Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Friday, September 30, 2011

Clarence Thomas Should Be Investigated For Nondisclosure, Democratic Lawmakers Say

WASHINGTON -- Democratic lawmakers on Thursday called for a federal investigation into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' failure to report hundreds of thousands of dollars on annual financial disclosure forms.

Led by House Rules Committee ranking member Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), 20 House Democrats sent a letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States -- the entity that frames guidelines for the administration of federal courts -- requesting that the conference refer the matter of Thomas' non-compliance with the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to the Department of Justice.

The letter outlines how, throughout his 20-year tenure on the Supreme Court, Thomas routinely checked a box titled "none" on his annual financial disclosure forms, indicating that his wife had received no income. But in reality, the letter states, she earned nearly $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation from 2003 to 2007 alone.

Slaughter called it "absurd" to suggest that Thomas may not have known how to fill out the forms.

Michele Bachmann Slams Arab Spring As Consequence Of Obama's 'Weakness'

Now the Arab Spring is a bad thing?

Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has taken her special perspective on world affairs to a new level, telling an audience in Concord, N.C., on Thursday that the Arab Spring was the unwelcome consequence of weak leadership from President Obama.

"You want to know why we have Arab Spring?" Bachmann asked in the appearance. "Barack Obama has laid the table for the Arab Spring by demonstrating weakness from the United States of America."

In Bachmann's telling, the widespread popular -- and mostly peaceful -- movements by Arab people to liberate themselves from decades of brutal dictatorships has posed a threat to the safety of Israel, and should not have been allowed to take place.

"[Obama] put a lot of daylight in our relationship with our ally Israel," she added.

In a May speech, President Obama explicitly embraced the revolutions sweeping the Middle East, and confirmed that the U.S. would do everything in its power to help usher them along.

House Republicans' Labor Budget Cuts Rules That Protect Rooftop Workers From Falling, Coal Miners From Coal Dust

WASHINGTON -- In addition to blocking President Obama's health care law and slashing funding for job training, the budget plan presented by House Republicans for health and labor programs this week would scuttle several worker safety protections put forth by the Department of Labor.

Among other anti-regulatory measures, the budget would block the department from moving forward with its Injury and Illness Prevention Program, which would require employers to develop written plans to address workplace hazards and reduce worker injuries. Under the Republican plan, no Labor Department funding could be devoted toward the program.

The budget also takes aim at an obscure but notable Labor Department rule intended to reduce the death and maiming of construction workers who labor on rooftops. The department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration had planned to ramp up the enforcement of harness rules for roofers working on residential construction sites, but the Republican plan forbids the agency from doing so, as noted by the public-health blog The Pump Handle.

Another OSHA rule gutted by the bill relates to repetitive-motion injuries. The agency has been developing a rule that will require employers to check a box on agency forms in cases where workers have developed musculoskeletal disorders. Although the rule costs practically nothing and goes primarily toward data collection, the Republican budget forbids it from moving forward.

Wall Street Protesters: Middle Class Issues

NEW YORK -- Americans have become so accustomed to our political and economic aspirations yielding only frustration, that we are rightfully inclined to dismiss as impotent the spectacle in the tiny park near Wall Street, where a few hundred people are camped out demanding various versions of change.

The scene feels familiar. There are grungy kids in sleeping bags arrayed on stained pieces of cardboard on the pavement. There are sign-wavers -- "PEOPLE, NOT PROFITS" -- and a handful of aging hippies on the periphery.

The cynic has plenty of material to work with, not least the fact that this inchoate, largely spontaneous gathering is fueled by so many issues -- economic inequality, war in Afghanistan, the unemployment and foreclosure crises, a lack of justice for the Wall Street chieftains who led the country into a ditch. At the same time, this movement lacks a clearly delineated set of demands. Ask the protesters what they want and prepare for a barrage of answers.

But that lack of definition to the agenda is no disqualifier. Indeed, it may be a source of strength and inclusion, as well as an indication of the depth and breadth of the dissatisfaction eating away at contemporary American society.

‘Disappointed’ Tories to review top court’s drug-injection ruling

The federal Conservative government has yet to wave the white flag in its fight against Vancouver’s Insite drug injection site – despite a Supreme Court ruling that says its attempts to close the clinic were “grossly disproportionate” to the benefits for drug users and the community.

The Health Minister told the House of Commons on Friday that her government would be taking a look at the decision. “Although we are disappointed with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision today, we will comply,” Leona Aglukkaq said during Question Period.

The government, she said, believes that the system should be focussed on preventing people from becoming drug addicts and has made significant investments to strengthen existing treatment efforts through its treatment action plan.

“We will be reviewing the court decision,” the minister said.

Liberal MP Joyce Murray, who represents the riding of Vancouver Quadra, demanded to know what Ms. Aglukkaq meant when she said the decision would be reviewed. “Will the government respect the Supreme Court’s decision and stop attacking Insite?” she asked.

Canada Privacy Law: Amendment Mimics USA Patriot Act, Critics Charge

It's not exactly Canada’s very own Patriot Act, but a Harper government amendment to the country's privacy law has some experts seeing shadows of the controversial U.S. legislation.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis tabled an amendment to the PIPEDA privacy law on Thursday, hailing it as a step forward towards greater protection of Canadians’ online privacy.

Among the amendment’s provisions are a new rule requiring organizations to report data security breaches to Canada’s privacy commissioner, as well as some exceptions to privacy rules designed to make it easier for companies to carry out day-to-day business.

But what has privacy experts worried is a new provision that allows organizations to hand over personal information about individuals to law enforcement and private investigators without a warrant. And, when the law enforcement agency requests it, the organization can be forbidden from notifying the individual in question that their information has been passed on.

It’s that secrecy clause that has some privacy experts comparing the PIPEDA amendment to the USA Patriot Act, a massive law passed with little debate in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that civil liberties advocates have criticized as being a major expansion of the U.S. government’s ability to spy on private citizens.

Supreme Court OKs Insite Safe Injection Site In Unanimous Ruling

OTTAWA - The federal government will comply with a Supreme Court ruling supporting a safe-injection site for drug addicts, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said today.

"Although we are disappointed with the Supreme Court of Canada's decision today, we will comply," she told the House of Commons.

"We believe that the system should be focused on preventing people from becoming drug addicts. A key pillar of the national, anti-drug strategy is prevention and treatment for those with drug dependency."

The 9-0 decision was a rebuke of the Harper government's tough-on-crime agenda and a precedent-setting ruling on the division of federal and provincial powers.

The court ordered the Harper government to abandon its effort to close the Insite facility in Vancouver.

The justices also told the government to grant an exemption to protect Insite staff from prosecution for drug possession or trafficking charges.

Aglukkaq also said she wants to review the decision.

Inside Occupy Wall Street: A Tour of Activist Encampment at the Heart of Growing Protest

Hundreds continue to camp out in a park in Manhattan’s Financial District for the "Occupy Wall Street" protest. The encampment got a boost this week when one of New York City’s largest unions, the Transit Workers Union, announced its backing. In this report ,Democracy Now! producer Mike Burke gets a tour of the private park, open to the public, that people have occupied, and and speaks with demonstrators, including a woman who was pepper sprayed by New York City Police Department Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna last Saturday. Special thanks to Hany Massoud.

Source: Democracy Now! 

"American Teacher": New Film Rebuts Vilification of Underpaid, Dedicated Public School Teachers

Opening today, the new documentary "American Teacher" follows the lives of four teachers who struggle to remain in a profession they love, despite the heavy toll exacted on their lives by the grueling hours and low-salaries. The documentary is a rebuttal of sorts to pundits who portray public school educators as cushioned recipients of tax-payer supported benefits, extended summer vacations and low accountability. We speak with the film’s Academy Award-winning director, Vanessa Roth, and with Brooklyn first-grade public school teacher, Jamie Fidler, who is featured in the film.

Source: Democracy Now! 

With Death of Anwar al-Awlaki, Has U.S. Launched New Era of Killing U.S. Citizens Without Charge?

The United States has confirmed the killing of the radical Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, in northern Yemen. The Obama administration says Al-Awlaki is one of the most influential al-Qaeda operatives on its 'most wanted' list. In response to news of al-Awlaki’s death, constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald and others argue the assassination of U.S. citizens without due process has now has become a reality. "One of the bizarre aspects of it is that media and government reports try to sell al-Awlaki as some grand terrorist mastermind … describing him as the new bin Laden. The United States government needs a terrorist mastermind to replace Osama bin Laden to justify this type of endless war … For a while, al-Awlaki was going to serve that function," Greenwald says. "If you are somebody that believes the President of the United States has the power to order your fellow citizens murdered, assassinated, killed without a shred of due process … then you are really declaring yourself to be as pure of an authoritarian as it gets."

Source: Democracy Now!  

The Daily Caller: Still Wrong

In journalism, making a factual mistake is awful. But it happens. When it does, you clarify, you correct, you admit you screwed up. Unless, that is, you're the Daily Caller, the conservative website run by former TV pundit Tucker Carlson. It got caught in a whopper of an error, and instead of fessing up, it has insisted it did no wrong, taking a two-by-four to its critics, including Mother Jones.

Earlier this week, the Daily Caller reported that the Environmental Protection Agency was "asking taxpayers" to pay for "230,000 new bureaucrats," at a cost of $21 billion, to implement new rules to control greenhouse gas emissions. Given that the agency currently employs 17,000, this seemed like a rather shocking revelation. Naturally, this factoid whipped Fox News and conservative blogs into a frenzy; they pointed to it as evidence that the Obama administration is ape-crazy out of control. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a foe of climate change action, enthusiastically cited it.

But there was a problem: This was not true. As MoJo's Kate Sheppard pointed out, the Daily Caller had "managed to pull that number from a court filing about what the EPA is trying to avoid." The EPA was defending a rule that would allow it to limit the number of pollution sources it must regulate, so the agency wouldn't have to expand its workforce to such an absurd level. The EPA was not asking taxpayers to pay for 230,000 new employees; it was doing what it could to prevent this. In other words, the reality was the opposite of what the Daily Caller had reported. Media Matters slammed the Daily Caller, noting the EPA had "avoided" a scenario in which 230,000 new workers would be necessary.

The Daily Caller's slip-up went viral. Tweeps tweeted about it. Bloggers blogged about it. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post criticized the Daily Caller for revealing that it cared not a whit for facts.

Why You Shouldn't Take Notes on Terrorist Plots

On Wednesday the FBI announced that it had arrested Rezwan Ferdaus, a Northeastern University graduate in physics, for allegedly plotting to fly model planes packed with explosives into government buildings in Washington, DC, and elsewhere. As with previous sting operations, the actual plot, reliant on equipment provided by undercover FBI agents, was never going to take place. Unlike previous sting operations, the FBI got the target to outline the entire thing in writing.

"It seems like the FBI intentionally trying to ensure the entrapment defense couldn't be mounted," says Karen Greenberg of the Fordham Center on National Security.

According to the criminal complaint, Ferdaus handed the FBI agents a thumb drive with a plan described as "extremely detailed, well written, and annotated with numerous pictures." Ferdaus doesn't appear to have found anything suspicious about two supposed Al Qaeda operatives asking for what sounds, essentially, like a grant proposal.

As Trevor Aaronson reported in the September/October issue of Mother Jones, the FBI has relied increasingly on these kinds of sting operations as they try to shift focus from "professional" terrorists to "lone wolf" types who haven't received any kind of formal training. The government has come under criticism from civil liberties advocates who say that the government is using agent provocateurs to manufacture terror plots involving people who might not otherwise have committed crimes.

Rough Justice Under Rick Perry

When MSNBC's Brian Williams asked Rick Perry during a recent GOP debate if he ever worried that his state had executed an innocent man on Perry's watch, the three-term Texas governor didn't hesitate: "No sir, I've never struggled with that at all." Maybe he should have: As Steve Mims and Joe Bailey detail in their new documentary, Incendiary, the state's 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for the murder of his two children was based in large part on arson science that had been thoroughly rejected by the scientific community—something that Perry had been informed of before the "ultimate justice" was served.

Inspired by David Grann's masterful 2009 New Yorker story about the case, the Austin filmmakers set out to chronicle the flawed forensics behind the execution. They soon found themselves in the middle of a pitched political battle involving Perry's apparent maneuvering to put a thumb on the scales with the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Mims and Bailey spoke recently with Mother Jones about the Willingham case, arson science, and how they navigated the politics of capital punishment.

CBC Cuts: Liberals Suggest Belt-Tightening At Public Broadcaster Could Go Beyond 10 Per Cent

OTTAWA –The CBC could see even deeper cuts than the 10 per cent reduction the Heritage Minister has discussed, federal Liberals suggested Thursday.

Liberal heritage critic Scott Simms told HuffPost he believes Heritage Minister James Moore is under tremendous pressure from right-wingers in the Conservative caucus to axe the public broadcaster's budget substantially.

"They are openly musing about it. They are no longer quiet," Simms said, reacting to petitions being distributed by some Tory MPs, such as Rob Anders and Brad Trost, that call for the CBC's public subsidy to be eliminated entirely.

"So what lies beneath James' rhetoric is pretty scary stuff. So if he has gone from five, now to 10, it may go even further," Simms concluded.

HuffPost broke the news Thursday that Moore wants to cut the CBC's budget by 10 per cent. The Conservative government, however, hasn't officially settled on a figure. In order to balance the books, all departments, agencies and Crown corporations have been asked to propose two scenarios to deal with a 5 per cent cut and a 10 per cent cut.

With a $1 billion allocation from the public purse, Moore noted in the Commons this week that: "The CBC is receiving a lot of money from taxpayers."

"CBC will do its part, that's certain," Moore added. "We will work with them to find the savings, but they will do their part to achieve a balanced budget by 2015."

Simms said he accepts the fact that budgets will be cut because of the review, but the issue is how far those cuts will go.

"It went from musing about five per cent to now musing about 10 per cent, so it keeps going," he said.

NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel said Thursday the cuts were "regrettable" because the CBC is providing "neutral" information accessible to all Canadians.

Source: Huffington 

Info Commissioner Suzanne Legault Worries Cabinet Ministers Evading Scrutiny By Using Personal Email Accounts

OTTAWA - The federal information watchdog is worried that cabinet ministers could be avoiding public scrutiny by using personal email to conduct government business.

Suzanne Legault refused Thursday to comment directly on the case of Treasury Board President Tony Clement. He's been accused by opposition parties of using his personal email account to hide his role in doling out federal G8 largesse in his riding.

But the information commissioner said she's concerned in general that there's little she can do to ensure ministers don't intermingle government files, which are covered by the Access to Information Act, with personal files, which are not.

She said her powers to verify that ministers are acting properly have been "definitely hampered" by a Supreme Court ruling handed down last May.

"We will see how it unfolds. But yes, I am worried," Legault said in an interview.

"Certainly, if somebody wanted to avoid being subject to Access to Information, they probably could, given the state of technology."

Opposition flips ethics watchdog’s appearance back on Conservatives

At least five public office holders, including Industry Minister Christian Paradis and Bruce Carson, a former aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are currently under investigation for possibly breaching the government’s ethics rules, says Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay could soon join that number should her office receive a complaint about his visit to a fishing camp owned by a Newfoundland businessman, Dawson suggested.

However, Dawson was tight lipped about the three mystery investigations she has self-initiated. The investigations are relate to possible infractions of the Conflict of Interest Act which applies to 2,800 public office holders which includes ministers, parliamentary secretaries, minister staff and full time employees named through governor in council appointments such as deputy ministers, heads of crown corporations and members of federal boards.

While the individuals under investigation have been notified, Dawson and her officials refused to say who is under a cloud of suspicion or to even say how many individuals are involved in each of the self-initiated investigations.

Baird demands gold, drops 'Canada' from Foreign Affairs business card

John Baird has set a new gold standard for business cards.

The Conservative Foreign Affairs Minister demanded – and got – gold embossing on his business cards shortly after being shuffled into the portfolio last May, contrary to government rules.

Mr. Baird then ordered the word “Canada” dropped from the standard design, also against federal policy.

And he insisted that “Lester B. Pearson Building” be removed from the standard street address for Foreign Affairs’ headquarters in Ottawa, thereby erasing the name of a former Liberal prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The controversial changes initially provoked resistance from the senior Foreign Affairs bureaucrats who are responsible for implementing policies on government branding.

But in the end, Mr. Baird won a temporary exemption from the rules – and got his way.

A gold-embossed Canadian coat of arms now glistens from his unilingual English business cards, which lack the wordmark “Canada,” a federal branding design that features a small Canadian flag above the last letter.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Israeli occupation hitting Palestinian economy, claims report

Economy minister Hasan Abu Libdeh says that Palestinians are prevented from achieving their potential

Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza deprives the Palestinian economy of almost £4.4bn a year, equivalent to about 85% of the nominal gross domestic product of Palestine, according to a report published in Ramallah .

As well as its detrimental effect on the Palestinian economy, the "occupation enterprise" allows the state of Israel and commercial firms to profit from Palestinian natural resources and tourist potential, the report said.

"No matter what the Palestinian people achieve by our own efforts, the occupation prevents us achieving our potential as a free people in our own country," said Hasan Abu Libdeh, economy minister in the Palestinian Authority, introducing the report on Thursday. "It should be clear to the international community that one reason for Israel's refusal to act in good faith as a partner for peace is the profits it makes as an occupying power."

Without the occupation, the Palestinian economy would be almost twice as large as it is and would be able to reduce its dependence on donor funding from the international community, according to the report.

Companies Use Immigration Crackdown to Turn a Profit

The men showed up in a small town in Australia’s outback early last year, offering top dollar for all available lodgings. Within days, their company, Serco, was flying in recruits from as far away as London, and busing them from trailers to work 12-hour shifts as guards in a remote camp where immigrants seeking asylum are indefinitely detained.       

It was just a small part of a pattern on three continents where a handful of multinational security companies have been turning crackdowns on immigration into a growing global industry.

Especially in Britain, the United States and Australia, governments of different stripes have increasingly looked to such companies to expand detention and show voters they are enforcing tougher immigration laws.

Some of the companies are huge — one is among the largest private employers in the world — and they say they are meeting demand faster and less expensively than the public sector could.

But the ballooning of privatized detention has been accompanied by scathing inspection reports, lawsuits and the documentation of widespread abuse and neglect, sometimes lethal. Human rights groups say detention has neither worked as a deterrent nor speeded deportation, as governments contend, and some worry about the creation of a “detention-industrial complex” with a momentum of its own.

House GOP Unveils Plan To Cut NPR, Job Training And Education Programs

WASHINGTON -- Setting a collision course with Democrats that could drag out for months, House Republicans on Thursday unveiled plans to cut federal money for job training, heating subsidies and grants to better-performing schools.

The draft measure for labor, health and education programs also seeks to block implementation of President Barack Obama's signature health care law, cut off federal funds for National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood, and reduce eligibility for grants for low-income college students.

Democrats and tea party Republicans opposed the bill, blocking it from advancing through even the easy initial steps of the appropriations process on Capitol Hill. Instead of moving through the Appropriations Committee and the House as a whole, the $153 billion measure is instead expected to be wrapped into a larger omnibus spending bill this fall or winter that would fund the day-to-day operating budgets of Cabinet agencies.

Negotiations between Republicans controlling the House, the Democratic Senate and the White House are sure to be arduous. The measure is laced with conservative policy "riders" opposed by Democrats that would affect worker protections under federal labor laws and block the Education Department from enforcing rules on for-profit colleges that are often criticized for pushing students to take on too much debt.

Charles Koch to Friedrich Hayek: Use Social Security!

There’s right-wing hypocrisy, and then there’s this: Charles Koch, billionaire patron of free-market libertarianism, privately championed the benefits of Social Security to Friedrich Hayek, the leading laissez-faire economist of the twentieth century. Koch even sent Hayek a government pamphlet to help him take advantage of America’s federal retirement insurance and healthcare programs.

This extraordinary correspondence regarding Social Security began in early June 1973, weeks after Koch was appointed president of the Institute for Humane Studies. Along with his brothers, Koch inherited his father’s privately held oil company in 1967, becoming one of the richest men in America. He used this fortune to help turn the IHS, then based in Menlo Park, California, into one of the world’s foremost libertarian think tanks. Soon after taking over as president, Koch invited Hayek to serve as the institute’s “distinguished senior scholar” in preparation for its first conference on Austrian economics, to be held in June 1974.

Hayek initially declined Koch’s offer. In a letter to IHS secretary Kenneth Templeton Jr., dated June 16, 1973, Hayek explains that he underwent gall bladder surgery in Austria earlier that year, which only heightened his fear of “the problems (and costs) of falling ill away from home.” (Thanks to waves of progressive reforms, postwar Austria had near universal healthcare and robust social insurance plans that Hayek would have been eligible for.)

EDMONTON - The Alberta government says it will review the health of people in two aboriginal communities deep in the heart of the oilsands region.

The Fort McKay First Nation and the Fort McKay Metis Nation are downriver from Fort McMurray and are surrounded by more than a dozen oilsands projects.

Community leaders requested the review, which is expected to look at how healthy people are now and what may be affecting their well-being, including diet and lifestyle. Gauging the possible health effects of the oilsands will also be key.

"Obviously the impact of the oilsands is a huge factor in the community of Fort McKay. In every direction there are oilsands around us," Ron Quintal, president of the Metis community, said Thursday.
"Fort McKay is the most impacted community in the entire country when it comes to oil and gas being around."

Canada's Economic Outlook Grim On Stagnating Wages, Low Confidence

As unsettling economic news dominates the headlines, evidence is mounting that Canadian consumer spending will continue to disappoint in the months ahead.

A pair of studies released Thursday show that wage growth and consumer confidence have both ground to a halt -- a sign, warn economists, that consumers aren’t in a position to give the economy the boost it needs.

Despite a recent uptick in inflation, which hit 3.1 per cent in August, Statistics Canada data released Thursday shows that wages are failing to keep pace, with average weekly earnings increasing just 2.2 per cent in the year ending in July.

“The majority of Canadians are just not getting wage gains that are commensurate with the rising cost of living,” explains Scotiabank’s Derek Holt, who blames uncertain times -- during which he says workers have been weary to push for a raise and employers reluctant to part with profits -- for the stagnation.

Harper invokes fallen soldiers in defending MacKay’s VIP flights

Stephen Harper has come to the defence of beleaguered Nova Scotia lieutenant Peter MacKay.

The Defence Minister found himself under attack in the House of Commons once again Thursday, this time for racking up nearly $3-million in flights on Challenger jets since he took on the portfolio.

Flight records obtained by The Globe and Mail show Mr. MacKay outranks all cabinet colleagues aside from Mr. Harper when it comes to ordering federal government executive jets.

It’s the latest piece of bad news for the party’s Nova Scotia lieutenant, who was criticized in recent days for enlisting a search-and-rescue helicopter to ferry him from a Newfoundland fishing camp after a vacation there.

Mr. Harper, however, said all Mr. MacKay’s flights were legitimate. “When he has used them, they’ve been for important government business,” the Prime Minister told the Commons.

He invoked fallen soldiers in defending his minister, saying half of Mr. MacKay’s flights were to attend repatriation ceremonies where the remains of dead troopers were returned to Canada.

Ethics of MacKay’s fishing trip questioned

OTTAWA—Newfoundland’s Gander River offers some of best Atlantic salmon fishing on the east coast, but Defence Minister Peter MacKay may be asking himself if his 2010 vacation there was really worth it.

The fishing trip now has him on the hook in Ottawa for a host of possible political misdeeds and miscalculations. On top of that, a week of opposition catcalls got a boost Thursday from Parliament’s ethics watchdog, who said that some of MacKay’s activities might merit an investigation.

The latest problems emerged when the ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said it looked fishy that MacKay took a private vacation at the Burnt Rattle fishing camp, which is reportedly partly owned by the chairman of a Crown corporation that runs passenger and commercial ferries between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

“Do you see any potential (breach) with a minister of the Crown going to a luxury fishing lodge with a member of a Crown corporation board?” asked Liberal MP Scott Andrews at a meeting of the Commons ethics committee Thursday.

“Yeah, there could be contraventions in those areas,” said Dawson.

Brazilian judge blocks plans for construction of Belo Monte dam

Plans for the construction of the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric plant in the Amazon rainforest have been suspended by a Brazilian judge over environmental concerns.

The proposal to build Belo Monte, which would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric dam, has sparked protests in Brazil and abroad because of its impact on the environment and native Indian tribes in the area.

A federal court in Para state, under judge Ronaldo Desterro, has halted plans for the construction because environmental requirements for the project had not been met. These included contingency plans to assure transportation along rivers where the dam is expected to reduce the water level sharply.
The national development bank, BNDES, has also been prohibited from financing the project by the court.

The construction of the dam, in the world's largest rainforest, was to begin soon. The project is estimated as being worth up to $26 billion.

It has angered environmentalists, with hundreds of people taking part in a protest in Brasilia in February. They handed over a petition with 600,000 signatures against the project.

Last week the president of Brazilian firm Energy Research Company (EPE), responsible for electric power projects in Brazil, defended the construction to the international press. Maurício Tolmasquim insisted that just a "small minority that does not accept any form of hydroelectric power" was against the construction.

What's behind the Belo Monte dam

The hydroelectric project encapsulates national ambitions, but it's time for a debate about the kind of development Brazil needs

I recently witnessed a conversation between someone working for the Brazilian federal government and an environmentalist; both were Workers' party (PT) supporters (the ruling party of President Dilma Rousseff).

"I'm in favour of the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant," the former said, "but I concede it's not a 'left versus right' issue."

"It isn't," the latter replied. "Or if it is, maybe the left isn't who you think."

The scene encapsulates a dimension that the Belo Monte issue could yet acquire: a watershed moment for a number of people who have supported the PT government so far; the crossing of a line that would make them question their future allegiances. This, however, is not yet the case; and while the issue has been getting growing coverage abroad, its impact in Brazil has so far been somewhat dulled. To understand why that is allows us to think through some of the deeper genealogies of the Latin American left, as well as some of the contradictions of its present predicament.

Rick Perry's Intelligence Overreach

On the campaign trail, Texas Gov. Rick Perry decries the invasive and profligate ways of big government. Yet in Texas he oversaw the creation of a massive, federally funded intelligence database that hoovers up everything from driver's license information to victims' statements to bogus leads that may be falsely incriminating. The system, known as the Texas Data Exchange (TDEx), has drawn the concern of civil liberties advocates, not least because of Perry's aggressive efforts to consolidate control of this sweeping intelligence vault within his own office.

In late 2005, Perry began directing his homeland security office to set up the database. Lawmakers and privacy advocates soon grew anxious over a host of problems plaguing the system. Early versions kept no record of what a particular user did when he was in the system, says Rebecca Bernhardt, the former policy director of ACLU Texas, who was part of a team pursuing reform of TDEx. "You don’t want anybody…to have unsupervised ability to go into TDEx, change names, take things out, put fake things in, and not have an audit trail of who made those changes," she explains.

TDEx also contains every last shred of information that police officers dig up, including tips, false leads, and victims' statements—a vast amount of information that could unfairly implicate people.

Legal experts in Texas, including Scott Henson, a consultant to the Innocence Project of Texas and an expert on Texas law enforcement, say that Perry put the system in place chiefly to take advantage of money from the federal Department of Homeland Security. Texas has received at least $1.7 billion in federal Homeland Security grants since 9/11 as part of the US government's overall $31 billion investment in state and local law enforcement.

How the State Department Came After Me

I never intended to create this much trouble. 

Two years ago I served 12 months in Iraq as a Foreign Service Officer, leading a Provincial Reconstruction Team. I had been with the State Department for some 21 years at that point, serving mostly in Asia, but after what I saw in the desert -- the waste, the lack of guidance, the failure to really do anything positive for the country we had invaded in 2003 -- I started writing a book. One year ago I followed the required procedures with State for preclearance (no classified documents, that sort of thing), received clearance, and found a publisher. Six months ago the publisher asked me to start a blog to support the book.

And then, toward the end of the summer, the wrath of Mesopotamia fell on me. The Huffington Post picked up one of my blog posts, which was seen by someone at State, who told someone else and before you know it I had morphed into public enemy number one -- as if I had started an al Qaeda franchise in the Foggy Bottom cafeteria. My old travel vouchers were studied forensically, and a minor incident from my time in Iraq was blown up into an international affair. One blog post from late August that referenced a WikiLeaks document already online elsewhere got me called in for interrogation by Diplomatic Security and accused of disclosing classified information. I was told by Human Resources I might lose my job and my security clearance, and I was ordered to pre-clear every article, blog post, Facebook update, and Tweet from that point out. A Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs wrote, without informing me, directly to my publisher, accusing me in writing of new security violations that had apparently escaped the sharp eyes at Diplomatic Security, and demanded redactions. The publisher refused, citing both the silliness of the actual redactions (everything was already online; one requested redaction came from the movie Black Hawk Down, and another from George Tenet's memoirs) and the First Amendment.

NYC Transit Union Joins Occupy Wall Street

New York City labor unions are preparing to back the unwieldy grassroots band occupying a park in Lower Manhattan, in a move that could mark a significant shift in the tenor of the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street protests and send thousands more people into the streets.

The Transit Workers Union Local 100's executive committee, which oversees the organization of subway and bus workers, voted unanimously Wednesday night to support the protesters. The union claims 38,000 members. A union-backed organizing coalition, which orchestrated a large May 12 march on Wall Street before the protests, is planning a rally on Oct. 5 in explicit support. And SEIU 32BJ, which represents doormen, security guards and maintenance workers, is using its Oct. 12 rally to express solidarity with the Zuccotti Park protesters.

"The call went out over a month ago, before actually the occupancy of Wall Street took place," said 32BJ spokesman Kwame Patterson. Now, he added, "we're all coming under one cause, even though we have our different initiatives."

Bank Of America Plans To Charge Monthly $5 Debit Card Usage Fee

Bank of America will charge customers $5 per month to use their debit card starting in early 2012, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

The fee will apply to customers who use their debit card to make any purchases during the month, but won't apply to those who only use it for ATM transactions, according to the report. Debit card use is on the rise, according to Digital Transactions. Signature debit card transactions jumped by almost 10 percent between April 2010 and April 2011, the website reported.

The Bank of America charge is the latest in a slew of fees big banks are adding to checking accounts and debit cards. JPMorgan Chase tested charging a $5 ATM fee for non-network customers in Illinois in July, a plan they ultimately abandoned. Citigroup announced earlier this month that it would charge customers a $10 monthly fee if their account had a balance below $1,500

Canadian Border Fence: U.S. Eyes Barriers On The 49th Parallel

OTTAWA - The United States is looking at building fences along the border with Canada to help keep out terrorists and other criminals.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has proposed the use of "fencing and other barriers" on the 49th parallel to manage "trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control."

The border service is also pondering options including a beefed-up technological presence through increased use of radar, sensors, cameras, drones and vehicle scanners. In addition, it might continue to improve or expand customs facilities at ports of entry.

The agency considered but ruled out the possibility of hiring "significantly more" U.S. Border Patrol agents to increase the rate of inspections, noting staffing has already risen in recent years.

The proposals are spelled out in a new draft report by the border service that examines the possible environmental impact of the various options over the next five to seven years.

Outgoing RCMP commissioner will still get a Mountie paycheck

OTTAWA—RCMP Commissioner Bill Elliott may soon be gone but he won’t be forgotten, at least by the folks in payroll.

That’s because even after he takes on his new post at Interpol, the RCMP will still be paying his salary, the Star has learned.

Interpol announced in July the former national security adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper would become Interpol’s special representative to the United Nations, a three-year posting that starts in November.

Elliott’s expenses and travel costs while based in New York City will be paid by Interpol.

When asked about the arrangement, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said “I’m not familiar with that.” Asked if it’s appropriate, Toews said “I don’t even know if it’s true.”

RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Patricia Flood said Elliott’s new position “is a secondment to Interpol by the government of Canada.”

“His salary will be covered by the RCMP as part of the contribution that Canada is making to international security through Interpol.”

The search for a new commissioner is still underway. A change-of-command ceremony is being planned for mid-November, suggesting the appointment could soon be announced.

Elliott takes up the Interpol job recently held by RCMP deputy commissioner Harper Boucher who continued to be paid by the RCMP as he was “also on secondment.”

But the RCMP did not pay the salary of former commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, who retired from the force before he went to an Interpol job in Lyon, France.

Source: Toronto Star 

Peter MacKay, Bill Elliott And The High Cost Of Travelling Leaders

UPDATE: Criticism of flying on the public dime may become the least of Peter MacKay's worries. The Defence Minister may have violated the conflict of interest code by visiting a camp owned by the chairman of a Crown corporation during part of a vacation, said Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson Thursday.
Speaking to a Commons committee, Dawson said there "could be come contraventions" in the trip to Marine Atlantic chairman Rob Crosbie's fishing camp, reports The Globe and Mail. The Liberals may launch a formal complaint.
The vacation came under scrutiny after it emerged that a Cormorant search-and-rescue helicopter picked MacKay up from the camp.
Here’s a lesson in belt-tightening that will undoubtedly cost budget-cut consultants less than $90,000 to dispense: When in doubt, fly coach.

While consumers hunt for seat sales as the Porters, WestJets and Air Canadas try to fill up seats, it seems that Ottawa’s flying elite are racking up pricey mileage.

CBC Cuts: 10 Per Cent Budget Reduction Sought By Tories Under Heritage Minister James Moore

Heritage Minister James Moore wants to slash CBC’s budget by 10 per cent, The Huffington Post has learned.

Although a government decision is far from complete, Moore has discussed his wish to see the public broadcaster’s $1.1-billion allocation cut by ten per cent, sources said. Moore had earlier this summer suggested the CBC could face a cut of "at least 5 per cent."

According to Ian Morrison, the spokesman for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, that would be a devastating blow to the CBC.

“Ten per cent would have just huge consequences. It would result in station closures,” said Morrison, who warned that small stations serving rural areas would be particularly vulnerable.

Cuts to the CBC would flow from the Conservatives’ strategic and operation review process, a plan to find $4-billion in savings in order to balance the books by 2014-2015.

Rallying for respect and against the silencing of Toronto

'Regular Programming in Dufferin Grove Park will be cancelled during the day time hours on Saturday, September 10, 2011 due to an anticipated, large, unpermitted event.' (sic)

- Sign posted on a tree in the park by Toronto Parks and Recreation, as ordered by Mayor Rob Ford.

According to Mayor Ford, democracy is a large, unpermitted event.

At Dufferin Grove Park, 500 people gathered to discuss core public service cuts under the banner of Stop Ford's Cuts! earlier this month. Spread out on picnic blankets, Torontonians organized into 20 focus groups to strategize how to protect essential services, keep public sector jobs, and work together to draft the People's Declaration for presentation to City Hall this week.

The sum of these 2012 budgets cuts amounts to $100 million, which matches the 2011 revenue cuts by Mayor Rob Ford, which include the $60 vehicle registration tax and the refusal to increase property taxes by three per cent. This infographic by "Ford for Toronto" blogger, Matt Elliot, shows the mayor's attack on environmentally friendly projects at a glance: Ford finds it necessary to privatize core services, eliminate the Hardship Fund, environmental monitoring, such as the Toronto Environment Office and Atmospheric Fund, and reduce transit service levels so that people can drive cars and own homes. Sound familiar? In August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper eliminated 776 jobs from Environment Canada.

Climate change could cost billions a year by 2020

Climate change could cost Canada billions a year as early as 2020, depending on how severe it is and how well the country adapts, says a report released Thursday morning.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy looked at the cost of climate change on Canada's prosperity, public health and in coastal areas affected by weather events.

(National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy)
The government-funded think-tank estimates the cost of climate change for Canada could start at roughly $5 billion per year in 2020 and increase to between $21 billion and $43 billion per year by 2050. The average annual cost of climate change is expected to be roughly 0.8 per cent to 1.0 per cent of GDP by 2050, the report says.

It also found that climate change could result in additional deaths from heat and air pollution. Looking at Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, the report projects three to six deaths per 100,000 people per year in the 2020s, with impacts worsening in future decades.

(Source: National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy)Researchers projected the cost of climate change based on four scenarios ranging from rapid population and economic growth combined with high climate change to slow population and economic growth with low climate change.(Source: National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy)

It found there was a small chance the cost could go as high as $91 billion per year by 2050 given fast growth and a great deal of change in the climate, or sit at $21 billion a year given low climate change and slow growth.

The report says adaptation is key to limiting costs.

"Global mitigation leading to a low climate change future reduces costs to Canada in the long term. This reinforces the argument that Canada would benefit environmentally and economically from a post-2012 international climate arrangement that systematically reduced emissions from all emitters — including Canada — over time," the report says.

The report recommends the government invest in research into the economics of climate change effects and adaptation, model and cost out climate impacts, and work with universities and the private sector to get help with adapting to climate change.

'Huge wake-up call'

NDP environment critic Megan Leslie says the report is a huge wake-up call.

"The fact that they were able to put numbers to the impacts on health, the impacts on environment, it is a groundbreaking piece of work for Canada, because it does show what the actual costs will be for us," she said.

"We are talking a lot about belt-tightening, but this report is really clear about the fact that if we don’t act now and if we don’t … lay out that initial investment now, we’re going to pay dearly – dearly – in the future, with our coastlines, with floods and fires, but also with health."

Leslie said the government's sector-by-sector approach to cutting greenhouse gas emissions isn't working, while they're ending programs that do work, like the Eco-Energy Retrofit. She said Canada needs a climate change strategy.

"The approach we’re taking just doesn’t make any sense and this report shows that we’re going to pay dearly for this in the future."

Source: CBC 

U.S. mulls ‘selective fencing’ along Canada-U.S. border

The United States border agency is considering fencing some parts of the Canadian-U.S. border, along with deploying more remote sensors and upgrading checkpoints.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) cautions, however, that the proposed “selective fencing” would not be as extensive as the hundreds of kilometres of fences along the border with Mexico.

Details are outlined in a draft environmental-impact study that was released two weeks ago, seeking input from American communities along the 6,400-kilometre border from Maine to Washington state.

“While fencing has played a prominent role in CBP’s enforcement strategy on the Southern Border to deter illegal border crossings, it is unlikely that fencing will play as prominent a role on the Northern Border, given the length of the border and the variability of the terrain,” the document says.

New York’s toxic waste threatens Toronto’s drinking water

Toronto’s drinking water could be at risk due to a recent proposal to treat toxic waste at a plant on the New York side of Lake Ontario.

The Niagara Falls Water Board is exploring the possibility of treating excess fluid from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — a method of extracting natural gas from shale — in the Adirondacks. The chemical-laden liquid would be transported to an existing waste water plant along the shores of Lake Ontario, home to an expansive ecosystem and the source of drinking water for more than 9 million people.

“This is a major new source of pollution,” said Lake Ontario Waterkeeper president Mark Mattson, who fears chemicals will seep into the lake. “Lake Ontario is already a threatened lake. It needs protection, not pollution.”

A 2008 report presented to the U.S.-based Ground Water Protection Council found that fracking fluids include a cocktail of chemicals common to cosmetics and automobile antifreeze.

Mattson said this is the first he’s heard of fracking fluid collected and transported to another water body.

“We don’t know the volumes, what they’re treating and we don’t have monitoring capability,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re going to be the ones most affected by the chemicals.”

One online video from a home in western New York, where companies drill along the Marcellus shale, shows a man lighting running tap water on fire.

The Council of Canadians issued a letter to the board on Thursday, suggesting waste water facilities are rarely able to fully decontaminate fracking fluid.

Currently, there are no treatment plants in the state equipped to handle the waste water, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Source: Toronto Star 

War of 1812 fund adds to Harper’s patriotic initiatives

Stephen Harper is stepping up his efforts to renew Canadians’ sense of history by creating an $11.5-million fund to recognize the War of 1812 as essential to forming the Canadian identity.

In addition, a Conservative private member’s bill, unveiled Wednesday, would fine or even jail Canadians who prevent others from flying the Maple Leaf.

These patriotic initiatives are not coincidental. The Harper government set out in the last election campaign to recast the nation’s identity in a small-c conservative mould, emphasizing Canadian symbols the Tory government has embraced, including the Arctic, the military and especially the monarchy.

Last month, Defence Minister Peter MacKay restored the traditional “Royal” designation to the air force and navy. And Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has ordered all of Canada’s missions and embassies abroad to put a portrait of the Queen on prominent display.

MacKay racks up nearly $3-million in flights on VIP jets

Defence Minister Peter MacKay outranks almost all his cabinet colleagues when it comes to using federal government executive jets, racking up more than $2.9-million in flights on the Challenger planes in the past four years.

No other Tory politician aside from Stephen Harper has accumulated as much time on the VIP jets since Mr. MacKay took over the defence portfolio in the late summer of 2007. Not former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon or Ottawa’s jet-setting Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who frequently travels abroad for economic meetings.

Records provided by the Department of National Defence show that over four years there were 35 flights arranged for Mr. MacKay that ran nearly 250 hours. None of these went to Afghanistan and, of these 35, 25 were domestic trips inside Canada.

Records show that in 2009 and 2010, Challenger flights arranged for Mr. MacKay logged more hours than any other of the 30-plus ministers who served under Mr. Harper at that time.

James: Best budget fix mixes fees, tax, cuts

No matter how you slice and dice Toronto’s budget, costs are rising faster than revenues; the city spends more than it collects.

Change is hard, but there are ways to permanently fix this “structural deficit” without inciting citizens to protests and demonstrations.

The formula? A small tax hike, reasonable fees, a few spending cuts, and a smidgen of help from the province.

By law, Ontario cities can’t borrow to run day-to-day operations, only for capital projects like building subways, roads and sewers. Toronto can’t run a deficit, like the province. It gets no share of income, sales or payroll taxes.

Since amalgamation, when the provincial Tories downloaded services without offsetting revenues, the city’s budget has been caught in this vice. But everything else about the city’s finances is tangled in political ideology and hot-button rhetoric that makes it difficult to navigate a solution.

Mayor Rob Ford’s solution is to cut taxes and starve the city of revenues, and to drastically reduce spending through service cuts. That’s a toxic twin, as evidenced by the protests and outcry around the current “core service review.”

Moore Offers Reassurance To CBC: Funding To Be Reduced But Not Eliminated

OTTAWA - Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore says the Harper government has no plan to privatize the CBC — despite what some Conservative backbenchers may want.

Moore's reassurance comes amid signs that the Tories are planning a full-scale attack on the public broadcaster.

A Tory-dominated Commons committee plans to haul the CBC onto the carpet this fall to explain why it's gone to court to fight access-to-information laws.

Tory MPs are calling on some of the CBC's harshest critics and competitors to testify at the committee.

At the same time, the Conservative party is surveying its members on whether taxpayers get good value for their funding of the CBC.

One Tory backbencher has posted a website petition calling for federal funding to the public broadcaster to be cut off entirely while a party spokesperson has recently slammed "extravagant spending" by the CBC.

Moore noted Wednesday that the Harper government kept its promise to maintain funding for the CBC during its first and second mandates. But he signalled cuts are coming as the government reduces spending in a bid to balance the federal budget by 2014, as promised in last spring's election campaign.

"We're going to keep our word and the CBC has to be part of that," Moore said.
Pushed to clarify whether the broadcaster's entire budget could be axed, Moore finally said: "We're not interested in privatizing the CBC, no."

Source: Huffington 

The execution of Troy Davis

On Sept. 21 at 7 p.m., Troy Anthony Davis was scheduled to die. I was reporting live from outside Georgia's death row in Jackson, awaiting news about whether the Supreme Court would spare his life.

Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. Seven of the nine nonpolice witnesses later recanted or changed their testimony, some alleging police intimidation for their original false statements. One who did not recant was the man who many have named as the actual killer. No physical evidence linked Davis to the shooting.

Davis, one of more than 3,200 prisoners on death row in the U.S., had faced three prior execution dates. With each one, global awareness grew. Amnesty International took up his case, as did the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Calls for clemency came from Pope Benedict XVI, former FBI Director William Sessions and former Republican Georgia Congressman Bob Barr. The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, in granting a stay of execution in 2007, wrote that it "will not allow an execution to proceed in this state unless ... there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused."

But it is just that doubt that has galvanized so much global outrage over this case. As we waited, the crowd swelled around the prison, with signs saying "Too Much Doubt" and "I Am Troy Davis." Vigils were being held around the world, in places such as Iceland, England, France and Germany. Earlier in the day, prison authorities handed us a thin press kit. At 3 p.m., it said, Davis would be given a "routine physical."

The Commons: Say everything

The Scene. A day after the Prime Minister’s Office delighted in demonstrating their man’s eagerness to meet with the Governor of the Bank of Canada and the Finance Minister—both of them, at the same time—the leader of the opposition stood and asked if Mr. Harper might tell the House what the three men had talked about and what plans they had made. Here is how the Prime Minister responded.

“Mr. Speaker, as I have said many times, we have an economic action plan. That’s why we received a mandate from Canadians. Obviously, we are concerned about developments in Europe and elsewhere, but at the same time, the Canadian economy has created more than 600,000 jobs. This is one of the best records throughout the industrialized world. We will continue to do so.”

Apparently this much was news to Mr. Carney and Mr. Flaherty. (Later, the Finance Minister would say he could not comment on the contents of these discussions because the meeting in question was “private.” Which is a funny adjective to apply to anything that is announced with a news release, then videotaped and photographed for public distribution.)

Harper has no intention of relaxing his grip

If Parliament was one of the penitentiaries Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have so much time for, it would be described as under a pre-emptive lockdown.

The first five years of Harper’s prime ministerial tenure were consumed with the business of ensuring the survival of a minority government.

Navigating a fragile Conservative ship through the shoals of an opposition-dominated Parliament required unflagging attention, as did keeping the ruling party on permanent election footing.

In no small part, Harper survived that risky period by putting iron-clad controls on his cabinet, his caucus and the civil service apparatus at his disposal.

But those who expected such controls to be relaxed under majority rule should think again.

Instead, it is the turn of the opposition parties to see their already shortened parliamentary wings clipped by the government majority.

Tories 'creating very bad precedent' by using majority muscle to shut down debate in secret, says NDP MP Caron

PARLIAMENT HILL—A new NDP MP from Quebec says Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Federal Accountability Act is “not worth the paper it’s printed on” after a third government oversight committee in the House of Commons fell victim Wednesday to a Conservative majority that defeated attempts to probe sensitive topics that could embarrass the Conservatives.

The charge came after an NDP motion calling on the Commons Public Accounts Committee to resume studies or finalize reports from the last Parliament on a range of topics—including allegations of wrongdoing in a $9-million Parliament Hill renovation and controversial military helicopter acquisitions—disappeared after Conservative MPs forced the committee into an in camera hearing, with no public debate over the government’s motives.

The manoeuvre came after Conservative MPs on two other government accountability panels—the Privacy, Access to Information and Ethics Committee and the Government Operations and Estimates committee—earlier either defeated motions in public that would have looked into the controversy of $50-million worth of controversial federal spending in Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) riding for the G8 summit last year or forced in camera sessions to defeat the motions behind closed doors.

Canadian ice shelves breaking up at record speed

Researchers say ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic are breaking up and changing at an unexpectedly fast rate.

They say the region lost almost half its ice shelf extent in the last six years. This summer alone saw the Serson ice shelf almost completely disappear and the Ward Hunt shelf split in half. The ice loss equals about three billion tonnes, or about 500 times the mass of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

“This is our coastline changing,” says Derek Mueller, from Carleton University’s department of geography and environmental studies. “These unique and massive geographical features that we consider to be a part of the map of Canada are disappearing and they won’t come back.”

The researchers say the reason for the change is a combination of warmer temperatures and open water. The ice shelves were formed and sustained in a colder climate. The researchers say their disappearance suggests a possible return to conditions unseen in the Arctic for thousands of years.

Overnight at Occupy Wall Street

BY MONDAY NIGHT, the 10th day of the Occupy Wall Street protest, the miniature colony at Liberty Park Plaza was rather sophisticated. The “media tent,” which on Saturday had consisted of a MacBook and an umbrella, now looked like an amateur version of the CNN newsroom. Protesters crushed around a central table, tweeting, emailing and editing video, surrounded by a barricade of tables holding more computers, with the cracks in between filled in by sleeping bags, blankets and backpacks. One revolutionary with a hard face sat straight-backed, a cigarette poking sideways out of his mouth while he typed away. The computers and lights were powered by a generator, which briefly died when someone misplaced the gas can. The media center, as the always-lit hub of information and electricity, is the cornerstone of the encampment. Entry is restricted.

Next door is the kitchen, two rows of marble benches laden with pizza, fruit, dry noodles, bean salad and hot vegetarian chili with bread. Saturday’s dinner was self-serve; this time, a gentleman in a New York Film Academy T-shirt handed over The Observer’s brownie in a napkin. Next to the kitchen lies a field of protest signs—former pizza boxes—within easy reach. The rest of the park is residential, filled with sleeping bags, tarps, air mattresses and ordinary mattresses; a bench stacked with folded blankets for common use; and a living room complete with carpeting, chairs and a futon frame, which we observed being occupied by a family with three small children, and later by a pair of men bedding down in opposite directions. The east end of the park usually hosts the drum circle. The bathroom is located around the corner at McDonald’s, whose employees have been surprisingly accommodating, allowing protesters to come, go, use the electrical outlets and linger unmolested. The Burger King on the western border of the park, however, has reportedly told protesters they’re banned from making purchases.

Roy Roberts: New Detroit District Will Include Charters, School Closures

NEW YORK -- Roy Roberts, a former GM executive, says his first few months on the job as emergency manager of Detroit's public schools have been "like drinking from a fire hose."

"I had five weeks to pull together a budget for 2012," he said in an interview. "That's not a simple process."

So far, his tenure has entailed cutting salaries across the board by 10 percent; imposing $81 million in wage concessions; and announcing a new state-run educational authority to oversee Michigan's lowest-performing schools that will pilot in Detroit next year. He has also faced several lawsuits and seen 11 people charged with stealing from the city's schools.

Some of these may seem far-reaching decisions and unusual challenges for a schools chief. That's because they are. Under Michigan's Public Act Four, which created his role, Roberts has near carte-blanche power over Detroit's schools and the people who run them.

Bill Daley's Big Pharma History: Drugs, Profits And Trade Deals

WASHINGTON -- As commerce secretary under Bill Clinton, William Daley worked with U.S. pharmaceutical giants to curb the use of cheaper generic drugs abroad. As a board member for Abbott Laboratories, he had a front-row seat on a brutal clash between a major drug company and a developing nation over access to life-saving medication. And as White House chief of staff today, Daley has President Barack Obama’s ear.

Add up Daley’s power and experience, and experts who follow public health policy suspect his influence in the U.S. stance in negotiations over a major international trade deal -- a stance with hugely profitable implications for giant American drugmakers.

The United States is in talks with eight other Pacific nations to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the administration hopes will serve as a template for other trade pacts. According to leaked documents from the negotiations, the Obama administration is using the deal to push hard-line intellectual property standards that could drive up medicine prices overseas, boosting the bottom line for U.S. drugmakers like Abbott Labs at the expense of public health.

Nobel Peace Prize, Right Livelihood Winner Wangari Maathai (1940-2011)

The Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, died on Sunday at the age of 71 after a battle with cancer. In 1977, she spearheaded the struggle against state-backed deforestation in Kenya and founded the Green Belt Movement, which has planted tens of millions of trees in the country. She has also been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and democratic development. In 1984 ,she won the Right Livelihood Award. Twenty years later, she won the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first African woman to do so. We air excerpts of her 2009 interview on Democracy Now! and of her 2004 speech when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Occupy Wall Street Protest Day 12: Cornel West Gives Speech, Robert Stephens May Have Lied (VIDEOS)

Celebrities, public intellectuals and political figures are coming out of the woodworks to show support of the #OccupyWallStreet protesters, entering their twelfth day of demonstrations in Zucotti Park downtown.

Monday night, Michael Moore stopped by and addressed the crowd and Tuesday morning, Susan Sarandon told protesters they needed to make "their message clear."

Noam Chomsky wrote a letter of support and hip-hop star Lupe Fiasco, who's already visited protesters, donated tents and written them a poem, has been tweeting his support. Yesterday he wrote, "alright #NYPD it was a tough decision but were putting the free donuts and coffee on time out until you play nice!!! #WeAreThe99."

Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron of East New York showed up to Tuesday morning's General Assembly. He told The Christian Post, “We are up against a monster, we are up against a strong enemy and that is capitalism, greed, and prioritizing that greed over the need of the vulnerable people in this society.”

Anthony Bologna Using Pepper Spray In Second Video (VIDEO)

Things just keep getting worse for NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, as a second video of the officer using pepper-spray on protestors has surfaced.

Bologna came under fire after pepper-spraying female demonstrators on Sunday at the Occupy Wall Street protests. The incident appears as though Bologna acted unprovoked by the protestors.

The second video released Wednesday is yet another blow to the senior officer, who was identified by the hacker group Anonymous. The group posted Bologna's personal information including a possible phone number, names of relatives, and last known addresses.

It was revealed that Bologna was the subject of civil rights violations during protests at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

NBC News reports that following the leak of Bologna's personal info, police have provided extra security for the Inspector and his family after they received death threats at home.

The NYPD originally told The New York Times that Bologna used the spray "judiciously." But Wednesday's second video has prompted NPYD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to say that the Internal Affairs Bureau would "look into" Bologna's actions. Kelly also said that the incident was being reviewed by the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Source: Huffington