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TODAY:

  • India's missile test latest sign that nuclear arms race is heating up
  • The president and the porn star
  • Supreme Court weighs in on airline passenger rights


More nukes, more danger

India became the latest country to flex its nuclear muscles this week, with the successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The Agni-V is the country's most advanced ICBM to date, easily capable of hitting targets in neighbouring Pakistan and China.

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The Agni V missile is capable of being launched from India and striking Pakistan and China. (B Mathur/Reuters)

A Tweet sent by India's ministry of defence called the launch a "major boost" for the protection of the nation.

The Federation of American Scientists estimates that India has the world's seventh-largest nuclear arsenal, with some 120 to 130 warheads — just behind Pakistan's 140.

The runaway leaders in nuclear arms, Russia and the United States, have been steadily reducing their stockpile of bombs since the end of the Cold War. But that appears set to change, too.

President Trump recently endorsed a draft version of a new Pentagon policy that would see the U.S. military ramp up production of low-yield tactical nukes.

The current large-scale warheads are so devastating that their use is almost unthinkable, and policy makers fear that America's enemies might take advantage of that baked-in reluctance to use them and attack with their own mini-bombs.

Castle Bravo test

The mushroom cloud from the Castle Bravo nuclear blast in 1954. The U.S. test of its enormously powerful 15 megaton weapon was on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. (US Department of Energy)

A move away from the long-held MAD — mutually assured destruction — mindset opens the possibility of a new nuclear arms race, however. And there is growing resistance to the proposal.

The possible end of the Iran nuclear deal also has people spooked.

Yesterday, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov warned that North Korea is likely to see the end of the pact as proof that the rest of the world isn't serious about halting nuclear proliferation. (Trump has declared that the U.S. will pull out of the agreement in five months unless its "terrible flaws" are addressed.)

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warns that an end of the Iran nuclear deal could send a message that the world isn't serious about damping nuclear proliferation. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the danger from weapons of mass destruction "seems to be gathering force."

And there are reports that China's new high-speed rail network has been fully integrated into its nuclear defence plans. The next generation Fuxing trains ("renaissance" in Mandarin) can speed at 400 km/h across a 22,000 km-long national network. A clear boon for travellers, but also for China's military, which now has a fast and easy way to move troops, supplies, weapons, and even nuclear missiles around the country.

China Bullet Train

Railway workers pose beside the Fuxing, China's high-speed train capable of reaching speeds of 400 kilometres per hour. (Associated Press)

It's not a new idea. Russia built special railcars to deploy its missiles back in the 1980s. But the Fuxing network would make for a far more rapid, and difficult to detect, threat.

And another danger for the world to contend with.


The president and the porn star

Saturday marks the first anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration.

It has been a turbulent year to say the least.

But a measure of how strained and strange U.S. politics have become might be found in the relative lack of coverage of allegations that might well destroy the career of any other elected official — claims that the president had an affair with an adult film actress.

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Rumours of Donald Trump's purported relationship with Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the nomme de guerre Stormy Daniels, circulated during the 2016 election campaign. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Rumours of Trump's purported relationship with Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the nomme de guerre Stormy Daniels, circulated widely during the 2016 election campaign. She was reportedly in contact with several different media outlets.

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, created a private company in Delaware — Essential Consultants LLC  — in 2016, for the purpose of making a $130,000 payment to Daniels, using pseudonyms to obscure the transaction.

Cohen told the paper the president "vehemently denies" that there was any sexual relationship or hush money, and supplied a statement attributed to the actress that supported that position.

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The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, created a private company in Delaware for the purpose of making a $130,000 payment to Daniels. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

But gossip magazine In Touch has since published a lengthy 2011 interview with Daniels, in which she makes a number of eye-popping claims about a relationship she says began at a 2006 Nevada golf tournament and carried on for years.

Other media outlets have now weighed in with even more lurid details — like this story about a rolled up copy of Forbes magazine.

Trump is hardly the first politician to stand accused of crossing the line between sleazy fantasy and reality.

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Huey Pierce Long, the American Politician and Governor of Louisiana as well as Senator, was assassinated in 1935. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Huey Long, the populist governor of Louisiana in the 1930s, carried on a more-or-less open affair with Blaze Starr, a famed burlesque performer. Hollywood even turned the scandal into a 1989 film, starring Paul Newman and Canadian actress Lolita Davidovich.

More recently, adult-film star Sydney Leathers played a part in one of the serial downfalls of one-time New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, when she disclosed that the two had exchanged lewd "sext" messages.

Obit Blaze Starr

Blaze Starr, a burlesque star and stripper, arrives in New Orleans in 1959 to visit Long. (Associated Press)

British cabinet minister John Whittingdale was forced to step down as culture secretary in 2016 following revelations of a relationship with a bondage escort called "Mistress Kate," and allegations that he had flouted cabinet secrecy rules during a different romance with a soft-porn star.

Peter Marx, the general secretary of Germany's far-right National Democratic Party, resigned in 2014 after reports that he had attended a rowdy party with strippers and Ina Groll, a porn star, in what the local press dubbed the 'Peniskuchen-Affaere'  — the penis cake affair.

APTOPIX Weiner Mayor

Anthony Weiner rubs his eyes during a candidate forum on small business in 2013. Weiner admitted to having illicit online exchanges with women even after he resigned from Congress amid a sexting scandal. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Some adult actors have tried to cross in the other direction, reinventing themselves as politicians.

  • Marilyn Chambers, the late star of the 1970s hit Behind the Green Door, was a vice-presidential candidate for the Personal Choice Party in the 2004 U.S. election.
  • Marey Carey, another performer, ran for governor of California in 2003, placing 10th in a field of 135 candidates.
  • Ilona Staller, better known as Cicciolina, was probably the most successful, co-founding Italy's Love Party and serving for five years in the country's Chamber of Deputies in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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Silvio Berlusconi has faced a number of allegations about his sexual behaviour. (EPA)

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has faced many allegations about his sexual behaviour  — including 'bunga bunga' orgies, and a trial over his relationship with an underage prostitute. And while no one has linked him to a porn actress, an adult film director did hatch a plan to make a racy biopic, starring the man himself.

Let's hope no one is pitching an American reboot.


Airline passenger rights

Almost everybody kvetches about the travails of air travel. Now, the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed that anyone can make a formal complaint to the government.

In 2014, Gabor Lukács, a Halifax-based passenger rights advocate, asked the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) to investigate Delta Airline's practice of bumping obese travellers from crowded flights, or making them buy an additional seat.  

Halifax-based passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs

Canadian passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukács. (CBC)

The agency refused to look into the matter, however, on the basis that he wasn't personally affected. (Lukács, who teaches math at Dalhousie University, estimates that he weighs in at a svelte 77 kilograms.)

The volunteer advocate appealed, and the federal court ordered the CTA to reconsider the case last fall. But Delta put the issue before the Supreme Court.

Lukács, who knows airline regulations inside and out, appeared on his own behalf at the hearings last October and fielded the justices' questions for 40 minutes.

This morning, the top court ruled that the CTA "unreasonably fettered its discretion" by denying the complaint and was effectively precluding "any public interest group or representative group from ever having standing before the Agency."

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Lukács asked the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) to investigate Delta Airline's practice of bumping obese travellers from crowded flights, or making them buy an additional seat. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

It ordered the agency to take another look at Delta's seating policy.

Airlines' shoddy treatment of their paying customers has become a hot-button issue in recent years, fuelled by passengers' ability to document every interaction with their phones and broadcast their complaints via social media.

After a United Airlines passenger was dragged off an overbooked flight in Chicago last spring, the Liberal government in Ottawa introduced legislation to amend the Canadian Transportation Act, adding a travellers bill of rights. The new regulations — which are currently stuck in committee in the Senate — will stop people from being bumped from flights against their will, set a minimum in compensation for those who voluntarily give up their seats, and create standards for the transportation of musical instruments, among other things.

But the proposed bill doesn't address the issue that Lukács raised.

Other recent lawsuits have attacked the issue of passenger comfort from a different direction.

In May an Australian man, Michael Anthony Taylor, sued American Airlines, alleging that he was severely injured during a December 2015 flight from Sydney to Los Angeles when he was forced to sit in a row with two "grossly obese" fellow travellers.

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Transport Minister Marc Garneau introduced legislation ion 2017 to create a new passenger bill of rights, which will give travellers a better idea of when and how airlines will have to compensate them for travel issues. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Taylor's lawsuit claimed that the body of the man next to him "spilt over" into his seat, forcing him to contort himself for the duration of the 14-hour flight. The ordeal exacerbated an existing spinal problem, he says, causing severe back and neck pain.

The case echoes another Australian suit filed in 2012, when James Bassos, an Etihad Airlines passenger, claimed back injuries after being seated next to an overweight man during a 2011 Dubai to Sydney flight. He sought $227,000 in compensation.

Etihad's lawyers tried to have the matter thrown out, but a judge sent it to trail. The case was dismissed after Bassos passed away last year.

It's not clear when the CTA will finally render a decision on the Delta complaint.

But Lukács has already won some big victories against the airline industry — a 2013 ruling that gives Canadian passengers the right to $800 in compensation if they are bumped and delayed for more than six hours, for example.

And he has already found his next cause.

In November, the CTA fined Air Transat $295,000 for a series of cascading failures that stranded two plane-loads of people on the hot tarmac of Ottawa's airport for hours last summer. There was no food, water or air conditioning in the case of one of the flights.

Ottawa Air Transat flight delayed Ottawa airport July 31 2017

Emergency crews surround an Air Transat flight that sat for hours at the Ottawa airport on July 31, 2017. (Stephane Beaudoin/CBC)

It was a record-setting punishment. But that wasn't good enough for Lukács. In January he filed suit over the matter, asking the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn the fine and send the case back to the CTA for reassessment.

Lukács contends that the fine was just a "slap on the wrist," well-below the maximum $10,000 per passenger — close to $6 million in total — that could have been levied under the law.

"Exposing passengers to such extreme suffering should have consequences," he told the CBC.


Quote of the moment

"How could somebody steal Jesus' truck?"

Roger Boyd, the head of the evangelical Men's Street Ministry in Hamilton, reacting to the theft of his pickup. The vehicle, which Boyd and his wife use to deliver clothes and toiletries to the homeless, has a Bible in its cab.

Roger Boyd truck

Roger Boyd says the truck he uses for Men's Street Ministry work in Hamilton was stolen from his driveway. (Roger Boyd)


What The National is reading

  • Alleged murderer of two men from Toronto's gay village was a mall Santa (Vice)
  • Turkey bombs Kurdish-held enclave in Syria (Guardian)
  • Soulpepper kept previous sex harassment scandal quiet for 19 months (CBC)
  • String of brutal rapes shock India (CNN)
  • The algorithm that could help tackle the refugee crisis (BBC)
  • Thailand's junta put on watch over luxury timepieces. (Asia Times)

Today in history

Jan. 19, 1945: The Italian campaign — On leave in Rome (radio)

Bill Herbert

CBC war correspondent W. J. "Bill" Herbert. (CBC)

CBC Radio correspondent Bill Herbert investigates what Canuck troops get up to in the Eternal City. "The Canadians play in exactly the same was as they fight: hard," he reports. "Bars are given a great deal of attention."


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