Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tories Chipping Away At Official Bilingualism, NDP Charge

OTTAWA — The Conservative government is chipping away at official bilingualism, the NDP charged Tuesday, pointing to the elimination of bilingual positions at the Canada Revenue Agency.

NDP official languages critic Yvon Godin wrote to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages on Monday complaining that the federal government had arbitrarily changed the linguistic designation of certain positions within the public service, from bilingual to unilingual English positions.

Joe Oliver 'An Embarrassment' As Finance Minister, Tom Mulcair Says

New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair says newly appointed Finance Minister Joe Oliver is an embarrassing choice to represent Canada because of his views on climate change.

"He has denied global warming as a scientific reality," Mulcair said at a news conference in London, Ont.

"And as one of the chiefs in British Columbia who was the object of his invective said, his attacks on First Nations go beyond mere paternalism. They're tinted by racism.

What Labour Shortage? Canada Has A Record Low Number Of Job Vacancies

The Harper government and some business groups have long argued that the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program is necessary to keep businesses running, given Canada’s supposedly dire labour shortage.

But the latest data on job vacancies from StatsCan puts a serious crimp in that argument.

Under Harper, Parliamentary Press Still Waves the White Flag

The last time Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a press conference even remotely worthy of the name -- one where more than a hand-picked handful of reporters got to ask questions -- was in December 2012.

In fact, full-fledged pressers by this prime minister have been a rarity since the spring of 2006, when CBC reporter Julie Van Dusen publicly objected after Harper failed to acknowledge her as the next questioner in line.

First Nations Blockade: Via Rail Says Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal Line Impacted

NAPANEE, Ont. - Via Rail service on the busy Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal line is to resume Thursday after a First Nations blockade forced Via to bus passengers between Toronto and Ottawa on Wednesday.

Jacques Gagnon, a spokesman for Montreal-based Via Rail, said 26 trains were cancelled on Wednesday, affecting an estimated 5,000 passengers.

This Chart Shows How Little We Really Know About Where Political Money Comes From

More and more money is going into U.S. elections without any disclosure of where it's coming from.
Spending by “dark money” groups -- organizations that do not have to disclose the sources of their political money -- has skyrocketed from about $25 million in 2000 to about $336 million in 2012, according to Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service data that the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in U.S. politics, sent to The Huffington Post.

Congress Just Undid The 1 Good Thing It's Done On Climate Change

WASHINGTON -– Congress approved changes to the federal flood insurance program in June 2012 that lawmakers said then would fix the program's problems and make it more financially stable. The bipartisan reforms phased out subsidies for high-risk coastal properties, which onlookers concerned about climate change said was key to discouraging unsustainable coastal development. It was perhaps the only good thing on climate that Congress had done in a really long time.

Last week, Congress decided to undo it.

Marc Mayrand vs. the Fair Elections Act

They don’t seem well-matched for a public scrap. Pierre Poilievre, 34, is a rookie cabinet minister and Conservative ultra-partisan, whose every utterance sounds calibrated to score points. Marc Mayrand, 60, is Canada’s chief electoral officer, and talks like what he is: a veteran federal administrator who toiled, until recent years, in relative obscurity. Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Mayrand to head Elections Canada in 2007, presumably never guessing that the reserved former superintendent of bankruptcy would emerge as one of his party’s most persistent antagonists. But by the time Harper picked Poilievre last summer to spearhead long-awaited election law reforms, the Prime Minister had to be acutely aware that his new minister of state for democratic reform would be up against a dogged adversary.

Supreme Court Watch: Campaign Spending, Union Busting and the Subversion of the First Amendment

Although predicting the outcome of Supreme Court cases is never a sure thing, two decisions that may be handed down any day—McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission and Harris v. Quinn—have the clear potential to transform the meaning of the First Amendment and once again expose the court’s radically pro-corporate and anti-union agenda.

Argued in October, McCutcheon was filed by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee to overturn the present legal limits on the aggregate amount of money a person or corporation can contribute directly to candidates for federal office, political parties and political campaign committees during any two-year election cycle. Currently, the biennial maximum is $123,200. The issue of whether the limit on direct campaign contributions is constitutional was left unresolved by the court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.

Neufeld says more than 100,000 to be disenfranchised under feds’ election bill, will testify at House Affairs Committee next week

PARLIAMENT HILL—The opposition parties have former B.C. elections chief Harry Neufeld at the top of their witness lists for testimony on proposed Conservative election law after he warned that “well over 100,000” electors will be denied their right to vote if the government goes ahead with plans to prohibit voter vouching for electors with no official ID.

Mr. Neufeld, who conducted an exhaustive review of electoral law and rule compliance in the 2011 election, has challenged the government’s position that widespread irregularities he found in the way vouching was administered on election day were indicative of potential fraud, as well as the government claim that an Elections Canada voter information card is too unreliable to be also used by voters who have insufficient ID to prove their residence.

Veterans don't have social contract, Ottawa says in lawsuit response

The federal government is arguing it does not have a social contract with veterans in response to a class-action suit brought by veterans upset with the compensation arrangement offered to wounded soldiers under the New Veterans Charter.

The veterans' lawsuit claims the charter and the changes it brings to compensation for veterans violate the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A waste-to-energy spin doctor's playbook

It's every waste-to-energy company's dream to have independent policymakers defending an incinerator with the same passion as Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he goes to bat for the oil sands. But how does such a company find good allies?

Establishing a supportive relationship with a respected, independent politician is an essential early step for incinerator companies determined to win contracts in reluctant Canadian communities, writes industry representative writes John Foden in Waste Management World magazine.

If Alison Redford won't voluntarily step aside, Alberta's Tories are likely finished

The departure yesterday morning of Donna Kennedy-Glans from the Alberta Progressive Conservative caucus makes it pretty obvious the message is sinking in with disaffected PC MLAs that casting Alison Redford as Premier Cruella de Vil and then putting her ondouble-secret probation may not have been the most astute strategy for re-election.
With a sense of timing worthy of a thespian, the associate minister of electricity and renewable energy announced at about the hour of the morning PC caucus meeting that she's pulling the plug on her cabinet portfolio and quitting the Tory benches to sit as an Independent.
The Calgary-Varsity MLA said she was doing it "with great regret but also great optimism" -- leaving to door open to a swift return after a change of leadership.

Science Deniers Are Freaking Out About "Cosmos"

If you think the first episode of the new Fox Cosmos series was controversial (with its relatively minor mentions of climate change, evolution, and the Big Bang), Sunday night's showthrew down the gauntlet. Pretty much the entire episode was devoted to the topic of evolution, and the vast profusion of evidence (especially genetic evidence) showing that it is indeed the explanation behind all life on Earth. At one point, host Neil deGrasse Tyson stated it as plainly as you possibly can: "The theory of evolution, like the theory of gravity, is a scientific fact." (You can watch the full episode here.)

Starving College Students and the Shredded Social Contract

If you want to know why millennials are far more economically liberal than other generations, consider the news that colleges have started opening on-campus food banks to keep their students from going hungry.

Dozens of food pantries are “cropping up at colleges across the country in recent years as educators acknowledge the struggles many students face as the cost of getting a higher education continues to soar,” the Associated Press reported this weekend. Tuition alone, the article notes, “has become a growing burden, rising 27 percent at public colleges and 14 percent at private schools in the past five years, according to the College Board. Add in expenses for books, housing and other necessities of college life and some are left to choose between eating and learning.”

Pensiongate? Christie Campaign Donors Won Huge Contracts

Four months into his first term, Governor Chris Christie stood at the podium of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, and laid out what was billed as the “Christie Reform Agenda.” To enthusiastic applause, the New Jersey governor railed against what he described as an out-of-control state public pension system. “Our benefits are too rich, and our employees aren’t contributing enough, either,” he said. “We are careening our way toward becoming Greece.”

Christie had just won his first statewide election with the help of Paul Singer, the hedge fund manager who chairs the Manhattan Institute. The month before Christie’s election victory in November 2009, Singer had given $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which aired a barrage of advertisements in Christie’s favor.

Nancy Pelosi Admits That Congress Is Scared of the CIA

Over the past few months, one thing we keep hearing over and over again from defenders of the intelligence community is that everything is under control and "legal" because Congress has powerful oversight. We've shown, repeatedly, how that's something of a joke. The intelligence community has lied repeatedly, has withheld documents and is generally nonresponsive to oversight attempts by Congress. And, with the reports that the CIA spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee, we also find out that for all the bluster and talk of oversight, folks in Congress are actually scared by the intelligence community.

Turkey Protests: 'The Worst Is Yet To Come'

The death of Berkin Elvan -- a Turkish teenager who died after being hit by a tear-gas canister on his way to buy a loaf of bread during last summer's Gezi protests-- has once again fed anti-government sentiment in the country.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Istanbul and Ankara last week, urging the Erdogan government to resign.

"The feeling on the streets is very emotional, very tense," said Tulin Daloglu, a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse, on HuffPost Live. The tension is only building, she added.

While Elvan's grew into a symbol for the protests movement, demonstrators have a list of complaints ranging from corruption, authoritarian rule, a massive crackdown on dissent to a lack of accountability for the authorities.

"It's about justice," Daloglu said. "If you're not on the side of the government, there is no way you can stand before a judge and stand a fair trial. It's what brought this huge crowd across the nation."

Daloglu, who suffered asthma attacks from the tear gas while reporting added, "It is us versus them or them versus us, or whatever that means, it's just very irritating, very difficult on the streets." Dalogly told HuffPostLive host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin that she expects the worst is yet to come.

Original Article
Author: The Huffington Post  | by  Lauren Betesh

BC Enbridge oil spill risk frighteningly high, engineering group claims

A group of engineers and engineering professors who have studied the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal over the last few years have launched a campaign raising public awareness over the devastating risks of an oil spill along the northern BC coast.

"According to Northern Gateway’s own numbers, there is a nine per cent chance (approximately 1 in 11) of an at least 30,000 barrel spill of tar sands oil along the BC coast (over 50 years)," the group said on its website.

Ukrainian Hangovers

Russia’s incursion (invasion if you prefer) into Crimea, with prospects for movement into Eastern Ukraine, is the culmination of US/NATO policy since 1991.

The unraveling of the USSR and its Soviet bloc (the Warsaw Pact) dismantled the largest empire in modern history. Even more striking, it was the most peaceful dissolution of a major empire in history. The fact that an empire stretching over a dozen time zones that included hundreds of ethnic groups with concrete historical and contemporary grievances with each other broke up without a bloodbath is nothing short of a miraculous – and a reflection of the destruction of spirit and even of economic understanding that marked the distortions of Stalinism, neither capitalist nor socialist but a bureaucratic collectivism whose final stage proved to be kleptocracy.

Canada's House Prices Spike, But Economists Call It A ‘Soft Landing'

Some economists are calling it a “soft landing,” because sales volumes have fallen and aren’t coming back up, but house prices in Canada showed no signs of easing up in February.

Prices for sales of previously owned homes jumped 10.1 per cent in the year to February, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) reported Monday.

Harper government attacks non-profits to muzzle dissent

When you donate to a Canadian non-profit organization, with or without charitable status, did you know that your donor dollars may be used in the latest attack by the Harper government against its critics?
According to fundraising and direct mail campaign expert Harvey McKinnon, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is using the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) as his own personal attack dog. "By publicly identifying and throwing suspicion on seven non-profits that are active on environmental issues, the federal government is trying to silence all other organizations that work on these issues … silence any non-profit that advocates for social change."

From Texas to Toronto, Harper deserves an A+ from the ‘Merchant of Venom’

Is Stephen Harper really Canadian or just an American in a parka?

Given the style and direction of the country’s politics, a good case could be made for the latter.

Despite being two years away from an election, the country is awash in attack ads against Justin Trudeau, leader of the third party in parliament. Some people think that Harper learned the nasty art of attack ads when he ran the right-wing National Citizens Coalition after walking away from the Reform Party in 1997.

Hill media to push back against access control

The Parliamentary Press Gallery is pushing back against the Harper government’s unprecedented and sweeping control over access to government officials and information.

Journalists unanimously passed a motion on March 7 at the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s Annual General Meeting asserting the right of journalists to ask questions “in all photo-ops and availabilities with the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers, and all Parliamentarians, to fulfill our functions as journalists in a democratic society.”

Ontario's Job Market Squeezing Out Middle Earners: Report

Ontario’s job market is shifting away from full-time, permanent work and towards part-time and temporary work, and middle-wage jobs are being squeezed out in the process, says a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

According to CCPA economist Kylie Thiessen, middle-skilled jobs are disappearing and are being replaced by both high-skilled and low-skilled jobs.

“More Ontarians are earning either below $30,000 per year or above $60,000 compared to 2000, while the share of workers earning between $30,000 and $60,000 (in 2011 constant dollars) has shrunk from 31 per cent in 2000 to 26.5 per cent in 2011,” the report said.

Canada Day Afghan Tribute Rejected By Military, Citing Concerns Of 'Militarization'

OTTAWA - Military planners have treaded delicately on how best to remind the country of the sacrifices of Canadian Forces members in Afghanistan, raising concerns about potential political and public sensitivities, newly released documents show.

That led military brass to ultimately recommend abandoning plans for a noontime ceremony on Parliament Hill this coming Canada Day that would have commemorated the mission.

Justice Department Bad Boys: More Than 650 Cases of Misconduct Documented in 12-Year Period

Federal prosecutors, judges, and other officials at the Justice Department committed over 650 acts of professional misconduct in a recent 12-year period, according to a new report published by a DC-based watchdog group, the Project On Government Oversight. POGO investigators came up with the number after reviewing documents put out by the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). According to one little-noticed OPR document published last year, a DOJ attorney failed to disclose a "close personal relationship" with the defendant in a case he was prosecuting, in which he negotiated a plea agreement to release the defendant on bond. An immigration judge also made "disparaging remarks" about foreign nationals. POGO contends that this number is only the tip of the iceberg and OPR needs to release more information about this misconduct to the public.

Columbia University Fired Two Eminent Public Intellectuals. Here’s Why It Matters.

About a month ago, The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof wrote a much-discussed column calling for academics to take on a greater role in public life. Most professors, he lamented, “just don’t matter in today’s great debates,” having instead burrowed into rabbit holes of hyper-specialization. PhD programs, he wrote, “have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.” Professors, Kristof pleaded, “don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks—we need you!”

Food Pantries On The Rise At College Campuses As Tuitions Increase

STONY BROOK, N.Y. (AP) — Days after biology major Gillian Carll arrived at Stony Brook University last fall, she encountered a young woman on a bench outside her dormitory who said she had nothing to eat.

"I was just like, 'Oh, my gosh!' I didn't know kids could afford to go here but couldn't have mac and cheese or something like that," said the Livonia, N.Y., freshman. "It was kind of unbelievable."

Obama Administration Cites 'National Security' More Than Ever To Censor, Deny Records

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

The administration cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy. Most agencies also took longer to answer records requests, the analysis found.


Vladimir Putin, in his campaign to restore Russian dominance over post-Soviet states, has an unconventional weapon in his arsenal: vast supplies of natural gas. In 2006 and 2009, Gazprom, the Russian gas company, cut off supplies to Ukraine (the second time, this created shortages in Europe, too). In 2010, it reduced supplies to Belarus, and last fall Russia threatened Moldovans with the same if they didn’t abandon plans to sign a free-trade accord with the European Union. “We hope that you will not freeze,” a Russian deputy foreign minister said ominously. During the current crisis in Crimea, Putin’s readiness to use natural resources for strategic ends has made it difficult for Europeans to take a hard line against him, since Europe gets roughly thirty per cent of its gas from Russia, mostly via pipelines running through Ukraine. “One big difference between the U.S. and Europe on this issue is energy,” Jeffrey Mankoff, a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me. “The assumption that, because of the energy relationship, Europe was not going to risk a major confrontation over Ukraine was surely part of Russia’s calculations.”

Britain's five richest families worth more than poorest 20%

The scale of Britain's growing inequality is revealed by a report from a leading charity showing that the country's five richest families now own more wealth than the poorest 20% of the population.
Oxfam urged the chancellor George Osborne to use Wednesday'sbudget to make a fresh assault on tax avoidance and introduce a living wage in a report highlighting how a handful of the super-rich, headed by the Duke of Westminster, have more money and financial assets than 12.6 million Britons put together.

Atlanta's food deserts leave its poorest citizens stranded and struggling

In most of the world's densely packed urban areas, you can pick up fresh produce at a stall on the way home from work or buy bread, meat and staples at the cornershop across the street. But in sprawling metroAtlanta, where the model is megamarkets surrounded by mega parking lots, few of us have the option of a quick dash to the store.
When you're trying to figure out what to fix your young children for dinner and you realise you need milk and eggs and a bag of salad greens and chicken breasts, and you have no choice but to load everyone in the minivan and drive five miles through traffic to get to the store, you're feeling the impact of US development patterns that have made Atlanta the third-worst urban food desert in the country (behind only New Orleans and Chicago).