01/22/2012 12:03 EST | Updated 03/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Sunday Roundup: Bam!


Note to Occupiers: If there was a week when populist movements managed to scare the beejezus out of elected officials, this was it.

In a surprise move, President Obama on Wednesday rejected the permit to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, upon recommendations from the State Department:

"As the State Department made clear last month," Obama said in a prepared statement, "the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline's impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department's report, I agree."

Seasoned political observers, such as our own Christopher Sands, suggested that partisan warfare may have had more to do with the president's decision than concern than over the pipeline's potential impact upon the environment. As Sands noted, the president had previously announced he would delay any decision on Keystone until 2013 (safely after the 2012 election):

By attaching a deadline for a decision to legislation extending the payroll tax holiday by two months, Congress tried to force President Obama to issue a presidential permit that would allow for the expansion of the pipeline where it crosses the U.S.-Canadian border. The president had previously announced that he would delay his decision until 2013.

President Obama called Congress' bluff: he decided and rejected the permit on the grounds that he did not have adequate information in hand to approve the pipeline at present. This is consistent with his explanation for delaying his decision to 2013, despite the lengthy review and hearings process that has already taken place. Congress forced him to make a decision, but did not override his freedom to make that decision as he saw fit, and so he chose -- as his aides had hinted he would -- to say no.

Whatever reasons lay behind the president's decision, the real winner of it was China -- as Sands subsequently pointed out. China is the fastest growing customer of oil -- and the Harper government will push now for Northern Gateway, which will be able to carry oil from Alberta to the Pacific, and thus to a more eager and less democratic market.

Joyous environmental groups, meanwhile -- with the taste of oil victory in their mouths -- have vowed to kill Gateway too. Within hours of the Keystone decision, contributor and prominent activist Maude Barlow spoke for many when she put Enbridge "on notice":

Proponents of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline that would "punch a hole in the Rockies" to carry this oil to western ports for Asian export should be put on notice: The powerful coalition of community, environmental, labour, and justice groups that came together across the Canada-US border to stop Keystone in its tracks is on the move. Under the leadership of the First Nations people along the pipeline's proposed path, this growing peoples' movement will take great heart from this victory. The Gateway will never be built.

The growing peoples' movement also managed to beat back the hugely contested SOPA and PIPA bills, aimed at curbing illegal music, movie and software sharing. While thousands of websites, such as Wikipedia, went dark in protest, others like HuffPost greeted their readers on Wednesday morning with a huge black screen where our news feature would normally be. The protest worked: support for the bills was derailed.

In home news this week, a number of our contributors were experimenting with inhalants -- legal and illegal. Two of our youngest contributors (and smokers), Daniel Alexandre Portararo and Miranda Frum, accepted the challenge of National Non-Smoking Week and have launched diaries about their attempts to quit. (You can read Daniel's here, and Miranda's here.) They will now check in weekly, every Friday, to report on their progress. We encourage readers to support them and/or join them and share your experiences.

And with the recent lively debate over legalizing pot, two contributors weighed in with their own experiences. Robyn Menzies wrote a hilarious, if poignant, series about her attempt to ease a chronic condition by smoking pot, "Confessions of a Medical Marijuana User." Contributor Yoni Goldstein -- who extolls the benefits of pot for less medicinal purposes -- wrote an equally hilarious blog about why marijuana should not be legalized.

Meanwhile, Huffington Post Style editor Sarah Kelsey and AOL's associate homepage editor Dawn Cuthbertson mounted a stiff personal challenge of their own. They announced that they will be training for a notoriously difficult 30k marathon in Hamilton, Ontario in order to raise money to adopt a village in Kenya, under Free the Children's Adopt a Village program. As they describe it:

"To help reach our ultimate goal of $25,000 toward adopting a village, Dawn and I are hoping to raise at least $5,000 by taking part in one of the most grueling road races in North America -- the Around The Bay 30K Road Race. The event is the oldest marathon-type event on the continent, and, because it's happening on March 25, Dawn and I are training for it in Canada's blustery, chilly winter weather. We'd love any support you can give as we strive to reach our goal. You can donate through this link."

Anyone training under such circumstances deserves our support regardless, but especially so for such a good cause. Please donate if you can. And go Sarah and Dawn!