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.]

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Puerto Rican Legislators Unimpressed by Obama Hype and Change

COMMENTARY | According to a report by Associated Press , even though President Barack Obama was only in the country for four hours, it was more than long enough to anger the legislators of Puerto Rico's pro-statehood ruling party so much that one of them is heading to the United States to unleash her fury upon the ears of American Hispanic voters.

Last week, Pajamas Media reported of the anxious and expensive preparations taking place in Puerto Rico in anticipation of Obama's visit. The airport was renovated, painted and landscaped and the usual traffic jams were exacerbated while the main highway linking the airport to Old San Juan was completely repaved.

" When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision , my administration will stand by you," Obama told a cheering crowd at an airport hanger ceremony according to Reuters. "We're giving Puerto Ricans the tools they need to build their own future."

Afterward, Obama toured the governor's mansion, where current Gov. Luis Fortuno resides. Fortuno is a Republican who was elected with an overwhelming majority. Unlike the destructive big government, big spending economic policies of Barack Obama that are wreaking havoc on the financial stability of mainland America, due to Fortuno's stern financial programs and aggressive measures to reduce the size of government, Puerto Rico's economy is beginning to recover.

The purpose of Obama's visit was to score points with American Hispanics by drawing attention to the $7 billion in stimulus money and talk about his efforts on immigration reform. Oh, and he went to raise money for his re-election campaign.

All was going so well on the president's visit. That is, until Obama decided to squeeze in a little unscheduled lunch with opposition gubernatorial candidate Alejandro Garcia. Then there was the picture and the glowing story of their meeting he had posted on his official White House website .

So, after spouting a few campaign platitudes, cavorting with the opposition and conning cash-strapped Puerto Ricans out of about $1 million, in his similar continental U.S. fundraising fashion, Obama left without offering any of those future building "tools" he mentioned or even discussing any solutions to their soaring crime rate and staggering unemployment levels.

Sen. Melinda Romero, a delegate of the island's chapter of the Democratic Party, is livid.

"The President did not bring anything to the table," Romero said in a statement issued late Friday. "His visit only served to take away dollars, just like they take away our young people to war."

In fact, Sen. Romero is so infuriated with being played for a fool by the president she has demanded an apology from Obama. She will also be heading to the U.S. to meet with Puerto Rican leaders in key states like Florida and New York with full intention of derailing his already weakening support among American Hispanic voters. While residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens they cannot vote in presidential general elections. However, the 4.6 million Puerto Ricans who live in the United States can.

Romero is also demanding that Obama return the $1 million in Hope and Change he took for nothing in return.

Source: Yahoo News 

The Case for Stiff-Arming Congress on Libya

This note, from long-time Atlantic reader mikey, is in response to my argument that Obama was hurting himself and the country with legalistic (as opposed to broadly convincing and historically legitimate) arguments against involving Congress in the Libya decision. He says:
>>You're right, you know.  Absolutely, incontrovertibly, unarguably right.  The US is not a monarchy or a dictatorship, and it is spelled out explicitly in the Constitution that under the Separation of Powers, only Congress has the power to declare war.  Yep, the logic is clear, the history unquestionable, the legality unequivocal.


Except for this time.  Except for now.

The Republicans in this congress have shown themselves to be despicable, disingenuous and infantile.  They try to hide their true agenda behind manipulative lies and platitudes, while they wage a scorched earth campaign against women, minorities and the blue collar middle class.  They have made it clear that the good of the republic is not a compelling reason for them to act, that they stand only against Barack  Obama, and there is literally nothing they are not willing to sacrifice on the altar of their partisan acrimony and ideological agenda.  Worst of all, they have made it clear, in matters from climate change to expansionary monetary policy to raising the debt ceiling that they are actually willing to work actively to keep the economy depressed in order to improve their political chances in the 2012 general election, regardless of the suffering it causes among their constituents.

If anything, President Obama has been far too accommodating of this venal, self-interested body.  To give them a further opportunity to stay America's hand in time of crisis, to allow them yet another opportunity to gleefully throw sand in the gears of basic American governance, to expect at this late date that they might put their nation ahead of their party would be futile, a fools errand of the first order.

No.  It is clear that these spoiled children legislators will only work to prevent American action, and will block anything that might resemble growth or success for their own selfish purposes.  This time, at this historic junction, this President needs to keep them as far from the levers of power as he possibly can.  And hopefully, history will look back at this foul moment of the ascendancy of ideology over patriotism, and forgive him.<<
Also, from someone with recent experience as an Army officer:
>>There is on Tom Ricks' Foreign Policy weblog a posting from a couple days back by a (sadly somewhat foolish) midshipman at USNA that I think is germane to discussion of Congress' role -- their taking a vote of some kind or another would be very helpful in providing a clear statement of authority to those of us in uniform. They're putting a big burden on the decisions of kids like that and they owe him better. [Sample from the midshipmen's note begins, "President Obama's decision to avoid seeking Congress's permission to continue America's role in the Libyan conflict marks one more step in the long march toward a balance of power within the federal government that is more Napoleonic than democratic." The note ends, "While President Obama is certainly no oppressor, the trend that he is reinforcing opens up the possibility that the time will come where we will have to contend with a leader who is."  - jf ]

FWIW I hate this war so badly I want the President gone from office, but I also think the War Powers Act, Constitutional or not, is ridiculous. I mean, geez, is it so frickin' hard for Congress to vote on something, to use any of its many existing powers to stop a war?  Because if it is, then probably they shouldn't be involved...)<<
And from a foreigner working in China, about Obama:
>>He, and his lawyerly crew, are trying to reform the term "war" into meaninglessness. They want the word to have no meaning. An essentially nihilist position. For a definition of war, one might go back closer to the founder's time... say to Johnson's or Webster's definitions for war. Johnson's, which is quite serviceable, "The exercise of violence under sovereign command against withstanders."

Lyndon Johnson came in on a mandate and left sunk by a war. Obama's presidency is beginning to stink of war.<<
Offered for the record. More on other topics shortly.
Source: The Nation 

Ontario Privacy Commissioner Warns Of Smartphone Data Privacy Issues

THE CANADIAN PRESS - There are unintended consequences of having our smart phones and other wireless devices automatically collect data on our whereabouts, warns Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian.

Privacy should be designed into cellphones and Wi-Fi systems to prevent the automatic collection and storage of personal data by the devices, which only continue to grow in popularity, Cavoukian said in a special report.

Most people had no idea their location and other data were being recorded and compiled until Apple recently said its iPhone 4 tracked and stored phone location data on the user's home computers, without the user's knowledge, she said.

"We’re getting a lot more interest in the notion of embedding privacy as a default feature in the design of technology as they’re being designed, so it’s not an afterthought," Cavoukian said in an interview. "Whenever you have incidents like this with Apple, it’s a wake-up call for the rest of the industry that they’ve got to get serious about this."

There is a lot of concern about the capability of mobile systems to track our lives, without our knowledge, concludes Cavoukian's report, "Wi-Fi Positioning Systems: Beware of Unintended Consequences," which was jointly written with Microsoft's former chief architect of identity, Kim Cameron.

"It is no wonder that smart phone researchers state that today’s smart phone operating systems frequently fail to provide users with adequate control over and visibility into how third-party applications use their private data," concludes the report.

The problem with the data tracking involves the unique address of a mobile user's device, known as media access control — or MAC — address, which is collected or recorded without the user's consent.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Labour learns a lesson

Nobody likes a strike. Parties on either side call them frustrating, gruelling and often confrontational. For union leaders, picketing is a last resort. Managers who must toe the company line can’t make too many concessions in a competitive era of cost-cutting. But most of all, it is the tax-paying public that’s held hostage by strikes as their access to services is extremely limited or snipped.

And the public is exactly who both governments and unions courted this week as Labour Minister Lisa Raitt’s tabling of the back-to-work bill helped usher in a tentative deal between Air Canada and its striking employees – a political hardball she said would serve the best interests of Canadians.

Locked out Canada Post employees may also be legislated back to work by Tuesday if weekend negotiations fail to bring a resolution. In the meantime, postal workers in Montreal, North Bay, Vancouver and Windsor strayed from their picketlines Friday and formed vocal rallies in an effort to shore up public support – something unions say is desperately needed if they want to strengthen their cause.

Good luck getting it, observers say. The new fiscally conservative political climate, the post-recession economy and an increasingly fractious labour market have weakened unions, seriously eroded public support and shifted society in a way that has made some conventional strategies and issues of union past seem almost anachronistic, experts said this week.

Stephen Harper clinched the majority in Ottawa he was hoping for by stressing his success in shepherding Canada through the 2008 recession. Fiscally austere Toronto councillor Rob Ford became mayor last fall on the promise of halting the gravy train (he’s also made the Toronto Transit Commission an essential service and is well on his way to privatizing waste collection in response to outrage over the garbage strike of 2009, largely hinged on the issue of bankable sick days.) Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives are leading the polls for this October’s election and have already vowed to take a no-nonsense approach to unions that has found some favour with the current Liberal government.

Unions were already skittish about the impact of this populist political shift, fearing a sweep of Tea Partier efforts in the United States stripping public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights -a change that led to the massive general strike in Wisconsin this spring.

While private-sector unions have been on the decline for the past 20 years, public-sector unions have been on the rise, and now make up the bulk of unionized Canadians. That new reality means unions are indirectly accountable to taxpayers, said Satinder Chera, vice-president for Ontario’s chapter of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which advocates on behalf of owners of small-and medium-sized businesses. Governments have felt the pressure to help mitigate the conflict and make sure Canadians aren’t burned by any strikes.

Full Article
Source: National Post 

Republican Senators Blast Growing 'Isolationism' Within GOP Over Libya

WASHINGTON -- In appearances on Sunday talk shows, several top Republicans rebuked members of their own party for backing "isolationist" foreign policy by pushing to end U.S. military operations in Libya.

The comments follow a push from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and several House Republicans to require President Obama to obtain Congressional approval to continue U.S. military action in Libya. During a debate in New Hampshire last week, Republican presidential hopefuls, including Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-Minn.), were critical of the Libyan operation, and former Massachusets Gov. Mitt Romney (R) also espoused support for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declined an opportunity to criticize Boehner, but spoke out strongly against the comments from GOP presidential candidates.

"I was more concerned about what the candidates said in New Hampshire," McCain said. "This is isolationism ... If we had not intervened, Gaddafi was at the gates of Benghazi ... our interests are our values, and our values are that we don't want people needlessly slaughtered."

"I will be no part of an effort to defund Libya," Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said on NBC's "Meet The Press" program Sunday.

McCain said that while there is "war weariness" in the country, some of the Republican opposition to the Libyan conflict was driven by political motivations, rather than a sincere foreign policy disagreement.

"It certainly is also a bit of partisanship," he said.

The senators' comments gave rare Republican political support to an Obama administration policy. But Liz Cheney, who also criticized growing "isolationism" within the party on "This Week," reserved criticism for Obama as well.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Obama Libya War Powers Debate: Obama's Lawyers Are Worse Than Bush's, Glenn Greenwald Says

President Barack Obama overruled top lawyers from the Justice Department and the Pentagon and decided he has the legal authority to continue the air war in Libya without congressional approval, the New York Times reported Friday night.
Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20. But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team -- including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh -- who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Mr. Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.
Glenn Greenwald points out that when lawyers in the Bush administration faced a similar conflict in 2007 over the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program, they threatened to resign en masse:

Bush decided to reject the legal conclusions of his top lawyers and ordered the NSA eavesdropping program to continue anyway, even though he had been told it was illegal (like Obama now, Bush pointed to the fact that his own White House counsel (Gonzales), along with Dick Cheney's top lawyer, David Addington, agreed the NSA program was legal).  In response, Ashcroft, Comey, Goldsmith, and FBI Director Robert Mueller all threatened to resign en masse if Bush continued with this illegal spying, and Bush -- wanting to avoid that kind of scandal in an election year -- agreed to "re-fashion" the program into something those DOJ lawyers could approve (the "re-fashioned" program was the still-illegal NSA program revealed in 2005 by The New York Times; to date, we still do not know what Bush was doing before that that was so illegal as to prompt resignation threats from these right-wing lawyers). That George Bush would knowingly order an eavesdropping program to continue which his own top lawyers were telling him was illegal was, of course, a major controversy, at least in many progressive circles.  Now we have Barack Obama not merely eavesdropping in a way that his own top lawyers are telling him is illegal, but waging war in that manner (though, notably, there is no indication that these Obama lawyers have the situational integrity those Bush lawyers had [and which Archibald Cox, Eliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus had before them] by threatening to resign if the lawlessness continues).
Last week, the White House issued a report to Congress detailing its justification for not seeking lawmakers' approval for military operations in Libya. In it, the Obama administration said the conflict does not rise to the level of a war because the U.S. is only playing a support role in the NATO-led operation -- that is, no U.S. troops on the ground and no potential for casualties -- and only plans to be involved for a short time.

The report has not lessened lawmakers' displeasure at the Obama administration. House Majority Leader John Boehner announced late Friday that he plans to hold votes this week aimed at challenging Obama's authority to carry out U.S. military operations in Libya without congressional consent.

"From the outset of this operation, Members of the House have demonstrated respect for the authority granted to the Commander-in-Chief," Boehner said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the President has not exhibited a similar appreciation for Congress' important job of providing oversight and accountability. Even worse, he has failed to communicate to the American people why continuing this mission is critical to our national security."

Source: Huffington 

Harper's Own Privy Council Office Broke Hospitality Spending Rules

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's own department has repeatedly broken the government's tough rules for hospitality spending.

An internal report on how the Privy Council Office spent $340,000 on hospitality found widespread flouting of a basic rule -- that is, public servants must get prior approval from a supervisor before spending the cash.

The review of 2,100 hospitality claims over 13 months, ending last June, found employees repeatedly failed to get a green light before racking up expenses.

The average claim was for about $160, for drinks, meals and other largesse.

The survey examined expense claims in the Prime Minister's Office as well those run up by the Privy Council Office, Harper's own department and the central organ of the Canadian government.

Auditors initially found several instances in which hospitality expenses were incurred without pre-authorization. But they were assured by senior managers that the problem had since been corrected.

So auditors randomly selected 20 more-recent hospitality claims -- and found only half had been authorized in advance, clear evidence that the rules continued to be flouted, despite the protestations of senior management.

"For the majority of hospitality expenditures, Accounting Operations receives the pre-authorization form after the expenditure has been incurred," says the internal report.

The practice is specifically banned by the Financial Administration Act, and since coming to power in 2006, the Conservatives have further tightened spending on hospitality to curtail alleged abuses.

Last Nov. 24, Stockwell Day -- then Treasury Board president -- announced another crackdown on hospitality, citing as an example of abuse a $31,700 reception thrown by Statistics Canada for 400 people in 2005.

Day said the event "was not a good signal to be sending" as Canadians tighten their belts -- and that a more restrictive policy would kick in on Jan. 1.

The Canadian Press later reported Harper had personally approved a $47,000 event for 600 employees in Privy Council Office.

Hospitality was budgeted at $7,400 for the PCO event, held three months before Day's tough-talking announcement and roughly equivalent in value to the Statistics Canada reception.

A spokesman for the Privy Council Office says that since Jan. 1, managers who fail to pre-authorize hospitality tabs are required to explain why and what they're doing to stop the problem.

Raymond Rivet also says they are including a reminder about pre-authorization in training sessions that began in February.

The so-called assurance review was completed in early March, but only recently released. The report does not provide any details of the offending hospitality claims.

The 2009 federal budget imposed a two-year freeze on spending for travel, conference and hospitality government wide. Privy Council Office reduced its bill for those items to $3 million in 2010-2011, down from $3.8 million in 2009-2010, and $4.1 million the previous year, Rivet said.

Source: Huffington