Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve celebrations from around the world.

Canada's "boondoggle" village

The 13 weirdest news stories of 2010

Check them all out here.

Israel discovers giant gas field

The year of Wikileaks

Democracy Now!:

2010 can be defined as the year of WikiLeaks. The whisteblowing website first made headlines around the world in April when it released a video of a U.S. helicopter gunship indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians killing 12 people, including two Reuters news staff. In July, WikiLeaks created a bigger firestorm when it published more than 90,000 classified U.S. military war logs of the war in Afghanistan. Then in October, WikiLeaks published some 390,000 classified U.S. documents on the war in Iraq—the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history and the greatest internal account of any war on public record. And in November WikiLeaks began releasing a giant trove of confidential State Department cables that sent shockwaves through the global diplomatic establishment. Throughout it all, WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange were targeted by the U.S. and other governments around the world. We play our interviews with Assange and with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Tortured until proven guilty

Lynn Parramore, Editor of New Deal 2.0; Co-founder of Recessionwire

As we spend time and rejoice with our friends and family this New Year's Eve, let us pause for a moment to remember the thousands of people being tortured in American prisons, including Bradley Manning.

Continue reading here.

Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg on Julian Assange

Democracy Now!:

After WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London an international group of former intelligence officers and ex-government officials released a statement in support of his work. We speak to one of the signatories, Daniel Ellsberg, the famous whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War in 1971. "If I released the Pentagon Papers today, the same rhetoric and the same calls would be made about me," Ellsberg says. "I would be called not only a traitor—which I was then, which was false and slanderous—but I would be called a terrorist... Assange and Bradley Manning are no more terrorists than I am."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's prediction

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

What will happen to the US economy in 2011? If you're referring to profits of big corporations and Wall Street, next year is likely to be a good one. But if you're referring to average American workers, far from good.

The two American economies -- the Big Money economy and the Average Working Family economy -- will continue to diverge. Corporate profits will continue to rise, as will the stock market. But typical wages will go nowhere, joblessness will remain high, the ranks of the long-term unemployed will continue to rise, the housing recovery will remain stalled, and consumer confidence will sag

Continue reading here.

Reviving Iraq's film industry

Son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on Wikileaks

Democracy Now!:

As the U.S. Department of Justice considers charging WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917, we speak with Robert Meeropol, the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg—the only U.S. citizens to be executed under the Espionage Act, in what’s been described as the most controversial death sentence in U.S. history. This week, Meeropol released a widely read statement in support of WikiLeaks called, "My Parents Were Executed Under the Unconstitutional Espionage Act—Here’s Why We Must Fight to Protect Julian Assange."

Consumer Agency necessary, and late

Elizabeth Warren, Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Haphazard and possibly illegal practices at mortgage-servicing companies have called into question home foreclosures across the nation. The latest disclosures are deeply troubling.

Continue reading here.

Major investigation of Deepwater Horizon explosion

Democracy Now!:

It has been eight months since the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Eleven workers were killed and more than 200 million gallons of oil were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. A major investigation by the New York Times takes an in-depth look into how explosion occurred. Based on interviews with 21 crew members and testimony from 94 others, the investigation concludes every single one of the rig’s defenses failed. We speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Barstow.

Poll: Opposition to Afghan war hits all-time high

The Huffington Post:

Buffalo, New York - Opposition to the war in Afghanistan is at an all-time high, with 63 percent of the public now opposed to U.S. involvement there, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey. Just 35 percent of survey respondents say they still support U.S. involvement.

The increase in opposition to U.S. involvement comes as pessimism about how the war is going is rising. According to a poll done Dec. 17-19, 56 percent of the public believes that "things are going badly for the U.S. in Afghanistan."

Continue reading here.

Fairer Votes: Your new year's resolution

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The role of the United States in the world today

Democracy Now!:

As 2010 draws to a close, what is the role of the United States in the world today? From the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the cuts to social programs here at home, where is there emerging hope for change around the world? We spend the hour with award-winning investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn. "You vote for Democrat, you vote for Republican, you get the same thing on state murder, on preventable death. But we here have the right to rebel. We have to use it."

Inside Story - Anarchy in Europe?

Palestine: recognizing the state

Up to 106 UN member state now officialy recognise the state of Palestine

John V. Whitbeck, Opinion, Al Jazeera English:

International lawyer and author analyses the quality as well quantity of the states that recognise Palestine.

On December 17, Bolivia extended diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine within its full pre-1967 borders (all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem).

Coming soon after the similar recognitions by Brazil and Argentina, Bolivia's recognition brought to 106 the number of UN member states recognizing the State of Palestine, whose independence was proclaimed on November 15, 1988.

While still under foreign belligerent occupation, the State of Palestine possesses all the customary international law criteria for sovereign statehood. No portion of its territory is recognized by any other country (other than Israel) as any other country's sovereign territory, and, indeed, Israel has only asserted sovereignty over a small portion of its territory, expanded East Jerusalem, leaving sovereignty over the rest both literally and legally uncontested.

Continue reading here.

Germany probes "Russian poisoning"

F-35 jets aren’t a good buy

Edmund Pries,

The $16-billion F-35 fighter jet purchase has been a tough sell from day one.

When some analysts decried the purchase as wholly unsuitable for Canada’s domestic and military needs, and a skeptical public balked at the price tag, the government refocused its marketing and began touting the importance of the F-35 purchase for creating jobs – some of them even in Canada. This message now dominates.

A 2007 study by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and the Political Economy Research Institute, titled The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities, indicates that for every $1 billion of investment per sector, each sector would create the following number of jobs (Canadian figures would obviously vary, but likely not by much):

• Military/Defence: 8,555

• Health care: 12,883

• Education: 17,687

• Mass transit: 19,795

• Home weatherization/infrastructure construction: 12,804

Clearly, investment in the military or defence sector is the least effective when compared to other sectors for results in job creation per unit of dollars invested. The F-35 fighter is, therefore, a rather poor job creation instrument. If the government’s goal truly is job creation, it would do better to invest in domestic sectors that improve the lives of its citizens and create more jobs at the same time — and reconsider whether to proceed with the purchase of the F-35 fighter or even its much heralded increases in annual military spending.

Continue reading here.

Palestinians turn to UN for support

Israel-Palestine talks have been stalled over a Israel's refusal to halt settlement construction

Al Jazeera English:

Proposed draft resolution calls on Security Council to condemn Israeli settlements after impasse over US-brokered talks.

The Palestinians are set to ask the UN Security Council to condemn Israeli settlement construction, according to a copy of a draft resolution obtained by the AP news agency.

The move reflects growing Palestinian discontent with stalled US efforts to broker a peace agreement, and is part of a campaign to put international pressure on Israel.

American reaction to the plan has been muted, raising the likelihood that the country would use its veto power in the council to defeat the resolution.

Israel has angrily rejected the proposal.

Continue reading here.

Nick Pope on Rendlesham anniversary

Nick Pope, The Sun:

When I worked as an MoD investigator looking into UFOs it was our most mysterious real-life X File. Nothing has changed.

I travelled to Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk yesterday to reopen the investigation into Britain's most famous UFO sighting - with the men who saw it 30 years ago.

In the early hours of Boxing Day, 1980, the pair were on guard when they spotted strange lights in the forest, between US air bases Bentwaters and Woodbridge

Continue reading here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tourist tax to save Italian heritage

America's political class struggle

Jeffrey Sachs, Economist and Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University:

The problem is America's corrupted politics and loss of civic morality. One political party, the Republicans, stands for little except tax cuts, which they place above any other goal. The Democrats have a bit wider set of interests, including support for health care, education, training, and infrastructure. But, like the Republicans, the Democrats, too, are keen to shower tax cuts on their major campaign contributors, predominantly rich Americans.

The result is a dangerous paradox. The US budget deficit is enormous and unsustainable. The poor are squeezed by cuts in social programs and a weak job market. One in eight Americans depends on Food Stamps to eat. Yet, despite these circumstances, one political party wants to gut tax revenues altogether, and the other is easily dragged along, against its better instincts, out of concern for keeping its rich contributors happy.

This tax-cutting frenzy comes, incredibly, after three decades of elite fiscal rule in the US that has favored the rich and powerful. Since Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, America's budget system has been geared to supporting the accumulation of vast wealth at the top of the income distribution. Amazingly, the richest 1 percent of American households now has a higher net worth than the bottom 90 percent. The annual income of the richest 12,000 households is greater than that of the poorest 24 million households.

The Republican Party's real game is to try to lock that income and wealth advantage into place. They fear, rightly, that sooner or later everyone else will begin demanding that the budget deficit be closed in part by raising taxes on the rich. After all, the rich are living better than ever, while the rest of American society is suffering. It makes sense to tax them more.

Ironically, there is one area in which large budget cuts are certainly warranted: the military. But that is the one item most Republicans won't touch. They want to slash the budget not by ending the useless war in Afghanistan, and by eliminating unnecessary weapons systems, but by cutting education, health, and other benefits for the poor and working class.

In the end, I don't think they will succeed. For the moment, most Americans seem to be going along with Republican arguments that it is better to close the budget deficit through spending cuts rather than tax increases. Yet when the actual budget proposals are made, there will be a growing backlash. With their backs against the wall, I predict, poor and working-class Americans will begin to agitate for social justice.

Continue reading here.

Online dating scams

Nothing wrong with coalition governments

Governor General of Canada David Johnston

Sun Media:

The new governor general says he sees nothing wrong or illegitimate with coalition governments — something Prime Minister Stephen Harper has attacked for being “undemocratic.”

Gov. Gen. David Johnston told QMI Agency he's been busy brushing up on constitutional governments in case he is called upon to navigate a choppy political crisis.

Johnston said Canada — like many democratic regimes — has had experiences with coalition-type governments in the past.

“I think that most jurisdictions that have a system of first-past-the-post or proportional representation will from time to have time have coalitions or amalgamation of different parties and that’s the way democracy sorts itself out,” he said.

Continue reading here.

Extreme weather and climate instability

Democracy Now!:

The East Coast is struggling to recover from the massive blizzard that slammed into hundreds cities and towns from the Carolinas to Maine. The storm was a grimly fitting end to 2010, which was characterized by extreme weather from start to finish with heat waves, floods, volcanoes, blizzards, landslides and droughts. While TV networks closely follow extreme weather events around the world, they rarely make the connection between extreme weather and global warming. We speak with Dr. Paul Epstein of Harvard University’s Center for Health and the Global Environment.

Govt. watchdogs reluctant to probe wrongdoing

The Globe and Mail:

The three independent federal watchdogs created by the Conservative government operate largely behind the closed doors of their own offices and, after one was exposed this fall for having done little in three years, critics are asking questions about the effectiveness of the other two.

The case of Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet, who investigated just seven of the 228 complaints from public-service whistleblowers she received during her tenure, left many in Parliament questioning how the problems in that office had gone unnoticed.

Karen Shepherd, who was hired to ensure that politicians are not being unduly influenced by their well-connected friends, has never found anyone guilty of breaking the rules in the year and a half that she has been Commissioner of Lobbying.

And, in more than three years as Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson has discovered just one person, a Liberal MP, to have violated the Conflict of Interest Code. At the same time, she has absolved cabinet ministers, Conservative staff, a Conservative MP and the government itself of myriad alleged indiscretions.

Continue reading here.

Public financed campaigns could end corruption

David Sirota, the author of the New York Times bestsellers Hostile Takeover (2006) and The Uprising (2008), discusses how publicly financed elections could drastrically change Congress by killing the grip and influence of Wall Street and corporate lobbyists.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Afghan security deteriorating despite troop surge

The Wall Street Journal:

Internal United Nations maps show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year's fighting season, countering the Obama administration's optimistic assessments of military progress since the surge of additional American forces began a year ago.

The Wall Street Journal was able to view two confidential "residual risk accessibility" maps, one compiled by the U.N. at the annual fighting season's start in March 2010 and another at its tail end in October. The maps, used by U.N. personnel to gauge the dangers of travel and running programs, divide the country's districts into four categories: very high risk, high risk, medium risk and low risk.

In the October map, just as in March's, nearly all of southern Afghanistan—the focus of the coalition's military offensives—remained painted the red of "very high risk," with no noted improvements. At the same time, the green belt of "low risk" districts in northern, central and western Afghanistan shriveled.

The U.N.'s October map upgraded to "high risk" 16 previously more secure districts in Badghis, Sar-e-Pul, Balkh, Parwan, Baghlan, Samangan, Faryab, Laghman and Takhar provinces; only two previously "high risk" districts, one in Kunduz and one in Herat province, received a safer rating.

Continue reading here.

Russia convicts ex-tycoon

Mutilated bodies discovered in Mexico

The Associated Press:

Acapulco, Mexico — Police in the Mexican resort of Acapulco found the decapitated bodies of two men in front of a bar where 11 men were reportedly abducted earlier this month, officials said Monday.

Shell casings from assault rifles and two handwritten messages whose contents were not disclosed were found at the scene, according to a statement from police in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero where Acapulco is located. Such messages are often left by drug gangs.

Eleven men were reported abducted from the bar on Dec. 17. Such establishments are frequently the targets of extortion attempts

Continue reading here.

From the Pentagon to the private sector

Democracy Now!:

A new investigation by the Boston Globe finds that retiring generals are leaving the military in large numbers to take lucrative jobs in the defense industry with little concern for any conflicts of interest. We speak with Bryan Bender, national security reporter for the Globe.

David Cameron's agenda built on lies

Johann Hari, Columnist for the London Independent

The harm done to Britain in 2010 did not have to happen. It was David Cameron's choice to ignore the world's most distinguished economists and cut spending in the midst of economic collapse.

Continue reading here.

Monster snowstorm: the show must go on

Democracy Now!:

A fierce winter storm has dumped over a foot of snow in areas along the East Coast from the Carolinas to Maine. In New York City, 20 inches of snow covered the streets with snowdrifts four feet high. The subway system was badly crippled. To make it in for the 8:00 a.m. broadcast, the Democracy Now! team had a challenging morning commute. Some donned ski gear and trudged through thigh-high snow to walk over bridges to Manhattan, some rose with the sun to find a working subway, and some even hitchhiked.

December 2010 Blizzard Timelapse

A Canon DLSR camerca on a tripod, utilizing the remote timer feature, which took one photo every five minutes, during the heavy blizzard which just hit the American east coast. Approximately twenty hours in forty seconds.

What WikiLeaks revealed to the world in 2010

Glenn Greenwald,

As revealing as the disclosures themselves are, the reactions to them have been equally revealing. The vast bulk of the outrage has been devoted not to the crimes that have been exposed but rather to those who exposed them: WikiLeaks and (allegedly) Bradley Manning.

A consensus quickly emerged in the political and media class that they are Evil Villains who must be severely punished, while those responsible for the acts they revealed are guilty of nothing. That reaction has not been weakened at all even by the Pentagon's own admission that, in stark contrast to its own actions, there is no evidence -- zero -- that any of WikiLeaks' actions has caused even a single death.

Meanwhile, the American establishment media -- even in the face of all these revelations -- continues to insist on the contradictory, Orwellian platitudes that (a) there is Nothing New™ in anything disclosed by WikiLeaks and (b) WikiLeaks has done Grave Harm to American National Security™ through its disclosures

Continue reading here.

NDP continues to rise

QMI Agency:

Indeed, recent polls show the NDP tied for second with the Liberals among Quebec voters behind the Bloc. And among Francophone voters, the NDP is clear leader among federalist parties. Among Bloc supporters, the NDP is also the preferred second choice by a wide margin.

"We're expecting all political parties to be coming after us with full force, and we relish the fight," Lavigne said. "At the same time, we're going to be going on the offence. We have growth everywhere, in urban, suburban, and rural Canada in each region of the country."

Since Layton took over, the NDP has grown from 13 seats in 2003 to 36 seats now and has increased in popular vote support from 16% to 18%.

That kind of incremental growth, Layton said, is starting to reap rewards across the country in ridings where New Democrats never stood a chance, like NDP MP Linda Duncan's win in Edmonton in 2008.

"It's a building process, sure. I don't expect it to happen with the snap of the finger. This isn't some kind of a dream we have. It's a very practical thing," Layton said, adding the party's efforts — though not always 100% successful — to avoid the toxic partisan finger-pointing has helped. "I think, more and more, people are opening their doors to the idea of supporting New Democrats and the way that we try to do things.

"I think it's why we're seeing people turn to us. People are opening the door even if they never voted for us before, are saying now they might," he added. "Look at what's happening in Quebec. It's remarkable."

Only a few years ago, the NDP polled below 2% in Quebec

Continue reading here.

A Merry Christmas to all

Michael Moore:

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas (or a Merry Everything) and hope you are all well today.

Here's a good thought from the writer William Rivers Pitt:

"Before Santa and presents and shopping and all the attendant Christmas (stuff) got involved, this holiday was enshrined to commemorate a guy who got nailed to a tree for daring to tell people to be kind to one another. If you have two cloaks, He said, give one away. Remember those who have less than you, be charitable, be good, be merciful."

Hear, hear.

John Pilger - Truth and lies in the war on terror

A 2003 inquiry into the "war on terror" and the consequences for "liberated" countries.

The Christmas truce of 1914

John Pilger - The new rulers of the world

'Global economy' is a modern Orwellian term. On the surface, it is instant financial trading, mobile phones, McDonald's, Starbucks, holidays booked on the net. Beneath this gloss, it is the globalisation of poverty, a world where most human beings never make a phone call and live on less than two dollars a day, where 6,000 children die every day from diarrhea because most have no access to clean water.

Assange signs £1.1 million in book deals


WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange said in an interview published Sunday he had signed deals for his autobiography worth more than one million pounds (1.2 million euros, 1.5 million dollars).

Assange told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper that the money would help him defend himself against allegations of sexual assault made by two women in Sweden.

"I don't want to write this book, but I have to," he said. "I have already spent 200,000 pounds for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat."

Continue reading here.

Gaza doctor takes Israel to court

Man quits job, makes living suing spammers

The Associated Press:

Daniel Balsam hates spam. Most everybody does, of course. But he has acted on his hate as few have, going far beyond simply hitting the delete button. He sues them.

Eight years ago, Balsam was working as a marketer when he received one too many e-mail pitches to enlarge his breasts.

Enraged, he launched a Web site called, quit a career in marketing to go to law school and is making a decent living suing companies who flood his e-mail inboxes with offers of cheap drugs, free sex and unbelievable vacations

Continue reading here.

Barney Frank addresses homophobic paranoia

In ‘Daily Show’ role on 9/11 bill, echoes of Murrow

Jon Stewart, left, spoke with 9/11 first responders about their health problems on “The Daily Show” on Dec. 16.

The New York Times:

Did the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law in the waning hours of the 111th Congress only because a comedian took it up as a personal cause?

And does that make that comedian, Jon Stewart — despite all his protestations that what he does has nothing to do with journalism — the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow?

Continue reading here.

A teen's third world America

The Daily Beast:

A boy can't get to school because of crumbling roads and sewage. Eliza Griswold reports on why the landscape at home looks like a war-torn country.

Montoya's short life story is the unsung tale of America's crumbling infrastructure—bridges, roads, drinking water, sewage lines, and the list goes on. Essentially, everything we rely on to move through our daily lives, and never stop to consider—until it breaks down.

In the next five years, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the United States will have to spend more than one trillion dollars simply to sustain what we already have.

On Indian reservations, the situation is even direr. The state of New Mexico estimates it needs one billion dollars to address such everyday concerns as the lack of clean water, sewers, good roads, and electricity.

Continue reading here.

Don't go, don't kill!

Gay rights activists have fought hard for the repeal of 'Don't ask, don't tell'. However, its removal may have little significance for the wider human rights movement

Cindy Sheehan, Opinion, Al Jazeera English:

The repeal of don't ask, don't tell for gays in the US military is not a positive step for equality, activist says.

I can see how one could view the repeal as a step forward, framed in the context dictated by the political elites of the Washington beltway. I can imagine much displeasure amongst the military brass – but I cannot reiterate enough how this is not a progressive moment in the social history of the United States.

The US military is not a human rights organisation and nowhere near a healthy place to earn a living or raise a family. My email box is filled with stories of mostly straight soldiers and their families who were deeply harmed by life in the military.

Because of the callous and violent nature of the system, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is on the rise and suicide rates among veterans and the spouses of active duty soldiers are skyrocketing.

Veterans still find it very difficult to access the services, benefits and bonuses that were promised to them by their recruiters. I cannot imagine the repealing of DADT significantly improving the material conditions experienced by gays during military service.

Continue reading here.

Senator Sanders on last session of Congress

Vermont's Independent Senator Bernie Sanders appeared live on WCAX TV last Thursday night to discuss the recent activity in the last Congressional session of 2010.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas message from Bill Maher

EPA takes on Texas and big polluters

The Huffington Post:

The Obama administration announced landmark plans Thursday to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the Unites States. A press release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that new standards granted under the Clean Air Act will be implemented in 2012. The EPA also announced that it is taking unprecedented action to issue air permits to industries in Texas, due to the state's non-compliance with new regulations that are set to begin on January 2.

The EPA's new plan will establish standards specifically for fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries, both of which combine to represent roughly 40 percent of GHG pollution in the United States.

From the EPA's press release:

"We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce GHG pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans, and contributes to climate change," Administrator Lisa Jackson said. "These standards will help American companies attract private investment to the clean energy upgrades that make our companies more competitive and create good jobs here at home."

Continue reading here.

UN: Dozens killed in Cote d'Ivoire violence

Obama to reverse Bush-era nature protection policy

The Associated Press:

Denver — The Obama administration plans to reverse a Bush-era policy and make millions of undeveloped acres of land once again eligible for federal wilderness protection, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday.

The agency will replace the 2003 policy adopted under former Interior Secretary Gale Norton. That policy – derided by some as the "No More Wilderness" policy – stated that new areas could not be recommended for wilderness protection by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and it opened millions of acres to potential commercial development.

That policy "frankly never should have happened and was wrong in the first place," Salazar said Thursday.

Environmental activists have been pushing for the Obama administration to restore protections for potential wilderness areas.

Salazar said the agency will review some 220 million acres of BLM land that's not currently under wilderness protection to see which should be given a new "Wild Lands" designation – a new first step for land awaiting a wilderness decision. Congress would decide whether those lands should be permanently protected, Salazar said.

Continue reading here.

Jon Stewart did what the media should have done

Eric Boehlert, Senior Fellow, Media Matters for America

By dedicating even a few minutes of his show to the 9/11 first responders bill and by interviewing key players in the saga, Stewart instantly lapped most of the Beltway press corps.

Continue reading here.

"Biggest scandal of entire Bloomberg era"

Democracy Now!:

Four consultants hired to eliminate waste and fraud in New York City’s municipal payroll were arrested last week on charges of stealing $80 million from city coffers. Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, who covered the story for the past year, calls it "the biggest scandal of the Bloomberg era."

Economics: The best and worst of 2010

The Globe and Mail:

Dumbest decision:

The purchase of the F35 fighter. Any future deployment of our troops will be against insurgencies, so buying these fighters makes no sense particularly since we do not have a coherent longer-term defense policy. We need patrol craft for our coastlines not toys for the boys

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Life sentence for brutal ex-Argentinian dictator

Empire - Hollywood and the war machine

Empire examines the relationship between America's film industry and the military-industrial complex.

Wow: Pat Robertson supports legalizing pot

Count this among the 10 things nobody ever expected to see in their lifetimes: 700 Club founder Pat Robertson, one of the cornerstone figures of America's Christian right movement, has come out in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Calling it getting "smart" on crime, Robertson aired a clip on a recent episode of his 700 Club television show that advocated the viewpoint of drug law reformers who run prison outreach ministries.

"I'm ... I'm not exactly for the use of drugs, don't get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing it's just, it's costing us a fortune and it's ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals. That's not a good thing."

Continue reading here.

9/11 first responders bill FINALLY passes

The Huffington Post:

Washington - After a filibuster and threats of obstruction by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the Senate unanimously passed a bill on Wednesday that would provide health care for first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attack. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer reached a deal with Republican senators to support the bill earlier in the afternoon.

Gillibrand and Schumer, the bill's chief sponsors, lobbied hard for the legislation to be introduced again in the lame-duck session, when they could still ensure House support. But on Tuesday, they hit a snag when Coburn vowed to block the bill, saying he wanted it to be funded through spending cuts.

Coburn also claimed the bill had been fast-tracked and skipped committee. But in fact the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on the bill in June -- Coburn, a committee member, missed it

Continue reading here.

9/11 First Responders storm Republican Senator idiot Tom Coburn's office:

Israel settlement building booms after freeze lifted

The New York Times:

Jerusalem — In the three months since Israel ended its settlement construction freeze in the West Bank, causing the Palestinians to withdraw from peace talks, a settlement-building boom has begun, especially in more remote communities that are least likely to be part of Israel after any two-state peace deal.

This means that if negotiations ever get back on track, there will be thousands more Israeli settlers who will have to relocate into Israel, posing new problems over how to accommodate them while creating a Palestinian state on the land where many of them are living now.

In addition to West Bank settlement building, construction for predominantly Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to make their future capital, has been rapidly growing after a break of half a year, with hundreds of units approved and thousands more planned.

Continue reading here.

Julian Assange interviewed on Dylan Ratigan Show

Guest host Cenk Uygur(of The Young Turks) interviewed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on MSNBC's The Dylan Ratigan Show.

New Zealand military releases UFO files

The Huffington Post:

Talk about out-of-this-world: the BBC is reporting that New Zealand's military has just released hundreds of classified files, dating from 1954 to 2009, detailing reports of sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs).

The documents, which run at an estimated 2,000 pages, allegedly comprise drawings of flying saucers as well as alleged samples of alien writing. Also included are accounts by members of the public, military personnel and commercial airline pilots describing close encounters, as well as never-before-seen details of the country's best-known UFO sighting, when footage of unusual lights was shot off the South Island town of Kaikoura in 1978, which was then explained as natural phenomenon.

New Zealand Air Force spokesman Kavae Tamariki confirmed the documents' release, but otherwise remained tight-lipped over their contents. "We have just been a collection point for the information," he told the Dominion Post, adding that the military did not have the resources to investigate UFO sightings. "We don't investigate or make reports, we haven't substantiated anything in them." Officials also say the files were open for scrutiny but that individuals named in the reports are to remain anonymous.

In a move that seems inspired by the ongoing WikiLeaks "Cablegate" scandal, the Dominion Post is publishing the entire lot of documents online. Among the reports that have been uploaded so far are details of a 1999 sighting of what appeared to be aircraft contrails above the sky in Auckland, during which the writer reportedly warns, "A vast many people in Auckland will suffer flu-like sickness." Another report from 1995 describes an incident in which a man met an alien with massive, size 440 feet who told him dying humans ascend as hydrogen atoms.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Frost over the World - Julian Assange

The WikiLeaks founder discusses secrets, leaks and why he will not return to Sweden.

As red states grow, so do hispanic populations

Democracy Now!:

The Census Bureau has altered the nation’s political landscape with its once-a-decade rearranging of congressional districts to reflect changes in the population. Democratic states such as New York and Massachusetts lost seats, while Republican-leaning states, such as Arizona and Texas, gained seats. However, much of the population growth is attributed to Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic. We speak with Tim Storey, senior fellow at the National Conference of Legislatures.

Congress vs. the World

Lorelei Kelly, Director, New Strategic Security Initiative

The conservative disdain for the START treaty reveals a mindset stuck somewhere between Bonaparte and Khrushchev: when the world obeyed old white guys drinking scotch and issuing rules from occupied castles.

Continue reading here.

"Barbour is an Unreconstructed Southerner"

Democracy Now!:

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is facing a national controversy for praising the role of the White Citizens’ Councils, which opposed racial integration in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, Barbour recalled the civil rights struggle in his hometown, Yazoo City, Mississippi, saying, "I just don’t remember it as being that bad." We speak with John Dittmer, Professor Emeritus of History at DePauw University in Indiana.

Why Obama loses on economics and taxes

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

The New Start treaty is a big and important victory for the Obama administration, as is the end of the ban on openly gay soldiers in the military. But neither signals a new start to cleaning up Washington and turning this economy around.

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9/11 first responder calls on Senate to pass aid

Democracy Now!:

More than nine years after the September 11th attacks, the Senate may be on the verge of finally voting on legislation that would grant $6.2 billion medical coverage and compensation to thousands of 9/11 first responders exposed to toxic substances at Ground Zero. The House passed a $7.4 billion version of the bill in September. But the Senate version has been held up by a Republican filibuster. We speak with John Feal, a former construction worker and 9/11 first responder.

The delusions of the peace process

Netanyahu's hardline stance on crucial issues is pushing both the US and Palestinian parties into a restrictive corner, potentially closing the current chapter of the 'ill-fated book' that is the peace process

Richard Falk, Opinion, Al Jazeera English:

The politics of the peace process have emphatically ensured that the mere prospect for producing peace is nonexistent.

It is astonishing that despite the huge gaps between the maximum that Israel is willing to concede and the minimum that the Palestine Authority could accept as the basis of a final settlement of the conflict, governmental leaders, especially in Washington, continue to pull every available string to restart inter-governmental negotiations.

Is it not enough of a signal that Israel lacks the capacity or will to agree to an extension of the partial settlement freeze for a mere additional 90 days, despite the outrageous inducements from the Obama Administration (20 F-35 fighter jets useful for an attack on Iran; an unprecedented advance promise to veto any initiative in the Security Council acknowledging a Palestinian state; and the assurance that Israel would never again be asked to accept a settlement moratorium) that were offered to suspend partially their unlawful settlement activity.

In effect, a habitual armed robber was being asked to stop robbing a few banks for three months in exchange for a huge financial payoff. Such an arrangement qualifies as a transparently shameless embrace of Israeli lawlessness on behalf of a peace process that has no prospect of producing peace, much less justice.

Continue reading here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sudanese border dispute

Speak up on pensions now or give up

Heather Mallick, The Toronto Star:

Here’s a tip. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, the government of Alberta and insurance giant Sun Life all agree that a national privatized pension plan is a great idea for your retirement, be very afraid. Feel your fear and let your anger flower.

Because George W. Bush now says his greatest regret is that he didn’t do it. Privatize Social Security, that is. If he had, of course, Americans would today be so poor they’d be boiling twigs for their morning coffee. It’s a terrible idea born of motives Flaherty doesn’t have the courage to make clear to you. So I’ll do it for him.

Your Canada Pension Plan contributions come out of your pay cheque, which is relatively painless because you don’t miss what you never had. Fortunate people have a pension plan to fatten their meagre cat-food level CPP. For the rest of us, it makes sense for Ottawa to hike CPP premiums and benefits, which are rock solid and also provide another gift: You know how much you will have to live on in old age.

But employers don’t want to fork out more money, and big banks and insurers are hungry for the red meat — the cash Flaherty will extract from you via his hanky-spanky PRPP (Pooled Registered Pension Plan) and give to the private sector for investing (for a management fee). In the guise of compassion for Canadians without pension plans and RRSPs (the RRSP holding of the median quintile of Canadians in 2005 was all of $12,000) he’s offering a deal where small firms, employees and the self-employed make RRSP contributions for pooled investments. The contributions are defined, the ultimate pension isn’t. It could be zero. Remember Nortel?

Continue reading here.

Canada silent as UN mobilizes against massacre

The Globe and Mail:

It has become a grim Christmas ritual: hundreds of innocent civilians massacred in remote corners of Africa by the Lord’s Resistance Army, one of the world’s cruellest and bloodiest guerrilla forces.

Now, fearing a Christmas attack for the third consecutive year, the United Nations is mobilizing 900 peacekeepers to protect villages in Congo, and the United States has promised its own action against the LRA.

But activists are calling for a much stronger response to prevent another wave of gruesome attacks by LRA fighters, who routinely kidnap, rape, torture and mutilate their victims. More than 1,000 adults and children were killed by the LRA in the days around Christmas in 2008 and 2009, while hundreds more were kidnapped and conscripted into the rebel army.

The LRA has emerged as a classic test of the “right to protect” doctrine, championed by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy and others. The concept of “right to protect” suggests that the international community has the right to intervene in sovereign states to prevent atrocities and protect civilians. Canada took a leading role in pushing the concept and getting it adopted at a world summit in 2005 after the furor over the UN’s failure to act during massacres in Rwanda and Kosovo in the 1990s. But the concept was dropped when Stephen Harper became prime minister in 2006.

Continue reading here.

Nuclear disarmament advocate on START treaty

Democracy Now!:

The White House is predicting victory in its long-running standoff with Republicans on a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, calls for the United States and Russia to cut their deployed arsenals to 1,550 nuclear warheads and 700 missile silos and bombers each. We speak with leading nuclear disarmament advocate, Jonathan Schell.

Obama, FCC caves on net neutrality

Timothy Karr, Campaign Director, Free Press and

Late Monday, a majority of the FCC's commissioners indicated that they're going to vote with Chairman Julius Genachowski for a toothless Net Neutrality rule.

According to all reports, the rule, which will be voted on during tomorrow's FCC meeting, falls drastically short of earlier pledges by President Obama and the FCC Chairman to protect the free and open Internet.

The rule is so riddled with loopholes that it's become clear that this FCC chairman crafted it with the sole purpose of winning the endorsement of AT&T and cable lobbyists, and not defending the interests of the tens of millions of Internet users.

Continue reading here.

Obama flip-flop: FCC vote could end net neutrality

Democracy Now!:

When Obama was running for office three years ago, he pledged to support the principle of a free and open internet, saying, "I will take a backseat to no one with regards to net neutrality." Fast-forward to today and the FCC chair that Obama appointed is leading a vote that could end net neutrality. Today’s pivotal vote will decide on a new set of regulations that critics say will create a two-tiered system for the internet. We speak with Craig Aaron of the media reform group Free Press.

Pro-settlement Likud members considering pullout?

The Associated Press:

With Middle East peace talks at an impasse, two senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party are shopping around a new idea: In the absence of peace, Israel should pull large numbers of settlers out of the West Bank while leaving its soldiers in place.

They believe the arrangement could relieve international pressure on Israel over settlements and give the Palestinians wider autonomy in an area they hope to make their future state, while leaving Israel in control of security matters until a peace agreement is reached.

Cabinet minister Michael Eitan, a Likud veteran and a longtime ally of Netanyahu, is perhaps the most vocal proponent of the idea in the government.

On his website, Eitan says an Israeli pullout from parts of the West Bank — the heart of any future Palestine — is inevitable, and the country must be honest with itself and its allies.

"If it becomes clear to our friends and partners that we tricked them, they will be angry, we will pay twice over, and we will lose the little legitimacy we have left for our legitimate demands," he wrote.

Eitan calls on the government to decide which parts of the West Bank will be ceded in any peace deal and then persuade settlers to accept compensation and leave, replacing them with troops.

Continue reading here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tory slip-ups go unpunished

Susan Riley, PostMedia News:

You want a Christmas miracle? Stephen Harper's Conservatives still lead the polls despite their unrelenting efforts to alienate everyone outside their loyal base.

How do they manage that? A mediocre and divided opposition helps. But to survive the strategic miscues, startling policy reversals, ethical slip-ups and financial irresponsibility that have marked this government's last 12 months, you need a bitterly resigned, indifferent, or inattentive electorate. That, they appear to have.

Consider the handling of the F-35 fighter plane purchase. It is a textbook example of reckless, impulse-driven shopping. Would any frugal government -- never mind any average household -- take on a $16-billion expense when it is saddled with a $50-plus-billion deficit? The prudent (old-school conservative) response would be to defer the purchase, downsize the order or, better still, find an affordable alternative.

Continue reading here.

Veterans: The French in Algeria

Al Jazeera English examines the bitterness still provoked by France's colonial war in Algeria and how it provokes resentment between France and its Muslim community.

When zombies win

Paul Krugman, The New York Times:

When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything — yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.

How did that happen? How, after runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, did we end up with Ron Paul, who says “I don’t think we need regulators,” about to take over a key House panel overseeing the Fed? How, after the experiences of the Clinton and Bush administrations — the first raised taxes and presided over spectacular job growth; the second cut taxes and presided over anemic growth even before the crisis — did we end up with bipartisan agreement on even more tax cuts?

People tend to forget that Ronald Reagan often gave ground on policy substance — most notably, he ended up enacting multiple tax increases. But he never wavered on ideas, never backed down from the position that his ideology was right and his opponents were wrong.

President Obama, by contrast, has consistently tried to reach across the aisle by lending cover to right-wing myths. He has praised Reagan for restoring American dynamism (when was the last time you heard a Republican praising F.D.R.?), adopted G.O.P. rhetoric about the need for the government to tighten its belt even in the face of recession, offered symbolic freezes on spending and federal wages.

None of this stopped the right from denouncing him as a socialist. But it helped empower bad ideas, in ways that can do quite immediate harm.

Continue reading here.

Senate votes to repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

Democracy Now!:

The Senate voted 63 to 31 on Thursday to repeal the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. Eight Republicans joined with Democrats to approve the repeal and send the measure to President Obama for his signature. The bill passed in the House last week. We speak with former Navy commander Zoe Dunning. Until her retirement three years ago, she was thought to be the only openly gay person serving in the U.S. military.

South Carolina to celebrate secession, Civil War

Starting this month, South Carolina will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War with a series of events that underscore this state’s central role in that titanic, tragic struggle.

Almost no state money has been spent to organize or hold the events.

In 2007, the General Assembly appropriated $65,000 to the state Department of Archives and History to hire a part-time coordinator and establish a website to serve as a clearinghouse of information on the events marking the anniversary. Subsequent legislation established the S.C. Civil War Sesquicentennial Advisory Board to help coordinate events.

Two of the first events scheduled to mark the anniversary – a privately sponsored secession ball Monday in Charleston and an effort to display the original Ordinance of Secession – show just how divisive the Civil War remains.

The ball, organized by the Confederate Heritage Trust and sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has been criticized as a celebration of treason and slavery.

“There does appear to be an effort to make this a festive occasion,” said Lonnie Randolph, president of the NAACP’s S.C. Conference, which plans to protest the ball. “It’s more about celebration than history.”

At a subsequent press conference, Randolph was even more critical, saying, "We are not opposed to observances. We are opposed to disrespect. This is nothing more than a celebration of slavery."

Continue reading here.

Chris Hedges discusses Obama's failures

Democracy Now!:

The compromise tax-cut deal that President Obama signed into law on Friday has angered many of his supporters. In his new book, Death of the Liberal Class, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges argues that the failure of President Obama to represent the interests of his supporters is just another example of a quickly dying liberal class. In the book, Hedges explains how the five pillars of the liberal class—the press, universities, unions, liberal churches and the Democratic Party—have become corrupt.

40% of Americans believe in creationism

The Huffington Post:

A new Gallup poll, released Dec. 17, reveals that 40 percent of Americans still believe that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years. This number is slightly down from a previous high of 47 percent in 1993 and 1999.

Another 38 percent of respondents believe that humans have evolved from more basic organisms but with God playing a role in the process.

A mere 16 percent of respondents subscribed to the belief of "secular evolution": that humans have evolved with no divine guidance. However, this number has nearly doubled from nine percent of respondents in a poll from 1982.

The poll also revealed that beliefs in creationism and evolution are strongly related to levels of education attained. When results are narrowed to those with college degrees, only 37 percent of respondents maintain beliefs in creationism. Meanwhile, the belief in evolution without the aid of God rises to 21 percent.

With regards to political affiliation, a majority of Republicans (52 percent) subscribe to creationist beliefs. This is compared to only 34 percent among Democrats and Independents.

Views on human origins vary based on church attendance. Of those who attend church on a weekly basis, 60 percent believe in creationism while a mere 2 percent subscribe to "secular evolution". These numbers are flipped among those who rarely or never attend religious services. In this group, only 24 percent believe in creationism while 39 percent believe in evolution without divine guidance. This represents the only subset of data reported where "secular evolution" beats out creationism.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Israel criticized for unequal policies

Inside Story - Racism on the rise

California's cap and trade regulations

The Associated Press:

Sacramento, California — California regulators on Thursday approved the first system in the nation to give polluting companies such as utilities and refineries financial incentives to emit fewer greenhouse gases.

The Air Resources Board voted 9-1 to pass the key piece of California's 2006 climate law – called AB32 – with the hope that other states will follow the lead of the world's eighth largest economy. State officials also are discussing plans to link the new system with similar ones under way or being planned in Canada, Europe and Asia.

California is launching into a "historic adventure," said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the state's air quality board.

"We're inventing this," she said. "There is still going to be quite a bit of action needed before it becomes operational."

California is trying to "fill the vacuum created by the failure of Congress to pass any kind of climate or energy legislation for many years now," said Nichols.

Continue reading here.

Republicans screwing 9/11 rescue workers

"Miracle" birth of baby Rhino

The Huffington Post:

The scene was looking bleak for Karamat, a baby rhino born breeched (back feet first) at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. Traumatized by her challenging birth, Karamat was in shock, and unable to stand. Her mother, unsure how to handle the situation, avoided her baby altogether. And so the calf lay still, dehydrated with a low temperature.

It was at this point that zoo staff decided to intervene. But fluids and warmth weren't enough for the suffering calf. She needed milk and was too weak to suckle. But according to ZooBorns, it was the kindness of local farmers and pregnant dairy cows that saved the day, and the rhino was fed antibody-rich colostrum milk from a bottle.

Now nourished back to health, Karamat is suckling milk from her mother all by herself, and the calf is healthy and growing. By the end of this video, the baby rhino is even nuzzling her mother lovingly. "Karamat" means "miracle" in Nepalese. Be it a Christmas miracle or the kindness of strangers, Karamat is one lucky and much-loved rhino.

Sadly, not all rhinos are as cared for as Karamat. Many rhino species are endangered - there are less than 50 Javan rhinos alive today, and the Black Rhino is listed as "critically endangered" on the IUCN Red List. There are organizations working to help the rhinos, such as the International Rhino Foundation, which offers opportunities for you to give a gift membership or Adopt A Rhino.

Congress repeals DADT

Lt. Dan Choi, Combat vetaran; Infantryman; Discharged under DADT

To all the supporters of equality and Don't Ask, Don't Tell's death, I am so grateful. As the legislation signals a new chapter in our journey, I call on all soldiers to gain the courage to come out.

Continue reading here.

Vice-President Biden is an idiot

On NBC's Meet The Press today, Vice-President Joe Biden all but called Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a high tech terrorist, arguing that there's a difference between handing over classified materials to the media, as opposed to Wikileaks. Well, sorry Joe, but seeing as the mainstream media hasn't really been doing their job (ie cheerleading the Iraq War, being a lap dog for the Pentagon, continued dumbed down coverage and reporting etc), Wikileaks has been merely embarrassing them, so therefore Wikileaks are comparable to Al Qaeda. Biden would go on to claim that Wikileaks has put people's lives in jeopardy (false), and essentially whined about the manner in which he has to conduct official duties, "There is a desire now to meet with me alone rather than have staff in the room. It makes things more cumbersome."