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.]

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Defending Bev Oda - but not for the reasons you think

Okay. Admittedly that may be the most unpopular title of a blog I have ever tapped out on my laptop.

I can't and won’t explain or defend the $16 orange juice or the limo, but why people focus on that and not the fact that every single day Stephen Harper moves within Ottawa with a motorcade of two black sedans (front and rear) with three smoky-glassed, bullet proof SUVs in between -- FIVE vehicles -- is beyond me. The reality of our outrage levels are such that $16 orange juice grabs headlines and $20 million a year on the PM’s personal security (more than double previous PMs) rolls right by without notice. It’s the way people freak out over a few pennies increase on a litre of gasoline, but, without a whimper, purchase completely unnecessary bottled water at a higher price per litre than gas. It’s just one of those human nature things that defy rational explanation.

Flanagan credits central management of voter and donor ID for party's continued fundraising success

The federal Conservative Party, which raised $25.9-million last year, continues to trounce its political rivals and raises more than any other federal political party because of its centralized management of voter and donor information, says Tom Flanagan, conservative political strategist, pundit, and a former top adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“This is a business. Under the law, which prohibits large donations, you have to understand how to run the business to get lots of relatively small donors,” Prof. Flanagan told The Hill Times following the release of the national parties’ annual financial returns by Elections Canada on Wednesday.

Civil servants share $6B 'severance' without losing jobs

While federal budget cuts are sending some public servants to the unemployment line, most of those keeping their jobs will be laughing all the way to the bank with a pay raise and special lump-sum cheques of up to $150,000.

The Harper government is in the process of handing out a jaw-dropping $6 billion in special "severance" cheques to hundreds of thousands of federal workers who aren't losing their jobs or even changing desks.

Global economy: three ways global leaders just don’t get it

One of life’s more common frustrations is when experts don’t “get it.” A sputtering global economy is in such a bind today. There are three essential points political leaders worldwide still don’t get. And this is holding us back from a 21st century that promises to be the most successful ever.

The first point is that this is no run-of-the-mill industrial recession. This is a rare financial recession, whose devastation is acute and widespread in the world.

The more radical the Tories appear, the less radical the NDP might

Amid fears that our democracy had been falling asleep, come a spate of polls that show the Conservatives tied with or even trailing the NDP, and in one case, dipping below 30 per cent.

The Harper Conservatives won’t lose their composure over these numbers. After all, there are years before an election. And, with as controversial an agenda as they have, one could make a case that the damage has been pretty modest.

Zionist attempts to whitewash Gaza realities

Two weeks ago, while Beit Zatoun hosted “A Child’s View from Gaza,” a series of drawings made by Palestinian school children in Gaza, I spoke to a small audience about the lives of Palestinians, particularly children, in occupied Palestine, occupied Gaza under siege.

Anyone who knows of Gaza under the Israeli-led siege and closures since 2006 (or as Amira Hass argues, a steadily worsening closure since the ’90s) knows that Palestinians in Gaza have been rendered destitute, 80 per cent of whom are food aid-dependent.

Disorganized control room to blame for Enbridge U.S. pipeline spill: records

OTTAWA — A disorganized control room and bullying of inexperienced staff are allegedly to blame for a three-million litre oil spill in a Michigan River from a pipeline operated by Alberta-based Enbridge, says newly released records among hundreds of pages of evidence from a U.S. government investigation.

The evidence includes testimony from a senior Enbridge employee who suggests the energy company, now promoting new projects in Canada such as the multibillion dollar Northern Gateway pipeline from Edmonton to the British Columbia coast, is years away from achieving "world-class" safety standards.

Julian Fantino: An Ego Too Big for the Job

Official international development assistance for the world's poorest countries has become a precarious business in recent years. If the first five years of the last decade were seen as a time of foreign aid and development renaissance -- debt relief, Millennial Development Goals, movement towards more aid accountability -- the last five years became the decline of most of these important activities. Then with the arrival of the world economic turndown, advanced governments began the inevitable process of concentrating on the home front at the expense of the world's most vulnerable and all those promised commitments.

Time to flip - The voters may be starting to tire of the prime minister’s bullying

IT IS the time of year when Canadian politicians pack up their papers in Ottawa, and fan out across the country for the gruelling round of voter-pleasing known as the barbecue circuit. This year some opponents of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government will tuck into their steaks and burgers with new hope. Not only have the Conservatives lost ground in opinion polls (see chart), but the opposition reckons that last month’s bruising parliamentary battles over the budget bill reminded Canadians of what they dislike about Mr Harper.

The government bill was a massive 425 pages, amending almost 70 laws. The Conservatives said it embodied an essential and integrated plan to protect Canada from an uncertain world economy. But, as well as trimming benefits for the old and the unemployed, its provisions include a long list of apparently unrelated matters: cutting fisheries protection, curbing government oversight of the federal intelligence agency, limiting environmental reviews of big natural-resource projects, tightening some immigration laws and allowing American officials to arrest Canadian citizens in Canada.

Why universal childcare is essential for a more equal Canada

If anything positive has emerged from Canada's growing inequality, it is that a conversation about "the Canada we want" has begun, as pundits and ordinary Canadians have begun to make the connections between health and wealth, public services and social justice, economics and democracy, taxes, inequality and social programs. Over the past year, public forums, blogs, conferences, and the media have explored these issues that came to full public attention when the Occupy Movement shone a spotlight on inequality. As this debate has gained strength, the idea that a national childcare program is a key piece of a more equal Canada has become part of the discourse.

What’s behind Canada's entry to the Trans-Pacific partnership talks?

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama formally extended an invitation to Canada to join the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, a proposed trade deal that includes the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam (Mexico was also added last week). Supporters have lauded the TPP as potentially the world’s most important trade pact and the Canadian government spent months crossing the globe to lobby for an invitation.

Yet dig beneath the heady promises and the benefits for Canada are hard to identify. The price of admission was very steep – Canada appears to have agreed to conditions that grant it second-tier status – and the economic benefits from improved access to TPP economies are likely to be relatively minor since we already have free-trade agreements with four of the ten participants.

U.S. Net Worth Takes A Hit

As Americans celebrate July 4, Independence Day, new numbers out of the U.S. shed some light on why Canada's finance minister is so focused on Canadians' debt.

Recent economic numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal how Americans have been dealing with the downturn over the past few years — and the numbers aren't good.

They show that between 2005 and 2010, American households lost 35 per cent of their average net worth. U.S. household median net worth fell to $66,740 in 2010 from $102,844 in 2005. That suggests one-third of net worth has been wiped out and it points to two things: the decline U.S. real estate values and changes in the stock market.

Plastic Pollution: Seabirds On B.C., Washington, Oregon Coast Eating Bellyfuls Of Plastic

VANCOUVER - Seabirds eat everything from twine, candy wrappers and Styrofoam, and their stomach contents show there's been a dramatic increase in plastic pollution off the Pacific Northwest coast in the last four decades, a new study suggests.

University of British Columbia researcher Stephanie Avery-Gomm said the amount of plastic a northern fulmar gobbles up provides a snapshot of the garbage that ends up in a big part of the Pacific Ocean.

Cabinet Shuffle: Julian Fantino A Controversial Replacement For Bev Oda

OTTAWA - By replacing Bev Oda with Julian Fantino as the minister in charge of Canada's aid efforts, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has swapped one controversial member of his cabinet for another.

In the job he just left as associate defence minister, Fantino was the Conservative government's point man on the troubled F-35 stealth fighter purchase.

Department of National Defence outspends rest of government on hockey pucks, wrist bands

OTTAWA — While it's not the biggest procurement question the Department of National Defence faces, DND has outspent the rest of the government four-to-one on hockey pucks and wrist bands over the last five years.

The federal government reported spending more than half a million dollars on promotional pucks, sports jerseys, plastic wrist bands and golf balls from 2007 to 2012, according to reports tabled in the House of Commons.

Federal watchdog finds more cooked contracts at agency that teaches ethics

OTTAWA - A federal watchdog has blown the whistle on a series of cooked contracts at a government agency that teaches ethics to public servants.

The blistering findings mark the second time in less than a year that Canada's procurement ombudsman has discovered bureaucrats carefully tailoring contract requirements to get the suppliers they prefer.

The latest case involves a dozen training contracts — together worth $170,000 — awarded by the Canada School of Public Service between 2009 and 2011.

Prison guards' use of force rises with overcrowding

The use of tear gas, pepper spray, guns and physical restraint is on the rise in Canada’s prisons to defuse violence — an upward trend linked to a more aggressive, gang-affiliated inmate population and overcrowded conditions.

Documents obtained by CBC News Network's Power & Politics under Access to Information show security incidents where use of force was applied against federal offenders have increased by 37 per cent in the last five years — to 1,339 in 2011-12 from 975 incidents in 2007-08.

Critics question Fantino's promotion after troubled fighter-jet procurement

OTTAWA - By replacing Bev Oda with Julian Fantino as the minister in charge of Canada's aid efforts, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has swapped one controversial member of his cabinet for another.

In the job he just left as associate defence minister, Fantino was the Conservative government's point man on the troubled F-35 stealth fighter purchase.

The procurement became a political lightning rod, with oppositions parties, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the auditor general all questioning the price tag and the method for selection.

Tories raised nearly $23 million in campaign funds last year: Elections Canada

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative party raised $22.7 million last year to stock its war chest and help run its successful election campaign.

The figure was released Wednesday by Elections Canada, confirming the long-held view that the governing Tories are experts at political fundraising.

Although similar figures were released for the other major political parties, details on the NDP's financial records for 2011 were not released because the party requested an extension to the July 3, 2012 deadline.

Del Mastro lashes out against Elections Canada and the media over expense allegations

OTTAWA — Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro lashed out at Elections Canada on Wednesday, accusing the agency of leaking to the media and saying its handling of an investigation into his 2008 election campaign finances is “very unfair.”

“This has been a disturbing situation, to put it mildly,” he told reporters in his hometown of Peterborough, Ont.

“I’m dealing with allegations for which there is no process to clear my name. How do you deal with that?”

Big money speaks quietly to the recalcitrant 100-year-old Calgary Stampede

Money talks, and what money is saying now, the day before the 100th opening of the Calgary Stampede, is that Canadians are turning away from animal cruelty as entertainment.

Sometimes a whisper is louder than a shout, and the big money was barely whispering on the topic of harm to animals at the Calgary Stampede, which opens for the 100th time tomorrow. But rest assured those sibilant sounds from the upper reaches of Bell Canada's corporate office in Montreal are being heard clearly in the boardroom of the Stampede Board as the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" marks its centennial.

Euro 2012: Ugly racism mars showcase of the beautiful game

Like all major sports tournaments, Euro 2012 was marked by both surprises (the Netherlands not making it past the group stage despite being one of the favourites to win the tournament) and disappointments (England being eliminated on penalty kicks yet again).

However, Euro 2012 was especially noteworthy due to the spate of racist incidents making headlines throughout the tournament, at times overshadowing many of the games themselves. Issues of "race" and racism had emerged even before Euro 2012 began with the late May broadcast of the BBC Panorama documentary Stadiums of Hate, in which investigative reporters spoke to neo-Nazi football hooligans in Poland and Ukraine and witnessed attacks on racialized fans in the stands where police and security did nothing. In this program, former England captain Sol Campbell advised English fans to avoid travelling to Ukraine and Poland, and even questioned why UEFA had awarded Euro 2012 to these countries given their fans' history of racism. It was also revealed that the families of black English team members Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had decided against travelling to the tournament for fears of encountering racist violence.

In the valley of the shadow of peak oil

In 1956 Texan geochemist Marion King Hubbert made a presentation to the annual meeting of the American Petroleum Institute in San Antonio, Texas. King Hubbert (as he was known to many) made a bold prediction, that in every geographical area, from a single oil field to the entire planet, the rate of petroleum production would follow a logistic distribution (frequently, erroneously, referred to as a "bell-shaped" curve). Extraction of oil would rise, gradually hit a peak, and then irreversibly decline and tail off. On the face of it, it seems like a common sense enough notion; oil, a fossil fuel, is after all, a finite resource. Although the height of the curve and its duration might vary depending on the size of the reserves, in the end one cannot wring proverbial blood (or in this case, oil) out of a stone. Oil production will hit a peak, and then logarithmically decline.

‘We were kind of the last man standing’; outgoing National Round Table on the Environment and Economy president defends its track record as closure approaches

The outgoing president of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, whose recently-released report stated that Canada is not on pace to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, is defending its track record, despite the federal government’s decision to cut the federally-funded sustainable development think-tank.

In an interview with The Hill Times, David McLaughlin said he is confident that the NRTEE’s reports on sustainable development would continue to influence federal public policy after the agency closes its doors next March.

Tory labour reforms would drive down wages, NDP warns

A controversial Progressive Conservative proposal to defang unions and give business greater workforce flexibility would drive down wages and undermine the middle class, the New Democrats charge.

The Tories’ new 20-page “white paper” on labour law reform recommends Ontario move in the direction of many U.S. states allowing employees to opt out of unions.

While PC Leader Tim Hudak’s scheme has been greeted enthusiastically in party circles and on many of the province’s right-wing talk-radio shows, his political opponents are leery.

Climate Change Is Already Shrinking Crop Yields

For years now, people have wondered how climate change will affect farming. How will humanity feed itself during a time of rising temperatures and recurring drought?

Here in the US, we're starting to get a taste of things to come—and it's bitter. Brutal heat is now roiling the main growing regions for corn, soy, and wheat, the biggest US crops. According to Bloomberg News, 71 percent of the Midwest is experiencing "drier-than-normal conditions," and temperatures are projected to be above 90 degrees in large swaths of key corn/soy-growing states Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana through July 7 if not longer.

The Big, Bad Business of Fighting Guest Worker Rights

In May, a 911 dispatcher received a call from a desperate employee of CJ’s Seafood, a crawfish processing company in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. The phone conversation was confusing—the caller only spoke Spanish—and when police arrived to investigate, the nervous worker, under the watchful eye of her boss, explained that she had dialed the number by mistake.

The following day, CJ’s Seafood owner Michael Leblanc called together the approximately forty people he employs under the H-2B guest worker program, the majority of whom permanently reside in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. According to accounts from multiple workers, Leblanc explained that CJ’s was a family business and that anyone who tried to harm the company by contacting authorities was harming Leblanc’s family. “He told us that he knew both good people and bad people in Mexico,” said Ana Diaz, a guest worker who has worked at CJ’s for more than eight seasons. “And that he knew where we lived and where our families lived, and could find us.”