Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rightward tilt leaves Obama with party rift

The New York Times:

Entering a campaign that is shaping up as an epic clash over the parties’ divergent views on the size and role of the federal government, Republicans have changed the terms of the national debate. Mr. Obama, seeking to appeal to the broad swath of independent voters, has adopted the Republicans’ language and in some cases their policies, while signaling a willingness to break with liberals on some issues.

That has some progressive members of Congress and liberal groups arguing that by not fighting for more stimulus spending, Mr. Obama could be left with an economy still producing so few jobs by Election Day that his re-election could be threatened. Besides turning off independents, Mr. Obama risks alienating Democratic voters already disappointed by his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and his failure to close the Guantánamo Bay prison, end the Bush-era tax cuts and enact a government-run health insurance system.

No matter how the immediate issue is resolved, Mr. Obama, in his failed effort for greater deficit reduction, has put on the table far more in reductions for future years’ spending, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, than he did in new revenue from the wealthy and corporations. He proposed fewer cuts in military spending and more in health care than a bipartisan Senate group that includes one of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans.

To win approval of the essential increase in the nation’s $14.3 trillion borrowing ceiling, Mr. Obama sought more in deficit reduction than Republicans did, and with fewer changes to the entitlement programs, because he was willing to raise additional revenue starting in 2013 and they were not. And despite unemployment lingering at its highest level in decades, Mr. Obama has not fought this year for a big jobs program with billions of dollars for public-works projects, which liberals in his party have clamored for. Instead, he wants to extend a temporary payroll tax cut for everyone, since Republicans will support tax cuts, despite studies showing that spending programs are generally the more effective stimulus.


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'Scores dead' as Syrian tanks storm Hama



Syrian security forces have launched a major assault on Hama, the country's third-largest city, a day before the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Congress Black Caucus: Use 14th Amendment

Think Progress:

In a letter to President Obama, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus implored the president to invoke the Fourteenth Amendment to prevent the debt ceiling from triggering a fiscal disaster. The letter argues that Obama has “both the authority and a moral obligation” to invoke the Constitution “to avoid an economic catastrophe of historic proportions.” Every single one of the CBC’s members signed the letter with the exception of the caucus’ sole Republican, Rep. Allen West (R-FL).

Cuba to lift ban on buying real estate



Selling or buying property in Cuba is illegal. But a new law will allow Cubans for the first time in more than 50 years to allow the sale and purchase of real estate.

Turmel expects Layton to return

CBC:

Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel tells CBC Radio's The House that she'd be "really surprised" if Jack Layton didn't come back to politics after undergoing cancer treatment.

In an interview with host James Cudmore airing Saturday morning, Turmel said she felt "sad" when Layton called last weekend and informed her he was temporarily stepping aside.

But she added she couldn't see Layton walking away from federal politics if he overcomes his latest health battle.

"You know how much he loves politics, how much he loves people, how much it is important it is for him to represent families," she said. "He is the one who has to decide what to do."

Turmel was named interim leader at a meeting of the party's federal council Thursday, a day after Layton's recommendation was unanimously backed by the NDP caucus.

Layton disclosed the diagnosis on Monday and said his goal is to resume his leadership duties in time for Parliament's fall session in September.


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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jewish Tahrir? Israel witnessing mass protests



Arab Spring or European style discontent? Israel is the latest scene of nationwide mass protests. Thousands are taking part in rallies to demand the government provide cheaper housing, and lower the cost of living. The biggest protest yet, centred in Tel-Aviv, is planned for Saturday night. RT talks to Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian-Israeli journalist.

Kenyan refugee camp hits capacity



US President Barack Obama has said the drought and the resulting famine in the Horn of Africa require a coherent international response. Dadaab, the main refugee camp in Kenya, has hit its capacity.

Hudak's lead shrinking, poll shows

The Toronto Star:

Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have cut Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak’s lead to 10 points from 15 points in the past month, a new poll suggests.

The Forum Research survey found Hudak’s Tories at 38 per cent — down from 41 per cent in June — to McGuinty’s Liberals at 28 per cent, up from 26 per cent. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath jumped to 24 per cent from 22 per cent and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner was down to seven per cent from eight per cent.

“This election is up for grabs,” Forum president Lorne Bozinoff said in an interview Friday, predicting an eventful 10 weeks before the Oct. 6 vote.

“This is not going to be a walk in the park. The PCs cannot just sit back.”

The interactive voice response telephone poll of 2,256 Ontarians was conducted Wednesday and Thursday and is considered accurate to within 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

McGuinty’s approval rating has increased slightly to 39 per cent from 36 per cent with 61 per cent disapproving of the job he’s done, down from 64 per cent last month.

Hudak’s rating went down to 49 per cent from 53 per cent. More than half of Ontarians — 51 per cent — disapprove of his performance, up from 47 per cent.

Horwath’s approval is up to 63 per cent from 59 per cent and her disapproval down to 37 per cent from 41 per cent.


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Mass rape leaves scar on DR Congo village



In Ruvungi, a small village in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a young disabled girl tells of being beaten and sexually assaulted by a policeman. If he tried to do it again, she says, she would kill him. She is one of hundreds of women who have been assaulted or raped in Ruvungi, many of them during an attack by rebels in 2010 that lasted over several days. Some of them have found refuge at a women's shelter in town run by the charity Heal Africa, but the effects remain: children born from rape and angry husbands struggling to deal with the crime. Much of the rape is tied to competition for extremely lucrative mineral resources, such as gold and tin mines. The perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, despite a United Nations presence.

U.S. wealth gap widens

The Montreal Gazette:

Minorities lost most during recession; Hispanics were hit the hardest by meltdown in housing market, census data show

The wealth gap between American whites and the poorest minorities became the biggest on record during the recession, analysis of U.S. census data shows.

Hispanics - closely followed by blacks - lost the greatest proportion of their assets compared to other groups as the economy sank in the years following the 2006 burst of the U.S. housing-market bubble, according to the Pew Research Centre study.

Percentage losses for white households were, overall, far less and from a far larger base than those of the poorest minorities, the report says. The result was white households' median wealth became 20 times more than that of black households, and 18 times that of Hispanic households.

White households also displaced Asian households for the top spot in median household wealth.


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Friday, July 29, 2011

Why Americans are so angry

Senator Bernie Sanders:

The rich are getting richer. Their effective tax rate, in recent years, has been reduced to the lowest in modern history. Nurses, teachers and firemen actually pay a higher tax rate than some billionaires. It's no wonder the American people are angry.

Many corporations, including General Electric and Exxon-Mobil, have made billions in profits while using loopholes to avoid paying any federal income taxes. We lose $100 billion every year in federal revenue from companies and individuals who stash their wealth in tax havens off-shore like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. The sum of all the revenue collected by the Treasury today totals just 14.8% of our gross domestic product, the lowest in about 50 years.

In the midst of this, Republicans in Congress have been fanatically determined to protect the interests of the wealthy and large multinational corporations so that they do not contribute a single penny toward deficit reduction.

If the Republicans have their way, the entire burden of deficit reduction will be placed on the elderly, the sick, children and working families. In the midst of a horrendous recession that is already causing severe pain for average Americans, this approach is morally grotesque. It's also bad economic policy.

President Obama and the Democrats have been extremely weak in opposing these right-wing extremist proposals. Although the United States now has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major industrialized country, Democrats have not succeeded in getting any new revenue from those at the top of the economic ladder to reduce the deficit.


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Dennis Kucinich tells it as it is, and should be



Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich offers a way to avoid default and get the country out of debt. We are the United States of America, the greatest country on earth. We don't default.



As Congress is poised to debate and vote on raising the debt ceiling, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today took to the House Floor to remind fellow Members why we are in debt in the first place: wars and tax cuts for the rich. Kucinich urged Members to take back our authority to print money from the Federal Reserve (the Fed) and to use that authority to invest in America by putting Americans back to work.

In Rob Ford’s Toronto, less will be more

Christopher Hume, Opinion, The Toronto Star:

Suddenly it seems the future has arrived in Toronto. And for the first time in our history, perhaps, it doesn’t look better than the past. Indeed, it looks a whole lot worse.

All that remains for us is to carve up the remains of the city, now revealed to be a luxury we can’t afford. Turns out that the whole idea of Toronto the Livable City, the City That Works, was more than we could afford. We just didn’t know it until Rob Ford came along.

Why, in poor little old Hogtown, we can’t pay to remove the snow and keep the libraries open; it’s one or the other. All these years, we’ve been living a fantasy, actually daring to believe we could be an international city.

And so the future has arrived; next year is this year. Thank you, Mr. Mayor, an anxious citizenry looks to you to lead the city out of this mess of its own making. Thank you, also, for reminding us that we must pay for what we have and that everything costs money.

As you said, “our city has spent more than it brings in.” Though some might take that as a cue taxes should go up, or that the country should rethink how public funds are distributed among the different levels of government, you have the foresight to decide — and even before the facts are in — that it’s better to cut than to grow.


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Inside Story - The silent victims of rape



Hundreds of thousands of men have been raped by other men, but it is such a taboo subject that few are aware of the real extent of the problem. So, what support and legal resources need to be given to the victims of this crime?

The country is behind Layton

Editorial, The Ottawa Citizen:

For Jack Layton, politics has always been personal. He's in it because he truly believes, as he told his country on Monday, that we Canadians "can look after each other better than we do today." His success in the recent election was partly attributable to Layton's own qualities as a human being.

So it's not surprising that the reaction to the news that he's fighting another cancer was also personal. Canadians of all parties and ideologies were appalled by Layton's announcement and are rooting for him to recover quickly and get back to the job.

It is especially moving that Layton must take a leave of absence so soon after leading the party to its historic height, after forming the Official Opposition and becoming the voice of Quebec on Parliament Hill. He seems determined to get better and return in the fall.

His suggestion that Nycole Turmel lead the party in the meantime was surprising.

Turmel is certainly an impressive and capable person - so much so that this editorial board endorsed her in the riding of Hull-Aylmer in the 2011 election. Her background as president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada will equip her to judge and critique the government's choices as it prepares for an era of budget cuts. If the party does choose her as interim leader, the Ottawa-Gatineau region will gain one more prominent voice on the Hill.

Turmel is a brand-new MP, though, and there are many veterans - including Ottawa's Paul Dewar, or Libby Davies, or Pat Martin, or Charlie Angus - who are more tested in Parliament. Perhaps Layton wants the interim leader to be from Quebec - although in that case, Thomas Mulcair might have been the more conventional choice. Maybe Layton wants to signal his trust in the crop of rookie MPs. As NDP president Brian Topp pointed out at the press conference, Turmel is already caucus chair.

Layton ended his statement with a word we don't hear much in public life: "love." It didn't sound odd, though, coming from him. He's a man who loves his country, his party and his job, and who serves all of them faithfully. We wish him and his family well and hope to see him back on the Hill soon.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Notes on Rob Ford's Interview with CP24



Ford for Toronto:

The mayor was on CP24 this past Friday for a rare sit-down interview. Unfortunately, the journalist sitting down with Rob Ford was one-time mayoral candidate and aspiring softball pitcher Stephen LeDrew, who didn’t give the mayor much in the way of challenging questions.

Still, Ford’s statements on a variety of important issues are notable for the number of outright falsehoods and misperceptions they contain. Standing on the shoulders of giants like The Grid’s Edward Keenan, who ran a Fact Check column relating to this interview on Friday afternoon, I’ve put together an edited version of the mayor’s interview, pointing out the moments where he departed from the truth.


Continue reading here.

Barack Obama: The Democrats’ Richard Nixon?

Bruce Bartlett, The Fiscal Times:

Liberals hoped that Obama would overturn conservative policies and launch a new era of government activism. Although Republicans routinely accuse him of being a socialist, an honest examination of his presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative to exactly the same degree that Nixon was moderately liberal.

Here are a few examples of Obama's effective conservatism:

• His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
• He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
• He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
• He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
• And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

Further evidence can be found in the writings of outspoken liberals such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has condemned Obama’s conservatism ever since he took office.

Conservatives will, of course, scoff at the idea of Obama being any sort of conservative, just as liberals scoffed at Nixon being any kind of liberal. But with the benefit of historical hindsight, it’s now obvious that Nixon was indeed a moderate liberal in practice. And with the passage of time, it’s increasingly obvious that Clinton was essentially an Eisenhower Republican. It may take 20 years before Obama’s basic conservatism is widely accepted as well, but it’s a fact.


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Social Security didn't create the deficit



Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich:

Social Security didn't create the deficit, but America's seniors are being presented with a fake Social Security crisis to try to trick them into accepting reduced benefits. Social Security will be able to pay 100% of its benefits through 2037 without any changes whatsoever.

So, why the panic today? If seniors accept cuts to Social Security benefits today, a surplus cash flow will build in the Social Security trust fund. According to the Congressional Research Service, "Social Security's cash surpluses are borrowed by the U.S. Treasury and can be used for tax cuts, spending or repaying debt."

Social Security benefit cuts are increasing taxes paid to Social Security or extending retirement age will give more money for tax cuts spending or repaying the debt. Except for one thing: Social Security money belongs to those who have paid into the fund, it's not the government's money to use it; it shouldn't be the government's money to play with.

Senior citizens should not have to accept a reduced standard of living to finance tax cuts for the rich. We must take a stand for senior citizens and protect Social Security and protect future generations from this raid on Social Security's funds.

Right-wing National Post regrets endorsing Ford

National Post Staff, The National Post:

After eight months, the Ford administration has finally begun to come apart at the seams. Or at least its two figureheads, Rob and Doug, appear to have. Chris Selley, Jonathan Goldsbie, and Matt Gurney get all emo about the state of municipal politics.

Selley: In the opening days of Rob Ford’s mayoralty, he told me and the Post‘s City Hall reporter, Natalie Alcoba, that closing a library on a Sunday would constitute a “major” service cut, and therefore would not happen. Fast forward to this week, and not only are library hours very much on the chopping block, but Doug Ford sounds downright eager to close branches altogether. He said there’s one in his ward that “nobody uses,” which isn’t true of course, not long after he said there were more libraries in his ward than Tim Horton’s franchises, which also isn’t true. And he suggested if Margaret Atwood has an opinion on libraries, she should get elected or shut up. Concurrently, we learned that Rob Ford may have flipped off a woman who sanctimoniously told him to get off his cell phone while driving — a “misunderstanding,” says the Mayor, hilariously. (He should have just said nothing, but damage control has never been a strong suit.) This really is the sort of low point — spiteful, undignified, pointless — that I and other moderate penny-punchers dared dream we’d never arrive at. And barely anything has even happened yet at City Hall. Anyone want to talk me down off the ledge?


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The American people are angry



Give 'em hell Bernie!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ford accused of giving a family the finger

Mayor Rob Ford leaves a TV interview in his beige minivan on Friday. A woman says she later saw him driving the vehicle and speaking on his cellphone.

The Toronto Star:

Rob Ford is getting a thumbs-down on social media after a Facebook post described an unexpected encounter with the mayor Friday night at the intersection of Dundas St. W. and Spadina Ave.

According to the post, Ottilie Mason and her 6-year-old daughter pulled up next to Ford and spotted him talking on his cellphone while driving. So they did what they always do when they dislike something.

They gave him a thumbs-down, and Mason rolled down her window and said: “Get off your cellphone.”

Mason said Ford responded by giving her the finger.

“I’m shocked. I had to drive around the block to calm down,” said Mason, who was dropping off her daughter’s babysitter in the Kensington Market area. The 43-year-old woman corroborated the sequence of events.

Mason, an artist and designer, said she was driving east on Dundas, and Ford was driving a beige minivan with a licence plate that says “ROBFORD.”


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Bill Maher blasts Obama, Republicans

US to oppose Palestinian UN bid

Al Jazeera English:

US envoy terms Palestine's approaching of UN as "unilateral action", despite backing of over 120 countries.

The US is to oppose Palestine's application to the UN for full membership status when the body's General Assembly convenes in September.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, said that the US would not support "unilateral action" by the Palestinians at the UN.

DiCarlo was speaking at the final, regular UN Security Council discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

In response to DiCarlo's statement, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, said that with more than 120 countries already recognising an independent Palestinian state, any UN action, whether at the Security Council or the General Assembly, would not be unilateral.


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White House conceals plan to cut Social Security

Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich:

Last Friday, the president told the nation that he offered a plan that would cut $650 billion from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Last night in his address to the nation, the president didn't want to 'bore' Americans with the details of his plan but threatened that Congress must accept a deal on the debt ceiling or seniors face the possibility that Social Security checks won't go out.

Curiously, the president didn't explain in his primetime address to the nation that 'the deal' he has been advocating cuts Social Security benefits and pushes back the retirement age. These changes are unwarranted and indefensible.

Social Security is 100% wholly funded up to the year 2036 without any changes whatsoever. It has no place in the debt ceiling debate at all. Furthermore, it is not the government's money but the money of the workers who have paid into the program their entire lives.


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Robert Reich on America's widening wealth gap



As Congress fails to reach an agreement about the debt ceiling, the wealth gap between whites and minorities -- and between the rich and everyone else -- has widened to historic levels. Keith talks with economist and University of California-Berkeley professor Robert Reich about how Washington is poised to make things worse -- not better.

Related Links

Washington Post: Report: Wealth gap widens between whites, minorities

The Berkeley Blog: Vicious cycles: Why Washington is about to make the jobs crisis worse

The New York Times: Obama the Centrist Irks a Liberal Lion

The Huffington Post: Obama Losing Support Over Jobs Record Among Liberal and Black Voters

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jack Layton’s courageous, gracious fight

Editorial, The Globe and Mail:

Long after the political tussles of this year’s federal election have been forgotten, Jack Layton’s courage and grace in leading his party when he was suffering from cancer will be recalled, and will inspire. He was tireless in fighting for what he believes in and in doing the work that he loves. He never gave an inch to his prostate cancer or to his fractured hip, save to use a crutch, and later a cane, when he walked.

And so to watch his news conference on Monday, to find him so gaunt, so ill, to learn of the presence of a new cancer was deeply moving. His spirit seemed unchanged. His voice was strained but clear; his eyes still held some of the Layton sparkle; and when he was done, he strode off, cane in hand, with a brisk step. Though physically smaller, he was in no way diminished
.

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Serb war crimes suspect appears at UN court



War crimes suspect Goran Hadzic has declined to enter a plea at the UN's tribunal in The Hague. The former Croatian Serb general is facing fourteen charges related to the Balkans War, including murder, torture and persecution. He now has thirty days to enter a plea.

Growing violent, anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe


Democracy Now!:

Anders Behring Breivik, who has admitted to the mass shooting and bombing in Norway, has been described as an anti-Islamic, right-wing extremist who claimed to be acting in order to save Norway and Europe from "Marxist and Muslim colonization." To discuss the prevalence and legitimacy of these views, we speak with Kari Helene Partapuoli, the director of the Norwegian Center Against Racism. She says Breivik’s ideology was shaped in part by the Norwegian Defence League and the group Stop the Islamisation of Norway. “He didn’t just go on a shooting spree. He was also shaped by this political environment on the right wing,” says Partapuoli.

UN to airlift food to African famine zone



The United Nations has agreed to airlift food to help some of the 12 million people affected by drought in the Horn of Africa. Aid agencies say one in three Somalis is now at risk from famine. The move follows Monday's emergency meeting with aid agencies and charities in Rome. The UN says it's so far received $1bn, but needs the international community to donate a billion more by the end of the year to stave off widespread starvation. The World Bank has promised 500-million-dollars for the region. However, $12m will be immediately released for relief projects for those worst hit by the drought.

Wall Street Journal, Jerusalem Post: idiocy

Think Progress:

Norway continues to mourn the scores of victims from a terror attack allegedly committed by an anti-Muslim far-right extremist named Anders Breivik. Yet just days after the attack, major right-wing papers have published op-eds and editorials that are claiming that while this extremist was wrong to committ violence, his cause was just.

First, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed today by Bruce Bawer, an American expatriate author living in Europe. He argued that while Breivik’s terrorism was wrong, the real tragedy is that the attacks have dealt a “heavy blow” to the “urgent cause” of highlighting the alleged threat Muslims pose to Europe:

During the hours when I thought that Oslo had been attacked by jihadists, I wept for the city that has been my home for many years. And I hoped Norwegian leaders would respond to this act of violence by taking a more responsible approach to the problems they face in connection with Islam. When it emerged that these acts of terror were the work of a native Norwegian who thought he was striking a blow against jihadism and its enablers, it was immediately clear to me that his violence will deal a heavy blow to an urgent cause. [...]

In Norway, to speak negatively about any aspect of the Muslim faith has always been a touchy matter, inviting charges of “Islamophobia” and racism. It will, I fear, be a great deal more difficult to broach these issues now that this murderous madman has become the poster boy for the criticism of Islam
.


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Monday, July 25, 2011

Obama like FDR? Not at all, it turns out.

Alexander Heffner, Opinion, The Washington Post:

Remember when Barack Obama was supposed to be the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt?

As the president took office, historians and columnists reveled in the comparison. Historian William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of “Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal,” told NPR that he heard echoes of FDR in Obama’s inaugural address. Before that, Time magazine featured the president-elect on its cover, smiling and, FDR-like, smoking a cigarette in a 1930s roadster. “The New New Deal,” the headline proclaimed. And in the essay inside, “The New Liberal Order,” journalist Peter Beinart likened Obama’s coalition to FDR’s and posited that “if [Obama] can do what F.D.R. did — make American capitalism stabler and less savage — he will establish a Democratic majority that dominates U.S. politics for a generation.” Just like FDR.

We still don’t know exactly which former president Obama will most closely resemble. But now, after he has putcuts to Social Security on the table as part of debt negotiations with the GOP, we can finally and definitively nix Roosevelt, the liberal lion of the 20th century, from the list of parallels. Our 44th president is not a champion of liberal reform a la FDR, nor does he live in a political universe in which “bold and persistent experimentation,” as FDR promised in 1932, is even possible. Obama may turn out to be like any of his 43 predecessors — just not Roosevelt.


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'Norway will remain open country'



Al Jazeera's Nick Spicer interviews Jens Stoltenberg, the prime minister of Norway, who personally knew many of the victims of Friday's twin attacks.

Europe must act on extremism

Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg embraces a survivor of the Utoeya island shooting.

Aslak Sira Myhre, Opinion, The Guardian:

I share the fear and pain of my country – but in Norway this kind of insane act has always had its origins in the far right

The terror of Norway has not come from Islamic extremists. Nor has it come from the far left, even though both these groups have been accused time after time of being the inner threat to our "way of living". Up to and including the terrifying hours in the afternoon of 22 July, the little terror my country has experienced has come from the far right.

For decades, political violence in this country has been almost the sole preserve of neo-Nazis and other racist groups. During the 1970s they bombed leftwing bookstores and a May Day demonstration. In the 80s two neo-Nazis were executed because they were suspected of betraying the group. In the past two decades, two non-white Norwegian boys have been died as a result of racist attacks. No foreign group has killed or hurt people on Norwegian territory since the second world war, except for the Israeli security force Mossad, which targeted and killed an innocent man by mistake on Lillehammer in 1973.


Continue reading here.

Bernie Sanders on The Situation Room



Vermont's Independent Social Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders appeared on CNN's The Situation Room this past Friday to defend the interests of average Americans, by defending Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and not wanting to balance the budget on the backs of the average person.

Climate change threatens food security

Reuters:

A historic drought in the southern Plains intensified in the last week and contributed to dry conditions emerging in the heart of the Midwest crop belt, a weekly climatologists' report said Thursday.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, produced by a consortium of national climate experts, showed abnormally dry conditions affecting a significant area of the Midwest -- about 10 percent -- for the first time this summer.

The areas included parts of Iowa and Illinois, the top two corn- and soy-growing states that annually produce about one-third of the U.S. corn crop. Also affected were southern Wisconsin, northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

Texas remained the epicenter of the crisis, with "exceptional drought," the most severe drought category, gripping 75 percent of the state.

Texas climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said it was the state's third-worst drought since 1895.

"I think all the heat that has developed out in the Plains has spilled over into the rest of the Midwest. That has certainly been a contributing factor," said Jim Angel, the state climatologist for Illinois.


Continue reading here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Millions of Kenyans need humanitarian aid



In recent months, Kenya has struggled to cope with an influx of refugees fleeing the drought in Somalia. In Dadaab camp alone, an estimated 380,000 refugees are now living at facilities intended to cope with a population of 90,000 people. But as Al Jazeera's Catherine Soi reports from northern Kenya, an estimated four million of its own citizens require humanitarian assistance.

RCMP spied on literary scholar Northrop Frye

The Huffington Post:

Ottawa - Canada's intelligence service spied on renowned literary scholar Northrop Frye, closely eyeing his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement, an academic forum on China and efforts to end apartheid in South Africa.

Newly released archival records show the RCMP Security Service relied on a secret informant to help compile a 142-page file on the esteemed University of Toronto professor, who died in 1991 at age 78.

Every inch the owlish, bespectacled academic, Frye seems an unlikely counter-intelligence target.

But the Mounties, wary of anyone deemed influential among the burgeoning New Left, amassed hundreds of thousands of files during the Cold War — monitoring key institutions such as universities, the media, churches and political organizations.

The scandal-ridden RCMP spy agency was disbanded in 1984 and replaced by the civilian Canadian Security Intelligence Service.


Continue reading here.

Inside Story - Is the right on the rise in Europe?

Fighting Ford's library cuts

The Toronto Star:

Celebrated writer Margaret Atwood is offering personal visits to some book clubs as part of her online campaign to spare Toronto’s libraries from Mayor Rob Ford’s budget knife.

On Thursday, Atwood retweeted a Twitter message asking people to sign an online petition, started by the library workers’ union, telling City Hall to ignore city-hired consultant KPMG’s suggestion to “rationalize the footprint of libraries to reduce service levels, closing some branches.”

Many of Atwood’s more than one-quarter million Twitter followers complied and promptly crashed the server hosting the petition, which was restored in about a half-hour when the union upgraded to an unlimited bandwidth package.

Atwood has since kept up the pressure, with many of her tweets referencing a recent quip on radio by Councillor Doug Ford that: “We have more libraries per person than any other city in the world. I’ve got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Hortons.”

The doughnut shop claim — which turned out to be false — is prominent on the petition website with a photo of the Ford brothers and a plea for Torontonians to fight any attempt to privatize or cut the city’s 99-branch system, which loaned out more than 32 million books, DVDs and other items last year.

“Twin Fordmayor seems to think those who eat Timbits (like me) don’t read, can’t count, & are stupid eh?” Atwood tweeted Friday.


Continue reading here.

Norway massacre victims remembered



Saturday, July 23, 2011

Somalia's refugees seek food in border states



Thousands of Somalis have been making long treks across the country's borders in search of food as drought continues to grip large parts of East Africa. Al-Shabaab, the Islamist rebel group who control most of the worst-affected regions of Somalia, says the crisis has been overblown and accuse the UN of trying to politicize the crisis.

Why we were attacked in Norway

Jalees Rehman, M.D., Scientist and Physician

One of the biggest shocks was that these attacks occurred in Norway, which is characterized by an open and peaceful society. However, Norway is exactly the kind of country that would offend religious or political right-wing extremists.

Continue reading here.

Inside Story - Would the west interfere in Syria?



Anti-government protests continue across Syria; as they have almost every Friday for four months. What is the endgame, and is the west ever likely to take the Libyan route and intervene?

Amy Winehouse 1983-2011

The Huffington Post:

Troubled singer Amy Winehouse has been found dead in her North London home, Sky News is reporting. The Daily Miror reports that police have confirmed the passing.

The Grammy-winning singer, best known for her hit song, "Rehab," died of an apparent drug overdose. She's battled drug addiction for years, having most recently checked back into rehabilitation in May.

Earlier in the day, Tim Gatt, a Sky News producer, tweeted a statement saying that she was withdrawing from all of her upcoming performances, writing, "Amy Winehouse is withdrawing from all scheduled performances. Everyone involved wishes to do everything they can to help her return to her best and she will be given as long as it takes for this to happen."

Winehouse has had previous near-death experiences, including one her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, described in detail back in 2009.

"I knelt over her as she kept on fitting. But then suddenly she just passed out and stopped breathing," he told The Sun (via NME). It was the most frightening thing I had ever seen. I felt sure I was watching her die right in front of me. I didn't know what to do or how to save her. I held her to me - and I thought she was dying in my arms. But somehow I managed to open her mouth and breathe air down her throat."

In January, 2010, she pled guilty to assaulting a theater stage manager.

In 2008, after some confusion, a spokesperson for Winehouse confirmed that she had "early signs of what could lead to emphysema."


Norway massacre suspect: right-wing extremist



At least 85 people have been confirmed dead after a shooting at Norway's Utoya island, nearly two hours after a bomb blast killed seven people in a government district in the capital, Oslo. A gunman dressed in police uniform opened fire at a youth summer camp in Utoya on Friday. Oslo police are questioning, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian who was arrested in connection with the shooting incident. Police say the suspect had been seen in Oslo before the bombing, which targeted buildings that house the prime minister's office. A police official said that information gleaned on the internet suggested the suspect was a "Christian fundamentalist". The TV2 television station reported, without disclosing its sources, that the detained man had links to right-wing extremism.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Is climate change a global security threat?



The UN is worried that climate change may aggravate threats to international peace and security. Island-nations want a UN 'green helmet' peacekeeping force to intervene in conflicts caused by shrinking resources. Is this a real threat or a diversion?

Norway bombing, mass shooting















Elizabeth Warren makes it personal

The Atlantic:

Relieved from the day to day responsibilities of running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she seems to be embracing a newfound freedom

Elizabeth Warren is ready to name and shame. After 10 long months spent crafting a brand-new federal agency in her image and likeness, years before that willing the institution into statutory existence, only to be passed over on Sunday in favor of Richard Cordray just as the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is moving out of beta, Warren, on a press call late yesterday afternoon, was eager to share her clarity on who's to blame for the especially precarious position the new federal-friend-to-the-American-consumer now finds itself in.


Continue reading here.

Senator Franken destroys homophobic witness



Obama more conservative than Nixon

Paul Krugman, Opinion, The New York Times:

Bruce Bartlett says what you’re not supposed to say: Obama has governed as a moderate conservative, somewhat to the right of Richard Nixon. The frothing-at-the-mouth comments are an extra bonus.

And it is, of course, true; although Obama defenders would say that he had no option. Still, the point is that if you ask what Mitt Romney would probably be doing if he were in the White House and not trying desperately to convince his party that he shares its madness, it would look a lot like what Obama is doing.

There are, however, two crucial points to understand.

First, Obama gets no credit for his moderation, and never will. No matter how far right he moves, Republicans will move further right; and nothing he can do will keep them from denouncing him as a radical socialist.

Second, moderate conservatism isn’t working as a policy matter. As I’ve tried to tell everyone from the beginning of the Lesser Depression, a deeply depressed economy in which monetary policy is up against the zero lower bound turns the normal rules of policy upside down. We’re in a world in which conventional prudence is folly, in which playing it safe is extremely risky. And we have, alas, a conventionally prudent, play-it-safe president — the kind of president who might have done fine in the 1990s, but not now.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ronald Reagan hailed by liberals in debt fight

The Huffington Post:

Washington - Democrats have a new icon these days: Ronald Reagan.

That's because, unlike many Republicans in the House, the fiscally conservative late president believed it was essential for the United States to make good on its all obligations and raise the debt ceiling.

And Democrats across the spectrum on Wednesday have been holding the conservative hero up to Republicans as an example they should follow.

"I find myself these days quoting Ronald Reagan," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) at a news conference Wednesday. "'The full consequences of a default,' he said, 'or even the serious prospect of a default by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The nation can ill afford to allow such a result.'

"That's Ronald Reagan," Boxer emphasized, suggesting that Republicans recall that model. "All they have to do is look at their icon, Ronald Reagan, and understand you don't play with fire when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America."


Continue reading here.

How Fox News distorts the climate debate



Featuring interviews with Bob Perkowitz from EcoAmerica and Dan Lashof from Natural Resources Defense Council. Voice over by D.C. Douglas.

Ford's way sending Toronto on downward spiral

Christopher Hume, Opinion, The Toronto Star:

As the Core Services Sideshow grinds to its foregone conclusion, it’s clear Mayor Rob Ford is less interested in slashing costs than slashing government.

Now in its second week, the spectacle unfolding at City Hall is almost entirely divorced from reality at this point. The script, carefully prepared by the efficiency experts, offers alternatives, not recommendations. This is just Act One.

Though even the bean counters have found waste hard to come by, Ford himself continues to see it everywhere he turns: As recently as last week he was telling a radio talk-show host that “There’s tons of gravy.”

By coincidence, one of Waterfront Toronto’s newest jewels, Sherbourne Common, has just opened. It cost something like $28 million, which, the Fordians will insist, is way too much for a park.

But that’s only a small part of the story: In addition to being a fantastic new amenity that will attract visitors to this long-neglected corner at Sherbourne St. and Queens Quay, it is a major water-treatment facility. It will service the tens of thousands of residents expected to move into the area in the coming years.

Finally, the Common has created economic and civic value. Land that was overlooked, underused or even unused has now become attractive. The waterfront is evolving into a place where people will choose to live, work, play and pay taxes.

In this way, development worth more than $1.5 billion has been generated on the Toronto waterfront, with much more to come.


Canada's crime rate continues to fall

The Canadian Press:

Ottawa - The crime rate continued a 20-year decline last year, dropping five per cent from 2009 and hitting the lowest level since 1973, Statistics Canada said Thursday.

The homicide rate was the lowest since 1966.

The statistics agency said the overall police-reported crime rate is still following a long-term downward curve, despite the alarm bells from the Harper government over the need for tough-on-crime legislation.

The agency said an index which measures the severity of crime fell six per cent in 2010. The crime severity index is at its lowest point since 1998, the first year for which such data are available.

The governing Conservatives, though, still want to pursue a crime crackdown. In the past they have brushed off the police-reported crime rates, saying many crimes don't get reported and thus undermine the statistics.


Continue reading here.



UN declares famine in southern Somalia

A Somali woman and her severely malnourished child wait for medical assistance from the African Union Mission in Somalia.

United Nations:

The United Nations today declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia owing to the worst drought in decades, and appealed for urgent resources to assist millions of people in desperate need of help.

“Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas,” said Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.

It is the first time since 1991-92 that the UN has declared famine in a part of Somalia.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Defying Israel's naval blockade on Gaza

Phone-hacking whistleblower found dead

The Guardian:

Death of Sean Hoare – who was first named journalist to allege Andy Coulson knew of hacking – not being treated as suspicious

Sean Hoare, the former News of the World showbusiness reporter who was the first named journalist to allege that Andy Coulson was aware of phone hacking by his staff, has been found dead .

Hoare, who worked on the Sun and the News of the World with Coulson before being dismissed for drink and drugs problems, was said to have been found at his Watford home.

Hertfordshire police would not confirm his identity, but said in a statement: "At 10.40am today [Monday 18 July] police were called to Langley Road, Watford, following the concerns for the welfare of a man who lives at an address on the street. Upon police and ambulance arrival at a property, the body of a man was found. The man was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after.

"The death is currently being treated as unexplained but not thought to be suspicious. Police investigations into this incident are ongoing."

There was an unexplained delay in the arrival of forensics officers at the scene.


Continue reading here.

Death squads' on streets of Syrian city



In Syria, opposition activists say security forces have attacked a funeral in the country's third largest city of Homs. At least 13 people are reported to have been killed as mourners were burying the dead from earlier attacks.

City streetscapes latest target for Toronto’s cuts

The Toronto Star:

Programs to improve the appearance of city streets should be considered for cuts, says consulting firm KPMG.

In its latest report on city services, released Wednesday, KPMG says city council should consider eliminating public art programs.

The program uses art to beautify public spaces.

KPMG suggests scrapping the program would save $95,000 a year, but it doesn’t make the suggestion with a lot of enthusiasm.

“Program appears to generate substantial investments in public art at modest costs to the city,” the consultant says.

Council could also get rid of its public realm improvement program, which fixes up forgotten or neglected corners of the city such as traffic islands, boulevards and subway entrances.

And a program that provides grants and tax breaks to preserve heritage buildings could also be dropped, the consultant says.

In both cases, KPMG says there are downsides. Getting rid of public realm improvements “will impact the look and dynamism of the city,” while axing heritage protection “may make it more difficult to convince owners to retain heritage buildings.”


Continue reading here.

FDR's warning about today's Republicans



FDR tells the truth about the leaders of the modern Republican party. Somehow, in 1936, he foresaw what would be happening NOW.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Murdochs face court



For two weeks the Murdoch family, which owns Newscorp, has been beseiged with allegations of corruption. The affair has already dragged down the popular News of the World newspaper and led to the arrests of multiple Newscorp higher-ups. Rupert Murdoch will be answering to a court in the UK in the near future.

No revenue? No problem. Right, Mayor Ford?

Marcus Gee, Opinion, The Globe and Mail:

When he was a cranky city councillor, Rob Ford always denied that the city needed to take in more money. City hall, he said over and over, “has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” Yet now that he is in charge, Toronto is considering more and higher user fees for city services. The aim, quite obviously, is to collect more money.

Along with its department-by-department service review, the city is taking an exhaustive look at what it charges on everything from marriage licences and ice time to children’s swimming lessons and yoga classes for seniors. If the city is offering something for less than it costs to deliver, city manager Joe Pennachetti said on Monday, it will consider “full cost recovery.” In other words, the user pays the whole freight, with no hidden subsidy from the city. On top of that, says Pennachetti’s report, the city will seek “additional opportunities for collecting user fees.” Translation: It will consider charging for things that it doesn’t now.

It is a far cry from what Mr. Ford promised as a candidate for mayor. Under his “respect for taxpayers” banner, he said repeatedly that city hall should stop reaching into citizens’ pockets and cut its out-of-control spending instead. If the city got a buck for every time he repeated his “spending problem, not a revenue problem” mantra, it could wipe out its budget shortfall in a blink.

Once he became mayor, one of the first things he did was announce a freeze in property taxes and an end to the vehicle registration tax. But user fees come from the same pockets of the same overburdened folk that taxes do. His platform said nothing about higher user fees. Of course, it said nothing about service cuts either. Mr. Ford “guaranteed” there would not be any. Now we are facing the threat of both service cuts and higher fees.

His administration has already raised fees by $23-million to balance the 2011 budget and help make up for the loss of revenue from the vehicle tax. Fees for a host of programs went up about 3 per cent. The current review of fees is bound to recommend yet further hikes, putting more pressure on taxpayers.


Continue reading here.

NASA'S last shuttle crew heading to Earth



The crew of NASA's last shuttle to space are getting ready to head back down to Earth for the final time.

Prison costs soar 86% in past five years: report

The National Post:

Ottawa — The cost of the federal prison system has risen 86% since the Harper government took over in 2006, government reports show.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2005-06, Canada’s federal corrections system cost nearly $1.6-billion per year, but the projected cost for 2011-12 has increased to $2.98-billion per year.

“That is a humungous increase of over 80%,” said Justin Piche, an assistant professor of sociology at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L., who analyzes the costs of Canada’s prisons.

“Canadians are going to be spending a lot more on their prisons, and this is just the beginning.”

Figures on the cost of Canada’s federal corrections system appear in the annual Reports on Plans and Priorities of the Correctional Service of Canada.

By 2013-14, the cost of the federal penitentiary system will have almost doubled to $3.147-billion, according to budget projections.


Continue reading here.

The End of the American Dream?



To learn more visit www.changetowin.org

Monday, July 18, 2011

Israel jailing Palestinian children

BBC:

An Israeli rights group has criticised the government for jailing Palestinian children, some as young as 12.

Israel's civilian courts forbid jailing any child under 14. But Palestinian children arrested in the West Bank are usually tried in military courts.

The group, Btselem, says the children are often given jail terms of up to two months. Most are arrested for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers
.

Continue reading here.

Police resignations affect phone-hacking scandal



British Prime Minister to return to UK early from Africa as police officers resign in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

Harper wrong on NDP and Quebec

The Globe and Mail:

As many provinces know well,” Stephen Harper told a crowd of supporters during the Calgary Stampede, “no honeymoon passes as quickly and as completely as one with the NDP.” According to the Prime Minister, Quebeckers will be seeking an annulment at the first opportunity and it will be his Conservative Party that will reap the benefits of the rebound.

But aside from one infamous example, there is very little to backup Mr. Harper’s claim that provinces, let alone many, have a history of a rocky relationship with the NDP.

In the two Prairie provinces, the New Democrats have formed governments multiple times and have won re-elections, while in Nova Scotia the NDP government of Darrell Dexter elected in 2009 is still ahead in the polls.

In Saskatchewan, the NDP’s predecessor, the CCF, formed government for 20 years between 1944 and 1964, winning five elections under Tommy Douglas. The NDP returned to power in 1971 and held office until 1982, and more recently the governments of Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert governed the province for 16 years between 1991 and 2007.

Manitoba, too, has had three stints of NDP government. The first was elected in 1969 and was in power until 1977, the second held sway for most of the 1980s, and the current NDP government was first elected back in 1999 under Gary Doer. His successor, Greg Selinger, is in a good position to win re-election this fall.

The Prime Minister was apparently in the midst of a little unfounded rhetoric, but it may be hope rather than history that is informing his predictions on the political future of Quebec.


Continue reading here.

US troops begin Afghanistan pullout



Up to 10,000 US troops get ready to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year. In some US towns, families have already started welcoming their loved ones back home as a drawdown of armed forces concludes a 10 year war.

The end game: saving Obama from himself

Robert Kuttner, Co-founder and co-editor, The American Prospect:

As the debt doomsday of August 2 draws closer, what sort of end-game can we imagine? The stakes are so high that President Obama can probably win this one without giving away the store. Nonetheless, Obama and his advisers, weirdly, believe that his stance as "the only grownup in the room" who forces his own party to abandon its core principles for the sake of an austerity program will somehow win the gratitude of voters struggling with declining incomes and rising joblessness. The unemployment may be stuck near ten percent, but good old Obama brokered a deal to balance the budget in 2021. So re-elect this man. On which planet is this?

Continue reading here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The rise of the wrecking-ball right

Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley; Author, 'Aftershock':

Government-haters seem to be everywhere. Congressional Republicans, now led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, hate government so much they're ready to sacrifice the full faith and credit of the United States in order to shrink it.

Continue reading here.

Famine crippling families in Wajir



UNICEF says about 11 million people need humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa. Families are near breaking point as the famine spells disaster for dwindling livestock numbers - the heart of life in the region.

We will become like the gods we once feared



Every Wednesday, Michio Kaku will be answering reader questions about physics and futuristic science. If you have a question for Dr. Kaku, just post it in the comments section below and check back on Wednesdays to see if he answers it.

Today, Dr. Kaku addresses a question posed by Liam Stein: "How will the world look post-singularity? Can you walk us through a day in the life of a transhuman?"

Citizens to Obama: make the rich pay, sacrifice



Barack Obama, the US president, and Congressional leaders are still seeking a deal to lift the US debt ceiling. Obama used his weekly radio address to ask Americans to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good. But ordinary Americans, who face daily economic challenge, say they have already sacrificed enough and that they have got nothing left to give.

Rebekah Brooks arrested

The Huffington Post:

Rebekah Brooks has been arrested, the Metropolitan Police confirmed on Sunday.

The former News International chief executive went to a London police station by appointment and was arrested on suspicion of corruption and phone hacking.

Brooks is the 10th person to be arrested in connection to the new investigation into allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.

In a statement, police said: "The MPS has this afternoon, Sunday 17 July, arrested a female in connection with allegations of corruption and phone hacking.


Continue reading here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Purge ourselves of insidious shame

Margaret Drabble, Opinion, The Independent:

The most astonishing feature of the past week's astonishing events has been the shock, surprise and disgust expressed by so many in public life, all of whom knew perfectly well what had been going on for years and years under Murdoch's rule.

Continue reading here.

Meet three people helped by Toronto’s city grants

The Toronto Star:

Marion Hall, Jenn Irving and Cheyenne Allen don’t pay too much attention to the politics at Toronto City Hall.

But if Mayor Rob Ford had gotten his way with his “just say no” attitude to grants this past week, their lives might have been completely changed.

The mayor was overwhelmingly defeated when council voted in favour of six grant programs totalling $7.2 million for 259 groups. The money for seniors, children, neighbourhoods and other projects that help make up a city will continue.

For now.


Continue reading here.

Syrian opposition leaders meet in Turkey



At least 400 members of Syrian opposition, divided between conservatives Islamists and liberals, are attending the so called National Salvation Congress in Istanbul on Saturday to try to unite behind the goal of ending 41 years of Assad family rule.

Ford’s campaign mantra runs out of gas

Chris Selley, Opinion, The National Post:

Rob Ford’s campaign narrative was almost out of gas heading into this week. And judging by the first two instalments of a spending review meant to find ways for Toronto to solve a massive budget shortfall, this car is almost ready for the scrap yard. It’s the burnt-out rental Dodge from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, with three-quarters of a bumper sticker reading “Respect for Taxp.”

Mr. Ford swore that the core services review reports, prepared by the firm KPMG, would find “at least $50- or $100-million” in savings, else their authors wouldn’t receive “one red cent” in compensation. Yet they largely vindicate his opponents’ stance: We know what the city does. We don’t need to pay consultants big bucks to tell us. Most of what the city does is either essential, provincially mandated or both — 96% of the services covered by Monday’s and Tuesday’s reports. (There are six more reports to come.)

And those services are delivered pretty decently, according to the reports. They don’t even suggest what efficiencies might be found — the mythical gravy — because that’s not what KPMG was commissioned to do.

That City Hall wastes some money is as obvious as it ever was. The question remains how much. We were promised enough to significantly ameliorate the nearly $800-million budget shortfall. We’re still waiting.

And we were promised it wouldn’t impact services. Now we know it will.


Continue reading here.