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, February 25, 2012

Northern Gateway Tankers: First Nations Angry Over Transport Canada Decision

VANCOUVER - First Nations along British Columbia's north and central coast say it's unfathomable that Transport Canada approves the use of oil supertankers in the province's treacherous inlets and marine passages.

Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt said Friday that the department ruling ignores safety issues such as poor weather, human error, and the narrow, unforgiving waterways.

Transport Canada filed its report on Thursday to the regulatory panel weighing Enbridge Inc.'s $5.5-billion proposal to ship Alberta crude to the West Coast by pipeline and export the oil to Asian markets via supertankers loaded in Kitimat.

The report does not identify any regulatory concerns and says residual risks are present in any project.

Sterritt said that's nonsensical and shocking because a recent study by Coastal First Nations suggested a tanker spill could cost $23 billion, creating catastrophic economic, environmental and cultural damage.

Lawful Access: Ontario Police Chiefs' Website Hacked In Apparent Protest Against Bill C-30

TORONTO - The website of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police has been shut down following an apparent attack by hackers.

A terse message posted on the website says," Under Maintenance." It was not immediately known who was responsible for the attack.

But activists allied to the loose-knit Anonymous movement had threatened to target federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and others over the Harper government's controversial online surveillance bill.

The chiefs had supported the legislation.

The Mounties said earlier this week that they had not yet decided whether to launch a full investigation into the threats made against Toews.

Part of the online campaign against Bill C-30 involved the publication of the minister's divorce records, while other people are mocking the bill's supposed powers by sending the minister mundane details of their lives.

There is a way to clean up ‘dirty’ oil’s problems

Canada’s bitumen resources have a problem, and neither the companies that wish to exploit bitumen or the governments trying to help them seem to understand it.

Bitumen, from which oil is produced, takes more energy per barrel to get at than conventional oil pumped from the ground. Because it needs more energy, bitumen-derived oil produces more greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming than conventional oil.

That gap – between bitumen-derived and conventional oil – is the problem the industry and governments don’t seem to get. And that gap will widen as more steam-driven in-situ production comes on line, since in-situ uses more energy than open-face mining of bitumen.

There’s not much the oil industry can do about opponents who don’t like any fossil fuels and seek their elimination. These opponents are going to do what they can in an open society to stick spokes in the industry’s wheels. They can do so in a free society in a way not available in dictatorships, autocracies, kingships and other authoritarian regimes. It’s the price Canada (and other democracies) pay for something called freedom within the law.

Opinion: Oh say, can you see? Canadian politics takes on an American flavour

Over breakfast last week, an American guest bemoaned her country’s politics.

She ceased to recognize them any more, she said. They had careened off on some crazy trajectory — the ricochets of too many trigger fingers. U.S. politics, she said, was so out there, had become so bizarre, it filled her with alarm.

I, Canadian, typically both envious and disdainful of the American experience, commiserated. A little too sanctimoniously. Tsk tsk. What are you people doing to each other down there? The smug, middle-way Canadian looks southward and sees, to his reassurance that everything is still right where he lives, a country filled with wing nuts.

Breakfast ended. But soon so did the air of self-satisfaction.

Back at the office, news arrived of the latest howler out of Ottawa. Conservative MP Vic Toews, head of the Orwellian-named Public Safety Canada, was again frothing at the mouth.

This time, he was the injured. Someone posted on Twitter the sordid details of his divorce.

I would have called it news except for the fact it wasn’t: Toews had been outed as an extramarital fornicator as early as four years ago by several newspapers.

Note to Trudeau - no government will ever fully reflect your values

I know how Justin Trudeau feels. What I don't understand is his reaction.

That's essentially how I responded to several readers who made excuses for the Liberal MP and chastised his critics after Trudeau mused on a Radio-Canada interview on Feb. 12 that he might consider helping Quebec to separate from Canada if the federal Conservatives pass too much legislation he disagrees with.

"I always say," said the Quebec MP, "that if, at a given time, I believed that Canada was really the Canada of Stephen Harper, and that we were going against abortion, that we were going against gay marriage, that we were moving backwards in 10,000 different ways, maybe I would think of wanting to make Quebec a country."

Trudeau's statements were widely criticized by many pundits, politicians, professors and other Canadians, including myself, for their dishonesty and inaccuracy, as well as Trudeau's inherent narcissism and immaturity to believe that unless the policies of a particular government do not perfectly reflect his own, then a reasonable option includes the destruction of Canada.

What Trudeau clearly finds difficult to understand is huge swaths of Canadians didn't vote for his vision of Canada, which resulted in the majority win of Stephen Harper's Conservatives in May.

Ottawa hits pause on Web surveillance act

The Harper government is temporarily parking controversial legislation that would grant new powers to authorities to police the Internet while it consults on how to rewrite it to assuage privacy concerns among Canadians and within caucus.

The Commons resumes sitting on Monday after a week-long break.

The process of sending the bill to MPs for study is not scheduled to start in the week of Feb. 27, and sources familiar with the government’s plans say the Conservatives are in “no rush” to pass the legislation. They said the bill is unlikely to be moved forward in the next couple of weeks.

Rattled by a public backlash over Bill C-30, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced in mid-February the Conservatives would take the unusual step of referring it to a committee for amendments before second reading. This means that MPs will be asked to recast the bill before the Commons has agreed in principle to approve it.

Conservatives make no secret of the fact this isn’t Stephen Harper’s favourite bill, meaning that, during a slow economic recovery, he’d rather be associated with other legislative priorities.

CUPE 3902 bargaining committee members protest tentative agreement by resigning

A tentative agreement was reached early in the morning between the University of Toronto and CUPE 3902, the union that represents 7,000 sessionals, teaching assistants, and other contract instructional staff.

However, it appears the union's bargaining committee was split on accepting the deal and two of its members, Chief Spokeperson James Nugent and Recording Secretary Ashleigh Ingle, have resigned from the committee in protest.

"We were given our last offer from the employer last night. It didn't have anything substantial on any of our major proposals." said Ingle. "The chief spokesperson and myself resigned, we were unwilling to go to our membership and speak in support of a contract that is clearly not what our members sent us to achieve."

A major issue in bargaining has been on tutorial size. According to a Jan. 31 bargaining update from CUPE 3902, the union asking for a cap at 60 students and more TA support for students in labs and tutorials. In response, the administration offered to create a working group to study the issue but would not agree to take any concrete action. Union members rejected that previous tentative agreement on Jan. 30 with a 96 per cent majority and set a strike deadline of Feb. 24.

Anonymous Hacks Private Prison Company Website

After high-profile takeovers of recording industry and Justice Department websites last month, hackers affiliated with the Anonymous movement had a new target Friday: the for-profit prison industry.

Hackers defaced the website for the Florida-based GEO Group, the nation's second-largest operator of private prisons, calling the attack "part of our ongoing efforts to dismantle the prison industrial complex."

The domain was replaced Friday morning with a black screen headlined by the symbol "#antisec," a term for the Anti-Security Movement, which is affiliated with the online coalition known as Anonymous.

The hacked site also featured a photo of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther whose death sentence for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer has since been converted to life imprisonment. Abu-Jamal's case has received international attention from opponents of the death penalty.

"While most folks are suffering under the economy, many billions of dollars are being funneled into this sinister conniving alliance of capitalist and statist forces," stated a message on the hacked site. "What they did not figure into their plans was a determined effort to shut them down."

Albert Stanley, Former Halliburton Exec, Sentenced In Bribery Scheme

A former top Halliburton executive will serve 2 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty in Houston federal court to orchestrating a $180 million bribery scheme to secure $6 billion in natural gas deals in Nigeria, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Albert "Jack" Stanley is the former CEO of KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary at the time of the bribes; he was tapped to run the company in 1998 by future Vice President Dick Cheney, who ran Halliburton between 1996 and 2000. Cheney was not charged in the case.

KBR, spun off by Halliburton in the wake of the scandal, called the scheme an "unfortunate chapter" in its "rich and storied history" after pleading guilty to corporate criminal charges in 2009.

The investigation of the bribes crossed four continents over 10 years and involved five companies in Europe, the U.S., Japan and Nigeria. Criminal and civil penalties in the case have yielded more than $1.7 billion in fines, forfeitures and other sanctions.

"This case shows the importance the department places on putting an end to foreign bribery," Mythili Raman, a prosecutor with the Justice Department's criminal division, said in the Feb. 23 announcement.

Police Spying Leaves New York Muslim Students 'Violated'

NEW YORK -- In his three years studying computer science at New York University, Ali Shah has come to call the campus Islamic center a second home. It's here, on the fourth floor of a modern building that overlooks Greenwich Village, where Shah said he has grown in his faith as a Muslim, formed close friendships and come to feel comfortable in a large university and city where it's easy to be anonymous.

But on Friday, Shah seemed distraught. He was confused. And hurt.

He came to the Islamic center with a few dozen Muslims, some of the hundreds at the university who learned that New York police had been monitoring the center's website for signs of terrorist activity.

"It violated my idea of this as a safe space," said Shah, who is from North Brunswick, N.J.

A series of Associated Press articles has rocked the city's Muslim population by revealing that police planted informants in mosques, Muslim neighborhoods and Islamic university clubs in New York and its suburbs. Police spied on prayer times, sermon topics, food sold at restaurants and discussions on politics and world events. One report showed that an undercover officer went on a Islamic university group's whitewater rafting trip, while another compiled weekly reports of Muslim student club websites.

Equal Pay Enforcement Act On Verge Of Being Repealed By Wisconsin Republicans

WASHINGTON -- In 2009, the Wisconsin legislature made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to have their day in court. That law is now on the verge of repeal.

The Equal Pay Enforcement Act was meant to deter employers from discriminating by giving workers more avenues to press charges. Among other provisions, it allows individuals to plead their cases in the less costly, more accessible state circuit court system, rather than just in federal court.

In November, the state Senate approved (SB 202) rolling back this provision. On Wednesday, the Assembly did the same. Both were party-line votes. The legislation is now in the hands of Gov. Scott Walker (R). His office did not return a request for comment on whether the governor would sign it.

"It really takes away the teeth and the enforcement aspect of equal pay in Wisconsin," said Sara Finger, director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health (WAWH).

Women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men make. In Wisconsin, it's 75 cents, according to WAWH, which also estimates that families in the state "lose more than $4,000 per year due to unequal pay."
State Sen. Dave Hansen (D) was one of the authors of the 2009 law, and said he had no doubt that Walker would sign the repeal of his legislation.

"The whole [Republican] agenda in this state is about attacks on workers," he said. "It's an ongoing assault on workers' rights. But now it's also taking the assault to workers in the private sector. It's not just an assault on women. Older workers can be taken advantage of, and they're hurting in this bad economy. It didn't hurt business at all."

State Sen. Glenn Grothman (R), who sponsored SB 202, also did not return a request for an interview.

Business associations lobbied in support of SB 202, according to the state's Government Accountability Board. Groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association all backed a repeal.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who is now running for the state's open U.S. Senate seat, supported the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and has worked on equal pay issues since graduating from college, including in the administration of former Wisconsin Gov. Anthony Earl.

"He made fighting our pay inequities based on gender a priority issue," she said. "I was working on that agenda. I can tell you, even back then, I was being fiercely opposed by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce association, which didn't want us advocating for fair wages."

"It is much easier for somebody who's been unfairly compensated to gain access to a state court than a federal court," she said of the Wisconsin law. "It is something that if you want these laws to have meaning, they have to be enforceable. So I'm very disappointed with the Wisconsin state legislature. Yet another big step back for women. This is becoming a real pattern."

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, former Gov. Tommy Thompson and former Rep. Mark Neumann are competing for the Republican nomination to challenge Baldwin in the general election for the U.S. Senate seat. Fitzgerald supported SB 202 and, as speaker, brought it to the Assembly floor for a vote. His campaign declined to further comment on the issue. Neither Thompson nor Neumann returned a request for comment.

"A lot of people weren't even aware this was up for a debate," said Finger. "Here we have this issue that's going to the governor's desk with very little time or understanding for the public to weigh in and express their disappointment. We're now one step away from having equal pay enforcement repealed in the state of Wisconsin."

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Amanda Terkel

Wadah Khanfar: Iran Strike Would Be A 'Disaster' For Fragile Arab Spring

A strike on Iran would be a "disaster" for the Middle East's burgeoning democracies, said Wadah Khanfar, the former director general of Al Jazeera, in an interview with The Huffington Post this week.

"What will happen is a disaster," Khanfar said. "An attack against Iran at this moment in time is first of all going to create new priorities, new alliances, new fears in the region and new complexities. No one can expect what the result will be."

Khanfar, who traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss the ongoing transformations in the Arab world and his new project, the Sharq Forum, said he worried the fragile Arab Spring could become an unintended casualty of a war because the new, unstable political alignments could find themselves drifting back to old patterns should foreign intervention came into play, especially if Israel became involved.

"It will change a lot of what we see as a success story in the Arab world and in the Middle East," Khanfar said. "For the last few years the Arab world is transforming itself from within ... No one accepts foreign intervention as a tool of change. Then priorities change immediately."

Learning a lesson from America's failed war on drugs

On Wednesday, 28 current and former American law enforcement officials wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and members of the Canadian Senate urging the decriminalization of marijuana and warning against the effects of harsh mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes.

Before anyone gets up in-arms about Americans sticking their noses into our business, consider that many of these people have been directly involved in crafting and enforcing America's war on drugs. They all belong to the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which includes a number of Canadian board members.

One of the signatories to the letter is Eric E. Sterling, who helped U.S. politicians write minimum sentencing laws in the 1980s, in his role as counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. "Imposing long jail terms for minor drug offences has been a mistake in the United States, and won't work in Canada," Mr. Sterling told the CBC.

And he should know, as the tough-on-crime laws developed in the 1980s and '90s led directly to America's out of control prison population. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, incarceration rates in the United States between 1880 and 1970 ranged from about 100 to 200 inmates per 100,000 people. After 1980, that number began to skyrocket: Increasing to 753 by 2008. In comparison, Canada's rate remained fairly steady between 2006 and 2010, at about 140 prisoners for every 100,000 people, according to Statistics Canada.

Call for ethics probe into federal office move in Quebec Tory riding

OTTAWA - There's a request for the federal ethics commissioner to investigate the transfer of an Employment Insurance processing centre in Quebec.

The NDP asked Mary Dawson Friday to look into Industry Minister Christian Paradis.

It said there's no good reason to have moved the centre from Rimouski, which is located in one of the many Quebec ridings held by the NDP, to Thetford Mines, which happens to lie in one of the very few Conservative ridings.

That Tory-held riding of Megantic-L'Erable belongs to Paradis, the party's Quebec lieutenant.

There was a report Friday in a Montreal newspaper, La Presse, that the new centre will rent an office that belongs to a business partner of Paradis' father.

The newspaper said Ghislain Dionne is his father's partner in the same law firm where Paradis worked before entering politics.

Don't expect details on cuts in federal budget

The Conservative government’s detailed plans to slash federal spending may not be revealed until months after the much-anticipated budget expected in the first week of April, CBC News has learned.

Government sources say the budget will provide a broad overview of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s fiscal blueprint for getting the country’s books out of the red over the next four years.

Sources say the budget will contain some important details for average Canadians.

For instance, the government will use the budget to clear up much of the confusion over what exactly it has planned for the Old Age Security program it claims is not sustainable with Canada’s aging population.

But the precise details of exactly which government agencies and services will be axed may not be publicly announced until months after Flaherty has presented his budget in Parliament.

Federal officials say those details will probably be made public as part of the government’s routine departmental spending estimates to be tabled in the Commons after the budget, possibly as late as June.

Toews says online surveillance bill poorly understood

OTTAWA — Striking a softer tone after weeks of heated debate — off-line and online — Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Friday that much of the discussion about the government's contentious online surveillance bill is driven by misinformation and misunderstanding.

In an op-ed column for Postmedia News, Toews continued to defend his bill, and defended himself against accusations that he didn't read Bill C-30 before introducing it in the House of Commons earlier this month.

Toews said C-30 "creates no new powers to access" email, web-browsing history or phone calls beyond what already exists in Canadian law.

"Some have accused me of not reading a bill I've been involved in shaping for over half a decade. Ironically, when I read most media coverage of C-30, I am struck by just how poorly the bill is understood by many writers," Toews wrote in the column.

"The government intends to send this legislation directly to committee for a full examination of potential amendments to update our laws while ensuring the privacy of Canadians is respected."

Crank-call scandal fits the Conservatives' pattern of political expediency

Here is a list of some of the things we do not know about the Robocon scandal (for those just joining us, the use of automated "robocalls" to harass or deceive — con — voters in certain ridings during the last election). We do not know whether the calls were made by members of the Conservative party. We do not know whether any Conservative authorized them, or even knew about them. We do not know whether anyone was prevented from voting, or had their vote changed, as a result, nor do we know whether the results of any riding were affected.

But my God, what we know is disturbing enough. There were not a few calls: there were thousands. They did not occur in one or two ridings: there were at least 18 of them, scattered across the country — a handful of which received the automated calls, while 14 received live harassing calls, targeting Liberal households. In all but one the race was viewed as being between a Conservative and a Liberal, and in every one the calls were made to Liberal supporters. (The NDP now claims to have found nine ridings in which its own supporters received similar calls. These remain to be verified.) In some cases voters were given false information on where to vote by someone pretending to represent Elections Canada. In others, they were annoyed or insulted by calls purporting to come from the Liberal party.

More than a dozen ridings blitzed by harassing fake Liberal phone calls in 2011 election

An analysis of reports of mysterious harassing phone calls during the May 2011 election points to the existence of a systematic voter suppression campaign targeting Liberal voters in tightly contested ridings.

Unlike the pre-recorded ``robocalls'' now under investigation by Elections Canada, these calls came from live callers, likely working from a call centre.

A Postmedia News-Ottawa Citizen investigation based on interviews with dozens of campaign workers has identified 14 ridings - mostly closely fought electoral districts in southern Ontario - where electors reported receiving fake live calls.

Many received calls in the middle of the night from callers claiming they represented the local Liberal candidate.

Jewish voters in two ridings complained of receiving repeated phone calls at meal time on the Saturday Sabbath. In another riding where the Liberal candidate was of Pakistani heritage, some said the callers mimicked a South Asian accent.

People who received the calls report that the callers would phone repeatedly, irritating the recipients, and then speak to them rudely.

The roles of Greece and Israel in western civilization

I'm writing while on what I think of as my cradles of western civilization tour. It consists of Greece and Israel. My travelling companion (to echo Paul Simon on his way to Graceland) is 13 years old, my only child. When I was in university, Athens and Jerusalem were served to us as the separate wellsprings of western civilization. Their status was a given, like western civ itself. I'm finding though, that it may be a bit late; the old categories don't seem as firm.

Even back then, as an undergrad doing Near Eastern and Judaic Studies in Boston, I took courses with an academic troublemaker named Cyrus Gordon. He had the peculiar (at the time) notion that those cradles weren't so distinct. He argued there were links and relations between ancient Israel and ancient Greece. Homer's wily Odysseus and the Biblical trickster Jacob (who became Israel, the father of his people) weren't accidentally similar. Travellers and tales blew back and forth across the Mediterranean. It was a big mix even then.

What about their central roles in western civilization -- as they now appear?

Well, we arrived in Athens a few days after last Sunday's "Athens Burns" headlines, wondering if downtown would be a smouldering ruin. It isn't, not at all, but Greece is clinging to Europe, in the form of the euro, by its fingernails. It doesn't seem so integrally western and perhaps it never was. What made us picture Plato and Aristotle as Oxford dons or German philosophers? You can see Turkey from parts of Greece; it receives more African and Asian immigrants, legal and illegal, than any other EU nation and they seem at home.

Tories clear one hurdle – but more lie ahead in Wheat Board battle

The Harper government has won a legal skirmish in its bid to end the monopoly power of the Canadian Wheat Board as the marketer of Prairie grain, but still faces challenges by board defenders on a number of fronts.

The Court of Queen’s Bench in Manitoba on Friday threw out a request for an injunction to suspend implementation of the new federal law stripping the CWB of its role as sole marketer for Western Canadian wheat and barley.

Eight former board directors wanted the court to order a delay until after another court rules on the law’s validity. They argue that the old CWB legislation had stipulated that Ottawa must hold a vote among farmers on the change, and as it had not, the new law is invalid.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s not the end of the road,” said former CWB chairman Allen Oberg, indicating that he and his fellow ex-directors – who were elected to the board by the farmers and lost their positions under the new act – are considering an appeal.

Meanwhile, the government has appealed a Federal Court ruling in December that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz breached the law in not consulting with the wheat board or holding a farmers’ vote before introducing the new legislation. The appeal is expected to deal with the question of the law’s validity.

Canada-Europe trade deal prohibits provinces, municipalities from favouring local bidders on contracts

An impending trade deal with Europe is ringing alarm bells across the country.

Under the deal, Canada has agreed to European demands to prohibit municipalities and provinces from offering incentives or otherwise favouring local bidders on procurement contracts.

The effects on Toronto could be serious:

Could the TTC still impose Canadian content rules for its vehicles if faced with a European trade challenge? Could the city continue to ensure certain construction projects hire youths from priority neighbourhoods? Could the city still award food procurement contracts to support local farmers?

A special report by city manager Joseph Pennachetti and obtained by the Star raises red flags about its consequences.

And last week, Toronto’s executive committee, armed with the report, asked Ontario to ensure municipal procurement needs are preserved under the trade deal. It thereby joined 34 towns and cities across Canada that filed similar protests — some seeking outright exemptions.

$25M in ORNGE money unaccounted for

Roughly $25 million dollars raised by ORNGE with Ontario taxpayers’ help cannot be accounted for.

Investigators, financial and criminal, are digging into the case to see if the money was blown on a spending spree, bad business decisions or if some of it lined executives’ pockets.

The money comes from $275 million that ORNGE raised from Canadian investors in 2009 to purchase new airplanes, helicopters and an office building. Ontario taxpayer money is repaying the investors.

The Star has reviewed documents related to the deal and ORNGE payments and can account for only $250 million of purchases. They include the following:

 • $150 million for 12 AgustaWestland helicopters and the high-tech medical interiors

 • $46.8 million for 10 Pilatus single-engine airplanes, including medical interiors and communication equipment

 • $16 million to purchase and renovate the office building employees have dubbed the “Crystal Palace”

 • $30 million for ORNGE’s purchase of a fleet of aging S-76 Sikorsky helicopters from Canadian Helicopters, which had the air ambulance contract for years in Ontario.

 • Roughly $6 million in assorted payments, including the purchase and renovation of a Thunder Bay hangar; new tractors to pull the helicopters in and out of the hangars; the lease on a Hamilton hangar that was not used for 14 months; and purchase of rarely used ground ambulances.

 • $1.3 million in fees to the financial company that handled the transaction