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.]

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Riot Crackdown was Cack-handed

You would be forgiven for thinking that 30 years after the last major round of riots in London, the government would have learned a thing or two from its (Conservative) predecessor.

But you would be wrong.

While those best acquainted with the culprits – youth workers and members of the community – were careful not to draw any conclusions in the first days of rioting, the Prime Minister knew within hours of his return from a Tuscan holiday, just what kind of problem he was facing.

The first hint that his promise of “swift justice” might be amiss, was that various parts of the capital had already been burning for two nights.

More worryingly, the PM hasn’t seemed terribly keen to find out why people took a sudden interest in making Molotov cocktails and setting things on fire.

He said the behaviour of these young miscreants was simply “sickening” – a fair enough start if you wish to proceed to a more reasoned diagnosis.

But he didn’t.

Absence of Empathy

As the latest memorial of mass murder recedes into our collective calendar’s crossed out dates, we should look back…at how we look back, and peer beyond the grief and suffering, into the rank hypocrisy of America’s leaders who make a mockery of it all.

When President Barack Obama read scriptures and saluted the armed forces on Sunday, little was said of the injustice the U.S. government continues to commit against its own people.

On September 11, 2001, fire-fighters, police, emergency services and regular civilians waded into the poisonous wreckage of the twin towers in search of survivors and human remains.

Perhaps they had no idea.

Or they put out of mind, the maw of toxicity in which they were working:  90,000 litres of jet fuel from the fallen planes, hundreds of tonnes of asbestos, pulverised lead, mercury and other highly toxic chemicals.

These men and women went in wearing no more than a bandanna over their mouths or what the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart described as the kind of mask “a Japanese businessman would wear when he has a cold.”

Some responders were given protection, many were not.

Payroll tax bill includes funds for more immigration detention beds

The congressional showdown over payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits continues after the GOP-led House voted Tuesday against a Senate bill approved over the weekend.

The bill to extend payroll tax cuts and extend unemployment benefits is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, H.R. 3671, a $1 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill that funds several federal government departments, including Defense and Homeland Security.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that “the House voted Tuesday to scuttle a deal brokered in the Senate to extend the payroll-tax holiday and federal unemployment insurance for two months.”

The Journal adds that the “vote leaves Congress at a familiar impasse, just days after a final deal seemed to be in sight. Senate leaders reached an agreement late last week to extend for two months the payroll-tax cut, federal unemployment benefits and a measure to reimburse doctors for treating Medicare patients.”

Riding Israel: A tragicomedy

The film "Mission Impossible 4" opened in US theatres in recent weeks, starring BMW, Apple and Tom Cruise. A two-hour-long commercial on steroids.

If you are unfamiliar with it, Paid Product Placement (PPP) is a big thing in the movie industry.

This is how it works: Hollywood places in its movies certain watches, cars or a laptop brands; preferably worn by George Clooney, driven by Angelina Jolie or placed in front of Meg Ryan. In "The Transformers", for example, GM’s Cameros lead with Megan Fox.

PPP is indirect marketing that targets oblivious movie viewers, gender notwithstanding, Catherine Banning or Will Smith could be drinking Pepsi.

The spirit and soul of a movie are sometimes compromised when its script and shooting are shaped by commercial, rather than artistic, considerations.

PPP allows for extra budgets to produce costlier gimmicks that, in turn, bring more profit. "Mission Impossible", for example, has reaped $75m in the first 10 days at the box office.

The same logic seems to apply to politics. PPP is one way to understand the sudden surge of Israel-schmoozing and Palestine abusing ahead of the US election.

Rob Ford’s 911 Calls Need Process, Not Leaks

Suddenly, the Ford family’s penchant for calling 911 stopped being quite so funny, or even funny at all.

Far from simply being a roundup of 911 calls placed from the house, the story reported by the Toronto Star ended up being a sad and troubling intimation of marital strife. Nobody knows what’s really going on, only that there’s domestic unrest bad enough to have the police called in repeatedly, but apparently not involving physical violence.

Almost as soon as the story appeared, you could all but hear the city’s political machinery gasp and seize. A story like this, stingy on details, nebulous in exactly which pieces of information came from whom, and no doubt lawyered to within an inch of its life, is terrifically hard to respond to. It confronts us once again with the question of where a politician’s personal life ends and his public life begins, but forces us to do so without the benefit of a complete story to work with. But, whether or not we should be talking about Rob Ford’s home life, the story has run. Now we’re talking about it.

Newt Gets Wet

Newt was on fire for a couple of weeks there, wasn’t he? Alas, the flames seem to be guttering just in time for Iowa. The Republican Establishment Fire Department, worried that the whole gated neighborhood might burn down, has deployed the big hoses. A possibly decisive dousing was administered earlier this week on page one of the Wall Street Journal:
Newt Gingrich voiced enthusiasm for Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health-care plan as recently as five years ago, the same plan he has been denouncing over the last few months as he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination.
“The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to effect major changes in the American health system,” said an April 2006 newsletter published by Mr. Gingrich’s former consulting company, the Center for Health Transformation.
The two-page “Newt Notes” analysis, found online by The Wall Street Journal even though it no longer appears on the center’s website, continued: “We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans.”
Quelle horreur.

Gas And Other Fuels Are Top U.S. Exports, For First Time

NEW YORK -- For the first time, the top export of the United States, the world's biggest gas guzzler, is – wait for it – fuel.

Measured in dollars, the nation is on pace this year to ship more gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel than any other single export, according to U.S. Census data going back to 1990. It will also be the first year in more than 60 that America has been a net exporter of these fuels.

Just how big of a shift is this? A decade ago, fuel wasn't even among the top 25 exports. And for the last five years, America's top export was aircraft.

The trend is significant because for decades the U.S. has relied on huge imports of fuel from Europe in order to meet demand. It only reinforced the image of America as an energy hog. And up until a few years ago, whenever gasoline prices climbed, there were complaints in Congress that U.S. refiners were not growing quickly enough to satisfy domestic demand; that controversy would appear to be over.

Still, the U.S. is nowhere close to energy independence. America is still the world's largest importer of crude oil. From January to October, the country imported 2.7 billion barrels of oil worth roughly $280 billion.

Sifting through the golf sands for a hint of North Korea’s future

In keeping with his orderly ascension from ranking army general to top political official to supreme leader of the last hard-line Communist country on earth, North Korea’s chubby young Kim Jong-un is expected soon to take up golf, where he will challenge his father’s record of scoring almost a dozen holes-in-one on his first try at the game.

Afforded little else in the way of information on the internal doings of the secretive country, observers will be reduced to parsing news of the young leader’s score, speculating on what it might mean should he fail to match his father’s 38-under-par.

Such is the fantasy scenario of North Korea’s notorious – often ludicrous – propaganda machine, which is operating at full throttle after the death of the country’s last demigod ruler. Observers question whether the regime can maintain the barrage of lies big and little it has used for so long to mislead and repress its citizens.

In particular, they wonder how long it will be before the flood of information loosened by the digital revolution, which helped destabilize and wash away repressive regimes throughout the Middle East this year, finally leaks through slowly widening cracks in the Kimchi Curtain.

Egypt Raids Democracy Groups' Offices

CAIRO -- It was an unusually intense raid on pro-democracy groups backed by some of Egypt's closest allies, including the United States: Special commandos in full gear sealed office doors shut with wax, demanded computer passwords, carted away boxes of documents and searched the bathrooms.

Rights groups on Friday denounced the startling show of force in the raids on 10 organizations a day earlier and accused Egypt's ruling generals of trying to silence critics as the country approaches the first anniversary of the revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

Less than two weeks after the military violently crushed street protests leaving dozens killed and hundreds injured, some warned Thursday's raids were a sign of a fiercer crackdown ahead of new protests planned for Jan. 25, the anniversary of the start of the 18-day mass uprising.

The sweep was also a dramatic escalation in the military's campaign to portray the protests against its rule as a plot by "foreign hands" against Egypt.

US seals deal on $3.48-billion sale of missiles, technology to UAE

The United States has reached a deal to sell $3.48 billion worth of missiles and related technology to the United Arab Emirates, a close Mideast ally, as part of a massive buildup of defence technology among friendly Mideast nations near Iran.

Pentagon spokesman George Little announced the Christmas Day sale on Friday night. He said the U.S. and UAE have a strong defence relationship and are both interested in “a secure and stable” Persian Gulf region.

The deal includes 96 missiles, along with supporting technology and training support that Little says will bolster the nation's missile defence capacity.

The deal includes a contract with Lockheed Martin to produce the highly sophisticated Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, weapon system for the UAE.

14-Year-Old Occupier Arrested at Iowa Democratic Party Headquarters

Occupy Iowa continued a string of protests on Thursday, this time outside Democratic Party headquarters in Des Moines, resulting in the arrests of 12 people. Among them was 14-year-old Frankie Hughes, who was released into her father's custody at the scene and may face a juvenile court proceeding. The overall tenor of the arrests was peaceful and symbolic.

When the protesters first arrived, Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman Sue Dvorsky and executive director Norm Sterzenbach came out to greet them. The two party officials spent about 20 minutes expressing their frustrations with what they considered to be a distraction, but also their willingness to listen to the protesters' grievances. Then they went back inside to prepare for the January 3 caucuses, and soon called the police.

The protesters originally planned to demonstrate outside Barack Obama's campaign headquarters, after having focused their attention Wednesday on Mitt Romney. They changed their plans after an impromptu early morning protest at Ron Paul's headquarters, and after hearing that Obama's headquarters had closed for the day. At the new location, about 40 protesters focused their attention on Obama's ties to Wall Street and his support of the National Defense Authorization Act, which codified the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects arrested on US soil.

"We are here to listen to you. We are not trying to ignore you," Dvorsky had told protesters before the arrests. "But we don't know what you want," she added, expressing frustration that, after eight protesters were arrested at the same location 10 days prior, some occupiers had turned down a subsequent offer to meet with her and instead showed up to protest on Thursday unannounced. When protesters asked Dvorsky to make a phone call to the White House to request that the president meet with Occupy Iowa, she refused, calling the demand unrealistic. "You guys are working outside of electoral politics," she added. "We work inside of it. That's the best answer I can give you."

Air Miles 5-Year Expiry: Plan To Limit Time To Redeem Points Has Some Consumers Upset

As of New Year's Eve, Air Miles collectors will have exactly five years to use their existing miles before they expire, a change that has some members of the reward program upset.

All Air Miles accrued by tomorrow will have to be redeemed by December 31, 2016, or they will disappear. All miles collected past tomorrow will also face a five-year limit.

The move, announced this week by the reward program, has prompted a backlash from consumers on the Air Miles Facebook page, with many complaining it takes them long enough as it is to collect the miles they need.

"I guess the dream of flying to Europe with my wife using Air Miles is just a dream," one commenter wrote on Facebook.

"We chose Air Miles over Aeroplan and other such points collector cards for the simple fact that air miles didn't expire," wrote another commenter. "I will be cancelling my Air Miles Mastercard..."

Air Miles collectors gather miles by making qualified purchases from the program's participating sponsors. Until now, the miles — redeemable for eligible merchandise, including electronic goods, plane tickets and vacation packages — never carried an expiration date.

Harper pushing Canadians to private sector for services: Turmel

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is eroding the federal public service so that Canadians will turn to the private sector for the services they need, charges interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel.

Speaking in a year-end interview with iPolitics, Turmel said the government is cutting back everywhere and reducing the public service without a clear and defined program.

“If you erode the services, people turn away from those services and automatically go towards another sector,” Turmel said. “They will let services go and, at that point, people turn towards the private sector.”

Job services are one area where Turmel sees that happening.

“We have more and more private job sector services that do research for jobs,” said Turmel, a former head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. “It is one example of the privatization of certain services.”

Salutin: The decline of deference

Time magazine named The Protester its 2011 “Person of the Year” because, for decades till recently, most protests “seemed ineffectual and irrelevant.” That’s just silly. You can always find resistance and, depending on how you judge, it’s often relevant. The spirit of protest is indomitable and inspiring. Eruptions happen constantly, exactly when you don’t expect them. That defines resistance: it shouldn’t exist but it resists anyway. Often it’s crushed but it didn’t fail to happen because Time failed to deem it coverworthy.

What may have been unique this past year was something else: a collapse of the conventional fountains of authority and respect. In the Arab world that meant governments. But in the West, it meant big business and finance. The brilliance of Occupy Wall Street was that it didn’t go to Washington. The Tea Party did; it directed its rage toward politicians and so it was eclipsed by the Occupiers, who targetted the bankers and financiers who control governments. That clearly resonated, but it wouldn’t have, 20 or 30 years ago.

Think back to the torrent of bestselling business bios and takeover epics like Iacocca or Barbarians at the Gate that began around 1980. Business was the hero; government was the “problem” because it impeded business’s freedom (even if business icons like Lee Iacocca demanded and relied on public money). Pro-business think-tanks proliferated; they disgorged “educational” series, often on public TV, by advocates like Milton Friedman. This accelerated through the Clinton-Bush years and beyond. Disdain for the über-rich was unthinkable until —

Michael Ignatieff: Intellectual hypocrisy

Vancouver, Canada - Under Stephen Harper's Conservatives, Canada has developed a reputation as the most pro-Israel government in the western world.

Three years ago, Canada refused to utter a word of criticism about Israeli war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead against Gaza. Before that, back in 2006, the first year of the Harper government, Canada insisted that Israel's attacks on Lebanon were "a measured response" - even after a Canadian family and a Canadian UN peacekeeper were among the victims killed by the intensive Israeli bombing.

So it was no surprise that when, in November, a Canadian boat with the Freedom Waves Flotilla to Gaza was hijacked in international waters by Israel's navy, there was not a word of concern uttered by the Harper government for the Canadians detained in an Israeli jail. That same month, Defence Minister Peter MacKay met with his counterpart Ehud Barak to announce new military co-operation between Israel and Canada. The Harper government also obliged with some saber rattling and the announcement of new, strengthened sanctions against Iran.

Although Canada never deserved its reputation as a "fair broker" in the Middle East, there has been a marked shift in recent years culminating in loud, explicit support for Israel's wars of aggression and its occupation. But Canada's ignominious status as enabler of Israeli occupation on the world stage has also been facilitated by rampant political cowardice among opposition politicians. In many cases they know better, but remain silent for fear of bearing the brunt of an organised and well-funded lobby that defends Israeli policies.

Rob Ford’s war on public transit

Bungled and botched policies are hallmarks of the Ford administration, but no file has been more badly mishandled at Toronto City Hall than public transit. The impact of that failure hits riders starting Sunday, when a 10-cent fare increase kicks in. But that marks only the beginning of their woes in the coming year, and beyond, thanks to Mayor Rob Ford.

On taking office last December, Ford forthrightly declared his goal of making life easier for motorists, announcing: “The war on the car is over.” Left unsaid — but made clear by subsequent events — was that a war on public transit had begun.

The 10-cent fare hike is part of the onslaught. Yes, there have been plenty of fare increases in the past, including under Ford’s predecessor, David Miller. But Miller raised fares while expanding public transit and giving riders more for their money. The Ford administration is doing the opposite — burdening commuters with new costs while reducing Toronto Transit Commission service levels. Meanwhile car owners pocket an extra $60 a year thanks to Ford’s elimination of the city’s motor vehicle tax.

The mayor’s favouritism toward drivers goes even beyond that. It was instrumental in his killing of Transit City, a fully funded expansion of TTC service that would have pushed light rail lines into almost every part of Toronto. Ford’s main objection was that cars would have had to share street space with these lines, which he called a “disaster.”

Orthodox Judaism treats women like filthy little things

If a man and a woman are drowning in a river, first they'll save the man, 'who is obligated to perform more commandments,' whereas a woman's 'wisdom is only in the spindle.' In fact, 'words of Torah should be burned rather than being given to women.'

If you would like to know the source from which your brothers derive their brazen behavior, go over to the study hall and open a page of Talmud. It's true that the Torah has 70 faces, but the trend of these faces is clear: The source of the pollution is in halakha (Jewish law ) itself. What is happening in Beit Shemesh and its satellites is not "contrary to halakha," it is mandated by halakha. And the rest will be told to the grandmothers, daughters and granddaughters.

Anyone ignoramus knows that the Torah's "ways are ways of pleasantness," that "the honor of a king's daughter is within," and that "proper behavior comes before the Torah," but it's worth knowing more. It's worth knowing that a woman is unfit to be a judge, and is also unfit to give testimony. She is unfit for any public position with authority. "Thou shalt appoint a king over thee" - a king and not a queen.

A daughter, commanded the sages, must not be taught Torah, because "the mind of woman is not suited to be taught, but [only] to words of nonsense." Women are light-minded and have little knowledge.

And if a man and a woman are drowning in a river, first they'll save the man, "who is obligated to perform more commandments," whereas a woman's "wisdom is only in the spindle." In fact, "words of Torah should be burned rather than being given to women."

Jerry Brown On Occupy Oakland: Governor Vows To Help Prevent Port Shutdown

Since the Occupy movement began spreading through California early this fall, many questioned Jerry Brown's silence on the issue.

The governor offered no comments on the state's more than 150 separate Occupy groups, nor would he discuss the violent police activity that shed the national spotlight on incidents in both Oakland and Davis.

But that changed on Tuesday, when he finally responded to reporter questions about Occupy Oakland's efforts to shut down the city's port. Brown, who served as Oakland's mayor from 1999-2007, said he would do everything in his power to keep the Port of Oakland running -- short of employing the National Guard.

“I’d give whatever help was needed,” the governor told CBS News. “We don’t look to the Guard for police work except under extreme emergencies. However, there are resources under mutual aid and in Oakland. With some leadership and some imagination, not only can they keep the port open, but they should keep the port open.”

GoDaddy Boycott: Domain-Hosting Company Changes SOPA Stance

Thursday's GoDaddy boycott may not have been the revolution some had hoped for, but it was enough to convince the domain hosting firm to publicly oppose the controversial Stop Internet Piracy Act ("SOPA").

As reported by CNET, GoDaddy CEO Warren Adelman said on Thursday:
We have observed a spike in domain name transfers, which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to GoDaddy's prior support for SOPA, which was reversed. GoDaddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stake-holders in the technology and Internet communities.
While GoDaddy had previously withdrawn its support for SOPA, until Thursday's statement, the company had not voiced public disagreement towards the bill, which the House Judiciary Committee had been debating before adjourning for the holiday.

According to Yahoo, about 70,000 domains had already been switched before Thursday's planned boycott. While these numbers aren't extremely consequential to a company that hosts 50 million websites worldwide, these withdrawals along with high profile moves from Wikipedia, Cheezburger and image sharing site Imgur seem to have been enough to force GoDaddy's hand.

Imgur, one of the largest image hosting sites on the web, announced on Wednesday that it had changed its registry entries. Imgur founder and owner Alan Schaaf told Fox, "I'm against the SOPA act and imgur as a company is against it. We just feel it is terrible that would support this legislation."

Further supporting the argument that it was the public outcry and not the domain transfers themselves that changed GoDaddy's stance, TechDirt reports that on the day of the boycott almost twice as many domains were transferred into GoDaddy's network as out. GoDaddy actually ended "Dump GoDaddy Day" up 20,748 domains. TechDirt's stats come from Daily Changes, a DNS changes and web hosting activity monitoring site.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Verizon Fee: Mobile Network Operator Scraps Convenience Fee After Customer Uproar

Well, isn't that convenient! After public outcry, Verizon has decided that it will not instate a $2 "convenience fee" for customers paying monthly bills with a credit or debit card via the Internet or telephone.

A press release on the Verizon website announced the carrier's change of heart and credited "customer feedback about the plan" for its decision:
Verizon Wireless has decided it will not institute the fee for online or telephone single payments that was announced earlier this week. The company made the decision in response to customer feedback about the plan, which was designed to improve the efficiency of those transactions. The company continues to encourage customers to take advantage of the numerous simple and convenient payment methods it provides.

Verizon Convenience Fee: Customers To Be Charged $2 For Paying Bill Online Via Credit Card

In a move that is sure to upset some customers, Verizon has announced on its website that it will start charging a $2 convenience fee "for customers who make single bill payments online or by telephone."

The $2 fee will apply to those who pay with credit or debit cards on a per-statement basis, either through the company's website or by telephone, and the company says that the fee is designed to offset the cost that credit card companies charge Verizon for processing payments.

On its website, Verizon is encouraging its customers to choose one of seven alternative payment options to avoid incurring the fee -- those options include enrolling in an Auto-Pay system on the company's website, paying via check or cash via mail, paying at a Verizon kiosk, or paying with a Verizon gift card.

The new fee goes into effect on January 15.

Community College Budget Cuts Drive Students To For-Profit Schools

ONTARIO, Calif. -- Just after she started working for an ambulance company in this suburban enclave east of Los Angeles, Cierra Nelson came to admire the quick decision making and street smarts of the nurses she met on runs to local hospitals. She soon opted to pursue a nursing degree, settling on a low-cost, two-year program at a nearby community college that has an excellent job placement record.

But despite her efforts to complete the coursework in the ensuing four years, Nelson is still not a nurse. California's budget cuts have forced the state's community college system to scale back the availability of crucial science classes. Nelson found herself repeatedly turned away from the oversubscribed courses required for her degree.

Frustrated and seeking an alternative, she took out more than $50,000 in student loans to enroll last winter in a nursing program at Everest College, one of many for-profit institutions that have sprung up in the area amid massive cutbacks in public funding for higher education.

"When I first saw how high it was, it was kind of a shock," said Nelson, who eventually came to the conclusion that taking out loans made more sense than waiting semester after semester to take the community college classes she needed to advance. "I know it's a lot of money and I'll be in debt, but I've got to do what I need to do."

Margaret Thatcher Iron Lady Archives Reveal Behind The Scenes Battles Hidden For 30 Years

Margaret Thatcher's bitter battles within her cabinet over the economy, with the military over defence cuts, the Argentinians, the French and their concerns about the abuse of parliamentary expenses have been laid bare in secret documents published for the first time.

The remarkable records reveal how the former prime minister faced a near carbon copy of problems faced today by David Cameron.

The files, released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule that governs the publication of official government papers, come as interest in Thatcher has been re-ignited by the soon to be released biopic The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep.

Previously unseen, the documents cover the divisive leader's 11-year period in power between 1979 to 1990, which saw a radical transformation of British society and economy.

While famous for insisting she would stick by her economic policies, declaring that "the lady's not for turning" and expelling the so-called "wets" who opposed a squeeze on spending from her cabinet, the files reveal some of Thatcher's supporters in cabinet apparently feared she was in danger of "going soft" herself.

North Carolina Family Policy Council's 'Sniper' Image To Promote Same-Sex Marriage Ban Sparks Controversy

The North Carolina Family Policy Council's use of a violent image to promote the state's proposed amendment banning same-sex marriage has ignited controversy among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates.

The photograph, which can be found on page 13 of the winter 2012 issue of the organization's Family North Carolina publication, shows a traditionally-dressed bride and groom being targeted by an unseen sniper. It illustrates an article titled "Marriage In Society's Moral Crosshairs," by Jacqueline Schaffer, J.D.

"Protecting traditional marriage by enshrining it in the State Constitution is not only socially beneficial, but it is also necessary to protect religious liberty," Schaffer writes. "When the state sanctions a morally controversial lifestyle such as homosexuality, it will inevitably draw itself into conflict with the religious and moral beliefs of its citizens. Such conflict, however, is not hypothetical, and its outcomes are already well-documented."

The image has sparked the ire of several bloggers. Writes Unicorn Booty's Kevin Farrell: "Did the North Carolina Family Policy Council somehow sleep through that time Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head after Sarah Palin put her in a rifle's crosshairs? Didn't we come to the societal conclusion that crosshairs and gun imagery?"

MacKay slams Dexter on labour bill, shipbuilding

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says he’s worried about Nova Scotia’s future under Premier Darrell Dexter.

MacKay pointed to high taxes and the NDP’s recently passed first-contract arbitration law as harbingers of economic hard times.

"We have concerns about companies that want to invest here, or existing companies, going elsewhere because of questionable labour legislation that has been introduced against the protestations of the business community in Nova Scotia," he said.

It’s rare for provincial and federal politicians to scrap so openly, but MacKay’s comments in a phone interview with The Chronicle Herald on Thursday are just the latest in a series of words publicly exchanged between the federal minister and the premier.

It started after Halifax won the $25-billion main prize in the $35-billion national shipbuilding procurement strategy. MacKay criticized the provincial Ships Start Here campaign as misleading and worthless because the evaluations were independent.

Plant got big federal tax break

If London's Electro-Motive plant is closed and its jobs moved to Indiana, it'll be after having milked the benefits of a billion-dollar tax break once trumpeted on the plant floor by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Three years ago, Harper donned protective goggles and posed with workers to chat up how his government had created a $1-billion tax break for industry broadly and a $5-million break to grease the wheels for sales by the locomotive-maker.

"Ontario is the heart, it is still the engine of the Canadian economy," Harper said then. "There's no reason the Ontario economy can't be as strong as the economy in any other part of this country."

Harper wasn't talking Thursday, as many of those same workers faced off with a company now owned by Caterpillar Inc. that seemingly wants to slash wages and benefits by more than half or close the 61-year-old facility.

While a Harper spokesperson said she'd seek a comment from him, the task of answering was delegated to an Industry Canada spokesperson.

Rob Ford 911 calls raise questions

Early Christmas morning, police were called to the home of Mayor Rob Ford about a reported domestic dispute. It was the second such call in as many months.

On Oct. 25, less than 15 hours after Ford himself called 911 regarding the intrusion of the comedy show This Hour has 22 Minutes on his property, officers from 22 Division were back at the Etobicoke residence on a domestic call.

On Christmas, Ford’s mother-in-law called police between 4 and 5 a.m. to report that the mayor had been drinking and was taking his children to Florida against the wishes of his wife, Renata.

The Toronto police Youth and Family Violence Unit, which handles all domestic disputes, including incidents that are strictly verbal, is still investigating both events. No charges have been laid.

An interview request submitted to Ford’s office, which detailed the contents of this story, went unanswered.

According to numerous police and emergency service sources, 911 calls to the mayor’s Edenbridge Dr. home are a reality for the South Etobicoke division. Exactly how many calls have been made is unknown.

City surplus higher than predicted, sources say

This year’s City of Toronto budget surplus is higher than the forecast $139 million, sources say — a windfall that would increase pressure on Mayor Rob Ford’s allies to spare threatened city services.

City finance staff will reveal revenues for the first nine months of 2011, and update the year-end surplus projection, on Jan. 9. The same day, the budget committee will vote on $88 million in proposed cuts that include eliminating some homeless shelters, daycares, wading pools, community centres and programs for recreation, the arts and HIV prevention.

A source with knowledge of the calculations said the surplus to be carried over to 2012 is “significantly” higher than the $139 million predicted earlier this year. Another source would only say the operating surplus will be “more than $139 million, certainly.”

However, Councillor Mike Del Grande, the budget chief, told the Star on Thursday: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” And Cam Weldon, the city’s chief financial officer, said in an email: “I have not reviewed the final report so I can’t release a number now. Not sure of your sources but I doubt they are well informed.”

Education Ministry blasts Israeli Arab school for taking students to human rights march

The Education Ministry reprimanded the Arara High School and demanded clarifications after the school participated in a human rights march in Tel Aviv at the beginning of the month.

"The students carried signs against racism, house demolitions, etc., which violates the director general's circular [i.e. ministry regulations]," stated the letter sent to the school.

"This was a praiseworthy initiative by the students as part of their assignment in civics class," countered one of the school's teachers. "What better way to express civic involvement and internalize the material?"

A bus with students from the tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades went to the march, which was sponsored by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, on Friday three weeks ago, another teacher said. All the students had approval from their parents and all the students chose to participate, with the encouragement of the student council.

"It was a celebration of human rights," the teacher said. "There were students who said at the end of the march that this was one of the most important and significant days in their lives."

"A thousand civics classes couldn't give what that hour they spent there could," she added.