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.]

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Look Who's Leading NATO

France is flexing its muscles in Libya, a sign of Sarkozy's international ambitions.

Whatever one’s opinion of the war in Libya, one thing is beyond debate: French President Nicolas Sarkozy is leading it. Every step of the way – from the decision to go into Libya in hopes of preventing a Bosnia-style bloodbath in Benghazi, to the escalating airstrikes on Tripoli, to the recent decision to deploy attack helicopters to strike Moammar Gadhafi’s entrenched forces – Sarkozy has been out in front. His American counterpart, on the other hand, has been “leading from behind,” in the oxymoronic phrase of an unnamed White House adviser.

This role reversal at the top of the western alliance is not particularly sitting well on either side of the Atlantic. When U.S. forces are involved, Americans want to be in the lead. (Perhaps that explains why an ABC News/Washington Post poll reveals that Americans disapprove of President Barack Obama’s handling of the Libya crisis 49 to 42 per cent.) And when NATO is involved, Europeans want Washington to lead, albeit grudgingly sometimes.

Full Article

Parliament needs to discuss regime change in Libya

The NATO mission in Libya is now expressly about ending the 42-year rule of the dictator Moammar Gadhafi. “He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go,” the G8, whose members overlap with NATO’s, declared on Friday at meetings in France. That is not, explicitly, the mission that was authorized by the United Nations and supported unanimously in the House of Commons in March. That mission was about using “all necessary measures” to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone. Stephen Harper, when he raises the extension in Parliament, should explain that leap – why it happened, what it means for Canada’s commitment in lives and equipment, and how long this country may be asked to stay.

Mr. Harper was right to support the Libyan war as a moral imperative. “One either believes in freedom, or one just says one believes in freedom.” And there is no question that intervention was needed to save thousands of civilians potentially at risk from forces that support Colonel Gadhafi. But such terms as Mr. Harper used tend to provide a blank cheque for war. There may be good reasons to support the war’s extension into the realm of regime change, but Canadians need the case made to them, and they should ask questions at every step.

Why, for instance, Libya’s freedom, and not another’s? Why not Yemen, why not Syria, why not Zimbabwe? What is the strategic purpose for being in Libya for what may be a long haul? Col. Gadhafi is a brutal dictator, but he is not the only one.

What are the conditions on the ground – in threats to civilians – that demand not merely maintenance of air strikes on obvious military targets but regime change? Is regime change essential for the protection of civilians?

Full Article

Harper Opens Conservative Caucus After Winning Majority

CBC -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his Conservative party will work to keep earning the trust of Canadians and will listen and adapt as it governs with its new majority mandate.

Harper made the comments as he opened the national Conservative caucus for the first time Wednesday since winning his first majority government on May 2 by introducing all of his new MPs.

Harper received a standing ovation as he approached the front of the room, then called all of the new MPs up to the podium one-by-one, shook hands with them and posed for photos.

"These outstanding Canadians now joining our ranks helped us win our third mandate, our strongest mandate, a majority mandate for Canada," Harper said when he had finished the introductions. "I don't really get tired of using that word," he added, referring to his majority mandate.

He said winning a majority government with so many new MPs is a sign the Conservative party has become a home for Canadians from all regions and backgrounds and that "Conservative values are Canadian values."

"The Conservative party is Canada's party," Harper said.

Full Article

At last holding majority reins, Harper stresses humility and service

There were standing ovations all around Wednesday, a lot of hooting and hollering and some well-deserved gloating – tempered, of course, with humility.

Welcome to Conservative caucus, majority style.

It was the first national Tory caucus since the May 2 election. And the first order of business for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who received the first of many standing ovations when he walked into the Centre Block’s Reading Room, was to introduce all of his new MPs. There are 166 in total now, up from 143 in the last Parliament.

Full Article

‘Patchwork’ climate policies

The federal government and the provinces have developed a hodgepodge of strategies for cutting carbon emissions that do not mesh with each other and are ultimately an inefficient way to tackle climate change, says a new report by the Conference Board of Canada.

The report, released Wednesday, says despite “a patchwork” of unco-ordinated federal and provincial initiatives, Canada’s output of greenhouse-gas emissions has stabilized and begun to decline since 2005. But the strong downward trend that is needed to mitigate global warming and to meet the targets that have been set for 2020 has yet to emerge, the report says.

Full Article

4 reasons MPs pensions are so sweet

The federal election results were barely in before the Canadian Taxpayers Federation began calling for an end to lavish severance payments and pensions payable to retiring and defeated MPs.

To understand what the fuss is about, I asked pension consultant and financial planner Marilyn Lurz (Lynmar Associates) to help me with numbers. Here’s what I learned:

- Defeated MPs get a severance package equal to $78,886 (half of an MPs starting salary of $157,731).
    - Any MP for six years or longer who was defeated or did not run in the most recent election is entitled an unreduced pension at age 55 of 3 percent of the average of their highest five years of salary times total years of service.
      - The pension is indexed by after retirement.
        - MPs contribute about one dollar for every four dollars funded by the government.

          That means that an MP with an average salary of $150,000 and six years of service will get a pension of $27,000 at age 55,  increasing by 3.3 percent a year after retirement. However, Income Tax rules provide that the rest of us cannot receive a pension equal to more than 2 per cent of final average earnings per years of service. In addition, that pension must be reduced by 3 per cent a year from age 55 to 60 unless age plus service equals 80 (i.e. age 55 + 25 years of service).

          Therefore, if you or I had final average earnings of $150,000 and six years of service when we  left a public or private sector organization with a pension plan, the most we could receive is a pension of $15,300 at age 55 ($18,000 reduced by three per cent a year from age 55 to 60). Furthermore, not all public sector and few private sector defined benefit pension plans are indexed.

          Full Article

          Government can’t balance books by 2014

          OTTAWA—Just days before the Conservatives reintroduce the 2011 budget, the parliamentary watchdog says Canada’s economy will grow at a weaker pace and unemployment will remain higher than predicted by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

          Kevin Page, the independent budget officer, also says in a new report that the chances that Ottawa can balance its books by 2014, as promised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the election campaign, are very slim.

          The Conservatives, who are running a $30-billion deficit this year, said in the March 22 budget that they could erase the deficit by 2015. But Harper pledged during the campaign to wipe it out a year earlier.

          Given current economic conditions and government budget plans, this is not likely to happen, Page says.

          “The likelihood of realizing budgetary balance or better in 2014-15 is approximately 20 per cent and approximately 35 per cent in 2015-16,” he said in Wednesday’s study.

          The parliamentary budget office forecasts annual budget deficits between now and 2015 totalling $128 billion, significantly higher than the cumulative deficits of $93 billion for the same period predicted by Flaherty in the March 22 budget.

          Full Article

          Canada Post Meets With Union To Avoid Strike

          CBC The president of Canada Post is meeting with his counterpart at the union representing postal workers in a bid to avert a possible strike.

          Deepak Chopra, president and CEO of Canada Post and Canadian Union of Postal Workers president Denis Lemelin are meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday to find common ground to try to reach a deal and avoid a disruption of mail service.

          Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said she is pleased at the development.

          "The parties are still meeting and the best possible outcome is for them to come to their own deal," she said from Ottawa. "They're at the table now. We want them to get a deal. That's mainly the focus."

          Raitt declined to answer a reporter's question about legislating postal workers back to work.

          The two sides have been in contract talks for more than seven months. The union rejected Canada Post's final offer and tabled its own counter-offer on Monday.

          Full Article

          Key Tory Policies Lack Majority Support, Poll Finds

          CBC -- A majority of Canadians don't support corporate tax cuts and are opposed to buying the F-35 fighter jets, two major pieces of the Conservative government's plan for the country, a new poll suggests.

          In a new poll conducted for CBC News following the May 2 federal election, 53 per cent of people surveyed said they were opposed to dropping the corporate tax rate from 16.5 per cent to 15 per cent. About two-fifths — 39 per cent — agreed with the cut and eight per cent weren't sure.

          Just more than half — 52 per cent — said Canada should not go ahead with the purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets, while 37 per cent polled said the government should buy the planes. Twelve per cent said they didn't know.

          Environics polled 2,000 people by phone from May 12 to 22, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.


          Christie Lands In Bergen County In State Police Helicopter For Son's Baseball Game

          Governor Christie landed in Bergen County in a state police helicopter late Tuesday afternoon to attend his son's baseball game against St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale.

          Christie arrived shortly before 4 p.m. to watch his son Andrew play baseball for Delbarton School. He was driven from the helicopter about 100 yards to the field in a black car with tinted windows.

          Responding to a question from Patch about the use of the helicopter to attend the game, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said, "It is a means of transportation that is occasionally used as the schedule demands. This has historically been the case in prior administrations as well, and we continue to be judicious in limiting its use."

          Full Article

          Geithner and Goldman, Thick as Thieves

          What was Timothy Geithner thinking back in 2008 when, as president of the New York Fed, he decided to give Goldman Sachs a $30 billion interest-free loan as part of an $80 billion secret float to favored banks? The sordid details of that program were finally made public this week in response to a court-ordered Freedom of Information Act release, thanks to a Bloomberg News lawsuit. Sorry, my bad: It wasn't an interest-free loan; make that .01 percent that Goldman paid to borrow taxpayer money when ordinary folks who missed a few credit card payments in order to finance their mortgages were being slapped with interest rates of more than 25 percent.

          One wonders if Barack Obama was fully aware of Geithner's deceitful performance at the New York Fed when he appointed him treasury secretary in the incoming administration. The president was probably ignorant of this particular giveaway, as were key members of Congress. "I wasn't aware of this program until now," Barney Frank, D-Mass., who at the time chaired the House Financial Services Committee, admitted in referring to Geithner's "single-tranche open-market operations" program. And there was no language in the Dodd-Frank law supposedly reining in the banks that compelled the Fed to reveal the existence of this program.

          Full Article

          Former Honduran Minister: U.S. Undoubtedly Played Central Role in Zelaya Coup

          After masked soldiers kidnapped the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009, and flew him to a U.S. military base in Honduras and then onto Costa Rica, hundreds of Hondurans, fearing for their lives, went into exile. Zelaya’s former minister of culture, Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, was one of them. After he fled Honduras, Fasquelle joined Harvard University as a visiting professor where he taught courses on Latin American history. Now back in Honduras, Fasquelle says he is certain the United States helped engineer the coup. Democracy Now! spoke to him in Tegucigalpa over the weekend while reporting on the return trip of Zelaya to Honduras


          Will Clarence Thomas Recuse Himself on Health Care Reform?

          Following a time-honored Washington tradition of dumping required but embarrassing information on a Friday night before a major holiday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finally released the details of his wife's income from her year or so working for the tea party group Liberty Central, which fought President Obama's health care reform law. His new financial disclosure form indicates that his wife, Virginia, who served as Liberty Central's president and CEO, received $150,000 in salary from the group and less than $15,000 in payments from an anti-health care lobbying firm she started.

          The disclosure was apparently prompted in part by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who had been needling Thomas (including on Twitter) for months to disclose how much money his wife earned from Liberty Central. That's because challenges to Obama's health care reform law are likely to end up before the Supreme Court sooner rather than later, and if Thomas and his wife benefited from her income working against the bill, the justice has an enormous conflict of interest in hearing any legal challenge. Thomas had failed to disclose Virginia's income on his financial disclosure forms for 20 years; under pressure from Weiner and others, he had recently amended old disclosures to reflect hundreds of thousands of dollars she had earned working for the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that also opposed Obama's health care plan.

          Full Article

          Citizens United: The Shareholders Strike Back

          The battle against the effects of the Supreme Court's game-changing Citizens United decision, the ruling that ripped down the wall between corporations and American elections, is gathering steam among an unlikely group: investors. With Congress unable to pass new legislation and the Obama administration so far unwilling to fix the dysfunctional Federal Election Commission, it's corporate shareholders who are increasingly on the front lines of the effort to foist accountability on the new Wild West of political spending.

          On Thursday, the shareholders of Home Depot, the country's largest home-improvement store, will have their own chance to chip away at Citizens United when they vote on a strongly worded resolution urging the company to disclose all political campaign spending—past and projected, to candidates and third-party outfits—to elect or defeat candidates running for office. The resolution would give shareholders the chance to vote for or against Home Depot's campaign contributions and make the firm's top brass study whether the company's political spending would damage Home Depot's value and image. "The shareholders are the owners of the company," says Julie Goodridge, CEO of NorthStar Asset Management of Boston, a socially active investment firm that introduced the measure. "They need to be voting on these kinds of contributions." (A Home Depot spokesman referred Mother Jones to the company's response to NorthStar's resolution, which the company opposes, saying it already provides ample disclosure of its political spending and doesn't believe the resolution "would provide shareholders with any more meaningful information.")

          Full Article

          Does Michele Bachmann Think the Apocalypse is Imminent?

          Almost immediately after President Obama's recent Middle East address, in which he reaffirmed his administration's commitment to a two-state solution in Israel, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R–Minn.) sprang into action. Blasting the president's "shocking display of betrayal towards our ally," the tea party icon attacked the speech (which did not actually represent a policy shift) in robocalls and online ads that appeared the key primary states of Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire.

          Bachmann's support for Israel isn't simply an embrace of an ally in a historically volatile region; it's rooted in biblical prophecy. As Bachmann explained in a 2010 speech, she believes that if the United States turns its back on Israel, "a curse" will be placed on the land. As proof, she cited Genesis 12:3, in which God says to Abraham, "The one who curses you I will curse." It was an uncommonly explicit blurring of policy and theology from a prominent politician—but for Bachmann, who's expected to formally enter the presidential race in the coming weeks, it was hardly an isolated incident.

          Full Article

          Supreme Court: Ashcroft Immune from Wrongful Imprisonment Suit

          The Supreme Court has ruled former Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot be personally sued for the wrongful detention of an innocent Muslim-American man. Abdullah al-Kidd sued Ashcroft after being jailed for 15 nights under the federal material witness statute before being released without charge. A federal appeals court had ruled Ashcroft circumvented the Constitution after the 9/11 attacks to hold al-Kidd and other innocent men without charge. But on Tuesday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled Aschroft is free of liability. Despite rejecting Kidd’s suit, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote it remains "unresolved whether [Aschroft’s] use of the material witness statute was lawful."


          The Militarization of Canada's Universities

          From simulation programs to unmanned drones, Canada's schools have joined the fight.

          Fifty years ago, in his farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned the American public against the “unwarranted influence” of industry and military interests on academic institutions. A close look at this influence within the context of Canadian universities suggests he had good cause to worry.

          The influence of what Eisenhower termed the “military industrial complex” within the university sphere has been facilitated by a number of radical changes in post-secondary research and funding paradigms. Over the past four decades, a shift away from numbers-based funding toward “performance”-based indicators has effectively minimized the importance of enrolment, retention, and graduation rates while maximizing the importance of job placement data, faculty productivity, and external funding for research.

          External (corporate) funding for research has assumed a central role in the university funding paradigm with the rise of proprietary research, accompanying sales and revenues generated through royalties, and a growing emphasis on public-private research partnerships. A significant portion of federal funding to Canadian universities now flows through “matching funds” projects where industry and government share financial investment.

          The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Networks of Centres of Excellence both participate in “matching funds” projects, favouring research that has direct applications in private industry. It is within this context that the influence of the military has become so pervasive in universities across the country.

          This influence has myriad manifestations, as does the involvement of Canadian professors and students who are involved in military-related research. Social and political scientists contribute to the perpetuation of militarist ideology through academic publications, media interviews, and social events funded by the Department of National Defence (DND).

          Professors and students of science and engineering departments contribute to the development of military weapons technology through research partnerships and funding from DND, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), NSERC, the National Research Council, the Intelligent Sensing for Innovative Structures, Canada Research Network, and various corporations. Some branches of the United States military, including the Defence Threat Reduction Agency, also provide funding to Canadian universities.

          Full Article