Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Anti-Science Streak in Federal Marijuana Policy

Dr. Jody Corey-Bloom, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at UC San Diego, recently helped run a study that provided multiple sclerosis patients with either a marijuana joint or a placebo that looked, smelled, and tasted like marijuana. After smoking whichever substance they were given, patients were tested to see if it reduced their muscle spasticity -- an affliction, common to MS patients, that causes painful, uncontrollable spasms of the extremities. Spasticity was unaffected among the placebo patients but dropped 30 percent on average among the patients given real marijuana. The side effects? "Smoking caused fatigue and dizziness in some users," says Reuters, "and slowed down people's mental skills soon after they used marijuana."

The UC San Diego study is just the latest to suggest that marijuana has some medical benefits. Sixteen states, thousands of doctors, and tens of thousands of sick people concur in that judgment. It is dramatized by the personal testimony of sick people who are offered much more powerful drugs, but nevertheless insist that consuming marijuana was most effective at helping them. (Don't miss the video at the top of this post, as powerful a testimonial for medical marijuana as you'll find.)

The Commons: More than 400 pages and still short on details

The Scene. For all of the budget bill’s pages and clauses—more than 400 of the former and more than 700 of the latter—opposition MPs seem strangely at a loss. So very many pages and yet still they cry out for more.

“Mr. Speaker, until now the Conservatives had refused to come clean on how much they plan to cut from old age security,” Thomas Mulcair reported this day as if reading the evening news. “Finally yesterday, when asked whether the Conservative cuts would take about $10 billion out of the pockets of Canadian seniors, the Minister of Finance said: ‘I’ve heard that number. I’ve heard $12 billion also, something in that area.’ ”

Staring across the aisle at one minister in particular, Mr. Mulcair moved for the quip. “I guess,” he said, “it is not just the Minister of Defence who has arithmetic problems.”

Peter MacKay nodded mockingly.

B.C. civil servants vote to strike after failed contract talks

Public servants represented by British Columbia’s largest public sector union have voted in favour of strike action.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union announced the vote in late March after failed contract talks with the government.

“The strength of the turnout was 80 per cent -- that’s eight in 10 workers -- and the strength of the return was over 82 per cent,” said BCGEU president Darryl Walker. “I think that sends a message. I hope that the employer and the government [are] listening to that message.”

The BCGEU had asked for a 1 per cent wage increase in each of two years plus a cost of living allowance, totalling 8 per cent over two years at the current rate of inflation.

Auditor-General hits back at critics, defends scathing F-35 report

The Auditor-General is blasting critics of his report on the Harper government’s stealth fighter program.

Michael Ferguson made a repeat appearance Tuesday before the Commons public accounts committee, saying he stands behind the facts and figures in his April 3 audit, which set off a heated political debate.

“I am concerned with suggestions that accurate estimation and the inclusion of personnel, operating and maintenance costs are not important, since they would be incurred regardless of the aircraft selected to replace the CF-18,” the Auditor-General told the all-party committee.

His report accuses National Defence of hiding the full cost of the F-35 program by not publicly reporting $10-billion in operational expenses and criticizes Public Works for not demanding more justification for the sole-source purchase.

The remaking of Canadian conservatism: 1988 to 2012

Brian Mulroney's success in leading the Progressive Conservative Party to a second majority victory in the general election of 1988 was the last hurrah of the old Conservative Party, the party whose lineage extended back to the great days of the Liberal Conservatives of the 19th century, under the leadership of Sir John A. Macdonald. It is ironic that the party's final electoral victory was in aid of the implementation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that had been negotiated between the Mulroney government and the Reagan Administration.

The last great fight of Macdonald's life had been to sustain the National Policy and to block the Liberal Party's drive for a renewal of reciprocity or commercial union with the United States. The 1988 federal election campaign pitted multinational and Canadian business on one side against trade unions, social movements and much of Canadian civil society on the other.

Canada's green image tarnished by new policies

To those outside environmental circles, the move seemed puzzlingly out of character. After all, in the popular imagination, this is a country of virgin forests and pristine lakes, home of Jack London's White Fang, not to mention the birthplace of Greenpeace.

Quite simply, Canada was not supposed to act like this.

The move, of course, came as no surprise to those familiar with Alberta's tar sands boom - the sands saturated with a dense form of petroleum which can be extracted and used as fuel.

Under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, the Kyoto Protocol had become an impediment to growth of the multi-billion-dollar industry, which generates higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional pumping from oil wells.

Nakba Day in Palestine: A time to remember and resist

Today, there are events across Canada to mark 'Nakba Day,' including a public forum in Vancouver which will be livestreaming this evening. Here, Haseena Manek explains the significance of May 15 to Palestinians. 

May 15 marks the anniversary of the "Nakba" (Arabic for "catastrophe"), the dispossession of the Palestinian people that came with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

This year is the 64th anniversary. The day is acknowledged with protests throughout the Middle East. Last year, in Egypt, hundreds of protestors were arrested or injured, while a number of poeple were killed by Israeli forces when protesters marched on the borders of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including at the Lebanese and Syrian borders.

May 15, 1948 is known as the Nakba because hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people were forced from their homes, or chose to leave to protect themselves and their families from violence. Some Palestinian people still carry the keys to the houses they had to leave, which are now being lived in by Israelis. This has made the image of a key an important symbol for protesting Palestinians.

High-level bureaucratic panel to oversee fighter jets process led by same departments accused of hiding extra $10-billion

PARLIAMENT HILL—A high-level panel of bureaucrats to supervise the multi-billion-dollar acquisition of new fighter jets will be led by top officials from the same departments that were at the centre of a report  from Auditor General Michael Ferguson last month that accused the government of withholding $10-billion in costs for 65 F-35 stealth fighters.

The Hill Times has learned the “key decision-making body” to oversee a new project management secretariat the government is establishing in response to Mr. Ferguson’s report on the F-35s project last month will be chaired by the deputy minister of Public Works, with deputy ministers from National Defence and Industry Canada, the two other lead departments in the controversial project for the past six years, also forming the “core membership” of the oversight group.

G20 protester Byron Sonne cleared of all charges

Toronto G20 protester Byron Sonne walked out of a downtown courthouse a free man Tuesday, tearing up his bail papers after he was cleared of possessing explosives and counselling mischief not committed.

The 39-year-old self-described computer security geek waved his hands and flashed the "victory" sign as he spoke to reporters under sunny skies and amid cheers from his supporters.

"I'm sorry, I'm just totally high on happiness right now," Sonne said, adding that his next plan was to celebrate his "utter vindication" with "a bit of a shindig" at a downtown bar.

Sonne, a hacker and hobby chemist, made headlines after acknowledging he was keen to expose gaps in the June 2010 G20 summit's billion-dollar policing scheme and provoke authorities.

Ottawa has second chance to save millions of lives

Canadians want to take concrete action on behalf of those in developing countries who are needlessly suffering from fully treatable ailments. They want to help millions of people worldwide gain access to live-saving, affordable medicine.

Our politicians have this very opportunity in the form of Bill C-398, currently making its way through Parliament. The bill seeks to fix Canada’s flawed Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), an eight-year-old law that was supposed to make it easier to send lower-cost generic drugs to countries that can’t afford to pay top dollar for brand-name drugs.

Despite the best intentions, the law never worked. It was so riddled with cumbersome regulations and red tape that only one shipment of medicine has been processed since 2004.

Bill C-398, a private member’s bill, would untangle that red tape once and for all, allowing the legislation to work the way it was intended.

Ottawa locks in emissions with delays in carbon rules, agency warns

Delays in regulating greenhouse-gas emissions mean Canada is quickly locking in old-fashioned infrastructure that will fill the air with carbon for decades to come, new research shows.

The longer the federal government waits to clamp down on emissions and business continues as usual, the more difficult and costly it becomes to meet environmental targets, the research concludes.

These findings come from the soon-to-be-defunct National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the federally funded advisory group formed to give advice and research on sustainable development.

The Harper government is in the process of abolishing the agency.

EI reform: Unions say Harper’s ‘pay-less wage model’ will hurt all workers

OTTAWA—At the heart of the Harper government’s 2012 budget is a “pay-less wage model” that is unfair to temporary workers from abroad and is designed to provide business with a pool of low-paid employees across Canada, labour activists said Tuesday.

Union representatives held a news conference in Ottawa to shed light on the impact on workers of far-reaching changes to Employment Insurance (EI) and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program buried in the federal government’s controversial budget legislation.

“Employers will benefit by having a pliable workforce available at a moment’s notice,” commented Naveen Mehta, general counsel and director of human rights with United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW).

He said the main thrust of the budget changes is to help business.

Thermometer rising: Ice, methane, and climate change

In an article entitled Game over for the climate published in the New York Times last week, climatologist James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, drew an environmental line in the sand:

"If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate. Canada's tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet's species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk."

Losing Face: Why China Can't Stop Squandering Its Soft Power

China has had a tough few months in managing its image. As if police chief Wang Lijun's attempted defection and the ouster of his boss Bo Xilai weren't damaging enough, Chen Guangcheng's dramatic escape and the expulsion of an American journalist capped off a season of political revelation and regression. The supposedly airtight lid on the Chinese system turns out to be rather porous. To the outside world, an impression has formed of a political system that remains peculiarly insecure and knotted in contradictions. Even worse, for all the official Chinese rhetoric warning that the U.S. is undermining China's sovereignty through its crafty ways, Chinese officials and citizens alike seem to prefer U.S. sovereign territory in times of trouble.

That these recent episodes embarrass the Communist Party is probably an understatement. The party's fear of general "instability" is perhaps matched only by the disdain it holds for the airing of dirty laundry. This is in part informed by a cultural psychology at the micro level that manifests in macro political behavior: The ugly stuff and internal bickering get sorted out in the privacy of an inner sanctum, while for the appearance of outsiders, all is well and please don't poke around.

Tea Partiers Backing Scott Walker May Run Afoul of IRS

The tea party movement is kicking into gear again, buoyed by the success of Richard Mourdock in defeating longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana's GOP primary. They're intent on proving that the movement is not dead, as so many commentators have declared. To that end, the Tea Party Patriots (TPP), which claims to be one of the movement's largest national umbrella groups, is recruiting volunteers for phone banks and promising a massive outpouring of support for embattled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The tea party has already been active in the recall fight, but is preparing to go all out in the last few weeks before the election.

Jenny Beth Martin, who heads Tea Party Patriots, told Breitbart News that the organization would be on the ground in the state by Wednesday and would be joining local tea party groups in setting up command centers for volunteers as well as "virtual call centers" so that people outside the state can help work the phones. "Wisconsin is pivotal, and it is ground zero for our political landscape," Martin said. According to Breitbart News, she added that her organization was responding to a call for help from local groups "because they are exhausted from two years of non-stop campaigning, which they have been forced to do because of the left's relentless tactics to thwart the will of the people."

Capital City

THIS STORY IS NOT ABOUT THE origins of 2008's financial meltdown. You've probably read more than enough of those already. To make a long story short, it was a perfect storm. Reckless lending enabled a historic housing bubble; an overseas savings glut and an unprecedented Fed policy of easy money enabled skyrocketing debt; excessive leverage made the global banking system so fragile that it couldn't withstand a tremor, let alone the Big One; the financial system squirreled away trainloads of risk via byzantine credit derivatives and other devices; and banks grew so towering and so interconnected that they became too big to be allowed to fail. With all that in place, it took only a small nudge to bring the entire house of cards crashing to the ground.

But that's a story about finance and economics. This is a story about politics. It's about how Congress and the president and the Federal Reserve were persuaded to let all this happen in the first place. In other words, it's about the finance lobby—the people who, as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) put it last April, even after nearly destroying the world are "still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place."

B.C. nixed national park despite 2-to-1 public support

When British Columbia rejected a new national park in the South Okanagan earlier this year, the government cited a lack of public support for a proposal that would have protected “one of the driest, hottest and most threatened ecosystems in Canada.”

The decision was made even though the government had in its possession a study that showed twice as many local residents in support of the park as opposed.

But B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake defended the decision Monday, saying he felt the level of support wasn’t enough to justify such a dramatic shift in land use.

“It is all in how you look at that data,” he said, acknowledging the government had poll results showing about 39 per cent of respondents slightly or strongly supported the proposed park, while only about 19 per cent were slightly or strongly opposed. The remaining roughly 41 per cent said they neither supported nor opposed the proposal, didn’t know, or needed more information before deciding.

Quebec student crisis badly mismanaged by Jean Charest’s government

MONTREAL—When crisis management experts dissect the ongoing stand-off between Quebec and its student movement, they will be hard-pressed to find any evidence of a coherent government strategy.

The surprise resignation Monday of Line Beauchamp, Premier Jean Charest’s lead minister on the file, fits that haphazard pattern.

Over the course of three rancorous months, Charest and his ex-education minister have proven unable to talk the province’s way out of a messy confrontation with the students over a planned increase in tuition fees.

Every move of the government has either misfired or backfired. From one resolution attempt to the next, it has become harder to follow the thread of its thinking.

PM must come clean on pension changes

Prime Minister Stephen Harper must come clean about the real reasons for his changes to the age of accessing Old Age Security: to persuade/force Canadians to work longer.

Mr. Harper’s original justification for changing the age of accessibility — because it will be too expensive for the federal government in the future — has been deflated via reports by Ken Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, as well as by the C.D. Howe Institute and by the authoritative Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).

So why did he suddenly spring the proposed change in Switzerland without the courtesy and courage to inform Canadians first? Was it to impress his foreign friends? Perhaps, but as likely, it was to hide his real motive, which was exposed by a recent study by the consulting firm of McKinsey & Co.

The report linked the OAS changes to the charges surreptitiously introduced to delay access to the Canada Pension Plan. Taken together, they are designed to induce Canadians born after 1958 (that is, only a portion of the Baby Boomers as well as subsequent generations) to work beyond 65.

To achieve the same objective he could have retained the original age to access OAS and added incentives to voluntarily delay access (as he did with CPP). And he could have engaged in an open and honest discourse with Canadians in Canada as to why he was making the proposal. But, obviously that’s not how he operates.

Finally, benefits existed under the previous system for accessing CPP as old as 70 rather than at 60 or 65. However, the average age of retirement is still 62. This suggests that Mr. Harper’s policy may not attain its objective in the future because, whether he likes it not, Canadians may continue to act as they please.

Original Article
Source: Star
Author: William Gleberzon

Banks Not Immune to Housing-Related Failures: Corporate Canada

Canada’s banks, ranked the soundest on the planet by the World Economic Forum, aren’t immune to collapses triggered by falling housing prices, according to the government official implementing new mortgage rules.

Previous failures of Canadian financial institutions were due to bad real estate lending and sharp falls in housing prices, and these can happen again, Vlasios Melessanakis, manager of policy development at the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, wrote in documents obtained by Bloomberg News under freedom-of-information law. The last failure in Canada was in 1996.

“Canada is not immune,” Melessanakis wrote March 21 in internal notes responding to a posting on a mortgage-industry website. “Just because nothing happened in Canada in 2008 (a U.S.-centered crisis), does not mean that Canada is not vulnerable to a housing correction now.”

Banks and the derivatives scam

John Kenneth Galbraith famously described financial genius as "a rising market." This was on display in the expansionary era of the 1950s and 1960s. New bank credits funded growing businesses. Investment bankers injected their own capital into initial share offerings of "public" companies, allowing businesses to grow by taking in shareholders as partners. Finance flourished.

Expansion slowed with the inflationary 1970s, and ended in the early 1980s recession. However, in the stagnating markets that have prevailed in the West for the last 30 years, high finance has still found ways to turn a profit. For decades Monthly Review economists have been showing how the growth of finance has far exceeded the growth of the overall economy.

Financial products known as derivatives are at the heart of what explains the now out-of-control growth of finance in stagnant economic times. The Bank for International Settlements estimates the total amount of outstanding derivative products to be US$647.8 trillion. That compares with an estimate (nominal) of total world GDP of $69.6 trillion by the IMF. Thus, measured as the amount of notional financial claims -- we owe you, you owe us -- the stock of derivatives is over nine times greater than the market value of goods and services produced around the world in one year.

There are no bad jobs, Flaherty says

The Harper Conservatives are signalling they are preparing to get tough with unemployed Canadians who refuse jobs they consider below them or too far away.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Monday new rule changes to define "suitable employment" and "reasonable" efforts at finding work have yet to come down, but as far as he's concerned people should be prepared to take pretty well any available job.

"I was brought up in a certain way. There is no bad job, the only bad job is not having a job," he told reporters. "I drove a taxi, I refereed hockey. You do what you have to do to make a living."

Opposition critics leaped on the minister, accusing him of "insulting" Canadians who through no fault of their own find themselves out of work.

National Roundtable on Environment and Economy eliminated for pushing a carbon tax, Conservative government says

OTTAWA—The Conservatives are killing off a respected panel that has advised governments on environmental policy for decades because it clashed with Tory ideology, Foreign Minister John Baird says.

Baird said the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy — created by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1988 — had committed the offence of pushing Ottawa to implement a carbon tax as a way to encourage industry to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the panel, which is made up of government-appointed industry experts, environmentalists, academics and former bureaucrats, had authored at least 10 reports over the years urging the government to put a price on carbon.

Baird said Canadians rejected that policy when his party won the 2008 election over the Liberals, who were then led by Stéphane Dion.

Ottawa to allow slaughterhouses to process already dead animals

OTTAWA—The federal government wants to allow the carcasses of already dead animals to be processed in slaughterhouses for human consumption, a move that is raising concerns about the safety of Canada’s food system.

The Conservative government is pitching the change as a way to cut red tape and provide greater flexibility to slaughterhouse operators.

But the New Democrats are raising a red flag saying the move invites possible “contamination” of the food supply.

“Under the present regulations . . . it has to come in alive, be slaughtered on site,” said NDP MP Malcolm Allen (Welland), the party’s agriculture critic.

JP Morgan dilemma: a nightmare with CEO Jamie Dimon, and a bigger nightmare without him

NEW YORK, N.Y.—JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was expected to face tough questioning at the bank’s annual shareholders meeting Tuesday over a $2 billion trading mistake that has cost one of his senior executives her job.

Shareholders, however, are unlikely to call for Dimon’s head. For them, facing the crisis without him might be a bigger nightmare than the trading loss itself.

“When a bank is dealing with this sort of a challenge, you want someone of his calibre to shepherd it through,” said longtime JPMorgan shareholder Michael Holland, chairman and founder of money manager Holland & Co.

That has not been a universal opinion since Thursday, when Dimon disclosed to analysts that the bank had made a bad bet with so-called credit derivatives. Since Dimon made the announcement, almost $20 billion in market value has evaporated.

Flaherty says Europe must ‘overwhelm’ banking crisis

OTTAWA—Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says Europeans need to tackle their banking crisis with a massive bailout of the kind mounted by the United States to save Wall Street in 2008-09.

“It is really up to the wealthy countries of Europe to put up their reserves, to put up taxpayers’ money, to overwhelm the problem once and for all, as the Americans did back in the latter part of 2008,” he said Monday.

Facing a financial meltdown as the recent global recession hit, the Obama administration came up with a $787 billion (U.S.) plan to stabilize the American banking system and prop up the U.S. economy.

Flaherty, who held a news conference to talk about the reverberations from Greece, has often said that Europeans have the money to solve their financial crisis but have provided only Band-Aid solutions instead of the needed massive fix.

Police Raid Occupy Camp On UC Berkeley Land

ALBANY, Calif. — University of California police raided a four-week Occupy encampment at a college-owned farm used for agriculture research early Monday, arresting nine people after protesters ignored yet another weekend deadline to leave.

About 100 officers clad in riot gear arrived shortly after 6 a.m. at the camp known as Occupy the Farm, but there was no violence, university spokesman Dan Mogulof said.

Officers moved in after issuing a dispersal order to about 10 protesters sleeping at the Gill Tract in Albany, a 10-acre plot used primarily by UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources.

Two protesters, both women, were arrested on trespassing charges while the other occupiers left voluntarily. Seven protesters were also arrested for unlawful assembly.

Brooksley Born On JPMorgan Chase Loss: Nothing's Changed Since LTCM

To Brooksley Born, JPMorgan Chase's trading blowup looks a lot like the Long-Term Capital Management debacle of 14 years ago.

It's "happening all over again," Born told The Huffington Post on Monday. "We have to learn from these experiences, and we don't seem to be doing it yet."

Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1996 to 1999, was one of the earliest observers to warn about the dangers of unregulated derivatives. She was thwarted in her efforts to impose regulation in the late 90s despite the cautionary tale of LTCM, a hedge fund that needed a government bailout in 1998 after making risky bets on credit derivatives and government bonds. As a Public Citizens report released Monday, "Forgotten Lessons of Deregulation: Rolling Back Dodd-Frank's Derivatives Rules Would Repeat a Mistake that Led to the Financial Crisis," points out, Born and other regulation advocates at the time cited LTCM as a prime example of the need for regulation and the risks of the market's opacity.

Violence Against Women Act Shouldn't Cover Same-Sex Couples, GOP Congresswoman Says

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the vice chairwoman of the House Republican Caucus, said Monday that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) shouldn't include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people because "those are side issues."

During an appearance on MSNBC's "Hardball," McMorris Rodgers was asked why the House GOP bill to reauthorize VAWA doesn't include protections for the LGBT community. The Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of a VAWA bill last month that would update current law with LGBT protections, as well as add provisions protecting Native American women and undocumented immigrant women against domestic violence. The current VAWA law has been funded through the end of September.

GOP Kills Colorado Civil Unions Bill In Special Session

DENVER — A last-ditch effort by Colorado's governor to give gay couples in the state rights similar to married couples failed Monday after Republicans rejected the proposal during a special legislative session.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper had said the special session was needed to address a "fundamental question of fairness and civil rights."

The bill's demise was expected by Democrats, who have begun using the issue as a rallying cry to topple Republicans in the November elections. Republicans assigned the bill to the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which voted 5-4 along party lines to kill the measure.

Rhode Island Considers 'Homeless Bill Of Rights' To End Discrimination

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Eddie Vega has been homeless for a year. He was waiting for a bus one day last week when a police officer rolled up to ask what he was doing and where he was headed. Vega said it's the kind of subtle harassment that happens all the time.

"I get the looks," said the 31-year-old Providence man, squinting because he recently lost his glasses in a fight that also left him with stiches on his forehead. "It's the same hassle everywhere. Happens every day. There's nothing you can do. You speak up and you get in trouble."

Vega had just finished a bologna sandwich at a weekly soup kitchen set up in the Rhode Island Statehouse, where lawmakers are now considering first-of-its kind legislation that would create a "Homeless Bill of Rights" intended to give people like Vega greater protection from discrimination.

Surrendering to the students is not an option for Jean Charest

Every three or four years, Quebec students go on strike to protest increases in university tuition fees or changes in the student aid program.

The current strike, however, is exceptional by its duration (three months); many college and university students are at risk of seeing their winter semester cancelled. The strike has also been marked by violent scuffles between demonstrators and police, including a recent one in Victoriaville that nearly killed one student.

Why are young Quebecers more determined this year than in the past?

First, the increase announced by the government of Jean Charest is, in the Quebec context, very large: $325 a year for five years. In 2016-17, a student will pay $3,793 a year compared to $2,168 today. Tuition fees in Quebec will remain among the lowest in North America.

Omnibus bill threatens fish: Cummins

A new front in the battle against the federal government's omnibus budget bill opened up Monday when B.C. Conservative Party leader John Cummins sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper warning of major threats to fishing communities and the environment if major Fisheries Act amendments are passed.

Cummins expressed concerns about the weakening of fisheries habitat provisions and warned that commercial and sports fishing communities across Canada could be squeezed out by first nations fisheries due to new wording in Bill C-38.

Cummins, a former federal Tory MP and commercial fisherman, also suggested that British Columbians view the amendments as a way to help remove regulatory burdens on projects like Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.'s $5.5 billion Northern Gate-way oilsands pipeline.

As an industrial nation, Canada is divided against itself

In the decades prior to 2000, Canada made progress in moving away from being an economy of resource extraction. By that year, as labour economist Jim Stanford has pointed out in an analysis for the Centre for Policy Alternatives, well over half of Canada’s exports consisted of an increasingly sophisticated portfolio of value-added products in areas such as automotive assembly, telecommunications, aerospace technology and more.

But in the past decade, the clock has been turned back. Because of a boom in the oil and gas sector and a range of other factors, the economy has reverted toward being a staples-driven enterprise. “In July, 2011, unprocessed and semi-processed resource exports accounted for two-thirds of Canada’s total exports, the highest in decades,” Mr. Stanford wrote. “Compare that to 1999, when finished goods made up almost 60 per cent of our exports.”

Insider Stursberg spills the beans on shenanigans at troubled CBC

Canada's public broadcaster is kept in a perennial state of fiscal peril, reliant on policy making by a patronage clique of mostly uninformed board members.

That's the view of a former CBC insider Richard Stursberg who headed the network's English services from 2004 until his 2010 dismissal.

Stursberg, now a Toronto-based consultant, has written Tower of Babble, Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC, which spills beans on shenanigans he observed while in "the job I had loved more than any other in my life."

I developed my take on CBC back in the '80s, as Newfoundland and Labrador reporter for The National.

It was a complicated work-place because of a mandate requiring it, among many other things, to showcase Canadian content, to "reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences."

Did Baird let slip the truth?

It would be a lot easier to take federal cabinet ministers at their word if they would make some effort to get their stories straight. When they contradict each other, it’s natural for Canadians to conclude that someone’s lying. Or, to be more charitable, that the full truth gets doled out in bits, when and if the government feels like it.

This year’s budget eliminated an arms-length agency with a parliamentary mandate to provide advice on sustainable development.

The government has every right to cut agencies and programs if their services could be better delivered by some other part of government, or by the private sector, or not at all. I have no opinion as to whether the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, in particular, should have been cut.

Senate reform will forge ahead despite concerns, says minister

OTTAWA — Plans to reform the Senate appear to be mired at the bottom of the Conservatives' legislative agenda, as it deals with criticism from its own backers who argue the reforms may be misguided and out-of-date.

The latest salvo came from the outgoing head of the right-leaning Canada West Foundation, who questioned whether the reforms would hinder the cause of regional representation — one argument for Senate reform from Western Canada.

Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal was clear about where the government stood on the proposed reforms: the Conservatives wouldn't have proposed any changes if the government wasn't willing to follow through on it.

Auditor refutes defence brass on F-35 cost calculations

Auditor General Michael Ferguson responded directly to officials from the Defence Department today, disputing their contention that they aren't required to count the full costs of a project like the F-35 fighter jet procurement.

"I am concerned with suggestions that accurate estimation and the inclusion of personnel, operating and maintenance costs are not important, since they would be incurred regardless of the aircraft selected to replace the CF-18," Ferguson said in his opening remarks to the House of Commons public accounts committee Tuesday.

Defence officials told the same committee May 1 that it is not their practice to include all life-cycle costs in project estimates.

"While we believe in and support life-cycle costing, it is not a requirement established by the office of the auditor general," Ferguson told MPs.

What kind of message will Alison Redford send Stephen Harper in the next federal election?

The probability is very high that the next Canadian federal election will happen before the next Alberta provincial vote.

So, will Premier Alison Redford's Tories just sit on their hands? Or will they get out and actively work against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's so-called Conservative Party of Canada, whose Alberta MPs so openly betrayed their provincial kin in the election that took place on April 23?

This will become an increasingly important question as the next federal election approaches -- especially if the NDP under Thomas Mulcair manage to hang onto or increase their edge in the national polls.

Harper's Conservatives did things for both sides, but they misread the polls just as badly as the rest of us (except Warren Kinsella, apparently) and as the campaign progressed they tilted openly toward the Wildrose Party, with which they share a destructive and apparently increasingly unpopular market-fundamentalist theology/ideology.

The NDP should learn from defeat of Sarkozy in France

For the first time since the election of François Mitterrand in the 1980s, French voters elected a socialist president earlier this month. Is there anything progressive forces in Canada can learn from their French cousins? While the context is different, there are important similarities between the NDP and the French Socialist Party.

Both are progressive parties struggling to find their voice at a time when right-wing ideas seem to dominate. Both parties are flirting with the centre, at the risk of losing their base (and their identity) to the left. Ultimately, the challenges for the NDP are remarkably similar to those faced by the French Socialist Party.

What could NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who is no doubt following the French debates given his family background, learn from the new French President, François Hollande?

Ford can win again; here’s why

He can win again. Rob Ford, that is. In another two years.

Now that half of you have gagged on your beverage, just take the time to see things from the other end of the coffee table.

Rob Ford has delivered on his key, resonant promise. There is no gravy train, but he has halted spending. There are no vats of waste, but he has effected a reversal of spending culture to the point that the average voter feels his money is no longer being wasted by the drunken sailors at city hall.

The fact that he can’t govern is discounted. His inability to manage a two-member committee is deemed irrelevant. The fact he can’t convince his own allies to side with him on some key issues is dismissed. He can’t win majority votes on a 45-member council, even when spotted 20 votes, but one can always blame the left-wing loonies. He pushes for subways, even as he refuses to vote with his allies to pay for them. But we all love subways and the mayor is on our side. Police and the 911 operator have had more occasion to acquaint themselves with the magistrate’s home affairs than with the resident troubled teen or troublemaker. But who doesn’t have domestic problems?

Federal cuts called a 'disaster' for Canadian science

Federal cutbacks are a life-and-death issue for Lynne Sigler.

As curator of one of Canada’s largest collections of fungi, Sigler has 11,500 strains of living organisms under her care, from the fungi killing North American bats with white-nose syndrome to soil microbes that help rare orchids thrive.

The microfungus collection and herbarium at the University of Alberta has been nurturing fungi for more than 50 years. And since 1990 it has been considered a “unique” national resource worthy of federal money.

No more. Funding for the collection, and dozens of other “major” and “unique” science facilities and resources across Canada, has been hit by federal cuts in what is being described as a “disaster” for Canadian science.

Miami-Dade Fire Captain Brian Beckmann Demoted Over Facebook Post Blaming Trayvon Martin Situations On 'Shitbag' Parents

The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue official who wrote on Facebook that "failed, shitbag, ignorant" parents are to blame in cases like the shooting death of unarmed Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin has been demoted.

Captain Brian Beckmann, who has been with Fire Rescue since 1997, was demoted two rungs to the lowest rank of firefighter during a Monday morning administrative hearing and will be required to undergo a psychological evaluation and undergo diversity training, as first reported by CBS Miami.

Though the firefighters union said it would appeal the ruling, WSVN reports Beckmann submitted an apology to Fire Chief William Bryson, stating in part:

    "I promise that I will try harder than ever to be a decent and professional public servant to the citizens of Miami-Dade County... My family has suffered tremendously and this has been punishment beyond anything I ever imagined."

Canada to give its seal of approval to human rights abusers?

At last someone in Canada’s mainstream media has drawn attention to the frightening and growing phenomenon of neo-Nazi groups in Europe.

Although in much of Europe Muslims are the main neo-Nazi scapegoats, in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria – and especially in Hungary – the extremists focus their torment and hate mostly on the Roma.

The neo-Nazis harass and intimidate the Roma, and worse. There is a long list of violent acts that have continued unabated over the past five or six years.

What aroused the Canadian media out of its 'dogmatic slumbers' on this issue was the Greek election, where the neo-Nazis got themselves into Parliament for the first time.

Greek Austerity Measures: Euro Minsters Plead With Greece Not To Renege On Bailout Terms

BRUSSELS — Leading European Union finance officials promised to stand by Greece as a member of the eurozone provided it sticks to its bailout terms and stays the course of its painful austerity program to prevent even worse economic hardship.

Greeks fed up with the painful austerity measures had voted for parties that had promised an end to the harsh austerity measures that had been agreed as part of the country's bailout. Many euro finance ministers attending a meeting Monday in Brussels warned, however, that Athens must stick to the terms of the rescue package if it wants to remain in the 17-nation euro currency.

In return, no one was seeking to squeeze Greece out of the shared currency, said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the chairman of the Eurogroup.

Obama: JPMorgan Disaster Shows 'Why Wall Street Reform Is So Important'

President Barack Obama discussed JPMorgan Chase's $2 billion loss on Monday, saying the bank's massive failure proves why Wall Street reform is necessary.

"JPMorgan is one of the best-managed banks there is," Obama said during an interview on ABC's "The View", which will air on Tuesday. "Jamie Dimon, the head of it, is one of the smartest bankers we got, and they still lost $2 billion and counting."

Dimon, who appeared on NBC's "Meet The Press" Sunday, told host David Gregory he had been "dead wrong" to dismiss concerns about the banks questionable trades.

"We made a terrible, egregious mistake," Dimon said. "There's almost no excuse for it."

Obama said the bank's mistakes exemplified the reasoning behind his administration's Wall Street policies.

Crony Capitalism: After Lobbying Against New Financial Regulations, JPMorgan Loses $2B in Risky Bet

JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank, is under fire after losing at least $2 billion in derivatives trading it was warned carried high risk. The loss has renewed calls for tougher regulation of Wall Street, with critics saying JPMorgan could have avoided it under regulations the bank opposed. We’re joined by former financial regulator, white-collar criminologist, and University of Missouri-Kansas City Professor William Black, author of "The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One." Black says JPMorgan’s latest woes stem from the flaws endemic to "too big too fail." "Allowing [banks] to be this big, even conservative economists call this crony capitalism," Black says. "The only way this can work is to shrink the systemically dangerous institutions — this is the 20 largest banks in the United States — down to the point that they no longer pose a systemic risk, they are no longer too big to fail, and therefore, they will no longer have this implicit federal subsidy that completely distorts competition [and] ... destroys democracy, because these giant institutions have so much political power."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Relations with minister key to getting government appointments

Maintaining good relations with Heritage Minister James Moore and his staff will be a key requirement for heads of the boards of Canada’s cultural institutions, iPolitics has learned.

The Conservative government sparked criticism in April when it listed the ability to maintain an “effective relationship” with the heritage minister and his staff as key requirements for the next chairman of the board of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Recently, however, two other key job postings have included the same clause. It is included in a posting Saturday for a new chairman of the board of trustees of the National Gallery to replace Michael Audain of Vancouver who is stepping down in July for personal reasons. It is also one of the requirements in a posting that closed Friday for a new commissioner and chairperson of the National Battlefields Commission.

James Maunder, director of communications to Moore, said the clause is now a feature of all postings for heritage department governor in council appointments.

The Commons: John Baird saves your family

The Scene. Thomas Mulcair challenged the government side to live up to the principles Stephen Harper once championed and so John Baird stood and claimed a different high road altogether.

“Mr. Speaker, this Prime Minister, this Minister of Finance and this government are focused like a laser on the economy,” he assured the House. “They are focused on economic growth, job creation and not on partisan games.”

The Foreign Affairs Minister proceeded then to lament that the NDP’s Peter Julian had spoken for too long in response to the Finance Minister’s budget speech.

A moment later, Bob Rae stood to review the budget bill one clause at a time. “Mr. Speaker, under these proposed budget changes, the Inspector General of CSIS will be gone,” he reviewed from a piece of paper he held in front of him. “The Centre for Rights and Democracy will be gone. The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy will be gone. The First Nations Statistical Institute will be gone. The Governance Institute will be gone. The National Aboriginal Health Organization will be gone. The National Council of Welfare will be gone, environmental assessment will be gutted, Parks Canada will be gutted and old age security will be gutted.”

EI reform set to redefine ‘suitable’ work for job seekers

The Conservative government is giving its clearest signal yet that a hard line is coming on employment insurance, with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty saying to expect tougher rules on the type of work Canadians must consider while job-hunting on EI.

“There’ll be a broader definition and people will have to engage more in the work force,” said Mr. Flaherty, who then pointed to his own résumé from his student days at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “I was brought up in a certain way. There is no bad job. The only bad job is not having a job.

“So I drove a taxi. You know, I refereed hockey. You do what you have to do to make a living.”

The government has yet to release details about its plans for reforming EI, a policy area that federal leaders often shy away from in light of the political sensitivities around its highly regional nature.

Elderly attack victim calls 911, ends up in jail

Ottawa police are investigating how an elderly victim of a vicious attack in his home ended up spending 75 days in jail after calling 911 for help.

Marian Andrzejewski, 74, called 911 after two men broke into his Ottawa apartment in October 2010, robbed him and punched him repeatedly.

But instead of getting help, Andrzejewski was scolded by the dispatcher when he struggled to communicate in broken English and ended up in handcuffs himself when police finally arrived.

In a recording of the 911 call, the dispatcher is heard telling Andrzejewski, who fled his native Poland after the Nazi occupation, that she could not understand him.

Nervous and fumbling for words, Andrzejewski says "yes" several times throughout the call.

Clarence Aaron Case: Pardon Attorney Torpedoes Plea for Presidential Mercy

Clarence Aaron seemed to be especially deserving of a federal commutation, an immediate release from prison granted by the president of the United States.

At 24, he was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a cocaine deal, even though it was his first criminal offense and he was not the buyer, seller or supplier of the drugs. Of all those convicted in the case, Aaron received the stiffest sentence.

For those reasons, his case for early release was championed by lawmakers and civil rights activists, and taken up by the media, from PBS to Fox News.

And, ultimately, the prosecutor's office and the sentencing judge supported an immediate commutation for Aaron.

Lorenzo Sirois' Shriners Donation Conservative Party Bound?

An elderly Quebec man was shocked to find out he was expected to send his Shriners donation to the Conservative Party of Canada.

Lorenzo Sirois, who lives in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, told The Huffington Post Canada he was contacted by the Shriners a few weeks ago asking if he would donate to the Karnak Shrine Circus which is rolling into his hometown later this August.

Sirois gladly pledged $20 and days later received a funding package. As he prepared to write his cheque, he noticed the return envelope was addressed to the Conservative Party of Canada, 1235 Bay Street in Toronto.

Sirois thought something smelled fishy.

“The donation, it was going — I’m not sure how they would have fixed this — but it was going to the Conservatives in Toronto. That’s what I couldn’t explain,” he said in French.

Tory rhetoric creates chilly climate for free speech

The Canadian government’s campaign of intimidation of environmental charities has begun to create a chill among charities who wish to participate in public-policy debates, according to a respected national representative of charities known as Imagine Canada.

Even during hearings of the House of Commons finance committee into how this country can promote more charitable giving, the board members of some charities expressed concerns about making presentations, says Marcel Lauzière, Imagine Canada’s president and chief executive officer.

This is a sad commentary on where the federal government’s attacks on environmental charities for accepting foreign donations are taking public debate – charities afraid to speak out at a Parliamentary committee. Is that the kind of Canada sought by those who are demonizing the environmental groups?