Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Indianapolis Homelessness: Police To Move Homeless For Super Bowl

Indianapolis police plans to clear its streets of homeless people for the Super Bowl, angering advocates who want to see money for the million-dollar event help those without a place to live.

According to WRTV, Indianapolis will step up its efforts to disband the city's unofficial homeless camp and remove panhandlers from the sidewalks. Law enforcement officials say they're not just pushing the homeless out of sight and are trying to find them shelter. But advocates want additional resources for the homeless from the funding the city is allocating for the Super Bowl.

"We've observed that the Super Bowl committees have spent an awful lot of money to do things to make our city attractive," Gilbert Holmes, executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, told the news outlet. "But how much of those resources are being dedicated to help those people who are homeless?"

The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, however, told WTHR that it's concerned about the number of people who will "pose" as homeless once the travelers arrive to the city, up to two to three times as many as usual.

Controversy Over Shale Gas Fracking Galvanizes Communities In The Maritimes

A few kilometres from Ken Summers's home, a stout pipe bristling with rusty valves and thick bolts protrudes from the middle of a cleared field.

Summers says it represents the beginning of a potential environmental nightmare for Nova Scotia.

The device is a wellhead. It sits atop an exploratory natural gas well drilled in 2008 by Elmworth Energy, Canadian subsidiary of Denver-based Triangle Petroleum Corp.

Summers, a carpenter who has lived in Minasville, N.S., for 20 years, says he and his neighbours weren't concerned about the test well until they started learning more about hydraulic fracturing, the extraction process used on at least two of the company's five test wells east of Windsor, N.S.

"The industry does thousands of wells wherever there's a major producing field," Summers says, noting that the wells are now idle. "It would be like living in an industrial zone plopped down in a place that was previously quite rural."

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well bore to fracture the surrounding rock and release the trapped hydrocarbons, usually natural gas, coalbed methane or crude oil.

Critics say the process threatens drinking water supplies by allowing the migration of noxious gases and chemicals into the water table.

OECD Countries With The Widest Gap Between Rich, Poor: 24/7 Wall St.

From 24/7 Wall St.: The widening gap between the rich and poor is not just an American problem. According to a new study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, income inequality in most economically developed countries is the worst it has been in nearly 25 years. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the OECD's report and identified the 10 countries with the worst income inequality.

"In OECD countries today, the average income of the richest 10% of the population is about nine times that of the poorest 10%," the study reports. And in many of these countries, income inequality is increasing as more and more wealth is concentrated in the hands of the rich.

In some countries the gap is even more pronounced. The income of the bottom 10% of earners has actually declined while the income of the top 10% has increased. In Israel, Turkey and the United States, the average income of the top 10% is 14 to one compared to the bottom 10%. In Mexico and Chile, it is an astounding 27 to one.

In many of the countries with the greatest levels of income inequality, there is also very limited public social expenditure. Seven of the 10 countries on this list spend below the OECD average -- as a percentage of GDP -- on social benefits. For example, the share of unemployed who receive benefits in both Chile and Turkey are less than half the OECD average. Mexico has no unemployment insurance at all.

The 10 countries on this list are ranked by their levels of income inequality using the Gini coefficient, where zero represents perfectly equal distribution and one represents maximum inequality. Also included are the change in income inequality from the mid-1980s, employment rates and the change in income for the rich and poor. While inequality has worsened in most countries, the situation has improved in some. Even in these countries, however, inequality remains at historically high levels.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Advanced Leadership Program: School Of Public Service Initiative Under Fire For Pricey Bureaucrat Travel

A director at the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) is slamming the federal government for sending senior bureaucrats on expensive trips so they can receive leadership training.

In a post on his blog and in the National Post, the NCC's Stephen Taylor questions the value of the Advanced Leadership Program run by the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS). The program sends top bureaucrats on trips within Canada and abroad with the aim of "expanding their current worldview," according to the CSPS website.

Taylor provides an extensive list of top bureaucrats who went globetrotting on the public dime. For example, Richard Wex, Assistant Deputy Minister for policing, law enforcement and the interoperability branch went to the U.S. and Brazil for roughly three weeks at a cost of nearly $22,000 and then later in the year spent two weeks in Belgium, Norway and India at a cost of $21,745.32. A more complete list of spending under the Advanced Leadership Program can be seen here.

Tories spent $2.8M to tout action plan

Government won't release info on how successful campaign was

The federal government spent $2.8 million on radio and print advertising last June to inform Canadians about the next phase of its Economic Action Plan. But according to research posted to a government website, only 12 per cent of us could recall any of the ads.

Does that mean the campaign was a failure? It's hard to tell, because the government is refusing to release the benchmarks it uses to assess the effectiveness of its taxpayer-funded advertising.

By policy, government departments must survey Canadians to evaluate the impact of advertising campaigns with media buys of more than $1 million. They must also post reports about all polls they commission on Library and Archives Canada's website within six months of completion.

But those reports no longer include any evaluation of an advertising campaign's success, or even a summary of the poll's findings. Instead, all that's posted are the survey's methodology and dozens of pages of tables recording responses to questions, in microscopic type.

The disappearance of the summary and evaluation material coincides with a move about two years ago by the Privy Council Office (PCO) to take over the analysis of the advertising survey instrument, called the Advertising Campaign Evaluation Tool (ACET).

Tony Clement vows innovative new open government, but critics point to poor record

OTTAWA — New applications for your smart phones, "crowdsourcing" government decisions down to the people and hosting Twitter town halls.

Welcome to Treasury Board president Tony Clement's ambitious new world.

Clement is arguably the top social media guru within the Conservative caucus and is leading Ottawa's new Open Government initiative that he says will disseminate federal information like never before.

It will be a tall order for a government that critics argue is the most secretive in Canadian history. Opposition parties regularly get stonewalled when trying to obtain federal government information and it routinely takes several months for public servants to respond to access-to-information inquiries.

Indeed, the government's own numbers show it has been releasing less information over the past five years and increasingly exempting federal documents from disclosure.

Clement said he hopes to improve both transparency and the government's reputation with a series of new measures meant to increase public dialogue with government and the amount of federal information available to citizens.

Sun Media's inappropriate obsession with Calgary Mayor's religion needs to stop

Demagoguery is not an accusation that stings very much nowadays. Almost anyone can be accused of being a demagogue for saying almost anything, and one's inclination is merely to shrug it off with a snort.

Still, a reasonable person could conclude from the evidence that when Sun Media columnist Ezra Levant wrote his New Year's Eve column about Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, he risked arousing the emotions, passions and prejudices of some of the people of that city, which is a workable definition of demagoguery.

In his column, Levant tendentiously and unsuccessfully tries to build a case that Mayor Nenshi, whom he repeatedly (four times in approximately 650 words) identifies as a Muslim, is guilty of anti-Christian bigotry.

Levant's logic, if I understand it correctly, proceeds from the fact that Nenshi is a Muslim, to the fact that during Nenshi's tenure in office Occupy Calgary protesters were allowed for a time to camp in the nearby Olympic Plaza, to the fact that a group of evangelical Christians were asked not to conduct a public service without permission inside Calgary's Civic Building, and, when they didn't co-operate and move on, their leader was apparently arrested.

Ergo, Levant preposterously concludes, "the Muslim mayor thinks religious tolerance is a one-way street -- a point he made again brutally this Christmas."

BP sues Halliburton over $42 billion oil spill bill

LONDON — BP has called on contractor Halliburton to pay all costs and expenses it incurred to clean up the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which the oil major previously put at around $42 billion.

Halliburton cemented the failed well that caused the United State’s biggest offshore oil spill.

In a U.S. court filing, BP said it was suing to recover costs and expenses from cleaning up the oil spill, lost profits, and “all other costs and damages incurred by BP related to the Deepwater Horizon incident and resulting oil spill.”

It did not specify an amount and it was not clear how the latest suit differed from a previous one brought last year. A BP spokesman declined to put a figure on the costs sought in the latest filing, but said the “documents speak for themselves.”

In April 2011, BP asked a court to award it damages “equal to, or in the alternative proportional to Halliburton’s fault,” to cover clean up costs and government fines BP might faces.

Panetta's Sacred Hippopotamus

It’s too much to expect that, before the 2012 election, there will big cuts to the Department of Defense. The Pentagon’s bloated budget, which has roughly doubled since the late 1990s, not counting the vast sums spent on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, is still a sacred, well, hippopotamus.

But, on the other hand, as I reported in The Nation early last year (“Taking Aim at the Pentagon Budget”), the United States is an empire in decline, and it can no longer afford a military budget equal to the rest of the world combined. As that piece showed, even some traditional conservatives and Tea Party rebels have begun to side with liberal Democrats such as Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) to propose much larger cuts in defense spending than either the Obama administration or Congress as a whole is likely to consider this year.

This week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will announce his plans for military spending going forward to 2020 or so. It won’t be dramatic, but think of it as an opening bid. What the United States spends on defense is heading south, and will continue to do so for a decade or more. Anti-military organizers, peace groups and anyone concerned about reorienting our country’s priorities away from militarism and war ought to be girding for a decade-long battle to maximize cuts. In the 1990s, at the end of the cold war, Pentagon spending fell by about one-third. Of the roughly $6 trillion that the United States is currently projected to spend over the next ten years on war, the Obama administration has already conceded that about $450 billion can be eliminated, and the absurdly named supercommittee’s failure to agree on spending last year supposedly imposes another $500 billion in defense cuts, for a total of nearly a trillion bucks, or one-sixth of future spending. Of course, that’s not enough, though it’s outraged hawks, including some Republican candidates for president, the so-called Iron Triangle in Congress, and a right-wing coalition called Defending Defense, made up of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and Bill Kristol’s Foreign Policy Initiative.

Challenging Putin's Faux Democracy

Vladimir Putin, Russia's dominant political figure for more than a decade, has a distinctive gait. It is a strut, reflecting the cultivated tough-guy persona that has served him well in his years as president and prime minister, giving people the sense that he is in full command. With the perspective of a Moscow correspondent during the Soviet era of the 1970s, I have watched modern Russia, sadly, accepting this bumptious model of authoritarian rule. But lately Putin's demeanor has started to fray, as the generation that has come of age in the years since the implosion of the Soviet Union has shown signs of impatience with his autocratic leadership. From the turn of the millennium, when Putin was effectively anointed by Boris Yeltsin as his successor in the Kremlin, Russia's middle classes seemed to be generally content with what amounted to a "nonparticipation pact" in which they stayed out of politics and the state gave them wide latitude to improve their standard of living, measured in cars, apartments, and travel abroad.

History will likely record that Putin's self-confidence went too far last September 24, when he had Dmitry Medvedev, his nominal stand-in as president since 2008, announce at a convention of their United Russia Party that the top candidate in upcoming elections would again be Putin in a deal they said had been long in the works. The impact of this revelation was profound: it was a declaration of contempt for popular opinion that significantly underestimated how Russians would react. The next step in this clearly orchestrated faux democratic process was the parliamentary balloting on December 4, which was condemned by observers as shamelessly fraudulent yet still cut deeply into United Russia's majority in the Duma. Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, two of Russia's best and most outspoken journalists summarized the reaction of their contemporaries in a commentary they called "Putin's Children: Flying the Nest." Writing on the website Open Democracy after a crowd of about 50,000 filled the streets of Moscow around Bolotnaya Square to protest the elections, Soldatov and Borogan said: "For years, a pact of loyalty in exchange for rubles fostered the growth of a largely apolitical middle class in Russia." But "the middle class has now broken the pact by turning out on to the square and it's obvious that their interest in politics was not only because of the vote rigging at the election." This new generation of Russians, they declared, has joined their counterparts in other countries in adopting social media as a symbol of their place in the hierarchy of the digital age. "The middle class, having switched on to politics, rushed to exchange its views in the social networks. Facebook became much more important than Twitter: these days it's not just a means of mobilization, but also a platform for interaction and a source of news... One thing is clear: the middle classes are calling for new leaders, but for the moment have no candidates to propose. People are outraged by the falsifications at the election but don't know who they would elect or what their political demands are."

Ousting quasi-dictator Harper means putting country ahead of party

As we enter the new year the prospects for defeating the Harper government in 2015 seem uncertain at best. And yet if those who care about the country were musing over a new year's resolution that would be it: a dedication to this single overarching purpose. Even if Stephen Harper is soundly defeated in the next election if will take a decade to reverse the damage he has already done. If he wins a second majority, it will take a generation or more.

There is a deep malaise in Canadian democracy rooted, it seems, in a profound alienation from politics and radically lowered expectations of what is possible from government. Much of this is the result of a deliberate strategy of voter suppression employed by the Conservatives, a strategy of making politics so offensive and good government so unimaginable that millions of people simply tune out as if it has nothing to do with them.

For those who thought that this was a temporary attitude of the Harper anti-government, that there would be more civility with a Conservative majority, the evidence is in: this is a permanent strategy to keep the party in power. It will not diminish with time or with the advance of the Harper agenda. This was never about Harper being frustrated with his minority status. It is about who the man is -- a malignant political rogue, contemptuous of his own country -- and what his agenda has always been: a right-wing libertarian remaking of the nation.

That this is an extraordinary, indeed unprecedented situation facing our democracy can scarcely be doubted and many commentators normally supportive of the status-quo (like Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail) have identified pieces of the picture, denouncing Harper for particular policies, or outrages against democracy and the rule of law. Yet the true magnitude of the crisis we face is rarely declared. Until we begin to see the country -- and talk about it -- as if it has been occupied by a foreign power we will not create the political atmosphere needed to save the nation.

Thousands of North Koreans pledge their loyalty to Kim Jong Un

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA—Pumping their fists and chanting, tens of thousands of North Koreans packed the snowy main square of the capital Tuesday to pledge their loyalty to new leader Kim Jong Un as the campaign to consolidate his power deepened.

State television also aired footage of Kim’s recent visit to an elite tank unit with family and historical ties that showed him interacting with ease with soldiers and carrying out inspections much like his father and grandfather did before him. Soldiers cheered and chanted his name as Kim made an inaugural solo trip to provide “on-the-spot guidance” in the first official documentary of the new leader shown on North Korean TV.

The succession campaign to install the third-generation Kim as leader has hastened since Kim Jong Il died more than two weeks ago. He led the country for 17 years after the death of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

North Korea’s neighbours and the United States are keeping close watch on the younger Kim’s rise amid uncertainty about how the country will manage a change of leadership during a time of sensitive negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program. Pyongyang and Washington had been engaged in discussions about offering food aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament when Kim died on Dec. 17.

Israel is missing another opportunity for peace

Reading through the papers these days gives one a sense of deja vu - as if we are back in 2002 and the Saudi peace initiative is being presented for the first time: All the Arab states are offering Israel full normalization of relations "in the context of peace," in return for an independent Palestinian state in keeping with the 1967 borders and a just solution to the refugee issue.

An amazing historic initiative - and, seemingly, Israel's greatest dream and its perfect triumph. But the Israeli regime doesn't even respond, displaying total disregard as if the initiative never existed.

In 2007, the Saudi initiative was again approved by the Arab League, and still - not a single voice in response. The initiative was even ratified by the Organization of the Islamic Conference; but from Israel - nothing. It doesn't even consider the option of entering into negotiations over it.

The thing is, it is not only the regime that is displaying total disregard. The Israeli media - frighteningly institutionalized as it has always been - also almost completely ignored the Saudi initiative. In fact, the initiative was so ignored that the vast majority of Israeli citizens - yes, all of you - aren't even aware of the existence of the initiative and its historic, revolutionary content. And even those who did notice it thought to themselves: If it is getting overlooked that way, it must be really negligible and it's probably me who misunderstood it.

And now, in real time, it is happening once again: Hamas is suspending its acts of terror, opting for popular resistance, recognizing a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and even joining the Palestine Liberation Organization, the organization empowered to conduct negotiations with Israel. They aren't saying it outright, but joining the PLO also means accepting the agreements signed with Israel; and there is also the recognition of Israel, as well as responsibility and partnership in political decisions.

It’s time to cure the disease of ultra-Orthodox education

Blessed be the yeshiva student who scared the little girl on her way to school. Blessed also be the one who spit at and cursed female passersby. Blessed be the ultra-Orthodox man who called the female soldier a prostitute, and blessed be those who demonstrated in striped prisoners' garb and stuck yellow stars on their clothing.

All this taken together might finally shake up the secular majority and force it into action. All this might make 90 percent of the population understand that there's no point in condemning the spitter or putting the one who cursed on trial. They are merely symptoms of a serious disease, and whoever deals merely with the symptoms is wasting his time and could even make the disease worse.

The disease is ultra-Orthodox education. It's an education that puts young Haredim through a thorough brainwashing, which ends with them believing that democracy is the evil regime, that equal rights for women is totally treif, that freedom and humanism are only good for the goyim, and that studying math, English and history is idolatry. They also learn that to go out and work for a living is a terrible embarrassment, and that to serve in the army is worthy of contempt, suited only to the secular donkey - who is stupid enough to sacrifice his life for the "homeland."

JPMorgan Chase Sued For $95 Million Over Allegedly Misrepresenting Mortgage Loans

JPMorgan Chase & Co has been sued for $95 million by the trustee for securities marketed in 2005 by the former Bear Stearns Cos over alleged misrepresentations regarding the underlying mortgage loans.

US Bank NA wants to force JPMorgan to buy back the mortgage loans because of alleged breaches of representations and warranties regarding the Bear Stearns Asset Backed Securities Trust 2005-4, for which it serves as trustee.

It also said JPMorgan has refused to provide the underlying loan, as the trust documents require, so it can investigate the extent of the alleged breaches.

The unit of US Bancorp said it made its request at the direction of a majority certificate holder in the trust. US Bank also sued Bear Stearns and its former EMC Mortgage Corp unit. JPMorgan bought Bear Stearns in 2008.

Rick Santorum Talks Welfare & Black People

Rick Santorum targeted black people at a campaign stop in Iowa on Sunday, saying he doesn't want to make their lives better by giving them welfare.

According to CBS News, Santorum told a mostly white audience in Sioux City:
"It just keeps expanding - I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the department of public welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don't sign up more people under the Medicaid program," Santorum said. "They're just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That's what the bottom line is."
He added: "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."
"Right," responded one audience member, as another woman can be seen nodding.
"And provide for themselves and their families," Santorum added, to applause. "The best way to do that is to get the manufacturing sector of the economy rolling again."
While his reasoning about entitlement spending is normal by conservative standards, the fact that he singled out black people as the recipients of welfare is sure to raise eyebrows. According to CBS News, only 9 percent of food stamp recipients in Iowa are black.

This was not the first time racial remarks have rocked Santorum's campaign. Over the weekend a 2011 video surfaced showing Santorum criticizing Obama's abortion record on the basis of his race.

"I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say 'now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people,'" Santorum said.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Rick Santorum: States Should Have Power To Ban Birth Control, Sodomy

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, whose strong base of evangelical Christian supporters has thrust him into contention in Iowa, said on Monday that he believes states should have the right to outlaw birth control and sodomy without the interference of the Supreme Court.

In an interview with Jake Tapper on ABC News, Santorum reiterated his opposition to the Supreme Court’s 1965 ruling that prevented Connecticut from banning contraception.

“The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that," he said. "It is not a constitutional right. The state has the right to pass whatever statutes they have. That's the thing I have said about the activism of the Supreme Court--they are creating rights, and it should be left up to the people to decide."

Santorum said he also opposes the Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision striking down a ban on sodomy in Texas and 13 other states. Even though he would not personally vote for a ban on sodomy, he said, he thinks states should legally be able to pass them, because sodomy is not a constitutionally protected right.

"I thought that law was an improper law ... but that doesn't mean the state doesn’t have a right to do that," he said.

Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Problem

Rachel Weinstein calls it her Rosa Parks moment. On a recent morning, the 38-year-old Israeli boarded a bus to a local shopping center in her town. It was the same line she takes regularly, but on this day an ultra-Orthodox passenger directed her to the back of the bus where, she noticed, the women were sitting separately. “He was actually addressing my husband, who boarded with me,” she recounted to Newsweek. “He wouldn’t even talk to me.” Weinstein lives in Beit Shemesh, a town of both religious and nonreligious Jews where the population of ultra-Orthodox—the most theologically rigid of Judaism’s denominations—has surged in recent years.
Instead of complying, Weinstein took a seat several rows behind the driver and held her ground, channeling the spirit of that American civil-rights icon from more than a half century ago. A native of New York City who describes herself as modern Orthodox, Weinstein immigrated to Israel earlier this year to live among “like-minded Jews,” she says, not extremists. When the anger around her felt menacing—one woman charged from the back of the bus to berate her for not showing sufficient respect—Weinstein clutched a ring of keys in her purse and prepared to swing it if things turned violent. After several tense minutes, she got off at her stop and wept.

America's Abusive Debt Collectors

America's overconsumption binge has left consumers with piles of unsettled bills. Meet the debt collectors going to scary lengths to collect.

We all know the drill. Threatening letters that arrive in the mail, a phone that constantly rings.

But Alexis Moore needed a job, and needed one fast “if I didn’t want to end up living on the street,” she says. Moore vividly remembers her first day working as a bill collector. A manager handed her a spiral notebook of “talk-offs”—sample scripts—and then, after a short pep talk about daily quotas, “let us loose,” Moore says. Sixty people sat crammed into a small Sacramento, Calif., office, each working the phone in a cramped cubicle, overseen by a single supervisor who prevented collectors from breaking the rules—or sometimes ensured that they did.

“Every day I was on the job, I was asked to break the law,” says Moore. She primarily called debtors living in California, where strong consumer laws protect people from harassment. Yet when someone would hang up on her, “I would get direct orders to immediately call that person back”—and to keep calling until they talked. Federal law strictly forbids a debt collector from informing a third party—a close friend, a co-worker, even a parent—about a debt, but Moore’s bosses told her to ignore that, too. “When we couldn’t reach someone, we were instructed to contact a neighbor and ask them to pin a note to a person’s front door, saying to call us because they owe us this money,” says Moore. The collectors were even ordered to phone people’s relatives to try to enlist them in the cause. “Those who didn’t like it were told, ‘You’ll do what it takes or you’ll find another job.’?”

Warships will sail despite Iran's threats

WASHINGTON - U.S. warships will continue to sail in the Gulf despite an Iranian warning to stay away, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Pentagon press secretary George Little issued a written statement Tuesday saying that the U.S. Navy presence in the Gulf is in compliance with international law. And he said it is intended to maintain what he called a "constant state of high vigilance" in order to ensure the flow of sea commerce.

Earlier Tuesday, Iran's army chief warned an American aircraft carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf in Tehran's latest tough rhetoric over the strategic waterway, part of a feud with the United States over new sanctions that has sparked a jump in oil prices.

Iran warns U.S. to keep ship out of Gulf

"Iran will not repeat its warning ... the enemy's carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf," army chief Ataollah Salehi told state news agency IRNA.

The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and another vessel exited the Gulf through the Hormuz Strait a week ago, after a visit to Dubai's Jebel Ali port, according to the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.

The maneuver came amid Iran's 10-day naval exercise near the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf, which ended Monday. Iranian officials have said the drill aimed to show that Iran could close the vital oil passage, as it has threatened to do if the United States enacts strong new sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.

The strait, leading into the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea, is the only possible route for tankers transporting crude from the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf to markets. A sixth of the world's oil exports passes through it every day.

Salehi's warning for the U.S. aircraft carrier not to come back seemed aimed at further depicting the strait and the Gulf as under Iran's domination, though there was little way to enforce his warning without military action. The strait is divided between Iran and Oman's territorial waters, and international law requires them to allow free passage through it.

He said Iran's enemies have understood the message of the naval exercises, saying, "We have no plan to begin any irrational act but we are ready against any threat."

Original Article
Source: CBS 

"Pity the Billionaire": Thomas Frank on the "Unlikely Comeback of the Right" Ahead of Iowa Caucus

Bestselling author and Harper’s magazine columnist Thomas Frank argues that as President Barack Obama fails to provide a coherent, progressive economic alternative, the right has staged an unlikely comeback — despite the ongoing fallout from the 2008 financial crisis for which its trademark policies were largely responsible. Frank’s new book is called "Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right." "[Conservatives after 2008] didn’t take the pundit’s advice: they didn’t move to the center, they didn’t moderate themselves. They did the opposite," Frank says. "They purged their moderate wings, moved dramatically to the right with the Tea Party movement and enjoyed this incredible success in the 2010 election." Frank says whether the conservatives will succeed in 2012 is still "anyone’s guess" and says Obama should "start getting some of the rhetoric of the Occupy movement in there. He needs to start talking about the 1 percent. He needs to start talking about what has happened and why over the last 30 years." We also speak with The Nation correspondent John Nichols about the Occupy movement in Iowa.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Ohio Earthquakes Caused By Drilling Wastewater Well, Expert Says

CLEVELAND -- A northeast Ohio well used to dispose of wastewater from oil and gas drilling almost certainly caused a series of 11 minor quakes in the Youngstown area since last spring, a seismologist investigating the quakes said Monday.

Research is continuing on the now-shuttered injection well at Youngstown and seismic activity, but it might take a year for the wastewater-related rumblings in the earth to dissipate, said John Armbruster of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.

Brine wastewater dumped in wells comes from drilling operations, including the so-called fracking process to extract gas from underground shale that has been a source of concern among environmental groups and some property owners. Injection wells have also been suspected in quakes in Ashtabula in far northeast Ohio, and in Arkansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma, Armbruster said.

Thousands of gallons of brine were injected daily into the Youngstown well that opened in 2010 until its owner, Northstar Disposal Services LLC, agreed Friday to stop injecting the waste into the earth as a precaution while authorities assessed any potential links to the quakes.

Did Psychopaths Take Over Wall Street Asylum?: William D. Cohan

It took a relatively obscure former British academic to propagate a theory of the financial crisis that would confirm what many people suspected all along: The “corporate psychopaths” at the helm of our financial institutions are to blame.

Clive R. Boddy, most recently a professor at the Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University, says psychopaths are the 1 percent of “people who, perhaps due to physical factors to do with abnormal brain connectivity and chemistry” lack a “conscience, have few emotions and display an inability to have any feelings, sympathy or empathy for other people.”

As a result, Boddy argues in a recent issue of the Journal of Business Ethics, such people are “extraordinarily cold, much more calculating and ruthless towards others than most people are and therefore a menace to the companies they work for and to society.”

How do people with such obvious personality flaws make it to the top of seemingly successful corporations? Boddy says psychopaths take advantage of the “relative chaotic nature of the modern corporation,” including “rapid change, constant renewal” and high turnover of “key personnel.” Such circumstances allow them to ascend through a combination of “charm” and “charisma,” which makes “their behaviour invisible” and “makes them appear normal and even to be ideal leaders.”

PetroChina takes full control of Alberta oil sands project

China is on the verge of taking complete control over an oil sands asset for the first time.

PetroChina International Investment Co. Ltd. (PTR-N130.786.475.20%), China’s largest state-owned energy firm, is set to buy 40 per cent of the MacKay River project from Calgary’s Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. (ATH-T12.810.322.56%), bringing PetroChina’s stake up to 100 per cent. Athabasca announced the sale Tuesday, and the pair formed a formed a joint venture on the MacKay River and Dover projects last year.

The deal does not need Investment Canada approval.

Asian energy companies and investment firms have been taking cautious steps in Canada, buying minority interests in the oil patch in their effort to convince the public and governments they are responsible corporate citizens. Canadian governments have welcomed these outsiders, but Investment Canada, which can block foreign takeovers or investments, does not have the power to rule on the deal because of the way it is structured.

Investment Canada approved PetroChina and Athabasca’s original joint venture agreement, and that review considered what would happen if PetroChina bought more of the MacKay project.

Iran threatens U.S. navy as sanctions hit economy

TEHRAN—Iran threatened on Tuesday to take action if the U.S. navy moves an aircraft carrier into the Gulf, Tehran’s most aggressive statement yet after weeks of sabre-rattling as new U.S. and EU financial sanctions take a toll on its economy.

The prospect of sanctions targeting the oil sector in a serious way for the first time has hit Iran’s rial currency, which has fallen by 40 per cent against the dollar in the past month.

Queues formed at banks and some currency exchange offices shut their doors as Iranians scrambled to buy dollars to protect their savings from the currency’s fall.

Army chief Ataollah Saleh said the United States had moved an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf from because of Iran’s naval exercises, and Iran would take action if the ship returned.

It did not name the carrier, but the USS John C Stennis leads a task force in the region, and the U.S. navy’s 5th Fleet website pictured it in the Arabian Sea last week.

How SOPA Will Change the Internet

The Stop Online Piracy Act making its way through Congress signifies a sharp and concerning change to American copyright law.

There has been an immense amount of talk lately regarding a bill currently making its way through the U.S. Congress known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). SOPA has been fashioned as an effective response to rampant online piracy of copyrighted content by granting the attorney general broad and sweeping powers to attack infringing websites. The law also gives individual rights-holders a new procedure complete with remedies they’ve never had access to before.

The bill is a companion to the equally controversial Protect IP Act, also being debated in Congress. These two bills signify a sharp change in the American copyright landscape, specifically as it pertains to the Internet.

In addition to granting the attorney general the power to obtain a court order against a site that is either “committing or facilitating online piracy,” the attorney general may also order third-party payment providers, such as Visa or PayPal, and online advertising networks to stop supporting and dealing with a site in question. Many sites that host audio and video content rely on advertizing dollars to function. Simillarly, any site that requires a paid membership would be completely ship-wrecked without online payment solutions such as PayPal or Google Checkout to process those fees.

By noon today, the superrich have made an average worker's yearly salary

The richest of the rich have gained more ground in Canada, and are now making 189 times the average Canadian wage, according to a new report.

The 100 highest paid chief executives whose companies are listed on the S&P/TSX composite index made an average of $8.38-million in 2010, according to figures pulled from circulars by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning think-tank.

That's 189 times higher than the $44,366 an average Canadian made working full time in 2010, the report says.

And it's a 27 per cent raise from the $6.6-million average compensation for the top 100 CEOs in 2009, the report says.

Regular Canadians, on the other hand, have seen their wages stagnate over the past few years. In 2010, after adjusting for inflation, average wages actually fell.

“The gap between Canada's CEO elite 100 and the rest of us is growing at a fast and steady pace, with no signs of letting up,” says economist Hugh Mackenzie, who authored the report.

Canadian special forces and families severed from social support

Canada’s elite troops and their families have faced a “disjointed” level of social support from the military – and in some cases implemented their own programs to cope with the hardship and uncertainty of their lives.

The findings are contained in a survey conducted by the army’s special forces operations regiment, which includes the highly trained JTF-2 counter-terrorism unit.

The survey found some units were “doing their own thing” to provide outreach to families.

“With the stand up [Special Operations Forces] units it has become apparent that there is a requirement to provide support to not only the unit itself but to the families,” says a briefing note prepared for the regiment’s former commander, Major-General Mike Day.

The document, which provides a rare glimpse of the travails of the country’s most exclusive military formation, was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The review was initiated by special forces, but the Director of Military Family Services, which manages and funds social program in the defence community, joined.

Top Canadian CEOs got 27 per cent pay hike

By noon on Tuesday, Jan. 3, the highest-paid chief executives officers in Canada will have earned as much as the average Canadian makes in an entire year, according to a new report.

The top 100 Canadian CEOs were paid an average of $8.4 million in 2010, a 27 per cent increase over the previous year, the report published Tuesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says.

In comparison, the average Canadian earned $44,366 that year, or 1.1 per cent more than in 2009, the report called Canada’s CEO Elite 100 notes.

“The conclusion from these data is inescapable,” says the report written by Hugh MacKenzie, an economist with the Ottawa-based non-profit research organization. “Soaring executive salaries have played a significant role in driving the growth in income inequality in Canada.”

Among the country’s highest paid CEOs, taking the top three spots, were executives at Magna International Inc., including founder Frank Stronach at $61.8 million, co-CEO Donald Walker at $16.7 million and former co-CEO Siegfried Wolf at $16.5 million.

The chief executives of the five biggest banks were among the top earners, with Richard Waugh at Bank of Nova Scotia, leading the pack at $13.7 million. He ranked sixth on the overall list.

France's Islamic Veil Ban: 6 Women Fined Since April

PARIS -- France's interior minister says that since a ban on face-covering Islamic veils took effect in April only six women have been convicted and fined.

Claude Gueant said in an interview with the daily Le Monde published Monday that no woman has been sent to a citizenship class – another potential punishment.

Controversy surrounded the law. Muslim leaders, most of them opposed to burqa-style veils, say the it stigmatizes all followers of Islam.

Gueant says police cited a total of 237 women but only six were convicted. He expressed surprise that nearly a quarter of the women police questioned had converted to Islam.

Backers say the law is aimed at ensuring France's secular values and gender equality and nipping radical Islam in the bud.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

CEO Compensation In Canada Jumped 27 Per Cent In 2010, CCPA Says

As debate about Canada’s rich-poor divide intensifies, a new report highlights the growing income gap between top-paid CEOs and average Canadians.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the 100 highest-earning CEOs on the TSX Index pocketed an average of $8.38 million in 2010 -- a 27 per cent increase over the previous year.

It’s a stark contrast to the annual incomes of average Canadians, whose wages, when adjusted for inflation, have actually been falling. By noon on January 3, the top paid CEOs will have already raked in an average $44,366 -- the amount that it took average workers an entire year to earn.

“There is obviously something very different at play here for CEO compensation compared with the compensation of other Canadians,” says CCPA economist and report author Hugh Mackenzie, noting that the substantial rise in CEO pay came during a period when average wages grew by just two per cent. “That’s a pretty big gulf in just one year.”

Deriding corporate compensation for executives as “a major driver of income inequality in Canada,” the report notes that top-paid CEOs banked 189 times the earnings of average Canadians in 2010, up from 105 in 1998.

Protesters Disrupt Mayor Ford's New Year's Levee

Protesters in Toronto tried to disrupt Mayor Rob Ford's New Year's levee on Monday, with one man detained by police.

Hundreds of people attended the event at City Hall for the chance to meet the mayor for a few moments. Most brought warm wishes for 2012, but some citizens delivered angry tirades.

Activists from a group called Stop the Cuts Toronto launched a helium balloon inside the City Hall lobby, with a few people applauding in response.

Protesters also unfurled a "Stop the cuts" banner near the mayor.

Police and security guards moved some the activists who'd gotten close to the mayor, shoving one against a glass wall before detaining him.

Nobody Understands Debt

In 2011, as in 2010, America was in a technical recovery but continued to suffer from disastrously high unemployment. And through most of 2011, as in 2010, almost all the conversation in Washington was about something else: the allegedly urgent issue of reducing the budget deficit.       

This misplaced focus said a lot about our political culture, in particular about how disconnected Congress is from the suffering of ordinary Americans. But it also revealed something else: when people in D.C. talk about deficits and debt, by and large they have no idea what they’re talking about — and the people who talk the most understand the least.

Perhaps most obviously, the economic “experts” on whom much of Congress relies have been repeatedly, utterly wrong about the short-run effects of budget deficits. People who get their economic analysis from the likes of the Heritage Foundation have been waiting ever since President Obama took office for budget deficits to send interest rates soaring. Any day now!

And while they’ve been waiting, those rates have dropped to historical lows. You might think that this would make politicians question their choice of experts — that is, you might think that if you didn’t know anything about our postmodern, fact-free politics.

Enemy of the State

For the past six months or so, the Republican-primary electorate has had a polite, patient, reliable, steadily employed suitor chatting with Mom and Dad in the parlor, while a series of more exciting but less appropriate rivals have come knocking at the back door. Mitt Romney will probably win in the end, but each of his serially surging competitors enjoys more immediate access to some essential region of the Republican soul. Herman Cain is the tough, no-bullshit businessman, Rick Santorum the devout pro-lifer, Rick Perry the hypermasculine cowboy, Michele Bachmann the evangelical populist, Newt Gingrich the swashbuckling geostrategist.

It seems fitting that the final surge should belong to Ron Paul, who speaks most directly to one of his party’s deepest emotions: hostility to government. At seventy-six, Paul has aged perfectly into his personality. He’s a white-haired, wide-eyed prophet—it’s easy to imagine him in white robes, instead of a business suit—who must rail against the outrages he has witnessed. To a pinched, stressed, war-weary, declinist nation, he offers the clearest program of any of the candidates. Five federal departments gone in Year One. Ten per cent of the federal workforce laid off. Income tax abolished, along with the I.R.S. Regulations and social programs repealed. No more foreign wars; no more foreign aid; not even very much foreign policy.

Iowa's $200-Per-Vote Caucuses Reward Negatives, Nastiness, Narrow Thinking

Des Moines—The Republicans who would be president, the super PACs and the surrogates had already spent more than $12 million on television ads—almost half of them negative—before the final weekend leading up to Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses.

That doesn’t count the thousands of radio ads, mailings, lighted billboards in Des Moines and costs for staff.

Add it all up and there is a good chance that, when all is said and done Tuesday night, the candidates will have spent $200 a vote to influence the roughly 110,000 Iowans who are expected to participate in the GOP caucuses.

And the really unsettling thing is that the caucuses are just for show.

While the results may so damage some candidates that their runs for the presidency will be finished, they will not actually produce any delegates to the Republican National Convention.

That’s because, as the Des Moines Register notes, “Iowa delegates are not bound to vote for a specific candidate at the national convention, and no percentage of delegates is given to any one candidate (on caucus night).” Iowa Republican Party Executive Director Chad Olsen told the paper that the GOP caucus acts more as a “temperature gauge” of how Iowans feel about the candidates, and convention delegates use the results to inform their decision.

Seriously? All this for an glorified straw poll?

French Journalist Killed In Yemen

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A French journalist was found strangled with an electrical wire in his hotel room in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Monday, security officials said.

The dead man was tied to the bed when his body was discovered. The security officials declined to identify him or given any motive for the killing and they spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The hotel, Al-Maali, is near the presidential palace in an area controlled by Yemen's Republican Guard, an elite force commanded by the son of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The guards have been battling renegade troops and armed tribesmen in Sanaa for months as Saleh tries to cling to power in the face of a popular uprising demanding he step down and stand trial.

A hotel worker, who did not want to be named because he feared reprisals, said the victim checked into the hotel about five days ago.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Protesters Occupy The Rose Parade

Perhaps the most anticipated float of the 2012 Rose Parade is an unofficial entrant: a giant "Occupy Octopus" made out of plastic bags. Occupy The Rose Parade protesters plan to march the 70-by-40-feet "float," along with a giant blown-up version of the United State Constitution, at the end of the Rose Parade.

Occupy's "People's Parade" will be marching against corporate personhood and the foreclosure crisis, according to the organizers' site, as well as protesting the influence of corporate money in politics.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at Singer Park in Pasadena hours before the Rose Parade to practice holding their floats and making more hand-held signs. By 8 a.m. PST, there were about 400 people, making signs and munching on snacks before the march.

Rose Parade bystanders gave a mixed response to the marchers as they made their way to the starting line of the parade. One man, who declined to give his name, told the Huffington Post, "I agree with some Occupy beliefs, but do not think this is the right place to do it." Others with him also agreed that the Rose Parade wasn't the appropriate venue for a protest.

Electro-Motive Locks Out 420 CAW Union Members At London, Ontario Plant

LONDON, Ont. - Locomotive maker Electro-Motive began the new year by locking out CAW members at its plant in London, Ont.

Contract talks collapsed last week after the company issued a final offer that would cut the wages of union members in half, eliminate pensions and gut other benefits.

The previous contract for the more than 420 CAW members expired at the start of 2012, and the union set up picket lines at the plant Sunday evening.

Electro-Motive is owned by heavy equipment giant Caterpillar through its Progress Rail subsidiary. Caterpillar has a long history of playing hard ball with unions.

CAW president Ken Lewenza issued a statement blaming corporate greed for the lockout, calling it a serious attack on working people, their families and the greater London area.

"Caterpillar may be one of the richest corporations to ask for the deepest of cuts," he said.

Progress Rail, which also produces diesel-electric locomotives, opened a plant in Muncie, Ind., in October, leading to speculation it intends to relocate the London operation there to benefit from Washington's Buy American policies.

Gatineau Mosque Target Of Vandalism

Representatives of a Gatineau, Que., mosque say they are concerned about vandalism after someone tried to set fire to two cars in their parking lot early Monday morning.

Sometime between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. a person attempted to set fire to two cars parked at the mosque but was unsuccessful, according to Amadou Thiam, the secretary general for the Outaouais Islamic Centre.

On Monday morning the cars were still in the parking lot, their front and side windows smashed. One car had a wad of paper stuffed into its front gas tank.

Two windows at the mosque itself were also broken.

Thiam said it was the second time in the last month and the third time in the last four months the mosque has been a target of vandals.

Security camera footage of the parking lot has been turned over to Gatineau police, Thiam said.

While Gatineau police would not comment on Monday, they did acknowledge that there were a number of open investigations related to complaints of vandalism at the mosque.

Protesters disrupt Mayor Ford's New Year's levee

Protesters in Toronto tried to disrupt Mayor Rob Ford's New Year's levee on Monday, with one man detained by police.

Hundreds of people attended the event at City Hall for the chance to meet the mayor for a few moments. Most brought warm wishes for 2012, but some citizens delivered angry tirades.

Activists from a group called Stop the Cuts Toronto launched a helium balloon inside the City Hall lobby, with a few people applauding in response.

Protesters also unfurled a "Stop the cuts" banner near the mayor.

Police and security guards moved some the activists who'd gotten close to the mayor, shoving one against a glass wall before detaining him.

The protesters said they were there to tell Ford that any cuts to city services aren't welcome and that they'll be making their voices heard on Jan. 17, the first day of debate during council's final budget process.