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.]

Friday, June 17, 2011

Game over for big crowds, outdoor events in wake of Vancouver riots?

VANCOUVER—Rioting has become so inevitable at mass gatherings of people that it may be time to reconsider even staging events that bring more than 100,000 people onto downtown streets, says Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu.

“That is something that we’ll look at,” Chu said, after Wednesday’s Stanley Cup mayhem saw nearly 100 arrests and nine police officers injured as stores were looted and 15 vehicles set ablaze.

He said that, despite the “best efforts” of police forces elsewhere in the world, including those with vastly more manpower, “riots still occur.”

Chu laid much of the blame on “anarchists and thugs who were bent on destruction,” and had come with “masks, goggles, gasoline and even fire extinguishers to use as weapons.

“When there’s a large number of criminals and anarchists with an intent to break the law, it’s very difficult to stop that.”

And while Chu noted that many bystanders had aided police and stopped would-be looters from entering stores, he also chastised all those stood idly by, often cheering and snapping photos.

It all bore an eerie similarity to the G20 riots in Toronto last summer, when far a more pro-active and aggressive police presence had also failed to prevent a destructive rampage.

As in Toronto, the Vancouver mayhem seemed to take on a life of its own as the contagion spread in unpredictable directions.

The initial spark seems to have come before the Canucks hockey game was even over, when young men at the fan zone on Georgia St. surged forward, hurling bottles at the giant screen.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

PM’s own department failed to get green light on hospitality spending

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's own department has repeatedly broken the government's tough rules for hospitality spending.

An internal report on how the Privy Council Office spent $340,000 on hospitality found widespread flouting of a basic rule – that is, public servants must get prior approval from a supervisor before spending the cash.

The review of 2,100 hospitality claims over 13 months, ending last June, found employees repeatedly failed to get a green light before racking up expenses.

The average claim was for about $160, for drinks, meals and other largesse.

The survey examined expense claims in the Prime Minister's Office as well those run up by the Privy Council Office, Mr. Harper's own department and the central organ of the Canadian government.

Auditors initially found several instances in which hospitality expenses were incurred without pre-authorization. But they were assured by senior managers that the problem had since been corrected.

So auditors randomly selected 20 more-recent hospitality claims – and found only half had been authorized in advance, clear evidence the rules continued to be flouted, despite the protestations of senior management.

“For the majority of hospitality expenditures, Accounting Operations receives the pre-authorization form after the expenditure has been incurred,” says the internal report.

The practice is specifically banned by the Financial Administration Act, and since coming to power in 2006, the Conservatives have further tightened spending on hospitality to curtail alleged abuses.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Raitt not optimistic about postal settlement

Locked-out Canadian postal workers hoped to win more public support across Canada Friday, but it looked like an uphill climb.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers planned to begin a series of rallies, with the first events held Friday in Toronto and Vancouver.

Canada Post — which locked out the 48,000 workers and ceased most services Tuesday after 12 days of walkouts that rotated among major cities — is continuing talks with the union, but says it has seen little headway. The union also said there has been little progress as the two sides face the prospect of government intervention.

On that, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt agrees. She told CBC News Friday the government expects to go ahead with plans to introduce back-to-work legislation in Parliament next week. A bill could be passed and signed into law as early as Thursday.

"There has not been significant movement in the past 15 days on the issues of short-term disability and sick bank, or on the issue of how to deal with pensions or on the issue of workplace methods," she said.

"Those three things are continuously at the table, and we are not seeing a whole lot of progress on them."

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Bike lane plan disappoints cycling advocates

Cycling advocates are unhappy with a city plan that falls short of a full downtown network of separated lanes and would potentially paint over two existing lanes in Scarborough.

“We’re disappointed with the lack of progress in the report,” said Andrea Garcia, spokeswoman for the Toronto Cyclists Union, referring to a staff report going to the public works committee next week.

“We don’t see it as bold enough to address the needs of hundreds of thousands of Torontonians who ride bicycles.”

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

In Labor Board Dispute With Boeing, Growing Controversy Clouds Facts

Just months after fights to limits labor rights in Wisconsin and other states grabbed national attention, another messy labor dispute is getting headlines.  

One of the nation’s largest manufacturers, Boeing, has been sued by the government for allegedly punishing union workers by shifting a proposed new plant to another state. Republicans and other critics have charged that the government is overstepping its authority and creating a dangerous precedent.
The dispute has taken over congressional hearings, prompted more than a dozen states to chime in on Boeing’s side, and has even become a talking point for Republican presidential candidates. Tim Pawlenty compared the case to “the Soviet Union circa 1970s or 1960s or ‘50s.”
Amid all the rhetoric, we’ve decided to step back and lay out the facts.

What the controversy’s about

The National Labor Relations Board has alleged that Boeing scrapped its plans for a new plant in
Washington state to punish union workers there for going on strike. The company opened up a nonunion plant in South Carolina last Friday. If the claims are true, Boeing broke federal labor law.
The complaint was originally brought by the machinists union in 2010. The NLRB investigated and ultimately decided that the allegations were well-founded, and it sued. Cases like this often settle before going to a judge. That hasn’t happened here. And this week, Boeing and the NLRB faced off in court for the first time.

The administrative hearing this week is a hearing on the facts. If the decision is appealed, it will go to the NLRB’s board, which serves as a quasi-judicial body and acts independently of the agency’s general counsel. (As the agency explains it, the general counsel functions as a prosecutor, and the board functions as a court.)

Though the issue hasn’t yet come before the board, Republican critics have worried that it will rule in favor of the union because it has a Democratic majority at the moment.

Why the law’s simple, but the facts in the case aren’t

Federal labor law—specifically, the National Labor Relations Act—protects workers from retaliation or threats of retaliation for exercising the right to form a union, bargain collectively, or go on strike.

“There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about this case as a matter of the legal principles at stake,” said Catherine Fisk, a University of California-Irvine law professor and former Justice Department attorney. Fisk has written extensively about labor law and the NLRB.

According to Fisk, the question is whether the labor board can prove that the dispute with the workers in Seattle was Boeing’s primary reason for moving its planned plant. Companies may legally shift work for reasons such as labor costs, but they may not do so out of retaliation against workers for past strikes or to prevent future strikes.

But at least two former NLRB chairmen have said that the case is unprecedented and have taken issue with the agency’s conclusion about Boeing’s motive.

Why establishing motive is tricky

In an interview last year with the Seattle Times, Boeing executive Jim Albaugh said the following about the decision to relocate: “The overriding factor was not the business climate, and it was not the wages we’re paying people today. It was that we can’t afford to have a work stoppage every three years.”

NLRB’s general counsel took that statement—and others—to mean that Boeing was trying to avoid the union, which had a history of strikes dating back to the 1970s.

However, the company has argued that Albaugh’s quote was taken out of context and have noted that his full statement went on to say more: “We can’t afford to continue the rate of escalation of wages as we have in the past. You know, those are the overriding factors. And my bias was to stay here but we could not get those two issues done despite the best efforts of the Union and the best efforts of the company.”

The Seattle Times had this take on Albaugh’s statements about the work in Seattle:

He repeatedly made clear that those two things—first, no strikes; second, lowered escalation of wages in the future—remain deal breakers for placing future work here.

Here’s the NLRB’s complaint against Boeing, filed in April [PDF]. Boeing has argued that it did not make the decision to open the plant in South Carolina out of retaliation against unionized employees. The company has also argued that the workers in Seattle weren’t adversely affected by the opening of the South Carolina factory because no jobs in Seattle were lost.

Full Article
Source: ProPublica 

America for Sale: Is Goldman Sachs Buying Your City?

In Chicago, it's the sale of parking meters to the sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi. In Indiana, it's the sale of the northern toll road to a Spanish and Australian joint venture. In Wisconsin it's public health and food programs, in California it's libraries. It's water treatment plants, schools, toll roads, airports, and power plants. It's Amtrak. There are revolving doors of corrupt politicians, big banks, and rating agencies. There are conflicts of interest. It's bipartisan.

And it's coming to a city near you -- it may already be there. We're talking about the sale of public assets to private investors. You may have heard of one-off deals, but what we'll be exploring with the Huffington Post is the scale and scope of what is a national and organized campaign to shift the way we govern ourselves. In an era of increasingly stretched local and state budgets, privatization of public assets may be so tempting to local politicians that the trend seems unstoppable. Yet, public outrage has stopped and slowed a number of initiatives.

While there are no televised debates around this issue, there is no polling, and there are no elections, who wins it will determine the literal shape of modern America. The Dylan Ratigan show is teaming up with the Huffington Post to do a three part series called "America for Sale", showing the pros and cons, and the politics and economics, of a new and far more privatized government.

On Wall Street, setting up and running "Infrastructure Funds" is big business, with over $140 billion run by such banks as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Australian infrastructure specialist Macquarie. Goldman's 2010 SEC filing should give you some sense of the scope of the campaign. Goldman says it will be involved with "ownership and operation of public services, such as airports, toll roads and shipping ports, as well as power generation facilities, physical commodities and other commodities infrastructure components, both within and outside the United States." While the bank sees increased opportunity in "distressed assets" (ie. Cities and states gone broke because of the financial crisis), the bank also recognizes "reputational concerns with the manner in which these assets are being operated or held."

The funds themselves are clear when communicating with investors about why they are good investments -- a public asset is usually a monopoly. Says Quadrant Real Estate Advisors: "Most assets are monopolistic in nature and have limited competitors, creating the opportunity for stable, long-term investment returns. Investment choices include economic assets and social assets." Quadrant notes that the market size is between $12-20 trillion, roughly the size of the American mortgage market. "Given the market and potential return opportunities, institutional investors should consider infrastructure a strategic investment allocation."

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

What Would Jesus Cut from Canada's Budget?

Reports are rife that the Harper government will initiate cuts in the coming years in a manner that will create winners and losers. The public service and other sectors are about to feel the pain.

All of this leaves Conservatives members in an awkward place. A large cohort of the governing party lays claim to being Christian, devoutly so. Many of them have told me that faith now finally has a place back in government. They hold to their religious tenets sincerely and can frequently be seen around the Hill feting various religious personalities. But with the failure to deal seriously with poverty, those of Christian persuasion in the Harper government are in a bind between honouring their faith and enjoying the perks of power.

Presumably those of the Christian faith would seek to undertake the upcoming cuts in the spirit of their Founder. And so, with a play on the famous religious phrase, "What Would Jesus Do?" let's ask ourselves "What Would Jesus Cut?"

It seems apparent that deficit reduction will hardly come from the wealthiest people in the land. And the reality that the $6 billion in corporate tax cuts will only profit the top 10 per cent of firms seems to constitute a kind of ethical slap in the face to Christ's own mandate that the poor and dispossessed should be the most direct beneficiaries of our spiritual and moral compassion.

In fact, in Canada, the poorer you are the more vulnerable you are becoming.

A new Statistics Canada report has just highlighted the growing challenge of poverty in Canada.

In looking over the religious and political establishments of his time, Jesus put forward a challenge for the ages, just as Muhammad, Buddha, Moses, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, and Mandela championed in their own time: the clear test of any good society is how it treats it most defenceless of citizens.

The issue for the Conservatives isn't so much where they will cut, but who they will support in tough times. There really is no large amount of room to debate this, in Christian terms at least, for the Bible affirms repeatedly that Christ placed the preference in sincere faith towards those who are struggling in poverty.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Access to Information Act Failure: Watchdog Suzanne Legault Finds Big Problems With Delays, Denials

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - Canada's information watchdog is renewing her call for modernization of the law that's supposed to give people access to federal files.

In her annual report, Suzanne Legault says the 28-year-old Access to Information Act is out of touch with current practices and expectations.

Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada, plans to analyze the legislation's shortcomings to provide parliamentarians with a review of what needs fixing.

Among the innovations she'd like to see is a duty to document information so there is an official record of important decisions made on behalf of Canadians.

The access law gives those who pay $5 the right to request information held by government departments and agencies.

Requests are to be answered within 30 days, but Legault's report says just over half are completed within that time limit.

Changes to the act could speed up processing of requests and help ensure more information is released, she says.

The law allows agencies to withhold passages or entire pages that fall under exemptions related to national security, legal privilege, advice from officials and many other areas.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Obama Is Wrong About Congress and Libya

I am not a Constitutional law expert. But I've lived through enough cycles of America entering, waging, and recovering from wars to be absolutely sure in saying: the Obama Administration is making a big mistake in so stubbornly refusing to involve Congress in the commitment to war in Libya.

Let's move past the technicalities: that this is not "really" a war, since we have not sent troops into battle and are supporting the air campaign via NATO; that the War Powers act might not exactly fit these circumstances;  that many of the Republicans now saying the War Powers act must be observed were against it in other times; and so on.

For purposes of argument, let's grant every one of those points. Let's assume that you could make a courtroom case that Obama has violated neither the Constitution nor the War Powers act in what is now a three-month-old military campaign in a foreign country. (For a strong and detailed contrary argument, see this.)

None of those remove the problem, which is not about technicalities. The central concern, and the major threat to our politics, is that once again we are going to war essentially on one person's say-so. Yes, that person is the Commander in Chief; yes, he is committing force for what he considers to be good and prudent reasons; and yes, there are modern circumstances in which a President must be free to act first and consult later.

But after three months of combat, and after several decades of drift toward unilateral Executive Branch action on matters of war and peace, Obama is doing a disservice to the nation, history, and himself by insisting that the decision should be left strictly to him. If the Libyan campaign ultimately "goes well," he will not in any way lessen his own political and historic credit by having involved the Congress. If it goes poorly, he will be politically safer if this is not just his own judgment-call war. More important, in either case he will have helped the country if his conduct restores rather than further weakens the concept that a multi-branch Constitutional republic must share the responsibility to commit force. We can only imagine the eloquence with which a Candidate Obama would be making this exact case were he not in the White House now.

Full Article
Source: The Atlantic 

Toronto looking to contract out police janitors

Mayor Rob Ford has quietly launched a new front in his campaign to contract out city services, serving notice to unions that roughly 135 police janitorial jobs will likely be farmed out to the private sector.

In a June 15 letter to the heads of CUPE Local 79 and Local 416, the unions that oversee custodial workers, the city warns of an “adjustment to the manner in which [custodial] services are provided” and states that the Toronto Police Services Board requested the city explore private options.

The decision would plunge the police board into another round of testy labour talks just one week after ratifying a contract for officers that grants 11.34 per cent in wage increases over four years as well as significant improvements to vacation time, travel allowances and other benefits.

“I find it reprehensible that this administration would try to balance the books on the backs of the lowest-paid employees within Toronto Police Services,” said Mark Ferguson, president of Local 416, which represents about 35 police custodians, “especially after having awarded such a lucrative contract to our brothers and sisters with the police.”

The unions have agreed to meet with representatives from the city’s labour relations department on Tuesday morning, where the city will provide its rationale for the move. The unions will then have 45 days to file a formal dispute to the city.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

On human smuggling, Tories plan to make Canada less desirable

For the Conservative government, new legislation that will subject some refugee claimants to detention is about more than deterring human smuggling.

It’s also about persuading both Canadians and Americans that this country’s borders are secure.

The Conservative government reintroduced legislation Thursday that aims to discourage ships from arriving off Canada’s coasts crammed with migrants seeking asylum. The bill allows the immigration minister to designate such claimants as an “irregular arrival,” making them subject to detention for up to a year while their identity is verified and their claims processed.

The purpose of the legislation, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in an interview, is to make Canada less desirable as a destination for migrants who sometimes pay tens of thousands of dollars to human smugglers to travel here on unsafe vessels, such as the roughly 500 who arrived on the Sun Sea and Ocean Lady in 2009 and 2010.

But it is also intended, he said, to assure the U.S. government that Canada is taking the steps necessary to control the border at a time when the two governments are negotiating new economic and security agreements.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Canada Post becomes focus of House on back-to-work bill

A tentative deal between Air Canada and its striking workers means the government can now turn its attention to back-to-work legislation to end the lockout at Canada Post.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt announced the tentative deal shortly after 1 p.m. ET in the House of Commons, about an hour after the government introduced legislation that would force the union back to work.

"We're very, very pleased with how it unfolded and I know that putting the legislation on the order paper and following through in process today was a tool that was needed in order to focus the parties and narrow the issues and get them to where they are," Raitt said, adding she worked with NDP labour critic Yvon Godin to try to convince the two sides to go back to the table.

Air Canada says employees are expected to return to work effective Friday morning.

In a statement, the airline says the parties reached a tentative agreement on all elements of a new contract except for pension arrangements for workers hired after the ratification of the collective agreement. That issue will be referred to binding arbitration.

The deal means the government can instead plan to turn its attention to another back-to-work bill, to end the lockout at Canada Post, on Tuesday.

Raitt will introduce back-to-work legislation for Canada Post in the House on Monday, but it's up to the NDP to set the debate on that day, because it's one of the few days allocated to the Opposition's agenda.

The NDP is strongly opposed to the bill and has promised to slow debate on it.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Federal cheques out June 20 despite postal lockout

Canada Post reminded Canadians on Thursday that despite the labour dispute, postal workers will be delivering two million public pension and government cheques across the country on Monday, June 20.

An agreement was reached with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers in March 2011 to ensure delivery of the cheques.

The cheques being delivered include the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, Veteran's Affairs Pension Plan, Canada Tax Benefit and Receiver General of Canada.

The Crown corporation also said Quebec's Pension, Child Assistance and Income Security cheques as well as Alberta's Pension cheques will be delivered on that day.

All post offices will be open on June 20 to allow customers to retrieve their cheques, but they will not be handling any other retail transactions.

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt will introduce back-to-work legislation for Canada Post in the House on Monday.

Canada Post suspended operations late Tuesday after postal workers had been engaged in 12 days of rotating strikes.

Source: CBC news 

Up in smoke: Ottawa moves to privatize medical marijuana grow ops

OTTAWA—The federal government is poised to tighten the rules on medical marijuana so that only licensed private operators are allowed to grow it, the Canadian Press has learned.

Sources say Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq wants to take individuals and Health Canada out of the business of growing pot.

Instead, she wants to tender licences to the private sector to produce marijuana in a way that is similar to how conventional drugs are produced — by companies, under tightly regulated conditions.

The move is a response to complaints from mayors, police and firefighters — mainly in British Columbia — who say sanctioned growers are abusing their permits and often growing far more than they need.

Just this month, for example, police in Maple Ridge, B.C., found more than 1,400 plants at a site that was permitted to grow just 220.

“There are significant issues with people cultivating above the limit,” said Eric Nash, a legal cannabis expert on Vancouver Island.

Police have also complained that even growers who stick to their limit attract criminals to their sites, creating a neighbourhood safety risk.

And municipal officials are concerned about the fire hazard from chemicals and faulty wiring that may be used in growing the plants.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Feds reject nearly half of G20 compensation claims

The federal government has rejected almost half the claims made by downtown businesses for losses incurred as a result of last summer’s G20 summit.

Of the 367 claims submitted by Toronto business owners, 169 have been accepted, though not necessarily for the amount owners were seeking.

The government budgeted $10 million to help Toronto businesses recover losses from the summit weekend but has so far awarded less than one-fifth that amount.

The claims totalled more than $11 million, but less than $2 million has been handed out. Another 161 claims were wholly rejected; 37 more are still awaiting decision.

“Basically, they’ve blown me off,” said celebrity chef Mark McEwan, owner of Bymark restaurant in the TD Centre on Wellington St. W.

McEwan said he boarded up his restaurant for 10 days — a full week before the summit — and lost $170,000 in revenue. But he only filed a claim for $26,500, the cost of disassembling and storing the 140-seat patio, along with fortifying the restaurant, which he says he was “forced” to do by security officials. The government rejected his claim.

“They told me I didn’t have to close. What do you mean I didn’t have to close? They basically closed the whole neighbourhood down.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade set up the compensation process after the summit to lessen the financial burden caused by the summit’s extraordinary security measures, which effectively shut down parts of the downtown core for an entire weekend last June.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Is Industrial Agriculture Really the Answer?

In a world where hunger and obesity co-exist, the problem is more about equity than shortage.

We often assume the only way to feed the world’s rapidly growing human population is with large-scale industrial agriculture. Many would argue that genetically altering food crops is also necessary to produce large enough quantities on smaller land areas to feed the world’s people.

But recent scientific research is challenging those assumptions. Our global approaches to agriculture are critical. To begin, close to one billion people are malnourished, and many more are finding it difficult to feed their families as food prices increase. But is large-scale industrial farming the answer?

Large industrial farms are energy-intensive, using massive amounts of fossil fuels for machinery, processing, and transportation. Burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change, and the increasing price of oil is causing food prices to rise. Deforestation and plowing also release tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing further to climate change. Furthermore, industrial farms require more chemical inputs, such as pesticides and fertilizers.

Agriculture also affects the variety of plant and animal species in the world. According to a review of scientific literature by Michael Jahi Chappell and Liliana Lavalle, which was published in the journal Agriculture and Human Values, agricultural development is a major factor in the rapid decline in global biodiversity.
Full Article
Source: The Mark 

At Netroots, Bloggers Ask if Democrats Are Pro-Labor

Liberal activists rallied in Minneapolis on Thursday for Netroots Nation, a blogger conference that is now one of the largest gatherings in progressive politics.  A whopping 2,400 people are here this year, the highest turnout in the conference's six-year history.  The draw is simple: a string of speeches, panels and parties with new political stars, from hometown Senator Al Franken to Paul Ryan's would-be nemesis Rob Zerbin, along with progressive classics like Van Jones, Howard Dean and Russ Feingold – liberals who have been more vanquished than rewarded for their prescience.

In the first timeslot on Thursday morning, organizers from MoveOn, DFA, PCCC and AFT outlined lessons from the Wisconsin labor protests.  About half of the standing-room crowd was from Wisconsin, according to a show of hands, and they were interested in how to tap the backlash to change the dynamics beyond Wisconsin.

"We pushed our national membership to not just be bystanders, but to actively partake in this election recall process," said PCCC's Adam Green.  PCCC raised money online for a series of ads featuring Wisconsin residents, which targeted Republicans who had voted against collective bargaining rights.   Levana Layendecker, a communications strategist for DFA, said her group spent $1.5 million on their Wisconsin effort. She used her appearance to announce a DFA program to hire 35 new organizers for the Wisconsin recalls.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Progressives 'Break Up' With Obama

MINNEAPOLIS -- President Barack Obama is decidedly "not [the left's] boyfriend anymore," progressive supporters of gay- and immigrant-rights said on Thursday, rebuking the White House for breaking promises to the left while also asking them for money.

The message to those in the room for "What to Do When the President is Just Not that Into You," a Netroots Nation panel, was be more demanding, don't take no for an answer and compromises aren't good enough.

Lt. Dan Choi, who was discharged from the military for running afoul of its anti-gay Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, provided a visual when an Organizing for America volunteer stood up and asked him to support Obama in 2012. The man said he did not support gay marriage -- "civil unions?" he offered weakly -- and Choi promptly ripped up an Organizing for America flyer he had been given and threw it back in the man's face.

The four panelists -- Choi, immigration reform supporter Felipe Matos, America Blog writer John Aravosis and Fire Dog Lake Founder Jane Hamsher -- said they are planning to hold the White House's collective feet to the fire for its decisions on civil rights, whether it would hurt Obama's reelection chances or not.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Risk to sex workers may be justified, court told

 The electrical power bar alone tells a story.

Slightly askew on the green courtroom carpet, it boasts a tangle of cords running to the iPads and computers of the lawyers’ contingent involved in this week’s prostitution challenge.

Many act for interveners who finally made their pitches to the Ontario Court of Appeal on Thursday, weighing in on everything from the morality of sex for money to absence of health and safety protections for prostitutes.

First up was Ranjan Agarwal, a lawyer representing a coalition of conservative and religious groups who want the court to reverse Justice Susan Himel’s decision from last year that found Criminal Code prohibitions on bawdy houses and prostitution-related activities unconstitutional.

Himel found they infringed the right to security of the person and did not accord with fundamental justice because they prevented sex workers from taking steps to protect themselves, including hiring bodyguards, currently banned by provisions against living on the avails of the prostitution.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

30% of corporate jet flights go to resorts

They're pitched as useful tools to get executives where they need to be, quickly and efficiently. But more often than not corporate jets are just used so the CEO can have a quick beach vacation, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper looked at FAA records of every U.S. flight taken between 2007 and 2010. Their analysis of the data, published Thursday, found that for dozens of jets belonging to publicly traded companies, about 30 per cent of the trips were to resort destinations.

In some cases, more than 50 per cent of the trips were to sun destinations, or to remote areas where executives own homes, the paper reported.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Tories revive controversial human-smuggling bill

OTTAWA—The Conservative government says it will use its new muscle in Parliament to pass a controversial bill to end “human smuggling.”

It revived a package to toughen sanctions against the ship owners and organizers of large-scale smuggling operations along with strict measures to deter or discourage their would-be “customers” — those seeking refuge in Canada.

The bill met widespread condemnation last fall from the opposition, faith groups, refugee advocates, and the Canadian Bar Association. Critics say they support increased penalties against smugglers, but argue the principal targets of the bill, as the bar association outlined, “are the refugee claimants themselves, whether genuine or not.”

The Canadian Council for Refugees said Thursday it will have “little or no deterrent effect.” Convicted large-scale smugglers already face penalties of up to life in prison and a $1 million fine. Rather, said spokesperson Janet Dench, it will punish the people fleeing persecution, including children. “It’s extraordinary.”

New Democrat public safety critic Don Davies said the bill breaches Charter and international legal protections against arbitrary detention, and guarantees of prompt review of detention. The NDP will propose amendments, but with the Conservative majority now, the government has enough votes to pass it in the Commons and Senate.

The Conservatives say the measures will pass constitutional muster, but Dench says no outside legal opinions support that claim, and notes the Supreme Court of Canada has already denounced long-term detention without review even for national security threats.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star