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.]

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Moving elections commish out of Elections Canada could create more problems

A move the government says is designed to give elections enforcement “sharper teeth” and a “freer hand” could hinder communication between Elections Canada and the Office of the Commissioner of Elections Canada and compromise the elections commissioner’s independence from government, some experts say.

The Conservative government’s Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, would move the commissioner of Canada elections, a position currently appointed by the chief electoral officer, out of Elections Canada and into the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which is overseen by the Department of Justice.

South Korean trade deal sets up fight between auto, agriculture sectors

It’s no secret that when Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with South Korean president Park Geun-hye on Tuesday it will be to sign a free trade deal.

It will be Canada’s first free trade deal in East Asia and one that could be a kind of template for deals with other Asian partners.

The Harper government wants to increase Canadian access to South Korean markets. A free trade deal would do that by eliminating tariffs and other differential treatment for Canadian goods.

The Verdict on Thatcherism Is Clear

Nothing says free market capitalism like Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady once proclaimed, "Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people's money."

Thirty-five years after she swept to power as British prime minister, it is ironic that socialist Norway now has $830 billion in the bank and enjoys fully funded social programs that most of us can only dream of. Meanwhile the U.K. is enduring another round of wrenching austerity and owes over £1.3 trillion -- about US$2.2 trillion. That massive debt grows by about $3.8 billion each week, while every seven days Norway adds another billion dollars to their bank account.

What happened? Both countries were in dire economic straights in early 1970s. Both countries came into the financial windfall of North Sea oil around the same time, exploiting the same resource -- sometimes from the same drill rig. How could they have ended up in such vastly different places?

Harper's Vote Grubbing Policy on Ukraine

It's difficult to know which is the more disturbing aspect of the crisis in Ukraine. Is it the deliberate obfuscation of the truth by Western leaders like Stephen Harper (and their complicit media)? Or is it the truth itself -- the casual acceptance by the West of an illegal, coup-installed regime in Kyiv populated by neo-Nazis and anti-Semites?

You don't have to choose between them. You should be very concerned about both. Democracy is impossible without an informed citizenry and given the effective collusion between the Harper government, the Canadian media and the geo-political interests of NATO, we seem doomed to remain uninformed.

BC Keeps Wolf Killing Plans Secret

The British Columbia government is publicly claiming to be totally transparent on how it manages wolves, but at the same time is refusing to release its most recent version of the wolf management plan.

"Everything in our approach to wolf management is transparent," Steve Thomson, the minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said March 7. He was responding during debate about his ministry's budget to a question from NDP critic Norm Macdonald about whether there is a secret wolf cull underway.

How safe is your pension?

Many retirees have found out that the pension they earned over decades of contributions to plans turned out to be less secure than they had assumed. In cases of bankruptcy such as Nortel, this has been a harsh reality for some seniors. Those who had participated in defined contribution plans found their dreams undermined when the stock market tanked in 2008. Even those in large pension plans such as the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan and Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) have been faced not only with increased contribution rates but also stories of huge shortfalls in the pension fund. The stories on "shortfalls" usually include dire warnings of the need to cut benefits by a variety of means, including a later age for retirement and the elimination of cost-of-living protection.

Line 9 will 'snake' across Ontario and Quebec waterways

The National Energy Board's (NEB) announcement of its approval of Enbridge's Line 9B pipeline is generating outrage among environmental activists across Ontario and Quebec. The pipeline, already in place for nearly 40 years, has a history of leaks and the repurposing of it to carry dilbit (diluted bitumen) under high pressure is seen as an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen. Mark Mattson, an environmental lawyer and president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, is particularly concerned. "There are hundreds of rivers that feed into Lake Ontario. [Line 9] will be carrying dilbit, and this pipeline wasn't made for that. It was made to carry other substances." He goes on to add, "Line 9 is just one of many, many emerging threats to the Great Lakes."

It’s my party and I’ll lie if I want to

As Bullet Train 2015 thunders down the tracks toward the washed out bridge high above the canyon floor of Canadian politics, what’s that song coming out of the Harper Express? No, it can’t be. Wait, yes it is! They’re singing “It’s my party and I’ll lie if I want to.”

Apologies to Leslie Gore. I like that song. But the version coming out of a Conservative MP in the House of Commons doesn’t make anyone want to dance – just throw up in the parking lot.

On February 6, Conservative MP Brad Butt was only doing his job – parroting the party line in the House of Commons like a well-rehearsed witness at a Stalin show trial. All in a day’s work for that lost tribe of un-elevated Tories. They are the ones even further back in the Commons seating plan than the bobble-head brigade. 

Meet the American Pastor Behind Uganda's Anti-Gay Crackdown

In late February, when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the nation's harsh new anti-gay bill into law, he claimed the measure had been "provoked by arrogant and careless western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality." What he failed to mention is that the legislation—which makes homosexuality a crime punishable by life in prison in some cases—was itself largely due to Western interlopers, chief among them a radical American pastor named Scott Lively.

East Ukraine 'Lawlessness' Condemned By Russian Foreign Ministry

MOSCOW, March 10 (Reuters) - Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Monday it was outraged by lawlessness in eastern Ukraine, blaming the far-right paramilitary movement Right Sector for "conniving" with the new government in Kiev.

In its latest salvo in a propaganda war over Ukraine, in which the United States has issued a list of what it calls 10 false claims by President Vladimir Putin, Russia accused the West of being silent over violence and detentions taking place there against Russian compatriots.

Judge Vic Toews

Victor Toews lives in a charmed world, it seems. He may have fallen afoul of the law once upon a time, but that's hardly uncommon in Stephen Harper's circle, and it didn't stop him from becoming this country's Minister of Justice. (Let no one say that our Prime Minister doesn't have a finely-tuned sense of Orwellian irony.) In that office Toews distinguished himself withpetty acts of cruelty and an ill-concealed liking for tortureand mass surveillance, which may have endeared him even more to the PMO.
Toews railed against same-sex marriage, honking on about the "sanctity" of traditional boy-girl wedlock, then seduced his babysitter, whose age the mainstream media have seemed strangely reluctant to search out. (He was her employer: under the Criminal Code, the age of consent in such circumstances is 18.) He proceeded to have another affair, and father a child with this mistress, which, oddly enough, led to his wife pulling the plug. Toews also objected strenuously to adding sexual orientation to the Criminal Code, claiming this would put "the jackboot of fascism on the necks of our people." Really, one would expect Toews, of all people, to know what fascism is.
A seasoned bigot and devotee of sado-politics at its least refined, Toews has now gone to his Conservative reward—a coveted seat on the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench.The fix was in.
And so it comes to pass that he'll be pulling down $288,000 a year, on top of a $79,000 federal government pension, and a Manitoba pension, too, for his years as an MLA. All that scratch can buy you out of a whack of babysitter trouble.
And guess what? This appalling morality tale in reverse may not yet be concluded. Another pressing reason, I think, to make sure that Harper is booted in 2015.
Original Article
Author:  J. BAGLOW

Robert Gates On Crimea: 'I Do Not Believe That Crimea Will Slip Out Of Russia's Hand'

WASHINGTON -- Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Sunday that he believes Russia will ultimately control Crimea, the disputed peninsula in the Black Sea.

"I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia's hand," said Gates in an appearance on "Fox News Sunday." Host Chris Wallace asked Gates again: "You think Crimea's gone?"

"I do," said Gates.

Gates also said he expects Russian President Vladimir Putin to continue efforts to take control of the rest of Ukraine. "I don't think he will stop in Ukraine until there is essentially a pro-Russian government in Ukraine, in Kiev," said Gates.

Gates' remarks came amid reports that Russia has been scaling up its military presence in the region. The question of whether Crimea should break away from Ukraine and join Russia will be decided in a referendum on March 16.

Gates also reiterated his previous remarks that his fellow Republicans should "tone down" their criticism of President Barack Obama over the Ukraine situation. Congressional Republicans have accused the president of being "naïve" regarding Russia's actions and intentions in the region.

"Putin invaded Georgia when George W. Bush was president," said Gates. "Nobody ever accused George W. Bush of being weak or unwilling to use military force."

Original Article
Author: Kate Sheppard 

Access denied: Many info requests in B.C. continue to find no records

VANCOUVER - On a Tuesday morning last November, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford emerged from a meeting to announce a framework for energy projects straddling their provinces, patching up what had become a very public dispute over the fate of pipelines to the West Coast.

It was a significant announcement about an issue that had consumed B.C. politics — the sort of development that might involve, perhaps, writing something down.

But a freedom-of-information request asking for documents prepared for Clark before or after, such as briefing notes to prepare the premier or meeting minutes to record what had been said, turned up nothing.

Sergey Aksyonov, Crimea's New Prime Minister, Has A Murky Past

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Two weeks ago, Sergey Aksyonov was a small-time Crimean politician, the leader of a tiny pro-Russia political party that could barely summon 4 percent of the votes in the last regional election. He was a little-known businessman with a murky past and a nickname — "Goblin" — left over from the days when criminal gangs flourished here after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Times have changed.

Wyoming Governor Takes Major Stand Against Modern Science

Wyoming took an unprecedented step this week when the governor approved a budget that would prevent the state from reviewing or funding a new set of science standards that treat climate change as fact.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are a new set of education initiatives that have been adopted in 10 states and, like the Common Core State Standards, are designed to make sure students across the country are being held to the same benchmarks. They were developed with input from 26 states; Wyoming does not number among them.

When a government protects workers by criminalizing them

Imagine for a moment, if the debate over prostitution laws was aimed at other types of workers...
In a bold move aimed at protecting workers from exploitation while on the job, the government today passed a new law that criminalizes most employers and customers. The law addresses the void left by the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2013, when it struck down laws that it said prevented workers from taking safety measures to protect themselves from abusive customers, but which the government said were designed to prevent people from working, period.

Vic Toews appointment seems to set new standard for blatant patronage

In 2004, Conservative justice critic Vic Toews criticized then Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler for appointing his former chief of staff, Yves de Montigny, to the federal court.

Toews acknowledged that de Montigny was qualified, reporter Janice Tibbetts wrote, but said it looked bad all the same.

“It’s just one more illustration of how who you know gets you on the bench,” Toews said.

The closer one reads the elections bill, the worse it looks

No wonder the Tories were so nervous. The government had been noticeably skittish about what Marc Mayrand would say before the Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee Thursday: not only had it kept the chief electoral officer largely out of the loop in the months before it introduced its landmark Fair Elections Act, but there was doubt whether he would even be allowed to testify about it afterwards. A promise to that effect had been made to the NDP’s David Christopherson the night before to persuade him to end his filibuster of the act in committee. Yet on the day Mayrand’s testimony was interrupted by the calling of not one but two votes in the Commons just as he was scheduled to speak.

Why Does the US Still Have So Few Women in Office?

With Hillary Clinton the early front-runner in the 2016 Democratic primary, the United States may join the UK, Germany, Brazil and Argentina as democracies that have had a woman as their top leader. Yet the alarming reality is that American women are still vastly underrepresented in elected offices all across the nation. Remember the “Year of the Woman” in 1992? Two decades later women still hold less than 20 percent of congressional seats, despite composing a majority of the US population.

Lying Again? Scholars Detect Deception in Ryan’s Poverty Report

For the sake of America’s poor, a sincere conservative effort to improve the programs that serve them is very desirable—especially so long as Republicans control the House of Representatives, where they habitually yearn to cut or defund those same programs. For months, Washington has eagerly awaited the latest version of “compassionate conservatism,” promised by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his publicists.

Appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, Ryan denounced government programs that serve the poor, including food stamps and free school lunch: “What the left is offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.”

Do Companies Have a First Amendment Right to Track You?

Do corporations have a legal right to track your car? If you think that is a purely academic question, think again. Working with groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, states are considering laws to prevent private companies from continuing to mass photograph license plates.

This is one of the backlashes to the news about mass surveillance. However, this backlash is now facing legal pushback from the corporations that take the photographs and then sell the data gleaned from the images.

The Great U Turn

Do you recall a time in America when the income of a single school teacher or baker or salesman or mechanic was enough to buy a home, have two cars, and raise a family?

I remember. My father (who just celebrated his 100th birthday) earned enough for the rest of us to live comfortably. We weren’t rich but never felt poor, and our standard of living rose steadily through the 1950s and 1960s.

Bank Of America Wants People To Pay $5 For A Currently Free Service

Bank of America is offering you the chance to pay a fee for a service you may not know you already have.

The bank on Thursday launched a new kind of account, known as the "SafeBalance" account, which costs $4.95 a month and comes with no paper checks. Its major selling point is that it won't let you overdraw your account.

Worldwide Mutinies Against Globalization

NEW DELHI -- "Imperialism has not allowed us to achieve historical normality," the Mexican poet Octavio Paz lamented in "The Labyrinth of Solitude" (1950). Paz was surveying the confused inheritance of Mexico from colonial rule, and the failure of its many political and socio-economic programs to make the country reenact the rise of Europe. He could have been speaking of any major Asian and African country that had suffered, long after decolonization, the intellectual as well as geopolitical and economic hegemony of Western Europe and the United States, and had failed to find its own way of being modern.

Venezuela Battle Leaves National Guardsman And Civilian Dead

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A National Guardsman and a civilian were killed Thursday as gangs of government supporters on motorcycles rode into east Caracas neighborhoods to remove street barricades placed by opposition protesters.

The pitched battle in a mixed industrial and residential district heightened tensions on the same day the Venezuelan government expelled foreign diplomats for the second time in a month.

Line 9 approval "incredibly dangerous" failure by government, environmental groups say

The National Energy Board announced today that it will approve Enbridge’s application to reverse and expand its Line 9 pipeline to carry heavy crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to refineries in Ontario and Quebec.
The 140-page decision outlines the hearing process and sets out requirements for Enbridge to improve emergency response and pipeline integrity as well as continued consultation.
The company filed an application with the NEB in 2011 to reverse a segment of its Line 9 pipeline between Ontario and Quebec, and to expand capacity between Sarnia, ON, and Montreal, including a change in regulations to allow it to transport crude oil. Phase I of the project, the line reversal, was approved last August.

Two giant oil pipelines proposed to speed "doubling" of tar sands

In a dizzying week of oil announcements, two new giant west-to-east pipelines passed key milestones.  If built, the pipelines would rapidly expand Alberta’s oil sands, cause massive environmental impacts, and trigger thousands of new jobs, according to several observers.

'Invisible Women' Report Stops Short Of Recommending Public Inquiry Into Slain Aboriginal Women

OTTAWA - A parliamentary report into missing and murdered indigenous women rejected numerous calls for a full public inquiry, setting off a firestorm of criticism Friday from opposition critics, First Nation leaders and human rights groups.

Liberal and NDP members who sat on the all-party panel issued their own dissenting reports, accusing the federal Conservatives of sanitizing the final report on an ongoing crisis that has caught the attention of the United Nations.

Conservative government won’t say how many in PMO earning big salaries

Back in the salad days of 2006, transparency and accountability were the watchwords from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s nascent government. Its first order of business was the Federal Accountability Act, which, inter alia, brought new public scrutiny via the Access to Information Act to Crown corporations.

Now, in 2014, not as much.

Report author says no evidence of voter fraud

OTTAWA - Pierre Poilievre won't stop citing a report to justify cracking down on potential voter fraud, even though author Harry Neufeld says the Harper government is misrepresenting his report and ignoring his recommendations.

"We are going to keep quoting Mr. Neufeld's report because it contains the facts that obviously support our position that people should have ID when they show up to vote," the minister for democratic reform told the House of Commons on Friday.

Putin Seeks Fast-Track Crimea Annexation To Exploit Indecisive West

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to profit to the maximum from Ukraine's turmoil by implementing the de-facto annexation of Crimea at high speed to wrong foot an indecisive West, analysts said.

The ousting of the generally pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was a major defeat for Putin and means that the ex-Soviet state is now swiftly aligning itself with the European Union in a historic switch away from the Kremlin.

Elizabeth Warren: Let’s Tax Millionaires To Allow Students To Refinance Their Debt

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) laid out a new plan that would tax millionaires and use that revenue to help students refinance their student loans.

Delivering the keynote address at the Higher Ed Not Debt Campaign launch event on Thursday at the Center For American Progress, Warren argued that America faces a choice: “Do we invest in students, or millionaires?” Warren plans to introduce a bill that would create an “America that invests in those who get an education” by revising the tax code and enacting the Buffet rule. Watch it:

Has Marine Le Pen Already Won the Battle for the Soul of France?

Thirty years ago, on June 17, 1984, 
Jean-Marie Le Pen burst into the limelight when his party, the radical-right National Front, scored a record 11 percent in the European Parliament election on an anti-immigration, anti-Europe nationalist platform. France was stunned. On election night, the 55-year-old Le Pen, smug and sententious in a dark-blue blazer, predicted, “This is only a beginning,” calling the victory “the first stage in a long journey that will lead to France’s rebirth.” But even in his wildest dreams, Le Pen could not possibly have pictured his own daughter Marine, now the head of the National Front, riding the crest of one of the worst social, economic and cultural crises in France to lead the polls ahead of every other contender. A January 25 survey credited the National Front with 23 percent of the vote in the May European Parliament elections, ahead of the Socialist Party and the right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). If the prediction comes true, hers would become the leading political force in France.