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, January 21, 2013

Mayor Rob Ford says he knows what Toronto wants: a casino

Toronto residents still have five days to speak out on the controversial prospect of casino development in their city, but Mayor Rob Ford says he already knows what most people think.

“I have a pretty good feeling of what they want out there,” Ford said during his weekly two-hour radio program on Sunday. “How can people say no to this?”

An outspoken proponent of casinos, the mayor devoted much of his radio show to extolling the benefits — in jobs and revenue — that he says would flow from the construction of a major casino somewhere downtown, along with an expansion of the gambling attractions already available at Woodbine Racetrack.

Canada’s response to Mali crisis inexplicable, contradictory

The events in Mali are unfolding in a rapid and dramatic fashion.

Just two weeks ago, this landlocked North African country was virtually unmentioned in the Canadian media, and now it has become a central theme of office water-cooler discussion.

To date, the Harper government’s response has been, at times, contradictory, often inexplicable and consistently out of touch with the events happening on the ground.

Feds' privacy breach inexcusable

OTTAWA -- Somewhere out there, nearly 600,000 people are wondering if their identities might be at risk.

In one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- breaches of personal privacy the federal government has ever experienced, the personal information of 583,000 former clients of the Canada Student Loan program has been lost. About 18,000 of them currently live in Manitoba.

Has crime crusader Toews finally seen the light?

Poor Vic Toews; the man is painfully confused. You know Vic, our federal go-to guy for bombast on crime and punishment, for simplistic criticisms of judges and failed proposals to protect anti-gay hate speech or broaden police Internet snooping.

Toews is the minister of public safety who makes us feel unsafe, mostly because of his shaky grasp of fundamental Canadian freedoms and values.

Canada slow to protect marine areas, report argues

A new report from an environmental group says the federal government is moving too slowly in setting aside marine areas for environmental protection.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society was urging Ottawa to have a network of 12 protected sites by the end of 2012.

In its report released Monday, the group says that while that didn't happen overall, progress is also too slow.

Harper PR 101: When in doubt, shoot the messenger

The Harper bully brigade is at it again and this time the stakes have been raised: a direct attack on the free press.

The prime minister’s office released a statement singling out Postmedia’s Stephen Maher for the high crime of pursuing a news story. This was done on behalf of the PM’s parliamentary secretary, Dean Del Mastro.

Canada Reaching Budget Balance Said to Be More Difficult

Canada’s revenue outlook has deteriorated since Finance Minister Jim Flaherty updated his fiscal plan in November amid signs the economy has slowed, making it more difficult to bring the budget into balance, a person with direct knowledge of the government’s budget planning said.

Budget planners are concerned that weaker revenue may outpace Flaherty’s ability to offset it through accelerated spending cuts, especially since the government pledged not to curb transfers to individuals and provinces, the person said on condition they not be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak to the media on the subject. Still, the goal remains to balance the budget by 2015, the person said.

Communication breakdown in EI protest case

MONTAGUE - It may be a case of phone tag, but the woman protesting against losing her EI benefits says she’s not that hard to find if Services Canada officials want to chat.

“I’ve tried to get in contact with them and left messages, so I’m not sure what they are saying,’’ said Marlene Giersdorf on Friday while manning her protest spot in front of the Services Canada building. “I can’t afford a phone so I use the number of a friend.”

Remembering Martin Luther King and his fight for economic justice

Today the United States observes Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to honour the life and work of the great civil rights leader.

King is most famously remembered for his legendary "I have a dream" speech, and his leadership in the non-violent civil disobedience for civil rights for African Americans.

And rightly so. King was a transformative figure and a once-in-a-generation kind of leader. King deservingly holds the distinction of being the only individual American with a current U.S. holiday named after him.

In the spirit of Dr. King, a call for refugee sanctuary

The annual mid-January Martin Luther King Day celebrations are generally a frustrating example of how the legacy of a difficult and troubled revolutionary can be co-opted into the image of an acceptable, bland hero who has freeways and monuments named after him.

Outside of a few small circles, King gets boiled down to a facile "he wanted us to be nice to each other" memory that fails to take into account the lovingly subversive message of his life and campaigns to radically transform the established order. Few have heard him name the American government the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, much less his call for a true revolution of values to transform the evils of militarism, racism and capitalism.

Canada, EU in final push for trade deal; latest investment chapter shows blatant pro-investor bias

Postmedia reported last week that the Conservative government may be "only weeks away" from completing a "comprehensive" economic and trade agreement (CETA) with the European Union. The article confirms what we knew already about negotiating sessions in Brussels this month (they will happen this week), and suggests that the toughest issues will be dealt with at the ministerial level, possibly in early February. A meeting in Ottawa between International Trade Minister Ed Fast and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will likely coincide with a European delegation to Washington, D.C. for the delayed release of a "high level working group" report advocating for a "comprehensive" EU-U.S. free trade agreement.

Foreign military intervention wrong response to Mali crisis

France is knocking on Canada's door seeking assistance for its intervention in Mali, and Canada's door seems to be open a crack. Besides providing the French military, a military transport plane, at least temporarily, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says Canada wants to offer both humanitarian aid and "support for the restoration of democracy." This will come as a pleasant surprise to many Malians.

Those who care deeply about the plight of Mali, including Canada's role there, should read Joan Baxter's revelatory book Dust From Our Eyes: An unblinkered look at Africa. Ms. Baxter, a Canadian journalist who lived in Africa for two decades, witnessed first-hand the contempt, cynicism and implicit racism that characterizes the way so many western governments and corporations regard Africa.

Canada not as good as other countries in after-hours medical care

A new report suggests Canadians have a harder time getting rapid access to their doctors, especially outside of working hours, than people in a group of similar countries.

The report shows Canadians are least likely to be able to get a same-day or next-day medical appointment than residents of countries like Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand and the United States.

Conservative government covered expenses for 30 top executives on China tour

OTTAWA—The Conservative government covered expenses for some of the country’s top executives as they accompanied the prime minister around China a year ago, a move business leaders and officials defend as a good investment.

The trip signalled a change of approach for Stephen Harper, who for years eschewed the idea of leading big trade offensives abroad.

The Public Accounts of Canada show that between 2006 and 2011, his wife Laureen Harper — and for many years his personal stylist Michelle Muntean — were the most common add-ons to the government tab.

Ottawa paid expenses for CEOs travelling with Harper on China trip

The Conservative government covered expenses for some of the country’s top executives as they accompanied the prime minister around China a year ago, a move business leaders and officials defend as a good investment.

The trip signalled a change of approach for Stephen Harper, who for years eschewed the idea of leading big trade offensives abroad.

The Force -- How much military is enough?

Sixty-two legislators sit on the House Armed Services Committee, the largest committee in Congress. Since January, 2011, when Republicans took control of the House, the committee has been chaired by Howard P. McKeon, who goes by Buck. He has never served in the military, but this month he begins his third decade representing California’s Twenty-fifth Congressional District, the home of a naval weapons station, an Army fort, an Air Force base, and, for the Marines, a place to train for mountain warfare. McKeon believes that it’s his job to protect the Pentagon from budget cuts. On New Year’s Day, after a thirteenth-hour deal was sealed with spit in the Senate, McKeon issued a press statement lamenting that the compromise had failed to “shield a wartime military from further reductions.”

Alberta's health care queue-jumping inquiry finds itself at a crucial fork in the road

With the revelation earlier this week of systematic queue jumping involving a private medical clinic in Calgary, Alberta's Health Care Preferential Treatment Inquiry has arrived at a critical fork in the road.

The credibility of the entire inquiry headed by retired justice John Vertes depends on whether it pursues the leads revealed in testimony about how the exclusive Helios Wellness Centre, for which clients are said to have paid $10,000 a year, managed to get its non-emergency patients jumped to the front of a long waiting list for a public colon cancer screening clinic.

Either the inquiry is a legitimate attempt to get to the bottom of accusations of line-jumping in Alberta's health care system -- called in response to claims by former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett, physician and politician Raj Sherman and others that the practice was routine -- or it is an expensive political kabuki drama whose goal is to obfuscate rather than illuminate.

Why a two degree Celsius increase in the global average temperature is a big deal

The International Energy Agency is warning that shooting past two degrees Celsius average global temperature will have “dire consequences.” And the World Bank is talking about 3.5 degrees of warming as being “devastating.”  These are not environmental agencies. They are conservative, economically-oriented institutions. They are “establishment” with a capital E. Their language is increasingly alarmed, and yet nothing happens.

Idle No More protests successfully wind up Alberta solicitor general

Surprising as this may seem to alert readers in other parts of the country, protest is in fact permitted out here in Alberta. However, like strikes by unionized workers, it is usually only allowed if it's completely ineffective.

So it should be easy for us to understand the anger and bewilderment, no matter how crudely expressed, of Alberta Solicitor General and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, who was "pissed off" at Alberta's Idle No More protesters for, quelle horreur, delaying pickup trucks for a few minutes.

After all, the Idle No More protesters actually succeeded in capturing our attention for a few minutes last Wednesday, and that means their protest worked. As Denis didn't quite explain, that's not supposed to happen here in Alberta!

Old way of doing business is dead

WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C.—The arrival of 2013 should leave little doubt anywhere in Canada that most resource development in the country impacts on aboriginal lands and territories—and that the old way of doing business is dead.

What is perhaps not quite so clear is that the federal government is not alone in needing to respond.  The provinces have control over natural resources, and often their laws and practices are the source of confrontation.

Kent slams Global Legislators’ for ‘low blow’ report

Environment Minister Peter Kent is defending the federal government’s climate policy record following an international report singling out Canada as the only member country without comprehensive climate legislation on the books.

Mr. Kent (Thornhill, Ont.) dismissed The Global Legislators’ Organisation’s (GLOBE) latest climate legislation study as a “low blow” for identifying Canada as the only country out of 33-member states to not have federal climate legislation in place.

The world is getting warmer and if we don’t act soon, the price will be terribly high

TORONTO—Gripping pictures of wildfires making their way across Australia, as the country grapples with temperatures in the high 40s and even spiking above 50 degrees Celsius, are just the latest warning that the world is getting warmer and that if we don’t act soon, the price will be terribly high. For some, it already is.

The U.S. National Climatic Data Centre reports that 2012 was the warmest year on record for the United States as well as the 15th driest year on record. An estimated 61 per cent of the U.S. experienced drought conditions. Though not as intense as the droughts of the 1930s that devastated the U.S. Great Plains and the Canadian Prairies, the 2012 drought hit farmers hard in the U.S. Midwest and drought-like conditions affected farmers in Ontario as well.

Over last 30 years, public service has been ‘turned on its head’ by private-sector style management, loss of front-line workers: Savoie

The federal public service has been “transformed by stealth” over the past 30 years to make it more like the private sector, but these reforms have increased the overhead cost of government, decreased the number of front-line workers and have turned the traditional role of public servants advising governments on policy  “on its head,”  says Donald Savoie, a former mandarin and a leading expert on public administration and governance, in his upcoming book, Whatever Happened to The Music Teacher? How Government Decides and Why.

Page worried about future of Parliamentary Budget Office, Parliament’s watchdog

Parliament and Canadians must decide whether they want a hard-hitting, transparent Parliamentary Budget Office or if they want it to disappear, says Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page whose five-year term ends on March 24.

“Our fear is the government potentially will use this as an opportunity to appoint somebody with no experience, no knowledge, which is a big fear that we have, in which case the office disappears,” Mr. Page said in a speech to the Canadian Club in Ottawa on Jan. 15.

'Idle No More' Protesters Confront Ezra Levant Over Alleged Racism

Protesters confronted Ezra Levant of Sun News over alleged "racist" comments outside the organization's Toronto offices on Saturday.

Demonstrators holding signs and beating a drum gathered at the downtown office in the afternoon, the Sun reported. A video uploaded to YouTube shows Levant engaging several people in the angry crowd amid jeers.

Feds’ failure to consult with First Nations underlying theme of Idle No More, says lawyer Morning Bull

The Idle No More movement has established itself as a powerful new force on the federal political scene in Ottawa. But while the aboriginal grassroots movement’s opposition to the government’s budget bill, C-45, has garnered the majority of attention, it has raised the red flag on a number of other bills currently before Parliament, including Bill C-27  and Bill S-8, and First Nations lawyer Faye Morning Bull says the underlying theme is the government’s failure to properly consult with First Nations on legislation.

Federal-First Nations relations yet to reach an all-time low, but ‘with continued stupidity we could make it that way’: former Indian Affairs DM

Former bureaucrats of Indian Affairs and Northern Development are questioning the federal government’s tactics in dealing with First Nations chiefs and the Idle No More movement after the release of an audit critical of financial management on Northern Ontario’s Attawapiskat reserve just days before Prime Minister Stephen Harper was to sit down with First Nations leaders.

The leaked audit report was first reported by the CBC on the morning of Jan. 7, and was officially released less than three hours later by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND).

Nepinak says Idle No More won’t stop until PM, GG meet with chiefs across country

The Idle No More movement, which started out as opposition to the federal government’s changes to environmental laws and has since expanded to an “awakening” of sorts, is the “tipping point” in the Crown-First Nations relationship for which the status quo is no longer feasible, says an outspoken First Nation chief.

“It [Idle No More] will sustain itself until the Harper government decides to meet with the chiefs with the Governor General and leadership across the country. This last meeting was not what the chiefs had asked for,” said Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

First Nations divided, but no concerted effort to oust Atleo

First Nations are divided on how to move forward in dealing with the Canadian government, but there is no concerted effort to oust Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo, say insiders and observers.

“No, there’s nothing like that,” Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told The Hill Times last week.

Speculation circulated last week when Mr. Atleo announced that he would be taking a temporary sick leave from his duties as the national chief of the AFN that there was a strategy from his opponents to oust him.

Tolkien in the tar sands

I am reading The Hobbit to my son. Not that I don't trust Peter Jackson to get the story right, but Tolkien's writing really was meant to be read aloud. Try it and you'll see.

While it is difficult to imagine our Prime Minister reading fantasy novels aloud to his children, I do hope that he and Liberal leadership front-runner Justin Trudeau take in the movie. For if you can look past the trappings of dragons and magical rings, Tolkien has a lot to say about the dilemma that is increasingly at the heart of Canadian politics: what to do with the tar sands.

Harper's unrecognisable Canada

There are at least two visions of Canada. The better vision belongs to Jean Ralston Saul, author of A Fair Country, and to progressive, forward-looking Canadians. It is a vision that embraces and respects the three founding pillars of our society: the Aboriginal, the French, and the English. It sees strength in each pillar, and recognises that these three interconnected yet independent pillars make Canada a distinctive society that has been, in many ways, a model for the world. We have Quebec, with its culture and language preserved, a bilingual federal government, as well as Inuit-governed Nunavut, Nunavik, and native reserves.

War against al-Qaeda in Africa could last decades

The Prime Minister said that countering the rise of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the Sahel region will require an “iron resolve” and greater military, diplomatic and economic engagement with the region.

He spoke as it was confirmed that six British citizens had died after extremists took scores of hostages at a gas plant in eastern Algeria.

France on Sunday night called the hostage-taking “an act of war”.

The great right hope: The rise of Naftali Bennett

Naftali Bennett, a hawkish Israeli politician whose lightning-fast rise on the right has shaken up Israeli politics in the run-up to the country’s Jan. 22 parliamentary election, campaigns with a hip and folksy charm that seems to soften the edges of his radical and illiberal ideas of how Israel should get along with Palestinians.

Ted Cruz: NRA Ad Highlighted Obama's, Gun Control Advocates' 'Hypocrisy'

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a gun rights supporter, declined to criticize a controversial advertisement by the National Rifle Association that called the president a hypocrite for the fact that armed guards are stationed at his daughters' school, arguing that the ad made a strong point on gun control.

"I think there's a fundamental point here," Cruz said on "Meet the Press." "There is a point of hypocrisy when it comes to gun control. Many of the proponents of gun control are very wealthy and live in communities where you can outsource police protections."

Inaugural Corporate Donors Include Bank Of America, Coca-Cola, Microsoft

President Obama’s second welcome into office will be brought to you by Bank Of America, Coca-Cola and Microsoft.

Those three companies are among the many backers of Obama’s inaugural festivities, according to a list posted by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Other corporations donating to fund the president’s pomp and circumstance include AT&T and FedEx.

At least 30% of recently fired U.S. military commanders lost jobs because of sexual misconduct

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, fired from his command in Afghanistan last May and now facing a court-martial on charges of sodomy, adultery and pornography and more, is just one in a long line of commanders whose careers were ended because of possible sexual misconduct.

Sex has proved to be the downfall of presidents, members of Congress and other notables. It’s also among the chief reasons that senior military officers are fired.

‘Time is running out’ to replace Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, opposition warns

OTTAWA—Opposition parties are calling on the government to speed up the process to replace the parliamentary watchdog, or at the very least extend the current appointment until a replacement is found.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is two months from the end of his five-year term, and the government has given no indication when it will announce a replacement.