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.]

Thursday, February 09, 2012

U.S. Marines Pose With Symbol Resembling Nazi Logo In Afghanistan

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Marine Corps scout sniper team in Afghanistan posed for a photograph in front of a flag with a logo resembling that of the notorious Nazi SS, a military official said Thursday.

Use of the SS symbol is not acceptable, and the Marine Corps has addressed the issue, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stewart Upton said in a statement. However, he did not specify what action was taken.

It's the second time this year the Marine Corps has had to do damage control for actions of its troops.

The Marine Corps is currently investigating a group of Marines recorded on video urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters. Those Marines were based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

The picture resembling the SS symbol was taken in September 2010 in Sangin province, Afghanistan. Upton said the Marines in the photograph on an Internet blog are no longer with the unit they were assigned to at the time.

The image shows a flag containing what appear to be the letters "SS" in the shape of jagged lightning bolts.

Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant Wins First Reactor Construction Permit In A Generation

WASHINGTON -- Federal safety officials voted 4-to-1 to approve the first nuclear reactor construction permit in almost 35 years, overriding U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko.

The commission's vote on Thursday will allow Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power to expand operations at its plant in eastern Georgia, paving the way for the construction of two new nuclear power reactors at its Vogtle site. The last such project to be approved was in 1978.

Chairman Jaczko in his dissenting vote cited concerns stemming from Fukushima, underscoring long-standing tensions on the commission over the regulatory response to Japan's 2011 nuclear power disaster.

"I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened," Jaczko said after the vote at the commission's headquarters in Rockville, Md. Jaczko had requested a binding commitment that the Fukushima enhancements currently planned would be enacted before the facility begins operations. Southern Company refused to meet this stipulation.

In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Tom Fanning, CEO of Southern Company, sought to minimize any differences with the chairman, promising "anything we learn from Fukushima we will bring to bear."

Canada Jobs And Labour: 5 Signs Workers Are In For A Rough 2012

If there is any doubt that Canadian workers are in for a tough year, consider the cluster of gloomy developments that have taken shape in recent days.

Though Canada’s job market emerged from the recession in a position of relative strength, Statistics Canada reported on Friday that job growth in January left much to be desired, with the economy adding just 2,300 jobs, a far cry from the 24,000 jobs analysts were expecting.

“This is a weak performance over the past six months,” says Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets, who notes that the rate of job growth hasn’t been this slow outside of a downturn since the 1970s.

Meanwhile, Illinois-based heavy equipment manufacturing giant Caterpillar ended a bitter lockout at its Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ont., with an announcement that it will be shifting operations to its other facilities in North and South America, adding 700 skilled workers and managers to the city’s already lengthy unemployment rolls.

And in Toronto, where Mayor Rob Ford has made it his prerogative to “stop the gravy train” of presumably wasteful public spending, negotiations with the city’s outdoor workers stretched past the deadline set by negotiators. The deal reached well into the eleventh hour is said to have come at the expense of union concessions.

None of which has done much to inspire confidence among workers. Far from isolated incidents, experts say these occurrences reflect deeper labour market trends that are increasingly tipping the balance away from employees, and ratcheting up labour unrest.

“We’re seeing more and more evidence of very aggressive, take it or leave it approaches by employers,” says Charlotte Yates, dean of social sciences at McMaster University. “It’s ironic that we call it labour unrest instead of employer unrest, since the employers are the ones who are really being aggressive.”

Original Article
Source: Huff 
Author: Rachel Mendleson 

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews Outlines Plan To Combat Attacks

OTTAWA - Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has spelled out Canada's counter-terrorism strategy for foiling everything from Islamic terrorist threats to "lone wolf" attackers.

The strategy outlines plans to prevent, detect, deny and respond to both domestic and international threats.

"The reality is that no government can guarantee it will be able to prevent all terrorist attacks all the time. Nevertheless, Canada is committed to taking all reasonable measures to address terrorism in its many forms," said Toews.

He stressed the success of the new strategy is dependent on local governments, communities and individuals working together.

"For the first time this strategy enshrines Canada's existing approach to counterterrorism and it describes our nation's various counterterrorism programs and activities, many of which have existed for a long time."

The best policy is to prevent individuals from vulnerable communities falling victim to terrorist ideologies, he said.

"Terrorism is not specific to any one religion, community or ethnic group," Toews said.
"Preventing terrorism ideology from taking hold of vulnerable individuals is the best scenario."

Toews said one of the most difficult aspects of preventing terrorism is measuring its effectiveness, since success means that nothing happens —meaning there is no explosion or deadly rampage.

"In an era of global fiscal uncertainty, we need to know that we are directing our efforts and resources toward programs that are having a positive impact on our world."

Original Article
Source: Huff 
Author: canadian press 

Chinese ‘frustrated’ by Northern Gateway regulatory delays

Chinese oil executives are growing frustrated with regulatory delays in plans for the Northern Gateway pipeline, even as interest in Canadian oil and gas surges in the energy-hungry country, the head of Enbridge Inc. (ENB-T39.130.040.10%) says.

Enbridge chief executive officer Pat Daniel said despite keen interest here in Canadian oil and gas reserves, this seemingly made-in-heaven match is threatened by delays in the company’s efforts to establish a $5.5-billion, 1,177-kilometre pipeline to carry bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to a deep sea port at Kitimat, B.C., for shipping to Asian markets.

“They’re frustrated, as we are, in the length of time it takes,” Mr. Daniel said in an interview on the sidelines of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s mission to China. “They’re very anxious to diversify their supply, they’re very dependent on the Middle East for crude.

“[Canada] seems like the perfect match that should last a long time, but if you don’t move it along, people do lose interest. We don’t have forever,” he continued. “The fundamentals in the business can change and you must take advantage of opportunities if and when they present themselves.”

Mr. Daniel said they hope to have approvals completed within two years and construction in three, so that oil can begin flowing by late 2016 or early 2017, despite heavy opposition from environmental groups and first nations who fear the impact of an oil spill on some of Canada’s most untouched wilderness and coastline.

The 65-year-old executive joined Mr. Harper on a trade mission that is the nearest the Prime Minister has come to resuming the Chrétien-era Team Canada-style missions, with five cabinet ministers and three dozen industry leaders.

Greek Leaders Agree On Austerity Measures To Satisfy Lenders

Greek political leaders have reached a deal on austerity measures that satisfy European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders, according to The Financial Times.

The AP is also reporting that the Greek Prime Minister's office is saying that the coalition parties struck a deal with new cuts.

The agreement would allow Greece to get a 130 billion euro ($172 billion) bailout, staving off default.

Here is the full report from Reuters:

Greek leaders clinched a long-stalled deal on reforms and austerity measures needed to secure a bailout and avoid a messy default, government sources said, hours before the country's financial backers were to meet in Brussels on Thursday.

Athens' partners in the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have been exasperated by a lack of agreement on the sacrifices they demanded in return for a 130 billion euro ($172 billion) bailout, with time running out for Greece before a major March 20 bond redemption.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos set off for Brussels without a complete deal after all-night talks with leaders of the three Greek coalition parties and chief EU and IMF inspectors left one sensitive issue - pension cuts - unresolved.

But following further negotiation on Thursday, two government sources said an overall agreement had been reached.

Mortgage Settlement Leaves Some Foreclosure Victims Wanting

On September 25, 2010, Monica and Ricardo Zapata should have been out celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary, or enjoying a candlelight dinner inside their five-bedroom home 30 minutes inland from West Palm Beach, Fla.

Instead, the couple packed and left their dream house behind. After two failed attempts at a mortgage modification and what the Zapatas describe as a suspiciously timed foreclosure sale, the bank managing their loan ordered the couple and their two children out. That day, the Zapatas lost more than $100,000 in mortgage payments. In the months that led up to the foreclosure and those that followed, they also racked up thousands of dollars in stress-related medical bills and family loans. Ally Financial, whose predecessor, GMAC, handled the Zapatas' mortgage, declined to comment on the details of the Zapatas' claims.

Now, under the terms of a government settlement with Ally and four other companies that allegedly mismanaged millions of loans and introduced fraud to the foreclosure process, nearly 2 million homeowners are slated to receive a negotiated measure of justice. About 1 million homeowners who owe their banks more than their homes are worth will be eligible for a principle balance or interest rate reduction, making it less likely that these people will default. Another 775,000 borrowers who lost their homes between 2008 and 2011 will be eligible for a one-time payment of up to $2,000.

Borrowers will not release any claims in exchange for a payment. And $3.5 billion will go to state and federal governments to be used to repay public funds lost as a result of mortgage servicer misconduct and to fund housing counselors, legal aid and other similar public programs determined by the state attorneys general.

If Not Orwell, Then Huxley: The Battle for Control of the Internet


On Super Bowl Sunday, January 22, 1984, Apple ran one of the most famous TV advertisements of all time. It opened with a gray theater full of people with shaved heads, wearing gray jumpsuits, staring expressionlessly at a large screen. From the screen, an Orwellian "Big Brother" intoned, "We are one people, one whim, one resolve, one course. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we shall bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail." As he spoke, an athletic young blonde woman in a blinding-white tank top and bright orange running shorts ran into the theater and down the center aisle, carrying a sledgehammer. She threw it at the screen, and the screen exploded. An off-camera voice declared, "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984." Today, more than two decades later, the message remains tremendously powerful: innovative technology in the hands of brave people can free us all from tyranny. Apple updated the commercial for its January 2004 MacWorld Expo, adding an iPod and earbuds to the outfit of the sledgehammer-wielding athlete.

The following month, a Tunisian lawyer and human rights activist named Riadh Guerfali, known publicly before his country's 2011 revolution only by his pseudonym, Astrubal, uploaded a mash-up of the ad onto the video-sharing platform Dailymotion. He replaced the onscreen Big Brother with video of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. After the athlete sledgehammers the screen, the screen goes white and the video cuts to a Tunisian girl with her eyes shut. She opens her eyes, as if waking from a bad dream. The video ends. Guerfali's video was part of a broader digital activism campaign that he and a group of Tunisian activists launched in 2002, before YouTube was invented and before Facebook and Twitter were even twinkles in their creators' eyes. Their strategy was to counter the constant stream of government propaganda with clever antigovernment "propaganda" of their own.

Marco Rubio's Plan Could Cut Off Birth Control Coverage for Millions

A new bill introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a rising conservative star and leading contender for the Republican vice-presidential nomination in 2012, could cut off birth control coverage for millions of women who receive it through their health plans.

Rubio has sold his proposal—introduced Jan. 31 as the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," or S. 2043—as a way to counter President Barack Obama's controversial rule requiring even religiously affiliated schools and universities to offer copay-free birth control to their employees. But health care experts say that its implications could be far broader.

If passed, the bill would allow any institution or corporation to cut off birth control coverage simply by citing religious grounds. (You can read the bill here or in the DocumentCloud embed below.) It has 26 cosponsors in the Senate; a similar proposal sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has 148 cosponsors in the House. On Wednesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowed to repeal Obama's rule, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointed to Rubio's bill as a potential model for doing so.

In English, this means that no entity has to cover birth control in a health plan if it can point to a religious reason for not doing so. And the entity itself is not required to have any religious affiliation. It could just be a plain old corporation. That means that if the middle-aged white guy who runs your company is religiously opposed to birth control, he can have it stripped out of your insurance plan—even if his Viagra is still covered. You could wake up the next morning and find you're paying full price for drugs that you once got for free or at much-reduced prices.

The Republican War on Contraception

Last year was not a great one for abortion rights. First, congressional Republicans attempted to deny statutory rape victims access to Medicaid-funded abortions (twice). Then GOP-dominated state legislatures pushed record numbers of laws limiting abortion rights, including proposals that could have treated killing abortion providers as "justifiable homicide."

Yet in the past six months, social conservatives have widened their offensive, and their new target is clear: Not satisfied with making it harder to obtain legal abortions, they want to limit access to birth control, too.

"Contraception is under attack in a way it really wasn't in the past few years," says Judy Waxman, the vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center. "In 2004, we could not find any group—the National Right to Life Committee, the Bush campaign, anyone—that would go on the record to say they're opposed to birth control," adds Elizabeth Shipp, the political director for NARAL Pro-Choice America. "We couldn't find them in 2006 either, and in 2008 it was just fringe groups. In 2010, 2011, and this year, it's just exploded."

Enbridge won’t offer natives better terms

Canada’s Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO) will not offer better financial terms to aboriginal bands standing in the way of a major oil pipeline from energy-rich Alberta to the Pacific Coast, the firm’s chief executive officer said on Thursday.

Pat Daniel also told Reuters that while he was prepared to look at alternate routes for the Northern Gateway pipeline — which is crucial to Canadian plans to export oil to China — he felt the current routing plan was the best.

The $5.5 billion Northern Gateway would run 1,177 km from oil-rich Alberta across the Rocky Mountains to Kitimat on British Columbia’s Pacific Coast. At Kitimat, the oil would be loaded on supertankers and shipped to the Pacific.

Canada’s Conservative government strongly backs the pipeline, which it says would help diversify exports away from the dominant U.S. market. But greens and some aboriginal bands oppose the pipeline on the grounds that a spill either on land or at sea would be disastrous.

Enbridge says it will give aboriginal bands 10 percent of equity in the project and $1 billion of community development money in exchange for support. It says this would help provide much-needed jobs in often remote and impoverished communities.

The firm was embarrassed last month when its sole public deal with a native group along the route of the proposed pipeline collapsed. The failure prompted some industry observers to predict Enbridge might have to sweeten its offer.

War is the capital punishment of foreign policy

Accordingly, the evidence for engaging in it must be clear and compelling. In his most recent public musings on Iran, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was neither. Nor was he convincing in his claim that he was not preparing Canadians for another military adventure.

Instead, the prime minister chose to ramp up the fear and loathing of Iran, an approach that blows up any constructive diplomatic role that Canada might have played in averting a war in the Middle East that could come as early as this spring.

Building on his personal view that the government of Iran is lying about its nuclear program, an opinion offered without any proof, the prime minister said this in an interview with the National Post:

“I don’t think there’s much debate today among informed people about Iran’s intentions and Iran’s systematic progress toward attaining nuclear weapons.”

Here are some different opinions. James R. Clapper is the U.S. Director of National Intelligence who reports on worldwide global threats to the American government. His report represents the consensus opinion of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. In his most recent report, delivered to the U.S. Senate on January 31st, 2012 this is what he said: “We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons if they choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to do so…We judge Iran’s nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach which offers the international community opportunities to influence Iran.”

A maple leaf to $ 25 000

Ottawa - While the Conservative government is preparing to reduce state spending by 10%, the federal Department of Public Works has spent $ 25 000 to install a Canadian flag on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, told The Duty. The catch? There were already four others located nearby, including one about 100 meters.

Public Works has installed over the last days of a mast 15 meters next to the West Block, one of three buildings comprising the architectural complex of the Hill. The West Block is being renovated for the next six years or so, it was no longer possible to make the maple leaf floating on top of one of its towers.

"The mast in question measures 15.25 meters and meets the standards for ceremonial Parliament Hill, the Department wrote in its response. The mast will be in place for about six years and the flag of the West Block will return to the original mast once construction is complete. "

This temporary mast, brushed aluminum finish, a cost of $ 14 000. Installation, it has led to spending $ 11 000. This includes the erection of a barrier to protect a possible collision with vehicles traveling at that location. For the West Block has been closed for the duration of the renovations, the mast has been installed outside the perimeter, on the road alongside the building. Workers have installed the fence yesterday afternoon.

Non-partisan report contradicts Harper on pensions

The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) does not use dramatic language. It takes the "just-the-facts-m'am" approach.

And so, when the PBO decided to issue a report on pensions, it called it, blandly: "Federal Fiscal Sustainability and Elderly Benefits."

This report, just out, is part of a series of "fiscal sustainability reports" that the PBO has been issuing for the past two years and intends to continue issuing.

The PBO reports to parliament, and not the government.

Its role is to provide independent, non-partisan analysis. The purpose of the PBO's sustainability reports is to assure that Canada can afford to pay for programs to which it is committed, in the short, medium and long term.

And so, when the PBO decided to take on the question of pensions and other elder benefits is did so without a dog in the race. Its interest is in whether or not these benefits are affordable.

The PBO does not recommend political choices. That is up to the elected representatives.

The PBO's newest report states, in essence, that the OAS and GIS are sustainable in the long term, even if we assume what it calls a "modest enrichment" of the benefits, that is, increases greater than inflation.

An Ethical Minefield

It is easy to be critical of the destructive elements of mining. What's more difficult is confronting the necessary and complex role minerals play in all of our lives.

Five years ago, I was sitting in a sidewalk pub in Entebbe, Uganda, when a Zimbabwean refugee told me that Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, was preparing to nationalize his country’s mines. At the time, few people working in foreign aid and international development were concentrating on mining and minerals – one had to rely on gossip collected in the street.

Now, hardly a week passes without a front-page exposé covering the mining beat. Whether stories linking small-scale gold mining to the financing of guerrilla activities in Colombia, or revelations that Mugabe pilfers the nationalized mines for personal profit, scandal, corruption, and the devastating human and environmental impacts of extraction are the favoured themes of this new literature.

For many people, realizing the prevalence of mining provokes alarm and a certain voyeuristic fascination. Network journalists relish demonstrating their exploratory prowess by visiting remote peasant miners in Africa, while concerned humanitarians gasp at the harm spread by mining companies. It’s as if the world is just discovering that mining is happening, and shocked that its outcomes are not always peaceful.

Harper in China: Beyond the sea of troubles

The old-timers in the press gallery know how to defuse an announcement like this. We dust a toolkit from the early Chrétien days off. A Canadian prime minister shows up in a fancy Beijing ballroom with a bunch of business executives wielding Montblanc pens. A big number is being tossed around — say, “$3 billion.” But if we subtract the deals that would have happened anyway, and then subtract the deals that aren’t really deals — then we can wear that number down to some innocuous nub.

But while individual elements of Stephen Harper’s signing ceremony Thursday night in a fancy Beijing ballroom may not pan out, at some point the weight of evidence starts to suggest something real is going on. The evidence at hand comes, not just from Canadian sources, but from Chinese.

The first source of the morning was the semi-official English-language China Daily, which reserves real excitement for vice-premier Xi Jingping’s upcoming trip to the United States but which has been respectful, and a little more than that, toward Stephen Harper all week.

Later in the day came Harper’s bilateral meeting with Hu Jintao. Here, no trace of scolding for time spent posturing in the early years of Harper’s term as prime minister. Now, Hu said, “Mr. Prime Minister, you put a lot of value on Canada’s relationship with China and are strongly committed to promoting the practical cooperation between our two countries. I appreciate your efforts.” Translation: You’re out of the doghouse. Come here, ya big lug.

Controversial glacier project in Jasper National Park wins approval

A controversial glacier-walk project in Alberta's Jasper National Park has been given a green light.

Environment Minister Peter Kent announced the approval for the Glacier Discovery Walk in Ottawa on Thursday.

Brewster Travel Canada plans to build a multimillion-dollar interpretive boardwalk and a glass-bottomed observation point 30 metres over the Sunwapta Valley on the Icefields Parkway north of Banff.

The minister said the project will be built largely on an existing parking lot and won't disrupt the local ecology.

He said Parks Canada will monitor the project for any environmental problems.

“The government of Canada's determination was made following a robust and inclusive review process, which included open houses, extensive consultation with the public and aboriginal stakeholders and careful consideration of public comments under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act,” Mr. Kent told a news conference.

Opponents raised a number of environmental concerns, but Kent said he isn't worried about ecological fallout.

“As a world leader in conservation, Parks Canada would not approve this project if there were environmental concerns that could not be addressed,” he said.

Mr. Kent predicted the project will eventually become an iconic tourism destination.

Brewster president Michael Hannan said his company has an impeccable environmental record and more than a century of experience.

“Brewster Travel Canada has been guiding and interpreting the mountain national parks to Canadians for over 120 years and over that time we've built a solid reputation for providing meaningful, world-renowned, Canadian national park experiences,” he said.

Hannan said the sweeping, 400-metre boardwalk and observation platform is an award-winning designed that will give visitors a unique experience.

Original Article
Source: Globe 
Author: The Canadian Press 

Harper in China: Pandas and more trade agreements

BEIJING — The pandas are coming. It’s there in black and white.

Calgary and Toronto will host a panda pair for a decade, a deal which could cost about $1 million a year. The cost hasn’t been announced. Nor has the date.

But the news is finally official.

At the end of two days of meetings that Canadian officials are beaming about, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Chinese government announced another package of 21 commercial agreements worth about $3 billion.

One of those, a key goal of the Canada-China Business Council, was to agree to export more Canadian uranium to China, a market where Canada has lost ground to Australia.

But the trophy in the eyes of Canadian zoo-goers, kids, merchandisers and in the view of the Chinese practice of “panda diplomacy” was in paragraph 17 of a joint statement.

Air Canada pilots call strike vote

Frustrated by what it calls Air Canada’s demands for concessions that could lead to significant outsourcing of work, the pilots’ union has called a strike vote.

The move comes as a last resort since the Air Canada Pilots Association has repeatedly insisted for months it does not want a strike, even though it can legally do so at 12:01 a.m. next Tuesday if it gets a mandate from its members.

“The corporation has tabled a position that asks for more concessions and threatens our entire careers through scope changes that would ship much of our flying outside Air Canada, possibly offshore,” writes master executive council chair Gary Tarves in an internal newsletter to pilots.

In a conference call with analysts, Air Canada’s president and CEO Calin Rovinescu said the company is prepared to negotiate beyond the deadline.

This week, the union has been holding briefings with its 3,000 members across the country, with the final one wrapping up in Winnipeg on Thursday morning.

Also Thursday, Air Canada reported its fourth-quarter earnings, which were disappointing, with an operating loss of $98 million, blamed on high fuel costs and maintenance expenses.

Ex-Fannie Mae Employee: Executives 'Philosophically Opposed' To Loan Forgiveness

Fannie Mae executives are refusing to forgive part of homeowners' mortgage debt because they are "philosophically opposed" to the idea, according to an account of a former Fannie Mae employee cited in a letter sent Wednesday by members of the House Oversight Committee.

The head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, previously has said that concerns about losing taxpayer money had kept the two mortgage giants from reducing the principal on struggling borrowers' loans. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have cost taxpayers about $169 billion since their government takeover in 2008.

Congressmen Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.), members of the House's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote the FHFA's acting director, Edward DeMarco, on Wednesday saying he had omitted critical details in a Jan. 20 letter that claimed a desire to minimize taxpayer losses was why his agency was reluctant to press Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to offer reductions in principal to underwater homeowners.

According to the Cummings-Tierney letter, a former Fannie Mae employee approached the House Oversight Committee to reveal that Fannie Mae had planned a pilot program to offer principal reductions but that Fannie Mae senior executives had nixed it in mid-2010 since they were "philosophically opposed to writing down principal balances," as that ex-employee put it. Although the Federal Housing Finance Agency was aware of the pilot program, DeMarco failed to mention it in his Jan. 20 letter, Cummings and Tierney wrote. This account is similar to what a former Fannie Mae staffer told The Huffington Post last fall.

Sheldon Adelson Probe: Donations From Casino Owner Could Embarrass Republican Candidates

SAN FRANCISCO/MACAU, China, Feb 8 (Reuters) - It's never good for the candidate when a big donor runs afoul of the law - as President Barack Obama learned this week: his campaign returned large donations from Chicago's Cardona brothers after it was reported that a third brother is a fugitive from U.S. drug and fraud charges.

Some Republican candidates for president could find themselves similarly embarrassed if criminal investigations against casino mogul Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act come to fruition before November.

Probes by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission focus on the casino company's operations in Macau, the world's biggest gambling hub, court documents show. A former executive in Adelson's empire, whose allegations are believed to be central to the probe, cites potential illegal dealings with a public official, as well as a tie to an organized crime figure. (That link was first reported by Reuters in a 2010 special report: High-rollers, triads and a Las Vegas giant -

Adelson and his wife single-handedly propped up Newt Gingrich's campaign with $10 million Super PAC donations in January, and Adelson recently signalled he would write big checks to Mitt Romney, too, if he wins the nomination.

Ignore the soporific jargon. Privatisation is a race to the bottom

The danger is not when a politician tells you a demonstrable untruth, straight to your face – perhaps an MP might say out loud that there is no shortage of jobs, or the prime minister might claim an increase in midwife numbers, having failed to mention the very much greater increase in the number of babies (I know! So unhelpful, but nevertheless, nice and transparent). I don't mind any of that; I think it hurts them more than it hurts us.

What I mind more is a large, unverifiable statement, then some statistics that don't immediately knit into it. There's no better illustration of this than the persistent coalition line that, as the public sector is pruned back, the private sector will spring up in its place, providing jobs as the result of its suddenly unstrangled growth. I could only ever see this as a post hoc explanation for a boom gone by; it never seemed like a trajectory one could actually rely upon and plan around. It's a gardening metaphor, for one thing; they never work, not even in gardening.

However, the confidence of the Treasury remained undimmed, and every quarter in which growth was not suddenly stimulated by the dwindling public sector was blamed on factors beyond a government's control – we're all pretty well familiar with them now: it's either too cold or too hot or there's a royal wedding or it's eurogeddon.

But last October, Frank Dobson put an innocent sounding question to the chancellor of the exchequer: "What proportion of the increase in private sector jobs was represented by the contracting out of former public sector jobs?" This was salient for a number of reasons: for a start, that month followed one of the worst quarters on record for new private sector jobs, with just 5,000 posts filled between June and September 2011. From an economist's perspective, that is as good as standing still.

The Meaning of Rick: Santorum Could Be for Real

Aaghh! Santorum! Not Santorum!! Surely not Santorum!!!

From Cambridge to Brooklyn, from Georgetown to Hyde Park, from West L.A. to pretty much the entire Bay Area, you could almost hear the howls of anguish this morning. They even reached across the Pacific. “SANTORUM? Oh, America, how you disappoint me,” Jeremy Tian, a writer and actor from Singapore, tweeted in response to my earlier post.

Ladies and gentlemen, I feel your pain. Ever since Santorum was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1994, I have regarded him as a particularly off-putting character. But the strength of the feelings that Santorum evokes pretty much explains why the former Pennsylvania senator, even at this late stage, could put a serious fright into Mitt Romney, and, just conceivably, could take him down.

To educated liberals of almost any description, Santorum is an abomination. It’s not just that he’s a pro-life, anti-gay, anti-contraception Roman Catholic of the most retrogressive and diehard Opus Dei variety. It’s his entire persona. With his seven kids, his Jaycee fashion code, his nineteen-seventies colonial MacMansion in northern Virginia, his irony bypass, he seems to delight in outraging self-styled urban sophisticates: the sort of folks who buy organic milk, watch The Daily Show, and read the New York Times (and The New Yorker, of course).

But it’s precisely his in-your-face, street-corner conservatism that makes Santorum potentially a strong candidate.

Here Comes the Culture War!

Somewhere between the New Hampshire primary in 1992 and the release of “The War Room,” James Carville became the Descartes of modern electoral warfare, as “it’s the economy, stupid” became the cogito ergo sum of political knowingness. Inside the Obama White House, it is a given that foreign-policy successes—from the elimination of Osama bin Laden to the withdrawals from Iraq and (soon) Afghanistan—will matter hardly at all in November. The election, the President and his aides acknowledge, will rest almost entirely on the economy—unemployment figures, the state of foreclosures, debates over bailouts, banks, deficits, taxes, income disparities, and, yes, “class warfare.”

Well, perhaps. In recent weeks, the Republican candidates, cognoscenti, and congressional leadership have all made it increasingly plain that the culture wars have not been relegated to the days of the Reverends Falwell and Robertson. Mitt Romney is tweeting furiously about the Administration’s “attacks on religious liberty.” Speaker John Boehner said on the floor of the House that Obama is forcing Catholic hospitals and charities to “provide services they believe are immoral”—i.e., an “attack on religious freedom.” Rick Santorum called Obama “hostile to people of faith, particularly Christians, and specifically Catholics.” Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote in the Washington Post that “radicalism and maliciousness” has led the Administration to issue an “edict delivered with a sneer.” Gerson concluded, “The war on religion is now formally declared.”

Newt Gingrich Patron Sheldon Adelson Makes $3.3 Million An Hour

WASHINGTON -- Republican donor Sheldon Adelson needed just a few hours to earn enough money to dramatically alter the course of the Republican presidential election, a powerful example of the asymmetry between the cost of campaigns and the wealth of the richest of the rich.

Casino mogul Adelson, one of the richest men in the world, threw the race into chaos by injecting $5 million into a super PAC backing Newt Gingrich. Mitt Romney appeared to have clinched a cakewalk to the GOP nomination with a strong finish in the Iowa caucuses and a resounding win in New Hampshire. But the Adelson-funded PAC blasted away at Romney in South Carolina, where Gingrich vaulted from behind to secure a surprise victory. Adelson's wife, Miriam Ochsorn, followed her husband's donation with a $6 million infusion, keeping Gingrich going through Florida, Nevada and beyond.

In 2011 alone, Adelson made $7 billion, according to Forbes. That translates to about $134.6 million a week, or $19.2 million a day, assuming a 7-day work week. Assuming a 40-hour work week, Adelson reaped $3.3 million an hour. At that rate, it would take him less than two hours to make the $5 million needed to alter the race.

Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline: The Facts Deserve Repeating

Joe Nocera's op-ed in the New York Times yesterday deserves a response and a reiteration of the facts surrounding the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. President Obama rejected the pipeline's permit last month when the GOP, in a political stunt, forced his hand to approve it without even the final route evident.

Let's put the rhetoric aside, and simply focus on the facts. Nocera wants us to believe that approving this pipeline is a matter of national security. He also seems to think that we should all be kicking ourselves because the Canadians are flaunting a tar sands sale trip to China.

Nocera might ask himself how likely this oil is really to go to China from Canada if Keystone XL is not built. He might ask why the oil companies are looking to bring tar sands almost 2000 miles south rather than just send it across British Columbia for export to Asia.

The answer can be found in the deep and fierce opposition to a new tar sands pipeline in Canada -- especially by the First Nations of British Columbia. In fact, those First Nations this week sent letters to President Hu of China and to the Chinese people letting them know their tar sands grievances in advance of Prime Minister Harper's trip this week.

Conservatives vs. Liberals: More Than Politics

The following is an excerpt from The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics.

The contest for power between Democrats and Republicans pits two antithetical value systems against each other; two conflicting concepts of freedom, liberty, fairness, right, and wrong; two mutually exclusive notions of the state, the individual, and the collective good.

A wide range of academic scholarship exploring political belief-formation reveals that those who identify themselves as politically conservative, for example, exhibit distinctive values underpinning their world view and their orientation towards political competition.

Conservatives, argues researcher Philip Tetlock of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, are less tolerant of compromise; see the world in "us" versus "them" terms; are more willing to use force to gain an advantage; are "more prone to rely on simple (good vs. bad) evaluative rules in interpreting policy issues;" 1 are "motivated to punish violators of social norms (e.g., deviations from traditional norms of sexuality or responsible behavior) and to deter free riders." 2

Some of these conservative values can be discerned in public opinion data.

Why Wall Street Should Stop Whining

Everybody on Wall Street is talking about the new piece by New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, entitled "The End of Wall Street as They Knew It."

The article argues that Barack Obama killed everything that was joyful about the banking industry through his suffocating Dodd-Frank reform bill, which forced banks to strip themselves of "the pistons that powered their profits: leverage and proprietary trading."

Having to say goodbye to excess borrowing and casino gambling, the argument goes, has cut into banking profits, leading to extreme decisions like Morgan Stanley’s recent dictum capping cash bonuses at $125,000. In response to that, Sherman quotes an unnamed banker:
"After tax, that’s like, what, $75,000?" an investment banker at a rival firm said as he contemplated Morgan Stanley’s decision. He ran the numbers, modeling the implications. "I’m not married and I take the subway and I watch what I spend very carefully. But my girlfriend likes to eat good food. It all adds up really quick. A taxi here, another taxi there. I just bought an apartment, so now I have a big old mortgage bill."

Occupy Y'All Street: Occupy Charlotte Activist Gambles Everything On The Movement

This is the fourth in a series of stories and short films on under-publicized Occupy sites. The first is here, the second is here, and the third is here. Stay tuned in the coming days for more from our road trip through the South.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Vic Suter is looking for Ghost. She sloshes through the slick grass and soggy leaves matting the grounds of the Old City Hall. She and the rest of Occupy Charlotte have called the property home since early October. She knows every sign, every tent in this place. But it's Ghost's tent that she wants. A cold rain begins to fall steadily on a camp that's all but deserted. Vic, 22, doesn't care.

Vic motors past tents sagging under layers of tarp and other jerry-rigged, middle-of-the-night weatherproofing. Dragging a cardboard sign with a bitten corner, she ignores all those tents before finally stopping at a giant beige orb, outfitted with a mesh enclosure that gives off a screened-in porch effect. There's room for three chairs and what look like wind chimes. Ghost has his shit together.

"Hey Ghost?" she shouts, a few feet from his tent.

Vic leans into the orb's entrance. Her face, curtained by her brown hoodie, is pale and expectant. Even at 11 a.m. in early November, she looks game.

"Hey Ghost! You in there?"

The orb shows no signs of life. "You got to Godzilla people's tents -- shake them, nag them to get up and go on a march," she explains later.

Texan lawmakers angry that Canadian oil for the Keystone pipeline might go to ‘our worst enemy’

The Canadians might not be allowed to build a pipeline going south to the Texas Gulf Coast, so now they’re determined to build one going west to the Canadian Pacific Coast.

After President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline last month, the conservative Canadian government has begun looking for another potential buyer for the oil that was intended for the pipeline. That buyer is China, the energy-craving economic giant that’s already invested more than $16 billion dollars in the Canadian oil industry in the last two years.

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper went to China Tuesday with a delegation of 40 Canadian business leaders to discuss energy.

In a word: PIPELINE.

Defence lawyer reflects on the G20 conspiracy case

Among the many things we'll never know in the aftermath of the Toronto G20 is how a political defence would have affected the trial of those charged in "the main conspiracy" case.

That's because the case ended last month when six of those charged pled guilty to the lesser offence of counselling mischief (and two of them also to counselling obstruction of police), and 11 had their charges withdrawn.

I was the lawyer for Pat Cadorette, one of the 11. I also represented Jaggi Singh, who in April 2011 had his conspiracy charge withdrawn in exchange for pleading guilty to "counselling mischief" by suggesting the G20 security fence be torn down. Charges against two others of the 20 originally deemed by police and the Crown to be "the main conspiracy group" had been withdrawn earlier. Thus, none of the "conspirators" were actually convicted of conspiracy.

Conspiracy is a nasty charge under Canadian law. All prosecutors need to establish is that two or more people agreed to commit a criminal offence. It's a broader definition than is used in the U.S., where proof of an agreement to commit an offence is not sufficient; it must also be demonstrated that some step was taken in the furtherance of the conspiracy.

A royal honour? Thanks, but no thanks

Snubbing the Queen is a time-honoured tradition in Britain, a fading world power as well known for producing legendary iconoclasts as it is for knights and nobles. But the names of the modest luminaries who have, over the years, discreetly refused the Queen’s accolades and a chance to publicly be called “sir” by someone other than a maitre d’ has remained a closely guarded government secret for decades. Until now.

Last week, the much-anticipated list of dead Britons who’ve declined honours between 1951 and 1999 was made public. Thanks to a hard-fought Freedom of Information request by the BBC, Britain’s Cabinet Office was forced, after a year of resistance in the courts, to release the list of nearly 300 notable refuseniks.

Most striking among them was the Manchester artist L.S. Lowry, who currently holds the record for abnegation, having passed over no fewer than five awards, including one to be an OBE (officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 1955 and a knighthood in 1968. His friend and fellow artist Harold Riley told the BBC last week that Lowry’s aversion to accolades was not political but born of a deep modesty. “A person who is private in their own life has got the entitlement to remain like that,” he said. “If some public body decides to honour them, that is one thing, but if somebody feels that by them doing that, they change your status in the eyes of the public, well, that wouldn’t have suited him.”

The Commons: Starring Vic Toews as Kurt Russell

The Scene. After offering a general appeal for clarity from the government—”What is happening on your side?” she begged—Nycole Turmel narrowed her complaint to a specific article of speech. In this case, a conjunction.

“Yesterday, the Minister of Public Safety said ‘information obtained by torture is always discounted. However…’ What does he mean by ‘however?’ she asked. “There is no ‘however.’ There is no ‘but.’ Torture is either condoned or it is not. Which is it? No ‘however.’ No ‘if.’ No ‘but.’ ”

Rising as today’s stand-in prime minister, Peter MacKay offered a perfectly straightforward response that entirely avoided the question. “But! But!” the New Democrat side mocked. “But! But!”

Ms. Turmel tried again, this time en français. Mr. MacKay did likewise. “Mais!” the New Democrats chirped. “Mais!”

Switching to English and stepping forward, the Defence Minister attempted to put this all in perspective. Or possibly to read aloud from a script he’d recently submitted to television producers.

“Let me be clear,” he graciously offered, “what the honourable member opposite appears to be indicating is that under no circumstances, if information came into the possession of Canadian officials that would stop the death, a mass death perhaps, if there was a bomb threat at the Air Canada Centre, that we would be forced to refuse to use any information that would save lives. That is not the position of this government.”

Toronto mayor slams 'irrelevant' council after transit loss

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has called his council's tumultuous debate on the future of the city's transit "irrelevant" after it dealt him a major defeat on Wednesday, voting down his vision to put new light-rail lines underground.

"Technically speaking, that whole meeting was irrelevant," Ford told reporters Wednesday, shortly after a competing, above-ground plan brought forward by Toronto Transit Commission chair Karen Stintz was approved 25-18.

Ford maintained his preferred plan was a provincial project and that the deal he struck with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty that was announced in March would stand.

"It's unfortunate that some councillors don't listen to the taxpayers," Ford said.

Stintz's transit proposal, which revives portions of previous mayor David Miller's plan, seemingly derailed Ford's wish to keep as much of the city's new transit underground as possible.

The deeply divided council debated the two competing visions during a special meeting held at city hall, with councillors trading claims about what their constituents want.

Canada must build First Nations education system, national panel says

A national panel has created a blueprint on how to build a First Nations education system from the ground up but aboriginal leaders say proof of commitment will lie in the upcoming federal budget.

The three-person panel, which will report to Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan and Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Canada must develop an education system that is culturally sensitive and complete with regional school boards, teacher and student standards.

The panel narrowed their report into five key recommendations, all with detailed descriptions on how to achieve change.

One calls for reserve schools — the responsibility of the federal government — to get an immediate on-par funding boost equal to the percentage increase in 2012 for provincial schools in the province in which the aboriginal school is located.

The panel set aggressive time frames — in three months they want to see an interim commission on national First Nations education up and running, said Scott Haldane, panel member and president of YMCA Canada.

Conservative government will 'probably set record' for uses of time allocation on debate in House: Franks

PARLIAMENT HILL—The speed at which the government has rammed major bills through Parliament since Prime Minister Stephen Harper won his majority suggests the Conservatives are in “revenge” mode following futile battles against the opposition in the previous minority Parliament, a leading critic of Parliamentary affairs says. And opposition MPs say the juggernaut shows the Conservatives, out of majority power so long before Mr. Harper engineered control over Parliament, dominating both the Senate and the Commons, are simply “angry.”

An uproar ensued in the House Wednesday after the government served notice Tuesday it plans to use time allocation for the 17th and 18th time since lsat September, to cut short debate on Bill C-11, the copyright legislation that has sparked a pitched battle over digital access and internet downloading rights.

“The Harper government’s percentage of bills getting through has been as low as you can pretty well get in the previous Parliaments, the minority ones,” Queen’s University political science professor Ned Franks told The Hill Times.

“It seems to me they’re just getting their revenge back on the opposition parties,” he said Wednesday in response to Government House Leader Peter Van Loan (York-Simcoe, Ont.) serving notice of debate limits on the copyright legislation.

Did council’s vote to excuse Mayor Ford’s conduct undermine integrity commissioner’s office?

Does Toronto city council undermine the credibility of its integrity commissioner when it overturns rulings from that office?

It seems a fair question after city council voted Tuesday to ignore a recommendation from integrity commissioner Janet Leiper calling for sanctions against Mayor Rob Ford for improperly soliciting charitable donations from lobbyists.

In August 2010, council voted to accept a ruling that month from Leiper who found that Ford, then an Etobicoke councillor, breached code of conduct provisions by seeking and accepting the money.

Those donations went to Ford’s football foundation, but Leiper found, among other things, that he solicited the money using City of Toronto official letterhead from his office at city hall.

She called this a use of the influence of office for a cause unrelated to a councillor’s public duties.

After Susan G. Komen Debacle, Senators Launch Women's Rights Campaign

WASHINGTON -- Inspired by the backlash over the brief attempt by Susan G. Komen for the Cure to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, a group of senators Wednesday is launching a bid to organize 1 million people in support of women's rights.

Led by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), seven Democratic senators and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are appealing to backers on all of their websites to sign on to "One Million Strong For Women" in hopes of harnessing the energy displayed in the backlash against Komen.

"The strong public outcry in response to the Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision to defund Planned Parenthood last week -- which they later reversed -- shows how powerful we can be when we come together," says an email expected to be sent Wednesday by Gillibrand's office and obtained by The Huffington Post.

"Our right-wing opponents continue to launch attack after attack against women's rights, women's health, and women's economic security -- and we've got to fight back every single day," the appeal argues.

Canada Liberal Party Hijacked By Pro-Lifers?

OTTAWA - Some federal Liberals fear single-issue pro-lifers are trying to hijack their weakened party.

Their fears have been stoked by the apparent re-emergence of a group calling itself Liberals for Life, which is promoting Trifon Haitas's bid to represent the party in a March 19 byelection in Toronto-Danforth.

The group has issued an "urgent message" to Liberals in the riding, urging them to support Haitas, a Greek-Canadian journalist who formerly ran for the Green party.

"Trifon Haitas is the only candidate who is committed to stop the slaughter of unborn children in Canada," the electronic message states.

The message includes a link to an endorsement of Haitas by Campaign Life Coalition, a national organization opposed to abortion.

The byelection in Toronto-Danforth, a riding just east of downtown Toronto, was necessitated by the death of NDP Leader Jack Layton last August. Liberals are set to nominate their candidate Thursday, with Haitas facing off against advertising executive Grant Gordon.

Liberals for Life spearheaded a move to take over dormant riding associations and nominate pro-life candidates in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the party was in a weakened state.