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.]

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ford’s budget chief doesn’t back land tax pledge

Mayor Rob Ford’s budget chief declined on Sunday to endorse Ford’s pledge to eliminate the land transfer tax.

The budget chief, Councillor Mike Del Grande, is a staunch fiscal conservative and one of Ford’s most loyal allies. His comments on Councillor Josh Matlow’s Newstalk 1010 radio show underscored the difficulty Ford will have convincing a majority of council to vote to repeal a tax that will generate about $300 million this year.

Ford’s promise to repeal the tax within a year was a central plank in his campaign platform. On Thursday, he vowed to repeal it in phases, beginning with a cut of perhaps 25 per cent next year.

Matlow asked Del Grande if it was a good idea to repeal the tax without a plan to replace the revenue it provides. Del Grande demurred, saying the city’s budget picture was not yet entirely clear because of ongoing efficiency studies and labour negotiations.

He later said: “Going forward, $300 million is a lot of money.” He added, “I think, again, everybody, collectively, has a right to ask that question. That being said, I think the mayor is very keen on fulfilling all his campaign promises.”

Matlow replied, “But even if they don’t make sense?”

Egypt Protests: Military Police Drag, Beat Female Protesters

CAIRO — Troops pulled women across the pavement by their hair, knocking off their Muslim headscarves. Young activists were kicked in the head until they lay motionless in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Unfazed by TV cameras catching every move, Egypt's military took a dramatically heavier hand Saturday to crush protests against its rule in nearly 48 hours of continuous fighting in Egypt's capital that has left more than 300 injured and nine dead, many of them shot to death.

The most sustained crackdown yet is likely a sign that the generals who took power after the February ouster of Hosni Mubarak are confident that the Egyptian public is on its side after two rounds of widely acclaimed parliament elections, that Islamist parties winning the vote will stay out of the fight while pro-democracy protesters become more isolated.

Still, the generals risk turning more Egyptians against them, especially from outrage over the abuse of women. Photos and video posted online showed troops pulling up the shirt of one woman protester in a conservative headscarf, leaving her half-naked as they dragged her in the street.

Swiss Bank Tax Evasion: U.S. Offers 11 Banks Deal To Avoid Prosecution: Report

ZURICH (Reuters) - U.S. officials are offering 11 Swiss banks, among them Credit Suisse , a deal that allows them to avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for revealing full details of their U.S. offshore business to Washington, a paper reported on Sunday.

Famed for the care with which it protects account holders' anonymity, the Alpine state has been forced to act by a series of U.S. probes into alleged tax evasion by Americans concealing their assets in Swiss banks.

In 2009, the Swiss parliament approved a deal to allow UBS to reveal details of around 4,450 U.S. clients and pay a $780 million fine to end lengthy tax proceedings that had threatened the future of the country's biggest bank.

The Swiss government has been in talks with U.S. authorities for months to try to get an investigation into 11 banks dropped, in return for expected hefty fines on the banks and the handing over of the names.

Gingrich Says He Would Arrest Judges With Capitol Police Or U.S. Marshals

WASHINGTON -- With just weeks to go before the Iowa Caucus, Newt Gingrich has turned his presidential campaign into a veritable megaphone warning about the dangers and elitism of America's judicial system. The former House Speaker held a half-hour phone call on Saturday during which he pledged to abolish courts and eliminated activist judges he believed were either outside the mainstream or infringing too deeply on the commander in chief's authority.

On Sunday, he followed that up by saying he would be willing to arrest a judge who he thought was out of line.

"If you had to," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation" when asked if he would send a Capitol Hill police officer to round up a judge, "or you would instruct the Justice Department to send the U.S. Marshal." His preference, he added, would be to impeach the judge in question.

That Gingrich is willing to resort to these measures isn't necessarily surprising to longtime watchers of the former Speaker. He has made criticism of the judiciary a rallying point for many years, peppering speeches to conservative audiences with calls to simply get rid of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio. As his prospects of actually winning the Iowa Caucus have improved, the rhetoric isn't being tempered. If anything, it's getting more fiery.

Residential school payments reach $2.8B - But compensation total still not enough, survivor says

Payments to former students of native residential schools have reached nearly $2.8 billion, but that amount doesn't even come close to compensating the tens of thousands of students harmed, says a survivor.

"These were genocidal practices," said Eugene Arcand, who attended schools in Duck Lake and Lebret in Saskatchewan. "If your kids were taken from you for 10 or 11 years, is $43,000 enough (compensation)? Is that fair for what it cost me? My family? Of course it's not fair."

Roughly one-third of all residential school students attended Saskatchewan schools, Arcand said.

The total compensation could climb much higher before next September's deadline for abuse claims, known as the independent assessment process (IAP), Arcand and others predict.

Nearly $1.2 billion in IAP funds have already been paid out to students who suffered physical or sexual abuse. Many have not yet filed, either because they were intimidated by the process or wanted to make sure they were emotionally prepared for the lengthy, often graphic process.

Arcand and others have helped host workshops where they've encouraged survivors to not rush into a claim.

"Many more will file, including myself. Saskatchewan will have a lot," said Arcand, a member of the Residential school survivor committee advising the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Your call is not important

Stuart McCabe waited 46 days for his employment insurance money to arrive. It was supposed to take 28 days. During that time the Oshawa father, who has been on paternal leave since Nov. 1, missed his mortgage, car insurance and hydro payments.

With Christmas looming, McCabe had no money and a $400 slap in the face in the form of nonsufficient fund penalties for those missed payments. So he called Service Canada to find out where his money was — the automated message told him to call back later. So he did. Twenty times. More than 50 per cent of Service Canada callers in late September also heard that same message.

It’s a familiar scene across the country as massive layoffs at Service Canada have led to delays in employment insurance processing, which leaves people like McCabe frustrated and angry — especially when it is so difficult to get through to a real person at Service Canada.

This comes as 19,000 Canadians lost their jobs in November, increasing the unemployment rate to 7.4 per cent, which also adds demand for employment insurance.

Call centre data obtained by Rodger Cuzner, Liberal MP for Cape Breton-Canso, through an order paper shows the difficulty getting through to an agent. As of September, only 32 per cent of calls were answered within three minutes. That is down from 42 per cent last year and 53 per cent the year before that.

Waste yes, want yes

More than a dozen towns are thinking about letting Canada bury its high-level radioactive waste in their backyards. Why? Tom Spears investigates

Who would want a pile of used fuel from nuclear reactors that will be radioactive for millennia? William Elliott does. Badly enough to fight for it.

The boss at the economic development corporation serving the Elliot Lake region sees the upside of something that usually provokes gut reactions of not-in-my-backyard.

"There's the obvious economic impact of 700 to 1,000 permanent fulltime jobs (and) $16 billion to $24 billion of direct investment," he says. "It's going to be one of the biggest economic development projects in Canadian history."

Put that way, maybe it's not so hard to see why Elliot Lake and its neighbours are campaigning to become the place where Canada buries all our high-level radioactive waste.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization is looking for a site to sink thousands of tonnes of used reactor fuel forever, replacing the temporary storage that Canada has used for 60 years. This concept, called deep geological disposal, offers major economic development, and people in Elliot Lake and nearby Blind River are listening.

Long road ahead for environmental monitoring in the oilsands

Government “outsourcing” of environmental monitoring in the oilsands has created a fractured system lacking scientific credibility and transparency that caters to oil industry interests, top scientists and environmental groups say.

As environmental groups’ criticism for development in the oilsands finds renewed vigour — with Kyoto abandoned and Total’s Joslyn North strip mine approved in the span of less than a week — the disjointed array of monitoring groups tasked with protecting vulnerable ecosystems simply can’t keep up.

And while the Alberta government promises plans for a new comprehensive monitoring system as early as next month, many are worried it will never match the pace of development.

The provincial government passed most of the responsibility for monitoring land, biodiversity, air and water quality in the oilsands to third-party groups as development boomed in the late ‘90s. Now, production is forecasted to more than double by 2025 — nearly 4.1 million barrels of bitumen per day.

“The Alberta government believed that they could handle all of this by outsourcing the problem to these multi-stakeholder organizations,” said Andrew Miall, a geology professor at the University of Toronto and member of two government panels on the oilsands. “They lost sight or didn’t understand the need for the kind of scientific oversight that they’re now being criticized for not having. It basically sort of blew up in their faces.”

Canada's barefaced multicultural lie

Canada's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney made a stunning announcement last Monday. Muslim women who wish to become Canadian citizens must uncover their faces in public at the moment of taking the oath of citizenship. In effect, Muslim women are being forced to abandon their religious beliefs in order to become good Canadians.

This is how Kenney justifies the new policy: "The citizenship oath is a quintessentially public act. It is a public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly." In a classic case of doublespeak, the immigration minister argues, "This is not simply a practical measure. It is a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of our identity and our values of openness and equality."

But if Canadians do, in fact, value 'openness' and 'equality', shouldn't Muslim women enjoy the freedom to openly practise their religion in peace? Even if this means claiming the right to cover the face! Why should Muslim women have to choose between their religion and the prospect of Canadian citizenship?

And who is the 'our' to whom Kenney appeals? The immigration minister seems to have decided that the Canadian family comes in only one model. And any ethnic or religious group that doesn't look the part must be excluded. But is it reasonable for the minister to assume that all Canadians share a common identity and identical values?
In this day and age of global diversity, how can Canada's immigration minister be so backward? Canada's new policy on the citizenship oath appears to signal a retreat to the dark ages of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant fundamentalism.

Speaker needs to step down over ‘dirty tricks’ decision

In our system of government, the prime minister and his cabinet have an extraordinary amount of power.

Ask Stephen Harper. In 2002, Harper declared that Parliament “has ceased to be a legislative body. (It) doesn’t have much to do with governing the country. All it really does in the democratic sense is confirm the choices of the prime minister.”

Ask Gordon Robertson, a former clerk of the Privy Council, who made the same point a couple of years later. “With the lack of checks and balances, the prime minister in Canada is perhaps the most unchecked head of government among the democracies.”

Most of all, ask the people. A Nanos poll released last year found that most Canadians believe “the prime minister’s office (PMO) under Stephen Harper has too much power.” That power, the pollsters found, needs to be reduced.

But in our system of government, we do have some modest checks and balances on the executive’s power. We have the Senate, which can slow down legislation. We have the MPs themselves, who can vote. We have the media, who can shine a light on wrongdoing, and hold the PM and his ministers to account.

Bob Rae Visits Attawapiskat, Rebukes Harper For 'Lack Of Respect'

ATTAWAPISKAT, Ont. - Liberal Leader Bob Rae is accusing the Conservatives and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of showing a "lack of respect" toward the troubled First Nations community of Attawapiskat.

On Saturday, as he wrapped up a visit to see the community's housing crisis first-hand, Rae chided Harper — who has long claimed to have a soft spot for northern Canada — for not travelling to the region himself.

“Where there are real people living, and living in really difficult conditions, the prime minister has nothing to say — he’s not there,” Rae said in a telephone interview.

“There’s a great concern about the lack of respect that’s been shown to people here. You show respect by coming, not by insisting that people come to see you.”

Harper's regular forays to remote northern communities since he took office have carried a strong emphasis on issues like defence and sovereignty, but rarely any evidence that the prime minister or the government has forged much of a relationship with the people who live there, Rae said.

The Greater Obscenity

Apparently four-letter words are more disturbing to many than the Harper government's drastic interference with Canada's democratic process.

A few weeks ago, NDP MP Pat Martin swore loudly and publicly at the Harper government’s efforts to shut down the debate of a budget bill. This week in Parliament, Liberal MP Justin Trudeau swore at Environment Minister Peter Kent for his jibe at NDP environment critic Megan Leslie because she did not attend the Durban conference on climate change – never mind the fact that the Harper government had refused accreditation to anyone not belonging to its own delegation. Trudeau was forced to apologize; Martin had to defend himself over and over again in the national media. Apparently four-letter words are more disturbing to many than the drastic interference with the democratic process in this country at the hands of Harper and his band of ideologues. I believe in personal civilities, but not if larger decencies are to be lost as a result.

America’s secret political power

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ.—There’s something rotten in the air. A muggy, oniony, chemical smell that wafts over the lines of uniformed riot police, paddy wagons and metal barriers that are holding back a straggle of protesters waving slapdash placards reading “Shut Down ALEC.”

“Get back ma’am, for your own safety,” a courteous voice warns me. “They’re gonna start pepper spraying.”

Pepper spray?

It’s a surreal touch at the lush, sprawling Westin Kierland Resort, where the air is scented with fragrant flowering bushes and the aromatic lotions of the spa.

But the protesters are at the gate, and inside, hundreds of state legislators from all over the U.S., their wives and entourages are meeting with corporate leaders for a three-day annual policy summit. Or, to their banner-bearing foes, a cradle of “corporate profiteering at the expense of our communities.”

“Today only,” blazons a sign hoisted by a silver-haired protester, “Buy One Senator Get One Free!”

The target of this anger is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC — a benign, user-friendly acronym that fits the friendly turf of Scottsdale, where the grass is always greener and everything is for your comfort and safety.

Canada’s message: The world and its climate be damned

So what that Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto died long ago. Most of the countries that ratified Kyoto, starting with Canada, failed to meet their greenhouse-gas reduction targets. Big polluters – the U.S., China and India – didn’t accept targets.

At the Durban climate-change conference, Canada got paddled by other countries. But Canada’s reputation has been trashed so often, and with such evident good reason, what’s one more blow?

Canada mocked its own greenhouse-gas reduction targets before, and it’s mocking them again. The Harper government has a target of a 17-per-cent reduction from 2005 by 2020. The Environment Department’s own figures, released in July, showed that emissions have risen by 7 per cent since the Conservatives took office.

No one – not senior civil servants, not foreign diplomats, not academics, not even people in the oil and gas industry – believes Canada will bring down its emissions by 24 per cent (17 per cent plus 7 per cent) in the next eight years. Canada struts on the world stage, naked as a newt, and can’t fool those who know what’s really going on.