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, August 04, 2011

Wanted: Israeli leaders who understand the people

The country is run by non-Israelis who have reformed public transportation, when they haven't traveled by bus for years, they're discussing the housing shortage, when most of them live in luxury apartments.

The State of Israel is run by non-Israelis. Our political and economic leaders - and to some extent our defense leaders - are mostly people unfamiliar with the Israeli experience and the Israeli lifestyle. They are cut off. As the protest grows, we should pay attention to that. The protesters' demands are falling on deaf ears, one reason being that many decision makers have no idea what they're talking about.

They've reformed public transportation, when they haven't traveled by bus for years, and they're discussing the housing shortage, when most of them have been living in luxury apartments for years. The health system's problems are also foreign to them. When was the last time their hospital bed or that of a loved one was put in the corridor? They've read about cottage cheese prices in the newspaper, and they've heard about gasoline prices over the radio. But when was the last time they visited a supermarket, except during an election campaign?          

Christine Lagarde Investigation? French Court Orders Probe Of IMF Chief

PARIS -- A French court on Thursday ordered an investigation into new IMF chief Christine Lagarde's role in a $400 million arbitration deal in favor of a controversial tycoon.

Investigators will open an inquiry this week into possible charges of "complicity to embezzlement of public funds" and "complicity to forgery," prosecutors said.

Lagarde was France's finance minister when magnate Bernard Tapie won a 2008 settlement with a French state-owned bank over the mishandled sale of sportswear maker Adidas in the 1990s. Critics viewed the settlement as an overly generous chunk of taxpayer money handed to a brash businessman.

Secret Corporate Money Powers Pro-Romney Super PAC

WASHINGTON -- A corporation that contributed $1 million to a political action committee supporting the presidential bid of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been dissolved just four months after being formed. The company's fold, and its relationship to the Romney campaign, marks the new contours of the continued breakdown in campaign finance disclosure in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

The company, W Spann LLC, donated to Restore Our Future PAC on April 28 and cancelled its certificate of incorporation on July 12, according to Delaware state records obtained by NBC's Michael Isikoff.

The company's records were signed and handled by Ropes & Gray lawyer Cameron Casey, a Boston-based expert in estate planning for "high-net-worth individuals and families," according to an official bio on the Ropes & Gray web site.

Bad Economics: Lack of Diversity Limits Clear View

Early last year, I spoke with a frequently quoted economist who exuded near-certainty that the American economy was on the verge of a dramatic expansion. He expressed this sentiment using the sort of metaphor that tends to delight practitioners of his trade, both for its simplicity and the implication that economics is no less a science than physics: The economy is like a rubber ball, he said. It had hit the ground hard on the way down, so it had to bounce back equally hard.

The economy is unfortunately not a rubber ball. I was then spending a lot of time on the road, chronicling the experiences of previously middle-class Americans who had slipped into poverty. They had lost jobs, houses, cars and retirement savings. Even those who were less affected were nursing considerable wounds. Many had lost hours at work or equity in their homes. Anxiety was widespread, making people inclined to hold on to their dollars -– an inclination that was itself reinforcing decline by depriving the economy of spending. Businesses were in no mood to hire, cognizant that their customers were hunkered down -– a major problem in an economy in which consumer spending makes up about 70 percent of all activity.

29,000 Somali Children Under 5 Dead In Famine

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Kaltum Mohamed sits beside a small mound of earth, alone with her thoughts. It is her child's grave – and there are three others like it.

Just three weeks ago, Mohamed was the mother of five young children. But the famine that has rocked Somalia has claimed the lives of four of them. Only a daughter remains. The others starved to death before Mohamed's eyes as she and her husband trekked to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, in search of aid.

Thousands of parents are grieving in Somalia and in refugee camps in neighboring countries amid Somalia's worst drought in 60 years.

The Hidden Casualty of the Debt Deal

Most of the endless rehashing of the debt deal has correctly focused on the fact that corporate interests and Tea Party politics have prevailed again, at the expense of the middle class, children in poverty, students and the elderly. But in understanding the long-term impact of this drawn-out debate, too little attention has been paid to the blow it has dealt to the foundational principles of our democracy.

A CNN poll conducted after the deal shows that a whopping 77 percent of Americans believe that elected officials acted like “spoiled children.” The yawning gap between the mindset of decision-makers in Washington and the daily reality of most Americans is a grave threat to what organizers call “little-d democracy.” This is about neither the Democratic Party nor the procedural machinery by which our nominally democratic government operates. “Little-d democracy” is the basic idea that ordinary Americans, regardless of rank or stature, can have a voice in shaping our own destiny.

When all is said and done, the process that created the deal may end up being as destructive as the deal’s effects. While the country watched helplessly, each new turn and every talking head in the seemingly endless saga demonstrated that ordinary people had no real part to play. Unless we employ an army of lobbyists or have a key to the Congressional washroom, it seemed there was no reconciling the debate on the Hill with the needs and desires of those most affected by the final deal.

Public sector austerity: Why is Canada leading the way?

The major economic problem faced by Canadians is a very slow recovery and weak job market, not government deficits or rising debt. But public spending cuts at the federal and provincial level will make the real problem even worse.

And, government spending cuts in Canada seem set to be even greater than in other advanced industrial countries, even though our overall deficit and debt situation is much better. (The data for this post are taken from the tables attached to the May 2011 OECD Economic Outlook.)

Notwithstanding the weak economy, the focus of the Conservative federal government and most, if not all, provincial governments, is on large spending cuts to quickly reduce deficits.

This is the case despite the fact that total Canadian government debt and deficits are low.

Are public libraries an essential service? Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says ‘no’—but he’s wrong

At 9:30 am on Thursday, July 27th, Toronto’s city council, and roughly two-hundred regular people, packed into a board room at city hall to “discuss” Toronto’s latest greatest angst-ridden cause célèbre: the proposal by Rob Ford to trim the city’s $774 million budget shortfall, via the “rationalization of Toronto’s public library footprint.” Which is to say, closing libraries.

Over the next 24 hours more than a hundred civilian deputations would be made, directed mainly at the mayor, who swiveled in his chair, downed the occasional Red Bull, and made not-so-comfortable eye contact with angry disputants. “Save the libraries” and “Shame” were among the more popular epithets slung at Ford, whose fiscal mission—to distinguish Toronto’s “need to haves” from its “nice to haves”— has clearly put neighbourhood libraries in the latter category. His Worship’s older brother Doug—also a city counselor—helpfully poured gasoline on the library fire, making an unlikely opponent of Canadian author and T.O. resident Margaret Atwood by asserting that a) there are more libraries than Tim Hortons outlets in his neighbourhood (there aren’t), and b) he doesn’t care what Atwood has to say about his erroneous assertions because he doesn’t really know who she is.

Fanning the Flames of Intolerance

In framing Nycole Turmel's affiliation with the Bloc as a scandal, The Globe revealed the dangerous nationalist underbelly of Canadian politics.

The cover story of Tuesday’s Globe and Mail was a non-story of the worst kind. Globe writer Daniel LeBlanc has reported that interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel was, for several years, a member of the Bloc Québécois.

Now, let’s be clear about two points before we deal with the meat of this issue. First, it is perfectly normal for Canadians, over the course of their lives, to vote for, support, and belong to more than one party. I might add that this is equally true of Canadian politicians, who often cross the floor and sit with a party they were loudly denouncing in the previous election. So, if Turmel has supported more than one party in recent years, it isn’t really a story at all.

Second, Quebec has its own culture, history, and politics, and that is an inescapable reality. Even strong federalists in Quebec can acknowledge the rationale for sovereignty, and many Quebecers have supported one side and then the other over the course of their lives. Moreover, in general, the political centre in Quebec is somewhat to the left of the rest of Canada, so that also has an effect on where Quebecers choose to place their political support.

Women Hurt Most By Debt Deal Cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Tuition

The debt ceiling agreement reached this week by the White House and Congress could deal a serious blow to women’s well-being according to leading women’s rights groups. The deal will potentially impose $1 trillion in cuts to programs that mostly serve and employ women — such as family planning clinics, food stamps, college tuition assistance and child care. The National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest feminist organization in the country, called on President Obama to "stand up to the conservatives and Tea Party activists" and resist balancing the federal budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in this country — namely women, and especially women of color. We speak with NOW President Terry O’Neill about the debt deal and how few women were involved in the negotiations. We also look at new federal guidelines requiring insurance companies to cover birth control with no co-pay, with some religious exemptions.

Source: Democracy Now! 

The case for a referendum on the Senate question

With the Senate reform bill on the table, the all-too-familiar debate on the relevance of the Senate sweeps this nation once again. Status quo, reform, or abolition; these are the same three options facing us Canadians.

If there is a need for a sober second thought on the Senate question, a nationwide referendum will fulfil that need. Enough of this unending back-and-forward between politicians and pundits on what we should do with the Senate. This important discussion needs to be brought to the people and what better way to do that than a nationwide referendum. Canadians ought to be given not only a chance to debate this issue but also a power to decide on it. There is no mistake on what the recent Angus Reid poll suggests: majority of Canadians approve of having a referendum. They want the power to decide whether or not Canada needs an unelected Senate that stands above their elected parliament.

Fiddling While Rome Burned

The 11th-hour compromise on raising the debt ceiling is hiding the real crisis: the poor state of the U.S. economy.

Phew. Republicans and Democrats managed, at the 11th hour, to compromise on a deal to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, and thereby avoid a default. Catastrophe has been averted.

But has it? The fine print reveals that the deal only postpones further, more fever-pitched debate. The next round of the boxing match will occur in November, just around the time of American Thanksgiving. And if agreement cannot be reached – well, the U.S. government might just have to shut down. Not a bad time of the year for such a “catastrophe” (indeed, the last time the U.S. government shut down was over Christmas, when not a lot seems to go on anyway).

Barbecue backlash and prayers for Jack

Literary icon Margaret Atwood’s attack on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford as being anti-culture and making his city unwelcome to artists is now provoking cries of outrage from the Harper Conservative bench.

A prominent federal Tory has jumped to the defence of the Toronto Mayor and his councillor brother, Doug, and is accusing Ms. Atwood of being blinded by her left-wing sensibilities.

“Her positions are reflective of her own ideology as opposed to anything reflected by Rob or Doug Ford,” says Dean Del Mastro, the Prime Minster’s parliamentary secretary and Peterborough MP. “She doesn’t like them (the Fords) because they are conservatives, period, not for anything that they have said or done.”

All cursors point to China in global hack attack that threatens nations

In the latest indication that cyber-espionage campaigns have become a major threat to the wealth and security of nations, a foreign entity has been exposed for trying to steal secrets from more than 70 organizations – including two Canadian government departments and the World Anti-Doping Agency in Montreal.

The snooping – described as one of the largest such series of attacks ever documented – was carried out over the past five years by a group that has yet to be identified. Suspicions, however, are again centring on China, given that the list of targets includes the United Nations, governments in the West and Southeast Asia, military-defence contractors, and international sports bodies that were hit around the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Budget axe shouldn’t spare police, fire services, city manager says

If Toronto councillors spare police and fire services from the budget axe, it will fall that much harder on libraries, social programs and other services dear to Torontonians’ hearts, says the city manager.

Joe Pennachetti made the remarks Wednesday in an interview about the city’s ongoing cross-department “efficiency review,” a follow-up to KPMG’s “core service” reports that caused an uproar by suggesting hundreds of millions of dollars in possible cuts.

The suggestions include closing libraries, eliminating subsidies for 2,000 daycare spaces, cancelling grants for student nutrition and AIDs education, shutting long-term-care homes, closing Riverdale Farm and eliminating a bureau that helps deliver Christmas presents to poor children.

700 Environment Canada jobs on the chopping block

OTTAWA—Meteorologists, scientists, chemists and engineers are among more than 700 Environment Canada employees on the chopping block as the department launches sweeping cuts to cope with federal belt-tightening.

The shakeup could be a taste of further cuts in other departments to come as the Conservative government reins in spending to eliminate a $32 billion deficit.

The cuts represent 11 per cent of the workforce at Environment Canada, calling into question the department’s ability to carry on its mandate, said Bill Pynn, national president of the Union of Environment Workers, which represents 476 of the affected workers.

“It’s massive,” Pynn said, saying he can’t recall cuts of a similar scale in Ottawa in the last two decades.

Another Ford loyalist speaks out against library cuts

Another councillor in Mayor Rob Ford’s inner circle is backing away from a proposal to close libraries.

When asked Wednesday if she would support library closures to save money, Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston) said “no, of course not” and that if anything, branches should be better utilized to host more city programs.

“I don’t think there’s a will on council to close libraries,” said Nunziata. “I think we have to make better use of what we have… these are great facilities for programming.”

First it was right-winger James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre). Then TTC chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence). Now Nunziata, who is the council speaker and one of Ford’s longest and most loyal supporters.

SIU probing man’s death after police tackled him

Charles McGillivary went for one of his frequent walks with his mother around 8:30 p.m. Monday, this time to buy a slice of pizza.

But before he got the chance, the 45-year-old collapsed and died while being arrested by police at the corner of Christie and Bloor Sts.

Eyewitness accounts report the police tackling and arresting McGillivary, though it’s unclear why they did so.