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.]

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Conservatives limit budget debate

OTTAWA — The federal Conservative government moved Thursday to limit debate on its omnibus budget bill, sparking outrage from opposition parties.

A government motion was adopted Thursday in the House of Commons, by a vote of 145-122, to limit second reading debate on budget bill C-38 to six more days (seven in total), before it's voted on and sent to committee for further examination.

The government's Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act is more than 400 pages long and includes sweeping changes to such things as employment insurance, environmental protection, national parks, border security and approvals for natural resource projects.

"While this may be legal, it's certainly unethical and it's certainly undemocratic," NDP House leader Nathan Cullen said in an interview following the vote.

"This prime minister . . . used to rail against this exact tactic because it's unfair, it's undemocratic and doesn't allow MPs to do their job," he added.

"They put time allocation that Conservatives, in a previous life with previous convictions, would have set their hair on fire."

BP Oil Spill Criminal Investigation May Ensnare Executives In Cover-Up

On April 25, 2010, three days after the Deepwater Horizon rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, Doug Suttles, a senior BP executive, told reporters the company's deep-sea well was leaking about 1,000 barrels of oil a day, a fraction of its maximum output.

"This is a long way away from something more significant," Suttles said.

Yet as Suttles and other BP executives assured the nation that the leak was small, the oil company's engineers had developed internal models showing a probable flow that was magnitudes greater, setting the stage for an unparalleled disaster, according to a newly unsealed federal affidavit and internal BP documents.

BP's internal flow-rate models -- and growing evidence that BP employees may have deliberately withheld from federal officials the damaging information found in them -- have emerged as a major focus of the Justice Department's two-year criminal investigation into the spill, according to legal experts and attorneys involved in litigation over the disaster.

Documents obtained by The Huffington Post also indicate that Kurt Mix, a senior BP engineer charged April 24 with obstruction of justice, shared information with more senior BP executives during the spill, including a senior vice president, Jonathan Sprague, who formerly managed BP's Gulf of Mexico operations.

Quebec-Vermont Wind Turbine Dispute Threatens To Become International Incident

A Quebec town on the Vermont border is threatening to shut off the water supply to a neighbouring American town if a plan to build windmills on the U.S. side goes ahead.

The mayor of Stanstead, a town in the Eastern Townships that controls the water serving the U.S. town of Derby Line, has said he would shut off the water valves if two wind turbines are installed just outside the limits of his town, on the American side.

“This is not a municipal council decision, but it is a measure I am proposing so that we can be heard,” Mayor Philippe Dutil said in a phone interview.

Dutil is furious. A few weeks ago, citizens and local elected officials learned that the company Encore Redevelopment, based in Burlington, planned to install wind turbines near the Canada-U.S. border.

It turns out the Americans intended to install the windmills only a few metres from the residential area of the Canadian town, but far from the houses on the U.S. zone, the mayor explained. Stanstead residents are outraged.

“They (Encore Redevelopment) want to build two wind turbines only 150 metres away from about 50 or so houses, the Stanstead Mayor declared, while on the American side, there are no houses within at least six kilometers from the proposed location of the wind turbines.”

Why the Media Hate-On for Quebec Students?

To say there's a pronounced lack of support for the Quebec student strike among members of the Canadian pundit class is a bit like saying there was a pronounced lack of support for icebergs among the crew of the Titanic. In a rare instance of -- dare I say it? -- solidarity, commentators of the left, right, east, west, up, down, and centre are all pretty much united in revulsion against this children's crusade against rising tuition.

What is it about the strike that troubles them so, you ask? Well, let's start with the word itself.

"Here's a news flash for the students of Quebec," snarks the Ottawa Citizen editorial board. "You're not on strike. You're not performing a service; you're buying one, at a discount of about 87 per cent."

"This is a protest," agrees Barry Wilson at CTV Montreal. In real strikes the general public tends to suffer, says Barry, where as in this thing, the "only ones who will really feel the pain are the students themselves."

Other acceptable words to describe what's going on include "riot" and "uprising," or, if you work for the Ottawa Sun, "whine" and "bitch." But be sure to steer clear of cute, sassy phrases like "Maple Revolution" or "Quebec Spring." Everyone agrees those are the worst semantic crimes of all.

"Egypt this is not and Jean Charest, Quebec's premier, is no Hosni Mubarak," says Patrick Lagace at the Globe and Mail. Rex Murphy backs him up by observing that Jean Charest is not Bashar al-Assad, either. He's super-embarrassed that anyone would ever imply otherwise!

As soldier suicides rise, National Defence slashes suicide prevention staff

The Department of National Defence is cutting the jobs of medical professionals involved in suicide prevention and monitoring post-traumatic stress disorders — despite claims by DND and the Canadian Forces that dealing with such health issues is a priority.

The move comes on the heels of a new report indicating that suicides have increased in the Canadian Forces. At the same time, the issue of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the military is also under scrutiny at a military police complaints hearing in Ottawa. That hearing is examining how the Canadian Forces dealt with the case of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, an Afghanistan veteran who killed himself.

The unions representing the health workers have been notified that 15 of the 25 jobs in that area will be cut. The workers perform key roles, union officials say.

They have been told that the DND's Deployment Health Section is being shut down, cutting four jobs, including those of suicide prevention specialists. The employees also monitor PTSD rates and traumatic brain injury.

Eight of the 18 jobs in DND's epidemiology section also will be cut. Those include epidemiologists and researchers who analyze mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, and suicide.

Grit leader Rae accuses feds of lying about F-35s

PARLIAMENT HILL—Internal government cost forecasts for the F-35 stealth fighter jets and information disclosed at a Commons inquiry into Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s scathing report on the project shows the government lied to Canadians before and during last year’s federal election, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Thursday.

Mr. Rae (Toronto Centre, Ont.) made the allegation after he took the unusual step for a party leader of stepping in at the inquiry by the House Public Accounts Committee, to grill the top bureaucrat at the Department of National Defence over a $10-billion discrepancy between what the government claimed before and during the 2011 election to be the full cost of an acquisition of 65 F-35 stealth jets National Defence continues to push as its selection for a new jet to replace Canada’s aging fleet.

Mr. Rae, addressing his questions to the deputy minister of National Defence, Robert Fonberg, pressed Mr. Fonberg on how it came about that in March 2011, as the government and National Defence were publicly claiming the project would cost a total of $14.7-billion over 20 years, including acquisition and maintenance, National Defence provided Cabinet with an estimated $25.1-billion in costs over the same 20-year period.

Rob Ford offered to quit after altercation with reporter

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he asked his family if he should step down after a tense altercation with a Toronto Star reporter behind his home.

The mayor said his family is upset after an incident in which he confronted city hall reporter Daniel Dale behind Ford's property in Etobicoke between 7:30 and 8 p.m. Wednesday.

"I said, 'Do you want me to step aside?' They said no way. You keep doing what you're doing," Ford told CBC's Jamie Strashin on Thursday.

"My seven year old, she likes it. My wife likes it. Because they know I'm doing the right thing. I know I'm doing the right thing."

The Star said Dale was in the area as part of research on a story he is following about Ford's application to purchase a parcel of wooded land adjacent to his backyard that belongs to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

Ford said a neighbour alerted him to Dale's presence, which prompted Ford to go to the back of the house and confront the reporter.

In debate, Sarkozy fails to upend Socialist challenger

After nearly three hours of intense exchanges, dozens of accusations of “liar” and “slanderer,” 137 statistical citations and a tsunami of finger-pointing, hand-waving and gesticulation, there was something of a consensus on France’s only presidential debate.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, almost everyone agreed, had failed in his self-stated mission to “explode” the “nullity” of his challenger, Socialist Party Leader Francois Hollande. While few were terribly impressed with the arguments of Mr. Hollande, a former party insider who has never been in a major debate before, most agreed that he had held his ground and allowed Mr. Sarkozy to knock himself out.

“Hollande entered the debate in the leading position, and there he still remains,” Le Monde wrote, and most other publications agreed.

Mr. Hollande’s style lacked the glamour and personability of Mr. Sarkozy’s – while the conservative president began the evening by addressing the camera directly, in the style of a North American politician, Mr. Hollande stared only at his opponent, and the long evening devolved into an out-and-out argument between two men who often seemed oblivious to the TV cameras.

But Mr. Hollande’s physical style – he sat ramrod straight, with few gestures beyond poking his pen at his interlocutor – caused the famously hyperactive Mr. Sarkozy to seem skittish and explosive, and in his more animated exchanges, such as those about immigration, the president appeared to be bobbing about like a bladder on a stick.

Oil politics is a slippery slope for Canadians

In recent years, relations between Ottawa and the provinces have been relatively peaceful – give or take the odd explosion from the now-retired Danny Williams.

But there may be acrimony on the horizon, battles that not only could pit the federal government against provinces but provinces against some of their provincial counterparts. And perhaps not surprisingly, money is at the root of it.

The federal Conservatives served notice in the recent budget that they intend to take a more activist role in energy policy. They introduced changes to streamline the environmental review process that will allow decisions to be reached much more quickly. And cabinet now has the power to overrule the National Energy Board on major projects that are considered to be in the national interest.

The new rules are not retroactive, which means they will not impact the current NEB hearings into the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline. Both Ottawa and Alberta desperately hope the pipeline is approved, because of the billions in oil royalties it represents. The B.C. NDP, meantime, is vehemently opposed to the project. The New Democrats currently hold a huge lead in public opinion polls and could well form the government here in a year’s time.

If they do, and the pipeline proposal gets a stamp of approval from the NEB, get ready for a truly ugly clash that will see Ottawa and Alberta on one side and B.C. on the other. And that may be just the beginning of the animosity.

‘Ethical wall’ keeps Harper’s chief of staff out of F-35 debate

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has had to face one of his government's biggest challenges to date – the controversy over the multi-billion-dollar purchase of fighter jets – without the help of his right-hand man.

Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, has carefully and completely stayed out of any discussions of the procurement issue since he took up his post in January 2011, according to several government sources.

Mr. Wright has had to abide by a so-called “ethical wall,” put in place to ensure that there was no conflict between files he dealt with in corporate Canada and those that would come across his political desk.

Mr. Wright was an executive with private equity firm Onex Corp., and dealt specifically with the aerospace industry. Onex manages capital for Hawker Beechcraft, a firm that has partnered on projects with F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

The Bay Street dealmaker is on a leave of absence from Onex, and could go back any time between July and next January.

He appears to have initially underestimated how large the F-35s loomed over the political landscape, telling a Commons committee in late 2010 that he foresaw few potential conflicts that would require him to step out of political deliberations.

Dalton McGuinty defends $188,000 paycheque for Elizabeth Witmer

WATERLOO—Former MPP Elizabeth Witmer is “worth every single penny” of the $188,000 she’ll be paid as the new chair of the Workplace Safety Insurance Board, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday.

“It is a big job,” the premier added in defending the wage that is higher than the job’s current occupant, former Liberal MPP Steve Mahoney who did it on a part-time basis and was not on the “sunshine list” of public sector earners making over $100,000 annually.

Mahoney, however, was paid $129,400 last year but was not on the salary disclosure list because, as part-time chair billing on a per diem basis, he is not classified as a full-time employee. The maximum payout for his job was set at $135,000, a WSIB spokesperson said.

McGuinty made the comments in a campaign-style appearance at a health care company in Witmer’s former riding of Waterloo, where a by-election must be called by late October.

Witmer stunned political observers last week when she left the Progressive Conservatives to take the job with the WSIB.

A Liberal victory could give McGuinty’s minority government a de facto majority.

The premier was clearly courting Witmer supporters in carefully crafted remarks.

Jim Stanek, BART Agent, Fired After Giving Unused Tickets To Needy Teen

A BART station agent was fired for giving unused train tickets to a 16-year-old boy in need to help him pay for his commute to school, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Jim Stanek, 66, received a letter from BART informing him of his termination after he was caught supplying the teen with $300 worth of tickets to get to school.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the teen was a family friend living with his grandparents in Oakley who began struggling in school after the recent death of his father. The teen's grandparents then enrolled him at Flex Academy in San Francisco –- a tuition-free charter school that offers customized learning plans –- where his performance improved. However, with a round-trip BART ticket costing $11 per day, the family was having trouble coming up with the $220 per month transportation cost.

In an effort to help, Stanek gave the teen a stack of unused BART tickets. When a BART rider loses his tickets, he must buy a new one and hand it over to the attendant in order to exit the station. Stanek gave these discarded tickets to the teen.

But the teen was eventually stopped at a BART station and questioned about the gifted tickets, leading to Stanek's termination.

In a video interview with CBS, Stanek appeared devastated and emotional.

Federal environment auditor worries new budget bill restricts public input

OTTAWA - The federal government's new approach to the environment means the public will have far less input into natural resource development in Canada, says the federal auditor general for the environment.

Scott Vaughan, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, says changes to federal environmental assessment introduced last week are among the most significant policy developments in 30 or 40 years.

In comments to a conference about sustainable development, Vaughan said public consultation has always been a "bedrock" of environmental policy in Canada.

But with more than 100 pages of new provisions wrapped into the budget implementation bill tabled last week, "there will be a significant narrowing of public participation," Vaughan said.

Hearings will be triggered less often. And when they are triggered, only people who are considered directly affected will be allowed to participate, Vaughan said.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Peter Kent, however, said the new process would be inclusive.

Anyone directly affected can have a say, as well as First Nations and experts. Others can write in.

Russia Missile Defense: Russian Military Prepared To Make Pre-Emptive Strike On US Facilities

MOSCOW — Russia's top military officer has threatened to carry out a pre-emptive strike on U.S.-led NATO missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe if Washington goes ahead with its controversial plan to build a missile shield.

President Dmitry Medvedev said last year that Russia will retaliate militarily if it does not reach an agreement with the United States and NATO on the missile defense system.

Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov went even further Thursday. "A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens," he said at an international conference attended by senior U.S. and NATO officials.

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov also warned on Thursday that talks between Moscow and Washington on the topic are "close to a dead end."

U.S. missile defense plans in Europe have been one of the touchiest subjects in U.S.-Russian relations for years.

Moscow rejects Washington's claim that the missile defense plan is solely to deal with any Iranian missile threat and has voiced fears it will eventually become powerful enough to undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent. Moscow has proposed running the missile shield jointly with NATO, but the alliance has rejected that proposal.

Mitt Romney's Neocon War Cabinet

It’s safe to say that foreign policy was not the strong suit of this year’s contenders for the GOP presidential nomination. Rick Perry labeled the Turkish government “Islamic terrorists.” Newt Gingrich referred to Palestinians as “invented” people. Herman Cain called Uzbekistan “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” and memorably blanked when asked what he thought of NATO’s incursion into Libya. Michele Bachmann pledged to close the US embassy in Iran, which hasn’t existed since 1980. Rick Santorum gave a major foreign policy speech at a Jelly Belly factory in California.

Yet though the candidates and their views were often hard to take seriously, their statements on foreign policy reflected a more disturbing trend in the GOP. Despite facing a war-weary public, the candidates—with the exception of Ron Paul, an antiwar libertarian, and Jon Huntsman, a moderate internationalist—positioned themselves as unapologetic war hawks. That included Mitt Romney, marginally more polished than his rivals but hardly an expert. Given Romney’s well-established penchant for flip-flopping and opportunism, it’s difficult to know what he really believes on any issue, including foreign affairs (the campaign did not respond to a request for comment). But a comprehensive review of his statements during the primary and his choice of advisers suggests a return to the hawkish, unilateral interventionism of the George W. Bush administration should he win the White House in November.

How to explain $5.2B in cuts?

Budget 2012 committed the government to cutting spending by $5.2 billion annually. These followed months of uncertainty as to how big the cut would be — as low as $4 billion, as high as $8 billion. It was a nice compromise.

This commitment followed a decision in the 2010 budget to cut defence spending, capping the International Assistance Envelope at $5 billion and freezing the operating budgets of all government departments for two years.

In both budgets, the government stated that the savings would be found primarily through greater “efficiencies.” Cuts to defence and International Assistance did, nevertheless, account for one-third of the expenditure cuts.

There was little information provided in the 2012 budget as to what programs or services would be cut to achieve the $5.2 billion in savings. The President of the Treasury Board stated that the details might not emerge until 2013. This was a little pessimistic as the impact on departments is now coming out bit by bit.

Canadians are becoming concerned with the lack of information and lack of transparency of the government. This could become a communications nightmare for the government. Just as disturbing is that Parliament is being asked to approve spending for 2012-13 without the details to support the spending requests.

So why did the government feel it had to cut federal spending? There are three possible explanations.

The CBC in crisis

The future looks bleak for the CBC as we know it. The public broadcaster is facing a 12 per cent ($115 million) cut in its government funding and, two years down the road, the probable loss of the television service's flagship Hockey Night in Canada, which brings in about half the corporation's advertising revenue and provides about 400 hours a year of "Canadian content," a hole which will have to be filled.

Though the revenue shortfall will be most evident in the television service, CBC Radio will inevitably have to share in the pain as management scours the corporation for ways to cut costs.

Richard Stursberg, who engineered a cultural coup within CBC TV during his tumultuous 2004-2010 tenure as Executive VP English services, has been doing the publicity rounds touting his new memoir Tower of Babble: Sins Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC, claiming that, thanks to his visionary strategy "it is possible to say with certainty that the CBC has never been stronger."

Writing in the Globe and Mail in response to the federal budget, Stursberg claimed, "For the first time in history, the CBC has proven that Canadians can make entertainment shows that can compete with the programs made in the United States," thanks to his leadership. "If there ever was a Golden Age for the CBC, it is now," he stated.

The China crisis

Of the 80 or more television shows Chinese authorities have banned in recent years, the most devoutly missed may be a soap opera called Wo Ju, whose popularity was eclipsed only by its underwear-bunching effect on Beijing’s censors. Its central plot featured a senior government official named Song, who accepts sexual favours from a property-hungry young woman while he brazenly manipulates his city’s real estate market. Song gets his mistress pregnant, is arrested for corruption and ultimately dies in a car accident. But his comeuppance wasn’t enough for China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. The broadcasting gatekeeper cancelled Wo Ju, saying its “sex, dirty jokes and corruption stories” had a “serious negative influence” on society.

Dissolute behaviour among Communist Party potentates has long been a taboo subject in China. Yet these days, for sheer sensationalism, Wo Ju could scarcely compete with the evening news. For more than a month, China has been transfixed by the downfall of Bo Xilai, a once-formidable party figure whose career has crashed amid accusations of corruption, influence peddling and—most sensationally—an attempt to cover up murder. At the centre of the saga: Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, who is under investigation in the poisoning death of a British businessman. Desperate to discredit Bo, party leaders announced they’d stripped him of his prestigious position as party chief in Chongqing, while state media dredged up long-suppressed reports of influence peddling and self-enrichment on the part of the powerful couple.

Just how special is Lord Black's residency permit?

Conrad Black is once again part of an elite club: a foreign national who has secured a permit to live in Canada even before finishing jail time abroad.

As The Globe and Mail first reported this week, a request from Lord Black, the former media baron, for a one-year temporary resident permit was approved by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in March even while he was still jailed in Florida for fraud and obstruction of justice.

Canadian immigration lawyers on Wednesday said it’s extraordinarily rare for the federal government to grant the right to reside here to convicted felons while they’re still in prison.

The former Hollinger newspaper head, who renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 to obtain a British peerage, is expected to be granted early release from a U.S. jail this week.

Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said Ottawa is supposed to take into account whether a temporary resident permit applicant has demonstrated the ability to live outside prison without reoffending.

“How on earth do you prove that a guy has rehabilitated when he hasn’t even finished his sentence?” he said.

Opposition fumes as Tories limit debate on sweeping budget bill

The Conservative government moved to limit House of Commons debate on its wide-ranging budget bill.

Opposition MPs reacted furiously Thursday to a government motion to limit second reading debate to six more days, at which point it will be voted on and sent to committee.

At more than 420 pages, nearly half of which involve major changes to Canada’s environmental laws, critics say the bill deserves special scrutiny.

The legislation was introduced without a media briefing from government officials, leaving it unclear as to what many of the various legal changes are trying to accomplish. In some cases, such as on the bill’s reforms to Employment Insurance rules, the minister in charge of the file is refusing to answer questions about the measures.

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said the legislation revokes pay equity, destroys environmental protections and contains measures – such as raising the eligibility age of Old Age Security from 65 to 67 – that the government never mentioned during the 2011 federal election campaign.

“Lumping it together in an omnibus bill like this is undermining the very institution that we all represent, and our ability to hold government to account,” he said.

Canada's stealth prime minister

One year on, we can say that Stephen Harper has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. If there was room to doubt what was achieved by five years of minority government, after a year of majority Conservative rule it is now clear: total national confusion.

The prime minister who, according to the Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson, "bestrides Canadian politics, a principled economic and social conservative who is reshaping the nation," is also the prime minister my Postmedia colleague Michael Den Tandt describes as "just another Canadian mainstream manager, Jean Chretien from Alberta."

The recent budget, according to the former Clerk of the Privy Council, Alex Himelfarb, signals "the crushing of the progressive state," conjuring images of "the twenties and thirties, a time of massive inequality and personal vulnerability which presaged the Great Depression."

On the other hand, Maclean's columnist Paul Wells reports, "I haven't spoken to a single Conservative who's satisfied with the budget - Most Conservatives feel like a 16-year-old who hoped his birthday present would be keys to the family car. Instead, Dad lets him shoot a few tin cans with a BB gun."

This is unusual, if not unprecedented. Pundits will naturally disagree on the merits of a government's program. It is less common to see them disagreeing on whether it has one.

Mayor Rob Ford wants to buy piece of Etobicoke park to build security fence

Citing concerns about late-night trespassers, Mayor Rob Ford and his wife, Renata, have asked the regional conservation authority to sell them a slice of the park they live beside so they can build a fence around their house.

“Our primary concern is the safety of Douglas and Stephanie, our two young children, having a secure area to play. The addition of this parcel of land to our property would allow us to install a better security fence that will help to enhance the safety of our children,” the Fords wrote in a joint Friday letter to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s executive committee.

The request is unusual. Anyone can ask the TRCA to sell land, but only one or two residents per year do so, says director of finance and business services James Dillane.

The property, located in the Humber River valley but not in its flood plain, is about 2,800 square feet — 56 feet by 50 feet. While the Fords referred to it as “a vacant parcel of land” in the letter, Dillane said it is actually a sliver of parkland that includes mature trees and is managed by the city’s parks department.

“James Gardens, a City of Toronto park, backs onto our property. Edenbridge Centre, the city-operated recreation facility, is also next to our home. We have a number of safety concerns, as we have encountered youth encroaching on our property late at night on a number of occasions,” the Fords wrote in the letter.

AFL-CIO: More Workers Killed On Job While Regulations Languish

WASHINGTON -- Thirteen U.S. workers were killed on the job each day and roughly 50,000 died from work-related diseases in 2010, a worrisome increase in the long downward trend in fatalities, according to a report issued by the AFL-CIO on Wednesday.

The AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. federation of labor unions, said in its analysis that while the number of workplace deaths has been trending lower for four decades, workers continue to get injured, killed or sick on the job due to weak safety enforcement, soft penalties for offending companies and regulatory inaction by government.

According to the report, 4,690 workers were killed while working in 2010, a 3.1 percent increase from 2009. Bill Kojola, an industrial hygienist with the AFL-CIO's safety and health department, told HuffPost that while the long-term numbers are encouraging, he was alarmed to see the overall number of deaths climb in 2010 when Americans are still underemployed.

"We're actually trending upward, which is not a good sign," Kojola said. "Particularly in an economy when the hours of work are down, especially in construction. If construction was running full bore, it's likely the numbers would be higher."

The annual "Death on the Job" report analyzes workplace data from the Labor Department as well as state agencies.

John Yoo, Former Justice Department Lawyer, Protected From Torture Lawsuit, Rules Appeals Court

SAN FRANCISCO — An appeals court on Wednesday tossed out a convicted terrorist's lawsuit accusing a high-ranking Bush administration lawyer who wrote the so-called "torture memos" of authorizing illegally harsh treatment of "enemy combatants."

Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo is protected from such lawsuits because the law defining torture and the treatment of enemy combatants was unsettled in the two years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, when the memos were written, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

The memos have been embroiled in national security politics for years after laying out a broad interpretation of executive power.

A Yoo memo from 2001 advised that the military could use "any means necessary" to hold terror suspects. A 2002 memo to then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised that treatment of suspected terrorists was torture only if it caused pain levels equivalent to "organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death."

Yoo also advised that the president might have the constitutional power to allow torturing enemy combatants.

The Recovery Is Really Good at Creating Bad Jobs

Indicators of the economic recovery weren’t stellar this quarter: consumer and business spending seem to have slowed down, making analysts nervous. Not to mention news out of Europe that the UK and Spain have slid back into recession. Yet it was just last month that a rosy jobs report from the Labor Department touting the addition of 227,000 jobs made some optimistic that we were finally about to experience a real recovery.

But that glow of returning job security isn’t necessarily going to shine on everyone, even if the recovery really does take hold. A report out on Monday from the International Labor Organization took a look at not just how many jobs are being created but perhaps an even more crucial question: What kinds of jobs are being created in the aftermath of the recession? And the answer isn’t heartening.

We’d hope that as the economy starts to pick up the pieces and dust itself off, it would do so by creating stable jobs that pay decently, putting workers on solid footing as we move out of the mess. Yet that’s not what’s going on. The ILO reports, “Since the onset of the global crisis, part-time employment has increased in two-thirds of the advanced countries [in the report], and temporary employment has increased in one-half of the countries.” This comes on the heels of a general increase in this kind of work over the past two decades. What it means is that the jobs our economic recovery is best at producing aren’t full-time—or even permanent. We may be putting people back to work, but it’s in jobs that offer little financial security.

Inside Occupy Wall Street's New York March

On Tuesday afternoon, in a departure from recent history, Occupy Wall Street took the form of a duly-permitted march.

To mark May Day, over 15,000 people filled New York City's Union Square for an all-purpose solidarity rally. Tom Morello and Das Racist performed, reporters scouted out eccentric-looking interviewees, and friends shared rumors about what the night might bring. At 5:30 p.m., the Union Square crowd emptied out onto Broadway, heading south toward the Financial District. Since the marchers had a permit, the NYPD officers blanketing the route didn't interfere.

(Mother Jones journalists took photos at May Day marches in New York and Oakland, and Josh Harkinson wrote about what Occupy should do next.)

The marchers' presumptive destination was either Wall Street or Zuccotti Park, though as usual with the Occupy movement, no one seemed quite sure. After more than two hours of slow-paced marching, the procession had reached an ill-defined endpoint in Lower Manhattan. Wall Street itself appeared impenetrable—the entrance was fortified with multiple layers of metal barricades manned by cops. Zuccotti Park was inaccessible, too—the plaza was brimming with police, including Deputy Inspector Johnny Cardona, who memorably sucker-punched a demonstrator in the face last October without provocation. (On April 28, Cardona yanked Katherine Bromberg, a New York Civil Liberties Union legal observer, off the sidewalk and arrested her; charges of disorderly conduct and blocking pedestrian traffic were later dropped.)

Why Harper must love the loony left

As in the Sherlock Holmes story of the dog that didn’t bark, what can be most interesting is what didn’t happen. So what hound didn’t howl during the first year of Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government?

The hardcore right.

All year long, the Conservative marching band stayed in lockstep behind the drum major. Conservative pundits remained seated politely in the reviewing stand. And the conservative base cheered and clapped on the sidewalks. Oh, there was a little grumbling here and there, but it was barely noticeable and quickly forgotten, and there was nothing that could be called dissent or alienation. And not a whisper of rebellion against the man leading the parade.

Which is astonishing.

For five long years, True Believers had consoled themselves by reciting a mantra. “He has to because it’s a minority,” they would say. “Wait until the majority.”

Stephen Harper accepted gay marriage and refused to even discuss abortion. “Wait until the majority,” social conservatives sighed. “Wait until the majority.”

Occupy Toronto stages successful protest against Barrick Gold

Following a successful May Day rally and march, Occupy Toronto held their ground and refused to budge after they “re-occupied” Simcoe Park in downtown Toronto Tuesday evening.

When police threatened - at the request of the City - to arrest and remove protesters from the park if they stayed past midnight, Occupy held a General Assembly and unanimously decided to stay put.

Twenty minutes later, Toronto Parks and Recreation reversed their decision.

Occupy: 1 City of Toronto: 0.

Organizers had purposely chosen Simcoe Park because it lies directly across the street from the Metro Convention Centre, where Barrick Gold was holding its Annual Shareholders’ Meeting on Wednesday morning.

“We chose this location because Barrick Gold is emblematic of the problems with the 1 per cent controlling everything,” said rally organizer Sakura Saunders.

“Barrick is a horrible company.”

The Harper-Santorum Axis

To welcome in the 2012 U.S. election year, then Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum gave a New Year’s Eve speech in Ottumwa, Iowa, in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses. By rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, Santorum warned, U.S. President Barack Obama was “pandering to radical environmentalists who don’t want energy production, who don’t want us to burn more carbon.”

Santorum mocked pipeline critics who were concerned about the threat to the Ogallala Aquifer because of likely spills. “Has anybody looked at the number of pipelines that go through that aquifer now? I mean, you can’t even see the aquifer if you look at a schematic of how many pipelines are there now.”

Just more than a week later, the Harper government similarly attacked opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver released an open letter accusing “radical” environmentalists and “jet-setting celebrities” of blocking efforts to open access to Asian markets for Canadian oil.

“These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda,” his letter said. “They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects.”

Harper needs fresh faces in international portfolios

Foreign affairs has become a big part of Stephen Harper’s majority government. But one year into majority, the group of cabinet ministers in international roles needs change.

In the past year, the Prime Minister has been a travelling man like never before. He’s signed border accords with the United States, touted victory in Libya, decided to enter a Pacific trade bloc and put a push on selling oil to China. In John Baird, he’s finally found an active and confident foreign minister.

Other things have changed, too, like the budget. Now, two of the longest-serving ministers in international portfolios, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda, are in the wrong jobs. It’s time Mr. Harper shuffled them.

Unlike the other ministers with international roles – Mr. Baird, Trade Minister Ed Fast and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney – Mr. MacKay and Ms. Oda now lead portfolios where the main job is restructuring and re-making their large organizations. Neither is suited for it.

It isn’t because Mr. MacKay called the air force to hoist him from his vacation, or because Ms. Oda pays $16 for orange juice. Those are sub-plots.

Mr. MacKay, defence minister since 2007, has been lauded by some commentators and he’s popular with the troops. His main jobs were to help the forces fight missions, to be a spokesman for troops in combat and to work with major allies.

Oil Spill Reported in the Great Bear Rainforest

HARTLEY BAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - May 2, 2012) - The Gitga'at Nation of Hartley Bay is reporting an oil spill, between two and five miles long and 200 feet wide inside the Grenville Channel, not far from the proposed tanker route for the Enbridge Gateway pipeline. The spill was spotted by a commercial pilot and reported to the Gitga'at Nation and the Canadian Coast Guard yesterday evening.

A Coast Guard landing craft from Prince Rupert is on its way to the spill, and expected to arrive by 12pm. The Gitga'at are sending their own Guardians to take samples and have chartered a plane to take aerial photos of the spill.

"If this spill is as big as the pilots are reporting, then we're looking at serious environmental impacts, including threats to our traditional shellfish harvesting areas," says Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga'at Nation. "We need an immediate and full clean-up response from the federal government ASAP."

Vancouver council votes to require pipeline and oil companies to be fully liable for oil spill

A battle between Big Green and Big Oil kicked up a notch Wednesday as Mayor Gregor Robertson’s council passed a motion slamming a “radical proposal” to increase supertanker traffic through the Burrard Inlet.

The high stakes at play in Robertson’s green vision for Vancouver finally became fully clear in recent weeks, as he put forward a motion requiring pipeline operators and oil tankers operating in Vancouver to carry enough liability insurance to cover the cost of any spill.

The motion appears to be the first step in a Vancouver green blockade against Alberta oil seeking to flow through B.C. en route to lucrative Asian markets.

The motion came after Kinder Morgan put forward a plan to increase the daily capacity of its oil pipeline from Alberta to the Lower Mainland from 300,000 barrels to 850,000.

Kinder Morgan wants to twin its 65-year-old pipeline, which delivers crude oil from Alberta to the Westridge facility in Burnaby, en route to Asia and the U.S.

As a result, the number of tankers in Vancouver harbour could go up five-fold, increasing the risk to the harbours and beaches that are a critical part of the city’s appeal.

We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger

A new a study from McGill University and the University of Minnesota published in the journal Nature compared organic and conventional yields from 66 studies and over 300 trials. Researchers found that on average, conventional systems out-yielded organic farms by 25 percent -- mostly for grains, and depending on conditions.

Embracing the current conventional wisdom, the authors argue for a combination of conventional and organic farming to meet "the twin challenge of feeding a growing population, with rising demand for meat and high-calorie diets, while simultaneously minimizing its global environmental impacts."

Unfortunately, neither the study nor the conventional wisdom addresses the real cause of hunger.

Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That's enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day -- most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land -- can't afford to buy this food.

In reality, the bulk of industrially-produced grain crops goes to biofuels and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the 1 billion hungry. The call to double food production by 2050 only applies if we continue to prioritize the growing population of livestock and automobiles over hungry people.

But what about the contentious "yield gap" between conventional and organic farming?

Quebec’s Maple Spring

Montreal – As 180,000 students continue their 12-week strike against tuition increases, and police respond with concussion grenades, pepper spray, batons, kettling and mass arrests, Quebec’s major city is becoming ungovernable.

What was a fairly routine student strike has turned into what many are calling the Maple Spring.

Day after day, protesters wearing signature swatches of red cloth clog the streets of Montreal’s downtown chanting anti-capitalist slogans. A minority has responded to police aggression by trashing government offices and corporate windows, building barricades and ripping up concrete to heave onto police lines.

This week, CLASSE, the main coalition of student unions, rejected Premier Jean Charest’s attempt to defang the surging movement by spreading the tuition increase over seven years instead of five. Hours after the offer, thousands of protesters in a boisterous nighttime demo condemned it as an “insult.”

Outsiders, it seems, are having trouble grasping why students with the lowest post-secondary tuition in the country (generally around $2,600 yearly) would be so exercised about the Charest government’s increase of $1,625 over five years.

Occupy Is Right: It's the Economy, Stupid. And Don't Forget Democracy

Most people remember the famous sign in the Clinton campaign war room in 1992 as "It's the economy stupid!" But what is often forgotten is the second phrase in the admonition to Clinton campaigners to keep a sharp focus on the campaign's message: "And don't forget health care."

Today, the sign should read, "It's the economy stupid. And don't forget democracy." That advice was provided recently by the pollster who worked on Clinton's 1992 campaign, Stan Greenberg. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Greenberg summarized the views of many Americans as, "There's just such a control of government by the wealthy that whatever happens, it's not working for all the people; it's working for a few of the people... They think that the game is rigged and that the wealthy and big industries get policies that reinforce their advantage. And they do not think their voices matter."

Unlike most advocates for economic justice or democracy who have separated the issues, the Occupiers got this right from the beginning. They clearly see economic inequality, corporate power, and the capture of our democracy by big money as a unified problem. The "we are the 99 percent" meme embraces both gracefully: We can't have an economy that works for the 99 percent until we put our democracy in the hands of the 99 percent.

CEO Pay Grew 127 Times Faster Than Worker Pay Over Last 30 Years: Study

It's good to be chief executive.

American CEOs saw their pay spike 15 percent last year, after a 28 percent pay rise the year before, according to a report by GMI Ratings cited by The Guardian. Meanwhile, workers saw their inflation-adjusted wages fall 2 percent in 2011, according to the Labor Department.

That's in line with a trend that dates back three decades. CEO pay spiked 725 percent between 1978 and 2011, while worker pay rose just 5.7 percent, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute released on Wednesday. That means CEO pay grew 127 times faster than worker pay.

Income inequality between CEOs and workers has consequently exploded, with CEOs last year earning 209.4 times more than workers, compared to just 26.5 times more in 1978 -- meaning CEOs are taking home a larger percentage of company gains.

That trend comes despite workers nearly doubling their productivity during the same time period, when compensation barely rose. Worker productivity spiked 93 percent between 1978 and 2011 on a per-hour basis, and 85 percent on a per-person basis, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Meanwhile, workers saw their inflation-adjusted wages fall in recent years as corporations postponed giving raises while adding to their record corporate profits.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Bonnie Kavoussi 

DND amended report on F-35 status two weeks after AG Ferguson released his report

PARLIAMENT HILL—The department of National Defence last month retroactively amended a key phrase in a report it submitted for tabling in Parliament last year on the government’s planned F-35 fighter jet acquisition after Auditor General Michael Ferguson issued a scathing report on the controversial project's costs.

National Defence described the change as being due to a “typographical error.” The department, through the office of Vice-Chief of Defence Staff Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, changed wording that originally placed the project further along the Cabinet decision-making process when Treasury Board President Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) tabled the report in Parliament last June.

A former Parliamentarian who is familiar with Treasury Board’s reporting system to Parliament was shocked and, although he did not want to be identified, said Mr. Clement should have announced the change and publicly amended the reference while informing Parliament it had been misled when the report was first tabled nearly a year ago.

The document, a Report on Plans and Priorities which all departments submit to Parliament through the Treasury Board Secretariat as yearly updates on major plans and acquisitions, originally described the $25-billion F-35 project as being in the “definitions” phase when Mr. Clement tabled it in the Commons last June 9.

Closing penitentiaries is not in taxpayers’ best interests

This spring we’ve heard many announcements of layoffs in the public sector, and for the most part we expected this. However, I know of several officers in Correctional Services of Canada who believed their jobs were more secure with a Conservative majority. They were shocked when Vic Toews made the announcement that two federal prisons were closing, including Kingston Penitentiary – a maximum-security prison holding some our most frightening and violent criminals.

The claim is that these closures will save the government $120-million per year on facility and labour costs, with no threat to public safety. Inmates will be reallocated to existing prisons. We are led to believe there is excess capacity in the system, wasting taxpayer dollars, and this is simply an efficient policy change.

I’m always in favour of using our tax dollars more efficiently, but we’re looking to reallocate nearly a thousand inmates here – where exactly are they going to go?

Budget bill gives Conservatives broad power over EI rules

The Conservative cabinet is giving itself sweeping powers to rewrite the rules on whether Canadians on EI can turn down certain jobs without losing their benefits.

The measure is contained inside the budget implementation bill and would give cabinet the power to change employment insurance rules later through regulation without the approval of Parliament.

Yet, even though the provision is currently before MPs, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley is refusing to explain its purpose other than to say further details will be announced over the coming months.

Under the existing Employment Insurance Act, the government already has the power to terminate EI benefits if a claimant refuses to take “suitable employment.” That’s a term that isn’t explicitly defined in the law, but numerous court rulings have said personal considerations must be taken into account, such as geography and experience. Essentially, an out-of-work scientist can’t be denied EI for refusing to dig ditches or pick fruit.

The budget bill contains a small section that allows cabinet through regulation to define “suitable employment.” Ottawa isn’t saying what it has in mind, but Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently expressed his frustration that Prince Edward Island was bringing in temporary foreign workers to fill fish plant jobs even though many Canadians in the area are unemployed.

Welcome back Conrad Black. Surely we don’t deserve you

Oh dear. Convicted fraudster Conrad Black is coming back to Canada. Hang onto your wallets.

New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair accuses the government of favoritism for allowing this particular convicted felon — who is no longer a Canadian citizen — into the country. And Mulcair is right. That’s how the system works.

The law gives Ottawa great leeway in deciding which non-citizens get in. The government may bar a felon, or indeed anyone it can reasonably claim threatens public safety. But it doesn’t have to do so.

So the Conservatives let in the felons they like — such as Black.

And they bar those they don’t like.

The NDP raised the case of Gary Freeman, an American who served 30 days in jail in the U.S. four years ago for wounding a Chicago police officer under disputed circumstances in the ’60s.

Freeman spent most of his life in Canada and has a wife and four children here. But Ottawa won’t let him cross the border to see them.

Is this fair? I’m not sure it is. But it is, apparently, legal.

There are other cases. The Conservatives twice barred Chicagoan Bill Ayers from entering Canada. He had no trouble crossing the border before Stephen Harper became prime minister. He does now.

Charities face up to $20,000 in new garbage fees

An employee for an after-school children’s program, or garbage collection?

More than 1,000 Toronto charities and non-profits are now scrambling to make decisions necessary to balance the books after learning of a city council decision to charge for garbage pick-up.

Beginning July 1, charities and non-profit groups will pay for waste collection — a motion passed by city council late last year that many organizations say they’ve only recently been informed of.

“The roll-out of this has been just awful. Organizations are now just waking up to the fact that they are facing really significant costs,” said John Campey, executive director of Social Planning Toronto.

Hardest hit, Campey said, are organizations that accept food or clothing, since they receive loads of poor-quality donations that wind up in the garbage. For those groups, costs will be between $10,000 and $20,000 once they are phased in by 2015, he said.

Adding to the sting was the fact that some charities were slapped with the news around the same time council announced the city ended 2011 with a $292 million surplus.

The surplus for the city’s solid waste management system alone was $37.2 million.