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.]

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Air Canada fallout goes beyond wildcat strike

As an Air Canada concierge greeted Lisa Raitt at the luggage carousel on Thursday night, a group of baggage handlers in Toronto decided to voice their displeasure with their nemesis, the federal Labour Minister.

A series of events triggered by the landing of Ms. Raitt on a flight from North Bay sparked a wildcat strike at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, creating travel chaos for 24,000 customers across North America and placing further strain on Air Canada’s labour relations.

About 15 ramp employees blocked the main exit out of the carousel section, slowly clapping in mock applause and taunting her with “nice job.” The protest forced the concierge to escort Ms. Raitt through another door, but the workers kept pace. They followed as she rode up an escalator at Pearson and she waited outside for her ride home.

Union spokesman Bill Trbovich said three workers, who “slow clapped” and heckled Ms. Raitt, have been suspended for 72 hours with pay, pending an investigation by Air Canada into their conduct. Hundreds of workers let emotions run high and left their posts because of false rumours through e-mail, texting and Facebook that those three employees had been fired, he said in an interview Friday.

ORNGE: Salaries of 50 executives stay secret

More than 50 ORNGE high-earners did not make Friday’s Sunshine List because lawyers told Health Minister Deb Matthews she did not have the right to disclose their names.

An ongoing Star investigation estimates the total annual undisclosed salaries of these executives at $8 million.

After the Star asked ORNGE and the health ministry Thursday why virtually none of ORNGE’s high earners — including founder Dr. Chris Mazza — would be on the list, health minister Deb Matthews called ORNGE.

“I spoke with (interim boss) Ron McKerlie Friday morning and asked him to see if people would disclose their salaries voluntarily,” Matthews said.

By 6:30 p.m. Friday, 16 employees, including their communication’s boss, had voluntarily disclosed on the ORNGE website. Their salaries total roughly $2.5 million, but the high earners are still missing.

One salary not on the list was Mazza’s. The Star revealed in December that he brought in $1.4 million in 2010. His 2011 salary was higher, sources say, and was bumped up further by loans and advances totalling $1.2 million. ORNGE has asked for the money back. Mazza was not asked by ORNGE or the province to disclose his salary.

In defence of Goldman Sachs: boat

Perhaps you’ve read the uplifting tale of the man who quit his lucrative job at Goldman Sachs because “it makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off.” Or the story of the Bay Street trader who walked away from a huge salary because the industry had become “one hell of a mess” where the “culture was rotten.”

Emboldened by these acts of courage—inspired by these elegies to what truly matters in life—I’ve decided to use my column this week to speak directly to the soulless, faceless, money-grubbing financial firms of the world.

Dear super-greedy, ethically barren parasites of pure evil: um, have you filled those two vacancies yet? Because I have searched deep within myself—especially the wallet part of myself—and I am totally willing to get paid a ridiculous amount of money to work for you. P.S. Remember: ridiculous.

Don’t let all my jubilant high-fiving of random strangers fool you: this hasn’t been an easy decision. On one hand, I value the serenity of a balanced lifestyle, the nobility of honest work and the ability to sleep at night with a clear conscience. On the other hand, I want a boat.

Elections Canada unearths ‘Poutine’s’ aborted robo-call posing as Liberals

The robo-calls fraudster who hid behind the alias “Pierre Poutine” had toyed with a scheme to dial Guelph, Ont., voters in the middle of the night with a fake message from the local Liberal campaign.

This early hours call designed to turn voters against Liberal candidate Frank Valeriote was recorded but never sent, new court filings show.

This aborted call campaign had been scheduled to wake voters in the southwestern Ontario riding, a source close to Elections Canada said.

Allan Mathews, the Elections Canada investigator looking into fraudulent robo-calls that sought to suppress the vote in Guelph during the 2011 federal ballot, has filed more documents in court detailing new findings.

The unknown operative also set up a fake caller ID that would have shown middle-of-the-night robo-calls as coming from Mr. Valeriote’s campaign office at 519-837-2651.

Liberals across a number of ridings have complained of phony calls made during the campaign at odd hours – such as late at night – claiming to represent the Liberal Party.

Mr. Valeriote held on to his Guelph seat in the May 2, 2011, election, winning by a big margin.

Sunshine list: Ontario’s $100,000 club grows

Ontario’s $100,000 club has grown 10 per cent in a year despite pleas for wage restraint from public sector workers, with the province’s highest-paid employee — a hydro executive — earning $1.8 million.

As the minority Liberal government battles a $16 billion deficit, figures released Friday show that 78,901 public-sector employees have now crossed the benchmark set in 1996.

Who made what on the Sunshine List

Ontario’s $100,000 club grows

The list was released a week early to whet the public’s appetite for what is expected to be a tough, cost-cutting budget from Finance Minister Dwight Duncan on Tuesday.

Duncan has warned wages account for 55 per cent of government spending and told the Star the budget will adopt half the recommendations in the recent Drummond report aimed at putting provincial finances on a sustainable footing.

“As Ontario confronts the challenges brought about by the current economic environment, doctors, nurses, teachers and every person in Ontario who delivers a public service of any kind here. . . have a role to play,” Duncan said in a statement.

Canadians trust NDP to govern, poll finds

Less than a year after they voted to send the federal New Democrats to the benches of the Official Opposition, large numbers of Canadians say an NDP government would be good for the country.

A new poll released Friday by Nanos Research suggests that 49 per cent of Canadians agree or somewhat agree that Canada would be in good hands if the New Democrats were in office.

“I think what this shows is that the elevation of the NDP to the Official Opposition, as the party with the second greatest number of seats in the House of Commons, not just elevates it as an opposition but also elevates it in terms of perhaps someday forming a government,” said Nik Nanos, the president of the polling firm. “It’s a natural progression for them. They’ve moved up to the next level.”

The survey was conducted between March 9 and 12 as the seven candidates for the party’s leadership were entering the last leg of the race.

The number of respondents who said they felt positive about the NDP as a governing party was relatively consistent across all regions of Canada. Men and women agreed in approximately equal numbers. And, although people under the age of 29 were generally more willing than older people to embrace the notion of an NDP government, the opinions did not vary dramatically across the various age groups.

A tale of evidence-based policy-making (and the Canadian government's desperate attempts to kill it)

Over the past three days I have had about 10 meetings with European decision- and policy-makers to talk about the impacts of tar sands on Canada's domestic and international policy. Together with members of First Nations, Chief Bill Erasmus and Ben Powless, trade expert Stuart Trew, and evironmentalist Steven Guilbeault we are tackling the impacts of the Canadian government's fixation on the reckless expansion of the tar sands in order to offer up a different, and critical, perspective to a European audience who has been on the receiving end of aggressive Canadian government lobbying.

One of the most striking things about these meetings for me has been the fact that I don't need to try to convince anyone of the importance or urgency of addressing the climate crises. There is no political tag attached to climate change; it exists, it is serious, it is getting worse, and we need urgent solutions. Obviously Europe is not perfect, many of us would say that there is no industrialized country in the world that is doing enough on climate change, but in relative terms Europe is light years ahead of Canada.

The New Conservatism

The political media have accepted the myth of "equivalence" that says political polarization and governmental dysfunction are the result of both parties going to extremes of right and left. It is a myth. Regardless of the rightward drumbeat that the Democratic party has moved as far left as the Republicans have moved right, it is not the case.

Neither Presidents Carter, Clinton nor Obama are liberals of the left. In each case they governed from somewhere near the "center," however that elusive position may be defined. Indeed, Bill Clinton prided himself as being a "centrist" and "triangulator." But if the goalpost moves rightward, as it has in the age of Fox, Inc., what used to be the moderately conservative position on a wide variety of issues gradually becomes the "center." Orwell taught us decades ago that he who controls the meaning of words dictates the terms of the debate. Anyone out there advocating "liberalism" these days?

What it gets down to is that anyone who doesn't buy into the neo-conservative agenda is labeled a "liberal." Barry Goldwater would be uncomfortable in today's Republican party where very conservative senators such as Bennett and Hatch of Utah are considered too liberal. Some will say that the Obama administration health care law is "liberal." If so, then why did its fundamental principles arise from conservative policy centers as a reasonable approach to a serious social and economic problem -- bankrupting health care costs?

How Ottawa runs on oil

In July 2006 Stephen Harper had been Prime Minister for half a year and it was time to deliver his first speech to a foreign business audience. He picked a friendly crowd, the Canada-U.K. Chamber of Commerce in London. He told them British investors were taking notice of “Canada’s emergence as a global energy powerhouse—the emerging ‘energy superpower’ our government intends to build.”

Canada, he said, was the world’s fifth-largest energy producer, ranking third in gas production and seventh in oil production. Canada was the world’s largest supplier of hydroelectric power and uranium. “But that’s just the beginning.”

There was “an ocean of oil-soaked sand” in northern Alberta, more than in any country except Saudi Arabia. Getting it out would be “an enterprise of epic proportions, akin to the building of the pyramids or China’s Great Wall. Only bigger.”

Fast forward to late last year. The future Harper described in London had become a reality. The oil sands were producing so much oil that the biggest challenge was simply to get the stuff to market. Then on Nov. 10, U.S. President Barack Obama said he would delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for at least a year.

Trayvon Martin Case: Frank Taaffe, Friend Of George Zimmerman, Defends Shooter

As the spotlight shines brighter on the Trayvon Martin killing, more and more questions have been asked about George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchmen who admitted to shooting and killing the teen. Amidst the controversy, Frank Taaffe, a fellow neighborhood watch captain and friend of Zimmerman came to his defense.

During an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on AC360, Taaffe said that a problem could have been avoided if Martin had been "up front and truthful" with Zimmerman.

Taaffe told NBC Miami that there had been eight burglaries within 15 months, which he said set the stage for Zimmerman's heightened suspicion. He said safety, not race, was Zimmerman's main concern.

"George is a congenial, admirable person," he told the news outlet. "He had a passion and care for this neighborhood, to ensure the safety of everybody here."

Martin, who was black, was walking back to his father's house after a trip to the convenience store in Sanford, Fla. on February 26. George Zimmerman, who was identified by his father as Hispanic, called 911 and told the dispatchers that the teen "looked suspicious."

For Long-Term Unemployed, Hiring Bias Rears Its Head

HARTFORD, Conn. — Few job seekers who fail to get an interview know the reason, but Michelle Chesney-Offutt said a recruiter told her why she lost the chance to pitch for an information technology position.

The 54-year-old, who had been laid off from her IT job in Illinois, said the recruiter who responded to her online resume two years ago liked her qualifications and was set to schedule an interview. But he backed away, she said, when he learned she had been out of work for 13 months.

The employer he represented would not consider applicants who were unemployed for more than six months, she said.

"What they don't consider is that these are not normal times," said Chesney-Offutt, who was unemployed for nearly three years before landing a job.

As high unemployment persists more than four years after the start of the Great Recession – and nearly three years after it was officially declared over – many who have struggled for years without work say they face discrimination. Nearly 13 million Americans, or 8.3 percent, were unemployed in February, the U.S. Department of Labor says.

Trayvon Martin Case: State Attorney Quits Investigation As State Studies 'Stand Your Ground' Law

SANFORD, Fla. -- Seminole County State Attorney Norman R. Wolfinger Thursday night removed himself from the case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager whose killing by a town watch volunteer last month sparked national outrage.

“In the interest of the public safety of the citizens of Seminole County and to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, I would respectfully request the executive assignment of another state attorney for the investigation and any prosecution arising from the circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon B. Martin,” Wolfinger said in a statement released about 9:15 p.m. “This request is being made in light of the public good with the intent of toning down the rhetoric and preserving the integrity of this investigation.”

Gov. Rick Scott met with the Martin's family and their legal team earlier today and assured them that Wolfinger would step down from the case, according to a family lawyer. Scott appointed Angela B. Corey, the prosecutor in the Jacksonville area, to replace Wolfinger on the investigation. The governor said on Thursday night that a state task force would review Florida's Stand Your Ground law and recommend changes "so that we might help avoid such tragedies in the future."

NYPD Infiltrated Liberal Political Groups, According To New Documents

NEW YORK -- Undercover NYPD officers attended meetings of liberal political organizations and kept intelligence files on activists who planned protests around the country, according to interviews and documents that show how police have used counterterrorism tactics to monitor even lawful activities.

The infiltration echoes the tactics the NYPD used in the run-up to New York's 2004 Republican National Convention, when police monitored church groups, anti-war organizations and environmental advocates nationwide. That effort was revealed by The New York Times in 2007 and in an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit over how the NYPD treated convention protesters.

Police said the pre-convention spying was necessary to prepare for the huge, raucous crowds that were headed to the city. But documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the police department's intelligence unit continued to keep close watch on political groups in 2008, long after the convention had passed.

In April 2008, an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans to attend the People's Summit, a gathering of liberal groups organized around their shared opposition to U.S. economic policy and the effect of trade agreements between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

No Justice for Trayvon Martin, No Peace

More than 1,000 demonstrators gathered in Union Square Wednesday night to show solidarity with the bereaved family of Trayvon Martin and to call for the arrest and prosecution of George Zimmerman, the self-styled neighborhood watchman who shot and killed him almost a month ago. The US Justice Department is one of several agencies now looking into the incident.

Zimmerman, armed with an 9mm pistol, was on patrol in his SUV in a gated housing community in the small town of Sanford, Florida, when he called 911 asking for police to assist him because he was watching a suspicious individual. The calls, now publicly available, capture Zimmerman calling people he thought did not belong in the neighborhood “fucking coons,” and the 911 operator specifically telling him not to follow Martin. Ignoring the operator’s advice, Zimmerman followed Martin even though he knew police were enroute. Terrified residents can be heard on other recordings, as they asked for police to come see what was going on. Cries of “Help me!” can be heard in the background, which Zimmerman claims were his, but Martin’s family say were their son’s. Local police soon arrived on the scene, finding Martin dead from a single bullet fired by Zimmerman, but did not press charges against the latter, who claimed he shot in self-defence.

Martin’s killing was the latest in what some demonstrators described as a pattern of unarmed black men being killed, often by law enforcement. Last month, 18-year-old Ramarley Graham was killed by New York police officers in his grandmother’s Bronx home after they chased him. Officers claim they thought Graham was armed.

The Real Meaning of $1 Trillion in Student Loans

If the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is right, the total outstanding student loan debt in the United States now stands at above $1 trillion dollars. In economic terms, that changes very little about what we already knew regarding college borrowing. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York had previously pegged the figure at $870 billion by the end of 2011. Either number would be larger than America's collective credit card balance.

But psychologically, it's a sad threshold. A trillion dollars -- it brings home just how enormous the burden is quickly becoming.

There is only one silver lining to the news. It's a sign, partly, that more students are going to college. It doesn't mean more are graduating, or that those who finish are finding gainful employment. It only means that an increasing number of Americans understand that they need an education to survive in the modern economy. Although earnings for colleges graduates are stagnating, they're not shrinking at the same breathtaking pace as wages for workers who only have a high school diploma. Getting a degree is the only reasonably safe route into the middle class, these days. It seems people are absorbing that lesson.

For Pennsylvania's Doctors, a Gag Order on Fracking Chemicals

Under a new law, doctors in Pennsylvania can access information about chemicals used in natural gas extraction—but they won't be able to share it with their patients. A provision buried in a law passed last month is drawing scrutiny from the public health and environmental community, who argue that it will "gag" doctors who want to raise concerns related to oil and gas extraction with the people they treat and the general public.

Pennsylvania is at the forefront in the debate over "fracking," the process by which a high-pressure mixture of chemicals, sand, and water are blasted into rock to tap into the gas. Recent discoveries of great reserves in the Marcellus Shale region of the state prompted a rush to development, as have advancements in fracking technologies. But with those changes have come a number of concerns from citizens about potential environmental and health impacts from natural gas drilling.

There is good reason to be curious about exactly what's in those fluids. A 2010 congressional investigation revealed that Halliburton and other fracking companies had used 32 million gallons of diesel products, which include toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, in the fluids they inject into the ground. Low levels of exposure to those chemicals can trigger acute effects like headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness, while higher levels of exposure can cause cancer.

Meet the Obama Official Investigating the Trayvon Martin Shooting

On Tuesday, city officials from Sanford, Florida, trekked to Washington for a meeting on Capitol Hill with a group of black lawmakers and officials of the Justice Department's civil rights division. The topic at hand: The recently announced investigation of the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot in late February by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, while walking back to his father's house in a gated community from a local convenience store.

Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplet told the group he'd spent the last few days listening repeatedly to the recording of Zimmerman's 911 call, according to Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who was present at the meeting. After the shooting, Zimmerman told the police that Martin had attacked him and he had acted in self-defense. Apparently believing his version of events, the Sanford police did not arrest him. But the 911 tape suggested that Zimmerman had pursued Martin, even though he had been warned against doing so by the 911 dispatcher.

When Hastings suggested that Zimmerman might have uttered a racial slur on the call, Triplet pulled a copy of the recording out of a folder and passed it to the DOJ's assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez. Sanford's city manager, Norton Bonaparte, implored Perez to probe the conduct of the Sanford police.

A visit to Occupy Wall Street: This movement is too important to fail

Last weekend I was in New York City attending Left Forum, conveniently located at PACE University in Lower Manhattan, just a short walk from Zuccotti Park. So it was easy to head over and take part in events this past Saturday, March 17 marking the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street (OWS). I wrote about the experience in the bilingual Vancouver newspaper La Source:

"The atmosphere was a microcosm for the inspiration OWS has provided, and the challenges it faces. At first, the mood was celebratory, especially when Michael Moore and a few hundred friends marched over from the nearby Left Forum conference. The chant of the hour was, 'We are unstoppable, another world is possible!'

Alas, the NYPD had other ideas. Shortly before midnight, after the crowd had thinned somewhat, they moved in, arresting dozens of people and clearing out the park – again.

This is still a very young movement, and the ideas and debates it has brought out throughout society are not going away anytime soon. I think the same is true of Occupy Vancouver (OV), however much the physical encampment that dominated the headlines in the fall has been wiped out. OV faced a relentless wave of negative press, culminating in physical eviction. When occupiers tried to move the camp over to the provincial courthouse downtown, it was Premier Christy Clark who moved quickly to draw a legal and rhetorical line in the sand. 'I’m fed up. It’s time to end this nonsense,' Clark snapped, and a day later OV was moved out from the law courts complex.

Police violence on the rise in Montreal

Violence at the March 15 protest against police brutality in Montreal was striking -- from flash bang grenades to CS gas and baton strikes, police dispatched serious weaponry against the annual demonstration.

In recent months, popular anger toward the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) has been building. From riot police violence against the growing Québec-wide student strike, to continued police killings in the city, police are facing a growing crisis in public confidence.

Striking students face police brutality

Striking student Francis Grenier suffered a serious eye injury on March 7 while playing harmonica at a protest outside Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ), an institution strongly backing Québec government austerity-driven moves to hike post-secondary tuition fees by $1,625 over the next five years.

Students demonstrating outside the CREPUQ doors on Sherbrooke Street near the McGill University campus in downtown Montreal were making music and holding red banners, the colour representing the strike, when riot police charged the crowd en masse with batons, launching flash bang grenades directly into the crowd and seriously injuring Grenier.

Air Canada strike effects felt into weekend

An illegal work stoppage by Air Canada baggage handlers and ground staff disrupted dozens of flight schedules across the country and threw Canada's busiest airport into confusion and chaos.

By the time the workers ended the 12-hour walkout on Friday morning, the job action had caused at least 84 cancellations at Toronto's Pearson International Airport and another 80 delays.

Passengers spent much of the day trying to find their baggage and a way to reach their destinations, and the unrest quickly spread to airports in Quebec City, Montreal and Vancouver.

The carrier issued a statement apologizing to affected passengers and urging those with travel plans to check the status of their flights online, rather than calling. Passengers whose flights have been cancelled will be permitted to rebook without penalty.

The airline said late in the afternoon that "delays and cancellations of Air Canada-operated flights primarily to Canadian and U.S. destinations are expected for the remainder of the day." Some passengers would not be able to fly Friday, the airline said, and warned the strike's effects could last into the weekend due to the throngs of passengers looking to rebook flights.

Inflation: How Ontarians pay among the highest price hikes out of the lowest wage increases

Ontario residents are paying among the highest price increases out of the lowest wage increases, a labour economist says.

The annual inflation rate climbed to 2.9 per cent in Ontario last month, an increase of half a point compared to a year ago.

Higher prices for gasoline and food were key factors in driving inflation higher across Canada, the federal agency also said Friday.

But in Ontario, higher provincial electricity costs, up 8.9 per cent, also contributed.

Only Quebec fared worse, where prices rose 0.4 per cent to 3.4 per cent, due to an even higher than average pop in gasoline prices.

During the same month, both provinces had wage growth of only 1.7 per cent, the lowest rate of any province except Manitoba, noted Erin Weir, an economist with the United Steelworkers of Canada.

“In other words, central Canadians are paying for the highest price increases out of the lowest wage increases,” Weir said in an email commentary.

On a national basis, inflation across Canada rose 0.4 per cent to 2.6 per cent in February, Statistics Canada said.

Air Canada wildcat sparked by a sarcastic exchange

A sarcastic exchange between Air Canada employees and federal labour minister Lisa Raitt was all it took to set off a nation-wide wildcat strike.

Raitt was walking through Toronto Pearson International Airport Thursday evening when three Air Canada ground workers began heckling her.

“Workers started clapping and saying, ‘Thanks for taking our right to strike,’” said ramp worker Geoff Ward.

The trio was slapped with a three-day suspension. Ultimately, 37 employees received some kind of penalty.

By 10:30 pm, the ground workers, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), were banding together for a brazen wildcat which would last 13 hours.

Employees in Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec City followed in solidarity, throwing Air Canada’s domestic flight schedule into chaos for the day.

It’s a confrontation nine years in the making. To keep the airline from bankruptcy, unions have agreed for their membership to take pay cuts, delayed pension payments, salary freezes and layoffs.

Why are the Liberals panicking?

One of the recurring characters in Canadian politics is the devilish adversary who Wins Either Way, a spectre that can be relied upon to induce a state of near-panic and hopelessness amongst his intended victims. At the height of his powers, for example, Lucien Bouchard was often said to possess this confounding genius. If the rest of Canada refused to yield to his demands for powers and money, he would use it to prove Confederation was a straitjacket from which Quebec had to escape. On the other hand, agree to his demands and it would only show how pliable the rest of Canada would be in post-separation talks. He wins either way.

Something of the same panicky sentiment seems to have taken root among some Liberals with regard to the Conservative war room. The mere unveiling of an attack ad on their interim-possibly-permanent leader, Bob Rae, has Liberals running about with their hands in the air. What do we do? What can we do? If we fail to respond, the Conservatives will swamp the airwaves with these ads, stamping Rae as a failed premier and incorrigible spendthrift before we've even elected him leader. But if we raise a lot of money to spend on ads defending him, we use up scarce party resources buffing Rae's profile, to the detriment of other potential leadership candidates. Damn Stephen Harper! He wins either way.

North America has the potential to be energy world's next Middle East, report argues

Deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, tapping shale deposits for gas and oil and Canada's oil sands are among the ingredients that could see North America's production of oil and natural gas liquids almost double to 26.6m barrels a day by 2020, according to a report by analysts at Citigroup.

"The energy sector in the next few decades could drive an extraordinary and timely revitalisation and reindustralisation of the US economy," the 80-page report said.

The vexed question of America's future energy needs and how to meet them has dominated the battle for The White House in recent weeks, as the Republican challengers blame President Barack Obama for the recent rise in petrol prices.

Experts say the subject is also gaining political traction among both Republicans and Democrats because the US is at an important crossroads on its future energy policy. 2011 was the first year since 1949 that the country exported more petroleum products than it imported.

Some of that was down to new supply, but declining domestic demand also played a role. US oil demand fell to 18.8m barrels a day last year, down almost 10pc from 2005, according to the Energy Department. The report predicts that the declining US demand for petroleum products, driven largely by the downturn, will continue as fuel efficient technologies are more widely adopted.

Budget 2012: The granny tax is fair, says Treasury minister

David Gauke said that pensioners were being shielded from most of the cuts the Government is making as it tries to reduce the deficit in the public finances.

He spoke as the Chancellor faced a firestorm of protest over his cut in tax allowances for those over 64, which will leave up to 5 million middle-class pensioners worse off.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies yesterday said that those worst-hit by the policy would lose up to £323.

The respected think tank criticised the Chancellor for trying to mislead voters by “dressing up what is clearly a tax increase as merely a simplification”. The Treasury’s own advisers on tax simplification were also said to be “concerned” at the way the Chancellor presented the change.

David Cameron led a fightback over the controversial decision yesterday, arguing that the overall effect of Coalition policies would leave many pensioners better off.

In other developments arising from Mr Osborne’s Budget:

Cabinet ministers, including Mr Osborne and the Prime Minister, faced public scrutiny over their own tax affairs and whether they had benefited from the abolition of the 50p rate of tax.

'Granny tax' is the least of the baby boomers' worries

The chancellor's "granny bashing" raid on pensioners' incomes continues to draw negative headlines two days after the budget. Many papers, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, have chosen to highlight that as George Osborne's major budget crime. But is that response perverse after everything we have seen and heard about inter-generational unfairness enjoyed by the baby boomers in recent years of recessionary anguish?

By freezing age-related personal allowances with a view to aligning them with working allowances – the word was "simplification" not "theft" – and other grey tweaks Osborne has taken £3-4bn out of the grey economy, an average loss of £84 a year, according to the Guardian's front page.

Those with pensions above £25,400 will not lose out at all. Those approaching retirement will be working longer and face greater uncertainty. Put it all together and that's a hit which will rankle among the kind of folk who tend to vote, probably more Tory than the average voting cohort.

But hang on. What about student loans? What about 20% unemployment in the 18-24 age bracket? What about the price of houses for first-time buyers and the rising levels of rent? What about childcare? Etc, etc. The young face a lot of uncertainty too and have only one ace to play against their parents' and grandparents' generations: they're young and have their lives ahead of them, whereas we're all heading for the crem.

This way, sir

IT WAS spun as a package for working families, a way of supporting the humblest toilers in the economic vineyard, and it was attacked as a tax raid on impoverished grannies. George Osborne’s third budget as chancellor of the exchequer did indeed reduce income taxes for low-earners while freezing the tax-free allowances for some pensioners. But its strongest signals, especially Mr Osborne’s decision to cut the top rate of income tax, levied on incomes over £150,000 ($238,000) a year, from 50% to 45%, were aimed elsewhere. This was a budget for companies—particularly big, international ones—and for their best-paid employees.

The politics of this will be rough, but it was the right thing to do. Because Britain specialises in high-value services such as banking, accountancy and insurance, it needs to attract the world’s brightest. Recently the Tories and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners have given the impression that capitalism is a dirty word and that the City of London, Britain’s greatest industrial cluster, is an embarrassment. This week’s change may be more symbolic than fiscal (the rich will have to pay more in other ways), but symbols matter. At a time when France’s most likely next president wants to introduce a 75% tax and Barack Obama is moaning about millionaires and billionaires, Britain is welcoming entrepreneurs and financiers.

Mother of teen killed after smoking synthetic marijuana says Sen. Rand Paul has 'blood on his hands'

The grieving mother of a teenager who was killed after smoking synthetic marijuana is filled with fury at the lone U.S. senator blocking a ban on the dangerous drug.

Karen Dobner told the Daily News she’s called Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) 15 times to tell him about her son Max’s death last year — and to beg him to let the ban come up for a vote. She never got a call back.

“He’s got blood on his hands,” Dobner said.

Even as she mourns the loss of a boy she says was the perfect son before he naively tried iAroma or synthetic pot, Dobner is angry that Paul is putting his libertarian principles before the lives of young people.

And she says she won’t let him get away with killing a bill that the House of Representatives has already green-lighted and the majority of senators are ready to pass.

Paul put a hold on the bill — a perogative any individual senator can exercise — three months ago. “I told his aides he cannot survive politically if he keeps stalling this. We will not let it go,” said Dobner, a mother of three from Aurora, Ill. “Anything else he does will be publicized by us. Every time somebody dies we will hold him accountable.”

Richard Hanna, GOP Congressman, Tells Women To Give Their Money To Democrats

As the only Republican Congressman at a rally for the Equal Rights Amendment on Thursday, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) gave women an unexpected piece of advice: Give your money to Democrats.

"I think these are very precarious times for women, it seems. So many of your rights are under assault," he told the crowd of mostly women. "I'll tell you this: Contribute your money to people who speak out on your behalf, because the other side -- my side -- has a lot of it. And you need to send your own message. You need to remind people that you vote, you matter, and that they can't succeed without your help."

The Equal Rights Amendment, which Congress passed in 1972 but has not yet been ratified by the necessary 38 states, simply says that equality under the law "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex." Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) reintroduced the legislation this year in hopes that it would finally become a part of the Constitution.

"If equality had been enshrined in the Constitution for these past 40 years, I wonder if we would still be hearing today from right-wing presidential contenders that women should not serve in combat, that women should think twice before they seek to work outside of the house, that women should not use birth control, and that women who do are called names that are not fit to repeat here," Maloney said at the rally.

Vermont Yankee Protest: 130 Demonstrators Arrested At Nuclear Plant's Corporate Headquarters

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — A 93-year-old anti-nuclear activist was among more than 130 protesters arrested at the corporate headquarters of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant on the first day of the plant's operation after the expiration of its 40-year license.

Frances Crowe, of Northampton, Mass., said she wants Vermont Yankee to cease operations because she feels it's a threat to the people who live nearby.

"As I was walking down, all I could think of was Fukushima and the suffering of all the people, and I don't want that to happen to New England," Crowe said, referring to the Japanese nuclear reactor damaged last year after an earthquake and tsunami.

When asked how many times she'd been arrested, she answered: "Not enough."

A heavy police presence and ropes blocked off access to the offices in Brattleboro during Thursday's protest. The arrests were made calmly and without any confrontation, with obvious signs that protesters and police had worked out the logistics beforehand.

Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn said in a statement that more than 130 people had been arrested for unlawful trespass. He said after being processed, they were later released.

A company spokesman said work continued as normal at the plant 10 miles south in Vernon.

Paranoia Strikes Deeper

Stop, hey, what’s that sound? Actually, it’s the noise a great political party makes when it loses what’s left of its mind. And it happened — where else? — on Fox News on Sunday, when Mitt Romney bought fully into the claim that gas prices are high thanks to an Obama administration plot.

This claim isn’t just nuts; it’s a sort of craziness triple play — a lie wrapped in an absurdity swaddled in paranoia. It’s the sort of thing you used to hear only from people who also believed that fluoridated water was a Communist plot. But now the gas-price conspiracy theory has been formally endorsed by the likely Republican presidential nominee.

Before we get to the larger implications of this endorsement, let’s get the facts on gas prices straight.

First, the lie: No, President Obama did not say, as many Republicans now claim, that he wanted higher gasoline prices. He did once say that a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions would cause electricity prices to “skyrocket” — an unfortunate word choice. But saying that such a system would raise energy prices was just a factual statement, not a declaration of intent to punish American consumers. The claim that Mr. Obama wanted higher prices is a lie, pure and simple.

And it’s a lie wrapped in an absurdity, because the president of the United States doesn’t control gasoline prices, or even have much influence over those prices. Oil prices are set in a world market, and America, which accounts for only about a tenth of world production, can’t move those prices much. Indeed, the recent rise in gas prices has taken place despite rising U.S. oil production and falling imports.

NDP Leadership Convention: Which Candidate Has The Best Hope Of Beating Stephen Harper?

Tomorrow, New Democrats will choose between seven candidates and seven different futures for their party. With one recent poll showing the NDP neck-and-neck with the governing Tories, their decision could not be more important.

While all the candidates are clearly part of the same political tradition, they do all bring different things to the table.

Nathan Cullen has the energy and charisma that helped Jack Layton bring the party into the mainstream, and he would be a strong leader in British Columbia, a province in which the New Democrats can make gains in 2015. But Cullen’s plan for the NDP to co-operate with the Liberals and Greens could cause a rift in the party, and there is little indication the Grits would go for it.

    Convention Coverage, HuffPost Style: The Huffington Post Canada brings you comprehensive coverage of the NDP leadership convention in Toronto, with photos, behind-the-scenes video, opinion and reporting from the convention floor.

    Follow us at @HuffPostCanada, on our Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj's Facebook Page, on our NDP leadership site, and on our politics page and our front page. Friday, we cover candidate speeches and a tribute to Jack Layton. Saturday morning, we follow the rounds of voting that will end with the new leader.

The NDP and the oilsands

This weekend, a new federal NDP leader will be chosen to pick up the torch lit by the late Jack Layton - and that leader must put out one major fire. He or she will have to show Albertans that the party understands the importance of the oilsands to the national economy, and stick to the newly made promises on that issue.

Contrary to popular belief, it was not Layton who called for the oilsands to be shut down; that dubious distinction be-longs to NDP MP Michael Byers, who said it when he ran in Vancouver Centre in 2008. At the time, Layton wanted a moratorium on oilsands expansion, not a shutdown. Layton also spread untruths in Quebec about the oilsands during the last general election, falsely claiming that Quebecers "subsidized" the oilsands.

It's a new day for the New Democrats, however, and the leadership candidates are is-suing much milder policy statements. On their websites and in a series of interviews with Global News, their positions are very similar and the buzzword is sustainable development of the oilsands - a go-slower principle for which even former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed has publicly advocated.

Front-runner Thomas Mul-cair told Sun News Network: "I'm not saying shut them down. I'm not saying we shouldn't develop. I'm saying we should do it sustainably. We have to change our attitude and start adding the value to our own products now."

This common thread runs through the other candidates' platforms.