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, December 27, 2011

Digging for answers on Eglinton-Scarborough line

City council’s deputy speaker, John Parker, is a level-headed fellow of conservative bent. He was a Progressive Conservative MPP under former premier Mike Harris before becoming councillor for Ward 26, Don Valley West. He often opposed mayor David Miller and often supports Mayor Rob Ford, especially on the need for spending restraint.

But he broke with Mr. Ford and his brother Doug Ford over their scheme to seize control of the Port Lands. Now he is voicing serious concerns about the mayor’s stand on another big issue: rapid transit on Eglinton.

The Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown line is the biggest transit project Toronto has seen in decades. It is to carry passengers from Black Creek Drive in the west to Kennedy station in the east, then on to the Scarborough city centre.

Under the original plan, it was to travel through an 11-kilometre tunnel from Keele to just past Laird, then emerge to run above ground along a dedicated lane for the rest of its route. But Mr. Ford is against putting any railed transit on city streets for fear of interfering with car traffic. The “war on the car” is over, he often says. In talks with the provincial government immediately after he took office, he insisted on putting the entire line underground despite the extra cost.

Putin says Russian protesters seeking to sow chaos

Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that mass protests against his 12-year rule were being stoked by a hollow collection of leaderless opposition groups who wanted to sow chaos in Russia.

In his first comments since Saturday’s protest, Russia’s prime minister said it was impossible to annul the Dec. 4 parliamentary election - the opposition’s key demand - but promised the March presidential vote, in which he is running, would be transparent.

Comparing protesters to Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, Mr. Putin said they were more interested in sowing chaos than implementing a concrete set of ideas on how the world’s biggest energy producer should develop.

“The problem is that they have no single program,” the 59-year-old leader told top members of his All Russia People’s Front, an umbrella movement of supporters, at his presidential election campaign headquarters in Moscow.

“They have many individual programs, but no unified one and no clear way to reach their goals, which are also not clear, and there are no people who would be able to do anything concrete,” Putin said.

Canada quietly shipping bomb-grade uranium to U.S., 'secret' federal memo says

Weapons-grade uranium is quietly being transported within Canada, and into the United States, in shipments the country's nuclear watchdog wants to keep cloaked in secrecy.

A confidential federal memo obtained through the Access to Information Act says at least one payload of spent, U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium fuel has already been moved stateside under a new Canada-U.S. deal.

The shipments stem from the highly publicized agreement signed last year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama, amid fears that nuclear-bomb-making material could fall into the hands of terrorists.

The Canadian stash gradually being shipped from Chalk River, Ont., contains hundreds of kilograms of highly enriched uranium — large enough to make several Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs.

But even as the radioactive freight travels toward the U.S. border, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has no plans to hold public hearings or disclose which communities lie along the delivery route.

A banner year for the new conservative agenda

In the country’s political history, there have been great years for conservatives. How about 1958, when John Diefenbaker, with his biblical incantations, captured 208 seats? Or 1984, when Brian Mulroney obliterated John Turner and won 211? But these were triumphs for old-style Tories, the Progressive Conservative school that Preston Manning and Stephen Harper rebelled against.

For core conservatives, those of the doctrinaire variety, nothing can compare to the successes of the year now passing. In 2011, Canada took its sharpest turn right in its history. It will go down as the year of transformation in Canadian politics, the year when the political right gained unprecedented control, when the traditionally dominant centre was hollowed out and when the party of the left, for the first time, became the country’s official opposition.

It was a year in which a country built by moderate Liberals and moderate Tories saw the forces of moderation shrink. Core conservatives won a majority, they decimated the Liberals, they put in place many of their doctrinaire policies and they deepened their potential for continued dominance with the elimination of the public subsidy for political parties, with seat redistribution and other measures.

No, Father Flaherty, we will not ruin health care for a generation

Well, I'm sure you read about it in the papers, or heard it in the news. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty handed the provincial finance ministers a deal outlining the federal government's contribution to health care for the next 10 years. No discussion was held among the ministers, the plan was not open to negotiation. Instead, the "deal" was unilaterally decided by the federal government and handed to the provinces in an excellent display of authoritarian rule.

So what was in the deal, you ask? Well the six per cent transfer from the federal government to the provinces will continue until the end of the 2016-2017 budget. Then the federal government will halve the contribution by tying it to nominal GDP (that's GDP that has not been adjusted for inflation). In the case of another recession, the government has added a floor of 3 per cent to the deal to ensure that funding does not fall below that floor (which still means it's half of the current transfer).

Most provinces are not happy. Darrell Dexter, Premier of Nova Scotia, said "our health care costs have outstripped the escalator (6 per cent) itself. That means the percentage of funding from the federal government actually declined." CCPA's Armine Yalnizyan makes a great note of clarification on the 6 per cent transfer and reminds us that provinces do not get the full 6 per cent. Instead, the transfer actually translates into about 0.9 - 1.4 per cent to the provinces.

While all of the interviews I've come across have shown the provinces to be understanding of the current economic environment and sympathetic to the fiscal restraints, they are also pleading for the federal government to be realistic about what a reduction in the transfer will mean for the quality of health care throughout Canada and what it will mean for our aging population. What the provinces and territories were hoping for was a discussion and negotiation with the federal government. Precedence in Canada has shown that federal ministers listen to the situation the provinces face and together they work out a deal. Instead Flaherty has treated the provinces like children by having them seen in Victoria, but not heard.

Revolution Through Banking?

It has been clear for some time that the conduct of the banking and financial industry is one very important cause of the 2008 credit crunch. Moreover, for-profit banks by and large fail to deliver services to the poor, deepening poor people’s marginalization from the mainstream economy. The banks’ relentless pursuit of profit, an intrinsic feature of the industry (as of the broader economy), continues to expose all of us to the risk of another banking crisis that would repeat the enormous harm done last time, above all to the world’s poorest. Sadly, it’s unrealistic to expect Washington to do much to curb the industry, given the banks’ enormous lobbying sway and privileged access to senior officials, regardless which party is in power.

It’s no surprise then that the banks have been an important focus of discussion in the Occupy Wall Street movement. And a new approach to banking may become one of the important ways that Occupy moves forward and starts producing material change.

One evening in Zuccotti Park, I somewhat rashly, and without much forethought, stood up and announced that I wanted to set up a working group to explore alternative systems of banking. I did not have a clear plan but felt that we had to get to the heart of the problem. If we could change banking and make it embody the values of Occupy—equality, transparency, democracy—we might not only change the financial industry for the better, but also change the very nature of the economy—and thus society itself.

Other members of the group share this ambition. Those who have joined the group represent an extraordinary and eclectic mix. There are army vets and unemployed students, but also a large number of financial experts: former derivative traders, SEC regulators, bankers, financial analysts and bloggers and even a professor of financial law. We have no shortage of expertise, and no shortage of determination either.

The fact that Texas Rep. Ron Paul once published racist sentiments in his newsletters has been known for quite some time. And yet Paul has managed to keep getting elected in his Houston-area district on the Gulf Coast. A onetime Democratic consultant in Texas, who asked that his name not be used, emails this anecdote from the 1996 general election that returned Paul to Congress after a 12-year hiatus:

At the time I was Lefty Morris' campaign manager, who was the Democrat running against Ron Paul in the general election. Our campaign released the "Ron Paul Political Report" to reporters and later focus grouped some of his writings and affiliations at a restaurant in La Grange, Texas. 

At the time, the "Ron Paul Political Report" was listed in an online Neo-Nazi Directory that also included publications by the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Brothers (or something like that). 

Of course, we thought we could use this to our advantage. So, in the focus group, we let participants look at the newsletters and told them that Ron Paul's Political Report was listed in the Neo Nazi directory with the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups. 

The focus group got really quiet. Then one man pops off, "There's nothing wrong with the Ku Klux Klan." 

Another man in the group says, "The Ku Klux Klan has done a lot of good things. For example, if a man wasn't taking care of his family, the Ku Klux Klan would take him down to the town square and tar a feather him." 

Next a woman says, "It's the media. They never report the good things that the Ku Klux Klan does." 

We had a runaway focus group on our hands. About 10 of the 12 participants were chirping their enthusiasm for the KKK. 

Wikipedia Ditching GoDaddy Over SOPA, Jimmy Wales Says

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced that domain names belonging to Wikipedia and Wikia would be transferred off of GoDaddy, an Internet domain registrar, to protest GoDaddy's support for the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, a controversial anti-piracy bill under consideration by Congress.

"I am proud to announce that the Wikipedia domain names will move away from GoDaddy. Their position on #sopa is unacceptable to us," Wales wrote in a tweet. He later added, "Wikia is also moving several hundred domains from godaddy. Which registrar has quality and price right?"

GoDaddy has been hemorrhaging domains in a backlash against the company's endorsement of SOPA. Though GoDaddy said in a blog published December 20 that it was withdrawing its support for SOPA, GoDaddy CEO Warren Adelman acknowledged in a subsequent interview with TechCrunch that the company had not yet officially registered with Congress its plans to switch sides.

According to VentureBeat, GoDaddy has lost more than 37,000 domains in total. Other companies that have joined in the exodus include the Cheezburger Network, which runs popular sites such as FAIL Blog, Failbook and I Can Has Cheezburger. Cheezburger Network CEO Ben Huh tweeted, "Not happy with @godaddy. Emailed CEO, asking for clear, unequivocal dropping of SOPA support. Still planning on moving off." Commenters on Reddit have also called for a GoDaddy boycott and one Reddit user suggested December 29 should be "move your domain away from GoDaddy day."

The Next Web writes that GoDaddy has been "calling customers, begging them to stay," noting that one customer shared an anecdote about a conversation with a GoDaddy representative in which the company's rep attempted to clarify GoDaddy's stance on SOPA.
Wales previously contemplated protesting SOPA with a Wikipedia blackout

"A few months ago, the Italian Wikipedia community made a decision to blank all of Italian Wikipedia for a short period in order to protest a law which would infringe on their editorial independence. The Italian Parliament backed down immediately. As Wikipedians may or may not be aware, a much worse law going under the misleading title of 'Stop Online Piracy Act' is working its way through Congress on a bit of a fast track," Wales wrote on Wikipedia. "My own view is that a community strike was very powerful and successful in Italy and could be even more powerful in this case."

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Republicans Try to Convert America Into Pottersville

In the iconic Christmas film, It's a Wonderful Life, an angel offers the beleaguered main character, George Bailey, the stark choice between a hometown named for a cruel banker or one created by and for the middle class.

The banker's town, Pottersville, is filled with bars, gambling dens and despair. The people's town of Bedford Falls is made of hope, hard working middle class families, and their homes financed by the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan.

The film's happy ending is the people of Bedford Falls banding together to rescue George Bailey and the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan that had given so many of them a leg up over the years. Republicans seek a different conclusion. They find middle class cooperation and community intolerable. They want the banker, Henry Potter, with his "every man for himself" philosophy to triumph. In the spirit of their self-centered mentor Ayn Rand, Republicans are trying to disfigure America so she resembles Pottersville.

A building and loan association, like the Bailey Brothers', uses the savings of its members to provide mortgages to the depositors. Members essentially pool their money to give each other the opportunity to buy cars and homes. At one point in the film, George Bailey explains this concept to frightened depositors who are trying to withdraw their savings during the panic that led to bank runs in 1929.

Hydrocodone Painkiller Being Developed, Abuse Experts Worried

NEW YORK -- Drug companies are working to develop a pure, more powerful version of the nation's second most-abused medicine, which has addiction experts worried that it could spur a new wave of abuse.

The new pills contain the highly addictive painkiller hydrocodone, packing up to 10 times the amount of the drug as existing medications such as Vicodin. Four companies have begun patient testing, and one of them – Zogenix of San Diego – plans to apply early next year to begin marketing its product, Zohydro.

If approved, it would mark the first time patients could legally buy pure hydrocodone. Existing products combine the drug with nonaddictive painkillers such as acetaminophen.

Critics say they are especially worried about Zohydro, a timed-release drug meant for managing moderate to severe pain, because abusers could crush it to release an intense, immediate high.

"I have a big concern that this could be the next OxyContin," said April Rovero, president of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse. "We just don't need this on the market."

OxyContin, introduced in 1995 by Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Conn., was designed to manage pain with a formula that dribbled one dose of oxycodone over many hours.

WASHINGTON — Watch the political advertising and Elizabeth Warren, the leading Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts, either "sides with extreme left" protesters or has a history of being too cozy with Wall Street. Or Republican freshman Sen. Scott Brown, whom she hopes to defeat next year, is portrayed as an enemy of the environment.

Outside groups on both sides are spending millions of dollars on the race, highlighting the national prominence of the fight over the seat held for nearly 50 years by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. But the level of spending also foreshadows the role that such groups, including special political action committees, will play in many of next fall's big political matchups.

The flood of money and ads from outside the state is expected to surge as the Warren-Brown race intensifies.

"Massachusetts is at the end of the spear of what will be the big trend and the big story of 2012," said Ken Goldstein, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks spending on political ads.

Super PACs have been showing their strength in marquis Senate races. The Supreme Court, in a trio of decisions capped by the landmark Citizens United case in 2010, eased restrictions on the use of corporate money in political campaigns and paved the way for such spending. Massachusetts is front and center, with the conservative Crossroads GPS spending $1.1 million on one spot casting Warren as aligned with radical elements of the Occupy Wall Street movement and another that has her siding with Wall Street bankers.

Growing wealth widens distance between lawmakers and constituents

BUTLER, Pa. — One day after his shift at the steel mill, Gary Myers drove home in his 10-year-old Pontiac and told his wife he was going to run for Congress.

The odds were long. At 34, ­Myers was the shift foreman at the “hot mill” of the Armco plant here. He had no political experience and little or no money, and he was a Republican in a district that tilted Democratic.

But standing in the dining room, still in his work clothes, he said he felt voters deserved a better choice.

Three years later, he won.

When Myers entered Congress, in 1975, it wasn’t nearly so unusual for a person with few assets besides a home to win and serve in Congress. Though lawmakers on Capitol Hill have long been more prosperous than other Americans, others of that time included a barber, a pipe fitter and a house painter. A handful had even organized into what was called the “Blue Collar Caucus.”

But the financial gap between Americans and their representatives in Congress has widened considerably since then, according to an analysis of financial disclosures by The Washington Post.

Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home ­equity.

How Harper's deficit plan fits into his long-term strategy

Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells has often pointed out that the best way of interpreting the patterns behind Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is to take the long view: examining incremental changes in trends instead of looking for grand gestures. This isn’t to say that the Conservative agenda is modest in scope. As anyone familiar with growth accounting knows, the cumulative effects of small changes in growth rates can be very large indeed.

This is why we should be paying more attention to the Department of Finance’s Fiscal Monitor, which publishes government expenditures and revenues on a monthly basis. These numbers are noisy and subject to important seasonal swings (for example, there’s always a surge in personal income tax revenues each spring as people file their returns), but they are still a useful way of keeping track of the government’s budget balance between budgets. In what follows, seasonal movements are dealt with by tracking 12-month moving sums.

In the first graph, we see that after a long stretch in which the deficit hovered around $35-billion a year, the annual deficit has finally gone below $30-billion. If the last five months of fiscal year 2011-12 are no worse than the last five months of last year, then the federal government should have no problem meeting its target of $32-billion for 2011-12.

Iranian woman sentenced to stoning for adultery may be hanged instead, official says

TEHRAN, IRAN—Authorities in Iran said Sunday they are again moving ahead with plans to execute a woman sentenced to death by stoning on an adultery conviction in a case that sparked an international outcry, but are considering whether to carry out the punishment by hanging instead.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is already behind bars, serving a 10-year sentence on a separate conviction in the murder of her husband. Following international outrage over her case, Iran suspended plans in July 2010 to carry out her death sentence on the adultery conviction.

On Sunday, a senior judiciary official said experts were studying whether the punishment of stoning could be changed to hanging.

“There is no haste. ... We are waiting to see whether we can carry out the execution of a person sentenced to stoning by hanging or not,” said Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the head of justice department of East Azerbaijan province, where Ashtiani is jailed.

Israeli TV crew attacked in ultra-Orthodox city, after news story ignites controversy

JERUSALEM — Israeli police say a TV crew has been attacked by a group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in a city that has become a symbol of violent religious extremism.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says ultra-Orthodox men surrounded a Channel 2 news truck and hurled stones at it, lightly wounding one member of the TV crew.

He says the rioters also stole TV equipment. The attack took place in Beit Shemesh, a city of 85,000 just outside Jerusalem.

On Friday, Channel 2 aired a story about tensions in the city between modern Orthodox residents and the extremist ultra-Orthodox Haredi sect.

The story featured an 8-year-old American girl who says she is afraid to walk to school in the morning because the town’s Haredim have spat on her and cursed her.

Original Article
Source: Star 

Privatising Margaret Thatcher's funeral would be a fitting tribute to her legacy

Margaret Thatcher's close ideological ally Ronald Reagan famously said the 10 most dangerous words in the English language were: "Hi, I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

Neither Thatcher nor Reagan were enamoured with the state and its role in society. They wanted private companies to be able to reach into every party of our lives. So why not extend this privatisation experiment into the after-life?

Now someone by the name of Scott Morgan has launched this e-petition:
"In keeping with the great lady's legacy, Margaret Thatcher's state funeral should be funded and managed by the private sector to offer the best value and choice for end users and other stakeholders. The undersigned believe that the legacy of the former PM deserves nothing less and that offering this unique opportunity is an ideal way to cut government expense and further prove the merits of liberalised economics Baroness Thatcher spearheaded."

A housing-for-homeless project belies Harper’s hard-line reputation

The government’s response to the Attawapiskat housing crisis may well have underscored Stephen Harper’s reputation for his hard line rather than his heart, with his focus on the aboriginal reserve’s financial problems, not its social ones.

But in other parts of the country, the Prime Minister’s government is also quietly bankrolling one of the largest social pilot projects ever seen in Canada, paying generously for cutting-edge research that is changing the lives of hundreds of homeless people.

The project may scream out for a new, national social program – the kind that has been anathema to Mr. Harper in the past.

But it is producing results that suggest federal involvement in funding homes for the homeless can be smart and save money.

The At Home/Chez Soi pilot project is now halfway through its five-year life span, backed by $110-million of federal money channelled through the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

It’s the most comprehensive research experiment with homelessness in Canada, if not the world, researchers say. And it’s working.

Rick Perry's Taxpayer-Funded Security Costs Rise

Gov. Rick Perry was near the height of his popularity when he barnstormed California in September to raise money for his presidential bid and to participate in his first nationally televised debate.

His state-provided security guards were flying pretty high, too, spending more than $32,000 in taxpayer money for travel and lodging in San Francisco, $4,400 to dine near the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley, and another $6,400 for plane tickets to San Diego, records show.
In the ensuing weeks, Perry would see his political fortunes plummet, falling to as low as 6 percent in public opinion polls from a high of 32 percent. But the bills for his omnipresent security detail continue, costing taxpayers as much as $400,000 a month.

Aside from President Obama, Perry — the only sitting governor in the 2012 race — has the largest security contingent, and apparently the only one on the Republican side financed by taxpayers.

Weeks before he officially announced his presidential bid, Perry said it was appropriate for the Texas Department of Public Safety to pay for his security and called any criticism of his government-provided protection a “diversion.” He also said that Texans would benefit from his travels.

“I’m going to be promoting Texas,” Perry said in July, as he began to traverse the country. “I’m going to be traveling to places where the Texas story needs to be told, and we will tell it.”

Japan Fukushima Disaster: Probe Finds Response Failed

TOKYO -- Japan's response to the nuclear crisis that followed the March 11 tsunami was confused and riddled with problems, including an erroneous assumption an emergency cooling system was working and a delay in disclosing dangerous radiation leaks, a report revealed Monday.

The disturbing picture of harried and bumbling workers and government officials scrambling to respond to the problems at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant was depicted in the report detailing a government investigation.

The 507-page interim report, compiled by interviewing more than 400 people, including utility workers and government officials, found authorities had grossly underestimated tsunami risks, assuming the highest wave would be 6 meters (20 feet). The tsunami hit at more than double those levels.

The report criticized the use of the term "soteigai," meaning "outside our imagination," which it said implied authorities were shirking responsibility for what had happened. It said by labeling the events as beyond what could have been expected, officials had invited public distrust.

"This accident has taught us an important lesson on how we must be ready for soteigai," it said.

What Next in the Fight Over Who Our Economy Is for?

Who is our economy for, anyway? In the United States, We, the People are supposedly in charge, and our country and economy are supposed to be managed for the public good. But that isn't how things have been working out, is it?

Let's take a quick look at America over the last few decades.

We used to have a social contract. We invested in top-notch infrastructure (like the interstate highway system) and education (the best universities and research), and then tax the resulting gains at very high rates, to recirculate those gains for the benefit of all of us.

Broken Social Contract

Then the contract was broken. Starting in the 1970s a cabal of wealthy businessmen and conservative ideologues organized and funded an attack on We, the People government, manipulating public opinion and our political system, gutting the regulations and trade rules that protected us and our way of life, privatizing -- selling off things We, the People own -- and killing the tax-and-invest cycle so they could keep the gains from all of that prior investment for themselves.

Blanket Of Propaganda

To provide cover for the operation these agents of the 1% spread a thick blanket of propaganda, using every technique in the modern marketing book. They divided us by race, religion, gender, sexual preference, even pitting people who like quiche and lattes against those who like beer and sausage. To cripple potential opposition they infiltrated and fractured key institutions, and turned the public against the news media. They developed a professional career-path system that rewards those who play along with the corruption and destruction and punishes those who do not. To cripple dissent they used ridicule, shame and intimidation.

The New Dealers

For some time, I'd been hearing stories from my sources in the interstate marijuana racket about law-abiding "civilians" turning to the game because of the recession, and so, armed with introductions, I hit the road to meet some of these unlikely criminals face to face. That's how, on a hot evening in June, I found myself in Dan's Northern California kitchen.

Dan isn't his real name. Nor are any of the names in this story, for obvious reasons. But his situation is a familiar, harsh reality for many Americans, as I learned while doing research for my recent novel on this subject. Dan is in his early 40s, a slim, soft-spoken former short-haul trucker who once owned all the toys: a used Mercedes, snowmobiles, Jet Skis. When they were both employed, he and his wife—a retail manager—easily cleared $100,000 a year. "We ate out breakfast, lunch, and dinner," Dan, now a minimum-wage laborer, tells me with folded arms. "That's the way life was for 17 years."

Today, Dan's toys are gone, sold to support an underwater mortgage. His wife, who kept her job, left him three years ago, driving away in the Mercedes. "She didn't like the fact that I sat at home and she was going to work," he tells me. "There were no jobs. I filled out a thing for the city, and 400 people were there for one opening—a garbage truck driver."

Oil Slick from Massive Spill in Nigeria Threatens Coastline, May Be Largest Spill in a Decade

Communities along Nigeria’s Niger Delta have been put on alert following a major oil spill from the oil giant, Shell. The massive oil slick is making its way to the Nigerian coast, threatening local wildlife and massive pollution along the shore. Much of the available information about the spill comes from the company responsible for it, Royal Dutch Shell, which says less than 40,000 barrels have leaked so far. But Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency says the spill could be three times as large. It comes just four months after the United Nations said it would take 30 years and around $1 billion for a small section of the delta to recover from environmental damage caused by Shell and other companies. We get an update from Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria, which monitors spills around the country’s oil-rich southern delta.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Philippines Floods 2011: Bodies Found Far Away From Ravaged Villages, Coastline

MANILA, Philippines — The death toll from flash floods that swept away entire villages in the southern Philippines climbed to nearly 1,500 on Tuesday, as authorities widened their search for bodies.

The Office of Civil Defense's latest tally listed 891 dead in Cagayan de Oro and an additional 451 in nearby Iligan city. The rest came from several other provinces. Most of the dead are unidentified.

"The search will continue as long as we are recovering bodies," said Civil Defense head Benito Ramos.

He said that decomposing remains were retrieved floating in the sea as far as 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the two cities where a Dec. 16 tropical storm unleashed more than a month's worth of rainfall in 12 hours, sending walls of water gushing into homes.

One of the dead was a headless girl who appeared to have been hit by logs that were carried by flash floods, Ramos said. She was among 13 bodies retrieved by a team of navy sailors.

Navy and coast guard divers were initially sent to find more bodies believed to be pinned down by logs scattered in the sea and along riverbanks, but Ramos said the operation had to be called off because waters were too murky. "It's useless to dive when you can see nothing," he said.

When Medicare Isn't Medicare

Let's say you have a Ford and decide to replace everything under the hood with Hyundai parts, including the engine and transmission. Could you still honestly market your car as a Ford?

That question gets at the heart of the controversy over who is being more forthright about GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to "save" Medicare, Republicans or Democrats.

If you overhaul the Medicare system like you did your Ford and tell the public it's still Medicare, are you doing so honestly?

As I noted last week, PolitiFact, the St. Petersburg Time's fact checker, decided that the Democrats' claim that Ryan's plan would mean the end of Medicare was so blatantly untrue it merited designation as the 2011 "Lie of the Year." Republicans, whose erroneous claims about health care reform garnered "Lie of the Year" prizes in 2009 and 2010, cheered. Democrats, as you might imagine, jeered -- as did some journalists and pundits.

PolitiFact's Washington-based editor defended the choice by contending that Ryan's proposal to restructure Medicare by providing beneficiaries subsidies to buy private insurance would not "end" the program. It would still be Medicare, he reasoned.

What he's missing is that Ryan's proposal would change the program so fundamentally as to represent the equivalent of replacing the engine and transmission.

Netanyahu's on the way to Kosovo

No, Netanyahu is not a war criminal. But the great similarity between his worldview and that of Milosevic with regard to everything involving the conflict in the territories invites us to draw conclusions from the Kosovo conflict.

The reprimand delivered last week to Europe, and the Foreign Ministry's suggestion that Germany, France, Britain and Portugal not stick their noses into Israel's "internal affairs" and allow it to manage the occupation as it pleases, sound frighteningly familiar. The progression of these "internal affairs" also dredged up a hair-raising memory: During the 1990s, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic rejected European demands to stop oppressing the Albanian majority in Kosovo. After that, he rebuffed NATO's demand to remove his forces from Kosovo and to stop expelling tens of thousands of Albanians, mostly Muslims, from their homes. NATO forces responded with an aerial attack on military and civilian targets in Serbia. Serbia continued to resist granting independence to Kosovo and even threatened to impose sanctions on it and on states that supported it. Europe wasn't impressed.

In February 2008, Britain, France, Italy and Germany recognized Kosovo. The United States then joined the main nations of the European Union in doing so, and some 70 countries followed suit. Only a Russian veto in the Security Council lies between Kosovo and full membership of the United Nations (Israel doesn't recognize Kosovo either ), but the International Court of Justice in the Hague established that its declaration of independence did not contravene international law. The EU Rule of Law Mission is helping maintain law and order in Kosovo.

Partial democracy

A government that views a minority's opinion as a nuisance that must be silenced, and criticism of the state as something akin to treason, is headed toward totalitarianism.

Around a year ago, Shlomo Avineri wrote in these pages that Israel cannot be viewed as a fascist state ("Israel is the opposite of fascist," November 15, 2010 ). In a fascist state, wrote Avineri, the regime monitors citizens, imprisons them without trial, restricts movement and runs a propagandistic education system.

In a dramatic letter, the attorney general told the government that the legislation seeking to curb donations by foreign countries to Israeli organizations infringed on constitutional rights. He said he would not defend it in the High Court ("AG to Netanyahu: Bills targeting Israeli rights groups' funds are unconstitutional," December 7, 2011 ).

This year the Knesset pushed through the Boycott Law, which delivers a mortal blow to basic principles such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. It is no accident that this law has provoked passionate responses. Absurdly, the law does not impose sanctions against anyone who takes part in boycotts of Israel (or of entities based in the territories ). Instead, it punishes anyone who calls for boycotts. The imposition of sanctions on a call for action, a call that constitutes free speech, is stunningly anti-democratic.

No one could see this coming?

Aspers, feds had to know museum would go over-budget

In the race to see who was the most naive about the true cost of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Asper family and the federal Tory government are running neck and neck.

Word leaked out last week the museum, pegged at $310 million in 2009, will now cost $351 million. Ottawa has elected not to offer any help to cover the shortfall, leaving it up to the Crown corporation that controls the museum and the private sector to find the money to open the museum in 2014, a year later than originally envisioned.

The reasons for the overruns vary. More money was needed for additional steel to re-enforce a core part of the structure. The foundation needed some shoring up because of unstable soil conditions. And exhibit technology is proving more costly than expected. There is a chance some of these additional costs will be recouped in claims against the project's chief engineering firm, but that won't be realized for years.

Eric Hughes, the new interim chairman of the CMHR board of directors, said he is not alarmed by the cost overruns. He noted there is "a certain amount of optimism built into the best budgets." He also added that the overruns were "unfortunate but not outrageously big" given the magnitude of the project.

Tackling inequality means rethinking upper-income tax rates

2011 was the year rising inequality finally exploded into the mainstream discourse.

A few year-end reading recommendations: Victoria Times-Colonist editorial writer Paul Willcocks wrote a terrific piece on the subject (you can find it here); and similarly, a group of UBC economists (including CCPA research associate David Green) authored a series on inequality for the Vancouver Sun (which you can find here).

Now we need to have a serious conversation about what to do to reduce the gap. Tackling inequality means focusing on a poverty action plan for those with low incomes, strengthening the economic security of those with middle incomes, and redistributing more of the income of the wealthy.

For lower-income individuals and families, we need our governments to adopt comprehensive poverty reduction plans (provincially and federally). The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition has been actively promoting the former, while nationally a similar call has been spearheaded by Make Poverty History, Canada Without Poverty, Citizens for Public Justice, and Campaign 2000. For how to enhance economic security across the low and middle-income spectrum, look no further than the CCPA's Alternative Federal Budget.

But rising inequality hasn't been driven by low incomes. Rather, as the Occupy movement rightly highlighted, the growing gap has been driven by the runaway-rich; the wealthiest 10 per cent of households, and especially the wealthiest 1 per cent, have been breaking away from the rest of us (as outlined in this CCPA report a year ago).

Economic climate and inequality

The December issue of the quarterly Economic Climate for Bargaining publication I produce is now online. This issue has a number of pieces on issues of inequality, including:

-  Rising inequality is hurting our economy
-  Labour rights, unions and the 99 per cent
-  Canadian economy bleeding jobs; public sector cuts to intensify
-  Recession and cuts hit Aboriginal and racialized workers hardest

It also has sections with summaries of Canadian and provincial forecasts of main economic indicators, and discussions of developments in inflation and wages increases by major sector and province. It picks up on a number of discussions that have taken place on this blog.

The final figures aren't in yet -- and there are different ways of measuring it -- but it looks like real wages will likely decline by the greatest amount since 1995.

A number of relevant reports came out after this publication went to translation. These include:

-  Mark Carney's recent speech where I was heartened to see him emphasize that the problem we face is one of prolonged deficient demand. (It was also interesting to note that one of the rationales cited for a lower than zero inflation target in the Bank of Canada's Background document on renewal of the inflation target was it could provide workers with real wage gains when nominal wages are sticky.)

-  The IMF report on Canada published last week also raises concern about overvalued house prices and the impact a correction would have on the economy through the wealth effect. I wrote a piece on this in the Economic Climate publication four years ago. At that time, my estimates were that Canadian real estate was overvalued by about 20 per cent or $500 billion: with a housing wealth effect (MPC) of 6 per cent as estimated by the Bank of Canada, that means that a correction would reduce GDP by about 2 per cent. The more sophisticated calculations in the IMF report are that house prices in Canada are overvalued by about 10 per cent and that the MPC related to housing wealth is 4.3 per cent. As a result they report a smaller impact on GDP.

-  It is also good to see Don Drummond has an open enough mind to now issue a mea culpa about the economic policies he implemented and espoused for years, summarized just five years ago in his Economists' Manifesto for Curing Ailing Productivity Growth. At that time, he said there there was broad consensus among economists for those policies. I suppose he wasn't reading this blog.

Original Article

Harper sees trade deals as key to his political success

Others may judge the Harper government by what it achieves, or fails to achieve, on the environmental front, with first nations or in making government more accountable. But Stephen Harper judges himself on how well his government manages the economy. In that context, nothing is more important to the Conservatives than trade.

By this time next year, either the Prime Minister will have one major agreement in his pocket and several more in the works, or this administration, by its own accounting, will have failed one of its most crucial tests.

The good news for the Tories is that they may soon clear the first and biggest hurdle. Government sources predict that a signed Canada-European Union Trade Agreement will be in place by February or March.

Some of the terms of that agreement will be contentious. EU businesses will have greater access to Canadian government-procurement contracts, for example. And dairy quotas for European imports will probably be raised, in exchange for increased quotas for Canadian pork exports.

A year of drama and nonsense

It’s a year that gave us shiddle-diddle and “the violent torpedo of truth”; SlutWalk and lingerie football; a Toronto mayor fleeing a fake warrior princess; and what some consider real barbarians surging to a majority in Ottawa. It brought the Arab Spring and Weinergate; Osama bin Laden’s death and a temporary Kardashian wedding; a Liberal minority in Ontario and economic turmoil around the world. In short, it’s been a chaotic year. One that reeled from farce to tragedy — and back again — full of drama, pathos and nonsense.

With so many possibilities for the Star’s traditional year-end Darts & Laurels, and so little space, we offer a modest selection as rude and varied as the year itself:

PETER MacKAY: For lacklustre excuses. As Canada’s defence minister you enjoy perks like luxury hotel suites and use of our rescue helicopters as your private taxi service. We get it. You feel entitled to your entitlements. But you could at least take the trouble to devise a better pretense for your excesses. A helicopter search and rescue demonstration? Really? You’re just not trying. Look at your cabinet colleague Tony Clement. He got eight of the world’s leaders dragged out to Muskoka last year just to excuse his wanton pork-barrelling. He gets an A for effort.

STANLEY: For perseverance. As the Prime Minister’s cat we can only shudder at what you must endure for your daily bowl of Meow Mix. There’s probably catnip rationing, Kitty Litter cutbacks, and having to listen as Stephen Harper endlessly rehearses his limited repertoire of popular tunes. “What would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me?” And there you are, trapped without the power of speech to scream: “Yes, I bloody well would!”

Stephen Harper warns of tough times ahead in 2012

OTTAWA—Canadians could be in for some tough economic times in 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is warning in a year-end interview with CTV.

“We have some major challenges in front of us,” Harper says to anchor Lisa LaFlamme in the interview, to be broadcast Monday at 7 p.m.

The Prime Minister makes repeated mention of hard economic decisions looming on the budget horizon and the lingering concern over how global insecurity is going to affect Canada.

“There’s going to be a whole range of areas where this government’s going to be taking issues over the next year to secure the sustainability of our key programs,” Harper says, “not just in terms of reducing the deficit but for our generation to come, and at the same time making some major reforms in various areas, so that we can continue to grow this economy and attract the capital that will create jobs for people.”

On immigration policy, for instance, Harper says his government is looking at reforms that will help immigrants make more of a contribution to Canada’s economic growth.

World must interfere in Israel's internal affairs

Of all of Israel's complaints against the world, one is especially brazen: Goodness gracious, the world is meddling in the Jewish state's internal affairs.

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she understands what's happening here, and it reminds her more of Iran than Israel, the Zionist response has been: "It would be better for the public's representatives to direct their attention to what is happening in their own countries," as Environmental Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan put it.

When Europe becomes outraged over hate crimes in Israel, the brazen response is the Europeans adopted the lowest of resolutions in taking Israel to task. And when the world takes an interest in Israel's policy toward refugees and migrant workers, this prompts a demand for an end to foreign interference, as Ronen Shoval, the founder of the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu, said.

Israel may be the last country on earth with the right to be outraged over foreign interference. Since its founding, Israel has not ceased working around the world to bring Jews here; it has clandestinely carried out underground subversive activity among shady regimes; it has openly preached abroad for Jews to leave their native lands and immigrate here, or at least send financial support; and Israel has moved heaven and earth against manifestations of anti-Semitism and supports parallel alternative Jewish and Zionist educational systems around the world.

The War at Home: Militarized Local Police Tap Post-9/11 Grants to Stockpile Combat Gear, Use Drones

A new report by the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that since 9/11, local law enforcement agencies have used $34 billion in federal grants to acquire military equipment such as bomb-detection robots, digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets. "A lot of this technology and the devices have been around for a long time. But as soon as they have, for instance, a law enforcement capability, that’s a game changer," says George Schulz, with the Center for Investigative Reporting. "The courts and the public have to ask, how is the technology being used by a community of people—police—who are endowed with more power than the rest of us?’" Local police departments have also added drones to their toolkit. In June, a drone helped local police in North Dakota with surveillance leading to what may be the first domestic arrests with help from a drone. The American Civil Liberties Union has issued a new report that calls on the government to establish privacy protections for surveillance by unmanned aerial drones, especially of people engaged in protests. "We believe that people should not be targeted for surveillance via drones just because they’re they are engaged in First Amendment-protected activity," says Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Source: Democracy Now!  

Narratives, from the personal to the political

I keep harping on this, I know, but it's for a reason – acknowledging the importance of the stories people tell themselves and the weight they attach to those stories is frequently the first step in effecting change, whether it's at a purely personal level or at the macro/social level.

Those stories, whether they're accurate reflections of fact or fucked-up dysfunctional compensations, form touchstones. They are the scripts whereby we live our lives. They provide the cues and the guideposts we use in responding to events, to new information. They provide the internal filing systems we use to organize what we know and what we learn and slot it into categories; how we react to things depends very much on how they fit into those categories. The stories may or may not be true. They don't have to make sense or even appear coherent to external observers, objective or otherwise. As long as they make sense to us, we hang on to them.

So much of your identity and sense of yourself is wrapped up in that narrative, in fact, that it provides a psychic and emotional touchstone. To have it challenged, in whole or in part, is akin to having your psychic anchor taken away. The more you have invested in your storyline, the more resistant you're going to be to any attempt to redefine or rewrite it. And that's true, I'd submit, regardless of whether you're talking about a single person attempting to deal with personal issues or a defined group attempting to deal with social and political change.

Lawrence Scanlan: A less proud country

There's been a sea change, a darkening of the political climate in this country. The first instinct is to discount such troubling thoughts. So perhaps the view of someone born elsewhere, but long on our shores, is more to be trusted.

Ursula Franklin—the celebrated physicist, pacifist, author and Companion of the Order of Canada—recently spoke to CBC Radio's The Current. She had survived a Nazi death camp and come to Canada hoping for better. Now 88, Franklin is "profoundly worried about the absence and erosion of democracy in Canada."

Democracy, I heard her say on the radio, is a slow and messy process. When Frank-lin sees cabinet ministers holding press conferences to discuss legislation not yet debated in the House of Commons, she sees that process being skirted. And when she hears the prime minister saying he does not "trust" the Opposition, she sees contempt for democracy itself. "Who wants to live in a country," Franklin asked, "where those who don't think like you are deemed untrustworthy?"

A German reporter here to cover the G20 summit likened Toronto's walls to the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. I was just in Berlin and the checkpoint these days comprises a few sandbags and two "soldiers" in Second World War American uniforms posing for tourists' cameras. Walls fall in one place, rise up in another. But surely not here?

The annual gathering of the Writers' Union of Canada took place in Ottawa in June, with many former chairs on hand to offer memories of their time in office. Susan Crean remembered encountering a young, blue-eyed politico at a constitutional conference in Calgary in 1992. When the man learned that she had co-authored a certain book about American domination of Canadian and Quebec politicians, the man responded: "You should not have been allowed to write that book."

Harper’s Hitlist

The scrawled note that evaded the redactor’s pen – unlike so many Afghan detainee files – did more than to cast Kairos into the ever-growing pile of Canadian organizations and individuals that have been, to borrow Jason Kenney’s euphemism, “defunded.” It also cemented the realization, for many Canadians, that the crucial boundary protecting nonpartisan limbs of the state from the ideological zeal of the sitting government has been breached in a way that we have not seen before.

A legacy of distortion

The warning signs have been apparent for some time. Mr. Harper’s stacking of the Superior Courts with political partisans and Conservative Party donors; his scrapping of the office of the National Science Advisor and efforts to muzzle Environment Canada scientists; his public upbraiding of diplomat and whistleblower Richard Colvin; his sacking of the president of the Nuclear Safety Commission and chairs of the RCMP and Military Police complaints commissions: all of these point to a troubling disregard for the separation of ideologically-driven politics and the civil service.

Were it not so immediate, this shift might seem like the stuff of some bleak Dickensian satire. Among the cast of characters, some are more familiar than others: recall Bev Oda’s 2006 proclamation that “women’s equality has arrived,” a thinly-veiled bit of rhetoric that prefigured the gutting of women’s groups including the Canadian Council on Social Development, Action travail des femmes, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, and Status of Women Canada, whose mandate was changed to exclude “gender equality and political justice” and who were banned from undertaking any lobbying, advocacy, or policy research. Having axed plans for a national childcare program, the Harper Government moved to stamp out the forces behind decades of advocacy, cutting funding to the Canadian Child Care Federation, Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, and others.

In PM's world, girls will be herded back to the kitchen, and gays back to the closet, says Linda McQuaig

When it comes to equality for women, Stephen Harper is all for it — as long as the women are in Afghanistan.

Last May, the Prime Minister told Parliament that ensuring equality rights for women was one of the key reasons Canada is waging war in Afghanistan.

Certainly Harper's claims of championing the rights of burqa-clad women have helped him sell that unpopular war to Canadians.

But when there's no war to peddle, Harper doesn't give a piffle about women's equality. Indeed, he seems downright opposed to it.

In a recent move that got relatively little attention, the Harper government actually removed the word "equality" from the list of goals of Status of Women Canada, ending decades of advocacy for equality on the part of that federal agency.

Such advocacy itself is now under attack. The Harper government has cut off funding for advocacy done by women's organizations, which have fought hard to overcome discrimination that has, for instance, left women earning substantially less than men, regardless of occupation, age or education. Canadian women earn 72 cents for every dollar a man earns.

F-35 jets are useless without war

Of all the things Canadians want from their government, my guess is that new military fighter jets would probably rank close to last.

But new fighter jets are what we’re getting. Despite the enduring popularity of peacekeeping among Canadians, the Harper government continues to ramp up war-oriented military spending, most recently with its announcement of plans to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin.

At $16 billion — and that’s a conservative estimate; cost overruns are rampant with military contracts — the jets promise to be the most expensive military acquisition in Canadian history.

What makes this purchase bizarre is how little use the jets will be, unless we’re waging all-out war.

“It’s hard to see any useful military role for the F-35,” wrote Leonard Johnson, a retired major-general in the Canadian air force and former commandant of the National Defence College in Kingston. “The age of major inter-state war between developed nations has vanished, so why prepare for one?”

Now, some might consider Johnson’s argument suspect; despite his impressive military credentials, he has a soft spot for peace.

McQuaig: Making it easier to ignore the poor

We hear a great deal about the lives of the rich, much of it sympathetic and often fawning.

Even Conrad Black, despite his history of anti-Canadian outbursts, is treated almost fondly by commentators who generally have a hard-hearted, tough-on-crime attitude toward less well-heeled felons.

The poor rarely get such sympathetic attention; indeed they rarely get much attention at all. And they’re soon to get even less.

That is the real reason for the Harper government’s decision to scrap the long-form census matters, and why the debate over it is more than a bizarre obsession with statistics in this overheated summer.

As a number of experts have noted, the decision to replace the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary abbreviated survey will result in less reliable data collection, particularly from the poor and marginalized.

So, as income becomes ever more concentrated at the top, as it has in recent years, we’ll know less and less about those at the bottom, making them easier to ignore.

In the crosshairs of the right

While denouncing suicide bombers is the bread and butter of U.S. politics, there was barely a murmur of outrage last February when a suicide bomber flew a plane into a Texas office building, killing one office worker and injuring 13 others.

The extraordinarily muted response can only be explained by the fact that the suicide bomber, Joe Stack, had made it clear his anger was directed against U.S. tax authorities — an anger shared by many powerful interests on the right.

Accordingly, politicians and media commentators — ever deferential to the right — treaded carefully. An interviewer on ABC’s Good Morning America even asked Stack’s adult daughter if she considered her father a hero. (She did.)

A similar tolerance towards violence and intimidation from the right is evident in the response to the attempted assassination of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

While there’s been much outrage over the Tucson violence, there’s been a reluctance among mainstream commentators and politicians to pin the blame where it belongs — on the kind of hostile, right-wing extremism that implicitly promotes political violence.

Luxury for the rich but ‘realism’ for the rest of us

“Greed is good and I love money.”

There was a time when such a lip-smacking declaration of personal gluttony would have been dismissed as boorish and anti-social.

Yet today this bombastic declaration by wealthy arch-capitalist Kevin O’Leary is treated as reasonable, even given copious air time by our public broadcaster. (O’Leary currently figures prominently in two CBC TV programs and is soon to add another.)

Presumably, the purpose of a public broadcaster is to offer something not provided by profit-driven private broadcasters — perhaps an expression of national purpose or a defence of the public interest.

Do CBC executives consider O’Leary’s homage to greed — constantly aired in CBC advertising — contains some profound message for Canadians?

For that matter, why is greed and love of money considered good in the case of a wealthy investor, while the wider desire for simply a decent living standard is increasingly considered an expectation that may have to be curbed in ordinary citizens?

McQuaig: Pomp, pageantry and unions

We surely seem to be living in conservative times — with the NDP trying to distance itself from all things socialist and the public apparently unable to sate its appetite for all things royal.

Certainly it’s easy to get the impression from the media that Canadians, content with their capitalist bounty, are primarily focused on the activities and outfits of the Royal Family.

So perhaps it’s out-of-sync with the times to suggest that we’re actually in the middle of a class war, and that it’s been heating up lately.

Of course, the genius of the architects of today’s conservative revolution has been to obscure the class war they’ve been quietly waging, keeping us distracted with foreign military ventures, royals and other celebrity sightings.

Behind all these diversions, the class war has been relentlessly proceeding. While incomes at the top have steadily climbed, incomes of ordinary Canadians have steadily eroded. The real median Canadian family income hasn’t risen since the late 1970s — even though today’s typical family now has two earners, compared to just one earner 30 years ago. In other words, Canadian families are working about twice as hard to keep up to where they were a generation ago.

Why Harper barred Galloway by Linda McQuaig

Anyone who has ever seen George Galloway in action knows why he had to be stopped at the border. He definitely poses a threat — although not the security one alleged by the Harper government.

Rather, Galloway, a five-times elected member of the British Parliament, poses a threat to Stephen Harper’s ability to sell Canadians on our involvement in the Afghan war and on Ottawa’s support for Israel in its battle against the Palestinians.

Galloway’s views aren’t odious. In fact, they’re in sync with millions of Canadians.

Galloway is a fierce, effective critic on both fronts. With the mental toughness of Noam Chomsky and the showmanship of Mick Jagger, Galloway slices through the pro-war apologetics of political leaders like a knife through warm butter.

The mainstream tolerance of right-wing extremism

While denouncing suicide bombers is the bread and butter of U.S. politics, there was barely a murmur of outrage last February when a suicide bomber flew a plane into a Texas office building, killing one office worker and injuring 13 others.

The extraordinarily muted response can only be explained by the fact that the suicide bomber, Joe Stack, had made it clear his anger was directed against U.S. tax authorities -- an anger shared by many powerful interests on the right.

Accordingly, politicians and media commentators -- ever deferential to the right -- treaded carefully. An interviewer on ABC's Good Morning America even asked Stack's adult daughter if she considered her father a hero. (She did.)

A similar tolerance towards violence and intimidation from the right is evident in the response to the attempted assassination of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

While there's been much outrage over the Tucson violence, there's been a reluctance among mainstream commentators and politicians to pin the blame where it belongs -- on the kind of hostile, right-wing extremism that implicitly promotes political violence.

Canada was a fairly grim place before the Conservatives came to power, Stephen Harper informed us in his weekend speech celebrating five years as prime minister.

Among the litany of troubles in those days before Conservatives brought light to a darkened land, Harper said on Sunday, was that "parents were disrespected, really thought more likely to spend money on beer and popcorn than take care of their children."

Harper was referring to the previous Liberal government's plan to introduce a national child-care program, implying it showed Liberals didn't trust parents to spend money on caring for their children.

It's worth pausing for a moment to marvel at how Harper has managed for five years to get away with this sort of ludicrous, misleading, deceptive statement. Rather than showing disrespect for parents, a government child-care program -- like the ones common in Europe and Quebec -- is the only way to provide millions of Canadian parents access to decent child care.

By setting up a public program paid for through taxes, we can bring down costs and ensure high quality, thereby providing a vital service for people unable to afford it privately. In cancelling the child-care program upon taking office and replacing it with a $100-a-month payment to parents of young children, Harper was throwing a tasty bone to conservatives who believe a woman's place is in the home.

My Summer at an Indian Call Center

I stand flush against the window of a Toyota showroom, trying to stay in a shrinking sliver of shade. We're on the cusp of midday, which, in Delhi in June, lasts most of the day and drives everyone into a languid torpor. I am waiting for a company cab, now an hour and a half late, to drive me across town to a call center, where an Indian "culture trainer" will teach me how to act Australian.

A uniformed guard next to me dozes on a stool, his rifle slumped in his lap. Behind the showroom window, which would be clear if two boys would stop rubbing it down with rags, a dozen red sedans glisten on a waxy white floor. On the dirt shoulder of the road, children hold hands as they walk to school.

Call centers don't trust Indian infrastructure, as well they shouldn't, so the company cab—typically a white Toyota Qualis—has become a standard industry perk. This morning a class of 24 new hires, myself included, will be ferried from all corners of the city to the offices of a small firm named Delhi Call Centre. For three weeks, a culture trainer will teach us conversational skills, Australian pop culture, and the terms of the mobile-phone contracts we'll be peddling. Those of us who pass the training course will graduate to the calling floor. Our first job at DCC will be to interrupt Australians at dinner and ask them to switch phone providers. In the Delhi area alone, maybe 100,000 call-center agents make their living selling vitamins to Britons or helping Americans troubleshoot their printers. I am almost certainly the only one who acquired his conversational skills accidentally—by being born in the United States.

'Anonymous' Stratfor Hack Reportedly Start Of Weeklong Assault

LONDON -- The loose-knit hacking movement "Anonymous" claimed Sunday to have stolen thousands of credit card numbers and other personal information belonging to clients of U.S.-based security think tank Stratfor. One hacker said the goal was to pilfer funds from individuals' accounts to give away as Christmas donations, and some victims confirmed unauthorized transactions linked to their credit cards.

Anonymous boasted of stealing Stratfor's confidential client list, which includes entities ranging from Apple Inc. to the U.S. Air Force to the Miami Police Department, and mining it for more than 4,000 credit card numbers, passwords and home addresses.

Austin, Texas-based Stratfor provides political, economic and military analysis to help clients reduce risk, according to a description on its YouTube page. It charges subscribers for its reports and analysis, delivered through the web, emails and videos. The company's main website was down, with a banner saying the "site is currently undergoing maintenance."

Proprietary information about the companies and government agencies that subscribe to Stratfor's newsletters did not appear to be at any significant risk, however, with the main threat posed to individual employees who had subscribed.

Economic gloom weighs down Harper's holiday cheer

OTTAWA — As the holiday season brings 2011 to a close, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his focus for the new year remains on the world's fragile economic situation and its potential fallout on Canada's economy.

Harper, in year-end remarks to Chinese-language broadcaster Fairchild TV, said the continuing debt crisis in Europe and problems in the United States are bound to affect Canada’s economic fortunes.

“These things continue to impact the Canadian economy, so I think the economy’s going to continue to have to be our No. 1 focus into the next year,” he said, in an interview that aired Friday evening, and will be rebroadcast Wednesday evening.

“We’re preparing the next budget, the next steps of Canada’s economic action plan to create jobs and growth, and also to continue seeing our own deficit decline,” Harper continued. “So, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

Canadian heritage buildings lack protection

What do Vancouver's oldest vaudeville theatre, a landmark Toronto hotel built in 1888 and government-owned hangars that made planes for the Second World War all have in common?

They are all buildings with a historical past that have been either torn down or left to fall apart and be replaced with new developments.

The Heritage Canada Foundation calls the demolition of Vancouver's Pantages theatre and Toronto's former Empress hotel, which burned down in January, "Canada's worst losses of 2011."

The century-old Pantages theatre, with its ornate interior and scenic canvas paintings, was torn down last April and plans are to replace it with a high-rise condo development.

The Empress, an elegant red-brick building built in 1888, was slated for demolition. After a local heritage group stepped in to try saving it, an arsonist burned it down.

A frustrated spokesperson for the national heritage foundation says it's time the federal government stepped in with legislation to at least protect designated historical buildings in Canada.

Carolyn Quinn points out that federal buildings — especially those on land belonging to Crown corporations — have no real safeguards against the wrecker's ball.

"Canada is really the only G8 country without laws to protect historic places owned by its national government," said Quinn, whose foundation is privately run.

Crusade against CBC is no vendetta, Péladeau insists

Pierre Karl Péladeau reigns over an empire of scrappy tabloids and populist television channels catering to conservative meat eaters.

But the staples of the Quebecor Inc. (QBR.B-T34.04----%) chief’s news diet are Le Monde and the French CBC, media outlets that are perceived as left-leaning and are routinely attacked by his own publications.

To Mr. Péladeau, the suggestion that he is politically motivated and that Sun News is a platform for his political ideas, in essence making him Canada’s Rupert Murdoch, is offensive. Quebecor’s media properties are not vanity projects, he says, and he does not impose his tastes on his newspapers. He is concerned only with their profitability.

The media magnate insists that his crusade to force the CBC and its French-language arm Radio-Canada to release confidential data about their operations – including the salaries of Peter Mansbridge and other network stars – is not about politics or ideology. It is about taxpayer dollars, and how they impact Quebecor’s bottom line.

If Mr. Péladeau has personally taken up the cause – taking centre stage in October at a parliamentary hearing into the applicability of the federal Access to Information law to the CBC – it is because the stakes are mountain high for Quebecor.

Pentagon Finds No Fault in Ties to TV Analysts

A Pentagon public relations program that sought to transform high-profile military analysts into “surrogates” and “message force multipliers” for the Bush administration complied with Defense Department regulations and directives, the Pentagon’s inspector general has concluded after a two-year investigation.       

The inquiry was prompted by articles published in The New York Times in 2008 that described how the Pentagon, in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, cultivated close ties with retired officers who worked as military analysts for television and radio networks. The articles also showed how military analysts affiliated with defense contractors sometimes used their special access to seek advantage in the competition for contracts. In response to the articles, the Pentagon suspended the program and members of Congress asked the Defense Department’s inspector general to investigate.

In January 2009, the inspector general’s office issued a report that said it had found no wrongdoing in the program. But soon after, the inspector general’s office retracted the entire report, saying it was so riddled with inaccuracies and flaws that none of its conclusions could be relied upon. In late 2009, the inspector general’s office began a new inquiry.

The Big Lie

So this is how the Big Lie works.

You begin with a hypothesis that has a certain surface plausibility. You find an ally whose background suggests that he’s an “expert”; out of thin air, he devises “data.” You write articles in sympathetic publications, repeating the data endlessly; in time, some of these publications make your cause their own. Like-minded congressmen pick up your mantra and invite you to testify at hearings.

You’re chosen for an investigative panel related to your topic. When other panel members, after inspecting your evidence, reject your thesis, you claim that they did so for ideological reasons. This, too, is repeated by your allies. Soon, the echo chamber you created drowns out dissenting views; even presidential candidates begin repeating the Big Lie.

Thus has Peter Wallison, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a former member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, almost single-handedly created the myth that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the financial crisis. His partner in crime is another A.E.I. scholar, Edward Pinto, who a very long time ago was Fannie’s chief credit officer. Pinto claims that as of June 2008, 27 million “risky” mortgages had been issued — “and a lion’s share was on Fannie and Freddie’s books,” as Wallison wrote recently. Never mind that his definition of “risky” is so all-encompassing that it includes mortgages with extremely low default rates as well as those with default rates nearing 30 percent. These latter mortgages were the ones created by the unholy alliance between subprime lenders and Wall Street. Pinto’s numbers are the Big Lie’s primary data point.

Your seasonal anti-social-media message: Have a V**y Ha**y Holiday!

O Sir, we quarrel in print...

I blame Twitter, one of the first examples of genuinely anti-social media online, for the recent decline in the already debased state of public discourse in Canada.

Leastways, Twitter certainly makes it easy to slam off a reproof valiant to treat the right-wing trolls who inhabit the back alleys of the Internet with the respect that they so profoundly deserve. And if their tender feelings are hurt? Well, so much the better! Or so it always f**ls at the time.

Back in the day, it seemed like it was only the pimply faced agents of the Tory Rage Machine who used the online comments sections of what's left of the daily press to threaten and abuse the many, many people to whose views they took violent exception. Inevitably, they hid behind a long list of pseudonyms, usually tinged with the fake patriotism of the Harper Cons. (By the way, if you're a Harper Con named Johnny Can**k who disagrees with my a**essment, you can just shut the h**k up!)

Their strategy is well understood, thanks in part to their own famous Craigslist ad: to "make up facts," and use "sarcasm and personal insults" to "score points" and "stir outrage."