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 29, 2011

Laying Down the (Immigration) Law: Alabama vs. Arizona

Now that the Justice Department has battled the state of Alabama in court to block implementation of HB 56, the immigration bill that mirrors Arizona's controversial SB 1070 (PDF), it seems like as good a time as any to look at how the two measures, well, measure up. Which Republican-proposed legislation out-hypes, out-muscles, and out-bans the other?

Restrictions: Passed in April 2010, SB 1070 was the first in a series of tough state laws that sought to deal with illegal immigration in the absence of federal immigration reform. The bill's key components included making it a crime not to carry one's immigration documents and giving police wide-reaching power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally—both of which were blocked by federal Judge Susan Bolton just months after the legislation's passage. (SB 1070 also made it a state crime to be in the United States illegally.)

HB 56 was signed into law by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on June 9. Like SB 1070, it requires police to try to determine a suspect's immigration status during the course of a lawful "stop, detention, or arrest"—given a "reasonable suspicion" that the person is an immigrant. But that's just the beginning: The legislation also bans undocumented immigrants from receiving state or local public benefits; keeps them from enrolling in public colleges; bars them from applying for or soliticing work; outlaws harboring and transporting undocumented immigrants; forbids renting them property or "knowingly" employing them within Alabama; calls for a citizenship check during voter registration; requires all state businesses to use the federal E-Verify system when hiring; and, if that wasn't enough, asks officials at public K-12 schools to determine the immigration status of their students.

Ft. Hood Shooting: What's the Army Hiding?

Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army major accused of killing 13 and wounding 32 in the 2009 shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, is on his way to a court-martial that could sentence him to death. But in a break with military custom, the Army won't release the critical report that convinced authorities to indict Hasan for capital murder. It's a decision that has some reporters wondering what the service doesn't want them to see.

Sig Christenson, a military writer for the San Antonio Express-News who has covered the Hasan case from the start, says the Army is acting fishy. "Sometimes, the military as an institution fights harder to do as it pleases than it does to preserve your First Amendment rights," he writes. Christenson is an officer of Military Reporters and Editors, which supports journalists who cover defense affairs, and he's asked the group's attorney to provide a legal opinion on whether the Army's violating open-records rules. (Full disclosure: I am a MRE board member.) Other major media organizations are expected to sign on to a letter demanding the Army explain why it's keeping the report under wraps. "You cannot condition access to the courts," he states. It's not the first roadblock Army authorities have thrown in front of reporters covering the Hasan case: Journalists say that at one point, they were told not to ask prosecutors certain questions, or else they'd face expulsion from the court.

Who cares about libraries?

Canadians apparently. Far from being under siege (except in Toronto), they’re thriving—and experimenting.

To hear the uproar in Toronto, an avid book borrower might be forgiven for imagining that Canadian libraries are coming under financial siege. The administration of the city’s right-leaning, populist mayor, Rob Ford, is taking a hard look at closing branches of the Toronto Public Library to cut costs. That prospect has drawn fire from novelist Margaret Atwood and director Norman Jewison, and sparked petitions and angry public meetings. The debate will continue as the city’s budget deliberations stretch into the fall. News from abroad gives Toronto library enthusiasts ample reason to be worried—state and local spending squeezes have led to closures or curtailed hours in the U.S., and British libraries are also struggling.

Feds' approach to Northern economic development 'short sighted'

Stephen Harper's sixth annual Arctic tour is sending a clear message to Canadians that the next four years of majority government will be typified by widespread resource exploitation, and not environmental precautions, say critics.

Last Tuesday's stop at Meadowbank gold mine in Baker Lake, Nunavut, owned by Toronto-based Agnico-Eagle, provided the forum for the Prime Minister to nonchalantly brush aside concerns about environmental degradation in the name of unfettered mining operations and massive revenues amidst peaking global metal prices.

Speaking to local workers at the Meadowbank operation, Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.), in response to a media question, acknowledged the damaging effects of mining, saying, "Obviously, when you dig holes here, you create some environmental issues." He then defended resource exploitation by adding that those issues "can't stop development."

PM should convene first ministers meeting on health, say opposition critics

The federal government should begin negotiations on a post-2014 health care accord soon, say opposition critics. The calls come on the heels of a new Canadian Medical Association report calling for major system-wide changes, including a mix of public and private options, if the country is to avoid "throwing out everything we have" and adopting a "U.S. style model."

"We need a leader," said Liberal MP Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, B.C.), her party's health critic and a medical doctor.

She told The Hill Times last week that the federal government needs to start moving on a first ministers conference. "We need a prime minister that will sit down with first ministers and bring that top level of involvement that was seen in 2003, in 2004 and 2005."

Fords seek to revise waterfront plan that was years in the making

Waterfront Toronto is defending its plan for the port lands – which involved years of consultations – following the revelation that the Ford administration has a plan of its own, and is seeking to put control of the development solely in the hands of the city.

The existing plans for the 1,000-acre site, which received unanimous approval last year from the former city council, took years to hammer out, along with investment from three levels of government, said Marisa Piattelli, spokeswoman for Waterfront Toronto, the agency created by the federal, provincial and city governments to oversee revitalization of the eastern harbour and Lower Don Lands.
“We have had furious, rigorous and detailed public consultations – five years’ worth,” she said Monday. “There is an important integrity of that process that we all need to keep in mind.”

Members of Mayor Rob Ford’s inner circle, especially his brother, Etobicoke councillor Doug Ford, have made no secret of their desire to kick-start development on the city’s eastern waterfront, the former home of a generating station and industrial land. A staff report released late last week recommends that a city agency – the Toronto Port Lands Co.– take the lead on future revitalization of the area, a role filled by Waterfront Toronto since it was created in 2001.

Rick Perry: Social Security A 'Monstrous Lie'

(AP/The Huffington Post) -- During a stop in Iowa on Saturday Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry stood by his criticism of Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme." He said the entitlement program amounts to a "monstrous lie" for young Americans, the Houston Chronicle reports.

HuffPost's Elise Foley reported last week:
...Perry recently walked back his claims that Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme," but other Republicans have made similar statements in recent months, saying the entitlement program is a "scheme" to take money from the American people. Perry has previously taken a hard-line stance against Social Security. In his 2010 book, "Fed Up!" he suggested the program was unconstitutional, put in place "at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government." He also wrote that Social Security is "set up like an illegal Ponzi scheme."

Is Homeland Security spending paying off?

On the edge of the Nebraska sand hills is Lake McConaughy, a 22-mile-long reservoir that in summer becomes a magnet for Winnebagos, fishermen and kite sailors. But officials here in Keith County, population 8,370, imagined this scene: an Al Qaeda sleeper cell hitching explosives onto a ski boat and plowing into the dam at the head of the lake.

The federal Department of Homeland Security gave the county $42,000 to buy state-of-the-art dive gear, including full-face masks, underwater lights and radios, and a Zodiac boat with side-scan sonar capable of mapping wide areas of the lake floor.

Up on the lonely prairie, Cherry County, population 6,148, got thousands of federal dollars for cattle nose leads, halters and electric prods -- in case terrorists decided to mount biological warfare against cows.

Michele Bachmann Says She'd Consider Oil, Natural Gas Drilling In Everglades

(AP/The Huffington Post) SARASOTA, Fla. — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said Sunday that she would consider oil and natural gas drilling in the Everglades if it can be done without harming the environment.

Bachman said the United States needs to tap into all of its energy resources no matter where they exist if it can be done responsibly.

"The United States needs to be less dependent on foreign sources of energy and more dependent upon American resourcefulness. Whether that is in the Everglades, or whether that is in the eastern Gulf region, or whether that's in North Dakota, we need to go where the energy is," she said. "Of course it needs to be done responsibly. If we can't responsibly access energy in the Everglades then we shouldn't do it."

Demanding Respect for Nature

Our insatiable hunger for power and profit stems from a lack of respect.

I spent a week around July 1 in a cabin on one of Haida Gwaii’s remote islands. I was there to celebrate a birthday – not Canada’s, but my grandson’s, who turned two. And what a blessed time it was, hanging out with him without the distractions of email, phone calls, or television.

When I got involved with First Nations communities in remote areas, one of the first lessons I learned was about the importance of respect. Without respect for each other, we don’t listen, and we fail to learn. Instead, we try to engage in conversations set within the perspective of our values, beliefs, and ideas. It’s what led to the depredation of Europeans in the Americas, Africa, and Australia. It’s what led to catastrophic disasters when explorers failed to listen and learn from local people during expeditions to the Arctic, down the Nile, and into the Amazon.

But our respect should extend beyond our fellow humans, to all the green things that capture the sun’s energy and power the rest of life on Earth; to the birds, the fish, the rivers and oceans, the clouds and sky; to all the things that make this planet home and nurture our species.

Re-energizing Our National Objectives

Ignoring the risks, Canada's federal leaders are failing to set national objectives on energy and environment.

This is Part 3 of a four-part series that outlines the crisis of confidence in national governance and the urgent need for Canada to develop clear long-term national goals for which our federal government is directly accountable. Part 1 focused on Canada’s need to break out of election-cycle thinking. Part 2 discussed a new approach to the building and maintenance of our crumbling infrastructure. Part 3 proposes the development of a national environmental and energy strategy.

I have been writing, lately, about our political leaders’ debilitating short-term vision, and the absence of clear, over-the-horizon national goals for the country. In Part 2 of this series, I suggested ways to establish and achieve those goals, and restore confidence in the value of public action, in relation to renewing our national infrastructure. Here, I will address another area where Canada has lagged shockingly: the development of a sustainable national energy strategy.

Education must unleash creativity, not stifle it

My daughter was a happy camper this summer.

She spent her days dancing, rehearsing and performing in plays, productions and talent shows.

My daughter was in her element. Dancing has long been her creative outlet. She’s at her happiest when she’s on stage. It’s where she shines the brightest. Dancing fills my daughter with grace and brings a real joy to both her and her parents.

Yet watching my daughter’s Friday performances this summer left me frustrated on two counts.

In a few weeks, my daughter returns to school. She won’t spend any part of her days dancing. She’ll have to leave an important part of who she is at home. My daughter doesn’t dance at school because dancing falls on the bottom rung on the hierarchy of academic disciplines. It’s not tested so it’s not taught. Dancing doesn’t factor into the standardized testing that’s used to sort, rate, rank and process students. Her natural abilities aren’t being engaged or valued. And I’m bracing for the day when a teacher or guidance counsellor unwisely questions and challenges my daughter’s ambition to be a ballet instructor.

Full text of Stephen Lewis’s stirring eulogy for Jack Layton

Below is the eulogy delivered by NDP statesman Stephen Lewis during Jack Layton’s funeral:

Never in our collective lifetime have we seen such an outpouring, so much emotional intensity, from every corner of this country. There have been occasions, historically, when we’ve seen respect and admiration but never so much love, never such a shocked sense of personal loss.

Jack was so alive, so much fun, so engaged in daily life with so much gusto, so unpretentious, that it was hard while he lived to focus on how incredibly important that was to us, he was to us. Until he was so suddenly gone, cruelly gone, at the pinnacle of his career.

To hear so many Canadians speak so open-heartedly of love, to see young and old take chalk in hand to write without embarrassment of hope, or hang banners from overpasses to express their grief and loss. It’s astonishing.

Somehow Jack connected with Canadians in a way that vanquished the cynicism that erodes our political culture. He connected whether you knew him or didn’t know him, whether you were with him or against him.

Jack simply radiated an authenticity and honesty and a commitment to his ideals that we know realize we’ve been thirsting for. He was so civil, so open, so accessible that he made politics seem so natural and good as breathing. There was no guile. That’s why everybody who knew Jack recognized that the public man and the private man were synonymous.

But it obviously goes much deeper than that. Jack, I think, tapped into a yearning, sometimes ephemeral, rarely articulated, a yearning that politics be conducted in a different way, and from that difference would emerge a better Canada.

That difference was by no means an end to rancour, an end to the abusive, vituperative practice of the political arts. The difference was also, and critically, one of policy – a fundamentally different way of viewing the future of Canada.

His remarkable letter made it absolutely clear. This was a testament written in the very throes of death that set out what Jack wanted for his caucus, for his party, for young people, for all Canadians.

Inevitably, we fastened on those last memorable lines about hope, optimism and love. But the letter was, at its heart, a manifesto for social democracy. And if there was one word that might sum up Jack Layton’s unabashed social democratic message, it would be generosity. He wanted, in the simplest and most visceral terms, a more generous Canada.

His letter embodies that generosity. In his very last hours of life he wanted to give encouragement to others suffering from cancer. He wanted to share a larger, bolder, more decent vision of what Canada should be for all its inhabitants.

He talks of social justice, health care, pensions, no one left behind, seniors, children, climate change, equality and again that defining phrase, “a more inclusive and generous Canada.” All of that is entirely consistent with Jack’s lifelong convictions. In those early days of municipal politics in Toronto Jack took on gay and lesbian rights, HIV and AIDS, housing for the homeless, the white ribbon campaign to fight violence against women and consecrate gender equality once and for all.

And of course a succession of environmental innovations, bike lanes, wind power, the Toronto atmospheric fund – and now Michael, his progressive and talented son, as councillor can carry the torch forward.

And then came his tenure as president of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, where he showed that growing deftness of political touch in uniting municipalities of all sizes and geographic locations, winning their recognition of the preeminence of cities and the invaluable pillar of the public sector. Jack made the leap to federal politics look easy.

The same deeply held principles of social democracy that made him a superb politician at the city level, as I know, transferred brilliantly to federal politics. And also, from the many wonderful conversations we had together, I know led him to a formidable commitment to internationalism.

He was fearless in his positions once embraced. Thus, when he argued for negotiations with the Taliban to bring the carnage in Afghanistan to an end he was ridiculed but stood firm. And now it’s conventional wisdom. I move to recall that Jack came to the New Democratic Party at the time of the imposition of the War Measures Act, when tanks rolled into the streets of Montreal and civil liberties were shredded, and when the NDP’s brave opposition brought us to our nadir in public opinion.

But his convictions and his courage were intertwined – yet another reason for celebrating Jack and for understanding the pain and sadness with which his death has been received.

Above all – and his letter makes this palpably clear – Jack understood that we are headed into even more perilous economic times. He wanted Canadians to have a choice between what he described as the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and an economy that would embrace equity, fairness, balance and creative generosity.

This was the essence of the manifesto. That’s why he insists that we’re a great country, but we can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice and opportunity. These were not rhetorical concepts to Jack. They were the very core of his social democratic philosophy. He was prepared to do ideological battle, but as all things with Jack there was nothing impulsive or ill-considered.

He would listen as he always listened – he was a great listener – he would synthesize thoughtfully as he always did, and he would choose a political route that was dignified, pragmatic and principled. He was so proud of his caucus and what they would do to advance the agenda of social democracy.

He cultivated and mentored every member of that caucus, and as the country will see, that will speak volumes in the days ahead.

The victory in Quebec – and I will be followed by a eulogist in the francophone language – the victory in Quebec was an affirmation of Jack’s singular personal appeal, reinforced by Quebec’s support for progressive values shared by so many Canadians. And his powerful belief and trust in youth to forge the grand transformation to a better world is by now legendary. Indeed, the reference to youth spawns a digression.

From time to time, Jack and I would meet in the corridors of my foundation, where his supernaturally competent daughter Sarah works, and we would invariably speak of our grandchildren. You cannot imagine – I guess you saw it in the video – the radiating joy that glowed from Jack as he talked of Sarah’s daughter, his granddaughter Beatrice, and when he said as he often said that he wanted to create a better world for Beatrice and all the other Beatrices to inherit, you instantly knew of one of his strongest and most compelling motivations.

He was a lovely, lovely man. Filled with laughter and affection and commitment. He was also mischievous and musical, possessed of normal imperfections but deeply deserving of the love you have all shown. His indelible romance with Olivia was beautiful to behold, and it sustained them both.

When my wife and I met with the family a few hours after Jack died, Olivia said, as she said in the video, that we must look forward to see what we all can accomplish together.

I loved Jack’s goodness and his ideals in equal measure. Watching all of you react so genuinely to his death, the thousands upon thousands who lined up for hours to say a last goodbye in Ottawa and Toronto, it’s clear that everyone recognized how rare and precious his character was.

We’re all shaken by grief but I believe we’re slowly being steadied by a new resolve and I see that resolve in words written in chalk and in a fresh determination on people’s faces. A resolve to honour Jack by bringing the politics of respect for all, respect for the Earth and respect for principle and generosity back to life.

My wife Michele reminded me of a perfect quote from the celebrated Indian novelist, activist and feminist Arundhati Roy. Jack doubtless knew it. He might have seen it as a mantra. “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”

Thank you Jack.

Source: Globe&Mail