Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Secrecy and conflicts of interest too evident in municipal politics

Marin cited the “egregious” example of council for the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands which attempted to hide discussion of a 60-per-cent raise for its members.

“That’s the kind of thing you just can’t make up,” he said.
(From Wendy Gillis' piece "Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin says municipalities 'shockingly secretive'" in Toronto Star, October 30, 2012, excerpted below)
Having spent fifteen years as a city hall reporter in a Northern Ontario town, I was able to witness many of the public debates over both large and minor issues that come before municipal councils. There were also, no doubt, many "in camera" meetings to which I was neither invited nor about which was I told. However, there are more complexities to this story than would be resolved by a fine, or public censure.
First, the media has to play a more aggressive role in ferreting out any hint of a proposal from any responsible source, and bring it to the public's attention, sometimes even starting with a rumour that has to be chased down. There is a tendency in a community for reporters to be on a "too friendly" basis with municipal politicians, partly to preserve "sources" for future stories, and partly to keep a mask of community peace and unity on the proceedings, so that "people will want to do business here" the cliche argument goes.
Second, the people of each town and city have a civic duty and responsibility to engage their publicly elected representatives who, after all, have no crystal ball from which to elicit answers to the city's problems, issues, including the normal five-year plans spelling out the "direction" of the city's growth requiring infrastructure. They are often flying by the 'seat of their pants' with a steady eye on their own re-election, the primary goal of too many politicians.
Third, there is a clear and demonstrable need for city officials to guide their political operatives in the clear and persuasive avoidance of any appearance of conflict of interest. Too many stories in too many towns and cities smell of 'undue influence' by certain rumoured business operatives on civic projects, including their design, and especially their location.
Politicians, as the construction probe in Quebec demonstrates too painfully, too often have their hands out for "bribes" in many forms including cash, but also some less obvious pay-offs for decisions the roots and relationships of which will never be uncovered, if they have their way.
Land development and land developers know all of the "achilles heels" of their local elected representatives and also those of the appointed members, for example, of the municipal planning boards, whose decisions affect the value of land, including those lands held by specific developers.
I once wrote a column pointing out the appearance of a conflict of interest when one real estate agent served as the Chair of the Economic Development Board, in which capacity he would have access to all inquiries for land that would come to the municipality, putting him in a position of a conflict, since, in his professional capacity, he would then be free to sell city-owned land to a prospective client.
There was no evidence that this individual had abused his position, but clearly, the potential of such abuse was clear and apparent.
And it is the conflict of interest question that concerns me as much as the "in camera meetings" to which the Ombudsman refers, in the pursuit of respect and legitimacy for municipal political operations. Should any town councillor wish to avoid any criticism for meeting in private, s/he could easily hold that meeting "on line" without worrying about those digital records being ferreted out by an industrious reporter.
Some meetings have to be "in confidence" and "in camera" to prevent the speculation that would occur should a proposed development's preference for a specific block of land become public, driving up the price of that land. However, such meetings could and should also be conducted by legal representatives, both of the city government and of the developer, in order to preserve that confidentiality, as well as the public respect and trust in the political system.
It is the public's trust in and respect for both the individuals who are elected and appointed to civic office and the system to which they are elected that must be maintained and enhanced, and every effort to assure accountability and transparency, in the real sense of those words, is worth both the cost and the effort.
And we all share in the pursuit of that legitimate goal.
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin says municipalities 'shockingly secretive'
By Wendy Gillis, Toronto Star, October 30, 2012
Ontario ombudsman André Marin says the province must put “some teeth” into its government transparency legislation by penalizing municipal councils which break open meeting laws.

Saying “shocking secrecy” exists in some of Ontario’s 444 municipalities, Marin said the government should consider prosecuting councillors and making them face fines or jail time for holding secret meetings.
“Right now, municipal councils — some of them at least — play loose with the rules because there are no consequences,” he said. “If there was a consequence, such as a fine or imprisonment, councillors would think twice about breaking those rules.”
On Tuesday, Marin released his first annual report detailing his office’s investigations into violations of the so-called “Sunshine law” — provincial legislation requiring municipalities to hold open meetings except in select circumstances.
Since 2008, any Ontario citizen has been able to request a probe into a meeting believed to have been improperly closed to the public. Marin’s office — which has jurisdiction in 191 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities — has received more than 500 complaints.
His office found 45 violations between April 2011 and September 2012, including in Hamilton, Amherstburg, Midland and Elliot Lake.
Marin does not have jurisdiction in Toronto, because the city has its own ombudsman, Fiona Crean.
Marin cited the “egregious” example of council for the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands which attempted to hide discussion of a 60-per-cent raise for its members.
“That’s the kind of thing you just can’t make up,” he said.
The office also investigated a complaint that three Hamilton councillors from the city’s NHL proposal committee violated the open meeting rules when they met for breakfast with a local hockey coach and the president of the Edmonton Oilers in January 2011.
While ruling the meeting did not break any laws, councillors should “be cautious about such gatherings, because they naturally attract suspicion and conjecture,” says the report.
Some of the worst offenders were also “defiant in the face of public complaints,” Marin said. London councillors, for example, were “obsessed” with obtaining the names of complainants so they could “face their accusers,” he said.
In Sudbury, only three of 13 councillors agreed to be interviewed by the office about secret meetings. The remaining said they wouldn’t proceed without the city’s solicitor.
“It was the worst failure to co-operate I have seen,” Marin says in the report.
Asked to respond to the pushback seen in Toronto against ombudsman Crean and other city watchdogs, Marin said the city was at an important “juncture.”
It will either have to “learn to work with its ombudsman office or explore other options,” such as outsourcing to his office, though he said he was not advocating for that,
“But of course, we’re located across from city hall . . . this would be a stone’s throw. If city council were to ask me to consider it, I’d certainly consider it.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

U.S. Survey: Racism growing against blacks and latinos

In 2008, anti-black attitudes were held by 48 percent of Americans surveyed. Today, that number is 51 percent. When implicit racial attitudes are measured, that statistic jumps to 56 percent. The viewpoint is even worse for Hispanics: A poll done last year showed that anti-Latino attitudes were held by 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites. On the implicit racial attitudes test, the negative views of Hispanics goes to 57 percent. (The AP worked on the poll with NORC at the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and Stanford University.)
(From Jonathan Capehart's piece, "The rise of hate in the age of Obama" in "Postpartisan" blog in Washington Post, October 29, 2012, excerpted below)
There are so many cliches that attempt to confront racism, bigotry...most of them based on a foundation of the Latin sense of the word, "Ignosco"..."I do not  know"...The suggestion being that one who does not "know" the other from another race is more likely to be prejudiced or bigoted against that other race, and its members.
To me, that is taking to air-brushing the reality of hate with the gauze lens of a simply won't cut it!
Or the camouflage of a control freak, expressing a need for perfection.
At the core of bigotry is the abuse of power!
One person, or one group, considers itself superior to, more intelligent than, more sophisticated than, better educated than, richer and more powerful than....another person or group.There is, at its root, simply no excuse and no explanation for bigotry, of a neighbour,  of a person from another town or city,  of a person from another linguistic group, of a person from a different sexual orientation, of a person from a different religious community, and of a different ethnic or racial background.
But all of that is like pablum to a baby: we all know it to be true, and yet, the expression of hatred, especially that directed to both Blacks and Latino's in the U.S. has been permitted to grow especially among middle and lower class whites.
There are those who allege that the Tea Party grew out of racial bigotry toward Obama.
There are those who allege that northern, whites' contempt for blacks (and more recently latinos) is as old as the union of the United States, that it is written in the DNA of the culture of the South, and increasingly into the pockets of racism that exist in every organization, institution and political movement, including most police and sheriff departments across the country. It can be found at the communion rail in both Catholic and protestant church, where it simply has no place.
It can be found in the news rooms of all major dailies, weeklies, digital publications and television and radio studios. In fact, much of it soars on the larynx of people like Rush Limbaugh whose $40million price tag testifies to the willingness of advertisers to support its spread among the unwashed. Just today, we learn of the racism directed to a black Philadelphia Flyer hockey player playing for an Austrian team, given the lock-out of all NHL players, and his having taken the option to play in Europe.
President Obama, to his credit, has never even breathed a hint of racial preference or bias in the rendering or the delivery of his decisions in the Oval Office. However, being able to point to his many other "social, political and cultural tumours" (socialist, communist, alien, Muslim, lazy, detached, arrogant, "shuck and jive,") is a facile manner by which to heap scorn on his person, his family and his mixed-racial heritage, without having to own up to bigotry, prejudice or a hate crime.
Notice how little media coverage was given to two events in this presidential campaign:
1) the driveby shooting of the plate glass window in an Obama campaign office in Denver, Colorado and
2) the bomb threat to the Quaker originated and operated school in northwest Washington D.C., requiring a total evacuation, including the evacuation of the President's and the First Lady's two daughters who are both students of the school.
Obama, as president, has by his person, and his exemplary performance of both his presidential duties and his personal and family life, has, without opening his mouth, or picking up a pen, or tweeting a line, or cracking a joke, or literally offending a single person, shattered the image held by many white Americans of the black race, and especially of the black males in the U.S. He has, not incidentally, lectured black men to "father their children" in the full sense of those words, and pointedly referred to the goal of higher academic achievement as a national goal, not only a goal of 'white' students...trashing the stereotype in the black community that a young black boy who does his homework, reads his novels and enjoys achieving in school is "acting white".
And in the course of his exemplary ballet, on a finest of hire-wires in the racially charged political arena, Obama has also aroused even more hatred, and especially the previously hidden contempt that many whites had repressed over the last decades of the twentieth century. It is almost is if his presidency, and his family's residing in the White House, is anathema to many Americans, especially to contemporary Republican party members. And while Republicans will argue about his economic policies, their language and attitude of disdain and contempt for his person and his presidency is nothing short of vitriolic, acerbic and toxic.
Mitch McConnell's historic edict to "make Obama a one-term president" is one of the best and most public, and best known of the sneer remarks and the degree to which Republicans will go to capitalize on the racial seams that run under the ground of the public political debate.The many state Republican legislatures that have passed bills restricting the vote of blacks, the elderly, the poor and students is another of their manifest methods dedicated to the removal of the President and his party from legitimacy, and thereby from power.
It is as if Republicans have discovered "fracking" not only in terms of harvesting natural gas deposits, but also in terms of harvesting the noxious gases of bigotry, contempt, prejudice and the cancer of racism that infects all political dialogue in this presidential campaign.
While the October surprise of Sandy, the most recent wind, rain and storm-surge battering on the east coast of the U.S. is  eclipsing the headlines and the advertising from both political parties, will there be a third incident of the public expression of bigotry directed against the president and his family, now that the Spielberg film, Lincoln, is about to be released, reminding us all of the tragic end to that president's life for his support for the vote for black Americans?
We can only hope that the Secret Service are more than up to their task!
The rise of hate in the age of Obama
By Jonathan Capehart, Postpartisan blog, Washington Post, October 29, 2012
While folks were obsessing over polls that showed their preferred presidential candidate being up or down, I obsessed over a poll that revealed a troubling rise in hatred among the American people. According to a poll for the Associated Press, anti-African American and anti-Hispanic attitudes have grown since the election of the nation’s first black president.
I’m not one of those people who thought sending Barack Obama to the White House would exorcise the nation’s racial demons, that centuries of strife and tribulation would simply melt away with one historic election. But I did hope that some remnants of the the wave of good feeling that swept over the United States between Election Day 2008 and Inauguration Day two months later would remain. How silly of me.
In 2008, anti-black attitudes were held by 48 percent of Americans surveyed. Today, that number is 51 percent. When implicit racial attitudes are measured, that statistic jumps to 56 percent. The viewpoint is even worse for Hispanics: A poll done last year showed that anti-Latino attitudes were held by 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites. On the implicit racial attitudes test, the negative views of Hispanics goes to 57 percent. (The AP worked on the poll with NORC at the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and Stanford University.)

McMaster researcher discovers RESISTIN, the protein that causes bad cholesterol

Canadian researchers discover cause of high cholesterol, which could result in new drugs

By Isobel Teotonio, Toronto Star, October 29, 2012
The breakthrough discovery of a protein that causes high cholesterol could lead to new revolutionary drugs that cut the risk of heart disease, according to a study presented at the 2012 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.

Dr. Shirya Rashid and her research team discovered that a protein called resistin, which is secreted by fat tissue, causes high levels of bad cholesterol, or LDL (low-density lipoprotein).
Resistin increases the production of LDL and impairs LDL receptors in the liver, making it more difficult for the liver to clear bad cholesterol from the body. It also likely speeds up the rate at which LDL accumulates in the arteries, boosting the risk of heart disease.
The discovery is an important finding because there have been very few factors or proteins identified that directly affects blood LDL cholesterol levels, said Rashid, an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University.
The study, which has already appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, showed that resistin blocks statins from working effectively. (Statins are medications used to lower cholesterol and other fats in the body, which may reduce risk of heart attack or stroke.)

That could explain why for about 40 per cent of people taking statins, the treatment simply isn’t working, said Rashid, adding her team’s discovery presents those individuals with new hope.
Rashid believes the findings could lead to new therapeutic drugs that target and inhibit resistin and boost the effectiveness of statins.
“There’s a new hope for people for whom statins have not been working,” said Rashid. “They have a new hope to reduce their cardiovascular risk and risk of heart disease.”
“There are millions of us that have high cholesterol that aren’t reaching our cholesterol targets and are at high risk for cardiovascular diseases. And those individuals need the promise of new medications that can more effectively target their LDL cholesterol.”
About 40 per cent of Canadians have high cholesterol levels. Cutting cholesterol is key because high levels can lead to a buildup of plaque in the artery walls and narrow the arteries, making it tougher for blood to flow through a person’s heart and body.

NDP looking to seniors for new block of support in 2015

Tim Harper: NDP looks to tap a powerful vault of votes
By Tim Harper, Toronto Star, October 29, 2012
The New Democrats under Tom Mulcair have now formally committed to rolling back the Old Age Security changes the Conservatives have set to take effect in 2023.

The opposition leader told a forum at CARP, the non-partisan organization which aims to promote the interests of Canadians as they age, that he, in his first year in government, would restore the age of eligibility for Old Age Security benefits to 65....
Mulcair told CARP that there are 300,000 Canadians over 65 now living below the poverty line with thousands more on the brink, especially unmarried senior women who have already endured a lifetime of lower earnings.

“In a country as wealthy as Canada it is absolutely inexcusable to have hundreds of thousands of seniors living below the poverty line, and an NDP government will correct that immediately in its first year,’’ he said.
Traditionally, seniors have voted for either Conservatives or Liberals, but now they are pointing to putting their trust in the NDP, a move that could wrest a chunk of traditional tory support from Harper in 2015. Mulcair, rightly sees this as a significant opportunity, in his attempt to drive Harper from office in the next election.
Is it not from physics where we learn that for each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction? Now that we have seen the actions of the Harper government to pander to the corporates, both individually and organizationally, through their tax, environment, sentencing and prison growth policies...linked to the subtractions from the social safety net, is it time for the NDP, in the vacuum created by the Liberal malaise, to step up to the plate and provide a political voice for the demographic that votes in large numbers, and that takes the future of the country very seriously, the CARP demographic?
As a traditional Liberal supporter, and member of the Liberal party, I have switched my political membership to the NDP, for the obvious reason that the NDP are the voice of political action and confrontation that can and will counter the Harper omnibus bills, through which Harper has removed their most controversial decisions from both the debate in parliament and from public and media scrutiny.
Who knows what is really written in those hundreds of pages of those omnibus bills, when their political chicanery flies through their majority in the House, and past the media eyes, hidden from the public's real time opportunity to digest those details?

Monday, October 29, 2012

When will all faiths abandon arms, war and armed conflict?

Jesus never had a Badr* moment, of course. He never was a warrior at all (except in the lurid vision-world of Revelation, in which he is shown leading an army into battle against the beast and his false prophet). Christians would have to wait three centuries before their faith would become an inspiration to great armies.

That moment came on Oct. 28, 312 — exactly 1,700 years ago this Sunday — when Constantine the Great defeated his rival Maxentius’ forces at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, and opened a path across the Tiber to Rome.
(From Jonathan Kay, The Day christianity became a fighting faith, National Post, October 26, 2012, below)
Those who espouse the Christian faith, among whose members I once proudly counted my family, and myself, this Sunday would be well remembered if it were shrouded in black. Call it the Black Sunday of the history of the christian church.
A "fighting church" on behalf of political motives and empirial ambitions is not one that persons aspiring to a healthy relationship with God can easily support.
The fact that "Jesus never had a Badr moment" may be more significant than the battle of Milvian Bridge.
Viewed through the lens of 2012, when the world has endured two world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan, all people of faith, whatever faith, are justifiably "tired of war". In the big picture, if all religions were to abandon their pursuit of war and the weapons of war, the strategies and tactics of war, with the co-operation of all world faiths, the people of the world would heave a heavy sigh of relief.
That is simply not going to happen, now or any time soon.
However, linking Constantine to the historic development of the Christian church is not the same thing as focussing on the development of the christian faith.
In fact, there is a reasonable, sustainable and cogent argument that it was the growth of the institution that drove the faith off the rails. There is no perfect organization as a container of any faith; however, worshipping the organization is simply a distraction from the worship of god. In fact, the hierarchical organization reflects more the secular history of the church than it does the gestation and incubation of the faith.
If and when all faith groups abandon their addiction to arms, and to the deployment of those arms in battle, perhaps then, and only then, will authentic faith praxis surge to its rightful place in the lives of disciples and believers.
And that time is not giving signs of emerging in the current scanning of the faith landscape. The reverse, unfortunately, seems more likely to evolve.
*The location of the battle in which Mohammed's army defeated and killed the leaders of Mecca, in 624 A.D.
Jonathan Kay: The Day Christianity became a fighting faith
By Jonathan Kay, The National Post, October 26, 2012
In 624 A.D., the Muslim faith was still young — so young that Mohammed had not yet even conquered Mecca, which was controlled by pagans. The Meccans’ army was three times as large as Mohammed’s. But when the two sides met at the Battle of Badr on March 13, 624, the prophet’s troops cracked the Meccan defences and slew several of their leaders.

According to lore that would become encoded in Islamic scripture, the victory proved that Mohammed was not just the Seal of the Prophets, but also a great military commander whose forces enjoyed God’s favour on the battlefield. Islam thereby became a fighting faith, almost from its inception — a fact that has shaped its development right up into modern times.
Jesus never had a Badr moment, of course. He never was a warrior at all (except in the lurid vision-world of Revelation, in which he is shown leading an army into battle against the beast and his false prophet). Christians would have to wait three centuries before their faith would become an inspiration to great armies.
That moment came on Oct. 28, 312 — exactly 1,700 years ago this Sunday — when Constantine the Great defeated his rival Maxentius’ forces at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, and opened a path across the Tiber to Rome.
As schoolchildren have been learning since ancient days, the shields of Constantine’s foot soldiers were emblazoned on that day with the Chi-Rho symbol — indicating the first two letters of Christ’s name, spelled in Greek and superimposed as a monogram. The night before the battle, Constantine had taken inspiration from “a cross of light” (as Eusebius of Caesarea later recounted it) that appeared in the sky, along with the slogan “Conquer by this” — or, as it is more commonly and dramatically reworded: “By this sign, you shall conquer.”
“No one knows why [Constantine] embraced Christianity at that moment,” writes historian Simon Sebag Montefiore. His father, Constantius Chlorus, had worshipped Sol Invictus, the “invincible” sun god that had been promoted as a cult by the Emperor Aurelian. But, “like many brutally confident men, [Constantine] adored his mother, Helena, and she was an early [Christian] convert.”
Though Constantine eventually was baptized (on his deathbed, in 337 A.D.), he was no monotheistic zealot, and did not extinguish the existing imperial cults. But he envisioned a Godly empire unified under his command, and settled definitively on Christianity as the dominant creed. It was a momentous decision: For three centuries, Christians mostly had been either hideously persecuted or grimly tolerated. Seventeen centuries ago, all that changed. “Christ the Lamb became the god of victory,” in Montefiore’s words. And through Constantine, Europe was on its was to becoming a Christian continent. Few men, outside of Jesus himself and his immediate companions and contemporaries, can claim to have had such an extraordinary influence on the development and spread of the faith.
Reading the history from that period, one comes to understand just how many bedrock Christian beliefs, practices and forms of cultural expression originated under Constantine in the decades that followed the Battle of Milvian Bridge.
Constantine was a conqueror. And like all conquerors, he wanted to memorialize himself in word and stone. “Over his reign, he gave the Church an equal place alongside the traditional official cults, and lavished wealth on it,” writes Dirmaid MacCulloch in his 2009 opus Christianity: The first 3,000 years. “Christianity would now embark on its long intoxication with architecture, previously a necessarily restricted passion. Among [Constantine’s] many other donations were 50 monumental copies of the Bible commissioned from Bishop Eusebius’ specialist scriptorium in Caesarea: an extraordinary expenditure … for which the parchment alone would have required the death of around 5,000 cows.”
In Constantinople (formerly Byzantium), Constantine created a network of churches devoted to various saints, festivals and holy days, thereby establishing the pattern of prayer-by-station that remains a feature of Christian pilgrimage to this day. He also promoted the practice of convening councils of bishops to settle questions of religious doctrine. This included the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. (presided over by Constantine in person), whose eponymous creed created the foundational dogma that Christ is “begotten, not made” “from the substance of the Father, God from God, Light from Light.”
Unfortunately, Constantine used the same venue to promote the theme of Jew-hatred that would remain a stubborn part of mainstream Christian thought and culture until well into the 20th century. “At the council, we also considered the issue of our holiest day, Easter,” he wrote. “In the first place, it seemed very unworthy for us to keep this most sacred feast following the custom of the Jews, a people who have soiled their hands in a most terrible outrage, and have thus polluted their souls, and are now deservedly blind.”
Another lasting innovation from Constantine’s era is the idea of Jerusalem (at the time, a shabby community known by its Roman designation, Aelia Captolina) as a city of divinely inspired grandeur.
Much of the credit here goes not to Constantine, but to his mother, the aforementioned dowager empress Helena. In her 70s (following a squalid, bloody and possibly incestuous family saga well worthy of an HBO mini-series), she set sail to Jerusalem and immediately embarked upon one of history’s greatest, and most improbable archaeological careers — discovering a cave deemed to be Jesus’ tomb, and the supposed site of the Crucifixion. (More dubiously, it is claimed that she also found the True Cross, and even the nails that went with it.) She built churches (including that of the Holy Sepulchre), destroyed pagan shrines and Jewish synagogues, and created enduring maps for pilgrims that showed them where all the holy sites, as she enumerated them, could be found. Every camera-clicking Christian tourist you see in Jerusalem, filing out from tour busses outside Jaffa Gate, maps in hand, owes something to Saint Helena’s handiwork.
History is full of what-ifs. But some are more profound than others. On the cusp of his great victory at Milvian Bridge, Montefiore reminds us, Constantine just as easily could have picked Manicheanism or Mithraism, two faiths that are now extinct, but which were then just as popular as Christianity. Had he done so, the people we now call Christians might take their inspiration from the gnostic pronouncement of the prophet Mani, or fixate themselves on the Mithraic Mysteries’ seven grades of initiation.
Or, who knows? Judaism might eventually have become the majority religion of Europe. Or perhaps Islam — though such a scenario admittedly is muddled by the fact that the Muslim faith was itself conceived in part on the basis of Mohammed’s (somewhat confused) understanding of the events described in the New Testament.
As for the Milvian Bridge itself, it still exists in northern Rome. In 2006, it became famous as a place where couples could signify their love by attaching padlocks to bridge fastenings, and then throwing the key into the Tiber. It’s also become a popular meeting spot for amorous youth who haven’t yet found a padlock mate.
From bloody battle to pick-up scene for Vespa-riding teenagers in a mere 1,700 years: European civilization in a nutshell.

New York Times: substantive endorsement for Obama's re-election

Barack Obama for Re-Election
Editorial, New York Times, October 27, 2012
The economy is slowly recovering from the 2008 meltdown, and the country could suffer another recession if the wrong policies take hold. The United States is embroiled in unstable regions that could easily explode into full-blown disaster. An ideological assault from the right has started to undermine the vital health reform law passed in 2010. Those forces are eroding women’s access to health care, and their right to control their lives. Nearly 50 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, all Americans’ rights are cheapened by the right wing’s determination to deny marriage benefits to a selected group of us. Astonishingly, even the very right to vote is being challenged.

That is the context for the Nov. 6 election, and as stark as it is, the choice is just as clear.
President Obama has shown a firm commitment to using government to help foster growth. He has formed sensible budget policies that are not dedicated to protecting the powerful, and has worked to save the social safety net to protect the powerless. Mr. Obama has impressive achievements despite the implacable wall of refusal erected by Congressional Republicans so intent on stopping him that they risked pushing the nation into depression, held its credit rating hostage, and hobbled economic recovery.
Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has gotten this far with a guile that allows him to say whatever he thinks an audience wants to hear. But he has tied himself to the ultraconservative forces that control the Republican Party and embraced their policies, including reckless budget cuts and 30-year-old, discredited trickle-down ideas. Voters may still be confused about Mr. Romney’s true identity, but they know the Republican Party, and a Romney administration would reflect its agenda. Mr. Romney’s choice of Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate says volumes about that.
We have criticized individual policy choices that Mr. Obama has made over the last four years, and have been impatient with his unwillingness to throw himself into the political fight. But he has shaken off the hesitancy that cost him the first debate, and he approaches the election clearly ready for the partisan battles that would follow his victory.
We are confident he would challenge the Republicans in the “fiscal cliff” battle even if it meant calling their bluff, letting the Bush tax cuts expire and forcing them to confront the budget sequester they created. Electing Mr. Romney would eliminate any hope of deficit reduction that included increased revenues.
In the poisonous atmosphere of this campaign, it may be easy to overlook Mr. Obama’s many important achievements, including carrying out the economic stimulus, saving the auto industry, improving fuel efficiency standards, and making two very fine Supreme Court appointments.
Health Care
Mr. Obama has achieved the most sweeping health care reforms since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. The reform law takes a big step toward universal health coverage, a final piece in the social contract.
It was astonishing that Mr. Obama and the Democrats in Congress were able to get a bill past the Republican opposition. But the Republicans’ propagandistic distortions of the new law helped them wrest back control of the House, and they are determined now to repeal the law.
That would eliminate the many benefits the reform has already brought: allowing children under 26 to stay on their parents’ policies; lower drug costs for people on Medicare who are heavy users of prescription drugs; free immunizations, mammograms and contraceptives; a ban on lifetime limits on insurance payments. Insurance companies cannot deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Starting in 2014, insurers must accept all applicants. Once fully in effect, the new law would start to control health care costs.
Mr. Romney has no plan for covering the uninsured beyond his callous assumption that they will use emergency rooms. He wants to use voucher programs to shift more Medicare costs to beneficiaries and block grants to shift more Medicaid costs to the states.

The Economy
Mr. Obama prevented another Great Depression. The economy was cratering when he took office in January 2009. By that June it was growing, and it has been ever since (although at a rate that disappoints everyone), thanks in large part to interventions Mr. Obama championed, like the $840 billion stimulus bill. Republicans say it failed, but it created and preserved 2.5 million jobs and prevented unemployment from reaching 12 percent. Poverty would have been much worse without the billions spent on Medicaid, food stamps and jobless benefits.
Last year, Mr. Obama introduced a jobs plan that included spending on school renovations, repair projects for roads and bridges, aid to states, and more. It was stymied by Republicans. Contrary to Mr. Romney’s claims, Mr. Obama has done good things for small businesses — like pushing through more tax write-offs for new equipment and temporary tax cuts for hiring the unemployed.
The Dodd-Frank financial regulation was an important milestone. It is still a work in progress, but it established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, initiated reform of the derivatives market, and imposed higher capital requirements for banks. Mr. Romney wants to repeal it.
If re-elected, Mr. Obama would be in position to shape the “grand bargain” that could finally combine stimulus like the jobs bill with long-term deficit reduction that includes letting the high-end Bush-era tax cuts expire. Stimulus should come first, and deficit reduction as the economy strengthens. Mr. Obama has not been as aggressive as we would have liked in addressing the housing crisis, but he has increased efforts in refinancing and loan modifications.
Mr. Romney’s economic plan, as much as we know about it, is regressive, relying on big tax cuts and deregulation. That kind of plan was not the answer after the financial crisis, and it will not create broad prosperity.
Foreign Affairs
Mr. Obama and his administration have been resolute in attacking Al Qaeda’s leadership, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. He has ended the war in Iraq. Mr. Romney, however, has said he would have insisted on leaving thousands of American soldiers there. He has surrounded himself with Bush administration neocons who helped to engineer the Iraq war, and adopted their militaristic talk in a way that makes a Romney administration’s foreign policies a frightening prospect.
Mr. Obama negotiated a much tougher regime of multilateral economic sanctions on Iran. Mr. Romney likes to say the president was ineffective on Iran, but at the final debate he agreed with Mr. Obama’s policies. Mr. Obama deserves credit for his handling of the Arab Spring. The killing goes on in Syria, but the administration is working to identify and support moderate insurgent forces there. At the last debate, Mr. Romney talked about funneling arms through Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are funneling arms to jihadist groups.
Mr. Obama gathered international backing for airstrikes during the Libyan uprising, and kept American military forces in a background role. It was smart policy.
In the broadest terms, he introduced a measure of military restraint after the Bush years and helped repair America’s badly damaged reputation in many countries from the low levels to which it had sunk by 2008.
The Supreme Court
The future of the nation’s highest court hangs in the balance in this election — and along with it, reproductive freedom for American women and voting rights for all, to name just two issues. Whoever is president after the election will make at least one appointment to the court, and many more to federal appeals courts and district courts.
Mr. Obama, who appointed the impressive Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, understands how severely damaging conservative activism has been in areas like campaign spending. He would appoint justices and judges who understand that landmarks of equality like the Voting Rights Act must be defended against the steady attack from the right.
Mr. Romney’s campaign Web site says he will “nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito,” among the most conservative justices in the past 75 years. There is no doubt that he would appoint justices who would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Civil Rights
The extraordinary fact of Mr. Obama’s 2008 election did not usher in a new post-racial era. In fact, the steady undercurrent of racism in national politics is truly disturbing. Mr. Obama, however, has reversed Bush administration policies that chipped away at minorities’ voting rights and has fought laws, like the ones in Arizona, that seek to turn undocumented immigrants into a class of criminals.
The military’s odious “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule was finally legislated out of existence, under the Obama administration’s leadership. There are still big hurdles to equality to be brought down, including the Defense of Marriage Act, the outrageous federal law that undermines the rights of gay men and lesbians, even in states that recognize those rights.
Though it took Mr. Obama some time to do it, he overcame his hesitation about same-sex marriage and declared his support. That support has helped spur marriage-equality movements around the country. His Justice Department has also stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act against constitutional challenges.
Mr. Romney opposes same-sex marriage and supports the federal act, which not only denies federal benefits and recognition to same-sex couples but allows states to ignore marriages made in other states. His campaign declared that Mr. Romney would not object if states also banned adoption by same-sex couples and restricted their rights to hospital visitation and other privileges.
Mr. Romney has been careful to avoid the efforts of some Republicans to criminalize abortion even in the case of women who had been raped, including by family members. He says he is not opposed to contraception, but he has promised to deny federal money to Planned Parenthood, on which millions of women depend for family planning.
For these and many other reasons, we enthusiastically endorse President Barack Obama for a second term, and express the hope that his victory will be accompanied by a new Congress willing to work for policies that Americans need.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

KUDO's for OSSTF President Ken Coran, in fight with Ontario government

No parents' nights, no attendance reports, no pre-test preparation for EQAO testing, no supervision of EQAO testing, individual choice on extra-curricular activities...these measures are both real and necessary in the OSSTF fight with the Ontario government's "Putting Students First Act" which strips collective bargaining and freezes wages and benefits.
This is not only a fight between a provincial government that is strapped for cash and a public sector union. It is a line drawn in the sand over the legitimate rights of labour, at all levels, in Canada. Those rights, and the benefits that have been won over decades of struggle, protest, heated argument and even protracted legislative battles are under fire, not only in the specific case of Ontario teachers, but across the land.
And the public now has to come to the support of Ontario teachers, for their benefit of their student-children, but also for the benefit of the Canadian way of life that is under attack, in Ottawa, in Toronto, and in all provincial capitals.
We commend the leadership of the OSSTF, and in particular Ken Coran, the current president, for the courage and the tenacity and the leadership he is showing in this fight.
OSSTF is neither a radical nor a narcissistic organization. It's history is filled with more contract settlements by far than labour disputes.
But this time the government has gone too far and there must be a line drawn beyond which no public sector union will move.
Of course, we also support the legal challenge to the provincial legislation, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the resulting judgement, probably eventually from the Supreme Court, will do much to show the direction in labour negotiations for both public and private sector workers over the next decade.
Ontario high school teachers to ‘up the heat’ in row with province

By Alex Consiglio, Toronto Star, October 26, 2012
Ontario high school teachers are planning to “up the heat” in negotiations with the government by taking job action, including not talking to parents or administering standardized tests.

Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said Friday he’s instructed some 60,000 OSSTF members, who are in a legal strike position, also to cease attending staff meetings by Nov. 7.
“We’re fed up and want there to be serious talks” said Coran. “We’ve got solutions and the government has to take ownership of new ideas.”
The next standardized EQAO tests for high school students begin in January, when Grade 9 students will be tested on mathematics, followed by literacy tests in April for Grade 10 students.
Students must pass the Grade 10 literacy test in order to graduate.
The job action also instructs teachers not to participate in activities involved in the standardized tests, which may include in-class preparation.
“It’s designed not to impact students’ learning,” said Coran, explaining he doesn’t see the tests as part of the defined curriculum. Coran suggested supervisors can gather students in school cafeterias and administer the EQAO tests there themselves.
Coran said it hadn’t been discussed yet whether in-class EQAO preparation would be affected.
Education Minister Laurel Broten responded to the aggressive move by the OSSTF by email Friday.
“It is very concerning to me to see that OSSTF is prepared to take these strike actions,” said Broten. “We need all of our partners in education to work with us to find solutions that put the success of our students — including EQAO and literacy tests — first.”
Broten added the Putting Students First Act, a new anti-strike law that cuts benefits and freezes the wages of senior teachers, allows the government to intervene through regulation, not legislation, if teachers take such action.
“At this point, we are monitoring closely to see how local unions operationalize job actions and will assess options,” said Broten.
Coran scoffed at Broten’s suggestion teachers can be regulated through the Act to resume such duties.
“If (the Act’s) even legal,” quipped Coran, whose union is among three others that claims it infringes on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees of Ontario, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the OSSTF and the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) have launched a legal challenge against the Act.
ETFO president Sam Hammond has also taken job action and advised some 76,000 elementary teachers to write only the bare minimum on report cards.
Broten met with Hammond earlier this week to see if he would rescind the advice, but he wouldn’t back down. Hammond could not be reached for comment Friday.
Coran said the OSSTF job action will also see teachers stop communicating with parents outside of the regular school day, putting an end to parent-teacher nights.
Local bargaining units may also instruct teachers to stop submitting student attendance or participating in curriculum or course writing.
Coran added the job action wouldn’t affect extracurricular activities, like sports teams, where teachers have been instructed to make individual choices whether to continue or not. High schools teachers in Toronto have been urged by their union local to keep running extracurriculars because they are important for kids.
Rattled by the unions' declaration of war, the Liberals are trying to mend fences with the labour groups whose financial and organizational support helped get them re-elected over the past nine years.
Premier Dalton McGuinty bought time for the Liberals to repair that relationship when he prorogued the legislature last week to allow for a "cooling off period" that would give them time to negotiate.
Coran said it’s time “for the volume to be turned up” in the negotiations, which continue until Dec. 31.
“It just blows my mind that the government can’t realize there’s more than one way to solve a problem,” said Coran. “It’s what we teach our students and maybe it’s time for the government to practice higher order thinking.”

Friday, October 26, 2012

What is the meaning of integrity?

Colin Powell, in his endorsement of President Obama, pointedly referred to the multiple positions taken by his opponent, Romney, as well as his vacuity (my word not his) on foreign policy.
Some, like David Brooks of the New York Times, call Romney's latest incarnation "the moderate" while others label it "shifting to the centre" to govern and to appear presidential.
There are not only deep economic and fiscal divisions in America but, it appears, there are very different perceptions of "integrity" also.
Clearly, Powell has taken the high road in this campaign for the votes and indeed the direction of the country for the next four years.
For Republicans to gloss over the extreme shifts in Romney's positions, as a political calculation made by all politicians, is to air-brush their own history.
While there are clearly examples of presidential candidates whose campaign rhetoric was unmatched by their actions while in office. George H.W. Bush's "read my lips" about no tax increases leaps to mind, compared with his overturning of his own lips when in office.
However, with Romney, it is not mere cosmetic, this shift to the centre; it is pathologic with him.
He first will do anything to abolish therapeutic abortion, and then, "there is no legislation that I know of that would do that" spills from the same mouth.
He is opposed to the Afghan withdrawal, and then he favours it.
He supports troop withdrawal from Iraq and then wants 5 or 10 or 20 thousand left, and then, he returns to withdrawal support.
He will lower taxes by 20% for everyone, without having the rich pay a penny less than they do now...and we all know that it is the rich whose funds are keeping his campaign afloat, supported and sustained by his own millions, or would that be billions. Who knows how much he has stashed in tax-free foreign bank accounts.
Without a doubt, Romney is not merely shifting to the centre; he is a dessert blowing in the wind, dumping a load of dirt here, and tomorrow removing it as if it never existed. He is like that car commercial depicting the family going on vacation with the child's voice proudly announcing that her father did "millions of tricks, or maybe even billions" so entertaining was his performance...
And yet, the campaign for the presidency is anything but an entertaining performance, designed and delivered to provide whatever sweet things the "little child" would like  to brag about after a family vacation.
And Colin Powell, to his credit, gets it. And so do many other independents, although Powell is a registered Republican. And the world can only hope that enough independent Americans can see through the fog as Powell has, and mark their ballot with an "X" beside the president's Electoral College supporters.
The many faces of Mitt is not a play the world can afford for the next four years, and for the many years after, cleaning up his decisions on Supreme Court appointments, for one significant example.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dionne: another sign Obama will win on November 6

How the right lost in 2012
By E.J. Dionne, Jr. The Washington Post, October 24, 2012
The right wing has lost the election of 2012.

The evidence for this is overwhelming, yet it is the year’s best-kept secret. Mitt Romney would not be throwing virtually all of his past positions overboard if he thought the nation were ready to endorse the full-throated conservatism he embraced to win the Republican nomination.
If conservatism were winning, does anyone doubt that Romney would be running as a conservative? Yet unlike Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, Romney is offering an echo, not a choice. His strategy at the end is to try to sneak into the White House on a chorus of me-too’s.
The right is going along because its partisans know Romney has no other option. This, too, is an acknowledgment of defeat, a recognition that the grand ideological experiment heralded by the rise of the tea party has gained no traction. It also means that conservatives don’t believe that Romney really believes the moderate mush he’s putting forward now. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the conservatives are forgiving Romney because they think he is lying, what should the rest of us think?
Almost all of the analysis of Romney’s highly public burning of the right’s catechism focuses on such tactical issues as whether his betrayal of principle will help him win over middle-of-the-road women and carry Ohio. What should engage us more is that a movement that won the 2010 elections with a bang is trying to triumph just two years later on the basis of a whimper.
It turns out that there was no profound ideological conversion of the country two years ago. We remain the same moderate and practical country we have long been. In 2010, voters were upset about the economy, Democrats were demobilized, and President Obama wasn’t yet ready to fight. All the conservatives have left now is economic unease. So they don’t care what Romney says. They are happy to march under a false flag if that is the price of capturing power.
The total rout of the right’s ideology, particularly its neoconservative brand, was visible in Monday’s debate, in which Romney praised one Obama foreign policy initiative after another. He calmly abandoned much of what he had said during the previous 18 months. Gone were the hawkish assaults on Obama’s approach to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, China and nearly everywhere else. Romney was all about “peace.”
Romney’s most revealing line: “We don’t want another Iraq.” Thus did he bury without ceremony the great Bush-Cheney project. He renounced a war he had once supported with vehemence and enthusiasm.
Then there’s budget policy. If the Romney/Paul Ryan budget and tax ideas were so popular, why would the candidate and his sidekick, the one-time devotee of Ayn Rand, be investing so much energy in hiding the most important details of their plans? For that matter, why would Ryan feel obligated to forsake his love for Rand, the proud philosopher of “the virtue of selfishness” and the thinker he once said had inspired his public service?
Romney knows that, by substantial margins, the country favors raising taxes on the rich and opposes slashing many government programs, including Medicare and Social Security. Since Romney’s actual plan calls for cutting taxes on the rich, he has to disguise the fact. Where is the conviction?
The biggest sign that tea party thinking is dead is Romney’s straight-out deception about his past position on the rescue of the auto industry.
The bailout was the least popular policy Obama pursued — and, I’d argue, one of the most successful. It was Exhibit A for tea partyers who accused our moderately progressive president of being a socialist. In late 2008, one prominent Republican claimed that if the bailout the Detroit-based automakers sought went through, “you can kiss the American automotive industry good-bye.” The car companies, he said, would “seal their fate with a bailout check.” This would be the same Mitt Romney who tried to pretend on Monday that he never said what he said or thought what he thought. If the bailout is now good politics, and it is, then free-market fundamentalism has collapsed in a heap.
“Ideas have consequences” is one of the conservative movement’s most honored slogans. That the conservatives’ standard-bearer is now trying to escape the consequences of their ideas tells us all we need to know about who is winning the philosophical battle — and, because ideas do matter, who will win the election.

Zakaria: U.S. economy is recovering Colin Powell endorses Obama!

And yet, when looking out over the next four years — the next presidential term — the IMF projects that the United States will be the strongest of the world’s rich economies. U.S. growth is forecast to average 3 percent, much stronger than that of Germany or France (1.2 percent) or even Canada (2.3 percent). Increasingly, the evidence suggests that the United States has come out of the financial crisis of 2008 in better shape than its peers — because of the actions of its government. (From Fareed Zakaria, The U.S. economy is recovering well, Washington Post, October 24, 2012, below)
Without formally endorsing the President, Mr. Zakaria is doing everything short of an endorsement. Since everyone agrees that the economy is the primary issue in this presidential election, and since the economy is recovering well, according to the evidence cited in the Zakaria piece, there is a strong argument, based on the evidence, that President Obama has done a good job as steward of the economy, and that job was conducted in the headwind of a Republican  House of Representatives and the Republican Minority in the Senate, whose express purpose was to assure themselves that Obama was a "one-term president".
This morning, it was Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who saw the proof of the pudding of the Obama stewardship of the economy and threw his considerable and credible weight behind the president's campaign for re-election.
Along with The New Yorker magazine, and the Salt Lake City daily, Denver Post and the Tampa Bay daily, Powell's endorsement will serve the re-elect campaign well as the clock continues to tick down to November 6. Link these endorsements to the publication of The Plan, an outline of the next four years under President Obama, in answer to a growing public outcry for a more detailed prescription of his agenda going "forward", some outliar missteps by a Republican candidate for the Senate ("It is God's will that a child conceived during rape live!"), and a degree of bravado that bespeaks personal and campaign hollowness in the Romney camp, and what is agreeably a very close race could begin to turn in the president's favour.
Purely political rhetoric must not be able to trump the facts of the economic recovery albeit a slow and somewhat ponderous one, and no matter how many times the Republican candidates for the Presidency and Vice-presidency cry, "We can't afford four more years!" the truth is four more years of an Obama administration would serve the United States, its people and the world community extremely well, on the fiscal file,the environment file, the education file, the research and development file and the provision of new jobs through all of these measures plus the retrofit of the infrastructure and the addition of rapid rail, not to mention the geopolitical files.
Why don't you, Mr. Zakaria, join the plethora of respected and responsible thought leaders like Colin Powell, and formally endorse the Democratic candidate for President, Barack Obama? And why not now?
You could be part of the tipping point in this election!
The U.S. economy is recovering well
By Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, October 24, 2012
International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook makes for gloomy reading. Growth projections have been revised downward almost everywhere, especially in Europe and the big emerging markets such as China. And yet, when looking out over the next four years — the next presidential term — the IMF projects that the United States will be the strongest of the world’s rich economies. U.S. growth is forecast to average 3 percent, much stronger than that of Germany or France (1.2 percent) or even Canada (2.3 percent). Increasingly, the evidence suggests that the United States has come out of the financial crisis of 2008 in better shape than its peers — because of the actions of its government.

Perhaps the most important cause of America’s relative health is the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke understood the depths of the problem early and responded energetically and creatively. The clearest vindication of his actions has been that the European Central Bank, after charting the opposite course for three years with disastrous results, has adopted policies similar to the Fed’s — and averted a potential Lehman-like collapse in Europe. (Mitt Romney’s two most prominent academic advisers, Glenn Hubbard and Gregory Mankiw, seem to recognize this, but Romney apparently doesn’t. As recently as August the Republican presidential nominee repeated his criticisms of the Fed and promised to replace Bernanke at its helm.)
In addition to providing general liquidity, the Fed and the Treasury rescued the financial system but also forced it, through stress tests and new rules, to reform. The result is that U.S. banks are in much better shape than their European counterparts. Consumers have also been paying off debt, thanks to a series of tax cuts and other forms of relief.
A McKinsey & Co. study of crises in recent decades found that the United States is mirroring the pattern of countries with the strongest recoveries. It noted that “Debt in the financial sector relative to GDP has fallen back to levels last seen in 2000, before the credit bubble. US households have reduced their debt relative to disposable income by 15 percentage points, more than in any other country; at this rate, they could reach sustainable debt levels in two years or so.”
Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, the leading experts on financial crises, argue that the United States is performing better than most countries in similar circumstances. U.S. consumer confidence is at its highest levels since September 2007.
Every recovery since World War II has been led by housing, except this one. But finally, housing is back. Two weeks ago, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, declared that housing had turned the corner and predicted that, as a consequence, economic growth in 2013 would be so strong the Fed would have to raise interest rates. Given his firm’s vast mortgage portfolio, Dimon has a unique perspective on housing, and he is a smart man who knows that the Fed has promised to keep rates flat for three years. Last week, data on new housing starts confirmed Dimon’s optimism.
U.S. corporations have also bounced back. Corporate profits are at an all-time high as a percentage of gross domestic product, and companies have $1.7 trillion in cash on their balance sheets. The key to long-term recoveries from recessions is reform and restructuring, and U.S. businesses have been quick to respond.
Government intervention assisted this process with banks, auto companies and even in housing. Romney is correct to point out that the Obama administration supervised a managed bankruptcy in Detroit — forcing the kind of reform a private equity firm would have (though, crucially, providing the cash that a President Romney would not have). The Economist magazine, which initially opposed that bailout, reversed itself because of the manner in which General Motors and Chrysler were made to cut costs and become competitive.
And then there is America’s energy revolution, which is also bringing back manufacturing. U.S. exports, which have climbed 45 percent in the past four years, are at their highest level ever as a percentage of GDP.
All these good signs come with caveats. Europe continues to weaken. The fiscal cliff looms ominously. But the fact remains, compared with the rest of the industrialized world and the arc of previous post-bubble recoveries, the United States is ready for a robust revival. This is partly because of the dynamism of the U.S. economy but also because of the timely and intelligent actions of the Fed and the Obama administration.
The next president will reap the rewards of work already done. So it would be the ultimate irony if, having strongly criticized almost every measure that contributed to these positive tends, Mitt Romney ends up presiding over what he would surely call “the Romney recovery.”

Simpson: In Praise of Obama's foreign policy

Mix of muscularity and restraint a boon for Obama's foreign policy
By Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail, October 24, 2012
It’s a testament to the effectiveness of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy that his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has so little to criticize about it. When Mr. Romney does offer criticisms, they’re invariably either full of hot air or substantively dumb – or both.

Mr. Obama inherited, we should all remember, a country whose international reputation had sagged, to put matters mildly, under the presidency of George W. Bush.
The first thing Mr. Obama did was remove the senseless swagger that had characterized too much of the Bush approach to the world. Mr. Obama understood that his country is powerful but not all-powerful. He understood complexity in a way Mr. Bush did not. He also grasped that the fiscal deficits bequeathed by the Bush years – deficits greatly compounded by the 2008 financial meltdown and his own government’s stimulus package – would limit his country’s ability to throw itself at every world problem.

Mixing muscularity with restraint, Mr. Obama handled the sprawling challenges of terrorism and political change in the Middle East as well as such unpredictable events could likely be managed. He extricated his country from Iraq and will do so in Afghanistan, leaving both largely to their own uncertain devices.
Of course, there were nasty surprises – in Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt and elsewhere – but no president could eliminate them all. And he wisely kept the United States out of direct intervention in Syria, played only a supportive albeit important role in regime change in Libya and resisted the push to recklessly attack Iran, the consequences of which would be lasting and almost entirely negative.
During their foreign policy debate Monday, Mr. Romney displayed the hubris of the powerful and the ignorance of the uninformed when he said that what his country lacked was a comprehensive approach to pacifying the turbulence of the Middle East and turning nations there more to America’s way of seeing the world. A more fruitless objective could scarcely be imagined, given the variety of countries and challenges across the region.
Nor was there much Mr. Obama could do while Russia reverted to its age-old habits of authoritarianism and Great Power pretense under Vladimir Putin. Mr. Obama tried to “reset” the relationship with Russia, but there’s a limit to which the autocratic Russian ruler wants anything reset, except on his own terms, either in his country or with other countries.
As for China, both candidates descended to bashing that country for a variety of bad practices, because this is what the polls suggest might be politically popular. But beyond the rhetoric, the Obama administration has handled the challenges of a more assertive China with considerable sophistication, witness to which is the lineup of Asian countries encircling China that want American leadership in the region.
And as for the European Union, just what was Mr. Obama supposed to do about the Europeans’ inability to normalize their own economies, what with some doing well, others doing poorly, and Britain, as always, sitting on the sidelines, its own economy in recession, lecturing the continent on what to do?
Yes, there have been a few protectionist measures implemented or attempted by the Obama administration, but these have been relatively few in number, given the political pressures in the U.S. to blame others for the country’s chronic trade deficit.
With Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama used a “team of rivals” strategy, making her Secretary of State, a post she has occupied with indefatigable energy and a steady hand. She’s respected and liked around the world.
Speaking of which, a BBC World Service opinion poll showed this week that people in 20 of 21 countries surveyed preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. Romney, with support highest in France, Australia, Canada (66 per cent), Nigeria and Britain; of the 21,797 people surveyed, an average of 50 per cent preferred Mr. Obama and 9 per cent Mr. Romney, with the rest offering no opinion

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Feds sue Bank of America for $1 billion mortgage fraud scheme

Federal Prosecutors Sue Bank of America Over Mortgage Program

By Ben Protess, New York Times, Otober 24, 2012
Federal prosecutors in New York sued Bank of America on Wednesday, accusing it of carrying out a mortgage scheme that defrauded the government during the depths of the financial crisis.

In a civil complaint that seeks to collect $1 billion from the bank, the Justice Department took aim at a home loan program known as the “hustle,” a venture that has become emblematic of the risk-fueled mortgage bubble. The complaint adds to a flurry of federal and private lawsuits facing Bank of America’s beleaguered mortgage business.
Bank of America inherited the “hustle” home loan program with its purchase of Countrywide Financial in 2008. Prosecutors say the effort, kept alive by Bank of America through 2009, was intended to churn out mortgages at a rapid pace without proper checks on wrongdoing. The bank then sold the “defective” loans without warning to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled housing giants, which were stuck with heavy losses and a glut of foreclosed properties.
“The fraudulent conduct alleged in today’s complaint was spectacularly brazen in scope,” Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement. Mr. Bharara brought the case with the inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the government watchdog for the bank bailout program.
In a statement, a Bank of America spokesman said the bank “has stepped up and acted responsibly to resolve legacy mortgage matters; the claim that we have failed to repurchase loans from Fannie Mae is simply false.” The spokesman, Lawrence Grayson, added that “At some point, Bank of America can’t be expected to compensate every entity that claims losses that actually were caused by the economic downturn.”
The case is one piece of a broader federal crackdown on Wall Street, a last-ditch effort to hold firms accountable for perceived misdeeds that fueled the mortgage crisis. In the wake of the crisis, authorities were blamed for the dearth of charges facing financial executives at the center of the crisis.
For all the grumbling about few criminal prosecutions, the government has now mounted dozens of civil cases against the nation’s biggest financial firms, leaving the financial industry to battle a chaotic and somewhat redundant web of litigation. Mr. Bharara sued Wells Fargo this month over questionable mortgage deals. President Obama also formed a federal mortgage task force, which recently filed its first case against JPMorgan Chase over mortgage deals created by Bear Stearns, the defunct firm that JPMorgan bought during the crisis.
The case announced on Wednesday is the latest legal headache for Bank of America stemming from its acquisition spree during the crisis. The bank, which has come to define the excesses that nearly toppled the financial industry in 2008, struck a $2.4 billion deal in September to settle a securities class-action lawsuit that it misled investors about the takeover of Merrill Lynch.
The Countrywide deal has fared far worse. Billions of dollars in soured loans from the subprime lending specialist wreaked havoc on Bank of American’s balance sheet. Securities regulators have also extracted nearly $70 million in fines from Countrywide’s former chief executive, Angelo R. Mozilo.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday threatens to impose steep fines on the bank. The Justice Department filed the case under the False Claims Act, which could provide for triple the damages suffered by Fannie and Freddie, a penalty that could reach more than $3 billion.
The case also overlaps with a number of actions that government agencies are pursuing against Wall Street banks. It builds on, for example, the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s decision last year to sue 17 big banks over losses sustained by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The twin mortgage companies, bailed out by taxpayers in 2008, continue to push firms like Bank of America to repurchase billions of dollars in bad loans.
Finally, after many heartbreaks, and many foreclosures, and a housing bubble from which the U.S. is still recovering, the federal government is actively pursuing justice, at least with one giant player in the game.
Whether or not this move comes soon enough to provide political heft for the re-election of the president is still unknown. We have to wait another two weeks.
However, as in the long preparation for the Islamabad attack on Ben Laden, this administration continues to walk the long walk to justice, to righting wrongs, to choreograph the many arms of government in the pursuit of both protection and security at home and around the world.
We hear so much from the Romney-Ryan chorus that Obama has no plans for the next four years. However, I think the truth is that they know, as do those of us willing to peek into the fine print of the president's thinking, and the history of his administration, that their friends, Wall Street, The Koch Brothers, Bob Murray and Murray Energy, Adelson and the many donors whose cheques have been mailed in to Karl Rove, the Republican conjurer of voting strategies and tactics, mystically and pontifically designed and delivered will have to pay their fair share as part of the deficit/debt settlement that the president will sign.
They also know that, should a vacancy emerge on the Supreme Court, any names put forward by President Obama will be moderate, will not pass the litmus test of the Tea Party, or of the Roman Catholic church's obsession with the termination of Roe v Wade, nor will that name carry to the court the philosophy that supports returning abortion and education to the states, that removes all regulations from Wall Street, that turns political campaigns into cash floods of anonymous cash, and that permits employers to demand political activism on behalf of the Republican candidates, that permits the states to suppress the votes of the poor and the underclass of all ethnicities, and that gerrymanders voting districts in favour of the Republican party candidates.
This latest move against the Bank of America is not merely a leaf in the wind of the political discourse; it is, rather, a signal of more moves to come, should Obama be returned to the White House, moves that the country needs and the rich and powerful are desperate to foreclose.

In Memoriam: Raymond Souster, 1921-2012

                              Fiorito: Raymond Souster, 1921-2012

Raymond Souster         Photo by Rene Johnson, Toronto Star
By Joe Fiorito, Toronto Star, October 24, 2012 The poet Raymond Souster died on Friday. He was 91 years old and famously shy; he did not want an obituary. That may be so, but when a man dies he belongs no longer to himself, but to history, and in Ray’s case he belongs to this city. Souster was born in Toronto on Jan. 15, 1921. He won the Governor-General’s Award for poetry in 1964, and the City of Toronto Book Award in 1979.
He was a founding member and first president of the League of Canadian Poets; he was also a crackerjack amateur baseball player who followed the game all his life, which makes me wonder if that’s why the League is called a league.
He served in the RCAF during WWII, edited the most important poetry magazines of his time, promoted other poets, loved jazz, and worked for the CIBC.
He was virtually blind in his later years, yet continued to write every day, in longhand, his famously small poems about moments in the city.

Here is a sampling of some of his poems, all of them moving to those of us who could care less about the "critics" and the "critiques" of the scholars.
From Canadian  Anthology, Carl F. Klinck and Reginald E. Watters editors, W.J. Gage, Toronto, pp.464-5-6-7

In  Praise of Loneliness

Loneliness of men makes poets.
The great poem is a hymn to loneliness,
a crying out in the night with no ear bent to.

This is a breedin-ground for poets.
Here the spawning, glittering rivers of poetry.
Here is loneliness to live with, sleep with, eat with,
Loneliness of streets, of the coyote.

O Mistress Loneliness, heed your worshipper.
Give his the voice to be heard in this land
Loud with the luch of thenen and the croak of the frog.

Downtown Corner News Stand

It will take all of  death to take you from this corner.
It has become your world, and you its unshaved
bleary-eyed, foot-stamping king. In winter
you curse the cold, huddles in your coat from the wind,
you fry in summer like an egg hopping on a griddle;
and always the whining voice, the nervous-flinging arms,
the red face, shifting eyes watching, waiting
under the grimy cap for God knows what
to happen. (But nothing ever does, downtown Toronto
goes to sleep and wakes the next morning
always the same, except a little dirtier.)
And you stand with your armful of Stars and Telys*
the peak of your cap well down against the sun,
and all the city's restlessseething river
surges beside you, but not one do you plunge
into its flood, are carried or tossed away:
but reappear always, beard longer than ever, nose running,
to catch the noon editions at King and Bay.

* Toronto Telegram published at the time of the writing of this poem

Roller Skate Man

A freak of the city,
little man with big head,
shrivelled body, stumps of legs
clamped to a block of wood
running on roller-skate wheels.

On his hands gloves
because the Queen Street pavements
are rough when your hands are paddles
and you speed between
silk-stockinged legs
and extravagant pleats,

steering through familiar waters
of spit, old butts, chewed gum,
flotsam among the jetsam of your world.

The Man who finds his Son has become a Thief

Coming into the store at first angry
at the accusation, believing
the word of his boy who has told him,
I didn't steal anything, honest.---

Then becoming calmer, seeing that anger
won't help in the business, listening patiently
as the other's evidence unfolds, so painfully slow.

Then seeing gradually that evidence
almost as if slowly tightening around the neck
of his son, at first circumstantial, then gathering damage,
until there's present guilt's sure odor seeping
into the min, laying its poison.
                                                Suddenly feeling
sick and along and afraid, as if
an unseen hand had slapped him in the face
for no reason whatsoever; wanting to get out
into the street, the night, the darkness, anywhere to hide
the pain that must show to these strangers, the fear.

It must be like this.
It could not be otherwise.


Young boy
With your kite down the wind
Dipping and twisting as the breeze
Plays with it, sending it up and up
Into the sun, then as suddenly
Pitching earthward, almost
Touching the ground, then dashing it up again,

Watch well how your kite
Flies on this bright afternoon in the park
In the golden morning of your life:
Some day when you are older you'll remember
The kite in the wind ---your life
Played with by the world, sending your heart
Up to the sky in passion, in the great happiness,
And the next the air-pocket, the fall to earth
Or almost earth--but the both of them are hell.

Some day you'll remember this--
But today
Today only the sun among the trees
And your kite at the end of your cord
Dancing in the playtime air.

Canada builds "padded cell" in Saskatoon prison..looks like 19th century Dickens world

They (Correctional Officers) continue to view offenders bent on hurting themselves as security risks, isolate them, use force — most frequently pepper spray and some form of physical restraint, transfer them to more restrictive facilities to manage their behaviour, instead of taking a mental health approach.

Sapers recommends an outright ban on putting mentally ill offenders and those at risk of suicide or serious self-injury in long term segregation...(from "Mental Health problems treated as security issue  in federal prisons, report says," by Tonda McCharles, Toronto Star, October 23, 2012, below)
A similar approach to mental illness is also too frequently being taken in psychiatric hospitals, orchestrated by supervising psychiatrists. Whenever a patient is in serious disagreement with the rules and regulations of the ward, the patient is moved from the "voluntary" status to the "involuntary" status which permits the staff to medicate without the patient's permission.
Security versus mental health represents a kind of contemporary regression in both perception and policy in the treatment of both prisoners and mental health patients.
When security takes precedence, and the patient is conscious of this "reductionism" of his or her personhood and dignity, in support of the concept of "criminality"  and "protection of the community" the state, and the health care system are both working "counter" to their cure and to support and to rehabilitate.
Standing in parliament and telling Canadians that we are "more than aware" of the mental health problems among prisoners, and then permitting the construction of a padded cell, in 2012, is nothing short of a return to the nineteenth century views, perceptions and treatment models. How long will it be before we have leaders whose perceptions of the people who commit most crimes include their "having demons" in the archetypal and historic sense that they need to be more isolated, that their hospitals need to be farther away from the community, that their treatment needs to be ramped up security measures and fewer treatment and rehabilitative steps.
This criticism of the federal government by the prison ombudsman needs to be front-page news in every town and city in the country and it needs to be debated in the House of Commons, and the Opposition must never back down to the insults from the government that to do so is to fail to see the criminality.
We do not need, and we do not want a "security" apparatus in either the prisons or the psychiatric wards that takes precedence over adequate and appropriate mental health treatment of both offenders and patients, since such an approach serves the needs of the health care workers and security guards over the patients and the prisoners they are both paid to serve.
Here is another example of the federal government seeing the world upside down and putting their (our) money on the wrong horse in the process of further demonizing the criminals for their own political advantage with their vengeful law-and-order base.
Mental health problems treated as security issue in federal prisons, report says

By Tonda MacCharles, Toronto Star, October 23, 2012
Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers is pointing to a new and alarming sign Canada’s prison system has adopted the wrong approach to mentally ill inmates: it has built its first padded federal cell.

Built at the federal Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon that serves the Prairie region, the cell was designed to deal with one female inmate who repeatedly injures herself, Sapers said Tuesday.
She is one of a growing number of women and young men — more than 300 last year — who injure themselves behind bars, and one of a dozen especially challenging cases whom guards struggle to handle, said Sapers.
“Every time they escalate their response, she escalates frequency and severity of self injury,” Sapers told reporters at a news conference highlighting findings in his annual report.
In his report, Sapers condemned the decision to deal with the woman and others like her as a security issue, instead of a mental health problem.
Five years after 19-year-old Ashley Smith choked herself to death in a Kitchener prison cell, Sapers said many of the factors at play in her death continue to exist.
His office has reviewed other in-custody deaths “and come across some of the exact same factors” stemming from a “security approach” to the problems.
Although correctional authorities have become better at screening inmates at admission, detecting mental illness and addictions problems, and adapted some staff training policies, Sapers said they haven’t shifted frontline practices.
They continue to view offenders bent on hurting themselves as security risks, isolate them, use force — most frequently pepper spray and some form of physical restraint, transfer them to more restrictive facilities to manage their behaviour, instead of taking a mental health approach.
Sapers recommends an outright ban on putting mentally ill offenders and those at risk of suicide or serious self-injury in long term segregation, and urged Correctional Services Canada to look at transferring offenders who repeatedly harm themselves into mental health facilities in the community, to “reduce risk, preserve life and lessen the emotional burden” on prison staff facing burnout.
Padded cells are “in rare and infrequent use in the community,” said Sapers. “Mental health professionals will tell you that a padded cell is not therapeutic . . . it may just offer some respite, and if you are going to put someone in that kind of environment it has to be under intense medical supervision, for the shortest possible period of time, and the goal must be to move them out of that environment to somehow deal with the underlying causes of that behaviour.
“If you put someone in padded cell they will find a way to do themselves harm,” he warned.
In his eighth annual report, Sapers said the federal prison population — which he pegged at a historic high of 15,400 — is growing because more visible minorities, aboriginal people and women are entering jails than ever before.
Inmates of aboriginal descent make up 21 per cent while black Canadians make up 9 per cent of the overall federal inmate population. “Incarceration rates for these two groups far exceed their representation rates in Canadian society at large,” he added.
In the last five years, the number of women inmates has increased by almost 40 per cent — about 610 women are in federal jails today. Over the past decade, the number of aboriginal women has increased by more than 80 per cent.
“In fact, if not for these sub-groups, the offender population growth rate would have flat-lined some time ago,” Sapers said.
Sapers said prisoners who deliberately harm themselves mostly resort to cutting, but also use head banging, self-strangulation, burning, ingesting harmful objects or other kinds of self-mutilation.
Over the past five years, he said the number of self-harm incidents has almost tripled. Most of the time, it happens in CSC’s five psychiatric centres, the multi-level regional women’s facilities, or in the “austere” confines of Canada’s maximum security jails.
Most of the time, it is women who report a prior history of injuring themselves; 85 per cent were physically abused, and 68 per cent experienced sexual abuse at some point. Young male inmates appear to take up self-harming practices in prison, but also report a history of childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse, he said.
Last year, there were 822 incidents of self-injury involving 304 offenders, including 54 attempted suicides.
Sapers also again reported the federal inmate population continues to grow older and sicker. Now, one in five is 50 or older. Those admitted to federal penitentiaries are “more addicted and mentally ill than ever before,” he said.
He said nearly two-thirds — 63 per cent — report they used either alcohol or drugs on the day of the offence they are jailed for.
“These needs often run ahead of the system’s capacity to meet them,” he said.
In the Commons, Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his government’s approach.
Harper said the Conservative government is “more than aware” of the mental health challenges in the prison system and is spending “significant” funds to address them. At the same time, Harper chastised Liberal interim leader Bob Rae for questioning it, saying he shouldn’t “trivialize the issue of criminality.”
“It is serious and the government is determined to keep our communities safe. The population expects Parliament to do that,” said Harper.
Kim Pate, of the Elizabeth Fry Society, applauded Sapers’ report, saying it buttresses calls for a national inquiry into the circumstances around Ashley Smith’s death and the treatment of women and aboriginal prisoners in federal system.
Pate said the woman in the padded cell in Saskatoon faces a dangerous offender application “for instances when she has struck out to try and get out of restraints and has hit staff inadvertently or advertently, but clearly while she’s under mental-health care.”
“In a prison setting her behaviour will continue to be seen as symptomatic of her criminality and she’ll keep racking up charges, she’ll keep racking up prison sentences, and, like Ashley, may end up dead.”
Nicole Loreto, a social worker with the Royal Ottawa Hospital, said mental illness should elicit the same response as physical illness.
“An offender with a physical ailment would be treated in a hospital, but a person with mental illness remains in a prison and we think, why don’t they have fundamentally the same right to treatment?”
Loreto said the hospital has concluded that “for every dollar invested in treatment for women, we’d actually save three dollars to provincial and federal governments, in terms of administrative costs, court costs, removing children from their mothers and putting them with a Children’s Aid Society.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fantasy slut league in San Francisco high school

High school’s athletes formed ‘Fantasy Slut League,’ awarding points for sex
By The Associated Press, in Toronto Star, October 23, 2012
PIEDMONT, CALIF.—Male teenage athletes at a San Francisco-area school formed what they called a “Fantasy Slut League,” awarding points for sex with female students.
Piedmont High School principal Rich Kitchens says the so-called league, which had existed for up to six years, has been disbanded.
School officials learned of what the athletes were doing after a date-rape awareness assembly this month. The number of students involved is being withheld.
The San Francisco Chronicle says Kitchen sent a letter to parents Friday saying officials learned that athletes earned “points for documented engagement in sexual activities” with girls who often weren’t aware of the game.
The school is not planning to discipline the students involved.
After reading this, I am extremely grateful I am neither a teacher nor a parent of secondary school children, especially girls. There are so many troubling questions:
1) Why did the school not know about this "league"?
2) Why have the girls not complained before now?
3) Why have the parents not known about this activity, both the parents of the boys and the girls?
4) Why is the school not planning to discipline the students involved?
5) Why is there not a public meeting of parents demanding that the school principal be put on administrative leave, pending a formal investigation of the issue?
6) Why are the boys being permitted to remain in this school, pending a full investigation?
7) What follow up activities, including counselling for both the boys and the girls, not being initiated by the school board and its administration?
8) In how many other secondary schools is a similar "league" operating, and for how long has that been going on, in other cities, states, provinces (of Canada)?
9) Where is the research money that would be needed to conduct a research project, even an oral history, for the purpose of a longitudinal study, covering the past six or seven years, through interviews of the male and female students who are and have attended Piedmont's School for Scandal?
Call me a prude, yet if I were the parent of an adolescent girl who attended this school, and caught even a whiff of this "league" and the pressure that such activity puts on young women "to perform," I would certainly want to know what the school was going to do to assure me, and other parents, that not only is the activity "disbanded," but that there will be both instructional programs and monitoring of in-school activity, as well as after-school programs, to nip additional activity before it starts.
This story casts a cloud over both the young men and the young women, many of whom were undoubtedly unaware of the "league" in which they were participating, and are now both embarrassed and angry at their own betrayal.

Romney's game of "Battleship" insults U.S. electorate

(F)or Obama, the clear goal from the start was to coolly, firmly grab the stakes and drive them down into the heart of the Romney agenda; to put this agonizing dead heat out of its misery, once and for all....

In one especially memorable exchange, the president tore into Romney for promising to restore the U.S. navy to its former size as part of a larger pledge to add $2 trillion in military spending.

The fleet numbers, said Obama, mean nothing because of changing technology. And given the country’s debt challenges — and the fact the U.S. already spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined — it makes no sense to pledge what even senior force commanders say they can live without, he said.
“We also have fewer horses and bayonets,” the president deadpanned, in a clincher that instantly went viral. “We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them . . . . It’s not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships.” (From Mitch Potter's report on the Foreign Policy debate last night in Boca Raton, Toronto Star, October 23, 2012 excerpted below)
More to the point, it's not a "game" at all, as it so often feels like in Romney's presence.... a cynical game of "tell them whatever sells so I can play president"...given so many different Romney's that the Salt Lake City, Utah, daily, along with several other major dailies, has endorsed Obama for a second term "because there are too many Mitt's and he can't be trusted"...
Memorizing lines, as the puppet of both the Kochs, the Murray's and the Adelson's and some seventeen of the Bush-Cheney foreign policy advisors is not a strategy to occupy the most powerful position in the world. Playing stick-man to Obama's fully rounded character and person only exaggerates the gap between authenticity and a veneer of plasticity that insults the office, the campaign and the future "return" of the United States.
Just prior to the debate, we learned that the hard-nosed capitalist, Bob Murray, owner of Murray Energy, including at least one coal mine, paraded his helmeted workers onto a stage, in a photo-op with Romney, based on the Supreme Court's permission to employers to "use" their workers to publicly support political candidates, without regard to whether or not those workers agreed with the candidate for whom they were ordered to provide support. The Koch brothers, and others, have sent propaganda to their workers warning of dire consequences, like massive lay-offs and/or firings should Obama be re-elected. The "plutocrats" have returned to centre-stage, supported in large measure by their puppets on the Supreme Court, whose decision on Citizens United has changed the American political landscape apparently for ever.
Opposing those "plutocrats" is nothing short of essential, not only in America, as Obama is trying to do, through both his policies and his campaign strategies --soliciting small donations from millions of repeat donors, whose agenda is a better America for all, without tying the hands of the president, or his party's representatives in Congress--but also for the international community.
It is no accident, nor is it a trivial matter to note that if the people and leaders in most world capitals were permitted to vote in this presidential election, Obama would win "hands-down". And it is also not incidental to note Kofi Annan's public statements on the Sunday shows that American military action in Syria would be counter-intuitive, a note Obama might have played last night, except for the ridicule from the neo-cons who despise the UN and Annan for his failure to bring the parties to an agreement in Syria, and the Obama administration for "deferring to Annan" rather than "providing strong leadership"...which presumably means military action, bellicose verbosity and alienation of the painstakingly-constructed coalition that is currently imposing severe sanctions on Iran, with the support of both China and Russia.
The world needs Obama's steady, mature, balanced and firm hand on the international "tiller" as the world's ship of state sails through this next storm, because there is going to be a storm over Iran's obsession with acquiring a nuclear weapon and Romney's "playing battleship" is no substitute for an effective foreign policy, nor is his shifting positions on social issues, and his secretive non-disclosure of domestic spending cuts reasons for the needed trust and confidence of American voters, and the people of the world.
Let's face some "inconvenient truths" this election...The Republican's principal adversary, in fact their epitome of evil incarnate, is Obama, based largely on unspoken and sinister racism and their characterization of his Islamic, non-qualified unAmerican birth and communist policies (viz. Obamacare) is nothing less than a sophisticated and deceptive ruse spreading fear across the land, especially among the naive, the detached and the cynical, whose numbers, they believe, exceed those of articulate, mature and informed voters.
The  Republican campaign is an insult to the voters, to the candidate of the Democratic party and to the complexity of world geopolitical conflicts.
U.S. election: Mitt Romney struggles against cool, calm Barack Obama in foreign policy debate

By Mitch Potter, Toronto Star, October 23, 2012
(F)or Obama, the clear goal from the start was to coolly, firmly grab the stakes and drive them down into the heart of the Romney agenda; to put this agonizing dead heat out of its misery, once and for all.

Ninety minutes later, there was little doubt — the final round of kabuki theatre belonged to Obama. From Iran to Afghanistan to Libya to Egypt, from crushing the notion this is an apologetic president to taking ownership of the U.S. alliance with Israel, Obama equalled or bettered Romney.
Whether it will make the difference remains an open question, as the two now hurl themselves into a final fortnight toward Nov. 6, neck-and-neck by every measure.
Romney had a few powerful moments in Boca Raton, Fla. — each one delivered by pivoting away from the topic at hand to domestic issues, pounding the Obama administration’s dismal record on jobs, debt and economic growth.
The former Massachusetts governor has made the same points time and again. And this being their last direct encounter, small wonder he chose to pound that home-front drum.
But on the vast breadth of foreign questions, Romney’s decision to dial down his previous bluster and shift to the moderate middle simply didn’t work. Obama called him out each time, identifying the Etch-a-Sketch confusion as “all over the map,” and signalling that apart from rhetoric, little separates the two on the hardest questions of the day.
Yet where differences remain, it was Obama who made the most of them. In one especially memorable exchange, the president tore into Romney for promising to restore the U.S. navy to its former size as part of a larger pledge to add $2 trillion in military spending.
The fleet numbers, said Obama, mean nothing because of changing technology. And given the country’s debt challenges — and the fact the U.S. already spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined — it makes no sense to pledge what even senior force commanders say they can live without, he said.
“We also have fewer horses and bayonets,” the president deadpanned, in a clincher that instantly went viral. “We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them . . . . It’s not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships.”
The “bayonets” phrase had all the hallmarks of a “zinger” — well rehearsed, loaded for maximum impact. But it also smacked of condescension, a dog whistle of sorts to that large tranche of Americans who view the president as too clever for his own good.
As the debate wore on, Romney looked increasingly uncomfortable. Not with the depth of detail on the most delicate Mideast files — he had that down. But there was simply no space for him to frame more moderate positions on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Syria’s withering internal combustion without sounding almost exactly like the man he wants to replace.
Instead, Romney pivoted back to vagaries, repeating the widely debunked myth that Obama indulged in an “apology tour” in his first months in office, telling the world he was sorry for George W. Bush.
Obama leaped on it, saying: “If we’re going to talk about trips that we’ve taken . . . the first trip we took was to visit our troops, and when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors, I didn’t go to fundraisers . . . I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, to remind myself of the nature of evil.”
Obama then told of a visit to rocket-scarred Sderot, the town nearest to Hamas-controlled Gaza, describing how the Israeli families he met there moved him to mobilize U.S. funding for Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system.
The exchange was enough to make any Palestinian grimace over America’s role as a fair broker. But facing an opponent who repeatedly accuses the White House of “throwing Israel under the bus,” Obama’s commanding display all but erased the possibility of any winning retort.
Obama was cooler this time that he was a week ago. But his calm demeanour belied an underlying aggression that was determined to cast Romney as out of touch and out of time.
That included a clash over Romney’s earlier characterization of Russia America’s foremost “geopolitical foe.”
“The Cold War has been over for 20 years,” said Obama. “When it comes to your foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s.”
Romney found his footing eventually, arguing that Obama’s policies in the Middle East and North Africa, however well-intended, are resulting in a “rising tide” of radicalism.
“Attacking me is not an agenda,” said Romney. “Attacking me is not how we deal with the challenges of the Middle East.”
The immediate post-mortems included a cluster of flash polls pointing to Obama as the winner — 48 per cent to 40 per cent (CNN), 53 to 23 (CBS), and 53 to 42, according to a Public Policy Polling survey of swing-state voters.