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Posts Tagged ‘political’

ALEC Seeks Lower Taxes in US for Smokeless Tobacco Marketed to Kids

By Beth Hawkins, MinnPost, 01 August 12

Candy-flavored smokeless tobacco is being marketed to teens and tweens. (photo: Public Domain)

At their meeting last week in Salt Lake City, members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) attended a workshop entitled, “Can Tobacco Cure Smoking?” conducted by Dr. Brad Rodu, chair of tobacco harm reduction research at the University of Louisville.

Rodu, a dentist by training, has conducted research suggesting that steering tobacco users to smokeless tobacco is a “free-market” means of reducing the rate of smoking-related diseases. His program is largely funded by the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., an ALEC member and manufacturer of Copenhagen and Skoal, among other brands.

ALEC bills itself as an educational organization. Its corporate and ideological members pay tens of thousands of dollars to join. Lawmakers pay $50 a year and are eligible for scholarships to underwrite the cost of traveling, often with their families, to frequent meetings at ritzy destinations.

There, the elected officials are given model legislation to take home and introduce in their statehouses. Over the course of the last two years, some 60 pieces of ALEC-like legislation have been introduced in Minnesota, including a bill very much like the one Rodu’s workshop promoted.

More Attractive to Youth

In 2011, three Minnesota Republicans introduced a bill that would lower taxes on smokeless tobacco. Cigarettes are taxed by the pack. The bill would have made smokeless tobacco cheaper, and thus more attractive to teens and ‘tweens, by taxing it by weight instead.

Authored by Reps. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville; Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove; and Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, Minnesota House File 1079 died after a first reading. Of the three, Zellers is the only one known to have ties to ALEC.

The ALEC model bill — entitled “Resolution on the Enhancement of Economic Neutrality, Commercial Efficiency, and Fairness in the Taxation of Moist Smokeless Tobacco (MST) Products” — fared better in Wisconsin, where lawmakers got a letter in support from ALEC. Gov. Scott Walker, the guiding force behind other ALEC proposals, such as right to work, shoot-first and voter ID legislation, vetoed it.

If the new taxing system applied only to old-fashioned chewing tobacco, it’s hard to imagine the push would be as hard. But the days where smokeless tobacco meant a squat puck containing unpalatable dip or snuff are long over.

Nicotine in Candy Flavors

These days, nicotine delivery systems are much more appealing to youth and much more likely to escape adult attention. There are mints that look like Tic Tacs packaged in tins made to resemble Altoids, candy-flavored blunts that look like fruit leather and gum. Most popular are “snus,” tea-bag-like packets kids suck on.

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Ontario man suing county for $5,000 in damages over Lord’s Prayer at meetings

Jake Edmiston, National Post Staff Jul 31, 2012

Peter Ferguson is seeking a court order for county council to stop opening its meetings in prayer.
Photo Courtesy of Peter Ferguson

Claiming the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer causes him anguish and feelings of exclusion, a man in rural Ontario is suing his local government to get politicians to cease praying at the start of their meetings.

It’s the latest in a series of legal actions, supported by the advocacy group Secular Ontario, seeking to eradicate the practice in at least 18 cities, towns and counties across the province.

On Monday, the lawyer for the 20-member group filed a lawsuit against Grey County council on behalf of Peter Ferguson, saying the Christian tradition caused him “anguish, discrimination, exclusion, rejection and loss of enjoyment of life.”

Mr. Ferguson, who lives in Grey County, near Owen Sound, is looking for $5,000 in damages along with a court order for county council to stop opening its meetings in prayer.

He said councillors are infringing upon his Charter right to freedom of conscience and religion, referencing a 1999 Ontario Court of Appeal decision that ordered the town council in Penetanguishene to stop reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

“I don’t like politicians who break the law, and our county council is breaking the law,” said Mr. Ferguson Tuesday from his home in Kimberley — one of nine municipalities within Grey County. He said if he wins the case, he’ll donate the $5,000 to Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust.

“I don’t really care about religion that much, I care about the law. I care about being fair.”

Mr. Ferguson’s suit comes little more than a month after a Peterborough woman took legal action against her city council, which also uses the tradition — both plaintiffs are represented by Secular Ontario’s lawyer Daniel Mayo.

“No one is forced to take part. They are invited if they choose. We have added the silent reflection for anyone who wishes to, whichever deity or thought process they follow,” Peterborough’s acting mayor Henry Clarke told the Peterborough Examiner in June.

Both Mr. Ferguson and the Peterborough plaintiffs made several appeals to their respective councils before learning of Secular Ontario’s cause and seeking Mr. Mayo’s counsel.

Secular Ontario also tries to recruit residents in flagged regions to act as plaintiffs.

Mr. Mayo was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Both cases have yet to appear before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Secular Ontario president Sheila Ayala and her colleagues spent most of 2005 compiling a list of Ontario municipalities that recite the Lord’s Prayer before every council meeting.

Ms. Ayala said the organization sent letters to all the municipalities on its list in 2006 and only two willingly changed their policy. Letters to the Ontario provincial government were also unsuccessful, leaving legal action from locals as the only other recourse, she said.

According to Ms. Ayala, plaintiffs are warned of potential pushback from their community before being guided through the process.

Mr. Ferguson said he already had received hateful emails on Tuesday, a day after the lawsuit went public.

The chairman of the Grey County council, Duncan McKinlay, said he has received feedback from residents who fear the case will be a waste of time and resources.

But he’s keen on exploring the issue.

“Grey County was settled by people based on tolerance,” he said. “I think there’s a fair tolerance. If somebody had another prayer, we would have included it.”

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The Divine Miss M

By FRANK BRUNI, July 23, 2012, op-ed The New York Times

“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children.”

What I find most fascinating about Michele Bachmann — and there are many, many more where she came from — is that she presents herself as a godly woman, humbly devoted to her Christian faith. I’d like to meet that god, and I’d like to understand that Christianity.

Does it call for smearing people on the basis of flimsy conspiracy theories? That’s what Bachmann just did to Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by essentially suggesting she might be a mole for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Does it endorse scaring young women away from immunizations that could spare them serious illness? Bachmann did that during her memorable presidential campaign, when she blithely drew an unsubstantiated link between a vaccine for the human papillomavirus and mental retardation.

Does it encourage gratuitously divisive condemnations of Barack Obama as “anti-American,” one of many incendiary phrases in her attacks against him in 2008? And does it compel a war against homosexuality waged with the language and illogic she uses?

She has said that gay men and lesbians are dysfunctional products of abuse and agents of “sexual anarchy,” and when the singer and songwriter Melissa Etheridge was battling breast cancer years ago, Bachmann helpfully chimed in: “This may be an opportunity for her now to be open to some spiritual things, now that she is suffering with that physical disease. She is a lesbian.”

Bachmann’s concept of Christian love brims with hate, and she has a deep satchel of stones to throw. From what kind of messiah did she learn that?

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Turning Towards Nonviolence and Away from ‘Dark Knights’

by Rev. John Dear, July 23, 2012 by Common Dreams

As we grieve for the dead and injured in last week’s movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, and join with others to demand handgun reform, we are reminded once again of a greater, more fundamental change that needs to take place among all of us. This horrific violence, and the daily violence we read about, summons us to make a fundamental turn from violence to nonviolence. Every one of us, and every sector of society, needs to make that turn. Without our conversion to nonviolence, we will be forever stuck in the ancient mindlessness and downward spiral of violence. But we need not be stuck. We can choose to be nonviolent people.

Yes, we have to ban handguns and AK-47s. And we need to abolish war, executions, drones, Trident Submarines, extrajudicial assassination, state-sanctioned violence and nuclear weapons. We have a president who starts his day sending his kids off to school and deciding calmly over coffee whom to assassinate. We send drones over Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan which terrorize children and kill them like in some nightmarish “Dark Night” horror film. We execute people legally. And in Los Alamos, New Mexico, we continue to build nuclear weapons as if that was a normal thing to do. We hold the world hostage with our nuclear terrorism.

Everywhere we turn we hear of more violence. We feel it in ourselves as if we’ve been infected by some kind of plague. For the many young people who are not loved, not taught to be nonviolent, not given any hope or meaning in life, not invited to join the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace, the nihilism and insanity of further violence can feel like a natural progression. “Everyone is violent, so I’ll be violent, too,” many think. They are not taught how to live nonviolently.

It’s a wonder there aren’t more massacres.

Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. both insisted that we need a fundamental internal conversion from violence to nonviolence as the basis for our work for justice, human rights and peace. Each one of us, they argued day and night, has to reject that pull of violence and choose to live a nonviolent life and join the struggle to create a nonviolent world. This philosophical, moral and spiritual turning is the hardest step of all, the most courageous and the most needed. As more and more of us choose active, creative nonviolence as a way of life, we have a chance of creating a more nonviolent society.

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Wealth doesn’t trickle down – it just floods offshore, research reveals

Heather Stewart, guardian.co.uk, 21 July 2012

A far-reaching new study suggests a staggering $21 trillion in assets has been lost to global tax havens. If taxed, that could have been enough to put parts of Africa back on its feet – and even solve the euro crisis

Capital flight Illustration: Giulio Frigieri for the Observer (click here for a larger version of this graphic)

The world’s super-rich have taken advantage of lax tax rules to siphon off at least $21 trillion, and possibly as much as $32tn, from their home countries and hide it abroad – a sum larger than the entire American economy.

James Henry, a former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has conducted groundbreaking new research for the Tax Justice Network campaign group – sifting through data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and private sector analysts to construct an alarming picture that shows capital flooding out of countries across the world and disappearing into the cracks in the financial system.

Comedian Jimmy Carr became the public face of tax-dodging in the UK earlier this year when it emerged that he had made use of a Cayman Islands-based trust to slash his income tax bill.

But the kind of scheme Carr took part in is the tip of the iceberg, according to Henry’s report, entitled The Price of Offshore Revisited. Despite the professed determination of the G20 group of leading economies to tackle tax secrecy, investors in scores of countries – including the US and the UK – are still able to hide some or all of their assets from the taxman.

“This offshore economy is large enough to have a major impact on estimates of inequality of wealth and income; on estimates of national income and debt ratios; and – most importantly – to have very significant negative impacts on the domestic tax bases of ‘source’ countries,” Henry says.

Using the BIS’s measure of “offshore deposits” – cash held outside the depositor’s home country – and scaling it up according to the proportion of their portfolio large investors usually hold in cash, he estimates that between $21tn (£13tn) and $32tn (£20tn) in financial assets has been hidden from the world’s tax authorities.

“These estimates reveal a staggering failure,” says John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. “Inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people.

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Half Of American Households Hold 1 Percent Of Wealth

Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post,20 July 2012

WASHINGTON — The share of the nation’s wealth held by the less affluent half of American households dropped precipitously after the financial crisis, to 1.1 percent, according to new calculations by Congress’s nonpartisan research service.

By contrast, the share of total net worth held by the weathiest 1 percent of American households continued rising, hitting 34.5 percent in 2010. The top 10 percent’s share was 74.5 percent.

The bottom half’s share of wealth has declined since it reached a high of 3.6 percent in 1995. But the most dramatic drop occurred after 2007, according to the analysis of data from the Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Finances.

Another staggering indicator of the concentration of wealth at the top in the U.S: When all household wealth is divided by the number of households, the mean household net worth in 2010 totals $498,800. But the median household net worth — the level at which half the households have more and half have less — was $77,300, meaning that the rich have so much that the average net worth in the U.S. is actually 6.5 times that of a typical American family.

The study found that the share of wealth held by the top 10 percent of households grew from 1989 to 2010. In every other segment of the remaining 90 percent of households — i.e. the middle and lower class — that share went down.

The study cites a recent Federal Reserve Bulletin article’s conclusion that “a broad collapse in house prices” was the main reason for the changes between 2007 and 2010. The decline in the stock market “played a considerable but lesser role” in part because stock prices, unlike home prices, have broadly recovered.

The report makes it clear that there is cause for alarm. “Inequality is the term commonly applied to the concentration of total net worth among the relatively few households at the top of the wealth distribution,” it states.

But — realistically — the report doesn’t include any policy prescriptions. Rather, it notes that within Congress there are “[d]ifferent views about the impact of redistributive policies on long-term economic growth.”

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Redford’s energy vision gains traction with premiers

KAREN HOWLETT AND BILL CURRY, The Globe and Mail, Jul. 20 2012

Alberta Premier Alison Redford is quietly building support among her provincial colleagues for a national energy strategy, saying Canada’s prosperity hinges on forging a united front on exploiting the country’s vast natural resource riches.
(John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Alberta Premier Alison Redford is quietly building support among her provincial colleagues for a national energy strategy, saying Canada’s prosperity hinges on forging a united front to exploit the country’s vast resource riches.

Ms. Redford has lined up the support of other premiers in Western Canada ahead of next week’s Council of the Federation meeting of provincial and territorial leaders in Halifax.

She met privately on Wednesday with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty over dinner at Toronto’s Windsor Arms Hotel, where they discussed how both their provinces have a vested interest in developing a strategy that pulls together Alberta’s land-locked oil sector and a wide variety of other energy sources from British Columbia to Atlantic Canada.

The relationship between the two premiers is taking on a more cordial tone in contrast to their war of words earlier this year, when Mr. McGunity blamed his province’s economic woes on an Alberta-fuelled “petro dollar.”

For Ms. Redford, the dinner meeting was her latest effort to use Canada’s global status as an energy superpower to help shape the national agenda. Aside from the premiers in Western Canada endorsing her pan-Canadian energy strategy, she has also held one-on-one meetings with other premiers in Atlantic Canada, including Nova Scotia’s Darrell Dexter, host of next week’s gathering, who is on board.

“I’m pleased that premiers have decided we can talk about this,” Ms. Redford said in an interview. “There has been some uptake on the importance of the energy economy.”

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A Long Hot Summer

by Bill McKibben, July 19, 2012 by Common Dreams

Photo Credit: Jan Alff Wiegel, Bright Green Marin 2011

It’s turning into a hot climate summer in two ways, only one of which you can measure with a thermometer.

Amidst the deepening drought, the summer’s fourth heat wave, and the continued western fires, there’s something else breaking out: a siege of citizen uprisings at key points around the country all designed to keep coal in the hole, oil in the soil, gas… underground.

Ever since the mass arrests protesting the Keystone pipeline last summer (the largest civil disobedience action in the U.S. in 30 years) there’s been renewed interest in confronting the fossil fuel industry and its political enablers. Some have been following this path for years, of course — late next week, beginning July 25, opponents of mountain-top removal coal-mining will resume their long-standing (and increasingly successful fight), with a week-long Mountain Mobilization that will likely include civil disobedience.

A few days later, activists from around the country will descend on D.C. for a rally against fracking — perhaps the fastest-growing wing of the environmental movement. That gathering won’t lead to arrests — but others will.

Earlier this week, for instance, Ohio protesters chained themselves to the gates outside a so-called injection well, not far from where earlier this year disposal of fracking water had helped trigger a swarm of earthquakes. And just yesterday Josh Fox and Mark Ruffalo announced plans for an August 25 gathering designed to keep fracking at bay in New York State.

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Harper government feared UN wouldn’t send refugees to Canada if it maintained health coverage changes

NDP says revelations show government is “making it up as they go along.”

By Kristen Shane, July, 19, 2012, embassymag.ca

The Hill Times Photo: Jake Wright
Dr. Parisa Rezaiefar, a family physician with Bruyere Academic Family Medicine Centre; Dr. Philip Berger, the chief of family and community medicine with St. Michael’s Hospital; and Dr. Mark Tyndall, the chief of infectious diseases with the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa, speak at a press conference against refugee health-care changes on Parliament Hill June 27.

The Harper government feared the United Nations refugee agency would have tried to divert affected refugees from settling in Canada if it pressed ahead with changes to refugee health-care coverage, a document released today shows.

The revelation comes as criticism of the government’s approach to refugee health care has ballooned. Doctors wearing white lab coats have protested on Parliament Hill, while others have occupied a Toronto Conservative MP’s constituency office, and some have disrupted ministers’ press conference.

On July 18, a Cabinet-approved order made on June 28 was released in the government’s official newspaper, the Canada Gazette, detailing last-minute changes to the government’s earlier planned revamping of the refugee health coverage system—and why bureaucrats at Citizenship and Immigration Canada were pushing for them.

The document suggests that the UN referral drop, and a lack of private-sponsor support, could have left Canada unable to resettle as many refugees as it had planned.

The immigration department also said the originally proposed changes would have had a “serious impact” on the department’s ability to put in place part of the 2012 budget.

And the planned changes would have taken away coverage of psychological counselling for victims of human trafficking, something Citizenship and Immigration Canada said is “important” to support them.

An email and call to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s press secretary were not immediately returned July 18 before deadline.

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After 800 Years, the Barons Are Back in Control of Britain

King John, surrounded by English barons, ratifying the Magna Carta. (photo: Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)


By George Monbiot, Guardian UK, 17 July 12

The Magna Carta forced King John to give away powers. But big business now exerts a chilling grip on the workforce

Hounded by police and bailiffs, evicted wherever they stopped, they did not mean to settle here. They had walked out of London to occupy disused farmland on the Queen’s estates surrounding Windsor Castle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that didn’t work out very well. But after several days of pursuit, they landed two fields away from the place where modern democracy is commonly supposed to have been born.

At first this group of mostly young, dispossessed people, who (after the 17th century revolutionaries) call themselves Diggers 2012, camped on the old rugby pitch of Brunel University’s Runnymede campus. It’s a weed-choked complex of grand old buildings and modern halls of residence, whose mildewed curtains flap in the wind behind open windows, all mysteriously abandoned as if struck by a plague or a neutron bomb.

The diggers were evicted again, and moved down the hill into the woods behind the campus – pressed, as if by the ineluctable force of history, ever closer to the symbolic spot. From the meeting house they have built and their cluster of tents, you can see across the meadows to where the Magna Carta was sealed almost 800 years ago.

Their aim is simple: to remove themselves from the corporate economy, to house themselves, grow food and build a community on abandoned land. Implementation is less simple. Soon after I arrived, on a sodden day last week, an enforcer working for the company which now owns the land came slithering through the mud in his suit and patent leather shoes with a posse of police, to serve papers.

Already the crops the settlers had planted had been destroyed once; the day after my visit they were destroyed again. But the repeated destruction, removals and arrests have not deterred them. As one of their number, Gareth Newnham, told me: “If we go to prison we’ll just come back … I’m not saying that this is the only way. But at least we’re creating an opportunity for young people to step out of the system.”

To be young in the post-industrial nations today is to be excluded. Excluded from the comforts enjoyed by preceding generations; excluded from jobs; excluded from hopes of a better world; excluded from self-ownership.

Those with degrees are owned by the banks before they leave college. Housing benefit is being choked off. Landlords now demand rents so high that only those with the better jobs can pay. Work has been sliced up and outsourced into a series of mindless repetitive tasks, whose practitioners are interchangeable. Through globalisation and standardisation, through unemployment and the erosion of collective bargaining and employment laws, big business now asserts a control over its workforce almost unprecedented in the age of universal suffrage.

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Are Millennials the Screwed Generation?

‘Boomer America’ never had it so good. As a result, today’s young Americans have never had it so bad.

Spencer Heyfron for Newsweek

Today’s youth, both here and abroad, have been screwed by their parents’ fiscal profligacy and economic mismanagement. Neil Howe, a leading generational theorist, cites the “greed, shortsightedness, and blind partisanship” of the boomers, of whom he is one, for having “brought the global economy to its knees.”

How has this generation been screwed? Let’s count the ways, starting with the economy. No generation has suffered more from the Great Recession than the young. Median net worth of people under 35, according to the U.S. Census, fell 37 percent between 2005 and 2010; those over 65 took only a 13 percent hit.

The wealth gap today between younger and older Americans now stands as the widest on record. The median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older is $170,494, 42 percent higher than in 1984, while the median net worth for younger-age households is $3,662, down 68 percent from a quarter century ago, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.

The older generation, notes Pew, were “the beneficiaries of good timing” in everything from a strong economy to a long rise in housing prices. In contrast, quick prospects for improvement are dismal for the younger generation.

One key reason: their indebted parents are not leaving their jobs, forcing younger people to put careers on hold. Since 2008 the percentage of the workforce under 25 has dropped 13.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while that of people over 55 has risen by 7.6 percent.

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Canadian senators warn United Church over Israel boycott

CAMPBELL CLARK, The Globe and Mail, Jul. 04 2012

Canadian senators are warning the United Church of Canada that a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in occupied lands could cause a rift with the Jewish community.
(Nasser Ishtayeh/AP)

A group of nine senators has warned the United Church of Canada that it could spark a rift with the Jewish community if it approves the boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in occupied lands.

The senators, all United Church members and from both the Conservative and Liberal parties, have waded publicly into a controversial issue before it comes to a vote in mid-August.

It’s a debate in which the lines between church and state have already been crossed several times as the United Church considers a new foray into the electrified world of Mideast politics.

A working group established by the church has issued a report that proposes a boycott of all products from Jewish settlements in occupied lands, arguing the settlements are illegally eating away Palestinian lands and the hope for a two-state solution. But it also rejects a wholesale boycott of all Israeli goods.

The nine senators have warned in a letter to United Church moderator Mardi Tindal that the distinction drawn with the narrower boycott will “be lost upon” Israelis and Canada’s Jewish community.

“What will be made clear to them is that the United Church has chosen sides, declaring Israel guilty and the Palestinians the only injured party,” the senators wrote.

Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth noted that she has no objection to the church wading into weighty international politics, but fears that members of the Jewish community will see itself as being singled out by an anti-Israel-sentiment.

“I’d say it’s a matter of diplomacy,” she said. “I don’t think it will be helpful for Jewish-Christian relations.

The church’s working group said it struggled with that issue. But its report maintained that arguments about the complexity of affairs in the Middle East are not an excuse for silence.

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Sizzling Heat, Storms, Wildfires: ‘This Is Just the Beginning’

Staff, July 3, 2012 by Common Dreams

Eerie glow
A rapidly spreading smoke cloud surrounds the U.S. Air Force Academy’s airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 26, 2012. The Waldo Canyon fire is burning in the area of the Academy. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Mike Kaplan)

“This is just the beginning,” warns Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground, of what life with the impacts of climate change will look like. His message follows a week in which 2000 heat records were matched or broken and the month of June in which over 3200 heat records were matched or broken.

Yet during that time, with little exception, there was no mention of climate change during weather broadcasts in which viewers were told to expect little relief from steamy temperatures.

Speaking on Democracy Now! on Tuesday, Masters said, “I think it’s important for the public to hear that what we’re seeing now is the future. We’re going to be seeing a lot more weather like this, a lot more impacts like we’re seeing from this series of heatwaves, fires and storms. And we better prepare for it. We better educate people what’s going on, give the best science that’s out there on what climate change is doing and where it’s likely to head. I think we’re missing a big opportunity here—or our TV meteorologists are—to educate and tell the population what is likely to happen. This is just the beginning, this kind of summer weather we’re having.”

Like Masters, scientist and former TV host Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” connected the dots of extreme weather and climate change on The Ed Show on Monday. “The last 16 years have been the hottest ever, and so this is consistent with models of climate change. The big hurricanes are consistent with models of climate change. The big storms. The dehydration of the forest in Colorado and the forest fires are consistent with models of climate change.”

“This is a chance for us all to pull together and address climate change,” said Nye.

Last week, even before record heat and storms struck much of the nation this weekend, several scientists confirmed — this is what we’ve been telling you would happen with climate change.

“This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level,” said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. “The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about.”

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Asbestos mine loan gives Charest ‘good reason to be ashamed’

LES PERREAUX, The Globe and Mail, Jul. 03 2012

The Jeffrey open-pit asbestos mine is shown on October 7, 2011, in Asbestos, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The announcement was described as a national embarrassment, the crass political manoeuvre of a desperate Quebec government trying to hold on to a Liberal seat at the cost of public health.

Critics lined up with speed and in number on the long weekend to blast Premier Jean Charest for green-lighting a $58-million loan to Canada’s last asbestos mine late on the Friday of the unofficial start of summer vacation season.

The loan stunned environmentalists, the medical community and cancer-fighting groups while promoters of the controversial relaunch of the Jeffrey Mine were more difficult to find. Even the province’s own public-health doctors are outraged.

Mr. Charest “has good reason to be ashamed,” said Yv Bonnier Viger, head of Quebec’s association of public-health specialists. “He is relaunching the exploitation of an extremely dangerous material that will cause the suffering and death of thousands of people in poor countries, at only marginal benefit to a desperate community.”

The province, led by retiring minister and local Liberal member of the legislature, Yvon Vallières, announced the loan and reopening before hundreds of thrilled residents of the economically depressed town of Asbestos.

Bernard Coulombe, the mine’s president and tireless promoter, had worked for years to find private investors willing to put in the balance of the $83-million start-up cost. “It was not easy to convince partners to work with us,” he said, adding that the mine will run 20 years on the investment.

Kathleen Ruff, an activist who has fought against government funding for the mine for years, said there was good reason for the difficulty: “The marketplace had spoken, this mine can only survive with artificial government life support.”

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Some Outrageous Facts about Inequality

by Paul Buchheit, July 2, 2012 by Common Dreams

A homeless person sits under blankets at a Wall Street subway station in New York City. (Credit: AP/Mark Lennihan)

Studying inequality in America reveals some facts that are truly hard to believe. Amidst all the absurdity a few stand out.

1. U.S. companies in total pay a smaller percentage of taxes than the lowest-income 20% of Americans.

Total corporate profits for 2011 were $1.97 trillion. Corporations paid $181 billion in federal taxes (9%) and $40 billion in state taxes (2%), for a total tax burden of 11%. The poorest 20% of American citizens pay 17.4% in federal, state, and local taxes.

2. The high-profit, tax-avoiding tech industry was built on publicly-funded research.

The technology sector has been more dependent on government research and development than any other industry. The U.S. government provided about half of the funding for basic research in technology and communications well into the 1980s. Even today, federal grants support about 60 percent of research performed at universities.

IBM was founded in 1911, Hewlett-Packard in 1947, Intel in 1968, Microsoft in 1975, Apple and Oracle in 1977, Cisco in 1984. All relied on government and military innovations. The more recently incorporated Google, which started in 1996, grew out of the Defense Department’s ARPANET system and the National Science Foundation’s Digital Library Initiative.

The combined 2011 federal tax payment for the eight companies was just 10.6%.

3. The sales tax on a quadrillion dollars of financial sales is ZERO.

The Bank for International Settlements reported in 2008 that total annual derivatives trades were $1.14 quadrillion. The same year, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a trading volume of $1.2 quadrillion.

A quadrillion dollars is the entire world economy, 12 times over. It’s enough to give 3 million dollars to every person in the United States. But in a sense it’s not real money. Most of it is high-volume nanosecond computer trading, the type that almost crashed our economy. So it’s a good candidate for a tiny sales tax. But there is no sales tax.

Go out and buy shoes or an iPhone and you pay up to a 10% sales tax. But walk over to Wall Street and buy a million dollar high-risk credit default swap and pay 0%.

4. Many Americans get just a penny on the dollar.

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Why the Hierarchy Fears the Nuns

By Frank Cocozzelli, Talk to Action, 25 June 12

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, speaks in Ames, Iowa, during a stop on the first day of a nine-state Nuns on the Bus tour. Their fight is with a Republican proposed federal budget they say hurts the poor and needy. (photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

In recent weeks we’ve watched the Vatican try to stifle a vital part of the Catholic Church: the nuns. Indeed, the Church fathers seem to have become quite unhinged in their efforts to quiet women who have dedicated their lives not only to Catholicism, but to betterment of all.

Why is this? Its simply because the good Sisters have the ability to redirect the Church to a place where conservative men do not want to go.

Chris Hedges once wrote “faith is how we treat each other.” Perhaps no other group of Catholics embodies Hedges’ definition of faith than the various orders of Catholic nuns. The women’s orders and individual nuns perform a wide range of services; from teaching in parochial schools; to providing health care; to making great contributions in theology. It has often been nuns who reported their suspicions of priestly pedophilia and forced transparency in how these matters were handled.

Nuns have also been at the forefront of a potential Catholic remonstrance. Is it any wonder that the hierarchy and their friends on the Catholic Right are trying to reign them in?

The Vatican has revealed itself in the current spectacle as more reactionary than conservative. Even the suggestion of discussing progressive takes on dogma is often denounced as heresy. Arguably, moderate and liberal Catholics live in a new reign of terror whose principal players are Bernard Law, disgraced former Boston Cardinal; Cardinal William Levada, Prefect for the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura; and well-placed, movement conservative-friendly bishops and cardinals in cities such as Madison, Wisconsin, New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

These clerics apparently recognize that the nuns could become a rallying point and potential leadership for reform for those of us unhappy with the turn away from Vatican II’s Aggiornamento – “bringing up to date” that has occurred since the ascendancy of Pope John Paul II.

In fact, that is exactly how many of us who oppose the reactionary doctrine and culture trickling down from the hierarchy see the nuns’ potential for leadership. They are not a dissident lay group such as Call to Action, but part of the institutional Church. It would be a change from within.

While many in the hierarchy are courting reactionary movements such as Opus Dei and SSPX, groups that seek a more insulated, doctrinaire – and smaller Church.

But the sisters toil in the real world; rubbing elbows with everyday people; dealing with the grey issues of life. This provides them with perspectives sorely missing in the Vatican, notably women’s points of view. The nuns understand pregnancy; they understand glass ceilings; they live with being marginalized by gender. And they see how related injustices play out in the lives of real people.

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What a 10-Year-Old Did for the Tar Sands

By Angela Sterritt, YES! Magazine, 24 June 12

Ta’Kaiya Blaney, of the Sliammon First Nation, sings her environmental advocacy song, ‘Shallow Waters,’ 07/31/11. (photo: Richard Walker)

Why a First Nations student from British Columbia is taking on a controversial trans-Canadian pipeline project – through song.

Ten-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney stood outside Enbridge Northern Gateway’s office on July 6, waiting for officials to grant her access to the building. She thought she could hand deliver an envelope containing an important message about the company’s pipeline construction. But the doors remained locked.

“I don’t know what they find so scary about me,” she said, as she was ushered off the property by security guards. “I just want them to hear what I have to say.”

The Sliammon First Nation youth put in a great effort learning about environmental issues and the pipeline in particular, and hoped to share her knowledge and carefully crafted words. Enbridge officials said they were unable to provide Ta’Kaiya space or time and failed to comment because the Vancouver office is staffed by a limited number of technical personnel. Their headquarters are located in Calgary.

So Ta’Kaiya stood outside, accompanied by three members of Greenpeace, her mother, and a number of reporters and sang her song “Shallow Waters.” The song’s video has hit YouTube and been viewed more than 53,000 times.

She co-wrote her song after learning of Enbridge’s bid to build twin 1,170 km pipelines to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to British Columbia’s north coast. Like the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline that would connect the Canadian tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Enbridge’s Alberta-B.C. pipeline is widely opposed, largely because it would bring hundreds of oil supertankers a year to the Great Bear Rainforest – an ecologically significant region along a particularly dangerous route for tankers.

“Oil pipelines and tankers will give people jobs, but if there is an oil spill like the [BP spill] in the Gulf of Mexico, that will take other people’s jobs and the wildlife will die,” said Ta’Kaiya.

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Huge Turnout at Michigan Capitol Reading of ‘Vagina Monologues’

By Dawson Bell and Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press, 19 June 12

Thousands of people turned out for protest performance of The Vagina Monologues at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., in response to Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield being silenced by House Speaker James Bolger for comments she made in opposition to new abortion legislation passed by the House last week. (photo: Susan Tusa/DFP)

Several thousand people thronged the state Capitol lawn this evening, to protest the treatment of two female lawmakers who were barred from speaking on the House floor last Thursday following an emotional debate over abortion.

They heard a recitation by the two lawmakers and others of The Vagina Monologues.

The performance, kicked off by the work’s author Eve Ensler who flew in from California for the occasion, was the culmination of five days of reaction to the decision by House Republican leaders to issue one-day revocations of the right of state Reps. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, and Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga , to speak on the House floor.

They said the discipline was in response to incivility displayed by the two representatives a day earlier during a debate over legislation to impose new restrictions on abortion clinics. Brown said she was punished for using the word vagina.

Welcoming the crowd today, Brown said the legislation would “effectively overturn Roe v. Wade,” the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision which ended most state-level restrictions on abortion, and “turn back the clock to the 60s, when women were denied health care.”

Concluding her remarks during the House debate, Brown had said, “I’m flattered that you are all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’”

Today, she said, “We shouldn’t be legislating vaginas, if you can’t say vagina.”

Byrum got her one-day gag order after she reacted vigorously during the abortion debate when she was not allowed to speak on an amendment she sponsored that would have required a man seeking a vasectomy to have proof of a medical emergency or life-threatening condition.

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For Churches, Being Political Is about Being Faithful

June 17, 2012, The United Church of Canada

thepaperthinhymn.com

Toronto: In a recent interview on CBC Radio, Senator Nicole Eaton said, “I don’t think that churches should take political stands. I think they should be more about helping people and giving people succour.”
Her comments were made on the program As It Happens, during an interview about her Senate inquiry into foreign funding of Canadian charities. Since Eaton launched the inquiry in February, concerns have been raised about the chill being felt by charities that fear their charitable status will be threatened if they participate in public debates that challenge government policy.
During the interview Eaton chose to single out The United Church of Canada as one she thought was involved in “political work.”
“And so we are,” says the United Church’s Moderator, Mardi Tindal, in response to the senator’s comments. “We are very political, as was Jesus—that’s why he was crucified.”
Tindal adds, however, there is a very clear distinction between being political, meaning advocating for changes in public policy, and being partisan.
“It is a distinction that is often misunderstood—but it is critical, especially when a member of the Canadian Senate suggests that it is inappropriate for churches to participate in shaping public policy,” she explains.
Tindal notes it was the deep Christian faith of Tommy Douglas, a Baptist preacher, that drove him to champion universal health care with such passion. Similarly, faith motivated Nellie McClung in the struggle to win women the right to vote.

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Canada should look to U.S. for health reforms

Globe Editorial, The Globe and Mail, Jun. 10 2012

In the United States, nine physician groups have identified 45 tests or procedures that are commonly used, but are of no proven medical benefit. It’s a refreshing take on a tough debate, from which Canadian physicians should draw inspiration.

Some lists include the obvious, such as antibiotics for uncomplicated sinus infections almost always caused by viruses. But other items identified are more surprising: imaging of the lower spine within six weeks after suffering back pain, for instance, and routine chest X-rays for ambulatory patients before surgery.

The exercise follows an article in The New England Journal of Medicine that was critical of medical groups during U.S. health-care debates for being too concerned with protecting their incomes. The author, Dr. Howard Brody, urged each specialty society to develop “top five” lists.

The physician groups, which include family doctors, cardiologists, radiologists and oncologists, obliged by considering what would quickly save the most money without depriving patients of what Dr. Brody described as “meaningful medical benefit.” Some of the top five lists were published this spring; eight additional societies are expected to release theirs next fall.

In Canada, health reform has largely been the purview of provincial governments trying to get their fiscal houses in order, and often places those governments directly at odds with doctors. The most notable changes of late have come in Ontario, where the government has lowered the fees of specialists to reflect technological advances that have made tests or operations quicker and (in some cases) easier to perform, while limiting the number of diagnostic tests and other services that it thinks are being referred too frequently.

Those changes have led the Ontario Medical Association to issue dire warnings of service cuts, and of physicians fleeing the province. But one way or another, governments will continue to move toward “evidence-based” care, as they seek to ensure the sustainability of funding. Doctors in Canada would be wise to follow the lead of their counterparts south of the border, and help lead the discussion.

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Anglicans threaten rift with government over gay marriage

Church says introducing same-sex marriage legislation could lead to it being forced out of traditional wedding role

“It seems odd that the Church of England should be obsessing about a few thousand gay couples once again when there are currently 3 million children in Britain living in single-parent households.” Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, which campaigns for gay rights.

Ben Quinn, The Guardian, 12 June 2012

The Church of England has delivered an ­uncompromising warning to the ­government against pressing ahead with gay marriage proposals. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

The threat of an unprecedented clash between church and state over the issue of gay marriage has opened up after the Church of England delivered an uncompromising warning to the government against pressing ahead with controversial proposals.

Introducing same-sex marriage could lead to the church being forced out of its role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state, the church claimed in a potentially explosive submission in response to the government’s consultation on gay marriage, which closes on Thursday.

The submission’s warning of a potential clash between canon law – that marriage is between a man and a woman – and parliament is likely to put pressure on the prime minister, David Cameron, who has spoken out in support of gay marriage and already come under fire from supporters of the proposals for allowing a free vote amongst Tory MPs.

In a 13-page submission, the church says it cannot support the proposal to enable all couples, regardless of their gender, to have a civil marriage ceremony.

“Such a move would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history,” it says.

“Marriage benefits society in many ways, not only by promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation.”

The controversy comes at a particularly delicate time for the church itself, which is in the middle of a process that will choose a new Archbishop of Canterbury later this year to replace Dr Rowan Williams.

Internal debates on gay rights have been particularly heated during his tenure as he struggled to balance the CofE’s own factions at the same time as holding together the disparate worldwide Anglican communion of 80 million members.

The church’s submission warns that despite ministerial assurances that churches would not have to conduct gay marriages, it would be “very doubtful” whether limiting same-sex couples to non-religious ceremonies would withstand a challenge at the European court of human rights.

This could make it impossible for the CofE to continue its role conducting marriages on behalf of the state, it warned.

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Women Are Born Free in the US but Everywhere Give Birth in Chains

By Sadhbh Walshe, Guardian UK, 07 June 12

Only 16 of 50 states in the US have any regulations or laws against the shackling of female prisoners during childbirth. (photo: Guardian UK)

In 2007, a 17-year-old girl called Cora Fletcher was charged with retail theft. Over a year later, after she missed a court date, she was sent to the Cook County jail, in Illinois. She was eight months pregnant at the time.

During a pre-natal check-up at the facility, her baby appeared to have no heartbeat, so she was sent to the county hospital. As the medical team tried to induce her, Fletcher claims that both her hands and both her feet were shackled to either side of the bed. Only when she finally went into labor, three days later, was one hand and one foot released. It’s hard to imagine a more crucifying way to force a woman to try to give birth.

Sadly for Fletcher, there was no payoff for the trauma and humiliation she was forced to endure, as her baby was born dead.

Fletcher was one of the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit brought against Cook County on behalf of 80 female prisoners and detainees who also claimed to have had similar experiences of being shackled during childbirth. Just under two weeks ago, the county agreed to a settlement of $4.1m dollars payable to the women, who will each receive between $5,000 and $45,000.

The Cook County sheriff’s office made it clear, however, that they were agreeing to the deal for expediency’s sake only and were admitting to no wrongdoing. This despite the fact that Illinois became the first state in the union to ban the practice of shackling women during labor, back in 1999 – at least seven years before any of the women named in the lawsuit had their babies. A spokesman for the department, Frank Bilecki, went so far as to issue a statement claiming the jail’s treatment of (female) detainees is the “most progressive in the nation”.

If that is the case, women in America better watch their backs.

The practices of making pregnant women wear belly chains and of shackling their hands and feet before, after and sometimes during labor, are just another way in which the United States distinguishes itself – or fails to distinguish itself, perhaps – as anything but a bastion of liberty and justice and a champion of women’s rights. No other country in the “civilized world” finds shackling pregnant women a necessary or desirable procedure. The practice has been repeatedly and vigorously condemned by the committee against torture at the United Nations; and it has been decried by both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (You can imagine how doctors relish the prospect of trying to safely deliver a baby whose mother is in chains.)

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Anti-bullying bill sparks Catholic funding debate

Education Minister Laurel Broten

By Antonella Artuso ,Queen’s Park Bureau Chief, The Toronto Sun, June 3, 2012

Bill 13 is proving anything but lucky for Ontario’s Catholic educators.

Not only has the anti-bullying bill put them at odds with the provincial government over the naming of Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools, it has now reheated the debate around Catholic education funding.

The 2007 provincial election thoroughly explored the possibility of funding all faith-based schools — as a resolution to concerns over devoting taxpayer money to one type of religious education — and the Ontario public was quite clear that the proposal by then-PC leader John Tory was a non-starter.

But groups like One School System and the Green Party of Ontario argue there is an appetite on the part of the public to discuss the other possible solution — ending all faith-based school funding.

“There’s a silent majority that supports having a conversation about merging the best of the Catholic system and the best of the public system,” Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said. “I think the timing is right.”

Education Minister Laurel Broten introduced Bill 13 which outlaws bullying in schools, including cyber bullying, and promotes an “inclusive” environment that welcomes all people, including LGBTTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirited, intersex, queer and questioning, according to the legislation’s preamble).

The legislation responds to the suicides of teenage bullying victims, including Jamie Hubley of Ottawa and Mitchell Wilson of Pickering.

Catholic schools accepted the original legislation but struggled with an amendment that removes their veto over the name Gay Straight Alliance, which they say represents a political agenda in conflict with their religious beliefs.

It has spiralled into an argument over gay rights, religious rights and now Catholic school funding.

“We have been very clear we have no intention of defunding the Catholic school system,” Broten said. “The Accepting Schools Act has nothing to do with funding for Catholic education and everything to do with protecting students.”

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Leading Companies Mislead Public on Climate Science, Policy

Caterpillar logo on a building in Tasmania. (photo: Jacqueline Street/ABC)

By Union of Concerned Scientist, 31 May 12

Many of the country’s leading companies have taken contradictory actions when it comes to climate change science while pumping a tremendous amount of resources into influencing the discussion, according to an analysis released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The science advocacy group examined 28 companies in the S&P 500 that participated in climate policy debates over the past several years. All of them publicly expressed concern about climate change or a commitment to reducing emissions through websites and public statements, but half (14) also misrepresented climate science in their public communications. Many more contributed to the spread of misinformation about climate science in less direct ways, such as through political contributions, trade group memberships, and think tank funding.

“Corporations’ increased ability to influence policy should come with an increased responsibility to let the public know how they are doing so,” said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program and a contributor to the report. “Companies may play a role in policy discussions, but right now, it’s simply far too easy for them to get away with misrepresenting science to achieve their goals.”

Utilizing an array of publicly available data, the report systematically examines how corporate influence fosters confusion on climate change. The analysis found that some American companies, including NRG Energy, Inc., NIKE, Inc. and AES Corporation, accept the findings of climate science and have taken actions in support of science-based policy. Other corporations, including Peabody Energy Corporation, Valero Energy Corporation, and FMC Corporation, have worked aggressively to undermine climate policies and have misrepresented climate science to do so.

Several companies stand out for taking contradictory actions on climate change. Caterpillar Inc., for instance, highlights its commitment to sustainability and climate change mitigation on its website. But the company also serves on the boards of two trade groups that regularly attempt to undermine public understanding of climate science: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Caterpillar also funds the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, two think tanks that have misrepresented climate science.

Similarly, ConocoPhillips says on its website that it recognizes human activity is “contributing to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that can lead to adverse changes in global climate.” But in comments to the Environmental Protection Agency, the company criticized scientific evidence on the ways climate change can harm public health.

“The difference between what many of these companies say and what they actually do is quite stark,” said Gretchen Goldman, an analyst in the Scientific Integrity Program and a report contributor. “And because we know only limited amounts about their activities, it’s relatively simple for companies to show one face to the public and another to policymakers.”

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Global Temperatures Rising on a Devastating Trajectory

Global temperatures have become warmer in most parts of the world. (image: NASA)

Climate-heating carbon emissions set a record high in 2011, in a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year, the International Energy Agency reported this week. The main reason for this dangerous increase is that governments are failing to implement policies to prevent catastrophic increases of global temperatures.

By Stephen Leahy, Inter Press Service, 29 May 12

A new report released on the last days of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany this week reveals that the planet is heading to a temperature rise of at least 3.5 degrees Celsius, and likely more, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), despite an international agreement to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

Not only are pledges inadequate, but countries are unable to fulfill even those pledges, a new CAT analysis shows. CAT is a joint project of Dutch energy consulting organisation Ecofys, Germany’s Climate Analytics, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“When we compared the emission reduction pledges of countries like Brazil, Mexico and the U.S., we found they did not have the policies in place to meet those pledges,” said Niklas Höhne, director of energy and climate policy at Ecofys.

Höhne told IPS that they looked only at the policies of a few countries, but no country’s policies were enough to meet their targets.

While Mexico introduced a solid new framework climate legislation, it has yet to implement actual policies and measures to reach its pledge, the report found. At the moment, Mexico is set to achieve only 12 percent of its pledged 30 percent reduction from business-as-usual by 2020.

Brazil has an ambitious target but a proposed new forest code, if adopted, could reverse this trend. “Scientific analysis shows that the code could increase its emissions gap substantially,” the report said.

The United States pins many of its hopes on having lower emissions by 2020 due mainly to effects of the recessions and a shift from coal to gas driven by low gas prices.

Yet regulations on coal-fired power plants and on fuel efficiency in vehicles would still leave the United States “some 350 million tonnes of CO2 short of its already inadequate pledge, a gap that is the size of half of Canada’s annual emissions,” the report found.

“We haven’t looked at Canada yet but it’s pretty clear they do not have the policies they need,” Höhne added.

Climate Talks Deadlocked

The Bonn climate talks this week saw little appetite for increasing pledges. “No country wants to move. This is not a positive trend,” Höhne said.

“The Bonn meeting underscores the deep divisions that remain between key countries on how to meet the climate challenge,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“It’s clear we have the technology, know-how, and ability to meet this challenge, but we’re missing the political will, which was in short supply during these last two weeks in Bonn,” said Meyer in a statement from Bonn. Meyer has attended nearly every climate negotiation since they began 18 years ago.

In fact, commitments to reduce emissions have been deadlocked since the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. Even if governments implemented the most stringent reductions they have proposed, world emissions would still need to decline another 9 billion tonnes by 2020 and every year after.

Meanwhile, 2011 emissions are one billion tonnes greater than 2010.

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A Monetary Policy for the 99%: Twelve-Year-Old Reformer Goes Viral

12-year old Victoria Grant explains why her homeland, Canada, and most of the world, is in debt. April 27, 2012 at the Public Banking in America Conference, Philadelphia, PA. (Screengrab: publicbankingtv)

By Ellen Brown, Truthout | News Analysis | 29 May 2012

The YouTube video of 12-year-old Victoria Grant speaking at the Public Banking in America conference last month has gone viral, topping a million views on various web sites.

Monetary reform – the contention that governments, not banks, should create and lend a nation’s money – has rarely even made the news, so this is a first. Either the times they are a-changin’, or Victoria managed to frame the message in a way that was so simple and clear that even a child could understand it.

Basically, her message was that banks create money “out of thin air” and lend it to people and governments at interest. If governments borrowed from their own banks, they could keep the interest and save a lot of money for the taxpayers.

She said her own country of Canada actually did this, from 1939 to 1974. During that time, the government’s debt was low and sustainable and it funded all sorts of remarkable things. Only when the government switched to borrowing privately did it acquire a crippling national debt.

Borrowing privately means selling bonds at market rates of interest (which in Canada quickly shot up to 22 percent), and the money for these bonds is ultimately created by private banks. For the latter point, Victoria quoted Graham Towers, head of the Bank of Canada for the first twenty years of its history. He said:

Each and every time a bank makes a loan, new bank credit is created – new deposits – brand new money. Broadly speaking, all new money comes out of a Bank in the form of loans. As loans are debts, then under the present system all money is debt.

Towers was asked, “Will you tell me why a government with power to create money, should give that power away to a private monopoly and then borrow that which Parliament can create itself, back at interest, to the point of national bankruptcy?” He replied, “If Parliament wants to change the form of operating the banking system, then certainly that is within the power of Parliament.”

In other words, said Victoria, “If the Canadian government needs money, they can borrow it directly from the Bank of Canada.

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Montreal’s Student Protesters Defy Restrictions As Demonstrations Grow

Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes bang on pots and pans during a demonstration in Montreal on Thursday, May 24, 2012. (photo: Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

By Erin Hale, Guardian UK, 26 May 12

Demonstrators in Montreal have continued to defy an emergency law passed by the provincial government in Quebec to restrict protests by students against planned tuition fee hikes.

As has become traditional, groups of protesters banged pots and pans, marching around the city for several hours.

But there was no repeat of the mass arrests that characterised the protests earlier in the week. On Wednesday, more than 500 Montrealers were arrested – more than during the entire October 1970 crisis when martial law was declared in the city in response to actions by Quebec nationalists.

The total number of those arrested in the current protests has now exceeded 2,500, and the judicial process is already showing signs that it is struggling to cope.

As protesters snaked through the city’s neighbourhoods on Thursday, residents and customers in restaurants showed their support by banging pots as they passed by.

The protest, which began at Place Emilie Gamelin, was declared illegal before it began, because organizers had not provided police with an itinerary, as required by a controversial new emergency law. But Montreal police said in a message posted on Twitter that protesters would be allowed to march as long as they remained peaceful. Four people were arrested.

Helicopters and riot police are an increasingly common sight on the streets of Montreal as a province-wide student strike passed the 100-day mark, but popular support only seems to be growing as the government attempts to clamp down on the strike.

Small red squares, the symbol of the strike historically worn by Montreal students supporting free tuition, are everywhere in the city – cloth pinned to peope’s lapels and daubed onto signs and walls.

Families and older residents are increasingly common sights at protests as well, demonstrating against Bill 78, which places restrictions on protests of more than 50 people. The bill imposes fines of $125,000 a day on student unions that defy its provisions, and student leaders shown to support unplanned protests can be fined up to a maximum of $5,000.

Michelle Hartman, an associate professor at McGill University who attended Thursday night’s protest with her young son asleep in his stroller, said she had seen the variety of protesters expand since the strike began.

“There have been people all along who aren’t just students … and I think all along there have been supporters, but definitely since the Bill 78 there have been more and more people just from all different places coming out.”

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Canada had lost sight of religious freedom as human right, Baird says

international.gc.ca

By CAMPBELL CLARK, Globe and Mail, May. 25, 2012

Foreign Minister John Baird told a U.S. audience that Canada went soft on defending fundamental rights like religious freedom some time after the Second World War, but he argued the Harper government is showing a stiffer spine now.

In a speech promoting Ottawa’s plans to open an Office of Religious Freedom in the Foreign Affairs department, Mr. Baird spoke of the “moral call” that people like his grandfather answered in fighting the Second World War.

“And yet, after the war, some decision makers lost sight of our proud tradition to do what is right and what is just,” he said in a draft of the speech. “Some decided it would be better to paint Canada as an honest broker. I call it being afraid to take a clear position, even when that’s what’s needed.”

Mr. Baird was speaking to the Religious Liberty Dinner, an annual fixture on Washington’s busy political dinner schedule organized by religious-liberty associations and the Seventh Day Adventist Church – and for the first time ever, hosted at Canada’s Embassy.

Mr. Baird was invited, according to government officials, as a nod from organizers to Canada’s plans to open a $5 million-a-year Religious Freedom Office, inside Foreign Affairs, some time this year.

The plans for the office, with a projected budget half as big as its U.S. counterpart, has been criticized by some as an attempt to appeal to religious conservatives in Canada.

Mr. Baird said the office will “help our diplomats around the world support religious freedom.”

His speech argued that defending religious freedoms cannot be separated from defending other basic human rights.

Mr. Baird’s speech mentioned the persecution of religious groups including Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, Ahmadiyya Muslims, and Baha’i. But it dealt most extensively with the targeting of Jews and Christians.
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NATO finally acknowledges the Bear Trap

A United States Marine in Helmand, Afghanistan, May 14. US DoD Photo: Cpl. Marcus Kuiper

The Western alliance has finally accepted that if the foreign troops cannot defeat the Taliban in 11 years, they are most unlikely to do so in 13 or 15 years. The Russians could have told them that.

By Gwynne Dyer, May 25, 2012, Embassy

Last weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago was mostly about how to get NATO troops out of Afghanistan without causing too much embarrassment to the Western governments that sent them, and a little bit about how to ensure that the Taliban don’t take over again once the Western troops leave.

The timetable for NATO’s withdrawal is now graven in stone: all Western troops will be withdrawn from actual combat by the end of 2013, and they will all be out of the country by the end of 2014 (except the French, who will all leave by December of this year).

This timetable will be adhered to no matter how the situation on the ground develops—or more likely, degrades—in the next two years. After that, it’s entirely in the Afghans’ hands.

There was some pretty rhetoric to soften this harsh fact: “As Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone,” declared President Barack Obama. But alone is exactly where they will be, although NATO is promising to send the Afghan government $4 billion a year to enable its army to stand up to the Taliban.

The Western alliance has finally accepted that if the foreign troops cannot defeat the Taliban in 11 years, they are most unlikely to do so in 13 or 15 years.

The Russians could have told them that. “Our soldiers are not to blame,” General Sergei Akhromeyev told the Soviet Politburo in 1986. “They’ve fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills.”

According to the Pentagon’s own numbers, each American soldier in Afghanistan costs about $1 million a year. Pashtun teenagers, eager to show their worth fighting against the foreigners, can be had for about $200 a month each—and there is an almost inexhaustible supply of young Pashtun males. The war was unwinnable from the start.

It may also have been unnecessary.

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The Supreme Court is right to hear life-support case

Hassan Rasouli, shown with his wife, Parichehr Salasel, has been in a persistent vegetative state since October, 2010. Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

GLOBE EDITORIAL, May. 23, 2012 , Globe and Mail

The Supreme Court of Canada was right when it agreed to hear the case of a patient on life support, despite shifting medical facts. In doing so, it is expected to provide much-needed guidance on end-of-life treatment.

The issue – who decides – has been a divisive, emotional one. Giving doctors unilateral decision-making power seems extreme, yet it is equally perverse for families of incapable patients to insist upon costly interventions of no medical benefit and some potential harm.

The absence of direction has left a policy vacuum, and potentially treatment vacuums in Canadian hospitals. Will physicians hesitate to start trials of therapy in critically ill patients if they think they cannot withdraw them when later deemed futile?

To answer the question of who decides, two critical-care physicians, Brian Cuthbertson and Gordon Rubenfeld of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, have taken their case to Canada’s highest court. They say there is no medical purpose in keeping Hassan Rasouli on life support and have proposed shifting him to palliative care.

The 60-year-old retired engineer has been at that Toronto hospital since October, 2010, when a brain infection incurred after surgery for a brain tumour left him in a persistent vegetative state. After that, he received round-the-clock care, with machines doing all the things he can’t: breathe, hydrate and nourish.

Then, unexpectedly, his diagnosis changed.

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Americans Pay $1 Trillion a Year for War and ‘Security’ – Why?

(image: Salon)

By Chris Hellman, Mattea Kramer, TomDispatch, 23 May 12

Recent months have seen a flurry of headlines about cuts (often called “threats”) to the U.S. defense budget. Last week, lawmakers in the House of Representatives even passed a bill that was meant to spare national security spending from future cuts by reducing school-lunch funding and other social programs.

Here, then, is a simple question that, for some curious reason, no one bothers to ask, no less answer: How much are we spending on national security these days? With major wars winding down, has Washington already cut such spending so close to the bone that further reductions would be perilous to our safety?

In fact, with projected cuts added in, the national security budget in fiscal 2013 will be nearly $1 trillion — a staggering enough sum that it’s worth taking a walk through the maze of the national security budget to see just where that money’s lodged.

If you’ve heard a number for how much the U.S. spends on the military, it’s probably in the neighborhood of $530 billion. That’s the Pentagon’s base budget for fiscal 2013, and represents a 2.5% cut from 2012. But that $530 billion is merely the beginning of what the U.S. spends on national security. Let’s dig a little deeper.

The Pentagon’s base budget doesn’t include war funding, which in recent years has been well over $100 billion. With U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq and troop levels falling in Afghanistan, you might think that war funding would be plummeting as well. In fact, it will drop to a mere $88 billion in fiscal 2013. By way of comparison, the federal government will spend around $64 billion on education that same year.

Add in war funding, and our national security total jumps to $618 billion. And we’re still just getting started.

The U.S. military maintains an arsenal of nuclear weapons. You might assume that we’ve already accounted for nukes in the Pentagon’s $530 billion base budget. But you’d be wrong. Funding for nuclear weapons falls under the Department of Energy (DOE), so it’s a number you rarely hear. In fiscal 2013, we’ll be spending $11.5 billion on weapons and related programs at the DOE. And disposal of nuclear waste is expensive, so add another $6.4 billion for weapons cleanup.

Now, we’re at $636 billion and counting.

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Student group law could push Catholic schools into clash with province, observers say

By Lee Greenberg, The Ottawa Citizen May 14, 2012

idahoagenda.com

TORONTO — Ontario’s Catholic schools are on a constitutional collision course with the province, one that likely will redefine the limits of the church’s influence in its publicly-funded classrooms, experts say.

The battle is shaping up over a proposed law that would force all public schools to embrace student-led groups — such as rainbow clubs and gay-straight alliances — that promote tolerance for homosexual students.

Catholic schools and their supporters argue they should have the right to rule clubs out of bounds if they conflict with their religious views.

But lawyers say that view is one that has not yet been tested in the courts.

“You can’t attack Catholicism in the classroom, because that’s constitutionally protected,” says Ed Morgan, a law professor at the University of Toronto. “It’s not at all clear that anything other than the teaching of Catholicism in the classroom is protected. In fact, there’s a very good argument that that’s the extent of the (British North America) act’s protection.”

The last such test of the Church’s authority in its schools came in 2002, when gay student Marc Hall challenged Durham, Ont.’s school board’s decision to ban him and his boyfriend from his Catholic school prom.

The school board argued it was exercising its religious freedom by banning Hall and his partner from the celebration. Hall’s lawyer argued the public education act forbade the school from discriminating.

Ultimately, Hall won a temporary injunction in what was only a partial victory. The judge in the case, Robert McKinnon, decided not to rule on the larger issues.

Doug Elliott, one of the lawyers involved in that case, says the situation unfolding in Ontario over gay-straight alliances is a chance to finish that argument.

“This is a turning point in the history of our education system,” Elliott says. “Either Catholic schools are going to adapt to this new environment and are going to accept that they are subject to the ultimate regulation of the government of Ontario, which is a secular institution … or they’ll decide to fight it. And if they do decide to fight it, I think quite frankly, they’re going to end up losing.”

Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/Student+group+could+push+Catholic+schools+into+clash+with+province+observers/6619818/story.html#ixzz1vXuqJugf

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Catholic Bishops Threaten to Sue for Their Right to Hate Lady Parts

By Kaili Joy Gray, Daily Kos, 21 May 12

The Catholic Church's U.S. hierarchy warned Tuesday that without quick action by Congress, it will sue the Obama administration for mandating that insurance plans provide birth control to women without a co-pay. (photo: Daily Kos)

The Catholic Church’s U.S. hierarchy warned Tuesday that without quick action by Congress, it will sue the Obama administration for mandating that insurance plans provide birth control to women without a co-pay.

“[F]orcing individual and institutional stakeholders to sponsor and subsidize an otherwise widely available product over their religious and moral objections serves no legitimate, let alone compelling, government interest,” lawyers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a letter to federal regulators.

Talk about sore losers. The bishops had their chance to weigh in on the Obama administration’s new policy to require health insurers to cover birth control without co-pays. The Obama administration generously carved out a boatload of exemptions for them to address their “concerns.” The bishops even got their puppets in Congress to introduce bills on their behalf – which the American people overwhelmingly opposed. They even got themselves invited to the boys-only congressional hearing on birth control – because who understands birth control better than a bunch of supposedly celibate men?

At the end of the day, though, they lost. They made their case that basic health care for women violates their “religious liberty” and makes Jesus sad – and they lost. They launched a charm offensive to “set the record straight,” arguing that the Catholic Church totally loves women’s health care and has been “the most effective private provider of such care anywhere around,” and people better stop saying mean stuff about them or they won’t be able “to live out the imperatives of our faith to serve, teach, heal, feed, and care for others.” And no one bought it.

You’d think, after such a resounding “f*ck off” from the American public, the bishops might leave women’s health care alone and go back to focusing on those important things they claim to care about. But when the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), led by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and the president of the bishops’ conference, met to decide whether to accept defeat or keep whining, they of course decided to keep whining, even as they concluded:

Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength – for without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.

Well, apparently their prayers didn’t work, so they’ve decided to scrap the God plan in favor of litigation:

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Majority of Ontarians favour gay-straight alliances and oppose Catholic school funding, poll finds

By Robert Benzie, 16 May 2012, Toronto Star

queeringthechurch.com

Ontarians favour the right of students to form gay-straight alliance clubs in Catholic schools by a margin of almost two to one, a new poll suggests.

The Forum Research survey also found more than half of Ontario residents — 53 per cent — oppose the public funding of Catholic schools with 40 per cent supportive and 6 per cent unsure.

As the issue of gay-straight alliances dominates debate around new anti-bullying legislation, the poll concluded people are accepting of the anti-homophobia clubs designed to promote tolerance.

Fifty-one per cent agreed that students in publicly funded Catholic schools should be allowed to form clubs under that sometimes contentious name with 28 per cent opposed and 21 per cent undecided.

“Now that people are more familiar with them, there’s more support for them,” Forum president Lorne Bozinoff told the Star on Tuesday.

Forum’s interactive voice response telephone survey of 1,072 Ontarians was conducted Monday.

Bozinoff said it is difficult to say whether high-profile opposition to gay-straight alliances from some Catholic educators has had an impact on support for public funding of the religious schools, which is enshrined in the constitution.

“This is a killer issue in Ontario,” he said of separate school funding. “No one politically is going to go anywhere near this. It’s explosive and uncontrollable.”

Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose opposition to a Progressive Conservative scheme to extend funding to other faith-based schools helped his Liberals win the 2007 election, said he’s “confident” the controversy can be resolved.

“It’s really important that when our kids go to school that they are welcomed there, that they are supported there, that they are accepted for who they are and that they be able to establish these gay-straight alliances, the student-support groups, call them whatever name that you want,” McGuinty told reporters at a St. Clair Ave. West seniors’ home Tuesday.

While Catholic teachers have generally been supportive of the alliances, trustees and many parents have opposed them as not being in accordance with church teachings.

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Game Over for the Climate

JAMES HANSEN | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR |New York Times | May 10, 2012


James Hansen directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is the author of “Storms of My Grandchildren.”

GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.

If this sounds apocalyptic, it is. This is why we need to reduce emissions dramatically. President Obama has the power not only to deny tar sands oil additional access to Gulf Coast refining, which Canada desires in part for export markets, but also to encourage economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground.

The global warming signal is now louder than the noise of random weather, as I predicted would happen by now in the journal Science in 1981. Extremely hot summers have increased noticeably. We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change.

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Changes to immigration policy will affect nearly all aspects of Canadian life

By RATNA OMIDVAR | The Globe and Mail | May. 09, 2012

This is part of The Immigrant Answer –The Globe’s series on the future of immigration in Canada. Read the original story here.

The Canadian immigration landscape is shifting beneath our feet. When the dust settles, where will Canada be?

Some of the proposed changes, such as dealing with the backlog, are long overdue. Other changes may also be necessary. They will nevertheless have a series of unintended consequences for the makeup of Canada’s immigrant population and its ethnic diversity. It is these consequences that we should be concerned about.

Recently, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has spoken highly of the Australian immigration model with its strict language requirements. High levels of language proficiency are a requirement in our labour market. But raising the bar on language competency may trigger an increase in immigration from English-speaking countries – Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand – at the cost of immigrants from emerging economic superpowers such as China, India, Russia and Brazil.

Add to this administrative changes such as the closing of visa offices in Bangladesh, Iran and elsewhere and we will begin to see a shift in source countries. Recent media reports show that the numbers of immigrants applying for permanent residence from China, India, the Philippines and Pakistan fell drastically in 2011 – perhaps in response to changes made to our immigrant selection system in the last year.

What implications will these changes have for Canada’s future? One unintended consequence relates to the success of second-generation immigrants. Research shows that the children of immigrants have higher rates of postsecondary education than those of non-immigrant Canadians. What’s more, those born to parents from Africa, China and other Asian countries attend university and college at far higher rates than both non-immigrant Canadians and those born to immigrants from anglosphere countries.

The changes are coming at a furious pace on an almost daily basis. By seeking to eliminate the backlog by expunging those waiting in the queue, we choose efficiency over fairness. By moving to “super visas” and away from permanent residence for our immigrants’ parents and grandparents, we choose transience over inclusion. When employers select workers who will become future citizens with little guidance, we choose head-hunting over nation-building. When we raise the bar on language, we choose homogeneity over diversity. By streamlining the refugee adjudication process, we may well be choosing efficiency over human rights. Finally, when we say to employers, “Pay temporary foreign workers less than you might pay Canadians,” we choose exploitation over fairness.

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The People’s Bishop


“‘You can’t sit anymore in churches listening to stodgy liturgies. They put you to sleep. Most of these churches are museums with floorshows. They are a caricature of what Jesus intended. Jesus would be turning over the money-changing tables in their vestibules. Those in the church may be good-hearted and even well-meaning, but they are ignoring the urgent, beckoning call to engage with the world.’”

07 May 2012, By Chris Hedges, Truthdig

Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard is detained by police, December 17, 2011. (Photo: Ozier Muhammad / The New York Times)

Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard was arrested in Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in New York City on Tuesday night as he participated in the May 1 Occupy demonstrations. He and 15 other military veterans were taken into custody after they linked arms to hold the plaza against a police attempt to clear it. There were protesters behind them who, perhaps because of confusion, perhaps because of miscommunication or perhaps they were unwilling to risk arrest, melted into the urban landscape. But those in the thin line from Veterans for Peace, of which the bishop is a member, stood their ground. They were handcuffed, herded into a paddy wagon and taken to jail.
It was Packard’s second arrest as part of the Occupy protests. Last Dec. 17 he was arrested when he leapt over a fence in his flowing bishop’s robe to spearhead an attempt to occupy a vacant lot owned by Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. The December action by the Occupy movement was a response to the New York City Police Department’s storming and eradication of the encampment in Zuccotti Park. Packard will appear in court in June to face the trespassing charge that resulted. Now, because of this second arrest, he faces the possibility of three months in jail.
Packard’s moral and intellectual courage stands in stark contrast with the timidity of nearly all clergy and congregants in all of our major religious institutions. Religious leaders, in churches, synagogues and mosques, at best voice pious and empty platitudes about justice or carry out nominal acts of charity aimed at those bearing the weight of resistance in the streets. And Packard’s arrests serve as a reminder of the price that we—especially those who claim to be informed by the message of the Christian Gospel—must be willing to pay to defy the destruction visited on us all by the corporate state. He is one of the few clergy members who dare to bear a genuine Christian witness in an age that cries out in anguish for moral guidance.

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Does temporary foreign workers program create second class of labourers?

NATHAN VANDERKLIPPE | Globe and Mail | May. 06, 2012

Yessy Byl spent five years dealing with temporary foreign workers and heard first hand stories of neglect and mistreatment. Many of the workers wouldn't make a formal complaint for fear they'd be fired just for speaking out. Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail

Five years of dealing with temporary foreign workers affected Yessy Byl in a way she did not expect. There were the stories, from the more than 1,000 people she spoke with in her job as a labour advocate, of neglect and mistreatment – overtime not paid, commitments not honoured, hefty “hiring fees” deducted from weekly cheques. And yet many of them wouldn’t make a formal complaint for fear they’d be fired just for speaking out.

It left her deflated and disillusioned. “My faith in this country has been badly shaken,” she says. “I have to remind myself: There are some good employers.”

For Ms. Byl, and many other critics, Canada’s growing numbers of temporary foreign workers have raised important questions about the kind of country we are becoming, and how a nation that has long welcomed immigrants is establishing a burgeoning second class of labour, devoid of many of the rights to democratic participation and workplace choice other Canadians enjoy.

As Canadian employers struggle to address a burgeoning labour shortage, temporary foreign workers have become a pillar of the economy – there are now more than 300,000 here, triple the number a decade ago. Visiting workers once associated with harvest time in Canada’s orchards and tobacco fields now turn up everywhere from fast-food chains and abattoirs to the Alberta oil sands.

Anticipating another surge in demand, the Harper government has, in the past few weeks, formalized a series of changes to speed up the program. Now able to bring in people with just 10 days notice and to pay them 15-per-cent less than a Canadian would earn, employers have responded with joy. They still must prove they can’t fill a job any other way, but others see deeper significance in the trend and are holding their breath.

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Imperialism Didn’t End. It’s Now Called International Law.

By George Monbiot, Guardian UK, 03 May 12

The international criminal court has limited power. (photo: Daniel Pudles)

The conviction of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, is said to have sent an unequivocal message to current leaders: that great office confers no immunity. In fact it sent two messages: if you run a small, weak nation, you may be subject to the full force of international law; if you run a powerful nation, you have nothing to fear.

While anyone with an interest in human rights should welcome the verdict, it reminds us that no one has faced legal consequences for launching the illegal war against Iraq. This fits the Nuremberg tribunal’s definition of a “crime of aggression”, which it called “the supreme international crime”. The charges on which, in an impartial system, George Bush, Tony Blair and their associates should have been investigated are far graver than those for which Taylor was found guilty.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, claims that Taylor’s conviction “demonstrates that those who have committed the most serious of crimes can and will be held to account for their actions”. But the international criminal court, though it was established 10 years ago, and though the crime of aggression has been recognised in international law since 1945, still has no jurisdiction over “the most serious of crimes”. This is because the powerful nations, for obvious reasons, are procrastinating. Nor have the United Kingdom, the United States and other western nations incorporated the crime of aggression into their own legislation. International law remains an imperial project, in which only the crimes committed by vassal states are punished.

In this respect it corresponds to other global powers. Despite its trumpeted reforms, the International Monetary Fund remains under the control of the United States and the former colonial powers. All constitutional matters still require an 85% share of the vote. By an inexplicable oversight, the United States retains 16.7%, ensuring that it possesses a veto over subsequent reforms. Belgium still has eight times the votes of Bangladesh, Italy a bigger share than India, and the United Kingdom and France between them more voting power than the 49 African members. The managing director remains, as imperial tradition insists, a European, her deputy an American.

The IMF, as a result, is still the means by which western financial markets project their power into the rest of the world. At the end of last year, for example, it published a paper pressing emerging economies to increase their “financial depth”, which it defines as “the total financial claims and counterclaims of an economy”. This, it claimed, would insulate them from crisis. As the Bretton Woods Project points out, emerging nations with large real economies and small financial sectors were the countries which best weathered the economic crisis, which was caused by advanced economies with large financial sectors. Like the modern opium wars it waged in the 1980s and 1990s – when it forced Asian countries to liberalise their currencies, permitting western financial speculators to attack them – the IMF’s prescriptions are incomprehensible until they are understood as instruments of financial power.

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Two-tiered wage system announced by Tories

Temporary workers, such as those who work in Ontario's farms, can now be paid 15 per cent less than the average wage.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has always vehemently denied bringing cheap foreign labour into Canada. Employers had to pay foreign temporary workers “the prevailing wage,” he pointed out.

That indeed is what the rules said – until Wednesday, when Human Resources Minister Diane Finley quietly changed them. Employers will now be allowed to pay foreign temp workers 15 per cent less than the average wage.

“We are taking action to ensure that the temporary foreign worker program support our economic recovery and effectively responds to local labour market demands,” she said at a manufacturing plant in Nisku, Alta.

Kenney chimed in from Ottawa. “Going forward our government will consider additional measures to strengthen and improve the program,” he promised.

Business leaders, eager to recruit low-cost workers abroad, were delighted. Immigrant support groups, already fighting to protect temporary foreign workers from exploitation, were heartsick. And labour leaders warned that the wage cut would bring down the pay scale for all workers and make it harder for Canadians to compete for jobs in their own country.

Under the new rules, foreign temporary workers will still covered by provincial employment standards, meaning they must be paid the minimum wage. But in booming Alberta, the minimum wage ($9.40) is a far cry from the average wage ($26.03).

Despite her 15-per-cent wage cut, Finley expects the influx of foreign temporary to swell. She’s undoubtedly right. Employers will always be ready to find workers overseas who are eager to come to Canada and willing to work long hours for low pay. And under the Conservatives, boosting economic growth will always eclipse protecting workers’ rights.

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Ex-Israeli Spymaster: Israeli Leaders ‘Messianic’

By Harriet Sherwood, Guardian UK, 28 April 12

Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin does not trust the current Israeli leadership to deal with Iran. (photo: Moshe Milner/Getty Images)

PM and defence chief not fit to lead Israel and are misleading the public over Iran, warns former Shin Bet boss Yuval Diskin.

Israel’s former security chief has censured the country’s “messianic” political leadership for talking up the prospects of a military stike on Iran’s nuclear programme.

In unusually candid comments set to ratchet up tensions over Iran at the top of Israel’s political establishment, Yuval Diskin, who retired as head of the internal intelligence agency Shin Bet last year, said he had “no faith” in the abilities of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the defence minister, Ehud Barak, to conduct a war.

The pair, who are the foremost advocates of military action against Iran’s nuclear programme, were “not fit to hold the steering wheel of power”, Diskin told a meeting on Friday night.

“My major problem is that I have no faith in the current leadership, which must lead us in an event on the scale of war with Iran or a regional war,” he said.

“I don’t believe in either the prime minister or the defence minister. I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings. Believe me, I have observed them from up close … They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off.

“They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won’t have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race.”

Government aides described Diskin’s comments as irresponsible and motivated from personal frustration.

Diskin’s remarks followed a furore over comments made on Wednesday by Israel’s serving military chief, Benny Gantz, which starkly contrasted with Netanyahu’s rhetoric on Iran. Gantz said he did not believe the Iranian leadership was prepared to “go the extra mile” to acquire nuclear weapons because it was “composed of very rational people” who understood the consequences.

In what was seen as a veiled rebuke to the prime minister, Gantz added: “Decisions can and must be made carefully, out of historic responsibility but without hysteria.”

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American Nuns Busted for Being a Crazy Bunch of Radical Feminists

By Cassie Murdoch, Jezebel, 20 April 12

The Vatican has decided to crack down on American nuns. (photo: Jezebel)

Offering further proof that the world is becoming an increasingly weird place, the Catholic Church has decided to crack down on American nuns who, as anyone who has been around a nun recently knows, are a bunch of freewheeling party sisters. Wait, what? Yes, the Vatican has just taken disciplinary action against a group of American nuns who they say are proponents of “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” Oh no?

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella group representing most of America’s 55,000 nuns, is in trouble with the Vatican because they’ve apparently have not been vocal enough in their opposition to gay marriage, abortion, and women’s ordination. So now it’s not enough to just be opposed to things the church is against? You also have to stand up and yell about it? That’s some bullshit right there. As far as those radical feminist ideas they’ve been spreading, that evil has supposedly been taking place at conferences sponsored by the LCWR.

This directive came as the result of a two-year-long investigation – excellent use of resources, boys – and appears to be part of what is seen as the church veering into more conservative territory. You might not think nuns would be the obvious target of any investigations, considering it’s the priests who’ve been causing most of the actual problems the church has faced recently, but of course organized religion never lets a little thing like logic get in the way.

In terms of the Vatican’s specific issues with the LCWR, it appears they’re mostly angry because the nuns have been “silent on the right to life from conception to natural death.” Also they maintain the LCWR hasn’t taken certain things seriously enough:

[T]he church’s biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.

How dare a sister challenge a bishop!

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Breivik an extreme manifestation of the anti-Muslim right


The other remedy, the only rational and desirable one in my view, is to aggressively enforce a secular state, in every sphere — on municipal councils, in provincial legislatures and in the education system — so that religious faith is located impartially in the church, mosque or synagogue, and in the home, and never in forums funded in any way by taxpayers.

Anders Behring Breivik. Photograph by: Heiko Junge , AFP/Getty Images

At first view, the trial of 33-year-old Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is a shameful grotesquerie.

Why has this pathetic excuse for a man, who boasted of spending an entire year playing video games in his mother’s basement before carrying out the worst massacre in his country’s history, been granted a platform from which to grandiosely expound his lunatic theories before a global audience?

At the very least, he should be locked away in a hole far from the light of day, as was done to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the planner of 9/11. And yet, some good may come from the Breivik trial, expected to last 10 weeks. For it has early and obviously become impossible, as the court patiently allows the killer his self-aggrandizing disquisitions, to explain him away as an isolated madman who acted outside any political context.

A lone gunman Breivik may have been. A narcissistic sociopath with illusions of grandeur? Certainly. But his writings and statements make clear that he is no more insane than Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, or Osama bin Laden could be considered insane. Therefore, he cannot be viewed in isolation. Breivik is a mass murderer with explicitly political ends — a Christian-European mirror image, by his own deliberate design, of al-Qaida’s Islamist murderers.

In the aftermath of Breivik’s massacre off 77 innocents last July, most of them teenagers, there was intense debate about whether western Christians should be made to “own” Breivik, in the same way Middle Eastern or South Asian Muslims are often exhorted to “own” Islamism — that is, assume some internal responsibility. The consensus among pundits and politicos of the Christian Far Right was, no way, no-how: Breivik’s not ours. This reaction is understandable, as is the similar tendency among even very conservative Muslims to disavow any connection to Bin Laden or to his extremism.

The simple truth, though, is that such connections exist. Bin Laden drew on a radical, literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Qur’an. Breivik’s ideology draws on a medievalist, arch-conservative and romanticized view of Christian and Norse mythologies. The iconography and imagery in his turgid, 1,500-word manifesto are explicitly Christian. He uses the term “cultural Christian,” to connote a white citizen of Western Europe, who may or may not practise Christianity.

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Ontario trans rights decision makes Canadian history

ONTARIO NEWS / Surgery no longer prerequisite for birth certificate change

Andrea Houston / Extra / Monday, April 16, 2012

Lawyer N Nicole Nussbaum.(Facebook)

In what a London lawyer is calling a “game-changing decision,” the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has struck down a rule that required trans people to undergo “transsexual surgery” in order to change the sex category on their birth certificates.

Released April 11, the 95-page decision follows a challenge by one trans woman who complained she was discriminated against because she could not change her legal documents unless she had surgery. However, she did have surgery in 2008.

“She had an orchiectomy (the removal of the testicles), at least in part to satisfy the requirement to change the sex designation,” explains lawyer N Nicole Nussbaum.

The tribunal found that the Vital Statistics Act requirement of “transsexual surgery” prior to changing the sex designation on a birth certificate discriminates against trans people, she says. The provincial government has been ordered to remove this stipulation.

“They completely knocked that out,” Nussbaum says. “The tribunal doesn’t have the authority to strike down a law, but they can say the law is not enforceable.”

An emotional Susan Gapka, the chair of the Trans Lobby Group, says she is still poring over the decision. She tells Xtra it is a key building block toward allowing trans people to be included in society. She hopes it will support Toby’s Law, which is currently moving through the provincial legislature. Toby’s Law would amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to include gender identity and gender expression.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” she says, noting Ontario will be the first Canadian province to legally recognize this distinction. “This is a very good decision. It supports what we have been saying all along, and now the court has acknowledged that.”

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Summit of the Americas agree war on drugs a failure

The problem with the current war-on-drugs policy is that it is unwinnable – and leads to weakened states, staggering levels of violence and continued drug consumption in Canada and the U.S.

From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail, Published Monday, Apr. 16, 2012

This weekend’s Summit of the Americas did not produce a joint communiqué charting the future of the hemisphere, but the 31 leaders agreed on one thing: The U.S.-led war on drugs has been a dismal failure.

The summit pledged to create a panel of experts through the Organization of American States to consider drug policy reforms, and new approaches to stem the violence and power of the drug cartels.

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has created mandatory-minimum prison terms at home for minor drug offences, seems to have moved beyond the rhetoric of a Reagan-era counter-narcotics crusade: “Everyone believes… that the current approach [to the war on drugs] is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.”

The onus is on the hemisphere’s leaders, including Mr. Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama, to consider innovative, evidence-based policies. The decriminalization of marijuana – which comprises between 25 and 40 per cent of the drug cartels’ revenues – is one option. In the Netherlands, where licensed coffee shops can sell small amounts of marijuana, the rate of cannabis use is just 5 per cent, versus 14 per cent in the U.S. The policy of tolerance helps the government regulate cannabis sellers, and also distinguishes between soft drugs and cocaine and heroin.

In Portugal, where all drugs were decriminalized in 2001, there has been a decrease in serious drug use and drug-related deaths, and a savings to the criminal-justice system. “The aim shouldn’t be to totally decriminalize the whole enterprise, but to set some reasonable standards so that people don’t become criminals for minor drug use and clandestine organizations don’t make obscene amounts of money,” said Allert Brown-Gort, a Latin American expert at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

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The Charter proves to be Canada’s gift to world

By JOHN IBBITSON, From Monday’s Globe and Mail, Published Sunday, Apr. 15, 2012

Queen Elizabeth II signs Canada's constitutional proclamation in Ottawa on April 17, 1982 as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau looks on. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has caused no end of squabbles among Canadians. Ron Poling/The Canadian Press

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed 30 years ago Tuesday. Since then, not only has it become a national bedrock, but the Charter has replaced the American Bill of Rights as the constitutional document most emulated by other nations.

“Could it be that Canada has surpassed or even supplanted the United States as a leading global exporter of constitutional law? The data suggest that the answer may be yes.” So conclude two U.S. law professors whose analysis of the declining influence of the American constitution on other nations will be published in New York University Law Review in June.

As the first Commonwealth nation to adopt a bill of rights, Canada has influenced other former British colonies as they create or revise their own constitutions, the study finds. Israel, Hong Kong and Eastern European countries have also drawn from the Canadian example.

Both the Charter itself and the nation that gave birth to it serve as an example to the world. “Some countries may be especially prone to borrow from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they perceive themselves as sharing the same goals and values as Canadian society,” write David S. Law, who is professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, and Mila Versteeg, who teaches law at University of Virginia.

In contrast, professors Law and Versteeg conclude that the American constitution, once the foundational document for new nations in search of a government, has fallen out of favour. It fails to protect rights, such as freedom from discrimination based on race or sex, that are considered fundamental in our time; it enshrines rights, such as the right to bear arms, that other nations don’t value; its courts increasingly interpret the American document so perversely – by claiming that it must only be applied as the founding fathers originally intended – as to render it useless as a tool for tackling modern problems.

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Tennessee likely to pass ‘Monkey Bill,’ open creationism debate in schools

By Jean-Louis Santin, Agence France-Presse Apr 9, 2012 – National Post

If Tennessee’s “Monkey Bill” passes, teachers will be permitted to challenge scientific concepts such as evolution and climate change, and teach the Bible’s creation story, as partially depicted in this Creation Museum exhibit. Tony Tribble for National Post files

WASHINGTON — U.S. conservative Christians and science advocates are clashing again, this time in Tennessee over a bill that would allow debate in public schools over theories such as evolution.

Lawmakers from the southeastern U.S. state home to a strong base of Tea Party activists have approved the bill, which now awaits the signature of Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican.

The measure, which could pass by a Tuesday deadline, would allow public schoolteachers to challenge accepted science on topics such as climate change and evolution in their classrooms without facing sanctions.

If it passes, Tennessee would join nine other states with similar laws promoting creationism, more or less explicitly.

Critics have labeled the legislation the “Monkey Bill” in reference to the highly publicized 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial” in which Tennessee charged high school science teacher John Scopes of violating a state law against teaching “that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

The Tennessee Science Teachers Association and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union rights group, the measure’s biggest critics, are calling for Haslam to veto it. They say it would provide legal cover for educators to teach pseudoscientific ideas.

“They are not talking that much about creationism but rather about Intelligent Design,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU’s Tennessee branch.

“It’s a very nuanced and clever way… to challenge the theory of evolution and allow teachers to inject Intelligent Design and neo-creationism.” Intelligent Design is the idea that scientific evidence can show that life forms developed under the direction of a higher intelligence.

The measure states that “teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”

It also says the legislation “shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine.”

In a letter to lawmakers, the Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences argued that the bill would “miseducate students, harm the state’s national reputation and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy.”

The Tennessee Education Association, meanwhile, blasted the “unnecessary legislation.”

But Haslam has already indicated he would “probably” sign the measure into law.

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What? Close a school? In Toronto?

Half-empty buildings are costing Ontario taxpayers big time.

One public school system would not only save billions of dollars, it would end the discriminatory practice of having taxpayers fund religious schools for only one denomination.

BY CHRISTINA BLIZZARD,QMI AGENCY, MARCH 31, 2012, Toronto Sun

When it comes to saving money in schools, space really is the final frontier.

Education Minister Laurel Broten announced last week the government will change the per-student funding formula to school boards, so that it will no longer pay for under-utilized schools.

It all sounds so rational and reasonable.

With declining enrolment, 16.2% of the province’s schools are under-used.

At a news conference, Broten said it didn’t make sense to heat and light half-empty schools.

Going forward, school boards will have to take a long, hard look at their space ­requirements because the Liberal government won’t be giving them funding for students they don’t have.

This, of course, sounds oh-so-familiar for those of us who covered education during the Mike Harris and Ernie Eves years at Queen’s Park.

Both Conservative premiers, they, too, realized school boards were wasting millions of dollars on half-empty schools.

But closing schools is easier said than done.

The attachment of communities to their local place of learning is strong ­and emotional.

One of many reasons why the McGuinty government lost so many votes in rural Ontario last year was the ham-fisted way it forced boards to close schools.

The village school is often the heart of the community. It’s not just the place where the kids go to school, it’s where the whole community gets together for meetings and group activities.

Shutting down a school in one village often means youngsters have to sit half-an-hour or more on a bus to get to class.

But Broten’s latest announcement, one suspects, will hit hardest in cities.

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Sexual Humiliation, a Tool to Control the Masses

By Naomi Wolf, Guardian UK, 06 April 12

Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)

In a five-four ruling this week, the supreme court decided that anyone can be strip-searched upon arrest for any offense, however minor, at any time. This horror show ruling joins two recent horror show laws: the NDAA, which lets anyone be arrested forever at any time, and HR 347, the “trespass bill”, which gives you a 10-year sentence for protesting anywhere near someone with secret service protection. These criminalizations of being human follow, of course, the mini-uprising of the Occupy movement.

Is American strip-searching benign? The man who had brought the initial suit, Albert Florence, described having been told to “turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He said he felt humiliated: “It made me feel like less of a man.”

In surreal reasoning, justice Anthony Kennedy explained that this ruling is necessary because the 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. How would strip searching him have prevented the attack? Did justice Kennedy imagine that plans to blow up the twin towers had been concealed in a body cavity? In still more bizarre non-logic, his and the other justices’ decision rests on concerns about weapons and contraband in prison systems. But people under arrest – that is, who are not yet convicted – haven’t been introduced into a prison population.

Our surveillance state shown considerable determination to intrude on citizens sexually. There’s the sexual abuse of prisoners at Bagram – der Spiegel reports that “former inmates report incidents of … various forms of sexual humiliation. In some cases, an interrogator would place his penis along the face of the detainee while he was being questioned. Other inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex”. There was the stripping of Bradley Manning is solitary confinement. And there’s the policy set up after the story of the “underwear bomber” to grope US travelers genitally or else force them to go through a machine – made by a company, Rapiscan, owned by terror profiteer and former DHA czar Michael Chertoff – with images so vivid that it has been called the “pornoscanner”.

Believe me: you don’t want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. History shows that the use of forced nudity by a state that is descending into fascism is powerfully effective in controlling and subduing populations.

The political use of forced nudity by anti-democratic regimes is long established. Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down their sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing their powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.

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British Conservatives lead charge for gay marriage

By Anthony Faiola, Published: March 29, 2012, The Washington Post

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP - Recently, David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition government has launched an effort to grant gays and lesbians the option of entering civil marriages.

LONDON — Americans watching the latest push for social change in Britain might feel as if they had stepped into an alternate political universe: Here, the Conservatives are leading the charge for same-sex marriage.

Gay couples in Britain won the right to civil partnerships in 2004, which granted them nearly the same legal status as married heterosexual couples while avoiding the controversial use of the word “marriage.” But Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative-led coalition have launched a historic drive to grant gay men and lesbians the option of also entering into civil marriages, touching off a surprisingly fierce uproar in largely progressive Britain and fueling a rebellion on the right as the party comes under heavy fire from traditional allies in the British clergy.

Yet challenging tradition appears to be exactly Cameron’s point. The proposal, put forward this month despite the lack of a strong clamor for marriage within Britain’s gay community, is nevertheless emerging as the cornerstone of a bid by the 45-year-old prime minister and other young leaders on the right here to redefine what it means to be a modern Conservative.

“I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative,” Cameron said in a recent landmark speech on the issue. “I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.”

Spurred to action by a book about a child with two dads, the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher rushed a ban through Parliament in 1988 forbidding local governments and schools from promoting homosexuality, with same-sex couples then described by law “as a pretended family relationship.” Twenty-four years later, strategists see Cameron’s decision to champion the gay marriage cause as an attempt to seize the mantle of progressive change from the left and broaden the Conservative Party’s appeal among an increasingly key voting group: young urbanites.

To be sure, since returning to power in 2010 after 13 years in the political wilderness, the Conservatives have pursued causes at the core of their founding beliefs: slashing the deficit, cutting public payrolls and moving to lower taxes. Yet the party of Thatcher has also sought to reinvent itself by becoming what one Conservative strategist called “very pro-gay.”

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