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.]

Monday, May 28, 2012

CP Rail union, Tories battle over collective bargaining

The federal Conservatives defended their plan to force striking Canadian Pacific Railway employees back to work as a way to keep the economy on track, while the union representing 4,800 workers said their collective bargaining rights are under attack.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, flanked by four other cabinet ministers, on Monday made her case based on a need to keep the trains running so other businesses can keep their products moving.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis argued there's between $30 to $50 million a day in lost productivity and expenses because of the work stoppage.

Tory MP appeals ruling that sets stage for Toronto by-election

A Toronto-area Harper government MP says he'll fight a court ruling that threw out his narrow election victory rather than leaving the matter for voters to decide.

Etobicoke Centre's Ted Opitz announced Monday he will appeal to the Supreme Court after an Ontario judge found too many voters in his riding were improperly registered when they cast a ballot.

Monday was the deadline for Mr. Opitz to appeal the ruling, which would otherwise have set the stage for a by-election in a riding the Conservatives only won by 26 votes.

Mr. Opitz said he feels the results of the May 2, 2011 ballot should stand.

Mulcair picks his battle

A fracas unfolding on Parliament Hill almost always follows a predictable path. One side, either the government or the opposition, seeks partisan advantage by pushing some issue onto the agenda. Then the other tries to squelch it. If a cabinet minister is discovered overspending on orange juice, for instance, the opposition aims to prolong her misery, while the government strives to change the channel. But the extended, bitter contretemps over Thomas Mulcair’s assertion that Alberta’s oil sands development hurts Canada’s manufacturing exports by pumping up the value of the loonie didn’t follow that well-worn course. When Conservatives accused him of dividing the country by begrudging western Canada its economic success, Mulcair—far from trying to sidestep their attacks—met them head on and even seemed to relish throwing fuel on the fire.

Canada’s demographic ‘golden age’ coming to an end

Canada is at a demographic peak, but the descent will be swift and steep.

A greater proportion of people are working now than ever before. The largest chunk of the population, the baby boomers, are in their highest earning years and only a tiny sliver of that cohort has slipped into retirement. Their relatively fatter salaries are filling tax coffers and funding social programs. And years of low birth rates have meant significantly fewer dependent children to support than in decades past.

“This is the golden age,” according to McMaster University economist Arthur Sweetman.

But the release of new 2011 census numbers this week will show that the period of “peak people” is about to end. Canada’s demographics are at an inflection point, as the number of people of retirement age begins to grow at a faster rate than any other group in the next few years.

Veterans advocate renews privacy war after report clears bureaucrats

A veterans advocate has complained to the privacy watchdog about an internal report that largely exonerates federal bureaucrats who spread around his personal medical information.

The Veterans Affairs investigation into Sean Bruyea’s case has revived questions about how seriously the Harper government has treated breaches of privacy of ex-soldiers.

Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart concluded almost two years ago that the use of Mr. Bruyea’s medical information in two 2006 briefing notes to former veterans minister Greg Thompson broke the law.

However, an outside report commissioned by the department found no “malice” or “fault” in the actions of bureaucrats and senior department officials.

Liberals team up with Green chief in bid to stall Tory budget bill

The Liberals will join forces with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to introduce amendments that could delay the passage of the Conservative government’s omnibus budget bill and another piece of legislation that would change Canada’s refugee system.

“We very clearly indicated that we are the real opposition here because we found that the best way to deal with this is to work with other parties, in this particular case with the Green Party,” Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau told reporters Monday morning after the House of Commons returned from a week-long break.

Because the Greens do not have official party status, Ms. May is not given a seat on parliamentary committees. As a trade-off, she is permitted to propose substantive amendments to bills that have come back to the House after the committees have completed their study – an option that is not open to MPs who are part of a recognized party.

Pilot Kicks Sexist Off Her Plane

Imagine you’re a certified commercial pilot, and you’re among the 6.6 percent of them who happen to be women. You’ve passed all the same training as your male colleagues and proven that you can fly a plane just as well. One day, as you prepare for takeoff, you hear a male passenger say that he refuses to be flown by a woman. Do you just ignore him? Do you turn around and give a reasoned explanation of why your gender plays no role in your ability to fly a plane? Or do you kick him off the flight?

A Trip Airlines pilot went with the third option on Tuesday, May 22, after a male passenger stood up and shouted, “Someone should have told me the captain was a woman. I’m not flying with a female at the controls.” The unidentified passenger was ejected from the plane and met by police, who escorted him out of Belo Horizonte airport. The Brazilian airline later backed its pilot’s decision with a statement that it wouldn’t tolerate disparaging remarks about any of 1,400 women working there.

JPMorgan Fiasco Highlights Need For Simpler Banking

Even as details trickle out about how JPMorgan Chase lost several billion dollars on derivatives trades, the essential unknowns continue to outweigh the knowns. This inevitable ignorance is worth keeping in mind as -- let us hope -- regulators focus on the latest fiasco as a teachable moment, and impose rules to protect taxpayers against another system-wide catastrophe.

What happened this time, and how did it happen? You can parse the stories about how the bank's risk-management people were really incentivized to load up on risk, or digest the accounts of how JPMorgan's financial wizards engineered mind-bendingly complex means of limiting their vulnerability to troubles in Europe. But the simplest answer is the most pertinent: It's extraordinarily complicated. So complicated that the trades involved exceed the intellectual bandwidth of would-be regulators, which is another way of saying that taxpayer-ensured deposits should not be allowed in such gambling.

Big Fiscal Phonies

Quick quiz: What’s a good five-letter description of Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, that ends in “y”?

The obvious choice is, of course, “bully.” But as a recent debate over the state’s budget reveals, “phony” is an equally valid answer. And as Mr. Christie goes, so goes his party.

Until now the attack of the fiscal phonies has been mainly a national rather than a state issue, with Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, as the prime example. As regular readers of this column know, Mr. Ryan has somehow acquired a reputation as a stern fiscal hawk despite offering budget proposals that, far from being focused on deficit reduction, are mainly about cutting taxes for the rich while slashing aid to the poor and unlucky. In fact, once you strip out Mr. Ryan’s “magic asterisks” — claims that he will somehow increase revenues and cut spending in ways that he refuses to specify — what you’re left with are plans that would increase, not reduce, federal debt.

Glenn Beck in Exile

When Glenn Beck “parted company” with Fox News in June of last year, he took his Glenn Beck-ness with him. He took his tears, and his chalkboards, and his patriotic unction. He took his world-historical sweep and his zodiac of personal demons. He took his edifying projects and his long-haul feuds, his hobbyhorses and hobgoblins. He took his face, his voice, the vials of his wrath, the quivering curds of his indignation—he took it all, and he left the network. Gone! There was no replacement for Glenn Beck. None was possible. The portal simply resealed itself, and there we were again—we the people, the watchers of Fox, back with the everyday lineup of guffers and bluffers.

Tony Blair At Leveson: Former Prime Minister To Be Questioned On Relationship With Media

Tony Blair will be back at centre stage today when he appears at the Leveson Inquiry to be questioned about his relations with the media.

The former prime minister is likely to be asked about the nature of his and his government's links with Rupert Murdoch's media empire during his 13 years at the helm of the Labour Party, including a decade in Downing Street.

He can expect questions over whether he allowed his relationship with Murdoch and News International to become too close, as his former lieutenant Lord Mandelson told the inquiry on Monday.

Lord Mandelson said it was "arguably the case... that personal relationships between Blair, (Gordon) Brown and Rupert Murdoch became closer than was wise".

Audit of Toronto city council candidate Gus Cusimano reveals altered cheques

The handwritten “7” was transformed with a pen into a “6” — a bit of ink that could mean a lot of trouble for those involved in the high-profile 2010 election campaign of a candidate for Toronto council.

The altered dates on seven cheques to Gus Cusimano’s Ward 9 campaign made contributions illegally received in July 2011 appear to be from June 2011 — the last month candidates could legally raise funds to pay off campaign debts, according to a forensic audit of Cusimano’s campaign finances obtained by the Star.

The cheques were provided, in altered form, to the auditors who discovered other apparent breaches of Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act while clearing Cusimano of many of the overspending allegations that helped convince a city committee to order the audit last July.

Ottawa happy to fork out millions to prop up corrupt, hated regime

Heading into the May long weekend’s back-to-back G8 and NATO summits, it was widely reported that Canada was under increasing pressure to extend our troop commitment in Afghanistan beyond the current 2014 termination date.

However, as the dust swirled at the NATO gathering in Chicago, no real consensus emerged from the 50 participating nations on how “victory” can still be achieved after more than a decade of dismal failure.

As a result, the only common trend was a hastening toward the exit.

U.S. President Barack Obama pushed for a more rapid transfer of combat responsibility to the Afghan security forces, which would allow for a large-scale reduction of American troops in 2013 and a full withdrawal by 2014.

EI changes unfair to N.L., Dunderdale says

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale says the federal government's plan to implement new changes to the employment insurance program will unfairly affect the people in her province who are largely employed in seasonal work.

The government recently announced plans to overhaul the EI program. Under the new system, there will be more pressure on so-called "frequent users" to take any available work -- including work that pays up to 30 per cent less than previous employment -- or risk being cut off.

Newfoundland and Labrador, where a large segment of the population is employed in the seasonal fishing industry, has the highest number of repeat EI users in the country.

Stephen Harper’s EI reforms must include a credible right of appeal

Every year, about 27,000 Canadians appeal federal decisions to deny them employment insurance benefits. They want to make their case to a person, not a computer. They want to correct an administrative error. They want a second opinion.

Until now, Canada has had a relatively good appeal process. An applicant whose claim was rejected could apply to a referee for a hearing. The appeals board consisted of 1,000 part-time arbiters, including workers’ representatives, employers’ representatives and government representatives. Beyond that, applicants who were still unsatisfied could apply to an umpire.

Small-minded government, small-minded policy and an eroding social safety net

Instead of showing leadership on the big issues facing our nation, the Harper Government is again focused on the small, the incremental, the defensive measure to protect us against ourselves. This time it is changes to the EI system, another tiny move that chips away at Canada’s social safety net. This is a small change that reflects a small-mindedness, but its negative impact on the everyday lives of many Canadians will be huge.

Finance minister Jim Flaherty’s observation that there are “no bad jobs” highlights the judgmental and intolerant arrogance typical of the Harper government’s worldview. It is the negative, the defensive, and the fearful that drives their actions. It is never the hopeful, the optimistic, or the aspirational.

Mr. Flaherty’s “no bad job” wisecrack is also strangely ironic coming from someone who has spent a vast majority of his professional life, much like many of his cabinet colleagues, on the government payroll. His boss, Stephen Harper, has also spent most of his professional life on the public payroll. So, they can be forgiven for not understanding the facts of life in the real world.

An excellent debate about resource revenues

In an interesting and well-argued column in the Calgary Herald recently, Mark Milke from the Fraser Institute took issue with my last post here. I can't resist replying to one of his points.

Mr. Milke paraphrases me this way: “Brian Topp wants sovereign resource funds to invest in uneconomic projects too expensive for the private sector – this instead of shipping 'raw unprocessed resources to Texas and to China.' Topp mentions Norway's resource fund as an example.”

I don't know about “uneconomic” but otherwise so far, so good. Mr. Milke then argues this is a “bad suggestion.” Why?

MPs choosing between constituents and party

OTTAWA -- Canadians got a rare glimpse last week into just how much influence their MP actually has on the way government operates.

Conservative MP David Wilks, a rookie from the B.C. riding of Kootenay-Columbia, met with some constituents in Revelstoke, B.C., on May 22. The meeting was captured on video and posted online. This was done with Wilks' full knowledge.

Wilks was refreshingly candid with group members at the table, who were not Conservative supporters. They were upset the budget implementation bill contains elements that have little to do with the budget -- things such as cross-border policing powers, environmental regulations and immigration rules.

The Tory who could have been a somebody, but folded

For a brief, shining moment last week, David Wilks stood poised to become the West Coast Bill Casey. The little-known B.C. Conservative MP was going to stand up to the prime minister, the Tory party and the hydra-headed beast that is the omnibus budget bill.

But he blew it.

Last Tuesday, Wilks told constituents that he opposed parts of the 425-page budget bill, which affects everything from EI and Old Age Security to the size of the civil service and environmental assessments.

A quarter of defeated Tory candidates landed public jobs after election: analysis

Nearly one in four defeated Conservative candidates in the 2011 election received a taxpayer-funded federal job within the last year.

A Postmedia News analysis reveals that 35 of the 141 candidates who lost at the polls received jobs in places such as the Prime Minister’s Office, Health Canada, ministers’ offices or on boards and agencies such as the Quebec Port Authority. In fact, Quebec candidates made up three-quarters of those who received federal jobs.

Four candidates were appointed to the Senate, two to overseas diplomatic positions in France, 14 to agencies or boards and 14 became political staff to ministers and MPs. Some left their previous political staff positions to run in the election, and then were rehired after losing their bid for public office. Two people hired to serve in ministers’ offices have subsequently left their positions.

Environment At War

Despite 20 years of experimentation with sustainability, the human forcing of global environmental change (GEC) is taking place at an unprecedented pace and scale.

Recent analyses of GRACE satellite data by James Famiglietti and his team, for example, have identified alarming rates of groundwater depletion worldwide. These rates spell the demise of vast reservoirs of water – upon which agricultural economies from Pakistan to California depend – within decades. In the U.S., the National Research Council is poised to release a report on the security implications of hydrological change in the Hindu Kush/Himalaya region – a region that provides freshwater to three billion people. The fifth report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will likely conclude that adverse climate-change effects are widespread and worsening, and that the next decade will be a crucial period for the security and welfare of many regions of the planet.

Tories set to shut Commons inquiry into F-35s

The government is set to shut down a Commons inquiry into Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s scathing report on hidden costs and broken procurement rules in the $25-billion F-35 stealth fighter jet project after Mr. Ferguson denied Department of National Defence allegations his April report contained incorrect information.

The Conservative move came just prior to last week’s House recess, when Conservative MP Andrew Saxton (Vancouver North, B.C) moved a motion during a closed-door House Public Accounts Committee meeting to end its inquiry after only seven hours of evidence and testimony from witness hearings and before opposition MPs had a chance to cross-examine the National Defence officials after they criticized Mr. Ferguson.

Postmedia News’ Godfrey says feds should throw out foreign ownership rules for media

The federal government should throw out decades-old foreign ownership rules for media or extend them to corporations that aren’t Canadian-owned, but are operating here on the internet so that Canadian news organizations can compete fairly in today’s market, says Postmedia Network CEO Paul Godfrey.

“The government should make up their mind,” Mr. Godfrey told The Hill Times. “Just put us all on the same level playing field, one way or the other.”

Mr. Godfrey, who was in Ottawa on May 24 to speak at the Ottawa Mayor’s Breakfast, a gathering of Ottawa’s business leaders, said he would be meeting with some bureaucrats at Canadian Heritage to discuss the regulations, which he said he believes worked 15 years ago, but are hurting newspapers today, rather than protecting them.

Next four weeks of House session ‘challenging’ say feds

Parliament returns for four straight weeks this week and MPs and political observers say to expect an “acrimonious,”  “chippy,” and “challenging” sitting.

MPs will be looking at reforms to EI, Old Age Security,  federal immigration laws, the controversial $25-billion procurement of 65 F-35 fighter jests and will be scrutinizing the federal government’s massive omnibus budget bill.

“The last four week session, in my experience, is always one of the more challenging ones, but I expect that there are so many substantive issues on the table right now if the political parties are smart and they will focus on the substance,” Government House Leader Peter  Van Loan (York-Simcoe, Ont.) told The Hill Times last week.

Feds trying to gut Fisheries Act under the radar, say two former federal Conservative fisheries ministers

Two former federal Conservative fisheries ministers and a former Conservative MP say the government’s massive omnibus Budget Implementation Act should be split up and accuse the government of trying to gut the Fisheries Act under the radar.

John Fraser, a former fisheries minister under prime minister Brian Mulroney, and later House Speaker, told The Hill Times the omnibus bill is a “mistake,” that the “politics is dumb,” that he doesn’t appreciate how the government casts critics of the process as “radical left-wingers,” and wondered what the House Finance Committee will know about “steelhead and salmon on the West Coast” when it studies Bill C-38.

A year under chief of staff Wright, PMO has less a ‘bunker mentality’

One year into the Conservative Party’s majority government, and more than a year since Nigel Wright became the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, the tone in the PMO has undergone a transition, and though still “a fairly centralized organization,” the PMO has less of a “bunker mentality,” say political insiders.

During the five years of a Conservative minority government from 2006 to 2011, the PMO was “constantly on electoral war footing,” said Tim Powers, vice-president of Summa Strategies and former Conservative Hill staffer. Now, he said, the governing Conservatives have time to focus more on bigger policy issues. Moreover, Mr. Powers said both Mr. Wright and new communications director Andrew MacDougall are professional, polished and approachable people—characteristics that are an asset to PMO dealings.

Canadian Pacific strikers face back-to-work legislation

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt is poised to introduce back-to-work legislation today after negotiations between Canadian Pacific Railway and the union representing 4,800 striking locomotive engineers and conductors broke off Sunday.

Both sides in the strike that began last Wednesday rejected a proposal made by the government-appointed arbitrator, according to Raitt, who told CBC News she was "disappointed."

Raitt will be providing an update to the media this afternoon at 1:45 p.m. ET and will be joined by Transport Minister Denis Lebel, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, Industry Minister Christian Paradis and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

Memorial Day Special: U.S. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Return War Medals at NATO Summit

Democracy Now! returns to Chicago, site of the largest NATO summit in the organization’s six-decade history, where nearly 50 veterans discarded their war medals by hurling them down the street in the direction of the NATO summit. We hear the soldiers’ voices as they return their medals one by one from the stage. "I’m here to return my Global War on Terror Service Medal in solidarity with the people of Iraq and the people of Afghanistan," said Jason Hurd, a former combat medic who spent 10 years in the U.S. Army. "I am deeply sorry for the destruction that we have caused in those countries and around the globe." Scott Kimball, an Iraq war veteran, adds: “For all the servicemembers and veterans who are against these wars, you are not alone!” Click here to see the other parts of the 2012 Memorial Day Special: 2, 3, 4, 5.

Source: Democracy Now!
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Parizeau compares Quebec unrest to Quiet Revolution

Quebec’s Education Minister has invited student leaders to meet on Monday, after a weekend of further demonstrations in support of striking students and in opposition to the legislative crackdown on marches and protests.

But as the government of Premier Jean Charest seeks a new road to a solution, a former premier has entered the debate about the movement with a warning that its impact could be as great as that of the Quiet Revolution.

Quebec is witnessing the awakening of an entire generation not unlike the one initiated during the that tumultuous period in the 1960s, when social unrest gave birth to a powerful nationalist movement, says former Parti Québécois premier Jacques Parizeau.

Ireland referendum: Will Irish ‘ayes’ be smiling after austerity vote?

Michael Byrne’s grandmother opened the butcher shop he now runs north of Dublin city centre in 1925. But just days before Ireland votes on an EU fiscal treaty, he has another generation on his mind.

“I don’t want my grandchildren to have to go through this, so I’ll be voting yes” on May 31, he says, standing amid pigs’ trotters and sausages.

What Ireland has gone through is unprecedented in the country’s history. In 2008, the Irish economy took a nosedive as real-estate prices crashed. In November 2010, it received an €85-billion ($110-billion) bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.

The fiscal treaty — which aims to bind nations into tighter debt and deficit limits under the threat of EU fines — is being introduced by most member states. It needs to be ratified by at least 12 nations, but Ireland is the only country holding a referendum; the Irish constitution dictates that any transfer of sovereignty must get the approval of the electorate.

Quebec students, government to resume negotiations over tuition increases

MONTREAL—Quebec students and the provincial government will return to the bargaining table on Monday in an attempt to put an end to a months-long dispute over tuition fees.

Representatives from the province’s four largest student associations will meet with the province’s education minister in Quebec City.

Some student leaders have indicated they could be prepared to compromise on the government’s planned tuition hikes.

Martine Desjardins, the head of one student group, says the government could be ready to bend a little as well after months of protests.

Mayor Rob Ford says he does more than his itineraries show

Mayor Rob Ford says his official internal itineraries include only a fraction of his activities.

A Saturday Star article revealed that Ford's itineraries for early 2012 included less than half of the meetings of his itineraries for early 2011. It cited sources, including current and former Ford staffers, who said he often does not leave his home until noon. And it said he routinely doesn’t show up for long-scheduled meetings and events.

Speaking on his Sunday radio show, Ford did not challenge any of the specifics of the article. But, calling Star employees “pathological liars,” he said that he does far more than his itineraries show.

Because Ford does not release a weekly schedule of public activities, as previous mayors did, the Star files freedom of information requests to obtain his internal itineraries.

“When they go for these freedom of information — they might get a tidbit of what's really going on,” Ford said.