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, June 24, 2012

Why Elites Fail

In 1990, at the age of 11, I stood in a line of sixth graders outside an imposing converted armory on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, nervously anticipating a test that would change my life. I was hoping to gain entrance to Hunter College High School, a public magnet school that runs from grades seven through twelve and admits students from all five boroughs. Each year, between 3,000 and 4,000 students citywide score high enough on their fifth-grade standardized tests to qualify to take Hunter’s entrance exam in the sixth grade; ultimately, only 185 will be offered admission. (About forty-five students, all from Manhattan, test into Hunter Elementary School in the first grade and automatically gain entrance to the high school.)

I was one of the lucky ones who made it through, and my experience there transformed me. It was at Hunter that I absorbed the open-minded, self-assured cosmopolitanism that is the guiding ethos of the current American ruling class. What animates the school is a collective delight in the talent and energy of its students and a general feeling of earned superiority. In 1982 a Hunter alumnus profiled the school in a New York magazine article called “The Joyful Elite” and identified its “most singular trait” as the “exuberantly smug loyalty of its students.”

‘Call my lawyer, not me,’ MacKay tells military inquiry head

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has told the chairman of a federal inquiry probing the suicide of Afghan war veteran Stuart Langridge not to contact him directly again.

The apparent rebuke of Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) chairman Glenn Stannard comes at the end of a ministerial letter in which MacKay rejects a request to release key documents to the inquiry.

Can Canada's self-congratulation please stop?

Imagine a country, a large resource rich country, say surrounded by three oceans.

Now imagine that this country is ruled by a right-wing government with well-known connections to xenophobia and ultra-nationalism. Say like the Golden Dawn or Shiv Sena or the Taliban.

Next imagine that the government is dissolved and the ruling party kicked out on charges of corruption and contempt.

In a closely fought election, the right-wing corrupt party, strangely comes back as a majority government.

Tories made a ‘major mistake’ in their approach to the euro crisis, Paul Martin says

Paul Martin is registering his disapproval of the Harper government’s approach to Europe’s debt crisis.

Speaking Sunday on CTV’s Question Period, the former Liberal prime minister and finance minister said the Conservatives have made a “major mistake” in how they have characterized the debate over whether Canada should contribute money to an International Monetary Fund effort to backstop troubled states, suggesting that the behaviour and comments of some top officials are weakening multilateralism.

For Wealthy Romney Donors, Up Close and Personal Access

PARK CITY, Utah —They schmoozed with Mitt Romney at a barbecue cookout at the Olympic Park, pressing him on labor regulations and the threat of a nuclear Iran as downhill skiers performed midair flips behind them. 

They rubbed elbows with Beth Myers, who is running Mr. Romney’s vice-presidential search, in the packed lobby bar of the Chateaux at Silver Lake, over $15 glasses of Scotch.

Egypt Election Results: Mohammed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood Candidate, Announced President

After days of delay for the results of its presidential runoff, Egypt has announced Mohammed Morsi as the winner of the election and the country's new president, the Associated Press reports.

Morsi, the candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood, faced off with former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq after the two candidates collected the most votes in the first round of Egypt's presidential election.

This Week in Poverty: Ms. Vasquez Goes to Washington

On Tuesday, Adriana Vasquez sat to the left of the table where JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon testified before the House Financial Services Committee for two hours. A 37-year-old janitor and a single mother of three, she had traveled from her home in Houston to Washington, DC, to ask Dimon one simple question.

When the hearing adjourned, she crossed to talk to him.

Vasquez is accustomed to speaking to executives at the JPMorgan Chase Tower where she works, so she wasn’t intimidated. But she says she “felt strange” as she approached the table.

The Triumph of the Family Farm

We buried my grandfather last spring. He had died in his sleep in his own bed at 95, so, as funerals go, it wasn’t a grim occasion. But it was a historic one for our small rural community. My great-grandparents were early settlers, arriving in 1913 and farming the land throughout their lives. My grandfather continued that tradition, and now rests next to them on a hillside overlooking the family homestead.

If you’re a part of the roughly 99 percent of the North American population that doesn’t work on a farm, you might guess at what comes next—many a lament has been written about the passing of the good old days in rural areas, the family farm’s decline, and the inevitable loss of the homestead. But in many respects, that narrative itself is obsolete. That’s certainly true in my family’s case: The Freeland farm is still being cultivated by my father. And it is bigger and more prosperous than ever.

"It's Just Not Right": The Failures of Alabama's Self-Deportation Experiment

The Last Saturday of September—game day in Alabama, the Crimson Tide and Tigers both at home—Birmingham seemed to have all but emptied out, fans having bolted west to the big one in Tuscaloosa, or south for the rout in Auburn. I was heading north to the farmland of Cullman County. The vista along I-65 still showed scars from tornadoes—some half a mile wide—that ripped through Alabama in April, part of a storm that carved a path all the way to the Carolinas. You could still see their mark in buzz-cut swaths of hillsides, in piles of pine and scrub oak smeared together on a bluff. Along the shoulder, a few of the slender, towering high-mast poles that light the interstate at night had been snapped in half. One even made for curious disaster art, bent and curved and twisted like a giant Calder sculpture.

Israel-Gaza Violence Spikes

JERUSALEM — Gaza's militant Hamas rulers threatened to escalate fighting with Israel on Saturday after airstrikes killed several gunmen in the coastal territory, and Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel wounded one person and damaged an elementary school in the country's south.

The two sides periodically clash, but this flare-up was the most serious in months. It started with an attack by a little known al-Qaida-inspired Palestinian militant group but has extended to drag in Hamas.

Harper Government Rebranding: Taxpayers Spent Over $86,000 Helping Tories Rebrand Federal Government

Canadians taxpayers have spent more than $85,000 over the last three and a half years helping the Conservatives rebrand the federal government as the “Harper Government.”

Government of Canada news releases now routinely credit initiatives as coming from the Harper Government, a term some observers have deemed excessively partisan and a break with traditional practice.

Public servants were directed to use the moniker despite some initial push back after the Tories formed government in 2006. According to data released last week, the term was rarely used between 2006 and 2008 but since 2009 it has become increasingly prominent in government communications. Over the course of the past six years, there have been more than 988 press releases issued by the “Harper Government” at a cost of more than $86,138.

Stephen Harper created his own worst enemy in the parliamentary budget officer

One of the Conservative government’s most significant achievements may also be one of its greatest regrets: the creation of the parliamentary budget office and the selection of Kevin Page as its head.

The latest source of contention: Page’s repeated and intensifying attempts to access information about how departments and agencies plan to implement $5.2 billion in cuts set out in the federal budget. Of the 84 departments queried, 64 did not share the requested details. Last week Page’s office issued a legal opinion that those departments and agencies are breaking the law.

Government analyzing its surveys

The federal government has begun to analyze some of the public opinion surveys it commissions rather than use the impartial analysis of the polling companies themselves. The result is that some findings have become less transparent.

Under the Accountability Act, federal departments must submit final reports and executive summaries of commissioned public opinion research to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) within six months of the completion of field work. LAC then posts them to a public website.

Another day of mass protest in Quebec: 'Liberate us from the Liberals!'

Yesterday was another day of massive protest in Quebec in support of the student movement's battle against a proposed 75 percent hike in university tuition fees and government repressive apparatus seeking to impose it.

This was the fourth consecutive monthly march in Montreal of solidarity with students, each one on the 22nd day of the month. Previous marches have drawn several hundreds of thousands of participants, including an estimated 400,000 on May 22. This one was smaller, though still a very impressive 100,000, according to organizers.

Why Jason Kenney getting an award for 'diversity' only reinforces discrimination

Conservative minister Jason Kenney is to receive an award for "diversity" from the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in London, Ontario this Sunday. It is hard to say which does more harm to the true values of diversity: the "honouring" organization or the politician being "honoured."

The JNF covenant reserves the 13 per cent of Israeli land it owns for the exclusive benefit of Jews. It plays the same discriminatory role in the Israeli Lands Authority: together, these two interlocking institutions control 93 per cent of land in Israel, which (with a few short-lease exceptions) is not available to Palestinians. Many of these lands, originally belonging to Palestinians expelled in 1948, were expropriated and then sold to the JNF.

Police arrest five at 'Casserole' Quebec solidarity demonstrations in Vancouver

Two separate 'Casseroles Night in Canada' demonstrations in solidarity with Quebec student protests ended in arrest last night in Vancouver, with five arrested for mischief and obstructing police officers.

Detainees said they were locked in a pitch-black garage for an hour, intimidated and banned from being downtown until August. One of the demonstrators added that she was forced to remove her bra and skirt and stared at by all-male jail staff.

“When I was processed, I was made to take off my bra and skirt, and was thrown in cell,” said Anushka Nagji. “I'm completely uncomfortable to be a woman in this situation.

Bombshells left and right at hearings into political corruption in Quebec

"It's one of the best businesses we've had in Quebec for decades." - Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay, commenting on the "remarkable work" of construction magnate Antonio Accurso's company at City Council on Tuesday. Accurso has been charged with fraud, conspiracy, influence-peddling, breach of trust and two counts of defrauding the government.

While news out of Quebec in recent months has focused on the student strike, and the social movement it has generated, that is not the only reason people here are dissatisfied with our government.

Three reasons Stephen Harper is going easy on Thomas Mulcair

For six years Stephen Harper’s opponents have wondered when he would stop spending millions of dollars to whale the tar out of them. Apparently the answer was that he’d stop as soon as his opponent stopped being Liberal.

Say hello to Thomas Mulcair. A few surprising things have happened since the hairy cosmopolitan took over the New Democratic Party. First, his party has closed ranks behind him. That was hardly guaranteed at the outset. He arrived late to Canada-wide prominence, first elected outside the hothouse of Quebec provincial politics in 2007. His Outremont cloister has no history as an NDP hotbed. And he made a show of running as an outsider to the party’s culture. But everyone’s been grown-up about things so far, and lately he actually seems to be running a more cohesive party than Harper is.

Turkey threatens retaliation after Syria shoots down jet

Syria said Saturday it shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane because the plane entered its airspace, insisting it was “not an attack” as both sides desperately tried to de-escalate the episode before it exploded into a regional conflagration.

Turkey threatened to retaliate but did not say what action it would take as it searched for the aircraft’s two missing pilots.

Province working hard to get deal with teachers before Sept. 1, McGuinty says

SUDBURY, ONT. —Premier Dalton McGuinty is assuring millions of parents to hang tight, that the province is working hard on getting a contract with all public and Catholic teachers before Sept. 1.

McGuinty made the statement at the Ontario Liberal Party council meeting after he was asked by reporters if there is a deal between the Catholic elementary teachers and the province.

Sources say the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Assocation is very close to signing an agreement with the province. Such a move would break ranks with the other teaching unions who have refused to negotiate with Ontario after they were told their wages would be frozen.

Prisons, Privatization, Patronage

Over the past few days, The New York Times has published several terrifying reports about New Jersey’s system of halfway houses — privately run adjuncts to the regular system of prisons. The series is a model of investigative reporting, which everyone should read. But it should also be seen in context. The horrors described are part of a broader pattern in which essential functions of government are being both privatized and degraded. 

First of all, about those halfway houses: In 2010, Chris Christie, the state’s governor — who has close personal ties to Community Education Centers, the largest operator of these facilities, and who once worked as a lobbyist for the firm — described the company’s operations as “representing the very best of the human spirit.” But The Times’s reports instead portray something closer to hell on earth — an understaffed, poorly run system, with a demoralized work force, from which the most dangerous individuals often escape to wreak havoc, while relatively mild offenders face terror and abuse at the hands of other inmates.

Mulcair says Tories damaging Canada's reputation

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says Canada and its once-admirable image around the world have become unrecognizable under the Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Mulcair said he recently had a meeting with European Union ambassadors in Ottawa, and they are not happy with the federal government.