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.]

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ford, Hudak, and Harper: Friends With Benefits?

Shared agenda or not, opportunism and power trump all in politics.

If you have teenagers, you might have heard about BFFs (best friends forever) and FWBs (friends with benefits). If you haven’t, it’s probably because your kids have learned to text discreetly with PIR (parent in room). These are important terms to learn – not only because they can help you understand your teens, but also because they provide key insight into the relations among politicians.

Relationships are as essential for politicians as for teens. In Canada, little can get done by a single person or level of government. Like teen relationships, the political kind tend to fracture when one partner feels the commitment offered by another partner is not equal to his or her own efforts or investments. The other partner either cares too little about the relationship or cares too much and becomes a burden to have around.

Majority of 1,105 arrested during G20 released without charges

Nearly a year after police undertook the largest mass arrests in Canadian history at the G20 summit, only a small fraction of those arrested have pleaded guilty, new numbers released Monday show.

The vast majority of the 1,105 people rounded up on June 26 and 27 were released without charge or had their charges dropped. Twenty-four have pleaded guilty and 56 are still before the courts.

In total, 321 people were charged. Of those, 187 had charges withdrawn, stayed or dismissed by a judge; 39 completed the direct accountability process, in which they perform community service or make a charitable donation in exchange for having their charge dropped; and 11 signed peace bonds. None have been convicted without first pleading guilty.

Toronto police said they had reasons to arrest people, whether or not the charges held up in court.

“Our officers make arrests and lay charges based on reasonable and probable grounds. The decision whether to take the charges forward is the decision of the Crown [attorney],” said spokeswoman Meaghan Gray. “The legal test for laying a charge or making an arrest is different than the test for going forward with it.”

Weighty Tory crime bill targets drugs, sex offenders, ‘out-of-control' youth

The Harper government has taken the first step toward passing a massive nine-part crime bill – an effort to toughen Ottawa’s approach to the entire pantheon of offenders from drug dealers to sexual predators to what the Conservatives call “out-of-control young people.”

The Tories tabled the omnibus Safer Streets and Communities Act Tuesday, which rolls into one bill nine separate measures. These are all pieces of legislation the Conservatives had failed to enact into law during their minority government years but can now easily pass given their Commons and Senate majorities.

But even as he unveiled this huge justice bill, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson promised the Tories haven’t exhausted their enthusiasm for more crime legislation.

“This is not the end; this is just the beginning of our efforts in this regard,” Mr. Nicholson said during a news conference in Brampton, Ont., part of the majority Tory government’s new political base as a result of the May 2011 federal election.

This drive to get tougher on offenders is prompting Ottawa to expand prison capacity in order to house all the extra inmates the Tories expect will end up being jailed.

Court Ruling Backs Ecuadorian Effort to Hold Chevron Accountable for Amazon Pollution

A U.S. appeals court has ruled oil giant Chevron cannot escape an $18 billion fine for massive pollution of the Amazon rain forest. Amazonian residents won the damages in an Ecuadorian court earlier this year, and Chevron says it will appeal the decision. It is the latest development in a complex, 18-year legal battle that has gone before judges not just in Ecuador and the United States, but also The Hague. We speak with Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch, which has worked closely with the Amazon residents suing Chevron. Atossa Soltani is in New York City this week to draw attention to environmental causes in the Amazon in conjunction with two major gatherings, the Clinton Global Initiative and the United Nations General Assembly.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Nine bills rolled into Tories’ massive crime legislation

OTTAWA—The Conservative government re-introduced Tuesday a package of criminal measures to toughen mandatory sentences for drug and sexual offences, ban house arrest for violent crime, and boost police investigative powers.

The comprehensive bill rolls together nine past proposals including tougher measures for “out of control” young offenders. The Harper government promises swift passage within 100 sitting days of parliament now that it has a majority of votes in the Commons.

But the Liberal party immediately promised a “real public fight” in Parliament over the bill, which comes with no price tag and no projections about the impact on prison populations.

Dubbed the Safe Streets and Communities Act, the omnibus bill was also condemned by Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the John Howard Society of Canada as costly, irresponsible and misdirected.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson unveiled the bill at a Brampton news conference, not in the House of Commons. A series of cabinet ministers marched before cameras to promote the moves.

Ottawa picks up only fraction of G20 tab sought by Toronto businesses

The federal government is paying out less than $2-million in compensation to Toronto businesses affected by the 2010 G20 meetings, a fraction of the $11-million requested.

Normal business life in downtown Toronto essentially shut down during the summit as protesters moved in to fill the largely deserted streets. Some protesters vandalized storefronts, leaving owners to ask Ottawa for compensation.

New statistics tabled in Parliament this week reveal that Ottawa received 367 claims for compensation, totalling $11-million. However only 149 claims have been paid, for a total of $1.9-million. A total of 166 claims were rejected.

A further 47 claims have been deemed eligible, but have not been paid yet because the claimants have not signed a required waiver. The government’s guidelines for compensation indicate that recipients of federal compensation must sign a waiver “releasing the Government of Canada from any liability in relation to the implementation of the Extraordinary Security Measures.”

Source: Globe&Mail 

IMF cuts Canada's economic outlook

Canada’s jobless rate will tick higher this year and next as the global economy enters a “dangerous new phase,” the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday as it chopped its forecast for the country.

The IMF now sees Canada’s economy growing 2.1 per cent this year and just 1.9 per cent next year – much weaker than its April forecast of 2.8 per cent and 2.6 per cent, growth respectively.

Canada’s current jobless rate of 7.3 per cent is poised to creep higher amid a worsening prognosis for the United States. The fund sees the jobless rate averaging 7.6 per cent this year and 7.7 per cent in 2012 (its April outlook predicted next year’s unemployment rate would be 7.3 per cent).

“Although jobs have rebounded at a faster pace than in the United States, a slower pace of recovery over the near term is expected to keep unemployment at 7½ to 7¾ per cent during 2011–12,” its world economic outlook said Tuesday.

Still, downdrafts from Canada’s southern neighbour will be offset by “relatively healthy economic fundamentals and still-supportive commodity prices,” it said.

Tories hire $90,000-a-day consultant to help cut spending

The Harper government is paying a management consulting firm almost $90,000 a day for advice on how to save money.

Deloitte Inc. was hired on Aug. 15 on a $19.8-million contract to advise the federal cabinet and senior officials on finding enough savings to balance the books by 2014.

The contract, which runs until March 31, is to advise “senior and elected officials on public and private sector best practices in improving productivity and achieving operational efficiencies.” There is also an option for a one-year extension.

The federal government invited a select group of 20 “pre-qualified” firms to bid on the work on July 11, rather than use a fully open tendering process. Documents describing the work required were supplied directly to the invited bidders, rather than posted on a tendering website for anyone to see.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the so-called “statement of work” under the Access to Information Act.

Deloitte will advise the government on the Strategic and Operating Review, a year-long exercise announced in the March 22 budget that will eventually trim $4 billion from $80 billion in annual program spending.

Ford poised to lose Waterfront vote

The education of Mayor Rob Ford can begin in earnest when city council meets Wednesday.

In less than a year in office, the mayor and his administration have shown a shocking disrespect for democratic processes, even as he claims to be a champion of the people. Council can rein him in.

Municipal governments are designed to seek consensus, not rule by fiat or subterfuge or threats. A mayor may have the moral authority that comes from being elected city-wide on a specific mandate, but he must consult the 44 city councillors if he is to depend on their support.

That is somehow lost on the mayor — until the past two weeks, when polling showed his approval rate falling. Now the administration is seeking compromise.

As such, the proposed cuts to city services and the administration’s ruinous attempt to put a megamall and monorail and Ferris wheel on the waterfront have served a useful purpose. They’ve awakened citizens and prompted people to think again about what they value about their city.

And they are saying, “Enough!”

Ford backs down from cuts, for now

Mayor Rob Ford has talked the talk on the need for budget cuts. He declined to walk the walk when he had the opportunity on Tuesday morning.

In a significant concession to public opposition and to queasy council allies, Ford voted at the end of a 20-hour executive committee meeting to reject some proposed cuts and to put off decisions on almost all of the others to the 2012 budget process, which begins in November and ends in mid-January.

The votes call into question Ford’s ability to usher a hawkish fiscal agenda through council. They suggest that even some of the mayor’s loyalists have not yet mustered the fortitude to put their jobs on the line by endorsing cuts in the face of widespread disapproval from their constituents.

“Surprise, surprise,” Councillor Mike Del Grande, the blunt-talking budget chief, said, sarcastically, with a wary smile.

“Again, even some of my own committee members still have a hard time to grapple (with the fact) that (the budget situation) is unprecedented. I guess they’re looking for a Hail Mary pass — to, hopefully, you know, somebody’s going to come along, maybe the (provincial) election’s going to be over and somebody’s going to sprinkle all kinds of money on the city.

“We’re deferring, delaying, but at some point, by January 17, we’re gonna have a budget, and we have to have a balanced budget.”

Joe Walsh To Palestinians: Stop Statehood Bid Or Israel Will Annex West Bank

NEW YORK -- A Republican lawmaker has introduced a resolution warning Palestinian leaders that Israel would be within its rights to annex the West Bank if they do not drop their bid for statehood at the United Nations this week.

Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) introduced the resolution as a way of urging Palestinian leaders to pull back from their plans to seek formal recognition for their state at the U.N. General Assembly meetings, which take place this week, according to his spokesman, Justin Roth.

"The intent is to explain to the Palestinians that actions have consequences," Roth told The Huffington Post. "A major tenet of the Oslo Accords is that the parties at least continue to negotiate in good faith and don't do anything involving the international community without each other."

Roth said that 30 other congressmen have signed on to the resolution.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a large delegation of State Department officials are already in New York on the eve of the high-level meetings, consulting with heads of state and urging them to help rebuff the Palestinian plan.

Obama Debt Reduction Plan Calms Democrats' Concerns On And Off Hill

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's broad new debt reduction proposal has, at least momentarily, managed to placate a community of progressive activists, Democratic operatives and congressional offices who have grown increasingly despondent over the course of his presidency.

On Monday the White House outlined more than $3 trillion in deficit reduction measures that included $1.5 trillion in tax increases, $1 trillion in war savings and $580 billion or so in mandatory program savings. What stood out, however, was what wasn't in the plan at all: changes to the payment structure of Social Security or the eligibility age of Medicare that the president had voiced support for as recently as August.

Democratic sources familiar with the drafting of the proposal insist that the 80-page document, which included a $470 billion job creation program, is largely consistent with the philosophical blueprint the White House has pursued during the past year. But they also didn't beat back suggestions that Obama and his team are more eager than ever to draw contrasts with Republicans on issues such as tax policy or entitlement reform. Perhaps the best example is the president's pledge to veto any deficit reduction plan that cut Medicare benefits but didn't include a dime of tax increases -- a threat that came in response to House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) insistence that tax hikes be left completely off the table.

Raitt expects deal between Air Canada and union, despite talks breaking down

Talks between Air Canada (AC.B-T1.59----%) and its flight attendants’ union broke down late Monday, but Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said Tuesday she expects the two sides to get back together and come up with a collective agreement.

Ms. Raitt told CBC television in an interview that she wasn't surprised that the negotiators had to take a break after hours of intensive talks that began early Sunday.

But Ms. Raitt said the two sides told her in a meeting on Monday that they were close to a deal and she hopes they can come to terms without the need for federal back-to-work legislation.

“When I met with them yesterday, they indicated they were very close to a deal, that they would be able to push through the last little bit and they would find a solution and a collective agreement,” Ms. Raitt said.

“It's in their hands to reach a deal. They indicated they were able to reach a deal, so that's my expectation.”

With bid for statehood, Palestinians challenge the established order

Behind the ritualized dance of a UN vote on the Middle East, the campaign for recognition of a Palestinian state is revealing hints of a new world order. What’s remarkable about this campaign is not who will vote for or against the resolution, but that the confrontational head count is going ahead at all.

Washington and its Old World allies in Europe couldn’t head it off at the pass. It’s an indicator of the superpower’s waning influence over the global diplomatic process, and the role of emerging nations.

This is, at least to the diplomatic players, no run-of-the-mill nuisance vote at the UN, the kind Israel and Washington have lost, badly, many times before. This is the big one, with major symbolic implications, and perhaps some practical ones, too.

For Canada, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper – who heads to New York for UN-related events this week but who won’t stick around to speak to the General Assembly and wade more heavily into the Palestinian statehood issue – it has been an issue for behind-the-scenes diplomacy, but not repeated vocal statements. Mr. Harper’s pro-Israel stance has long been known, but Canada has deferred to the United States which is leading the “no” campaign.

Dale Farm Travellers win injunction delaying eviction

Residents due to be evicted from the Dale Farm Traveller site won an 11th-hour reprieve on Monday after being granted an emergency injunction restraining Basildon council from clearing structures on the site pending a further hearing at the high court on Friday.

There were cheers from the barricade shortly after 5pm when the news arrived that bailiffs, who were due to begin evicting 86 families from the site built on a former scrapyard, would not be able to enter legally until after the hearing.

The council will also not be able to cut off utilities to the site, something that had concerned residents, who argued that the lives of sick people on the site could be endangered.

Speaking at the high court in London, Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart granted the order because there were concerns that measures carried out by Basildon borough council "may go further" than the terms of the enforcement notices.

The case hinges on the argument that residents have not been sufficiently informed about what is allowed on each pitch and what must be removed.

The Commons: Carry on

The Scene. The Speaker called on the leader of the opposition and Nycole Turmel stood in her spot, just to the left of the conspicuously vacant chair. The New Democrat caucus stood to cheer and the Conservatives across the way offered a round of applause. After Ms. Turmel had finished with her first question, the Prime Minister stood and congratulated her on having done so.

The congeniality ended there, or at least very soon thereafter. And let us be thankful for that.

For however the passing of Jack Layton is to influence our politics from here on—and in many ways for various reasons it would be good if it did—it should probably having nothing to do with reducing Question Period to a polite exchange of demure musings and rhetorical hugs. A Question Period without accusations that one or another is in league with terrorists or criminals might be nice. But a Question Period without vigorous disagreement, raised voices and scathing indictments would be a silly legacy for a man who so often revelled in such stuff.

Credit then to Mr. Harper, who, with his second response, opted to suggest aloud that Ms. Turmel hadn’t the faintest idea what she was talking about. Here was the signal that it was okay to impugn again.

Who Says Food Is a Human Right?

In 1981, Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen published Poverty and Famines, challenging the common perception about the root causes of hunger. Through careful analysis of hunger in India, Bangladesh and Saharan countries from the 1940s onward, Sen documented that famines had occurred amid ample food supply, even in some countries exporting food. His conclusion—radical at the time—was that famine is not a crisis of productivity but a crisis of power. Ten years earlier, in her 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet, my mother, Frances Moore Lappé, put forward a similarly heretical notion: on a planet that produces more than enough calories to make us all chubby, hunger’s root cause is clearly not a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy.

Forty years later, the debate about the roots of hunger, and therefore the most effective solutions, persists. Yet, an idea once heretical—that to address hunger we must talk about democracy, power and human rights—is now gaining traction. Perhaps the most important figure helping to integrate the notion of the right to food into global policy-making is the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter. In his role, De Schutter helps governments identify how to best address these complex roots of food insecurity. Through country missions—like recent ones to Mexico, China, Syria and Madagascar—De Schutter documents best practices and shares these ideas in reports and recommendations to governments and the United Nations General Assembly.