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, November 27, 2011

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty To Cut $32 Million In Manufacturing Tariffs

OTTAWA - Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is eliminating $32 million in annual tariffs on some of the goods used in Canadian manufacturing.

The move means Canadian manufacturers will no longer have to pay customs duties to import key inputs used in food processing, furniture and transportation equipment.

Flaherty says Sunday's announcement is just the latest step in the government's 2010 commitment to make Canada a tariff-free zone for industrial manufacturers, and is part of Ottawa's grand plan to foster job growth.

"By lowering costs for these businesses, we are enhancing their ability to compete in domestic and foreign markets and helping them invest and create jobs here at home," he said in a press release.

He says the list of 70 different products that will soon be tariff-free is the result of long consultations with business.

The list includes apple juice concentrate and other mixtures used to make drinks, hardware for furniture, parts used to make trailers and transport equipment, gelatin capsules for pharmaceuticals, and conveyor belts.

In an interview CTV's Question Period on Sunday, Flaherty said many of the tariffs dated from a previous era, and no longer make any sense.

"It relates to things like fasteners in clothing and trailer parts, a series of things that were tariff-able before but now they're just an impediment to Canadian business, Canadian manufacturing," he said.

"Some of these old-fashioned tariffs get in the way. So we're getting rid of them. We're leading the world, in fact, in reducing tariffs on our manufacturing sector."

Since 2009, the government says it has eliminated tariffs on 1,800 products, saving business $435 million a year.

Source: Huff 

Lobbying world starting to wake up to the NDP

Robin MacLachlan is the face of a new breed in Ottawa: NDP corporate lobbyist.

The former NDP staffer works the phones on behalf of 11 clients – including large companies such as Cisco Systems, Nalcor Energy and Nestlé Canada Inc. – and increasingly pops up on political talk shows as an NDP supporter.

He prefers to say he’s in the “government relations” business.

“The word lobbyist has taken on a bit of a pejorative character to it, so for that I may get the odd joke from my social democratic friends, but it’s all in good humour,” said Mr. MacLachlan, 30, who worked for successive Ottawa Centre NDP MPs Ed Broadbent and Paul Dewar.

“Advocacy is a very important part of democracy … and my friends understand that I’m contributing to that process,” he said.

Among the Ottawa lobbying shops that surround Parliament Hill, Mr. MacLachlan is a rarity. Most firms long ago decided they had their bases covered by loading up on a mix of Conservatives and Liberals.

A Family’s Billions, Artfully Sheltered

As he stood in the opulent marble foyer of a Fifth Avenue mansion late last month, greeting the coterie of prominent guests arriving at his private art gallery, Ronald S. Lauder was doing more than just being a gracious host.       

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Neue Galerie, Mr. Lauder’s museum of Austrian and German art, he exhibited many of the treasures of a personal collection valued at more than $1 billion, including works by Van Gogh, Cézanne and Matisse, and a Klimt portrait he bought five years ago for $135 million.

Yet for Mr. Lauder, an heir to the Estée Lauder fortune whose net worth is estimated at more than $3.1 billion, the evening went beyond social and cultural significance. As is often the case with his activities, just beneath the surface was a shrewd use of the United States tax code. By donating his art to his private foundation, Mr. Lauder has qualified for deductions worth tens of millions of dollars in federal income taxes over the years, savings that help defray the hundreds of millions he has spent creating one of New York City’s cultural gems.

Berkeley Faculty: No Confidence in Chancellor Over Campus Police Violence

Berkeley is not only a school with an honored history of campus protest; it’s also our greatest public university, and its faculty include some of the country’s most brilliant and accomplished people. So when those faculty members meet to debate police violence against the “Occupy” movement on their campus, it’s big news.

On Monday, the Berkeley Academic Senate will vote on a resolution expressing “no confidence” in their chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, because of police violence against Occupy Cal campus activists there on November 9. The chancellor’s defense of police conduct was particularly outrageous: “It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms,” he declared the day after the police confrontation. “This is not non-violent civil disobedience.”

Linking arms is “not non-violent”? Former poet laureate Robert Hass, who teaches at Berkeley, was one of the demonstrators; he described what happened in an op-ed for the New York Times: Alameda County sheriffs in full riot gear, “using their clubs as battering rams, began to hammer at the bodies of the line of students” who had linked arms. The sheriffs “swung hard into their chests and bellies.… If the students turned away, they pounded their ribs. If they turned further away to escape, they hit them on their spines.” Afterwards fellow poet Geoffrey O’Brien had a broken rib. “Another colleague, Celeste Langan, a Wordsworth scholar, got dragged across the grass by her hair.”

A million people have seen the YouTube video of peaceful demonstrators with linked arms being jabbed by cops with batons. Many more saw the video on TV—Stephen Colbert featured it on his show, commenting “Look at these vicious students attacking these billy clubs with their soft, jab-able bellies!”

Next Stop on the GOP Crazy Train: 'Newtsville'

It is a symbol of our current political predicament that anytime anyone tells the truth about anything in the contest for the Republican nomination, a new scandal erupts. Newt Gingrich was briefly drummed out of the Republican Party for accurately terming Paul Ryan’s destructive Medicare plan a “radical” step toward “right-wing social engineering.” Jon Huntsman caused virtually the only stir of his all-but-invisible campaign when he admitted to what the Salt Lake Tribune straight-facedly called the “politically dicey belief that climate change is human-caused and needs to be addressed.” And most recently, CBS’s John Dickerson caused a contretemps when a stray e-mail revealed that Michele Bachmann was “not going to get many questions” in the debate the network was sponsoring because “she’s nearly off the charts.”

Being a member of the MSM in good standing, Dickerson was in all likelihood referring to Bachmann’s poll position rather than her approach to reality, and uncharacteristically for this race, they happen to be pretty much perfectly proportional. Bachmann has long been loony, but it has been her poll standing that has determined the treatment she has received from the press.

The respectful response of the media to the batshit-crazy statements one hears from the second-tier Republican candidates—candidates who occasionally rise to the first tier and then just as quickly sink down again, having never been serious contenders in the first place—is doing definite damage to this country. How many credulous Americans may have decided to shun the HPV vaccine for their daughters after hearing Bachmann’s nutty suggestion that it causes mental retardation? What of the insistence of that ignorant idiot Herman Cain that the “objective” purpose of Planned Parenthood’s founding was to “kill black babies before they came into the world. It’s planned genocide.” Now we’ve got a new front-runner, Gingrich, who holds, among other crazy notions, that the Obama administration’s “secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did,” when his diseased brain is not focusing on his moronic (and racist) contention that “only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together” the inspiration for Obama’s foreign policies.

Harper Says No Decriminalization Of Pot On His Watch

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his government will never agree to the decriminalization of marijuana.

Harper's comments came Friday in Vancouver in response to a question at a brief news conference following an event at a downtown science centre.

"No, it will not happen under our government," Harper said. “We're very concerned about the spread of drugs in the country and the damage it's doing and as you know we have legislation before the House [of Commons] to crack down."

This week, four former Vancouver mayors endorsed the Stop the Violence Coalition, which is comprised of former police officers, a judge, medical leaders and B.C.'s former chief coroner.

Uganda: nomads face an attack on their way of life

Three young Jei cattle herders firmly grasp a young white cow. Moding Ngolapus tightens a string round its scraggy neck, while his friend takes a roughly made bow, crouches and aims a blunt arrow from about 3ft away.

His first and second shots fail to even pierce the flesh, but the third finds an artery without severing it. The cow does not flinch as its blood squirts out and is collected in a bowl. Ngolapus pinches the wound, which clots quickly, then eases the string. It's all very precise, conducted in silence and over in two minutes. The cow's blood will be mixed with milk to make a liquid meal called ekacel.

This is Lobelai cattle camp in the heart of Karamoja province, north-eastern Uganda, a moving "city" of 10,000 or more cows which is home to about 300 mainly young Jei warrior nomads, who ceaselessly drive their herds across the 27,000 square miles of semi-arid land bordering Kenya and South Sudan.

The climate is harsh; water and pasture is scarce; for generations the Jei and other semi-nomadic clans, such as the Dodoth, have raided each other in constant low-level wars. Claiming all cattle as their own, they rustle – and in turn are raided – by fellow Karamojong groups as well as Turkana tribes from Kenya and the Toposa groups in South Sudan.

Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer accuses the ANC of apartheid-style censorship

Nobel prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer has spoken out against her government's controversial new secrecy legislation, suggesting it is a move back towards the harsh censorship that existed under apartheid.

In an article written for the ObserverGordimer said freedom of expression had been "struck out as a danger to the state", under the harsh Protection of State Information Bill, which may become law in South Africa by the end of the year. Leading commentators, editors and opposition parties dubbed the day the bill was passed in the South African parliament last week "Black Tuesday".

The bill bans the publication of classified documents – even if the information could be in the public interest – and allows the government to class almost any category of information as secret. Anyone involved in whistleblowing or any journalist or editor involved in publishing such information could face 25 years in prison. The bill is also seen as a way of the government controlling how it is represented, and there are worries that its provisions are so all-encompassing that it could even curtail freedom of expression in literature.

Vladimir Putin rallies obedient crowd at party congress

Chants rang out around Luzhniki stadium in Moscow: "Putin! Putin! Putin!", which gave way to "The people! Medvedev! Putin!" and then "Russia! Russia! Russia!"

Delegates from the ruling United Russia party dutifully applauded while youth activists, bussed in from the provinces, waved bulky flags for two hours straight.

But one man was not happy. "When you scream 'Putin! Medvedev!' that's well enough," Vladimir Putin called out from the podium as he officially accepted his party's nomination for a presidential election that he is all but assured of winning. "But when you say 'Russia!' the whole room should shout," he ordered.

A great roar rose up as Putin loudly banged the podium in time to his subjects' obedient chants.

After four years as prime minister, a role he took up because of a constitutional ban on any individual serving more than two consecutive terms as president, Putin is not just returning to the Kremlin.

He is embracing a neo-Soviet cult of personality that has transformed from publicity stunts showing off his physique and prowess to all-out adoration intent on proving that no other leader is fit to run Russia.

Army on standby to deal with passport queues during public sector strike

The army are on standby to keep Britain's borders secure and handle passport queues during Wednesday's strikes over public service pensions, Francis Maude has confirmed.

The Cabinet Office minister also told unions that they have until the end of the year to accept the government's current offer or it will be taken off the table – the first time that ministers have set a deadline for talks to be concluded.

"We have said there needs to be agreement on the main elements by the end of this year, and if there isn't, we absolutely reserve the right to take those elements off the table," Maude told Sky News.

Details of the military's duties were being discussed by the UK Borders Agency, but Maude said he expected soldiers to man the passport queues, admitting it would not be a great image for Britain to project.

Details and contingency arrangements for the strikes will be discussed on Monday at a special session of the government's emergency committee (Cobra). The strikes have been called in protest at government moves to increase pension contributions by public sector workers.

Ministers acknowledge that two thirds of schools will close and non-emergency operations in the NHS will be disrupted. It is thought that in England around 60,000 non-urgent operations, outpatient appointments, tests and followup appointments will be postponed.

Occupy Wall Street And Homelessness: Millions Spent To Evict Camps, While Cutting Shelter Funds

As cities around the country have swept Occupy Wall Street camps from their plazas and parks in recent weeks, a number of mayors and city officials have argued that by providing shelter to the homeless, the camps are endangering the public and even the homeless themselves.

Yet in many of those cities, services for the homeless are severely underfunded. The cities have spent millions of dollars to police and evict the protesters, but they've been shutting down shelters and enacting laws to prohibit homeless from sleeping overnight in public.

In Oakland, Atlanta, Denver and Portland, Ore., there are at least two homeless people for every open bed in the shelter system, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Salt Lake City, Utah, and Chapel Hill, N.C. -- two other cities that have evicted protesters from their encampments -- things are better but far from ideal. In Chapel Hill, according to the HUD study, there are 121 beds for 135 homeless people, and in Salt Lake City, 1,627 for 1,968.

Heather Maria Johnson, a civil rights attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said most cities in the U.S. lack adequate affordable housing, emergency or transitional housing, or other social services for people who are either homeless or are in danger of losing their homes. "This was true before the current economic crisis and remains true today, particularly in areas that have cut social services due to budget concerns," Johnson said.

Conservative Tough-On-Crime Policies: Study On Raises Doubts About Effect Of Tough Sentences

OTTAWA - An internal report by the federal Justice Department raises doubts about the effectiveness of harsher sentences, the linchpin of the Tory government's tough-on-crime policies.

The study examined almost 3,300 people convicted of an impaired-driving offence, and found 57 per cent of them offended again at least once, within five years on average.

And the severity of the first sentence had no impact on the behaviour of repeat offenders.

"There was no evidence to suggest that the imposition of a fine or imprisonment had any effect on the likelihood of whether an offender would re-offend or not," the author concludes.

"This indicates that the severity of the sentence received did not deter offenders in this sample."

"Reconviction rates for all individuals were similar regardless of the sentence received for the initial impaired driving conviction."

The research was delivered in July this year, more than three years after the Conservative government passed a tough law that imposed harsher fines and jail sentences, including mandatory minimums, for impaired-driving convictions.The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the study, "Recidivism Among Impaired Drivers" by Andre Solecki, under the Access to Information Act. The research covers the period from 1977 to 2006.

When Politics Trumps Good Policy

Rejecting reason and evidence, populism seems to be guiding the Canadian government.

Does the death penalty reduce murder rates? Does sex education in schools produce higher or lower rates of teenage pregnancy? Do stiffer punishments for drug possession diminish rates of drug use?

On many public-policy questions such as these, we have answers – or can gather the evidence necessary to formulate answers. Governments that are so inclined can ground large portions of their policy programs not in opinion or ideology, but in science. (Yes, there is always the possibility of bad evidence or bad analysis. But a commitment to making decisions based on the best available evidence, combined with an acknowledgement that humans sometimes err, is different from a refusal to even aim for evidence-based decisions.)

Fresh warnings raise the stakes on eve of UN climate summit

DURBAN, South Africa — The UN’s top climate official said Sunday she expects governments to make a long-delayed decision on whether industrial countries should make further commitments to reduce emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Amid fresh warnings of climate-related disasters in the future, delegates from about 190 countries were gathering in Durban for a two-week conference beginning Monday. They hope to break deadlocks on how to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate secretariat, said the stakes for the negotiations are high, underscored by new scientific studies.

Under discussion was “nothing short of the most compelling energy, industrial, behavioural revolution that humanity has ever seen,” she said.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was to lead a mass rally at a soccer stadium later Sunday urging negotiators to be more ambitious during what were expected to be difficult talks.

Hopes were scrapped for an overall treaty governing global carbon emissions after the collapse of talks at a climate summit in Copenhagen two years ago. The “big bang” approach has been replaced by incremental efforts to build new institutions to help shift the global economy from carbon-intensive energy generation, industries and transportation to more climate-friendly technologies.

Worst Congress ever? A reading guide to the dysfunction

Congress’ approval rating is abysmal, and the failure of the congressional “super committee“ to find a compromise on reducing the national debt has set off a new round of recriminations.

One senator on the super committee, Democrat Max Baucus of Montana, told The Washington Post, “We’re at a time in American history where everybody’s afraid — afraid of losing their job — to move toward the centre. A deadline is insufficient. You’ve got to have people who are willing to move.”

Decrying partisanship is almost as old as the republic itself. But longtime observers say Congress has actually taken a turn for the worse — with more gridlock, more grandstanding, less compromise to get things done.

Old rules are being used in newly aggressive, partisan ways, and routine Congressional activities have become politicized — most notably, the vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Once a nonissue, it brought the nation to the brink of default.

As former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards points out, “Leaders of both chambers have embraced the strategy of precluding minority amendments, out of fear that even members of the majority party might vote for them.” This means, Edwards argues, that “to be in the minority is essentially to be made a nonfactor in the legislative process.”

The use of filibusters to block votes in the Senate used to be a last-ditch tactic, but in 2010, Republicans were filibustering even routine Democratic initiatives, effectively paralyzing the Senate. Democrats had previously ramped up the use of filibusters to oppose George W. Bush’s agenda, but Republicans “appeared to be taking the filibuster to a new level,” McClatchy Newspapers reported, even filibustering “nominees to mid-level jobs that formerly got routine approval.” Here is a helpful bar graph from McClatchy showing the trend. (Efforts to overhaul the filibuster earlier this year failed.)

The confirmation process of many of President Obama’s nominees has also lagged, creating gaps in the Treasury and Federal Reserve, leaving regulatory agencies without leaders. It has also resulted in prolonged judicial vacancies, which has sparked criticism from Chief Justice John G. Roberts, who said the delays are impairing the judicial system.

Occupy Ottawa leads peaceful protest against omnibus crime bill

One man was arrested and several others were ticketed on Saturday afternoon at an otherwise peaceful Occupy Ottawa-led protest against the Conservative omnibus crime bill.

The relatively small crowd of 50 protesters gathered on the lawns of Parliament Hill around noon quickly grew to an estimated 200 to 250.

NDP MP Françoise Boivin, along with several speakers, joined the protesters, addressing the crowd on what she saw as problems with Bill C-10, a sweeping overhaul of Canada's justice system.

As the protest was getting underway, before the crowd began marching down Wellington Street towards the Supreme Court of Canada, a commotion erupted as RCMP officers arrived and arrested Ottawa resident Mitch Broughton, one of the protesters.

About eight others were ticketed, witnesses told Postmedia News.

Broughton, a member of the Occupy Ottawa legal team, said he wasn't entirely sure why he was arrested, but that he was told by police that he is "banned from all National Capital Commission and Crown-owned land" after being arrested a few days ago during the dismantling of the Occupy Ottawa movement.

Here's why Stephen Harper visited Science World in Vancouver

Prime Minister Stephen Harper drops by Vancouver every once in while just to show he cares about us. Right?

Well, not exactly. Sometimes, there's a bigger agenda at play.

This prime minister has a problem with well-educated urban voters because his government has consistently demonstrated that it's not interested in what scientists are saying.

Exhibit one: UVic professor Andrew Weaver has pointed out that Harper has muzzled climate scientists.

Exhibit two: Vancouver AIDS expert Julio Montaner has slammed Harper for his refusal to listen to the scientific evidence around containing the spread of HIV. This has been echoed by supporters of the supervised-injection facility known as Insite when Harper has visited Vancouver.

Exhibit three: In the past, B.C. scientists have also condemned comments by Harper's minister of state for science and technology, Gary Goodyear, for refusing to say whether he believes in evolution. Goodyear, a chiropractor, later backtracked from that position.

Exhibit four: The Harper government has consistently escalated its war on drugs, despite what scientists are saying.

Checking in on crime bill impacts

New federal prisoners:
The highly contentious crime bill currently weaving its way through Parliament could see fewer than 100 additional prisoners being sent to federal prisons in its first years.

The cost of enforcing the legislation, according to the government, is $78.6-million over five years.

The average annual cost of maintaining a federal inmate was $162,000 in 2008-09, according to the federal budget officer.

If both costing-estimates are accurate (the government’s figure has been questioned), the federal funds set aside for the enormous and sweeping piece of legislation would only fund 97 federal prisoners in a given year.

That number, of course, decreases when administrative costs of enacting new legislation are taken into consideration.

Putin Receives Formal Presidential Nomination

MOSCOW -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sternly warned the West not to interfere in Russia's elections, as he launched his campaign to reclaim the presidency in a speech Sunday before thousands of flag-waving supporters.

Putin stepped down in 2008 after two presidential terms, but kept his hold on power. He announced in September that he intended to return to the top job next year and was formally nominated Sunday by his United Russia party.

"All our foreign partners need to understand this: Russia is a democratic country, it's a reliable and predictable partner with which they can and must reach agreement, but on which they cannot impose anything from the outside," Putin told his audience.

The party congress, which was televised live, was aimed at boosting support for Putin and his party before parliamentary elections one week away.

Increasingly seen as representing the interests of a corrupt bureaucracy, United Russia has watched its public approval ratings plummet in recent months. The party is still certain to win the Dec. 4 election, but is expected to lose the current two-thirds majority that has allowed it to change the constitution at will.

Tony Clement casts federal deficit reduction plan as way to renew public service

OTTAWA — The federal government is dressing up its deficit-reduction review as an opportunity to transform and “renew” the public service and the way it delivers services to Canadians.

It’s a message that Treasury Board President Tony Clement has been pitching of late while the Privy Council Office is sending similar messages for deputy ministers to bring to their employees as they wait to find out where the axe will fall in the upcoming budget.

“We are in effect, laying the foundation for the public service workforce of the future,” Clement said in a speech last week.

“This is, to me, an opportunity; an opportunity to ensure that what the government is doing is being done as effectively and efficiently as possible. This is also our chance to modernize our government. “

But Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service, said putting the best face on job losses and reduced services won’t change the “doom and gloom” many workers feel before the budget.

Police chiefs call for balance in Conservative crime agenda

OTTAWA -- Canadian police chiefs are calling on the Conservative government to balance its “tough on crime” agenda with new legislation.

“Is there a balance needed? Absolutely,” said Dale McFee, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. “Crime prevention and intervention are equally as important as is the enforcement aspect.”

In an interview with The West Block’s host Tom Clark, McFee said the association “hopes” government comes forward with a supplementary bill to fill those gaps left in Bill C-10, which is poised to pass into law.

“I don’t think you can do one without the other, and I think that’s a message that we really have to start getting collectively together. “

The legislation currently weaving its way through Parliament is a collection of nine bills, with most of the content taken from legislation the Conservatives previously tried to pass during their minority days.

The proposed laws would, among other things, create new offences under the criminal code, introduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offences and toughen the youth justice system.

The legislation has been vastly criticized for focusing on throwing offenders – especially young ones -- into jail rather than taking a rehabilitative approach.

Quebec’s Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said putting young offenders behind bars is nothing more than a short-term solution that ignores the roots and causes of the problem.

Bill C-10 also shifts a lot of the power in decision making out of the hands of judges and into the hands of Crown prosecutors, the vice chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s national criminal justice section told The West Block.

“Defence lawyers across the country are going to be talking to those Crown prosecutors and asking them to, perhaps, drop certain charges and lay new charges – ones that don’t have mandatory minimum penalties,” Eric Gottardi said, explaining how some lawyers will try to skirt the new “harsh” minimums that will soon become law.

Source: Global 

Russia moving from fossil fuel to fostering innovation

MOSCOW—In a muddy stretch of countryside on the outskirts of Moscow, workers are laying the foundations of a revolution the Kremlin hopes will reap huge profits from cutting-edge science and engineering.

They are in the early days of raising a multibillion-dollar bastion in a struggle to liberate an economy partly shackled by remnants of Soviet-era state control, corruption and a dependence on exported oil and natural resources.

It’s called Skolkovo City, a bold effort by Russia’s government to modernize the economy by attracting some of the world’s brightest scientific minds and most inventive high-tech firms to a 21st-century centre of excellence.

President Dmitry Medvedev has invested considerable political capital in the project, which will either be the most visionary enterprise in post-communist Russia or one of the most spectacular busts since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Russia is littered with dozens of dilapidated, Soviet-era “science cities,” known as naukograds, many of which were off-limits to outsiders and often built with forced labour from political prisons. They are rusting reminders that the Kremlin has a poor record when it comes to building a modern economy around science and technology.

Despite change, Russian exodus heats up

MOSCOW—Over a bottle of vodka and a traditional Russian salad of pickles, sausage and potatoes tossed in mayonnaise, a group of friends raised their glasses and wished Igor Irtenyev and his family a happy journey to Israel.

Irtenyev, his wife and daughter insist they will just be away for six months, but the sadness in their eyes said otherwise.

A successful Russian poet, Irtenyev says he can no longer breathe freely in his homeland, because “with each passing year, and even with each passing day, there is less and less oxygen around.”

“I just can’t bear the idea of watching (Vladimir) Putin on television every day for the next 12 years,” the 64-year-old said of the Russian leader who has presided over a relatively stable country, though one awash in corruption and increasing limits on personal freedoms. “I may not live that long. I want out now.”

Irtenyev and his family have joined a new wave of Russian emigration that some here call the “Putin decade exodus.”

Roughly 1.25 million Russians have left the country in the last 10 years, Sergei Stepashin, head of the national Audit Chamber, told the radio station Echo of Moscow. The chamber tracks migration through tax revenues.

Israel's rightist, religious camps mired in identity crisis

The right-wing and the religious camps are making a racket in Israeli politics. These are allegedly the factions that are getting stronger in Israeli society, but they are actually two groups in a deep identity crisis

Do you hear the noise all around? Two major, important political camps are making a racket. The religious camp is becoming more extreme and ultra-Orthodox. The right-wing camp is becoming more extreme and nationalistic, actually prefascist. The two camps are not only similar in their way of thinking. They are also similar in their vacuous emptiness. These are allegedly the factions that are getting stronger in Israeli society. They are actually two groups in a deep identity crisis.

Raise your voice since the arguments are weak, goes the saying - attributed, according to legend, to Benny Marshak of the pre-state Palmach underground (or perhaps it was Moshe Sneh of the pre-state Haganah underground) and the expression hasn't had such resonance in quite some time.

Emptiness has taken hold of the religious world. It has been decades since a major Torah figure or pillar of halakha (Jewish religious law) has arisen there, to say nothing of a moral paragon. Nothing but parched and withered ground. Running rampant and becoming more extreme is their pathetic substitute. Recent religious controversies over issues such as women singing in public, separation of men and women on bus lines and the so-called Jewish Taliban women of the Lev Tahor ultra-Orthodox sect reflect insecurity and a lack of direction. If the religious camp had direction, it would not need such dangerous pranks.