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, May 29, 2013

Bridges Shouldn't Have to Collapse for Congress to Get Serious About Infrastructure

“How many more bridges must collapse, how many people must be hurt or die and how many billions of dollars must be drained from our economy before Congress makes investing in the basic infrastructure of our country a priority?”

That was the question from Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, after last week’s collapse of the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Skagit River in Washington State.

US Air Force's X-37B 'Secret Space Plane' Has Spent Five Months In Orbit (But No One Knows Why)

A top-secret robotic space plane owned by the US military and with an unidentified payload and mission has now been in orbit above Earth for five months.

The unmanned Boeing-built X-37B is about 30 feet long, 15 feet wide, weighs 11,000 pounds and can carry about the same load as a delivery van - though what this is a mystery.

Danny Williams Says Harper Needs To Be Pushed On Trade

The federal government insists it is not forcing Newfoundland and Labrador to drop fish processing rules in return for financial support for Muskrat Falls, although former premier Danny Williams says his successor has a good reason to take the issue public.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale told a St. John's business audience this week that federal officials have been pressuring the province to drop minimum processing requirements, as the federal government pursues a trade deal with the European Union.

Parole Board of Canada hosting $250K meeting

As the Harper government preaches fiscal restraint, the Parole Board of Canada is hosting a three-day $250,000 meeting in Edmonton.

The Harper government is doing some internal housecleaning with the introduction of a new performance-review system for bureaucrats. Treasury Board President Tony Clement on Tuesday unveiled a new grading system for all employees, which aims to increase productivity and efficiency by weeding out workers who underperform.

Probe urged into Senator Pana Merchant's role in offshore account

The ruckus over senators and their finances grew louder Tuesday, with a Tory member of the upper chamber demanding answers from Liberal Pana Merchant about $1.7 million her husband moved into offshore account.

Conservative Senator Vern White said he has asked the Senate's ethics officer to look into Merchant's role in the matter, saying there are "serious questions" to be dealt with.

Proposed Walmart near Kensington Market has residents fuming

It’s a retail drama that’s playing out across the continent: big box stores show up on the outskirts of town and mom and pop shops bitterly shutter their doors.

But what happens when the big stores try to move in downtown?

RioCan, the country’s largest real estate investment trust, has submitted plans to the city to build a three-storey retail complex downtown, just past the western fringe of Kensington Market.

Julian Assange: Stratfor Hacker Jeremy Hammond Guilty Plea Part of Crackdown on Journalism, Activism

Jeremy Hammond of the hacktivist group Anonymous has pleaded guilty to hacking into the private intelligence firm Stratfor, the FBI and other institutions. Hammond says his goal was to shed light on how governments and corporations act behind close doors. Some five million Stratfor emails ended up on the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, shedding light on how the private intelligence firm monitors activists and spies for corporate clients. In a statement, Hammond said he accepted the plea deal in part to avoid an overzealous prosecution that could have resulted in at least 30 years in prison. He has already served 15 months, including weeks in solitary confinement. Joining us from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says Hammond’s prosecution comes as part of a wider crackdown "on effective political activists and alleged journalistic sources."

Author: --

Income Inequality Gets Worse When You Slash Taxes On The Rich: Study

The rich just keep getting richer -- not only by gobbling up more income, but also by paying less in taxes. That means less support for the poor, who are getting increasingly poorer relative to the top one percent.

One chart in a new study of income inequality in developed nations, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, puts this in stark relief. It shows that the more top tax rates are cut, the greater the share of national income that is mopped up by the wealthiest citizens.

U.S. Drone Strike Kills 7 In Pakistan; First Such Attack Since Election

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, May 29 (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike killed the number two of the Pakistani Taliban in the North Waziristan region on Wednesday, three security officials said, in what would be a major blow in the fight against militancy.

The drone strike killed seven people, Pakistani security officials said, including Taliban deputy commander Wali-ur-Rehman, in the first such attack since a May 11 general election in which the use of the unmanned aircraft was a major issue.

Conservatives not helping Elections Canada on robocalls, election-law reform

OTTAWA—Federal Conservatives have been dragging their feet in helping Elections Canada get to the bottom of alleged fraud in the 2011 campaign, according to Canada’s chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand.

And the Conservative government hasn’t consulted with Elections Canada on reforms that Mayrand says are urgently needed to be turned into law by next spring, if Canada is to avoid the kind of dirty tricks and alleged fraud still hanging over the last election.

Conservatives to Duffy: It’s not us, it’s you

Before we start, here’s a quick fact about whitewash: After you apply it, it’s actually only with the fullness of time that it hardens. When it initially dries, whitewash has no strength.

Only hours after the prime minister had stood in the House of Commons and answered the opposition’s questions for the first time on what he might have known and when he might have known it with regards to the details of that $90,000 payment his then-chief of staff, Nigel Wright, made (donated? loaned?) to then-Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, the Senate’s committee on internal economy met, again, to discuss just that.

Conservative government found spying on aboriginal advocate

OTTAWA—Cindy Blackstock knew all along her government was spying on her and Tuesday the country’s privacy commissioner agreed.

Now the well-known advocate for aboriginal children wants to know how many other Canadians may have official Ottawa poking around in their personal affairs — and not even know it.

On a day when most of Ottawa was justly riveted on the Tom Mulcair-Stephen Harper Senate spending showdown, a chilling report by Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart was buried in the news cycle, but it was confirmation of a story Blackstock has been telling since 2011 and an indictment of the way in which the Conservative government is dealing with aboriginal injustice.

Senate committee votes to send Mike Duffy matter to the RCMP

OTTAWA — On a night when a Senate committee called in the RCMP to investigate his expense claims, former Conservative Senator Mike Duffy was holed up in the Kanata home at the centre of residency scandal, threatening to make his own call to police — on an Ottawa Citizen reporter.

Duffy, a former broadcast journalist, was expected to attend a rare public sitting of the Senate Committee on Internal Economy on Tuesday but was a no-show at the evening meeting on Parliament Hill.

Tories try new union-bashing gambit to divert attention from their daily scandals, fiascos

Desperate to divert public attention from Mike "The Puffster" Duffy's expense account exploits and the arrest by Panamanian authorities of the fellow who not so long ago ran the watchdog overseeing Canada's spy agency, the Harper Government has turned to that hardy perennial of conservative diversionary tactics: union bashing.

Well, the pandas didn't work. Any old port in a storm, I guess.

With problem employees like the Puffster, overly generous former prime ministerial chief of staff Nigel Wright  and Arthur Porter, who was apparently on the lam from a corruption investigation in Quebec when he turned up in Panama using a Sierra Leonean diplomatic passport, you can sort of see why the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper might suddenly be enamoured of the idea of performance reviews for civil servants.

The fight for pharmacare in Canada

Canada is the only developed country that has a universal health-care system but doesn't cover prescription drugs. Not only is this bad fiscal policy, but it has left eight million Canadians without coverage.

In the absence of a national pharmacare program, every province, territory and federal health-care system (RCMP, military, veterans, inmates, First Nation and Inuit) has its own pharmaceutical program. This has led to a patchwork of pharmaceutical insurance plans across the country where different medicines are available in different provinces, eligibility for public coverage differs dramatically, co-pays and provincial/territorial deductibles go from a few dollars to thousands and Canadians in some parts of the country find greater financial barriers to filling their prescriptions than others.

The toxic cloud over Ford nation

“I’m angry and embarrassed.” “I actually feel quite helpless.” “I’m in despair.”

I didn’t expect a therapy session when I asked people I know how the Mayor Ford saga was affecting them, but that’s what I got, however extreme those comments might sound. No one said they were indifferent, no one shrugged.

I am not talking about the political angles nor even the fierce mano a mano waged between media and mayor on many fronts. Or the legitimate search on our parts for truth.

Robocalls scandal shows Harper govt. lacks legitimacy: Iran deputy FM

Iran says the confirmation of electoral fraud in Canada’s 2011 federal election casts doubt on the legitimacy of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.

The Canadian Federal Court’s confirmation of “Robocalls scandal” indicates the absence of a democratic and fair mechanism in the country’s electoral system, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Araqchi said on Tuesday.

Mike Duffy's Expenses Matter To Be Sent To RCMP

OTTAWA — Senate officials confirmed they have found a troubling pattern of Sen. Mike Duffy claiming Ottawa living expenses while travelling elsewhere, including several days in 2011 when he was campaigning across the country for the Conservatives.

Senators meeting at a committee late Tuesday voted to send the matter of Duffy's expenses to the RCMP, after hearing the new information. Duffy's claims had originally been scrutinized to determine where his principal residence was — the latest information introduce a whole new wrinkle into the scandal.

Bank of Canada kills editorial cartoon, calls it "counterfeiting"

Canadian Conservative senator Mike Duffy is in disgrace over the news that he submitted fraudulent expense claims totalling $90,000 and secretly borrowed a like sum from the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff to pay it (and kill an auditor's investigation into his conduct). So Dan Murphy drew an editorial cartoon depicting a notional Canadian $90,000 bill bearing Senator Duffy's leering face. But the toon only ran briefly, because the Bank of Canada threatened Canadian newspapers with criminal prosecution for counterfeiting if they ran it.

    That gets to the crux of the matter. Laws that fight counterfeiting are fine (though really, any forger gifted enough to back-engineer a single-sided cartoon of a $90,000 bill that bears the image of Mike Duffy and a hologram of Nigel Wright deserves a medal, not jail time) but the Bank of Canada has no business playing Thought Police.

    Parodies of bank notes are nothing new. In 1819, British cartoonist George Cruikshank, angered after seeing a woman hanged for passing a forged note, drew a Bank of England note that featured 11 men and women dangling from nooses. During the currency panic of 1837, a series of “shin plasters” — typically five- and six-cent bills — poked fun at U.S. economic policy.

Original Article
Author: Cory Doctorow

Harper government eliminated reviews for oilsands projects following warnings of water disruption

OTTAWA — The federal government removed some oilsands projects from a list of those requiring environmental screenings, after being told in an internal memorandum that this form of industrial development could disturb water sources and harm fish habitat.

The memo to the deputy minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, dated May 5, 2011, came a year before Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government introduced hundreds of pages of changes to Canada’s environmental laws, which will allow the government to exclude some oilsands projects from reviews.

Conservative scandals multiplying by the day

In Ottawa, the opposition parties are suddenly in a jam, unlike any they’ve encountered in seven-plus years of Harper government. With so many Conservative scandals on the front burner at one time, and a limited number of allotted questions in the House of Commons, how to deal with them all? It’s a logistical nightmare.

At best there’s a risk of scandal chaff setting in – targeting-system confusion, caused by excessive shrapnel in the air. At worst there’s scandal overload, followed by scandal burnout, followed by a massive scandal hangover. It’s not like it was in the Mulroney years, when the government parceled out its catastrophes at a leisurely pace, on average one a year. That was so 20th Century. In 2013 everything happens at full throttle – especially, it seems, when the wheels come off what was previously a well-oiled, ruthlessly efficient machine.

Sen. Duffy didn’t include $1,398 in hotels, meals expenses to Conservative candidates over two-week period in last election: Elections Canada

PARLIAMENT HILL—Senator Mike Duffy spent $1,398 on hotels and meals during a two-week period he was campaigning for Conservative Party candidates in the Maritime provinces and Yellowknife, N.W.T., during the 2011 general election that he did not include in his election expense invoices to the candidates, Elections Canada records show.

Sen. Duffy resigned from the Conservative Parliamentary caucus at the same it was revealed a week ago that Nigel Wright, now the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.), wrote a $90,172 cheque on his own bank account so Sen.  Duffy could repay impugned expense claims in the midst of a long and damaging controversy over expenses by him and two other Conservative Senators, who have also resigned, as well as a Liberal Senator who had to leave his caucus over questions about his expenses and primary resident claims.

Northern Ireland town turns into virtual Potemkin village ahead of G8

Enniskillen may not have a $2 million Muskoka-inspired fake lake exhibit, but it does have giant stickers plastered on abandoned storefronts to make it look like business is booming and shelves are fully stocked.

The Northern Irish town and surrounding area is getting a $460,000 fluff-up in advance of next month’s G8 summit. Gum is being scraped off sidewalks. Roads will be freshly paved to ensure a smooth ride for convoys of world leaders. Virtual Potemkin villages are springing up on the road to the Lough Erne Resort, where heads of state will gather to discuss tax evasion and reforms, food security, trade deals and the crisis in Syria.

Russia Warns Obama: Monsanto

The shocking minutes relating to President Putin’s meeting this past week with US Secretary of State John Kerry reveal the Russian leaders “extreme outrage” over the Obama regimes continued protection of global seed and plant bio-genetic giants Syngenta and Monsanto in the face of a growing “bee apocalypse” that the Kremlin warns “will most certainly” lead to world war.

According to these minutes, released in the Kremlin today by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation (MNRE), Putin was so incensed over the Obama regimes refusal to discuss this grave matter that he refused for three hours to even meet with Kerry, who had traveled to Moscow on a scheduled diplomatic mission, but then relented so as to not cause an even greater rift between these two nations.

Cuts Will Come From Whitehall Not Benefits, George Osborne Insists

George Osborne has indicated there will be no further cuts to benefits, after he revealed seven government departments had already signed up to slash their budgets by a further 10%.

The chancellor is hoping to cut 2015/16 spending by £11.5bn in order to finance the NHS and infrastructure projects.

Majority of Americans say feds have too much power

A new poll has found that the majority of all Americans believe the federal government has too much power – news that comes in wake of numerous government scandals, including the IRS’ targeting of conservatives and the feds’ targeting of journalists.

Gallup on Monday released survey findings indicating that 54 percent of Americans consider the federal government too powerful, while only eight percent say it is not powerful enough and 36 percent says it has just the right amount of power.

Slash welfare budget, pour money into security - UK

The UK has proposed slashing welfare funding to divert it to the police and armed forces in the wake of the Woolwich attacks, despite MI5 already having been informed enough to have kept tabs on the murder suspects for years.

The MP responsible for work and pensions has been in discussions with both the defense and home secretaries to heighten security measures on the British Isles at the expense of up to 3 billion pounds in welfare, according to a Telegraph report published Tuesday.

Walmart Pleads Guilty To Dumping Hazardous Waste, Will Pay $81 Million

SAN FRANCISCO — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will pay $81.6 million after pleading guilty on Tuesday to criminal charges of improperly disposing of fertilizer, pesticides and other hazardous products that were pulled from stores in California and Missouri because of damaged packaging and other problems.

The retail giant entered the plea in federal court in San Francisco to misdemeanor counts of violating the Clean Water Act and another environmental law regulating pesticides. The fine also settled Environmental Protection Agency allegations.

Harper faces sharp questions over Duffy-Wright affair

Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced a barrage of hostile questions in the House of Commons today over his former chief of staff's repayment of Senator Mike Duffy's expenses.

At times, Harper seemed shaken under persistent, specific questioning by Opposition NDP Leader Tom Mulcair in particular.

Harper was appearing in question period for the first time since Nigel Wright resigned as his chief of staff amid a deepening Senate expenses scandal more than a week ago.

Stephen Harper turns aside demands for public hearings on Duffy affair

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper is offering few new answers about his chief of staff’s $90,172 payment to Sen. Mike Duffy, refusing to publicly release documents and turning aside demands that key players should face an open inquiry.

The Commons became like a courtroom Tuesday as NDP Leader Tom Mulcair grilled the prime minister on what he knew about the secret payment provided by his right-hand man, Nigel Wright.

CEOs Are Terrible At Management, Study Finds

A new study shows that CEOs are doing a lousy job when it comes to people management. The study, a joint project by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance and The Miles Group, a consulting firm in New York that focuses on C-suites and corporate boards, found that both CEOs and boards are overly focused on the bottom line, at the expense of mentoring and engaging their boards. The survey polled 160 CEOs and directors of North American public and private companies.

MPs Focus Question Period On Senate Expenses And PMO

The Senate committee on internal economy has voted unanimously to send the matter of Senator Mike Duffy's expense claims to the RCMP.

The motion Tuesday from Conservative Senator Larry Smith was suggested after the committee heard a report from the Senate clerk revealing that Duffy had a pattern of claiming living expenses in Ottawa when he was not in the capital on Senate business.

The Senate clerk, Gary O'Brien, explained Duffy claimed 18 days last August for per diems on the grounds that he was working on Senate business.

UN human rights chief slams U.S. over Guantanamo and 'War on Terror'

Anti-terror policies implemented by the U.S. and governments around the world have grossly violated human rights, warned United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday, warning that the U.S. government's Guantanamo Bay detention center and international rendition and drone programs have done far more harm than good.

"Time and again, my Office has received allegations of very grave violations of human rights that have taken place in the context of counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations," Pillay warned.

Harper’s silence undermines democracy, says media union

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is undermining Canada's democratic process by not responding to basic questions put to him by Canada's journalists.

"Canadians get their information about the activities of government through the professional work of journalists. When elected politicians refuse to answer - they are snubbing their nose at citizens and democracy," says Peter Murdoch, Vice-President Media of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Canada's media union.

Former Alliance MP gets sweet patronage gig

A former Canadian Alliance MP who stepped aside to allow Stockwell Day to run federally has received a patronage appointment from the Conservative government.

Jim Hart, 57, was appointed last week as a full-time member of the Parole Board of Canada (Pacific region), a five-year term that will pay him between $121,700 and $143,100 annually. The appointment was approved by cabinet on May 16.

Hart does not appear to have any experience in law enforcement or corrections, and worked in advertising and radio before he was first elected as a Reform Party MP in 1993.