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.]

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Republicans May Take ‘Mini’ Debt-Ceiling Deal

Republicans would accept a “mini” deal with the Obama administration on raising the debt limit, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican leader, said.

Cornyn said today on “Fox News Sunday” that while Republicans would prefer a long-term settlement, they would accept a shorter-term agreement if that’s all they could get done. The U.S. Treasury Department has projected that on Aug. 2 the U.S. will no longer be able to meet obligations if the legal debt ceiling isn’t raised.

“The problem with a mini-deal is we have a maxi problem,” said Cornyn, who is in charge of the 2012 Republican Senate campaign strategy. “We’ll take the savings we can get now, and we will re-litigate this as we get closer to the election.”

The Senate shortened its July 4 recess and will remain in Washington to discuss a deal this week to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit. The Obama administration is negotiating with Congress on reducing the long-term budget deficit as part of a plan to raise the limit before borrowing authority expires.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, declined to comment on the idea of a short-term deal.

“The speaker has always said that the time is now and our goal is to get the largest possible spending cuts,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said in an interview.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Cornyn’s remarks.

No Tax Increase

Any deal shouldn’t include a tax increase, Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said today on CNN’s “State of the Union” broadcast.

Closing some so-called tax loopholes would “have very small impact, but the principle of not raising taxes is something that we campaigned on last November and the results of the election was that the American people didn’t want their taxes raised and they wanted us to cut spending,” he said.

Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and gained seats in the Senate in the 2010 midterm elections.

Cornyn, asked about the idea of Obama ignoring the debt ceiling, said that’s “crazy talk.”

“It’s not acceptable for Congress and the president not to do their job and to say somehow the president has the authority then to basically do this by himself,” he said. “We ought to sit down and work together.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat who balanced his city’s budget, said both the Democratic administration and Republican congressional leaders will need to yield.

‘Head In Sand’

“Washington has its head in the sand,” Villaraigosa said today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “We’re dithering on the verge of default.”

“Democrats won’t address entitlements -- Medicare and Social Security -- and Republicans won’t talk about revenue or defense spending,” he said. “The fact is we have to talk about all of that.”

Source: Bloomberg 

Disney Joins Zambelli in Landing Family-Firm Fireworks Waiver

Walt Disney Co. (DIS) is among 62 companies getting a break from U.S. limits on truck-driver work hours that’s intended to help communities put on Independence Day fireworks shows.

The rule waiver allows Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. Inc., based in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and other operators of July 4 displays to keep drivers on duty more than the federal maximum of 14 hours a day, according to a June 28 notice in the Federal Register.

“We have a very narrow window of opportunity to do our business,” said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, a Bethesda, Maryland-based trade group for fireworks operators. “We don’t get July 5.”

Disney is the only publicly traded company getting an exemption. Most others are small, family-owned businesses that rely on seasonal workers to make the shows happen, Heckman said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which grants the exemptions, gave them to nine companies for the first time. Disney and 52 others had them renewed.

One company on the list, Zambelli Fireworks of New Castle, Pennsylvania, has staged fireworks displays in New York harbor, Mt. Rushmore, major league baseball games and state fairs, according to the company website. It’s producing July 4th celebrations in Philadelphia, Phoenix, Cleveland, Kansas City, Missouri and 16 other cities.

Sandy McStay, a Zambelli spokeswoman, referred questions to the pyrotechnics association.

Full Article
Source: Bloomberg 

Progressive parties are realistic alternatives to conservative misrule

Wherever I go these days, it's a riot! Literally so, it would seem. Vancouver two weeks ago to attend the NDP's national convention in Vancouver, just in time for a disgraceful hockey riot. And then, this weekend, Athens for a Council meeting of Socialist International -- just in time for two more days of rioting, as the social democratic government of Greece wrestles with the bitter fruits of conservative misrule in this country.

As is fit and proper in any setting, the best poll is the "cabbie poll". The cab driver from Athens airport had much to say about things in his country.

On the rioting in Athens: "what was happening in the square in front of Parliament for weeks and weeks was a perfectly peaceful demonstration that people were taking their children to," he said. "People were there with their grandparents and their children, it was a family occasion and totally peaceful. And it was making our points. And then for just two days, the new ones showed up and started throwing bricks and rocks. It's disgraced the country. It's embarrassing. It's not Greece."

A familiar theme. Again and again, powerful and peaceful demonstrations by citizens are hijacked and disempowered by the violent. The same thing happened in Toronto during the G8 last summer. This is a serious challenge for progressives around the world -- to find a way to mobilize the power of civil society and peaceful protest, without losing that power to the lust for violence of young men of a certain sort.

On the Greek national debt: "Yes, maybe we borrowed some of that money and maybe we should pay some of it back. But not all of it. For some of it, maybe they need to go and look for the Swiss bank accounts and the tax havens in the Caribbean. People here are taking 25 per cent pay cuts, and losing their pensions and their jobs and we didn't see anything from all of that money. 'They' put it in their pockets and 'they' should pay it back."

People in Greece are acutely aware of the criticism being leveled at them in Europe and around the world. Like citizens in Iceland and Ireland, they are having a hard time understanding why a crisis that has its roots in a different kind of lust -- the lust for limitless wealth and power, which caused those who control the financial system to drive the world economy over a cliff -- means that ordinary people are morally bad; must pay much higher taxes; must take deep pay cuts; must retire into poverty; and must do without education and health care, in order to keep the party going for bankers and speculators.

Full Article

On final Afghan visit, MacKay announces major Arctic operation

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — While Canada’s combat mission in Kandahar is in its last days, a new training mission has started in Kabul, Canadian fighter aircraft are making daily bombing runs against Libya, and now the armed forces is preparing to send more than 1,000 troops on a huge exercise in the High Arctic next month.

"It will be the largest operation that has taken place in recent history," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Saturday, moments after bidding an emotional farewell to combat troops now leaving Kandahar. "All of this is very much about enlarging the footprint and the permanent and seasonal presence we have in the North. It is something that we as a government intend to keep investing in."

Exercise Nanook is to play out in several phases on and near Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island throughout August. It will involve CF-18 fighter jets as well as surveillance and transport aircraft, a warship, infantry companies from Quebec and Alberta and 5 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group — Inuit reservists who have broad experience surviving in the extremely austere environment of the Far North.

While MacKay and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk will visit the High Arctic for Op Nanook, their emphasis during their 30-hour visit to Kandahar was very much on thanking the troops for their sacrifice and toil in a mission that has resulted in the deaths of 157 Canadian soldiers since 2002.

"This country is so much better because of your efforts. Our country is so much better because of your efforts," MacKay said as more than 1,000 troops pressed enthusiastically around him outside New Canada House. "You are the best citizens of our country."

To loud applause and whistles of encouragement, Natynczyk, who is Canada’s top general, gave the soldiers a stemwinder of a speech in French and English about what had been achieved collectively and individually in Afghanistan.

"There are not many Taliban there (in Kandahar) now because of you," the ‘four-leaf’ general said.

Full Article
Source: Ottawa Citizen 

Gadhafi indictment hinders peace: African Union

The African Union said Saturday that the international indictment of Moammar Gadhafi "seriously complicates" the organization's efforts to broker a settlement of the Libyan civil war, explaining its decision the day before to disregard the arrest warrant against the Libyan leader.

The 53-member AU had voted late Friday to ignore the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant against Gadhafi for alleged crimes against humanity, dealing a serious blow to the tribunal's chances of ever putting him on trial.

AU executive Jean Ping told reporters that the ICC is "discriminatory" and only goes after crimes committed in Africa, while ignoring those committed by Western powers in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The AU's decision also stated that the indictment against Gadhafi, issued Monday, "seriously complicates" efforts by the organization to find a solution to the Libyan crisis.

"With this in mind, we recommend that the member states do not co-operate with the execution of this arrest warrant," said the motion.

If countries in Africa abide by the AU's recommendation, it opens the possibility that Gadhafi could avoid prosecution by seeking refuge on the soil of his neighbours.

That has been the case for ex-president Hissène Habré, who is accused of thousands of political killings and the systematic torture of his opponents when he ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, before fleeing to Senegal. He has yet to face a trial even though Senegal agreed in 2006 to create a special court to try him.

Avoiding arrest is less likely for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC, in 2009. The African Union denounced that indictment and asked that the arrest warrant be deferred so that peace could be reached in Darfur, but members didn't vote to ignore it. Bashir has been able to repeatedly visit friendly countries like Kenya with impunity.

ICC denounced as neo-colonial

A total of 31 states in Africa are signatories to the International Criminal Court, representing nearly a third of the countries where its mandate applies. However, there has been increasing malaise in Africa over the ICC, which has been denounced by the continent's entrenched rulers as an instrument of neo-colonialism.

All the ICC's current investigations and prosecutions are of Africans. The court's prosecutor notably dismissed requests to look into the 2003 invasion of Iraq for possible war crimes by Western powers and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for crimes by leaders on both sides.

Diplomats present during this week's AU summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, said that although they support the court, they agree with the AU's claim that the warrant against Gadhafi complicates effort to end the crisis in Libya.

"If he knows he has nowhere to go, he will fight till the end. He would rather die than be tried," according to a Western diplomat who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim welcomed the AU's decision not to enforce the ICC warrant, repeating the government's position that the court is an "imperialist" institution that only targets African leaders, but not Western officials.

"The ICC is a European Guantanamo Bay. It's only against the African leaders. It never deals with the crimes committed by the United States of America," Ibrahim said, "and by the European powers … everywhere in the world."

Source: CBC news  

We Knew They Got Raises. But This?

IT turns out that the good times are even better than we thought for American chief executives.       

A preliminary examination of executive pay in 2010, based on data available as of April 1, found that the paychecks for top American executives were growing again, after shrinking during the 2008-9 recession.

But that study, conducted for The New York Times by Equilar, an executive compensation data firm based in Redwood City, Calif., was just an early snapshot, and there were even more riches to come. Some big companies had not yet disclosed their executive compensation.

So Sunday Business asked Equilar to run the numbers again.

Brace yourself.

The final figures show that the median pay for top executives at 200 big companies last year was $10.8 million. That works out to a 23 percent gain from 2009. The earlier study had put the median pay at a none-too-shabby $9.6 million, up 12 percent.

Total C.E.O. pay hasn’t quite returned to its heady, prerecession levels — but it certainly seems headed there. Despite the soft economy, weak home prices and persistently high unemployment, some top executives are already making more than they were before the economy soured.

Pay skyrocketed last year because many companies brought back cash bonuses, says Aaron Boyd, head of research at Equilar. Cash bonuses, as opposed to those awarded in stock options, jumped by an astounding 38 percent, the final numbers show.

Granted, many American corporations did well last year. Profits were up substantially. As a result, many companies are sharing the wealth, at least with their executives. “We’re seeing a lot of that reflected in the pay,” Mr. Boyd says.

And at a time of so much tumult in the media business, it might be surprising that some executives in media and communications were among the most richly rewarded last year.

The preliminary and final studies put Philippe P. Dauman, the chief executive of Viacom, at the top of the list. Mr. Dauman made $84.5 million last year, after signing a new long-term contract that included one-time stock awards.

Leslie Moonves, of the CBS Corporation, got a 32 percent raise and reaped $56.9 million. Michael White of DirecTV was paid $32.9 million, while Brian L. Roberts of the Comcast Corporation and Robert A. Iger of the Walt Disney Company each received pay packages valued at $28 million.

“Media firms seemed to be paying a lot,” said Carol Bowie, head of compensation policy development at ISS Governance, which advises large investors on corporate governance issues like proxy votes. “Media companies in general tend to be high-payers, and they tend to feed off each other.”

Other big payers included oil and commodities companies like Exxon Mobil and a few technology giants like Oracle and I.B.M.

Some of the other highly paid executives on the new list who were not in the April survey are Gregg W. Steinhafel of Target, who had a $23.5 million pay package; Michael E. Szymanczyk of Altria, $20.77 million; and Richard C. Adkerson of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, $35.3 million.

Full Article
Source: New York Times 

Grover Norquist's Anti-Tax Pledge Looms Large In Spending Showdown

WASHINGTON -- Without a bipartisan agreement this summer to reduce the federal deficit and raise the debt limit, the economy could suffer a horrendous blow, leaders of both parties say. If that happens, some will point fingers at a bearded, slightly disheveled man who's barely known outside political circles in Washington.

For two decades, Grover Norquist has been the driving force in pushing the Republican Party toward an ever-more rigid position of opposing any tax increase, of any kind, at any time. He has been so successful that some GOP officials fear they've let Norquist squeeze them into a corner where they'll be unable to declare victory even if they win the great majority of their budget demands in negotiations with congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama.

Democrats, meanwhile, use Norquist to paint the GOP as an unreasonable party that kowtows to billionaires at the expense of middle-class Americans.

Obama is insisting that even if a deficit-reduction accord relies overwhelmingly on spending cuts, it also must have some revenue increases. Democrats say they should start with eliminating some not-so-popular tax breaks that Norquist and his allies stoutly defend.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell "has decided to walk out on the same limb as Grover Norquist," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters last week. "It seems leader McConnell is willing to tank the economy for the sake of protecting tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jets."

Obama didn't name Norquist in his feisty news conference Wednesday, but he cited the same tax breaks.

"I've said to some of the Republican leaders: You go talk to your constituents, the Republican constituents, and ask them, are they willing to compromise their kids' safety so that some corporate-jet owner continues to get a tax break?" Obama said.

Republican lawmakers scoff at the notion that killing a $3 billion tax break for small jets would make a dent in the $14 trillion debt. But they have complicated their ability to parry the Democrats on such matters by signing the famous anti-tax "pledge" of Americans for Tax Reform, which Norquist heads.

All but a handful of House and Senate Republicans have signed it. By doing so, they vow to oppose any effort to increase marginal income tax rates and "any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."

In other words, even a "temporary" tax cut cannot be undone. Even a tax break that seems to have lost its purpose, when economic conditions change, cannot be touched unless it is offset elsewhere.

Some Senate Republicans have grown weary of Norquist's strict interpretation of the pledge, and a mini-revolt occurred in mid-June.

Thirty-four of the Senate's 47 Republicans voted to end a tax break for ethanol production, which has come under political fire in recent years. Norquist strongly opposed the move, and denounced its leader, conservative Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Coburn, who says some revenue increases must join deep spending cuts to reduce the deficit, claimed a turning point.

"You've got 34 Republicans that say they're willing to end this, regardless of what Grover says," he told reporters. "That's 34 Republicans that say this is more important than a signed pledge" to Norquist's group.

Norquist denies suffering a setback. He said the GOP senators willing to end the ethanol subsidy have also backed a proposed end to the estate tax, a favorite Republican target. The two tax moves, if enacted, would offset each other, Norquist said, fulfilling the pledge's demand to avoid "any net reduction" of tax breaks.

"We are pleased as punch. The pledge is defended," he said in an interview. With the 2012 presidential race gearing up, and Congress facing high-stakes decisions on spending and deficits, the anti-tax pledge "has never been more important, and it has never played a bigger role," he said.

Few elected Republicans will openly feud with Norquist. His power derives from his relentless pressure on state and federal officials to sign his pledge, and his thinly veiled threats to support primary opponents against them if they break it. His website names 41 senators, 236 House members and 1,263 state legislators who have signed the pledge.

"We list who has taken the pledge, and who has not," said Norquist.

Most Republican lawmakers, and many Democrats, innately oppose tax hikes, so Norquist's achievements are unremarkable in some respects. But the pledge's rigidity tends to squelch even modest flexibility. Die-hard conservatives such as tea party activists see that as an asset. Others, however, say the inflexibility hampers GOP efforts to negotiate tough agreements with Democrats.

"It's a disservice to our nation for someone to be allowed to set a standard which really could threaten our economy," said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. "I've grown up in life with bullies, and there's a point that you just have to say, `I'm not going to be frightened by them anymore.'"

Norquist focuses less on the deficit than on his relentless campaign against federal spending, which is fed by taxes. This troubles some lawmakers, who note that both parties historically have been willing to cut taxes while doing little or nothing to reduce spending, causing the deficit to soar.

Partly because of this, federal tax collections, as a proportion of the overall economy, are the lowest since 1950, at 14.9 percent. Yet Congress's Republican leaders say tax increases of any type cannot be part of a deal to resolve the debt-ceiling showdown this summer.

It's the type of scenario the Harvard-educated Norquist had in mind when he founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985. He says the pledge helps "brand" Republicans as the anti-tax party, clarifying voters' choices.

The image ignores the fact that Republican presidents including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush raised taxes at times as economic conditions changed. It was Bush's 1990 reversal of his "read my lips" vow not to raise taxes that outraged many conservatives.

Several factors contributed to Bush's 1992 loss to Bill Clinton, but Norquist pins it almost entirely on the tax decision. Since then, he said, the anti-tax pledge "has become a powerful tool for any candidate."

Norquist is delighted that the pledge is making it harder for Republicans and Democrats to reach a spending accord that might include small tax hikes along with larger spending cuts.

"The Democrats have run into a brick wall," he said, "and the pledge is there."

Source: Huffington  

A Depressing Story You Need to Read

If President Obama's health reform, the Affordable Care Act, backfires politically, one reason will be the staggering political power of the drug industry. If, for example, the health reform had used the bargaining power of the federal government to lower the cost of prescription drugs bought by Medicare and Medicaid, instead of the current system in which the government pays sticker price, there would have been far less need to find savings in Medicare and far less political backlash among voters.

But there would have been a huge political backlash on the part of the drug industry, whose benign neutrality the administration sought and got. So bulk purchase of drugs at negotiated prices was a non-starter politically.

The drug industry has also very substantially captured the Food and Drug Administration, which is far too quick to approve new, "me-too" drugs of dubious clinical value and far too slow to remove dangerous or ineffective drugs from the market or at least condition them with clear limitations and warnings. The Obama FDA is only marginally better on this front than George W. Bush's.

If you want to get a sense of just how damaging the drug industry is, you need to read Dr. Marcia Angell's blockbuster two-part article in the June 23 and July 14 New York Review of Books. Here is the punch line of part one, "The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?" The current generation of anti-depressant drugs, which change the way the brain absorbs a neurotransmitter called serotonin, are probably no more effective than placebos.

Yet these widely prescribed and hugely profitable drugs produce major changes in brain chemistry, are often difficult to kick, and patients can find themselves on a whole cocktail of drugs to counteract each other's effects. As Angell writes: in positing that depression was caused by too little serotonin, "instead of a developing a drug to treat an abnormality, an abnormality was postulated to fit a drug." As she adds, "Or similarly, one could argue that fevers are caused by too little aspirin."

Angell draws on three books, most notably, The Emperor's New Drugs, by Irving Kirsch. As Angell explains the system, a drug company may submit any number of clinical trials to the FDA in seeking approval for a new drug. No matter how many trials prove duds, as long the drug maker can produce two trials that show some clinically significant difference between the drug and the placebo, it generally gets the drug approved. This is rather like a student doing over exams until the right answer pops up.

Studies that show benefit are of course published and publicized. Studies that show no benefit are kept quiet. But the duds remain on file with the FDA. So Kirsch used a freedom of information request to review all of the trials that drug makers had submitted. He found that the vast majority of 42 clinical trials submitted to the FDA between 1987 and 1999 for such best selling selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Serzone, and Effexor, showed no improvement compare to placebos. And if you averaged all the studies, the improvement was marginal.

But then Kirsch adds another twist. Since anti-depressant drugs generally have side effects, patients often guess correctly whether they are receiving the placebo or the drug because of the presence or absence of side-effects. That, of course, ruins the "double blind" nature of the clinical trial, in which no subject is supposed to know whether they are getting the drug or a placebo.

But in some trials, according to Kirsch, scientists use "active" placebos that include a harmless drug that produces a side effect such as a dry mouth. That way, both the group receiving the drug and the group receiving the placebo believe that they are getting the drug. Guess what? In trials using an active placebo, with "side effects," there was no difference between the patient response to the drug and to the placebo.

Angell argues that much of the huge increase in reported mental illness is the result of the development and marketing of drugs.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Yellowstone Oil Spill Prompts Evacuations

LAUREL, Mont. — Hundreds of barrels of crude oil spilled into Montana's Yellowstone River after an ExxonMobil pipeline beneath the riverbed ruptured, sending a plume 25 miles downstream and forcing temporary evacuations, officials said.

The break near Billings in south-central Montana fouled the riverbank and forced municipalities and irrigation districts Saturday to close intakes.

The river has no dams on its way to its confluence with the Missouri River just across the Montana border in North Dakota. It was unclear how far the plume might travel.

Cleanup crews deployed booms and absorbent material as the plume moved downstream at an estimated 5 to 7 mph.

"The parties responsible will restore the Yellowstone River," Mont. Gov. Brian Schweitzer said.

A 600-foot-long black smear of oil coated Jim Swanson's riverfront property just downstream from where the pipe broke.

"Whosever pipeline it is better be knocking on my door soon and explaining how they're going to clean it up," Swanson said as globules of oil bubbled to the surface. "They say they've got it capped off. I'm not so sure."

ExxonMobil spokeswoman Pam Malek said the pipe leaked an estimated 750 to 1,000 barrels of oil for about a half-hour before it was shut down. Other Exxon officials had estimated up to 42,000 gallons of crude oil escaped.

Duane Winslow, Yellowstone County director of disaster and emergency services, said the plume was dissipating as it moved downstream. "We're just kind of waiting for it to move on down while Exxon is trying to figure out how to corral this monster," Winslow said.

"The timing couldn't be worse," said Steve Knecht, chief of operations for Montana Disaster and Emergency Services, who added that the plume was measured at 25 miles near Pompeys Pillar National Monument. "With the Yellowstone running at flood stage and all the debris, it makes it dang tough to get out there to do anything."

Brent Peters, the fire chief for the city of Laurel about 12 miles west of Billings, said the rupture in the 12-inch diameter pipe occurred late Friday about a mile south of Laurel.

He said about 140 people in the Laurel area were evacuated early Saturday due to concerns about possible explosions and the overpowering fumes. He said they were allowed to return at about 4 a.m. after fumes had decreased.

Winslow said hundreds of residents downstream were told to evacuate in the early morning hours as authorities knocked on doors, but it's unclear how many did.

In a statement, ExxonMobil said it was sending a team to help with cleanup, and that state and federal authorities had been alerted to the spill. The ExxonMobil Pipeline Company "deeply regrets this release," it said.

Crews were putting out absorbent material along stretches of the river in Billings and near Laurel, but there were no attempts at capturing oil farther out in the river. In some areas oil flowed underneath booms and continued downstream.

The smell of oil permeated the air for miles downstream and through the city of Billings.

"Nobody's been able to lay their eyes on the pipe," Peters said. "Right now, the Yellowstone River is at flood stage. The bank isn't stable enough for anybody to get close."

The cause of the rupture in the pipe carrying crude oil from Belfry, Mont., to the company's refinery in Billings wasn't known. Peters and Malek said speculation involves high water that might have gouged out the river bed and exposed the pipe, which was possibly hit by debris.

"I haven't seen it this high for at least 15 years," Peters said.

Jeb Montgomery of ExxonMobil said the pipe was buried six feet below the riverbed.

The state has received record rainfall in the last month and also has a huge snowpack in the mountains that is melting, which has resulted in widespread flooding in recent weeks.

Three oil refineries are in the Billings area, and Peters said he asked all three to turn off the flow of oil in their pipelines under the river once the leak was reported. He said ExxonMobil and Cenex Harvest Refinery did so, and that Conoco Phillips said its pipe was already shut down.

He said the river where the leak occurred is about 250 yards wide, and that an oil slick appeared to be about 20 feet wide.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

The Conservative plague attacking Canada

We know what the Egyptians, or at least their head honcho Pharaoh, did to attract the wrath of G-d. He wouldn't let His people go. But everyone paid the awful price -- those ten vile plagues culminating in the genocidal murder of all Egyptian first-born.

But what have Canadians done to evoke the wrath of the heavens? What have Ontarians done? Or poor Hogtowners? Though it's our pharaohs who sin, only regular folks pay the price. It's a trifecta, folks. Harper the asbestos killer in Ottawa, Ford the city-wrecker in Toronto, and, come October 6, very likely Hudak the math-challenged in Ontario. Won't we be in a pretty pickle then? What have ordinary people done to deserve this plague of right-wing Conservatives? Equally mysterious, why have so many ordinary folks supported them?

It defies rationality to have come to this. Much of the world is still trapped in one of the great economic meltdowns in the history of capitalism. Yet whom have Canadians turned to in their justifiable anger but Conservatives? Hardly anyone of right mind disagrees that it was the insatiable greed and reckless irresponsibility of Wall Street, which had been deeply unregulated over the past 30 years, that plunged much of the world into its economic tailspin. In Canada, even Stephen Harper boasts about how our banks, thankfully constrained by government regulations, were prevented from going off half-cocked the way they did south of the border, which saved us from the worst of the collapse.

In a real sense, we can say it was social democratic restraints on the Canadian speculator class that saved us even more misery here, as if the great decline in manufacturing and high unemployment wasn't enough. And it was precisely the free-market religion so passionately embraced by Conservatives -- whether Mr. Harper, Rob Ford or Tim Hudak -- that could have damaged us further.

Conservative economic policies have had another overwhelming consequence: an astonishing increase in inequality and the incessant enrichment of those wealthier than some entire countries while normal people stand still if lucky or slip back. These two dynamics have converged nicely in the years since the collapse. Those who caused it, already rich beyond the dreams of avarice and with government funds bailing them out in the tens and hundreds of billions, continued to reward themselves with unimaginably large payouts. So the filthy rich got filthier while the rest struggle to make ends meet each week.

In fact, while the world continues to face humungous economic challenges, the world's wealthiest are getting even richer and more numerous. Whatever picayune slippage some suffered after the 2008 banking crisis, a new report shows they're already filthier than they used to be. This happy state of affairs has been dramatically enhanced by the generosity of governments everywhere in reducing even further the tax burden on the filthy, which of course has led, together with smaller recession-time revenues, to large deficits in governments' budgets.

These circumstances should logically have led to demands for more social democratic values to reduce the chances of further bankers' follies and to attack the problem of growing inequality. Nothing makes more sense than to turn to the state, J. K. Galbraith famously explained, as the only possible countervailing power to the vast might of the corporate sector. But right-wingers didn't give an inch, as the National Post's Jonathan Kay, of all people, pointed out in a thoughtful and surprisingly positive review of Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks's The Trouble with Billionaires in the Literary Review of Canada last year.

Bear in mind this is a man who thinks Jeffrey Simpson is "centre-left." Conservatives, Mr. Kay wrote, "do not even pretend to have a solution to the inequality problem. Based on my experience at the Post, I'd say that most do not think of it as a problem at all. I cannot think of a single Canadian conservative aside from Conrad Black who has made any serious intellectual effort to reconcile his or her faith in capitalism with the free market-engendered meltdown of the American economy. Instead, they mechanically spout ritualized denunciations of the politics of 'tax and spend'."

This of course goes double in the United States.

In fact there was only one strategy the right wing's propagandists, organizers and billionaire financiers could now follow -- sheer, unmitigated chutzpah. Instead of acknowledging a whit of responsibility, they would do the opposite, preposterous as it seems: Blame government, taxes and unions, and distract attention from the filthy rich. This quite explicit strategy has been working for several decades; why not try it again? After all, shamelessness is the signal characteristic of those who survive and prosper in this life. Sure government regulations and bailouts saved us all from an even greater crash. Sure unions in the public sector helped their members maintain a barely modest level of middle class comfort and security, the precarious embodiment of the North American dream of upward social mobility. So attack both government and unions, what else?

Of course this makes no sense of any kind, except that it's working like a charm. It's elected many right-wing politicians, some so far off the conventional ideological continuum they're in a parallel universe of their own insanity. Thus the United States in the mid-term elections and the surrealistic contest for Republican presidential candidate. Thus a know-nothing union-baiting mayor in Toronto. Thus a Harper government, enabled by working class and middle class ethnic voters in Southern Ontario who somehow trusted him but distrusted a larger role for government.

Thus the sustained attacks across the United States, and now Canada, on public service employees who have been lucky enough to have unions to keep them from a life just above permanent financial anxiety. It shows the worst of human behavior and the failure of reason. Instead of solidarity with those lucky enough to hang on and with little responsibility for society's ills, frightened, insecure people have turned mean and vindictive towards those just marginally luckier than themselves, instead of turning against those who are in fact responsible for it all. These people are or should be natural NDP sympathizers, not conservatives. In that light, it was remarkably principled of the new NDP caucus to launch their filibuster last week on behalf of labour rights, widely considered fundamental human rights by those with decreasing influence.

For decades the goals of American conservatives, including the highly politicized corporate sector, have been transparent enough: Reduce corporate taxes and taxes on the rich. Reduce all government regulations that impinge on corporate profits. Destroy trade unions. Earlier this year the ultra-reactionary billionaire Koch brothers held a meeting of allies in Palm Springs, California, to plot "strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it." They have had extraordinary success, under both Republicans and Democrats, in achieving all three, as Corporate Canada and its political allies have enviously observed.

But there have been major regressions in Canada as well. Tax breaks for un-needy corporations continue apace. Private-sector unions have become a tiny minority in both countries. In the public sector, where unions had some clout left, it's under ferocious attack across the United States and now suddenly in Canada (and in Greece and Britain and Botswana too, for that matter). All we need is a Tim Hudak victory in Ontario, and with his pals Mr. Harper and Mr. Ford, watch the attacks accelerate. Who will save us from this awful plague?


Happy Alberta Day, Canada! Get used to it!

Happy Alberta Day!

Whoops, I meant Canada Day. Sorry.

Same difference, though. As any astute observer can see clearly, the Albertanization of Canada continues apace under the heavy hand of transplanted Ontarian Stephen Harper's Revised and Reactive Reform Party of Canada, or whatever their focus groups have them calling themselves this year.

It's the Conservative Party of Canada at the moment, I think, a moniker that must have that great Canadian patriot John A. Macdonald, founder of a party with a somewhat similar name, spinning in his grave fast enough to send up puffs of smoke.

The latest example of the Albertanization process is the Harper government's autocratic, punitive and most likely unconstitutional approach to ending the labour dispute at Canada Post, and its successful application of the threat to do the same thing at Air Canada.

While there is plenty of outrage at this legislation, what is not yet widely understood in the rest of Canada is the extent to which the Conservative braintrust of neo-Cons, batty (publicly paid) right-wing academics, corporate "think tankers" and their ilk have been influenced by the petroleum-driven political culture of this province. This is a place with a monochromatic mainstream media, worshipful attitude toward American-style ideological extremism and reflexive anti-labour attitudes and practices that have been reflected literally for generations in Alberta's legislation.

So, for example, it has been illegal in Alberta for decades for essentially any publicly employed government or health care worker to strike, with the alternative of an often-employer-biased arbitration process to legally resolve disputes. In health care, a number of mechanisms also allow employers to get the strike ban temporarily or permanently extended to many workers in the private and not-for-profit sectors.

The system works as well as it does, in my personal view, more through the good will and common sense of a number of employer representatives, including many senior employees of the Alberta Public Service Commission, than through the decency or democratic instincts of a majority of so-called conservative politicians at the provincial level.

This situation is taken to almost laughable lengths in Alberta. Here, for example, workers in franchise sandwich shops that happen to be located on the premises of health-care facilities may not be allowed legally to strike, the risible theory apparently being that patients literally couldn't survive without sub sauce on their cold-cut classic cheese and baloney sandwiches. Talk about your essential health-care service!

Regardless of whether this Alberta approach to labour law has been particularly effective at preventing illegal strikes -- and my observation would be that it has not -- it is the ham-handed and dictatorial "new normal" that the Conservative braintrust behind Prime Minister Harper now seems to want to put in place in the rest of Canada.

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Saving the World's Oceans

We need to stop treating the oceans like our personal garbage dumps.

Oceans keep us alive. They provide food, oxygen, water, medicines, and recreation. They help protect us from climate change by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. If we care about ourselves and our children and grandchildren, we must look beyond our immediate surroundings and do all we can to care for the oceans. But instead of respecting oceans as life-giving miracles, we often use them as vast garbage dumps, treating them like stores with shelves that never go empty.

The shelves are going empty, though. Humans are changing the chemistry and ecology of the ocean at a scale and rate not previously believed possible. According to a study from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, the combined effects of overfishing, fertilizer run-off, pollution, and ocean acidification from carbon dioxide emissions are putting much marine life at immediate risk of extinction.

The 27 scientists from 18 organizations in six countries who participated in the review of scientific research from around the world concluded that the looming extinctions are “unprecedented in human history.” As a result, the same scientists have called for “urgent and unequivocal action to halt further declines in ocean health.” The main factors are what they term the “deadly trio” – climate change, ocean acidification, and lack of oxygen. Overfishing and pollution add to the problem.

The researchers also found that “existing scientific projections of how coral reefs will respond to global warming have been highly conservative and must now be modified,” and that chemicals such as “brominated flame retardants, fluorinated compounds, pharmaceuticals, and synthetic musks used in detergents and personal care products” – which can cause cancer and disrupt human endocrine and immune systems – have been found in aquatic animals everywhere, even in the Canadian Arctic. Marine litter and plastics are also found throughout the oceans, sometimes in massive swirling gyres.

Alex Rogers, the scientific director of IPSO, is quoted in The Guardian as saying he was shocked by the findings: "This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children's [generation] and generations beyond that."

“Action at every level” means just that – actions that we can all take as individuals, as well as actions that governments and industry leaders must take. Reducing our own wastes, being careful about what we put down the drain, cutting down the amount of animal-based protein we eat and feed to our pets, and joining efforts to protect the oceans are a start, but the most important role we can all play is to tell governments and industry leaders that we will no longer stand for this abuse of our oceans.

We can already anticipate that industry-funded deniers, and the dupes who help spread their misinformation, will be out in force, painting this as yet another conspiracy on the part of the world’s scientists, and that some governments will put industrial interests ahead of everything else. We must put a stop to this nonsense. Every year that we stall on implementing the solutions to climate change means we are less likely to be able to resolve the problems. Other scientists and I have been warning about the consequences of climate change for more than 20 years, yet governments are still dithering while the world’s natural systems continue to erode.

What this study also shows is that we cannot look at ecosystems, species, and environmental problems in isolation. The research points out that the combined impact of all the stressors is far more severe than what scientists might conclude by looking at the individual problems.

The report exemplifies the old adage about death by a thousand cuts. There is no single place to concentrate blame except in the mirror. The study’s authors note that “traditional economic and consumer values that formerly served society well, when coupled with current rates of population increase, are not sustainable.” In other words, we need to account for the impact we have on the planet each time we flush a toilet, drink a pop, hop in a car, or eat a radish. There is no shortage of solutions – just a shortage of political will. Further delay in resolving these serious problems will only increase costs and lead to even greater losses of the natural benefits oceans give to us.

Source: The Mark 

Councillor urges end to Pride funding after filming Dyke March

Giorgio Mammoliti and his camcorder want to axe city funding for Pride Week.

The city councillor says he captured an anti-Israeli group chanting the controversial phrase “Israeli Apartheid” during Saturday’s Dyke Parade.

“I see this as cockiness, I see this as a slap in the face to City Hall and I see this as a slap in the face to taxpayers in this city,” Mammoliti said after the parade. “This councillor does not want them to get funded this year. I will be seeing whether the mayor agrees with me.”

Pride co-chair Francisco Alvarez said his organization would go bankrupt without the city’s $130,000 in grants, and might lose their licence to hold the 2014 World Pride festival.

Earlier this year, Mammoliti demanded a letter from Pride organizers to guarantee the controversial activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid would be barred from the festival. He suggested city funding, which amounts to about a quarter of the festival’s budget, should be contingent on the group’s exclusion.

Tensions were quelled when the group itself promised not to participate. However, Mammoliti vowed to film the parade when the group Dykes and Trans People for Palestine advertised it would march holding banners and signs with the term “Israeli Apartheid.”

“They may have been a new group but they were shouting and they were chanting and the slogans of ‘Israeli Apartheid’ were all there. I got it all on tape,” Mammoliti said of the group of 25. “There was no attempt whatsoever from organizers to stop them from being there.”

Organizers said they did not see the controversial group.

“Pride has done everything it can to comply with the letter of the law and to comply with every single policy that the city prescribed,” Alvarez said. “We need to see that proof — until that time, we can’t really respond.”

Fellow city councillor Shelley Carroll tweeted a photo of her colleague at the parade.

“There’s the video camera. Pretty sure you paid for it taxpayers. Respect for taxpayers,” she wrote.

Mammoliti is one of Mayor Rob Ford’s staunchest allies. Ford has not attended any Pride events and said he won’t attend Sunday’s flagship parade because he wants to spend time with family at a Muskoka cottage.

“When the mayor won’t even attend, I’m kind of surprised that this councillor feels that it’s a good use of his time to prowl around with a camera,” Alvarez said.

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Source: Toronto Star