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, July 25, 2011

God's Own Warden

It was a chilly December morning when I got to the gates of Angola prison, and I was nervous as I waited to be admitted. To begin with, nothing looked the way it ought to have looked. The entrance, with its little yellow gatehouse and red brick sign, could have marked the gates of one of the smaller national parks. There was a museum with a gift shop, where I perused miniature handcuffs, jars of inmate-made jelly, and mugs that read "Angola: A Gated Community" before moving on to the exhibits, which include Gruesome Gertie, the only electric chair in which a prisoner was executed twice. (It didn't take the first time, possibly because the executioners were visibly drunk.)

Besides being cold and disoriented, I had the well-founded sense of being someplace where I wasn't wanted. Angola welcomes a thousand or more visitors a month, including religious groups, schoolchildren, and tourists taking a side trip from their vacations in plantation country. Under ordinary circumstances, it's possible to drive up to the gate and tour the prison in a state vehicle, accompanied by a staff guide. But for me, it had taken close to two years and the threat of an ACLU lawsuit to get permission to visit the place.

Poverty pariah

OCAP heads to allan gardens this weekend for another of the org’s legendary mass feed-ins to press for an increase in social assistance rates.

Not that it, or any other anti-poverty group, has had much luck. Assistance levels have been allowed to fall stunningly behind over the years: single people currently receive $592 a month, a living wage when Lester Pearson was prime minister. Singles on the Ontario Disability Support Program get $1,042.

Problem is, don’t look for a discussion on rates in the upcoming election; the Liberals have neatly tucked the issue away in their social assistance review process. Struck last November, the review is being led by two highly respected figures: Frances Lankin, past president and CEO of United Way Toronto, and Munir Sheikh, former chief statistician for the feds, the civil servant who quit on principle over the long-form census affair.

With government spending, virtue hath its own rewards

In 1900, the governments of the world’s most advanced economies taxed and spent, on average, 10 per cent of respective GDP each year. By 2000, they taxed and spent 33 per cent – France alone taxed and spent more than 50 per cent.

In its most recent analysis of government spending, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development says its 34 member countries now spend, on average, 44.6 per cent of GDP – and that 10 of them spend more than 50 per cent.

In a similar analysis of a larger block of countries, the Lausanne-based IMD Business School’s World Competitiveness Report says the number of European governments that spend more than 50 per cent of GDP has risen to 12. It puts average government spending in the world’s 58 most developed countries at 47 per cent of GDP and says the 23 biggest state spenders are all European countries. From this perspective, the very concept of limited government – from which many of our blessings flow – looks quaintly anachronistic.

It's time to close Canada's food banks

Food banks have become a serious obstacle in the fight against poverty. By promising to “end hunger” by feeding hungry Canadians, they provide a comforting illusion that no one is hungry – or if they are, it’s their own fault. They shelter us from the harsh reality that millions lack the basic necessities of life.

It’s time to close our food banks. I’ve reached this conclusion after 18 years of researching food, hunger and poverty; volunteering at food banks; serving on a food bank board; and recently taking part in a challenge where I ate from a typical food bank hamper for three days.
Timothy McVeigh, meet Anders Behring Breivik.

Those two jihadists—two right-wing reactionaries, two terrorists, two anti-government white supremacists, two Christians—have a lot in common, down to the way the massacres they carried out were first mistaken for the work of Islamists by an American press rich in zealotry of its own. And they have a lot more in common with the fundamentalist politicians and ideologues among us who pretend to have nothing to do with the demons they inspire.

National Organization for Marriage continues fighting ‘war on marriage’ with hefty cash arsenal

Sunday’s inaugural same-sex marriages in New York were met by thousands of protesters blasting the New York Legislature’s passage of the Marriage Equality Act last month. Alongside the profanity-laden chants coming from the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) camp, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) — which condemned the WBC, for its brand of protest, according to the Huffington Post — organized four rallies in the state, employing as its theme “Let the People Vote!,” which is also the name of NOM’s brand-new New York-centric website.

Are There Any Republican Adults in the Room: The Challenge Confronting Our Country

At the hastily called White House news conference following the collapse of discussions with Speaker John Boehner on raising the debt ceiling and deficit reduction, President Obama rhetorically asked: "Is there anything that the Republicans can say 'yes' to?" Yes, there is: his resignation or re-election defeat.

If it were not clear before, it is unmistakably clear now that the majority of Republicans in Congress are prepared to subordinate the best interests and welfare of our country, and violate their oaths of office, in pursuit of defeating Obama; at all costs.

Obama's Elitism, Republican Principled Ignorance and the Debt Ceiling Debate

During the 2008 presidential campaign opponents of then candidate Barack Obama, both in the primary and the general election, attacked him for being an elitist. Apparently, despite his modest roots, Obama was viewed by some as an elitist largely because he studied hard in school and managed to graduate from Columbia University, earn a law degree from Harvard University and work briefly as a professor of law at the University of Chicago. There is a deep strain of anti-intellectualism in American politics, as in many countries, so candidates with degrees from elite universities, particularly if those candidates speak well and demonstrate a capability for complex thought can expect to be attacked in this way.

Although many come from more privileged backgrounds than the president, the Republicans in the House of Representatives, on the other hand, cannot be accused of being elitists. On the contrary, they are contemptuous of formal education and wear their ignorance of the world and the economy as almost badge of honor. The contrast between the House Republican outlook and that of the president is extreme and playing itself out over the debt ceiling negotiations in a dire manner. Where President Obama, based on his negotiating strategy, sees a troubled but complex economy and recognizes the reality that failing to extend the debt ceiling would be a devastating mistake, the House Republicans see another opportunity to bang the anti-tax drum while continuing to live in an economic fantasy world where they can cut taxes and balance the budget either by magic or, failing that, by eviscerating what is left of the American economy and social fabric.

Officer charged with assault after altercation in east Toronto

A 32-year-old Toronto police constable has been charged with assault causing bodily harm following an altercation at a Scarborough police station last Friday.

It's alleged that Constable Matthew Glen, who has 10 years service, was the booking officer when the alleged victim was arrested and brought to the 41 Division police station shortly before 4 a.m.

It was not clear why the man had been arrested but a police source said it was for a relatively minor offence.

Constable Glen was not involved in the initial arrest, but as the suspect was being processed an argument ensued when he became “mouthy,” the source said.

It's alleged that Constable Glen then struck the man. He was not seriously injured.,

Constable Glen was arrested and charged later the same day.

He is to appear at College Park court Sept. 12.

Source: Globe & Mail 

Ontario power generators shell out $35M to get rid of surplus juice

OTTAWA — Ontario’s electricity generators have shelled out $35 million this year to get neighbouring jurisdictions to take surplus power off their hands and are helping to drive up the cost of power to consumers in the process.

According to the province’s Independent Electrical System Operator (IESO), electricity prices were negative — meaning sellers had to pay buyers in the U.S. or Quebec to take surplus electricity — a total of 95 hours in the first six months of this year.

That’s up sharply from the same period in 2010, when there were only 10 hours of negative prices at a cost of $4.2 million. However, it’s down from 2009, when there were 280 hours of negative prices in the first six months, and 351 for the year as a whole.

Man dies during Toronto airport arrest

TORONTO - The Ontario Special Investigation Unit is investigating an incident in which a man died outside Toronto Pearson International Airport after being restrained by the Peel Regional Police.

At 2:15 a.m. on Sunday, police ``became involved'' with a man on the ramp to Terminal 3 at Pearson. Soon after officers had restrained the man, he stopped showing vital signs. He was pronounced dead after being taken to Etobicoke General Hospital.

Nine investigators, including six forensic experts, are investigating the incident.

Ontario's SIU only investigates incidents of death, serious injury, or sexual assault that may have involved the police.

Source: Vancouver Sun 

Michele Bachmann Hits Back At Tim Pawlenty On Credentials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. presidential candidate Michele Bachmann hit back at a Republican rival Sunday, saying her experience with the conservative Tea Party movement made her uniquely qualified to trim down Washington.

Bachmann, a U.S. representative from Minnesota who has emerged as a serious contender for her party's 2012 presidential nomination, said ex-Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was off-base to suggest she lacked the credentials to take over the White House.

"I have a lifetime record of success and action in the real world,'' Bachmann said in a statement from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she is campaigning ahead of the Aug. 13 Iowa straw poll, which is a key test of strength for Republican presidential candidates in the early voting state.

Senator Ruben Diaz, National Organization For Marriage Protest Gay Marriage In New York

New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., along with National Organization For Marriage Chair Maggie Gallagher, spent a sizable portion of their anti-gay marriage rally on Sunday denouncing another anti-gay marriage group, the Westboro Baptist Church.

Their rally and march, which took place the first day same-sex marriages were legally performed in New York, were attended by several thousand people, many of them Hispanic members of the Bronx church run by Diaz, who is also a Penetecostal minister. It began in front of Governor Cuomo's New York City offices on Park Avenue and then proceeded, for reasons that went unexplained during the speeches, to the United Nations. Men and women waved bibles and sang hymns; cries of "Jesus, Jesus" and "Let the People Vote" reverberated through the city streets. Also in attendance were a cluster of Orthodox Jewish men from the group Jews for Decency.

Although state polls consistently show that gay marriage is supported by nearly 60% of New Yorkers, the need for a direct vote on the issue of marriage equality was the theme stressed most often by speakers onstage at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. Diaz and Gallagher announced the launch of a website and anti-Cuomo campaign called

Free Trade Deals: Lobbying Fever Foreshadows Winners, Losers

WASHINGTON -- The three major free trade agreements Congress will soon consider are being promoted as a big win for American workers. But take a good look at who's lobbying for them most enthusiastically, and it becomes evident that the biggest winners will be giant multinational corporations -- and the countries on the other end of the deals.

The agreements would knock down any number of barriers and regulations currently limiting the unfettered flow of capital and goods between the U.S. and three countries: Korea, Colombia and Panama.

The agreements would ideally bring greater trade and wealth to all four economies; they would offer U.S. financial services huge new opportunities, while lowering costs for the nation's mega-retailers.

At least 1,400 arrests for antiwar dissent, but who’s counting? Not the press.

Antiwar activists repeatedly stage dramatic acts of civil disobedience in the United States but are almost entirely ignored by mainstream print and broadcast news organizations. During the Vietnam era, press coverage of the fighting and opposition to it at home helped turn public opinion against the war. This time around lack of homefront coverage may be helping keep military involvement continue on and on.

In the past two years, protests of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, killer drones, torture, nuclear weapons and other war-related issues have been carried out at nuclear weapons silos and production facilities, military bases, unmanned drone facilities, major defense contractors’ headquarters and offices, the Nevada Nuclear Test site, nuclear weapons design laboratories, military recruiting centers, the U.S. Capitol, the White House, federal buildings in various states, the U.S. Strategic Air Command, and numerous other war-oriented sites across the country.

Who owns the North Pole?

The ancient Norsemen believed the mountains and oceans were made from the remains of Ymir—an unlucky “frost ogre” whom the gods slaughtered for the purpose of creating the world. Odin and company were not known for tenderness, but they must have had a sense of humour. The undersea mountain range they left at the top of the planet makes that much clear.

Known as the Lomonosov Ridge, this towering, silt-covered furrow on the ocean floor begins from the nexus of Ellesmere Island and Greenland, then runs some 1,800 km beneath the polar ice cap to an archipelago called the New Siberian Islands. About halfway across, there is a single jag that sticks a couple of hundred kilometres toward the Barents Sea. And there, just below the point of the elbow, under about 4,200 m of frigid water, lies the geographic North Pole.

Warship contract would bring sea change in industry, builder says

Vancouver should brace itself for significant change if Vancouver Shipyards Company wins a portion of the $35-billion in federal contracts for new warships and other vessels this fall, a company executive says.

In an interview shortly after the company submitted its bid, John Shaw, a vice-president at the parent company Seaspan Marine Corp., said winning the contract would mean expansion of training and apprenticeship programs, and a search for more than 2,000 new employees.

“We would be rebuilding an industry. … We’re at a point where we would have to train a whole new generation on shipbuilding,” Mr. Shaw said. “It would be a huge change here.”

Myths and facts about the Muslim prayer space

There's growing hysteria against the prayer space for Muslim students at the Valley Park Middle School in Toronto. It's claimed that it gives special treatment to Muslims, undermines public education and imposes sexism on society, and that we should support a supposedly broad-based multifaith coalition that opposes it. But this is based on a series of myths.

Is WordFest muzzling a popular author to keep the Calgary Herald happy? Sure sounds like it

Brian Brennan is one of Alberta's most popular and best-read authors.

The Irish-born writer has been asked twice before to read from his new books at WordFest, the 16-year-old international writers' festival held in Calgary and Banff.

So why is this best-selling Calgary author being told he isn't welcome to read from his much-anticipated memoirs at the 2011 WordFest, which is scheduled to take place this year from Oct. 11 to 16?

A combination of servility by WordFest organizers and a nasty hangover from an ugly labour dispute that rocked Alberta a dozen years ago appears to be the answer.

You see, Brennan was active on the union side in the 1999-2000 lockout and strike at the Calgary Herald and deals with what happened during that important period of Alberta labour history in a key chapter of his memoirs. Add to that the fact the Calgary Herald is a "platinum" sponsor of WordFest and you have all the explanation you require.

Natural Gas is Not A Solution for Climate Change

It's time for natural gas companies to come clean about the chemicals used in fracking.

Can a fossil fuel help us avoid the harmful effects of other fossil fuels? It’s a question that’s come up lately as natural gas is eyed as a cleaner alternative to oil and coal.

Burning coal and oil causes pollution and emits greenhouse gases that drive climate change. Exploring and drilling for oil and mining coal also come with numerous environmental impacts – especially as easily accessible oil runs out and we have to rely on deep-water drilling and oil sands. Natural gas burns cleaner than oil and coal, and it emits less carbon dioxide for the amount of energy it produces. This has led industry and governments to argue for an increase in natural gas production.

Gold storms to fresh record

LONDON — Gold prices hit record highs on Monday after negotiations to lift the U.S. debt ceiling hit stalemate over the weekend, raising fears over a possible default and boosting the appeal of bullion versus U.S. assets like Treasuries and the dollar.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are bitterly divided over plans to cut the U.S. deficit, a necessary move before the debt ceiling can be raised.

With the Aug. 2 deadline for a resolution fast approaching, the world’s largest economy is facing an unprecedented debt default. If this happens, investors could dump the dollar and U.S. Treasuries.

While most investors believe a deal will be done, nervousness ahead of the decision is still pressuring the dollar, lifting U.S. Treasury yields and benefiting gold.

Fight library cuts, maybe get Margaret Atwood at your book club

Celebrated writer Margaret Atwood is offering personal visits to some book clubs as part of her online campaign to spare Toronto’s libraries from Mayor Rob Ford’s budget knife.

On Thursday, Atwood retweeted a Twitter message asking people to sign an online petition, started by the library workers’ union, telling City Hall to ignore city-hired consultant KPMG’s suggestion to “rationalize the footprint of libraries to reduce service levels, closing some branches.”

Many of Atwood’s more than one-quarter million Twitter followers complied and promptly crashed the server hosting the petition, which was restored in about a half-hour when the union upgraded to an unlimited bandwidth package.

Atwood has since kept up the pressure, with many of her tweets referencing a recent quip on radio by Councillor Doug Ford that: “We have more libraries per person than any other city in the world. I’ve got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Hortons.”

Outcry over role of English Defence League

Supporters of the English Defence League have blamed the Norwegian government’s immigration policies for the attacks that killed at least 93 people, provoking outcry from anti-fascist campaigners who are calling for the EDL to be classified as an extremist group.

The comments come amid increased scrutiny of links between the man arrested for the attacks, Anders Behring Breivik, and the EDL. Breivik, a right-wing Christian-fundamentalist, had previously written that he had been “impressed” by the EDL and advocated the creation of a Norwegian version of the group, which campaigns against what it perceives as the spread of Islam and Sharia Law in Britain.

In a manifesto titled “2083”, put online before the attacks, Breivik writes: "I used to have more than 600 EDL members as Facebook friends and have spoken with tens of EDL members and leaders. In fact; I was one of the individuals who supplied them with processed ideological material (including rhetorical strategies) in the very beginning."

The bombs in Afghanistan have landed in Norway

A decade of Islamophobia to justify the war in Afghanistan is now spreading violence to the West. Right-wing Islamophobe Anders Behring Breivik has killed 91 people in Norway, through the explosion of a bomb near the Prime Minister's building and a shooting spree in a youth camp organized by the Workers’ Youth League.

The initial response by international media was to blame Muslims. But when the alleged perpetrator turned out to be a blond-hair, blue-eyed Norwegian Christian nationalist, some are now denying there’s any context whatsoever for the killing. As a Norwegian official said, "It seems it's not Islamic-terror related. This seems like a madman's work."

But Breiviks was not driven by "madness," he was driven by right-wing Islamophobic politics. From 1997 to 2007 he was a member of the xenophobic "Progress Party." Since that time police chief Sveinung Sponheim describe his internet postings as having “some political traits directed toward the right, and anti-Muslim views”, and others have pointed out his an admirer of prominent anti-Muslim individuals and organizations like Geert Wilders and the English Defense League.

Facial-recognition technology needs limits, privacy advocates warn

Consider, for a moment, the amount of information that’s contained in your face. It’s a gold mine, a collection of identifiers unique to you, from its proportions to its features to the way it moves. A quick look tells your life story, indicating your sex, racial background and age, and, in the moment, your attentiveness and mood. Humans come hard-wired to intuit this information. But now, computers are catching up and learning to make sense of all manner of facial information gleaned from photos and videos.

Before long, we’ll be living in a world in which store signs know what kind of customer is looking at them, where home-security cameras know who’s coming through the door and when Facebook will be able to tell if you’re in a photo the moment it’s uploaded. The distant future? Try next month. Your face is about to become big business and that has some players excited and others worried that citizens’ control over their own privacy will be gravely eroded.

City officials waived fines related to Ford’s election campaign

City of Toronto officials earlier this spring quietly waived a $13,362.25 fine levied against Mayor Rob Ford for 483 infractions of the bylaw governing the placement of election signs, according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail through an access-to-information request.

Bylaw enforcement officers recorded most of the infractions during the final week of the campaign, as well as the three-day grace period after the vote that is meant to allow candidates to collect their signs.
News of the waived fine emerges at a time when the Ford administration is considering a range of new user fees to help cover the cost of delivering city services.

Adrienne Batra, a spokesperson for the mayor, declined to respond to questions about the disposition of the fine.

Power plant critics alarmed over construction

Why is a controversial power plant planned for the Toronto-Mississauga border already under construction? That’s the question residents are asking after their protests drew a pledge from the province to review its approval — a move they’re now calling a campaign stunt.

A public meeting with Eastern Power Ltd., the company that’s building it, is slated for this Thursday, and opponents are vowing to turn out in force even though the meeting room planned for it is limited to 50 people.

“Even if it’s the evening before the long weekend,” leader Greg Rohn says, “we’ll have a lot of people there.”

Northrop Frye: RCMP Spied On Literary Scholar, Newly Released Files Show

OTTAWA - Canada's intelligence service spied on renowned literary scholar Northrop Frye, closely eyeing his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement, an academic forum on China and efforts to end apartheid in South Africa.

Newly released archival records show the RCMP Security Service relied on a secret informant to help compile a 142-page file on the esteemed University of Toronto professor, who died in 1991 at age 78.

Every inch the owlish, bespectacled academic, Frye seems an unlikely counter-intelligence target.

But the Mounties, wary of anyone deemed influential among the burgeoning New Left, amassed hundreds of thousands of files during the Cold War -- monitoring key institutions such as universities, the media, churches and political organizations.

KPMG hired for review of Toronto city services

The City of Toronto has hired KPMG and Western Management Consultants of Ontario to undertake portions of the next phase of the citywide service review.

The efficiency review will target nine city programs, three city agencies (the TTC, public library and police), and four across-the-board services.

KPMG, which was hired to complete phase one, the core service review, has now been asked to complete an in-depth study of facilities management and real estate functions. Western will examine fleet management. Both reviews are underway.

Other programs up for review are: parks, forestry and recreation; shelter, support and housing administration; solid waste management; transportation services; municipal licensing and standards; city planning; and court services. The TTC, Toronto Public Library system and the Toronto Police are the agencies to be examined. And the citywide services consultants will study are: communications; finance and administrative functions; environmental and energy programs and information counter services.