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, January 01, 2012

Palestinians, Israelis to resume talks

JERUSALEM—Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet this week after more than a year of deadlocked peacemaking, officials said on Sunday, but both sides played down prospects of any imminent resumption of talks.

Yitzhak Molcho of Israel and Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat will meet on Tuesday in Jordan alongside representatives of the Quartet of Middle East mediators — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

“This aims at reaching a common ground to resume direct talks between the two sides and to achieve a Palestinian-Israeli peace accord . . . by the end of 2012,” the official Jordanian news agency Petra quoted Mohammad al-Kayed, spokesman of the Foreign Ministry in Amman, as saying.

Negotiations stalled in late 2010 after Israel refused to renew a partial freeze on Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank as demanded by the Palestinians.

Palestinians say they cannot negotiate while Israel builds settlements on land where they intend to found a state. Israel says talks should have no preconditions.

Housing benefit cuts will put 800,000 homes out of reach, according to study

A further 800,000 homes will be put out of reach of people on housing benefit because of government welfare cuts – leaving low income families the choice of cutting spending on food to pay the rent or moving out, according to a study by housing experts.

The Chartered Institute of Housing has found there will be thousands more claimants than properties that are affordable on benefits alone, raising the possibility that the poor will migrate to "benefit ghettoes" in seaside towns or the north of England.

From this month, the government has capped housing benefit payments to, for example, a maximum £250 a week on a two-bedroom home. The cut is compounded by the allowances being scaled back by pegging them to the bottom third of rents in any borough.

The result is that in many towns and cities there will not be enough affordable homes to rent for those claiming local housing allowance, the benefit paid to tenants of private landlords. The problem is most acute in central London, where in two of the country's richest boroughs – Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea – more than 35,000 homes will at a stroke be put out of reach of people on housing benefit.

Historic changes on horizon for western wheat, barley farmers

REGINA — Historic changes are on the horizon for western Canadian grain farmers and the ripples could be felt from a tiny port town in northern Manitoba to grocery store shelves.

Federal legislation allowing Prairie producers to sell their wheat and barley to whomever they choose means, after almost seven decades, farmers will no longer be forced to market their grain through the Canadian Wheat Board.

The issue has been a divisive one.

“Pretty significant negative changes are coming down the road and we’ve got to do everything we can to stop it,” said Bill Gehl, a third-generation farmer who grows canola, flax, peas, wheat and barley on about 1,600 hectares just north of Regina.

Franck Groeneweg, who farms about 3,600 hectares near Edgeley, northeast of Regina, vehemently disagrees.

“I applaud the changes. … it’s going to give us a lot of flexibility on the farm,” said Groeneweg.

The wheat board was set up following the Great Depression as a way for farmers to band together and seek higher prices. In 1943, what is referred to as the “single-desk” was created, essentially a monopoly that meant all western farmers had to market their wheat through the board.

Monarchy, eh?

The aim of this magazine is to suggest a number of ways in which to improve our democratic process. Rather than feed you more utopian drivel, I’m going to grab you by the scruff of your rationality and drag you back down to Earth. The fact is, democracy is a fundamentally weak system of government. It’s time we trade in the tattered rags of compromise for the purple robes of royalty. Yes, that’s right, I propose Canada become an absolute monarchy.

“What?” you collectively gasp, “Go back to being a British colony?” While the British are undoubtedly our cultural superiors (their reality television is more sophisticated, their street riots more refined, and their food more meticulously deep-fried) that is not what I’m suggesting. No, I propose we start an independent, Canadian monarchy. A monarchy we can be proud of, that we can point to one day and say to our grandchildren, “Top that you little punks.”

I’ll admit it was fun to pretend to be the boss for a bit. We had a lot of elections, and there was that whole “women’s suffrage” fad. But while democracy has become more sophisticated since it started as a mere party game in ancient Alexandria (invented by wealthy merchant Carl Democracy when he came up with a novel solution to decide who was to be the first to disrobe and jump into the giant tub of wine at his slavewarming party), it has nonetheless been mostly ineffective. So-called “elections” are little more than a beauty contest (case in point: Stephen “Chiseled From God’s Marble” Harper), and many Canadians don’t even bother to vote (case in point: me).

Israel Ultra-Orthodox Protests: Nazi Garb Sparks Outrage

JERUSALEM — Images of ultra-Orthodox Jews dressing up as Nazi concentration camp inmates during a protest drew widespread condemnation Sunday and added a new twist to a simmering battle over growing extremism inside Israel's insular ultra-Orthodox community.

Religious extremists are facing increasing criticism for their efforts to separate men and women in public spaces, and Saturday's protest, in which a child mimicked an iconic photo of a terrified Jewish boy in the Warsaw Ghetto, added to the outrage.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered Saturday night in Jerusalem to protest what they say is a nationwide campaign directed against their lifestyle. The protesters called Israeli policemen Nazis, wore yellow Star of David patches with the word "Jude" – German for Jew – dressed their children in striped black-and-white uniforms associated with Nazi concentration camps and transported them in the back of a truck.

Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial denounced the use of Nazi imagery as "disgraceful," and several other survivors' groups and politicians condemned the acts.

"We must leave the Holocaust and its symbols outside the arguments in Israeli society," said Moshe Zanbar, chairman of the main umbrella group for Holocaust survivors in Israel. "This harms the memory of the Holocaust."

New Year's Eve Occupy Wall Street Protests: Police Arrest Dozens

NEW YORK — Dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested on New Year's Eve as they tore down barricades surrounding New York City's Zuccotti Park, the former home of their encampment that was dismantled several weeks ago.

About 500 protesters gathered in the park Saturday evening, where they rang in the new year with songs and their now-familiar chant of "We are the 99 percent."

About 11 p.m., after a relatively quiet evening, some protesters began to tear down the barricades that have surrounded the park since New York police officers evicted Occupy Wall Street members on Nov. 15, protesters said Sunday. Police then moved in.

"They (police) got very aggressive and started pushing people and pepper-spraying people," protester Jason Amadi, 27, of San Jose, Calif., said Sunday. "I got pepper-sprayed in the face."

The protesters said they worked at sections of the park in teams of twos and threes, retreating only when police converged and pulled the barricades back.

Rick Santorum Implies Obama Should Be Pro-Life Because He's Black

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum implied that President Barack Obama should be pro-life because he's black, in an interview with CNS back in January 2011 (hat tip Buzzfeed).

Santorum challenged Obama over the idea of personhood, which the conservative candidate said isn't even a debatable issue. Santorum favors a constitutional ban on abortion.
The question is ... is that human life a person under the constitution? And Barack Obama says no. Well if that human life is not a person then ... I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say 'now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people.
After a recent surge Santorum is now polling in third place in the presidential primary, two days before the Iowa caucuses.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

2012 Medicare Debate: Baby Boomers At Center Of Issue

WASHINGTON — Baby boomers take note: Medicare as your parents have known it is headed for big changes no matter who wins the White House in 2012. You may not like it, but you might have to accept it.

Dial down the partisan rhetoric and surprising similarities emerge from competing policy prescriptions by President Barack Obama and leading Republicans such as Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

Limit the overall growth of Medicare spending? It's in both approaches.

Squeeze more money from upper-income retirees and some in the middle-class? Ditto.

Raise the eligibility age? That too, if the deal is right.

With more than 1.5 million baby boomers a year signing up for Medicare, the program's future is one of the most important economic issues for anyone now 50 or older. Health care costs are the most unpredictable part of retirement, and Medicare remains an exceptional deal for retirees, who can reap benefits worth far more than the payroll taxes they paid in during their careers.

"People would like to have what they used to have. What they don't seem to understand is that it's already changed," said Gail Wilensky, a former Medicare administrator and adviser to Republicans. "Medicare as we have known it is not part of our future."

Iran Navy: Medium-Range Missile Test-Fired During Drill

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's navy said Sunday it test-fired an advanced surface-to-air missile during a drill in international waters near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-sixth of the world's oil supply.

Iran's state TV said the missile, named Mehrab, or Altar, is designed to evade radar and was developed by Iranian scientists. The report said the missile was tested Sunday but provided no further details.

A leading Iranian lawmaker said the sea maneuvers serve as practice for closing the Strait of Hormuz if the West blocks Iran's oil sales. After top Iranian officials made the same threat a week ago, military commanders emphasized that Iran has no intention of blocking the waterway now.

The exercise covers a 1,250-mile (2,000-kilometer) stretch of water beyond the Strait of Hormuz, including parts of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

The drill, which could bring Iranian ships into proximity with U.S. Navy vessels that operate in the same area, is Iran's latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its nuclear program. The West fears Iran's program aims to develop atomic weapons – a charge Tehran denies, insisting it's for peaceful purposes only.

Obama Signs Defense Bill Despite 'Serious Reservations'

WASHINGTON -- Indefinite military detention of Americans became the law of the land Saturday, as President Barack Obama signed a defense bill that codified that authority, even as he said he would not use it.

The National Defense Authorization Act states how the military is to be funded, but also includes a number of controversial provisions on arresting and holding suspected terrorists, which at first drove Obama to threaten a veto.

He retreated from that threat after Congress added provisions that took the ultimate authority to detain suspects from the military's hands and gave it to the president. Congress also clarified that civilian law enforcement agencies -- such as the FBI -- would still have authority to investigate terrorism and added a provision that asserts nothing in the detention measures changes current law regarding U.S. citizens.

Still, the signing on New Year's Eve as few people were paying attention angered civil liberties advocates, who argue that the law for the first time spells out certain measures that have not actually been tested all the way to the Supreme Court, including the possibility of detaining citizens in military custody without trial for as long as there is a war on terror.

4.0-Magnitude Earthquake Strikes In Northeast Ohio

McDONALD, Ohio -- Officials said Saturday they believe the latest earthquake activity in northeast Ohio is related to the injection of wastewater into the ground near a fault line, creating enough pressure to cause seismic activity.

The brine wastewater comes from drilling operations that use the so-called fracking process to extract gas from underground shale. But Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer said during a news teleconference that fracking is not causing the quakes.

"The seismic events are not a direct result of fracking," he said.

Environmentalists and property owners who live near gas drilling wells have questioned the safety of fracking to the environment and public health. Federal regulators have declared the technology safe, however.

Zehringer said four injection wells within a five-mile radius of an already shuttered well in Youngstown will remain inactive while further scientific research is conducted.

A 4.0 magnitude quake Saturday afternoon in McDonald, outside of Youngstown, was the 11th in a series of minor earthquakes in area, many of which have struck near the Youngstown injection well. The quake caused no serious injuries or property damage, Zehringer said.

Businesses Getting Billions In Tax Cuts Despite Rising Corporate Cash Reserves

OTTAWA - Profitable Canadian businesses are set to reap $2.85 billion in additional income tax savings in 2012, even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper complains about all the private "money sitting on the sidelines."

The last of five annual corporate tax cuts took effect Sunday, reducing the federal rate by another 1.5 points to 15 per cent.

The move comes as corporate Canada, from multinationals to midsize businesses, squirrels away hundreds of billions of dollars as it rides out a second storm of global economic turbulence in the past three years.

The latest figures from Statistics Canada through the third quarter of 2011 show Canadian business sitting on more than $583 billion in Canadian currency and deposits, and more than $276 billion in foreign currency.

Those cash reserves have climbed nine per cent since last year and 27.3 per cent since 2007, when the Canadian economy was booming and new corporate tax cuts were announced.

Before Midnight, Occupy Wall Street Activists Retake Zuccotti Park

"All week! All year! We'll still be here!"

"Whose park? Our park!"

The chants went up 10, 20, maybe 100 deep shortly before midnight at Zuccotti Park as Occupy Wall Street activists surprised the New York Police Department and retook the space that was once the homebase for their movement. The barricades surrounding the park went down. They have since been removed. Protesters were allowed to come and go through the park.

Earlier, activists danced on the piles of barricades. Some climbed the lattice of metal and hoisted American flags. Others waved signs and banners. The Zuccotti Park Christmas tree was wrapped in an Occupy Wall Street banner. Of course, there were the drums.

By 11:30, the NYPD had started to amass again with reports of mounted police units and scooter units arriving on the scene. There were reports via Twitter of police using pepper spray at various spots. By shortly after midnight, the police seem to fall back again. The Occupy movement's own fake police tape made an appearance. The OWS bat signal championing the 99 percent was projected on a nearby building.

Rick Santorum: I Would Bomb Iran Nuclear Sites

WASHINGTON -- Republican Rick Santorum says that if he's elected president, he would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities unless they were opened for international arms inspectors.

Santorum says President Barack Obama hasn't done enough to prevent the Iranian government from building a nuclear weapon and has risked turning the U.S. into a "paper tiger."

Santorum tells NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would tell Iranian leaders that either they open up those facilities, begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors – or the U.S. would attack them.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration, has focused primarily on international diplomacy and economic penalties to try to pressure Iran into abandoning its nuclear program. Iran contends its efforts are for peaceful purposes.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Rio Tinto Alcan Locks Out 800 Workers At Its Alma, Quebec Smelter

ALMA, Qc - Rio Tinto Alcan has locked out workers at its smelter in Alma, Que. after last-ditch contract talks collapsed Saturday and the union's contract expired at midnight.

The company announced the lockout early Sunday morning, saying plans were in place to ensure its aluminium operations continue to run safely and efficiently.

"We will work to limit the labour disruption's impact Rio Tinto Alcan's customers," the company said in a release.

Staff will continue to operate the plant during the lockout until further notice, the company said.

On Friday about 800 workers from three negotiating units rejected what the company said would be its final offer.

Union officials had a strike mandate before the talks collapsed and had warned that a work stoppage could be imminent.

The sides in the dispute haven't been able to agree on conditions related to subcontracted labour.

The Alma facility hosts one of Rio Tinto Alcan’s (NYSE:RIO) most important North American aluminum smelters.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Canada And The Monarchy: Royal Treatment Part Of Tories' Cultural Agenda

TORONTO - Depending who you ask, the Conservative government's high-profile attempts to strengthen Canada's ties to the monarchy over the past year are either a savvy attempt to lure votes or a finger in the eye of Quebec.

Whatever the pundits may think, however, they agree on one thing — the strategy is rooted more in a vision for the country's future than deference for its past.

Political observers of all stripes believe the revival of interest in Canada's colonial history is part of a broader Conservative effort to rekindle patriotism and reshape Canada's culture more in the government's own image.

Tom Flanagan, a former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who now teaches at the University of Calgary, said that vision took root many years ago — and originated at the top.

"Stephen once said to me that a conservative party in any country ought to be party of patriotism," Flanagan said in an email.

"He is now creating a conservative version of Canadian patriotism."

Fracking wastewater might have caused Ohio quake

Officials said Saturday they believe the latest earthquake activity in northeast Ohio is related to the injection of wastewater into the ground near a fault line, creating enough pressure to cause seismic activity.

The brine wastewater comes from drilling operations that use the so-called fracking process to extract gas from underground shale. But Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer said during a news teleconference that fracking is not causing the quakes.

“The seismic events are not a direct result of fracking,” he said.

Environmentalists and property owners who live near gas drilling wells have questioned the safety of fracking to the environment and public health. Federal regulators have declared the technology safe, however.

Mr. Zehringer said four injection wells within a five-mile radius of an already shuttered well in Youngstown, Ohio will remain inactive while further scientific research is conducted.

A 4.0 magnitude quake Saturday afternoon in McDonald, outside of Youngstown, was the 11th in a series of minor earthquakes in area, many of which have struck near the Youngstown injection well. The quake caused no serious injuries or property damage, Mr. Zehringer said.

All means all

Calgary’s Muslim mayor, Naheed Nenshi, has been held up as a symbol of the city’s tolerance. Which is ironic, given his own anti-Christian bigotry in return.

Last week, Nenshi ordered city police, backed up with a ridiculously large contingent of private security, to arrest a Christian pastor and five of his congregants who had the temerity to lead a Christmas service in the public atrium of Calgary’s City Hall.

Artur Pawlowski, lead pastor of Calgary’s Street Church, had foolishly taken the mayor at his word when he described city hall as the city’s “living room,” open to all.

What Pawlowski didn’t understand is that Nenshi didn’t mean Christians. Nenshi meant his own co-religionists — no, not Muslims, but the leftist activists who had comprised the Occupy Calgary protests for two months with Nenshi’s blessing.

Nenshi permitted that two-month trespass in a public park, claiming the “Charter” prevented him from evicting the socialists, communists, anarchists and petty criminals who inhabited downtown Calgary’s Olympic Plaza.

Of course, there is no Charter guarantee to set up tents, do drugs and have public sex in a city park.

Federal bureaucrats worry about jobs as cuts draw near

OTTAWA — An axe hangs over federal government departments and public servants, and where it falls finally should be known within weeks.

The Harper government is finalizing decisions on a sweeping operating spending review to chop billions of dollars annually from the federal budget. It has unions fearing that potentially, tens of thousands of federal employees could receive pink slips.

Treasury Board president Tony Clement is leading the strategic review that is searching for $1 billion in cuts in the upcoming 2012-13 spring budget, $2 billion for 2013-14, and $4 billion annually by 2014-15 and beyond.

Nearly 70 government departments and agencies have submitted scenarios for a five and 10 per cent cut to their budgets as part of an examination of about $80 billion in direct program spending. More than 600 proposals are being considered.

The government desperately needs the savings to help eliminate a $31-billion deficit by 2015-16, at the earliest.

Why not lock in low interest rates?

The federal government has failed to take up an historic opportunity to lock in ultra-low interest rates on long-term Government of Canada bonds.

Normally -- as outlined in annual debt management reports -- the government follows a strategy which is intended to achieve two main goals: low overall debt servicing costs, and stable and predictable bond markets. Since the yield curve is normally upward-sloping -- i.e. long-term bonds carry higher rates of interest -- the government issues a mix of treasury bills (t-bills) and shorter- and longer-term bonds to balance the trade-off between cost and risk, and the projected mix for the coming year is announced in the debt management strategy section of the annual federal budget. Borrowing needs for the coming year essentially consist of financing most of the annual deficit, plus refinancing current debt as earlier bond issues mature.

The latest debt management report (for 2010-11) tells us that the term structure of federal market debt has remained broadly stable since early 2008, before the financial crisis. The share of treasury bills rose in 2009 as the government used this source to fund much of the sharp increase in the deficit, and it has since been run down by shifting from t-bills to shorter-term bonds.

Defiant Hungary adopts controversial laws

Hungary defied international concern and adopted Friday central bank reforms and other controversial measures that threaten to leave the country isolated just as its economy needs a bailout.

"Nobody can interfere with Hungarian legislative work, there is no one in the world who might tell the elected deputies of the Hungarian people which act to pass and which not to," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on public radio ahead of the parliamentary session.

The raft of changes to many laws has triggered criticism at home and abroad about the threat to democracy in the former communist EU state where Orban's centre-right Fidesz holds an overwhelming majority in parliament.

Its grip on the legislature has allowed the party to push through reforms of media, judiciary and electoral laws, as well as the appointment of Fidesz loyalists to key posts and a new constitution which takes effect on Sunday.

Critics say the central bank measure -- which prompted the EU and IMF to walk out of talks this month on a possible bailout for Hungary worth 15-20 billion euros ($20-25 billion) -- will increase government influence over monetary policy.

News of the vote sent the florint tumbling to near historic lows against the euro, hitting more than 315 forint to the euro.

Israeli war drums ignore Hamas move for change

Instead of encouraging moderation, whether genuine or imaginary, whether strategic or tactical, Israel is rushing to nip it in the bud.

The writing is clearly on the wall. The head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshal, has ordered his group's military wing to stop terrorist attacks against Israel, saying his organization will make do with popular protest. Hamas is declaring that it supports a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, and the Palestinian Authority has expressed a willingness, in exchange for 100 prisoners, to give up its demand for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank as a condition for the resumption of peace talks. What more will we ask for?

On our side, too, the writing is clearly on the wall. Israel is ignoring the changes in the Palestinian positions. Most of the media is systematically obscuring the situation. Security sources are saying in response that they know nothing about the shift, or that it is only tactical. Israel is also rejecting the Palestinian Authority's negligible conditions with repeated "nos" in the finest of Israeli rejectionism.

This time, however, Israel isn't just making do with that. All of a sudden, on the third anniversary of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, there is a chorus of threats being heard from the military brass of another assault on Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, along with the former head of the IDF Southern Command and the southern brigade commander, are all saying there is no alternative to a Cast Lead II. The brigade commander even promised it would be more "painful" and "forceful" than the first Cast Lead. More painful than that first, shocking Operation Cast Lead, Mr. Commander?