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.]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Texas Planned Parenthood Clinic Attacked With Molotov Cocktail

A McKinney, Texas, Planned Parenthood clinic that does not provide abortions was attacked with a Molotov cocktail late Tuesday night, causing a small fire at the entrance of the building. The device, consisting of diesel fuel in a glass bottle with a lit rag fuse, did not cause any injuries, but a Planned Parenthood official said it did cause "serious damage" to the facility.

"It didn't penetrate the health center office and none of the staff or patients were there, which is great," Holly Morgan, director of media relations and communications for Planned Parenthood in Dallas, told Star Local News. "It scorched the outside of the door and I believe there was a little scorching to the retail locations on either side of it."

Police wrong to question man with crossbow near G20 fence, judge rules

Police breached the rights of a man arrested with a crossbow near the G20 security fence when they questioned him without a lawyer present, a judge has ruled.

“The law makes clear that an investigative detention of that kind gives rise to a right to counsel,” provincial court Justice David Fairgrieve said Wednesday as he excluded all the statements made by Gary McCullough to a police officer who questioned him at the scene.

McCullough, 54, was arrested in downtown Toronto on June 24, 2010, just two days before world leaders met here, after police found a loaded crossbow in his car’s roof carrier.

The judge also agreed with defence criticisms of Toronto police for continually denying McCullough’s rights to counsel while he was held at the Eastern Ave. detention centre for G20 detainees.

The Rise of the Austerity Hawk Democrats

“Our plan includes more cuts,” Chuck Schumer bragged at a news conference on Capitol Hill yesterday when comparing Harry Reid’s debt plan to John Boehner’s.

The fact that Senate Democrats are trying to out-cut the cut-obsessed Republicans pretty much sums up the current political debate in Washington. “Harry Reid’s plan wins the austerity sweepstakes,” Adam Serwer wrote yesterday. “It's the austerity party vs. the austerity party,” blogger Atrios tweeted.

President Obama has actively shifted the debt debate to the right, both substantively and rhetorically. Substantively by not insisting on a “clean bill” to raise the debt ceiling at the outset and actively pushing for drastic spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs as part of any deal. And rhetorically by mimicking right-wing arguments about the economy, such as the canard that reducing spending will create jobs (it won’t), or that the government’s budget is like a family’s budget (it isn’t), or that major spending cuts will return confidence to the market and spur the economy recovery we’ve all been waiting for (Paul Krugman calls it “the confidence fairy”).

The 'Right-Wing Nutters' Who Are Pushing the Country to the Brink

There’s a tense vote count in Washington today as House Speaker John Boehner tries to rally Republican members behind his debt ceiling plan. After one postponement and public disapproval by many prominent House Republicans, Boehner’s plan is teetering on the brink.

The conservative rebellion against Boehner’s plan is being driven by Tea Party activists and many of the freshman members they helped elect. For months, the House Republican leadership has been quietly tutoring these members on the intricacies of the federal budget and the need to raise the debt ceiling, using what Politico called a “stunningly simple” presentation of color-coded charts and graphs. This week, leadership even showed a clip from a Ben Affleck action movie to help persuade the members to act.

But so far, the aggressive pitch doesn’t seem to be working—at one point this week, Boehner was only eight votes from defeat. And if he cannot rally his party to support a dreadful plan with no chance of ultimate passage anyhow, what can he get them to vote for? In the words of British Business Secretary Vince Cable, “The biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few right-wing nutters in the American Congress.”

Why We Need Free Public Libraries More Than Ever

As a former head of the state library agency in Massachusetts and a taxpayer myself, I read with interest the recent Atlantic editorial in which an elected official from Swampscott, Massachusetts proposed public library user fees as a reasonable and "modern" solution to some perceived imbalance.
Under this proposal, a 50 cent user fee would be added to each book circulated by the library. In addition to addressing the supposed tax inequity created by the current system of funding for the Swampscott Library, the proposal would generate an estimated $300,000 in additional funds for the library.
The fact is: This would be the costliest additional revenue ever generated.
Practically the only thing that looks certain about the contentious and seemingly endless negotiations to raise the national debt ceiling is that whatever deal is finally struck will fall far short of what might have been. Cynics will point out that the same could apply to nearly everything Washington does. But the occasion of the limit's approach, and the crisis mentality that has arisen over the size of the debt, provided a rare opportunity to reform the tax code, and possibly Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Tax reform should theoretically be the easiest to achieve. Contrary to popular myth, bipartisan agreement is not so hard to find in Washington, so long as the question is limited to what needs fixing and not how to fix it. Most Republicans and Democrats agree that the federal tax code is a mess: unwieldy, inefficient, and polluted with the accrual of years' worth of special-interest breaks. A substantial cottage industry exists to churn out reports and fill blue-ribbon commissions urging reforms (and then to lament that these reforms are never implemented). What they all share is the conclusion that closing loopholes and ending tax breaks would save enough money to reduce individual and corporate rates, thereby offering something for everyone: for Republicans lower taxes and for Democrats a broader, more equitable tax base to fund the government.

Home From War and Facing Eviction

After the Second World War, returning veterans were welcomed home to two of the most successful government initiatives ever—the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Affairs housing programs—which put millions of them into their own homes for the first time.

Today, later generations of veterans are being confronted by much different housing policies—ones that can toss them out of homes they've bought with their life savings.

John Aguiar is a veteran of the Gulf War, a former intelligence analyst for the Army who took part in Operation Desert Storm in 1990 when US forces brought Saddam Hussein to heel after he invaded Kuwait.

Memo to Tea Party: The US Government's Budget is Not Like a Family's

Tea party activists and members of Congress have a story they like to tell about the fight over raising the federal debt ceiling. It goes like this: If American families ran their households like the federal government, we'd all be bankrupt. It's a pretty common line. So when the Tea Party Express took to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a hastily arranged (and sparsely attended) rally to urge Republicans to "hold the line" in the debt ceiling fight, it was no surprise that the family-government comparison was on everyone's lips.

"I really equate it to the family," Cindy Chafian, a mother of five who recently moved to Virginia, told me after speaking at the rally, which also drew tea party luminaries like Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.). Chafian, who founded a new organization called the Mommy Lobby, acknowledged that government spending cuts can be painful—just like when a family that has to cut expenses, or when she tells her kids they can't go to the movies because they can't afford it. But over the long run, Chafian said, things work out and get better.

Your Chicken Nuggets Are Killing Your Crab Cakes

Every year in the Chesapeake Bay, an algae bloom spreads out, sucking oxygen out of the water and destroying fish habitat. This year's "dead zone" stretches from Baltimore Harbor to south of the Potomac River, the Washington Post reports. It's on track to become the bay’s largest ever. Already, fully a third of the bay—once one of the globe's most productive fisheries—is incapable of supporting sea life.

Meanwhile, down the Gulf of Mexico, the same thing is happening on an even grander scale. According to Texas A&M University researchers, this year's Gulf dead zone blots out 3,300 square miles of our nation's most important fishery—"roughly the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined," they calculate. Before the year's out, it could as much as triple in size, the researchers fear, which would make it the Gulf's largest hypoxic (oxygen-depleted) area ever.

Richard Wolff: Debt Showdown is "Political Theater" Burdening Society’s Most Vulnerable

Republicans have agreed to a vote today on a budget plan they say will cut the deficit $917 billion over 10 years. The move sets the stage for a showdown against unified Democratic opposition in the Senate and threats of a White House veto. To discuss the debt talks and economic austerity worldwide, we’re joined by Richard Wolff, Emeritus Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of several books, including "Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It." "This is political theater in which two parties are posturing for the election coming next year," says Wolff. "To put it in perspective, the number of times the government has raised the debt ceiling since 1940? Ninety, almost twice a year. This is a normal, automatic procedure. Every president, Republican and Democrat, has asked for it."

Source: Democracy Now! 

In his rage against Muslims, Norway's killer was no loner

It's comforting, perhaps, to dismiss Anders Behring Breivik as nothing more than a psychotic loner. That was the view of the Conservative London mayor, Boris Johnson, among others. The Norwegian mass killer's own lawyer has branded him "insane". It has the advantage of meaning no wider conclusions need to be drawn about the social context of the atrocity.

Had he been a Muslim, as much of the western media concluded he was immediately after the terrorist bloodbath, we can be sure there would have been no such judgments – even though some jihadist attacks have undoubtedly been carried out by individuals operating alone.

In fact, however deranged the bombing and shooting might seem, studies of those identified as terrorists have shown they rarely have mental illness or psychiatric abnormalities. Maybe Breivik will turn out to be an exception. But whether his claim that there are other members of a fascistic Christian terror network still at large turns out to be genuine or not, he has clearly fostered enthusiastic links with violent far-right groups abroad, and in Britain in particular.

Toronto at a crossroads: Will Ford's austerity agenda be derailed?

On June 20, 2011, Mayor Rob Ford and his allies on Toronto City Council Executive Committee turned down free money.

The Ontario government had offered $170,000 to cover the cost of hiring two public health nurses. One nurse would have worked with new immigrants on disease prevention. The other would have worked in low income neighbourhoods to promote health services. While the province had committed to ongoing funding for these two positions, Ford refused to hire the nurses.

Public libraries, gravy and Tim Hortons

It's difficult to know where to enter the conversation on the threat to public libraries (and the threat to everything else for that matter). There is no point that one can enter in a sane manner: to cut public libraries, perhaps in the end the most democratic of public institutions, is to say something about the end of the civil. Forgive me, that is a conceit. There is no ‘conversation' on the threat to public libraries. There is no interested interlocutor who will be persuaded by arguments as to the necessity not simply for the present libraries but for more support to libraries.

They will simply be cut, as will every social good the city, and citizenship, provide. Depositions will be made and impassioned voices will be heard and it will be said that these depositions were made and these voices heard because we are a democracy but in the end fiscal consideration warrant these cuts. In the end those voices will have no effect because the threat to cutting libraries, and every other social good the city provides, stems not from the fiscal but the ideological.

It's All About Transparency

Without proper laws governing public disclosure of data security hacks, Canadians remain at risk.

Another day, another hack. Apple, Sony, Citigroup, and Lockheed Martin are just some of the big-name companies afflicted by recent cyber-security breaches. Canada has not been spared. Beyond the attacks on the federal Treasury and Finance Departments, Sony, Husky Energy, and Honda have all had Canadian branches or units compromised in recent hacks. Even major Canadian law firms have been victimized.

Expectedly, privacy concerns are being raised about the massive amounts of personal and financial information that these, and other, companies hold, and about the data safeguards – or lack thereof – rendering that data vulnerable to theft and exploitation.

What’s going on with Toronto Libraries?

Nothing raises the ire of a neighbourhood like the threat of library cutbacks. Or so it seems, since the mere suggestion recently that library hours be scaled back or branches closed has spurred book lovers into action. The campaign to protect Toronto’s vast library system, “Project Rescue,” has gained momentum, benefiting from the high-profile support of author Margaret Atwood. The Post’s Natalie Alcoba takes a closer look at circulation, cutbacks and controversy.

Wealth Gap Between Minorities and White Americans Doubles After Housing Crisis, Recession

A new study of U.S. census data reveals that wealth gaps between whites and minorities in the United States have grown to their widest levels since the U.S. government began tracking them a quarter-century ago. White Americans now have on average 20 times the net worth of African Americans and 18 times that of Latinos. According to the Pew Research Center, the gaps were compounded during the housing bust and the subsequent recession, and essentially wiped out much of the economic progress made by people of color over the past 20 years. We discuss the center’s study with Roderick Harrison, sociologist and demographer, and former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau. “Any hopes or aspirations, particularly based solely on Obama’s election, that we had reached some kind of post-racial state were close to delusional,” says Harrison. “This report is pointing to just how much the socioeconomic inequalities have been exacerbated by the recession and poor economy.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Ford ally, Stintz, won't support library closures

A key ally of Mayor Rob Ford is breaking ranks and saying his administration should take library closures off the table.

Councillor Karen Stintz, the TTC chair, also called on Ford to allay public concerns over consultant KPMG's host of suggested cuts by telling Torontonians where exactly his administration is "going."

Stintz wrote an open letter to her constituents espousing the value of the three branches in Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence.

"My kids have also benefited from the services of the libraries in the community. They each have library cards and love the library,” wrote Stintz, a former member of the Toronto Public Library board.

"I value the Toronto Public Library and can assure my constituents that these are not the type of cuts I support."

City Alliance urges investment in environment, immigrant services

At a time when leaders at city hall are talking about cutting social programs, arts funding and environmental initiatives to save money, a comprehensive report prepared by a coalition of Toronto region’s leading minds is calling for the opposite.

The GTA should develop a “regional strategy to reduce and divert commercial waste,” expand conservation programs and improve storm water and flood risk management, according to a report by the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, formerly the Toronto City Summit Alliance.

Among the other recommendations in the report, released this morning and entitled “Breaking Boundaries: Time to Think and Act Like a Region,” governments must: work better to attract and settle immigrants; do more to help those living in poverty find work; invest in community revitalization; and help entrepreneurs get the help they need.

Every $1 saved in arts funding will cost the city $17

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s cultural adviser Jeff Melanson says eliminating or reducing funding to the arts would be a big mistake, and plans to deliver that message to the city’s executive committee Thursday.

“It would be a misdirection to reduce those (grants),’’ Melanson, executive director of the National Ballet School, said in an interview Wednesday.

The city’s executive committee is set to pore over a lengthy KPMG report that presents “options’’ to the city to trim spending. The city faces a whopping shortfall in its 2012 budget of up to $774 million.

Arts and cultural groups in the city receive about $19 million from the city’s Community Partnership Investment Program (CPIP), according to the KPMG report. The report suggests the city would see a “high level’’ of savings eliminating or reducing CPIP.

Is the tide turning against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford?

In the first seven months of his four-year term, everything went Rob Ford’s way. His moves to trim minor expenses, cut an unpopular tax and expand the contracting-out of garbage pick-up sailed through with relative ease. Kept under tight control by his staff, he avoided the verbal bloopers and dubious behaviour that marked his 10-year run as a dissident city councillor.

In the past few weeks, though, things have been going sideways. The mayor’s inexplicable decision to boycott all of Pride Week gave off a whiff of intolerance and alienated many voters. His ham-handed conduct of the budget review at city hall is making even fiscally conservative residents wonder about his leadership.

Ex-Tory message maven tailors his spin to oil sands

Alykhan Velshi, a 27-year-old who established himself in Ottawa as a master of messaging and a crucial cog in the Conservative machine, has a new job – he’s out to polish the image of Canada’s oil sands in the minds of freedom-loving people everywhere.

“When petroleum reserves were deposited around the world, it is unfortunate that they were all given to the world’s bastards,” he said. “With the exception of Canada, most of them are with the world’s bastards. You need to recognize that when you are buying oil.”

Never known for subtlety, Mr. Velshi now runs, a blog set to relaunch on Thursday.

Angry House Dems: Obama Is Freezing Us Out of Debt Talks

In a fiery press conference on Friday, after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) abandoned debt ceiling negotiations with the White House, President Obama vented his frustration at top Republicans in Congress. "I've been left at the altar now a couple of times," he quipped. But if that's the case, then the most vocal defenders of America's middle and working classes, to borrow Obama's metaphor, weren't even invited to the wedding.

Largely missing from the closed-door negotiations and deal-trading in Washington's acrimonious debt ceiling battle are Congress' progressive stalwarts, the left-of-center lawmakers who fight for middle- and low-income individuals and families. That includes the House Progressive Caucus and a few dozen members of the Senate. The debt ceiling debate has left many of these lawmakers outraged at the White House for keeping them at arm's length and out of loop.

How Default Threatens National Security

Last August, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, shocked plenty of people when he declared that "the single biggest threat to national security is the debt." As zero hour approaches for the government to default on its debt, experts from both sides of the aisle are echoing Mullen's warning that fiscal matters pose a more immediate threat to national security than terrorism, rogue nations, or foreign wars.

By refusing to raise the debt ceiling, argues Bruce Bartlett, an economist who worked in George H.W. Bush's White House, conservative members of the House are undermining the country's ability to defend itself. In a post in a post titled "The Constitution and National Security Trump the Debt Limit," he writes, "Republicans are playing not just with fire, but the financial equivalent of nuclear weapons." That's not an idle metaphor. Politicians and economists can debate the effects a debt default would have on credit and stock markets, but there's little doubt that any default would make a mess of military operations. Something similar already happened in 1995, when the federal government shut down during Bill Clinton's budget battle with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The Debt Showdown: The GOP's "Blank Check" Lie

What does the news media do when a critical national debate is tainted by a lie? Not a whole lot.

During the debt ceiling showdown, the Republicans have clearly calculated that an effective charge to hurl at President Barack Obama and the Democrats is that the president, by asking Congress to raise the debt ceiling (which used to be a routine maneuver for Capitol Hill), is requesting a "blank check" for government spending.

National Post editorial board: Baird shouldn’t refer to China as an ‘ally’

The selection of John Baird to be Canada’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade was a good one. Mr. Baird is a poised speaker, a trusted confidante of the Prime Minister and one of the Tories’ best Cabinet ministers. The Foreign Affairs post warrants nothing less, and is a better use of the very real talent of Mr. Baird, who spent much of the last few years serving as a Tory attack dog in a fractious minority parliament.

Unfortunately, his performance thus far shows room for improvement. Visiting China last week for a four-day visit, Mr. Baird made the odd misstep of referring to China as “an important ally.” This goes beyond the usual niceties that diplomats exchange. Mr. Baird ought to be more selective in whom he chooses to invest that title.

The annotated Rob Ford: notes on the mayor’s interview with CP24 (VIDEO)

The mayor was on CP24 this past Friday for a rare sit-down interview. Unfortunately, the journalist sitting down with Rob Ford was one-time mayoral candidate and aspiring softball pitcher Stephen LeDrew, who didn’t give the mayor much in the way of challenging questions.

Still, Ford’s statements on a variety of important issues are notable for the number of outright falsehoods and misperceptions they contain. Standing on the shoulders of giants like The Grid’s Edward Keenan, who ran a Fact Check column relating to this interview on Friday afternoon, I’ve put together an edited version of the mayor’s interview, pointing out the moments where he departed from the truth.

Source: Ford For Toronto