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, June 12, 2011

Embracing a New Kind of NIMBY

On reading about the growing resistance to a mega-quarry being proposed for southern Ontario, I had an epiphany about the media's use of the term NIMBY, which stands for "Not in My Backyard." It's normally used to describe grassroots efforts to block everything from landfills and windmills to big box stores and bike lanes. "NIMBYism" has taken on a negative association, often implying naïve or parochial resistance to projects that challenge the status quo in a community.

But NIMBYism isn't always bad. Although it can arise out of fear of something new or different in a community, it can also be the result of genuine concern for the local environment. I'd like to propose a new kind of NIMBY – one that is positive and reflects a true sense of caring for our communities. Let's go green and say "Yes" to "Nature in My Backyard.


Full Article
Source: The Mark 

Stormy Skies for Canada's Middle Class

The possible strike at Air Canada reflects a larger tension in our economy.

The Canadian middle class is in crisis. Each year, its share of our national income shrinks, relative to that of the richest few. Recent reports show Canada’s wealthiest one per cent accounted for 32 per cent of all income growth between 1997 and 2007 – the most in recorded history. Thanks to skyrocketing executive compensation levels and an aggressive attack on well-paid, family-supporting jobs, the gap between the rich and the rest of us grows ever wider.

Nothing epitomizes this situation more than the recent history of Air Canada. In the last decade, Canada's national carrier has suffered unprecedented financial turbulence, including run-ins with bankruptcy protection. According to the Canadian Auto Workers’ internal research, over the same period Air Canada's CEO at the time, Robert Milton, pocketed $86 million – while thousands of front-line employees were forced to take cuts, to the tune of about $10,000 per year, including an erosion of real wages, lost vacation, paid lunch breaks and other benefits.

Air Canada workers made major sacrifices. The company plowed ahead with plans to do more with less. Work intensified and productivity skyrocketed. Measured in seat miles delivered per employee, labour productivity at Air Canada jumped 75 per cent. Yet many who had earned a good (albeit modest) salary saw their quality of life and working conditions decline.

This storyline has played out in too many workplaces across Canada. “Good” jobs are on the wane, in all sectors – whether in factories, service shops, office buildings, or among the professional classes. Many have come to accept the logic that jobs in the “new economy” are inherently insecure. Pension plans exist only in fairy tales, and personal sacrifice has become the new norm. We accept the mantra that the next generation of workers will be worse off, and assume they simply aren’t in a position to demand better.

This attitude must change – for everyone’s benefit. The squeezing out of Canada’s middle class has major implications for our collective prosperity. Middle-class incomes drive economic growth, pay for public services, support healthy families, and build communities. Society cannot subsist on crumbs left over by the rich. Workers cannot accept the logic that relentless cuts and constant sacrifice will bring better days ahead.

Full Article
Source: The Mark  

Defence in an Age of Austerity

Projecting Canadian 'soft power' means developing 'hard power' first.

To slay the deficit, and at the same time create jobs and sustain growth, is now the leitmotif of western governments living in an age of austerity. It is a tall order, especially given globalization and the competition from India, China, and Brazil, and, in most western nations, the challenges of an aging population.

Approaches vary. The British are applying a latter-day version of Thatcheromics. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has rolled back benefits and the retirement age. The Greeks, Irish, and Portuguese are enduring IMF-imposed restraint – and they are likely to have more company in their misery. For now, grumbling German taxpayers keep afloat the idea of a European Union. A divided America is debating all options, but eventually its citizens will have to settle for a combination of fewer services and more taxes.

In this slough of western despair, the Canadian situation is comparatively better, but the Harper government’s deficit commitments mean hard choices.

The only federal program with some immunity will be the one related to First Nations, for whom most Canadians, including the prime minister, acknowledge an abiding obligation. The burden of spending cuts will be shared with the provinces and municipalities, but the effective counterweight lobby on local MPs of teachers, nurses, and the public will mitigate some of the pressure on the biggest spending programs.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

Alberta native housing project plagued by obstacles

Rising five storeys from a field at the end of a dirt road, the Millennium condo project was supposed to be a fresh beginning for a first nations band buoyed by newfound wealth.

The project is meant to provide 108 affordable housing units desperately needed in Enoch, Alta., where one-quarter of 1,500 people living on-reserve are on a waiting list for an adequate home despite a casino project funnelling millions into band coffers.

But six years after construction started, it’s unfinished and empty, a $17-million symbol of a housing crisis facing first nations across Canada.

Complicating reserves’ attempts to conduct their own land development projects are several issues: red tape, lack of title on Crown land, financing and a lack of relevant experience. At a time when Canada is heralding a new spirit of co-operation between the government and first nations, the housing file festers. More than 20,000 housing units are needed nationwide, and it isn’t among the priorities of the so-called new deal announced this week between Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nations.

It’s a daunting issue. Ottawa wants first nations to take the lead, and many are eager to do so, but cases are complicated by a lack of local expertise on housing projects. Even for cash-rich bands looking to solve their problems on their own (Enoch has taken in an estimated $115-million in revenue since 2006 from an on-reserve casino), the status quo presents too many hurdles. Enoch had the money for the project, but not the expertise to pull it off as it and the government had hoped.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Slain Montreal bystander remembered as loving, generous

Family and friends of a bystander killed by Montreal police remembered Patrick Limoges as a loving son and well-liked co-worker at his funeral in his hometown of Trois-Rivières.

The 36-year-old hospital worker was remembered as a loving son and a willing, popular worker. He was killed Tuesday after he was hit by a stray bullet while he was on his way to work at the Saint-Luc Hospital in Montreal.

Limoges was caught in the fray of a police operation targeting a 40-year-old suspect who was allegedly wielding a knife. That man, Mario Hamel, a resident of a downtown homeless shelter, was also fatally shot.

Outside the funeral home where a visitation for Limoges was held earlier on Sunday, people were stunned and tearful, the CBC's Catherine Cullen reported.

Most said it was a time to mourn, not a time to lay blame.

"It's a horrible accident, but I want to see the results of the investigation," said Jacqueline Alarie-Limoges, a relative, as she fought back tears.

"But I don't put the blame on anyone. I think [the police] did their work the best they knew how."

However, Martin Massicotte, who said he was a cousin, had strong words against Montreal police.

"I'm very unhappy with the police brutality and the police system … they killed my cousin."

Full Article
Source: CBC News 

Today’s Tories: One big, happy family

OTTAWA—Eight years and three policy conventions after reuniting, Conservatives emerged from their latest political gabfest boasting of new-found maturity.

Gone were many of the divisive debates of the past, replaced by policy commitments that delegates said would ensure the party repeats its electoral success of May 2.

“This is the new mainstream of Canadian politics: a confident, broad party of the centre-right. This is a different party than any Conservative party that’s ever preceded it,” said senior cabinet minister Jason Kenney, largely credited with broadening the Tories’ ethnic diversity.

Free of debt, flush with cash and with a majority to govern as they see fit, the Conservatives turned the two-day convention into a love-in.

Tensions were quickly quashed. At the urging of party heavyweights such as former PC leader Peter MacKay, grassroots members overwhelmingly voted down the most contentious change of the weekend — how the party leader is picked.

They opted for the original merger’s compromise crafted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MacKay, and chose to leave ridings that have small memberships with the same clout as big ones.

They steered clear of big controversies, but gave the majority Conservative government a handful of marching orders.

They called for more action on busting interprovincial trade barriers; more benefits for veterans; more protections for strikebreakers; a tougher “two-strikes-you’re-out” dangerous offender designation for serious crime; and they called for a simpler tax system even as Stephen Harper’s government continues to dole out so-called “boutique” tax credits.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Canadian troops to face new threat: Disguised insurgents

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, AFGHANISTAN — When Canada’s last combat troops soon leave southern Afghanistan and the mission shifts to training Afghan security forces, Canadians will face a different, sinister enemy: the one from within.

Taliban infiltrators are bringing the war inside the razor wire, and once reliably secure, northern compounds where Canadian troops and police will start work over the coming weeks in Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif are increasingly vulnerable.

Afghan insurgents, usually dressed in police and army uniforms, have launched several spectacular attacks recently. They are striking far from their ethnic Pashtun power base in the south, where a surge of U.S. troops has thrown the Taliban off balance.

“It’s a very real threat and it’s very disconcerting,” Col. Peter Dawe, deputy commander of Canada’s new military training mission, told the Toronto Star. “But you just keep doing what you’re doing. We’re all military professionals and the vast majority of us have been here before. We know the risks.”

The insurgents aren’t stupid and are doing the logical thing in the face of an overwhelming enemy in the south, Dawe added.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Chris Christie Announces Plan To Privatize New Jersey Public Schools

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced a pilot program on Thursday that would allow private companies to run public schools in some of the state's chronically underperforming school districts.

The public-private partnership would authorize school management organizations to operate five schools, and would target some of the 100,000 New Jersey students now enrolled in 200 chronically failing schools, the governor's office said.

The state's teachers union, which has clashed with the Republican governor over cuts to school aid and other issues, said the plan was part of Christie's "ongoing effort to privatize public education in New Jersey."

Christie's proposal comes amid a contentious national debate over how to improve public schools and the role of the private sector -- including autonomous charter schools -- in the education of American schoolchildren.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Hillary Clinton Warns Africa Of 'New Colonialism'

LUSAKA, Zambia -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday warned Africa of a creeping "new colonialism" from foreign investors and governments interested only in extracting the continent's natural resources to enrich themselves and not the African people.

Clinton said that African leaders must ensure that foreign projects are sustainable and benefit all their citizens, not only elites. A day earlier, she cautioned that China's massive investments and business interests in Africa need to be closely watched so that the African people are not taken advantage of.

"It is easy, and we saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave," Clinton said. "And when you leave, you don't leave much behind for the people who are there. We don't want to see a new colonialism in Africa."

Clinton said the United States didn't want foreign governments and investors to fail in Africa, but they should also give back to the local communities.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Harper vows to make Tories ‘Canada's party'

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper basked in the glory of a majority electoral win, telling party faithful that when the “honeymoon” with the NDP passes, his stay-the-course focus on the economy and the military will entrench the Conservatives as “Canada's party.”

In a triumphal speech Friday night to more than 2,200 delegates gathered for the Conservative party's national convention, Harper said the election of the first majority Conservative government in 23 years is a watershed moment.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Toronto police officer charged in G20 assault

After nearly one year, two closed investigations, and a public squabbling match between Toronto police and the agency tasked with investigating them, criminal charges have finally been laid in the case of Dorian Barton.

On Friday, the Special Investigations Unit charged Toronto police Const. Glenn Weddell with
assault causing bodily harm in connection with Barton’s arrest during the G20 summit last June. The charge came on the same day the Toronto Star publicly revealed Weddell was the previous unnamed officer photographed during Barton’s violent arrest.

“I’m just happy that they laid charges,” Barton said Friday. “And I’m definitely happy that this whole SIU process is over.”

Barton, a 30-year-old cookie maker, alleges he was photographing police at a Queen’s Park demonstration when he was slammed with a riot shield and beaten with a baton, leaving him with bruises and a broken arm.

The SIU launched an investigation on June 27, 2010, but wound up shutting down and reopening the case twice, each time citing lack of evidence.

Some critics have suggested a “blue wall of silence” within the police service has complicated the role of the SIU, a civilian agency that investigates claims of police officers causing injury, death or a sexual assault.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

CUPW, Canada Post fail to agree on truce

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers says it was willing to suspend its rotating strikes as a gesture of goodwill but Canada Post balked.

The union said the company rejected its only condition that the collective agreement be reactivated for the duration of talks.

For more than a week now, the union conducted rotating strikes, usually lasting 24 hours, in cities large and small across the country, although the Greater Toronto Area has been spared to date. It is hitting Red Deer, Alta., this weekend.

The union was responding to a request from Labour Minister Lisa Raitt for CUPW to immediately suspend job action and for the company to cancel planned delivery cuts to three days a week, and focus on getting a deal.

Raitt asked for that sign of goodwill from the two sides during a meeting Friday with Denis Lemelin, CUPW national president, and Jacques Côté, Canada Post’s chief operating officer.

The union said if the collective agreement were reinstated, then members could have health benefits paid and ensure that the company couldn’t slash hours.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Why have Tories been so successful? They say it’s all about the technology

OTTAWA—Conservatives say technology gave them the winning edge in the May election by singling out Canadians to tap for votes and money.

Conservative fundraiser Senator Irving Gerstein says “innovative” technology is directly responsible for electing 40 MPs – a margin that handed the party its majority victory.

“Yes, you heard me. There are roughly 40 Conservative members of Parliament in the House of Commons today who would not be there if it were not for our party’s extremely effective use of its database,” Gerstein told delegates to the party convention Saturday morning.

Technology has also helped put the party on track for a record-breaking fundraising year, he said.

The Conservatives raised $7.4 million in the first quarter of 2011 – the most ever for any party – and the second quarter is shaping up to be even better, said Gerstein, who heads the Conservative Fund of Canada, the party’s fundraising arm.

“The key to the success of our fundraising program is our database and our ability to prospect new donors, to remain at the cutting edge of political fundraising techniques and to effectively use the database for both fundraising and political purposes,” Gerstein said.

That same database “reaches out to Canadians, identifies those who share our values and mobilizes them” at election time, backed by techniques such as texting, call centres, smart phone applications and YouTube messages.

And he said the Conservatives have created “complex, leading edge fundraising techniques such as data mining, segmentation, targeted mining and relationship management” to move backers up the “support pyramid.”

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Police should not investigate police shootings: Montreal mayor

MONTREAL—The mayor of Montreal is reacting to the police shootings in his city with a demand: he wants changes in the way authorities investigate the use of force by police.

Gerald Tremblay stressed Friday that such changes are urgently needed, especially after two men were shot dead by Montreal police this week.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” Tremblay told reporters in Montreal.

“Unfortunately it takes tragic events to accelerate the sense of urgency.”

Police bullets killed an innocent bystander on his morning commute while officers were shooting at a mentally ill man allegedly carrying a knife.

The current procedure in Quebec, when police kill someone, is for an outside force to handle the investigation. In this case, provincial police are investigating.

Tremblay said the existing process lacks transparency, is too slow, and is short on credibility.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Walkom: Do opposition MPs still laud Canada’s ludicrous Libyan war?

In the waning days of the last Parliament, Canada’s opposition parties — New Democrats, Liberals and Bloc Québécois — casually and unanimously approved Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to make war on Libya.

At the time, all MPs chose to pretend that they were acting solely for humanitarian purposes — that the aim of the war would be limited to protecting Libyan civilians.

Three months later, the war stumbles along. The NATO forces that Canada joined no longer claim to be merely protecting civilians or enforcing a no-fly zone above Libya. The stated aim now is regime change, as NATO jets bomb Tripoli (a city full of civilians) in an attempt to assassinate dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

So it will be instructive to see how the opposition — and particularly the official opposition, the NDP — reacts when Harper’s government asks MPs next week to approve a 3 ½-month extension to Canada’s participation in the war.

Because in this conflict, there are no good guys.

Gadhafi’s record is well-known. He’s been a tyrant since taking power in 1969.

The International Criminal Court (which neither the U.S. nor Libya recognizes) is looking into allegations that Gadhafi authorized war crimes — including, possibly, systematic rape.

And the rebels? Let’s just say they are a mixed lot who include ex-jihadis from the Al Qaeda camps of Afghanistan, as well as former senior Gadhafi officials who, until a few weeks ago, were happily taking part in the tyranny.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Anonymous To NATO: Don't Make The 'Mistake' Of Challenging Us

A recent NATO report, which warns that hacker collective Anonymous could potentially break into government, military and corporate files, has incited Anonymous itself to warn NATO not to stand in its way.

NATO called out Anonymous for its organized denial-of-service attacks against websites like Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and others that either blocked funding to WikiLeaks or took a stance against the whistleblower site late last year.

"The ad hoc international group of hackers and activists is said to have thousands of operatives and has no set rules or membership," NATO wrote. "The longer these attacks persist the more likely countermeasures will be developed, implemented, the groups will be infiltrated and perpetrators persecuted,"

Anonymous, in response, said, "We do not wish to threaten anybody's way of life. We do not wish to dictate anything to anybody. We do not wish to terrorize any nation."

The group defended its actions as part of a unified campaign to wrest power from governments and corporations and return power to the people.

The group warned NATO not to get involved in a battle:

Do not make the mistake of challenging Anonymous. Do not make the mistake of believing you can behead a headless snake. If you slice off one head of Hydra, ten more heads will grow in its place. If you cut down one Anon, ten more will join us purely out of anger at your trampling of dissent.
Source: Huffington  

Toronto Police Officer Charged With G20 Assault

THE CANADIAN PRESS — A Toronto police officer has been charged in connection with injuries suffered by a man during last year's G20 summit.

The Special Investigations Unit says Const. Glenn Weddell has been charged with assault causing bodily harm.
He is due in court July 21.

Dorian Barton, 29, claimed his arm was broken when he was assaulted by police officers during last June's G20 demonstrations in Toronto.

Weddell is the second Toronto police officer to face charges arising from protests during the meeting of world leaders.

Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani, 30, was charged with two counts of assault with a weapon for incidents at the Ontario legislature, which was a designated protest area during the June summit.

Source: Huffington