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, August 27, 2014

Michael Brown's Mom Laid Flowers Where He Was Shot—and Police Crushed Them

As darkness fell on Canfield Drive on August 9, a makeshift memorial sprang up in the middle of the street where Michael Brown's body had been sprawled in plain view for more than four hours. Flowers and candles were scattered over the bloodstains on the pavement. Someone had affixed a stuffed animal to a streetlight pole a few yards away. Neighborhood residents and others were gathering, many of them upset and angry.

Wounded Soldiers Canada: Watchdogs Take Aim At Bureaucracy Denying Benefits

OTTAWA - Two military watchdogs are opening a joint investigation into how ill and injured soldiers are treated during their transition to civilian life.

Veterans ombudsman Guy Parent and Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne will join forces to look at a system that has been the subject of thousands of complaints, both formal and informal.

Christine Lagarde, IMF Chief, Investigated For 'Negligence' In Corruption Probe

PARIS - Christine Lagarde, the chief of the International Monetary Fund, was placed under official investigation for negligence in a French corruption probe that dates back to her days as France's finance minister.

In a statement Wednesday after a fourth round of questioning before magistrates, Lagarde said she would return to her work in Washington later in the day and said the decision was "without basis." She is the third IMF managing director in a decade to face legal troubles.

Grrr. Wildlife falls prey to our insatiable need for natural resources

Despite suspected ongoing impact to animals where the Mount Polley Mine breached several weeks ago, professional wildlife response teams can't get in to assess the area.
It is believed that chemicals still in the environment from the spill -- which released millions of cubic metres of potentially toxic waste into central B.C. waterways -- could impact millions of birds, among other animals in the area.

Peter MacKay's justice roundtables didn't set a place for sex workers

Over the past month, Justice Minister Peter MacKay has been not-so-quietly crisscrossing the country, holding closed-door confabs with what his department describes as "criminal justice system stakeholders."

Although those meetings have taken place in camera, which puts the details of the discussion firmly off the record, it's clear from the accompanying press releases that one of the key items on the agenda has been C-36, MacKay's legislative bid to rewrite Canada's prostitution laws in the wake of last year's Supreme Court decision.

Harper government asks public servants to delete emails

OTTAWA—The Conservative government is telling public servants to delete emails with no “business value,” possibly opening the door to the destruction of potentially valuable records, say critics.

Employees must still preserve information as required by law, a government spokeswoman says, but instructions obtained by the Star show that employees were being told to delete some reference materials related to their work, including memos and copies of departmental documents.

Why Does Harper Keep Spinning Our Missing Women Tragedy?

When it comes to the death of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old aboriginal girl found dead in the Red River earlier this month, Prime Minister Harper says, "We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime."

Why is that exactly?

Is it because if Tina Fontaine's death is a crime, then we can treat it as an isolated incident?

If our prime minister is shirking from placing Tina Fontaine's death in its proper context, it must be because that context paints such a brutal -- and unflattering -- portrait of our government's inaction on the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Veterans groups say Ottawa spending too much remembering old wars

A growing number of Canadian veterans' groups are upset that the federal government is spending millions commemorating old wars while current veterans are suffering from post-traumatic stress and other issues that they say are not being dealt with.

"I think it’s obscene," said Michael Blais, the president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy after attending a small, private ceremony in Ottawa to remember soldiers who took their own lives. There has been a recent spate of soldier suicides.

Conservatives Tout 'Traditional Family Values' To Party Members

OTTAWA - The federal Conservatives are telling core supporters that "traditional family values" are a party stance, a phrase that so far has not entered the prime minister's public speeches or official Tory documents.

A survey was circulated Tuesday to Conservative donors and "grassroots supporters," to "hear what issues matter to you the most."

Premiers, Native Leaders: Support Growing For Inquiry On Missing Aboriginal Women

The federal government is rejecting renewed calls for a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in advance of a meeting Wednesday between premiers and native leaders, one of whom says the prime minister is isolated in his position.

The premiers and aboriginal leaders endorsed the idea of an inquiry when they met last year, but there is growing momentum behind such a proposal, said Ghislain Picard, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Neo-Liberal Austerity Keeps Europe Down

Shades of France’s notorious Third Republic! The latest French government has been summarily dismissed after only six painful months. It was certainly time for a change. President François Hollande’s poll ratings have plumbed new depths at 17 percent, while Prime Minister Manuel Valls had lost 9 percentage points in one month, down to 36 percent. With his usual indecision, the President has instructed Mr. Valls to go back and form a new government to carry on the same policies—the third in the space of one year—but excluding the trouble-makers who provoked this crisis.

John Boehner And House GOP Tax Guru Profited From Offshore Tax Dodge

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) personally profited from a corporate tax loophole that they have opposed closing, according to Bloomberg.

Boehner and Camp announced that they were selling their stock in Dublin-based Covidien shortly after the American medical technology company Medtronic agreed to acquire it. The merger would allow Medtronic to move its formal headquarters overseas to reduce its tax bill.

Draft Of Upcoming IPCC Report Presents Stark View Of The Future As Climate Change Rages On

WASHINGTON (AP) — Global warming is here, human-caused and probably already dangerous — and it's increasingly likely that the heating trend could be irreversible, a draft of a new international science report says.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which combines three earlier, gigantic documents by the Nobel Prize-winning group. There is little in the report that wasn't in the other more-detailed versions, but the language is more stark and the report attempts to connect the different scientific disciplines studying problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.

Between the World and Ferguson

When I was eighteen, I stumbled across Richard Wright’s poem “Between the World and Me.” The poem, a retelling of a lynching, shook me, because while the narrator relays the details in the first person, the actual victim of that brutish ritual is another man, unknown to him and unknown to us. The poem is about the way in which history is an animate force, and how we are witnesses to the past, even to that portion of it that transpired before we were born. He writes,

    darkness screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose and lived:
The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves
into my bones.
The grey ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into
my flesh.

Courier Case Shows Limits to Canadian Privacy

Canadian privacy law has long been reliant on the principle of "reasonable expectation of privacy." The principle is particularly important with respect to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as the Supreme Court of Canada has held that the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is grounded in a reasonable expectation of privacy in a free and democratic society.

The reasonable expectation of privacy standard provides a useful starting point for analysis, but the danger is that privacy rights can seemingly be lost with little more than a contractual provision indicating that the user has no privacy. Indeed, if privacy rights can disappear based on a sentence in a contract that few take the time to read (much less assess whether they are comfortable with), those rights stand on very shaky ground.

Secret $700,000 Donation Has Scott Walker Scrambling to Address ‘Appearance of Corruption’

When Gogebic Taconite LLC began moving in November 2010—the same month Scott Walker was elected governor of Wisconsin—to develop an open-pit iron mine in one of the most environmentally sensitive regions of northern Wisconsin, the Florida-based mining firm got a lot of pushback. Residents of the region objected, along with Native American tribes. So, too, did citizens from across Wisconsin, a state that has long treasured the wild beauty of the Penokee Range. Environmental and conservation groups voiced their concerns, as did local and state officials from across the political spectrum.

TV Producer In Beverly Hills For Pre-Emmys Event Arrested For Being Tall, Bald And Black

In yet another case of "walking while black," a film and TV producer recently told his tale of being held for six hours by Beverly Hills police while attending a pre-Emmys event because he looked like a burglary suspect.

Ukraine Releases Footage Of Captured Russian Soldiers

KIEV, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Ukraine said on Tuesday its forces had captured a group of Russian paratroopers who had crossed into Ukrainian territory on a "special mission" - but Moscow said they had ended up there by mistake.

The Ukrainian military meanwhile reported pro-Russian separatist forces were shelling the town of Novoazovsk and buildings there, including a hospital, were ablaze.

Back to School and to Widening Inequality

American kids are getting ready to head back to school. But the schools they’re heading back to differ dramatically by family income.

Which helps explain the growing achievement gap between lower and higher-income children.

Thirty years ago, the average gap on SAT-type tests between children of families in the richest 10 percent and bottom 10 percent was about 90 points on an 800-point scale. Today it’s 125 points.

The dangers of deregulation extend beyond mining disasters

The Mount Polley Mine disaster has raised important questions about the risks and costs of deregulation of the mining industry in B.C. I spoke about this issue recently on CBC Vancouver's Early Edition and CBC Kamloops' Daybreak (if you missed it, there's audiohere, starts around 1:00:48).
As a citizen and as a public interest researcher at CCPA, I am very concerned that Canada's environmental protection regulations have been weakened both provincially and federally over the last 10 - 15 years and that budget cuts have meant fewer inspectors on the ground to monitor and enforce the regulations that remain.
The number of drugs, weapons, booze and other banned items seized in Canadian prisons increased more than 20 per cent over the last two years, as the Correctional Service of Canada seeks sweeping new powers to further crack down on contraband.

But some prisoner advocates say the proposed changes — to allow more intrusive and frequent searches and restrictions on visitors — could hamper rehabilitation and ultimately compromise public safety.

Why Are Kids Being Tried in Kangaroo Courts?

Of all the constitutional rights afforded to Americans, the right to counsel is one of the most well known. In movies and TV shows, cops recite Miranda rights immediately upon arresting anyone, informing suspects of their right to an attorney even if they cannot afford one. This protection for indigent defendants was ensured by the Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963; four years later, another case established due process rights for children. In that case, called In re Gault, the court ruled that "Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court."

Ristigouche crowdfunds its defence in $1.5M gas company lawsuit

A tiny Quebec village is crowdfunding its defence after an oil company filed a $1.5-million lawsuit against it.

The Gaspésie village of Ristigouche-Sud-Est is being sued by Gastem, a Quebec-based oil and gas exploration and development company, for passing a bylaw in March 2013 establishing a two-kilometre no-drill zone near its municipal water sources.

Cops Filmed Beating Suspect During Arrest At Walmart

Deputies in South Carolina are being probed after a suspect was beaten during an arrest caught on video Saturday.

Witnesses filmed two Greenville County Sheriff's Office deputies as they appeared to punch a man more than 10 times during the arrest, which occurred at Walmart.

You Could Be Happier If Your Boss Were Forced To Make You Work Less

When labor laws reduce the hours that people have to be at work, their life satisfaction increases, as indicated by new research from Daniel S. Hamermesh, Daiji Kawaguchi, and Jungmin Lee published in the NBER.
The researchers examined two examples in Japan and Korea where the government sought to shorten the workweek by imposing overtime penalties at a lower threshold of hours. In Japan, the standard workweek was reduced from 48 hours to 40 between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s by imposing a 25 percent overtime penalty after 40 hours of work. Korea also reduced its workweek that way, from 44 hours to 40, between 1999 and 2009 by extending its 50 percent overtime penalty. Both were responses to those countries experiencing some of the longest workweeks around the globe and high levels of overwork-related deaths. The laws had the intended impact of reducing hours across their economies but particularly for those who were putting in the most hours.

Scott Walker Approves Obscure Tax Break For Furniture Company, Quickly Collects Large Campaign Donation

Less than a month after voting to give a Wisconsin furniture company a $6 million tax creditthat allows it to lay off half its in-state workforce, Gov. Scott Walker (R) received $20,000 in campaign donations from the company’s leadership, a newspaper in the state reports.
Ashley Furniture won the credit from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) in January on a 9-2 vote. As WEDC Chairman, Walker was one of the 9 votes in favor. Then in February his campaign received four $5,000 donations from company founder Ronald Wanek, current CEO Todd Wanek, and their respective spouses, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

620,000 Military Families Rely on Food Pantries to Meet Basic Needs

This month, the US military announced that the air force had delivered more than 110,000 meal rations to stranded Yazidi refugees in Iraq, in a mission that prompted President Obama to hail “the skill and professionalism of our military, and the generosity of our people.”

Also this month, a new report found that the nation’s food pantries serve 620,000 families with a member in the military—another troubling indication that service members battling against poverty must often rely on the generosity of our charities.

Ferguson and Parallel Universes

The radio host asked over the phone whether I was in Ferguson. “No,” I told him. “I’m watching the news unfold just like your listeners.”

By the time the first caller asked his question—why I and others were ignoring the role an “anti-social culture of thuggery or gangster rap” plays in teaching young people like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin to have no fear of consequences—the mistake in my assumption was clear. It seemed as if I was watching the news from Ferguson from a vantage point a universe away from that inhabited by host Jim Bohannon and, possibly, many of those who listened in on more than 500 stations nationwide Tuesday night.

Baffin Correctional Centre, Nunavut Prison, Still Squalid, Drug-Ridden A Year After Watchdog's Report

IQALUIT, Nunavut - You won't see it on the itinerary for Stephen Harper's annual northern tour, and it's somewhere the prime minister would probably rather not be seen, anyway.

But while Harper is in Iqaluit trumpeting his government's spending on science and technology, scant attention will be paid to one of the North's most notorious jails, just a short distance away.

Remember Kindness?

I confess. I have been binge-watching TV series. Lately I have narrowed my watching mostly to The West Wing, an old favourite about a Democratic president, Jed Bartlet, portraying the manic, day-to-day crisis management of the White House. But in my defence I am doing so in part as an antidote to another series I quit watching because the values it displayed and promoted were so execrable. The award-winning House of Cards stars Kevin Spacey as a ruthless congressman seeking revenge (and higher office) for being betrayed by "his" president. Both these series are exceptionally well-written and well-acted. But one actually features characters who are trying to accomplish laudable social objectives (for the most part) and who treat each other with genuine respect and even affection. House of Cards never allows such sentiment to prevail or even appear, except as a reflection of weakness and naivete. It's all about varying degrees of ruthlessness and we are clearly supposed to admire Spacey as a masterful practitioner of the Machiavellian arts.

Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.

CAIRO — Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts.

The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied to American diplomats that their military played any role in the operation, the officials said, in what appeared a new blow to already strained relations between Washington and Cairo.

Canada drops out of top 10 most developed countries list

Canada has slipped out of the top 10 countries listed in the annual United Nation's human development index — a far cry from the 1990s when it held the first place for most of the decade.

The 2013 report, which reviews a country's performance in health, education and income, places Canada in 11th place versus 10th last year.

Glover staffers remove ugly details from Wikipedia

Staff of Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover anonymously edited her Wikipedia page to remove controversial details about her run-ins with Elections Canada.

The information disappeared last week and involved a 2013 request by Elections Canada that the Saint Boniface Conservative MP be suspended because she filed inaccurate campaign spending reports. The missing sentences were quickly restored by Wikipedia editors.

When Harper Killed the Census He Robbed Canadians

An ad in the Globe and Mail reveals the extent of harm the Harper Conservatives have inflicted on Statistics Canada. Because of poor quality, Statistics Canada is not releasing data at finer spatial scales because the Harper Conservatives killed the mandatory long-form Census and replaced it with a voluntary survey of dubious quality.

The Conservatives' attack on the Census not only cost Canadians their most valuable source of information, it also led to the departure of Canada's leading civil servant, Dr. Munir Sheikh, who in July 2010 resigned his position as Canada's chief statistician to protect the integrity of the institution he led.

Why is Harper punishing charities while letting tax cheats off the hook?

As its website notes, “PEN Canada envisions a world where writers are free to write, readers are free to read and freedom of expression prevails.”

With goals like those, no wonder the little charity has found itself in the crosshairs of the Harper government.

Earlier this week, PEN became the latest charity to face a massive tax audit as part of a sweeping clampdown that appears aimed at intimidating groups critical of the Harper government.

The Conservatives are a ‘cruel and unusual’ government

When Justice Anne Mactavish of the Federal Court struck down the Harper government’s policy to slash medical care for refugees earlier this month, she described it as “cruel and unusual treatment” that “shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency.”

Both phrases were telling. As Justice Mactavish of course knew, Section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads that “Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.” These exact words – “cruel and unusual punishment” – resonate in history. They were written into the English Bill of Rights in 1689 and were then repeated in the 8th amendment to the United States Constitution: “Cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted.” These are not words used loosely.

Officer Darren Wilson Began Career At Disgraced Police Department: Report

The Ferguson police officer who shot unarmed teen Michael Brown had worked at a department that was disbanded by authorities over racial tensions, the Washington Post reports.

Darren Wilson and the other officers at the Jennings, Missouri, police department lost their jobs three years ago. Wilson was a rookie cop at the time.

The newspaper described the old Jennings Police Department as "a mainly white department mired in controversy and notorious for its fraught relationship with residents, especially the African American majority... not an ideal place to learn how to police."

Democracy, capitalism and the defence of kindness

I confess. I have been binge-watching TV series. Lately I have narrowed my watching mostly to The West Wing, an old favourite about a Democratic president, Jed Bartlet, which portrays the manic, day-to-day crisis management of the White House. But in my defence, I am doing so in part as an antidote to another series which I quit watching because the values it displayed and promoted were so execrable. The award-winning House of Cards stars Kevin Spacey as a ruthless congressman seeking revenge (and higher office) for being betrayed by "his" president. Both these series are exceptionally well-written and well-acted. But one actually features characters who are trying to accomplish laudable social objectives (for the most part) and who treat each other with genuine respect and even affection. House of Cards never allows such sentiment to prevail or even appear except as a reflection of weakness and naïveté. It's all about varying degrees of ruthlessness and we are clearly supposed to admire Spacey as a masterful practitioner of the Machiavellian arts.