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.]

Friday, June 10, 2011

New free trade deals threaten the environment

The world is running out of a lot of raw resources.

From fish in the sea and old-growth forests to minerals, conventional energy and freshwater, ours is a planet needing great care.

While scientists and environmentalists warn us that we have to preserve and protect the natural world with more local, sustainable food and industrial production and more local, alternative energy sources, most of our governments are pursuing free trade agreements that promote faster and bigger transportation grids, carve up more wilderness for exploitation, increase the volume of sheer "stuff" coming from ever-farther-away places, and tear through declining energy and water supplies.

Like Obama, the Harper government is aggressively pursuing trade agreements with developing countries in the wake of failure at the WTO's Doha Round.

Canada has shamefully beaten the U.S. to the punch with its FTA with Colombia, where coal and other mining, and plantation agriculture, continue to displace communities and wreak havoc on ecosystems, and where more union leaders are now murdered annually than anywhere else in the world.

Both Harper and Obama have their eyes set on Panama, a notorious tax haven of little real economic value to either country. But none of these deals are bigger or potentially more damaging to the Canadian environment than the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

Full Article

How Ads Create False Memories

Can advertising create fake memories about trying products that you have never actually experienced? In a series of research studies that we conducted, consumers who read vivid print advertisements for fictitious products reported false memories of having tried these products, despite the fact that this would have been impossible. These consumers also evaluated the falsely remembered products as favourably as other consumers who actually did try the products. We call this the "false experience effect" because the product evaluations are based on a mistaken belief of having tried the advertised brand.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

In a society where most of the population is politically disengaged, speaking truth to power is something to be admired.

The barrage of criticism being heaped on former Canadian Senate page Brigette DePape's lone act of civil disobedience comes as no surprise, nor does the vehemence of some of the attacks. Naysayers’ statements range from the garden variety – "I agree with her statement, but she broke the rules and disrespected Parliament" – to the hyperbolic insinuation that her act bordered on terrorism. I have no wish to refute such histrionics. I simply want to try to articulate how I feel about DePape's actions, and why.

This sight filled me with joy, and with hope. I was incredibly moved by the spectacle of a young woman urging us into resistance amid the pomp and circumstance of the Speech from the Throne. The contrast between the institution of government – slow moving, conservative, designed to concentrate power in the hands of a professional political class – and the democracy of the people was extremely powerful. Imagine the courage this act required, and the poise.

Like much civil disobedience, DePape's action was symbolic, yet it immediately produced tangible results: The whole country – and, indeed, much of the world – was talking about it. My friends attending the International Peace Conference in Cairo, Egypt, said that Egyptians were cheering for DePape. And Canadians are now discussing if protest matters, why protest matters, and what should be done.

I've read that DePape's actions were not heroic because she didn't risk her life, or even risk arrest. Perhaps in some societies standing in the house of government holding a protest sign would not be a big deal. But in the Canadian context, DePape's actions stand out for their clarity and unique visibility.

DePape knowingly took an action that would cause her to lose her job, and that would place her at the centre of a media whirlwind, in order to make a statement. She used her position to give voice to the feelings of so many Canadians, and to put our agenda on a national and international stage in a way that no lawful protest could ever do.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

Ford plans to sell social housing stock to close budget deficit

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is keen to sell more than 900 units of social housing stock to the highest bidder and use some of the millions it generates to plug the $774-million hole in the city’s budget for next year.

The plan to put social housing units up for sale is the brainchild of the mayor’s hand-picked adviser, a former city councillor brought in to clean house after a spending scandal at Toronto Community Housing Corp.

Case Ootes, who is set to leave his post next week, made public Thursday some of the advice he is delivering to the mayor and the new board of the social housing agency – replacements for the previous board ousted by city council this spring. Mr. Ootes estimates the selloff of all the agency’s single-family homes could raise more than $400-million.

That’s money, he argues, that is desperately needed to solve a “crisis situation” created by a $650-million repair backlog that is so severe it is forcing the country’s largest landlord to leave units empty because there is no money to fix them. This, at a time when 77,000 households are on its waiting lists.
Toronto’s mayor was quick to give his public backing to that proposal, but indicated he has other ideas about what could be done with the dollars it generates.

“I agree. Let’s sell these homes. Let’s take that revenue,” he said. “Obviously, we need the money to fund next year’s budget.”

Asked about the crumbling state of city-owned housing, Mr. Ford said a portion of the profit could be directed to repairs. “Some could go to housing. Some could go to next year’s budget. It all depends. We would have to see.”

The mayor’s comments – and Mr. Ootes’ proposal – set the stage for a showdown between the city’s popular leader and critics who have long feared he is intent on dismantling the affordable-housing provider. Mr. Ford came to power with a pledge to cut costs by eliminating waste and the troubled housing agency – the subject of damning audits that discovered questionable spending by staff, including a spa day, a jaunt to Muskoka and gifts of chocolates – has become a convenient symbol of that excess.

Full Article
Source: Glob & Mail 

G8 spending in Clement's riding left ‘no paper trail'

Senior Conservative officials broke federal rules to shower $50-million on the riding of the minister now overseeing Ottawa’s austerity plan, according to the final audit of a G8 program that fuelled opposition charges of pork-barrel politics.

In her last report, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser said the funding for the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund was approved by Parliament under the guise of a border initiative. The money was then distributed to projects in the riding of Treasury Board President Tony Clement without any input from civil servants, in a clear breach of federal policies dealing with transparency and accountability.

Mr. Clement showed up at a news conference to defend the spending in his riding, but Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird physically shielded him from questions at times. The two stood behind a podium and single microphone, and Mr. Baird, who was in charge of Ottawa’s infrastructure program when the spending was approved, often fielded questions the media directed at Mr. Clement.

The pair took the Auditor-General’s criticism on the chin, promising to improve “anachronistic” rules and regulations that were used by civil servants to get the spending quickly approved through Parliament in a period of economic downturn.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Is greed fuelling the land grab in Africa?

A U.S. think-tank is calling for a moratorium on the sale of land in Africa to hedge funds, investment firms and bio-energy companies until they begin to use ethical and fair negotiations when dealing with local farmers and villages.

The California-based Oakland Institute says that largely unregulated land purchases by hedge funds and foreign speculators result in virtually none of the “promised benefits” for native populations in a recently released report.

“We are finding these are false promises for Africa,” said Frederic Mousseau, policy director for the think-tank, in an interview with the Star.

Millions of local farmers are being forced off their land to make room for agribusiness, backed by bio-fuel companies, investment firms and hedge funds, Mousseau said. And the deals lack any transparency.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Dale Mahridge’s Chronicles of Widely Ignored U.S. Working Poor Inspire Music of Bruce Springsteen

Dale Maharidge, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, inspired Bruce Springsteen to write the songs "Youngstown" and "The New Timer" with his first book, "Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass.” Maharidge’s most recent book, "Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression," is a reported retrospective on his 30 years of covering the working poor and chronically unemployed. He and photographer Michael Williamson traveled more than half a million miles around the United States, reporting the story of how worker’s lives have gotten steadily worse. We speak to Maharidge about his work and how it came to inspire some of Springsteen’s most notable socially conscious songs.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Most Americans Disagree With Church Teaching On Homosexuality, Abortion

WASHINGTON (RNS) Significant majorities of Americans say it is possible to disagree with their religion's teachings on abortion and homosexuality and still remain in good standing with their faith.

The findings, released Thursday (June 9) in a detailed survey by Public Religion Research Institute, held true for major religious groups, including Catholics and white evangelical Protestants.

The findings reflect the complicated tasks faced by Catholic bishops to discipline politicians who stray from church teaching, or evangelical groups that try to toe a traditional line as cultural values shift around them.

In fact, the survey found that six in 10 Americans chafe at the idea of religious leaders publicly pressuring politicians on the issue of abortion, as has happened to several high-profile Catholic Democrats in recent years.

Overall, 72 percent of Americans say it's permissible to disagree with church teaching on abortion, and 63 percent say the same for homosexuality.

Catholics closely mirror the general population's position on abortion and church teaching, but are more progressive than the general population on the issue of homosexuality and church teaching.

Two-thirds of evangelicals (67 percent) said they could differ with church teaching on abortion, and slightly less than a majority (47 percent) said the same about homosexuality.

Full Article

US universities in Africa 'land grab'

Harvard and other major American universities are working through British hedge funds and European financial speculators to buy or lease vast areas of African farmland in deals, some of which may force many thousands of people off their land, according to a new study.
Researchers say foreign investors are profiting from "land grabs" that often fail to deliver the promised benefits of jobs and economic development, and can lead to environmental and social problems in the poorest countries in the world.

The new report on land acquisitions in seven African countries suggests that Harvard, Vanderbilt and many other US colleges with large endowment funds have invested heavily in African land in the past few years. Much of the money is said to be channelled through London-based Emergent asset management, which runs one of Africa's largest land acquisition funds, run by former JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs currency dealers.

Researchers at the California-based Oakland Institute think that Emergent's clients in the US may have invested up to $500m in some of the most fertile land in the expectation of making 25% returns.

Emergent said the deals were handled responsibly. "Yes, university endowment funds and pension funds are long-term investors," a spokesman said. "We are investing in African agriculture and setting up businesses and employing people. We are doing it in a responsible way … The amounts are large. They can be hundreds of millions of dollars. This is not landgrabbing. We want to make the land more valuable. Being big makes an impact, economies of scale can be more productive."

Chinese and Middle Eastern firms have previously been identified as "grabbing" large tracts of land in developing countries to grow cheap food for home populations, but western funds are behind many of the biggest deals, says the Oakland institute, an advocacy research group.

Full Article
Source: Guardian 

NATO Alliance 'Dim, If Not Dismal'

BRUSSELS -- America's military alliance with Europe – the cornerstone of U.S. security policy for six decades – faces a "dim, if not dismal" future, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday in a blunt valedictory address.

In his final policy speech as Pentagon chief, Gates questioned the viability of NATO, saying its members' penny-pinching and lack of political will could hasten the end of U.S. support. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 as a U.S.-led bulwark against Soviet aggression, but in the post-Cold War era it has struggled to find a purpose.

"Future U.S. political leaders - those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me - may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost," he told a European think tank on the final day of an 11-day overseas journey.

Gates has made no secret of his frustration with NATO bureaucracy and the huge restrictions many European governments placed on their military participation in the Afghanistan war. He ruffled NATO feathers early in his tenure with a direct challenge to contribute more front-line troops that yielded few contributions.

Even so, Gates' assessment Friday that NATO is falling down on its obligations and foisting too much of the hard work on the U.S. was unusually harsh and unvarnished. He said both of NATO's main military operations now – Afghanistan and Libya – point up weaknesses and failures within the alliance.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

The Commons: Tony Clement’s bike racks, streetlights and boulevards

The Scene. By Thomas Mulcair’s reckoning this was a scandal—”Sponsorship scandal 2.0,” he dubbed it, perhaps hopefully.

The Prime Minister moved quickly to correct the NDP deputy. The Auditor General, Mr. Harper explained, had merely “suggested several recommendations to improve the process in the future.”

Mr. Mulcair was unpersuaded. “No accountability, no transparency, no justification of decisions,” he cried, reviewing the charges.

The Prime Minister stuck to his story. “As I said before,” he recounted, “the Auditor General suggested several recommendations to improve the approval process in the future and we will accept its recommendations.”

Mr. Mulcair fumed for a third time—Parliament kept in the dark, funds redirected, a restored steamboat, etc—but Mr. Harper only barely budged. “The Auditor General has suggested changes in the estimates process to improve transparency,” the Prime Minister allowed.

For sure, that is one way of putting it. Less charitably, one might say that Tony Clement stands accused of not only using public funds to spread trinkets around his riding, but of drawing those funds from an account approved by Parliament for the purposes of “border infrastructure” and of constructing a selection process that involved only Mr. Clement and several small town mayors and that left no paper trail.

The sort of thing, in other words, that would’ve driven a younger Stephen Harper and various members of the governing caucus—fun fact: the Conservative side includes not one, but now two former directors of the presumptuously named Canadian Taxpayers Federation—to fits of righteous indignation and principled outrage.

If the government would not express shame now, the NDP’s Charlie Angus moved to impose it upon them. “Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General revealed today that the Treasury Board allowed the former minister of industry to set up a $47 million slush fund for pork-barrel projects in his riding,” he recounted. “Here is how it went down: There was the minister, there was a mayor and there was a hotel manager who dished out the loot. There was no oversight. There was no documentation. There were no questions asked. This is just one step up from cash in a brown paper bag.”

There were groans and hisses from the Conservative benches.

“So,” Mr. Angus finally asked, “is this how the minister will plan to run the Treasury Board?”

Momentarily struck with the inability to stand and account for himself, Tony Clement was compelled to remain seated and let John Baird take this one. Mr. Baird was, understandably, besmirched. ”Mr. Speaker,” he sighed, “so much for the civility that the leader of the opposition promised Canadians.”

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Angus shot back, “there is nothing civil about the abuse of taxpayers’ trust.”

So perplexing was the abuse that the New Democrat was now moved to explain it in old timey terms. “They told us that they were requesting money for border infrastructure and they fuddled it off for pork-barrel projects on gazebos and steamboats and everything else the minister could think of,” Mr. Angus proclaimed. “This is the kind of rum-bottle, pork-barrel politics that Canadians are fed up with.”

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

G8 legacy is deceit, pork barreling and promotions

Sarah Palin was ridiculed a few years ago when she claimed she could see Russia from Alaska.

That probably didn’t impress Tony Clement.

It seems he is able to monitor traffic back-ups at the Canada-U.S. border from Muskoka.

How else to explain that the $50 million he apparently needed to sprinkle throughout his riding as part of a G8 “legacy project” was presented to Parliament as money required to reduce border congestion?

And here’s a larger question that needs answering.

How could the officially anointed King of Pork, a man who rained this $50 million in goodies throughout his riding under a bogus premise, with no paper trail or rationale, be promoted and put in charge of cutting government waste?

This is Ottawa. It’s not be confused with a meritocracy.

But the man who used tax money to build gazebos, pave roads, plant trees and upgrade urinals hundreds of kilometers from the summit site is going to have his hands full convincing public servants that they need to sacrifice in the crusade to balance the budget.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Living conditions on First Nations reserves getting worse: AG

OTTAWA—The federal government has not come through on its commitments to improve living conditions aboriginal reserves, where things have gotten worse over the past decade, says a report from the auditor general.

“I am disappointed that conditions on reserves have worsened and are well below the national average,” interim Auditor General John Wiersema told a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday.

The report tabled in the House of Commons on Thursday morning revisited earlier investigations into living conditions on First Nations reserves — where services provided by provinces or municipalities in the rest of the country are under the sole jurisdiction of Ottawa — and found that many key recommendations had still not been satisfactorily implemented.

Continuing problems include a growing housing shortage, mould in the housing that is there, access to safe drinking water, a high level of high school dropouts among First Nations children living on reserves, and a lack of culturally appropriate child and family services.

The report urges both Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and First Nations communities to come up with new ways to deal with the issues, including rethinking funding arrangements and choosing legislation over policy.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Cop unmasked: Meet Const. Glenn Weddell, the officer ID'd in G20 assault

Police Const. Glenn Weddell has been identified as the officer who allegedly slammed Dorian Barton with a riot shield and hit him with a baton during the G20, the Toronto Star has learned.

Weddell is the subject officer at the centre of a Special Investigations Unit probe, which in turn is at the heart of a public bickering match between Toronto police and the civilian agency charged with overseeing them.

Investigators have asked 11 witness officers to identify the colleague accused of beating Barton during last June’s G20 summit. Eight of them were within the immediate vicinity of Barton’s violent takedown; one of them was also the officer’s roommate during the summit, according to the SIU.

None of the officers were able to offer a positive identification, leading many critics to suggest a “blue wall of silence” was at play.

“I don’t know if they’re telling the truth or not,” Ian Scott, head of the SIU, told the Star last month. “I really don’t know.”

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Other Doug plays with political dynamite

As right-wing pols go, deputy Mayor Doug Holyday is not as partisan as some who make up Rob Ford’s inner circle jerks.

If you watch Holyday closely enough at council meetings, you might catch a smile wrinkling his lips on those occasions when he stands in the chamber to do nothing more than toe the party line – which is often these days.

What to make, then, of the political dynamite he’s playing with – namely, his idea of redrawing electoral boundaries to more accurately reflect the population in each ward? Sounds too democratic to be true.

Holyday says he’s pitching the plan in the interest of “fairness.”

It’s tempting to view his initiative as a political boon for the downtown, where condo growth has upped the numbers living in the core. Some on the left certainly have. They were under the impression – mistaken, it turns out – that Holyday’s realignment would mean a more equitable distribution of seats, the current 44 wards either realigned or a few more added to take into account population growth.

Maybe someone in the mayor’s office got to the deputy mayor.

Cuz now he’s talking, to me at least, about going along with the mayor’s plan to halve the number of council seats from the current 44 to 22. Where the mayor and his deputy diverge is on Holyday’s preference for an elected board of control – eight members chosen citywide, two for each of the four districts – to replace the executive committee currently handpicked by the mayor. That comes as news to Adam Vaughan, who has been commiserating with Holyday on the subject of ward boundaries.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why would Ford’s go-to guy on the inner workings of government hatch a plan to weaken the power of the hand that feeds him? The answer is that he’s not.

Full Article
Source: Now