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.]

Friday, September 23, 2011

A One-Party Pol

Rick Perry is the GOP equivalent of a San Francisco Democrat. He has flourished where the opposition isn’t a factor.

AUSTIN, Texas—The Lone Star State this summer has been scorched by record heat and drought and seared by horrific wildfires. The National Weather Service recently reported that Texas in 2011 recorded the hottest summer for any state in the history of federal records. Hand-lettered signs tacked to utility poles read simply: pray for rain.

This extreme weather has disrupted almost every aspect of Texas life. But one thing it hasn’t done is prompt sustained discussion about whether the state could be suffering from the effects of global climate change—a theory that Republican Gov. Rick Perry dismisses as unproven and partly the invention of scientists scheming for research grants.

That resounding silence is a reminder that Perry presides over a state that has tilted so solidly Republican for 15 years that he has not faced significant political opposition from Democrats, or the groups usually allied with them, at almost any point in his governorship. Perry’s approach to political leadership—from his unbending positions on most issues to his frequently barbed rhetoric—carries the unmistakable stamp of his experience as the leader of the dominant faction in a one-party state. He is the Republican equivalent of a San Francisco Democrat, a politician molded by unshielded exposure to his party’s brightest flame. That pedigree helps explain some of his greatest strengths—and potential vulnerabilities—in the 2012 presidential race.

Morgan Freeman: Tea Party Is Racist, They're Out To Get Obama

Morgan Freeman laid down the chips on the Tea Party in a new interview with Piers Morgan that is due to air Friday night.

The Oscar-winning actor sat down with the British TV host and, amongst other things, discussed his belief that the right wing Tea Party's anti-Obama stance is rooted in racism.

When asked by Morgan whether Obama's presidency has made racism in the United States better or worse, Freeman, who once played apartheid-defying South African president Nelson Mandela, frankly stated that his time in office has made it worse, as he has become a target of the right's aggression.

"Their stated policy, publicly stated, is to do whatever it takes to see to it that Obama only serves one term," the actor said. "What’s, what does that, what underlines that? 'Screw the country. We’re going to whatever we do to get this black man, we can, we’re going to do whatever we can to get this black man outta here.'"

CBC funding under microscope in Conservative surveys

A Conservative fundraising letter described as “very, very important” to the government’s legislative plans dangles the prospect of CBC spending cuts in a bid to raise money from party supporters.

The letter from Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein, who chairs the Conservative Party’s fundraising division, recently sent out a 10 question “National Critical Issues Survey” seeking input to help the government set its priorities for the fall and into 2012.

One question asks whether the more than $1-billion Ottawa spends on the CBC is “good value” or “bad value.”

Meanwhile, two Conservative MPs – Rob Anders and Ed Holder – are taking it a step further, asking their constituents in surveys whether the government should keep funding the CBC.

Mr. Anders – a Calgary MP who has always been a controversial maverick on the right wing of his party – now features a petition on his website calling on Parliament “to end public funding of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.”

Clarkson taps taxpayers for secretarial help

OTTAWA—Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson has billed taxpayers more than $500,000 in administration costs since leaving Rideau Hall, government records show.

The payments, revealed in public accounts documents, are for secretarial help.

Clarkson’s office defends the spending, saying that as “Canada’s most active and involved governor general” she is still flooded with mail and requests related to her time as the Queen’s representative in Canada.

But NDP MP Pat Martin called the funding “ridiculous” and said it should stop.

“She was fairly compensated for her services rendered. The Canadian taxpayer shouldn’t be on the hook for her subsequent expenses,” Martin said in an interview.

“I don’t see any justification for a continued obligation after the governor general leaves office, other than a pension.

Debate: Does U.N. Statehood Bid Advance or Undermine Palestinian Struggle?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to officially submit a statehood request to the United Nations in defiance of U.S. and Israeli threats. A new joint Israeli-Palestinian poll shows the Obama administration’s stance on Palestinian recognition at the United Nations is more extreme than that of a strong majority of Israeli citizens, with 69 percent of Israelis saying their government should accept U.N. recognition of an independent Palestinian state. The survey also found 83 percent of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories support the bid. While supporters have hailed the bid as a step forward in the struggle to end the Israeli occupation and bring peace to the Middle East, critics call it a ploy by the Palestinian Authority to cling to power while undermining the rights of Palestinian refugees. We host a debate with two leading Palestinian analysts: Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the website The Electronic Intifada and author of "One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse," and Mouin Rabbani of the Institute for Palestine Studies and the webzine Jadaliyya.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Rick Perry Blindsided Again In Debate On Immigration, Rick Santorum Has Big Night

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Once again, Rick Perry got blindsided.

The Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, as in his first two debates, started off with pep in his step, trading barbs with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and giving as good as he got. Yet once again, he came under attack on his right flank from other candidates, and came away looking shell shocked.

In past debates, Perry was taken to task for mandating a vaccine for elementary school students and for cronyism. On Thursday night, it was immigration. Former Sen. Rick Santorum attacked Perry for supporting in-state tuition rates for children of illegal immigrants, drawing Perry into a back and forth on the issue.

"I would say that he is soft on illegal immigration," Santorum said. "He doesn't want to build a fence. He gave a speech in 2001 where he talked about binational health insurance between Mexico and Texas. I mean, I don't even think Barack Obama would be for binational health insurance."

Santorum called Perry "very weak on this issue of American sovereignty and protecting our borders and not being a magnet for illegal immigration."

Canada-U.S. border initiative would have allowed U.S. police to make arrests during last year's G20 summit

Canada and the United States are close to agreeing on a joint policing program that could give U.S. security agencies substantial control of their northern border while deputizing U.S. police agents in Canada. Had the arrangement been in place during last year's G20 events, U.S. police or security officers would have had the authority to make arrests during the demonstrations, warns the Council of Canadians.

The Council is demanding that the Harper government stop its negotiations toward the creation of so-called NextGen cross-border policing units until parliament and the public has had a chance to debate the government's perimeter security action plan, which is expected to be released publicly in the coming weeks.

"What was the point in consulting Canadians on perimeter security if Harper is moving ahead regardless of what anyone has to say about it?" asks Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

"On his first day back in the House of Commons Harper said he would ignore the decision of farmers and ignore Canadian law by getting rid of the Canadian Wheat Board. This cross-border policing project shows he's willing to ignore serious constitutional and privacy issues by signing a deal with the U.S. without the slightest interest in what Parliament thinks,"

Challenger logs show low-security officials taking flights

The majority of flights on the government-owned Challenger jets in the month of June were taken by defence officials who could have used commercial aircraft, according to documents obtained by CBC News.

The six Challenger jets logged 165 hours in June at a cost to taxpayers of almost $2 million, according to flight logs obtained by CBC News.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston are required to travel on the jets for security reasons. But other government officials, who do not need the extra security, took 60 per cent of the flights, according to flight logs.

The documents reveal:
  • A general, his wife and three other officers flew to Brazil for six days at a cost of $335,000.
  • Defence Department personnel and their families got sightseeing trips around Ottawa at a cost of $12,000.
  • Eight lower-ranking officers and a civilian flew across the country for an air show at a cost of $120,000.
  • A general, two officers and a female civilian flew to Jamaica for 24 hours at a cost of $96,000.

CSIS notes reveal how Canadian was kept in exile

In the summer of 2004, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was suddenly faced with a big problem. Abousfian Abdelrazik, the Canadian they suspected of having links to terrorists, was about to be set free after more than a year in prison in Sudan. Worse, from CSIS’s standpoint, he was headed home to Canada and the agency had no legitimate means to stop him.

Hours after Sudanese security forces hauled Mr. Abdelrazik out of his Khartoum prison cell on July 20 and drove him to a police house to await a prearranged flight leaving on July 22, CSIS’s top counterterrorist chief in Ottawa was on the phone with the head of security at Transport Canada to discuss the matter.

Margin notes on CSIS documents related to the conversation, marked “Secret” and now in the possession of The Globe and Mail, highlight the fact that Mr. Abdelrazik was only on a U.S. no-fly list – insufficient to keep him from returning to Canada. It’s unclear what transpired during the conversation, but soon afterward both Air Canada and Lufthansa abruptly cancelled Mr. Abdelrazik’s ticket home. He would spend another five years in forced exile.

Message to Israel: Get with the program

Enough already: That’s what a majority of world governments are preparing to say when they debate Palestinian statehood at the United Nations Enough of the blame game. Enough of wars and intifadas that target civilians. Enough of the disingenuous peace process and the stale narratives that make up the status quo. Enough of the occupation of one people by another, regardless of rationalizations.

It’s in Israel’s strategic interests to support what’s likely to be overwhelming recognition of Palestine. Whatever one thinks about the Palestinian effort to focus world attention on the plight of its people, it’s a showcase example of the shifting global order. The ground has moved, leaving Israel behind. International law and human rights have gained precedence in the past decade and, for the first time, “lawfare” has emerged as a bloodless alternative to warfare. The Palestinian bid for statehood is a bold attempt to introduce legal diplomacy into the arsenal of conflict resolution.

Israel should support the Palestinian bid because to do so is the lesser of two evils. Yes, it’s true the immediate outcome can’t be predicted, but going with the international flow will reduce Israel’s increasing isolation. Far from “delegitimizing” the Jewish state, positive support will relegitimize it in the eyes of the world.

Gordon Pinsent And The Oil Sands: Elder Statesman Of Canadian Theatre Throws His Weight Behind Protests

Gordon Pinsent is the latest Canadian celebrity to endorse the protest against the oil sands planned for Parliament Hill on Monday.

Canada’s elder statesman of theatre spoke out on Thursday in opposition to the oil sands, which have come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks following well-publicized protests in Washington over the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.

“I can't think of anything -- here, now, or in our future -- that would rank above the tar sands for sheer, blind, stupidity,” Pinsent said in a press release by Greenpeace Canada, one of several organizations behind the protest. “The dangerous minds who are heralding the tar sands as an answer of any kind to our betterment need to be shut down with such positive action as to cancel any possible recurrence.”

Slacktivism defeats Lawful Access

There were no rallies against the Conservatives’ “Lawful Access” legislation. No marches, riots, demonstrations or happenings. Canadians who opposed the overreaching and wrongheaded online surveillance measures fought them (where else?) online.

Over 70,000 Canadians clicked to sign a “Stop Online Spying” petition posted by OpenMedia. Yesterday, the Harper government’s omnibus crime bill was introduced—a bundle of bills that had been assumed to include the new warrantless tracking measures. But Lawful Access was nowhere to be found.

OpenMedia quickly issued a press release claiming victory, and rightfully so. Despite a concerning lack of interest in the issue on the part of the mainstream media, OpenMedia successfully educated and activated tens of thousands of Canadians. Was their petition the reason the legislation was omitted? I suppose a letter sent last March signed by the provincial privacy commissioners, which cautioned the government about the invasive nature of the proposed laws may also have had an impact.

More on “house arrests”: stats and stories

When Justice Minister Rob Nicholson unveiled the government’s crime legislation earlier this week, I asked his department for information to support one aspect of the complex bill—the move to stop judges from handing down “house arrest” sentences for a raft of crimes.

The background documents released with the legislation highlighted the need to prevent judges from issuing these conditional sentences—which allow convicted criminals to serve time in the community with restrictions, rather than behind bars—for serious offences such as manslaughter, arson and fraud over $5,000.

I had hoped Justice Canada or Nicholson’s political staff would give me some sort of analysis of sentencing patterns to show why he believes courts are coddling dangerous criminals with this particular form of light punishment. Instead, the department merely passed along data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, showing how often judges hand down house arrest sentences for certain crimes.

Raw numbers don’t usually qualify as an argument for an important government policy change. But in this case, I take it, the justice minister is suggesting the stark stats alone tell the story. So let’s have a look at a few of them.

Opposition decries MacKay’s use of rescue chopper as ‘personal limousine’

Defence Minister Peter MacKay MacKay is being accused by opposition MPs of using a Canadian Forces helicopter as his private shuttle service when he had the chopper pick him up last year from private salmon-fishing lodge along the Gander River in Newfoundland.

“He feels he is entitled to use vital lifesaving equipment for his own personal limousine and we’d like for him to answer to it,” Scott Simms, a Liberal MP from Newfoundland, said during Question Period in the House of Commons on Thursday.

The accusation related to a CTV report that said Mr. MacKay used a one of the three Cormorant search-and-rescue helicopters available in Newfoundland to lift him from the lodge, where he was spending a private vacation.

It was Mr. MacKay who authorized General Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of Defence Staff, to take a government jet to meet his family last year on a Caribbean vacation.

Obama's UN Debacle

Barack Obama’s appearance at the United Nations was an unmitigated disaster.

Like a slow-motion train wreck, one that everyone knew was coming months ago, the president succumbed shamelessly to the domestic political pressure from the Israel lobby, its Republican party allies, and the menacing Benjamin Netanyahu, the thuggish prime minister of Israel. In one speech, Obama smashed to pieces every hopeful speech, false-start peace initiative and half-hearted initiative he’s tried since taking office. The appointment of George Mitchell as Middle East peace envoy? Dead. The June 2009, speech in Cairo aimed at rebuilding ties to the Arab and Muslim world? Dead. His feckless call for Israel to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian land under occupation by Israel’s brutish army and a vast militia of armed, fanatical settlers? Dead. His weak-kneed call for a deal between Israel and Palestine based on the 1967 borders? Dead as a doornail.

It’s impossible to say, at this stage, how bad the damage will be. At the very least, the United States has ceded all leadership in the peace process. The impact in the Middle East will be enormous, not least among the Egyptian revolutionaries and other leaders of the Arab Spring who, already cynical and hostile to American policy on Israel, will now write off Washington completely, and turn to Europe, Russia and China. Saudi Arabia, whose former ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki, has been increasingly vocal in warning the United States that the Saudis will break with Washington, will step in to pick up the pieces now if the craven members of the US Congress cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority.

In his speech, in which Obama said nary a word about Palestinian suffering, nor a word about illegal Israeli expansion and settlements, he said this:
“Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.”
Netanyahu, the boorish piece of muscle who runs Israel, called Obama’s speech a “badge of honor.” According to news reports, though, the entire UN General Assembly sat on its hands during Obama’s speech, not applauding once. Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, watched glumly, his head in his hands.

Source: the Nation 

The Palestinians are the new Jews

Look at the Palestinians and look at us. Look at their leaders and recall ours. Not, of course, those we have today, but those we once had, the ones who established the state for us. The Palestinians are the new Jews and their leaders are amazingly similar to the former Zionist leaders.

Their David Ben-Gurion is no longer with them - Yasser Arafat died under mysterious circumstances - but look at Mahmoud Abbas: Isn't he Levi Eshkol? Saeb Erekat - isn't he Abba Eban? Salam Fayyad - isn't he Pinhas Sapir or Eliezer Kaplan? The same moderation, the same nondescript personality, the same pragmatism, the same political wisdom and even, to some degree, the same sense of humor. To take what is attainable, to give up the big dreams - in the partition plan as in the two-state solution.

Then it was the pragmatic Zionist leaders who conceded and compromised, now it is the pragmatic leaders of the Palestinian Authority. At the time they insisted on getting it all, now it's our turn. Both were ambushed by an internal opposition that was extremist, ultranationalist and uncompromising.

The Palestinian group that is now going to the United Nations should remind Israelis of the Zionist group that turned to the same organization 64 years earlier. Yes, there are differences. And yet the similarity is captivating: Now they are the weak versus the strong, David versus Goliath, their Qassam can't help but remind us of our Davidka.          

The Conservatives’ crime obsession is not magnificent

The Prison is the Answer to Everything omnibus crime bill introduced by the Conservative government this week has some worthwhile measures – sometimes prison is the answer – but it also tends to go too far. It gets onto a good thing, such as ending the overuse of house arrest in violent crime, and then can't restrain itself from including non-violent offences such as car theft. Or it decides tougher sentences are in order for drug traffickers and organized crime, and then slaps a six-month jail term on anyone who grows six marijuana plants. (The bill is formally known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, and includes nine bills introduced by the Conservatives during minority rule and never passed.)

The bill's subtitle might be “Taking the Country Back.” From whom? The judges and the Liberals. There is a shower of new mandatory minimum sentences – judges can't be trusted to get it right, in the government's view. The Liberal attempts to bring down Canada's fairly high incarceration rate are off the table; more adults and youths will wind up behind bars. There are bills to deny pardons for sexual predators – a reasonable move, in the wake of the pardon-on-a-platter given to Graham James, a convicted abuser of young hockey players. There is a bill to make it more difficult to transfer Canadian citizens convicted of crimes in other countries back to this country to serve their time. (Won't they be deported here afterward, anyway?) While each of these should be assessed by the public, and parliamentarians, on its merits, it is necessary also to ask: Is this what fighting crime and protecting communities are really all about? Jail cells?

Hunting the rich

THE horns have sounded and the hounds are baying. Across the developed world the hunt for more taxes from the wealthy is on. Recent austerity budgets in France and Italy slapped 3% surcharges on those with incomes above €500,000 ($680,000) and €300,000 respectively. Britain’s Tories are under attack for even considering getting rid of Labour’s “temporary” 50% top rate of income tax on earnings of over £150,000 ($235,000). Now Barack Obama has produced a new deficit-reduction plan that aims its tax increases squarely at the rich, including a “Buffett rule” to ensure that no household making more than $1m a year pays a lower average tax rate than “middle-class” families do (Warren Buffett has pointed out that, despite being a billionaire, he pays a lower average tax rate than his secretary). Tapping the rich to close the deficit is “not class warfare”, argues Mr Obama. “It’s math.”

Actually, it’s not simply math (or indeed maths). The question of whether to tax the wealthy more depends on political judgments about the right size of the state and the appropriate role for redistribution. The maths says deficits could technically be tamed by spending cuts alone—as Mr Obama’s Republican opponents advocate. Class warfare may be a loaded term, but it captures a fundamental debate in Western societies: who should suffer for righting public finances?

The Killing of Troy Davis

If the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has its way, Troy Anthony Davis will be killed by lethal injection at 7 pm on September 21. His body will be carried out of the maximum-security prison in Jackson, the word “homicide” printed on his death certificate—the thirty-fourth US prisoner put to death this year.

The killing of Troy Davis would mark a devastating end to a case that inspired a global mobilization against the death penalty. Davis, 42, has faced execution four times in the past four years for a 1989 murder in Savannah, despite serious doubts about his guilt. His conviction hinged on nine witnesses—no physical evidence linked him to the crime—seven of whom later recanted their testimony. Some described being coerced by police. Others point to a different man—the eighth witness, who first implicated Davis—as the real killer. “If I knew then what I know now,” juror Brenda Forrest said in 2009, “Troy Davis would not be on death row.”

Forrest was one of several people who met with members of the pardons board on September 19 to plead for Davis’s life. Others included Davis’s nephew De’Juan, who grew up visiting his uncle on death row and whose mother, Davis’s sister Martina Correia, has been his most tireless defender, while also battling breast cancer. Davis’s more high-profile supporters range from the pope to former FBI director William Sessions, who wrote recently, “It is for cases like this that executive clemency exists.”

The Death of Troy Davis

In a perfect world, the execution of Troy Davis Wednesday night in Georgia would herald a new era in America's grim history with the death penalty. It would shake the criminal justice system out of its self-satisfied torpor and force government and the governed both to face the ugly truth about capital punishment in the United States in the twenty-first century. It would propel this question to the forefront both of the nation's political debate and the Supreme Court's docket: How many exceptions to the rule must we allow or tolerate, how many legitimate questions must linger beyond the death chamber, before we either fix the system or end the experiment?
When the state kills those whose guilt is in serious doubt, or when the state kills those to whom it has not given fair justice, it doesn't just perform an injustice upon the individual, the rule of law, and the Constitution. It also undermines the very legitimacy of the death penalty itself, for its continuing use as a sentencing option derives its civic and moral strength mostly from the fiction that it can be, and is, credibly and reliably imposed. Once our confidence in that credibility is shattered, as it should be now that Davis is gone, all that's left of the death penalty is state-sponsored retribution and the hangman's noose.

In a perfect world, the haunting execution of Troy Davis would spawn vital reforms to the clemency and parole process in states like Georgia and Texas, where such proceedings routinely make a mockery of the idea of reasoned justice. It would light a fire under local prosecutors to ensure that witnesses in capital cases are not coerced by law enforcement officials. It would cause jurors to think twice about rushing to judgments. It would force a supine Congress to reevaluate its so-called "effective death penalty" statute, which neuters legitimate post-conviction appeals. And it would at long last shame state court judges to cast off the yoke of their campaign contributors, who push them to be "tough on crime" at the expense of fealty to the Bill of Rights.

Michael Migliore, the FBI, and Shadowy Interrogations Abroad

Does the US government use British authorities to detain and question American citizens who don't want to talk to FBI terrorism investigators without a lawyer present? A recent case suggests as much.

Last week, Michael Migliore, a 23-year-old American convert to Islam, was nearing the end of a trans-Atlantic cruise from New York to Southampton, England. From there, Migliore hoped to continue on to Italy, where he has family and holds dual citizenship. Migliore would have flown, but when he tried to, he discovered that he seemed to be on the US government's no-fly list. He believes this was because he was a casual acquaintance of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the accused "Christmas tree bomber." He had to take a cruise ship across the Atlantic instead of flying.

As the Cunard liner neared Southampton harbor, Migliore, who was eating breakfast, noticed a speedboat set out from shore. According to Migliore, British authorities boarded, removed him from the ship, and detained and questioned him under British anti-terrorism law for 8 to 10 hours. He was told he had no choice but to cooperate. They confiscated his cell phone, iPod touch, a flash drive, and a book of Arabic grammar before sending him on his way.

Who Did Rick Perry Pick As His Top Environmental Cop?

During his nearly 11 years as Texas governor, Rick Perry has sidled up to big polluters while pocketing their campaign donations, battled the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency, and blocked environment regulations in a state that ranks first in the nation in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. But near the top of Perry's most controversial decisions on the environment is hand-picking a self-professed climate change skeptic and industry ally to lead the state's top environmental watchdog.

In 2007, Perry appointed Dr. Bryan Shaw, an engineer and professor at Texas A&M University, to head the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), a regulator with a $350 million budget and a mission to "protect our state's human and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development."

The commission issues permits to new energy plants and applies and enforces Texas' environmental regulations. In theory, it would be charged with enforcing climate change mitigation regulations too. The TCEQ is led by three commissioners, all appointed by the governor.  And under Perry, the TCEQ has acted as a rubber stamp for the energy industry in Texas, say environmental attorneys and advocates. "With one exception, Perry has appointed people who are hostile to the environment and who are very ideological," says Jim Marston, director of the Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) Texas office.

Rick Perry's Florida Co-Chair: Gays Cause Tornadoes

Earlier this week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced his leadership team for the "Presidency 5" straw poll in Florida, scheduled for October. Although most of the other major candidates have decided to skip the event, Perry is hoping a strong showing there will give him a boost ahead of the state's important early primary. So what's his strategy for voter outreach? It looks a lot like The Response, the prayer and fasting festival he organized in August at a football stadium in Houston.

Take, for instance, his new co-chair: Pam Olsen, founder of the Tallahassee House of Prayer (dubbed the "prayer lady" in her home state for reasons that should be self-evident) and a leading anti-abortion activist in the state. As Right Wing Watch notes, though, Olsen also believes that gay marriage, and its increasing acceptance among American Christians, is causing destructive natural disasters across the country. Here's what she said back in July:
God is shaking. If anybody looks at the news and has just seen what's been happening recently with the floods, the fires, the tornadoes, God is shaking. Yeah I think you have God shaking, sure you have the Enemy shaking, you have both and I don't want to say oh that's the judgment of God or that's the Enemy. But the reality is God is judging us, and I think it's going to get worse.
It's somewhat unclear why Texas, whose governor supports criminalizing gay sex, would be punished with raging wildfires for having too high a tolerance for gay rights. But Olsen's view is wholly consistent with Perry's other allies on the religious right. The Response, you'll recall, featured a number of controversial pastors who believed that, among other things, 9/11 was God's way of punishing America for tolerating homosexuality and the blackbirds that died suddenly in Arkansas last winter were a harbinger of the End Times.

Source: Mother Jones 

Troy Davis Executed in Georgia

Despite evidence that threw into question the veracity of testimony that led to his conviction, pleas from a former president and the Pope, and even a last-minute review of the case by the US Supreme Court on Wednesday night, Troy Davis was executed by lethal injection shortly after 11 p.m. on Wednesday in Georgia.

Davis, whose case we wrote about in full detail here, was convicted on 1991 on charges that he murdered a Savannah police officer. Davis had put off eating his final meal in the expectation that he would be granted a stay of execution—as he had three times before in the past—but by Wednesday morning, he had exhausted all of his options, and a standing offer to submit to a polygraph test was rebuffed by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. The final lethal injection was delayed for more than three hours as the state waited to hear from the Supreme Court (which dismissed the appeal without dissent).

By now, you probably know the facts: Of the nine witnesses to the murder, seven have since recanted, and in doing so alleged that they were coerced into identifying Davis. Police tainted the identification process by pointing out Davis' face before he ever appeared in the lineup; new psychological research suggests that the officers went about identifying the suspect in exactly the wrong way. Ballistics evidence used to convict Davis has since been debunked. Another witness has since emerged as a plausible suspect in the murder trial. Three jurors on the case now say that if they knew then what they know now, they would not have voted to convict. Davis was quite possibly innocent, but that was hardly the point. As expressed by the popular Twitter hashtag, the problem was simply that there was #TooMuchDoubt.

Jimmy Carter: Death Penalty System Flaws Exposed In Troy Davis Execution

ATLANTA -- Former President Jimmy Carter says the execution of death row inmate Troy Davis in Georgia shows that the nation's death penalty system is "unjust and outdated."

The Georgia Democrat said Thursday in a statement to The Associated Press that he hopes "this tragedy will spur us as a nation toward the total rejection of capital punishment."

Davis was executed late Wednesday night for the 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. His supporters say he was the victim of mistaken identity, while prosecutors and MacPhail's family said justice was finally served after four years of delays.

Carter says "if one of our fellow citizens can be executed with so much doubt surrounding his guilt, then the death penalty system in our country is unjust and outdated."

Countrywide protected fraudsters by silencing whistleblowers, say former employees

In the summer of 2007, a team of corporate investigators sifted through mounds of paper pulled from shred bins at Countrywide Financial Corp. mortgage shops in and around Boston.

By intercepting the documents before they were sliced by the shredder, the investigators were able to uncover what they believed was evidence that branch employees had used scissors, tape and Wite-Out to create fake bank statements, inflated property appraisals and other phony paperwork. Inside the heaps of paper, for example, they found mock-ups that indicated to investigators that workers had, as a matter of routine, literally cut and pasted the address for one home onto an appraisal for a completely different piece of property.

Eileen Foster, the company’s new fraud investigations chief, had seen a lot of slippery behavior in her two-plus decades in the banking business. But she’d never seen anything like this.

“You’re looking at it and you’re going, Oh my God, how did it get to this point?” Foster recalls. “How do you get people to go to work every day and do these things and think it’s okay?”

More surprises followed. She began to get pushback, she claims, from company officials who were unhappy with the investigation.

Elizabeth Warren Blasts GOP 'Class Warfare' Charge, Tax Cuts For The Rich

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts and former White House financial reform adviser, blasted Republicans at an appearance In Andover last month for accusing Democrats of engaging in "class warfare."

"I hear all this, you know, 'Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,'" Warren said. "No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own -- nobody."

Republican lawmakers have criticized President Barack Obama in recent weeks for engaging in "class warfare." House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) argued in an op-ed last month that the president was “anti-business, hyper-regulatory [and] pro-tax” and “fueled by efforts to incite class warfare."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had a similar criticism after Obama unveiled his new deficit reduction plan this month, which features a proposed tax on millionaires, saying “Class warfare isn’t leadership.”

Will David Cameron's 'Big Society' Work in Ottawa?

British Prime Minister David Cameron is in Ottawa today, where he will address Canada's Parliament, and I'm delighted. Maybe he'll light a policy fire under the Harper government.

At a time when Big Ideas seem to be out of fashion, Cameron is definitely a Big Ideas guy -- or perhaps I should say, Big Idea guy, as he is focused on one Big Idea, which he calls "Big Society."

Big Society could be called the counterpoint to Big Government. It is about challenging and empowering citizens and civil society to play a much bigger role in problem-solving by agreeing to get Big Government out of the way.

But Cameron is no Margaret Thatcher. If he agrees that Big Government diverts citizens from taking responsibility, his solution is not to dismantle the "nanny state" or throw Brits into the deep end of the pool, forcing them to sink or swim.

Instead, Cameron believes that belonging to a community is a vital part of human nature and that, when given the chance, people display a natural willingness to work together as a community to solve problems. Big Society is about creating the right environment for this to happen.

How pro-Israel is Stephen Harper's government?

How pro-Israel is Stephen Harper's government?

It is so pro-Israel that Canada will vote no in the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state on only half the land that Canadian diplomats promised Palestine 60 years ago.

It is so pro-Israel that it will support illegal settlers and the extreme right in blocking this small step towards righting a historical wrong despite Canada spending tens of millions of dollars on training Palestinian police and other "state-building" measures.

It is so pro-Israel that it will do this despite a higher percentage of Canadians supporting the Palestinian's bid for UN membership than voted Conservative in the last election.

Two-and-a-half months ago, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird criticized the Palestinian statehood bid, labeling it a "public-relations" exercise. On Friday Harper reiterated this position. "Canada views the action as very regrettable and we will be opposing it," the prime minister said.