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, June 02, 2012

Mike Elk, Labor Reporter, Has Microphone Yanked Out Of His Hands For Questioning CEO

A labor reporter found his microphone ripped out of his hand on Thursday when he asked a major CEO about his company's business practices.

Mike Elk, who writes for In These Times magazine, was attending a forum on Capitol Hill where David Cote, the CEO of Honeywell, was taking questions. Cote has close ties to the Obama administration, and President Obama is appearing at a Honeywell plant on Friday. At this forum, however, he was the guest of a Republican congressman.

No-Fly List Maintained By FBI Includes Double The U.S. Citizens Since 2009

WASHINGTON -- The number of U.S. citizens and green card holders on the FBI's terror watch list has more than doubled since Christmas 2009, when the attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit exposed flaws in the list and gaps in how government agencies used the information to screen potential security threats.

In a report released Friday, the Government Accountability Office said that watch list data collected from January 2009 through May 2011 showed that "more individuals have been denied boarding aircraft or subjected to additional physical screening before boarding" by the Transportation Security Administration. The report did not provide an exact figure for the increase.

EFF Privacy Report 2012 Shows Which Internet Companies Will Protect Your Data From Big Brother

Online privacy is no small issue nowadays, with millions of users across the world depending on Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter to protect their personal data no matter who asks for it -- including the government.

In a new report released this week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) evaluated 18 major web companies to discover which of them will work hardest to protect your data, should the government come a-knockin' at their doors.

Fortunately, after reviewing the companies' terms of service, privacy policies, published law enforcement guides, and privacy protection histories, the digital rights advocacy group found that, across the board, Internet companies are working harder to be more transparent with users about how their data is protected and when it might be shared.

Mitt Romney's Record On Affirmative Action In Massachusetts

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney scuttled the Massachusetts government's long-standing affirmative action policies with a few strokes of his pen on a sleepy holiday six months after he became governor.

No news conference or news release trumpeted Romney's executive order on Bunker Hill Day, June 17, 2003, in the deserted Statehouse. But when civil rights leaders, black lawmakers and other minority groups learned of Romney's move two months later, it sparked a public furor.

Romney drew criticism for cutting the enforcement teeth out of the law and rolling back more than two decades of affirmative action advances.

A danger to democracy

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein's decision to charge Haaretz reporter Uri Blau with "serious espionage" for being in possession of classified Israel Defense Forces documents poses a palpable threat to the free press in Israel, particularly to the ability to criticize government actions and expose them to the public.

As we wrote here a year ago, "trying a journalist for fulfilling his professional mission would constitute a stain on Israeli democracy and do critical harm to freedom of expression."

This Week in Poverty: Will Janitors Strike in Houston?

In Houston, more than 3,200 janitors clean the offices of some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world: JP Morgan Chase, Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Wells Fargo, KBR and Marathon Oil, to name a few. For their labor, they are paid an hourly wage of $8.35 and earn an average of $8,684 annually. Two janitors together would earn about $17,300 a year—still well below the poverty line of $22,314 for a family of four.

Yesterday, the contract between the janitors and the cleaning contractors expired. SEIU Local 1 spent the past month trying to reach an agreement to raise the janitors’ hourly wage to $10 over the next three years. But the contractors countered with an offer of a $0.50 pay raise phased in over five years and—according to SEIU spokesperson Paloma Martinez—said that they “wouldn’t budge.” The contractors claimed that the building owners and tenants—the aforementioned corporations—aren’t willing to pay anything close to a living wage.

Mulcair Oilsands Trip Unlikely To Put An End To His Dutch Disease Strategy

Western premiers hope Thomas Mulcair’s visit to Alberta's oilsands will change his mind on whether Canada is suffering from Dutch disease. But the NDP Leader, who welcomes the attention and the debate, is unlikely to bail on a strategy that is working for him.

A report from the Pembina Institute released this week backs up Mulcair’s views on the effects the oilsands are having on the Canadian economy. Of course, Pembina is a think tank with an environmentalist mission and, not to be outdone, the more right-wing Macdonald-Laurier Institute came out with a report of their own dispelling Mulcair’s argument.

U of C documents point to political donations that may have contravened election law

The University of Calgary has released pages of documents and e-mails pointing to just under $10,000 in possible “indirect contributions” to the Alberta PC party between 2004 and 2008, in contravention of provincial elections laws.

The documents also show that Calgary lawyer and prominent Tory Joe Lougheed, son of former premier Peter Lougheed, wanted to bill the university $4,500 in 2008. At the time, Lougheed was contracted to provide government relations work for the university.

He noted in the e-mail the university was “precluded” from buying a table at the premier's dinner directly.

Meteorite research puts Canada in higher orbit

OTTAWA — One of Claire Samson’s favourite objects is a thumb-sized lump of (mostly) iron from a distant part of the solar system, its surface pitted and scoured by its super-hot fall through Earth’s atmosphere.

Rocks do fall from the sky, and Canada’s meteorite experts have built themselves into a world power in the specialized field of studying them.

Samson is one of these people, a professor of earth sciences at Carleton University. She and others are preparing for the time, coming soon, when major space powers will send robot probes to asteroids or Mars and return with samples of rocks from there.

GM closure of Oshawa plant signals tough labour talks to come

GM Canada’s decision to go ahead with a plant closing in Oshawa signals tough talks lie ahead for the Canadian Auto Workers as the union heads into bargaining with all three big U.S. auto makers this year, experts predict.

Despite a rapid recovery in vehicles sales south of the border – where most of Canada’s auto exports end up – the CAW will be under the gun to match lower costs in the U.S., experts said.

“I don’t envy their job at all,” said Kristin Dziczek, a labour expert with the non-profit Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Harper urged to oppose GM shutdown

The Detroit Three's automotive footprint in Canada took a major hit Friday as General Motors confirmed plans to shut down a three-shift assembly line in Oshawa - a move expected to wipe out 2,000 well-paying assembly jobs and put even more pressure on the CAW to cut labour costs as it heads into bargaining talks in the fall.

GM will phase in the closure over the next 12 months of Oshawa's consolidated line, which will cease operations sometime next June, said Adria MacKenzie, spokeswoman for GM Canada.

"We've been really fortunate that the line continued operation because we announced this back in 2005, that it would be closing in 2008," MacKenzie said. "Unfortunately, there's no new product going into Oshawa on the consolidated line."

Ottawa inching closer to free trade talks with China

OTTAWA — The Conservative government is expected to announce in the coming days that it has cleared the first hurdle towards free trade talks with China.

Canada and China launched a joint study during Prime Minister Stephen Harper's trip to China in February that is aimed at determining ways to enhance trade and economic activity between the two countries.

The study was to be completed by the end of May, and industry representatives say they have been told the high-level assessment went better than expected.

Harper's hunting panel includes groups backed by foreign money

OTTAWA — While the Conservatives accuse some Canadian environmental groups of using foreign money to attack domestic interests, the government's new hunting and fishing advisory panel includes organizations influenced and funded by sources outside Canada.

A handful of the organizations on the government's new committee also are current or past recipients of funding from Tides Canada, a charitable agency that supports environmental and social causes — but which has been attacked by Conservative parliamentarians for accepting foreign donations and distributing it to groups lobbying against Canadian interests.

Harper's extremely generous benefits for the unemployed

Despite slurs to the contrary, the welfare state is alive and well and living in Harperland. Appropriately enough, its benefits are available largely to those who have earned them. Call them Real Canadians, call them Conservatives. Whatever. These admirable citizens are treated to all the advantages bestowed by Stephen Harper’s personal social safety net.

Say, for example, these Conservatives lose their jobs. Say – just to take a random notion – they run for office and get whupped. Soon on the very verge of the deep depression, demoralization and self-loathing that so commonly accompanies being laid off, the Prime Minister suddenly reaches down and throws them a golden lifeline.

Mulcair rejects dividing regions

REGINA — Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says his “quarrel is not with” Brad Wall or any of the other premiers, but Wall responded he will continue to defend the province’s interests.

Wall and other western Canadian premiers have recently been highly critical of Mulcair’s statements on the effect of resource development on the country’s manufacturing sector. The NDP leader has said the premiers are messengers of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, though he wouldn’t repeat that comment on Friday before reporters at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention in Saskatoon.

“What I’ve said since the beginning is I didn’t want to deal with anybody else but Stephen Harper,” Mulcair said. “I’ll work with all the provinces. … If they want to turn this into a provincial-federal fight with me, I’ll set the record straight every time, saying I’m not looking in any way to have the debate with them. I want to work with them. My debate is with Stephen Harper.”

‘Fair wages’ come from laws of economics, not legislation

Buried deep within Bill C-38, the omnibus budget implementation bill, on page 305 of 425, just before the bit about raising the retirement age two years and just after certain amendments to the Canada Labour Code, is the following provision: “The Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act is repealed.”

Little else is said about it. The budget itself gave no hint that such a change was in the offing. Nor is any explanation provided. You would have to look elsewhere to discover that the Act is a Depression-era holdover requiring all businesses doing construction work for the federal government to pay “fair wages,” defined as “such wages as are generally accepted as current for competent workmen in the district in which the work is being performed.”

Alberta's own budget backs 'Dutch disease' theory: NDP

OTTAWA — The federal New Democratic Party is citing information in Alberta's 2012 budget to support leader Tom Mulcair's argument that a high dollar caused by booming natural resource exports is hurting Canadian manufacturers.

A section of the provincial government's spring budget, titled Risks to Alberta's Economic Outlook, refers positively to the importance of the oilsands to Alberta's economy.

But the report notes that the province's manufacturing sector is challenged by the high Canadian dollar, which in turn is linked to natural resource exports.

"The Canadian dollar remains elevated, buoyed by high commodity prices. An appreciation of the Canadian dollar could hurt exporters," it states.

Consulate should stay - Canadian office is critical to the needs of our growing cross-border trade

The closing of the Canadian consulate in Buffalo is a very troubling development.

President Obama’s effort to strengthen ties with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper manifested itself in the Harper-Obama Beyond the Border initiative, and now the implementation of that effort is at risk. This decision is extremely perplexing, to say the least.

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Western New York’s congressional delegation and everyone else upset by this decision are urging the Canadian government to reverse its course.

Canada accused of 'complicity' in torture in UN report

In a biting report issued Friday, the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemns what it calls Canadian "complicity" in torture and human rights violations of Muslim men caught up in the post-9/11 security net.

The committee's report condemns Canada's practice, during the Afghan combat mission which ended last year, of handing prisoners over to Afghan security forces despite a "substantial risk" that they would be tortured.

In addition, the UN committee:

    Recommends that Canada promptly approve the transfer of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo to Canadian custody.
    Urges Canada to pay compensation to three men who were the subjects of the Iacobucci Inquiry — Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin.
    Faults changes to Canada's immigration laws which it says may increase the risk of human rights violations.

Oda's travel expenses cause dissent in Tory caucus

Opposition MPs aren't the only ones making Bev Oda's spending habits a thorn in the government's side – her own colleague, Conservative MP John Williamson, is also raising them as a point of contention within their caucus.

Williamson used to head the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and was also Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications before he stepped down to run for his New Brunswick seat.

He confirmed to CBC News that he brought up the minister of international co-operation's travel and hospitality expenses behind closed doors at a weekly Conservative caucus meeting. Williamson would not elaborate on what he said, citing caucus confidentiality.

Justice 'not served' in Egypt's Mubarak sentence

Egypt's ex-President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison Saturday for his role in the killing of protesters during last year's revolution that forced him from power, a verdict that caps a stunning fall from grace for a man who ruled the country as his personal fiefdom for nearly three decades.

The sentence against the former leader appeared aimed at defusing tensions ahead of a divisive runoff presidential race that pits Mubarak's last prime minister against the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate.

A life sentence in Egypt is 25 years in prison.

Premier, mayor see fiscal threat in more Montreal unrest

The prospect of continued protests following this week's breakdown of talks to end the Quebec student crisis has Premier Jean Charest and Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay worried about the financial impact as Montreal preps for its lucrative Grand Prix race.

Both politicians appealed Friday for "responsibility" on the part of demonstrators, saying protesters should leave Formula One fans alone and not harm stores, hotels and restaurants during the tourist-heavy event next weekend.

Charest accused student groups of "hurting Quebecers" as they take to the streets and expressed concern they would disrupt the Grand Prix, which brings millions of dollars to the province each year.

Israeli concern mounts over Syrian arms

Israeli officials say they are increasingly concerned that advanced missiles and even chemical weapons are being transferred from Syria to forces of the Lebanese Shia militia movement, Hezbollah.

Israeli and U.S. officials have long warned about such a transfer should Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power falter. And, with the fallout from last weekend’s massacre of civilians in the Syrian area of Houla, that grip may well have weakened.

This, officials said, is all the more reason to take seriously the warning issued Wednesday by Ali Larijani, Speaker of Iran’s parliament. Should the United States or any other country intervene militarily in Syria, Mr. Larijani said, “ash rising from the flames would definitely envelop the Zionist regime [Israel]”

Applicants furious at change in Canada's immigration law

Six years ago, Sun Mingliang thought he had discovered something wonderful. With his background managing a plastics company, he believed he qualified for immigration to Canada under the Federal Skilled Workers Program. A native of Shenzhen, China, he applied, along with his wife and young daughter, to immigrate and was so certain of success that he spent thousands of dollars on English classes for the three of them.

But instead of the life in Canada that he dreamed of, Mr. Sun was set to spend the upcoming weekend sleeping on the pavement outside the Hong Kong skyscraper that houses the Canadian consulate. Furious at a change in immigration law that cancels applications filed before 2008 in an effort to reduce backlog, the 43-year-old says he will go without food until Monday in a desperate effort to get the attention of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Scientists decry Ottawa's plan to close environmental research centre

For six years, Cynthia Gilmour, senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, led a research team that annually poured a teaspoon of mercury isotope, diluted in water, into a small, remote lake in Northwestern Ontario.

The international project was being conducted in the federally funded Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a unique outdoor laboratory for ecosystem research consisting of 58 lakes and their drainage areas.

Dr. Gilmour and her colleagues from the United States and Canada wanted to determine the environmental impacts of new deposits of mercury – a powerful brain toxin – into a lake that already had high background levels. The ELA was the one place in the world where they could do that.

Vanishing act: Where did Canada's mid-sized companies go?

Canada is in the midst of a chilling mid-sized business mystery.

In just a few short years, hundreds of companies that employ between 100 and 499 people vanished – and no one knows exactly why.

This phenomenon is alarming because mid-sized firms are more productive, hire more Canadians and have more clout on a global scale. Against a backdrop of warring governments, massive sovereign debt loads and a shifting trade picture, their importance to the country’s economy has never been higher, their rapid disappearance never more in need of an explanation.

New Brunswick university under fire for anti-gay hiring policy

ST. JOHN, N.B.—A Christian university in New Brunswick is under fire for a policy that prevents it from hiring homosexuals.

Crandall University, a small liberal arts school in Moncton, was thrust into the spotlight earlier this week when 22-year-old Jillian Duplessie revoked her acceptance after she learned about the anti-gay rule.

Since then the aspiring teacher has joined forces with a Moncton-based homosexual advocacy group called River of Pride, which is now calling on the government to stop funding the university, which is both publicly and privately subsidized.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest tells student groups they’re ‘hurting Quebecers’

MONTREAL—Quebec Premier Jean Charest is accusing student groups of “hurting Quebecers” as they take to the streets to protest the recent breakdown in talks with the government.

With Montreal’s Grand Prix weekend less than a week away, Charest expressed concern that student groups would disrupt the international event, which brings millions of dollars to the province each year.

He said students, who have spent almost four months striking against a proposed tuition hike, should leave Grand Prix fans alone given the financial importance of the race.

Flight attendants fear for safety, leave Air Canada flight due to stench in plane: Reports

An Air Canada flight was delayed for more than three hours after flight attendants, fearing for their safety, left the plane due to a stench in the cabin, according to reports.

“The delay was due to a report of an unpleasant odour in the cabin, typically associated with oil in the ventilation system, which does not impact the safe operation of a flight,” Air Canada spokeswoman, Angela Mah, said in an email.

The flight, AC139, was scheduled to leave Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport at 1 p.m., and arrive at Vancouver International Airport shortly after 6 p.m., or 3 p.m. Vancouver time.

Instead, the flight took off at 4:18 p.m., and is expected to arrive just after 9:30 p.m., or 6:30 p.m. Vancouver time.