, each holding thousands of hogs. A vast manure cesspool separated the two rows.

Santorum: Single Moms Are "Breeding More Criminals"

During his first US Senate campaign, Rick Santorum warned voters of a growing menace that was "breeding more criminals" and threatened to destroy America from within: single mothers.

"Most people agree a continuation of the current [welfare] system will be the ruination of this country," Santorum told a town meeting in Clairton, Pa., in February 1994, according to transcripts of the appearance obtained by Mother Jones. "We are seeing it. We are seeing the fabric of this country fall apart, and it's falling apart because of single moms."

Santorum, who often trumpets his role in pushing through landmark welfare reform during stump speeches and debates, made the federal program a centerpiece of his 1994 race against incumbent Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Penn.). At his Clairton town hall, Santorum came prepared with a prop—a poster-size chart tracking the increase in the welfare rolls since 1965, alongside the increase in children who were born out of wedlock.

Liberals Will Release Election Phone Records

Unexplained harassing election phone calls continued to dominate Parliament Monday, with interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae saying his party will make public its telephone records while Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro refused to promise the same of his party.

At the same time, Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott blamed Elections Canada for voters going to the wrong polling stations.

Rae said the Liberal Party was working on releasing as many of its records as it can at the same time Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro refused to release the Conservative Party's records.

Del Mastro, the prime minister's parliamentary secretary and the lead Tory on the file, demanded again that the Liberals release their phone records to prove they weren't behind the misleading phone calls.

"It's ... clear that the Liberal Party spent millions of dollars to contact hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of homes right across this country. It appears they had given them some incorrect information but the Liberal leader is sitting on all of this information while he makes unsubstantiated smears," Del Mastro said.

Sizing up a robo-scandal

The allegations surrounding the so-called "robocall" scandal are serious, and warrant close examination. More than 31,000 reports have been phoned into the offices of Elections Canada, with voters claiming that harassing or misleading telephone calls were made in the run-up to last May's federal election. If Elections Canada requires additional resources to perform a thorough investigation, such as manpower and expertise normally assigned to the RCMP, such assistance should be made available. Elections fraud is a crime, and anyone found guilty of intentionally disrupting our democratic processes through pretence or contrivance should go to jail. Every political party must cooperate fully with whatever shape the investigation ultimately takes.

But in the meantime, our political leaders - particularly those in opposition - would be well-advised to dial back their rhetoric. Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, for example, claimed that the scandal puts Canada "in uncharted waters as far as the history of the country is concerned." The NDP's Pat Martin called it a "systematic effort to undermine our democratic system by lying to people," and darkly fumed that the last election may have been "hijacked." Green party leader Elizabeth May termed the allegations a "genuine emergency."

Are we letting democracy slip away?

Technology is not only outpacing our laws, we have allowed it to hijack a few of our morals and ethics as well.

Or perhaps it has just exposed how far we have fallen as a society.

Whether it is those who take pictures at fatal accidents rather than help, cyber bullies who hide behind (or under) their keyboards, or now our political leaders, it seems you don’t need to be virtually ethical because, well, it’s not really you. Is it?

It started with Liberal Leader Bob Rae walking across the floor of the House of Commons to publicly apologize to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews after revealing that the VikiLeaks scandal, in which the minister’s dirty divorce dribble was spewed all over Twitter, was the result of a rogue Liberal staffer.

But nothing compares to the Conservatives allegedly using call centres to give conflicting or deliberately wrong information to Liberal voters on the location of their polling station. Welcome to Robo-Gate: At least 31,000 served, and counting.

Anti-Harper crowd chase their tails

Once again, the anti-Harper crowd -- the opposition, the left-wing media in the Ottawa bubble -- are off chasing the latest shiny ball, hoping this one has more substance than glitter.

They love chasing shiny balls.

Their hatred of the Harper conservatives have had them chasing the insult of prorogation, the death of the long-form census, the so-called in-and-out scandal, the treatment of Afghan detainees, et cetera.

They might as well have been chasing their tails since Canadians obviously paid them no heed.

While no one in that anti-Harper, inside-Ottawa crowd knows anyone who voted for Harper, he was nonetheless somehow able to pull off an comfortable majority in the last election.

Must have been that latest shiny ball, his critics cry.

Must have been those robocalls.

Oh. My. God.

Sorry, robots didn't highjack the election

The NSM - ­that stands for the non-Sun Media - ­thinks robots stole the last election for Stephen Harper by calling up Liberals and using their robotic powers to convince them not to vote.

The NSM is caught up in this conspiracy theory. It's become a mania. They've whipped each other up. It's a study in the madness of crowds, of pack thinking.

It's like the NSM's other bizarre obsessions. Like the long-form census that the Tories made voluntary. Or the NSM's obsession with unfounded rumours about our soldiers' treatment of Taliban prisoners; or the fake freak out over a common parliamentary procedure called prorogation; or, more recently, the fake freak out over the right to have gay divorces in Canada for gay marriages performed in other countries.

What all these fake scandalettes have in common is the NSM deciding, all together, that they've found some Watergate moment that will make them heroes and bring down the hated Conservatives. So any facts that contradict their central theory are discarded.

Today's narrative is that robots stole the election. They say Elections Canada admits that they've received "31,000 complaints" about robots so far.

You couldn't pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without hearing that stat.


We now have robo-complaints over robo-calls.

Have you seen his anywhere else?

Has this lead off the CBC or CTV news casts?

Has this been on the front page of the Star, the Globe, or any of your local papers?

Those tens of thousands of complaints to Elections Canada and others are being driven by a pair of online advocacy groups with strong ties to the far left in Canada, the Obama campaign and a host of American left-wing groups.

These groups, like the esteemed New Democrat MP Pat Martin are upset over what is happening to Canada’s democracy. Why when you look at what is happening, it’s like we’re becoming Yankees.

Everyone is worried about “American-style tactics coming to Canada. We can’t have that now can we? Those nasty Republicans will soon be running the place, likely smoking cigars and putting their feet on the furniture while they do it.

Just stop robocalling altogether

Despite all the non-stop talk about the misuse of political robocalls, the best question has not been asked. Why do political parties use them at all?

Robocalls are telemarketing of the worst sort. People phoning you at dinner time to sell something you have no interest in buying are annoying enough, but at least one can have some sympathy for those trying to make a living by doing this unappealing work, and some people really do need their ducts cleaned.

Annoying political phone messages are quite another thing. It's difficult to believe that a recorded message could persuade a voter to support a particular politician. It's much easier to believe that excessive phone calls could cost votes.

Naturally, the companies that make good money providing this service swear by it. And they have proof of its efficacy. The party that wins will inevitably have used robocalls, enabling the companies that sell the service to say the calls work. The argument is weakened by the fact that the losing parties used them, too.

Conservatives doth protest too much

An astonishingly small total of 5,184 votes in 12 of Canada's 308 federal ridings made the difference between Prime Minister Stephen Harper's "strong, stable, majority Conservative government" of 166 seats and his third round of minority government.

That's 5,184 votes out of a total of 14.59 million ballots cast.

Here are those 12 constituencies:

-- Nipissing-Temiskaming -- 18 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Etobicoke Centre -- 26 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Labrador -- 79 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Yukon -- 132 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Elmwood-Transcona -- 300 votes, Conservative over NDP.

-- Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar -- 538 votes, Conservative over NDP.

-- Bramalea-Gore-Malton -- 539 votes, Conservative over NDP.

-- Don Valley West -- 611 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Mississauga East-Cooksville -- 676 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Winnipeg South Centre -- 722 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Palliser -- 766 votes, Conservative over NDP.

-- Lotbinière-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière -- 777 votes, Conservative over NDP.

Elections Alberta investigating 52 claims of improper donations

CALGARY — Alberta’s chief electoral officer is now investigating more than 50 cases of alleged illegal donations to political parties — and actively weighing how best to penalize those responsible.

According to Elections Alberta, it has opened 61 files since the issue exploded last fall over accusations that “prohibited corporations” — public institutions such as municipalities and school boards that are barred from making partisan donations — had given money to the ruling Progressive Conservative party or its constituency associations. Elections Alberta spokesman Drew Westwater said there are 52 open investigations, while nine files have been closed because no wrongdoing took place.

In some of the open cases, a party or constituency association has already voluntarily returned donations, he said.

However, there are no cases so far where the chief electoral officer has directed a party to return money, imposed administrative penalties on a prohibited corporation or referred a case to Alberta Justice for prosecution.

Tory database likely key to cracking robocall mystery

Stephen Harper and Guy Giorno, his campaign manager, have come over like T.S. Eliot’s Macavity the Cat in relation to the robocalls saga — whatever time the deed took place, they weren’t there.

Both have made public denials about any links between robocalls and the official campaign.

How can they be so sure? Perhaps because they already have a pretty good idea who the culprit is. The digital trail likely ends inside the Conservative Party’s own computer system — specifically the Constituency Information Management System database that contains voter information and telephone numbers.

Anyone who wanted to make robocalls sending Liberal and NDP voters to the wrong polling station, similar to the one received by Liberal supporters in Guelph, would likely need CIMS to identify and then contact them. But CIMS is tightly held by the party, with access password protected.

PM mishandling robocall fiasco, but lack of proof may save him

The robocall affair has morphed into a veritable whodunnit, with Canadians continuing to puzzle over Pierre Poutine's true identity.

The only clear thing resulting from the controversy is that Canada has lost its coveted reputation for holding squeakyclean elections.

Federal Liberals are pointing to 27 ridings where they say misleading phone calls were made during the 2011 election, all but four in Ontario. The NDP says it has confirmed misdeeds in eight ridings and is probing 13 others, again mostly in Ontario.

Questions are being raised in B.C. about Prince George-Peace River, Vancouver-Quadra and Saanich-Gulf Islands, where Green MP Elizabeth May is citing misleading calls in the 2011 and 2008 elections.

By the day, more ridings are added to the robocall list, with the most comprehensive allegations involving Guelph, Ont., where a disposable cellphone registered to "Pierre Poutine" - the name of a local eatery - is now part of an Elections Canada investigation.

Late last week it reported having received 31,000 messages in relation to last year's ballot, all related to suspect phone calls. That compares to 500 such messages about the 2008 vote and just 329 from 2006.

A blood feud beyond ballots

“The jackasses at Elections Canada are out of control.”

In 2001, Stephen Harper was president of the National Citizens Coalition. That was his opening line in a fundraising letter.

His loathing for the election overseers was almost pathological, recalls Gerry Nicholls, the conservative commentator who worked with Mr. Harper at the NCC. It was a “blood feud,” he says, one that appears to be “never ending.”

But Mr. Harper had good reason, in Mr. Nicholls’s view, for his contempt. Rather than neutral public servants, the Elections Canada apparatchiks, then led by Jean-Pierre Kingsley, were “the epitome of bureaucratic evil,” with leftist axes to grind.

Mr. Harper’s wars with the ballot bureaucrats at Elections Canada while he was at the NCC were only the beginning. Some of his top men were charged with manipulating campaign finance rules during the 2006 election in what became known as the “in and out” spending scandal.

Diplomats 'targeted' influential media to boost oilsands coverage in Europe

OTTAWA — A lobbying team of Canadian diplomats promoting the oilsands in Europe engaged in "targeted outreach" to select reporters, government officials, investors and oil companies as part of an "extensive" campaign to cast doubts about proposed European climate-change policies, reveals newly released internal federal documents.

The revelations, included in reports and correspondence released through access-to-information legislation, also indicated that federal tax dollars were used to print about $2,000 worth of brochures to help the industry in its battle against the European Parliament's plan to crack down on greenhouse gas pollution from transportation fuels.

The brochures, delivered in Germany and the Netherlands, were part of a comprehensive range of activities, including "intelligence gathering," in close co-ordination with oil company executives in Europe from companies such as BP, Shell, Total and Statoil who met "regularly" with the Canadian diplomats, as well as at least one meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Ottawa stocks 'war chest' to fight labour lawsuits

The federal Treasury Board department is preparing to spend nearly $16 million this fiscal year and next to create and maintain a "litigation management unit" to handle employment issues and fund labour relations legal costs as public-sector job cuts loom.

Civil service unions fear potentially tens of thousands of job losses as part of the federal program spending review that's expected to be released in the March 29 budget and the months following it. The government is searching for a minimum $4 billion, and up to $8 billion, in annual savings over the next few years from its examination of expenditures.

Unions are vowing to take the government to court, if necessary, to maintain their collective agreements and retain jobs.

With the political stakes on the rise, the government is planning to spend nearly $16 million this fiscal year and next to establish and fund a LMU within the Treasury Board department.

Public servants went golfing, horseback riding on bidder's tab

OTTAWA -- The winner of more than a $1 billion in federal contracts lavished free horseback rides, denim shirts, harbour tours and golf tournaments on public servants who evaluated competing bids.

Royal LePage won the lucrative relocation contracts in 2002 -- and again in 2004 after the bids were retendered due to conflict of interest allegations.

Internal investigation reports, unsealed as a result of a successful QMI Agency court challenge, also detailed bid team members' attendance at gala dinners -- "drinks, dinner, music and a small gift" -- and Christmas luncheons, which began after Royal LePage landed the relocation pilot project in 1999.

Court proceedings in a $62-million civil suit filed against the federal government by losing bidder Envoy Relocation Services resumed Monday, with testimony from investigation manager Michel Genest, who probed conflict of interest claims in the 2002 bid.

Increased auditing powers for Elections Canada rejected

A House of Commons committee has recommended against giving the chief electoral officer powers similar to those of the auditor general.

The committee recommended that the chief electoral officer not receive powers to order documents about party expenses in the same way the auditor general does with federal agencies and departments.

Instead, the committee recommended that an external auditor be hired to review expense reports to ensure full compliance with election spending laws.

The auditing rules would only apply to the political parties that receive a per-vote subsidy.

"Although the (chief electoral officer) has stated this solution would increase accountability," the NDP wrote in its dissenting opinion attached to the end of the report, "the increased costs would have a detrimental impact on smaller political parties and, at present, it is unclear whether or not external auditing firms have the expertise and understanding of the Canada Elections Act to conduct compliance audits."

Politicians on the standing committee on procedure and house affairs also rejected a request from Elections Canada to enshrine into law a method for federal prisoners to cast their ballots during elections.

The disastrous consequences of the omnibus crime bill

With last week's Senate approval of Bill C-10, Canada is close to becoming the most regressive Western democracy on criminal justice. That unenviable position has most recently been occupied by the United States. But even though some of the most conservative Republicans are now arguing against over-incarceration, Canada continues to pursue that objective.

Americans have recently recognized that incarcerating 2.3 million people does not reduce the crime rate. Consequently, state after state has rolled back mandatory minimum sentences, draconian penalties, harsh parole eligibility and so on. Canada, on the contrary, is implementing all of these, plus mean-minded pardon and international prisoner transfer provisions.

A variety of constituents, including some surprising ones, have pleaded with the Conservative government to rethink its tough-on-crime agenda. Correctional officials, police chiefs, medical associations, victims advocates, prison guards, former attorneys-general and justice ministers, lawyers and judges and criminologists, people who have spent their lives learning what works to reduce crime -- all of these have warned against the consequences of Bill C-10.

We recently learned that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews does not understand what is in his own cyber surveillance law, Bill C-30. He is sensibly considering amendments to this bill in response to the surprising (to him) news that it is too intrusive; also to the outrage expressed by the public.

C-10 passes in the Senate: Why the Conservatives' crime bill is wrong for Canada

According to Statistics Canada, 2010 closed with the 33rd consecutive drop in both the rate and the severity of crime across Canada. Despite this, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has reintroduced their much-anticipated "law and order" agenda in the form of the colossal crime bill, C-10. Dubbed the Safe Streets and Communities Act, it combines nine of the former bills that had failed to pass into law due to opposition and repeated prorogations of Parliament.

Still other criminal law bills that failed to pass previously have been re-introduced separately by the Conservatives, focusing on tightening both our online freedoms and Canadian immigration law.

Safe streets and communities: Who wouldn't want that?

Despite how widespread the resistance to Bill C-10 has been, it has thus far been futile. It seems that there is no bridging the gap between conservative ideology and the truth behind the causes of community harm. The causes, of course, are poverty, unemployment, inequality and trauma. Addressing these issues requires thoughtfulness and a commitment to evidence-based practices that reflect a human rights framework.

It’s too bad Julian Assange is such an ass

Julian’s at it again. Following news of his Kremlin-funded talkshow (!?), last week saw the albino nomad kicking up controversy in London over WikiLeaks’ complicity with Belarusian despot Alexander Lukashenko. It seems WikiLeaks provided Belarus with the names of anti-Lukashenko American “agents” who were then targeted by the regime. And now, as WikiLeaks slowly releases millions of security think tank emails exposing everything from Iranian military secrets to American financial fraud, Assange has found a way to once again make it all about him and the secret U.S. plot to bring him down.

Assange’s juvenile politics, his shameless fame-whoring, his greed, his paranoia, his bad hygiene and worse behaviour: all of it has distracted from the real conversation about transparency. What if he didn’t hate the U.S., blame Jews and cozy up to despots? What if Assange was just a guy dedicated to acquiring and releasing confidential information?

We might then be spared the endless hand-wringing over the ethics of Wikileaks. The strongest moral position for a leaking site is to offer no editorial spin, to play no favourites—to simply be a distributor of information that offers true anonymity for whistleblowers. Verifying the information, redacting the sensitive parts, packaging it into appealing narratives—this is the work of journalists.

Or rather, it should be. Instead, legacy media is too easily seduced into playing the lowbrow fame game, breathing life into Assange’s creepy cult of celebrity. This infamy has been inflated by the same “real” news organs that then indignantly turn up their noses at Assange.

Ultimately, it’s not about Julian Assange. It’s about the information.

Original Article
Source: maclean's
Author: Jesse Brown

The Russian spring

It’s after midnight in Moscow. The anti-Putin rally at Pushkin Square has been broken up with — according to some reports — some 250 arrests, including opposition leader Alexey Navalny, whose accomplishments include popularizing the epithet “crooks and thieves” to describe Putin’s United Russia party. Another 300 were arrested in St. Petersburg.

I’ve got two notebooks and a digital recorder full of material which I’ll spend tomorrow trying to gather into some sort of coherent narrative for this week’s magazine. In the meantime, two thoughts:

1. This election absolutely was not legitimate. The ballot stuffing plays well on television and is easy to understand. It’s also important. But what I find more worrying is the extent to which the game is rigged before it even starts. Putin controls the political system. Candidates cannot register, political parties cannot form, without jumping through difficult hoops and getting approval from the electoral commission, run by a Putin lackey. He controls much of the media. Most significantly is the extent to which state resources are mobilized to endorse Putin. The past couple days have seen obscene displays of this: hundreds of buses ferrying in supporters from outside Moscow; victory rallies just outside the Kremlin; government departments organizing supporters. It’s a naked conflation of partisan politics and government. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela does the same thing.

2. Russians, many of them, won’t put up with this kind of crap anymore. A democratic Russian civil society is waking up. It’s members are energized, no longer cowed by authority, and are determined to change their country. It won’t be easy or fast, but they will.

Original Article
Source: maclean's
Author: Michael Petrou

Photo essay: Toronto International Women's Day march

On March 3, women from across Toronto took to the streets for International Women's Day.

The march included labour and community groups, opposition from inside and outside Parliament/City Council, and people of all ages.

Robocall storm likely being generated by voters disaffected with Conservative government, says pollster Nanos

PARLIAMENT HILL—The robocall investigations by Elections Canada could be “catastrophic” for a Conservative government that has already squandered much of its political capital since the 2011 federal election, says Ekos pollster Frank Graves.

But another prominent pollster, Nik Nanos of Nanos Research, told The Hill Times on Monday that he believes the angry response over revelations of fraudulent telephone calls misleading voters in at least one electoral district is coming primarily from the two-thirds of voters who did not cast ballots for the Conservatives last year.

Mr. Nanos compared the response—including 31,000 “contacts” and complaints over the past week and a half now under investigation by Elections Canada—to the Facebook and social media outburst over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) December, 2008, decision to prorogue Parliament to avoid a House of Commons non-confidence vote.

“Prorogation, the challenge to democracy, or the threat to democracy, was never a top issue, never,” Mr. Nano told The Hill Times.

Harper budget will hurt provinces, premiers say

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cash-strapped government will try to balance its books on the back of the provinces, the premiers of Ontario and Quebec said Monday.

The leaders of Canada's two most populous provinces say they fear more responsibilities will be downloaded to the provinces in the federal budget later this month.

The same thing happened in the 1990s under former prime minister Jean Chretien's Liberal government, but it's "nothing but a shell game," said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

"When you download responsibilities or costs from one level of government to the next, taxpayers simply pay the same costs to a different government," he said. "In the end, no one wins."

Yet it appears the Harper Conservatives are headed in that direction by passing on the costs of health care and their crime bill to the provinces, McGuinty said.

Toronto hate crimes unit ends Don Jail racism probe

The hate crimes unit at the Toronto Police Service is no longer investigating racist hate mail targeting a black guard at the Don Jail.

CBC News reported Monday that the guard, Leroy Cox, has asked Ontario's Human Rights Tribunal for an investigation into racist graffiti and hate mail targeting black officers. The complaint suggests the racism originates with other staff at the Toronto Jail, commonly known as the Don Jail.

Cox's lawyer, Julian Falconer, wrote a letter in 2010 to Toronto police alleging that mail sent to the jail advocated "for the killing of black correctional officers," prompting the Toronto Police Service to open a separate hate-crimes investigation.

Cox had believed that probe was still open, but learned on Monday that his case had been transferred back to officers at 55 Division, the local police detachment near the jail.

Falconer said it shows police are not taking the case seriously.

On a cold night in Pushkin Square, Vladimir Putin prevails

Sergei Udaltsov knows how a Russian revolutionary is supposed to behave. As the crowd of protesters around him started to disperse, the bald-headed leader of the radical group Left Front climbed onto the stone ledge of an empty fountain with a megaphone in his hand. “We’re not leaving! We’re not leaving!” he shouted. A few hundred others eagerly took up the chant.

The problem was that most of the estimated 20,000 people who filled Moscow’s Pushkin Square to protest Vladimir Putin’s imminent return to the Kremlin were indeed leaving. It was a Monday night, after all, and Tuesday morning means back to the office. Besides, it was cold and snowing and many hadn’t yet eaten dinner.

In that moment – as the bulk of the middle-class crowd filed out of the square, leaving a small number of protesters surrounded by a thick cordon of riot police – Russia’s rising political opposition quietly declared that it is not yet ready to challenge Mr. Putin or the police.

Robo-calls? Get a grip. We’re Canadian

What’s happened to my country? I went away for a couple of weeks and all hell broke loose. I came back to find that someone named Poutine stole the last election. At first I thought this was a typo, that they meant Putin. But no. It turns out that Russia is a shining beacon of democracy compared to Canada. Apparently, our country has been hijacked by “the most comprehensive electoral fraud in our nation’s history” (Pat Martin, NDP critic). Voter suppression – lying, cheating and general chicanery – has driven us into “uncharted waters” (Bob Rae, Liberal Leader).

I certainly don’t wish to make light of voter fraud. But this fraud seems to have been engineered by the Keystone Kops. Not a single voter claims to have been prevented from voting. No ballot boxes appear to have been stuffed. Nobody was fraudulently elected. There weren’t even any hanging chads. Elections Canada says 31,000 Canadians have complained, but the vast majority of these complaints (“somebody called me at 10 p.m.”) seem trivial.

The dirty trickster at the heart of this evil scheme turns out to be someone with the nom de plume of Pierre Poutine (real identity unknown). Mr. Poutine and his henchmen were not personally directed by Stephen Harper but are widely thought to have been channelling him. In Guelph, Ont., they engineered a bunch of robo-calls that directed people to show up at non-existent voting stations. This tactic was evidently intended to discourage people who didn’t support the Conservatives from voting. It was so effective that the Liberal candidate won by a margin of 11 per cent.

Oil sands fuel a new manufacturing boom – in Alberta

At the Pipeline Alley Café, a sign in the busy diner promotes its signature dish – the Pipeliner, a monster two-patty burger heaped with bacon, cheese and mushrooms, complete with fries, for less than $10.

They think big in Nisku, a sprawling industrial complex just south of Edmonton – and they think a lot about pipes, which are fitted here into configurations that, in labyrinthine complexity, overshadow even the local eatery’s layered burger.

In the pock-marked roads outside the café, truckloads of raw steel pipe rumble in, and intricately connected pipe modules roll out, most of them destined for the oil sands near Fort McMurray, 600 kilometres to the north.

In the past few decades, Nisku, with a work force approaching 15,000, has grown from flat moose pasture to the pipe fabrication capital of Canada – and the massive marshalling yard for the great oil sands supply chain.

Elections Canada targets PayPal records in robo-calls probe

Elections Canada’s hunt for the identity of the political operative behind robo-calls designed to misdirect voters in Guelph has led the watchdog to records at PayPal Canada, a company that handles online payments and money transfers.

Investigators for Elections Canada have used a court order in an attempt to get PayPal to hand over information sought for their probe into the southwestern Ontario riding.

They have been trying to unmask the person behind the alias “Pierre Poutine,” whom the election watchdog alleges was connected to the Conservative campaign in Guelph and used an off-the-books scheme to discourage opposition voters from casting ballots last May.

“PayPal has been served a production order in regards to the Elections Canada investigation,” company spokeswoman Martha Cass said Monday.

Production orders are court orders to turn over documents.

The company said it is co-operating with the probe but declined to elaborate.

Mayor Rob Ford getting bad advice, ally says

An ally of Mayor Rob Ford says the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, and his advisers share blame in Ford’s loss of control of the TTC.

Peter Milczyn, who was re-elected to the TTC board Monday, told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning that Ford’s transit message has been “very muddled.”

“I think he’s received bad advice from his advisers, about how the subway could be delivered — I think, bad strategic advice from his advisers,” Milczyn said.

“And I have to say that Councillor Ford has had a tendency to continually add fuel to the fire when others of us have been trying to douse the flames.”

Both Fords, and most of their council allies, chose Milczyn over Stintz on Monday’s vote for TTC chair. Rob Ford’s prime adviser on transit has been his policy chief Mark Towhey, while his chief of staff, Amir Remtulla, has overseen the political persuasion.

Mayor Rob Ford down to his last strike in TTC debacle

Mayor Rob Ford is down to his last strike in a titanic transit tussle waged against his own city council majority that opposes the mayor’s all-subway vision.

City council removed Ford’s allies from the transit commission Monday and installed a new team that promises to abide by council’s wishes. It was council’s second straight rebuff of the mayor and sets up the final political encounter when council votes March 21 on the future of transit along Sheppard Ave. East.

Forced into a corner by a mayor who won’t take no for an answer, Toronto City Council has seized control of the transit file in an unprecedented coup.

“Council has control over council,” said Councillor Joe Mihevc, when asked if Ford has lost his leadership grip.

Through sheer arrogance and stubbornness — plus an inability to govern and use power levers greater than every other Ontario mayor possesses — Ford has managed to become a poster child for how not to be a mayor.

Don't balance federal budget on our backs, Ontario and Quebec warn

Battered by weak economies and weighted down with debt, the premiers of Ontario and Quebec have united to accuse the Harper government of putting its own fiscal house in order at the expense of the provinces.

With a new federal budget to be tabled in just over three weeks, tensions between Ottawa and many provinces are building as fiscally challenged premiers fret about further erosion in transfer payments for health care and other programs.

Visiting Toronto Monday, Quebec Premier Jean Charest joined his Ontario counterpart Dalton McGuinty in warning Ottawa not to balance its books by downloading costs onto cash-strapped provinces. He also offered a history lecture to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying that in times of strong majority government in Ottawa, the provinces can offer an effective check on federal power.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who is to table his budget on March 29, showed little patience for arguments that Central Canada is a special case.

Attorney General Eric Holder Defends Legality of Targeted Killings of U.S. Citizens Overseas

Using armed drones, President Obama has overseen the targeted killing of at least three U.S. civilians overseas — more than President Bush did in office. Are the killings legal? Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, says Attorney General Eric Holder’s defense on Monday of the Obama administration’s policy authorizing the assassination of U.S. citizens abroad “left open more questions than it answered.” She says Holder’s speech amounted to a broad defense of the administration’s claimed expansive authority to kill its own citizens, far from any battlefield and without judicial review or oversight of legal standards. "While Holder acknowledges that the Constitution requires ‘due process’ before the government takes the life of one of its own citizens,” Shamsi argues, “he says it is up to the Executive Branch alone, without judicial review, to determine what process is due and to make that decision without any oversight — and that’s simply not the case in our constitutional system of checks and balances.” The ACLU is suing the White House to disclose its legal memos that justify targeted killings.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Robocalls: Elections Canada Warned Parties Not To Call Voters With Polling Locations

OTTAWA - The Conservative party asked for the location of all polling stations and then contacted voters about where to find them during last year's federal campaign, despite a request they not do so by Elections Canada for fear of muddying the election-day waters.

It's just the latest wrinkle in an evolving investigation into evidence that someone impersonated an Elections Canada official in order to misdirect voters to the wrong polling stations.

Elections Canada is investigating clear evidence of fraudulent calls in Guelph, Ont., amid an avalanche of unverified complaints of similar fake calls across the country.

Elections Canada confirms the Conservative party requested a list of all polling stations before the federal vote last May 2, and that as a result the elections watchdog provided the list to all parties.

In its statutory report following the 2011 campaign, released last August, Elections Canada highlighted the incident in a separate box.

Robo-calls: Elections Canada probing fraudulent calls in Ontario riding of Nipissing-Temiskaming

OTTAWA—Federal elections investigators are probing robo-calls in another riding — Nipissing-Temiskaming in northern Ontario — that could have tipped one of the tightest races in the country in favour of the Conservative party, the Star has learned.

In the week before Election Day, an automated voice message was received by a North Bay environmental activist that raised her suspicions.

“I got a call that said it was Elections Canada calling to say that due to higher than anticipated voter turnout that my polling place was changed,” said Peggy Walsh Craig.

In an interview with the Star, the woman said she had received two calls during the spring 2011 campaign, the first a few weeks before voting day on May 2. It asked if she intended to vote for the Conservative party. She did not. The second came in the week prior to the election.

Walsh Craig recalled wondering how did Elections Canada get her phone number, and how would it know voting turnout was high in the days before the election. She did not know at the time that the telephone call she described as “really strange” would be replicated in households across the country.

Elections Canada probing spending records of Conservative campaign in robocall scandal

OTTAWA — Elections Canada investigators probing the robocalls scandal are interviewing workers on the Conservative campaign in Guelph, Ont., and trying to determine why payments made to an Edmonton voice-broadcasting company were not declared in financial reports filed with the agency.

In recent days, the agency has spoken to at least three workers from the campaign of Conservative candidate Marty Burke, including the official agent responsible for ensuring the campaign's financial report was accurate.

Elections Canada wants to know why the costs of automated calls the campaign has admitted sending out never appeared in the campaign's expense report, as required by law.

Andrew Prescott, the deputy campaign manager, said he is co-operating with the investigation and handing over bills he received from RackNine Inc. for a series of robocalls promoting Burke events during the election.

The same company was used to transmit misleading Elections Canada calls on election day.