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, September 28, 2011

"Something Has Started": Michael Moore on the Occupy Wall St. Protests That Could Spark a Movement

Oscar-winning filmmaker, best-selling author,and provocateur laureate Michael Moore joins us for the hour. One of the world’s most acclaimed — and notorious — independent filmmakers and rabble-rousers, his documentary films include Roger and Me; Bowling for Columbine for which he won the Academy Award, Fahrenheit 9/11, SICKO; and Capitalism: A Love Story. In the first part of our interview, Moore talks about the growing "Occupy Wall Street" protests in Lower Manhattan, which he visited on Monday night. "This is literally an uprising of people who have had it," Moore says. "It has already started to spread across the country in other cities. It will continue to spread. ... It will be tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people ... Their work ahead is not as difficult as other movements in the past ... The majority of Americans are really upset at Wall Street ... So you have already got an army of Americans who are just waiting for somebody to do something, and something has started."

Source: Democracy Now! 

No “We” Can’t

Thomas L. Friedman’s latest column, one of his mock memos, damn near ruined my Sunday. Here’s how it starts:
TO Barack Obama, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi and Eric Cantor, I just have two words of advice: Herbert Hoover.
I know you’re all familiar with that name. Hoover lives in infamy in U.S. history for having been on duty when the Great Depression happened. You’re all courting a similar fate….
But unlike Hoover, who was just practicing the conventional economic wisdom of his day when we fell into the Depression, you have no excuses. We know what to do—a Grand Bargain: short-term stimulus to ease us through this deleveraging process, debt restructuring in the housing market and long-term budget-cutting to put our fiscal house in order. None of this is easy….
Then a few grafs about how “both parties” aren’t trying hard enough to compromise and how “our leadership” is “out of its mind” and how you, Obama, and you, Boehner, are equally bad because you “walked away from your negotiations” and then “retreated to your bases” instead of doing what you should have done, which was to have “taken the issue to the country and not let up until the other guy came back to the table.”

Hang on, isn’t that exactly what Obama, for his part, is doing right now? Taking the issue to the country? Not to his “base”—not to Marin County or the Upper West Side or Hyde Park—but to the other guy’s, to Cantor’s district and Boehner’s state?

Tim Harper: The silent Mr. Clement


The long, slow slide of the daily question period into irrelevancy has been well chronicled.

But in its stonewalling over the Tony Clement G8 slush fund, the Conservative government has taken it to new lows and is mocking what was once a pillar of the Parliamentary process.

Clement, a senior minister in the Stephen Harper government, has become a figure of ridicule as he sits silently in his seat each day, like a child banished to the corner for a timeout.

Instead, as new revelations about his handling of a $50 million G8 Legacy Fund are ferreted out and a damning email string becomes required reading in Ottawa, the Conservatives send a designated deflector out each day to shield the neutered minister.

Alykhan Velshi, Founder, Finds Work On Jack Layton's Climate Committee

Former Conservative Party strategist Alykhan Velshi is not generally associated with efforts to reduce Canada’s carbon footprint.

But that’s about to change.

Velshi, who has been the driving force behind Ethical Oil -- a pro-industry campaign that aims to re-brand the Alberta oil sands -- was recently appointed to the board of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF), a city council committee that finances local initiatives that fight global warming, and lists Jack Layton as one of its original founders.

It’s a decision that is drawing fire from critics, who are voicing concerns about an appointment they say defies logic.

According to Velshi, who occasionally blogs for HuffPost Canada, he was drawn to the position by the opportunity to keep an eye on TAF’s bottom line “at a time of economy uncertainty.”

“When I applied for the position, I saw my role on the board as ensuring that TAF fulfilled its mandate, and delivers value for money for taxpayers at a time of deficits,” he says.

Velshi, who was an aide to former Environment Minister John Baird, says his history of working for “environmental causes” was “felt by city Toronto City Council to have given me a good deal of experience to contribute to this.”

“I come into this role with an open mind, and I look forward to TAF’s activities,” he says. “I look forward to serving Toronto taxpayers in this voluntary, unpaid position.”

But while Velshi may have received the approval of the majority of councillors, not all are on board.

As Adam Vaughan sees it, appointing a vocal advocate of oil sands production to a committee devoted to fighting greenhouse gas emissions “blows the mind.”

Police rough up anti-Cheney protesters

As former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney spoke in Vancouver on Monday night -- his first visit to Canada since leaving power -- several hundred people demanded his arrest on charges of war crimes and torture, blocking both entrances to the upscale Vancouver Club by linking arms, as others staged a sit-in lasting several hours.

Police escorted speech-goers to the private book club event inside, at one point shoving an identified reporter forcefully, pushing an older man to the ground and stepping on sitting demonstrators. Similar scenes greeted Cheney the following day in Calgary.

"People around the world are going to see images of the Vancouver Police Department roughing up peaceful demonstrators when they should have seen images of [police] hauling Dick Cheney off to a prison cell. It's lucky nobody was seriously hurt," said's Derrick O'Keefe, one of the protest organizers.

The crowd of about 300 -- spurred by support from the world's second-largest rights group, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch -- demanded Cheney's arrest for war crimes and torture. Cheney is in Canada promoting his new book, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, in which he defends authorizing simulated drowning known as "water-boarding," other "enhanced interrogation techniques," and policies rendering U.S. terror suspects to torture overseas, as in the case of now-exonerated Canadian citizen Maher Arar.

Collusion and Collision in Internet Censorship

A new report targets the likes of Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, Skype, and Cisco for their role in aiding China's "Great Firewall."

In the pursuit of profits, principles often become collateral damage.

This is the dilemma U.S.-based internet companies operating in China struggle with. Economic opportunism, unchecked by moral and ethical concerns, incurs more than just bad publicity – it costs lives and personal freedom.

Western internet companies in China are navigating a precarious grey zone between collusion and collision, where compliance with domestic laws is often used to justify collaboration in China’s official censorship regime.

It is a reality that businesses must obey the rules and regulations of the country in which they operate. But at what point does industry have to take it upon itself to choose ethics over growth, and socio-political responsibilities over economic prosperity?

Tories 'governing by fiat,' conducting Parliamentary business as 'warfare by any other means,' says Prof. Franks

'They’re forgetting that though they have a majority of seats, they got less than 40 per cent of the vote in May. I’m disappointed. I was expecting better,' says Queen's University political scientist Ned Franks.

PARLIAMENT HILL—The Conservative government is taking a ham-fisted approach to Parliamentary business that is like “warfare by any other means,” one of Canada’s leading constitutional scholars says.

Queen’s University Professor Ned Franks used the term on Tuesday after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) imposed closure on its controversial 100-page omnibus crime bill and Conservative MPs on the House Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee went so far as putting the name of a Federal Court judge on a list of witnesses they want for an inquiry the Conservatives forced over CBC practices under the Access to Information Act.

Prof. Franks was also commenting on Conservative manoeuvres to avoid committee hearings into new information about Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) role in the distribution of nearly $50-million in federal funding in his riding for the G8 summit last year. At the same time the government wielded its clout to cut debate on the crime bill, C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, to only two more days and forced a committee inquiry into Conservative allegations of improper sponsorships at an NDP national convention last June.

Fighting poverty pays off, report says

Public cost of poverty pegged at $25B a year

The federal government could save billions of dollars if it tackled the roots of poverty, according to a new report from a government advisory body.

The report from the National Council of Welfare urges the governing Tories to take a long-term "investment" approach to preventing poverty, rather than a short-term program spending approach.

It says the public cost of poverty is easily $25 billion a year, and climbing — all while the poverty rate does not improve.

"The costs and consequences of poverty are much larger than direct spending on social programs. We see the total costs when indirect and societal costs are taken into account," the report says.

The council has been able to look at the cost of poverty in a way that federal departments can't, said Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who has long been involved in poverty eradication.

Federal departments analyze poverty programs with a simple cost-benefit analysis, while the council report is able to look at "the cost of inertia, the cost of not doing anything," Segal said.

But the new report uses hard numbers to link poverty to the cost of productivity, health care and the justice system, he added.

"It's a very good way to encourage public debate and discussion."

Conservatives summon Sun journalists to testify in CBC fight

The Conservatives are calling on some of the CBC's harshest critics and competitors to testify about the broadcaster at a parliamentary hearing on access to information.

Tory MPs on the Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee successfully pushed for a study of the use of taxpayers' funds in the CBC's court battle with the information commissioner. The Crown Corporation is fighting to keep records involving its creative, journalistic and programming activities completely exempt from the Access to Information Act.

Some of the witnesses requested by the Tories include Sun Television/Sun Media pundits Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley, and the president of their parent company Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau. Quebecor's television networks compete directly with the CBC for viewers in Quebec.

Quebecor spokesman Luc Lavoie said Tuesday said Peladeau would attend, but that it wasn't appropriate for journalists to appear before a committee to explain their motives and methods. Peladeau has argued for a review of the CBC's funding and role. He has also been critical of its approach to access to information.

Surveys: Health insurance costs shifted to workers, even as premiums surge

Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance continued to escalate this year even as the share of workers getting less generous coverage reached a new high, according to survey data released Tuesday.

In 2011, for the first time, half of workers at small firms with individual policies faced annual deductibles of $1,000 or more. In 2006, that figure was 16 percent. At large firms, the share has grown from 6 percent to 22 percent over the same five years.

At the same time, the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that premiums for family plans rose 9 percent in 2011, after several years of slower annual growth. A similar recent survey by the consulting firm Mercer found that yearly premium increases have been hovering around the 6 percent mark and will grow by slightly less in 2012.

Both sources point to the same fundamental long-term shift: Faced with continually climbing premiums, a record share of employers have moved to plans that require workers to pay more out of pocket.

President of the blood bank

It is convenient for our gentle doves to forget that the Israeli project is first and foremost an imperial one, through which the United States continues to rule the region.

The United States decimated North Korea and Vietnam under both Democratic and Republican rule. It decimated Iraq under Republican rule, but the Democrats did not object, nor have they since withdrawn the troops. It started a war in Afghanistan that Republicans bequeathed to the Democrats and that will continue for many years to come.

Since World War II, the American war industry has never stopped growing. Eisenhower, in his farewell speech 50 years ago when he left the White House to Kennedy, warned against the increasing power of the American arms industry: "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." His prophecy comes true on a daily basis.

In the ensuing 50 years, this industry has expanded enormously to encompass far-flung economic realms. Prophecies of the United States' decline as a superpower were not premature, but they sometimes seemed like watching a theater performance. Superpowers do not exit the stage and call to congratulate the winner with Anglo-Saxon politeness.          

Freddie Protecting Banks, Not Taxpayers, And Never Mind Homeowners

For many months, people concerned about the anemic American economy have focused on the housing market, and the reality that many of the nation's homeowners remain underwater, owing banks more than their homes are worth. Eyes have turned to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-controlled mortgage behemoths that collectively back about half of the nation's $11 trillion worth of outstanding home loans: If they would forgive a significant slice of this debt for homeowners facing difficulty, that would give borrowers a greater stake in their properties, diminishing the foreclosure crisis. The move would put more money in people's pockets via lowered mortgage payments -- money that borrowers would in turn spend, generating jobs for other people.

But the government body that now supervises Fannie and Freddie, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, has refused to go along, asserting that this kind of help for homeowners would be unfair to taxpayers, who ultimately own the mortgages. Better to hold firm and extract what they can from distressed borrowers, returning something to the taxpayers who ponied up north of $140 billion to rescue Fannie and Freddie three years ago.

In a trenchant piece in the Wall Street Journal late last month, the agency's acting director, Edward J. DeMarco, dismissed as irresponsible suggestions that he should be thinking about the broader housing market and the health of the economy, calling campaigns launched in that spirit "a very slippery slope." In DeMarco's world, his responsibilities begin and end with the taxpayer, on whose behalf he has been laboring to collect as much as he can from a teeming storehouse of delinquent mortgages.

Crime Bill: Conservatives Force Early Vote On Massive Omnibus Legislation, Opposition Cries Foul

OTTAWA - The Conservative government is using its majority muscle to push through Parliament a massive crime bill that provides harsher penalties for pot growers than pedophiles.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the legislation, made up of nine bills that were introduced in previous years, "is an investment to better protect Canadians in their homes and make them feel safer in their communities."

But just how large an investment, and how it will impact crime levels, remain open questions.

Joe Comartin, the NDP justice critic, said the bill is an uncosted hodge-podge of measures that include the good, the bad and the ugly.

"If you're a mid-level trafficker in drugs, including marijuana, you can get up to 14 years. If you're the same person but you sexually assault — rape — a baby, you can only get up to 10 years," said Comartin.

New mandatory minimum sentences are also harsher for drug crimes, in some instances, than for sexually assaulting a child.

"That's right in this bill," said Comartin.

Stephen Harper’s majority rules

In the session ahead, the PM needs to remember that his mandate ‘has a big old fence around it’

In the early morning hours of May 3, with the ballots almost all counted, he basked in a Conservative majority. The Liberal Party of Canada, his nemesis, was in shambles. The Bloc Québécois was decimated. If the world seemed then to have tilted in Stephen Harper’s direction, his political situation has become only more advantageous since.

The NDP, though now the official Opposition, has lost its uniquely popular leader, removing Harper’s primary challenger from the House of Commons. What’s more, with Progressive Conservatives mounting serious challenges in Ontario and Manitoba, Harper might awake one day next month to find that every single province west of Quebec is led by a right-of-centre government—a resounding endorsement of the Prime Minister’s twin assertions that “Conservative values are Canadian values” and that “the Conservative party is Canada’s party.”

Tories drop the ball on dropped cases

It is the kind of statistic that seems ready-made for a Conservative talking point about the importance of being tougher on crime: as many as 40% of alleged offenders in Canada are returned to polite society before they have even faced justice.

And yet, funny thing about that nugget, which happens to be true: the Tory omnibus anti-crime bill introduced last week will only make it worse.

Most people are likely aware a decent number of criminal cases are dropped - withdrawn, dismissed or stayed - before guilt or innocence of the accused is established. But the scope of those numbers is surprising.

An even 30% of criminal cases were scrapped in Canada in 2009-10, the latest years for which numbers are available.

The figure is lower in the smaller provinces and highest in Ontario, where 40% of cases are stayed or withdrawn before resolution. In Alberta, it's 33%. In British Columbia, 27%.

PM's aide commissions Ontario riding poll that’s much more to his liking

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary has stepped heavily into the Ontario election for the second time, this time commissioning a 1,000-person poll because he felt a local newspaper underplayed the popularity of the local Progressive Conservative candidate.

Peterborough’s Dean Del Mastro – who jumped into the provincial campaign at its outset when he bashed a Liberal plan to provide tax credits to employers to hire immigrants – is back in the spotlight after hiring a polling company to provide a second opinion on a poll published by a local twice-weekly newspaper on Friday.

The Peterborough This Week telephone poll suggested Liberal candidate Jeff Leal had a 45.5-per-cent share of the vote compared to 28 per cent for Progressive Conservative candidate Alan Wilson.

“I was deeply concerned that publishing numbers in the fashion as presented on the cover of a weekly large circulation paper could significantly suppress voter participation,” he said. “The methodology was not released and the responses could have just as easily been provided by six-year-olds as registered voters.”

Tories accused of using majority muscle to keep G8 spending, other touchy issues, behind closed-doors House committees

The government plans to use its majority muscle behind the closed doors of  in-camera Commons standing committees to keep controversies like the lavish G8 spending in Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s riding out of the Parliamentary spotlight and kill other inquiries that were underway in the last Parliament, opposition MPs say.

PARLIAMENT HILL—The government plans to use its majority muscle behind the closed doors of in-camera Commons committees to keep controversies like the lavish G8 spending in Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s riding out of the Parliamentary spotlight and kill other inquiries that were underway in the last Parliament, opposition MPs say.

The MPs cite the sudden end during an in camera meeting of the Government Operations and Estimates Committee last week of a motion from Liberal MP John McCallum (Markham-Unionville, Ont.) that proposed an inquiry into nearly $50-million the government spent to spruce up cities and towns in Mr. Clement’s (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) upscale cottage-country constituency for the 2010 summit of G8 leaders.

Actress booted off flight after kissing girlfriend

The publicist for a lesbian actress and musician who says she was escorted off a flight for "one modest kiss" of her partner says the encounter was not a stunt for her band's upcoming breast cancer awareness tour.

Leisha Hailey, best known for playing Alice Pieszecki in the now defunct Showtime lesbian life drama The L Word, asked her Twitter followers to boycott Southwest Airlines after the encounter Monday.

The airline responded that Hailey's display of affection was excessive and drew customer complaints.

The actress and her partner, Camila Grey, denied in a statement released Tuesday that the affection they showed toward each other was inappropriate.

"We want to make it clear we were not making out or creating any kind of spectacle of ourselves; it was one modest kiss," the written statement said. "We are responsible adult women who walk through the world with dignity. We were simply being affectionate like any normal couple."

The cuts that never were

As council met on Monday, protesters rallied outside City Hall to rail against Mayor Rob Ford’s cutbacks. Fair enough. It’s a democracy. The only question is: What cutbacks?

So far at least, councillors have balked at most of the cuts the city is considering to close its annual budget shortfall. At last week’s meeting of the mayor’s executive committee, councillors decided against cutting back on grass cutting, against eliminating driveway “windrow” plowing, against cancelling late-night bus service.

Library closings: off the table. Cutting back on street sweeping: sent back to the city manager for further study. All the hard decisions have been kicked down the road at least until budget meetings later this fall.

As a result, the much-anticipated special session of city council that began on Monday is shaping up to be a massive anticlimax. As Monty Python put it: suddenly, nothing happened. “Behind a bush, on the side of the road, there was no severed arm. No dismembered trunk of a man in his late fifties. No head in a bag. Nothing. Not a sausage.”

Why is a $1,575-a-month drug approved and a $7 one isn’t?

Wet age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people 65 and over – the age at which all Canadians can benefit from public drug plans.

There are two treatments for wet AMD: ranibizumab (brand name Lucentis) and bevacizumab (Avastin). Both drugs are biologics that inhibit blood-vessel growth and leakage into eyes that causes vision loss. They were both developed by Genentech, which is now a subsidiary of Roche.

Treatment of wet AMD with Lucentis costs $1,575 a month for a recommended period of about two years; Avastin costs roughly $7 a month with about the same treatment period.

The Common Drug Review, the national agency that determines if drugs are cost-effective and warrant being included on provincial drug formularies, has given its blessing to Lucentis. All publicly funded health plans have followed that recommendation, but British Columbia and Nova Scotia also allow for Avastin to be reimbursed.

That means Lucentis must be the clearly superior drug, right? It suggests that B.C. and N.S. are sacrificing safety to save a few bucks, doesn’t it?

Well, not so fast.