Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Friday, March 09, 2012

Known to police: Toronto police stop and document black and brown people far more than whites

In a cramped office in the Weston-Mt. Dennis neighbourhood, this question is put to young men taking part in a program designed to keep them from the trouble that comes with gangs, guns and drugs:

Do you think police have stopped, questioned and documented every young man of colour in this neighbourhood?

    Known to police: Read the whole series

To a one, the young men agree that is the case in their part of town, one of 13 designated by the city as priority districts, and one where there had been a spate of homicides. (Scroll down for supporting graphics.)

“I am sure of it,” says Arnold Jeyabalan, 25, a case manager and employment counsellor with Prevention Intervention Toronto, the federally funded pilot project operating in this office off the lobby of an apartment building. The project closes at the end of March.

“At least once,” continues Jeyabalan, who grew up in Malvern, another of the city’s at-risk neighbourhoods, and has worked with youth in Weston-Mt. Dennis since 2007.

Rob Ford’s power problem

The loss Rob Ford suffered this week – yet again – on the transit file demonstrates how poorly he understands his own job description and the powers associated with it.

Our chief magistrate has limited powers not by accident but by design. And his job is to use them wisely.

As Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli, a former Ottawa mayor, said recently, “I learned a long time ago that a mayor’s most important asset is patience.”

These restrictions must be frustrating for someone committed to making radical changes, because that project relies on exactly what the current mayor has demonstrated little aptitude for: cooperation.

That need to engage others explains why mayors over the last 50 years have largely been former councillors who have had the experience of navigating council to get motions passed. Ford, perhaps because of his outsider persona on council for 10 years and his tendency not to engage in governing through committee work, obviously missed some of the basic lessons.

NYPD Surveillance: New Documents Further Confirm Spying Focused Specifically On Muslims

NEW YORK — The New York Police Department collected information on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims, according to newly obtained secret documents. They show in the clearest terms yet that police were monitoring people based on religion, despite claims from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the contrary.

The NYPD has faced intense criticism from Muslims, lawmakers – and even the FBI – for widespread spying operations that put entire neighborhoods under surveillance. Police put the names of innocent people in secret files and monitored the mosques, student groups and businesses that make up the Muslim landscape of the northeastern U.S.

Bloomberg has defended his department's efforts, saying they have kept the city safe, were completely legal and were not based on religion.

"We don't stop to think about the religion," Bloomberg said at a news conference in August after The Associated Press began revealing the spying. "We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there."

Black Unemployment Grows, Even As Economy Adds Jobs

While some have celebrated the 227,000 jobs created by the U.S. economy in February, that good fortune was not spread equally across all groups. Both Black and Latino workers saw their unemployment rates climb, reversing course from significant but difficult-to-explain decreases earlier this year.

So far 2012 has consistently produced an average of more than 200,000 jobs each month. And while the broader economy remains vulnerable to shocks from the European debt crisis and rising gas prices, it too has shown signs of momentum.

In January, black and Latino workers appeared to benefit from the economy's gains. Black joblessness fell to 13.6 percent from 15.8 percent in December. It was a change so sharp that it left many economists surprised and perplexed, said Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington, D.C.-based economic think tank.

Scott O'Malia, Commodity Futures Commissioner, Seeks To Upend Wall Street Reform

WASHINGTON -- In a signal that partisan squabbling in the nation's capital may be reaching new levels of rancor, a key Republican regulator is pursuing an unusual avenue to overturn a Wall Street reform rule issued by his own agency. Scott O'Malia, one of five commissioners who lead the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is asking a powerful White House office that has no actual authority over the CFTC to assess his agency's work.

If the Office of Management and Budget were to take O'Malia up on his suggestion, it would radically change the way some federal regulations are written and severely hamper implementation of a host of rules mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.

It would also be illegal, according to Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a nonprofit financial reform advocacy group. Kelleher points out that the CFTC is an independent federal agency exempt from oversight by White House offices in order to avoid political interference in the technical regulatory process.

Gov. Chris Christie Calls Veteran An 'Idiot' In Shouting Match

Gov. Chris Christie argued with a former Navy SEAL Thursday over the state's plans to reconfigure public universities in New Jersey -- resulting in Christie calling the man an idiot.

William Brown -- a Rutgers-Camden law student opposes the governor's plan to merge his school with Rowan University, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Brown asked the governor during a town hall meeting in Burlington County to consider how the merger would affect students, and veteran students in particular, before going ahead with his plan. Christie responded by telling Brown the merger was going to happen because it would provide bigger and better opportunities.

The situation escalated into a shouting match, and Brown continued to make his argument while Christie was speaking, saying that no one in South Jersey wanted this to happen.

Laissez Cato Faire

Like many other longstanding friends of the Cato Institute, I am appalled to learn of the Koch brothers' attempt to take it over and convert it into some kind of weapons factory for conservative and Republican organizations. Over the last 35 years, a combination of strong libertarian principles, sound leadership and integrity have built Cato into the pre-eminent libertarian think tank on the planet. I can't for the life of me understand why anyone who supports the principles for which Cato stands would wish to mess with such a successful formula and risk destroying it all.

A Koch-controlled Cato would no longer be the same Cato Institute, and would strike a major blow at some of Cato's key principles, not least its commitment to nonpartisanship and libertarian non-conservative causes (such as support for gay marriage, an end to the war on drugs, opposition to overseas adventurism, etc.). It would also strike at Cato's independence and institutional integrity, and do enormous and probably irreparable damage to its stellar reputation. This reputation took decades to build up, but could be destroyed in an instant.

The most likely outcome of a Koch takeover is that Cato would be eviscerated, the brand would be destroyed and the Kochs would take over an empty shell -- in short, the outcome would be a catastrophe, and even the winners would gain nothing.

Cato's succcess is due in great part to the quality of its existing leadership and to the confidence that that engenders in those of us who work for or with the Institute -- as I have had the honor to do for almost a quarter of a century. One thinks especially of Ed Crane, David Boaz, Jim Dorn and the late and much missed Bill Niskanen. If a Koch takeover were to lead them to step down, then I (and doubtless many other affiliates of Cato) would have no choice but to follow them and sever our links with the Institute as well, before rejoining them in a new start-from-scratch Cato II. But it would be a real shame if it ever came to that.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Kevin Dowd

Mitt Romney Praises Chinese Regulators

At a town hall in Jackson, Miss., on Friday morning, Mitt Romney offered his usual full-throated defense of free enterprise and small government. He criticized the large number of employees and small workload in the Navy purchasing department, said health care needed to operate more like a private market, and told the audience, "I want freedom to reign forever in this country."

But in an answer warning against the dangers of over-regulation, Romney chose a curious example to tout free enterprise: China.
I got the chance after I lost to John McCain last time, to go over to -- that was the good part of losing -- I got to go to the Olympic Games in China. It's pretty impressive over there how quickly they can build things, how productive they are as a society. You should see their airport compared to our airports, their highways, their train systems. They're moving quickly in part because the regulators see their job as encouraging private people. It's amazing. The head of Coca-Cola said the business environment is friendlier in China than in America. And that's because of the regulators. That's because of government.
They're also moving quickly, of course, because China's communist government can seize property by fiat and marshal state-owned industries to build large projects. While much of China's economy is capitalist, Romney's praise of infrastructure projects like roads and airports seemed to be an odd defense of centrally directed economics.

His comments also contrasted sharply with his typically harsh rhetoric on China, which he routinely refers to as a "currency manipulator" and threatens with higher tariffs.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Max J. Rosenthal

Keystone XL Contract Reveals More Evidence Of Conflict Of Interest

WASHINGTON -- The contract assigning a third-party company to investigate the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL project adds to questions about the impartiality of the study, after the document was shown to be a binding contract between the outside company and the company building the pipeline, not the State Department.

The contract, posted quietly to a State Department website on Friday in response to a request by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), shows that it is a signed agreement between Entrix, an outside consultant, and TransCanada, the pipeline builder.

The posted version was also heavily excised, with most names and numbers, as well as some entire pages, blacked out.

"What appears to have happened was Entrix was doing an environmental study intending to minimize the potential environmental impacts of Keystone XL," said Anthony Swift, an energy lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's sadly not incredibly surprising. We were dealing with an environmental review that was done by Entrix on TransCanada's behalf, and that does not pass muster of environmental law."

Tax Freedom Day far earlier for corporate Canada than the rest of us

“Corporate Tax Freedom Day,” by the Canadian Labour Congress’s calculation, arrived February 1. On that day, Corporate Canada had paid the equivalent of all the taxes that would be imposed on it this year by all levels of government.

You can argue with the CLC’s methodology and its larger agenda of income equality for Canadians. But the calculation is long overdue. As we prepare this month for individual tax time, it’s helpful, finally, to have a comparison with the “Tax Freedom Day” that right-wing groups have been using for generations to accuse government of dipping too deeply into our pockets.

For Canadians, this year’s supposed Tax Freedom Day will arrive in June. That’s when, according to this 64-year-old conceit of right-wing anti-government types, we will have earned enough income to cover our total annual government tax bite.

The TFD concept is nonsensical, of course. And that’s putting aside the dubious methodology employed by the Fraser Institute, the nest of right-wing vipers who are the TFD’s local branch plant. The concept originated with a Florida businessman, Dallas Hosteler, who sold the U.S. rights to his concept to the Koch brothers- and ExxonMobil-funded Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Canada Unemployment: Stephen Harper Disappointed In Numbers, Sees Silver Lining

TORONTO - Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls the February jobs report disappointing but notes there's a trend of increasing full-time employment.

Statistics Canada said today that Canada's unemployment rate fell to 7.4 per cent as more people stopped looking for work.

Speaking in Toronto, Harper called the report disappointing, and said Canada's economic recovery "remains fragile."

But he also said there's a trend of increases in the number of full-time jobs as more part-time jobs are upgraded.

Economists had expected a modest pick-up of 15,000 jobs in February, but there was a contraction in the workforce.

Harper also noted that the American jobs picture is getting brighter.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Canadian Press

Ghost of Fannie Mae Haunts Canadian Housing as Exposure Worsens: Mortgages

The Canadian housing agency’s vulnerability to mortgage defaults has soared nine-fold in 20 years, approaching levels reached by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the U.S. at the height of the housing boom. Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. says its finances are secure unless the country plunges into deep recession for several years.

Government-owned CMHC insured C$541 billion ($546 billion) in mortgages as of Sept. 30, an amount equal to 31 percent of Canada’s annual gross domestic output, as home prices climb and construction expands. In 2006, when U.S. home prices peaked, the combined exposure of the government-backed agencies to potential defaults was slightly more than a third the size of the economy, according to Bloomberg calculations based on U.S. Federal Reserve data. Fannie and Freddie were bailed out in 2008.

“If a significant number of homeowners default, CMHC would have a lot of claims they would have to pay out,” said John Andrew, real-estate professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Homes would “sell at greatly discounted prices as supply exceeds demand,” he said, adding “the risk of this is significant.”

Preston Manning condemns voter suppression robocalls

The patriarch of the modern-day conservative movement in Canada is calling for better ethical training for campaign workers in the wake of the robocall scandal.

But one-time Reform party leader Preston Manning also cautions against pointing the finger for the scandal at the Tories, saying the problem is much broader.

Manning condemned the idea of campaigns using robocalls to harass voters or divert them to the wrong polls.

"I've spent my life trying to get people to participate more in the political system and trying to vote more," he told reporters on the sidelines of a conservative conference sponsored by his Centre for Democracy.

"And the fact that there would be people out trying to work in the opposite direction is deplorable."

Elections Canada is investigating instances of voters being directed to non-existent polls in the riding of Guelph, Ont., and a Conservative party worker connected to the campaign there has since resigned.

Travel insurance loophole devastates B.C. couple

The travel health insurance that millions of Canadians buy may offer no protection at all if they answer a single question incorrectly — no matter how innocent the error — on a medical questionnaire full of convoluted language, confusing clauses and tricky definitions, the CBC's Marketplace has learned.

For some people, the result can be financial ruin when their claims are denied.

That’s what happened to Bill Jennings, 67, and his wife Tracy, 48, of Gold River, B.C., who bought travel insurance from Manulife before leaving on a trip to Fort Walton, Fla., in December 2010.

They filled out the application, including the medical questionnaire, online and thought they were covered in case of illness during their trip.

In Florida, Bill had chest pains and numbness in his arm. He discovered he had suffered a heart attack and needed emergency surgery to remove five blockages in his heart.

Why were gay-rights groups shut out of Queen's Jubilee awards process?

Gay-rights groups aren’t among the 168 community organizations invited by the Harper government to nominate Canadians for a prestigious medal marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Among the list, however, is REAL Women of Canada – a conservative women’s group some critics call homophobic.

The saga has left leaders in Canada’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community wondering why they were frozen out while REAL Women (which speaks out against “gay-friendly” schools, laments the “highly sexualized gay agenda” and is a frequent intervenor in gay rights court cases) was included.

“If you’re going to have them at the table, you need to balance them out,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, a gay-rights group among those not invited and one of several people who believes REAL Women is homophobic.

“They’re not on my Christmas card list, that’s for sure,” Ms. Kennedy told The Globe. “... They certainly do not reflect the progressive voice of women in this country.”

Unemployment: Why Canada is trailing the U.S. on jobs

It’s a tale of two very different job markets.

While Canada’s employment growth stalled in February, the U.S. job market took another leap forward.

One reason is the consumer.

In Canada, consumer spending is slowing while in the U.S. it’s starting to pick up.

And consumers tend to create jobs in labour-intensive industries, such as home construction and retailing.

Canada shed 2,800 jobs last month, Statistics Canada said Friday. That’s well below the estimated 15,000 gain economists had expected, marking the fifth month in a row the numbers have disappointed.

Canada’s unemployment rate dipped to 7.4 per cent last month, but only because 38,000 people gave up looking for work, the data also showed.

Air Canada: PM Stephen Harper defends government block of March Break lockout, strike

Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his government’s tough-love approach to Air Canada’s labour dispute, saying intervention was warranted because a strike could have hurt the country’s economy.

“I can only say that during this period, firstly of the global economic crisis, and now of the global recovery, it’s essential that we don’t have big problems and big crises in the Canadian economy that can impede the recovery,” said Harper, speaking in French at a press conference Friday to announce a tunnel to Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport.

Last week, Statistics Canada revealed the Canadian economy grew by 2.5 per cent in 2011, down from 3.2 per cent the previous year.

On Thursday, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt asked the Canada Industrial Relations Board to look into Air Canada’s disputes with two of its unions, which means there can be neither a strike nor a lockout until the CIRB probe is finished.

It wouldn’t take long before a work stoppage at the country’s largest airline rippled into the broader economy, Harper argued Friday.

Robocalls: Older voters targeted by election day phone calls, Elections Canada believes

OTTAWA—Automated phone calls that directed people to the wrong polling stations in the last federal election may have overwhelmingly targeted older voters, the Toronto Star has learned.

Elections Canada investigators sifting through a flood of complaints that have emerged about dirty tricks in the spring 2011 campaign have started to notice this pattern as they call individuals to verify details of the suspicious phone calls they reported receiving.

Most of those who received an automated phone call telling them their polling station had been changed say they were contacted early in the campaign by the Conservative Party and indicated that they would not be supporting their local Tory candidate.

Now federal elections officials say that the fraudulent phone calls appear to have targeted older voters.

“Every single person I’ve contacted has been (born) between 1947 and 1949,” said one unidentified Elections Canada employee who was following up on the complaints Friday morning.

Watching a once-great party circle the drain

Nothing would be easier than to laugh at the Republican Party, whose presidential candidates have vied for our amusement. A more dismal group has not been assembled since Sarah Palin dined alone.

Those who remain in the race for the Republican nomination, and those who have departed it, made up a group characterized by insularity, intellectual shallowness and meanness of spirit, coupled with an unshakable eagerness to pander to every holy roller, Tea Partier, gun worshipper, global warming denier, government hater, nativist and billionaire financier – or, as Yeats would say, “the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

That this crop of candidates was the best that a once-great party could muster says much about the state of presidential politics, Republican-style. It says even more about the state of conservative opinion in America.

That opinion, with all its shadings, is best characterized by a consuming anger – which explains why the campaign hasn’t been about differences or vision but about resentment and fear and perfervid rhetoric that candidates have directed at each other and at real and imagined threats ranging from Barack Obama to Muslims, China, European “socialists,” excessive government and mad Iranian mullahs.

Privacy czar fears behaviour observation program could involve racial profiling

OTTAWA - Canada's privacy watchdog is concerned a new security plan to closely eye the behaviour of air passengers could amount to racial profiling.

In a letter to Canada's air security agency, the federal privacy commissioner's office also raises a flag about possible misuse of passenger information gathered through the proposed program.

"We believe that the information collected is adequate to identify an individual and may be easily linked to other sources of identifiable information," says the letter from Steve Morgan, director general of the privacy commissioner's audit and review branch.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the March 2011 letter spelling out the privacy czar's concerns about the passenger behaviour observation program.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, responsible for air passenger screening, has been studying the possibility of such a program to thwart terrorist plots. It notes the commission of inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing warned against relying exclusively on technology for vetting air passengers.

Use cuts to remake public service: committee

Senior bureaucrats should use the Conservatives' spending cuts and push for smaller government to "drive transformation" in their departments and change how the public service works, manages its people and serves Canadians, says the prime minister's advisory committee on the public service.

David Emerson, the cochair of the advisory committee, said the downsizing provides an ideal opportunity for the public service to remake itself with a new "business model" for the 21st century. He said the biggest challenge for the government is "staying focused" on long-term goals.

"It will be a smaller public service, more technology-enabled, and will have people that are more multi-skilled and much more international in their thinking, skills and capacity," said Emerson.

The government and senior bureaucracy have been pitching a similar message of "transformation" to dress up the reductions as employees wait to find out where the axe will fall when the Conservatives announce the reductions of their deficit-reduction action plan in the March 29th budget.

The report, titled Moving Ahead: Public Service Renewal in a Time of Change, is the committee's sixth since it was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It is chaired by Paul Tellier, Canada's top bureaucrat under Brian Mulroney and Emerson, a former Liberal and later Conservative cabinet minister.

Robocalls spin unsettling

The federal Conservatives are sending troubling messages to the public in their communications on the robocalls file.

The government’s recent comments in the House of Commons on this subject suggest it doesn’t regard this seriously enough.

The government has adopted a spin position that this issue is only a partisan “smear campaign.”

It has also rolled out a variety of different attack-responses on this subject. Among those have been assertions that the robocalls might have been a result of Elections Canada errors or of Liberals phoning their own supporters to harass them. It has also made these while stating both that the Conservative Party of Canada is conducting an internal investigation into the robocalling and that it is not investigating this matter. And it should not be forgotten that the party has also floated the idea that this episode might be the work of a “rogue” operative of the party.

Canadian Forces Members Upset with Defence Minister Peter MacKay Over What They Say Are Cuts to Post Living Differential

Defence Watch has received a number of emails lately from Canadian Forces members who say they’ve been briefed that the Post Living Differential (PLD) is going to be cut in half as of the 1st of April.

“The PLD is designed for areas with high cost of living and the last time I checked the cost of living is going up, not down,” wrote one CF member. “There are other cuts coming including elimination of the regular force severance package.”

Several of those voicing their concern about the cuts accused Defence Minister Peter MacKay of reneging on an election promise he made last year. They are referring to comments the MacKay made in a Canadian Press article in April when concerns were that the PLD would be cut. At the time, MacKay said that was not the case but added there was some administrative tinkering going on.

MacKay promised that a re-elected Conservative government would not touch the PLD, which costs the CF/DND about $150 million a year, according to the Canadian Press article.

 Defence Watch contacted Mr. MacKay’s office to ask about the claims from CF members about the PLD cuts. The minister’s spokesman, Jay Paxton, emailed this response:

Protests launch campaign to stop war on Iran

A series of anti-war demonstrations took place across Canada last week that marked the beginning of a co-ordinated campaign to oppose sanctions and war on Iran. A total of seven actions were organized in Toronto, Ottawa, London and Vancouver, including rallies, marches, information pickets and a "die-in," with support from the Canadian Peace Alliance (CPA). The protests coincided with a three-day visit to Canada by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in Ottawa on March 2 to drum up support for an Israeli attack on Iran. Netanyahu's stopover in Canada was followed by his meeting in Washington with Barack Obama to press the case for war.

The first action was on February 23, when the Ottawa Peace Assembly (OPA) held a march and die-in to challenge the annual meeting of the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA), a gathering of war profiteers, Harper government cabinet ministers, and military commanders (from Canada, the U.K. and the U.S.) that is co-sponsored by NATO. The CDA, little known outside Ottawa, is an influential umbrella lobby group for the arms industry that is lobbying for war on Iran, just as it supported Canadian military participation in Afghanistan.

On March 2, OPA picketed a media conference of Netanyahu and Stephen Harper on Parliament Hill. In Vancouver, hosted a solidarity picket during the Ottawa action, distributing information leaflets and displaying anti-war banners outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. is mobilizing for a city-wide rally on March 17.

Increasing number of migrant labourers in Nova Scotia deserve adequate protection

According to a Citizenship and Immigration Canada report, the number of migrant labourers in Canada increased from 177,781 to 432,682 between 2000 and 2010. Immigrant Settlement Integration Services says the number of foreign workers entering Nova Scotia has almost doubled in the last five years, from 1,495 to 2,795 and appears to be a growing trend.

A recent article written by CCPA-NS Research Associate and Dalhousie University Associate Professor Howard Ramos explores these trends.

Ramos explains that temporary foreign workers are those who come to Canada to fill gaps where employers are unable to find the labour they need. The migrants are often able to gain skills and remit money back to their families while working various jobs. Contrary to popular belief, only about two per cent work as labourers, while 25 per cent are clerical workers and another 25 per cent are professionals.

Ramos points out in his letter in the Chronicle Herald that some forms of privatization and liberalization of immigration have potential to inflict serious harm, both on foreign and domestic workers: "The cost of allowing companies to recruit temporary foreign works is high, both with respect to the potential of exploiting workers in the service sector and in terms of creating a foreign underclass of workers..."

Immigration and the Harper version of multiculturalism

This week Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the energizer bunny of the Harper cabinet, popped up to put more polish on his argument that immigration needs to be driven by business specs. "People with flexible human capital, high levels of language proficiency and a pre-arranged job," he said, "are set for success, so that will be an important guidepost as we move toward transformational change."

My question is: If his policies are about nation-building, as he often proclaims, why does it sound so boring? Like an accountant's approach: plug in the figures, match them with skill sets and out comes a nation. For most of recent history, immigration to the New World was, for those experiencing it, an adventure, full of tragedy, achievement, a sense of loss yet creativity. Where do you plug that in, minister?

Of course, those earlier phases were based on economic criteria too: Chinese workers who built the railway, Italians who built cities, Jews in the needle trades -- but they were less predictable demographics than Kenney's credentialed professionals, who might turn bitter if they're driving cabs rather than going straight to an "average annual salary of $79,000."

Roboscam: So what are the chances Harper knew?

In trying to determine who is at fault in the robocall scam and other voter manipulation schemes, look to the numbers.

If the evidence of dirty work is limited to just a few random ridings, it means some low-level flunkies could have been the culprits, out of sight and out of mind of the Conservative Party’s power brokers. If it develops, however, that this was a widespread operation with multiple swing ridings involved, then it is time to get suspicious.

Given the top-down absolutist manner in which the Conservative Party is run, there is no chance an election operation of any size or significance could be carried out without the knowledge of the party brass. In Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party all power resides in the hands of a few. No dissent and no going off message is tolerated. The party even did away with college and university youth clubs. It’s what Tom Flanagan calls the garrison party.

Thus far, the evidence as to the incidence of the dirty work in the last election is mixed. No one should start jumping to any conclusions. It’s very unlikely that Stephen Harper was an architect of any widespread vote suppression campaign. Even if he were, it’s unlikely we’d ever know about it. Failproof deniability scenarios would surely have been put in place.

"Beautiful Souls": Eyal Press on the Whistleblowers Who Risk All to "Heed the Voice of Conscience"

From corporate whistleblowers to Army refuseniks, a new book, "Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times," explores what compels ordinary people to defy the sway of authority and convention for the greater good. "I feel like we have two very different discourses about whistleblowers in this country," says the book’s author, Eyal Press. "On the one hand, when you see them cast in Hollywood movies, they’re invariably heroes, played by leading actors and actresses, and everybody salutes them... On the other hand, when we have whistleblowers actually speaking up in real time, the response is very different."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

U.S. Faces Challenge to "Drug War" as Latin American Countries Mull Decriminalization, Legalization

As Vice President Joe Biden wraps up a trip to Central America insisting the drug war must continue, a growing number of Latin American leaders are calling for the decriminalization or legalization of drugs. "This debate now is no longer going to be suppressed," says Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Once U.S. officials are obliged to participate in the discussion and to do it in a real way, the smartest among them know there’s no way to defend the current U.S. strategy."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

Ring around the robocalls

Conservatives quietly admit something went wrong in that Guelph riding. Their mission now is to stop the scandal from infecting the rest of the party.

In the spring of 2005, his minority Liberal government reeling from revelations at Justice John Gomery’s inquiry into millions in misused federal sponsorship funds in Quebec, then-prime minister Paul Martin went on TV to plead his case. He pledged to call an election within 30 days of Gomery issuing his final report, and apologized to Canadians for not realizing public money was being misdirected until long after the fact. Stephen Harper, then leading the Conservatives in opposition, was scorching in his televised response. Harper accused Martin of “turning a blind eye to it all,” and spoke sweepingly of “Liberal corruption.” If Martin depicted the wrongdoing as serious, but limited, and his party as ready to make it right, Harper condemned Liberals in general, particularly in Quebec, as “tarnished beyond redemption.”

The EU’s solutions add to Greece’s chaos

The smell of wood burning in fireplaces all around Athens has become a metaphor for the gradual pauperization of Greece’s middle class. Seventy years after the Nazi occupation and famine of 1941, the capital’s residents are once again burning through the country’s forests to keep their houses warm at a time of sky-high heating costs.

The austerity measures imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund are tearing through the fabric of Greek society and transforming the political landscape. The coming election is expected to reconfigure parliamentary geography, producing a fragmented scene of eight to nine parties.

This outcome will inevitably lead to a coalition government of the two weakened centre-left and centre-right parties that have dominated Greece for the past 40 years. This coalition of the unwilling will face an array of extreme left and right parties, strengthened by their reflexive anti-European and anti-austerity message. The new government will also have to deal with shrinking GDP, a collapsing pension system and the slow demise of the middle class, the main supporter of Greece’s European journey.

Ignorance Is Strength

One way in which Americans have always been exceptional has been in our support for education. First we took the lead in universal primary education; then the “high school movement” made us the first nation to embrace widespread secondary education. And after World War II, public support, including the G.I. Bill and a huge expansion of public universities, helped large numbers of Americans to get college degrees.

But now one of our two major political parties has taken a hard right turn against education, or at least against education that working Americans can afford. Remarkably, this new hostility to education is shared by the social conservative and economic conservative wings of the Republican coalition, now embodied in the persons of Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.

And this comes at a time when American education is already in deep trouble.

About that hostility: Mr. Santorum made headlines by declaring that President Obama wants to expand college enrollment because colleges are “indoctrination mills” that destroy religious faith. But Mr. Romney’s response to a high school senior worried about college costs is arguably even more significant, because what he said points the way to actual policy choices that will further undermine American education.

The 51% Tragedy: A Majority of Young Greek Workers Are Now Unemployed

For the first time on record, more young Greek workers are without a job than with one, Reuters reports.*

Official youth unemployment in Greece has crossed the 50 percent barrier and there's very little reason to think that this is the ceiling. The economy is still shrinking. The latest round of austerity, which will punish wages and lead to more firings, has yet to set in. And, as economic pain tends to inflict itself disproportionately on the young -- young unemployment in the US is similarly twice the national rate -- there's good reason to expect that austerity will bite Greece's young economy even more severely.

Here's the graph from Eurostat data, via FT Alphaville. It only goes back to the end of 2011, but it gives you a sense of the scale of the crisis:

greek unemployed.png
Putting the picture into words: The youth unemployment rate in Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria is between 8 and 9 percent. The youth unemployment rate in Spain and Greece is between 49 and (as we learned today) 51 percent.

Remember two things: (1) Things will get worse for Greece's economy before they get better, and (2) Unemployment is a lagging indicator, which means that things will get worse for Greek unemployment even after the economy gets better, which is scheduled to happen after the economy gets worse.

Original Article
Source: the atlantic
Author: Derek Thompson

Rick Santorum's Housing Hypocrisy

Rick Santorum wants the government out of every aspect of Americans' lives—especially the housing market. He pledges to eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the twin government housing giants that help guarantee 90 percent of all new mortgages in America. As for jump-starting the country's dismal housing market, Santorum wants to "let capitalism work" and allow the housing market to "find its bottom." Only then, he says, will the recovery begin. It's a plan that would make Adam Smith proud.

Yet Santorum wasn't always so opposed to government intervention in housing. In a deal that's gone unreported during his presidential run, Santorum bought his first house in 1983 with a cut-rate government-backed mortgage, according to campaign records compiled by Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Penn.), who Santorum defeated in 1994. He received his loan through a state program to boost homeownership among low- and middle-income families. Santorum, in other words, benefitted from a program whose mission mirrored that of Fannie and Freddie, the companies he now rails against and wants to dissolve. (Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley did not respond to a request for comment.)

Proposed Enbridge pipeline threatens humpback whales: DFO

OTTAWA — The proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline threatens critical habitat of humpback whales off the coast of British Columbia, says newly released internal federal documents from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The warning was included in a summary of a draft recovery strategy for the species that was to be introduced in 2010.

Humpback whales were listed in 2005 as "threatened" under the federal Species At Risk Act, requiring the government to produce the recovery plan, but the species has been increasing in numbers and presence on the B.C. coast.

If built, the Northern Gateway pipeline would link the oilsands region of Alberta to a shipping terminal in Kitimat, on the northwest coast of B.C., opening the door for more Canadian oil exports to be sent across the Pacific Ocean to Asia.

Robocalls Scandal: Poll Finds Tory Support Unchanged Despite A Plurality Of Canadians Blaming Tories

Though almost four out of every five Canadians are aware of the “robocall” allegations and a plurality blame the Conservatives, support for Stephen Harper’s party remains unchanged.

These are the conclusions of a new Forum Research poll, conducted March 2-3 surveying 1,675 Canadians. The survery has a margin of error of +/- 2.4 points, 19 times out of 20.

Conservative support stands at 37 per cent, up one point since Forum was last in the field on Feb. 6. They are trailed by the New Democrats, unchanged at 28 per cent, and the Liberals, who have dropped one point to 25 per cent.

This lack of volatility is surprising considering that 78 per cent of Canadians are aware of the allegations that so-called robocalls were used to mislead voters into going to incorrect or non-existent polling stations during the May 2011 federal election.

Automated telephone calls were relatively common in the last election. Fully 35 per cent of respondents said they received an automated call during the campaign, including 45 per cent of Ontarians.

Was a ‘political super-weapon’ part of Robogate

This is the story of File P10-8 at Elections Canada, and why that esteemed agency will never get to the bottom of Robogate – whatever it may be.

Let’s begin with a picture posted on the Internet. It was of a stack of computer equipment that drew some Twitter action.

“Adding final servers for the political super-weapon.”

The words accompanying the snap of the servers belong to Matt Meier, CEO of RackNine Inc., and they show up in a Twitter exchange, the rest of which went like this:

“So pretty,” says Jonathon Gendron.

“I’ll snap a picture when everything’s in place,” Matt replies. “These just showed up yesterday, need to get everything formatted and OSed.”

The exchange took place between 8:12 and 8.17 pm on November 2, 2010.

Guelph, Ont., Tory campaign worker tweeted robocall alert two days before vote

OTTAWA — On the day "Pierre Poutine" activated the burner cellphone used to launch his robocall blitz on voters in Guelph, Ont., a young Conservative campaign worker sent out a message on Twitter warning of "voter suppression calls" aimed at his party.

Andrew Prescott, deputy campaign manager to Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke, tweeted on April 30, "Anti-#CPC voter suppression phone calls currently underway in Guelph, suspecting #LPC #elxn41" — referencing the Twitter shorthand for the Liberal Party of Canada and the 41st general election.

Prescott, a self-described cellphone expert, followed up a few minutes later with another tweet claiming that these phone calls were "using spoofed Caller-ID of Burke campaign. I 'wonder' who it could be . . ."

Later, Prescott tweeted about these alleged calls again, saying "#LPC internal polling must be BAD, considering the dirty voter suppression calls underway in Guelph . . ."

He also sent a public Twitter message to CBC blogger Kady O'Malley, speculating the Liberals' internal polling "must be REALLY BAD, voter suppression calls in Guelph AND Halton . . . anywhere else?"

Closing in on Pierre Poutine

Exclusive The noose is tightening around “Pierre Poutine,” the figure at the centre of the robocalls scandal, after the owner of an IT company wrongly implicated in the affair traced the individual responsible to a Rogers Hi-Speed IP address in Guelph, Ont.

Matt Meier, owner of Edmonton-based RackNine, has forwarded the information to Elections Canada, which should now be able to seek a legal order to compel Rogers to hand over the name of the customer using the IP address. A spokeswoman for Elections Canada would not comment on whether any such production order has been issued.

Elections Canada is investigating reports that voters in Guelph received calls that directed them to the wrong polling station. The phone number behind the Guelph calls was registered to “Pierre Poutine” of “Separatist Street” in Joliette, Que.

Mr. Meier said after the robocall misdirecting voters was made on election day last year, he received a call from Andrew Prescott, the deputy campaign manager for the Conservative candidate in Guelph, Marty Burke. Mr. Prescott asked Mr. Meier to send out a correction notice, telling people to ignore the initial call. Mr. Prescott has denied any role in making the fake Elections Canada calls. Mr. Meier said he did not sound as if he was the same person who set up the initial “Pierre Poutine” account.

International Women's Day: Celebrating the spectrum

Happy International Women's Day!

Let's give all the ladies, each other and other people, big hugs (if they like) and high-fives (if they like), and while doing so examine the word woman. It can be argued that the gender binary system is very prominent, especially within media and educational systems, and with that extremely problematic. Forcing people inside these two confining and antiquated models is not only unnecessary but is inadequate in allowing individuals to freely express their identities. However, instead of examining all the terrible ways that people on the gender spectrum are denied their rights, let's take this moment to celebrate not only women, but people who fall along the fluid spectrum of gender and those who are genderless!

I think the beautiful thing about all the wonderful events and messages that will be written today is that women will be celebrated for their achievements and also recognized beyond their identified gender. Yes, women (and people along the gender spectrum) still face numerous oppressions everyday. Yes, women (and people along the gender spectrum) continue to fight for civil rights and freedoms. Yes, women (and people along the gender spectrum) will continue to struggle for their equality. However, today is a day where we can all stand together, man, woman, trans*, two-spirit, genderless and beyond and celebrate and encourage the works, efforts and abilities of all around us with the guise of 'International Women's Day' knowing full well that those who cherish this day continue that same passion and fight everyday.

Conservatives in Guelph riding ready to 'talk' to Elections Canada's investigators, says Campaign Research lawyer

PARLIAMENT HILL—Conservatives in Guelph, Ont., who worked on the campaign at the epicentre of a controversy over fraudulent phone calls targeting Liberal voters in the 2011 federal election are ready to “talk” to Elections Canada investigators, a lawyer with one of the voter-contact firms that worked for the Conservative candidate in Guelph says.

Aaron Wudrick, general counsel and a spokesman for Campaign Research Inc., told The Hill Times Thursday he hopes an Elections Canada investigation gets to the bottom of allegations that a Conservative campaign aide in the riding used a disposable cellphone and Edmonton-based robocalls to flood the riding with fraudulent calls purported to be from Elections Canada, as well as investigations into similar complaints in at least 14 other electoral districts.

Mr. Wudrick, whose firm conducted voter-contact telephone surveys to identify supporters of Conservative candidate Marty Burke in the riding and get them out to vote, said he is “as much in the dark” as everyone else about who might have been behind the Guelph calls that claimed to be Elections Canada alerts notifying voters that polling site locations had changed, and other forms of harassing calls alleged to have taken place in other ridings.

More voters-list issues found in Toronto riding

CBC News has found still more problems with the voters list in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence during the last election. The defeated Liberal candidate, former MP Joe Volpe, has now demanded an Elections Canada investigation and the winner, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, says that's fine with him.

"If Elections Canada asks for the material," said Oliver, "of course we're entirely open to do that and we welcome any investigation. I don't know if it's needed or not."

But Liberals in the riding say it's definitely needed because, they say, Conservative tactics crossed the line.

Eglinton-Lawrence resident Marsha Sands said she personally received a rude and misleading phone call from a female caller who claimed to be calling from Liberal headquarters.

Trouble was, Sands took the call as she sat in Liberal headquarters as a volunteer for the Volpe campaign. After she tried to find out who was really calling — from a U.S. number — the caller said she was with a research company and hung up.

"This is not dirty tricks," Sands said. "What was going on is illegal."

Shantelle Hicks, Pregnant 8th Grader, Outed To New Mexico School Assembly

Shantelle Hicks, a 15-year-old from Gallup, N.M., claims she was first forced to leave the Wingate Elementary School and then publicly outed as being pregnant in front of all students and employees, KOB-TV reports.

Wingate Elementary is a public boarding school for Native American children from kindergarten through 8th grade.

Now, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Hicks has filed suit against the school, claiming they violated her constitutional rights. According to the complaint, school officials kicked Hicks out of school after learning of her pregnancy, but readmitted her four days later when the ACLU of New Mexico informed the school that it's illegal to deny a student access to education for being pregnant.

But two weeks after her readmission, a school counselor and the director of the middle school forced the teen to stand before the middle school assembly and announced her condition -- allegedly before anyone but her sister knew.

Indefinite Detention Targeted In Democratic Bill On Handling Terrorist Suspects

WASHINGTON -- A pair of lawmakers on Thursday offered a bill that would repeal laws that allow the indefinite detention of Americans and others by the military without trial.

The power of military authorities to arrest and jail people as long as they want stems from Congress' 2001 joint resolution authorizing the use of military force against terrorists, but was explicitly codified into law last year after President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act on New Year's Eve. While allowing military detention of anyone, the act mandated that certain terrorist suspects had to be held by the armed forces.

Civil libertarians on the left and right were sharply critical of the law, even though the president promised not to grab Americans.

Obama set out policy rules last month making good on that pledge, specifying that U.S. citizens and numerous other categories of suspected terrorists would not be clapped into the military system, which somewhat mollified critics.


The first robocall specific poll is out from Angus Reid and it provides little comfort for the Conservatives. The poll also reveals the opposition will find much support in pushing for further inquiry. As well, on a couple key questions, there is some consensus across party lines.

The opposition should ramp up the calls for a full public inquiry, that is shrewd politically and the concept finds overwhelming support with votes, even Conservatives:
81% want an independent investigation to find out exactly who was behind any misleading robocalls that may have been made in the May 2011 federal election...including 72% of Conservative voters
That is a big number, rarely do you see such unanimity on any question, even more striking the large majority of Conservative supporters on side. If the opposition really ramp up the calls for a public inquiry, there is a VERY sympathetic audience.

Most Canadians Think Robocalls Were Used Broadly in Last Election

Many Canadians are following stories related to the telephone calls with pre-recorded messages made during the last federal election, and a large proportion believe this method was used widely in the last campaign, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative sample of 1,001 Canadian adults, half of respondents (50%) say they have followed stories related to robocalls made during the last federal election campaign “very closely” or “moderately closely.”

Elections Canada is currently investigating telephone calls with pre-recorded messages made at or near the City of Guelph, Ontario, that may have prevented Canadians from voting in the federal election of May 2011.

Less than one-in-five Canadians (18%) believe the robocalls are “definitely” or “probably” an isolated incident limited to Guelph. Conversely, almost two thirds of Canadians (64%) think the Guelph occurrence is “probably” or “definitely” one of many that took place in the last federal campaign.

A large proportion of Canadians who voted for the Green Party (80%), the New Democratic Party (78%), the Liberal Party (77%) and the Bloc Québécois (also 77%) believe that the robocalls extend beyond Guelph, along with 47 per cent of Conservative Party voters.

The Genius of Cecile Richards

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards heard whispers that the Susan G. Komen foundation would stop funding Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings from an anti-choice blog in early December. But she shrugged it off as the kind of bullying rumor that often circulates in her world. (Until Planned Parenthood, she says, “I had never worked with an organization where there were people that literally got up every day trying to figure out how to keep us from doing our work.”) Then the Komen foundation president called just before Christmas to say it was true. “It came as a total surprise,” says Richards, who requested a meeting with Komen’s board to revisit the matter but was denied.

It was only after an Associated Press reporter broke the story in late January that Richards let loose the deluge. “Disappointing news from a friend” was the subject line on Richards’s January 31 late afternoon e-mail to more than a million supporters. The first Facebook posting on the subject received 2,438 shares.

Four days later, Planned Parenthood boasted $3 million in new funding; 32,000 new Facebook fans; 22,000 people who “shared” the freshly inaugurated Planned Parenthood Facebook badge, leading to upward of 100,000 new viewers of the site; the very public support of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who donated $250,000 to the organization; vast television and radio exposure; and… the Komen funding back in place.

Japan Earthquake Anniversary: U.S. Slow To Update Nuclear Safety Requirements Following Disaster, Experts Say

In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last March, with the world captivated by the worst nuclear disaster in a generation, U.S. regulators were urged to look closely at the security of the nation's 65 nuclear power plants.

"There is no question that the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi site ... will be regarded as a seminal event in the history of nuclear power," Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko said in a speech last May. "We have the responsibility to the American people to conduct a comprehensive safety review to determine whether there are lessons and what they are. I can assure you that this safety review will be systematic and methodical and will be conducted with the appropriate sense of urgency."

Yet with the one-year anniversary at hand, environmental groups and safety advocates charge that the government has been slow to react, and that it has put off suggestions to fix an "incomplete" and "patchwork" array of safety requirements for dealing with severe emergencies such as earthquakes, major floods or other natural disasters. Instead, the groups claim that regulators have prioritized short-term upgrades, including some that have been on the books for years but were never turned into enforceable regulations.

Banks Just Had Their Best Year Since Before Financial Crisis: Study

By almost any measure, 2011 was a rocky year -- high unemployment, volatile markets, rising poverty, protests in the streets. Thankfully, the banks managed to do just fine.

Commercial banks generated more profit in 2011 than in any year since before the financial crisis, according to a recent analysis by American University's Investigative Reporting Workshop. Commercial banks earned $119.5 billion that year, AU journalists found, the most of any year since 2006.

The findings offer a striking counterpoint to the narrative lately offered by the banks themselves -- that rising regulatory pressures, coupled with a slow economy and a general atmosphere of investor caution, pose a grave threat to banks' bottom lines.

This was the reasoning offered by Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan in October, when he estimated that regulations imposed by the Dodd-Frank financial reform act would cost his company billions. On that occasion, Moynihan argued -- in response to public outcry over the five-dollar debit card fee that BofA would later abandon -- that Bank of America had "a right to make a profit."

Economic recovery never happened for young Canadians

Regardless how many jobs were created last month, one group of Canadians is almost certain to have fared badly — youth.

The consensus ahead of Statistics Canada's jobs report Friday morning was that 15,000 jobs were created countrywide in February, an indication of positive if modest economic growth.

But if employment surveys of the past few years are any guide, Canadians aged between 15 and 24 will be at a disadvantage.

The recession may be over for most Canadians, but workers or want-to-be workers in the youngest age group tracked by Statistics Canada continue to experience the economy as if the recovery had never happened, or as if it was still 2008. And the younger you are in the age group, the bleaker the picture.

The finding was thrown into dramatic light Thursday in a paper from TD Bank economist Francis Fong, who points out that employment in the age grouping is still 250,000 below pre-recession levels.

Justin Trudeau On Peter Kent: Calling Environment Minister A ‘Piece Of S**t' Was Ugly But It Worked

Justin Trudeau may have a famous last name, but much like Hillary Clinton he’s quickly making his first name the one that matters.

The MP's name recognition received a huge boost last December when Trudeau mirrored his father Pierre’s infamous “fuddle-duddle“ incident by referring to Environment Minister Peter Kent as a “piece of s***.”

The excremental epithet was launched during a contentious Question Period debate over Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. Though he immediately apologized and says he’s still “not proud of having to use un-parliamentary language,” Trudeau told The Huffington Post Canada that in hindsight he’s happy his choice of words had the impact they did.

At the time, Kent said he understood the "Liberal rump is somewhat out of sorts as this government corrects one of the biggest blunders the previous Liberal government ever made," referring to Kyoto. He said he wasn't bothered by Trudeau's outburst, but did call for an apology.

Commons poised to cut jobs, but not as severely as first feared, says Comartin

The House of Commons is poised to unveil the results of its spending review — a review that will mean job cuts in the Parliamentary precinct, iPolitics has learned.

NDP House leader Joe Comartin, spokesman for the powerful Board of Internal Economy — which has been going through Parliament’s spending with a magnifying glass for months — says the strategic and operating review is almost done and could be complete as soon as next Monday. At the latest, it would be the week of March 26 when the House returns after a break.

While Comartin refused to reveal exactly what kinds of cuts the board is contemplating, he confirmed it will mean fewer jobs on Parliament Hill.

“It certainly is inevitable that we’re going to lose staff – there’s no question of that. At this point, we don’t have a grasp of the numbers because of attrition and vacancies that exist.”

How those job cuts are implemented and will be up to the House’s administration, he said.

On robocalls, reporters dig while pundits sit and snipe

It’s at times like these that I miss being part of a newsroom. I miss chasing an important story with the sometimes-exhilarating mixture of excitement, adrenalin and a whiff of angst experienced by investigative reporters.

The angst, of course, derives from being scooped by fellow investigative reporters who, while temperamentally colleagues, are also fierce competitors. That would have certainly been the case if I was still sitting at my ramshackle desk at The Globe and Mail and having to pick up a copy of this newspaper to read the fine work of reporters Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher as they broke open the robocall scandal now engulfing Ottawa.

Alas, since I long ago vacated the pressure-packed world of daily news as an investigative reporter, I have had to resign myself to being a spectator of sorts. Like millions of Canadians, I have read McGregor and Maher and a bevy of other talented and determined investigative reporters — in print and broadcast media — go about the hard, painstaking work of trying to unearth the truth about whether there was a concerted effort by the Conservative party or its agents to suppress the vote across the country during the last election.

Sweeping Tory budget plans are breathtaking in scope

In a sharp break from their first two mandates, the Harper Conservatives are preparing to unveil a budget that is revolutionary rather than evolutionary, one that will introduce sweeping structural changes in key areas of federal policy. Politically, from the government's standpoint, that won't happen a moment too soon — even if the budget provokes great controversy, which it most certainly will.

Whether in trade, immigration, retirement benefits, resource development, innovation or fiscal policy, Conservative insiders say, the years of plodding, minority-era "incrementalism" are over. Indeed, there's a sense within Conservative ranks that their moment of truth, a chance to distinguish themselves from the other parties in stark terms and establish a lasting legacy, has arrived.

"Everybody's going to be busy for a long time reporting about it," said one insider, speaking of the coming budget, to be handed down by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on March 29.

The subtext: Unless the robocalls scandal mutates like a super flu into something as-yet-unseen — specifically, unless evidence emerges that the Conservative Party or its national campaign knew about or participated in electoral fraud, something the prime minister and campaign chair Guy Giorno have categorically denied — it may soon be knocked off front pages by more wrenching debates.

Mudslinging: Alberta’s latest growth industry

Behold: the first-ever extramural attack ad from an Alberta Conservative government. Don Braid says it’s the first, anyway, and if I didn’t know whether it was the first, he might be the person I’d ask.

Maybe it goes without saying, but the dearth of attack ads in recent Alberta politics is not special testimony to the politeness of those politics. It’s testimony to Alberta’s one-party nature. The Conservatives took over from Social Credit in 1971, in a youth-driven power shift: Peter Lougheed, in pushing aside a government that had delivered prosperity but was increasingly behind the times socially, was so civil and restrained and all-around decent about it that the whupped Socreds practically said “Please, sir, may I have another?” The federal Liberals and the radical ’70s NDP obligingly kept Lougheed in power for another decade and a half, and as Braid notes, the premier never so much as referred to the existence of other parties. Why would it have been in his interest to do so?

But even after Lougheed left the scene, the Tories didn’t turn to attack ads—not even in the 1993 election, when they were in a lot more trouble than they objectively seem to be in now. So why are Alison Redford and her team going nuclear in 2012, even if it’s only battlefield-nuclear? Certainly negative advertising is a more appropriate strategy, and a greater temptation, when you need to emphasize the distinctions between yourself and a rival party that’s culturally and ideologically similar to yours. But Conservative strategists might also be aware of gremlins hiding behind the very favourable top-line polling data. (These data have held steady, even in the face of fairly firm evidence of pervasive corruption and illegality on the part of PC MLAs.)

The Commons: No apologies

The Scene. Asking about a new report of political belligerence, Nycole Turmel eventually rounded on the Prime Minister.

“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister must take responsibility,” she ventured. “He created a culture in his party: victory at any cost is what matters.”

Mr. Harper was unmoved. Or at least undaunted. ”What I would say is this,” he said. “The Conservative party always accepts the verdict of the voters. We have accepted the verdict of the voters when we have won and also when we have lost. I would encourage the other parties to accept the verdict of voters as well.”

So there. As one of the Prime Minister’s backbenchers put it recently, this is all about “sore losers.” The public has passed its verdict. And the Conservatives have won a sufficient number of seats in this place to form a government. And that means, should they so choose, they can sit here for another three-and-a-half years. And there’s not much anyone can say to change that.

NDP expands Elections Canada motion to cover past votes

The NDP moved Thursday to tighten up a motion to give Elections Canada stronger investigative powers so they would apply to previous federal elections, including the 2011 vote at the centre of controversy over fraudulent robocalls and possible dirty tricks.

The party moved the amendment to change the way the motion was phrased so it would allow the chief electoral officer to use his power in investigations into previous elections rather than just elections in the future.

The vote on the non-binding motion and the amendment will happen Monday.

NDP MP David Christopherson says there will be "hell to pay" if the government doesn't bring in legislation to back up a motion to give Elections Canada more investigative power.

Christopherson said if the motion passes, Canadians will make sure the government has to follow through.

"If we get a positive motion today and in six months we don’t have legislation … I assure you there will be hell to pay," he said.

Public service faces ‘deliberate downsizing’ as Tories tackle deficit

A new report to Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives the clearest indication yet that public-service layoffs will be a big part of the government’s deficit cutting plans.

Federal ministers have been downplaying the impact of looming budget cuts in recent weeks, but a report released Thursday paints a different picture.

“One of the major tasks that senior leaders will face is the deliberate downsizing of the Public Service,” the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service says.

The committee is co-chaired by former Privy Council clerk Paul Tellier and former Liberal and Conservative cabinet minister David Emerson.

The report’s language about cuts comes on the heels of recent revelations that Treasury Board – the central agency in charge of public service hiring – is creating a new Litigation Management Unit.

Keystone XL pipeline: U.S. Senate blocks bid to speed pipeline from Canada

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senate Democrats on Thursday defeated a Republican proposal to take quick action on the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, in a vote that will give Republicans more ammunition to criticize President Barack Obama’s energy policies on the campaign trail.

TransCanada’s $7 billion project has been supported by some Democrats in the past, but Obama took the unusual step of calling some senators personally and asking them to vote against the proposal, drawing immediate fire from Republican leaders.

The measure needed 60 votes to pass, but fell four short.

Obama put the project on hold earlier this year pending further environmental review. Republicans argue the pipeline would create jobs and improve energy security at a time of surging gasoline prices. The project will take more than two years to build after winning all approvals.

“At a moment when millions are out of work, gas prices are skyrocketing and the Middle East is in turmoil, we’ve got a president who’s up making phone calls trying to block a pipeline here at home. It’s unbelievable,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Robocalls: RMG telemarketer fired over aggressive Conservative fundraising pitches

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the Conservative party’s telemarketing supplier, RMG, fired an employee for overly aggressive fundraising on the party’s behalf.

Harper told the Commons he was aware of “one case” where Responsive Marketing Group Inc. had fired an employee “before the election” and he added, “We maintain our standards at all times.”

But the revelation comes as an awkward admission at a time when the Conservative government fends off allegations of misleading robocalls, claiming their election calls to voters were beyond reproach.

According to a recording obtained by La Presse newspaper, an RMG employee who identified himself as Don Duke used aggressive pitches to solicit donations for the Conservatives.

The date of a series of recorded calls is not clear, but Duke says he is calling from “supporter services on behalf of the Harper government in Ottawa.”