Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Friday, July 29, 2011

Star Polar Bear Scientist in the Dog House

Everything you've been told about polar bears and global warming is a lie. Or at least that's what climate skeptics have rushed to claim in response to the news that the government is investigating a scientist who wrote a significant paper five years ago about drowned bears in the warming Arctic. Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) in Alaska, has been placed on administrative leave as the agency's inspector general undertakes an investigation into unnamed "integrity issues." But an environmental watchdog group believes that the real reason for the investigation is pressure from oil and gas interests who see polar bears as pests that stand between them and the vast mineral reserves deep beneath the Arctic.

The details of the investigation are odd, to say the very least. On February 4, 2011, Monnett received a request for an interview from Eric May, a criminal investigator with the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of the Interior. May and another agent interviewed Monnett on February 23, 2011, in the Anchorage office of BOEMRE.

Norway’s Johan Galtung, Peace & Conflict Pioneer, on How to Stop Extremism that Fueled Shooting

Norwegian police have released the identities of another 24 people killed by alleged attacker Anders Behring Breivik as they ended their search for bodies around the island where 68 of the overall 76 victims of the twin Norway attacks were murdered. Breivik is due to be questioned by the police for the second time today. Details have emerged, meanwhile, on Breivik’s claim to have bought high-capacity ammunition clips used in the attack from the United States. As Norway mourns the tragedy, we speak with Johan Galtung, a Norwegian sociologist who is considered the father of peace and conflict studies. Galtung’s granddaughter was on the island when Breivik attacked.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Rob and Doug Ford: Toronto's Brothers Grim

I'm concerned that what I'm about to say may turn me into a social pariah, but here goes nothing: the City of Toronto, with a $774 million structural deficit, may indeed have to close a library branch or two.

Why? Well to quote Colonel Mustard from the movie version of Clue: "This is war... casualties are inevitable. You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs." Oddly enough the Toronto Public Library doesn't own a copy of the movie Clue in its collection -- surprising considering it does have over 32 million Books, CD's and DVD's in circulation as it handles over 18 million visits annually.

But before I raise the wrath of the 35,000 Torontonians who've signed the petition: Keep Toronto's Libraries Open and Public, I will also say that perhaps we do NOT need to close any of our beloved libraries.

Rob Ford Budget Cuts: Toronto Mayor Faces Familiar Problems

The battle lines were quickly drawn Thursday at Toronto City Hall, where hundreds of residents sat through hours of depositions for the chance to give Mayor Rob Ford a piece of their minds about possible cuts to municipal services.

In the main meeting room, the crowd hissed loudly at any mention of trimming funding for public libraries or selling the city zoo, and bristled at Ford’s promise to extend the session “right through the night.” It was as if to say: “Do your worst, and so will we.”

While Ford repeatedly characterized residents as “taxpayers,” reminding them that he sees trimming services as the lesser evil, it was apparent that the view shared by the majority of those in attendance could not have been more opposing.

Norway Massacre: Facebook, Social Media Spurring On Far-Right Membership

LONDON - When the English Defence League sprang to life two years ago, it had fewer than 50 members — a rough-and-tumble bunch of mostly white guys shouting from a street corner about what they viewed as uncontrolled Muslim immigration.

Now, the far-right group mentioned by confessed Norway gunman Anders Behring Breivik as an inspiration says its ranks have swollen to more than 10,000 people, a spectacular rise its leaders attribute to the immense global power of Facebook and other social networking sites.

"I knew that social networking sites were the way to go," EDL leader Stephen Lennon told The Associated Press. "But to say that we inspired this lunatic to do what he did is wrong. We've never once told our supporters its alright to go out and be violent."

World population to surpass 7 billion in 2011

Global population is expected to hit 7 billion later this year, up from 6 billion in 1999. Between now and 2050, an estimated 2.3 billion more people will be added—nearly as many as inhabited the planet as recently as 1950. New estimates from the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations also project that the population will reach 10.1 billion in 2100.

These sizable increases represent an unprecedented global demographic upheaval, according to David Bloom, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography at the Harvard School of Public Health, in a review article published July 29, 2011 in Science.

Over the next forty years, nearly all (97%) of the 2.3 billion projected increase will be in the less developed regions, with nearly half (49%) in Africa. By contrast, the populations of more developed countries will remain flat, but will age, with fewer working-age adults to support retirees living on social pensions.

Follow the money

When a group of Conservative, Liberal and NDP MPs formed the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism in 2009, they decided to work outside of the normal structures of Parliament and raise their own money to hold a conference and conduct an inquiry. But transparency would be crucial, they said, pledging on their website to “voluntarily disclose all sources of funding” and remain independent of the Conservative government, advocacy groups and “Jewish community organizations.” By the time they released their report this month, however—warning that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada—that vow of full disclosure seemed to be forgotten, and the coalition appeared closely tied to the government.

Margaret Atwood's inspiring defence of Toronto’s libraries

Put aside the question of whether or not Toronto Councillor and mayoral confidant Doug Ford knows what Margaret Atwood looks like or has read her books. What is shocking is his suggestion that a great literary icon should “go run in the next election and get democratically elected” if she is concerned about funding for libraries.

Ms. Atwood has an unquestioned right to stand for libraries. Every citizen does. As she says, “This is about what sort of city the people of Toronto want to live in.”

Judge sets deadline for Ottawa to come up with caribou protection plan

A judge is telling the federal government to rethink its decision not to issue an emergency order protecting habitat for endangered caribou in Alberta's oilsands region.

However, Federal Court Justice Paul Crampton isn't telling Ottawa it has to issue such an order.

Mr. Crampton is giving Environment Minister Peter Kent until September to come up with an emergency plan to protect the caribou, which have been in steep decline for more than a decade.

Environmental and aboriginal groups had argued that the federal Species At Risk Act obliges Ottawa to issue an immediate order for habitat protection.

They point out that the federal government has missed the legal deadline for a caribou recovery plan by four years.

Recent studies suggest that 75 per cent of caribou range in the oilsands region has been disturbed by fire, industry or both.

Source: Globe&Mail  

Ford unswayed by 22 hours of talk, teen’s tears

At exactly 3 a.m., a sock puppet named Roy started speaking eloquently against cuts to community grants, and this was not normal, no, but it was far more normal this morning than it would’ve been at any other Toronto council meeting in recent memory.

Roy, a friend of former council candidate Desmond Cole, made his gravelly voiced case at an executive committee meeting that soon became the longest continuous council meeting in the history of the amalgamated city. The meeting was also unusually festive — partly on account of copious caffeine consumption and sleep-deprived giddiness, but largely on account of the progressive passions awakened by the program-cutting suggestions made by KPMG consultants as part of the city’s core service review.

KPMG’s ‘opportunities’ for saving

A brief summary of consultant KPMG’s suggestions for cost-cutting in the 2012 Toronto operating budget.

Public works

  Environment days: Scrap service that allows citizens to bring in household hazardous waste, exchange bins or pick up compost one day a year: $500,000

  Street events: Consider setting fees from all events high enough to recover all city costs such as cleanup: $700,000

  Fluoride: Eliminate fluoridation of water, which dentists say prevents cavities: $1.9 million

  Snow: Stop clearing snow piles left by the plow at the end of suburban driveways: $3.7 million.

  Toxic taxi: End household pickup of hazardous items such as paint cans. $185,859

  Garbage tags: Stop giving residents free tags allowing them to put out extra garbage up to four times a year: $593,000

  Commercial waste: Stop picking up garbage from retailers on commercial strips: $7 million

Economic development

  Reduce or eliminate Business Services: End programs such as support to film industry and 7,000 entrepreneurs: $3.1 million

  Reduce or eliminate Cultural Services: $17.3 million

  Reduce Trade and Sector Development activities: a portion of $3.9 million

  Reduce staff support to BIAs, or recover costs of support: a portion of $1.3 million

  Reduce or eliminate TESS Social Supports: $1.5 million

Community development

  Child care: Transfer or sell city-operated child-care centres: $16 million

  Child-care subsidies: Eliminate the 2,000 city-only subsidies: $24 million

  Emergency services: Consider integrating fire and ambulance: $81 million.

  Nursing homes: Sell or transfer nine of 10 city nursing homes: about $40 million (Star’s estimate)


  Attractions: Eliminate zoo and farm attractions: $1.3 million

  Planting: Eliminate urban agriculture activities: $490,000

  Environment: Reduce or eliminate Toronto Environment Office: $3.2 million

  Trees: Allow a lower rate of tree planting and maintenance of existing trees: Net budget for planting is $2 million

  Flowers: Scrap the greenhouse program, where the city grows 1.3 million annuals every year to plant in parks: estimated $700,000.


  Cats and dogs: Review the value of cat and dog licensing. Program brings in $660,000 a year.

  Rescue: Reduce response time for emergency animal rescue: $225,000.

  Shelters: Outsource animal care and enforcement: $1.7 million

  Licences: Consider eliminating licensing that doesn’t serve the public interest. Licensing fees net the city $5.9 million

  Recycling: Outsource waste diversion enforcement in apartment buildings: $258,000

  Delivery: Require people to deliver animals to shelter themselves: $640,000

Government Management

  311: Outsource some 311 call centre work to a private contractor: $540,000

  Tax payment: Offer online payment of property taxes: $355,000

  Caretaking: Outsource cleaning and security at city buildings: $1.6 million

  Fleet: Place police, fire and certain transit vehicles under central fleet management: $2.4 million

  Payroll: Outsource payroll administration: $1.8 million

Planning and growth

  Public art: Eliminate public art program such as statues and other artworks outside buildings: $95,000.

  Signs: Cut or end illegal-sign inspections and investigation of illegal-sign complaints: $855,000.

  Planning: Scale back site plan approval requirements on small developments: $970,000.


  Library: Close an unspecified number of branches: up to $13.4 million; reduce hours or days of service: up to $17.5 million.

  Toronto Zoo: Sell to private owners or divest to other levels of government to avoid taxpayer subsidy: $11.4 million.

  Exhibition Place: Sell or privatize. Talk to the province about merging Exhibition Place with Ontario Place. (Exhibition Place is budgeted to break even this year.)

  Public health: Scrap grants budget that supports 685 student nutrition programs for low income children; 42 AIDS prevention programs; 38 community drug prevention projects: $6.2 million.

  Toronto Atmospheric Fund: Wind up fund that provides grants for energy-saving projects. Or have the city look after investments that fund the grants: up to $23 million

  Theatres: Place Sony Centre, St. Lawrence Centre and Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts under a single board. Consider selling one of the theatres. Total subsidy in 2011: $3.3 million.

  Parking authority: Sell parking lots and garages. (Profit-making parking authority will earn about $56 million this year.)

  Police: Negotiate with the police union to approve one-officer patrols and restrain wages and benefits when contract comes up for renewal in 2015: up to $195 million.

  TTC: Roll back service improvements and end overnight bus service or raise fares: up to $29 million.

Source: Toronto Star 

World is watching the Fords

No, it hasn’t been the best week for the Ford brothers. Turns out, when you allegedly make a rude gesture to a family in a vehicle or insult a literary icon, the world notices.

In a week that saw the Fords’ antics noted at home, the national wires delivered the stories across the country. Calgarians read about it, too, in between mentions of their own city council approving a poet laureate and selecting a final location for a new $225 million library, with potential plans to add on a museum, gallery and theatre.

A hard right turn

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party is surging in the polls

The far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) is riding a wave of renewed popularity, with support levels hovering around 26 per cent in recent months—rivalling Austria’s mainstream social democrat and centre-right parties for the first time in nearly a decade. That’s raised the possibility that Heinz-Christian Strache, the party’s controversial leader, will become Austria’s next chancellor. More likely, the FPÖ could join a coalition. The last time that happened, 14 EU members temporarily froze diplomatic relations with Austria because the FPÖ in government “legitimizes the extreme right in Europe.”

Under Strache, the FPÖ has reaffirmed its anti-immigration policies and its anti-EU stance. His FPÖ also employs populist rhetoric that blames the country’s problems on the detached elitism of Vienna’s political class. The 42-year-old former dental technician has been accused of xenophobia, and he allegedly has past ties to neo-Nazi groups. But he’s already trumpeting his desire to take the chancellery after the 2013 election. Maybe the prospect of a right-wing nationalist heading the government in “Red Vienna” isn’t as far-fetched as it used to be.

Source: Maclean 

Chris Selley: Stop calling the deportees war criminals

This week, family members of Abdul Khalil, one of 30 people on a sort of deportation most-wanted list, threatened to sue the Canadian government for defamation. It’s somewhat surprising it took this long. A July 21 press release asking for the public’s help in locating the 76-year-old Afghan, along with 29 other deportees-to-be who’ve fallen off the radar, is sub-headlined: “Government will not tolerate war criminals in our communities.” This is entirely commendable as a general statement, but rather problematic when precisely none of the 30 has been tried or convicted of war crimes.

Whatever the evidence against these 30 men — we have no access to it — it was used in the context of determining their admissibility to Canada. It was found sufficient to exclude them. Then they disappeared. The government isn’t just right to hunt them down, but obligated to do so. Danger aside, these people are fugitives. And there’s nothing at all wrong with prioritizing suspected war criminals over the other undesirables who’ve been ordered deported and who we can’t find.

A government spy agency that’s prohibited from monitoring Canadian citizens is now using “information about Canadians” to zero in on foreign threats.

The ambiguous statement, found in a new government report detailing the activities of Communications Security Establishment Canada, could sanction a range of intelligence-gathering activities – including the controversial practice of mining “metadata” from digital communications.

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.

This was not the first time that Ford had refused to vote in favour of proposals that would have improved services at no cost to the City. For example, in February, he was the lone dissenter in a 44-1 vote to accept provincial public health money dedicated to improving screening for HIV and syphilis. In March, Ford's Executive Committee refused a request from City Council to direct the City Manager to advocate for the restoration of the $5 million in funding to immigrant settlement services that was cut by the federal government. In July, the Mayor voted against distributing funding to community service providers, funding that had already been approved as part of his own 2011 City budget.

Don't cut anything, presenters tell Toronto mayor at marathon meeting

A marathon session of Toronto city council’s executive committee continued overnight Thursday and into Friday morning as councillors heard from hundreds of union members, arts groups, social agencies and others on the Rob Ford administration’s deliberations over cutting services to rein in a budget deficit.

By 6 a.m. ET, 300 of 344 deputants had spoken and the meeting had run for over 20 hours, the longest continuous meeting of either council or one of its committees since the modern megacity was created in 1998.

Hume: In Rob Ford’s Toronto, less will be more

Suddenly it seems the future has arrived in Toronto. And for the first time in our history, perhaps, it doesn’t look better than the past. Indeed, it looks a whole lot worse.

After decades of ignoring the warning signs, it feels as if the globe has finally warmed and the climate changed. The empire is in decline and the centre can no longer hold.

All that remains for us is to carve up the remains of the city, now revealed to be a luxury we can’t afford. Turns out that the whole idea of Toronto the Livable City, the City That Works, was more than we could afford. We just didn’t know it until Rob Ford came along.

Pity the children: Ford brings the naysayers to his doorstep

Perhaps he should have expected this. When Mayor Rob Ford said anyone could come on down to city hall to talk about budget cuts on Thursday, he must have known that he was issuing an open invitation to his fiercest critics.

More than 300 residents signed up to speak to the city’s powerful executive committee in a marathon session that took city councillors late into Thursday night. And, ouch, did the mayor get an earful.

As Mr. Ford sat impassively in his chairman’s seat, knocking back cans of Red Bull to stay alert, a parade of angry union bosses, troubled interest groups and alarmed residents lined up to describe their fears of what would happen if Mr. Ford and his cost-cutting Visigoths were let loose on Canada’s biggest city.

‘Do you have running water? I don’t and I live in Canada’

One year ago today, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a historic resolution recognizing the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation. Two months later, the Human Rights Council adopted a second resolution affirming that drinking water and sanitation are human rights, and setting out the responsibilities all governments now carry to fulfill these rights.

Because the Human Rights Council resolution is an interpretation of two existing international treaties, it clarifies that the General Assembly resolution is legally binding in international law. Together, the two resolutions represent an extraordinary breakthrough in the international struggle for the right to safe drinking water and sanitation and a milestone in the fight for water justice.

For the past decade, Ottawa has consistently opposed recognizing the right to water and sanitation. The Harper government voted to abstain when the General Assembly vote took place, and then argued (incorrectly) that the resolution is not binding. Canada and Tonga are now the only countries in the world that have not recognized the right to water or the right to sanitation.

Scientist who warned of threat to polar bears is suspended

A U.S. wildlife biologist whose observation in 2004 of presumably drowned polar bears in the Arctic helped to galvanize the global warming movement has been placed on administrative leave and is being investigated for scientific misconduct, possibly over the veracity of that article.

Charles Monnett, an Anchorage-based scientist with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, or BOEMRE, was told July 18 that he was being put on leave, pending results of an investigation into “integrity issues.” But he has not yet been informed by the inspector general’s office of specific charges or questions related to the scientific integrity of his work, said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.