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, March 10, 2012

Fear of fracking: How public concerns put an energy renaissance at risk

Chad Winters keeps his hand on his radio, politely giving orders to co-workers toiling at an oil property in a stretch of Alberta farmland.

“One tonne of 40/70,” Mr. Winters requests over the radio. “Three thirty-three, then hold till I tell you otherwise.”

Mr. Winters speaks a language few understand. He runs the show in the field when Trican Well Service Ltd. (TCW-T17.350.150.87%)is called in to perform a controversial technique used to gather oil and natural gas from impermeable rocks.

On this day, Trican is working for NAL Energy Corp. (NAE-T7.810.182.36%)near Bowden, about 100 kilometres north of Calgary. Trican is there to pump water, chemical and natural additives, and nitrogen down a well at frighteningly high pressure, with hopes of forcing fissures in the rocks thousands of metres below the surface. Sand will follow, propping open the cracks, allowing trapped oil to escape. The process is called hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

New Report Outlines Activities of Canadian Government to Undermine International Climate Action

Canadian Government’s Aggressive Promotion of Tar Sands Draws International Attention: Vigils at Canadian Missions in America and Europe 

Washington, DC; London, UK; Ottawa, Canada; Brussels, Belgium--(ENEWSPF)--March 8, 2012.  Hundreds gathered outside more than 20 Canadian diplomatic missions in the U.S. and European Union to voice concern and extend hope that Canada will reverse its international lobbying on behalf of highly destructive and polluting tar sands oil industry. The vigils were held in conjunction with a new report documenting the Canadian government’s aggressive lobbying to promote tar sand and stop international climate action.

“Yesterday, hundreds gathered at Canadian foreign missions to offer a prayer for peoples of all nations to remember that the land belongs to the future and is not ours to destroy,” said The Reverend Canon Sally G. Bingham, Interfaith Power & Light’s President. “We are concerned for our Earth, for she has a fever that will only be made worse by burning tar sands from Canada. We pray that people all over the world awaken to monumental climate-threats posed by the extraction and burning of tar sands oil.”

Follow links for a list of vigils and images of the events.

February Jobs Report: Beware Austerity

The jobs numbers released this morning contain good news almost across the board: nonfarm payroll employment rose by 227,000 jobs, above the 210,000 predicted by economists. Recent jobs numbers were also revised upwards: the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 284,000 jobs were added in January, not the initial estimate of 244,000. December actually saw 223,000 jobs added, not 203,000. This makes the three best months of hiring since the recession began.

The hiring came in nearly all-categories—both high-paying and low-paying sectors added workers. The service industry, mining, and professional services all added jobs. The manufacturing sector added 31,000 jobs, which is good news and a great news hook for President Obama’s visit to Virginia today, where he will announce a new manufacturing innovation initiative.

There are many reasons for the uptick, from businesses having reached productivity limits, thus requiring the addition of new workers to keep up with increasing demand, to auto manufacturing kicking back into gear after being disrupted by the earthquake in Japan one year ago today.

The Fox News Effect

Editor’s Note: A survey of habitual Fox News viewers by Fairleigh Dickinson University revealed that they become poorly informed about current events. But mere statistics fail to reveal the causes of this effect. Does habitual Foxwatching, for example, trigger some kind of brain trauma or cellular loss akin to Alzheimer’s disease? Or is the damage emotional and psychological, like PTSD? To study the Foxification Effect, we commissioned Marvin Kitman, a professional television critic who covered the box for thirty-five years at Newsday, to serve as a guinea pig in an experiment. 

The terms were these: the subject would go on a strict Fox News diet for two weeks and record its effects on him. At the end of the experiment, he would submit a report of his experience and his conclusions about how Fox News achieves the effects it has had on the millions of unfortunate Americans who make up its devoted audience. His study would then be sealed in a time capsule for six months, after which it would be published here. This way we could test the accuracy of the network pundits.

We can report that Kitman apparently suffered no permanent damage from his ordeal, though we continue to monitor his case. You can’t be too cautious about these experiments. Recall the filmmaker in the documentary Super Size Me, who ate only McDonald’s meals for thirty days. He ended up overweight and with heart palpitations. Or the heroic doctors in Dr. Walter Reed’s experiment (shown in the movie Yellow Jack), who let themselves be bitten to prove that mosquitoes were the carriers of yellow fever. They ended up dead.

Herewith, the relevant excerpts from Marvin Kitman’s Fox News Diary.

Occupy Wall Street In NYC On Pace To Run Out Of Money By End Of Month

NEW YORK, March 9 (Reuters) - The Occupy Wall Street group in New York is running low on money and on pace to run out by the end of the month, raising questions about the future of the movement that sparked a wave of nationwide protests against economic injustice six months ago.

Donations to the group, which raised about $500,000 within weeks of setting up camp in a park near Wall Street on Sept. 17, have slowed and with plans for an American Spring of protests it has set aside a remaining $90,000 into a fund established to bail arrested protesters out of jail.

A report by Occupy Wall Street's accounting group for the week ending March 2 showed it had $44,828 in a general fund in addition to the bail fund and warned that "at our current rate of expenditure, we will be out of money in THREE WEEKS."

The report - posted on the group's website http:// - showed $1,556 had been raised that week, while $14,942 had been spent on the group's kitchen, street medics, New York City bus and subway passes, and printing costs.

Opposing Oil Sands Never 'A Charitable Act,' Senator Says

Conservatives in the Senate want to change the tax laws regarding environmental groups in Canada who protest energy projects.

According to a senior Conservative, any group that protests developing Alberta's oilsands should lose its charitable status.

"It should never be considered a charitable act to attack Canada's oilsands," said Senator Doug Finley in his speech as part of an inquiry into foreign foundations providing money to Canadian charities.

The inquiry was launched last week by Conservative Senator Nicole Eaton and is essentially a take note debate — a series of speeches by Conservative senators who are raising questions about how U.S. foundations are funnelling money into Canadian charities.

The Senate is focussing particularly on environmental charities, claim these charities use foreign money to protest everything from fish farming to expansion of the oilsands industry.

Fukushima Anniversary: How Climate Change Endangers Nuclear Safety

WASHINGTON -- A year after a 30-foot tsunami ravaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, some scientists say regulators underestimate the threat that climate change poses to nuclear power plants in the U.S.

"There are clear lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster, yet our government allows the risks to remain," said Jordan Weaver, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"It doesn't have to take an earthquake and a tsunami to trigger a severe nuclear meltdown. In addition to human error and hostile acts, more common occurrences like hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding -- all of which took place around the country last year -- could cause the same type of power failure in U.S. plants."

Nuclear reactor facilities, which need a reliable source of water for cooling purposes, are usually located near the ocean or alongside a large lake or river. There are 104 nuclear reactors at 65 sites across the U.S., nine of them located within 2 miles of the coast. That's a somewhat fraught positioning from the lens of climate science, particularly since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report from 2007 found that ocean levels are rising roughly 1.2 inches each decade, with some scientists predicting that water levels could rise by as much as a meter by the end of the century.

Bill C-10: The Debate that Wasn't

Today, the House had its final opportunity to debate Bill C-10, the Conservative omnibus crime bill. I rose to participate in the debate and began with my prospective conclusion -- that, if at the conclusion of this debate we adopt Bill C-10, we will adopt legislation that lacks an evidentiary basis in its pertinent particulars; we will be adopting legislation that is constitutionally suspect, thereby violating our obligations and inviting future Charter challenges; we will be adopting legislation for which the costs remain unknown, thereby breaching our responsibilities for the oversight of the public purse while also burdening the provinces.

If we adopt C-10, we will increase prison over-crowding -- also giving rise to Charter concerns -- while again not improving the safety of Canadians in any way. Indeed, adopting this legislation would be a betrayal of the very mandate common to all parties in this House: ensuring safe streets and communities. For we will end up, as I said when this bill was introduced -- and must reaffirm again -- with more crime, less justice, spiralling yet undisclosed costs, less rehabilitation for the offender, less protection for the victims, and less safety for our citizens.

Simply put, the entire C-10 debate -- consisting of repeated invocation of time allocation and summarily rejecting all opposition amendments -- is endemic of the government's ill-considered, unthinking, and intemperate "rush to judgment." I say "rush to judgement" because, in a sad irony, that is what this bill seeks to do. It is quick to judge non-violent offenders as needing lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

Politics breeds hypocrisy, north and south

Whited sepulchres have been around for an awfully long time.

(Jesus did have a way with words, didn't he? Or maybe it was Matthew. Either way, you won't find a more striking metaphor for hypocrisy than that image of exterior respectability, all neatly whitewashed, masking the corruption inside.)

From ancient high priests who spoke one way and acted another, to contemporary preachers of piety who prey on trusting children, public hypocrites are as common as dirt in life's passing parade.

But common as they are generally, they are even more numerous, more concentrated, in particular areas of human endeavour. Like politics.

In politics, hypocrisy is what makes things run. It's grease for the wheel. With very rare exceptions, it's simply the way things are done, with depressing regularity and mind-blowing frequency.

And it's shameless. To hang on to the power that has become their very lifeblood, its practitioners, confronted with evidence of the gap between rhetoric and reality, will look you in the eye, smile and deny, deny, deny. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," insisted affable Bill Clinton - executive-inchief, loving husband, devoted father - possibly setting new standards for low on the deceitfulness scale.

New Canadians key to Conservative fortunes: Kenney

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party would have an even stronger majority government today if new Canadians had been the only ones voting last May, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told Conservatives on Friday.

Speaking at the Manning Centre networking conference, Kenney said new Canadians in the last election cast ballots for the Conservatives in greater proportions than did other voters.

“We have gone from a 50-point deficit vis-a-vis the Liberals amongst new Canadians in 2000 to a 24-point lead in this last election,” said Kenney. “We apparently won the votes of 37 per cent of Canadians born in the country, but 42 per cent of immigrants to Canada and 43 per cent of immigrants who arrived at least 10 years ago.

“This is today’s Conservative Party. If it was just new Canadians who were voting, our majority would be even bigger.”

Canadian Charter of Rights: What is the status of press freedom in Canada?

Some 30 years ago, on a blustery, rainy day on Parliament Hill, prime minister Pierre Trudeau presided over the most significant milestone in our country since Confederation.

On that historic day when Canada’s Constitution came home — April 17, 1982 — freedom of the press was enshrined with the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 2b of the Charter explicitly states that we all have the right to “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

Do you cherish the Charter? Does Section 2b make you proud to be a Canadian?

You can be sure that most journalists will tell you they care deeply about this fundamental freedom. It is the foundation of all that we do.

Feds want private sector to plug holes in social safety net

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley says the federal government "can't do everything" to meet Canada's social challenges and is looking at the business and non-profit sectors to deliver more government services.

Speaking at a conference of Conservatives in Ottawa, Finley said millions of taxpayer dollars are spent annually on such social issues as poverty, often without substantial improvements. The federal government can no longer afford to continue spending money on the same old approaches and expect to achieve better results, she said.

"Governments can't do everything to meet our social challenges. Governments can't simply fund every demanded service without regard for the taxpayers' ability to pay," Finley said in her speech at the Manning Networking Conference, which has Conservatives from across the country in the nation's capital. "Governments can, however, facilitate and empower others to deal with social challenges." The Conservative government is considering a number of alternatives when it comes to the "social economy."

She said one is "pay-for-performance agreements" in which federal dollars are only paid when clear tar-gets are met. Such an approach would have the private sector more involved in addressing social challenges and delivering innovative solutions, she said.

Where did all the Conservatives go?

This is from some remarks I'm making Saturday morning to the Manning Centre conference, a gathering of conservatives, and Conservatives, in Ottawa.

I confess I'm not particularly interested in defining conservatism. I do not see the point of knowing whether a given idea is or is not conservative, or in asking how a conservative would respond to X or Y. This strikes me as an odd way to think about the world: to start with a box and try to make your views fit inside it.

What I believe in are a set of principles having to do with the freedom of the individual, the usefulness but not infallibility of markets, and the legitimate but limit-ed role of the state. There are, in brief, a few things we need government to do, based on well-established criteria on which there is a high degree of expert consensus. The task is simply to get government to stick to those things, rather than waste scarce resources on things that could be done as well or better by other means: that is, government should only do what only government can do.

As I say, these ideas are not novel, or controversial. Indeed, you would find support for them, to a greater or lesser degree, across the political spectrum.

Seems even Harper and Charest can't save Canada’s deadly asbestos exports

Despite Stephen Harper and Jean Charest, it appears increasingly likely Canada will export no more Quebec-mined asbestos to countries like India and Indonesia, where it could bring misery and death to those who come in contact with it. Almost all those affected would be very poor workers and their families. But to the bitter end, the two leaders have been determined to preserve Canada’s shameful record of knowingly exporting a carcinogen.

In the face of denunciations of asbestos exports by virtually all health authorities, the Prime Minister made it a point during last year’s election campaign to visit the riding held by Christian Paradis, home to one of Canada’s two last remaining asbestos mines. Both mines are now closed, but Mr. Paradis wants them re-opened. He has long been a proponent of asbestos exports, dismissing out of hand all the proven health risks as well as all the Canadians who have died hideous, prolonged deaths from exposure to the substance.

Mr. Harper has since promoted Mr. Paradis to be Industry Minister. And last June, a month after forming his majority government, he chose to celebrate St. Jean Baptiste Day in his young minister’s riding – and in the town of Thetford Mines itself, the actual home of the asbestos mine Mr. Paradis wants to see re-opened.

NDP fears Tories won’t act on pledge to strengthen elections watchdog

The Conservatives say they support an opposition motion that would strengthen Elections Canada’s power to investigate voting irregularities like the ones alleged in the robo-call affair. But New Democrats are skeptical of the government’s commitment.

The House of Commons will vote Monday on the motion by NDP MP David Christopherson that would allow the chief electoral officer to request any documents needed to ensure compliance with the Elections Act. It would also force mass-dialling companies that provide services to political parties during an election to register with Elections Canada and require their clients to be registered and verified.

When asked about the original motion, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his party is “not at all opposed to that proposal.” But, because it is non-binding, the government is not obligated to follow up with legislation.

So, for two days in a row, New Democrats have demanded to know if the government really intends to act on its motion and whether it will accept the amendment to backdate it to cover the 2011 election. And for two days they have not received a straight answer.

Opposition MPs say they’ll now think twice about accepting Canadian Forces’ invitations

The Canadian Forces’ practice of inviting opposition members of parliament to observe aircrews at work, only to later turn over details about such visits to Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s office for use in partisan attacks, could backfire on the military, warns an MP caught up in such a process.

Opposition MPs such as Liberal Scott Simms and the NDP’s Jack Harris had accepted invitations from the military to take part in flying exercises so they could gain a better understanding of defence matters, such as search-and-rescue operations.

But MacKay used details of their visits, provided by the military, to later attack Harris and Simms in the House of Commons. The two MPs had criticized MacKay after reports emerged alleging that his office summoned a search-and-rescue helicopter to transport MacKay from his vacation, and that he had racked up millions of dollars of flights on government executive jets.

MacKay countered that NDP and Liberal MPs also flew on military aircraft.

Labour peace at what cost?

Stephen Harper’s name will be praised in many Canadian homes over the March break thanks to his intervention in the Air Canada labour dispute. And no wonder. With 1.4 million people eager to fly on that airline over the next two weeks, the news that there will be no lockout of pilots or strike by mechanics and baggage handlers means relief and joy as countless vacations, as well as important business trips, are a go.

But if the government’s intrusion into this disagreement wins cheers, it also deserves closer examination because it is worrying, both on its own and as part of a pattern.

Air Canada is a private company that was involved in delicate labour negotiations with a private sector union. Under Canadian law, both of these parties have a right to go through the collective bargaining process unhindered by politicians. The government should suspend this right only under the most dire of circumstances. But the government has yet to fully or convincingly explain why it had to act as it did. Saying that a work stoppage would create massive inconvenience is no justification.

Ottawa abuses the law by forestalling Air Canada strike

The federal government’s decision to forestall another Air Canada strike will play well with the travelling public.

March break is on. A planned strike by Air Canada baggage handlers and machinists would have disrupted many a vacation.

But at the same time, the decision — nominally made by Labour Minister Lisa Raitt — is a clear abuse of the law.

Raitt took advantage of a section in the Canada Labour Code designed “to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety and health of the public.”

That section gives Ottawa the right to have a federal tribunal determine which, if any, services affected by a proposed labour disruption are essential.

The very act of making such a request prevents workers from striking and employers from imposing a lockout.

Air Canada Strike: Harper Defends Decision To Intervene

TORONTO - The federal government needed to intervene in Air Canada's labour disputes because a shutdown at the country's largest airline at a peak travel time could have taken a toll on the economy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday.

"The position of Air Canada is different," Harper said, speaking at Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport.

"It is far and away the largest airline in the country and a shutdown of service on that airline would have significant impact not only on airline service to Canadians but on the transportation system as a whole and potentially on the economy."

He said the parties need to find a way to resolve their disputes without affecting the Canadian public — a message also delivered by Labour Minister Lisa Raitt on Thursday when she blocked actions by the airline and two of its unions.

Raitt sent the disputes to the Canada Industrial Relations Board to see how a work stoppage would affect the health and safety of Canadians — a move she has used before to prevent a work stoppage by the airline's flight attendants.

Ottawa plans Air Canada back-to-work bill

The federal government has served notice that it will have back-to-work legislation on Air Canada's contract disputes ready as early as next week.

On Friday afternoon, the government served notice on parliament's order paper that it will have a bill prepared on the continuation of air services.

In an interview set to air on CBC Radio's The House program on Saturday morning, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt told host Evan Solomon that there is a mandatory 48-hour notice period for any new legislation.

So if the government wants to act early next week when a lockout deadline between the airline and its 3,000 pilots was originally set to expire, Ottawa must move swiftly to introduce the bill. The airline's 8,600 ground staff, which includes mechanics, baggage handlers and cargo agents, had also threatened to go on strike beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, March 12.

"We wanted to make sure at least we had something," Raitt said in the interview.

Ottawa readies Air Canada back-to-work bill

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt is preparing back-to-work legislation as a precautionary measure to ensure Air Canada’s flight schedule is protected from disruptions by the airline’s employees.

Her move Friday comes a day after she referred two Air Canada (AC.B-T0.950.011.06%) labour disputes to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, a manoeuvre that blocked ground crew from going on strike and thwarted management’s notice to lock out pilots.

“The Minister has placed a bill on the order paper,” Ashley Kelahear, a spokeswoman for Ms. Raitt, confirmed on Friday.

While it’s unclear when the bill might be tabled in the House of Commons, industry observers say Ottawa’s intent is to guard against any developments that might allow Air Canada employees to walk off their jobs.

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers had planned to begin their strike at 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday, while the pilots’ union faced being frozen out the same day.

Robocalls: Preston Manning Condemns Voter Suppression Calls

The patriarch of the modern-day conservative movement in Canada is calling for better ethical training for campaign workers in the wake of the robocall scandal.

But one-time Reform party leader Preston Manning also cautions against pointing the finger for the scandal at the Tories, saying the problem is much broader.

Manning condemned the idea of campaigns using robocalls to harass voters or divert them to the wrong polls.

"I've spent my life trying to get people to participate more in the political system and trying to vote more," he told reporters on the sidelines of a conservative conference sponsored by his Centre for Democracy.

"And the fact that there would be people out trying to work in the opposite direction is deplorable."

Elections Canada is investigating instances of voters being directed to non-existent polls in the riding of Guelph, Ont., and a Conservative party worker connected to the campaign there has since resigned.

Ex-Tory riding execs question Fantino's election finances

Three former members of the Conservative riding association in Vaughan, Ont., are asking Elections Canada to investigate the campaign's finances.

In sworn affidavits, Richard Lorello, Tracey Kent and Carrie Liddy allege possible irregularities in Julian Fantino's 2010 byelection and 2011 election campaigns.

Fantino won both with massive support from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and that of several cabinet ministers who visited the riding to lend assistance. Fantino is now in the cabinet as the associate minister of national defence, managing military procurement files.

"Quite honestly, having looked at all the documentation having to do with the Fantino campaign, I can't follow the money," Richard Lorello, who worked on Fantino's campaign, told CBC News.

The former Toronto police chief won by 964 votes in the 2010 byelection in 2010 and was re-elected in May 2011 with a margin of more than 18,000 votes.

Guelph Tory worker cancels meeting with Elections Canada investigator

On the advice of his lawyer, a key player in the 2011 Conservative campaign for Guelph is refusing to answer more questions from Elections Canada investigators probing fraudulent robo-calls in the riding.

Andrew Prescott, the deputy campaign manager for Conservative candidate Marty Burke, has already conducted one telephone interview with Elections Canada investigator Al Mathews.

But a source says Mr. Prescott cancelled a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Mathews that had been scheduled for Thursday in Guelph, Ont.

His lawyer advised Mr. Prescott against taking the meeting because of intense media focus on his role in the 2011 campaign, the source says.

Mr. Prescott’s decision could potentially slow down Election Canada’s efforts in the robo-calls probe but the watchdog has been gathering evidence for months from sources as varied as PayPal and telephone companies.

Elections Canada urged to investigate Fantino

Three former members of Vaughan’s Conservative riding association have asked Elections Canada to investigate the campaign finances of Tory MP Julian Fantino.

In sworn affidavits filed with Elections Canada, Richard Lorello, Tracey Kent and Carrie Liddy allege that there were irregularities in Fantino’s 2010 by-election and 2011 election campaigns.

The three former riding association members allege that Fantino’s fundraising chair, Sam Ciccolini, said at a January 2011 meeting that there was a second bank account belonging to the campaign that contained more than $300,000.

It is against election rules to have more than one campaign bank account.

A spokesman for Fantino dismissed any idea of wrongdoing.

“Any information suggesting the existence of a second election bank account is incorrect,” spokesman Chris McCluskey said in an email.

Robocalls: It’s time to call in the courts

The robocall affair puts us at the brink of crisis in our electoral democracy. Yet there appears to be an effort to stifle public outrage, and resolve any doubts in favour of the government, at this still-early stage in the affair. This effort traces to the Harper government, unfortunately, but also to some media commentators.

The fire brigade’s argument goes something like this. One, there is no evidence that the Conservative Party took part in the robocall affair. Two, there are few ridings in which Conservative victory is in doubt. Three, in any event, the overall federal election result is beyond question. All of these points are inaccurate or misleading. They point to a lack of concern for the integrity of the democratic process.

First, it is much too early to judge how many ridings were affected, and to what extent, by the fraudulent telephone interventions in the voting process. These interventions — both robocalls and live calls — are now associated with Conservative Party agents based on a range of reported information, including from Conservative sources. The information includes, among other things, the content and targeting of the robocalls and live calls, the past connections of RackNine to the Conservatives, the resignation of Conservative operative Michael Sona, and publicly reported statements of Sona.