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.]

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

MP's Heart-Rending Song Will Change How You Look At Canada

Canadians like to think that the expansion into the West was more civilized here than in the United States -- this song will change that.

In "Four Horses", NDP MP Charlie Angus sings the agonizing story of John A. MacDonald's policy to starve First Nations peoples in order to make way for the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s.

Angus was inspired by the book Clearing The Plains by James Daschuk, which details how food promised in Treaty No. 6 was withheld by Canadian officials in order to force aboriginals to move to appointed reserves.

PMO Emails: 3 Questions About Ben Perrin's Account

The discovery of an email account previously thought to have been deleted — belonging to former Prime Minister's Office lawyer Benjamin Perrin ​— raises questions about the deletion policy and how the discovery came about.

Perrin was one of the PMO staffers who the RCMP allege knew about a deal between Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, and Senator Mike Duffy. The RCMP allege Wright and Duffy committed bribery, fraud and breach of trust when Wright gave Duffy $90,000 to pay off the senator's questionable expenses. The RCMP allege Duffy agreed not to talk to the media in exchange for keeping his Senate seat and allowing Wright to pay off his expenses.

Fast Food Strikes Hit 100 Cities Thursday

Fast-food workers in New York City are expected to walk off their jobs Thursday, one year after their first strike, joining a 100-city strike wave. Organizers say actions will take place all across the country as part of the movement for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.

In New York City, there are more than 57,000 fast-food workers, and the median wage is $8.89/hour, the lowest of any occupation in the city.

Rail Safety: Canada Train Operators Breaking More Rules In Recent Years

Wayne Easterbrook and his wife were among dozens injured on Feb. 26, 2012, when a Via Rail train they were on flew off the tracks in Burlington, Ont., killing three.

"People make errors. It's part of being human," the Kingston, Ont., resident acknowledged, "but if there's anything out there that can be purchased to assist people in doing their job, especially when it comes to safety, then the government, or in this case the company, Via … should spend the money."

Even Republicans Don't Like The Right-Wing Plan To Stop Electing Senators By Popular Vote

Repealing the 17th Amendment -- and returning to the days when U.S. senators were elected not by the people but by state legislatures -- is an idea that has gained popularity in some right-wing circles in recent years. This week the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council may throw its support behind model legislation that would dramatically weaken the amendment.

But according to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, attacking the 17th Amendment has little appeal outside the most conservative circles. It's even very unpopular among Republicans as a whole.

My Cancelled Policy, and My Values

In the short term, I am the kind of person for whom the Obamacare mandate is a pain in the neck. My husband and I, both writers, have been buying health insurance on the individual market for several years, paying about a thousand dollars a month for a policy that covers us and our two children. We were among those Americans who liked our policy: we had to choose doctors from within a network, but there were plenty to choose from, including the pediatrician we’d gone to since our kids, now teen-agers, were born. We had no deductible and a reasonable cap on out-of-pocket expenses: five thousand dollars a year. We were less happy when, in early October, our insurer, CareFirst Blue Cross, raised our monthly premium by three hundred dollars with no explanation. (The only health expenses we’d incurred in the previous year were for the annual checkups that the schools required for the kids.) This was a big increase for us, especially since our writing income tends to fluctuate from month to month and year to year. Then, like many of the twelve million or so Americans who buy their own insurance, we received a letter from CareFirst in late October saying that our policy would be cancelled, because it didn’t conform to Affordable Care Act requirements. I did what I usually do in these circumstances: I procrastinated.

Usual naysaying, hysterics greet MP Michael Chong’s bid to reform Parliament

Can’t be done. Too risky. Goes too far. Doesn’t go far enough. Whenever and wherever someone actually makes some concrete proposal to repair our damaged democracy, the forces of inertia almost instantly gather to ensure it never happens. Of course, everyone agrees that something should be done. Just not, you know, this.

So it is with the Reform Act, on which Conservative MP Michael Chong has been toiling for most of the past 15 years. Before the bill was unveiled Tuesday, a flourish of pundits had written its epitaph — even as they complained of others “rushing to judgment” in advance of a final text.

Tories would be incensed by $548M in partisan ad spending if they weren’t the ones doing it

When the book is written on precisely the point at which the Conservative government lost the plot, two incidents — both involving the use of taxpayers’ money to pay for partisan advertising — will stand as milestones.

The first was an ad campaign earlier this year promoting the Canada Job Grant — a program that was not, and is still not, accessible to a single Canadian worker.

The second is the $9-million being spent currently on television and print ads targeting Canada’s cellphone companies — the first time that anyone can remember the government of Canada trying to knee-cap an industry that employs 300,000 of its citizens.

If the deputy premier wants free speech for Ukraine so badly, why is he attacking it in Alberta?

Last weekend, Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk was in Edmonton's Churchill Square enthusiastically demanding free speech and recognition of other fundamental rights for citizens of Ukraine.

Premier Alison Redford's second in command told his listeners he recalled being in Kiev in 2004, observing the Orange Revolution: "Never again should there be a time in Ukraine that protests would have to be sparked in favour of democracy, but unfortunately that wasn't so."

Presumably his speechifying was well received.

Your Bank's Not as Safe as You Think

If Canada's banking regulations are not substantially toughened by the time the next global financial crisis hits -- yes, there will be another crisis -- our Big Five banks may very well find themselves in serious trouble. Again.

The public is almost entirely unaware that our banking system could go into a tailspin with just a couple of wrong moves or some bad luck. And when the next serious setback occurs, we could end up suffering even more than in 2008-10.

Unspeakable: Washington Ignores Homeless Epidemic

The hard-line Republican right, and the ineffective Democratic opposition to it, are having a devastating impact on the homeless, pushing more Americans into that miserable state that hits children especially hard.

The bland words used by politicians and journalists covering the Washington fiscal debate don’t reflect the dimensions of the tragedy. They speak in jargon such as “continuing resolution” or “sequester,” which is a muddy way of saying automatic spending cuts.

Guardian Threatened With Terrorism Charges for Reporting NSA Story

British police are investigating the staff of The Guardian newspaper to determine whether acts of journalism can be prosecuted as acts of terrorism.

Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick said, “It appears possible once we look at the material that some people may have committed offenses. ... We need to establish whether they have or they haven’t.”

Why Some Meteorologists Still Deny Global Warming

Just before Thanksgiving, many conservatives seized on a new study examining the climate views of members of the American Meteorological Society. It's no secret that there's a schism between climate scientists and weather forecasters over climate change, and the study captured this, to skeptics' delight. The fact that a sizeable percentage of AMS members disagree with mainstream climate science represented "the latest in a long line of evidence indicating the often asserted global warming consensus does not exist," according to Forbes blogger and Heartland Institute fellow James Taylor.

Google sees Amazon's drones, and raises its own army of robots

With Amazon winning headlines (if not universal praise) for its ambitions to deliver packages using drones, rival tech giant Google has announced its latest futuristic "moonshot": robots.

The initiative is led by Andy Rubin, the former head of Google's Android division, who stepped down from that role in March 2013.

Since then, Google has quietly acquired seven robotics companies according to the New York Times, which has published the first interview with Rubin on the company's plans.

David Cameron must curb gambling machines or society will pay the price

We're in the grip of a new addiction – high-speed, high-stakes gambling.

What's fuelling this destructive habit is the fixed odds betting terminal (FOBT), a machine that allows people to bet £100 every 20 seconds for 13 hours a day.

These digital roulette terminals are making millions for the gambling industry, and making losers out of those who can least afford to lose.

Hezbollah accuses 'Israeli enemy' of killing commander in Beirut

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on Wednesday accused Israel of "assassinating" one of its commanders outside his home in southern Beirut.

A statement issued by the group said Hussein al-Laqis was killed as he returned home from work around midnight. It did not say how he died.

Eurostar stake up for grabs in £10bn sell-off of government assets

Britain's stake in the cross-channel rail operator Eurostar will be sold off under a new £10bn privatisation programme.

Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, will announce on Wednesday that he has doubled the coalition's target for the disposal of state assets to £20bn over the next six years, just weeks after the government was criticised for undervaluing Royal Mail during its controversial flotation.

David Cameron does not rule out tax cuts as economy recovers

David Cameron has said that it is possible to cut taxes and reduce the fiscal deficit at the same time as the economy recovers.

Amid fury in Downing Street at reports that the prime minister has ruled out tax cuts for middle-income earners for the next decade, Cameron said that reducing the deficit and cutting taxes were not alternatives.

Banks fined record €1.7bn over benchmark interest rate rigging cartel

The interest rate rigging scandal was reignited on Wednesday as the European commission levied a record €1.7bn (£1.4bn) fine on five major banks and a broking firm – including bailed-out RBS – for colluding to fix crucial benchmark rates.

Joaquín Almunia, the European competition commissioner, warned that further fines were on the cards as three banks and one broker had refused to settle on other claims being investigated by Brussels.

Ex-Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski Granted Parole From Prison

NEW YORK, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Dennis Kozlowski, the former Tyco International Ltd chief executive who was sent to prison eight years ago for looting the company of more than $100 million, was granted parole Tuesday, according to New York state officials.

A New York state parole board tentatively agreed to release Kozlowski next month, according to the state's Department of Correctional Services.

WikiLeaks, Press Freedom and Free Expression in the Digital Age

This week, fourteen people charged by the Department of Justice in connection with a coordinated denial of service attack on PayPal's services in 2010 will appear in Federal Court. The "PayPal 14," as they have been dubbed, are charged with participating in an attack orchestrated by Anonymous to retaliate against PayPal's suspension of its relationship with WikiLeaks. Their case as well as PayPal's actions in 2010 raise important questions about press freedoms and the nature of online protests.

As Chairman of eBay Inc., PayPal's parent company, and as a philanthropist and soon-to-be publisher deeply committed to government transparency, press freedoms and free expression, these issues hit close to home. (Since eBay is a public company, it's important for me to stress that the views in this article are my own and don't represent the views of the company.)

Climate Change's Biggest Threats Are Those We Aren't Ready For: Report

WASHINGTON -- Climatic changes -- and the results of those changes -- could occur within decades or even sooner, and they are becoming a greater concern for scientists, according to a new paper from the National Academy of Sciences.

"The most challenging changes are the abrupt ones," said James White, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder and chair of the report committee. White and several coauthors of the paper spoke at a press conference Tuesday morning.

The End of Dark Money?

Last spring, news that the Internal Revenue Service used keywords like “Tea Party” and “Occupy” to select groups applying for nonprofit status for extra scrutiny prompted media outrage, resignations, internal investigations and a series of congressional hearings. There was comparatively little fury about the fact that many of these “social welfare” organizations were getting tax breaks in exchange for flooding elections with anonymous cash.

The power these dark money groups wield in future elections could be undercut by a new proposal from the IRS, which would put clearer boundaries around the political activities of 501(c)(4) nonprofits. Released just before Thanksgiving, the guidelines lay out some specific definitions of “political activity,” that social welfare groups would have to limit in order to retain their tax-exempt status, such as expressing an opinion about a particular candidate.

Scientists: Current International Warming Target Is "Disastrous"

Ever since the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, world leaders have agreed on 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) as the maximum acceptable global warming above preindustrial levels to avert the worst impacts of climate change (today we're at about 0.8 degrees C). But a new study, led by climatologist James Hansen of Columbia University, argues that pollution plans aimed at that target would still result in "disastrous consequences," from rampant sea level rise to widespread extinction.

A major goal of climate scientists since Copenhagen has been to convert the 2 degree limit into something useful for policymakers, namely, a specific total amount of carbon we can "afford" to dump into the atmosphere, mostly from burning fossil fuels in power plants (this is known as a carbon budget). This fall, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pegged the number at 1 trillion metric tons of carbon, or about twice what we've emitted since the late 19th Century; if greenhouse gas emissions continue as they have for the last few decades, we're on track to burn through the remaining budget by the mid-2040s, meaning immediately thereafter we'd have to cease emissions forever to meet the warming target.

Royal LePage Condo Report: ‘Instability' Ahead But No Housing Bubble

Condo developers in Canada’s three largest metropolitan areas are building too many condos — 36 per cent to 68 per cent too many, according to a new study from Royal LePage.

As a result, condo markets in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver will experience some “turbulence” as developers shift down the amount of construction, economist Will Dunning said in the report.

BMO Layoffs: 1,000 Jobs Cut As Bank Hit Record Profits

TORONTO, Ontario — Bank of Montreal quietly made swift and widespread staff cuts the fourth quarter, reducing its workforce by the equivalent of nearly 1,000 positions.

Chief operating officer Frank Techar confirmed Tuesday during a conference call to discuss the bank's fourth-quarter results that BMO made the cuts in an effort to reduce expenses and make the bank's overall operations more efficient.

Omar Khadr Being Denied Medical Treatment, Doctor Says

Omar Khadr's treatment in a Canadian prison may be more harsh than at Guantanamo Bay, says a former U.S. military psychiatrist who interviewed Khadr for his defence team and has since become an independent advocate for him.

Dr. Stephen Xenakis, interviewed for White Coat, Black Art by host Dr. Brian Goldman, says that Khadr, 27, needs orthopedic surgery for previous injuries, and he's not getting it.

Tories resist move to call Deloitte auditor

OTTAWA - The Conservatives appear poised to use their majority in the Senate to block an attempt to dig deeper into allegations of interference by the Prime Minister's Office in a supposedly independent audit of Mike Duffy's living expenses.

Liberal Sen. Joan Fraser moved a motion Tuesday asking that Deloitte managing partner Michael Runia be called to testify before the Senate's internal economy committee.

But Conservative senators argued that such a move might interfere with an RCMP investigation into a deal cooked up by Nigel Wright, the prime minister's former chief of staff, to give Duffy $90,000 so that he could reimburse the Senate for invalid expense claims.

Oil spill risk addressed by West Coast tanker safety report

Potential polluters should be prepared for a worst-case scenario and face unlimited liability in the case of an oil spill from one of their tanker ships, a government-appointed panel recommends.

Federal Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt and Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver were in Vancouver Tuesday afternoon to release a report about oil tanker safety on the West Coast.

“No project will proceed unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment,” said Oliver.

Detroit Bankruptcy: Wall Street, Lost Revenues Forced Decline, But City Pensioners to Pay the Costs

A federal judge has approved Detroit’s bid to qualify for bankruptcy, putting the city on a path to financial recovery — but threatening the livelihoods of thousands of city workers. In a landmark decision that could harm retiree benefits nationwide, federal Judge Steven Rhodes ruled that federal bankruptcy law can override state laws that protect public pensions. That clears the way for Detroit to make major cuts to the health and retirement benefits of city employees. The city faces about $18 billion in debt, of which $3.5 billion is pension obligations. Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has told public unions to brace for "significant cuts," but has not laid out details. Workers’ pensions in Detroit average around $19,000 per year. By the new year, Orr will present a "plan of adjustment" in bankruptcy court that will clarify how much pensions will be cut. The plan may also include a “fire sale” of city assets that could result in public utilities and the Detroit Institute of Arts collection being bartered off to private bidders. Detroit’s bankruptcy filing marks a grim milestone in the decline of what was once the country’s fourth-largest city, known as the Motor City, the birthplace of the middle class. We are joined by Wallace Turbeville, Senior Fellow at Demos and former Goldman Sachs executive who has just authored the new report, "The Detroit Bankruptcy." Turbeville argues that Detroit’s problems stem not from its liabilities but from a decline in public revenues and involvement in harmful Wall Street schemes.

Author: --

Former Canadian arms negotiator blasts Ottawa's cluster bomb bill

OTTAWA - Canada's former chief negotiator of the Convention on Cluster Munitions says the Harper government is betraying the trust of other countries by inserting a controversial clause in the treaty's ratification bill.

Earl Turcotte, who quit the federal public service in protest over the issue, levels the allegation in a written submission to the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, which is holding hearings on the bill.

Billions for prisons, nickels for victims

Responding to claims from Howard Sapers, Canada’s ombudsman for federal inmates, that Canada’s prisons are more crowded, more violent and getting worse at rehabilitating offenders, the office of Justice Minister Peter MacKay refused to apologize for “standing up for victims’ rights”.

Fair enough. No one should apologize for standing up for victims — but what does that have to do with violence in prisons?

The real solution is to get rid of Harper. It’s time to say so

When caught up in some slippery scheme, your downfall is often the banana peel underfoot as you run for the getaway car, not the bank heist itself.

And let’s understand this: the Senate uproar is a mere banana peel compared to the real Harper scandal — the slyly evolving plan to turn Canada into an authoritarian petro-state, bulldozing democracy, due process, national institutions, the law itself and whatever other detritus stands in its way.

What’s the going rate for an MP’s self-respect?

Paul Calandra used to sell insurance before — as the prime minister’s willing shill both in and outside the House of Commons — he sold something infinitely more valuable: his self-respect.

I had thought, foolishly, that few in the Conservative caucus could rival the frankly repellent Pierre Poilievre in contorting the truth as the party’s rabidly obedient question period attack mutt. I was wrong.

Calandra has slipped into Poilievre’s soiled spot as Parliament’s propagandist-in-chief with such apparent ease, enthusiasm and droning monotony that he has made his predecessor sound coarsely eloquent. I didn’t think that was even remotely possible.

Stephen Harper puts Conservatives in a bind

The conservative mindset understands that power tends to corrupt. How far will we let it corrupt us? I have been involved in party work for more than a decade and I call on other party members to demand answers, or resignation from our leader.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long employed the cynical strategy of total denial when faced with controversy, disregarding the public’s right to the truth.

He knows the public will never follow the minutiae of events. As long as solidarity is maintained, Harper can ride out any storm by claiming it is just more partisan noise. Only we Conservatives have the power to break that solidarity, and take away Harper’s trump card. It’s time to demonstrate that Conservatives care about ethics and ultimately, checks on that corrupting influence of power.

What could we do with a Rob Ford in 24 Sussex?

Now that the dust is beginning to settle on what will prove (we hope) to have been the most sensational chapter in Rob Ford’s tumultuous mayoralty, the question in the air is what institutional lessons Canadians can take away from the whole affair.

While the list may be particularly long for Torontonians — who may be contemplating such measures as reversing amalgamation to diffuse political animosities between policy factions, or introducing a stronger set of regulations to allow council to depose a mayor — those outside of the Big Smoke should also be thinking deeply about this question. It turns out that when American late-night show host Jimmy Kimmel joked that something seemed “very Canadian” about Toronto councillors’ inability to properly sanction the mayor, he couldn’t have been more right.

Conservatives to vote behind closed doors at caucus on Chong’s bill to empower MPs

PARLIAMENT HILL—The first Conservative vote on a radical bill from government backbench MP Michael Chong, proposing Elections Act amendments that would allow only a handful of federal MPs to spark a review and a possible overthrow of a party leader, will take place in secret during a closed-door meeting of the Conservative caucus, one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s designated caucus spokesmen said Tuesday.

The private members’ bill, which generated a storm of interest from MPs in all parties after Mr. Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.) held a nationally-televised press conference on Tuesday morning and introduced it in the Commons, will also first be reviewed by a Conservative caucus legislative committee chaired by Mr. Harper’s Parliamentary Secretary in the House, Conservative MP Paul Calandra (Oak Ridges-Markham, Ont.), The Hill Times has learned.

MPs ask MI5 boss to justify claim that NSA leaks endangered national security

A committee of MPs challenged the existing system of oversight for the security services by asking the head of MI5 to justify his claims that the Guardian has endangered national security by publishing leaks from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In an unprecedented step, Keith Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee, announced that spy chief Andrew Parker had been summoned to give evidence in public to the Commons committee next week.