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.]

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thomas Mulcair Remains Open To Coalition With Trudeau Liberals

MONTREAL - NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is reiterating his openness to a possible coalition with the Liberals if it is necessary to topple Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

While expressing confidence he will become prime minister with a majority government, Mulcair told reporters Tuesday the scenario of a minority government cannot be excluded and that turfing the Tories is imperative.

The Opposition leader accused his Liberal counterpart, Justin Trudeau, of putting personal interests ahead of those of Canadians.

Harper taking flak from legal experts over rural gun-justice remarks

Ontario’s former attorney general is accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of irresponsibly counselling Canadians to commit a crime by using guns for their own security.

In an interview Tuesday with the Citizen, Michael Bryant said the prime minister has completely “misstated” the truth about Canada’s laws by linking gun ownership with the right of rural Canadians to use firearms for their own safety if police forces aren’t close enough to respond.

Bryant’s assessment of whether Canadians have the automatic legal right to use a gun to defend themselves was echoed by other legal experts and a spokesman for the Canadian Bar Association.

How Bill C-51 Eviscerates Privacy Protection

As witnesses line up to warn about the dangers associated with Bill C-51, Canada's anti-terrorism bill, it is increasingly clear that the proposed legislation is an unprecedented undermining of Canadian privacy protection.

Much of the focus on the bill has related to oversight: the government implausibly claims that it increases oversight (it does not), the Liberals disappointingly say they support the bill but would like better oversight, and much of the NDP criticism has also centred on oversight. Yet with respect to privacy and Bill C-51, lack of oversight is only a part of the problem.

'Stay The Hell Where You Came From': Tory MP Sorry For Niqab Remarks

A Conservative MP has apologized for telling Muslim women who don't want to remove a face-covering veil while taking the oath of citizenship to "stay the hell where you came from."

Larry Miller, MP for the Ontario riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, made the remarks Monday on a local radio show, "Open Line with Bill Murdoch." The MP was discussing the government's appeal of a Federal Court ruling that overturned a ban on the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship ceremony.

While conceding he was putting things "a little harshly," Miller said most Canadians feel the same way.

Tory MP’s ‘inappropriate comments’ about women wearing niqab ignites firestorm

OTTAWA—A Conservative backbencher was forced to back away from comments that women who refuse to remove their niqab while swearing their citizenship oath should “stay the hell where they came from.”
Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound MP Larry Miller issued a retraction Tuesday after his comments to a local call-in radio show sparked a firestorm online.

Being White Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Protests against racist policing practices in Ferguson, Missouri and all throughout this country have largely been peaceful. Yet the shooting of two Ferguson police officers last week—a shooting that has not been clearly associated with the protests—has been used to discredit an entire movement, to cast a whole wave of social justice activism as violent and sinister.

A few states away, in Oklahoma, a video showing a white American fraternity chapter singing with reportedly drunken glee about how excluding and enacting violence on black men has laid bare anew a core truth about race in America: being white means never having to say you’re sorry.

Canada Ratifies Cluster Bomb Treaty After Years Of Controversy

OTTAWA - The Harper government faced criticism Tuesday that it was undermining the international convention to ban deadly cluster bombs, as it ratified the treaty after more than half a decade of controversy.

Canada signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008, but dragged its heels on ratifying it in the face of widespread international complaints, including from the usually neutral International Committee of the Red Cross.

The opposition stemmed from a loophole in its ratification law that would allow the Canadian Forces to be involved in the use of cluster bombs in joint operations with the United States, which has opted out of the convention.

Income Splitting Won't Help Poor And Will Cost $2.2. Billion, Budget Watchdog Says

The Conservatives’ controversial income-splitting plan will do nothing for low-income families but will cost the government $2.2. billion and will eliminate jobs, Canada’s budget watchdog said Tuesday.

The plan, promised in the 2011 election, would allow one spouse to transfer up to $50,000 of taxable income to their lower-income spouse. This allows the top-earning spouse to avoid a higher tax bracket and the household would pay less in taxes overall. It only applies to households with children under the age of 18.

Canadians oppose niqab during citizenship ceremony, poll suggests

Two-thirds of Canadians oppose allowing women to wear the face-covering niqab during citizenship ceremonies, a new poll by Forum Research suggests.

The public opinion survey, conducted Friday and Saturday, found that 67 per cent of respondents oppose the idea, while fewer than a quarter (22 per cent) are in support. Ten per cent are undecided.

A total of 1,370 Canadian adults took part in the survey.

Regionally, opposition was highest in Quebec, where 87 per cent of respondents oppose the niqab during citizenship ceremonies, and lowest in the Atlantic provinces, where 54 per cent of respondents oppose the idea.

Income splitting helps fewer than 1 in 6 families, PBO says

The parliamentary budget officer says the family tax cut announced last year will cost the federal government about $2.2 billion this year and will benefit fewer than one in six households.

The program is meant to fulfill the Conservatives' 2011 election promise to bring in income splitting for families once the budget was balanced.

"The FTC [family tax credit] benefits about two million households, or 15 per cent of the Canadian total," a newly released report by the PBO says.

It goes on to say "middle and middle-high income households benefit most because they are more likely to have a family income and income tax structure conducive to FTC gains."

CSIS briefings on Northern Gateway protests prompts further concerns about C-51

News reports are heightening concerns about how C-51, the Harper government's so-called "anti-terrorism" legislation, could be used against people protesting against its extreme resource extraction agenda of tar sands expansion and pipelines.
The Canadian Press reports, "Canada's spy agency helped senior federal officials figure out how to deal with protests expected last summer in response to resource and energy development issues -- including a pivotal decision on the Northern Gateway pipeline. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service prepared advice and briefing material for two June meetings of the deputy ministers' committee on resources and energy, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show."

Republicans Attack Wall Street Reform In Budget Plan

WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) - Republican lawmakers took aim at the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law Tuesday, unveiling a plan that would gut regulators' authority to manage the collapse of big banks and give Congress direct control of the U.S. consumer finance bureau's budget.

The effort to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank is part of a broader fiscal 2016 budget plan released by the House of Representatives budget committee that calls for eliminating deficits and also repealing the president's signature Affordable Care Act.

Republican Budget Offers Deep Cuts To End Deficits In 2024

WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) - U.S. House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a budget that seeks to eliminate deficits by 2024 through deep cuts to social safety net programs, domestic spending and another attempt at repealing "Obamacare" health reforms.

The plan from House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price proposes $5.468 trillion in spending cuts and interest savings over 10 years compared to current tax and spending policies.

Higher Education and the Politics of Disruption

We now live at a time in which institutions that were meant to limit human suffering and misfortune and protect the public from the excesses of the market have been either weakened or abolished. (1) The consequences can be seen clearly in the ongoing and ruthless assault on the social state, workers, unions, higher education, students, poor people of color and any vestige of the social contract. Free-market policies, values and practices - with their emphasis on the privatization of public wealth, the elimination of social protections and the deregulation of economic activity - now shape practically every commanding political and economic institution in the United States.

Black Comedy in the Maldives

International climate and democracy hero Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, has been sentenced to thirteen years in prison for alleged “terrorism” after a controversial trial that Amnesty International condemned as “a travesty of justice.” The governments of the United States, Great Britain, the European Union, Canada and India have said they are “deeply concerned” that the trial was not “conducted in a transparent and impartial manner or in accordance with due legal process,” in the words of Hugo Swire, a British Foreign Office minister. Nasheed responded to the sentence by giving a statement to the court that urged citizens of the Maldives “to stay courageous and strong, to confront the dictatorial power of this regime…[and] to take all of your lives in your hands and go out onto the streets in protest.”

Government orders federal departments to keep tabs on all demonstrations across country

The federal government is expanding its surveillance of public activities to include all known demonstrations across the country, a move that collects information even on the most mundane of protests by Canadians.

The email requesting such information was sent out Tuesday by the Government Operations Centre in Ottawa to all federal departments.

“The Government Operations Centre is seeking your assistance in compiling a comprehensive listing of all known demonstrations which will occur either in your geographical area or that may touch on your mandate,” noted the email, leaked to the Citizen. “We will compile this information and make this information available to our partners unless of course, this information is not to be shared and not available on open sources. In the case of the latter, this information will only be used by the GOC for our Situational Awareness.”

The melting of Antarctica was already really bad. It just got worse.

A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.

Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again. Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note — when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity.

Chris Christie's Tax Breaks Reward Political Insiders

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Under Republican Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey has authorized more than $2 billion in economic development tax breaks since 2014, often to corporations with notable political connections. One grant went to a developer who owes millions of dollars on an unpaid state loan, an Associated Press review found.

That total of tax breaks handed out by New Jersey's Economic Development Authority is more than the total amount issued during the decade before Christie took office.

GAO: U.S. Government Gave Away $125 Billion In Questionable Benefits Last Year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal agencies set a new record for improper payments last year, shelling out $125 billion in questionable benefits after years of declines.

The payments included tax credits for families that didn't qualify, Medicare payments for treatments that might not have been necessary, and unemployment benefits for people who were actually working.

Improper payments increased by $19 billion over the previous year, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. In addition to fraud, the errors included overpayments and underpayments, as well as payments made without proper documentation.

Netanyahu Fights For Right-Wing Vote As Israelis Go To The Polls

JERUSALEM (AP) -- With his political future in question, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday made a last-ditch appeal as Israelis went to the polls in a tight parliamentary election, warning his hard-line supporters that high Arab turnout was endangering his right-wing party's dominance.

Opinion polls had shown a close race heading into the vote, with Netanyahu's opponents, led by Isaac Herzog of the centrist Zionist Union, in a slight lead. They also showed gains by a combined Arab list that could emerge as a kingmaker. The last available poll was published Friday, when a significant number of voters were still undecided, meaning the race was still too close to call.

Apartheid Forever: Israel’s Netanyahu Rules Out Palestinian Statehood

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, under extreme pressure over the real possibility that he will lose the March 17 elections, has made a powerful appeal to his far right wing constituency by openly admitting that he will never allow a Palestinian state and that he intends to flood Israeli squatters into East Jerusalem and its environs to make sure this Occupied territory never returns to the Palestinians.

Millions of Palestinians whose families were violently expelled from their homes by Jewish settlers in Mandate Palestine in 1947-48 remain stateless.  These include the people of Gaza, the West Bank (four million) and a million or more in diasporas in Lebanon, Syria, and other countries.  A million Palestinians are now citizens in Israel, and others have rights of citizenship in far-flung places like Chile and Honduras, as well as the United States.  But I figure five million at least remain stateless.

The F-35 Is Still FUBAR

Originally slated to cost $233 billion, the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Strike Fighterprogram could end up being costing more than $1.5 trillion. Which might not be so bad if the super-sophisticated next-generation jet fighter lives up to its hype. Arecent report from the Defense Department's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation paints a pretty damning picture of the plane's already well documented problems. The report makes for some pretty dense reading, but the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group that's long criticized the F-35 program, has boiled down the major issues.

Here's What a Close Friend of the Clintons Said About Them in His Diary

In 1999, three weeks after retiring from the US Senate, Arkansas Democrat Dale Bumpers flew back to the nation's capital to save his friend of 25 years, President Bill Clinton, from impeachment. Delivering the closing argument for the defense during Clinton's Senate trial, he testified to Clinton's character. "In all of those years, and all those hundreds of times we've been together, both in public and in private," Bumpers said, "I have never one time seen the president conduct himself in a way that did not reflect the highest credit on him, his family, his state, and his beloved nation." His speech was hailed by the press—and by Clinton—as a key ingredient in the president's ultimate acquittal.

C-51 hearings a real-time demonstration of committee dysfunction

A few years ago, it was as close to what passes on Parliament Hill as an article of faith that committees — as opposed to the House of Commons chamber — were where real parliamentary business was done.

You don't hear that argument very often anymore.

These days, House committees offer little more than a reprise of the same partisan theatrics on display during question period, recast to pit parliamentary secretaries against opposition backbenchers before a slightly smaller live studio audience.

"Stay the hell where you came from": Conservative MP shares thoughts on niqab

A Conservative MP took to the airwaves Monday to tell Muslim women to "stay the hell where you came from" if they insist on wearing a niqab.

Speaking Monday on a local radio station in his riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound about the niqab controversy (the Conservative government is challenging a Federal Court ruling that struck down the ban on face-covering niqabs during the citizenship oath), Larry Miller acknowledged it may sound "harsh," but so be it.

"I think most Canadians feel the same. That's maybe saying it a little harshly, but it's the way I feel," Miller told local radio station CFOS.

Should Canadians be worried about tyranny or fascism?

Seen on the Internet next to a picture of Conservative Stephen Harper: "From 1939 to 1945 we fought fascists, why should we vote for them?"
The Conservative Party of Canada only pretends to be conservative. rabble.caparliamentary reporter Karl Nerenberg recently laid out a series of reasons why they are not part of the Canadian Conservative political family.
The Cons and their leader are not fascists either. In fascism, the economy -- labour and capital -- is subservient to the nationalist state. In Canada, as in most Western societies, the state is subservient to corporate capitalism.

CSIS helped government prepare for expected Northern Gateway protests

OTTAWA - Canada's spy agency helped senior federal officials figure out how to deal with protests expected last summer in response to resource and energy development issues — including a pivotal decision on the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service prepared advice and briefing material for two June meetings of the deputy ministers' committee on resources and energy, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show.

The issue was driven by violence during demonstrations against natural-gas fracking in New Brunswick the previous summer and the government's interest in "assuming a proactive approach" in 2014, says a newly declassified memo from Tom Venner, CSIS assistant director for policy and strategic partnerships.

Yet Another Case for Universal Pharmacare

Canadians may feel smug about 50 years of Medicare (especially compared to the Americans), but we're paying far more than we need to for prescription drugs -- and actually running up the cost of healthcare in the process.

A study published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal argues that we are the lone exception among countries with universal health insurance in making some patients pay the costs of the drugs they need. Yet some kind of universal pharmacare system, the authors say, has been repeatedly recommended in Canada since the 1964 Royal Commission on Health Services.

Minimum Wage Workers Not the Only Ones Getting Screwed

Last week, the B.C. government reacted to the increasing push for a higher minimum wage... by giving minimum wage workers a 20 cent raise. Even Business in Vancouver magazine quoted UBC labour economist David Green calling the new higher wage "laughably low." What perhaps hasn't received enough attention is that the two-dime bump in the minimum wage -- the first in three years -- is not that far out of line with stagnant wages across the economy. For instance, the average wage in British Columbia grew by 14 cents in 2014!

The mysterious disappearance of poverty

How do you help the poor? It is a very old question. The Roman emperor Nero found the answer in the advice of Stoic philosophers like Seneca, and built an awe-inspiring palace covered in gold leaf. This would fill the lower classes with gratitude for being blessed with such a glorious leader. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Roman senate ended Nero’s reign by ordering him to commit suicide four years later.

In the 21st century, our answers are not much better than Nero’s. This is once again obvious, as the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics recently published six studies looking at the impact of microfinance on poverty.

Chris Christie Officials Sent Pension Money To Subsidiary of Donor’s Foreign Firm

Two years ago, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pursued re-election, his administration found itself mulling investment options for the state’s $80 billion pension fund. In one deal in May 2013, officials settled on a subsidiary of U.K.-based foreign financial conglomerate Prudential plc. With little fanfare, state pension overseers quickly endorsed the deal.

Weeks later, a Hong Kong-based executive director and board member of Prudential plc delivered a maximum $3,800 contribution to Christie’s gubernatorial campaign, followed by a maximum $32,400 donation to the Republican National Committee, which was about to launch a get-out-the-vote effort for Christie. Two months after that, New Jersey began moving public employees’ retirement savings into two funds managed by the Prudential subsidiary as part of the state’s new $300 million investment commitment to the company.

Russia Launches Massive Arctic Military Drills

MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian military on Monday launched sweeping military maneuvers in the Arctic and other areas, a show of force ordered by President Vladimir Putin amid spiraling tensions with the West over Ukraine.

The five-day Arctic drills involving 38,000 servicemen, more than 50 surface ships and submarines and 110 aircraft are intended to check the readiness of Russia's Northern Fleet and the military's ability to deploy additional forces from central Russia.

Obama: It's 'Disturbing' That A Climate Change Denier Chairs Senate Environmental Committee

President Barack Obama told Vice News in an interview released on Monday that it was "disturbing" that the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works denied the existence of climate change.

Obama was referring to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who threw a snowball on the Senate floor earlier this month to help make his case that climate change isn't real. Even though Inhofe cited record low temperatures across the country as evidence that climate change was overplayed, the country has actually been experiencing a warmer than average winter.

'Sunshine List' For Toronto Police Spurs Calls For Review

TORONTO - Toronto's outgoing police chief has been asked to review a program that allows off-duty officers to take on additional security-type assignments after the force's annual "sunshine list" showed more than half of its officers made over $100,000 last year.

The Toronto Police Services Board said it also wants Chief Bill Blair to explain why a "number" of police officers earned more than 50 per cent of their base salary in overtime.

The sunshine list, which details the earnings of police and civilian employees who made more than $100,000 in 2014, was released on Monday.

Government rejects gift of solar panels for Kirribilli House

It was a present intended for the Prime Minister's residence in Sydney.

But a government decision to reject a gift of a set of solar panels for Kirribilli House has seen it come under fire for its attitude toward renewable energy.

Christian lobby group Common Grace crowd funded a set of solar panels in December, hoping the government would agree to install them on Kirribilli House.

The great divide in Toronto housing

Considering the February weather that Torontonians have just endured, the overheated housing market defies all logic. It feels a bit like saying that the average house price in Whitehorse just crossed $1 million.

Along with this new threshold, we hear the all-too-familiar memes: low interest rates, limited supply and excess demand all combine to create a hot and heady marketplace for sellers and real estate agents, even when it feels like -25 C outside. Young buyers beware: either hurry up or make do in a condo.

Israel’s Gilded Age

Why did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel feel the need to wag the dog in Washington? For that was, of course, what he was doing in his anti-Iran speech to Congress. If you’re seriously trying to affect American foreign policy, you don’t insult the president and so obviously align yourself with his political opposition. No, the real purpose of that speech was to distract the Israeli electorate with saber-rattling bombast, to shift its attention away from the economic discontent that, polls suggest, may well boot Mr. Netanyahu from office in Tuesday’s election.

But wait: Why are Israelis discontented? After all, Israel’s economy has performed well by the usual measures. It weathered the financial crisis with minimal damage. Over the longer term, it has grown more rapidly than most other advanced economies, and has developed into a high-technology powerhouse. What is there to complain about?

Bill C-51 solidifies Harper's attitude towards activists

Canada's Harper régime has invented the new crime of being a member of an "anti-Canadian petroleum movement," and equating such a stance with terrorism. Evidently believing it is in danger of losing the fight against pipeline projects intended to speed up Alberta tar sands production, its response is to place environmentalists under surveillance.
A secret report prepared by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police claims that public activism against the problems caused by oil and gas extraction is a growing and violent threat to Canada's national security. The report goes so far as to challenge the very idea that human activity is causing global warming or that global warming is even a problem.