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 18, 2012

Poverty lingers in prosperous G20, Oxfam says

The image of the G20’s rising giants is enticing: Chinese tourists trotting the globe, Indians lining up for electronic luxuries, Russian petrodollars fuelling designer boutiques.

But the reality for many in the world’s most prosperous countries is far grimmer, says a report released Thursday by the international charity Oxfam. And economic growth numbers tell only a fraction of the story.

“This report shows why anger about income inequality sparked protests that have swept the world, from Tahrir Square to Wall Street,” says Oxfam Canada’s executive director Robert Fox. “More than half of the world’s poorest people live in G20 countries, making them a key battleground in the fight against global poverty.”

But within many wealthier countries — including Canada — the battle appears to be a losing one.

“Income inequality is growing in almost all G20 members, while it is falling in most low- and lower-middle-income countries,” says the report, titled “Left Behind by the G20?”

Since 1990, it says, income inequality has increased in 14 of the 18 G20 countries for which there are comparable statistics. Canada comes fifth on the list of countries with the fastest-growing gaps, following Russia, China, Japan and South Africa. However, little of Canada’s inequality growth has happened since 2000.

How Copyright Industries Con Congress

I’ve yet to encounter a technically clueful person who believes the Stop Online Piracy Act will actually do anything to meaningfully reduce—let alone “stop”—online piracy, and so I haven’t bothered writing much about the absurd numbers the bill’s supporters routinely bandy about in hopes of persuading lawmakers that SOPA will be an economic boon and create zillions of jobs. If the proposed solution just won’t work, after all, why bother quibbling about the magnitude of the problem? But then I saw the very astute David Carr’s otherwise excellent column on SOPA’s pitfalls, which took those inflated numbers more or less as gospel. If only because I’m offended to see bad data invoked so routinely and brazenly, on general principle, it’s important to try to set the record straight. The movie and music recording industry have gotten away with using statistics that don’t stand up to the most minimal scrutiny, over and over, for years, to hoodwink both Congress and the general public. Wherever you come down on any particular piece of legislation, this is not how policy should get made in a democracy, and it’s high time they were shamed into cutting it out.

The bogus numbers Carr cites—which I’ll get to in a moment—actually represent a substantial retreat from even more ludicrous statistics the copyright industries long peddled. In my previous life as the Washington editor for the technology news site Ars Technica, I became curious about two implausible sounding claims I kept seeing made over and over—and repeated by prominent U.S. Senators!—in support of more aggressive antipiracy efforts.  Intellectual property infringement was supposedly costing the U.S. economy $200–250 billion per year, and had killed 750,000 American jobs. That certainly sounded dire, but those numbers looked suspiciously high, and I was having trouble figuring out exactly where they had originated. I did finally run them down, and wrote up the results of my investigation in a long piece for Ars. Read the whole thing for the full, farcical story, but here’s the upshot: The $200–250 billion number had originated in a 1991 sidebar in Forbes, but it was not a measurement of the cost of “piracy” to the U.S. economy. It was an unsourced estimate of the total size of the global market in counterfeit goods. Beyond the obvious fact that these numbers are decades old, counterfeiting of physical goods imported in bulk and sold by domestic retail distributors is, rather obviously, a totally different phenomenon with different policy implications from the problem of illicit individual consumer downloads of movies, music, and software. The 750,000 jobs number had originated in a 1986 speech (yes, 1986) by the secretary of commerce estimating that counterfeiting could cost the United States “anywhere from 130,000 to 750,000″ jobs. Nobody in the Commerce Department was able to identify where those figures had come from.

Joint Strike Fighter may miss acceleration goal

The F-35 Lightning II’s transonic acceleration may not meet the requirements originally set forth for the program, a top Lockheed Martin official said.

“Based on the original spec, all three of the airplanes are challenged by that spec,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s program manager for the F-35. “The cross-sectional area of the airplane with the internal weapons bays is quite a bit bigger than the airplanes we’re replacing.”

The sharp rise in wave drag at speeds between Mach 0.8 and Mach 1.2 is one of the most challenging areas for engineers to conquer. And the F-35’s relatively large cross-sectional area means, that as a simple matter of physics, the jet can’t quite match its predecessors.

“We’re dealing with the laws of physics. You have an airplane that’s a certain size, you have a wing that’s a certain size, you have an engine that’s a certain size, and that basically determines your acceleration characteristics,” Burbage said. “I think the biggest question is: are the acceleration characteristics of the airplane operationally suitable?”

A recent report by the Defense Department’s top tester, J. Michael Gilmore, says that the Navy’s F-35C model aircraft, which has larger wing and tail surfaces, is not meeting requirements for acceleration.

Privatizing the War on Terror: America's Military Contractors

"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes... known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."--James Madison
America's troops may be returning home from Iraq, but contrary to President Obama's assertion that "the tide of war is receding," we're far from done paying the costs of war. In fact, at the same time that Obama is reducing the number of troops in Iraq, he's replacing them with military contractors at far greater expense to the taxpayer and redeploying American troops to other parts of the globe, including Africa, Australia and Israel. In this way, the war on terror is privatized, the American economy is bled dry, and the military-security industrial complex makes a killing -- literally and figuratively speaking.

The war effort in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan has already cost taxpayers more than $2 trillion and could go as high as $4.4 trillion before it's all over. At least $31 billion (and as much as $60 billion or more) of that $2 trillion was lost to waste and fraud by military contractors, who do everything from janitorial and food service work to construction, security and intelligence -- jobs that used to be handled by the military. That translates to a loss of $12 million a day since the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan. To put it another way, the government is spending more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.

Over the past two decades, America has become increasingly dependent on military contractors in order to carry out military operations abroad (in fact, the government's extensive use of private security contractors has surged under Obama). According to the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States can no longer conduct large or sustained military operations or respond to major disasters without heavy support from contractors. As a result, the U.S. employs at a minimum one contractor to support every soldier deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq (that number increases dramatically when U.S. troop numbers decrease). For those signing on for contractor work, many of whom are hired by private contracting firms after serving stints in the military, it is a lucrative, albeit dangerous, career path (private contractors are 2.75 times more likely to die than troops). Incredibly, while base pay for an American soldier hovers somewhere around $19,000 per year, contractors are reportedly pulling in between $150,000 - $250,000 per year.

London Metropolitan Police Spend $54,000 Calling Speaking Clock

LONDON -- For Britain's biggest police force, time really is money.

Figures show that London's Metropolitan Police spent 35,000 pounds ($54,000) on calls to a speaking clock service between 2009 and 2011. By recording such calls, police presumably obtained proof of the times they entered into their official written reports.

The force also spent more than 200,000 pounds calling directory inquiries over the same period.

Data released after a freedom of information request from the Press Association news agency shows members of the force made more than 110,000 calls to the speaking clock, at 31 pence a shot.

The force said it was committed to cost-cutting, but there were "evidential and operational reasons" for officers and staff to need to know the exact time, and many had no direct Internet access.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

B.C. Lumber Exports To China Exceed $1 Billion In 2011; Up 200 Per Cent From 2009

VICTORIA - The B.C. government says lumber exports to China have gone through the roof.

It says in the first 11 months of last year, the province had shipped 4.2 billion board feet of lumber to China, exceeding a goal of four billion set four years ago.

Exports are up 200 per cent from 2009, and their value has hit more than one billion dollars.

Jobs Minister Pat Bell calls the numbers astounding, saying about two dozen sawmills across B.C. have re-opened or added shifts partly because of the boost in exports to China.

He says China now takes about 29 per cent of all B.C. lumber exports, second only to the U.S., which accounts for 42 per cent of exports.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Still unilingual after all these years

Canada's provinces spend almost $1-billion a year offering services and education in both official languages. According to a report issued Monday by Vancouver's Fraser Institute, the more than $900-million spent by the provinces each year, coupled with the $1.5-billion Ottawa spends offering federal services in French and English, means that bilingualism costs Canadian taxpayers $2.4-billion annually.

Is it worth it? In just two provinces - Quebec and New Brunswick - are more than 1% of the population unilingual in a minority language. According to the 2006 Census, 2.4% of Quebec's population (182,000 people) are unilingual anglophones, unable to speak and understand French. Meanwhile, 10.2% of New Brunswickers (about 75,000 people) claim to be unilingual francophones who struggle to comprehend English.

Only in one other province do as many as four-tenths of 1% of the population identify themselves as exclusive speakers of the minority official language. That is in Ontario, where just over 43,000 of the province's more than 13 million residents claim to be unilingual French.

Just 0.05% of Albertans (1,600 residents) claim to speak French only. In Saskatchewan, that number is fewer than 400 people. In B.C., it's about 1,200. In each of P.E.I. and Newfoundland, there are fewer than 100 French-only residents, yet those two provinces spend about $5million and $3.4-million, respectively, offering bilingual services.

Opinion: Hallelujah! Canadians agree it’s time to legalize marijuana

A new poll suggests Canada may have reached the tipping point and a 66-per-cent majority favours legalizing marijuana.

Finally we might get a sensible public policy discussion in this country about what to do about a relatively benign substance that has been demonized and outlawed for a century yet is as readily available in schoolyards as cigarettes.

The prohibition and a 40-year-long “War on Drugs” have led to pot being more widely accessible, taxpayers considerably poorer, gangs richer and thousands upon thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens branded “criminal.”

Another 50,000 or so Canadians are busted every year for possession; throw in 20,000 or so traffickers and producers and this so-called war is costing us as much as $400 million annually in law enforcement, court and corrections.

Bearing in mind a million dollars a year buys roughly 12 new cops, 14 teachers or public health nurses, ask yourself: Couldn’t all that money be better spent?

Enbridge undeterred by B.C. chiefs’ rebuke of Northern Gateway

With its sole public agreement with a native group in tatters, Northern Gateway proponent Enbridge Inc. on Wednesday said it will continue to court the Gitxsan First Nation and other bands whose traditional territories would be crossed by the $5.5-billion pipeline project.

But even as Enbridge cited deals with more than 20 native groups that have agreed to take an equity stake in the pipeline, some Gitxsan leaders vowed to back those who want no part of the project.

“We stand together with all the other nations that are opposing [the Gateway project],” Gitxsan Chief Clifford Morgan said Wednesday in Vancouver, where he was attending a court hearing related to a blockade of the Gitxsan Treaty Society offices in Hazelton. “There would be too much destruction if an oil spill happened.”

The Gitxsan pact with Enbridge – unveiled in Vancouver on Dec. 2 by hereditary Chief Elmer Derrick – was challenged within hours of being announced and pushed simmering rifts within the community into the open.

The collapse of the agreement, confirmed Wednesday by Enbridge, came the same day that United States officials turned down TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL project. That pipeline would ship oil sands bitumen to Gulf Coast refineries and is strongly backed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

TransCanada has said it will reapply, but in the meantime environmentalists and policy makers can be expected to shift their attention to Northern Gateway, which the Harper administration backs as a critical step in gaining access to Asian markets.

Obama Says So Long SOPA, Killing Controversial Internet Piracy Legislation

The growing anti-SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) support that has swept through the gaming and Internet community found a very big ally today. With websites like Reddit and Wikipedia and gaming organizations like Major League Gaming prepared for a blackout on January 18th – the same day that the House Judiciary Committee hearing on HR 3261was scheduled in Washington, DC – President Barack Obama has stepped in and said he would not support the bill.

SOPA has been delayed, for now. The House has agreed to revisit the issue next month, but they now know the White House will veto any bill that’s not more narrowly focused.

Much to the chagrin of Hollywood, the Entertainment Software Association (which has been a backer of the bill from early on), and Internet domain company (which lost many accounts as a result of its support for the bill); SOPA has been shelved. The Motion Picture Association of America, one of the bill’s largest sponsors, is expected to regroup.

California congressman Darrell Issa, who has been opposed to the bill from the beginning, praised the Internet action that has swept like a virus across the Web the past week.

IRS's Corporate Auditors Find $9,354 Of Additional Taxes Owed Per Hour

Jan 17 (Reuters) - Congress will spend a trillion dollars more than it levies this year, so how do Washington's politicians respond to the 11th consecutive year of federal budgets in red ink? They plan to shrink the IRS.

Go figure. Cutting the IRS budget by more than 5 percent in real terms makes as much sense as a hospital firing surgeons or a car dealer laying off salespeople when customers fill the showroom.

Shrinking the IRS makes sense if you believe government is too big and that cutting everywhere is the best way to shrink government. But this is the staff that generates revenue, and there is easy money to be made.

Congress should listen to the national taxpayer advocate, a position it created to make sure taxpayers had a voice in how the IRS operates. In her annual report, released last week, advocate Nina Olson said Congress needed to "ensure that the IRS continues to be effective, either by reducing the IRS' workload or by providing adequate funding to enable it to accomplish its assigned mission."

Instead of cutting, we should be expanding the revenue-generating staff because there is plenty of tax money to be had, even in this awful economy.

IRS data show that auditors assigned to the 14,000 or so largest corporations found $9,354 of additional tax owed for every hour spent testing tax returns in the 2009 fiscal year. The highest-paid IRS auditors make $71 an hour. Based on a 2,080-hour work year, that works out to around $19 million of lost revenue annually for every senior corporate auditor position cut from the payroll.

Climate Change Canada: Carbon Emissions From Hydro Drastically Underestimated, Says Report

A study by an environmental group suggests the federal government may be underestimating greenhouse gas emissions from hydro developments by a factor of 20.

The Global Forest Watch report concludes that while hydro electricity releases much less carbon than power generated by fossil fuels, emerging research suggests the difference isn't as great as previously thought.

"The Canadian government ends up with one number and everybody assumes that must be the correct number," said organization spokesman Peter Lee. "Instead, there's a range of other possible, much higher, emissions based on the science."

Hydro developments release greenhouse gases when forests and plant materials are submerged by new reservoirs. As the organic material decays, the carbon stored in it is released.

The federal government, using procedures recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has reported that such emissions total 0.5 megatonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

But Lee's team, based on research on hydro developments in Quebec, suggests the real total is anywhere between seven and 13 megatonnes of carbon dioxide. Most of that is released in Quebec.

Part of the reason for the difference is that the government estimate assumes that reservoirs stop emitting carbon from submerged plants after about a decade.

Keystone XL Pipeline: Canada Reacts To U.S. Decision Not To Go Ahead With Deal

The Canadian government says it is profoundly disappointed with the Obama administration for scrapping a multibillion-dollar pipeline project that would have carried oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico and created jobs north and south of the border.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper received a phone call from U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday afternoon after news had already leaked that the president would scrap the deal.

According to Harper’s press secretary Andrew MacDougall, Obama informed the prime minister that his administration was turning down TransCanada’s application to build and operate the Keystone XL pipeline.

“The president explained that the decision was not a decision on the merits of the project and that it was without prejudice, meaning that TransCanada is free to re-apply. Prime Minister Harper expressed his profound disappointment with the news,” MacDougall wrote in a note to reporters.

“(Harper) indicated to President Obama that he hoped that this project would continue given the significant contribution it would make to jobs and economic growth both in Canada and the United States of America.

Keystone XL Pipeline: Obama Administration Announcing It Will Not Go Forward With Controversial Plan

WASHINGTON -- Acting on a recommendation from the State Department on Wednesday, President Barack Obama denied a permit for the contentious Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which would have linked a vast oil deposit in Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

In rejecting the permit, Obama laid blame on Republicans in Congress, who forced passage of a measure late last month requiring the administration to render a decision on the pipeline by Feb. 21.

"As the State Department made clear last month," Obama said in a prepared statement, "the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline's impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department's report, I agree."

Though the denial of the permit was a major blow to the company behind the project, TransCanada, the president emphasized that his decision does not preclude any subsequent permit application for this or similar projects.

"In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security -- including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico -- even as we set higher efficiency standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels and natural gas," Obama said.

Provinces eye Alberta's gains in bid to rebalance health funding

Provinces that are among the losers in the Harper health funding plan are turning their sights on Alberta and the multibillion-dollar windfall the Conservative bastion is set to gain in the next decade.

Rather than confront Prime Minister Stephen Harper head-on, provincial leaders left a two-day summit in Victoria resigned to the equal, per-capita cash transfer – at least until the next federal election.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger will lead a group of provincial and territorial finance ministers this spring on a quest to get Ottawa to redistribute those funds. The new federal plan establishes the annual rate of increase in transfers to the provinces for health care, but allocates the money strictly based on population – a formula that gives Alberta a boost in transfers at a cost to others, including B.C., Ontario and Quebec.

The provincial and territorial leaders were unanimous in condemning the way the unilateral new deal was imposed. But they are struggling to fill the void after the Harper government refused to talk with them about how that money should be distributed or used.

Ontario losing billions in funding revenue, Commission told

Two prominent Canadian economists have told the Commission on Quality Public Services and Tax Fairness that the provincial treasury is forfeiting billions of dollars in tax revenue by failing to adopt policies that could be used to fund sustainable public services.

Speaking to the Commission at its public hearing in Ottawa yesterday, CUPE National economist Toby Sanger said the approach adopted by the McGuinty government on tax polices was misguided and is failing to recoup billions in revenues.

“We don’t need anymore tax cuts,” Sanger told Commission chair Judy Wasylycia-Leis, a former federal MP and chair of the Public Services Foundation of Canada which is conducting the work of the Commission.

“I have three messages to the government,” Sanger continued. “Austerity doesn’t work. Public sector spending is not out of control. And through a system of fair taxation Ontario could reach a balanced budget.

Sanger’s position was similar to that delivered by David McDonald, an independent economist associated with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and a contributor to Progressive Economics Forum.

“Debt is cheap now. It is well within the capacity of the government to cover this debt without attacking public services,” said McDonald.

The hunt for Joseph Kony - Will this be the last stand for Kony and his vicious Lord’s Resistance Army?

Patrick Chengo remembers waking as a hand tore him from bed. Rebels roped together 10 boys from his tiny village, marching them into the black June night. Clenching his jaw, Chengo, the eldest at 14, refused to cry, hoping to calm the other boys; the youngest, just six, had wet himself from fear. Whips drove the boys far from home, deep into the northern Ugandan forest, where they eventually crossed the Nile into the Democratic Republic of Congo. So began Chengo’s nightmare—six years as a child soldier for Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

Chengo managed to escape 18 months ago, but freedom has proved bittersweet. His parents didn’t live to see his return. He can no longer read nor do even basic math. His village believes he is a murderer. Chengo, who is haunted by the horrors of the forest, wants Kony captured and tried for what he did to him and tens of thousands of other children. So, apparently, does Barack Obama. In a surprise announcement last fall, President Obama declared the U.S. government was sending combat-ready troops to aid in the hunt for, and fight against, Kony, one of the planet’s most reviled war criminals, and the LRA’s senior leadership.

In the beginning, the LRA was allied with northern Uganda’s Acholi people; it formed in the late ’80s in opposition to the Yoweri Museveni government, which it hoped to replace with one led by northerners, who had ruled Uganda after independence. Political aims, however, were subsumed by Kony’s pseudo-religious imperative: the Christian sociopath claims the Holy Spirit has commanded him to keep killing until Uganda is ruled by the Ten Commandments.

Police: No ‘good examples’ of why we need Lawful Access

For the past 12 years, Canada’s cops have been pushing for new laws that would allow them to skip the pesky formality of having to get a warrant before spying on us on the Internet. (For some background on these Lawful Access laws, check out these posts.)

Critics of Lawful Access, such as our federal Privacy Commissioner and every provincial Privacy Commissioner, argue that police have yet to provide sufficient evidence that court oversight has actually slowed them down or stopped them from fighting crime.  And now, Canadian police themselves are saying the same thing.

The online rights group has obtained and released a message it says was recently sent by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) to law enforcement colleagues urgently requesting that they provide “actual examples” of cases where the need to get warrants before accessing private information from Internet Service Providers “hindered an investigation or threatened public safety.” The message goes on to admit that though a similar request had been made two years ago, it failed to produce “a sufficient quantity of good examples.”

Ottawa looks to Asia after U.S. rejects Keystone pipeline project

OTTAWA—The federal government says it will renew efforts to ship Canadian oil to Asian markets after the White House rejected plans for a $7 billion pipeline to move Alberta crude into the U.S.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Barack Obama in a phone call Wednesday he was “profoundly disappointed” with the U.S. decision on the Keystone XL project and pointedly said that Canada would seek other markets for its energy exports.

Soon after the two leaders spoke, Obama made public his decision to deny the application by Canadian energy giant TransCanada Corp. to build the pipeline, citing a “rushed and arbitrary deadline” imposed by Congress to review the project.

“This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people,” Obama said in a statement.

The $7 billion pipeline would have run 3,134 kilometres from Alberta across six states, carrying half a million barrels of oil sands crude a day to Texas refineries.

Environmentalists, who oppose development of the Alberta oil sands and had raised concerns about the pipeline’s routing across sensitive Nebraska lands, praised the decision.

'Gay Families Matter' Rally Targets Rick Snyder To Protest Ban On Domestic Partner Benefits

LGBT Michiganders and their allies from across the state will rally in Lansing on the Capitol steps at noon Wednesday, ahead of Gov. Rick Snyder's "State of the State" address. Their message: Gay Families Matter.

Snyder is expected to talk about Michigan's progress in the past year and his plans for 2012 Wednesday night. But before he does, protesters want to express their disapproval of the governor's support for a law that profoundly impacts their quality of life.

Members of LGBT community groups from across the state will speak out against discriminatory legislation in Michigan, particularly a bill Snyder signed in December that blocks employer health care coverage for unmarried partners of state employees.

Michael Gregor, director of communications for Equality Michigan, the state's largest LGBT advocacy group, believes many Michiganders were disappointed by Snyder's support for the domestic partner benefits ban.

"There's definitely a connection to what's happening here and a radical right wing agenda, and it's unfortunate to see the governor cave in to that," Gregor said. "This is an opportunity to show up and say, 'We're here, we love this place, you're accountable to us and we should have the freedom to live here and take care of our families in the way that everyone in Michigan wants to do.'"

Residents of Ann Arbor, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Ferndale, Grand Rapids, Highland Park, Kalamazoo and Midland will travel to the Capitol. Organizers from community groups in each city will have an opportunity to speak about the legislation and its effect on their communities.

Wikipedia limits service in piracy protest

Some of the best-known sites on the internet, including Wikipedia, are limiting access today in a "Dark Wednesday" protest against legislation before the U.S. Congress intended to curb copyright infringement that critics say will limit the scope of the web and adversely affect legitimate websites.

Popular Canadian sitesjoining the protest include Tucows, a Toronto-based site that hosts free software for download,, a social microblogging service and the blog of University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, an oft-cited expert on copyright issues.

There are two similar bills addressing protection of intellectual property online currently being considered by Congress: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is before the House of Representatives judiciary committee, and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which is to be voted on by the Senate next week.

Last weekend, the White House signaled its opposition to the bills, which are supposed to make it easier for copyright holders to go after "foreign rogue websites" suspected of facilitating infringement of copyright.

Under the current draft of SOPA, courts could order credit card firms, online payment companies like PayPal and advertising networks to stop doing business with those websites. They could also order search engines to stop linking to them and internet service providers (ISPs) to block their customers from accessing them, although in recent days, the lead sponsor of SOPA, Republican congressman Lamar Smith, has backed off the ISP provision. PIPA was also being revised to address some of the concerns voiced in recent days.

Romney's 15% Problem: He Pays the Same Tax Rate as a Family Making $50,000

Mitt Romney's private equity problem is taking a backseat today to Mitt Romney's tax problem. The GOP frontrunner acknowledged that his effective tax rate is around 15%, thanks to the tax code's preferential treatment of income from investments and private equity firms.

As Pat Garofalo explained for The Atlantic, a considerable portion of Romney's income comes from a retirement deal with Bain Capital that continues to pay him a small share of the firm's profits. The wonky term for this cool stream of money is "carried interest" -- the share of investor gains "carried" by the private equity or hedge fund manager.*

You might expect that Mitt's millions would be treated as earned income, because it represents gains from a service rendered by a private equity manager. Normally, that sort of money would be taxed at the top 35% marginal rate. Instead, the tax code treats Romney's retirement payout as carried interest -- investment income from a private equity firm shared among its managers. As a result, Romney pays Uncle Sam only 15% of his Bain Capital income.

In 2009, 15% was the average effective tax rate for households making between $75,000 and $100,000, in the middle quintile of U.S. families. That means Mitt Romney, a mega-millionaire, pays the tax rate as if his were a firmly middle class family, which would seem to pose a considerable political problem to a candidate fighting for middle class votes. To be clear, I don't think it's a moral problem. It's not like it's his fault, or anything. It's just the natural outcome of a tax system designed to give special treatment to investors -- and private equity managers, in particular.

21 CEOs With $100 Million Golden Parachutes

For some CEOs, the easiest way to get rich is to quit.

Increasingly, corporations offer their chief executives fantastically generous severance packages—retirement bonuses, extended stock options, and pensions that can add up to $100 million or more. Call 'em platinum parachutes. These deals are supposed to benefit shareholders by encouraging CEOs to take a long-term view of corporate profits, but some compensation experts have their doubts. "Too many golden parachutes and too many retirement packages are of a size that clearly seems only in the interest of the departing executive," says a new report by GMI, a corporate governance consultancy.

By way of example, the report singles out 21 CEOs whose severance packages are worth more than the median US earner would make in 49 lifetimes. In the case of GE's John Welch Jr., the figure would be 203 lifetimes. But you could still argue that the most outrageous example is Viacom's Thomas Freston, who put in just one year of work for his $100-million-plus sendoff.

GMI, "Largest Severance Packages of the Millennium"

GMI, "Largest Severance Packages of the Millennium"

Original Article
Source: Mother Jones 

How Rick Santorum Ripped Off American Veterans

Like any good presidential candidate, Rick Santorum heaps praise on America's soldiers and veterans. He's pledged to "make veterans a high priority" if elected president, adding, "This is not a Republican issue, this is not a Democratic issue, it is an American issue." But as a US senator, Santorum engineered a controversial land deal that robbed the military's top veterans' home of tens of millions of dollars and worsened the deteriorating conditions at the facility.

The Armed Forces Retirement Home, which is run by the Department of Defense, bills itself as "premier home for military retirees and veterans." The facility sprawls across 272 acres high on a hill in northern Washington, DC, near the Petworth neighborhood. The nearly 600 veterans who now live there enjoy panoramic views of the city—the Washington monument and US Capitol to the south, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to the east. At its peak, more than 2,000 veterans of World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War lived at the Home.

But with the rise of the smaller all-volunteer military, the Home began to run into serious financial problems. It was clear that one of its primary sources of revenue—a 50-cent deduction from the paychecks of active-duty servicemembers—wasn't enough to keep the Home operating fully. In the 1990s, the Home scrambled to find ways to avoid insolvency, trimming its staff by 24 percent and reducing its vet population by 800. Still, the money problems began to show, with its older historic facilities slipping into disrepair and decay. To grapple with its worsening shortfall, officials running the Home eyed a valuable, 49-acre piece of land worth $49 million as a potential financial lifeline.

South Carolina Primary 2012: In Rural County, Long Wait For Job Creators

BENNETTSVILLE, S.C. -- It's been more than two years since Frederick Parker had a decent full-time job.

Standing outside the state workforce office as he waits for a ride, the 40-year-old South Carolina native opens up a backpack filled with evidence of his long struggle with unemployment: a stack of updated résumés, some fruitless job leads and certificates from continuing-education courses he's completed at the local tech college. A construction worker by trade, Parker has racked up certificates to run a backhoe, a bulldozer, a front-end loader and an excavator.

Even so, all he managed to land was a part-time stint at a local McDonald's.

"I have everything I should need, and I'm still applying," says Parker, who's wearing a pressed burgundy button-down shirt, his chest-length dreadlocks pulled back neatly in a ponytail, so any potential employer would "know I mean business."

"I work hard," he goes on. "My paperwork's clean. I have a high school diploma, a résumé. I've got no criminal record."

Parker may be a victim of geography more than anything else. He lives in South Carolina's Marlboro County, a mostly rural region surrounding the town of Bennettsville and hugging the North Carolina border. The county is battling a wince-inducing unemployment rate of roughly 16 percent, or nearly double the national rate. During the worst days of the Great Recession, it climbed to an eye-popping 21 percent.

In short, this part of South Carolina isn't anything like Iowa or New Hampshire, the two previous presidential nomination stops, both of which have been far more insulated from the jobs crisis. Globalization has not been kind to the I-95 corridor in South Carolina, and jobs can be hard to find even in a healthy economy. Although few of the candidates are likely to do more than drive through or fly over Democratic-leaning, mostly African-American Marlboro County, it is in many ways an actualized vision of the GOP platform, a free-market fever dream of low taxes, cheap and abundant labor, little union presence and even less regulatory burden.

Lawful Access Legislation: Police Misusing Funds Lobbying For Spying Powers, OpenMedia Says

Law enforcement officials around the country are misusing taxpayers’ money lobbying for “lawful access” laws that would give them warrantless access to private online information, a digital rights group says., which is running the Stop Spying campaign against the government’s proposed expansion of police powers on the Internet, released the contents of a letter Wednesday the group said was sent from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to officers around the country.

The letter urges law enforcement officials to send in examples of situations where expanded police powers would have aided in an investigation, noting that a previous effort two years ago “lacked a sufficient quantity” of good examples.

“It is imperative that we gather examples that can support the need for this legislation in the eyes of government, privacy groups, media, police and especially the public,” the letter states in part. “The seriousness of this cannot be understated. We are therefore seeking your support in gathering this information by instructing your members on the vital importance of providing the information to help bring these Bills into law.”

The Huffington Post has not been able to verify independently that the CACP letter is authentic.

Federal wind turbine rules coming

Health Canada is drafting national guidelines for electricity-generating wind turbines that will establish a recommended minimum safe distance between the structures and homes.

Across Canada, many are concerned about "wind turbine syndrome," a suite of symptoms suffered by some living in proximity to wind turbines. Anxiety, sleeping problems and headaches are among the negative health effects some think are caused by the low frequency hum emitted by wind turbines.

"Health Canada has been working in collaboration with the provinces and territories to draft voluntary Canadian Guidelines for Wind Turbine Noise," wrote Health Canada spokeswoman Olivia Caron in an email.

"The voluntary draft guidelines are health-based, and focus on minimizing potential impacts such as sleep disturbance by recommending noise limits, sound measurement standards and minimum setback distances from homes and occupied dwellings."

Right now, there is an incomplete patchwork of regulations on wind turbines in Canada, with some provinces - such as Ontario - already having guidelines already in place.

"There were some requests from provinces to help create these guidelines," said Steve Outhouse, a spokesman for federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq. "Its similar to what we do with air quality, noise pollution, cellphones and fluoridation of water."

The slow, steady dismantling of Canadian federalism

It never ceases to amaze me that so many people profess surprise at Stephen Harper. This amuses me because, if nothing else, the man has shown himself to be remarkably consistent and predictable. Yet, while meeting in Victoria yesterday, now even provincial premiers are getting into the act of feigned outrage and shock, calling Harper’s unilateral health care funding decision “unacceptable.”

There are two things that were a surprise. The first is that these typically turf hungry and parochial provincialists (who, don’t forget, are meeting under the aegis of something called “The Council of the Federation”!) are suddenly expressing worry about the national interest. The second is their apparent refusal to take yes for an answer on something that they and their predecessors have been demanding for decades: that Ottawa stay out of their business and just keep the cheques coming. It takes two to tango, and for the longest time, cooperative federalism or however else you want to label it, was defined as Ottawa giving and the provinces taking. Period.

No one should be surprised at Mr. Harper’s health care funding move. His view of federalism has been crystal clear for at least twenty years and it has not changed in the past six. In power he has been consistent in implementing the approach that some have been calling “classical federalism”. To political scientists, that theoretically might very well be the correct term. However, that handle was never applicable to the Canadian experience. That is, until now.

Professors say Harper misreads role of National Energy Board

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has provided an unclear portrayal of the federal government's relationship with the independent agency that will rule on the proposed $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline, two academics said Tuesday.

Harper, in an interview Monday with CBC, was asked if the federal government would accept a negative decision by the National Energy Board that is now conducting hearings into the proposed Enbridge megaproject to ship oilsands bitumen by pipeline from Alberta to port in Kitimat, B.C., for export by tanker to Asia.

"Well, obviously, we'll always take a look at the recommendation. We take the recommendations of environmental reviews very seriously," Harper said.

"And this government has in the past changed projects or even stopped projects if reviews were not favourable, or (the government) indicated that changes had to be made. So we'll take a close look at what the conclusions are."

But two academics familiar with the NEB process said Harper has misportrayed the relationship between cabinet and the independent agency.

"Harper did not represent the structure of authority in this case correctly," said George Hoberg, a professor at the University of B.C.'s department of forest resources management.

He said the Joint Review Panel that is assessing the project under both the NEB Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act "is the final decision-maker, not the cabinet."

He said the NEB can't give the project the go-ahead by issuing a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity without cabinet approval, which means the government could overrule a positive decision.

"But cabinet can't overrule a 'No' decision without new legislation," Hoberg said.

University of Calgary law professor Nigel Bankes agreed, saying that while negative NEB decisions are "very rare," the outcome represents the "end of the line" unless the government brings in new legislation.

An NEB spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, but in November, Carole LegerKubeczek confirmed that cabinet is only involved in approving or disapproving a decision if the NEB recommends the project get the go-ahead.

But she noted in an email that the government, or anyone, could formally ask the board to reconsider its decision.

Original Article
Source: leader post  

Union cries cover-up as rights tribunal report closed

The Privy Council Office says it won't act on a report it commissioned into the troubled Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT).

The Citizen has learned that PCO received its report from Ottawa consultant Stephen Gaon in June last year and on Dec. 2 issued a statement to the three public service unions involved in complaints against the Tribunal and its chairperson Shirish Chotalia.

"We have thoroughly reviewed the information provided in the preliminary factfinding report and have concluded the facts provided do not warrant further action," said the statement. "We will therefore not be following up with a further investigation."

But PCO's refusal to act on the report is a "cover up," one public service union charged Tuesday.

PCO, the non-partisan public service advisory and support unit for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the cabinet, refuses to publicly discuss the report that was instigated last spring by numerous complaints about inefficiencies and poor management at the Tribunal.

PSAC president lashes out at talk of changes to PS pensions

OTTAWA — With all the speculation about Conservatives taking aim at federal pensions, the biggest union is counting on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s word that he wouldn’t touch pensions as long as public servants paid a bigger share of the cost.

John Gordon, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said Flaherty promised him that if public servants committed to paying 40 per cent of the yearly contribution rates for their pensions by 2013, the government wouldn’t be looking for more savings from the plan.

The government is phasing in an increase in employees’ share of contribution rates — which dipped to a low of 25 per cent — to 40 per cent by 2013. Last fall, it looked like that 2013 target was off course, so unions agreed to an unexpected rate increase, effective Jan. 1, to ensure it was reached.

That’s why Gordon says he was surprised when Flaherty recently said pensions are under review. He feels public servants kept their end of the bargain by footing a bigger share of the contribution costs. Add to that, the surrender of voluntary severance pay, caps on wages and the sweeping job cuts expected in the upcoming budget and Gordon thinks public servants are doing their part.

“We came to an agreement on that (contribution rates) and Flaherty said that as far as he was concerned he was glad about that and wasn’t going to do anything else,” said Gordon. “I expected him to keep his word. Now with all this talk again, I wonder where he is coming from. Has he changed his position?”

Ending wheat board monopoly will cause 'irreparable harm,' court hears

WINNIPEG —Ottawa's failure to give Prairie farmers a vote before ending the Canadian Wheat Board's sales monopoly — as required by law — is "an affront to society," a Manitoba court heard Tuesday.

Colin MacArthur, representing eight former CWB directors, also argued that ending the grain seller's single desk would cause "irreparable harm" to western growers.

The former directors, all farmers, are seeking an injunction preventing the implementation of the government's Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act until its validity can be determined.

They made their application Tuesday in Winnipeg before Justice Shane Perlmutter of Court of Queen's Bench. Federal lawyers will oppose the application in arguments Wednesday.

"In order to make the law," MacArthur argued Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz "broke the law."

On Dec. 7, while the wheat board bill was still before Parliament, a Federal Court judge declared that Ritz had run afoul of the law by refusing to give farmers a vote before he moved to take away the CWB's monopoly. The Harper government carried on with passage of Bill C-18, despite the ruling. It has also served notice that it would appeal the Federal Court ruling.

When Bill C-18 came into effect, all farmer-elected CWB directors lost their jobs. The government immediately allowed the private grain trade to make forward contracts with farmers on next year's crop. The wheat board will formally lose its sales monopoly on Aug. 1.

At one point in Monday's proceedings, Perlmutter questioned why the former CWB directors were appearing before him — and not the Federal Court — in their bid for an injunction. "You want me to take steps to enforce another judge's order," Perlmutter told MacArthur. But the lawyer for the former directors responded that time was of the essence, and a court date could be more quickly arranged in the Court of Queen's Bench.

Meanwhile, the now-government controlled CWB gave pink slips to 23 employees on Monday, a board spokeswoman confirmed. "There are plans to further reduce the workforce over the course of the coming months," the CWB's Maureen Fitzhenry said.

Original Article
Source: Ottawa Citizen 

Why Harper is tuning out the premiers

First ministers meetings have fallen out of favour to the point of disappearance. Jean Chrétien hated them; so, apparently, does Stephen Harper. This week’s premiers meetings show why.

What prime minister would want to sit with a bunch of caterwauling premiers, who can’t agree on anything except more federal cash and periodic studies of possible future collaboration, such as the one announced Tuesday for an “innovation fund”?

Health care has always been largely a provincial matter, and the provinces have always wanted to keep it that way. Meeting together, there are plenty of issues for the premiers to discuss about how to better co-operate, as in a common drug formulary, bulk purchasing of drugs, impediments to portability, interprovincial labour deals, common clinical assessments and so on.

But, no, gathered together, they just can’t resist bashing the federal piñata, hoping it will release more money. Mr. Harper has already agreed to give transfers to the provinces indexed at 6 per cent for the next five years, falling to the range of 4 per cent thereafter.

This federal offer comes when Ottawa has a large deficit and is preparing to cut its own programs by 5 per cent to 10 per cent. Moreover, no other government program, federal or provincial, is being indexed at anything remotely like 6 per cent. When Paul Martin hiked transfers and indexed them at 6 per cent, Ottawa enjoyed a tidy surplus.

City’s rush to declare impasse latest step in Ford administration’s attack on public services

TORONTO—The City of Toronto’s hasty decision to declare an impasse in bargaining is the “latest step in the Ford administration’s campaign against public services,” said the President of the Toronto Civic Employees Union, Local 416 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 416) today.

“We feel that this is a hasty decision. It leaves us asking why the City is in such a rush to declare negotiations at an impasse,” Mark Ferguson said in response to the City’s decision today to declare negotiations at an impasse and request a ‘no-board’ report from the Ministry of Labour.

By seeking the no-board report, the City has now set the clock ticking towards a possible labour disruption in less than three weeks.

“Our members do not want a labour disruption, and we have offered to work with the City to identify savings that do not harm the vital services Torontonians depend on,” said Ferguson.

The City’s move is just the latest step in the Ford Administration’s campaign against public services. On December 14, the City walked away from the bargaining table and filed for conciliation, effectively derailing negotiations for nearly a month.

Ferguson urged the City to return to the bargaining table—but to do so with “a genuine willingness to negotiate fairly with Local 416.”

Local 416 has offered the City 30 bargaining dates to ensure the public services residents depend on are not jeopardized.

“We want to find a solution that maintains the important public services people depend on. We recognize we are in uncertain economic times, which is why we are not seeking any major improvements for our members during this round of bargaining,” he added.

Original Article

Privatization of public services ‘a cash cow’ for select few

TORONTO – The government takeover of ORNGE air ambulance should serve as warning to taxpayers that the privatization of public services only succeeds in harming services and making a select few executives millionaires with public money, says the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU, said the government needs to learn from their mistakes and immediately halt any plans to privatize government-run services such as ServiceOntario.
“How many spending scandals must this government deal with before they learn that privatizing public services harms the public?” asked Thomas. “First there was eHealth, now ORNGE. The only thing these ventures accomplished was to create a cash cow for a few corporate executives, who lined their pockets with millions in taxpayers’ money.”

Roxanne Barnes, elected chair of Ontario’s 40,000 direct government employees, says that government plans to privatize the province’s ServiceOntario locations will only lead to the same problems with out-of-control spending and service reductions.

“When people pay their taxes, they expect services to be efficient, well-run and accountable with their money,” Barnes said. “What gets proven over and over is that when the government gives up responsibility for delivering services, it’s the taxpayers who pay more in the long run.”

Thomas says that the Ontario government needs to finally learn from their mistakes and stop letting private operators profit from services and public money.

“Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Thomas said. “We need sound thinking from this government and for them to stop bowing to corporate pressure to turn public services into get-rich schemes. The only way to be accountable for services to have them run by accountable, elected officials and delivered by professional public-sector workers. The Premier’s plans for more privatization will just create more messes that he has to go back and clean up.”

Original Article

On the outside looking in: Indigenous peoples excluded from premiers' health talks

Is there a link between the tar sands pipelines, the premiers' health conference, and Indigenous rights?

As Canada's premiers and territorial leaders met in Victoria this week to discuss the future of health care -- after the Conservative government pulled back from its medicare role -- no attention has been paid to Indigenous peoples at the talks. All that came out of the meetings were strong words towards Ottawa, and plans to set up working groups on finance and "innovation."

But spoke to two First Nations advocates outside the meeting who said they were outraged by the lack of Aboriginal consultation around the health-care talks.

United Native Nations of B.C. president Lillian George -- from the Wet'suwet'en First Nation in northern B.C. -- and Jerry Peltier, former Grand Chief of Kanesatake Mohawk Nation (near Oka, Quebec), said that all levels of government failed in their obligation to consult and include Indigenous people. Especially, they argued, when it comes to health care.

Songs and stories of a land without pipelines

"The truth about stories," declares Native author Thomas King, "is that's all we are." Wet'suwet'en people know their identities and territories through the songs and stories that connect their people to their land, history and ancestors. These stories and songs are evidence that the Wet'suwet'en people have occupied the land since time immemorial.

The Wet'suwet'en term for oral history is kungax. Literally translating as "trail of song," the kungax allows Wet'suwet'en to trace the tracks of past generations across their territories and map the path of their people into the future.

On January 16, members of the Wet'suwet'en presented in Smithers, B.C., before a federal panel reviewing a proposed pipeline to transport tar sands bitumen across their traditional territory. Entering the hearing, a long line of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and members filed into the meeting room at Hudson Bay Lodge in full regalia. As they entered, the room filled with the powerful echo of the Gidimt'en clan song.

Wet'suwet'en society is traditionally organized into five clans: the Gidimt'en (Bear Clan), Likhsilyu (Small Frog Clan), C'ilhts'ekhyu (Big Frog Clan), Tsayu (Beaver Clan), and Likhts'amisyu (Fireweed Clan). The clans are broken up into houses, based on small groups of extended families, each headed by a hereditary chief.

Protecting equal marriage rights for Canadian same-sex couples

Statements by the Prime Minister and Minister of Justice on January 12 about the validity of same-sex marriage left thousands of same-sex couples who have come to Canada to get married and celebrate their love wondering if they were in fact married at all. And if some same-sex marriages are neither equal nor even valid, are equal marriage rights for Canadian same-sex couples safe and secure?

Those who came to Canada to get married were told by the government of Canada that their love was equal and their relationships would be recognized as legal. These are people who followed the rules, paid their fees, spent their tourist dollars here in Canada, and suddenly had the rug pulled out from under them.

But this was no accident despite the Harper government claiming they had no idea this was going on. This was not the first time the Harper government has been caught attempting to restrict equal-marriage rights through the back door by intervening in court cases. In October, the Harper government intervened in an Ontario family law case to argue against legal recognition of a same-sex civil union preformed in the U.K. On October 6, 2011, I asked the Minister of Justice why the government was opposing the guarantee of full and equal protection of the law to this couple under the Divorce Act. The minister responded by saying that the government did not wish to re-open the debate on same-sex marriage and that this case was just "a legal dispute over definitions."

But when we talk about equal marriage we are not just talking about legal definitions, we are talking about people's lives and the rights and freedoms that Canada prides itself on. We are talking about definitions that have serious implications for family law, especially in the areas of child custody and division of property on dissolution of a relationship. The Conservative government's actions in October 2011 and the actions taken again in January demonstrate how they have been systematically attempting to chip away at the rights of the LGBTQ community.

"The Operators": Michael Hastings on the Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan

We speak with reporter Michael Hastings about the "disastrous past year" in Afghanistan and the mentality a decade of war has bred there. The U.S. has "funneled billions of dollars in weapons and training into a chaotic place like Afghanistan ... training these young guys to kill people, and then are shocked when they see the results," Hastings says of the outcry that followed last week’s appearance of a video showing four uniformed U.S. marines urinating on the corpses of three Afghan men, which has been widely condemned by officials in the United States and in Afghanistan. His new book, "The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan," originated with his 2010 Rolling Stone article, "The Runaway General," about Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then commander of the war in Afghanistan, and his inner circle. McChrystal was fired after the article was published.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Four reasons why the Web hates the U.S. anti-piracy acts

The World Wide Web is going to feel a lot less wide on Wednesday. For a span of 12 hours, some of the Internet’s most popular sites – including Wikipedia, Reddit and the Internet Archive – will go dark, inaccessible to the tens of millions of users who visit every day.

The blackout is part of one of the most sprawling digital protests undertaken to date (for our live blog of the blackout and reaction, click here). Many of the world’s biggest tech companies have banded together with civil liberties activists, librarians and myriad other groups to protest two pieces of proposed U.S. legislation targeted directly at the way the Web works: The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act.

The laws, if passed, would give greater powers to the U.S. government to essentially blacklist foreign websites accused of hosting copyright-infringing content. Critics claim the laws are excessive in both remedy and scope, and would essentially make it impossible for sites such as YouTube and Flickr to exist in their current form.

Confessions of a radical environmentalist

Hello. My name is Alan, and I’m a radical environmental extremist.

I don’t know how I ended up being part of a group with a radical environmental agenda. It all happened so gradually.

I do remember being invited to join the board of the Tides Canada Foundation when it was founded over a decade ago. It seemed innocent enough, a registered Canadian charity that offered Canadians a chance to donate to protecting the environment and creating socially just communities. In fact, it seemed so Canadian. Silly me, but hey, this was over a decade ago.

In fact, I used to tell people that Tides Canada was just like a community foundation, say the Vancouver Foundation or the Winnipeg Foundation, except that instead of a geographical community it was a community of interest. A community of people interested in the environment and social justice.

James: Rob Ford loses the gamble, council blocks Toronto budget cuts

Tuesday was supposed to be a day of total triumph for Mayor Rob Ford. Instead, it was the day that signaled he may have lost control of the city’s agenda.

City Council approved a 2012 budget that will spend fewer property tax dollars this year than last — an unheard-of accomplishment that the mayor sought. But, in ignoring the concerns of moderate city councillors, most of them rookies, Ford gambled and lost.

He rejected the modest spending requests to save child-care subsidies, school pools, shelters, ice rinks, community grants, mechanized leaf collection, TTC bus routes — services that now exist and which cost just $15 million in a city budget of nearly $10 billion.

He said “no” and council said “yes” by a 23-21 margin — a vote which, if it occurred at Queen’s Park or Parliament Hill, would be considered a vote of non-confidence in the government.

At Toronto City Hall, the government survives, but it does so with the knowledge that the majority of city councillors are not in lockstep with the mayor’s agenda.

“Was this a hill to die on? I’m not saying that. But the world is not going to end,” said a disappointed Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, one of Ford’s staunch, hardline allies.

The approved budget increases taxes on homeowners by 2.5 per cent, amounting to $60 on the average $447,000 Toronto home. Businesses pay one-third of this rate.

The VIPs' hush money

It's no coincidence that a group of young Palestinians now organizing protests in the West Bank against a return to negotiations is called 'Palestinians for Dignity.'

Two people signed the entry permit into Israel that Mahmoud Abbas received from Israel's Civil Administration on January 1 (and which will be in force until March 1 ): 1st Lt. Noy Mitzrafi, commander of the permits office, and Lt. Col. Wissam Hamed, a department head in the Israel Defense Forces' operations directorate. It is this limited permit that Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and PLO chairman, complained of receiving instead of his normal VIP permit during a closed meeting of his Fatah faction.

The permit also states that Abbas lives in the Gaza Strip (where, as is well known, he has not set foot since 2007 ); that he is "allowed to go into Israel, except for Eilat, and into the Judea and Samaria region [i.e. the West Bank]," but not to drive a car in Israel. It states that his reason for entry is that he is "a senior PA official"; that he may stay overnight only in the West Bank or Gaza, even though the permit is in force from 00:00 to 00:00 (midnight to midnight ). Also, it says he is allowed to move about without a magnetic ID card, but the permit is "valid despite the [security] prevention" - meaning the Shin Bet security service registers him as a security menace, but the permit is given as a gesture of kindness.

The PA says a few dozen other senior officials have also been stripped of their VIP permits since mid-2011 as punishment for the PA's application for admission to the United Nations as a member state. But regarding Abbas' permit, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories insisted that this was purely a technical error.

Contrary to the interpretation that this was an intentional humiliation of Abbas, for once it's actually believable that this was a mere technical error. Humiliation is part of the system's DNA, and the clerks who implement the system imbibe the techniques of humiliation from the day they enter the army - until they view them as immutable laws of nature.

Is It Journalism’s Job To Check The Facts For Us?

Why yes, yes it is!

People have been hopping over a recent piece by the New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane in which he asks whether reporters should be fact-checkers.

“The New York Times Does Not Know What Journalism Is Or What a Journalists’ [sic] Job Is,” says one angry writer. “Fourth Estate Sale! Everything Must Go!” writes a cleverer one.

The tone is one of surprise. Of course this is what journalists should do, they seem to say, isn’t it what we pay them for?

Though there are several interpretations of what checking facts actually entails, the answer is still mostly no. Lawyers check occasional stories that editors deem especially sensitive to legal difficulties, but newspaper journalists don’t. Some magazines have fact-checkers—Eye Weekly used to have some good ones, Toronto Life still does—but many don’t.

This is not to say newspaper journalists don’t check their facts. But if you’ll allow me a little semantic specificity, that’s a different thing. Fact-checking is by definition a separate stream, a re-reporting of a story, in effect, by someone who does not take the same things for granted the writer might. Though not flawless, it’s a very good system, and it’d be just great if newspapers could do that. But they’re already losing the race for immediacy, so it’s not likely, at least not until they realize they’ve already lost that race and start running ones they can win. Let’s return to that.

The Logical Fallacy Gay-Marriage Opponents Depend Upon

In the United States, there is legal debate over whether state constitutions require that marriage rights be extended to gays and lesbians, and a policy debate over the wisdom of legal same-sex unions. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum is a leading opponent of gay marriage. But rather than marshaling logically sound arguments, he constantly commits the fallacy of begging the question. His inability or unwillingness to do better helps explain why social conservatives are losing the debate -- and the support of America's next generation of voters. He's adept at signalling solidarity with those who share his position, but totally unable to persuade.

His faulty logic is most clearly on display on Ricochet, the right-leaning Web site for political conversation, where he recently posted his extended thoughts on abortion and same sex marriage. His article telegraphs the fallacy at its heart in the title: it's called "We Hold These Truths," as if the correctness of his assertions are self-evident, a claim he makes explicit in his conclusion.

In fact, his assertions are deeply controversial.

Proponents of permitting gays and lesbians to marry believe that the definition of civil marriage can be expanded to include same-sex unions without fundamentally changing the institution. That the legal definition can be changed is fact: it has already been changed in some jurisdictions. Gay-marriage advocates cannot prove that this change won't weaken the institution. But there are various reasons they cite for their belief that straight unions won't be weakened.

10 reasons the U.S. is no longer the land of the free

Every year, the State Department issues reports on individual rights in other countries, monitoring the passage of restrictive laws and regulations around the world. Iran, for example, has been criticized for denying fair public trials and limiting privacy, while Russia has been taken to task for undermining due process. Other countries have been condemned for the use of secret evidence and torture.

Even as we pass judgment on countries we consider unfree, Americans remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include their own — the land of free. Yet, the laws and practices of the land should shake that confidence. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state. The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?

While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.

These countries also have constitutions that purport to guarantee freedoms and rights. But their governments have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues for challenges by citizens — precisely the problem with the new laws in this country.

The list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 puts us in rather troubling company.

Ike's Nightmare

Fifty-one years ago today, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued his final, prescient warning about the rising power of the military industrial complex. More than half a century later, we find ourselves in a political system which has ignored Eisenhower's sound advice as the influence of the war industry on our society reaches a crescendo. Nowhere is this "disastrous rise of misplaced power" more apparent than in the debate about the Pentagon budget taking place in Washington, D.C.

Eisenhower's final speech is worth quoting at length:
"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Agrees With Newt Gingrich, Says He Would Send Blacks Back 'To The Plantation'

The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, the super-conservative African American Republican who has campaigned vigorously against Kwanzaa ("The Racist Holiday From Hell" he has called it), the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. and President Barack Obama, said he has a simple solution to black America's employment woes: hard labor.

"One of the things that I would do is take all black people back to the South and put them on the plantation so they would understand the ethic of working," Peterson told The Huffington Post's Black Voices on Tuesday afternoon. "I'm going to put them all on the plantation. They need a good hard education on what it is to work."

Peterson made the remarks after he was asked to comment on Monday night's sparring between moderator Juan Williams and Newt Gingrich, during the Republican presidential debate after Williams asked Gingrich whether he thought his recent statements suggesting a lack of work ethic among poor black kids could be viewed as insulting.

"People don't want to hear the truth," said Peterson, the founder of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, or BOND. "Newt was 100 percent correct," Peterson said. "Newt said that he would have black children, minority children work as janitors at school. Working as a janitor would build character, more so than the handouts so many of them like."

Third-party advertising spending should be restricted between elections after NCC releases attack ad against Rae, say opposition MPs

PARLIAMENT HILL—A biting attack ad the country’s largest right-wing lobby group posted against Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae is prompting NDP and Liberal MPs to call for Parliamentary restrictions on money interest groups and political parties are allowed to spend on advertising to attack their opponents between election periods.

Stephen Taylor, a conservative blogger and a director of the National Citizens Coalition, confirmed Tuesday the lobby group, once led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) when he left politics for several years before returning to eventually become Conservative Party leader, confirmed the organization posted the attack ad on You Tube as the Liberal Party convention wrapped up last weekend.

Mr. Rae (Toronto Centre, Ont.) had been the centre of much of the attention during the convention and leading up to it as questions swirled over whether he intends to become a candidate for the post of permanent Liberal leader, to be contested in a party-wide election early next year.

The ad, which had more than 5,200 viewers over three days as of late Tuesday, is a merciless and, Liberals say, exaggerated account of the economic and governmental problems Ontario experienced when Mr. Rae was NDP premier from 1990 to 1995.

“Bob Rae is back,” a woman’s voice warns darkly as the video opens, with Mr. Rae pictured prominently across the screen. “First, he was the job-killing NDP premier who threw Ontario into the worst recession since the dirty '30s. Now, he’s plotting to take over the Liberal Party.”

The ad goes on to blame Mr. Rae for raising Ontario gas taxes, bringing in controversial photo radar, and raising taxes on car tires, parking meters and even insurance premiums while he was premier. “When he was finally thrown out by voters, the economy was devastated," the woman's voice intones.