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.]

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Modern-day McCarthyism

In the tenth paragraph of a page A15 Times piece, Rick Santorum accuses Barack Obama of engaging in “absolutely un-American activities.” What are they? The article doesn’t say. The quote appears without explanation or comment, in an article entitled “Santorum’s Challenge: Broaden His Appeal Beyond Evangelical Christians.” Nor does the line show up anywhere else on the Web—apparently no reporter in the mob following the candidates through the last days before the Iowa caucuses thought it worth writing down, and no blogger thought it worth repeating. It was just a throwaway line, a hunk of spoiled red meat tossed at the crowd in a Sioux City coffee shop, no more newsworthy than saying, “It’s a great day to be an Iowan!” And the crowd ate it up, applauding lustily. According to the Times, Santorum, surging in the polls, “became emotional at times.” He “wore a beaming smile on his face.” He said that he was running for his children’s sake. A supporter from a nearby town said that he liked Santorum for his avoidance of hyperbole: “Santorum doesn’t make crazy statements.”

Several things are worth noting here. The first is that, in today’s Republican politics, one reliable way to reach beyond the Christian base is by whipping up nationalistic hysteria with language lifted straight from the McCarthy era. If criminalizing all abortions and nullifying all gay marriages are a little too sectarian for you, surely you’d like to try some old-fashioned traitor-hunting. (Santorum has also accused Obama of “sid[ing] with evil” in Iran, a country with which he plainly wants to go to war.)

Stephen Harper and the year of moral bankruptcy

Back in the days of the Chretien government when myself and other electron-stained wretches were vigorously reporting — much to the delight of the Tories — on abuse of power under the Liberals, we wondered how long the Grits could get away with it.

Today that same question is being asked, with good reason, as regards the Conservatives.

Of the many remarkable political moments in 2011, one of the most telling, for me anyway, came after the prime minister was found in contempt of Parliament. That finding, which followed a probe by the Speaker of the House, was significant enough in itself. It had never happened to a prime minister before.

But even more noteworthy was Stephen Harper`s reaction to the unprecedented condemnation. He was dismissive. Canadians “don’t care” about that kind of thing, he said. What he was saying essentially was that the process doesn’t matter. The people are concerned only with the results.

This was a point Conservatives made frequently in defending their flaunting of democratic norms in 2011. But can it be the case? Do voters not really care how the system functions?

Didn’t people in this country and around the world spend decades or in some cases hundreds of years fighting for honourable process, for the establishment of democratic systems?

Following the contempt indictment and his casual dismissal of it, the prime minister led his Conservatives to their first majority victory. His view on the functioning of democracy, as cynical as it was, could be said to have been vindicated. For evidence our system is broken, it was a fine exhibit.

Caterpillar and Rio Tinto lockouts force unions into underdog fight against global capital

In Alma, Quebec, and London, Ontario, workers are standing together on picket lines against the cold and winds of January. They have strong unions and solidarity to raise their spirits -- but these workers are underdogs against massive economic power and the ruthless force of global capital.

How it goes for them will shape economic outcomes for many other Canadians.  But not just labour relations hang in the breach of these first labour battles of 2012.  The reaction to these conflicts by Canadians will set a tone for the social and political climate well beyond this “Winter of Discontent.” 

In both cases these fights are picked by the employer -- lockouts.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, they throw down the same challenge to Canadian labour.  They are each foreign owned global corporations with a history of confronting and breaking union power, and their lock outs are to force substantial concessions that will result in lower wages and lesser benefits.

Significantly, these two situations are also linked because each foreign owner recently purchased the Canadian operations and required approval from the Harper government that their acquisition was in the Canadian interest.

Arms Dealer Obama Will Win by Default

Barack Obama will be re-elected not as a vindication of his policies but because the Republicans are incapable of providing a reasonable challenge to his flawed performance. On the central issue of our time -- reining in the greed of the multinational corporations, led by the financial sector and the defense industry -- a Republican presidential victor, with the possible exception of the now-sidelined Ron Paul, would do far less to challenge the kleptocracy of corporate-dominated governance.

As compared to front-runner Mitt Romney, who wants to derail even Obama's tepid efforts at regulating Wall Street, and who seeks ever more wasteful increases in military spending, the incumbent president appears relatively enlightened, but that is cold comfort.

Not only has Obama been a savior of the banking conglomerates that so generously financed his campaign, but he also has proved to be equally as solicitous of the needs of the military-industrial complex. He entered his re-election year by signing a $662 billion defense authorization bill that strips away some of our most fundamental liberties and keeps military spending at Cold War levels, and by approving a $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Those two actions represent an obvious contradiction, since the attack on American soil that kept defense spending so high in the post-9/11 decade was carried out by 15 Saudis and four other men directed by Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi primarily using funding from his native land. Now Saudi Arabia is to be protected as a holdout against the democratic impulse of the Arab Spring because it is our ally against Iran, a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. Saudi Arabia, it should be recalled, was one of only three nations, along with the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, to recognize the Taliban government that harbored bin Laden before 9/11.

Obama Fails On Minimum Wage Pledge

WASHINGTON -- In 2008, then-President-elect Barack Obama made an ambitious pledge as part of his agenda to fight poverty, one he claimed would help "make work pay for all Americans" in an era of widening economic inequality: By the end of 2011, he would raise the federal minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and index it to inflation, "to make sure that full-time workers can earn a living wage," as his transition team's website put it.

In effect, Obama was pushing for a 31 percent pay raise for millions of the country's lowest earners. But when they collect their first paychecks for 2012, those workers will see no such raise. The federal minimum wage remains $7.25 an hour, the same rate it's been since 2009, when the last of a series of wage bumps signed into law by George W. Bush was implemented. The cost of living continues to climb although the wage floor remains the same.

Despite his pledge, Obama hasn't exactly been stumping for the minimum wage increase. Pursuing such legislation is a long shot in the Republican-controlled House, given the opposition of business interests and free-market conservatives who argue that higher minimum wages force owners to curtail hiring. Even though the voting public generally supports raising the minimum wage, the administration might be fearful of the "job-killer" tag that inevitably would come with it. The president's labor secretary, Hilda Solis, dodged the question when asked this summer if the wage should be boosted. The Obama campaign didn't comment when asked this week if the president would recommit to the pledge.

CSIS and me: What First Nation activities are NOT considered a potential threat to Canada?

When the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) reported that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) dedicated countless INAC staff and thousands of dollars to spying on Cindy Blackstock -- I think most of us in Turtle Island gave our heads a shake.

While it has been known for some time that Canada spies on our Indigenous leaders and community members who defend our lands, I don't think most of us were aware that any First Nation advocate was a target. This is what shocked me the most -- that Canada's "national security" laws are so broad as to make someone like Cindy Blackstock an enemy of the state.

If someone were to ask me who was the LEAST likely to be spied on by Canada, I would have said Cindy Blackstock because for anyone who knows Cindy or her work, they know she is a peaceful, law-abiding citizen with a big heart. Her only alleged "subversive" or "hostile" act against Canada is that she peacefully advocates on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society: First Nations children.

Cindy does not do her advocacy by riding in on combat helicopters or tanks -- but instead runs the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society, donates her free time to spreading information and speak publicly about the realities faced by First Nations children, and is now running the Have a Heart campaign to raise money for First Nations children.

Delirious over delirium

Canada does not need a national delirium over “excited delirium.” This supposed cause of many deaths in police custody, including those involving the use of tasers, was laid to rest after the exhaustive Braidwood inquiry following the 2007 death of the Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

Why then has an Alberta judge ruled that Gordon Bowe, tasered and restrained by several officers, died from “excited delirium syndrome”? Why is Judge Heather Lamoureux of Alberta Provincial Court proposing everything from the training of police dispatchers in diagnosing “excited delirium” to the creation of a countrywide “excited delirium” database?

“Excited delirium” (overheating and wild behaviour) is a blind alley, not a recognized medical condition. It is a convenient way to avoid tough scrutiny of police practices that may contribute to death.

Europe Agrees On Iran Oil Import Ban

(Reuters) - European governments have agreed in principle to ban imports of Iranian oil, EU diplomats said Wednesday, dealing a blow to Tehran that crowns new Western sanctions months before an Iranian election.

The prospective embargo by the European Union, along with tough U.S. financial measures signed into law by President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve, form a concerted Western campaign to hold back Iran's nuclear program.

Iran says the program is strictly non-military, but Western countries say a November U.N. report shows it has sought to build an atomic bomb. Talks between Tehran and major powers broke down a year ago.

Diplomats said EU envoys held talks on Iran in the last days of December, and that any objections to an oil embargo had been dropped - notably from crisis-hit Greece which gets a third of its oil from Iran, relying on Tehran's lenient financing. Spain and Italy are also big buyers.

Diane Abbott Faces Calls To Resign For 'Racist' Tweet About 'White People'

Diane Abbott has been accused of racism and faces calls to resign from the Labour frontbench after claiming white people love playing "divide and rule".

In a controversial message to a freelance journalist on the social networking site Twitter, Abbott wrote: "White people love playing 'divide and rule' we should not play their game."

The Hackney MP used a hashtag which spelt "tactics as old as colonialism."

When asked for a comment in response, Abbott told Huffington Post UK: "I'm going to have to get back to you on that."

She later wrote her tweet had been "taken out of context" and apologised for any offense caused.

Confronted about the comments by Sky News, Abbott walked away to take a phone call.

Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi has called for Abbott to quit her front bench job as shadow public health minister, or for her to be sacked by Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Addressing Inequality: Is Government the Answer?

The complex forces of globalization and technological change have not eliminated the ability of citizens to use the state as a means to fight inequality.

Inequality is finally, mercifully, a topic of common concern. Articles are regularly popping up in the mainstream media, expressing relief at our newfound willingness to address the topic, from people who had a platform for addressing such issues well before the Occupy movement did.

Lately these articles seem to support a common premise: Inequality is driven by complex forces some of which are, to quote Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, “beyond the reach of government.”

Technology and globalization are most often singled out as examples of these forces. From global editor-at-large Chrystia Freeland of Reuters, “[Rapidly rising inequality] is the consequence of a massive – and broadly positive – economic transformation … the big drivers are the twin revolutions reshaping the world economy – globalization and new technology.” From Vancouver Sun columnist Craig McInnes, “Why are we working harder and earning less? … technological change and globalization.”

Certainly, technology and globalization – if they can be so neatly separated for analytical sake – are playing a major role in structuring the world. But instead of simply suggesting that this explanation is “politically inconvenient,” as Freeland does, we need to take a careful look at how government shapes, is shaped by, and responds to these forces.

Jails don’t keep people out of jail

Collectively, we have nearly 10 decades of experience in the area of corrections and conditional release. There are many issues we have disagreed over, but we are united in our concerns with the direction of the Harper government’s “tough on crime” agenda.

In a country that prides itself on fairness, compassion and the pursuit of equality, why do we accept the idea that community safety will be enhanced through increased incarceration?

At both the federal and provincial levels, Canadian jails are overcrowded. It is becoming common to see double- and triple-bunking of inmates in cells designed for one. This overcrowding limits access to already scarce rehabilitative programming and increases the incidence of institutional violence. The fastest-growing portions of the inmate population continue to be those most marginalized within our society: the mentally ill, women and aboriginals. Decades of reports have detailed our correctional systems’ failure to reasonably address the needs of these offenders and limit their numbers.

Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which is before the Senate, will significantly increase the prison population. The Canadian Bar Association, summarizing its testimony before the House of Commons standing committee on justice and human rights, stated that the bill “will require new prisons; mandate incarceration for minor, non-violent offences; justify poor treatment of inmates and make their reintegration into society more difficult.” These results are inconsistent with our collective concepts of fairness, compassion and equality. In addition, no evidence is provided to support the bill’s objectives.

Brace for a budget firestorm across Ontario

Don Drummond has done his first draft. And the results will create a firestorm.

Most Ontario ministries face deep budget cuts, some as high as 30 per cent over the next few years, according to the influential economist conducting a sweeping review of government operations.

Without the massive savings he is recommending, Queen’s Park can’t possibly meet its balanced budget target for 2017-18, Drummond warns.

“The numbers don’t add up,” he says. Health and education will be spared — somewhat — but “everything else will have to decline.”

His long-awaited report on public services goes to the printers and lands on the premier’s desk before month’s end. Within weeks it will be released to the public, at the very time that bond rating agencies have placed Ontario’s vaunted credit rating on a negative outlook and the province faces protracted negotiations with doctors and major public sector unions.

Cops shoot and kill armed eighth-grader in Brownsville, Tex. middle school

Police in South Texas shot and killed a 15-year-old boy who brought a pellet gun, which looked like a real handgun, to his middle school, according to local reports.

Cops in Brownsville rushed to Cummings Junior High School about 8 a.m. Wednesday after receiving reports that a student had a weapon, the Brownsville Herald reported.

Officers confronted the armed eighth-grader in a hallway and shot him, authorities said.

The boy was taken to Valley Baptist Medical Center, where he died, a county justice of the peace told the local paper.

His name was not immediately released.

The school was placed on lockdown, and students were being relocated to a nearby high school, the Herald said.

No other injuries were reported.

Investigators haven't determined whether the boy fired his weapon, Brownsville police Detective J.J. Trevino told The Associated Press.

"It's still under investigation, as far as how he came about to bringing the weapon or if he encountered anybody or anything else," Trevino said.

Brownsville is 280 miles south of San Antonio.

Original Article
Source: ny Daily News  

Ex MP Wants Legal Action Against Ottawa After Kyoto Breach

A former Quebec politician is planning legal action against the Conservative government for pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, calling the move unconstitutional.

Daniel Turp, a former Parti Québécois MNA and Bloc MP, said he is going to ask the federal court to block Ottawa's controversial decision, and is calling on Canadians to join his legal campaign.

"It's not abiding by the law, or the law on the books," said Turp, referring to the Kyoto Implementation Act passed by the House of Commons in 2007.

Turp, who now teaches international and constitutional law at the University of Montreal, launched an online petition for Canadians to support his plan because he believes "citizens should have a voice."

Turp isn't the first to accuse the Conservative government of breaking federal law over its Kyoto decision.

In December, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of flouting Canada's international commitments by withdrawing from the greenhouse gas emissions treaty.

After attending the UN climate change conference in South Africa last month, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that Canada was pulling out of Kyoto because of the state of the economy.

The Durban, South Africa, conference concluded with countries agreeing to launch a new round of talks on a different climate change accord.

A spokesperson from Environment Canada told CBC News that the government intends to repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Tough measures won’t stop refugees, Canada told

Mandatory detention and delayed family reunification won’t deter refugees from arriving en masse at borders, say Australian advocacy groups opposed to Ottawa’s anti-human smuggling bill.

The coalition of Australia’s leading refugee organizations hope Canada will learn from their experience and reconsider Bill C-4, which is based on the Australian model and currently before Parliament.

“A policy of mandatory detention will be a financial and humanitarian disaster for Canada,” the coalition said in a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The advocates’ concerns echoed earlier comments made by Australian Immigration and Citizenship Secretary Andrew Metcalfe in Canberra.

“Detaining people for years has not deterred anyone from coming,” Metcalfe told a Senate committee in October.

Australia, two-third of Canada’s population, introduced the tough measures in 1999. Nonetheless, the number of “unauthorized arrivals” has multiplied to more than 6,000 last year.