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.]

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hold the gravy, but keep the meat

Most of us are pretty sure that government suffers from inefficiency. However, contrary to Rob Ford's logic, eliminating these inefficiencies and cutting services outright are not the same thing.  

Earlier this month, the City of Toronto announced a cost-saving initiative. And for once, it was uncontroversial—a genuine good idea.

Toronto Employment and Social Services announced that it would phase out welfare cheques and replace them with debit cards. For the roughly one-third of social services recipients (about 35,000 people) who currently are still not on the direct-deposit system—in most cases because they do not have bank accounts—this means an end to waiting by the mailbox for the life-saving envelope to arrive and, perhaps more importantly, an end to punishingly high cheque-cashing fees. Moreover, the changeover is expected to save the city between $1 million and $2.5 million per year. It’s cheaper and it provides better service to citizens. How excellent is that?

Michele Bachmann's Misleading Talking Point On Federal Pay

WASHINGTON -- While stumping on a platform of limited government, Republican presidential contender Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has focused on the growth of federal pay under the Obama administration, saying it is representative of broader government excess.

But Bachmann's go-to talking point on the subject is grossly misleading and obscures her own voting record on federal pay.

While on "Fox News Sunday" this past Sunday, Bachmann said, "We had one employee at the federal Department of Transportation that made $170,000 a year at the beginning of the recession."

"We had the trillion dollar stimulus, and 18 months into the recession, we had 1,690 employees making over $170,000," she continued. "Government has really been growing at -- a lot of largesse. But people in the real world aren't. And that's what has to change. Government has no conformity at all with the real world."

While it's true that the number of Transportation workers making $170,000 or more a year increased after Obama took office, the boost, authorized under President George W. Bush, was caused by a modest pay raise for highly-trained employees, not a hiring spree associated with stimulus spending. What's more, Bachmann herself voted in 2008 for a separate bill that increased federal worker pay. Bachmann's office did not respond to a request for comment on the statistic, which she has oft-cited.

Striking Verizon Workers Are an Example to Us All

The Verizon Corporation is asking its workforce to accept wage and benefit reductions—despite being a very profitable company. Morgan Stanley’s recent analysis shows Verizon’s net income from ongoing operations was $13.9 billion in 2010, up more than 16 percent from 2007. No wonder Verizon’s stock has outpaced that of the S & P index and other telecommunication’s firms, something Verizon itself brags about in its last annual report. How, then, can Verizon freeze current workers’ pensions and eliminate pensions for new workers? Ask their workers to accept reductions in holidays (to seven), reduced sick pay and the substitution of the current health plan with one having high deductibles and contributions? The unions involved estimate that benefit and wage reductions would total $20,000 per worker each year.

Understandably, the workers have gone on strike. This labor conflict, however, is a microcosm of a broader trend in our economy, one that is not healthy for overall growth and certainly not conducive to improved living standards for America’s working families.

Rick Perry's Polluter Cronies

One of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s oft-touted strengths in the Republican primary is his demonstrated prowess at fundraising. Less widely known is how he has raised that money and what he has done in return for it. According to Texas good government and environmental watchdogs, Perry has raised much of his campaign funds from business executives who have financial interests in state government decisions. Often Perry’s supporters come from the energy sector and Perry’s help for them has come at the expense of the environment.

Over his three campaigns for governor Perry raised a remarkable $102 million. Perry’s predecessor, George W. Bush, who was no slouch at fundraising himself, brought in $41 million over two campaigns.

Half of Perry’s haul, $51 million, has come from just 204 sources. Some are political action committees, but most are wealthy individuals. “He relies on a relatively small network of very big hitters, wealthy businessmen and their spouses who want something out of Texas government,” says Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit research group that tracks the influence of money in Texas politics. As the Dallas Morning News reported during Perry’s re-election bid last year, “Perry tapped scores of big-dollar donors—including some who have business before the state or have benefited from taxpayer subsidies,” to vastly outraise his Democratic opponent, Bill White.

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Ford: ‘Hopefully the next premier will put Toronto as a priority’

With a provincial election campaign gathering steam, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford paid Premier Dalton McGuinty a visit on Wednesday, asking: “What are [you] going to do for Toronto?”

On his wish list, accelerating possible funding for his prized Sheppard subway extension, and discussions about how to fund daycare.

The Premier said he would think about it.

“I took the opportunity to remind the Mayor that since 2003, we have taken $700-million off of Toronto’s books,” Mr. McGuinty told reporters after their one hour meeting in his office.

Mr. Ford is especially interested in accelerating about $650-million that the province said could go to building a subway extension along Sheppard. The availability of the money depends on how much it costs the province to build a light rail line under Eglinton Avenue, and Premier McGuinty says it is too early to tell.

The explosive truth behind Fukushima's meltdown

It is one of the mysteries of Japan's ongoing nuclear crisis: How much damage did the 11 March earthquake inflict on the Fukushima Daiichi reactors before the tsunami hit? 

The stakes are high: if the earthquake structurally compromised the plant and the safety of its nuclear fuel, then every similar reactor in Japan may have to be shut down. With almost all of Japan's 54 reactors either offline (in the case of 35) or scheduled for shutdown by next April, the issue of structural safety looms over any discussion about restarting them.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) and Japan's government are hardly reliable adjudicators in this controversy. "There has been no meltdown," government spokesman Yukio Edano repeated in the days after 11 March. "It was an unforeseeable disaster," Tepco's then president Masataka Shimizu famously and improbably said later. Five months since the disaster, we now know that meltdown was already occurring as Mr Edano spoke. And far from being unforeseeable, the disaster had been repeatedly forewarned by industry critics.

'Too tough sentences' spark warning

Jailing those involved in the riots for longer than they deserve risks undermining confidence in the justice system, lawyers and campaigners said today.

The warning that the rush to send out a tough message and to make an example of those involved in violence was leading to "some very bad sentences" came as members of the coalition Government appeared split over the issue.

Prime Minister David Cameron defended a court's decision to jail two men who tried to incite riots on Facebook for four years, even though the riots they tried to plan never happened, but senior Liberal Democrats urged caution.

Human rights lawyers and criminal barristers also warned against a "knee-jerk response" by the courts over the violence and looting following "the public's anger and the politicians' rhetoric".

Obama Administration Moves Against Alaska Oil Drilling

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in remote northern Alaska is home to a surprisingly diverse array of wildlife: polar bears, caribou, wolverines, lemmings, and others all call the frigid, windswept place home. But one infamous strip of coastline in the massive refuge is also home to nearly two billion barrels of recoverable oil (enough, the feds estimate, to supply America for nine months), which has placed it squarely in the center of a decades-long controversy over whether to open the ecologically sensitive region for oil and gas development or keep it locked up as wilderness.

On Monday the US Fish and Wildlife Service took the first step in granting increased federal protection to a relatively small, oil-rich region within ANWR known as the "1002 area" by nominating it for wilderness designation in a lengthy report (PDF) on conservation plans for ANWR. Only Congress can declare wilderness areas, and the "preliminary recommendation" made in the report is only the beginning of a long (and possibly dead-end) road to approval. But it is the first time such a recommendation has been made since the area was set aside for study in a 1980 federal law (from which the area takes its name), and environmental activists and the FWS agree that it marks a major turning point in an ongoing struggle in Alaska between conservationists and oil and gas developers.

Rick Perry: Global Warming Based On Scientists Manipulating Data

BEDFORD, N.H. -- Rick Perry says he does not believe in global warming. The newest Republican presidential candidate also says he would not have signed the debt-ceiling compromise brokered by Republicans and Democrats.

The Texas governor made the comments as he launched a two-day New Hampshire campaign tour. He was speaking at a packed breakfast event with business leaders Wednesday.

Perry said global warming is based on scientists manipulating data. He said he wouldn't devote federal resources to battling the environmental concern.

The Republican also said the debt-ceiling compromise, which helped avoid a national default, sent the wrong message by spending money the nation doesn't have.

Source: Huffington 

Canada Economic Update Won't Include Economists: Tories Don't Want To 'Worry Canadians'

When Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty update the House of Commons finance committee on Canada's economy Friday, they won't be joined by prominent economists.

That's because Conservatives on the committee don't want to "worry Canadians."

"It's imperative, in my opinion, that we not do anything that might worry Canadians," Conservative MP Shelly Glover told the Globe and Mail. "I think that hearing from the Minister of Finance and the Bank of Canada will help to reassure them, as they should be, that there is concern, but that we are proceeding, as parliamentarians, in their interests."

Keep TTC Public

Privatization of public transit around the world has been a disaster for taxpayers and riders. In these videos, we learn of some of these disasters and why Toronto should avoid TTC public-private partnerships. Narrated by Canadian actor Eric Peterson.


Ex-Evangelical Denounces Michele Bachmann & Calls Christian Reconstructionist Politics "Anti-American"

We speak with a former evangelical Christian Frank Schaeffer, whose father’s writings and work played a key role in the religious development of Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. Frank Schaeffer recently wrote an article titled, "Michele Bachmann Was Inspired By My Dad and His Christian Reconstructionist Friends — Here’s Why That’s Terrifying." Schaeffer’s father was Francis Schaeffer, one of the nation’s most influential evangelical Christian theologians and philosophers in the 1970s and 1980s. In a recent profile in The New Yorker magazine, Bachmann reveals she entered politics after watching Francis Schaeffer’s film, "How Should We Then Live." The film was directed by his son, Frank, our guest today. “[Bachmann] doesn’t just come from the far-right of evangelical politics, she comes from a fringe even of the fringe, which is the reconstructionist Dominionist movement,” Schaeffer says. “The religious right that I was a part of is fundamentally anti-American, they hate this country. They wrap themselves in the flag, but they hate America as it is.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Rick Perry Stirs Ire for Fed Threat, "Economic Miracle" Claim & Calling Entitlements "Ponzi Scheme"

Since announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination over the weekend, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has already raised eyebrows over a number of heated comments. On Monday Perry accused Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke of treason and suggested he would face physical harm in Texas. His comments were widely criticized, from the White House to Republican key strategist Karl Rove. Perry has also drawn criticism for calling Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare "a Ponzi scheme." Perry’s record in Texas is also beginning to face increased scrutiny. He claims responsibility for the an "economic miracle" in Texas, but many have questioned the success of his economic policies. We look at Perry’s recent comments and his past with Bob Moser, executive editor of the American Prospect. Moser is the former editor of the Texas Observer, where he spent the last three years covering Perry.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Another Texas governor shoots for the presidency

The likely Republican nominee for the 2012 U.S. presidential race declared his candidacy on Aug. 12 in South Carolina. Speaking to conservatives, Texas Governor Rick Perry said: "I'll work every day to make Washington D.C. as inconsequential in your life as I can." Perry not just talks, he acts the part of a true Texan: he jogs packing a pistol, and once shot a coyote on his morning run, proudly claiming he did so because it was after his dog.

Before the addition of Governor Parry, the crop of Republican hopefuls (not yet including Sarah Palin) did not stir wide interest. Frontrunner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a Mormon, was rejected as a presidential candidate last time by Republicans; he is still not considered a good fit with the Midwesterners and Southern Christian fundamentalists who do the heavy lifting in the party. Tea Party heroine Michele Bachmann, a Congressional representative from Minnesota, is getting the kind of sophisticated media scrutiny that makes her stands on abortion, and gay and lesbian rights, plus her "submissive but not subservient respect" for her husband, and wacko take on the economy, subject to rejection -- and often ridicule -- outside her circle of support.

Some Civility ... Please?

Why a more polite political community would be a more productive one.

The strange metaphor “Washington is broken” became more firmly embedded in common wisdom during the recent debt-ceiling debate. But the debate revealed that Washington isn’t simply broken; it’s also rude. As some renew calls for reform to address government dysfunction, perhaps the best place to start would be to ask public figures to be more polite.

It is not just that it is discrediting and unseemly when politicians are discourteous; civility also has an instrumental value. A civil political community can be a more productive one.

Down and out in London

When the European Union expanded its borders eastward in 2004, more than half a million Poles took advantage of the newly opened border to pack up and move to Britain. They were joined by thousands more Czechs and Slovenians, and after the EU expanded again in 2007, migrants from Bulgaria and Romania.

Many thrived. Suddenly traditional English pubs were staffed by servers with Eastern European accents. The new arrivals were so ubiquitous in the trades that “Polish plumber” became a catchphrase.

Inevitably, however, thousands have also floundered. Estimates vary, but a disproportionate percentage of homeless in London are from Eastern Europe, most of them Poles. And when they do stumble, they fall harder than the locals. Migrants who have not worked full-time for more than a year do not qualify for many social assistance programs, such as housing benefits. Last year, a charity worker found homeless Poles roasting rats.

U.K. riot Facebook page authors get 4 years

Two men in northwestern England were handed stiff jail terms for inciting disorder during Britain's recent riots through social networking site Facebook.

Police in Britain have arrested more than 3,000 people over riots that erupted Aug. 6 in north London and flared for four nights across the capital and other English cities. The 1,000th person was charged in connection with the London incidents, police said Wednesday.

The huge numbers and public anger has sparked concerns that judges were handing out sentences that were disproportionate.

Cheshire Police said Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, both received four-year sentences late Tuesday for using Facebook to "organize and orchestrate" disorder.

Canada has fallen behind in Latin America

The collective yawn that greeted Stephen Harper’s visit to Latin America should serve as a wake-up call for Canada.

Since Ottawa last fully engaged in the Americas some 20 years ago, the region has grown and, in some ways, moved past Canada. Brazil’s economy is now larger and, with 2,000 troops in Haiti compared with Canada’s 10, it’s running United Nations peacekeeping operations there. Even Guatemala, with 45 soldiers, has a larger presence.

But Mr. Harper’s visit was about trade, and it’s there that the region will become even more important for Canada.

Gone too far? U.K. man arrested over alleged water fight

A man has been arrested in the U.K. for allegedly trying to arrange a city-wide water gun fight using his BlackBerry.

A 20-year-old man from Colchester, Essex was charged under the Serious Crime Act of 2007 for the alleged call to super soakers arms, the Essex Police reported on their website.

The unidentified accused was held with another 20-year-old man, Essex police told the Toronto Star. The second man was released without charge.

Many took to Twitter thinking the statement was a joke.

“I’m thinking of having a water fight with the kids but i (sic) don’t own a blackberry.will (sic) I be OK??” one Twitter user posted on the police force’s Twitter feed.

“My neighbour has just bought a Mini. I am certain they are planning a daring gold heist,” another Twitter user added.

Federal transit cash linked to Transit City, not subway, McGuinty says

Premier Dalton McGuinty has responded coolly to a request from Mayor Rob Ford for quick help funding the Sheppard Ave. subway expansion, a project that was supposed to proceed without provincial assistance under the March transit agreement that killed the Transit City plan.

McGuinty said Ford asked him to speedily provide some of the money - up to $650 million that the province agreed to direct toward Sheppard if it had leftover funds from the $8.2 billion Eglinton Ave. light rail project it is responsible for.

“We'll take a look at the request. I think I've got a slightly different take on the $650 million,” McGuinty said after the meeting in his Queen's Park office, which lasted more than 50 minutes. “The memorandum of understanding that we entered into provides that we could make up to $650 million available once we have determined what our costs are associated with the Eglinton line. And it's pretty hard to make that determination at this point in time.”

Internet Censorship: How Western Governments Are Trying To Seize Control Of The Web

Since the Internet went mainstream some 15 years ago, debate has raged over the balance between privacy and the ability of governments to enforce laws online.

Those who hailed the Internet as the conduit for a new era of freedom of expression welcomed the Arab Spring uprisings earlier this year as vindication of their ideals. But while people fight to get out from under the thumb of repressive regimes around the world, Western governments today are engaged in unprecedented efforts to exert control over the Internet and digital communication.

While efforts to censor the Internet in places like China and Iran come as no surprise, many civil liberties advocates are now raising the alarm about the world's democracies, saying recently passed or proposed laws in numerous countries could place traditionally liberal countries in the same category as some repressive regimes.

Members of project selection committee Clement chaired received 83 per cent of $50-million G8 fund

PARLIAMENT HILL—A select committee of nine mayors, reeves and municipal leaders that was chaired by Treasury Board President Tony Clement and vetted applications from their own and other municipalities for a share of $50-million Ottawa spent on sidewalks, streets, even flower boxes for the G8 summit in Mr. Clement’s riding last year received $41.4-million from the fund.

The remaining six municipalities in Mr. Clement’s electoral district that received project funding but whose mayors or reeves were not on the committee got a total of only $2.5-million, with the remainder going to North Bay, Ont., for runway improvements when it was being considered as an air link into Mr. Clement's Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont., riding, and the Ontario Transport Ministry as a contribution to bridge work already underway in the riding.

Two former town and township leaders who were not part of the private group, and whose municipalities applied for funding but did not receive any, told The Hill Times on Tuesday they were unaware of the committee’s existence. One replied “maybe it’s not very good, eh,” when he was asked about what the public might think of the system Mr. Clement set up to dispense the money. Opposition MPs are calling for a Commons committee inquiry because Mr. Clement, among other things, ran the project out of his own consitutency office.

Royal military renaming slammed as colonial throwback

Restoring the "royal" designation to Canada's air force and navy is a regressive and unnecessary move that will backfire on the Conservative government, say critics of the decision.

"We've had gradual, incremental changes toward putting our colonialist symbols into the dustbin of history, and this is the first time a government has taken steps to restore it," says Tom Freda, co-founder and director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic.

"I believe they're wrong-headed and they're making a mistake. The public will remember this and see this is as a party of the past. Canadians don't think the monarchy is appropriate for the 21st century."

Ontario Ombudsman launches probe into ‘excessive force’ against inmates

Ontario’s ombudsman is launching a new probe into provincial jail guards using “excessive force” against inmates, saying he is disturbed by allegations that violence is being “covered up.”

“We have had more than 100 complaints in the last year from inmates who say correctional officers assaulted them, and more than 25 since this April alone,” Andre Marin said in a statement Tuesday.

The investigation follows concerns raised in his annual report in June. It will examine how the community safety and correctional services ministry conducts investigations and enforces its own policies on how force is used.

A ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Source: Toronto Star 

An Open Letter to David Cameron’s Parents

Dear Mr & Mrs Cameron,

Why did you never take the time to teach your child basic morality?

As a young man, he was in a gang that regularly smashed up private property. We know that you were absent parents who left your child to be brought up by a school rather than taking responsibility for his behaviour yourselves. The fact that he became a delinquent with no sense of respect for the property of others can only reflect that fact that you are terrible, lazy human beings who failed even in teaching your children the difference between right and wrong. I can only assume that his contempt for the small business owners of Oxford is indicative of his wider values.

Even worse, your neglect led him to fall in with a bad crowd. He became best friends with a young man who set fire to buildings for fun. And others:

There’s Michael Gove, whose wet-lipped rage was palpable on Newsnight last night. This is the Michael Gove who confused one of his houses with another of his houses in order to avail himself of £7,000 of the taxpayers’ money to which he was not entitled (or £13,000, depending on which house you think was which).

Or Hazel Blears, who was interviewed in full bristling peahen mode for almost all of last night. She once forgot which house she lived in, and benefited to the tune of £18,000. At the time she said it would take her reputation years to recover. Unfortunately not.