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.]

Monday, June 20, 2011

Harvard, Vanderbilt, Spelman Exposed For Taking Part in “African Land Grab”

A new report raises questions about the connection of Harvard, Vanderbilt and other U.S. universities to European financial interests buying or leasing vast areas of African farmland. Called “Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa,” the report by the Oakland Institute claims farmers in Africa are being driven off their lands to make way for new industrial farming projects backed by hedge funds seeking profits and foreign countries looking for cheap food. We speak with Anuradha Mittal, the executive director of the Oakland Institute. “We have heard about the role of these private hedge funds in food speculation and speculation of food prices because they control commodities” says Mittal. “But when they start buying even the means of production, they control labor, large tracks of land, they control water, it is the kind of vertical integration of the food system we have never seen before.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

The Audacity of Hope: U.S. Peace Activists to Sail to Gaza in Humanitarian Flotilla

Dozens of Americans hope to set sail this week on a U.S.-flagged ship, “The Audacity of Hope,” as part of an international flotilla which aims to challenge Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian solidarity activists are setting sail from a number of ports just over a year after Israeli forces killed nine activists on an aid boat called the Mavi Marmara, which was part of the first such international flotilla. Israel says it will again use force to stop the aid flotilla from reaching Gaza. We speak with passengers of the U.S. boat, New York labor attorney Richard Levy and peace activist Kathy Kelly. Levy says the flotilla’s challenge to Israel’s embargo is legal and that it is the blockade that is illegal. “It’s a violation of the Geneva Accords to occupy a country, as has been done here through the control of all its borders, and then block supplies, block people from moving in and out,” says Levy.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Call Off the Global Drug War


IN an extraordinary new initiative announced earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has made some courageous and profoundly important recommendations in a report on how to bring more effective control over the illicit drug trade. The commission includes the former presidents or prime ministers of five countries, a former secretary general of the United Nations, human rights leaders, and business and government leaders, including Richard Branson, George P. Shultz and Paul A. Volcker.

The report describes the total failure of the present global antidrug effort, and in particular America’s “war on drugs,” which was declared 40 years ago today. It notes that the global consumption of opiates has increased 34.5 percent, cocaine 27 percent and cannabis 8.5 percent from 1998 to 2008. Its primary recommendations are to substitute treatment for imprisonment for people who use drugs but do no harm to others, and to concentrate more coordinated international effort on combating violent criminal organizations rather than nonviolent, low-level offenders.

These recommendations are compatible with United States drug policy from three decades ago. In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts. I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”

These ideas were widely accepted at the time. But in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan and Congress began to shift from balanced drug policies, including the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.

This approach entailed an enormous expenditure of resources and the dependence on police and military forces to reduce the foreign cultivation of marijuana, coca and opium poppy and the production of cocaine and heroin. One result has been a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.

The commission’s facts and arguments are persuasive. It recommends that governments be encouraged to experiment “with models of legal regulation of drugs ... that are designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.” For effective examples, they can look to policies that have shown promising results in Europe, Australia and other places.

But they probably won’t turn to the United States for advice. Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations. At the end of 1980, just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million. There are 743 people in prison for every 100,000 Americans, a higher portion than in any other country and seven times as great as in Europe. Some 7.2 million people are either in prison or on probation or parole — more than 3 percent of all American adults!

Full Article
Source: New York Times 

Canada Post Strike: Back-To-Work Legislation Expected Monday

CBC -- Legislation that would send locked-out Canada Post employees back to work is expected to be tabled in Parliament Monday afternoon.

A bill to end rotating strikes, which began June 3 and then became a full-time lockout on June 15, would restore postal service across Canada.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt was expected to introduce the bill in the House of Commons, but it would be up to the NDP to set the debate Monday, because it's allocated to the Opposition's agenda.

If debate began Tuesday, an act could be signed into law as early as Thursday.

The weekend brought no advance toward a settlement, as negotiations remained stalled. Both Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers had said they were scheduled to meet, but face-to-face talks failed to take place.

Rallies and demonstrations were planned by the union for Monday in Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Kamloops, B.C., and three centres in New Brunswick.

Denis Lemelin, national president of the 48,000-member union, said he's bracing for an order from Ottawa to get back on the job.

"We expect the government will put forward something," he said. "It's like the real negotiation between Canada Post and the union is finished."

Lemelin said the fact the government has indicated it might step in and "rescue" the post office in the labour dispute suggests Canada Post has been waiting for Ottawa to intervene.

The Crown corporation has said the main sticking point in the dispute is the union's demand for staffing levels beyond the capability of Canada Post, adding that wages were not the key disagreement.

The union has been emphasizing working conditions and safety issues, as well as decrying the corporation's push to have new employees receive substantially inferior wages and pensions. CUPW also says Canada Post turned a profit in each of the last 16 years.

Raitt has said she intends to introduce legislation this week after all urban postal operations were suspended last Wednesday, when Canada Post locked out employees who had been staging rotating strikes since June 3.

"We will fight it, that's clear," said Lemelin, adding that the union has been in talks with the opposition parties, looking for support.

"For us, the back-to-work legislation won't be any good for the future of the post office."

Full Article
Source: Huffington  

Libya: The latest product in Canada's ugly war assembly line

NATO members, including Canada, are continuing their massive bombing campaign against Libya in a war that may just break the record for the casual breaking of international law, and for lying about the motives for the war.

There is no mandate to engage in "regime change," yet everyone, including the Harper government, openly admits that that is, in fact, what they are doing. Canada has stated that only the removal of Gaddafi will satisfy NATO. Not the United Nations -- which gave a mandate to protect civilians from the Libyan government's attacks -- but NATO, that alliance whose mandate is supposed to be the mutual self defence of nations of the north Atlantic.

No one refers to this war against Libya as a criminal conspiracy but the term would be perfectly appropriate. And I suppose we should not be surprised that an organization that constantly violates its own mandate can hardly be expected to wince at violating someone else's they have taken over. NATO, with almost no comment from anywhere, has become a military intervention agency aimed at protecting Western industrial nations -- not from military threat but from an economic one: the threat of higher oil prices and the gradual loss of its dominant access to Middle East oil and gas.

There seems to be so little public interest in this war that its perpetrators lie like six year olds next to a cookie jar because so far they have largely gotten away with it. As the war was quickly transformed from protecting civilians to getting "the evil G," all the western governments thought they had to do was show photos of Colonel Gaddafi looking demented or telling stories about his eccentric behaviour in order to pacify their populations.

Canadians actually oppose the extension of the war by a substantial margin (over 2:1 in an informal Globe and Mail poll) but so long as the media goes along with the lies (The CBC as recent as June 1 reported: "Canada is helping to enforce a no-fly zone as part of a multinational operation.") and opposition parties rubber-stamp the mayhem, the Harper war machine (some 650 troops and over a dozen fighter bombers) can continue its assaults politically unscathed.

There are so many things about this war that are farcical, dishonest, amateurish, and just plain morally wrong that Canada and the other warmongers have given up serious efforts at justifying it. They have just recognized a rag tag National Transition Council as the "legitimate representative" of the Libyan people despite that fact that it can demonstrate no unity of any kind except its own lust for power. It has no plans for democracy and no stated vision for the country post-Gadhafi. Behind the scenes the NATO geniuses running the show admit they have absolutely no idea what the country would look like if this disparate gang of unelected and unrepresentative opportunists ever got to exercise power.

Full Article

Stephen Harper's Senate Gamble

Piecemeal reform could disappoint Alberta, attack Ontario, and anger Quebec.

Legend has it that the Emperor Caligula once appointed his favourite horse Incitatus to the Roman Senate. When he recently named three rejected Conservative MP candidates to the upper house, our own prime minister didn’t go quite that far, but he ruffled more than a few feathers. It was, without question, a blatantly partisan move. But it may also have been a very clever one: With his actions, Stephen Harper has demonstrated, reductio ad absurdum, the need for Senate reform in Canada.

Harper has shown a preoccupation with the Senate ever since he began his political career in the Reform party. The party’s base in Alberta has long called for an elected, equal, and effective Senate that would strengthen the West’s representation in Ottawa and counterbalance the influence of Quebec and Ontario. The issue is important enough to Alberta that the province elected its own senators-in-waiting. In 1990, Brian Mulroney felt obliged to appoint one of them, Stan Waters, to the upper house, while Harper followed up in 2007 by appointing Bert Brown. Harper’s previous reformist attempts were thwarted by his parliamentary minority, but this obstacle was removed on May 2. With the recent speech from the throne, Senate reform is now officially back on the agenda.

Harper’s modest proposal

So what should we expect? Harper won’t be able to completely overhaul the upper house. It would take a constitutional amendment to alter the distribution of seats, change the way senators are selected, or modify their powers. The procedure is slow, cumbersome, and risky, and any change requires the formal support of seven provinces representing more than 50 per cent of Canada’s population. It would mean launching a new round of constitutional negotiations with Quebec. And for defenders of the status quo, that can of worms is best left on the shelf.

All things considered, the government’s current proposal seems modest. Right now, senators are appointed by the Governor General on the prime minister’s recommendation. Under the government’s plan, the prime minister would consult the public before making his recommendations. These “consultations” could be formalized through a popular ballot. This could be done in tandem with federal elections and would create, in practice, an elected Senate. Also, by limiting senators’ terms to eight years, the Upper House would become accountable and democratic.

At first glance, it seems like a brilliant idea. We would avoid the headache of a constitutional amendment, and rectify one of the most glaring deficiencies in our political system. Harper would be hailed as having solved a problem as old as Confederation.

The provinces’ reaction

But Quebec and Ontario have already voiced their opposition. And together, the two central provinces could derail Ottawa’s plans.

Ontario, on the one hand, has nothing to gain from this type of reform. The seats in the House of Commons are distributed according to population, and Canada’s most crowded province is wary of any Senate reform that could dilute its influence, regardless of the potential for improved equality or efficiency. Premier Dalton McGuinty has instead suggested abolishing the upper house altogether.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

Post Primer: Reforming the Senate

The Harper government is poised to introduce Senate reform legislation in the House of Commons this week, launching a national debate over whether a plan to change the upper chamber will improve Canadian democracy or make it worse. The bill, to be tabled by Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal, is the culmination of many years of successive promises by Prime Minister Stephen Harper — dating back to his early career as an opposition MP — to democratize the Senate. A quick Senate reform primer:

Q How have others tried to reform the Senate?

A Brian Mulroney unsuccessfully tried constitutional change twice – through the Meech Lake accord and Charlottetown accord. Under Meech, the Prime Minister would appoint senators from a list submitted by a province. The Charlottetown accord proposed an elected Senate, either by a popular vote or election by members of provincial and territorial assemblies. There would be regional equity, with six senators from each province and one from each territory.

Q What did Harper’s Reform roots demand?

A Under Preston Manning, the Reform party advocated a Triple-E Senate: elected, equal and effective.

Q Why isn’t Harper opting for constitutional change?

A He says it’s too difficult now to get provincial consensus, so he won’t bother. He promises the right outcome for Canada, but critics say he’s trying to sidestep the Constitution by making changes through the back door.

Q What’s the plan for term limits?

A Currently, a senator is in the job until he or she turns 75 — a system which, according to some, can breed arrogance and laziness among senators. In the last Parliament, Mr. Harper proposed an eight-year term limit. Critics said that was too short. Mr. Harper has reportedly decided to make it a nine-year term.

Q What’s the plan for Senate elections?

A Each province is currently allocated a certain number of senators. The bill will set out a voluntary framework through which provinces can hold elections where voters elect nominees for the Senate. Provinces will be encouraged to adopt this process, and Mr. Harper will commit to pick from the list of winners when he makes Senate appointments.

Q What do the provinces think of this idea?

A Some like it, while others are firmly opposed. Alberta has already held Senate elections that produced two senators. Saskatchewan has passed legislation enabling provincial Senate elections, but none have been held. British Columbia has indicated it is also onside with the idea. Elsewhere, Mr. Harper has major problems. Quebec says it will challenge the law in court. Others — including Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia — simply want the Senate abolished.

Q Will Mr. Harper create a Triple-E Senate?

A No. It will not be equal. Smaller provinces such as those from Atlantic Canada that were original members of Confederation will still have a disproportionate share of Senate seats, compared to larger provinces such as British Columbia. To make the change requires a constitutional amendment.

Q Will the Senate become more powerful?

A That’s the crucial question with no clear answer. But many expect that if Mr. Harper’s reforms become reality, the balance of power on Parliament Hill could shift dramatically. Over time, elected senators could decide they have more authority and credibility than in the past, and start flexing their muscle.

Source: National Post 

Senior Conservative hints Harper could go nuclear on Senate reform

Jason Kenney is suggesting his boss Stephen Harper could do away with the Senate if his Conservative caucus in the Red Chamber doesn’t play ball and accept his reforms.

Choosing his words carefully, Mr. Kenney avoided saying the word “abolish.” Rather, he said the Prime Minister is prepared to “entertain more dramatic options” if Tory senators continue to balk at his proposal.

The government is expected to introduce its Senate-reform legislation in the House of Commons this week, just before its rises for the summer. A fiery exchange between Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin and the NDP’s democratic reform critic, David Christopherson, on CTV’s Question Period Sunday showed just how passionate this debate has become.

Mr. Kenney is not only the Immigration Minister but also chairman of the powerful cabinet operations committee. His words carry some weight around the cabinet table.

“Well the Prime Minister, I think, has said publicly that our preference is a reformed democratic Senate,” Mr. Kenney told CTV’s Power Play late last week. “But if we don’t get that we are prepared to entertain more dramatic options but we prefer not to get into constitutional amendments. Our preference is reform without constitutional amendments.”

He noted, too, that Tory senators had agreed with the Prime Minister’s vision of reform – an elected Senate and term limits of eight years – when they were appointed to the Red Chamber.

But it appears now that some senators want longer terms. Mr. Harper had initially suggested eight years but has since compromised to nine years.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Consumer safety law takes effect

New rules giving the Canadian government the power to remove unsafe products from store shelves take effect Monday after years of hold-ups.

Canada's Consumer Product Safety Act was proclaimed into law a year ago after years of being stalled in the legislative process, including objections in the Senate, and because of the frequency of federal elections.

Starting Monday, when the law comes into force, federal ministers will be granted new powers to pull unsafe toys, sporting goods, cribs and some other household products off the shelves instead of just requesting producers do so.

The act does not affect products such as autos and their integral parts, food or drugs. They come under other legislation.

Under the old act, the government can only request that suppliers take action.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Ottawa seeks to end postal disruption

Legislation that would send locked-out Canada Post employees back to work is expected in Parliament Monday afternoon.

A bill to end rotating strikes, which began June 3 and then became a full-time lockout on June 15, would restore postal service across Canada.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt will introduce the bill in the House of Commons after the conclusion of question period at 3 p.m. Little else can be done on the bill Monday, which is an "opposition day" in the House with debate controlled by the NDP.

Debate is expected to begin Tuesday, leading to a possible vote on Thursday, the last scheduled day of the session before the House is to rise for the summer. The opposition NDP has threatened to use parliamentary tactics to delay the vote, but Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said Monday the House will remain in session until the bill is passed, even if it has to sit on Saturday.

The weekend brought no advance toward a settlement, as negotiations remained stalled. Both Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers had said they were scheduled to meet, but face-to-face talks failed to take place. Talks are scheduled for Monday afternoon.

Rallies and demonstrations were planned by the union for Monday in Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Kamloops, B.C., and three centres in New Brunswick.

Denis Lemelin, national president of the 48,000-member union, said he's bracing for an order from Ottawa to get back on the job.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Canada spent $1M to lobby U.S. on unproven carbon capture technology

OTTAWA—Newly released documents show Canada has spent $1 million on a travelling salesman peddling an unproven technology that has been a darling of the Conservative government.

The documents show the federal government hired a special adviser on climate change and energy to lobby key players in the United States over energy and environmental issues.

The job description includes promoting carbon capture and storage, a made-in-Canada but still unproven technique for pumping greenhouse gas deep underground.

The government created the job in 2009 and documents show the budget for the extra lobbying was more than $1 million over two years.

The need for the job arose from the so-called Clean Energy Dialogue that Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced two years ago with Barack Obama during the U.S. president’s maiden trip to Ottawa.

Conservative cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats are working with their American counterparts on a host of environmental and energy issues — including carbon capture and storage.

Source: Toronto Star 

NATO regrets airstrike that killed civilians in Tripoli

TRIPOLI, LIBYA—Libya’s government said NATO warplanes struck a residential neighbourhood in the capital Sunday and killed nine civilians, including two children. Hours later, NATO confirmed one of its airstrikes went astray.

The incident gave supporters of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime a new rallying point against the international intervention in Libya’s civil war. The foreign minister called for a “global jihad” on the West in response.

Early Sunday morning, journalists based in the Libyan capital were rushed by government officials to the damaged building, which appeared to have been partly under construction. Reporters were later escorted back to the site, where children’s toys, teacups and dust-covered mattresses could be seen amid the rubble.

In a statement issued late Sunday at Brussels headquarters, the trans-Atlantic alliance said airstrikes were launched against a military missile site in Tripoli, but “it appears that one weapon did not strike the intended target and that there may have been a weapons system failure which may have caused a number of civilian casualties.”

“NATO regrets the loss of innocent civilian lives and takes great care in conducting strikes against a regime determined to use violence against its own citizens,” said Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of the anti-Libya operation.

Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi told reporters nine civilians, including two children, were killed in the explosion and said 18 people were wounded. He said the strike was a “deliberate attack on a civilian neighbourhood,” and follows other alleged targeting of non-military targets such as a hotel, an oxygen factory and civilian vehicles.

It has not always been possible to independently verify the government’s reports of strikes on non-military targets since NATO began its air operations in March.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Agencies’ funding rejected despite passing marks

Two Toronto immigrant agencies were given passing marks on their grant applications by two out of three assessors, but still lost their federal funding, documents obtained by the Star show.

The South Asian Women’s Centre, established in 1982, lost its bid for $693,000 — the majority of its overall funding — from Ottawa on April 1 and has been forced to cut services and close satellite offices. It served 14,000 clients in 2010. The Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Centre, a multi-service agency in existence since 1985, was denied $426,000 it sought for family settlement services.

The two agencies were among some 34 Ontario organizations — 14 in Toronto — that lost federal funding when Citizenship and Immigration Canada cut $43 million in settlement services in Ontario this year. The groups typically deliver language, employment and integration programs to newcomers.

According to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, funding proposals submitted by the South Asian Women’s Centre and Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Centre were each reviewed by three immigration officers.

In both cases, two assessors gave the funding requests a score above the passing mark of 105, while a third evaluator failed them.

“This is absolutely unfair,” said Kripa Sekhar, executive director of the women’s centre. She said the agency, which was forced to lay off seven workers, repeatedly requested information, without success, on how the funding decision was reached.

“We had no idea how these proposals were assessed,” she said, adding “we were not offered any opportunity to respond to the questions immigration raised” on the score sheets.

Immigration spokesperson Tracie LeBlanc said both agencies needed a third assessment by managers because staff was split in their decision.

“While an organization may have received a ‘pass,’ this does not imply CIC made the final decision to provide funding,” she told the Star in an email.

Funding was rejected “based on a number of factors, including their overall assessment scores and feasibility rankings. Both organizations received a ‘D’ feasibility rank,” said LeBlanc, adding the agencies were informed of the decision-making process.

Kim Fraser, Davenport-Perth’s executive director, said the organization feels betrayed by the government, given agencies were told to “think big” during an information session last spring detailing the government’s new “modernized approach” to settlement programming.

“Why encourage people to think big when the intention was to make cuts?”

The Ontario Council for Agencies Serving Immigrants, an umbrella group representing 200 settlement organizations, asked Ottawa to implement a mechanism for reviewing funding decisions to improve transparency, but the request was denied.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

US nuke regulators weaken safety rules

LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) -- Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation's aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.

Time after time, officials at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews.

The result? Rising fears that these accommodations by the NRC are significantly undermining safety - and inching the reactors closer to an accident that could harm the public and jeopardize the future of nuclear power in the United States.

Examples abound. When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed - up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards.

Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes - all of these and thousands of other problems linked to aging were uncovered in the AP's yearlong investigation. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident.

Yet despite the many problems linked to aging, not a single official body in government or industry has studied the overall frequency and potential impact on safety of such breakdowns in recent years, even as the NRC has extended the licenses of dozens of reactors.

Industry and government officials defend their actions, and insist that no chances are being taken. But the AP investigation found that with billions of dollars and 19 percent of America's electricity supply at stake, a cozy relationship prevails between the industry and its regulator, the NRC.

Full Article
Source: Associated Press