Thursday, September 30, 2010

Empire - The UN - Tower of Babble?

Empire examines the United Nations to whether it is outdated and if it can address the challenges of the 21st century. (Personally I believe the United Nations needs more authority to intervene in countries where acts of genocide have occurred).

UN reaches out to Congo rape survivors

A United Nations human rights panel has began talks with survivors of sexual violence in the Congo. But many more women are still suffering similar attacks.

Alleged extrajudicial killings in Pakistan

Warning: this report contains disturbing images.

Pakistan has denied that its military has been involved in the illegal execution of civilians. The denial follows the release of video footage apparently showing uniformed soldiers lining up and shooting six young men. The goverment has said that the video is a propaganda film made by the Taliban.

Conservative smear artist fails again

UN: Israelis executed US citizen


The report of the fact-finding mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla released last week shows conclusively, for the first time, that US citizen Furkan Dogan and five Turkish citizens were murdered execution-style by Israeli commandos.

The report reveals that Dogan, the 19-year-old US citizen of Turkish descent, was filming with a small video camera on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara when he was shot twice in the head, once in the back and in the left leg and foot and that he was shot in the face at point blank range while lying on the ground.

The report says Dogan had apparently been "lying on the deck in a conscious or semi-conscious, state for some time" before being shot in his face.

The forensic evidence that establishes that fact is "tattooing around the wound in his face," indicating that the shot was "delivered at point blank range." The report describes the forensic evidence as showing that "the trajectory of the wound, from bottom to top, together with a vital abrasion to the left shoulder that could be consistent with the bullet exit point, is compatible with the shot being received while he was lying on the ground on his back."

Based on both "forensic and firearm evidence," the fact-finding panel concluded that Dogan's killing and that of five Turkish citizens by the Israeli troops on the Mavi Marmari May 31 "can be characterized as extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions." (See Report [.pdf] Page 38, Section 170)

Continue reading here.

America - &%#@ yeah!

Brilliant satire.

Dwight was right

Michael Moore: turns out President Eisenhower wasn't making up all that stuff about the military-industrial complex.

That's what you'll conclude if you read Bob Woodward's new book, Obama's War. (You can read excerpts of it here, here and here.) You thought you voted for change when you cast a ballot for Barack Obama? Um, not when it comes to America occupying countries that don't begin with a "U" and an "S."

In fact, after you read Woodward's book, you'll split a gut every time you hear a politician or a government teacher talk about "civilian control over the military." The only people really making the decisions about America's wars are across the river from Washington in the Pentagon. They wear uniforms. They have lots of weapons they bought from the corporations they will work for when they retire.

For everyone who supported Obama in 2008, it's reassuring to find out he understands we have to get out of Afghanistan. But for everyone who's worried about Obama in 2010, it's scary to find out that what he thinks should be done may not actually matter. And that's because he's not willing to stand up to the people who actually run this country.

And here's the part I don't even want to write -- and none of you really want to consider:

It matters not whom we elect. The Pentagon and the military contractors call the shots. The title "Commander in Chief" is ceremonial, like "Employee of the Month" at your local Burger King.

Everything you need to know can be found in just two paragraphs from Obama's War. Here's the scene: Obama is meeting with his National Security Council staff on the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year. He's getting ready to give a big speech announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan. Except...the strategy isn't set yet. The military has presented him with just one option: escalation. But at the last minute, Obama tells everyone, hold up -- the door to a plan for withdrawal isn't closed.

The brass isn't having it:

"Mr. President," [Army Col. John Tien] said, "I don't see how you can defy your military chain here. We kind of are where we are. Because if you tell General McChrystal, 'I got your assessment, got your resource constructs, but I've chosen to do something else,' you're going to probably have to replace him. You can't tell him, 'Just do it my way, thanks for your hard work.' And then where does that stop?"

The colonel did not have to elaborate. His implication was that not only McChrystal but the entire military high command might go in an unprecedented toppling -- Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command. Perhaps no president could weather that, especially a 48-year-old with four years in the U.S. Senate and 10 months as commander in chief.

And, well, the rest is history. Three days later Obama announced the escalation at West Point. And he became our newest war president.

But here's the question Woodward doesn't answer: Why, exactly, can't a president weather ending a war, even if he has to fire all his generals to do it? It's right there in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution: The President's in charge of the military. And so is Congress: the army can't just march over to the Treasury Department and steal the money for wars. Article I, Section 9 says Congress has to appropriate it.

In the real world, though, the Constitution's just a piece of paper. In the real world, a President who fired his top military in order to stop a war would be ruined before you could say "bloodless coup." The Washington Post (filled with ads from Boeing and Northrop Grumman) would scream about how he was the reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain. Fox and CNN (filled with "experts" who work for think tanks funded by Raytheon and General Dynamics) would say he was a girly-man who had to be impeached. And Congress (which experienced its own escalation in lobbying from defense contractors just as the Afghanistan escalation was being decided) might well do it. (By the way, if you want to listen to Lyndon Johnson talk in 1964 about how he might be impeached if he didn't follow the military-industrial complex's orders and escalate the war in Vietnam, just go here.)

So here's your assignment for tonight: Watch Eisenhower's famous farewell speech. And then start thinking about how we can tame this beast. The Soviet Union had its own military-industrial complex, which is one reason they got into Afghanistan...which is one reason there's no more Soviet Union. It happened to them.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Inside Story - Mahmoud Abbas' dilemma

Settlement construction in the West Bank is continuing as the Israeli government allowed the ten month moratorium on expansion to expire. With the peace process now in trouble, what will Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas do? Can diplomacy provide a solution?

Fighting crime in Brazil's slums

From Rio de Janeiro, police and private companies are working together to make the city's streets safer.

The President's discussion of the economy

Robert Reich, Former Secretary of Labor; Professor at Berkeley; Author, "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future"

Why doesn't President Obama have a showdown with the GOP? Let them filibuster a jobs bill and show which side he's on and which side they're on?

Continue reading here.

Pressure builds on land reform in Brazil

Brazil's economy is booming but the government has yet to resolve the decades-old dilemma of poor landless workers in the countryside.

Deciphering Ontario's prostitution decision

The Toronto Star:

Q: Does the decision apply across Canada?

A: The ruling, which was made by an Ontario Superior Court judge, is binding only in Ontario.

Q: When does it take effect?

A: After 30 days, unless the federal government can persuade a court to suspend the ruling for a longer period.

Q: What does the ruling allow sex workers to do that they previously couldn’t?

A: They can work indoors without fear of being charged with operating a common bawdy house. They can also engage in conversations with customers on the street, as long as they are not impeding traffic or harassing pedestrians. And they can hire accountants, drivers and bodyguards without exposing them to the possibility of being charged with living on the avails of prostitution.

Q: Does this mean a brothel can open up in my neighbourhood?

A: It’s possible, although unlikely. Other laws will probably come into play here. There are other ways for prostitution to be regulated outside of the Criminal Code, including municipal zoning. A residential area could be zoned to prohibit any kind of commercial enterprise, including sex work, for instance.

Q: Will I see more men and women working the streets?

A: Maybe, although prostitutes are likely to stick to their usual areas. Sex workers go where their clients are. They aren’t likely to work a corner in the suburbs, for example, because people seeking street-level prostitutes tend to go to the city.

Q: Will prostitutes be safer now?

A: Most sex workers believe so, but some experts fear that if demand for prostitutes surges, there could be an increase in human trafficking.

Q: Is this really what the Canadian public wants?

A: An Angus Reid poll conducted when this case first went to trial in 2009 suggested that half of Canadians would decriminalize prostitution, so long as it was between adults and consensual. Some say the court is just catching up to public sentiment. Others say Canadians might be loathe to accept reforms that come down in a Toronto courtroom.

By Nicki Thomas. Compiled from interviews with Brenda Cossman, law professor at the University of Toronto and expert on sexuality and the law; Christine Bruckert, criminology professor at the University of Ottawa and former sex worker; and Janine Benedet, associate law professor at the University of British Columbia and member of the Abolition Coalition, a group seeking the abolition of prostitution.

Prostitution laws struck down in Ontario - for now

The Toronto Star:

A Toronto judge has struck down Canada’s prostitution laws, saying provisions meant to protect women and residential neighbourhoods are endangering sex workers’ lives.

If Justice Susan Himel’s decision stands, prostitutes will be able to communicate freely with customers on the street, conduct business in their homes or brothels and hire bodyguards and accountants without exposing them to the risk of criminal sanctions.

The Superior Court judge suspended her ruling from taking effect for 30 days to give the government time to consider how to address potential consequences, including the emergence of unlicensed brothels.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the federal government is “very concerned” and is seriously considering an appeal of the 131-page ruling.

Alan Young, a lawyer at the forefront of the landmark legal challenge, said it is too early to say whether Tuesday’s decision could open the door to Canada going “the way of Germany with five-storey brothels.”

But to his client, Terri-Jean Bedford, a dominatrix who was convicted in 1998 of keeping a common bawdy house, it was “emancipation day.”

“How am I going to celebrate? I’m going to spank some ass,” Bedford, cracking a riding whip, told reporters.

Bedford and prostitutes Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch took on the legal might of the federal and provincial governments, their battle waged on a shoestring legal aid budget and the volunteer services of expert witnesses and lawyers.

Scott said the decision means sex workers no longer have to “worry about being raped, robbed or murdered.”

Himel found Criminal Code prohibitions against keeping a common bawdy house, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purposes of the trade violated the women’s Charter rights to freedom of expression and security of the person.

Rather than making prostitution itself illegal, the federal government has attempted to curtail the trade by criminalizing related activities.

Bedford, Scott and Lebovitch argued those prohibitions prevented them from conducting their business in the safety of their homes or brothels and forced them into hasty street conversations with potential customers, with no time to weed out those who might be dangerous.

Federal lawyers maintained that prostitution is inherently risky whether it is practised indoors or outdoors and that decriminalizing it would be out of sync with the moral values of most Canadians.

But Himel said the Criminal Code prohibitions were overly broad.

While the prohibition against living on the avails of prostitution is meant to target pimps and stop the exploitation of women, Himel said it prevents prostitutes from legally hiring bodyguards, drivers and other security personnel.

“The law presents them with a perverse choice,” she said. “The applicants can safeguard their security, but only at the expense of another’s liberty.”

Many prostitutes already work out of their homes and complaints about nuisances arising from indoor prostitution are rare, Himel added.

Yet the Criminal Code prohibitions against keeping a common bawdy house deprive them of the safety benefits of working in familiar surroundings with security systems, she said.

While a somewhat similar legal challenge to the Criminal Code’s prostitution provisions was dismissed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1990, Young said the stage was set for reconsidering the issues when sex workers began disappearing from Vancouver’s downtown east side and pig farmer Robert Pickton was charged with their murders.

“In 2002, when they began digging up bodies on the pig farm,” he said, “it became obvious to every Canadian that it’s very dangerous for sex workers to be on the streets.”

Young suggested the decision could open the door to a new election issue, as Toronto and other municipalities consider whether to follow the leads of New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands and parts of Australia and Nevada and introduce municipally based licensing of prostitution.

Scott said sex workers want to work with municipalities and be responsible business owners and neighbours.

Citizens shouldn’t worry about a brothel opening up next door, she added.

“There is no reason to be afraid. Lightening bolts won’t hit the sidewalk,” said Scott. “There won’t be frogs all over.”

Palestinians mark anniversary of second Intifada

It has been ten years since the start of the second Intifada in the occupied Palestinian territories. The uprising claimed five thousand five hundred Palestinian lives and more than one thousand Israelis. It's great to see in this video that those who once resorted to violence want to see the current negotiations to succeed.

Ottawa rejects Senate plan to fight poverty

Shocking, a right-wing political party and government that doesn't care at all about the impoverished, let alone helping them. Yet meanwhile the Harper government believes that spending $16 billion on F-35 fighter jets we don't need, and an additional $1 billion on security for this summer's G20 Conference in Toronto was necessary, despite a massive budget deficit in the midst of a brutal recession.

The Toronto Star:

The Harper government has refused to adopt any of the 74 poverty-fighting recommendations that were part of a sweeping Senate report on homelessness and poverty.

Instead, the government’s response Monday night to the Senate’s 300-page report was a 20-page list of Ottawa’s current programs and a commitment to “take the committee’s recommendations under advisement as it continues to find ways to help Canadians succeed.”

Liberal Senator Art Eggleton, whose subcommittee on cities authored the report, said he is “disappointed” in the government’s response.

“I think we made it quite clear it’s not just how much you spend but how efficiently and effectively you spend it,” said Eggleton. “What we really needed was an action plan — an indication that this is a high priority for the government.”

Anti-poverty groups were also disillusioned.

“With the majority of provinces and territories pursuing poverty reduction, the federal government needs to do its part,” said Laurel Rothman, of Campaign 2000, a national coalition that has been pressing Ottawa to live up to its 1998 all-party resolution to end child poverty by 2000.

“Canadians want our leaders to demonstrate commitment to work together to eradicate poverty during the next decade,” she said.

The Senate report, In from the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness, says a staggering 3.4 million Canadians are trapped in poverty by government social programs that are “substantially broken.”

Among the report’s 74 recommendations is a call for Ottawa to set a goal of “poverty eradication” and to work with the provinces to create a national child-care system, a federal housing strategy and to ensure income support for people on welfare meets the poverty level.

The report also recommends developing a national income support program for the disabled, increasing the National Child Benefit to $5,000 by 2012 and boosting the Working Income Tax Benefit so those in low-wage jobs can escape poverty.

The Senate adopted the report in a unanimous vote April 29.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Former Fed says punish cartels with legalization

Retired federal anti-drug agent Terry Nelson addressed students in El Paso last year, regarding why he believes all drugs need to be legalized and regulated, after he spent decades fighting cartels on the front lines of the "war on drugs". Nelson is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which anyone can join at:

Bali battles rabies epidemic

On the Indonesian resort island of Bali, five hundred thousand dogs are being vaccinated in an attempt to stop the spread of rabies. Approximately one hundred people have died since the breakout of the disease in 2008.

Attacks on Iraq security forces rise

Security forces in Iraq are facing a rise in attacks by armed groups. Many believe the attacks are an attempt to undermine Iraqi security forces. While politicians argue over the formation of a new government, police officers and Iraqi soldiers fear they will remain a key target for attacks as the power vacuum continues.

Former guerilla may become most powerful woman

The Independent:

The former guerrilla set to be the world's most powerful woman

Brazil looks likely to elect an extraordinary leader next weekend

The world's most powerful woman will start coming into her own next weekend. Stocky and forceful at 63, this former leader of the resistance to a Western-backed military dictatorship (which tortured her) is preparing to take her place as President of Brazil.

As head of state, president Dilma Rousseff would outrank Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, and Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State: her enormous country of 200 million people is revelling in its new oil wealth. Brazil's growth rate, rivalling China's, is one that Europe and Washington can only envy.

Her widely predicted victory in next Sunday's presidential poll will be greeted with delight by millions. It marks the final demolition of the "national security state", an arrangement that conservative governments in the US and Europe once regarded as their best artifice for limiting democracy and reform. It maintained a rotten status quo that kept a vast majority in poverty in Latin America while favouring their rich friends.

Ms Rousseff, the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant to Brazil and his schoolteacher wife, has benefited from being, in effect, the prime minister of the immensely popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former union leader. But, with a record of determination and success (which includes appearing to have conquered lymphatic cancer), this wife, mother and grandmother will be her own woman. The polls say she has built up an unassailable lead – of more than 50 per cent compared with less than 30 per cent – over her nearest rival, an uninspiring man of the centre called Jose Serra. Few doubt that she will be installed in the Alvorada presidential palace in Brasilia in January.

Continue reading here.

South Africa's threatened rhinos

South Africa is home to approximately 80% of Africa's rhinoceros population. But they are increasingly under threat from poachers, who are trying to cater to a high Asian demand for rhino horns. The World Wildlife Fund has said that more than two hundred rhinos have been killed by well-organized gangs in 2010.

Reform advocates decry New Brunswick results

The Globe and Mail:

In the 2006 New Brunswick election, former Premier Bernard Lord won more votes but lost to Shawn Graham, whose Liberals formed a majority government. Fair Vote Canada’s Larry Gordon calls that “a classic first-past-the-post schmozzle.”

On Monday night, New Brunswickers threw out Mr. Graham. And again the voting patterns were all skewed.

More than a third of voters supported the Liberal premier while less than half supported David Alward and his Progressive Conservatives and when it was all tallied, the Tories came out with 42 MLAS compared to 13 for the Grits. Mr. Gordon’s national group, which is advocating voter reform in Canada, is not amused.

“I think it’s a damning case against first-past-the-post because you really do have a situation where voters are saying one thing with the ballot and then it kind of goes into this first-past-the-post shredder with some completely different type of result comes out the other end,” Mr. Gordon told The Globe. He called the distortion “typical” but conceded the New Brunswick result is “certainly not the most outrageous that has ever happened.”

Mr. Gordon noted the “ludicrous example” of the Green Party receiving 940,000 votes in the 2008 federal election but winning no seats. Compare this to Stephen Harper’s Tories, who in Alberta received 813,000 votes but sent 27 MPs to the House of Commons.

“It just completely twists the way politics works and it doesn’t reflect the voters,” Mr. Gordon complained. “It’s reflecting the bizarre outcomes and allocations of power that the voting system is creating.”

The battle over the long-gun registry is a good example of this. Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t benefit from a few thousand votes in downtown Toronto, so he plays to his strengths, which are rural voters. The first-past-the-post system, Mr. Gordon explained, makes parties regionally-focused and can dictate policy.

Don’t voters care? Not yet, apparently.

“I don’t think people have the connected dots yet between their visceral anger about the state of politics today and about feeling that the legislatures and Parliament aren’t accountable, aren’t really representative of our interests.”

Ironically, Bernard Lord had proposed a referendum on electoral reform but before holding that vote he called an election and lost. The system he proposed – a mixed-member proportional representation system – would have provided much different results had it been in effect for Monday’s night vote.

Mr. Gordon’s group concluded that with 49 per cent of the popular vote, the Tories would have won 28 seats under the MMP system compared to the 42 they won (giving them 76 per cent of the seats in the legislature). The Liberals, meanwhile, with 34 per cent of the popular vote, would have won 18 seats, five more than they actually did (they now repesent 24 per cent of the 55 seats in the chamber).

It should be noted that the group’s projections are “approximately” what would happen under a new system. Some voters would vote differently, “casting sincere votes rather than strategic ones,” Mr. Gordon said.

But it wasn’t all bad for electoral-reform advocates Monday night in New Brunswick. Voter turn-out increased over the last election: 71.4 per cent marked their ballots this time around compared to 67.5 per cent in 2006.

Afghans say civilians died in raid

Afghan residents of a village in Laghman province said they fired on NATO forces in self-defence during a raid yesterday.

FPTP produces distorted results in New Brunswick

Fair Vote Canada:

The New Brunswick election provided yet another example of why the 2004 electoral reform proposal from Bernard Lord’s Commission on Legislative Democracy should be adopted, says Fair Vote Canada, a national organization calling for electoral reform across Canada.

“Yesterday, half of the voters cast votes for the Progressive Conservatives and half for other parties,” said Fair Vote Canada Executive Director Larry Gordon. “But the half supporting the Progressive Conservatives will be represented by more than three times as many MLAs – 42 PCs vs. 13 Liberals. The opposition is severely under-represented and the 17% of the electorate supporting parties other than the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals have no representation whatsoever.”

If New Brunswick voters had voted the same way, using the Commission’s proposed mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting system, Fair Vote Canada calculated that the approximate seat allocation would have mirrored what voters actually said with their ballots.

The figures below show the popular vote for each party, along with the number and percentage of seats under the current voting system and the proposed MMP system.

Progressive Conservatives, popular vote 49% - with MMP, 28 seats (51%) rather than 42 seats (76%).

Liberals, popular vote 34% - with MMP, 18 seats (33%) rather than 13 seats (24%)

NDP with 10% of the popular vote – with MMP, 5 seats (9%) rather than 0 seats

Greens with 5% of the popular vote – with MMP, 3 seats (5%) rather than 0 seats

“While some voters would vote differently under a different voting system, this projection illustrates the core problem,” said Bronwen Bruch, President of Fair Vote Canada. “With first-past-the-post, voters say one thing with their ballots and get something different. With fair and proportional voting systems, what voters say is what they get.”

In 2006, then Premier Bernard Lord promised a referendum on the Commission’s proposed mixed-member proportional voting system. Ironically, before a referendum could be held, Premier Lord was defeated in a “wrong winner” election, in which the Progressive Conservatives won more votes, but the voting system gave the Liberals a majority of seats.

Fair Vote Canada (FVC) is a national multi-partisan citizens’ campaign to promote voting system reform. FVC was founded in 2001 and has a National Advisory Board of 37 distinguished Canadians from all points on the political spectrum.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sarkozy condemns Israeli decision

Palestinian President Abbas arrived in Paris today to relay a simple message, that peace talks and building Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are not compatible.
President Sarkozy was sympathetic to Abbas' message and condemned the Israeli decision to continue settlement construction.

L.A. heat wave: record 113 degrees! (45°C)

The Associated Press:

Los Angeles — California's blistering fall heat wave sent temperatures to an all-time record high of 113 degrees in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, and many sought refuge at the beach.

Downtown hit 113 degrees for a few minutes at about 12:15 p.m., breaking the old all-time record of 112 degrees set on June 26, 1990, said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist at the National Weather Service office in Oxnard. Temperature records for downtown date to 1877.

Electrical demand was much higher than normal for this time of year but no problems or shortages were expected on the state grid, said Gregg Fishman, spokesman for the California Independent System Operator, which controls about 80 percent of the grid.

"It's manageable. We've got the resources available," he said.

Demand was expected to reach 46,000 megawatts, compared to 38,300 megawatts a year earlier, he said.

As Mother Nature served up California in a roasting pan, some people were able to seek relief at the beaches – though not in the hundreds of thousands who turned out over the weekend as the heat wave built.

"Because it's Monday and it's a school day, the crowd is a lot smaller, (but) it appears a lot of people aren't going to work or school," said Los Angeles County lifeguard Capt. Angus Alexander.

Angus said Monday was one of the best beach days of the year, with clear visibility all the way to Santa Catalina Island, the popular tourist destination about 20 miles off the mainland coast.

The city of Los Angeles urged people to use Parks and Recreation facilities, senior centers and libraries as cooling centers. A half-dozen senior sites were to remain open until 9 p.m., the Emergency Management Department said.

Umbrellas were the necessary accessory for many women venturing along sizzling sidewalks.

The National Weather Service said the siege of dry heat was being caused by a ridge of high pressure over the West that was keeping the Pacific Ocean's normal moist and cool influence at bay.

Firefighters were on alert for wildfires, but there was little wind amid the onslaught of dry heat.

Red Flag warnings for fire danger were posted in some areas, but mostly due to the withering effect on vegetation alone rather than the dangerous combination of low humidity and offshore winds. Air movement remained breezy at best rather than forming the gusty Santa Ana winds linked to destructive wildfires.

The early fall blast of intense heat follows an unusually cool summer that often found beaches covered in overcast and whipped by chilly winds.

"It's been a long time since we got this hot," said Seto, adding: "It's like our unexpected summer."

California renewable energy push could spread west

The Associated Press:

Billings, Montana — Montana and other states in the West could wind up being the unintended beneficiaries of an aggressive push to decrease fossil fuel use in California, industry representatives and others say.

The California Air Resources Board on Thursday adopted a new standard mandating that utilities in that state get 33 percent of their power from wind, solar, and other renewables by 2020. And although the agency says most of that wattage could come from new power sources planned within the state, experts and industry representatives say homegrown electricity will not be enough to satisfy the most populous state in the nation.

That could be a boon to wind developers in Montana and Wyoming; solar entrepreneurs in New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada; and other companies planning major transmission lines that would criss-cross the region. The regulation could allow California utilities to meet much of the new mandate through credits obtained by investments in renewables elsewhere.

"California is just such a big market in the West that it sets the standard. It will drive development," said Roby Robert, vice president of Horizon Wind Energy, one of the country's largest wind developers.

The state already is the largest electricity importer in the country and the second-largest power consumer behind Texas.

The new California regulation requires that a third of the state's power supply, or an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 megawatts, must come from a renewable source, said Stanley Young, a spokesman for the air board. A study by the board found that about 30 percent of the wind power and 15 percent of the solar power would be supplied from outside California.

And that out-of-state generation could grow significantly if California utilities chose to use renewable energy credits bought elsewhere.

"What that will do is finance wind farms in Montana, whether those electrons make it to California or someplace else," said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. "This 33 percent is good for Montana. We have the best wind resource. (California) has wind that blows at night and people that use electricity during the day."

"Can't get there without Montana," he added.

The California air board said it will consider placing a cap on using renewable energy credits as it finalizes the regulation's language in coming weeks.

Other caveats that could temper the demand for out-of-state renewable sources could come from political powerplay. The new mandate could be superseded if California lawmakers adopt legislation on the issue. And even if the regulation stands, future governors would have a chance to modify or scrap it, and there has been pressure to exclude out-of-state electricity sources.

Meanwhile, the state's previous goal of 20 percent renewables by 2010 still has not been met, leaving the prospects of reaching the tougher goal in doubt. Utility executives in the state said this week that it would be a challenge.

Under current California law, utilities are not authorized to use any renewable energy credits to satisfy the 20-percent target.

Laura Wisland, an energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said a credit-based standard could reduce the benefits of the new standards for California, with future greenhouse gas reductions and air quality improvements occurring in other states.

"We're hoping the majority (of the power) is going to come from California resources," Wisland said. "But there's a lot of room for projects built in other Western states. This is going to have a major impact on promoting renewable energy construction in the West, and we think that's a great thing."

US Air Force officers: UFOs tampered with nukes

The Telegraph:

Aliens have deactivated British and US nuclear missiles, say US military pilots

Aliens have landed, infiltrated British nuclear missile sites and deactivated the weapons, according to US military pilots.

The beings have repeated their efforts in the US and have been active since 1948, the men said, and accused the respective governments of trying to keep the information secret.

The unlikely claims were compiled by six former US airmen and another member of the military who interviewed or researched the evidence of 120 ex-military personnel.

The information they have collected suggests that aliens could have landed on Earth as recently as seven years ago.

The men's aim is to press the two governments to recognise the long-standing extra-terrestrial visits as fact.

They are to be presented on Monday 27 September at a meeting in Washington.

One of the men, Capt Robert Salas, said: "The US Air Force is lying about the national security implications of unidentified aerial objects at nuclear bases and we can prove it."

He said said he witnessed such an event first-hand on March 16, 1967, at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana which housed Minuteman nuclear missiles.

Capt Salas continued: "I was on duty when an object came over and hovered directly over the site.

"The missiles shut down - 10 Minuteman missiles. And the same thing happened at another site a week later. There's a strong interest in our missiles by these objects, wherever they come from. I personally think they're not from planet Earth."

Others claim to have seen similar activity in the UK.

Col Charles Halt said he saw a UFO at the former military base RAF Bentwaters, near Ipswich, 30 years ago, during which he saw beams of light fired into the base then heard on the military radio that aliens had landed inside the nuclear storage area.

He said: "I believe that the security services of both the United States and the United Kingdom have attempted - both then and now - to subvert the significance of what occurred at RAF Bentwaters by the use of well-practised methods of disinformation."

The site was then the base of the US 81st Tactical Fighter Wing.

Capt Bruce Fenstermacher, a former US Air Force officer, also claims he saw a cigar-shaped UFO hovering above a nuclear base in Wyoming in 1976.

Jorge Castañeda on drug war, legalization

Democracy Now!:

Jorge Castañeda, one of Mexico’s best known public intellectuals and the country’s former foreign minister, joins us to discuss Mexico’s drug war, the debate on legalization of drugs in Mexico, immigration, free trade and more. Castañeda was Mexico’s foreign minister between 2000 and 2003. He’s long supported the legalization of drugs in Mexico and has publicly called the so-called war on drugs a dead-end war and a war of choice.

Brazil fights poverty with music

Many young Brazilians who live in violent slums are turning to music to fight poverty. For them, music offers a way out.

How some states are vulnerable to gun traffickers

Michael Bloomberg, 108th Mayor of the City of New York

Every year, 12,000 people are murdered with guns in the United States. If one state ignores a gap in its laws, other states have to deal with the deadly consequences.

Continue reading here.

Venezuela's opposition is back in parliament

Hugo Chavez's ruling Socialist party and the opposition are proclaiming victory after yesterday's National Assembly elections in Venezuela. Chavez's party won the most seats in parliament but lost its two third majority, so he will no longer wield the same political power.

Republican economics as Social Darwinism

Robert Reich, Former Secretary of Labor; Professor at Berkeley; Author, "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future"

Today's issues aren't just economic. We're back to tough love. Republicans want to force people to live with the consequences of whatever happens to them. In the late 19th century that was called Social Darwinism.

Continue reading here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fate of thousands of Iraqis unknown

Thousands of Iraqis have gone missing since Saddam Hussein was toppled seven years ago. It is believed that many disappeared during the sectarian bloodshed. But many families fear they will never find out what really happened to those who disappeared.

Richard Tillman interviewed on Real Time

Richard Tillman, the younger brother of Pat Tillman, was interviewed on Real Time this past Friday. Tillman appeared to discuss the new documentary about his brother, The Tillman Story.

We need electoral reform, not the Alternative Vote

The Guardian:

For the British Liberal party and much of the liberal intelligentsia, the referendum on the alternative vote has become a desperate justification for a disastrous misjudgment. Like a couple in a terrible relationship, who think that having a child will save the marriage, or a gambler who thinks he can recoup his losses by staking everything on one spin of the wheel, they believe that the promise of bringing the electoral system of post-colonial Papua New Guinea to Britain will spare them from the consequences of economic folly.

Forget that they are going along with the extremist programmes of fiscal hawks who have already pushed Ireland back into recession. Jobs, public services and a decent future for the young count for nothing when set against the prospect of "reform".

Ah, how that word thrills the liberal heart. The remedying of abuses, the annihilation of anachronistic traditions – what nobler calling is there for the earnest soul?

Not that I deny that the British constitution needs fundamental reform. We have an unelected House of Lords and a hereditary head of state. In the Commons, the first-past-the-post system guarantees that parties can win landslides without a majority of the electorate voting for them. In 1997, Tony Blair secured a crushing majority of 179 on a mere 43% of the vote.

To add insult to injury, the unelected Lords and the unrepresentative Commons cannot do their job of holding the executive to account. Because we draw our national leader from Parliament rather than electing him or her directly, Liberals and Tories are doffing their caps to Nick Clegg and David Cameron in the hope of office and sinecures, rather than scrutinising their policies, just as Labour MPs doffed theirs to Blair and Gordon Brown.

Real reformers have much work to do. But instead of constraining the abuses of an over-mighty executive and unrepresentative Parliament, the liberals will make them worse.

Their "new politics" consists of a backroom deal in which the Liberals accepted a Tory proposal to cut the number of MPs and the Tories accepted the Liberals' proposal for a referendum on the alternative vote.

Too few people have noticed the authoritarian implications of reducing the number of MPs. Like electoral reform, constituencies of equal size sounds like a marvellous idea. But in an attempt to secure party advantage, the Conservatives will rush a process that ought to be handled carefully. The Boundary Commission will not just liquidate 50 seats, it will reorganise the boundaries of hundreds of other constituencies to find new homes for the abandoned voters. Metropolitan commentators dismiss complaints as special pleading from Labour, which will probably lose ground to the Tories.

They do not understand that most people in Britain still live and die close to where they are born. A sense of place and an attachment to their town or city remain central to many citizens' identity. The Tories are instructing the Boundary Commission to forget about local pride and dispense with public inquiries, where voters in Wolverhampton, for example, could object to being moved into Dudley or voters from Portsmouth could object to being annexed by the Isle of Wight.

At their best, Conservatives once understood the importance of the local and the quirky. Cameron is giving up on the Burkean tradition and carving up Britain like a demented socialist planner scoring lines on a map, not just because he may win more seats but because "reform" will also make the Commons easier for the executive to control.

Consider the position of the harassed MP in the new order. He or she will have thousands more constituents. But they will not have more staff to serve them. A grateful executive has taken the opportunity of the expenses' scandal to hack the resources they need to represent their constituents and investigate the state.

More to the point, if Tory MPs object to Cameron's policies, they will find it far harder to combine with the opposition to mount a successful rebellion. The PM is not proposing to match a cut in the number of MPs with a cut in the number of ministers and junior ministers who must toe the party line or lose their jobs. The payroll vote will remain as strong as ever, while the number of potentially rebellious backbenchers falls.

Say what you will about his hunger for power, but Cameron emerged from the coalition negotiations as a formidable political operator. After making sure the public could not vote on or even attend public inquiries to contest his boundary changes, he made certain that Clegg's proposed "reform" would be subject to a referendum he could well lose.

Clegg, by contrast, emerged as a twerp. He was such a pushover he could not even get a reform of the system the public might support on the ballot paper. Instead of a modified version of PR, he settled for the alternative vote, a joke system that does not solve any of the democratic problems Britain faces. Only Australia, Fiji and the guano-rich Pacific island of Nauru use AV. (The Papua New Guineans dropped it and the Fijians are having their doubts.) In New Zealand, when voters were asked what should replace British first past the post in 1992, only 6.6% supported AV. The rest rejected it for the sensible reason that it would not produce a parliament that reflected the views of the country.

As we approach the referendum, I will take great pleasure in watching journalists destroy alleged supporters of AV by reading out their past statements in which they explicitly rejected it in favour of more proportional systems.

Just as Cameron's boundary changes will not limit the power of the executive, so Clegg's AV will not stop prime ministers getting whopping majorities on a minority of the first preference vote. Go back to Blair's landslide in 1997. As the late Lord Jenkins pointed out in his commission on electoral reform, "simulations of how the 1997 result might have come out under AV suggest that it would have significantly increased the size of the already swollen Labour majority". To be precise, it would have swollen it from 179 to 245.

As compensation for economic mismanagement, the liberals' reforms fail to pass two basic tests. They are not liberal. They do not reform.

Chavez's rule polarizes Venezuela

Venezuelans went to the polls today, in what could be the biggest upset for Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, since his party took control of parliament in 2005. Venezuela is deeply divided between president Chavez's government. According to the surveys, the polarization is likely to get worse as the country is now almost equally divided between those who support and oppose Chavez.

Historic movement on fair elections

Sam Waterston:

Today, the Committee on House Administration passed landmark legislation aimed at putting our elections squarely where they belong: back in the hands of voters.

The committee passed the Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 6116/1826), legislation that would take members of Congress off the fundraising treadmill and let them focus on their constituents.

Chairman Bob Brady and his colleagues on the committee, Reps. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Charlie Gonzales (D-Texas), and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), must all be commended for their leadership on passing this legislation today.

This is an historic vote, and would be the most sweeping reform legislation since Watergate.

The Fair Elections Now Act would allow candidates for Congress to run competitive campaigns for office by relying on small contributions from back home. Candidates would collect donations of $100 or less from residents of their state, which would then be matched four-to-one with Fair Elections funds. Fair Elections would be funded by the sale of unused broadcast spectrum, ensuring that in this time of debt and deficits, it wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime.

With Fair Elections, constituents don't have to wonder if their elected officials are standing up for them or their big money donors when casting their votes on Capitol Hill. Congress would be accountable to them, not wealthy donors or lobbyists.

Now that it's passed in committee, the legislation can head to the floor. To help our push for a floor vote before Congress adjourns just days from now, I've joined with the Campaign for Fair Elections in releasing new television ads that will air in several key Congressional districts praising lawmakers for supporting this legislation.

Every day, we see a steady stream of news reports of fundraisers with lobbyists, ongoing ethics investigations, and millions of dollars in outside secret spending. It is no wonder if we're angry ... or alienated.

The Fair Elections Now Act. Congress should make its passage a priority -- now

Afghan vote-rigging videos emerge

The integrity of Afghanistan's recent parliamentary election is in serious doubt with the emergence of videos which appear to show police officers tasked with stopping fraud allowing vote-rigging to occur. The videos cannot be independently verified, but appear to show Afghan police involvement in electoral fraud, striking a blow to official claims that any dishonesty that occurred was the work of lone operatives and was not carried out on a massive scale.

An Open Letter to the Pope

Sinéad O'Connor, Singer/songwriter

You have said church authorities did not act quickly or decisively in dealing with complaints. This is entirely dishonest. In fact authorities acted extremely quickly and decisively, but in protection of priests and the church, not of children.

Continue reading here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Innovative comic to teach tolerance

A new Indonesian comic book with a controversial hero is now being used as a teaching tool. The comic features Ali Imron, one of the men convicted in plotting the Bali bombing of 2002. Imron was the only man charged who escaped the death sentence. The government decided to spare his life after he repeatedly said he was sorry for his role in the terrorist attack.

Lack of money hinders Iraqi museum

While Iraq is often described by historians as the "cradle of civilization", many of its ancient treasures were looted in the chaos following the US led invasion in 2003.
For the past few years, Iraq has been working on recovering its stolen treasures. This month alone, the Iraqi museum in Baghdad, received more than a one thousand artifacts which were previously on display. But there has been a lack of funding from the government, and half of the museum's galleries remain inaccessible to the public.

Krugman destroys Republican platform

The New York Times:

On Thursday, House Republicans released their “Pledge to America,” supposedly outlining their policy agenda. In essence, what they say is, “Deficits are a terrible thing. Let’s make them much bigger.” The document repeatedly condemns federal debt — 16 times, by my count. But the main substantive policy proposal is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which independent estimates say would add about $3.7 trillion to the debt over the next decade — about $700 billion more than the Obama administration’s tax proposals.

True, the document talks about the need to cut spending. But as far as I can see, there’s only one specific cut proposed — canceling the rest of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Republicans claim (implausibly) would save $16 billion. That’s less than half of 1 percent of the budget cost of those tax cuts. As for the rest, everything must be cut, in ways not specified — “except for common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops.” In other words, Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget are off-limits.

So what’s left? Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won’t cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: “No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.”

The “pledge,” then, is nonsense. But isn’t that true of all political platforms? The answer is, not to anything like the same extent. Many independent analysts believe that the Obama administration’s long-run budget projections are somewhat too optimistic — but, if so, it’s a matter of technical details. Neither President Obama nor any other leading Democrat, as far as I can recall, has ever claimed that up is down, that you can sharply reduce revenue, protect all the programs voters like, and still balance the budget.

And the G.O.P. itself used to make more sense than it does now. Ronald Reagan’s claim that cutting taxes would actually increase revenue was wishful thinking, but at least he had some kind of theory behind his proposals. When former President George W. Bush campaigned for big tax cuts in 2000, he claimed that these cuts were affordable given (unrealistic) projections of future budget surpluses. Now, however, Republicans aren’t even pretending that their numbers add up.

So how did we get to the point where one of our two major political parties isn’t even trying to make sense?

The answer isn’t a secret. The late Irving Kristol, one of the intellectual godfathers of modern conservatism, once wrote frankly about why he threw his support behind tax cuts that would worsen the budget deficit: his task, as he saw it, was to create a Republican majority, “so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.” In short, say whatever it takes to gain power. That’s a philosophy that now, more than ever, holds sway in the movement Kristol helped shape.

And what happens once the movement achieves the power it seeks? The answer, presumably, is that it turns to its real, not-so-secret agenda, which mainly involves privatizing and dismantling Medicare and Social Security.

Realistically, though, Republicans aren’t going to have the power to enact their true agenda any time soon — if ever. Remember, the Bush administration’s attack on Social Security was a fiasco, despite its large majority in Congress — and it actually increased Medicare spending.

So the clear and present danger isn’t that the G.O.P. will be able to achieve its long-run goals. It is, rather, that Republicans will gain just enough power to make the country ungovernable, unable to address its fiscal problems or anything else in a serious way. As I said, banana republic, here we come.

Arabs face discrimination in Israel

Discrimination faced by Palestinians living within Israel's borders remains one of the key factors in Middle East peace talks. Umm al-Fahm is a town made up almost entirely of Palestinian Israelis, those who found themselves within the new borders when Israel was created in 1948. Israel's declaration of independence states that all citizens are equal but Palestinians living within Israel, who make up one-fifth of the population, believe they are less equal.

Electoral reform needed in New Brunswick

CBC News:

New Brunswick voters head to the polls in less than a week and could once again elect a majority government with a disproportionate number of MLAs.

New Brunswick's political history is dotted by examples of parties that have been shut out of the legislature despite gaining a significant share of the popular vote or winning a majority government despite being beaten in popular support.

Shawn Graham's Liberals won power in 2006 despite losing the popular vote to the Progressive Conservatives. Frank McKenna's Liberals won 100 per cent of the seats in 1987 but only received 60 per cent of the popular support.

Paul Howe, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick, writes in an election analysis for CBC News the next provincial government should immediately start a public consultation process that would lead to a referendum on reforming the electoral system.

"There is a need to educate and inform the public about different aspects of our democratic institutions, including the electoral system, before pressing ahead," Howe writes.

"As people learn more, they tend to realize that electoral reform is not complicated — the mechanics of PR [proportional representation] are simple enough and the choice between systems really boils down to a question of the types of democratic values people consider most important."

Electoral reform is not a new subject in New Brunswick.

Former premier Bernard Lord started the Commission on Legislative Democracy, which offered a comprehensive list of reforms, including the adoption of a mixed member proportional electoral system.

The electoral scheme would elect a certain number of MLAs from larger constituencies, similar to the current first-past-the-post model. But a second group of MLAs would come from party lists based on popular support.

Lord promised to put the concept to a referendum during the 2008 municipal elections, but he was ousted from office in 2006 by Graham's Liberals. The Liberals did not follow through on the referendum.

The Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives have ignored the idea of changing the way governments are elected in their current platforms.

The NDP and the Greens support switching to a model of proportional representation.

Broken system

Green Party Leader Jack MacDougall, who was a Liberal organizer before joining the upstart party almost two years ago, said the 1987 McKenna sweep was proof the electoral system was broken.

"We all knew on election night that this system is broken," MacDougall said.

"If ever there was evidence that the system is broken it's the election of '87. And 23 years later, we're still in the archaic position of first past the post."

Other provinces have recognized the importance of shaking up the voting system.

British Columbia's voters rejected electoral reform in 2009, defeating the proposed shift to a proportional representation system by a wide margin.

The B.C. government set up the referendum so voters needed to approve the switch in 51 ridings but it succeeded in only a handful. The move to proportional representation also needed to receive 60 per cent of the ballots cast, but got only 39 per cent of the votes.

A similar B.C. referendum failed in 2005, when nearly 58 per cent voted in favour of adopting the new system. However, more than 60 per cent of B.C. voters would have had to approve the new system for it to pass.

P.E.I. voters also shot down a pitch to overhaul the electoral system in 2005. The no side voted 63.58 per cent against reform.

Learning from other votes

The UNB political scientist said New Brunswick can learn from the failed votes in other provinces.

Howe said a thorough public consultation would need to be done to explain how the voting system would work and the ramifications.

But he also said there must be a publicly funded pot of money for both sides to educate voters.

Howe said the referendums in the provinces failed partly because there was not enough time or effort put into informing the citizens about the potential reforms.

"Many voted against PR systems in these places because they were persuaded that they were too complicated and that the status quo was the safer option," he said.

"A commitment to examine the options and inform the public about this key pillar of our electoral democracy is the least we can expect of all our political parties."

Child soldiers on the rise in Somalia

The use of child soldiers in Somalia is rising, as fighting in the country continues to escalate. While international pressure has forced the interim government to abandon the use of child soldiers, the challenge is to stop the Islamist insurgents from exploiting them.

Pantalone: only candidate with practical transit plan

The Toronto Star:

Many issues remain to be addressed in Toronto’s mayoral race but at least one has received a thorough airing — the future of public transit in Canada’s largest city. All five leading candidates have presented their visions. Each has pledged faster and better service for the more than 470 million riders now using the TTC each year. Some plans are bold, even to the point of rashness. Only one is realistic.

Joe Pantalone is promising to carry on with Mayor David Miller’s “Transit City” expansion plan, including light-rail lines on Eglinton, Sheppard and Finch Aves. and replacement of the Scarborough LRT. Funding for these lines has already been pledged by the province. Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, is solidly behind the plan.

Pantalone’s endorsement of the status quo may lack the drama of his rival candidates’ visions of new subway routes criss-crossing the city. But it has the advantage of being practical.

Meanwhile, front-runner Rob Ford promises to “stop the Transit City disaster” and use its $3 billion in provincial funding (plus almost $800 million more dedicated to transit in York Region) to build subways, which cost five times as much as light-rail lines. He would also rip up downtown streetcar lines and replace them with buses. This makes no sense.

But other candidates’ proposals are also flawed. George Smitherman has an elaborate transit plan calling for more subways, expansion of some light-rail routes and deletion of others. But it would require at least another $5 billion in funding, and it isn’t clear where that money would be found.

Funding is also questionable for transit plans advanced by Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson. Each puts heavy focus on new subway construction. Rossi would cover the cost by selling Toronto Hydro and other municipal assets, but it is far from certain that the proceeds would even come close to providing what is needed. Thomson would slap a rush hour toll on the city’s major expressways. She deserves credit for taking a brave position on tolls, but her proposal would likely generate only a fraction of the funding needed for her plan.

Transit City is already on the move. And the province is unlikely to approve any diversion of the almost $3 billion it has allocated to this long-planned project. It is by no means perfect. But trying to switch tracks now, from a light rail system to one heavy on subways, risks disrupting and delaying a worthwhile expansion that’s desperately needed by Toronto commuters.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gay conflict within Catholic Church

Questions over beaches whales

UN: Israeli raid on flotilla violated international laws

Cuba details free market reforms

The Associated Press:

Havana, Cuba - Cuba's communist leaders mapped out a brave new world of free enterprise on Friday, approving a laundry list of small-time businesses, allowing islanders to take on employees and even promising credit to burgeoning entrepreneurs.

The reforms - laid out in a three-page spread in the Communist Party-daily Granma - seem sure to create a society of haves and have-nots in a land that has spent half a century striving for an egalitarian utopia.

They follow last week's announcement that the government will lay off 500,000 workers by the end of March - or one-tenth of the country's workforce - the biggest change in Cuba's economic system since the early 1990s.

For the first time, Cubans in 83 private activities will be allowed to employ people other than their relatives, and they will be able to sell their services to the state as private contractors. Accountants, currently only permitted to work for the state, can set out on their own, keeping the books for the new businesses.

Cubans who want to rent their homes to travelers will no longer have to live on the premises and can hire staff. Even islanders authorized to live overseas - though apparently not exiles - can take part in the economic changes by renting out the cars and homes they leave behind.

And the Central Bank is studying ways to grant small-business loans that are crucial to any free-market system, but which would have been unthinkable in Cuba just weeks ago.

"The decision to loosen the rules on private employment is one of the steps the country has taken in the redesign of its economic policies to increase production levels and efficiency," Granma reported, citing Economy Minister Marino Murillo Jorge and a vice-minister of labor and social security, Admi Valhuerdi Cepero.

In an acknowledgment that the Cuban economy lacks the raw materials to support many private enterprises, Valhuerdi said some activities that rely on hard-to-get items like marble, paint for cars or soap will continue to be restricted. Eventually, the country hopes to create a system of wholesalers, but it will take several years.

Granma is the voice of the Communist Party and one of the principal ways the government communicates plans with the people. The paper promised more details in coming days, saying that the expanded private enterprise would be "another opportunity, under the watchful eye of the state" to "improve the quality of life of Cubans."

Many will welcome the changes in a country where young people have been clamoring for more opportunities for years, but they will also create tension and upheaval. Whether the reforms will work depends on the reaction of Cubans who have seen past openings fizzle, and on the cash-strapped state's ability to draw fresh tax revenues from the new businesses.

Granma said private businesses would not only pay personal income tax, but also sales and payroll taxes - as well as contribute to social security. A vibrant, untaxed black market already exists in Cuba offering many of the services the government hopes to legitimize.

Uva de Aragon, a Cuba expert at Florida International University in Miami, said those hoping to enter the legitimate markrt would be faced with a system that is totally alien to them.

"Cubans have no capital, no credit, no experience at management - and the government is talking about imposing a new tax system, for which there is no culture," she said. "The process is positive. My concern is how it will function."

On the streets of Havana, some said they hoped to take advantage of the openings, but many expressed skepticism.

"I think people want to live better and have better services," said Marilis Bador, a 32-year-old housewife. "I hope this isn't just a one day flash in the pan, but rather something that will allow the country to develop."

Others, like Marley Martinez, said they were already thinking of joining the new private workforce.

The 22-year-old is a state-trained accountant but is studying to become a hair dresser and hopes to open her own shop.

"It's not really a dream, but it's something I want to do and feel I need to do," she said during a stroll through a crowded Havana shopping center. "What the people need are more economic freedoms, the ability to work for themselves."

Currently, the state dominates nearly every aspect of the Cuban economy, employing at least 84 percent of the work force and paying an average of $20 a month. In return, islanders are guaranteed free education and health care, as well as nearly free housing, transportation and basic food.

President Raul Castro has said the government can no longer afford such generous subsidies and that he wants to modernize Cuba's economy without abandoning socialism. The article tries to allay any fears that the country is embracing free-market capitalism, saying that the changes will always be "faithful to the socialist principles our constitution demands."

In all, some 178 private activities will be allowed and expanded, though only seven of those are entirely new - including accountants, bathroom attendants, tutors and fruit vendors. The full-page list of allowed jobs includes floral wreath arrangers, animal trainers and interior decorators.

The reforms, which are set to go into effect next month, will also allow a great expansion of private restaurants - called paladares - which will be able to serve up to 20 people and expand their menus to include higher-priced items like beef and lobster.

Previously, government rules limited them to 12 seats and banned some menu offerings, though most establishments blatantly violated the rules.

Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York who has studied Cuba's policy toward the private sector, said the list shows the government is still interested in maintaining control rather than just allowing any form of private enterprise.

"It's still socialism," he said. "But it is a different kind of socialism."

South Sudan vote behind schedule

The United Nations is hosting a special summit regarding Sudan today, which will discuss the planned referendum vote in the south of the country, that is seeking to seperate from the predominantly Muslim north. President Obama will be among the leaders attending the meeting in New York. With four months until January's vote however, the UN said preparations are "hopelessly" behind schedule. Voter registration is only expected to start in October.

The Democrats punt instead of fight

Robert Reich, Former Secretary of Labor; Professor at Berkeley; Author, "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future"

Democrats have given up a defining issue that could have enabled them to show the big story of the last three decades -- the accumulation of almost all the gain from economic growth at the top -- and to make a start at reversing it.

Continue reading here.

Venezuela polls test Chavez

Opponents and supporters of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, held final rallies prior to Sunday's legislative elections. There are one hundred and sixty-five members of the National Assembly, with most of them being pro-Chavez. But that could change after the vote, which will be a critical test for Chavez's rule.

New Rule

Bill Maher, Host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher"

New Rule: Rich People Who Complain About Being Vilified Should Be Vilified

The rich love to complain about being vilified. But far from vilifying them, we bailed them out -- you mean we were supposed to give them all that money and suck up to them, too? That's Hollywood you're thinking of

Continue reading here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Caligula's Horse

Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson:

Here is a short, and very relevant, history lesson.

The Roman Senate governed Ancient Rome for five centuries. It looked much like the Congress today. The purpose of the Roman Senate was to rule in accordance with the wishes of the Roman People. The building in which the Roman Senate met, the "Curia Julia," still stands in Rome today.

In 27 B.C., Augustus Caesar formally took control of Rome, and established the Roman Empire. But the Roman Emperors didn't abolish the Senate. Instead, the Roman Senate continued to meet, for five more centuries, doing pretty much nothing.

Sound familiar?

During the Roman Empire, the Emperor held all the power. The Senate was simply a debating society, chosen by the Emperor, and serving at his pleasure. To prove this point, in 39 A.D., Emperor Caligula appointed his horse, Incitatus, to the Roman Senate.

What we are heading for, here in America, is something very much like that. The way things are going, Big Money will choose our "leaders" in Congress, and they will serve at Big Money's pleasure.

Big Money doesn't put horses in Congress. Just the hind-quarters of horses.

For the past few weeks, we have sent e-mails to our supporters showing how Big Money is trying to select -- not elect, select -- the Congressman from my district. Big Money has now spent three times as much in lying TV attack ads as all of the money that my Republican opponent has raised. Big Money is going all out to replace me in Congress, because I can't be bought.

Big Money doesn't care who replaces me, as long as he's pliant. It might as well be Caligula's horse.

We are at a turning point in our own history. What will we be? A government of the people, by the people, and for the people? Or a dictatorship, ruled by the Empire of Money?

Help us make sure that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, does not perish from this earth.


Alan Grayson

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