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.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Henry Wallace coup: what might have been

Peter Kuznick (co-author with Oliver Stone of the Untold History of the United States): A Wallace Presidency might have prevented the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japan and prevented the Cold War.

RFK Jr.: JFK was killed by conspiracy

Journalist Charlie Rose, right, makes opening comments as Rory Kennedy, center, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., left, look on before Rose conducted an interview in front of a full audience at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in Dallas. The Kennedys are in Dallas as a year of observances begins for the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Dallas - Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is convinced that a lone gunman wasn't solely responsible for the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and said his father believed the Warren Commission report was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship."

Kennedy and his sister, Rory, spoke about their family Friday night while being interviewed in front of an audience by Charlie Rose at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas. The event comes as a year of observances begins for the 50th anniversary of the president's death.

Their uncle was killed on Nov. 22, 1963, while riding in a motorcade through Dallas. Five years later, their father was assassinated in a Los Angeles hotel while celebrating his win in the California Democratic presidential primary.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said his father spent a year trying to come to grips with his brother's death, reading the work of Greek philosophers, Catholic scholars, Henry David Thoreau, poets and others "trying to figure out kind of the existential implications of why a just God would allow injustice to happen of the magnitude he was seeing."

He said his father thought the Warren Commission, which concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president, was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship." He said that he, too, questioned the report.

"The evidence at this point I think is very, very convincing that it was not a lone gunman," he said, but he didn't say what he believed may have happened.

Rose asked if he believed his father, the U.S. attorney general at the time of his brother's death, felt "some sense of guilt because he thought there might have been a link between his very aggressive efforts against organized crime."

Kennedy replied: "I think that's true. He talked about that. He publicly supported the Warren Commission report but privately he was dismissive of it."

He said his father had investigators do research into the assassination and found that phone records of Oswald and nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald two days after the president's assassination, "were like an inventory" of mafia leaders the government had been investigating.

He said his father, later elected U.S. senator in New York, was "fairly convinced" that others were involved.

Continue reading here.

UFOs sightings at International Space Station

This triangular pattern of lights moving from left to right above Earth is one of many images from space of alleged UFOs

As 2012 ended and 2013 began, numerous UFOs were reported around the country -- nothing earthshattering there -- but what about alleged unidentified objects seen in space near the International Space Station (or ISS), a couple of hundred miles above Earth?

Videos have cropped up on YouTube showing images taken by NASA cameras of objects of different shapes, some moving very slowly, others rapidly hurtling through space. 

What, exactly, are we looking at here? Alien spacecraft dropping by for a visit with the ISS? Reflections from ISS windows? Meteors? Or various types of orbiting or fast moving spacecraft-generated debris?

On Christmas Day, YouTube poster Streetcap1 recorded video of a silvery object, moving slowly near the curvature of Earth. At :46 into the following video, the object can be seen in faraway perspective.

Streetcap1 also recorded the following two objects -- one circular, the other disc-shaped -- outside the ISS on New Year's Day. Could it be a mere window reflection?

"Spacecraft-generated 'dandruff' has been seen since the very first human spaceflights, when the non-intuitive relative motions and impossible-to-judge distances in the earthly environment of outer space tricked observers into misinterpreting visual stimuli," according to James Oberg, a former space engineer who specialized in NASA space shuttle operations and is currently the NBC News Space Consultant.

"It shouldn't be surprising that only half a century later, most folks watching YouTube videos are still totally flummoxed by what they understandably and excusably can't comprehend," Oberg told The Huffington Post in an email.

Oberg doesn't give much credence to any speculation that unidentified flying objects near the ISS originate from an alien civilization. But he also feels it's important for people to keep looking at camera feeds which may result in visual information that can help prevent potential technical problems for the ISS.

"It's good to keep scanning space video for possible anomalies and reporting them quickly," Oberg said. "The reason is, there is always a real chance that it could be a genuine anomaly, either a spacecraft malfunction or other threat, expected or unexpected. In the past, missions have failed because a clue that should have been seen out the window was overlooked."

Here's a compilation of alleged UFOs flying around Earth as seen from space and posted by YouTube user danielofdoriaa. Are they meteors, spacecraft debris or computer-generated images superimposed on NASA footage?

Continue reading here.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Australian firefighters fear rising temperatures

After two days of relatively cool weather, extreme temperatures are expected to return to south eastern Australia over the weekend. The heat wave is causing concern among the volunteers who are helping fight the flames that bushfires could flare up again. Al Jazeera's Andrew Thomas reports from the Jerrangwala Forest near Sydney.

Canada's First Nations demand government action

Hundreds of Indigenous Canadians have continued their protests in the capital and other major cities. They're calling for more rights and better living conditions on reserves, and one protest leader has been on hunger strike for weeks. Al Jazeera's Daniel Lak reports from Ottawa.

Obama's Treasury nominee: pro-bank, austerity

Democracy Now!:

Former bank regulator William Black and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi join us to dissect the career of Jack Lew, President Obama’s pick to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither. Currently Obama’s chief of staff, Lew was an executive at Citigroup from 2006 to 2008 at the time of the financial crisis. He backed financial deregulation efforts while he headed the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton. During that time, Clinton enacted two key laws to deregulate Wall Street: the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. Black, a white-collar criminologist and former senior financial regulator, is the author of "The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One." A contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine, Taibbi is the author of "Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History."

Friday, January 11, 2013

Taibbi: bailout secrets, banks escaping justice

Democracy Now!:

Four years after the massive bailout that rescued Wall Street, we look at the state of the financial sector with Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi and former financial regulator William Black. In a new article for Rolling Stone, Taibbi argues the government did not just bail out Wall Street, but also lied on the financial sector’s behalf, calling unhealthy banks healthy and helping banks cover up how much aid they were getting. The government’s approach to the banks came under new scrutiny this week after it reached an $8.5 billion settlement for improprieties in the wrongful foreclosures on millions of American homeowners, including flawed paperwork, robo-signing and wrongly modified loans. The settlement will end an independent review of all foreclosures, meaning the banks could be avoiding billions of dollars in further penalties, in addition to criminal prosecution.

First Nations: The media misses the point, again

An unserviced, one-room home in Attawapiskat in 2011. When did covering the audit become more important than covering Third World living conditions on reserves? 

Here is what a lot of people want to believe about the Aboriginal Spring in Canada. They hold fast to the idea that the only thing behind native unrest is a bottomless lust for public subsidies. They want to believe that Canada has been just and generous to this misfit people who stubbornly won’t assimilate. 

They cling to the notion that, left to their own devices, aboriginals are unable to govern themselves and will quickly fall into corruption.

And so, a sizeable posse in the media obliged in the current circumstances. Armed with a leaked “audit” of Chief Theresa Spence’s Attawapiskat band, an audit that went back to 2006 (even though Spence had only been chief since 2010), she was lassoed and dragged behind a horse for all to see.

The Attawapiskat angle was so much more tabloid-friendly than history. It was character assassination by dull razor blade. There was no documentation for the expenditure of millions of dollars in public monies. There was no due diligence. She drove a fancy car. She gave her boyfriend a job. And by the way, the boyfriend once went bankrupt. When Indians weren’t sniffing glue, getting stoned or sobering up in the drunk tank, they were taking the public for a ride.

Ignorance and the search for certainty seem to enjoy each other’s company. Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More movement have been well and truly Harpered. There is not much doubt about who leaked the audit — the same people who squealed when the auditor-general’s interim report on G8/20 spending was “illegally leaked” for “pure” political reasons as Tony Clement fumed during the last federal election.

Significant media have assisted the government in its smearing of aboriginals. There has been a clamour in editorials for accountability and transparency — yes, from a representative of the poorest one per cent in the country.

But if a lack of paperwork is a crime, then what can be said of the government’s fifty-million dollar downpayment on Tony Clement’s re-election in Muskoka?

Didn’t the government itself say that it didn’t have time to pass legislation to authorize significant parts of the G8/20 spending? And where was the due diligence in selecting a new fighter jet that will cost $30 billion more to acquire and operate than the Harper government admitted? And was it really worth $45,000 of public money to send the PM to a Yankees game? Just missing paperwork, nothing more.

Ever notice how many journalists are working both sides of the canal these days — journalists in the Senate, journalists writing the PM’s speeches, journalists in the public relations companies? Former journalists, that is.

The real story is whether Stephen Harper does something about 250 years of gross social injustice and usurpation. The symptoms of those two facts are well known — poverty, addiction, violent crime, stunted education and poor health care.

And then there is the housing crisis. At the end of 2011, the Assembly of First Nations was reporting that Canada’s reserves needed 85,000 new houses. The federal government is building houses at the rate of just over 2,000 per year.

Continue reading here.

Idle No More vs. Great White Father

In Canada Bill C-45 will allow for the privatization of reservation lands and remove environmental protection from 90% of rivers. In Australia, beds are burning. In Bolivia the "Mother Earth Law" provides the environment with "personhood" and Ecuador constitutionally protects its rivers.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Socialist elected to New Jersey school board

Pat Noble, 19, of Red Bank, is a proud Socialist and the newest member of the Red Bank Regional Board of Education.

A 19-year-old socialist took office last week as the member of a local school board in New Jersey. 

Pat Noble, a pharmacy clerk, was sworn-in as a member of the Red Bank Regional High School Board of Education after defeating an incumbent in November's election, NJ.com reported. Noble is the founder of the Socialist Party of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, which seeks to promote socialist ideals in the two Jersey shore counties. 

Noble, who unsuccessfully ran for Monmouth County freeholder in 2011, told NJ.com that he hopes to take his socialist views to the school board.
“You reach more people, more quickly when you win an election,” said Noble, whose father, Peter, is a member of the board of education for the Red Bank Borough Public Schools. “People would rather hear from a candidate than some guy on a street corner, especially on socialism when a majority of them are capitalists.” 
Now, Noble said he plans to stand up for his socialist beliefs as a member of the Red Bank Regional school board.
“I’m hoping to bring a different perspective, a left-wing perspective to a board full of capitalists,” he said. “I have a different view point, both as a younger person and a Socialist, that I think could have a positive impact in and of itself.”
Noble plans to focus on several areas as a school board member, including the promotion of LGBT issues in sex education classes, banning military recruiters from schools, opposing merit pay for teachers and fighting budget cuts. 

Noble is not the first teenager with ties to far left groups to win a school board seat in the U.S. In 2005, Shane Brinton, an 18-year-old who had been involved with local Communist Party anti-war activities, was elected to the North Humboldt Union High School Board of Education in northern California. Brinton, a Democrat, said in the book The Next Generation: Young Elected Officials and Their Impact on American Politics, that he was not a member of the Communist Party, but was involved with it as part of his opposition to the Iraq War, noting that it was better organized. Brinton, now the mayor of Arcata, Calif., had a similar platform to Noble on the school board, including opposing military recruiters and overhauling the school system's sex education curriculum. 

Noble is also not the only young elected official to take office as a school board member in New Jersey this month. J. Brendan Galligan, 23, was sworn-in as a member of the Westfield Board of Education last week. Galligan, an engineering student, did not disclose his political beliefs in his campaign, and did not include changes to Westfield's sex education curriculum or a military recruitment ban in his platform. U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was 20 when he was elected to the Union City, N.J. Board of Education in 1974.

Oil, gas industry gets Harper to deregulate


A letter obtained by Greenpeace through access to information laws and passed on to the CBC reveals the oil and gas industry was granted its request that the federal government change a series of environmental laws to advance "both economic growth and environmental performance."

Within 10 months of the request, the industry had almost everything it wanted.

The letter, dated Dec. 12, 2011, was addressed to Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. It came from a group called the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), which is made up of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (now the Canadian Fuels Association) and the Canadian Gas Association.

"The purpose of our letter is to express our shared views on the near-term opportunities before the government to address regulatory reform for major energy industries in Canada," wrote the EFI.
The letter specifically mentions six laws that relate to the oil and gas industry's ability to do its work:
  • National Energy Board Act.
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
  • Fisheries Act.
  • Navigable Waters Protection Act.
  • Species at Risk Act.
  • Migratory Birds Convention Act.
On Jan. 9, 2012 (less than one month after the letter was written), Oliver wrote an open letter accusing environmentalists and other "radical groups" of undermining the Canadian economy.

On April 26, 2012, the government introduced the first of its omnibus budget implementation acts which completely re-wrote the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and made major changes to the Fisheries Act and the National Energy Board Act.

On Oct. 18, 2012, the government tabled its second omnibus budget implementation act, which replaced the Navigable Waters Protection Act (one of the oldest pieces of Canadian legislation) with the Navigation Protection Act.

Continue reading here.

Australia's new normal: extreme temperatures

(click image for larger view)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chief Spence has Conservatives running scared

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, centre, speaks during a news conference outside her teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa January 4, 2013.

You might call it the Hamlet Principle.

You know, from William Shakespeare’s play of that name. Act 3, scene 2, wherein Hamlet’s mother famously observes that another character “doth protest too much, methinks.”

Not “protest” in the modern context, although that sort of protest is relevant here, too. No, in the Shakespearean era, “protest” meant as an affirmation, or an avowal.

Thus, the Hamlet Principle can be seen at work in a decidedly modern psychodrama, between Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, on the one side, and all of Canadian conservatism, on the other. 

Chief Spence is on a hunger strike, protesting the way in which the Conservative government treats First Nations.

And Conservatives, meanwhile, can lately be observed claiming — over and over and over — that Chief Spence is a liar and a fraud and a criminal, and even that she isn’t really on a hunger strike at all. This is where the “they doth protest too much” part comes in.

Because, the more that Conservatives bray and screech that they don’t care about Chief Spence’s truly brilliant campaign, the more Canadians suspect that they do. The more that these Cons insult her — calling her every name they can conjure up, including “c--t” on a Sun News web page (since taken down) — the more that they look, well, scared.

Yes, scared. With every hateful, spit-flecked epithet they lob at her — with the cacophony of conservative columnists, and the cyber-sewer of commenters who follow them— Conservatives sound undeniably worried about what Chief Spence is achieving.

Because, make no mistake, she is achieving plenty. She is attracting attention to her cause. Famous people are trekking to her tiny tent, located on a miss-it-if-you-blink bit of rock between Ottawa and Hull. International media are writing about her, and the grassroots Idle No More movement. Canadians are paying attention.

She is not doing any of this with showy Greenpeace-style media stunts, or demonstrations that massively inconvenience average citizens. She is not committing any acts of terror. She is simply saying she will not eat until she gets to meet with the Prime Minister. That’s it.

If you pay any attention to conservatives, however, you would think Chief Spence is worse than Hitler, and that her hunger strike is a declaration of war. Against her, the full force of the Conservative government’s army of propagandists have been deployed. She has been called some of the most disgusting things imaginable, but she has not responded in kind. Instead, she has been almost Ghandi-like in her dignity.

If Chief Spence is truly a threat — and, with her weakened body, and her failing voice, it is hard to see how she could threaten anyone — then Conservatives have pursued a genuinely idiotic strategy against her. Instead of making her infamous, they have made her famous.

Instead of ignoring her, they have revealed themselves to be obsessed by her. Instead of simply meeting with her, and making it a one-day story, their pig-headed stubbornness has made Chief Spence a folk hero who will be remembered for years to come.

Like I say, it’s the Hamlet Principle. When they doth protest too much, you can always be reasonably assured that they’re a bunch of goddamned liars.

The rich and the rest of us

The Sudbury Star:

Income inequality is growing in Canada, and with that growth comes a series of social problems for ordinary Canadians who are having more trouble than ever before to make ends meet.

That was the message at The Rich and the Rest of Us, a panel discussion that included a number of union leaders representing public and private workers in Ontario, at the United Steelworkers Union Hall on Tuesday night.

"Income inequality, we believe, is the most serious problem facing Ontarians today, and indeed Canadians," said James Clancy, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees.

Clancy and Janet Gasparini, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Sudbury, led off a wide-ranging discussion on social inequality, with about 500 people in attendance and another 2,000 listening in on a conference call.

Clancy said there are three key factors that have led to great income inequality in Canada. The first is what he called the attack against labour rights from various levels of government. The second was Canada's lack of a modern industrial strategy. The final factor, according to Clancy, was Canada's unfair tax system that benefits the ultra rich and leaves the middle class to pick up the brunt of the tax burden.

Gasparini said underfunded social programs make social mobility very difficult for people who find themselves in the lowest income bracket and make less than $10,000 a year.

"There's more than enough money, but it's in the wrong hands," said Clancy. He added social programs to help get people out of poverty could easily be supported if corporations paid their fair share of taxes.

He said about $1 trillion of Canadian corporate money sits in offshore accounts that are completely tax-free.

Continue reading here.

Climate coverage drops despite intense weather

The Huffington Post:

As the country experienced its warmest year on record, coverage of climate change on major U.S. television networks and across media outlets dropped in 2012.

Worldwide climate coverage decreased by two percent between 2011 and 2012, according to The Daily Climate, marking the fewest number of published stories since 2009.

Despite the decline, they note, "Stories linking climate change to sea-rise, weird weather and other events showed an all-time high." Newspaper editorial boards also gave more attention to climate change in 2011.

Along with being the warmest year on record, 2012 was also second only to 1998 as the most extreme. Climate Central notes, "In response to global warming, some extreme events, such as heat waves, are already becoming more likely to occur and more intense."

Researchers have shown that further delays in international action will make climate change goals more expensive and then eventually impossible.

According to an analysis by Media Matters, Sunday news talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX spent fewer than 8 minutes on climate change in 2012. Coverage of climate change has been in decline since 2009, when the topic received over an hour of coverage.

Nightly news programs devoted more time to climate change in 2012 than in the previous two years, but still far less time than in 2009.

2012 saw a presidential election marked by the absence of climate change during the national debates and charges of "climate silence" from activists

The League of Conservation Voters, along with a coalition of 70 environmental organizations, recently penned an open letter to President Obama, urging him to focus on climate change in his second term. The letter read, "Cutting carbon pollution at home and rejecting dirty fuels will establish America’s leadership and credibility, enabling [President Obama] to create clean energy jobs in the United States while forging an effective international coalition to cut global carbon pollution."

Brad Johnson, Campaign Manager for Forecast the Facts and ClimateSilence.org, said in a statement that he hopes the 2012 record, "will convince President Obama and Congress to lay out a plan to tackle carbon pollution and climate change."