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, December 04, 2011

Flaherty launches pre-budget talks; opposition cries ‘faux consultation’

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is bending an ear to business, labour and average Canadians as he crafts a federal spending plan designed to create jobs, buoy the economy and make strides in slaying the deficit.

On Friday, Flaherty held the first in a series of cross-country consultations, a pre-budget roundtable discussion in Charlottetown. He also launched an online consultation process where Canadians can submit ideas on how the federal government should spend their tax dollars and manage the volatile economy.

“Budget 2012 will maintain our focus on jobs and economic growth while reducing the deficit and returning to balance in the medium term,” Flaherty said in a statement. “Today, and in coming weeks, I want to hear from Canadians on how we can advance the next phase of our Economic Action Plan to continue to deliver results on these priorities.”

Flaherty will hold four more roundtables with a wide variety of businesspeople, academics, think-tank and industry representatives, non-government representatives and labour groups. They’re part of a broader consultation process that includes meeting with provincial and territorial finance ministers in December. He also plans meetings with opposition finance critics and welcomes input from all MPs.

But opposition critics say Flaherty’s consultations are a charade because he rarely incorporates what Canadians want into the budget.

Saying one thing but doing another

AN embarrassing series of emails continues to put the lie to Conservative claims to be pure as the driven snow. That’s how they first came to office, promising their administration would be open, honest, transparent and free from the fiascoes that dogged the Liberals when they got too comfy. What a difference five years makes.

The latest dust-up involves Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s increasingly desperate efforts to justify using a search and rescue helicopter to get from a Newfoundland fishing trip to a meeting in London, Ont.

When questions arose, MacKay said the whole thing had been planned as a way for him to participate in a practice exercise. Ironically, the big chopper’s pilot could not find a place to land at the remote fishing camp and the crew had to hoist MacKay aboard in a basket.

Emails released through access to information show MacKay’s office requested a helicopter on the grounds he had a last-minute need to “unexpectedly” head to London. So much for the ruse about a pre-planned demonstration for the minister, who uses government aircraft more than any other cabinet minister.

Other emails from senior defence officials warn that the optics of the ministerial flight from a fishing holiday were bad. And yet, MacKay sticks to his story.

Canada accused of bullying countries

Conference host says nation pushing others to support its anti-Kyoto stance

Signs of progress emerged Saturday during international climate change negotiations as thousands took to the streets urging global leaders to step up their efforts.

The demonstration came one day after China indicated it was considering joining a "legally binding" deal to reduce emissions. At the same time, the conference also received a draft text that offered different options for negotiators for achieving a $100-billion annual green fund by 2020 to help developing countries tackle the causes and impacts of global warming.

Developed countries have pledged to offer "fast-start" financing over the first few years, but the text suggested new taxes in shipping and aviation as other options to consider.

Canada already pledged about $1.2 billion over three years to help kick-start the fund, Environment Minister Peter Kent had said before the conference got underway.

But the host country of the conference also urged Canada to reconsider turning its back on the Kyoto Protocol, suggesting Kent was "bullying" poorer countries to support the Canadian government's anti-Kyoto Protocol stance.

Van Loan’s defence of dirty tricks debases Tories and degrades democracy

At least once a year for the last 20 or more, as a pollster, I’ve been asked “Why are young people so detached from our political parties?” or “What can we do to reverse the decline in voting turnout, especially among young people?”

Last May's election reminded us this problem is not going away on its own. Some days it seems like a pretty complex challenge. And then there are moments of great clarity, as there was in Ottawa this past week.

For a while now, there’s been a dirty-trick rumour in circulation: that organized callers have been phoning Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s constituents, leaving the false impression he is leaving politics and they would need a new MP soon.

Eventually, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan admitted that this was being done on an organized basis by the Conservatives. A sad, cynical enough moment in Canadian politics. Then he took cynicism to a new, jaw dropping level.

Perimeter deal may help Canada crackdown on EI and migration cheats: ex-diplomat

OTTAWA—Canada will gain some enhanced powers under the new perimeter security deal with the United States.

Canada will get more power to track unemployment insurance recipients who skip the country.

They’ll also have greater power to monitor landed immigrants who don’t spend enough time here to meet residency requirements.

A former Canadian diplomat who has spoken with those who negotiated the deal says the increased muscle will come with a $1-billion price tag.

Colin Robertson, an ex-diplomat who has served in Washington, says a new entry-exit system for people crossing the border will be a key feature of the deal.

A closer look at Mitt Romney's job creation record

Shortly after Mitt Romney resigned from Bain Capital in 1999 to run the Olympics in Salt Lake City, potential investors received a prospectus touting the extraordinary profits earned by the private equity firm that Romney controlled for 15 years.

During that time, Boston-based Bain acquired more than 115 companies, according to the prospectus. Bain's estimated annual returns were more than five times that of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the same period.

Now a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Romney says his Bain experience shows he knows how to create jobs. He often cites Bain's investment in a little-known office supply store called Staples, which now employs more than 90,000 worldwide.

Burning Love

Americans have never met a hydrocarbon they didn’t like. Oil, natural gas, liquefied natural gas, tar-sands oil, coal-bed methane, and coal, which is, mostly, carbon—the country loves them all, not wisely, but too well. To the extent that the United States has an energy policy, it is perhaps best summed up as: if you’ve got it, burn it.

America’s latest hydrocarbon crush is shale gas. Shale gas has been around for a long time—the Marcellus Shale, which underlies much of Pennsylvania and western New York, dates back to the mid-Devonian period, almost four hundred million years ago—and geologists have been aware of its potential as a fuel source for many decades. But it wasn’t until recently that, owing to advances in drilling technology, extracting the gas became a lucrative proposition. The result has been what National Geographic has called “the great shale gas rush.” In the past ten months alone, some sixteen hundred new wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania; it is projected that the total number in the state could eventually grow to more than a hundred thousand. Nationally, shale-gas production has increased by a factor of twelve in the past ten years.

The Sad Truth About the Fight Against Blood Diamonds

It is a tragic paradox of our time that poor nations with abundant resources should suffer unimaginably while their political leaders appropriate riches that might otherwise mitigate poverty and foster economic growth. This brutal phenomenon is known as the "resource curse." With a global economy increasingly defined by access to natural resources, and emerging nations with growing populations industrializing and creating new scarcities, this pattern of corruption and abuse grows more appalling each day.

Five years ago I made the film Blood Diamond -- a story of the illicit diamond trade and its funding of the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone. While doing my research, I discovered that the NGO Global Witness had been the first to expose the blood diamond trade and call for action. The pressure brought to bear by this small but remarkably effective group helped create what many hoped would be a lasting solution -- the Kimberley Process -- a certification scheme that brought together governments, industry and civil society in an effort to guarantee that diamonds would no longer be sourced from conflict zones in order to finance war.

Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process's refusal to address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny has rendered it hopelessly ineffectual. In effect, it has become an accomplice to diamond laundering -- as well as the corruption and depredations that inevitably follow -- by offering the illusion of institutional cover to endemic and escalating corruption. Despite intensive efforts over nine years by a determined coalition of NGOs, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from. And so, Monday, Global Witness is announcing its withdrawal as an official Observer to the process.

The reasons for this are many and sadly irrefutable. Last month the Kimberley Process allowed the government of Zimbabwe to cash in diamonds mined in the infamous Marange fields -- site of a state-sponsored massacre of hundreds of civilian miners. Currently under the control of the Zanu PF military-political elite, this ill-gotten windfall will serve to finance President Robert Mugabe's re-election campaign, assuring his stranglehold on that benighted country for years to come. That the diamond industry and the Kimberly Process' member states chose to disregard this blatant corruption is unconscionable. Rather than share in its complicity, the group had no choice but to withdraw its support. Nor is this the first instance of such abuse. The Kimberly Process has also failed to deal with the trade in conflict diamonds from Côte d'Ivoire, and was unwilling to take action in the face of equally flagrant disregard by Venezuela.

Although Global Witness will continue to work with other NGOs in the Civil Society Coalition, it befalls the rest of us to do our part. In addition to supporting legislation that will oblige the diamond industry to comply with independent audits and public disclosure, we must finally become responsible consumers. It is time we awaken to the reality that what we buy and where it comes from is inherently political. We must call on companies to become transparent and call out those who don't. We need to make sure that the diamond we buy to express our love is not destroying the life of someone we will never know.

Source: Huff 

CSIS Letter: Torture Crucial To Maintaining Canada's Security Certificate Letters

Canada's spy agency relied so heavily on information gleaned from torture that is ability to protect Canadians would be harmed if it weren't allowed to do so, a letter from a CSIS head indicated.

The letter, obtained by the Montreal Gazette, was sent from then- CSIS Director Jim Judd to then-Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, in January of 2008, as the government was preparing new legislation on national security certificates (NSLs).

Judd warned that an amendment to the new law, which would prevent the use of torture to issue NSLs, could "render unsustainable the current security certificate proceedings."

NSLs allow Canadian authorities to detain non-citizens indefinitely without trial, where evidence exists that they are a national security risk. A cabinet minister must sign off on any use of an NSL.

If the NSL amendment were interpreted to mean that Canada could not rely on evidence initially obtained from governments that may have tortured, and then independently corroborated, "the Government's ability to act in the interest of public safety on threat-related information or advice provided by CSIS could be significantly and negatively affected," the letter stated,

Yvo de Boer, Ex-U.N. Climate Chief, Says Talks Are Rudderless

DURBAN, South Africa -- Yvo de Boer said he left his job as the U.N.'s top climate official in frustration 18 months ago, believing the process of negotiating a meaningful climate agreement was failing. His opinion hasn't changed.

"I still have the same view of the process that led me to leave the process," he told The Associated Press Sunday. "I'm still deeply concerned about where it's going, or rather where it's not going, about the lack of progress."

For three years until 2010, the Dutch civil servant was the leading voice on global warming on the world stage. He appeared constantly in public to advocate green policies, traveled endlessly for private meetings with top leaders and labored with negotiators seeking ways to finesse snags in drafting agreements.

In the end he felt he "wasn't really able to contribute as I should be to the process," he said.

Today he can take a long view on his years as a Dutch negotiator in the 1990s and later as a senior U.N. official with access to the highest levels of government, business and civil society. He is able to voice criticisms he was reluctant to air when he was actively shepherding climate diplomacy.

The cabinet of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti approved an emergency package of austerity and growth measures Sunday night, worth about €30-billion ($41-billion), designed to restore the credibility of the European Union’s most-indebted country ahead of this week’s make-or-break EU crisis summit.

To burnish the credentials of his unelected government, and to show that he would share in the sacrifices imposed on the Italian people, Mr. Monti said he would take no salary as prime minister.

Seated next to Mr. Monti at Sunday night’s press conference in Rome, Elsa Fornero, his welfare minister, was so overcome by emotion in announcing her pension reforms that she broke into tears and had to stop speaking. The photos of her weeping appeared almost immediately on the websites of Italian newspapers, earning her respect throughout the country. “Bless that woman’s heart, she actually has one,” was typical of the comments.

“The package of measures are designed to save Italy,” said Mr. Monti, who replaced Silvio Berlusconi late last month as soaring Italian bond yields thrust Italy into the euro zone debt crisis spotlight. Italy, with €1.9-trillion of debt, is considered too big to bail out.

There is near-universal agreement that the collapse of the Italian bond market, should it come, would wreck the euro and push Europe, and probably North America, into deep recession. Already, the EU is expected to enter a shallow recession next year.

Putin’s party clings to majority

MOSCOW—Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s party struggled to hang onto its majority in Russia’s parliamentary election, polls and official results showed Monday, suggesting Russians were wearying of the man who has dominated Russian politics for more than a decade.

Rival parties and election monitors said even a result of around 50 per cent was inflated, alleging ballot-stuffing and other significant violations at the polls. Many expressed fears that the vote count would be manipulated.

Putin wanted to see his United Russia party do well in Sunday’s election as a sign of popular support for his return to the presidency in a vote now three months away. Despite the sobering setback, he was still expected to have little trouble reclaiming the position he held from 2000 to 2008.

Putin has systematically destroyed any potential challengers and most Russians do not see any credible alternatives, despite growing dissatisfaction with his strongman style. Grumbling over pervasive official corruption and the gap between ordinary people and the superrich has become widespread.

Putting a positive spin on the disappointing returns, Putin said “we can ensure the stable development of the country with this result.” But he appeared glum when speaking to supporters at party headquarters and limited his remarks to two sentences.

Why Iceland Should Be in the News, But Is Not

An Italian radio program's story about Iceland’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world. Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt.  The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion.

As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example.

Here's why:
Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland, (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors.  But as investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt.  In 2003 Iceland’s debt was equal to 200 times its GNP, but in 2007, it was 900 percent.  The 2008 world financial crisis was the coup de grace. The three main Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro.  At the end of the year Iceland declared bankruptcy.

Contrary to what could be expected, the crisis resulted in Icelanders recovering their sovereign rights, through a process of direct participatory democracy that eventually led to a new Constitution.  But only after much pain.

If the social protest dies out, Israel to see a new feudalism

The U.S. has a tradition of civil protests that lead to significant changes: women's suffrage, equal rights for blacks, pulling out of Vietnam. There is reason to fear a social protest that is rapidly catching on. In Israel there has yet to be a social protest that led to a policy change

After being arrested when helping nonviolent demonstrators to realize their freedom of expression and their right to protest, the well-known writer Naomi Wolf discovered that freedom of expression and protest in America is not what it used to be ("The shocking truth about the suppression of protest in the United States," by Naomi Wolf, The Guardian, November 27.)

In addition, she discovered that in violation of U.S. law, the Department of Homeland Security advised 18 cities as to how to suppress this protest. In fact the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations were suppressed with pepper spray, beatings and arrests, which led Wolf to wonder why such a popular, hapless protest led the federal government to react with such violence.

She discovered that although the media described the Wall Street protest as unfocused, its demands are actually very focused on three legislative changes that are highly threatening to legislators and their allies: limiting the sums of money that interested parties can donate to candidates in elections, a reform in the banking system that will prevent fraud and manipulations for which small depositors pay the price, and canceling the ability of members of Congress to legislate laws concerning corporations in which they have investments. According to Wolf this third demand is the most threatening, since more and more Congressmen entered the political system as members of the middle class and emerged very wealthy - and she claims they have no intention of endangering that.

Here too, the elected exploit their status to enrich themselves and their friends. The list of MKs and ministers who have become wealthy - or at least well-off - is a long one, and here they are doing it even though it is in violation of the law.

ProPublica review of pardons in past decade shows process heavily favored whites

White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities, a ProPublica examination has found.

Blacks have had the poorest chance of receiving the president’s ultimate act of mercy, according to an analysis of previously unreleased records and related data.

Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered.

“I’m just astounded by those numbers,” said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department’s pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office’s practices that would have skewed the recommendations. “I can recall several African Americans getting pardons.’’

The review of applications for pardons is conducted almost entirely in secret, with the government releasing scant information about those it rejects.

ProPublica’s review examined what happened after President George W. Bush decided at the beginning of his first term to rely almost entirely on the recommendations made by career lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

Police Officers Find That Dissent on Drug Laws May Come With a Price

PHOENIX — Border Patrol agents pursue smugglers one moment and sit around in boredom the next. It was during one of the lulls that Bryan Gonzalez, a young agent, made some comments to a colleague that cost him his career.

Stationed in Deming, N.M., Mr. Gonzalez was in his green-and-white Border Patrol vehicle just a few feet from the international boundary when he pulled up next to a fellow agent to chat about the frustrations of the job. If marijuana were legalized, Mr. Gonzalez acknowledges saying, the drug-related violence across the border in Mexico would cease. He then brought up an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition that favors ending the war on drugs.

Those remarks, along with others expressing sympathy for illegal immigrants from Mexico, were passed along to the Border Patrol headquarters in Washington. After an investigation, a termination letter arrived that said Mr. Gonzalez held “personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and esprit de corps.”

Newt Gingrich's Rise Continues, Ron Paul Second, Romney Third In Iowa: Des Moines Register Poll

WASHINGTON -- Eighteen years after he led Republicans to an unexpected takeover of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich looks increasingly poised to engineer yet another improbable election win.

The former House Speaker, whose presidential campaign was left for dead a few months ago amidst heavy debt and a staff exodus, sits atop the new Des Moines Register poll, at 25 percent. In the last Register poll -- released in late October -- he was at seven percent.

The poll was conducted Nov. 27-30 among 401 likely Republican caucus-goers, and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

Gingrich is trailed by Rep. Ron Paul at 18 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, with 16 percent. Businessman Herman Cain, who earlier in the day announced that he was suspending his beleaguered presidential campaign in response to allegations of an extramarital affair and past charges of sexual harassment, was favored by eight percent of voters, down from 22 percent in the Register's last survey.

Putin's party lagging in Russian election

Two major exit polls in Russia indicate a sharp decline in support for the United Russia party, spearheaded by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as Russians cast their ballots in parliamentary elections Sunday.

The poll for Russian state TV showed about 47 per cent support for United Russia, down from 66 per cent in 2007. That seems to be supported by state pollster VTSIOM, which also gave United Russia the same number, with more than 25 per cent of polls reporting.

That would give Putin's party 220 members in the 450-seat lower house of parliament, down from 315. If this becomes reality, that would rob Putin of the two-thirds majority needed to alter the country's constitution without challenge.

Putting a positive spin on the disappointing returns, Putin said "we can ensure the stable development of the country with this result."

Despite the setback, he was still expected to win the March presidential election and reclaim the position he held from 2000 to 2008. Putin has systematically destroyed any potential challengers. And most Russians do not see any credible alternatives, despite growing dissatisfaction with his strongman style and pervasive official corruption.

Exit polls show significant drop in support for Putin's party: state TV

Exit polls cited by Russian state television are showing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party tallying less than 50 percent of the vote in Russia's parliamentary election.

The first official results with 15 per cent of the vote counted also showed only about 46 per cent for United Russia, compared to 64 per cent in 2007.

Opposition parties and election monitors said even this figure was inflated, alleging ballot-stuffing and other significant violations at the polls.

The results represent a significant drop in support for United Russia compared to the previous election four years ago when it won over 64 percent of the vote nationwide.

The early returns from Sunday's vote signal it may lose its current two-third majority that allowed it to change the constitution unchallenged.

The drop reflects a sense of disenchantment with Mr. Putin's authoritarian course, rampant corruption and the gap between ordinary Russians and the super-rich.

Disabled community left in the cold

The blind and those in wheelchairs gathered on a cold corner of Nathan Phillips Square Saturday to stage their own celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities after the annual event was cancelled by the City of Toronto.

“It’s pretty shocking that it wasn’t recognized. That’s just not right,” said Michele Gardner, 45, who has cerebral palsy and attended the event in a wheelchair.

“Then again, with Mayor Ford, anything goes.”

About 60 people gathered for about two hours in the cold to share their stories of challenge and fortitude and forbearance.

“In the midnight hour, when you really are alone and feeling depressed, I want you to reach back to the energy and spirit here today and let it catapult you forward,” said Beverly Smith, 58, who has arthritis and uses a wheelchair.

In the past the International Day of Persons with Disabilities — a United Nations event held around the world — has been supported by the city at locations like Variety Village and the CNIB, and attended by city officials, including former Toronto mayor David Miller.

This year the City of Toronto posted a notice to its website saying the annual Dec. 3 event, which honours unsung heroes who struggle against adversity, would not be held.

Israeli journalists are censoring themselves

Hundreds of Israeli journalists will gather in Eilat today for their annual professional conference. They have little to be proud of. It's true that threats hang over this conference, the threat of politicians to injure journalistic freedom, the threat of the economic crisis to harm the media and the threat of technology to eliminate print journalism, but Israeli journalism's dereliction of duty began long before this frightening twilight hour. And what they face today is entirely their own fault.

Before we declare war on those outside who would do us harm, we should first look deep within.

For many years, until just recently, Israeli journalism enjoyed great liberty. Military censorship contracted significantly; unacceptable institutions like the Editors' Committee effectively ceased to exist and the pressures placed on journalists were negligible.

In addition, most branches of the media were in good shape economically. It is ironic that Israeli journalism is falling down on the job precisely in such excellent circumstances. Come the day of reckoning it will be found wanting for these years of blindness, complacency and extreme nationalism.

Doug Ford suggests schools explore UFC-linked program

Councillor Doug Ford’s office has suggested Toronto schools look into a community service program backed by the violent mixed martial arts league, Ultimate Fighting Championship.

In an email obtained by the Star, Ford’s constituency assistant, Anna Vescio, asked a Toronto District School Board trustee to circulate a brochure touting an initiative called UFC Community Works.

According to the brochure, the program promotes “the development of discipline, respect, teamwork, honesty, time management and physical fitness” through mixed martial arts training and meetings with UFC fighters.

UFC has become notorious for its brutal, bloody, no-holds barred fighting. Mixed martial arts events were banned in Ontario until this year.

The email was sent Thursday, one day after Premier Dalton McGuinty announced bold new anti-bullying legislation that seeks to curb aggressive behaviour in Ontario schools. Some TDSB trustees were left questioning the sense of proposing a program backed by UFC.