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 27, 2011

Corrections figures offer glimpse of Tory crime agenda’s total cost

Correctional Service Canada is spending nearly half-a-billion dollars this year implementing just one of the Conservative government’s crime bills.

The Truth in Sentencing Act, which became law last year, promised to end the so-called two-for-one sentencing practices in which judges would shorten a sentence based on how much time a convict spent in pre-sentencing custody.

Under pressure to explain how much the bill would cost, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews estimated on April 28, 2010, that the legislation would cost taxpayers about $2-billion over five years. That was a large adjustment from comments he made earlier that month, when he said the cost would be “not more than $90-million” over two years. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page later challenged those assessments, putting the estimate at about $1-billion a year.

Now recently-released figures by Correctional Service Canada reveal that true cost of the Truth in Sentencing Act is coming in slightly higher than the government’s $2-billion estimate.

According to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey released on September 22, for too many people in Kentucky’s 5th District, 2010 was not a good year: nearly 27 percent of the district’s more than 175,000 people lived in poverty, including 34 percent of children and more than one in four women. Nearly 20 percent of the district’s constituents had no health insurance.

You might think that the good news for residents of the 5th is that their congressman, Republican Hal Rogers, has enormous power and influence over Congress’s spending decisions as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

You’d be wrong.

The widespread pain of his constituents didn’t stop Rogers from voting to cut food stamps and healthcare for those same women and kids. It didn’t stop him from voting for the “cut, cap and balance” proposal that would have cost this dangerously weak economy another 700,000 jobs. Nor did it stop him from voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that the only positive sign on the insurance front is the declining rate of uninsured young adults ages 18–24, now that they can stay on their parents’ plan thanks to healthcare reform.

Rogers did manage to cast a “yes” vote for new tax cuts for millionaires though.

For his callousness to the suffering of his own constituents, and voting in direct opposition to their needs, Rogers was named to “The Terrible Ten” in Congress by Half in Ten, a national campaign to reduce poverty by 50 percent over the next ten years.

In Afghanistan, a Blurring Line Between 'Bad Guys' and U.S. Allies

Two important stories about Afghan militant leaders have come out in the last few days. Together, they highlight a rather stunning, if unsurprising, aspect of the war: we do not really support the good guys. From over the weekend, the New York Times ran an excellent piece about the Haqqanis, a family of Afghan insurgents who also operate like a hyper-violent mafia:
With a combination of guns and muscle, the Haqqani network has built a sprawling enterprise on both sides of a border that barely exists.
American intelligence officials believe that a steady flow of money from wealthy people in the gulf states helps sustain the Haqqanis, and that they further line their pockets with extortion and smuggling operations throughout eastern Afghanistan, focused in the provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika. Chromite smuggling has been a particularly lucrative business, as has been hauling lumber from Afghanistan's eastern forests into Pakistan.
They are also in the kidnapping business, with a mix of pecuniary and ideological motives. In May, the group released the latest of a series of videos showing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American infantryman held by the network since June 2009, with a Haqqani official. David Rohde, then a reporter for The New York Times, was held hostage by Haqqani operatives from November 2008 to June 2009.
Over the past five years, with relatively few American troops operating in eastern Afghanistan, the Haqqanis have run what is in effect a protection racket for construction firms -- meaning that American taxpayers are helping to finance the enemy network.

The Most Radical Anti-Abortion Measure in America

The most controversial item on the Mississippi ballot this fall is not a politician but rather an idea. In November, Mississippians will vote on an amendment to change the meaning of the word "person" in the state constitution. Under the new language, human life would begin not at birth but at the moment of fertilization. If the amendment passes, it will outlaw abortion in the state entirely, even in cases of rape or incest. It might even leave some forms of contraception, and procedures such as in vitro fertilization, on life support.

Ballot Measure 26, the "Personhood Amendment," has drawn the endorsement of celebrities including Mike Huckabee and Brett Favre's wife, Deanna. The Tupelo-based American Family Association (AFA), one of the nation's leading social-conservative organizations, is teaming up with the Republican gubernatorial nominee, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, to secure its passage. In mid-September, Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, announced his support for the measure.

But for all the momentum it has gained, the amendment is in large part the handiwork of one lesser known figure, an activist named Les Riley. A tractor salesman, former candidate for agriculture commissioner, and chair of the state Constitution Party, Riley is steeped in fringe politics. He founded the group Personhood Mississippi, drafted the amendment's language, started the signature drive that got it on the ballot, and promoted it statewide starting on June 2 with an inflammatory campaign called the "Conceived in Rape Tour."

Herman Cain's Health Care Plan: Think Happy Thoughts

Herman Cain is on a hot streak. On Saturday, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO and current GOP presidential nomination hopeful won a Florida straw poll. A few days earlier, he put in a strong showing at the Fox-Google debate, claiming (misleadingly) the stage IV cancer he contracted in 2006 would have killed him had "Obamacare" been in place at the time.

Cain didn't get into specifics of how he might fix the health care system—and with answers limited to 60 seconds, he didn't have much of an opportunity to do so. But when Cain did go long on policy, in his 1997 book, Leadership Is Common Sense, he didn't propose changing the delivery of medical services or reforming the health insurance industry. Instead, his No. 1 prescription for dealing with health care was for patients to adjust their attitudes. His model for doing this? An anti-littering campaign from the 1960s.

Cain wrote his book after he first arrived on the national political scene back in 1994, when he confronted President Bill Clinton on television during a town hall meeting. Cain became a national media sensation when he asked Clinton what he should tell all the people whose jobs he'd have to eliminate because of the president's health care plan. 

Occupy Wall Street: 'Pepper-spray' officer named in Bush protest claim

Anthony Bologna, NYPD officer named in pepper-spray incident, is accused of civil rights violations at the time of the 2004 Republican national convention protests

A senior New York police officer accused of pepper-spraying young women on the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations is the subject of a pending legal action over his conduct at another protest in the city.

The Guardian has learned that the officer, named by activists as deputy inspector Anthony Bologna, stands accused of false arrest and civil rights violations in a claim brought by a protester involved in the 2004 demonstrations at the Republican national convention.

Then, 1,800 people were arrested during protests against the Iraq war and the policies of president George W Bush.

Alan Levine, a civil rights lawyer representing Post A Posr, a protester at the 2004 event, told the Guardian that he filed an action against Bologna and another officer, Tulio Camejo, in 2007. The case, filed at the New York Southern District Court, is expected to be heard next year.

Benjamin Netanyahu: 'No Settlement Freeze'

JERUSALEM — Israel granted the go-ahead on Tuesday for construction of 1,100 new Jewish housing units in east Jerusalem, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out any freeze in settlement construction, raising already heightened tensions after last week's Palestinian move to seek U.N. membership.

Israel's Interior Ministry said the homes would be built in Gilo, a sprawling Jewish enclave in southeast Jerusalem. It said construction could begin after a mandatory 60-day period for public comment, a process that spokesman Roi Lachmanovich called a formality.

The announcement drew swift condemnation from the Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as their future capital. The United States, European Union and United Nations all expressed disappointment with Israel's decision.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Israeli announcement was counterproductive to efforts to relaunch Mideast peace talks. She said both Israel and the Palestinians should avoid provocative actions, and that international mediators will remain focused on guiding the two sides back to direct negotiations.

Super Committee's Cuts Anything But Automatic

WASHINGTON -- The 12-member super committee created to slash the federal deficit is powered by the threat that if it doesn't come up with $1.2 trillion in savings, automatic, across-the-board cuts will be instituted to reach that same goal, with half of those cuts hitting the Pentagon.

Don't believe it.

The supposed across-the-board cuts aren't slated to go into effect until January 1, 2013. Put more simply: They might not ever go into effect.

The automatic cuts -- known as sequestration -- are often discussed in Washington as if they're certain, an inevitability that Congress won't be able to prevent. But on the same day those cuts would go into effect, the Bush tax rates, which President Obama extended for two years, are set to expire, leading to an "automatic" tax hike that is treated in Washington as anything but inevitable. (That the two coming policy changes are approached so differently -- cuts are expected; expiring tax breaks for the wealthy are brushed aside -- is a window into Washington's priorities.)

Over 200 arrested at Ottawa tar sands protest

Over 200 protesters objecting to the federal government's enthusiastic support for Alberta's tar sands and the Keystone pipeline XL were arrested Monday morning as they attempted to stage a sit-in in the House of Commons.

The protesters wanted the chance to air their grievances with the environmentally reckless policies of the Harper-led Conservatives inside Parliament but were blocked from entering by fenced barricades and over 50 RCMP officers.

The protesters were encouraged by hundreds of boisterous supporters as they passed the media scrum and calmly hopped over police barricades.

Those arrested in the first wave of protesters trying to gain access to the House included chairperson of The Council of Canadians, Maude Barlow, and Dave Coles, the president of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, along with his executive assistant blogger Fred Wilson.

Organizers want to deliver a strong message denouncing the Conservative government's support for the Keystone XL pipeline and continuing tar sands development.

The EU's False Promises

The coupling of Serbia's future EU membership with the prosecution of outstanding war criminals is illogical and bound to lead to disappointment.

Many argue that by arresting former Bosnian Serb leaders and war criminals Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic, and Goran Hadzic, Serbia has made the “quantum leap” it needed in order to move toward acceptance into the European Union. This notion has been reinforced, over the past few years, by frequent statements from both Belgrade and the EU. A closer examination of the issue, however, reveals serious problems with the logic in connecting the arrests and EU ascension in a causal relationship.

Why should the legal prosecution of accused war criminals be considered a precondition for political membership in the EU? Is it not common practice among civilized societies to apprehend criminals and ensure that they are brought to justice? Furthermore, how does such an action ensure that a country is ready for EU membership?

By stressing the importance of apprehending these criminals in relation to Serbia’s goal of achieving EU membership, Belgrade and the EU are sending out the wrong message with regard to the standards all countries are expected to abide by. Belgrade should have made it clear long ago that the arrest of these accused war criminals was Serbia’s obligation irrespective of its goal to join the EU, particularly since it claims to be trying to establish democratic credibility.

The Commons: Tony Clement’s one-man sit-in

The Scene. The Hill was alive this day with the vigour of public protest. On the lawn, several hundred lay siege to the barricades, anxious with objections to a continental oil pipeline. Inside the House, Tony Clement kept vigil on his seat, resolutely unwilling to remove his posterior from it in defiance of the opposition’s tyranny.

Thomas Mulcair’s first question was actually quite simple enough.

“Mr. Speaker, earlier this year the Prime Minister released an important document entitled ‘Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State,’ ” the NDP deputy reviewed. “Could the Prime Minister tell us if it is within the guidelines for a minister to run government funding out of his constituency office? Is it within the guidelines to have inaccurate and incomplete information provided to the Auditor General? Also, is it within the guidelines to have ministers interfere in spending reviews?”

Mr. Mulcair was just wondering these things, mind you. He was not necessarily referring to the latest news concerning Tony Clement’s handling of the G8 Legacy Fund, he was just speaking in the theoretical.

Trading away from the USA (again)

A young John Diefenbaker once proclaimed that he would build a Canada that would be “all Canadian and all British.” Stephen Harper isn’t going that far, but his British bonding and his de-emphasis on American ties that were so conspicuous under Brian Mulroney’s conservatism are of considerable consequence.

Last week, Mr. Harper said Canada has to do much more to wean itself off its economic dependence on the United States. Mr. Diefenbaker made a habit of saying such things, and he also had a habit, like Mr. Harper, of exalting the monarchy. The Chief would have been delighted with the Harper government’s reattaching the “royal” nomenclature to our armed forces.

When Mr. Harper took office in 2006, few were aware of his transatlantic interests and intent. At that time, given his Republican-like conservatism, we expected a closer alignment with the Americans. But his concept of Canada has a back-to-the-future look, and old-fashioned values are high on his list.

The tilt toward Britain and the lukewarm approach to the U.S. are also a reflection of political allegiances. Personal relations mean a lot. As shown by their get-together in Ottawa last week, Mr. Harper now has a like-minded Conservative at the helm in British Prime Minister David Cameron. This is in happy contrast to Gordon Brown’s Labour government, which hectored him on his laggard approach to the environment.

John Baird bares teeth in offering Canada's defence of Israel at UN

Canada used its United Nations speaking slot Monday to lambaste opponents of Israel as no better than the appeasers who allowed fascism and communism to flourish before the Second World War.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird delivered Canada's views to the General Assembly in a speech that put meat on the bones of the Harper government's unflinching support of Israel.

“Just as fascism and communism were the great struggles of previous generations, terrorism is the great struggle of ours. And far too often, the Jewish state is on the front line of our struggle and its people the victims of terror,” says a prepared text of Baird's remarks.

“Canada will not accept or stay silent while the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory and its citizens. The Second World War taught us all the tragic price of ‘going along' just to 'get along.“’

City cuts would save less than $30 million

The proposed cuts Toronto’s council will endorse or reject on Tuesday would save the city only about $29 million in 2012, the city’s top bureaucrat has revealed.

City manager Joe Pennachetti’s revelation on Monday came hours before left-leaning and centrist councillors tabled motions to save some programs and services targeted for cuts, from Community Environment Days to the Christmas Bureau to horticultural initiatives.

Council’s debate will resume Tuesday morning. Councillors will vote Tuesday afternoon.

Pennachetti had said his suggested cuts would have saved about $100 million. But Mayor Rob Ford and his executive committee voted last week to avoid or defer many of them. Others will be considered later by city agencies.

Pennachetti and Ford say the city faces a $774 million budget shortfall — though Pennachetti said last week the shortfall was actually $500 million to $600 million.

Regardless, councillors’ unwillingness to support widely unpopular service reductions means much of the gap will likely be filled using the proceeds from user fee increases, staff buyouts and layoffs, a property tax hike, and other sources of savings and revenue.

He was 14 yrs. 6mos. and 5 days old --- and the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th Century

George Junius Stinney, Jr., [b. 1929 - d. 1944]

In a South Carolina prison sixty-six years ago, guards walked a 14-year-old boy, bible tucked under his arm, to the electric chair. At 5' 1" and 95 pounds, the straps didn’t fit, and an electrode was too big for his leg.

The switch was pulled and the adult sized death mask fell from George Stinney’s face. Tears streamed from his eyes. Witnesses recoiled in horror as they watched the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century die.

Now, a community activist is fighting to clear Stinney’s name, saying the young boy couldn’t have killed two girls. George Frierson, a school board member and textile inspector, believes Stinney’s confession was coerced, and that his execution was just another injustice blacks suffered in Southern courtrooms in the first half of the 1900s.

In a couple of cases like Stinney’s, petitions are being made before parole boards and courts are being asked to overturn decisions made when society’s thumb was weighing the scales of justice against blacks. These requests are buoyed for the first time in generations by money, college degrees and sometimes clout.

Toronto council ridicules deputy mayor’s idea to build private toll lanes

The idea is half-formed and completely out of the blue, but it managed to garner more notice than any other business on a day of grim-toned debate at city hall that Mayor Rob Ford termed Toronto’s “day of reckoning.”

At around 7 p.m., after hours of heated argument over cuts that could include closing museums, offloading the Toronto Zoo and selling three city-owned theatres, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday managed to leave speechless even the most loquacious of council members with a motion to study adding private toll lanes to the Don Valley Parkway.

“Are you serious?” was all the normally garrulous Adam Vaughan could muster during questions.

Mr. Holyday couldn’t elaborate much on his proposal, only adding that it’s an idea originally put forth by former councillor Paul Sutherland. In 2001, Mr. Sutherland suggested adding four centre-express lanes to the DVP for toll-paying vehicles and express buses. It was quickly defeated by council.

Occupy Wall Street rediscovers the radical imagination

The young people protesting in Wall Street and beyond reject this vain economic order. They have come to reclaim the future

Why are people occupying Wall Street? Why has the occupation – despite the latest police crackdown – sent out sparks across America, within days, inspiring hundreds of people to send pizzas, money, equipment and, now, to start their own movements called OccupyChicago, OccupyFlorida, in OccupyDenver or OccupyLA?

There are obvious reasons. We are watching the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt. Most, I found, were of working-class or otherwise modest backgrounds, kids who did exactly what they were told they should: studied, got into college, and are now not just being punished for it, but humiliated – faced with a life of being treated as deadbeats, moral reprobates.

Is it really surprising they would like to have a word with the financial magnates who stole their future?