Saturday, December 31, 2011

Does it matter if our laws are passed illegally?

Peter H. Russel, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, Opinion, The Globe and Mail:

On Dec. 15, the Governor-General gave royal assent to Bill C-18. This means that the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, the legislation that ends the Wheat Board’s monopoly of wheat and barley sales, is now the law of Canada – or is it?

The question arises because on Dec. 7, Federal Court judge Douglas Campbell ruled that the way Bill C-18 was introduced into Parliament violated the Canadian Wheat Board Act. Section 47 of the act requires that the Minister of Agriculture not introduce in Parliament a bill that would end the Wheat Board’s control of all wheat or barley sales without first consulting the board and holding a vote to determine whether farmers favour such a change.

In the May election, the Conservatives ran on a platform that promised to end the Wheat Board’s monopoly. When polls indicated that a majority of both wheat and barley farmers favoured retaining the Wheat Board’s “single desk,” the government realized it might fail to honour its election commitment if it followed the procedure laid down in the act.

The government could have avoided this issue by asking Parliament to repeal the entire Wheat Board Act, or at least Section 47. Instead, it took the position that it did not have to comply with the act’s requirements because one Parliament cannot bind another. So, in its view, it could simply ignore legislation passed by a previous Parliament.

Continue reading here.

US Occupy protests 'could intensify'

Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University in New York, spoke to Al Jazeera about the Occupy protest movement in the US. He said that the movement reflected "anger at the impunity with which the wealthy walked away from the consequences of having brought down the world economy." "It is anger at a system of inequality that has been entrenched and normal. There is a collective wish for a system that is more humane." He also said he expects Occupy protests to intensify in 2012. "I think well see more attempts to take over buildings that have been foreclosed. We will also see protests directed at specific banks, at specific political candidates."

Rob Ford quiet on domestic disputes

The Toronto Star:

Mayor Rob Ford has continued to stay silent about two ongoing police investigations into domestic disputes at his home.

Ford, who flew back to Toronto on Friday, did not respond to an interview request from the Star and has, as of yet, not spoken publicly on the issue. He declined to comment to a Star reporter at Pearson airport upon his arrival from Florida around 5 p.m.

On Friday, the Star reported that 22 Division’s Youth and Family Violence Unit was probing two recent incidents at the mayor’s Etobicoke home.

The first occurred on the same day Ford made the infamous early morning call to 911 after This Hour Has 22 Minutes showed up in his driveway. By 10:17 p.m., police were called back to the Edenbridge Dr. residence for a “verbal altercation” between Ford and his wife, Renata.

The second domestic call came to police early Christmas morning.

Sources say Renata’s mother made the call after Ford, who she said had been drinking, took the children to the airport to go to Florida against Renata’s wishes.

According to numerous police and emergency service sources, 911 calls to the mayor’s home are a reality for 22 Division. The Star has heard about a handful of incidents, but attempts to confirm the reports through freedom of information requests have been unsuccessful.

In 2008, when Ford was a councillor, one dispute became public after Ford was charged with assault and uttering a death threat. That charge was dropped two months later because of inconsistencies in Renata’s story.

Continue reading here.

Lawrence O'Donnell schools Ron Paul: Civil Rights

"The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not improve race relations or enhance freedom."

- Republican Congressman Ron Paul

Keynes was right

Paul Krugman, Opinion, The New York Times:

“The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury.” So declared John Maynard Keynes in 1937, even as F.D.R. was about to prove him right by trying to balance the budget too soon, sending the United States economy — which had been steadily recovering up to that point — into a severe recession. Slashing government spending in a depressed economy depresses the economy further; austerity should wait until a strong recovery is well under way.

Unfortunately, in late 2010 and early 2011, politicians and policy makers in much of the Western world believed that they knew better, that we should focus on deficits, not jobs, even though our economies had barely begun to recover from the slump that followed the financial crisis. And by acting on that anti-Keynesian belief, they ended up proving Keynes right all over again.

In declaring Keynesian economics vindicated I am, of course, at odds with conventional wisdom. In Washington, in particular, the failure of the Obama stimulus package to produce an employment boom is generally seen as having proved that government spending can’t create jobs. But those of us who did the math realized, right from the beginning, that the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (more than a third of which, by the way, took the relatively ineffective form of tax cuts) was much too small given the depth of the slump. And we also predicted the resulting political backlash.

The bottom line is that 2011 was a year in which our political elite obsessed over short-term deficits that aren’t actually a problem and, in the process, made the real problem — a depressed economy and mass unemployment — worse.

Continue reading here.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Empire - The decline of the American empire

As the world is undergoing a profound transformation, what role will the US play in a post-American century?

Florida threatened by rising sea levels

Many scientists believe rising sea levels could have irreversible damage to most of the world's coastal cities. One of the most vulnerable places in the world is Florida in the US, where there is near consensus that the problems are man-made. Al Jazeera's Andy Gallacher reports from Miami.

Angry Kurds bury victims of Turkish attack

Kurdish demonstrators took to the streets in many cities in Turkey on Friday, protesting against the death of 35 civilians in a Turkish airstrike the day before. The government has expressed regret over the incident and promised to work for a solution to the issue, but pro-Kurdish groups and human rights activists say that it is time for acti, not just words. Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reports from Antakya.

Rob Ford 911 calls raise questions

The Toronto Star:

On Oct. 25, less than 15 hours after Ford himself called 911 regarding the intrusion of the comedy show This Hour has 22 Minutes on his property, officers from 22 Division were back at the Etobicoke residence on a domestic call. On Christmas, Ford’s mother-in-law called police between 4 and 5 a.m. to report that the mayor had been drinking and was taking his children to Florida against the wishe...s of his wife, Renata. In March 2008, Ford, then still a councillor, called 911 after a conflict with Renata. Ford said she was acting “irrational.” He left their home with the couple’s children. Police later charged him with assault and uttering a death threat. Four years later, the 911 calls persist.

Continue reading here.

Vet wounded at Occupy Oakland speaks out

Democracy Now!:

For our last broadcast of 2011, we turn to someone who became one the faces of the global Occupy movement this year. Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old former U.S. Marine who served two tours in the Iraq War, was critically wounded after being shot in the head by a police projectile at Occupy Oakland. In a rare interview, Olsen joins us to discuss his life-threatening ordeal, his involvement in this year’s historic Wisconsin and Occupy protests, the case of accused Army whistleblower Bradley Manning and how he too had access to similar types of information, and the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. "They aren’t respecting our right to assemble, protest and redress our government for grievances," Olsen says of police repression of the Occupy protests. "They are terrorizing us from going out [to demonstrations]. That is a sad statement for our country." Olsen also says he expects to rejoin the Occupy and antiwar protests as his recovery progresses. "I look forward to being a part of the 99 percent and Iraq Veterans Against the War in 2012," he says.

Child labour rampant in Afghanistan

Many children in Afghanistan are among the most exploited members of society, being forced to work almost as soon as they can walk. This brick factory where young boys work to pay off their family's debts is just one of many examples of child labour in the country. Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith reports from Afghanistan's Nangarhar province.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Harper wants police to spy on you with no warrants

No reward for Ireland in doing the IMF's bidding

The Guardian:

Despite 'exceptional' efforts to meet IMF targets, Ireland has a rising deficit, sustained emigration and 15% unemployment

Austerity policies are now widely regarded as having failed, and this failure is increasingly obvious in the country elected to act as Austerity's Child. The banking collapse, and the legacy bequeathed by the Irish state's extraordinary September 2008 bank guarantee, has seen society in Ireland reshaped as a petri dish for IMF, European commission and ECB experimentation. Successive waves of cuts have been stipulated by the Troika in return for its loans, but implemented without resistance, and arguably, a degree of enthusiasm, by the two governments of the "post-sovereign" era.

The fiscal adjustment, according to economist Karl Whelan, is the equivalent of "€4,600 per person… the largest budgetary adjustments seen in the advanced economic world in recent times". With annual "adjustments" of €3-4bn flagged until 2015, the euphemism of "purposeful austerity" cannot long camouflage the concerted assault on the – already minimalist – social contract.

With this havoc in its fourth year, it is difficult to recall that 2008 promised what David Graeber describes as "an actual public conversation about… the financial institutions that have come to hold the fate of nations in their grip". As David McNally documents, this promise was merely a preface to the "neoliberal mutation" that insists on states slashing spending to "ensure that working-class people and the poor will pay the cost of the global bank bailout".

Continue reading here.

Ron Paul Iowa event interrupted by Occupy

The Huffington Post:

Des Moines, Iowa -- Some 20 protesters interrupted the start of a Ron Paul event at the Iowa State Fairgrounds just as the GOP candidate and Texas Representative began to speak, at about 7:30 p.m. local time.

"Ron Paul, why do you hate gays," Heaven Ryan, 16, shouted. "Why do you hate the 99 percent?"

Ryan, her mother, Heather, 39, and a man in his 20s shouted from a prepared script until their words were drowned out by the crowd of about 750, some of whom menacingly surrounded the protesters and then hustled them out.

Earlier, when Heaven was being rushed out of the auditorium, HuffPost asked her for her script. She handed it over with a wan smile.

Here is what she had shouted:

"Ron Paul

You say you want to repeal Roe v Wade.

What makes you think the state has the right to control a woman's reproductive decisions?

You say you want every child to have a chance to live. How will those children eat when you eliminate essential programs like WIC and food assistance?

Where will those children live when you eliminate subsidized housing?

How will those children receive healthcare when you eliminate Medicaid?

How will those children get an education when you eliminate student aid?

Mr. Paul, you do not care about the children of the 99 percent. You do not care about the rights of women. You are a servant of the Patriarchy. You are a servant of the 1 percent."

Continue reading here.

Robert Reich predicts Obama-Clinton for 2012

My political prediction for 2012 (based on absolutely no inside information): Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden swap places. Biden becomes Secretary of State — a position he’s apparently coveted for years. And Hillary Clinton, Vice President.

So the Democratic ticket for 2012 is Obama-Clinton.

Why do I say this? Because Obama needs to stir the passions and enthusiasms of a Democratic base that’s been disillusioned with his cave-ins to regressive Republicans. Hillary Clinton on the ticket can do that.

Moreover, the economy won’t be in superb shape in the months leading up to Election Day. Indeed, if the European debt crisis grows worse and if China’s economy continues to slow, there’s a better than even chance we’ll be back in a recession. Clinton would help deflect attention from the bad economy and put it on foreign policy, where she and Obama have shined.

The deal would also make Clinton the obvious Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 — offering the Democrats a shot at twelve (or more) years in the White House, something the Republicans had with Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush but which the Democrats haven’t had since FDR. Twelve years gives the party in power a chance to reshape the Supreme Court as well as put an indelible stamp on America.

According to the latest Gallup poll, the duo are this year’s most admired man and woman This marks the fourth consecutive win for Obama while Clinton has been the most admired woman in each of the last 10 years. She’a topped the list 16 times since 1993, exceeding the record held by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who topped the list 13 times.

Obama-Clinton in 2012. It’s a natural.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to defeat Stephen Harper

Romeo Saganash, NDP MP for Abitibi - Baie-James - Nunavik - Eeyou, Opinion, The Huffington Post:

After the success of the May 2 election, New Democrats were elated. Short months later, with the loss Jack Layton, we were devastated. Now, with a leadership election going on, people have begun to turn their minds to the future, to where we are going as a party and how we can defeat Stephen Harper.

Obviously, we must re-elect the people we have in Parliament now. We cannot step backward. That means maintaining our social democratic values, acting as a responsible and responsive opposition and solidifying our new base in Quebec.

I come from a 10,000-year tradition of communal living where we understood that the strength of all of us depended on the strength of each of us. Regardless of your role in the community, everyone ate, everyone had a home, everyone had clean water and everyone participated fully in decisions. I am a social democrat.

First, we must get our own house in order. I have met with some of our smaller riding associations; I've heard what they need and what they have not been getting. Supporting them in attracting others is how we will grow. I have met some of the fantastic candidates who had strong second place finishes last time out and I know that we can help them over the final hurdle in the next election. Supporting them is how we will win. We will do these things for ourselves and for those who join us.

Second, we will take away Stephen Harper's undeserved support.

We will start by returning to our roots in rural Canada. Rural communities are hollowing out and people are angry about it. The Conservatives sold people a phony bill of goods, playing on anger over hot button social issues while undermining their economic future. The Wheat Board decision is just the beginning. They are coming after the dairy and egg boards. They won't be satisfied until Viterra and Cargill and Monsanto control every bit of farmland in this country. Whether trees or minerals or energy, they will take the resources out of the land with vague promises of temporary work and leave nothing lasting in its place but a scar on the environment. It doesn't need to be this way. When we were the CCF, rural Canadians knew we were on their side. We need to reach out to them again with respect, to listen to their concerns and to act on their behalf. When we do, they will come back to us and we will grow together.

And we must understand suburban Canada. Whether we are talking about new Canadians who moved from the cities or the proverbial soccer moms and hockey dads who grew up in those same towns, fundamentally, people want the same things. They want the freedom to live their lives as they see fit and they want security for their children and the future. The NDP can offer that. We can refrain from paternalism, respecting people's ability to make their own decisions. We can commit to balanced budgets and sound financial management for fiscal security, unlike the Conservative record. We can foster a sense of co-operation and social cohesion in our society rather than pitting people against each other, constantly fanning the flames of fear as Stephen Harper has done. We can insist on a cleaner environment, safer communities, better health care, the best education and new jobs and we can work with people to make that happen. When we do that, they will come to us and we will grow together.

Continue reading here.

Vote Obama - a centrist Republican for president

Glenn Grunwald, Opinion, The Guardian:

Depicting the other party's president as a radical menace is one of the chief requirements for a candidate seeking to convince his party to crown him as the chosen challenger. Because Obama has governed as a centrist Republican, these GOP candidates are able to attack him as a leftist radical only by moving so far to the right in their rhetoric and policy prescriptions that they fall over the cliff of mainstream acceptability, or even basic sanity.

In July, the nation's most influential progressive domestic policy pundit, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, declared that Obama is a "moderate conservative in practical terms". Last October, he wrote that "progressives who had their hearts set on Obama were engaged in a huge act of self-delusion", because the president – "once you get past the soaring rhetoric" – has "largely accepted the conservative storyline".

Krugman also pointed out that even the policy Democratic loyalists point to as proof of the president's progressive bona fides – his healthcare plan, which mandates the purchase of policies from the private health insurance industry – was designed by the Heritage Foundation, one of the nation's most rightwing thinktanks, and was advocated by conservative ideologues for many years (it also happens to be the same plan Romney implemented when he was governor of Massachusetts and which Newt Gingrich once promoted, underscoring the difficulty for the GOP in drawing real contrasts with Obama).

How do you scorn a president as a far-left socialist when he has stuffed his administration with Wall Street executives, had his last campaign funded by them, governed as a "centrist Republican", and presided over booming corporate profits even while the rest of the nation suffered economically?

Continue reading here.

Homeless people "occupy" abandoned US homes

More than 700,000 homes owned by banks are empty in the US. Millions more properties risk falling to the same fate due to a foreclosure crisis. But, fueled by popular anger at banks and financial institutions, the Occupy Wall Street movement recently promoted "home occupations" in 20 cities across the country. And, the number of organisations facilitating these actions is growing. Kristen Saloomey reports from Rochester, New York.

Occupy plans to disrupt Republican debates

The Associated Press:

Des Moines, Iowa — Already they have interrupted Michele Bachmann and drawn a withering putdown from Newt Gingrich as "all noise, no thought."

Now, to the dismay of Iowa Republicans, Occupy activists in Des Moines are vowing to expand their protests as GOP presidential hopefuls converge on the state that speaks first in the race for the party's presidential nomination.

"The 99 percent have woken up and we're not going to take it anymore," Occupy activist Stephen Toothman, of Des Moines, said as an advance guard met Tuesday to decide which candidates to target in the coming week.

Hundreds of Occupy activists from at least 10 states were expected to participate in a "People's Caucus" near the Capitol to plot activities between now and the Jan. 3 caucuses. The activists are promising to interrupt candidates at events and camp out at their Iowa campaign offices. They say they want to change the political dialogue, but critics fear their tactics could tarnish Iowa's reputation for civil political discourse ahead of the contest. Activists say mass arrests are possible.

They planned to break up into preference groups based on which candidates they want to target and present with a list of grievances.

Continue reading here.

More sinister than 'peace, love and no jail for pot'

As Ron Paul's campaign is hit on civil rights (again), Alternet's Adele Stan tells Cenk, "The sinister genius of the Ron Paul agenda is that there's this one piece of the anti-war rhetoric that acts as a siren call to progressives and turns off their brain to the rest of the agenda." Stan adds, "A lot of kids in Iowa are going to end up voting for Ron Paul because they think it's all peace, love and no jail for pot.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Stop Harper's online spying on your email

Sign the petition at

The government is trying to ram through an anti-Internet set of electronic surveillance laws that will invade your privacy and cost you money. The plan is to force every phone and Internet provider to surrender our personal information to "authorities" without a warrant.

This bizarre legislation will create Internet surveillance that is: Warrantless: A range of "authorities" will have the ability to invade the private lives of law-abiding Canadians and our families using wired Internet and mobile devices, without a warrant or any justification. Invasive and Dangerous: The laws leave our personal and financial information less secure and more susceptible to cybercrime. Costly: Internet services providers may be forced to install millions of dollars worth of spying technology and the cost will be passed down to YOU.

If enough of us speak out now the government will have no choice but to stop this mandatory online spying scheme. Sign the petition now, and forward it to everyone you know.

Ron Paul personally defended racist newsletters

Think Progress:

Recently, Ron Paul has been subject to intense criticism over controversial newsletters written under his name in the 80s and 90s that frequently included racism, bigotry, and conspiracy theories. Over the last few days, Paul has responded that he did not write the newsletters and disavowed their contents, claiming this has been his consistent position for 20 years.

Paul also defended his claim, made in the same 1992 newsletter that “we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in [Washington, DC] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal” Paul told the Dallas Morning News the statistic was an “assumption” you can gather from published studies.

Paul’s failure to deny authorship was not an oversight. He was repeatedly confronted about the newsletters during his 1996 campaign and consistently defended them as his own. A few examples:

– In 1996, Ron Paul’s campaign defended his statements about the rationality of fearing black men. (“[W]e are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, it is hardly irrational.”) The Houston Chronicle reports, “A campaign spokesman for Paul said statements about the fear of black males mirror pronouncements by black leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson.” [Houston Chronicle, 5/23/96]

– Paul said that his comments on blacks contained in the newsletters should be viewed in the context of “current events and statistical reports of the time.” [Houston Chronicle, 5/23/96]

– Paul defended statements from an August 12, 1992 newsletter calling the late Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-TX) a “moron” and a “fraud.” Paul also said Jordon was “her race and sex protect her from criticism.” In response, Paul said “such opinions represented our clear philosophical difference.” [Roll Call, 7/29/96]

– “Also in 1992, Paul wrote, ‘Opinion polls consistently show that only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions.’ Sullivan said Paul does not consider people who disagree with him to be sensible. And most blacks, [Paul spokesman Michael] Sullivan said, do not share Paul’s views.” [Austin American Statesman, 5/23/96]

There is no evidence that Paul denounced the newsletters in clear terms until he ran for president in 2008 when he said “I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts.” Paul has never explained how this blanket denial squares with his vigorous defense of the writings in 1996.

Further, some of the disturbing ideology embedded in the newsletters is reflected in Paul’s legislative record. In 1999, he was the only member of Congress to oppose the issuing on a Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks. In May 2011, Ron Paul said in an interview that he opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Continue reading here.

Indian anti-corruption activist begins fast

India's parliament is debating a government anti-corruption bill that has been condemned as "weak" and "ineffectual" by critics. Activist Anna Hazare has started his third hunger strike this year, this time demanding stronger anti-corruption legislature and calling for a stronger version of the proposed bill. Al Jazeera's Prerna Suri reports from Mumbai.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne's corporate greed

Dino Chiodo, CAW Local 444 Vice-President, The Windsor Star:

With the holiday season upon us, it seems Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has elected to play the Grinch. Despite an impressive 24 consecutive months of sales growth in Canada and $3 billion in operating profits expected to be announced in 2012, Marchionne fired an opening salvo at Chrysler workers by demanding wage concessions in the upcoming round of contract talks with the CAW - a move that's raised eyebrows here in Windsor and throughout Ontario.

Never one to shy away from (and generate) controversy, Marchionne's comments were made in a well-publicized speech, not to his employees or to the union, but to a gathering of accountants in Toronto. He said Canadian wages are "uncompetitive." He suggest-ed that greater instability for workers, by linking pay to corporate profits, would yield positive results. And he's willing to use new investments as the carrot to get what he wants.

As a Chrysler worker from the Windsor Assembly Plant myself, it seems my boss has a short-term memory.

Not less than two years ago, autoworkers shouldered significant and painful cost reductions as part of a shared sacrifice to keep Chrysler Canada afloat. We all felt the impact of the global economic recession. We also foresaw the calamity that a complete auto sector collapse would have caused. We played an important role in affecting a positive change that's brought new life to the industry, despite the fact that we didn't cause the crisis in the first place.

Rather than credit these sacrifices for Chrysler's extraordinary success, Marchionne thought it more useful to antagonize his front-line workers - those same workers who helped keep this company afloat.

Rather than bring to light the bloated salaries of Chrysler's "white collar" workforce (who earn, on average, $50,000 more than the average line worker) he's targeted only those on the assembly line, who actually build the cars Chrysler sells.

In his comments, he also revealed his personal beliefs to be mired in hypocrisy. In that same speech in Toronto, he expressed sympathy with the Occupy movement and the pressing need to address rising income inequality. He went so far as to quote Nelson Mandela in questioning the logic of free market globalization.

This is the same CEO who, with an annual salary nearing $5 million, is so far removed from the everyday plight of the "working class" that he can't even recognize the irony of his statements.

Continue reading here.

Occupy helps protect US family home from bank

September marked the start of the grassroots Occupy Wall Street protests, which focused attention on the economic struggles facing most Americans. The movement is helping a family in Minnesota hold onto their home. Monique White fell behind on her mortgage payments and the bank foreclosed on her despite efforts to renegotiate the loan. Al Jazeera's John Terrett reports on how activists are occupying her house, in a bid to prevent the foreclosure.

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011's top UFO sightings and paranormal news

The Huffington Post:

2011 was a very -- watch out, here it comes -- out-of-this-world year for UFOs. Every month of the year gave us UFO stories to digest, wonder about, or laugh at -- depending on your point of view or belief about UFOs.

Ancient UFOs; scores of videos and photographs; military and government officials offering credible testimony; thousands of pages of previously classified documents; disk and dorito-shaped craft; an official state highway marker erected to commemorate the most widely publicized UFO abduction story in history; petitions sent to the White House asking the Obama administration to release all UFO information; an alleged alien spaceship hiding near the planet Mercury; an ET reportedly photographed standing in a Brazilian rainforest; and a theologian who says religious believers are ready to share a pew with aliens.

These and much more were all there for the taking. With the proliferation of so many video cameras and phone cams, it's not surprising that, according to the Mutual UFO Network -- the largest privately funded UFO research organization in the world -- there were 67 percent more reports of unidentified flying objects in 2011, compared to 2008.

As 2012 looms with the promise of a new year of UFO events -- where believers hope the government will finally acknowledge that some UFOs are extraterrestrial vehicles -- let's step into the wayback machine and re-visit the top 11 UFO stories of 2011.

Continue reading here.

McDonald’s closes all their restaurants in Bolivia

Hispanically Speaking News:

Bolivia will become the first McDonald’s-free Latin American nation, after struggling for more than a decade to keep their numbers out of ‘the red.’

After 14 years in the nation and despite many campaigns and promos McDonald’s was forced to close its 8 Bolivian restaurants in the major cities of La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

McDonald’s served its last hamburgers in Bolivia Saturday at midnight, after announcing a global restructuring plan in which it would close its doors in seven countries with poor profit margins.

The failure of McDonald’s in Bolivia had such a deep impact in the company’s Creative and Marketing staff, that they produced a documentary titled “Why did McDonald’s Bolivia go Bankrupt,” trying to explain why did Bolivians never crossed-over from empanadas to Big Macs.

The documentary includes interviews with cooks, sociologists, nutritionists and educators who all seem to agree, Bolivians are not against hamburgers per sé, just against ‘fast food,’ a concept widely unaccepted in the Bolivian community.

Fast-food represents the complete opposite of what Bolivians consider a meal should be. To be a good meal, food has to have be prepared with love, dedication, certain hygiene standards and proper cook time.

Brazil overtakes UK as sixth-largest economy

Brazil has overtaken the UK as the world's sixth largest economy, according to a London-based research centre. The shift is part of a larger trend in which emerging economies are out doing some European countries. The south American country was still considered something of an economic underachiever a decade ago, but as its economy grew steadily in the past eight years, things started to change. Government's anti-poverty measures further helped in lifting more than 40 million people into a new middle class. Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo reports from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Devastating Philippines floods

A man on a motorbike is transported on a raft over the Kapay river, one of the three rivers that overflowed during the typhoon Washi, in a remote area in Iligan City, southern Philippines on December 25, 2011.

The Associated Press:

Manilla, Philippines — Fishermen joined Philippine navy sailors, police and firefighters in an ever wider search for bodies from entire villages swept away in one of the country's worst flash floods. More bodies have washed ashore, pushing the death toll to more than 1,200, an official said Monday.

While more than 60,000 homeless from hundreds of flood-ravaged villages spent a miserable Christmas in jam-packed schools and gymnasiums, search teams retrieved an additional 150 bodies from the sea as far as 60 miles (100 kilometers) from worst-hit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, said Benito Ramos, head of the Office of Civil Defense.

He said it would take three to six months to restore some normalcy and construct temporary housing to free up schools that are now serving as refugee camps.

The death toll as of Monday stood at 1,236, with about two-thirds of the bodies unidentified. With more bodies found floating farther away, Ramos said authorities sought the help of fishermen to scour the sea.

Continue reading here.

US households struggle for a warm winter

An increasing number of families in the United States have been struggling to heat their homes this winter. Higher fuel prices and reduced government aid have made it more difficult for residents to stay warm in the country. Scott Heidler reports from Boston.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Middle East peace urged at Christmas Mass

Thousands of Christian Palestinians and tourists have celebrated mass in Bethlehem, the town that is considered the birthplace of Jesus Christ. The congregational held in the 1,500-year-old Church of the Nativity, was attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal used the traditional Midnight Mass to welcome in Christmas and urge peace between Israel and Palestine. Al Jazeera's Rory Challands reports from Bethlehem.

'A Christmas Story': What happened to the cast?

The Huffington Post:

As "A Christmas Story" plays on a 24-hour loop, we are instantly transported back to the world of that great holiday classic. But on our HD TVs and Blu-ray players, one thing is obvious: 1983 was a long time ago. So, you ask, where are the film's stars now?

It's no Red Ryder BB gun, but here's a Christmas gift to you: some answers.

In the spirit of Christmas, Scott Schwartz, who played pole-licking Flick, and Zack Ward, who played the bully Scut Farkus, reunited to discuss the film on "The View" late last week. Turns out the pole wasn't actually frozen metal -- it was just a plastic pole with a vacuum inside. But Ward, who is now an actor and stuntman, still got his comeuppance -- he says that kids challenged him to fights for years to come.

Schwartz took advantage of his famous tongue, anyway, as he would go on to work for a time in the adult film industry. He worked in production offices, for sales people, for agents, and even did a few turns on camera. As he said in a recent interview, it was all about having to make enough cash to survive following his early years in Hollywood.

Continue reading here.

Thousands protest against Russian government

Tens of thousands of people have rallied in central Moscow in the biggest popular challenge yet to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's hold on power. Protesters were demonstrating on Saturday against alleged vote rigging in a December 4 parliamentary poll. They were chanting slogans against Putin's United Russia party, with many shouting "Russia without Putin". Protests also took place in St Petersburg - Russia's second city - where thousands of people gathered, and in other cities. Al Jazeera's Neave Barker reports from Moscow, the Russian capital.

Is Harper changing Canada’s political landscape?

Michael Harris, Opinion, iPolitics:

Stephen Harper is certainly giving it the old college try. The most remarkable feature of the first half year of Conservative majority rule is how quickly we have been herded toward a one-party system. Strangely, a lot of people seem to like it.

The same treatment has been meted out to Opposition MPs sitting on House of Commons committees. At best they have been treated like unruly children; at worst, as nobodies. Opposition motions at committee are taken in camera (which means the public never hears them), witness lists are controlled by the government, and virtually no amendments to government legislation from the other side are ever adopted. As one Liberal MP told me, “They have reduced the whole thing to a charade to the degree that you start asking yourself what’s the point of going through the motions.”

That became comically clear on the government’s omnibus crime bill, where none of the brilliant Irwin Cotler’s amendments were adopted, though he made a powerful case for them. But then the government simply took over the Liberal MP’s ideas and presented them as amendments to their own bill. In a stroke of poetic justice, the “government’s” amendments were struck down by the Speaker on procedural grounds.

The bottom line is that, for better or worse, the Harper government has reduced the workings of the parliamentary system to an exercise in minimal compliance – a token role for the opposition in the legislative process, and a painfully obvious disdain for debating issues in the House of Commons. The Conservatives have used closure on MPs the way they have wielded back-to-work legislation against striking workers – to instantly impose their political will on those they consider not as colleagues or constituents, but as people not with the program.

Continue reading here.

Is the Syrian revolution getting militarized?

As suicide attacks target Damascus for the first time, we examine the importance of increasing tensions in the country. Inside Syria, discusses with guests: Marwan Kabalan, Joseph Kechichian and Louay Safi.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ruth Ellen Brosseau works ‘to prove them wrong’

NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau grabbed media attention when she was elected in the Quebec riding of Berthier-Maskinonge in May. She couldn’t speak French then, but now takes classes.

The National Post:

Ottawa • From a single mom getting by on a college barmaid’s wages to a parliamentarian earning $157,000 annually, New Democrat MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau has had a heck of a year.

Her ascent to Parliament Hill was mired in controversy, because of her subpar French skills and the poor optics of a planned trip she took to Las Vegas during the election campaign — which nobody expected her to win. Now the 27-year-old has put it all behind her to embrace the opportunity that landed in her lap.

“It was a big change and it was a difficult time, but I didn’t take it to heart. It just made me want to work harder,” she said in a year-end interview with Postmedia News. “With all the criticism I’ve had it just makes … my skin thicker. I just really want to prove them wrong.”

To that end, she immersed herself in French classes for three hours every week with her late leader Jack Layton’s teacher and her proficiency has improved such that she agreed to appear on the hit Quebec television show Tout le monde en parle on New Year’s Eve.

And despite no connection whatsoever to her largely francophone Quebec riding of Berthier-Maskinonge, Ms. Brosseau — who grew up in Hudson, Que., before moving to Kingston, Ont., in Grade 2 — rented an apartment in the region and returns every weekend. She spent the summer meeting local politicians in each of the 34 municipalities that extend along the St. Lawrence River and is now getting to know the non-profits and other organizations.

“I have an older population in my riding. They’re worried about getting their medicine, they’re worried about their pensions, they’re worked about making ends meet,” she said. “Also employment. There’s a lot of youth and there’s not much opportunity so they’ll leave to get an education, and we really want to try to keep them in the riding.”

These are not unfamiliar issues for Ms. Brosseau who comes from a working-class background. Her father Marc, who is now disabled, worked at a Montreal steel company before he was let go, while mother Michelle was a manager at the Gap before she retired.

As for herself, she never quite finished college and has been raising her 10-year-old son, Logan, on her own.

Continue reading here.

Inside Story: US 2012 - Theocracy vs. democracy

How important a role does religion play in next year's US election? Guests on the show: Frank Schaeffer, Michelle Goldberg, and Melissa Rogers.

Ottawa Ikea: a symbol of Canada's hollow recovery

Canada's minister of finance: 'still the same guy, only somehow better'?

The Guardian:

Slogans are all Canada's leaders can offer the small crowd lured by the opening of Ottawa's new Ikea

On seeing the news that a new Ikea store was opening in Ottawa, Canada, you might have been forgiven for assuming it would create about as much excitement as any other worthwhile Canadian initiative. You would be wrong, apparently. Because the opening was an event sporting thundersticks, chanting, overnight camping and a speech by the mayor. In this time of global deficit reduction and austerity, in the face of European financial collapse, the newest, the biggest Ikea in Canada opened last week to all of these things in the name of the economy, progress, and growth.

But behind all the embarrassing parochial fanfare sits a system on the edge of collapse – the dead shell of consumer culture laid bare by years of panicked markets and burst bubbles – giving the entire event the pall of a woebegone celebration for the newest architectural tomb to an ideal under attack from the inside, rotting and hollow, and on the verge of dismantling itself. If only we knew it.

The idea that the economy is in need of a boost is as familiar here as anywhere, only with a twist, as Canada's government has worked hard to convince everyone it's already happened.

But here, too, there's trouble. Canada's household debt is on the rise, bumping up again in the second quarter of 2011, with household credit market debt now 149% of disposable income – the kind of levels that catch the attention of the International Monetary Fund. And only weeks before Christmas, the consumer confidence index has stumbled. Only a quarter of Canadians now believe they'll be better off this time next year

Continue reading here.

Listening Post: Bradley Manning vs the US military

The case of Bradley Manning versus the US military and the implications for whistleblowers. Plus, award winning news photos and the stories behind them.

How the feds fueled the militarization of police

Police in riot gear move to a location at the port facilities in Longview, Wash., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011.

Billions in post-9/11 taxpayer dollars have paid for combat-style gear on display in the Occupy crackdowns

The militarization of America’s metropolitan police forces was on full display in recent months as police from Los Angeles to New York cracked down on Occupy protests, decked out in full SWAT gear and occasionally using strange pieces of military hardware.

Less well known is that police forces in small towns and far-flung cities have also been stocking up on heavy equipment in the years since Sept. 11, 2001.

In spite of strained city and state budgets in local years, the trend has continued thanks to generous federal grants. According to a new story by the Center for Investigative Reporting, $34 billion in federal grant money has financed the past decade’s shopping spree.

To learn more about the trend, I spoke with G.W. Schultz, who co-authored the story with Andrew Becker. (Also worth a look is the slide show accompanying the story.)

Continue reading here.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Opposition plans more protests in Russia

Russian activists are gearing up for another protest three weeks after parliamentary elections. Demonstrators say the vote was rigged in favour of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. They're demanding the results be cancelled and a new election held. Al Jazeera's Neave Barker reports from Moscow.

US government to extend payroll tax cut

Republicans have agreed to extend a payroll tax cut they held up in congress. That means some 160 million Americans will keep a tax break of about $1000 per family. The move also extends unemployment insurance. Economic indicators released on Thursday show some improvement in the US economy. But for job seekers, and for the American economy, things are yet to improve. Al Jazeera's John Hendren reports.

Why the 1% are less empathetic to the poor

So doesn't it just seem to you like the 1% just don't give a damn about anyone else? That they lack basic empathy and compassion? This week - Bank of America got hit with a $335 million settlement for preying on minority homebuyers. Their subsidiary - Countrywide - systematically screwed over blacks and latinos - people who just walked in - looking to buy a home - and walked out with a subprime exploding mortgages - even though they qualified for the non-exploding normal mortgages that white people were getting Banksters looked at these prospective homebuyers not as customers - not as fellow Americans - not as neighbors or friends - but instead as suckers - people they could con into a crooked mortgage and walk away with extra fees.

Ron Paul discovers downside of media attention

The Atlantic:

Ron Paul's fans finally got what they wanted -- the media has stopped ignoring Ron Paul -- but it hasn't been as fun as they hoped. Like every other serious candidate, Paul has to suffer through people digging up every weird in his past. Anyone following the Republican presidential primary knows Paul wants to end the Federal Reserve and get out of Afghanistan. But not that many people know his pitch to potential subscribers to his newsletters back in the 1990s warned of a "coming race war."

Reuters' Mark Hosenball and Samuel P. Jacobs report Friday that the letter explain that Paul's newsletters offer tips on "how you can save yourself and your family" from the IRS once "New Money" is issued. It was written in the '90s -- not the 1890s! -- and it's signed "Congressman Ron Paul." Some really interesting passages from the eight-page letter, posted in full by Reuters (the highlighted bits on their scanned original):

And then there's the part that mentions the "race war":

Continue reading here.

Honduras lures tourists by saving sharks

Wildlife groups say 73 million sharks are killed every year, primarily for their fins, which are considered a delicacy by some cultures. To combat the widespread killing, the Honduran government recently joined a list of countries that have made shark fishing illegal. So far, the ban has proved not only good for the survival of the fish, but also for the country's economy. Al Jazeera's Adam Raney reports from Roatan, Honduras.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jack Layton 2011's Newsmaker of the Year

The Canadian Press:

John Gilbert Layton wore dozens of different name tags in his decades of public service: activist, guitarist, father and finally, leader of the official Opposition.

Most knew the NDP leader by another name: Jack.

No other Canadian dominated the headlines like Mr. Layton in 2011, making him the clear choice for Newsmaker of the Year by editors and news directors participating in the annual survey of newsrooms across the country by The Canadian Press.

Mr. Layton received 90 per cent of the votes – one of the most overwhelming margins in the 65-year history of the CP Newsmaker voting. The next closest was Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who received just 5 per cent of the vote totals.

Continue reading here.

Foreclosed properties hold back US economy

Most economists agree the housing crisis remains the biggest obstacle to economic recovery in the US. But there's no consensus on how best to fix it and the rate of foreclosed properties has hit a record high. Kristen Saloomey reports.

Opposition to privatized US immigrant prison

A plan to build one of North America's largest immigrant detention centres is being met with strong opposition by residents of Southwest Ranches in Florida. The say they were not consulted about the construction and that the prison will ruin their neighbourhood. But, many are also concerned about the high number - an estimated three million over the last ten years - of immigrants being incarcerated by the largely profit-making, privatised US facilities. Andy Gallacher reports.

NDP want watchdog to oversee Tory appointments

Interim New Democratic Party leader Nycole Turmel speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 15, 2011.

The Vancouver Sun:

The Conservatives have handed patronage appointments to about a dozen people with ties to the party in the last month, leading the Opposition NDP to demand the government bring in an independent watchdog to oversee all appointments.

With the appointments this week, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said it's time the government use the apparatus it developed five years ago and fill it with someone who will independently oversee all patronage appointments.

"This government told the Canadian people that they were going to do business differently," Angus said.

"What I find really galling is they wait until Parliament rises so there's no scrutiny. . . . That's not accountable government."

This month, the federal government announced appointments of about a dozen people who were either failed candidates in the last election, or have ties — financial or familial — to the party.

Former Conservative minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn will head to Paris to represent Canada at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Blackburn lost his seat in Quebec in the May election.

According to the Privy Council Office database, Blackburn will earn an annual salary of up to $195,300.

Like Blackburn, Bernard Genereux lost his Quebec seat in May. The government named Genereux to be the federal representative on the Quebec Port Authority.

Three other Tory candidates who failed to get elected in May also received appointments. Rejean Beriault, Jean-Phillipe Bachand, and Pierre Lafontaine all received three-year appointments to the employment insurance board of referees in their home towns.

Continue reading here.

Matt Damon rips Obama

Matt Damon had harsh criticism of President Obama in an Elle Magazine interview where he stated that a 'one term president with some balls would have been better'. Cenk Uygur, Ana Kasparian and former prosecutor Steve Oh discuss on The Young Turks<.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Harper bestows patronage posts on party faithful

The Canadian Press:

Conservative cabinet ministers got to play Santa Claus over the last week, handing out patronage posts to at least a dozen people with Tory ties.

The recipients included failed candidates, ex-caucus members, members of Conservative riding executives and long-time party faithful. While in power, the Liberals also made a habit of naming party stalwarts to federal boards.

Three other failed 2011 Conservative candidates from Quebec have also won appointments as referees on Employment Insurance claims: Jean-Philippe Bachand, Réjean Bériault and Pierre Lafontaine. Former Brantford, Ont. business executive Rick Sterne was also named to this board – he was a Tory candidate in 1984.

Leah Costello, a Vancouver-area filmmaker, event planner and Conservative riding association member, was named a member of the National Council of Welfare. On her blog last March, Ms. Costello lauded a book that criticized Canada's “culture of entitlement.”

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus condemned the latest wave of appointments.

“For the Harper Conservatives, there's no better time to announce the appointment of failed candidates, Conservative donors and well-connected insiders to plum, taxpayer-funded gigs than after the House of Commons has risen and in the final days before Christmas,” Angus said in a statement on Wednesday.

Continue reading here.

Stray showers of mercury getting into food chain

Study shows over time mercury is oxidised and gets deposited back on Earth, through rain or snow. Bacteria then transform the oxidised mercury into methyl mercury, which easily enters the food chain.

The Guardian:

Poisonous metal released as a vapour by burning fuel, then falls back to Earth and gets absorbed by the aquatic ecosystem

Earth is being showered with mercury that can land anywhere and enter the food chain, a study has shown. The poisonous metal is released as a vapour by burning fuel then falls back to Earth and is easily absorbed by the aquatic ecosystem. Thousands of tonnes of mercury vapour are pumped into the air each year. Scientists discovered that in time mercury is oxidised it can then be deposited back on Earth, either in rain or snow. Bacteria transform the oxidised mercury into methyl mercury, which easily enters the food chain. US scientist Dr Seth Lyman, who led the research while at the University of Washington Bothell, said: "Much of the emitted mercury is deposited far from its original sources.

"Mercury emitted on the other side of the globe could be deposited right at our back door, depending on where and how it is transported, chemically transformed and deposited."

Mercury from coal burning in Asia, for example, could circle the globe several times before being oxidised and carried back to the Earth's surface.

Some areas, including the south-west US, had specific climate conditions that allowed them to receive more oxidised mercury from the upper atmosphere than others.

The findings are reported today in the journal Nature.

Continue reading here.

National Defense Authorization Act: road to tyranny

The Iraqi Vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi, who's a Sunni, was implicated in a string of assassinations and of leading a death squad that targeted police and government officials. The government ordered his arrest; he has since accused the prime minister of using the warrant as a ploy to consolidate power. So are the arguments that we've left Iraq better off, becoming harder to believe by the day? A recent Zogby poll shows 42% of Iraqis, say the country is now worse off. Retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson discusses.

Iowan calls Gingrich "fucking asshole"

Talking Points Memo:

When a man in a camouflage coat grabs your hand in an Iowa grocery store and calls you ‘a fucking asshole’ to your face, it might be time to take stock of your position in the state.

For Newt Gingrich, who was on the receiving end of the unorthodox greeting Tuesday, it was a sign that his campaign is returning to earth after having rocketed since Herman Cain’s collapse.

Back in May, Gingrich — who was then persona non grata in the GOP after he dinged Paul Ryan’s plan to eliminate Medicare as we know it — was similarly accosted by a regular Iowan when he took a trip through the state. At a campaign stop in Dubuque, a man stopped Gingrich, shook his hand and said “you’re an embarrassment to our party.”

Back then the clip was seen as a sign of how far Gingrich had fallen after the Ryan line — and how ridiculous the thought of him actually winning Iowa was. Between that clip and today’s “fucking asshole” moment at an Iowa grocery store, Gingrich has seen his fortunes rise during debate season, eventually leading to a frontrunner status and a brief moment where he led Iowa polls by double digits.

In the couple weeks since he reached his dizzying high in the polls, however, millions of attack ads have blanketed Iowa airwaves, and Gingrich’s poll numbers there have collapsed.

The idea of Gingrich winning the caucuses is certainly not as ridiculous as it was back in May, but it’s definitely increasingly unlikely. The negative ads have taken their toll and Gingrich’s unfavorables are on the rise. And so, once again, Gingrich found himself confronted by an average-looking Iowan as he tries to stump across the state.

Reasons why Banksters don't deserve a nickel

In tonight's Daliy Take - I'll tell you why corporate CEO's are unwrapping huge end-of-year bonuses this holiday season thanks to you and me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bastardised libertarianism

George Monbiot, Opinion, The Guardian:

In the name of freedom – freedom from regulation – the banks were permitted to wreck the economy. In the name of freedom, taxes for the super-rich are cut. In the name of freedom, companies lobby to drop the minimum wage and raise working hours. In the same cause, US insurers lobby Congress to thwart effective public healthcare; the government rips up our planning laws; big business trashes the biosphere. This is the freedom of the powerful to exploit the weak, the rich to exploit the poor.

Modern libertarianism is the disguise adopted by those who wish to exploit without restraint. It pretends that only the state intrudes on our liberties. It ignores the role of banks, corporations and the rich in making us less free. It denies the need for the state to curb them in order to protect the freedoms of weaker people. This bastardised, one-eyed philosophy is a con trick, whose promoters attempt to wrongfoot justice by pitching it against liberty. By this means they have turned "freedom" into an instrument of oppression.

Continue reading here.

How big oil, Canada thwarted US carbon standards

The Tyee:

Emails show how a Washington lobbyist enlisted Canadian officials to beat back climate regulation.

[Editor's note: This story is a joint investigation between The Tyee and Salon, and appears on both sites.]

When President Barack Obama decided in early November to delay a decision on TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline until after the next election, America's environmental movement celebrated one of its biggest victories in recent memory. And no doubt the news came as a blow to Alberta's tar sands industry, and to Canada's oft-stated dream of becoming the next global energy superpower.

But behind activists' jubilation lurked a somber reality, an untold story with much wider implications. The broader fight to reform Alberta's tar sands, the one which actually stood a chance of breaking America's addiction to the continent's most polluting road fuel, has been quietly abandoned over the past several years. For that we can thank the planet's richest oil companies and their Canadian government allies, who've together waged a stealthy war against President Obama's climate change ambitions.

Their battle-plan is revealed in more 300 pages of personal emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Alberta government. The story in the emails, reported for the first time in Salon and The Tyee, traces a year in the relationship of Michael Whatley, a GOP-connected oil industry lobbyist and his friend, Gary Mar, a smooth-talking and ambitious diplomat at the Canadian embassy in the Washington, DC.

Continue reading here.

Fault Lines: The decline of labour unions in the US

For decades, labor unions in the United States have been on the decline. While they are widely credited with boosting safety standards and worker pay, many have received blame for wanting too much in the struggling economy. Unemployment is at 9% and people are clamoring for jobs, unionized or not. And their greatest political ally, the Democratic party, has taken its' support for granted weakening its' pull on the strings of power in Washington, DC.

A new battle has emerged in 2011 as Republican governors have taken on public sector unions, in some cases stripping them of rights that have been in place for 50 years. It's part of a trend that is happening in key swing states and may weaken democratic voting strength in next year's presidential election. But organized labor has fought back hard. In Wisconsin unions occupied the state capitol as 100,000 protesters took to the streets. In Ohio, voters overturned a law that was intended to greatly reduce the right that unions have in that state to bargain collectively.

Now as Occupy Wall Street galvanizes Americans to take action against financial institutions and big corporations, Labor has a new ally. But can organized labor harness the anger that everyday Americans are emitting or will this opportunity pass it by? Do Labor unions still have the strength to organize or has their power waned to the point that they will no longer be a major player in American politics?

This episode of Fault Lines first aired on Al Jazeera English on December 19, 2011 at 2230 GMT.

Huffington Post Canada's 2011 Story of the Year

The Huffington Post:

The late NDP leader not only fought an election campaign on the heels of a hip replacement surgery and treatment for prostate cancer but delivered an ‘orange wave’ no one predicted.

The party’s huge breakthrough in Quebec, 59 MPs, crushed the Bloc Quebecois down to four seats and handed Layton the title of ‘Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.’

Under Layton’s leadership, the NDP became a better-articulated and pragmatic opposition. Its support grew steadily.

In 2004, Layton’s first election, he nearly doubled the party’s support by taking 15.7 per cent of the vote, bringing six more MPs to Parliament Hill for a total of 19. In 2006, the NDP won 29 seats and in 2008, 37 seats. This spring, the party won a whopping 103 seats with 30.6 per cent of votes cast.

Continue reading here.

A future to believe in - Paul Dewar

NDP leadership candidate Paul Dewar.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Canada needs patients first medical pot policy

Adam Greenblatt, The Montreal Gazette:

Health Canada is overhauling the Marijuana Medical Access Program in response to concerns about "exploitation by criminal elements." During consultations with Montreal medical cannabis dispensaries in August, Health Canada indicated it is seeking to adopt a "more traditional regulatory role" in what it now refers to as a "marketplace." The plan is to privatize medical cannabis and license commercial producers, who must comply with strict protocols in order to qualify.

Which is positive, prudent and even praiseworthy, but only when contrasted against a decade of poorly planned fecklessness.

Health Canada goes to great lengths to mention in its "proposed improvements" that this is "not the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana." This effort to eschew legalization as a sensible policy option is cynical and sophistic.

To make sure this scheme is not some form of de facto legalization, the federal government plans to phase out permits that allow patients to tend their own marijuana gardens or designate a caregiver to do so. (And thanks to the omnibus crime bill, if you are convicted of growing medical cannabis without a licence from Health Canada, you will go directly to jail.)

This does not bode well for patients and does not sit well with Canadians. Revoking and recriminalizing these supply options is a punitive measure, devoid of compassion and decency.

Continue reading here.

Harper govt. misguided in tough-on-crime approach

Editorial, The Globe and Mail:

Canada's prison ombudsman gave up on free needle exchanges this week, and a senior justice adviser slammed the federal government for taking Canada backward on crime. They were separate events, but they reflect the frustration that many reform-minded people working in justice and corrections surely feel these days. Canada is heading to that awful place that the United States has just inhabited for 20 years – a place of longer and longer prison sentences, of a futile “war on drugs,” of mandatory minimum sentences for nearly everything (including six months for growing as few as five marijuana plants) that remove judges' discretion. The financial and social costs in the U.S. were incalculable, and just as the U.S. is coming to its senses, Canada is losing its own.

David Daubney, a justice-department adviser, could have gone quietly into retirement. Instead, he tried to talk some sense back into this country. Prison overcrowding will worsen and breed violence, he told The Globe's Kirk Makin in an exit interview. The tough-on-crime route has been tried and failed. The government knows what it knows, doesn't listen to evidence and is reluctant to ask for research to be undertaken.

“The policy is based on fear – fear of criminals and fear of people who are different. I do not think these harsh views are deeply held.” It's a good point. A new poll shows that 93 per cent of Canadians feel safe from crime. Why, then, spend billions of dollars to go backward?

Mr. Daubney has strong credentials. As an MP – in the Progressive Conservative Party – he chaired a justice committee that in 1988 recommended a greater focus on alternatives to jail. (Rob Nicholson, the current Justice Minister, was the vice-chair of that committee.) Mr. Daubney is also the chair of Penal Reform International – which works for the reduction of imprisonment and an end to capital punishment – and the 2011 winner of the International Prize for Restorative Justice.

“Somebody has to take the risk of talking,” he said.

Continue reading here.

Kim Jong Il dies, son may take over


Kim Jong Il, the second-generation North Korean dictator who defied global condemnation to build nuclear weapons while his people starved, has died, state media reported. A government statement called on North Koreans to “loyally follow” his son, Kim Jong Un.

Kim, 70, died on Dec. 17 of a heart attack brought on by mental and physical strain while on a domestic train trip, the official Korean Central News Agency said. Kim probably had a stroke in August 2008 and may have also contracted pancreatic cancer, according to South Korean news reports.

The son of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder, Kim was a chain-smoking recluse who ruled for 17 years after coming to power in July 1994 and resisted opening up to the outside world in order to protect his regime. The likely succession of his little-known third son, Jong Un, threatens to trigger a dangerous period for the Korean peninsula, where 1.7 million troops from the two Koreas and the U.S. square off every day.

Continue reading here.

Postmedia: Layton top newsmaker of 2011, Postmedia News:

Jack Layton, the NDP leader who died almost four months after propelling his party into official Opposition status in the May federal election, took honours as top Canadian newsmaker of 2011 in a survey of Postmedia Network senior editors.

The informal poll among newspaper and website journalists across Canada had Layton squeaking past Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who won his first majority after five years of minority government. The political success of both men sidelined the once-mighty Liberals and pulverized the Bloc Quebecois in the House of Commons.

Layton "brought the NDP into the official opposition, and in doing so he decimated the Bloc Quebecois; he knocked the Liberal Party out of its traditional hold on one of the top two spots; he engaged young voters; and he returned a sense of humanity to the political scene," said Catherine Wallace, managing editor of The Gazette in Montreal. "The reaction to his death months after the election underlined his impact."

Continue reading here.

Three myths about the detention bill

Glenn Greenwald,

Section (2) is a brand new addition. It allows the President to target not only those who helped perpetrate the 9/11 attacks or those who harbored them, but also: anyone who “substantially supports” such groups and/or “associated forces.” Those are extremely vague terms subject to wild and obvious levels of abuse (see what Law Professor Jonathan Hafetz told me in an interview last week about th...e dangers of those terms). This is a substantial statutory escalation of the War on Terror and the President’s powers under it, and it occurs more than ten years after 9/11, with Osama bin Laden dead, and with the U.S. Government boasting that virtually all Al Qaeda leaders have been eliminated and the original organization (the one accused of perpetrating 9/11 attack) rendered inoperable.

Continue reading here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Conservative Christmas message (from Canada)

A special Christmas message from your very Conservative Member of Parliament.

Gingrich: arrest judges with police, US Marshals

The Huffington Post:

Washington - With just weeks to go before the Iowa Caucus, Newt Gingrich has turned his presidential campaign into a veritable megaphone warning about the dangers and elitism of America's judicial system. The former House Speaker held a half-hour phone call on Saturday during which he pledged to abolish courts and eliminated activist judges he believed were either outside the mainstream or infringing too deeply on the commander in chief's authority.

On Sunday, he followed that up by saying he would be willing to arrest a judge who he thought was out of line.

"If you had to," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation" when asked if he would send a Capitol Hill police officer to round up a judge, "or you would instruct the Justice Department to send the U.S. Marshal." His preference, he added, would be to impeach the judge in question.

That Gingrich is willing to resort to these measures isn't necessarily surprising to longtime watchers of the former Speaker. He has made criticism of the judiciary a rallying point for many years, peppering speeches to conservative audiences with calls to simply get rid of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio. As his prospects of actually winning the Iowa Caucus have improved, the rhetoric isn't being tempered. If anything, it's getting more fiery

Continue reading here.