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.]

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Culture clash splits Canadians over basic values

The clash of cultures has come to Canada. Some might call it a clash of civilizations. I don’t mean the non-existent conflict not between the entire Muslim world and the “civilized’ world, which Muslim-baiting demagogues have invented. The real battle everywhere is between extremists of all kinds and more levelheaded people.

Canada is no longer a united country. An unbridgeable gap has grown between what we can broadly label conservatives and liberals. In the United States, reactionaries like Pat Buchanan for years insisted that the country was engaged in a ferocious internal culture war, and today no one doubts it. The Tea Party, the Koch brothers, the National Rifle Association, anti-choice absolutists and many others consider themselves to be at war, however metaphoric, with all who disagree with them.

MPs Expenses: Senior Politicians Among Those Renting Homes While Claiming Money

MPs were embroiled in a new expenses row today after it emerged that 27 are letting out London homes at the same time as claiming public money to rent in the city.

Former defence secretary Liam Fox, shadow ministers Andy Burnham, Jim Murphy and Chris Bryant, and Communities Minister Don Foster are among those listed as raking in income from properties while receiving up to £20,000 a year in expenses.

Anti-Austerity Protesters March Through Central London

Ed Miliband has branded David Cameron "clueless" during an address at a rally in London's Hyde Park, part of a huge protest against Government austerity measures.

More than 100,000 people took part in the demonstration in the capital, which heard calls for a general strike.

The Labour leader accused the prime pinister of "clinging" to policies which were not working.

Scottish Independence Is 'On', Says Alex Salmond Before Branding UK Government 'Lord Snooties'

Alex Salmond has called the UK Government "incompetent Lord Snooties" as he declared it was game on for the independence referendum.

The Scottish First Minister hit out at politicians at Westminster who he claimed were "unwilling to do what is best for Scotland".

With voters north of the border due to vote on the country's future in 2014, Salmond insisted: "Now is the time for Scotland to choose, to seize a different future."

Greg Smith's Goldman Book Portrays Dystopian Horror Via Cheesy Anecdotes

If Andrew Ross Sorkin is mad at him, then Greg Smith might just be on to something.

Until this morning, it was all too easy to laugh at the goofiness and naivete of Greg Smith's tell-all book about Goldman Sachs, "Why I Left Goldman Sachs." The bank itself is reportedly relieved that the book offers few scandalous revelations. I've read it all, and it's true: There's not much.

But then Sorkin piled on this morning, accusing Smith of having conned the New York Times into getting attention, and a $1.5 million book advance, for himself. And when you wake up in the morning and find that Wall Street's chief water-carrier Sorkin is on your side, it's time to question some stuff.

Arthur Allen, CEO Of ASG, Sent Email Pressuring Employees To Donate To Mitt Romney

The CEO of a major corporation went much further in his effort to persuade his employees to back Mitt Romney than has been previously reported, according to an email obtained by MSNBC's Up w/Chris Hayes and provided to HuffPost.

Arthur Allen, CEO of ASG Software Solutions, was previously exposed by Hayes as having urged his employees to vote for Mitt Romney for president. A new email from Allen shows he encouraged employees to donate to Romney to "help ASG and yourself."

Government Spending: Reforms For Parliamentary Scrutiny Of Spending Rejected By Harper Government

OTTAWA - The Harper government has rejected key reforms demanded by a House of Commons committee to eliminate the arcane rules that prevent MPs from properly scrutinizing billions of dollars in spending each year.

In a June report, the all-party committee complained that outdated rules of Parliament are keeping them in the dark about expenditures — obstructing MPs from fulfilling one of their most basic responsibilities.

Blank cheque: Parliament’s financial blindfold

Friday marked the new deadline the Parliamentary Budget Office set for federal departments to provide details pertaining to budgetary cuts that it has been seeking for months. So far, the dispute has been cast as one at a bureaucratic level, and the PBO as having overstepped its bounds. But the lack of information from the departments speaks to a bigger, more problematic issue about how much parliamentarians and Canadians know about how government is spending money.

After issuing a fresh request for information earlier this month, the PBO heard back from over 40 federal departments that they were working toward getting the fiscal watchdog the details pertaining to how cuts would be administered. As of Tuesday, the PBO had still not heard from 20 departments, including the Canada Revenue Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Environment Canada, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Treasury Board.

CRTC decision on Astral a sign that regulatory body finally working for consumers

MONTREAL - This week’s CRTC decision to reject a proposed takeover of Astral Media by Bell Canada Enterprises is an early Christmas gift to all of us. Canadians will be nearly as shocked as BCE — although considerably happier — to find that our national telecommunications and broadcast regulator has finally begun to do a little regulating in favour of consumers. In the past, it was a given that this body would give dominant firms like BCE pretty much whatever they wanted, usually in return for face-saving promises like more Canadian content.

But under a gutsy new chair, Jean-Pierre Blais, the commission is finally focusing on what most consumers really want: more choice and better pricing.

Government rejects key reforms for parliamentary scrutiny of spending

OTTAWA - The Harper government has rejected key reforms demanded by a House of Commons committee to eliminate the arcane rules that prevent MPs from properly scrutinizing billions of dollars in spending each year.

In a June report, the all-party committee complained that outdated rules of Parliament are keeping them in the dark about expenditures — obstructing MPs from fulfilling one of their most basic responsibilities.

From Quebec to Harper, the last vestiges of our democracy are disappearing

In Ottawa, Chairman Harper is taking a sledge hammer to what was already our feeble excuse for democracy. With the 'son of omnibus' he has displayed a disregard for democracy so severe the CBC's At Issue panel, no bastion of liberalism, unanimously condemned it as an "affront to democracy." Meanwhile, below the radar and in secret negotiations, he seems set to sign FIPA - a free trade deal with China that represents perhaps the most serious threat to our sovereignty and ability to protect our well being and environment in history.

Putin On The Mitts >> Romney Using The Same Campaign Tactics That “Number One Foe” Uses

One of the biggest shocks for me since getting tossed out of Russia four years ago was coming back to an America that’s taking on Russia’s worst traits: oligarchy, inequality, a two-tier justice system depending on your wealth.

Now that Romney and his financial backers are openly pressuring company employees to vote for Romney, add "Putin-style elections" to the list of Russian traits America is acquiring.

Meet the Treehouse-Dwelling Protesters of the Keystone Pipeline

Earlier this week, 50 environmental activists of the Tar Sands Blockade gathered in Winnsboro, Texas. They crossed an easement owned by TransCanada, the owner and builder of the controversial Keystone pipeline, in an effort to get supplies to a handful of their colleagues. These protesters have been living in the trees above one of the work sites in an attempt to stop construction. Two activists fastened themselves to heavy machinery, halting work at the site closest, while over a dozen others stood along the roadside holding protest signs.

Critics say bill hampers Fisheries Act

The Harper government is preparing to allow oil sands and mining companies to cancel regulatory permits that require them to compensate for loss of fish habitat, critics charged Friday.

Under the budget omnibus bill tabled this week, companies will be allowed to apply to the fisheries minister who can either amend or cancel old permits – as well as the conditions that applied to them – if the minister “is of the opinion that the holder no longer need an authorization.”

Stephen Harper government builds stone wall around information: Public editor

“I was appalled, but perhaps not really surprised, to learn of the quote approval practice you reveal,” reader Frances Smith told me in an email this week in response to my last column about the increasingly common practice of U.S. journalists allowing politicians to vet their quotes before publication.

“How politely you put it: ‘quote approval,’ ” Smith wrote. “There’s another not-so-polite word for it — Censorship.

“This is so ‘1984’ it’s creepy. The Ministry of Truth, or Minitrue, is upon us.”

PBO, government showdown looms

The parliamentary budget officer set the end of business hours today as the final deadline for delinquent government departments to report detailed information to his office about how cuts announced in last March's budget will affect them.

Only about of half the departments have sent information to Kevin Page, including one that arrived on Friday.

The PBO had said it was prepared to work through the weekend if the information it is seeking is delivered. But as of 5:00 pm Friday the office said it had received "only one information package from a small federal organization."

Rae offering amendment to Indian Act bill

Federal Liberal Leader Bob Rae is planning a counterattack on a Conservative MP's surprise bill seeking to end the federal Indian Act.

In Regina Friday, Rae said he'll introduce a motion in the House of Commons on Monday to put in place a process for replacing the controversial act.

"I think there's a lot of agreement in the country - including among the aboriginal leadership - that the current Indian Act is a relic of our colonial past. It was originally introduced in 1876 and some of the language is very paternalistic and, frankly, completely out of date.

Changes to parliamentary pension plan ‘cowardly,’ MP says

OTTAWA — The Conservative government’s decision to dramatically hike MP pension contributions is being labelled “cowardly” by one Alberta member of Parliament who believes it will be difficult to recruit strong candidates for the House of Commons.

In a surprise move Friday, the House of Commons quickly passed changes to pensions for MPs and senators, bringing the plan more in line with pension plans of ordinary Canadians.

McGuinty prorogation shows Canada’s parliamentary democracy becoming increasingly ceremonial

Suppose, for the sake of argument, Canada were a democracy. Imagine, as a thought experiment, that anyone gave a damn. What would be the warning signs that we were losing it? At what point would we decide we had crossed the line?

Here’s a thought. Suppose a provincial premier, threatened with a contempt vote for withholding documents from the legislature, were to respond by shutting the place down — indefinitely. And suppose, that same week, the federal government were to pack a pile of wholly unrelated legislation into a single bill, and demand Parliament pass the lot. Now suppose I told you these were not isolated or unusual events, but increasingly the norm.

Make no mistake, this is a new CRTC

This week’s Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications decision to reject the proposed Bell–Astral merger surprised most observers, as few predicted with much confidence that the deal would be flatly rejected. There was good reason to doubt such an outcome, given that the CRTC review of the merger transactions has historically focused on the “tangible benefits” package that often provide millions in funding for new Canadian television and radio productions.

The result was largely regulatory theatre. The purchaser would typically unveil a benefits package featuring self-interested proposals, often amend those plans at the CRTC hearing to demonstrate it was sensitive to criticisms from various groups, and then the CRTC would proceed to further tweak the package to show it was not ready to rubber-stamp the transaction.

Clean Water Act: Industry Influence, Political Environment Dangerously 'Different' 40 Years After Passage, Warn Advocates

Waterfront property didn't offer the same draw in the early 1970s as it does today. Smelly and unsightly waterways -- a flaming Cuyahoga River and a dying Lake Ontario, for example -- repulsed Americans and repressed adjacent home values.

But also very different four decades ago: the climate on Capitol Hill.

Leaked Report Suggests Long-Known Flood Threat To Nuclear Plants, Safety Advocates Say

An un-redacted version of a recently released Nuclear Regulatory Commission report highlights the threat that flooding poses to nuclear power plants located near large dams -- and suggests that the NRC has misled the public for years about the severity of the threat, according to engineers and nuclear safety advocates.

"The redacted information shows that the NRC is lying to the American public about the safety of U.S. reactors," said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and safety advocate with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Herman Cain's Nationwide Worker Intimidation Tour

“The problem,” former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain told a ballroom of about thirty people in Philadelphia on Friday afternoon, “is we have a president who does not believe in a free marketplace. This is why his whole campaign is about class warfare. Playing the race card. Divisiveness. And as some of us know, deception.”

These are boilerplate attacks from Cain, but this was not a typical Tea Party rally. This was yet another stop on Cain’s “Job Creators Truth Tour 2012,” the fifth this week and one of thirty that will happen before the election. The audience was “job creators” from the Philadelphia area—small-business owners who were there to learn how to influence their employees vote in November.

The Nanos Number: Battle For The Middle Class

Nik Nanos digs beneath the numbers with CBC New Networks' Power & Politics host Evan Solomon to get to the political, economic and social forces that shape our lives.

This week: Is the middle class in more trouble than politicians think?

To try to get a sense of how squeezed the middle class is feeling right now, Nanos Research looked at a survey done by the American Payroll Association in the U.S. and replicated it here in Canada.

Montreal city engineer admits to taking kickbacks on public works projects

The Montreal city engineer known as “Mr. GST” for the bribes he levied has admitted he collected at least $600,000 in kickbacks on construction projects over half of his 33-year career.

In the most stunning moment yet in a public inquiry full of early cinematic twists, Gilles Surprenant described how he was threatened by a construction magnate and then bribed to push through his first vastly inflated contract in the early 1990s.

BCE asks feds to intervene after CRTC rejects $3.4-billion Astral takeover

OTTAWA -- BCE Inc. will call on the federal Cabinet to intervene after the broadcast regulator gave an unequivocal thumbs down to its takeover of Astral Media on Thursday, declaring in no uncertain terms the $3.4-billion deal was not good for Canadians.

The surprise decision by the CRTC was announced after stock markets closed and marked the first major ruling for newly installed commissioner Jean-Pierre Blais.

Stephen Harper’s Tories downplay climate knowledge of new Environment Canada boss

OTTAWA-Federal Conservatives are downplaying concerns over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s newly-selected boss for Environment Canada and the bureaucrat’s knowledge about global warming.

The department’s new deputy minister, Bob Hamilton, ran into trouble last Monday at a parliamentary committee when he was asked to explain what causes climate change.

Company taking over XL Foods being sued over alleged racial and religious harassment

OTTAWA — The Brazilian-owned company taking over a troubled XL Foods facility in Alberta is being sued by a U.S. government agency for alleged mistreatment of Muslim, Somali and black employees.

JBS USA will assume management of the XL Foods facility in Brooks, Alberta, the source of E. coli contamination that last month triggered the largest meat recall in Canadian history.

A ring fence won’t build national champions

The CNOOC-Nexen review has gone into overtime. While an extension of the review process isn’t unusual, the question is whether the playbook has changed. There’s a danger that, with the clock running down, improvisation has taken over.

Conventional wisdom is that, while the deal will be approved, the government is working out an announcement that will include signals to forestall any future attempt to acquire a Canadian oil and gas company that’s even larger than Nexen.

BCE presses cabinet to instruct CRTC ‘to follow the rules’

After being dealt a crippling blow by the federal broadcast regulator, BCE Inc. is making a last-ditch effort to salvage its bid for Astral Media Inc.

On Friday morning, Ottawa rejected BCE’s initial plea for the government to reverse the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s decision that quashed its $3-billion takeover of Astral. But the Montreal-based media giant is now making a second request to Ottawa, this time asking that the cabinet issue a policy directive to the commission, instructing it to “follow the rules they put in place,” said chief executive officer George Cope.

Employees have privacy rights over workplace computers says Supreme Court

OTTAWA—Employees have a privacy right over personal use of workplace computers and should not be subject to warrantless police searches, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday.

In a 6-1 judgment that has implications across the country, the high court said an individual’s expectation of privacy may well be lessened or diminished if the computer belongs to an employer or if strict workplace policies bar personal use. However the majority ruling written by Justice Morris Fish said police must still obtain a warrant to seize contents.