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.]

Saturday, April 21, 2012

For Quebec, Canada's westward shift translates into ‘de facto separation'

As the Alberta election approaches, I can't help but remember being there exactly a year ago to cover the federal election and having lunch one day with Reeve Don Gregorwich of Camrose County. There we were, a Quebec francophone and an anglophone from rural Alberta in, of all places, a Chinese buffet.

At one point Mr. Gregorwich started talking fondly about a recent visit to Quebec City: “I got to visit the Plains of Abraham and I was very, very moved. I got to see these cliffs that the British soldiers scaled ...” He seemed so clearly wrapped up in the victory of his side over mine that I was tempted to start throwing egg rolls.

It turns out I had got it wrong. Mr. Gregorwich, a history buff, was simply awed to be at such a historic site, just as he had been when visiting centuries-old cathedrals in England. In talking about General James Wolfe's victory, he was not trying to rub it in – to him, the place was neutral.

Then the conversation veered to the topic of Quebec's identity in this vast country. Whenever I travel in Canada, I am fascinated by its deep feeling of patriotism – the federal flag flies everywhere. Not so in Quebec, where you'll see the red maple leaf on federal buildings, mostly. Bureaucratic obligation.

On the same issue, 25 years later

In the 80's, it was the Devine regime provincially and the Mulroney machine federally that moved the regina mom into political activism. The issue of reproductive rights got her involved in the women's movement of the day. And here she is, more than 25 years later, again working on that file.

On Thursday, April 26, the House of Commons is scheduled to debate MP Stephen Woodworth's Motion 312 which ultimately seeks to make abortion illegal. If passed, the abortion debate in Canada will officially be re-opened.

Yes, one year ago the Prime Minister said he wouldn't re-open the debate. But, do you trust him? Does any Canadian woman believe him? the regina mom doesn't.

That's why she's been working with the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada to mobilize women across the nation. Already, more than 11,500 have signed our digital petition. It's heartwarming, really, to know that so many support the efforts of a few dedicated volunteers and, more importantly, the right of a woman to control her own body.

ARCC has now decided to initiate a signature drive on a hard copy of the petition. This will allow it be part of the public record via the House of Commons. ARCC has contacted various prochoice Members of Parliament of different political stripes for assistance. the regina mom encourages you to contact your Member of Parliament to see where s/he stands on the issue of women's reproductive freedom.

And, the regina mom would love it if you would help out, too. Arm yourself with information. Then, take a moment to print out the petition (PDF) on 8.5 x 14 paper, invite your family / friends / co-workers to sign it and then send it to the ARCC. We'll make sure it gets to a prochoice MP for presentation to the House.

*When abortions were illegal, women would use any means at their disposal to terminate a pregnancy. Coat hangers were easily accessible and often used. Women died as a result of botched abortions. The graphic, Never Again, is the ProChoice movement's statement that we will stand guard so that we will never again go back to those times.

Original Article
Author:  Bernadette Wagner 

Where there's smoke, there's fire: Danielle Smith and Big Tobacco

The leaders of all Alberta parties but one seem committed to ending smoking by young Albertans. The sole holdout? It's the Wildrose Party, led by former Fraser Institute apparatchik Danielle Smith, of course.

This much was reported by the Calgary Herald last Tuesday, although readers are forgiven if they missed it since the story ended up on page 18.

"Only Smith said she wouldn't support the majority of the measures," wrote the Herald's reporter in her coverage of a survey of party leaders by the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta, adding in explanation: "The Wildrose Party has vowed not to raise taxes, including taxes on tobacco products."

Most readers presumably simply assumed that this was just another pre-election pledge not to raise taxes by the right-wing party committed to reviving the low-tax "Alberta Advantage" of Ralph Klein, one of the gods in the Wildrosers' Tea Party pantheon.

So it's unlikely many readers were troubled by the lack of any reference to the cozy relationships among Smith, various far-right Astroturf and propaganda organizations and the tobacco industry.

Mass arrests as student protests suspend classes in Gatineau

Direct action undertaken by striking Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) students and their allies has resulted in classes being cancelled for the remainder of the week.

After being kettled by riot cops for hours on Wednesday, in an attempt to prevent a large demonstration from reaching the Lucien-Brault campus, students rallied again Thursday and marched on the campus where they were met with police pepper spray and batons.

Three buses of Sûreté du Québec (SQ) riot police from Sherbrooke arrived on April 19 to reinforce the Gatineau police and their anti-riot detachment.

Striking students are defying a court injunction ordering them back to class and criminalizing protests within 25 metres of either UQO campus.

A massive police presence has attempted to enforce the injunction and over 300 arrests have been made in the past two days.

A professor on Tuesday was the first to be arrested, after police cordoned off his office in the Social Sciences department and arrested him for obstruction, a day after he criticized police conduct, the judiciary, and the Quebec government in a press conference.

The government has come under fire for using the judiciary and the police to enforce the tuition hikes and circumvent the democratic decisions made by students.

An Alberta shakeup would be felt across the country

Four different parties have governed Alberta since it joined Canada as a province in 1905. The Wildrose Party has a shot at becoming the fifth on Monday.

Unique among Canadian provinces, Alberta politics feature governing parties being kicked out of office after very long stretches, only to be replaced not by the official opposition but by a new grassroots party. That’s how the United Farmers emerged in 1921 to defeat the incumbent Liberals, how Social Credit won in 1935 and how the Progressive Conservatives were elected in 1971 (although the PCs had existed as a small party before). None had been the official opposition. All grew up outside the traditional party structure, challenged that structure and won. It’s Alberta’s way of giving vent to the democratic instinct for change. Now Wildrose hopes to follow the same path.

Normally, provincial elections don’t much count in the national scheme of things, but this one could be different. Alberta is now so wealthy, in and of itself and by contrast to the rest of Canada, that the whole country will be affected by how it uses that wealth.

Moreover, Alberta is the heartland of the federal Conservative government. What Alberta thinks, how Alberta acts (or reacts), how it regards the federation and how fundamentally it views itself are consequential for Canadians everywhere.

China: This nation of villagers is having an identity crisis

The peasant villager, in a straw hat and weathered hands, has long been at the heart of China’s self-mythology. Chinese tend to think of themselves as a nation of villagers, some of whom have been living in the city for generations, but whose soul remains located in a cluster of wooden huts amid the paddies. It’s a vision that infuses their art and culture and, sometimes tragically, their politics.

That village myth is increasingly misleading – and to the extent that Beijing is trying to keep it true, damaging China’s progress.

China boasted that it became an urban-majority country last year, with more urbanites than villagers. Many people here are well aware that this is untrue: That milestone was passed years ago and as many as 200 million of those half-billion “villagers” have been living and working in cities for years.

They fill the big cities of China’s southern and eastern coasts, providing the largest source of industrial labour. They are known as the “floating population,” because they are legally villagers, unable to send their kids to school in the city, buy houses or settle, trapped halfway between rural and urban life.

China won’t let them become urban citizens – in part for macroeconomic reasons (peasant savings are a cornerstone of China’s industrial capitalization) and partly because villagers don’t actually own their officially collectivized land, so they have no reason or ability to sell it.

Fat or thin, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is still lousy at his job

I, like you, watched the much-quarrelled-over amateur paparazzi video of Rob Ford, failed dieter and Toronto mayor, entering a KFC outlet for a bag of deep-fried chicken skin.

Apparently, the video, by virtue of its existence, mocks Ford for being fat. I disagree and think it’s just life in our city. Truthfully, fat is irrelevant. It ravages your health but it doesn’t change the way people regard you.

For Ford isn’t a thin mayor or a fat mayor, he’s a terrible mayor. He could forage for dandelion leaves on the city’s unkempt sidewalks, he could grow healthful beets in his own driveway à laPortlandia, he could grow thin as a paper clip, and he’d still be bad at his job.

Ford was simply being Ford — blocked on transit, unable to negotiate with anyone, at horns with the province, an alien force to women councillors, an embarrassment both international and local, and a walking warning against electing people out of spite. But whether he’s stalled at 312 lbs. on his “Cut the Waist” diet or withers to 162, it matters not.

The Koch Brothers – Exposed!

If the Koch brothers didn't exist, the left would have to invent them. They're the plutocrats from central casting – oil-and-gas billionaires ready to buy any congressman, fund any lie, fight any law, bust any union, despoil any landscape, or shirk any (tax) burden to push their free-market religion and pump up their profits.

But no need to invent – Charles and David Koch are the real deal. Over the past 30-some years, they've poured more than 100 million dollars into a sprawling network of foundations, think tanks, front groups, advocacy organizations, lobbyists and GOP lawmakers, all to the glory of their hard-core libertarian agenda. They don't oppose big government so much as government – taxes, environmental protections, safety-net programs, public education: the whole bit. (By all accounts, the Kochs are true believers; they really buy that road-to-serfdom stuff about the the holiness of free markets. Still, you can't help but notice how neatly their philosophy lines up with their business interests.) They like to think of elected politicians as merely "actors playing out a script," and themselves as supplying "the themes and words for the scripts." Imagine Karl Rove’s strategic cunning, crossed with Ron Paul’s screw-the-poor ideology, and hooked up to Warren Buffett's checking account, and you’re halfway there.

This Week in Poverty: Georgia Tries to Get to Zero Welfare Recipients

It’s not easy for poor people to get cash assistance in America.

Prior to welfare reform in 1996, 68 of every 100 poor families with children received cash assistance through Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). But by 2010, under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program which replaced AFDC, just 27 of every 100 poor families received benefits. The rolls shrunk as states were given wide discretion over eligibility, benefit levels, time limits, and how to use their TANF block grants which were frozen at 1996 funding levels and not indexed for inflation.

Georgia is known as a particularly difficult state when it comes to accessing TANF. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), in 2008-09 for every 100 poor families with children in Georgia, only eight received cash aid.

Now the state is set to make its TANF application process even more onerous.

On Monday, Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed a law requiring that people approved for TANF receive a drug test within forty-eight hours. They also have to pay a $17 fee for the test and it isn’t refunded, even if a person passes. In addition to the financial burden, forty-eight hours can be tough for someone who may need to arrange for childcare, or find transportation to a testing site.

Canada, Stop Seeing Yourself as Always the Good Guy

There are many stories that Canadians do not regularly learn in school. Our history is littered with forgotten events, either deliberately overlooked, or rationalised away somehow.

This lacuna in our collective knowledge is not limited to events which affected indigenous peoples. You might reach adulthood without ever once being aware that in 1918, twelve "enemy languages" were banned in Canada, including Ukrainian and German, and that there were periods of sharp repression even after this ban was lifted. You might not know that 4,000 Canadian citizens of Ukrainian decent were interned along with other "enemy aliens" from 1914 -1920 while 80,000 others were forced to "check in" with police from time to time.

You might have no idea that in 2005, a bill was passed to acknowledge these historical wrongs, only a few years before the last survivors of interment died. You might not know that a $10 million fund was set up to commemorate these events and to raise awareness. You might not know any of this unless it is a part of your family's history (and perhaps not even then), because it was never talked about officially until so very recently.

I bring this all up, because I am often faced with incredulity when I talk about the things that indigenous peoples in Canada have experienced. People are shocked that they were not aware of these things. Perhaps they think that it is strange such things have been kept quiet.

Students should pay for the entire cost of education — later

If you were trying to make an argument against higher education, you could not do a better job of it than the striking students of Quebec. A more self-serving, self-satisfied, self-dramatizing collection of idiots could not have been assembled in one place without prolonged exposure to Foucault and Lacan.

The students have been “on strike,” i.e. skipping classes, for months in protest against a scheduled increase in tuition fees. Until lately they have relied upon intimidating other students and annoying the public; in recent days they have displayed an escalating propensity to outright violence. All in response to a plan that, while it will oblige them to pay much more than they were, will still leave them paying much less than students in the rest of Canada.

The 75% increase in fees over five years would raise the basic undergraduate tuition fee to $3,792 — versus the $5,000 or more common in other provinces. That would still leave Quebec’s undergraduates paying just 17% of the costs of their education. Indeed, it is just enough to return fees, frozen for many years in the province, to where they were in 1968, after inflation.

Nevertheless, that could still pose a barrier to students from poorer families. That is, it might have, had not the province offset the increase in tuition with an equally hefty increase in bursaries: enough to entirely wipe out the increase for anyone on low income.

It's the end of oversight overkill

Only believers in big government would argue against taking 40 government departments out of play when it comes to reviewing major resource projects and giving the authority to three.

Those believers, of course, would be Liberals, NDPers, eco-activists and all those charity sleight-of-handers recently in the news for being lavishly funded by billionaire American foundations.

But not us.

For small-c conservatives, the Harper government's decision to trust the expertise of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to ensure Canadians are protected from potential disaster, while cashing in on our resources, is one of those "about-time" moments.

Unlike Liberals, NDPers, eco-activists and those aforementioned sleight-of-handers, we do not believe three dozen-plus government agencies ripe with redundancies and hog-tied in red tape are needed to ensure oilsands pipelines and other resource mining meet the standards demanded by the Canadian people.

We believe in lean and mean. And we also believe in expediency.

Stephen Harper’s attack on charities doesn’t go far enough

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper says charities that engage in too much politicking should be denied tax subsidies, he’s right.

There’s no good reason why environmental groups that oppose oil pipelines should be able to finance their activities, in part, on the backs of the general taxpayer.

The problem with Harper’s dictum, however, is that it’s not broad enough. He’s only putting the boots to charities that his Conservatives don’t like.

Parliament should end the tax subsidies going to all charities. Period.

That would include cutting off not only dubious charities, such as the right-wing Fraser Institute, but organizations that probably do some good, like the United Way.

The original idea of having the public subsidize charitable organizations was well-meaning.

Charities used to be organizations that engaged in uncontroversial good works, such as helping widows and orphans.

Alberta Tories miss Lougheed's inclusive approach

If the Progressive Conservatives go down to defeat in Monday’s general election in Alberta, it will be because a central tenet of the party’s early success was ignored.

It was Peter Lougheed who built the foundation of the Tories’ four-decades-old dynasty upon the principle that the path to a happy, contented party starts at the door of the government caucus. As such, he gave his backbench MLAs unprecedented authority to overrule decisions of cabinet.

“I was aware that I was a leader with members who had diverse views,” Mr. Lougheed said in an interview this week. “And I knew it was really important for me to capture the diversity of those views in a way that they were all comfortable with the decision making.”

Mr. Lougheed would rule this way for 14 years – a tenure devoid of any significant internal tension and strife, and in marked contrast to the more tenuous mandates of recent PC leaders Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

Polls would indicate the Tories are heading to defeat at the hands of Wildrose, a political entity born of the disenchantment felt by those on the conservative wing of the province’s long-time governing party. If it happens, political historians will be examining the entrails of the cataclysmic shift in Alberta politics for years to come.

Marching towards fragmentation

Has it come to this, then?

When Alberta Wildrose leader Danielle Smith calls for a firewall around her province — much like the firewall Stephen Harper called for in 2001 — and the rest of the country essentially shrugs, is it really just Canadian business-as-usual?

Pretty much. Postmedia columnist Michael Den Tandt, for example, says it’s no big deal. “Quebec’s firewall has existed since 1976,” he wrote this week. “Alarm about this today is muted.”

Sadly, he’s right. Like other aging Canadian nationalists of the Trudeau era, I may continue to be appalled by Quebec’s wilful self-isolation. But apparently I belong to a dwindling minority.

One firewall? Two? Thirteen? Does anyone care any more?

Across the country, it seems, we Canadians are being drawn to the small, the narrow, the self-interested. Rejecting old notions of pan-Canadian equality, we have opted instead for regionalism, courting disintegration. And it no longer seems to bother us.

Some of the seeds were indeed sown in 1976 with the first Parti Québécois election, but others found fertile ground more recently. In 2004, there was Newfoundland premier Danny Williams yanking down the national flag in a fit of provincial political pique.

No political stability in shifting provincial winds

Almost a year to the day after a federal election that restored stability on Parliament Hill, the dominant political sound in Canada this spring is the winds of change battering the country’s major provincial governments.

In a teeter-totter effect, the return to majority rule at the federal level has spelled the beginning of the end for a period of continuity in the larger provinces.

One would look in vain in the entrails of last May’s federal vote for an ideological pattern to the trends that are reshaping the political landscapes of Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec.

In all three provinces, voters are marching to a beat that bears little or no resemblance to that of the drums that brought Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to government and the NDP to official opposition last spring.

In Alberta, the flip side of a united federal Conservative party has been a divided provincial family within which a Tory dynasty led by premier Alison Redford is struggling to fend off a challenge from the right-wing purists regrouped under the Wildrose flag of Danielle Smith.

Charter anniversary: Could it happen today?

Imagine, for a moment, that Canada didn’t get its own Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms 30 years ago.

Would we be able to pull off such a feat today?

Ontario’s former attorney-general, Roy McMurtry, was asked that very question during a special last week on CBC Radio’s The Current.

“It wouldn’t happen today,” McMurtry said flatly.

In McMurtry’s view, the current political climate in Canada — hyper-partisan and highly polarized — wouldn’t permit the kind of co-operation we saw between politicians of different parties 30 years ago.

As well, since the failed constitutional adventures of the 1980s and early 1990s, we have had a series of prime ministers who have pronounced themselves allergic to grand discussions of what defines us as a nation.

So politicians of the future probably don’t have to worry about marking any big anniversaries 20 or 30 years down the road. That 1982 constitutional adventure may have been the last big thing our political class was able to deliver to the citizenry.

Alberta election unleashes right-wing 'civil war'

CALGARY - Buoyed by lingering resentment against an entrenched government hit by a series of petty scandals, Alberta’s upstart Wildrose party looks set to take Canada’s most conservative province even further to the right.

Led by 41-year-old Danielle Smith, a charismatic former journalist with ties to the Reform movement that launched the political career of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Wildrose has moved past its roots as a minor protest party with into a big-tent par t y that has garnered wide support in advance of elections scheduled for April 23.

With a platform that includes paying voters a slice of the government’s take from the oil industry and a promise not to raise taxes, Wildrose has taken a strong lead in the polls over rookie Premier Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives and has polarized the province’s politics in the process.

“People are increasingly looking at this (election) as a referendum on whether it’s the PCs or Wildrose,” said Bruce Cameron, president of polling firm Return on Insight. “The Wildrose have run a good campaign and increased Danielle Smith’s popularity and, in contrast, the Conservatives have run a perplexing campaign.”

Elections in Alberta, a province that is the largest source of U.S. oil imports, have mostly been a cakewalk for the Progressive Conservatives since 1971.

Conservative Party dismisses expert witness on robocall issue

The Conservative Party of Canada has dismissed an "expert witness" for the Council of Canadians who concludes in a sworn affidavit someone at a senior level of the Tory campaign must have authorized automated phone calls that sent some voters to the wrong polling stations during the 2011 federal vote.

"The only plausible explanation for such calling to have occurred is for someone at the senior level in a central political campaign to have authorized the strategy and provided the data and the funds with which to carry it out," the affidavit says. It was filed by Bob Penner, president and CEO of Strategic Communications Inc. Penner's firm assists federal and provincial parties, as well as other groups -including the Council of Canadians - with voter outreach and other campaign tactics.

Penner's affidavit will be submitted as evidence by the Council of Canadians, which will launch a legal battle Monday to have the results of the 2011 general election in seven closely contested ridings overturned.

Hopalong Harper

Under Conservative majority rule, Canada's foreign policy has turned away from multilateral engagement.

When the Conservatives formed a minority government in 2006, they were neither experienced nor interested in foreign policy. But international issues – the war in Afghanistan, international emergencies, visits by heads of state, etc. – have a way of intruding on political agendas, and all require a response.

Since the 2011 election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been more forthcoming about his vision of Canada’s role in the world. In a July 2011 interview with Maclean’s magazine, he set out his changed views on foreign policy:
I’ll just say this, since coming to office – in fact since becoming prime minister – the thing that’s probably struck me the most in terms of my previous expectations … is not just how important foreign affairs/foreign relations is, but in fact that it’s become almost everything.
I’m not dismissing peacekeeping, and I’m not dismissing foreign aid – they’re all important things that we need to do, and in some cases do better – but the real defining moments for the country and for the world are those big conflicts where everything’s at stake and where you take a side and show you can contribute to the right side.

Why can’t we have some of those hip new fighter jets? All the cool countries are doing it.

Are you like me? Are you woefully uninformed about this F-35 business that’s been in the news? The topic came up at a dinner party in Ottawa, and I was so ashamed by my lack of knowledge that I snuck away to hide in a washroom. In Winnipeg.

Let’s figure this thing out together.

What exactly is an F-35?

It’s a new fighter jet being manufactured by Lockheed Martin. Its full name is the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 Lightning II. We probably shouldn’t be at all concerned that this sounds like something a little boy would name his tricycle.

What’s this got to do with Canada?

All the cool countries are getting F-35s, so we’re buying some too. In fact, our Department of National Defence wanted this hip new toy so badly that it structured the procurement process to ensure no other jet could win. In 2010, the Conservative government dutifully announced plans to purchase 65 F-35 fighters, at a cost of $9 billion. On one hand, that sounds like a lot of money, but on the other hand, why do you hate our troops, first hand?

France election 2012: Sarkozy falling, Hollande rises as fear and fury fuel campaign

PARIS—Like Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy swept to power on a wave of hope for change. Sarkozy’s wave crashed on the global financial crisis and his own failings. On Sunday, the French leader faces a tough fight against nine challengers in presidential elections awash in fear and anger.

This has been a race of negative emotion and nostalgia for a more protected past: one of the world’s top tourist destinations and biggest economies, France is feeling down about its debts, immigrants, stagnant paycheques, and future.

To voters, the conservative Sarkozy gets much of the blame. While he’s almost certain to make it past Sunday’s first-round vote and into the decisive second round May 6, polls show his support waning.

They predict another man will trounce Sarkozy in the runoff and take over the Elysée Palace: socialist François Hollande.

How votes for the utopian far left and the anti-immigrant far right and the other myriad candidates shake out Sunday will weigh heavily on the remainder of the campaign, on the makeup of the future government and on parliamentary elections in June.

And that will weigh on the fate of France — and a struggling Europe in which it plays a central role.