Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Judge rules Bush illegally wiretapped Americans


A federal judge ruled Wednesday that government investigators illegally wiretapped the phone conversations of an Islamic charity and two American lawyers without a search warrant.

U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker said the plaintiffs have provided enough evidence to show "they were subjected to warrantless electronic surveillance."

The judge ordered more legal arguments before deciding damages. Lawyers were seeking $1 million for each plaintiff plus attorney fees. The ruling also stands as repudiation of the now-defunct Bush administration's Terrorist Surveillance Program.

At issue was a 2006 lawsuit filed by the Ashland, Ore., branch of the Saudi-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and two American lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor.

Belew and Ghafoor claimed their 2004 phone conversations with foundation official Soliman al-Buthi were wiretapped without warrants soon after the Treasury Department had declared the Oregon branch a supporter of terrorism. They argued that wiretaps installed without a judge's authorization are illegal.

Jon Eisenberg, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the complicated 45-page ruling holds the Bush administration program was unconstitutional.

Joe's experience

29 years on Toronto City council, 6 as Deputy Mayor has Joe Pantalone thinking he is the best person to be Toronto's next Mayor. Pantalone says, of all the candidates running, he is the one best suited to handle Toronto's massive annual budget and deal with the complexities that the job would entail.

Bill Maher : most Americans are dumb and uneducated

Bill Maher makes his point how dumb, ignorant and uneducated the majority of Americans are. And backs it up with facts.

Telling it like it is

The late George Carlin in his element.

Proportional representation now

Barbara Odenwald, president of the Montreal chapter of Fair Vote Canada, explains the benefits of proportional representation.

Libertarian insanity

Rand Paul is the son of Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul, and like his father, is a libertarian Republican. However, Rand might be taking it a little bit too far. Rand was interviewed by the Sunday New York Times magazine, and said that he doesn't believe people should be required by law to wear seatbelts while driving:

New York Times: But in light of your distrust of the federal government, where are you on an issue like seat belts? Federal legislation requiring people to wear seat belts could obviously save lives.

Paul: I think the federal government shouldn't be involved. I don't want to live in a nanny state where people are telling me where I can go and what I can do

The Times goe it wrong though. Since 1968 (thanks to Ralph Nader), federal law has mandated that all vehicles, except for buses, have seat belts. However, the laws requiring people to wear seatbelts are left to the states. So, it remains to be seen if Paul, as the majority of libertarians favour states rights and laws over the federal government, is in favour of state seat belt laws, but he did make it quite clear about how he feels about the goverment telling him what to do.

We're also told not to drink toxic chemicals nor consume household cleaning products.

Climate scientist exonerated, "climategate" finished

A report issued today by the British House of Commons has exonerated Professor Phil Jones, the University of East Anglia's Director of the Climatic Research Unit. Raging anti-science right-wingers can calm down now. Professor Jones was at the centre of the so-called "climategate" story this past November after university servers were hacked, and internal emails and documents were breached. While the contents of Jones' emails became the topic of much scrutiny and hysteria by not only the anti-science and anti-intellectual crowd on the far-right, but also our diligent mainstream media, no one really asked or attempted to find out who hacked into the university's servers and why they did it.

The report found “the focus on CRU and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU, in particular, has largely been misplaced,” and Professor Jones' conduct was “in line with common practice in the climate science community,” with the Climate Research Unit's “analyses have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified.”

With the ongoing media's fixation with "climategate" still ongoing by January, the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee initiated the review. The Committee found at no time was Professor Jones, or the Climate Research Unit dishonest, hiding or fabricating data. The Committee also recommended that climate scientists should provide more transparency by releasing data and offering further detail for their methodologies. The Parliamentary Committee also compared climate data from other independent sources with the data from the university's Climate Research Unit, and concluded it was both consistent and verifiable.

The Science and Technology Committee released a statement to the media today which stated:

The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—“trick” and “hiding the decline”—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead. Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

Even if the data that CRU used were not publicly available—which they mostly are—or the methods not published—which they have been—its published results would still be credible: the results from CRU agree with those drawn from other international data sets; in other words, the analyses have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified

The Science and Technology Committee's report has indepth answers for all of the sticking points or objections against Professor Phil Jones and the Climate Research Unit.

Professor Jones' using the word “trick” in an email regarding Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick graph:

Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones’s use of the word “trick” is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominately caused by human activity. The balance of evidence patently fails to support this view. It appears to be a colloquialism for a “neat” method of handling data.

Professor Jones' using the phrase "hide the decline":

Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones’s use of the words “hide the decline” is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominantly caused by human activity. That he has published papers—including a paper in Nature—dealing with this aspect of the science clearly refutes this allegation. In our view, it was shorthand for the practice of discarding data known to be erroneous.

Professor Jones suppressing or obstructing the peer review process:

The evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers.

The report provides further information on Freedom of Information requests and related issues, including recommendations for bolstering data access and transparency at the Climate Research Unit and further transparency in the scientific community at large, to certify that the science remains “irreproachable.”

Practical Solutions to End the War on Drugs

Physician Alex Wodak discusses reforming the war on drugs, including legalizing marijuana and repealing criminal penalties for personal possession and consumption. He says the focus of drug reform should be on harm reduction, not prosecution.

Although the media sporadically reports on major narcotic raids, the general consensus about the war on drugs is that small battles will not win this war. Despite all the money spent on drug enforcement worldwide, illicit drugs are still relatively cheap and widely available. Increasingly drugs are being viewed as a social problem rather than strictly a legal one.

So is it time to rethink traditional approaches to the illegal drug industry? Countries like Portugal and Argentina are forging ahead with drug reforms, but will Australia follow suit?

In this panel from the provocative Festival of Dangerous Ideas the argument is put forward that decriminalization and regulation would be the best solution to addressing the problems associated with drugs.

Dr. Alex Wodak is the Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St. Vincent's Hospital in Sydney. He is also President of the International Harm Reduction Association and the author of Drug Prohibition: A Call for Change

Let's End the War on Drugs - Sting

Whether it's music, activism or daily life, the one ideal to which I have always aspired is constant challenge -- taking risks, stepping out of my comfort zone, exploring new ideas.

I am writing because I believe the United States must do precisely that -- and so, therefore, must all of us -- in the case of what has been the most unsuccessful, unjust yet untouchable issue in politics: the War on Drugs.

The War on Drugs has failed -- but it's worse than that. It is actively harming our society. Violent crime is thriving in the shadows to which the drug trade has been consigned. People who genuinely need help can't get it. Neither can people who need medical marijuana to treat terrible diseases. We are spending billions, filling up our prisons with non-violent offenders and sacrificing our liberties.

For too long, the War on Drugs has been a sacrosanct undertaking that was virtually immune from criticism in the public realm. Politicians dared not disagree for fear of being stigmatized as "soft on crime." Any activist who spoke up was dismissed as a fringe element.

But recently, I discovered just how much that's changing--and that's how I came to speak out on behalf of an extraordinary organization called the Drug Policy Alliance.

I learned of DPA, as they're known, while reading what once might have been the unlikeliest of places for a thoughtful discussion of the Drug War -- the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal.

It featured an op-ed that dared to say in print -- in a thoughtful, meticulous argument -- what everyone who has seriously looked at the issue has known for years: the War on Drugs is an absolute failure whose cost to society is increasingly unbearable and absolutely unjustifiable.

The author of that piece is a former Princeton professor turned activist named Ethan Nadelmann, who runs DPA. I was so impressed by his argument that I began reading up on the group.

Their work spoke directly to my heart as an activist for social justice -- because ending the War on Drugs is about exactly that.

For years, the Drug War has been used as a pretext to lock people in prison for exorbitant lengths of time -- people whose "crimes" never hurt another human being, people who already lived at the margins of society, whose voices were the faintest and whose power was the least.

Civil liberties have been trampled. Law enforcement has been militarized. Literally hundreds of billions of dollars -- dollars denied to urgent problems ranging from poverty to pollution -- have been spent. People who do need help with drugs have been treated as criminals instead. Meanwhile, resources to fight genuine crime -- violent crime -- have been significantly diminished.

And in exchange for all this, the War on Drugs has not stopped people from using drugs or kept drugs from crossing the borders or being sold on the streets.

To me, it all adds up to a clear message of exactly the sort I've always tried to heed in my life: It's time to step out of our comfort zone and try something new.

That's where DPA comes in. Their focus is on reducing the harm drugs cause rather than obsessively and pointlessly attempting to ban them.

I'm partnering with DPA because they champion treatment, advocate effective curricula for educating young people about drugs -- and from local courtrooms to the Supreme Court, they are utterly relentless defenders of the liberties that have been sacrificed to the Drug War.

Now, political conditions in Washington seem finally to be aligning in favor of profound change in drug policy. President Obama has openly said the Drug War is a failure. Legislation to decriminalize marijuana is pending on Capitol Hill.

But success is far from guaranteed. Indeed, the echoes of the old politics of intimidation and demagoguery that have long surrounded the War on Drugs can still be heard. We must all work to ensure this issue becomes a priority and is acted upon in a meaningful and sensible way.

That's why I hope you'll join me in becoming a member of the Drug Policy Alliance today. We need a movement that will put the team at DPA in a position to take maximum advantage of the political changes in Washington while continuing to fight for sanity in drug policy across the nation.

Everyone knows the War on Drugs has failed. It's time to step out of our comfort zones, acknowledge the truth -- and challenge our leaders ... and ourselves ... to change.

Monday, March 29, 2010

GOP spent big at lavish hotels, sex-themed club

Jonathan Strong of The Daily Caller has reported a big story regarding big spending by the GOP and Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele. According to Strong's story, Chairman Steele "once raise the possibility of using party money to buy a private jet for his travel." Steele has also accumulated substantial tabs at some of America's most lavish hotels and a racy Hollywood club:

Once on the ground, FEC filings suggest, Steele travels in style. A February RNC trip to California, for example, included a $9,099 stop at the Beverly Hills Hotel, $6,596 dropped at the nearby Four Seasons, and $1,620.71 spent [update: the amount is actually $1,946.25] at Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex.

Here is an account of someone who has attended the Hollywood club:

The girl at the door sent us in right away and told us to go to a table by the bar and get some free Champagne. Seriously. This club is amazing. There are topless "dancers" acting out S&M scenes throughout the night on one of the side stages, there's a half-naked girl hanging from a net across the ceiling and at one point I walked to the bathroom and pretty much just stopped dead in my tracks to watch two girls simulating oral sex in a glass case.

Really understated elegance here.

Also, Lindsay Lohan was at our table at one point

Family values? Fiscal restraint and responsibility? Well, we know the fiscal responsiblity and restraint aspect went out the window during the previous eight years of the Bush Administration.

Chairman Steele declined to be interviewed for Strong's article, but he did speak with a disgruntled aide:

Complaints, almost always expressed off the record, have been bitter. "This is not somebody who is out recruiting candidates," said an aide who worked closely with Steele. "He is not meeting with donors. He's not asking for money. The guy is writing his book or doing his speaking gigs, or whatever the hell else he fills his days with. Those are his priorities."

But Greg Sargent at The Plum Line has reported that the Republican Party is investigating the expenses, and have claimed the Chairman Steele was not the person who attended the Hollywood club:

We are investigating the expenditure in question. The story willfully and erroneously suggests that the expenditure in question was one belonging to the Chairman. This was a reimbursement made to a non-committee staffer.

The Chairman was never at the location in question, he had no knowledge of the expenditure, nor does he find the use of committee funds at such a location at all acceptable.

Good reporting would make that distinction crystal clear. The committee has requested that the monies be returned to the committee and that the story be corrected so that it is accurate."

Voyeur West Hollywood nightclub
In February, the RNC reportedly spent nearly $2,000 at Voyeur West Hollywood, a nightclub featuring scantily-clad dancers. UrbanDaddy calls Voyeur "a lavish new nightspot suggesting that highbrow elegance and a bit of S&M are not mutually exclusive."

Flying high
Chartered jets cost the Republican committee more than $17,000 during the month of February alone. The Daily Caller reported that discussions were underway about whether the RNC should buy its own private jet though an RNC spokesman told The Caller that the committee never had "plan" to buy a plane.

Four Seasons, Los Angeles
At the plush Four Seasons in Los Angeles, the RNC's bill came to roughly $6,500, FEC records show.

Wheeling and dealing
The RNC spent more than $12,000 on limousines in February.

Beverly Hills Hotel
Steele spent just over $9,000 at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, according to FEC records.

The RNC held its winter meeting in Hawaii. The trip cost the committee upwards of $43,000.

The RNC spent thousands on Las Vegas hotels like the Venetian.

Chef Jamie Oliver: Why the U.S. is one of the Unhealthiest Countries in the World

Chef Jamie Oliver addresses the non-profit organization TED (Technology Entertainment Design) regarding America's obesity dilemma.

GOP: Stop Inciting Tea Party VIOLENCE!

The GOP continues to stoke and incite Tea Partiers to the point where hate speech has turned into violent actions. It is not enough that they have launched verbal attacks against the Latino, African American, and gay communities among others; now they seem to be ramping up the actions by targeting members of Congress and their families. Where could this lead to?

New Rules: Friday, March 26, 2010

One of the more hilarious and too true New Rules from Bill Maher in a while. The Democrats should not let up. They need to keep getting their legislation and agenda through Congress, and show the Republicans no mercy.

Real Time: Friday, March 26, 2010, Season 8, Episode 6

Christopher Hitchens – Vanity Fair Columnist/Best Selling Author
Rob Thomas – Musician
Randi Weingarten – American Teachers Association
Jonathan Capehart – Washington Post Columnist
Jeff Garlin – Comedian/Author

This was a pretty good one. The interview with Christopher Hitchens was really interesting, and the New Rules segment this week was on the better ones in a long time.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nine alien landscapes on Earth

Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Antelope Canyon is located on the Navajo Reservation near Page, Arizona. The unique erosion of the Navajo Sandstone is formed mostly from flash floods, giving the canyon its stunning appearance.

Giant's Causeway, Ireland
At Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, you can witness the unusual pattern of around 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns, formed from ancient volcanic activity. The natural wonder is Northern Ireland’s number one attraction.

Bryce Canyon, Utah
Reaching 9,000 feet in elevation, southwestern Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park is a spectacular marvel to witness. Abundant in this area are curious geological formations known as “hoodoos”, totem-like spires of red sedimentary rock, some exceeding the height of a 10-story building.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia is the world’s largest salt flat at over 4,000 square miles. It is a major breeding ground for pink flamingos, and has multiple hotels built of salt bricks.

The Wave, Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona
The Wave is located in the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness of Arizona, near the Utah border. Like Antelope Canyon, the hypnotizing formation is made of Navajo Sandstone. Because of the delicacy of the environment, the Bureau of Land Management limits access to only twenty permits per day.

Socotra Islands
Socotra is a small group of islands in the Indian Ocean. Visiting the main island really is like a journey to another planet, as 1/3 of its plant life isn’t found anywhere else on Earth. The Dragon’s Blood tree pictured here is just one of the many extraordinary species inhabiting Socotra, valued for its red medicinal sap.

Fly Geyser, Black Rock Desert, Nevada
The Black Rock Desert is a dry lakebed in northwestern Nevada. The flat and barren location has been ideal for attempting records in land speed and rocketry. It is also the annual home of the Burning Man Festival. Among its strange looking features is Fly Geyser. Although on private land, the geyser can be viewed from the nearby road.

White Desert, Egypt
North of Farafara, Egypt, the White Desert is littered with strange chalk formations, carved over long expanses of time from sandstorms and high winds.

Racetrack Playa, Death Valley, California
Racetrack Playa is a seasonally dry lake in Death Valley National Park, California. The hot and arid landscape is home to a truly otherworldly phenomenon: the sailing stones. Ranging from small rocks to large boulders, these stones mysteriously move across the landscape, leaving straight, curved, and even zigzagged trails in their wake. Though many reasonable hypotheses have been offered, the action has never been witnessed in person, and there is still no absolute and verified explanation for these odd traveling stones.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sonic booms in slow motion

Watch sonic booms emerge from mushroom clouds in slow motion.

Pope implicated in Wisconsin sex abuse cover-up

A Wisconsin priest who could be responsible for the sexual abuse of up to 200 deaf boys was not held accountable by Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican officials nor anyone in the Catholic church.

Despite then-Cardinnal Ratzinger receiving many warnings from "several" bishops regarding a priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, at St. John's School For The Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin, the Vatican did nothing and allowed Father Murphy to continue without recrimination before he died in 1998. The New York Times:

In 1996, Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters about the case from Rembert G. Weakland, Milwaukee's archbishop at the time. After eight months, the second in command at the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican's secretary of state, instructed the Wisconsin bishops to begin a secret canonical trial that could lead to Father Murphy's dismissal.
But Cardinal Bertone halted the process after Father Murphy personally wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church's own statute of limitations.

"I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood," Father Murphy wrote near the end of his life to Cardinal Ratzinger. "I ask your kind assistance in this matter." The files contain no response from Cardinal Ratzinger

The letters and church files were obtained by the New York Times through the lawyers for five men who were abused and are suing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel examined Murphy's violations in 2006:

The men's stories are similar. Murphy would call them to his bedroom in the school, or visit them in their dorm beds late at night, masturbate them and leave. Sometimes he would go on to other boys. Often he would say nothing. Sometimes when the boys saw him molesting other boys in the dorm room, they would cover their heads with their blankets, hug themselves tightly and weep. At times, he would take their confession in a second floor walk-in closet in the boy's dorm and molest them.

"Murphy was so powerful and it was so hard," said Geier who was molested when he was in seventh grade and said he saw more than a dozen other boys molested. "You couldn't get out. It was like a prison. I felt so confused. Here I had Father Murphy touching me. I would be like, 'God, what's right?' "

Geier said the boys received no sex education and had no idea what was happening to them. Some, he said, believed it must be all right because it was being done by a priest

The resignation of Irish Bishop John Magee, who failed to report child-molesting priests to police, was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday. The irony here is astounding. And of course last week the Pope delivered an unparalleled letter regarding the ongoing Irish church scandal cover-ups of the last 16 years. However, the Pope has yet to acknowledge his own handling of a German case. The hypocricy is even worse.

In 1980, Ratzinger permitted the transfer of Rev. Peter Hullermann to a psychological treatment center to undergo treatment for pedophilia. Then-cardinal Ratziner was also the archbishop of Munich and failed to report Hullermann's alleged abuse of boys to German authorities. More than 300 former Catholic school students and others have shared abuse claims since January.

According to Stern magazine, Only 17 percent of Germans polled said that they still trust the Catholic church, compared to 29 percent in late January, just before the first abuse cases there were made public.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tell the Republican Party to stop inciting Tea Party racism

Tea Party activists showing their true colours

Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter receives assassination threat:

The same day a brick crashed through her Niagara Falls office, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D) says her staff discovered an assassination threat aimed at her family members. The Democratic headquarters in Rochester was also targeted.

Last Thursday she received a chilling recorded message at her campaign office. “Assassinate is the word they used…toward the children of lawmakers who voted yes."

The FBI is now investigating

Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello's brother's gas line cut:

Law enforcement authorities are investigating the discovery of a cut propane gas line at the Virginia home of Rep. Thomas Perriello’s (D-Va.) brother, whose address was targeted by tea party activists angry at the congressman’s vote for the health care bill.

An aide to the congressman confirmed to POLITICO that a line to a propane tank behind his brother's home near Charlottesville had been sliced.

The FBI would not disclose the details of the incident but said that they have been to the home.

POLITICO reported on Monday that Mike Troxel, an organizer for the Lynchburg Tea Party, posted on his blog what he thought was the congressman’s address, encouraging tea party activists to “drop by.”

The address has since been posted on websites of at least one other local tea party activist

Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak receiving threatening phone calls:

In the wake of his vote in favor of health care reform legislation, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), a strong opponent of abortion rights, has been on the receiving end of a string of extremely hostile and threatening messages, including death threats.

"Congressman Stupak, you baby-killing mother f***er... I hope you bleed out your a**, got cancer and die, you mother f***er," one man says in a message to Stupak.

"There are millions of people across the country who wish you ill," a woman says in a voicemail, "and all of those thoughts that are projected on you will materialize into something that's not very good for you."

Congressional offices vandalized:

In the immediate wake of the passage of health care reform, opponents reacted with dignity and maturity by calling for a fatwa on socialist windowpanes. The call went out from some "militia leader" named Mike Vanderboegh, who said: "“We can break their windows...Break them NOW. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.” The good news is that this is how the local window repair economy got stimulated, by Keynesians. The bad news is that Vanderboegh is telling people that "rifles are being cleaned."

Congress getting extra security:

House Democrats are expressing concerns about their personal safety following protests over health care legislation.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Wednesday that officials from the FBI and Capitol Police briefed Democrats on how to handle perceived security threats.

Hoyer said at least 10 lawmakers who feel that they are at risk of harm are getting attention from the proper authorities.

Hoyer said some posters depict a lawmaker's face in the crosshairs of a target.

Protests swirled around the Capitol during debate on the health care bill last weekend. Protesters hurled racial slurs at several black lawmakers and one protester spat at one black lawmaker

Twitter assassination threats:

Twitter may inevitably blow up the budget related to the Secret Service, since it allows every hothead with anger-management issues and 140 characters to spare to call for President Barack Obama to be killed. On Sunday, some idiot named Solly Forrell became internet famous for tweeting: "ASSASSINATION America, we survived the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy. We'll surely get over a bullet 2 #BarackObama's head." He followed that up with "The next #American with a #clear #shot should drop #Obama like a bad habit." That drew the attention of the Secret Service, naturally.

Pastor calls for death prayers:

Following along with a recent trend, Wiley Drake, a pastor from Orange County sent an email out to his parishoners "telling them that all 219 Democrats have been placed on the “imprecatory prayer list.” That means that these churchgoing folks will be asking for God to kill those who voted for the reform package, in accordance with Psalm 109, which reads, "May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership...May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

Sarah Palin uses gun sights on Democratic districts:

Sarah Palin has posted on her Facebook page a map featuring twenty gun sights or targets, one for each of the Democratic Representatives her political action committee SarahPAC have targeted in this year's upcoming Congressional elections. Three of the gun sights are red, in which incumbent Democrats have already announced that they are retiring. Palin wrote on her Facebook page:

We'll aim for these races and many others. This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington. Please go to and join me in the fight.

California marijuana initiative qualifies for November ballot

A state wide initiative to legalize marijuana possession and regulate marijuana sales to adults qualified today for November's California general election ballot. Not only is this a landmark moment in the long crusade against draconian and absurd marijuana prohibition laws, but a victory in November could fundamentally change the North American legal and economic landscape.

Marijuana was outlawed in America in 1937 even before most people knew what it was. But in today's world, America now has the highest rates of marijuana consumption throughout the world. Approximately 26 million Americans used marijuana in 2009 and more than 100 million have also tried it. It is also the country's top cash crop, with a value of $14 billion in California, and California's Board of Equalization estimates that $1.4 billion would be generated every year by taxing marijuana like alcohol.

With these facts in mind, it is quite clear that marijuana is now a very a mainstream recreational drug. Much more common recreational drugs such as alcohol and cigarettes are surprisingly still more popular tan marijuana, despite that both are harmful and extremely addictive. Marijuana is arguably not an addictive drug and one cannot overdose from it. The so-called "gateway" myth regarding marijuana has been debunked by every comprehensive major study. Marijuana is also much more easier for anyone, specifically children to access, via friends or through other illegal means, while major barriers and safeguards exist in regards to the availability of alcohol and tobacco.

Since the Calderon government in Mexico declared war on drug cartels, 15,000 lives have been lost. Estimates according to the U.S. government surmize that marijuana produces 60% of their profits. In the aftermath of the murders of several American consular workers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Mexico this week, and admitted that the American demand for drugs dominates this illicit market. However what the Secretary of State didn't admit was that the ongoing violence isn't a byproduct of marijuan, but rather the prohibition which results in a profit motive that criminals will kill for.

Marijuana prohitibion makes no sense whatsoever. It denies various levels of governments major revenue sources, while allowing murderous criminals to reap these profits from a drug far safer and healthier than alcohol and tobacco. Public attitudes regarding the drug are also drastically changing. Not only has a majority of Canadians long favoured legalizing marijuana, but a 2009 Gallup poll found that 44% of Americans favor legalization, a rise of ten points since 2001. And in California, a clear majority supports legalization.

While clear majorities support marijuana legalization on both sides of the border, the sad reality is that arrests for marijuana offenses have actually tripled across the U.S. since 1991. Even though California decriminalized small ammounts of marijuana possession in 1975, arrests have risen by an astronomical 127% in the same two decades that the criminal arrest rate declined by 40%. Approximately 850,000 marijuana arrests were made across the U.S. in 2009, which was half of all drug arrests combined and even more than all violent crime arrests made. There is no such law in America which is enforced so overwhelmingly yet so ridiculous.

California's marijuana laws are also enforced selectively with disturbing racial results: blacks are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana, despite comparable and lower rates of consumption. An expose by the Pasadena Weekly concluded that in the last five years, blacks (who constitute 14% of the city's population) represented more than half of all marijuana arrests.

The upcoming ballot intitiative this November will be a watershed moment and hopefully will be the beginning of the end of the stupid war on marijuana. Marijuana prohibition has proven to be a complete disaster, denying governments of key revenue streams which would benefit society at large with the strengthening of infrastructures and social spending, while putting violent criminals and drug cartels out of business. Billions of tax payer dollars have been wasted waging this senseles war, which has also made countless peaceful, law-abiding citizens into criminals. But hopefully this will all soon come to end, starting this November in California.

Why we need the gun registry

A number of raids throughout Toronto last week by police resulted in the recovery of at least eleven guns, originally from a batch of fifty-three guns stolen from a downtown apartment in February. An Uzi sub-machine gun, fifty handguns, and two shotguns were stolen from safes within the apartment between February 18 and 21. On March 11, Toronto police officers, members from the Gun and Gang Task force, and Peel region police seized the Uzi, ten handguns, and another pistol unrelated to the Isabella Street burglary. The guns were taken from the fourth-floor apartment of lawyer and gun collector Calvin Martin, who at the time was in the hospital. After the burglary, police seized an addition one hundred and seventy guns and ammmunition from Martin's apartment for safekeeping.

Martin's guns were legally owned and stored within his aparment, who also had permits for all of his guns. He is also a former director of the Ontario Handgun Association. Despite that Martin's weapons and ammunition were stored in safes in a locked room, the thieves were able to break in and steam them.

Constable Tony Vella of the Metropolitan Toronto Police said:

Obviously it’s concerning the number of firearms that were stolen and that there are firearms still missing. We’re doing everything possible to locate the additional firearms.

Five men now face five hundred and forty-six charges in the case, and the police have asked the public for help finding the rest of the guns stolen from the apartment on Isabella Street (near Yonge and Bloor Street East). Dwight Longmore, 21, of Brampton; Calvin Clarke, 24, of Toronto; Desmond Espeut, 23, of Innisfil; Robert Thelwell, 29, of Brampton; and Fortunato Zappone, 32, of Toronto all face several gun charges.

Bush wipes hand on Clinton after shaking Haitians' hands

In their first visit together in Haiti, George W. Bush was caught on video wiping his hand on Bill Clinton's shirt after shaking hands with various civilians.

Breitbart.TV first noticed this after viewing the footage, which follows President Obama's story of Bush's obsessive need for hand sanitizer.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Michael Moore on Larry King Live

On Monday evening Michael Moore appeared on Larry King Live to discuss the health insurance reform legislation which was passed by the House of Representatives on Sunday night, and signed into law by President Obama earlier this morning. Moore is not a fan of the legislation, as it provides no public health insurance for Americans, and therefore is not genuine reform. The actual legislation or law, which the Republican Party, the Tea Party movement and the conservative entertainment industry has deemed "socialism" and a "government take over", in fact only contains regulations for the for-profit, private health insurance industry to now abide by.

Michael Moore:

I wanted people to vote for this in Congress. But I'm saying that with many, many reservations. I believe this bill is two steps forward and one giant step backwards...We do not have universal health care in this country tonight as a result of this bill. In fact, we do not have any real overhaul of our health care system. insurance companies are still setting the rates...These are thieves and jackals. They have no business being around people who are ill and who need help.

...what part of an overwhelming victory do the Democrats not understand? The American people sent them there to do a job, not to cower and be afraid of Republicans or hold out their hand and sing kumbaya. This is time now to get these things done for the people.

An Absence of Class - Bob Herbert

New York Times Columnist Bob Herbert wrote an excellent column today condemning the Tea Party movement, the conservative entertainment industry, and the Republican Party for providing a complete absence of class and decency in contemporary American politics; for appealing to the lowest common denominator; and for encouraging, inciting and practicing extremism, racism and bigotry.

A group of lowlifes at a Tea Party rally in Columbus, Ohio, last week taunted and humiliated a man who was sitting on the ground with a sign that said he had Parkinson’s disease. The disgusting behavior was captured on a widely circulated videotape. One of the Tea Party protesters leaned over the man and sneered: “If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong end of town.”

Another threw money at the man, first one bill and then another, and said contemptuously, “I’ll pay for this guy. Here you go. Start a pot.”

In Washington on Saturday, opponents of the health care legislation spit on a black congressman and shouted racial slurs at two others, including John Lewis, one of the great heroes of the civil rights movement. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was taunted because he is gay.

At some point, we have to decide as a country that we just can’t have this: We can’t allow ourselves to remain silent as foaming-at-the-mouth protesters scream the vilest of epithets at members of Congress — epithets that The Times will not allow me to repeat here.

It is 2010, which means it is way past time for decent Americans to rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears. And it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.

For decades the G.O.P. has been the party of fear, ignorance and divisiveness. All you have to do is look around to see what it has done to the country. The greatest economic inequality since the Gilded Age was followed by a near-total collapse of the overall economy. As a country, we have a monumental mess on our hands and still the Republicans have nothing to offer in the way of a remedy except more tax cuts for the rich.

This is the party of trickle down and weapons of mass destruction, the party of birthers and death-panel lunatics. This is the party that genuflects at the altar of right-wing talk radio, with its insane, nauseating, nonstop commitment to hatred and bigotry.

Glenn Beck of Fox News has called President Obama a “racist” and asserted that he “has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate, has said of Mr. Obama’s economic policies: “Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.”

The G.O.P. poisons the political atmosphere and then has the gall to complain about an absence of bipartisanship.

The toxic clouds that are the inevitable result of the fear and the bitter conflicts so relentlessly stoked by the Republican Party — think blacks against whites, gays versus straights, and a whole range of folks against immigrants — tend to obscure the tremendous damage that the party’s policies have inflicted on the country. If people are arguing over immigrants or abortion or whether gays should be allowed to marry, they’re not calling the G.O.P. to account for (to take just one example) the horribly destructive policy of cutting taxes while the nation was fighting two wars.

If you’re all fired up about Republican-inspired tales of Democrats planning to send grandma to some death chamber, you’ll never get to the G.O.P.’s war against the right of ordinary workers to organize and negotiate in their own best interests — a war that has diminished living standards for working people for decades.

With a freer hand, the Republicans would have done more damage. George W. Bush tried to undermine Social Security. John McCain was willing to put Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the Oval Office and thought Phil Gramm would have made a crackerjack Treasury secretary. (For those who may not remember, Mr. Gramm was a deregulation zealot who told us during the presidential campaign that we were suffering from a “mental recession.”)

A party that promotes ignorance (“Just say no to global warming”) and provides a safe house for bigotry cannot serve the best interests of our country. Back in the 1960s, John Lewis risked his life and endured savage beatings to secure fundamental rights for black Americans while right-wing Republicans like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were lining up with segregationist Democrats to oppose landmark civil rights legislation.

Since then, the right-wingers have taken over the G.O.P. and Mr. Lewis, now a congressman, must still endure the garbage they have wrought.

Biden drops f-bomb

Vice-President Joe Biden dropped the f-bomb on live television in the midst of his congratulating President Obama on the passage and signing of health insurance reform legislation. Biden's remark - "This is a big f*#@ing deal" - is barely picked up by the microphone, but if you turn up the volume loud enough and strain a little, you can clearly hear it. The White House must not be upset or disturbed by Biden's remark as Press Secretary Robert Gibbs commented on Twitter: "And yes Mr. Vice President, you're right..."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health care reform's immediate changes (no public insurance yet)

1. Prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions for children in all new plans.

2. Provide immediate access to insurance for uninsured Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition through a temporary high-risk pool.

3. Prohibit dropping people from coverage when they get sick in all individual plans.

4. Lower seniors' prescription drug prices by beginning to close the donut hole.

5. Offer tax credits to small businesses to purchase coverage.

6. Eliminate lifetime limits and restrictive annual limits on benefits in all plans.

7. Require plans to cover an enrollee's dependent children until age 26.

8. Require new plans to cover preventive services and immunizations without cost-sharing.

9. Ensure consumers have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal new insurance plan decisions.

10. Require premium rebates to enrollees from insurers with high administrative expenditures and require public disclosure of the percent of premiums applied to overhead costs.

David Frum: Republicans' Most Crushing Legislative Defeat

Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. [...]

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat. [...]

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

House of Representatives passes Senate health insurance reform bill

The final vote count on the Senate legislation in the House of Representatives: 219 Democrats in favour, all 176 Republicans opposed, with 34 Democrats also opposing.

Obama watched the vote in the White House's Roosevelt Room with Vice President Joe Biden and dozens of aides. When the long sought 216th vote came in — the magic number needed for passage — the room burst into applause and an exultant president exchanged a high-five with his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

"We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things," the president said a short while later in televised remarks. "We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people."

“This isn’t radical reform, but it is major reform,” Obama continued. “This is what change looks like.”

CNN's Ed Henry, citing White House aides, reported that Obama will continue "barnstorming on health care" this week, delivering speeches outside of Washington heralding the immediate benefits of the health care bill.

-- AP/Huffington Post

Tom Joad said on 21 Sunday 2010 9:34 pm:

To The Republiban Leadership (if one can call it that): You lost this battle and you will continue to lose because you are devoid of ideas. In the 15 months since the new administration has been in power, you have never - not even one time - proposed an alternative solution. You have no ideas. Your political philosophy is moribund. Good bye, Republiban

Reid pledges public option vote in upcoming months

Democratic Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, proclaimed on Friday that he is committed to holding a separate vote on a public health insurance option in the next few months. Reid is attempting to placate progressive Democratic supporters who are disappointed with the current health insurance reform bill which is on the verge of passing today. In a letter to two progressive colleagues in the Senate, fellow Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Reid apologized for his inability to get a public insurance option or plan into the health care reform bill, and pledged to make the public option an eventual reality.

Hey Harry, why didn't you take this approach last year and hold an up and down reconciliation vote on the public option then?

As you know, I am a strong supporter of a public option, and I included the HELP Committee's public option in the bill I brought to the senate floor last year. I was disappointed when it became clear that we did not have the votes to keep it.

Nevertheless, like you, I remain committed to pursuing the public option. While I believe that the legislation we are considering does much to provide affordable coverage to millions of Americans and curb insurance company abuses, I also believe that the public option would provide additional competition to make insurance even more affordable. As we have discussed, I will work to ensure that we are able to vote on the public option in the coming months

Reid's letter demonstrates that he does seem to be commited to the public health insurance option, and has been throughout the health care debate. He tried several times to garner sixty votes apparently needed, according to those with that mentality, to pass variations of the public plan. Shockingly it failed. Regardless, Reid in fact could have just passed the public health insurance option through the reconciliation process in the first place (an up and down vote or budgetary procedure in the Senate which only requires a simple majority of fifty-one votes).


Now is the time to act - Independent Senator Bernie Sanders

The American people are angry -- and for good reason. About 17 percent of our workforce is unemployed or under-employed, health insurance premiums are soaring while more and more people lose their coverage, we are looking at record-breaking deficits, global warming threatens the planet, young people can't afford a college education and we are fighting two wars.

In the midst of all of this, facing the greatest set of crises since the Great Depression, the Republican Party has become the "Party of No." Senate Republicans have engaged in a record number of filibusters and other obstructionist tactics. More than 280 bills passed by the House have not yet been considered in the Senate. Day after day they slow down legislation and use the arcane rules of the Senate to make sure that nothing is accomplished. One senator called for the complete reading of a 700-page amendment. Another put a "hold" on all of President Obama's nominees. Another recently delayed hundreds of thousands of American workers from receiving extended unemployment and health insurance benefits. On and on it goes!

Meanwhile, people who voted for Obama and the Democrats are wondering why the majority party is always on the defensive and why, with large majorities in the House and Senate, they still can't pass major legislation to address the pressing needs of the middle class and working families. I do a national radio show every week and I continuously hear such words as
"disappointed", "disgusted", "frustrated." People are hurting; they want action from Congress and they want it now.

The good news is that, in order to get this country moving again, all the Democrats have to do is to use the same Senate procedure that Republicans employed -- time and time again -- in the past. The "reconciliation process" requires 51 votes to pass legislation in the Senate, not 60. I find the hypocrisy extraordinary that when the president or Democrats now talk about using reconciliation, Republicans begin whining and howling about how unfair and undemocratic that process is. That's strange! They have used that very same approach time after time when it suited their purposes.

Remember Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America," the 2,400-page bible of the Republican Revolution of the 1990s, which slashed Medicare and Medicaid, cut education, raised taxes on working families, weakened environmental standards and gave huge tax breaks to the rich? Guess what? Before President Clinton vetoed that terrible bill it passed by reconciliation. In fact, of the 22 times that reconciliation has been used since 1980, Republicans have used it 16 times -- often to provide tax breaks to the wealthy and slash health care for the elderly and poor.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), among many other Republicans, is now a critic of reconciliation. But back in 2005, when the Republicans used it, he sang a different tune saying, "All this rule of the Senate does is allow a majority of the Senate to take a position and pass a piece of legislation; support that position. Is there something wrong with majority rules? I don't think so." Senator Gregg was right then. He's wrong now.

Let's take a brief walk down memory lane and review how reconciliation has been used in the past.

In 1985, Congress provided health insurance for the unemployed, a backstop insurance policy commonly known as COBRA. Do you know what COBRA stands for? It's the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.

In 1996, Republicans used reconciliation to pass major legislation that ended six decades of welfare policy.

In 2001, Republicans used reconciliation to pass President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut that mainly benefited the wealthy.

In 2003, Republicans increased the deficit by $350 billion by providing generous tax breaks for the wealthy and large businesses. Vice President Dick Cheney cast the tie breaking 51st vote to send this bill to the president.

In 2005, Republicans passed a 360-page reconciliation bill without a single Democratic vote that provided deep cuts to Medicaid, and raised premiums on Medicare beneficiaries. Once again, Cheney cast the tie-breaking vote.

Republicans believed in reconciliation when George W. Bush was president and wanted to push an agenda that benefited the wealthy and large corporations. Now, however, they vigorously oppose reconciliation because some of us want to reform a disintegrating health care system, make college more affordable for working families and create millions of good jobs by ending our $350 billion a year dependency on foreign oil and moving to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

The American people have had enough of this double standard. The Democrats were elected to govern and to address the horrendous problems this country faces. It is time for the Democrats to use the same reconciliation rules Republicans used over and over again. The time to act is now!

More class from the Tea Party

Yesterday in Washington D.C., there were shocking displays of extremely abusive, derogatory and racist antics directed at Democratic members of the House of Representatives by Tea Party protesters. Prior to President Obama's address to Democratic members of the House of Representatives, thousands of Tea Party followers gathered at the Capitol building to protest health insurance reform. Their protest quickly descended into nasty heckling, as members of the House who passed through the Longworth House office building were exposed to racist and homophobic epithets and even some forms physical abuse.

A staff member from North Carolina Democratic Representative James Clyburn's office told reporters that Montana Democratic Representative Emanuel Cleaver was spat on by a Teabagger or Tea Party protester. Another Democratic Representative, John Lewis of Georgia, a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a "n*gger". And Democratic Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who is openly gay, was called a "f*ggot", as Tea Partiers shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams. Frank, shrugged off the incident when approached afterwards inside the Capitol building. Clyburn however was in total disbelief, commenting that he had not witnessed such treatment since leading civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960s:

It was absolutely shocking to me. Last Monday, this past Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus of Claflin University where fifty years ago as of last Monday...I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit ins...And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since that day. I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus.

But asked if he was concerned for his own personal safety, he said:

It doesn't make me nervous as all. "In fact, as I said to one heckler, I am the hardest person in the world to intimidate, so they better go somewhere else.

Clyburn was then asked if an apology was warranted from Republican members of Congress who addressed the crowd and if they have been playing on their worst fears of health care legislation, the Democratic Party, and President Obama:

A lot of us have been saying for a long time that much of this, much of this is not about health care at all. And I think a lot of those people today demonstrated that this is not about health is about trying to extend a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful.

Yesterday at approximately 7:00 pm, Democratic Representative Emanuel Cleaver's office released the following statement

For many of the members of the CBC, like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.

This afternoon, the Congressman was walking into the Capitol to vote, when one protester spat on him. The Congressman would like to thank the US Capitol Police officer who quickly escorted the others Members and him into the Capitol, and defused the tense situation with professionalism and care. After all the Members were safe, a full report was taken and the matter was handled by the US Capitol Police. The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol Police.

This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the "n" word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans. That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting. He looks forward to taking a historic vote on health care reform legislation tomorrow, for the residents of the Fifth District of Missouri and for all Americans. He believes deeply that tomorrow's vote is, in fact, a vote for equality and to secure health care as a right for all. Our nation has a history of struggling each time we expand rights. Today's protests are no different, but the Congressman believes this is worth fighting for

The Buffalo News reported that Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter's district office in Pine View, New York, was vandalized on Saturday:

Sometime early this morning, someone threw a brick through the front window of her Pine Avenue office.

The damage was discovered about 12:30 a.m., city police said.

The brick put a hole in the outer-most window at the office at 1910 Pine Ave., but did not damage a second interior window, police reported. A piece of broken brick believed to have caused the damage was found at the scene.

Damage was estimated at $350

Capitol Police arrested the man who spat on Emanuel Cleaver, however the Representative refused to press charges.

Stay classy, Tea Party

Last Tuesday in Ohio, Tea Partiers protesting against health insurance reform outside of the district office of Democratic Representative Mary Jo Kilroy, viciously ridiculed a man who favours reform and claimed to have Parkinson's disease. The man held a sign which read: "Got Parkinson's? I do and you might. Thanks for your help" The man approached the angry mob of teabaggers and their nasty, cruel and callous responses were filmed by the Columbus Dispatch.

One Tea Partier leaned down to get into the man's face and said:

If you're looking for a handout, you're in the wrong part of town. Nothing for free. You have to work for everything you get.

Another Tea Partier threw dollar bills at the man, and told the man to:

Start a pot, I'll pay for you. I'll decide when to give you money.

There were then other shouts of "Communism" and "no more handouts" heard.

This Tea Party protest wasn't the only protest where Tea Partiers made comparisons to Communism or sounded like maniacs, but the video demonstrates that despite the Tea Partiers claim that they're not on the side of corporations and are anti-corporatists, they in fact are. They are on the side of greed, private health insurance organizations and don't care at all about their country's 45 million uninsured, nor the 45,000 who die every year because they lack health insurance.

What's also interesting about the Tea Party movement is that it claims to be all about supporting the constitution and rights and liberties, but these people were nowhere to be seen during the Bush Administration when the Patriot Act was legislated.

Real Time: Friday, March 19, 2010, Season 8, Episode 5

Dennis Kucinich – Democratic Representative from Ohio
Gavin Newsom – Democratic Mayor of San Fransisco
Stephen Moore – Conservative Economist (constantly interrupts and talks over the others)
Melinda Henneburger – Editor of Politics Daily
Emile Hirsch – Actor

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Elizabeth May: Getting corporate concentrated media to cover the problem of media concentration

Earlier this week, we issued a news release on the enormous opportunity presented by the upcoming sale of the Asper empire of newspapers, CanWest Limited Partnership (LP). That conglomerate now controls 46 newspapers across Canada.

Itself, it was part of the larger CanWest vertically integrated media empire, including Global Television. When CanWest moved to bankruptcy protection, Global TV was purchased by Shaw, creating another growing conglomerate. The newspaper division is being sold separately, but the creditors are rejecting bids to allow the empire to be broken up and sold in pieces. Of the 46 papers owned by CanWest LP are a number of dominant provincial dailies -- including all the major BC dailies – the Vancouver Sun, The Province and the Times Colonist, as well as the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, the Calgary Herald, and the Montreal Gazette.

In Losing Confidence, I wrote about the threats to democracy in an increasingly small group of corporations controlling the news we hear and see and read. From 1969 and the Senate Report chaired by Keith Davey which concluded “All transactions that increase concentration of ownership in the mass media are undesirable and contrary to the public interest unless shown to be otherwise,” to the 1981 Kent Commission which described the situation as “monstrous,” noting “too much power is put in too few hands, and it is power without accountability,” Canadians have been warned that the situation is unhealthy.

And this was before the largest media grab in Canadian history. In 1993, Conrad Black began to assemble his empire.

As the Kent Commission wrote “Freedom of the press is not a property right of owners. It is a right of the people. It is part of their right to free expression, inseparable from their right to inform themselves.”

Look at the chart attached. We supposedly live in the “Information Age,” but this chart tells a different story. Too few people own too many newspapers, and our once strong local press slides toward USA Today -- MacPapers – replacing local content with cookie cutter filler. We may be in an age where more factoids are dispersed on a 24-7 news cycle, but how much useable information is available? The truth is we live in age of celebrity gossip masquerading as journalism. How else to explain our public news broadcaster, the CBC, leading its evening broadcast with the Tiger Woods saga? (over and over again). CBC is also pressed by its funder (the government) to push ratings and schlock, while it lives in fear of political retribution if it bites the hand that feeds it.

Loss of a free and independent media in Canada can be linked to loss of civic engagement and declining voter turn-out. This is the most important story that never makes the pages of the newspapers. How do we break up this unhealthy corporate concentration? Now is the time --- before the Asper empire is sold intact.

Little wonder only one radio station (credit to CFAX) picked up on our release. Please regard this as a plea to Greens to help raise this issue any way you can.

Newspaper Circulation by Type of Ownership and Media Group by Province.pdf