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.]

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Why Americans Can’t Vote

When President Obama claimed victory in last month’s election, he observed that many voters had waited on long lines to cast their ballots, adding, “By the way, we have to fix that.” That was a promise he won’t be able to keep. There’s no fix in the works—and there probably never will be.

It was a pretty terrible election, as far as access to the polls goes. As usual, the worst situation was in Florida, where waits of four hours were common both in early voting and on Election Day. But, of course, 2012 wasn’t even the worst election in Florida in the last dozen years. Observers of American politics may recall certain difficulties with the 2000 race in the Sunshine State. But even that fiasco—which arguably (that is, probably, or rather definitely) changed the outcome in the state and nation—led to no significant reform. Because the problems in 2012 did not even arguably change the results, even in Florida, the urgency for reform is commensurably smaller.

Nuclear Power Whistleblowers Charge Federal Regulators With Favoring Secrecy Over Safety

Richard H. Perkins and Larry Criscione are precise and formal men with more than 20 years of combined government and military service. Perkins held posts at the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration before joining the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Division of Risk Analysis in 2008. Criscione landed at the agency a year later, after five years aboard the USS Georgia as a submarine warfare officer.

Now both men are also reluctant whistleblowers, stepping out publicly to accuse the NRC of being both disconcertingly sluggish and inappropriately secretive about severe -- and in one case, potentially catastrophic -- flood risks at nuclear plants that sit downstream from large dams.

Citizens Protest Looming 'Fiscal Cliff' Budget Cuts

For the past several weeks, clusters of citizens have been protesting the opportunistically named “fiscal cliff” budget cut talks. Even though the “fiscal cliff” is really more of a fiscal curb or fiscal slope, conservative lawmakers have seized upon the media-generated panic surrounding the doomsday January 1 cutoff date as an excuse to inflict further cuts and steer the conversation away from ending tax breaks for the one percent.

The push back from citizens began when activists from ACT UP protested the possible inclusion of cuts to AIDS funding during the negotiations. Activists arranged a table and chairs outside Senator John Kerry’s home in Boston as part of a mock Thanksgiving meal during which they put pill bottles on plates instead of food, saying they want Kerry to fight to fully fund AIDS programs during the negotiations.

Do We Really Need a Second Gitmo?

One Senate Republican likes Gitmo so much she wants to build a new offshore detention center—or at least force President Obama to allow Guantanamo to accept new detainees, which it hasn't done since he first took office and issued an executive order intended to close the facility.

The National Defense Authorization Act for 2013 is up for a vote as soon as Monday afternoon, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has proposed an amendment that would compel the administration to come up with "a plan for the identification or establishment of a facility outside the United States as the location for the long-term detention" of suspected members of Al Qaeda. Her amendment is backed by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

The Danger of Being Born Poor

Apart from those in the medical profession, there can't be many men in the world who saw as many babies being born this year as I did. It all started when I was invited to make one of the films for Why Poverty?, a global initiative posing important questions about poverty and inequality.

I wanted to start at the beginning -- at the birth of a child -- to see how poverty might impact on the life of an infant and how we might then imagine how that life would turn out. Once you decide to start there, you are necessarily involved in questions of infant mortality, at the chances a child has of survival. And infant mortality goes hand in hand with maternal mortality. You can't talk about one without the other.

Tories the big spenders, Mulcair charges during Surrey visit

Thomas Mulcair painted the Tory federal government as being big on corporate tax cuts for the rich and small on compassion for everyone else while he was stumping in Surrey on Friday.

The Leader of the Official Opposition spoke before a roomful of South Asian business people at the Ashiana restaurant in Newton, just off Scott Road.

"The NDP will work to give a better break to the next generation because right now we've seen the middle class in Canada, for the first time in history, doing less well than the generation before," Mulcair said.

Senator Mike Duffy claims living allowances despite being Ottawa resident since the 1970s

Conservative Senator Mike Duffy has claimed more than $33,000 in living allowances intended to defray senators’ costs of maintaining a second home in the National Capital Region, even though he is a long-time Ottawa resident.

Senators are required to be resident in their home province but they can claim compensation for the extra costs of living in a “secondary residence” in the capital. Duffy, the former TV journalist who represents Prince Edward Island, counts a cottage he owns in Cavendish, P.E.I., as his primary residence.

Canada’s government is trending right — Canadians aren’t

One of the few advantages of aging is the ability to see how things change. On the topic of how Canadians see themselves, their values and their identities, we have been recording and analyzing these trends for some time.

In preparation for a presentation to the annual State of the Federation conference at Queen’s University we were asked to update a presentation that we did on this topic in the late nineties. The picture that emerges from this update is fascinating and disturbing at the same time. We have looked not only at the values and attachments of Canadians but also at how these are inextricably connected to shifts in the economy, class structure and the role of the state.

Tories, NDP abandon principles for populism, making the two parties almost indistinguishable

The other day, the House of Commons was treated to the sight of an NDP member of Parliament, Glenn Thibeault, fulminating during Member’s Statements in a parody of Tory MPs too numerous to mention. “The Conservatives are imposing a $36-billion car tax on Canadians! This car tax will increase the price of cars first by $700, then by $1,800! Who would ever be foolish enough to impose a $36-billion car tax on the shoulders of Canadians!”

Government's defeat of Bill C-398 is a betrayal

The Canadian government had the opportunity last week to help hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of AIDS sufferers in poor countries and deliberately chose not to do so. What should we think about such a decision? When are citizens allowed to ask the unthinkable: If a government knowingly allows hundreds of thousands of people to die unnecessarily, what is its responsibility? How much less culpable is indirect guilt, or guilt by omission, than direct guilt or guilt by commission?

Traditional practices reasserted as Unist'ot'en evict pipeline surveyors

On the morning of November 20th, 2012, Freda Huson, spokesperson for the Unis'tot'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en encountered materials left behind by PTP surveyors at 48 km on the Morice River Forest Service Road West.

Later that evening, a crew of surveyors was intercepted at the cabin site entering Unis’tot’en territory. In the absence of Freda Huson, Toghestiy, hereditary chief of the Likhts' amisyu clan of the Wet'suwet'en invoked biKyi' waat'en, the right of the husband, in telling the industry surveyors to immediately leave the territory, and issued an eagle feather to the crew. In Wet'suwet'en law, an eagle feather indicates a first and only warning of trespass.

Canadians pay, corporations profit: The business of corporate assistance

Those who follow the business press closely, and listen attentively to corporate economic commentators, are still mainly in the dark about "who is actually getting what" in the business world.

Some very interesting information does turns up. A current New York Times series entitled "The United States of Subsidies," covers business subsidies handed out by U.S. local governments. It cost $80 billion to attract and keep companies in local communities, the NYT estimated.

Canada votes against UN call to open Israel nuclear facilities

Canada was one of only six nations in the UN General Assembly to vote against a resolution Monday that called on Israel to quickly open its nuclear program for inspection and that backed a recently cancelled conference to ban nuclear weapons from the Middle East.

All the Arab nations and Iran had planned to attend the conference in mid-December in Helsinki, Finland, but the United States announced on Nov. 23 that it wouldn't take place, citing political turmoil in the region and Iran's defiant stance on non-proliferation. Iran and some Arab nations countered that the real reason for the cancellation was Israel's refusal to attend.

Military pushed to route N.L. marine medical calls to Rome

Canada's military pressured coast guard officials in Newfoundland and Labrador in May into abandoning a plan to ensure that Canadian doctors would continue to handle marine medical emergency calls, CBC News has learned, but an emergency at sea days later prompted a change in policy.

Defence Department officials in Halifax had insisted that one procedure apply for the entire Atlantic region, in the wake of this spring's shuttering of the rescue sub-centre in St. John’s.

That decision led to emergency medical calls instead being routed to a free service in Rome.

Israel moves on plans for 2 major east Jerusalem settlements

JERUSALEM—Israel is moving forward with plans for two major settlement projects in east Jerusalem, a spokeswoman said Tuesday, even as a senior Palestinian official warned that his government could pursue war crimes charges if Israel doesn’t halt settlement activities.

International anger over Israeli settlement construction has snowballed in recent days, following last week’s UN recognition of a state of Palestine — in lands Israel occupied in 1967 — as a non-member observer in the General Assembly.

Study: Wealthy Nations’ Fossil Fuel Subsidies 5 Times Greater Than Climate Aid to Countries in Need

A new report by Oil Change International has found wealthy nations are spending five times more money on fossil fuel subsidies than climate aid. In 2011 rich nations spent $58 billion on subsidies and just $11 billion for climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. According to the study, the United States spent $13 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011 and just $2.5 billion in climate aid. We’re joined by David Turnbull, Campaigns Director of Oil Change International.

Source: Democracy Now!

Two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict nearing ‘doomsday’ scenario, critics say

A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been on life support for two decades of foundering negotiations.

But the physician who heads the Palestinian movement for non-violence says it’s now on the critical list, after Israel’s decision to press ahead with building 3,000 new homes in a corridor linking Jerusalem with a Jewish settlement.

Harper ‘newspeak’ and the war on the environment

In his latest example of ‘truthiness’, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver delivered a speech to what one can reasonably suppose was a receptive crowd on November 27. Speaking to the Business Council of British Columbia, Oliver said: “Development cannot proceed unless it is sustainable and responsible. All proposals from business must be independently and objectively reviewed by the experts.”

Nobody would disagree with this; certainly it is imperative that the development of our natural resources is conducted according to the principles of sustainable development. Objective review is fundamental to deciding the merits of a proposal from any business, government or individual. It’s certainly an approach that New Democrats, and most Canadians, support.

Is stealth mandatory or just ‘preferable’ for Canada’s next fighter jet?

As far as we’ve been led to understand for the better part of 18 months, stealth capability has been a mandatory requirement for Canada’s next fighter jet. Now, apparently, it’s not.

During his testimony at the national defence committee last Thursday, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson was asked about the importance of stealth capability to Canada’s next fleet of fighter jets. Specifically, whether stealth was an option or a requirement for whatever plane will, in due course, replace the CF-18.

The Commons: In praise of the simple question

The Scene. Thomas Mulcair charged into the afternoon with a litany of concerns.

“Mr. Speaker, last quarter, Canadian economic growth slowed to a rate of just six-tenths of one per cent,” he reported. “Conservatives have now missed their own economic growth targets three quarters in a row. They have had to downgrade their economic growth forecast for 2012 by nearly a third and it is now widely expected that the Bank of Canada will have to downgrade its own economic forecast as well. The Minister of Finance announced new economic numbers just three weeks ago. Does the minister still stand by those numbers today, or will we have to downgrade his economic projections yet again?”

Conservatives kept abreast of all F-35 problems, senior bureaucrats say

OTTAWA — Senior government officials claim in an internal document that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Cabinet were kept up to speed every step of the way as the government moved to purchase the troubled F-35 stealth fighter.

This included a complete understanding of the cost overruns and delays plaguing the $25-billion fighter jet program as well as the controversial process National Defence and Public Works were following to acquire the plane.

Canada plays down Israeli settlement criticism

Canada stood apart Monday from some major allies, the U.S. included, in refusing to condemn Israeli plans for new settlements in areas claimed by the Palestinians.

On Friday, Israel announced plans to build 3,000 settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to punish the Palestinians for winning greater recognition at the United Nations General Assembly the previous day.

Food bank use hits record high in Ontario

’Tis the season of giving, and now is the time to help stock the shelves at your local food bank.

Food bank use in Ontario has hit an all-time high, with more than 412,000 people accessing food support programs each month in 2012, a new http://www.oafb.caOntario Association of Food Banks report has revealed.

More than 160,000 were children, making kids a rising demographic in need of help.

Residential Schools Lawsuit: Truth And Reconciliation Commission Takes Ottawa To Court

TORONTO - Years of mounting frustration over access to government records has prompted the commission of inquiry into Canada's residential school system to turn to the courts for help, The Canadian Press has learned.

In court filings, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission accuses Ottawa of stymying requests for documents the inquiry says are vital to its core mandate: "delivery on truth, reconciliation and ultimately healing."

NDP Urges Government To Consider Changes To Budget Bill

The Conservative government has voted to limit the last debate on a massive piece of legislation to put in place the 2012 federal budget.

The 440-page budget implementation bill that would make changes to 60 laws is scheduled to have its final vote in the House on Tuesday.

It will then to go the Senate for debate and committee study.

Labour Mismatch Canada: CIBC Report Warns Country's Standard Of Living At Risk

TORONTO - A CIBC report released Monday suggests Canada's economic prosperity is at risk due to a labour market split that sees high-demand positions go unfilled while lower-skilled workers languish in unemployment.

"We have people without jobs and jobs without people," said author and deputy economist Benjamin Tal.

BP oil spill cleanup toxic to key species

Using oil-dispersing chemicals during the massive 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico likely did far more damage than good to a crucial aquatic animal, according to new research that wades into the hotly contested question of whether and when to use the chemicals following an oil spill.

The dispersant used by oil company BP, when mixed with crude oil, was found to be 52 times more toxic than oil alone to some microscopic plankton-like organisms called rotifers.

'Longest running' First Nations blockade continues

First Nations activists were back at the blockade on Monday after celebrating a decade of turning back logging trucks from Grassy Narrows traditional lands.

The road block first went up at Slant Lake, about 600 km northwest of Thunder Bay, on Dec. 2, 2002.

Talk taxes or kiss the country goodbye

The suggestion that we need to raise taxes in this country has become so taboo in the nation's politics that even talking about it is seen as tantamount to political suicide.

The right and its benefactors, the wealthy and large corporations, have had the field to themselves for a long time. Their framing of taxes as a "burden" and their promises of tax "relief" (borrowed from the Republicans in the US) has become so imbedded in the public consciousness the spontaneous reply to the question of whether we should raise taxes is usually 'no.'