Tuesday, February 19, 2013

US city bans use of drones

Unmanned aircraft, or drones, are widely used by the US against foreign targets. But their use inside the United States is more controversial. Privacy advocates worry that drones in America's skies will result in a surveillance society. That has led the city of Charlottesville to ban the use of drones in its airspace. Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett reports from the city.

Wealthy backers fund right-wing agenda in secret

Democracy Now!:

Since 1999, the nonprofit charity Donors Trust has handed out nearly $400 million in private donations to more than 1,000 right-wing and libertarian groups. The fact it has been able to quietly do so appears to explain why it exists: Wealthy donors can back the right-wing causes they want without attracting public scrutiny. The most detailed accounting to date shows Donors Trust funds a wish list of right-wing causes, prompting Mother Jones magazine to label it "the dark-money ATM of the right." We’re joined by John Dunbar, politics editor at the Center for Public Integrity and co-author of the group’s months-long investigation into Donors Trust. "They’re essentially a pass through," Dunbar says of Donors Trust. "They act as a kind of a middleman between what are very large, well-known private foundations created mostly by corporate executives, like the Kochs, for example, and they direct the money of those contributions to a very large network of right-leaning, free-market think tanks across the country."

Drones - web press grills Obama

"President Barack Obama touched on a slew of issues in his second Google Hangout, repeating the major points from Tuesday's State of the Union speech but also directly addressing the viability of the penny, the Benghazi hearings, drone strikes on American citizens, his daughters' math and science skills, and the GOP blocking a confirmation vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense."*

In a recent Google Hangout, President Obama took questions from a handful of bloggers. The questions were tough, and they grilled the president on his drone policy, much more than any mainstream press have ever. Why were these bloggers and the daily show the only ones to pose these critical questions? Cenk Uygur breaks it down

Friday, February 15, 2013

The NDAA and the death of the democratic state

Chris Hedges, Truthdig:

On Wednesday a few hundred activists crowded into the courtroom of the Second Circuit, the spillover room with its faulty audio feed and dearth of chairs, and Foley Square outside the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan where many huddled in the cold. The fate of the nation, we understood, could be decided by the three judges who will rule on our lawsuit against President Barack Obama for signing into law Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The section permits the military to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens, who “substantially support”—an undefined legal term—al-Qaida, the Taliban or “associated forces,” again a term that is legally undefined. Those detained can be imprisoned indefinitely by the military and denied due process until “the end of hostilities.” In an age of permanent war this is probably a lifetime. Anyone detained under the NDAA can be sent, according to Section (c)(4), to any “foreign country or entity.” This is, in essence, extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens. It empowers the government to ship detainees to the jails of some of the most repressive regimes on earth.

Section 1021(b)(2) was declared invalid in September after our first trial, in the Southern District Court of New York. The Obama administration appealed the Southern District Court ruling. The appeal was heard Wednesday in the Second Circuit Court with Judges Raymond J. Lohier, Lewis A. Kaplan and Amalya L. Kearse presiding. The judges might not make a decision until the spring when the Supreme Court rules in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, another case in which I am a plaintiff. The Supreme Court case challenges the government’s use of electronic surveillance. If we are successful in the Clapper case, it will strengthen all the plaintiffs’ standing in Hedges v. Obama. The Supreme Court, if it rules against the government, will affirm that we as plaintiffs have a reasonable fear of being detained.

Continue reading here.

Is Mexico's war on drugs close to a real end?

The election of Enrique Pena Nieto last year marked the return to power of the Industrial Revolutionary Party (PRI) that had ruled the country for 71 years prior to the year 2000. Pena Nieto promised the PRI was no longer a party of patronage and corruption, but a modern force focused on economic growth, poverty reduction and tackling the drug-related violence unleashed during the presidency of Felipe Calderon. This week the president unveiled his plan to tackle crime and take on the cartels. He appeared to reject Calderon's policy of force, instead promising to approach the problem through a $9.2bn investment in social programs to address the root causes of crime. And in Ecuador, all indications suggest that President Rafael Correa's leadership is almost certain to continue after Sunday's presidential election. Correa is already the longest-serving president the country has had in a century, despite having only come to power in 2007.

The growing militarization of domestic policing

Democracy Now!:

The fire that killed former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner on Tuesday has drawn comparisons to the deadly 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, and the 1985 police bombing of the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia. In Waco, federal agents denied for years they had used incendiary tear gas after a fire killed 76 people inside the compound. The MOVE bombing left six adults and five children dead. We speak to former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper and Radley Balko, author of the forthcoming book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tony Benn on market forces

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Poverty, inequality are ignored by Obama

Democracy Now!:

President Obama opened his State of the Union with a call to revive the middle class and with a challenge to a divided Congress to back his economic proposals to create jobs. We get reaction from Bob Herbert, distinguished senior fellow with Demos, and Cathy Cohen, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and founder of the Black Youth Project. "Median income in the United States has gone down since the recession ended," Herbert says. "Poverty is expanding. We have nearly 50 million people who are officially poor in this country and another 50 million who are near poor. ... You’re getting close to a third of the entire population. So, there is no way to address challenges that are that enormous without making enormous investments."

Inside Story - The two sides of Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama has once again attempted to appease both sides of the political divide as he set out his agenda for 2013. His annual State of the Union address was filled with policies appealing both to progressives and conservatives, even though some like - fighting climate change and increasing oil production - appear incompatible.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Obama's Game of Drones

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Legacy of Chile's Pinochet dictatorship lives on

State repression of social movements by militarized Carabinero police force draws international condemnation.

Special ops, private sector to continue Afghan War

Democracy Now!:

As President Obama announced plans to withdraw another 34,000 troops from Afghanistan, longtime peace activist Kathy Kelly warns the war shows no end. Kelly, who just returned from Afghanistan, says the company formally known as Blackwater is now running a base just outside of Kabul used by the Special Operations Joint Task Force. On Monday, a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan killed 10 civilians. The strike hit what the NATO occupation force called a suspected Taliban hideout in the province of Kunar. Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, warns Afghan civilians continue to suffer from longest-running war in U.S. history.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Canadian unions under siege

Workers often toiled 10 to 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week in the 19th century. In the decades that followed the Great Depression, unions won higher wages and better working conditions for their members

Although much denigrated by the right these days, union activists are, as the old saying notes, “the people who brought you the weekend.”

The right apparently wants you to believe that the weekend is now out of date.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, along with influential members of the corporate and media world, are hostile to unions, rarely missing an opportunity to portray union leaders as autocratic “bosses.”

Yet, if you’re middle class, a union probably helped you or your ancestors get there. In the 19th century, workers typically toiled 10 to 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week. Unions fought to change that. In the decades that followed the Great Depression, unions won higher wages and better working conditions for their members, setting a standard with ripple effects that led to a better deal for all workers.

But in recent decades, many of the precious, hard-fought union gains — job security, workplace pensions, as well as broader social goals like public pensions and unemployment insurance — have been under fierce attack by the corporate world (where workers really are under the thumb of unelected “bosses”).

Part of the strategy has been to pit worker against worker. So, as private sector workers have lost ground, they’ve been encouraged to resent public sector workers, whose unions have generally been stronger and better able to protect them.

With workers increasingly baited into a dogfight against each other, it’s been easier to make the case that unions are no longer relevant.

But, given the intensity of the attack, unions are likely more necessary than ever. If you’ve grown attached to the weekend, not to mention the eight-hour day, this probably isn’t the time to throw unions under the bus.

In fact, they’re really the only organized line of defence against the broad right-wing assault on a wide range of social programs and government regulations important to most Canadians.

Continue reading here.

Israel plan to wall off West Bank land defied

A court in Israel is due to hear final arguments on the construction of a separation wall in a pristine valley in the West Bank. Lawyers representing Palestinian landowners and a convent say if the wall is built they will lose their land and the convent will be surrounded. Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston reports from the Cremisan Valley in the Occupied West Bank.

Remembering Eslanda Robeson

Democracy Now!:

In a Black History Month special, we remember the lives of the legendary civil rights activist, singer and actor Paul Robeson and his wife Eslanda, whose story is not as well known. One of the most celebrated singers and actors of the 20th century, Robeson was attacked, blacklisted and hounded by the government for his political beliefs. Eslanda Robeson, known by her friends as "Essie," was an author, an anthropologist and a globally connected activist who worked to end colonialism in Africa and racism in the United States. We’re joined by historian Barbara Ransby, author of the new biography, "Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Protests disrupt CIA director hearing

Protesters in the US have disrupted the hearing to confirm John Brennan as the new director of the CIA. They were condemning the controversial US drone programme, which Brennan helped to establish. Al Jazeera's Kimberley Halkett reports from Washington DC.

CodePink names victims of drones at hearing

Democracy Now!:

Thursday’s confirmation hearing for CIA nominee John Brennan was briefly postponed to clear the room of activists from CODEPINK after they repeatedly disrupted Brennan’s testimony. One woman held a list of Pakistani children killed in U.S. drone strikes. Former U.S. diplomat Col. Ann Wright interrupted Brennan while wearing a sign around her neck with the name of Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old Pakistani boy who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Wright and seven others were arrested. We speak to CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin who also disrupted the meeting and recently visited Pakistan to speak with victims of drone strikes. “It’s not only the killing, it’s the terrorizing of entire populations, where they hear the drones buzzing overhead 24 hours a day. Where they’re afraid to go to school, afraid to go to the markets, to funerals, to weddings. Where it disrupts entire communities,” Benjamin says. “And we are trying to get this information to our elected officials, to say, 'You are making us unsafe here at home,' to say nothing about illegal, immoral and inhumane these policies are.”

Brennan hearing: citizen assassinations ignored

Democracy Now!:

President Obama’s nominee to run the CIA, John Brennan, forcefully defended Obama’s counterterrorism policies, including the increase use of armed drones and the targeted killings of American citizens during his confirmation hearing Thursday. “None of the central questions that should have been asked of John Brennan were asked in an effective way,” says Jeremy Scahill, author of the forthcoming book “Dirty Wars.” “In the cases where people like Sen. Angus King or Sen. Ron Wyden would ask a real question, for instance, about whether or not the CIA has the right to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. The questions were very good — Brennan would then offer up a non-answer. Then there would be almost a no follow-up.” Scahill went on to say, “[Brennan has] served for more than four years as the assassination czar, and it basically looked like they’re discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol hill. And it was total kabuki oversight. And that’s a devastating commentary on where things stand.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Narrowing Asia's gap between rich and poor

China and Indonesia have agreed to increase minimum wages to help narrow the gap between rich and poor. The countries' economies are among the fastest growing in the world but they are also witnessing growing social unrest. Millions remain in poverty and workers are increasingly taking to the streets, holding strikes and protests - pressing their demands for more money. We examine if raising wages in Indonesia and China could burden production cost and hurt the lowest paid.

'Wide variety of complicity' in CIA rendition

As many as 54 countries have been complicit in the CIA's extraordinary rendition operations in which terrorism suspects were held in secret prisons overseas or turned over to foreign governments for interrogation, a human rights organization has said in a report. Speaking to Al Jazeera from New York, Amrit Singh, author of the report for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said there has been a "continuum of involvement by each of these governments", ranging from hosting CIA secret prisons to the capture and detention of prisoners. These actions, Singh says, illustrate a "wide variety of complicity" from European and Middle Eastern states.

Debate: case for Iraq War was false from get-go

Democracy Now!:

Ten years ago this week, a defining moment occurred in the Bush administration’s push to invade Iraq. On Feb. 5, 2003, then-Secretary of State General Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council. His message was clear: Iraq possessed extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein was systematically trying to deceive U.N. inspectors by hiding prohibited weapons. A decade later, we host a debate between Powell’s former aide, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson — who prepared the U.N. speech, only to later renounce it — and media critic Norman Solomon, author of "War Made Easy." "I don’t believe the hype about that presentation having been the ultimate presentation ... that led us to war with Iraq," Wilkerson says of Powell’s speech. "George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others had decided to go to war with Iraq long before Colin Powell gave that presentation. ... It added to the momentum of the war. ... Frankly, we were all wrong. Was the intelligence politicized in addition to being wrong at its roots? Absolutely." In response, Solomon says, "We were not all wrong. As a matter of fact, many experts and activists and researchers, from the get-go, in 2002, were saying that the administration case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was full of holes. ... So, now to say, 'Well, it wasn't just us at the administration; other people believed it,’ people believed it because they were propagandized by the administration, with massive assistance from the mass media."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pompeii: Its restoration and preservation

Millions of people visit it every year but the ancient Roman city of Pompeii is threatened by neglect. And despite a major EU funding initiative, there are fears the World Heritage site could slowly disappear. Al Jazeera's Claudio Lavanga reports on the attempts being made to preserve Pompeii.

Inside Story - Probing Obama's drone wars

A leaked US government document sets out a legal justification for President Barack Obama's policy of extrajudicial killing, as the United Nations prepares its own investigation into drone strikes. Obama's policy of using lethal force against suspected terrorists is coming under further scrutiny after a Justice Department white paper was obtained by the US media. The document moves the goalposts in regards to when the government is authorized to carry out the killing of a US citizen. This comes as, last week, the UN announced a major investigation into drone strikes. Led by the UN's special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, the study will examine the extent of civilian casualties, and the wider consequences of an expanding global drone war.

Indonesian workers protest minimum wage delays

Tens of thousands of people are protesting in Indonesia against government plans to delay its planned increase of the minimum wage. Said Iqbal, a union labour leader in Jakarta, the capital, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that workers are continuing to demonstrate because they "need the government to implement a health insurance and pension system for all Indonesians". Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen speaks to the workers demanding higher minimum pay and better employment benefits.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

NDAA indefinite detention: assault on Constitution

Democracy Now!:

A lawsuit challenging a law that gives the government the power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens is back in federal court this week. On Wednesday, a group of academics, journalists, and activists will present oral arguments in court against a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizing the military to jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world without charge or trial. In a landmark ruling last September, Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York struck down the indefinite detention provision, saying it likely violates the First and Fifth Amendments of U.S. citizens. We’re joined by Daniel Ellsberg, a plaintiff in the case and perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower. Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Obama's kill list exposed

Democracy Now!:

The Obama administration’s internal legal justification for assassinating U.S. citizens without charge has been revealed for the first time. In a secret Justice Department memo, the administration claims it has legal authority to assassinate U.S. citizens overseas even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the United States. We’re joined by Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "If you look at the memo, there is no geographic line," says Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Now the Obama administration is making a greater claim of authority in some ways [than President Bush]. They are arguing the authority to kill American citizens has no geographic limit."

Why do you only see me as African-American?

"Bill O'Reilly asked Colin Powell a question during a recent interview that appeared to offend the former Secretary of State.

On Tuesday night, O'Reilly described Powell as "a staunch Republican" until he voted for Barack Obama twice, and noted that he has also recently been critical of the GOP."*

Colin Powell asked a simple, yet important question of Bill O'Reilly: "Why do you only see me as an African-American?" This is a challenge to the assumption that the only reason Powell could support Obama was on a presumed racial bias. David Sirota challenges the notion and the questions never asked out loud.

Read more from the Huffington Post:


Monday, February 4, 2013

Obama's drone strikes

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Leaving felons in charge of the banks

Bill Black: Obama Administration not investigating and prosecuting banking fraud.

Rosa Parks’ 100th Birthday

Democracy Now!:

Born on Feb. 4, 1913, today would have been Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday. On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her act of resistance led to a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system that would help spark the civil rights movement. Today we spend the hour looking at Rosa Parks’ life with historian Jeanne Theoharis, author of the new book, "The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks." Often described as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker, Parks was in fact a dedicated civil rights activist involved with the movement long before and after her historic action on the Montgomery bus. "Here we have, in many ways, one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century, and yet treated just like a sort of children’s book hero," Theoharis says. "We diminish her legacy by making it about a single day, a single act, as opposed to the rich and lifelong history of resistance that was actually who Rosa Parks was."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Parents, students: stop privatization of schools

"Journey for Justice" activists rally in DC to DOE investigate alleged civil rights violations in school closings.

Inside Story - Gangs and guns in US inner cities

The Newtown shooting in December, which left 20 school children and six teachers dead, has dragged the issue of gun control back into the national agenda. For the first time in years, US politicians are discussing serious gun control measures. But millions of people in the country's inner cities live with the threat of gun violence on a daily basis. In Baltimore, one of the most dangerous cities in the US, the police have reframed their 'war on drugs' as a 'war on guns'. In the third episode of our special series on guns in the US, Inside Story Americas travels to Baltimore to meet those trying to stop gun crime and others who say owning a gun is sometimes a matter of survival.

David Letterman explains fracking

David Letterman gives us his take in fracking. Posted by Grant MacLaren. Perhaps you've notice the similarities between Tobacco advertising and that of the Natural Gas Industry. Years ago the tobacco industry vehemently denied any connection between smoking and health issues. Tobacco advertising in the 1950's would often include doctors and other medical professionals in their ads as a method of allaying public concerns. After all if you doctor smoked, what's the harm? The Natural Gas industry hasn't gone as far as including doctors or even actors dressed up as doctors in their advertising, nonetheless, the advertising and talking points do include words like "Safe", "Natural", "Clean". These words are selected to make the public feel more comfortable. And it's working on those who just understand the damage fracking is doing to our water supply.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Stream - Canada's native winter

We look at how social media launched the Aboriginal's "Idle No More" protests in Canada. Can online momentum sustain the movement as divisions grow?

Rob Ford campaign audit to be released today

The Toronto Star:

A forensic audit of his campaign financial practices will be released imminently, auditor Bruce Armstrong said on Thursday — possibly Friday, possibly early next week. Armstrong had said earlier that it would be released by the end of January. 

“The anticipation is that it’ll be out this week,” Armstrong said. “It’s going to be read by a lot of people; we want to make sure that — haste makes waste.”

If Armstrong’s audit identifies “apparent contraventions” of the Municipal Elections Act, the city’s three-person compliance audit committee will decide whether to hire a special prosecutor to consider non-criminal charges against Ford. The prosecutor would likely have the power to decide which alleged breaches to pursue and which to discard.

“While a compliance auditor might perceive there to be ‘apparent contraventions,’ which is the language in the Municipal Elections Act, that doesn’t mean there automatically has been an offence beyond a reasonable doubt that can be proved in court. And that’s the gap that has to be bridged,” said Tim Wilkin, a Kingston-based lawyer who served as a special prosecutor in Vaughan, Ottawa, and Hamilton.

Removal from office is one of the possible penalties, but no Ontario politician has ever been punished severely for breaking elections law. 

Regardless of the eventual outcome, election-related charges would cast another shadow over Ford’s tumultuous mayoralty. Any court case could well continue into the 2014 campaign; Wilkin said it can take four to six months just for the special prosecutor to make a decision on laying charges.

Continue reading here.

UN inquiry says Israel must end settlements

Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank violate international law, and the country must "immediately" withdraw all settlers from such areas, UN human rights investigators have said. Israel has not co-operated with the inquiry, set up by the Human Rights Council (HRC) last March to examine the impact of settlements in the territory, including East Jerusalem. "Israel must ... cease all settlement activities without preconditions [and] must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers" from the occupied territories, the fact-finding mission concluded in a report released on Thursday. Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston reports from Jerusalem.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Deadly floodwaters rise in eastern Australia

At least four people have been killed by deadly floodwaters, and thousands of homes and businesses flooded by torrential rain, along Australia's east coast since the weekend. Floodwaters swept down the coast on Tuesday, with Queensland's state capital Brisbane bracing for its river to peak as other towns waited anxiously to see just how high the water would rise.

Seattle teachers reject standardized testing

Democracy Now!:

Earlier this month, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, voted unanimously to stop administering a widely used standardized test, calling them wasteful and unfairly used to grade their performance. They are now facing threats of 10-day suspension without pay if they continue their boycott. We go to Seattle to speak with two guests: Jesse Hagopian, a high school history teacher and union representative at Garfield High School who has refused to administer the MAP standardized test; and Wayne Au, a former high school teacher, assistant professor at the University of Washington, and author of "Unequal by Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality."

Mali: fastest blowback yet in this war on terror

The Guardian:

French intervention in Mali will fuel terrorism, but the west's buildup in Africa is also driven by the struggle for resources

Within a couple of months this had tipped longstanding demands for self-determination into armed rebellion – and then the takeover of northern Mali by Islamist fighters, some linked to al-Qaida. 

Foreign secretary William Hague acknowledged this week that Nato's Libyan intervention had "contributed" to Mali's war, but claimed the problem would have been worse without it.

In fact, the spillover might have been contained if the western powers had supported a negotiated settlement in Libya, just as all-out war in Mali might have been avoided if the Malian government's French and US sponsors had backed a political instead of a military solution to the country's divisions.

French intervention in Mali has now produced the fastest blowback yet in the war on terror. The groups that seized the In Imenas gas plant last week – reportedly with weapons supplied to Libya by France and Britain – insisted their action was taken in response to France's operation, Algeria's decision to open its airspace to the French and western looting of the country's natural resources.

It may well be that the attack had in fact been planned for months. And the Algerian government has its own history of bloody conflict with Islamist movements. But it clearly can't be separated from the growing western involvement across the region.

France is in any case the last country to sort out Mali's problems, having created quite a few of them in the first place as the former colonial power, including the legacy of ethnic schism within artificial borders – as Britain did elsewhere. The French may have been invited in by the Malian government. 

But it's a government brought to power by military coup last year, not one elected by Malians – and whose troops are now trading atrocities and human rights abuses with the rebels.

Only a political settlement, guaranteed by regional African forces, can end the conflict. Meanwhile, French president François Hollande says his country will be in Mali as long as it takes to "defeat terrorism in that part of Africa". All the experience of the past decade suggests that could be indefinitely – as western intervention is likely to boost jihadist recruitment and turn groups with a regional focus towards western targets.

All this is anyway about a good deal more than terrorism. Underlying the growing western military involvement in Africa – from the spread of American bases under the US Africa Command to France's resumption of its post-colonial habit of routine armed intervention – is a struggle for resources and strategic control, in the face of China's expanding economic role in the continent. In north and west Africa, that's not just about oil and gas, but also uranium in countries like Niger – and Mali. Terrorism has long since become a catch-all cover for legitimising aggressive war.

The idea that jihadists in Mali, or Somalia for that matter, pose an existential threat to Britain, France, the US or the wider world is utter nonsense. But the opening of a new front in the war on terror in north Africa and the Sahel, accompanied by another murderous drone campaign, is a potential disaster for the region and risks a new blowback beyond it.

Continue reading here.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Floods worsen in eastern Australia

Three people have died in floods in Eastern Australia. Hundreds of homes have been submerged, and thousands more are at risk, after heavy rain brought by Tropical Cyclone Oswald. Al Jazeera's Andrew Thomas reports from Sydney.

Irish town resists bailout terms

The European Central Bank has rejected Ireland's proposals to restructure some of the country's huge debts. The government wants to avoid paying tens of billions of dollars over the next decade to underwrite a failed bank. But one community in southern Ireland is unwilling to accept the terms of the bailout. Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee reports from the town of Ballyhea.

Thousands march for gun control in Washington

While US President Barack Obama pushes Congress to approve tougher gun control laws, more Americans are taking up the cause on the streets. Citizens' groups are staging rallies right across the US, including a Saturday march in Washington DC. Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane is there.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

30,000 workers protest Ontario Liberal convention

The Toronto Star:

Ontario’s union leaders should be among the first invited to meet with premier-designate Kathleen Wynne in order to ease the labour tension that has gripped the province — and, in particular, its schools — says the president of the high school teachers’ union.

“I hope (the Liberals) listen and that they request a meeting with all of the union presidents right away — especially in the education sector — to try and work out some of the hard feelings that exist right now, to rebuild relationships,” said Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, in an interview after speaking to the thousands who gathered at Allan Gardens for a mass labour rally held as the governing Liberals chose their new leader.

Before Wynne triumphed at the Liberal convention, Coran said he hoped for a “call within 24 hours after the new leader is selected to set up a meeting. (Teachers) have accepted a wage freeze for the last 12 months, so let’s build on that and solve some of these problems . . . members just want to be treated with respect, and fairly.”

Saturday’s labour protest drew a huge and varied crowd from across the province, though the largest groups among them were elementary and secondary teachers. Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees were also out in full force, including CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn, as was a vocal group of rural Ontario residents that opposes wind turbines.

Protesters marched from Allan Gardens to Maple Leaf Gardens, filling downtown streets as they made their way along Gerrard St. E. to Yonge St. and up to Carlton. Organizers put the crowd at 30,000, while media estimates ranged from 10,000 to 15,000.

Police barricaded nearby downtown streets for the peaceful but noisy group, who cheered and chanted along the way, carrying banners and placards.

Teachers will be looking for some guarantees that the government will never again bypass collective bargaining and impose two-year contracts, as the Liberals did under Bill 115, said both Coran and Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

The union is also looking to reopen those contracts, or negotiate “memorandums of understanding” to break the impasse, Coran said, adding, “There’s a lot of leeway that could be explored.”

Once teachers see the government addressing their concerns, Coran said, high school teachers will consider resuming extracurricular activities.

Hammond spoke first at a teachers’ rally across from Maple Leaf Gardens before noon, and then later at Allan Gardens. He said government accusations that the teacher unions are “out of touch with reality” are unfair.

“We’ve recognized the fiscal concerns” and will accept a wage freeze, he said in an interview. 

The problem is that teachers “were the only group in this province that they threatened with legislation, and were imposed with legislation.”

At Allan Gardens, protester Carrie Withers said she boarded a bus at 3:15 a.m. with two dozen others from Sault Ste. Marie for the long drive down to Toronto.

“I’m offended to see the gains people fought for eroded away,” said the president of long-term care local 4685 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

France protesters march for gay marriage

From all walks of life and all parts of France protesters marched in Paris to demand the introduction of gay marriage. The demonstration is in response to a huge march two weeks ago by opponents of the new law. There's a sense from the protesters that they want to remind the government of Francois Hollande of its commitment to deliver gay marriage. Al Jazeera's Simon McGregor-Wood reports from Paris.

Second anniversary of Egyptian revolution

Democracy Now!:

Two years ago, thousands of Egyptians filled Tahrir Square sparking the revolution that brought down dictator Hosni Mubarak. We go to Cairo to speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who joins us live from a protest march back to Tahrir. "You hear many of the same chants that we heard two years ago — 'Bread, freedom and social justice' — and for the downfall of the regime, that they see has continued two years after Mubarak’s ouster," Kouddous says. "The difference between what’s happening now and what’s happened two years ago is that there’s a lot less unity, and we’re seeing a much more polarized country."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Ex-CIA agent heads to prison for torture leak

A former CIA officer is expected to plead guilty to leaking the name of a fellow officer to the media. John Kiriakou agreed to a plea deal and a reduced jail sentence. But he still insists his only real crime was embarassing the United States government and revealing its use of torture. Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher reports from Arlington, Virginia.

Spain's unemployment rate reaches record high

Spain's unemployment rate has surged to a modern-day record of 26.02 percent in the final quarter of 2012 as nearly six million people searched in vain for work in a biting recession, official data shows. The jobless rate data released on Thursday climbed from 25.02 percent the previous quarter, reaching the highest level since Spain returned to democracy after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975. Al Jazeera's Shamim Chowdhury reports.

Obama's links with Wall Street: no prosecutions

Salon.com's David Sirota appeared on Current TV's "The Young Turks" to discuss President Obama's nomination of Mary Jo White to head the SEC. White has spent the last decade as a private corporate attorney defending Wall Street CEOs. She also gave a speech seeming to suggest that banks may not have committed any crimes in the lead up to the financial meltdown. You can read the Salon piece this interview is based on here:


Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Untouchables

Watch The Untouchables on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

FRONTLINE investigates why Wall Street’s leaders have escaped prosecution for any fraud related to the sale of bad mortgages.

UN launches probe into drone strikes

The United Nations has launched an inquiry into the legality of using unmanned aerial drones. The UN is particulary concerned about civilian deaths, and the inquiry could eventually lead to war crimes charges. The inquiry is in response to requests from Pakistan, Russia and China. Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull reports from London.

Palestinian student shot dead near Hebron

In recent months, Palestine has seen an increase in the use of live ammunition by Israeli soldiers.

One woman shot dead and at least two others injured after Israeli soldiers open fire near al-Arroub refugee camp

A 21-year-old Palestinian woman has died after being shot in the face by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, witnesses said.
Lubna Hanash was killed when she and her companions were walking to a college near Al-Arroub refugee camp, some 8km north of Hebron, witnesses and medics said.

"It was a high commander in the Israeli army that got out from a civilian car and shot four bullets hitting four people; two women and two men. One of the women was shot in the head and killed. Two went to the hospital, [the] other two were slightly injured," said Issa Amro, a human rights activist in Hebron.

Witnesses told the Reuters news agency that a civilian car with Israeli plates stopped on the main Hebron-Bethlehem road and two men wearing military fatigues got out and began shooting towards a nearby Palestinian college. 

Medics also said another two people were injured by gunshot wounds.
Amro told Al Jazeera that the woman was a student at the Abu Dees University in Jerusalem.

"The Israeli soldiers were very violent today in Hebron, they detained two, said bad words to girls and let the settlers destroy olive trees and a children's swing."

Increased shootings 

The military had no immediate information on the incident.

In a separate development, a 15-year-old Palestinian who was shot in the face by Israeli gunfire on Friday, died of his injuries, an Israeli hospital spokeswoman said.

Their deaths raised to six the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli gunfire since January 10.

The teenager who died, Saleh Amarin, had been seriously injured by a bullet fired by Israeli troops during clashes in Aida refugee camp north of Bethlehem.

He was transferred to Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein-Kerem hospital for further treatment.

At the time, the Israeli military said troops were firing at the legs of a group of 30 Palestinians which was protesting near Rachel's Tomb.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fault Lines - Collapsing auto industry in Detroit

As the US auto-industry continues to teeter on the verge of collapse, Fault Lines visits Detroit - Motor City - which, understandably, is one of the hardest hit places by the downturn.

But this is not the first time the Michigan city has faced hardship. Even before the financial crisis exploded, Detroit had the highest home foreclosure rate in the country. It also has highest unemployment rate of any major US city and in the auto sector alone, one in three jobs has vanished since the recession began.

In Washington, president Barack Obama's auto task force is re-engineering the fates of General Motors and Chrysler, and the millions of people who depend on their survival.

Avi Lewis meets the people who live with the consequences of the deals struck in the nation's capital.

Israel's new right

With a projected win for conservative parties in the Israeli elections, where is the country's left?

Ontario Day of Action: January 26

On Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, as the Ontario Liberal Party selects a new leader, thousands will protest the party's attack on public services and good jobs. Join the rally at 1:00 pm at Allan Gardens in downtown Toronto to demand a government that is fair for everyone. Support the campaign on Twitter by using the hashtag: #J26Rally

 (click image for larger view)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Goldman bankers get rich, millions starve

(click image for larger view) 

Bank criticised for making £250m after destructive spikes in global food market

Goldman Sachs made more than a quarter of a billion pounds last year by speculating on food staples, reigniting the controversy over banks profiting from the global food crisis. 

Goldman made about $400m (£251m) in 2012 from investing its clients' money in a range of "soft commodities", from wheat and maize to coffee and sugar, according to an analysis for The Independent by the World Development Movement (WDM).

This contributed to the 68 per cent jump in profits for 2012 Goldman announced last week, allowing it to push up the average pay and bonus package of its bankers to £250,000.

The extent of Goldman's food speculation can be revealed after the UN warned that the world could face a major hunger crisis in 2013, after failed harvests in the US and Ukraine. Food prices surged last summer, with cereal prices hitting a record high in September.

Christine Haigh of the WDM said: "While nearly a billion people go hungry, Goldman Sachs bankers are feeding their own bonuses by betting on the price of food. Financial speculation is fuelling food price spikes and Goldman Sachs is the No 1 culprit."

Goldman makes its "food speculation" revenues by setting up and managing commodity funds that invest money from pension funds, insurance companies and wealthy individuals in return for fees and commissions. The firm invented these kinds of funds and continues to dominate the market, together with Barclays and Morgan Stanley. Swiss trading giant Glencore hit the headlines in August when its head of agriculture proclaimed that the US drought will be "good for Glencore".

Since deregulation allowed the creation of the commodity funds that allowed many speculators to invest in agriculture for the first time, institutions such as Goldman have channelled more than $200bn of cash into the area. This investment has coincided with a significant and sustained rise in global food prices.

Continue reading here.

Fault Lines - Obama's policy on torture

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama promised a new direction. Just days after taking office, the new US president issued a series of executive orders banning all acts of torture, discontinuing the use of CIA black sites, and calling for the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay to be closed.

But what will it really take to dismantle the Bush administration's legacy of torture when there is the same leadership at the Pentagon, the same rhetoric about protecting "state secrets", and the same refusal to allow victims of rendition to file lawsuits in US courts - not to mention a fully functional US military prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan?

Among other things, since taking office, the Obama administration has asserted in court that prisoners held at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan have no right to challenge their detentions in US courts, pre-empted a supreme court ruling on whether a legal US resident can be imprisoned indefinitely without trial, and argued to dismiss cases brought by alleged victims of rendition on the grounds that they might pose a threat to US "national security".

The litany of disappointing actions on human rights and civil liberties seems to be growing longer every day.

This week on Fault Lines, we talk to people on all sides of the so-called "war on terror" - from human rights lawyers to former Bush administration officials; from a former US detainee who was rendered to torture to the CIA analyst who helped author his fate.

Where at first glance the US appears to be heading in a new direction, to what extent has the Obama administration turned its back on the abusive policies of the Bush era? And to what extent can we expect more of the same?

Dirty Wars: exposing hidden truths of covert war

Democracy Now!:

Premiering this week at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, the new documentary "Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield" follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill to Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen as he chases down the hidden truths behind America’s expanding covert wars. We’re joined by Scahill and the film’s director, Rick Rowley, an independent journalist with Big Noise Films. "We’re looking right now at a reality that President Obama has essentially extended the very policies that many of his supporters once opposed under President Bush," says Scahill, author of the bestseller "Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army" and a forthcoming book named after his film. "One of the things that humbles both of us is that when you arrive in a village in Afghanistan and knock on someone’s door, you’re the first American they’ve seen since the Americans that kicked that door in and killed half their family," Rowley says. "We promised them that we would do everything we could to make their stories be heard in the U.S. ... Finally we’re able to keep those promises."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Harper using taxpayer money to cover CEO travel

The Canadian Press:

Ottawa - The Conservative government covered expenses for some of the country's top executives as they accompanied the prime minister around China a year ago, a move business leaders and officials defend as a good investment.

The delegation to three Chinese cities included 30 executives from major oil, agricultural and manufacturing companies as well as roughly two dozen members of the Chinese-Canadian cultural community.

The Foreign Affairs Department says local transportation, accommodation, meals and "miscellaneous expenses" incurred by an official delegation is covered by the government. For the 2012 non-governmental participants, that meant an average of $1,200 a person.

Corporations and associations - including Bombardier, Cenovus Nuclear Energy, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Cameco - confirmed that the government paid for portions of the expenses, with the amount varying from firm to firm.

"We'll leave it to the government to confirm those expenses. We won't comment any further on that," Isabelle Rondeau, director of communications at Bombardier, said of CEO Pierre Beaudoin's participation.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says it doesn't see the rationale for paying any of the CEOs' expenses.

"I think most Canadians would be scandalized to learn that they're paying the expenses of a CEO of a large corporation to promote their company on a junket like this," said Gregory Thomas, federal director of the federation.

"It is very probable that had these same people been offered the opportunity to accompany the prime minister on a trade mission to China, they would cheerfully have attended and paid their own expenses."

NDP natural resources critic Peter Julien says it's fine to bring along businesspeople on a trade-focused trip, but not to pay any part of their bills.

"I think when hardworking taxpayers are seeing services being cut that they depend on, it's very difficult for those same taxpayers to swallow the fact that some of Canada's wealthiest and most profitable corporations are getting a subsidy from the Harper government," said Julien.
Continue reading here.

MLK on labour, wealth and social justice

Cornel West on Obama taking oath on MLK bible

Friday, January 18, 2013

Greece to probe ex-minister over tax scandal

The Greek parliament has voted to launch a criminal investigations into allegations of a tax cover-up. Former Greek finance minister George Papaconstantinou is one of those accused. There was a heated debate in parliament on Thursday over whether to allow a committee to look into the minister's suspected cover up. He says he has been set up. Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull reports from Athens.

Legalization's biggest enemies

David Frum, Gil Kerlikowske, and Michele Leonhart.

Before marijuana legalization spreads from Washington and Colorado to other states, it will have to get past a group of hardened drug warriors, many of whom have developed a personal interest in maintaining prohibition. While most of these ideologues lack the authority to actually change laws, their larger purpose is to maintain the marijuana propaganda machine and push back against pro-legalization rhetoric. Here are the top five people threatening to halt the state-by-state legalization domino effect that many pot activists hope is coming soon:

1.  Kevin Sabet

A former White House advisor and outspoken opponent of legalization, Sabet worked under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations as a political appointee and researcher in the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He touts himself as a drug policy reformer, arguing for an approach that does not include arrests but stops short of legalization – leaving many marijuana reform advocates dubious.

Sabet's new group, Smarter Approaches to Marijuana, also known as Project SAM, uses clever language to disguise what essentially remains a prohibitionist argument. Advocates of legalization stress that so long as a drug is illegal, arrests will inevitably follow. Semantics aside, Project SAM's "alternatives" to prohibition simply don't represent enough of a change to the status quo.  

2. Mel and Betty Sembler

Save Our Society from Drugs, an advocacy group led by these two hardened drug warriors, dumped more than $150,000 into lobbying against Colorado's recent marijuana legalization initiative, Amendment 64. This was only the latest in a long string of regressive actions by the Semblers.  A staunch conservative who has worked for Mitt Romney, Scooter Libby and George H. W. Bush, Mel Sembler made his money in banking and, at one point, drug treatment. From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, he and his wife ran drug treatment centers for adolescents under the name STRAIGHT, Inc. Investigations of their facilities have uncovered disturbing allegations of rape, beatings and intense psychological abuse taking place at the program's centers. Sembler has done little to respond to these reports, instead touting STRAIGHT's supposed successes while continuing his anti-drug work under Save Our Society from Drugs. Meanwhile, the Drug Free America Program, Save Our Society's sister program, has a federal contract to help small businesses develop employee drug-testing programs – which brought it $250,000 in taxpayer dollars in 2010 alone.

Continue reading here.

NRA ad stuns, disgusts Morning Joe panel

On Wednesday morning's Morning Joe, panelist Mike Barnicle went so far as to call the ad "pornography," while co-host Mika Brzezinski called the NRA leadership "sick in the head."

"Joe mentioned the issue of pornography," Barnicle said, "pornographic videos. Let's get to the ad, okay, because this is pornography."

"Morning Joe" co-host Joe Scarborough Shows His Feeling of 'disgusting' for The new NRA ad 'Stand and Fight' that paints President Barack Obama as an "elitist hypocrite" for sending his children to a school where they have armed protection.

"What's wrong with these people, Mika?" he asked Mika Brzezinksi, hanging his head. "What's wrong with these people?"

"What's wrong with these people," he later emphasized. "Putting out apps that kids can play on the anniversary of the Newtown murders, and now putting out an ad talking about the President's daughters?"

Brzezinksi said she was "embarrassed" for the country because a "fringe" organization controls so much debate over an important topic.

"This is how they mark the anniversary of Newtown, one month later," Scarborough said. "I've never seen an organization as out of touch and extreme with middle America as this one. ... The NRA's worst enemy could not be doing the damage to this once-respected, mainstream organization that Wayne LaPierre is every single day."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty and torture


Frank Bruni, The New York Times:
"[I]t's hard not to focus on them, because the first extended sequence in the movie shows a detainee being strung up by his wrists, sexually humiliated, deprived of sleep, made to feel as if he's drowning and shoved into a box smaller than a coffin. 
"The torture sequence immediately follows a bone-chilling, audio-only prologue of the voices of terrified Americans trapped in the towering inferno of the World Trade Center. It's set up as payback. 
"And by the movie's account, it produces information vital to the pursuit of the world's most wanted man. No waterboarding, no Bin Laden: that's what 'Zero Dark Thirty' appears to suggest."
Steve Coll, New York Review of Books:
[T]he filmmakers cannot, on the one hand, claim authenticity as journalists while, on the other, citing art as an excuse for shoddy reporting about a subject as important as whether torture had a vital part in the search for bin Laden, and therefore might be, for some, defensible as public policy. . . .
The easiest question to consider is what Zero Dark Thirty actually depicts about the part torture played in locating bin Laden. . . . There can be no mistaking what Zero Dark Thirty shows: torture plays an outsized part in Maya’s success . . . . In virtually every instance in the film where Maya extracts important clues from prisoners, then, torture is a factor.

Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker:
"Bigelow maintains that everything in the film is based on first-hand accounts, but the waterboarding scene, which is likely to stir up controversy, appears to have strayed from real life. According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden's courier, whose trail led the CIA to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding."

Peter Bergen, CNN (unpaid adviser to the film):
"The compelling story told in the film captures a lot that is true about the search for al Qaeda's leader but also distorts the story in ways that could give its likely audience of millions of Americans the misleading picture that coercive interrogation techniques used by the CIA on al Qaeda detainees -- such as waterboarding, physical abuse and sleep deprivation -- were essential to finding bin Laden. . . . 
"'Zero Dark Thirty' is a great piece of filmmaking and does a valuable public service by raising difficult questions most Hollywood movies shy away from, but as of this writing, it seems that one of its central themes -- that torture was instrumental to tracking down bin Laden -- is not supported by the facts."
Fordham Law Professor Karen Greenberg, Salon:
The sad fact is that Zero Dark Thirty could have been written by the tight circle of national security advisors who counseled President George W. Bush to create the post-9/11 policies that led to Guantanamo, the global network of borrowed “black sites” that added up to an offshore universe of injustice, and the grim torture practices – euphemistically known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” — that went with them. . . .
As its core, Bigelow’s film makes the bald-faced assertion that torture did help the United States track down the perpetrator of 9/11. . . . [T]he fact is that Bigelow has bought in, hook, line, and sinker, to the ethos of the Bush administration and its apologists. It’s as if she had followed an old government memo and decided to offer in fictional form step-by-step instructions for the creation, implementation, and selling of Bush-era torture and detention policies.
Continue reading here.

Is effective financial regulation possible?

Gerald Epstein: Powerful lobbying by finance sector keeps turning regulations into Swiss cheese; there is an alternative if people fight for it.

RCMP investigating Conservative's campaign

Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro remains the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, although his role has been greatly diminished in the Commons since campaign finance allegations surfaced last summer.

Ottawa — RCMP officers have been brought in to help Elections Canada with two separate investigations into alleged financing violations in the 2008 campaign of Dean Del Mastro, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister.

Mounties from the Integrated Technical Crime Unit were brought in to analyze computer evidence in Elections Canada’s investigation of allegations of campaign spending by Del Mastro’s 2008 re-election campaign in his Peterborough riding.

In an application for a court order filed by investigator Thomas Ritchie in February 2012, the agency states that it believes that Del Mastro and official agent Richard McCarthy exceeded the spending cap on campaign expenses by more than $17,000 and filed a “false document” in their return.

Elections Canada alleges that Del Mastro reported spending $1,575 on voter canvassing and get-out-the-vote activities by Holinshed Research Group, but actually paid them $21,000 by personal cheque.

In October, eight months after seeking the court order for documents from Holinshed, investigators called in specialized RCMP officers to analyze and authenticate computer files — emails and invoices related to Del Mastro campaign transactions, according to a source with knowledge of aspects of the investigation

In August, he gave investigators a cautioned statement, meaning the evidence he gave can be used in court. His explanation of the services purchased in the campaign was at odds with electronic documents from Holinshed, which is why the RCMP were brought in to analyze the files, according to a source.

At least one RCMP officer is also actively investigating allegations of illegal donations related to the same 2008 campaign.

Last week, Inspector Paul Collins began knocking on doors in the Toronto area, hoping to interview donors who had given money to either Del Mastro’s campaign or to the Conservative Party association in his riding.

Collins and investigator Ron Lamothe are apparently looking into allegations first reported by the Ottawa Citizen and Postmedia News concerning donations made to Del Mastro’s campaign by people affiliated with a Mississauga electrical company owned by his cousin.

A former employee of Deltro Electric Ltd. says company owner David Del Mastro asked staff members to recruit donors. They were paid $1,050 by Deltro for making $1,000 donations to Del Mastro’s campaign, said the former employee, who produced cancelled cheques and a sworn statement to back up the claim.

In addition to the $50 payment, those who participated were allowed to claim the $1,000 deduction on their tax returns, the former employee said.

Collins and Lamothe showed up unannounced at the home of several of the donors last week to discuss the donations, although it is unclear if anyone agreed to speak to them. The investigators were later contacted by Allan Kaufman, the Toronto lawyer who represents several of the the donors.

Kaufman says he repeated to Collins his offer to allow his clients to give evidence about the alleged donation scheme if they are offered immunity from prosecution for their involvement. Elections Canada legal counsel rejected that offer in the summer, saying only prosecutors could make that kind of deal.

Kaufman says he’s baffled why they have spurned his offer, saying he has offered the agency “a conviction on a platter and Elections Canada has turned it down, for the last nine months.”

Continue reading here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Behind the NRA’s money

Democracy Now!:

Throughout its history, the National Rifle Association has portrayed itself as an advocate for individual gun owners’ Second Amendment rights. But a new investigation finds the group has come to rely on the support of the $12-billion-a-year gun industry — made up of firearms and ammunition manufacturers and sellers. Since 2005, the NRA has collected as much as $38.9 million from dozens of gun industry giants, including Beretta USA; Glock; and Sturm, Ruger & Co., according to a 2011 study by the Violence Policy Center. We speak with investigative reporter Peter Stone, whose latest article for The Huffington Post is "NRA Gun Control Crusade Reflects Firearms Industry Financial Ties."

Inside Story Americas - Idle No More

An aboriginal protest movement in Canada has captivated the country and gained supporters around the world. But can Idle No More and the rest of Canada's indigenous community come together and force the government to act? Guests: Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Pamela Palmater, and Tim Powers.

Anti-cannabis study is seriously flawed

The Associated Press:

New York - A new analysis is challenging a report that suggests regular marijuana smoking during the teen years can lead to a long-term drop in IQ. The analysis says the statistical analysis behind that conclusion is flawed.

The original study, reported last August, included more than 1,000 people who'd been born in the town of Dunedin, New Zealand. Their IQ was tested at ages 13 and 38, and they were asked about marijuana use periodically between those ages.

Researchers at Duke University and elsewhere found that participants who'd reported becoming dependent on pot by age 18 showed a drop in IQ score between ages 13 and 38. The findings suggest pot is harmful to the adolescent brain, the researchers said.

Not so fast, says an analysis published online Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ole Rogeberg of the Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research in Oslo, says the IQ trend might have nothing to do with pot. Rather, it may have emerged from differences among the study participants in socioeconomic status, or SES, which involves factors like income, education and occupation, he says.

He based his paper on a computer simulation. It traced what would happen to IQ scores over time if they were affected by differences in SES in ways suggested by other research, but not by smoking marijuana. He found patterns that looked just like what the Duke study found.

In an interview, Rogeberg said he's not claiming that his alternative explanation is definitely right, just that the methods and evidence in the original study aren't enough to rule it out. He suggested further analyses the researchers could do.

The Duke scientists, who learned of Rogeberg's analysis late last week, say they conducted new statistical tests to assess his proposed explanation. Their verdict: It's wrong. Rogeberg says they need to do still more work to truly rule it out.

Experts unconnected to the two papers said the Rogeberg paper doesn't overturn the original study. It "raises some interesting points and possibilities," but provides "speculation" rather than new data based on real people, said Dr. Duncan Clark, who studies alcohol and drug use in adolescents at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said observational studies of people like the Duke work can't definitively demonstrate that marijuana cause irreversible effects on the brain. In an email, she said Rogeberg's paper "looks sound" but doesn't prove that his alternative explanation is correct.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Krugman and Obama's dangerous austerity myths

Bill Black: Obama nominates a Wall St. loyalist to help negotiate the "Grand Betrayal".

Noam Chomsky: The responsibility of privilege

Linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky remains as vigorous as ever at the age of 84. His popularity - or notoriety as some would say - endures because he is still criticising politicians, business leaders and other powerful figures for not acting in the public's best interest. At the heart of Chomsky's work is examining the ways elites use their power to control millions of people, and pushing the public to resist. In this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera, Noam Chomsky sits down with Rosiland Jordan to talk about the two main tracks of his life: research and political activism.

Progressives vs. the Democratic Party


How do you define the term “liberal”? And how big do you think the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is these days? If you happened to flip on MSNBC on Friday, these questions may have bubbled through your mind during a powerfully revealing exchange over President Obama’s nomination of Jack Lew to head the Treasury Department.

To appreciate exactly what was revealed, it’s worth first reviewing the key parts of Lew’s recent past.

As the Washington Post reports, from 2006 to 2008 the former corporate lobbyist and Clinton budget official “worked at Citigroup in two major roles, a notable line in his résumé given that as Treasury secretary, he would be charged with implementing new rules regulating Wall Street.” Notable, indeed, as the Post notes “Lew did not have just any position at the bank” — he was “a top executive in the Citigroup unit that housed many of the bank’s riskiest operations” that ultimately “helped drive Citigroup into the arms of the federal government’s” $45 billion bailout (some of which was used to pay Lew’s own eye-popping Citigroup bonus).

Soon after that debacle, Lew was rewarded with an offer to walk through the Wall Street-Washington revolving door and become President Obama’s budget director. Not surprisingly, during his confirmation hearing, he loyally did the bidding of his pals in the banking industry by publicly insisting that the financial deregulation bills he once backed as a top official in the Clinton administration had nothing to do with the financial meltdown that pulverized the American economy at the end of President George W. Bush’s term.

Once confirmed as Obama’s budget director, it was much the same ideology from Lew.

He was Obama’s budget Svengali when, as the Huffington Post recounted, the president agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts to the very wealthy and then, two months later, “proposed a spending plan to Congress that cuts funding to programs that assist the working poor, help the needy heat their homes, and expand access to graduate-level education.” Channeling the ideology he championed at the Wall Street-funded Hamilton Project, Lew sculpted a budget blueprint to reduce the deficit by $1.1 trillion mostly through draconian cuts to spending rather than by returning to Clinton-era tax rates. Among those proposed cuts was a massive $400 billion cut to non-defense discretionary programs — otherwise known as social safety net programs. Yes, that’s right, in a nation where the rich are paying the lowest tax rates in decades, Lew spearheaded a plan whereby more than a third of deficit reduction would come through cuts to the tiny 10 percent of the budget devoted to discretionary social safety net programs.

Taken together, whether you like Lew or hate him, think his career is sterling or disgusting, believe his close relationship with Wall Street is great or awful, want him to be Treasury secretary or not, it’s pretty clear his record is not one thing: liberal, progressive or, according to public opinion polls, representative of the views of most self-identified members of the Democratic Party.

Continue reading here.