Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Monday, April 23, 2012

Another federal ministry announces program closure - the end of the Women’s Health Contribution Program

Six federally funded organizations devoted to research and communication in women’s health learned this week that their funding will end March 31, 2013.

The Program is critical to funding innovative social policy research, building community partnerships and providing important mentorship opportunities for students in women’s health. Within a year, the affected organizations will be forced to either close their doors permanently or attempt to find funding elsewhere.

The Women’s Health Contribution Program (WHCP) supports: Le Réseau québécois d’action pour la santé des femmes (RQASF), the Canadian Women’s Health Network (CWHN), the Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health (ACEWH), the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health (BCCEWH), the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence (PWHCE) and the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health (NNEWH), located across the country from Vancouver to Halifax.

“The effect of this decision by Health Canada is yet another strong sign that the federal government is pulling away from its responsibility to gender equality. The work funded through the WHCP has been crucial to ensuring that Canadian women have had access to the best evidence and policy advice on women’s health issues, through research that recognized that social and environmental determinants of health are key,” said Chi Nguyen, Chair of the Board of the Canadian Women’s Health Network.

How Canadian farmers risk missing a global agri-boom

Mark Carney likes to remind U.S.-focused exporters that a “massive new middle class” is forming in big emerging markets like China and India -- to the tune of 70 million people a year.

For a net exporter of agricultural products, like Canada, this should be an unmitigated bonus. Urbanization and higher incomes across Asia are fuelling an unprecedented increase in the number of middle-class consumers, and that means an unprecedented increase in the number of families who can afford meat, fruits, oils and other imported foods on a regular basis.

But reaching those customers is harder than it should be, business leaders say, and making it easier could depend on a major shift in trade policy, namely relaxing supply-management protections on dairy and poultry that date back to the 1970s.

In a new paper for the Canadian Council on Chief Executives – the Ottawa-based lobby group headed by former Liberal finance minister John Manley – Michael Gifford, Canada’s former chief agricultural trade negotiator, takes up the cause, urging Ottawa to ensure it does all it can to get Canada a piece of arrangements that are going to reshape global trade. Participation in massive regional bloc deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), for instance, could eventually allow Canada’s agri-food industry to become a “growth engine” for the entire economy.

Ontario election averted after 'tax the rich' deal struck

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says her party won't defeat the Liberal budget after Premier Dalton McGuinty agreed to implement a surtax on the rich, in a move that will avert a second election in seven months.

Horwath told reporters Monday afternoon that although she still has concerns about the budget, "we have made the budget fairer for Ontarians."

"I feel that we serve the public better by getting to work here in this legislature than chasing votes in an election," she said.

"And that's why I can say that our caucus does not intend to defeat the government over the budget motion tomorrow in the house."

She made the comments shortly after McGuinty announced his minority Liberal government would apply a two per cent surtax to those making over $500,000, as requested by the NDP.

The funds raised from the surtax would be dedicated to paying down the $15.3-billion provincial deficit, McGuinty told reporters after a 40-minute meeting with Horwath.

The surtax, which could generate between $440 million and $570 million, will be eliminated when the budget is balanced in five years, he said.

Occupy Joins Forces With Direct Action Badasses, ACT UP

In the winter of 1989, thousands of activists from the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) disrupted a St. Patrick’s Cathedral mass as part of a controversial “Stop the Church” demonstration. Protesters distributed condoms and safe-sex information to teens and passersby at the church because, the group claimed, individuals were being denied access to such information and materials in schools due to church interference.

Two years later, during Operation Desert Storm, ACT UP activist John Weir and two other protesters entered the CBS Evening News studio at the beginning of the broadcast and shouted, “AIDS is news. Fight AIDS, not Arabs!” The following day, as part of the “Day of Desperation,” activists unfurled a banner at Grand Central Terminal that read: “Money for AIDS, not war” and “One AIDS death every 8 minutes.”

For twenty-five years, ACT UP has been at the forefront of creative direct action protest. The organization is famous for its die-ins to protest the government’s abandonment of AIDS victims and the exploiting of those infected with the disease by powerful Wall Street pharmaceutical companies.

In the early eighties, President Reagan consciously ignored what was clearly a national health crisis, his response described as “halting and ineffective” by his biographer, Lou Cannon. The religious right rushed to Reagan’s defense, and groups like the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority used AIDS as a tool to target gay men “for the politics of fear, hate, and discrimination.”

Bev Oda's Savoy Hotel Stay: International Aid Minister Declines 5-Star Hotel For Another At Twice The Cost

OTTAWA - International Development Minister Bev Oda repaid taxpayers Monday for the cost of rejecting one five-star hotel in London, England and rebooking at a swankier establishment at more than double the rate.

Oda's office revealed the reimbursement about eight hours after The Canadian Press first reported the hefty lodging bills, and three days after the agency began asking questions about the expenses.

Spokesman Justin Broekema said Oda paid the fee difference between the two hotels, as well as the cancellation fee at the first one.

Oda was originally supposed to stay at the Grange St. Paul's Hotel, site of the conference on international immunizations she was attending.

Instead, she had staff rebook her into the posh Savoy overlooking the Thames, an old favourite of royalty and currently owned by Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia.

The switcheroo is reminiscent of a controversial trip six years ago, when Oda rejected a minivan for transportation and opted for a limousine instead. She reimbursed taxpayers for some of those costs after that story emerged in the news media.

Georgia Welfare Drug Testing Law Supported By Bad Research

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed a law last week that will soon require welfare applicants to pay for drug tests and pass them in order to be eligible for benefits.

In a release, Deal's office cited Florida's recent experience with the same requirement: "Florida passed similar legislation back in 2010 decreasing their welfare applicant pool by 48 percent and saving their state $1.8 million."

Deal's assertion is based on bad research by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think tank in Florida. The notion that drug testing reduced the welfare applicant pool is directly contradicted by the state government's evaluation of its own law.

"Florida's caseload had been declining consistently since December 2010," says a document from the state's Department of Children and Families, which administers the assistance program (formally known nationwide as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). "On applying the previous rate of decline to a projection of the July-September 2011 caseload and factoring in the drug testing denials, we found that the projected caseload would have been lower than the actual caseload. Therefore we saw no dampening effect on the caseload for the one quarter (July-September) covered for this report."

Shift on Executive Power Lets Obama Bypass Rivals

WASHINGTON — One Saturday last fall, President Obama interrupted a White House strategy meeting to raise an issue not on the agenda. He declared, aides recalled, that the administration needed to more aggressively use executive power to govern in the face of Congressional obstructionism.

“We had been attempting to highlight the inability of Congress to do anything,” recalled William M. Daley, who was the White House chief of staff at the time. “The president expressed frustration, saying we have got to scour everything and push the envelope in finding things we can do on our own.”

For Mr. Obama, that meeting was a turning point. As a senator and presidential candidate, he had criticized George W. Bush for flouting the role of Congress. And during his first two years in the White House, when Democrats controlled Congress, Mr. Obama largely worked through the legislative process to achieve his domestic policy goals.

But increasingly in recent months, the administration has been seeking ways to act without Congress. Branding its unilateral efforts “We Can’t Wait,” a slogan that aides said Mr. Obama coined at that strategy meeting, the White House has rolled out dozens of new policies — on creating jobs for veterans, preventing drug shortages, raising fuel economy standards, curbing domestic violence and more.

Planned Parenthood Worried It's The Target Of New Undercover Sting

A string of suspicious incidents at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country has given the organization reason to believe that anti-abortion activists are targeting it in a new organized sting operation.

According to Planned Parenthood spokesperson Chloe Cooney, clinics in at least 11 states have reported two dozen or more "hoax visits" over the past several weeks, in which a woman walks into a clinic, claims to be pregnant and asks a particular pattern of provocative questions about sex-selective abortions, such as how soon she can find out the gender of the fetus, by what means and whether she can schedule an abortion if she's having a girl.

While patient privacy laws prohibit Planned Parenthood from offering specific details about the visits and where they occurred, Cooney told The Huffington Post that the incidents are so unusual and so similar to each other that they have raised concerns among the organization's executives that the visits are being recorded as part of a concerted anti-Planned Parenthood campaign.

Brigette DePape: Danielle Smith Greeted With Protest From Rogue Page At Voting Location

HIGH RIVER, Alta. - Wildrose party Leader Danielle Smith was met by a silent protester as she left a community centre after voting in High River, south of Calgary, this morning.

Smith joked with reporters as she cast her ballot that she was voting strategically this election.

Outside the Highwood Memorial Centre she was greeted by Brigette DePape (duh-PAP'), the page who disrupted the federal throne speech last year with her "Stop Harper" sign.

Dressed in a page costume with white gloves, she stood in front of Smith holding a sign that read "Stop Harper's Gang."

Smith observed that her party must be doing well if the opposition was importing protesters from Ottawa.

DePape said she was there on her own to speak for young people, saying that Wildrose policies are even more extreme than those of the Harper government.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Canadian press

Ottawa kneecaps EI fund's quest for balance

Sometimes it’s about what governments don’t do, rather than what they do.

Recall that the recent federal budget killed off a raft of agencies doing credible work, including the National Aboriginal Health Organization, the National Council of Welfare and the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.

And yet an agency whose work the Conservative government repeatedly and unapologetically ignores lives on.

Meet the $2.6-million-a-year Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board.

The seven-member, arm’s-length board was created in 2008 with two vital jobs – setting EI premium rates free of political meddling, and managing a $2-billion contingency fund to help keep premiums stable for workers and employers.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way. The government has never given the board a cent to manage, and has consistently limited its ability to set premiums.

Bev Oda: Overconfidence

A very large number of the Canadians who have voted Conservative for the last four elections in a row would be pleased if they could spend $16 on orange juice in a month. So don’t tell me there is no reason to raise an eyebrow over Bev Oda’s decision to walk out on a reservation at the Grange St. Paul’s and check into the Savoy instead, where by all accounts they serve the really good stuff with breakfast.

Last autumn I defended Peter MacKay for staying at a posh Munich hotel during a security conference. My entire point was that the hotel he stayed at was the conference venue. Security delays, and missed schmoozing in the wings, would impose genuine opportunity cost on any minister who stayed anywhere else. So what’s striking about Oda is that she didn’t rack up her bill staying at the conference venue: she racked it up fleeing the conference venue for someplace nicer. Incidentally, this is what a room at the hotel she fled looks like:

When do First Nations children become a priority?

I have been watching and listening with interest over the last few weeks about what issues the media outlets have been featuring, as well as what federal, provincial and First Nation politicians have been speaking about. Despite the fact that some very important court rulings have come out which were in favour of First Nations peoples, they seem to have gone largely unnoticed. Similarly, there have been some pretty significant funding cuts to First Nations communities as well as various First Nations organizations, yet the political world has been all but silent on the issue.

This makes me wonder how far gone our current political system must be if we can't celebrate minor victories or use those victories to start pushing back against the Harper Conservatives' (Cons) assimilatory agenda. The so-called Crown-First Nation Gathering (CFNG) was supposed to result in what the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Shawn Atleo called "re-setting the relationship." In his words, this meeting, together with the most recent federal budget, amounted to the kind of "momentum" that indicated Harper was hearing the voices of our people. That is a delusion of epic porportions.


The CFNG was nothing more than Harper confirming the Con's position vis-a-vis First Nations: control and assimilation. Harper confirmed that the Indian Act would stay and even confirmed that new legislation would be imposed on our First Nations which would exact even more federal and soon-to-be provincial control over our communities. This legislation will also dump more liability on our communities and no funding. There are no less than six pieces of legislation speeding through the House and Senate or will soon be introduced. The only re-setting of the relationship that happened at the CFNG was that the feds took back their paternalistic control of "Indian Affairs" with little resistance from Atleo.

Budget cuts leave Statscan girding for fewer surveys, less staff

Fiscal restraint is rippling through Canada’s national statistical agency, prompting it to start slicing surveys and warn staff of cost cuts and impending layoffs in what it calls a “year of sacrifice” at the organization.

Not only is Statistics Canada facing reductions from the federal budget of about 8 per cent, it is also grappling with an “unprecedented” drop in revenue from other government departments that fund surveys, its chief statistician says.

As a result, “in planning for next fiscal year, we are facing an exceptional degree of financial uncertainty,” said Wayne Smith in an April 2 address to staff that was obtained by The Globe and Mail and offers a rare glimpse into the impact of austerity on a government agency.

Trims are already under way – last Tuesday, the agency said on its website it will discontinue monthly new motor vehicle sales (it will still collect the data, but not publish it in its Daily release). Soon it is expected to end its leading indicator index, which tracks business cycles in the economy.

These cuts will likely affect the agency’s ability to introduce new surveys and update existing surveys to reflect current population trends. Statscan now produces about 350 surveys on topics ranging from crime rates and mental health to the country’s gross domestic product.

High-school teachers abandon talks with McGuinty government

Ontario’s high-school teachers have followed the lead of their elementary-school counterparts and abandoned bargaining talks with the provincial government.

“Right now, unless we see a revised position from the government, then we won’t be returning to the table,” Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Ken Coran said Monday.

The OSSTF’s position comes after two days of intense discussions last week that resulted in no compromises. And it comes as Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government faces its first showdown with labour: disgruntled elementary teachers have already walked away from the bargaining table, and a fight has been brewing between the government and the province’s doctors. High-school teachers filed a legal challenge against the government last week for its hardball approach to collective bargaining.

Faced with a $15.3-billion deficit, the government is on a path to rein in spending. Instead of sitting down to negotiate with teachers, the government simply tabled its offer: a pay freeze for two years, no movement within the existing salary grid, an end to retirement payouts for unused sick days.

Mr. Coran said the union put forward a proposal that includes a wage freeze for two years and a plan to encourage senior teachers to retire, which would save the province millions of dollars. There was nothing in the proposal about the salary grid or sick days.

NDP vows to run a string through Tory ‘pearls’ of mismanagement

New Democrats are promising a more disciplined Parliament as they return from the Easter break with new leader Thomas Mulcair and a shadow cabinet that incorporates the men and women he defeated to take charge of the Official Opposition.

It is a pledge that has been made repeatedly by previous oppositions, only to have decorum quickly give way to a rancorous cacophony of barbs and insults.

But Nathan Cullen, the British Columbia MP who earned the job of House Leader for his strong showing NDP leadership race, told reporters Monday that things are going to be different under his watch.

“As House Leader, I will not allow this session to devolve into the antics that so often accompany the final days of the parliamentary calendar, the so-called silly season,” Mr. Cullen said.

“My goal is to ensure that, even if our opponents are misbehaving and distracted in Parliament, our team remains steady and dignified,” he said. “The NDP will not shy away from the hard questions but first and foremost we will be a serious, substantive and well-disciplined team.”

Unmanned aerial drone being tested in Quebec for civilian uses

An unmanned Israeli-made military drone is buzzing Alma, Quebec.

Aeronautics Ltd. of Israel has teamed up with Montreal-based CAE Inc. to demonstrate civilian uses for the military drone, such as remote inspection of pipelines, surveillance of forest fires and conducting searches in the Arctic, a company spokesperson saidMonday.

The first of a series of demonstration flights of the drone, called a Miskam, has been conducted from the UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) Centre of Excellence at Alma airport, north of Quebec City.

“The successful operation of the first few flights of the Miskam UAS is a milestone for the project, but only the first of what we believe will be many milestones,” said Pietro D’Ulisse, CAE’s vice president and business leader — Canada, said in a news release.

“Much like the use of simulation in training, the use of unmanned systems for a range of civil applications has the potential to enhance safety, increase efficiency, and save money. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Aeronautics, regulatory authorities, and potential customers as we demonstrate these capabilities,” D’Ulisse said.

Bev Oda repays extra money spent on posh hotel

OTTAWA — The orange juice was too expensive after all.

International Development Minister Bev Oda has reimbursed taxpayers for the extra money she cost them by upgrading from a five-star hotel to an even fancier one while attending a conference in London, England last year.

The Canadian Press reported Monday that Oda turned her nose up at her original $287-a-night reservation last June at the posh Grange St. Paul’s Hotel, which was hosting a donors conference on international immunization that she and notables such as Microsoft chairman Bill Gates were attending.

There, according to the hotel website, the conference tables are adorned with silver candelabras, the plush white bathrobes are monogrammed, the spa includes a traditional Turkish bath and the windows overlook the gorgeous St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Not good enough, apparently, for the Canadian minister responsible for delivering humanitarian aid to the poorest countries in the world through the Canadian International Development Agency, which the federal budget announced last month showed will undergo $319 million in spending cuts by 2014-15.

Oda had her staff rebook her into the Savoy, an even more luxurious hotel ($665 a night) overlooking the Thames that has hosted such stars as Frank Sinatra, Claude Monet, Charlie Chaplin and royalty.

Sugar Daddies - The old, white, rich men who are buying this election

If you want to appreciate what Barack Obama is up against in 2012, forget about the front man who is his nominal opponent and look instead at the Republican billionaires buying the ammunition for the battles ahead. A representative example is Harold Simmons, an 80-year-old Texan who dumped some $15 million into the campaign before primary season had ended. Reminiscing about 2008, when he bankrolled an ad blitz to tar the Democrats with the former radical Bill Ayers, Simmons told The Wall Street Journal, “If we had run more ads, we could have killed Obama.” It is not a mistake he intends to make a second time. The $15 million Simmons had spent by late February dwarfs the $2.8 million he allotted to the Ayers takedown and the $3 million he contributed to the Swift Boat Veterans demolition of John Kerry four years before that. Imagine the cash that will flow now that the GOP sideshows are over and the president is firmly in Simmons’s crosshairs.

His use of the verb killed was meant in jest, of course, much as Foster Friess ($1.8 million in known contributions, and counting) was joking when he suggested that “gals” could practice birth control by putting Bayer aspirin between their knees. America’s billionaires are such cards! And we had better get used to their foibles and funny bones. Whatever else happens in 2012, it will go down as the Year of the Sugar Daddy. Inflamed by Obama-hatred, awash in self-pity, and empowered by myriad indulgent court and Federal Election Commission rulings, an outsize posse of superrich white men will spend whatever it takes to have its way with the body politic and, if victorious, with the country itself. Given the advanced age of most of this cohort, 2012 may be seen as the election in which the geezer empire struck back.

Wal-Mart's Mexican Vexation: Seven And A Half Things To Know:

A Japanese TV reporter ordered a Burger King burger with 1050 strips of bacon on it (and apparently ate about half of it). Seven and a half is a more manageable number, and it's the number of things you need to know each day. Here they are:

Thing One: Big Box Of Trouble: Lots of Americans have gotten themselves in trouble with misadventures in Mexico. A blockbuster New York Times report claims Wal-Mart found trouble in an appropriately big way.

The NYT reported on Sunday that Wal-Mart executives buried an internal investigation finding "widespread bribery" at Wal Mart de Mexico, a/k/a Walmex, the company's biggest foreign subsidiary. According to the report, the bribery facilitated Wal-Mart's virulent spread in Mexico -- there are more than 2000 Wal-Mart stores in the country, Wal-Mart is Mexico's biggest private employer with more than 200,000 employees, and one in every five Wal-Mart stores in the world is in Mexico. So this is kind of a big deal for Wal-Mart, I guess is what I'm saying.

Wal-Mart has said it is "deeply concerned" about the report and is looking into it. Meanwhile, this morning we're opening an umbrella waiting for the inevitable fallout, which the Wall Street Journal says will involve "significant legal risks," possibly including criminal charges for people at the company. Reuters warns Wal-Mart faces "years of regulatory scrutiny," with some executives walking the plank. The near term will almost certainly involve some pain for the stock prices of Wal-Mart and Walmex, with short-sellers already sharpening their knives, Reuters points out.

Lehman Brothers Investigator On 60 Minutes: 'They'd Fudged The Numbers'

Lehman Brothers, the firm that collapsed four years ago causing a global financial crisis, misrepresented its financial health prior to its bankruptcy, according to an investigation by 60 Minutes.

“They'd fudged the numbers,” Anton Vakulas, the attorney appointed by the federal bankruptcy court to investigate Lehman Brothers’ collapse told 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft. “They would move what turned out to be approximately $50 billion of assets from the United States to the United Kingdom just before they printed their financial statements.”

The segment, which marks the first time Vakulas has been interviewed since filing his nine-volume, 2,200-page report two years ago, claims there is sufficient evidence to prosecute officials at Lehman. According to Vakulas, Lehman Brothers was intentionally misrepresenting their financial health.

It wasn’t long before that accounting trick, known as Repo 105, caught the attention of whistleblower Matthew Lee but what happened next -- or rather didn’t happen, may have changed the course of history forever.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Harry Bradford 

The Amnesia Candidate

Just how stupid does Mitt Romney think we are? If you’ve been following his campaign from the beginning, that’s a question you have probably asked many times.

But the question was raised with particular force last week, when Mr. Romney tried to make a closed drywall factory in Ohio a symbol of the Obama administration’s economic failure. It was a symbol, all right — but not in the way he intended.

First of all, many reporters quickly noted a point that Mr. Romney somehow failed to mention: George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, was president when the factory in question was closed. Does the Romney campaign expect Americans to blame President Obama for his predecessor’s policy failure?

Yes, it does. Mr. Romney constantly talks about job losses under Mr. Obama. Yet all of the net job loss took place in the first few months of 2009, that is, before any of the new administration’s policies had time to take effect. So the Ohio speech was a perfect illustration of the way the Romney campaign is banking on amnesia, on the hope that voters don’t remember that Mr. Obama inherited an economy that was already in free fall.

ALEC Hit With IRS Complaint Filed By Common Cause

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Open government advocates accused a conservative legislative group Monday of falsely claiming tax-exempt status while doing widespread lobbying.

Advocacy group Common Cause said Monday it had filed an IRS complaint accusing ALEC of masquerading as a public charity. ALEC is formed as a nonprofit that brings together lawmakers and private sector organizations to develop legislation and policy.

ALEC says its work is not lobbying.

Common Cause disagrees. "It tells the IRS in its tax returns that it does no lobbying, yet it exists to pass profit-driven legislation in statehouses all over the country that benefits its corporate members," said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, in a statement. "ALEC is not entitled to abuse its charitable tax status to lobby for private corporate interests, and stick the bill to the American taxpayer."

Common Cause wants an IRS audit of ALEC's work, penalties and the payment of back taxes.

Alan P. Dye, legal counsel for ALEC, said the claim from Common Cause ignores the law and distorts the truth.

Ann Romney, Working Woman?

Has Ann Romney ever worked a day in her life? CNN pundit Hilary Rosen, not a Democratic strategist, said no way, prompting torrents of outrage from Fox, Republicans and New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who loves his mother very much. Bertrand Russell, in his witty essay “In Praise of Idleness,” wrote, “What is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so.” Clearly, between the houses and grounds, the five kids, the Cadillacs, the husband, the business socializing, the campaigning and, let’s not forget, that dog, Ann Romney has altered the position of much matter. Since it is not possible to run smoothly a multimillion-dollar multi-mansioned domestic establishment for seven people without at least some paid help, I’m guessing she probably instructed others in the proper positioning of matter as well. By Russell’s definition, Ann Romney has probably done a lot more work than I have. I sit at my desk and hours go by in which I seem to have hardly altered the position of anything, including myself.

Vietnam Dispatch: The Salt Problem

hereKate Sheppard is reporting this week from Vietnam, where she's learning how the country is already adapting to climate change. To read her first dispatch—from a farm where one family is planting a new type of watermelons designed to withstand weird weather caused by global warming, click here.

The disappearing coastline is one of the most oft-cited concerns about climate change, as rising sea levels gradually chip away at the edge of our terrestrial domain. In Vietnam, that's certainly a concern, with 2,025 miles of exposed coastline. But more immediately, the rising seas are pushing salty water into freshwater sources like the mighty Mekong River.

The delta is the region of southern Vietnam were the branches of the river reach the sea. Known here as the "Nine Dragons" of the Mekong, the tributaries pass through fertile farmland before emptying into the sea. Salinity intrusion has long been a problem, but as the sea level rises, the salty waters of the South China Sea are traveling farther up the long fingers of the Mekong. The salt poses an immediate threat to much of the agriculture here: rice, coconuts, and other crops. It's also making it harder for people who live here to access freshwater for drinking, cooking, and bathing.

Meet the Media Companies Lobbying Against Transparency

News organizations cultivate a reputation for demanding transparency, whether by suing for access to government documents, dispatching camera crews to the doorsteps of recalcitrant politicians, or editorializing in favor of open government.

But now many of the country's biggest media companies, which own dozens of newspapers and TV news operations, are flexing their muscles in Washington in a fight against a government initiative to increase transparency of political spending.

The corporate owners or sister companies of some of the biggest names in journalism—NBC News, ABC News, Fox News, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Politico, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and dozens of local TV news outlets—are lobbying against a Federal Communications Commission measure that would require broadcasters to post political ad data on the internet.

As we have recently detailed, political ad data is public by law but not easy to get because it is kept only in paper files at each station. The FCC has proposed fixing that by requiring broadcasters to post online the details of political ad purchases, including the identity of the buyer and the price.

(ProPublica has been inviting readers and other journalists to send in the files to be posted as part of our Free the Files project.)

Sex, Oil, and Videotape

Part 1: The whistleblower

I rolled to a stop and cut the engine. John Bolenbaugh leaned forward in the passenger seat and surveyed the scene. "We can walk over there," he said, and we stepped out onto a gravel track overlooking a marshy bottomland behind Sheet Metal Workers Local 7 in Marshall, Michigan. The town's water tower sprouted on the horizon behind us, and ahead, in the distance, we could just make out the beeping of backup warnings and the rumble of diesel engines. We unloaded Bolenbaugh's ubiquitous supplies—a rake, a digital video camera, the day's newspaper, and a pair of surgical gloves—and set out across the soggy ground. As we tromped to the edge of a wide pond, we could see a line of blaze-orange temporary fencing and, on the other side, a crew on track excavators and wheel-loaders digging out nearby Talmadge Creek. At the water's edge, Bolenbaugh switched on his camera. It was late November 2011, just before Thanksgiving, and the crisp air carried the first hints of winter—but Bolenbaugh, without pause or warning or a single thought for the cold, waded out knee-deep into the pond.

Almost every day for more than a year, this had been Bolenbaugh's daily activity—shooting video of the slow-going cleanup of one of the worst inland oil spills in American history. And on that day he wanted me to see "ground zero," the exact spot where, in late July 2010, an underground pipeline owned by Canadian-based Enbridge Inc., ruptured and spilled more than a million gallons of crude derived from the Alberta tar sands—enough to flow out of this pond into the distant creek and on to the Kalamazoo River. A former cleanup worker himself, Bolenbaugh was fired in October 2010 by Enbridge contractor SET Environmental, because, Bolenbaugh says, he refused to follow top-down instructions to cover up oil.

Conservatives have destroyed Joint Review Panel's credibility, Nathan Cullen

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP, Nathan Cullen says that the Conservative's plan to give themselves final say on the fate of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline has confirmed the fears of pipeline opponents: that the joint review panel process is a sham.

“The process was always threatened. A lot of people suspected that Stephen Harper wouldn't take 'no' for an answer when it comes to this pipeline. Now that has been made explicit.”

Besides imposing an 18 month time limit on all environmental reviews done by the National Energy Board, the Tories have made one small, but significant change as well. Up until now, only if the panel approved a project did that decision have to be submitted to the federal cabinet for final approval.

The new rules say that even if the decision is to reject the project, the cabinet will have to approve that as well, essentially giving them the power to force the National Energy Board to reconsider their decision.

France Election Results: Marine Le Pen, Far-Right Candidate, Wins Huge Portion Of Vote

It’s the unpleasant outcome no one was expecting: Having won 18 percent of the French vote, Marine Le Pen can now be considered the third voice in the 2012 presidential election. Though at one time stuck in fourth place, trailing Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the two frontrunners, the president of the National Front (FN), Le Pen, more than won her share of votes.

The FN, under Le Pen's leadership, obliterated her father's best vote-showing in 2002, when he won 16.86 percent of votes cast, a feat that opened the doors to a second round against Jacques Chirac. Exceeding poll projections from the last few weeks, Le Pen the younger succeeded in reaching the party’s “historic score” of 16 percent.

Le Pen's campaign drew strength by focusing on the fundamental issues of the National Front, immigration and security, but with a new target: the middle class. According to Le Pen's team, this was the key to the 2012 campaign. Taking advantage of the economic and financial crises, the FN candidate focused on discrediting political elites she believed were “responsible” for France's financial woes. Le Pen also capitalized on the general lack of enthusiasm for major-party candidates.

"Anti-liberal” proposals added a new dimension to the presidential race; the extreme right-wing party called for “another vision of man, another vision of the economy,” and for putting "French interests first, above the interests of the financial markets, and above the interests of other nations, including Europe."

Quebec government and student protesters finally meet after weeks of acrimony

QUEBEC - After weeks of long-distance finger-pointing and posturing, the Quebec government and student groups finally found themselves seated around the same table Monday.

The acrimony between the sides has been so intense, given raucous street protests against tuition hikes, that simply organizing a meeting proved challenging.

It remained unclear whether Monday's encounter might actually bear any fruit. The government made it clear it wouldn't back down from planned fee increases, while student groups continued insisting on a reversal.

The fact the students and government were meeting, however, represented a considerable change from recent weeks when protesters vandalized government buildings, converged outside Premier Jean Charest's family home and trashed the offices of Education Minister Line Beauchamp.

Before agreeing to a meeting, Beauchamp had established conditions — notably, that the protesters condemn violence. She added a new condition earlier Monday: that the protesters agree to a temporary "truce."

Beauchamp had asked the students to put a stop to tactics that might disrupt the economy and social peace while talks were taking place.

Losing battle to put positive spin on Afghanistan

On Sunday, April 15, Afghan insurgents mounted a series of co-ordinated attacks in Kabul and three other urban centres in the eastern provinces. It took over 18 hours for the Afghan security forces, backed by British Special Forces, to quell the attack and eliminate the last of the insurgents.

Although initial reports varied greatly, the official death toll from the violence was 51 casualties — four civilians, 11 Afghan security personnel and all 36 insurgents involved in the attacks.

In Kabul, the 16 attackers launched their assault from two separate locations: one within range of the Afghan Parliament buildings, the other close enough to threaten the international embassy district.

Well in advance of the attack, the insurgents had been able to stockpile large quantities of ammunition, including grenades and rockets. Both sites used were buildings under construction, which presumably allowed them to deliver their deadly cargo without detection. Nevertheless, the fact that both locations are within the most heavily secured districts in the Afghan capital led President Hamid Karzai to blame NATO for the setback.

“The terrorist infiltration in Kabul and other provinces is an intelligence failure for us and especially for NATO and should be seriously investigated,” Karzai told reporters.

Populist message + social media = great expectations for the Wildrose

Wildrose looks poised to win. If so, this would be only the latest in a long series of political upsets in Alberta’s history. Populism has played a central role in this story and Wildrose is no exception.

But times are changing. If it wins power, Wildrose may find it much more difficult to be a populist government today than in past. In an interview with Colby Cosh, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith inadvertently puts her finger on why:

“The sudden regime changes that Alberta is famous for seem to follow the evolution of new media…The 1935 election, the Social Credit election, was a radio election. [William] Aberhart won because he mastered a new medium. The 1971 election was a TV election. The baby boomers responded to a young leader, Peter Lougheed, who looked like them…And now I think we are looking at a social media election.”

The medium, as Marshall McLuhan famously said, is the message. More specifically, radio and TV are broadcasting tools, which means they send a message from one to many. The audience plays a largely passive role as receivers of a message that is crafted and delivered by the speaker.

As Smith notes, social media belong to a new era. Instead of broadcasting, they organize content and people in networks, so that messages travel from many to many. In other words, social media link the audience through a conversation. This makes the audience an active participant in the creation and transmission of the message(s) that travel around the network.

Tories mull privatizing VIA Rail routes

Federal officials are considering privatizing some of VIA Rail’s longest and most scenic routes – including the quintessentially Canadian journey between B.C. and Ontario, and the Rocky Mountain run between Jasper and Vancouver.

The debate about the future of the Crown corporation is being triggered on two fronts: Ottawa’s efforts to cut costs and controversy over VIA Rail’s plans to expand into the luxury travel sector with high-end rail cars built with stimulus cash.

Internal Transport Canada documents show a private-sector competitor to VIA Rail, Rocky Mountaineer Rail tours, is strongly opposed to Ottawa’s decision to spend about $25-million on luxury cars aimed at enticing affluent tourists. The firm, also known as RMR, targets the luxury rail market exclusively, with slick promotional videos featuring U.S. country singer Reba McEntire raving about her time riding the Canadian rails.

Starting next year, VIA’s fleet will include 12 “deluxe” sleeper cars, featuring private rooms, a “very comfortable” double bed, flat screen TVs, leather sofas, heated floors and glass-door showers.

At $1,289 for the upscale one-way ride on the Jasper-to-Vancouver line, VIA’s planned pricing for 2013 would be nearly half what RMR charges per person for its “Gold Leaf” package, which only runs during daylight hours and includes a stay in an upgraded hotel room.

Smith's 'gaffes' are window on Wildrose libertarianism

If Danielle Smith and Wildrose are held to a minority in the Alberta election today, blame will fall squarely on Smith's shoulders.

Her critics - who turned out in force last week, decrying Wildrose for its alleged racism, homophobia and flat-earthism as regards climate change - will attribute the 11th-hour reversal to a rash of so-called "bozo outbreaks" that marred the homestretch of Wildrose's campaign.

They'll say, quite rightly, that Smith was strangely reluctant, for a front-running politician or indeed for any politician, to level her leader's blowtorch at less-thangenius-level Wildrose candidates Ron Leech, who opined on the radio that being white gives him a leg up as ambassador to all nations, and Allan Hunsperger, who blogged last summer that gays will roast in a lake of fire, a kind of celestial cookout.

It can't have helped either, Smith's relieved opponents will chirp, that she committed the heresy of saying of climate change that "we've been watching the debate in the scientific community, and there is still a debate," drawing a chorus of incredulous boos from a live studio audience. How could anyone in the homestretch of an apparently winning campaign commit such hopeless gaffes?

Permit me to offer a dissenting opinion.

Politics to eclipse policy in spring session

OTTAWA—Spring has sprung, shrank, and then sprung again, the grass outside my condo that I don’t have to cut is growing, and Members of Parliament are about to undertake the annual spring ritual, which involves trying to make it to the summer break without losing any significant political ground.

According to the Parliamentary calendar, we have between six and eight weeks of sitting days until the break and if I were a betting man, I would say closer to the six than the eight.

In my spectacularly ill-informed and humble opinion, I think it will be an interesting stretch. The stage is set for a level of strategy, gamesmanship, and intrigue that should warm the hearts of political junkies everywhere.

Let’s begin with the individual parties and their options and objectives.

The Liberals are in a very difficult place. Their leadership is in a state of flux and they are getting the squeeze from their cousins on the left. While it is true that the next election is a long way off, the wisdom of waiting another year to pick a leader escapes me entirely. If the recent NDP actions on the time allocated for the response to the budget are any indication, the Liberals will continue to be marginalized as a party, contributing to an increase in individualism by the caucus members. Suffice it to say that this will seriously impair their ability to impact events.

Etobicoke Centre case turns spotlight on electoral safeguards

Can Canada's electoral system, held up as a model of fairness and integrity in developing countries, be rigged?

That's a question that may come up when former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnevskyj goes to court Monday to seek to have the federal election result overturned in the Toronto area riding of Etobicoke Centre, on the grounds that there may have been voting irregularities or fraudulent or corrupt illegal practices.

A three-time MP, Wrzesnevskyj lost to Conservative MP Ted Opitz on May 2 last year.

Wrzesnevskyj's case aims to show that in Etobicoke Centre, dozens and dozens of people voted without providing any evidence showing where they lived. The case alleges dozens more registered to vote on Election Day in one part of the riding, but were on the voters’ list in another part of the riding — and that at least five people appear to have voted twice. In all, 181 votes are being disputed.

Borys Wrzesnevskyj lost Etobicoke Centre by just 26 votes in a riding where over 50,000 people cast their ballots.
Ruling could trigger by-election

Ottawa should do the math: Productivity trumps head counts

The federal government employs 400,000 people, more or less – and will probably still employ 400,000 people, more or less, when it completes its modest downsizing in 2015. With a maximum hit of 12,000 people, it is a modest downsizing, indeed: one worker a year, for three years, for every 100 workers who keep their jobs. By way of perspective, New Brunswick lost 5,700 jobs in March alone. Nova Scotia lost 2,900. Prince Edward Island lost 200. Newfoundland lost 700. Atlantic Canada, in other words, lost almost as many jobs in a single month (9,500) as the country will lose in three years from the elimination of jobs in the federal government. For the most part, no one much noticed or much cared. Most of these folk, after all, were private-sector workers.

Assume for a moment, as absurd as the proposition may sound, that the federal government delivered its services slightly more efficiently in the future than it does now. Arbitrarily, say 1 per cent more efficiently. This feat would eliminate 4,000 jobs – with no loss in either quality or quantity of services. Now extend this single-point increase in efficiency to three years. This feat would eliminate 12,000 jobs with no loss in either quality or quantity of services.

Another fine snow job from 'open' government

OTTAWA -- Canadians love to talk about the weather.

The federal government, however, doesn't share the gift of the weather gab.

Tom Spears, a science reporter with the Ottawa Citizen, was doing some web-browsing in March when he came across a citation on the NASA website about a joint project with Canada's National Research Council to study falling snow.

It piqued his interest, so he contacted a scientist from NASA, and in about 15 minutes knew exactly what they were doing.

They wanted to figure out if there was a better way to determine how much snow is falling. We're apparently good at figuring out where it's snowing but not so good at determining from radar how much snow is going to come from a particular storm.

But Spears does write for a Canadian audience, so he contacted the Canadian government to get its input.

While NASA's scientist was only too happy to dish directly, all the NRC provided was seven meaningless sentences that don't even mention snow. Oh, and a drawing of an aircraft. It took almost an entire day for even that to be delivered.

NDP 'incredibly focused' on holding Harper to account

The NDP is "incredibly focused" on holding Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government to account and the "plethora of scandals" surrounding it, the Official Opposition's new House leader said Monday as MPs returned to Parliament.

"The dynamic in Ottawa has changed. New Democrats are re-energized, reunited and ready," he told reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons.

Cullen, who was appointed to his new role last week by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, said the F-35s, potential electoral fraud, and Monday's revelation about an expensive hotel stay by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda in London, are among the controversies associated with the government.

"As the scandals pile up, one of our challenges is which one to focus on," Cullen said.

He vowed, however, that the NDP will continue to be "a party of proposition not just opposition," and that it is willing to work with the Conservatives and any other party to get something good done for Canadians.

Cullen also indicated what kind of approach he will personally use in his role as House leader, saying he won't allow the remaining weeks in the Parliamentary calendar before the summer break to be consumed by political antics.

Human rights take back seat to trade with China, but Canadians divided on pipeline: poll

OTTAWA — Canadians are becoming less concerned about human rights in China as they increasingly view the booming Asian-Pacific region as a crucial driver of Canada’s future economic success, according to a survey to be released Monday.

But a Western Canada-led consensus on the importance of the Asia-Pacific region falls apart on the controversial proposals by two Calgary-based companies to ship hundreds of thousands of barrels of oilsands bitumen daily via pipeline to Asia-bound supertankers docking at B.C. ports, according to the poll of 3,129 Canadians done for the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada.

And 62 per cent of respondents don’t believe major pipeline proposals should go ahead if affected First Nations are opposed.

“Canadians’ support for the promotion of human rights and democracy in Asia seems to be taking a back seat to the potential for economic gain,” concludes a summary of the poll provided exclusively to Postmedia News.

The Asia-Pacific Foundation found that Albertans’ enthusiasm for expanded trade with Asia includes robust support — 60 per cent in favour compared to 29 per cent opposed — for having Asia-bound tankers transporting bitumen from B.C. ports.

Why and how the Wildrose 'wait time guarantee' adds up to two-tier health care

If you, dear reader, are one of the thousands of Albertans who has come to the conclusion the Wildrose Party's health care wait-time guarantee sounds like a pretty good idea, there may be some value as voting day draws nigh to revisiting how this scheme is actually supposed to work.

Because it's pretty plain on the face of it why and how this is an example of two-tier health care in which those who can pay get the treatment and those who can’t get to be sick, and possibly die.

Yet I can’t recall ever reading a journalistic account of this idea that really clearly spelled out how it's supposed to work, or that does the arithmetic -- although, in fairness, the Wildrose Party itself has been clear enough, even if they haven't dwelled on it amid all their rhetoric about their (doubtful) commitment to preserving publicly funded health care.

What you usually hear from the Wildrose Party is this, as their Policy "Green Book" states: They will … "further reduce surgical and specialist wait times by funding needed services for Alberta patients outside the province should timely access to a medically necessary procedures (sic) be unavailable in Alberta."

What you don't hear repeated so often are the sentences that follow: "In such cases, the cost to the government to have that same procedure performed in Alberta would instead be sent to the out-of-Alberta health provider. The patient would be responsible for costs over and above that amount." (Emphasis added.)

Taking Liberties: Revelations in Hassan Diab case highlight major faultlines in extradition process

The multi-year extradition saga of Ottawa university professor Hassan Diab -- sought by the French for his alleged role in a 1980 Paris bombing that claimed four lives -- has taken yet another bizarre turn with the news that Diab has not even been formally charged. He is merely sought for questioning, with no guarantee that a trial would ensue.

Despite this astounding discovery -- no doubt discomfiting to the Ontario judge who presided over Diab's two-year extradition hearing -- Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has signed a surrender order committing Diab to years of French detention without charge while the 32-year investigation into the crime continues.

It's a decision that Diab's lawyer, Don Bayne, says is unprecedented in Canadian history. But then again, nothing about the Diab case passes the judicial smell test. It would be an understatement at best to declare that Diab, who adamantly denies any involvement and condemns violence and anti-Semitism, is a victim of mistaken identity. Indeed, Diab's finger and palm prints, handwriting, and physical description do not match those of the suspect, yet the case has ground on largely due to an arcane process that sacrifices the Charter rights of an individual to the politics of foreign relations.

It's time to expect more from our government

Something is happening in Canada that seems, in the context of a majority Harper government, counter-intuitive. Harper continues implementing his right-wing revolution by virtual fiat, and Preston Manning's "democracy" institute says Canadians actually want "less" government and more individual responsibility. Yet a flurry of polls in the past few weeks and months suggest two dramatic counterpoints to this self-serving narrative.

First, in a development that is virtually unprecedented, inequality has become, by far, Canadians' top concern, displacing the perennial front-runner, medicare. And closely related are a number of polls showing that Canadians in large majorities think wealthy people and corporations should pay more taxes. They are also willing to pay more themselves.

How these attitudes will play out over the longer term is hard to predict. Other trends are not so encouraging.

The trouble with normal, Bruce Cockburn told us, is it always gets worse. And that's the danger in times like this when we watch the ratcheting back of democratic government and the things that it has provided. The longer-term threat to democracy is that we become inured to the systematic assaults on it. It is easy to get demoralized with what one U.S. writer called "surplus powerlessness." Without an obvious short-term solution to the quasi-dictatorship of the Harper government the easiest response is to deny it is happening -- and then get used to it.

Earth Day in Vancouver: Resistance to Kinder Morgan's pipeline plan grows

It's an exciting time to be returning to work as editor here at I can see already that it's going to be a challenge to keep our coverage up to the pace of bad news stories when it comes to the Harper government and the environment. This past week saw a flurry of announcements about cuts to Environment Canada and weakening of the crucial environmental review process for major industrial projects.

To add insult to injury (or farce to tragedy), there was the mind-boggling news that the government was doing away with the BC-based oil spill emergency response team; the clean-up of a massive oil spill on the Pacific coast will apparently easily be coordinated from the central offices in Quebec...

These past couple of years, I have had the chance to work with the Wilderness Committee, learning a great deal about the issues related to pipeline and oil tanker expansion plans. In a recent column on BC politics (which I do bi-weekly for The Source) I wrote about the recent news of Kinder Morgan's plans for a massive expansion of tar sands crude exports out of Vancouver Harbour. 

Two years ago this month, a massive oil spill at a deep sea BP operation shocked the world. Workers were killed, and the environment and coastal communities around the Gulf of Mexico were devastated.

What Went Wrong in Canada?

The machinations of a minority government in Canada turned the mission in Afghanistan into a political football.

Visit the new CIC website at OpenCanada.Org. Canada's hub for international affairs.

Canadian troops said farewell to Afghanistan 50 years after U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower said farewell to the American people and warned them of the threat war poses to democracy. Coincidence, as Einstein put it, is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

How does Eisenhower’s solemn caution on the influence of the military-industrial complex apply to Canada’s Afghanistan experience? According to those present when major decisions about Canada’s longest-ever military commitment were made, the war in Afghanistan fundamentally weakened Canadian democracy. Last week, when asked what went wrong in Afghanistan, former Liberal leaders Michael Ignatieff and Bill Graham suggested that the real wrongdoing occurred in Canada.

Alberta election: close but not touching

I was chatting with Éric Grenier of Saturday about Monday’s Alberta election. Grenier’s seat projection from late polls predicts a slim Wildrose Party majority for the next Alberta legislature, with 45 seats for the insurgent WRP and 37 for the incumbent Progressive Conservatives. I don’t really know the details of how he gets from the polling numbers—which show the PCs closing somewhat in recent days—to the seat counts. But because he treats the cities as homogenous metropolitan areas, as he is forced to by his commitment to a purely numerical method (that is how they are handled by the pollsters themselves), I tend to think Éric has the WRP just a tad low. He is implicitly mixing in urban-core ridings, where there is a lot of “progressive” vote to be skimmed by the fearmongering Tories, with ones that are “urban” only in the slightly demented eyes of the census, and are straight WRP-PC fights that will be hard for the WRP to lose given the polling numbers.

Four important words there: “given the polling numbers”. This Alberta election is a case in which an educated guess that incorporates local knowledge is certainly better than a purely automated model. But the educated guess can also fail in a million ways, and that is especially true here. The Wildrose Party is going stronger with “certain to vote” survey respondents, but a late break toward an incumbent is a bad sign for the opposition. Amongst individuals, the act of voting will carry high emotional stakes, and almost nobody, it seems, will be repeating his own 2008 vote.

F-35 scandal ‘a key point’ in history of this government

When Parliament returns on April 23 after a two-week break, the government will “try and change the channel” on the escalating F-35 political scandal, say opposition MPs, but some Conservatives say the growing controversy over the $25-billion fighter jets is a key point in the history of this government and depending on how it handles it, could determine its fate.

Tim Powers, a Conservative pundit and lobbyist at Summa Strategies, said that while the government would “most certainly want to get onto other subjects,” it can also advance the F-35 story.

“They have an opportunity try and change the story on the F-35s if they advance their seven-point plan and even move beyond that. I don’t think it is overstating it to say this is a key point in the history of this government. How the next chapter is written could be crucial in determining its long-term fate,” Mr. Powers said.

“I won’t be surprised if they try to bring something else up that will take the limelight off them and particularly off the Defence Department. It’s really hard to forecast what they’re going to do, but they clearly will be trying to get it off the F-35s,” NDP House Leader Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont.) told The Hill Times last week. “They certainly haven’t been successful up to this point.”

U.S. Defense Department suggests Harper government understated costs of F-35 by $2-billion

The latest U.S. Department of Defense report to Congress on projected costs of the controversial F-35 stealth fighter jets suggests the Conservative government is understating the purchase price of Canada’s initial lot of 65 aircraft by more than $2-billion and that Defence Minister Peter MacKay (Central Nova, N.S.) was wrong when he compared the cost of maintaining the sophisticated planes to maintenance costs for the current fleet of fighter jets, says one of the project’s most vocal critics.

Alan Williams, a former procurement officer with the Department of National Defence in Ottawa, said a Selected Acquisition Report on the F-35 that the U.S. Department of Defense submitted to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on March 29, five days before Auditor General Michael Ferguson tabled a scathing report on Canada’s management of its role in the F-35 project, shows the acquisition cost to Canada for the planes the government plans to buy has climbed to $88.7-million per jet, more than $13-million above the purchase price the government used in its last public estimate.

As well, Mr. Williams said a little-noticed paragraph in Mr. Ferguson’s April 3 report shows the government has had secret plans to eventually acquire a total of 79 F-35s, including 14 that Mr. Ferguson disclosed were being planned as replacement aircraft because of attrition.

Prime Minister’s Office cut by 13%, ministers’ budgets cut by 18% since 2010

Government departments across Canada are currently working to trim their budgets by between five and ten per cent as part of the government’s strategic and operating review for this year, but while Cabinet ministers’ and the Prime Minister’s Office budgets have also been reduced, it appears they were not subjected to the same review.

According to the Treasury Board Secretariat, the public accounts forecast for the 2011-12 fiscal year shows that Cabinet ministers, ministers of state, associate ministers and Parliamentary secretaries spent a combined total of $54.5-million; a five per cent reduction from the previous year’s forecast.

Sean Osmar, press secretary to Treasury Board President Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.), said ministerial office expenses have declined by 18 per cent since 2010.

While the 2010-11 budget forecast for ministerial office spending was $57.4-million, actual expenditures came in at $51-million. In the 2009-10 fiscal year, the forecasted $69-million turned out to actually be $58-million in ministerial office budget expenditures. Between 2009-10 and 2010-11, ministerial office budget expenditures were reduced by 12 per cent.

PMO director of communications Andrew MacDougall said that PMO spending has decreased by 13.7 per cent since the 2010-11 fiscal year, and by 22 per cent since the year previous.

Gulf Oil Spill: BP Execs Escape Punishment as Fallout from Disaster Continues to Impact Sea Life

Two years since the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, we look at its impact on the Gulf of Mexico’s residents and wildlife even as no BP officials have faced criminal prosecution for the disaster. Eleven workers died when the Deepwater Horizon well exploded, and almost five million barrels of crude oil leaked into the ocean before the well was plugged after 51 days. BP maintains the Gulf is rapidly recovering thanks to the company’s efforts, but Al Jazeera reporter Dahr Jamail describes how scientists say shrimp, fish and crabs in the Gulf of Mexico have been deformed by oil and chemicals released during the spill cleanup effort. Meanwhile, ProPublica’s environmental reporter, Abrahm Lustgarten, says the company failed to learn from past mistakes that could have helped avoid the explosion. He is the author of the new book, "Run to Failure: BP and the Making of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

Feds to focus on economy, opposition parties hunker down on F-35s

The governing Conservatives say they will focus on the economy, pass the budget implementation bill, and move on trade agreements and the copyright bill, but the opposition parties have their political sights set on the $25-billion F-35 spending scandal, robocalls, and government cutbacks when the House returns on Monday after a two-week break.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan (York-Simcoe, Ont.) said the governing Conservatives’ priorities will be the economy, passing the budget implementation bill and moving trade and copyright legislation forward.

The House will also be busy dealing with economic legislation, including a budget implementation bill, as well as two free trade agreements, said Mr. Van Loan.

“Our government remains focused on the economy. Our top legislative priority is implementing important measures of Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2012,” he told The Hill Times via email.

Mr. Van Loan also said the government would be introducing the budget implementation act, “in the coming weeks” though the exact date the legislation will hit the House has not been set.

Five-star hotel not good enough, Bev Oda opts for posh hotel favoured by royalty

OTTAWA—It seems only the best will do for International Development Minister Bev Oda, who refused to stay at one five-star hotel in London, England, last year and rebooked at a swanky establishment for more than double the cost.

Oda was originally supposed to stay at the Grange St. Paul’s Hotel, site of the conference on international immunizations she was attending.

Instead, she had staff rebook her into the posh Savoy overlooking the Thames, an old favourite of royalty and currently owned by Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia.

The switcheroo is reminiscent of a controversial trip six years ago, when Oda rejected a minivan for transportation and opted for a limousine instead.

Oda had a luxury car and driver in London shuttling her between conference site, her new hotel and beyond at an average cost of nearly $1,000 a day.

The bill for three nights at the Savoy last June set back taxpayers $1,995, or $665 a night. The government still had to pay for a night at the hotel she rejected, costing an additional $287.

An orange juice Oda expensed from the Savoy cost $16.

Ottawa to wrest control of environmental approval process

The national energy regulator will have the power to impose tough conditions on controversial pipeline proposals – and new powers to enforce them – even as the federal cabinet takes over final approval of projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver says.

The government is poised to introduce legislation as early as this week that will revamp its environmental assessment process and turn over many reviews to the provinces. Among the changes is the move to give the federal cabinet power to overturn any decision by the National Energy Board to reject a project on environmental grounds.

In an interview Sunday, Mr. Oliver said there will be little practical impact from that controversial change because the federal agency has so rarely turned down a project. Rather, he insisted that the board will be strengthened because it will, for the first time, be able to impose fines on companies that fail to comply with conditions included in their permits.

The environmental changes will be part of the government's omnibus budget legislation, which it aims to pass before the House of Commons rises for the summer at the end of June.

Fired after 36 years, worker gets 2 years pay

The abolition of mandatory retirement means that workers of any age who are wrongfully dismissed are entitled to appropriate paid notice.

Suzuki Canada Ltd. found this out the hard way when an Ontario court ordered the company to pay 25.5 months of salary to Syed Hussain who was fired at age 65 without a penny in termination or severance pay

Hussain was fired in February 2011 because of corporate restructuring. With almost 36 years of service, he was Suzuki’s longest serving Canadian employee and he had no imminent plans to retire from his job as assistant warehouse supervisor.

In his recently-reported November 2011 decision, Superior Court Justice Roberts noted that unless there are exceptional circumstances, 24 months is usually the high end of the range of damages for wrongful dismissal. However, he ruled that the combination of factors in this case made a 26 months more appropriate.

The court heard that beginning three weeks after he was fired, Hussein applied for 27 jobs, but ended up with just one interview. Nine  months after his dismissal he was still unemployed. Justice Roberts found that he made reasonable efforts to find another job and that at his age he had only a 1 percent chance of securing new employment in a similar or related industry.

The damages awarded Hussein were based on a yearly base salary of $48,790; employer-paid RRSP contributions of 3.5  per cent of base salary equal to $1,708 per year and an annual bonus of $2,248. He also received court costs of $19,287.37.

In a March 2012 article in The Lawyers Weekly, Hussein’s lawyer Daniel Lublin says this case confirms that the courts continue to have a great deal of sympathy for long-term employees who have been offered  inadequate severance packages. “As Suzuki learned, offering only the statutory minimums or something very close to it is becoming a costly gamble that rarely pays off.”

Original Article
Source: moneyville
Author: sherylsmolkin 

Immigration applicants upset at Ottawa’s plan to wipe out backlog

Little Songqiao Xu was only a year old when his parents applied to come to Canada in 2006.

Today, Songqiao is almost 8 — and his mother and father are still waiting for their immigration visas to be approved.

Their wait, in an immigration backlog that today includes 300,000 other skilled workers and their families, will soon be over. But the outcome is not what they had hoped.

Skilled worker faces three-year wait for immigration

The door to Canada will soon be shut for them with the Conservative government’s recent announcement it plans to return all skilled worker applications received before 2008 and wipe out the lengthy backlog.

“It is absolutely unfair,” said Songqiao’s mother Yan Xu, a high school English teacher in Suzhou, China. “What we lost is not only money, but our youth, our life and our dreams.”

The applicants, many from China, India and the Philippines, wonder why those who patiently followed the rules and queued up for their rightful turn to come to Canada are now being unfairly punished.