Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Is JPMorgan Chase Profiting Off of Forced Evictions in China?

In recent years, forced evictions have become a flashpoint for demonstrations across China. International watchdogs have called the practice a human rights emergency on a massive scale. Often carried out in coordination with cash-strapped local governments, these evictions have "resulted in deaths, beatings, harassment and imprisonment of residents who have been forced from their homes across the country in both rural and urban areas," according to a 2012 Amnesty International report. "With no access to justice some have turned to violence or even self-immolation as a last resort."

How John Baird will cash in by quitting Parliament early

If it’s crass to talk about money while parliamentarians and pundits are praising John Baird’s political prowess and pondering his legacy, pardon my etiquette.

But one piece of the story is still missing. By stepping down this year, the former foreign affairs minister locked in his entitlement to an annual parliamentary pension of $64,381 starting at the age of 55. Had he waited until 2016, when new rules take effect, his golden handshake would not have been available until his 60th birthday.

To most Canadians, financial freedom at 60 still sounds pretty attractive. But for Baird, it would have meant forfeiting more than $320,000.

Living in authoritarian democracy

The weakening of fundamental human rights such as the rights of association and of expression, the State-sponsored intrusion in the private realm via secret electronic surveillance, the creation of powerful media conglomerates, the reduction of citizenship to voting rights, etc.: in the wake of such events, even the most charitable observer of liberal democracy could ask if this regime is not experiencing an authoritarian turn.
Worse still, is it not in the very spirit of representative government to concentrate power in the hand of the few? Indeed, at its origins, the representative regime was devised to allow for a small number of powerful men to make, between equals, the "best" decisions for the community.

Russian bank that hired John Baird’s onetime chief-of-staff removed from list of firms facing sanctions

OTTAWA — A Russian bank hired John Baird’s onetime provincial chief of staff to lobby the federal government to get the bank removed from the list of Russian firms facing sanctions over Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.

The then-Foreign Affairs Minister subsequently removed the bank from the list, but he and the lobbyist both say they never spoke about the matter. Meanwhile, ExpoBank LLC’s representatives say that it was only added to the list as a result of mistaken identity.

Expobank was added to the list April 28, 2014. A month later, lobbyist Will Stewart registered with the commissioner of lobbying “for the purpose of making an application to remove ExpoBank from the Schedule to the Special Economic Measures (Russia) Regulations.”

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s War on Workers

Bruce Rauner’s campaign for governor of Illinois hit a rough spot when it was revealed that he was talking about lowering the minimum wage.

That’s right, lowering.

At a December, 2013, Republican campaign forum, the wealthy candidate declared, “I will advocate moving the Illinois minimum wage back to the national minimum wage. I think we’ve got to be competitive here in Illinois. It’s critical we’re competitive. We’re hurting our economy by having the minimum wage above the national. We’ve got to move back to the national.”

Harper gets questions. Two of them. Here’s how they were picked.

Last night at about 7:30 pm on Parliament Hill, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a statement to reporters and then allowed us to ask a couple of questions.
The PMO restricted the Canadian reporters present — about 15 of us — to a total of two questions, one of which would be put to him in French and one in English. No follow-ups. For years now, this has been the standard operating procedure for “media avails” when this PM hosts a foreign leader. Two questions. No followups.

How should Parliament keep an eye on CSIS?

“Mr. Speaker, the security intelligence review committee is the same body that said in its last report that CSIS ‘seriously misled’ it in one of its investigations, and that was just last year,” Tom Mulcair told the House last Wednesday. “How can the Prime Minister contemplate radically expanding the powers of CSIS without equally expanding oversight? Is it because the Prime Minister believes, just like his minister, that the oversight that protects Canadians from abuse of power is just red tape?”

The Prime Minister was entirely unmoved by any of this.

A Unilingual Foreign Affairs Minister Is a National Embarrassment

A country must understand and be loyal to its roots. One of Canada's roots is its linguistic duality. Our history gives the Government of Canada the duty to promote the double heritage of our two official languages, French and English. This double heritage belongs to all Canadians.

By appointing a unilingual Foreign Affairs Minister, Rob Nicholson, Prime Minister Harper fails to understand his role to protect this precious heritage. He also handicaps heavily our country's ability to take advantage of our linguistic duality on the world stage. In 2015, it is totally unacceptable.

It's Time Canada Did Some Long-term Thinking About Oil

If lower oil prices are as bad for Canada's economy as rate-cutting Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz insists it is, the central bank might consider assessing the risks to the economy in a world where constraining carbon emissions becomes less of an abstract notion and more of a daily reality. For a petro-economy such as Canada's, the financial risks associated with the pending battle against climate change are much greater than any cyclical downturn in oil prices.

The bank would be wise to consider the future we're heading towards. When even energy-friendly bodies such as the International Energy Agency say the world needs to act now if we're to avoid the worst outcomes of what climate change has to offer the planet, then Canada should realize it can ill afford to stick its head in the sand any longer. Indeed, the Canadian economy will need much more than a minor cut in interest rates to adapt to what's coming. Instead, the country will need to make some major shifts in economic strategy.

Oil Workers Are Striking Because They're Underpaid and Overworked—and It's Killing Them

Workers at nine American refinery and chemical plants walked off the job on February 1, marking their first nationwide oil strike in 35 years. By Sunday, the strikes expanded to include more than 5,000 workers at 11 refineries, who are demanding better wages, benefits, and work conditions.

Like most strikes, the workers, represented by United Steelworkers, are asking for a raise. They also want to be safer on the job.

Report: 151 Palestinian children being held in Israeli prisons

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — At least 151 Palestinian children are currently being held as “security prisoners” in Israeli jails, Palestinian legal monitor Military Court Watch said in a statement on Tuesday.

The group said that 47 percent of those are being held inside Israel in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prevents the transfer of detainees outside of occupied territory as it limits their families’ and lawyers’ abilities to visit.

Obama Is Leading the Way Toward Economic Catastrophe

Disregard the happy talk from the Obama White House. The stagnant global economy remains at the precipice of something worse unfolding—full-blown deflation. And the so-called recovery in the US economy remains shaky, despite good employment numbers. Here and abroad, the governing authorities seem to have forgotten the most basic nature of our situation. We live now in a globalized economy where one nation’s cold can lead to another country’s heart attack. Their ignorance is shocking, but also dangerous.

In fact, the US and other leading economies are beginning to mimic some of the same grave errors governments committed in the distant past, circa 1929, when spreading collapses of banks and financial markets morphed into the Great Depression. I am not predicting such a catastrophic outcome, not yet anyway. But the risk is present. The road to the Great Depression was paved with similarly myopic strategies. This president is not Herbert Hoover. But he might someday be remembered as Wrong-Way Obama.

The Koch Brothers Raised $249 Million at Their Latest Donor Summit

At their most recent retreat in Southern California two weeks ago, the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch and 450 of their donor-allies announced plans to spend $889 million over the next two years to influence state and federal elections and shape the national discourse. The money would go to bankrolling political activity, funding think tanks and academic research, and fueling grassroots organizing efforts around the country—all in support of the Kochs' pro-business, free-market-centric ideology. That eye-popping, nine-figure goal made national headlines, but what wasn't reported was that the Kochs and their allies were already well on their way to banking that huge amount of money.

Adoption of Bill 10: A Sad Day for Democracy

The Couillard government has chosen its camp: it has decided to side with the powerful who have no qualms about crushing conflicting or dissenting voices in order to impose their vision. It took less than a year for the man who presented the Liberals as the most respectful and transparent government in our history to attack democracy. And what better opportunity to ride roughshod over democracy than a bill that dismantles our public system of health care and social services?

Harper's anti-terror bill is a real barn burner

Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigour has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Brand-new anti-terrorism legislation is coming to keep us all safe. True, we'll get a secret police with the power to break the law and our freedom of expression will contract. But it's an election year and Stephen Harper has found his political wedge.

Harper equates fighting terrorism with mass surveillance

In the most recent Snowden revelations, it has come to light that the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) -- the digital surveillance and intelligence arm of the Canadian government -- has been conducting a program that amounts to 'mass surveillance'.
Levitation, as the project is called, is designed to collect, store and analyze the histories and activity patterns of Internet users who upload or download "suspicious files." Each time one of these files is created or downloaded onto someone's computer, the CSE tracks that user's activity for five hours before and after the file has been accessed.

Cabinet shuffle: Nicholson to Foreign Affairs (bizarre!), Poilievre to Employment (insulting!)

Rob Nicholson, Stephen Harper's new Foreign Affairs Minister, is not only fluently unilingual, he has never shown much in the way of charm, affability, wit or any other of the skills one normally associates with diplomacy. 
His personality in the House of Commons could be summed up in two words: dry and sour.
But, as we said in this space after John Baird took his leave, the Prime Minister's taste almost never fails to baffle. 

Ottawa's anti-terror, corruption crackdowns show the problem with rushing in

The federal government has recently taken two strong initiatives linked to the troubled state of the world — one designed to counter potential corruption and bribery by Canadian firms abroad, the other to confront the jihadist threat at home.

Both are meant, at least in part, to toughen up Canada's image in the world, and both have stirred up considerable opposition among those who think Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expanding government powers too far.

Syria's President Assad Is Still Pounding Damascus Residential Districts, With Dozens Killed In Ghouta

The world may be gripped by the horrors perpetrated by the Islamic State group, but a wider bloodbath provoked by Syria's civil war is continuing unabated, with several hundred people killed in the past week alone.

Syrian opposition activists said Friday that the government has increased airstrikes against their strongholds in recent days in hopes of wearing out rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.

David Cameron Calls For Pay Rises... But TUC Condemns His 'Pre-Election Mood Music'

David Cameron is urging businesses to give their employees pay rises but a union leader has condemned this as "pre-election mood music" and said the prime minister has presided over the worst fall in living standards since the Victoria era.

Cameron will tell the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference that economic success should be demonstrated not just in the GDP figures but in the contents of workers' wallets.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner Blocks Unions From Collecting 'Fair Share' Fees

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) continued his campaign against labor unions on Monday, using executive authority to block public employee unions from collecting mandatory fees from workers.

Rauner told The Chicago Sun-Times that unions violate the First Amendment by using the funds to make contributions to political candidates. More than 6,500 employees in Illinois are required to pay "fair share fees," Rauner told the Chicago Tribune. Non-union workers in Illinois must pay fair share fees in lieu of union dues to cover costs of negotiating a contract that benefits them. Public employee unions in the state are required to represent all workers in a collective bargaining unit, regardless of whether they are members of the labor organization.

Privacy Protection Just Got Tougher

The past 10 days have been a difficult time for Canadians concerned with privacy and civil liberties. Strike one came with new Edward Snowden revelations regarding Canada's role in the daily tracking of the internet activities of millions.

Strike two was the introduction of Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation, which sparked concern from observers across the country. Strike three came with the response to those developments, with the government dismissing oversight mechanisms as "red tape" and the opposition parties choosing to focus on process rather than substance.

Anti-communist monument a ‘blight’ on Supreme Court precinct, Ottawa mayor says

The mayor of Ottawa is hoping plans for a large grey monument to the victims of communism near the Supreme Court of Canada will be reconsidered now that a new federal minister is in charge of the national capital region.

Monday’s cabinet shuffle saw Nepean-Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre promoted as employment minister and also minister responsible for the National Capital Commission, effectively making him the senior political minister for the Ottawa-Gatineau region.

Inside The Koch Campaign To Reform Criminal Justice

WASHINGTON -- Koch Industries, Inc., the corporation led by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, is holding discussions with a coalition of strange bedfellows to tackle criminal justice reform.

In conversations with people like Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and organizations like the ACLU, the Koch brothers are homing in on reducing overcriminalization and mass incarceration, as well as reforming practices like civil forfeiture. Progressives, rather than giving the Kochs the stink eye, are welcoming their efforts.

Koch Industries general counsel and senior vice president Mark Holden told The Huffington Post that he met with Booker and his staff a few weeks ago. The New Jersey Democrat and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are co-sponsoring the REDEEM Act, legislation that would give states incentives to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18, among other reforms.

Christian Group Fires Woman For Not Making Efforts ‘To Reconcile Her Marriage’ And Now She Can’t Sue

A federal court has ruled that a woman cannot sue a Christian campus organization that fired her for having a troubled marriage, even though the group reportedly didn’t let go two male staffers when they divorced their wives.
According to MLive, Alyce Conlon worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship — an evangelical Christian organization — in various capacities since 1986, eventually landing a job as a spiritual director in Grand Rapids, Michigan from 2004 to 2011. But when she informed her superiors that her marriage had fallen into disarray, Conlon says InterVarsity — which purports to uphold the sanctity of marriage, according to MLive — put her on paid leave to afford her an opportunity to salvage her relationship.

Business group’s influence in Ottawa reaches new heights

Call it a bizarre love triangle.

At least that’s what it looked like last week when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair squared off in the House of Commons over the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and its president and CEO, Dan Kelly.

Using different examples to support their cases, both Mulcair and Harper argued over which political party the CFIB favours more.