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, December 09, 2013

Don't believe the hype, Canada's banks can't weather another recession

Canada’s economy has been feeling almost festive lately. Not so long ago it was very different, as the world weathered an economic crisis brought on mainly by misconduct in the financial industry. Do better times mean the banks have learned their lessons? Not hardly, veteran investigative journalist Nick Fillmore finds, in a six-part series of hard-hitting reports.

If Canada’s banking regulations are not substantially toughened by the time the next global financial crisis hits -- yes, there will be another crisis -- our Big Five banks may very well find themselves in serious trouble. Again.

Income Equality In America May Be Foiled By New Rich

WASHINGTON - It's not just the wealthiest 1 per cent.

Fully 20 per cent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding outsize influence on America's economy and politics. This little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality.

The growing numbers of the U.S. poor have been well documented, but survey data provided to The Associated Press detail the flip side of the record income gap — the rise of the "new rich."

Made up largely of older professionals, working married couples and more educated singles, the new rich are those with household income of $250,000 or more at some point during their working lives. That puts them, if sometimes temporarily, in the top 2 per cent of earners.

Canadian Federal Lobbying: Oil, Banking Dominate

Oil, gas and mining industry groups were far and away the most active lobbyists in Ottawa over the past year, according to an analysis from Macleans.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the country’s principal lobby group for oil and gas, made 58 lobbying efforts with the federal government over the past 12 months, the most of any group. In second place is the Mining Association of Canada, with 48 lobbying efforts.

Arctic Ice Melt Tied To Heat Waves And Downpours In U.S., Europe And Elsewhere, Study Suggests

OSLO, Dec 8 (Reuters) - A thaw of Arctic ice and snow is linked to worsening summer heatwaves and downpours thousands of miles south in Europe, the United States and other areas, underlying the scale of the threat posed by global warming, scientists said on Sunday.

Their report, which was dismissed as inconclusive by some other experts, warned of increasingly extreme weather across "much of North America and Eurasia where billions of people will be affected".

Whose sarin?

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

The Rent Is Too Damn High, In 1 Chart

Jimmy McMillan said it, we all feel it and now there’s a chart to prove it: The rent is too damn high.

More than half of all renters across the country last year spent at least 30 percent of their income on rent, widely considered the breaking point for affordability, according to a new report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. At 21.1 million households, that’s the biggest number of so-called cost-burdened renters on record.

The explosion of renters living in unaffordable housing began before the Great Recession, but the number of renters spending an outsized portion of their income on rent spiked after 2007, as incomes dropped or stalled, the report found. At the same time, housing costs have kept rising: In 2011, the median cost for housing built in the previous four years was more than $1,000 per month -- higher than many renters can afford.

As a result of these two pressures, the share of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent grew 12 percent over the past decade, according to the report.

Low-income renters are especially burdened by the costs of housing. Eighty-three percent of renters making $15,000 or less spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing in 2011, forcing them to cut back on other necessities like food.

Original Article
Author: The Huffington Post  |  By Jillian Berman

Largely White Audience Turns Out To Hear Rand Paul Speak At African-American Outreach Event

WASHINGTON -- The Michigan Republican Party is seeking to increase its visibility in Democratic- and minority-heavy Detroit, and last week, it brought Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to the city to open the party's African-American Engagement Office. But if anything, the launch event put into stark relief just how much work the GOP has to do, when a largely white audience turned out to hear the senator speak.

Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus has said that attracting more minorities to the GOP is crucial for the party's future. He visited Michigan last month, hired radio personality Wayne Bradley to head the African-American Engagement effort in the state and launched the Michigan Black Advisory Council.

Ukraine riot police enter central Kiev amid rumours of attack on square

Cordons of riot police moved into central Kiev early on Monday afternoon in what appeared to be preparations by the Ukrainian government to regain control of Independence square and Kiev city hall, occupied by anti-government protesters for the past week.

The move comes after a week of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych's decision not to sign an integration pact with the EU, culminating in the biggest protest since the 2004 Orange Revolution on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of people flooded central Kiev. The protest ended with the city's statue of Lenin toppled by protesters and attacked with hammers.

Shooting the Messenger

There is a deeply misguided attempt to sacrifice Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond on the altar of the security and surveillance state to justify the leaks made by Edward Snowden. It is argued that Snowden, in exposing the National Security Agency’s global spying operation, judiciously and carefully leaked his information through the media, whereas WikiLeaks, Assange, Manning and Hammond provided troves of raw material to the public with no editing and little redaction and assessment. Thus, Snowden is somehow legitimate while WikiLeaks, Assange, Manning and Hammond are not.

Schools Guilty Of Gender Stereotyping, IOP Research Claims

Nearly half of state schools in England are guilty of contributing towards gender stereotyping, with few bothering to tackle the gender bias of subjects such as maths and physics, researchers have claimed.

Out of the country co-ed secondary schools, 49% are strengthening the gender divide, with just 19% actively bridging the gap by explaining the universal appeal of typically "boy" or "girl" subjects, an Institute of Physics (IOP) study found.

Your Living Standards Are Going Back To Those Of Victorian Times

British workers are suffering the biggest fall in living standards since the Victorian era, as their austerity measures have continued to squeeze their incomes and leave many working in low-paid jobs, according to new research.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) found that more than 5 million people are currently working in low-paid jobs, earning less than £7.47 an hour, and one million of them are working in the public sector.

You Have No Unread Messages - Why Amnesty Is Bringing a Claim Against the UK Over Surveillance Concerns

The next time you're sending an email or browsing the web imagine that you have a government agent sat next to you, peeping over your shoulder to see what you're saying, who you're saying it to and checking the sites you've visited. That kind of assumption was once the preserve of fiction writers and conspiracy theorists, but Orwell was right; big brother is watching you and currently your only way to put a stop to that, is to log off.

In June the US whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the US was routinely accessing the communications of millions of people through a previously secret programme, Prism, run by the National Security Agency (NSA) which the UK authorities had access to. It later emerged that the UK's intelligence agency GCHQ may have also subjected people to blanket surveillance through its own secret programme called Tempora.

EU-approved 'safe' air pollution levels causing early deaths - study

Air pollution in the European Union is causing premature deaths even when levels meet quality guidelines, a report has shown. Even in areas where pollution was much lower than the limit, scientists found there is a higher-than-normal risk of death.

The study, published the British Medical Association’s journal The Lancet, found that Europeans who have had prolonged exposure to pollution from industrial activities or road traffic have a higher chance of premature death. The increased risk to a person’s health is linked to tiny particles of soot and dust than can get lodged in the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses.

Deep divisions over TPP as US pressures to close controversial deal – WikiLeaks

The US is ramping up pressure to secure a Trans-Pacific Trade Deal with conditions that could undermine the national interests of nations involved. WikiLeaks documents say talks are “paralyzed,” with the US refusing to compromise on disputed issues.

Anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks has released two documents revealing the state of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The deal in question includes 12 countries – the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei – which represent more than 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

NSA, GCHQ 'planted agents' into World of Warcraft, Second Life to spy on gamers

The NSA and the UK’s GCHQ spying agencies have collected players’ charts and deployed real-life agents into online World of Warcraft and Second Life games, a new leak by whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed.

An NSA document from 2008, titled “Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments,” was published Monday by The Guardian in partnership with The New York Times and ProPublica.

In the report, the agency warned of the risk of leaving games communities under-monitored and described them as a "target-rich communications network" where intelligence targets could “hide in plain sight.”

Meet The Tiny Rock That Could Start World War III

Sunday morning, South Korea announced that it was extending its air defense zone to include a tiny reef off its coast. Now China, Japan, and South Korea’s flight zones overlap for the first time, upping military tensions in a region already rife with them.

Socotra Rock, known as Ieodo in Korea and Suyan Rock in China, is a submerged reef that houses a Korean research station. Both Korea and China claim it as part of their “exclusive economic zones,” (EEZ) a legal term for the maritime region in which the country has special development rights.

State of Deception -- Why won’t the President rein in the intelligence community?

On March 12, 2013, James R. Clapper appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss the threats facing America. Clapper, who is seventy-two, is a retired Air Force general and Barack Obama’s director of National Intelligence, in charge of overseeing the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and fourteen other U.S. spy agencies. Clapper is bald, with a gray goatee and rimless spectacles, and his affect is intimidatingly bureaucratic. The fifteen-member Intelligence Committee was created in the nineteen-seventies, after a series of investigations revealed that the N.S.A. and the C.I.A. had, for years, been illegally spying on Americans. The panel’s mission is to conduct “vigilant legislative oversight” of the intelligence community, but more often it treats senior intelligence officials like matinée idols. As the senators took turns at the microphone, greeting Clapper with anodyne statements and inquiries, he obligingly led them on a tour of the dangers posed by homegrown extremists, far-flung terrorist groups, and emerging nuclear powers.

NSA Staffers Feeling Neglected By Obama, Would Very Much Like Him To Stop By

Staffers at the National Security Agency feel overlooked by the White House amid revelations of the agency's vast domestic surveillance programs, according to a Washington Post report published Saturday.

According to former agency officials quoted by the newspaper, morale is down across the board and frustrations with President Barack Obama are running high in the months since government contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents on the agency's covert practices.

Dalai Lama To Miss Nelson Mandela Memorial In South Africa

NEW DELHI (AP) — A spokesman says the Dalai Lama will not attend memorial services for fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela in South Africa, where the Buddhist spiritual leader has twice been unable to obtain a visa.

Tenzin Takhla gave no reason Monday for the Dalai Lama's missing a memorial service in Johannesburg and funeral in Mandela's hometown.

Takhla said only that "logistically it's impossible at this time."

South Africa blocked the Dalai Lama from attending a Nobel laureates' peace conference in 2009, and stalled on a 2011 visa until the Tibetan leader withdrew the application.

The Dalai Lama has been based in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala since fleeing from China in 1959. He seeks more autonomy for Tibet, but China accuses him of being a separatist.

Original Article
Author: AP

Silicon Valley Takes On the NSA

The titans of Silicon Valley have finally banded together to tell Washington they're tired of the NSA ruining public trust in the internet by hoovering up every gigabit of data ever created. It's all very polite, and naturally they've made their views public via a website that promotes the following five principles:
  1. Governments should codify sensible limitations on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data that balance their need for the data in limited circumstances, users’ reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the Internet. In addition, governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications.
  2. Intelligence agencies seeking to collect or compel the production of information should do so under a clear legal framework in which executive powers are subject to strong checks and balances. Reviewing courts should be independent and include an adversarial process, and governments should allow important rulings of law to be made public in a timely manner so that the courts are accountable to an informed citizenry.
  3. Transparency is essential to a debate over governments’ surveillance powers and the scope of programs that are administered under those powers. Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information. In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly.
  4. The ability of data to flow or be accessed across borders is essential to a robust 21st century global economy. Governments should permit the transfer of data and should not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country. Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally.
  5. In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty — or “MLAT” — processes. Where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict.
This is a good start. Next up: whether these guys are really serious, or whether they're going to call it a day after creating a website and not really try very hard to harness public opinion to fight for these principles. Stay tuned.

Original Article
Author: Kevin Drum

How We're Destroying Our Kids' Brains

Carlos Jusino grew up a typical kid in Harlem, rollerblading near the Hudson River, eating at the McDonald's on 145th Street and Broadway, hanging out with friends in his building. Also typical was the fact that many of Jusino's neighbors and family members, including his mother, had asthma. "When I was growing up, she went to the hospital about once a month for asthma," he says. Although he didn't know it at the time, more than 30 percent of the kids in Harlem have asthma, one of the highest rates in the country.

Jusino's family was worried about the air quality around Harlem, but most of its attention was directed to a sewage treatment facility built in 1985 along the West Side Highway next to the Hudson, where a foul-smelling settling tank lay exposed. The plant galvanized the community, including a group of environmental justice activists known as the Sewage Seven. They sued the city and won a settlement in 1994 that helped establish air-monitoring stations around the plant.

Elizabeth Warren Fires Back at Centrist Dems on Social Security

Last week, the president and vice-president of the centrist think-tank Third Way accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) of ignoring what they call Social Security's "undebatable solvency crisis." In an interview with Mother Jones, Warren fired back, countering the charge, and elaborating on how Social Security could be expanded.

"If we made no changes at all to Social Security," Warren said, "it would continue to make payments at the current level for about 20 years," meaning there is no immediate crisis facing the program, which assists some 58 million Americans. "Modest adjustments," she added, "will make certain… we could increase benefits for those who need it most."

Ronald Westbrook, Alzheimer's Sufferer, Fatally Shot Knocking On The Wrong Door

CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. (AP) — The last walk that Ronald Westbrook took began as early as 1 a.m. when he slipped unnoticed from his North Georgia home with his two dogs.

It ended three hours later when Westbrook, a 72-year-old who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, knocked in the dark on a stranger's door last month. Police said a man inside that home, 34-year-old Joe Hendrix, got a .40-caliber handgun, went outside to investigate and shot Westbrook in a horrible mistake.

The unlikely collision between two strangers — one deeply confused, another perceiving a threat — illustrates both the difficulties that caregivers face in keeping loved ones with Alzheimer's safe and the consequences of miscalculation in a state that celebrates its gun culture.

Harper’s horrible year comes full circle

Call it the curse of Chief Theresa Spence.

For Stephen Harper, the calamitous year of 2013 began in the aftermath of his making war on a middle-aged Indian chief. Her crime? Demanding a meeting with the prime minister over a little matter that is 250 years overdue, arising out of the Royal Proclamation of 1763: treaties.

The story of 2014 could pit the Harper government and First Nations against each other in an epic battle over pipelines, the environment and native rights — a showdown that could be Stephen Harper’s Little Big Horn.

Judges defy order to impose Tories’ victim-services surcharge

Judges in several provinces are rebelling against the Conservative government’s attempt to make all convicted criminals pay a surcharge to fund victim services.

The mandatory charge is a new flashpoint between the judiciary and the federal government. Two years ago, an Ontario Court judge opposed to The Truth in Sentencing Act – which ended two-for-one credit for pretrial detention – called on other judges to give shorter sentences to make up for harsh jailhouse conditions.

Western governments falling short in the fight against AIDS

When I did some work for the United Nations in tiny Lesotho some years ago, one of every three people in the country was infected with HIV or AIDS. It was all quite chilling. One of every three people I met would soon die an appalling yet preventable death. How do you get your head around that?

In Lesotho, as everywhere else in those days, few people were being tested and only a few of those diagnosed as positive received medication, which cost a small fortune at the time. No one had a clue what to do with the growing population of orphans other than to thank their stars for grandmothers. There was a feeling that the country would soon cease to be a viable entity. At the same time, all of Southern and East Africa endured similar ravages. Yet even Nelson Mandela failed to take the crisis seriously, as he later sadly acknowledged. Truly, it seemed the apocalypse had come.

Dismantling of Fishery Library 'Like a Book Burning,' Say Scientists

The Harper government has dismantled one of the world's top aquatic and fishery libraries as part of its agenda to reduce government as well as limit the role of environmental science in policy decision-making.

Last week the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which is closing five of its seven libraries, allowed scientists, consultants and members of the public to scavenge through what remained of Eric Marshall Library belonging to the Freshwater Institute at the University of Manitoba.

PBO again at odds with feds over budget details

The Parliamentary Budget Office appears headed for yet another showdown with the federal government for more information—this time related to major lapsed spending last year and forecasted by the Finance Department in the years ahead.

According to the office’s latest report on federal economic and fiscal projections, the government has “failed to provide a concrete explanation” for the growing amount of unspent federal program funding.

Federal response to AG report on First Nations emergency preparedness ‘a start,’ but not enough, says AFN regional chief

The federal government’s plans to improve emergency management on First Nations reserves is “a start,” but it doesn’t go far enough to address the serious gaps identified in the latest auditor general’s report, says a regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson found that the federal government spent nearly $450-million on on-reserve emergency management activities between 2009 and 2013, but Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development’s annual budget for emergency management is only $19-million.

MPs don’t want AG to conduct random audits on House, NDP slams move

MPs refuse to give the auditor general the power to conduct random audits on the House and MPs’ expenses, but the NDP is slamming the move.

“This process now where the AG has to be invited in, it’s sort of a type of self-policing—if MPs feel comfortable they can invite in the auditor general. The auditor general has an important role to play and has to play it independently,” said Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.). “He or she should have the right to go in and audit the books.”

Missing $3.1-billion in anti-terror funding ‘largely accounted for,’ says Treasury Board Secretariat

The Treasury Board Secretariat says that it’s “largely accounted” for the $3.1-billion in missing anti-terrorism funding flagged in the auditor general’s spring report, but the NDP says that the findings contradict past statements made by Treasury Board President Tony Clement and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The department now says that it’s been able to account for $3-billion of the funding “through supplementary work with departments and other information” in a report that was quietly posted online on Nov. 26.

TSB says CN Rail failed to report hundreds of derailments, collisions

A continuing CBC News investigation into rail safety has found that Canada’s largest freight carrier CN Rail did not report to authorities more than 1,800 derailments and accidents, including 44 on key rail arteries.

This came to light in 2005 when the Transportation Safety Board’s director of rail investigations says he became suspicious of a dramatic difference between CN’s accident numbers compared to other operators.

MPs vote to keep secretive Commons Board of Internal secretive, NDP slams move

MPs have “turned their backs on Canadians” in choosing to maintain the secretive Commons Board of Internal Economy, which oversees the House’s $428-million budget and sets all MPs’ bylaws, as is, says the NDP.

“I don’t think the status quo is something the Canadian public supports. I think the old-line parties recognized that when they adopted the motion [in June], of the course the problem is they seem to have turned their backs on Canadians when it actually came to producing the recommendations that Parliament was looking for,” said Mr. Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.), who sat on the Procedure and House Affairs Committee for the duration of its review on the Commons Board of Internal Economy.

Obama Faces Backlash Over New Corporate Powers In Secret Trade Deal

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration appears to have almost no international support for controversial new trade standards that would grant radical new political powers to corporations, increase the cost of prescription medications and restrict bank regulation, according to two internal memos obtained by The Huffington Post.

The memos, which come from a government involved in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, detail continued disputes in the talks over the deal. The documents reveal broad disagreement over a host of key positions, and general skepticism that an agreement can be reached by year-end. The Obama administration has urged countries to reach a deal by New Year's Day, though there is no technical deadline.

Six Things Nelson Mandela Believed That Most People Won’t Talk About

In the desire to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life — an iconic figure who triumphed over South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime — it’s tempting to homogenize his views into something everyone can support. This is not, however, an accurate representation of the man.

Mandela was a political activist and agitator. He did not shy away from controversy and he did not seek — or obtain — universal approval. Before and after his release from prison, he embraced an unabashedly progressive and provocative platform. As one commentator put it shortly after the announcement of the freedom fighter’s death, “Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel. Over the next few days you will try so, so hard to make him something he was not, and you will fail. You will try to smooth him, to sandblast him, to take away his Malcolm X. You will try to hide his anger from view.”

Canada and Israel team up against Iran

As countries around the world welcomed last month's deal on Iran's nuclear programme as a step towards better relations between Iran and Western powers, one of the few dissenting voices came from an unexpected place: Canada.

John Baird, the country's foreign affairs minister, said he was "deeply sceptical" of the agreement reached on November 24, and vowed that Canada would maintain economic sanctions on Tehran despite the deal.

"Simply put: Iran has not earned the right to have the benefit of the doubt," Baird said.

Alberta Caribou Strategy: Government Words, Deeds Don't Match Say Environmentalists

EDMONTON - Darcy Handy has been going to a once-untouched area of forest and wetland in northwest Alberta for more than 20 years to hunt, fish and trap and well remembers what it used to be like.

"We always used to see numerous caribou in that area, all the time," he recalls of his one-time hunting grounds southeast of Grande Cache.

No longer.

Canada Guns, Ammunition Exported To Bahrain, Algeria, Iraq

OTTAWA - Bahrain, Algeria and Iraq, countries with dubious human rights records or a history of violent internal conflict, have recently become new buyers of Canadian-made guns and ammunition, an analysis of federal government data shows.

The analysis by The Canadian Press found that Canadian exports to those countries swelled by 100 per cent from 2011 to 2012, the most recent figures publicly available.

During the same time period, exports of Canadian weapons also increased to Pakistan (98 per cent), Mexico (93 per cent) and Egypt (83 per cent), where, respectively, al-Qaida terrorists, a deadly government war on drug cartels and seismic political upheaval have sparked violence.

Joachim Gauck Boycotting Sochi Olympics

BERLIN (AP) — German President Joachim Gauck is boycotting the Winter Olympics and will not travel to Sochi, Russia next year.

Der Spiegel reports that Gauck took the decision in protest against human rights violations and the harassment of Russian opposition political figures. The magazine says the Russian government was informed of his decision last week.

The dpa news agency says presidential spokeswoman Ferdos Ferudastan confirmed the move on Sunday. Gauck's office could not immediately be reached for further confirmation.

Gauck, an outspoken critic of Russia's human-rights record, is yet to visit the country since taking office in March 2012. A planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2012 fell through, apparently for scheduling reasons.

Gauck travelled to the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in London last year.

Original Article
Author: AP

WTO agrees global trade deal worth $1tn

The World Trade Organization (WTO) on Saturday struck a “historic” deal on international commerce that could add up to $1 trillion to the global economy.

The agreement falls far short of the WTO's lofty but elusive vision of tearing down global trade barriers through its frustrating, 12-year-old Doha Round of talks.

But the accord reached on the Indonesian resort island of Bali nevertheless marks the first global agreement struck by the Geneva-based body since its 1995 founding.

Seymour Hersh: Obama "Cherry Picked" Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration’s claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year. Writing in the London Review of Books, Hersh argues that the Obama administration "cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad." The administration failed to disclose it knew Syrian rebels in the al-Nusra front had the ability to produce chemical weapons. Evidence obtained in the days after the attack was also allegedly distorted to make it appear it was gathered in real time.

Author: --

Amend the Fed: We Need a Central Bank that Serves Main Street

December 23rd marks the 100th anniversary of the Federal Reserve. Dissatisfaction with its track record has prompted calls to audit the Fed and end the Fed. At the least, Congress needs to amend the Fed, modifying the Federal Reserve Act to give the central bank the tools necessary to carry out its mandates.

The Federal Reserve is the only central bank with a dual mandate. It is charged not only with maintaining low, stable inflation but with promoting maximum sustainable employment. Yet unemployment remains stubbornly high, despite four years of radical tinkering with interest rates and quantitative easing (creating money on the Fed’s books). After pushing interest rates as low as they can go, the Fed has admitted that it has run out of tools.

Starving for Justice

This past April, the Youth Against Settlements website posted a letter from Samer Tariq Issawi, a Palestinian imprisoned by the Israeli government. “I invite you to visit me, to see a skeleton tied to his hospital bed, and around him three exhausted jailers,” he wrote. “Sometimes they have their appetizing food and drinks around me. The jailers watch my suffering, my loss of weight and my gradual melting.”

Initially locked up in 2002 for violent crimes, Issawi was released in 2011 as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. In July 2012, Israeli forces imprisoned him again after he violated the terms of his parole by traveling to the West Bank. A military committee refused to let him see the evidence against him as it sought to impose the remainder of his original twenty-six-year sentence. Facing an unfair trial and seventeen more years in prison, he started a hunger strike in August 2012. He was still fasting on April 22 when the committee held a bedside hearing. Issawi had become a hero to many Palestinians, a symbol of resistance. News of his debilitation had triggered clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters in Bethlehem. Clearly fearing what would happen if he died, the committee agreed to release him in eight months. If Israel keeps its word, Issawi will leave prison in December.

JPMorgan Emails Show China Hires Were Made To Win Deals: NYTimes

Dec 7 (Reuters) - Internal JPMorgan Chase & Co emails and computer files being examined by U.S. authorities show that the bank favored hiring people from prominent Chinese families in order to win investment banking business, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

The documents show that a JPMorgan program designed to prevent questionable hiring practices was ultimately viewed inside the company as "a gateway to doing business with state-owned companies in China," the Times said, adding that it had reviewed copies of the emails and computer spreadsheets.

Rand Paul: Unemployment Benefits Extension Would Be A 'Disservice' To Workers

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sunday he opposes extending unemployment benefits for workers, arguing that it would be a "disservice" to jobless individuals.

"I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers," he said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

About 1.3 million long-term jobless Americans will lose federal benefits if Congress fails to reauthorize the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which expires at the end of December.

Kiev Protesters Toppled Lenin Statue

KIEV, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Crowds toppled a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in the Ukrainian capital and attacked it with hammers on Sunday in the latest mass protests against President Viktor Yanukovich and his plans for closer ties with Russia.

The statue's felling - a symbolic rejection of Moscow's power - came after opposition leaders told hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to keep up pressure on Yanukovich to sack his government.

Osborne wants to take us back to 1948. Time to look forward instead

It is an incidental sentence, but it brought me up short. By 2018, general government consumption will be proportionally no larger than it was in 1948. So declared the Office for Budget Responsibility in its report accompanying the autumn statement. The work of three generations in building the sinews of a state that support systems of health, transport, education, environment, policing, science and the rest is to be summarily withdrawn over the next five years. It is a landmark moment in our national life.