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.]

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Uranium Shipped From Canada to U.S., Says 'Secret' Federal Memo

MONTREAL - Weapons-grade uranium is quietly being transported within Canada, and into the United States, in shipments the country's nuclear watchdog wants to keep cloaked in secrecy.

A confidential federal memo obtained through the Access to Information Act says at least one payload of spent, U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium fuel has already been moved stateside under a new Canada-U.S. deal.

The shipments stem from the highly publicized agreement signed last year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama, amid fears that nuclear-bomb-making material could fall into the hands of terrorists.

The Canadian stash gradually being shipped from Chalk River, Ont., contains hundreds of kilograms of highly enriched uranium — large enough to make several Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs.

But even as the radioactive freight travels toward the U.S. border, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has no plans to hold public hearings or disclose which communities lie along the delivery route.

The shipments themselves are protected by intense security protocol, which means specifics like routes, transportation method, quantities and schedules remain top secret.

John Baird, Foreign Affairs Minister: UN Security Council Campaign Nixed After Last Year's Historic Defeat

OTTAWA - The Harper government will not mount another campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council after Canada's historic defeat last year, says Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

"It's not something I envisage," Baird told The Canadian Press when asked whether he planned another bid for a two-year, temporary term on the powerful council in the coming years.

While Baird said, "you never want to stand for something and not be elected," the often-combative rookie foreign minister was defiant and cutting in his reasoning for the decision.

"Listen, I mean, we don't go along to get along. That's just not a phrase," said Baird, using the oft-repeated mantra that has morphed into the mantra for his first six months as Canada's top diplomat.

Baird first used it at least eight times during his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly in September.

Canada was trounced by Portugal last year for the second of two temporary two-year, non-veto-wielding seats on the UN's top body. It was the first time in the six-decade history of the UN that Canada failed to win a seat for which it made a bid.

Ontario’s ORNGE air ambulance service is conducting a “vigorous” internal review and has admitted that secrecy around its business model and the whopping salary of its boss was a mistake.

“Simply put, your leadership team could have and should have done a much better job of communicating to everyone,” interim leader Tom Lepine said in an email to ORNGE’s 400 employees. “We will significantly improve transparency and accountability,” he added.

The Star reported last week that ORNGE’s founder and president, Dr. Chris Mazza, earned $1.4 million a year, making him the highest paid executive at a publicly funded organization in Ontario. ORNGE receives $150 million a year from Ontario taxpayers.

An ongoing Star investigation initially revealed that numerous high salaries were kept secret and also explored serious problems including call delays, lack of service in some areas and the existence of a web of for-profit companies (ORNGE was set up to be non-profit) that aimed to “leverage” the assets and good will of the Ontario air service. The Star also detailed a deal that saw the for-profit ORNGE, with Mazza as controlling shareholder, receive $6.7 million back from the Italian company that sold it helicopters.

Author Russell Banks on Writing Through the Voices of Outcasts, Criminals and Revolutionaries

We speak with acclaimed novelist Russell Banks, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist known for drawing on his working-class background to write about criminals, outcasts and revolutionaries. "I know that as a kid in a broken home that was marred by alcoholism and violence and so forth, storytelling was a way, just within the circle of the family, for me and my brothers and so on, and for myself, to save ourselves. We could make sense of an otherwise incoherent life for children." Banks has written a dozen novels and several short story collections. In "Cloudsplitter," he focused on the revolutionary abolitionist John Brown; in "Affliction," a paranoid alcoholic; and in "Rule of the Bone," a 14-year-old drug dealer. Bank’s latest book, "Lost Memory of Skin," explores the plight of sex offenders trying to live among society as outcasts.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Cuts put prisons at serious risk of riots, say officers

The Prison Officers Association has written to ministers to say it fears the safety both of officers and inmates is being put at risk as the population behind bars reaches unsustainable levels.

The number being held in jails in England and Wales has increased by almost 4,000 in the past year to 87,393 this week – the highest ever total at Christmas. This is just 2,084 short of the usable operational capacity. The figure is expected to continue to rise next year, potentially requiring some prisoners to be held in police cells.

The surge – partly fuelled by convictions following the summer riots – comes as the Ministry of Justice faces a spending squeeze of 28 per cent over the next three years. Four jails have been shut by Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, as the previous Government's prison-building plans have been put on hold.

An analysis of the latest Prison Service figures reveals that two-thirds of prisons are now so crowded that they cannot provide a "decent" standard of accommodation. Several of the country's largest jails, including Brixton, Wandsworth and Preston, are running at 50 per cent above their "certified normal accommodation".

NHS cuts have affected patient care say four out of five doctors

The coalition's pledge to protect the NHS is in fresh doubt after four out of five doctors said they had seen patient care suffer as a result of health service cuts during 2011.

A poll of GPs and hospital doctors, carried out for the Guardian, challenges David Cameron's promise to "cut the deficit, not the NHS".

Doctors cite hospital bed closures, pressure to give patients cheaper, slower-acting drugs, cuts to occupational health support, and reductions in community health services as examples of recent cost-cutting measures., a professional networking site to which almost all British doctors belong, asked medics: "Have cuts to staff and/or services affected patient care in your department, area or surgery during the last 12 months?" Of the 664 doctors who responded, 527 (79%) said yes and 137 (21%) said no.

Among 440 hospital doctors, 359 have seen cuts, while 168 of the 224 family doctors said the same.

Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association's hospital consultants and specialists committee, said the poll findings confirmed that the NHS was now "retracting" and doing less for patients, contradicting repeated ministerial pledges that frontline NHS services would escape the government's deficit reduction programme.

Holder’s Legacy

Two years ago, the Supreme Court decided a case that may, it now appears, save Barack Obama’s chances at reëlection—and, more importantly, preserve a precious corner of American democracy.

For many years now, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been under assault. The law requires that any changes in voting rules in certain states, mostly in the South, be “pre-cleared” by the Justice Department, to make sure that they do not impinge on the voting rights of minorities. Many people in these states and elsewhere have argued that the law is now obsolete and that its pre-clearance provisions stigmatize and demean places that have long ago reformed from their racist pasts. In the 2009 case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, the Court had a chance to invalidate the law—and ducked. Instead, by a vote of 8-1, the Justices disposed of the case on procedural grounds and left the larger fight for another day. (Clarence Thomas dissented, arguing that the Voting Rights Act is indeed obsolete and unconstitutional.) The Voting Rights Act, and its pre-clearance provisions, remained intact.

Harper's Crime Bill Misguided, N.S. Experts Say

Experts in Nova Scotia say the federal government's planned youth crime bill is misguided and runs counter to statistical evidence.

The Conservatives hope to pass their omnibus crime bill in the new year. It promises tougher sentences for crimes committed by young people, among other actions.

But Chandra Gosine, a senior defence lawyer with Nova Scotia Legal Aid specializing in youth justice, said youth crime has been dropping.

He said the number of inmates in Waterville, a youth correctional facility in King's County, has been declining steadily, as has his own caseload.

"I think the portrayal of youth crime is driven both by the Conservative agenda, which inflames the public, instilling public paranoia in the criminal justice system, and by the reporting of youth crimes that are sensational," he said.

"The Conservative government intends to address all crime with incarceration, which is contrary to the philosophy and direction of both criminology, sociology and general perception in the legal fraternity, which is that rehabilitation pays better dividends than locking up people."

Free trade becomes a Canadian priority

Not since NAFTA was negotiated 20 years ago has a Canadian government been on such a free-trade frenzy - one that proponents say will be an economic gold mine, but one that critics fear will cost the country jobs and sovereignty.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, Canada-European Union trade agreement, bilateral negotiations with India, South Korea and dozens of other countries - they're all part of the Conservative government's free-trade push on what, until recently, had been a sleeper file.

A new Beyond the Border trade and perimeter security agreement between Canada and the United States - meant to thin what has been a thickening border - is another move in that direction.

"I don't ever recall a time, except maybe during the freetrade debate (of the late 1980s), when the government has put so much stock in trade negotiations at the centre of its economic policy," explained John Weekes, Canada's chief negotiator for the North American Free Trade Agreement, and now a senior adviser at Bennett Jones law firm in Ottawa.

Indeed, the Conservative government's attempt to sow stronger global economic ties is arguably the most ambitious trade agenda in a generation in this country. However, many of the pacts are sparking concerns, to varying degrees, about what Canadians will sacrifice in return. The trade deals could have profound effects on domestic jobs, personal privacy, the prices of consumer products, the quality of foods we eat and the health care of Canadians.

Is Parliament broken?

Two years have passed since I set out, along with my colleagues at Samara, to begin one of the largest explorations into political leadership in Canadian history: a series of exit interviews with 65 former Members of Parliament.

These MPs invited us into their communities and often their homes, and were generous with their time and reflections about serving at the frontlines of Canada’s democracy. We found the MPs, like many Canadians, were deeply concerned about the state of politics. These former parliamentarians expressed embarrassment over what transpired in the Commons, saying that little constructive work takes place there. Notably, these comments were consistent across all parties in the House.

Many MPs blamed their collective behaviour in question period for Canadians’ growing sense of political disaffection. “Question period has become the greatest embarrassment and one of the reasons politicians are frowned upon,” said one MP.

When asked why this was the case, the MPs pointed their finger in an unexpected direction.
To them, it is often the way political parties manage themselves, their members and their work that drives this dysfunction.

Modest inflation outstrips wages and Canada Social Transfer

Statistics Canada reported recently that the annual inflation rate remained 2.9 per cent and the Bank of Canada's core rate remained 2.1 per cent in November.

The monthly increase in consumer prices slowed to 0.1 per cent in November from 0.3 per cent in October. The monthly increase in core prices slowed to 0.1 per cent in November from 0.2 per cent in October.

Inflation remains modest and should not deter the Bank of Canada from keeping interest rates low, and perhaps reducing them, to support our fragile economy and labour market.

However, even this modest inflation exceeds the small pay increases received by Canadian workers. While the Consumer Price Index rose 2.9 per cent last month, the Labour Force Survey indicates that average hourly wages rose only 2.4 per cent. In Ontario, inflation exceeds wage growth by a full percentage point: 2.5 per cent versus 1.4 per cent.

The Minister of Finance announced that, while the Canada Health Transfer and Equalization will be tied to nominal economic growth (projected to be about 4 per cent annually), the Canada Social Transfer for post-secondary education and other provincial services will grow at only 3 per cent annually. Today's inflation figures beg the question of whether that will even cover inflation plus population growth.

Original Article

Harper’s Christmas interview with Fairchild

On Christmas Eve the PMO sent reporters two interview transcripts. The Prime Minister had spoken to Quebec’s TVA network, and to Fairchild Television.

It’s not entirely true Stephen Harper seeks only friendly interviewers: just about the only party his TVA interrogator Jean Lapierre hasn’t represented in Parliament is Harper’s Conservatives. But Harper returns most frequently to outlets that sit at the intersection of (congenial welcome) and (useful audience).

Which is why he might as well have his own show on Fairchild by now.

Fairchild, as you may not know, is the leading Canadian broadcaster in Cantonese and Mandarin. The PMO certainly knows. Here’s Harper at their Toronto studio in April, in the second week of the election campaign: