Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Monday, September 1, 2008

Obama’s Promise and a Time for Change

Finding Kevin Danaher ensconced on the Club Level of Pepsi Center suggested big changes at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) from eight years earlier. In 2000, Kevin was one of the main organizers of the demonstrations at the DNC in Los Angeles where people protested the failure of the two-party system to deal with some of societies biggest problems

”I think the balance has totally changed,” he told me as delegates streamed past us on the third level of Pepsi Center. ”In LA we were lucky enough to have an insider give us the addresses of all the fundraising parties and we had flying squads in fifteen-seater vans that zoomed around to the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills to demonstrate outside these fundraising events.”

I remembered these events because I had joined him that week at a lavish party put on by Patton-Boggs, one of the biggest lobbyist firms in Washington DC. It was only one event in a week of marches and protests that brought thousands of people onto the streets of Los Angeles.

”Now Barack Obama’s people have shaken that up,” he continued. ”Objective conditions have shifted the Democratic party in a more progressive direction. The environment is more destroyed at the same time that renewable energy is more profitable. The war in Iraq is a huge failure, and a majority of the people wants to see the troops come home. Finally, Democratic outsider Barack Obama came to the fore. He brought a whole new crew of young people, African Americans, community activists, environmentalists and a lot of young people into the party. So, yes, it is the same old Democratic Party that is dominated by corporate money, but there is an upwelling within the party saying, ‘look, we have got to go in a different direction. We cannot have money values dominate life values. We have to have life values dominate money values.’

“We have to see it as a set of scales. The corporations are in Washington throwing their weights on their side of the scales to keep things the way they are and we need to throw our weight on our side of the scales to say ‘No!’ We need massive change in this country. We need renewable energy, green building materials, and green jobs. If we get organized and involved in these debates, I think the intelligence and moral authority of our arguments can win out, but it is about organize, organize, organize. If government is bad, that is our fault. We are supposed to be a self-governing citizenry It is our responsibility to fix it.”

Barack Obama and his supporters took on this responsibility at Invesco field. Barney Smith, a proud Republican got right to the point when he said, “We need a president who puts the Barney Smiths before the Smith Barneys. I’m going to put country first by voting Barack Obama for President.”

On stage, Barack Obama highlighted ways he would help justice rise across the country. He emphasized that, “We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500…But by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business…an economy that honors the dignity of work.” He invoked that “the market should reward drive and innovation.” Government, he said. “should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work…Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.” He promised to “stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas” and “to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses.” He proposed to fund his changes by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens and in a page out of Riane Eisler he implored that “I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century.” Finally, in a nod toward the importance of grassroots power he told his 80,000 supporters gathered at Invesco Field “You have shown what history teaches us— that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it—because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time. 

America, this is one of those moments.”

As the speech came to an end, the crowd erupted and the fireworks exploded. After four days the Democrats surged out of the stadium, determined to ensure that Barack Obama is elected to the presidency of the United States and that our system is changed forever.

It was time to clean up and move on. After collecting our bags from the media workspace at Pepsi Center we headed for the light rail. On the way Kevin Danaher stopped us. Standing by a series of garbage cans with huge dumpsters behind him, he told us “We got the contract to do the recycling and composting for the event…It is all about training people. We want to expand this to all of the events of the campaign. Then we will leave a legacy of new practices all across the country.”

Change may come with Barack Obama. Like his image at Invesco Field, however, he is surrounded by corporations and their endemic political power. It will take an effort by all those interested in change to make sure that his promises come true.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Biden, Empire and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

photo: René Clement

Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) occupied the gates to Pepsi Center as the Democrats prepared to nominate Senator Joe Biden, the preeminent imperial warrior, as their Vice Presidential candidate. One of the senior members of the US Senate, Biden has helped design US foreign policy for thirty years. For most of this decade, he has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In that position, he promoted Bush’s plan for war in Iraq. Weeks before the Bush Administration began rattling its war sabers in August 2002, Biden predicted that the “United States was probably going to war.” Later that year he claimed, "I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security.” Many political observers point out that the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee was the chief architect of gaining congressional approval for the war. He has continued to vote for funding of the war.

Biden has also been criticized for his support of the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill that benefitted MBNA, one of the world’s largest credit card issuers. MBNA, headquartered in Biden’s home state of Delaware, has been the largest single contributor to his campaigns, giving him $214,00 during his Senate career. As one of only 18 democrats that voted for the bill, Biden also voted against amendments that would have weakened the bill. Referring to the bill Joshua Holland of Alternet observed “it's clear that it has contributed to the financial sector's woes, making it harder for consumers to dig out from under mountains of consumer debt, forcing more people to walk away from their homes and adding to the large amounts of bad paper being held by finance companies.” As a key player in support of business and an imperial US foreign policy, Biden has regularly attended the World Economic Forum where business and political leaders convene to discuss the future of the planet.

Meanwhile, backed by 4000 supporters, a contingent of Iraq War Veterans pressed against police holding the line at Pepsi Center’s gates. They came to deliver Barack Obama a letter. Dutch journalist RenĂ© Clement described the situation between the two uniformed forces as tense. As the confrontation intensified, the Obama campaign agreed to meet with an IVAW representative. Former Marine Liam Madden took the veterans’ letter inside the Pepsi Center. They asked for three outcomes: removing U.S. troops from Iraq immediately, providing full health care benefits to returning veterans, and paying reparations to Iraqis for the damage done during the war. Francesca Lo Basso, IVAW media coordinator showed emotion as the confrontation eased. “We won,” she cried. “We accomplished what we came here for.”

As Obama’s staff worked to assuage the critics of American Empire, Joe Biden claimed the Vice Presidential nomination. He told the 4400 Democratic delegates that, “The Bush-McCain foreign policy has dug us into a very deep hole with very few friends to help us climb out.” He failed to mention that he had been a chief promoter of that foreign policy. Then, with the world watching through 15,000 journalists, he predicted that an Obama/Biden administration would lead the way to an invigorated American Empire. “We will hold Russia accountable for its actions,” he warned. “With Barack Obama as our president, they'll look to us again, they'll trust us again, and we'll be able to lead again.” We have to make sure that Joe Biden does not reinvigorate the American Empire.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pepsi Center, Wal-Mart and the Iraq War

People are so packed into Pepsi Center, I can never get onto the convention floor. I barely have time to get down the stairs to the floor and back in the allotted half hour I have with my rotating floor pass. The other night the stairs were jammed and I was stuck with Teresa Heinz and John Kerry. She looked hot and bothered while Kerry was in his element, yucking it up and slapping the backs of every New York and Massachusetts delegate within reach. “Hey! there’s Darth he exclaimed,” leaning way over the railing to shake an outstretched hand. Smiling at the adoring crowd following his every move he continued, “We always called him Darth Vader. Isn’t that right Darth? ” Everyone laughed, even Darth.

Unfortunately I could not get a clear photograph of him, perhaps because he was so close, or the crowd was jostling us or my hands could not stop shaking. For the record, he did shake my hand and we exchanged a few words as we stood cheek by jowl on the crowded stairs of Pepsi Center.

Pepsi Center is a walking advertisement for corporate America. It’s home page sports the corporate logos of Pepsi, Qwest, Conoco, Coors and the Denver Post. Pepsi bought 20 year naming rights to the venue in 1999 for $3.4 million a year. It is privately owned by Kroenke Sports Enterprises, Inc., headed by sports entrepreneur Enos Stanley "Stan" Kroenke. His wife, Anne Walton is an heir to the WalMart fortune.

This morning at the California delegation breakfast, where John Kerry spoke along with Senators Barbara Boxer, and Claire McCaskill, someone made an announcement about Wal-Mart. They said. “Friends, it is important to support the unions and we have to talk about Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is now telling all of its employees not to vote for Barack Obama. Remember that, whenever you think about shopping at Wal-Mart.” It seems odd, given Wal-Marts anti-union and anti-Barack stance that the Democrats brought their convention to a facility closely tied to Wal-Mart.

Listening to the proceedings, you would never know about corporate connections to the convention. It is more about the American Dream. Tuesday night Michelle Obama encapsulated that dream in a speech that even left the cynics gasping. She was poised elegant and personable. One die-hard Code Pink friend exclaimed. “I want her to be President.”

Meanwhile, outside Pepsi Center, Progressive Democrats of America are sponsoring forums, and a gathering place for conversations and tables of progressive political groups. This morning John Nichols of Free Press moderated a forum with Tom Hayden and Jim McDermott, Congressman from Washington, titled "Out of Iraq." As these progressive Democrats talked about responsible withdrawal from Iraq, an irate middle-aged spectator rose from his seat and exclaimed, “I am outraged. I want withdrawal. Forget responsible withdrawal. We have to get out of there now!”

Tom Hayden pointed out that the anti-war movement has to deal with domestic issues like the military draft, which would drive youth to vote in vastly greater numbers. He added that McCain has been quoted as saying the draft might be necessary. Hayden suggested that a group research, and then post a You Tube of McCain's position on the draft, and then contact the press to ask McCain about his position on the draft.

Out on the streets, the religious right is in force. They blocked the 16th street Mall. The next day saw at least two anti-abortion demonstrations by the religious right— one on the mall and one at the walk-in entrance to Pepsi Center. In both instances the police were present but did nothing to stop the disruption.

Tuesday morning there was a big puppet march downtown in a procession for the future and that afternoon Iraq Veterans Against the War carried out Operation First Casualty that recreates Baghdad combat scenes on the streets of Denver. Today, Iraq Veterans Against the War lead a march to Pepsi Center in conjunction to a Rage Against the Machine concert. I wonder what John Kerry, a founder of the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, thinks about the insurgent Iraq Veterans Against the War. I should have asked him.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Politics, Money and Grassroots Democracy.

The End the Occupation and Reclaim the Streets party greeted our arrival in downtown Denver—indicating that the Democratic National Convention week here includes more than promotional speeches, smiling politicians and lavish corporate parties. This bubbling mix of politics, money and grassroots democracy roils around the streets of the mile-high city. Outside the Sheraton—delegate central for the convention—smiling, young Talley Spiller handed out literature for Project Vote Smart, a group that has begun “A battle to protect all of us from the selfish interests that strip us of the most crucial component in our struggle to self-govern.” Their website provides US citizens with knowledge about the true nature of our political landscape by outlining special interests financing politicians and their voting records on key issues.

Meanwhile, down at the Pepsi Center, where delegates and politicians will spend four days in a long political ad for their presidential candidate, a 20-foot banner thanking their corporate providers greets everyone as they go from their seats to the main entrance. Wall-high corporate ads greet people throughout the facility. VISA and US Bank logos festoon the water bottles given to the 15,000 credentialed media.

Massie Ritsch and Sheila Krumholz from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) have come to Denver to keep the world reminded that these corporate donors are funding not only the conventions, but also the politicians running our country. I caught up with them down at the Big Tent where Massie told us that the Democrats and Republicans “are raising more than 112 million dollars from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals who are putting up money for a multi day infomercial for particular political candidates…(which is) part of a larger lobbying strategy these corporations and other interests pursue once everyone gets back to Washington.”

The big tent, where we found the CRP contingent, is a project of the Alliance for a Sustainable Colorado. It is a two-story hub of activity Downstairs a beehive of new media journalists, bloggers, reporters and non-profit leaders are putting out their own coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Up stairs Google and others are putting on a host of public forums covering politics, the environment and new-age media.

Meanwhile out on the streets, a plethora of groups are carrying on a constant barrage of street theater. Code Pink dressed up its legions as sheep and led them to the vacant, dry free-speech zone, out of sight of the delegates, fenced on all sides, occupied only by the police and notable for its absence of either water or toilet facilities. Here they protested the demise of free-speech in a land built on the power and strength of all citizens being able to communicate their thoughts and opinions openly and effectively.

Iraq Veterans Against the War carry out actions daily. Their Operation First Casualty recreates the streets of Baghdad where participants in full military uniform—less the weapons—secure an area complete with hooded and hog tied citizens. From delivering letters to Senator Obama to leading marches to the Democratic Convention, their intent is to bring attention to the ongoing illegal occupation of Iraq and all the horrors that entails.

Rage Against the Machine, Critical Mass Bike Rides, shaking hands with John Kerry and corporate promoters of Clean Coal spreading their propaganda makes up the roiling mass of politics, money and grassroots democracy that will continue to inundate the streets of Denver this week.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Power Struggle

Update to Corporate Control over Energy: The Real Addiction by Tyson Slocum

The Center for Responsive politics has put together the following series of reports on money and corporate influence over energy policy. JT

Capital Eye Report
Center for Responsive Politics

Published by Lindsay Renick Mayer on July 10, 2008 12:00 PM

The news isn't good, folks, and the evidence is all around us: Americans are spending more than 6 percent of their wages on gasoline, and food prices are skyrocketing. Automakers are shutting down their plants, airlines are cutting flights and staff, and even the world's most profitable corporation, Exxon Mobil, is selling its company-owned gas stations. The North Pole is melting away. And unless the world finds a way to dramatically cut back its carbon emissions, we're facing irrevocable damage to both our health and our planet. 

While newspapers pump out one grim headline after another, members of Congress are scrambling to find ways to curb the energy crisis and revive the U.S. economy, two ends that have become inexorably linked. However, these two pressing issues aren't the only shapers of the debate--and downright finger-pointing between Democrats and Republicans. Instead, the discussions about whether to tax oil and gas companies to fund renewable energy, to open coastal waters to drilling or to ease up on mandating corn-based ethanol are being influenced by the various industries pouring millions of dollars into Washington to ensure they ultimately come out on top--or at least that they don't hit bottom. 

Pulling from research by the Center for Responsive Politics, Capital Eye will spend the next month investigating the interests driving the energy debate on Capitol Hill. Among other issues, our series will analyze:

• The energy plans proposed by the presidential candidates and congressional committee members--and the influence of industries that would be affected
• Oil money to lawmakers in states where offshore drilling is a possibility
• The fight between environmentalists, alternative energy producers and the established industries that far outspend them in lobbying
• The agriculture industry's divide over ethanol
• Plastic's tie to petroleum, rising gas prices and the environment
• The legislative agenda of planes, trains and automobiles

Check back each week for our latest installment to "Power Struggle," as we trace the pipeline of political influence over this critical issue affecting us all.

Plastics Manufacturing Lobby Sends Environmentalists a Message in a Bottle
Published by Luke Rosiak on August 7, 2008
You can't turn your head without seeing plastic: computers, phones, bottles, furniture, clothing accessories. But plastic is made from oil--a fact most Americans aren't aware of--and rising oil prices have jacked up the price of plastic in the last few months. Up to eight percent of the country's oil goes into producing plastic, according to some estimates, and as Americans increasingly look for ways to reduce their environmental impact, plastics are beginning to be drawn into the energy debate.... (Continue)

Coal, Nuclear Industries Lobby to Keep the Lights On
Published by Lauren Pick on August 7, 2008
Coal and nuclear power are the biggest sources of electricity in the U.S., accounting for roughly 70 percent of the nation's electricity. While producers of both sources believe that the country needs a well-balanced fuel portfolio, both industries are seeking an advantage by spending their fair share on campaign contributions and lobbying this election cycle, reminding those in Congress of their integral role in keeping the lights on.... (Continue)

Alternative Energy Looks to New Administration, Congress for Progress
Published by Lauren Pick on July 31, 2008
Long in the shadow of traditional energy sources, alternative energy has come into the spotlight as a potential energy crisis looms. For some producers of alternative energy sources, this is the perfect time to promote their legislative wish list--and spend more money than they ever have before to do it. Others are considering the new push as just hype in the on-again, off-again quest for renewable energy.... (Continue)

Senators Shore Up Cash from Divided Tourism Industry
Published by Lindsay Renick Mayer on July 31, 2008
While this year's own battle over offshore drilling for oil has largely been a skirmish between the deep-pocketed oil and gas industry and grassroots environmentalists, senators along the coast in particular have to pay attention to an additional industry that's a player on Capitol Hill: tourism.... (Continue)

Greening Candidates for Office
Published by Irene Kan on July 31, 2008
Politicians usually want to leave a large imprint in the minds of voters, but when it comes to being environmentally conscious, the smaller their campaign's carbon footprint the better these days. Candidates are still filling voters' mailboxes with paper flyers and they're still stumping in cars and planes, but now they're more likely to offset those environmental impacts by recycling and using renewable energy.... (Continue)

Division Within Biofuels Community Complicates the Energy Equation
Published by Luke Rosiak on July 24, 2008
Producers of corn-based ethanol have had a strong relationship with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But as the price of corn and other foods go up and the pitfalls of such ethanol become more pronounced, an array of next-generation biofuels have hit the scene, all grappling for government funding and feuding among themselves.... (Continue)

The Transformation of Transportation
Published by Irene Kan on July 24, 2008
The long and winding road to work has become more costly than ever before, but it's also forcing drivers to explore other ways of getting around. From bikes to buses, Americans are starting to spend more time using other modes of transportation instead of in their gas-guzzling cars. These alternative industries, which may have been largely ignored in the past, are getting a greater deal of attention from consumers at home, as well as from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.... (Continue)

Energizing the Presidential Race
Published by Irene Kan on July 17, 2008
Like a gas tank hungry for cheap fuel, Americans are yearning for an energy policy from their next president. But various industries and interests, from oil companies to agriculture and environmental groups, also have a serious stake in the next president's energy policy, and are showing it with campaign contributions and lobbying efforts.... (Continue)

Energy Industries Open Up the Pipeline to Democrats
Published by Lauren Pick on 17, 2008
President Bush's decision this week to lift the federal moratorium on offshore drilling defied the Democratic Party's long-held opposition to oil exploration along the U.S. coastline. But recently more Democrats are indicating that they might change their minds, leaving environmentalists wondering whether the lawmakers will stick to their ideological guns or be swayed by high gas prices and campaign contributions from big industries.... (Continue)

Industry Standards
Published by Lindsay Renick Mayer on July 10, 2008
Industries across the board have a stake in the outcome of energy legislation, either because they are looking for handouts or trying to minimize harm. Capital Eye profiles the major players, their concerns and the money they're spending to be heard on Capitol Hill.... (Continue)

Consumers Vent About Oil Industry's Influence
Published by Irene Kan and Lauren Pick on July 10, 2008
If there's one dreaded stop on every traveler's roadmap these days, it's the gas station. With the cost of fuel topping $4 a gallon this summer for the first time ever, there are a lot of questions, but not many clear-cut answers. Capital Eye's reporters dropped in on service stations in the D.C. area to find out where consumers are placing the blame.... (Continue)

As Prices Rise, Oil Money Spills onto K Street
Published by Irene Kan and Lauren Pick on July 10, 2008
The correlation between federal lobbying by the oil and gas industry and oil prices (per barrel) is obvious, as shown in this chart. As to whether this is a case of cause-and-effect, we leave that to you to decide.... (Continue)

First Nation’s Lawsuit Could Shut Down the Tar Sands

Update to Oil and Water by Nancy Price
 JR Vol 4 #1, Corporate Energy or Grassroots Power

July 28, 2008

“If the Beaver Lake Cree win clearly in this case, it could mean an end to development on their territory”

By Tom Sandborn

From, July 28, 2008

Jack Woodward and the Beaver Lake Cree aim to change Canadian law — and their success likely would throw a huge wrench into Alberta’s tar-sands oil production.

The suit pits the Beaver Lake Cree band against the governments of Canada and Alberta, asking the court to rule invalid the government authorization for thousands of petroleum projects on the band’s core territory.

Woodward, a Victoria-based Aboriginal-law expert, filed the suit on behalf of his clients this May, and says its intent is to lay the groundwork for a new legal regime governing resource extraction on land reserved for or claimed by Canada’s First Nations.

A victory would allow the Beaver Lake Cree to demand much higher levels of accommodation and consultation from government and industry on oil and gas operations on their territory.

Woodward thinks a win could create a precedent that will allow other bands to enforce similar demands across the multi-billion-dollar oil-sands projects in Alberta’s north.

It could also, conceivably, shut down Canada’s only tactical bombing range at Cold Lake.

Landmark win in his pocket

Woodward has a track record to be taken seriously. In November of last year, as lawyer for the Tsilhqot’in First Nations, he helped win a landmark B.C. Supreme Court decision that said the provincial government had overstepped its authority in granting land-use rights to firms without Tislhqot’in approval.

Woodward believes the Tsilhqot’in case, also known as the ‘Xeni decision,’ underscores the point that Aboriginal rights to hunt, trap and fish create an obligation on government to proceed in ways that do not make those rights meaningless by reckless authorization of resource exploitation.

Cynthia Dickens of Justice Canada in Edmonton will act as lead counsel for the federal Crown in defending against the claims of the Beaver Lake Cree. Speaking from her offices in Edmonton, Dickens told The Tyee that neither she nor the representatives of the Alberta government had yet filed statements of defence in the matter.

Mike Hudema, tar-sands campaigner for Greenpeace in Alberta, thinks the case could have immense implications. “If the Beaver Lake Cree win clearly in this case, it could mean an end to development on their territory,” Hudema told The Tyee.

“The precedent could slow tar-sands development across Alberta. The consultation process with First Nations before development began has been absolutely terrible. I’d love to see them win, not only for their own interests, but also for the sake of everyone in Canada,” Hudema said.

‘We will fight as long as it takes’

“All of the animals are starting to deplete,” said Beaver Lake Chief Alphonse Lameman, in whose name the action was launched, on the day his people went to court. “Soon there will be nothing. We will fight as long as it takes to get justice. The governments of Canada and Alberta have made a lot of promises to our people, and we intend to see those promises kept.”

The ancestors of the Beaver Lake Cree people signed a treaty with the federal government in September of 1876, a deal that guaranteed them reserves and some other benefits, including the right to hunt and fish throughout the tract surrendered, “saving and excepting such tracts as may from time to time be required or taken up for settlement, mining, lumbering or other purposes….”

Since then, the governments of Canada and Alberta have authorized over 16,000 projects, mainly oil and gas exploration and extraction, on the core territories of the Beaver Lake Cree.

The governments have also arranged the leasing of land within the territory to the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, Canada’s only tactical bombing range. The Cree band has gone to court to argue that development has occurred without proper consultation with them, without proper caution about protecting the habitats necessary to make their treaty rights to hunt, fish and trap meaningful, and without proper environmental and species inventories.

Win could spill into oil sands

The core traditional territory of the Beaver Lake Cree lies near Lac LaBiche on the margins of oil sand development, but if the band wins this case at the Supreme Court level, it could create precedents for other First Nations in Canada, including those whose claimed territories are where the tar-sands oil rush is underway in Northern Alberta.

The oil sands, viscous deposits of tar-like bitumen underlying areas of Alberta larger than Florida, are estimated to contain over 175 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, with at least one oil company spokesman estimating the total reserves at up to two trillion barrels, or eight times the size of all Saudi Arabia’s oil supplies.

Husky: ‘We take it seriously’

One of the installations on Beaver Lake Cree land targeted by the May legal action is Husky Energy’s Tucker Oil Sands Project north of Cold Lake. When the company announced the opening of the project, its press release estimated that the Tucker lease contained 1.27 billion barrels of discovered resource, and that the project would recover approximately 352 million barrels of oil over a 35-year project life.

Contacted in his Calgary office last week, Graham White, who speaks for Husky, declined to comment on the court action, but did confirm that Husky’s Tucker Oil Sands Project lies within the area disputed by the Cree.

Nadine Barber, who speaks for Devon Canada Corporation, a firm with many projects within the Beaver Lake Cree territory, says that her firm will not intervene in the court action.

“The filing is with the two governments,” she told The Tyee. “Devon will take no role during the trial. After the decision is rendered, we’ll discuss whether to intervene. We do, however, take Aboriginal matters very seriously. We try to deal with all such matters consistently and respectfully.”

Huge stakes on both sides

Exploitation of the tar sands is now seen in industry circles as economically viable in an era of steeply rising oil costs, while environmentalists worry about the pollution created in cooking the oil out of the tar sands, as well as global warming effects as more oil and gas go into the global pipeline.

Politicians foresee a fortune in tax revenues, but most of Canada’s leading environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on further development until or unless the tar sands projects can be made genuinely sustainable.

“Anything that slows down tar-sands development would absolutely be a good thing,” says David Suzuki Foundation climate-change campaigner Dale Marshall. “Greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands are three times the volume per barrel extracted at conventional wells. These are huge strip-mining operations with terrible impacts on biodiversity.”

Greenpeace campaigner Hudema agrees. He said tar-sands development represents an environmental and human-rights crisis for Canada, threatening to destroy two river systems, dump double the emissions currently generated by Canada’s car and light trucks into the air by 2020 and cover more than 50 square kilometres of Alberta with toxic tailing ponds by 2015.

Hudema is also worried about the potential health impacts on those who live downstream from tar-sands development, pointing to increased rates of rare cancers in Fort Chipewyan.

Precedents cited by Cree counsel

“Given that we now have federal and provincial governments across Canada willing to back mining and tar-sands exploitation against Aboriginal rights, we can look for no statutory relief,” Beaver Lake Cree counsel Woodward told The Tyee.

“Both levels of government have been passing legislation to make stopping these projects impossible. Only First Nations can stop or force modifications to them now,” Woodward said. “We all depend on First Nations to do the heavy lifting on environmental protection.”

Woodward said he believes that precedents created by a 2005 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in a case brought by the Mikisew Cree nation will support a win for his Beaver Lake clients. The court ruled, he says, that a First Nation can oppose industrial activity on its land if that activity makes the treaty rights to hunt, fish and trap meaningless by destroying the healthy habitats necessary for the rights to be exercised.

Stuart Rush, Q.C., a distinguished senior member of the Aboriginal law bench and one of the leading counsels in the precedent-setting Delgamuukw case, thinks that the Mikisew case is an appropriate precedent for Woodward to cite.

“Mikisew is a powerful authority,” he told The Tyee. “This is a strong precedent. Tsilhqot’in, on the other hand, is obiter dicta, not precedent. That said, this new case represents the cutting edge on Aboriginal law. No court in Canada is going to give a First Nation an absolute veto on resource extraction, but levels of consultation and accommodation could well be strengthened by a win at Beaver Lake.”

‘Impressive’ claim: enviro law expert

David Boyd, an environmental expert based in Victoria with affiliations with the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and the University of Victoria, says that the statement of claim prepared by Woodward for the Beaver Lake Cree is “impressive.”

“The Beaver Lake Cree are the latest David to challenge the tar-sands Goliath, and while the odds are stacked against them, you’ve got to admire their courage,” Boyd said in an e-mail to The Tyee. “Even if they eventually emerge victorious, no single lawsuit is likely to strike a decisive blow against the tar sands. Instead, Aboriginal people, environmentalists, judges and politicians (both in Canada and around the world) will have to join forces to slow down the reckless expansion of Alberta’s dirty oil juggernaut.”

“Governments and industry ignore our concerns,” Beaver Lake Chief Lameman said. “This is our home. This is where we live. We have a responsibility to our children, and to our children’s children, to see that the lands where the Cree live, and will always live, remain inhabitable.”

The case is now in a case-management process overseen by Justice K.D. Yamauchi, and a first meeting of all counsel and Justice Yamauchi will be held August 18 to determine timelines. Dickens of Justice Canada said she expects that both Canada and Alberta will file their statements of defence sometime in the fall. Dickens declined to comment on what might be at stake for the Crown in the matter.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Corporate Political Funding Goes Underground—and Reappears at the Conventions

by Jim Tarbell

Campaign finance reform laws in 1974 and 2002 prohibited corporations from donating directly to political candidates, parties or conventions. Instead, Democratic and Republican politicians decreed that our federal government give $32.8 million of taxpayer money to fund their political conventions, “on condition that the parties spend no other funds on these events.” Now the political parties cannot spend more money on the conventions, but their host committees can.

The Federal Elections Commission conveniently decided that corporations could contribute to the convention host committees since “the host committee activity is motivated by a desire to promote the convention city and not by political considerations.” An extensive study by Steve Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute, however, concludes that “the party holding the convention and its local host committee look very much alike. And with regard to spending, the party convention committee and the host committee simply meld into each other.”

As a result, political party insiders have been crisscrossing the country for over a year raising corporate funds to help finance the 2008 political conventions. Denver and Minneapolis St Paul Host Committees promise to raise over $100 million for the conventions. The Republicans collected 85 donors. Ninety percent of those donors were corporations. The Democrats came up with 118 corporate donors. . Qwest donated $6 million and Excel Energy gave $1 million to each convention. Level 3 Communications, Molson-Coors and Union Pacific all gave a million dollars to the Democrats while United Health Group gave 1.5 million to the Republicans and US Bank Corp and St. Jude Medical, Inc. gave another million. A full accounting of the contributions will not be available until later this year.

Observers of such political contributions have long wondered if they are attempts at extortion or corruption. Certainly in their private communications and initial appeals there were promises of “various events with CabinetVP/and/other elected officials to thank donors for their contributions,” “Private dinner with Republican leadership and elected officials to kick-off the convention,” and “Golfing with Republican leadership during the convention.” Public criticism of such offers led the host committees to retract these offers. But as Steve Weissman says “"In return for this money, the parties, through the host committees, offer access to top politicians, to the president, the future president, vice president, cabinet officials, senators, congressmen. They promise these companies who are giving that they will be able to not only get close to these people by hosting receptions, by access to VIP areas, but they'll actually have meetings with them." In the end, access is the name of the game. With elected officials handing out billions of dollars in government contracts and tax benefits, donors must see their contributions as small down payments on large benefits down the road. On top of this, since the host committees are non-profits, all contributions are tax deductible.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Stay tuned for essays on grassroots solutions to corporate domination.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Letter To Editor - Mr. Jack Jennings


I fail to understand your position on “illegal immigration,” as published by various contributors to the last newsletter.
My thoughts from Texas.
— There are finite resources available to the public: more users=less for each.
— There are just so many seats on the lifeboat; passengers must decide when to deny more passengers.
— In many parts of Texas, the services provided in schools, clinics, etc. are “overwhelmed with illegals who can-not be turned away. This causes hostility toward “legals”!

Mr. Jack Jennings
8111Middle Ct.
Austin TX 78759-8727

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Letter To Editor - Mr. Harry R. Major

Letter from Mr. Harry R. Major,
1416 N. Vista St., #2
Los Angeles, CA 90046
14 May 2008

Dear AfD
I have in the past been a supporter, but I was so shocked by the latest newsletter that I must ask to be dropped from your mailing list immediately. The article by William Robinson on immigration was grossly irresponsible journalism.
1) The article mixes legal and illegal immigrants. The difference is crucial.
2) The article uses smear words (such as “repression” and “racist nativism”). It is a note of extreme prejudice where sober thought is needed. Mr. Robinson seems to be confused about the fact that immigration policy is a matter of law; therefore, it is open to debate, and the various views need to be examined without hysteria and vicious categories or labels.
3) It is not irresponsible to want control of the national borders.
4) The immigrant problem (both legal and illegal) is part of a bigger question; what is our national carrying capacity? We now have over 300,000 ,000 people in the U.S. Can we carry 400,000,000 or 500,000,000? These issues need to be addressed; California, for example, has a state deficit of $24 billion (estimates are not precise). We need to ask if we can handle more and more people here (whether or not they are natives). We grow at 400,000 or more a year. Comments about “anti-immigrant hysteria” do not solve our budget problems.
Even the title of the Robinson article—“The Fire This Time”—is over-the-top. I have found the view a group has about illegal immigrants to be a key point of eveluation of that group. AfD has failed badly. I no longer support you.

Harry R. Major

P.S. The “humane” bill backed by Bush and Obama is unwise. Illegals won’t pa a severe fine, nor will they return home. What does the bill propose for illegals who ignore it.