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.]

Monday, August 15, 2011

RCMP halts probe into Tory aide who blocked access-to-information request

The Mounties have dropped their preliminary probe of a former Tory aide who was cited for political interference in an access-to-information request.

An RCMP spokeswoman said Monday there will be no further investigation into Sebastien Togneri, who ordered an internal Public Works document withheld after it was ready to be sent to The Canadian Press.

“It was determined that a criminal investigation into this matter was unwarranted,” said Constable Suzanne Lefort. She declined to comment further on the decision by the force's “A” Division, which launched the initial inquiry in March.

Canada's Information Commissioner ruled earlier this year that Mr. Togneri clearly interfered with the Access to Information Act request when he had no legal authority to do so.

Navy, air force to get back old ‘royal’ names

OTTAWA—Canada’s navy and air force are getting new retro names four decades after Ottawa controversially melded the army, navy and air force under a single command and stripped the services of their colonial heritage.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay will announce on Tuesday that the country’s pilots and sailors will once again be identified as “Royal” — as in the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy.

Officials say that it won’t cost much to go back to the names the two organizations held since their inception. There may be new badges and redesigned letterhead, but the Conservative government’s decision goes a long way toward righting an historical grievance.

“What it does is essentially provides a tangible link to the history of the air force, which, after all goes back to 1921,” said retired Lt. Gen. Angus Watt, a former chief of the air staff. “It’s a name under which we fought in World War II, a name in which a lot of people take great pride.”

NDP accuse Clement of using G8 cash as 'slush fund'

The NDP accused Treasury Board President Tony Clement Monday of using the G8 legacy project cash as an "elaborate slush fund" and deliberately trying to avoid scrutiny from the auditor general.

The party's ethics critic, Charlie Angus, held a news conference in Ottawa where he said the NDP obtained documents that show the $50-million fund was able to avoid normal checks and balances because of how Clement set it up.

"In fact, it appears that this slush fund was set up in such a way that it kept both the Canadian public and the auditor general in the dark," said Angus.

The G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund allowed Huntsville, Ont., where the G8 meeting was held in June 2010, and neighbouring towns in the Muskoka region to access federal funding for new and improved infrastructure. Signage, lighting, streetscaping, benches, community centre renovations, improved roads and parks, public washrooms and gazebos were among the 32 projects chosen.

Another day, another Tory attack on Nycole Turmel

Here we go again. The attack ads haven’t aired (yet?) but the attacks have begun. As the Conservatives did to former Official Opposition leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, so they are doing to Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel.

In a missive to the party faithful, Stephen Harper’s strategists try to demonize Ms. Turmel for a speech she made last week to the Public Service Alliance of Canada – the union Ms. Turmel used to lead.

“In her first address to PSAC since the election, Turmel told the union that as a PSAC ‘member for life’ the union is ‘her family,’ adding that ‘it’s like coming home’,” the memo says, citing Ottawa’s Le Droit newspaper.

The Tories are banking on the fact that in this economic climate, cozying up to the unions is not a popular move. “Caring more about union bosses than about jobs and the economy is yet another worrying example that the NDP is not up to governing Canada,” they say.

Tony Clement kept auditor in dark on G8 spending, municipal files sugges

The Auditor-General’s office will not re-open the G8 Legacy Fund file – even though the NDP says new documents it obtained from municipalities reveal evidence of a cover-up designed to keep federal auditors in the dark.

The documents show federal public servants were in the room with Conservative minister Tony Clement as he laid out how his constituents could qualify for millions in G8 funding. The attendance lists, minutes and other documents appear to be directly at odds with the Auditor-General’s finding in June that “no public servants were involved in the selection of projects” and that no documents existed.

The NDP released the documents at a news conference in Ottawa Monday morning. In response to a question from The Globe and Mail, the Auditor General’s office released a statement in an email Monday afternoon.

Investigation Finds U.S. Drones Strike Pakistan Every Four Days, Killing 775 Civilians Since 2004

A new report from a team of British and Pakistani journalists finds one U.S. drone strike occurs every four days in Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed as many as 775 civilians, including 168 children, since 2004. The report also challenges a recent claim by President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, that no civilians have been killed in the drone attacks for nearly a year. According to the Bureau’s researchers, at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 U.S. attacks during the last year. We speak with Chris Woods, an award-winning reporter who leads the drones investigation team for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London.

Source:  Democracy Now! 

Bachmann’s Iowa Straw Poll Win Signals Early Tea Party Role in Shaping GOP Primary

The race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination heated up this weekend as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll and Texas Gov. Rick Perry formally announced his candidacy. Bachmann led the Iowa contest with more than 4,800 votes out of almost 17,000 votes cast, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul placed a close second. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty placed a distant third, and on Sunday he announced he was leaving the presidential race. We speak with Sarah Posner, senior editor of Religion Dispatches, who spent the weekend covering the poll in Iowa for The Nation magazine. "Bachmann is, much more than the rest of them, going to use the language, the sort of rhetoric and ideology that she learned at Oral Roberts [University] to meld the fiscal conservatism, small government message with her religious message," Posner says.

Source: Democracy Now! 

North Carolina Eugenics Board Victims Fight For Justice

WINFALL, N.C. -- Elaine Riddick's small frame heaves, her rapid, shallow breaths whistling in her throat as she forces the words out between her sobs.

"So what am I worth?" she asks the five people seated at the long table before her. "The kids that I did not have, COULD not have. What are THEY worth?"

"Priceless," Tony Riddick whispers as he gently rubs his mother's back.

Elaine Riddick has been asking these same questions, in one forum or another, for the past 40 years. This most recent appearance in late June was before the Governor's Task Force to Determine the Method of Compensation for Victims of North Carolina's Eugenics Board.

As far as Riddick is concerned, she tells the panel, she was raped twice. Once by the man who fathered her son, and again by the Eugenics Board of the State of North Carolina, which deemed her, at age 14, unfit to procreate.

The Lost Children

In the summer of 1995, an Iranian man named Majid Yourdkhani allowed a friend to photocopy pages from “The Satanic Verses,” the Salman Rushdie novel, at the small print shop that he owned in Tehran. Government agents arrested the friend and came looking for Majid, who secretly crossed the border to Turkey and then flew to Canada. In his haste, Majid was forced to leave behind his wife, Masomeh; for months afterward, Iranian government agents phoned her and said things like “If you aren’t divorcing him, then you are supporting him, and we will therefore arrest you and torture you.” That October, Masomeh also escaped from Iran and joined Majid in Toronto, where they lived for ten years. Majid worked in a pizza place, Masomeh in a coffee shop. She dressed and acted the way she liked—she is blond and pretty and partial to bright clothes and makeup, which she could never wear in public in Iran—and for a long time the Yourdkhanis felt they were safe from politics and the past. Their son, Kevin, was born in Toronto, in 1997, a Canadian citizen. He grew into a happy, affectionate kid, tall and sturdy with a shock of dark hair. He liked math and social studies, developed asthma but dealt with it, and shared with his mom a taste for goofy comedies, such as the “Mr. Bean” movies. In December, 2005, however, the Yourdkhanis learned that the Canadian government had denied their application for political asylum, and Majid, Masomeh, and Kevin were deported to Iran.

Jailing Undocumented Immigrants Is Big Business

LOS ANGELES -- At dawn on July 19, nearly 40 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Immigration (HSI) agents burst into the home home of Carmen Bonilla, 44. The agents were searching for "Robert" an alleged drug dealer, but ended up terrifying Bonilla and her son Michael, 16, daughter Josefina, 23, daughter-in-law Leticia, 28, and two of her granddaughters.

According to Jessica Dominguez, the family's lawyer, and Jorge Mario Cabrera, spokesperson of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the family was subjected to "different levels of physical and verbal abuse," including screaming, "kicking, beating and aggression." Their treatment was documented last week by HuffPost LatinoVoices' Jorge Luis Macías.

What happened to the Bonillas has happened to thousands of immigrant families. Immigration authorities -- both local police and federal ICE agents -- have embarked on a program to seek out "criminal illegal aliens" and, whether they find them or not, have often rounded up entire families for deportation.

Horror Stories From Tough-Love Teen Homes

One day last November, a group of teenage girls dressed in long khaki skirts and modest blouses stepped onto the stage at an Independent Fundamental Baptist church in Maryland where Jeannie Marie (a military spouse who asked that her last name not be used) attended services with her family. The young women, visitors from a Missouri girls' home called New Beginnings Ministries, sang old-time hymns, recited Scripture, and gave tearful testimonies about their journeys out of lives of sin. Headmaster Bill McNamara spoke, too, depicting the home as a place where girls could get on track academically, restore broken relationships, and learn to walk with God.

Michele Bachmann: Crazy Like a Fox

There's a story Michele Bachmann likes to tell when she speaks to religious audiences. It arrives about three-quarters through her stump speech, after the warning to opponents that she is "one tough cookie" and the crowd-pleasing pledge to make Barack Obama a—say it together—"One. Term. President."

As Bachmann tells it, America's national sovereignty is slipping away, and the sanctity of the family is being overrun by an encroaching nanny state. But we can find hope in the story of the Israelites, who, after drifting from their faith and coming under siege in their own land, shunned their false idolatry and pushed back the invaders with God's help: "The men of Issachar understood the times that they lived in, and they knew what to do," she says, referring to one of the 12 tribes of Israel. "They had the courage to carry it out." Although Bachmann doesn't note this, it's the only episode in the Bible in which men are led into battle by a woman, Deborah.

How the Koch Brothers Funded Public School Segregation

At first glance, the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers and the Wake County (NC) school board couldn't be more disparate. Charles and David Koch, the brains behind the massive Koch Industries conglomerate and the funders of so many right-wing political causes, are national figures, credited with (or accused of, depending on your political persuasion) launching the tea party movement and waging war on the Obama administration and its agenda. The Wake County public school board is, well, just that.

In reality, there are deep connections between the Kochs and Wake County, and it's all about the money. The latest installment in the left-leaning Brave New Foundation's "Koch Brothers Exposed" video series reveals how a Koch-founded and -funded outfit, Americans for Prosperity, fueled a campaign to "re-segregate" the schools of Wake County, a prosperous area in North Carolina that's home to the cities of Raleigh and Wake Forest, among others.

Crime decreasing but feds won't change 'all stick, no carrot' law and order bill

Controversy over the accuracy of Statistics Canada's national crime rate, which fell again this year to its lowest since 1973, has entered the debate about the Conservatives' upcoming omnibus crime bill, but opposition critics aren't hopeful the numbers will spark any change to the laws.

NDP MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont), his party's justice critic, said that while StatsCan's crime statistics regime is not perfect, it's still the best in the world.

"It's not perfect: we've got small police forces who don't feed in all the information they should be; we've got busy police forces in metropolitan areas that sometimes slip up and reports don't come in," he explained.

Some 687 jobs at PWGSC on chopping block

Attrition won't help many of the 687 employees at Public Works who were told in June that their jobs will be cut over the next three years, says Claude Poirier, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees.

Mr. Poirier said that he is in "almost daily" contact with union representatives at Public Works, and judging by the information he's seen on the affected workers, most of their jobs will not be eliminated because public servants are leaving of their own will.

In total, 300 employees will be laid off this year across Public Works.

Concordia's 'culture of contempt'

In June of this year, a report was released on governance at Concordia University. The 39-page report was written by the External Governance Review Committee, a three-person committee chaired by none other than Bernard J. Shapiro (Canada's first ethics commissioner).

The report paints a picture of a rogue Board of Governors that ignored its own rules, undermined its president, and micro-managed the operations of the university. I find the report makes for interesting reading and makes some sensible recommendations. Yet, I'm a bit surprised that the report doesn't recommend that any board members be reprimanded.

Is Canada Fuelling HIV-stigma?

Why criminalizing HIV-exposure discourages disclosure and does little to protect the public.

Last week, Edmonton police took the unprecedented step of issuing a “wanted” notice with the name and photograph of a teenage girl who they alleged is HIV-positive and had unprotected sex with two men without disclosing her status. Two days after issuing the notice, and following tips from the public, police arrested her. Denied bail, she remains in custody facing at least two charges of aggravated sexual assault. Her identity and the allegations made are forever in the public domain, despite the basic principle (as outlined in the Youth Criminal Justice Act) that such information should be protected in the case of young people accused of crimes.

This sensational case has further cemented Canada’s status as a world leader in resorting to prosecutions for alleged HIV exposure, with approximately 130 such cases to date. But the police action and this prosecution have done nothing to truly protect public health. Like others before it, this sad case invites consideration of the bigger societal questions at stake – and whether the criminal-justice system is really the best way to deal with the public-health challenge of HIV in Canada.

A Predictable Famine

The current food crisis in the Horn of Africa is a result of the problematic development model promoted by the World Bank.

Once again, the lives of millions of East Africans are threatened by famine. According to the United Nations, at the end of July 2011, some 12 million people across five countries in the Horn of Africa were in need of emergency assistance. While relief organizations and UN agencies are urging donors to provide the funding necessary to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance, some observers are asking whether this food crisis was, in fact, predictable. This food crisis was not just predictable; it was the direct result of certain misguided development policies that have ravaged indigenous, agropastoralist populations throughout East Africa.

Looking back over the last decade, we can identify certain factors that contributed to previous crises but have so far gone unaddressed. This region experienced severe food crises that required massive international interventions in 2002, 2006, and 2008. Each time, the bulk of the people in need were small-farm farmers and, above all, agropastoralists and pastoralists living in the dry lands of the Horn.

Kelly McParland: Are Americans ready for the shock treatment of President Perry?

Texas has one of the worst education records in the U.S., vying with Mississippi for fewest high school graduates among the 50 states. It has the fewest people with health insurance, one of the lowest literacy rates, an 8.2 percent unemployment rate and 17% of its population lives below the poverty line. But Governor Rick Perry is popular enough with voters that he announced Saturday he will give Americans another chance to put a conservative Texas  governor in the White House.

Perry’s arrival, though hardly a surprise, came with the requisite great expectations.  Tea partyists are delighted that two of the three favourite candidates — Perry and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann — hail from the heart of the GOP’s most conservative ranks.  Perry has never lost an election, has been in office more than 10 years and leads a state that has produced 40% or more of the country’s jobs since June 2009. Take that, snivelling liberals.

Stop coddling the super-rich: Buffett

Billionaire Warren Buffett urged lawmakers to raise taxes on the country’s super-rich to help cut the budget deficit, saying such a move will not hurt investments.

“My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice,” The 80-year-old “Oracle of Omaha” wrote in an opinion article in The New York Times.

Buffett, one of the world’s richest men and chairman of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc , said his federal tax bill last year was US$6,938,744.

“That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4% of my taxable income – and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33% to 41% and averaged 36%,” he said.

Is it bad for cities to be in debt? Not necessarily

With all the talk of government debt recently — Toronto, $4.7 billion; Ontario, $240 billion; the U.S., $14.6 trillion — the spectacular figures and the concept of debt itself have become so abstract many people don’t even understand the conversation.

Sure, costs might have to be cut at some point, but what does it really mean when a city carries debt? When is debt good or bad, who holds the debt, how does debt affect a city’s credit rating, and what happens if there’s a default?

The Star spoke with Dr. Enid Slack, director of the University of Toronto’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance, Ryerson urban planning professor and municipal finance expert David Amborski and senior staff in the City of Toronto’s finance department to answer the ABC’s of how municipal debt works.

Defence growth happened far from front lines, analysis shows

OTTAWA—Canada’s defence department bulked up during war — but not where you think.

Since 2004 — as the country’s mission in Afghanistan was ramping up — the defence department began swelling up, according to a Star analysis. But the dramatic growth happened far from the front lines with more civilians, more contractors and a ballooning headquarters staff.

Military experts say the numbers tell the tale of a bureaucracy run amok, even as the uniform ranks — especially the navy — remain stretched for manpower.

And it comes at a time when a radical plan to transform the defence department has been put in the hands of Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Gen. Walt Natynczyk.

Clement steered G8 funding in riding, documents show

OTTAWA—Tony Clement personally presided over the $50 million G8 legacy payouts, funneling requests for taxpayer-funded projects in his riding directly through his political office in Huntsville, new documents show.

NDP MP Charlie Angus says the use of Clement’s local office was done deliberately to skirt scrutiny and keep watchdogs like the auditor general in the dark.

“We’re looking at a slush fund that was very carefully constructed to remove all the checks and balances and basically put $50 million in the hands of a politician who dispensed that money out of his constituency office,” Angus said in an interview.

“It is clear that a cover-up happened. And it’s also very clear that they used Clement’s constituency office in order to ensure that a cover-up was possible,” said Angus (Timmins—James Bay).