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 26, 2012

Encana Collusion Allegations Prompt Internal Probe

CALGARY -- Encana launched an investigation Monday into accusations it colluded with a U.S. rival in order to keep land prices low in Michigan.

"In accordance with Encana's policies, an investigation of this matter was immediately initiated,'' David O'Brien, chairman of Encana's board of directors, said in an emailed statement.

"Encana therefore will not provide any further information at this time.''

The age of profanity

Bob Rae is not one to hide his feelings. When he is angry or annoyed, which isn’t uncommon, he speaks directly and colourfully.

Last December, for example, learning of a sophomoric spat on Twitter between two ambitious young Liberals, he tweeted: “What bulls--- is this?”

His profanity did not go unnoticed. Then again it came on Twitter, where anything goes, as it does for all social media. According to one study, 47 per cent of users of Facebook have profanity on their walls.

More recently, Rae was speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons. On the question of whether he was too old to be permanent party leader, he barked into the microphones: “That’s bulls---.”

Jean feared ‘dreadful crisis’ when Harper sought prorogation: ex-adviser

The woman who held Stephen Harper’s career in her hands in December, 2008, was concerned that refusing the Conservative Leader’s request to shutter the Commons would lead to a crisis of confidence in Canada’s political system, a former adviser says.

Facing the prospect of losing his job in early December, 2008, the Prime Minister visited former governor-general Michaëlle Jean at Rideau Hall to ask her to prorogue – or temporarily shut down – Parliament. She consented.

Auditor slams Toronto energy retrofit program

When the city decided to shell out $274,000 for environmentally friendly retrofits to Ted Reeve Community Arena in the Upper Beach, the investment was supposed to pay for itself in cheaper energy bills.

Instead, virtually no savings materialized and the arena board struck an agreement to pay back only $51,114 of the upfront costs, according to Michael Haughton, the facility’s long-time manager. “It’s a disaster for the taxpayers of Toronto,” he said, adding that he warned early on that the estimated savings were “incredibly ambitious.”

PMO and PCO have become indistinguishable

At Convocation last year, the Honourable John Crosbie decried excessive centralization of power within the federal government. I know this, because he sent me a copy of his speech; and by way of retaliation I sent him copy of one of mine on a related subject.

John Crosbie, who was gold medallist in Politics at Queens in his youth and is an honorary doctor here now, was one of the most gifted and dynamic parliamentarians of our day. Not surprisingly, he is deeply concerned by the erosion of parliamentary democracy resulting from this centralization of power, which began more than 40 years ago and has accelerated exponentially over that period.

This centralization of power has led, inevitably I believe, to other afflictions. One of these is dysfunction in what we used to understand to be the practice of cabinet government. Another is the impairment of the professional, merit-based, non-partisan public service.

Feds admitted dangers of asbestos while fighting 'hazardous' label: documents

OTTAWA — The federal government acknowledged years ago that the dangers of chrysotile asbestos warranted limits on its export — but still fought against international restrictions over the past decade — internal records show.

The memorandum to Environment Minister Peter Kent, obtained by Postmedia News under access to information, states the scientific panel for the UN's Rotterdam Convention was on solid ground in 2002 when it first proposed the listing of chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen mined in Quebec, as a hazardous material on Annex III of the convention.

Summer break could leave Hill workers stuck in path of EI changes

Dozens of House of Commons employees risk getting hit hard by their own government’s changes to Canada’s employment insurance rules, iPolitics has learned.

From waiters in the parliamentary restaurant to the people who transcribe parliamentary debates and committee meetings for Hansard, dozens of House of Commons employees are quietly laid off every time Parliament takes a protracted break. While some manage to find alternate jobs until parliamentarians return, many others count on EI to make ends meet over the summer months or during the six week long Christmas break.

The practice has gone on for years.

However, when changes to the government’s employment insurance system go into effect early next year, those who collect EI when Parliament lays them off risk being labeled frequent claimants under the new rules. From the start of each EI claim, they could be required to expand their job search to jobs similar to their normal jobs and accept wages starting at 80 per cent of their previous hourly wage. 

Ottawa public servants brace for another round of layoff notices

OTTAWA — Canada’s public servants are bracing for another onslaught of notices this week warning them that they could lose their jobs as departments rein in spending to meet the Conservatives’ $5.2 billion spending-cut target.

At least a dozen departments are expected to deliver hundreds of notices to employees Wednesday and Thursday before the summer vacation season swings into high gear. The notices will tell employees they are either losing their jobs or the work that they do is being affected as departments manage the cuts.

How far will Prime Minister Stephen Harper go with separatists to hang onto power?

Now that our sullen neo-conservative prime minister is on speaking terms once again with former PM Brian Mulroney -- in desperate hopes of staving off an eventual electoral disaster in Quebec at the hands of the federalist NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair -- one wonders how long it will be before the Harper Government sits down to sup with separatists.

Sure enough, it was only a few hours after Harper's meeting with Mulroney that Industry Minister Christian Paradis, the PM's "Quebec lieutenant," had proclaimed a rapprochement between the Harper Conservatives and the separatist Parti Quebecois. Details, it is reported, will follow.

What a catastrophe from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's perspective that he must eventually face an opponent who is both immensely popular in Quebec and a demonstrably a committed federalist!

2015 will be too late: We need an unprecedented mass movement to really stop Harper

We've now had a week to reflect on the Harper Conservative government's passage of the sprawling omnibus Bill C-38.

This mega bill, checking in at well over 400 pages in length, was ostensibly the budget implementation bill. In reality, it went way beyond budget matters.

Despite its bland, innocuous name - the "Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act" - this Bill represents a grave threat on many levels, a manifestation of Stephen Harper's ambitious, wide-ranging agenda.

BP oil spill hastened loss of Louisiana marshes, study says

The 2010 BP oil spill accelerated the loss of Louisiana’s delicate marshlands, which were already rapidly disappearing before the largest oil spill in U.S. history, a new study reports.

As the oil washed into the marshlands, it coated and smothered thick grasses at their edge. When the grass died, deep roots that held the soil together also died, leaving the shore banks of the marshlands to crumble, said Brian Silliman, the University of Florida researcher who led the new study.

Health Care As a Privilege: What the GOP Won’t Admit

As we wait for a Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act this week, there is one urgent, overriding moral question at the heart of the health-care fight. Paradoxically, and maddeningly, there has not been any open moral debate over it. That question is whether access to basic medical care ought to be considered a right or something that is earned.

Doubts grow over David Cameron's welfare blitz

Fresh questions over the cost, timetable and viability of universal credit, the centrepiece of the first wave of the government's welfare reforms, emerged on Monday as David Cameron unveiled 17 further reforms aimed at lopping £10bn off the welfare budget.

The prime minister's second tranche of reforms go far wider than expected and are designed to give political momentum to the government.

Louisiana Private Schools Teach Loch Ness Monster Is Real In Effort To Disprove Evolution Theory

Some students at private schools in Louisiana are being taught that Scotland's fabled Loch Ness monster is real, a claim that is then held as evidence disproving Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, the Scotsman reports.

Thousands of students across the state are eligible to receive publicly funded vouchers to allow them to attend private Christian schools where textbooks published by Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) claim the monster was actually a dinosaur that existed at the same time as man, an assertion which conflicts with the theory of evolution.

Big Bank CEO Pay Spiked An Average Of 12 Percent In 2011, Study Says

Here's some advice: Become a CEO.

The CEOs of 15 top U.S. and European banks got an average raise of 12 percent last year, pushing their average pay up to $12.8 million, according to research by Equilar, an executive compensation data firm. The Financial Times first asked Equilar for the information and published the results on Monday.

In a lot of ways, it's the same old post-recession story: CEO pay up, corporate profits hit all-time high, wages as a share of the economy reach record low.

Arizona Immigration Law Ruling May Mean Boon For Private Prison Business

As the Supreme Court upheld a central provision of Arizona's controversial immigration law on Monday -– a requirement for law enforcement to check the legal status of suspected undocumented immigrants -- a powerful corporate lobby may stand to benefit: the private prison industry.

For-profit prison companies including Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group Inc. have capitalized on the immigration crackdown over the past decade, now controlling nearly half of the nation's vast immigrant detention system. Both companies have more than doubled revenues from the business of detaining immigrants since 2005, collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Lackland Air Force Base Rocked By Sex Scandal

SAN ANTONIO -- From a chapel pulpit on Lackland Air Force Base, where every American airman reports for basic training, Col. Glenn Palmer delivered his first order to nearly 600 recruits seated in the pews: If you're sexually harassed or assaulted, tell someone.

"My job is to give you a safe, effective training environment," Palmer said firmly.

What the colonel did not mention directly in his recent address was a widening sex scandal that has rocked the base, one of the nation's busiest military training centers. Allegations that male instructors had sex with, and in one case raped, female trainees have led to criminal charges against four men. Charges against others are possible.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: Historic Egypt Election Outweighed by Continued Dominance of Military Rule

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi has become Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president after beating out former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik. Despite his historic victory, Morsi will face major challenges under Egypt’s ruling military council. The council recently issued new restrictions on the incoming president’s authority and will retain control of Egypt’s budget and legislation. "This has been a flawed [transition] process," says Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. "June 30th, which is when there’s supposed to be a handover of power, isn’t a real handover of power at all."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Juvenile Justice: Plaintiffs’ Lawyer, Victim’s Father Hail Rejection of Mandatory Life Terms for Kids

In a groundbreaking ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that states may not impose mandatory life sentences without parole on children, even if they have been convicted of taking part in a murder. The justices ruled in a five-to-four decision that such harsh sentencing for children violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. "[We’ve] been victims of the politics of fear and anger in this country for 40 years [with] tremendous investment into excessive sentences, mass incarceration," says juvenile defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, who filed the landmark Supreme Court case. "Many of the people who have been brought into that transformation have been kids." We’re also joined by Azim Khamisa, whose 20-year-old son Tariq was killed by a 14-year-old gang member, Tony Hicks, in 1995. Khamisa co-signed an amicus brief on behalf of victim family members who oppose life without parole for children. "The brain of a child is not formed at the age of 14," Khamisa says. "So I think there is a lot of potential in these young offenders, that if we create the right kind of an environment ... these kids can come back into society, and not only come back into society, but come back as contributing members."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

In Mixed Ruling, Supreme Court Overturns Parts of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, Upholds "Show Me Your Papers"

The Supreme Court has overturned key parts of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law S.B. 1070 but upheld the law’s controversial "show me your papers" provision. On Monday, the court struck down three of the law’s four provisions that subject undocumented immigrants to criminal penalties for seeking work or failing to carry immigration papers at all times. In each case, the majority said those powers rest with the federal government, not with Arizona. But in a unanimous decision, the justices upheld the law’s controversial Section 2B, which requires police to check the immigration status of people they stop before releasing them. We’re joined from Washington, D.C., by Marielena Hincapié of the National Immigration Law Center, a group that has filed a civil rights challenge to S.B. 1070 and similar laws in five other states, and from Phoenix by Viridiana Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant who would benefit from the Obama administration’s recent order allowing undocumented youth to apply for a two-year stay from deportation. "The fact that I can leave my house and tell my mom, 'Mom, I'll be back tonight,’ does not change the fact that she can leave the house and not tell me the same thing," Hernandez says. "That’s why we continue fighting, because our families are still at risk, and our communities are still at risk. And so, there hasn’t been [a] win unless our whole community wins."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

Moody's Downgrades 28 Spanish Banks' Ratings On Weakening Government Credit

Moody's Investors Service on Monday cut its credit ratings on 28 Spanish banks, saying the weakening financial condition of Spain's government is making it more difficult for that country to support its lenders.

The banks are also vulnerable to losses from Spain's busted real estate bubble, Moody's said.

Failed War On Drugs Feeding HIV/AIDs, Former Leaders Say

The war on drugs is a failure that is fuelling the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to a new report from an international panel of experts.

The report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy — which includes six former presidents, British business magnate Richard Branson and former Supreme Court of Canada Justice and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour — condemns tough enforcement policies that focus on criminalization and punishment over prevention and public health programs.

Economist Paul Krugman writes a repair manual for this depression

Stop calling it a recession.

“A recession is when things are going down,” the economist Paul Krugman says. “A depression is when things are down.” His new book, End This Depression Now, doesn’t mince words.

Things are dreadful — Krugman predicts this will last many more years so hunker down — as politicians continue to embrace economic punishment in hard times.

Defence Dept. braces for MacKay's ouster, other upheaval

OTTAWA — The Defence Department might be on the verge of its most sweeping change in two decades, with the top four jobs possibly switching hands by the fall.

There is widespread speculation that Central Nova MP Peter MacKay will lose his job as defence minister in a federal cabinet shuffle expected next month.

Internal reports are that staff are already bracing for the move.

Mayor Rob Ford’s pass on Pride simply dumb

Stuff that Mayor Rob Ford has found time for on his busy agenda in recent months:

 • Presenting a key to the city to McDonald’s Canada founder George Cohon.

 • Buying a dozen boxes of vanilla and chocolate cookies from Girl Guides.

 • Inspecting fallen concrete under the Gardiner Expressway.

 • Unveiling a new bus stop on the Danforth.

 • Attending the Good Friday procession in Little Italy.

 • Proclaiming Jane Jacobs Day.

 • Confronting a Toronto Star reporter on public property beyond his backyard fence and — it would appear — scrolling through the guy’s dropped cell phone.

‘Breathtakingly sexist’ video backfires on the EU

The European Union had the best of intentions to encourage young women to pursue careers in science. Alas, you probably wouldn’t know it by watching this totally baffling video.

The video, Science: It’s a Girl Thing!, was originally posted on the European Commission’s Research & Innovation website, but was quickly removed because – as Time magazine’s NewsFeed blog put it – it’s “breathtakingly sexist.”

Environment Canada raises alarms on chromite mining development in Ring of Fire

The same toxic material that Erin Brockovich discovered in the water of a small California town could pollute northern Ontario due to chromite mining in the Ring of Fire, documents obtained by the Star show.

Environment Canada has raised a series of red flags regarding a massive chromite mining initiative in the Ring of Fire, located 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

The federal ministry warned in a letter to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency of potential adverse effects of mine waste, including the carcinogen chromium-6.

Julian Ichim Sues Toronto Police And OPP For G20-Related Damages

TORONTO - A community activist who once gained notoriety for splashing chocolate milk on a prominent politician launched a lawsuit against police Monday, arguing he was targeted ahead of the G20 summit for his political views, not because he ever advocated violence.

While Julian Ichim is seeking $4 million in general and punitive damages, he said his suit was not about money but accountability.

Canada Income Inequality: StatsCan Cuts Will Harm Ability To Understand Wage Gap, Observers Fear

Just as Canadians are expressing concern about the country’s income gap in seemingly unprecedented numbers, our ability to find out what’s happening with incomes is about to take a serious hit.

In announcing last week that Canadians’ wages have been stagnating since the financial crisis of 2008, Statistics Canada added a little note declaring that it’s discontinuing its Survey of Labour Income Dynamics.

Why neglecting Europe is dangerous

Last week, Senator Doug Finley argued in this space against “high-spending European welfare states,” which through “excesses … of socialism” got themselves into a debt crisis. Mr. Finley says that it would be “beyond the pale” for Canada to contribute to the international financial bailout for Europe. There should be no Canadian helping hand, he says, because Europe behaved like an “irresponsible teenager.”

Most of his arguments are factually wrong, and taken together, they are dangerously historically ignorant.

Budget offers new tools to "authorize" water pollution, says Harper minister

OTTAWA — Changes to Canada's environmental protection laws in the federal budget implementation bill will offer new tools to "authorize" water pollution, while allowing the government to outsource services to protect the country's waterways, says Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield.

In a newly-released letter, Ashfield said the existing Fisheries Act, considered to be Canada's strongest environmental protection law, has "long played an important role in preventing pollution of Canadian waters." But he suggested it needed to be changed since it doesn't provide enough options allowing industry to disrupt or contaminate fish habitat.

Constitutional expert calls Stephen Harper government officials "disgusting rather than ignorant"

For many years, Peter Russell has been one of Canada's leading constitutional experts.

In an astonishing interview on the website, the University of Toronto professor emeritus characterized the Stephen Harper government as having "some pretty disgusting people in it".

Russell was referring to how the Harper government responded to the federal Liberals and New Democrats' plan to form a coalition government in late 2008.

On the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of the Waffle

This past weekend, June 24, marked the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of the Waffle from the NDP.

The Waffle, (actually the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada), for those who do not know it, was a grouping of socialists, nationalists, feminists and activists that was formed in 1969 within the NDP. It was, broadly speaking, led by James Laxer* and Mel Watkins.

The Waffle was ahead of its time in many respects. In one instance, spearheaded by Krista Maeots*, the Waffle was the first group to propose the notion of gender equity within the governing structures of the NDP. Even though it was only proposed in a limited form, it was opposed and voted down by the party hierarchy, including the eventual Lewis leadership.

Opposition MPs slam feds’ $1-million to $5-million move to contract out independent review of F-35 costing forecasts; Parliamentary Budget Office could have done it

PARLIAMENT HILL—The terms of an independent review the federal government is contracting to set new costing forecasts for its proposal to acquire a fleet of F-35 stealth fighter jets—now estimated to cost at least $40-billion to buy and maintain—has come under opposition fire and criticism from experts on military procurement.

Liberal and NDP MPs say they are surprised at the sweeping nature of information the government is set to hand over to the private-sector firm that wins the contract—valued at between $1-million and $5-million—and argued Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has already provided an authoritative estimate on the controversial acquisition while performing many other costing tasks on behalf of MPs through the comparatively small $2.4-million budget his office receives for a full year of operations through the Library of Parliament.