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 31, 2011

Pentagon Considers Cyber Attacks To Be Acts Of War

Cyber attacks that originate abroad can qualify as acts of war that could merit a military response by the U.S., the Pentagon has determined, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Citing a Pentagon report on cybersecurity strategy, part of which will be de-classified soon, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon has, for the first time, developed a cyber strategy that seeks to outline how the U.S. might react to cyber attacks targeted at the government, as well as critical infrastructure such as power plants, public transportation systems, financial institutions, and more.

"If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks," an unnamed military official told the Journal.

At the core of the Pentagon's plan is the idea of there being an "equivalence" between an electronic attack and a physical one. "If a cyber attack produces the death, damage, destruction or high-level disruption that a traditional military attack would cause, then it would be a candidate for a 'use of force' consideration, which could merit retaliation," writes the Journal.

Full Article

Lots of rhetoric – but very little help

Then we had to hear what America's 'role' was going to be in the new Middle East. We did not hear if the Arabs wanted them to have a role

It was the same old story. Palestinians can have a "viable" state, Israel a "secure" one. Israel cannot be de-legitimised. The Palestinians must not attempt to ask the UN for statehood in September. No peace can be imposed on either party. Sometimes yesterday, you could have turned this into Obama's forthcoming speech to pro-Israeli lobbyists this weekend. Oh yes, and the Palestinian state must have no weapons to defend itself. So that's what "viable" means!

It was a kind of Second Coming, I suppose, Cairo re-pledged, another crack at the Middle East, as boring and as unfair as all the other ones, with lots of rhetoric about the Arab revolutions which Obama did nothing to help. Some of it was positively delusional. "We have broken the Taliban's momentum," the great speechifier said. What? Does he really – really – think that?

Low Federal Tax Rate Means Hundreds Of Billions Of Dollars Lost Annually, Bartlett Says

Hearing some politicians talk about taxes, one might be convinced the United States has one of the highest tax rates in the world.

But the reality is the federal tax rate, broadly measured, is the lowest it has been in 60 years, Bruce Bartlett writes in a new column. A look at the effective tax rate, which expresses taxes as a share of the country's economic output, belies the stream of political rhetoric arguing that taxes are relatively high, says Bartlett, who was a senior policy analyst under President Ronald Reagan.

Federal taxes will be 14.8 percent of the nation's economic output this year, according to a recent estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. That's compared to a postwar annual average rate of 18.5 percent, Bartlett notes.

With the nation's gross domestic product at about $15 trillion, that low effective rate means the federal government is missing out on hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

Full Article

Reject Bad Advice and Bad Policy -- Defend Medicare, Social Security.

Last week's special election in New York's 26th Congressional district was a political earthquake, demonstrating that the American majority, even in the most Republican of districts, will reject a candidate who embraces cuts to Medicare benefits or major changes to that most popular program. And, since almost every Republican in the House -- and now the Senate -- has voted for such drastic changes, Democrats across the country are happily learning how they can campaign to win back the House and keep the Senate.

But we can't let Democrats undercut themselves again. Even as most of them practice their talking points about the Republican plan to dismantle Medicare, prominent beltway Democrats and Washington pundits are advising candidates that pressing their advantage on Medicare would not be the right thing to do. And others are urging Democrats to embrace policies -- like cutting Social Security benefits -- which would just as unpopular as dismantling Medicare and would confuse voters and undermine a winning message.

Full Article

Medicare Is Turning Point Battle for 2012

In recent American political history, changes in political momentum typically revolve around a seminal political battle.

After the Republican sweep in 1994, that battle was over the GOP plan to cut Medicare to provide tax cuts for the rich. It featured Newt Gingrich's government shutdown and his subsequent retreat in 1995. From that point forward, Clinton built momentum and ultimately defeated the Republican nominee Bob Dole by 8.5 percentage points.

A similar decisive battle turned the tide ten years later, after the Republican victory in 2004. In the months following their defeat, Democratic prospects looked bleak. Republicans controlled the Senate, House and the Presidency and were poised to seize control of the Supreme Court for a generation.

But then Bush and his Wall Street allies launched a massive effort to privatize Social Security -- a move designed both to eviscerate the social insurance program that lay at the foundation of the New Deal and to allow Wall Street to get its hands on the Social Security Trust fund. President Bush toured the country to stump for his plan, the Republican leadership signed on in support.

Democrats stood solidly against the proposal and together -- with the labor movement and other progressive organizations -- ran a campaign that ultimately forced the Republicans to drop the proposal without even so much as a vote in Congress. It turned out that privatizing Social Security -- which would have simultaneously lowered guaranteed benefits, and increased the deficit -- had zero traction with ordinary voters who believed that the money they had paid into Social Security entitled them to the promised guaranteed benefits.

Full Article

Dumb Question of the 21st Century: Is It Legal?

Is the Libyan war legal?  Was bin Laden's killing legal?  Is it legal for the president of the United States to target an American citizen for assassination?  Were those "enhanced interrogation techniques" legal? These are all questions raised in recent weeks.  Each seems to call out for debate, for answers.  Or does it?

Now, you couldn't call me a legal scholar.  I've never set foot inside a law school, and in 66 years only made it onto a single jury (dismissed before trial when the civil suit was settled out of court).  Still, I feel at least as capable as any constitutional law professor of answering such questions.

My answer is this: they are irrelevant.  Think of them as 21st-century questions that don't begin to come to grips with 21st-century American realities.  In fact, think of them, and the very idea of a nation based on the rule of law, as a reflection of nostalgia for, or sentimentality about, a long-lost republic.  At least in terms of what used to be called "foreign policy," and more recently "national security," the United States is now a post-legal society.  (And you could certainly include in this mix the too-big-to-jail financial and corporate elite.)

Full Article

The Limits of Autonomy: Should the Mentally Ill Be Forced into Treatment?

The best advice I ever received from a psychoanalyst concerned the son of a friend of mine (let's call him Joe). Joe kind of adopted me, and often came over seeking advice. The young man was unrealistically optimistic. If his boss complimented him on some job he carried out, Joe was sure he soon would receive a promotion. When none of this was forthcoming, far from being crushed, Joe would spin a new tale: he expected to be soon moved to a choice location. And when this move did not materialize, Joe assumed it was just being delayed.

The same with dating: a smile was interpreted as a sure sign of deep interest, and a long deep look meant a potential keeper. And there always was another tomorrow. Joe was never down -- except when I tried to call his attention to his poor reality testing. The therapist warned me not to take away Joe's defenses -- before I provided him with some other foundations on which to base his self-esteem. Sadly, I never found a way to help him find more realistic sources of contentment. Accordingly, I just listened sympathetically but tried not to reinforce his illusions.

Full Article

Attacks In Acapulco, Mexico, Leave Seven Dead

ACAPULCO, Mexico -- Shootings and attacks in Mexico's Pacific coast resort of Acapulco left two police officers, three suspected drug cartel gunmen and two other men dead, police said Monday.

The confrontations on Sunday began when gunmen traveling in a convoy of eight vehicles opened fire on an Acapulco municipal police patrol car Sunday, killing two officers.

Federal officers responding to the reports of gunfire later located the convoy; in the ensuing gunfight, three suspects were killed.

Police in Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, said in statement said that the three dead assailants were found with assault rifles, military-style uniforms and bulletproof vests.

Full Article

Live-in caregivers work long hours without pay

Two live-in caregivers announced that they have filed suits against their former employers to recover unpaid wages, overtime and other employment standards entitlements at a press conference Monday in the Queen's Park media studio.

Vivian said she worked 132 hours a week caring for an elderly woman with medical problems and her two adult children with developmental disabilities.

"I gave my life taking care of their family," said Vivian. "They kept adding to my job, more work, more hours, yet I was afraid of losing my job and I didn't know what the rules are."

Vivian claims she is owed over $55,000 in unpaid wages, overtime and vacation pay. She is also claiming $160,000 for wrongful dismissal.

The other caregiver, Lilliane, said she worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week taking care of two young children and the household.

"These children were like my family," says Lilliane. "Working almost 110 hours a week, I was paid $100 a month."

Full Article

Build schools and lay off teachers?

Does it seem odd to you that Alberta's Conservative government would be spending more than half a billion dollars to build new schools at the same time as it's squeezing school board budgets and forcing the layoff of hundreds of teachers?

Well, don't worry, the explanation is actually fairly simple. Like a lot of things conservative politicians advocate nowadays, this story is really about punishment.

Full Article

Go with road tolls, Environment Commissioner tells GTA

Ontario Environment Commissioner Gord Miller says toll roads are the way to go if the province is serious about tackling traffic congestion.

“We have to reduce the number of single-passenger vehicle trips in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area,” Miller said in a report released Tuesday that notes that such trips are already at a higher level than most comparable cities.

“Traffic congestion is more than just an inconvenience; it imposes huge costs on the economy, the environment and public health,” Miller said in the annual Greenhouse Gas Report.

According to the report, single passenger vehicle trips in GTA are projected to increase by 1.4 million additional vehicles by 2031.

“For many reasons, the ECO (Environmental Commissioner’s Office) continues to believe that the government needs to seriously consider introducing similar road pricing in Ontario” to that of other jurisdictions, the reports states.

Full Article

Canada’s health care not good enough: report

OTTAWA—The Canadian health care system has moved very slowly — when it has not stalled completely — towards meeting goals political leaders proclaimed would fix the system for a generation.

A progress report from the Health Council of Canada concludes the $41.3-billion decade-long health accord the federal and provincial governments signed seven years ago has not come close to accomplishing what it set out to, even as leaders prepare to negotiate the terms of the next one.

Full Article

Airlines raking in billions from add-on charges

Air Canada has tumbled off the top 10 list for ancillary airline revenue not because it’s stopped charging but because it’s stopped disclosing, the leading industry analyst says.

Worldwide, 104 airlines raked in $21.46 billion in extra revenue, which ranged from add-on charges for baggage and food to vacation packages. That’s a staggering increase from the $2.45 billion collected in 2007, when extra charges were largely just a discount airline money-maker.

Full Article

Stephen Harper's parliamentary privileges

The gap that separates government benches from the official opposition was reportedly established to keep each side more than two swords length from the other. At least that is the tale told about the Westminster parliament, the model for the Canadian parliament.

Parliamentary governments have a dynamic that is not widely understood. Rather than attacking sword in hand, as it were, governments tend to cherry pick ideas from the opposition. The reason is simple. No government wants an opposition party to build its base of support. Often, adopting an opposition policy helps a government keep its adversary from gaining ground.

In a minority situation, in 2008 Stephen Harper was forced to bring in an expansionary budget, though he was on record as denying the existence of a recession, and not believing in government deficits. He extended unemployment benefits, although he is a sworn enemy of social spending, especially for income support.

With the 41st Parliament about to open, and enjoying a majority for the first time, it is easy to imagine that Harper will move swiftly to implement his agenda, paying no attention to the 103 NDP members of the official opposition seated opposite. Undoubtedly, he will act swiftly to cut government spending, and reduce public service employment. His tough-on-crime agenda will proceed quickly. The long-gun registry will be killed. Senate reform will go ahead. He may well introduce legislation to privatize the CBC and Radio-Canada.

Full Article

The Monster and Monterrey: The Politics and Cartels of Mexico's Drug War

The first one appeared on February 3, 2010, before sunrise. It hung from the statue of José María Morelos that faces the colonial statehouse at the center of Monterrey. Morelos was a priest turned revolutionary leader in Mexico’s war of independence, and the large white sheet bearing a message from a drug cartel spanned the entire length of the hero’s bronze horse. Here Comes the Monster, it read, and was signed “Z.” That same morning, six similar handwritten messages, also signed “Z,” appeared in the municipalities surrounding Monterrey. Soldiers came, removed them and drove off.

The narcomantas, as these public communiqués of the cartels are known, presaged a horrific explosion of violence in Monterrey, a city of 4 million people in northeastern Mexico and the country’s financial capital. In the months that followed, students would be gunned down at the gate of the city’s elite university. A mayor would be abducted, tortured and murdered. City squares, police stations and even the US consulate would be attacked with grenades. Blockades controlled by masked gunmen would paralyze the city for days on end. At the root of this violence was a turf war between the authors of the narcomantas, the Zetas, and their former ally the Gulf Cartel.

It was the kind of violence one had come to expect in places like Ciudad Juárez or Tijuana—border cities that have long served as trafficking hubs to the United States. But how could thriving Monterrey, the “Sultan of the North,” which only years earlier had been deemed one of the safest cities in Latin America, descend so quickly into chaos? If it could happen here, was anywhere in Mexico safe for long?

Yet what from the outside looked like a sudden collapse was in reality decades in the making. At its root was the decay of the institutions entrusted with providing law and order, ones that, despite their chronic dysfunction and corruption, had been able to contain drug violence in the old state-run system. But when that system crumbled, and when, in the face of “the monster” of organized crime, Monterrey’s elite, politicians and public turned to those institutions to rescue them, they found them rotten to the core. And so, Monterrey’s residents turned in desperation to the last power they felt they could trust: the military. It was a choice many would come to regret.

Full Article

Out of Exile: Exclusive Report on Ousted Honduran President Zelaya’s Return Home 23 Months After U.S.-Backed Coup

In a Democracy Now! global broadcast exclusive, we take you on the plane of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya as he and his family return home after almost two years in exile. We speak with Zelaya, ousted Honduran foreign minister Patricia Rodas, Honduran exile René Guillermo Amador, and former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba, one of the many representatives of Latin American countries who accompanied Zelaya home. We also speak to Father Roy Bourgeois of School of the Americas Watch on the role U.S.-trained generals played in the 2009 coup. "This military coup had real connections to the School of the Americas. The two top generals, the key players in this military coup—the head of the air force, the head of the army—were graduates of the School of the Americas,” said Bourgeois.


How Can Congress Debate a Secret Law?

Members of Congress are about to vote to extend the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for four more years, even though few of them understand how those provisions are being interpreted and applied.
As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee we have been provided with the executive branch's classified interpretation of those provisions and can tell you that we believe there is a significant discrepancy between what most people - including many Members of Congress - think the Patriot Act allows the government to do and what government officials secretly believe the Patriot Act allows them to do.

Legal scholars, law professors, advocacy groups, and the Congressional Research Service have all written interpretations of the Patriot Act and Americans can read any of these interpretations and decide whether they support or agree with them. But by far the most important interpretation of what the law means is the official interpretation used by the U.S. government and this interpretation is - stunningly - classified.

What does this mean? It means that Congress and the public are prevented from having an informed, open debate on the Patriot Act because the official meaning of the law itself is secret. Most members of Congress have not even seen the secret legal interpretations that the executive branch is currently relying on and do not have any staff who are cleared to read them. Even if these members come down to the Intelligence Committee and read these interpretations themselves, they cannot openly debate them on the floor without violating classification rules.

Full Article

Consumer Agency: A Political Lightning Rod

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will on July 21 officially become the nation's newest government agency — and the only one with the singular aim of looking out for the best interests of consumers. The agency is controversial, and at the center of it all is the woman whom President Obama asked to set it up: Elizabeth Warren.

Warren, a Harvard professor, is a longtime crusader against unfair lending practices. She's widely credited with coming up with the idea of a government agency designed to protect consumers. Even her many detractors acknowledge she is an articulate advocate.

"This most recent crisis started one lousy mortgage at a time," she said at a House Oversight Committee hearing earlier this week. "If we had had a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in place, we could have avoided a lot of the pain that we've gone through in the last 2 1/2 years."

At this point, no one is really questioning the need for a consumer watchdog, but many people, mostly Republicans in Congress and those in the financial industry, are questioning the way this new agency was designed.

Full Article

Obama, Bush, and the Patriot Act

Minutes before midnight on May 26, President Obama, in Paris, by a species of teleportable pen signed into law a four-year extension of the Patriot Act: the central domestic support of the security apparatus devised by the Bush administration, after the bombings of 11 September 2001 and the 'anthrax letters' a week later. The first Patriot Act passed the senate on 25 October 2001, by a vote of 98-1 -- the opposing vote coming from Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. In the years that followed, a minority view developed, which said that the Patriot Act 'went too far'; but its steadiest opponents have come from outside the mainstream media: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cato Institute, and libertarian columnists such as Glenn Greenwald and Nat Hentoff.

In the last few days, two senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, took up the mantle of Senator Feingold (who lost his bid for re-election in the anti-Obama midterm disaster of 2010). Both spoke against a government interpretation of the new Patriot Act, which has not yet been shared with the American people.

The senate as a whole voted (this time 72-23) to renew a law that citizens have had no opportunity to understand, as Wyden and Udall present it, and that few members of Congress have looked into, even to the limited extent allowed. The Patriot Act controls secret investigations. The government, however, according to Wyden, has a private understanding of the law. This interpretation has been classified. So the meaning of a law about secrets is hidden because the government's view of the law is itself a secret.

Full Article

Republican 2012 Presidential Contenders Drift To The Right

WASHINGTON — In the first presidential election since the tea party's emergence, Republican candidates are drifting rightward on a range of issues, even though more centrist stands might play well in the 2012 general election.

On energy, taxes, health care and other topics, the top candidates hold positions that are more conservative than those they espoused a few years ago.

The shifts reflect the evolving views of conservative voters, who will play a major role in choosing the Republican nominee. In that sense, the candidates' repositioning seems savvy or even essential.

But the eventual nominee will face President Barack Obama in the 2012 general election, when independent voters appear likely to be decisive players once again. Those independents may be far less enamored of hard-right positions than are the GOP activists who will wield power in the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary and other nominating contests.

Full Article

Quebec Shale Gas Development Sparks Civil Disobedience Threat

(CP) -- QUEBEC - Opponents of shale gas development in Quebec have warned that they might engage in civil disobedience to keep the industry from taking off in the province.
One protest leader said people would tie themselves to gas companies' machinery and block their trucks if exploration activities went ahead.

Several dozen opponents of shale gas are marching through Quebec to warn of its possible environmental impact.

Event spokesman Philippe Duhamel said Monday that the march was just the beginning. He said there would also be training sessions on how to organize sit-ins and occupy exploration sites.

He said protesters actually got the idea from a gas-industry executive who said he would pull out of Quebec at the slightest hint of a work stoppage.

Full Article

The Fundamental Problem With Newspaper Paywalls

Canadians living in the bustling metropolis of Montreal and the picturesque city of Victoria are getting a taste of what some media executives hope may be the future -- paying for the news online. The Gazette in Montreal and the Victoria Times-Colonist on Vancouver Island have become the latest testbeds to see if people will pony up to get their local news on the web.

From Wednesday, access to the newspaper websites was limited to the first 20 articles, before hitting a paywall. It is part of an experiment by PostMedia Network, Canada's largest publisher of paid English language daily newspapers, in two relatively small markets for its papers.

Like every newspaper group, PostMedia is trying to figure out how to manage the transition from a paid print circulation to a digital readership that is used to getting its news for free. Changing human behavior is a tall order. A recent survey that suggested that Canadians are overwhelmingly unwilling to part with their cash for the news It found that 92% of Canadians who get news online say they would find another free site if their favourite news site started charging for content.

However, there is a more fundamental issue at play. People have never really paid for the news. By news, I mean the political infighting in city halls or the violence in faraway foreign places -- the news that is important and matters but can be challenging to make relevant to a broad audience.
Readers were paying for the sport results, the lifestyle section, diversions like the crossword and horoscopes. The cost of producing "the daily miracle" as Canadian playwright David Sherman put it was largely borne by advertising sales. The subsidy model worked when mass media was the dominant model for distributing the news. The business of newspapers was delivering large audiences to advertisers, and they were pretty good at it.

Full Article

The Battle for Canada's Internet Has Just Begun

At this point, most of those who are paying attention recognize that Canada has been facing a disturbing accountability crisis. Even Andrew Coyne in Maclean's points out the “long train of offences against democratic and parliamentary principle” that the Conservatives will bring to office with them.

Yet this trend is at odds with the flourishing of online practices and tools that make it easier for citizens to know and report on what’s going on with their government. During the recent federal election, talked directly to politicians on our supporters’ behalf, asking them to fill out our online survey and add their name to our list of pro-internet candidates. We asked that they be willing to create more, not fewer, means of holding them accountable, and hundreds of politicians responded – just one small indicator that new tools shift our expectations around accountability and transparency.

The Conservatives, as you might know, mostly refused to participate. They dug in their heels. So what now, with them having a majority in Parliament?

Full Article

Israel's Tilt to the Right

In the past two weeks, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come full circle. On May 15, Palestinians marked the 63rd anniversary of al-Nakba, or "the catastrophe" of the creation of the state of Israel. For the first time, hundreds of Palestinians came from Syria and managed to take down the border fence separating their country from Israel and enter the Golan Heights. The sight of hundreds of Palestinians carrying flags, yelling slogans, and marching into Israel sparked a sense of unity and hope for Palestinians who feel that they are about to fulfil the " right of return."

A week and a half later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in front of the U.S. Congress and outlined the Israeli stand for the peace process. Netanyahu presented harsh, uncompromising conditions for achieving a peace agreement with Palestinians. Two days after that, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a survey reporting that an astounding 51 per cent of Israelis support the prime minister, while 36 per cent do not. The same survey conducted five weeks earlier showed the opposite results: 38 per cent were in support of Netanyahu, and 53 per cent were not. In addition, 46 per cent of Israelis said that they felt "proud" when they watched the prime minister speaking in front of Congress.

The significance of this sequence of events is quite clear: For Israeli civilians and politicians, Nakba Day demonstrations and marches strengthen the belief that Palestinians’ intent is to return to the 1948 narrative of the conflict, which does not recognize the state of Israel. Acknowledging this, Netanyahu prepared a moving speech that touched the hearts of Israelis who feel their country's security is being threatened, and positioned himself as a strong leader, thus increasing his domestic political standing.

Full Article

Quebec will challenge Harper’s Senate reform bill in the courts

If Stephen Harper insists on moving ahead with Senate reform, he can expect the Quebec government to fight him all the way to the Supreme Court.

Others warn that the Prime Minister’s plan to permit elected senators who would serve fixed terms could create a patchwork of provincial rules that might also be struck down by the courts.

In all, the upcoming Senate legislation could mark the beginning of a protracted legal and political fight over who has the power to amend the rules that govern the Senate, and to what extent.

Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau told The Globe and Mail Monday that the federal government’s plans to introduce legislation in June that would set fixed terms for senators and enable provincial governments to hold elections for senators when a seat becomes available would be unconstitutional without provincial consent. Many provinces, Quebec especially, are concerned that elected senators would usurp provincial governments as the foremost representatives of their citizens.

Full Article

Tory convention to tackle treason, tax policy, euthanasia

OTTAWA — Canada's Conservatives are poised to debate a resolution at their upcoming convention on whether to declare that any Canadian citizen who takes up arms against the military of this country or one of its allies should be automatically stripped of citizenship and be tried for "high treason."
The resolution is just one of dozens — on issues ranging from tax policy, to euthanasia, to prostitution to same-sex marriage— that Tory delegates will discuss at a convention in June.

Some will be routine and — as in the case of a proposal to end public subsidies for political parties — reflective of plans already announced by the Conservative government.

Others, such as a proposal to effectively scale back the government's commitment to regulate Canadian industry on greenhouse gas emissions, could be contentious.

Among the resolutions that could draw attention is the one on high treason.

Currently, the Criminal Code allows for someone to be charged if they assist "an enemy at war with Canada, or any armed forces against whom Canadian Forces are engaged in hostilities, whether or not a state of war exists between Canada and the country whose forces they are."

Anyone convicted is automatically sentenced to life in prison.

Full Article

Metro Vancouver considers smoking ban in all regional parks

METRO VANCOUVER -- The crusade against second-hand smoke could get a boost in Metro Vancouver, with park officials poised to consider a blanket ban on smoking — and possibly even campfires — in all regional parks.

The move, aimed at reducing second-hand-smoke exposure in Metro’s public spaces, is one of four options suggested by staff for public consultation as part of a draft regional no-smoking policy.

But some Metro park committee directors are already balking at the proposal, which calls for all Metro property — from parking lots and roadways to campsites and trails — to be off-limits to cigarettes to provide the “highest level of health benefit” for both smokers and non-smokers.

It could also potentially mean the end of fires at picnic sites and campgrounds such as Centennial Beach in Delta and Derby Reach campground in Langley.

“You’re outdoors, for goodness’ sake,” said Gayle Martin, a Langley city councillor and park committee chairwoman who is also a smoker. “What about the fumes from cars and the [stuff in the] air and the pollution? Where does it stop?”

Full Article

Ford asks court to halt audit of his campaign finances

Mayor Rob Ford is asking the courts to quash a city committee’s order for a full audit of his unorthodox campaign funding.

Ford’s lawyer Tom Barlow filed notice alleging the compliance audit committee “erred in its interpretation and application of the provisions” of the Municipal Elections Act and “in determining that the application satisfied the threshold for granting a compliance audit.”

That’s a change of heart from last week, when the mayor said he doubted he would appeal the compliance audit committee’s May 13 order.

“There is nothing to hide so let them audit all they want,” he told the Toronto Sun.

The committee’s three citizen appointees, all with expertise in election rules, voted unanimously to launch the audit based on a detailed request by Toronto residents Max Reed and Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler.

Reed and Chaleff-Freudenthaler focused on questions about Ford’s family company, Doug Ford Holdings Inc., paying more than $77,000 in early campaign expenses. The campaign cut the company a cheque for the full amount one year after the current mayor declared his candidacy.

Full Article

Mayor Ford won’t support tolls to fund Sheppard extension

Mayor Rob Ford will not support road tolls to fund extension of the Sheppard subway line, Councillor Doug Ford said Monday.
The mayor pronounced himself “totally opposed” to road tolls during his campaign. But Gordon Chong, the Ford ally appointed to develop the business case for the 13-kilometre extension, said last week that tolls may be among the revenue-generating tools needed to raise $4 billion critics say will never be found.

Rob Ford’s office did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother and trusted adviser, said emphatically that “road tolls are not going to happen.”

The city would require provincial approval to impose tolls. Doug Ford said Chong’s job is “to look at all the options,” and those options may go before council. But council will not accept tolls, Ford said.

The mayor seeks to pay for the extension via a public-private partnership. He has not explained, however, how he believes such an arrangement would work or how much corporate money it could generate. A consulting firm is being hired to develop a proposal.

Full Article

Tory convention to consider 'high treason' punishment proposal

Stephen Harper’s governing Conservative Party will debate whether Canadians should be stripped of their citizenship should they take up arms against this country or its allies.

It’s one of a multitude of proposed changes to the Conservative Party’s official policies up for debate when Tories from across Canada converge in Ottawa for a June 9-11 convention.

Topics range from a flat-rate income tax to euthanasia to reforming the immigration system, including a focus on attracting younger immigrants.

The “High Treason” proposal, if adopted, would make it party policy to support automatically voiding the citizenship of Canadians caught fighting soldiers of this country or allied nations.

It would also back trying such a Canadian for “high treason” under the Criminal Code, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Full Article

Reflecting on the Federal Election Results

The 2011 federal election was historic in many ways and most of us are still trying to process the outcome. It is crucial that we pause to reflect on its meaning and think carefully about the next steps we must take.

While it is true that the remarkable surge in support for the NDP means a more dependable progressive voice in the House of Commons than we have had for years, it is equally true that the most socially and economically right-wing government perhaps in Canadian history has just won a substantial majority in the House and -- along with their control of the Senate -- is now free to implement its agenda even if every member of every other party votes against it.

Full Article

Gushing Oil Spills Drill Taxpayer Pockets

"Blowouts are very rare for the entire industry as well as for Imperial... the probability of a blowout is low -- one in 285,000." -- Imperial SSRW submission, March 2010.

Prior to April 20, 2010, the oil industry treated blowouts like rare events with a predictable level of risk.

Then the improbable -- a wellhead blowout on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig -- killed 11 men and spilled 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil gushed for three months, wrecking havoc on the environment, wildlife and the economy.

A year after the largest marine oil spill in history, we must remember that the improbable remains not only possible, but beyond our ability to predict and control. Offshore oil spills are Black Swan Events -- extremely hard-to-predict events that carry the risk of major impact. And they come with significant costs.

British Petroleum has estimated that its damages, including penalties and clean-up, from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will cost US$40-billion. Resources for the Future, a non-profit group of ecological economists peg the damages to private parties at anywhere between US$105- and US$239-billion.

Full Article

What a difference a gay makes

Ford condemned QuAIA last year, saying, “Taxpayers’ dollars should not be used to fund hate speech.” That is excellent news. I’m sure all the “Orientals who work like dogs,” “the cyclists who are asking to be killed” and everyone who probably won’t get AIDS “because they’re not gay or doing drugs” – all words uttered by the mayor himself – will be thrilled to hear this.

Crazy pills aside, perhaps you are thinking, “There must have been a shitload of money on the line, seeing as how Pride must make the city’s businesses millions of dollars. I mean, I can barely get a bubble tea in my neighbourhood during the festival, everything’s so jammed up. And forget about booking my wax!”

Actually, the amount of city funding is $128,000 plus services in kind – garbage cleanup and cops – amounting to around $250,000. It’s not peanuts, but it pales in comparison to the money injected into the city during the nine-day festival.

QuAIA does not promote hate speech. So, then, why is that org still being held responsible for the fate of Pride’s funding? Why is Pride agreeing to such questionable terms? (Though Pride didn’t sign anything stating outright that it would ban the participation of QuAIA, it does seem the city still has the organizers by the balls). Is this why a bunch of drag queens and dykes stood up to city authorities at Stonewall? So that 42 years later a bunch of civic and social powers could decide the fate of their future community based on a fallacy, fear-mongering and divide-and-conquer tactics? I don’t fucking think so.

Full Article

Mr. Personality

Late in the morning on Wednesday, May 18, Councillor Shelley Carroll was working the floor of the council chamber, trying to drum up votes to save the Fort York bridge, which had been scheduled to begin construction this summer. As public projects go, the bridge was significant in that it represents everything former Mayor David Miller was passionate about: a $23-million proposed oasis strictly for pedestrians and cyclists that would connect downtown to the waterfront and serve as a “vision thing” for a confident, growing city.

It’s the antithesis, then, of everything the current mayor thinks is appropriate. Still, it came as a surprise to virtually everyone when, at the end of an epic Public Works Committee meeting a few days earlier, a sudden motion to delay construction passed by a slim majority. It was a move that, for several technical reasons, would effectively kill the project. “This is a plain and simple ‘fuck you’ to those of us who think we can build a better city,” one lefty councillor said to me. “That’s all it is.”

So, last Wednesday, armed with reams of letters in support of building the Fort York bridge from residents, architects and prominent developers, council’s left was trying to muster up the two-thirds majority needed to bring the matter to debate in time to save the project. As the vote to keep the bridge project alive drew near, Carroll approached Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, who represents Ward 2 in Etobicoke. “I don’t find the mayor’s staff particularly receptive to having any kind of conversation with me at all,” Carroll told me later. “When I need to make an appeal to that leadership office, I go to Doug. He’s approachable.”

Full Article

The pros and cons of public referendums

Should city residents get a direct say on contentious issues such as transit – casting votes in favour of light rail, increased buses or expanded roadways? Most people would probably say yes to that kind of public referendum. But what about similar votes used to decide whether you can circumcise your child or if your drinking water should be fluoridated?

At a time when North American municipalities are facing tough decisions about budget cuts and infrastructure developments, the idea of giving more power to the people is quickly gaining traction.

Grappling with contentious topics from transportation to social services, many municipalities are starting to put decisions to public votes, with city councils allowing residents to decide which course their city should take rather than risk an unpopular move.

Next week, a 16-member council representing the Ontario region of Kitchener-Waterloo will be asked to approve a public referendum on an $818-million light rail transit plan. The vote would come after six years of environmental studies, economic forecasts and more than 131 public meetings on the issue, and will likely add another six months and $1-million to the process.

Full Article

Has the fourth estate lost its tenacity

Harrison Salisbury’s old book on The New York Times, Without Fear or Favor, is worth reading these days, especially for the members of the fourth estate.

The book focuses on the Pentagon Papers and Watergate and legendary newspapermen like Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post and Abe Rosenthal of the Times. It tells of how they and their reporters dug in.

The Post was initially criticized for making too big a deal out of a story about a break-in at Democratic Party headquarters. But the paper kept working the story and kept finding more rot within and we all know how it turned out. In the case of the Times and the Pentagon Papers, there was no cowering to White House warnings of publishing state secrets or compromising national security. It was in the public interest to publish. They published.

The late James Thomson, who was a curator for Neiman media fellowships at Harvard, issued a warning in the Salisbury book about journalists who, by contrast, become too much a part of the establishment. To use an old 1970s word, they get co-opted. They just move along, responding to what the government puts out. They “seldom stay long enough with one central story or issue.”

Full Article

Monday, May 30, 2011

Canada Post workers could strike as early as Thursday night: union

The union representing Canada Post's urban workers gave the Crown corporation an ultimatum Monday that it will go on strike this week if its final offer is rejected.

Denis Lemelin, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said the notice puts the union in a legal position to strike on Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET after it turned down the latest offer from Canada Post.

Full Article

In Kandahar, PM hails Canada’s success as mission winds down

Stephen Harper has travelled to Afghanistan to pay tribute to the last rotation of Canadian combat troops, marking the coming end of a bloody five-year mission in Kandahar.

The Prime Minister, who flew into Afghanistan under tight security and secrecy Monday, mounted a Chinook helicopter to serve lunch to Canadian troops at a battlefield base in Sperwan Ghar, in the still hotly-contested Panjwai district of Kandahar. He also laid a wreath at a memorial for fallen soldiers and spoke to hundreds of assembled Canadian troops at Kandahar Airfield.

Full Article

Afghan mission a ‘great success,’ Harper tells troops in Kandahar


The Canadian legacy in Afghanistan cannot be properly written for years.

But in the dust of Kandahar on a day in late May when the mid-afternoon temperature topped 40C, Stephen Harper tried to get ahead of history.

As Canadian troops prepare to pivot, moving from a combat role to a training role in two months, the Prime Minister all but declared victory for this mission, both in front of some 500 soldiers at New Canada House, but more passionately to reporters afterward.

Full Article

Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection, Addiction, Attention Deficit Disorder and the Destruction of American Childhood

A Democracy Now! special with the Canadian physician and bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté. From disease to addiction, parenting to attention deficit disorder, Dr. Maté’s work focuses on the centrality of early childhood experiences to the development of the brain, and how those experiences can impact everything from behavioral patterns to physical and mental illness. While the relationship between emotional stress and disease, and mental and physical health more broadly, is often considered controversial within medical orthodoxy, Dr. Maté argues too many doctors seem to have forgotten what was once a commonplace assumption, that emotions are deeply implicated in both the development of illness, addictions and disorders, and in their healing.


Jefferson Memorial Flash Mob Arrested For Dancing, Protesting Court Ruling

U.S. Park Police arrested five people on Saturday at the Jefferson Memorial. Their offense? Dancing.

The dancers were protesting an appeals court ruling handed down last week that the national monuments are places for reflection and contemplation -- and that dancing distracted from such an experience.

In 2008, Mary Brooke Oberwetter and a group of friends went to the Jefferson to commemorate the president's 265th birthday by dancing silently, while listening to music on headphones. Park Police ordered the revelers to disperse and arrested them when they did not.

Full Article and Videos

Afghanistan War IEDs Cause Surge In Double Amputees Among U.S. War Wounded

American soldiers and Marines walking combat patrols in Afghanistan have suffered a surge of gruesome injuries, losing one or both legs and often their genitals to crude homemade bombs Taliban insurgents bury in dirt roads and pathways.

In some cases, American military surgeons tell The Huffington Post, these traumatic amputations occur so close to soldiers’ hips that it is difficult to fit prosthetic legs, severely limiting the patients’ future mobility and rehabilitation. In addition, the loss of sexual function for formerly healthy young men in their early 20s causes severe anxiety and depression and can wreck new marriages.

Full Article

Israel 1967 Borders: Harper And Netanyahu Didn't Chat About It

Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not discuss the G8 summit with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, a Harper spokesman says.

The statement by Dimitri Soudas, Harper's communications director, appears to contradict a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Netanyahu phoned Harper before the summit to ask him to block G8 support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.

Soudas said Sunday in an email to The Canadian Press that Harper did speak to "various leaders in the last few days, including the Israeli prime minister as well as the head of the Arab League."

Full Article

Tories left oilsands data out of UN report

The federal government has acknowledged it deliberately excluded data indicating a 20 per cent increase in annual pollution from Canada’s oilsands industry in 2009 from a recent 567-page report on climate change that it was required to submit to the United Nations.
The numbers, uncovered by Postmedia News, were left out of the report, a national inventory on Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution. It revealed a six per cent drop in annual emissions for the entire economy from 2008 to 2009, but does not directly show the extent of pollution from the oilsands production, which is greater than the greenhouse gas emissions of all the cars driven on Canadian roads.
The data also indicated that emissions per barrel of oil produced by the sector is increasing, despite claims made by the industry in an advertising campaign.

Full Article

G8-G20 Security: Police Made Millions On Toronto Summit

(CBC) Police officers from forces outside the Greater Toronto Area brought in to work at last summer's G8 and G20 summits made millions of dollars through lucrative contracts paying them overtime and vacation rates, according to newly released RCMP documents.

CBC/Radio-Canada has obtained copies of RCMP contracts totalling $7 million for the hiring of 657 officers from 17 different local forces from coast to coast. The invoices detail how over the course of a week or two in June 2010, more than half of all the work performed by those officers was paid for at premium rates of 1½ or two times an officer's usual wages.

One of the most costly examples involves Montreal's police force, which submitted an invoice to the RCMP for 278 officers paid at "double time" for all the work they performed around the Toronto and Huntsville summit sites between June 19 and June 29, at a total cost of $3,342,578.

The officers were technically on vacation and so charged the premium rates, according to Mélanie Lajoie, a spokeswoman for Montreal's police force.

The RCMP insists it had no choice but to hire additional officers who were on vacation or time off from their local force for the G8/G20, and to pay them at premium rates according to each force's respective collective agreements.

Full Article

Advice to Harper

Prime Minister Harper,

Your first parliamentary majority comes at a time of considerable change in Canadian political culture, liberty movements in many nations and a systemic crisis in the global ecology. It's worth noting that the Conservative party's founding principles include a commitment to upholding our "obligations among the nations of the world," with references to fair trade and future generations, and to "integrity, honesty and concern for the best interests of all."

That, then, should commit you to transparency, civility and co-operation. In this spirit -- and for your legacy -- please consider the following:

- Apologize to Canadians for being in contempt of the House -- the true reason your minority government was brought down, and a rightful concern for Canadians, which you've dismissed as mere "bickering." Have the humility and courage to say, "I'm sorry."

- Stun the country with massive support for clean renewable energies to make the Tar Sands a footnote in the sad history of polluting industries. Make Canada a world leader in the clean jobs sector.

- Respect the clear and compelling climate science that should put Canada in the forefront of climate action. Support "the right to a future" for all Canadian kids.

- Reduce crime by investing in early years and increasing literacy, not by ineffective and costly prisons.

- Show your respect for Canada's children by legislating a ban on direct advertising and marketing to kids 12 and under.

Show us you're truly committed to balancing "fiscal accountability, progressive social policy and individual rights and responsibilities" and want to "build a national coalition of people who share these beliefs" as the Conservative Party's founding principles state.

Canadians want to believe their Prime Minister. We all expect you to set a good example, especially our children and youth.


Like a Surveillance Camera in Your Home

Stephen Harper's "lawful access" legislation represents an unprecedented invasion of privacy.

The internet is no longer simply an information revolution; it has become an integral part of our lives, and our increasing reliance on it has become a serious vulnerability. The Canadian government will soon table “lawful access” legislation, which will require internet service providers (ISPs) to record our contact information, set up a constant internet surveillance system, and report specific online exchanges upon request. This information would then be made available to law enforcement officials even if they did not have a court order or a warrant.

When this legislation was initially proposed, Canadian privacy and information commissioners expressed grave concern about the implementation of such drastic measures. They noted that the range of information obtained could exceed that gleaned from a lawful wiretap, and that there were many gaps in the proposed oversight model.

If passed, this law will fundamentally affect our social and personal lives. It’s akin to the government setting up a surveillance camera in our homes that it can turn on whenever it sees fit. The more we use the internet, the greater the chances are that we will be subject to state oversight.

Full Article

Conservative bill to set term limits, allow elections for senators

The Conservatives will introduce legislation in June that will bring about the most important changes to the Senate since Confederation, just weeks after they were criticized for appointing three Tory faithful to the Red Chamber.
One new bill will impose term limits on all senators, including those already in the chamber; the other will allow provinces to hold elections for senators whenever seats become available.
The Senate reform legislation will be a major priority for the new majority Conservative government when the 41st Parliament convenes Thursday.

Full Article

CEO pay jumps 13 per cent

The economic downturn in 2008 and 2009 was a distant memory by 2010 for Canada’s top chief executive officers, at least as far as their pay packages were concerned.

A Globe and Mail review of executive pay last year shows CEOs at Canada’s 100 largest companies saw their compensation jump 13 per cent last year, led higher by a 20-per-cent increase in annual cash bonuses. Base salaries climbed 4 per cent.

Full Article

Foreign workers uniting to seek better treatment

Foreign farm workers, nannies and other temporary labourers in Canada are forming a united front to fight for better treatment by employers.

“What we are seeing now is a shift and expansion of the temporary foreign workers program from agriculture and live-in care to food industry, restaurants, hospitality and tourism,” said Sonia Singh of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, the coalition to be launched this week.

“We are seeing worsening work conditions for these workers. It sets a dangerous path to have our immigration policy based on temporary work.”

Despite the recent economic downturn, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada has skyrocketed from 160,908 in 2006 to 283,096 in 2010.

Individual groups have organized within their own sectors, but it is time to have a united front to advocate for all foreign workers, who are at the mercy of Canadian employers and third-party recruiters, said Singh, whose group is made up of 17 grassroots organizations and unions.

Full Article

$784M budget shortfall a sign of fiscal doomsday?

Toronto faces a massive $784 million shortfall projected for its 2012 budget. To balance it, the city will be forced to cut services and struggle to find new sources of revenue.

And without offering him extra staff or resources, the mayor has tasked Del Grande with what seems like a mission impossible. During last year’s municipal election, Rob Ford promised he’d lower taxes and stop the gravy train — all without cutting any city services, “guaranteed.” Now, unless the mayor and Del Grande pull off a miracle, this budget chair may unfairly, but forever, be identified as the man who couldn’t save Toronto from the approaching apocalypse (assuming there’s anyone left around to remember).

But I have some faith in Del Grande’s abilities and don’t honestly believe society as we know it will come to an end next year. But it very well may look different than what we’re used to. The buses will continue to run, but not as often. We’ll still have community centres, but they’ll be more expensive to access. Our roads will be repaired, but not as quickly. Some services may disappear completely.

To avoid this scenario, I wonder if most Torontonians are willing to pay higher user fees or taxes? Should we consider other options such as the controversial subject of introducing road tolls for 905ers, who are essentially subsidized by Toronto’s property taxpayers when using our infrastructure?

If Mr. Ford was wrong about his gravy prophecies, something will surely have to give.

Full Article

Was Harper asked to help Israel at G8 summit?

ATHENS—Stephen Harper has been portrayed as more than just a friend to Israel but someone who did the bidding of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at last week’s G8 summit in France.

A leading Israeli newspaper reported that Harper was asked by Netanyahu to ensure that the summit of the world’s leading economies did not refer to Israel’s pre-1967 borders as any starting point to new Middle East peace negotiations.

U.S. President Barack Obama had called for those borders in concert with land swaps as a negotiating start but Netanyahu called those borders “indefensible.’’

The English language Haaretz said Netanyahu called Harper on the eve of the summit to express his concern that the summit would back the Obama position.

At the summit neither Harper nor his spokesperson would deny reports that the Canadian PM blocked the 1967 reference from the final communiqué.

After any reference to 1967 borders was dropped from the final communiqué Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called his Canadian counterpart John Baird to thank him for his help, Haaretz said.

Full Article

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Road toll ‘reality check’ stirs up Toronto council

An exclusive report by the Star that new road tolls and congestion charges will be needed to deliver the $4 billion Sheppard subway has caused a stir among city councillors and business groups.

Claims that the private sector will step in and build the line on its own are not realistic, Gordon Chong, head of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd., told the Star’s Royson James in an interview.

Chong is a former TTC commissioner who was hand-picked by Mayor Rob Ford to hammer out the details of his transportation plan. His comments fly in the face of promises by the mayor that taxpayers will not foot the bill for new subway lines.

“This could be the wake up call for Torontonians to realize how foolish from a business perspective the mayor’s Sheppard subway proposal really is,” said Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s), a former vice-chair of the Toronto Transit Commission.

Full Article

Vaccine Prices Disclosed By UNICEF For First Time

UNICEF is for the first time publicizing what drugmakers charge it for vaccines, as the world's biggest buyer of lifesaving immunizations aims to spark price competition in the face of rising costs.

On Friday, UNICEF posted on its website the actual prices that it has paid individual drugmakers for 16 vaccines purchased over the last decade. It's a move that a few Western pharmaceutical companies don't support. Novartis AG and Merck & Co., which only sells one of its many children's vaccines to UNICEF, both declined to have their prices published.

UNICEF said it will continue to disclose pricing of future vaccine deals, with the hope that the transparency will push drugmakers to cut prices and thus allow the organization to vaccinate more children and save more lives.

Full Article

Cyber Security

Cyberspace has become an all-immersive domain, and the global communications environment in which all of society, economics, and politics are now embedded. Its constituent parts are widely conceived of as critical national infrastructure.

But the domain of cyberspace is entering a potentially chaotic and very dangerous phase of its evolution, which is why it has become a key issue for consideration at today's G8 summit in Deauville, France.

Full Article

PM Denies Netanyahu Sought Help Before G8

Report claims Israeli prime minister asked Harper for assistance in defeating Obama proposal.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman is denying a report that says Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a discussion two days before the G8 meeting in France to stop support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. The report, published by Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Sunday, quoted an Israeli official who said Netanyahu had contacted Harper over growing concern that the border proposal was being supported by at least seven of the eight G8 countries. Netanyahu allegedly argued that mentioning the border crisis would only benefit the Palestinians, not the Israelis. The G8's final declaration on Friday did not mention the new border proposal, and European diplomats said it was not discussed due to Canada's objections. At the time, Harper did not confirm or deny that report.


Will Rendition Always Remain a State Secret?

On President Obama's first day in office, he stated unequivocally that his administration was "committed to operating with an unprecedented level of openness in government," leaving behind the culture of secrecy surrounding the executive branch during the previous administration. One key brick in the government's wall of secrecy has been the state secrets privilege, which the executive has invoked to dismiss lawsuits alleging abuses committed under its national security policies, such as extraordinary rendition to torture. After the U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear a case challenging the government's use of the state secrets privilege in a rendition case, it is time for the president to live up to his promise.

In Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc., five men alleged that Jeppesen, a subsidiary of the Boeing Company, helped the CIA transfer them to other countries for detention, interrogation and torture. The government successfully argued that the very subject matter of its extraordinary rendition program is a state secret and therefore entirely off limits to the courts. When the lower courts dismissed their case on this basis, the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court to reverse that decision -- an appeal that fell on deaf ears.

Full Article

Obama Dragging His Heels on Appointing Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren’s problem is not with the Republicans—though they have worked hard to demonize her.  Her real problem is with the “boys” at the Treasury Department and Timothy Geithner, the head “boy” in charge of the president’s banking policies.  Maybe she also has a problem with the “boys” at the White House. We are soon to find out. In the next month or so, Barack Obama must decide whether or not he will appoint Warren to chair the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

This ought to be a slam-dunk for him.  After all, Elizabeth Warren invented the idea of a new regulatory agency to protect hapless consumers from predatory bankers. Obama embraced the concept as his own and it is one of his few distinctively original accomplishments.  Warren knows consumer fraud. For many years, as a savvy reform critic, she courageously called out the banking industry on its most notorious practices. Her dynamic and plainspoken advocacy was essential in getting Congress to include the proposal in the financial reform legislation enacted last summer.

Yet Obama hesitated. For nearly a year, he has played coy and held off naming her to the job. We presumed that was because Republicans vowed to block her nomination unless the law is altered to weaken the CFPB and appease angry bankers. But that explanation doesn’t add up. Obama could always put her in the office through a recess appointment that gets around Senate confirmation. Yet he didn’t do so. What’s up with that?

Full Article

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The “Hood Robin” Economy

In 1973, if you put the 1 percent of the country that had made the most money in a room and got them to empty out their pockets, you’d see 8 percent of all the money paid out in wages over the last year falling to the floor. If you’d repeated that exercise in 2008, you’d find 18 percent of the economy’s income on the ground. You’d better have a pretty big room.

But that’s what makes the rich different from you and me: their riches. The problem is that since 1973 median wages have been stagnating. Inequality isn’t just rising because the rich are getting richer. It’s rising because the rest of us, by and large, aren’t. If median household incomes had risen between 1974 and 2008 by as much as they rose between 1949 and 1973, the median family would be making well over $100,000 a year by now. In such a world, we might wonder about inequality, but we’d have less reason to worry about it.

But the rest are not getting richer. The question is whether the two phenomena are connected: Has the economy gone Hood Robin, with median wages stagnating because the folks at the tippy-top are channeling more and more of the economy’s gains into their own bank accounts? Or have the rich and famous moved into their own economy, and whatever is going on with median incomes is a different problem that will require different solutions?

Full Article

The Jobless Economy

Christina Romer, former member of U.S. President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, accuses the administration of "shamefully ignoring" the unemployed. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman echoes her concerns, observing that Washington has lost interest in "the forgotten millions." The unemployed in the U.S. have been ignored and forgotten, but they are far from superfluous. Over the last two years, out-of-work Americans have played a critical role in helping the richest one per cent recover trillions in financial wealth.

Obama's advisers often congratulate themselves for avoiding another Great Depression – an assertion not amenable to serious analysis or debate. A better way to evaluate their claims is to compare the U.S. economy to that of other rich countries over the last few years.

In terms of sustaining economic growth, the United States is doing better than nearly all advanced economies. From the first quarter of 2008 to the end of 2010, U.S. gross domestic product growth outperformed that of every G7 country except Canada.

But, when it comes to jobs, U.S. policy-makers fall short of their rosy self-evaluations. Despite the fact that the U.S. is the country with the second-highest economic growth, Paul Wiseman of The Associated Press reports that "the U.S. job market remains the group's weakest. U.S. employment bottomed and started growing again a year ago, but there are still 5.4 per cent fewer American jobs than in December 2007. That's a much sharper drop than in any other G7 country." According to an important study by Andrew Sum and Joseph McLaughlin, the U.S. boasted one of the lowest unemployment rates in the rich world before the housing crash. Now, it has the highest.

Full Article

Late Delivery for Canada's F-35s?

First they cost more than expected, now they're later than expected. Will they be worth the wait?

Delivery of Canada's new F-35 fighter jets could be delayed beyond its expected date of 2016 due to ongoing development problems in the U.S. In the meantime, according to the Defence Department, Canada will continue flying its CF-18s, which are scheduled to retire between 2017 and 2020. Critics of the F-35 program -- the costliest military acquisition in Canadian history -- believe the delay is proof of the government's dwindling credibility on the issue. Steve Staples, president of the Rideau Institute, an organization that is opposed to the F-35 deal, said,“The public should have no faith in what the government or military is saying about the F-35.” After insisting the jets would cost $75-million each, the government acknowledged they would cost more but would not estimate a new price.


Justice Department Asks Court To Lift Ban

MADISON, Wis. — State attorneys asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday to immediately vacate a Madison judge's decision striking down Republican Gov. Scott Walker's contentious collective bargaining law.

Judge Maryann Sumi invalidated the law on Thursday after finding Republican legislators violated Wisconsin's open records law during the run-up to passage in March. The decision came in a lawsuit Democratic Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed challenging the law.

The state Justice Department is representing the Republicans. The agency's attorneys asked the state Supreme Court to take the case and the court set oral arguments on whether it should make a move for June 6. Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John said in a letter to the justices late Friday they need to act now.

Full Article

Brandon Ross Charged With Murder After Police Fatally Shoot 15-Year-Old Companion

A 16-year-old boy has been charged with murder after a Chicago police officer fatally shot his 15-year-old friend Wednesday on the South Side.

Brandon Ross and his friend Tatioun Williams allegedly robbed a man at gunpoint in the 7000 block of South Cregier Avenue Wednesday evening, and were confronted by police officers a short time later, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Full Article

Canada Post Strike Looms In Face Of Stalled Negotiations

OTTAWA (CP) -- The union executive for urban workers at Canada Post said it would meet with its bargaining committee on the weekend to plan their next move as there was a pause in talks aimed at averting a strike.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers issued a statement that said there was little progress in negotiations Friday on issues such as staffing, workload and safety.

"There is no indication that CPC (Canada Post Corp.) is prepared to seriously discuss the real problems facing postal workers," the CUPW statement said. "For CPC management these negotiations are mainly about eliminating sick leave and imposing less pay and benefits on workers."

Full Article

Ford’s subways will require tolls and grants

It will likely take new road tolls and congestion charges and other revenue tools to help deliver “the biggest transit deal in North America, or perhaps the world,” says the man hired to pave the path toward the $4 billion Sheppard Subway.

As such, claims that the private sector will step in and build the line on their own are not realistic, says Gordon Chong, ex-city councillor, ex-chair of GO Transit, ex-TTC commissioner and now chair of the Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd., the dormant investment arm of the transit company.

As well as tolls, there will need to be increased government grants, unprecedented development fees, revenue tools not used here before, plus the public-private partnership Mayor Rob Ford covets in order to make the project happen, Chong said in an interview.

As he moved into an empty and surplus section of City Hall this week, Chong’s reality check is a sobering reminder of how many hurdles stand in the way of a subway-building future he and others crave.

Full Article

G8 and the Internet

The irony couldn't be more obvious. After staging a piece of political theater called the E-G8, which French President Nicolas Sarkozy used as a platform to champion the notion of much tougher government control over the Internet, the president today will welcome to the analog G8 meeting in Deauville, representatives from the interim governments of Tunisia and Egypt.

Without the Internet, and social media in particular, the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt would simply have never occurred.

Sarkozy's problem is that, like other political leaders, he doesn't like a medium over which the government does not have final authority. With the Internet's arrival, lofty concepts such as freedom of speech and freedom of thought are actually gaining traction. Prior to this, freedom of speech was meaningful only to those who powerful people who could use the printing presses and broadcast media.

Full Article

Corporate Donations Ban Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A U.S. judge has ruled that the campaign finance law banning corporations from making contributions to federal candidates is unconstitutional, saying that a recent Supreme Court decision gives companies the same right to donate as individual citizens enjoy.

In a ruling issued late Thursday, U.S. District Judge James Cacheris tossed out part of an indictment against two people charged with illegally reimbursing donors to Hillary Clinton's 2006 Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns.

Cacheris says that under the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision last year, corporations have the right to give to federal candidates.

The ruling from the federal judge in Virginia is the first of its kind. The Citizens United case had applied only to corporate spending on campaign activities by independent groups, such as ads run by third parties to favor one side, not to direct contributions to the candidates themselves.

Cacheris noted in his ruling that only one other court has addressed the issue in the wake of Citizens United ruling. A federal judge in Minnesota ruled the other way, allowing a state ban on corporate contributions to stand.

Full Article

Friday, May 27, 2011

Harper blocks mention of 1967 border in G8 Mideast statement

Stephen Harper blocked G8 leaders from declaring in their summit statement that Middle East peace talks should be based on returning to Israel’s pre-war 1967 borders, plus negotiated land swaps.

Full Article

PM to extend Libyan mission

Stephen Harper is planning to extend Canada’s controversial military intervention in Libya and will ask the Commons, which he controls, to approve this.

He announced this Friday at the Group of Eight leaders’ meetings in France.

It’s not clear yet how long Mr. Harper intends to extend Canada’s involvement.

Full Article

Jim Flaherty’s son joins Fords at City Hall

Councillor Doug Ford has hired federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s son, Galen, as a summer student, forging a new link in the close, mutually beneficial friendship between the conservative families.

Full Article

NDP will learn to live without party subsidies: Layton

OTTAWA—Jack Layton says ending the public financing of political parties is bad for democracy, but he has little hope the Conservative government will change its mind so New Democrats will learn to live with it.

“This of course opens the door then for big money to come back into politics, where private fundraising will become the engine of the political system. We think that’s wrong,” Layton told reporters on Wednesday.

“Of course our party will live with the new rules even though we think that they actually undermine democracy and we will all just have to work harder to raise the funds that are necessary.”

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty confirmed on Wednesday that his upcoming budget would make a longtime Conservative dream a reality and end the per-vote subsidy that provides political parties with a total of $27 million annually.

Full Article

Tea Party Targets Schools For 'Constitution Week'

MALTA, Idaho — America's kids will be learning about the U.S. Constitution this coming school year with help from a decidedly conservative Idaho publishing house, if a tea party group gets its way.

The Tea Party Patriots, Georgia-based but claiming 1,000 chapters nationally, are instructing members to remind teachers that a 2004 federal law requires public schools to teach Constitution lessons the week of Sept. 17, commemorating the day the document was signed. And they'd like the teachers to use material from the Malta, Idaho-based National Center for Constitutional Studies, which promotes the Constitution as a divinely-inspired document.

Full Article

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You

The Internet is increasingly becoming an echo-chamber in which websites tailor information according to the preferences they detect in each viewer. When some users search the word “Egypt” they may get the latest news about the revolution, others might only see search results about Egyptian vacations. The top 50 websites collect an average of 64 bits of personal information each time we visit—and then custom-designs their sites to conform to our perceived preferences. What impact will this online filters have on the future of democracy? We speak to Eli Pariser, author of "The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You.” “Take news about the war in Afghanistan. When you talk to people who run news websites, they will tell you, stories about the war in Afghanistan don’t perform very well, they don’t get a lot of clicks–people don’t flock to them. And yet, this is arguably one of the most important issues facing the country,” says Pariser. “But it will never make it through these filters. Especially on Facebook, this is a problem because the way that information is transmitted on Facebook is with the ‘Like’ button. And the ‘Like’ button has a very particular balance. It is easy to click ‘Like’ on ‘I just ran a marathon’ or ‘I baked a really awesome cake.’ It is very hard to click ‘Like’ on ‘War in Afghanistan enters its 10th year.’”


When the Internet Thinks It Knows You

ONCE upon a time, the story goes, we lived in a broadcast society. In that dusty pre-Internet age, the tools for sharing information weren’t widely available. If you wanted to share your thoughts with the masses, you had to own a printing press or a chunk of the airwaves, or have access to someone who did. Controlling the flow of information was an elite class of editors, producers and media moguls who decided what people would see and hear about the world. They were the Gatekeepers.

Then came the Internet, which made it possible to communicate with millions of people at little or no cost. Suddenly anyone with an Internet connection could share ideas with the whole world. A new era of democratized news media dawned.
You may have heard that story before — maybe from the conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds (blogging is “technology undermining the gatekeepers”) or the progressive blogger Markos Moulitsas (his book is called “Crashing the Gate”). It’s a beautiful story about the revolutionary power of the medium, and as an early practitioner of online politics, I told it to describe what we did at But I’m increasingly convinced that we’ve got the ending wrong — perhaps dangerously wrong. There is a new group of gatekeepers in town, and this time, they’re not people, they’re code.

Full Article

Keep Chilean Patagonia Wild

An environmental review commission in the Aysén region of southern Chile has made a potentially disastrous decision, voting to approve the construction of five hydroelectric dams, two on the Baker River and three on the Pascua. The damage these dams would do to the environment is tremendous, and their construction — in a largely unspoiled natural haven — would open the way for further development, including more dams.

Full Article

California's Jam-Packed Prisons

On May 23, 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled that conditions in California's prisons violated the constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" and affirmed a lower court's order that the state drastically reduce its inmate population.

Writing on behalf of the court's five-vote majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that this unprecedented measure had become the only way to remedy the "serious" and "uncorrected" constiutional violations against inmates in the state's correctional facilities, particularly the sick and mentally ill. "For years the medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners’ basic health needs. Needless suffering and death have been the well-documented result," he wrote. "Short term gains in the provision of care have been eroded by the long-term effects of severe and pervasive overcrowding." His decision included vivid examples of the problem, from open dorms so packed they can't be effectively monitored, to suicidal inmates "held for prolonged periods in telephone-booth sized cages without toilets."

Full Article

Court Strikes Down Gov. Scott Walker’s Anti-Union Bill

A Wisconsin judge has struck down Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting law. On Thursday, Judge Maryann Sumi ruled Republican legislators failed to provide sufficient public notice before passing the measure in March. Judge Sumi had previously issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the measure from taking effect. The law sharply curbs nearly all collective bargaining rights of state employees.
Republicans pushed it through despite massive protests this March that paralyzed the State Capitol. The day after Republican Governor Scott Walker signed it into law, more than 100,000 people filled the streets of Madison in what was described as Wisconsin’s largest protest ever. Democracy Now! was there to cover the rally and spoke to Democratic State Senator Tim Carpenter.


Endless Worldwide War

The Republican-led House has passed a defense spending bill Thursday with a number of controversial provisions. If signed into law, the bill would prohibit any non-U.S. citizen suspected of terrorism from receiving a federal trial regardless of where they were arrested. In addition, the bill expands the president’s ability to wage an endless worldwide war against terrorism suspects and against nations suspected of supporting them even when there is no connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the bill saying: "A new authorization of worldwide war will mean unrestricted powers to use the military at home and abroad."


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Behind the Right's Fetal-Pain Push

It started with Nebraska. Idaho, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Indiana recently followed suit. The laws, with names like the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act," ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The latest wave of a broader conservative push to restrict abortion access nationwide, the measures are premised on the idea that fetuses can feel pain at this stage in gestation and should therefore be afforded state protections. Based on dubious science, some of the laws are bound to face legal challenges. For anti-abortion crusaders, this may be precisely the point.

Last week, Minnesota passed its own fetal pain bill (though the state's Democratic governor is expected to veto it)—and at least 11 other states, from Florida to Oregon, have considered similar bans. In most states, abortions are legal through the second trimester of pregnancy—up to 24 weeks—and in some cases longer when the mother's life is at risk. Despite what proponents of fetal pain legislation say, abortions performed after 20 weeks are exceedingly rare. Only 23 percent of abortion providers even offer them; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that just 1.4 percent of abortions occur at 21 weeks or beyond. Often a woman seeking an abortion later in her pregnancy does so because of a life-threatening medical problem, or a fetal abnormality that has only recently become apparent.

According to a pair of Harvard researchers who have studied fetal pain bills, the 20-week bans are neither scientifically nor constitutionally sound. In a recent paper in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School and Sadath Sayeed of Harvard Medical School note that there is no conclusive evidence that fetuses can feel pain at that point in gestation, nor are they considered viable.
Full Article

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The G-8’s Self-Serving Math

The final communiqués haven’t been written. But the word on the street is that when leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized countries meet in France this week, they will claim that wealthy countries have come close to fulfilling their 2005 promise to boost annual development aid by $50 billion by 2010. They are not even in the ballpark.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which keeps track of aid flows, said aid from rich nations in 2010 was $19 billion short of the promises made at the G-8 summit meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, six years ago. Aid to Africa came in $14.5 billion short.
Yet the G-8 seems determined to fudge the numbers rather than admit to a broken promise. The accountability report published on the G-8 Web site last week inflates the aid figure by not accounting for the fact that a dollar today is worth much less than it was when the promise was made. By this accounting, annual aid from wealthy countries came about $1 billion short.

Full Article