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, February 18, 2013

Autopsy finds that Md. man with Down syndrome died of asphyxia while in police custody

FREDERICK, Md. — The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office says the death of a mentally disabled man in police custody has been ruled a homicide.

Cpl. Jennifer Bailey said Friday that the state medical examiner determined that 26-year-old Robert Saylor of New Market died of asphyxia Jan. 12.

Saylor had Down syndrome.

Congressional staffers often travel on tabs of foreign governments

About a dozen congressional staffers flew business class on a trip to China last summer and stayed at luxury hotels while touring the Great Wall and the Forbidden City and receiving a “briefing on ancient artifacts and dynasties” at the Shanghai Museum.

The all-expenses-paid visit came courtesy of China. The Chinese government hosted a day of meetings with officials in Beijing followed by eight days packed with outings to destinations often frequented by tourists along with a stop at a missile frigate and two others related to national security — the official theme of the trip.

Paul Krugman: Raising The Minimum Wage Is 'Good Policy'

Increasing the minimum wage is "actually good policy," New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote in a blog post on Saturday.

President Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour during his State of the Union address last week. While many on the right say that raising the minimum wage could make it more difficult for employers to hire people and therefore cause higher unemployment, Krugman argued in his post that this simply is not the case.

Keystone XL Pipeline Work Delayed, Nebraska Utility Says

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska utility says the new route for a proposed oil pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil through the state will delay work on electric transmission lines for the pipeline.

Nebraska Public Power District officials said they won't be able to build the transmission lines by the deadline TransCanada set for the end of 2014.

NPPD Chief Operating Officer Tom Kent said there's no way the transmission lines will be ready by 2015, the Columbus Telegram reported.

White House Press Corps: 'Extreme Frustration' With Lack Of Obama Access

The White House press corps expressed "extreme frustration" at the Obama administration Sunday after it was barred from being able to report on President Obama's golf outing with Tiger Woods.

The reporters who cover Obama every day were kept well away from the president as he hit the links. However, Tim Rosaforte, a writer for Golf Digest and Golf World, did get some access to the golfer-in-chief, and happily tweeted the event exclusively for hours.

'Forward on Climate' Rally Sends a Message to Obama: No Keystone

Over 35,000 people descended on the National Mall in Washington on Sunday, huddled together against a stinging cold wind to deliver a message of opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Their audience was really just one man, the only one with the power to stop the project: Barack Obama.

“This movement has been building for a long time. And one of the things that’s built it is everybody’s desire to give the president the support he needs to block this Keystone pipeline,” Bill McKibben, president of, told reporters just before the rally began. “The time for him to stand up now. He’s been saying good things about climate change, but the easiest, simplest, purest action he could take is to not build this long fuse to one of the biggest carbon bombs on earth.”

Residential School Deaths In Canada Number At Least 3,000, According To Research

TORONTO - At least 3,000 children, including four under the age of 10 found huddled together in frozen embrace, are now known to have died during attendance at Canada's Indian residential schools, according to new unpublished research.

While deaths have long been documented as part of the disgraced residential school system, the findings are the result of the first systematic search of government, school and other records.

Fort McMurray awaits housing land, dispute with oil producer simmers

EDMONTON - A few weeks before he stepped down as premier, Ed Stelmach flew to Fort McMurray with a key document tucked into his briefcase.

The proposal for a 20-year supply of land — enough to stabilize sky-high housing prices, enough to handle an expected 200,000 people — was a key issue for Mayor Melissa Blake and the struggling boomtown.

The free press enters a long, dark winter

It is unlikely that the Voice of Taksin will be heard again in 2024.

That’s the year that the now defunct publication’s editor, with a name nearly as long as his prison term, will be released from jail. His crime? Publishing articles deemed to have insulted the King of Thailand.

Adding to his misery, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk didn’t even write the stories for which he was sent to jail after serving 20 months of pre-trial detention. The author was Jakrapob Penkair, a former government official. That wise man now lives in self-imposed exile in Cambodia.

Canada defends climate record amidst U.S. Keystone XL protests

Canada’s government is defending its environmental record as thousands attended a climate change rally in Washington, D.C., with hopes of pressuring U.S. President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Environmentalists are staunchly opposed to the planned pipeline, which would carry Alberta oilsands bitumen to refineries along the Texas coast.

They call crude from Alberta's oilsands "dirty oil" and say it contributes to global warming.

Equalization and the birth of a ‘boneless wonder’

There was a time in this country when the federal government saw its role as one of creating a fully-functioning, national social citizenship for all Canadians — regardless of where they lived.

The result was old age pensions, medicare, the Canada Assistance Plan, national standards, unemployment (not ‘employment’) insurance. The list goes on.

That time extended from the end of the Second World War to the arrival of neo-conservatism in 1979-80, the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The Trilateral Commission, funded by the fabulously wealthy Rockefellers, had decided the western world had “an excess of democracy” — the citizenry was too powerful, too demanding, and had to be put back in its place through a dramatic downsizing of government.

Oilsands tailings leaking into groundwater, Joe Oliver told in memo

OTTAWA — Tailings ponds from oilsands production are leaking and contaminating Alberta’s groundwater, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was told in an internal memo obtained by Postmedia News.

The memo, released through access to information legislation, said that federal government scientists, including Quebec City-based research geoscientist Martine Savard, had discovered evidence of the contamination in new research that rejected longstanding claims that toxins in the region of the Athabasca River were coming from natural sources.

Delays in purchasing for Canadian military at record levels under Conservatives

Delays in the purchasing of military equipment have reached record levels under the Conservative government, according to a newly released Defence Department analysis.

It now takes, on average, 199 months — more than 16 years — from start to finish for military acquisitions, the examination of 55 equipment projects found. It was written in 2011, but there has been no improvement in the meantime, say Defence Department sources.

Parliamentary reform idea: Get out of the House

Here's the big dilemma: Whatever reforms are made to Parliamentary practice and conduct, the simple truth is that, for now, citizens have lost faith in politicians. However, they trust their fellow citizens, and just as they do with juries, are prepared to delegate important decisions to them.

One solution then is to more frequently take the need to deliberate on key issues outside Parliament. Trust the people. Put major policy questions to citizen assemblies, or some other large-scale public engagement process. We need more opportunities to have big and thoughtful conversations on fundamental matters.

Getting rid of the Canadian Senate zombie

The world is full of surprises.

Everyone who ever knew Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin knew two things about them. They were inordinately proud of their roots back in PEI and Saskatchewan and were determined never to lose contact with them. Wadena and Charlottetown was in their souls. But, there was a very big "but."

Why the Right's 'defence lobby' wants another war

The generals have a big problem. The fighting in Afghanistan is over for Canada, and the thousands of recruits they armed, and the fleets of planes, helicopters and tanks they bought, have nowhere to go but home.

Since 9/11 the military budget has ballooned to its highest level since the Second World War, surpassing the height of the Cold War in adjusted dollars.

Gerrymandering possible, but also difficult to achieve, and ‘dangerous’ for democracy

Gerrymandering is possible in the electoral boundaries redistribution, but also highly difficult, and if it is happening, it’s “very dangerous,” say government and opposition MPs.

“It would be possible, but it would require collusion on the part of the people appointed to the commission,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.). “Certainly, my experience with the British Columbia commission, where I’ve certainly paid more attention, is that couldn’t happen there. I’m doubtful it could happen in Saskatchewan.”

Feds should name an interim Parliamentary budget officer for next budget, anything less ‘a management failure,’ says PBO Page

The government is choosing not to use its legal power to name an interim Parliamentary budget officer, but Canada’s outgoing PBO Kevin Page says Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government should use it to quickly appoint someone currently in the PBO to take over when the five-year position becomes vacant on March 25.

Mr. Page has said previously that he would not seek another term as budget officer, but also said last week that if the government asked him to stay on for “few more months to facilitate the transition on the appointment of the next PBO [he] would accept.”

Constitutional experts skewer opposition calls for Senate abolition

Constitutional experts say abolishing the Senate is highly unlikely, despite vocal calls from the official opposition for the Upper Chamber to be scrapped. While the government awaits a Supreme Court decision on numerous proposed Senate reforms including abolition, observers say that Prime Minister Stephen Harper could be getting better advice on his Red Chamber appointees.

The ongoing controversies around Senators’ living expense claims and their ability to meet constitutionally-entrenched residency requirements continues to give the NDP Question Period fodder.

Canada faces a ‘constitutional crisis’ if Senators’ residency scandal proves widespread, says former Senator Murray

Retired senator Lowell Murray says the latest scandals ensnaring the Upper Chamber are “tragic” controversies that have unfairly tainted public opinion of his former colleagues, but he concedes that Canada would face a “constitutional crisis” if the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee discovers a widespread pattern of Senators representing provinces that they don’t reside in.

“These controversies are more than unfortunate, they are tragic,” the former senator for Ontario told The Hill Times. He continues to hold all of his former Senate colleagues in high regard—including those now being implicated in an expense claims scandal that has forced the Upper Chamber’s Internal Economy Committee to review the residency records of all 105 sitting members.

Keystone XL pipeline takes centre stage at Washington protest

WASHINGTON—Canada’s carbon-intensive oilsands industry was the guest of dishonour in Washington on Sunday, where the largest in a series of nationwide climate rallies demanded President Barack Obama call a halt to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Though precise numbers were in dispute — organizers claimed upwards of 50,000 supporters, with other media assessments suggesting half as many — activists appeared to have met their target of achieving the country’s largest-ever climate rally.

Economic Action Plan Ads: Canadians Growing Weary Of New Campaign, Survey Says

OTTAWA - Canadians may be growing weary of — even hostile to — all those Economic Action Plan ads the Harper government has been pumping out for the last four years.

Eight polls the Finance Department commissioned between 2009 and 2012 suggest the TV, radio, print and Internet ads are starting to fizzle — and annoying some people.

Don’t Blink, or You’ll Miss Another Bailout

MANY people became rightfully upset about bailouts given to big banks during the mortgage crisis. But it turns out that they are still going on, if more quietly, through the back door.

 The existence of one such secret deal, struck in July between the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Bank of America, came to light just last week in court filings.

Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian-American Activist, On The Power Of Protest

Mona Eltahawy meets me in Harlem at one of her favorite bars, the place she goes to watch and enthusiastically live-tweet soccer matches. We sit outside and keep our jackets on. Hers is a bright coral pink, as is her hair. The Egyptian-American writer tells me it’s a deliberate choice. “My nieces love pink and they're both fierce girls, so I love the idea of co-opting pink from princesses to protests,” she says.

In the U.S., Eltahawy is currently one of the most prominent female voices speaking out on the contemporary Muslim world. She juggles many titles: Feminist. Award-winning writer. Media personality. And a new label she’s only recently felt comfortable adopting -- activist.

Fiscal trouble ahead for most future retirees

For the first time since the New Deal, a majority of Americans are headed toward a retirement in which they will be financially worse off than their parents, jeopardizing a long era of improved living standards for the nation’s elderly, according to a growing consensus of new research.

The Great Recession and the weak recovery darkened the retirement picture for significant numbers of Americans. And the full extent of the damage is only now being grasped by experts and policymakers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham: Sacrifice Obamacare To Avoid Sequester

To avoid a March 1 sequester, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested on Fox News Sunday that Congress save money by cutting the Affordable Care Act instead.

"Here's my belief: Let's take Obamacare and put it on the table," he said. "People are leaving the private sector because their companies can't afford to offer Obamacare. If you want to look at ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, let's look at Obamacare. Let's don't destroy the military and just cut blindly across the board."

Pope Benedict XVI’s leaked documents show fractured Vatican full of rivalries

VATICAN CITY — Guests at the going-away party for Carlo Maria Viganò couldn’t understand why the archbishop looked so forlorn. Pope Benedict XVI had appointed Viganò ambassador to the United States, a plum post where he would settle into a stately mansion on Massachusetts Avenue, across the street from the vice president’s residence.

“He went through the ordeal making it very clear he was unhappy with it,” said one former ambassador to the Vatican, who attended the Vatican Gardens ceremony in the late summer of 2011. “And we just couldn’t figure out, us outsiders and non-Italians, what was going on.”

Protesters Escorted Away From Rob Ford's Office

Protesters trying to raise awareness about homelessness in Toronto were escorted out of city hall Friday night after refusing to leave the space outside Mayor Rob Ford’s office.

Close to 40 people involved with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty sat in a loud but peaceful protest about Toronto’s lack of shelter beds for the city’s homeless.

The Senate needs more Mike Duffys

The Senate rules say that “all personal, sharp or taxing speeches are unparliamentary and out of order.”

That’s probably why all the snide and vexatious comments that have been made recently about my pal Michael Duffy are made outside the Red Chamber: No one in that august place has the guts to make them there — at least not directly to his happy face.

Wall asks U.S. ambassador to clarify Obama's Keystone comments

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says he is seeking clarification from the U.S. ambassador over comments from the White House that appeared to link approval of the Keystone XL pipeline with Canadian environmental policy reforms.

Wall said he sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson seeking clarification late this week. His letter was sent just days after U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech. In Tuesday night’s speech, Obama said he would take aggressive action on climate change.
Jacobson later told The Canadian Press that Obama’s message was meant for Canada as much as it was for Congress.

Harper government presses Obama to approve Keystone XL pipeline

Today, on this Presidents Day weekend, tens of thousands are set to converge on the White House in what organizers are promoting as "the largest climate rally in U.S. history." The protesters will be calling on Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. For the first time in its 120 year history, the million member Sierra Club has endorsed civil disobedience actions on that day.

Alongside one of this country's biggest corporations, Stephen Harper's government has entangled Canada in one of the most controversial decisions of Obama's presidency. The Conservatives have lobbied vigorously in support of Calgary-based TransCanada's plan to build a $7 billion pipeline to take up to 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Despite a lot of distraction, illegal political donations still stink up Alberta

OK, we're all enjoying a nice quiet Family Day long weekend. This gives us an opportunity to look back at the interlocking illegal political contribution eruptions that until recently plagued the Progressive Conservative government of Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

The past couple of weeks have been a busy time for Alberta political commentators, with daily events that might have been a scandal in some places, but somehow just didn't make the grade here on the western edge of the Great Plains.

Happy strangle-a-protester day

Seventeen years ago today, my colleague Rob Benzie reminds me, Canada had its first Flag Day -- which prime minister Jean Chretien marked by putting  a chokehold on a protester at Jacques Cartier park.

I have become convinced that everything we need to know about modern politics, or at least the kind we're living with today, was foretold in the events and the reaction that day. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, took careful note of how things unfolded and is applying some of the lessons today.

Death of Toronto senior shows EMS needs more paramedics

Nagging questions remain about the death of an 87-year-old Toronto woman suffering abdominal pains last December. But here’s what we know for sure: when an ambulance has been summoned, it shouldn’t take three hours to arrive. That’s what happened in her case.

Toronto Emergency Medical Services is now conducting a review of this matter, and the province is also looking into it. It’s not clear what caused the woman’s death, or whether her life could have been saved even if an ambulance had immediately appeared.

Canada Immigration: How a decade of policy change has transformed the immigration landscape

Looking back on Canada’s last decade of immigration, two trends are obvious:

One is the exponential growth of temporary foreign workers. Tens of thousands of migrant workers fill the endless labour shortage in jobs and places of which Canadians typically have no interest.

Second is the federal government’s stepped-up effort on border control, from a crackdown on fraudulent marriages to fake visa students, illegitimate citizens and bogus refugees — all under the pretext of national security in light of global terrorism.

Senator Pamela Wallin defends her travel expenses

WADENA, SASK.—Senator Pamela Wallin has defended her travel expenses, saying she must travel extensively across the country, returning regularly to her province of Saskatchewan.

In an exclusive interview in her hometown, the first since admitting her expenses are under scrutiny by an independent auditor, the Conservative senator said Saturday she is happy to be in public service but believes she deserves some privacy.

The Canadian government is requiring foreign researchers who collaborate with federal scientists to sign agreements that could potentially muzzle them, a U.S. scientist says.

Andreas Muenchow, a physical oceanographer at the University of Delaware, collaborates with Canadian government scientists on Arctic research. On his blog last week, he posted his concerns about the new language in a research agreement that the Canadian government is asking him to sign.

John Duncan's Resignation Met With First Nations Leaders' Cynicism

TORONTO - The surprise resignation of Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan is being met with raised eyebrows among some First Nations leaders, who call it a diversion as aboriginal issues gain momentum on the national stage.

Isadore Day, Chief of the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario, said Duncan's decision came at a convenient time for the Conservative government, which is under mounting pressure from aboriginal groups to address treaty rights and other issues.

Harper government must support Bill C-400 and address homelessness

Ottawa (14 Feb. 2013) - The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is made up of more than 340,000 Canadians who live and work in communities across the country.

Many of us have seen first-hand the suffering of those without basic shelter; some of us have felt it. Nobody chooses to be homeless — they fall into it in fear, poverty, addiction or mental illness. They do not deserve their plight.

The unexpected appeal of Kathleen Wynne

What a start. Half of Kathleen Wynne's own backbenchers plus most of the NDP, including its female leader, skipped the swearing-in of Ontario's first female and Canada's only openly gay premier. That's some rebuff from the progressive sector she comes from and should appeal to. This will be challenging.

But Wynne is the most unexpected, intriguing government leader I've seen in Canadian politics. I base that largely on a test proposed by the late Alexander Cockburn, which I've mentioned before: if you were seated beside this politician on a long flight would you pretend to snooze so you didn't have to talk? With Wynne I definitely wouldn't. Yet it's hard to say why. Maybe it's because she doesn't seem a creature of party practices. Leaders like Bob Rae and Barack Obama looked different, too, but sewed themselves tightly into their party suits early on.

Constituents must decide who goes to — and leaves — the Senate

The current turmoil in Canada’s Senate has predictably renewed calls for its abolition.

Prince Edward Island — part of a region that has little to no clout in the 308-member House of Commons — does have a greater voice in the Senate. Four voices, actually, and as a region, Atlantic Canada holds 30 of the 105 seats in the Red Chamber.

That’s not something we should readily give away.

Tim Hudak’s plan to link student loans to grades is silly

American president Harry S. Truman once observed that “the C students run the world.” If Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak gets his way, they won’t even obtain a post-secondary education — at least one funded by government loans.

In his most preposterous policy position yet, Hudak says university and college students should receive loans only if they reach a certain — undefined — level of academic success.

August chamber at crossroads

Given the scandals roiling in the country’s Senate, many Canadians have come to believe it would be the easy and expedient thing to do to simply abolish the place.

After all, they argue, it is nothing — and has always been nothing — but a institutional façade for partisan hacks, fundraisers, yes-men, yes-women and other party organizers, gone to their patronage-imbued reward. The current gang of 104 senators (one seat is vacant) has done little to change those perceptions — and a great deal to cement them.

Open the seat for an Island resident

In late 1964, Michael Dennis Duffy of Charlottetown was among a number of young reporters who spent some months in The Guardian newsroom before striking off for greener pastures elsewhere. In Mike Duffy’s case, he went to Nova Scotia. First, to the radio station in Amherst and then on to CHNS, a private radio station in Halifax.

From Halifax, Mike Duffy moved to Montreal, edging ever closer to fulfilling his dream of being a reporter on Parliament Hill. While in Montreal he discovered that many of the reporters on Parliament hill had been hired from local Ottawa news outlets, so he took a cut in pay and got a job in Ottawa. It wasn’t long before he was filing reports from the House of Commons.

Beyond tokenism: The debate around Black History Month

"I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history," says Morgan Freeman.

This month, you will see no shortage of functions organized by historical societies, libraries and schools. You may even catch the corporate giants sponsoring short vignettes on black history, or perhaps a rerun of Amistad, Roots or Malcolm X.

It's Black History Month.

Ottawa MP Paul Dewar slams Library and Archives fees

OTTAWA — Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar has slammed the federal government for imposing ‘cost recovery’ fees for use of Library and Archives Canada facilities, saying the decision goes against everything the public institution stands for.

Dozens of community groups and individuals use the space, including the theatre, for everything from meetings, lectures, symposiums, to fundraising shows and screening of films, but under a new Public Works and Government Services Canada policy, many groups would face a $300 a day charge for space that once used to be free. The Ottawa Jazz Festival for instance, which rents the auditorium to showcase Canadian jazz artists, says the new fees could cost it up to $10,000 it doesn’t have.