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.]

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Keystone XL Pipeline: TransCanada Says New Route Nearly Done; Environmental Worries Addressed

BISMARCK, N.D. - An executive with Canadian energy giant TransCanada Corp. says a new route will be proposed soon for the US$7 billion Keystone XL pipeline that has come under fire from critics.

Speaking Wednesday in Bismarck, TransCanada's Alex Pourbaix told North Dakota officials and oil industry representatives the company would present its amended plan to federal regulators "in a matter of a very few weeks."

The U.S. government in November delayed a decision on granting a permit for Keystone XL, largely because of worries about the pipeline's environmental impact, especially in Nebraska.

The disputed route runs through six states from Canada to Texas, carrying oilsands crude from Northern Alberta to refineries.

So-called feeder pipelines would connect the Keystone XL to the rich oil fields in North Dakota and Montana.

Keystone XL is part of a plan by the Canadian oil industry get more of Alberta's expanding oilsands output over the next few years to markets in the United States.

Another proposed pipeline — the Northern Gateway project across northern British Columbia — aims to deliver oil from Alberta to the West Coast for shipment via tanker to Asia.

That pipeline proposed by Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB) has also been criticized by environmentalists and is being reviewed by the National Energy Board in hearings that began this week in Kitimat, B.C.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

New United States military strategy a fork in the road for Canadian Forces

A new United States military strategy paints a bleak picture of a world threatened by China, Iran, and Al Qaeda and kept stable through the use of armed drones, stealth bombers, missile defence systems, cyber warfare, surveillance—and global policing increasingly shouldered by stalwart allies such as Canada.

The question now is: will Canada embrace that vision?

US President Barack Obama said he was "turning the page on a decade of war" as he revealed a new US defence document, Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities For 21st Century Defense, on Jan. 5, making it clear that US-led interventionism was being downplayed in favour of a more conventional posture that will lean heavily on allies.

"Meeting the challenges of our time cannot be the work of our military alone—or the United States alone. It requires all elements of our national power, working together in concert with our allies and our partners," he said at the Pentagon.

Analysts say the document will reverberate throughout the Canadian Forces, presenting multiple ways forward on military strategy, procurement priorities, and how the military recruits and structures itself. It will all depend on how the Harper government decides to respond.

The man behind Russia's anti-Putin rallies

The Russian blogger leading vote-rigging protests against Vladimir Putin has accused the prime minister's supporters of seeking to smear him with a fake photo.

Alexei Navalny has proved that a picture in a newspaper distributed by Putin supporters was a forgery. The picture showed Navalny alongside the fugitive Russian tycoon, Boris Berezovsky, who lives in London.

A lawyer who took on corrupt state companines, Navalny has found himself leading recent protests against Putin's party, accused of rigging the recent elections.

But as Al Jazeera's Neave Barker reports, many are concerned about Navalny's extreme nationalist views. In a country where foreign labourers face frequent attacks, he has described migrant workers as “rotten teeth that need removing”.

Original Article
Source: aljazeera 

China unbowed by US pressure over Iranian oil

The US treasury secretary has highlighted Washington's strong co-operative relationship with China during a visit to Beijing, but appeared to have made little progress in persuading the Asian giant to back US sanctions on Iran's oil industry.

Timothy Geithner on Wednesday met Xi Jinping, the vice-president widely tipped to become China's next leader, prior to talks with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, who is due to visit oil-producing Gulf nations later this week.

"On economic growth, on financial stability around the world, on non-proliferation, we have what we view as a very strong co-operative relationship with your government and we are looking forward to building on that," Geithner said.

But China, which buys almost one-third of Iran's oil exports, reiterated its opposition to sanctions, which it has previously called improper and ineffective.

"Iran is also an extremely big oil supplier to China, and we hope that China's oil imports won't be affected, because this is needed for our development," Zhai Jun, China's vice foreign minister, told a news conference.

"We oppose applying pressure and sanctions, because these approaches won't solve the problems. They never have. We hope that these unilateral sanctions will not affect China's interests."

But Beijing on Wednesday called on Iran and the UN atomic watchdog to co-operate over a new uranium enrichment plant, amid mounting international tensions over Tehran's nuclear programme.

Lords inflict triple welfare bill defeat on government

The government's plans to reform welfare were badly hit on Wednesday when it suffered three defeats in the House of Lords on proposed benefit cuts.

Plans to means-test employment and support allowance (ESA) payments for disabled people after only a year were rejected by peers.

The means test would have applied to cancer patients and stroke survivors, and was denounced by Lord Patel, a crossbencher and former president of the Royal College of Obstetricians, as an immoral attack on the sick, the vulnerable and the poor. "If we are going to rob the poor to pay the rich, then we enter into a different form of morality," Patel said.

The government was defeated by 224 votes to 186, even though Lord Freud, the welfare minister, claimed that the cost of the amendment would be £1.6bn spread over five years.

The other defeats were over plans to time-limit ESA for those undergoing cancer treatment, and to restrict access to ESA for young people with disabilities or illness.

The defeats do not augur well for the government's chances in future votes in the Lords on the bill, which includes housing benefit caps. The bill is at report stage before returning to the Commons.

Canada Natives: Chiefs Warn New Relationship Needed With Crown Or Unrest May Follow

WINNIPEG - Native chiefs say Prime Minister Stephen Harper must come out of this month's First Nations summit willing to forge a new relationship with aboriginals or risk widespread unrest.

Chiefs from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario gathered in Winnipeg on Wednesday to talk strategy before the summit in Ottawa on Jan. 24. Many have concerns about the lack of housing, clean running water and education in their communities, but virtually all say they don't expect to solve those issues in a day.

They want the prime minister to commit to holding at least one first ministers meeting on aboriginal issues and to appoint a commissioner to ensure that treaties signed more than 100 years ago are being followed.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said Third-World conditions in native communities are a symptom of the unequal relationship between aboriginals and the Crown. Harper must take immediate action following the summit or frustrated young people will start taking matters into their own hands, he warned.

"Our young people are fed up with the way things are," Nepinak said. "We've made several attempts to deal with this through diplomatic means and political means, but we're reaching a point where the winds have shifted.

"People are frustrated. If diplomacy fails, we can't speak for what happens beyond that."

Harper announced the long-awaited summit last month when a housing crisis in the Cree community of Attawapiskat became high profile. First Nations chiefs had been asking for such a meeting since the summer of 2010. Harper called it a "historic" opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing aboriginal people.

Elizabeth Warren Raises $5.7 Million In Fourth Quarter 2011 In Bid To Unseat Scott Brown In Massachusetts

WASHINGTON -- It's looking like former consumer advocate and Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren has the golden touch when it comes to fundraising.

The Democrat's campaign to oust Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) hauled in $5.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, or nearly double the $3.2 million raised by Brown in the same period.

Warren declared her candidacy in mid-September and raised $3.15 million immediately thereafter. The ex-Harvard professor's combined take gives her nearly $9 million in less than four months.

While Warren's torrid fundraising pace puts her on the path to becoming the top buck-raker of the 2012 race after the White House contestants, Brown's skills at passing the hat are not shabby. After the last quarter, he had an impressive $12.8 million in the bank for what is shaping up to be the most costly Senate battle in the country.

Warren's campaign has not revealed how much of that $9 million she has spent, so it's unclear how far she has to go to catch up to Brown in overall funding.

States Attempt to Instill 'Work Ethic' by Rolling Back Child Labor Protections

It’s been a long time since the engines of American industry were driven by tiny fingers. So when Newt Gingrich recently proclaimed, “Young people ought to learn how to work,” and suggested that children could develop a strong work ethic by working as janitors in their own schools, many Americans probably missed the throwback to the early twentieth century, when hundreds of thousands of children toiled in factories. But after decades of campaigns against youth exploitation, the right is rekindling vestiges of the sweatshop era with legislation aimed at rolling back child labor laws.

While they didn’t go so far as to recruit tweens back to the factory floor, throughout 2011 state legislators pushed bills to erode regulation of youth employment. Maine Republicans sought to ease protections for young workers with amicably named legislation to “Enhance Access to the Workplace for Minors.” The original bill, introduced by State Representative David Burns, would remove some limits on working hours for teenagers and expand the number of days a youth under 20 could work for $5.25 an hour—to about half a year. That would be a bargain for employers, who pay adult Mainers a minimum wage of $7.50. Last summer, a more limited teen labor bill passed, which only eased restrictions on working hours.

Dismissing his bill’s critics in a Press-Herald commentary, Burns argued the purpose was simply to provide job-seeking youth valuable opportunities, since many “have no experience, and perhaps no work ethic, and don’t merit the minimum wage until they learn a job.” As for government safeguards against abuse, he added, “We have usurped the responsibility of families to make intelligent decisions and transferred that responsibility to school officials and the state.”

Occupy Movement: Camps In Newfoundland, New Brunswick Brave Winter

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A large makeshift tent covered with layers of tarp is all that shields diehard Occupy protesters from the fierce winds that lash their seaside camp in St. John's.

Along with a part-time camp in Moncton, N.B., the shelter nestled into the corner of a harbourfront park in St. John's persists in Canada as part of the Occupy Wall Street uprising that swept North America last fall.

Protesters in major centres such as Vancouver and Toronto were evicted in November, while city staff in Fredericton dismantled a local camp last week.

"It hasn't been that bad," said a shivering Ken Canning, 19, who joined the St. John's protest against corporate power and social injustice on Oct. 17, two days after it started.

He has stayed through ferocious gales clocked at more than 100 kilometres an hour, a storm that dumped 30 centimetres of snow and frigid downpours. He has no plans to leave, and the City of St. John's says it won't force the issue unless there's danger or disruption.

"It's essentially camping in winter in the middle of a city," Canning said. "I've done it out in the woods."

Rob Moore: Tory MP And Staff Spent $35,000 Over Six Weeks Cutting Red Tape

OTTAWA - New documents show a junior cabinet minister and his entourage racked up $35,000 in expenses over six weeks as part of the government's Red Tape Reduction Commission.

Receipts and expense forms show Conservative MP Rob Moore and his staff accounted for well over half the travel and hospitality costs incurred by MPs on the commission.

The group was set up to look at the burden on businesses of complying with government regulations.

Travel and hospitality costs for the six Conservative MPs on the commission — including Moore and three of his aides — totalled $60,000.

The documents also show Treasury Board bureaucrats questioned why a limousine was needed to take Tory MP Cathy McLeod on a short trip to the airport.

An aide explained McLeod took an 11-minute ride to the Winnipeg airport in a luxury vehicle because her flight was late and she needed to get to Toronto for an event with the prime minister.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Who’s spying on the web?

The whistle-blowing WikiLeaks has a track record of revealing explosive secrets, so when three Canadian tech firms popped up on the website, it immediately raised the question: what are they hiding? WikiLeaks latest campaign, called “The Spy Files,” is aimed at exposing the use of online surveillance technologies by telecommunications companies, police forces, governments and intelligence agencies collecting private data. The site has named Canada’s Vineyard Networks, Sandvine and AdvancedIO Systems as “Western intelligence contractors,” but so far specific files have not been published online. While the companies say they have nothing to hide, the website is already causing trouble for some British and U.S. firms.

The companies named by WikiLeaks design products—both hardware and software—that facilitate a practice called deep packet inspection, a way of filtering data as it passes an inspection point within a secured or unsecured network. These programs have completely legitimate purposes, whether used to manage congested Internet traffic, to diagnose potentially destructive glitches in a massive computer system, to crack dangerous organized crime rings, or to tap into an underground terror cell. But WikiLeaks is on a crusade to pinpoint the uses that a democratic government’s law-abiding citizens may not necessarily consider ethical.

In the United Kingdom, documents from several surveillance companies have been leaked onto the Spy Files website, sparking outrage. Hampshire-based Gamma Group was shown to have been providing spying programs to Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt through a third party; aptly named Hidden Technologies Systems International was discovered selling its technology to Saudi Arabia’s police force; and Creativity Software has been supplying its cellular device tracking system to an Iranian mobile phone company.

99 stupid things the government spent your money on (V)

We’ve previously brought you items 1-18, on subsidies and infrastructure, 19-34, on food and job creation, followed by 35-55, the environment, animals, and money for nothing, and 56-73, culture and tourism. Here’s the wrap-up, a sample of questionable spending on employee expenses, patronage, makeovers, studies, polls and surveys as well as lawsuits and lawyers.

Canada’s finances may be the envy of the world, but the bar is awfully low these days. Whether it’s Ottawa, the provinces or municipalities, governments across the country face horrendous deficits. We must tighten our belts, say the politicians. Austerity and cutbacks are the order of the day.

Only, you wouldn’t know it looking at this list. What follows is but a slice of the silly, wasteful, craven and often outright stupid ways governments at all levels spent taxpayers’ money over the last year. To find our 99 items, Maclean’s scoured press releases and auditor generals’ reports, contacted watchdog groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and waded through news reports, looking for examples where the money was either spent or announced in 2011. We also included a handful of egregious instances of waste that only came to light in the past 12 months, even if the actual cash was doled out in previous years.

Not everyone will agree with all these items being on the list. Some will justify handouts to companies and sports teams as necessary to “promote economic activity,” or they’ll say a camping program for new immigrants was a nice thing to do. Sure, it would be great if we could afford everything, but at a time when government spending is under the knife, when services and jobs are being cut, it’s clear many of those with their hands on the public purse have yet to come to terms with Canada’s new fiscal reality.

China’s oil-sands deal will have lasting impact

Meet the new boss: Jiang Jemin, the 55-year-old chairman of China National Petroleum Corp. He’s about to become an Alberta employer.

This week, Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. triggered an option on a 2009 deal with CNPC subsidiary PetroChina, so the Chinese oil giant is not just a shareholder but also the owner and operator of the MacKay River oil sands project, to open in 2014. In December, another Chinese firm, Sinopec, closed a $2.2-billion deal for Daylight Energy Ltd.

This is new and will have a lasting impact. Chinese firms aren’t just buying stakes, they’re buying whole operations. It’s a new phase of China’s step-by-step Canada strategy. It will change not just the oil patch but Canada’s foreign policy. And a game of international energy politics is afoot in Canada’s West.

These deals are different because Canadians will see how Chinese firms operate, not just invest. They’re state-controlled companies, with executives such as Mr. Jiang who have moved among the Communist Party, government and big oil. Some fears, though not all, can now be tested; such as suggestions they will flout environmental or labour standards. They’re about to be Canadian employers, and may eventually be important ones.

It’s also a step in a strategy that’s not complete. The Chinese have tested the waters in Canada for six years, first with small deals that didn’t require government approval, then bigger deals that did, but only for part-ownership. Now it’s full ownership.

New study shows Toronto lags far behind in arts funding

A new study ranks Toronto at the bottom in municipal arts investment, one day after the city’s budget committee approved an operating budget that would see 10 per cent in cuts to the arts.

The study, released Tuesday and prepared by Hill Strategies Research Inc. in partnership with five Canadian municipalities, shows Toronto’s 2009 investment level at $19 per capita.

At the top, was Montreal with $55 per capita, followed by Vancouver ($47), Calgary ($42) and Ottawa ($28).

“We knew we were at the bottom for the last few years, but the gap has grown considerably,” said Claire Hopkinson, executive director of the Toronto Arts Council.

The study reports Toronto ranked third in 2006 and 2007.

But Toronto’s per capita investment has increased only $2 since 2006, while the other five cities showed growth between $11 and $27.

There has been a push amongst arts supporters to increase per capita funding to $25, a figure that would have matched Montreal in 2003, Hopkinson said.

But now supporters are looking to just stop reductions.

City council will decide next week if funding that benefits local art groups and major organizations like the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra will be slashed.

“We’re fighting to stay in the same place,” Hopkinson said. “We are in danger of losing some of our accessibility and our ability to deliver the kinds of arts programs that have made this city so notable.”

On Tuesday, Canadian author Margaret Atwood tweeted a link to the arts council’s release on the study saying: “Very negative effect of proposed Ford arts cuts on city of Toronto.”

Hopkinson said she is still optimistic the majority of city councillors will defend the importance of funding arts and culture in Toronto.

“There is no way that a regular Torontonian would not feel the impact of this cut,” she said. “It may not be felt in one year’s time . . . but it would definitely show up over time.”

Original Article
Source: Star 

‘Foreign money’ is a hypocritical diversion

It has been rich, even comic, to listen to the Harper government blasting away at “foreign money,” “radical groups” and Hollywood movie stars for interfering in the environmental review of the Northern Gateway pipeline that’s just starting.

Of course, such people and their money have entered the fray in Canada. It isn’t the first time (think of U.S. interventions against cutting old-growth forests in B.C.) and it won’t be the last. We live in a global world, and we share a continent with the U.S. (and Mexico) where one country’s decisions can affect the continent and planet.

Think back to last year, and the ones before that. TransCanada Pipelines sought U.S. approval for the Keystone XL pipeline to ship oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Regulatory hearings were required. Ultimately, the State Department (read: President Barack Obama’s administration) had to decide.

To influence U.S. opinion, both at the level of legislators and the general public, Canadian companies poured untold millions into the fray. They papered Washington with lobbyists, including someone who was once high up in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination and two former U.S. ambassadors to Canada. The Harper government put Canada’s entire diplomatic apparatus in the U.S. behind the Keystone campaign. The Prime Minister himself went to the U.S. and declared approval of Keystone a “no-brainer.”

These “radicals” (that is, Canadian business-at-any-cost types) and “foreign money” (read: Canadian dollars) intervened directly in the U.S. regulatory and political processes, as “foreign” interests often do to further their economic advantage. So to hear Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Prime Minister Stephen Harper railing against “foreign” (read: American) intervention in the Gateway hearings is, shall we say, a bit rich. What’s sauce for the goose really should be sauce for the gander.

Conservative insistence on destroying long-gun records 'perverse,' say opposition MPs

Quebec government says it will take the feds to court over maintaining records on the province's gun owners, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper says, 'The provinces have the right to pursue their own policies, but this government will not help [establish] a registry through the back door.'

PARLIAMENT HILL—Prime Minister Stephen Harper brushed off the threat of a court battle with Quebec over preservation of the federal long-gun registry’s database Tuesday, prompting opposition MPs to describe the Conservative’s determination to destroy $1-billion worth of information on firearms in Canada “perverse.”

Despite recent RCMP statements that destruction of the registry means a decade’s worth of federal records on rifles and shotguns will disappear once the government’s Bill C-19 takes effect—and there will no longer be records of long-gun transfers and sales—Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) told the Commons his government won’t help Quebec create a new registry “by the back door.”

“Our election promise is clear,” said Mr. Harper. “We don’t support a registry for long guns. This position has been clear for a long time. The provinces have the right to pursue their own policies, but this government will not help [establish] a registry through the back door.”

The Prime Minister was responding to a question from Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel (Hull-Aylmer, Que.) after Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil announced once Bill C-19, the Elimination of the Long-gun Registry Bill, passes through Parliament and takes effect, the province will ask a court to order the federal government to preserve the registry’s records on Quebec long-gun owners. He also announced that if Quebec wins the case it would then introduce provincial legislation to set up its own registry with the federally-held data.

Court: Judges Cannot Get Involved In Church Dispute

WASHINGTON — In a groundbreaking case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held for the first time that religious employees of a church cannot sue for employment discrimination.

But the court's unanimous decision in a case from Michigan did not specify the distinction between a secular employee, who can take advantage of the government's protection from discrimination and retaliation, and a religious employee, who can't.

It was, nevertheless, the first time the high court has acknowledged the existence of a "ministerial exception" to anti-discrimination laws – a doctrine developed in lower court rulings. This doctrine says the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion shields churches and their operations from the reach of such protective laws when the issue involves employees of these institutions.

The case came before the court because the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Redford, Mich., on behalf of employee Cheryl Perich, over her firing, which happened after she complained of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Writing the court's opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said allowing anti-discrimination lawsuits against religious organizations could end up forcing churches to take religious leaders they no longer want.

"Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs," Roberts said. "By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group's right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments."

Reddit Blackout Over SOPA, PIPA: Site To Protest By Going Dark On January 18

Redditors have sounded the call to arms.

In a blog post on Tuesday, community news-sharing site Reddit announced that it will be shutting down normal operations on January 18 in protest of proposed legislation Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).

"The freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables is in jeopardy," Reddit admins wrote in the blog post. "Congress is considering legislation that will dramatically change your Internet experience and put an end to reddit and many other sites you use everyday."

If passed, SOPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders against foreign and even domestic websites that enable or facilitate copyright infringement. If a website is accused, it could be punished by being removed from search engine results, barred from online advertising networks, and blocked from payment processing networks. In other words, sites like Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube and Reddit could be crippled for hosting or linking to user-uploaded content that potentially infringes on copyrights.

The bill would also make the unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content, such as a song or TV show, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

Reddit's 12-hour blackout, which is planned for 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday January 18, coincides with a congressional hearing on SOPA, at which tech and security leaders, including Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, will air their grievances toward SOPA and PIPA.

Open for Business, Closed to Criticism

In attacking critics of the Northern Gateway pipeline, the Harper government effectively dismisses the legitimate concerns of thousands of Canadians.

Apparently Canada is open for business but closed to criticism, no matter how constructive. This is the clearest conclusion that can be drawn from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s open letter to Canadians, in which he attacks advocates of responsible oil-sands development as “radicals” and dismisses the concerns of thousands of Canadians who want to have a say in the decision of whether to build Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

The $6.6-billion project would run two parallel pipelines carrying diluted bitumen and condensate along a 1,177-kilometre route linking the oil sands in Alberta with the remote port of Kitimat on the northern B.C. coast. The pipelines would traverse hundreds of salmon-bearing rivers and streams, the mountainous and landslide-prone terrain, the Great Bear Rainforest, and the territory of more than 50 First Nations.

The joint review panel public hearings that have just begun aim to determine whether the project is in the interest of Canadians.

But recent statements from the Harper government indicate it is not interested in listening to the concerns of more than 4,000 Canadians who have signed up to speak at the hearings. Forget the democratic process and ignore the obligations of due diligence and harm prevention inherent in Canada’s environmental review process – as Oliver states, “For our government, the choice is clear.”

In fact, the minister’s letter makes one wonder if he spends any time at all listening to those Canadians who care about environmental protection and responsible resource development. Dismissing opponents of this project as “ideological” and opposed to all major projects, Oliver ironically ignores the ideological underpinnings of the Harper government’s consistent efforts to pit economic growth against environmental protection.

Canada's East-West economic divide deepens

Saskatoon will lead the country's economic growth this year, along with the other resource-rich cities of Calgary, Edmonton and Regina.

The Conference Board of Canada's annual metropolitan outlook of 27 cities also sees a deepening economic divide between the West and the rest. Growth in factory-heavy central Canada will be tepid and St. John's, which had led the country's growth in the prior two years, will tumble to the bottom of its economic growth ranking.

For this year, Saskatoon will tally the strongest expansion, pegged at 4 per cent. The country as a whole is seen growing a modest 2.4 per cent in the year.

Despite global economic turmoil, “high prices for agricultural products, minerals and oil are likely to continue,” said Mario Lefebvre, director of the board’s centre for municipal studies. “Canada’s prairie cities will reap the benefits of this global demand for commodities.”

Saskatoon’s growth this year, underpinned by a resource boom in the province, is actually a slowdown from an estimated 4.6-per-cent expansion last year. Still, the city’s jobless rate of 5.4 per cent is well below the national average, and the jobs boom has meant international migration to Saskatchewan in the third quarter of 2011 hit its highest level since 1971.

Calgary, meantime, is seen expanding 3.6 per cent this year. In 2013, the city is forecast to lead all Canadian cities with growth of 4.9 per cent.

In Edmonton, job growth of nearly 40,000 new positions last year alone is seen supporting domestic demand. A strong energy sector will drive growth of 3.4 per cent this year. Regina’s growth is pegged at 2.9 per cent.

It’s a different story elsewhere. “The outlook is not as promising for cities in central and eastern Canada,” Mr. Lefebvre said. “The uncertain global economy, a continued slow recovery in the manufacturing sector and the windup of fiscal stimulus introduced by governments in recent years will hamper overall economic growth.”

Tories waste no time hitting brakes on spending, watchdog finds

The Conservative government is already cutting costs faster and more deeply than planned, with new data showing Ottawa has quietly trimmed overall government spending by 3 per cent.

That’s the conclusion of a new report by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, which reviewed all government spending over the first six months of the current fiscal year.

The 3 per cent decrease suggests Ottawa is on track to beat its plan to hold total spending growth to 1.5 per cent this fiscal year.

The downward spending trend might explain why the Conservatives are now signalling future cuts could be more aggressive than originally planned.

The government’s 2011 budget laid out a plan that targeted a 5-per-cent cut to the government’s roughly $80-billion direct program spending budget by 2013-14, which works out to a permanent cut of about $4-billion a year.

But according to the PBO’s analysis, Ottawa is well on its way. Spending on operating expenditures is down 4 per cent and capital spending is down 15 per cent.

In an interview, Mr. Page said the savings are the result of earlier spending restraint plans. “This environment of austerity seems to have taken hold, and I think you do see that in the numbers,” he said.

Maher: Senate's usefulness potential undercut when lined with cronies

"The upper House remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister," said Stephen Harper, accurately enough, back in 2004, when Paul Martin was appointing senators and Harper was scowling on the other side of the House.

He would say no such thing now, since now that's where he dumps his own cronies.

He appointed Norm Doyle, for instance, on Friday. Doyle is a former MP from Newfoundland, a gentlemanly, experienced Progressive Conservative who won eight straight elections at two levels of government before retiring in 2008.

He'll be a good senator, but he is a crony, at least in the sense that Harper meant. He wisely opted not to run in the 2008 election after voting with Harper and against his province on the Atlantic accord. The Senate appointment is his reward for voting against the clear wishes of the people who elected him, which is exactly the sort of thing that used to send smoke pouring out of the ears of the Reformers who pushed so hard for an elected Senate.

Edwin Barton, California Passenger, Tazed By Deputies At Sacramento Airport

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A sheriff's deputy shocked an airline passenger with a stun gun three times after the man refused to complete a Sacramento airport's screening process and ran into a secure area, authorities said Tuesday.

Edwin Barton, 26, arrived at Sacramento International Airport on an inbound flight earlier in the day, but told security officials he needed to go back inside the airport's secure area to get some belongings.

When Transportation Security Administration officials told Barton he would have to be screened again, he became argumentative and picked up his bag and ran, said Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Ramos.

A sheriff's deputy chased after him with a Taser gun and stunned him once, but Barton tried to pull out the barbs so the deputy stunned him two more times, Ramos said.

After he was subdued, Barton was handcuffed by another deputy and taken to a hospital to be evaluated.

Barton was booked into Sacramento County Jail, where he was being held on misdemeanor charges of suspicion of obstructing a peace officer and unlawfully accessing the secure area of an airport.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Mafia Now The Biggest 'Bank' In Italy Thanks To Euro Crisis

ROME, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Organised crime has tightened its grip on the Italian economy during the economic crisis, making the Mafia the country's biggest "bank" and squeezing the life out of thousands of small firms, according to a report on Tuesday.

Extortionate lending by criminal groups had become a "national emergency", said the report by anti-crime group SOS Impresa.

Organised crime now generated annual turnover of about 140 billion euros ($178.89 billion) and profits of more than 100 billion euros, it added.

"With 65 billion euros in liquidity, the Mafia is Italy's number one bank," said a statement from the group, which was set up in Palermo a decade ago to oppose extortion rackets against small business.

Organised crime groups like the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Naples Camorra or the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta have long had a stranglehold on the Italian economy, generating profits equivalent to about 7 percent of national output.

Extortionate lending had become an increasingly sophisticated and lucrative source of income, alongside drug trafficking, arms smuggling, prostitution, gambling and racketeering, the report said.

"The classic neighbourhood or street loan shark is on the way out, giving way to organised loan-sharking that is well connected with professional circles and operates with the connivance of high-level professionals," the report said.

It estimated about 200,000 businesses were tied to extortionate lenders and tens of thousands of jobs had been lost as a result.

Guantanamo Bay Anniversary: Former Detainee Tells Of Torture, Mistreatment

Ten years after the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay, the United States is observing a somber anniversary. In the video above, Democracy Now! interviews Omar Deghayes, a former detainee, who describes his horrifying experiences behind bars.

Deghayes spent nearly 6 years of his life in the prison. He told The Guardian how he was severely tortured, and lost sight in one eye after a guard at Guantanamo pushed his fingers inside his eyes.

Deghayes, originally from Libya, was captured in Pakistan in 2002, where he lived with his wife and baby. He was with his family the day he was picked up. Chained and with his head covered, Mr. Deghayes was sent to Bagram Prison -- the same facility that Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai recently demanded to be handed over from U.S. to Afghan control. From Bagram, Deghayes was transferred to Guantanamo.

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Omar Deghayes talks about the conditions inside Guantanamo:
People are locked up in isolation camps. They are put through such mistreatment that many people have, we heard, died. And people lost their hands, lost their eyes, lost their limbs. [...] People were -- where we were -- subjected to beatings, fear every day, daily fear, and all sorts of mistreatment, without being convicted of any crime, which is -- which is the most unacceptable thing.
779 prisoners have been held at Guantanamo since 2002. 600 of them have been released, yet dozens remain detained. "I wonder if the U.S. government wants to keep us here forever," Gitmo detainee Suleiman al-Nahdi recently wrote in a letter, the Associated Press reports.

Read or watch the full interview with Omar Deghayes at Democracy Now!

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Prison system begins biggest hiring blitz in decades in face of federal cuts

The bulk of the federal bureaucracy is bracing for significant across-the-board cuts, but Canada’s prison system is on a hiring blitz to fill more than 4,000 new jobs.

Positions ranging from correctional and parole officers, to medical and technical staff are all being recruited to meet demands of an increasing inmate population.

Correctional Service of Canada runs 57 institutions with varying security levels, incarcerating about 14,222 inmates last year. By the end of 2014, it will add 2,700 new spaces across the country by building new units, adding double bunks to cells and hiring more than 4,000 staff.

“Hiring is now taking place at several sites and pools of qualified candidates are in place to ensure that appropriate staffing levels are maintained as the offender population increases,” said CSC spokeswoman Suzanne Leclerc. “Numbers of front-line, administrative and management staff are trained and on site. The exact number of new employees will be determined using existing staffing formulas and will include not only correctional officers, but also program officers, parole officers, health professionals and other technical and support staff. These additional staff provide CSC with the capacity it needs to carry out its mandate and deliver the programs and treatment to keep pace with the offender population growth.”

Expansion is driven by a number of factors, including new tough-on-crime legislation and CSC’s “transformation agenda.”

Chinese money and ‘ethical oil’

This week the “ethical oil” argument adopted by the federal government took an interesting twist. While billions from China pour into Canada to develop the oilsands and fund the construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline, on Monday the government announced its desire to revise the rules so that Canadians will have less time to share their concerns and properly review these massive projects.

Why the change? Because environmental organizations, “other radical groups” and, ironically, foreign money, are allegedly corrupting the process. Is this the future of ethical oil — a world where the Canadian government limits its citizens’ ability to talk over an issue so that China, a country the Prime Minister’s communications director calls a dictatorship, can be allowed to own and exploit Canada’s natural resources?

It’s a curious twist. Many Canadians — me included — agree with one part of Ezra Levant’s ethical oil argument: oil should be evaluated by its environmental impact as well as its effect on the respect for human rights and international stability.

But where does it leave the government’s case for ethical oil if Canadians are sidelined in the decision-making process to please a country both Levant and the Prime Minister have accused of human rights violations? Indeed, on his show The Source, Levant is often critical of China, hosting discussions on how “the freedoms of its people are still on the decline” and labelling the country a “dictatorship.”

Walkom: Stephen Harper’s Northern Gateway pipeline parody

The federal government’s claim that big-money foreign interests are trying to hijack hearings into a proposed west coast oil pipeline is, at one level, high parody. It is also deeply disturbing.

The parody lies with the fact that Canada’s oil industry is dominated by multinationals. That means there will indeed be a lot of big-money foreign interests pushing the three-person federal review panel to okay a pipeline from Alberta’s oilsands to a tanker port at Kitimat on the British Columbia coast.

America’s Exxon Mobil, Britain’s BP, France’s Total E&P, China’s SinoCanada Petroleum Corp. and Japan Canada Oil Sands Ltd. have all asked for intervenor status at the hearings. So has the South Korean conglomerate Daewoo.

But foreigners who support the pipeline aren’t the outsiders that Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims to be worried about. As Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver explained to CBC television on Monday, these are the good foreign interests.

The bad foreign interests are the ones who help fund environmental critics of the pipeline. Oliver calls these bad elements “billionaire socialists … people like George Soros.”

If this weren’t a cabinet minister talking, it might be amusing. The Internet is filled with conspiracy theorists who view Soros, a self-made Hungarian-American tycoon, as evil incarnate.

The biggest rap against him seems to be that he openly opposed former U.S. president George W. Bush.

In Tea Party circles, this might count as socialism. But when a Canadian cabinet minister uses the term, he sounds — well — nuts.

And that’s the disturbing part. Harper and his minister probably aren’t nuts. But they are deliberately using mistruths and half-truths in a crude attempt to slander their environment critics.

Stephen Harper is soundproofing our democracy

True to form, Stephen Harper is busily soundproofing our democracy. 

The quieter it is, the better he likes it.

The government of Canada (excuse me, the Harper government), is now trying to impose closure on the environmental movement. 

No one should be surprised. Why would the Conservatives treat people who are against the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline any differently than they treat opposition MPs, independent public watchdogs, public servants, courageous scientists, labour unions, pro-wheat board farmers or pesky journalists? 

In Stephen Harper’s attack-ad universe, it is perverse to oppose the Great Navigator’s plans. All government ministers know what is expected of them in such circumstances. In Jason Kenney versus Chiquita Inc., for example, the minister said he had eaten his last banana because the company announced it wanted to try and avoid our sludgy treasure in business operations. Now that the world’s greatest newspaper has editorialized against the Keystone XL Pipeline and praised President Obama for backing away from it, I guess Kenney has read his last New York Times – assuming he ever read his first. 

To be sure, there are different views on the pipeline. But this week’s outburst by the prime minister established a new low in the government’s blitzkrieg against dissent. He has already done with our foreign policy, now it’s the turn of domestic energy policy. The prime minister painted environmentalists as radicals funded by nefarious foreign organizations. Out-of-country money supporting the pipeline appears to be fine. That’s not just about holding a different view. It is about undermining political debate in Canada.

Voters outraged over NDP MP's decision to join Liberals

MONTREAL - Voters in Lise St-Denis’s Shawinigan riding expressed outrage yesterday after learning that their New Democratic Party MP crossed the floor to join the Liberals.

“It is completely ridiculous,” said Pierre Huot, director of the student association at Collège Shawinigan. “If she wants to join the Liberals, she should run in a by-election.”

Eight months after being elected as part of the Orange Wave that swept Quebec, St- Denis announced Tuesday that her political leanings are more in line with the Liberals.

Huot, who voted for the Bloc Québécois in the last federal election, said St-Denis was rarely present in the riding during the campaign.

“She stayed in Montreal,” he said.

“We invited her (to speak with the students), but she never answered us.”

Our ecological treasure is the issue with Northern Gateway

The hearings to decide the future of the Great Bear Sea and Rainforest got off to quite a start this week. Big oil, foreign intrigue, a grassroots uprising, duelling polls, angry ministers – this one has all the makings of a blockbuster. But the fervour obscures the heart of the matter: whether and under what conditions we should permit supertankers and a bitumen pipeline in one of the last intact temperate coastal rain forests on Earth.

I suspect most Canadians would be surprised that the proposed route of the Northern Gateway pipeline bisects this ecological treasure. Pipeline proponents would rather frame this issue around developing an Asian market for oil sands bitumen – and the allegedly nefarious U.S.-based interests who would prevent us from doing so – than have a science-based debate about the real risks associated with getting it there by this route.

It’s the peculiar Canadian paradox that we’re blessed with such natural beauty and abundance that we often fail to value it. Even by our standards, however, the Great Bear is a special place. It’s the only habitat in the world for the spirit bear, which is rarer than the giant panda. Humpbacks, orcas and many other species of cetaceans take advantage of this quiet cold ocean to prosper. Eagles are as plentiful as sparrows are in Canada’s urban parks. And all five species of Pacific salmon are present, providing the basis for a prosperous fishery.

George Lucas: Hollywood Didn't Want To Fund My Film Because Of Its Black Cast

After Jar-Jar Binks, it's hard to not to give George Lucas' new film Red Tails the side-eye. The movie is World War II-era action flick based on the Tuskegee Airmen, the heroic and decorated pilots who were first black servicemembers to fly combat missions at a time when black Americans were not recognized as full citizens on the United States, despite their willingness to fight and die in its defense.

In an interview with the Daily Show's Jon Stewart on Monday night, Lucas was frank about the trouble he had getting the film made—in part, he said, because the studios weren't willing to finance a film without a white protagonist as an anchor.

"This has been held up for release since 1942 since it was shot, I've been trying to get released ever since," Lucas joked—although he did say that the film took about 23 years to develop. "It's because it's an all-black movie. There's no major white roles in it at all...I showed it to all of them and they said nooooo. We don't know how to market a move like this." Lucas goes on to explain that major studios don't believe films with majority black casts do well in foreign markets. Lucas was unbowed, telling Stewart that "we do want to do a prequel and a sequel," which I take as a measure of how excited and proud about Red Tails Lucas actually is. Bonus exuberance: "This is the closest you'll ever get to Episode Seven."

Are Pesticides Behind Massive Bee Die-Offs?

For the  German chemical giant Bayer, neonicotinoid pesticides—synthetic derivatives of nicotine that attack insects' nervous systems—are big business. In 2010, the company reeled in $789 million euros (more than $1 billion) in revenue from its flagship neonic products imidacloprid and clothianidin. The company's latest quarterly report shows that its "seed treatment" segment—the one that includes neonics—is booming. In the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2011, sales for the company's seed treatments jumped 28 percent compared to the same period the previous year.

Such results no doubt bring cheer to Bayer's shareholders. But for honey bees—whose population has come under severe pressure from a mysterious condition called colony collapse disorder—the news is decidedly less welcome. A year ago on Grist, I told the story of how this class of pesticides had gained approval from the EPA in a twisted process based on deeply flawed (by the EPA's own account) Bayer-funded science. A little later, I reported that research by the USDA's top bee scientist, Jeff Pettis, suggests that even tiny exposure to neonics can seriously harm honey bees.

Now a study from Purdue researchers casts further suspicion on Bayer's money-minting concoctions. To understand the new paper—published in the peer-reviewed journal Plos One—it's important to know how seed treatments work, which is like this: The pesticides are applied directly to seeds before planting, and then get absorbed by the plant's vascular system. They are "expressed" in the pollen and nectar, where they attack the nervous systems of insects. Bayer targeted its treatments at the most prolific US crop—corn—and since 2003, corn farmers have been blanketing millions of acres of farmland with neonic-treated seeds.

Rick Santorum's Big Coal Buddies

Rick Santorum likes to brag about how he helped a poor local company fight big, bad government regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. "My grandfather was a coal miner," Santorum said at a debate in New Hampshire this week. "So I contacted a local coal company from my area. I said, look, I want to join you in that fight. I want to work together with you."

But Consol Energy, the company for which Santorum was a "consultant," wasn't some bare-bones local outfit—it's one of the largest coal mining companies in the United States, and its largest shareholder is the German utility RWE. And Santorum wasn't doing volunteer work: He was paid quite handsomely for his services, to the tune of $142,500 from 2010 to August 2011. He only ended his role with Consol when he launched his presidential bid last spring.

Santorum's relationship with the coal company began long before his consulting gig; Santorum and Consol had a mutually profitable association during Santorum's tenure in the Senate, too. Consol donated more than $73,800 to Santorum during his time as a legislator while simultaneously spending more than $1 million lobbying Congress on pollution limits, mine reclamation, worker health benefits, and tax policy, according to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the US Senate Office of Public Records.

Enbridge reports leak from U.S. pipeline as Northern Gateway hearings begin

Canadian pipeline builder Enbridge reported a leak from one of its pipelines on the day public hearings began into the company’s planned Northern Gateway pipeline.

U.S. pipeline regulators told Enbridge about the possible leak. A subsequent helicopter over-flight discovered a metre-wide patch of bubbles over the company’s Stingray pipeline, which can carry 560-million cubic feet a day of natural gas from offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico. The bubbles were found about 100 kilometres from the Louisiana coast.

Enbridge plans to keep the pipeline running until it can get a dive boat in to inspect the pipe – that should happen by week’s end, although it is weather dependent. If it’s broken, it will then make repairs.

“We’ve determined that it is safe to continue operating and so we are doing that,” said spokeswoman Terri Larson.

Enbridge declined to describe how it could be safe to continue operating a pipeline that may be leaking.

The possible leak comes at a difficult time for the company, which has sought to reassure first nations and environmental groups that it is a safe operator amid an uproar over the potential for spills from its Northern Gateway pipeline.

In Jerusalem, women are voiceless at a decidedly womanly event

The controversial exclusion of women from various settings in Israel because of pressure from ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders reached a new level this week with a major conference on gynecological advances that is permitting only males to address the audience.

The conference on “Innovations in Gynecology/Obstetrics and Halacha [Jewish law]” is being held by the Puah Institute this Wednesday in Jerusalem. It will include such topics as “ovary implants,” “how to choose a suitable contraceptive pill” and “intimacy during rocket attacks,” in which there are many qualified female professionals, but none will be permitted to speak, at least not from the podium.

Women are allowed in the audience, in a section separate from men.

Several Israeli human rights groups have protested the men-only nature of the conference. While it is considered a private rather than a public forum, and therefore not subject to Israeli policies against discrimination, Puah receives considerable funding from the Health Ministry, these complainants point out.

Such complaints are unlikely to make much of an impression, however. The Health Minister, to whom they are addressed, is actually the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, owing to another sop to the Ultra-Orthodox.

Pipeline rhetoric is a radical attack on due process

The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is a good idea, to judge from the information available thus far. But the regulatory process should go ahead and hear all concerns in an evenhanded way, as that process was designed to do. The federal government’s warnings about foreign influences and “environmental and other radical groups” are exaggerated.

Canada needs to trade with diverse markets, and China will have a huge appetite for oil for a long time to come. The pipeline, transporting petroleum from the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat, B.C., where it can be loaded on to ocean tankers, would serve the Asian market. Better access to international markets (not only through Gateway) could add $131-billion to this country’s gross domestic product between 2016 and 2030, and $27-billion in tax revenues, a paper published by the University of Calgary’s School of Policy studies argues.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was circumspect when he spoke with this newspaper’s editorial board in late October. He did not specifically endorse the pipeline, but said he would respect the regulatory process evaluating the project. Now, though, as that evaluation is beginning in B.C., he denounced “environmental and other radical groups” who “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” They “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest,” he said in an open letter. They even, if all else fails, “will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further.”

All this noise about foreign money, U.S. special interests and the U.S. approach of using the courts – it almost sounds like anti-Americanism. It’s a bogeyman, though not terribly frightening. There is no reason to think the independent panel reviewing the pipeline will be hijacked. In fact, any sign that people are not given a fair chance to be heard would make court action all the more likely to succeed. There are legitimate concerns about oil tankers and the possibility of a spill. The government should respect the process enough not to heap scorn on the participants.

Original Article
Source: Globe 

As review begins for Gateway pipeline, a warning from wary first nations

Not far from the dark waters that could one day carry supertankers of oil-sands crude to the Pacific Ocean, the pitched battle over the Northern Gateway pipeline took a very public stage as opponents called on God and salmon to fight a project they see as dangerous.

Over the next two years, the federal review panel assessing the $6.6-billion proposed Enbridge Inc. pipeline will travel to dozens of communities, on the route and off it, and hear from the thousands who have asked to speak.

On Tuesday, the first day of public hearings, the three-person panel arrived in Kitamaat Village, a Haisla community on the shores of Douglas Channel. Although Ottawa has invoked the spectre of foreign-funded radicals plotting to derail the project, the real fight was here, in coastal communities where the Exxon Valdez spill still resonates and many first nations communities fear the consequences of a pipeline on their traditional territory and local waters.

Kitamaat Village’s spectacular waterfront could one day look out on the end of the Gateway pipeline and the ships that would carry crude to new customers in Asia and California, delivering untold extra riches to Canada’s energy sector and governments. That is, if the panel gives its blessing to a project that, while Enbridge has pledged to build it to the most modern safety standards, has stirred immense concern about what oil could do to the bounty of seafood and recreation in this part of northern British Columbia.

Before the panel could speak, it faced a community calling on a higher power to defeat the project. In the highly charged atmosphere that has surrounded the Northern Gateway, even an opening invocation was a battle cry.

“We ask you to protect our traditional territory and its treasures,” Verlie Nelson, the daughter of a Haisla clan matriarch, said in a prayer before the panel.

Foes of Northern Gateway pipeline fear revocation of charitable status

Environmentalists are fearful that the Conservative government is planning to limit their advocacy role after Prime Minister Stephen Harper complained that groups flush with “foreign money” are undermining a controversial pipeline review.

Mr. Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver stoked activists’ fears in recent days by lashing out at environmental groups that have taken money from U.S. donors to build opposition to the $6.6-billion Northern Gateway pipeline that would carry oil-sands bitumen to the British Columbia coast.

The Conservative-dominated Commons finance committee is set to begin a review of the charity sector, and several activists say government MPs have told business groups that the committee will look at the environmental sector’s transparency, its advocacy role and the flow of funds from outside the country.

PMO spokesman Andrew MacDougall dismissed as “speculation” the concerns that the government is targeting the environmental sector. He said Ottawa is focused on streamlining the environmental-review process so that groups can’t employ delaying tactics, echoing Mr. Oliver’s pledge to introduce new rules in the coming months.

James Rajotte, chair of the Commons finance committee, said the study is aimed at finding ways to make Canadians give more to charity.

He acknowledged that MPs are free to raise issues such as accountability of charities – but Mr. Rajotte said he couldn’t prejudge where things will go, noting the review hasn’t even begun yet.

Scotland Independence Vote Championed By Alex Salmond

LONDON -- Breaking up is supposed to be hard to do – but Britain's government confirmed Tuesday it would happily offer Scotland the powers it needs to sever centuries-old ties to England.

Prime Minister David Cameron's government said it would sweep away legal hurdles to allow the Scots a vote on whether their country should become independent for the first time since the 18th Century Act of Union, which united Scotland with England to create Great Britain.

But in return, Cameron – who opposes any breakup of the United Kingdom, which also includes Wales and Northern Ireland – is urging Scotland to make its intentions clear "sooner rather than later." He claims investors are becoming increasingly wary of Scottish leader Alex Salmond's plans to delay a vote for several years, damaging Britain's economy.

Salmond, head of Scotland's semiautonomous government, has long championed independence to allow the country greater control over lucrative oil and natural gas reserves in the North Sea.

His separatist Scottish National Party insists that winning autonomy over tax and spending policies – powers the Scottish government doesn't presently have – would help replicate the economic success of neighbors like Norway, which has used its energy riches to fund state pensions.

Zuccotti Park Barricades Removed: Occupy Wall Street Protesters Stream Back In To Former Camp

NEW YORK -- Barricades surrounding a park that served as a camp for Occupy Wall Street protesters were removed Tuesday, allowing protesters to stream back in.

The atmosphere was celebratory but calm on Tuesday evening as about 300 protesters began filling New York City's Zuccotti Park a couple of hours after the barricades were taken down and a day after a complaint about the barricades was filed with the city. Protesters milled around, eating lasagna on paper plates and playing chess.

Security guards who were previously guarding the barricades stood off to the side, along with a handful of police officers. It was a minor victory for the protesters, who have complained about financial inequality in demonstrations that gained traction across the globe.

"Word spread pretty quickly, and we ran down here," demonstrator Lauren DiGioia said. "It's hard to remember what it was like before the barricades were put up."

Police spokesman Paul Browne said the NYPD and Brookfield Office Properties, the park's owner, had been talking about removing the barriers last week. The decision was made to remove them Tuesday because officials felt they were no longer necessary, Browne said.

Brookfield spokeswoman Melissa Coley confirmed in an email that the barricades were taken down but declined to comment further. A Brookfield employee who refused to give his name told an Associated Press reporter: "The barriers are down, but the other rules are the same."

University Of California Marijuana Study: Pot Smoking, In Moderation, Does Not Harm Lungs

CHICAGO - Smoking a joint once a week or a bit more apparently doesn't harm the lungs, suggests a 20-year study that bolsters evidence that marijuana doesn't do the kind of damage tobacco does.

The results, from one of the largest and longest studies on the health effects of marijuana, are hazier for heavy users — those who smoke two or more joints daily for several years. The data suggest that using marijuana that often might cause a decline in lung function, but there weren't enough heavy users among the 5,000 young adults in the study to draw firm conclusions.

Still, the authors recommended "caution and moderation when marijuana use is considered."

Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law although some states allow its use for medical purposes.

The study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham was released Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.