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.]

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Tennessee Anti-Bullying Law Change Could Allow Students To Speak Out Against Gays For Religious Reasons: Report

Less than one month after a local gay teen took his own life after allegedly being tormented at his high school, a proposed change in a Tennessee law could protect students who engage in anti-gay bullying if they do so for religious reasons.

As local news channel WSMV is reporting, the proposed law change by state lawmakers would allow students to speak out against homosexuality without punishment if that's what their religious beliefs call for. The bill is reportedly a top priority for the conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee -- as the Chattanooga Times Free Press notes, the group's December newsletter says it hopes "to make sure [the law] protects the religious liberty and free speech rights of students who want to express their views on homosexuality."

Added conservative activist David Fowler, a former Republican state senator who is now Family Action Council president: "The purpose is to stop bullying, not create special classes of people who are more important than others."

Still, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community activists, as well as local student groups, have cited the recent case of Jacob Rogers, who took his own life in December after friends say he was subjected to anti-gay remarks at his high school, in arguments against the law change. Leaders of the LGBT advocacy group Tennessee Equality Project contend the legislation would allow students to hide their irrational biases behind an extreme religious belief, according to the Associated Press.

"This kind of legislation can send a message that it's ok to hate and we'll even give you religious sanction for it," Tennessee Equality Project official Chris Sanders tells WSMV. "What if one student calls another one a sinner, or a sodomite or says you're perverted or you're unnatural or you are going to hell? That's where it gets really dicey."

Meanwhile, Fowler reportedly blamed Rogers' death on the student's struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, as well as an eating disorder, according to Nashville Scene.

Take a look at some other recent anti-gay bullying cases and other events below:

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Needle Exchange Programs Lose Federal Funding: Local AIDS Programs Brace For Cuts

In a crushing blow to the healthcare community, President Obama is expected to sign new legislation that prohibits federal funding on needle exchange programs both domestically and abroad -- a federally funded program that he himself signed into effect in 2009.

The amendment is part of the 2012 government operations funding legislation and is widely seen as a step backward in the fight against HIV and AIDS, especially considering that injection drug use has accounted for about 36 percent of all infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The reinstatement of the ban is really a dark day in public health policy," said Vice President of Public Affairs for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation James Loduca to the Examiner.

According to the Examiner, the new ban will not have an immediate effect on San Francisco or the Peninsula, where programs are funded by county general grants. However, the ban could significantly derail future local efforts, as the Examiner reported:
But advocates say the move could hinder their agencies' ability to expand existing services by pulling away a funding safety net, deterring agencies that plan to fight the ban from pursuing other initiatives and derailing years of advancement in HIV/AIDS research and treatment. "People are gearing up for this fight, but there are a lot of other things we could be working on," said Laura Thomas, a deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance’s San Francisco office. "It’s so frustrating at this point in the epidemic." Money and manpower that will be spent trying to lift the ban again next year could be better spent supporting treatment programs and research, Thomas said.
Though needle exchange programs have seen significant success at curbing infection rates (according to the San Francisco Chronicle, a 1997 study found that HIV infection rates dropped by 5.8 percent in cities with needle exchange programs, and rose 5.9 percent in cities without them) it took AIDS activists 21 years to convince Congress to support federal funding.

With an unbelievably tight economy, healthcare cuts are to be expected. But one can only imagine the long-term costs of a nationwide increase in HIV and AIDS infections.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

New Hampshire Lawmakers Pass Law Allowing Parental Objections To Curriculum

The Tea Party dominated New Hampshire Legislature on Wednesday overrode the governor's veto to enact a new law allowing parents to object to any part of the school curriculum.

The state House voted 255-112 and Senate 17-5 to enact H.B. 542, which will allow parents to request an alternative school curriculum for any subject to which they register an objection. Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed the measure in July, saying the bill would harm education quality and give parents control over lesson plans.

"For example, under this bill, parents could object to a teacher's plan to: teach the history of France or the history of the civil or women's rights movements," Lynch wrote in his veto message. "Under this bill, a parent could find 'objectionable' how a teacher instructs on the basics of algebra. In each of those cases, the school district would have to develop an alternative educational plan for the student. Even though the law requires the parents to pay the cost of alternative, the school district will still have to bear the burden of helping develop and approve the alternative. Classrooms will be disrupted by students coming and going, and lacking shared knowledge."

Scott Brown Backs Obama Recess Appointment Of Consumer Finance Watchdog Richard Cordray

WASHINGTON -- Bucking his party's leadership, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) Wednesday expressed his support for President Obama's decision to name Richard Cordray head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a recess appointment that evaded a Republican blockade of the nomination.

Senate Republicans had vowed to stop Cordray's appointment until Obama agreed to water down the authority of the new watchdog agency. To stop him from using the constitutional option of a recess appointment while the Senate was adjourned, they've been holding "pro forma" sessions where no business is done, but the chamber is technically working.

GOP leaders bitterly accused the president of arrogance and overreach. But Brown, facing a tough election challenge from the architect of the CFPB, Elizabeth Warren, decided that their actions were the bigger problem.

"I support President Obama's appointment today of Richard Cordray to head the CFPB," Brown said in a statement. "I believe he is the right person to lead the agency and help protect consumers from fraud and scams."

The Iowa Caucus' Real Results: Hardly Anybody Voted, And Nobody Won Anything

So, with the Iowa caucuses in the books, our attention turns to the matter of who "won" last night. Technically, the "winner" is Mitt Romney, who eked out a plurality of the votes cast, by an eight-vote margin. But, as many are noting, Rick Santorum was perhaps the biggest "winner," relatively speaking, because his bare-bones, on-the-cheap retail operation came within a hair of besting the big-spending, Super-PAC enabled Romney. And of course, Ron Paul, who doubled up his 2008 total but only managed a third place finish, was nevertheless acting like a winner last night as well.

And yet, this was an election that was decided by a teensy fraction of the available humans in Iowa who could come around and cast a vote last night. This year's Iowa Caucus is being billed as one of the best ever -- a record turnout, in fact. But if last night was a record turnout, then the Iowa caucuses are some sort of "tallest hobbit" contest.

The numbers tell the story: of the 2,250,423 voters in the state (using the higher voting-eligible population), only 147,255 came out last night. And of those, only 122,255 voted in the Republican contest, for a turnout percentage of 5.4 percent. And if any of the hype about Democrats, Occupiers, Anarchists, interlopers, and stray ACORN activists (those that haven't been secreted off to Bagram Air Force Base for indefinite detention) -- all voting on the GOP side to gum up the works -- is true, it's possible that there was an even smaller percentage of sincere GOP voters.

What's Happening in the Persian Gulf Explained

The basics: Iran and the United States appear to be heading for a showdown in the Persian Gulf. Amid already-high tensions over Iran's advancing nuclear program, the US has imposed harsh new economic sanctions on the regime in Tehran. The sanctions have throttled Iran's economy, and the country has responded by threatening to shut down the Gulf to all shipping traffic. Iranian officials have also threatened military action against the United States and its allies in the region if they don't back off. Two US aircraft carriers are en route to the region.

How has the situation escalated? Over New Year's weekend, the Iranians announced that they'd made their first-ever nuclear fuel rods, a major step forward in building a nuclear bomb. Then they test-fired three anti-ship missiles in the Strait of Hormuz, a 34-mile-wide choke point in the Persian Gulf through which approximately 20 percent of the world's crude oil is transported. An Iranian admiral told state TV that the shots were a warning to America: "The control of the Strait of Hormuz is completely under our authority [too]," he said, warning that Iran would attack "any enemy" that endangered Iranian interests. In response, the US has sent two aircraft carriers steaming toward the Gulf to replace the USS John C. Stennis, which just ended its own Mideast deployment. "Iran advises, recommends and warns them [the US] not to move its carrier back to the previous area in the Gulf because Iran is not used to repeating its warnings and warns just once," a general told state media.

Newt Gingrich has finally reached his destiny: destroyer of the GOP.

In a bitter and spiteful concession speech last night in Iowa—Kanye West could do no worse—the former House speaker, who finished fourth, signaled a shift in his mission. He would no longer be running to obtain the Republican presidential nomination; he would be campaigning to obliterate Mitt Romney. He would be Sherman; the former Massachusetts governor would be Georgia.

If Gingrich does pursue this march—and there are two debates this weekend in New Hampshire in which Gingrich can be a suicide bomber—Gingrich will be reaching the peak of his 30-year career as a Republican demolition man. And now his target will be the candidate the GOP establishment believes possesses the best chance of unseating President Barack Obama.

Gingrich, as is widely known, entered the House in the late '70s, throwing bombs. He aimed them at both the stodgy leadership of the Republican House minority and at Democratic leaders, whom he routinely called "corrupt." For years, he hurled harsh and bombastic rhetoric, routinely comparing those with whom he disagreed to either Nazis or Nazi appeasers. It was often hard to keep track of his faux historical analogies. (For a partial list of his excesses, see this run-down.)

During his venom-laced rush to the top, Gingrich sought to institutionalize his hate politics. His political action committee, GOPAC, sent out a memo to Republican candidates counseling them to use particular words when describing Democrats, such as "decay," "betray," "traitors," "pathetic," and "corrupt."

Meet Rick Santorum, Big-Spending Bush Republican

Conventional wisdom holds that former Senator Rick Santorum, co-winner of the Iowa caucus, is indisputably conservative enough for the Republican base. “Santorum fits the mold of a tried-and-true conservative who has rarely compromised,” writes Aaron Blake of the Washington Post.

In fact, Santorum is a throwback to the Bush era: a big-spending, big-government conservative. He has had the good fortune to have lost re-election in 2006 and not been around to vote in favor of TARP, but time and again he voted for costly schemes that expanded the national debt. Many of the attacks that damaged Newt Gingrich could have been made against Santorum if he had been polling well enough to invite them.

Santorum voted for Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind and the Iraq War. This is no way to shrink the government or balance the budget, especially when you simultaneously propose to cut taxes and increase defense spending.

Santorum’s own nephew put it best in his endorsement of Ron Paul. “If you want another big-government politician who supports the status quo to run our country, you should vote for my uncle, Rick Santorum.... My uncle’s interventionist policies, both domestic and foreign, stem from his irrational fear of freedom not working,” wrote John Garver, a college student. “When Republicans were spending so much money under President Bush, my uncle was right there along with them as a senator. The reason we have so much debt is not only because of Democrats, but also because of big-spending Republicans like my Uncle Rick.”

Canada-Honduras Trade Deal On Track, Critics Decry Worsening Rights Situation

OTTAWA - A Canada-Honduras trade deal is coming under renewed fire following a spate of abuses by police in the Central American country, including the recent beatings of protesting teachers, the intimidation of journalists and the murder of two university students.

Trade Minister Ed Fast, who was not available for comment this week, highlighted the conclusion of trade talks with Honduras as one of the federal government's accomplishments in 2011. The prime minister lauded the deal during a trip to the struggling nation last August.

But human-rights abuses and soaring crime continues to plague the country.

Police used water cannons and tear gas on hundreds of teachers who protested missing paycheques in December. The same month, journalists protesting the deaths of 17 colleagues over the last two years were beaten with batons.

Journalists and university officials investigating the deaths of two students, allegedly at the hands of police officers, have reported being intimidated by other police officers.

Last Occupy Camp Holds On In St. John's

The final known Occupy camp in Canada remains open for business, as it were, in downtown St. John's, and the city has no plans to evict Occupy Newfoundland from its seaside perch.

"They're not bothering anybody," said St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe, who told CBC News city council is fine with the small group of demonstrators who have been camping out at a small city park since Oct. 16.

"They're not a danger to themselves. They're not a danger to the public. They are there because they want to express an opinion. But we do not have an issue with them at this point in time."

On Tuesday, city workers and police evicted Occupy Fredericton from a public square, leaving Occupy Newfoundland as the only public protest camp left standing in Canada.

A string of them were set up across the country after Occupy Wall Street ignited the imagination of activists who have been speaking out against corporate control, the super-wealthy and economic injustice, among other issues.

Occupy Newfoundland is set up at Harbourside Park, a scenic park that sits between Water Street and the nearby harbour. Because there is limited pedestrian traffic in the area, the Occupy camp does not interfere with daily life in the city.

New Internet pricing rules spark jump in customer bills

TekSavvy Solutions Inc. has become the first independent Internet service provider to raise consumer prices following the CRTC’s recent compromise decision on usage-based billing.

Warning customers that 2012 would be another challenging year for the industry, the Chatham, Ont.-based company announced Wednesday that rates for most of its existing residential Internet service products would increase by between $3 and $4 on Feb. 2.

In announcing the price hike, TekSavvy’s top executive laid the blame squarely on the telecom regulator, arguing that aspects of Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s new wholesale pricing model are “deeply flawed” and bound to create even higher costs for consumers over the long term. He said the company will monitor its customers’ usage patterns for about six months to determine whether its new rates are “appropriate,” leaving the door open to even higher prices down the road.

“At this point we are increasing our prices as little as possible and providing innovative alternatives to help you mitigate those increases,” wrote chief executive officer Marc Gaudrault in a letter to customers.

Tories mum on lockout at plant Harper used to tout corporate tax cuts

The Conservative government is washing its hands of a nasty labour lockout at a locomotive plant in London, Ont., that was once used by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a backdrop to tout business tax breaks.

Electro-Motive Canada locked out 420 workers on Jan. 1 after making a take-it-or-leave-it offer that the union says included a 55 per cent wage cut and other concessions.

Electro-Motive is owned by heavy equipment giant Caterpillar Inc. through its Progress Rail subsidiary.

“This is a dispute between a private company and the union and we don't comment on the actions of private companies,” Harper spokesman Carl Vallée responded Wednesday in an email.

The Prime Minister showed no such reticence on Mar. 19, 2008 when he visited the Electro-Motive plant to showcase a $5-million federal tax break for buyers of the diesel locomotive-maker's wares and a wider $1-billion tax break on industrial capital investment.

“The Prime Minister's [2008] announcement related to the government's tax policies for all companies,” Mr. Vallée said in the email. “A low tax environment is the best way to ensure job creators come to Canada and stay in Canada, as proven by the nearly 600,000 jobs created in Canada since July 2009.”

Triple Toronto Parking Fines, Committee Says

Toronto councillors on the public works committee have recommended that the fines be tripled for motorists who park illegally during rush hours.

The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee voted Wednesday morning in favour of the move, which would see fines that range from between $40 and $60 raised to $150. That would be the highest rush-hour fine in the country.

Rush hour is considered to be between 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The $150 fine, which must be approved by council, would also apply to motorists who park in bike lanes.

"We need people to take notice and say, 'You know what, this is a serious thing,' " Coun. Mike Layton said.

Canada CEO Compensation: Companies Hesitant To Debate Executive Pay

In the wake of a new study detailing soaring CEO compensation, the corporations whose executives pocketed the highest annual earnings appear reluctant to discuss a trend that critics say has gotten out of hand.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) reported on Monday that the incomes of the 100 highest-earning CEOs on the TSX Index increased by 27 per cent in 2010 despite stagnant wages for average Canadians.

But it’s an issue that those doling out CEO compensation aren’t keen to broach at a time when some Canadian politicians are beginning to make noise about reining in executive pay.

Of the companies whose executives ranked among the CCPA’s Top 10, Scotiabank and Royal Bank of Canada were alone in responding to The Huffington Post’s request for comment.

In the case of Niko Resources, Ltd., whose CEO Edward Sampson pocketed $16.4 million in 2010, putting him in fourth place, an operator at the head offices explained that the company only entertains media requests from The Calgary Herald.

This resistance is no surprise to Mike Mulvey, an associate marketing professor at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, who says that companies are well aware of growing public resentment around ballooning executive compensation.

U.S.-Iran Tensions: Mideast Showdown Builds As United States Tightens Military Ties To Israel

WASHINGTON -- Storm clouds darkening over the Middle East suggest a growing peril for the United States and the possibility of a new war that could embroil the U.S., Israel, Iran and others in a bloody, costly fight.

Behind this week's exchange of threats between Iran and the United States over access to the Persian Gulf, seasoned analysts see a perfect storm of factors that could trigger armed conflict.

Iran's work on nuclear weapons is fast approaching a "red line," the crossing of which both the United States and Israel say is unacceptable and may have to be halted by force. Washington and European capitals are preparing new sanctions that would sever Iran from the international banking system, a move that would cripple its economy and that Tehran has said it would consider a provocation to war. Growing violence in Syria threatens to spill over its borders with Israel, Lebanon and Turkey, a NATO ally.

Amid the saber-rattling rhetoric from Washington and Tehran, and Arab world upheaval from Egypt to Iraq to Yemen, the United States is planning an unprecedented escalation of military cooperation with Israel, including massive joint exercises this spring to practice joint command and maneuver of ground forces in combat.

And political campaigns, including a struggle between bitterly opposed factions in Iran's March parliamentary elections and the U.S. presidential contest culminating in the fall, are likely to keep all these tensions at a boil.

'Citizens United' Backlash: Montana Supreme Court Upholds State's Corporate Campaign Spending Ban

WASHINGTON -- The Montana Supreme Court has put itself on a collision course with the U.S. Supreme Court by upholding a century-old state law that bans corporate spending in state and local political campaigns.

The law, which was passed by Montana voters in 1912 to combat Gilded Age corporate control over much of Montana's government, states that a "corporation may not make ... an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party." In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, struck down a similar federal statute, holding that independent electoral spending by corporations "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption" that such laws were enacted to combat.

That reasoning -- described by the Citizens United dissenters as a "crabbed view of corruption" -- compelled 23 of the 24 states with independent spending bans to stop enforcing their restrictions, according to Edwin Bender, executive director of the Helena, Mont.-based National Institute on Money in State Politics. Montana, however, stood by its 1912 law, which led several corporations to challenge it as unconstitutional.

Obama NLRB Recess Appointments Thrill Labor, Infuriate Business

WASHINGTON -- Doubling down on President Barack Obama's bold recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the White House announced Wednesday that Obama would also use his recess powers to fill three vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency charged with enforcing labor law.

The move is sure to further infuriate Republicans, many of whom feuded all last year with an NLRB they view as overly union-friendly and anti-business.

The labor board lost its quorum yesterday as the term of board member Craig Becker came to an end -- essentially crippling the agency, no doubt to the pleasure of many conservatives. Although the recess appointments will probably be challenged legally by business groups, the move could allow the board to continue operating without disruption. According to the White House, Obama plans to appoint union lawyer Richard Griffin, current Labor Department official Sharon Block, and NLRB counsel Terence Flynn.

Labor groups who had applauded the NLRB for many of its recent decisions quickly hailed Obama for the appointments. In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka commended Obama for "exercising his constitutional authority to ensure that crucially important agencies protecting workers and consumers are not shut down by Republican obstructionism."

The Harperization of the Republican presidential field

In Iowa, the sideshow carneys had a bad night. This continues a robust losing streak for candidates who seemed to believe that a mavericky attitude could substitute for book larnin’ and legislative experience in their quest for the presidency. Herman Cain and Sarah Palin didn’t even make it this far; Michele Bachmann is now toast; Rick Perry will not be in it much longer.

The survivors are a former moderate Massachussetts governor; a former two-term Senator and two-term Representative who actually did some legislating while he was in the legislative branch; a 20-year Representative and former House Speaker who’s written or co-written 23 books, some memorable; and Ron Paul, who’s an eccentric or worse but who got his MD at Duke University and who captures votes in chronically under-served corners of American conservatism, like foreign-policy isolationism.

I make no great claims for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Paul. It’s a very conservative field, well to the right of the party’s 1996, 2000 and 2008 nominees. But my point is, they’re not blithering idiots, and yet in recent months they spent a lot of time trailing candidates who were. The Iowa caucus-goers, pursuing a rickety and outmoded process in the dead of winter in the middle of nowhere, have served up to Republican strategists a handy reminder that voters care about competence, can spot its absence, and punish its lack.

For-Profit College Students Face Higher Debt, More Unemployment, Report Finds

Students attending for-profit colleges wind up with much higher student-loan debts, are less likely to be employed after graduation and generally earn less than similar students at public or private nonprofit schools, according to a recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The study, conducted by a group of Harvard researchers, examines a bevy of federal data tracking student graduation rates, federal loan repayment rates and student success in securing jobs. The researchers ask one central question: Are for-profit colleges "nimble critters" responding to higher demand for college degrees, or "agile predators" that target low-income students with the intent of reaping profits through federal student aid dollars?

For-profit colleges have been conspicuous beneficiaries of the Great Recession, with tens of thousands of unemployed Americans seeking college education just as government funding for public higher education has contracted. But the last two years have brought unprecedented scrutiny to the industry, amid evidence of controversial recruiting tactics and disproportionate levels of federal student loan defaults.

The team of Harvard professors sheds new light on the differing fates of students who attend for-profit colleges and those who attend traditional institutions by directly comparing students of similar socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds.

MF Global Unloaded Hundreds Of Millions In Securities On Goldman Before Collapse: Sources

(Lauren Tara LaCapra and Matthew Goldstein) - MF Global unloaded hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of securities to Goldman Sachs in the days leading up to its collapse, according to two former MF Global employees with direct knowledge of the transactions. But it did not immediately receive payment from its clearing firm and lender, JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), one of the sources said.

The sale of securities to Goldman occurred on October 27, just days before MF Global Holdings Ltd (MFGLQ.PK) filed for bankruptcy on October 31, the ex-employees said. One of the employees said the transaction was cleared with JPMorgan Chase.

At the same time MF Global, which was run by former Goldman Sachs head Jon Corzine, was selling securities to Goldman to raise badly needed cash, the futures firm was also drawing down a $1.2 billion revolving line of credit it had with JPMorgan, according to one of the former MF Global employees.

JPMorgan spokeswoman Mary Sedarat said the bank did not withold money because of the line of credit. She declined further comment on details of the transactions.

Occupy Wall Street: After Iowa Caucus, Questions About Movement's Force

DES MOINES, Iowa -- With several attention-grabbing protests before Iowa's caucuses, Occupy Wall Street activists proved their movement did not end when its encampments in big cities dispersed. But they also showed the group hasn't matured into a political force, and it's not clear whether it will become a liberal counterweight to the tea party this election year.

Following Tuesday's vote in Iowa, on which the movement had little impact, Occupy organizers are pledging to stage more protests in New Hampshire and South Carolina as the presidential nomination process moves east. But the smaller-than-expected crowds, a muddled message that was mostly ignored by candidates, and tactics that seem to limit their appeal raised questions about its long-term viability.

"This is a sign that the way they have been trying to do it probably isn't going to work," said Dave Petersen, director of the Harkin Institute of Public Policy at Iowa State University, who said Occupy's only discernible impact was tighter-than-usual security at Republican events. He said the group needed to develop leaders and a more coherent message if it wanted to make the transition from a grassroots movement to an electoral powerhouse.

Occupy protesters credited their Iowa counterparts with keeping the movement going even as they questioned tactics such as heckling candidates and blocking campaign offices.

"Every place politicians go from here they are going to hear the same message about the corrosive impact of money in politics," said Mark Provost, an organizer with Occupy New Hampshire, which is planning four days of events beginning Friday.

Punitive measures are only weapon left to foil nuclear Iran

If it were possible for the United States or Israel to successfully prosecute a surgical, limited war on Iran to cripple or significantly delay its nuclear weapons program, that war would already be under way.

The fact that war has not yet broken out - despite renewed sabre-rattling in the Persian Gulf - suggests that the key agents in this new cold war have concluded that none of their interests would be served by the conflict going hot now. Regardless of the outcome, they know there would be no winners.

This is not to say there is not a risk, this year, of the wider regional Middle Eastern conflagration many feared immediately after 9/11, with Iran the crux. But it may just be that resolve in the White House, in Tel Aviv, in Paris and London (with support from Ottawa) and simple self-interest in Tehran, will coalesce to forge, if not peace, then at least an absence of mutually disastrous mass violence.

Here is what Western public opinion often fails to grasp about Iran's nuclear program: It has massive popular support.

Iran was the seat of the Persian Empire. It is a geographically large nation of 80 million people, rich in natural wealth, at the epicentre of the world's most strategically vital region. As the standard-bearer for Shia Islam, it has many natural enemies, of which Israel and the United States are only two. Saudi Arabia, and Sunni-led regimes generally, are believed to be quietly pushing the U.S. to attack Iran sooner rather than later.

Beyond BPA: We need to get tough on toxics

Did you breathe a sigh of relief when Canada became the first jurisdiction in the world to declare bisphenol A (commonly known as BPA) toxic in 2010? Or when it banned the chemical in baby bottles, prompting many manufacturers to remove it from their products?

If only that were the full story. The truth is that federal regulation of toxic substances in this country needs a serious overhaul, and new research underlines how critical that is.

We inhale, ingest and absorb a litany of synthetic chemicals into our bodies every day, and improving scientific detection methods are making our toxic “body burdens” increasingly obvious.

Environmental health experts believe the rising incidence of many cancers, developmental syndromes, reproductive disorders and autoimmune diseases can be tied to our exposures to chemicals. An emerging body of research demonstrates that even low levels of exposure to certain chemicals, at certain key times, can have dramatic effects.

In 2006, the Harper government introduced the Chemicals Management Plan, saying it was going to get “tough on toxics.” But recent research finds that, even though it added BPA to the list of toxic substances, the chemical’s still turning up in foods that Canadians commonly consume. Even though we know it leaches into foods such as tomato soup, it continues to be used as an additive in the linings of tin cans.

MLA finds making ends meet on welfare rate 'eye-opening'

Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jag-rup Brar has spent the last three days trying to find a place to crash, scoring free food and listening to other homeless people who are doing the same.

"It's been a very powerful, eye-opening, humbling experience," said Brar, who is now into day four of his one-month experiment of living on the monthly welfare rate of $610.

The NDP representative spent Sunday night at the Surrey Urban Mission shelter. The shelter closed Monday so Brar shifted to a house where seven other people, mostly welfare recipients, were splitting the rent.

"It's pretty hard to find a stand-alone unit for yourself on just $375, which is the shelter portion of the welfare money. So you have to share accommodation with other people."

Brar said he's heard some tragic stories in the shelters and crash pads. "I was talking to a guy named Rick who was from Winnipeg but moved here years ago when his wife and two children were killed in a car accident.

Does WiFi pose health risks?

Radiation can give life and take it away. Sunlight, therapy to kill malignant tumors, powerful x-rays, and radio waves are all forms of radiation. Lately, much has been made of the health risks related to another source of invisible waves: WiFi.

In recent years, politicians and leaders in the health field have tried to do something about the perceived threat of exposure to radio-frequency (RF) electromagnetic fields, on which WiFi, cell phone networks, radio signals, microwave ovens, and cordless home phones depend. Public fears about RF fields may have hit a fever pitch when, last summer, the World Health Organization designated them as a “possibly carcinogenic” agent—alongside others like coffee—for which evidence of harm is uncertain. Since then, we’ve heard our nation’s doctors raise concerns about the health risks related to cell phones; politicians, such as Elizabeth May, warn publicly about the potential harms posed by WiFi; and frightened parents say they’d move their children away from the invisible threat, as schools impose bans on wireless internet.

But what do we actually know about the health effects of RF exposure—and, in particular, the health risks related to WiFi?

Different technologies give off different amounts of radiation, explained Dr. Patrizia Frei (PhD), a research fellow at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, who has conducted reviews on the health effects of RF exposure. “While mobile phones cause mostly localized exposure to the head,” she said, “WiFi usually causes far-field whole-body exposures which are usually much lower.” According to the UK’s Health Protection Agency, “the signals are very low power, typically 0.1 watt (100 milliwatts) in both the computer and the router (access point), and the results so far show exposures are well within the internationally-accepted guidelines from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.”

Generous perks given to Ontario hospital executives, contracts reveal

Hospital executives in the GTA are receiving thousands of dollars in car allowances, up to six weeks’ paid vacation, free parking at hospital lots and other such perks on top of their annual salaries.

The contracts detailing Ontario hospital executives’ employment agreements, including retirement packages and vacation benefits, were released for the first time Tuesday.

Some of the high-powered health executives in the GTA also get generous severance packages worth more than $1 million, a $75,000 travel allowance for a luxury car lease, and annual $100,000 pension top-ups. In the GTA, seven hospital chief executive officers take home more than $500,000 a year in compensation.

Ontario hospitals became subject to provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act on Jan. 1. Although public servants who earn more than $100,000 a year already have their annual salaries posted on the so-called “sunshine list,” many details listed in hospital executives’ contracts have, until now, not been made public.

Ideology can lead to irrationality

Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a bid to close Insite was a waste of taxpayers' money in tight times

The Harper government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in its unsuccessful legal battle against Vancouver's supervised injection site, according to newly released documents.

Between 2006 and 2011, the Conservatives spent $637,158 in a bid to shut down the Downtown Eastside clinic - funds that represented nearly 25 per cent of Insite's annual $3-million operating budget.

The clinic, opened in 2003, has long been a burr on the backside of a federal government that has fiercely resisted embracing the harm-reduction philosophy of the clinic.

The federal legal bill comes courtesy of a Justice Department reply to an access-toinformation request, submitted in October by The Vancouver Sun.

The Sun's query followed a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court in favour of keeping the clinic open. In their unanimous decision, the judges ruled that not allowing the clinic to operate under an exemption from drug laws would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Harper's latest lunge at domination

Prime Minister Stephen Harper treats Parliament like his kitchen tap. He turns it on and off at will.

In December 2008, facing certain defeat in the House of Commons, he simply prorogued it, setting a constitutional precedent that flipped Canadian parliamentary democracy on its head, making the prime minister Parliament's master rather than merely "first among equals."

Now that Harper has succeeded in capturing his "strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government," the damage wreaked by former Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean's fateful prorogation decision that cold December afternoon three years ago widens every day Parliament sits.

Nowhere is the depradation worse than to the rights of individual MPs, especially opposition MPs. But even Harper's backbenchers -- and some of his less-seasoned cabinet ministers -- are often treated like wayward schoolchildren required to read scripted questions and equally-scripted answers to guarantee they never veer off-message and embarrass the government, or worse still, the prime minister.

After less than half a year of that "strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government," the list of its abuses of power keeps growing.

There are now some 1,500 "communicators" working in federal government offices. The PMO-PCO -- "The Centre" -- alone has 87.

Sikorsky hasn’t paid $8M fine for late helicopter delivery

U.S. aerospace giant Sikorsky still has yet to pay the $8 million in penalties the Conservative government levied against it for failing to deliver on the Canadian Forces maritime helicopter program, now already more than three years behind schedule.

In the meantime, the Defence Department isn’t saying when it expects to receive the first of the new helicopters to replace its aging Sea Kings.

The original plan called for the first Sikorsky Cyclone helicopter to be delivered in November 2008 with deliveries of all 28 helicopters completed by early 2011.

But Sikorsky has yet to deliver a single aircraft to Canada under the $5.7 billion program.

According to government documents the U.S. firm could have faced anywhere from $36 million to $89 million in penalties for failing to meet various project deadlines and in January 2008 Defence Minister Peter MacKay said such fees would kick in if Sikorsky didn’t deliver.

But the Conservative government eventually waived those and instead a new deal was negotiated to allow Sikorsky to deliver an “interim” or incomplete helicopter. Sikorsky, however, missed the new deadline for that delivery as well and in the spring of 2011 the government hit it with an $8 million penalty – the maximum the company could face for failing to provide an interim aircraft.

That fine has yet to be paid.

Trade mission contacts helped Tobin keep Bloom Lake afloat

Brian Tobin’s political Rolodex helped him save a mining company and made him rich in the process.

The former premier and federal minister finalized the sale of Consolidated Thompson Iron Mines for $4.9 billion to Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. of Cleveland in May, the biggest completed acquisition in the metals industry in the first three quarters of 2011, according to analysts.

Tobin, who was president, CEO and board chairman when the company was sold, made tens of millions through the sale of his shares in the company, the biggest deal by far during his eight years in business.

The success dates back to his sharp use of political contacts during Consolidated Thompson’s darkest days in early 2009.

The meltdown of global markets the previous fall decimated the company’s stock and the up-start iron ore producer looked headed for a cliff.

When Religion Trumps Free Inquiry

Benetton's recent "unhate" campaign shows that hell hath no fury like a holy figurehead scorned.

The photos could likely pass as authentic if they weren’t so shocking. The affection looks genuine; lip-locked passion in all its glory. The images that Benetton, an Italian fashion giant, used in its latest international advertising campaign are clearly doctored, but the controversy they stirred is certainly real.

Images from the company’s “Unhate” campaign spread in November, attracting the attention of media outlets worldwide. They were all there – Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas – each in a distinct, but equally amorous, embrace. But the most controversial image, or at least the one that garnered the most backlash, was the one depicting Pope Benedict XVI mashing lips with prominent Egyptian Imam Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb (the Imam looked to be the better kisser). Known for its intolerance of homosexuality and “defamation,” the Vatican retaliated almost immediately, declaring the image an “entirely unacceptable use of a manipulated image of the Holy Father, used as part of a publicity campaign which has commercial ends.”

We have a hard time believing that the reaction would have been different if the image were published for non-commercial purposes, but Benetton’s ends are irrelevant. So is the fact that the Vatican may have reacted out of an age-old squeamishness (read: hatred) toward homosexuality. Intolerance is traditional papal doctrine in a nutshell, and homosexuality is Exhibit A – alongside the Vatican’s positions on abortion and contraception, its stubborn history of anti-Semitism, and its seemingly incurable phobia of the freedom of inquiry. More concerning than the papal peevishness with which we have all become accustomed is how the “secular” world reacts, and has traditionally reacted, to it. Benetton quickly withdrew the image in question from its campaign and issued a profuse apology to the Catholic community after the Vatican released a statement condemning the ad as damaging “to the feelings of believers.”

Canadian Public Diplomacy, Then and Now

Once a pioneer of public diplomacy, Canada's reputation has quickly fallen by the wayside.

I have recently been reviewing Diplomacy in the Digital Age, a collection of essays prepared in honour of Allan Gotlieb, a former Undersecretary of State for External Affairs and Canada’s ambassador in Washington from 1981-89. It is an absorbing anthology, and contains valuable entries, penned, in some instances, by those who worked with Gotlieb during his time in the U.S. Quite apart from eliciting specific reactions to the content of the volume, reading it has also spurred me to reflect on the larger issue of what became of Canada’s once considerable contribution to the study and practice of public diplomacy (PD).

The Government of Canada was, until fairly recently, regarded as somewhat of a PD pioneer. That reputation would now be difficult to sustain. Indeed, I have come to the rather stark realization that, whatever this country may at one time have achieved by way of advancing its interests through PD, those days are now long gone.

In official and political circles in Ottawa today, little or nothing is heard of PD. The practice, and even the use of the term, has been discouraged within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), and the function has been almost completely de-resourced.

Occupy Wall Street's Livestream Operators Arrested

Occupy Wall Street is in the middle of one of its day-long marches in New York Tuesday, protesting the National Defense Authorization Act, but for those following along on the Global Revolution livestream, the real action is happening in the broadcast studio itself. That's because police have apparently just raided the Brooklyn studio of and taken some of the project's key volunteers into custody.

The raid Tuesday follows a notice to vacate that police delivered to the Bushwick studio on Monday night. Victoria Sobel, a Global Revolution volunteer, said Vlad Teichberg and a guy named Spike, both of whom maintain the live feed aggregator, had been taken into custody by police, along with four or five others.

In Manhattan, about 100 Occupy protesters (according to Animal New York's Twitter) marched to the offices of New York senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, where they told stories and made impassioned cases for the wrongness of the NDAA. They plan a final rally at Grand Central station at 5 p.m., which should make for some fun interactions with hurried commuters. Lots of people were watching the proceedings on live feeds operated by, but now that site has stopped broadcasting the New York protest and is showing footage of Occupy Maui.

Four Star Generals Demand That Obama Veto/Repeal Anti-Constitutional NDAA Rule aka; The Banker’s Indefinite Detention of Americans.

Two four star Marine generals have written a stunning op-ed in the New York Times which demands that President Obama veto the National Defense Authorization Act, a bill that allows the government to use the military to indefinitely detain American citizens without due process.

Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar, both 4 star Marine generals, published the piece on December 12. The op-ed starts with a direct demand that President Obama veto the NDAA bill in order to protect our country from the “false choice between our safety and ideals.”

It then gets into one of the most blatant anti American treasonous provisions in the history of the United States.

One provision would authorize the military to indefinitely detain without charge people suspected of involvement with terrorism, including United States citizens apprehended on American soil. Due process would be a thing of the past.

Some claim that this provision would merely codify existing practice. Current law empowers the military to detain people caught on the battlefield, but this provision would expand the battlefield to include the United States — and hand Osama bin Laden an unearned victory long after his well-earned demise.

The generals then go on to cite the fact that most in the military have not even asked for this extreme new power.

Original Article
Source: Political Velcraft 

Iowa Contenders Silent On Foreclosure-Crisis Reckoning Sought By Iowa AG

Republican candidates vying for the support of Iowa caucus-goers on Tuesday evening apparently have nothing to say about the big, bipartisan foreclosure fraud settlement sought by the Hawkeye State's top law enforcement official.

For the past year, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has led a coalition of state AGs in search of a reckoning with the nation's biggest banks over homeowner abuse and rogue foreclosures. The settlement -- which could provide as much as $25 billion of relief for mistreated current and former homeowners -- is currently the biggest thing happening in the housing-policy world. The deal, which could be inked as soon as this month, has the support of most state attorneys general; a small handful of Democratic attorneys general have left the negotiations, complaining the deal is too soft on the banks.

Yet even though the top cop negotiating the settlement is headquartered in the state where Republican candidates are frantically campaigning, none of them, apparently, has uttered a word about the settlement.

HuffPost reporters who have been covering campaigns in Iowa for the past week haven't heard a peep about foreclosures. A news database search for the terms "Iowa" and "caucuses" and "foreclosures" turns up no comments from the candidates or their surrogates on the topic. Google news searches for terms like "Tom Miller" or "foreclosure settlement" and "Iowa caucuses" yield no results.

Bank Of America Small-Business Lending Under Fire

In an economy where every bit of capital can help or hurt a small business, is Bank of America cutting credit lines to some small businesses?

That question emerged on Tuesday after a Los Angeles Times report cited at least two small-business owners who claim that Bank of America is now forcing them to pay their balances in full versus on a monthly basis -- a move that could wipe them out.

"I was like, 'Dude, you're calling a guy who's barely surviving!'" Babak Zahabizadeh of Burbank, Calif.-based Messengers & Distribution told the Times, claiming he received a letter from Bank of America that stated his $96,000 debt must be repaid later this month. "My final word was that I can double my payment -- but not triple or quadruple it. I told them if they apply too much pressure they're going to push me into bankruptcy."

In an interview with The Huffington Post, however, Bank of America spokesperson Jefferson George disputed that portrayal and said that the struggling bank's recent moves are not designed to raise capital. "What we've done is not cut or close credit lines for small-business clients across the board, but rather we've addressed this specific portfolio with a very, very, very small percentage of customers, and just put into place standard practices such as a maturity date and an annual renewal process," Jefferson said.

Library Sends Cops To 5-Year-Old's House For Overdue Books

A five-year-old girl from Charlton, Mass. burst into tears after a local library sent Police Sergeant Dan Dowd to her house to retrieve the child's two overdue library books, CBS Boston reported.

"I thought it was way overboard," the girl's mother, Shannon Benoit, said. "I closed my door, I looked at my daughter and she started crying." According to the report, Shannon's daughter thought Dowd was going to arrest her.

Sergeant Dowd told the station that, although long-overdue books are a misdemeanor, he didn't want to go to the girl's house.

"Nobody wanted to, on this end to get involved in it," Sgt. Dowd told CBS Boston. "But the library contacted us, and the chief delegated, and apparently I was one of the low men on the totem pole."

The Benoit's books had been overdue for "several months," but were quickly found and returned at the police officer's request.

It turns out the little girl's fears of being arrested weren't completely unfounded.

Back in September, Christopher Anspach was sentenced to 10 days in jail for failing to return his overdue library books after several months and multiple overdue notices.

"After several attempts had been made to contact Anspach by phone and certified mail with no luck, Newton Library contacted the Newton City Attorney and Newton Police Dept," a complaint obtained by The Smoking Gun stated.

In a more extreme case of book borrowing delinquency, an Australian library exercised leniency after a first-edition copy of Charles Darwin's "Insectivorous Plants" was returned 122 years late.

Camden Council Library Services Manager Kathryn Baget-Juleff estimated the overdue fee would be around $37,000 today, after accounting for inflation.

UPDATE:10:22am -- An article published today by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette clarifies that it wasn't 5-year-old Hailey's children's books that warranted the police visit, but a $100 audio book that her father had borrowed, and that had been overdue since April. According to the article, 13 other families in the area were also visited by police, who collectively had in their possession a total of $2,634 in overdue library materials.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Mike Klink, Keystone 'Whistleblower,' Alleges Shoddy Materials Along Original Pipeline

WASHINGTON - A former inspector for a company that did work on TransCanada's original Keystone pipeline is accusing the Calgary-based company of a cavalier disregard for the environment.

Mike Klink was an engineer for construction company Bechtel Corp., a contractor that worked on the first portion of the Keystone pipeline that carries Alberta oilsands crude to refineries in the American Midwest. It was completed in 2010; the controversial Keystone XL would extend that pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries.

In an opinion piece published over the weekend in Nebraska's Lincoln Journal Star, the 59-year-old Klink says he raised a series of concerns about alleged sub-standard materials and poor craftsmanship along the Keystone pipeline.

The Indiana man says he was fired by Bechtel as a result, and filed a complaint about his dismissal with the U.S. Department of Labor in March 2010. In his formal complaint, also sent to the U.S. Office of Whistleblower Protection Program, Klink says the company began treating him as a "problem inspector" culminating in one supervisor angrily ordering him to quit before he got fired.

"Let's be clear — I am an engineer; I am not telling you we shouldn't build pipelines," he wrote in the Nebraska newspaper.

"We just should not build this one."

His job as an inspector, Klink said, involved monitoring the construction of pump stations along the first Keystone pipeline.

Ontario hospital CEO contracts show car, golf perks

Ontario residents are getting a first look at the contracts of hospital CEOs, revealing a wide range of benefits and retirement packages that include offers of luxury car leases, golf club memberships and even free plastic surgery.

Hospital websites posted the contracts for some of the top earners in charge of the province's 150 hospitals on Tuesday, as part of a new Freedom of Information disclosure that came into effect on New Year's Day.

Tom Closson, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, said the decision was made to release the contracts online by Tuesday "rather than waiting for requests to come in one at a time or hospital by hospital."

While the salaries of hospital executives who earn more than $100,000 annually have been disclosed since 1996 via Ontario's so-called "sunshine list," it wasn't until now that their full contract details have been made readily available.

Why you can’t find heritage poultry

Two chicken inspectors showed up at a farm in Southern Ontario not long ago. They flashed badges and inspected the premises and, sure enough, they found what they were looking for: chickens. About 100 of them, wandering across open pastures, pecking at bugs, worms and blades of grass.

The inspectors quickly put a stop to all that. They told the farmer to get rid of his chickens or face the consequences. Then they visited other nearby farms, issuing threats of fines (up to $10,000 a day), and leaving more than one Amish farm wife in tears.

These were not police, RCMP or public-health officials. They were employees of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario, the body that represents Ontario’s roughly 1,000 chicken farmers, and they have the legal right to “inspect the books, records, documents, lands and premises and any chickens of persons engaged in producing or marketing chickens.” In other words, they can carry out chicken busts. And on this particular bust, their suspicions were confirmed: Delicious pastured chickens were being sold without quota.

Quota is a legal requirement for marketing chickens, turkey, eggs or cow milk in Canada. Without it, the simple bucolic act of selling a block of farmstead cheese or several dozen eggs at a farmers’ market is against the law. It’s been this way for almost half a century. If you want access to the market, you have to pay for it. And access isn’t cheap.

Flaherty’s corporate-tax plan hits stumbling block in Ontario

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s long-term goal of marketing Canada as a 25-per-cent corporate tax zone appears to be slipping away just as he approaches the finish line.

As recently as his November economic update, Mr. Flaherty was celebrating the fact that his target would soon be in reach. But now growing musings from debt-saddled Ontario suggest the key province may not follow through on its end of the deal.

Ottawa moved on Sunday to implement the final step in its five-year plan to reduce corporate taxes, bringing the federal rate down to 15 per cent. The plan was one of the Conservative government’s most controversial moves during its time as a minority government, and remained a central point of division with the opposition during the 2011 federal election that returned the Tories with a majority.

That cleared the path for Mr. Flaherty to finalize the tax plan first announced in 2007, when the federal corporate tax rate stood at 22.1 per cent.

At the time, he urged provinces and territories to reduce their rates as well so that Canada could brand itself abroad as a 25-per-cent tax rate zone in an effort to lure foreign investment and encourage multinational firms to file their taxes here.

Goar: Parliament fails native women

Three days before the House of Commons rose for its Christmas recess, a parliamentary committee quietly tabled a shocking report.

It was called Ending Violence Against Aboriginal Women and Girls. But it wasn’t a plan of action. It wasn’t even a commitment to do better. It was a self-congratulatory compendium of existing programs.

Only one MP, 22-year-old New Democrat Mylène Freeman, cared enough to speak out. “This report does not really broach the subject of violence,” she said. “It offers no recommendations whatsoever and does not acknowledge the humanitarian crisis facing aboriginal women.”

The rookie parliamentarian spoke more in sadness than in anger.

It was left to Amnesty International to supply the outrage. The human rights group has been fighting to protect Canada’s indigenous women — who are victims of violent crime four times as often as non-aboriginal women — since 2004. “This represents a troubling and regrettable step backward,” said Alex Neve, secretary-general of the human rights organization.

City and unions appear headed for a lockout

If a strike or lockout of more than 30,000 city workers is inevitable, the Rob Ford administration wants it to start soon, in the winter, says Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday.

“From the city’s standpoint, a labour disruption is easier to deal with in the winter than the summer,” Holyday said in an interview Tuesday, two days after four city contracts, governing about 32,500 workers, expired.

“There is inconvenience (to residents) regardless, but it’s less in the wintertime. But it’s not our intention to have a strike or a lockout. We want a reasonable settlement for taxpayers and for workers.”

Those sobering words from the chair of the city’s employee and labour relations committee come as many at city hall are predicting the apparent collision course between Mayor Ford and staff over job security and other issues will trigger a labour disruption, most likely a lockout, as early as February.

Holyday said letting CUPE Local 416 (outside workers), Local 79 (inside workers) and Local 2998 (community centre workers) drag out talks until a summer disruption would mean mounds of smelly garbage for residents, closing outdoor swimming pools and revenue-generating golf courses, and a blight on tourist season.

Canada's Unions In 2012: CAW Head Ken Lewenza Bracing For Tough Year

OTTAWA - Lockouts at two major industrial plants in central Canada — an Alcan smelter in Quebec and a locomotive plant in London, Ont. — may signal a tough year ahead in Canadian labour relations.

Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza said the lockouts suggest 2012 will be a difficult year for organized labour as his union prepares for the next round of negotiations with the major North American automakers and governments across the country look to cut spending.

"We are anticipating some real challenges to defend the interests of our members," he said in an interview Tuesday.

Lewenza pointed to the erosion of the manufacturing sector in Canada and high unemployment as key challenges for workers across the country — both unionized and non-unionized and in both the private and public sector.

"It's going to be a very difficult environment," he said.

"Both the federal and several provincial governments have unilaterally said that the way they are going to cut debt is to attack services and you can't attack services without attacking the workers that provide service."

The difficult climate for labour follows 2011 which saw Ottawa intervene with back-to-work legislation or the threat of it during disputes at Air Canada and Canada Post.

Canada Criminal Pardons Expected To Plunge Under Feds' Tougher Rules

OTTAWA - The number of bona fide applicants for a criminal pardon is expected to plunge by almost half under stricter new rules.

Internal figures obtained by The Canadian Press show the Parole Board of Canada expects to evaluate about 15,000 pardon applications annually, down from 27,750.

A law passed in 2010 toughened the requirements and, in some cases, increased the waiting times for pardon applicants.

The law requires the parole board to assess the behaviour of applicants from the time of their conviction to ensure granting a pardon would not "bring the administration of justice into disrepute."

It means fewer people are expected to apply, and more will be screened out early on.

About 10 per cent of Canadians — over three million people — have a criminal record.

A pardon doesn't erase a person's criminal record, but can make it easier to get a job, travel and return to society.

Oil and the Huaorani

This week, Patrick Radden Keefe reports on the long legal battle over environmental damages caused by Texaco’s oil drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon region known as the Oriente. Keefe writes that,
Initially, the indigenous tribes were the only Ecuadorans affected by the drilling. And though the oil lay under their native land, they weren’t entitled to any of the profits, because the government retained all “subsurface rights.” (“The meek shall inherit the earth,” the oilman J. Paul Getty once observed. “But not its mineral rights.”) The tribes cut down trees to block Texaco’s trucks, and launched attacks on oil workers.
The resistance by indigenous Ecuadorans against the oil industry was the subject of two New Yorker articles by Joe Kane. The first, “With Spears from All Sides,” was published in the issue of September 27, 1993. It gave the history of oil exploration and extraction in the region and described the actions of Huaorani tribesmen who left their isolated and insular community to draw attention to their cause. Texaco, as Kane writes, was far from the first oil company to contemplate drilling in this part of Ecuador:
When Royal Dutch Shell was exploring the Oriente in the nineteen-forties, the Huaorani reacted as they had to every other cowode [outsider] encroachment for as far back as anyone knows: they resisted violently, killing hundreds of peasant workers and looting the camps. But in the late nineteen-sixties and seventies, in understandings with the government and with Texaco, Rachel Saint and other North American missionaries … conducted a program of pacification that, with the aid of magic and trinkets—airplanes and salt—lured the Huaorani into a small protectorate on the far western edge of their traditional lands.
Kane ventured into the Huaorani protectorate where he discussed the encroachment of the industrial world—in this case, the construction by Conoco of a road—with a man named Quemperi:
His rhetoric was direct: a road means bad hunting; game won’t cross it; colonists will come and cut down the forest and kill the animals. A road, in other words, means hunger, it means the end of abundance, and the end of the self-reliance and independence the Huaorani value above all else.
The following year, Kane wrote a Reporter at Large about a visit by one of the Huaorani he’d met in Ecuador, named Moi, to Washington D.C. to address the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. After giving his testimony, Moi travelled with Kane on a train to New York:
He found Chesapeake Bay beautiful and added its name to a list he was keeping of cities and towns. After we entered the industrial corridor north of Delaware, however, his face lost its glow. We passed a field of giant tanks used for storing chemicals; to Moi, they looked exactly like the tanks the Company uses to store oil. For a long time, he didn’t say a word. Then he asked, “Chongkane, are there any Indians here?”
“Were there Indians here before the Company came?”
“Yes. There were Indians everywhere.”
“Were they killed?”
“All of them?”
“Almost all.”

Original Article
Source: New Yorker