Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An interview with Tsleil-Waututh elder Amy George at beginning of Truth and Reconciliation Week

It was just a few days before British Columbia’s Truth and Reconciliation Week when I went to visit Amy George, a 71-year-old Tsleil-Waututh elder, who is the daughter of Chief Dan George, and the mother of Rueben George, the band's leader in an ongoing to fight to stop Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion proposal from going through. Having been  impressed by George at the 2013 Healing Walk in Fort McMurray, I was  curious to learn more about her and the occasion of Truth and Reconciliation week seemed a prime time to do that.

Why the JPMorgan Settlement Falls Short

We can now start putting a dollar value on JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s responsibility in the “London Whale” trades of 2012, which lost more than six billion dollars: the bank will pay an eight-hundred-million-dollar fine, according to a settlement expected this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission and other government regulators, to settle charges in connection with the improper trades.

Because JPMorgan is expected to admit that its own lax controls made it possible for traders to build up risky positions and cover up their losses without detection, the S.E.C. is likely to tout the settlement as part of a new get-tough approach to Wall Street. An admission of wrongdoing would certainly be a step in the right direction, departing from the longstanding practice of banks settling with the S.E.C. without admitting or denying liability, and staining JPMorgan’s reputation as a bank that excels at managing risk. The bank would surely suffer from such an outcome—not only monetarily but in the form of strained relations with regulators and clients.

Middle-Class Decline Mirrors The Fall Of Unions In One Chart

This week the Census Bureau reported the latest depressing decline in middle-class incomes during the so-called economic recovery. But it may have missed an important factor in this story.

A report on Wednesday from the left-leaning think tank Center For American Progress notes that as middle-class incomes have steadily fallen, so have union membership rates. The middle 60 percent of households earned 53.2 percent of national income in 1968. That number has fallen to just 45.7 percent. During that same period, nationwide union membership fell from 28.3 percent to a record-low 11.3 percent of all workers.

Peace River Oil Smell Complaints: Scope For Inquiry Set By Regulator

PEACE RIVER, Alta. - Landowners in Alberta's Peace River region will get a chance to tell the province's energy industry regulator what they want to see in an inquiry into a tar-like smell they say is making them sick.

The Alberta Energy Regulator is to hold a meeting Oct. 7 in Peace River to set the scope for the inquiry into concerns expressed by people in the Three Creeks and Reno areas.

Foreign service officers would suspend strike if bargaining resumes

Foreign service officers are willing to temporarily suspend their targeted strike if the federal government returns to the bargaining table to negotiate a new collective agreement.

Tim Edwards, president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers made the offer in an interview with the Citizen Wednesday during a noon-hour picket by about 250 PAFSO members outside the Sussex Drive headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).

Deconstructing BC Hydro's rate increase

When the government imposed its Energy Plan on BC Hydro it never bothered to estimate the costs (or for that matter the benefits) of what it hoped to achieve. Ardent supporters of that Plan, like my good friend Mark Jaccard, constructed scenarios under which it would make sense to force BC Hydro to buy more power than it needed, but no one was forecasting those scenarios to materialize -- certainly not BC Hydro, the BCUC, the union representing BC Hydro workers or any ratepayer group.

First Strokes of Justice at Reconciliation Hearings

Wrapped in a blanket with a Canadian flag on one side and "Jesus Christ" on the other, Keith Morriseau from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba stood outside Vancouver's Pacific National Coliseum yesterday morning. Morriseau is a residential school survivor, and this week he reconnected with his niece, who was taken into foster care as a small child. To him and many survivors, the connection between residential school and foster care is obvious.

On Wednesday, Sept. 18, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission opened its work at Vancouver's Coliseum, hearing testimony from residential school survivors and their descendants. The national event, which ends Saturday, includes testimony from survivors, workshops and panels, a marketplace with stunning crafts and fashions, and other activities. It's free and anyone can attend.

Marshall Berman 1940–2013

In the summer of 1987, I went to Brazil for the first time to give a talk at a big conference in São Paulo. Although the local papers covered the event, their cultural pages were devoted to another—the book tour of Marshall Berman, there to discuss his masterpiece, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity, published in 1982. I remember being amazed and full of admiration at all the ink being devoted to a literary event by the mass media. Wherever people were reading newspapers—in cafés, on buses, on the street—there was Marshall’s full-page face.

Blocking the Public’s Right to Know About ALEC

In the two years since the ALEC Exposed project revealed the role that the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council plays in shaping the laws of states across the nation, the group has had a much harder time hiding its meddling.

In fact, so much national attention has been paid to ALEC’s role in promoting restrictive voter ID laws and controversial Stand Your Ground initiatives that ALEC officials announced last year that they would shut down the task force that was responsible for promoting those measures.

World Bank's Corrupt Companies Blacklist Dominated By Canada

Canada has the dubious honour of being home to the largest number of firms on a World Bank blacklist of corrupt companies.

But virtually all of that can be attributed to one Canadian company -- SNC Lavalin, the construction and engineering giant whose name is becoming a paragon of Canadian corruption.

Ottawa was warned about Arctic patrol ships' high price

Two days before signing a contract to begin work on a $3-billion shipbuilding project, the federal government was warned by its own advisers that the contract was overpriced — but signed it anyway.

The warning was contained in a previously confidential independent review of the initial phase of the government's plan to spend $3.1 billion on a fleet of Arctic offshore patrol ships, known as AOPS.

Fuck You. I'm Gen Y, and I Don't Feel Special or Entitled, Just Poor

A bunch of you people on Facebook and Twitter keep sharing a Huff Po stick-figure thing about how Gen Y is unhappy because they’re unrealistic delusional ingrates.

You know, this thing.

US Hedge Funds Squeezing Profitable Postmedia: Union

Faceless foreign ownership is behind newspaper publisher Postmedia's push to cut costs at Vancouver's duopoly dailies, according to the head of the union that represents workers at the Sun and Province. "One of the big problems with Postmedia is it's controlled by U.S. hedge funds," said Mike Bocking, president of Unifor Local 2000.

The latest move to trim expenses came with last week's announcement that Postmedia will sell its Surrey printing plant and either contract out printing of the dailies or build a more efficient plant that would cost 70-75 per cent less to operate.

Disasters Foretold in Northern Gateway Danger Zones

The proposed pipeline will, in fact, be two pipelines. One of them, 36 inches in diameter, will push tar sands bitumen diluted with solvent from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, to Kitimat, B.C. -- delivering more than half a million barrels of petroleum slurry a day to the West Coast port. A second pipe, 20 inches across, will pump 193,000 barrels a day of solvents, separated from the bitumen in Kitimat, back to Alberta for reuse.

Thousands march in Montreal against proposed 'Charter of Quebec Values'

Several tens of thousands of people marched in Montreal on Saturday, Sept. 14 to voice their opposition to the Quebec government's newly proposed Charter of Quebec Values. It was a powerful expression of opposition to the divisiveness and prejudices that the Parti Québécois government's charter proposal will inflame among the Quebec population if it is not defeated.

The charter is purported to affirm the rights and values of Quebec society, including separation of church and state in the affairs of government. This, it is said, will “unite” the Quebec population like never before. The charter would become part of existing human rights legislation. But it contains a highly divisive and controversial measure that would prohibit employees in government and public services from wearing religious symbols or dress while at work, including such items as headscarves and turbans.

Love in the time of homophobia: The right of LGBT couples to be couples in public

If you are a heterosexual, chances are you have never really given much thought to the daily public displays of affection that we make with our girlfriends or boyfriends, husbands or wives, all the time.

You very likely kiss your partner hello or goodbye in basically any context without any hesitation, hold hands while strolling down the street, stare into each others eyes and touch romantically while lying on that blanket in the park,  and put arms around each other at the movies or in a restaurant while waiting for your food to come.

Harper hypocrisy on Syria: Canada's hands are not clean when it comes to chemical weapons

Somewhere in the Lester B. Pearson Building, Canada's foreign affairs headquarters, must be a meeting room with the inscription "The World Should Do as We Say, Not As We Do," or perhaps "Hypocrites 'R Us."

With the Obama administration beating the war drums, Canadian officials are demanding a response to the Syrian regime's alleged use of the chemical weapon sarin.

Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper claimed "if it is not countered, it will constitute a precedent that we think is very dangerous for humanity in the long term," while for his part Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird declared: "If it doesn't get a response it's an open invitation for people, for Assad in Syria, or elsewhere to use these types of weapons that they've by and large refrained from doing since the First World War." The Conservatives also signed Canada onto a White House statement claiming: "The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal."

‘Economic Action Plan’ ads are wasteful Conservative propaganda

It’s bad enough that Ottawa’s annoying “Economic Action Plan” ads are thinly disguised Conservative propaganda. As it turns out, they’re not even effective at that.

What a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. Well over $100 million has been flushed away since the federal government began promoting its recession-fighting “action plan” on television, radio, in print and online in the wake of the 2009 budget. But the government’s own polling now shows this effort has left many Canadians tuned out, turned off and suspicious of Ottawa’s motives.

Charts: Income Growth Has Stalled for Most Americans

Yesterday the Census Bureau released its latest income data, confirming what millions of Americans already know: The recession may be over, but the recovery has yet to trickle down. Specifically, the Census reported that median household incomes didn't budge between 2011 and 2012.

Digging deeper into the new data reveals more evidence of the widening income gap between the rich and the rest.

How 7 Occupy Wall Street Issues Stack Up 2 Years Later

Two years ago today, demonstrators descended on Zuccotti Park in New York City's financial district. Their focus, economic injustice, was clear in the name the movement would take: Occupy Wall Street.

Joe Manchin Ponders Next Steps On Gun Legislation: 'Why Are We So Tolerant Toward Violence?'

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Tuesday that he will revisit the idea of passing gun safety legislation in the wake of Monday's mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. He told reporters he plans to meet with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), with whom he cosponsored a bill to expand background checks that died in the Senate earlier this year.

The violence and the resulting crime scene just blocks from the Capitol, Manchin said, had made it difficult for many of his colleagues to fly back into D.C., and so he hadn't had a chance to speak to them about the bill. "I'll see Pat today," Manchin said, adding that he was open to changing the legislation. "I'm willing to work with all my colleagues. [But] I'm not going to support a loophole."

'The Other Guantanamo': Report Shows Impact of Indefinite Detention

A new report by a Pakistani legal organization that represents detainees at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan details the effects indefinite detention has on the detainees, as well as their families and loved ones, including emotional and financial hardship. The report, Closing Bagram: The Other Guantanamo, was issued by Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), which represents 11 of the about 60 individuals the U.S. government is holding without charge or trial at Bagram (officially known as the Detention Facility at Parwan). Testimonials from detainees' family members can also be viewed online.

Global Warming's Denier Elite

Charles and David Koch
Principal owners, Koch Industries
With a combined worth estimated in the tens of billions of dollars, the super-conservative industrial magnates with vast holdings in the energy industry are major funders of climate-change skepticism. Their latest move: Via the proxy group Americans for Prosperity, they have persuaded more than 400 members of the current Congress to sign a "No Climate Tax" pledge to oppose any use of government dollars to fund climate efforts that does not include offsetting tax cuts.

Climate Change and the End of Australia

It's near midnight, and I'm holed up in a rickety hotel in Proserpine, a whistle-stop town on the northeast coast of Australia. Yasi, a Category 5 hurricane with 200-mile-per-hour winds that's already been dubbed "The Mother of All Catastrophes" by excitable Aussie tabloids, is just a few hundred miles offshore. When the eye of the storm hits, forecasters predict, it will be the worst ever to batter the east coast of Australia.

I have come to Australia to see what a global-warming future holds for this most vulnerable of nations, and Mother Nature has been happy to oblige: Over the course of just a few weeks, the continent has been hit by a record heat wave, a crippling drought, bush fires, floods that swamped an area the size of France and Germany combined, even a plague of locusts. "In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions," Andrew Fraser, the Queensland state treasurer, told reporters. He was talking about the floods in his region, but the sense that Australia – which maintains one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints on the planet – has summoned up the wrath of the climate gods is everywhere. "Australia is the canary in the coal mine," says David Karoly, a top climate researcher at the University of Melbourne. "What is happening in Australia now is similar to what we can expect to see in other places in the future."

Global Warming Is Very Real

On September 27th, a group of international scientists associated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will gather in an old brick brewery in Stockholm and proclaim with near certainty that human activity is altering the planet in profound ways. The IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report offers slam-dunk evidence that burning fossil fuels is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades, and warn that sea levels could rise by almost three feet by the end of the century if we don't change our ways. The report will underscore that the basic facts about climate change are more established than ever, and that the consequences of escalating carbon pollution are likely to mean that, as The New York Times recently argued, "babies being born now could live to see the early stages of a global calamity."

Fact-Checking the Global Warming Deniers

1. There's more ice in Antarctica than ever.
The past few years have seen an expansion of Antarctica's coastal ice sheets – a byproduct, ironically, of climate change, which has brought increased snow and rainfall to the continent. Meanwhile, Antarctica's inland ice sheets are melting at an alarming rate – 1,350 billion tons of ice disappeared into the ocean between 1992 and 2011. And that rate is increasing, fueling global rises in sea level.

Are the Pole's Great Glaciers Beyond Saving?

When High School Students Are Treated Like Prisoners

As students in New York City return to school for the fall, a coalition of youth and legal advocacy groups, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, has launched a campaign to address disciplinary policies that they argue criminalize students, making them less likely to graduate and more likely to end up ensnared in the criminal justice system. The "New Vision for School Safety" presented by the campaign calls for a citywide reduction of the use of police and NYPD school safety officers in schools and an increase in the power of educators, parents and students to shape the safety policies in their school communities.

Tories, Bloc teamed up to kill NDP air passenger bill of rights - twice

So it seems that National Post columnist John Ivison -- who, it's fair to note, is right more often than not when it comes to these things -- is predicting, based on the usual unnamed source(s), that the Conservatives are poised to recast their party in a distinctly pro-consumer light by bringing forward legislation to address various and sundry universal gripes, including bank fees, wireless rates and airline travel.

If that's the case, New Democrat MPs could be forgiven for coordinating caucus-wide pointed coughs to coincide with the precise moment in the Throne Speech when the governor general gets to the last item on that list.

Gun owners challenge feds over firearms program costs, transparency, dispute registry has been destroyed

PARLIAMENT HILL—Firearms owners who backed Prime Minister Stephen Harper through a decade of battling against the federal firearms registry are now challenging his government in court and turning against the Conservatives over transparency about ongoing firearms program costs and allegations the government has not yet destroyed the registry for rifles and shotguns.

Part of the confrontation will take place in a Federal Court hearing in Ottawa on Sept. 19, when a lawyer for the National Firearms Association will argue the Federal Registrar of Firearms, the Firearms Commissioner of Canada, and RCMP Commissioner Robert Paulson are illegally collecting information about rifle and shotgun owners in Quebec despite a Quebec Superior Court ruling earlier this summer that the province had no legal right to retain information about gun owners in the province that had been collected in the federal registry.

Mike Duffy visited PMO days after housing claims referred to auditors, documents show

OTTAWA — Just days after his housing claims were sent to auditors for review, Sen. Mike Duffy paid a visit to the building that houses the Prime Minister’s Office, which includes the office of Stephen Harper and his then-chief of staff Nigel Wright.

The day after Duffy visited the Langevin Block, two top Conservative senators visited the same room Duffy had been in. One was Sen. David Tkachuk, the chairman of the committee overseeing the audit of Duffy’s expenses; the other was Sen. Irving Gerstein, the head of the Conservative party’s war chest.

Canadian Parliament Prorogation Disrupts First Nations, UN Meeting

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament has apparently forced a United Nations official to change his travel plans.

James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, was supposed to visit Canada between Oct. 12-20.

But Anaya's office has told First Nations groups that his visit has been rescheduled to Oct. 7-15 to accommodate the new parliamentary session, which resumes Oct. 16.

Anti-Muslim Rant On Montreal Bus Suggests Religious Tensions Flaring

Religious tension in Quebec seems to have boiled over in this video captured on a Montreal city bus.

The exclusive clip, obtained by Huffington Post Quebec, was taken Aug. 28. In it, a male passenger angrily tells a woman in a hijab to go back to her own country.

According to the person who took the video, the altercation lasted between five and 10 minutes.

Poverty Rate and Income Stagnate as Conservatives Attack the Safety Net

Exactly five years since the onset of the financial crisis, income data released this morning by the Census Bureau indicates that the spike in poverty triggered by the recession has become the status quo. Middle-class incomes are stagnant, too.

The numbers come as House Republicans move to kick as many as 4 million Americans off food stamps by cutting $40 billion from the program. In their budget proposals, conservatives are also proposing to maintain the deep sequestration reductions that have cut tens of thousands of young children out of Head Start, as well as childcare assistance, Meals On Wheels for seniors, unemployment benefits, and housing assistance.

Four Lost Decades: Why American Politics Is All Messed Up

Political update: the annual showdown over the federal budget and associated topics is about to begin. Over the weekend, President Obama warned that he wouldn’t negotiate with Congressional Republicans about raising the debt ceiling, which is due to be breached sometime next month. But there’s widespread speculation that the G.O.P. will play hardball and shut down the federal government.

If your eyes are already glazing over, don’t feel guilty. I get paid to track this stuff, and I, too, find it a struggle to keep up. If, as Marx said, history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, how do you describe a four-peat? In 2010, Congress failed to pass a budget. In 2011, we had a debt-ceiling crisis that resulted in the sequester and Standard & Poor’s downgrading treasuries. Last year, it was the fiscal-cliff crisis. And this year, we have a debt-ceiling crisis and a budget crisis—without a new spending resolution, the federal government will run out of money at the end of the month—with the added complication that some Republicans want to defund Obamacare. In short, it’s business as usual on the Potomac.

Sarin: the deadly history of the nerve agent used in Syria

Now we know. On the morning of 21 August, as the air above Damascus cooled, rockets filled with the nerve agent sarin fell on rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital and left scores of men, women and children dead or injured. UN inspectors had been in the country for three days, on a mission to investigate allegations of earlier atrocities. They quickly changed tack. They brokered a temporary ceasefire with the regime and the rebels and made straight for Ghouta. Video reports from the area showed hospital staff overwhelmed and desperate.

Never before had UN inspectors worked under such pressure and in the midst of a war zone. The small team, headed by the Swedish chemical weapons expert Åke Sellström, was threatened with harm. Their convoy was shot at. But their 41-page report was completed in record time.

Canadian economy has turned into a policy-free zone

Remember just a few weeks ago when Verizon was going to march north into the welcoming embrace of the Canadian government and legions of roaming-at-the-mouth consumers? What happened with that? Presumably, the U.S. foreign insurgent wasn’t scared off by our jihadist telecom companies since it was Bell, Rogers and Telus that dispensed millions telling us they were the scared ones.

More likely, the decision to take a pass on Wireless Spring emanated from the fact that business, like life, abhors a vacuum. Verizon had more predictable places in which to forage for profit. In Canada, policy often looks sketchy and ad hoc, hardly a confidence builder even if it may favour your interests at a given moment. Indeed, the failure of this attempted consumer revolution from above is replete with lessons for those who care about growth, innovation and jobs, and the limited but essential role government and policy still play.