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, November 12, 2011

Getting inside Harper’s headspace

The Cabinet committee on priorities and planning meets on Tuesdays, usually with Stephen Harper as chairman. He calls a lot of decisions on the spot. But not all. Sometimes decision is reserved pending the Prime Minister’s private decision.

When it came time to decide how many seats each province would get in an enlarged House of Commons, a senior source close to the government says, the Prime Minister took the briefing books and spreadsheets and sat alone for hours, juggling options, weighing the political fallout from every scenario.

Three days before Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal announced the new numbers—15 new seats for Ontario, six each for Alberta and British Columbia, three for Quebec—Conservative MPs were called to a rare Monday caucus meeting so the plan could be run by them. Harper has his control-freak moments, but he prefers to hear complaints from his MPs quietly, before an announcement, rather than loudly after it.

The Occupy movement: from farce to tragedy and back

In Saskatoon last week, as temperatures sank below zero, residents of the local Occupy encampment began taking stock. The tiny tent community had dwindled from the 30 who’d set up camp on Oct. 15, part of a wave of occupations mounted in solidarity with lower Manhattan’s Occupy Wall Street, to about a dozen. Many who remained were less activists than they were homeless people. The activists chose to pull up stakes. “I’m not too sure whereabouts I’m going,” a homeless man named Spike said. “I just don’t know.”

So it was across Canada: from Vancouver to Halifax, workaday realities had crept in and soured utopia. At some Occupy sites, such as in London, Ont., the movement had fractured into splinter groups, multiplying the number of encampments. Elsewhere, as in Ottawa, where one group of protesters discovered a blanket soaked in bodily fluids draped over their tent and left, core supporters abandoned the movement over philosophical differences. In most cases, protesters have had to come to terms with an influx of people for whom addiction and mental health issues loom larger than concerns about wealth distribution. In every case, occupiers have tested the resolve of municipalities striving to balance their rights to free speech with long-standing bylaws, safety concerns, and the rights of neighbours to order and good government.

First Nations group seek legal action to halt Prosperity preparations

The Tsilhqot'in Nation has gone to court in an attempt to block Taseko Mines Ltd. from doing any preparatory work on its controversial new Prosperity mine in British Columbia's Cariboo region.

In a petition filed with the B.C. Supreme Court, the First Nations group asks the court to halt any drilling, excavation, timber clearing, road construction and the like while reviewing provincial approvals for the work on a revised mine plan.

In seeking the court review, the petition says provincial government officials should have consulted with the Tsilhqot'in before the approvals were granted.

Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot'in National Government, said the decision affects the group's rights and culture.

“The province refused to acknowledge these impacts, no matter what we say; it is more concerned with handing over approvals,” Chief Alphonse said in a statement.

Ex-Walmart Associate To 'Occupy' Protesters: Take On 'The Face Of The 1 Percent'

NEW YORK -- On Friday afternoon in Zuccotti Park, Sandy Carpenter, a former Walmart 'associate,' held a brief teach-in about her former employer -- "the face of the 1 percent," she told the crowd, eliciting cheers and enthusiastic hand gestures.

Carpenter is a member of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, a growing group of current and former associates -- the company's term for its employees -- seeking to improve conditions at the world's largest employer. On Friday, she sought to spread word about the group's mission to Occupy Wall Street and to ask for help.

Earlier Friday, Carptenter told the crowd, Sam Walton's daughter Alice opened a new art museum in Bentonville, Ark., where Walmart's corporate headquarters is located. The museum received an $800 million endowment from the Walton Family Foundation and a $20 million grant from Walmart. Meanwhile, Walmart recently announced significant cuts to health benefits for its employees.

Right to Rent: The Foreclosure Crisis Solution Banks Love to Hate

Brad Meyer occupies the real estate equivalent of the twilight zone. He lives in Milwaukee with his wife and children in the three-bedroom ranch house they purchased a decade ago. Except today, they rent it through American Homeowner Preservation, a small, Ohio-based company that purchases distressed properties and leases them back to the previous homeowner.

The rental program -- the brainchild of Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research -- is part of a broader effort to identify alternatives to traditional foreclosure. Instead of having to give up their homes, delinquent borrowers are able to remain under their roofs, albeit as tenants.

"It's weird," Meyer said. "You have to remind yourself that it's not really your house anymore, at least for the time being. But you still have to maintain it as if it's your own, so there's some internal conflict there. We'd like to redo the kitchen, but it's not really our kitchen right now."

Conservatives Plot to Burn, Shred, and Sabotage Scott Walker Recall Effort

A group of self-identified conservatives say they plan to sabotage the effort to recall Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker, which begins on Tuesday, by burning and shredding recall petitions they've collected and misleading Wisconsinites about the recall process.

These plans, discussed in Facebook posts that were first reported by the blog PolitiScoop, entail posing as recall supporters and gathering signatures, only to later destroy the petitions. They also include telling Wisconsinites that they can only sign one recall petition (which is false—they can sign different petitions as long as they each correspond to a different organization) and directing signature collectors to the homes of registered sex offenders. (Requests for comment were sent to each of the Facebook posters who allowed messages from other users.)

Toronto Environment Days: Budget Committee Looking To Reduce Days From 44 To 11

Proposed changes to the way Toronto collects recycling and hazardous materials will harm the environment and cost more, a local environmental group said Friday.

On Thursday the budget committee suggested the city could save $600,000 by ending excess recycling pickup and reducing the number of community environment days.

Currently, residents can leave extra recyclables in clear, plastic bags next to their blue bin but the committee voted to eliminate the service, which costs about $500,000 a year.

City staff say about 10 per cent of households routinely put out more than can fit in bins.

Coun. Mike Del Grande, the city's budget chief, said the move is necessary to become more efficient.

Nfld. has its first female premier — but fight for equality is far from over

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale isn’t a public scrapper like her bombastic predecessor, Danny Williams, but she doesn’t shy away from a fight.

The 59-year-old former social worker made history last year by becoming the first female premier of this province, and again last month as only the second woman to be elected in her own right as a provincial premier in Canada.

She’s spent her political career climbing the ladder in a male-dominated political culture in which, she says, women’s progress was not guaranteed but rather the product of hard-fought battles.

With two other female premiers now facing an electoral test, Ms. Dunderdale suggests Canadian democracy is finally maturing – and she contends the change is more than cosmetic. As more women achieve power, they will bring a different point of view to the forefront. Their success will inevitably colour the political debate in Canada, putting a greater emphasis on issues that resonate most with women voters, she says.

How a pipeline was defeated: actors, activists and one key conversation

In the end, it came down to a conversation between two of the most powerful people in the world.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with President Barack Obama about a pipeline set to run from Alberta’s oil sands down through the U.S. Midwest to reach refineries on the Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Pipelines are usually mundane affairs, but this one was different. A year ago, few had ever heard of Keystone XL. But in the space of just a few months, the quietly planned pipeline erupted into a high-profile international debate about the oil industry, the environment, and the role Canada’s oil sands plays in both.

Actors and activists whipped up support against the project, garnering national attention in the U.S. as they linked hands in a human chain around the White House in protest. Opponents from across the country descended on Nebraska, denouncing the pipeline as a serious risk to an environmentally sensitive area of the state, and winning state political support along the way. Many supporters were there too, with a rallying cry that the U.S. desperately needs secure oil and jobs, both of which Keystone XL offered.

Appointments of female judges slump under Harper's Tories

The appointment of female judges has diminished to a trickle under the Harper government, dashing any hopes that equal gender representation is on the doorstep.

Only eight women have been appointed to the federal judiciary this year, compared to 41 men. Figures for 2010 were only slightly less skewed, with 13 women and 37 men being given judgeships.

The discrepancy is likely to rekindle calls for reform to an opaque process that provides the government with considerable leeway to choose candidates for undisclosed reasons.

“Those are shocking figures,” said Elizabeth Sheehy, a University of Ottawa law professor. “This is part of a very ominous pattern for Canadian women. The government owes an explanation to Canadians and especially to women in the legal profession.”

There are currently 356 female judges among the total of 1,117 federally appointed judges on the bench. Parity had been within reach until the numbers began to skew under the Conservatives in 2006. In 2005, then-justice minister Irwin Cotler appointed female candidates approximately 40 per cent of the time.

What Harper should learn from pipeline debacle

For Canada’s Conservative government, there are two lessons in Barack Obama’s surprise decision to delay the international pipeline slated to deliver Alberta tar-sands oil to American refineries.

The first is that, politically, the environment still matters. Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have successfully ignored environmental critics at home. But, as the U.S. president’s abrupt reversal on the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrates, such critics still wield considerable clout in countries that Canada is desperate to do business with.

The second is that continental energy integration — a long-standing dream of both the Conservative Party and its allies in the oil industry —

is neither as simple nor advisable as it might seem.

Throughout his time in office, Harper’s approach to climate change has verged on the contemptuous.

He quite legitimately sneered at the hypocrisy of previous Liberal governments that paid lip service to greenhouse gas reductions but did nothing.