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.]

Monday, October 06, 2014

Connecting The Dots Between Mount Polley Mine Owner, Squamish LNG, Harper

Recently, Conservative B.C. MP John Weston wrote that he "disagree[s] with the motion" passed by West Vancouver council to ban the passage of LNG tankers in Howe Sound.

No doubt following instructions from Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself, keeping the thumbscrews on the B.C. fiefdom probably has Weston also crabbed about the opposition to the Woodfibre LNG facility here in Squamish.

The Empire of Edge

As Dr. Sid Gilman approached the stage, the hotel ballroom quieted with anticipation. It was July 29, 2008, and a thousand people had gathered in Chicago for the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease. For decades, scientists had tried, and failed, to devise a cure for Alzheimer’s. But in recent years two pharmaceutical companies, Elan and Wyeth, had worked together on an experimental drug called bapineuzumab, which had shown promise in halting the cognitive decay caused by the disease. Tests on mice had proved successful, and in an initial clinical trial a small number of human patients appeared to improve. A second phase of trials, involving two hundred and forty patients, was near completion. Gilman had chaired the safety-monitoring committee for the trials. Now he was going to announce the results of the second phase.

Glaciers Lose 204 Billion Tons of Ice in Three Years

Antarctica is losing so much mass that it’s actually changing Earth’s gravity.

Antarctica is famously a continent capped with ice, but as Earth’s climate changes and the polar regions get warmer, its ancient ice is beginning to melt. The immediate consequence of the melting is the growing instability of ice shelves, places where the ice covering extends into the ocean. However, if we really want to know how quickly Antarctica is losing ice, we need a way of measuring that loss in terms of total mass.

Islamic State Still Taking Towns in Iraq’s Al-Anbar as Coalition Airstrikes Are Delayed

The pan-Arab London daily   Al-Hayat [Life] reports today that ISIL is still expanding its sway in towns in Iraq’s western al-Anbar Province, having just taken Kubaisah in the district of Hit on Friday into Saturday, two days after the district capital of Hit fell to them.  Local Iraqi police ran away from the advancing fighters in what has become a pattern of declining to stand and fight.  ISIL massed its fighters of the First and Seventh Battalions.

An Iraqi Air Force plane that had been providing close air support to government forces operating in largely Sunni Arab al-Anbar Province came under heavy fire from the ground and had to draw back.  US and coalition fighter jets have been absent, according to al-Hayat’s sources in al-Anbar.

The Ordeal of Stanley L. Cohen: Justice as Farce

The use of the courts to erode our civil liberties, as well as expand the ability of the state and corporations to commit fraud and other crimes with impunity, has been accompanied by a campaign to silence the handful of activist attorneys who defend those demonized by the government. The state has imprisoned the great civil rights attorneys J. Tony Serra, who has served two terms behind bars, and Lynne Stewart. And it looks as if Stanley L. Cohen is now on the list. When lawyers who defend the unpopular must suffer severe punishment at the hand of the government, the judiciary is a farce.

Harper’s ‘noble’ war off to rocky start

So much for the Nobel Peace Prize, but at least Canada’s Bombadier-in-chief Stephen Harper thinks the latest Iraq War is “noble.”

If there were a word that combines “foolish” and “dishonest,” it would be a far better way of describing what this prime minister is leading Canada into.

In opposing this latte war, both Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau were wise to leave Stephen Harper alone in his bellicose enthusiasms. In the debacle of Afghanistan, Harper inherited Canadian involvement from the Liberals. This time, the blundering into war is entirely his own.

Unvetted Quebec judge Clément Gascon takes Supreme Court seat

The first judge in a decade to join the Supreme Court of Canada without any parliamentary scrutiny takes his seat Monday, just in time for a fall session featuring important cases on assisted suicide, religion in the public sphere and an Ottawa-Quebec dispute over gun-registry data.

Justice Clément Gascon of Quebec is a commercial law expert with little background in criminal law. No selection panel of parliamentarians put his name on a shortlist. No public hearing was held in Parliament about his appointment. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not cite any of his rulings when he named the 54-year-old Montrealer to the court.

QP prep a consuming task for Cabinet, PMO staffers, say Conservative sources

The House’s 45-minute Question Period has been compared to a sideshow of late, but a lot of work goes into the daily theatre: on a typical day all 38 members of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Cabinet, along with Parliamentary secretaries, spend more than an hour prepping for the battle, Conservative sources say. And they’ve been doing this since they won power in 2006.

“It’s a matter of being prepared for anything that comes at you, because if you make a mistake it’s going to be news,” said Keith Beardsley, president of Cenco Public Affairs and formerly a deputy chief of staff for issues management in the Prime Minister’s Office. “A lot of people don’t realize how much time Question Period prep takes.”

The perils and prospects of Nova Scotia's anti-labour health bill

The uproar is about a bill to merge nine regional health authorities into one and streamline their union structure, but it's bigger than that, reaching into the core of our Nova Scotian malaise.
A peaceful end to this would keep the road clear as this province struggles to move forward on many fronts, and a bad one would thicken the dark clouds of backbiting and cynicism that hovers overhead generally, not to mention imperil the better functioning of the health-care system the bill envisions.

CETA: Putting corporations ahead of Canadians

By sheer coincidence, the media has recently been filled with stories that reflect the parallel universes we seem to be living in. The first were the stories about the international climate summit and the huge climate march (and hundreds of smaller ones) that preceded it -- punctuated by the launch of Naomi Klein's powerful call-to-action book This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate adding to the power of the moment.

Why New Euro-Canada Treaty Is a Gift to Oil Firms

The media recently has been filled with stories that reflect the parallel universes we seem to be living in. The first were the stories about the international climate summit and the huge climate march (and hundreds of smaller ones) that preceded it -- punctuated by the launch of Naomi Klein's powerful call-to-action book This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate adding to the power of the moment.

But while climate activists were demonstrating and some 100 world leaders were making pledges to finally get serious about climate change, many of those same leaders had already put their name to an international investment treaty, parts of which seems to have been virtually written by the same oil companies targeted for criticism and calls for greater regulation. That agreement is called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), in the news recently because of yet another photo op with Harper signing it with European leaders.

Meet the People Who Made Possible Stephen Harper's Reign

[Editor's note: Where does Stephen Harper get his polarizing notions of what is wrong with Canada and how to "fix" it? Rather than write a psychological history of the man, Donald Gutstein, in his new book Harperism, examines the network that paved the way for his rise -- Canada's right-wing think-tanks. This excerpt picks up after Gutstein notes that some moves by Harper, such as cutting the GST to starve the budget and lay off 30,000 federal workers, are straight from the Thatcher, Reagan and even Mulroney playbooks. But in Harper's attempt to convert Canada's First Nation reserves to zones of private ownership, and in his sweeping dismantling of environmental regulations and independent scientific research, Gutstein sees ambitions for a more radical transformation of Canada in play.]

Many depictions centre on Stephen Harper as the lone wolf, the rogue conservative who marches to his own drummer. This way of looking at him, though, won't help you to understand the context in which he has operated.

Big Pharma Is Robbing Us Blind and We’re Letting It Happen

According to a new federal database put online last week, pharmaceutical companies and device makers paid doctors some $380 million in speaking and consulting fees over a five-month period in 2013.

Some doctors received over half a million dollars each, and others got millions of dollars in royalties from products they helped develop.

Doctors claim these payments have no effect on what they prescribe. But why would drug companies shell out all this money if it didn’t provide them a healthy return on their investment?

Business Backlash Looms In Occupied Hong Kong

HONG KONG –- On a tense Sunday afternoon, the occupation of Hong Kong’s streets by democracy protesters crossed the one-week mark, as mounting losses to local businesses fed an increasingly violent backlash. Small business owners report that the perpetually blocked roads and physical confrontations have taken a toll, with the flow of customers slowing to a trickle.

Christy Clark's LNG dreams to be tested in rare fall legislative session

The B.C. Legislature convenes on Monday for what has become something of a rare event — a fall legislative session — where Premier Christy Clark's liquefied natural gas dreams will be put to the test of public scrutiny.

Although B.C.'s legislative calendar always marks off dates for a fall sitting, it has become increasingly uncommon. There has only been one other fall session since Clark became premier in 2011.

Cloud Citizen, Futuristic 'Super City,' Wins Contest For New Shenzhen Business District

The picture above isn’t the cover of a new sci-fi novel; it’s the winner of a competition to design a new business district for Shenzhen, China.

The city, a neighbour of Hong Kong long overshadowed by its wealthier, flashier cousin, asked designers to submit plans for a 170-hectare business district featuring at least three high-rise towers, a mix of commercial and cultural facilities, and, as ArchDaily put it, it “had to give back to the environment.”

Shift to Bad Retirement Plans Threatens Retirees With Privation

The United States’ largest employers are increasingly pushing their workers into inadequate retirement plans—and they acknowledge doing so.
Christopher Flavelle reports at Bloomberg:
A survey last month from Towers Watson, the employee benefit consultant, shows just how rapidly the defined-benefit plan—the traditional pension that guarantees workers an annual income after they retire—has moved from the norm at Fortune 500 companies to all but extinct. In 1998, just more than half offered new hires a defined-benefit plan; by 2013, that had fallen to just 7 percent.
That trend continues: According to Towers Watson, at least three of the 34 Fortune 500 companies that offered defined-benefit plans to new hires last year won’t do so this year.

Mass Grave Found Near Mexico Town Where Students Disappeared

IGUALA, Mexico (AP) — A clandestine grave site with multiple burial pits was found outside this city where violence last weekend resulted in six deaths and the disappearance of 43 students after protesters clashed with police, Mexican officials said Saturday.

Guerrero State Prosecutor Inaky Blanco said the grave site was on the outskirts of Iguala, a town about 120 miles (200 kilometers) south of Mexico City. He did not say how many bodies were in the graves and declined to speculate on whether the remains could be the missing students.

Yemen's Capital Fell To A Rebel Group And The World Hardly Noticed

Last week, a Shiite rebel group that had taken over swaths of Yemen, including its capital, signed a UN-brokered agreement with other political parties to form a new government and end the fighting that has claimed the lives of at least 300 people.

But despite the peace deal and lofty promises from all sides, Yemen's political troubles appear far from over.

Independent Greg Orman Holding A Lead In Kansas, Polling Shows

Kansas independent Greg Orman continues to hold an edge in his quest to unseat Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), according to most recent surveys on the race.

An NBC/Marist poll released Sunday finds Orman leading Roberts by 10 points, 48 percent to 38 percent, among likely voters. Five percent chose libertarian Randall Batson, and the remaining voters were undecided or opting for yet another candidate.

The Party and the People

When Hong Kong returned to Chinese control, in 1997, after a century and a half under British rule, the Communist Party rejoiced at recovering the jewel of the Crown Colonies, a tiny archipelago of two hundred and thirty-six islands and rocks, with more Rolls-Royces per capita than anywhere else in the world and a film industry that had produced more movies each year than Hollywood. But the people of Hong Kong feared that the Party would unwind the idiosyncratic combination of English and Cantonese culture that made the city so distinctive—with its independent barristers in wigs and its Triad bosses in Versace, all documented by a scandal-loving free press and set on a subtropical mountainscape that’s equal parts Manhattan and Hawaii.

Erdogan Demands Apology From Biden After ISIS Comments

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden apologized Saturday to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was angry over comments in which Biden said Erdogan had admitted that Turkey had made mistakes by allowing foreign fighters to cross into Syria.

Erdogan denied ever saying that and told reporters in Istanbul before Biden's apology that he "will be history for me if he has indeed used such expressions."

Out of control -- How the world’s health organizations failed to stop the Ebola disaster

Tom Frieden remembers the young woman with the beautiful hair, dyed a rusty gold and braided meticulously, elaborately, perhaps by someone who loved her very much. She was lying facedown, half off the mattress. She had been dead for hours, and flies had found the bare flesh of her legs.

Two other bodies lay nearby. Bedridden patients who had not yet succumbed said of the dead, "Please, get them out of here."

The Alamo of the Kurds: Kobane Near Falling to Islamic State

Ismat Sheikh, commander of the Kurdish forces at the border town of Kobane (Ain al-Arab) that is besieged by ISIL tanks and artillery, says that he expects massacres of its inhabitants if it falls to the Sunni Arab extremists.

He warned that ISIL fighters are less than a mile from his front line.

Despite US air strikes, ISIL has drawn up some 25 tanks and a number of artillery pieces to pound Kobane repeatedly.

A New Nuclear Arms Race: Why Peace Activists Must Wage an Open Battle Against the Democratic Party

The New York Times published a front-page story on Sept. 22 titled “U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal In Nuclear Arms” followed by two subtitles: “Obstacle to Obama Vow” and “Billed as Path to Disarm, Buildup Could Have Opposite Effect.”

At crucial junctures, at least the better bourgeois newspapers are obliged to pay closer attention to reality. As reporters William J. Broad and David E. Sanger wrote:

The Walmart Heirs Are Worth More Than Everyone in Your City Combined

Everybody knows that middle-class incomes have stagnated while those of the richest Americans have skyrocketed, but the trend is even more pronounced when you look at the relative fortunes of the super-duper rich. Consider the Walmart heirs: Since 1983, their net worth has increased a staggering 6,700 percent.

This Is Why People Are Getting Frustrated With Real Estate Agents

When it comes to cutting land transfer taxes that tack on thousands to the cost of a home, Canada’s realtors are happy to talk.

But when it comes to realtors’ fees, which have been soaring in recent years in tandem with house prices, the realtor lobby will accept no questions. And they will tell you you're not even allowed to ask about it.

The Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) hosted a campaign event for Doug Ford this week, giving him a venue to promote his plan to cut Toronto’s land transfer tax by 15 per cent.

Stephen Harper is always gung-ho about war

Wars need propaganda, which needs the demonization of the enemy, which is not difficult with the Islamic State jihadists who are brutal, barbaric, psychopathic murderers, ethnic cleansers, etc. But there are several such groups, or worse, across the globe. There are even countries that kill civilians with abandon. Yet we are not at war with them — Canadians are not the John Wayne vigilantes of the world.

The war on the Islamic State is not authorized by the United Nations.

Harper’s Iraq plan may make matters worse, says former ambassador

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will put Canada’s proposed combat military mission in Iraq to a vote on Monday. Recent polls have suggested that Canadians slightly favour the bombing mission to confront the threat posed by the extremist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It comes as no surprise that Canadians want to help and “do something.”

But Harper’s plan to send Canadian warplanes to join the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing of Iraq may just make matters worse.

Netanyahu Fooled the New York Times -- For One Day

Ever the clever one, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was up to his old tricks again this week. On Monday, he addressed a half empty UN General Assembly chamber and then came to Washington for what was reported to be a rather chilly meeting with President Obama.

Rival Protesters Face Off In Hong Kong

HONG KONG, Oct 4 (Reuters) - More than a thousand rival protesters, some wearing helmets, faced off in a densely populated, gritty district of Hong Kong on Saturday, fueling concerns that the Chinese-controlled city's worst unrest in decades could take a more violent turn.

After a night of trouble which resulted in 19 arrests, supporters of the city's pro-Beijing government rallied next to pro-democracy protesters in Mong Kok, a working class neighborhood near the popular shopping district of Tsim Tsa Shui.

Human Handprint Marks Australia’s Hottest Year

LONDON—Scientists are fond of saying that it is difficult to pin the blame for any one climate event onto climate change. But they have just made an exception by reporting that many things that happened in Australia in 2013 bore the signature of man-made climate change.

In that one year, Australia recorded its hottest day ever, its hottest month in the history books, its hottest summer, its hottest spring, and its hottest year overall.

Budget for Iraq mission could remain hidden for months

Members of Parliament are being asked to vote Monday on the government’s proposed combat mission in Iraq but it may be some time before Canadians know just how much the mission will cost taxpayers.

Asked by iPolitics how much is being budgeted for the six-month mission unveiled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper Friday, Treasury Board President Tony Clement avoided answering.

“I think that obviously we will have answers to that and they will be published in due course,” he said. “Obviously, this will be something that will be over and above the regular budget for the Canadian Forces.”

How Labour Unions Make Us Healthier

Unequal societies are sick societies, and today's Canada is falling deeper than ever into the fever dreams and night sweats generated by growing inequality, recent research from the Broadbent Institute suggests.

The Institute, founded by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent and widely viewed as close to his party, has published Haves and Have Nots, a study of wealth inequality in Canada. The findings show that in 2012 the wealthiest 10 per cent of Canadians controlled nearly half of the nation's wealth while the least wealthy half owned less than six per cent. (In fact, the poorest 30 per cent of Canadians own only one per cent of national wealth.) And our province is a national leader in wealth inequality, with the richest 10 per cent of British Columbians controlling over 56 per cent of provincial wealth.

What I Saw with a German Tour of the Oilsands

When a foreign delegation was invited by Alberta to view the oilsands, this is what they saw: humming high tech, no destruction of the landscape. Not more, really, than a few scratches in the earth.

But some visitors didn't quite believe what they were seeing.

Last month I joined a delegation of German officials and business people curious to learn how Canada exploits its oilsands.

We were taken by the oil company Cenovus to Christina Lake (about 150 kilometers south of Fort McMurray) and shown where steam is injected underground to melt tarry bitumen, which is then sucked out in a process called SAGD. From above, the drilling operation looked like a gigantic spider. In the middle of the drilling platform, brown buildings stood on pillars. From each side, eight long silver pipelines reached out, bent and then disappeared into the soil. It was quiet. You could not smell oil. You could not even see any oil. Nevertheless, here, we were told by representatives of Cenovus, their company extracts around 20,000 barrels of oil from Alberta's soil every day.

Why Phone and Cable Companies Want to Kill the Internet's Most Democratic Right

Net Neutrality -- the principle that protects Internet users' free speech rights -- is censorship. 

Did you get that? You did if you happened to be reading the Wall Street Journal'seditorial pages. Former Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell recently wrote a screed claiming that Net Neutrality supporters have taken a turn "toward undermining free speech." 

Free Market Forces Will Not Save US Education -- They Will Destroy It

Fans of market forces for education simply don't understand how market forces actually work.

What they like to say is that free market competition breeds excellence. It does not, and it never has.

Free market competition breeds excellent marketing. McDonald's did not become successful by creating the most excellent food. Coke and Pepsi are not that outstandingly superior to RC or any store brand. Betamax was actually technically superior to VHS, but VHS had a better marketing plan.

Thomas Mulcair's Speech On Iraq Combat Mission

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told the House of Commons Friday that Canada should not "rush into war" with airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Justin Trudeau's Speech Against Iraq Combat Mission

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced Friday that his party will not support a motion from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to authorize airstrikes, for up to six months, against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Ferguson Protesters Outfitted In Orange Jumpsuits And Jailed With High Bail

ST. ANN, Mo. -- More than a dozen people arrested during protests outside the Ferguson Police Department early Friday were outfitted with orange prison jumpsuits, slapped with high bail and locked behind bars for hours longer than most others arrested in earlier demonstrations against the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

No cover for PM if Iraq mission goes bad

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is embarking on a combat mission in Iraq with no political cover should anything go awry.

New Democrats and Liberals refused Friday to support Harper's decision to join in airstrikes against the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has been committing atrocities in northern Iraq.

Harper appeared to anticipate going it alone, telling the House of Commons: "I do this recognizing that in a democracy, especially one approaching an election, there is rarely political upside in supporting any kind of military action and little risk in opposing it."

Why Economic Inequality Is Not a Bigger Political Issue

If critics of income inequality are wondering why the growing gap between rich and poor hasn’t been a more potent political issue in the upcoming elections, a new study offers some answers: Americans grossly underestimate this inequality. That’s one of the key findings of a survey showing the gap between CEO and average worker pay in America is more than 10 times larger than the typical American perceives.

In the report, Harvard University and Chulalongkorn University researchers analyzed survey data from 40 countries about perceptions of pay gaps between rich and poor. In every country, respondents underestimated the size of the gap between CEO and average worker pay. In the United States, for example, the researchers found the median American respondent estimated that the ratio of CEO to worker income is about 30-to-1. In reality, the gap is more than 350-to-1.

Harper Says Canada Will Bomb ISIS In Syria If Murderous Despot Asks Him To

Stephen Harper said Friday that Canada will bomb ISIS in Syria if it receives permission from the government of Bashar al-Assad, the same government the prime minister supported military action against after it used chemical weapons on its own people.

In a speech outlining the case for Canada to contribute fighter jets to the mission against ISIS in Iraq, Harper said Canada might also extend operations to Syria.

Soldiers, Don't Trust Canada to Bring You Home From Iraq Alive

There are 26 Special Forces soldiers in Iraq until at least October 5 acting as military advisors to the Iraqi military. I have worked with the Special Forces on two separate occasions and have friends that are members of this elite group of men and women. CSOR and JTF are some of the most trained forces on the planet and watching them work was among some of the highlights of my career. As I think back to being deployed to Afghanistan and times I spent working for these organizations, I am reminded of time when my platoon was fortunate enough to do a convoy dropping off supplies to the JTF. I can still remember dismounting and being told to go get a hot lunch at the mess. As I walked in the oppressive August heat I remember seeing the most built man I have ever seen riding a stationary bike in the sun. His beard down to his chest and the rapid pace he was pedaling did not match how easily he was breathing.

Only Fascist and Communist Dictatorships Alter History to Promote 'Patriotism.' Conservative Attacks on Curriculum Are Dangerous

The beauty of America is that love for this country isn't "promoted" by political parties desperately seeking new voters, or by a paranoid government intent on silencing dissent. When we look into the mirror as a nation, we're comfortable with our numerous blemishes; we don't need a historical version of plastic surgery. According to the Pew Research Center, "In 2011, the typical white household had a net worth of $91,405, compared with $6,446 for black households." Do slavery, Jim Crow, and the struggle for civil rights correlate to this egregious wealth disparity between whites and blacks in America, or is it the fault of poor decision making on the behalf of individuals?

Emerson College: We Have No Legal Duty To Protect Students From Rape

In a response this week to a lawsuit from a rape survivor, Emerson College claimed it had no legal obligation to prevent the student from being sexually assaulted and argued the suit should be dismissed.

Jillian Doherty sued the Boston school in federal court last month. She had previously helped file a federal complaint against the school, prompting the current U.S. Department of Education investigation of the college. Doherty's suit contends Emerson's handling of her rape case exacerbated her depression and post-traumatic stress, and also negatively affected her grades, ultimately leading her to leave the school.