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, October 22, 2011

Raitt suggests economy should be 'essential service'

The government has to look at changing the labour code to include the economy as an essential service, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said Friday — a day after Air Canada and CUPE agreed to go to binding arbitration and avoid a work stoppage.

After threatening back-to-work legislation for both Canada Post and Air Canada in June, and sending a second Air Canada dispute to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board to stop a strike, Raitt says it's clear in the government's legislation that they look to economic reasons as well as to the way the labour code defines essential services.

Asked whether she's considering redefining the code to include the economy as an essential service, Raitt says it's "a big question" she's examining with an advisory committee made up of academics and union and management representatives.

Plan to stanch flow of ‘conflict minerals’ from Congo causes turmoil

The campaign began as an idealistic effort to halt a horrific epidemic of rape and murder in the heart of Africa. It burgeoned into a powerful consumer movement, culminating in a planned U.S. regulation that is terrifying some of the world’s biggest corporations.

And now, with companies such as Apple Inc. and Motorola desperately seeking an ethical stamp of approval for their latest tablets and smart phones, activists like Joanne Lebert of Ottawa are finding themselves in an unexpected position of influence. Their new certification scheme could help solve a political dilemma that is inflicting turmoil on thousands of African miners and Western corporations.

At the centre of this global battle are the “conflict minerals” – tin, gold, tantalum and tungsten – that have fuelled vicious wars and ruthless militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of Africa’s biggest and poorest countries. Their proceeds are financing the warlords and armies that are responsible for millions of deaths and sexual assaults over the past decade in one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts.

Cut Immigration Applications To Fix Backlog, Kenney Says

Canada needs to accept fewer applications from people wanting to live here, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says, and he's eyeing the family class for cuts.

Canada is facing too big a backlog and, despite accepting 254,000 applications every year, there are one million people who are waiting to hear whether they can move to Canada, the citizenship and immigration minister said Thursday.

Canada gets about 420,000 applications every year and refuses about 10 per cent of those.

Speaking to the House committee on citizenship and immigration, Kenney said processing applications faster won't fix the backlog problem. And it isn't possible to accept enough people to deal with it either.

The Earth is getting warmer, study finds

The most comprehensive independent review of historical weather records to date showed that temperatures have risen since the 19th century.

The Berkeley Earth project compiled more than a billion temperature readings from weather stations around the world and found that the average global land temperature has risen by around 1C since the mid-1950s.

The research was commissioned in the wake of the climategate scandal, to resolve the dispute over the validity of scientists’ previous findings of global warming.

However, the results are likely to come as a disappointment to groups which helped fund the project, which also support organisations lobbying against action on climate change.

The study produced a similar conclusion to research by major groups including Nasa and the Met Office, together with the University of East Anglia, which was criticised during the climategate scandal.
The University of California review also found that several key factors which climate change sceptics claimed skewed global warming figures had no meaningful effect.

Harper versus the unions

In the midst of June’s 47-hour filibuster over back-to-work legislation for Canada Post, New Democrat MP Wayne Marston was moved to recall the events of 1946, when “workers and veterans fought side by side in the streets” of Hamilton for better working conditions, thus launching the modern labour movement and paving the way for what would become the NDP. When it was her turn to speak, Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner apparently felt compelled to respond. “Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to many nostalgic comments across the way about the old labour movement and the unions back in 1946. I am wondering if the members opposite recognize that we are in 2011 and that we have just come through a great recession that has damaged so many countries and from which we are just recovering,” she said. “When will they realize that we are not in the old socialist days of the good old union? We are in 2011.”

Here the differences between the new Opposition and the new majority government seemed in stark relief. But that filibuster may have only been the beginning. Months later, the issue of organized labour is a source of conflict—or the potential thereof—on numerous fronts.

TCHC approves housing sale

Toronto Community Housing Corp. says it will sell off more than 700 homes across the city.

The board of TCHC approved the sale on Friday as a means of raising the money needed to fund repairs of other city-owned housing.

City council — and in most cases the province — must still approve the decision before it is final.

But some of the 2,600 tenants that could be displaced say the board's decision is a hasty one and there needs to be more consultation.

Some came to Friday's meeting to ask the board not to rush into the sale.

The Powder Keg of U.S.-Iranian Relations

Tensions rise in the wake of Iran's alleged assassination plot of the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

A few months ago, when Mohammad Reza Naghdi, the top-ranking general of the Revolutionary Guard and the head of Iran’s paramilitary force Basij, stated that “We must shift the battleground from our region into their territory … one that takes our interests into account as well,” the world did not take the gesture seriously, considering it empty rhetoric. Now, as the United States accuses Iran of the attempted assassination of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, perhaps the world should reconsider Naghdi’s words, taking them as part of a radical shift in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. These changes could largely be attributed to the effects of the “Arab Spring” on Iran’s position in the region.

The Arctic is Calling – But Not for More C-18s

How international relations can help us understand Canada’s most pressing problem.

Visit the new CIC website at OpenCanada.Org. Canada's hub for international affairs.

Dropout rates and youth-suicide rates among aboriginal Canadians are six times those of non-aboriginals, and incarceration rates are more than seven times higher among aboriginal Canadians. The discrimination that leads to these discrepancies is perhaps the gravest moral issue facing Canadians today.

Canadians may care, but they do not act. With the exception of a feather-headed slur and an ignominious misstatement by a Bloc Québécois candidate, aboriginal issues rarely made headlines during the most recent federal election. Last week, former prime minister Paul Martin raised this issue at an event hosted by the C.D. Howe Institute. His message was clear: For Canadians to do something, we need to reframe the problem. Fortunately, the language exists.

Occupy Wall Street: The Beginning Is Here

Nothing is more striking about the Occupy Wall Street movement, which in a political instant has swept through not only the United States but the world, than its origin. It seemed to come out of nowhere, like a virgin birth. There were, of course, organizations that played a critical initiating role, which is gradually being acknowledged and rightly honored (see, for example, Nathan Schneider, “From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere,” October 31). But it would be wrong to assign paternity in any ordinary sense to them, and they indeed disavow such a claim. On the contrary, the core activists in Liberty Plaza founded on the spot a decentralized, nonviolent pattern of “leaderless” self-organization that made every participant, old or new to the process, a “founding father” (or mother). The movement, you could say, was father and mother to itself. To join it was, immediately, to become it.

This feature was underscored when, in response to a police ban on megaphones, the occupiers deployed their now famous human microphone, in which an individual speaker’s words are repeated by all within hearing, inventing a new animal, a speaking crowd, who thus become the voice of their joint action.

This indefinite open-endedness of origins was carried forward in another conspicuous novelty of the movement: its lack of a list of demands. According to some reports, early efforts to frame such lists went nowhere. If so, the failure became a virtue. It was not a new set of policy ideas that was being born—the world was already overloaded with these, unacted upon—but a new spirit: a spirit of action, without which all the demands in the world are a dead letter.

Rick Perry's Other Pastor Problem

At the Values Voters Summit earlier this month, Rick Perry and his sputtering campaign got plenty of attention—but not for the reasons the candidate would have liked. It was the Texas governor's association with a controversial religious leader that made headlines, after Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor who introduced (and endorsed) Perry at the event, said that conservative voters should reject Mitt Romney because he belongs to a "cult" (the Mormon church).

It wasn't the first time Perry shared a staged with a controversial religious figure. Perry has long cultivated ties to evangelical leaders who hold extreme views, including Rod Parsley, an Ohio megachurch pastor whose incendiary comments about Islam—he said it must be "destroyed"—forced Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to disavow Parsley's endorsement during the 2008 presidential race.

The relationship between Perry and Parsley began in 2005, when Perry held a special signing ceremony for two new measures of importance to religious conservatives: a law that required parental consent for teenage girls to obtain abortions, and a constitutional amendment, which was up for a vote that November, to ban gay marriage. Perry booked a Fort Worth Christian school for the occasion and invited social conservative leaders—including Parsley—to attend the event.

What the NYPD Really Thinks of Occupy Wall Street

As midnight approached in New York City's Washington Square Park on Saturday, 14 occupiers sat in the center of an empty fountain playing Woody Guthrie songs. "If you would like to remain in the park past midnight, you will be subject to arrest," a policeman had just broadcast through a bullhorn, sending thousands who'd come for a political rally fleeing. Backed by some 100 riot cops in face shields, an exhausted-looking community affairs officer moved in to try to talk reason. "We marched with you guys; we treated you with respect," he said, pointing out that some officers had been on duty since 3 a.m. "We understand your cause. We understand your voice. We understand what you are saying. But all we want is for you to vacate the park."

"This is political," said a man in black glasses, between drags on a cigarette.

"C'mon guys," the officer pleaded. "Why get arrested?"

The New York City Police Department has dealt with a heavy dose of criticism for the way that it has handled the Occupy Wall Street protests, with an unprovoked pepper spraying, questionably legal arrests, and a dressing down by a US Marine at Times Square all caught on videotape. But in the interactions with police that I have witnessed and the conversations I've had with officers, a more nuanced picture has emerged: one of overworked rank-and-file cops torn between following orders and sympathizing with the movement and its goals.

Michele Bachmann Speaks In San Francisco, Slams Occupy Wall Street

On Thursday, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann braved the progressive crowd at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club for a sold-out speech and discussion with supporters and members of the media.

Bachmann spoke about a variety of issues, drawing applause from the audience when she suggested disbanding the Department of Education and vowed to repeal No Child Left Behind.

But the crowd began to boo when the subject turned to the recent Occupy Wall Street protests.

Calling the activity "tremendously counterproductive," the Republican presidential hopeful noted with disgust a recent poll that stated 98 percent of Occupy Wall Street protesters believed in civil disobedience. When moderator Dan Ashley mentioned that the original Tea Party -- a group that Bachmann is affiliated with -- encouraged civil disobedience, Bachmann replied, "At least the Tea Party picks up their own trash."

Bachmann also discussed foreign policy, mentioning the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and calling on the U.S. to withdraw all troops from Libya. "The U.S. needs to stop providing the defense force for the whole world," she said.

But the crux of her speech focused on economic policy. Bachmann slammed public sector unions and blamed the economic troubles of the US Postal Service on labor costs. She also took the opportunity to honor Steve Jobs, praising him for embodying the American entrepreneurial spirit.

Source: Huff 

U.S. Median Income Falls To $26,364 As Pessimism Reaches 10-Year High

Americans' incomes are falling, perhaps a reason why pessimism about their personal finances is now the lowest it's been in a decade.

The median income fell in 2010 for the second year in a row to $26,364, a 1.2 percent drop from 2009, and the lowest level since 1999, according to David Cay Johnston at Reuters.

Meanwhile, U.S. households are growing increasingly concerned about their finances with more than 20 percent of adult Americans rating their financial situation as "poor," a Gallup poll finds. That's a larger share than the 16 to 19 percent of Americans who viewed their finances as poor during and after the recession. It's also the highest percentage since 2001, the first year of the survey, according to Gallup.

In some ways, the financial crisis has taken more of a toll on the employed during the recovery. Indeed, Americans' incomes have fallen more during the recovery than they did during the recession. Incomes dropped 6.7 percent during the recovery between June 2009 and June 2011, compared to a 3.2 percent drop during the recession from December 2007 to June 2009, a study from former Census Bureau officials found.

Lisa Simeone Under Fire From National Public Radio For Part In D.C. Protests, Remains 'World of Opera' Host

Lisa Simeone, a freelance content provider for a pair of radio shows that are broadcast by National Public Radio, is under fire today for her tangential participation in the OccupyDC movement. Simeone, who has worked in radio for over two decades, is the host of a WDAV radio show called "World Of Opera," and a freelancer for a program called "Soundprint". She also participates in an activist organization called "Stop The Machine," which is part of the broader Occupy movement.

Simeone has, for a long time, blended her love for grassroots political activism with her talent for radio, without anyone objecting. Her involvement in the Occupy movement, however, seems to have been deemed by NPR to be a bridge too far. That NPR has a history of hasty personnel decisions and a pathological aversion to their employees being publicly exposed as having opinions surely does not help.

Canadian Index Of Wellbeing Shows 15 Years Of Economic Growth Means Little In Everyday Lives

OTTAWA - A generation of solid economic growth has meant little in the everyday lives of most Canadians, according to a new index of wellbeing.

The finding is a yellow light for decision-makers that social unrest is just around the corner unless deep changes are made, warns Roy Romanow, the advisory board chairman of the University of Waterloo group that created the index.

The index suggests the middle class, in particular, is eroding.

"There are some very, very troubling signs," Romanow said in an interview.

"I think if we continue on this trajectory we're going to have bigger and bigger disparities. You can never build a solid political, social and economic community with wide disparities."

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing is meant to be GDP's alter ego, measuring the quality of life in society in ways gross domestic product does not.

Supreme Court Protests: Challenge To Be Filed On Law Banning Demonstrations At High Court

WASHINGTON -- Over 30 people arrested for protesting the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 plan to file a petition with the court Thursday asking the justices to strike down a statute that bans protests on the high court's grounds, which they say violates the First Amendment.

Of 80 protesters arrested on Jan. 11, 2008, while demonstrating against the Guantanamo prison on the steps of the court opposite the U.S. Capitol, 34 are involved in the current effort. The demonstrators were convicted by the District of Columbia Superior Court of violating a law that makes it illegal to demonstrate -- or parade, stand or move in processions or assemblages -- on Supreme Court grounds or in the court's buildings. In 2011, the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the convictions.

Attorney Mark Goldstone, who also advises members of the Stop the Machine protest that has been camped out on Freedom Plaza since Oct. 6, said the petition will be filed by Monday.

The Supreme Court agrees to hear very few of the petitions filed with it, and the court turned down an almost identical petition earlier this year.

Goldstone told The Huffington Post in an interview that he's "basically taking another shot." Given how political the court is seen as having become, there's likely to be an increase in the number of protests occurring on the court's marble steps, Goldstone said, which means the number of arrests for unlawful protests on the court's grounds is also likely to increase. Goldstone also represented noted academic Cornel West and 18 other protesters arrested for protesting on Supreme Court grounds last Sunday. Those charges were dropped on Monday.

"The Supreme Court may as well answer the question once and for all, if the statute, which appears blatantly unconstitutional, can survive constitutional muster," Goldstone said.

Source: Huff 

Tough on crime, short on facts

The biggest problem for opponents of Bill C-10, the federal government's omnibus tough-oncrime bill, is that criminals and prisoners have no political constituency. The sort of people who will get swept up in the mandatory minimum sentences contained in the bill are dismissed by most voters as street thugs, pedophiles and gang members.

Eugene Oscapella, a veteran legal-reform advocate, knows this. And so he is careful to make his pitch in terms that respectable, middle-class Canadians - the sort of people with kids in high school or college - will appreciate.

"I teach a criminology course at the University of Ottawa," he told a crowd at downtown Toronto's Church of the Redeemer on Tuesday night. "Eighty percent of my students [would be] criminals under [Bill C-10]. About 10-20% of them would be liable for a mandatory minimum sentence of two years for simply passing a tablet of ecstasy at a party."

Smoking pot and taking ecstasy aren't smart. But millions of Canadians use these drugs every day. And when they're caught, police, prosecutors and judges typically apply their discretion in order to avoid ruining their lives and careers with criminal records and jail sentences. The Tories want to change that.

Tories fall short in repairing democratic imbalance


It does not take a degree in advanced mathematics to figure out that Canada’s federal scene is plagued by a gaping democratic deficit.

Our 19th century parliamentary institutions have failed to keep up with 21st century demographics to the detriment of fast-growing provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia.

Part of the rationale for patriating the Constitution three decades ago was to bring the country’s colonial-era institutions up to date.

That was before the well was poisoned by the Meech and Charlottetown capers. Today, repeat failures on the constitutional front have turned attempts at modernization into daunting balancing acts.

But in its ongoing efforts to address the issue of the democratic deficit while side-stepping the constitutional minefield, the Conservative government is very much playing a zero-sum game.

It is advancing the cause of regional fairness in one house of Parliament while moving in the opposite direction in the other.

Even as it seeks to rectify the regional balance in the Commons by granting more seats to the larger provinces, Stephen Harper’s government is proposing to enhance the legitimacy of the Senate — an institution whose regional make-up gives imbalance a whole new meaning.

Germany-France feud stalls Greek rescue deal

Efforts to resolve the prolonged Greek debt crisis have been set back even further amid a high-stakes deadlock between France and Germany, despite a push by the Group of 20 to have a plan in place by Sunday night.

As social unrest mounted in Greece Thursday, and a new report indicated even a second bailout may not save Athens, leaders of the euro zone were forced to schedule a second summit as the two main players at the table remained divided on key issues.

The tense stalemate, and the decision to call another meeting, underscore the difficulty of forging a plan in a 17-member monetary union. But time is running short as Greece teeters on the brink of bankruptcy.

France and Germany, the driving forces behind the launch of a definitive package, announced Thursday that no decisions will be made at a summit in Brussels on Sunday. Rather, a second meeting will be held no later than next Wednesday.

The goal remains the same, to present a package at a meeting of Group of 20 leaders in Cannes in early November, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel has hinted that some issues might not be resolved until next year.

New Canadian Index of Wellbeing reveals how Canadians are really faring

By the measure of a sophisticated new yardstick to be released Thursday, Canadian prosperity is poorly shared, our workers are run ragged, and we generally “are not having as much fun” as we once did.

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing, a dozen years in the making, is intended to do what standard economic tools such as Gross Domestic Product cannot — namely, to measure not just the economy, but how people and communities, the environment and our democracy are faring.

Roy Romanow, former Saskatchewan premier and chair of the CIW advisory board, told the Star the project puts “scientific underpinning” to a widespread, intuitive sense that though the GDP might rise, circumstances for the majority of Canadians have not been keeping pace.

Gay students ‘go through hell’ at school

More needs to be done for gay and transgender students who go “through hell” daily at school, says the head of Egale Canada.

From taunts to assaults, binders being thrown at their heads, to a lesbian student who was shot with a BB gun in a drive-by, such incidents must stop, Helen Kennedy told educators at a Canadian Safe School Network conference in Toronto Wednesday.

“That’s Canada,” she said, after listing a string of hateful incidents gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students reported in a recent survey. “That’s here in Toronto.”

She also mentioned the weekend suicide of gay Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley, who had reportedly been bullied since elementary school.

Many incidents against queer youth — which includes those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender — happen in schools, and they report feeling most unsafe in change rooms, washrooms, halls and buses, she said.