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, February 05, 2014

At Sochi, Igor Kharchenko Becomes Second Activist Jailed In 3 Days

SOCHI, Russia - An activist who has been monitoring environmental fallout from the Sochi Olympics has been jailed for five days for resisting police, apparently part of a continuing harassment campaign against local activists.

Igor Kharchenko was grabbed on the street in the regional capital of Krasnodar late Tuesday afternoon as he left his house and found his car smashed, an associate, Olga Soldatova, said Wednesday. Police charged him with resisting police orders. Soldatova, who was with him at the police station, said Kharchenko was given a blank sheet of paper instead of a protocol sanctioning his detention.

Stephen Harper’s overhaul of election laws needs close scrutiny

There’s a lot to like in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s sweeping overhaul of Canada’s elections laws. There’s quite a bit to be suspicious of, as well. This is one package of proposed legislation that shouldn’t be rushed into law. It needs careful scrutiny.
Given the sulphurous mistrust between the Conservative government and opposition parties, and the Tories’ history of, well, creativity, toward the electoral rules, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre can’t expect to be taken at his word when he says the Fair Elections Act will put “everyday citizens in charge of democracy.” New Democrat critic Craig Scott fears it is stacked to give the Tories an edge in the next federal election. In truth, it may be a little of both.

The Harper government has power, but no governance

For years now, since I first glommed onto what the Neo Cons were up to, it has been glaringly obvious to me that the Harper regime has one overwhelming determination; that is not to govern. Choose any area of Canadian legislation you like and it will instantly reveal another piece of the scheme to dismantle Canadian safety, security, research, heritage, arts, social planning. The Omnibus budget bills are designed to hide government intentions and avoid House of Commons debate, for without debate, governance cannot take place.
The Senate Scandal reveals bad management, but it shows no sign of orderly government. The very idea of policy is anathema to this Neo Con government. The word is never used. But this government’s refusal to name any policy or endorse policy initiative spells out clearly an anti-government dedication.

Debate Over: Canada's Wireless Market Is Uncompetitive

The longstanding debate over the state of wireless services in Canada has veered across many issues -- pricing, roaming fees, locked devices, new entrants, and foreign investment to name a few. At the heart of all of these questions is a single issue: is the current Canadian wireless market competitive?

The competitiveness of the Canadian market is a foundational question, since the answer has huge implications for legislative and regulatory policy. If the market is competitive, regulators (namely the CRTC) can reasonably adopt a "hands-off" approach, confident that competitive forces will result in fair prices and consumer choice. If it is not competitive, standing on the sidelines is not option, thereby pressuring government and the CRTC to promote more competition and to implement measures to prevent the established players from abusing their advantageous position.

Busted: Ten Myths about the Canada Post Cuts

Myth #1: Canada Post service cuts and cost increases are necessary.

Fact: On Dec. 11, 2013 Canada Post's management announced, without warning either the public or the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, that home delivery for five million Canadians would be cut, there would be at least 8,000 layoffs, and letter costs would increase from 63 cents to a dollar.

As many have pointed out, Canada Post's reasons for worse service at a higher cost are bogus, based around half-truths and flat out fabrications.

The Middle Kingdom and the Coming World Disorder

Eric X. Li is Chairman of Chengwei Capital and Chunqiu Institute and a senior fellow at Fudan University's Center for China Development Model Research. His comments here are adapted from a lecture at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

SHANGHAI -- Many analysts argue that China has stumbled recently in the South China Sea and East China Sea in its aggressive territorial disputes with its neighbors, alienating so many of them that it is now viewed as a threat by the region. This in turn has resulted in America's much-touted "pivot" (now renamed "rebalance") to the Asia-Pacific. Such judgment is misplaced.

New Afghanistan law to silence victims of violence against women

A new Afghan law will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country blighted by so-called "honour" killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.

The small but significant change to Afghanistan's criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law – passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai – will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.

The first congressman to battle the NSA is dead. No-one noticed, no-one cares

Last month, former Congressman Otis Pike died, and no one seemed to notice or care. That’s scary, because Pike led the House’s most intensive and threatening hearings into US intelligence community abuses, far more radical and revealing than the better-known Church Committee’s Senate hearings that took place at the same time. That Pike could die today in total obscurity, during the peak of the Snowden NSA scandal, is, as they say, a “teachable moment” —one probably not lost on today’s already spineless political class.

In mid-1975, Rep. Pike was picked to take over the House select committee investigating the US intelligence community after the first committee chairman, a Michigan Democrat named Nedzi, was overthrown by more radical liberal Democrats fired up by Watergate after they learned that Nedzi had suppressed information about the CIA’s illegal domestic spying program, MH-CHAOS, exposed by Seymour Hersh in late 1974. It was Hersh’s exposés on the CIA domestic spying program targeting American dissidents and antiwar activists that led to the creation of the Church Committee and what became known as the Pike Committee, after Nedzi was tossed overboard.

How the U.S. Exports Global Warming

The greening of American energy is both real and profound. Since President Obama took office, the nation's solar capacity has increased more than tenfold. Wind power has more than doubled, to 60,000 megawatts – enough to power nearly 20 million homes. Thanks to aggressive new fuel-efficiency standards, the nation's drivers are burning nearly 5 billion fewer gallons of gasoline a year than in 2008. The boom in cheap natural gas, meanwhile, has disrupted the coal industry. Coal-power generation, though still the nation's top source of electricity, is off nearly 20 percent since 2008. More than 150 coal plants have already been shuttered, and the EPA is expected to issue regulations in June that will limit emissions from existing coal facilities. These rules should accelerate the shift to natural gas, which – fracking's risks to groundwater aside – generates half the greenhouse pollution of coal.

Christian Paradis: Foreign Aid Efforts Will Avoid Budget Cuts

OTTAWA - Foreign aid advocates are fearful the Conservative government is planning to make even deeper cuts to foreign aid in next week's budget.

A coalition of non-governmental organizations, including the Canadian chapter of Engineers Without Borders and the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, has launched an online petition urging the government to spare foreign aid from the chopping block.

Liberals' CSEC Watchdog Committee Motion Shut Down By Tories

OTTAWA – The Conservative government is sending clear signals that it will not support a bid to create a new national security committee of parliamentarians.

A succession of Tory MPs spoke out in the House of Commons to dismiss the idea, put forward in a private member’s bill by Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter.

Easter’s bill, introduced in November, would give committee members access to top-secret information – unlike existing panels of MPs and senators.

N.S. may face training crisis

Up to 800 low-skilled Nova Scotians will lose access to education programs if federal funding changes go ahead, according to community learning groups.

Ottawa is setting up the Canada Jobs Grant program, which offers up to $5,000 for an individual to be trained for a specific job. Funding would be matched by employers and provincial governments, for up to $15,000 per person.

Dear President Obama: Tar Sands and Keystone XL Are More Dangerous Than an Iranian Atomic Bomb

Dear President Obama:

You have said repeatedly that if negotiations with Iran do not limit its nuclear enrichment activities solely to peaceful uses, i.e. production of fuel for energy plants, that you would be willing to go to war with that country to ensure that it does not develop an atomic bomb. Some prominent American politicians, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, do not want to wait for negotiations and would like to launch that war today.

The Case for Socialized Law
 Inequality has bent American justice. Here's a radical way to fix it.

Maintain and refine, maintain and refine. That’s how progressives talk about the welfare state these days. After nearly a century of expanding government with programs like Social Security, Medicaid, and food stamps, suddenly the best the left can come up with are relative stutter-steps like universal pre-K. Liberal Democrats all but concede that Obamacare marked the end of their activist ambitions. Hereafter, we will all take vigorous walks and watch prestige dramas on HBO.

But there’s still at least one major social-welfare project the left must see through before anyone considers its mission accomplished. The issue is the vast injustice that arises from the way the law is applied to different classes of citizens.

CBC's Hubert Lacroix: 'Dark Clouds' On Broadcaster's Horizon

As backers of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) struggled on Tuesday to convince a Senate committee that public backing of the broadcaster is crucial to the country, an internal memo from the broadcaster warned its future is in jeopardy.

The memo from CBC president Hubert Lacroix, obtained by Sun News, warns of “dark clouds on the horizon” as the broadcaster faces financial problems due to low ratings — a situation made worse by the CBC's loss last year of the NHL broadcast contract to Rogers.

The myth of Harper’s job creation record

With close to 46,000 Canadians getting pink slips in December, Canadians are getting the picture that the economy is not as rosy as the Harper government says it is. We have been fed the myth that our economy is not only doing fine, but that we are world leaders. Unfortunately, we are not.

We know we shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations based on one month. But the December jobs report caps off a very disappointing year for job creation in Canada. Except during the height of the recession, 2013 had the slowest job creation since 2001. We now have an unemployment rate that is above that of the United States.

Election reforms would bring big changes to campaign spending

Some fundraising would be exempt from campaign spending limits under changes proposed by Canada's Conservative government in the election reform bill tabled today.

The change would essentially increase the amount parties can spend during federal elections, aside from a separate measure that would increase the cap for national and local campaigns by five per cent.

Harry Reid Knows Opposing Fast Track Is Smart Policy and Smart Politics

There are a lot of reasons Senate majority leader Harry Reid shot down President Obama’s State of the Union request for a congressional grant of fast-track trade promotion authority to negotiate new free-trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Reid has a history of skepticism when it comes to trade deals. He opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, permanent normalization of trade relations with China and a host of other arrangements that were favored by Wall Street interests.

Tested -- Diane Ravitch’s latest call-to-arms against the privatization of public schools.

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education who was once a proponent of conservative school “reform.” Starting out in the 1970s as an ally of Al Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, Ravitch moved rightward when she joined the movement calling for national standards and test-based accountability in education. Famously, in the wake of the wreckage created by President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy, with its emphasis on high-stakes testing and the policy of punishing failing schools, she changed her mind. And she let people know it with a brilliant broadside, The Life and Death of the Great American School System, aimed at what she now calls “corporate education reform.” [See Featherstone, “Resisting Reforms,” August 12, 2010.] She has since used her popular blog and nationwide stump speeches to rally a fast-growing army of mutineers that includes groups like FairTest and Citizens for Public Schools as well as teachers and parents around the country.

Keystone XL and Tar Sands: Voices From the Front Lines

Eriel Deranger, an activist and spokesperson for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, doesn’t live in her community in northern Alberta. “I don’t live in my community because I have children,” she told a rapt audience at the Conservation Law Foundation offices in downtown Boston last week. “And I can’t bear the fact that if I lived in my community, I would be putting their lives at risk.”

House Intelligence Chair Suggests Snowden Reporters Are Criminals

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on Tuesday ratcheted up the rhetoric against journalists who publish documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, suggesting they are "fencing stolen material."

Rogers was questioning FBI Director James Comey at an Intelligence Committee hearing, where he pursued a line of inquiry that seemed to reference reports by former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and others -- as Comey hesitantly played along.

AOL is leading the way to make 401(k)s worse for everyone

In our imperfect 401(k) system, there's one critical perk that many employees appreciate and count on: companies matching some part of their retirement savings every paycheck.
So when IBM changed its 401(k) system in 2012 to hand out employee matches in one lump sum at the end of the year, there was an uproar. Those who left the company before Dec. 15 would not see any matched dollars unless they were retiring. And employees would also miss out on all the compounding throughout the year from the contributions.
Retirement experts warned that with IBM setting the example, other companies would follow suit.

Thomas Bach, IOC President, Slams Politicians Over Sochi Olympics

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — IOC President Thomas Bach accused world leaders Tuesday of using the Sochi Olympics as a political platform "on the backs of the athletes," and of snubbing the games without even being invited.

Three days before the opening of Russia's first Winter Games, Bach used a hard-hitting speech to call out politicians for using the Olympics to make an "ostentatious gesture" serving their own agendas.

Winning the new Cold War

Late last month, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin posted a photograph on his Twitter feed of Santa Claus and a long line of Russian military personnel standing in front of a behemoth ballistic missile. The caption read: “We wish our friends from NATO a Happy New Year.”

The tone was more jaunty than threatening. Russia feels it can poke fun at NATO, the European Union and the United States, because, in its ongoing contest for global influence, an assertive Russia is enjoying a strong run against an American rival whose clout is shrinking as it retreats from places it once dominated—or, at least, contested—in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Elizabeth Kolbert: "Humans Will Eventually Become Extinct"

Things have been pretty boring, extinction-wise, since an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Until humans came along, that is. Most folks might not know it, but there's an mass extinction happening right before our eyes, and guess who is causing it? To better understand this madness, The New Yorker's acclaimed climate journalist and author Elizabeth Kolbert clomped through the tropics, crawled into the caves at Lascaux, and emerged with a new book, The Sixth Extinction, which will be published by Henry Holt & Co. on February 11.

The Republican Crusade to End Insurance Coverage of Abortion

Last week, the GOP-led House of Representatives passed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, a bill that would radically limit Americans' ability to buy private-sector health insurance that covers abortion. With the Senate under Democratic control and Barack Obama in the White House, the bill is doomed to fail. But abortion foes can rest easy. Although their momentum has stalled on Capitol Hill, there is a quiet campaign underway in states across the country to outlaw private-insurance coverage of abortion—and it's working.

Lawmakers in 24 states have already prohibited plans on the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplaces from covering abortion. Now some states are going even further, targeting the tens of millions of women who receive health insurance from their private-sector employers. Nine states already have these broader bans, leaving 3.5 million women without insurance coverage for abortion. And since 2011, lawmakers in 10 more states have threatened the coverage of more than 9 million women, according to data assembled by the National Women's Law Center, a nonprofit legal foundation focused on women's rights.

A living minimum

Ontario managed to raise the minimum wage by 75 cents to $11 per hour, leaving a full-time minimum wage worker not far from 20 per cent below the income poverty level. Is doingalmost nothing now to be considered progress in what used to be one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the world?
If you are serious about poverty reduction, replacing the minimum wage -- currently set everywhere across Canada at a level below what it needed to make ends meet -- with a living wage -- enough to bring all working Canadians above the poverty line -- makes utmost sense. 
No government is willing to legislate such a measure due to fear of reprisal from business lobbies; so, introducing living wages requires an employer to act. Vancity, the progressive credit union that built itself a comfortable market share competing against the big five chartered banks instituted that policy in 2011. Its example has proven easy for others not to follow.

Why does Harper insist on playing the nerd?

Stephen Harper's been singing again. In Israel this time. And, boy, was it unhip.
As always, the Prime Minister's performance was strange and embarrassing, reminiscent of the elementary school fairs when a band of neighbourhood dads would take the stage and belt out a few oldies to the great shame of their kids. No, it wasn't dignified. And it certainly wasn't the behaviour of a world leader on a major state visit. In fact, Harper has never looked more like a dork. But, of course, Harper's "concerts" aren't supposed to be cool, collected or classy. They are calculated acts of geeky pantomime. And they are insidious.

Birth Defects Linked to Natural Gas Mining

Pollution from the mining of natural gas in rural areas can increase the incidence of congenital heart defects among babies born to mothers living close to well sites, according to a U.S. federal study.

The U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences study, published in Environment Health Perspectives last week, found a strong association between the number and closeness of natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of homes occupied by mothers, and the prevalence of congenital heart defects and possibly birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord.

For years now, a host of studies done in Colorado, Alberta, Texas, Wyoming, and Oklahoma have shown that air pollution from natural gas drilling sites contains hundreds of toxins, including Volatile Organic Compounds, methanol, particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides.

Eighteen Ways to Shrink Inequality

The first thing to know about addressing inequality is that how it's done matters less than that it is done. The second is that there are many, many public policy options that would make our societies more equal if there was the political will to put them in place.

As the authors of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better point out, countries like Japan where incomes before taxes are relatively close do as well on health and social outcomes as places like Sweden or Norway where incomes are redistributed through taxes that support public programs.