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.]

Monday, March 26, 2012

Strong majority backs Jerry Brown's tax-hike initiative

Reporting from Sacramento — California voters strongly support Gov. Jerry Brown's new proposal to increase the sales tax and raise levies on upper incomes to help raise money for schools and balance the state's budget, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they supported the governor's measure, which he hopes to place on the November ballot. It would hike the state sales tax by a quarter-cent per dollar for the next four years and create a graduated surcharge on incomes of more than $250,000 that would last seven years. A third of respondents opposed the measure.

Brown's new plan, rewritten recently amid pressure from liberal activist and union groups that had a competing proposal, relies on a larger share of revenue from upper-income earners than his original measure. Correspondingly, it leans less upon sales taxes, which are paid by all California consumers. The poll shows that taxing high earners is overwhelmingly popular.

"These poll results illustrate that Brown was very smart to put together this initiative the way he did," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

Shirley Karns, 74, an independent voter from the Northern California town of Lakeport who backs the governor's new plan, said the wealthy should pay more.

What Are Conservatives Trying to Conserve?

About a month ago, Jonathan Chait published an important article in New York Magazine arguing that demographic changes in the United States will before too long spell doom to the political influence and hegemony of conservatives, and that conservatives, well aware of these changes, regard the 2012 elections as their last, best chance to reverse the course America is on. "Conservative America," Chait writes, "will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests." The Republican Party, Chait explains, had over decades found itself increasingly confined to white voters, "especially those lacking a college degree and especially rural whites." Meanwhile, Democrats have increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, secular whites and racial minorities. And he highlighted swing states like Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Virginia and North Carolina where this demographic shift was increasingly evident. In 2008, Chait says, Obama carried out that blueprint, and the trend is continuing.

Chait's argument is not simplistic. He recognizes that coalitions are fluid, and shift as competing political parties adapt. he recognizes, too, that short-term events -- like a 9/11 attack, foreign crises, economic catastrophes or a scandal like Watergate -- can interrupt long term trends and trump them. But, Chait insists, "the dominant fact of the new Democratic majority is that it has begun to overturn the racial dynamics that have governed American politics for five decades" as well as the "stew of racial, religious, cultural and nationalistic" identity politics that have dominated elections. As Frank Rich summarized Chait's analysis, "the 2012 election is likely to be the last stand for the older, demographically antique America" that the Republican primaries reflect. This "now or never" mentality among conservative Republicans, Chait argues, this sense that demographic trends are against them, is driving their apocalyptic view of what Obama represents and of the critical importance to them of this election. Republican conservatives, Chait says, see this election as their last chance to stop history.

Citizens United Reform, Requiring Corporations To Disclose Political Spending, Sought From SEC

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of reform groups gathered Monday morning to urge the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded companies to disclose contributions to independent groups engaged in electoral politics. The event in front of SEC headquarters continued efforts by reform groups and elected officials to fix disclosure loopholes opened and expanded by the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

"The SEC can do something about the fact that money is taking over the political process," said Bill de Blasio, the public advocate for New York City. "They can force publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending. It's not a lot to ask to simply disclose what they're doing. The SEC has the power, but the SEC is not using the power."

Advocates of reform have focused their sights on several federal agencies that have authority over some aspect of the campaign finance system, including the SEC, the FEC, the Federal Communications Commission and the Internal Revenue Service. The SEC, for its part, has the authority to write a regulation expanding the required disclosures made by publicly traded companies.

The Science of Truthiness: Why Conservatives Deny Global Warming

So the question before us on this panel is, "Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?" And I want to focus on one particular aspect of humans that makes them very problematic in a planetary sense -- namely, their brains.

What I've spent the last year or more trying to understand is what it is about our brains that makes facts such odd and threatening things; why we sometimes double down on false beliefs when they're refuted; and maybe, even, why some of us do it more than others.

And of course, the new book homes in on the brains -- really, the psychologies -- of politically conservative homo sapiens in particular. You know, Stephen Colbert once said that "reality has a well-known liberal bias." And essentially what I'm arguing is that, not only is that a funny statement, it's factually true, and perhaps even part of the nature of things.

Colbert also talked about the phenomenon of "truthiness," and as it turns out, we can actually give a scientific explanation of truthiness -- which is what I'm going to sketch in the next ten minutes, with respect to global warming in particular.

I almost called the book The Science of Truthiness -- but The Republican Brain turns out to be a better title.

Trayvon Martin case: Martin was the aggressor, police sources say

As Florida braced itself for what could be the biggest day of protest yet in the Trayvon Martin case, police revealed new details that depict the slain 17-year-old as the aggressor and appear to support George Zimmerman's claim that he was acting in self-defense when he shot the teenager.

Martin was killed one month ago today. That's one month of justice denied, according to protesters who are expected to amass throughout the day to continue their demand for Zimmerman's arrest in the Sanford, Fla. case.

A forum hosted by CNN commentator Roland Martin is being held at noon today in that city, followed by a 4 p.m. rally that is expected to draw thousands. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson plans to lead protesters to the Sanford City Commission meeting being held this evening, and attended by the slain teen's parents. And students at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Florida A&M University will hold rallies on their campuses.

Can George Zimmerman Get a Fair Trial?

As millions of people rally online and thousands march in the streets demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, the state or federal prosecution of George Zimmerman seems increasingly likely. But ... as millions of people rally online and thousands march in the streets, Zimmerman's prospects for a fair trial seem increasingly unlikely.

I'm not questioning the outrage generated by Martin's killing and the cursory initial investigation of it. I'm not criticizing the campaign to re-open the case, the demand for federal intervention, or the skepticism about Zimmerman's story and his self-defense claim. I'm commenting on the dilemma posed by popular campaigns for criminal prosecutions: The effort to correct what appears to have been one grievous injustice risks creating another.

If Zimmerman is indicted by state authorities for homicide, or for a federal hate crime, where in the world will the judiciary find an impartial jury? So many people have already convicted Zimmerman; so much prejudicial evidence and speculation have been so widely disseminated.

Canada's 'pearl' of Arctic research hit with funding freeze

Atmospheric scientist Pierre Fogal headed north in February to help check on Earth's protective ozone layer high in the Arctic stratosphere.

But he spent much of his time on his knees dealing with burst water pipes and frozen sewer lines at Canada's beleaguered Arctic research station.

Then this week, the electrical system malfunctioned, says Fogal, site manager for PEARL, the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island.

The station, now limping along at half power and a chilly 10 C inside, is one of the world's premier observatories for tracking the health of the Arctic atmosphere. The station houses millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment used to monitor the ozone layer, greenhouse gases and pollution swirling around the polar vortex.

But it has been a bad year. Unusually frigid weather has taken a big toll on the station's plumbing and power system, and the chilly financial wind blowing out of Ottawa has left PEARL in dire financial straits.

Communications director joins NDP exodus under Mulcair

More New Democrat officials who had been close to former leader Jack Layton and failed leadership candidate Brian Topp are leaving the party in the wake of Thomas Mulcair’s arrival at the helm.

Drew Anderson, the NDP director of communications, told staff Monday morning that he is leaving, a source said.

In addition, the party’s former top Quebec adviser, Raymond Guardia, is on the way out, sources said. Mr. Guardia ran the campaign of Mr. Topp, one of his best friends.

However, Mr. Guardia’s decision to join the Topp campaign last fall came as a stinging surprise to Mr. Mulcair, given the pair had worked closely in recent years, starting with Mr. Mulcair’s 2007 by-election victory in Outremont.

Why my body doesn't exist for your viewing pleasure: An open letter to Ian Brown and friends

On Friday, The Globe and Mail published an article so offensive, so backwards, and so nauseating that the only reaction I could muster over the last 48 hours was fuming, spitting, red-faced anger.

They smartly (if intelligence is calculated based on page views and the ability to get pervy dudes on-side, which clearly The Globe and Mail believes is the case) titled the piece: Why men can't -- and shouldn't -- stop staring at women. Criticism of the article could almost begin and end with the title.

One of the things we've learned from feminism is that, while men have long enjoyed arguing that biology accounts for misogyny, having used scientific arguments to "prove" that, for example, male dominance, rape, male violence and of course, the objectified, sexualized female body is "natural", things are not quite so clear-cut. Similar arguments have been used by white men to justify racism and slavery. As such, it seems reasonable to assume that those doing the "science" and those communicating to society what is and is not "natural" based on said science have some level of control over what we come to believe, as a society, is true, factual and, of course, "natural."

Now back to the overwhelming stupidity of this particular article.

Is this market boom for real?

The Nasdaq composite index crossed the 3,000-point mark last week, prompting a flurry of recollections about the last time the lofty milestone was reached. It was almost 13 years ago, Nov. 2, 1999, just as online grocery business Webvan was putting the finishing touches on its initial public offering—one of dozens of Silicon Valley companies going public with a half-baked idea and plenty of investor enthusiasm. Webvan’s stock soared in its first few days of trading. But a year and a half later the company filed for bankruptcy, joining the ranks of (online pet supplies), (fashion apparel) and (an online currency) as one of the tech bubble’s biggest flame-outs.

This time, though, things look different. The roaring stock market is being led not only by flash-in-the-pan start-ups, but immensely profitable companies like Apple Inc., now the most valuable corporation on the planet. Nor is it just a tech story. The S&P 500 Index has rallied 25 per cent over the past five months, as has the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In fact, taken all together, U.S. stocks have clawed their way back to pre-2008 levels, according to the broad-based Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index (Canada’s S&P/TSX composite index, by contrast, is up 65 per cent since the crash, though it’s down slightly over the past year).

Busting the top five Harper myths, someone has to

OAKVILLE, ONT.—Stephen Harper has now been Prime Minister of Canada for more than six years.

And during that time a number of myths have emerged regarding his leadership, myths which many in the media and elsewhere have come to accept as reality.

So, in the interest of setting the record straight, I have decided to bust the “Top Five Stephen Harper Myths.”

Here they are in no particular order:

Myth No. 1: Stephen Harper wants to turn Canada into a Christian theocracy

The perpetrators of this myth like to paint Harper as a cross between Rick Santorum and Ayatollah Khomeini.  In fact, in her book, The Armageddon Factor, Marci McDonald suggests Harper is plotting to hand control of Canada over to a cabal of bible-thumping evangelical Christians who want to ban abortions, stop gay marriage and just generally throw society back to the Middle Ages. Is this true? Nope. When it comes to social issues Harper is really a “Don’t Rock the Boat Moderate.” That’s why social conservatives overwhelmingly backed Stockwell Day during the 2002 Canadian Alliance leadership race.

Climate change linked to recent weather extremes

Human-caused climate change is indeed responsible for increasing incidents of extreme heat waves and rainfall over the past decade, a new, detailed scientific analysis shows.

"Many lines of evidence … strongly indicate that some types of extreme event, most notably heat waves and precipitation extremes, will greatly increase in a warming climate and have already done so," said the paper published Sunday in Nature Climate Change by researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact in Germany.

However, it said the link between climate change and other types of extreme weather, such as storms, is less conclusive.

Scientists have long suggested that human-caused climate change could be leading to the increase in heat waves and devastating droughts and floods recorded around the world over the past decade. Earlier, less comprehensive studies have provided some evidence that the link does exist. For example, two studies in February 2011 linked global warming to a seven per cent increase in precipitation during the most extreme storms in North America and to an increase in the likelihood of flooding in the U.K.

Trayvon Martin shooting: Shooter claims U.S. teen attacked him

With a single punch, Trayvon Martin decked the neighbourhood watch volunteer who eventually shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old, then Martin climbed on top of George Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk several times, leaving him bloody and battered, authorities have revealed to the Orlando Sentinel.

That is the account Zimmerman gave police, and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities say.

Zimmerman has not spoken publicly about what happened, but that night, Feb. 26, and in later meetings he described and re-enacted for police what he says happened.

Zimmerman’s lawyer, Craig Sonner, has denied there was any racial motive. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.

In his version of events, he had turned around and was walking back to his SUV when Martin approached him from behind, the two exchanged words then Martin punched him in the nose, sending him to the ground, and began beating him.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Resistance To Principal Reduction Costs Taxpayers

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- After two years of bewildering futility, John and Linda DeCaro thought they had finally found a way to hang on to their home.

They could no longer afford their mortgage payments and had slipped into delinquency. They could not refinance to take advantage of low-interest rates because they were among the nearly 11 million American homeowners who are "underwater," meaning that they owed the bank more than their house was worth. Bank of America had already initiated foreclosure proceedings.

Then in the spring of 2011, a nonprofit lender, Boston Community Capital, presented a potential fix, one it has used to aid some 200 underwater borrowers in Massachusetts over the last two years. The bank would buy the DeCaros' home at market value -- about $87,000, which was barely half of their mortgage balance -- and then sell it back to them for a little more, providing a manageable loan. Bank of America affirmed the sale price as fair value.

Lobbyists, Guns and Money

Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy — and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.

Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.

What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Robert Bales Charged: Military Scrambles To Limit Malaria Drug Just After Afghanistan Massacre

WASHINGTON -- Nine days after a U.S. soldier allegedly massacred 17 civilians in Afghanistan, a top-level Pentagon health official ordered a widespread, emergency review of the military’s use of a notorious anti-malaria drug called mefloquine.

Mefloquine, also called Lariam, has severe psychiatric side effects. Problems include psychotic behavior, paranoia and hallucinations. The drug has been implicated in numerous suicides and homicides, including deaths in the U.S. military. For years the military has used the weekly pill to help prevent malaria among deployed troops.

The U.S. Army nearly dropped use of mefloquine entirely in 2009 because of the dangers, now only using it in limited circumstances, including sometimes in Afghanistan. The 2009 order from the Army said soldiers who have suffered a traumatic brain injury should not be given the drug.

The soldier accused of grisly Afghanistan murders on March 17 of men, women and children, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq in 2010 during his third combat tour. According to New York Times reporting, repeated combat tours also increase the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

This Week in Poverty: Paul Ryan's Focus on Dignity

“Promoting the natural rights and the inherent dignity of the individual must be the central focus of all government.”

That’s what Congressman Paul Ryan wrote earlier this month in an exclusive commentary for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity. This week, he revealed exactly where his laser-like focus on dignity would lead this nation. He released his budget proposal, as clear a statement of one’s principles and priorities as there is in politics.

Here are the results, and they’re not pretty. Nation readers with young children should probably ask them to leave the room before reading onward.

Mr. Ryan’s focus on dignity… means a cut in food stamps of $133 billion over ten years, even though 76 percent of participating households include a child, senior or disabled person, nearly half of all recipients are children and 40 percent of single mothers use food stamps to help feed their families.  A $13.4 billion cut in one year translates to as many as 8.2 billion meals lost for low-income people, more kids at risk of being underweight or developmentally delayed, worse educational outcomes and more stressed-out parents.

Meet Professor Occupy

In her makeshift classroom in lower Manhattan, Lisa Fithian turns to a group of several dozen students, squares her shoulders, and issues a challenge: "Does someone want to be a cop and come get me?" A tall redhead abruptly breaks out and lunges at her, but Fithian, a petite, den-motherish 50-year-old, head fakes and bolts away. Cheers erupt from her pupils, Occupy Wall Street protesters intent on shutting down the New York Stock Exchange the following morning. Another pretend cop moves in, and this time she drops to the ground, flopping like a rag doll as the officer struggles to drag her away. Fithian stands to deliver her lesson. "Of the two choices, running away or going limp, what does running away communicate?" she asks.

"Guilt," several people say.

She smiles and nods. "Guilt."

Supremacist Stabbing Not Hate Crime, Say Police

RCMP are concerned a gang war could be sparked by allegations a white supremacist was killed because of his association with a group called Blood and Honour.

A Surrey, B.C., man, who died March 17 in what police said appeared to be an attempted break and enter was a member of the group, one of his associates says.

Police were called about 11 p.m. PT to a residence in the Fraser Heights area of Surrey where they found evidence of a violent struggle and a 36-year-old male resident with head injuries.

Officers followed a trail of blood from that home and found the body of Jan Korinth, 26, two residences away. He had been stabbed to death.

The first man was treated and released from hospital. He has not been charged and police have not said whether he is a suspect in Korinth’s slaying.

New NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair Wins Weak Mandate After Glitches And Low Voter Turnout At Convention

TORONTO — Thomas Mulcair takes over the leadership of the federal NDP with a surprisingly weak mandate after the membership failed to show up for its own party.

Mulcair’s fourth-ballot win Saturday night capped a long, drawn-out day of vote delays caused by a purported cyber attack on the NDP’s online voting system.

But equally as troubling for many members at the two-day Toronto convention was the low voter turnout at what should have been a banner moment for the party.

After all, the NDP is coming off a remarkable year in which it claimed official opposition status with an historic “orange crush” of support in the May federal election and witnessed a national outpouring of support following the death of Jack Layton. What happened Saturday in Toronto could better be described as an “orange crash.”

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill a Cautionary Tale for Arctic Ocean Drilling

As the Obama administration prepares to issue final permits for exploratory oil drilling on the outer continental shelf off Alaska's Arctic coast this summer, the public is hearing some familiar promises from industry and government -- the risk of a catastrophic oil spill is small, best available technology will be used to prevent spills, any oil spill will be effectively contained and cleaned up, the government will keep a vigilant eye on industry and so on. We heard the same empty promises 40 years ago.

Seeking approval to build the Trans Alaska Pipeline back in the 1970s, government and industry promised the people of America that oil would be shipped safely from Alaska, and "not one drop" would be spilled. There were to be double-hulled tankers, a fail-safe tanker monitoring system, state-of-the-art spill response capability, and of course, the government would keep a vigilant eye on industry. But after getting approval to build the pipeline, the big money began to flow and all such promises were promptly forgotten.

And at four minutes past midnight on March 24, 1989 -- 23 years ago on Saturday -- the single-hulled supertanker "Exxon Valdez," loaded with 1.3 million barrels of toxic Alaska North Slope oil, ran hard aground on a well-marked reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound, rupturing eight of its 11 oil cargo holds, and causing at the time the nation's largest oil spill. So much for "not one drop."

Thomas Mulcair: NDP Leader Must Do More Than Secure Quebec To Become Prime Minister

So Thomas Mulcair is the new leader of the NDP. Now what?

With the party's gains in Quebec now secure, at least for the time being, the NDP under Mulcair can turn its attention to making the inroads in the rest of the country.

Quebec was always going to be key to any hopes for an NDP victory in 2015. With 58 seats in the province, the New Democrats only need to win a little more than 42 per cent of ridings in the rest of the country in order to form a majority government.

Polls have suggested only Thomas Mulcair was in a position to consolidate the NDP's position in Quebec. New surveys from the province will have to confirm that, but that fact that Mulcair gave his first media interview to Radio-Canada and recited the first part of his victory speech in French, makes it clear he is not taking his party's Quebec support for granted.

Canada in hot seat at nuclear summit for uranium use

Canada may be the subject of some controversy at the nuclear security summit, which opens today in Seoul, South Korea.

The U.S. and several European countries are calling on countries such as Canada to phase out the use of highly enriched uranium, which Canada uses to make medical isotopes for medical diagnoses. Canada is the largest producer of medical isotopes.

"Highly enriched uranium can be used to make bombs, and the U.S. is calling on Canada and others to move toward using a lower grade," the CBC's Laurie Graham reports from the conference.

For Canada, "the cost of converting to get into a lower grade would be very expensive. Canada had promised in 2010 to start phasing out using it at the last summit. It's been sharply criticized for not moving fast enough, and no doubt that criticism will continue."

Ottawa-based MDS Nordion Inc., a major provider of medical isotopes, signed a supply agreement with a Russian company in 2010 to import the isotopes derived from cheaper highly enriched uranium.

Canadians have $100M stashed in Liechtenstein

Tax evaders from around the world have been investigated, fined and jailed for trying to hide their wealth in Liechtenstein, but a senator says Canadians suspected of using bank accounts there to dodge the taxman are getting off easy.

Thanks to secrecy laws that prevent other countries obtaining information from its banks, Liechtenstein has long been regarded as a perfect place to stash cash.

The would-be tax haven was cracked open in 2006, however, when whistleblower Heinrich Kieber handed German authorities a disc of stolen data.

The disc, for which Kieber was reportedly paid nearly 5 million euros, contained some 12,000 pages of information detailing all the account holders at Liechtenstein's largest financial institution, LGT.

Authorities in the United States, Germany and Australia subsequently imposed jail sentences and huge fines on those found to have been using accounts at the LGT bank to cheat the taxman.

Expect a ‘terribly important’ federal budget, says Crowley

Expect a “terribly important” budget this Thursday that will reveal the true mettle of the ruling Conservatives and could set Canada on a new social and economic path, says author and think-tank head Brian Lee Crowley.

“They’ve always had to put water in their wine as a result of being in a minority. … They no longer have that excuse to fall back on,” he stated.

“This will be really the first budget for which they will be fully answerable to the population,” Mr. Crowley, who helms the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, added.

Speaking to reporters March 22, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (Whitby-Oshawa, Ont.) said that the billions of dollars of cuts to public services expected in the budget will be “moderate” but didn’t give details.

The government has been looking for at least $4-billion to $8-billion in annual cuts to federal departments, for a total of five to 10 per cent of their operating budgets. The goal is to balance the government’s books by 2015-2016 after years of deficit.

Feds to roll out budget, Cabinet ministers to sell ‘austerity’ measures

Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will release this week how the federal government plans to spend an estimated $252-billion this fiscal year and Cabinet will be selling an “austerity budget,”  but some critics say the government’s pre-budget communications strategy has been muddled and incoherent as it has been sending advanced mixed messages.

As a result, if the budget to be tabled on March 29 is worse than the Canadian public expected because of the lack of consistent preconditioning, it will be difficult for ministers and Conservative MPs to later sell it to constituents in their ridings.

“They have been incoherent, there’s no doubt about that, in a huge range of issues,” said NDP MP Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.). “They used to have tight messaging prior to May 2 and I think they’ve just lost their discipline around the messaging and people are losing confidence in them.”

Parliament to cut own spending by nearly 7 per cent

The House of Commons will cut its spending by an estimated 6.7 per cent or more as part of the federal government’s belt tightening exercise, iPolitics has learned.

NDP House Leader Joe Comartin said Parliament’s Board of Internal Economy has finished its examination of the House’s spending and the details will be announced when the federal budget is unveiled.

“There were some areas where there were significant cuts and others where there was none at all,” he said. “But on average it worked out to 6.75 or 6.85 per cent.”

Main estimates tabled recently by Treasury Board President Tony Clement allocate a $445.8 million budget to run the House of Commons in 2012-13.  A 6.75 per cent cut would represent a $30 million drop.

However, Comartin said not all of the spending cuts will kick in right away.

“Not all of them are coming in this year. You won’t even see some of them. Some of them are further down the road.”

The rise of the casino economy

I was on a road trip recently, driving through the American south, and ended up coming face to face with the economics of gambling. The friend I was travelling with is a professional poker player, making his living at casinos all across the U.S. He used to work as an IT consultant in Toronto, helping companies with their computer systems before he decided to quit and earn his keep in a more unorthodox fashion.

At one point, as we drove along the highway from New Orleans towards Texas (we were heading for Austin) I noticed that just about every gas station had a casino attached to it, albeit small ones. They were big enough to contain some slot machines and crap tables. In New Orleans itself, I visited the Harrah's casino, a huge building in the downtown core, hermetically sealed to keep the sunlight out in order not to distract the visitors from the task of valiantly trying not to lose their money. My friend spent a few hours there to make some quick cash.

Casinos have been springing up in cities across North America in recent years. They are seen by governments as an economic elixir -- a one-stop job creator and tourist attraction designed to replace employment lost because of de-industrialization in America and Canada. By now it's as much as a (US) $20-billion industry combined between the two countries. In cities like Windsor, which used to employ huge numbers of people in the auto industry, when those jobs vanished, the Ontario government built casinos in the hopes of taking up the slack.

Inside the working conditions of migrant workers: Journal seven and epilogue

In light of the recent tragic incident involving the death of 10 migrant workers in Southern Ontario, I felt it was finally time to take the wraps off of a journal I kept during a two-week trip in early 2004 to investigate the conditions of undocumented Chinese migrant farm workers. I hope this can help shed light on the kinds of conditions faced every day by the people who tend, pick and process the food we eat.

This is the seventh in a series. See here for the first entry.

The families of the deceased and injured are very much in need of financial and logistical support. As such, a fund has been set up so that donations may be made to them. At the same time, a sustained, organized, well-informed effort is needed to prevent similar tragedies. Please consider supporting groups like Justice 4 Migrant Workers and joining migrant farm worker advocates in calling for greater accountability and compensation.
With two-thirds of our group having returned to Toronto, things are irritatingly and eerily quiet in the morning. Eight or nine more workers are to arrive tomorrow. I wonder how to greet them: how should we warn them to expect instability here?

Tax increase for Ontario drivers is not the way to pay off the deficit

Last week, Ontarians — specifically drivers who own vehicles — were shocked to learn that they will soon be paying more for the privilege of driving a vehicle in this province.

Licence plate renewals for vehicles will increase from $74 this year to $98 by 2014, representing a 32 per cent increase. Replacing your driver’s licence will increase from $10 this year to $25 in 2015. Licence renewals will increase from $75 this year to $80 in 2015.

This sudden increase isn’t the result of rising gas prices or insurance costs; rather, it’s in the form of increased taxes and fees, as recommended by Don Drummond, the Chair of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services.

The collective voice of the Toronto and Ontario Automobile Dealers Associations, representing new car dealers across Ontario, strongly disapproves of this blatant tax grab, especially considering that the Drummond Commission had no mandate to recommend tax increases and showed the government how to balance the budget without increasing taxes. The Drummond Report stated that “most of the burden of eliminating the $30.2 billion shortfall in 2017-’18 must fall on spending.”

Mulcair, Harper allies in plotting Liberals' demise

At the pivotal moment a freshly crowned Thomas Mulcair needed to ignite his party faithful and wow the Canadian masses, the NDP's great hope for power delivered a convoluted victory speech with all the passion of phoning for a cab.

As Mulcair's second oratorical flop in as many days sucked the energy from the Toronto convention hall Saturday night, it is a safe bet the loudest applause for the speech was from federal Liberals across the land. Mulcair and his promise to lead the NDP toward the political centre clearly threaten no one more than the Liberal Party.

Looking confident and relaxed, Mulcair emerged from his weekend victory promising to go into bloody battle with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, barely mentioning the third-party Grits.

In return, the Conservatives welcomed Mulcair's victory with an online attack, calling him "an opportunist whose high-tax agenda, blind ambition and divisive personality would put Canadian families and their jobs at risk."

But beyond all the partisan rhetoric, Harper and Mulcair are more allies than enemies in their pursuit of one key political goal — the decimation of the federal Liberal party.

Former NSA Employee Thomas Drake and Jesselyn Radack on Obama Admin. Whistleblower Crackdown

We continue our conversation with Thomas Drake, who was prosecuted by the Obama administration after challenging mismanagement, waste and possible constitutional violations at the National Security Administration. "I’m the first to acknowledge that there are secrets. But not when it comes to govt wrongdoing and illegalities and when in fact they’re endangering the safety of our own country,” Drake says. Former Justice Dept. spokesperson, Matthew Miller now says the case may have been an "ill-considered choice for prosecution. Drake faced 35 years in jail, and his case ended last year in a misdemeanor plea deal. We also speak with Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Drake’s lawyer and a whistleblower herself. She is currently the director of National Security & Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower organization. Radack has written a new book, called TRAITOR: The Whistleblower and the "American Taliban." We also discuss the case of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer who also has been charged under the espionage Act, allegedly, for providing details about the CIA’s covert spy war with Iran that formed a chapter in James Risen’s book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration."

Source: Democracy Now!
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The Atmosphere as Dumping Ground

As long as coal remains so inexpensive, with few or no dollars paid for the environmental damage it causes, it will continue to be used. And that endangers us all.

More than anything else, coal fuelled the Industrial Revolution. It was, and still is, plentiful and cheap. It’s also always been relatively easy to get at, especially if you don’t mind sending kids into mines, endangering the lives of miners, or blasting the tops off mountains.

Coal is an 18th-century fuel source, but we’re still relying on it for much of our energy needs in the 21st century. Because it’s so abundant and inexpensive, there’s been little incentive to switch to cleaner, but often more expensive, sources.

Burning coal pollutes the air, land, and water, and is a major driver of climate change. Emissions from coal combustion contain sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, mercury, arsenic, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, lead, small particles, and other toxic materials. These cause acid rain, smog, damage to forests and waterways, and a range of serious health problems in humans, from lung disease to cancer.

And, as University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver concluded after comparing the impacts of burning tar-sands oil to burning coal, “We will live or die by our future consumption of coal.” That doesn’t mean the tar sands are okay; it’s just that there’s a lot more coal in the world, and the impacts of mining and burning it are more severe.

Chief electoral officer Mayrand to testify before House Affairs Committee on robocalls March 29

The robocalls and issues of election fraud are still front and centre even though the original number of complaints to Elections Canada went from 31,000 to 31,000 “contacts,” to 700 complaints, say opposition MPs.

“We in the Ottawa bubble have been engaged in this for weeks, but it’s really only starting to reach critical mass as an issue in the coffee shops of the nation,” said NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Man.). “If we manage to get the poor Chief Electoral Officer to appear, I anticipate Dean Del Mastro will move that we go in-camera which is non-debatable and always succeeds so, it will be of questionable benefit to the general public if the chief electoral officer’s not allowed to say his piece in public and it gets shrouded in a cloak of secrecy.”

In a statement recently, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand said that he will deliver a report to Parliament “in due course” with regard to the investigation into fraudulent calls during the last election campaign, but said he would “welcome the opportunity” to appear before the Procedure and House Affairs Committee “to provide information on [Elections Canada’s] administrative and investigative processes.”

How Alberta votes will shape the country we live in

Only four parties have ruled Alberta since its founding in 1905. And the one that has governed the province the longest – the Progressive Conservative Party – is hoping to extend its historic reign when Premier Alison Redford calls an election as early as Monday.

And for the first time in recent memory, the rest of Canada will have a stake in the outcome.

The Conservatives have controlled Alberta since iconic leader Peter Lougheed marched them to power in 1971. Mr. Lougheed was the last Alberta premier to play an influential role on the national scene, both in constitutional and energy matters. Since then, Alberta has been led by more insular-minded leaders, happy to pit the province’s interests against those of the rest of the country.

That could well change after this election.

Since assuming the reins of the Conservatives last October, Ms. Redford has hinted at a more activist role in the national political agenda. She wasn’t in office a month before she was touring Central Canada talking up a national energy strategy – one that integrates the power dynamics of the entire country.

Desperate times, desperate measures

GATINEAU, QUE.—You might not like Thomas Mulcair, but you can sympathize with the dilemma that drove New Democrats to choose the controversial Quebecer as their new leader.

On Monday, Mulcair will confront a ruthlessly effective and ideologically-determined Prime Minister who is about to release a budget that will accelerate growing economic inequality, weaken environmental regulation, threaten pensions and undermine the public service.

Policy aside, Stephen Harper is widely seen as cold and nasty, one of the most polarizing public figures since Brian Mulroney. In progressive circles, he is deeply loathed.

Mulcair’s chief selling point was that he can be equally steely, equally aggressive. And in both official languages: it was widely conceded, that he, above all competitors, was best-positioned to hold Quebec.

But New Democrats didn’t do politics any favours.

Like it or not, we get two angry men—one icy and vindictive, the other hot-headed and ungiving, facing off across the Commons aisle. So much for Jack Layton’s oft-cited injunction to his party to be “loving, hopeful and optimistic.”

Don't Gut Fisheries Act, Plead 625 Scientists

More than 625 Canadian scientists are demanding that the Canadian government abandon plans to gut the Fisheries Act, the nation's most significant and oldest piece of environmental legislation.

Scientists contacted by The Tyee called the changes shocking and unprecedented.

"We believe that the weakening of habitat protections in Section 35 of the Fisheries Act will negatively impact water quality and fisheries across the country, and could undermine Canada's attempt to maintain international credibility in the environment," states the letter.

"Most Canadian men like to hunt and to fish," said David Schindler, a world famous ecologist in a Tyee interview. "The proposed changes to the Fisheries Act are an attack on the rivers and waterways that support these freedoms," added Schindler who drafted the letter.

Schindler rallied biologists after leaked government documents obtained by former federal fishery biologist Otto Langer a week ago show the Harper government plans to remove habitat protection entirely from the act.

Without protection for rivers, streams and lakes, fish populations will decline, species will go extinct and waterways will become lifeless, say fishery biologists.

Boycotting Israel: Mustafa Barghouti vs. Rabbi Arthur Waskow on BDS Movement, Palestinian Solidarity

The Park Slope Food Coop, one of the oldest and largest in the country, is set to vote Tuesday on whether to hold a referendum on boycotting goods from Israel to protest the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians. We host a debate on the international advocacy effort called the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, or BDS for short, which is inspired by the international boycott movement against apartheid South Africa. "We believe this campaign is for the sake of both Palestinians and the Israelis, because it would help us liberate ourselves from the last segregation and occupation system in the world. And it would help liberate the Israelis from the last colonial settler system in modern history," says Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Parliament who supports the BDS movement. "The result of the way BDS is framed, on almost everyone I have talked to who feels attracted to it, is that the society, as well as the government, of Israel is wrong, and it must be attacked," says Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who is opposed to BDS. He is founder and director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia. "That, even using methods that are not outright violence, is not a nonviolent approach." We also discuss the case of Hana Shalabi, the Palestinian hunger striker protesting the Israeli policy of administrative detention. She has been on hunger strike for 39 days. This past weekend, an Israeli military court rejected her appeal.

Source: Democracy Now!
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Living Cadavers: How the Poor Are Tricked Into Selling Their Organs

In America, if you need an organ transplant, you wait. You wait patiently, with a grim clock ticking away, for some generous stranger who died and happened to mark "organ donor" on his driver's license. The other option is asking a family member or a friend to donate a piece of their being, knowingly taking on medical risks but with full and honest cooperation.

But what if you could forego all of that? What if you could buy an organ?

It may sound reasonable, paying for an organ from someone who could use the money more than an intact anatomy. But the real picture is grim. In a research paper published last week in Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Michigan State anthropologist Monir Moniruzzaman recounts the nearly 15 months he spent doing fieldwork in Bangladesh, where he infiltrated the illegal organ trafficking network. What he saw there he describes as nothing short of exploitation.

"The service of transplantation fulfills the needs of fewer than one percent of the population, the wealthy minority," Moniruzzaman writes in his paper, "while the majority of Bangladeshis die in silence, knowing they could have saved their lives through this modern technology."

Old Age Security: Extending Retirement Age To 67 Could Hurt Provinces' Bottom Line, Analysts Warn

OTTAWA - Changes to Canada's Old Age Security program expected to be outlined in this week's federal budget will mean higher costs for the provinces, territories and municipalities, analysts warn.

Phased-in changes to the taxpayer-funded retirement program are widely expected to include raising the eligibility age for OAS benefits by two years, to 67.

The changes will mean other levels of government will be forced to top up social program supplements for low-income earners to make up for moving the qualification period by two years, says Allan Maslove, a professor at Carleton University's School of Public Policy and Administration.

"I think this is another example of federal downloading onto the provinces," says Maslove.

But it may be difficult for provinces, territories and municipalities to immediately quantify just how much more they'll have to pump into social assistance programs as a result, because the changes are being done "by stealth," says Maslove.

"(It is) perhaps even more stealthy that the downloading of the prison costs in the (federal government's) crime bill," he said.

Trayvon Martin -- Victim Of Bias & Gun-Toting Vigilantism

I wait for an era when young Black men will no longer have to live in fear. Decades after the abolishment of slavery, we were haunted by the reality of being hunted down, beaten and lynched by both everyday citizens and law enforcement. Young boys like Emmett Till were openly and viciously murdered because of the sentiments of bigoted individuals who believed they had the right to carry out their own brand of injustice.

Today, Black (and Latino) youth are routinely targeted, profiled and 'mistakenly' shot by those sworn to serve and protect us (i.e. Sean Bell). And now, in what can only be described as the most blatant form of vigilante murder, a 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin loses his life at the hands of self-proclaimed 'crime stopper.' But the only crime here is that this killer has ended poor Trayvon's life under the guise of his own preconceptions and has not been charged, nor arrested. We will head to Florida to ensure that all that changes immediately.

On Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m., National Action Network (NAN) and I will convene an urgent rally at the First Shiloh Baptist Church in Sanford, FL. to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. We will be joined by community leaders and concerned citizens from all ethnicities, backgrounds and walks of life that cannot even begin to comprehend this nightmarish situation. A young teenager walking home, armed only with candy and a drink, should never lose his/her life because someone in a gated community feels 'threatened.' George Zimmerman, the accused adult shooter, is roaming the earth freely while Trayvon's mother, father and family members must bury their precious child. It is an atrocious miscarriage of justice, and we demand that authorities in Florida arrest Zimmerman immediately and charge him for the crime of murder. Anyone with sound reasoning cannot disagree.

Newt Gingrich's Trayvon Martin Comments Were 'Reprehensible,' David Plouffe Says

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's Senior Adviser David Plouffe called former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's comments on the shooting of Trayvon Martin "reprehensible" on Sunday, saying they came from a man who was "clearly in the last throes of his political career."

On Friday, Obama broke his silence on the shooting of the unarmed African-American teenager in Florida, a case that has launched a national movement.

"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said, underscoring how the issue affected him on a personal level. "I think [Trayvon's parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

Gingrich took exception with Obama's comments during a radio interview later on Friday, saying they were "disgraceful."

"It's not a question of who that young man looked like," he said. "Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified, no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that, if it had been a white who'd been shot, that would be OK, because it wouldn't look like him? That's just nonsense."

Arlen Specter: GOP Hurt 'Terribly' By Going After Women's Rights

WASHINGTON -- In his new memoir, Arlen Specter, the moderate Republican senator from Pennsylvania who famously switched to the Democratic Party in 2009, decries the partisanship and extremism in modern politics.

One of the issues that exemplifies these characteristics, Specter argues in "Life Among the Cannibals," is the controversy surrounding women's reproductive rights.

"The abortion issue continues to drive Senate polarization and paralysis," he writes. "Some Democratic senators will not support a pro-life nominee, and some Republican senators will not support a pro-choice nominee. 'Extremist' often serves as code for pro-choice or pro-life."

Specter was one of the few pro-choice Republicans in the Senate -- a breed that will become even rarer in Congress with the impending retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

In an interview with The Huffington Post on Friday, Specter said he believes that "some Republicans" are waging a war on women -- a term that Democrats frequently invoke regarding the GOP's attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict access to contraception.

"I think some Republicans are," he said. "I wouldn't categorize the whole party that way, but there enough of them that it gives credence to the charge."