Sunday, October 31, 2010

Church abuse victims call for action

Many victims of abuse by Catholic priests from around the world gathered in Rome and held a rally, demanding that action be taken against sexual predators who previously served, and are still serving within the Catholic Church.

Inside Story - The cargo plane bomb plot

An international security alert has resulted after the discovery of two packages containing explosives on cargo planes from Yemen, bound for Chicago. Has Yemen become the new front in the global fight against terrorism?

A beautiful coalition against dirty energy

Van Jones, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, American Progess Action Fund

New polls happily show the majority of Californians reject the deceptive, job-killing ballot measure Proposition 23. But what the polls do not show -- and what few news outlets are covering -- is the striking diversity of voices that are demanding clean energy.

Californians of all colors and classes are rejecting the false notion that protecting the planet and our public health will hurt the economy. Prop 23 -- which is funded by Texas oil companies and would effectively repeal the state's landmark clean energy and environmental protection laws -- is running into a buzz-saw of opposition from a broad spectrum of Californians.

What's happening in California is truly amazing. Hundreds of thousands of voices from literally every political, ethnic, faith, and socio-economic spectrum, are all working for the same cause. This beautiful coalition gives us a glimpse of the green path forward toward clean energy, a prosperous sustainable economy, and a healthier planet.

In my 2008 book, The Green Collar Economy, I outlined a vision for a "Green Growth Alliance." This coalition, I argued, should include labor, social justice activists, environmentalists, students, and faith organizations - along with green business interests. I argued that such an alliance could "change the face of politics in this country."

In California, thanks to the hard work of groups like Stop the Dirty Energy Proposition, the Energy Action Coalition, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and Communities United Against the Dirty Energy Prop, this alignment is coming into being.

Last week, the No on Prop 23 campaign picked up a surge of support from groups that included a council of inter-faith leaders, university academics, one of the wealthiest men in the world (Bill Gates), an award-winning Hollywood director (James Cameron), former Vice President Al Gore and even President Obama.

But supporters are not just the rich and famous. This coalition includes social justice organizations of all creeds and colors, whose missions are to empower the voices of the working class and communities of color - including immigrants. These groups understand that less smog means less asthma, fewer trips to the emergency room, and healthier neighborhoods for their children.

The coalition also includes a group of investors who represent more than $421 billion in assets, much of it in the clean tech sector. They make the case that clean energy technology is the next wave of the industrial revolution, and California is poised to become a leader in innovation, job creation, and commercialization of these technologies. However, they also warn that reversing course on policy -precisely what Prop 23 aims to achieve--will cause investment to flow elsewhere (mainly to places like China and parts of Europe), and doom California and the rest of the nation to be left behind during the biggest revolution of the new global economy.

These groups represent just the tip of iceberg in a movement that includes environmentalists, politicians from both parties, students, public health organizations, big and small businesses, labor groups, consumer groups, senior citizens, and public safety organizations.

A Vision for the Future of Green Growth

At the national and global levels, the green movement has suffered setbacks, most notably the failure of comprehensive climate and clean energy in Congress. The main culprit: the deep pockets of the dirty energy lobby, which spent more than $500 million to buy influence among (mostly Republican) lawmakers. The rise of tea parties, climate deniers, and conservative TV and radio pundits, also created barriers to the preservation of the planet, the protection of public health and promotion of new jobs.

But what we see happening in California gives the green movement a reason for continued optimism. This time we hold the high ground -- protecting our bipartisan, pro-jobs, pro-innovation climate laws that are already on the books. The fight has unmasked the opponents of clean energy, as well as vetted their arguments - the same tired talking points they have been using to kill progress for the last 4 decades.

More importantly than unmasking our enemies, this fight has revealed our friends and allies. It turns out that, given the opportunity, huge swaths of Californian's, from all walks of life, can find common value in supporting cleaner air and a commitment to growing the clean technology sector.

The fight is far from over, and with Election Day approaching in just a few days, the stakes are higher than ever. But victory in California can give us a model for the coalition that is needed to achieve a green growth victory in Washington DC and the rest of the nation.

UK government to sell off half of state forests

The British government has confirmed plans to sell off up to half of its state-owned forests to private interests. The approximately 150,000 hectares of land could be used for commercial development, to the dismay of many conservations.

Dutch company receives complaint for Israeli wall


Al-Haq is pleased to announce that it has lodged a criminal complaint against a Dutch private rental company, Riwal, for its involvement in the construction of the Annexation Wall, ‘the Wall,’ and illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank. Al-Haq instructed Liesbeth Zegveld of Bohler advocates to lodge the complaint in March 2010, on the basis of documentation collected by Al-Haq and partner organisations.

The complaint asserts that Riwal is complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity - offences contrary to Holland’s International Crimes Act - through its supply of mobile cranes and aerial platforms for the construction of settlements and the Wall in several locations in the Occupied West Bank. The complaint is currently being considered by the Prosecutor’s office

On 13 October 2010, the Dutch National Crime Squad conducted a search of Riwal’s offices in the Dutch town of Dordrecht under their statutory powers of investigation. The Prosecutor has yet to make a decision as to whether to pursue the complaint further.

Riwal machines were used in the construction of the Wall in the villages of Hizma and Al-Khader and in a settlement near the village of Bruqin. Statements made by Riwal during the period suggest the company knew its equipment was being used in this way.

The complaint is part of Al Haq’s on-going efforts to ensure accountability for the many corporations that are complicit in violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and whose activities facilitate the commission of international crimes by the Israeli authorities. Al Haq hopes that the Prosecutor’s investigations will lead to a prosecution of Riwal.

The rally to restore sanity

Tens of thousands Americans came to the National Mall in Washington to support the "Rally to Restore Sanity". Comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert hosted the event, which took aim at the incredibly partisan and ill-tempered political climate.

Republicans will attack EPA and climate scientists

The L.A. Times:

If Republicans win control of the House, they plan to go after the Obama administration's environmental policies and the researchers who have offered evidence on global warming, whom they accuse of manipulating data.

If the GOP wins control of the House next week, senior congressional Republicans plan to launch a blistering attack on the Obama administration's environmental policies, as well as on scientists who link air pollution to climate change.

The GOP's fire will be concentrated especially on the administration's efforts to use the Environmental Protection Agency's authority over air pollution to tighten emissions controls on coal, oil and other carbon fuels that scientists say contribute to global warming.

The attack, according to senior Republicans, will seek to portray the EPA as abusing its authority and damaging the economy with needless government regulations.

In addition, GOP leaders say, they will focus on what they see as distortions of scientific evidence regarding climate change and on Obama administration efforts to achieve by executive rule-making what it failed to win from Congress.

Even if Republicans should win majorities in both the House and Senate, they would face difficulties putting their views into legislative form, since Senate Democrats could use the threat of filibuster to block bills just as the GOP did on climate and other issues during the past year.

Also, Obama could use his veto power.

But the GOP's plans for wide-ranging and sustained investigations by congressional committees could put the EPA and administration environmental policymakers on the defensive and create political pressures that could cause Obama to pull back on environmental issues as the 2012 presidential election draws closer.

In comments last week, White House officials said they are considering hiring more lawyers to the Office of Legal Counsel to gird for the possible battles ahead. Yet even with the White House running interference for the EPA and other agencies, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson conceded that a Republican anti-regulatory campaign could end up effectively hamstringing her agency's work.

The new rules EPA has issued over the last year on vehicle emissions and those expected soon for industry, Jackson said, "would be endangered by many, if not all, of the efforts we've seen to take away the agency's greenhouse gas authority."

Over the last two years, the Obama administration and the EPA have stepped up pressure on industry, utilities and states to curtail pollution. A 2007 Supreme Court ruling opened the door for the EPA to use its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in new rules for vehicle emissions and, starting early next year, regulations for emissions from utilities.

In contrast to the previous administration, the Obama White House has also embraced the broad consensus within the scientific community that human activity, mainly through the emitting of carbon dioxide, has led to global warming.

All that will be up for scrutiny in the event of a Republican takeover of the House, which political analysts are predicting. The Republican Party has hammered at the administration's environmental agenda during the campaign. And rejecting the work of climate scientists has become increasingly common among conservatives.

Several key Republican Congressmen — most notably Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who could take over the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — have said they plan to investigate climate scientists they contend manipulated data to prove the case that human activity is contributing to global warming.

Using control of congressional committees — and their investigative powers — to attack the opposition is not a new idea. After Democrats gained control of Congress in 2006, they held critical hearings on everything from an energy task force run by Vice President Dick Cheney to the Bush administration's support of abstinence-only sex education.

Similarly, during the Clinton administration, when Republicans took over they appointed independent counsels to investigate various aspects of the administration, leading to the Whitewater probe and the impeachment proceedings, among others.

In a recent op-ed article, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, declared that the GOP is preparing to "declare war on the regulatory state."

A steady flow of letters, subpoenas and congressional hearings would prove "incredibly disruptive" to an agency's ability to work and promulgate rules, said Kate Gordon, of the energy policy project at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research and advocacy group in Washington.

Congressional inquiries also offer a platform for energizing the GOP's conservative base in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

The investigations are expected to target questions about EPA's preparedness for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Already, House Republicans have written letters to the Interior Department questioning the moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling that the administration invoked after the explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers and spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil.

But the primary focus will be on the EPA's determination last year that carbon dioxide and other emissions endanger public welfare by contributing to climate change. Armed with this finding, the EPA has moved to reduce greenhouse gases by mandating emissions reductions in vehicles and will soon move to regulate stationary sources like power plants and factories.

House Republicans like Issa and James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming have criticized the EPA for basing its endangerment finding on what they consider flawed research. Republicans assert that the science on climate change is not yet "settled," despite the vast global scientific consensus about its human causes.

Specifically, Issa has said he wants to investigate the "Climategate" scandal that broke late last year, when hackers illegally obtained and released thousands of emails of climate scientists working with a leading British laboratory.

Climate skeptics, among them House Republicans like Issa, contend that the sniping and harshness in some emails prove that climate scientists suppressed dissenting studies and that science showing the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is biased and tainted.

Several independent panels abroad and in the U.S. that reviewed the emails cleared the scientists of wrongdoing and found their research to be reliable. The EPA has also said that "nothing in the emails undermines the science upon which" the endangerment findings are based.

Like officials within the administration, scientists around the country who expect to be investigated by Issa and others are getting legal advice on how to best protect themselves. Among them is Michael E. Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State University and one of the researchers who developed the "hockey stick" graph that shows a recent spike in global temperatures.

Issa named Mann in a letter to the EPA as a scientist whose work was not "unbiased, accurate or reliable."

"I don't think we can cower under the politically motivated attacks by the forces of anti-science, which includes prominent politicians who are in the pay of the fossil fuel industry," Mann said in a telephone interview about his approach to possible congressional investigations.

"One prepares for this by doing one's best to get the truth out because we have nothing to hide as climate scientists: We can stand proudly on our research," he said.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jon Stewart's speech at the Restore Sanity rally

Why aren't business leaders standing up to the tea party?

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

Business leaders should be standing up to the tea party. Their silence is not only bad for business; it threatens the stability of our economic and political system.

Continue reading here.

Haiti fights to contain cholera

Treatment centres are being prepared in Haiti to deal with the further possible spread of cholera. The outbreak is believed to have began ten days ago and has claimed over 330 lives. Aid agencies are also mobilizing in case Tropical storm Tomas hits Haiti.

Caterpillar no longer shipping equipment to Israel

International Middle East Media Center:

Peace activists around the world are celebrating Friday's announcement that the Illinois-based company, Caterpillar, has decided to hold off shipment of dozens of armored bulldozers to the Israeli military while a trial about the killing of Rachel Corrie is ongoing in Israel.

Corrie was run down by a Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer in 2003 while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian doctor's home in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Her parents launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against Caterpillar Corporation in the US for their role in her death. Now, they are pursuing a lawsuit in Israel against the Israeli military and the soldiers involved in her death.

Sydney Levy with Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the organizations that have been pushing for Caterpillar to divest from its contracts with the Israeli military, wrote on Friday, “We take this as an indirect admission by the company that these bulldozers are being used to violate human rights and to violate the law. The Corrie story is sadly just one of thousands of stories of loss and pain. A suspension of the sale of bulldozers is what we have been asking Caterpillar for over seven years now. “

He added, “Caterpillar's irresponsible behavior comes with a heavy price tag. In the last ten years, at least 11,795 homes have been demolished. These statistics, gruesome as they are, cannot do justice to the pain of so many families, to their razed livelihoods and their shattered dreams.”

Caterpillar itself has not made any statement apart from the notice of suspension of the sale. But activists are claiming a victory in their campaign against Caterpillar, and noting that this is the first time that Caterpillar has taken any action regarding the issue.

Overturning unlimited corporate election spending

Democracy Now!:

Part of the reason for the record-high campaign spending in this year’s midterm elections is the Supreme Court’s January ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled corporations have First Amendment rights and that the government cannot impose restrictions on their political speech, which cleared the way for corporations and other special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Earlier this month, a group of more than fifty law professors and prominent attorneys issued a letter calling on Congress to consider a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. We speak with two people involved with Free Speech for People, a coalition of public interest organizations that formed after the Citizens United ruling.

Midterms: money changes everything

Groups linked to Karl Rove are expected to spend between $50m and $70m during election season

Al Jazeera English:

Political donations from nefarious groups are strangling US democracy, and a former Bush adviser is cashing in.

"I went to the crossroad, fell down upon my knees." This was the powerful first line of "Cross Road Blues" by 1930s blues legend Robert Johnson. It was later adapted into the song "Crossroads" by Eric Clapton’s Cream and a movie of the same name, starring the serially pre-pubescent Ralph Macchio. The song and movie were infamously about going down to a crossroads in the Mississippi Delta, to sell your soul to the Devil.

Today, meeting Mephistopheles is much simpler: You can simply turn over barrels of cash in unmarked bills to American Crossroads or Crossroads GPS, the two appropriately named groups formed by one of the most wretched, sebum-stained forces of evil at the current American political crossroads: Karl Rove.

Yes, Karl Rove, that American everyman—if everyday Americans were an almost perfect mixture of Lucky Luciano and Sloth from The Goonies. Apparently, Rove wasn’t satisfied with only helping fabricate evidence to pave America’s way into a war in Iraq, outing an undercover CIA agent, and "advising" the most dollar-drenched, demagogic, and incompetent executive office since Cleon of Athens. So he’s returned to active involvement in our political process from his perch as a pundit, for a coda to his democracy corruption, because someone has to protect the rights of voiceless, persecuted tobacco and healthcare conglomerates among us so they can make themselves heard over the din of daily discussions on the American unemployment line.

To be clear, we are not talking about a few pretty pennies here or there. Rove’s groups are expected to spend between $50m and $75m by election day, "educating" the public about candidates and issues, in much the same way you become educated by watching Jackass 3D or Christine O’Donnell talk about stuff. And this has all been made possible thanks to a Supreme Court majority made up of far-right mutants who decided that 100 years of established law trying to limit the flow of corporate money into our system just had it all wrong.

In this Supreme Court majority’s adorably antiquated view, corporations—or "people" as they’re now known—should be able to give unlimited funds to groups that are dirtier than a test tube of Russell Brand’s blood, and these organizations are not required to disclose from whence their slush funding came. Because, really, what’s healthier for democracy than wealthy elites secretively giving gobs of cash to those who will vote on legislation that effects their bottom line?

Of course, Rove’s groups weren’t the only ones to benefit from this mockery of a decision, as the Chamber of Commerce, according to some fantastic reporting by the Center for American Progress blog Think Progress, has become a way station for any foreign group or individual from the Reverend Sun Myung Moon to BP to Fidel Castro, who wishes to unduly influence our political system. Hell, even wives of Supreme Court Justices have gotten in on the good times, as none other than Ginni Thomas, Clarence’s wife, can thank her husband and his black-robed buds for allowing her hastily formed local Tea-Party Mob—Liberty Central—to collect cash from any crank with a dollar and a dream.

This is the same Ginni Thomas who recently called Anita Hill—a law professor who Clarence Thomas spent the 80s sexual harassing when Hill worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (no, that is not a joke)—at 7am on a Saturday morning at her office at Brandeis University. Why? To ask Hill for an apology for being sexually harassed by her husband and telling us about it back in 1991, when Thomas tragically had his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court confirmed with the fewest votes by the US Senate in the history of the country.

Somewhere, upon reading this, OJ Simpson is probably calling the Brown and Goldman families to ask for an apology at this very moment.

So to sum up, the awkwardly unstable Ginni Thomas and her goofy Liberty Central Tea-Party group, because of a decision at least partially placed into law by her husband, in between viewings of Long Dong Silver, can now collect millions in secret corporate contributions to enrich her family while trying to elect others whose political philosophies also predate penicillin. Isn’t that special?

In Federalist #10, author and eventual American President James Madison sternly warned of the danger posed by "factions" to a democracy, by which he meant the ability of private interests to overwhelm the public good. There could be no better example of this danger than that posed by large caches of money spent in secret by oil company billionaires, foreign entities and large corporations to influence our politics.

Full disclosure is obviously a necessity that needs to be addressed. Outside tampering in American elections must be prevented. And there has to be some way to make it illegal for Ginny Thomas to use a telephone.

For, if sanity does indeed once again prevail, limits on the flow of money from these factions will have to again be enacted. In the meantime, sadly, we’ll all be forced to endure as Karl Rove and his ilk attempt to take American democracy hostage to their very perverted form of 19th Century politics.

How US goals in Afghanistan are being undermined

Democracy Now!:

The Obama administration says it is backing a strategy of reconciliation with the Taliban. But just back from Afghanistan, unembedded investigative journalists Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley say night raids by US Special Operations are killing the reconciliation the administration claims to support.

Nearly half of America backs pot legalization

Americans’ support for marijuana legalization is the highest it has ever been, according to the latest Gallup poll. Currently 46 percent of Americans believe the use of marijuana should be legal, while 50 percent think it should stay illegal. The American people are now roughly evenly split on the question. The issue of marijuana legalization has gone from a once fringe position to something solidly mainstream. Most importantly, the trend line shows accelerating movement in the direction of greater acceptance for legalization.

According to the poll, liberals, adults under 30, and people who live in the Western states are most supportive, while Republicans, conservatives, and those over 65 are the least supportive. This huge age divide partly explains why support for legalization is trending up and will likely continue to for years to come.

Just one year ago, only 44 percent supported legalization, 54 percent opposed it, and just five years ago, only 36 percent supported legalization and 60 percent opposed–a massive 10-point swing from opposition to support in only five years. Based on the current trend line, I easily suspect by the 2012 election we could see more Americans who support legalization than oppose it.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a poll of all Americans. As a whole, registered voters tend to be slightly more conservative than all Americans, and those most likely to vote tend to be more conservative still.

Whether Proposition 19 succeeds or fails this year in California, the issue of marijuana legalization is not going to go away. With the trend moving in the direction of marijuana, legalization, it will likely become a reality in an American state (or several states) soon. If not this year, than likely in 2012, 2014, or 2016, the citizens of astate with a ballot initiative process will use direct democracy to end marijuana prohibition.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Saving the kiwi

Scientists in New Zealand are putting forward an enormous effort to ensure the survival of the kiwi. Assisted by a homing device, conservationists attempt to track down the rowi, a critically endangered species of the extremely rare bird.

Republican candidate killed two unarmed Iraqis

Democracy Now!:

A former US Marine who killed two unarmed Iraqis is running for a congressional seat in North Carolina and has received backing from the Tea Party. Ilario Pantano has said he has no regrets about fatally shooting the two at point-blank range after detaining them near Fallujah in April 2004. Despite his admission, the military cleared Pantano of wrongdoing in 2005. He is now in a tight race with incumbent Democrat Rep. Mike McIntyre in North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District. For more on this story, we talk to reporter Justin Elliott, who has been following this race closely.

F-35s could start Artic arms race

The Mark:

One analyst says Canada’s decision to buy a fleet of new jet fighters could cause Russia to increase its military capacity in the Far North.

Arctic sovereignty expert Michael Byers said that the Canadian government’s plan to buy 65 state-of-the-art F-35 jet fighters will cause “angst in Russia” and increase tensions between the two countries. The Conservatives say the fifth generation jets are needed to protect Canada’s Arctic territory, but Byers said the planes are unnecessary and that the government should invest in search and rescue aircraft instead. The $16-billion contract to purchase the planes has become a hot topic on Parliament Hill this week, after Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said he will cancel the deal if he’s elected because the contract was not put through a proper bidding process

FBI documents raise questions over Senator's death

Democracy Now!:

Minnesota Public Radio has obtained the FBI record of the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who died in a plane crash eight years ago this week. The records show the FBI first tracked Wellstone in 1970 after he was arrested at an anti-Vietnam War protest. The records might also raise new questions about the plane crash that killed Wellstone, his wife, his daughter and three staffers. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the crash was caused by pilot error, but the FBI documents reveal for the first time that specific criminal leads were pursued by investigators.

Italy urged to stop mass expulsions

Italy has previously returned boatloads of migrants arriving from Libya.

Amnesty International:

Amnesty International is calling on the Italian authorities to investigate urgently whether 68 people rescued at sea and then forcibly returned to Egypt within 48 hours were given the opportunity to apply for international protection.

The 68 people were on board a boat carrying 131 people in all that was intercepted on 26 October 2010 by the Italian authorities near the coast of Sicily. According to an initial statement made by senior law enforcement official those on board identified themselves as Palestinians.

The Italian authorities transferred them to Catania, Sicily, and detained all of them, including 44 children in a sports facility for more than 24 hours. The Italian authorities maintained that detention was necessary to undertake identification procedures and arrange returns.

In the evening of 27 October, the Italian authorities expelled 68 of them to Cairo, Egypt, by charter flight, claiming that they were in fact “illegal immigrants” from Egypt and not Palestinians.

Amnesty International believes that these mass expulsions appear to have taken place with no regard for the right of people to seek asylum and in breach of Italy’s obligations under international refugee and human rights law and standards.

The organization calls on the Italian authorities to clarify whether and how they identified the individuals, determined their age and their possible protection needs, if they were informed of their right to seek asylum, and if any asylum application was lodged.

“All people rescued at sea must be given the opportunity to seek asylum and to have their claims assessed in a fair and satisfactory asylum-determination procedure,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia. “There are concerns that in this case none of the individuals, included the 68 deported, was given such an opportunity.”

Organizations such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, Save the Children and the Italian Red Cross were denied access to those taken ashore, despite repeated requests. These organizations are all members of a project funded by the Italian Government and the European Union, aiming to provide immediate assistance to anyone arriving on Sicilian shores in distress.

Amnesty International understands that this is the first time in Italy since 2005 that UNHCR has been denied access following an official request.

Nineteen members of the group were arrested in connection with the smuggling of people, while 44 were identified as minors and handed over to social services. Although those identified as minors were not summarily expelled, Amnesty International is concerned that they have been detained for more than 24 hours, without access to any specialized assistance.

“In their rush to expel them, the Italian authorities are ignoring normal procedures and international standards for the protection of refugees, and asylum-seekers” said John Dalhuisen.

“The Italian authorities must immediately put a stop to mass summary expulsions of foreign nationals.”

Read More
Libya/Italy: Bilateral cooperation should not be at the price of human rights (Public statement, 27 August 2010)

Rob Ford on CBC's As It Happens

Congratulations, Toronto. This is just the beginning, the tip of the iceberg. All Mayor-elect Rob Ford did in this interview (besides from showing some real class) was spew campaign catch phrases and slogans, which the Bush administration did for eight years. Host Carol Off sounds really impressed.

Tories preach belt-tightening as costs soar

The Vancouver Sun:

Expenses in PM's office, entire cabinet continue to climb as government embarks on deficit reduction

The annual cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office has ballooned to nearly $10 million, a jump of 30 per cent over the last two years. The figures are contained in documents tabled in Parliament on Thursday which contain details on government expenditures.

The Public Accounts of Canada also reveal taxpayers are footing a much higher bill for the entire Conservative cabinet, with its costs increasing by 16 per cent since 2007-08, when the books began recording the expenses of the prime minister and his ministers.

The dramatic hike in costs has come as the government embarks on an offensive to reduce the $56-billion deficit and Harper's ministers have continually pledged to tighten their own belts to help out.

And yet the new figures contained in the Public Accounts show the trend at the very centre of the Tory government has been one of rising expenses.

In 2009-10, the costs of Harper's office was $9.89 million -- compared to $8.1 million the previous year and $7.5 million in 2007-08. Among the highest costs for this year's expenses was $8.8 million in staffing, $684,805 in "transportation and communications", and $230,365 in "professional and special services."

The total costs for the Conservative cabinet in 2009-10 reached $67.6 million -- compared to $59.3 million the previous year and $58.1 million in 2007-8.

Soon after the Tories were re-elected in 2008, they issued an economic update in which Finance Minister Jim Flaherty signalled that a recession was coming and it was time for austere measures.

"We cannot ask Canadians to tighten their belts during tougher times without looking in the mirror," said Flaherty. "Canadians have a right to look to government as an example. We have a responsibility to show restraint and respect for their money. Canadian tax dollars are precious. They must not be spent frivolously or without regard to where they came from."

On Thursday, Harper's press secretary, Andrew MacDougall, said the Prime Minister's Office takes seriously its obligation to spend taxpayers' money wisely. He noted that the new figures in the Public Accounts that reveal ministers' expenses are now public because of a change the Tory government made through the Federal Accountability Act in 2006.

MacDougall added that this year's budget has committed the government to freezing expenses in ministers' offices.

He explained that the rise in PMO expenses is the result of two things: A larger communications staff to help the prime minister and his ministers communicate with Canadians; and, to a lesser extent, increased travel by Harper throughout Canada as he informed the public of the government's actions to fight the recession. MacDougall said a larger communication staff is needed because "news is happening all the time now, there's more media formats and more outlets."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

If the Tea Party wins, America loses

An epic Special Comment from last night's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, in which Olbermann blasts Republican Tea Party candidates' crazy, extreme and idiotic ideas.

Only $4.2 Billion to buy this election?

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

Why $4.2 billion and not ten times that amount? Because the high-rolling political investors don't need to spend a dollar more in order to exert overwhelming influence.

Continue reading here.

The plot against Barack Obama

Jacob Heilbrunn, Author, "They Knew They Were Right: the Rise of the Neocons"

The Republican goal all along has been to destroy Obama's presidency, and the next two years are going to make the first two look like they were playing tiddlywinks. Even an impeachment trial is not out of the question.

Continue reading here.

$4 billion: most expensive non-presidential election

Democracy Now!:

A new report says spending for the 2010 elections will break the previous record for a midterm vote by around $1 billion. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, total spending could reach as much as $4 billion this year. The report also says right-wing groups are spending more than double on advertisements than liberal organizations. We speak to the president of Common Cause, former Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Edgar. Common Cause is a nonprofit citizen’s lobby promoting an accountable and transparent government.

Rise in far-right violence during 2010 elections

The Huffington Post:

Washington - This election season, a man was arrested for hitting a protester at a rally for Washington GOP Senate candidate Dino Rossi, a man stomped on the head of a woman at a campaign event for Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul, local police wrestled to the ground a Democratic man at an event for Rep. Eric Cantor (R), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) received suspicious powder to his office, biker supporters of Florida GOP congressional candidate Allen West harassed a Democratic tracker and Alaska GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller's private security force handcuffed and detained a reporter.

And all that was in just the past two weeks.

"It's been quite amazing over the last couple months, but really over the last two years," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups and extremism. "I'd date this, in many ways, to the rise to power of Obama. Many people we saw coming with AR-15s to town halls and so on, and all of that. But I do think that it's gotten even hotter out there. I think the reaction to the stomping of that woman's head has been quite amazing. The idea that the guy could say that he needed an apology and that he's not being condemned by the political class from sea to shining sea is astounding."

While there has been an increased number of highly publicized incidents in recent weeks, there was also a spike in violence or threatened violence during the health care debate toward lawmakers who supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. People vandalized congressional offices and threatened to assassinate officials and their families. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) had a picture of a noose faxed to his office after he voted for health care reform. A former militia member named Mike Vanderboegh even proudly took credit for encouraging people around the country to break the windows of lawmakers' offices.

There has also been a significant amount of violence-tinged rhetoric coming from politicians. Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle floated "Second Amendment remedies" as a "cure" for an out-of-control Congress. Last week, a Republican House candidate in Texas said a violent overthrow of the government is "on the table." Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has taken some flack for using gun imagery after the passage of health care reform, telling her supporters to "reload."

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, last year, hate groups stayed at record levels, and "anti-immigrant vigilante groups" soared by nearly 80 percent. The largest, jump, however, came from so-called "patriot" groups, made up of militias and other groups that distrust the federal government and believe its plotting to impose a "one-world government." Those rose 244 percent in 2009, going from 149 groups to 512.

Potok attributes the rise to three factors: 1) The change in racial demographics in the country, with Obama as the apotheosis of this fact, 2) anger over the rough economy, and 3) the mainstreaming of "demonizing propaganda and conspiracy theories," encouraged by the likes of Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Potok noted that the rise in radical right-wing activity began even before Obama was elected, pointing to multiple plots to kill him. He added that the rise in violence has basically exclusively come from the far right.

"They [The far left] have burned down some things and done some various serious arson attacks, but it's tiny," he said. "There's a tiny anarchist movement, there's a small but fairly violent animal rights and radical environmental movement, but these things absolutely pale in comparison to the right. So no, I think the radical large and growing, and I think that it's impossible to say that of the extreme left."

At a meeting with progressive bloggers yesterday, Obama addressed the stomping of the activist and the rise in violence, saying, "I think that one of the things that I've always tried to promote is civility in politics. I think we can disagree vigorously without being disagreeable. And what we saw on the video was an example of people's passions just getting out of hand in ways that are disturbing."

"In fairness, I don't expect every candidate to be responsible for every single supporter's actions, but I do think that all of us have an obligation to set a tone where we say the other side is -- may be wrong but it's not evil, because when you start going down that path of demonizing folks, then these kinds of incidents are more likely to occur," he added. "And my expectation in the remainder of this campaign is that all candidates out there are a little more careful about making sure that they're framing the debate around issues and sending a clear message to their supporters that our democracy works when we disagree, we debate, we argue, it gets contentious, but that there are certain lines we don't cross."

Instead of a time-out after the stomping at the Paul rally, Tim Profitt -- the stomper -- has enraged many people even further by showing no remorse for giving the young woman a concussion, saying that she should actually apologize to him. MoveOn has launched a "You Can't Stomp On Us!" page, asking people to submit photos holding signs with the phrase. "In 2010, in American women deserve better than to be assaulted and then blamed for it," the site states. "In 2010, in America, engaging in political protest is not an invite for a beating."

Lucas working on Star Wars sequel trilogy?

A rumor suggests that Lucas is planning to film a new Star Wars sequel trilogy once the original films have aired in 3D.

A few years ago, the rumor that George Lucas was working on a true sequel to Star Wars would have been enough for nerds to do their best ninja impressions in order to sneak into Skywalker Ranch to look for even the slightest morsel of confirmation. A crumpled piece of paper with the words “Episode VII” could have sent a wing of Comic-Con fans to the hospital in rapturous seizures of joy, while an unpublished outline would have given fans a heart attack on the spot. But that was in a world where Jar Jar Binks did not exist. It would have been an elegant rumor, for a more civilized time.

A new report from the website claims that Lucas is working on a trilogy of sequels that will take place long after the events of Return of the Jedi, and would not feature the original cast (with the possible exception of the droids, although that is just a guess). The movies might be episodes 7, 8, and 9, or they could be further in the future, meaning that they might just as easily begin with episode 10, or episode 22.

Since IESB first reported the rumor, the site has been down and back up several times due to a massive traffic surge. Either that or Grand Admiral Lucas sent the Imperial lawyers to deal with the rebel scum, and the fighting has moved to the servers. While this might seem like just another rumor in the long history of rumors, it should be noted that IESB was the website that first printed the rumor of Joss Whedon directing The Avengers, as well as several casting and industry related scoops. They claim their source is 100-percent certain of the story, so while it may be a rumor, it is likely a rumor that all parties involved truly believe, and not just wishful thinking that somebody made up.

Fans of the series will no doubt remember that Lucas originally saw Star Wars as a nine-part series of movies. Back when the Special Edition Star Wars films were being re-released and rumors began to circulate that Lucas was working on a new trilogy, it was originally unclear whether or not he was writing the prequels or sequels, and speculation was rampant. Obviously it turned out to be the prequels, but the idea of a trilogy of sequels has never gone away.

Lucas currently has his plate full milking his franchises. A fifth Indiana Jones movies is reportedly just a matter of time, the Star Wars live-action TV show has been delayed but not forgotten, and the original six Star Wars films are being 3D-ized for annual theatrical re-releases beginning in 2012. If the rumor is true, the next batch of Star Wars films might then hit theaters after Return of the Jedi 3D is released, so possibly sometime in 2018.

IESB’s sources claim that Lucas wants to create a new story within the Star Wars universe, most likely without any Skywalker characters (or possibly just a loosely connected descendant), but he views the current Skywalker storyline as officially finished. If he remains consistent, Lucas will finance the films himself, which would be a fairly easy way to earn several hundreds of millions of dollars for himself, but the report claims he is motivated more by the creative success of The Clone Wars and the Star Wars video games, as well as James Cameron’s Avatar, which Lucas is said to have loved.

Halliburton cited for oil spill blowout

The Associated Press:

Washington — Tests performed before the deadly blowout of BP's oil well in the Gulf of Mexico should have raised doubts about the cement used to seal the well, but the company and its cementing contractor used it anyway, investigators with the president's oil spill commission said Thursday.

It's the first finding from the commission looking into the causes of the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and led to the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. And it appears to conflict with statements made by Halliburton Co., which has said its tests showed the cement mix was stable. The company instead has said BP's well design and operations were responsible for the disaster.

The cement mix's failure to prevent oil and gas from entering the well has been identified by BP and others as one of the causes of the accident.

BP and Halliburton decided to use a foam slurry created by injecting nitrogen into cement to secure the bottom of the well, a decision outside experts have criticized.

The panel said that of four tests done in February and April by Halliburton, only one – the last – showed the mix would hold. But the results of that single successful test were not shared with BP, and may not have reached Halliburton, before the cement was pumped, according to a letter sent to commissioners Thursday by chief investigative counsel Fred H. Bartlit Jr.

BP had in hand at the time of the blowout the results of only one of the tests – a February analysis sent to BP by Halliburton in a March 8 e-mail that indicated the cement could fail. The slurry tested in that case was a slightly different blend, and assumed a slightly different well design, but there is no indication that Halliburton flagged the problem for BP, or that BP had concerns, the letter said.

"Halliburton (and perhaps BP) should have considered redesigning the foam slurry before pumping it at the Macondo well," Bartlit wrote.

Independent tests conducted for the commission by Chevron on a nearly identical mixture were also released Thursday. The results concluded that the cement mix was unstable, raising questions about the validity of Halliburton's final test.

BP, as part of its internal investigation, also conducted independent tests that showed the cement mix was flawed, but its analysis was criticized by Halliburton, which said it was not the correct formula. BP's report also mentioned a cement test Halliburton performed in mid-April, but it appears BP obtained the results after the accident and considered its methods flawed.

By contrast, the commission obtained proprietary additives from Halliburton as well as a recipe to re-create the slurry that was used on the well. One and a half gallons of the actual mix used on the rig remain, but it is being held as evidence in criminal and civil investigations.

A spokeswoman for Halliburton said the company was reviewing the findings and would have a response later Thursday.

Halliburton shares dropped from near $34 to below $30 in New York trading in the half hour after the commission released its finding. The shares recovered a bit, and closed at $31.68, down $2.74, or 8 percent.

In testimony before the joint Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management investigative panel, Halliburton engineer Jesse Gagliano, when asked if he would pour the same cement again, said he would.

"I am comfortable with the slurry design," he said.

The independent investigators do not address other decisions that could have contributed to the cement's failure, such as BP's decision to use fewer centralizers than recommended by Halliburton. Centralizers make sure the well's piping is centered inside the well so the cement bonds correctly.

BP has also been criticized for not performing a cement bond long, a test that checks after the cement is pumped down whether it is secure. There are also questions about whether BP pumped down enough cement to seal off the bottom of the well, which was located more than three miles below sea level.

A Boot to the Head...from Michael Moore

Michael Moore:

There she was, thrown to the pavement by a Republican in a checkered shirt. Another Republican thrusts his foot in between her legs and presses down with all his weight to pin her to the curb. Then a Republican leader comes over and viciously stomps on her head with his foot. You hear her glasses crunch under the pressure. Holding her head down with his foot, he applies more force so she can't move. Her skull and brain are now suffering a concussion.

The young woman’s name is Lauren Valle, but she is really all of us. For come this Tuesday, the right wing -- and the wealthy who back them -- plan to take their collective boot and bring it down hard on not just the head of Barack Obama but on the heads of everyone they simply don't like.

Teachers union? The boot!

Muslim-looking people? The boot!

Thinking of retiring soon? The boot!

Living in a house you can no longer afford? The boot!

Doing a bit better with your minimum wage? The boot!

Stem cell research, the bullet train, reversing global warming? Ha! The boot for all of you!

What? You like your kids being covered by your health plan ‘til they're 26? The boot for them and the boot for you!

In love with someone of your own gender? A double boot up the ass for every single one of you sick SOBs!

Hoping there's a few jobs left here in the U.S. when you graduate? How 'bout just a nice boot to your head instead?

And most importantly, the last boot is saved for the black man who probably wasn't born here, definitely isn't a Christian and possibly might be the Antichrist sent here to oversee the destruction of our very way of life. A boot to your head, Obama-devil!

Yes, one big boot is poised to stomp out whatever hopey-changey thing we might have had two years ago and secure this country in the hands of the oligarchs and the culture police.

And if they win on Tuesday, they plan to show no mercy. They will not speak of bipartisanship or olive branches or tolerate any filibuster threats. They will come in and do the job with a mandate they'll perceive the electorate will have given them. They will not fart around for two years like the Democrats did. They will not "search for compromise" or "find middle ground." They will not meet you halfway on the playing field. They know that touchdowns aren't scored at the 50-yard line. Unlike our guys, they're not stupid or spineless.

Make no mistake about it, my friends. A perfect storm has gathered of racists, homophobes, corporatists and born agains and they are on fire. Two years of a black man who secretly holds socialist beliefs being the boss of them is more than they can stomach. They've been sick to death since the night of 11/04/08 and they are ready to purge. They won't need a rope and tree this time to effect the change they seek (why bother when a nice shoe on another's skull will do just fine, thank you).

They simply need to get their base to the polls (done), convince enough people Obama is responsible for the fact they don't have a job or a secure home (done), and then hope enough of us Obama-voters are so frustrated, disappointed and downright mad at the Dems (done) that we'll either stay home Tuesday or, if we vote, we won't be carpooling with 10 others to the polls.

Done? Or not?

These Republicans mean business. Their boots are all shined and ready. But they've got one huge problem:

The majority of Americans don't agree with them.

The majority want the troops home. The majority want true universal health coverage. The majority want the thievery on Wall Street to be stopped. The majority believe that global warming is happening, that social security shouldn't be privatized and that unions are a good thing.

Too bad the majority party has done precious little to bring about the change for which the majority voted. Yes, change takes time. But try telling that to someone who hasn't worked in two years. Or who hears the knock of the foreclosure sheriff at the door. The booted-up minority knows how to make hay in a situation like this. All they need is us, the disappointed, dismayed, disgusted us.

What say you? Stay home and punish the weak-kneed, sell-out Democrats? Or spend every free moment you have between now and Tuesday trying to protect what little progress has been made so we can live to fight another day (even if it is with “allies” like a Democratic Party that will more than likely still not get the message of what they need to do -- and has, in fact, spent much of the past two years giving progressives the boot)? Perhaps our job, post-election, is to provide a gentle but swift boot in the bee-hind of the party whose mascot is an ass.

Right now, we've got 112 hours. Seems like enough.

Michael Moore

Conservative boondoggle: $16 billion fighter jets

The Mark:

Slamming the proposed purchase of the jets in Parliament yesterday, Michael Ignatieff said the Conservatives “were sent out to buy a Chevrolet and they brought back a Ferrari.” Why’d they do it? Because the Department of National Defence really, really wants a Ferrari. Industry Minister Tony Clement admitted yesterday he’s not an expert on jets, but he’s been told by the military these are the ones he should procure.

Bad idea, says the National Post’s John Ivison. As the auditor general’s report released Tuesday on the bungled purchase of helicopters revealed, “allowing the Department of National Defence to dictate procurement is like asking an alcoholic to run a distillery.” Ivison argues, “For their own sake, the Conservatives need to press pause on the largest military purchase in Canadian history,” and suggests they could get themselves out of hot water by forming an expert panel to either legitimize the purchase, or give them an excuse to cancel it.

Maclean’s blogger John Geddes gets into the nitty-gritty details of the deal in his column, and says although some critics have warned the cost of manufacturing the jets could skyrocket, Canada has a deal in place with the U.S. to ensure we’re not on the hook for rising manufacturing costs. The real problem is that we’ve agreed to pay “the average per unit flyaway cost. That means our price depends on how many F-35s in total are sold.” This is trouble, because the cash-strapped British government announced last week it is drastically reducing the number of F-35s it will buy.

The jet fighter contract “has all the makings of a red-hot campaign issue,” writes the Vancouver Sun’s Barbara Yaffe. It echoes Jean Chretien’s promise to cancel the EH-101 helicopter contract in 1993, “believed to be a significant factor in the Liberals' majority government win.” Just as Canadians were then, we’re now facing a huge deficit and the “Liberals are counting on their belief that Canadians favour social programs over military spending, while Harper's team is hoping voters have shifted ideologically since the '90s and, these days, want a more robust, state-of-the-art military.”

Michael Ignatieff had previously been critical of the deal but until yesterday had avoided taking a firm stance on the purchase of the state-of-the-art planes. His change in stance was prompted by comments on Tuesday from Auditor General Sheila Fraser, who called the F-35 deal high-risk. The contract is the largest military procurement in Canadian history and was not put through a competitive bidding process. Fraser also slammed the government’s purchase of military helicopters and it appears the Liberal leader believes he can use her comments to attack Conservatives’ claims to being Canada’s most fiscally responsible party. Many analysts say the cost of the jets is likely to increase and that the planes are inappropriate for Canada’s security needs.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Senate civil liberties champ fighting for political life

The Associated Press:

Wausau, Wisconsin — Rural Marathon County has only 2 percent of Wisconsin's population, but it provides a glimpse of why U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, one of the Senate's most prominent liberal Democrats, still finds himself in an uphill battle to win re-election next week.

The county, the state's largest at just under 1 million acres, is home to dairy farmers who help make Wisconsin the nation's No. 2 milk producer and ginseng farmers who lead the world in production of the bitter root. Many residents work at factories producing paper products.

Conservative voters here might not be the likeliest allies for a Harvard-educated lawyer from near the state capital, but they have backed Feingold even while supporting Republican George W. Bush for president.

This year, however, a darker mood has settled in, and the latest polls show Feingold either trailing his Republican opponent, businessman Ron Johnson, or with the race too close to call.

The race provides a vivid illustration of two key factors shaping the midterm election as it enters its final days – disgruntled voters eager to shake up government as the nation's economic woes drag on, and extraordinary saturation advertising by independent political groups attempting to sway public opinion.

Republicans leaders are increasingly optimistic about capturing both the House and possibly the Senate and are plotting a 2011 agenda that would push for $100 billion in spending cuts, tax reductions and attempts to undo parts of President Barack Obama's health care and financial regulation laws.

Official figures showed more than 8.4 million ballots already have been cast in states where early voting is permitted or where absentees have been counted. And as candidates make their final push ahead of Nov. 2, there has been a flood of money into states – like Wisconsin – where races are close.

A recent study found that more advertising, much of it negative, had been broadcast about the Senate race in Wisconsin during one recent period than in any other Senate campaign in the country.

Marathon County has been a prime target because it's also the site of a fierce House campaign. Outside interest groups have poured $2.8 million into the race between Democratic state Sen. Julie Lassa and Republican Sean Duffy, a former district attorney, as they vie to replace longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. David Obey.

But the primary focus is Feingold. Every day a broadcast barrage portrays him either as a career politician embedded in an oversize government or a feisty maverick who can fix what's broken.

Feingold and Johnson are hammering away at their messages in the campaign's final week. "What I'm telling people is, I have been very devoted to the top issues: jobs, the economy and the deficit," Feingold said Monday. Says Johnson in a new TV ad released Tuesday, "We have to stop Washington's overtaxing and overspending. It's killing our jobs."

Some voters are reevaluating their longtime senator, who was first elected in 1992.

Gloria Nelson of Wausau said she previously supported him but won't this time because of the federal bailout of Wall Street. When told that Feingold actually voted against the bailout, the grocery-store worker in her mid-50s hesitated and said, "Well, I'm still not voting for him. He spends too much."

Like unhappy voters elsewhere this year, many here have concluded that government isn't working well and something must be done.

Johnson, a first-time candidate and tea party favorite who owns a plastics company, has based his campaign on scaling back. He says he'll repeal the health care reform law and work to create jobs, and offers no apologies for having no plan for either. The Oshkosh manufacturer says he's running on "who I am, what my background is."

That Johnson has been running ahead even though he was unknown before the race began speaks volumes about Feingold's challenge.

In Marathon County, Johnson doesn't have to convince people that life could be better.

The state's economic woes have hit hard in a place where dairy cows outnumbered people as recently as a few decades ago. Local companies that make windows and prefabricated homes have struggled in the housing downturn. At 10.5 percent, Wausau's unemployment rate is above the state's average unemployment rate of 7.8 percent in September.

Feingold has responded by calling upon his greatest political strength – his face to face campaigning. He has been holding his trademark listening sessions and touting his maverick credentials – for example, he was the only Democrat to oppose Wall Street reform because it wasn't tough enough, and a bipartisan negotiator on campaign-finance reform.

But it's not hard to find one-time Feingold supporters who are having second thoughts. Wausau dairy farmer Don Voelker, 64, says he thinks Feingold's OK. But, "I think it's just time for a change."

Some voters say Feingold is getting an unfair rap for problems that aren't his fault. Brad Karger, Marathon County's administrator, said Feingold has a certain magic when he's dealing with people one on one. However, "He might not have that magic this year," Karger said. "There's a lot of fear out there."

Deficit commemorative coin

Village 'horrified' after gay couple's home torched

The National Post:

In the early morning hours of Oct. 18, a firebomb was reportedly tossed through the bedroom window of a bungalow in the little village of Little Pond, P.E.I., forcing the middle-aged gay couple who lived there to flee. As the flames grew, one of the men dragged the other from the same broken pane of the disintegrating bungalow, and the efforts of 20 firefighters would not be enough to stop the fire from consuming the entire home.

"The residence is a total loss," a Kings District RCMP bulletin reads.

The identities of the men have not been released -- neither by police nor the local media -- for privacy's sake. But there is nothing private about the "cruel, criminal" act that threatened the lives of the two men, said a local reverend, who on Sunday spoke from the Dundas United Church pulpit to urge tolerance and support for the couple, aged 47 and 52.

Just one week before, the couple's mailbox was torched. Police say a criminal is at work, and friends fear someone wanted the couple dead.

"Everybody on the street was talking about it and why it might have happened, and we had to stand up and say, 'This is not us,' " said Rev. Beth Johnston, who spoke on the telephone with one of the men this week. "Whether it's the legal definition of hate crime or not, it seems to me to be quite clear that they were targeted because they are a gay couple."

She said the couple is in shock and "just trying to recover" from the loss of their home and their sense of security. Friends of the couple told local media that the men are afraid for their lives, even apprehensive to return to the lot to salvage burned remnants of their belongings.

The men moved to Little Pond five years ago, and one resident said they had recently "fixed up" their "nice-looking property" on Route 310, which is the main road through the community with a population of just a hundred or so.

Residents describe Little Pond as a quiet place whose neighbours know one another, despite the sprawling swathes of country land that separate their rural homes.

"When [the couple] moved to the area, they would have had no reason to believe they would have anything but supportive neighbours," said Jane Dunphy, a councillor in the municipality of Annandale-Little Pond-Howe Bay, who lives a few kilometres from the crime scene. "Anybody I have talked to is really, really horrified and hurt that this could happen."

RCMP Sgt. Bob Fogarty said the RCMP is considering hosting a meeting with residents to talk about the crime.

Although Ms. Dunphy calls the Prince Edward Island community "welcoming," a local advocacy organization has said the Island's rural communities suffer from closed-mindedness toward the gay community.

"On P.E.I., it is so hush-hush," Alana Leard, a coordinator with the Abegweit Rainbow Collective, told Charlottetown's The Guardian.

"Something needs to be done, and I really hope that this [fire] isn't being taken lightly."

Burma's repression continues with sham election

The Washington Post (editorial):

Without warning, Burma's rulers last week bestowed upon their country a new flag, a new seal and a new anthem. A surprised government official told Reuters that the junta's instructions specified that the old flags should be lowered by people born on a Tuesday and the new flags should be raised by people born on a Wednesday. Then all the old flags were to be burned.

The order, accompanied by no explanation and probably informed by astrologers, was typical of the generals who govern this Southeast Asian nation of 50 million people from their isolated and recently constructed capital of Naypyidaw. They rank with North Korea's leaders as the world's most secretive, repressive and destructive to their own people. Now they are about to hold a national election, and the one thing that should be unpredictable is in fact fully known in advance: the election result.

The Nov. 7 poll will be Burma's first in 20 years, and it might have provided an avenue toward a gradual easing of dictatorial control. But it has not worked out that way. There are a few opposition candidates, but even if all of them win, the junta is guaranteed control of the new parliament. It accomplished this certainty by blocking many parties from participating, including the National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1990 election but was never permitted to take office; by setting fees so high that in many districts only government-backed candidates could register; by stipulating that the military may allot close to one-quarter of all seats after the election takes place; and by harassing and threatening opposition candidates who have tried, against all odds, to compete. No international observers will be permitted; no foreign journalists are being allowed in. The best that can be expected is that some ruling generals will replace their uniforms with civilian suits.

Nonetheless, we can expect calls after the election for a lifting of economic sanctions and a welcoming of the "new" government into polite company. These calls will come from companies eager to invest in Burma (also known as Myanmar) and from nations eager for influence there. The calls will get louder if, as seems possible, the regime frees Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest on Nov. 13, when the latest of her many sentences expires.

The Obama administration, which thus far has provided too little leadership on Burma, should be ready to parry these calls. It should appoint the special representative and policy coordinator mandated by Congress; refine its financial sanctions to target Burma's leaders and their families; and put some muscle behind its claimed support for a U.N. inquiry into the regime's crimes against humanity, namely the military's depredations against ethnic minorities. The Voice of America should rethink its plan to cut back broadcasting hours to Burma the month after the election, while Congress should provide the VOA with enough funds to carry out its mission. And the administration should make clear that real steps toward democracy will be reciprocated, but sham elections will gain the regime nothing, no matter what the astrologers promise.

P.E.I. town fears fire was hate crime

The home of a gay couple in Little Pond in eastern P.E.I. was burned to the ground in what police are investigating as a possible arson. The same couple have had their house broken into and mailbox damaged since moving from B.C. five years ago.


People in a small community in P.E.I. are starting to speak out about a suspected arson last week, with some saying it might have been a hate crime against a gay couple.

"We are outraged. We're crushed by this," said Maureen Campbell-Hanley, a friend of the couple. "I'm devastated by this, completely devastated."

In the early morning hours of Oct. 18, a gay couple in Little Pond awoke to the sound of their window being smashed and a fire erupting inside their home. They escaped without injury.

The fire is the subject of a criminal investigation.

"This is two guys who were sleeping in their beds and an incendiary device came through the window in the early hours of the morning and they had to escape out the window, not knowing what was on the other side," Campbell-Hanley told CBC News.

"That's attempted murder."

Maureen Campbell-Hanley, a friend of the couple, said she is devastated by what happened to her friends

Since the two men moved from British Columbia to the small community in eastern P.E.I. five years ago, their home has been broken into, their mailbox destroyed, and now, their house has been burned to the ground.

The couple have not spoken publicly about the incident. Their friends said the emotional damage is severe and the men are afraid for their lives.

"They don't even feel comfortable going back home to their own lot," said Harvey Francis.

"They asked somebody else to go with them when they picked up some of their other stuff because they feel scared, and why shouldn't they?"

Community support for the couple is growing.

On Sunday, Rev. Beth Johnston of nearby Dundas United Church spoke from the pulpit to urge tolerance and support. Some in the community have started to gather donations.

"Hate is not a value of Eastern Kings and we're not like that," Johnston said Monday. "We want to be a place where people — all people — can live in safety."

There are no suspects in the case.

Wikileaks under siege for revealing the truth

Democracy Now!:

In an extended interview, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange discusses the release of nearly 400,000 classified US military records on the war in Iraq, the biggest intelligence leak in US history. The disclosure provides a trove of new evidence on the number of civilian casualties, violence, torture and suffering that has befallen Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion. While the Obama administration is defending the US military’s record in Iraq, the allegations in the documents have sparked worldwide condemnation. Assange also confirmed that threats by the Pentagon would not stop WikiLeaks from releasing additional military documents related to the war in Afghanistan.

Conservative boondoggle: another record deficit

BP dispersants "causing sickness"

Al Jazeera English:

Investigation by Al Jazeera online correspondent finds toxic illnesses linked to BP oil dispersants along Gulf coast.

Two-year-old Gavin Tillman of Pass Christian, Mississippi, has been diagnosed with severe upper respiratory, sinus, and viral infections. His temperature has reached more than 39 degrees since September 15, yet his sicknesses continues to worsen.

His parents, some doctors, and environmental consultants believe the child's ailments are linked to exposure to chemicals spilt by BP during its Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

Gavin's father, mother, and sister, Shayleigh, are also facing serious health problems. Their symptoms are being experienced by many others living along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Widely banned toxic dispersants

Injected with at least 4.9 million barrels of oil during the BP oil disaster of last summer, the Gulf has suffered the largest accidental marine oil spill in history. Compounding the problem, BP has admitted to using at least 1.9 million gallons of widely banned toxic dispersants, which according to chemist Bob Naman, create an even more toxic substance when mixed with crude oil. And dispersed, weathered oil continues to flow ashore daily.

Naman, who works at the Analytical Chemical Testing Lab in Mobile, Alabama, has been carrying out studies to search for the chemical markers of the dispersants BP used to both sink and break up its oil.

According to Naman, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from this toxic mix are making people sick. PAHs contain compounds that have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic.

Fisherman across the four states most heavily affected by the oil disaster - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida - have reported seeing BP spray dispersants from aircraft and boats offshore.

"The dispersants are being added to the water and are causing chemical compounds to become water soluble, which is then given off into the air, so it is coming down as rain, in addition to being in the water and beaches of these areas of the Gulf," Naman added.

"I’m scared of what I'm finding. These cyclic compounds intermingle with the Corexit [dispersants] and generate other cyclic compounds that aren’t good. Many have double bonds, and many are on the EPA's danger list. This is an unprecedented environmental catastrophe."

Commercial fisherman Donny Matsler also lives in Alabama.

"I was with my friend Albert, and we were both slammed with exposure," Matsler explained of his experience on August 5, referring to toxic chemicals he inhaled that he believes are associated with BP's dispersants. "We both saw the clumps of white bubbles on the surface that we know come from the dispersed oil."

Gruesome symptoms

"I started to vomit brown, and my pee was brown also," Matsler, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Dauphin Island, said. "I kept that up all day. Then I had a night of sweating and non-stop diarrhea unlike anything I’ve ever experienced."

He was also suffering from skin rashes, nausea, and a sore throat.

At roughly the same time Matsler was exposed, local television station WKRG News 5 took a water sample from his area to test for dispersants. The sample literally exploded when it was mixed with an organic solvent separating the oil from the water.

Naman, the chemist who analyzed the sample, said: "We think that it most likely happened due to the presence of either methanol or methane gas or the presence of the dispersant Corexit."

"I'm still feeling terrible," Matsler told Al Jazeera recently. "I'm about to go to the doctor again right now. I'm short of breath, the diarrhea has been real bad, I still have discoloration in my urine, and the day before yesterday, I was coughing up white foam with brown spots in it."

As for Matsler's physical reaction to his exposure, Hugh Kaufman, an EPA whistleblower and analyst, has reported this of the effects of the toxic dispersants:

"We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging. People who work near it are hemorrhaging internally. And that’s what dispersants are supposed to do … And, for example, in the Exxon Valdez case, people who worked with dispersants, most of them are dead now."

By the middle of last summer, the Alabama Department of Public Health said that 56 people in Mobile and Baldwin counties had sought treatment for what they believed were oil disaster-related illnesses.

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