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, June 15, 2011

North Carolina GOP Overrides Veto, Axes Planned Parenthood Funding

Republican state representatives in North Carolina voted to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of the state budget Wednesday morning, ensuring that a provision to strip all federal and state money from Planned Parenthood will take effect on July 1. North Carolina is now the third state, after Indiana and Kansas, to defund the family planning provider because it also provides abortions.

Planned Parenthood of North Carolina (PPNC), which has nine clinics across the state, provides affordable birth control, preventative health care and family planning services to over 25,000 men and women. Without the $434,000 a year it usually receives in state and federal funds, Planned Parenthood says it will now have to axe its teen pregnancy prevention and adolescent parenting programs and force its low-income patients to pay out of pocket.

"The biggest impact is gonna be on the men and women we serve," said Melissa Reed, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Health Systems. "There are 12- to 14-week waits for women to get into the health department for birth control or breast cancer screenings, but we can see patients the very same week. The health department relies on Planned Parenthood to fill that gap, and now we will be prohibited from serving as that essential safety net provider."

PPNC receives funds through the Title X Family Planning Program and state-funded birth control programs as a way to provide discounted pap tests, cancer screenings and birth control for low-income, uninsured patients. The Hyde Amendment prevents state and federal money from being used to pay for abortions.

Unlike Indiana, which blocked Planned Parenthood's ability to contract with Medicaid, North Carolina clinics will continue to be able to serve Medicaid recipients. It's the low-income, uninsured patients who don't qualify for Medicaid that will now be falling through the cracks, Reed said, since PPNC will no longer be able to offer them the same low-cost services.

Conservative state lawmakers have been flogging Planned Parenthood for its association with abortions this past week during debates over the defunding bill and another bill that would restrict access to abortions. Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Emerald Isle) told her colleagues on the House Floor a tearful story about her nephew and his girlfriend's experience with Planned Parenthood 14 years ago.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

No Checks, No Balances: Wisconsin Court Upholds Anti-Union Bill

The founders of the American experiment separated the powers of the federal government they established and encouraged a similar separation in the various states.

Ever conscious of the abuses committed against them by the British monarchy — which employed the false premise of a “divine right of kings” to place the whole of government at the service of a sovereign, they outlined a system of checks and balances that was supposed to counter the corruptions of empire and royalty.

Their great fear was that a political party arise and then use the power vested in it by a temporary electoral victory to grab complete control of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and use this combined authority not as a guard against corruption but the facilitator of it.

Those fears have now been fully realized in Wisconsin, where the crude power grabs of Republican Governor Scott Walker were initially facilitated by his minions in the Republican-controlled chambers of the state legislature, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and his brother, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. As inept as they were subservient, the Fitzgerald brothers bumbled an attempt to pass legislation that was designed to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

The failure of the Fitzgeralds to respect the state’s well-defined open meetings laws led to a decision by a respected circuit court judge, Maryann Sumi of Dane County, to declare the law invalid because it had not been properly passed. Frightened by the mass demonstrations opposing the law, and by the prospect that another vote in favor of the unpopular measure would encourage efforts to recall and remove Republican state senators, the Fitzgeralds did not want to carry the governor’s agenda again.

But the only way that could happen would be if the state Supreme Court were to overrule Judge Sumi and authorize implementation of the law.

But could the court be so corrupted that it would play the political games as demanded by Walker and the Fitzgeralds? That was hard to imagine, even in a time and place where governmental abuses have become so frequent that dissenting legislators and citizens now refer to the state as “Fitzwalkerstan.”

Until Tuesday.

Racing to deliver the necessary cover before the Fitzegeralds were forced to insert Walker’s anti-labor language in the state budget bill, the court ruled as requested.

Four justices, who have allied themselves politically and ideologically with the governor and his conservative Republican allies, constructed a legal fantasy that said the legislature did not have to follow the open meetings law it had enacted. With that deed done, the jurists — including Justice David Prosser, a former Republican legislator and mentor to Walker who was narrowly reelected after the “discovery” by a friendly county clerk of thousands of votes favoring his candidacy — declared that the law was valid and in effect.

It was a victory for Walker and the Fitzgeralds, but a huge defeat for the rule of law. And it provided a painful reminder that, in Wisconsin, there are no checks and balances on Governor Walker.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Greeks Gather To Protest Austerity Measures, Some With Violence

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Groups of youths on the edge of a major anti-austerity protest in Athens threw rocks and firebombs at police outside Parliament, where the struggling government sought support for new cutbacks required to avoid a debt default.

At a rally of more than 20,000 in the Syntagma Square, police responded with tear gas to push the protesters away from barricades erected to protect the Parliament building and the lawmakers arriving to debate the new austerity plan.

Other demonstrators who had been part of the previously peaceful gathering also clashed with the violent groups of hooded youths, trying to eject them from their rally.

The protests were part of a 24-hour general strike against the new cutbacks, which the country must pass in order to continue receiving funding from a euro110 billion international bailout that is preventing it from defaulting on its debts.

A large part of central Athens was closed to all traffic and pedestrians as police mounted a huge security operation to allow lawmakers access to Parliament by car. Some 5,000 officers, including hundreds of riot and motorcycle police, used parked buses and crowd barriers to prevent protesters from encircling the building.

"Resign, resign," the crowd chanted outside Parliament. The protesters included both young and old, and many brought their children, hoisting them onto their shoulders to shield them from the crush.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Chrysotile Asbestos: Harper Government Defends Carcinogen Despite Rotterdam Pressure

THE CANADIAN PRESS - OTTAWA - The Conservative government continues to claim that Canada's chrysotile asbestos can be used safely "under controlled conditions."

But with a major international conference in Geneva less than a week away, the government is refusing to say what position Canada will take when its global partners ask that the known carcinogen be included on a list of hazardous chemicals.

Canada has twice played a lead role in blocking the inclusion of asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention, which operates by consensus.

Christian Paradis, currently Canada's minister of Industry, boasted about Canada's blocking role to La Tribune newspaper in Sherbrooke in November 2009.

"We have shown our support for the position of safe use of chrysotile by opposing twice the inclusion of chrysotile under the Rotterdam Convention," he told the newspaper, "and be assured that as long as the Conservative government of Stephen Harper is in power, that's how it will be."

Despite effectively banning asbestos domestically -- and spending tens of millions of dollars to have it removed from public buildings, including Parliament -- Canada is one of the world's main exporters.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Poor In Canada: Statistics Canada Reports One In 10 Canadians Are Living In Poverty

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - The recession stopped progress on poverty in its tracks, according to new data from Statistics Canada that indicates almost one in 10 Canadians is considered poor.

In its first detailed, national picture of what happened to income in Canada during the recession, the agency says the poverty rate edged up in 2009 to 9.6 per cent -- the second straight year that poverty has grown after more than a decade of steady declines.

About 3.2 million people now live in low income, including 634,000 children.

Indeed, children were vulnerable during the recession, with their poverty rate rising to 9.5 per cent in 2009 from 9.0 per cent a year earlier.

But the picture of the recession is one of stagnation rather than complete catastrophe. The median after-tax income for Canadian families was $63,800 in 2009 -- about the same as a year earlier.

In the past, recessions have deepened poverty in Canada for years, and exacerbated the gap between rich and poor. Many analysts feared the pattern was repeating itself.

So far, that doesn't seem to be the case. While the national poverty picture isn't pretty, the number of people in the top, middle and bottom echelons of income in Canada remained fairly steady as the recession took hold.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Greece hit by general strike, austerity protests

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou was offering to resign and make way for a national unity government, Reuters reported Wednesday.

The agency quoted senior government sources as saying Papandreou set conditions, saying he would only resign if the new government agreed on measures for dealing with its debt crisis.

The political turmoil came as a general strike by unions crippled public services across the country and anti-austerity protests turned violent.

Papandreou's socialist government has been trying to push through a new program of tax hikes and spending cuts worth more than $39 billion Cdn. in order to get the next installment of bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.

The political opposition has opposed the plan. Media reports said Papandreou was expected to make a televised address later in the day.

Reports earlier Wednesday suggested Papandreou's government had launched power-sharing talks with the main opposition conservatives.

State television reported that opposition leader Antonis Samaras may be involved in forming a possible grand coalition government to deal with the crisis.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Scrapping Transit City 'short sighted': Miller

Former Toronto Mayor David Miller says the repeal of his Transit City light rail plan is "remarkably short sighted" and "sad."

Miller made the remarks in an interview with CBC's Metro Morning on Wednesday one day after he was appointed the Future of Cities Global Fellow by the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, which is based in Brooklyn. He said his role there will be to help engineers understand their solutions to urban issues mesh with the public policy context in which they are operating.

Miller also broke from his self-imposed silence on Toronto political issues since leaving office late last year, and was blunt in his assessment of the decision to strike down the Transit City light rail plan, which envisioned a system of light rail lines crossing the city.

"That's one decision that I think is so remarkably short sighted," he said.

"The people know it. All the polls show across Toronto people understand that to take a transit plan that took 30 years to develop, that was ready to go, that had its environmental assessments done, that literally started construction in one place is not only sad, it's not very smart either."

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Air Canada strikers condemn back-to-work plan

With the federal government poised to legislate striking Air Canada employees back to work, the airline's customer service and sales staff remained off the job for a second day on Wednesday.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt told the House of Commons Tuesday that the Conservative government is ready to end the strike as early as Thursday if the airline and the Canadian Auto Workers union can't agree on a new contract.

The union reacted harshly to the federal move, both in statements from the leadership and on the picket lines.

“There is a lot of anger and frustration here from the striking workers,” CBC reporter Salimah Shivji said from Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport Wednesday. “They are livid that the government is willing to table back to work legislation.”

While picketers at Trudeau airport were loudly chanting and blowing whistles, operations appeared to be running smoothly. Some non-CAW employees such as pilots were delayed crossing picket lines, but passengers were mostly taking Air Canada's advice to travel without checked luggage and to check in online before arriving at the airport.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Canada Post locks out workers

The union representing 50,000 locked-out postal workers is blasting Canada Post's decision to suspend operations and halt mail service across the country as "irresponsible" following 12 days of rotating strikes.

Canada Post announced the move to suspend operations in a statement late Tuesday, saying it had no choice when faced with an "accelerating" decline in volumes and revenue, combined with an "inability to deliver mail on a timely and safe basis."

"We believe that a lockout is the best way to bring a timely resolution to this impasse and force the union to seriously consider proposals that address the declining mail volumes and the $3.2-billion pension deficit," the Crown corporation said.

But in a statement Wednesday morning, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers said Canada Post is "reneging on its responsibility to the public to deliver mail that has been paid for."

Meanwhile, federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt's office said Wednesday "the game has changed" with the national lockout, and that back-to-work legislation similar to what the government is introducing to end the Air Canada strike is now a consideration.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Peter King's 'Muslim Radicalization' Hearings Risk Repeating History

Who would have thought that my early childhood experience in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II would offer such useful insight, sixty-five years later, in determining the direction America is headed? In reflecting on this week’s second round of Muslim radicalization hearings, planned by Congressman Peter King (R-NY), I feel like a mirror is being held up to my life, giving value to lessons learned as a child.

Make no mistake. Growing up in internment camp Amache in Colorado was no joy ride—just look at the pictures. We were treated like cattle in those camps. Never mind the fact that we were born in America. Never mind the fact that we were patriotic Americans and law-abiding citizens. Never mind the fact that we were constructively contributing to the American economy. Despite all this, hundreds of thousands of Americans suddenly became the enemy at the height of the war, with no cause, no crime and no constitutional protections.

We look back now, as a nation, and we know this was wrong. We look back now and know that internment was a result of racial prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. We look back now and know that an entire ethnic group was considered the enemy because too few in Washington were brave enough to say “No.”

We know all this, and yet our country is now, within my lifetime, repeating the same mistakes from our past. The interned 4-year old in me is crying out for a course correction so that we do not do to others what we did unjustly to over 100,000 Japanese-Americans.

This time, instead of creating an ethnic enemy, Congressman King is creating a religious enemy. Because of prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of Republican leadership, King is targeting the entire Muslim-American community. Similar to my experience, they are become increasingly marginalized and isolated by our policies.

Never mind the fact that many were born in America and have no allegiance to their ancestors' native homeland. Never mind the fact that they are patriotic Americans and law-abiding citizens. Never mind the fact that they are constructively contributing to the American economy. Irrespective of all this, millions of Americans have become the new enemy, with no cause and no crime.

There is no question that a congressional hearing, which targets an entire religion, is morally and strategically wrong-headed. First, it is un-American. This is not the America that I know and have helped build as a life-long public servant. The America that I know has always provided refuge for those fleeing persecution, from early settlers to recent refugees. The America that I know, furthermore, does not hate and discriminate base on race, religion or creed.

Second, it is counterproductive. Congressman King is undermining his own objective. In hosting these hearings, King, as chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, has declared, erroneously, that the Muslim-American community does not partner actively enough prevent potential acts of violence—or in the case of prisons, extremism. Despite the offensive and fallacious nature of King's concern, given extensive evidence that contradicts his claim, the Homeland Security chairman's strategy makes future partnerships unpalatable.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Who's Getting Screwed by Ohio's Budget Cuts?

Wildly unpopular Republican Ohio governor John Kasich has a proposal: to cut $8 billion from his state's 2011-2013 budget. Despite plenty of controversy since he unveiled the plan in March, both the Republican-controlled state House and Senate have passed versions of it. The only thing left to do is sort out the differences in conference committee before final passage at the end of the month.

While Kasich is indeed facing a gaping budget hole (though some say he's exaggerating its size), many argue that the reforms unfairly punish lower-income Ohioans. Democratic representatives say it "balances the budget on the backs of the middle class." One provision gets rid of the estate tax, which applies to only the top eight percent of estates, and another would enact income-tax cuts that return way more money to Ohio's top earners. Let's break down who's carrying the bulk of the proposed budget's burdens:

State workers: Local governments are probably the biggest losers in Kasich's budget, losing 50 percent of their funding by the second year of the plan. And prison workers worry that the provision to sell off Ohio's prisons will lead to layoffs. Altogether, a report by think tank Innovation Ohio estimates, the budget will cause a loss of 51,000 state jobs.

People who enjoy learning and/or teaching stuff: Education loses 11.5 percent of its current funding in the Kasich budget. According to the Ohio Education Association, that would mean firing of 10,000 teachers. Cleveland schools are already planning to lay off at least 500 educators. At the university level, the cuts average 13 percent. Ohio State, one of the largest universities in the nation, soon will be presenting its plan to account for the deficit to its board. Spokeswoman Shelly Hoffma says the budget-balancing measures include early retirements, not filling vacancies, and raising tuition for the second year in a row.

People who go to libraries or whose houses catch on fire: Mike Gillis, communications director of the AFL-CIO, says the union's concerns with the budget are "too long to list," but that problem number one is "definitely the massive loss of public sector jobs." Those cuts won't just affect state workers. Library funding, for example, will be cut 5 percent, on top of a 30 percent cut since 2000, while demand for services has grown 23 percent in the same period. And since a lot of Ohio cities spend much of their funds on public safety, cuts to local governments mean big hits to fire and police departments. Like in Circleville, where Mayor Chuck Taylor is fretting about how to maintain the town's infrastructure. "We're cut to the bone now," he told the Columbus Dispatch. "I don't know what we are going to do. It's going to be devastating to us, to be honest."

Women who need an abortion: In a bizarre move—in that it's not meant to save money—the Senate slipped limits to abortion access into its version of the bill last week. One provision bans unincorporated (read: mostly rural) counties from covering abortion in their employee insurance plans. Another bans publicly funded hospitals from performing the procedure. That affects "pretty much all the public hospitals in the state," says Ohio NARAL's Kellie Copeland. "Some of them are the top hospitals in the state, who have top OB-GYNs who specialize in high-risk pregnancies." Exceptions will be made in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman's life is in danger. Republican lawmakers say these measures will keep taxpayer dollars from going toward abortions. Copeland says they don't, since taxpayer dollars are legally banned from going toward abortions in Ohio; procedures at public hospitals already have to be paid with private funds.

Source: Mother Jones 

$720-million of programs and operations on chopping block this fiscal year

The cuts are buried in 519 pages of main spending estimates Treasury Board President Tony Clement tabled and are among a total of $10.4-billion in spending reductions, most of which are a reflection of recession-fighting infrastructure programs coming to an end. 'Where’s the plan?' asks NDP MP Peggy Nash.

PARLIAMENT HILL—The Harper government has targeted $720-million worth of program and operating cuts over the next year for a range of areas that include sensitive agencies such as the federal nuclear safety watchdog, the public health agency, another agency that tracks hazardous materials and an as yet unexplained 20 per-cent reduction in the budget for Environment Canada.

The cuts are buried in 519 pages of main spending estimates Treasury Board President Tony Clement (Muskoka-Parry Sound, Ont.) tabled along with the federal budget and are among a total of $10.4-billion in spending reductions, most of which are a reflection of recession-fighting infrastructure programs coming to an end.

The secretariat that supports the Treasury Board Cabinet Committee provided The Hill Times with a breakout summary of the total reduction in spending due to program cuts or reductions, separate from the spending reductions that will be due to the lapse of infrastructure programs.

The figure prompted opposition MPs on Tuesday to renew calls on the government to provide more detail on the spending cuts it has already set for the coming fiscal year—as well as $4-billion in annual cuts that were promised in the budget.

Full Article
Source: The Hill Times 

CIA Chief Leon Panetta: Cyberattack Could Be 'Next Pearl Harbor'

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee for a confirmation hearing for his appointment as the secretary of defense, Leon Panetta warned that the U.S. could face cyberwarfare in battles to come.

“The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our power systems, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems,” Panetta said.

Though he talked on subjects ranging from Libya to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan to the war on terrorism, Panetta highlighted his concerns regarding the U.S.'s preparedness for cyberattacks.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

What's Behind the Sun News-Bell Battle?

Two behemoths of Canadian media have gone to war. More such wars may be inevitable.

Since you’re reading The Mark, I’m assuming you already know how crazily fragmented the global news media business has become.

Despite that, Quebecor (which owns the Sun newspaper chain, the top French-language broadcaster (TVA), and the cable/wireless company Vidéotron) still chose to launch a new TV channel, Sun News, in April. The home of “hard news and straight talk” (a tag line built for risqué jokes if there ever was one) is unique in both its format and licensing. Built to ape Fox News’s style, where commentators and experts give their opinions on the day’s news (it costs less to riff than to report, after all), the channel is unapologetically opinionated and right-wing. Its format will win viewers and breathe some life into the staid business of Canadian news, as long as its journalists continue to push the envelope – and improve.

Sun News is unique in its licensing because, in southern Ontario, it is both an over-the-air broadcaster and a specialty channel. Because it is an over-the-air broadcaster (having replaced the former Sun TV station in Toronto), cable companies like Rogers Cable, Cogeco Cable, and Bell Canada’s Fibe TV must carry and deliver it to their customers for free, according to long-standing CRTC policy. However, for the rest of the country (including our satellite TV companies), the new Sun News is a digital specialty channel, which means carriers like Shaw Communications, EastLink, Telus’ Optik TV, and Bell Satellite can choose whether or not they carry it, and can pass a fee on to their customers if they wish to.

Full Article
Source: The Mark news 

No Mandatory Minimums for Common Sense

The Conservative plan to jail pot growers ignores history and science.

One of the most foolish and costly planks of the Conservatives’ so-called get-tough-on-crime agenda is target their plan to impose mandatory minimum terms of six months’ imprisonment on those who grow at least six marijuana plants.

All indications are that the government's plan is a huge overreaction. A 2005 study of seven years of marijuana cultivation arrests in British Columbia revealed that more than 80 per cent of growers did not have guns or traps at their sites, were not involved in organized crime, and were not involved in the theft of electricity. In other words, most marijuana cultivation takes place without imposing significant threats upon the surrounding community.

Further – and this apparently needs to be said repeatedly – the consumption of cannabis is much less likely to lead to significant harm and premature death than the consumption of the perfectly legal and socially acceptable drugs, alcohol and tobacco, even when rates of use are taken into account.

There is a very real sense that the Tories are operating without a shred of science on their side. Why are they doing this? The costs of jailing marijuana cultivators will soar into the hundreds of millions of dollars within a few years – and it will be the provinces, not the federal government, that will have to pay for the construction and operation of these new provincial facilities.

Why have the provinces been so silent? Are they looking to create prison industries in rural areas, shoring up long-standing unemployment and potentially converting these voters to their cause? Do they not care about the costs and the consequences of putting thousands of non-violent offenders in jail? Couldn’t this money be better spent on health care, or other more useful collective endeavours?

In the land of the growers – and the land of the users – the government’s plan will change very little. The consumption of cannabis in Canada increased dramatically between 1965 and 1979, and then fell off quite substantially until the early 1990s, rising again until a few years ago, but never quite hitting the rates of consumption of the late 1970s. These changing patterns of consumption appear, upon careful study and reflection, to have nothing to do with legislative or law-enforcement initiatives.
Full Article
Source: The Mark news 

Standing firm in Afghanistan

The staccato chattering sound of machine-gun fire drifts over Canada’s forward operating base at Masum Ghar in Afghanistan’s Panjwaii district shortly after dusk. The prolonged bursts are answered by other angry shots until, after a couple of minutes, the echoes fade away and silence returns. “That’s probably Wilson killing somebody,” says a soldier relaxing on a makeshift bench outside the metal shipping containers where many of them sleep on stacked bunks. Wilson is an American patrol base a few kilometres north of Masum Ghar, across the Arghandab River in Zhari district.

At dawn, from the same direction, the muffled crunch of a distant explosion sends a mushrooming plume of dust skyward above the green cultivated fields and rough mud compounds that spread from Masum Ghar beyond the river. It might have been an improvised explosive device, discovered and intentionally triggered, or perhaps something deadlier. No gunfire follows the blast, only birdsong and the puttering hum of a man coaxing a motorbike along a rutted dirt path.

“It’s the Americans at Wilson,” says another soldier. “They get more contact than we do. It’s closer to the highway, and now, with the prison break, there are 400 more Taliban there.”

A Canadian major who had arrived at Masum Ghar the previous day interjects. “They can’t clear it?”

“It’s like clearing water,” the first soldier replies. “You can push them aside”—he sweeps an open palm sideways in front of him—“but they flow back in.”

He describes a near-impossible task, and yet this is what NATO forces in Afghanistan, including Canada’s final combat battle group to deploy in the country, believe they are finally beginning to accomplish. The main reason, according to senior military officials in both Canada and allied nations, is the increased number of troops now on the ground.

For eight years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent overthrow of the Taliban, American and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan were too few and spread too thin to hold territory, deny insurgents freedom of movement, and convince the local population that they were stronger than the Taliban. Training of Afghanistan’s own security forces was fragmented and haphazard. Afghan soldiers and police were unable to effectively step in where outside forces were absent. “As they look back over this, they’ll probably figure that there were some opportunities early on that we didn’t take advantage of,” says American Lieut.-Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

The Commons: Getting the words right

So the House is almost entirely agreed. Colonel Gadhafi of Libya is an undesirable despot, guilty, it would seem, of various abuses and disgraces, likely up to and including crimes against humanity and thus, through some combination of diplomacy, humanitarian aid and bombs, he must be prevented from doing any further harm to the people of Libya, they who should be allowed to proceed soon enough to freedom and democracy.

Now, if only the House could agree on how best to describe the process by which this general notion might be made real.

“Our strategy is clear,” John Baird proclaimed this morning. “By applying steady and unrelenting military and diplomatic pressure while also delivering humanitarian assistance we can protect the civilian population, degrade the capabilities of the regime and create the conditions for a genuine political opening. At the same time we can bolster the capacity of the Libyan opposition to meet the challenges of post-Gadhafi Libya and to lay the foundations of a state based on the sovereignty of the people.”

On this, the Foreign Affairs Minister asked the House of Commons to endorse a three-and-a-half-month extension of Canada’s involvement in the NATO mission over and around Libya. And it was on the occasion of this request that Jack Harris, the NDP’s shadow defence minister, stood a short while later to wonder if we might call this “regime change.”

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

Decriminalizing prostitution won’t make it safer, Crown argues

Up to 95 per cent of prostitutes are vulnerable women who would gladly leave their tawdry profession if they could, an Ontario prosecutor told a landmark prostitution appeal Tuesday.

“It is not a voluntary choice, but a highly constrained choice,” Crown counsel Christine Bartlett-Hughes told a five-judge Ontario Court of Appeal panel that will decide the fate of the prostitution laws.

“We recognize that there are certain individuals that choose this activity,” Ms. Bartlett-Hughes added. “But nevertheless, Parliament is entitled to legislate to protect those who are most vulnerable.”

Ms. Bartlett-Hughes conceded that the laws can make it more difficult for prostitutes to protect themselves from violent customers. However, she told the judges there is no proof that decriminalizing prostitution and moving prostitutes off the streets into brothels will make them substantially safer.

In fact, she said, it is far from clear that legalizing brothels will have any effect whatsoever on the number of street prostitutes in the country.

The federal and Ontario governments are appealing a decision by Ontario Superior Court Judge Susan Himel that struck down the prostitution law’s provisions prohibiting communicating and living off the avails, and another that makes it a crime to run a brothel.

The three prostitutes behind the challenge – Terri-Lynn Bedford, Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch – claim the provisions violate their constitutional right to security of the person by compelling them to work under unsafe conditions.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Cop blames low blood sugar for threatening to Taser men in genitals

A Toronto police officer, who is diabetic, has profusely apologized for threatening to Taser two handcuffed suspects, an act he blames on a severe hypoglycemic episode.

“I wanted to take responsibility right from the beginning,” Christopher Hominuk, 38, testified Tuesday at his sentencing hearing in the Ontario Court of Justice. He pleaded guilty last winter to one count of threatening bodily harm.

Defence lawyer Peter Brauti is asking Justice Hugh Fraser to accept the opinion of Dr. Anne Kenshole, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, who also testified Tuesday.

She concluded Hominuk's behaviour on May 24, 2010 was “very compatible” with a longtime type 1 diabetes patient, such as Hominuk, experiencing dangerously low blood sugar levels.

“His actions on May 24 did seem out of keeping with what I would assume this man's behaviour would normally be.”

Kenshole reviewed his medical records and the blood sugar level readings produced by the blood glucose monitor he was wearing that day. She also interviewed Hominuk about his history with diabetes, which he has had since he was 15. She also watched videotaped footage recorded on cameras that captured what happened inside the police cruisers.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Tory budget plans set askew by slow growth projections

New reports forecasting a cooling housing market and slower consumer spending tied to record household debt suggest the Conservative government can’t count on growth to give them an easy ride to a balanced budget.

Erasing Canada’s deficit by 2015 – as first promised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper during this year’s election campaign – will require a mix of spending cuts and economic growth.

But the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report this week questioning whether promised spending cuts will materialize, and a new update from TD Economics warns that Canada’s growth spurt is about to cool.

The news led NDP Leader Jack Layton to urge more caution when it comes to government cuts for fear of hurting employment and economic growth.

“Here we have the government jumping very quickly to a program of restraint, but we have some indications that the economy could be stalling or in some difficulty,” Mr. Layton said.

TD Bank’s quarterly economic forecast said economic growth in Canada has peaked as households focus on debt reduction and governments phase out stimulus spending. Releasing its first growth projections for 2013, TD Economics forecasts real GDP growth of 2.1 per cent. That’s below the 2.7 per cent average forecast from private-sector economists produced in March that was used as the foundation of the numbers in this month’s federal budget.
Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Rob Ford's missing expenses raise questions about day-to-day spending

As a conspicuously frugal Etobicoke councillor, Rob Ford made a very public point about spending almost none of his office budget and paying some of his office expenses using his own personal funds. A staunch critic of councillors’ spending habits, Mr. Ford used his own website to publicize embarrassing invoices submitted by other politicians, obtained through access to information requests.

In his current position, Mr. Ford has continued his crusade to slash discretionary spending by municipal politicians, and he claims to have spent just $1,718.46 for mayor’s office expenses for the first quarter of 2011.

But a Globe and Mail investigation of the mayor’s office budget indicates clear gaps in official expense disclosure documents that raise questions about how Mr. Ford pays for routine expenditures associated with a busy 17-person operation.

Notably absent is any evidence of how – and how much – Mr. Ford pays for mayor’s office supplies, such as letterhead, and his mobile phone, which he uses frequently to communicate with Toronto residents. Even the most frugal councillors routinely expense service packages for smartphones, which are obligatory equipment for busy politicians. Such subscriptions can run to thousands of dollars a year.

In an e-mail, the city’s integrity commissioner Janet Leiper pointed to Section 4.6 of council’s expense policy, which requires councillors to publicly disclose such expenses, even if they are paid for with private funds. The document, last updated in January, appears to make no distinction between councillor and mayor.

That particular policy, as it happens, traces back to a November, 2007, report by auditor-general Jeff Griffiths, who concluded that Mr. Ford had violated council’s expense policy by failing to declare “the extent of the personal funds expended in relation to the operation of his Council office.” Mr. Griffiths couldn’t determine how much Mr. Ford had spent personally on outlays such as postage, mileage, cellphone bills and stationery due to a lack of records. The seven-page report also states that Mr. Ford advised the auditor-general that no third-party funds had been used.

Mr. Ford’s officials responded to repeated questions about his current expenses by saying they were “unable to fulfill” the request for information.

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Source: Globe & Mail