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, September 13, 2011

Ford cuts will devastate already struggling Toronto communities

Sarah Vance's daughter has been going to the Brock Early Learning Centre, a non-profit licensed child care located in Brock Avenue Public School, since she was five years old. Now ten, she attends morning and afternoon programs during the school year and full-day programs during the summer months.

At Brock, the ten-year-old gets help with her homework, works on arts and crafts projects and even learns to cook with the other children under the supervision of trained staff.

"It means that my child has a safe, engaging, positive, social experience that she can look forward to every day," said Vance, a single parent living on disability who works part-time. "It's a fantastic program with highly qualified teachers."

But without a full subsidy, Vance's daughter wouldn't be able to access before and after school care or summer programs at Brock. She'd be forced to walk to and from school alone and remain at home on her own for another two hours in the afternoon on the days her mother is at work.

"When I work I can't get to her before six o'clock," said Vance.

Tories disinclined to subject anti-terror measures to sunset clause

The Harper government is unlikely to include a review or expiry provision when it brings back two controversial anti-terrorism clauses that dramatically expand police powers.

A three-year review of the Anti-terrorism Act and a requirement that two contentious clauses in the act be reaffirmed – or subject to a sunset clause – after five years were included in the original legislation, brought in by the Chrétien government in 2001, as a safeguard to Canadian civil liberties.

This week, however, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews suggested he is not interested in the idea of a review of the clauses that expired in 2007 after a vote in the House of Commons.

“The extent to which they will be reviewed and how they will be reviewed is not an issue that I have considered at this point, and those are discussions I’m sure that we will have here in Parliament,” Mr. Toews told CTV’s Question Period this week.

Magical Thinking Dominates Tea Party GOP Debate

At the Tea Party Express/CNN debate in Tampa, Florida, on Monday the Republican presidential aspirants mostly agreed on the best way to solve our fiscal and economic woes: magic. Whenever moderator Wolf Blitzer or a Tea Party activist in the crowd or via video asked how exactly they would achieve their twin goals of balancing the federal budget and spurring job growth, they had no actual answer. Instead, they seemed to think the tooth fairy would leave $1 trillion under their West Wing pillow.

Every Republican wants to cut taxes and yet promises to somehow reduce the deficit. So they were asked, as they should be, what exactly they would cut. You might think it would be bad if one of them offered, say, food stamps, for the chopping block, but at least that would contain a proposal for progressives to engage. Instead they were even more mendacious by refusing to give an honest answer. Newt Gingrich ludicrously stated that there is enough waste, fraud and abuse to balance the budget without actually cutting any of the funding that finds its way to legitimate beneficiaries. Rick Santorum and Rick Perry both refused to say they would undo the massive Medicare prescription drug benefit enacted under President Bush, which Santorum voted for. In other words, they are all lying. Either they will increase the deficit or they will propose devastating spending cuts they were afraid to campaign on, or both.

Budget mess finally lands in Ford’s gravy-free hands

First, they hired a corporate assassin in KPMG to do their dirty work, a futile attempt to distance themselves from the planned sacking of Toronto.

End subsidized daycare. Close libraries. Sell the zoos. Padlock museums.

“Don’t blame us,” they protested. “These are just recommendations from the consultants.”

Pulling a Pontius Pilate and washing its hands, KPMG said, “These are not recommendations; they are a list of opportunities….”

The carefully crafted image is one of positive ventures; investments. Instead, by the end of the month, Toronto could face:

Fewer medical calls from fire fighters. A smaller police force. Reduced TTC service. Death of the “Hardship Fund” that provides medical services for the city’s poor.

City manager Joe Pennachetti came clean Monday and dipped his hands into the blood. When he pulled them out, few city services remained untouched by the axe. Ah, yes, Joe P is recommending many of the very cuts, er, opportunities, KPMG listed in July.

Now, the bleeding mess has been dumped in the mayor’s hands, where it belongs.

Bad Business Under Jon Huntsman

If being a good governor means serving as a cheerleader and chief booster for local industry, then Utah's former chief executive, Jon Huntsman Jr., did a solid job. He has been touting his stewardship of the state's economy on the campaign trail. But one thriving industry in Utah that Huntsman helped—and which supported him financially in return—relies on dubious practices.

Utah is home to the nation's largest concentration of companies built around the practice of multilevel marketing, which is widely considered to be a type of pyramid scheme. While Huntsman was governor, he did his part to keep them in business.

Known as MLMs, these companies often sell overpriced nutritional supplements or other health products, not through retail outlets but rather through networks of individual distributors. Among the signature companies in Utah are Nu Skin, Usana, Tahitian Noni Beverages, and Nature's Sunshine Products. Instead of relying on consumer sales, they make their real revenue from constantly recruiting more salespeople, who usually have to "invest" in the opportunity to sell the products and then must recruit their own network of distributors to make money. Most distributors at the bottom of the pyramid never make the big bucks promised by the company. Because of this structure, these types of companies are frequent targets of law enforcement, federal regulators, and consumer lawyers.

Patriot Act

The author of America's new security state.
The authors of the Patriot Act always intended that its provisions would be permanent. The politically expedient thing to do would have been to include a sunset provision, to acknowledge a temporary moment of crisis that required special measures for prosecutors to pursue terrorists. But the lawyers wanted no sunsets; some of them had been working Al Qaeda cases since the first World Trade Center bombing and imagined a long-term struggle that could last a generation. “I said, ‘Don’t think of this as an emergency measure,’ ” Viet Dinh [P1] recalled on July 20. At the time, Dinh was an assistant attorney general under John Ashcroft and was tasked on the morning of September 12 with writing a bill to fix whatever laws might impede investigation. The scholarship provided little guidance for how to make terror investigations easier, so Dinh sent an e-mail to the nation’s U.S. attorneys and FBI agents, asking for ideas. G-men are not constitutional lawyers, and excesses were rife: Someone wanted to send neighborhood watches in search of sordid types. The attorneys at Justice made piles, winnowing as they went: “Crazy Ideas,” “Quarter-Baked,” “Half-Baked.”

In those patriotic weeks, partisan conflict dissipated easily. The Democratic Senate and the Republican House each had their own bills, and Ashcroft, smiling, said every idea in each of the drafts would be adopted unless it conflicted with another provision. Jim Sensenbrenner, the bombastic, rotund Wisconsin Republican, leaned back in his chair and said his bill was called the USA Patriot Act. There were no conflicts with that; the name was in.

P2: Sneak-and-Peek
Delayed-notice search warrants issued under the expanded powers of the Patriot Act, 2006–2009.  

“Patriot Act” was appropriately overt. Before 9/11, when politicians spoke of “patriots,” they usually meant soldiers. Now prosecutors and the FBI were reaching for the same vanity—that they were the hard tip of freedom—and the same license to pursue enemies without much oversight or meddling. When it was signed into law six weeks after the attacks, the act made it easier to wiretap American citizens suspected of cooperating with terrorism, to snoop through business records without notification, and to execute search warrants without immediately informing their targets (a so-called sneak-and-peek [P2]). Privileges once reserved for overseas intelligence work were extended to domestic criminal investigations. There was less judicial oversight and very little transparency. The bill’s symbolism mattered also, signaling that the moral deference previously given to the Special Forces would be broadened until it encompassed much of the apparatus of the American state. Local prosecutors, military policemen, CIA lawyers—these were indispensable patriots too.

The Patriot Act was mostly a Republican project at its origin, but it would have died long ago without the support of Democrats. Liberals were committed enough to the bill that it took Texas Republican Dick Armey to insist that the new privileges of the Patriot Act would indeed sunset, unless the president asked for, and Congress approved, a reauthorization. In 2005, George W. Bush convinced Congress to renew the act, and in 2010, so did Barack Obama—even though the terrorist threat seemed less urgent, and liberal scholars had concluded that the civil-liberties violations in the bill could be resolved with a few modest changes. Dinh’s original worry—that politicians might not be committed enough to renew these laws—now seems misplaced.

What Dinh didn’t anticipate was a profound shift in liberalism and, therefore, in the politics of the country. Even with a Democrat now in the White House, the liberalism that protects the right of the individual against the majority—the politics of civil rights and abortion and gay marriage—has diminished, in favor of one that aims to improve the lot of the median man. Obama’s liberalism is for the majority, not against it. This spirit, and the unlikely endurance of the Patriot Act, owes something to the central psychological events of the decade: the vitality and threat of new economic competitors, the social violence initiated by the authors of obscure financial instruments, but first and most of all September 11—each of which evoked a particular feeling, that we were all together, under attack.

Source: New York Times 

9/11 Didn't Upturn the Constitution, the War on Crime Did

Long before the war on terror, there was the war on crime. And as much as 9/11 was a watershed event, our response to the attacks, and the resulting erosion of civil liberties, finds longstanding precedent in America's criminal justice system.

In an article titled "Exporting Harshness: How the War on Crime Helped Make the War on Terror Possible," Georgetown University law professor and former public defender James Forman Jr. argued against the widely accepted notion that "the war on terror represents a sharp break from the past, with American values and ideals 'betrayed,' American law 'remade.'" Forman continued, "I suspect it is both too simple and ultimately too comforting to assert that the Bush administration alone remade our justice system and betrayed our values." Instead, he wrote, "our approach to the war on terror is an extension—sometimes a grotesque one—of what we do in the name of the war on crime.…

The anti-Ford manifesto

Mass meeting produces "People’s Declaration" to preserve city services in face of mayor’s budget cuts

With sweeping service cuts looming at City Hall, hundreds of people gathered Saturday to draft a “People’s Declaration” against Rob Ford’s cost-cutting agenda in the most organized mass community action since the mayor’s budget process began.

Torontonians from across the city spent five hours in Dufferin Grove Park devising a list of priorities for their communities and then combining them into the declaration, the message of which was simple: city services like daycares, libraries, and HIV/AIDS outreach are vital to the life of citizens, and they need to be maintained.

“We reject all hikes to user fees and all cuts,” the declaration read. “Our city is growing and service levels are already insufficient. We demand that city council do their job and lobby higher levels of government to ensure stable funding to expand services in this city.”

You Should Have Stayed at Home: Praxis Theatre brings G20 to the stage

"The rich people have their lobbyists and the poor people have their feet."

- Nathalie Des Rosiers, General Counsel of Canadian Civil Liberties Association speaking at a post-show panel at after You Should Have Stayed Home at The 2011 SummerWorks Festival.

This summer I directed You Should Have Stayed Home, a play about theatre artist Tommy Taylor's experience over 48 hours of the G20 weekend in Toronto presented at the 2011 SummerWorks Festival. While trying to return home from his first ever protest as a law-abiding citizen at the "Free Speech Zone" at Queen's Park, Taylor was swept up in a mass arrest, caged with 40 other people in a 10ft by 20ft cage and denied drinking water until he passed out from dehydration.

Taylor contacted me in February to talk about collaborating on a piece of theatre adapted from his Facebook note, How I Got Arrested and Abused at G20 in Toronto. Having read the post, I knew the story presented an excellent opportunity to dramatize and address the deterioration of civil rights in Canada.

The question for me was how to present the narrative in way that could not be mistaken for propaganda. Our approach was to eliminate all editorial content and stick to the story of what happened to Tommy: These things happened to this guy and his friends. Draw your own conclusions.

G20: Conspiracy to riot in an Age of Austerity

Monday was the first day of what is scheduled to be an 11-week preliminary inquiry for what the Ontario Crown Attorney's office calls, the "G20 Main Conspiracy Group Prosecution." This prosecution will see myself, along with 16 other community organisers spend almost three months in court every single weekday, watching and listening as the Crown attorneys from the Provincial "Gangs and Guns Initiative" present evidence collected by a series of undercover cops who infiltrated community organisations across the country over a period of nearly two years prior to last year's G20 (an event which saw the city converted into "Fortress Toronto," as the heads of state from the world's 20 richest countries, along with more than 10,000 cops, occupied the city's downtown).

The Crown will allege that we are somehow responsible for the confrontational demonstrations, including those of the Black Bloc, which occurred on June 26, 2010. It will not be alleged that any of us actually participated in those demonstrations, or that any of us broke any windows or burned any cop cars, nor will it be alleged that we physically caused any damage to anything or anyone, or that any of us even had any part in coordinating that day's demonstrations. In fact, several of us were already in jail hours before the day's protests even began. Their only allegation will be that we "conspired" to do things. For this they want to give us serious jail time. If things go badly, I could realistically spend up to six years in jail (given that I face several "counsel" charges in addition to the conspiracy charges faced by all 17 co-accused).

But the truth is that the details of this case are not what is most important. It is true that facts will come out about the scary degrees to which the state has gone to infiltrate legitimate community organisations, about the state's willingness to curb freedoms and civil liberties, and that this case could potentially set very dangerous precedents concerning people's ability to organise and speak politically in their communities. It is true that all of these issues are important here, but what I think is most important is the timing.

EI call centre workers to be cut, say they're 'angry' at feds' treatment

The about 600 Employment Insurance workers across Canada who may soon be facing the breadline themselves are "angry" with the way they've been treated by the government, says Jeannie Baldwin, Public Service Alliance of Canada's executive vice-president for the Atlantic region.

"The workers are really angry. They are angry at the behaviour of this government, how they've treated the workers through this whole process," said Ms. Baldwin, whose union represents the Service Canada workers.

She said that workers in Nova Scotia found out about the decision to concentrate Employment Insurance work in 22 instead of 120 centres nationally in an email sent out by a regional director just before the end of the day on Friday Aug. 19.

While no Service Canada branches will be closed due to the change, the reorganization is part of a plan to modernize the way Employment Insurance is administered, said Alyson Queen, a spokesperson for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.

Conservatives attack, but NDP promise to push back hard

In the wake of two combative Conservative Party attacks against the NDP over the last week— reminiscent of the relentless assaults against the Liberal party and its two past leaders—a top NDP official says the New Democrats will avoid mistakes the Liberals made in the same battle zone and "push back, push back right away."

Brad Lavigne, director of the NDP's campaign for the May election and one of the most experienced backroomers in the party, said the Conservative Party, which appears to have taken on the pit bull role against the NDP and left Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) to stay above the partisan fray as a majority government leader, should not expect the easy time it had as it attacked former Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Que.) and Michael Ignatieff for nearly four years.

"We've watched over the years that with the Conservatives, their methods, and also the mistakes that the Liberals made in not punching back right away, they let accusations made by the Conservatives stand, and an accusation left un-countered is an accusation accepted," Mr. Lavigne, now principal secretary to interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel (Hull-Aylmer, Que.), told The Hill Times.

Noam Chomsky on the U.S. Economic Crisis: Joblessness, Excessive Military Spending and Healthcare

President Obama sent his new jobs proposal to Congress on Monday with a plan to pay for the $447 billion package by raising taxes on the wealthy. Noam Chomsky says “huge military spending, a very low taxes by the rich [and corporations] ... those are problems, fundamental problems that have to be dealt with if there is going to be anything like successful economic and social development in the United States.” As Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, calls Social Security a “ponzi scheme,” and Democrats buy into the narrative that the program is in crisis, Chomsky notes that, “To worry about a possible problem 30 years from now, which can incidentally be fixed with a little bit of tampering here and there, as was done in 1983, to worry about that makes absolutely no sense unless you’re trying to destroy the program.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Noam Chomsky: U.S. To Veto Palestinian Statehood Bid Despite "Overwhelming International Consensus"

President Obama publicly confirmed Monday that the United States will oppose any attempt by the Palestinians to achieve statehood at the United Nations, but Palestinians leaders are still vowing to move ahead with their bid for statehood this week. What will the ramifications of a U.S. veto be? For more, we speak with Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky. “If the Palestinians do bring the issue to the Security Council and the U.S. vetoes it, it will be just another indication of the real unwillingness to permit a settlement of this issue in terms of what has been for a long time an overwhelming international consensus,” Chomsky says.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Amnesty finds abuses on both sides in Libya

Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi committed war crimes and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity during the Libyan conflict, but some rebel fighters also engaged in abuses and a "settling of scores," Amnesty International says in a new report.

The 107-page report, based on three months of investigation in the North African nation, found evidence of abuse perpetrated by both sides.

Gadhafi loyalists committed "serious violations" of international humanitarian law, the report says, including torture, execution and using excessive force against anti-regime protesters.

Loyalist forces killed and injured scores of unarmed protesters, made critics disappear, used illegal cluster bombs, launched artillery, mortar and rocket attacks against residential areas, and, without any legal proceedings, executed captives, the report says.

Thousands of Libyans were kidnapped from their homes, mosques and streets, including children as young as 12, the report says.

Mayor’s newly released budget strategy sets stage for battles

Mayor Rob Ford’s long-awaited strategy for slaying a budget shortfall pegged as high as $774-million has crystallized with the release of a staff report that sets the stage for a raucous session at City Hall.

The report from city manager Joe Pennachetti includes 24 service “adjustments” such as phasing out childcare spaces, shuttering museums and limiting new affordable housing developments. It also includes a list of reductions for consideration by city agencies, boards and commissions – everything from night bus service to library hours – and recommends selling or closing zoos and farms and putting three city-owned theatres up for sale.

Mayor Ford came to office on a pledge to cut costs, and said the reductions, estimated to save the city $100-million next year, are just the beginning.

“This is just scraping the surface right now,” the mayor told reporters on Monday.

Noam Chomsky: Looking Back on 9/11 a Decade Later

Ten years ago, at a time when lawmakers from both sides of the aisle joined together to authorize endless war, Noam Chomsky’s was the leading voice to call for the United States to rethink its actions in the Middle East and across the globe. His 2001 book, simply titled "9-11," became a surprise bestseller. The book collected a series of interviews Chomsky had given on the roots of the 9/11 attacks and his prescription for a just response. A decade later, Chomsky has just released an updated version titled "9-11: Was There an Alternative?" which refers to the U.S. assassination of Osama bin Laden and the continuity Chomsky sees between the Bush administration’s foreign policy and President Obama’s. "Right at this moment, Obama has succeeded in descending even below George W. Bush in approval in the Arab world," says Noam Chomsky. "The policies change, but they’re hostile. We should understand where atrocities come from. They don’t come from nowhere. And if we’re serious, we should try to do something about what is the basis for them."

Source: Democracy Now! 

Budget cuts just ‘scraping the surface’ of necessary changes, says Ford

Mayor Rob Ford will probably have a difficult time persuading a majority of councillors to vote for the budget cuts suggested Monday, even though he believes they are “just scraping the surface.”

Some of the centrists who hold the balance of power on council balked Monday at city manager Joe Pennachetti’s recommendations to proceed with many of the cuts suggested earlier by consultants from KPMG. If all of the recommendations were accepted, which appears unlikely, the city would save about $100 million in 2012 — not nearly enough to balance the budget.

Pennachetti’s report to Ford’s executive committee recommended eliminating late-night TTC bus service and 2,000 subsidized child care spaces; reducing city grants; lowering standards for snow-clearing; curtailing environmental programs; selling or closing Riverdale Farm; and selling, leasing or otherwise ceasing to operate the Toronto Zoo.

Pennachetti also suggested that council “consider” perhaps KPMG’s most controversial suggestion: library closures and reductions to library hours.

Centrist Mary-Margaret McMahon said she would have a hard time voting to axe “quality of life” programs. “I’m not prepared to cut things that make our city great,” she said.

Privatizing the zoo: It’s been done before

In a cost-cutting move, Toronto city manager Joe Pennachetti’s report on the “core services review’’ suggests the city issue a call to bidders interested in buying, leasing or operating the Toronto Zoo.

That’s not a new notion; in fact, it’s a widely accepted practice across North America: Dallas, Texas, privatized the day-to-day operation of its zoo in 2008. Los Angeles has issued an RFP seeking a private sector partner to operate its zoo. And the San Diego Zoo, Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and the Denver Zoo are all operated by non-profit interests.

“About 84 per cent of major U.S. zoos have privatized. Typically the city retains ownership of the land, buildings and animals, and a private interest manages the day-to-day operation,’’ says Jeb Bonner, vice president and CFO of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), a private non-profit supporting the city’s bid to privatize its zoo.

Los Angeles is taking such steps because it’s faced with a shortfall of nearly $500 million in its next budget. The city contributes about $15 million a year to its zoo.

Proponents argue that one upside of privatization is increased donations. The downside is job losses.

Budget could squeeze TTC commutes

A proposal to alter the TTC’s crowding standards could put the squeeze on the commutes of the growing numbers of Torontonians who ride the transit system.

A report on Toronto’s core service review, released Monday by the city manager, also proposes charging a premium fare for Blue Night bus service and pushing more Wheel-Trans users onto the regular system.

According to transit workers union president Bob Kinnear, the recommendations amount to “a war on commuters, low-wage workers, the disabled and the environment.”

The TTC’s standard for what constitutes a crowded bus — based on the average number of people per hour riding a particular vehicle — was improved to 48 riders from 53 between 2004 and 2007. Regularly exceeding that number should trigger an increase in service on that route.

The move was part of a Ridership Growth Strategy designed to attract more riders, after a period in the 1990s when fares rose and service was cut, driving thousands off the system.

TTC proposes fare hike, job cuts and longer wait times

TTC officials will reveal a series of controversial budget proposals on Tuesday, the Star has learned.

According to a draft of their report, the proposals include reducing the frequency of transit vehicles; raising the price of tokens by 10 cents; eliminating 422 jobs and reviewing 500 others for possible outsourcing; delaying the arrival of dozens of new vehicles; and making dialysis patients without mobility devices ineligible to use Wheel-Trans.

The proposals are intended to address the city’s demand for a 10 per cent cut to the TTC’s $1.4 billion operating budget and to reduce a $1.5 billion long-term shortfall in its capital budget. They will be debated at a special Friday meeting of the TTC’s councillor commissioners.

“TTC management has worked very hard to respond to the fiscal challenges of the city,” said the TTC chair, Councillor Karen Stintz. “And we’ll have to make some difficult decisions on Friday.”

Childcare, rent fees to spike after city calls them ‘too low’

By all indications, it’s going to be notably more expensive to enroll your kids in city programs next year.

On Monday, the city manager’s long-awaited review of user fees was released, and while it wasn’t as comprehensive as initially planned — the report focused on broad policy goals rather than specific increases — the message was clear: “user fees are generally set too low.”

And while no specific program was flagged, the report found that some user fees have not been reviewed since amalgamation.

A second report due sometime in fall will describe which of the city’s more than 3,700 user fees, which cover recreation programs, admissions, licensing, childcare, rents and water consumption, among other things, will be affected.

For now, city manager Joe Pennachetti has asked the mayor’s executive committee to approve a citywide policy and set criteria for establishing how much services cost.