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.]

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Preparing the Battlefield

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

Full Article
Source: NewYorker 

House Rebukes Obama Administration On Libya Intervention

WASHINGTON -- The House rebuked President Obama's decision to intervene in Libya in March without consent from Congress, voting on Friday to demand the White House provide a specific justification of the national security importance of military action in Libya.

The U.S. entered Libya in mid-March and is now engaged in a NATO mission to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Just after approving a resolution drafted by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a 268-145 vote, the House voted down a more drastic resolution that would have demanded a withdrawal from Libya within 15 days. That bill, written by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), failed in a 148 to 265 vote, garnering 87 votes from Republicans and 61 from Democrats -- a surprising tally for a measure from one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress.

Full Article
Source: HuffingtonPost  

Charter Schools Challenged In St. Louis, California, Georgia

A St. Louis school board member challenging the city's charter schools on a legal technicality knows his claims may not go far -- but that hasn't stopped him from fighting.

"I'm not trying to close these schools down," Chad Beffa told The Huffington Post. "I just want to stop the inefficiencies of this mess in the city of St. Louis.

Beffa thinks charter schools, which are publicly funded but can be privately run, have harmed his city's public schools by wasting their money. So last Friday, he sent a note to St. Louis' charter-school proponents saying that the city's recent population loss, as indicated by new census data, makes the operation of charter schools illegal.

As reported by the St. Louis Beacon, Beffa's letter cited Missouri State Law 160.400, which states charter schools are only eligible to open in "a metropolitan school district or in an urban school district containing most or all of a city with a population greater than 350,000 inhabitants." The law already restricted Missouri charter school operation to St. Louis and Kansas City.

Full Article
Source: HuffingtonPost 

Live Tweets from Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Conference

The great thing about politics is that it seems there are few scandals large enough to permanently knock someone out of the business permanently. Exhibit A is this week's Faith and Freedom Conference, organized by none other than disgraced GOP foot soldier Ralph Reed, where virtually ever GOP presidential contender will be trying to court evangelical voters. It wasn't so long ago that Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, was getting shellacked in a 2006 race for lieutenant governor of Georgia in no small part because of his close ties to the felonious lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Reed, you will recall, raked in more than $4 million from Abramoff in 2004 to rally Christian voters to fight Native Americans who wanted to open some casinos. Abramoff was representing different tribes who already had casinos and wanted to cut out the competition, and he paid Reed to help in the fight by making gambling a religious issue. Abramoff was eventually convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to six years in prison (he served three, getting out early last year).

Emails released during the criminal investigation did not reflect well on someone who Time dubbed "The Right Hand of God" in 1995. In many of them he's pressing Abramoff to send him clients—and cash. "I need to start humping in corporate accounts!... I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts," he wrote in one. The emails also suggested he had lied about how much he knew about what Abramoff was up to. Reed was never prosecuted or accused of being more than a greedy political consultant, but his downfall among evangelicals and other politicians was pretty fast and furious.

Full Article
Source: MotherJones 

Harper Government Omnibus Crime Bill: Canadian Justice Gets A Major Makeover

Tough on crime or the fast route to a police state?

With today’s Speech from the Throne, Canada is about to embark on a radical makeover of its justice system, dividing the left from right with tough-on-crime policies such as mandatory minimum sentences and an end to pardons for serious crime.

While Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government has served notice its focus will remain on Canada’s fragile economy – and passing the budget that had come to a screeching halt before the election – the law-and-order agenda is firmly in its sights.

Gov. Gen. David Johnston is expected to give full expression to the Tories’ crime agenda when he addresses the Senate chamber this afternoon, his first Speech from the Throne since he was appointed last July.

There will be few surprises.

Harper vowed during his election campaign to ensure that an omnibus crime bill, consisting of a compilation of at least eleven previously delayed tough-on-crime bills, would be passed within the first 100 sitting days of Parliament. All of the bills had been previously introduced individually, and, in some cases, had been kicked around the Hill for years.

The very majority government that Harper can depend on to pass his wide-ranging omnibus bill was born of a non-confidence vote over its costs in March, resulting in the fall of the Conservative minority government and a spring election. The opposition found the Tories in contempt of Parliament for failing to provide enough information about the costs of its crime legislation, following a historic rebuke by the Speaker of the Commons.

The full cost of the crime package is unknown, but Canada’s budget watchdog, Kevin Page, has warned that longer sentences and reduced pre-sentence jail credits will add $1-billion a year to total spending on corrections in Canada, along with more than 4,000 inmates to the federal prison system.

Full Article
Source: HuffingtonPost 

Conservative Throne Speech Promises To Create Jobs, Stay Tough On Crime

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA -- The new majority Conservative government has laid out its agenda for the country in a throne speech that promises to focus on the economy -- and kill the long-gun registry and the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly.

The speech, which mirrors the Tory election platform, includes plans to reform the Senate, maintain health-care funding increases, and create a new Office of Religious Freedom to help protect minorities abroad.

It also vows to continue with the Conservative tough-on-crime strategy, while helping vulnerable groups, including aboriginals.

Missing were the surprises that have characterized some previous Harper government throne speeches and budgets, such as an ill-fated proposal last year to revise the national anthem

"We will get back to work on the things that matter most to Canadians: good jobs, security for our families and a prosperous future," Gov. Gen. David Johnston read in his first speech since becoming the viceroy last summer.

The main priority for the brief parliamentary session before the summer recess is to pass the federal budget, which is being introduced Monday.

The Tories have pledged to reintroduce the same fiscal plan they outlined prior to the election.

Source: HuffingtonPost 

Reinventing democracy, reclaiming the commons: The plural present


Vying for power keeps us entrenched in the polarizing discourses of left and right, us and them, progressive and conservative. Let's be honest: these are all euphemisms for "better" and "worse" -- and "they" know it. I have a few problems with these ways of understanding current events:

First, it conveniently leaves "us" off the hook each and every time, no matter who 'us' is. (And I must add: I don't always feel comfortable identifying with the 'us' in which I am sometimes included, as I'm sure there are some who don't feel comfortable always being excluded from it).

Second, by adhering to arbitrary divisions among Canadians, 50 per cent of the people "we" believe we are speaking on behalf of are alienated. This is both disrespectful and counterproductive.

Third, by doing so, "we" close our ears to the possibilities that 'their' perspectives may in some ways a) be valid, b) be enlightening as to what is going on and why, and c) expose important ways 'we' might also be implicated in the current state of affairs.

Fourth and finally, if "we" do succeed in persuading the population, we will merely accomplish the reification of yet another set of norms, which the little guys will likely resist because that is (thankfully) what our system is designed to ensure happens. This brings us no closer to reclaiming the commons.

Full Article

Drawing lines in warming times

In the year 168 BC, a Roman Senator named Popillius Laenas was sent as an envoy to confront and stop the Macedonian ruler Antiochus IV from his conquest of Egypt. History tells the story of Laenas standing alone, blocking Antiochus' road to Alexandria and delivering a message for the Macedonian to withdraw his armies and retreat. The story goes that Laenus drew a circle in sand surrounding the king and demanded that he deliver his reply before stepping out, and so it goes that the phrase "drawing a line in the sand" was born.

While we no longer face the threat of Macedonian hordes poised to set upon our gates, the impacts of a changing climate require us to take a stand no less brazen than that of Laenas. We see the ecological, social and human impacts that a changing climate is wreaking around the globe, and we know that this promise of a world in chaos is what we are set to inherit. That is why our generation has drawn its own line in the sand and issued our demands to each and every Member of Parliament in this country.

Moving this country towards a clean, safe and just future will be no small feat. It often feels like the policies of the Canadian government are stuck in the same tarry substance that many politicians seem so fond of, but the reality is that we have no other choice. Our planet, our future, and the thousands of people dealing with displacement, droughts, starvation and extreme weather cannot wait for the political climate to warm up to the real climate.

Full Article
Source: Rabble 

Budget 2011: Clement's axe not fairer tax

How ironic is it that Stephen Harper has assigned Tony Clement to identify opportunities for federal budget cutbacks? Yes, that would be the same Tony Clement whose riding received $50 million in G20 "legacy infrastructure funds," part of a spending spree that MP Pat Martin called "flagrant...hog-troughing of the highest order."

Are you ready for the upcoming press conferences where Tony lectures Canadians on the need for belt-tightening and "cutting the fat," while his axe chops through the muscle and bone of our public programs and services?

In recent decades, the management of public financial resources has been largely driven by the neo-liberal obsession with cutting taxes and shrinking government. Most of our political leaders, either in agreement or because of electoral fear, have played along. Taxes were cut, more loopholes added and -- surprise -- we were then told of the dire lack of public funds to cover existing or new public services. Underfunded services were derided as ineffective or inefficient, and then targeted for more cuts or outsourcing to the private sector.

But the dirty little secret that most government leaders will not admit -- the potential for additional public revenue is immense. A more fair and balanced tax system could generate tens of billions of dollars in new public revenue.

Full Article
Source: Rabble 

Senate page explains her brave Stop Harper protest on floor of Senate today

In an unprecedented protest Parliament page Brigette Marcelle (aka Brigette DePape) holds up a "Stop Harper" sign during the throne speech. Below is her explanation.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Senate Page disrupts throne speech Harper's disastrous agenda needs to be stopped with creative action and civil disobedience

Ottawa -- During the reading of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's throne speech today, a young page was yanked from the Senate Chamber as she tried to hold up a stop-sign placard reading "Stop Harper."

"Harper's agenda is disastrous for this country and for my generation," Brigette Marcelle says. "We have to stop him from wasting billions on fighter jets, military bases, and corporate tax cuts while cutting social programs and destroying the climate. Most people in this country know what we need are green jobs, better medicare, and a healthy environment for future generations."

Brigette Marcelle (aka Brigette DePape), 21 and a recent graduate from University of Ottawa, has been a page in the Senate for a year, but realized that working within parliament wouldn't stop Harper's agenda.

"Contrary to Harper's rhetoric, Conservative values are not in fact Canadian values. How could they be when 3 out of 4 eligible voters didn't even give their support to the Conservatives? But we will only be able to stop Harper's agenda if people of all ages and from all walks of life engage in creative actions and civil disobediance," she says.

"This country needs a Canadian version of an Arab Spring, a flowering of popular movements that demonstrate that real power to change things lies not with Harper but in the hands of the people, when we act together in our streets, neighbourhoods and workplaces."

Source: Rabble 

Majority rules: Back to work

There’s nothing like a short attention span to make everything feel brand new. For a month, the people who buzz in Ottawa have been abuzz with speculation about what a Harper majority government will be like. But this is hardly alien territory. Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister, albeit in shakier circumstances, since 2006. He’s becoming a known quantity. And majority governments are hardly unheard of in Canada. We had them, most recently, for nearly a quarter-century without interruption from 1980 to 2004, from Trudeau to Mulroney to Chrétien.

Now the 41st Parliament is convening in Ottawa to elect a Speaker on June 2, hear a Throne Speech on June 3 and watch Finance Minister Jim Flaherty deliver his seventh budget speech on June 6. The best bet is that Flaherty’s budget will be like the one he tried to introduce in March, before the Harper government was defeated. The likelihood is that a majority government now will work the way majority governments usually do. And the odds are that Harper-with-a-majority will be a lot like Harper-without-a-majority.

Full Article
Source: Macleans 

Here for all Canadians?

So welcome to the next four years. Presuming, as one probably shouldn’t, that the Prime Minister intends to keep to a fixed-election law that has the odd nuance of not actually fixing anyone to anything.

However long he intends to put off the next election, you can be reassured—or horrified, depending on your particular political viewpoint—that he plans to carry on as he has. As ably read into the record by the Governor General this afternoon, the Speech from the Throne was a tribute to keeping at it. Meet the next few years, same as the last few years. If you preferred the preoccupations of the recent past, you will mostly enjoy the short term future.

Where to begin? How about with a “stable, predictable, low-tax environment?” Or would you prefer that the government “continue to cut red tape for small business?” No matter, the government commits to pursue both and simultaneously at that.

Free trade. Foreign investment. A national securities regulator. Reducing the cost of government. Eliminating the long-gun registry. Fuming about the Canadian Wheat Board. Senate reform. Tax credits for every human action imaginable. The North. All your old favourites are still here: the Harper Government’s greatest hits.

The government will fight terrorists and criminals and human smugglers. It will promote human rights and religious freedom. It will complete the highway between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.

Which is not to say, of course, that the government is to be of limited perspective. As the title of the document declares, it is “Here for all Canadians.” As the subheads printed in bold and italics specify, this includes jobs and growth and eliminating the deficit and hard-working families and standing on guard and law-abiding Canadians and communities and industries and integrity and accountability.

Which is not to say that it will all be work and policy and careful public management. There will, for instance, be parties—like next year when we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. Presumably there will be cake. And children will be invited to burn and ransack their own miniature versions of the White House.

The word “continue” appeared 24 times. The words “revolutionize” and “overhaul” seemed to have been entirely edited out. And for those of you keeping score of adjectives, “strong” bested “stable” by a score of five to three.

In response, the official opposition seems equally resolute. According to the traditional Huffy News Release from Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the government “failed” today to address “many key issues.” On the plus side, at a mere 35 minutes, this year’s edition of the Speech from the Throne was something less of a dirge than usual.

So there we are. If you are disappointed by the lack of surprises so far, recall that the last time the government aimed to spice up this traditional testing of the Governor General’s literacy, the nation was nearly thrown into civil war along gender lines at the prospect that the national anthem might be edited.

The day’s excitement was instead provided by a 21-year-old Senate page who decided to prematurely end her internship with a small protest of the Prime Minister. Her sign read “Stop Harper.” If it was meant as an order, it seemed a bit late. If it was intended as a request, it seemed futile.

Source: Macleans 

Conservatives to flex majority muscle in new Parliament

OTTAWA—The Conservative government will use its newly-won majority to push through economic, immigration, justice and democratic reform measures that met fierce resistance in the past, according to the blueprint for the coming Parliament.

Copyright legislation, new free trade agreements, a border security deal with the United States, and an aggressive attack on the deficit to achieve a balanced budget by 2014 are among the policies the Conservatives intend to move swiftly on.

The Conservative government, newly elected with a majority mandate on May 2, laid out their priorities in the Speech from the Throne on Friday afternoon.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also announced his government will introduce new legislation to crack down on marriages of convenience for immigration purposes and human smuggling.

The speech cast the two immigration measures as a defence against the “abuse of our system that can victimize unsuspecting Canadians and vulnerable immigrants.”

It will deliver on its long-promised end to the long-gun registry, and to the monopolies that control wheat and barley sales — all staples of Conservative platforms for years, but which were opposed by New Democrats and Liberals in the past.

It will launch a “digital economy strategy” to encourage Canadian businesses to adopt new technologies and train their workers. It promised assistance for workers who want to learn new skills, and for older workers who do not want to retire. In a previous Throne Speech, the Conservatives had pledged to eliminate mandatory retirement in federally regulated industries.

The Conservatives say they will continue to work to open foreign markets to Canadian goods. The Harper government will complete negotiations on free trade agreements with the European Union by 2012 and India by 2013.

Other than border security and trade deals, foreign policy was cast in military terms in the speech. It made brief reference to the extended training mission in Afghanistan, promised to support veterans, and to hold a debate on the Canadian participation in NATO’s Libyan mission. But there was no other reference to troubles abroad, notably Syria, nor was there any reference to Israel, and efforts to restart peace talks.

The speech repeated an election pledge to create a new Office of Religious Freedom “to promote human rights” — an ill-defined concept expected to be housed at the department of foreign affairs.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Page of protest livens up throne speech

OTTAWA—A young woman who spent the past year working in a job coveted by politically minded university students nationwide decided to express her disillusionment with government by getting fired in a spectacular way.

Brigette DePape, 21, walked into the Senate chamber wearing the black bow tie and white gloves that were part of her page uniform with a handmade protest sign — a red stop sign emblazoned with the message “Stop Harper” and a cartoonish exclamation mark — tucked into her skirt.

“I was kind of nervous as I was walking down that I would trip or something like that, but everything went smoothly,” DePape told the Star in an interview on Friday.

This was no after-hours prank or photo shoot.

This was as Governor General David Johnston was delivering the Speech from the Throne.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper looked on as DePape stood silently with her sign, long brown braid thrown over her shoulder, for a few seconds before the sergeant-at-arms escorted her out of the room

She was fired from her job around the same time she issued an emailed news release explaining her act of civil disobedience and her name — and “Stop Harper” message — became a trending topic on the social media site Twitter.

“Harper's agenda is disastrous for this country and for my generation,” DePape wrote in the professional-looking press release emailed to media while she was still being detained by parliamentary security.

“This country needs a Canadian version of an Arab spring, a flowering of popular movements that demonstrate that real power to change things lies not with Harper but in the hands of the people, when we act together in our streets, neighbourhoods and workplaces,” DePape said in the release.

Senate Speaker Noël A. Kinsella said the incident was a contempt of Parliament and said security concerns would be looked into.

Source: Toronto Star

Get the Shell Out of the Sacred Headwaters

In a remote corner of British Columbia lies the Sacred Headwaters, the shared birthplace of three of North America's greatest wild salmon rivers and home to many threatened species, including grizzly bears, wild salmon and stone sheep.

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has their eye on the beautiful wilderness for coalbed methane drilling, an environmentally dangerous process that requires a maze of gas wells and pipelines and a huge amount of toxic wastewater. Coalbed methane drilling in Wyoming, Montana and Alberta has already proven to cause serious damage and the vulnerable wildlife of the Sacred Headwaters can't stand up to Shell by themselves.

We must protect our wild salmon, caribou, moose, and grizzlies from Shell's destructive coalbed methane drilling. Fill out a postcard to Shell telling them to stay out of the Sacred Headwaters. ForestEthics will deliver it for you!

Source:Care2 Petitionsite