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.]

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Israel should heed ex-Mossad head's Iran attack warning

Former Mossad intelligence agency head Meir Dagan is afraid and concerned. Most of the politicians, and amazingly (and absurdly ) enough, also a large number of journalists, want him to be quiet. They don't want him to get us upset with his fears or arouse us from our slumber with his warnings. We'll just leave the fateful decision of whether to attack Iran to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to them alone, and let the storm over the issue subside.As if blind, we will follow them and be led by them straight into the midst of the danger.

There is no clearer symptom of the sickly state of public discourse in Israel than efforts at silencing Dagan, as well as the smears now directed at him. As Mossad head, he managed to stop this adventurism, and now when he has retired and left the decision-making arena to the prime minister and defense minister, whom he views as dangerous, he has decided to break his silence.

He should be commended for his responsible and courageous act. If Dagan the civilian is worried, if he thinks it's a matter of a threat to our existence at our doorstep, it is not only his right to make himself heard, it is his supreme duty. He should attempt to stop it, to act as a gatekeeper. If he acted otherwise, he would have been abusing his role as former Mossad director.

Full Article
Source: Ha'aret 

Post office workers to go on strike in Montreal as talks drag on

Mail service will be disrupted in Montreal on Monday as urban postal workers are poised to walk off the job.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers says it has selected Quebec's largest city as the next target in its rotating strikes.

So far Winnipeg and Hamilton have been hit.

“Postal workers are staying out on strike to keep the pressure on negotiations,” CUPW president Denis Lemelin said in a statement. “We will not accept the rollbacks that a profitable company is trying to force us to swallow.”

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Judge gives reasons for firearms acquittal — two years later

When an Ontario Superior Court judge acquitted two men of firearms offences two years ago after finding police had violated their Charter rights, she promised to email her full reasons that afternoon.

On Wednesday, the Crown will ask the province’s highest court to order a new trial because, as it turned out, those written reasons never came.

“The trial judge not only fell short in her obligation to explain to the public why these gun-toting individuals were acquitted and put back into circulation on our streets, she abdicated her responsibility entirely,” the Crown argues in its factum filed with the Ontario Court of Appeal.

But there’s a wrinkle.

Last month, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susanne Goodman released a thorough, 42-page strongly worded decision detailing why she had concluded — two years earlier — that Toronto police officers violated the Charter by making an “arbitrary and unreasonable” decision to pull over Kamar Cunningham and Troy Matthews on March 6, 2008.

She also found officers “outright lied” in court and fabricated evidence. Goodman, for instance, wrote she did not accept officers’ testimony that they pulled over the men, both black, because they weren’t wearing seat belts.

“I was satisfied that the police flagrantly and intentionally violated the defendants’ rights under both sections 8 and 9 of the Charter. They then egregiously supported their actions by providing a false account of the events leading up to it.”

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Israeli troops battle protesters in Syria, 20 dead

JERUSALEM—In another challenge to Israel inspired by the pro-democracy movements in neighbouring Arab states, hundreds of Palestinians marched Sunday on Israel’s border with Syria leading to a deadly clash with the army.

After calling on the marchers to stop, an army spokesman said, Israeli soldiers opened fire at their legs. State-run Syrian TV said 20 people were killed, including a woman and teenage boy, and 325 were wounded, 12 critically.

Ambulances raced to the hospital in the Syrian border town of Quneitra with the wounded and dead.

It was the second time in less than a month that Palestinians have tried to walk across Israel’s borders. Last time, during the demonstrations to mark the “nakba” or the catastrophe, which is what Palestinians call the creation of Israel, dozens of Palestinians succeeded in crossing the border, and 15 were killed.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

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.

It would be wrong to see the latest curtain against transparency as marking a change of policy. True, Obama promised, in the Democratic primaries of 2008, to filibuster against a proposed amnesty for telecoms firms that illegally co-operated with a request by the Office of the Vice President to divulge information about their customers. The conduct of the telecoms firms was a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which forbade eavesdropping on Americans without judicial oversight. But in July 2008, once Obama had secured the Democratic nomination, this became the first promise on which he reneged. It set a pattern for an administration that in its earliest days adopted a slogan which would cover many further amnesties: 'We look to the future, not the past.'

Civil liberties had never been a leading concern for Obama in earlier years. His short previous record in politics associated him with the use of government as a benign agency for the protection of citizens and the subsidized extension of social opportunity. When, from the office of state senator in Illinois and U.S. senator, he ascended to the presidency in 2009, he could no longer think of himself as an advocate of the less fortunate; rather, he was the protector of all Americans; and the responsibility for 'protection' of Americans (a paraconstitutional notion innovated by George W. Bush and picked up by Obama) involves an all-absorbing concern with safety against 'the terror threat'.

Full Article
Source: Huffington Post 

Agriculture Industry Fears Disaster If Illegal Immigration Enforcement Program E-Verify Is Implemented

WASHINGTON -- The agriculture industry fears a disaster is on the horizon if the one bit of new immigration policy that Congress seems to agree on becomes law.

A plan to require all American businesses to run their employees through E-Verify, a program that confirms each is legally entitled to work in the U.S., could wreak havoc on an industry where 80 percent of the field workers are illegal immigrants. So could the increased paperwork audits already under way by the Obama administration.

"We are headed toward a train wreck," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat whose district includes agriculture-rich areas. "The stepped up (workplace) enforcement has brought this to a head."

Lofgren said farmers are worried that their work force is about to disappear. They say they want to hire legal workers and U.S. citizens, but that it's nearly impossible, given the relatively low wages and back-breaking work.

Wages can range from minimum wage to more than $20 an hour. But workers often are paid by the piece; the faster they work, they more they make. A steady income lasts only as long as the planting and harvesting seasons, which can be measured in weeks.

Full Article
Source: Huffington Post 

Bradley Manning Supporters Rally At Kansas Prison

WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of supporters of Bradley Manning converged at Leavenworth, Kan., Saturday to rally for the Army private accused of leaking classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

Gathered outside the prison where Manning is currently being held, protesters denounced Manning's treatment and called on the White House to drop all charges against him.

"PFC Bradley Manning is a fellow soldier," Brian Wolfe, a Kansas-based Army Veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said in an email statement. "If a fellow soldier is punished for taking his oath to defend the constitution seriously, what does that mean for our military and for our democracy?"

The event marked the first public rally in support of Manning since he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth in April after being imprisoned for nine months on the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia.

While detained at Quantico, Manning was forced to sleep naked in a military jail after a commander of the brig ordered his clothes be taken away for a full seven hours. He was also forced to stand naked outside his cell in front of the rest of the clothed inmates until he passed inspection and was given his clothes back.

"The information Bradley Manning is accused of releasing should have been in the public domain. Whoever revealed it is an American hero." said Jeff Paterson, a Steering Committee member of the Bradley Manning Support Network who also spoke at the rally, in a statement. "Our leaders in Washington need to return to American principles of transparent and accountable government. That starts with protecting -- not prosecuting -- whistle-blowers and dropping all charges against Bradley Manning."

Manning stands accused of revealing tens of thousands of classified U.S. military and State Department documents that some believe helped to catalyze democratic revolts across the Middle East this spring. His trial is slated to begin this summer.

Source: Huffington Post 

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reaching Record Highs

AMSTERDAM -- Despite 20 years of effort, greenhouse gas emissions are going up instead of down, hitting record highs as climate negotiators gather to debate a new global warming accord.

The new report by the International Energy Agency showing high emissions from fossil fuels is one of several pieces of bad news facing delegates from about 180 countries heading to Bonn, Germany, for two weeks of talks beginning Monday.

Another: The tsunami-triggered nuclear disaster in March apparently has sidelined Japan's aggressive policies to combat climate change and prompted countries like Germany to hasten the decommissioning of nuclear power stations which, regardless of other drawbacks, have nearly zero carbon emissions.

"Japan's energy future is in limbo," says analyst Endre Tvinnereim of the consultancy firm Point Carbon. The fallout from the catastrophe has "put climate policy further down the priority list," and the short-term effect in Japan – one of the world's most carbon-efficient countries – will be more burning of fossil fuels, he said.

And despite the expansion of renewable energy around the world, the Paris-based IEA's report said energy-related carbon emissions last year topped 30 gigatons, 5 percent more than the previous record in 2008. With energy investments locked into coal- and oil-fueled infrastructure, that situation will change little over the next decade, it said.

Full Article
Source: Huffington Post  

Wealth inequality is as extreme today as it was during the Great Depression years

92% Of Americans Are Socialists They Just Don’t Know It

Wealth inequality is as extreme today as it was during the Great Depression years. In real terms, the wealthy hold the majority of this nation’s wealth and income. The problem in this country is mass disillusionment. In a recent study by Duke and Harvard University they found many Americans believe that the top 20% of our nation’s wealthiest own 60% of the wealth. The real figure is the top 20% own 84% of our nation’s wealth and it is increasing every year.

When the respondents were asked to pick an unlabeled pie chart “How much should the top 20% own?” 92% of them preferred the Swedish model of income distribution over the current American economic model. The Swedish economic model, which is the top 20% own 36% of the nation’s wealth.

Full Article
Source: PoliticusUSA  

Robert Gates: Only Modest Troop Reductions In Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates appealed for patience with an unpopular war and said Saturday that only modest U.S. troop reductions would make sense this summer in a still unstable Afghanistan.

On his 12th and final visit to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, Gates held out the possibility of a turning point in the war by year's end. But Gates, who's retiring June 30, said much depends on whether the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden creates a new opening for peace negotiations with leaders of the Taliban insurgency.

This and other aspects of the war, now in its 10th year, were on the agenda for Gates' meetings Saturday with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander here, and with U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. A decision on U.S. troop reductions is expected in the next couple of weeks.

Full Article
Source: Huffington Post 

Vouchers: They're Baaaaaack!

For most of the half-century since economist Milton Friedman first advanced the idea of school vouchers, it’s been the ultimate weapon in our educational debates, always ticking just under the surface, never quite going off. But after last November’s Republican statehouse victories, the right, sometimes abetted by Democrats and liberals, has brought back vouchers and school privatization with a vengeance.

In combination with new state laws sharply limiting the collective bargaining rights of teachers and other public sector unions, mandating test-based teacher evaluations and expanding charter school programs, the voucher movement poses a serious challenge to the common school itself.

Early in May, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed what is probably the broadest voucher law ever enacted in this country. A few days later Oklahoma approved tax credits for those who contribute to a privately funded private school “opportunity scholarship” program. In New Jersey, on May 13, a voucher bill was approved by a Senate committee with bipartisan support. In Washington, DC, the voucher program, which was killed by the Democratic majorities in the last Congress, is all but certain to be restored. In Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, famous for his attack on union collective bargaining rights, is pushing hard to broaden Milwaukee’s voucher program to other cities and many more children.

Altogether, according to the Foundation for Educational Choice, a pro-voucher organization that lists Friedman as its patriarch, more than fifty-two bills have emerged this year, some passed, some still pending, in thirty-six states—among them Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania—providing funding for vouchers, tax credits or other tax-funded benefits for private education. “No year in recent memory,” said foundation president Robert Enlow, has provided better opportunities for the cause. “Milton Friedman’s vision for school choice is becoming a reality across the country.”

And early in April, using a procedural dodge, a bitterly divided Supreme Court further heartened the movement by upholding Arizona’s law providing tax credits for contributions to “school tuition organizations”—scholarship funds for private and religious schools.

What makes laws like Indiana’s particularly notable is that unlike earlier voucher programs, which were limited to low-income students, some are now open on a sliding scale to middle-class children. In Indiana, families with incomes up to $61,000 will eventually be eligible, allowing about 60 percent of the state’s students to get some aid.

Walker’s proposal in Wisconsin would lift the income cap for eligibility and would thus become a tax subsidy for private and religious schools and the middle- and upper-income parents who could afford the tuition even without help.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

The Problem of Republican Idiots

One aspect of American politics that receives insufficient attention is that a significant percentage of self-identified Republicans—around half—are complete idiots. And the candidates who wish to be elected by them must pander to them, either by being idiots themselves—see “Bachmann, Michele”—or pretending to be. Nobody in the MSM is empowered to say this aloud. Indeed, the very act of pointing it out brands one a “liberal elitist” who is biased against proud, patriotic conservatives.

Well, so be it. A quarter of Republicans questioned profess to believe that ACORN is definitely planning to steal the 2012 election while another 32 percent think it might be. These numbers are admittedly lower than the 52 percent who, in 2009, went on record accusing ACORN of having stolen the election for Obama, but this should strike a person with normal mental faculties as a mite surprising, given that the organization no longer exists. Similarly, a recent poll of Republicans found that 48 percent of those questioned believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States. Again, this is almost double the 28 percent who believed it in February, but it is still rather low, given that Hawaii released the president’s long-form birth certificate to satisfy exactly this group of noisy idiots.

These are rather obvious examples, but it is hardly an exaggeration to insist that this astonishing combination of willful ignorance and stubborn stupidity can be found virtually everywhere Republican politics are discussed. Consider the kerfuffle over Newt Gringrich’s derisive comments about Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, made not long ago on NBC’s Meet the Press. In the first place, there is the problem of Gingrich being on the program at all. He was, I never tire of pointing out, its single most frequently booked guest in 2009, with five appearances, even though he held no official position in government and is the only ex–Speaker of the House ever to be invited on the show. (Nancy Pelosi, the actual Speaker at the time, did not appear at all that year.) In addition, we have the complication that although Gingrich is portrayed in the MSM as a genuine intellectual and potential president of the United States, both notions are just as crazy as Gingrich is. How else to explain a grown man who professes to believe that Obama’s political views can be understood “only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior”? And what about his insistence that the Obama administration leads a “secular-socialist machine” that represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union? Is this not enough to earn the boy a rubber jumpsuit?

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Tiananmen Square; 22 years

I have nothing special to add about the events in China 22 years ago, except simply to observe that they happened. It is worth continuing to note this anniversary in the rest of the world, since the authorities have all but effaced its memory within China. (Photo from May 1989; source here, via Kathleen McLaughlin.)

In my experience in talking with college students in China, it's not a question of having to be "careful" when referring to the events in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, or using code like "May 35th." Even if you refer specifically to that time and place, most young Chinese that I've met have no idea what you are talking about. This is just an arbitrary date to them -- not one with resonance, like September 11, 2001, or November 22, 1963.

As Robert Sullivan has pointed out, the main Chinese news organs have room today to talk about the ongoing drought, and the epidemic of cheating on college-entrance exams, and the international good-will tour of Xi Jinping, the next-president anointee. But not for wallowing in an awkward part of the country's past. (English version of People's Daily front page today.)

Let's look on the bright side. Conceivably "June 4" will become a noted date in China once more, as the day when a Chinese player won a Grand Slam tennis championship for the very first time. Nothing against the plucky Francesca Schiavone, but Li Na of China -- who as I write is a few hours away from meeting Schiavone in the French Open women's finals -- is of course a talented athlete but also an immensely charming personality. For later discussion: how typical the unguarded, unpretentious sense of humor she displays (watch this interview starting at time 1:00) is of many people we met in China. Who deserve full recognition and remembrance of the ups and downs their country has been through.

Source: The Atlantic 

How Serious Would a Criminal Indictment Against Goldman Be?

On Thursday, we learned that the Manhattan district attorney and New York state had subpoenaed Goldman Sachs. Some commentators have suggested that the action may be part an attempt to set up a criminal investigation based on a recent Senate report that accuses the banking behemoth of having acted improperly in its efforts to short the mortgage market as the bubble began to burst. Will the bank be able to wiggle out of these allegations if a criminal case is brought?

For a fairly detailed explanation of the law likely to be involved in a case against Goldman, check out the post I wrote on Thursday. It boils down to this: if a court deems its mortgage market shorting strategy as "material information" that investors should have been provided when Goldman sold them mortgage exposure, then Goldman might be in trouble. There are a few ways to look at this question.

Full Article
Source: The Atlantic 

Throne Speech: Where are the jobs?

Perhaps the government’s new mantra for the budget and the throne speech is telling in its ordering.  First priority is low tax, and then if jobs and growth also happen, well that’s a happy coincidence.

It was interesting to hear the throne speech acknowledging that government spending like that in the stimulus program can create jobs and drive growth.  That is the say that the Harper government knows how to create jobs and a reliable way to do that is to hire Canadians to build infrastructure.

For a government that repeats “jobs” so much, it is hard to miss the fact that there was no mention of unemployment in the throne speech.  For most Canadians, declining unemployment IS the measure of job creation.  But presumably it is not for this government.  Perhaps the shaky link between low corporate taxes and job creation is good enough…the facts be damned.

The facts are that demand for goods & services drives job creation, not tax cuts.  So while corporation are happy to take the money, they are simply saving it and will continue to do so in an uncertain economic environment.  Low taxes themselves are not going to create jobs at this point, government spending is.

It bears repeating that despite the Harper recognition that stimulus works, unemployment remains near 8% far above the 6% that it was before the 2008 crisis began.  The jobs that have come back are part time, not full time as before the recession.  While Harper admits that government spending can and does create jobs, clearly jobs are no longer the priority.  The “economic action plan” has now become a “deficit reduction plan” irrespective of job creation.  High unemployment was a good reason for government intervention in 2008 under Harper, however the same prescription for today’s high unemployment is somehow not relevant.

In fact, the changing nature of the stimulus plan from job creation to balanced books was further reinforced with the firm commitment to balance the books one year early.  The likely means will be through the cutting of 80,000 jobs in the public service over the next 4 years.  The fact that there are no particularly good reasons for balancing the books one year early is beside the point.  The throne speech trots out the spectre of high debt levels of “other nations”.  Presumably Canadians are to assume that job losses are worth it otherwise we’ll end up like Ireland or Iceland in that extra year.  The fact remains that Canada has the lowest debt burden in the G8 by a long shot.

The throne speech reveals that the Harper government knows what Canadians want to see, action to create jobs and economic growth and so repeats that message.  It also reveals that the government knows how to make it happen, through government spending.  However, the government has no intention of taking any action despite high unemployment.  In fact, job destruction through public service cuts will likely be the order of the day.

So while jobs are the rhetoric, taking practical and proven steps to job creation is a distant second to low corporate taxes and reduced public services.  Welcome to the next four years.

Full Article

Toronto welcomes a beloved war criminal

Let's say, for the sake of argument, you were looking for some escape from the daily grind on a gorgeous spring evening. Some Torontonians might want to go hear a real live accused war criminal, who's been invited to town shortly. Or let's say you decided to relax by making a list of some of the more notorious crimes against humanity of the past several decades, as we enjoy doing in my family. You'd likely include the following:

The American war against Vietnam, the Pakistani massacre of Bengalis in 1971 (an estimated 1.5 million killed), the operations of the Shah of Iran's secret police, the brutal Pinochet years in Chile, the secret U.S. bombing of Cambodia that made possible the Khmer Rouge's genocidal killing fields (1.5 to 2 million dead), the bloody 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus (an estimated 150,000 refugees), the betrayal of the Kurds in 1974-75, the Indonesian slaughter of some 100,000 East Timorese, the war against the government of Angola, the entrenchment of apartheid in South Africa.

No one will ever know how many millions of ordinary citizens were killed, maimed, tortured, brutalized or displaced in these merciless operations. A U.S. Senate subcommittee on refugees estimated that more than three million civilians were killed, injured or rendered homeless in Southeast Asia alone from 1969 to 1975.

And we do know this: By a curious coincidence, all of these horror stories have in common the very man who's soon coming to Toronto, Dr. Henry Kissinger (somehow the only PhD in the world who's regularly called Dr.). As Richard Nixon's national security adviser and both Mr. Nixon and Gerald Ford's secretary of state, Dr. Kissinger enabled or endorsed every one of them. Readers should know that this statement is really quite uncontroversial. The sources are multiple and well-documented, and include Christopher Hitchens's book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, which explicitly accuses him of being a war criminal.

Full Article

'Eco Chic' Alone Won't Solve Anything

When it comes to climate change, cities must adopt a "go big or go home" attitude.

If you haven’t already, you'll probably see some version of the headline “Cities To Save Global Climate” at least once over the course of this week. From May 31 to June 2, representatives of some of the world's greenest metropolises were in Sao Paulo for a C40 climate-change summit hosted by the Clinton Foundation. As a result, newspapers will again be full of optimism about the environmental potential of the world's cities – and for good reason.

Over 50 per cent of us live in cities, and cities generate 70 per cent of our greenhouse-gas emissions. So far, though, few municipalities have put in place actions that are on par with that kind of impact.

Look beyond the boosterish headlines and you will find descriptions of energy-efficient streetlights, retrofitted local arenas, and showcase modifications to landmarks like New York's Empire State Building. Let's stop here for a moment. If it seems unlikely to you that energy-efficient crosswalk signals are going to do anything to curb climate change, that's because it is.

When cities talk about the impacts of what they could do, they use a broad definition of “the city” that begins with city hall and runs all the way out to the upstream emissions that come from producing the energy, goods, and services that we all consume. It's only when you look at cities on that scale that they account for 70 per cent of the emissions we are pumping out. If you are serious about what cities can do, then those are the numbers you need to deal with.

But when people talk about what cities are doing, they almost always fall back on a much narrower vision – a vision that's restricted largely to the emissions produced within city limits. The scale of the rhetoric is totally out of sync with the scale of the actions. But it doesn't have to be.

Full Article
Source: The Mark  

The Neon Bike vs. City Hall

Pink spokes and a flower basket highlight the tension between Toronto City Hall and street art.

Caroline Macfarlane did Toronto officials a favour when she spray-painted the abandoned bicycle outside the art gallery where she works. Ordinarily the city removes bikes that have been left locked and long forgotten by their owners, but this particular bike escaped the notice of city officials as it blended into the drab stretch of Dundas Street West.

That all changed when Macfarlane and a colleague decided to give the ownerless bike a hot pink neon coating. It was quickly identified and tagged by city officials.

The only problem is that many local residents have come to like the bike's new look. And, with the impromptu art installation slated for removal, Macfarlane is getting emails from around the world, backing her in the fight to keep the pink bike on display.

Source: The Mark 

The 5¢ non-solution

While Ford plans to ditch plastic bag fee, other countries are banning the scourge outright

The looming debate about ending the 5¢ fee for plastic bags – inspired by recent Rob Ford ruminations – will waste almost as much energy as the fossil-fuel-based bags themselves.
No matter what city council decides, the war on plastic bags has barely begun.

From a global perspective, Toronto’s decision in 2009 to introduce a tiny fee was more a truce than a war, so any end to the program only ends that truce.

The original move under David Miller started a new discussion by requiring a nominal payment for the convenience offered by plastic throwaways, a fee well below that set in Ireland or Los Angeles County (about 25¢) and a lot less strict than the developing international norm of an outright ban. Bangladesh, China, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa are among some 20 countries where a ban is the law.

The European Union will likely follow suit this fall at the behest of the EU’s environmental commissioner, Janez Potocnik, who blames the bags for “suffocating the environment.” The Mediterranean is littered with 250 billion plastic remnants that can kill sea creatures.

In any country bordered by an ocean, the issue is keeping plastic out of the wilds, not just out of landfill. Plastic waste is second only to cigarette butts on ocean beaches, and more than 250 species of sea creatures, including giant sperm whales, die when they accidentally swallow the indigestible plastic garbage.

Full Article
Source: Now Magazine 

PM vows to rush ‘comprehensive’ slate of crime bills into law

Having shed the fetters of a minority government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is promising to move quickly to implement the slate of Conservative law-and-order legislation that died when the election was called.

“The government of Canada has no more fundamental duty than to protect the personal safety of our citizens and defend against threats to our national security,” Governor-General David Johnston said in the Throne Speech on Friday.

“Our government,” he said, “will move quickly to reintroduce comprehensive law-and-order legislation to combat crime and terrorism.”

There were at least 10 bills addressing justice and public-safety issues the Conservatives had introduced but not managed to pass into law before government fell in late March.

Mr. Harper promised during the election campaign they would come back as a single piece of omnibus legislation that would become law within 100 sitting days of Parliament.

It is unknown which of the bills will be included. They are a varied lot with wide-ranging ambitions. One would impose mandatory minimum sentences for a slate of drug crimes. One would prevent judges from imposing house arrest for a number of serious property and personal crimes. Three would increase the ability of police to conduct electronic surveillance.
Some are controversial for the increased number of people they would put behind bars at a time when crime rates are dropping.

But the Throne Speech indicated the government is keen to build further on its law-and-order agenda.
“Our government will continue to protect the most vulnerable in society and work to prevent crime,” Mr. Johnston said. “It will propose tougher sentences for those who abuse seniors and will help at-risk youth avoid gangs and criminal activity. It will address the problem of violence against women and girls.”

The omnibus bill will likely come first.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Police break up Indian yoga guru’s hunger strike

NEW DELHI—Hundreds of police officers swooped down Sunday on the venue of a hunger strike by a charismatic Indian yoga guru and forcibly removed him and thousands of his supporters.

Officers detained Baba Ramdev for security reasons, but later released him, said Rajan Bhagat, a police spokesman in the Indian capital, New Delhi.

Saffron-robed and bearded Ramdev and tens of thousands of his supporters went on hunger strikes across India and in several cities in the United States, Europe and Africa on Saturday in a campaign to try to root out India’s endemic corruption.

The police clampdown early Sunday came within hours of both the government and Ramdev announcing an agreement on steps to battle corruption.

Police said they had given permission to Ramdev to hold a yoga function with 5,000 people. “More than 40,000 people had turned up at the venue, and it was not possible to provide security to them,” Bhagat told the Associated Press.

Television channels reported that police sealed off the venue of the hunger strike and used tear gas and canes to disperse Ramdev’s followers, causing injuries to some people. Television images showed police firing tear gas.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Hudak Tories take a page from Harris era to dupe us on debt

Here’s a hot issue that Tim Hudak thinks will bring down the Ontario government: Higher hydro bills.

And here’s the Tory leader’s bizarre pitch to bring those bills down: Stop collecting for our hydro debt, by brazenly declaring it paid in full — even though it’s still there.

Ignoring our debts is a strange notion coming from Ontario’s once-proud Progressive Conservatives. But Hudak has calculated that by profiting from voter frustration, and banking on voter folly, he can cash in on voting day, Oct. 6.

His plan is a scam — a classic tale of buying votes with taxpayers’ money. And a parable of how elections are won in an era of short attention spans.

A warning to readers: The PCs are counting on you tuning out the details.

So test yourself: You can read on — and see how the Tories toy with you. Or stop here — and prove the PCs are right that people won’t follow the fine print.

Look at your hydro bill. You may have noticed a monthly “Debt Retirement Charge” (DRC) that averages $5.60 per household. Hudak promised last month to eliminate it from residential bills — saving ratepayers about $76 a year after taxes. What’s remarkable about the Tory strategy is that the DRC monster they now pledge to kill off is a Frankenstein of their own creation — dreamed up by the old Mike Harris PC government in 1999.

The Harris Tories wanted to privatize Ontario Hydro, but had to off-load its old debt of $21 billion. They conjured up a Byzantine road map for repayment: Its successor companies (OPG for power generation, and Hydro One for transmission lines) would allocate all their future revenue and tax streams to help pay down that debt. Unfortunately, all that projected cash flow — estimated at $13 billion — still wouldn’t cover off the massive debt payments, leaving a yawning gap.

So the Harris Tories came up with an even more exotic financial concept, virtually unheard of at the time: the “Residual (leftover) Stranded Debt.” Sounds like a complex accounting concept, but it was really a financial fig leaf for a pile of unsustainable debt to be backstopped by hydro ratepayers (customers). This portion — the (leftover) unfunded liability — came to $7.8 billion, which is now supported by the DRC on your monthly bill.

As their Hydro privatization plans went awry and deregulation created chaos, the PCs panicked — freezing electricity rates and allowing the hydro debt to soar. When the electricity sector became politically toxic for the Tories, they lost power in 2003. The incoming Liberals started paying down the inherited debt, which slowly declined but is far from paid off. Now, the Tories hope to regain power by promising to drop the DRC from your bill — delaying the day of reckoning as they did in the past. History is about to repeat itself.

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Source: Toronto Star 

Page’s protest sets poor precedent

Brigette DePape set a precedent when, in full page’s uniform, she walked onto the floor of the Senate while the Governor General was reading the speech from the throne to display her homemade “Stop Harper” sign. It is a bad precedent.

The staff of Parliament, like the behind-the-scenes staff of a theatre, are not there to take the stage; they are there to allow the key actors, the politicians, to perform their roles in the democratic processes.

Civil disobedience has a legitimate and important place in politics. It is a knowing and intentional contravention of laws or rules for an important purpose or cause, such as a desire to change a bad law. It can demand willingness to suffer the consequences of that disobedience to prove the sincerity of the perpetrator’s belief and cause.

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Source: Toronto Star 

Rebel page is the real thing

Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Toady thou never wert.

The skylark in question is that bright-eyed and braided young page, Brigette DePape, 21, whose mother is proud of her, as am I, as are thousands of Canadian young people who put idealism before an intern-type job that leads to fancy well-paid things if you’re willing to shut up.

The central question of life is “Do you go along to get along?” Ralph Nader once told me and a thousand other University of Toronto students at Convocation Hall. Decades later, most of us of course do. DePape does not. She is the real thing, the Canadian version of the child in the fable pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

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Source: Toronto Star 

'Food Not Bombs' Willingly Breaks Law To Cook For Orlando Homeless

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Orlando officials are permitted to restrict organizations from giving food to the homeless. But one group says they'll break the law and do it anyway.

The new ordinance says a group can apply for only two free permits a year for "events in the downtown area," according to WFTV.

But Food Not Bombs tells the local news stations it's a form of free speech and they'll continue their commitment to cooking vegan meals for the homeless every Wednesday.

"We're going to do what we feel is right. They need food. Everyone deserves to be fed," Gemma Thacher said.

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Source: Huffington Post 

Three arrested, accused of illegally feeding homeless

Members of Orlando Food Not Bombs were arrested Wednesday when police said they violated a city ordinance by feeding the homeless in Lake Eola Park.

Jessica Cross, 24, Benjamin Markeson, 49, and Jonathan "Keith" McHenry, 54, were arrested at 6:10 p.m. on a charge of violating the ordinance restricting group feedings in public parks. McHenry is a co-founder of the international Food Not Bombs movement, which began in the early 1980s.

The group lost a court battle in April, clearing the way for the city to enforce the ordinance. It requires groups to obtain a permit and limits each group to two permits per year for each park within a 2-mile radius of City Hall.

Arrest papers state that Cross, Markeson and McHenry helped feed 40 people Wednesday night. The ordinance applies to feedings of more than 25 people.

"They intentionally violated the statute," said Lt. Barbara Jones, an Orlando police spokeswoman.

Police waited until everyone was served to make the arrests, said Douglas Coleman, speaking for Orlando Food Not Bombs.
"They basically carted them off to jail for feeding hungry people," said Coleman, who was not present. "For them to regulate a time and place for free speech and to share food, that is unacceptable."

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Source: Orlando Sentinel