Saturday, July 31, 2010

Epic marijuana legalization debate on Fox News

Libertarian John Stossel recently presented a one hour program dedicated to examining America's draconian drug laws and failed War on Drugs. Although I completely disagree with libertarians and Stossel on many issues, here he is spot on and it is extremely refreshing and encouraging to see this perspective on the failed War on Drugs on Fox News.

How an organic farm is reducing crime

From The Huffington Post:

Alemany Farm is a four acre organic paradise amidst the urban sprawl of one of San Francisco's worst crime areas.

Executive Director Alice Carruthers says her vision with the non-profit "was to slow the crime down." Since the farm began in 1991, families have been able to put fresh organic food on their tables and find a safe haven from the hostile environment where their children play and learn about the environment.

Bianca Armstrong, a seventeen year old mother, says that before she became a volunteer at Alemany Farm she ate a lot of junk food. She talks about how the experience has helped her change and grow into a better person, and how she hopes to pass on what she has learned to her daughter.

It's time for sensible marijuana laws

Travel writer Rick Steves compares European drug policies to those of the United States, and calls for comprehensive reform of laws restricting use of soft drugs like marijuana. "There's not a reservoir of people just wishing they could ruin their lives with drugs if only it was legal," says Steves.

Entire video here:

L.A. pushing to become mass transit leader

From the Associated Press:

Los Angeles — The region famous for jilting the street car to take up a love affair with the automobile is trying to rekindle its long ago romance with commuter rail.

If successful, the novel plan to borrow billions from the federal government, led by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, would result in the largest transit expansion project in the nation.

Los Angeles County voters agreed two years ago to pay a half-cent sales tax over the next 30 years to extend train and rapid bus lines, projects that would routinely require federal assistance.

But the mayor, who sits on a county transportation board, wants a loan instead of Washington handouts to get the projects built in a decade rather than 30 years. He contends it would save money in the long run, result in more construction jobs and less traffic and pollution.

If the approach works, it could set a precedent for cities and states across the country considering major rail and road improvements.

"We can't wait because traffic is unbelievable and the environmental problem is too severe," said Denny Zane, who is building a coalition of business, labor and environmental groups pushing for the plan. "The need for jobs and economic development is also very severe."

In the first half of the 20th century the Los Angeles region boasted an extensive system of streetcars and high-speed electric railways including the famed Red Cars. After World War II, Southern California began abandoning those systems in favor of personal automobiles and freeways, leaving mass transit to buses.

Now, with gridlock commonplace, the focus is back on high-capacity transit systems – light rail, interurban heavy rail, dedicated busways – to catch up with the transportation demands of millions of people.

But with federal and state transportation funds dwindling due to a reduction in gas tax revenue, experts say the time is right to test innovative ideas in transportation financing.

"The national government should help cities that are helping themselves and take advantage of these bold plans to transform how these places operate and function," said Robert Puentes, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program.

Under the so-called 30/10 initiative, the sales tax would generate about $5.8 billion over the next 10 years to pay for a dozen projects.

Local transportation officials said another $8.8 billion is needed to pay for the estimated $14.6 billion total cost. By using the future sales tax revenue as collateral for long-term bonds and a low-interest federal loan, the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority could put these projects on the fast track. The county would repay the federal loan over 20 years with proceeds from the sales tax.

The projects include a long-awaited subway extension to the economically vibrant west side of Los Angeles (a plan often called the Subway to the Sea), a regional connector linking three rail lines in the downtown core, plus light rail extensions reaching Los Angeles International Airport and communities to the south and east. In all, completion of these projects would add 78 miles of rail and bus-only lanes to the current, 102-mile system and 77 million annual transit boardings to the MTA's current 445 million.

Because there is no existing federal funding program for the grand scale of projects Los Angeles County wants to get going at once, officials are seeking a combination of loans, grants and bonds that would require congressional approval.

The effort is picking up some momentum.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a June letter that the 30/10 model "has the potential to transform the way we invest in transportation projects across the nation." In another nod to the plan, the Federal Transit Administration agreed to evaluate the Subway to the Sea for federal funding in its entirety instead of in three segments, giving the project an edge when it competes for grants from the agency.

"It's a good and healthy indicator of government support for the project," said Raffi Haig Hamparian, government relations manager at the MTA.

The region has had past successes in getting federal investments in massive transportation projects. The effort to obtain a $400 million federal loan for a $2.4 billion dedicated railway linking the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles with transcontinental railyards laid the groundworks for a 1998 federal credit program for significant transportation projects.

One transportation expert said the decision to incur debt over 30 years comes with inherent risks.

"Cost overruns will cost us more than we estimate now, and give us a certain amount of financial risks in the future," said Martin Wachs of the Rand Corp. think tank.

However, he said the benefits of accelerating the projects outweigh the negatives.

Transit agencies struggling for a bigger share of federal and state funds are paying attention.

The Regional Transportation Authority of Chicago faces funding shortages that restrict spending on maintaining and upgrading the system to $2.7 billion over five years, said director Steve Schlickman. Chicago operates the nation's second largest transit system.

"Hopefully other metropolitan areas will wake up and realize that virtually every major city in this country is underinvesting in their infrastructure," Schlickman said. "We can't rely on the federal government, we have to rely on all levels of government."

Villaraigosa said his staff has had discussions with officials from Houston, Chicago, New York and other cities interested in the 30/10 model to build their transportation projects faster.

"There's a lot of national interest because everybody's going to Washington knocking on doors and nobody's answering," the mayor said. "They're realizing that the best way to get those doors open is to leverage the little federal money that there is with local money."

Wachs said there isn't enough money to go around for every city lining up for federal funds to improve transportation systems, but those that are willing to put up their own money should get priority.

"They should have first dibs because their voters have been willing to tax themselves to get these important programs started, the national government should notice that," he said.

Royson James and delusions of grandeur

So Toronto Star columnist Royson James has proven that he has delusions of grandeur in his latest Toronto Star column, regarding what he'd do to improve Toronto. And James is indeed delusional (or incredibly ignorant) as he gets so many facts wrong, and neglects reality. This is of course the same Royson James who in a 2007 column advocated hanging city councillors , which of course drew a stern response from Mayor David Miller, blasting James' completely unprofessional, irresponsible, undemocratic, grossly insulting and ludicrous column.

James' plan to make Toronto greater would begin with regaining public trust. He condemns city council for taking pay hikes while cutting the salaries of senior staff, that the city "put workers through a controversial strike, approved tax hikes above inflation each year, and initiated new taxes on cars and property sale." First, this is not the way to forge relations with councillors, as the mayor needs to build relations and consensus with councillors in order to pass legislation and make council work. Second, the city did not "put workers through a controversial strike." The workers chose to strike, as it is their right to do so. Third, Toronto's property tax rate is the lowest in the GTA and is in line with the inflation rate.

If James were mayor, he would be unable to prevent city council taking pay increases. Mayor Miller rejected his pay increase and was unable to thwart city council increasing their salaries (even though councillors in Mississauga and Peel Region make much more than Toronto councillors). But is James somehow alluding that he would be able to prevent this? If so, then how would he do this? By hanging those councillors in Nathan Phillips Square who voted to increase their pay?

James then goes onto deride that "councillors refused to cut their office budgets, using the money to feather their nests, fund pet projects, engage in image-burnishing events, support sports teams, dress up in bunny suits, buy expensive espresso machines and outrageously high-priced Christmas cards."

This is pandering to right-wing populism by taking a few bad examples and casting the entire council in a negative light. This is incredibly disingenuous, cynical, and dishonest. The $53,000 office budget for the 44 members of council is a paltry sum, when compared to say the rising salaries of (1,329 Toronto police uniform and civilian employees earned more than $100,000 in 2009) and the $956 million budget of the Toronto Police Service, or $1.4 billion for the TTC. Even though over a thousand members of the Toronto Police Service earn more than $100,000 annually, James and the right-wing circus whine, cry and scream over the $53,000 office budget granted to city councillors, which is often used to pay staff. I imagine though that James, and the right-wing lynch mob, feel that city employees should be working for mere scraps. James then goes on to recommend that councillor office budgets be cut to between $30,000 and $40,000. I guess an additional $13,000 is an abomination, so cutting it down by $13,000 is much more respectable and acceptable. Right.

Here is where James goes completely off the rails. He writes that "the mayor refused to stand up for the citizens, allowing his council to dodge behind fine legal and policy interpretations. For example, when a Beach family, supporters of Miller ally Sandra Bussin, managed to get an exclusive deal from the city to manage a waterfront food business, the mayor remained mum, even though the deal was clearly not in the interest of the taxpayer." What was Mayor Miller supposed to do? Throw a hissy fit and temper tantrum a al Rob Ford? Of course, that is what James would probably prefer the mayor to do, to make an ass out of himself, seeing as James often appears sympathetic and perhaps mildly supportive of the embarrassing Ford.

James finalizes his approach to improving public trust by writing "that accomplished, citizens may begin to believe that city council is no longer a safe harbour for arrogant lifers with a sense of entitlement. And candidates will no longer gain traction with a one-issue campaign that taps into this discontent." So, James' ideal mayor should regard councillors as "arrogant lifers", coupled with "a sense of entitlement." Except for the mayor, of course, who is there to lead build consensus, forge relations, in order to work productively with council to achieve efficiency and concrete results.

James' next section is entitled "Help us feel better about city spending" which is equally if not more ridiculous than the first. James believes that "a winning mayoral platform would promise to: Give citizens a property tax freeze in year one as the administration reviews programs, tightens the budget and sets the spending template for the term." Right. This would be the correct approach despite a $350 million budget surplus. Regardless, Toronto's property taxes are the lowest in the Greater Toronto Area. Try Mississauga or Vaughan if you want to see high property taxes. This is a total red herring. James then goes onto endorsing the TTC as an essential service and outsourcing or privatization of some of Toronto's garbage collection. It appears that James completely missed the boat here, seeing as unionized private garbage collectors can still go on strike, as the provincial DriveTest examiners and York Region's Viva transit operators have recently walked out. Privatizing garbage collection would cost the city and tax payers much more, and the private sector doesn't abide by the same hiring policies as municipalities, such as ensuring each candidate has a high school education and doesn't have a criminal record.

James concludes this section with more blissful ignorance, believing somehow that the city could easily "Secure the essentials of a fiscal deal with the province, tell citizens how much they have to pay to maintain services, and end the incessant squabbling with Queen’s Park over downloading." Right. With one swipe of a magical wand, the essentials of a fiscal deal could be secured with the province. Mayor Miller has been trying for years to reverse the destructive and idiotic downloading of provincial services onto the city's tab by former neo-con Premier Mike Harris, and current Premier Dalton McGuinty has accepted some of the province's responsibility in paying its own tab, but not all of it. But of course James believes that this could easily be resolved.

On "boosting democracy", James favours the alternative vote and makes no mention of proportional representation whatsoever. The alternative vote or instant run-off voting is not a viable solution in terms of electoral reform, as Fair Vote Canada aptly notes:

"AV elections in Australia have shown that the second choices on ballots tip the balance in only a small number of seats. In 21 elections between 1919 and 1996, only six per cent of the leading first-choice candidates were defeated by the distribution of second choices. In Manitoba and Alberta, where AV was used for 15 elections over three decades, second choices changed the outcome only 2 per cent of the time. Regardless of who wins the seats the AV results still leave a large portion of the electorate without the representation it wants and deserves."

The fact is that in the 2006 Toronto municipal election, only 41% of eligible voters voted. Seeing as Toronto uses a winner-take-all voting system (ie first-past-the-post), only 56% of those who voted actually elected councillors. So, the result was that Toronto City Council in 2006 was elected by 23% of eligible voters.

From here, James goes onto advocate more spending for expanding public transit (I thought James thought spending was "out of control" and where is he going to find more revenue, I thought he wanted to freeze taxes), but by adding road tolls, and a 1% sales tax. So James advocates freezing property taxes but wants road tolls and a 1% sales tax. Talk about talking out of both sides of your mouth. James wants to have it both ways. You can either maintain the current levels of taxation, which are covering the costs of the TTC, or, freeze or cut taxes and therefore will eventually have to cut services. This is on top of James advocacy for more spending on public transportation. Oh yes, James supports road tolls and a 1% sales tax. So James, who believes that property taxes are too high, endorses a 1% sales tax. Of course, the overwhelming majority of those polled so far on the issue of road tolls are completely opposed to the concept.

James then goes onto propel another red herring, to of course appeal to the hysterical right-wing, and laments "a sharing of the road, minus the “war on the car.” Put bike lanes where they make sense, not to score political points." The only one here who is attempting to score political points is James, as there is no "war on the car", except in the imaginations of Rob Ford and his followers. But James' then writes "Support laws that give bikes a wide berth, promoting safety; encourage cycling and walking in high pedestrian zones." Again, James is talking out of both sides of his mouth. First, he wants "a sharing of the road" without the fake "war on the car", and not have bike lanes in certain areas in specific areas to "score political points." Then of course, James wants to have laws which allow "bikes a wide berth" and to "encourage cycling." James has to make up his mind, because again, you can't have it both ways.

The most important aspects which James completely ignored, neglected or was completely ignorant of were the following facts and realites regarding the City of Toronto:

• Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone has already pledged to not accept a pay raise if elected mayor. City councillors in Mississauga and Peel Region make much more than Toronto councillors.

Toronto is a top ten city on the rise.

• An audit by Moody Investor Services found that the City of Toronto has low debt and high levels of investment, and fiscally is in much better shape than many other Canadian and international cities, despite a financial meltdown and tough global recession. Of course, you don't see these facts in James' column.

Toronto's spending is the lowest: A survey of spending over the last twelve years deflates a huge talking point of the right in regards to Mayor Miller and the City of Toronto. City spending is far lower than that of the federal and Ontario provincial governments over the last twelve years.

Maury Chaykin 1949-2010

Canadian Press video: Maury Chaykin, a New York born actor who became a fixture in Canadian film and television, died on his 61st birthday this past Tuesday. Chaykin had appeared in such popular programs as HBO's Entourage and the Canadian cult classic Trailer Park Boys. His most recent television series was Less Than Kind.

DNA evidence exonerates man after 27 years

From the Associated Press:

Houston — Imprisoned for 27 years for a rape he didn't commit, Michael Anthony Green walked out of jail a free man on Friday and in the process was able to leave behind some of the anger that had fueled his survival behind bars.

Accompanied by his attorney, Green walked out of the Harris County Jail and into the arms of about 20 family members who cheered him.

"Live life," Green said, when asked what he is going to do now.

Green, 44, was released after the Harris County District Attorney's Office reopened his case and new DNA tests it commissioned showed he did not commit the 1983 rape of a woman who had been abducted. During a court hearing Friday, a judge ordered that Green be released on a $500 bond, allowing him to be free while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals makes a final ruling on his innocence.

Asked what kept him going the last 27 years, Green said that in part it was his anger.

"I took and channeled my anger into studying the law," said Green, clutching a photograph of his mother, who died while he was in prison. "That's how I lived, day by day ... doing what I did. Get up in the law, try to find me a way out."

Some of the anger that Green had held onto for so many years came to the surface on Thursday, when he had been originally scheduled to be freed on bond. His release was delayed to give him time to calm down after he became upset that he was put in handcuffs and leg restraints one final time as he was taken from the county jail to the courthouse, said Bob Wicoff, his attorney. Green said he got upset because one of the deputies escorting him tightened his handcuffs and threatened him.

Wicoff called it a misunderstanding but said Green was justified in his anger as his life had been taken away. Green entered prison at age 18. Some of the nieces and nephews who greeted him on Friday hadn't been born when he was locked up.

Green said that while in prison, he didn't give up hope, writing to state lawmakers, the Harris County District Attorney's Office and others proclaiming his innocence and asking that his case be reviewed.

In 1983, four men abducted a woman from a pay telephone in north Houston, taking her to a remote location where three of them raped her. The men drove off, leaving the woman there, and were later chased by police. The men abandoned their car and fled on foot. Green was detained by officers that night as he walked in the area.

The victim could not identify Green in person when he was first detained but later picked him from a photo lineup as one of her attackers. Green was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 75 years in prison. He was the only person convicted in the case.

After District Attorney Pat Lykos was elected in 2008, she formed the Post-Conviction Review Section and it chose Green's case as one of the first to look at. The review team found the only remaining evidence in the case – clothing worn by the victim during the rape – and had it tested. The results excluded Green.

Authorities were able to identify the four men who abducted the women. But because the statute of limitations on the rape has run out, they cannot be prosecuted.

"The tragedy in the Green case is not only was an innocent man in prison, the victim was denied justice, society was denied justice and the real criminals were free," Lykos said Friday.

Lykos declined to criticize her predecessors when asked why it took so long for Green's case to be reviewed. She said DNA testing was not available when Green was convicted, it didn't come to the forefront until the 1990s and that even now Harris County – the country's third-largest county – doesn't have the resources to do all the testing it needs to do.

Green said he was grateful for the efforts by the district attorney's office.

He and his attorney blame bad police work for his wrongful imprisonment, saying improperly suggestive identification procedures that were used in photo spreads and a live lineup helped lead to the victim incorrectly identifying Green as one of her attackers.

Houston police have declined to comment on Green's case.

Wicoff said Green forgives the victim but is unsure if he will ever forgive the police.

Adrian Taylor, 50, Green's older brother, said he's disappointed it took so long for his brother to be released but now he wants to help him look to the future.

"I now have to get him to forgive, forgive and move on," Taylor said.

Al Gore sexual harassment charges dropped

As it turns out, and I'm not the least bit surprised, Gore's accusor completely fabricated the entire incident in question. Gore has been vindicated. Gore's accuser, Molly Hagerty, not only failed to provide any medical records she said were related to the case, but also failed a polygraph test and did not report any problems with the former vice-president to the hotel and in fact thanked the hotel for the business referrals she received. Also, witnesses at the hotel directly contradicted Hagerty's testimony. They did not see or hear anything out of the ordinary, nor did they see Hagerty "shaking and in shock."

From The Huffington Post:

Portland authorities signaled on Friday that they will no longer continue to investigate charges made against former Vice President Al Gore stemming from allegations he groped a licensed massage therapist in 2006.

Local television station KOIN reports:

The complaining witness, Molly Hagerty, stated that she was sexually abused during a massage session at the Hotel Lucia when Gore was in Portland. Hagerty failed a polygraph test during the course of the investigation, and there was no DNA evidence on the pants she claimed she wore during the alleged incident, according to investigators.

Gore has vehemently denied the charges of sexual misconduct that recently came to light when the Portland Police Bureau signaled it was opening an investigation into the case.

After news broke that the probe would be dropped, Gore spokesman Kalee Kreider said in a statement:

"Mr. Gore unequivocally and emphatically denied this accusation when he first learned of its existence three years ago. He respects and appreciates the thorough and professional work of the Portland authorities and is pleased that this matter has now been put to rest."

The National Enquirer first broke news of controversy last month.

Multnomah County District Attorney Michael D. Schrunk issued a statement summarizing the deficiencies in the case:

1. Ms. Hagerty, who has red hair, states she called Mr. Gore immediately following the alleged incident and told him to "dream of redheaded women" seemingly in contradiction to her assertions that she was terrified of Mr. Gore. Two days after the alleged incident Ms. Hagerty also sent an email to the Hotel Lucia stating that she appreciated the business referrals she received from the hotel. She did not mention any problem with Mr. Gore;

2. Witnesses at the hotel where the alleged incident occurred state they do not remember seeing or hearing anything unusual---directly contradicting Ms. Hagerty's published claim in the July 12, 2010 of the National Enquirer that she was "shaking and in shock" and "rushed down the hall and to the lobby where the front desk clerk noticed she was upset was asked if she was OK";

3. Forensic testing of pants retained by Ms. Hagerty as possible evidence are negative for the presence of seminal fluid;

4. Ms. Hagerty has not provided as repeatedly requested medical records she claims are related to the case;

5. Ms. Hagerty has also failed to provide other records related to the case;

6. Ms. Hagerty failed a polygraph examination;

7. It appears Ms. Hagerty was paid by the National Enquirer for her story; and

8. Mr. Gore voluntarily met with detectives and denied all of the allegations.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Pantalone counters Rossi's ignorance on garbage


Earlier this week, mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi promised that if he were to become a mayor, he would privatize Toronto’s garbage collection, and thus there would never be another garbage strike in Toronto. In an interview with, Joe countered Rossi’s promise, displaying the ignorance in this vow:

But Joe Pantalone, a rival candidate and the city’s deputy mayor, said Rossi’s vows of “never again” allowing a garbage strike in Toronto displays his ignorance.

“He’s showing the fact that he’s never been elected to anything and he doesn’t understand how government and labour laws work.”

Unless Rossi’s “running for God,” Pantalone argued, those laws will allow unionized workers for private companies to strike, as the province’s DriveTest examiners and York Region’s Viva transit operators both did recently.

If the city privatizes waste collection – which Rossi and other contenders for mayor have said they might do – it would no longer have the trucks, transfer stations or trained workforce if it changes its mind.

“We would be in effect captive to the private sector,” Pantalone said.

The deputy mayor said what he learned from the strike “is really nobody wins,” including the workers who lost wages and communities who put up with aggravation.

“Everyone should take a cold shower before the next negotiations reach that kind of a breaking point.”

Read the full article on

The best posters in Britain's AV campaign


We've had a fantastic response to our call for poster ideas to fight the "Yes" campaign on AV - good designs, along with some clever slogans that put Tom Harris MP's hypocritical effort for the "Noes" in the shade. My feeling is that a strong and simple message is what's needed that draws on the deep well of anti-politics whilst showing why reform will be an improvement. This very striking black and white poster from the 1993 referendum in New Zealand is very effective in that respect I think.

Here are some of the best ones so far.

I'm a big fan of this with one its classy design and jaw-dropping stats

Many of the designs highlight expenses linking it to a voting system that breeds arrogance and corruption:

I really like the slogan for this one, although I think the design is a bit too bright and cluttered:

The 50% support in a constituency argument is one of the most powerful arguments for AV according to polling:

This one's a great design, though perhaps a bit too obscure at first glance:

A bit of humour is always good:

And here we have a straight-forward reversal and correction of Mr Harris's effort to make it honest!

The shrinking conservative tent

A great column from the Globe and Mail's Lawrence Martin regarding the control freak nature of the PMO (Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office) and the subsequent alienation of party and staff moderates, snubbing parliament and our democratic processes, blunders and incompetence.

Stephen Harper’s stewardship can be divided into two halves – the first being the calm, the second the storm.

The first period, from 2006 to the middle of 2008 when Ian Brodie served as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, saw a less bull-headed approach. Coming out of the conservative hardlands, Mr. Harper didn’t want to start off with guns blazing. He brought forward five unprovocative policy priorities.

In 2008, Guy Giorno, a visceral hard-liner and social conservative from Mike Harris’s Ontario regime, took over as the PM’s right-hand man. It was a strange hire. Mr. Harper was already being criticized as a control freak. In bringing in Mr. Giorno, whose way of relaxing is to slip into a straitjacket, the PM was tightening the bolts even more. The changeover may come to be seen as the turning point in Mr. Harper’s governance, the moment when the die was cast, when the chance of these Conservatives ever becoming a big tent party ended.

With Mr. Giorno came a-house cleaning. Out went the moderates. In came the true believers. Among those who departed were top policy adviser Bruce Carson, a veteran Tory of no fixed ideological address, and Keith Beardsley, who had worked for Joe Clark and Jean Charest. They were older, experienced men, both prepared to challenge Hr. Harper when they thought he was overreaching.

Kevin Lynch, the clerk of the Privy Council, soon left as well. Mr. Giorno thought he wielded too much power and cut off his access to the PM to the point where Mr. Lynch couldn’t function as he wished. Now Double G, as Mr. Giorno was sometimes called, had even more power. During this period, the Harper team also lost the overarching wisdom of long-time adviser Tom Flanagan.

Mr. Harper’s office became his very own echo chamber, his instincts unchecked. In the Brodie PMO, the operation was often hard-headed enough. It introduced one of the most widespread vetting and censorship operations the capital had ever seen. But it kept the lid on. Under Mr. Giorno, ideology-spurred controversies and convulsions soon became commonplace. In the 2008 election campaign came Mr. Harper’s costly denunciation of gala-goers. His inclination for aggression showed up with the budget update fiasco that nearly brought down his government.

After the first prorogation that followed it, the government had little choice but to veer left and open the spending taps to address the recession. But soon it returned to its ideological moorings. Law and order measures intensified with the announcement of a major jail-building program. The Harper office then handled the Afghan detainees affair with all the subtlety of a 1950s Latin American military dictatorship, cutting short an inquiry, attacking diplomat Richard Colvin, defying the House of Commons its right to see documents (until ordered by the Speaker to do so) and shutting down Parliament in an attempt to avoid more clamour. Mr. Harper himself was not keen on this second padlocking of Parliament but was persuaded to go that route by advisers.

This year gave him a splendid opportunity to reset the character of the government. The country was rebounding nicely from the recession. There was the glory of the Vancouver Olympics, the hosting of the G8 and G20 summits and the royal visit. The PM performed ably through them all, but again fell victim to ideological overdrive and base-pandering.

In addition to several other control-freak eruptions, social conservatism came to the fore with abortion funding left out of the maternal health initiative, funding cuts for Toronto’s Gay Pride day, a planned employment equity review and, most important, the decision on ending the long-form census.

The upshot has been no change in the government’s image and zero improvement in its popularity numbers. Unable to score through these times, Tories must be wondering whether they can ever score.

When he became PM, Mr. Harper wanted to gradually enlarge the Conservative tent. That required his having a team that could curb his raw appetites and fashion an appeal to the mainstream. He had people like that initially. But then the yes chorus came, the ideological shackles tightened, and the tent got smaller.

Memphis councillor receives death threats

From The Huffington Post:

Janis Fullilove, a councilwoman in Memphis, Tenn., received death threats Tuesday over her support of protection for gays working in city government.

Fullilove said that she received four threatening calls that referred to her support over the non-discrimination ordinance and also found a dead cat on her lawn.

Police have said the calls, which Fullilove said had threatened to kill her, were serious enough in nature for them to place officers on patrol by her house for protection.

Following the incident, Fullilove contacted Jonathan Cole of the Tennessee Equality Project, who spoke to reporters.

"If a city councilwoman -- a prominent person in city government -- can experience this kind of threat and intimidation, what about the individual employees who work for the city who may be work for sanitation, or police or fire?" Said Cole.

But the threats have not been enough to sway her stance on the issue.

"Her position is unchanged," said Cole.


Newt Gingrich: total moron

According to the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, the U.S. should attack both Iran and North Korea, and that there is a secret muslim plot to instill sharia law in America. Yeah okay, Newt. I imagine Gingrich believes that two other trillion dollar wars, despite the other trillion dollar occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, can be easily funded by more tax cuts or extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Gingrich also believes that Sarah Palin will run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012 and that she will be a "strong candidate". Gingrich is either clearly insane or a just a total moron.

From The Huffington Post:

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich twice called on the United States to attack North Korea and Iran Thursday because the United States has only attacked "one out of three" of so-called "Axis of Evil" members by invading Iraq. He also claimed that Muslims are trying to install Sharia law on America and said that the "War on Terror" should have been a war on "radical Islamists" instead.

Speaking at an American Enterprise Institute event, Gingrich compared not following through on President George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" agenda with not fully engaging the Axis power in World War II.

"If Franklin Roosevelt had done that in '41, either the Japanese or the Germans would have won," Gingrich said, adding that Americans should "over-match the problem."
(Newt must have missed the memo that Japan attacked the U.S. and that Germany declared war on America as well. North Korea and Iran have not attacked the U.S. nor declared war).

On the reaction to Bush's declaration of an "Axis of Evil," Gingrich blamed Democrats because Americans had not followed through on President Bush's words:

I believe he was right but in fact could not operationalize what he said. That is, there was an Axis of Evil, Iran, Iraq, North Korea. Well we're one out of three. And people ought to think about that. If Bush was right in January of 2002 -- and by the way virtually the entire Congress gave him a standing ovation when he said it -- then why is it that the other two parts of the Axis of Evil are still visibly, cheerfully making nuclear weapons? And it's because we've stood at brink, looked over and thought, "Too big a problem."

In a separate interview with Newsmax Thursday, Gingrich said that the "secular elites" haven't taken "threats to America" seriously and that newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has "no real appreciation of the danger of Sharia," because she "welcomed Saudi money" while serving as the Dean of Harvard University Law School.

"Radical Islamists are people who want to impose on the rest of us Sharia, which is a form of medieval law which would fundamentally end America as we've known it," he said. "There are disturbing signs that some places ... you see judges succumb to this line of reasoning." He called on "isolating and defeating radicals," while "modernizing" moderates.

Gingrich told Newsmax that the planned mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan should be stopped. He suggested that, were he president, he would "declare the area around the World Trade Center a national military battlefield because that was a battle and it part of a real war."

The former Speaker has been aggressively attacking Islam in the past weeks. Last week, he came out against the "Ground Zero Mosque," saying that it "showed hypocrisy" because there are no churches in Saudi Arabia
(actually Newt, that's the difference between an "ally" like Saudia Arabia and the west, that we're tolerant).

Gingrich's Renewing American Leadership Action PAC has used the controversy as a fund raising platform, Salon's Justin Elliott reports. In a blast email sent to the World Net Daily list, a Gingrich-signed letter reads, "Please SELECT HERE to STOP the Ground Zero mosque! Your decisive DONATION to Real Action will help us to RALLY and ACTIVATE all Americans, to TAKE REAL ACTION!"

Gingrich also told Newsmax that he expects Sarah Palin to run for President in 2012 in a large Republican field. Gingrich is rumored to be running for President in 2012, but did not say whether or not he's running.

"She's already a very strong personality and has the potential to be a very strong candidate," he said.

Watch: Newt Gingrich speak about the American reaction to Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech, (from Think Progress).

Democratic Congressman berates Republicans

I imagine that there are a lot of Democratic supporters and progressives who've been waiting a long time for someone in Congress to stand up to the Republicans and really give it to them. Well, not only has Alan Grayson been doing that, but now Congressman Anthony Weiner has also delivered on that front.

From The Huffington Post:

House Republicans late Thursday were able to corral enough votes to defeat a bill that would have provided up to $7.4 billion in aid to those sickened by toxins resulting from the 9/11 attacks.

In the process, they set off a host of fiery speeches and denunciations from their Democratic colleagues and produced a veritable YouTube moment from Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y), whose district includes many of the affected

At the heart of the debate was a procedural maneuver made by Democrats to suspend the rules before consideration of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The move allowed leadership to block potential GOP amendments to the measure (there was worry that Republicans would attach something overtly partisan in hopes that it could pass on the otherwise widely-popular measure). It also meant that the party needed a two-thirds majority vote.

When the final tally was announced, there were 255 representatives for the measure, 159 against. The defeat of the bill, which would have provided free health care to those affected during the 9/11 rescue and recovery, likely means that the court system will have to settle compensation issues.

Weiner spoke right before the vote when it was clear that Republican lawmakers would stake their opposition on grounds of procedural concerns. But for the grace of the C-SPAN cameras, he managed to stay physically behind his lectern.

"The gentleman will sit!" he declared at one point, addressing, it is believed, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). "The gentleman is correct in sitting!"

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shirley Sherrod says she'll sue Andrew Breitbart

Good for her. Considering what Breitbart did to her, she should sue him for everything he has.

From the Associated Press:

Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod said Thursday she will sue a conservative blogger who posted an edited video of her making racially tinged remarks last week.

The edited video posted by Andrew Breitbart led Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ask Sherrod to resign, a decision he reconsidered after seeing the entire video of her March speech to a local NAACP group. In the full speech, Sherrod spoke of racial reconciliation and lessons she learned after initially hesitating to help a white farmer save his home.

She said she doesn't want an apology from Breitbart for posting the video that took her comments out of context, but told a crowd at the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention that she would "definitely sue."

Vilsack and President Barack Obama later called Sherrod to apologize for her hasty ouster. Vilsack has offered her a new job at the department, which she is still considering.

"I have many, many questions before I can make a decision," Sherrod told the group. "I don't know what will happen from this day forward in terms of whether I'll be back in the department or what I'll do."

E-mails to Breitbart's Web sites seeking comment were not immediately returned Thursday morning.

Obama said Thursday morning on ABC's daytime talk show "The View" that the incident shows racial tensions still exist in America.

"There are still inequalities out there. There's still discrimination out there," Obama said. "But we've made progress."

Obama pinned much of the blame for the incident on a media culture that he said seeks out conflict and doesn't always get the facts right. But he added, "A lot of people overreacted, including people in my administration."

Michael Moore on Larry King

Michael Moore appeared on Larry King Live last night, to discuss the sixth annual Traverse City Film Festival, the WikiLeaks story regarding the leaked Afghan conflict documents, and the Afghanistan conflict itself.

Large majority support path to citizenship

An overwhelming majority of Americans polled by CNN yesterday support offering a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal aliens currently residing in the U.S., which is very similar to providing amnesty, which President Reagan provided during his administration, and which President Bush also supported, but his own party defeated him on that measure. That is something Republicans and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer conveniently neglect or forget when constantly blaming the federal government for failing to act on immigration. Wrong, your own party opposed George W. Bush.

From The Huffington Post:

Americans overwhelmingly support the creation of a program that would provide illegal immigrants currently in the United States with an eventual path to citizenship, a new immigration poll from CNN finds.

According to the poll (full results PDF link), 81 percent of those surveyed are in favor of "Creating a program that would allow illegal immigrants already living in the United States for a number of years to stay here and apply to legally remain in this country permanently if they had a job and paid back taxes." Nineteen percent were opposed.

Despite the high percentage of people who appear to be in support of the plan, which, as phrased, is a lot like the common definition of offering amnesty to illegal immigrants, 81 percent of respondents also said that they'd favor securing the southern border with Mexico by increasing the presence of U.S. Border Patrol and law enforcement officials.

Also, according to CNN's analysis of the data

57 percent of Americans say the main focus of the federal government in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration should be developing a plan that would stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the country and deporting those already in the U.S. That's 15 points higher than the 42 percent who say developing a plan that would allow illegal immigrants who have jobs to become U.S. residents should be Washington's top priority.

The poll also comes in anticipation of the enforcement of Arizona's controversial new immigration law, SB 1070, which is set to go into effect on Thursday. According to the survey, 55 percent support the state's anti-illegal immigration law, with 40 percent opposing and 5 percent having no opinion. Despite a majority of support for the legislation, 50 percent of those surveyed say they believe that the law will not reduce illegal immigration and 54 percent say they think the law will lead to discrimination against Hispanics.

The poll surveyed 1,018 Americans by telephone between July 16 and 21. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 points

Joe Pantalone on CBC's Metro Morning


On Wednesday, July 28, Joe appeared as a guest on Metro Morning with host Matt Galloway. Every weekday morning from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. Galloway, a CBC radio host for more than six years, talks about the issues most important in Toronto today.

In Joe’s interview with Galloway, the focus of the discussion was on Joe’s vision for transportation in Toronto. Joe explained why he supports Transit City as the best solution for getting Toronto moving, and how he also supports a city with bike lanes on major routes, such as Jarvis St.

Listen to Joe’s full interview with Galloway on the Metro Morning website.

Read more about why Joe believes in the importance and value of Transit City.

Learn more about why Joe thinks that dedicated bike lanes are an important choice for Toronto commuters.

Another reason why Britain's Labour Party sucks

First the previous Labour/Tony Blair government's invovlement in the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, and now Labour's shadow cabinet opposing the referendum on electoral reform. Although proportional representation currently isn't included in the referendum, the fact that Labour would oppose anything other than the current undemocratic and antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system is a slap in the face to the British electorate.

From The Guardian:

The Labour shadow cabinet has decided to vote against a bill introducing reform to the voting system, raising the prospect of a Commons defeat for one of the governing coalition's flagship policies.

The decision, taken last night, followed two lengthy shadow cabinet discussions.

It could herald a backbench Tory-Labour alliance designed to derail the bill either at its second reading or by rejecting the proposal that the referendum be held on the same day as elections in Scotland, Wales and parts of England next May.

A total of 50 Tory MPs are opposing next May as the date for the referendum, and are coming under intense pressure from Tory whips to pull back from that stance.

The shadow cabinet had an earlier discussion at which – on the advice of John Denham, the shadow communities and local government secretary – it proposed abstaining on the bill.

But Denham, a strong advocate of voting reform, backed moves at yesterday's shadow cabinet, led by its justice spokesman, Jack Straw, to oppose the bill outright.

Straw argued that the bill introducing the referendum was being coupled unnecessarily with boundary changes which he described as gerrymandering.

The shadow cabinet agreed yesterday that it still supported the referendum the Alternative Vote (AV) system – but, in a new reasoned amendment, will say it is entirely wrong that this reform, on Conservative insistence, is being bound up with plans to reduce the number of MPs and introduce widespread boundary changes.

Labour claims the boundary reforms would benefit the Tories so much that the Labour party would find it impossible to win a general election again.

Denham's decision to oppose the coalition bill is significant because he is one of the most long standing supporters of AV in the Labour party.

Under the AV system, voters rank candidates in order of preference until one of them reaches 50% or more of first-choice votes and is elected.

Supporters claim the system will end the culture of safe seats and lazy MPs, but there is no agreement about which party will benefit most.

There is fury in Labour ranks that the previous process of independent public inquiries has been removed from the boundary review process.

Labour MPs also claim a government minister will be given powers in the bill to change boundary review recommendations without an appeal mechanism.

The coalition claims the period of consultation is being extended, but Tory MPs yesterday expressed strong concern that the pre-eminent requirement to equalise the size of constituencies would see old countryside boundaries, such as Somerset, ignored.

However, the coalition insists the boundary review – due to be completed before the next election – is necessary to cut the number of MPs to 600 and attempt to equalise the size of constituencies.

Mark Harper, the constitutional affairs minister, hit back at Straw's complaints, saying: "All this bluster simply highlights the fact that Labour MPs do not believe in seats of equal size and votes counting equally across the whole of the United Kingdom."

The potential parliamentary roadblock to a referendum stems from a deal the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, struck with David Cameron as part of the coalition talks.

The two agreed a referendum on AV would go ahead, but only on the condition that the boundary review was completed in time for the next election. Both proposals have been included in a single bill.

Many Labour and Tory MPs are angry that the referendum is set to be held on the same day as the Scottish, Welsh and English local elections.

A total of 45 disaffected Conservative MPs, led by Bernard Jenkin, John Redwood, Edward Leigh, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and David Davis, have signed an early day motion saying it is wrong to hold the referendum and elections on the same day.

They could combine with Labour to inflict the first serious defeat for the government on an issue of acute sensitivity for the coalition's internal political balance.

One shadow cabinet member who supports AV said yesterday: "I am going to be put in the impossible position next May of campaigning to remove the Liberal Democrats on my local council three days of the week, and then join forces with the same Liberal Democrats to call for a change in the voting system for the Commons for the remaining days of the week. It is totally incoherent."

The chairwoman of the electoral commission, Jenny Watson, has said she will rule in September on whether she thinks the referendum and local elections should take place on the same day, but indicated she did not believe it was an insurmountable problem and said she had given the proposal an amber light.

But in a sign of anger on the Tory benches, the rightwing backbencher Edward Leigh warned Clegg in the Commons: "If we had had the alternative vote in 1997, the Conservative party would have been reduced to a pathetic rump of 65 MPs.

"Does he not think that, precisely because AV is not proportional, it raises complicated questions? It is extraordinarily dangerous, therefore, to have the referendum on the same day as other elections, namely the Scottish elections. We need a proper debate on the issue."

Clegg repled: "About 39 million people will be invited to vote next May, and it seems to me that, instead of asking people to constantly go back to polling booths to cast separate votes, it is perfectly right to invite them to have their say on a simple yes/no issue on the same day – at, by the way, a lower cost to the exchequer. It will save about £17m."

Judge blocks sections of racist immigration law

Finally someone has come to their senses in regards to this draconian law.

From the Associated Press:

Phoenix — A federal judge stepped into the fight over Arizona's immigration law at the last minute Wednesday, blocking the heart of the measure and defusing a confrontation between police and thousands of activists that had been building for months.

Coming just hours before the law was to take effect, the ruling isn't the end.

It sets up a lengthy legal battle that could end up before the Supreme Court – ensuring that a law that reignited the immigration debate, inspired similar measures nationwide, created fodder for political campaigns and raised tensions with Mexico will stay in the spotlight.

Protesters who gathered at the state Capitol and outside the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City cheered when they heard the news. The governor, the law's authors and anti-illegal immigration groups vowed to fight on.

"It's a temporary bump in the road," Gov. Jan Brewer said.

The key issue before U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in the case is as old as the nation itself: Does federal law trump state law? She indicated in her ruling that the federal government's case has a good chance at succeeding.

The Clinton appointee said the controversial sections should be put on hold until the courts resolve the issues, including parts that required officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.

In her preliminary injunction, Bolton delayed provisions that required immigrants to carry their papers and banned illegal immigrants from soliciting employment in public places – a move aimed at day laborers.

The judge also blocked officers from making warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants for crimes that can lead to deportation.

"Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked," Bolton wrote.

The ruling came just as police were making last-minute preparations to begin enforcement of the law and protesters, many of whom said they would not bring identification, were planning large demonstrations against the measure.

At least one group had planned to block access to federal offices, daring officers to ask them about their immigration status.

"I knew the judge would say that part of the law was just not right," said Gisela Diaz, 50, from Mexico City, who came to Arizona on a since-expired tourist visa in 1989 and who waited with her family early Wednesday at the Mexican Consulate to get advice about the law.

"It's the part we were worried about. This is a big relief for us," she said.

At a Home Depot in west Phoenix, where day-laborers gather to look for work, Carlos Gutierrez said he was elated when a stranger drove by and yelled the news: "They threw out the law! You guys can work!"

"I felt good inside" said the 32-year-old illegal immigrant, who came here six years ago from Sonora, Mexico, and supports his wife and three children. "Now there's a way to stay here with less problems."

Opponents argued the law will lead to racial profiling, conflict with federal immigration law and distract local police from fighting more serious crimes. The U.S. Justice Department, civil rights groups and a Phoenix police officer asked for Wednesday's injunction.

Lawyers for the state contend the law was a constitutionally sound attempt by Arizona to assist federal immigration agents and lessen border woes, such as the heavy costs for educating, jailing and providing health care for illegal immigrants.

They said Arizona shouldn't have to suffer from a broken immigration system when it has 15,000 officers who can arrest illegal immigrants.

In her ruling, Bolton said the interests of Arizona, the busiest U.S. gateway for illegal immigrants, match those of the federal government. But, she wrote, that the federal government must take the lead on deciding how to enforce immigration laws.

The core of the government's case is that federal immigration law trumps state law – an issue known as "pre-emption" in legal circles. In her ruling, Bolton pointed out five portions of the law where she believed the federal government would likely succeed on its claims.

Justice Department spokeswoman Hannah August said the agency understands the frustration of Arizona residents with the immigration system, but added that a patchwork of state and local policies would seriously disrupt federal immigration enforcement.

Federal authorities have argued that letting the Arizona law stand would create a patchwork of immigration laws nationwide that would needlessly complicate foreign relations. They said the law is disrupting U.S. relations with Mexico and other countries.

About 100 protesters in Mexico City who had gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy broke into cheers when they learned of Bolton's ruling. They had been monitoring the news on a laptop computer.

"Migrants, hang on, the people are rising up!" they chanted.

Mexico's Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinoza called the ruling "a first step in the right direction" and said staff at the five Mexican consulates in Arizona will work extra hours in coming weeks to educate migrants about the law.

"None of this is very surprising," said Kevin R. Johnson, an immigration expert and the law school dean at University of California at Davis. "This is all very much within the constitutional mainstream."

The federal government has exclusive powers over immigration to ensure a uniform national policy that aids in commerce and relations with other countries, Johnson said.

A century ago, differing policies among states led to problems that prompted the federal government to adopt a comprehensive immigration policy for the country, Johnson said.

Supporters took solace that the judge kept portions of the law intact, including a section that bars local governments from limiting enforcement of federal immigration laws. Those jurisdictions are commonly known as "sanctuary cities."

"Striking down these sanctuary city policies has always been the No. 1 priority," said Republican Sen. Russell Pearce, the law's chief author.

The remaining provisions, many of them revisions to an Arizona immigration statute, will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the state will appeal Bolton's ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday, asking the appellate court to lift the injunction and allow the blocked provisions to take effect. The appeal will ask the 9th Circuit to act quickly, Senseman said.

Whatever way that court rules, Bolton will eventually hold a trial and issue a final ruling.

Wednesday's decision was seen as a defeat for Brewer, who is running for another term in November and has seen her political fortunes rise because of the law's popularity among conservatives.

Her opponent, state Attorney General Terry Goddard, pounced.

"Jan Brewer played politics with immigration, and she lost," the Democrat said. "It is time to look beyond election-year grandstanding and begin to repair the damage to Arizona's image and economy."

Some residents in Phoenix agreed.

"A lot of people don't understand the connection between, 'Yes, we have a problem with illegal immigration' and 'We need immigration reform,' which is not just asking people for their papers," said Kimber Lanning, a 43-year-old Phoenix music store owner.

"It was never a solution to begin with."

Global warming undeniable," report says

From the Associated Press and CBC News:

Scientists from around the world are providing even more evidence of global warming.

"A comprehensive review of key climate indicators confirms the world is warming and the past decade was the warmest on record," the annual State of the Climate report declares.

Compiled by more than 300 scientists from 48 countries, including Canada, the report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said its analysis of 10 indicators that are "clearly and directly related to surface temperatures, all tell the same story: Global warming is undeniable."

Concern about rising temperatures has been growing in recent years as atmospheric scientists report rising temperatures associated with greenhouse gases released into the air by industrial and other human processes. At the same time, some skeptics
(morons) have questioned the conclusions.

The new report, the 20th in a series, focuses only on global warming and does not specify a cause.

"The evidence in this report would say unequivocally yes, there is no doubt," that the Earth is warming, said Tom Karl, the transitional director of the planned NOAA Climate Service.

Deke Arndt, chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch at the National Climatic Data Center, noted that the 1980s was the warmest decade up to that point, but each year in the 1990s was warmer than the '80s average.

That makes the '90s the warmest decade, he said.

But each year in the 2000s has been warmer than the '90s average, so the first 10 years of the 2000s are the warmest decade on record.

Small changes add up

The new report noted that continuing warming will threaten coastal cities, infrastructure, water supply, health and agriculture.

"At first glance, the amount of increase each decade — about a fifth of a degree Fahrenheit — may seem small," the report said.

"But," it adds, "the temperature increase of about one degree Fahrenheit experienced during the past 50 years has already altered the planet. Glaciers and sea ice are melting, heavy rainfall is intensifying and heat waves are becoming more common and more intense."

Last month was the warmest June on record and this year has had the warmest average temperature for January-June since record keeping began, NOAA reported last week.

The new climate report, published as a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, focused on 10 indicators of a warming world, seven of which are increasing and three declining.

Rising over decades are average air temperature, the ratio of water vapour to air, ocean heat content, sea surface temperature, sea level, air temperature over the ocean and air temperature over land.

Indicators that are declining are snow cover, glaciers and sea ice.

The 10 were selected "because they were the most obviously related indicators of global temperature," explained Peter Thorne of the Co-operative Institute for Climate and Satellites, who helped develop the list when at the British weather service, known as the Met Office.

"What this data is doing is, it is screaming that the world is warming," Thorne concluded.

External Links

NOAA State of the Climate in 2009 report

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Roger Waters comments on celebrity

GM’s Volt somewhat priced for the average family

While the Associated Press gave positive coverage to the pricing of the Chevy Volt, Reuters was not so optimistic in their coverage (video, embedding disabled, thanks Reuters). I tend to lean a little more towards Reuters, that $33,500 after a government tax credit is quite a bit of money for a car. However, there's still the Nissan leaf, which is $8,000 cheaper than the Volt. Perhaps the retail value of the Volt will drop, but we'll have to wait and see.

From the Associated Press:

Detroit — Just over a decade ago, electric cars were expensive niche vehicles for gadget lovers and celebrities. Now, Nissan and General Motors are competing to sell the most affordable electric car to middle-class America.

The contest escalated Tuesday when GM announced it would start the Chevrolet Volt at $41,000 (all figures in U.S. dollars). While it costs $8,000 more than the base price of Nissan’s Leaf electric hatchback, GM is matching the $349-per-month lease deal that Nissan is offering on its car. Nissan Motor Co. countered by matching the Volt’s eight-year, 160,000-kilometre battery warranty.

Both vehicles will cost more than a comparable gasoline-engine car when they hit showrooms this fall. But their lease deals are competitive with regular cars. That reflects the overall decline in the cost of the cars’ technology over the past decade. Even if the automakers have to eat some of the costs, they can still afford to keep the Volt and Leaf within many families’ budgets.

The average U.S. new-car payment is about $450, so most new-car buyers can afford a $350 lease, especially when they factor in what they won’t pay for gas, said Jesse Toprak, vice-president of industry trends at the car pricing website General Motors Co. said it would cost about $1.50 worth of electricity to fully recharge the Volt each night.

“The middle-income family in Ohio cannot afford $41,000 plus tax to get a Volt, Toprak said. “But $350 a month is within reach.”

Lease and base sticker prices for both models are far lower than earlier electric cars. GM’s EV-1, the first widely available electric car, was leased for $477 a month in 1996.

While celebrities such as Mel Gibson and Ed Begley Jr. touted the car’s green appeal, GM had trouble getting most people to take the two-seat cars, which had a sticker price of roughly $44,000. The project was cancelled after four years and only about 800 leases. One of the few broadly available electrics now on the road is the Tesla Roadster. But it costs $109,000, well out of reach of mainstream buyers.

For those who buy the Leaf or Volt, the two cars also are eligible for a U.S. federal tax credit that will cut their prices by $7,500. The Volt’s price would fall to $33,500 while the Leaf’s would drop to $25,280 — from $32,780. Some states, such as California, Georgia and Oregon, offer additional tax breaks that will lower the price further. The U.S. government will phase out the credits when each manufacturer sells 200,000 electric cars.

GM expects to sell 10,000 Volts in the first year and Nissan said it already has 17,000 orders for the Leaf.

Both automakers are also vying to show their cars offer the best features.

The Volt, a four-door sedan which goes on sale in November, runs on battery power for up to 60 kilometres but has a small gasoline engine to generate electricity once the battery runs down. The gas engine can generate power to run the car another 480 kilometres.

Nissan’s Leaf, which goes on sale in December, can go up to 160 kilometres on a charge. The car doesn’t have a gas engine and must be recharged once its battery is depleted. Nissan spokeswoman Katherine Zachary said the Leaf itself emits no pollution and is designed for people whose daily travels are within its range.

GM says the Volt’s big selling point is that drivers don’t have to worry about the battery going dead during trips. This so-called “range anxiety” dogged the EV-1.

To give the car wider appeal, drivers must know “they’re not going to get stranded,” said Joel Ewanick, GM vice-president of U.S. marketing.

GM’s $350-a-month lease deal is for 36 months with $2,500 down. Nissan’s lease plan is $349 a month over the same period with $1,995 down. Toprak said the Volt lease will be heavily subsidized by GM as a way to get people into Chevrolet showrooms.

Nissan also said Tuesday it would sell 500 Leafs to Enterprise Rent-A-Car starting in January in an effort to get more people familiar with the car.

Both Nissan and GM say the base models of their cars will have just about everything that people want as standard equipment, with few options. Both have navigation, multiple air bag and premium audio systems standard, for example. Options for both include backup monitoring cameras. The Volt has leather seats available, while the Leaf has a solar-panel spoiler that generates electricity.

GM will sell the Volt first in California, then make it available in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Michigan and Texas. Orders are being taken at 600 Chevrolet dealers in those states. The car will be sold nationwide in 12 to 18 months.

Nissan will start selling the Leaf in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Tennessee in December. The Leaf will go on sale in other markets through 2011 and be available nationwide by the end of next year.

Mark Halperin: media favours right-wing stories

Time magazine's Mark Halperin has recently asserted that the mainstream media will give a lot of weight, credence and devote coverage to stories which originated from the conservative or right-wing media entertainment industry. Halperin recently wrote that:

"The Sherrod story is a reminder — much like the 2004 assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that the old media are often swayed by controversies pushed by the conservative new media. In many quarters of the old media, there is concern about not appearing liberally biased, so stories emanating from the right are given more weight and less scrutiny. Additionally, the conservative new media, particularly Fox News Channel and talk radio, are commercially successful, so the implicit logic followed by old-media decisionmakers is that if something is gaining currency in those precincts, it is a phenomenon that must be given attention. Most dangerously, conservative new media will often produce content that is so provocative and incendiary that the old media find it irresistible."

Halperin is spot on here. As he explained, we've seen it time and again, and will likely continue to see the mainstream media duped and run wild with smear campaigns which originated from the conservative media entertainment industry.

Medical marijuana for veterans in 14 states

From the Associated Press:

Washington — Patients treated at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics will be able to use medical marijuana in the 14 states where it's legal, according to new federal guidelines.

The directive from the Veterans Affairs Department in the coming week is intended to clarify current policy that says veterans can be denied pain medication if they use illegal drugs. Veterans groups have complained for years that this could bar veterans from VA benefits if they were caught using medical marijuana.

The new guidance does not authorize VA doctors to begin prescribing medical marijuana, which is considered an illegal drug under federal law. But it will now make clear that in the 14 states where state and federal law are in conflict, VA clinics generally will allow the use of medical marijuana for veterans already taking it under other clinicians.

"For years, there have been veterans coming back from the Iraq war who needed medical marijuana and had to decide whether they were willing to cut down on their VA medications," John Targowski, a legal adviser to the group Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access, which worked with the VA on the issue.

Targowski in an interview Saturday said that confusion over the government's policy might have led some veterans to distrust their doctors or avoid the VA system.

Dr. Robert A. Petzel, the VA's undersecretary for health, sent a letter to Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access this month that spells out the department's policy. The guidelines will be distributed to the VA's 900 care facilities around the country in the next week.

Petzel makes clear that a VA doctor could reserve the right to modify a veteran's treatment plan if there were risks of a bad interaction with other drugs.

"If a veteran obtains and uses medical marijuana in a manner consistent with state law, testing positive for marijuana would not preclude the veteran from receiving opioids for pain management" in a VA facility, Petzel wrote. "The discretion to prescribe, or not prescribe, opioids in conjunction with medical marijuana, should be determined on clinical grounds."

Opioids are narcotic painkillers, and include morphine, oxycodone and methadone.

Under the previous policy, local VA clinics in some of the 14 states, such as Michigan, had opted to allow the use of medical marijuana because there no rule explicitly prohibiting them from doing so.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 14 states and the District of Columbia with medical marijuana laws. They are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. New Jersey also recently passed a medical marijuana law, which is scheduled to be implemented next January.