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, September 10, 2011

Rob Ford betrays promises about transparency

Mayor Rob Ford came to office promising a new era of transparency and accountability in city government. Instead, we have seen a pattern of secrecy, evasion and backroom dealing.

It started right off the bat when, without consulting city council, Mr. Ford announced he was killing Transit City, the multibillion-dollar light-rail project that was already approved, funded and under way. The mayor proceeded to negotiate a deal with the provincial government that left the city solely in charge of his own dubious transit plan: the Sheppard subway extension. He revived a long-dormant consulting group, Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd., to figure out how to get the project done, and appointed a trusted associate, Gordon Chong, to head it.

The same behind-the-scenes manoeuvring has marked Mr. Ford’s handling of the waterfront file. Although he and his brother, Doug, have made it clear for months that they are unhappy with Waterfront Toronto and the pace of development by the harbour, it was not until this month that the public learned that they had hired international consultants to draw up a lavish plan for the Port Lands or that an Australian developer had been talking to the city about building there. City councillors who had approved an entirely different plan only a year ago were left wondering how their democratic vote had been bulldozed so easily. They were hardly reassured when Doug Ford insisted that “We are going to do consultations out our yingyang.”

9/11 opened door to a more polarized Canada

Before 9/11, the country’s Conservative movement was in disarray and the Canadian left had become a spent political force.

The end of the summer of 2001 found Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day living on borrowed time on the heels of a major caucus mutiny and former prime minister Joe Clark failing to breathe new life in the rival Progressive Conservative party.

Over its seven years in power, Jean Chrétien had successfully appropriated the major policies Preston Manning and the Reform Party had originally brought to Parliament Hill.

The Liberals were basking in the political credit they had earned by eliminating the deficit, putting a federal frame around future Quebec attempts to secede and cutting taxes.

Over on the left, the NDP was running hard just to hang on to an obscure next-to-last place in the House of Commons.

Finally in Quebec, the pendulum was swinging back to the federal Liberals for the first time in two decades.

Twenty-first century Canada seemed destined to belong to the Liberal party.

Rick Perry's Discussion With Sheriff Joe Arpaio Draws Condemnation From Latino Leadership

DALLAS, Texas -- Latino political leaders and activists have condemned Texas Governor Rick Perry for reportedly contacting anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County to discuss immigration policy, saying the meeting is proof that a Perry presidency would spell bad news for Hispanics.

On Aug. 19, Arpaio used his Twitter account to inform his followers that Perry’s presidential campaign had reached out to him. Several weeks later, on Sept. 3, he revealed that Perry had called him at home and they'd had "a great conversation, especially about immigration and other matters."

Perry is "doing the wrong things to please the wrong people," said Lauro Garza, director of the Texas chapter of Somos Republicans, in an interview with HuffPost LatinoVoices. When he aligns himself with people like Arpaio, "it becomes harder to defend his attitudes towards Latinos."

Arpaio has become an outspoken icon for the nation's anti-immigration movement. His office deported more than 26,000 undocumented immigrants between 2007 and 2010 -- about a quarter of the total deported nationally during that period.

Wisconsin Official Instructs Staff Not To Mention Free IDs For Voting

WASHINGTON -- An internal memo sent around the Wisconsin Department of Transportation went public this week, sparking controversy over its instructions that employees should not tell state residents they can receive free photo identification for voting unless they ask.

The memo in question, sent out by former Republican state Senate aide Steve Krieser, the executive assistant of the Department of Transportation, is causing backlash across the state because of legislation signed in May by Republican Gov. Scott Walker requiring voters to show valid photo ID when going to the polls.

Obtaining a state-issued photo ID for the purpose of voting is actually free of charge. But the catch is that voters have to be in the know: If they don't specifically ask for the free ID, they'll get charged $28. Krieser told The Huffington Post he has no plans to adjust the policy.

How the Feds Downplayed Ground Zero Health Risks

In the dark and uncertain days after Sept. 11, 2001, the sight of thousands of shaken New Yorkers returning to their apartments, offices and schools in Lower Manhattan seemed to signal a larger return to normalcy.

Now new documents have emerged showing that federal officials in Washington and New York went further than was previously known to downplay concerns about health risks, misrepresenting or concealing information that ultimately might have protected thousands of people from the contaminated air at ground zero.

In one instance, a warning that people should not report to work on a busy thoroughfare in the financial district—Water Street—was rewritten and workers instead were urged to return to their offices as soon as the financial district opened on Sept. 17. In another, federal officials declared that testing showed the area was safe when sampling of the air and dust—which ultimately found very high levels of toxic chemicals—had barely begun.

Paul Krugman: 50 Percent Chance Global Economy Will Enter Recession

Even though Obama's jobs plan is "bolder and better" than Paul Krugman expected, the Nobel-Prize winning economist still told Bloomberg Television on Friday that it might not be enough to stave off global recession.

The risk of global recession is "quite high, maybe 50 percent," Krugman told Bloomberg. He added: "The risk of something that feels like a recession is much higher than that. My central belief is that we're likely to have higher unemployment a year from now than we do today."

Krugman said that while Obama's plan "could make a noticeable difference to the economy," Republican opposition to the President's proposal, on top of the euro zone crisis, still makes recession a substantial possibility.

Canadians With Mental Illnesses Denied U.S. Entry

More than a dozen Canadians have told the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office in Toronto within the past year that they were blocked from entering the United States after their records of mental illness were shared with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Lois Kamenitz, 65, of Toronto contacted the office last fall, after U.S. customs officials at Pearson International Airport prevented her from boarding a flight to Los Angeles on the basis of her suicide attempt four years earlier.

Kamenitz says she was stopped at customs after showing her passport and asked to go to a secondary screening. There, a Customs and Border Protection officer told Kamenitz that he had information that police had attended her home in 2006.

“I was really perturbed,” Kamenitz says. “I couldn’t figure out what he meant. And then it dawned on me that he was referring to the 911 call my partner made when I attempted suicide.”

Kamenitz says she asked the officer how he had obtained her medical records.

“That was the only thing I could think of,” she says. “But he said, no, he didn’t have my medical records but he did have a contact note from the police that [they] had attended my home.”

Remember That "Eurabian Civil War"?

If someone mentioned terrorism in Europe, you would probably have an idea about the size of the threat and who's responsible.

It's big, you would think. And growing. As for who's responsible, that's obvious. It's Muslims. Or if you're a little more careful with your language, it's radical Muslims, or "Islamists."

After all, they were at it again just in the past month. On Dec. 11, a 28- year-old naturalized Swede - originally from Iraq - injured two people when he blew himself up on the way to a shopping district. And on Dec. 29, police in Denmark said they thwarted a plan by five Muslims to storm the office of a Danish newspaper and kill as many people as possible.

So the danger is big and growing, and Islamists are the source. Right?

Wrong, actually.

Toronto arts funding in city's sights

Secret report targets $6 million in arts funding

Toronto's economy would suffer if the city follows through with a plan to cut some $6 million a year in funding to some of the top cultural groups, an Arts Council executive said Friday.

According to a draft proposal obtained by the Toronto Star, millions of dollars in arts funding could be slashed from the next city budget.

The plan, drafted by city manager Joe Pennachetti, would affect high profile arts groups such as the Toronto International Film Festival, the National Ballet and the Toronto Symphony.

"There would be lots of ripple effect," Claire Hopkinson, executive director of the Toronto Arts Council, told the CBC. "TIFF has taken over Toronto. You just walk down the street and there are all these restaurants, all these taxi drivers, all these hotels. This is all the economic spillover from the arts in Toronto."

Executives from the top arts groups planned to huddle behind closed doors Friday to discuss the surprise move. They plan a press conference for late next week, the Star said.

James: Rise up against city hall bullies

Rookie downtown Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has sent a stinging letter to Mayor Rob Ford chastising him for presiding over an administration that operates “on the premise that your unilateral decree overrides the democratic processes of civic government.”

The councillor was particularly peeved that Ford dismissed any talk of bidding for the 2020 Olympics without seeking a second opinion from city councillors.

“I am concerned with the health of our local democracy,” she wrote Aug. 31. “The decision about the Olympics is only the latest in a worrying pattern” where the mayor makes decisions “by fiat,” she wrote.

For example, the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, has hatched a controversial new plan for the waterfront, even though council approved a very different vision in July 2010; and Ford met secretly with developers, and without any knowledge or input or consultation with the local councillor, Paula Fletcher.

Olive: Should we raise taxes on the rich?

Not since the Gilded Age plutocracy of a century ago has there been such a near-consensus as there is today in North America on the need to raise taxes on the rich.

Warren Buffett was pushing on an open door with his heavily Tweeted op-ed in the New York Times last month calling for higher taxes on himself and fellow billionaires.

“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,” wrote the controlling shareholder in scores of iconic firms ranging from Dairy Queen to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.

“My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress,” wrote Buffett, whose tax rate last year was just 17 per cent, compared with an average of 36 per cent for his colleagues at his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. head office in Omaha. “It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”

Buffett no doubt braced for a backlash from the affluent. And Conrad Black, for one, has fretted that Buffett is exhorting lawmakers into a “tokenistic fiscal persecution of the most affluent” – a demographic to which the disgraced former press baron remains loyal, though his membership has lapsed.

Waterfront Toronto ‘keen to collaborate’ on Port Lands

Waterfront Toronto is moving ahead with its Port Lands plan, saying it would be happy to collaborate with a city agency pushing a mall-and-monorail vision of waterfront development.

“What are the skills we bring to the table, what are the roles? That has to be worked out,” said Waterfront Toronto chief executive John Campbell in an interview Friday in his office at the foot of Bay St.

“But we’re keen to collaborate. We don’t see this as an adversarial battle. That’s not productive for anybody, including the Port Lands. . . . We’re certainly open to new ideas.”

Campbell suggested that if city council wants to adjust Waterfront Toronto’s plan to include less parkland and condominiums, and more commercial space, it can do that by amending the city’s official plan, without wrenching control of the land from Waterfront Toronto.