Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Protest Escalates On Eighth Day (VIDEO)

Tensions are rising at the Occupy Wall Street protest, currently in its eighth day, as organizers for the protest claim that 80 have been arrested. Eyewitness accounts report that "dozens" have been arrested. Police would not confirm the exact number. Videos and eyewitness accounts show violent clashing between protesters and the police.

WNYC reports that "of the dozens arrested, most were for disorderly conduct, obstructing vehicular and pedestrian traffic, resisting arrest and, in one case, assaulting a police officer, the police said."

The skirmish escalated in Union Square Saturday afternoon, as Twitter users report a huge influx of police officers. This video, below, appears to show female protesters being penned and maced by police officers:

Source: Huffington 

Canada Asbestos Industry Strikes Back At Critics To Salvage Reputation

MONTREAL - A prominent asbestos merchant is headed to Parliament Hill as part of a broader counter-offensive to salvage the reputation of his beleaguered industry.

Baljit Chadha is fighting back this week after Canada's asbestos sector has absorbed a public-relations pummelling, both here and abroad, in recent months.
The public-relations battle comes at a critical time.

The Quebec government is considering whether to help Chadha save one of Canada's last two asbestos mines, in the town of Asbestos, with an Oct. 1 deadline looming on a decision.

Chadha is now determined to dispel what he describes as myths about the contentious mineral, which he argues has been unfairly vilified by a highly organized "anti-asbestos lobby."

Harper's transformation of Canadian foreign policy

I've been trying to wait for the official start of 2012 before mentioning the War of 1812's 200th birthday, but the Harper government has jumped the gun and I can't help wondering why. It's not as though they do things spontaneously, without calculating the politics involved. So last week, Heritage Minister James Moore laid out some of their plans for marking that war, along with the reasons: chiefly, that it "led to 200 years of peace." Ah, there you go.

The War of 1812 is a symbolic minefield for Canada-U.S. relations. From our side, they invaded, with expectations of being welcomed and perhaps staying. Thomas Jefferson said it would be "a mere matter of marching," like U.S. officials before they invaded Iraq. From their POV, it involved the last assaults on U.S. soil -- including burning Washington to the ground -- until 9/11. That image won't engender warm and fuzzy feelings. Recently they created Buy American rules that irk Canadians who thought we had free trade. That doesn't sound friendly either. The relationship is always an ongoing minefield.

So the Harper people try to reframe 1812 as part of a march toward sheer harmony with the U.S. Why? Because the Harper transformation of our foreign policy -- a serious project -- is, in a word, imperialist. Don't jerk that knee. I mean it in a descriptive, not judgmental, way. It means denying that Canada could ever stake out an independent space in world affairs, from which it could do good through roles like mediation and peacekeeping. Instead, we must align with the mightiest global powers (which used to be called empires) and play a subsidiary role in their ventures, like occupying Afghanistan or bombing in Libya. So the military gets rebuilt, under Harper, to make war, not keep peace; and the old terminology, like Royal, as in navy, is back. It sounds kooky but it makes a point.

Who Will Keep Tabs on the Tories?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just embarked on four years of Conservative majority government in which the party has considerable leeway to shape the country how it sees fit. It's been said that due to the lack of checks and balances in the Westminster system, when a Canadian government has a majority in both the House of Commons and the Senate, they have more power than just about any other western democratic government . As Canada returns to majority rule after seven years of minority government, it's worth reviewing the institutions we now rely on to hold the government to account.

The Opposition

Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is the first check on the government's executive and legislative power, but the NDP, along with the Liberals, Bloc Quebecois, and Green Party, can do next to nothing to block the passage of legislation or to challenge decisions made by the cabinet. This doesn't mean they're entirely stripped of recourse. Opposition MPs can utilize the filibuster, a procedural mechanism in which the opposition extends debate on a bill for as long as possible, preventing it from coming to a vote. This is not a tactic that opposition parties can legitimately employ with any regularity.

The most fundamental check falls to the opposition's research, (rhetoric) and overall determination to hold the government's feet to the fire. Whether it be on the floor of the House of Commons, on the ground in local ridings or, most importantly, in the more general court of public opinion, opposition parties must engage Canadians by offering a distinct and visible alternative to government policies. While the NDP caucus has many rookies, there are handful of MPs, both Liberal and NDP, who are up to the task of providing a foil to the Tories' excesses. Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae and NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair will no doubt prove to be two of the loudest and fiercest combatants in the House, while Parliamentary veterans such as the NDP's ever-quotable Pat Martin and the Liberal's seasoned former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler are more than capable of backing up their leaders.

A Palestinian state is Israel’s best path to security

The Middle East crisis returned this week to its place of birth in New York City. The United Nations statehood resolution by the Palestinians is dangerous, impractical and possibly the only way to create a secure life for Israel and its neighbours.

Using a UN General Assembly resolution to make an end run around potential negotiations and create a Palestinian state is not a new idea, of course. It’s exactly what was done in 1947, under strikingly similar circumstances, and the resulting Palestinian state became known as Israel. That experience taught us a lot about the hazards of statehood by declaration from above – and about its occasional necessity.

The creation of a Jewish homeland was one of the first acts of a UN that had just been formed in the face of the unprecedented genocidal atrocity and refugee crisis that made Israel’s birth a tragic necessity. It was done at the General Assembly, without the approval of the Security Council, with a sense of urgency.

We should beware of precedent. Resolution 181 of 1947, let us not forget, seemed like a fairly simple matter but ended up producing more than 60 years of trouble. It was meant to create one multiethnic nation with two internal states, one Jewish majority and one Arab majority – a “partition with economic union,” to borrow its subtitle.

What's wrong with Harper's omnibus crime bill

Prime Minister Harper will be launching his tough-on-crime agenda today. Our criminal justice system is by no means perfect, but the omnibus crime bill will send us back to a 19th century punishment model. Here are some reasons why Canadians need to speak out against this legislation.

The former U.S. drug czar (Asa Hutchinson) has encouraged Canada not to make the same mistakes the U.S. made. The two mistakes he cited were mandatory minimum sentences, and insufficient attention to rehabilitative programs.

1. The cost of the Harper crime agenda will be colossal, and a large part of it (some say most) will be borne by the provinces, who are responsible for implementing whatever the feds pass. So provinces and territories (many of them in elections as we speak) will be expected to pay for additional courts, clerks, prisons, Crown Attorneys, judges, sheriffs, court reporters and so on. And the numbers are high-$5 billion over 5 years for the one piece of legislation which was examined by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The new drug sentences alone will increase numbers of offenders by a huge amount. The Corrections department is one of the few which is receiving huge increases in its budget as we speak.

2. Virtually all of the crime legislation is directed towards increasing punishment by way of more prison terms for more people and for longer. Virtually nothing in any of the legislation does anything to prevent crime (as the Conservatives claim), help victims (as they claim) or target guns, gangs, drugs and organized crime (as they claim). The Harper government's stated objectives will not be met by the omnibus crime bill.

3. Other jurisdictions, notably the United States, have rejected the Harper approach. Newt Gingrich is fronting a group called Right on Crime which advocates for less incarceration. Ronald Reagan presided over a huge reduction in incarceration when he was governor of California. Maggie Thatcher refused to allow incarceration rates to rise in Britain. Many states are abolishing mandatory minimum sentences and reducing the proportion of sentences which must be served before release.

4. Canada is moving in the wrong direction, and the results will not be pretty. I predict there will be expanding deficits at all levels, an increase in misery for all parties, including offenders' families and communities, and victims (who in fact advocate for improvements in preventive and rehabilitative programs). The picture becomes darker when you consider that up to 80 to 90 per cent of offenders in some institutions are addicts (mostly to alcohol), and up to 40 per cent have mental illnesses. A huge proportion are Aborignal people. Many offenders are homeless, illiterate, victims of sexual abuse, and so on. What is significant is that we have the means to deal with all of these conditions-we know how, and the resources required would be a fraction of the budget necessary to incarcerate so many new inmates. Dealing with these issues would not only reduce crime but would also make for a healthier community. Because the Conservatives are so concentrated on the punishment model, there will be no resources (and no inclination) to fund the programs necessary to deal with these fundamental problems.

5. Journalists continually state that the omnibus crime bill is considered necessary by the Harper government because the crime legislation was otherwise "unpassable" or because of "obstructive measures" taken by the opposition. This is demonstrably not true. The opposition never got a chance to oppose most of the crime legislation because it never came to a vote: most of the laws died on the order paper when Mr. Harper prorogued Parliament twice and when he called the 2008 election. Most of the rest of them were never brought forward in a timely manner.

The Conservatives have the majority they need to pass this legislation. The only thing that might give them pause would be a public groundswell against the law. If for no other reason than financial, we should be making our voices heard.

Paula Mallea, B.A., M.A., Ll.B, practised criminal law for 15 years in Toronto, Kingston, and Manitoba. She acted mainly as defence counsel, with a part-time stint as prosecutor, and spent hundreds of hours in penitentiaries representing inmates. She is a Research Associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. She is the author of The Fear Factor: Stephen Harper's Tough On Crime Agenda and Lorimer Publishing will be releasing her book on the tough-on-crime agenda this fall.

This article first appeared on Behind the Numbers.


Banned Books Week Reminds Us That Censorship Is Alive and Well in the Internet Age

The week of Sept 24 - Oct 1 is Banned Books Week, a time when libraries, schools, and bookstores celebrate our First Amendment freedom to read while drawing attention to the harms that censorship does to our society and our individual freedoms.

Whether in print or digital format, books are a precious resource, providing us with information, entertainment, opinions, ideas, and a window on lives far different from our own. Free access to books and ideas is the foundation of our government and our society, enabling every person to become an educated participant in our democratic republic. Libraries are an essential part of this process, providing the only access for those who do not have the resources to purchase or access books and information on their own.

Yet, far more often than we may realize, individuals and groups have sought to restrict access to library books they believed were objectionable on religious, moral, or political grounds, thereby restricting the rights of every reader in their community. For example, this summer the Republic (Mo.) school board voted to remove Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer from the school library as a result of a complaint that the book "teaches principles contrary to Biblical morality and truth." More than 150 students and their families have lost access to those books; while a local and national outcry caused the school board to return the books to the library, the books are now on a locked shelf and unavailable to students absent the consent of a parent or guardian.

The Policy Backdrop of Inequality and Its Implications for "Class Warfare"

Hey, no fair fighting back!!

That's what I hear when conservatives go on about "class warfare" in response the President's call for balance in deficit reduction. It's particularly grating to hear Rep Paul Ryan use the CW talking point, when the loins' share of his deficit savings come from cuts to low-income programs and Medicare, with no offsetting revenue.

Lots of posts in recent days have explored the tax side of this equation, essentially emphasizing the Buffett point that many of those who have done the best are paying a smaller share of the income in federal taxes than the middle class. That's an important point that links directly to President Obama's call for shared sacrifice and balanced deficit reduction. Sorry, Rep. Ryan -- it can't all come out of the spending side.

But, as the figure below reveals, the increase in income inequality -- one reliable metric of how different income classes have fared -- is very much a pretax phenomenon. The figure shows the changes in income shares from a comprehensive income data set of the Congressional Budget Office, 1979-2007, pretax and aftertax (federal taxes only -- I've added a table below with the levels for the most recent data year so you can see the underlying shares).


Source: CBO

The fact that the growth in inequality is largely a function of the pretax income distribution doesn't mean we should make it worse with regressive, supply-side tax cuts -- (economist Alan Blinder calls this move "unnecessary roughness" -- amplifying pretax inequality with regressive tax cuts). To the contrary, we need balanced tax measures to generate the revenues to support programs that can help push back on this trend -- initiatives like Head Start, child nutrition, educational support.

But it also doesn't mean we can meaningfully correct the problem with tax policy alone. We have be mindful of all the policies that effect the pretax distribution--the distribution of labor and capital earnings before any taxes and transfers kick in...that's where the real inequality action is.

Now, most economists argue that much of the increase in inequality is due to factors like globalization and technological change -- factors that are less a matter of policy than of economic evolution. But of course their impact can be amplified or dampened by policy. For example, unfair trade practices like China currency management make give low-wage competitors an even stronger price advantage. (Trade agreements are less of a big deal as I see it--the advocates overdo how much they'll help and visa-versa re the opponents -- though the advocates are worse...).

Lack of a strong, long-term public-private strategy in terms of boosting our manufacturing sector, as is standard practice in advanced (Germany) and emerging (China) countries also hurts our manufacturers compete internationally. So policy does matter -- considerably -- in this space.

Technological change is also thought to be a significant factor behind the changes in the graph, though the evidence here is more ambiguous. (One strain of work, for example, argues that technology has increased labor demand for both high skill and low skill work, while leaving out the middle.) But to the extent that technology increases employers' skill demands such that a college education is increasingly necessary to compete, programs that help disadvantaged kids get that opportunity play a role here too. And cuts to those programs hurt.

And then there's a bunch of stuff that directly raises or lowers the bargaining clout of middle and working class families--policy changes or missed policy opportunities that have hurt or failed to help them.

- The long-term erosion of the minimum wage

- The absence of legislative protection to balance the organizing playing field for those who want to collectively bargain

- The inattention to labor standards such as wage and hour rules, overtime regulations, workplace safety, worker classification (this is where regular employees get misclassified as independent contractors and lose basic labor protections -- and guess what? Progressive reform of this problem is in the President's new budget plan -- very cool...)

- The attack on public sector employment

- The lack of universal health care

- The absence of comprehensive immigration reform

One more biggie: full employment. It's very much a policy variable and one, in fact, that used to be the law for the Federal Reserve -- so-called Humphrey Hawkins Act mandated full employment as a policy goal of the Fed. As I stress here, the fact that our job market has run with so much slack over the very period when inequality grew is no coincidence (and visa-versa: when inequality was flat or falling, we were more likely to be at full employment).

And of course, in recession, like now, by dithering on stimulus, we're disproportionately hurting the wage, incomes, and living standards of the folks who've been losing income share over the years shown in the figure above.

In other words, there are a lot of policy measures that have considerable impact on how the benefits of growth are distributed -- before taxes even show up on the scene. When representatives of the wealthy squeal about "class warfare," they're not just talking about shielding their treasure from the tax system. They're also protecting and endorsing a policy agenda that's helped tilt growth their way for a long time.


Source: Huffington 

Global Warming: Why Americans Are In Denial

NEW YORK — Tucked between treatises on algae and prehistoric turquoise beads, the study on page 460 of a long-ago issue of the U.S. journal Science drew little attention.

"I don't think there were any newspaper articles about it or anything like that," the author recalls.

But the headline on the 1975 report was bold: "Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?" And this article that coined the term may have marked the last time a mention of "global warming" didn't set off an instant outcry of angry denial.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Climate change has already provoked debate in a U.S. presidential campaign barely begun. An Associated Press journalist draws on decades of climate reporting to offer a retrospective and analysis on global warming and the undying urge to deny.


In the paper, Columbia University geoscientist Wally Broecker calculated how much carbon dioxide would accumulate in the atmosphere in the coming 35 years, and how temperatures consequently would rise. His numbers have proven almost dead-on correct. Meanwhile, other powerful evidence poured in over those decades, showing the "greenhouse effect" is real and is happening. And yet resistance to the idea among many in the U.S. appears to have hardened.

Florida Republicans Express Concern, Anger About Rick Perry's 2012 Candidacy

ORLANDO - Ken Johnson came here to see Texas Gov. Rick Perry speak to Republican activists Saturday morning for one reason.

"It's a free breakfast," said Johnson, a 63-year old general contractor, as he ate scrambled eggs and sausage paid for by Perry's presidential campaign.

Johnson, who is on the Hillsborough Republican Party Executive Committee, said with conviction that he will never support Perry for one reason.

"I like a lot of what Rick Perry's positions are on many issues. Immigration is very high on my list, and I refuse to support Rick Perry because of his position on that issue," Johnson told The Huffington Post.

"I'm mad at Rick Perry right now for his refusal to see the light," he said.

IMF: Global Economy Entering Dangerous Phase

WASHINGTON -- Top global finance officials are pledging to work decisively and in a coordinated way to deal with a European debt crisis and other dangers confronting the global economy.

The International Monetary Fund's policy-setting committee says the economy has entered a dangerous new phase. The panel says close watching of the situation and a willingness to take bold actions quickly are crucial.

Officials say they're encouraged by the willingness of the 17 nations that share the euro currency to do what's needed to resolve Europe's debt crisis.

They say the IMF stands ready to strongly support further efforts. The IMF is already providing bailout support to three heavily indebted European countries – Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

The IMF's statement doesn't give specifics on how much extra support might be possible.

Source: Huffington 

Recession Upended Teachers' Dreams, Created A 'Triple Tragedy' In Schools And Education

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Stay-at-home-mom Cindy DePace was just hitting 30 when she decided to return to the work force by going back to school and becoming a teacher.

She loved working with kids, could be home in the summer with her own children and had always heard that someone with an education degree would never have trouble finding a job.

Five years later, she has a degree in early childhood education and tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to repay, but no teaching job. Instead, she files records at a law firm in South Carolina's capital.

For decades, the growing number of children in the U.S. and efforts in many states to lower class sizes created a high demand for teachers. Private-sector workers who lost their jobs or were looking for a mid-career change often were encouraged to return to school and earn a teaching credential, while states set up shortcuts to get them licenses.

But the Great Recession and its ripple effects on the state and local tax dollars that fund public schools have upended the conventional wisdom that a teaching job is a golden ticket to career stability.

Challenger Jets' True Cost Revealed

In a scathing report in 1993, the auditor general blasted Brian Mulroney’s administration for giving Parliament "inaccurate and incomplete" information on the costs of the government jets used by ministers and other federal VIPs.

Almost two decades later, the debate over the government jets rages on.

The Harper government routinely states the cost of the jets in terms of variable expenses, such as fuel and repairs. But the total costs, according to the auditor general, are almost four times that much.

The following chart provides a breakdown of what the current fleet of six Challenger jets actually cost taxpayers in 2010-11, the most recent figures available, using the accounting methods set out by the auditor general in 1993.

The figures were provided by the Department of National Defence under the federal Access to Information Program.

Human Rights Watch Urges Ottawa To Investigate Cheney Over Torture

TORONTO - A human rights group is urging the federal government to bring criminal charges against former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney, accusing him of playing a role in the torture of detainees during the years of the Bush administration.

Cheney will be in Vancouver on Monday to promote his book "In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir," which outlines his views of the war on terror and other events during the administration of president George W. Bush.

Human Rights Watch claims that overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration, including at least two cases involving Canadian citizens, are grounds for Canada to investigate Cheney and comply with the Convention Against Torture.

In addition, the New York-based group said that Canadian law expressly provides for jurisdiction over an individual for torture and other crimes if the complainant is a Canadian citizen, even for offences committed outside of Canada.

The largest expansion of prison building ‘since the 1930s’

The Conservative government is in the midst of a procurement blitz to ramp up expansions at federal prisons across the country, just as it moves to pass a sweeping tough-on-crime bill that will inevitably send more people to prison and for longer.

Construction firms submitted bids for at least seven major building or renovation projects this month alone, worth at least $32-million and adding a known 576 beds to federal prisons in Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, and Alberta over the next two years.

The price tag is modest and includes projects for which the cost was vaguely estimated or not listed at all. The most expensive project, at $12-million, is to restore four 100-cell blocks at the Cowansville Institution in Quebec.

All the requests were published in July on the government’s electronic procurement system, after the Conservatives won a majority mandate and the power to pass legislation that will require additions to an already growing prison system.

Scary are the Tory measures to combat crime

“We’re not governing on the basis of the latest statistics,” federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said this week. “We’re governing on the basis of what’s right to better protect victims and law-abiding Canadians.”

Think about that statement. Statistics are facts compiled by people who are expert in compiling them, such as those who work for Statistics Canada. And the facts are clear: Crime rates are going down.

Yet, in the face of this factual/statistical evidence, the Harper government acts as if crime is going up. Hence, the omnibus crime bill introduced this week that flies in the face of statistical facts, the objections of almost everyone who works in the criminal justice field, and international evidence, most notably from the United States.

Crime, to be sure, is scary. No responsible government can ignore it or its effects. But scary, too, are measures to combat crime that have failed elsewhere – such as mandatory minimum sentences, whose scope this government proposes to widen in Canadian law.

No one knows what these measures will cost as Canada enters into a period of fiscal restraint. While other budgets are going to be sliced, the ones that flow from this bill will rise. The government has offered some vague numbers to Parliament. These are far below the ones suggested by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The week Rob Ford learned to play well with others

On Thursday of this week, the proceedings of Toronto city council came to a sudden halt when a group of babies, toddlers and parents flooded the council chamber to stage a demonstration. Sympathetic left-leaning councillors crowded around, accepting apple slices and Cheerios in return for a pinky-swear pledge to protect daycare. Their opponents sat and grumbled.

Frances Nunziata, council’s brusque speaker, who is often an ally of Mayor Rob Ford, tried to re-establish order. “We have to continue with our agenda,” she bellowed.

That will be a tall order.

Mr. Ford swept to office last October on a wave of annoyance at city hall, but the last couple of weeks have been the roughest yet for him. Fights over service cuts and the waterfront have slowed his momentum, raising doubts about whether he can achieve his ambitious program of subway building and trimming the size of government. Even the Toronto Sun, whose opinion pages often champion Mr. Ford, published an article wondering whether he has “lost his mojo.”

TRAIN Act To Limit Clean Air Protection Passes The House

The U.S. House of Representatives forwarded a bill on Friday that environmental leaders warn would undermine the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to curb air pollution and protect public health. Green groups are now urging the Senate and President Barack Obama to stand strong -- and avoid a repeat of recent environmental health failures, such as the shelving of proposed ozone and greenhouse gas standards.

"The Tea Party House has passed, with ease, the most radical dirty-air legislation in the history of this country," John Walke, the clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told HuffPost. "It absolutely eviscerates the legal standards for adopting emissions limits under the Clean Air Act."

Introduced by Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act would create a special committee to oversee the EPA's rules and regulations, and require the agency to consider economic impacts on polluters when it sets standards concerning how much air pollution is too much. For the last 41 years, since passage of the Clean Air Act, only scientific and medical considerations have been allowed in that analysis.

"This results in lying to the American people about whether the air is healthy or not," said Walke.

Rick Perry's Sudden Fall Due To Unforced Errors

ORLANDO – How did Rick Perry get here?

Just a few weeks ago, the Texas governor was taking the Republican presidential primary by storm, but his star has fallen rapidly over the course of his first three debates. On Thursday night, it came crashing down.

Conservatives flocked to the three-day conclave here – kicked off by the Google-Fox News debate Thursday night – "ready to marry" Perry, but left "spooked" by his performance, said one Florida Republican with contacts among both campaign operatives and grassroots activists.

That discontent has been building, though it's not final in any sense. Perry's fortunes have fallen in large part because of a series of gaffes that demonstrated his lack of discipline and experience on a national stage. In several key moments during the past few weeks, the governor showed a tendency to undermine some of his best moments and to make tough or difficult moments even worse. His potential supporters have grown leery of Perry as the list of his unforced errors has grown longer.

Alberta Oil Sands: Protest Planned In Ottawa, Pipeline Advocates Hit Back

As hundreds of demonstrators prepare to descend on Parliament Hill on Monday to protest the development of the Alberta oil sands, the patience of some of their most prominent adversaries appears to be wearing thin for what they claim is a campaign of rhetoric not based on fact.

In a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto Friday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver turned his attention to the question of how to address the increasingly vocal opposition to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, acknowledging that “There is a significant communications challenge.”

Noting the “celebrity protesters” that have made headlines in recent weeks for opposing the transport of bitumen from Alberta to Texas, Oliver outlined the safety and environmental standards the pipeline has met, pointing out that greenhouse gas emissions in the oil sands are lower than in coal plants in Wisconsin.

“We just have to keep repeating those points and making people understand that this exaggerated rhetoric about the end of the planet just doesn’t pass muster,” he said. “With regard to the oil sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline in particular, it’s time to separate fact from fiction.”

More than 1,200 demonstrators were arrested in Washington earlier this month as they protested Keystone XL, which is currently awaiting approval from U.S. President Barack Obama. The protesters, many of whom represent environmental and First Nations groups, say the pipeline will pollute waterways and fisheries.

Palestinian UN Statehood Bid: Mahmoud Abbas Submits Formal Request For Member State Status

UNITED NATIONS — The Palestinian leader took his people's quest for independence to the heart of world diplomacy Friday, seeking U.N. recognition of Palestine and sidestepping negotiations that have foundered for nearly two decades under the weight of inflexibility, violence and failure of will.

The bid to win recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem – submitted over the objections of the U.S. – laid bare the deep sense of Palestinian exasperation after 44 years of Israeli occupation.

"The time is now for the Palestinian Spring, the time for independence," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared.

"The time has come to end the suffering and the plight of millions of Palestine refugees in the homeland and the diaspora, to end their displacement and to realize their rights."

After Abbas submitted his formal application, international mediators called on Israel and the Palestinians to return to long-stalled negotiations and reach an agreement no later than next year. The Quartet – the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia – urged both parties to draw up an agenda for peace talks within a month and produce comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months.

Metro Vancouver Park Smoking Ban In The Works

Smoking will be banned in Metro Vancouver's 12 regional parks starting next year.

The region's board members voted in favour of the ban at a meeting on Friday afternoon. The ban means smoking will be forbidden in regional parks except in designated areas.

Some directors questioned the value of the ban if it won't be enforced. But Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean called on fellow politicians to support it.

"Not only should we look after our own health but I think we have an obligation to all of our fellow citizens, especially as people that legislate in certain areas of the region, and parks has been something we've been mandated to do," he explained.

The Wreck Beach Preservation Society opposed the ban, pointing out dogs, fires, camping, and parking are already forbidden at the beach.

New Pot Laws Could Overwhelm B.C. Jails

Minimum sentences in the federal government's new 'tough on crime' legislation are going to overwhelm B.C.'s overcrowded jails with small-scale marijuana growers, according to the province's prison guards.

If passed, the federal government's new legislation will mean a six-month minimum sentence for anyone convicted of growing between six and 200 cannabis plants.

Growing more than 200 to 500 plants would draw a year in jail and more than 500 plants would draw a minimum two years in jail. The maximum sentences in all cases would rise from seven to 14 years in prison.

Dean Purdy, the BC Government and Service Employees' Union spokesperson for the province's prison guards, says B.C. jails are already 150 to 200 per cent over capacity, forcing some inmates to be bunked in tents.

Melancthon quarry galvanizes opponents

In 1830, a group of men set out from Hamilton, Ontario, to open up 32 hectares of land on a small Ojibway lake by Melancthon Township's Pine River. They, and the small industries that came after them, were attracted to the water resources in what was soon to be known as Horning's Mills. They built a sawmill, a grist mill, a frame house, and brought their families to settle and build this small historic community.

I stood on the crumbling foundations of one of the original mills for which Horning's Mills is named 180 years later, thinking about another group interested in the area's resources. The Highland Companies, with the financial backing of the $23 billion U.S. hedge fund Baupost, has bought up close to 8,000 acres of prime Ontario farmland in this sensitive area, and proposes to blast a 2,400 acre hole into the region's aquifer.

They'll also have to pump out some 600 million litres of water that filters through the aquifer each and every day to keep that big hole from filling up with water from a complex, largely unmapped network of underground streams and rivers. Now why, you may ask, would anyone want to destroy an aquifer -- the headwaters of five major rivers -- and put at risk the drinking water of some 1 million people downstream?

Israel alone

Israel has never had a surplus of friends in its neighbourhood. But almost since its founding it could count on an alliance with Turkey, one of the strongest nations in the Middle East. And for more than three decades its southern border has been protected by a solid peace treaty with Arab powerhouse Egypt. Now these two pillars of Israeli security may be crumbling.

Turkish-Israeli relations frayed last year when Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla of ships from Turkey trying to reach the Gaza Strip in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade, killing nine. Turkey demanded an apology; Israel refused. Bonds between the two countries have ruptured further since. This month, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and froze military co-operation with it. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says his country is committed to ending Israel’s blockade of Gaza and has pledged that Turkish warships would protect convoys of aid to the Palestinian territory. The “Turkish navy is prepared for every scenario—even the worst one,” he told an Egyptian newspaper.

Erdogan’s boast came as he toured the newly liberated Arab countries of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Erdogan received a hero’s welcome. Turkey is a rising power, and for aspirant democrats in the region it is a model. The Turkish prime minister repeatedly denounced Israel during his tour, comparing it to a spoiled child, while urging the Arab League to support a Palestinian bid for full membership in the United Nations.