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.]

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Diminished Canada

CBC's announcement that it is withdrawing from foreign-language broadcasting in two of the four BRIC countries is just another nail in the coffin for Canadian internationalism.

Over the past few days, there has been some commentary in the mainstream and electronic media about the hard reality of this country’s ever-diminishing place in the world.

Still, such observations have not produced the groundswell of resistance that they warrant among Canadians. For reasons that I tried to assess earlier, this is not entirely surprising.

Moreover, a considerable part of this inattention might be attributed to the sideswiping of any detailed analysis of last week’s budget by the Apr. 3 release of the auditor-general’s bombshell report detailing the epic mismanagement of the F-35 fighter procurement file. The auditor-general has exposed vastly more wastage of public funds on that misbegotten project than the total amount that will be saved as a result of all of the new cuts being imposed upon the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Harper’s air-safety lapses scarier than F-35 cock-up

The most dramatic revelation from Canada’s auditor general is the story of the F-35 cock-up. No question.

But the most worrying — and telling — portion of Tuesday’s report by Michael Ferguson is his description of the Conservative government’s chillingly casual approach to air safety.

Casual because this government has no use for regulation and is going out of its way to cut what it calls red tape.

Chilling because when governments don’t bother to regulate air safety, planes crash.

Ferguson is quick to point out that we haven’t hit the disaster point yet. In fact, the number of air accidents overall has fallen in the past two years, thanks largely to a reduction in incidents involving small carriers.

But he also notes that:

 • In contravention of its own rules, the government failed to inspect two-thirds of so-called high-risk aviation companies last year;

 • Most of the inspections it did make were flawed;

Katimavik killed for 'ideological' reasons, Trudeau says

The Katimavik youth program, which provides thousands of hours of volunteer service in vulnerable communities and gives young Canadians work experience, is being cut because it was created by a Liberal government, Liberal MP Justin Trudeau says.

The elimination of the program, created in 1977 under the government of Trudeau's father, Pierre Trudeau, was announced in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's March 29 budget. The program sends 1,100 young people to volunteer with local partner agencies in communities across the country.

The budget said the government would instead continue to "fund programs that benefit large numbers of young people at a reasonable cost rather than concentrating available funding on a very small number of participants at an excessive per-person cost."

But Trudeau took aim at that argument Thursday, comparing Katimavik's $14-million annual funding to the $207-million Canadian Cadets program under the Department of Defence, which he called a "wonderful" program that had not been cut. Katimavik's cost of $2,000 per month per participant compares favourably with the cadets program's monthly cost of $4,000 per participant, he said.

Trudeau said the government's own review of the Katimavik program described it as valuable and a fit with the government's priorities.

A-G shreds Harper's fig leaf of deniability on F-35 debacle

So that's it then: They knew and they lied. To Parliament. To all of us.

If Auditor General Michael Ferguson's word is to be believed — and there is no reason to think that it isn't — then the federal cabinet and by extension the prime minister, and not just the anonymous gnomes in the Department of National Defence, are directly on the hook for the F-35 boondoggle, in the most egregious sense.

They knew before the last federal election that the jets would cost billions more than had been stated by DND — at least $10-billion more, around $25.1-billion. They allowed the department to publicly table an estimate of $14.7-billion.

"I can't speak to individuals who knew it, but it was information that was prepared by National Defence," Ferguson told reporters Thursday. "It's certainly my understanding that that would have been information that, yes, the government would have had."

He continued: "That $25-billion number was something I think that at that time was known to government." And, critically: "It would have been primarily members of the executive, yes."

Canada Gas Prices Could Hit $1.60 Soon: BMO

Canadians already hit with gas price shock could soon be paying even more at the pumps due to supply problems and the possibility of conflict in the Middle East, the Bank of Montreal says.

Gas prices across Canada jumped from an average of $1.20 in January to around $1.40 this week. That was the average pump price in Toronto this week, and in Montreal prices are hovering around $1.47. They are now 8 per cent higher than they were at this time last year, even though oil prices are slightly lower than they were in April of 2011.

The risk of gas prices hitting $1.60 per litre are “not insignificant,” BMO Capital Markets senior economist Sal Gualtieri wrote in a note Thursday.

"Although crude oil prices are expected to hover near $100 a barrel in the year ahead, the risk of a near-term spike is elevated due to potential supply disruptions," he wrote.

At the same time, oil speculators -- investors who buy oil in order to sell it at a higher price later -- are driving up oil prices beyond what the market would normally sustain.

Oil trading analyst Jim Ritterbusch told the Globe and Mail there is a near-record number of speculative contracts on the oil market right now, who are trying to cash in on supply problems caused by struggling U.S. refineries.

5 Things To Know About Public Service Job Cuts

In a company town like Ottawa, chatter at parties and coffee shops frequently turns to what's going on with the employer. Right now in the capital, conversations between public servants, who are already adept at speaking in acronyms, revolve around WFA and DRAP — workforce adjustment and deficit reduction action plan.

The federal public service is going to lose 19,200 jobs over the next three years as part of the government’s plan to balance the budget by 2015-16. While more information is starting to be released since Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled his budget a week ago, there’s a lot of uncertainty around the cuts. Here are five things you should know about them.

Notification doesn’t mean unemployment

Workers will be notified early this month if they are "affected" by the cuts and the date the position would end. But getting an affected notice doesn’t necessarily mean that person will be unemployed: the government expects 7,000 of the 19,200 job cuts to go through attrition as people who would normally be retiring or otherwise departing the public service move on. That will leave some affected positions or workers safe.

Stopping Climate Change Is Much Cheaper Than You Think

You've heard it before: Politicians say they'd love to take action against climate change, but they're reeling from the sticker shock. Today, a new report from the United Kingdom's leading climate change watchdog refutes the oft-cited argument that climate action will herald economic Armageddon.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report, with the hairy-sounding title "Statutory Advice on Inclusion of International Aviation and Shipping," says that in 2050, the UK's emissions reductions across the whole economy will cost 1 to 2 percent of the total GDP. This updates, in greater detail, the range predicted half a decade ago by the watershed Stern Review.

Just how much is that? For a rough comparison, 1 percent of the UK's 2011 GDP is a little more than what the country currently spends on public housing and community amenities and is no where near the big-ticket public spending items like health care.

The United Kingdom has enshrined in law an emissions reduction of 80 percent on 1990 levels by 2050.

"It's a very compelling economic case to act," says David Kennedy, CEO of the CCC, an independent statutory body charged with advising parliament on all things climate. "You don't need radical behavior and lifestyle change to achieve our climate objectives."

Why We Should Stop Giving Handouts to Oil and Gas Companies

Along with "fivedollaragallongas," the energy watchword for the next few months is: "subsidies." Last week, for instance, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez proposed ending some of the billions of dollars in handouts enjoyed by the fossil-fuel industry with a "Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act." It was, in truth, nothing to write home about—a curiously skimpy bill that only targeted oil companies, and just the five richest of them at that. Left out were coal and natural gas, and you won't be surprised to learn that even then it didn't pass.

Still, President Obama is now calling for an end to oil subsidies at every stop on his early presidential-campaign-plus-fundraising blitz—even at those stops where he's also promising to "drill everywhere." And later this month Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will introduce a much more comprehensive bill that tackles all fossil fuels and their purveyors (and has no chance whatsoever of passing this Congress).

Whether or not the bill passes, those subsidies are worth focusing on. After all, we're talking at least $10 billion in freebies and, depending on what you count, possibly as much as $40 billion annually in freebie cash for an energy industry already making historic profits. If attacking them is a convenient way for the White House to deflect public anger over rising gas prices, it is also a perfect fit for the new worldview the Occupy movement has been teaching Americans. (Not to mention, if you think about it, the Tea Party focus on deficits.) So count on one thing: we'll be hearing a lot more about them this year.

Elizabeth Warren: Yes She Can?

It was a grim, sleety day in Chicopee, a gritty postindustrial town in western Massachusetts, where paint flakes off worn-out bridges and boarded-up factories. At a community relations luncheon, kind security guards were opening back doors and holding out umbrellas for the few willing to brave the freezing slush. This was not a campaign stop, we reporters were told decisively by Alice Buckner, the business and community liaison at the nonpartisan, federally funded Westover Job Corps Center. If Elizabeth Warren showed up, she would be visiting with students, not campaigning.

Around us, upbeat young Jobs Corps enrollees—ages 16 to 24, brown and black and white, skinny and fat, tattooed and pierced and dyed—were setting up the room and the banquet table. Among our handouts were heartbreaking student essays about choosing jobs over drugs; gastric bypass surgery over helplessness; and overcoming bullying by practicing the new skills of energy, enthusiasm and hard work.

Chicopee’s mayor, Michael Bissonnette, took the podium to tell the students that he had grown up in the projects, and he knew their biggest problem—themselves. They had to look themselves in the mirror each day and say, “I can do it.” Then he introduced his “good friend” Elizabeth Warren, who was running for US Senate and who had something to say about all this.

Two Years After Upper Big Branch, Why Does Regulation Remain Weak?

Today marks two years since an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia killed twenty-nine of the thirty-one workers inside. The blast occurred, investigators later said, because mine operator Massey Energy flouted even basic federal safeguards. “A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coal fields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk taking,” read a report last year from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The MSHA report faulted the agency itself, as well, for continually allowing Massey to ignore a wide array of crucial safety rules. Regulators found an astonishing 515 violations in the years leading up to the explosion, yet refused to issue a flagrant violation citation which might have forced the company to change its practices—a failure that report described as “disturbing.” The MHSA also failed to notify miners they were working in mines that didn’t meet minimum safety standards.

Most gallingly, despite three methane-related explosions at Upper Big Branch since 1997—the same cause as the final catastrophic explosion—federal regulators “did not compel (or to our knowledge even ask) UBB management to implement” safety measures.

Massey has since reached a large settlement with the Department of Justice, and was bought by a competitor. But unfortunately, there have been no large scale changes at MSHA. Democrats introduced a bill in 2010 that would increase penalties for violations, expand whistleblower protection for miners and give federal regulators more power to enter mines and issue subpoenas—but Republicans killed it.

George Zimmerman Supporter Sprays 'Long Live Zimmerman' On Wall At Ohio State University

George Zimmerman, the Florida man who told police he shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in self-defense, has become a flashpoint figure for those calling for Zimmerman's arrest. But he’s also rallied a legion of supporters of his own.

Commenters on various websites have come to his defense. Right-wing columnists and bloggers have launched what critics say is a “smear campaign” against Martin, painting him as a thug and drug dealer. And Thursday morning, the words “Long Live Zimmerman” were found spray-painted on the side of Ohio State University’s black cultural center.

“Just learned of vandalism at our Hale Center. Deplorable act of intolerance – not who we are at Ohio State. Our Police are investigating,” E. Gordon Gee, the school’s president, tweeted Thursday morning, referring to the graffiti found at The Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center. The center is housed in Hale Hall and is part of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Gee is expected to make a public statement about the vandalism later Thursday, according to The Lantern, the university’s newspaper.

American Legislative Exchange Council, Ultra-Conservative Lobby, Loses 2 Major Funders

WASHINGTON -- Succumbing to pressure from public interest groups, Coca Cola and Pepsico have severed their ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an ultra-conservative lobby group that has pushed so-called Stand Your Ground gun legislation and voter-identification bills through state legislatures across the country.

Public interest groups, including and Campus Progress, have long been trying to break up the powerful alliance between corporations minding their financial interests and conservative activists pursuing a right-wing social agenda.

The shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, whose assailant has to date avoided charges due in part to Florida's Stand Your Ground law, has brought new attention to the controversial law and the seminal role that ALEC, which is corporate funded, played in getting such bills passed.

Consumer-facing corporations are of course the most susceptible to public pressure. Other familiar brands still on ALEC's Private Enterprise Board include Walmart, State Farm and AT&T.

Job Market Recovery Led By Low-Wage Sectors

The job market these days is sort of like that old Catskills joke: The food is terrible, and the portions are so small.

The jobs are lousy, and there aren't enough of them.

More than half of all the jobs created during the past six months have been in low-paying industries such as retail and temporary help, Joseph Brusuelas, senior economist at Bloomberg LP, noted on Thursday.

That helps explain why wage growth hasn't kept up with inflation, despite the economy having created 1.2 million jobs in the past six months.

"Those low-wage paying jobs are not translating into better spending," Brusuelas said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

Friday morning, when those of us lucky enough to have jobs will probably be on vacation, and even Wall Street's trading robots will have a much-needed day off, the Labor Department will release the jobs report for March.

Denying Same-Sex Insurance Benefits Discriminates, Federal Judge Rules

SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge in San Francisco says the denial of insurance benefits to same-sex spouses is discriminatory.

The ruling Tuesday involves 38-year-old federal court law clerk Christopher Nathan and 39-year-old Thomas Alexander, who were married in 2008 when same-sex marriages were legal in California. Voters later approved Proposition 8, overturning the state Supreme Court ruling that had legalized same-sex marriages.

Nathan was turned down when he tried last year to enroll Alexander in the federal government's health insurance plan. A 1996 law bars federal recognition of same-sex unions.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: AP

Rise in justifiable homicides linked to weak gun control laws

Rising numbers of civilian justifiable homicides across the US are closely linked to states with both weak gun controls and stand-your-ground laws, according to a Guardian analysis of FBI and other data, which show a 25% increase in such killings since the controversial self-defence laws started being introduced around 2005.

Stand-your-ground (SYG) measures, which have attracted increasing scrutiny since the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Florida, allow citizens to use deadly force when they believe their life is in danger, without requiring them to retreat or try to escape the threat first.

Florida was the first state to introduce an SYG law in 2005 and similar measures have now been adopted in some form by more than 20 states. Many were passed in 2006.

The Trayvon Martin case has led to calls for the SYG laws to be reviewed or repealed.

But the Guardian analysis shows that these measures alone cannot be statistically linked with the rise in justifiable homicides. However, in states with both SYG laws and the weakest gun controls – as defined by the Brady Campaign against gun violence – we found a statistical correlation with an increase in justifiable homicides.

Stand Up For Your Budget, Paul Ryan

Given the nature of partisan politics, it’s inevitable that people’s reaction to the speech President Obama gave yesterday about Paul Ryan’s budget will be not just shaped, but largely determined, by their political views—Republicans will see it as an example of what the Wall Street Journal called “dishonest political abuse” while Democrats will see it as necessary truth-telling. (Amy Davidson and John Cassidy have more on the speech.) And since my take on Ryan’s budget (which I wrote about in the magazine this week) is very similar to Obama’s, it’s hardly surprising that I fall into the latter camp. But what I really think about the speech is that even if you completely disagree with the political views that Obama enunciated in it—which were, on the whole, traditional center-liberal views about the value of government and the welfare state—you should see it as a real improvement on the way most American political debate is conducted. This was a speech that engaged directly and honestly with the positions Ryan set forth in his budget, made clear exactly where the fundamental disagreements between the two parties are located, and in effect asked voters to choose between them.

The Great Economy Versus Environment Myth

To many people the most prominent debate of the day is seemingly between the economy and the environment, and in today's economic climate the health of the economy is often deemed more important.

Environmentalism, in some circles, is still thought to be only about protecting trees and cuddly animals instead of trying to protect the environmental conditions necessary to ensure the health of people all over the world. While environmentalists and environmental NGOs actually spend a great deal of time studying and reporting on how climate change will impact human and economic health, many people consider environmentalists to be critical and dismissive of any type of resource extraction or energy production and as never giving a thought to job creation or the impact environmental regulations would have on the profitability of certain industries.

In similar fashion, any action taken to protect the environment is seen by many as detrimental to the health of the economy. In the short term this perception is often correct: stricter pollution regulations hurt the profitability of companies and decrease the speed at which they are able to expand their operations while renewable energy is, at the moment, more costly to produce and will need continued government support to become as viable as its more polluting alternatives.

The problem with this perception is that the economy and environment are not in opposition with one another. In fact, environmental issues are not separate from any issue we face but actually a component of them all. You cannot combat poverty, disease, or suffering without a stable climate and a healthy environment for which people to live in and you cannot improve a struggling economy either.

Election Scandals Didn't Start With Robocalls

Lately, a lot of allegations have been made that there were election irregularities and some outright crimes committed in the 2011 election. What we do not know is who was responsible.

But we may be dealing with a serial offender, or offenders. When one thinks about the election skulduggery of the last six years, it is clear that Canada does a poor job of getting to the bottom of some serious crimes.

Here's a short list of the ones that still bother me. They remain unsolved.

    RCMP interference in the 2006 election. (Remember Zaccardelli issuing a press release about looking into NDP charges that the Liberals had leaked details about the income trust taxation issue? There was nothing to it, but it arguably changed the outcome of the election.) Issuing a press release in an election campaign was a violation of RCMP normal practice. Naming a finance minister in the release was unheard of. The Public Complaints Commission for the RCMP, under its director Paul Kennedy, tried to question former RCMP Commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli. Zaccardelli refused to be questioned and Kennedy lacked subpoena powers. No one knows if there was any political involvement, inducement, or pay-off involved. Zaccardelli is now a senior Interpol officer in Lyon, France.

    How hard did the Conservatives try to bring down the Martin government in spring 2005? Did the effort include the offer of a million dollar life insurance policy to Chuck Cadman? It was alleged, there was a tape. What happened to the investigation? If it happened, it was illegal.

Women's groups outraged over exclusion from Senate hearings on long-gun registry

Women's groups say they were shut out of Senate committee hearings about the repeal of the long-gun registry, legislation they say will only increase gun violence against women.

The bill to kill the registry passed its final vote in the Senate Wednesday evening by a vote of 50 to 27, and will likely be given royal assent Thursday.

While a number of women's groups were invited to testify at the House of Commons hearings on controversial bill, their requests to be heard at the chamber of sober second thought were denied.

"This blatant exclusion is extremely troubling," said Brenda Wallace, president of the Canadian Federation of University Women. "Women's organizations were shut out completely"

Wallace said the government did not conduct a "gender-based analysis" of Bill C-19's impact, but should have.

"We believe it is extremely important for the Senate to hear from all groups affected by the changes in this legislation and take steps to address their concerns, particularly those of women experiencing violence," she said. "Failing to do so shows that they have not done their due diligence."

What does Rob Ford want to do until 2014?

Not even Mayor Rob Ford’s closest allies know what he wants to accomplish over the next 2½ years.

“I couldn’t say with certainty what’s going to come in the future,” Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said in an interview. “I’ve not talked to him about what he’s planning to bring forward. As far as I know, I don’t think there are very many major — I think he’d like to get that bag tax out of the way, I think that’s one thing. Other than that, I’m not sure what’ll happen. There are others that want to do things.”

For better or worse, Ford’s left-leaning predecessor, David Miller, pursued an ambitious city-building policy program. Ford, who ran as a folksy government-shrinker, made his campaign platform deliberately thin.

After a hard-driving 16 months in office, he has already delivered on several of his campaign promises (abolishing the vehicle tax, cutting councillors’ office budgets, outsourcing garbage collection, reducing spending, standing tough against city unions). He has failed to deliver on others (extending the Sheppard subway, uncovering vast quantities of wasteful “gravy”).