Thursday, April 28, 2011

Not all memories are good memories


We know Michael Ignatieff is desperate when he brings out a disgraced old war horse. The strategy is dangerous for the Liberals because it assumes voters' memories are short. To many of us, the former Prime Minister stirs visions of Adscam and the large circle of Chretien friends caught with hands in his golden cookie jar.

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Conservative Bloc du Canada et du Québec

Stephen Harper may regret his criticism of coalition politics because, after Monday's election, his own survival may depend on Bloc Quebecois support. They will not announce a formal partnership but politics in Quebec and Ottawa has been long practiced with back room deals hidden from public view. Gilles Duceppe has ready a long list of Quebec-first demands. The question is not, "Can Bloc support be bought?" The only uncertainty is price.



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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

PM Layton a real possibility now

From bclocalnews.com:
". . . The EKOS Research poll gives the NDP 28 per cent support nationally, second spot behind the Conservatives at 34 per cent and ahead of the Liberals at 24 per cent, a week before the May 2 federal election.

"The pollsters project the NDP are poised to win 53 seats in Quebec and 100 across the country – a huge breakthrough that would reshape Canada's political landscape – compared to 131 seats for the Conservatives and 62 for the Liberals. The Bloc Quebecois would be hammered down to 13 seats in Quebec. . ."


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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing - Edmund Burke

Montreal Gazette editorial:
"Be afraid, Canadians. Be very, very afraid. That’s the message Stephen Harper has put up front at the outset of this federal election campaign. What we should fear, according to the Conservative leader, is the looming coalition.

"The “socialist-separatist” coalition, the “unstable” coalition, the “reckless” coalition, the “illegitimate” coalition. In a Sunday campaign speech Harper invoked the coalition bogeyman fully 21 times. . . "


2004 Federal Coalition Letter
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Vote to protect wild salmon

Under a fish farm in BC from Alexandra Morton on Vimeo.

From Alexandra Morton:
"This is in the Broughton Archipelago, under a Marine Harvest salmon farm. The bubbles are methane. The waste is heaped in mounds devoid of life other than bacteria. This was once a productive crab ground. The Norwegian company just moved its livestock to another site and are carrying on business as usual. The federal government gave this site a licence to operate despite this obvious pollution, the province who is supposed to be managing our seafloor has done nothing."
The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR) (farmedanddangerous.org) asks you to make the protection of wild salmon a campaign issue in BC. Let candidates in your riding know that in order to get your vote, you need to hear an action plan around transitioning the aquaculture industry to more sustainable practices. The following recaps describe sannounced policies but the CAAR website provides greater detail and links.

New Democratic Party
All general policy statements on the party website pertain to the economy, families, seniors and health care. However the NDP’s BC specific platform under Better Stewardship Over Resources and Environment in British Columbia, “Jack Layton and New Democrats will: Protect wild salmon and ensure long-term sustainable jobs by moving fish farms to closed containment.”

The NDP MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam and Port Moody, Fin Donnelly, tabled a private member’s bill (C-518) in May 2010 called The Wild Salmon Protection Act that requires a shift to closed containment technology for the salmon aquaculture industry. Donnelly presented a petition of over 9,000 signatures to parliament in support of his bill and well-known Canadian actor William Shatner has spoken in support of the proposal.
Green Party of Canada
The 2010 Vision Green policy manual outlines several measures the Greens will take to protect wild salmon from open net-cage salmon farming, including:

“…implement measures to quickly phase out open-ocean net-cage fish farms and ensure that this aquaculture industry does not continue to harm wild fisheries.”

“A moratorium on new open-ocean net-pen salmon farms and a phase out of existing farms within 10 years.”

“…fallowing of sea pens during wild-hatch salmon runs.”

“Require that the management and conservation of wild fisheries take precedence over aquaculture, wherever there are conflicts.”

“Require evaluation of threats to fish stocks and include provisions to protect fish stocks and the marine environment.”

The Green Party makes no mention of closed containment aquaculture in its Vision Green policy document or on its website.
Liberal Party of Canada
In their election platform, the Liberals express a general sentiment that a “clean environment and clean energy are at the heart of the Liberal vision” and make a general commitment to protect our oceans as well as claiming to build “a future in which economic prosperity and environmental responsibility are mutually reinforcing.”

The document does reference Pacific salmon as a general policy emphasis with the statement: “A Liberal government will also recognize the fundamental importance of Pacific salmon for the economy, cultures and way of life on Canada’s west coast, and will ensure its conservation is the first priority in fishery issues there” but there are no specific details provided.

There is no reference to aquaculture or closed containment in the Liberal platform released to date.

Conservative Party of Canada
No specific mention of salmon aquaculture or closed containment in the policy section of the campaign website, nor is there specific mention in the party’s communications on the 2011 budget. The Conservative platform identifies past support for aquaculture through “regulatory initiatives.” No mention of closed containment aquaculture in the platform and no funds were specifically allocated in the federal budget tabled March 22nd.

Bloc Québécois
Où est la Colombie-Britannique? Qu'est-ce qu'un saumon?

Salmon Farming Factsheet
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Vote strategically

A strong parliamentary opposition means better government. Minority governments do work.

Examine your home riding by inserting postal code at Project Democracy



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Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Lottery of Life

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Friday, April 22, 2011

He served too — in a think-tank

Courageous Warrior or Chickenhawk? When Stephen Harper dropped out after two months as a student at his hometown University of Toronto, he had little interest in military service. Instead, he took a job in the mail room of Imperial Oil.

The Online Urban Dictionary defines a chickenhawk as "A politician who promotes war without having had any personal experience of it"


One comment at Maclean's Magazine:

"Canada is and always has been our country?" (Well, it was someone else's country, then the French's, then the British's, then the French again, then the British again ... but then, yes, it was ultimately OURS, by act of the UK Parliament.)

"And we want Canada to be a True North that is as strong and as free as it can be in every way that matters ..." (Which ways matter to the Harper Government?)

"Faithful to our commitments" (Straight-couple shot. Cute.)

"Loyal to our friends" (Fighter jets with which to cooperate with our Russian allies/defend against the Russian menace.)

"A courageous warrior" (Stephen Harper -- lifelong civilian.)

"An example to the world" (Stephen Harper -- at the UN????? For realz?)

Another example of political messaging:

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Empty rooms

Harper Lee wrote about her love of books as a child and her dedication to the written word:
"Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books."
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Jobs, North America's major export

The New Corporate World Order, Robert Scheer, Truthdig
"The debate over Republicans’ insistence on continued tax breaks for the superrich and the corporations they run should come to a screeching halt with the report in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal headlined “Big U.S. Firms Shift Hiring Abroad.” Those tax breaks over the past decade, leaving some corporations such as General Electric to pay no taxes at all, were supposed to lead to job creation, but just the opposite has occurred. As the WSJ put it, the multinational companies “cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show.”

 "General Electric, which was bailed out by taxpayers and which stored so much of its profit abroad that it paid no taxes for the past two years, was forced to tighten up, but while cutting its foreign workforce by 1,000 it cut a far more severe 28,000 in the United States. . ."
Continue reading Robert Scheer at Truthdig or read more of Northern Insights about General Electric in British Columbia.
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America's secret 12-point plan

By RICHARD (RJ) ESKOW, Campaign for America's Future

Selling the Middle Class Sell-Out
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Withdrawal? We didn't mean full withdrawal.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces additional funding for aid in Afghanistan, 26 February 2007, Ottawa, ON
". . . Afghanistan is a long way from home, but the issues we are addressing here – building democracy, reducing poverty, fighting terrorism, celebrating pluralism – matter for the entire world. . . We must build a successful alternative there in order to defeat extremism and terrorism everywhere. . .

"We will continue to support the brave men and women of the Canadian forces in their valiant efforts to secure and stabilize the volatile southern region. Thanks to their efforts, the fragile peace that reigns over most of the country has been extended to large parts of Kandahar province.

"Now it’s time to consolidate those security gains on the ground and use them to advance reconstruction, because the long-suffering Afghan people desperately need hope for a better future for their families and communities. . .

"Today our government is deepening Canada’s commitment to Afghanistan with a major infusion of new trust funds to accelerate the reconstruction and development process. The majority of these funds will support proven Afghan national programs. . . also nurture economic growth. . .

". . . our government is consolidating and enhancing the security gains Canada and our allies have made in Afghanistan. . . . with our troops continuing to expand the secure areas in the Kandahar region, and with our deeper commitment of aid for reconstruction and development, I believe we all have very good reason to be optimistic that progress will continue in the coming year."

Corruption in Afghanistan: The elephant in the room, Jean MacKenzie, Global Post, April 15, 2011
". . . I wish that the media had shown the same resolve when Karzai waffled earlier this week about Kabul Bank, and how the losses — according to some reports, totaling nearly a billion dollars — are just as much the fault of the international community as they are of those who engineered them.

"The Afghan president went so far as to suggest that the international firms who failed to spot and stop the shareholders of Kabul Bank be prosecuted alongside the perpetrators.

"Had the consultants given better advice, hinted Karzai, those in charge at Kabul Bank, who included his own brother and the brother of his vice-president, would have known better than to grant themselves huge unsecured loans to speculate on luxury property for themselves in Dubai; they would never have traded on their high-level government connections to escape scrutiny; and, of course, they would have faithfully returned the money they had so cavalierly squandered.

". . . Karzai-bashing is “a dangerous game” in a climate where voters and taxpayers have a diminishing appetite for the war in Afghanistan. Bad news could easily tip the scales in favor of calls for withdrawal.

"So, in order to keep the home front happy, the international community collaborates with the Afghan government to downplay the scale of the problem.

" 'They are more than complicit,' fumed one international consultant. 'They are co-conspirators.'

"Afghanistan is now tied with Burma for the dubious distinction of Second Most Corrupt Nation in the World, according to Transparency International’s latest index. Only Somalia ranks lower . . .

". . .In my own experience, which encompasses nearly seven years in Afghanistan, corruption ranging from almost the unbelievably petty to the truly dangerous has been an almost daily factor of existence. . ."

We can’t eliminate the danger in Afghanistan: Harper, Allan Woods, Toronto Star, April 16, 2011
"Harper pitched the end of Canada’s decade-long combat mission in the country and the new three-year training mission as a relatively secure means of helping the Afghan government defeat the Taliban. But several recent attacks, including one at a secure compound that will reportedly house Canadian soldiers in the years to come show that “you can’t eliminate the danger,” Harper said on the campaign trail Saturday.

". . . In the 2008 election campaign, the Conservative leader committed to a full withdrawal of Canadian forces from Afghanistan by this year. But he reversed course last fall with the support of the Liberal party. . . "

Expected cost of Afghanistan Mission, 2001-2011: $11.3 Billion plus veterans' costs, Government of Canada
The incremental cost of the mission in Afghanistan to the Government of Canada from 2001 to 2011 is currently estimated to be approximately $11.3 billion. This includes estimates for mission close-out costs, but excludes post-2011 costs for veterans’ disability and health care.

Canada's Afghan mission could cost up to $18.1B, Parliamentary Budget Office, CBC, Oct 9, 2008,
". . . Canada has spent $7.7 billion to $10.5 billion on costs related to its mission in the past six years, and may spend $13.9 billion to $18.1 billion by the end of the 2010-11 budget year, according to The Fiscal Impact of the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan tabled by parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page on Thursday.

"However, a lack of government consistency and transparency has made the figures difficult to estimate, and they likely understate the full costs of the mission, the report says."

Veterans wanted dead, not alive, ombudsman charges, Toronto Star, August 18, 2010
". . . 'I was told … that it is in the government’s best interests to have soldiers killed overseas rather than wounded because the liability is shorter term,' [Fired Veterans' Ombudsman Col. Pat Stogran (ret)] said.

"For the former Canadian commander in Afghanistan, it was a revealing answer to a stunning problem. The government’s treatment of soldiers and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers who have sacrificed their limbs, mental health and lives for the country was a question of dollars and cents.

"In some cases, said veterans who joined Stogran at a news conference Tuesday, Ottawa is even using tax dollars to avoid paying compensation to veterans. . . "


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"Mystified by the lack of indignation"

During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s—a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence.
“I certainly hope so,” he replied.
Source: Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%, Joseph Stiglitz, Vanity Fair

Roger Ebert, writing about the Joseph Stiglitz 1% article, says,
"These facts confirm my impression that greed is now seen as a virtue in America. I'm not surprised by the greed of the One-Percenters. I'm mystified by the lack of indignation from so many of the rest of us."
Source: The One-Percenters, Roger Ebert's Journal

Source: Eleven charts that explain everything that's wrong with America By Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot, Mother Jones

Russian Proverb: A man is judged by his deeds, not by his words.
A New Era for British Columbia, BC Liberals Platform 2001
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Laws good for cats might not be good for mice

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Money machine crashed, taxpayers injured

ProPublica reporters Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for their stories on how some Wall Street bankers, seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of their clients and sometimes even their own firms, at first delayed but then worsened the financial crisis. The Pulitzer Citation reads:
"Awarded to Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein of ProPublica for their exposure of questionable practices on Wall Street that contributed to the nation’s economic meltdown, using digital tools to help explain the complex subject to lay readers."
As the U.S. housing market started to fade, bankers and hedge funds scrambled for ways to maintain the lavish bonuses and profits they had become so accustomed to, repackaging mortgages in complex securities called collateralized debt obligations. The booming CDO market masked how weak the housing market was, and exacerbated its collapse.

In 29 reports, ProPublica presents readable analyses of complex financial exploitations in which the perpetrators go unpunished.

The New York Times examined how government chose to close its eyes to criminal activity in financial institutions. As a result, there have been no prosecution of top officials. An excerpt:
"But several years after the financial crisis, which was caused in large part by reckless lending and excessive risk taking by major financial institutions, no senior executives have been charged or imprisoned, and a collective government effort has not emerged.

This stands in stark contrast to the failure of many savings and loan institutions in the late 1980s. In the wake of that debacle, special government task forces referred 1,100 cases to prosecutors, resulting in more than 800 bank officials going to jail. Among the best-known: Charles H. Keating Jr., of Lincoln Savings and Loan in Arizona, and David Paul, of Centrust Bank in Florida.

"Former prosecutors, lawyers, bankers and mortgage employees say that investigators and regulators ignored past lessons about how to crack financial fraud."
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tax evasion at the heart of global economy


In my riding of North Vancouver, the incumbent MP is Andrew Saxton. I did not vote for him in 2008 but my friend did because he liked Saxton's local connections. Robert hates carpetbaggers and is still angry about Montreal born, Toronto based Liberal staffer Warren Kinsella running here in 1997.

By the way, Palmer Jarvis Communications gave $10,000 to Kinsella's campaign, a fact more interesting when we learned AdScam inquiry head Justice John Gomery found important correspondence of Kinsella, then Executive Assistant to the Minister of Public Works, was “highly inappropriate." Adscam, you may recall, had much to do with government money being spread around through advertising agencies in scams that resulted in jail time and much embarrassment to ethically challenged Liberals. We can only speculate about why Palmer Jarvis passed along a substantial donation to the former Chretien assistant running in North Vancouver.

Friend Robert heard Andrew Saxton was the Tory candidate in 2008 and his support was assured because according to Saxton's official bio,
"Andrew spent his early childhood living on the North Shore where his father built the Grouse Mountain skyride and headed up the mountain resort."
Actually, Andrew Saxton Sr. has been involved in much more than Grouse Mountain Resorts. He was a founder or senior executive of Laurentide Financial Corporation Ltd., Elite Insurance Company, BC Television Broadcasting System Ltd., Granville Island Hotel and Marina Ltd., King George Development Corporation and has been involved with numerous other corporations, including Impark and Northwest Sports, one time owner of the NHL Canucks. Another directorship is with Canadian Commercial Corporation, a crown trade accommodation agency that specializes in that right-wing habit of socializing risks and losses and privatizing profits. Anyway, I'm sure father and son appreciate the ability to get together in Ottawa without having to worry about paying their own travel expenses.

Unlike Robert, I was not so keen on Saxton, despite the candidate's claimed roots in our North Shore community. Junior may have been born here but he did his schooling at Ontario's vainglorious Upper Canada College. That's the all-grades English style boy's school where annual costs for boarding students is now over $50,000. James FitzGerald, an old boy, wrote a very non-official history of UCC. He says about the school,
"Since opening its doors in 1829, Upper Canada College has stood at the very centre of the Canadian Establishment, turning out generations of Eatons and Bassetts, Masseys and Thomsons, Conachers and Airds."
Saxton went on to the University of Western Ontario then worked for Credit Suisse in Switzerland and New York. That is the international bank caught in the glare of a major IRS investigation of tax evasion that resulted in the indictment of a number of Credit Suisse executives. The bank is under scrutiny of tax authorities in Brazil, France and other nations. It is involved in a major German investigation after eleven hundred affluent citizens stashed more than a billion untaxed dollars in Swiss accounts.

Andrew Saxton Jr. has connection to an international tax investigation arising from his career with the bank. CNews Parliamentary Bureau reported,
"Saxton's name appears in Federal Court documents showing he approved a couple's request to transfer close to $200,000 to a bank account in Lausanne, Switzerland.

"Opposition parties say Saxton, the parliamentary secretary to the Treasury Board, should be dismissed from his position or at least step aside to allow an investigation to clear his name.

" 'The parliamentary secretary authorized these transfers and, as an experienced banker, he knew exactly what he was doing and why,' said NDP finance critic Thomas Mulcair, adding Saxton has no choice but to step down."

" 'It is shocking to see that this government will tolerate an individual who would have authorized the transfer of funds to Switzerland so that a couple could avoid paying Canadian taxes,' said Bloc Quebecois MP Serge Cardin."
I am reading a fascinating book by Nicholas Shaxson, Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens. It is no surprise to anyone with more than a tiny bit of knowledge of international finance that tax avoidance and outright tax evasion are rampant in the international economy. Keep in mind that Canada has the weakest laws among developed nations against corporate crime, although the Republican Congress is aiming to have the USA catch up, or drop down, depending on your view.

Prem Sikka, professor of the University of Essex had this to say about the book,
"An absolute gem that deserves to be read by anyone interested in the way contemporary globalization is undermining social justice. This masterpiece illuminates the dark places and shows the visible hand of governments, corporations, banks, accountants, lawyers and other pirates in creating fictitious offshore transactions and structures and picking our pockets.

"This financial engineering has enabled companies and the wealthy elites to dodge taxes. The result is poverty, erosion of social infrastructure and hard won welfare rights and higher taxes for ordinary people. Nicholas Shaxson has done a wonderful job in lifting the lid off the inbuilt corruption that has become so naturalised in the western world."
I remind you of how media trolls like the Vancouver Sun's think-tank alumni and the stars of talk radio, Bill Good and the Michaels, Campbell and Levy, regularly report that no one wants to pay more taxes. Therefore, healthcare Canadians enjoy must be slashed. Of course you won't hear those boys talking about schemes of our wealthiest citizens to hide assets and income from taxation. And, we are not talking small sums. Extrapolation of American data suggests that Canada is losing over $10 billion a year in tax revenue, BC more than a $1 billion annually.

U.S. Senator Carl Levin is a longtime fighter against offshore tax abuse. He is working to stop U.S. tax cheats from using foreign havens and to stop the U.S. being a tax haven for foreign tax cheats. Last week, he spoke at the U.S. introduction of Treasure Island,
"Nick Shaxson admirably lays out the history of how tax havens have become such an insidious feature of the global economy. Today, folks around the globe know to go offshore to hide money. They know tax havens can be used to hide funds not only from tax authorities, but from law enforcement, courts and creditors.

"Enron had over 400 offshore subsidiaries. A single building in the Cayman Islands, called the Ugland House, serves as the mail drop for nearly 19,000 companies incorporated there for tax-dodging purposes. Hedge funds whose employees live right here in the U.S. pretend to be based in tax havens to dodge U.S. taxes, and some companies keep their money offshore so they don’t have to pay one thin dime to support this country – in fact, they get tax refunds instead.

"The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair, has spent more than a decade exploring how offshore tax havens conceal wealth, distort commerce, and abet crime, money laundering and corruption. The truth is that tax havens have declared economic war on honest countries, including the United States by helping U.S. taxpayers dodge U.S. taxes and rob the U.S. Treasury of needed funds.

"The ongoing drain on the U.S. Treasury is massive – and it bears directly on the budget and deficit debate. In 2006, our Subcommittee estimated that offshore tax abuses cost our Treasury about $100 billion a year in lost revenues."
Democracy Now! interviewed Shaxson and you can hear it by podcast or video. This is their promo:
Offshore Banking and Tax Havens Have Become Heart of Global Economy
we look at how corporations and the wealthy use offshore banks and tax havens to avoid paying taxes and other governmental regulations. "Tax havens have grown so fast in the era of globalization, since the 1970s, that they are now right at the heart of the global economy and are absolutely huge," says our guest, British journalist Nicholas Shaxson.

"There are anywhere between $10 and $20 trillion sitting offshore at the moment. Half of world trade is processed in one way or another through tax havens." Shaxson is the author of the new book, Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens.
I suggest that when you decide how you will mark your ballot, put weight on the actions of politicians, not on their words.
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Friday, April 15, 2011

Is justice only available to the rich and powerful?




From Laila Yuile:
Wonderful and stunning news that I wholeheartedly support!! I would very much like to host a fundraiser for residents of Surrey/WhiteRock/Delta/Langley in the near future to assist Susan’s fight for justice, and will post detail as soon as things are in motion!! Please email me directly if you would like to be involved!

I ask you, who will fight for you if your home, your business, was next?
Keep an eye on Laila Yuile's website and stay tuned about the fundraiser. Blog readers can make a difference on an important matter of justice.
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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! coming to BC

I criticize journalists frequently at Northern Insights but, I do have heroes in the trade. One of the them, Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now! is coming to B.C. soon and you can be certain she will get a different reception than in 2010 when Olympic security goons panicked out of fear she might criticize the Games. Frankly, she had more important targets in mind than a group of sponging jock sniffers.

I plan to be there. This is the email notice I received April 14.
"On April 30, the Salt Spring Forum welcomes one of the world’s most courageous investigative journalists to Salt Spring Island. As the co-founder and host of DemocracyNow!, Amy Goodman's broadcasts are carried on more than 900 television and radio stations across the United States and Canada.

Amy was the first journalist to receive the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize' for “developing an innovative model of truly independent grassroots political journalism that brings to millions of people the alternative voices that are often excluded by the mainstream media.”

Her fearless investigative journalism has earned her many awards, and also some enemies. She was badly beaten by Indonesian troops in East Timor, arrested at the Republican National Convention, and detained by officials at the Canadian Border. She speaks truth to power - and does so with inspiring eloquence, passion, and intelligence.

On Saturday, April 30 at 12:00pm Amy will be speaking at GISS about the importance of independent media in a time of war. Her talk will be followed by a moderated discussion and book-signing. Tickets are $20, ($15 for Forum Members) and available from our partners - Salt Spring Books, Salt Spring Coffee, and Salt Spring Air.

If you would like to become a Member, you can do so at the event, and the Forum will retroactively apply the Member's discount to your Membership fee. You can visit www.saltspringforum.ca for more details.

Before coming to Salt Spring, Amy will be speaking in Vancouver to an audience of 800. That event has already sold-out at $75 per person, so I expect tickets to see her on Salt Spring will go quickly. I am encouraging everyone to purchase theirs a soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
Here is one example of her work:

Jailing Kids for Cash, Amy Goodman, Truthdig
"As many as 5,000 children in Pennsylvania have been found guilty, and up to 2,000 of them jailed, by two corrupt judges who received kickbacks from the builders and owners of private prison facilities that benefited. The two judges pleaded guilty in a stunning case of greed and corruption that is still unfolding.
Judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan received $2.6 million in kickbacks while imprisoning children who often had no access to a lawyer. The case offers an extraordinary glimpse into the shameful private prison industry that is flourishing in the United States. . . "

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Fracking and drilling benign?


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Faces of Canadian history

Harper says, "mass arrests all worth it"
Toronto Canada 2010
C.W.A.C. 1944 - They served so we could be free.
Lance Cpl John Babcock, C.E.F. 1916-18

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“I don’t understand why I just can’t go home,”

Read Ron Winter on the Vancouver Island Granny Snatching story:
"By way of an update I am about to tell you how badly things there have gone since media attention focused on Broadmead and Mrs. Palamarek. This isn’t pretty. . . "
Compare the sad case of authorities imprisoning one kind old person who has harmed no one and puts no person at risk while other authorities push a child killer back into the community, even that which is home to the grieving mother of his three dead children. Sadly, the Palamarek case has similar roots to the situation of Allan Schoenborn.

What is at work is bureaucratic inertia, the resistance to change and predilection for the status quo. Someone makes a decision, all others resist altering that decision, regardless of the facts. Entreaties from the effected are disregarded and only when the sunlight of public attention shines does reconsideration become possible. The fact set doesn't change, only the level of deliberation forced on the decision makers.

We cannot understand the motivation of Broadmead Lodge that led them to obstruct Mrs. Palamarek's departure but ultimately, her needs and desires took a back seat to the facility's aim of preventing scrutiny of their work. That leaves one wondering what else is going on at Victoria's Hotel California. Is this a warehouse of drugged seniors kept idle by medication to lessen staffing requirements and increase profits? Perhaps, they bury mistakes with no one aware except family members who are demonized when they object.

Remember the last verse of the song made famous by The Eagles:

"Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
'Relax,' said the night man,
'We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!"

We see clearly the randomness of approaches to innocent human lives. Some persons fall into black holes of bureaucracy, never to be seen again, while others ricochet unconstrained through the institutional universe. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond  the Representative for Children and Youth  provides a near perfect example of how an independent expert observer can light the proper paths for care organizations that become stuck on the wrong direction through bureaucratic inertia.

I've drawn the Palamarek case to the personal attention of certain politicians, not so much for examination of specific details - she is, after all, only one of many such victims - but for commitments to change the processes at work. Adrian Dix provided the only response:
"For several years, I have called for legislation to establish an independent seniors’ representative, and I will establish this post when elected Premier.

"Similar to the Independent Children's Represenative, a provincial seniors’ representative would keep a government accountable, and would serve as an advocate for patients in care, their families, and the staff who care for them.
"Front line workers seniors and their families could turn to the representative to address concerns around quality of care and impact of government decisions, The representative would also monitor and determine if B.C. programs and services are delivering the care seniors require, and if underlying government policy is improving or undermining seniors’ health care."
Read also: How things work, when they don't work and An Old problem: elder abuse
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From Gerry Hummel, master of the editorial cartoon

See this and more of Hummel's work at The Common Sense Canadian.


Gerry Hummell is a brilliant throw-back to BC's great editorial cartoonists Len Norris and Roy Peterson.

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Twisted irony: right winger proves government spending wasteful

Accountability officers of Parliament have a fairly decent record of improving spending practices, government efficiency and integrity. The effectiveness though of an Auditor, Ombudsman, Electoral commissioner or other officer is dependent on the individual's strength. Each is subject to intense pressure from those affected by examinations and reports. Additionally, government exercises its power of the purse, controlling budgets, facilities and resource allocations. Life can be uncomfortable or comfortable, depending on an officer's complaisance. In practice, many officials have struggled successfully against interference while others chose job security and comfort over ethical battles.

Some independent officers, like former RCMP Complaints Commissioner Paul Kennedy, move between the two poles. Throughout much of his term, Kennedy cooperated extensively and generally pleased the police hierarchy. However, he grew tired of their refusal to make vital practice changes and, when he became more outspoken, his political overlords withdrew support. The Harper Government replaced Kennedy with a person who, while not qualified for the position, was known to be loyal and accommodating.

Consider how the RCMP and the Justice Department diligently fought Inquiry Commissioner Thomas Braidwood, hoping to keep secret certain details of Robert Dziekanski's homicide. Braidwood was limited both by the terms of reference that assigned his tasks but also by budgets, schedules, statutes, court and common law precedents. Braidwood, having strong character, did an admirable job of balancing constraints with objectives. Ultimately, he produced an outstanding review of use-of-force and conducted energy weapons. While he could make a clear indication of direct causes and faults in Robert Dziekanski's death, only the four front line police officers were held to account because Braidwood was prohibited from examining the misinformation and obfuscation of senior officers who managed the effort to limit public relations damage to the police force.

In British Columbia, the Ombudsperson has reviewed many cases of elder abuse. Last year, a report was due on her long investigations but it is mired in bureaucratic quicksand because government authorities have the right to review advance copies and stall further developments for as long as they choose to continue the review. During this time, government has been pressuring the Ombudsperson to diminish her findings and keep disturbing details private.

Similarly, Stephen Harper's Government has negotiated with the federal Auditor General to soften and delay findings about lavish G8 spending in Tony Clement's Conservative riding. A leaked copy of Sheila Fraser's report disclosed that Government misled Parliament about spending from a $50 million G8 Legacy Fund. Clement and two local associates outside government chose 32 projects, including local signage, a gazebo, public washrooms and road and sidewalk upgrades far removed from the G8 summit site. Hundreds of thousands spent on signage alone demonstrate a clear aim was to highlight delivered plums to improve Clement's chances of re-election.

In pre-election damage control, the Conservatives have been leaning on Auditor General Sheila Fraser to lose the critical report. As a compromise, she removed an accusation that Parliament had been misled and called the lies "a lack of transparency." Her final report, which should have been issued in early April, has been held back completely because of the election.

 This is an example of an accountability officer shaping work to satisfy the sitting government for its political advantage. Perhaps Fraser was concerned that Harper Government retribution, such as that taken against the Defense and Veterans' Ombudsmen, would be aimed at her organization if she caused embarrassment. Tories meanwhile are expressing outrage, not at Clement's waste but at leaks of the draft report. (Understand Harper's unwillingness to allow whistleblower protection?)

Whatever the outcome for the Tories, Auditor General Sheila Fraser's reputation has been dealt a blow. There is also a twisted irony to Tony Clement's spending spree in the cottage country riding which is so far removed from his actual home. Clement is on the hard right of the Reform/Conservatives and favors full privatization and strict limits on federal government activities and spending. Part of the theory of this position is that public expenditures are inefficient and likely to be wasteful.

I suppose Mr. Clement has at least proved that when he is in charge of spending the public's cash, it is certain to be inefficient, with a high degree of waste.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

G20: Will police ever be held accountable?

To Serve and Protect

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Concerned BC Voters Speak about the Harper Government

Before You Vote. . .1
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Piled Higher and Deeper, and more

April 5, the Vancouver Sun brought us a "Special to the Sun" written by Patrick Moore PHD, titled Fukushima is nowhere near as bad as Chernobyl.
"Stephanie Goodwin's letter comparing the incident at Fukushima with Chernobyl highlights that we can't depend on Greenpeace to provide factual information on environmental issues.

"Two credible sources make it clear the Fukushima incident is nowhere near the same magnitude as Chernobyl.

"In an interview with National Public Radio in the U.S., Evan Douple of the Hiroshima-based Radiation Effects Research Foundation stated, "There just isn't any evidence that there are enough exposed people at high enough doses to expect to see any health effects that are measurable . . . "
Once more Vancouver Sun editors serve up dogmatic drivel from a nuclear industry flack who is at odds with scientific consensus, again. As a news reader, if you prefer worthwhile content, look beyond the Vancouver newspapers for a steady diet of real journalism. To the Financial Times, for example.
Fukushima crisis on par with Chernobyl
By Jonathan Soble, Michiyo Nakamoto and Gwen Robinson in Tokyo
Published: April 12 2011 04:06 | Last updated: April 12 2011 07:44

"Japan has raised its assessment of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station to the most serious level on a seven-step international scale, equivalent to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

"The country’s nuclear regulator said on Tuesday it had increased its assessment by two notches on the International Atomic Energy Agency scale to reflect the potential impact of continued leaks of radiation on human health and the environment.

“ 'We have not stopped the release of radioactive material from Fukushima Daiichi station, so there is a concern that [the eventual contamination] could be equal to or greater than Chernobyl,'  said Junichi Matsumoto, an official at Tokyo Electric Power, the plant’s operator.

“ 'If 100 per cent of the radioactive material escaped from the reactors, it is possible that the accident would exceed Chernobyl,' he said
Moore provides us with a quote from Dr. Evan Douple of The Radiation Effects Research Foundation (formerly the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission) but the expert is quoted differently and more extensively in the New York Times where Dr. Douple said,
"there was no indication of a threshold, or a level below which acute radiation exposure would have no effect, or a smaller effect than would be predicted based on higher exposures."
More from the Financial Times, April 13, 2011
"Rather, said Japanese officials, the move to upgrade the crisis reflected the first comprehensive contamination estimate since the plant was damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

"Prize quote of the day was from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, who said: “In contrast with Chernobyl, we have been able to avoid direct health risks… The assessment level of 7 may be the same, but in terms of its shape and content, the process has been different.”

"What he meant, said experts, was that the plant had so far released so much radiation on a cumulative basis over one month – as opposed to the massive amounts of radiation released by Chernobyl in a short time – that the government felt compelled to boost the accident’s severity rating.

"Disturbingly, as the Wall Street Journal noted on Wednesday, a spokesman for plant operator Tepco admitted on Tuesday that the total level of radiation released could eventually exceed that of Chernobyl.

"Equally disturbing was the explanation from one nuclear safety expert, who told the FT’s Cookson that the upgrading “does not mean the situation today is worse than it was yesterday. It means the event as a whole is worse than previously thought”.

The Vancouver Sun has a record of serving up dogmatic drivel from industry flacks who are frequently at odds with scientific consensus. By accommodating Patrick Moore's hucksterism, the newspaper protects the interests and reputation of nuclear advocates. The policy applies to other industries too: private schools, fish farming, mining, private power generation, secret contracts with Private/Public Partnerships, untendered government contracts and, of course, natural gas production. Whatever is good for the business elites, whatever is desired to further commerce,
As a news reader, if you prefer worthwhile content, look beyond the Vancouver newspapers for a steady diet of real journalism. To the Financial Times, for example.

Read the earlier post about Patrick Moore in the Vancouver Sun, Who creates and pays for news stories.
.
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My MLA: Jane Thornthwaite, Liberal - UPDATED

Ah, the Special Prosecutor system worked again, for the BC Liberals. Today, Kash Heed applauded the work of Jane Thornthwaite's Special Prosecutor Mark Jette and issued this statement. At least, it was attributed to Mr. Heed but I haven't yet confirmed authenticity with him directly.
"Once again the Special Prosecutor has kept a BC Liberal politician from being persecuted by police and media. Jane was stopped at a roadblock after a night of drinking with government colleagues and an apparently inexperienced police officer failed to recognize her. That led to the embarrassment of arrest after being forced to blow repeatedly into a breathalyser. She should have been allowed to proceed home and, if police really needed a breath sample, Jane could have given one the next day.

"Unfortunately, reporters found out about her arrest and pressured Ms. Thornthwaite for a statement. Flustered and under pressure, she admitted to drinking and driving and apologized. Luckily, our system allows for a Special Prosecutor to be appointed when Liberal politicians might be harassed by an ignorant and overenthusiastic local prosecutor who doesn't understand how government officials should be handled.

"Fortunately, Mark Jette took his time and considered all the options in a case that required intense review, lasting over a year. No doubt, Mr. Jette sacrificed greatly to handle the file. He is after all, a very successful and senior lawyer. He showed his skill by convincing Jane to plead guilty to a minor motor vehicle act charge that might not even have been proved in court. Doing it this way allows the crown to apply the fine that Ms. Thornthwaite generously agreed to pay to Mr. Jette's legal costs. Everyone's a winner."
It is pretty clear that Jane Thornthwaite was just unlucky in this case. Many people drink and drive without being caught. Thornthwaite’s lawyer Don Muldoon told Judge Carol Baird Ellan that she had consumed alcohol that night but showed no signs of intoxication. A wry observer might suggest that showing no signs is itself a sign of a practiced drinker. However, there must have been indications of intoxication that led to those pesky breathalyser test results, which were well over the legal limit of the day and twice the level of today.

So much for "taking full responsibility."

The remainder of this post was first published July, 2010.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------


April 28, 2010 Ms. Thornthwaite said,
"My actions were inexcusable. Drinking and driving is dangerous and completely unacceptable; I know that and make no excuses for what I did.

“I know what I did was wrong and I will take full responsibility for my actions . .
."
June 25, 2010 Ms. Thornthwaite said,
"Not guilty."
Gordon Campbell said:
"People make mistakes, and I've made them myself,"
.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Addition to list of blogs I follow

Dr. Michael Byers is a brilliant young academic with a broad vision of the world and what it should be. He has expertise in international law and a particular interest in the Arctic. Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia.

Prior to 2005, he was Professor of Law and Director of Canadian Studies at Duke University; from 1996-1999 he was a Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University.

He is a regular contributor to Canadian media and an author. His most recent book is "Who Owns the Arctic?", described by Thomas Berger as "A much-needed road map for policy-makers and an unusually readable guide for every concerned citizen who wants to understand Canada's choices in the Arctic."

Michael lives on Salt Spring Island with his wife and two young children and serves on the board of The Salt Spring Forum, a place for new ideas holding workshops and conferences. Sign up for email announcements. Decorated media star Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! is expected to be the next guest speaker. Ms. Goodman you might remember is the journalist who scared the Harper Government. Scheduled in Vancouver for a talk at the Vancouver Public Library, government dummies were nervous that she might criticize VANOC and the Olympics. Immigration officers held her at the border for a time and served a departure notice forcing her to leave Canada immediately after her speech.

Dr. Byers has an interesting take on the proposed acquisition of F-35 stealth fighters. The article made me wonder if KarlHeinz Schreiber is dealing on behalf of Lockheed-Martin with Stephen Harper. We appear to be committed to a single engine aircraft that, compared to alternatives and the existing twin-engine CF-18s, is slower, has less range and firepower and is likely to have a lower "mission capable" rate. It seems to make up for these inadequacies by being a hell of a lot more expensive. I suppose that's good for somebody.

Anyway, I suggest you add Dr. Byers to your regular reading list. Catch him in person if you can too; his lectures are enjoyable and compelling.
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A view back, a view ahead

The American style right wing agenda begins in Canada soon, if a majority Harper Government is returned by electors. If you like what BC Liberals achieved, you will love a Tory majority. So far, we have had only Harper Lite, constrained as a minority party by the risk of parliamentary defeat. Like Republicans, the ruling Conservative Party of Canada aims to:
  • Strip government of social welfare functions and economic regulatory activity, requiring industry and commerce to self-regulate, without public oversight.
  • Privatize Canada Pension Plan by creating individual retirement accounts.
  • Remove minimum labor standards, reduce trade union rights and pass right-to-work laws.
  • Maintain high levels of immigration to ensure a pool of unemployed who, by competing for jobs, will allow wages to fall.
  • Fund basic schooling with a voucher system.
  • Privatize post-secondary education.
  • Privatize all government enterprises and cultural initiatives and end public broadcasting.
  • Curtail individual freedoms and strengthen police, military and private security forces.
  • Build more jails and internment centers;
  • Increase central executive authority to make elected bodies less relevant.
  • Eliminate taxes on capital, profits, unearned and other investment income.
  • Tax income with modest flat rate;
  • Increase debt, consumption taxes and user fees;
  • Support U.S. dominated new world order.
Stephen Harper, his former Reform Party and Libertarian colleagues believe that, instead of individual freedom, equal opportunity, jobs and education, we need more discipline, globalism, free trade and religion. For the rest, the street drug trade will be allowed to flourish.

From Dave Johnson, Campaign for America's Future:
Did Koch Industries write the budget deal? Or is it just a coincidence that so many of the the things Republicans demanded -- and got -- just happen to line up with the financial interests of the billionaires who fund the Tea Party and much of the “conservative movement?” Cutting money for the EPA, alternative energy efficiency, high-speed rail, efforts to fight climate change -- even prohibiting NOAA from creating a Climate Service ... it reads like an oil tycoon's wish list. . ."
From Talking Points Memo (TPM):
"One of the hardest hit institutions is the Environmental Protection Agency, whose power Republicans have sought to curtail in recent years through a variety of legislative means. The agency will receive $1.6 billion less in funding than current levels, a 16 percent drop, including a $49 million reduction in climate change programs and $149 million cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. . . .The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also saw a $142 million reduction in funding and is prohibited from creating a Climate Service.

"In addition to programs protecting the environment, programs aimed at boosting energy efficiency for power plants and transportation also were major targets. Energy efficiency and renewable energy were cut by $438 million while fossil energy R&D was reduced by $226 million and nuclear energy funding was cut by $56 million. Funding for high speed rail [cut entirely] . . . "
From Earthjustice.org:
WASHINGTON - April 12 - Anti-environmental provisions that remove Endangered Species protections for endangered gray wolves and another that seeks to strip the government of its authority to protect some of America’s best undeveloped natural public lands are in the budget bill to be voted on by the end of this week

While the White House and the Senate averted a disastrous government shut-down last week, they failed to block amendments that sacrifice one of America’s most important wildlife safeguards. The amendment to remove ESA protections for wolves marks the first time in history that a species will be delisted by Congress.
From Noam N. Levey, Los Angeles Times:
"AUGUSTA, Maine— In their drive to cut medical assistance to the poor while pushing tax breaks benefiting the affluent, congressional Republicans are following the lead of a group of governors who have championed this approach to balance state budgets.
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More reasons to question

Whether Gas is Cleaner than Coal, Abraham Lustgarten, ProPublica
"In January, a ProPublica investigation found that large amounts of "fugitive" emissions were left out of common comparisons between coal and gas and that if these emissions were counted the advantages of natural gas dwindled. Our report found that the Environmental Protection Agency's emissions estimates from hydraulic fracturing in shale formations were 9,000 times higher than the agency had previously estimated. We also quoted Robert Howarth, a Cornell University professor, saying that he would soon release research that showed that the emissions from gas were even worse.

"More details of Howarth's research, which is reportedly scheduled to be published in the journal Climatic Change, were released by The Hill and The New York Times this week. Howarth's conclusion -- that shale gas production is actually far dirtier than coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions -- is attracting national attention."
Studies Say Natural Gas Has Its Own Environmental Problems, Tom Zeller Jr., New York Times
"The problem, the studies suggest, is that planet-warming methane, the chief component of natural gas, is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities than previously thought, with as much as 7.9 percent of it puffing out from shale gas wells, intentionally vented or flared, or seeping from loose pipe fittings along gas distribution lines. This offsets natural gas’s most important advantage as an energy source: it burns cleaner than other fossil fuels and releases lower carbon dioxide emissions.

" 'The old dogma of natural gas being better than coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions gets stated over and over without qualification,' said Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University and the lead author of one of the studies. Mr. Howarth said his analysis, which looked specifically at methane leakage rates in unconventional shale gas development, was among the first of its kind and that much more research was needed."

Viewers should be cognizant of the fact that by necessity such
illustrations are not to scale. What looks sturdy in any diagram 
such as this one is actually thin and fragile in relation to its length.

Also, such diagrams illustrate how the process is designed to work
when all goes as intended, so generally don’t show the many fissures
and fractures in the surrounding rock, into which concrete can be lost
when the casing is being cemented. These gaps and fractures can
make it extremely difficult and in some cases impossible to properly
cement the casing, leading to the groundwater contamination and 
gas migration  incidents that we’re hearing more and more about.

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Shale gas 'worse than coal' for climate

By Richard Black, Environment Correspondent, BBC News
"Drawn from rock through a controversial "fracking" process, some hail the gas as a "stepping stone" to a low-carbon future and a route to energy security.

"But US researchers found that shale gas wells leak substantial amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

This makes its climate impact worse than conventional gas, they say - and probably worse than coal as well.

" 'Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon, and is comparable over 100 years,' they write in a paper to be published shortly in the journal Climatic Change. . ."

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Monday, April 11, 2011

USA gas industry trying to catch BC's gas industry in self-regulation

From the Center for American Progress:

The oil and natural gas lobby is working hard to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from establishing safeguards to protect the public from chemicals used to produce shale gas through “hydraulic fracturing,” also called “fracking” or “fracing.” Oil and gas companies use fracking in combination with horizontal well drilling; the process involves injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface to fracture the rock and allow oil and gas previously trapped inside the rock to escape. Recent advances in drilling techniques combined with fracking have dramatically expanded the supply of technically recoverable shale gas. But studies show that the chemicals may pollute nearby sources of water.

BP, ConocoPhillips, and Shell Oil Co.’s latest lobbying efforts propose. . .[Congress] exempt fracking from federal oversight. . .

The proposal would be on top of a similar fracking loophole already on the books. The practice is currently protected from oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act due to an exemption in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The loophole was added into the bill after a 2004 EPA study . . . called “scientifically unsound” by Weston Wilson, an EPA scientist with more than three decades of experience with the agency. The Oil and Gas Accountability Project also reported that, “EPA removed information from earlier drafts that suggested unregulated fracturing poses a threat to human health, and that the Agency did not include information that suggests fracturing fluids may pose a threat to drinking water long after drilling operations are completed.”

Recommended viewing / reading:
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