Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pentagon Considers Cyber Attacks To Be Acts Of War

Cyber attacks that originate abroad can qualify as acts of war that could merit a military response by the U.S., the Pentagon has determined, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Citing a Pentagon report on cybersecurity strategy, part of which will be de-classified soon, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon has, for the first time, developed a cyber strategy that seeks to outline how the U.S. might react to cyber attacks targeted at the government, as well as critical infrastructure such as power plants, public transportation systems, financial institutions, and more.

"If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks," an unnamed military official told the Journal.

At the core of the Pentagon's plan is the idea of there being an "equivalence" between an electronic attack and a physical one. "If a cyber attack produces the death, damage, destruction or high-level disruption that a traditional military attack would cause, then it would be a candidate for a 'use of force' consideration, which could merit retaliation," writes the Journal.

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Lots of rhetoric – but very little help

Then we had to hear what America's 'role' was going to be in the new Middle East. We did not hear if the Arabs wanted them to have a role

It was the same old story. Palestinians can have a "viable" state, Israel a "secure" one. Israel cannot be de-legitimised. The Palestinians must not attempt to ask the UN for statehood in September. No peace can be imposed on either party. Sometimes yesterday, you could have turned this into Obama's forthcoming speech to pro-Israeli lobbyists this weekend. Oh yes, and the Palestinian state must have no weapons to defend itself. So that's what "viable" means!

It was a kind of Second Coming, I suppose, Cairo re-pledged, another crack at the Middle East, as boring and as unfair as all the other ones, with lots of rhetoric about the Arab revolutions which Obama did nothing to help. Some of it was positively delusional. "We have broken the Taliban's momentum," the great speechifier said. What? Does he really – really – think that?

Low Federal Tax Rate Means Hundreds Of Billions Of Dollars Lost Annually, Bartlett Says

Hearing some politicians talk about taxes, one might be convinced the United States has one of the highest tax rates in the world.

But the reality is the federal tax rate, broadly measured, is the lowest it has been in 60 years, Bruce Bartlett writes in a new column. A look at the effective tax rate, which expresses taxes as a share of the country's economic output, belies the stream of political rhetoric arguing that taxes are relatively high, says Bartlett, who was a senior policy analyst under President Ronald Reagan.

Federal taxes will be 14.8 percent of the nation's economic output this year, according to a recent estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. That's compared to a postwar annual average rate of 18.5 percent, Bartlett notes.

With the nation's gross domestic product at about $15 trillion, that low effective rate means the federal government is missing out on hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

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Reject Bad Advice and Bad Policy -- Defend Medicare, Social Security.

Last week's special election in New York's 26th Congressional district was a political earthquake, demonstrating that the American majority, even in the most Republican of districts, will reject a candidate who embraces cuts to Medicare benefits or major changes to that most popular program. And, since almost every Republican in the House -- and now the Senate -- has voted for such drastic changes, Democrats across the country are happily learning how they can campaign to win back the House and keep the Senate.

But we can't let Democrats undercut themselves again. Even as most of them practice their talking points about the Republican plan to dismantle Medicare, prominent beltway Democrats and Washington pundits are advising candidates that pressing their advantage on Medicare would not be the right thing to do. And others are urging Democrats to embrace policies -- like cutting Social Security benefits -- which would just as unpopular as dismantling Medicare and would confuse voters and undermine a winning message.

Full Article

Medicare Is Turning Point Battle for 2012

In recent American political history, changes in political momentum typically revolve around a seminal political battle.

After the Republican sweep in 1994, that battle was over the GOP plan to cut Medicare to provide tax cuts for the rich. It featured Newt Gingrich's government shutdown and his subsequent retreat in 1995. From that point forward, Clinton built momentum and ultimately defeated the Republican nominee Bob Dole by 8.5 percentage points.

A similar decisive battle turned the tide ten years later, after the Republican victory in 2004. In the months following their defeat, Democratic prospects looked bleak. Republicans controlled the Senate, House and the Presidency and were poised to seize control of the Supreme Court for a generation.

But then Bush and his Wall Street allies launched a massive effort to privatize Social Security -- a move designed both to eviscerate the social insurance program that lay at the foundation of the New Deal and to allow Wall Street to get its hands on the Social Security Trust fund. President Bush toured the country to stump for his plan, the Republican leadership signed on in support.

Democrats stood solidly against the proposal and together -- with the labor movement and other progressive organizations -- ran a campaign that ultimately forced the Republicans to drop the proposal without even so much as a vote in Congress. It turned out that privatizing Social Security -- which would have simultaneously lowered guaranteed benefits, and increased the deficit -- had zero traction with ordinary voters who believed that the money they had paid into Social Security entitled them to the promised guaranteed benefits.

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Dumb Question of the 21st Century: Is It Legal?

Is the Libyan war legal?  Was bin Laden's killing legal?  Is it legal for the president of the United States to target an American citizen for assassination?  Were those "enhanced interrogation techniques" legal? These are all questions raised in recent weeks.  Each seems to call out for debate, for answers.  Or does it?

Now, you couldn't call me a legal scholar.  I've never set foot inside a law school, and in 66 years only made it onto a single jury (dismissed before trial when the civil suit was settled out of court).  Still, I feel at least as capable as any constitutional law professor of answering such questions.

My answer is this: they are irrelevant.  Think of them as 21st-century questions that don't begin to come to grips with 21st-century American realities.  In fact, think of them, and the very idea of a nation based on the rule of law, as a reflection of nostalgia for, or sentimentality about, a long-lost republic.  At least in terms of what used to be called "foreign policy," and more recently "national security," the United States is now a post-legal society.  (And you could certainly include in this mix the too-big-to-jail financial and corporate elite.)

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The Limits of Autonomy: Should the Mentally Ill Be Forced into Treatment?

The best advice I ever received from a psychoanalyst concerned the son of a friend of mine (let's call him Joe). Joe kind of adopted me, and often came over seeking advice. The young man was unrealistically optimistic. If his boss complimented him on some job he carried out, Joe was sure he soon would receive a promotion. When none of this was forthcoming, far from being crushed, Joe would spin a new tale: he expected to be soon moved to a choice location. And when this move did not materialize, Joe assumed it was just being delayed.

The same with dating: a smile was interpreted as a sure sign of deep interest, and a long deep look meant a potential keeper. And there always was another tomorrow. Joe was never down -- except when I tried to call his attention to his poor reality testing. The therapist warned me not to take away Joe's defenses -- before I provided him with some other foundations on which to base his self-esteem. Sadly, I never found a way to help him find more realistic sources of contentment. Accordingly, I just listened sympathetically but tried not to reinforce his illusions.

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Attacks In Acapulco, Mexico, Leave Seven Dead

ACAPULCO, Mexico -- Shootings and attacks in Mexico's Pacific coast resort of Acapulco left two police officers, three suspected drug cartel gunmen and two other men dead, police said Monday.

The confrontations on Sunday began when gunmen traveling in a convoy of eight vehicles opened fire on an Acapulco municipal police patrol car Sunday, killing two officers.

Federal officers responding to the reports of gunfire later located the convoy; in the ensuing gunfight, three suspects were killed.

Police in Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, said in statement said that the three dead assailants were found with assault rifles, military-style uniforms and bulletproof vests.

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Live-in caregivers work long hours without pay

Two live-in caregivers announced that they have filed suits against their former employers to recover unpaid wages, overtime and other employment standards entitlements at a press conference Monday in the Queen's Park media studio.

Vivian said she worked 132 hours a week caring for an elderly woman with medical problems and her two adult children with developmental disabilities.

"I gave my life taking care of their family," said Vivian. "They kept adding to my job, more work, more hours, yet I was afraid of losing my job and I didn't know what the rules are."

Vivian claims she is owed over $55,000 in unpaid wages, overtime and vacation pay. She is also claiming $160,000 for wrongful dismissal.

The other caregiver, Lilliane, said she worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week taking care of two young children and the household.

"These children were like my family," says Lilliane. "Working almost 110 hours a week, I was paid $100 a month."

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Build schools and lay off teachers?

Does it seem odd to you that Alberta's Conservative government would be spending more than half a billion dollars to build new schools at the same time as it's squeezing school board budgets and forcing the layoff of hundreds of teachers?

Well, don't worry, the explanation is actually fairly simple. Like a lot of things conservative politicians advocate nowadays, this story is really about punishment.

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Go with road tolls, Environment Commissioner tells GTA

Ontario Environment Commissioner Gord Miller says toll roads are the way to go if the province is serious about tackling traffic congestion.

“We have to reduce the number of single-passenger vehicle trips in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area,” Miller said in a report released Tuesday that notes that such trips are already at a higher level than most comparable cities.

“Traffic congestion is more than just an inconvenience; it imposes huge costs on the economy, the environment and public health,” Miller said in the annual Greenhouse Gas Report.

According to the report, single passenger vehicle trips in GTA are projected to increase by 1.4 million additional vehicles by 2031.

“For many reasons, the ECO (Environmental Commissioner’s Office) continues to believe that the government needs to seriously consider introducing similar road pricing in Ontario” to that of other jurisdictions, the reports states.

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Canada’s health care not good enough: report

OTTAWA—The Canadian health care system has moved very slowly — when it has not stalled completely — towards meeting goals political leaders proclaimed would fix the system for a generation.

A progress report from the Health Council of Canada concludes the $41.3-billion decade-long health accord the federal and provincial governments signed seven years ago has not come close to accomplishing what it set out to, even as leaders prepare to negotiate the terms of the next one.

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Airlines raking in billions from add-on charges

Air Canada has tumbled off the top 10 list for ancillary airline revenue not because it’s stopped charging but because it’s stopped disclosing, the leading industry analyst says.

Worldwide, 104 airlines raked in $21.46 billion in extra revenue, which ranged from add-on charges for baggage and food to vacation packages. That’s a staggering increase from the $2.45 billion collected in 2007, when extra charges were largely just a discount airline money-maker.

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Stephen Harper's parliamentary privileges

The gap that separates government benches from the official opposition was reportedly established to keep each side more than two swords length from the other. At least that is the tale told about the Westminster parliament, the model for the Canadian parliament.

Parliamentary governments have a dynamic that is not widely understood. Rather than attacking sword in hand, as it were, governments tend to cherry pick ideas from the opposition. The reason is simple. No government wants an opposition party to build its base of support. Often, adopting an opposition policy helps a government keep its adversary from gaining ground.

In a minority situation, in 2008 Stephen Harper was forced to bring in an expansionary budget, though he was on record as denying the existence of a recession, and not believing in government deficits. He extended unemployment benefits, although he is a sworn enemy of social spending, especially for income support.

With the 41st Parliament about to open, and enjoying a majority for the first time, it is easy to imagine that Harper will move swiftly to implement his agenda, paying no attention to the 103 NDP members of the official opposition seated opposite. Undoubtedly, he will act swiftly to cut government spending, and reduce public service employment. His tough-on-crime agenda will proceed quickly. The long-gun registry will be killed. Senate reform will go ahead. He may well introduce legislation to privatize the CBC and Radio-Canada.

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The Monster and Monterrey: The Politics and Cartels of Mexico's Drug War

The first one appeared on February 3, 2010, before sunrise. It hung from the statue of José María Morelos that faces the colonial statehouse at the center of Monterrey. Morelos was a priest turned revolutionary leader in Mexico’s war of independence, and the large white sheet bearing a message from a drug cartel spanned the entire length of the hero’s bronze horse. Here Comes the Monster, it read, and was signed “Z.” That same morning, six similar handwritten messages, also signed “Z,” appeared in the municipalities surrounding Monterrey. Soldiers came, removed them and drove off.

The narcomantas, as these public communiqués of the cartels are known, presaged a horrific explosion of violence in Monterrey, a city of 4 million people in northeastern Mexico and the country’s financial capital. In the months that followed, students would be gunned down at the gate of the city’s elite university. A mayor would be abducted, tortured and murdered. City squares, police stations and even the US consulate would be attacked with grenades. Blockades controlled by masked gunmen would paralyze the city for days on end. At the root of this violence was a turf war between the authors of the narcomantas, the Zetas, and their former ally the Gulf Cartel.

It was the kind of violence one had come to expect in places like Ciudad Juárez or Tijuana—border cities that have long served as trafficking hubs to the United States. But how could thriving Monterrey, the “Sultan of the North,” which only years earlier had been deemed one of the safest cities in Latin America, descend so quickly into chaos? If it could happen here, was anywhere in Mexico safe for long?

Yet what from the outside looked like a sudden collapse was in reality decades in the making. At its root was the decay of the institutions entrusted with providing law and order, ones that, despite their chronic dysfunction and corruption, had been able to contain drug violence in the old state-run system. But when that system crumbled, and when, in the face of “the monster” of organized crime, Monterrey’s elite, politicians and public turned to those institutions to rescue them, they found them rotten to the core. And so, Monterrey’s residents turned in desperation to the last power they felt they could trust: the military. It was a choice many would come to regret.

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Out of Exile: Exclusive Report on Ousted Honduran President Zelaya’s Return Home 23 Months After U.S.-Backed Coup

In a Democracy Now! global broadcast exclusive, we take you on the plane of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya as he and his family return home after almost two years in exile. We speak with Zelaya, ousted Honduran foreign minister Patricia Rodas, Honduran exile René Guillermo Amador, and former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba, one of the many representatives of Latin American countries who accompanied Zelaya home. We also speak to Father Roy Bourgeois of School of the Americas Watch on the role U.S.-trained generals played in the 2009 coup. "This military coup had real connections to the School of the Americas. The two top generals, the key players in this military coup—the head of the air force, the head of the army—were graduates of the School of the Americas,” said Bourgeois.


How Can Congress Debate a Secret Law?

Members of Congress are about to vote to extend the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for four more years, even though few of them understand how those provisions are being interpreted and applied.
As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee we have been provided with the executive branch's classified interpretation of those provisions and can tell you that we believe there is a significant discrepancy between what most people - including many Members of Congress - think the Patriot Act allows the government to do and what government officials secretly believe the Patriot Act allows them to do.

Legal scholars, law professors, advocacy groups, and the Congressional Research Service have all written interpretations of the Patriot Act and Americans can read any of these interpretations and decide whether they support or agree with them. But by far the most important interpretation of what the law means is the official interpretation used by the U.S. government and this interpretation is - stunningly - classified.

What does this mean? It means that Congress and the public are prevented from having an informed, open debate on the Patriot Act because the official meaning of the law itself is secret. Most members of Congress have not even seen the secret legal interpretations that the executive branch is currently relying on and do not have any staff who are cleared to read them. Even if these members come down to the Intelligence Committee and read these interpretations themselves, they cannot openly debate them on the floor without violating classification rules.

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Consumer Agency: A Political Lightning Rod

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will on July 21 officially become the nation's newest government agency — and the only one with the singular aim of looking out for the best interests of consumers. The agency is controversial, and at the center of it all is the woman whom President Obama asked to set it up: Elizabeth Warren.

Warren, a Harvard professor, is a longtime crusader against unfair lending practices. She's widely credited with coming up with the idea of a government agency designed to protect consumers. Even her many detractors acknowledge she is an articulate advocate.

"This most recent crisis started one lousy mortgage at a time," she said at a House Oversight Committee hearing earlier this week. "If we had had a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in place, we could have avoided a lot of the pain that we've gone through in the last 2 1/2 years."

At this point, no one is really questioning the need for a consumer watchdog, but many people, mostly Republicans in Congress and those in the financial industry, are questioning the way this new agency was designed.

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Obama, Bush, and the Patriot Act

Minutes before midnight on May 26, President Obama, in Paris, by a species of teleportable pen signed into law a four-year extension of the Patriot Act: the central domestic support of the security apparatus devised by the Bush administration, after the bombings of 11 September 2001 and the 'anthrax letters' a week later. The first Patriot Act passed the senate on 25 October 2001, by a vote of 98-1 -- the opposing vote coming from Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. In the years that followed, a minority view developed, which said that the Patriot Act 'went too far'; but its steadiest opponents have come from outside the mainstream media: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cato Institute, and libertarian columnists such as Glenn Greenwald and Nat Hentoff.

In the last few days, two senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, took up the mantle of Senator Feingold (who lost his bid for re-election in the anti-Obama midterm disaster of 2010). Both spoke against a government interpretation of the new Patriot Act, which has not yet been shared with the American people.

The senate as a whole voted (this time 72-23) to renew a law that citizens have had no opportunity to understand, as Wyden and Udall present it, and that few members of Congress have looked into, even to the limited extent allowed. The Patriot Act controls secret investigations. The government, however, according to Wyden, has a private understanding of the law. This interpretation has been classified. So the meaning of a law about secrets is hidden because the government's view of the law is itself a secret.

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Republican 2012 Presidential Contenders Drift To The Right

WASHINGTON — In the first presidential election since the tea party's emergence, Republican candidates are drifting rightward on a range of issues, even though more centrist stands might play well in the 2012 general election.

On energy, taxes, health care and other topics, the top candidates hold positions that are more conservative than those they espoused a few years ago.

The shifts reflect the evolving views of conservative voters, who will play a major role in choosing the Republican nominee. In that sense, the candidates' repositioning seems savvy or even essential.

But the eventual nominee will face President Barack Obama in the 2012 general election, when independent voters appear likely to be decisive players once again. Those independents may be far less enamored of hard-right positions than are the GOP activists who will wield power in the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary and other nominating contests.

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Quebec Shale Gas Development Sparks Civil Disobedience Threat

(CP) -- QUEBEC - Opponents of shale gas development in Quebec have warned that they might engage in civil disobedience to keep the industry from taking off in the province.
One protest leader said people would tie themselves to gas companies' machinery and block their trucks if exploration activities went ahead.

Several dozen opponents of shale gas are marching through Quebec to warn of its possible environmental impact.

Event spokesman Philippe Duhamel said Monday that the march was just the beginning. He said there would also be training sessions on how to organize sit-ins and occupy exploration sites.

He said protesters actually got the idea from a gas-industry executive who said he would pull out of Quebec at the slightest hint of a work stoppage.

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The Fundamental Problem With Newspaper Paywalls

Canadians living in the bustling metropolis of Montreal and the picturesque city of Victoria are getting a taste of what some media executives hope may be the future -- paying for the news online. The Gazette in Montreal and the Victoria Times-Colonist on Vancouver Island have become the latest testbeds to see if people will pony up to get their local news on the web.

From Wednesday, access to the newspaper websites was limited to the first 20 articles, before hitting a paywall. It is part of an experiment by PostMedia Network, Canada's largest publisher of paid English language daily newspapers, in two relatively small markets for its papers.

Like every newspaper group, PostMedia is trying to figure out how to manage the transition from a paid print circulation to a digital readership that is used to getting its news for free. Changing human behavior is a tall order. A recent survey that suggested that Canadians are overwhelmingly unwilling to part with their cash for the news It found that 92% of Canadians who get news online say they would find another free site if their favourite news site started charging for content.

However, there is a more fundamental issue at play. People have never really paid for the news. By news, I mean the political infighting in city halls or the violence in faraway foreign places -- the news that is important and matters but can be challenging to make relevant to a broad audience.
Readers were paying for the sport results, the lifestyle section, diversions like the crossword and horoscopes. The cost of producing "the daily miracle" as Canadian playwright David Sherman put it was largely borne by advertising sales. The subsidy model worked when mass media was the dominant model for distributing the news. The business of newspapers was delivering large audiences to advertisers, and they were pretty good at it.

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The Battle for Canada's Internet Has Just Begun

At this point, most of those who are paying attention recognize that Canada has been facing a disturbing accountability crisis. Even Andrew Coyne in Maclean's points out the “long train of offences against democratic and parliamentary principle” that the Conservatives will bring to office with them.

Yet this trend is at odds with the flourishing of online practices and tools that make it easier for citizens to know and report on what’s going on with their government. During the recent federal election, talked directly to politicians on our supporters’ behalf, asking them to fill out our online survey and add their name to our list of pro-internet candidates. We asked that they be willing to create more, not fewer, means of holding them accountable, and hundreds of politicians responded – just one small indicator that new tools shift our expectations around accountability and transparency.

The Conservatives, as you might know, mostly refused to participate. They dug in their heels. So what now, with them having a majority in Parliament?

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Israel's Tilt to the Right

In the past two weeks, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come full circle. On May 15, Palestinians marked the 63rd anniversary of al-Nakba, or "the catastrophe" of the creation of the state of Israel. For the first time, hundreds of Palestinians came from Syria and managed to take down the border fence separating their country from Israel and enter the Golan Heights. The sight of hundreds of Palestinians carrying flags, yelling slogans, and marching into Israel sparked a sense of unity and hope for Palestinians who feel that they are about to fulfil the " right of return."

A week and a half later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in front of the U.S. Congress and outlined the Israeli stand for the peace process. Netanyahu presented harsh, uncompromising conditions for achieving a peace agreement with Palestinians. Two days after that, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a survey reporting that an astounding 51 per cent of Israelis support the prime minister, while 36 per cent do not. The same survey conducted five weeks earlier showed the opposite results: 38 per cent were in support of Netanyahu, and 53 per cent were not. In addition, 46 per cent of Israelis said that they felt "proud" when they watched the prime minister speaking in front of Congress.

The significance of this sequence of events is quite clear: For Israeli civilians and politicians, Nakba Day demonstrations and marches strengthen the belief that Palestinians’ intent is to return to the 1948 narrative of the conflict, which does not recognize the state of Israel. Acknowledging this, Netanyahu prepared a moving speech that touched the hearts of Israelis who feel their country's security is being threatened, and positioned himself as a strong leader, thus increasing his domestic political standing.

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Quebec will challenge Harper’s Senate reform bill in the courts

If Stephen Harper insists on moving ahead with Senate reform, he can expect the Quebec government to fight him all the way to the Supreme Court.

Others warn that the Prime Minister’s plan to permit elected senators who would serve fixed terms could create a patchwork of provincial rules that might also be struck down by the courts.

In all, the upcoming Senate legislation could mark the beginning of a protracted legal and political fight over who has the power to amend the rules that govern the Senate, and to what extent.

Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau told The Globe and Mail Monday that the federal government’s plans to introduce legislation in June that would set fixed terms for senators and enable provincial governments to hold elections for senators when a seat becomes available would be unconstitutional without provincial consent. Many provinces, Quebec especially, are concerned that elected senators would usurp provincial governments as the foremost representatives of their citizens.

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Tory convention to tackle treason, tax policy, euthanasia

OTTAWA — Canada's Conservatives are poised to debate a resolution at their upcoming convention on whether to declare that any Canadian citizen who takes up arms against the military of this country or one of its allies should be automatically stripped of citizenship and be tried for "high treason."
The resolution is just one of dozens — on issues ranging from tax policy, to euthanasia, to prostitution to same-sex marriage— that Tory delegates will discuss at a convention in June.

Some will be routine and — as in the case of a proposal to end public subsidies for political parties — reflective of plans already announced by the Conservative government.

Others, such as a proposal to effectively scale back the government's commitment to regulate Canadian industry on greenhouse gas emissions, could be contentious.

Among the resolutions that could draw attention is the one on high treason.

Currently, the Criminal Code allows for someone to be charged if they assist "an enemy at war with Canada, or any armed forces against whom Canadian Forces are engaged in hostilities, whether or not a state of war exists between Canada and the country whose forces they are."

Anyone convicted is automatically sentenced to life in prison.

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Metro Vancouver considers smoking ban in all regional parks

METRO VANCOUVER -- The crusade against second-hand smoke could get a boost in Metro Vancouver, with park officials poised to consider a blanket ban on smoking — and possibly even campfires — in all regional parks.

The move, aimed at reducing second-hand-smoke exposure in Metro’s public spaces, is one of four options suggested by staff for public consultation as part of a draft regional no-smoking policy.

But some Metro park committee directors are already balking at the proposal, which calls for all Metro property — from parking lots and roadways to campsites and trails — to be off-limits to cigarettes to provide the “highest level of health benefit” for both smokers and non-smokers.

It could also potentially mean the end of fires at picnic sites and campgrounds such as Centennial Beach in Delta and Derby Reach campground in Langley.

“You’re outdoors, for goodness’ sake,” said Gayle Martin, a Langley city councillor and park committee chairwoman who is also a smoker. “What about the fumes from cars and the [stuff in the] air and the pollution? Where does it stop?”

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Ford asks court to halt audit of his campaign finances

Mayor Rob Ford is asking the courts to quash a city committee’s order for a full audit of his unorthodox campaign funding.

Ford’s lawyer Tom Barlow filed notice alleging the compliance audit committee “erred in its interpretation and application of the provisions” of the Municipal Elections Act and “in determining that the application satisfied the threshold for granting a compliance audit.”

That’s a change of heart from last week, when the mayor said he doubted he would appeal the compliance audit committee’s May 13 order.

“There is nothing to hide so let them audit all they want,” he told the Toronto Sun.

The committee’s three citizen appointees, all with expertise in election rules, voted unanimously to launch the audit based on a detailed request by Toronto residents Max Reed and Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler.

Reed and Chaleff-Freudenthaler focused on questions about Ford’s family company, Doug Ford Holdings Inc., paying more than $77,000 in early campaign expenses. The campaign cut the company a cheque for the full amount one year after the current mayor declared his candidacy.

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Mayor Ford won’t support tolls to fund Sheppard extension

Mayor Rob Ford will not support road tolls to fund extension of the Sheppard subway line, Councillor Doug Ford said Monday.
The mayor pronounced himself “totally opposed” to road tolls during his campaign. But Gordon Chong, the Ford ally appointed to develop the business case for the 13-kilometre extension, said last week that tolls may be among the revenue-generating tools needed to raise $4 billion critics say will never be found.

Rob Ford’s office did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother and trusted adviser, said emphatically that “road tolls are not going to happen.”

The city would require provincial approval to impose tolls. Doug Ford said Chong’s job is “to look at all the options,” and those options may go before council. But council will not accept tolls, Ford said.

The mayor seeks to pay for the extension via a public-private partnership. He has not explained, however, how he believes such an arrangement would work or how much corporate money it could generate. A consulting firm is being hired to develop a proposal.

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Tory convention to consider 'high treason' punishment proposal

Stephen Harper’s governing Conservative Party will debate whether Canadians should be stripped of their citizenship should they take up arms against this country or its allies.

It’s one of a multitude of proposed changes to the Conservative Party’s official policies up for debate when Tories from across Canada converge in Ottawa for a June 9-11 convention.

Topics range from a flat-rate income tax to euthanasia to reforming the immigration system, including a focus on attracting younger immigrants.

The “High Treason” proposal, if adopted, would make it party policy to support automatically voiding the citizenship of Canadians caught fighting soldiers of this country or allied nations.

It would also back trying such a Canadian for “high treason” under the Criminal Code, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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Reflecting on the Federal Election Results

The 2011 federal election was historic in many ways and most of us are still trying to process the outcome. It is crucial that we pause to reflect on its meaning and think carefully about the next steps we must take.

While it is true that the remarkable surge in support for the NDP means a more dependable progressive voice in the House of Commons than we have had for years, it is equally true that the most socially and economically right-wing government perhaps in Canadian history has just won a substantial majority in the House and -- along with their control of the Senate -- is now free to implement its agenda even if every member of every other party votes against it.

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Gushing Oil Spills Drill Taxpayer Pockets

"Blowouts are very rare for the entire industry as well as for Imperial... the probability of a blowout is low -- one in 285,000." -- Imperial SSRW submission, March 2010.

Prior to April 20, 2010, the oil industry treated blowouts like rare events with a predictable level of risk.

Then the improbable -- a wellhead blowout on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig -- killed 11 men and spilled 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil gushed for three months, wrecking havoc on the environment, wildlife and the economy.

A year after the largest marine oil spill in history, we must remember that the improbable remains not only possible, but beyond our ability to predict and control. Offshore oil spills are Black Swan Events -- extremely hard-to-predict events that carry the risk of major impact. And they come with significant costs.

British Petroleum has estimated that its damages, including penalties and clean-up, from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will cost US$40-billion. Resources for the Future, a non-profit group of ecological economists peg the damages to private parties at anywhere between US$105- and US$239-billion.

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What a difference a gay makes

Ford condemned QuAIA last year, saying, “Taxpayers’ dollars should not be used to fund hate speech.” That is excellent news. I’m sure all the “Orientals who work like dogs,” “the cyclists who are asking to be killed” and everyone who probably won’t get AIDS “because they’re not gay or doing drugs” – all words uttered by the mayor himself – will be thrilled to hear this.

Crazy pills aside, perhaps you are thinking, “There must have been a shitload of money on the line, seeing as how Pride must make the city’s businesses millions of dollars. I mean, I can barely get a bubble tea in my neighbourhood during the festival, everything’s so jammed up. And forget about booking my wax!”

Actually, the amount of city funding is $128,000 plus services in kind – garbage cleanup and cops – amounting to around $250,000. It’s not peanuts, but it pales in comparison to the money injected into the city during the nine-day festival.

QuAIA does not promote hate speech. So, then, why is that org still being held responsible for the fate of Pride’s funding? Why is Pride agreeing to such questionable terms? (Though Pride didn’t sign anything stating outright that it would ban the participation of QuAIA, it does seem the city still has the organizers by the balls). Is this why a bunch of drag queens and dykes stood up to city authorities at Stonewall? So that 42 years later a bunch of civic and social powers could decide the fate of their future community based on a fallacy, fear-mongering and divide-and-conquer tactics? I don’t fucking think so.

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Mr. Personality

Late in the morning on Wednesday, May 18, Councillor Shelley Carroll was working the floor of the council chamber, trying to drum up votes to save the Fort York bridge, which had been scheduled to begin construction this summer. As public projects go, the bridge was significant in that it represents everything former Mayor David Miller was passionate about: a $23-million proposed oasis strictly for pedestrians and cyclists that would connect downtown to the waterfront and serve as a “vision thing” for a confident, growing city.

It’s the antithesis, then, of everything the current mayor thinks is appropriate. Still, it came as a surprise to virtually everyone when, at the end of an epic Public Works Committee meeting a few days earlier, a sudden motion to delay construction passed by a slim majority. It was a move that, for several technical reasons, would effectively kill the project. “This is a plain and simple ‘fuck you’ to those of us who think we can build a better city,” one lefty councillor said to me. “That’s all it is.”

So, last Wednesday, armed with reams of letters in support of building the Fort York bridge from residents, architects and prominent developers, council’s left was trying to muster up the two-thirds majority needed to bring the matter to debate in time to save the project. As the vote to keep the bridge project alive drew near, Carroll approached Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, who represents Ward 2 in Etobicoke. “I don’t find the mayor’s staff particularly receptive to having any kind of conversation with me at all,” Carroll told me later. “When I need to make an appeal to that leadership office, I go to Doug. He’s approachable.”

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The pros and cons of public referendums

Should city residents get a direct say on contentious issues such as transit – casting votes in favour of light rail, increased buses or expanded roadways? Most people would probably say yes to that kind of public referendum. But what about similar votes used to decide whether you can circumcise your child or if your drinking water should be fluoridated?

At a time when North American municipalities are facing tough decisions about budget cuts and infrastructure developments, the idea of giving more power to the people is quickly gaining traction.

Grappling with contentious topics from transportation to social services, many municipalities are starting to put decisions to public votes, with city councils allowing residents to decide which course their city should take rather than risk an unpopular move.

Next week, a 16-member council representing the Ontario region of Kitchener-Waterloo will be asked to approve a public referendum on an $818-million light rail transit plan. The vote would come after six years of environmental studies, economic forecasts and more than 131 public meetings on the issue, and will likely add another six months and $1-million to the process.

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Has the fourth estate lost its tenacity

Harrison Salisbury’s old book on The New York Times, Without Fear or Favor, is worth reading these days, especially for the members of the fourth estate.

The book focuses on the Pentagon Papers and Watergate and legendary newspapermen like Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post and Abe Rosenthal of the Times. It tells of how they and their reporters dug in.

The Post was initially criticized for making too big a deal out of a story about a break-in at Democratic Party headquarters. But the paper kept working the story and kept finding more rot within and we all know how it turned out. In the case of the Times and the Pentagon Papers, there was no cowering to White House warnings of publishing state secrets or compromising national security. It was in the public interest to publish. They published.

The late James Thomson, who was a curator for Neiman media fellowships at Harvard, issued a warning in the Salisbury book about journalists who, by contrast, become too much a part of the establishment. To use an old 1970s word, they get co-opted. They just move along, responding to what the government puts out. They “seldom stay long enough with one central story or issue.”

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