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 12, 2012

Quebec Student Protests Come To Ontario

TORONTO - Quebec organizers responsible for the longest and largest student strike in Canadian history are taking their message to Ontario university campuses.

The nine-day "Student Solidarity Tour" kicks off Thursday night in Ottawa with a speech by high-profile student protest leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

Calls for Alberta pipeline safety review grow louder

Calls for an independent review into pipeline safety in Alberta are growing, with some saying it’s even more urgent now that a U.S. investigation has sharply criticized a Calgary company’s efforts to clean up a major oil spill.

“If we don’t have tough regulations in place making sure that our pipelines are very safe, then people are not going to accept pipelines coming through their territories,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta.

Downtown not the place to raise kids, says Toronto Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told council and then reporters on Thursday that he thinks downtown Toronto is an unsuitable place to raise children.

Holyday, a former Etobicoke mayor who lives doors down from his grandchildren in a house on a “very quiet” suburban street, made the comments as he passionately argued against forcing a condo developer to include family-friendly three-bedroom units in a proposed 47-storey building at King St. W. and John St.

Statistics Canada cuts compromise the tools used to understand the state

For many of us, it started with the census. In a controversial move, our government switched from a mandatory to a voluntary census in the summer of 2010. The former Statistics Canada chief, the media and the research community reacted with shock and largely opposed to the change to no avail.

Last week, StatsCan quietly continued this trend when it published a media advisory listing programs identified for elimination or reduction to meet savings targets that were announced in the Economic Action Plan 2012 ($33.9 million by 2014-15).

Occupiers and Legislators

Introduction: Occupiers and Legislators

It is a small proportion of Canadians who sit daily in Question Period or travel across the country to spend time on Parliament Hill. Instead, much of the information and context Canadians receive about politics comes from what they see on the evening news or read in newspapers, in print or online.

The news media help to shape citizens’ perceptions of their political leaders and the political system. However, the performance of the news media is often criticized, with politicians, citizens, and media themselves charging that the media too often portrays politics in an argumentative, personality-driven way, focussing on the political horse-race and political games at the expense of providing the Canadian public with information on the issues that matter to them. As one former Member of Parliament said, “I find the media are very selective and very critical of politicians and that has only led to a lot of apathy in the public.”

Electricity Prices Rise Despite Cheaper Costs For Utility Companies

NEW YORK — A plunge in the price of natural gas has made it cheaper for utilities to produce electricity. But the savings aren't translating to lower rates for customers. Instead, U.S. electricity prices are going up.

Electricity prices are forecast to rise slightly this summer. But any increase is noteworthy because natural gas, which is used to produce nearly a third of the country's power, is 43 percent cheaper than a year ago. A long-term downward trend in power prices could be starting to reverse, analysts say.

Cash-Hoarding Companies Neither Spend Nor Lend, Fouling Economy Further

WASHINGTON -- The job market is stagnant and the GOP has the federal government tied up in knots, so the country's short-term economic future is in the hands of America's titans of industry and finance.

But despite having an unprecedented amount of cash on hand with which to create jobs -- more than $3 trillion, nearly four times as much as the 2009 stimulus bill -- the corporations aren't spending and the banks aren't lending.

Romney's Donors Share His Love of Offshore Tax Havens

Mitt Romney’s mysterious financial holdings have been the topic of furious discussion this week, after a Vanity Fair investigation detailed how significant amounts of the Republican presidential candidate’s fortune may be parked in offshore bank accounts in low- or no-tax countries, allowing Romney to not only obscure how much he is actually worth but avoid paying the federal taxes he would otherwise owe.

While it’s extremely unusual for someone who wants to be president to abuse offshore tax havens like this, it’s an all too common practice for many major American companies—and is most popular in the financial sector from which Romney comes.

Texas Wants to Say Adios to the Voting Rights Act's Authority

Look up at your clock. By this same hour tomorrow, more than 1,500 US-born Latinos will have celebrated a milestone birthday, and turned 18. They’ll be eligible to vote in local, state and federal elections in their home states—but if that state is Texas, that right is under threat.

A case being heard this week by a panel of judges in DC will determine if Texas can demand strict forms of photo ID at the polls. The Lone Star State passed the bill and it was signed into law early this year. But what’s more broadly in question is the federal government’s continued power under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Russia Passes Law That Will Create a Blacklist for Websites

A day after massive online protests, including a temporary shut-down of the Russian-language Wikipedia, the State Duma has today gone ahead and passed the Information Act by a wide margin, with 441 of 450 members of the legislative body voting in support of it, according to the Washington Post. Though the law was amended at the last minute to be more explicit as to the reasons sites could be banned -- and reasons such as child pornography, the promotion of substance abuse and suicide -- critics say that expansive interpretation by the courts could leave many legitimate websites in peril.

The Long Shadow of the BP Oil Spill Keeps Killing Baby Birds

Two years after the BP oil spill, Louisiana is still grappling with its aftermath. I saw this firsthand during a recent visit to Cat Island, a barrier island in Plaquemeins Parrish. The oil spill killed the much of the vegetation that serves as a nesting ground for pelicans and other migrating waterfowl.

Cat Island's mangrove forests used to be impenetrably dense. You can walk through them with little effort now. Most of the island is underwater. Tree roots used to prevent waves from sweeping away the sand that holds the sediment in place, but with the death of many trees and marsh grasses, there's little habitat left for the nesting birds.

Shadowy Group Pushing for Tax Chaos in Michigan

On Monday, a mysterious group called Michigan Alliance for Prosperity turned in 613,000 signatures in support of a ballot measure that would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve any increase in state taxes. The sheer volume of signatures gathered all but ensures that Michiganders will vote on the measure this November (even if 200,000 of the signatures are invalidated, the group will still have more than enough to get the two-thirds proposal on the ballot). But voters may not find out exactly who's backing the effort until right before the election, if at all.

American Family Association Calls For Boycott Of Google Over Company's Support Of LGBT Rights

Supporters of the American Family Association, a conservative non-profit organization whose mission is to "promote the Biblical ethic of decency in American society," are not going be Googling much. Or using Android phones. Or browsing with Chrome. Or checking their Gmail. Or, well, you get the idea.

In response to Google's recently-announced "Legalize Love" campaign, which supports gay rights throughout the world, the American Family Association's Buster Wilson encouraged listeners of his radio show to do their best to stop using Google, Right Wing Watch reports.

Why Canada Needs an Abortion Law Now

The latest Ipsos Reid/Postmedia poll finds that most respondents favour maintaining some form of abortion license, but dig a little further and it's clear there is a lack of understanding about the legal reality in Canada.

While almost half say women seeking an abortion should not face any restriction whatsoever, 45 per cent say it should be permitted in only "certain circumstances" and another six per cent favour an outright ban. When asked if they would like to see gestational limits, six in ten respondents would support a ban on third-trimester abortions.

A Thousand Cuts: Austerity Measures Devastate Communities Around The World

WASHINGTON -- In early 2011, Elizabeth Miller, a bus driver for the Port Authority in Pittsburgh, received notice that she would be laid off in 60 days, the victim of austerity measures imposed by the government.

The stress of the looming pink slip caused her Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the entire digestive tract, to flare up, and she began shedding weight rapidly. Miller lost nearly 30 pounds during her last two months on the job. By the time she clocked out from her final shift in March last year, she weighed just 99 pounds.

It’s hard to understand Canadian studies cuts

There is a natural law about government bureaucracies: They grow too large and periodically get cut back. It’s the same for garden shrubbery.

The Conservative government, for all its flim-flam about lean government, has been no exception to this rule. In its first five years, spending increased by 22 per cent. No one should be surprised that knives are flashing, nor that some of the targets are programs that the government considers inconvenient, such as environmental assessments. The surprises lie in some of the other choices for cuts. A case in point is the decision to not just reduce, but eliminate, funding for Canadian studies programs abroad.

Unions, equality and democracy

Right-wing commentators like to claim that unions undermine good economic performance. But respected organizations such as the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have shown this isn’t so. They have recognized that unions promote more equitable societies, and that countries with strong unions have less extremes of rich and poor, stronger public services and social safety nets, without adversely affecting good economic performance.

So why are Conservatives in Ottawa and the provinces disturbingly adopting the anti-union rhetoric of the American right?

Onus is on Ottawa and Enbridge to make the pipeline case

Ever since the plan was first unveiled, many people have refused to give Enbridge the benefit of the doubt on its proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal. This week’s stinging report by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board on the 2010 spill of an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan reinforced their well-founded skepticism.

“Learning about Enbridge’s poor handling of the rupture, you can’t help but think of the Keystone Kops,” said NTSB chair Deborah Hersman in her agency’s scathing report. “Why didn’t they recognize what was happening? What took so long?”

Time to take Mulcair seriously, even if we don’t like him

CALGARY — Prime minister in-waiting Thomas Mulcair comes to town fresh from a visit to B.C., where he told his many admirers the Northern Gateway pipeline should simply be cancelled, period.

OK, that “in-waiting” part is calculated hyperbole, but here’s the point: this guy is not a joke or a bad dream, or a momentary political diversion.

He’s the federal official Opposition leader whose party is ahead by two percentage points in the national polls. The latest numbers show that if an election were held now, the Harper Conservative would barely squeak out a minority.

The day the earth moved in Ottawa

While the prime minister was flipping flapjacks at the Calgary Stampede (flanked by cabinet colleagues in skin-tight western gear — it looked like was he presiding over cowhand night at Weight Watchers), the political earth was moving in Ottawa. Not an earthquake, just a solid tremor worthy of note.

There was the rally for the death of evidence on Parliament Hill, and then, just down the street at the Supreme Court, a deliberation that could end up sending the voters of Etobicoke-Centre back to the ballot box or tapping out the bank account of Borys Wrzesnewskyj for no discernible return.

Budget cuts imperil Canada’s national parks

Canada’s parks – from the windswept peaks of Nahanni in the Northwest Territories to the gentle rivers of Kejimkujik in Nova Scotia – are under threat as cash-strapped governments cut funding and promote development in the ecologically sensitive areas that lie in and around them, according to a new report from a leading wilderness advocacy group.

There was a time when the Conservative government of Stephen Harper countered the criticisms of environmental activists by boasting about the money it was devoting to expand the country’s century-old system of national parks. When that happened, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society was quick to praise the efforts, lauding the rate at which parkland was being set aside and unique natural environments were being protected.

Peter MacKay Coming to a Military Base Near You With “Announceables”

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has been racking up the air mile points with his series of announcements this summer.

And there’s more to come, Defence Watch has learned.

In June the word went out to DND and Canadian Forces organizations that MacKay’s staff was looking for “announceables” for the summer months. The criteria were lax and almost any project – equipment or infrastructure – that he could announce, no matter what the dollar amount, would be accepted. Even announcements that had been made before would qualify.

Defence Department keeping tabs on opposition critics

It seems National Defence has been keeping close tabs on what NDP and Liberal critics are saying about Afghan detainees, the F-35 and other issues of concern to the department.

In the aftermath of the May 2011 federal election, Defence Department officials drew up profiles of each of the Liberal and NDP critics “of interest to National Defence.”

Ottawa wades into health debate over Ontario's wind energy

The Harper government, an ardent defender of oil sands extraction, is taking a keen new interest in Ontario voters’ concerns that wind power generation may be harmful to humans.

As part of its push to develop a green-energy sector, the Ontario government has encouraged the installation of solar generation and industrial-size wind power turbines. But Ontario’s Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty has run into resistance from rural landowners over wind turbines – opposition that may have cost him his majority in the last election.

TDSB trustees want to end 0.5 per cent surcharge to union

Toronto public school trustees want to stop giving Jimmy Hazel’s trades council a piece of the action when outside contractors are hired.

Board chair Chris Bolton said the longstanding 0.5 per cent surcharge on many jobs by outside trades will likely be on the chopping block when the union’s contract expires Aug. 31.

The payments — $2 million to Hazel’s council over the past 10 years in total — are deducted from wages paid to outside trades. Some of those trades say that to make up for the surcharge they inflate the price of their work, which in turn raises the cost to taxpayers.

Libor Scandal: As New York Fed Chief, Timothy Geithner Had Multiple Meetings With Barclays

As president of the New York Federal Reserve before and during the financial crisis, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met repeatedly with Barclays officials, according to documents released by the bank and the New York Fed.

Though the subject of those discussions is unknown, they came at a time when Barclays was also talking to New York Fed officials about problems with an interest rate known as Libor, some five years before the bank agreed to pay $450 million to settle charges that it manipulated that interest rate.

Chris Hedges imagines next Occupy

Through his signature owlish metal-rimmed glasses, former foreign correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges surveys a packed hall of rapt listeners at U of T’s Innis Town Hall.

He’s just been asked what activists ought to do following the apparent dissipation of the Occupy uprising. “I am not going tell people what to do,’’ he says. “I just tell what I do.”

Rising costs push California cities to fiscal brink

Facing the same financial stressors that pushed San Bernardino toward bankruptcy, cities across California are slashing day-to-day services and taking other drastic actions to skirt a similar fiscal collapse.

For some, it may not be enough.

San Bernardino on Tuesday became the third California city to seek bankruptcy protection in the last month and, while no one expects the state to be consumed by municipal insolvencies, other cities teeter on the abyss.

Chevron Workers Plead To Be Evacuated Before Deadly Blast

LONDON, July 11 (Reuters) - Chevron Corp. left workers pleading to be evacuated from a gas exploration platform off Nigeria which kept drilling as smoke poured from a borehole until an explosion that killed two people as the rig became engulfed in flames, according to accounts from four of the platform's workers.

Chevron, the second largest U.S. oil major, said it did not receive requests to evacuate the KS Endeavour rig and that staff on board had the right to call a halt to work if they believed conditions were unsafe.

Romney Invested Millions in Chinese Firm That Profited on US Outsourcing

Last month, Mitt Romney's campaign got into a dustup with the Washington Post after the newspaper reported that Bain Capital, the private equity firm the GOP presidential candidate founded, invested in several US companies that outsourced jobs to China and India. The campaign indignantly demanded a retraction, claiming that these businesses did not send jobs overseas while Romney was running Bain, and the Post stood by its investigation. Yet there is another aspect to the Romney-as-outsourcer controversy. According to government documents reviewed by Mother Jones, Romney, when he was in charge of Bain, invested heavily in a Chinese manufacturing company that depended on US outsourcing for its profits—and that explicitly stated that such outsourcing was crucial to its success.

Obama Tax Cuts Fail To Get Senate Vote After Republicans Balk

WASHINGTON -- The partisan wrestling on tax issues took an odd turn in the Senate Wednesday as Republicans objected to a vote on President Barack Obama's plan for a one-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts for people earning less than $250,000.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had challenged Democrats in the morning to bring up Obama's proposed extension for a vote, apparently believing it would not pass. He charged that the Senate should stop dithering on what he described as an unpopular tax hike.

Christy Clark: Enbridge Spill Was 'Disgraceful'

KAMLOOPS, B.C. - If Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB) plans to operate its planned pipeline in British Columbia the way it did in Michigan, where millions of litres of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River, the company can "forget it," B.C. Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday.

The premier's statements are her strongest yet in connection with the Northern Gateway project, but she is still refusing to take a position on the proposed 1,170-kilometre pipeline between Alberta's oil sands and the B.C. coast.

Magnotta Case And Online Surveillance Bill Linked In Memos

The controversial online surveillance Bill C-30 would help police catch criminal suspects such as Luka Rocco Magnotta more quickly, according to briefing notes for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews prepared in the aftermath of the gruesome killing of Jun Lin.

The documents drawing a link with the Magnotta case and Bill C-30 were drafted and circulated by senior officials June 4 — the same day the suspect was arrested in Berlin and more than a week after the crime occurred.

Iranian-Canadians fume as TD closes accounts

Several Iranian-Canadians are crying foul after the TD Bank abruptly closed their accounts with little explanation other than to say it had to comply with federal economic sanctions against Iran.

TD began sending letters to some of its clients in May informing them it would no longer be offering them banking services so as to abide with changes made last November to the Special Economic Measures (Iran) Regulations, which prohibit banks from providing financial services that benefit Iran or anyone in Iran.

"A recent review has identified you as a person TD is restricted from providing financial services to, from, or for the benefit of under these new regulations," TD wrote in one letter to an affected customer, Soudeh Ghasemi of Toronto.

Double-bunking in crowded prison cells is not a problem for Toews

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says he has no problem with the number of federal inmates sharing cells built for one.

And even as he reiterated his commitment to building 2,700 new cells in existing prison facilities, he said those additional units aren’t meant to alleviate the pressures caused by double-bunking – because there’s no need.

Elections Canada due for an ‘upgrade’ running elections; parties could be ‘gaming’ election system through increasingly sophisticated technology, say political players

Elections Canada is due for an “upgrade” of how it manages Canada’s elections, say political observers who are keeping a close eye on the high-profile battle in Supreme Court of Canada over last year’s election results in Etobicoke Centre, Ont.

“For Elections Canada, I think the message is that they need to up their game,” said Conservative pundit Geoff Norquay in an interview with The Hill Times.

Conservative Ted Opitz won the riding of Etobicoke Centre with a slim margin of 26 votes in the 2011 election.

Unemployment Problem Includes Public Transportation That Separates Poor From Jobs

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- In the two months since he lost his job driving a delivery truck for a door company, Lebron Stinson has absorbed a bitter geography lesson about this riverfront city: The jobs are in one place, he is in another, and the bus does not bridge the divide.

Stinson lives downtown, where many of the factories that once employed willing hands have been converted into chic eateries. The majority of jobs are out in the suburbs, in the strip malls, office parks and chain restaurants that stretch eastward. Most of this sprawl lies beyond reach of the public bus system, and Stinson cannot afford a car.

Libor Scandal Could Turn 'Ugly' As U.S. Cities Begin To Sue

The news on Wednesday that cities and states are suing some of the world's largest banks over Libor manipulation shows how this scandal could blow up into one of history's biggest bank frauds.

That's because interest-rate manipulation might well have kept your town or state from hiring firefighters or teachers, from paving roads or paying for indigent care or after-school programs for your kids -- adding to the human suffering of the economic collapse these same banks caused in the first place.

The 'Death of Evidence' and attack on Indigenous knowledge

I've had the dubious honour of attending the past five UN climate negotiations, as well as the Rio+20 Earth Summit last month in Brazil. I can honestly report that our government has been almost alone in standing against the rest of the world, and is becoming known for playing that position.

By their efforts, this government is putting our lives and planet at risk. They are not only ignoring scientists, but also Indigenous Peoples in Canada, who have firsthand knowledge of climate impacts, for instance, as well as sustainable lifestyles. Our peoples' traditional knowledge is not only being ignored, but berated.

What’s really at stake in the Etobicoke hearing? Trust

For anyone interested in politics, the arguments before the Supreme Court Tuesday on whether it should order a new election for Etobicoke Centre were compelling.

Yet it was difficult to avoid a sickening feeling. Elections in democracies are based, not just on rules, but on trust. As politics at the federal level becomes more and more bare-knuckle, trust is disappearing. That, really, was why the judges were forced to interrupt their holiday.

Oilsands ‘landlocked’ because of environmental concerns and market bottlenecks: Secret briefing notes

OTTAWA — Canadian oil exports “are essentially landlocked” because of mounting environmental concerns about the oilsands and bottlenecks in the U.S. midwest market, say newly released briefing notes prepared for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

The records, marked “secret” but released to Postmedia News using access to information legislation, suggest the U.S. pipeline network is partly to blame for the problem, along with the need for stronger regulations to control the environmental footprint of oilsands activity on the climate, air, land, water and wildlife.

NDP steps into the heart of oil country for a conversation

Since Conservative Lee Richardson announced he would be stepping down from his post as MP for Calgary Centre, a handful of names have appeared as nominee candidates for both the Conservatives and Liberals. So far, though, nobody has come forward for the New Democrats.

Still, the NDP is not neglecting the riding. Wednesday night, Opposition House leader Nathan Cullen will be in Calgary to host a brainstorming session on how to proceed.

“I’m asking Calgary New Democrats like yourself and like-minded people to join me for an interactive workshop to discuss what it will take to win in Calgary Centre,” Cullen posted on the event’s Facebook page. “What can we do to give Stephen Harper a stinging message in his own backyard that his divisive politics aren’t going to cut it anymore?’

Tony Clement joins Ezra Levant in attack on Twitter against former Globe editor for moving to Cuba

Uber-tweeter (and president of the Treasury Board) Tony Clement typed his way into the ring Wednesday to join a media throwdown between former Globe and Mail editor Stephen Wicary and Sun TV’s Ezra Levant.

The war of words began after Levant launched a three–minute tirade on his TV show against Wicary earlier this month, after the former Globe online editor left the newspaper to join his wife for a new life in communist Cuba.

PMO backs expensive tribute to Maoist apologist

OTTAWA - The Prime Minister's Office is standing behind a $2.5 million taxpayer-funded tourist trap dedicated to Canadian Maoist supporter Norman Bethune.

Andrew MacDougall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman, said Wednesday that Parks Canada locations - like where the new visitors centre at the Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site is located - "cover the full spectrum of political actors (and) political thought from Canada's past."