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, June 27, 2011

Toronto auditor eyeing Fords’ lack of spending disclosure – but penalties far from certain

If Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug, an Etobicoke councillor, disobey the city council-approved policy of revealing how their offices spend money, do they face some kind of sanction?
The short answer: not yet.

A recent Globe and Mail investigation found that the Ford brothers have not submitted receipts for basic office supplies and work-related cellphone expenses they pay for themselves. While that omission appears to run counter to a council-approved guideline on the use of personal funds to finance such expenses, the policy, last updated in January, doesn’t include mandated penalties, such as fines.

Still, the practice has attracted the attention of Auditor-General Jeff Griffiths. “There’s a policy and council is expected to follow the policy,” he said in an interview. The rules are meant to ensure transparency, added Mr. Griffiths, who in 2007 probed Mr. Ford’s expenses and discovered a similar pattern of non-compliance. Mr. Ford purchased supplies from his family company, Deco Labels and Tags, but didn’t submit receipts, allowing him to declare almost no office spending.

Mr. Ford’s spokeswoman Adrienne Batra declined to respond to Mr. Griffiths’s comment.

The issue in this case has little to do with money, as no one accuses the Fords of extravagance.

Rather, the revelations illustrate the rationale behind rules requiring the disclosure of personally-financed expenses. According to Section 4.6 of the policy, “Councillors who pay office expenses by personal funds must disclose these expenses in the same manner as office expenditures using City funds.”

Some residents applaud councillors who underwrite their own expenses because those outlays don’t pose a burden to taxpayers. (In practice, however, very few councillors have adopted the Fords’ approach, preferring to use public funds.) Yet absent a paper trail of receipts for such outlays, voters simply cannot determine if a member of council has allowed an interested third party – e.g., a developer or a trade union – to underwrite political expenses in exchange for favours. There’s no way to determine whether they’ve stayed within the mandated spending limit. Nor is it clear how such expenditures are treated for tax purposes.

Mr. Ford appears not to have disclosed all of the expenses associated with running his 17-person office. For the first quarter of 2011, Mr. Ford declared that his office spent just $1,718.46, a figure that does not appear to include expenses such as the mayor’s cellphone bills and office supplies. Doug Ford claimed to have spent nothing since taking office on December 1, 2010.

Disclosure documents posted to the city’s website show that the Fords claim to have spent none of their own money on office-related expenses. During last year’s mayoral election, Mr. Ford ran on a transparency and accountability campaign, pledging, among other things, to slash councilor expense budgets.

The auditor-general declined to say whether his office was planning to probe the expense filings of the mayor or his brother. The issue, Mr. Griffiths said, “would come up again” if a formal complaint is made to Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper.

In an interview, Ms. Leiper said she is not at liberty to comment on specific situations. But she explained that members of the public have the right to raise concerns about the conduct of council members, either formally or informally. City policy states that a formal request for an investigation requires the complainant to swear an affidavit and provide evidence showing “reasonable and probable” grounds that council policies have been breached, she said.

Full Article

Planned Parenthood Wins First Victory Against Defunding Laws

Four states have passed legislation defunding Planned Parenthood so far this year, but the family planning provider is not going down without a fight. A federal judge in Indiana sided with Planned Parenthood against the defunding law on Friday, blocking its implementation, and now the legal battle is moving to Kansas.

After a month of court hearings, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt decided to grant a preliminary injunction against a new law that blocks Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) from participating in the Medicaid program. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services already denounced the defunding law in a letter issued earlier this month because the proposed change violates federal Medicaid rules by denying Medicaid patients the freedom to choose a qualified provider.

Pratt said the Health Department's disapproval of the new law, which could jeopardize all $4 million of Indiana's federal planning money, weighed heavily on her decision.

"Denying the injunction could pit the federal government against the State of Indiana in a high-stakes political impasse," she told the court. "And if dogma trumps pragmatism and neither side budges, Indiana’s most vulnerable citizens could end up paying the price as the collateral damage of a partisan battle. With this backdrop in mind, along with the reasons discussed above, the Court believes the most prudent course of action is to enjoin the defunding provision while the judicial process runs its course.”

As a result of the injunction, PPIN will immediately resume serving its Medicaid patients, many of whom had been using it as their primary health provider.

“This decision will have immediate, positive consequences for our patients and our organization," PPIN President and CEO Betty Cockrum said in a statement. “This ruling allows us to resume providing Pap tests, breast exams, STD testing and treatment and birth control to both existing and new Medicaid patients.”

Planned Parenthood said its victories in court and with the federal government bode well for the legal battles it plans to fight in other states. The Kansas-based chapter filed a lawsuit in federal district court on Monday that seeks to block the enforcement of a defunding amendment recently passed by the Kansas legislature. Unlike the Indiana law, the Kansas law cuts off all Title X funding to Planned Parenthood, so that it will no longer be able to provide family planning and preventive health care services on a sliding-fee scale to more than 5,700 low-income patients.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Hume: Under Ford, city’s reputation for tolerance is strained

Time hasn’t forgotten Toronto, but Toronto would like to forget time.

Under its new mayor, Rob Ford, the city is turning back the clock to the good old days of the chief magistrate’s imagining. Never one to be distracted by reality, Ford believes that we can ignore — no, undo — the changes that have redrawn the face of Toronto during recent years and return to some white-bread suburban utopia that never existed.

No one should underestimate the power of illusion, of course, but just months after Ford took office, the credibility gap between what we know and what he says has been stretched to the breaking point.

In Rob Ford’s Toronto there is no need for public heath nurses. There are no poor people, no gays, no immigrants, no cyclists, no need for housing and nothing the market can’t fix.

That this is nonsense goes without saying. While Ford’s hordes cheer him on in the most unseemly manner, cutting off their collective nose to spite their collective face, they have little to offer aside from insults and jeers. Not believing themselves a part of Toronto, they are content to watch as it is dismantled by the mayor.

Though it has quickly become predictable, the glee with which Ford’s hordes greet his every bĂȘtise still disturbs. The sort of casual civic destructiveness Ford has legitimized in Toronto reminds one of what happened recently in Vancouver. Toronto hasn’t experienced riots — at least not since police went on a rampage during the G20 summit last summer — but both events demonstrate the human capacity for and love of destruction for its own sake.

When someone starts throwing rocks — proverbial or actual — others happily join in. If that person is the mayor, so much the better.

At first, it seemed Ford, widely dismissed as a buffoon during his decade on city council, would be simply a civic embarrassment. Now he has become a liability.

His refusal last week to accept two provincially sponsored public health nurses demonstrated a shocking contempt for the people who live in this city. Ford sent his favorite “Gino boy,” Giorgio Mammoliti, to do his dirty work in explaining the inexplicable. Beyond doing a brilliant job making a fool of himself, Mammoliti accomplished little.

But many of Ford’s normally docile council concubines responded with disbelief. Before the end of Ford’s term they will have to reflect carefully on what the cost of that support will be.

Depending on how many transit riders live in her north Toronto riding, Ford’s chosen TTC eviscerator, Karen Stintz, might want to start reading the help-wanted ads once again.

Peter Milczyn, the self-styled Baron Haussmann of south Etobicoke, should also start looking around.

Similarly, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, a right-winger but not a redneck, is starting to look silly. His incredulity is clearly being strained by his boss’s antics. Unlike Ford, he understands that the mayor represents all the people, not just those who think and look like he does.

Opting out of Gay Pride may play well to Ford’s hordes, but in the wider world it makes him, them and the rest of us look like yokels.

If nothing else, Ford has reminded us of how fragile are the bonds that keep this most disparate of cities from flying apart. By the standards of much of the world, what has been achieved here borders on the miraculous. But the one quality visitors so admire about Toronto — its civility — is the same one Ford most conspicuously lacks.

Source: Toronto Star 

Competition watchdog seeks to block Air Canada-United joint venture

Canada’s competition watchdog has applied to block a proposed joint venture between Air Canada and United Continental Holdings.

The commissioner of competition says that if the joint venture is allowed, it will monopolize 10 important Canada-U.S. routes, and “substantially reduce competition” on nine others.

Routes out of Toronto that would be affected are to Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, New York and San Francisco.

The commissioner has applied to the competition tribunal to block the proposed joint venture, and to unwind three existing “co-ordination agreements” between the airlines.

It says the joint venture, in which the airlines would co-ordinate schedules, could drive up prices for consumers by 15 per cent.

Federal law prohibits Canadian airlines from merging with foreign firms, but the joint venture “would achieve the very same result,” according to a release from the competition commissioner.

United and Continental merged in the U.S. in 2010, but continue to operate separately as they await approval from the U.S. federal Aviation Administration.

Air Canada proposed a joint venture with the U.S. airline in October, 2010.

Source: Toronto Star 

China Ramps Up Central Planning to Stifle Dissent

In March, while clamping down on simmering protests in China following the Arab Spring, the Chinese government's top legislator told 3,000 deputies at the National People's Congress that it would brook no challenge to the Communist party's authority.

"We have made a solemn declaration," stated Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People's Congress standing committee, in affirming China's "five no's" -- no multiparty elections, no diversity in guiding thought, no separation of powers, no federal system and no privatization.

In the past, the Chinese government had denied that it had a policy of squeezing out the private sector. This unofficial policy, which entrepreneurs dubbed "guo jin min tui" -- literally "the state advances as the private sector recedes" -- has since become a household term that serves the government well: To assert its authority, the government now unabashedly declares that its absolute control of all power centres in Chinese society includes the private sector. China is heading for a degree of government ownership and central planning unseen since Mao's passing.

The extent to which the Chinese government believes that a few people at the top of the government hierarchy can micromanage an economy for 1.4 billion people became clear with the recent release of the government's latest five-year plan. Many governments think they can pick a few winners in their economy. China's central government thinks it can pick 750 of them, and plans to provide them with the support needed to make theirs a self-fulfilling prophesy. More, China thinks it can pick losers -- it found 426 of them -- and will ensure their demise.

The winners include coal mines, perfumes, electric cars, airports and wildflowers. "National champions" and other state-owned companies operating in winning sectors get free land, cut-rate financing, instant approvals, guaranteed domestic markets and expedited stockmarket listings. The losers -- they include companies in disposable foam plastic dinnerware, vertical gas water heaters and cardboard detonators -- get nothing but a date by which they must terminate operations.

China's micromanagers also have a third category -- a kind of purgatory -- for industries that will be tolerated for a while. These include villa-type real estate developments, golf courses, artificial leather, certain types of toothpaste and small versions of the winners -- small coal mines, for example. These tolerated sectors -- typically in the private sector -- will receive no government favours and are expected to disappear over time.

China, disdainful of what it sees as the West's weakling management of its economies, is confidently taking the helm of its own. As put by Premier Wen Jiabao at last year's National People's Congress, "The socialist system's advantages enable us to make decisions efficiently, organize effectively and concentrate resources to accomplish large undertakings."

China's liking for national champions -- state-owned companies that are typically also traded on stock exchanges -- is easily understood. According to one study of the decade ending in 2008, its national champions' assets, sales and R&D expenditures grew on average 25 per cent a year, while their profits grew at an astonishing 40 per cent a year. From the Communist party's perspective, national champions and top-down planning have another advantage -- they provide the party with control that would be impossible if people and industries could act independently.

The architect of China's top-down plan is its National Development and Reform Commission. This all-powerful agency, easily the world's largest planner, itself operates at the very highest levels in the Chinese hierarchy -- directly under the State Council, China's Cabinet. This is the agency that issues the country's five-year plans (the twelfth five-year plan has just begun), that both plans and manages China's economy, and that epitomizes the China model, the envy of much of the world for its readiness to act decisively.

Yet top-down decisive action -- when detached from market demand -- also has large, less-easy-to-measure downsides. China's ghost cities provide the most spectacular example of central planners that got it wrong -- entire cities able to house tens and even hundreds of thousands each that remain mostly deserted years after their completion. Less well known are the high-speed rail lines that run devoid of passengers, the four-lane highways devoid of cars, the airports devoid of planes and the hydro dams devoid of water.

China's signature Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest and once the epitome of the China model, now symbolizes the folly of central planning -a Shanghai daily even called it "that monstrous damming project" -- because it has failed to achieve any of its major goals, including flood control, navigation, and the provision of cheap power. There is, in short, no way of knowing whether the immense gains that central planning conferred on the national champions exceeded the immense costs that central planning imposes on the rest of the economy.

And now China is taking central planning to a new level through guo jin min tui. Through this creeping nationalization of the existing private economy, the Chinese planners expect the winners to absorb many of the small industries in purgatory, adding to the heft of the winners while eliminating the small fry and streamlining the industrial sector. China's planners are taking other steps, too, to ensure that the private sector recedes.

Foreign competitors to China's national champions will generally be restricted by being prevented from operating in China in competition with Chinese companies. The only exception to this rule involves Western companies with technologies that Chinese champions need. In such instances, the Western firm would be allowed in, as a junior partner to the Chinese national champion, on condition that it turn over its technology to China.

Western firms have been accepting China's terms. In high-speed rail, for example, foreign companies such as France's Alstom, Germany's Siemens and Japan's Kawasaki had until recently controlled about two-thirds of the Chinese market. In 2009, the Chinese government changed the rules, requiring them to provide their technology to state-owned Chinese corporations in exchange for the right to bid on future rail projects. These multinationals now account for less than 20 per cent of the Chinese market. The national champions, meanwhile, not only dominate the local market, they are now competing against their junior partners in foreign countries, most recently having won contracts in Australia and New Zealand.

In another example of how the private sector is giving way to state producers, foreign multinationals until recently held 75 per cent of China's wind market. They're now down to 33 per cent or less, having failed to win a central government-funded wind energy project since 2005. China accomplished this feat using sticks and carrots. The big carrot: China offered the stateowned companies' customers lavish subsidies that effectively squeezed out foreign manufacturers. The big sticks: The government slapped a 70 per cent local-content requirement on the foreigners and hiked tariffs on imported components.

Not surprisingly, Western companies -- feeling unwanted -- have begun to pull up stakes in China. Which suits China just fine. Its planners take the goal of guo jin min tui seriously -- the state advances as the private sector recedes.

The question that remains: Will the current helmsmen of the Chinese communist economy fare better than their predecessor, Great Helmsman Mao? The answer may lie in an alternative meaning for guo jin min tui that Chinese citizens understand all too well. The phrase can mean both, "The state advances as the private sector recedes" and "The nation advances as the people fall behind."

Patricia Adams is an economist and the executive director of Probe International, a Toronto-based think-tank.


China Eyes Canada's Oil Sands

CALGARY, Alberta -- In the northern reaches of Alberta lies a vast reserve of oil that the U.S. views as a pillar of its future energy needs.

China, with a growing appetite for oil that may one day surpass that of the U.S., is ready to spend the dollars for a big piece of it.

The oil sands of this Canadian province are so big that they will be able to serve both of the world's largest economies as production expands in the coming years. But that will mean building at least two pipelines, one south to the Texas Gulf Coast and another west toward the Pacific, and that in turn means fresh environmental battles on top of those already raging over the costly and energy-intensive method of extracting oil from sand.

Most believe that both will eventually be built. But if the U.S. doesn't approve its pipeline promptly, Canada might increasingly look to China, thinking America doesn't want a big stake share in what environmentalists call "dirty oil," which they say increases greenhouse gas emissions.

Alberta has the world's third largest oil reserves, more than 170 billion barrels. Daily production of 1.5 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to nearly triple to 3.7 million in 2025. Overall, Alberta has more oil than Russia or Iran. Only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have more.

Alberta is one of the few places where oil companies can invest, as the majority of the world's oil reserves are controlled by national governments. Only 22 percent of the total world reserves are accessible to private sector investment, 52 percent of which is in Alberta's oil sands, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Canada's only major oil export market is the U.S. But with the product of oil sands and pipeline delivery to the U.S. under perennial clouds of environmental objections, and with Asian demand growing, this country wants to diversify its market, and China is eager to oblige.

Sinopec, a Chinese state-controlled oil company, has a stake in a $5.5 billion plan drawn up by the Alberta-based Enbridge company to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific coast province of British Columbia. Alberta Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove met this month with Sinopec and CNOOC, China's other big oil company, and China's largest banks.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Why Better Pension Plans Could Save the Day

As fewer Canadians sufficiently save for retirement, senior poverty becomes an increasing threat.

There was a time when most working Canadians were covered by a pension plan at work. These plans – typically the defined-benefit (DB) type – were designed to ensure that, after a long career, employees had adequate income for their “golden years.”

The DB model was perfect for that task. Typically, members would receive a percentage of their earnings, multiplied by the number of years that they held membership in the plan. So, after 30 years, a member could look forward to a lifetime pension equalling 60 per cent of what he or she had earned at work (when government pensions are factored in).

But things have changed. As Moshe Milevsky and Alexandra Macqueen point out in their book Pensionize Your Nest Egg, Statistics Canada figures from 2008 suggest that only 17 per cent of private-sector employees are now covered by DB plans. A further 11 per cent are covered by non-DB pension plans, but a whopping 72 per cent have no pension plan at all.

It would seem, from this trend, that there’s now a belief that retirement planning is something that individuals should handle on their own. But are they handling it?

According to Statistics Canada, there was nearly $600 billion in unused Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) room at the end of 2009. More than 20 million Canadians have unused RRSP room, meaning that Canadians, left to their own devices, are not taking advantage of RRSPs: The average Canadian has only about $60,000 in RRSP savings at the time of retirement.

Given that you need $20 of savings for every dollar of retirement income that you wish to receive, $60,000 isn’t going to cut it. You would need $500,000 in RRSP savings to provide yourself with a post-retirement income of $25,000 per year.

Why aren’t Canadians saving enough for retirement? One obvious answer is personal debt. The Bank of Canada reported, in 2004, that total consumer debt in Canada is more than $752 billion – more than $25,000 for every man, woman, and child. Paying off interest-bearing debt understandably becomes a higher priority for most people than saving for retirement.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

Senate reform is a dumb idea past its time

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Senate reform “light” is the last thing Canada needs.

The Senate, already discredited, would become even less functional and more redundant with a two-tiered house divided between a new class of senators who are elected for one nine-year term and the old class of appointed senators who serve until they’re 75.

Elected senators would be a useless addition to the elected MPs. Far from championing different points of views, they would follow the same political lines since the province-wide elections of senators would be held in the same way as regular federal elections. Nobody could be elected to the Senate without the active support of a political party. The Senate, therefore, would become even more politicized than it already is.

Initially, Canada’s Senate, like Britain’s House of Lords, was an institution that provided the elites with a safeguard against the supposedly impetuous and ill-informed decisions of the legislators of more modest origin who sat in the House of Commons.

Nowadays, the only reason justifying the maintenance of a Senate would be to provide the legislators with the intellectual input of an assembly of outstanding citizens from various walks of life who would cast a non-partisan and wise look at legislation tabled in the Commons. Unfortunately, this is not – and never has been – the case.

By and large, the Senate never fully performed its role as the “chamber of sober second thought.” While a number of senators (such as Joan Fraser or Serge Joyal, for instance) take their role seriously, the Senate is mostly filled with party cronies, and has largely served as a comfortable retirement home for former politicians, most of whom blindly vote along party lines.

Senate reform was the main demand of the defunct Reform Party, and for good reason. A “Triple E” Senate (elected, equal and effective) was seen as the answer to the flagrant under-representation of the western provinces in the Commons. But this injustice is about to be erased, or at least considerably alleviated.

At the time of Reform, Western Canada “wanted in,” as the party’s slogan said. Now, it’s in. A party born and bred there is in office in Ottawa, and with a majority to boot. And a soon-to-be-tabled bill will increase the seats in the provinces that are demographically expanding (British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario).

Only three premiers (from B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan) have voiced some, albeit lukewarm, support for Mr. Harper’s proposed Senate reform – and my guess is that electing senators is not the top priority of their citizens. Ontario wants the Senate abolished, and Quebec is determined to mount a legal fight against Senate reform up to the Supreme Court, on the grounds it should be approved by at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.

Why lose time on a reform that no one is demanding, that no one needs and that’s probably doomed to be declared unconstitutional?

Source: Globe & Mail  

Mayor Ford a no-show for Pride Week flag-raising

A stand-in for the Mayor Rob Ford was shouted down during a ceremonial flag-raising for Pride Toronto on Monday afternoon.

Mr. Ford has come under intense criticism for plans to skip the Pride parade, an event previous mayors have made a point of attending.

There was speculation he would tamp down the acrimony by showing up to the flag-raising unannounced, but he attended in autograph only.

Hecklers jeered city council speaker Frances Nunziata as she read out a mayoral proclamation marking the start of Toronto's Pride festivities.

“Where's the mayor? We want the mayor,” shouted several in attendance at Nathan Phillips Square. “Sit down Frances.”

The plucky speaker, who was attending on behalf of the mayor, could not be heard over the jeers. She picked up her speech only after openly gay Councillor Kristen Wong-Tam stepped in.

“I'm waiting too, my friends, I'm waiting too,” Ms. Wong-Tam told the crowd, before asking for calm.
The protesters eventually quieted their voices but not their sentiments.

“It's a token gesture, but if he had just come here today it would have calmed things down and put out the fire a bit,” said Richard Warner, after yelling “Shame on the mayor.”

After the ceremony, Ms. Nunziata said the cat-calling didn't faze her. “I accept bullying, I get that all the time as speaker of council,” she said. “I'm here, I'm representing the mayor, I'm representing the city of Toronto and that's what matters.”

The mayor's office could not say where he was during the event.

Ms. Wong-Tam doubted the mayor's absence would overshadow the rest of the event.

“The Pride parade is larger than you and me and everyone else,” she said.

Source: Globe & Mail 

Obama Admin Warns of “Fines and Incarceration” if U.S. Citizens Set Sail with Gaza Aid Flotilla

A group of U.S. citizens is rejecting the Obama administration’s attempt to thwart their aid mission to the Gaza Strip, which threatens to leave them stranded in Greece. They are set to sail from a Greek port on a U.S.-flagged ship called “The Audacity of Hope,” part of an international humanitarian flotilla carrying aid for Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinian residents. Flotilla members are taking part despite Israeli threats to intercept their ships. Nine people were killed in an Israeli attack on the first aid flotilla just over a year ago. The Audacity of Hope passengers have called for the U.S. government’s help in ensuring their safe passage. But instead, the Obama administration has told them not to set sail and even warned them they could face punishment back home. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Israel would have the right to use force to prevent the ships’ passage. The State Department called the flotilla "irresponsible and provocative" and warned that U.S. delegates could face "fines and incarceration.” We play an excerpt from a press conference when State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland is repeatedly questioned about the Obama administration’s threat, but refuses to answer whether the U.S. considers the Israeli blockade of Gaza to be legal.

Source: Democracy Now!

Ice-Free Northwest Passage Brings Migrating Whales, Plankton To New Waters

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- HALIFAX - Some marine species are migrating to oceans where they were once extinct because of warming temperatures and polar melt, according to scientists who say the shakeup poses risks to entire ecosystems.

Researchers said they have found evidence of various marine life forms relocating halfway around the world because of the disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic.

Chris Reid, a professor of oceanography at the University of Plymouth in England, said they discovered the presence of a microscopic plankton in the North Atlantic 800,000 years after it had disappeared from that area.

It would be the first evidence of a trans-Arctic migration for plankton in modern times and one of the first times in tens of thousands of years that water has flown freely between the two oceans after ice retreated from the Alaska coastline.

They have also spotted a Pacific gray whale off the coasts of Spain and Israel more than three centuries after it vanished from the Atlantic.

Reid said they are convinced the relocations are the result of melting ice in the North, which has opened a channel for roving species.

"They are a marker of a major transition because the last time we had an opening between the Pacific and the Atlantic was about two to three million years ago," Reid said from Plymouth before the release of the findings Sunday.

"This could have big impacts on living marine resources as well as fisheries and aquaculture."

Reid, whose research with the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science was released Sunday, is collecting the material as part of a major study on the effects of climate change on marine life.

He said the species shuffle could shake up the marine food web and transform the biodiversity of the Arctic and North Atlantic ecosystems.

Scientists from around the globe say they're already documenting the effects of species relocation due to warming water temperatures.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

John Baird In Libya: Foreign Affairs Minister Meets Rebels On Secret Trip

THE CANADIAN PRESS — BENGHAZI, - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird wrapped up a secret trip to Libya on Monday to meet with anti-Gadhafi rebels and deliver a planeload of trauma kits to help the anti-Gadhafi cause.

It's Baird's first big trip as foreign minister, aside from a jaunt to the G8 summit in France last month. The visit comes at a time when the stalemate between Libyan dissident groups and Gadhafi forces have prompted questions about whether the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya is working.

"It was important to me to come here and get the facts for myself," Baird told The Canadian Press. "We are doing our due diligence because that is what Canadians expect and the Libyan people require."

Canada recently joined European and Arab countries in recognizing the National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Baird spent half a day in rebel-held Benghazi to meet with the leader of the NTC, Mahmoud Jibril, as well as some of his colleagues.

The group is setting itself up as an alternative to long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi. But some of Canada's allies are concerned the council's military strength and political know-how are too thin to do the job.

Baird's main aim was to get a firm grip on how well-prepared the dissidents are to actually govern the country one day _ if Gadhafi is deposed.

"This is one of the many steps that need to happen as Canada and the NTC go forward together," Baird said.

His trip was kept secret until he left Libya so that his safety would not come under threat.

In Benghazi, Baird also met with non-governmental groups to see how Canada's humanitarian aid to Libya could be made most efficient. Ottawa has been pushing for women to be included in democracy-building efforts in a post-Gadhafi Libya.

After Benghazi, the minister travelled on to visit Canadian military forces stationed in Sicily who are spearheading the Canadian participation in the NATO-led bombing campaign of Libya.

Full Article

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant: Flood Seeps Into Turbine Building At Nebraska Nuke Station

OMAHA -- Missouri River floodwater seeped into the turbine building at a nuclear power plant near Omaha on Monday, but plant officials said the seepage was expected and posed no safety risk because the building contains no nuclear material.

An 8-foot-tall, water-filled temporary berm protecting the plant collapsed early Sunday. Vendor workers were at the plant Monday to determine whether the 2,000 foot berm can be repaired.

Omaha Public Power District spokesman Jeff Hanson said pumps were handling the problem at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station and that "everything is secure and safe." The plant, about 20 miles north of Omaha, has been closed for refueling since April. Hanson said the berm's collapse didn't affect the shutdown or the spent fuel pool cooling.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Victor Dricks described the situation as stable. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko plans to inspect the Fort Calhoun plant on Monday as part of a pre-arranged visit to Nebraska.

Hanson said OPPD fired up generators and cut the power supply after water surrounded the main electrical transformers on Sunday. The generators powered the plant until an off-site power supply was connected later in the day.

Officials said the berm wasn't critical to protecting the plant, which sits across the river from Iowa.

"There are other structures and systems in place that can ensure they will continue operating safely," Jaczko said Sunday.

The river was not expected to rise higher than the level the plant is designed to handle.

Jackzo inspected the Cooper Nuclear Station, which sits on the Missouri River about 75 miles south of Omaha, on Sunday. He asked plant officials and the NRC's local inspectors questions about the plant and this year's flooding.

The plant, which is owned by Nebraska Public Power District, remains dry because it sits at an elevation above the river and continues to operate at full capacity. The base of Cooper and its storage area for used nuclear fuel is 903 feet above sea level. The river was 900.2 feet above sea level early Monday.

Full Article

Michele Bachmann 2012 Presidential Campaign Launches With Iowa Announcement

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is in it to win it in 2012.

The conservative congresswoman and Tea Party favorite formally declared her candidacy for president of the United States on Monday in Waterloo, Iowa, where she was born and grew up as a child before moving to Minnesota.

"We can win in 2012 and we will," said Bachmann in launching her campaign. "Our voice has been growing louder and stronger. And it is made up of Americans from all walks of life like a three-legged stool. It's the peace through strength Republicans, and I'm one of them, it's fiscal conservatives, and I'm one of them, and it's social conservatives, and I'm one of them. It's the Tea Party movement and I'm one of them."

She added, "The liberals, and to be clear I'm not one of them, want you to think the Tea Party is the Right Wing of the Republican Party. But it's not. It's made up of disaffected Democrats, independents, people who've never been political a day in their life, libertarians, Republicans. We're people who simply want America back on the right track again."

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Source: Huffington 

Reality Check: Budget Cuts Inevitable at the Department of Defense

There’s an inevitability to the coming decline of US power and influence worldwide, as the American economy shrinks relative to the economic power of other countries, as America’s allies in places like Egypt strike out on their own, and as the size of the US military declines because the United States can no longer afford to spend upwards of $700 billion on defense.

Still, there are those who believe that the United States must maintain, and even increase its spending at the Pentagon, even as more and more Republicans are prepared to throw the military under the bus to save money. Take, for instance, Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post, who pens an op-ed in today’s paper titled: “What’s happened to America’s leadership role?” Hiatt, a reliable hawk who’s helped steer the Post into indefensibly pro-defense positions, including support for the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, accuses President Obama of surrendering the US leadership role by refusing to take the lead in battling Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and by backing a modest drawdown in Afghanistan:

“Obama has said it is a strategic imperative to fight the Taliban to a standstill and train an Afghan army that can keep the nation at peace. But then how can it make sense to set a withdrawal schedule irrespective of whether those goals are achieved? The message, again, is that domestic considerations take precedence over global responsibilities.”

More worryingly, Hiatt attacks Obama for his semi-isolationist comment, during his Afghan policy address last week, in which Obama declared: “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” If only that were true: if only the president was really committed to an industrial policy at home, enhancing America’s competitiveness by investing massively in education, job training, R&D, infrastructure and so on. But to my mind, getting our troops out of Afghanistan, albeit at a turtle’s pace, is better than nothing. But it’s too much for Hiatt. The Post editor goes on to berate the Republicans for being willing, too, like Obama, to cut military spending. And Hiatt criticizes Obama on the same score:

“At home [Obama] pocketed $400 billion in budget cuts offered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and then demanded $400 billion more over 10 years. Those cuts may be achievable without harming U.S. leadership, but Obama doesn’t know that to be true. By setting the fiscal target, and having the Pentagon adjust strategy accordingly, he sends a message that deficit reduction matters most.”

On page 1, interestingly enough, the Post reports that in the current (now stalled) budget talks, the GOP is ready to slash spending at the DOD, though by how much isn’t clear. But the article’s lede reads:

 “As President Obama prepares to meet Monday with Senate leaders to try to restart talks about the swollen national debt, some Republicans see a potential path to compromise: significant cuts in military spending.”

Hiatt claims that the rest of the world is eternally grateful to the United States for making the world safe, including its ability to use its military power to maintain “open and safe sea lanes,” although China and other countries dependent on the Middle East for energy might not agree. Indeed, in an accompanying unsigned editorial that sounds very much like it, too, was written by Hiatt, the Post urges Obama to get tough with China over Beijing’s claim to sovereignty in the South China Sea—the very same “sea lanes” that Hiatt says the world is so happy about having the United States exercise its military dominance! Says the imperial-sounding editorial:

“[China’s] menacing language makes clear why the United States needs to exert its influence. Up to one-third of global trade passes through the South China Sea, so preserving freedom of navigation is a  ‘national interest,’ as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put it last year. As important is checking China’s impulse to bully its neighbors, including not only friendly but weak democracies such as the Philippines but also Japan, which has its own maritime disputes with Beijing.

“The Obama administration has made gestures in this direction. In addition to Ms. Clinton’s statement—which she repeated last week—Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates pledged recently that ‘five years from now the United States’ influence’ in Asia will be ‘as strong if not stronger than it is today.’ After meeting with Mr. del Rosario, Ms. Clinton said the United States was committed to the defense of the Philippines and to providing it with weapons, though she would not comment on the U.S. response to a potential attack by China in the South China Sea.”

I have news for the Post, and for ex–Secretary of Defense Gates. Five years from now, US influence in Asia will far less than it is today. Not only that, but China and Vietnam are quietly negotiating a deal over who owns what in the South China Sea, without needing to call in the United States.

Source: The Nation 

No Checks, No Balances: House Refuses to Authorize Obama's Libya War, but Funds It

House Speaker John Boehner, whose incoherent approach to the constitutional mandate that Congress check and balance presidential war-making has so served the interests of the Obama administration’s Libya project, steered the House into conflict with itself Friday.

Boehner advanced two proposals (under the sponsorship of the speaker’s close allies) relating to the president’s decision to involve US forces in an ongoing—if largely dysfunctional—NATO-led assault on Libya.

One proposal would have authorized the president’s war of whim.

The other would have cut funding for Obama’s latest war, thus bringing the initiative to a swift conclusion.

On the first measure, the House voted 295-123 against authorizing even the limited use of US forces.

On the second measure, the House rejected the funding cut by a 238-180 vote.

So the House has refused to authorize the president’s war with Libya.

At the same time, however, the House has agreed to continue funding it.

If the pairing of policies makes no apparent sense, well, welcome to John Boehner’s Congress.

The speaker, who has repeatedly steered the House away from moves that would actually hold the president to account, has again shredded the Constitution in order to help the Obama White House maintain an undeclared, unnecessary and unwise war.

Let’s be clear about what the different players in this charade wanted with regard to these House votes.

The Obama administration would have preferred House votes to authorize the mission and to maintain the funding. They lost on the authorization, which is embarrassing, but kept the money for the project, which is definitive. So, while the president did not get exactly what he wanted, he survived an accountability moment without really being held to account.

Antiwar forces on Capitol Hill, led by Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Congressman Ron Paul, R-Texas, and the rapidly growing bipartisan coalition of congressional supporters of the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution, wanted the House to refuse to authorize the Libyan mission and to refuse to fund it. They easily won the lesser goal, in that the authorization resolution was defeated. But things got far more complex when it came to the funding resolution.

Some antiwar members, such as Kucinich, voted for the resolution because the wording seemed to limit funding for the mission. Others, such as Paul, voted against it because they feared the resolution could be read as authorizing some aspects of the current mission.

Only Boehner and the most politically self-serving of his allies favored both the refusal to authorize the war and the continued funding of it. Why? Because the refusal of authorization took a poke at the president, while the maintenance of funding served the agenda of the generous campaign donors associated with the nation’s largest military contractors, a crowd that remains enthusiastic about maintaining even the most foolish of fool’s missions abroad.

Friday’s voting was a cynical exercise organized by Boehner and approved, grudgingly, by the White House. But there was plenty of cynicism to go around. Many Democrats who voted against authorizing the president’s war then voted in favor of funding it—a have-it-both-ways combination. And more than a few Republicans with steady records of supporting military misadventures abroad took the anti-war position Friday in hopes of undermining Obama.

That does not mean, however, that everyone involved was a cynic.

A number of members did their best to cast consistent votes against authorizing the president’s Libya project and against continuing to fund it. And they backed those votes up with strong statements about the need to end wars of whim and presidential prerogative.

Most of the appropriate antiwar votes came from the core group of members that has stood with Kucinich as he has battled to end this undeclared war of Barack Obama—just as he battled to end the undeclared wars of George Bush.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Abortion Foes' Latest Backdoor Ban

Kansas has long been a frontline in the abortion wars, so it isn't much of a surprise that anti-abortion crusaders there have pioneered one of the newest tactics for limiting access to legal abortion procedures: developing onerous regulations that specifically target clinics. And this strategy—which could lead to shutting down all of the state's abortion clinics by the end of this month—is being embraced by abortion foes in other states as a way to end abortion in practice if not in law.

This is how it works: anti-abortion legislators pass what are often called "TRAP" laws, or "targeted regulation of abortion providers." That is, regulations that only apply to abortion clinics, setting compulsory standards that are often difficult to meet, like mandated sizes for waiting and recovery rooms, reconfiguring of exits and entrances to facilities, and additional bathrooms. In Kansas, abortion providers last week were handed a long list of new regulations and told they must comply by July 1. Virginia and Utah have signed similar measures into law this year, joining states like South Carolina and Indiana that have previously targeted providers with stricter regulations, and a number of other states have been considering bills like these.

Americans United for Life, one of the largest national anti-abortion groups, has been urging its supporters to pass similar measures in their own states. When the Arkansas state Senate advanced such legislation this year, AUL praised the measure for its "unique pro-life protections."

Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, notes that though TRAP laws aren't new, they are now being used to place increasingly more strict and disruptive regulations upon abortion clinics. "There is quite a bit of momentum behind restricting access to abortion," says Nash. Sharon Levin, vice president and general counsel at the National Abortion Federation, a group that represents abortion providers around the country, notes that they have seen a lot more of this type of legislation advanced this year. "These are really politically motivated laws," says Levin. "These laws have nothing to do with patient safety."

In Kansas, the state legislature passed its TRAP law in April, which created a new licensing category for abortion providers. But the state didn't issue the final regulations until June 17, and then gave the clinics just two weeks to comply with the new rules or potentially be denied a license to operate. A staffer at one of the three remaining abortion clinics in the state told Mother Jones that the new rules would require it to dramatically expand the size of its waiting and recovery rooms, as well as the janitor's closet, and would be impossible for the clinic to comply in its current office. (As we've reported before, it can be very difficult for abortion providers to find new offices—especially in Kansas.)

The Kansas TRAP law also requires all doctors working at the clinics to have admitting privileges (or standing approval from a hospital to directly admit patients) at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Obtaining that permission is a process that typically takes 90 to 120 days—a barrier impossible to surmount before the state's July 1 deadline. Abortion providers question the need for this regulation, since less than 0.3 percent of abortion patients have a complication that requires hospitalization, and clinics can still refer women to a hospital for care without the doctor at the clinic possessing admitting privileges.

Full Article
Source: Mother Jones 

The Spam Factory's Dirty Secret

On the cut-and-kill floor of Quality Pork Processors Inc. in Austin, Minnesota, the wind always blows. From the open doors at the docks where drivers unload massive trailers of screeching pigs, through to the "warm room" where the hogs are butchered, to the plastic-draped breezeway where the parts are handed over to Hormel for packaging, the air gusts and swirls, whistling through the plant like the current in a canyon. In the first week of December 2006, Matthew Garcia felt feverish and chilled on the blustery production floor. He fought stabbing back pains and nausea, but he figured it was just the flu—and he was determined to tough it out.

Garcia had gotten on at QPP only 12 weeks before and had been stuck with one of the worst spots on the line: running a device known simply as the "brain machine"—the last stop on a conveyor line snaking down the middle of a J-shaped bench [DC] called the "head table." Every hour, more than 1,300 severed pork heads go sliding along the belt. Workers slice off the ears, clip the snouts, chisel the cheek meat. They scoop out the eyes, carve out the tongue, and scrape the palate meat from the roofs of mouths. Because, famously, all parts of a pig are edible ("everything but the squeal," wisdom goes), nothing is wasted. A woman next to Garcia would carve meat off the back of each head before letting the denuded skull slide down the conveyor and through an opening in a plexiglass shield.

On the other side, Garcia inserted the metal nozzle of a 90-pounds-per-square-inch compressed-air hose and blasted the pigs' brains into a pink slurry. One head every three seconds. A high-pressure burst, a fine rosy mist, and the slosh of brains slipping through a drain hole into a catch bucket. (Some workers say the goo looked like Pepto-Bismol; others describe it as more like a lumpy strawberry milkshake.) When the 10-pound barrel was filled, another worker would come to take the brains for shipping to Asia, where they are used as a thickener in stir-fry. Most days that fall, production was so fast that the air never cleared between blasts, and the mist would slick workers at the head table in a grisly mix of brains and blood and grease.

Tasks at the head table are literally numbing. The steady hum of the automatic Whizard knives gives many workers carpal tunnel syndrome. And all you have to do is wait in the parking lot at shift change to see the shambling gait that comes from standing in one spot all day on the line. For eight hours, Garcia stood, slipping heads onto the brain machine's nozzle, pouring the glop into the drain, then dropping the empty skulls down a chute. And then, as the global economy hit the skids and demand for cheap meat skyrocketed, QPP pushed for more and more overtime. By early December, Garcia would return home spent, his back and head throbbing. But this was more than ordinary exhaustion or some winter virus. On December 11, Garcia awoke to find he couldn't walk. His legs felt dead, paralyzed.

His family rushed him to the Austin Medical Center, not far from the subdivided Victorian they rented on Third Street. Doctors there sent Garcia to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, about an hour away. By the time he arrived, he was running a high fever and complaining of piercing headaches. He underwent a battery of exams, including MRIs of his head and back. Every test revealed neurological abnormalities, most importantly a severe spinal-cord inflammation, apparently caused by an autoimmune response. It was as if his body was attacking his nerves.

By Christmas, Garcia had been bedridden for two weeks, and baffled doctors feared he might be suicidal. They sent a psychiatrist to prepare him for life in a wheelchair.

Full Article
Source: Mother Jones 

Bank Errors Continue to Cause Wrongful Foreclosures

Four years into the foreclosure crisis, banks say they've made major improvements in how they handle struggling homeowners. They've promised, for example, not to foreclose on homeowners who are being considered for mortgage modifications. But that's still happening.

Consider the cases of Laurie Pinkerton and Lisa Peterson. The two women, both Californians and Bank of America customers, had been assured by the bank that they wouldn't lose their homes before they'd been evaluated for a possible modification. Both had their homes sold last month.

Such cases are particularly senseless, because simply modifying the mortgage by reducing the monthly payment might be in the interest not only of the homeowner, but also of the investor who owns the mortgage. Both Pinkerton and Peterson said their homes were sold after foreclosure for far less than they're worth.

Regulators have done little to stop the practice, and the "problem appears to be getting worse," said Kevin Stein, associate director of the nonprofit California Reinvestment Coalition.

Last month, the coalition surveyed 55 foreclosure-avoidance counselors throughout the state. Collectively they serve thousands of borrowers every month. Almost all of the counselors, 94 percent, reported having worked with clients who'd lost their homes while under review for a modification. About half of the counselors reported this happened "often." This year's totals, which are due to be publicly released next week, are higher than those in the group's survey last year.

Regulators have acknowledged the problem but have so far stopped short of solving it, say borrower advocates. More than a year ago, ProPublica reported extensively on how the banks' inadequate systems were causing wrongful foreclosures.

This past April, the federal banking regulators released "consent orders" with 14 of the largest banks requiring various improvements in their handling of mortgages and foreclosures. Prior to the orders, the regulators had not had clear rules on how the banks should handle modification applications. Among the new requirements, banks will now be forbidden from actually selling a home before a final decision is made on a modification. Also, if a homeowner is approved for a modification, the foreclosure process is supposed to stop. The new requirements will go into effect later this summer.

While those are necessary requirements, regulators took a "huge step backward" by not explicitly forbidding banks from pursuing foreclosure at all until a final decision has been made on a mortgage modification application, said Alys Cohen of the National Consumer Law Center.

Full Article
Source: ProPublica 

Activist Communique: The problem with fixating on the police

The problem with fixating on the police is that it distracts us from just about everything else activist-orientated.

Yes, I know the activist explanation: that the police are a part of the larger state apparatus -- and often the public face of that apparatus through programs like community policing -- that works to oppress the marginalized of society.

The danger here is that police become the low-hanging fruit when challenging the state.

Because the police...well, are the police. They are the first layer of insulation the state uses to protect itself from citizens in revolt. Anyone studying political science or has been to a protest knows this.

And the reoccurring imagery and themes from last year's G20 protests including -- burning POLICE cars, heavy-handed POLICE tactics, POLICE arrests that breached our rights held in the Charter, POLICE officer "Bubbles", POLICE arresting more than 1,100 people over a three-day period -- doesn't help.


It makes activists look like all they do is spend their time going from protest to protest to confront the police.

Nevermind the awesome grassroots work done by groups like the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) or No One is Illegal (NOII) or No More Silence.

I admit I get caught up in the police-trance when I notice that at least 50 per cent of the photographs I take at a demonstration include images of the police, either in the foreground, background or the main focus. They are always there, hovering around every protest as a convenient and -- I believe -- state-approved distraction from what really matters.

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A year on, calls for a G20 inquiry still resonate

On June 26, 2010, thousands of people witnessed thousands of police officers march upon, arbitrarily arrest, and injure protesters who had gathered at Queen's Park in Toronto to voice their opposition to the G20 summit taking place nearby.

And a year later, on June 25, 2011, just feet from where dozens of protesters were corralled and run over by police horses, hundreds gathered to reinforce the call for an independent public inquiry into the events that surrounded the G20.

"This city has been wounded and we need a process of truth-finding so that we can heal," said Nathalie DesRosiers, General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. "We need to do this for the strength of our democracy."

G20 Redux, billed as a festival for civil liberties, gathered a diverse crowd, united in their outrage for the police brutality and attack on human rights that marked the weekend of the G20.

While individual demands from people present were diverse, the call for an investigation resonated throughout. Speakers from the Movement Defence Committee, the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Federation of Students reinforced these calls, and reminded people in attendance about the need to continue to fight against attempts to criminalize dissent.

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Among The Costs Of War: $20B In Air Conditioning

The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion.

That's more than NASA's budget. It's more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It's what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.

"When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we're talking over $20 billion," Steven Anderson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rachel Martin. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus' chief logistician in Iraq.

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Source: NPR 

George Soros: Country Leaving Euro Currency 'Probably Inevitable'

VIENNA - Billionaire investor George Soros thinks a country will eventually exit the euro zone and urged policymakers on Sunday to come up with a "plan B" that could rescue the European Union from looming economic collapse.

Soros, famous for making $1 billion by betting against the British pound in 1992, did not name any country he thought might exit the currency, but speculation is mounting about the fate of Greece as its politicians struggle to agree more austerity measures demanded by international lenders as the price for staving off bankruptcy.

Soros reiterated his view in a panel discussion in Vienna that the euro had a basic flaw from the start in that the currency was not backed by political union or a joint treasury.

"The euro had no provision for correction. There was no arrangement for any country leaving the euro, which in the current circumstances is probably inevitable," he said.

While he called survival of the European Union a "vital interest to all," he said the EU needed structural changes to halt a process of disintegration.

"There is no plan B at the moment. That is why the authorities are sticking to the status quo and insisting on preserving the existing arrangements instead of recognizing there are fundamental flaws that need to be corrected."

With a debt crisis in some peripheral members testing the EU's cohesiveness at a time of popular disquiet in wealthier countries over bailouts, he said leaders had to adopt measures now to remedy the situation.

"Let's face it: we are on the verge of an economic collapse which starts, let's say, in Greece but could easily spread. The financial system remains extremely vulnerable...

"We are on the edge of collapse and that is the time to recognize the need for change."

Some steps the EU could adopt included creating a larger central budget; directing some of the income from value-added tax or a levy on financial transactions to Brussels; having a European institution guarantee banks, and tripling the size of its bailout fund by topping it up with tax revenue, he said.

Source: Huffington 

War In Afghanistan Caused Surge In Canadian Forces Applications

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- TORONTO - War may be hell, but that didn't seem to deter tens of thousands of would-be soldiers who applied to join the ranks of the Canadian Forces over the course of Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan.

Military statistics compiled over the past 10 years show that while regular and reserve forces were not always able to meet their enrolment targets for a given year, it was never because of a shortage of interested applicants.

As the death toll in Afghanistan mounted and the political rhetoric surrounding the mission grew more heated, the number of Canadian Forces applicants rose steadily, sometimes reaching levels twice those at the beginning of the mission.

In 2009-10, the Canadian Forces received 25,738 applications, up dramatically from the 2001-02 fiscal year, when applications numbered 13,504 — a figure that included existing soldiers seeking transfers to other units.

With the mission winding down, the Forces received 18,881 applications in 2010-11.

The extensive media coverage of military life in Afghanistan was a key factor in the surge, said Richard Langlois of the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group.

Infantry positions, which have historically been difficult to fill, got the biggest boost, Langlois said. Rather than act as a deterrent, the well-documented perils of life in theatre seemed to highlight the urgency and importance of the work being done.

"I think it certainly had an influence on people to see this is not a game, this is reality," Langlois said.

"Our soldiers are trained, they're prepared to do that. It's risky, yes it is, but people are proud to call themselves soldiers."

Although the military stopped tracking applicant numbers for a four-year stretch from fiscal 2005 through 2008, Langlois said the increase in applicants has been continuous for at least the past five or six years.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Gingrich defends campaign strategy; criticizes gay marriage

INDIANOLA, Iowa (Reuters) – Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich on Saturday said the adoption of same-sex marriage in New York showed the nation is "drifting toward a terrible muddle."

Saying he thinks marriage is between a man and a woman, he told reporters that he "would like to find ways to defend that view as legitimately and effectively as possible."

He said he thinks the nation should be defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage ass being between a man and a woman.

In February, the Obama administration decided it would no longer defend the 15-year-old law.

"I think the president should be, frankly, enforcing that act, and I think we are drifting toward a terrible muddle which I think is going to be very, very difficult and painful to work our way out of," he said.

Full Article
Source: Yahoo news 

The Commons: In a state of “suspended animation”

Shortly after the clock passed midnight, a dozen Conservatives sang happy birthday to their colleague, David Sweet. His birthday had actually just passed—he was born on June 24, 1957—so the gesture was a bit belated. But perhaps owing to the pizza party the Prime Minister had apparently been hosting, the government side seemed a jovial bunch, eager to find fun wherever it could be found.

As luck would have it, they had all been summoned to the House of Commons at this late hour for a vote—specifically on an NDP-authored motion to delay moving forward with Bill C-6 for another six months. The official filibustering of this particular piece of particularly contentious legislation had commenced some 27 hours earlier. What began on Thursday was now moving into Saturday. Except that, so far as the reality within these four walls is measured, with the House having not yet adjourned for the day, this was still Thursday. Indeed, there in the middle of the room sat the four-sided calendar, reminding all who could see it that here they remained trapped in June 23.

With the Conservatives turned out almost entirely and with the half dozen Liberals who’d shown up going with the government, the motion was soundly defeated by a count of 160 to 74. The Conservatives duly mocked the New Democrats for not filling all their assigned seats. In fairness to the official opposition, in light of their demonstrations and protestations these last few days, laziness is not something of which they can easily be accused.

The government side’s Tom Lukiwski stood then to beg the New Democrats to consider now relenting. He accused the New Democrats of attempting to “obfuscate and delay,” a complaint that was met with a round of happy desk-thumping from the opposition. The country could not, he declared, afford any further delay. Alas, the NDP’s Chris Charlton seemed not the least bit persuaded as she proceeded to review why her side felt it necessary to keep everyone here. This was about the right to organize and free collective bargaining and the right to strike, she said. Not to mention, wages, working conditions and pensions.

After some heckling and laughing, the Conservatives mostly lost interest, talking amongst themselves in small groups as Ms. Charlton went on. When the din became too loud, the Speaker called for order. As Ms. Charlton finished up, a half dozen Conservatives crowded around Ben Lobb’s laptop to watch something that was apparently quite amusing.

When it came round to Liberal Kevin Lamoureux’s turn, he wondered, as Liberals had done repeatedly over the previous 27 hours, if the NDP might be ready to bring forward the amendments it wishes to make to the legislation in question. The Liberals are making a great show of trying to be the adults in the room, mostly without discernible result. And here, again, the New Democrats demurred.

At approximately 12:43am, the Prime Minister rose from his seat, bowed towards the Speaker’s chair and crossed the aisle to sit beside Jack Layton. They proceeded to talk and gesture and smile and laugh. At one point, Mr. Layton reached over and touched Mr. Harper’s arm. They seemed in friendly discussion about something or other (a deal perhaps?).

At approximately 12:48am, the Prime Minister reached over and touched Mr. Layton’s arm, then rose, bowed towards the Speaker’s chair and crossed back over to the government side. He and Mr. Layton then respectively exited the chamber.

Sometime around one o’clock, the Speaker called on Eve Peclet, the 23-year-old former community activist and reality show contestant with a law degree. If memory serves, it was Ms. Peclet who was spotted skipping up the row to her seat on Parliament’s first day back this month.

Here she lit up the air around her, enunciating each syllable in a thick accent and crying her concerns about democracy and labour and the hard-working mail carrier across the aisle. She yelled and stared down her hecklers and jabbed her desk quite loudly. Those remaining on the Conservative side stopped whatever they were doing to watch. Olivia Chow wandered in from the opposition lobby to stand and watch, looking positively delighted with what she saw. When Ms. Peclet finished, removing her glasses for her final words, her friends on the NDP side rose to applaud. She broke into a great grin and laughed and even clapped a little for herself.

In response, Gary Goodyear stood to note that he’d received emails from postal workers who were not entirely supportive of their union. Members have, at regular intervals, paused throughout this debate to read from their inboxes. Oddly, the Conservatives seem only to receive messages supportive of the Conservative position, while the New Democrats only receive notes expressing support for the NDP position.

Shortly thereafter, the NDP’s Randall Garrison began detailing the life story and political principles of J.S. Woodsworth. And then there was some debate over to what degree the present day’s economic situation could be compared to that of the 1920s and where precisely to draw the poverty line.

“What this dispute is really about, what this legislation is about,” the NDP’s Jinny Sims declared at one point, “is the kind of Canada we want.”

Indeed, in short order there was some discussion of the Canadian Wheat Board, the NDP government that oversaw the province of Ontario from 1990 to 1995, the Conservative government that oversaw the province of Ontario from 1995 to 2002, the E. coli breakout in Walkerton in May 2000 and, of course, the Gomery commission. (Although, in fairness, it should be noted that the discussion remained mostly, if repetitively, on point and New Democrats remained, despite the hour, ferociously engaged.)

Conservative Colin Carrie stood and lamented for all of this. A fellow from the NDP helpfully advised that this could all be brought to a conclusion if the government would simply advise Canada Post to end its lockout of postal workers. And so we arrived back at precisely where we’d begun.

It was here that Elizabeth May, seated in the far corner for all of this, stood and attempted a sort of summation. A half dozen spectators remained in the visitors gallery above her. The clock stood around 2am.

She complimented all members on their sense of duty, even if she lamented for the regular outbreaks of partisanship. Everyone, she figured, wanted to see mail delivery resumed. One side thinks the best way to do that is to pass Bill C-6. The other side thinks the best way to do that is to fight Bill C-6. And so, she figured, perhaps the way forward was an amended Bill C-6.

In response, of course, the Conservative Michael Chong stood to lament for the opposition side and the NDP’s Peter Julian stood to complain of the government side. And so we remained in, as Ms. May put it, a state of “suspended animation.”

Source: Macleans 

Canada Post promises mail delivery Tuesday

Canadian homes and businesses will start receiving mail again Tuesday now that legislation forcing 48,000 locked-out postal workers back to their jobs has become law, Canada Post says.

Post offices that were closed during the labour dispute will start to reopen Tuesday as well, while mailboxes will be unsealed starting Monday, the Crown corporation said.

The announcement came Sunday night, shortly after the government's back-to-work-bill received royal assent.

The bill imposing a labour contract on the Canadian Union of Postal Workers was passed by the House of Commons on Saturday and the Senate on Sunday.

Just when Canadians can expect mail service to be back to normal isn’t clear, Canada Post suggested in a news release.

“With unprocessed mail in the system and accumulated mail received from other countries that has not yet entered our system, it will take some time to stabilize our operations and to return to our normal delivery standards," the release said.

The postal workers were locked out June 14 after 12 days of rotating strikes. They’ll all be called back within the next 24 to 48 hours, Canada Post said.

Full Article
Source: CBC news  

Hundreds mark G20 anniversary with calls for Blair to resign

John Pruyn says the thought of returning to the site where police allegedly yanked off his prosthetic leg during last year’s G20 summit made him sick to his stomach.

But while speaking at the “G20 Redux” rally at Queen’s Park Saturday, his voice was strong and clear.

“To this day, I still don’t know why I was dragged away (by police) from Queen’s Park. I still feel like I was kidnapped,” said Pruyn, 58, recalling how he was manhandled by police and thrown in detention.

“Bill Blair should resign or should be fired for what happened at the G20,” Pruyn added, referring to Toronto’s police chief. “Mr. Blair allowed the police to beat us ... In effect, he allowed the police to loot and riot.”

PHOTOS: G20 rally

A retired Revenue Canada employee, Pruyn says he was resting with his family at Queen’s Park — after participating in a peaceful protest march on June 26, 2010 — when he was allegedly “attacked” by several police officers, one of whom “ripped off” his leg. He was released without charge a day later. He says police never gave him back his walking aids, or the $33 he had in his pocket. In an interview, he said he can’t discuss the settlement he received after complaining to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

He was one of nine speakers cheered by some 400 people for insisting that Blair resign, and for demanding a public inquiry into police actions during the summit. Some officers violated police policy by taking off their badge numbers and name tags while rounding up protesters. More than 1,100 people were detained — the largest peacetime mass arrest in Canadian history. Most were never charged. Some speakers also called for charges to be dropped against 56 people still before the courts.

In an interview with the Star Friday, Blair rejected calls for his resignation. A 70-page report released by police Thursday indicated the service was overwhelmed and underprepared to respond to the “dynamic situations” the G20 posed.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty have both flatly rejected calls for a public inquiry. Nathalie Des Rosiers, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, described that as “dangerous for democracy.”

“We’re allowing a culture of impunity to develop,” she told the rally. “If we tolerate (police) illegality when we see it, we sanction abuses that go on when we don’t.”

“A truth commission is what we need,” she added.

Police kept a low profile throughout the rally. Rarely were more than eight of them visible at any one time. They sat on bicycles on the edges of Queen’s Park circle. More could be seen patrolling the streets on their bikes. Now and then a couple of officers would ride close to the crowd, but the atmosphere was never tense.

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Source: Toronto Star 

Canada Post Lockout: Why the Need for Intervention?

With all the rhetoric surrounding the Conservative government's introduction of back to work legislation, it's worth looking at previous government reaction to work stoppages at Canada Post.

There is a long history of troubled labour relations at the corporation, for example, there were some 19 strikes, lockouts and walkouts between 1965 and 1997, but major postal shutdowns are rare.

For instance, the last time this union went on a full scale strike was in the fall of 1997. At that time, the strike ended two weeks later after the Liberal government brought in back to work legislation.

Fourteen days is not a long time, but it was considerably shorter than a couple of previous strikes which lasted 43 days in 1975 and 42 days in 1981. In 1978, the union went on a legal strike and was legislated back by the Liberal government on the very first day.

The scenario today isn't much different, except the public is far less inconvenienced. Technology has replaced the crucial need for the delivery of paper bills, email is replacing "snail mail" and there has been little outcry from average Canadians about the impact of the strike on their lives.

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Source: Huffington 

Canada Post Back-To-Work-Bill Passes House Of Commons

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - Mail service should resume within days after weary members of the House of Commons ended a 58-hour marathon filibuster by passing back-to-work legislation for locked-out Canada Post employees.

The Conservative benches erupted in cheers and back-slapping as the final vote was held Saturday night, signalling that the official Opposition New Democrats had folded their tent on a decision the party's deputy leader called "pre-ordained."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper emerged from the chamber with Labour Minister Lisa Raitt to say his government had prevailed in the court of public opinion.

"We know what side the public was on and I think today members of Parliament on the other side finally started to get that message," said Harper.

Calling the three days of round-the-clock debate in Parliament "a completely unnecessary delay," Harper said he was "nevertheless pleased that soon Canadians will again have access to their postal service, particularly small businesses and charities."

A special sitting of the Conservative-dominated Senate is expected to give the bill Royal Assent by late Sunday afternoon. It was not immediately clear how soon the mail would start moving as Canada Post would not comment because the bill was still before Parliament.

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Source: Huffington