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.]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Harper government backs down on plans to eavesdrop on travellers’ conversations

The Harper government has backed off on plans to install listening devices at Canadian airports and border crossings amid serious concerns about privacy.

The decision by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on Tuesday to halt the practice of eavesdropping on travellers’ conversation follows a backlash from both federal and provincial privacy officials.

This is the second time that Toews has had to climb down on issues of privacy. The last time was the Internet surveillance bill. As with the last time, he defended the move but then had to do an about-face.

Debunking the Health Claims of Genetically Modified Foods

I've just been sent GMO Myths and Truths, a review of research on claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified (GM) foods. The authors are Michael Antoniou, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan, scholars with critical positions on GM foods.

I've been writing about GM foods since the mid-1990s, and am impressed by the immutability of positions on the topic. As I discuss in my book Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, the pro-GM and anti-GM advocates view the topic in quite different ways that I call for lack of better terms "science-based" versus "value-based."

Cuts ‘assault’ on aboriginal culture

Organizers of a community-driven meeting scheduled for tonight in Halifax say the federal government blind-sided a local aboriginal youth program when it cut funding for the initiative.

The Kitpu Youth Program, run through the Mi’kmaq Friendship Centre on Gottingen Street, was told June 11 that funding across the country through the Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth Program was gone as part of federal budget cuts. Co-ordinator Glenn Knockwood and another employee were given two weeks notice.

That was after Knockwood was told in February that the $120,000 budget was being capped by Heritage Canada at $100,000 for this year.

Ramarley Graham, Unarmed Black Teen Slain by NYPD, Remembered at Weekly Vigils Outside Bronx Home

Today a Democracy Now! special on the life and death of Ramarley Graham, a teenager who was shot dead by a New York City police officer inside his own bathroom in the Bronx on February 2nd. Graham, 18, was shot at close range after narcotics detectives barged into his home. New York police officer Richard Haste was indicted on manslaughter charges for the fatal shooting last week. At a weekly vigil held by the Graham family outside their home, we hear from Ramarley’s older sister, Leona Virgo, and his father, Frank Graham.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

The G.O.P.’s Abortion Problem

When the Tea Party first appeared as a national political force, in 2009, it was often described as libertarian—focussed mostly on lowering taxes and repealing health-care reform. Social issues, it appeared, were distinctly secondary concerns. This view now appears precisely wrong. Following their victories in the 2010 midterm elections, the Tea Partiers and their allies have proven to be preoccupied with, even obsessed by, social issues—most especially abortion.

One doesn’t hear a lot about the Tea Party these days—but that’s not because it’s gone away. Quite the opposite is the case, in fact. The goals and values of the Tea Party have been absorbed by the Republican Party at large; there is, at this point, no meaningful difference between the Tea and Republican Parties. When the Tea Party surfaced in 2009, it was basically a rebranding of what used to be called “the base” of the Republican Party. But the base now is the party.

Occupy Protesters' Rights Must Be Protected, U.N. Says; U.S. Says Nothing

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials have yet to respond to two United Nations human rights envoys who formally requested that the U.S. government protect Occupy protesters against excessive force by law enforcement officials.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the two envoys called on U.S. officials to "explain the behavior of police departments that violently disbanded some Occupy protests last fall" and expressed concern that excessive use of force "could have been related to [the protesters'] dissenting views, criticisms of economic policies, and their legitimate work in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Food Stamp Cuts Could Hit Military Members, Veterans

WASHINGTON -- Congress' push to cut food stamps could cause collateral damage in the military, hitting everyone from active-duty members to retirees, who together have used more than $100 million in federal food aid on military bases over the past year, a Huffington Post review of the data found.

Decrying the surge in food stamp costs since the start of the recession, politicians increasingly have been calling for a crackdown on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The program has expanded from covering 26 million Americans in 2007 to more than 44 million in 2011.

Charles Scott Howard, Kentucky Miner, Wins Reinstatement In Whistleblower Case

Kentucky miner Charles Scott Howard lost his job at Cumberland River Coal Co. last May, after years of butting heads with management over safety issues at the mine. Now, more than 13 months later, Howard may suit up and head back into the mine, whether his employer likes it or not.

A federal judge ordered Friday that Howard's company immediately reinstate him at the mine and pay a $30,000 fine for discriminating against a whistleblower. The sharply worded decision said managers at Cumberland River, as well as its parent company, coal giant Arch Coal, went to great lengths to find a reason to fire Howard after he brought his mine to the attention of federal safety officials.

Obama Invites Mexico To Join Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Talks

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's administration on Monday formally invited Mexico to join controversial free trade negotiations known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, reinforcing consumer and environmental group concerns that the deal may establish broad new powers for corporations.

The invitation comes less than one week after a leaked U.S. document sparked an uproar because it proposed terms that would grant corporations the ability to bypass U.S. public interest laws and regulations in courts here and appeal directly to international tribunals. U.S. advocacy groups and some members of Congress have criticized the U.S. proposals.

Lisa Brown Performs 'Vagina Monologues' On Michigan Statehouse Steps

LANSING, Mich. — A state lawmaker who says she was barred from speaking in the Michigan House because Republicans objected to her saying "vagina" during debate over anti-abortion legislation performed "The Vagina Monologues" on the Statehouse steps – with a hand from the author.

Eve Ensler, whose groundbreaking play about women's sexuality still packs theaters 16 years after it debuted, oversaw Monday night's performance by Democratic state Rep. Lisa Brown, 10 other lawmakers and several actresses.

Off the Rails

On the morning of December 10, 1968, a shiny new locomotive left Toronto’s Union Station, pulling a gleaming train packed to its “power dome” with journalists. Just four short years earlier, Japan had rolled out the world’s first 200-kilometre-per-hour bullet train, and now scores of reporters were aboard to witness North America’s technological response: the TurboTrain, designed by Sikorsky Aircraft, built by Montreal Locomotive Works, and proudly operated by Canadian National.

An hour later, the TurboTrain slammed into a truck.

“The driver of an empty meat truck near Kingston was used to beating trains across a level crossing and tried to outrun the Turbo,” recalls John Downing, who reported on the maiden journey to Montreal. “We cut the truck in two, like a hot knife through butter.”

Obama Administration's Drone Death Figures Don't Add Up

Last month, a "senior administration official" said the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under President Obama is in the "single digits." But last year "US officials" said drones in Pakistan killed about 30 civilians in just a yearlong stretch under Obama.

Both claims can't be true.

A centerpiece of President Obama's national security strategy, drones strikes in Pakistan are credited by the administration with crippling Al Qaeda but criticized by human rights groups and others for being conducted in secret and killing civilians. The underlying facts are often in dispute and claims about how many people died and who they were vary widely.

Philip Jennings, UNI Global Union General Secretary, Says Stephen Harper Destroying Middle Class

The head of one of the world's largest labour organizations has some harsh words for Stephen Harper.

For the past few days, Philip Jennings, general secretary of the Switzerland-based UNI Global Union, has been in Mexico for the G20, bouncing furiously between meetings with heads of state and global institutions in a bid to keep the issues of jobs, collective bargaining and social protections on the table.

Syria Crisis: Russia Reportedly To Send Marines To Syria

MOSCOW — Two Russian navy ships are completing preparations to sail to Syria with a unit of marines on a mission to protect Russian citizens and the nation's base there, a news report said Monday. The deployment appears to reflect Moscow's growing concern about Syrian President Bashar Assad's future.

The Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Russian navy official as saying that the two amphibious landing vessels, Nikolai Filchenkov and Caesar Kunikov, will be heading shortly to the Syrian port of Tartus, but didn't give a precise date.

RCMP Inspector Accused Of Groping Civilian Employees

RCMP in Ottawa are investigating one of their own inspectors after two civilian employees raised complaints about inappropriate touching at a recent regimental event.

The women allege Insp. Brian Redmond groped them at a dinner held for around 100 employees at RCMP "A" Division in Ottawa on April 20.

The women have alleged Redmond, the division's intelligence officer, got drunk and patted or slapped their rear ends.

Canada's aboriginal affairs minister expresses disappoinment at blocked treaty vote

OTTAWA - Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan - using much more measured language Monday than his West Coast counterparts - joined the B.C. governments and the B.C. Treaty Commission in expressing disappointment with the weekend postponement of a treaty ratification vote involving B.C.'s Tla'amin First Nation.

The vote was put off Saturday after a group of protesters used their vehicles to block access to the polling station at the community near Powell River, about 130 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.

Canadian Forces warned of possible infiltration by white supremacist group

OTTAWA — Canadian Forces intelligence officers have been warned that a U.S. white supremacist group is expanding into this country and that military members could be attracted to the organization.

Officers with the National Counter-Intelligence Unit were told about the expansion of such groups into the Canadian Forces, as well as the attraction these groups have for members of the Forces, during a meeting of specialists looking into hate crimes and extremists movements. “Many of the conference speakers and attendees were aware of serving or retired DND/CF members that are part of these groups,” the counter-intelligence summary report from January 2011 pointed out.

Is Canada's relationship with the United Nations turning sour?

OTTAWA — A pattern appears to be emerging as Canada's human rights record came under fire at the United Nations Monday for the fourth time in nearly as many weeks.

Exactly what that pattern entails, however, is a matter for debate as one Geneva-based NGO says Canada is being repeatedly targeted for political reasons, which others say the issue is the Conservative government's dismissal of the UN human rights system.

On Monday, the UN's human rights chief joined her voice to the growing chorus of concern about Canada's human rights record by blasting Quebec's anti-protest law.

Kenney drops a 'complete and utter' A-bomb

EDMONTON - The only explanation seems to be that when Jason Kenney, the federal immigration minister, hit the button on his personal email account, he accidentally hit “reply all.”

Why else would he declare to the world in an email that he thinks Alberta’s deputy premier, Thomas Lukaszuk, is a “complete and utter asshole”?

Kenney wrote the invective last Wednesday at 5:02 p.m. in response to an email sent from the office of MP Blaine Calkins, chairman of the federal Conservatives Alberta caucus, who wanted to know if Kenney and other MPs from Alberta would meet with Lukaszuk.

Why progressives want to turn the clock back

What to do next is the policy question every government must face. In Canada, like elsewhere, more of the same -- a.k.a. nothing at all -- is a popular answer. Radical change is seldom a preferred course of action. And yet, for over 30 years, neoliberal radical change is what has been on the world agenda. We are now grappling with the unhappy results. The bleak outlook for the future is unlikely to improve unless a new and equally radical policy orientation is chosen.

The starting point for a new approach is to recognize meeting human needs has to replace business profitability as the organizing principle for policy. The economy is about people working together to meet each other's needs. These needs for shelter, food, water, clean air, income, recreation and employment can be addressed directly and democratically through governments at all levels, co-operatives, non-governmental agencies and community organizations; not just indirectly through price signals given to firms. Working out new international agreements is a condition of creating a more promising future.

Sun News Network's vulgar response reveals CBSC as toothless, demonstrates need for meaningful regulation

Radio and television network owners join groups like the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to inoculate themselves against the possibility of actual regulation being enforced in the interests of Canadians, who own the airwaves from which these companies generate such handsome profits.

So the response by Sun News Network and its on-air commentator Ezra Levant to a ruling of the CBSC on June 13 censuring them for using on the air a Spanish profanity universally understood to mean "f**k your mother," and for clearly identifying the individual at whom he directed this and other insults, is illuminating.

'More fracking and faster' is a dangerous approach

Margaret Wente's argument for 'more fracking and faster' represents a dangerously narrow approach to economic development and addressing Canada's energy needs. In addition to price and availability, we need to carefully assess the risks of fracking including the potential for water contamination, high lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, links between earthquakes and injection of fracking wastewater into the ground, the lack of regulations legally requiring public disclosure of chemicals and the lack of information on the cumulative impacts of fracking on public health and our environment.

Federal, Quebec, British Columbia and Nova Scotia governments have begun reviews on fracking precisely because they don't know enough about it. Sixty-two per cent of Canadians support a moratorium on all fracking for natural gas until all federal environmental reviews are complete.

Considering risks and community opposition, we need a ban on fracking or at the very least a moratorium.

Original Article
Author: Emma Lui 

Hunger in the North: Witnessing food insecurity in Nunavut

On May 16, 2012 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, released his preliminary report after his visit to Canada. The Special Rapporteur "was disconcerted by the deep and severe food insecurity faced by aboriginal peoples across Canada living both on- and off-reserve in remote and urban areas."

The government response to this report was to unleash cabinet ministers who attacked the Special Rapporteur and dismissed his end of mission statement.

Canada to reveal next step in closer China trade ties

Canada is set to announce it has completed an important step toward closer trade ties with China, CBC News has learned.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to make the announcement later today at the G20 leaders summit in Mexico.

Senior sources say Harper will detail some of the next moves toward closer trade integration with China, the dynamo of the emerging economies that include Brazil, Russia and India.

CRA officials had hand in $1-million kickback scheme, Mounties allege

Officials at the Canada Revenue Agency were part of attempts to squeeze a $1-million kickback from an accounting firm in exchange for a promise to wipe out a massive tax bill, an RCMP search warrant alleges.

The court document adds to allegations of corruption at the federal tax-collection agency involving senior staff in the Montreal offices of the CRA and retired officials who left the agency to become tax consultants.

The document says that in 2001, a CRA auditor named Nick Iammarrone started examining the books of a numbered company belonging to accountant Jacky Schryver.

Doctors protest 'disastrous' cuts to refugee health

Doctors threw on their white coats Monday and rushed to Parliament Hill, which they say is the scene for the start of a national medical emergency: deteriorating refugee health.

Hundreds of medical professionals are protesting government cuts to the interim federal health program, which provides extended health-care benefits to refugees.

"We are launching into an uncontrolled, disastrous, human health experience by arbitrarily denying life-saving medical care to some of the most vulnerable and traumatized people in the whole world," said Dr. Mark Tyndall, the head of infectious diseases at the Ottawa hospital.

Canadian airports being wired with listening equipment that ‘will record conversations’: report

Canadian travelers beware -- 'Big Brother' will soon be listening to every word.

According to a PostMedia News report, airports and border crossings across Canada are being wired with high-definition cameras and microphones that can eavesdrop on your conversations.

At Canada's largest airports, listening devices will  be limited to "controlled areas" which  include the areas surrounding aircraft that have arrived in or are about to leave Canada, the primary inspection area where all travellers must report to a border services officer, the secondary inspection area where border services officers conduct further examinations of travellers and goods as well as certain holding and departure areas at the airport.

Mexico invited to join Trans-Pacific trade pact, Canada still waiting

Mexico has become the latest country invited to join the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership talks, which would mark a major blow to Canada’s bid for expanded ties with Asia should Ottawa be left out of the deal.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been lobbying hard to get Canada at the table, but at this point it hasn’t happened.

On Monday, however, Mexico was issued an invitation to join, a move it heartily welcomed.

Judge backs Ottawa’s bid to break up wheat-board monopoly

The Federal Court of Appeal has upheld the government's move to effectively dismantled the Canadian Wheat Board, dealing a blow to farmers who had opposed the law.

A group of former wheat-board directors, elected by farmers, argued that by law the federal government had to consult grain growers before making fundamental changes to how the agency operates. The government disagreed, saying it won a mandate in the last election to change legislation.

Release soldier suicide documents or face Federal Court challenge, inquiry chairman tells MacKay

OTTAWA — The standoff between Defence Minister Peter MacKay and the military inquiry probing the suicide of an Afghan war veteran grew more bitter Monday as the inquiry’s chairman questioned MacKay’s right to withhold and censor documents.

Following weeks of wrangling, Military Police Complaints Commission chairman Glenn Stannard wrote to MacKay late Monday afternoon urging him to take a “common sense approach” and release documents related to the 2008 suicide of Cpl. Stuart Langridge.

In his letter, Stannard tells the defence minister he was wrong when he told the House of Commons last week that Supreme Court of Canada decisions leave him no choice but to keep certain documents from the Commission.

Why F-35 pilots have the jitters

A host of problems plague the US military's newest jet fighter, the F-35, but one of the simplest yet most troublesome is identified in a new government audit as unreadable "symbology."

The problem exists inside a small item at the heart of what makes the F-35 the world's most sophisticated aircraft - if only it could be made to work. Namely, the pilot's helmet visor. On the world's most advanced, fifth-generation military aircraft, the visor is meant to be much more than a sun shield. It is supposed to do wondrous things.

Conservative backbencher blasted for blaming 'bureaucrats' for budget cuts

OTTAWA — A second B.C. Conservative MP who has expressed concern about the Harper government's budget came under attack in the House of Commons Monday.

Veteran Vancouver Island MP James Lunney told a radio station last week that he was concerned about the closure of the Kitsilano search-and-rescue station in Vancouver and a number of marine communications centres across Canada, including centres in Vancouver, Comox and Tofino.

But Lunney, MP for Nanaimo-Alberni, directed blame at bureaucrats rather than Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Understanding Canada no more

On May 1, 2012, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued the following brief statement:

“In the current fiscal context, the decision was made to focus our programming on the department’s core mandate first. As a result, we are phasing out the international Canadian studies program, and will be reducing the funding and geographic scope of the International Scholarships Program.”

Thus ended 40 years of grants to visiting scholars, to international organizations that fostered Canadian studies abroad (in countries as far flung as Australia, China and South Africa), and to programs throughout the world that developed courses and symposia on Canadian subjects.