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, August 13, 2011

Canada's poor ranking in access to courts should be wake up call, Chief Justice says

An international finding that Canada ranks poorly when it comes to access to the courts should serve as a wake up call to the entire justice system, says Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

Speaking to the annual Canadian Bar Association conference today, Chief Justice McLachlin said that Canada placed ninth in a recent ranking of 12 European and North America countries.

The finding - by the World Justice Institute - underlines the fact that justice is increasingly available only to the wealthy or small minority who are so poor that they qualify for legal aid programs, she said.

“This is not terrible, but it shows that we are not doing as well as we should,” Chief Justice McLachlin said. “I think the Canadian Bar Association and other groups concerned about justice have to recognize that this is an area in our justice system that needs attention.”

Rick Perry For President: Governor Announces Candidacy, Says It's 'Time To Get America Working Again'

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) officially jumped into the 2012 presidential race on Saturday, framing a promise to prioritize job creation as a cornerstone of his campaign.

"It is time to get America working again," he said, according to prepared remarks given to reporters beforehand. "That's why, with the support of my family, and an unwavering belief in the goodness of America, I declare to you today my candidacy for president of the United States."

Perry blamed President Obama for S&P's recent downgrade of the United States' AAA credit rating, and promised he would restore the country's good standing.

"In reality, this is just the most recent downgrade," said Perry. "The fact is for nearly three years, President Obama has been downgrading American jobs, downgrading our standing in the world, downgrading our financial stability, downgrading confidence and downgrading the hope of a better future for our children."

San Francisco Transit Blocks Cellphones To Hinder Protest

SAN FRANCISCO -- Transit officials blocked cellphone reception in San Francisco train stations for three hours to disrupt planned demonstrations over a police shooting.

Officials with the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, better known as BART, said Friday that they turned off electricity to cellular towers in four stations from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday. The move was made after BART learned that protesters planned to use mobile devices to coordinate a demonstration on train platforms.

The tactic drew comparisons to those used by the former president of Egypt to squelch protests demanding an end to his authoritarian rule. Authorities there cut Internet and cellphone services in the country for days earlier this year.

G.O.P. on Defensive as Analysts Question Party’s Fiscal Policy

WASHINGTON — The boasts of Congressional Republicans about their cost-cutting victories are ringing hollow to some well-known economists, financial analysts and corporate leaders, including some Republicans, who are expressing increasing alarm over Washington’s new austerity and antitax orthodoxy.       

Their critiques have grown sharper since last week, when President Obama signed his deficit reduction deal with Republicans and, a few days later, when Standard & Poor’s downgraded the credit rating of the United States.

But even before that, macroeconomists and private sector forecasters were warning that the direction in which the new House Republican majority had pushed the White House and Congress this year — for immediate spending cuts, no further stimulus measures and no tax increases, ever — was wrong for addressing the nation’s two main ills, a weak economy now and projections of unsustainably high federal debt in coming years.

Who's Paying the Super-Committee?

The Congressional “super-committee” finally has a roster: we now know the twelve men and women tasked with cutting as much as $1.5 trillion from the federal budget, and quite possibly restructuring entitlements and rewriting the federal tax code.

Unlike any other Congressional committee in recent memory, this “super-committee” will wield enormous legislative power. Their recommendations will be fast-tracked in Congress, meaning they cannot be amended and are guaranteed a simple-majority vote in the Senate. If the super-committee does not produce recommendations, or if Congress does not approve them, massive triggers will be activated: $1.5 trillion will be cut from the budget, drawing equally from defense and domestic spending.

With this much power concentrated among twelve people, K Street is revving up the money machine to help influence the decisions. “Every lobbyist is going to go through their Rolodex to try and figure out all the connections to the twelve members of the ‘super committee,’ ” Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told Bloomberg. One Democratic lobbyist quipped to Politico that he was preparing for the super-committee “by writing twelve really large checks.”

How Rupert Murdoch Buys Friends and Influences People

One key factor must always be kept in mind when discussing Rupert Murdoch: he has a lot of money ($7.6 billion, according to Forbes) and makes even more for other people. Between 1977 and 2001, News Corporation outearned every other blue-chip company save Berkshire Hathaway and Walmart. And while money might not buy you love in America, it does buy a great deal of special favors and improper indulgences from powerful people.

Being a billionaire media mogul is even more fun when it comes to politics. Not only do politicians need your cash; they need your newspapers, magazines and TV networks too. It is this unholy nexus that Murdoch has mastered. And even today he manages to get many in the media to conveniently look the other way whenever necessary.

Arab Spring, Chinese Winter

Just after the streets of Tunisia and Egypt erupted, China saw a series of “Jasmine” protests—until the government stopped them cold. Its methods were subtler than they had been at Tiananmen Square, and more insidious. Was the regime’s defensive reaction just paranoia? Or is the Chinese public less satisfied—and more combustible—than it appears?

Something big is happening in China, and it started soon after the onset of the “Arab Spring” demonstrations and regime changes first in Tunisia and then in Egypt: the most serious and widespread wave of repression since the Tiananmen Square crackdowns 22 years ago. Of course, “worst since Tiananmen Square” does not mean “as bad as Tiananmen Square.” As the government has taken pains to ensure, there have been no coordinated nationwide protests so far, and troops from the People’s Liberation Army, in their instantly recognizable green uniforms, have not played the major role that they did then in containing dissent. Instead, enforcement around the country has been left mainly to regular police, typically in their dark-blue uniforms; the much-feared “urban management” patrols known as chengguan, also in dark blue; large reserve armies of plainclothesmen; and many other less visible parts of the state’s internal-security apparatus, which now has a larger budget than China’s regular military does. 

The Neverending Campaign to Ban 'Slaughterhouse Five'

Inside the pages of Slaughterhouse-Five, a master of ceremonies asks people to explain the function of the novel in modern society. It’s a scene that the school board of Republic High School in southwestern Missouri may have glazed over, or didn’t appreciate, or simply didn’t read, when they recently voted 4-0 to ban Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel from their curriculum and pull it from the library’s shelves.

A novel’s purpose, according to the passage:    
“One critic said, ‘To provide touches of color in rooms with all-white walls.’ Another one said, ‘To describe blow-jobs artistically.’ Another one said, ‘To teach wives of junior executives what to buy next and how to act in a French restaurant.’”
The function of Slaughterhouse-Five has long been as a teaching tool in American classrooms. The book’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is based on a real American soldier who was held as a prisoner during World War II. During this traumatic period, Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time” as a result of shell-shock. He is doomed to relive moments of his life over and over again.

How the Debt Limit Fight Could Give Bachmann a Boost in Ames

DES MOINES -- The lingering effect of the debt ceiling fight seems likely to be felt at the Ames straw poll Saturday, as anger over a nation perceived as living beyond its means suffused the comments of Iowans drawn to the Des Moines Register soapbox for presidential candidate speeches. But it came up, too, over and over in conversations with others around the fairgrounds, independents and Republicans alike, some of whom saw in President Obama's fiscal policies a continuation of the Bush-era profligacy they despised.

A frequently mentioned beneficiary of their sentiments? Michele Bachmann.

Jim Ritz, 69, said he was going to go to Ames to vote for Bachmann. "I just know whoever's following the line that we need to freeze our income and cut our spending is following my line," said the Des Moines resident, who was sitting on a bench after listening to former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty speak at the fair. "All along I said I don't care if we go into default, I'd like to see them live within their means....The sooner they get the budget balanced, the sooner they're going to get it upgraded. If I spend more than I take in, my budget wouldn't be in good shape either."

The Rick Perry-Shaped Elephant in the Room at Ames

The Values Voters Bus Tour kicked off with a good deal of hullabaloo on Tuesday with a rally in Des Moines starring Tim Pawlenty. But by the time the bus pulled up for at the central square in Atlantic, about an hour east of Omaha, it had petered out. Just 10 supporters showed up to hear Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) speak along with representatives of the tour's sponsors—the Family Research Council, the Susan B. Anthony List, the Iowa Values Alliance, and the National Organization for Marriage. They were joined by 10 protesters (with signs like "if you cut off my reproductive choice, can I cut off yours?" who heckled the speakers and challenged them on their opposition to gay marriage.

Market mayhem

The wild swings in the North American financial markets this week serve as yet another reminder of the weakness of any linkage between levels and changes in financial asset values and levels and changes in real economic variables. This is apparent for both bonds and equities.

In the case of the U.S. and Canada, the rise in government bond prices is surely excessive. As of today, the Government of Canada's 10-year bond had a yield of 2.4% compared to a near record low of about 3% a month ago, and the U.S. yield is about the same. I certainly buy the argument that their and our economic prospects are not good, but locking in a real return of about 0.5% per year for ten years suggests that investors have panicked. (In Europe they have probably panicked in the opposite direction by demanding excessively high yields for pretty safe debt in the case of the larger economies which have come under attack.)

At the same time, equities are probably under-valued relative to continued high corporate profitability, especially given that (unfortunately) neither real wages nor the wage share are likely to be much of a downward force in the foreseeable future. Dean Baker thinks that the U.S. stock market is significantly under-valued judged by prospective profits -- and he has a record of making good calls on these things.

Chief Justice supports criticism of Kenney

HALIFAX — The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has added her voice to the legal profession’s condemnation of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who sparked an uproar earlier this year on the issue of judicial independence.

Speaking on the matter for the first time, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin applauded the Canadian Bar Association on Saturday for protesting comments Kenney made last winter, when he said Federal Court judges weren’t toeing the line of the Harper government’s immigration policies.

In a speech to the CBA’s governing council, McLachlin said:

“I was certainly — and I think all judges were — very pleased when an issue arose earlier this year when a minister of the Crown seemed to suggest that some judges were insufficiently solicitous to government policy. We were very, very gratified to see your president writing a powerful public letter to the minister in question, reminding the minister of the importance of public confidence in an impartial judiciary, that bases its decisions on the law and not on government policy.”

In a controversial speech last February to the law faculty at the University of Western Ontario, Kenney said Federal Court judges, who preside over immigration cases, weren’t doing enough to help the government remove immigrants with alleged criminal pasts, and other unwanted refugees, from Canada.

Palestinians want peace. Just not with Israel

The Palestinian Authority proposes to become the 194th member of the United Nations by a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in September. Those who complain that such a declaration undermines the peace process with Israel don’t understand that that’s the declaration’s purpose.

If “Palestine 194” were designed to coexist with the Jewish state, it wouldn’t have to be declared unilaterally. Since it’s designed to replace it, it has no other choice. If the Palestinian state comes about as a result of negotiations, it legitimizes the Jewish state.

It isn’t that Palestinians don’t want peace. They want peace, all right; it’s only that they don’t want peace with Israel.

The Middle East conflict started in Europe over a hundred years ago when a Budapest-born playwright was covering the Paris trial of a French officer for a Viennese newspaper. Like the defendant, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, Theodor Herzl was an assimilated Jew. After Dreyfus was innocently convicted of treason, it occurred to Herzl that assimilation wasn’t enough. To escape anti-Semitism, Jews needed to have a home of their own. Political Zionism debuted with Herzl’s pamphlet “The Jewish State” in 1895.

Canada and Honduras agree on free trade deal

SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS—Stephen Harper brushed off concerns over human rights abuses in Honduras as he announced Friday the two countries have reached a pact on free trade.

As he did during a state visit to Colombia this week, the Prime Minister accused opponents of the deal of harbouring protectionist impulses rather than genuine concerns about human rights.

“People who favour protectionism are not, as I’ve said before, driven by concerns about poverty or human rights. They are driven by desire to protect local interests,” Harper said.

“Protectionists are selfish and short-sighted in their perspectives. And those who oppose free trade between Canada and Honduras, if you look at the record, have opposed free trade between Canada and every other country we’ve signed a trade agreement with, including the United States.”

Riots put U.K. rights at risk, says WikiLeaks’ Assange

The looters and rioters who torched Britain’s neighbourhoods are “doing Big Brother” a favour by giving the government more latitude to destroy citizens’ rights and freedoms, says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“Great Britain has turned itself into an Orwellian 1984 during the last decade, yet all those cameras and anti-terror laws could not prevent this recent chaos,” he told the Star from England, where he is awaiting the outcome of his appeal against extradition to Sweden, which wants him for questioning in connection with a sexual assault case.

British Prime Minister David Cameron touched off a fierce debate Thursday by suggesting that the rioters, who have called up mob attacks through social media and instant messaging, could be shut down in cyberspace.

City locks out theatre workers at St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts

The City of Toronto's budget crisis has hit the stage. Future shows may be in jeopardy at The St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, a city owned facility where workers were locked out a minute after midnight, Saturday.

The not for profit theatre and entertainment facility puts on affordable performances for the public. Unionized stage workers have been without a contract since the end of 2010 and after negotiations failed, they were legally locked out.

Shows at the popular theatre on Front St., just east of Yonge St. are now in jeopardy. According to the theatre’s website the next show, Mamaloshen is scheduled for September 17.

Apocalyptic crisis budgeting

The headlines have been apocalyptic and relentless. Unless the U.S. cuts trillions in social spending, it will go bankrupt. Unless Canada cuts billions in federal spending, our economy will go bust. Unless Toronto cuts more than $700 million in program spending, the city will collapse. We live in an age of apocalyptic crisis budgeting. Unless the most drastic social spending cuts are implemented, the world as we know it will sink into the quicksand of debt, never to reappear again. How could this happen?

During the Reagan era, a friend and former colleague, a professor of American history, was invited to the deliberations of a Washington think-tank that provided policy direction for the Republican Party. As they discussed growing the debt and increasing the deficit, he was flabbergasted: “Are you not the party of balanced budgets and debt elimination?” The reply was unequivocal, “Our goal is to grow the deficit as much as possible in order to create political space to eliminate government-funded programming. Until then, we want high deficits while lobbying for a balanced budget — and promoting social program cuts as the only solution.”

To create this useful deficit, tax cuts to wealthy individuals and corporate sectors would be dramatically increased, especially to the banking, energy and military segments. In short, one would implement a transfer of the state’s revenue supply obligations from the wealthiest to the poor and middle classes in order to permit an even greater transfer of wealth from the middle classes to the rich thereafter.

Cameron In Public Dispute With Top Police Over Rioting Tactics

A rift has developed between the government and police, with Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tim Godwin reproving David Cameron over negative comments in which the prime minister said that the police had been slow to act in the early stages of the riots.

Godwin said that criticism of the police was coming from people who “weren’t there”, adding: "If police officers had the benefit of hindsight as foresight we would obviously do things slightly differently".

The divide has opened over policing numbers for the riots in London, with Cameron seemingly suggesting that the Met had been slow to beef up numbers, which eventually rose from 6,000 to 16,000.

Shell Oil Leak: Company Fighting To Fix Scotland Flow Line

AMSTERDAM -- Royal Dutch Shell PLC said Friday it is trying to stop oil leaking from a flow line at one of its drilling platforms in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland.

Spokesman David Williams confirmed the leak was ongoing late Friday, but would not provide details beyond a company statement.

Shell said it cannot specify how much oil may have escaped, but it knows which line leaked and said the flow has been stemmed as the underwater well has been shut in and the line at the Gannet Alpha platform is being de-pressurized.

Gannet is 110 miles (180 kilometers) east of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Shell said it has a remote-controlled vehicle searching for the leak. Meanwhile, a plane is monitoring the surface, and a vessel with cleanup equipment is at the spot.

A spokesman for the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change said his agency is responding to the incident and will investigate. The agency understands "from Shell that there is a finite amount of oil that can be released," the spokesman added. He did not give his name in accordance with government policy.

Source: Huffington  

Toronto G20 Policing Too Aggressive, Judge Says

A Toronto judge has blasted police tactics during last year's G20 summit.

Lawyers defending some of the people charged with offences in connection with last year's summit say a Toronto judge's ruling this week is going to have "an enormous impact" on their cases.

The case in question involved Michael Puddy, who took part in a demonstration on Saturday June 26, at the corner of Spadina Avenue and Queen Street West.

Puddy was on his way to a concert when he decided to join the peaceful protest.

Minutes later he had been pushed to the ground and cuffed with plastic restraints. He was held in custody for two days.

U.K. riots: Feral capitalism is at least as big a culprit

Nihilistic and feral teenagers" London's Daily Mail called them: the crazy youths from all walks of life who raced around the streets mindlessly and desperately hurling bricks, stones and bottles at the cops while looting here and setting bonfires there, leading the authorities on a merry chase of catch-as-catch-can as they tweeted their way from one strategic target to another.

The word "feral" pulled me up short. It reminded me of how the communards in Paris in 1871 were depicted as wild animals, as hyenas, that deserved to be (and often were) summarily executed in the name of the sanctity of private property, morality, religion, and the family. But then the word conjured up another association: Tony Blair attacking the "feral media," having for so long been comfortably lodged in the left pocket of Rupert Murdoch only later to be substituted as Murdoch reached into his right pocket to pluck out David Cameron.

Layoffs are legitimate option for Ford’s imperfect office

Mayor Rob Ford has a clear message for the city’s employees: We can’t afford to keep all of you on staff. If enough of you don’t take the buyout package the city is offering (three weeks’ pay for each year of service, and four weeks per year for managers), the city will reduce its staff level through layoffs.

It’s a stark change from his earlier tune. Before being elected, Mayor Ford said early and often that the size of the city’s workforce could be brought down with natural attrition, with no need for layoffs. Staff who left would simply not be replaced, and high-priority departments could be kept at full-strength by shuffling resources internally. The yearly attrition rate for the city’s government was given as 6% a year, which would have helped put a swift dent in the city’s 53,000-strong workforce.

Ford should have known he’d break promises on service cuts and layoffs

When he was running for mayor last year, Rob Ford made two explicit promises to the voters of Toronto.

The first was that his plan to trim spending and “stop the gravy train” would not mean any cuts to city services. “I will assure you that services will not be cut, guaranteed,” he said on Oct. 8, two weeks before winning election.

The second was that there would be no layoffs. In a statement released on YouTube on Sept. 27, he said he would reduce the number of city employees through attrition. “No need for layoffs.”

Now it looks as if he will break both promises. City hall is considering a whole menu of service cuts as Mr. Ford seeks to wipe out a $774-million budget shortfall. City council is to meet next month to consider cutting back on everything from libraries to policing to street cleaning.

Giorgio Mammoliti: Political provocateur turned Rob Ford spokesman

Giorgio Mammoliti is sitting at his desk, on which sits a salad he does not seem to have touched. For many city councillors, this is a quiet summer Wednesday. Mammoliti is busy being Mammoliti. Dapper as usual in a dark suit, he is carrying on a lunchtime newspaper interview during the commercial breaks of a radio interview he is also conducting.

“I think this is about panhandling,” he had said a moment before the radio interview began, and that seemed reasonable enough. On Tuesday, as you have heard, he said police officers should force panhandlers into hospitals. Call-in-show gold.

Greed, not Osama, took down the economy

In the photograph, the one that hangs on the wall of Mark Standish’s office in lower Manhattan, the co-CEO of RBC Capital Markets Corp. is seen walking away from downtown, across the Brooklyn Bridge. Resolute.

“I remember looking at the one person who was looking back as opposed to looking forward, which was a guy with a camera,” Standish says now. “He was taking a picture of the two towers just before the two towers fell.”

Two hundred thousand tons of steel. Falling. Four hundred and twenty five thousand cubic yards of concrete. Collapsing. Fourteen acres of glass. To dust.

Retiring deputy chief calls G20 reaction overblown

The public and media overreacted to events during the G20 summit, and police should hold their heads high, says a man directly involved in planning the police response to last summer’s tumult in downtown Toronto.

“The whole service is being condemned for the actions of maybe a few,” retiring Deputy Chief Tony Warr, 63, told the Star in one of the most outspoken defences of Toronto police actions from a commanding officer.