Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Glenn Beck devotees interviewed

On 8.28.2010, Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally was held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The purpose of the rally, which Beck claimed to be "non-political" despite featuring Tea Party-favorite Sarah Palin as a speaker and its being attended entirely by conservatives, was unclear. The participants spoke abstractly about the need to restore "honor" and "pride" to a country that had lost it. When pressed for when our country had lost its honor, most cited the election of Barack Obama.

8.28.2010 also represented the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, and Glenn Beck has been criticized for by civil rights groups for trying to misappropriate the occasion.

Last year, Beck referred to Barack Obama—our country's first African-American President--as a "racist... who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." When offered the chance to respond to Beck's statements, his fans either agreed with him or simply refused to believe that he had ever made them.

While the speaker list was diverse, the overwhelmingly white crowd expressed paranoid and conspiratorial fears of multiculturalism—that atheists or black liberation theologists or radical Muslims or "free-loading" Latinos were going to ruin our country. There was the constant suggestion that white Christians and their way of life are somehow under assault, and that the attendees of this rally were here to put an end to it and return the country to what it used to be.

South Korea extends military service time

Ties between North and South Korea have deteriorated since the sinking of the Cheonan warship this past March. Now, South Korea is considering extending its compulsory military service from twenty-one months, to two years. As a result, the debate regarding whether military service should be compulsory or not has been reopened.

Is the GOP looking out for you?

Mitchell Bard, Writer and Filmmaker

Policy debates are a good thing. But what is not useful for democracy is for partisans to knowingly lie about the facts in play to make an argument that plays to their rigid ideological position.

Continue reading here.

Bangladesh's risky 'roof riders'

Trains in Bangladesh are usually filled beyond capacity. So many people, predominantly children, who for one reason or another can not get a ticket, often illegally resort to climbing onto the roof for accommodation. But the 'roof riding' practice, which dates back to 1947, has become one of the leading causes of child deaths in the country as it easily results to accidents. And as people visit their families for the Islamic holiday of Eid, the trains are more crowded than usual.

On the Iraq speech tonight

Jon Soltz, Co-Founder of VoteVets.org, served as a Captain in Operation Iraqi Freedom

The war in Iraq is not over. The president must make that clear tonight. Though planned combat operations are done, every single one of the 50,000 remaining troops is a combat troop.

Continue reading here.

US soldiers reflect on Iraq war

Josh Rushing was with the last combat brigade to leave Iraq. Fifty thousand US troops will remain in Iraq. Rushing talked to fellow troops about their expectations for the future of the country, and their own legacy as veterans of "Operation Iraqi Freedom".

Now I'm a believer

A previously high-profile climate change skeptic is now a total believer in the overwhelming scientific evidence, and supports the carbon tax.

The Guardian:

Bjørn Lomborg: $100bn a year needed to fight climate change

'Sceptical environmentalist' and critic of climate scientists to declare global warming a chief concern facing world

The world's most high-profile climate change sceptic is to declare that global warming is "undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today" and "a challenge humanity must confront", in an apparent U-turn that will give a huge boost to the embattled environmental lobby.

Bjørn Lomborg, the self-styled "sceptical environmentalist" once compared to Adolf Hitler by the UN's climate chief, is famous for attacking climate scientists, campaigners, the media and others for exaggerating the rate of global warming and its effects on humans, and the costly waste of policies to stop the problem.

But in a new book to be published next month, Lomborg will call for tens of billions of dollars a year to be invested in tackling climate change. "Investing $100bn annually would mean that we could essentially resolve the climate change problem by the end of this century," the book concludes.

Examining eight methods to reduce or stop global warming, Lomborg and his fellow economists recommend pouring money into researching and developing clean energy sources such as wind, wave, solar and nuclear power, and more work on climate engineering ideas such as "cloud whitening" to reflect the sun's heat back into the outer atmosphere.

In a Guardian interview, he said he would finance investment through a tax on carbon emissions that would also raise $50bn to mitigate the effect of climate change, for example by building better sea defences, and $100bn for global healthcare.

His declaration about the importance of action on climate change comes at a crucial point in the debate, with international efforts to agree a global deal on emissions stalled amid a resurgence in scepticism caused by rows over the reliability of the scientific evidence for global warming.

The fallout from those rows continued yesterday when Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, came under new pressure to step down after an independent review of the panel's work called for tighter term limits for its senior executives and greater transparency in its workings. The IPCC has come under fire in recent months following revelations of inaccuracies in the last assessment of global warming, provided to governments in 2007 – for which it won the Nobel peace prize with former the US vice-president Al Gore. The mistakes, including a claim that the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035, prompted a review of the IPCC's processes and procedures by the InterAcademy Council (IAC), an organisation of world science bodies.

The IAC said the IPCC needed to be as transparent as possible in how it worked, how it selected people to participate in assessments and its choice of scientific information to assess.

Although Pachauri once compared Lomborg to Hitler, he has now given an unlikely endorsement to the new book, Smart Solutions to Climate Change. In a quote for the launch, Pachauri said: "This book provides not only a reservoir of information on the reality of human-induced climate change, but raises vital questions and examines viable options on what can be done."

Lomborg denies he has performed a volte face, pointing out that even in his first book he accepted the existence of man-made global warming. "The point I've always been making is it's not the end of the world," he told the Guardian. "That's why we should be measuring up to what everybody else says, which is we should be spending our money well."

But he said the crucial turning point in his argument was the Copenhagen Consensus project, in which a group of economists were asked to consider how best to spend $50bn. The first results, in 2004, put global warming near the bottom of the list, arguing instead for policies such as fighting malaria and HIV/Aids. But a repeat analysis in 2008 included new ideas for reducing the temperature rise, some of which emerged about halfway up the ranking. Lomborg said he then decided to consider a much wider variety of policies to reduce global warming, "so it wouldn't end up at the bottom".

The difference was made by examining not just the dominant international policy to cut carbon emissions, but also seven other "solutions" including more investment in technology, climate engineering, and planting more trees and reducing soot and methane, also significant contributors to climate change, said Lomborg.

"If the world is going to spend hundreds of millions to treat climate, where could you get the most bang for your buck?" was the question posed, he added.After the analyses, five economists were asked to rank the 15 possible policies which emerged. Current policies to cut carbon emissions through taxes - of which Lomborg has long been critical - were ranked largely at the bottom of four of the lists. At the top were more direct public investment in research and development rather than spending money on low carbon energy now, and climate engineering.

Lomborg acknowledged trust was a problem when committing to long term R&D, but said politicians were already reneging on promises to cut emissions, and spending on R&D would be easier to monitor. Although many believe private companies are better at R&D than governments, Lomborg said low carbon energy was a special case comparable to massive public investment in computers from the 1950s, which later precpitated the commercial IT revolution.

Lomborg also admitted climate engineering could cause "really bad stuff" to happen, but argued if it could be a cheap and quick way to reduce the worst impacts of climate change and thus there was an "obligation to at least look at it".

He added: "This is not about 'we have all got to live with less, wear hair-shirts and cut our carbon emissions'. It's about technologies, about realising there's a vast array of solutions."

Despite his change of tack, however, Lomborg is likely to continue to have trenchant critics. Writing for today's Guardian, Howard Friel, author of the book The Lomborg Deception, said: "If Lomborg were really looking for smart solutions, he would push for an end to perpetual and brutal war, which diverts scarce resources from nearly everything that Lomborg legitimately says needs more money."

• This article was amended on 31st August 2010 to remove an accidental duplication of the quote from Rajendra Pachauri.

The Republican base is.......completely crazy

After reading the results of this poll, I don't know whether I should laugh or be completely disturbed, as it seems The John Birch Society has all but taken over the Republican Party, as many elected Republicans and party establishment officials echo these same sentiments.

The Huffington Post:

A majority of Republicans believe that President Barack Obama "sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world," according to a survey released on Monday.

That figure, buried at the very end of a newly released Newsweek public opinion poll, reflects the extent to which a shocking bit of smear and misinformation has managed to become nearly commonplace within the GOP tent.

(Read the full poll results here.)

A full 14 percent of Republicans said that it was "definitely true" that Obama sympathized with the fundamentalists and wanted to impose Islamic law across the globe. An additional 38 percent said that it was probably true -- bringing the total percentage of believers to 52 percent. Only 33 percent of Republicans said that the "allegation" (as Newsweek put it) was "probably not true." Seven percent said it was "definitely not true." The rest (eight percent) either didn't know the answer or didn't read the question.

The Newsweek findings add more kindling to the already-heated debate raging around the persistent rumors that Obama is a closeted Muslim (he's not). In an illustration of just how deeply news outlets have been drawn to the topic, the magazine devoted seven of its 24 questions to Muslim-themed topics, producing, in the process, a number of telling and newsworthy numbers.

Fifty-nine percent of Republicans, for instance, said they believed the president favored "the interests of Muslims over other groups of Americans," while only 34 percent of said he had been "generally even handed" in his approach. In contrast, nine percent of Democrats said Obama favored "the interests of Muslims over other groups of Americans" while 82 percent of Democrats said he had been even-handed.

On a more uplifting front, 16 percent of all respondents said they had a very favorable view of Muslims while 45 percent said they had a "mostly favorable" view -- the highest and second highest totals recorded for those answers in the survey's history, respectively

The benefits of proportional representation

The London School of Economics and Political Science:

Democracies with proportional voting systems are ‘good citizens’ in global institutions. So will changing its electoral rules make Britain behave better in international forums?

Some liberal democracies are better international citizens than others. New research by Stephanie Rickard shows that the more proportional a country’s voting system is, the more likely it is to fully honour its international commitments on world trade issues.

[PR] makes all parties more nationally representative, and in turn means that major parties likely to get into government do not ‘write off’ whole regions or industries or interests where their support is less. ...All these factors tend to engender greater compliance with international agreements that benefit broad segments of the electorate, such as environmental treaties or multilateral trade rules.

By contrast, in democracies with ‘first-past-the-post’ (FPTP) or other majoritarian electoral rules the contests take place in single-member districts where the top parties are usually trying only to win in marginal seats. And parties win by getting more votes than anyone else rather than gaining local majority support, (which is getting rarer and rarer in the UK). The main contenders have effectively written off their rival’s safe seats and the regions or interests that they include, but are highly beholden to interests in their own safe seats. Hence, non-PR countries are more likely to violate international agreements that benefit broad segments of a country’s population, particularly if doing so provides benefits to select groups.

Continue reading here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Debunking government/media anti-pot propaganda


5 Things the Corporate Media and Government Don't Want You to Know About Marijuana

News outlets continue to ignore research that belies government anti-pot propaganda

Last September I penned an essay for Alternet entitled Five Things the Corporate Media Don’t Want You to Know About Cannabis. In it I proposed, “[N]ews outlets continue to, at best, underreport the publication of scientific studies that undermine the federal government's longstanding pot propaganda and, at worst, ignore them all together.” Nearly one year later little has changed.

Here are five additional stories the mainstream media doesn't want you to know about cannabis.

1. Long-term marijuana use is associated with lower risks of certain cancers, including head and neck cancer.

2. Most Americans acknowledge that pot is safer than booze.

3. The enforcement of marijuana laws is racially discriminatory.

4. Marijuana may be helpful, not harmful, to people with schizophrenia.

5. Workplace drug testing programs don’t identify impaired employees or reduce on-the-job accidents

Read the entire article here.

Australia needs electoral reform

The Australian.com:

The Greens secured more than 11 per cent of the popular vote, but won only one seat in the lower house out of 150.

Could it be time for Australia to introduce proportional representation?

The direct effect of PR would be to lead to parliamentary outcomes that more closely reflected the popular vote.

But it would also transform our political landscape.

To begin with, it would eliminate the focus on marginal seats. That focus is a perennial of Australian politics, but has become more pronounced as manipulating elections has evolved from an art to a science.

It is a focus that is as distorting as it is corrupting.

In particular, it leads major parties to emphasise visible give-aways to voters in the seats most likely to swing. Inevitably, these give-aways cannot be programs that would be implemented in any event. Rather, what makes them give-aways is precisely that they would otherwise never have been chosen, and hence the greater the extent to which they deviate from sensible policy settings, the better.

Little wonder that the areas chosen for initial implementation of the national broadband network were all marginal seats.

Moreover, because these benefits need to be highly targeted, they invariably involve spending increases rather than tax cuts, which cannot be laser-beamed to particular electorates. And all too often, those spending increases involve building infrastructure in areas where costs are high and benefits low, as that is the form of spending that is most visible and localised.

The overall result is that we build infrastructure where it is not needed and not where it is needed; we invest too little in maintaining what infrastructure we have, as filling potholes and repairing bridges is less politically salient than ribbon-cutting; and we skew the focus of political competition away from needed tax reform to spending initiatives that make the nation worse off.

Clearly, introducing PR into the lower house would not completely remove these distortions. After all, if the propensity of voters to swing differs geographically, then even under PR, campaign promises will be targeted to the areas where voting patterns are most volatile. Moreover, the nature of the Senate, with its over-weighting of the less populous states, ensures that geographical income redistribution will always be an important element in Australian politics.

But PR would make it more costly for parties if they ignored voters in their heartland areas, as a vote lost in those areas would make a difference.

This would force some, however limited, rebalancing from a politics of targeted promises to an emphasis on policies of more general importance. PR could, in other words, help shift the pendulum from pork-barrelling to competition between political programs, just as the introduction of mass suffrage in the 19th century transformed electoral politics from an exclusive focus on vote-buying and patronage towards provision of public goods.

But it is not only the quality of political competition that would be affected. Rather, PR could also change voter behaviour.

For example, as anyone who has spoken to a Greens voter knows, most have no idea what the Greens' economic policies are. Nor do they need to, for at least as regards the lower house, where policies are made, their vote is essentially a feel-good gesture.

It is consequently unsurprising that one finds affluent, well-educated voters supporting a party whose program involves raising marginal tax rates, withdrawing from trade agreements and increasing tariffs.

If voting for the Greens had greater consequences in terms of shaping policies, their program would be likely to receive much closer scrutiny. A cautious optimist might expect this to lead the Greens to adopt more sensible policies.

None of this, however, is to minimise the difficulties PR would involve.

It would, to begin with, create substantial challenges for the major parties and perhaps especially for Labor.

Although Tasmania and the ACT point somewhat in the other direction, the experience in continental Europe is that in electoral systems with PR, the rise of the Greens has placed the social democratic parties on a path to seemingly inexorable decline, with an ageing support base, deep internal divisions and a political positioning that swings haplessly between the moderate and extreme Left.

In turn, the decline in the social democrats has induced the conservative parties to move closer to the centre and allowed them to consolidate their power base. With Labor no longer benefiting from Green preferences, the same could happen here, especially in the larger states.

Additionally, PR does reshape the political fabric towards a more consensual model, which can create veto points to policy change. Policy stability is not necessarily a bad thing, and there is a large scholarly literature that concludes that economic performance is at least no worse in countries with PR than in those with voting systems based on variants of first past the post.

That said, PR can degenerate into collusion between political actors and policy immobility. Moreover, if the thresholds for representation are set low, the resulting fragmentation increases the costs of reaching political bargains that reflect broad, community, interests.

Politics then degenerates into an unstable form of horse-trading in which benefits are shifted to insiders while costs are transferred on to those outside the (transient) governing coalition.

Last but not least, no country that has gone from first past the post to PR has ever made the trip back, with everything pointing to substantial lock-in effects. PR creates interests that, once mobilised, are not readily suppressed. As a result, this is not a change that should be made lightly.

Historically, however, Australia has been a laboratory for experiments in the design of electoral systems.

Moreover, our systems have evolved as circumstances have changed, with the single transferable vote being introduced to accommodate the emergence of the Country Party. And our willingness to experiment with electoral systems may be one reason international surveys find Australians have a relatively high degree of satisfaction with how our democracy works.

With the major parties looking to negotiate with the Greens and independents, a proposal to a comprehensive, public, review of electoral reform might well be a carrot worth dangling.

Study: Oil sands releasing toxic heavy metals


Calgary — Oil sands operations are polluting the Athabasca River system, researchers said Monday, contradicting the Alberta government’s assertions that toxins in the watershed are naturally occurring.

In a study likely to add more fuel to the environmental battle over oil sands development, researchers said mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium are among the toxins being released into the Athabasca, which flows north through the region’s major oil sands operations.

The findings of the study, co-authored by University of Alberta biological scientists Erin Kelly and David Schindler, should be a signal for the Alberta government to finally consider limits on oil sands development, Schindler said.

“I really think it’s time to cut down the expansion until some of those problems and how to reduce them are solved,” he said in an interview.

The environmental impact of developing the oil sands, the biggest reserves of crude outside the Middle East, has been a topic of snowballing controversy in Canada and around the world. The Alberta government has devoted millions of dollars to defend the multibillion-dollar industry.

The latest research is published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Schindler said the incidence of pollutants in fish is particularly worrisome, as local populations depend on the region’s fishery for food.

“I don’t think the concentrations alone are dangerous. I worry about some of them, like mercury, because there, parts per trillion translate into parts per million in fish,” he said.

A government-supported agency, called the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, has published material as recently as 2009 saying that water quality in the Athabasca River was similar now to conditions before oil sands development.

But Schindler said the RAMP monitoring and findings “violate every rule” of long-term study and his research showed the opposite.

“We deliberately planned the study to test that claim,” he said.

Sampling both upstream and downstream from industrial activity showed higher concentrations of pollutants closer to the oil sands plants, he said.

In addition, the findings are similar to the industry’s own reporting of emissions to the Canadian government’s National Pollutant Release Inventory.

Schindler said airborne pollutants should be reasonably simple for the oil industry to reduce, but he urged more stringent regulations for water.

The study’s other authors are Peter Hodson of Queens University; Jeffrey Short of Oceana, Juneau; and Roseanna Radmanovich and Charlene Nielsen of the University of Alberta.

Obama speaks to New Orleans from planet zarg

Harry Shearer, Just a guy

The President has left New Orleans now, once again, as last October, finding it inconvenient to spend more than a few hours here. Probably a good idea. He'll get a better night's sleep back on his home planet.

Continue reading here.

Most Americans: Palin would be poor president

The Huffington Post:

In a new survey released Monday, most respondents said that they do not think Sarah Palin would have the ability to be an effective president.

In the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, conducted Aug. 3-5 by CBS News among 847 adult respondents, 59% responded that they thought Palin could not be an effective president compared to only 26% who said that she could be.

Eighty percent of liberals and 70% of moderates said Palin could not be an effective president. Only 41% of conservatives said that she could be, while 40% said that she could not be. However, somewhat more Republicans said that Palin could be effective - 47% said she could be while 40% said she could not.

While the 2012 election is a long way off and poll numbers are difficult to interpret, in one recent poll of potential 2012 matchups, conducted Aug. 6-9 by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, 43% of registered voters said they would support Palin to 49% for Obama. Other possible presidential candidates, including Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich, performed similarly, although Huckabee and Romney received slightly closer 3 point margins (the poll's margin of error for general elections questions was 4%). The poll showed the same four candidates tightly bunched in the Repulican primary race.

Polls taken since last November have largely shown a public with an unfavorable view of Palin - the current Pollster.com trend estimate has Palin with a 36.4% favorable rating and 52.7% unfavorable

Harry Shearer: Katrina was an unnatural disaster

Democracy Now!:

On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a new documentary, The Big Uneasy, argues that the destruction of New Orleans was an unnatural disaster and how it could have been prevented. We speak with the filmmaker: actor and satirist Harry Shearer.

Duh! Pot effective for pain relief, study finds

Despite all of Canada's progressive tendencies and an overwhelming support for progressive political parties amoung the majority of the Canadian electorate (over 60% supporting the Liberal Party, NDP, Greens and Bloc Quebecois), Canadian regulators, the medical establishment and various government bueracracies are still utterly clueless regarding the unquestionable medical benefits of marijuana. It seems like on this issue, we're about ten years or so behind the United States and especially California, with voters in that state set to vote on regulating and taxing that state's largest cash crop this November. Regardless, this story is embarrassing as we've known for a long time now - decades - that marijuana has clear medical benefits. Not only should medical marijuana be readily available for pain and chronic pain sufferers, but the government should have been regulating and taxing it a long time ago.

The Canadian Press:

Smoking pot can make some of the pain go away, without the patient getting high.

The finding comes from what researchers in Montreal believe to be the first outpatient clinical trial of smoked cannabis, involving 21 people with chronic neuropathic pain.

The results, which included improvements in mood and sleep, were published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Dr. Mark Ware and colleagues at McGill University and McGill University Health Centre got the ball rolling for the study almost a decade ago, but found it was a long road to get all the necessary approvals and import a convincing marijuana placebo from the United States.

But they plowed ahead, supported by a grant from the Canadian Institute for Health Research, because they felt it was important to generate some scientific data.

Marijuana is illegal in Canada but can be used medicinally in some circumstances. In 2001, Health Canada brought in marijuana medical access regulations outlining conditions for possessing, producing and using the herb for medical purposes.

Despite the years that have passed, “the debate rages on about medical marijuana,” Ware said.

“We hear this a lot from policy makers and from regulatory colleges, especially here in Canada ... there is very little evidence, and many of them aren’t aware of any evidence that smoked cannabis has any medical value.”

Marijuana with potencies of 2.5 per cent, six per cent and 9.4 per cent of the active ingredient THC were obtained from Prairie Plant Systems, the company that was given a government contract 10 years ago to produce a safe, standardized supply of marijuana.

A placebo came from the U.S., where an alcohol extraction process was used to remove the active ingredient, and the herb was reconstituted so it looked like a green leafy material, Ware said.

There was a lot of paperwork and back-and-forth.

“Importing cannabis from the United States is not a trivial issue in this environment,” Ware noted.

Patients were given a special pipe bought on the Internet and 25-milligram capsules of a substance to put in the pipe and light. The smoke was to be inhaled once — three times a day for five days — and patients didn’t know whether they were getting a placebo or one of three different potencies of active drug

Participants used each strength of marijuana product for five days, separated by nine days of washout without cannabis.

“They would inhale that in a slow, smooth, single inhalation, hold their breath for 10 seconds,” then exhale slowly, Ware said.

The first dose was in the hospital, under observation.

“Even with this kind of fixed dosing and limited exposure, we were able to show in a blinded fashion that the patients did obtain some analgesia, improvements in sleep quality and on one of the subscales of the quality-of-life measure, we found that the anxiety was mildly improved as well,” Ware said.

“This may help in developing policy, or improving policy, or improving doctors’ willingness to consider this as an approach when all else has failed.”

Side-effects — the euphoria associated with smoking pot — were “very, very rare,” Ware said.

“I think because the doses we used were very low,” he explained.

“The plasma levels which we found, and which are reported in the trial, show levels of THC in the blood of around ... 40 to 50 nanograms per millilitre in the plasma. And we know that recreational users hit blood levels of around 100 and 150 nanograms per millilitre.”

Prairie Plant Systems now offers medical marijuana that is 12 per cent THC, Ware observed.

“So would we get better results if we had slightly higher THC levels, would we get better results if the patients could use it for longer periods, or if they could use it more frequently during the day?” he asked. “I think these are questions that we can’t answer.”

Prof. Henry McQuay, who works at a pain relief unit in Oxford, U.K., wrote a commentary in the journal, saying that the researchers should be congratulated for tackling the project given that the regulatory hurdles “must have been a nightmare.”

“The big picture here is a political one in a way, where Canada has decided to legalize medicinal use of cannabis in this arena, but many other countries have not,” he said in an interview.

“It’s another brick in that wall, that says here’s evidence that some people do indeed show some pain-relieving benefit from smoking cannabis.”

Dr. Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California in San Diego, said the finding is consistent with data reported from his centre, “and basically shows that there is a beneficial effect of smoked cannabis on neuropathic pain.”

“The potencies we have typically used have been around four per cent and as high as seven per cent, so that (9.4 per cent) is a higher potency than we’re experienced with,” he said.

“But in reading the article, it seems like the patients tolerated it reasonably well.”

Neuropathic pain is a bit different than the pain of a broken leg, for instance, and is a more chronic, burning, unpleasant sensation, he explained.

“Many patients don’t respond completely to existing treatments, and so it’s useful to have another agent ... available, and I think there’s good evidence now cannabis may represent one of those additional agents.”

The researchers say more studies are needed using higher potencies of marijuana, longer duration and flexible dosing to see if pain levels can be reduced even further.

Grant remarked that smoke inhalation raises several issues, and his centre is completing two studies on pain using a vaporization form of cannabis.

“People who are non-smokers may have difficulty tolerating it (smoke),” he said. “Secondly, there’s the issue of second-hand smoke, which people may not like.”

There are also the side-effects of smoking, and practical issues, such as concerns about lighting up in a hospital where there are oxygen tanks, he added.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thousands flee Indonesia volcano

Indonesia has issued a red alert after the Sinabung volcano on the western island of Sumatra erupted for the first time in four hundred years. The volcano spewed smoke and ash fifteen hundred metres into the air today, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people from the Karo district in North Sumatra.

Pakistan floods damage schools

The devastating floods in Pakistan have damaged approximately eight thousand schools across the country, according to United Nations estimates. Another five thousand schools have become shelters for the displaced. This means that children who were not affected by the floods will not be able to continue their education, at least for the time being. The UN says it plans to meet educational requirements by setting up temporary learning spaces in camps, while the government of Sindh province announced plans to enroll students in cities that weren't hit by the flooding.

Iraq army to remain dependent on US

While American combat troops have pulled out of Iraq, the Iraqi military will continue to depend on the US military for training and maintenance. Rebuilding its military from scratch, Iraq has also been purchasing sophisticated American weapon systems, a dramatic departure from Saddam Hussein's Soviet-era equipment. Even after a full military withdrawal (50,000 US troops remain in Iraq), an enduring relationship will likely include the Iraqis and the Americans in a long-term partnership.

MLK was a social justice Christian

Jim Wallis, Christian leader for social change

If the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he would have been on Glenn Beck's blackboard. That is because King was clearly a Social Justice Christian -- the term and people that Beck constantly derides.

Continue reading here.

Judge rejects death row prisoner’s innocence claim

Democracy Now!:

A federal judge in Georgia has rejected death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis’s claims of innocence. Last year the Supreme Court took the unusual step of ordering a district court in Georgia to hold a special evidentiary hearing to consider evidence that surfaced after Davis’s conviction and might establish his innocence. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer, Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene.

Glenn Beck vs. Christ the Liberator

Rev. James Martin, S.J., Catholic priest and author of 'The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything'

It's not hard to see what Beck has against "liberation theology." It's the same reason people are often against "social justice." Both ideas ask us to consider the plight of the poor.

Continue reading here.

The role of money in politics

Democracy Now!:

Voters headed to the polls in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and Vermont yesterday in a big day of state primaries. Florida Rep. Kendrick Meek defeated billionaire real estate mogul Jeff Greene in the state’s Democratic Senate primary. But billionaire businessman Rick Scott pulled off an upset over Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Florida gubernatorial primary after spending $30 million on the race. We take a look at the role of money in those and other primary races with Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity.

Third person once removed

Sean Penn:

The real and devastating human issues in Haiti must be handled and led by a qualified president's deft hand. These elections are crucial, and I have no part in them. Neither should Wyclef Jean.

Continue reading here.

Egg recall: the dangers of industrial farming

Democracy Now!:

The largest egg recall in US history is bringing renewed attention to the dangers of factory farming and to growing consolidation in the industries responsible for the food many Americans eat. Over half a billion eggs have been ordered off US shelves in the past two weeks following an outbreak of salmonella in the Midwest. Nearly 1,300 cases of people sickened by the eggs have been reported. Despite the size of the recall, responsibility falls on just two factory farms: Hillandale Farms and Wright County Egg, both from Iowa.

Cordoba House and religious freedom

David Bromwich, Professor of Literature at Yale

It has been said that liberty is a political good that's easier to win than to maintain; easier to unlearn than to learn. To judge by events of the last three months, we have gone a long way toward unlearning the habits of religious freedom.

Continue reading here.

Katrina hero became victim of injustice

From Democracy Now!:

Today, a personal story of a national tragedy. Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born New Orleans building contractor, stayed in the city while his wife and children left to Baton Rouge. He paddled the flooded streets in his canoe and helped rescue many of his stranded neighbors. Days later, armed police and National Guardsmen arrested him and accused him of being a terrorist. He was held for nearly a month, most of which he was not allowed to call his wife, Kathy. Today, in a rare broadcast interview, Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun join us to tell their story, along with the man who chronicles it in the book Zeitoun, Dave Eggers.

Ramadan lessons for all of humanity

Queen Noor of Jordan, International humanitarian activist

While this verse clearly reminds Muslims of their priorities ahead in the holy month of Ramadan, I believe that these priorities apply to all individuals pursuing peaceful coexistence, social equity, and the protection of human rights.

Continue reading here.

Swapping ads for art

Toronto Star video: Vandalism or vigilantism? Activists in Toronto removed various ads throughout the city and replaced them with art.

Obama visits New Orleans on Katrina anniversary

Associated Press video: President Barack Obama visted New Orleans today to celebrate the city's revival from Hurricane Katrina, and pledged common purpose with residents in the continuing struggle to protect and rebuild the Gulf Coast.

Friday, August 27, 2010

UN warns France over Roma deportations

The United Nations has strongly condemned France's recent deportations of hundreds of Romanians. The U.N.'s anti-racism panel also criticized Iran for discriminating against minorities. Twelve countries in total, including Australia, are being investigated for alleged racism.

Afghan candidates campaign amid fear

The U.S. is expecting an increase in violence in the wake of Afghanistan's parlimentary elections on September 18. Three candidates have already been killed prior to next month's vote. However the danger has not prevented candidates from meeting potential supports and campaigning.

Katrina victims still struggling

Approximately twelve thousand of New Orleans' population of three hundred thousand are homeless, double the amount prior to Hurricane Katrina. It is believed another five thousand are living in abandoned sites properties throughout the city. Many people in New Orleans lived in low-income public housing until Katrina struck. But instead of rebuilding their homes, New Orleans City Council voted to demolish many of them and build mixed-income housing, which however house less people at expensive rents.

MLK's son blasts Glenn Beck

Martin Luther King III:

Forty-seven years ago this weekend, on a sweltering August day often remembered simply as the March on Washington, my father delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. A memorial to him is being erected at the Tidal Basin, not far from where he shared his vision of a nation united in justice, equality and brotherhood.

This weekend Glenn Beck is to host a "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial. While it is commendable that this rally will honor the brave men and women of our armed forces, who serve our country with phenomenal dedication, it is clear from the timing and location that the rally's organizers present this event as also honoring the ideals and contributions of Martin Luther King Jr.

I would like to be clear about what those ideals are.

Vast numbers of Americans know of my father's leadership in opposing segregation. Yet too many believe that his dream was limited to achieving racial equality. Certainly he sought that objective, but his vision was about more than expanding rights for a single race. He hoped that even in the direst circumstances, we could overcome our differences and replace bitter conflicts with greater understanding, reconciliation and cooperation.

My father championed free speech. He would be the first to say that those participating in Beck's rally have the right to express their views. But his dream rejected hateful rhetoric and all forms of bigotry or discrimination, whether directed at race, faith, nationality, sexual orientation or political beliefs. He envisioned a world where all people would recognize one another as sisters and brothers in the human family. Throughout his life he advocated compassion for the poor, nonviolence, respect for the dignity of all people and peace for humanity.

Although he was a profoundly religious man, my father did not claim to have an exclusionary "plan" that laid out God's word for only one group or ideology. He marched side by side with members of every religious faith. Like Abraham Lincoln, my father did not claim that God was on his side; he prayed humbly that he was on God's side.

He did, however, wholeheartedly embrace the "social gospel." His spiritual and intellectual mentors included the great theologians of the social gospel Walter Rauschenbush and Howard Thurman. He said that any religion that is not concerned about the poor and disadvantaged, "the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them[,] is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial." In his "Dream" speech, my father paraphrased the prophet Amos, saying, "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

The title of the 1963 demonstration, "The Great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," reflected his belief that the right to sit at a lunch counter would be hollow if African Americans could not afford the meal. The need for jobs and shared economic prosperity remains as urgent and compelling as it was 47 years ago. My father's vision would include putting millions of unemployed Americans to work, rebuilding our tattered infrastructure and reforms to reduce pollution and better care for the environment.

In my efforts to help realize my father's dream, supporting justice, freedom and human rights for all people, I have conducted nonviolence workshops and outreach in communities across this country and numerous other nations. My experiences affirm the enduring truth of my father's words: that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" and that "we are all bound together in a single garment of destiny."

I pray that all Americans will embrace the challenge of social justice and the unifying spirit that my father shared with his compatriots. With this commitment, we can begin to find new ways to reach out to one another, to heal our divisions, and build bridges of hope and opportunity benefiting all people. In so doing, we will not merely be seeking the dream; we will at long last be living it.

Martin Luther King III is president and chief executive of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Thanks, BP

On a journey to take soil samples from the BP Spill we came across an island full of dead birds in various stages of decay. For more information or to support our ongoing efforts please visit http://www:lmrk.org

Video tour of Chilean mine

The Associated Press:

Copiapo, Chile - The first video released of the 33 men trapped deep in a Chilean copper mine shows the men stripped to the waist and appearing slim but healthy, arm-in-arm, singing the national anthem and yelling "long live Chile, and long live the miners!"

Only about five minutes of what is reportedly a 45-minute video was released late Thursday by Television Nacional de Chile via the Chilean government.

The men made the video with a small camera sent down to them through a small emergency shaft drilled to their emergency shelter deep in the San Jose mine.

The grainy, night-vision images show some men standing, others lying down and apparently just waking up. One man proudly displays the way they have organized the living room-sized shelter where they took refuge after a landslide trapped them Aug. 5. They also showed off areas outside the shelter where they can walk around.

An animated miner gives a guided tour through the ample space where the men have plenty of room to stand and lie down. He shows where the men meet and pray daily and points out the "little cup to brush our teeth."

"We have everything organized," he says.

The few items they have are carefully laid out: a first aid cabinet, shelves holding unidentified bottles, mats in a corner for rest

As the camera shows a table with dominoes laid out, the tour guide says that "this is where we entertain ourselves, where we play cards."

"We meet here everyday," he adds. "We plan, we have assemblies here everyday so that all the decisions we make are based on the thoughts of all 33."

The camera was sent down through a bore-hole used for communications. Another small hole that snakes down to the men's shelter is used for lowering food and a third provides ventilation.

Many of the miners appeared in the video wearing their hard hats. As the camera pans to them, some flash peace signs, wave and smile. Others look groggy as if just awakened.

"Greetings to my family! Get us out of here soon, please!" says one unidentified man.

At one point the footage shows a close-up of a thermometer reading 29.5 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit).

Another man displays what psychiatrists have said is a key trait to keeping the men motivated and optimistic -- a sense that they have a role in their own destinies.

"There are a large number of professionals who are going to help in the rescue efforts from down here," the man says.

What the men may not know is that the mining company that hired them is doing nothing to join them in a rescue. The San Esteban company says it can't afford to pay their wages and may go bankrupt.

San Esteban is in such bad shape that it has neither the equipment nor the money to rescue the men; Chile's state-owned mining company is going to drill the escape tunnel, which will cost about $1.7 million.

In the days after the tunnel collapse at the gold and copper mine, company leaders defended their safety measures, but have since gone mum and attempts to reach anyone at San Esteban were not successful.

Earlier this week, lawyers for the small mining company said that with the mine shut down, and no income coming in, the company was at a high risk for bankruptcy.

How such a financially unstable business was allowed to operate is a question that is putting one of Chile's top industries under the microscope, exposing a dark underside of questionable regulation that may ultimately reflect more on government priorities than one rogue company.

Sen. Baldo Prokurica, who is on the Senate mining committee, says he has been pushing Congress for years to increase the number of inspectors for the state regulatory agency, Sernageomin. It has only 18, he said, which makes regulating the country's several hundred mines a daunting task.

"The government has abandoned (the regulator)," Prokurica said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If you look at the laws, they are good. We need to enforce the laws, not make more laws or increase fines."

Prokurica said the mine operator had a poor safety record. In 2007, company executives were charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of a miner. The worker's family settled, but the mine was closed until it could comply with key safety regulations, said Prokurica.

In 2008, the mine reopened even though the company apparently hadn't complied with all the regulations, he said, adding that the circumstances surrounding the reopening are being investigated.

President Sebastian Pinera has fired top regulators and created a commission to investigate the accident and the agency. Since the collapse, the agency has shut down at least 18 small mines for safety violations, a possible sign that lax safety measures are open secrets at many mines.

On Thursday, the first of many expected lawsuits against San Esteban and the government were filed, and a judge ordered the retention of $1.8 million of company money in anticipation of the suits.

Despite advances in technology and increased emphasis on safety -- at least publicly -- mining remains a dangerous profession.

Since 2000, about 34 people have died every year on average in mining accidents in Chile, with a high of 43 in 2008, according to a review of Sernageomin data.

The agency declined interview requests, citing the investigation and internal overhaul that Pinera ordered.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How the Stimulus is changing America


The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — President Obama's $787 billion stimulus — has been marketed as a jobs bill, and that's how it's been judged. The White House says it has saved or created about 3 million jobs, helping avoid a depression and end a recession. Republicans mock it as a Big Government boondoggle that has failed to prevent rampant unemployment despite a massive expansion of the deficit. Liberals complain that it wasn't massive enough.

It's an interesting debate. Politically, it's awkward to argue that things would have been even worse without the stimulus, even though that's what most nonpartisan economists believe. But the battle over the Recovery Act's short-term rescue has obscured its more enduring mission: a long-term push to change the country. It was about jobs, sure, but also about fighting oil addiction and global warming, transforming health care and education, and building a competitive 21st century economy. Some Republicans have called it an under-the-radar scramble to advance Obama's agenda — and they've got a point.

Yes, the stimulus has cut taxes for 95% of working Americans, bailed out every state, hustled record amounts of unemployment benefits and other aid to struggling families and funded more than 100,000 projects to upgrade roads, subways, schools, airports, military bases and much more. But in the words of Vice President Joe Biden, Obama's effusive Recovery Act point man, "Now the fun stuff starts!" The "fun stuff," about one-sixth of the total cost, is an all-out effort to exploit the crisis to make green energy, green building and green transportation real; launch green manufacturing industries; computerize a pen-and-paper health system; promote data-driven school reforms; and ramp up the research of the future. "This is a chance to do something big, man!" Biden said during a 90-minute interview with TIME.

For starters, the Recovery Act is the most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world's largest venture-capital fund. It's pouring $90 billion into clean energy, including unprecedented investments in a smart grid; energy efficiency; electric cars; renewable power from the sun, wind and earth; cleaner coal; advanced biofuels; and factories to manufacture green stuff in the U.S. The act will also triple the number of smart electric meters in our homes, quadruple the number of hybrids in the federal auto fleet and finance far-out energy research through a new government incubator modeled after the Pentagon agency that fathered the Internet.

The only stimulus energy program that's gotten much attention so far — chiefly because it got off to a slow start — is a $5 billion effort to weatherize homes. But the Recovery Act's line items represent the first steps to a low-carbon economy. "It will leverage a very different energy future," says Kristin Mayes, the Republican chair of Arizona's utility commission. "It really moves us toward a tipping point."

The stimulus is also stocked with nonenergy game changers, like a tenfold increase in funding to expand access to broadband and an effort to sequence more than 2,300 complete human genomes — when only 34 were sequenced with all previous aid. There's $8 billion for a high-speed passenger rail network, the boldest federal transportation initiative since the interstate highways. There's $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants to promote accountability in public schools, perhaps the most significant federal education initiative ever — it's already prompted 35 states and the District of Columbia to adopt reforms to qualify for the cash. There's $20 billion to move health records into the digital age, which should reduce redundant tests, dangerous drug interactions and errors caused by doctors with chicken-scratch handwriting. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius calls that initiative the foundation for Obama's health care reform and "maybe the single biggest component in improving quality and lowering costs."

Any of those programs would have been a revolution in its own right. "We've seen more reform in the last year than we've seen in decades, and we haven't spent a dime yet," says Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "It's staggering how the Recovery Act is driving change."

That was the point. Critics have complained that while the New Deal left behind iconic monuments — courthouses, parks, the Lincoln Tunnel, the Grand Coulee Dam — this New New Deal will leave a mundane legacy of sewage plants, repaved roads, bus repairs and caulked windows. In fact, it will create new icons too: solar arrays, zero-energy border stations, an eco-friendly Coast Guard headquarters, an "advanced synchrotron light source" in a New York lab. But its main legacy will be change. The stimulus passed just a month after Obama's inauguration, but it may be his signature effort to reshape America — as well as its government.

"Let's Just Go Build It!"

After Obama's election, Depression scholar Christina Romer delivered a freak-out briefing to his transition team, warning that to avoid a 1930s-style collapse, Washington needed to pump at least $800 billion into the frozen economy — and fast. "We were in a tailspin," recalls Romer, who is about to step down as chair of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. "I was completely sympathetic to the idea that we shouldn't just dig ditches and fill them in. But saving the economy had to be paramount." Obama's economists argued for tax cuts and income transfers to get cash circulating quickly, emergency aid to states to prevent layoffs of cops and teachers and off-the-shelf highway projects to put people to work. They wanted a textbook Keynesian response to an economy in cardiac arrest: adding money to existing programs via existing formulas or handing it to governors, seniors and first-time home buyers. They weren't keen to reinvent the wheel.

But Obama and Biden also saw a golden opportunity to address priorities; they emphasized shovel-worthy as well as shovel-ready. Biden recalls brainstorming with Obama about an all-in push for a smarter electrical grid that would reduce blackouts, promote renewables and give families more control over their energy diet: "We said, 'God, wouldn't it be wonderful? Why don't we invest $100 billion? Let's just go build it!' "

Continue reading here.

Dinosaur discovery in Edmonton

Canadian Press video: Two construction workers uncovered seventy million year-old dinosaur bones in a suburban neighbourhood of Edmonton, Alberta.

Man shot in head, realizes five years later

Associated Press video: A thirty-five year-old man shot in the head initially believed he was hit by a firecracker, but only realized he was actully shot approximately five years later when he started suffering headaches.

Group planned to build IEDs, police say

Canadian Press video: Canadian police have charged three men in an apparent terror plot which stretched from suburban Ottawa to Afghanistan, Iran, Dubai and Pakistan.

G20 suspect on police video

Toronto Police Service raw video: The suspect, apparently from New York, used a small pick hammer to smash windows and caused thousands of dollars in damage. Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux said the suspect is among the "worst of the worst offenders."

Australia needs for proportional representation

Australian Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei congratulates her party on their electoral success, and also points out that if Australia had a truly proportional electoral system, the Australian Green Party would have won sixteen more seats in the lower house of Parliament.

Terror suspect appeared on Canadian Idol

The Toronto Star:

Ottawa — A third terrorism suspect– one who moonwalked across a Montreal stage during an audition for Canadian Idol – was detained early Thursday, the Star has learned.

Khuram Sher was arrested as part of an RCMP national security investigation, as police continue to investigate a possible cell allegedly plotting to attack targets at home.

Sher told judges on the popular reality show in 2008 that he hailed from Pakistan and was a fan of “hockey, music and acting.”

He sings an off-tune rendition of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” with – as the show’s website describes – some “nifty” dance moves.

“Have you ever thought of being a comedian?” asks one of the judges of the 26-year-old.

Another remarks: “The dance moves were good, the singing, bad.”

One source close to the investigation said Sher was actually a Canadian-born physician and graduate of McGill University – quite a different persona from goofy contestant wearing a traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez and pakul hat as he performs robot dance moves and a Michael Jackson moonwalk.

Two other alleged members of the group police believe were trying to form a local terrorism cell appeared in an Ottawa court Thursday.

Hiva Alizadeh, 36, is charged with conspiracy, committing an act for terrorism purposes and providing or making available properties for terrorism purposes.

The tall, thin Alizadeh appeared in court wearing a bushy beard and glasses, with a knitted skull cap and an open-neck checked shirt.

Misbahuddin Ahmed is charged with conspiracy and other unspecified terrorism charges. Ahmed, who was born in 1983 and stands about five feet, 10 inches tall, wore a dark, neatly trimmed beard and a beige pullover in court.

"He is in shock. That's all I can say," Ahmed’s Ottawa lawyer Ian Carter told reporters after the appearance.

Sean May, lawyer for Alizadeh, said the charges against his client were very serious.

"He seems to be taking the matter seriously and obviously very concerned about it," May told reporters.

"They are very serious charges, no question about that. They are the most serious charges you can face except for a murder charge," he said.

Both men were put over for a video appearance on Sept. 1.

Ottawa’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team had been tracking the men for months and one of the suspects is alleged to have ties to high-level Al Qaeda affiliates abroad, sources close to the case told the Toronto Star.

Known as “Project Samosa,” the RCMP investigation reportedly began with intelligence passed on by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The plot involved Canadian targets but was not “specific,” said a police source, adding that the arrests happened quickly since one suspect was planning to travel abroad. The alleged ringleader had reportedly travelled earlier to the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan in search of training.

A news conference in Ottawa is scheduled for Thursday.

Ahmed had worked for two years as a general radiography technologist at Ottawa’s Hospital Civic Campus.

Guy Morency, the hospital’s director of diagnostic imaging, told the Star in an interview that Ahmed was a “stellar technologist.”

“We’ve had no complaints about him,” he said.

Morency said he had only met Ahmed a couple of times in meetings and described him as rather “nondescript.” But he did recall that Ahmed was able to provide “excellent” references from Montreal before he was hired.

“We were very pleased with what we heard and received and he has proven himself since.”

Morency, who was on vacation this week, said he would go into the hospital Thursday to speak with the department’s employees.

“Obviously this is going to be upsetting for a lot of people.”

Neighbours living on the west-end cul-de-sac where the 26-year-old suspect lived with his wife and baby said the raid was shocking.

“I live two doors down. It’s very scary,” said neighbour Janice Burtt.

Burtt said she believed the young Muslim couple had lived in the townhouse for about six months.

“I’d wave and say hello but I don’t think they gestured to me at all,” she said.

Nathan Aubie, who lived beside Ahmed, said he had only seen the couple three or four times but that “they seemed like friendly people.”

A second location, a seven-storey apartment complex about five kilometres away, was also raided early Wednesday. The windows of the apartment police searched were covered with patterned embroidery and five police cruisers still idled outside the building late in the day.

Some within Canada’s Muslim community said they were angered by Wednesday’s arrests, while others cautioned against indicting the accused before any evidence is known.

Salma Siddiqui, the Muslim Canadian Congress vice-president said in a telephone interview that she was “livid and frustrated” that young Muslim men were still being seduced by the idea of fighting a holy war in the name of Islam.

“It has to stop,” she said.

“Why are they not understanding that this is not acceptable? Why are they still going on accepting the doctrine of jihad? That is the where the whole problem is.”

It is the second time since 9/11 that an RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team has arrested a group of Canadian suspects planning to strike at home.

In June 2006, a group of young Muslim men dubbed the Toronto 18 were rounded up and prosecuted for plotting to attack downtown targets and a military base north of the city.

Of the 18 who were charged — 14 adults and four youths — 11 were eventually convicted. Charges against seven of the accused were dropped.

Zakaria Amara, one of the group’s ringleaders, pleaded guilty last year, confessing that he had been developing a series of bombs for the attacks that he hoped would force Canada out of Afghanistan. He was given a life sentence.

The case was seen as a wake-up call for Canadians and heralded as a successful test of the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which were introduced after 9/11. It was also held up as a model of co-operation between the Mounties and CSIS — organizations that had been plagued for years by mistrust and rivalry.

Critics of the Toronto18 case accused the RCMP of casting the net too wide and questioned whether police informants inside the group had unduly influenced the suspects.

While there are no known ties between the Ottawa suspects and those arrested in Toronto, the cases may have similarities in the way they were investigated — and play out in court.

Some of the details in the case hint that police will present a case of what’s commonly called “homegrown terrorism,” meaning Canadian citizens who become radicalized in the West and then often seek connections and training abroad.

Reacting to the arrests, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the case shows “Canada is not immune from international or homegrown radicalization.”

“Our government monitors national security concerns and is vigilant in protecting against any threats,” spokesperson Christopher McCluskey said.

“As for operational security matters, and matters currently under police investigation, we cannot further comment at this time.”

Republican plan would increase deficit by trillions

The Huffington Post:

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was short on specifics during his much-touted economic address in Cleveland this week, promising to offer a more detailed plan as the election approached.

But the Ohio Republican did outline some ideas about how President Obama could restructure both his White House staff and the economy. And in a subsequent report analyzing his suggestions -- which included the firing of top economic advisers -- the progressive think tank NDN estimates that the plans could exacerbate the deficit by roughly $3.7 trillion over the next ten years.

NDN is, obviously, not an un-biased source in the debate. But they base much of their data on non-partisan indicators. Boehner's suggestions stand little chance of becoming law. They were offered, primarily, as a counterpoint to the agenda that the president is pushing. But NDN's President and Founder Simon Rosenberg makes the case that in a year when deficit reduction is a cause celebre, Democrats would be well served, simply, by highlighting the numbers.

Here is the report NDN put together, titled: "The Fiscal Impact of the Boehner Plan"

1. Fully Extend the Bush Tax Cuts.

Increase deficits and debt by $3.8 trillion over ten years.

2. Have the president veto the Employee Free Choice Act, a carbon tax or cap and trade, and "any other tax increases on families and small businesses" if passed during a lame-duck session of Congress.

Unable to assess impact of hypotheticals, but the provision impairs ability to address deficits and debt, including the potential loss of $624 billion in revenue over ten years from a carbon regime.

3. Call on Congress to repeal the provision in healthcare reform mandating that small businesses file IRS 1099 forms on purchases of over $600.

Increase the deficits and debt by $17 billion over ten years per Congressional Budget Office estimate. The provision was included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to close the business tax gap.

4. Reduce non-defense discretionary spending to 2008 levels.

In 2008, non-defense discretionary spending was approximately $494 billion. Under the President's proposed 2011 budget, non-security discretionary spending is $530 billion. In his State of the Union Address, the President announced a three year freeze on non-security discretionary spending, and levels drop to $490 billion in 2012 and $480 billion in 2013. Boehner's remarks did not address a plan beyond that point. This proposal would therefore save $36 billion next year and nothing thereafter.

5. Resignations of the President's economic team, starting with Secretary of the Treasury Geithner and National Economic Council Director Larry Summers.

The position of NEC Director is not Senate confirmed, so it is fair to estimate that it would take the Administration two weeks to fill that position. Estimating for the taxes paid on his $172,000 annual salary, two weeks without an NEC Director would save the Federal government between $5000 and $6000.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner makes an annual salary of $191,300. Because he is Senate confirmed, it is safe to estimate that it will take two months for his confirmation. Therefore, two months without a Treasury Secretary would likely save the Federal government between $25,000 and 26,000. Therefore, these resignations amount to a fiscal impact of $30,000 - $32,000 of deficit reduction over the next two months.

Total Fiscal Impact of the Boehner Plan: Increase Deficits and Debt by roughly $3.781 trillion over ten years.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Poison gas hits Afghan schoolgirls

Approximately seventy students and teachers at an all girls school in Kabul became ill from an unknown gas which spread through classrooms. School authorities evacuated everyone from the building, with many taken to hospitals. It is still not clear who is behind the incident, but it is suspected that the Taliban, who oppose girls and women receiving an education, are responsible.

Clashes add to Somalis' plight

Heavy fighting in the Somali capital Mogadishu has continued for the third consecutive day, with six people killed adding to a total of sixty dead in two days. Another twenty-five people were injured today in the Bakara market area.
Fighting between government forces, who are supported by African Union troops, and al-Shabab fighters continued on several fronts in the north and south of the capital.

NYC Muslim taxi driver stabbed because of faith

I'm not surprised at all by this vicious attack, considering the American right's vicious and nasty campaign against the proposed Muslim community centre near to be built near the Ground Zero site.

The Associated Press:

New York — A college student who did volunteer work in Afghanistan was charged Wednesday with using a folding tool to slash the neck and face of a New York City taxi driver after the driver said he is Muslim.

A criminal complaint alleged that Michael Enright uttered an Arabic greeting and told the victim, "Consider this a checkpoint," before the brutal bias attack occurred Tuesday night inside the yellow cab on Manhattan's East Side. Police say Enright was drunk at the time.

A judge ordered Enright, 21, held without bail on charges of attempted murder and assault as a hate crime and weapon possession. The handcuffed defendant, wearing a polo shirt and cargo shorts, did not enter a plea during the brief court appearance.

In addition to a serious neck wound, Ahmed H. Sharif suffered cuts to forearms, face and one hand while trying to fend off Enright, prosecutor James Zeleta said while arguing against bail.

Defense attorney Jason Martin told the judge his client was an honors student at the School of Visual Arts who lives with his parents in suburban Brewster, N.Y.

To deny bail, given his background, "I don't think is warranted," Martin argued. The lawyer declined to comment outside court.

Enright volunteered for Intersections International, a group that promotes interfaith dialogue and has supported a controversial proposed mosque near ground zero.

A group representative, the Rev. Robert Chase, called the situation "tragic."

"We've been working very hard to build bridges between folks from different religions and cultures," Chase said. "This is really shocking and sad for us."

Sharif, a 43-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant who's driven a cab for 15 years, was quoted in a news release from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance as saying the attack left him shaken.

"I feel very sad," he said. With the tension over the mosque, he added, "All drivers should be more careful."

Sharif accepted an invitation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch of the supporter of the mosque, to visit City Hall on Thursday.

"This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe no matter what god we pray to," the mayor said in a statement.

About 6 p.m. Tuesday, Enright hailed the cab at East 24th Street and Second Avenue, said Deputy Inspector Kim Royster, a New York Police Department spokeswoman.

Sharif told authorities that during the trip, Enright asked him whether he was Muslim. When he said yes, Enright pulled out a weapon – believed to be a tool called a Leatherman – and attacked the driver, Royster said.

After the assault, the driver tried to lock Enright inside the cab and drive to a police station, police said. The suspect jumped out a rear window at East 40th Street and Third Avenue.

An officer there noticed the commotion, found Enright slumped on the sidewalk and arrested him.

A case for the tool was found inside the cab, but the tool itself was missing, police said.

Chase said Enright has been volunteering for the group for about a year on a project that involved veterans.

He did a video project that sent him to Afghanistan for about six weeks this spring to document the life of an average soldier, Chase said. He was embedded with a unit there.

Intersections has come out in support of the mosque project, but Chase said Enright wasn't involved in that.

Enright faces a maximum eight to 25 years in prison if convicted of the attempted murder count.

Top Japanese official: Americans "simple-minded"

The Associated Press:

Tokyo — A key figure in Japan's ruling party dubbed Americans "simple-minded" in a speech to fellow lawmakers Wednesday.

It was not clear what prompted the remarks by Democratic Party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa at a political seminar, in which he otherwise paid tribute to Americans' commitment to democracy, saying it was something Japan should learn from.

"I like Americans, but they are somewhat monocellular," the former Democratic Party leader said. "When I talk with Americans, I often wonder why they are so simple-minded."

Ozawa didn't elaborate on what aspect of Americans made him compare them monocellular organisms, a term also used to mean shortsighted or dumb.

There is growing speculation that the 68-year-old former party leader – renowned as a backroom dealer and election strategist but unpopular among the wider public – may run against rival Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a Sept. 14 election for the party leadership.

Ozawa steered clear of that topic in his speech at the seminar to about 50 lawmakers from the party and dozens of other invitees. But later Wednesday he hinted he would, telling supporters his decision on whether to run would hopefully "respond to your expectations." He said he needed more time to make that decision.

Ozawa was forced to resign as party secretary-general in early June over a funding scandal, though he has denied any wrongdoing.

Despite the Democratic Party-led government's monthslong tussle with Washington over the planned relocation of a major U.S. military base in Okinawa – which has weakened public support for the government – Tokyo and Washington remain close allies, and Ozawa's comments on Americans did not appear geared at currying support within the party.

Ozawa, who advocates a U.S.-style two-party political system for Japan – which currently has a coalition government – praised Americans for electing President Barack Obama.

"I don't think Americans are very smart, but I give extremely high credit for democracy and choices by its people," he said. "They chose a black president for the first time in U.S. history," adding that he thought once that would never be possible.