Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Labor Unions, Benefits Understood, Have Almost Never Been Less Popular

The vast majority of Americans say labor unions raise wages and better working conditions, a new survey finds. Yet despite those benefits, Americans have almost never disliked them more.

Indeed, according to a Harris Interactive poll, more than seven in ten of those surveyed said labor unions are too politically-oriented and concerned "with fighting changes" as opposed to "bring[ing] about change." Still, over six in ten say labor unions also provide workers with better conditions and pay.

A Gallup poll also released Wednesday finds, more directly, that approval of labor unions has held at 52 percent, just above its lowest-recorded level going back to the Great Depression. Still, at 52 percent, the majority of Americans continue to support labor unions. The lowest recorded approval of labor unions was 48 percent in 2009, Gallup says.

Wong-Tam open letter blasts Doug Ford’s ‘special privileges’

The Ford administration’s unilateral decision to pass on a Toronto bid for the 2020 Olympic Games reflects a “worrying pattern” of disrespect for council’s input, says councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

In an open letter simmering with frustration over Mayor Rob Ford’s style of governance, the downtown councillor also took aim Wednesday at the “special privileges” afforded to Councillor Doug Ford, who has assumed a high-profile role in his brother’s administration and was apparently privy to the decision not to pursue a bid.

The Ford brothers “disrespected our roles as elected representatives [in making] a decision by fiat without council consideration,” Ms. Wong-Tam (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) wrote in her letter.

“Why is it that the process and the democratic institutions that we were elected to uphold, why are they being discarded?” she fumed in a follow-up interview, noting councillors have a responsibility to their residents to consider major proposals that could affect the city.

Canadian Inuit going hungry

MONTREAL — Six out of 10 Inuit in Canada’s Far North don’t get enough to eat or are eating the wrong things, says a comprehensive study by a team of McGill University researchers.

They warn preventive measures are desperately needed to help ward off diabetes, heart disease and other ailments which already plague other Aboriginal Peoples in Canada and the U.S.

Increasingly, Inuit are shifting away from the traditional foods hunters brought home. But researchers found people living in remote villages often cannot find or afford the fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products that make up the best part of a healthy southern diet.

“Poverty and associated food insecurity coupled with a transition away from local nutrient-rich food resources represents a dual nutritional burden on indigenous peoples globally,” cautions McGill epidemiologist Grace Egeland in the study published in the latest issue of Journal of Nutrition. “A nutrition transition is occurring in Arctic communities with consequences for increased obesity and diet-sensitive chronic diseases.”

Ford asks Horwath if NDP would plug Sheppard funding ‘gap’

Mayor Rob Ford said he might have a “gap” in private-sector funding for the Sheppard subway line and needs government help filling it, says NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

She made the comments Wednesday after what appeared to be a cordial 54-minute meeting in Ford’s office, one of the mayor’s tête-à-têtes with each of the provincial leaders ahead of the Oct. 6 Ontario election.

Horwath said Ford asked her what an NDP government would do to help him build the $4.7 billion Sheppard line. Ford has suggested he would deliver on his key campaign promise through public-private partnerships, with federal and provincial governments providing only seed money.

“I said to him quite clearly that my understanding was that he was looking for private financing,” Horwath said.

“He said that that might not necessarily happen, in terms of there might be a gap, and I said if I’m in the premier’s chair at the time, and you determine what the gap is, we’ll have a conversation.”

Homelessness Could Hit Middle Classes, Crisis Charity Claims

PRESS ASSOCIATION -- Cuts to welfare support could lead to middle class homelessness, a housing charity has claimed.

Crisis is publishing a report warning of an increase in homelessness numbers which says the problem may not be confined to the poorest.

According to the Guardian, the charity highlighted figures showing councils have reported 44,160 people accepted as homeless and placed in social housing, a 10% increase on the previous year.

Crisis has urged the Government to reverse cuts to housing benefit and invest in new housing urgently.

The Guardian quoted a study co-authored by academics at the University of York and Heriot-Watt University for Crisis raising fears about big cuts in state support.

"Any significant reduction of the welfare safety net in the UK as a result of coalition reforms may, of course, bring the scenario of middle class homelessness that much closer," the report states.

It also claims the Government's affordable house building programme will generate just 50,000 new homes by 2015.

Gender Pay Gap That Sees Women Earn £10,000 Less Will Take 98 Years To Close, Report Says

It will take another 98 years for women to achieve pay parity with their male counterparts as they annually lag £10 000 behind, according to a report from the Chartered Management Institute.

The CMI has calculated that on average female managers are paid £31,895 per year, whereas men are earning £42,441 in the same role. Despite women's pay rising overall this year at a faster rate than men's, the CMI still said it would take 98 years to reach equal pay in managerial roles.

The widest wage gap in Britain is in Northern Ireland, where male managers are being paid £13,793 more than their female colleagues.

To make matters worse, women have been harder hit by the recession because a greater number of female workers has lost their jobs in the past 12 months.

Long-Term Unemployed Losing Hold On Middle Class

If anyone in America could plausibly claim immunity to the unemployment crisis, Joe Sangataldo figured to be the guy. He earned his wages at a county social services center in southern New Jersey, where he helped jobless welfare recipients try to find work. In a nation beset by relentless decline, here was a rare growth industry, one with staying power.

But last fall, confronted with what it portrayed as an otherwise-unbridgeable budget gap, Cumberland County laid off Sangataldo along with six of his co-workers. A career civil servant with a college degree, he suddenly found himself part of the very mass of people he had previously been paid to assist.

"I went from serving the people affected by the recession to being part of the recession," Sangataldo said. "I had to sit there and tell these people, "Well, I won't be here next week. They’re laying people off.' And they're like, 'Well, if they're laying you off, where's the hope for me?'"

Sarah Palin 2012? Former Governor To Attend New Hampshire Tea Party

WASHINGTON — Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will appear at a New Hampshire tea party rally this weekend.

The Tea Party Express on Tuesday announced that Palin is slated to attend a Manchester rally on Labor Day, two days after the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is to speak at a tea party rally in Iowa. Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary traditionally are open the political nominating season.

Palin is weighing a presidential bid and has said she is likely to make a decision soon. She recently stoked speculation about her White House ambitions with a visit to the Iowa State Fair Aug 12, the day before a straw poll.

The Tea Party Express is on a 30-day national bus tour ahead of a debate in Florida.

Source: Huffington 

Highest-Paid CEOs Often Earn More Than Company Pays In Income Taxes, Study Finds

WASHINGTON - Twenty-five of the 100 highest paid U.S. CEOs earned more last year than their companies paid in federal income tax, a pay study said on Wednesday.

It also found many of the companies spent more on lobbying than they did on taxes.

At a time when lawmakers are facing tough choices in a quest to slash the national debt, the report from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a left-leaning Washington think tank, quickly hit a nerve.

After reading it, Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called for hearings on executive compensation.

In a letter to that committee's chairman, Republican Darrell Issa, Cummings asked "to examine the extent to which the problems in CEO compensation that led to the economic crisis continue to exist today."

He also asked "why CEO pay and corporate profits are skyrocketing while worker pay stagnates and unemployment remains unacceptably high," and "the extent to which our tax code may be encouraging these growing disparities."

Paul Stam, North Carolina GOP Representative: Gay Marriage Leads To Polygamy, Incest

Republican leaders in the North Carolina House of Representatives are pushing to put a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the 2012 ballot.

The amendment would help protect the state's current law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, from being changed or challenged in court. The amendment will not affect whether private companies choose to recognize same-sex unions.

The Raleigh News & Observer reports House Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell and House Majority Leader Paul "Skip" Stam are among the amendment's supporters.

Stam said the amendment would protect "the children of the next generation" and suggested that the legalization of same-sex marriage would ultimately lead to polygamy.

Rick Perry's Secret Plan to Save Blue States from the Red States

Of all the nonsense Texas Governor Rick Perry spews about states' rights and the tenth amendment, his dumbest is the notion that states should go it alone. "We've got a great Union," he said at a Tea Party rally in Austin in April 2009. "There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

The core of his message isn't outright secession, though. It's that the locus of governmental action ought to be at the state rather than the federal level. "It is essential to our liberty," he writes in his book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, "that we be allowed to live as we see fit through the democratic process at the local and state level."

Perry doesn't like the Federal Reserve Board. He hates the Internal Revenue Service even more. Presumably if he had his way taxpayers would pay states rather than the federal government for all the services and transfer payments they get.

Eric Cantor Voted Against Bill To Offset Disaster Relief In 2004

WASHINGTON -- The debate over whether money spent on disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Irene should be offset by spending cuts elsewhere has turned into a proxy fight over the role and reach of the federal government. And it's producing its fair share of contortions on Capitol Hill.

Some of the same voices demanding cuts in exchange for relief today balked at applying such fiscal restraints in the past. That list includes the most vocal champion of offsetting the costs of repairing the damage caused by Hurricane Irene, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who recently said that "just like any family would operate when it's struck with disaster," Congress would "have to make sure there are savings elsewhere" to pay for the aftermath of the storm.

Yet a bemused Democratic source notes that in October 2004, Cantor voted against an amendment to an emergency supplemental bill for disaster aid that would have "fully offset" the cost of that supplemental with "a proportional reduction of FY05 discretionary funding" elsewhere. Funding for defense, homeland security, and veterans was exempted from the proposed cuts. But the amendment, introduced by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), would do precisely what Republican leadership is proposing to do now.

Justice Department Seeks To Block AT&T, T-Mobile Merger

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department filed suit Wednesday to block AT&T's $39 billion deal to buy T-Mobile USA on grounds that it would raise prices for consumers.

The government contends that the acquisition of the No. 4 wireless carrier in the country by No. 2 AT&T would reduce competition and thus lead to price increases.

At a news conference, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the combination would result in "tens of millions of consumers all across the United States facing higher prices, fewer choices and lower quality products for mobile wireless services."

The lawsuit seeks to ensure that everyone can continue to receive the benefits of competition, said Cole.

Why Summer Vacations (and the Internet) Make You More Productive

Everybody needs a vacation. Even the president.
The end of August concludes another month the media spent exhuming the debate over the White House's travel plans. This criticism ignores the scientific evidence that shorts breaks and even long vacations have serious, measurable benefits for productivity for everybody. If we want a better president, we shouldn't condemn White House vacations. Maybe we should legislate them.

Americans are notorious busy bees. A 2010 survey indicated that the average American accrues 18 vacation days and uses only 16. The average French worker takes more than twice the vacation time. To some, this statistic encapsulates the difference between American and European workers. We're productive. They're lazy.  In fact, it might say the opposite. Europeans understand that breaks improve workplace efficiency. We mistakenly believe that more hours will always increase output, while ignoring the clear evidence: The secret to being an effective worker is not working too hard.

Is Rick Perry Ready to Execute an Innocent Man?

As soon as Rick Perry threw his hat into the 2012 electoral ring, anti–death penalty critics brought up his staggering execution record as governor of Texas: 234 prisoners have been put to death under Perry’s watch, a number of whom had serious innocence claims. Most famous among them is Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 and whose case opened up an investigation that Perry has taken aggressive—and largely successful—measures to squash. But a lesser-known case could also haunt the governor if it reaches his desk: that of Larry Swearingen, convicted and sent to death row for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 19-year-old college freshman named Melissa Trotter in 1998. Like Willingham, Swearingen was convicted largely on circumstantial evidence and a history of run-ins with the law. But Willingham was convicted based on the inexact science of arson investigations, whose flawed assumptions have been slow to evolve. The scientific evidence in Swearingen’s case, medical experts say, is beyond dispute—and it proves his innocence.

There’s another difference: Swearingen is still alive.

Swearingen was scheduled to die on August 18. But his execution was stayed in late July by the state’s highest criminal court, the notoriously pro-prosecution Court of Criminal Appeals, in order to have the trial court consider new evidence: Histological samples of Trotter’s cardiac, lung and vascular tissue that a growing number of doctors, including well-respected Texas pathologists, say show conclusively that Swearingen could not have killed Trotter.

The two processions that made up Jack Layton's cortege

On Saturday Aug. 27, thousands of left-winged pinkos and apolitical gawkers gathered in downtown Toronto to mourn the loss of Jack Layton, don paper moustaches, and witness the rare spectacle of a state funeral. There were two processions: The state's official ceremony, steeped in borrowed Royal tradition, lead the way to Roy Thompson hall. Behind it, the people's procession carried a celebratory and almost carnivalesque atmosphere.

We find in this divisive spectacle two ideologies vying for supremacy. At the front of the procession, with a police marching band, veterans, flags, the prime minister's entourage, and various ceremonial guards, the state-sanctioned spectacle serves to generate national pride (at a time when anyone who shares Layton's politics is likely to feel contempt for our nation's current political policy). This is the procession of officially endorsed ideology, and accordingly, this is the procession which photo-journalists scramble to record and transmit. Already, Stephen Harper is riding high on a wave of positive PR.

Following the state procession, and separated by a line of police, a heterogeneous crowd of spectacle seekers and Layton supporters march, carry signs, ring bicycle bells, and play music in a public parade. In the crowd of thousands there were at least two bands, a samba squad, hundreds of bicycles, and numerous pride flags. Many dressed in commemorative orange, some dressed for mourning, and others wore Che Guevara shirts and paper moustaches.

John Baird hints at Libyan extension

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is leaving open the possibility of continuing Canadian military involvement in Libya after the scheduled Sept. 27 end date.

Canada's participation in NATO's air mission over Libya has been extended once, but the government hasn't yet said whether it will propose another extension. The NDP, the official Opposition, is against another extension.

Asked what happens after Sept. 27, Baird said he's taking the situation one day at a time.

"This is quickly coming to an end. It's not over yet. Canada will obviously be there in theatre to support the Libyan people," Baird told host Evan Solomon on CBC's Power & Politics.

"The end is in sight. We're not there yet, but let's take it one day at a time," he said.

Canada's economy shrinks for 1st time in 2 years

Canada's economy shrank in the second quarter of the year, the first quarterly decline since the recession of 2009.

The country's gross domestic product fell 0.1 per cent in the April-June period, or 0.4 per cent on an annualized basis, Statistics Canada said Wednesday.

Economists were expecting growth would be flat in the period.

The decline was due largely to a 2.1 per cent drop in exports, the agency said.

"This morning's report is a reminder that Canada is not an island, and is vulnerable to external economic shocks," TD economist Diana Petramala said.

Don’t kill waterfront neighbourhood, urban designer says

Councillor Doug Ford frequently says he would like the city to conduct itself more like a business. But Toronto would be squandering millions if it chooses to pursue his vision for the Port Lands instead of the existing plan for a mixed-use neighbourhood, says a prominent urban designer involved in the planning.

“I’m looking at this with a certain amount of disbelief,” urban designer Ken Greenberg said Monday. “I find it hard to believe that such a thing would actually happen.”

Greenberg was part of the team that won Waterfront Toronto’s international competition to design the area known as the Lower Don Lands. On Tuesdsay, after Ford elaborated on his vision, Greenberg added: “This flies in the face of common sense in so many ways.”

There's fog in Doug Ford's waterfront vision

Councillor Doug Ford tried to clarify his waterfront vision Tuesday, but ended up further confusing officials about the city's intentions for the Port Lands.

The uncertainty is in the geography.

Ford hopes to lure private investors to build a monorail system, world-class shopping mall and a gigantic Ferris wheel on a barren portion of land south of the Don Valley Parkway known as the Port Lands. Specially, these “very preliminary” projects are slated to be built south of the Ship Channel, below a section of land known as the Lower Don Lands.

The Lower Don Lands make up the northwest portion of the larger Port Lands and is where Waterfront Toronto has completed plans for a mixed-use community.

So is there room for both visions? It isn't clear.

Afghanistan Deaths: August Is Deadliest Month Ever For U.S. Troops

KABUL, Afghanistan -- August has become the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the nearly 10-year-old war in Afghanistan, where international forces have started to go home and let Afghan forces take charge of securing their country.

A record 66 U.S. troops have died so far this month, eclipsing the 65 killed in July 2010, according to a tally by The Associated Press.

This month's death toll soared when 30 Americans - most of them elite Navy SEALs - were killed in a helicopter crash Aug. 6. They were aboard a Chinook shot down as it was flying in to help Army Rangers who had come under fire in Wardak province. It was the single deadliest incident of war being waged by Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces and insurgents.

On Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai used the start of a three-day Muslim holiday to plead with insurgents to lay down their arms and help rebuild the nation. Karzai wants Afghan security forces to take the lead in defending and protecting the nation by the end of 2014.

Citi Executive: 'Corporate Sector Cannot Continue To Simply Cut Costs'

High corporate profits have been one of the few bright spots for the global recovery. One high-level financial executive isn't so sure that success can be sustained.

Richard Cookson, global chief investment officer at Citi, told CNBC's Squawk Box on Tuesday that corporation's reliance on cost-cutting to increase growth may soon run out of steam. Many corporations have posted strong profits during the recovery, largely due to cost-cutting and increased productivity from the consequently diminished workforce. That model is simply not sustainable, says Cookson.

"In aggregate, the corporate sector cannot continue to just simply slash costs rather than have top-line growth," he told CNBC. "It just doesn't work."

Corporate profits hit an all-time high of $1.68 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2010, subsequently maintaining solid growth. Three out of four companies on the S&P 500 saw larger profits than expected in the second quarter of this year, according to Bloomberg. But Cookson contends diminishing margins make that a temporary fix at most.

William Koch, Billionaire Brother Of Charles And David Koch, Buys Old West Town Of Buckskin Joe

In a move that makes this Koch brother look more and more like the Monopoly board game mascot, Rich Uncle Pennybags, billionaire William Koch has purchased the entire Buckskin Joe old mining town -- and is moving the town to his ranch near Gunnison, according to Westword.

In Sept. 2010, Buckskin Joe and the Royal Gorge Scenic Railroad was sold for $3.1 million to Koch, who then wished to remain anonymous, the Pueblo Chieftain reported.

According to The Gazette, Buckskin Joe's buildings are already being dismantled, presumably so they can be shipped to Koch's ranch and reassembled. Buckskin Joe was originally an 1860s mining boom town located near Alma, Colo. But the name and the one surviving building were relocated in 1957 to Canon City to serve as a tourist attraction and movie set for Hollywood westerns like 1972's "The Cowboys."

William Koch, who is apparently an Old West aficionado, purchased what is believed to be the last surviving authentic portrait of Billy the Kid for $2.3 million back in June, The Huffington Post reported.

While William collects pieces of the Old West, his two brothers, Charles and David, host private fundraisers for the world’s wealthiest businessmen and poltiticians and donate millions to conservative groups.

Source: Huffington 

Hurricane Irene Exposes Creaky American Infrastructure

In the winter of 1992, a nor'easter sent a storm surge over the floodwall guarding the southern tip of Manhattan. Seawater quickly overwhelmed major roadways and New York City's subway system, shutting down the entire subway for nearly 10 days.

"If Hurricane Irene had hit an hour differently or 10 percent stronger or moved 10 percent slower, it would have caused a repeat of that event," Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with the leading forecasting service Weather Underground, told The Huffington Post.

Masters and other experts warn that the city may not be as lucky next time. As the warming climate brings higher rainfall and raises the sea level, they say, ever more pressure will fall on America's aging infrastructure.

Kenneth Melson Resigns As ATF Chief Over 'Fast And Furious' Gun Trafficking Operation

Kenneth Melson is out as head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

Melson has been under fire from Republicans over the scandal surrounding the gun trafficking program Operation Fast and Furious. The Justice Department announced that Melson will be moving to the Office of Legal Policy.

Melson has been under pressure to step aside since earlier this summer, after a House Oversight Committee hearing revealed controversial aspects of the program. ATF agents charged with monitoring the illegal sale and transfer of guns from the U.S. To Mexican drug cartels told lawmakers that, instead of arresting small-time buyers, they were ordered to stand by and let the guns go through, in the hopes of tracing them to larger arms dealers.

Books by Rumsfeld and Cheney are symbols of lies that led to invasion of Iraq

"When one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it," wrote Joseph Goebbels, Germany's Reich minister of propaganda, in 1941. Former Vice President Dick Cheney seems to have taken the famous Nazi's advice in his new book, In My Time. Cheney remains staunch in his convictions on issues from the invasion of Iraq to the use of torture. Telling NBC News in an interview that "there are gonna be heads exploding all over Washington" as a result of the revelations in the book, Cheney's memoir follows one by his colleague and friend Donald Rumsfeld. As each promotes his own version of history, there are people challenging and confronting them.

Rumsfeld's book title, Known and Unknown, is drawn from a notorious response he gave in one of his Pentagon press briefings as secretary of defense. On Feb. 12, 2002, attempting to explain the lack of evidence linking Iraq to weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld said: "[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

Are Virginia's New Abortion Rules the Worst Yet?

On Friday evening, Virginia's Department of Health issued a strict new set of rules for abortion clinics—and women's health advocates fear that facilities that can't comply could be shuttered.

The regulations require Virginia's 22 clinics to meet strict new physical standards; pre-op rooms, for example, must measure at least 80 square feet, and operating rooms must measure 250 square feet. Hallways must be at least five feet wide. The requirements are based on the state's 2010 guidelines for new outpatient surgical facilities.

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, told Mother Jones on Monday that the new rules may actually be the most strict regulations in the United States. "It would be challenging for the majority of our facilities to continue offering first-trimester care," Keene said. "These are designed to really cease first-trimester abortion services in the Commonwealth of Virginia."

Attack of the Monsanto Superinsects

Over the past decade and a half, as Monsanto built up its globe-spanning, multi-billion-dollar genetically modified seed empire, it made two major pitches to farmers.

The first involved weeds. Leave the weed management to us, Monsanto insisted. We've engineered plants that can survive our very own herbicide. Just pay up for our patented, premium-priced seeds, spray your fields with our Roundup herbicide whenever the fancy strikes, and—voilà!—no more weeds.

The second involved crop-eating insects. We've isolated the toxic gene of a commonly used bacterial pesticide called Bt, Monsanto announced, and spliced it directly into crops. Along with corn and soy, you will literally be growing the pesticide that protects them. Plant our seeds, and watch your crops thrive while their pests shrivel and die.

A Privately Owned Nuclear Weapons Plant in…Kansas City?

In Kansas City, Missouri, a local zoning fight is going nuclear, literally: A Monday-morning courtroom showdown between activists and politicians could determine whether the city becomes host to the world's first privately owned nuclear weapons plant.

The proposed plant, a 1.5 million-square-foot, $673 million behemoth, would replace an aging facility, also in KC, where 85 percent (PDF) of the components for nation's nuclear arms are produced. The new plant would be run by the same government contractor as the old one—Honeywell—and proponents say the only major change will be more jobs and city infrastructure. But there will be another big difference: The federal government will sublease the property from a private developer, who in turn will lease it from the city for 20 years…after which the developer will own it outright.

Cheney Book: Photoshopping Plamegate

Here we go again, more Plamegate revisionism. But the latest practitioner is no surprise: Dick Cheney.

In his new memoir, In My Time, the former vice president (with an assist from coauthor/daughter Liz Cheney) serves up a self-serving and selective account of the episode that rocked the White House (his office, in particular) and that nearly sent one of his closest aides to the hoosegow.

The controversy centered on 16 words President George W. Bush spoke during his January 28, 2003, State of the Union speech: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." This was one of the key arguments the White House was then presenting in public to bolster its case that Saddam Hussein was neck-deep in weapons of mass destruction and an invasion of Iraq was damn-well necessary. But for months, the CIA and State Department analysts had investigated reports of Saddam's supposed uranium-shopping in Niger—which were based in part on suspect documents—and had found no compelling evidence to back up the allegation. Some intelligence analysts had concluded that such a deal not only had not happened but also could not have occurred. The CIA had made certain to remove references to the Niger charge from earlier Bush speeches, but the White House kept trying to squeeze this claim in—and eventually succeeded.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Doug Ford’s dream waterfront? Ferris wheel, monorail and a boat-in hotel

Councillor Doug Ford has laid out his most detailed vision for Toronto’s eastern waterfront, with a monorail skimming along the shore, a 1.6-million-square-foot “megamall” and island airport users boating right into their hotel lobby.

Ford, the brother and closest adviser of Mayor Rob Ford, laid out his vision in an interview Tuesday morning on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

The interview came on the heels of the Ford administration revealing it wants to seize control of port lands redevelopment from Waterfront Toronto, a tripartite agency to which Ottawa, Queen’s Park and the city have each contributed $500 million.

In the interview, Doug Ford laid out a much grander vision than Waterfront Toronto’s existing plan — lauded by planners and developers, but criticized by the Ford administration as moving too slowly—for a vibrant residential community that would incorporate stores and parks.

Army Ranger Widow Confronts Rumsfeld over His Lies that Convinced Her Husband to Join the Military

We speak with the widow of a U.S. Army Ranger who confronted former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about her husband’s suicide on Saturday. Ashley Joppa-Hagemann introduced herself to Rumsfeld during a book signing by handing him a copy of her husband’s funeral program at a base south of Tacoma, Washington. She says Rumsfeld inspired her husband to join the Army after 9/11, but he later became disillusioned with the reasons for the war. Her husband, 25-year-old Staff Sergeant Jared Hagemann, killed himself ahead of what his wife says was his eighth deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. His body was found on June 28, 2011, at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. More than 18,000 soldiers returned to the Joint Base Lewis-McChord from combat tours last year. And while the Army says it is trying to shore up mental health services there, Joppa-Hagemann questions its success. "I want to confront the man whose lies led my husband to join the military, and so many other soldiers," says Joppa-Hagemann. "That’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what I did."

Source: Democracy Now 

Ex-Bush Official Col. Lawrence Wilkerson: "I am Willing to Testify" If Dick Cheney is Put on Trial

As former Vice President Dick Cheney publishes his long-awaited memoir, we speak to Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. "This is a book written out of fear, fear that one day someone will 'Pinochet' Dick Cheney," says Wilkerson, alluding to the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested for war crimes. Wilkerson also calls for George W. Bush and Cheney to be held accountable for their crimes in office. "I’d be willing to testify, and I’d be willing to take any punishment I’m due," Wilkerson said. We also speak to political and legal blogger Glenn Greenwald about his recent article on Cheney, "The Fruits of Elite Immunity." "Dick Cheney goes around the country profiting off of this sleazy, sensationalistic, self-serving book, basically profiting from his crimes, and at the same time normalizing the idea that these kind of policies…are perfectly legitimate choices to make. And I think that’s the really damaging legacy from all of this," says Greenwald.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Obama's New Economic Adviser Warned of 'Disturbing Problem'

Back in March, when he still enjoyed remove from the policy fray as an academic at Princeton, Alan Krueger used unusually blunt language to sound the alarm that the American economy was staring at the sort of crisis that seemed unlikely to be fixed absent sustained and aggressive action.

At the end of a largely wonky, data-driven piece of analysis written for Bloomberg News, Krueger discounted the incessant focus on the unemployment rate -- which does not count jobless people who have grown so discouraged that they have given up looking for work -- arguing that the real action is found in the so-called employment-to-population ratio, which measures what slice of working age Americans are employed. The ratio then sat at a dismal 58.4 percent, just off the low reached the previous December, meaning that the supposed resumption of economic growth was not putting large numbers of jobless people back to work.

Even back when the economy was still technically expanding between 2002 and 2007, Krueger noted, the percentage of working age people then employed never got back to where it had been before the previous recession in 2001, at a peak of 64.7 percent.

BART Protests: Police Make Arrests During San Francisco's Third Week Of Demonstrations (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco transit commute went smoothly for the first Monday in two weeks as demonstrators - acknowledging that disruptive protests of the two previous Monday nights have angered commuters - stayed away from train platforms, where protests have been barred for safety reasons.

About 75 protesters gathered above the Bay Area Rapid Transit system's Civic Center station shortly after 5 p.m. and marched on the sidewalks down San Francisco's Market Street. The busy downtown corridor runs over the BART tracks and the protesters briefly gathered in front of three other BART stations to chant slogans and yell at police.

Two protesters were arrested in BART's Embarcadero station, outside the fare gates and a floor above the platform.

As demonstrators were taunting police and chanting slogans, one of the organizers went through the turnstiles with a megaphone and chanted an anti-police slogan. The scene turned chaotic as the dozens of police in riot gear pulled out their night sticks and pushed protesters, reporters and commuters away from the two arrestees.

Alabama Immigration Law Blocked By Federal Judge

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of Alabama's new law cracking down on illegal immigration, ruling Monday that she needed more time to decide whether the law opposed by the Obama administration, church leaders and immigrant-rights groups is constitutional.

The brief order by U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Blackburn means the law – which opponents and supporters alike have called the toughest in the nation – won't take effect as scheduled on Thursday. The ruling was cheered both by Republican leaders who were pleased the judge didn't gut the law and by opponents who compare it to old Jim Crow-era statutes against racial integration.

Blackburn didn't address whether the law is constitutional, and she could still let all or parts of the law take effect later. Instead, she said she needed more time to consider lawsuits filed by the Justice Department, private groups and individuals that claim the state is overstepping its bounds.

FDIC Objects To Bank Of America's $8.5 Billion Mortgage Settlement

In June, a director at Bank of America described the company's 2008 acquisition of Countrywide Financial -- the mortgage lender whose holdings included thousands of toxic assets -- as "the worst deal we ever made."

On Monday, Bank of America hit the latest in a long series of roadblocks in trying to put that deal behind itself. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the government agency responsible for taking over failed banks, filed an objection with the State Supreme Court of New York regarding an $8.5 billion settlement BofA agreed to pay earlier this summer as a partial result of its Countrywide portfolio collapsing, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

Bank of America announced in June that it would pay the settlement to a group of investors who claim they lost money when BofA mortgages fell through. But a number of parties have come forward to object to the terms of that settlement, according to Forbes -- including states and investors involved in the claim -- saying they lack sufficient information to tell if the settlement is appropriate

Guatemala Experiments: Syphilis Infections, Other Shocking Details Revealed About U.S. Medical Experiments

ATLANTA -- A presidential panel on Monday disclosed shocking new details of U.S. medical experiments done in Guatemala in the 1940s, including a decision to re-infect a dying woman in a syphilis study.

The Guatemala experiments are already considered one of the darker episodes of medical research in U.S. history, but panel members say the new information indicates that the researchers were unusually unethical, even when placed into the historical context of a different era.

"The researchers put their own medical advancement first and human decency a far second," said Anita Allen, a member of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

From 1946-48, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Pan American Sanitary Bureau worked with several Guatemalan government agencies to do medical research – paid for by the U.S. government – that involved deliberately exposing people to sexually transmitted diseases.

Fear, Inc.: America's Islamophobia Network

At this time last year, as the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks approached, the country was gripped by a pernicious debate over a “mosque” (really, an Islamic cultural center) near Ground Zero in New York City.

Pushback against the project actually began months earlier and was led by a group called Stop Islamization of America, which launched “Campaign Offensive: Stop the 911 Mosque!” in May 2010. The group’s founder, Pamela Geller, charged that “this is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident. Just as Al-Aqsa was built on top of the Temple in Jerusalem.” The group’s co-director, Robert Spencer, helped Geller organize rallies and protest campaigns aimed at a lower Manhattan community board, which reported getting “hundreds and hundreds” of calls and e-mails from around the world as a result of the well-funded and highly coordinated campaign.

Geller and Spencer’s cause was loudly trumpeted by large right-wing media outlets, notably the New York Post and Fox News Channel, both News Corp. properties. The religious right quickly joined; Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention called the project “unacceptable” because “the people who perpetrated the 9/11 attack were Muslims and proclaimed they were doing what they were doing in the name of Islam.” Soon, politicians were also on board: Newt Gingrich denounced the proposal and argued that although the cultural center was seemingly benign, “some radical Islamists use terrorism as a tactic to impose sharia, but others use nonviolent methods—a cultural, political, and legal jihad that seeks the same totalitarian goal even while claiming to repudiate violence.”

Lessons From Central Cell Block

I’m a wuss.

I figured that out on August 20, when a guard was leading me down the cellblock in manacles and leg irons, and I looked through the bars of one cage, and there was Dan Choi, the former Army lieutenant turned gay rights activist.

I knew he’d been arrested with us that morning outside the White House, protesting a climate-killing pipeline called Keystone XL, planned to run from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. But it was only now, in the DC jail’s Central Cell Block, that it really struck me what his participation meant. He’d been down this road before—arrested three times outside the White House, galvanizing the successful effort to end “don’t ask, don’t tell”—so unlike the rest of us, he had a pretty good sense of how his day would end. He did it anyway.

He did it even though climate change isn’t his issue. I didn’t come forward to do time for gay marriage, or immigration reform or any of the other things I believe in; I’m an environmentalist. So looking at Dan made me understand what solidarity looks like—how those of us on the fringe should be uniting to provide common pressure on an administration and a Congress that rarely feels enough heat to veer from the corporate status quo.

Will Top Obama Economist Fight for Jobs?

The Obama administration’s selection of Alan Krueger to lead the Council of Economic Advisers was greeted with applause from progressive economists, including Paul Krugman and Jared Bernstein. “Alan is a fine choice as chief economic adviser,” wrote Krugman, who has often clashed with the administration over economic policy. “It’s an inspired choice,” added Bernstein.

Krueger served as an adviser in the Treasury Department from 2009–10, where he designed the successful cash-for-clunkers program, and, as a Princeton University professor, is regarded as one of the country’s top labor economists. His nomination comes at a time when the Obama administration is belatedly realizing it needs to do much more to try to boost the lagging economy. The Wall Street Journal reports that, if confirmed, Krueger “is likely to provide a voice inside the administration for more-aggressive government action to bring down unemployment and, particularly, to address long-term joblessness.”

Tea Party Senate Primary Campaigns to Watch

Tea Party activists helped Republicans win a landslide in the 2010 midterm elections, but they are already unhappy. Less than a year into the new Congress, they see a string of broken promises: the debt ceiling raised, insufficient spending cuts and politics being conducted behind closed doors. “The Republican leadership came in with promises that didn’t happen,” says Dawn Wildman, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots. “They are doing backroom deals, not putting up bills online for seventy-two hours before voting on them, and not keeping other promises.”

Wildman is in regular contact with state and local Tea Party activists and she says they are displeased with their local Republican incumbents and open to backing primary challenges against them virtually everywhere. “There’s not one state saying ‘we just love our guys and want to keep them forever,’ ” says Wildman. “People are not willing to hold their nose to vote any more.”

Baird promises Canadian sovereignty ‘will not be compromised’ by border deal

TORONTO — Canadian businesses are pushing for greater security and economic integration with the United States while individual citizens caution against losing privacy and police independence, the government reported Monday.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird presented two reports on the government’s consultations with Canadians, promised in February after Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, and U.S. President Barack Obama signed a declaration on integrating security and harmonizing trade rules.

“Improving the movement of goods and people across the border was the number one priority for Canada’s business, industry and trade sector,” the reports say.

“When it came to integrated cross-border law enforcement, there was more interest from individual Canadians than from groups and associations. Many of the submissions from individuals expressed concerns regarding joint law enforcement measures between the two countries.”

Nearly half of Canadians oppose greater integration with U.S. law enforcement

Canadians consulted on a controversial border security deal still in the works with the United States aren’t sold on boosting collaboration between the two countries’ law-enforcement officials, a new report suggests.

The report on the potential perimeter security agreement released on Monday shows nearly half of Canadians who weighed in opposed greater integration of law enforcement between Canada and the United States.

Many who took part in a federal consultation on the agreement voiced concerns about information sharing and the impact of joint programs on civil liberties, the report says.

At the same time, others “called for an open border, more enforcement powers for the Canadian Border Services Agency, and joint enforcement and co-operation in support of a common perimeter,” it says.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Laying Down the (Immigration) Law: Alabama vs. Arizona

Now that the Justice Department has battled the state of Alabama in court to block implementation of HB 56, the immigration bill that mirrors Arizona's controversial SB 1070 (PDF), it seems like as good a time as any to look at how the two measures, well, measure up. Which Republican-proposed legislation out-hypes, out-muscles, and out-bans the other?

Restrictions: Passed in April 2010, SB 1070 was the first in a series of tough state laws that sought to deal with illegal immigration in the absence of federal immigration reform. The bill's key components included making it a crime not to carry one's immigration documents and giving police wide-reaching power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally—both of which were blocked by federal Judge Susan Bolton just months after the legislation's passage. (SB 1070 also made it a state crime to be in the United States illegally.)

HB 56 was signed into law by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on June 9. Like SB 1070, it requires police to try to determine a suspect's immigration status during the course of a lawful "stop, detention, or arrest"—given a "reasonable suspicion" that the person is an immigrant. But that's just the beginning: The legislation also bans undocumented immigrants from receiving state or local public benefits; keeps them from enrolling in public colleges; bars them from applying for or soliticing work; outlaws harboring and transporting undocumented immigrants; forbids renting them property or "knowingly" employing them within Alabama; calls for a citizenship check during voter registration; requires all state businesses to use the federal E-Verify system when hiring; and, if that wasn't enough, asks officials at public K-12 schools to determine the immigration status of their students.

Ft. Hood Shooting: What's the Army Hiding?

Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army major accused of killing 13 and wounding 32 in the 2009 shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, is on his way to a court-martial that could sentence him to death. But in a break with military custom, the Army won't release the critical report that convinced authorities to indict Hasan for capital murder. It's a decision that has some reporters wondering what the service doesn't want them to see.

Sig Christenson, a military writer for the San Antonio Express-News who has covered the Hasan case from the start, says the Army is acting fishy. "Sometimes, the military as an institution fights harder to do as it pleases than it does to preserve your First Amendment rights," he writes. Christenson is an officer of Military Reporters and Editors, which supports journalists who cover defense affairs, and he's asked the group's attorney to provide a legal opinion on whether the Army's violating open-records rules. (Full disclosure: I am a MRE board member.) Other major media organizations are expected to sign on to a letter demanding the Army explain why it's keeping the report under wraps. "You cannot condition access to the courts," he states. It's not the first roadblock Army authorities have thrown in front of reporters covering the Hasan case: Journalists say that at one point, they were told not to ask prosecutors certain questions, or else they'd face expulsion from the court.

Who cares about libraries?

Canadians apparently. Far from being under siege (except in Toronto), they’re thriving—and experimenting.

To hear the uproar in Toronto, an avid book borrower might be forgiven for imagining that Canadian libraries are coming under financial siege. The administration of the city’s right-leaning, populist mayor, Rob Ford, is taking a hard look at closing branches of the Toronto Public Library to cut costs. That prospect has drawn fire from novelist Margaret Atwood and director Norman Jewison, and sparked petitions and angry public meetings. The debate will continue as the city’s budget deliberations stretch into the fall. News from abroad gives Toronto library enthusiasts ample reason to be worried—state and local spending squeezes have led to closures or curtailed hours in the U.S., and British libraries are also struggling.

Feds' approach to Northern economic development 'short sighted'

Stephen Harper's sixth annual Arctic tour is sending a clear message to Canadians that the next four years of majority government will be typified by widespread resource exploitation, and not environmental precautions, say critics.

Last Tuesday's stop at Meadowbank gold mine in Baker Lake, Nunavut, owned by Toronto-based Agnico-Eagle, provided the forum for the Prime Minister to nonchalantly brush aside concerns about environmental degradation in the name of unfettered mining operations and massive revenues amidst peaking global metal prices.

Speaking to local workers at the Meadowbank operation, Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.), in response to a media question, acknowledged the damaging effects of mining, saying, "Obviously, when you dig holes here, you create some environmental issues." He then defended resource exploitation by adding that those issues "can't stop development."

PM should convene first ministers meeting on health, say opposition critics

The federal government should begin negotiations on a post-2014 health care accord soon, say opposition critics. The calls come on the heels of a new Canadian Medical Association report calling for major system-wide changes, including a mix of public and private options, if the country is to avoid "throwing out everything we have" and adopting a "U.S. style model."

"We need a leader," said Liberal MP Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, B.C.), her party's health critic and a medical doctor.

She told The Hill Times last week that the federal government needs to start moving on a first ministers conference. "We need a prime minister that will sit down with first ministers and bring that top level of involvement that was seen in 2003, in 2004 and 2005."

Fords seek to revise waterfront plan that was years in the making

Waterfront Toronto is defending its plan for the port lands – which involved years of consultations – following the revelation that the Ford administration has a plan of its own, and is seeking to put control of the development solely in the hands of the city.

The existing plans for the 1,000-acre site, which received unanimous approval last year from the former city council, took years to hammer out, along with investment from three levels of government, said Marisa Piattelli, spokeswoman for Waterfront Toronto, the agency created by the federal, provincial and city governments to oversee revitalization of the eastern harbour and Lower Don Lands.
“We have had furious, rigorous and detailed public consultations – five years’ worth,” she said Monday. “There is an important integrity of that process that we all need to keep in mind.”

Members of Mayor Rob Ford’s inner circle, especially his brother, Etobicoke councillor Doug Ford, have made no secret of their desire to kick-start development on the city’s eastern waterfront, the former home of a generating station and industrial land. A staff report released late last week recommends that a city agency – the Toronto Port Lands Co.– take the lead on future revitalization of the area, a role filled by Waterfront Toronto since it was created in 2001.

Rick Perry: Social Security A 'Monstrous Lie'

(AP/The Huffington Post) -- During a stop in Iowa on Saturday Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry stood by his criticism of Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme." He said the entitlement program amounts to a "monstrous lie" for young Americans, the Houston Chronicle reports.

HuffPost's Elise Foley reported last week:
...Perry recently walked back his claims that Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme," but other Republicans have made similar statements in recent months, saying the entitlement program is a "scheme" to take money from the American people. Perry has previously taken a hard-line stance against Social Security. In his 2010 book, "Fed Up!" he suggested the program was unconstitutional, put in place "at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government." He also wrote that Social Security is "set up like an illegal Ponzi scheme."

Is Homeland Security spending paying off?

On the edge of the Nebraska sand hills is Lake McConaughy, a 22-mile-long reservoir that in summer becomes a magnet for Winnebagos, fishermen and kite sailors. But officials here in Keith County, population 8,370, imagined this scene: an Al Qaeda sleeper cell hitching explosives onto a ski boat and plowing into the dam at the head of the lake.

The federal Department of Homeland Security gave the county $42,000 to buy state-of-the-art dive gear, including full-face masks, underwater lights and radios, and a Zodiac boat with side-scan sonar capable of mapping wide areas of the lake floor.

Up on the lonely prairie, Cherry County, population 6,148, got thousands of federal dollars for cattle nose leads, halters and electric prods -- in case terrorists decided to mount biological warfare against cows.

Michele Bachmann Says She'd Consider Oil, Natural Gas Drilling In Everglades

(AP/The Huffington Post) SARASOTA, Fla. — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said Sunday that she would consider oil and natural gas drilling in the Everglades if it can be done without harming the environment.

Bachman said the United States needs to tap into all of its energy resources no matter where they exist if it can be done responsibly.

"The United States needs to be less dependent on foreign sources of energy and more dependent upon American resourcefulness. Whether that is in the Everglades, or whether that is in the eastern Gulf region, or whether that's in North Dakota, we need to go where the energy is," she said. "Of course it needs to be done responsibly. If we can't responsibly access energy in the Everglades then we shouldn't do it."

Demanding Respect for Nature

Our insatiable hunger for power and profit stems from a lack of respect.

I spent a week around July 1 in a cabin on one of Haida Gwaii’s remote islands. I was there to celebrate a birthday – not Canada’s, but my grandson’s, who turned two. And what a blessed time it was, hanging out with him without the distractions of email, phone calls, or television.

When I got involved with First Nations communities in remote areas, one of the first lessons I learned was about the importance of respect. Without respect for each other, we don’t listen, and we fail to learn. Instead, we try to engage in conversations set within the perspective of our values, beliefs, and ideas. It’s what led to the depredation of Europeans in the Americas, Africa, and Australia. It’s what led to catastrophic disasters when explorers failed to listen and learn from local people during expeditions to the Arctic, down the Nile, and into the Amazon.

But our respect should extend beyond our fellow humans, to all the green things that capture the sun’s energy and power the rest of life on Earth; to the birds, the fish, the rivers and oceans, the clouds and sky; to all the things that make this planet home and nurture our species.

Re-energizing Our National Objectives

Ignoring the risks, Canada's federal leaders are failing to set national objectives on energy and environment.

This is Part 3 of a four-part series that outlines the crisis of confidence in national governance and the urgent need for Canada to develop clear long-term national goals for which our federal government is directly accountable. Part 1 focused on Canada’s need to break out of election-cycle thinking. Part 2 discussed a new approach to the building and maintenance of our crumbling infrastructure. Part 3 proposes the development of a national environmental and energy strategy.

I have been writing, lately, about our political leaders’ debilitating short-term vision, and the absence of clear, over-the-horizon national goals for the country. In Part 2 of this series, I suggested ways to establish and achieve those goals, and restore confidence in the value of public action, in relation to renewing our national infrastructure. Here, I will address another area where Canada has lagged shockingly: the development of a sustainable national energy strategy.

Education must unleash creativity, not stifle it

My daughter was a happy camper this summer.

She spent her days dancing, rehearsing and performing in plays, productions and talent shows.

My daughter was in her element. Dancing has long been her creative outlet. She’s at her happiest when she’s on stage. It’s where she shines the brightest. Dancing fills my daughter with grace and brings a real joy to both her and her parents.

Yet watching my daughter’s Friday performances this summer left me frustrated on two counts.

In a few weeks, my daughter returns to school. She won’t spend any part of her days dancing. She’ll have to leave an important part of who she is at home. My daughter doesn’t dance at school because dancing falls on the bottom rung on the hierarchy of academic disciplines. It’s not tested so it’s not taught. Dancing doesn’t factor into the standardized testing that’s used to sort, rate, rank and process students. Her natural abilities aren’t being engaged or valued. And I’m bracing for the day when a teacher or guidance counsellor unwisely questions and challenges my daughter’s ambition to be a ballet instructor.

Full text of Stephen Lewis’s stirring eulogy for Jack Layton

Below is the eulogy delivered by NDP statesman Stephen Lewis during Jack Layton’s funeral:

Never in our collective lifetime have we seen such an outpouring, so much emotional intensity, from every corner of this country. There have been occasions, historically, when we’ve seen respect and admiration but never so much love, never such a shocked sense of personal loss.

Jack was so alive, so much fun, so engaged in daily life with so much gusto, so unpretentious, that it was hard while he lived to focus on how incredibly important that was to us, he was to us. Until he was so suddenly gone, cruelly gone, at the pinnacle of his career.

To hear so many Canadians speak so open-heartedly of love, to see young and old take chalk in hand to write without embarrassment of hope, or hang banners from overpasses to express their grief and loss. It’s astonishing.

Somehow Jack connected with Canadians in a way that vanquished the cynicism that erodes our political culture. He connected whether you knew him or didn’t know him, whether you were with him or against him.

Jack simply radiated an authenticity and honesty and a commitment to his ideals that we know realize we’ve been thirsting for. He was so civil, so open, so accessible that he made politics seem so natural and good as breathing. There was no guile. That’s why everybody who knew Jack recognized that the public man and the private man were synonymous.

But it obviously goes much deeper than that. Jack, I think, tapped into a yearning, sometimes ephemeral, rarely articulated, a yearning that politics be conducted in a different way, and from that difference would emerge a better Canada.

That difference was by no means an end to rancour, an end to the abusive, vituperative practice of the political arts. The difference was also, and critically, one of policy – a fundamentally different way of viewing the future of Canada.

His remarkable letter made it absolutely clear. This was a testament written in the very throes of death that set out what Jack wanted for his caucus, for his party, for young people, for all Canadians.

Inevitably, we fastened on those last memorable lines about hope, optimism and love. But the letter was, at its heart, a manifesto for social democracy. And if there was one word that might sum up Jack Layton’s unabashed social democratic message, it would be generosity. He wanted, in the simplest and most visceral terms, a more generous Canada.

His letter embodies that generosity. In his very last hours of life he wanted to give encouragement to others suffering from cancer. He wanted to share a larger, bolder, more decent vision of what Canada should be for all its inhabitants.

He talks of social justice, health care, pensions, no one left behind, seniors, children, climate change, equality and again that defining phrase, “a more inclusive and generous Canada.” All of that is entirely consistent with Jack’s lifelong convictions. In those early days of municipal politics in Toronto Jack took on gay and lesbian rights, HIV and AIDS, housing for the homeless, the white ribbon campaign to fight violence against women and consecrate gender equality once and for all.

And of course a succession of environmental innovations, bike lanes, wind power, the Toronto atmospheric fund – and now Michael, his progressive and talented son, as councillor can carry the torch forward.

And then came his tenure as president of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, where he showed that growing deftness of political touch in uniting municipalities of all sizes and geographic locations, winning their recognition of the preeminence of cities and the invaluable pillar of the public sector. Jack made the leap to federal politics look easy.

The same deeply held principles of social democracy that made him a superb politician at the city level, as I know, transferred brilliantly to federal politics. And also, from the many wonderful conversations we had together, I know led him to a formidable commitment to internationalism.

He was fearless in his positions once embraced. Thus, when he argued for negotiations with the Taliban to bring the carnage in Afghanistan to an end he was ridiculed but stood firm. And now it’s conventional wisdom. I move to recall that Jack came to the New Democratic Party at the time of the imposition of the War Measures Act, when tanks rolled into the streets of Montreal and civil liberties were shredded, and when the NDP’s brave opposition brought us to our nadir in public opinion.

But his convictions and his courage were intertwined – yet another reason for celebrating Jack and for understanding the pain and sadness with which his death has been received.

Above all – and his letter makes this palpably clear – Jack understood that we are headed into even more perilous economic times. He wanted Canadians to have a choice between what he described as the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and an economy that would embrace equity, fairness, balance and creative generosity.

This was the essence of the manifesto. That’s why he insists that we’re a great country, but we can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice and opportunity. These were not rhetorical concepts to Jack. They were the very core of his social democratic philosophy. He was prepared to do ideological battle, but as all things with Jack there was nothing impulsive or ill-considered.

He would listen as he always listened – he was a great listener – he would synthesize thoughtfully as he always did, and he would choose a political route that was dignified, pragmatic and principled. He was so proud of his caucus and what they would do to advance the agenda of social democracy.

He cultivated and mentored every member of that caucus, and as the country will see, that will speak volumes in the days ahead.

The victory in Quebec – and I will be followed by a eulogist in the francophone language – the victory in Quebec was an affirmation of Jack’s singular personal appeal, reinforced by Quebec’s support for progressive values shared by so many Canadians. And his powerful belief and trust in youth to forge the grand transformation to a better world is by now legendary. Indeed, the reference to youth spawns a digression.

From time to time, Jack and I would meet in the corridors of my foundation, where his supernaturally competent daughter Sarah works, and we would invariably speak of our grandchildren. You cannot imagine – I guess you saw it in the video – the radiating joy that glowed from Jack as he talked of Sarah’s daughter, his granddaughter Beatrice, and when he said as he often said that he wanted to create a better world for Beatrice and all the other Beatrices to inherit, you instantly knew of one of his strongest and most compelling motivations.

He was a lovely, lovely man. Filled with laughter and affection and commitment. He was also mischievous and musical, possessed of normal imperfections but deeply deserving of the love you have all shown. His indelible romance with Olivia was beautiful to behold, and it sustained them both.

When my wife and I met with the family a few hours after Jack died, Olivia said, as she said in the video, that we must look forward to see what we all can accomplish together.

I loved Jack’s goodness and his ideals in equal measure. Watching all of you react so genuinely to his death, the thousands upon thousands who lined up for hours to say a last goodbye in Ottawa and Toronto, it’s clear that everyone recognized how rare and precious his character was.

We’re all shaken by grief but I believe we’re slowly being steadied by a new resolve and I see that resolve in words written in chalk and in a fresh determination on people’s faces. A resolve to honour Jack by bringing the politics of respect for all, respect for the Earth and respect for principle and generosity back to life.

My wife Michele reminded me of a perfect quote from the celebrated Indian novelist, activist and feminist Arundhati Roy. Jack doubtless knew it. He might have seen it as a mantra. “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”

Thank you Jack.

Source: Globe&Mail  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The politics of the Saints

WITH MITT Romney’s candidacy for president, the Mormon church approaches an epochal moment in its deep engagement with American politics. The nation, too, is at a threshold - entering, perhaps, a more spacious public understanding of many once-marginal groups.

In the Mormon case, it’s been a long time coming. Romney may be a front-runner for the Republican nomination, and his father George may once have been a serious candidate for president, but the first Mormon to run for president was the first Mormon himself.

Afghanistan: The high cost of war

KANDAHAR – Summer in southern Afghanistan is a blast furnace. Temperatures rise over 50C. Air conditioning is what allows the frenzied pace of NATO’s war during the fighting season. The price is astronomical. The Americans have calculated that in the past two years they have spent $20 billion on AC. If you add the rest of NATO, that figure is probably well over $24 billion. That means that coalition forces spend more to keep themselves cool each year than Afghanistan’s gross national product.

Every drop of fuel, drinking water as well as every morsel of food consumed on NATO bases is imported into this landlocked country – most of it trucked in through Pakistan. The cost is enormous.

This year the U.S. Congress approved $113 billion U.S. for Afghanistan, which is five times Canada’s total defence budget.

From October 2010 to May, the U.S. alone spent $1.5 billion on 329.8 million gallons of fuel to operate its generators, vehicles and aircraft in Afghanistan, according to an article in Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper. This works out to $4.55 per gallon, which is not excessive. But it does not include the high cost of getting that fuel through a war zone. According to Stars and Stripes, that increased the price tenfold.

Jack Layton Funeral: Canada's Collective Grief Suggests For Many, Losing Layton Meant Loss Of Hope

TORONTO - Optimism may indeed be better than despair, but if the last week is any indication, Canadians have been finding it exceedingly hard to come by.

Jack Layton's death Monday at the age of 61 was a shock, even to those who saw his final news conference last month, where his illness was apparent in his sunken face, his raspy voice, the bony shoulders poking through his suit jacket.

The ensuing tide of grief has been no less of a surprise.

Canadians flocked to pay their respects, whether by lining up at the House of Commons to file past his flag-draped coffin, or by scrawling tributes on the cement outside Toronto City Hall, an institution that gave rise to his earliest political successes.

Niko Resources: Ottawa’s corruption test case

By Bangladeshi standards, the red-brick compound of A.K.M. Mosharraf Hossain is a country estate. A four-foot wall encircles the property in the capital city of Dhaka. The only way inside is past a guard booth and a metal gate that leads to the politician’s roundabout driveway.

But there was no problem gaining admission on May 23, 2005, when two representatives from Niko Resources (NKO-T53.740.430.81%) , a Canadian natural gas company, arrived at the gate. They were waved through with a brand-new, shiny gift—a black Toyota Land Cruiser. The two Niko officials, both Bangladeshi, stood by while the car keys were handed over to Hossain’s driver.

This sort of thing is a routine transaction in many Third World countries—yet this one would go down in legal history.

Air Canada flight attendants reject tentative agreement

Air Canada suffered yet another labour setback on Saturday with word its flight attendants have rejected a tentative agreement reached earlier this month.

The union representing the roughly 6,800 flight attendants, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said in a news release that 87.8 per cent of those who voted gave the tentative agreement a thumbs down.

“The results send a strong message to the company,” Jeff Taylor, President of the Air Canada component of CUPE, said in the news release. “We have heard our members loud and clear.”

“After a decade of concessions, the membership has clearly said it wants a fair deal, especially since the company is in a much better financial position,” Mr. Taylor added.