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.]

Monday, December 19, 2011

Inside The 1 Percent's Texas Enclave

At a strip mall clogged with Ferraris and fashion boutiques, Beretta Gallery salesman Chris Cope shows me a framed photo of one of his best clients, an oilman posing next to a bounty of elephant tusks. In addition to selling massive safari rifles, this high-end Italian weapons emporium in the Dallas suburb of Highland Park supplies $130,000 Imperiale Montecarlo shotguns as well as petite .22s and chic, lockable handbags to conceal them. All told, it sells more firearms than any other Beretta outlet in the world. Last year, the store presented George W. Bush with a $250,000 shotgun engraved with the presidential seal, a picture of his Scotty dog, and "43" on the lever. The gun, which required more than a year to assemble, was a thank-you from Mr. Beretta for a military order of a half-million pistols.

It's fair to call 75205, the zip code for most of Highland Park, the most enthusiastically Republican enclave in the country. Among the two-dozen zip codes that donated the most money to candidates and political parties last year, 75205 gave the highest share—77 percent—to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It also gave Republicans more hard cash, $2.4 million, than all but four other zips nationwide. Affluent, insular, and intensely sure of itself, Highland Park is the red-state counterpart of, say, Berkeley. It's a place where, one native son half-jokes, friends might ask one another, "Do you want to come over for barbecue after we go vote for Mitt Romney?" People in the surrounding city of Dallas, where I grew up, call it the Bubble.

Occupy Wall Street: A Giant Human Hashtag

Occupy Wall Street is a giant human hashtag -- a conversation, a thread, a way of organizing ideas. I resist calling it a “movement” because that may imply that people who do not yet consider themselves participants are excluded from the conversation.

What Occupy Wall Street allows people to do is break away from the assumptions of the status quo. Imagine it as a vacation for the mind, an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on what is possible, like a global think tank. Only when new ideas are generated, debated, and tested in small batches can they be introduced and implemented in general society.

Occupy Wall Street has risen up organically because many people feel that the current political process used to actualize new ideas is broken and does not allow for meaningful change. That being said, some of the ideas coming from Occupy Wall Street may be realized using existing power structures.

Critics of Occupy Wall Street often speak of its lack of clear leadership and specific “demands,” but they are missing the point, treating it as if it was a traditional protest or organization rallying around a single cause. What they are not yet understanding is that the giant human hashtag currently called “Occupy Wall Street” has been and will continue to be a way for all people to participate in a massive conversation, both in person and online, about what they value as human beings.

Payroll Tax Cut Extension: House GOP Seeks To Reshape Senate Bill

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will not renegotiate a year-long extension of payroll tax cuts and jobless benefits unless the House first approves a bipartisan two-month version that House Republicans strongly oppose.

The Nevada Democrat's remarks seemed to put the Senate on a collision course with the GOP-run House. Speaker John Boehner told reporters that he expects the House to reject the two-month bill Monday evening.

The Senate passed the shorter version on Saturday with strong support from senators of both parties and the backing of President Barack Obama. It had been negotiated by Senate leaders of both parties.

After that vote, House Republican lawmakers told their leaders that they strongly opposed the Senate bill. Boehner and other top House Republicans then said they opposed the Senate-approved bill.

The House intends to vote down a bipartisan two-month extension of the payroll tax cut that has cleared the Senate and is backed by President Barack Obama, and request immediate negotiations on a full-year renewal, Speaker John Boehner said Monday.

In Ottawa, health-care funding hits the wall

Darrell Dexter has a simple solution to his province’s health-care funding problem. The federal government should go broke

Nova Scotia’s Premier told Tom Clark on Global TV Sunday that “the necessity for the partnership with the federal government to be a real partnership” means that Ottawa’s health transfers to his province should increase to 25 per cent of total costs from 20 per cent.

That so won’t happen. Instead, finance ministers meeting in Victoria on Monday will receive a stark message from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty: The second decade of the 21st century is turning into a mess. Everyone is going to suffer; no government can afford to spend more money; every government must instead spend less.

Canada will endure this foul weather better than most other developed countries, thanks to its well-capitalized banks, ample natural resources and sound finances at the federal level. But the weather will still be foul.

The provinces already know that Ottawa is looking to cut growth in health-care funding from the current level of 6 per cent annually to something like the nominal increase in gross domestic product – say about 4 per cent – after 2016.

Telling the naked truth is good politics

Even someone with only a passing interest in current affairs would know our political leaders are in big trouble. Each night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart runs a clip of a politician speaking and, without the benefit of any backstory or punchline, merely arches an eyebrow in response, and the audience erupts in gales of laughter.

For most of my adult life, I’ve worked with political leaders and marvelled at how otherwise funny, thoughtful men and women can be transformed at the podium into blustering B.S. machines. They pillory opponents with hyperventilated allegations, feign outrage at modest grievances and take exaggerated credit for shared accomplishments. Especially painful is their complete lack of appreciation of the public’s incredulous response.

Polling backs this up: Most Canadians no longer believe their leaders speak the truth; they expect little of government and feel disengaged from the whole political process. Asked this year how often a typical politician would tell the absolute truth when making public statements, four out of 10 claimed less than 50 per cent of the time. Put another way, almost half believe that, any time politicians speak, there’s only a 50/50 chance they’ll be told the truth.

Public scrutiny of Parliament imperilled - Meetings move behind closed doors

OTTAWA -- Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement last week held a novel town hall meeting on Twitter.

For 45 minutes in English and 45 minutes in French, he chatted about his department's Open Government initiative with anyone with a Twitter account and knowledge of how hashtags work.

Open Government was launched last March to make Ottawa more open and transparent by making documents easier to get and read, and by allowing citizens more opportunities to engage with the government and participate in decision-making.

The idea of Open Government is a noble pursuit.

But it would be more noble if it were actually truly being pursued.

There was a certain irony to the event coming at the end of a week in which government members of House of Commons committees several times had pushed debate behind closed doors.

Two days prior to the Twitter town hall, Conservative MP Mike Wallace tried to get a motion through that would see all future business of the government operations committee go in camera.

Harper’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’

With its exit from Kyoto, Canada has cemented its newfound, “principled” multilateralism. Sweet news to some. A deeply sour note to others. There was a time, of course, when things were different. We were all sickly sweet and sunny in our multilateral attachments and affections. Cheerful boy scouts some would say. There was ne’er an international agreement that we didn’t like or an international club we wouldn’t join. Those days are over.

From now on, we are going to choose our negotiating commitments and partners more carefully. At least that is the message that the Harper government is sending to Canadians and the rest of the world on Kyoto as well as the Middle East, Syria, Iran and Libya.

The opposition is crying foul — or like Green Party Leader Elizabeth May simply crying — while hurling insults across the House of Commons, as the potty-mouthed antics of Justin Trudeau attest.

It is striking how the climate change debate seems to bring out the very worst in human nature. Defenders of Kyoto treat the matter like religion. If you try to strike a note of reason in the debate, or discuss the merits of carbon taxes versus regulation, the climate change congregation will turn on you, its high priests will accuse you of being a Luddite and a heretic, and fatwas will soon follow.

Canada’s decision to throw in the Kyoto towel also grabbed us unwelcome headlines around the globe.

Flaherty Says Canada Needs to Be ‘Realistic’ About Health-Care Transfers

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the nation’s provinces need to be “realistic” about future payments they receive for programs such as health care, as the federal government copes with slowing growth while planning to balance its budget.

Flaherty said he will have a “serious discussion” with his provincial counterparts at a two-day meeting in Victoria, British Columbia about growth in transfers, adding it makes sense to consider pegging them to economic benchmarks such as nominal gross domestic product, which he called the “best predictor” of government revenues

“We have to be realistic,” Flaherty, 61, told reporters yesterday ahead of the meeting. “You can’t have a fiscal plan that takes us in the direction of, quite frankly, some of the countries in southern Europe that have gotten into a lot of trouble.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has pledged to eliminate the federal deficit by the year starting 2015, in part by cutting annual operating expenses for the federal government by at least C$4 billion ($3.8 billion), even as an aging labor force and slow global recovery crimps the country’s expansion.

The federal government paid C$37.2 billion in the year ended March for health and social programs to provincial governments as part of Canada’s federal transfer system.

CEOs in tune with Ottawa’s deficit plan

With the U.S. economy growing slowly and a potential disaster looming in Europe, Canadian executives are willing to cut Ottawa some slack on its slow-motion timetable to eliminate the deficit.

The federal government’s move in November to push back the target date for a balanced budget to 2016 has been met with widespread support from the corner office, according to the latest C-Suite survey of Canadian corporate executives.

Almost three-quarters of respondents agree with Ottawa’s decision to run a deficit until 2016, a sharp contrast to eighteen months ago, when almost two-thirds said they thought a 2015 target date for a balanced budget was too far down the road.

“If you tighten up too fast, too soon, we really run a serious risk of going back into a recession that will last another couple of years,” said Constantine Karayannopoulos, chief executive officer of Neo Material Technologies Inc., a Toronto company that makes specialty magnetic powders. A gradual approach makes sense right now, he said, when “there is enough austerity coming at us from Europe and the United States.”

Those surveyed were much less keen on Ottawa tackling the deficit through deep spending cuts than they were just a few months ago. In February, 39 per cent said aggressive cost-slashing should be a high priority. Now just 23 per cent want that approach.

Ottawa drops the ball and Toronto lets it get away

Justin Trudeau got one thing right last week: But why stop at federal anti-environment minister Peter Kent?

Isn’t he just another political lackey happy to do his master’s bidding regardless of the cost? Still, Prime Minister Stephen Harper must be grateful for Kent’s willingness to debase himself — and the country — on his boss’s behalf.

Watching Kent squirm and prevaricate, one almost feels sorry for the man. Those darting eyes and verbal discomfort, the defensiveness, make it clear he knows his position is indefensible. He understands that what he’s doing will reinforce Canada’s reputation as global laggard, and reaffirm this country as the world’s most brazen environmental scofflaw.

The Conservatives’ switch to the dark side didn’t come out of the blue, but still it was a shock to listen as a senior member of the regime laid bare his government’s indifference to the planet.

For urban Canada, the message was clear — what Ottawa refuses to do, it must. It now falls to cities to fill the leadership vacuum that Harper’s studied inaction has left.

Until a year ago, that was a role official Toronto was keen to play. We had regulations about everything from blue boxes and green roofs to Bixis and bicycle lanes.

Romney Challenges Gingrich On Medicare, Opposes Tax Cuts For The Rich

WASHINGTON -- While appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney praised Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) plan to replace Medicare with a voucher system in a shot at fellow presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

During the Sunday show, Romney criticized Gingrich, the former House Speaker, for making a statement in May that "cut the legs out" from under the plan, part of a 2012 budget Ryan proposed back in April.

"Are we going to deal with entitlement reform or not?" Romney asked. "Republicans came together, Paul Ryan was the author of the plan. But almost every single Republican voted for it, and the Speaker said this is 'right-wing social engineering.'"

Romney's actual Medicare plan is not as extreme as Ryan's, however. Instead, it preserves the existing Medicare program, allowing seniors to choose to receive vouchers for private insurance instead of the government plan, while Ryan would end Medicare in favor of a voucher system.

Fox host Chris Wallace pressed Romney on his support for the Ryan budget, suggesting that Ryan's plans to eliminate $700 billion in aid to states, including $127 billion in food stamps, would make Romney vulnerable to Democratic attacks in the general election. Romney said that he would help the poor by growing the economy, and suggested that cutting government benefits for the poor wouldn't cause problems.

Three women who fought back against the Conservatives

Franke James doesn’t have a famous name and she didn’t call Environment Minister Peter Kent a piece of excrement to highlight an issue.

But the Toronto artist and environmental activist has shown no shortage of political acumen in her bid to fight back against a Conservative government she says has bullied her.

She has used access to information requests, help from political allies and publicity in the media to highlight her belief that the Conservatives withdrew funding for a European tour of her art and then badmouthed her privately to shut it down because they didn’t like her view of the country’s inaction on climate change.

She is third person to pass through this column in recent months who feels she has been spied on, smacked down or targeted by a mean-spirited, micromanaging government or Conservative party always on the lookout for enemies of the state.

One is an artist, one an aboriginal advocate and one a widow. All three have fought back. And all three are women.

We like to say that two is a coincidence and three is a pattern.