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, July 23, 2011

Who's Really Writing States' Legislation?

Republican legislators picked up 680 seats in state House and Senate chambers in the 2010 elections.

"They now hold more state legislative seats than at any time since 1928, the year that Herbert Hoover came to the presidency," says reporter John Nichols. "They control 25 states [with] both houses of the legislature. There are also 21 states where Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governorship. And in the backroom of politics, that's what people really want. If you've got governor, state House and state Senate, you can pretty much roll through whatever legislation you want."

Nichols, a political reporter for The Nation, recently wrote the introduction and co-authored two in a series of articles about the relationship that state-based legislators have with a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a group that brings together state legislators and representatives of corporations to draft model bills that can then be introduced at the state level of government. An archive of ALEC documents was recently leaked to the Center for Media and Democracy.

Appreciating Stephen Harper, kind of

Nothing makes me appreciate Stephen Harper more than the moral corruption that characterizes political life in the nations to which Canada is closest: the U.S., Britain and France. Last week I wrote about the bizarrely amoral world of French socialism, but failed to point out how much better the left still were than France's conservatives, including the erratic, hyper fellow who is now president.

Then there's the Britain. What should be clear by now is that Rupert Murdoch has actually owned the British government all the way back to Margaret Thatcher, his soul sister. That influence is what he brazenly demands in return for the backing of his papers that every British leader has sold his soul for. It's not just that he's been able, until this month, to build his hegemonic media empire unimpeded by the normal regulatory obstacles. It's been far more sinister.

Mr. Murdoch has opinions, invariably mean-spirited ones, on every aspect of public policy both domestic and foreign, and every prime minister has known precisely what they are and what Murdoch's papers do if they're ignored. So Tony Blair, who sold his soul to Murdoch in return for unparalleled electoral success, peddles Thatcherite neo-liberalism, privatizes and deregulates, lies his way into Iraq, and leaves as a legacy one of the two most unequal states in the rich world; no prizes for guessing number one.

Plausible deniability's not lack of responsibility

Rupert Murdoch has told British parliamentarians that he’s not responsible for the phone hacking at the News of the World. And Rebekah Brooks, the newspaper’s former editor, has done the same. I believe they’re both speaking honestly. But speaking honestly and telling the truth can be two very different things.

I’ve no doubt they believe they weren’t responsible for the actions at the heart of this scandal, just as Colonel Oran Henderson, the brigade commander who ordered the attack on My Lai in 1968, was certain he wasn’t responsible for that outcome. Col. Henderson had urged his officers to “go in there aggressively, close with the enemy and wipe them out for good,” an order that immediately preceded his men executing between 350 and 500 Vietnamese women, children and unarmed men. Accused of subsequently taking part in a cover-up, Col. Henderson denied being told about the murder of civilians. Ultimately, a military court backed him up. But, of course, we all know that “not guilty” is a legal outcome that shouldn’t be confused with “innocent.”

As Canada's Cities Slowly Crumble

How prioritizing military spending led to the neglect of our infrastructure.

Having recently been away in New Zealand and Australia, it is a real treat to return to the exquisitely sweet softness of Central Canada in mid-summer.

Except, except ...

Time spent abroad always sharpens the comparative perspective. Returning from trips abroad over the past decade or so, I have noticed – with an increasing sense of alarm – that, in comparison to most of Europe and Australasia, this country is looking kind of tired, worn down, and generally uncared for.

For some reason, on this occasion, I experienced that sensation of Canada’s falling behind with particular intensity. So, with this post, I have decided to put the analysis of international relations on hold and share some thoughts, instead, on what is becoming of Canada, my home and native land.

Defense on the Chopping Block

In the disgusting spectacle of the talks between President Obama and the Republicans on cutting spending, there’s one bright spot: the Department of Defense is facing serious cuts.

If one were serious about reducing the deficit without either slashing entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security or raising taxes one penny, here’s a simple solution: cut Pentagon spending by one-third, and voilà! There’s $2 trillion in deficit reduction right there. (By contrast, the protracted and ugly talks between the White House and Congress are projected to reduce the deficit by somewhere between $2.5 trillion and $4 trillion, depending on whose plan you look at.)

Of course, no one is seriously considering slashing the DOD budget by a third. But serious cuts are likely, as much as $900 billion, or about 15 percent of the projected $6 trillion in military spending over the next decade. And it’s got hawks and neoconservatives up in arms.

Gay by Choice? The Science of Sexual Identity

When he leaves his tidy apartment in an ocean-side city somewhere in America, Aaron turns on the radio to a light rock station. "For the cat," he explains, "so she won't get lonely." He's short and balding and dressed mostly in black, and right before I turn on the recorder, he asks me for the dozenth time to guarantee that I won't reveal his name or anything else that might identify him. "I don't want to be a target for gay activists," he says as we head out into the misty day. "Harassment like that I just don't need."

Aaron sets a much brisker pace down the boardwalk than you would expect of a doughy 51-year-old, and once convinced I'll respect his anonymity, he turns out to be voluble. Over the crash of the waves, he spares no details as he describes how much he hated the fact that he was gay, how the last thing in the world he wanted to do was act on his desire to have sex with another man. "I'm going to be perfectly blatant about it," he says. "I'm not going to have anal intercourse or give or receive any BJs either, okay?" He managed to maintain his celibacy through college and into adulthood. But when, in the late 1980s, he found himself so "insanely jealous" of his roommate's girlfriend that he had to move out, he knew the time had come to do something. One of the few people who knew that Aaron was gay showed him an article in Newsweek about a group offering "reparative therapy"—psychological treatment for people who want to become "ex-gay."

Tories judge evidence of falling rates inadmissible

As we have seen many times before, evidence doesn’t count when it comes to the Harper government and crime policy. Emotion apparently does.

Yet again, Statistics Canada reports that crime rates continue to fall across almost all categories of crime. And yet again, the government persists in proceeding with sledgehammer anti-crime policies that are costly, have been tried and abandoned in the United States, and, in some cases, will be counterproductive.

No matter. The Conservatives have this thing about crime. They look hard evidence in the face, deny it and proceed. Their explanation: Most crime is unreported, so the overall rates must be rising.

Lawyer slams Ottawa's naming of war-crimes suspects

Federal government undermining presumption of innocence, immigration attorney says

A Quebec immigration lawyer is criticizing the Canadian government's recent release of photos of 30 suspected war criminals.

The photographs are displayed on a government website along with the last known places of residence of each of the 30 people.

Lawyer Dan Bohbot said it undermines the idea that people in Canada are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

‘Smooth clean roads’ a priority for Toronto, says Ford

Mayor Rob Ford says Torontonians’ top three priorities are security, “smooth clean roads” and having a clean city with garbage picked up and graffiti erased.

Ford made the comments Friday while appearing on CP24’s noon show with Stephen LeDrew.

Ford listed the priorities, based on what people tell him, after LeDrew asked about a host of cuts suggested by consultant KPMG. He didn’t respond to LeDrew’s specific question about whether Riverdale Farm should be closed.

G20 investigator wants law to ban disguises after 17 suspects unidentified

Toronto police detectives tasked with holding vandals to account for the wanton destruction and vandalism that occurred during last summer’s chaotic G20 weekend admit many criminals escaped punishment because they could not be identified — including those who burned two of their police cars.

“There was a lot of people who committed criminal acts who didn’t go on to be apprehended just based on how much of a disguise they were wearing,” says Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux, the lead investigator of the police’s G20 Investigative Team.

The specialized unit has so far made 40 arrests and laid 257 criminal charges for summit-related offences. They also have arrest warrants out for five U.S. citizens, all of whom are in the top 10 of the police’s “G20 Most Wanted,” Giroux said.

Mallick: Ford’s discount Toronto — some assembly required

“Smells like Ikea,” I said when I got home.

I was referring to my basement — I had just accepted delivery of a couch so cheap it was eerie — but I could have been talking about Mayor Rob Ford’s cost-cutting Toronto, as both depress me to my core. The city he is trying to downgrade and outsource reeks just like my Ektorp, bought for peanuts, self-assembled and built to disintegrate in a light rain.

I did not think it would come to this.

I have nothing against the Swedish cult, indeed, The Bickersons go to Ikea is our home movie. But when I was an impoverished student I dreamed of a time when I would enter an actual furniture store and buy a plausible finished couch, in-vitro as it were.