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, July 03, 2012

Bev Oda resigns as Conservative MP for Durham

OTTAWA—International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda is resigning from cabinet and stepping down as Conservative MP for Durham.

Oda made the announcement on her website Tuesday, saying that she informed Prime Minister Stephen Harper of her decision two weeks ago.

Her resignation takes effect on July 31.

“For over eight years, it has been an honour and privilege to have served the constituents in Clarington, Scugog and Uxbridge,” Oda said in the press release posted to her website Tuesday.

More Pacific Rim trade talks under way in San Diego: Canada not yet at table

SAN DIEGO - The United States and eight other Pacific Rim countries have opened another round of talks aimed at producing a new trade deal.

Negotiators trying to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement have met about a dozen times over the past three years.

The talks include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, with Canada, Mexico and possibly Japan expected to join.

Government settles in nurses’ discrimination complaint; settlement could top $200 million

OTTAWA — The federal government has agreed to pay more than $160 million to settle an eight-year-old gender discrimination complaint by nurses who work for the Canada Pension Plan.

Lawyers for the nurses and Treasury Board reached an agreement in principle about two weeks ago, but the settlement was kept under wraps until Tuesday, when the parties asked the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to endorse it and make it legally binding.

The Kochs v. Cato: Winners and Losers

The politically potent Koch Brothers have agreed to drop their lawsuit against the Washington-based Cato Institute. So what was the fight all about? And who won?

Last week, an agreement was announced in the dispute over control of Cato, America’s first, and largest, libertarian think tank. In exchange for the retirement of Cato’s current C.E.O., Ed Crane, and acceptance from all sides of his replacement, the banker John Allison, Charles and David Koch agreed to end their litigation. They also agreed to abandon their effort to exert influence over the organization through an ownership arrangement that involved them holding shares rather than relying on the board of directors to pick top personnel. And they agreed that only David Koch, and not his brother Charles, would take a place on the think tank’s board. Reduced to its simplest level, says Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and historian who briefly worked at Cato and who has fallen out with the Kochs, the dispute came down to control of the think tank’s post-Crane future: “It was about making sure that when he left they would name his successor.” Under Crane, Cato achieved a degree of intellectual independence, pushing not only the predictable anti-government, pro-business views of the Kochs but also some ideas that clashed with the Republican platform, including opposition to the use of torture during the Bush years and support for gay rights and drug legalization—both of which David Koch supports, but which he and his brother have not made priorities.

Where the Money Lives

A person who worked for Mitt Romney at the consulting firm Bain and Co. in 1977 remembers him with mixed feelings. “Mitt was … a really wonderful boss,” the former employee says. “He was nice, he was fair, he was logical, he said what he wanted … he was really encouraging.” But Bain and Co., the person recalls, pushed employees to find out secret revenue and sales data on its clients’ competitors. Romney, the person says, suggested “falsifying” who they were to get such information, by pretending to be a graduate student working on a proj­ect at Harvard. (The person, in fact, was a Harvard student, at Bain for the summer, but not working on any such proj­ects.) “Mitt said to me something like ‘We won’t ask you to lie. I am not going to tell you to do this, but [it is] a really good way to get the information.’ … I would not have had anything in my analysis if I had not pretended.

Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age

The election of 2012 raises two perplexing questions. The first is how the GOP could put up someone for president who so brazenly epitomizes the excesses of casino capitalism that have nearly destroyed the economy and overwhelmed our democracy. The second is why the Democrats have failed to point this out.

The White House has criticized Mitt Romney for his years at the helm of Bain Capital, pointing to a deal that led to the bankruptcy of GS Technologies, a Bain investment in Kansas City that went belly up in 2001 at the cost of 750 jobs. But the White House hasn’t connected Romney’s Bain to the larger scourge of casino capitalism. Not surprisingly, its criticism has quickly degenerated into a “he said, she said” feud over what proportion of the companies that Bain bought and loaded up with debt subsequently went broke (it’s about 20 percent), and how many people lost their jobs relative to how many jobs were added because of Bain’s financial maneuvers (that depends on when you start and stop the clock). And it has invited a Republican countercharge that the administration gambled away taxpayer money on its own bad bet, the Solyndra solar panel company.

NAFTA on Steroids

While the Occupy movement has forced a public discussion of extreme corporate influence on every aspect of our lives, behind closed doors corporate America is implementing a stealth strategy to formalize its rule in a truly horrifying manner. The mechanism is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Negotiations have been conducted in extreme secrecy, so you are in good company if you have never heard of it. But the thirteenth round of negotiations between the United States and eight Pacific Rim nations will be held in San Diego in early July. 

Florida to Minorities: Don't Vote Here

LaVon Bracy, 63, understands the stakes in Florida’s current voting rights battle all too well. Her father, the Rev. Thomas Wright, is a civil rights luminary and former NAACP president who spent much of the 1960s fighting segregation, often under threat of death. When his chapter of the NAACP sued Alachua County Public Schools to desegregate, a teenage Bracy sacrificed her senior year to help integrate a white school. She has no fond prom memories; instead she remembers the people spitting in her face, the regular chants of “nigger” that greeted her, and the beating she took from a group of white male students, who went unpunished.

Congress's Big Gift to Monsanto

If you want your crops to bear fruit, you have to feed the soil. Few industries understand that old farming truism better than ag-biotech—the few companies that dominate the market for genetically modified seeds and other novel farming technologies. And they realize that the same wisdom applies to getting what you want in Washington, DC.

According to this 2010 analysis from Food & Water Watch, the ag-biotech industry spent $547.5 million between 1999 and 2009. It employed more than 100 lobbying firms in 2010 alone, FWW reports, in addition to their own in-house lobbying teams.

Wood dust warning came before deadly sawmill blasts

Sawmills in B.C.'s Interior were warned wood dust was an explosive risk before two deadly sawmill explosions earlier this year, in which wood dust is suspected as a factor.

But the advice took a back seat to concern that dust was harmful to workers' lungs.

In thousands of pages of 2007 to 2011 WorkSafeBC inspection reports, obtained by The Vancouver Sun under a freedom of information request, wood dust was highlighted as a concern nearly 100 times, primarily as a health risk and possible carcinogen.

Harper needs to get grip on spending priorities

Two items appeared in the news in the past week that ought to cause taxpayers to demand, “Wait! What in heaven’s name is going on?”

Both concern the federal government and its ability — or inability — to make sure that precious public funds are spent carefully and wisely. The first item was an article by David Pugliese, the very good military-affairs writer for the Ottawa Citizen. Pugliese published the piece on his Defence Watch blog.

Critics wonder if it's time for Canada to leave 'dysfunctional' UN

OTTAWA — Conservative backbench MP Larry Miller was already upset when a high-ranking United Nations food official recently came to Canada and harangued Canadians over their "self-righteous" attitude.

But when, soon after, a UN committee blasted the federal government's policy of deporting alleged war criminals, Miller decided "it was the straw that broke the camel's back."

His subsequent call for the Conservative government to review this country's membership in the UN sparked an instant reaction, with some wondering aloud whether Canada would be better off leaving the world organization altogether.

Canada’s spy service fights court ruling it says puts informants in danger

Canada’s spy agency says its network of informants has been “imperilled” by a Federal Court of Appeal decision that struck down its right to always shield the names of its sources.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.

“As with police informers, the identity of informers who provide information to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) must be protected or their lives and the lives of their families could be at risk,” federal lawyer David Tyndale argues in documents filed in support of the government’s leave to appeal.

Old-style political parties stand in the way of real democracy

The Harper Government's recent action in muscling through Parliament a massive omnibus budget bill has called into question the health of Canada's democracy.

So, a newly published book about Ottawa's woeful dysfunction is timely. In Power Shift, From Party Elites to Informed Citizens, Vaughan Lyon, a political scientist from Vancouver, argues it's time to kill off political parties.

Canada, he says, needs a more grassroots political enterprise in which "party democracy [would be transformed into] policy democracy."

Government tight-lipped on chopper delays

As the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Forces’ Sea King helicopter approaches, its replacement is nowhere in sight and Ottawa is being tight-lipped, says long-time Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer.

The most recent deadline of June for the delivery of the first CH-148 Cyclone has come and gone. Sikorsky International Operations Inc. has been contracted to deliver 28 of the state-of-the-art helicopters.

Shooting baby hippos for the sake of austerity

In the early 1990s, CTV broadcaster Eric Malling told Canadians the sad tale of a baby hippo shot by authorities at a New Zealand zoo.

Sad, but apparently necessary, Malling suggested in a special broadcast from down under. After all, New Zealand had big deficits, so there was no money to expand the hippo pen. What was a country to do but blow the newborn hippo away?

Malling's cautionary tale, which helped pitch an austerity agenda to Canadians 20 years ago, wouldn't seem out of place today, as we're once again being urged to hunker down for lean, mean times.

The 'Manhattanization' of Toronto will change family-housing dreams

The housing dreams of families wanting to live in central Toronto will undergo a sea change in the coming decade as the supply of detached homes dwindles and the remaining ones soar in price, real estate experts say.

The pressure is already mounting with single-family homes being snatched up in fierce bidding wars for tens of thousands of dollars — and in a few cases for $200,000 or more — over asking, often with no conditions attached to the offers to purchase.

Chinese factory scrapped after environmental protests

A Chinese city scrapped plans for a copper alloy plant on Tuesday after three days of protests by residents who feared it would poison them, in the latest unrest spurred by environmental concerns in the world’s second-largest economy.

The government of Shifang in the southwest Sichuan province, which initially said it would only suspend the project by Shanghai-listed Sichuan Hongda, caved in to pressure and announced the project would be stopped.

Wisconsin’s disease crosses the border

Caught in a punishing recession that just won’t end, many Americans must think they’ve been transported back to the 1930s. Meanwhile, U.S. labour laws are heading even further back in time. Emboldened Republicans in several states are trying to dismantle the last remaining features of New Deal labour law (as codified in the 1935 Wagner Act).

In the public sector, this crusade includes measures (such those in Wisconsin) that in essence ban unions and collective bargaining altogether. In the private sector, the favoured tool is the so-called right-to-work law. Pioneered by southern Dixiecrats who always hated the New Deal, these laws ban the union security and dues collection provisions that constitute the core of North American “majority unionism.” Workers make a majority decision (by signing cards or voting in an election) to form a union. The union is required to bargain on behalf of everyone in the bargaining unit. But without the power to collect dues, clearly the union cannot survive. Unions are thus effectively prohibited; indeed, in right-to-work states, private-sector unionism is virtually non-existent.

Absurd student debt has ended mass inclusion – our future is at risk

When I tell my students that in 1997 I didn't have to pay any fees for my degree, they often look at me in disbelief. This disbelief quickly turns into anger, however, when they reflect on the amount of debt they have had to incur, 15 years down the line, as a result of university fees, the cost of living in London and childcare so they can attend class (many university creches have closed in recent years). While many of my students also work during term time – often more than the university-recommended 16 hours a week maximum – just so they can stay afloat, their student loans quietly pile up, with average debt now standing at £26,000 and post-graduation unemployment beckoning. As students protesting at cuts to the Californian university system in 2009 put it: "We work and we borrow in order to work and to borrow."

Asbestos mine loan gives Charest ‘good reason to be ashamed’

The announcement was described as a national embarrassment, the crass political manoeuvre of a desperate Quebec government trying to hold on to a Liberal seat at the cost of public health.

Critics lined up with speed and in number on the long weekend to blast Premier Jean Charest for green-lighting a $58-million loan to Canada’s last asbestos mine late on the Friday of the unofficial start of summer vacation season.

Enbridge fined $3.7 mln for 2010 US oil spill

WASHINGTON, July 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. pipeline regulator on Monday slapped a $3.7 million fine, the largest penalty ever imposed, on Enbridge Inc for a July 2010 crude oil spill which contaminated stretches of the Kalamzoo River in Michigan. The Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said its probe uncovered two dozen regulation violations related to the leak on Enbridge's Line 6B near the town of Marshall, about mid-way between Detroit and Lake Michigan. "We will hold pipeline operators accountable if they do not follow proper safety procedures to protect the environment and local communities," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. Enbridge has 30 days to respond to the order. PHMSA's order against Enbridge accuses the company of failing to adhere to regulations for maintaining pipeline integrity. The agency also said the company attempted to bring the pipeline back into service despite receiving multiple leak alarms the night it ruptured, leading to the release of more oil. Enbridge's 30-inch line ultimately spilled more than 20,000 barrels of heavy crude and contaminated 38 miles (60 km) of the Kalamazoo River. The accident shut down the pipeline for more than two months and spawned a massive clean-up that the company has estimated will cost more than $700 million. Following the Enbridge spill and other major pipeline accidents, the Transportation Department enhanced its oversight last year. The department is collecting more data on pipelines and in 2011 closed 102 enforcement cases, its highest level for a single year. Last December, Congress passed a pipeline safety bill that raised maxiumum fines and authorized an increase in the number of pipeline inspectors. Enbridge said it was reviewing the PHMSA order. "We will not comment specifically on the contents of the (Notice of Probable Violation) until that analysis is complete," the company said in a statement.

Original Article
Source: vancouver sun
Author: Reuters 

The Roberts Rules

Thursday was destined to be an historic day for American liberty, and it was, though the new precedent is grim. The remarkable decision upholding the Affordable Care Act is shot through with confusion—the mandate that's really a tax, except when it isn't, and the government whose powers are limited and enumerated, except when they aren't. One thing is clear: This was a one-man show, and that man is John Roberts.

The Chief Justice ruled that ObamaCare's mandate violated the Commerce Clause, joined by the Court's conservative bloc, but he also said that the mandate fell within Congress's power to tax, joined by the Court's liberal bloc. In practice this is a restraint on federal power without real restraint—and, worse, the Chief Justice had to rewrite the statute Congress passed in order to salvage it. The ruling will stand as one of the great what-might-have-beens of American constitutional law.

Bob Diamond, Barclays Chief Executive, Quits Amid Mounting Pressure Over Rate-Fixing Scandal

LONDON (AP) — Barclays Chief Executive Bob Diamond has resigned with immediate effect, the latest scalp of a financial markets scandal that has also cost the job of the chairman.

The bank said Tuesday that outgoing-chairman Marcus Agius would lead the search for Diamond's replacement. Agius intends to stand down once a new chairman has been chosen, a spokesperson at Barclays said.

Climate Disasters’ Toll Worsened by Sustained Attacks on Public Sector, Science and Regulation

As we discuss the spate of extreme weather in the U.S., the author and professor Christian Parenti argues that the Republican-led assault on the public sector will leave states more vulnerable to global warming’s effects. "Another thing missing from these discussions — it’s not just the words 'climate change,' but the words ’public sector,’" Parenti says. "I mean, who’s out there fighting these fires? It’s the public sector. Where do people go when there are these cooling centers? It’s the public sector. ... This assault on the public sector must be linked to climate change." We’re also joined by The Guardian’s U.S. environment correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg and by Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground website.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

"This Is Just the Beginning": Forest Fires, Deadly Storms, Record Heat Reveal a Changed Climate

The past two weeks have witnessed the worst forest fires in Colorado history, a deadly Mid-Atlantic storm that left 23 dead and four million without power, and a record shattering heatwave across the East Coast and Midwest that has not seen since the Dust Bowl. More than 2,000 heat records have been broken in the past week. As the words "extreme weather" flash across TV screens, where are the other two words: "global warming"? We speak to The Guardian’s U.S. environment correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg and Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground website. "What we’re seeing now is the future," Masters says. "We’re going to be seeing a lot more weather like this, a lot more impacts like we’re seeing from this series of heatwaves, fires and storms... This is just the beginning."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Risky theories… Dangerous economic experiments…. Can we afford Harper's Conservatives?

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and its Alberta branch plant known as the Wildrose Party continue to push risky economic theories.

Funnily enough, though, that's just what they’re loudly accusing the federal NDP Opposition leader of doing in the federal version of the Wildrose Party's new attack advertisements aimed at Thomas Mulcair.

John Roberts' Switch On Obamacare Sparks Fascination With Supreme Court, Possible Leaks

WASHINGTON -- Since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling to uphold the heart of President Barack Obama’s health care law, the media’s fascination with Chief Justice John Roberts' decision to side with the majority and uphold the mandate as a tax has reached a fever pitch.

Now, Jan Crawford’s CBS report that Roberts changed his opinion on the Affordable Care Act -- going from agreeing with the court’s conservative justices to siding with its liberal faction -- has sparked a new wave of analysis. It's focused not just on his decision, but on who would leak information around the inner workings of a court typically cloaked in secrecy.

Queen courageous facing the devil

Despite the supposed quelling of the 30-year "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, it must have taken a great deal of restraint for Queen Elizabeth to control her gag reflex while shaking hands with the devil last week.

But shake it she did. Without a flinch.

The receiver of that diplomatic offering -- called a "historic first for the peace process" -- was none other than Martin McGuinness, now a deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, but once a former commander of the military wing of the terrorist Irish Republic Army.

Feds may backtrack on proposed reforms to refugee health policy

The federal government appears to have quietly backtracked on sweeping changes to its refugee health policy, a turnaround applauded by doctors even as it is denied by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

In April, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced reforms to the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides temporary health benefits to refugees until they qualify for provincial and territorial coverage.

Stop the Sludge. Honour the Treaties

Stop the Sludge. Honour the Treaties.

The Deets:

Tuesday July 3, 2012
7:00 pm
252 Bloor St. West, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Rm 5260

The Call Out:

Public info night featuring speakers from Six Nations and James Cooke of citizen groups Stop the Waste Park and the Southgate Public Interest Research Group.

Parliament should clarify ‘fair dealing’ provision in copyright act

One of the more contentious pieces of legislation currently wending its way toward adoption in Parliament is Bill C-11, the Copyright Modernization Act. The bill’s formidable goal of jointly protecting the rights of creators and those of consumers in the digital age has led to a polarized debate, and those who enter it are often characterized in unflattering terms by their opponents. There is one disputed clause, though, which has less to do with ideology than with good law-making.

Wheat Board demise fuels Ontario food fight

The impending end of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly has inflamed passions among Western Canadian farmers. It has also sparked an unusual and nasty takeover fight between two century-old Canadian agriculture firms.

The unlikely prize is an aging, tornado-damaged grain terminal in Goderich, Ont., on Lake Huron. It is owned by Thirdcoast Ltd., a 114-year-old public company with $26-million in 2011 sales and a share float so small (309,000 shares) that there are months when the stock, traded over the counter, doesn’t change hands at all.

Contaminated soil found at Toronto school

Soil at a Toronto Catholic school has levels of heavy metals and other pollutants exceeding provincial guidelines, a routine environmental assessment has revealed.

St. Josaphat elementary school on Pelham Ave., in the Davenport Rd.- Lansdowne Ave. area, was found to have soil samples with elevated levels of lead, cadmium and zinc.

“Ontario has one of the strictest guidelines in North America,” said John Yan, a Catholic board spokesman. “These same results would have passed in 2004. These are fairly new guidelines.”

Rio+20 Breaking News: Activists who spoke at the Peoples’ Summit killed

EJOLT partner Professor Marcelo Firpo has just send us a sad message:“I was with two fishermen on 19 June in a meeting at Peoples´Summit discussing the impacts of big projects (basically oil, mining and steel) in Rio de Janeiro State. Three days later they disappeared when went to work. They have just been found dead. The media is considering this case without importance and we will need more national and international pressure in order to protect other people and to investigate who have killed them.”

On 24 and 25 June 2012 the bodies of human rights defenders Mr Almir Nogueira de Amorim and Mr João Luiz Telles Penetra were found following their disappearance on 23 June 2012.

Democracy and Harper: what historians will say

How will historians view Stephen Harper’s place in history?

One view — that held by the Opposition — is that Harper is an autocrat who has no respect for parliamentary democracy. Bill C-38, the government’s omnibus budget bill, is the latest piece of evidence for this.

The other view is that Harper is a realist, that is, someone who is focused on getting things done. If transparency or accountability suffers somewhat in the process, so be it. First and foremost, people want results — and prime ministers who ignore this don’t get re-elected.