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.]

Friday, April 19, 2013

Keystone XL pipeline ‘will be safe,’ company tells hearing

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – Debate over the contentious Keystone XL pipeline, which over the last four years has turned into an epic battle between the oil industry and a relatively small number of impassioned Nebraska farmers and ranchers, reached a head here Thursday as activists and businessmen gathered to make their final pleas to U.S. federal government officials.

More than 600 people braved a late-season snowstorm to attend the hearings, which focus on the pipeline’s environmental impacts. Some drove for several hours through snow-swept country roads, then lined up for an hour or more outside the fairgrounds arena where the hearings were held.

Poll: Most Canadians back call for Commons to accept online petitions

OTTAWA — A strange-bedfellow coalition of ordinary MPs fighting for greater democratic freedoms in Parliament say their cause is supported by a poll funded by Burnaby NDP MP Kennedy Stewart.

The poll suggests an overwhelming majority of Canadians support Stewart’s motion calling on Parliament to accept electronic petitions that could – if numbers warrant – force a debate in the House of Commons on any matter.

Top Conservative denies Mike Duffy offered to repay P.E.I. housing allowance

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's parliamentary House leader has denied that Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy ever promised to repay his P.E.I. housing allowance.

At least, that's the way it sounded in the House of Commons today, although Peter Van Loan's spokesman later insisted the minister was actually disputing something else altogether.

Van Loan was responding to reports that Duffy has reneged on his public pledge to repay tens of thousands of dollars he collected by claiming that a cottage on Prince Edward Island was his principal residence.

Toronto aunt of Boston bombing suspects says nephews 'innocent'

The aunt of the two suspects in the Boston bombings says she doesn't believe they were involved in the crime and says the FBI has no evidence other than pictures of the two young men walking on the street near the finish line.

Maret Tsarnaeva, who lives in Toronto, told CBC News by phone Friday that she hadn't yet contacted her brother Anzor, 46, who is the father of the two men, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

I Was Detained and Interrogated at the Border for Carrying Condoms

What do you do when you're detained by powerful officials, everything you say is presumed deceptive, arbitrary "evidence" is held against you, and you're treated like a moral deviant? And what if its 2013, you're a woman, and the "evidence" is that you possess condoms?

It happened three times in two weeks -- being detained by U.S. border officials on my way to or through the States.

Tariff Hikes: 'Tax On Everything' Raises Opposition Ire As Retailers Warn Of Price Hikes

OTTAWA — Opposition parties are accusing the Conservative government of hypocrisy after it hid a massive price increase on thousands of everyday consumer goods in its federal budget last month.

The Liberals and the NDP are calling a tariff increase on everything from pens, deodorants and shampoo to bicycles and pre-cut vegetables – imported from 72 countries that include China and India – a tax.

Tories’ new law for mentally-ill offenders will increase risk to public: Psychiatric group

OTTAWA—The Canadian Psychiatric Association says the Conservative government’s tough new rules for offenders found not criminally responsible will actually increase public risk while being a “substantial drain” on public resources.

The association, which consulted with the Canadian Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, spent more than two months examining the government legislation before weighing in with an assessment.

Conservative attack ads are bully politics

PRIME Minister Stephen Harper is hypocritical when he denounces the cyber-bullying in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons but allows his party to engage in some cyber-bullying of its own.

An online and TV attack ad about Justin Trudeau shows the newly minted Grit leader taking off his shirt to raise money for the Canadian Liver Foundation as an announcer raises questions about his judgment.

Trudeau coming to aid of muzzled Tory backbenchers, testing Harper's control

OTTAWA - Justin Trudeau is riding to the rescue of Conservative backbenchers who feel they're being muzzled by stifling party discipline imposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The newly minted Liberal leader intends to introduce a motion that would strip party whips of their power to decide which MPs are allowed to make members' statements in the House of Commons.

Trudeau's motion will put Harper's legendary iron control over his caucus to the test, providing an outlet for restless Tory backbenchers to defy their leader.

Redford Government can't seem to stop fumbling expenses frenzy

The clueless ineptitude of the Redford Government dealing with Alberta's continuing health system expense account brouhaha is matched only by the belligerence of the Opposition in portraying the situation as an outrage and a scandal.

Since mainstream media now routinely refer to the matter that way -- "Redford, opposition trade barbs over Alberta Health Services expense scandal," is how the Edmonton Journal headlined the story yesterday -- it's fair to say the opposition strategy is working.

Whether it's in answers to questions in the Legislature, management of issues by Premier Alison Redford's newly hired phalanx of former Ontario spin doctors, the juvenile quality of a stream of mean-spirited Tweets from the deputy premier's BlackBerry, or just the Progressive Conservatives' apparent inability to predict when the next embarrassing story is about to break, her government seems to be operating without a clue in a cartload!

Canada-China FIPA to be voted on in the House of Commons on April 23

Yahoo News reports, “On Thursday, the NDP introduced a motion urging the government to inform China that it will not ratify the (Canada-China Foreigen Investment Promotion and Protection) agreement in its current form. …Left-leaning organizations, such as Leadnow and the Council of Canadians, are asking the public to contact their MPs to encourage them to vote with the NDP. …So, far at the Leadnow website, the ‘massive public outcry’ includes 18,204 names on a petition.”

RBC’s real mistake in the outsourcing uproar was embarrassing the Harper Tories

There is nothing new about outsourcing jobs to lower cost countries. There is also nothing new about using temporary foreign “guest” workers as a way to avoid paying wages that the law of supply and demand would otherwise set for Canadian labour.

However, by bringing these two trends together in the operation of a part of RBC’s sprawling information-and-technology empire, the bank inadvertently made the worst mistake a financial institution can ever make: It has embarrassed the government that licenses and regulates it.

Harper government is abandoning leadership in health care

The death by federal defunding of the Health Council of Canada is being widely mourned, but in truth the body had nothing to live for.

Established in 2003, the council was given its eventual raison d’etre the following year: to monitor the implementation of the 10-year, $41-billion health accord that then-prime minister Paul Martin negotiated with the provinces. Next year, that accord will expire and the federal government has given no indication a new one will be sought. And in the absence of such an agreement, there really wouldn’t be much for the council to do.

NDP ditches socialist albatross just when it might be an asset

It’s richly ironic that New Democrats, who laboured for years to shed the albatross of “socialism” so they could gambol like Liberals in the fields of electoral bliss, finally succeeded last weekend just when the word may no longer be cursed.

I say that because Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has announced its two most searched words last year were socialism and capitalism — with socialism in the lead . Left-wing scholar Gar Alperovitz , from whom I gleaned this info, also cites a Rasmussen poll finding Americans under 30 “almost equally divided” on preferring one or the other; and a Pew poll showing those between 18 and 29 prefer socialism 49-43 per cent. They finally managed to seriously downgrade socialism in the preamble to their constitution just when it might start working for them. It’s a pity they didn’t keep featuring it; at best it’s now a boutique item.

Exclusive: Allan Nairn Exposes Role of U.S. and New Guatemalan President in Indigenous Massacres

In 1982, investigative journalist Allan Nairn interviewed a Guatemalan general named "Tito" on camera during the height of the indigenous massacres. It turns out the man was actually Otto Pérez Molina, the current Guatemalan president. We air the original interview footage and speak to Nairn about the U.S. role backing the Guatemalan dictatorship. Last week, Nairn flew to Guatemala where he had been scheduled to testify in the trial of former U.S.-backed dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, the first head of state in the Americas to stand trial for genocide. Ríos Montt was charged in connection with the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region after he seized power in 1982. His 17-month rule is seen as one of the bloodiest chapters in Guatemala’s decades-long campaign against Maya indigenous people, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. The trial took a surprising turn last week when Guatemala President Gen. Otto Pérez Molina was directly accused of ordering executions. A former military mechanic named Hugo Reyes told the court that Pérez Molina, then serving as an army major and using the name Tito Arias, ordered soldiers to burn and pillage a Maya Ixil area in the 1980s.

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Mike Duffy says audit will determine whether he repays housing allowance

OTTAWA— Almost two months after Sen. Mike Duffy said he would refund the Senate money he claimed for a housing allowance, the leader of the government in the Senate said Thursday afternoon she has not received a formal report that Duffy has given back any money.

Sen. Marjory LeBreton couldn’t say if Duffy had paid any money back, but she and other senators are hoping that spending questions about Duffy and three other senators will be answered soon.

No excuse for federal Conservatives to be seven months overdue with anti-robocall law

Alberta passed new law quickly last fall; federal Liberals and NDP have introduced bills (both opposed by the Conservatives); and Elections Canada has proposed changes

More than 68,000 messages sent in letter-writing drive for robocall law – inquiry into weak election law enforcement also needed

Friday, April 19, 2013

OTTAWA – Today, as Democracy Watch’s online counter shows, the federal Conservatives have now violated for seven months Parliament’s deadline for introducing a bill to restrict election fraud robocalls and strengthen election law enforcement, including delaying the bill again this week.  More than 68,000 messages have been sent through Democracy Watch’s robocall law letter-writing drive – and Democracy Watch called on the Conservatives to end their negligence and introduce the bill next week.

China's largest bank in deal to finance Kitimat refinery

China's largest bank will be helping to finance the proposed Kitimat refinery, which would process oil from the Alberta oilsands in B.C., instead of the raw bitumen being shipped overseas.

B.C. media mogul David Black said he has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) for the proposed refinery that is estimated to cost $25 billion.

Texas Plant May Not Have Been Inspected in Years, Despite Risks

As the news of the deadly explosion at the West Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, has unfolded, journalists and observers wasted no time in wondering if anyone could have seen this catastrophe coming.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the West facility had claimed in an emergency planning report that an explosion of the kind that happened Wednesday would be virtually impossible. However, further analysis of this report shows that it contained other red flags about potential hazards and shoddy equipment. The plant's June 2011 risk management plan (RMP), filed with the Environmental Protection Agency, identified several potential hazards, including equipment failure; toxic release; overpressure, corrosion, or overfilling of equipment; an earthquake; or a tornado.

A Brief History of Our Deadly Addiction to Nitrogen Fertilizer

As investigators and rescuers move through a destroyed fertilizer factory in West, Texas, it makes me think about just what nitrogen fertilizer is, and why we use so much of it.

Nitrogen is one of the nutrient elements plants need to grow. Every apple or ear of corn plucked represents nutrients pulled from soil, and for land to remain productive, those nutrients must be replenished. Nitrogen is extremely plentiful—it makes up nearly 80 percent of the air we breathe. But atmospheric nitrogen (N2) is joined together in an extremely tight bond that makes it unusable by plants. Plant-available nitrogen, known as nitrate, is actually scarce, and for most of agriculture's 10,000-year-old history, the main challenge was figuring out how to cycle usable nitrogen back into the soil. Farmers of yore might not have known the chemistry, but they knew that composting crop waste, animal manure, and even human waste led to better harvests.

Stephen Harper takes partisan politics abroad

OTTAWA — Stephen Harper was representing Canada at the funeral of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in London this week.

Was this the proper time and place to try to score partisan political points back home?

Many of our allies have hard and fast protocols about taking domestic fights abroad — U.S. Democrats will not criticize Republican Middle East policy, or vice versa, during a visit to Israel. Woe to the U.S. politician who ignores this unwritten rule.

Jim Flaherty talks up Keystone XL pipeline to new U.S. treasury secretary

WASHINGTON - Jim Flaherty made a pitch on Thursday for TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline with a top Obama administration official, telling Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that the contentious project is vital to both countries' economies.

"He emphasized that the process is being followed," Canada's finance minister told a media roundtable after he attended G20 meetings in the U.S. capital on Thursday.

Too much household debt will prompt higher interest rates: Carney

OTTAWA—Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney says the central bank might have to push up interest rates to cool the housing market if Canadians don’t refrain from taking on too much household debt.

Speaking in an online interview, Carney said household credit is losing steam but is still “at high levels.”

He noted the Bank of Canada has regularly raised the possibility it might begin driving up borrowing costs and has warned consumers to be wary of accumulating excess debt they might not be able to afford once interest rates rise.

Detroit Homeless Grabbed By Police And 'Taken For A Ride' Out Of Downtown, ACLU Complains

Detroit police are scooping up homeless people downtown and dumping them in remote locations, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan said in a complaint filed Thursday with the U.S. Department of Justice that alleges "illegal and abusive tactics."

The ACLU said police are forcing individuals who appear homeless into police vehicles, transporting them out of town and dropping them off miles away, sometimes outside city limits. The tactic violates constitutional rights to due process and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as a well as a consent decree with the Justice Department, the ACLU said in the complaint.

Harper government delays bill to address robo-calls issues

The Harper government is temporarily delaying the introduction of its electoral reform legislation following a discussion in Conservative caucus Wednesday morning.

In the closed door meeting, Tory MPs raised concerns about how some measures in the bill were designed and suggested changes.

Asked for comment Wednesday afternoon, Tim Uppal, the minister of state for democratic reform said the Tories found some last-minute problems with the new bill.

What's Tylenol Doing to Our Minds?

The active drug in Tylenol, acetaminophen, is one of the best medications we have for helping people in pain. It's also one the most commonly overdosed substances in the world and puts about 60,000 Americans in the hospital every year. Several hundred people in the U.S. will die in 2013 from liver failure after acetaminophen overdose.

Tylenol isn't addictive like narcotics, and the kids don't take it to get high, which lends it an air of benignity and social acceptance not otherwise afforded to many pain medications. When people overdose on pills like Vicodin or Percocet, though, which contain acetaminophen, it's that component that often does the most damage.

Keystone Pipeline Will Create Only 35 Permanent Jobs, Emit 51 Coal Plants’ Worth Of Carbon

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he wasn’t touching the Keystone pipeline decision with a ten-foot pole:
“I am staying as far away from that as I can now so that when the appropriate time comes to me, I am not getting information from any place I shouldn’t be, and I am not getting engaged in the debate at a time that I shouldn’t be,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Cool your jets

1. The runway extension being proposed would have to be longer than advertised.

Island airport boosters laughed when opponent Adam Vaughan declared that lengthening the main runway by 168 metres on each end amounts to paving the lake. For a little perspective: that’s roughly the length of four football fields. But that’s only the half of it. As we speak, Transport Canada is considering changing its “runway end safety area” regs, which would require extending the runway further into the lake, probably by a few hundred more feet.

Wronging Rights

Richard Hofstadter, one of the finest American historians of the twentieth century, published his essay America As A Gun Culture in the October 1970 issue of American Heritage Magazine.

A kind of proto-Bowling For Columbine, America As A Gun Culture examines the origin of America’s fascination with firearms, and their intractability from certain formations of the American character. The statistics, of course, need to be adjusted for inflation, as beholden to their era as Hofstadter’s use of the phrase “young blacks,” which scans as pretty icky some forty-plus years out. But otherwise, time has only fortified the urgency and conviction of Hofstadter’s ideas, and his essay remains an essential piece of cultural and intellectual history. It ends like this:

    American legislators have been inordinately responsive to the tremendous lobby maintained by the National Rifle Association, in tandem with gunmakers and importers, military sympathizers, and far-right organizations. A nation that could not devise a system of gun control after its experiences of the 1960’s, and at a moment of profound popular revulsion against guns, is not likely to get such a system in the calculable future. One must wonder how grave a domestic gun catastrophe would have to be in order to persuade us. How far must things go?

Saskatchewan prepares to gut labour laws with Bill 85

Saskatchewan is about to dramatically overhaul its labour legislation, transforming it from one of the most progressive jurisdictions in Canada in terms of worker protection to one of the most regressive. You wouldn't know it, though, from reading mainstream news coverage.

The national media's near-total silence on the soon-to-be adopted Saskatchewan Employment Act, now being sped through the legislature as Bill 85 by the ruling Saskatchewan Party, is a bit puzzling given the unprecedented nature of many of the bill's reforms.

One exception was an article published last week by the Huffington Post that focused on what the law will mean for unionized workers. The impact on those workers will, undoubtedly, be dramatic.

James Moore refuses to believe his government would increase a tax

Like most everything interesting that Michael Ignatieff ever said, he probably should not have said it.

“I never want to raise your taxes; I pay them (the same way) as you do,” the former Liberal leader told a crowd in Mississauga on a July day in 2010. “But we pay them to express fundamental social solidarity, one with the other. This is the contract that holds us together.”

Cash-strapped Tory fundraising company owes federal government $1 million in unpaid taxes

OTTAWA — The company behind the Conservative Party’s voter contact and fundraising operations owed the federal government nearly a $1 million in unpaid taxes when it filed for protection from creditors last week.

In documents filed in U.S. bankruptcy court, iMarketing Solutions Group Inc. (IMSGI) lists the Canada Revenue Agency as well as the governments of Quebec, Nova Scotia and Manitoba among its creditors.

Sen. Duffy admits he hasn’t paid money back

Conservative Senator Mike Duffy has not paid back the tens of thousands of dollars in housing expenses he said he’d return almost two months ago.

And now, he says he isn’t sure he’s “required” to.

A day after dodging questions from Global News, Duffy said he is waiting for an audit to come out before repaying the money.

Pat Martin Wants Oath Of Allegiance To Queen Out Of Citizenship Ceremony

Pat Martin thinks new Canadians being forced to swear an oath to the Queen is just plain wrong.

In fact, the outspoken New Democrat thinks it’s high time this country considered severing ties with the monarchy altogether.

The Winnipeg MP said on Wednesday that he intends to resurrect a motion he tabled two Parliaments ago to amend the citizenship ceremony so that an oath of allegiance is sworn to Canada, not “the Queen and her heirs and successors.”

Here's Why the NRA Won and Gabby Giffords and Mike Bloomberg Lost

On NBC's Meet the Press last month, National Rifle Association honcho Wayne LaPierre, the face of the American gun lobby, delivered this message to New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg: "He's going to find out that this is a country of the people, by the people, and for the people, and he can't spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public. He can't buy America." The day before, Bloomberg had announced that he would spend $12 million of his own money on an ad blitz pressing members of Congress to pass new legislation expanding background checks for gun purchases. LaPierre went on national television to tell the mayor that all those millions wouldn't make the difference in the fight in Congress over new gun laws.

Guess what? LaPierre was right.

Welcome to the Gilded City of New York

To the stranger driving across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time in search of the new New York, the neighborhood swirling at the base of the bridge looks less like the city than the shimmer of Oz. There, green parkland curves toward reclaimed lofts and cozy restaurants. Children bop along pebble pathways. And as waves lick the shoreline, a glass-encased carousel rises like a genie from the foam.

This is DUMBO, one of the golden children of the New York City renaissance. Twenty years ago, the neighborhood wasn’t much to see—just a worn-out industrial zone that was home to artists, squatters and other urban renegades. But in the last ten to fifteen years, as the city reinvented itself as a lifestyle metropolis, a wave of designers, techies and Wall Street types have washed up on its shores, bringing boutiques, furniture stores and a median income of $168,000.

West Fertilizer Co. Told The EPA There Was 'No' Risk Of Explosions: Report

Officials at the West Fertilizer Co. plant where a massive explosion killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160 on Wednesday told the Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities that the factory presented no risk of explosion.

The company wrote that there was “no” risk of fire or explosion on a required emergency planning report, according to a review of the documents by the Dallas Morning News.

Bradley Manning Trial Secrecy Upheld By Military Court, Lawyers May Appeal

NEW YORK -- Lawyers may appeal a ruling made by the military's highest court that they say slams the door on transparency in the Bradley Manning court-martial.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces found in a 3-2 decision on Tuesday that media organizations and the public have no right to access court documents, like transcripts and court orders, in the high-profile trial of Bradley Manning, the Army private who admitted to sending sensitive documents to WikiLeaks.