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.]

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

U.S. treasury secretary Tim Geithner announced today that the United States will back French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to head the International Monetary Fund, effectively sealing the race for the organization’s top job.

The race seemed tilted towards Lagarde’s candidacy from the beginning. When former Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned in May to defend himself against sex assault charges, Europe immediately rallied behind Lagarde, eager to substitute a European national with another one. And although the U.S. has been cagey about its stance in the race, few doubted it would eventually also nod at the French minister, continuing the unspoken convention of having a European heading the IMF and an American the World Bank.

So why did Canada opt instead to back Agustín Carstens, Mexico’s central bank chief and Lagarde’s rival in the race? Even with Canuck and Australian endorsements, he stood no real chance of winning against a French political celebrity who, besides the expected backing of the West, also quickly pocketed the support of an IMF heavyweight like Egypt, francophone Africa, and South Korea. Notably, even Latin American giants Argentina and Brazil avoided publicly supporting Mexico’s candidate.

Activists and policy experts have long been advocating the need for more non-Western leaders, like Carstens, to head international organizations in a global economy increasingly dominated by the BRICS. But in the IMF’s case there was a solid argument to be made in favour of having a European lead the world’s lender of last resort. It’s the Old Continent, in fact, that’s currently the epicenter of financial instability, while developing countries generally weathered the global economic crisis quite well. In any case, Ottawa never showed a particular concern with propelling a developing world candidate to the top of the IMF.

Admittedly, Canada shares some important economic interests with Mexico, a big trade partner and fellow NAFTA member. But Canada’s endorsement is mostly likely an anti-France statement. In the aftermath of the global economic meltdown, France and Canada have taken opposite views of how to run the wrold’s economy, with Paris championing more financial sector regulation and a global bank tax, and Ottawa vigorously rallying against anything that could tie down its healthy financial institutions. Canada’s vote stands a warning shot to Lagarde.

Source: Macleans 

Flaherty to cultural institutions: Annual funding? Don’t count on it

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has a warning for cultural institutions that have come to rely on regular government funding: don't count on it.

Mr. Flaherty delivered the message Tuesday shortly after announcing $500,000 in support for this year's Canada Walk of Fame Festival, to be held in Toronto.

The funding falls under the Canada Arts Presentation Fund administered by Canada Heritage.

On Monday, SummerWorks, an acclaimed Toronto indie theatre festival, announced it had lost its federal funding. The festival made headlines last year after staging “Homegrown,” a play about a convicted terrorist, a member of the group known as the Toronto 18.

In a note posted on its blog, the festival said it had received federal funding for five straight years — totalling $140,000 — and was surprised to learn it would not get more money this year.

But Mr. Flaherty says arts organizations should not set their budgets assuming they'll get government funds.

“One thing I'd say, and maybe it's different than it used to be, is we actually don't believe in festivals and cultural institutions assuming that year after year after year they'll receive government funding,” Mr. Flaherty said.

“They ought not assume entitlement to grants ... no organization should assume in their budgeting that every year the government of Canada is going to give them grants because there's lots of competition, lots of other festivals, and there are new ideas that come along.
“So it's a good idea for everyone to stay on their toes and not make that assumption.”

Source: Globe & Mail 

Tim Harper: Asbestos hypocrisy sticking to PM

It takes a special kind of resilience to get knocked down, get up, dust yourself off and declare that you are winning.

But that was Kathleen Ruff's position, communicated forcefully and frenetically, from the West Coast on Tuesday.

Ruff continues her battle over Canadian asbestos exports, even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper again confounds the world.

Last week, in Geneva, Harper's government refused to put chrysotile asbestos on a United Nations list of hazardous exports.

It was the third time Canada has stepped in to prevent placing asbestos on a list of exports that would have to include warnings of health hazards to recipient countries.

Those countries could then refuse the asbestos imports if they believed they were unable to handle the product safely on their soil.

The cost of protecting Quebec mining jobs has been high.

We are alone in the world, an international pariah.

The Canadian position on asbestos exports has been condemned by virtually every health advocacy, environmental, medical and labour organization in this country.

We have been ridiculed, scorned, shamed, accused of hypocrisy — even called merchants of death.

We have been pilloried in the world's most prominent medical journals.

Protesters have brought their concerns from Asia to Quebec, and our embassies have been picketed by those who say we are exporting death.

Prominent journalists — including the Star's Jennifer Wells and the CBC's Mellissa Fung — have travelled to India to chronicle in detail the toxic export from Quebec.

The World Health Organization says as many as 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related illness.

The Harper cabinet has hidden, shrugged and delivered zombie-like message track answers on the matter, ducking behind the word chrysotile.

Harper has defiantly maintained that chrysotile, one of the fibres comprising asbestos, is much less dangerous than the other asbestos fibre, which Canada does not export.

Still, this stubborn resistance to common sense and scientific evidence remains a mystery.

This time, the Canadian position is sparking a much louder backlash in this country.

“Harper has been outed from the asbestos closet,” says Ruff, a senior human rights adviser to the Rideau Institute.

“For years, he only spoke of how much he loved and adored asbestos when he was in that riding. As long as an issue remains hidden, you're dead. But now it is out there.''

Indeed, Ruff says the asbestos export question is one of democracy.

If Harper cannot be budged from his position, she maintains, Canadians are nothing but serfs in a dysfunctional democracy.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Supreme Court Removes Another Barrier to Corporate Ownership of Elections

The US Supreme Court’s conservative majority continued its project of bartering off American democracy to the highest bidder with a decision Monday that will make it dramatically harder to counter free-spending attack campaigns funded by billionaire donors and corporate spin machines.

With a 5-4 vote, the Court has struck down a matching-funds mechanism in Arizona’s Clean Elections Law that allowed candidates who accepted public funding to match the spending of privately funded candidates and independent groups that might attack them. Under the Arizona law—which has long been considered a national model for using public funds to pay for campaigns—candidates who accept public funding are limited in what they can spend.

Candidates who refuse public funding are not so constrained; and nor are independent groups that support privately funded candidates; indeed, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s sweeping Citizens United v. FEC ruling of 2010, which cleared the way for corporations to spend as much as they like to influence election, restrictions to the flow of private money into politics have been all but eliminated.

Faced with the threat of being overwhelmed by private money, no candidate would go the “Clean Elections” route, unless some mechanism was put in place to counter attack ads by privately funded opponents and groups associated with those opponents. The Arizona Clean Elections law provided that mechanism under a formula requiring that for every dollar a privately funded candidate (or group supporting that candidate) spent above established spending limits, a dollar in additional public funding would go to the “Clean Elections” candidate.

The genius of the Arizona law was two-fold. The guarantee of matching funds assured that candidates who accepted “Clean Elections” money would be able to compete on a level playing field and, in so doing, this discouraged privately funded candidates and independent groups backing them from trying to buy elections with overwhelming spending.

On Monday, however, the Supreme Court struck down the “matching funds” provision of Arizona’s “Clean Elections” Act, declaring it to be an unconstitutional restriction on the free-speech rights of privately funded candidates and corporate-funded “independent” groups to shout down publicly funded candidates.

In combination with the Citizens United ruling, Monday’s ruling in the case of McComish v. Bennett creates a circumstance where corporations and their political allies will enjoy virtually unlimited political advantages over candidates who choose to run campaigns thaty rely on small individual donations or public financing.

The court has removed one of the few remaining tools for maintaining a level playing field in politics, on which candidates of differing views might have won or lost elections based on their skills and ideas —as opposed to their relative financial advantages.

In so doing, the Court has tipped the balance even further toward wealthy and corporation-allied candidates in a move that says the only speech right now protected in our politics is the right of those with the deepest pockets to shout down everyone else.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Texas GOP Takes Drastic Measures To Defund Planned Parenthood

WASHINGTON -- In an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood without breaking any federal rules, Texas lawmakers passed two measures this month that will decimate the state's family planning program and result in nearly 300,000 women losing access to cancer and diabetes screenings.

In early June, Rick Perry, Texas' Republican governor, signed a budget bill that reduced the state's family planning funding from $111 million to just $37 million. Then on Monday, state lawmakers passed a measure that forces the Texas Health Department to dole out the remaining funds using a tiered priority system, in which Planned Parenthood is at the very bottom.

"It doesn't completely defund us, but it puts the agency in a position where they have to put us third in line for the money," said Yvonne Gutierrez, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of South Texas. "And it's not only us that's in the third tier -- it's all the traditional family planning providers that don't provide comprehensive care, many in rural areas. So it's the hard to reach population that's really being affected by this."

Texas Planned Parenthood offices have two avenues through which they receive state and federal money: the Women's Health Program (WHP), which is funded by Medicaid, and the state family planning program, which is funded by the Title X federal grant program. In addition to putting private providers like Planned Parenthood last in line for Title X funds, GOP lawmakers inserted language into the new Medicaid bill that will prevent WHP money from going to any entity that provides abortions or is affiliated with an abortion provider.

Because Planned Parenthood corporately separated its abortion services from its family planning services in 2005, every abortion it performs in Texas is paid for privately by the patient. But the Health Department will now have to define the word "affiliate" to determine whether Planned Parenthood's abortion and family planning services are closely related enough to disqualify it from state Medicaid funding.

"Anti-choice lobbyists have spent the entire year confusing the facts," said Peter J. Durkin, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, in an email to HuffPost. "These groups pressured lawmakers to de-fund Planned Parenthood by muddling conversations about family planning programs with false accusations that they subsidize abortion care. There is absolutely no legitimacy to their claims – and they know it."

Nearly half of the 120,000 low-income Texas women who use the WHP for basic health care, birth control and cancer screenings do so through a Planned Parenthood clinic, so the Health and Human Services Commission's ruling could be a devastating blow to family planning.

"If they're gonna kick Planned Parenthood out of the program, then all of these women going to a Planned Parenthood clinic are gonna have to go to another provider -- and these providers are already operating at capacity," Gutierrez told HuffPost.

Further, if Texas breaks federal Medicaid rules by discriminating against Planned Parenthood, the state could risk nearly $150 million in federal family planning funds.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Mayor Ford: show gay people some respect

Rob Ford, we need to talk. I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, Mr. Mayor, but then telling you how to do your job is part of my job, so here goes. You know how you’ve decided not to march in the Pride Parade in Toronto this year? That’s stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Do you want to be stupid? Don’t answer that. Instead, remember for a minute how you based your whole campaign last year on “Respect for Taxpayers.” Some of us would have preferred you to say “citizens” instead of taxpayers, but still: that was a helluva strong message.

People could feel the respect radiating from your campaign: We thought we knew that whatever lunkhead crap might come out of your mouth in the heat of the moment, when the chips were down, we taxpayers could count on your respect.

Well you know who pays taxes? The One-Freaking-Million people who march in the Pride Parade each year. The queer residents of this city? They pay taxes. Those of us who love and support them, and work beside them and hang out with them? We pay taxes. The leather bars and bathhouses and bookstores and coffee shops on Church Street? They pay taxes.

You got a whole alphabet soup of taxpayers here: LGBTTTQQIA. It’s a mouthful, I know. But all you need to realize about that sting of initials is that it represents a giant whackload of Toronto taxpayers, and you need to extend them a tiny token of respect. Just like you promised.

See, it’s getting harder and harder for the queer people in this city to believe you respect them, since you know, YOU’RE CONSTANTLY DISRESPECTING THEM.

When you said only gay people and drug addicts get AIDS, and then you said that was a good reason not to fund AIDS prevention programs. That was disrespectful.

When you said you could never figure out what transgendered meant, and asked is it a girl dressed up as a guy or a guy dressed up as a girl — and then said your lack of comprehension meant we should cut programs — that was disrespectful.

When you said you were opposed to gay marriage in the mayoral campaign last year, that was disrespectful.

When you threatened to revoke funding for the Pride Parade earlier this year? That was disrespectful.

When you failed to stand behind the parents and family members of gay people at a flag-raising earlier this year to demonstrate tolerance for queer people? That was disrespectful.

And not marching in the Pride Parade, one of the largest street parties in the city and a tourist magnet that generates more than $100 million in economic activity here in a period of one week: Rob, that is disrespectful.

Maybe you’re worried because you’re afraid you’ll wind up in photos next to guys in crotchless leather chaps. Or maybe you’re worried that you’ll look like a schlump next to shirtless, oiled up hard-bodies dancing to some ntz-ntz-ntz music on the mayoral float.

But there are two things you should know: first of all, not all gay people look like that, and not all gay people dance like that. Hell, plenty of them look and dress just like you. But moreover, no one’s suggesting you march with Totally Naked Toronto Bears and Leather Daddies. You’ve been invited to march with PFLAG — the parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays group.

You know who will be marching with them, and who I’m sure would be overjoyed to have you join him? Brian Burke. Brian Freaking Burke. He’s the President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs — which as you should already be aware makes him like the POPE of STRAIGHT DUDES IN TORONTO. You can march beside him and not worry that people will call you a fairy.

Which leads me to one of the biggest reasons you really need to march. It’s the reason we have a goddamn Pride Parade in the first place. Because if you’re still working out some issues about how comfortable you are being seen marching with gay people, if you’re worried that some of your more crazy religious supporters are gonna abandon you, if you’re worried that some of your suburban football buddies are gonna call you a queer — just imagine for a moment what it’s like for people who are actually gay.

They fear being called names, or being disowned by their loved ones, or being slighted at work, or being beat up or even killed because of who they are and who they happen to fall in love with every goddamn day of their lives.

And you know what we’ve done in Toronto? We’ve made it so that those people can come here to our city, and especially to Church Street where Pride is held, and feel safe, and comfortable with who they are. They can feel proud. That’s where the name of Pride comes from, Sherlock.

Even here, they aren’t completely free of persecution and fear. But, and it’s a big but, they know that there’s love and support here for them, and that in Toronto homophobia and persecution are just not accepted. In this city, we marry gay people — to each other, mind you — at city hall. The chief of police marches in the Pride Parade. The president of the Toronto Maple Leafs marches in the Pride Parade. And for the past 20 years, the mayor of Toronto marches in the Pride Parade. It’s your freaking job to send the visible message that we support the human rights of all our residents.

Full Article
Source: The Grid TO  

Greek Austerity Protesters Clash With Police

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek police fired teargas and battled groups of hooded youths near parliament on Tuesday in a rally against anti-austerity measures international lenders have demanded to stave off national bankruptcy.

Parliament is due to vote this week on a package of spending cuts, tax increases and privatizations agreed as part of a massive bailout aimed at averting the euro zone's first debt default.

Labor unions launched a 48-hour strike to protest the measures and more than 5,000 police were deployed to the center of the capital to deal with the protests, with most attention focused on Syntagma Square in front of the parliament.

The rally was initially peaceful but by early afternoon, hundreds of youths, many wearing gasmasks and scarves covering their faces, hurled masonry chipped off buildings in the square at riot police who responded with tear gas.

Officials said four police officers were injured by flying stones and one person was stabbed during fights between rival groups of young demonstrators and three others were injured while a number of people were treated with breathing troubles.

Eighteen people were detained and three formal arrest charges were laid, police said.

Violence continued throughout the afternoon and protesters set fire to two communications trucks with mobile telecoms transmitters which they had apparently mistaken for TV trucks and sprayed with slogans attacking the media and banks.

As a crowd initially estimated at more than 20,000 thinned out, clouds of white smoke swirled above the square and police with shields and riot helmets stood by, occasionally launching charges to disperse a harder core of mainly young demonstrators.

Transport, schools and other services as well as many private businesses were shut as a result of the strike called by ADEDY, the union representing half a million civil servants and GSEE, which represents 2 million private sector workers.

Earlier, protesters had marched through the capital chanting slogans, banging drums and carrying banners attacking the terms of the bailout which many Greeks feel imposes harsh penalties on ordinary pensioners and workers while sparing the rich.

"The measures are for the good of the banks not for the good of workers," said Yannis Tsounis, 38, a municipal worker. "Europe must not see us as pariahs. We are beginning to feel as not being a part of Europe."

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Financial Reform Destined To Fail, Top Federal Reserve Official Says

WASHINGTON -- Reforms instituted after the financial crisis to prevent future taxpayer-funded bailouts are bound to fail and will likely be weakened within the next few years, the Federal Reserve's longest-serving policy maker predicted Monday.

The stark warning, offered by Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Thomas Hoenig, who's been warning about the rise of too-big-to-fail banks for more than a decade, comes as international regulators finalize plans to increase supervision of and toughen requirements on the world's largest banking organizations as a reaction to the global financial crisis. Rather than break up big banks, politicians decided to simply subject them to more oversight.

Yet debate rages as to whether the requirements are too tough, or not tough at all, and whether regulators will have the backbone to follow through on their commitments. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are trying to dismantle the domestic financial reform law passed last year; banks are screaming that lending will dry up, inhibiting the anemic U.S. recovery; and on the global level, regulators from some countries where large banks dominate the national economy (and thus enjoy overt taxpayer backing) are trying to weaken international accords.

For Hoenig though, the choice is clear when it comes to what to do with the financial institutions that caused the most punishing downturn since the Great Depression: break them up into pieces that regulators can understand and provide a backstop to entities engaged in the so-called real economy -- but allow those dabbling in more risk-laden activities to fail.

The Obama administration and Congress chose the alternate route in passing the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. To Hoenig, they made a mistake.

"Following this financial crisis, Congress and the administration turned to the work of repair and reform," he said during a Monday speech in Washington. "Once again, the American public got the standard remedies -- more and increasingly complex regulation and supervision."

"The Dodd-Frank reforms have all been introduced before, but financial markets skirted them," he continued. "Supervisory authority existed, but it was used lightly because of political pressure and the misperceptions that free markets, with generous public support, could self-regulate."

Regulators will lack the will to wind down failing companies deemed systemically important financial institutions, or SIFIs, Hoenig said. The power to force large firms into liquidation was the centerpiece of the Obama administration's plan to reform the financial system in the wake of the crisis and Great Recession.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Winners and Losers in the Great Global Energy Struggle to Come

A thirty-year war for energy pre-eminence? You wouldn’t wish it even on a desperate planet. But that’s where we’re headed and there’s no turning back.

From 1618 to 1648, Europe was engulfed in a series of intensely brutal conflicts known collectively as the  Thirty Years’ War. It was, in part, a struggle between an imperial system of governance and the emerging nation-state. Indeed, many historians believe that the modern international system of nation-states was crystallized in the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which finally ended the fighting.

Think of us today as embarking on a new Thirty Years’ War. It may not result in as much bloodshed as that of the 1600s, though bloodshed there will be, but it will prove no less momentous for the future of the planet. Over the coming decades, we will be embroiled at a global level in a succeed-or-perish contest among the major forms of energy, the corporations which supply them and the countries that run on them. The question will be: Which will dominate the world’s energy supply in the second half of the twenty-first century? The winners will determine how—and how badly—we live, work, and play in those not-so-distant decades, and will profit enormously as a result. The losers will be cast aside and dismembered.

Why thirty years? Because that’s how long it will take for experimental energy systems like hydrogen power, cellulosic ethanol, wave power, algae fuel and advanced nuclear reactors to make it from the laboratory to full-scale industrial development. Some of these systems (as well, undoubtedly, as others not yet on our radar screens) will survive the winnowing process. Some will not. And there is little way to predict how it will go at this stage in the game. At the same time, the use of existing fuels like oil and coal, which spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, is likely to plummet, thanks both to diminished supplies and rising concerns over the growing dangers of carbon emissions.

This will be a war because the future profitability, or even survival, of many of the world’s most powerful and wealthy corporations will be at risk, and because every nation has a potentially life-or-death stake in the contest. For giant oil companies like BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, an eventual shift away from petroleum will have massive economic consequences. They will be forced to adopt new economic models and attempt to corner new markets, based on the production of alternative energy products, or risk collapse or absorption by more powerful competitors. In these same decades, new companies will arise, some undoubtedly coming to rival the oil giants in wealth and importance.

The fate of nations, too, will be at stake as they place their bets on competing technologies, cling to their existing energy patterns, or compete for global energy sources, markets, and reserves. Because the acquisition of adequate supplies of energy is as basic a matter of national security as can be imagined, struggles over vital resources—oil and natural gas now, perhaps lithium or nickel (for electric-powered vehicles) in the future—will trigger armed violence.

When these three decades are over, as with the  Treaty of Westphalia, the planet is likely to have in place the foundations of a new system for organizing itself—this time around energy needs. In the meantime, the struggle for energy resources is guaranteed to grow ever more intense for a simple reason: there is no way the existing energy system can satisfy the world’s future requirements. It must be replaced or supplemented in a major way by a renewable alternative system or, forget Westphalia, the planet will be subject to environmental disaster of a sort hard to imagine today.

The Existing Energy Lineup

To appreciate the nature of our predicament, begin with a quick look at the world’s existing energy portfolio. According to BP, the world consumed 13.2 billion tons of oil-equivalent from all sources in 2010: 33.6 percent from oil, 29.6 percent from coal, 23.8 percent from natural gas, 6.5 percent from hydroelectricity, 5.2 percent from nuclear energy, and a mere 1.3 percent percent from all renewable forms of energy. Together, fossil fuels—oil, coal and gas—supplied 10.4 billion tons, or 87 percent of the total.

Even attempting to preserve this level of energy output in thirty years’ time, using the same proportion of fuels, would be a near-hopeless feat. Achieving a 40 percent increase in energy output, as most analysts believe will be needed to satisfy the existing requirements of older industrial powers and rising demand in China and other rapidly developing nations, is simply impossible.

Two barriers stand in the way of preserving the existing energy profile: eventual oil scarcity and global climate change. Most energy analysts expect conventional oil output—that is, liquid oil derived from fields on land and in shallow coastal waters—to reach a production peak in the next few years and then begin an irreversible decline. Some additional fuel will be provided in the form of “unconventional” oil—that is, liquids derived from the costly, hazardous and ecologically unsafe extraction processes involved in producing tar sands, shale oil and deep-offshore oil—but this will only postpone the contraction in petroleum availability, not avert it. By 2041, oil will be far less abundant than it is today and so incapable of meeting anywhere near 33.6 percent of the world’s (much expanded) energy needs.

Meanwhile, the accelerating pace of climate change will produce ever more damage—intense storm activity, rising sea levels, prolonged droughts, lethal heat waves, massive forest fires and so on—finally forcing reluctant politicians to take remedial action. This will undoubtedly include an imposition of curbs on the release via fossil fuels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, whether in the form of carbon taxes, cap-and-trade plans, emissions limits or other restrictive systems as yet not imagined. By 2041, these increasingly restrictive curbs will help ensure that fossil fuels will not be supplying anywhere near 87 percent of world energy.

The Leading Contenders

If oil and coal are destined to fall from their position as the world’s paramount source of energy, what will replace them? Here are some of the leading contenders.

Natural gas: Many energy experts and political leaders view natural gas as a “transitional” fossil fuel because it releases less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases than oil and coal. In addition, global supplies of natural gas are far greater than previously believed, thanks to new technologies—notably horizontal drilling and the controversial procedure of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)—that allow for the exploitation of shale gas reserves once considered inaccessible. For example, in 2011, the US Department of Energy (DoE) predicted that, by 2035, gas would far outpace coal as a source of American energy, though oil would still outpace them both. Some now speak of a “natural gas revolution” that will see it overtake oil as the world’s number one fuel, at least for a time. But fracking poses a threat to the safety of drinking water and so may arouse widespread opposition, while the economics of shale gas may, in the end, prove less attractive than currently assumed. In fact, many experts now believe that the prospects for shale gas have been oversold, and that stepped-up investment will result in ever-diminishing returns.

Nuclear power: Prior to the March 11 earthquake/tsunami disaster and a series of core meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex in Japan, many analysts were speaking of a nuclear "renaissance," which would see the construction of hundreds of new nuclear reactors over the next few decades. Although some of these plants in China and elsewhere are likely to be built, plans for others—in Italy and Switzerland, for example—already appear to have been scrapped. Despite repeated assurances that US reactors are completely safe, evidence is regularly emerging of safety risks at many of these facilities. Given rising public concern over the risk of catastrophic accident, it is unlikely that nuclear power will be one of the big winners in 2041.

However, nuclear enthusiasts (including President Obama) are championing the manufacture of small “modular” reactors that, according to their boosters, could be built for far less than current ones and would produce significantly lower levels of radioactive waste. Although the technology for, and safety of, such “assembly-line” reactors has yet to be demonstrated, advocates claim that they would provide an attractive alternative to both large conventional reactors with their piles of nuclear waste and coal-fired power plants that emit so much carbon dioxide.

Wind and solar: Make no mistake, the world will rely on wind and solar power for a greater proportion of its energy thirty years from now. According to the International Energy Agency, those energy sources will go from approximately 1 percent of total world energy consumption in 2008 to a projected 4 percent in 2035. But given the crisis at hand and the hopes that exist for wind and solar, this would prove small potatoes indeed. For these two alternative energy sources to claim a significantly larger share of the energy pie, as so many climate-change activists desire, real breakthroughs will be necessary, including major improvements in the design of wind turbines and solar collectors, improved energy storage (so that power collected during sunny or windy periods can be better used at night or in calm weather), and a far more efficient and expansive electrical grid (so that energy from areas favored by sun and wind can be effectively distributed elsewhere). China, Germany and Spain have been making the sorts of investments in wind and solar energy that might give them an advantage in the new Thirty Years’ War—but only if the technological breakthroughs actually come.

Biofuels and algae: Many experts see a promising future for biofuels, especially as “first generation” ethanol, based largely on the fermentation of corn and sugar cane, is replaced by second- and third-generation fuels derived from plant cellulose (“cellulosic ethanol”) and bio-engineered algae. Aside from the fact that the fermentation process requires heat (and so consumes energy even while releasing it), many policymakers object to the use of food crops to supply raw materials for a motor fuel at a time of rising food prices. However, several promising technologies to produce ethanol by chemical means from the cellulose in non-food crops are now being tested, and one or more of these techniques may well survive the transition to full-scale commercial production. At the same time, a number of companies, including ExxonMobil, are exploring the development of new breeds of algae that reproduce swiftly and can be converted into biofuels. (The US Department of Defense is also investing in some of these experimental methods with an eye toward transforming the American military, a great fossil-fuel guzzler, into a far “greener” outfit.) Again, however, it is too early to know which (if any) biofuel endeavors will pan out.

Hydrogen: A decade ago, many experts were talking about hydrogen’s immense promise as a source of energy. Hydrogen is abundant in many natural substances (including water and natural gas) and produces no carbon emissions when consumed. However, it does not exist by itself in the natural world and so must be extracted from other substances—a process that requires significant amounts of energy in its own right, and so is not, as yet, particularly efficient. Methods for transporting, storing and consuming hydrogen on a large scale have also proved harder to develop than once imagined. Considerable research is being devoted to each of these problems, and breakthroughs certainly could occur in the decades to come. At present, however, it appears unlikely that hydrogen will prove a major source of energy in 2041.

X the Unknown: Many other sources of energy are being tested by scientists and engineers at universities and corporate laboratories worldwide. Some are even being evaluated on a larger scale in pilot projects of various sorts. Among the most promising of these are geothermal energy, wave energy and  tidal energy. Each taps into immense natural forces and so, if the necessary breakthroughs were to occur, would have the advantage of being infinitely exploitable, with little risk of producing greenhouse gases. However, with the exception of geothermal, the necessary technologies are still at an early stage of development. How long it may take to harvest them is anybody’s guess. Geothermal energy does show considerable promise, but has run into problems, given the need to tap it by drilling deep into the earth, in some cases triggering small earthquakes.

From time to time, I hear of even less familiar prospects for energy production that possess at least some hint of promise. At present, none appears likely to play a significant role in 2041, but no one should underestimate humanity’s technological and innovative powers. As with all history, surprise can play a major role in energy history, too.

Energy efficiency: Given the lack of an obvious winner among competing transitional or alternative energy sources, one crucial approach to energy consumption in 2041 will surely be efficiency at levels unimaginable today: the ability to achieve maximum economic output for minimum energy input. The lead players three decades from now may be the countries and corporations that have mastered the art of producing the most with the least. Innovations in transportation, building and product design, heating and cooling, and production techniques will all play a role in creating an energy-efficient world.

When the War Is Over

Thirty years from now, for better or worse, the world will be a far different place: hotter, stormier and with less land (given the loss of shoreline and low-lying areas to rising sea levels). Strict limitations on carbon emissions will certainly be universally enforced and the consumption of fossil fuels, except under controlled circumstances, actively discouraged. Oil will still be available to those who can afford it, but will no longer be the world’s paramount fuel. New powers, corporate and otherwise, in new combinations will have risen with a new energy universe. No one can know, of course, what our version of the Treaty of Westphalia will look like or who will be the winners and losers on this planet. In the intervening thirty years, however, that much violence and suffering will have ensued goes without question. Nor can anyone say today which of the contending forms of energy will prove dominant in 2041 and beyond.

Were I to wager a guess, I might place my bet on energy systems that were decentralized, easy to make and install and required relatively modest levels of up-front investment. For an analogy, think of the laptop computer of 2011 versus the giant mainframes of the 1960s and 1970s. The closer that an energy supplier gets to the laptop model (or so I suspect), the more success will follow.

From this perspective, giant nuclear reactors and coal-fired plants are, in the long run, less likely to thrive, except in places like China where authoritarian governments still call the shots. Far more promising, once the necessary breakthroughs come, will be renewable sources of energy and advanced biofuels that can be produced on a smaller scale with less up-front investment, and so possibly incorporated into daily life even at a community or neighborhood level.

Whichever countries move most swiftly to embrace these or similar energy possibilities will be the likeliest to emerge in 2041 with vibrant economies—and given the state of the planet, if luck holds, just in the nick of time.

Source: The Nation 

Greece in Debt, Eurozone in Crisis

The Greek verb agorevo means “I speak in public.” But agora also is the market. The market was an area of politics. When you try to separate the two, as neoliberalism does, trying to create a purely economic market place, then there is no democratic control.   —George Papandreou, Interview with Open Democracy, 2004

Are we the prodigal children of a neat global economy and an all-successful Europe? Or was the system ailing since its youth?   —from  Debtocracy, a Greek documentary

Athens—When he was elected prime minister in 2009 at the head of Greece’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PaSoK), George Papandreou was going to wipe out corruption, open up politics, rejuvenate the country’s sclerotic economy. “There is money,” he said then, although he must have known there wasn’t any in the public coffers. Less than two years later, he has allowed the “troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund to bind him on the horns of an impossible dilemma: either the Greek government implements a second round of austerity measures more savage than any yet endured by a developed country, with deeper cuts and tax hikes and a wholesale, cut-price sell-off of its public assets, or Greece faces default on its sovereign debt and imminent bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, since the end of May, Syntagma Square has overflowed with Greece’s aganaktismenoi (cousins of the indignados who filled Spanish squares this spring), here to refuse the troika’s blackmail and demand their democracy back. On the street in front of Parliament, protesters are banging drums, chanting and waving, singing. The crowd is huge, politically diverse and overwhelmingly peaceful. There are people here from all walks of Greek society; at times the rhetoric is that of a national resistance. A neat elderly couple on their first demonstration push through the crush because their pensions have been slashed, prices are rising and they just can’t make ends meet. Vassilis Papadopoulos, a 50-year-old unemployed truck driver living on loans from his mother, has come all the way from Corinth wrapped in a giant Greek flag, with a look of despair in his eyes and saucepans to bang together. This is a movement, he says, against the political system: “They’ve all cheated us. They destroyed the banks, our pension funds. They invested our social security money in bonds for their own benefit.” Farther down, in the square itself, something entirely new seems to be taking shape. A tent village has sprung up, a liberated zone in which an open conversation has been going on for weeks. University professors, passers-by, unemployed laborers, all get their three minutes with the microphone. There’s a medical tent, a “time bank,” a “team to promote calm.” When riot police cleared the square with clubs on the night of June 15, these protesters didn’t fight. They simply walked right back, picked up the rubbish and repaired their neighborhood.

The Greek debt crisis is said to threaten the survival of the eurozone and a global financial meltdown worse than the one set off by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008; each new prediction of default sends frissons of panic and flurries of speculation through the markets. In June the ratings agencies said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan to persuade Greece’s private creditors to roll over the debt into longer-maturing bonds would be deemed a “credit event”—finance-speak for a default that triggers debt insurance policies, in which American as well as European banks are heavily implicated. That, Merkel told the German Parliament, could have “uncontrollable consequences” for financial markets. At the eleventh hour, an EU summit agreed in principle to a new rescue package of up to 120 billion euros, but demanded further cuts and tax hikes to close a 5.5 billion euro “black hole” in the existing plan. The markets rebounded. But Papandreou now has to push the new, augmented austerity package through a resistant Parliament before Greece can get the final tranche of last year’s 110 billion euro loan. Without it, the country will be broke by mid-July. The vote is due to take place on Wednesday; Greece's trade unions have scheduled a two-day general strike, and rallies are planned in sixty-five different towns. The Syntagma protesters intend to encircle Parliament.

Already parts of Athens look like New York City circa 1980, with shut-up shops, derelict buildings and graffitied walls. The effects of the game of chicken being played out by bankers and politicians are visible in the way Athenians walk now, head down and defended, through once-safe neighborhoods; in the irritable, shamed anxiety you see on people’s faces. Depression is endemic; suicide rates have soared. For Greeks, this is much more than an economic crisis. It is a social and political convulsion unlike anything seen here at least since the fall of the colonels’ dictatorship in 1974.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Obama Takes Control of Budget Debate, but He's Already Lost

The major newspapers are reporting that President Obama has taken control of the debt ceiling debate. It's a pretty illusion. But by agreeing to have this debate in the first place, he's already ceded majority control of the budget to the GOP.

Forced to find $2 trillion in 10-year savings before an August 2 deadline, but incapable of offering more than $400 billion in tax savings (and that's the opening proposal), the White House has all but ensured that the budget deal will result in deep cuts to domestic spending programs -- precisely what it doesn't want from these negotiations.

It didn't have to go like this. When Republicans said they wouldn't agree to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats signed on to deep spending cuts, the White House could have called their bluff.

"Republicans apparently don't understand the meaning of the word negotiation," Jay Carney might have said to reporters this spring. "The White House wants to raise the debt limit. Democrats want to raise the debt limit. Rep. John Boehner wants to raise the debt limit. What's to negotiate? If the brat pack in the House wants to hold hostage the nation's ability to pay Social Security, health care, and defense contracts, only they will be responsible for when your grandmother stops receiving checks in September; and your brother can't get care from a hospital because his Medicare reimbursements are suspended; and your 401(k) craters after we default on debt."

Instead, the White House, led by conservative, budget-conscious Democrats in the Senate, followed Republicans into the scrum. This week, Carney made a plea for limited tax hikes on the super-rich and oil and gas companies:
"Do we perpetuate a system that allows for subsidies in revenues for oil and gas, for example, or owners of corporate private jets, and then call for cuts in things like food safety or weather services, things that the federal government really does need to do, on American citizens; or do we look at everything and we take a balanced approach? We obviously believe a balanced approach is the right approach."
But there was never any hope for a balanced approach with tax increases this year. The economy is weak. Most Republicans have refused to raise revenues. All Republicans have refused to raise tax rates. Democrats won't vote on big-ticket tax hikes with businesses hiring below the pace of population growth. But now, by sitting down to find $2 trillion in savings by August, Congress is poised to enact spending cuts that almost every economist agrees will hurt rather than help the recovery this year.

Tax reform needs time. It will require hearings on items like the mortgage interest deduction, negotiations over how to fix the standard deduction, and cajoling among Democrats who would prefer higher rates when the political reality will only allow for fewer exemptions. That process would take many months. Now, we have less than five weeks.

When Democrats gave budget negotiations a deadline, they gave "the balanced approach" a tombstone.

Source: The Atlantic 

Fast Food's Litter Legacy

If Iron Eyes Cody (the "crying Indian" of the '70s anti-littering commercials) were alive today, he would almost certainly shed a few tears about this news: Litter from fast-food chains is spreading far and wide. When a team from the environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action surveyed litter in four cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, it found that trash from four restaurants (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and Starbucks) and one convenience store (7-11) made up more than half of the litter it collected.

Miriam Gordon, Clean Water Action's California director, was careful to note that the survey was "not comprehensive; it was just a snapshot of trash in four communities." But its implications are big, since McNuggets boxes and Big Gulp cups dropped in the Bay Area often find their final resting place in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the giant gyre of trash that floats in North Central Pacific, between California and Hawaii. According to Gordon, 80 percent of the patch's trash comes from land-based sources. And it's growing: In 1999, a researcher who surveyed the patch found six times more plastic than plankton. By 2009, there was 40 times more plastic than plankton.

Some communities are wising up to the litter problem. Several cities in California and a few in DC's Potomac Basin are aiming to get rid of litter before it enters creeks and storm drains by installing trash capture devices in the storm drains and ramping up litter collection. But "this will be costly from a taxpayer perspective, " says Gordon. "The real environmental solutions come from reducing trash at the source." Clean Water Action estimates that as much as 31 percent of the trash it collected could have been eliminated if restaurants allowed customers to bring in reusable food and drink containers.

Easier said than done. I asked McDonald's whether it allows customers to bring in reusable food and beverage containers. No dice. "[A customer's container] could introduce a risk of cross-contamination by accepting items back across the counter and it being in contact with our kitchen equipment and employees," wrote Jill Scandridge, McDonalds' director of public affairs, in an email. "There is no way to ensure that it meets necessary sanitation standards for being in contact with food."

Fair enough. It's understandable that McDonald's would want to be extra careful; no one wants a salmonella outbreak. But some of the other chains I talked to do allow reusables: Some 7-11 stores sell reusable cups for "proprietary beverages" like the Big Gulp. Starbucks has allowed its customers to bring their own cups since 1985, and in 2000, a company task force estimated that it could save $1 million a year by encouraging customers to bring in reusable mugs. The coffee giant recently pledged to serve its 25 percent of its beverages in renewable cups by 2015.

When I asked San Francisco's health department whether it considers reusable containers a health risk, the answer was no. "Currently, there is no official state or local public health policy on bringing reusable food containers into restaurants," wrote Richard Lee, director of San Francisco's environmental health regulatory programs, in an email. "In general, we don't think this would be a likely public health hazard, because it is unlikely that members of the public would put themselves at risk using dirty or contaminated containers." Restaurants can take precautions to reduce the chances of contamination; for example, Lee notes that SF health-department codes specify that reusable cups should not touch the beverage-dispensing spigot.

Clearly a switch to reusables at fast-food joints like McDonald's would require a pretty dramatic shift in consumer behavior. And I'm not suggesting that everyone bring old Tupperwares to tote their Big Macs. But it would be nice if more fast food chains encouraged people to BYO cups for soda or coffee. McDonald's serves more than 58 million customers every day. That's a lot of cups, lids, and straws that the ocean could probably do without.

Source: Mother Jones 

"A Perfect Product of the Religious Right": Deconstructing Michele Bachmann’s GOP Presidential Bid

The rising star of the Tea Party movement, Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, has launched her bid for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination. On the eve of her announcement, Bachmann was tied with Mitt Romney in The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, the first survey of voters who plan to attend the Republican caucuses. The former tax lawyer identifies as a conservative Christian and is a fierce opponent of abortion and gay marriage. Bachmann also supports teaching intelligent design in public schools, and she’s claimed that global warming is a hoax. She has largely built her campaign around accusing Obama of favoring government intervention, pushing the U.S. toward socialism and having “anti-American views” and is particularly fierce critic of Obama’s healthcare overhaul. While Bachmann is known for advocating a limited government, she has recently come under scrutiny for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in agricultural subsidies for her family farm in Wisconsin. We are joined by journalist Karl Bremer, who has covered Michele Bachmann’s political career for the last decade from Stillwater, Minnesota, which is where the Bachmanns currently reside. We also speak with journalist Michelle Goldberg, author of the book, "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Did ExxonMobil Break Its Promise To Stop Funding Climate Change Deniers?

Back in 2008, ExxonMobil pledged to quit funding climate change deniers. But according to new documents released through a Greenpeace Freedom of Information Act request, the oil giant was still forking over cash to climate skeptics as recently as last year, to the tune of $76,000 for one scientist skeptical of humankind's role in global warming. This—and much more—came to light in a new report about the funding of Wei Hock "Willie" Soon, an astrophysicist with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Soon has been a favorite among climate skeptics for years, since coauthoring a paper back in 2003 that claimed that the 20th century was probably not the warmest, nor was it unique. That paper, published in the journal Climate Research, was widely criticized by climate scientists for its content, not to mention the funding it received from the American Petroleum Institute. An astrophysicist by training, Soon has also claimed that solar variability—i.e., changes in the amount of radiation coming from the sun—are to likely to blame for warming temperatures.

In 2007, Soon coauthored a paper challenging the claim that climate change harms polar bears. The paper drew plenty of criticism, as it was funded in part by the American Petroleum Institute, The Charles G. Koch Foundation, and ExxonMobil—groups with a clear interest in the debate over whether the bears merited endangered species protections.

Given that Soon had previously disclosed some of his corporate funding, in December 2009 Greenpeace submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Smithsonian Institution asking for information about Soon's funders and any conflict of interest forms he may have submitted. In response, Smithsonian produced a list of his major bankrollers, which included more than $800,000 from major energy interests. According to the document, Exxon provided $55,000 for a study on Arctic climate change in 2007 and 2008, and another $76,106 for research into solar variability between 2008 and 2010.

ExxonMobil spokesman Alan Jeffers accused Greenpeace of "peddling this discredited conspiracy theory" about its support for climate deniers. He maintained that the company stopped funding Soon in 2009. "We made a decision to discontinue funding groups whose positions on climate change weren't very constructive. It was distracting," said Jeffers. "The issue of climate change is so important, it shouldn't be distracted by the type of things Greenpeace does," Jeffers said.

Even if Greenpeace and Smithsonian are wrong and ExxonMobil has stopped funding his work, Soon still appears to be getting significant backing from other fossil fuel companies, with the coal giant Southern Company providing $120,000 to look at "solar variability and climate change signals from temperature" in 2008 and 2009, and the Koch Foundation providing Soon another $65,000 last year.

"Dr. Soon needs to make clear what exactly these corporations expected from him," said Kert Davies, research director at Greenpeace. "There's been a long-term campaign of climate denial for over 20 years, organized by big coal and big oil. This is evidence that it continues to this day."

Source: Mother Jones 

Michele Bachmann Quotes & Claims Raising Eyebrows: Fact Check

WASHINGTON — Michele Bachmann's claim that she has "never gotten a penny" from a family farm that's been subsidized by the government is at odds with her financial disclosure statements. They show tens of thousands in personal income from the operation.

And, on a less-substantive note, she flubbed her hometown history when declaring "John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa," and "that's the kind of spirit that I have, too," in running for president.

The actor was born nearly 150 miles away. It was the serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. who lived, for a time, in Waterloo.

Those were among the latest examples of how the Minnesota congresswoman has become one to watch – for inaccuracies as well as rising support – in the Republican presidential race.

Bachmann's wildly off-base assertion last month that a NATO airstrike might have killed as many as 30,000 Libyan civilians, her misrepresentations of the health care law, misfires on other aspects of President Barack Obama's record and historical inaccuracies have saddled her with a reputation for uttering populist jibes that don't hold up.

She announced her candidacy Monday in Iowa with a speech typical for someone joining the campaign. It laid out the broad themes of her candidacy and mostly avoided the Bachmann bomblets that have grabbed attention – and often fizzled under scrutiny – in the long lead-up.

The more the political season heats up, the more that exaggerations and sound-bite oversimplifications emanate from the Republicans going after Obama – and from the Democrats playing defense. Still, Bachmann's record on this score is distinct.

Examining 24 of her statements,, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking service of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, found just one to be fully true and 17 to be false (seven of them "pants on fire" false). No other Republican candidate whose statements have been vigorously vetted matched that record of inaccuracy.

A look at some of her recent statements and how they compare with the facts:

BACHMANN: "The farm is my father-in-law's farm. It's not my husband and my farm. It's my father-in-law's farm. And my husband and I have never gotten a penny of money from the farm." – On "Fox News Sunday."

THE FACTS: In personal financial disclosure reports required annually from members of Congress, Bachmann reported that she holds an interest in a family farm in Independence, Wis., with her share worth between $100,000 and $250,000.

The farm, which was owned by her father-in-law, produced income for Bachmann of at least $32,500 and as much as $105,000 from 2006 through 2009, according to the reports she filed for that period. The farm also received federal crop and disaster subsidies, according to a database maintained by the Environmental Working Group. From 1995 through 2010, the farm got $259,332 in federal payments.

When asked about the subsidies and her income from the farm late last year, a spokesman for Bachmann said only that she wasn't involved in decisions about the running of the farm.

Bachmann told The Associated Press on Monday that her husband became a trustee of the farm because his father had dementia before he died two years ago, and "oversees the legal entity."

"Everything we do with those forms is in an abundance of caution," she said, insisting she and her husband receive no farm income despite the forms reporting it.


BACHMANN: "Well what I want them to know is, just like John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa, that's the kind of spirit that I have, too." – Speaking to Fox News on Sunday.

Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa, nearly three hours away, and moved to California in his childhood. John Wayne Gacy, convicted of killing 33 men and boys, was born in Chicago, moved to Waterloo to work in his father-in-law's chicken restaurants and first ran afoul of the law there, sentenced to 10 years for sodomy. He began his killing spree after his release, and his return to Illinois.


BACHMANN: "Overnight we are hearing that potentially 10 to 30,000 people could have been killed in the strike." – Criticizing Obama in May for the "foolish" U.S. intervention in Libya, and citing what she said were reports of a civilian death toll from a NATO strike as high as 30,000.

THE FACTS: The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, said in late April that U.S. officials have seen reports that 10,000 to 30,000 people may have died in Moammar Gadhafi's crackdown on protesters and the fighting between rebels and pro-government forces, but it is hard to know if that is true. He was speaking about all casualties of the conflict; no one has attributed such a death toll to NATO bombing alone, much less to a single strike.


BACHMANN: "It's ironic and sad that the president released all of the oil from the strategic oil reserve. ... There's only a limited amount of oil that we have in the strategic oil reserve. It's there for emergencies." – On CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

THE FACTS: Obama did not empty all the oil from the strategic reserve, as Bachmann said. He approved the release of 30 million barrels, about 4 percent of the 727 million barrels stored in salt caverns along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. It's true that the U.S. normally taps the reserve for more dire emergencies than exist today, and that exposes Obama to criticism that he acted for political gain. But the reserve has never been fuller; it held 707 million barrels when last tapped, after 2008 hurricanes.


BACHMANN: "One. That's the number of new drilling permits under the Obama administration since they came into office." – Comment to a conservative conference in Iowa in March.

THE FACTS: The Obama administration issued more than 200 new drilling permits before the Gulf oil spill alone. Over the past year, since new safety standards were imposed, the administration has issued more than 60 shallow-water drilling permits. Since the deep water moratorium was lifted in October, nine new wells have been approved.

Source: Huffington 

You Still Have Some Explainin' to Do, Toronto Police Brass!

On the first anniversary of the G20 in Toronto, many groups are plaintively calling for the resignation of Chief Blair as a consequence of his responsibility for the glaring errors in policing that weekend.

I disagree -- Chief Blair, but for the G20, has done a terrific job as top cop -- he should stay and his feet should be put to the fire until he provides an explanation for a number of failings, not the least of which is why police stood by and watched thugs set fire to four police cars and watched as thugs smashed and grabbed from stores.

Blair should also provide an explanation as to why police kettled up to 400 citizens on Sunday night for four hours in the rain. A senior officer said that they did so because each of those 400 had to be interviewed by police -- that was untrue -- few were, in fact, interviewed.

The Toronto Police Service "After-Action Review" just released is little more than a bureaucratic recitation of timelines. It does not answer those questions that still make the average citizen shake their heads and embarrass rank-and-file officers because someone ordered them not to do their job and stop the violence in the streets on Saturday afternoon.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Hacked Arizona Police Document Contradicts McCain and Brewer's Border Violence Claims

NEW YORK — A trove of internal Arizona state police documents released by a hacker group last week contains a confidential federal report that contradicts claims by Arizona politicians, including Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. John McCain, that violence tied to drug trafficking and illegal immigration from Mexico is on the rise in the state.

Throughout 2010, Brewer claimed that cartel-related violence was increasingly spilling over into Arizona cities and towns. Most infamously, she stated that Arizona law enforcement had found bodies decapitated by cartels in the Arizona desert.

"We cannot afford all this illegal immigration and everything that comes with it, everything from the crime and the drugs and the kidnappings and the extortion and the beheadings and the fact that people can't feel safe in their community," Brewer told Fox News in June 2010.

Brewer retracted the claim about beheadings after it was questioned by southern Arizona police and coroners. But she continues to maintain that a rising tide of violence is spilling into the state from the increasingly bloody situation in Mexico.

Brewer has repeatedly raised the specter of cross-border violence as justification for the state's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, which requires local police to demand immigration documents from those they suspect of being in the country illegally.

"We cannot delay while the destruction happening south of our international border creeps its way north," Brewer said before signing the bill last year.

Sen. John McCain has made similar claims about border violence.

"I am gravely concerned with the continued and apparently growing violence along our border with Mexico," he wrote to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last March.

"The federal government must do all it can within its power to curb this violence and protect its citizens from criminals coming across the border from Mexico," he said.

Yet the hacked report, by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis, finds no signs that significant violence in Mexico is spilling across the border into Arizona.

The agency "lacks information that indicates Mexican traffickers have directed any killings in Arizona" between 2008 and 2009, the report states, in a section titled "Violence Rising in Mexico, but Not in United States."

The report also notes that Arizona's murder rate plunged by 20 percent statewide between 2008 and 2009. It cites one murder — the 2010 shooting of an Arizona rancher — as "one of the few homicides that clearly have a cross-border connection."

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Climate Denier Steve King: ‘Unprecedented’ Flood Of Missouri River ‘Couldn’t Have Been Anticipated’

On Friday, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) gave a moving speech on the unprecedented flooding unfolding along the Missouri River basin due to record levels of precipitation. He told of the terrible cost of this ongoing climate disaster to residents of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa, saying “we will lose businesses over the long-term and we’ll lose people over the long-term who can’t get back into their homes.” He correctly noted that the flood — which may last the entire summer — is “unprecedented in duration” and “unprecedented in volume,” and “unprecedented in modern recorded history.”

Calling for the the president to declare a national disaster for the entire region, King said that he and other members of Congress are “determined to do all we can to help” the residents of the Missouri River basin. King also claimed that the extreme precipitation that led to this “semipermanent” flooding “couldn’t have been anticipated,” and that flood officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “could not have known that they were going to get the heavy snowfalls” and “[n]either could they have known there would be this huge unseasonal rain”:

In very, very late March and in early April heavy snows in the mountains began and the snow pack began to build in the mountains and they couldn’t have been anticipated to 140% of the anticipated volume of snow that would have to, of course, melt and come down the Missouri River. . . .

Corps of Engineers could not have known that they were going to get the heavy snowfalls that would come down on the mountains, that would be melting even now. Perhaps half of that snow is melted today and the balance of it still has to melt. They couldn’t have known that until the snow actually arrived in late March and earlier April. Neither could they have known there would be this huge unseasonal rain that would run off to the extent it did and saturate the soil so that the big rains that hit Billings, as I mentioned, would run off to the extent that it did. . . .

That’s unprecedented in duration. It’s unprecedented in volume. This is more water than has ever come down the Missouri River in a year that we know of since we’ve been reporting these records. . . .

I appreciate the Iowa delegation for standing with me and the delegations up and down the river who have stood together. We need to stand with the people whose property is under water and help them get through this. They are stoic people, they’re determined people. They’re not going to be standing there complaining, they’re going to be doing all they can to help themselves and to honor their effort, I and others are determined to do all we can to help them.
The Missouri River basin flood is not a “natural disaster,” as King describes, but a human-made one. Man-made climate change, land-use change, and engineering the river have combined to create this unprecedented disaster.

Scientists have warned for decades that the carbon pollution in our atmosphere would increase extreme precipitation events and flooding, and extreme precipitation events have significantly increased in the Midwest over the past several decades. In 2000, a federal scientific report specifically warned of greater flooding in the Midwest. Scientific projections are that precipitation intensity will continue to increase as carbon pollution builds up in the future.

“Because climate change will significantly modify many aspects of the water cycle, the assumption of an unchanging climate is no longer appropriate for many aspects of water planning,” the U.S. Global Change Research Program warned in 2009. The report cautioned that flood-management practices by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “based on historical flood data” would need to be changed.

Full Article
Source: Think Progress 

Pessimism Is the Last Taboo

It gets worse.

If you pay attention to the news, the prospects for the future look grim. The new normal of high unemployment and stagnant wages will likely not turn out to be just a phase. The next generations may indeed do worse than the ones before them. Thanks to the Supreme Court, big money will keep tightening its stranglehold on elections and lawmaking. Financial reform and consumer protection will never survive the onslaught of lobbyists. Reckless bankers will go on making out like bandits, and the public will always be forced to rescue them. The Internet, along with cable and wireless, will be controlled by fewer and more-powerful companies. The world will keep staggering from one economic crisis to another. We will not have the leadership and citizenship we need to kick our dependence on oil. We will not even keep up with the Kardashians.

Add your own items to the list. Whatever global threats scare you -- climate change, the Middle East, loose nukes, pandemics -- and whatever domestic issues haunt you -- failing schools, crumbling infrastructure, rising poverty, obesity -- the odds are that the honesty, discipline, resources and burden-sharing required for a happy ending will not, like Elijah, show up at our door.

Sure, there's some good news around, and there are advances ahead. Gay marriage is legal in New York, and perhaps one day the resistance to it will seem as unfathomable as the opposition to women's suffrage. Technology is growing exponentially, and today's iGizmos will doubtlessly seem like steam engines tomorrow. We will some day actually be gone from Afghanistan. Justices Scalia and Thomas will eventually retire. French fries or salami will turn out to be good for us, at least for a while. Some Wall Street slimeballs will be nailed, some good guys will win elections and some little girl will be rescued from a well.

But it would pretty much take a miracle for our intractable problems to become tractable. Without one, political polarization is not about to give way to kumbaya. Cultural coarsening is not going to reverse course. The middle class will not be resurgent; the gap between rich and poor will not start closing; the plutocrats calling the shots will not cede their power. No warning on its way to us -- no new BP, no next shooting, no future default -- will bring us to our senses about the environment, assault weapons or derivatives for any longer than it takes for the next Casey Anthony or Anthony Weiner comes along.

Politicians, of course, can never say something like this. They're selling progress, greatness, can-do. The only place for pessimism in the public sphere is as a handy foil. "There are those who say that we can't solve our problems, that our best days are behind us, that China is the future. But I say...." It's a surefire applause line. But it's also a straw man. There aren't "those who say" that. Americans hate pessimism. We get discouraged, our hope flags, but predicting defeat is inconceivable. The comeback kids, the triumphant underdogs, the resilient fighters rising to the challenge: that's who we see in the mirror.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Money Was The Key Ingredient In New York's Gay Marriage Bill

WASHINGTON -- The passage of historic legislation legalizing same sex marriage in the state of New York last Friday was owed in large part to a compelling political motivator: money.

Although New York's legislators were already disposed to approving gay marriage because of the more progressive disposition of the state and a major grassroots campaign in support of the bill, LGBT activists from both parties turned to a simple, poignant argument: Lawmakers not only stood to gain the support of well-funded gay-rights supporters if they backed the bill, they would suffer if they opposed it or shied away from the spotlight.

"I didn't come in there saying, 'Do this for me,'" recalled Ken Mehlman, the openly gay former RNC chairman who persuaded Republican lawmakers in Albany that there was not only political support but ideological consistency in backing the bill. "I said, 'Do this for you.' We didn't walk in there saying, 'Do this not only because it is the right thing from a policy perspective.' We were saying, 'It is the right thing to build the party from a political perspective.'"

The politics of gay rights have grown complex in a very short period of time. Once shunned by both parties, only to be picked up as a cause by more progressive-minded Democrats, LGBT issues no longer break down cleanly among the party lines.

Increasingly, a cadre of deep-pocketed Republican donors is joining in the charge. And the enticements they are using to sway lawmakers are not just conservative arguments for civil liberties or public opinion polls that show a generational divide on gay rights, but the promise of contributions or other forms of political support.

These are not quid-pro-quos, necessarily, though New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was fond of telling on-the-fence lawmakers that a yes vote would give them access to deep coffers. Rather, the LGBT community -- often splintered into disparate factions with contrasting strategic visions -- has turned itself into a political heavyweight, equipped with an impassioned grassroots movement to compliment a growing fundraising stream.

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Source: Huffington 

Ottawa To Announce Sale Of Nuclear Company AECL

CBC — The Harper government is expected to announce the sale of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to SNC-Lavalin Group of Montreal, ending a federal withdrawal from the nuclear energy business that has been in the works since 2009.

The anticipated sale would include the Candu reactor business but not the Chalk River, Ont., nuclear reactor unit that makes medical isotopes and does research.

An announcement could come as early as this week, media reports said, although final details are still being worked out.

Engineering giant SNC-Lavalin is the sole remaining bidder in a process that saw Bruce Power walk away in January.

AECL has had a troubled decade. The supply chain that supports it has been laying off workers, as sales and profits dwindled.

In May, AECL workers were told by their union, the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates, that it had been in confidential talks with "the potential buyer of AECL," but that the buyer wasn't yet in a position to conclude a deal.

The SPEA said AECL must disclose any new investor's business plans and workforce adjustment plans as part of the collective bargaining process. It said the potential buyer wasn't yet prepared to do that.

"Rumours … that the deal with the new buyer has been signed and just requires the federal government’s stamp of approval … are not correct," it said.

"As we reported on May 5th, there are still some issues (potential stumbling blocks) that have not been resolved, though we do not know what those issues are."

Source: Huffington 

Alberta Conservative MP takes surprising swipe at Canada Post back-to-work law

With locked-out postal workers being forced back to their jobs last night by the Harper Conservatives, I was surprised and interested to learn that Brent Rathgeber, the usually well-behaved Conservative Member of Parliament for Edmonton-St. Albert, recently used his blog to criticize his own party for its approach to resolving labour disputes.

Does this indicate a sudden epiphany by Rathgeber that as an Alberta MP who isn't one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's closest cronies he's unlikely ever to be considered cabinet material, or is he merely showing a slightly independent streak now that he's been comfortably re-elected?

Regardless, Rathgeber stated in the June 22 edition of his blog that he is philosophically troubled by back-to-work legislation. "As a former Labour Lawyer (Management Side), I do actually subscribe to the concepts of the right to collective bargaining and the right to withdraw services after the expiration of a collective agreement to demonstrate one's resolve,"  Rathgeber stated.

Perhaps I am reading too much into a simple comment, but in the context of Harper's Ottawa, Rathgeber's turn of phrase is interesting: "…I do actually subscribe to the concepts of the right to collective bargaining…." It almost sounds as if Rathgeber is acknowledging that such a sentiment is unusual, perhaps even unique, among the current unprogressive Conservative caucus in Ottawa.

And I can tell you that whatever he is, Rathgeber is no dummy. He's a pretty sharp guy who knows how to parse a sentence for specific meaning as well as any of us. He is also, it should be noted, the MP for the riding in which I reside.

"At a more practical level," Rathgeber went on, "I am leery of Back to Work Legislation because I cynically suspect that many unions favour such legislation, believing they will fare better under binding arbitration than they would at the bargaining table."

While Rathgeber's suspicion is by no means warranted in all circumstances and with all unions -- especially here in Alberta, where the dice are usually loaded against working people in such processes -- it must be conceded that there is enough truth to what he says to make it dangerous.

It is true at least that if the arbitration process is fair, and an employer is particularly unreasonable and intransigent, the process can be made to defend the interests of working people. Alas, unmentioned in Rathgeber's blog, the arbitration process set out in the government of Canada's back-to-work legislation, which was passed Saturday night, cannot be described as fair.

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