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.]

Saturday, August 20, 2011

We work hard, they enjoy life

The situation with the euro is so grave that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy interrupted their vacations this week to discuss it. British Prime Minister David Cameron had to cut short his holidays when the urban rioting got out of hand. The poor dears.

We hope you’ve been having a pleasant summer. You’d probably have enjoyed it more, though, if you lived in Vilnius. Like most Europeans, the Lithuanians give themselves a great deal more time off than do Canadians, who take fewer holidays than just about anyone on Earth. Farmland in Southern Ontario has something to do with it.

The human resources consulting firm Mercer tabulates vacation and statutory holidays in countries around the world. (The latest available figures are from 2009.) Brazil is one of those at the top, with a mandatory minimum of six weeks (30 days) vacation a year for workers – if you can call them that – along with 11 statutory holidays.

Focus groups indicate no fear Tories will overspend, but little interest shown in fighting deficit

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty can’t yet lay claim to slaying the federal deficit but he might be able to take credit for vanquishing the public’s fear of government overspending.

Focus group research conducted for the Harper government before the last election shows that Canadians are not particularly concerned about the federal government running in the red.

Though deficits were thought politically toxic not so long ago, the focus group sessions found “no strong sense of concern” about them and that Canadians “were not looking for a quick fix to Canada’s budgetary deficit,” according to a report by research firm Ipsos Reid.

Rather, the report said, most participants in the groups favoured a gradual and steady return to balanced budget. There was little interest in aggressive deficit fighting by the government, the report said.

Sockeye Salmon Inquiry In British Columbia To Wade Into Fish Farms And Disease

VANCOUVER - After months of hearings in relative obscurity, the public inquiry into the decline of sockeye along British Columbia's fabled Fraser River is finally bound to grab some headlines.

Starting Monday, the inquiry will begin hearings into some of its mandate's most sensitive topics: the salmon-farming industry and the science of fish-borne diseases.

The federal commission of inquiry was ordered after a devastating collapse of stocks two years ago and has spent months listening to testimony on a range of issues, from the inner workings of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to the aboriginal fishing industry.

But the upcoming testimony has prompted commission staff to warn groups participating in the inquiry that seats in the gallery of a federal courtroom in downtown Vancouver will be limited.

The alienation of Karen Stintz

If you are wondering what in the world is going to happen next under Mayor Rob Ford, keep an eye on Karen Stintz.

As chair of the Toronto Transit Commission, Ms. Stintz is one of the leading members of the mayor’s team, at least on paper. In reality, she is visibly on the outs with Mr. Ford and his powerful brother Doug. If she leaves or is forced from her job, as now seems distinctly possible, it would be bad news both for the city, which needs a competent leader for its vital people-moving service, and for the Ford administration, which needs a moderate conservative voice to temper its hot-headed populism.

Differences between Ms. Stintz and the Fords emerged almost from the beginning. Within weeks of taking office, the Fords were negotiating with the provincial government to scrap the multibillion-dollar Transit City plan – years in the making – that would have created a network of suburban light-rail lines. The deal that emerged in its place saw the two governments go separate ways: Queen’s Park to build a mostly underground light-rail line along Eglinton Avenue and into Scarborough; city hall to build an extended Sheppard subway line.

Texas Tax System Heavily Burdens Poor Residents

During his presidential campaign announcement speech last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry lamented the "injustice" that nearly half of all Americans -- the poorest half -- "don't even pay any income tax." But in Texas, the tax burden is disproportionately shouldered by those families living below the poverty line, newly-released data from the Census Bureau show.

While Texas is generally considered a low-tax state since it doesn't impose a personal income tax, a new analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds the state's tax laws actually "redistribute income away from ordinary families and towards the richest Texans."

Taxes paid by the poorest 20 percent of Texas households -- those with incomes averaging $11,200 a year -- are actually the fifth highest in the nation, even though none of those households make enough money to owe federal income tax.

US troops may stay in Afghanistan until 2024

The agreement would allow not only military trainers to stay to build up the Afghan army and police, but also American special forces soldiers and air power to remain.

The prospect of such a deal has already been met with anger among Afghanistan’s neighbours including, publicly, Iran and, privately, Pakistan.

It also risks being rejected by the Taliban and derailing any attempt to coax them to the negotiating table, according to one senior member of Hamid Karzai’s peace council.

A withdrawal of American troops has already begun following an agreement to hand over security for the country to Kabul by the end of 2014.

But Afghans wary of being abandoned are keen to lock America into a longer partnership after the deadline. Many analysts also believe the American military would like to retain a presence close to Pakistan, Iran and China.

Paul Ryan's Office Calls Cops On Jobless Protesters

Staffers for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called police on Thursday evening to disperse unemployed protesters staging a sit-in at his Kenosha, Wis., office, according to the protesters and police.

Two protesters told HuffPost they're unhappy with Ryan's proposals to gut social programs and also his new policy of not holding free public meetings with constituents during the congressional recess.

During the summer of 2009, Ryan hosted some 17 town halls. Admission to Ryan's one town-hall style event in his district this summer will cost $15, according to the Whitnall Park Rotary Club, which is hosting the Milwaukee-area event on Sept. 6.

"People don't realize that they have every right to stand up and talk to their congressman," Shanon Molina, 31, told HuffPost on Friday.

The NAFTA Superhighway

When completed, the highway will run from Mexico City to Toronto, slicing through the heartland like a dagger sunk into a heifer at the loins and pulled clean to the throat. It will be four football fields wide, an expansive gully of concrete, noise and exhaust, swelled with cars, trucks, trains and pipelines carrying water, wires and God knows what else. Through towns large and small it will run, plowing under family farms, subdevelopments, acres of wilderness. Equipped with high-tech electronic customs monitors, freight from China, offloaded into nonunionized Mexican ports, will travel north, crossing the border with nary a speed bump, bound for Kansas City, where the cheap goods manufactured in booming Far East factories will embark on the final leg of their journey into the nation's Wal-Marts.

Here are Six Stories You Must Read About Rick Perry

Rick Perry's first week on the campaign trail was, it's pretty safe to say, an eventful one. Last Saturday, the Texas Governor officially entered the GOP presidential race with a pledge to make "Washington, DC as inconsequential in your life as I can." On Sunday, he alleged that the United States military does not respect President Obama. On Monday, he threatened to murder (or something) the Republican-appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve. On Wednesday, he blew the whistle on an international conspiracy by climatologists to secure more money for research grants. On Thursday, he disclosed that the Earth was "pretty old" and that creationism should be taught in public schools.

Perry, Texas' governor since the last days of the Clinton administration, has taken the race by storm, soaring to the top of the polls in Iowa and throwing conservatives into a tizzy as to whether he's really cut out to lead the Republican party forward. So who is Rick Perry, anyway—and what has he done to Texas?

Cancer Rates Downstream From Oil Sands To Be Probed

A long-awaited Alberta Health study into the health of people living downstream from the oilsands, where cancer rates are higher than normal, appears to be finally going ahead.

Concerns were first raised in 2006 about elevated cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan, about 220 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. A provincial government study released in 2009 confirmed the trend and recommended more analysis into possible causes.

"For various reasons, and none of them really sort of satisfactory, nothing has happened — this is over 2½ years later," said John O'Connor, the family doctor who drew widespread attention five years ago for alleging Fort Chipewyan had a high rate of a rare bile-duct cancer.

Cohen inquiry to shed light on fish farm secrecy

Each fall millions of sockeye salmon return home to the mighty Fraser River to spawn. Over the next several months, the silvery fish will head upstream, slowly turning brilliant red as their bodies adjust to fresh water. After years at sea, they return to the very gravel, the very river in which they were born.

This year's estimate run totals are close to four million fish. This may be a far cry from the 33 million sockeye that returned last year, but it is a return to the new normal for our salmon runs. The Fraser used to teem with wild salmon returns every fall. Over the last 20 years, productivity rates of the Fraser sockeye have been declining, with fewer and fewer fish returning every year. In 2009, this trend culminated in the mysterious disappearance of almost 90 per cent of the anticipated run.

The tale behind the fate of the missing fish has puzzled scientists, government officials and activists alike. The federal government struck a task force to investigate this issue. The Cohen Inquiry into the Decline of the Fraser River Sockeye has spent more than a year gathering evidence, examining witnesses and exploring topics ranging from habitat destruction to fisheries policy.

Harper spins a new brand of patriotism

Stephen Harper is working to recast the Canadian identity, undoing 40 years of a Liberal narrative and instead creating a new patriotism viewed through a conservative lens.

Restoring the “royal” prefix to the navy and air force this week is just part of the Prime Minister’s attempt at “creating a new frame” for Canada and Canadians.

The Liberals embraced the Charter, the flag, peacekeeping and multiculturalism. Now, the Harper Tories are pursuing symbols and areas ignored by the Grits – the Arctic, the military, national sports and especially the monarchy, according to senior Tories.

For Mr. Harper and his Conservatives, the payoffs could be great: a new pride in the country, an ability to shape the view of new Canadians and, politically, the potential to marginalize the Official Opposition NDP, who could be forced more and more to defend Quebec’s interests against all others. Quebeckers are not as supportive of national symbols and the monarchy as is the rest of Canada.

Why report advocating massive military cuts will be ‘a hard sell’

A major report that advocates streamlining the Canadian military by chopping headquarters staff sits in limbo, awaiting a champion to drive its recommendations home.

But with its author, Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, leaving the military next month, that report’s future is very much in doubt.

On Aug. 3, Lt.-Gen. Leslie submitted his resignation to Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff.

“My military duty is complete,” wrote the former head of the army. He and his wife are currently on vacation in the Aegean. “On our return I have been invited to join a great Canadian corporation in the private sector,” Lt.-Gen. Leslie said in his letter.

He could not be reached for comment.

Toronto pools’ dirty secrets: Which club got 120 violations?

Toronto pools and hot tubs at luxury condos, high-end health clubs and children’s swim schools have repeatedly violated public health and safety rules, potentially exposing bathers to injury and disease.

The Toronto Star obtained public health data outlining more than 10,000 violations by pools and spas over the past two years. Operators are not required to disclose reports, leaving bathers in the dark.

The list includes Yorkville’s Stillwater Spa, Branksome Hall, an all-girls private school with an annual tuition of nearly $30,000, and Extreme Fitness, with more than 120 violations at two locations.

The data reveals some serial offenders, violating the same regulations month after month with little penalty or public knowledge.

In one case, a luxury Willowdale condominium’s hot tub racked up 75 infractions in two years. Five times it was cited for failing to keep equipment in “sanitary” and “working order.”

In May, Toronto Public Health closed the pool at Graydon Hall Manor in Don Mills. The pool, which offers adult aquafit classes and “diaper-fit” classes for babies, incurred 25 infractions in two years. Inspectors cited chronic safety violations.