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.]

Monday, July 23, 2012

Manuel Diaz Allegedly Shot, Killed By Police: Protests Arise In Anaheim, CA

ANAHEIM, Calif. — An Anaheim officer-involved shooting that left an unarmed man dead and led to a violent weekend clash between witnesses and police stirred anger for a second night.

Protesters gathered near the shooting scene Sunday night set fire to a trash bin and rolled it into the street several times as police monitored the scene from a helicopter.

The tense scene followed a day of protest where a crowd stormed the police headquarters lobby as the police chief prepared to hold a news conference to discuss the case.

Senate Bill Aims To Give SEC More Power To Punish Wall Street Crimes

WASHINGTON, July 22 (Reuters) - U.S. Senators are planning to introduce a bipartisan bill on Monday to give the country's securities regulator the authority to seek tougher fines for alleged Wall Street criminals.

The bill, sponsored by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, would boost the penalties that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission can seek from firms and individuals accused of wrongdoing and triple the cap on funds the agency can seek from repeat offenders.

Illegal Front Yard Garden: Canadian Couple's Kitchen Garden Targeted By Authorities

Take a look at Josée Landry and Michel Beauchamp's gorgeous front yard kitchen garden in Drummondville, Quebec. The cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchinis, beets, onions, and brussels sprouts and other vegetables grown by the couple helped Beauchamp lose 75 pounds, and Landry 25.

The only problem? It's illegal.

Boing Boing points us to a petition to save the garden, which authorities insist must be removed. The town code states that a vegetable garden can take up 30 percent of a front yard at most, and Landry and Beauchamp's is in violation. They were given two weeks to comply, which means the garden must be drastically scaled back by this Sunday.

Barclays and the Limits of Financial Reform

Hardly had the boyish visage of JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon quit CNN screens than it was succeeded by that of Bob Diamond, former chief executive of Barclays, accused of masterminding the greatest financial scandal in the history of Britain. Columnists shook with rage at the “reeking cesspool” being disclosed—disclosed, mind you, four long years after the Wall Street Journal broke the story that the Libor was being fixed. Libor, which stands for “London interbank offered rate,” is supposed to be based on the average rate of interest banks charge to borrow from one another. The rate is set every morning by a panel of banks. Each bank “submits” the rates at which it believes it can borrow from the collective money pool, from overnight to twelve months.

Is Medical School a Worthwhile Investment for Women?

Over the last quarter century, women have been earning college and professional degrees in record numbers. In 1976, women earned only 45 percent of bachelor's degrees in the United States; by 2006 that had increased to 58 percent. During that same interval, women have made even larger gains in advanced degrees. For example, in 1976 women constituted only 24 percent of first year medical students. By 2006, that number which doubled to 48 percent.

Vaccines on Chicken Farms Create Supervirus

The problem of routine antibiotic use on factory farms has generated a lot of ink lately—especially after this startling recent report on a possible link between industrial chicken farming and a spate of antibiotic-resistant urinary-tract infections among women.

But what about vaccine use? Concentrated animal feedlot operation (CAFO) operators use antibiotics to help prevent bacterial infections from raging through spaces densely packed with animals (as well as to make the animals grow faster). To address the problem of viral infections, against which antibiotics are ineffective, they turn to vaccines, which get considerably less press.

Meet the Front Group Leading the Fight Against Taxing the Rich

While most Americans don't object to Obama's plan to raise taxes on the wealthy, they're less excited about raising them for family-owned barbershops and ice cream parlors. This may be why Mitt Romney often claims that collecting more taxes from high earners would hurt mom-and-pop employers whose profits are taxed as individual income. "This is a direct attack on small business," he declared at a recent campaign stop in Virginia. His argument has the support of a powerful ally: the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), a "nonpartisan" small-business advocacy group that has put defending the Bush tax cuts for the richest of the rich near the top of its political agenda.

MacKay Reacts To SAR Chopper Used For Fishing Trip

Defence Minister Peter MacKay is weighing in on the latest incident of a Search and Rescue chopper being used for a fishing trip.

Members of the helicopter squadron in Goose Bay used a DND Griffon Helicopter to go fishing in southern Labrador six weeks ago.

Officials at Five-Wing Goose Bay said the commanding officer approved the trip as an extraordinary measure to thank crew members for recent hard work.

China's CNOOC Buys Nexen, Calgary Oil And Gas Firm, For US$15.1 Billion

China's multi-billion-dollar shopping spree in the Canadian oil patch Monday is a sign of more to come as the commodity-hungry country looks to secure energy supplies to feed its economic expansion, experts say.

"China continues to be a very fast-growing country,'' said Fred Ketchen, manager of equity trading at Scotia Capital.

How women became leaders in Aboriginal politics

They did it without quotas, action plans or affirmative action.

Half of the eight candidates in the recent election for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations were women – a novel event, not just for the native organization but for Canadian politics in general.

The secret to such high female participation is two-fold, says Michele Audette, president of the Quebec Native Women's Association.

Gateway pipeline risks exceed rewards, B.C. Premier says

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark is warning that the environmental risks associated with a plan to sell Canadian oil to Asia through the Northern Gateway pipeline outweigh the economic benefits, leaving her at odds with the federal and Alberta governments.

Ms. Clark conveyed her concerns about the project during a series of high-level meetings, beginning with a telephone call to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday. She met face-to-face the same day with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall in Saskatoon and Alberta Premier Alison Redford in Edmonton.

Despite Stephen Harper’s recalcitrance, a responsible energy strategy is emerging

Sensible proposals for a national energy strategy are surfacing in the provincial capitals, in the business community, even in the Senate this summer. The nation clearly wants to move ahead, with or without its hidebound prime minister.

The first promising signal came from the Canadian Council of Chief Executives in mid-July. The country’s business leaders called for a pan-Canadian energy strategy, “which has to be undertaken with full recognition of the environmental consequences of energy development and use.”

It’s time to clean up the rot in the world of money

Mark Carney is certainly a sensible fellow. As Governor of the Bank of Canada, he is paid to be astute, cautious and not given to the fervent public statement.

That’s what made his remarks about the Libor interest rate scandal in Britain so telling. Here is one of the most respected financial experts in the world slamming Barclays and other global banks for manipulating rates, not just once or twice or by accident, but by an “active, conscious, repeated manipulation” of the benchmark index.

Emails show minister lobbied on oil benchmark

Defence Minister Peter MacKay invited a senior Shell Canada lobbyist to discuss a benchmarking system for oil - based on ethics and security considerations - with his staff after she met him at a reception and asked him to support the company's proposal, according to internal emails released through access to information legislation.

"(I) would like to follow up with you at your next convenience on the Energy Security Benchmarking Project - how to assign a premium or energy security factor on world energy supplies," wrote Susannah Pierce in a July 7, 2010, email to MacKay. "As you are aware, world energy supplies are not assigned values based on security risk/democratic process/independent vs national oil company control. (I) would like to explore with you the government's support for developing a study that would factor in security factors and assign to world basket of crudes."

Like Energizer Bunny, Harper could go on and on

A wise mind recently observed that the federal cabinet today is very different from six years ago, and this is telling.

In Stephen Harper’s first cabinet, a rookie prime minister who had never run anything of any significance relied on powerful cabinet ministers in key portfolios: Stockwell Day at Public Safety, David Emerson at International Trade, Jim Flaherty at Finance, Chuck Strahl at Agriculture and Jim Prentice at Indian and Northern Affairs.

CNOOC’s Nexen bid: A new test for Harper

CNOOC Ltd. has carefully tilled the soil in preparation for its proposed $15.1-billion (U.S.) acquisition of Calgary-based Nexen Inc., scaling up its investments in Canadian oil resources as it sought to win Ottawa’s confidence.

With the deal announcement Monday morning, the Chinese state-owned enterprise will put to the test Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Asian policy and his government’s appetite for investment from a company owned by a Communist regime that the Conservative prime minister used to condemn.

Red squares for Indigenous solidarity: Montreal protests logging of Algonquin land

Last week in Montreal, clanging cookware and red squares became symbols of solidarity with an Indigenous community defending its land rights. On Wednesday, July 18, about 200 people demonstrated at the Montreal headquarters of Resolute Forest Products, the logging company currently locked in a stand-off with Algonquin protestors near Poigan Bay, Quebec.

Banging pots and pans, the crowd denounced Resolute for continuing to log in the territory of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake despite staunch opposition from the people living there.

The case for exempting child support from welfare

Based on recent announcements, it seems that the Ministry of Social Development is in the mood to address some of the long-standing problems within B.C.'s welfare system (although welfare rates remain distressingly low). Seth Klein recently recapped the Ministry's June 11 announcement, which set out almost 30 proposed changes to the system. More recently, the Ministry also announced that it will be restoring coverage for some health supplies and medical equipment that it cut in 2010.

Spain's 15M movement links assemblies to politics

I went to Spain last fall hoping to find vigorous remnants of its bold anarchist tradition, homages to the spirit Orwell depicted during the anti-fascist civil war there in the 1930s, though this time the cause worth giving everything for would be democracy, rather than socialism.

I was attracted by the lingo: Real Democracy Now -- it didn't mince words, it combined disgust for the fake thing claiming the name with a sense of urgency to give it reality. Protesters were called Indignados, their bald passion a key to creating a democratic rebirth.

Premiers' private parley -- a summit so secret if you knew what they'd talked about, they'd have to kill you!

Surely the weirdest political news story so far in the dull dog days of Summer 2012 was British Columbia Premier Christy Clark's secret meeting last Thursday with Alison Redford, her Alberta counterpart.

Secret diplomacy is generally held nowadays in polite circles to be a poor idea, but seeing as Western Canadian provinces are not sovereign states -- no matter the dreams of those fellows in their broken-down and bumper-stickered camo pickup trucks -- it's probably just a venial sin, diplomatically speaking.

Just the same, you really ought to agree to an agenda in advance with whomever you're getting together for a private business meeting, an elementary bit of commonsense that seems to have been overlooked in this case.

America at the Breaking Point

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges explains why the Occupy protests we’ve seen so far are merely a dress rehearsal for what is to come.

How do the places you visited in the making of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt exemplify what’s behind the Occupy movement?

This is really a book about unfettered, unregulated corporate capitalism – a world that is made to kneel before the marketplace. In all these “sacrifice zones,” there are no legal impediments to what corporations want. They control the legislators, the senators, the governors, and they certainly control the judges. In southern West Virginia, Big Coal even writes the textbooks in the schools. There’s nothing to stop them now from, in business terms, harvesting the entire country. They started in these sacrifice zones, but we’re next.

Prime Minister has time on his side to reform Senate, says Conservative Sen. Brown

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s point-man on Senate reform, Alberta Senator Bert Brown, says the number of his Tory Upper Chamber colleagues who are against the PM’s Senate reform bill is small and to expect progress on the bill’s passage in the fall.

“I can definitely say to you without qualification that they are a minority,” Sen. Brown said of the dissenters, though he declined to name names or specify how many of the Conservatives’ 57 Senators disagreed with legislation to introduce term limits and provincial Senate elections.

Expect a fall ‘charm offensive’ to give PM a bounce, says Nanos

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s public approval ratings have reached an all-time low in 2012, and Nanos Research president Nik Nanos says the Conservatives may want to begin rehabilitating their leader’s brand this fall.

“This coming fall I would expect that there’s going to be some sort of charm offensive to help slowly get Stephen Harper’s brand back to where the Conservatives have had it for the last number of years,” Mr. Nanos told The Hill Times following the release of his firm’s latest national trend lines last week.

Canada’s election system mostly clean, but corruption, fraud, dirty tricks do happen, say political insiders

As the Supreme Court of Canada weighs into last year’s election results in the riding of Etobicoke Centre, Ont., where an Ontario Superior Court ruled it null and void due to voting irregularities, and as the Federal Court last week decided to let a challenge proceed regarding the 2011 election results in seven ridings across the country, political insiders say the technologies deployed by political parties in campaigns are becoming more sophisticated with each election—giving those who play dirty tricks a new edge over Elections Canada and those who would catch the perpetrators.

Atleo urged to do more for First Nations, relationship with feds at a ‘tipping point’

Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations re-elected Shawn Atleo for a second three-year term as national chief last week, giving Mr. Atleo’s approach to the federal Conservative government a second chance, but some observers say election results would have been different if those at the grassroots level had been allowed to vote, as mounting, widespread frustration with the government’s failure to act on First Nations issues has brought the AFN to a “tipping point.”

“The chiefs who are sitting here [voting], they’re the conservative ones. The feeling out in the communities and out on the streets is more radical. If they were to have had the election open to the general Indian public, we would have found much more different leadership,” said Doug Cuthand, a member of the Cree Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan and a columnist for The Star Phoenix.

Air Canada brings in senior Harper aide Derek Vanstone

A senior aide to the prime minister is moving into a government affairs job with Air Canada, raising pointed questions about the strength of ethical rules governing the post-political lives of government staffers on Parliament Hill.

Derek Vanstone, currently Stephen Harper's deputy chief of staff, will become vice-president of corporate strategy and government affairs for the airline in September, Air Canada announced Thursday.

Harper Hacks Down Our Medicare

Canadians can feel it -- something's not right in our country when it comes to health care. We know our public system is fundamentally sound, but we also know that there is much work to be done to improve it and ensure it's as sustainable as we want it to be for generations to come. We see our health care providers and provincial governments struggling to improve services in the context of tight public budgets and an aging population. Almost everyone is trying to make medicare better.

But one critical player is missing from the effort -- where is our federal government when it comes to health care?

Stronger measures needed to crack down on for-profit clinics, say doctors

VANCOUVER - BC’s Medical Services Commission called for an end to extra billing at a for-profit surgical clinic infamous for its illegal billing practices yesterday, in a move doctors say has been a long time coming.

“We’re thrilled that the illegal billing practiced by the Cambie Clinic is finally being calledto account by the Medical Services Commission,” said Dr. Danielle Martin, chair ofCanadian Doctors for Medicare. “But there must be real consequences to chargingCanadians for their publicly-insured services.”

Military shuts down controversial outreach program for MPs, Senators

A program to educate parliamentarians about the work being done by the Canadian military has been shut down months after it was revealed officers were using such visits to collect information on Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s political opponents.

The parliamentary outreach program allowed MPs and Senators to visit military units and bases to improve their knowledge of the Canadian Forces.

As Quebec election looms, protesters weigh voters' wrath

Thousands of Quebeckers marched in the streets for the first time in weeks on Sunday, reviving a vacationing protest movement that faces difficult tactical choices in a looming provincial election campaign.

Even as they banged drums and sang songs along downtown streets, students and their supporters were weighing options: Do they resume the intense protest tactics of the spring and risk pushing fence-sitting Quebeckers into voting for the incumbent premier, Jean Charest?

Why Athens has lived to regret hosting the Olympic Games

ATHENS—For Babis Bilinis, the legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics is this depressing walk to the Aegean Sea.

Carefully, first, across the four lanes of a road that still lacks the pedestrian crossing the government promised. Across the tracks of the light-rail line that runs where the beach used to begin. Under a low bridge, past the homeless Roma who spend their days in its shadows, into the abandoned 25,000-square-metre patch of dirt and scrub that used to be sea.

First Nations women’s participation in politics much higher than norm for Canada

OTTAWA—They did it without quotas, action plans or affirmative action.

Half of the eight candidates in the recent election for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations were women — a novel event, not just for the native organization but for Canadian politics in general.

The secret to such high female participation is two-fold, says Michele Audette, president of the Quebec Native Women’s Association.

Translating the Assembly: Student Organizing Beyond Quebec

It took a little while for the student struggle in Quebec to gain traction with activists outside of the province. The strike began in February, but it probably wasn’t until late March that activists in Ontario paid it much mind, and not until late April or May that large numbers of people began pouring across the borders into Quebec to demonstrate alongside the Quebecois, to talk to Quebec activists, and to learn from their organizing tactics and struggles so that we could push the movement beyond the confines of the Francophone province and into the rest of Canada.

Norway memorials honour 77 massacre victims

Norway paused today to commemorate the 77 victims of a bomb and gun massacre that shocked the peaceful nation one year ago, a tragedy that the prime minister said had brought Norwegians together in defence of democracy and tolerance.

Anders Behring Breivik, a 33-year-old far-right fanatic, has admitted to the July 22, 2011, attacks: a bombing of the government district in Oslo, killing eight, and a shooting rampage that left 69 dead at the left-wing Labor Party's youth camp on Utoya island.

Banking suffers another blow as scandals pile up

The sequel to the financial crisis is under way, and there are no prizes for guessing who has been cast in the role of villain.

It has been a very bad few weeks for banking. The walk of shame has included employees tarred as rate-manipulators (Barclays PLC), money launderers (HSBC Holdings PLC), rogue traders (JPMorgan Chase & Co.), and outright fraudsters (Peregrine Financial Group Inc.).

Tear down those mountains of cash

We’re still calling it a “debt crisis.” And when we feel the jobs sweeping away and the cold hand of stagnation choking off the economy and threatening recession, we tend to search for an explanation by peering into the bottomless pit of debt.

But in most parts of the world, including Canada, debt is not the major problem. That was four years ago. Today, a far bigger threat is pouring down from atop the most prominent and least remarked-upon new addition to our financial landscape: all those teetering mountains of cash.

Do you see a pattern on food files at Health Canada under Leona Aglukkaq?

After discovering Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq quietly killed back in 2009 a departmental proposal to regulate trans fat levels in processed food, I wanted to find out if the issue was dead. After all, the department’s plan was drafted in accordance with a commitment from Aglukkaq’s predecessor, Tony Clement, to regulate if industry didn’t make enough progress under a voluntary program, tracked by Health Canada’s monitoring program. So, I filed an access to information to see if the issue was being discussed at Health Canada’s Food Expert Advisory Committee.

N.S. Premier Finds Ottawa's Aloofness 'Troubling'

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford isn't the only elected official who wants a face-to-face meeting with the prime minister. Canada's premiers haven't had a group sit-down meeting with Stephen Harper since the last meeting of first ministers in 2009.

In an interview on CBC Radio's The House, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter — who also serves as the chair of the Council of the Federation, a group made up of Canada's territorial and provincial leaders — said "a bit of a vacuum" has developed in federal-provincial relations under Harper's government.

MacKay reacts to SAR chopper used for fishing trip

Defence Minister Peter MacKay is weighing in on the latest incident of a Search and Rescue chopper being used for a fishing trip.

Members of the helicopter squadron in Goose Bay used a DND Griffon Helicopter to go fishing in southern Labrador six weeks ago.

Officials at Five-Wing Goose Bay said the commanding officer approved the trip as an extraordinary measure to thank crew members for recent hard work.

A glimpse of Venezuela

Venezuela has been undergoing big changes since the failed coup attempt of a decade ago . The first part of this blog report discussed how the Chavez government is implementing change at the grassroots level through  “missions” and communal councils; the progress that has been made in reducing inequality and poverty; the context for Venezuela’s policy of  almost free gasoline; and efforts to promote the rights of women in a country where abortion remains illegal.

Ontario’s corn crop withers under drought

Beneath the blistering sun the parched cornfields of Ontario are “wavy like a roller-coaster.”

In a few grateful pockets (mostly south and west of London) the million-dollar rain has come, giving some fields tall, green stalks and potentially bumper yields.

In others, “the crops look completely burnt off, as if they’ve been dead for two weeks,” says Greg Stewart, a corn specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Toplessness as tactic: Quebec students renew debate over nude protest

Montreal's student protesters have put down their signs and are taking something of a break until classes resume in August. Meanwhile, there is time to examine the movement against tuition hikes and the methods it used to draw local and international support.

One of the most attention-grabbing tactics of the student movement is its use of nudity, specifically topless women. There were many "nude" student protests over the months, the most notable during the Montreal Grand Prix.