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.]

Sunday, May 13, 2012

B.C. judge at wits’ end, compares Gitxsan protests to Caledonia

Rarely has a judge been as blunt and outspoken in his condemnation of police and government and their reluctance to enforce the rule of law in this country. In fact, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan is so frustrated with the RCMP’s unwillingness to end an aboriginal blockade in the northern part of the province, he compared the situation to one of the most notorious native standoffs in Canadian history – Caledonia.

And underlying the judge’s remarks is the often tenuous relationship that exists between first nations and a common law that can be foreign to their way of doing business.

Mr. Justice McEwan made his pointed observations at a recent hearing into the occupation of the offices of the Gitxsan Treaty Society – the ruling body of the Gitxsan First Nation – that has been under way in Hazelton, B.C. since Dec. 5. It was ignited over an endorsement of the planned Enbridge pipeline project that a society member unilaterally entered into with the company.

Russia Opposition Protests: Anti-Putin Demonstrators March In Moscow

MOSCOW -- Prominent Russian novelists and poets led a street protest by more than 10,000 people in Moscow on Sunday without obtaining the required permit, and police did not intervene.

The demonstrators skirted the law by remaining silent and carrying no posters, even though the demonstration had clearly been organized as an anti-President Vladimir Putin rally.

The gathering was the latest of several impromptu protests that have taken place in Moscow since Putin's inauguration Monday, held by people unhappy that he is the country's formal leader once again.

Lyudmila Ulitskaya, a best-selling author whose books have been translated internationally, lauded Moscow authorities for their restraint on Sunday.

Spain's Indignados mark anniversary with anti-austerity mobilizations

Yesterday marked the beginning of the celebration of the one-year anniversary of the Indignados movement in Spain, which helped to inspire Occupy Wall Street and like-minded efforts in many North American cities. Hundreds of thousands are participating in actions across Spain over the next few days, including some attempts at 're-occupation' of public squares, to mark the anniversary and to protest the Spanish government's austerity agenda.

Archana Rampure is in Spain and recently completed a three-part report for on May Day there. She offers a firsthand account of Saturday's mobilization in Granada.

The call from the 15-M folks for Granada was for people to gather at 9pm in the Plaza del Carmen, which is a small square across from Granada City Hall.

Bill C-38: the Environmental Destruction Act

Usually when the Harper Conservatives bring in a new law, there is a big roll-out. The prime minister or one of his heavy-hitters goes to a prime location, usually not Parliament Hill. A factory or a mall or a friendly backyard. Tens of thousands are routinely spent on a "branding" of the new act. There are banners and public relations firms to design the whole package.

Unlike the laws I used to study in law school, laws with names that sound like statutes, Stephen Harper's proposed legislation must go through focus group testing for the most "election-ready" phrasing. For example, the omnibus crime bill which brought in mandatory minimum sentences and a plethora of moves decried by every criminologist and bar society was christened the "Safe Streets and Communities Act." And Bill C-36, an act of all of four paragraphs amending one sub-section of the Criminal Code in relation to sentencing people convicted of assault (to allow taking into account age of the victim) was given a fabulously overblown title -- "Protecting Canada's Seniors Act."  

Tough on Crime? Not When It Comes to Workplace Deaths

At 5:18 a.m. on Saturday, May 9, 1992 the Westray coal mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia, exploded, killing all 26 miners who were underground at the time. Fifteen bodies were eventually recovered but 11 still remain underground as the mine was sealed after repeated extraction attempts proved too dangerous. This tragic and preventable incident devastated the Atlantic communities where the miners and their families lived and these communities have never recovered.

The company that owned and operated the mine, Curragh Resources, knowingly ignored safety protocols and procedures, removed safety training and equipment and exhibited criminal negligence towards mines inspections even after several incidents of roof collapse prior to the horrific events of May 9. After the incident several letters and statements from concerned union officials and politicians were shown to warn that unless immediate action was taken to address the high concentrations of coal dust something terrible would happen. Unfortunately all these warnings and indicators went unheeded or ignored by the company and disaster ensued.

Jamie Dimon On Meet The Press: We Were 'Dead Wrong' To Dismiss Trading Concerns

NEW YORK -- The CEO of JPMorgan Chase, which disclosed a $2 billion loss last week, said he was "dead wrong" when he dismissed concerns about the bank's trading last month.

CEO Jamie Dimon said he did not know the extent of the problem when he said in April that the concerns were a "tempest in a teapot." After the bank reported the trading loss, investors shaved almost 10 percent off the bank's stock price.

"We made a terrible, egregious mistake," Dimon said in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." `'There's almost no excuse for it."

The $2 billion loss came in the past six weeks. Dimon has said it came from trading in so-called credit derivatives and was designed to hedge against financial risk, not to make a profit for the bank.

Polishing our sales pitch - In promoting oilsands, Alberta must prove it's cleaning up its act

For all the change that Premier Alison Redford has promised to bring to Alberta politics, one constant remains: Fighting with Ottawa.

Or, more precisely, claiming to be the victim in a tussle with Ottawa.

Just about every premier of Alberta has at some point improved his standing in the public opinion polls by picking a fight with the federal government, or complaining that we were the victim in a fight with the federal government. Most famous was Peter Lougheed's battle with the Trudeau Liberals over the National Energy Program, but Alberta politicians have managed to get riled up with head-popping frequency no matter which party was in power federally. And it didn't matter if the slight against Alberta was real or imagined.

Plan to cut inmates’ pay will accomplish nothing

Last week Vic Toews, minister of public safety, announced that the Harper government intends to “restore balance” to the criminal justice system and increase “offender accountability,” by taking measures to reduce the amount of income prisoners can earn while incarcerated.

Before moving forward with the proposed wage restrictions, perhaps Toews and Prime Minister Stephen Harper should review the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), which states that prisoners retain all rights and privileges of Canadians except those that are necessarily removed as a consequence of one’s sentence. The current state of inmate pay violates the Canadian Labour Code and prisoners’ rights to fair and equitable wages. These provisions are consistent with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which states that prisoners shall not be used as labourers without equitable pay.

Researcher questions impartiality of industry-backed oilsands education program

EDMONTON - An industry-funded program that offers high school teachers a six-day trip to Fort McMurray to "experience Alberta's oilsands" is being expanded across the country.

While the operators of Inside Education say they work hard to ensure their programming offers plenty of balance, others say informing educators about controversial developments shouldn't be left to those with most to gain from them.

"It's always billed as being free, but what's being sold is a positive image of an industry that's controversial," said Andrew Hodgkins, a University of Alberta researcher who has published on the issue of corporate involvement in education.

B.C. premier rejects Mulcair's oilsands comments

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is firing back at federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, calling his stance on the oilsands "goofy."

Clark told CBC Radio's The House that Mulcair's comments about the negative economic impact of Western Canada's resource sector on provinces that rely heavily on manufacturing don't make sense.

"I really thought that type of thinking was discredited and it had been discredited for a long time. It's so backwards," Clark said. "I think that's just goofy."

Clark was responding to an interview with the NDP leader on CBC Radio's The House last week. Mulcair told host Evan Solomon that the resource sector in Western Canada is driving up the dollar artificially and straining the manufacturing sector in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Harper is the anti-Trudeau

While the 15th and 22nd prime ministers actually have their similarities, it seems Harper has devoted himself to dismantling what was left of Trudeau’s legacy.

It seems every Canadian political columnist passed judgment on the one-year anniversary of Harper’s majority government. But, oddly enough, the punditry on the man and his vision were all over the map. To some he is an authoritarian with a bully club in his right hand, but to others just a hard-nosed PM maintaining party unity. To some he’s a principled radical and to others a moderate populist.

I have a different take. If you want to understand Stephen Harper, think Pierre Trudeau.

It’s hard to believe that Harper was once a Liberal campaign volunteer, but, somewhere in the early 1980s, Harper embraced a political mission to undo the damage that Trudeau inflicted on the country and to destroy the Liberal party in the process.

Greece's Tsipras refuses to join pro-bailout government

Greek radical left leader Alexis Tsipras says he will not join or support a pro-bailout coalition government because he cannot agree to what he terms a mistake. His continued refusal makes new elections in the crisis-struck country more likely.

Tsipras made the comments Sunday after attending a meeting convened by President Karolos Papoulias with the head of the conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK parties.

Papoulias is making a last-ditch effort to broker an agreement and break the deadlock created by last weekend's elections, which left no party with enough parliamentary seats to form a government.

If no deal is reached, Greece must hold new elections next month, prolonging the political uncertainty and endangering the country's euro membership.

Why Ontario’s doctors won’t win fight on fees

Remember that warm and fuzzy ad campaign depicting doctors in white coats, sporting stethoscopes and smiles?

Doctors aren’t smiling any more.

That feel-good branding exercise, part of a year-long charm offensive by the Ontario Medical Association just ahead of fee negotiations, has faded from bus shelters. Now, doctors find themselves sheltering from a perfect storm that is branding them as the fall guys.

It’s not just the governing Liberals taking a hard line, but the opposition Tories demanding a blanket freeze and New Democrats wanting to make the rich pay. With public servants taking a hit, the healing profession is feeling everyone’s fiscal pain.

This time, the writing was on the wall before both sides even sat down at the table. Cabinet approved its final negotiating “mandate” in February for doctors — and teachers: No spending increases.

MacKay denies DND obscured info on military spending

Defence Minister Peter MacKay is denying the Department of National Defence tried to hide details of its military spending by quietly awarding a $105-million contract to a German company to build armoured vehicles.

Speaking exclusively to CTV's Question Period, MacKay said information about the project was readily available online.

"That information was on a DND and Public Works website for three years," MacKay said in an interview that will air Sunday. "It was released accurately in detail at the time … and suggestions otherwise are simply false."

However, critics say that DND's website did not include an announcement that the contract was awarded to the German firm FFG. A notice about the deal was posted in April on an industry website where companies can bid on government work.

Mitt Romney: Bank Of America Protesters Too Young 'To Really Understand' Economy

Mitt Romney said the protesters rallying against Bank of America in Charlotte this week are too young "to really understand how the economy works."

“Unfortunately, a lot of young folks haven’t had the opportunity to really understand how the economy works, and what it takes to put people to work in real jobs, and why we have banks, and what banks do," Romney told WBTV in Charlotte, according to National Journal. "It's a very understandable sentiment if you don't find a job, and you can’t see rising incomes. You're going to be angry and looking at someone to blame."

Romney said the protesters' blame should be targeted at "the president and the old school liberals that have not gotten this economy turned around." He made a not-so-subtle 2012 push, insisting he's the one who "understands how to get the economy going again."

Don't Buy the Spin: How Cutting the Pentagon's Budget Could Boost the Economy

Should the enormous US military budget—which is more than double the combined levels of military spending by China, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and Germany—be cut? This question is finally on the table, thanks to the winding down of combat activities in Iraq and Afghanistan and to Washington’s obsession with tamping down the federal deficits that have arisen from the Great Recession. Many who would like to protect the military from the budget knife raise economic arguments to make their case: Won’t cutting military spending be bad for jobs, just when we need to maintain focus on reducing unemployment? Won’t it threaten the country’s long-term technological capabilities?

The matter assumed increased urgency in November after the Congressional supercommittee failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan. This failure set in motion an agenda for automatic cuts—or “sequestration” of funds—from military and nonmilitary budgets beginning in January 2013. According to the sequestration scenario, absent the adoption of a large-scale deficit-cutting plan, military and nonmilitary spending would face $55 billion per year in automatic cuts over a decade, relative to previously established spending levels. If Congress and the White House devise a way to exempt the Pentagon from the automatic cuts—as seems increasingly likely—the cuts will instead be taken from healthcare, education, social spending, infrastructure and the environment.

Harper's ambassador to China set to leave post

Canada’s Ambassador to China is set to leave his post, ending a transformative era in bilateral relations with the Asian economic superpower and tasking the Harper government with a major challenge to appoint a successor able to build on those strong diplomatic gains.

David Mulroney will leave the Canadian embassy in Beijing before the end of the summer, according to several sources familiar with the matter.

Mr. Mulroney’s exit comes at a critical juncture in Sino-Canadian relations, and the government’s choice of his replacement will be heavily scrutinized in both Ottawa and Beijing. As China’s political and economic importance has increased, international relations experts and academics have suggested that the job be a political appointment similar to that of Canada’s ambassador to the United States, rather than one drawn from the diplomatic ranks.

Thousands of National Defence jobs at risk in shakeup

The federal government has quietly announced a major shakeup at National Defence, a move that will largely return the military to its pre-Afghan combat mission structure, and possibly shed thousands of jobs.

The restructuring of commands will see the headquarters that manage domestic, international and support operations merged into one structure.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the overhaul is built on some lessons learned from the Afghan, Libyan and Olympic operations.

MacKay says the new headquarters, known as Canadian Joint Operations Command, will be responsible for conducting all military missions at home and abroad at the best cost to taxpayers.

Tori Stafford's family celebrates as Rafferty found guilty on all charges

Elation swept through London’s downtown courthouse and spilled out into the street Friday evening as a jury convicted Michael Rafferty of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford.

Spectators hugged and burst into applause, passing motorists honked their horns and Tori’s parents both wept after Mr. Rafferty stood in the prisoner’s box and listened to the foreman pronounce him guilty on all three counts shortly after 9 p.m.

As Rodney Stafford, Tori’s father, stepped from the courthouse into a warm spring evening, he was mobbed by supporters and cheered: “Yeah!”

“We got it. We got justice!” he said, his eyes welling up with tears as he held up a photograph of his daughter. “And it was all for this little girl right here. And not just for Tori but for every little child in Canada who doesn’t deserve what happened to her. Victoria!”

From one battlefield to another

Every generation updates and renews the values that make us who we are. I once found it hard to truly understand what those in my grandfather’s generation meant when they spoke of making the ultimate sacrifice in wartime to allow their loved ones back home to live in a democracy.

Until, that is, I myself almost lost it all in a remote village in Afghanistan on behalf of the values that make us Canadian, values that I now see as under threat not by a foreign force, but by a domestic one.

Compared with others who did make the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, like my friend Bill Turner, who took my place in the field, my story has been well publicized.

On March 4, 2006, I was part of the 1st Battalion PPCLI battle group in the tiny village of Shinkay, when during a meeting with local elders to discuss their needs for water, housing and education, an insurgent sneaked up behind our group and buried a crude axe in my skull.