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.]

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The politics of the Saints

WITH MITT Romney’s candidacy for president, the Mormon church approaches an epochal moment in its deep engagement with American politics. The nation, too, is at a threshold - entering, perhaps, a more spacious public understanding of many once-marginal groups.

In the Mormon case, it’s been a long time coming. Romney may be a front-runner for the Republican nomination, and his father George may once have been a serious candidate for president, but the first Mormon to run for president was the first Mormon himself.

Afghanistan: The high cost of war

KANDAHAR – Summer in southern Afghanistan is a blast furnace. Temperatures rise over 50C. Air conditioning is what allows the frenzied pace of NATO’s war during the fighting season. The price is astronomical. The Americans have calculated that in the past two years they have spent $20 billion on AC. If you add the rest of NATO, that figure is probably well over $24 billion. That means that coalition forces spend more to keep themselves cool each year than Afghanistan’s gross national product.

Every drop of fuel, drinking water as well as every morsel of food consumed on NATO bases is imported into this landlocked country – most of it trucked in through Pakistan. The cost is enormous.

This year the U.S. Congress approved $113 billion U.S. for Afghanistan, which is five times Canada’s total defence budget.

From October 2010 to May, the U.S. alone spent $1.5 billion on 329.8 million gallons of fuel to operate its generators, vehicles and aircraft in Afghanistan, according to an article in Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper. This works out to $4.55 per gallon, which is not excessive. But it does not include the high cost of getting that fuel through a war zone. According to Stars and Stripes, that increased the price tenfold.

Jack Layton Funeral: Canada's Collective Grief Suggests For Many, Losing Layton Meant Loss Of Hope

TORONTO - Optimism may indeed be better than despair, but if the last week is any indication, Canadians have been finding it exceedingly hard to come by.

Jack Layton's death Monday at the age of 61 was a shock, even to those who saw his final news conference last month, where his illness was apparent in his sunken face, his raspy voice, the bony shoulders poking through his suit jacket.

The ensuing tide of grief has been no less of a surprise.

Canadians flocked to pay their respects, whether by lining up at the House of Commons to file past his flag-draped coffin, or by scrawling tributes on the cement outside Toronto City Hall, an institution that gave rise to his earliest political successes.

Niko Resources: Ottawa’s corruption test case

By Bangladeshi standards, the red-brick compound of A.K.M. Mosharraf Hossain is a country estate. A four-foot wall encircles the property in the capital city of Dhaka. The only way inside is past a guard booth and a metal gate that leads to the politician’s roundabout driveway.

But there was no problem gaining admission on May 23, 2005, when two representatives from Niko Resources (NKO-T53.740.430.81%) , a Canadian natural gas company, arrived at the gate. They were waved through with a brand-new, shiny gift—a black Toyota Land Cruiser. The two Niko officials, both Bangladeshi, stood by while the car keys were handed over to Hossain’s driver.

This sort of thing is a routine transaction in many Third World countries—yet this one would go down in legal history.

Air Canada flight attendants reject tentative agreement

Air Canada suffered yet another labour setback on Saturday with word its flight attendants have rejected a tentative agreement reached earlier this month.

The union representing the roughly 6,800 flight attendants, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said in a news release that 87.8 per cent of those who voted gave the tentative agreement a thumbs down.

“The results send a strong message to the company,” Jeff Taylor, President of the Air Canada component of CUPE, said in the news release. “We have heard our members loud and clear.”

“After a decade of concessions, the membership has clearly said it wants a fair deal, especially since the company is in a much better financial position,” Mr. Taylor added.

Islamophobia Roots Uncovered By New Report

(RNS) A small number of conservative foundations are propelling a handful of anti-Islamic activists who are fueling rising levels of Islamophobia, according to a report issued Friday (Aug. 26) by the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

The 130-page report identifies seven conservative funders who between 2001 and 2009 gave $42.6 million to eight anti-Islamic causes, most of them headed by individuals who critics say form an organized network.

The report is the latest among recent reports by CNN, The New York Times and The Tennessean that scrutinize these organizations. Authors of the CAP report hope the public pressure will persuade donors to stop funding these groups.

State Department Issues Flawed Blessing of Keystone XL

The State Department released its final environmental impact assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline Friday, and it’s just as bad as some feared—perhaps worse. The report concludes, as did two prior versions, that there would be “no significant impact“ on natural resources near the pipeline route, while also downplaying the potential for increased greenhouse gas emissions.

In a conference call with reporters, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones stressed that “this is not the rubberstamp for this project. The permit that is required for this process has not been approved or rejected at all.”

But the environmental concerns are clearly the main objection to Keystone XL, and the report is widely seen as removing one of the final roadblocks to the project. Environmental groups were quick to blast the results. “The U.S. State Department’s final report on the Keystone XL today is an insult to anyone who expects government to work for the interests of the American people,” the Sierra Club said in a statement.

Jack Layton, a true progressive: Be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world

The second last time I saw Jack Layton was at a garden party at Stornoway in late June. Speaking under a vast white tent as desultory raindrops punished the exiled mass of smokers, he declared his and Olivia's new house, the residence of the leader of the official opposition, to be "the people's house."

Shortly afterwards I caught him on his way out and sheepishly asked for a photo. I can't say why really, I suppose I was overcome by the emotion of the moment. In seven years and something like 20 meetings and conversations, it was the first time I posed for a picture with him. I remember mumbling apologies for being so sycophantic, which he brushed off with his usual generosity of spirit.

The last time I saw Jack Layton I was in the gallery above the House of Commons as he delivered his now legendary speech to kick off the NDP filibuster of Conservative back to work legislation for Canada Post. Unaided by cane or desk, he stood for over an hour, speaking passionately and personally in defence of worker's rights.

Grief, love and politics: Jack's last letter calls forth the best in us

I don't think anyone could have fathomed the scale of the remarkable outpouring of emotion and grieving that has swept across Canada since Monday's announcement of the death of Jack Layton.

What explains this extraordinary week, in which one person's death seems to have become such a significant moment in the life of this country? 

In part, it is Jack's story and the themes it contains with which we are hardwired to connect. The love story with Olivia; the story of a political underdog exceeding all expectations; and, of course, the story of a heroic journey cut short just as the improbable victory came within sight. The astute John Doyle noted the echoes of Terry Fox -- a tale of daring and selfless virtue absorbed by Canadians from childhood -- and his tragic, premature end. 

Jack and the Two Solitudes

As Layton is laid to rest, there remains much to be said about his legacy.

It is a sign of the times in which we live that less than 24 hours after the death of the leader of Canada’s federal opposition, the pundit class was all ready offering its takes on Jack Layton’s legacy. These ranged from the downright mean-spirited to the oddly dismissive.

At the height of insensitivity, on the very day Layton passed, The Globe and Mail republished, on its website, an editorial from May 2011 that suggested Layton would have to answer for his attempts to tempt and seduce Quebecers. It is one thing for commentators to speak ill of the recently deceased (what else would they do?), but for the editorial board at The Globe to republish this taunt on the same day that Layton died is tone deaf and improper.

Politics holding up $481M for affordable housing

Political posturing between Ottawa and Queen’s Park is holding up $481 million in federal-provincial funds to help the homeless and other Ontarians struggling to pay for housing, the Star has learned.

The bilateral agreement, signed earlier this summer, is part of a larger federal framework announced in July which sets out how Ottawa and the provinces will spend $1.4 billion on affordable housing over the next three years.

But until the agreement between Ottawa and Queen’s Park is formally announced, none of the money earmarked for Ontario can be spent. It means all new construction, rent supplements, renovations and affordable home ownership programs in the province are on hold.

Ukraine’s Joan of Arc

Yulia Tymoshenko seemed a little paler and far more irritated after her arrest, but still managed to pin her long blonde braid into a perfect crown atop her head for her court appearance. Looking as if she had just walked out of a cabinet meeting, Ukraine’s former prime minister sat straight-backed and elegant in one of her famously provocative tight gray dresses. Her icy stare bored straight into the judge whom she’d called “a puppet,” precipitating her arrest for being in contempt of court on Aug. 5, during her trial for abuses of power in office—a move designed to rattle her cool, her defenders say.

But in the stuffy courtroom, Tymoshenko’s firm voice cut through the air to show she hadn’t been broken yet. “I am not going to stand up before you,” she thundered at the judge. “That would mean I am kneeling to the mafia.” Such obstreperousness, designed to delay the proceedings, has been Tymoshenko’s strategy since the beginning of the trial, now in its second month. When she didn’t have an opportunity to challenge the court, she hurriedly tweeted to her followers from the bench—where she sat behind a row of muscular special-forces officers—or read news on her iPad.