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.]

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Drive-by Scanning: Officials Expand Use and Dose of Radiation for Security Screening

U.S. law enforcement agencies are exposing people to radiation in more settings and in increasing doses to screen for explosives, weapons and drugs. In addition to the controversial airport body scanners, which are now deployed for routine screening, various X-ray devices have proliferated at the border, in prisons and on the streets of New York.

Not only have the machines become more widespread, but some of them expose people to higher doses of radiation. And agencies have pushed the boundaries of acceptable use by X-raying people covertly, according to government documents and interviews.

While airport scanners can show objects on the surface of the body, prisons have begun to use X-rays that can see through the body to detect contraband hidden in cavities. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is in the process of deploying dozens of drive-through X-ray portals to scan cars and buses at the border with their passengers still inside.

X-ray scanners have been tested at ferry crossings, for visitor entries at the Pentagon and for long-range detection of suicide bombers at special events. And drawing the ire of privacy groups, Customs and the New York Police Department have deployed unmarked X-ray vans that can drive to a location and look inside vehicles for drugs and explosives.

Most federal health regulations for medical X-rays do not apply to security equipment, leaving the decision of when and how to use the scanners almost entirely in the hands of security officials.

Although the 9/11 attacks provided the impetus and prompted the spending to develop such equipment, most of the machines have been deployed only in the last few years. New attacks and ever-tighter security measures have made law enforcement officials more willing to expose the public to X-ray devices that were once taboo.

The Roberts Court v. America

In the last few years, the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have shown a new hostility toward laws that regulate the economy and try to limit the effects of economic power. They have declared a series of laws unconstitutional, most famously limits on corporate campaign spending (the Supreme Court) and a key part of Congress’s 2010 health-care reform act (among others the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta; the Supreme Court will decide the issue in the coming year). The Supreme Court has also held that Vermont cannot restrict drug companies’ access to the prescription records that they use to target their sales pitches, and struck down other state laws that try to constrain the effect of wealth on elections. These decisions don’t just trim around the edges of regulation: They go to the heart of whether government can act to balance out private economic power in an era of growing economic inequality and insecurity. These decisions chime with some of the more troubling themes of the time. They fit well with the economics-minded idea that most of life is best seen as a marketplace, and with the right-wing mistrust of government that has metastasized into Tea Party contempt and anger.

Liberals have denounced many of these decisions, but they have not yet spelled out the larger pattern. What’s missing from the criticism is a picture of what these cases add up to: an identity for the Roberts Court as the judicial voice of the idea that nearly everything works best on market logic, that economic models of behavior capture most of what matters, and political, civic, and moral distinctions mostly amount to obscurantism and special pleading.

The Supreme Court went down a similar road in the Gilded Age and afterward, defending laissez-faire economic principles against minimum wages, maximum hours, and other Progressive and New Deal regulation. The new cases have different doctrinal logic, and the economy has changed vastly, but the bottom lines are eerily alike: giving constitutional protection to unequal economic power in the name of personal liberty. The Supreme Court’s last go-round with economic libertarianism is often called the Lochner era, after the 1905 namesake case, Lochner v. New York, in which the Court invalidated a state law that set maximum daily and weekly hours for bakers. The Court ruled that the law violated constitutionally protected “liberty of contract,” the freedom of both employees and employers to make whatever agreements they saw fit. Minimum-wage laws were another prime target of Lochner reasoning because they limited the “freedom” to accept low pay. The Court also invalidated laws guaranteeing the right to join a union, struck down price regulations, and, more sympathetically, overturned barriers to entry in some trades and struck down a residential segregation law as a violation of the white owner’s right to sell his property to whomever he liked. Overall, between the 1880s and the 1930s, the Supreme Court struck down more than 200 pieces of state and federal legislation as violations of “economic liberty.”

The CIA in Somalia

Nestled in a back corner of Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport is a sprawling walled compound run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Set on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the facility looks like a small gated community, with more than a dozen buildings behind large protective walls and secured by guard towers at each of its four corners. Adjacent to the compound are eight large metal hangars, and the CIA has its own aircraft at the airport. The site, which airport officials and Somali intelligence sources say was completed in April, is guarded by Somali soldiers, but the Americans control access. At the facility, the CIA runs a counterterrorism training program for Somali intelligence agents and operatives aimed at building an indigenous strike force capable of snatch operations and targeted “combat” operations against members of Al Shabab, an Islamic militant group with close ties to al-Qaeda.

As part of its expanding counterterrorism program in Somalia, the CIA also uses a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held. Some of the prisoners have been snatched off the streets of Kenya and rendered by plane to Mogadishu. While the underground prison is officially run by the Somali NSA, U.S. intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners.

The existence of both facilities and the CIA role was uncovered by The Nation during an extensive on-the-ground investigation in Mogadishu. Among the sources who provided information for this story are senior Somali intelligence officials; senior members of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG); former prisoners held at the underground prison; and several well-connected Somali analysts and militia leaders, some of whom have worked with U.S. agents, including those from the CIA.

Greed is good? The GOP seems to be okay with that

If you heard a loud “gulp” Tuesday night after President Obama’s State of the Union address, it probably came from Republican political strategists as they realized their party’s odds of capturing the White House this fall are getting longer. Obama may be no Ronald Reagan, but he’s no Jimmy Carter, either.

The obligatory list of accomplishments and initiatives was embellished with bits and pieces of what will likely be Obama’s standard campaign speech. At the heart of his argument for a second term is his assertion that the American dream of upward mobility has been hijacked — that the rich and the powerful have rigged our economic and political systems to favor their interests over those of the average citizen.

Obama sounded this theme several times, perhaps most effectively when he decried policies that allow billionaire Warren Buffett to pay a lower income-tax rate than does his longtime secretary, Debbie Bosanek, who sat with first lady Michelle Obama in her box Tuesday night:

“We don’t begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it. When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get a tax break I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit or somebody else has to make up the difference — like a senior on a fixed income, or a student trying to get through school, or a family trying to make ends meet.

“That’s not right. Americans know that’s not right. They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to the future of their country, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility.”

How Wily Newt Pulled the 'Contract with America' Scam

Newton Leroy Gingrich is one wily mothertrucker. He's calling his presidential platform this year a "21st Century Contract With America." It's a wingnutpalooza, naturally, endorsing such “timeless American values” as seeking to "establish English as the official language of government," and reducing the corporate tax rate to 12.5 percent and the capital gains rate to zero; and featuring such "Day One Executive Orders" as the cancellation of all "immigration-related lawsuits against states" and a renewal of "President Ronald Reagan's policy ... to stop taxpayer dollars from being used to fund or promote abortions in foreign country." (Critics call that the "global gag rule," because it forbids any country receiving American aid from letting doctors even talk about family planning.) The title, of course, refers to the Contract With America, which 367 Republican congressional candidates signed on the Capitol steps in September of 1994. When, two months later, the GOP took over Congress for the first time since 1952, making its architect, Newt Gingtrich, the Speaker of the House, all the world proclaimed that the electorate had just delivered a historic mandate for conservatism.

Well, not really. The Contract With America was a hustle from start to finish. It never really was about conservatism at all – practically the opposite. The fact that Newt can redeploy it to promote his right-of-Attila-the-Hun harpyish shrieking for 2012 just shows how effective the hustle – and the hustler – turned out to be.

Here's what happened: Ross Perot. Specifically, the weirdo billionaire Texas populist won nearly nineteen percent of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election – the most for a third-party candidate in 80 years – with an odd platform of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism,  Immediately and instinctively, both parties began bidding for his constituency. The Democrats, however, had to punt: President Clinton had made passing the North American Free Trade agreement his obsession in 1993, but opposing it was Perot's obsession.

Robert Fisk: The present stands no chance against the past

The Palestinians are not only, it seems, an "invented people" – courtesy of Newt Gingrich – but the only Arabs on the Mediterranean not to enjoy a Spring or an Awakening or even a Winter.

And Benjamin Netanyahu has been boasting that he was right about Egypt and Tunisia and Libya. He did not welcome their supposedly democratic revolutions last year – and who, he has been asking, blames him now for his silence? And the Israeli Prime Minister's silence, I notice, continues over Syria. Save for the accusation that the Assad regime was involved in the attempt by Palestinian refugees to cross the border via Golan last year – Netanyahu must be right about that – and a passing comment in June that "the young people of Syria deserve a better future", that's it. Israel, the beacon of democracy in the Middle East, has nothing more to say.

For some reason, we – in the press, on television, in our parliaments – are not discussing this silence. But, as Professor Ian Buruma pointed out recently, the political heirs of "deeply racist traditions" are the new champions of the Jewish state, whose policies now owe more to 19th-century ethnic chauvinism than to Zionism's socialist roots. All kinds of strange people now give their support to Israel. It is disturbing to note that the Oslo mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, supported the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank. That's not Israel's fault. But Republicans in America are now warning of an Islamic Sharia law takeover in the US. It's an idea fostered, according to The New York Times, by a 56-year-old Hasidic Jewish lawyer called David Yerushalmi and his Society of Americans for National Existence, who now has former CIA director James Woolsey and Republicans Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann echoing his views. The last two have actually signed a pledge "to reject Islamic law".

Not fit for purpose: crisis in Britain's prisons worsens

Overcrowding in prison "warehouses" is causing violence behind bars as tensions soar among inmates, prison officers warned last night. New figures show that the population of Britain's jails has jumped by 1,000 in the past three weeks.
The surprise surge has caused dismay at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and raised fears that coping with the growing prison population could force budget cuts elsewhere in an already embattled department.

The Independent disclosed last month that officers had warned the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke that the combined pressure of prison closures, budget cuts and a shortage of officers risked riots in jails.

As the rise in numbers of prisoners continues, offenders may have to be housed further away from their homes or mothballed prison wings may have to be brought back into service.

The prison population in England and Wales stood at 87,668 yesterday – a rise of 407 since the previous Friday and more than 1,000 above the total just three weeks ago.

Jails are 1,730 below capacity and, at the current rate, the country's prisons could be full by early March. Two new jails, in south-east London and in the West Midlands, are due to open that month in an attempt to relieve the pressure. The sharp increase over the last five months has been mainly fuelled by convictions after the August riots, with 2,200 fewer people behind bars before the disturbances.

Private data, public rules

FIRST came the yodelling, then the pain. The online entrepreneurs and venture capitalists at DLD, a geeks’ shindig this month in Munich, barely had time to recover from their traditional Bavarian entertainment before Viviane Reding, the European Union’s justice commissioner, introduced a new privacy regulation. Ms Reding termed personal data the “currency” of the digital economy. “And like any currency it needs stability and trust,” Ms Reding told the assembled digerati.

The EU’s effort (formally published on January 25th) is part of a global government crackdown on the commercial use of personal information. A White House report, out soon, is expected to advocate a consumer-privacy law. China has issued several draft guidelines on the issue and India has a privacy bill in the works. But their approaches differ dramatically. As data whizz across borders, creating workable rules for business out of varying national standards will be hard.

Europe’s new privacy regulation is one of the most sweeping. Its first goal is to build a “digital single market”. That will be a welcome change from the patchwork of rules that has grown up since the previous privacy directive in 1995. When Google’s Street View mapping service accidentally captured personal data from some open, unsecured Wi-Fi networks in the houses it photographed, some EU countries told the firm to delete the data. Others told it to hold the information indefinitely.

The Commission hopes that when the new regulation comes into effect (probably in 2016) it will clear up this mess. A firm based in, say, Ireland will be able to obey Irish law and do business across the EU, without worrying whether it is in line with other countries’ rules. A new European Data Protection Board will enforce the regime. And if a company faces judicial proceedings in two member states, the courts will be obliged to communicate. Ms Reding expects these changes to save business €2.3 billion ($3 billion) a year.

The Caging of America

A prison is a trap for catching time. Good reporting appears often about the inner life of the American prison, but the catch is that American prison life is mostly undramatic—the reported stories fail to grab us, because, for the most part, nothing happens. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich is all you need to know about Ivan Denisovich, because the idea that anyone could live for a minute in such circumstances seems impossible; one day in the life of an American prison means much less, because the force of it is that one day typically stretches out for decades. It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates. The inmates on death row in Texas are called men in “timeless time,” because they alone aren’t serving time: they aren’t waiting out five years or a decade or a lifetime. The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.

That’s why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded. “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard, / Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards,” Dylan sings, and while it isn’t strictly true—just ask the prisoners—it contains a truth: the guards are doing time, too. As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won’t let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment. For American prisoners, huge numbers of whom are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the civilized world—Texas alone has sentenced more than four hundred teen-agers to life imprisonment—time becomes in every sense this thing you serve.

For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

Topless Protesters At Davos Forum: Three Shirtless Ukrainian Women Detained

DAVOS, Switzerland — Three topless Ukrainian protesters were detained Saturday while trying to break into an invitation-only gathering of international CEOs and political leaders to call attention to the needs of the world's poor. Separately, demonstrators from the Occupy movement marched to the edge of the gathering.

After a complicated journey to reach the heavily guarded Swiss resort town of Davos, the Ukrainians arrived at the entrance to the complex where the World Economic Forum takes place every year.

With temperatures around freezing in the snow-filled town, they took off their tops and tried to climb a fence before being detained. "Crisis! Made in Davos," read one message painted across a protester's torso, while others held banners that said "Poor, because of you" and "Gangsters party in Davos."

Davos police spokesman Thomas Hobi said the three women were taken to the police station and told that they weren't allowed to demonstrate. He said they would be released later Saturday.

The activists are from the group Femen, which has become popular in Ukraine for staging small, half-naked protests to highlight a range of issues including oppression of political opposition. They have also conducted protests in some other countries.

Ex-President Bush Lied To FBI Director About Warrantless Surveillance: Book

Former President George W. Bush lied to FBI Director Robert Mueller in the Oval Office to protect White House programs that secretly eavesdropped on Americans, according to an upcoming book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tim Weiner.

In "Enemies," the former New York Times reporter reveals the extent of the bureau's long war against terrorists, spies and anyone considered subversive, including American presidents. Among its explosive claims, Weiner reports that the FBI was penetrated by agents working for China, Russia, Cuba and al-Qaeda and that the bureau gathered evidence that was sufficient to impeach Presidents Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

In the wake of 9/11, when the Bush administration expanded its anti-terror programs to include warrantless eavesdropping of Americans' phones and emails, FBI director Mueller was one who opposed the program because he felt that the White House was "trying to do an end run" around the law. After drafting a letter of resignation, Mueller met with Bush one-on-one on March 12, 2004, telling him that "he would resign if the FBI was ordered to continue warrantless searches on Americans without an order from the Department of Justice." The meeting came the day after the infamous bedside visit to Attorney General John Ashcroft, when White House chief of staff Andy Card and legal director Alberto Gonzalez unsuccessfully tried to get the ailing Ashcroft to sign off on the program.

Elizabeth Warren: A One Percenter in Denial

When it comes to being a class warrior, Elizabeth Warren is merely a studio gangster.  When asked about congressional insider trading on MSNBC Thursday night, Warren said, “I realize there are some wealthy individuals – I’m not one of them, but some wealthy individuals who have a lot of stock portfolios." But as BuzzFeed points out, the Massachusetts Senate candidate is definitely one of them. Her own financial disclosure forms show she's worth as much as $14.5 million, which according to The Wall Street Journal's net worth calculator puts her comfortably in the top 1 percent of Americans, and she lives in a $5 million house. Warren is more likely to invite the rich over for a fancy dinner party than she is to eat them. If she does have any pitchforks, they are sterling silver and from Williams Sonoma.

Update: Warren's campaign emails: "Elizabeth was making the point that, unlike many members of Congress, she does not have a broad portfolio of stocks in individual companies.  If elected, she'll get rid of the  one stock she does own."

Original Article
Source: the atlantic wire 
Author: Elspeth Reeve  

By the Numbers: Life and Death at Foxconn

An investigative series by the New York Times and a performance piece by Mike Daisey featured on This American Life have put the spotlight on Foxconn, the Taiwanese company whose massive Chinese factories manufacture some of the world's most popular consumer electronics.

As well as working with companies like Dell, Motorola, Nokia and Hewlett-Packard, Foxconn assembles popular Apple products like the iPhone and iPad.

Here's a quick look at what we know about Foxconn. (The company disputes workers' accounts of abusive conditions. In a 2010 company report, Foxconn said it promotes "employee respect, an atmosphere of trust, and personal dignity.")

Working for Foxconn

1.2 million: number of workers employed by Foxconn in China, according to the New York Times.

40: Estimated percent of the world's consumer electronics manufactured by Foxconn.

7: seconds it takes Foxconn's workers to complete a single step of their work, according to a survey cited by the New York Times.

12: Hours in a typical work shift, according to interviews with Foxconn employees.

83.2: Average hours of overtime worked each month, according to a 2010 survey of Foxconn employee.

13: age of a Foxconn employee Mike Daisey interviewed outside the gates of a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen.

91: cases of underage labor found by Apple's audits of its suppliers in 2010, the year Daisey visited China.

3,000: number of workers Foxconn could hire overnight, according to Apple's former worldwide supply demand manager.

10-20: percent estimated monthly turnover in Foxconn's workforce.

$7,500: amount founder Terry Gou used to start the anchor company of Foxconn Technology Group in 1974, according to the company website.

$5.7 billion: Terry Gou's estimated net worth as of March 2011.

Enough Fighting, Canada's Oil Industry Needs a Plan

The ongoing pipeline debates have become mired in conspiracy theories, distractions, and misinformation. Is there nothing we can all agree on?

To begin, who would deny that our most basic human needs are clean air and water, productive soils, and a diversity of species? It isn't controversial to argue that we must protect these necessities of life.

We also need energy -- from a mix of sources. Oil will be in that mix for the foreseeable future. But surely we can all agree that burning fossil fuels at the current or greater rate is not healthy for humans and the environment. Rational people also agree that doing so is driving dangerous climate change that threatens human existence.

Where does that leave us? Canada has tremendous natural wealth, especially energy resources. But we have no plan to guide us in the way we extract and use them or in how we get energy to Canadians. Indeed, one rarely reads of a national energy plan without seeing a reference to the "hated" National Energy Program (NEP) brought in by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's Liberal government in 1980 and killed after Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government won the 1984 election.

That plan was a response to the 1970s energy crisis, when oil prices skyrocketed. Its aims were to promote energy self-sufficiency and Canadian ownership, maintain supply, keep prices in check, promote oil exploration and alternative energy sources, and increase government revenues. But it ticked people off in Alberta. They saw it as federal meddling in provincial affairs.

At World Economic Forum, Fear of Global Contagion Dominates

DAVOS, Switzerland -- They came, they feasted on smoked sturgeon and black truffle risotto, drank liquor paid for by global banks, endured dozens of security checks, and tried not to fall down in the snow. They talked about the perilous state of the global economy and the future of capitalism. Then, they headed back to their home countries -- many in chauffeured limousines, some by private jet.

But as the people who run much of the planet wrapped up the annual festival of influence known as the World Economic Forum on Saturday, any sense of achievement was hard to discern. The participants arrived amid elevated unemployment in many economies, worries about government budget deficits, and fears that contagion from a financial crisis in Europe could infect the rest of the world. They went home with all of these worries intact, and perhaps reinforced.

Nouriel Roubini, the economist who -- not for nothing -- is known as "Doctor Doom," noted that world leaders are divided on a great array of crucial issues, from arguments over trade imbalances and currency valuations to the threats posed by Iran and North Korea and the challenge of climate change.

"On all these issues that require international coordination, there is no agreement," he said during a Saturday morning panel. "It's a world of chaos that can lead to potential conflicts."

European officials confronted a palpable sense of impatience and resentment from their counterparts, drawing accusations that they have imperiled the fate of the globe by repeatedly failing to prop up ailing member states.

Oil and gas are 'gorilla in room' on feds' climate policies, Environment Canada says

OTTAWA - The oil and gas industry's greenhouse gas emissions are the "gorilla in the room" for Canada's environmental policies, a senior Environment Canada official has told his superiors in newly-released correspondence.

The observations were made by Mike Beale, an associate assistant deputy minister, in an email sent to Deputy Minister Paul Boothe and other senior officials regarding a conference being organized jointly last year by the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based environmental group, and a major oil and gas company.

After being called by an official from Royal Dutch Shell regarding the April 2011 conference in Banff, Alta., that was to focus on "less controversial" aspects of the climate-change debate, such as energy efficiency and transportation demand management, Beale felt compelled to state what was missing.

"I had to point out - nicely - that the initiative seems to sidestep the gorilla in the room of emission reductions from O&G (oil and gas), but that otherwise, it seems like a great idea," wrote Beale in the Jan. 20, 2011 email, released to Postmedia News through access to information legislation.

Ed Whittingham, the executive director of the Pembina Institute, praised Beale for raising questions about the event, but noted that it was only one aspect of his own group's efforts to engage with businesses on climate change.

Economist who predicted 2008 crash sees even more tough times ahead

DAVOS, Switzerland — Economist Nouriel Roubini, nicknamed “Dr. Doom” for his gloomy predictions in the run-up to the financial meltdown four years ago, says the fallout from that crisis could last the rest of this decade.

Roubini, widely acknowledged to have predicted the crash of 2008, sees tough times ahead for the global economy and is warning that without major policy changes things can still get much worse.

Until Europe radically reforms itself and the U.S. gets serious about its own debt mountain, he said, the world economy will continue to stumble along to the detriment of large chunks of the world’s population who will continue to see their living standards under pressure, even if they have a job.

Roubini, a professor of economics and international business at New York University, spoke in an interview this week with The Associated Press at a dinner on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, where he is one of the hotly pursued stars.

Looking at economic prospects this year, he agreed with the International Monetary Fund’s latest forecast that the global economy is weakening and said he might be “even slightly more bearish” on its prediction of 3.3 per cent growth in 2012.

Occupy London Take Over Former Iraqi Rafidain Bank

The Occupy London protesters have taken over a former bank in the City of London, a spokeswoman for the group said on Friday.

The branch of the Iraqi Rafidain Bank on Leadenhall Street has been empty since it went into administration last year.

The Occupy demonstrators say they want to use it as the home for their 'Bank of Ideas', which was based in the UBS building in Hackney until a possession order was enforced yesterday.

A spokeswoman quoted by the Press Association said the new premises would be used as a "community space" for lectures, workshops and debates in order to put the property to "good social use".

"There was a call out for a gathering at the Bank of Ideas this morning. After meeting at midday, those gathered went to the former premises of the Rafidain Bank which was the Bank of Iraq at one point," she said.

"It is likely this will be the new home for the Bank of Ideas. There were some police in attendance when the group arrived, which caused some concern, but they have now left the scene.

"This is about public repossession, taking buildings that have been allowed to lie empty in prime city spaces and taking them back for the community."

A City of London Police spokeswoman told the Huffington Post that they were "aware and responding" to the incident.

On Saturday the group took over Roman House, an abandoned nine-storey office building in the Barbican in the City of London which previously housed companies from the financial service industries.

Original Article
Source: Huff 
Author: - 

Occupy DC Groups To Discuss Options After Park Service Warns Against 'Camping'

WASHINGTON -- On Friday evening, Occupy activists in the nation's capital are scheduled to discuss new warnings from the National Park Service about camping in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza . The service posted official notices citing its no-camping policy at the two downtown D.C. encampments earlier that day.

NPS spokesman Bill Line told The Huffington Post on Friday afternoon that the agency will be passing out fliers through the weekend that will set "expectations for what the demonstrators need to meet, adhere to."

Earlier this week, during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing about the Occupy DC camp at McPherson Square, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis said his agency would begin some kind of enforcement of the no-camping policy "soon."

The NPS, which has jurisdiction over McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza, has come under fire from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House oversight committee, and other congressional Republicans for allowing the camps to remain in place as long as they have. Occupy DC first gathered in McPherson Square on Oct. 1, and Occupy Washington DC settled in Freedom Plaza on Oct. 6. The park service had taken the position that the camps are 24-hour vigils protected under the First Amendment.

Tibet Violence: Despair, Crackdowns Breed More Killings

BEIJING -- A young man posts his photo with a leaflet demanding freedom for Tibet and telling Chinese police, come and get me. Protesters rise up to defend him, and demonstrations break out in two other Tibetan areas of western China to support the same cause.

Each time, police respond with bullets.

The three clashes, all in the past week, killed several Tibetans and injured dozens. They mark an escalation of a protest movement that for months expressed itself mainly through scattered individual self-immolations.

It's the result of growing desperation among Tibetans and a harsh crackdown by security forces that scholars and pro-Tibet activists contend only breeds more rage and despair.

That leaves authorities with the stark choice of either cracking down even harder or meeting Tibetan demands for greater freedom and a return of their Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama – something Beijing has shown zero willingness to do.

"By not responding constructively when it was faced with peaceful one-person protests, the (Communist) party has created the conditions for violent, large-scale protests," said Robbie Barnett, head of modern Tibetan studies at New York's Columbia University.

Pentagon Seeks Mightier Bomb vs. Iran

WASHINGTON—Pentagon war planners have concluded that their largest conventional bomb isn't yet capable of destroying Iran's most heavily fortified underground facilities, and are stepping up efforts to make it more powerful, according to U.S. officials briefed on the plan.

The 30,000-pound "bunker-buster" bomb, known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, was specifically designed to take out the hardened fortifications built by Iran and North Korea to cloak their nuclear programs.

But initial tests indicated that the bomb, as currently configured, wouldn't be capable of destroying some of Iran's facilities, either because of their depth or because Tehran has added new fortifications to protect them.

Doubts about the MOP's effectiveness prompted the Pentagon this month to secretly submit a request to Congress for funding to enhance the bomb's ability to penetrate deeper into rock, concrete and steel before exploding, the officials said.

The push to boost the power of the MOP is part of stepped-up contingency planning for a possible strike against Iran's nuclear program, say U.S. officials.

The Defense Department has spent about $330 million so far to develop about 20 of the bombs, which are built by Boeing Co. The Pentagon is seeking about $82 million more to make the bomb more effective, according to government officials briefed on the plan.

Canadian security forces spied on constitutional expert Eugene Forsey: declassified documents

OTTAWA—Canadian security forces kept close tabs on renowned constitutional scholar Eugene Forsey from his early days as a left-wing academic to his stint as a senator, according to newly declassified documents.

It was no secret to Forsey that police were interested in his socialist views and activities as a young academic at McGill University, with the surveillance becoming obvious at a League for Social Reconstruction meeting in Montreal.

That was when one informant for then-Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis, out of what Forsey presumed was “professional jealousy,” confessed his own duplicitous motivation for being there while denouncing other plain-clothes representatives from three different police forces.

“It would be interesting to know what the police made of our deliberations,” Forsey wrote in his 1990 autobiography A Life on the Fringe, published a few months before he died.

The secret files kept on Forsey by the RCMP Security Service — the predecessor to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) — are now public for the first time after the Star obtained them through an access-to-information request to Library and Archives Canada.

Stephen Harper’s old-age pension cuts unnecessary

Typically, Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose somewhere far away to reveal the next stage of his not-exactly-hidden agenda.

Four years ago, he used an international summit in Peru to signal his brief flirtation with Keynesian economic stimulus. This week, a puzzled audience of tycoons meeting in Davos, Switzerland, found themselves privy to Harper’s gratuitous plan to lop chunks from Canada’s Old Age Security system.

Along with the Canada Pension Plan (which Harper says he will not cut), Old Age Security is the major source of income for most Canadians 65 and over. These days, the average OAS pension payout is a little over $500 a month.

Along with a sister program for the ultra-poor, it is credited with lifting thousands of seniors from lives of execrable poverty.

Old-age pensions have always presented a conundrum to rock-ribbed right-wingers. Like many who grew up in the era when Britain’s cost-cutting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher served as a conservative icon, Harper has little patience for social programs.

His view, expressed over the years in various writings, is that Ottawa should focus on crime and defence (“prisons and armed men” as Friedrich Engels once put it), leaving charity, family, the free market and perhaps the provinces to take care of all else.

Why we don't just refine the bitumen in Canada

All across the political spectrum the cry is heard: process the oilsands here at home.

Bank executives, trade unionists, editorialists and others want us to do all the work here.

Who could be against adding value to our resources before we export them? Where it makes sense and makes the greatest contribution to Canada's prosperity we should all be in favour. But the simple calculus of more processing equalling more jobs and prosperity in Canada is not at all obvious when you dig into it.

Canada is a tiny market with a world-scale source of petroleum in a corner of North America that is far removed from the bulk of oil product consumers and is facing critical shortages of workers. All of these factors matter in thinking about how the get the best value out of our petroleum resources.

A bit of background: we don't get oil out of the oilsands. We extract a tarry substance called bitumen.

That bitumen has to be "upgraded" (i.e. the undesirable bits stripped out) to make "synthetic" crude. A second step (refining) is then required to transform the oil into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and so forth.

Aboriginals treated like children, Elijah Harper says

OTTAWA — The federal Indian Act treats aboriginals like children and chains them to the government for their entire lives, says Elijah Harper.

The well-known leader from Manitoba's Red Sucker Lake First Nation is to deliver a keynote speech at Carleton University in Ottawa on Saturday as part of a day-long conference organized by the Centre for Aboriginal Culture and Education.

It comes on the heels of the Crown-First Nations gathering in Ottawa this week, where Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo also complained about the Indian Act, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government has plans to revamp but not to repeal.

Elijah Harper said his talk will pick up on some of the themes raised at Tuesday's meeting. He was there and offered some comments during one of the breakout sessions, despite his ambivalence about the gathering.

Harper: No more Mr. Nice Guy

And here we all thought Prime Minister Stephen Harper was going to Davos to lecture the Europeans about mending their profligate ways and learning from the hard-won experience of Canadians about how to manage their personal and national finances. Well, he did that - drawing from his five-year track record of deficit-spending, GST-cutting and frittering away the $13-billion surplus he inherited from the Liberals in 2006.

But the PM also issued a warning to Canadians that the good times are coming to an end for seniors, immigrants and anybody else dependent on the public purse for financial support. In other words, no more Mr. Nice Guy!

He told Canadians that they may have to work longer than 65 to collect Old Age Security benefits. He said immigrants will be increasingly chosen based on their ability to contribute to the Canadian economy, rather than for primarily humanitarian or family considerations.

He said energy policy will be dictated by the need of the economy, not environmentalists, First Nations and other "adversaries" to development. New mines and energy projects would be expedited and regulatory red tape cut in Harper's brave new world order.

What's not clear is the motivation and rationale behind Harper's radical reform agenda.

Is Canada in danger of falling ill to the European disease of under-financed, over-generous entitlements to the public? Well, not if you exclude MP pensions from the picture.

The Canada Pension Plan, thanks to reforms introduced in the 1990s by then finance minister Paul Martin, is actuarially sound. It doesn't pay all that much - a maximum of $11,800 per year - but at least it will be there when we need it.

Jammed session

Parliament resumes Monday for what could be one of the most acrimonious sessions in years with arguably the most important federal budget in nearly two decades.

Thousands of public-sector jobs, billions of dollars in federal spending cuts and the popularity of the Conservative regime are all potentially on the line in a spring session of the House of Commons that will be dominated by the first budget put forward by a majority Tory government and a multibillion dollar operating review.

The government also will look to flex its majority muscles by passing contentious legislation to introduce Senate reform, eliminate the long-gun registry and modernize Canada's outdated copyright laws, among other measures.

Reforms to comparatively lucrative pension plans for parliamentarians and civil servants also could be in the works as the government looks to eliminate a $31-billion deficit by 2015-16. The prime minister went further in a speech in Davos, Switzerland this week, suggesting that even the public pension system could be transformed. Without getting into specifics, he said his government will "be taking measures in the coming months."

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said during his national pre-budget consultation tour this month: "What we are going to have is a budget that takes us on the road to prudent results in the medium and longer term.

Odious profits and the Enbridge pipeline

Two obvious but generally unstated details about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline are climate change and that oil and gas companies stand to make mega-profits. An honest appraisal of the project would be something like, "yes, putting in the pipeline will facilitate even more greenhouse gas emissions from the Alberta oil sands, but our buddies stand to make bucketloads of cash." Of course, proponents cannot say that so they have to resort to bullying and name-calling to disguise the indefensible.

The two, climate and profit, are very much related. The gains from doing this are "odious profits" that exist only because of massive costs externalized onto third parties (I'm riffing off the term "odious debt" -- that incurred by dictators, usually for military hardware, for which the people are forced to pay even after the dictator has been deposed). Anyone who advocates well-functioning markets, as opposed to unbridled capitalism, should see the logic of ensuring that all costs of production are captured in the market price. The huge negative externality associated with fossil fuels is what prompted Nicholas Stern to call climate change the biggest market failure in history.

How much are we talking here? The pipeline itself is a $5 billion investment so it will have to make back a decent annual return. Enbridge's estimates for toll structure and throughput imply revenues of just under $900 million per year. Based on financial statements in Enbridge's 2010 Annual Report, profits from pipeline operations (after-tax earnings plus dividends) averaged 34 per cent of revenues over the past three years. At this rate, profits from NGP would be over $300 million per year. These are not trivial amounts, and they do not include "costs" such as lucrative executive compensation -- for example, Patrick Daniel, the CEO of Enbridge, made more than $6 million in 2009, and several other executives had more than $1 million in compensation.

In Davos, IMF chief suggests eurozone should pace spending cuts

The head of the International Monetary Fund appeared to making headway Saturday in her drive to boost the institution's financial firepower so that it can help Europe prevent its crippling debt crisis from further damaging the global economy.

Christine Lagarde, who replaced Dominique Strauss-Kahn as managing director of the fund six months ago, is trying to ramp up the IMF's resources by $500 billion so it can help if more lending is needed in Europe or elsewhere. The IMF is the world's traditional lender-of-last-resort and has been involved in the bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Insisting that the IMF is a “safe bet” and that no country had ever lost money by lending to the IMF, Lagarde argued that increasing the size of the IMF's resources would help improve confidence in the global financial system. If enough money is in the fund the markets will be reassured and it won't be used, she said, using arguments similar to those that France has made about increasing Europe's own rescue fund.

“It's for that reason that I am here, with my little bag, to collect a bit of money,” she said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps town of Davos.

Her plea appeared to find a measure of support from ministers of Britain and Japan, sizable IMF shareholders that would be expected to contribute to any money-raising exercise.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper vow to reform retirement benefits may upset some Canadians

OTTAWA—Is this Stephen Harper’s “Charlie Brown” moment, or a defining change in crafting a conservative legacy?

In just a few short weeks, the Prime Minister has signalled that he intends to make the most of his majority mandate with moves to cap health-care funding and streamline approvals for energy projects. Then, in a speech in Davos, Switzerland Thursday, he put Canadians on notice to expect major reforms in immigration and research and development funding.

But it was his vow to change retirement income benefits — an area where previous governments have tried and failed — that has stirred the most reaction.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney learned the hard way that politicians tinker with the issue at their peril. After he partially de-indexed old age pensions in his 1985 budget, he was confronted on Parliament Hill by Solange Denis, who shouted, “You lied to us.”

“I was made to vote for you and then it’s good-bye, Charlie Brown,” Denis told Mulroney, who soon backed down on the move.

Paul Martin, too, tried to reform old-age benefits in 1995 when he was finance minister, worried about the impact of aging baby boomers on Ottawa’s bottom line. But he couldn’t win over prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was wary of incurring the wrath of angry pensioners.

At Davos 2012 George Soros Says Austerity 'Will Push Europe Into A Deflationary Debt Spiral'

Billionaire investor George Soros warned of a possible breakup of the European Union at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which he said would plunge the continent into political and economic turmoil. The crisis in Europe, he recently said, mirrors the broader crisis facing the global economy.

"Germany is acting as the taskmaster imposing tough fiscal discipline," Soros said on Wednesday, according to several news outlets. He said that this would create tensions "that could destroy the European Union."

In their response to the crisis, European leaders "had little understanding of how financial markets really work and did everything wrong," Soros said, according to The Wall Street Journal. He said that eurozone countries ultimately need to share their debt burden in some form and spend more to stimulate their economies, according to several news sources.

George Soros At Davos: Germany Relegating Weaker Euro Nations 'To The Status Of Third-World Countries'

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Philanthropist and former financier George Soros is urging European authorities to take more decisive action to protect the economies of Italy and Spain from financial strain.

He said at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday that the "half measures" adopted so far are insufficient to bring them back to growth.

Labeling Germany a task master imposing its strict anti-inflationary viewpoint on the rest of the continent, he said that weaker countries of the eurozone have been "relegated to the status of third world countries" having to pay back debts in a foreign currency.

He voiced fear that unrealistic demands placed on the weaker economies will exacerbate political tension within the European Union and proposed issuance of joint eurobonds.

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Without Universal Health Care, Who Are We?

If Canadians were being honest with themselves, they'd admit that socialized health care in this country is a myth. Our system is not a national one, it is governed by each province separately - the only "national" thing about Canadian health care is the financial assistance provided by the federal government ("assistance" being the operative word here - the feds only assist in the funding, they don't pay the whole thing). Even the terminology of Canadian health care -- "transfers" -- implies a decentralization of power from the centre to the edges. And, increasingly, private health care is creeping toward acceptance.

Tommy Douglas isn't the father of socialized medicare in Canada, he's the father of public health care in Saskatchewan, an idea that the other provinces, over time, appropriated, resulting in a web of provincial health plans that covers the entire country, but varies, often widely, from province to province.

A national health care plan, in theory, would offer the same level and quality of health care to every Canadian, via a central body. Our system isn't designed to do that: the Canada Health Act doesn't govern the ways in which health care is distributed, it only sets out broad guideline under which provinces qualify for funding of their individual health care mandates.

The problem, then, with the Harper government's announcement in December that it would tie health care funding to economic growth starting in 2018 isn't that doing so may destroy national medicare, it's that it will increase the inequity among provincial health plans.

The Political Consequences of a Drones-First Policy

If you talk to any security or intelligence professional, they'll tell you that the consequences of the Arab Spring -- it turned one this week -- have been devastating to U.S. security interests in the region. Information gathering, operations, intelligence, and general context about the Middle East and North Africa had become so lopsided -- utterly reliant on the security services of the unpopular dictatorships in the region -- that their overthrow more of less crippled U.S. efforts.
Over the last year the U.S. bureaucracy has worked feverishly to reestablish itself in the MENA region. But while it does so it stands on the verge of making a similar mistake in its reliance on drones to achieve policy objectives. The first hints of this imbalance are manifesting themselves all the time in the politics of target countries -- places where U.S. drones fly and fire weapons.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled this week a plan to dramatically expand the use of drones and special operations as the DoD tries to figure out how to operate in a universe of limited resources. It is part of President Obama's shift toward smaller covert actions in place of bigger, overt wars. But this policy shift is not without cost, and those costs are rarely debated in the public or behind closed doors.
As one example, drones carry inherent political costs to the regime that allows them. Among domestic populations, drones are almost always unpopular, as they represent a distant and unaccountable foreign power exercising the right to kill them at will. The resistance to drones is debated heavily in Pakistani circles, but it's difficult to ignore the effects, like a walkout in Parliament.Given the precariousness of President Zardari's administration, the impending military resistance to his rule, and the intrigue over Memogate, it should concern U.S. policymakers deeply that the drone program is further destabilizing an already tenuous situation.

Foreign aid gets down to business

The Conservative government is fundamentally realigning the way Canada delivers foreign aid, using private sector partners in the mining and agricultural sectors. In some instances the government's aid agency is even helping write legislation regulating the mining industry in developing countries.

But if the policy direction at the Canadian International Development Agency seems to blur the line between Canada's economic interests and international development goals, it is not something that worries Canada's International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda. When asked, during an interview with the Citizen, how she separates Canada's trade and foreign policy interests from Canadian development goals, she replied: "I really don't separate them.

"I think if we can increase the capacity of any country to become a global trading partner, if they've got products Canadians need, we can import them and, if Canada has products they would like, Canada can export them."

And Oda says she wants to see more partnerships between aid agencies and companies to help deliver Canadian aid around the world.

"Our government is very much looking to increase its relationships with the private sector," she said, adding that she would like to see such relationships between NGOs and corporations in manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, in addition to the extractive industry.

Oda said Canada's expertise in the mining and extraction industries - Canada is a global leader in mining - provides "added value" when it comes to international development. "It's another way of improving the effectiveness of CIDA's work," she said.

Fight over the 2012 federal budget will take place on the larger stage of public opinion

The sounds coming out of Parliament Hill as MPs prepare to return to the House of Commons on Monday are those of a government and an opposition honing their rhetorical swords for the most contentious budget debate in decades.

That the budget will be the centrepiece of the upcoming sitting of Parliament is par for the course. Budgets frame government agendas and this one is expected to frame the rest of the Conservative mandate. But it will be debated long and hard for a variety of other reasons.

It will be the first restraint budget presented to Parliament since the Liberals wrestled the deficit to the ground in the late 1990s.

It comes on the heels of an uncommonly long federal spending spree — one extended by the global economic crisis.

This is the first federal budget in eight years and the first Conservative budget in six years that will not have been crafted with a mind to ensure the survival of a minority government.

Over that period, political necessity commanded the production of good news budgets.

Tories have put Canadians in a hole

OTTAWA — On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, bragging about our country, lecturing the Europeans and pointing to his agenda for the year ahead.

Harper gets a respectful hearing there because Canada is doing fairly well compared with the rest of the world, which is a key part of his message to voters at home.

Canada has the soundest banks in the world, he said, and the best net debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7.
It sounds good, but he is choosing the numbers he cites carefully.

Canada does have the lowest net debt-to-GDP ratio, but that includes only federal government debt, not provincial debt, which gives us a big break in comparison with countries whose health services are provided by the central government.

According to the International Monetary Fund’s Fiscal Monitor, Canada’s gross debt-to-GDP ratio, which includes other levels of debt, is 84 per cent, much better than Japan (220) and Italy (119), a bit better than the United States (91.6) but worse than France (81), Germany (80) and the United Kingdom (77).

Harper at Davos: Of swaggering and sweater vests

So, here we languish in Harperstan, watching our fearless leader off in Switzerland alternately boasting and smacking those Europeans around for their silly attachment to "entitlements" such as workers' rights. Don't worry, he's coming home soon to spank us too. Gone are the sweater vest, the fireplace chat, and the kitten; here's Economic Rambo. I suppose we can console ourselves by noting how much Harper sticks out like a sore thumb amid a growing consensus that the system is broken. Even the founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum has just wondered aloud if capitalism is really working (yes, he really did say that, you weren't reading The Onion. Yeah, Occupy!).

Predictably, Stevie's swaggering excites some as he struts and frets upon the world stage. "Canada: no longer just friendly and harmless" drools an Ottawa Citizen headline. I'm not sure if what's under this disturbing title is an op-ed or a locker-room ritual of hairy-chested fistbumps and guttural roars of "BOOYAH." After describing the one-percenters milling around at piano bars in Davos, Peace Dividend Trust CEO Scott Gilmore reels off a list of names of Big Boys following Harper around and exults that the presence of all these men means we are now "cool" (BOOYAH). No longer do we have a "squishy foreign policy… and a notable lack of 'edge,'" whatever that means. Gilmore goes on to prescribe yet more macho posturing because "our brand is rising" (Austerity = Viagra for these guys?). We Harperstanis need to exhibit "less modesty, more brashness and a cocky stride" as well as a "muscular handshake" (fist bump).

Rob Ford’s trojan horse

A giant trojan horse was wheeled to the gates of City Hall Monday, January 23 – the front doors, actually.

But gates seem a more appropriate image for a Ford administration suddenly under siege after the previous week’s surprise budget smackdown. The über-prop for a press conference warning of the hidden dangers posed to the city by an impending Canada-Europe free trade deal (think privatization) made for some delicious irony given last week’s betrayal of former Ford allies.

No word if Mark Ferguson, president of CUPE Local 416, the city’s outside workers’ union, was hiding inside the wooden figure after spending the weekend across the street at the Sheraton Hotel in contract talks. He was spotted at Tuesday’s meeting of the mayor’s executive, at which making paramedics an essential service was the topic of discussion.

The clock has been ticking down to a lockout after a provincial conciliator declared a stalemate January 12.

But something strange has happened on the way to a full-blown city-versus-unions cage match.

And all of a sudden a lockout may not be a foregone conclusion, thanks in part to the reversal of political fortunes that took place on the council floor over the budget. Some $19 million in city services were saved from the axe, and a sizeable chunk of Ford’s political capital went up in flames.

The secret of Occupy

Waiting for the 505 a few weeks back, I heard an elderly man in a suit explaining to the woman beside him that our political institutions are controlled by the 1 per cent. It’s easy to forget how quickly Occupy-thought has penetrated public discourse – and how small are the actual numbers spiriting the movement along.

Case in point: Occupy Toronto’s somewhat smallish Activist Assembly last weekend, January 20 to 22, at OISE, though what the happening lacked in numbers it made up for in heroic grit.

As always with the shape-shifting org, the people count was elusive because of all the comings and goings (there was a mobilization at Caterpillar in London the same weekend), but I’d wager about 150 in total showed up to celebrate past successes, fortify the consensual decision style and chart new forays.

OT may not have been terribly visible in the months since its November expulsion from St. James Park, but it has, astonishingly, remained in emergency mode, as if in the current economic crisis politics were of necessity a daily practice.

Navy wants commando ‘mothership’ in Middle East

The Pentagon is rushing to send a large floating base for commando teams to the Middle East as tensions rise with Iran, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates, among other threats.

In response to requests from U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, the Navy is converting an aging warship it had planned to decommission into a makeshift staging base for the commandos. Unofficially dubbed a “mothership,” the floating base could accommodate smaller high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEALs, procurement documents show.

Special Operations forces are a key part of the Obama administration’s strategy to make the military leaner and more agile as the Pentagon confronts at least $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, declined to elaborate on the floating base’s purpose or to say where, exactly, it will be deployed in the Middle East. Other Navy officials acknowledged that they were moving with unusual haste to complete the conversion and send the mothership to the region by early summer.

Eric Schmidt At Davos Praises Globalization, Dismisses Jobs Crisis

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, is clearly tired of modern-day Luddites complaining about the job-destroying forces of technology.

"I assume that everybody here agrees that globalization is wonderful," he said here Friday, speaking during an afternoon panel at the World Economic Forum -- certainly among the more receptive audiences on the planet for such pronouncements. He was sitting next to Tom Friedman, The New York Times columnist whose best-selling books about globalization often seem to outnumber in-flight magazines in the first-class cabins of intercontinental jets.

The subject they were discussing was both controversial and crucial: Why has the success of innovative giants such as Google and Apple failed to directly translate into significant numbers of jobs? How do we generate large numbers of high-quality paychecks in such times?

Schmidt pushed back against the premise, arguing that while Google itself employs about 30,000 people around the globe -- a fraction of the count at manufacturing giants such as Caterpillar and Boeing -- the company has indirectly generated millions of additional jobs and trillions of dollars in wealth by offering up a valuable platform for commerce.

Its online services -- from maps to search to cloud-based word processing and email -- have made people and businesses vastly more efficient just as in another age advances such as plows and cotton gins enabled farmers to expand their usable acreage.

Tim Cook Responds To Foxconn Worker Abuse Report: Apple Not Turning 'Blind Eye'

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc has never turned "a blind eye" to the problems in its supply chain and any suggestion it does not care about the plight of workers is "patently false," Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said in an email to employees.

Cook was responding to a report in The New York Times about working conditions at Apple's main contract manufacturer, Foxconn, in China, an issue that for years has been a thorn in the company's side.

Apple responded in the past by launching independent audits and publishing the results. Earlier this month, Apple for the first time published a list of all its main suppliers.

"What we will not do - and never have done - is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain," he said in the email. "On this you have my word."

The email was first reported by the blog 9to5Mac and Reuters confirmed its authenticity.

"Any suggestion that we don't care is patently false and offensive to us," Cook said in the email.

Canada Pension Cuts Won't Impact Canadians Nearing Retirement Age, PMO Says

OTTAWA - The Harper government is moving to deflect political blowback from planned cuts to public pensions, as the opposition blasted the prime minister for putting seniors' security on the block.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper put the cat among the pigeons in a speech in Davos on Thursday, saying he intends to do to government-funded pensions what he did to health care transfers — limit their growth.

Although he was not specific, speculation had been building for weeks that Ottawa would increase the age of eligibility for Old Age Security by two years to 67 and that the measure would form part of the upcoming budget.

On Friday, the Prime Minister's Office issued talking points to Conservative MPs and supporters stressing that any changes would not impact benefits to seniors currently receiving OAS, or those nearing retirement.

Nearly Half Of Spaniards Under 25 Years Old Now Unemployed

MADRID — Spain's brutal unemployment rate soared to nearly 23 percent Friday and closed in on 50 percent for those under age 25, leaving more than 5 million people – or almost one out of every four – out of work as the country slides toward recession.

Spain's National Statistics Institute reported that 5.3 million people were jobless at the end of December, up from 4.9 million in the third quarter – a jump in the unemployment rate from 21.5 percent to 22.9 percent in the fourth quarter.

For those under age 25, the rate hit a whopping 48.5 percent, and the institute also reported that Spain now has 1.6 million households in which no one has work.

The numbers didn't surprise Spaniards, who are gearing up for another recession after the economy briefly surfaced from a crippling two-year downturn triggered by the 2008 credit crunch and a burst domestic real estate bubble that had supercharged Spain's economy for nearly a decade.

Spain already has the highest unemployment rate in the 17-nation eurozone, where the average jobless rate is just above 10 percent. Ireland holds the No. 2 spot with 14.6 percent unemployment and had to take an international bailout last year.

Harper and the U.S. are wrong on the Iran threat

It’s unlikely that Stephen Harper, John Baird, Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich have ever heard of Tamir Pardo, Meir Dagan, Amos Yadlin, Gabi Ashkenazi or Yuval Diskin. But it would probably make no difference if they had. After all, Benjamin Netanyahu certainly knows them well and ignores them completely.

So the reckless escalation of aggression against Iran, both physical and rhetorical, continues apace. Presumably the end game is both regime change in Tehran and an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions – admirable, if unrealistic, objectives. Far more plausible is an uncontrollable conflict that will spread throughout the Middle East and from there to, well, no one knows. But it is not wrong to fear the worse, as many knowledgeable observers do.

But those who know least, like the American lunatic fringe (aka the Republican Party) and the Harper government, are either willfully ignorant of or indifferent to the logical consequences of their positions.

The Iranians blame the U.S. and Israel for the latest murder of one of the country’s top nuclear scientists, among several other recent acts of sabotage. The U.S. flatly denies the charge, for what it’s worth, while the Israelis barely bother doing so. In fact many Israelis, including those at the top, want to go much further. They want to destroy utterly the entire Iranian nuclear potential and seem bizarrely indifferent to the threat to Israel of Iranian retaliation.