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.]

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fords should think twice about library cuts, Atwood says

Writer Margaret Atwood hopes the outpouring of support for libraries by Toronto citizens will be a lesson for Mayor Rob Ford and his supporters on council as they consider other cuts to city services.

Talk of closing branches “in a heartbeat,” as the mayor’s brother Councillor Doug Ford did earlier this summer, shows they did not think the issue through and did not understand how important the city’s library system is to citizens of all ages and walks of life, said the award-winning author. Ms. Atwood tweeted a link to a petition protesting proposed cuts that helped set off a verbal sparing match between her and Councillor Ford, the mayor’s brother and closest advisor.

Councillor Ford said he would close one particular branch in his ward “in a heartbeat,” and went on to say that he “wouldn’t have a clue,” who she was if she passed him on the street. Those remarks went viral and the councillor later clarified his remarks, saying he meant most people in is ward would not know her.

“They just didn’t think,” Ms. Atwood said Thursday after a news conference to launch a contest asking Torontonians why their library matters. The contest offers winners lunch with one of 11 distinguished authors.

Federal panel okays Darlington nuclear plan

A federal government panel appointed to assess the impact of building new nuclear plants east of Oshawa has concluded the project is not likely to cause major environmental risk.

The Ontario government is planning to build two new nuclear reactors at Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington site in the hopes of eventually producing about one-twelfth of the province’s energy supply.

There have been ongoing protests from environmentalists about the safety of the project. Greenpeace protesters interrupted part of the panel’s 17-day public hearing in March and April.

The hearings went ahead despite the environmentalists’ concerns that the panel was ignoring safety questions raised by leaks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan following the March earthquake and tsunami.

The panel submitted its final report to the federal environment minister, who will be responsible for approving or denying the project.

Source: Toronto Star 

Riots policy warning from Lib Dem Home Office minister

A Home Office minister has warned the government against "jumping to conclusions" as it goes about crafting its response to the riots.

Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone has written in her local newspaper that the "government's job is to ensure that its citizens are safe ... but we do have to be careful about jumping to conclusions".

Her call for more caution in devising measures for dealing with the riots is in line with the Lib Dem position that they will put a brake on some of the responses.

Immediately after the riots, David Cameron and ministers floated a plethora of policy responses, including the eviction of the families of rioters from council houses and a consultation on halting benefit payments to offenders. The PM also gave emphatic support for tough sentences handed out by the courts, intended to be "exemplary" and to deter people from taking part in riots in the future.

Proposed Immigrant Detention Centers Draw Criticism From Residents, Immigrant Groups

WASHINGTON -- Proposed immigration detention facilities in Florida and New Jersey will be ringed with barbed wire and house people against their will -- but don't call them jails or prisons.

"ICE has instituted reforms to address the vast majority of complaints about its immigration detention system," Barbara Gonzalez, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson, said in response to criticism that the new facilities are essentially prisons. "The new facilities are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of ICE's immigration detention population which is not a penal system."

Advocacy groups are pushing back against proposed for-profit detention centers in New Jersey and Florida, arguing federal immigration authorities should come up with alternatives to detention rather than build additional facilities.

Rick Perry Sought State Profits From Teacher Life Insurance Scheme

WASHINGTON -- Two weeks before Thanksgiving in 2003, top officials from Texas Governor Rick Perry's office pitched an unusual offer to the state's retired teachers: Let's get into the death business.

Perry's budget director, Mike Morrissey, laid out a pitch that was both ambitious and risky, according to notes summarizing the meeting provided to The Huffington Post.

According to the notes, which were authenticated by a meeting participant, the Perry administration wanted to help Wall Street investors gamble on how long retired Texas teachers would live. Perry was promising the state big money in exchange for helping Swiss banking giant UBS set up a business of teacher death speculation.

All they had to do was convince retirees to let UBS buy life insurance policies on them. When the retirees died, those policies would pay out benefits to Wall Street speculators, and the state, supposedly, would get paid for arranging the bets. The families of the deceased former teachers would get nothing.

Gov. Rick Perry routinely attacks federal health care reform, calling it a massive overreach that intrudes into the lives of every American. But in the presidential contender's early days on the campaign trail, he has revealed little about what his own "Perrycare" could look like -- or how much changing American health care will figure into his candidacy.

Political strategists say, don't hold your breath: Republican candidates talk very little about health care in primary campaigns because the issue isn't a top priority for their voters, and because anything beyond hammering "Obamacare" could become a target for critics. They don't expect Perry to roll out details in stump speeches unless he makes it to the general election, where Democrats could try to hit him on Texas' low spending on mental health and Medicaid, and the state's poor rate of insurance coverage.

Study: Climate Shifts Cause War

Top military brass, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the UN Secretary General have all warned that climate change will create conflicts in the future. But environmental shifts are already causing wars, argues a team of experts in a new paper in Nature (PDF) published this month.

El Niño, the oscillating period of warmer temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, brings with it higher temperatures on land and lower rainfall every three to seven years. According to the researchers, the weather phenomenon doubles the risk of civil conflicts in 90 tropical countries. They also believe it has been a potential factor in 21 percent of the world's conflicts over a 54-year span.

As the authors explain, events like droughts put strain on food and water resources, which can cause conflict. Natural disasters can also cause disease, famine, and economic distress, which may create tensions between factions.

"Terrorists for the FBI:" How the FBI Uses Informants to Surveil and Entrap Americans

The FBI has built a massive network of spies to prevent another domestic terrorist attack. But are they busting plots—or leading them? That’s the question addressed by a year-long investigation in Mother Jones magazine. It suggests FBI informants are not only busting terrorist plots, they are actually leading them so the FBI can later claim victories in the so-called "war on terror.” In collaboration with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley, reporter Trevor Aaronson examined more than 500 terrorism-related cases and found that nearly half the prosecutions involved the use of informants, many of them incentivized by cash rewards up to a hundred thousand dollars per assignment. We speak with Aaronson and we are also joined by James Wedick, a retired FBI agent who worked for the Bureau for 35 years, and Gadeir Abbas, staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Source: Democracy Now!  

With CIA Help, New York Police Secretly Monitored Mosques, Muslim Communities Post-9/11

A new investigation by the Associated Press reveals how, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the New York City Police Department decided it could no longer trust other agencies to prevent terrorism and started expanding its own intelligence gathering. In the process, it became "one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies," targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government. The report, titled "With CIA Help, NYPD Moves Covertly in Muslim Areas," also finds that these operations "benefited from unprecedented help from the CIA, a partnership that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying." The report details how police used informants, known as "mosque crawlers," to monitor sermons, even without any evidence of wrongdoing. Also falling under NYPD’s scrutiny were imams, taxi cab drivers and food cart vendors — jobs often done by Muslims. We speak with Matt Apuzzo, co-author of the Associated Press investigative report, and get response from Gadeir Abbas, staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Source: Democracy Now! 

The Rick Perry Book Club

When Rick Perry was asked by an audience member in Waterloo, Iowa earlier this month what he would do to rein in spending on entitlement programs if elected president, the Texas governor had a quick response: "Have you read my book, Fed Up!? Get a copy and read it." Four days later, Perry's campaign had reconsidered its pitch; his communications director, Ray Sullivan, issued a clarification to reporters that Fed Up! was not intended to serve as a blueprint for the Perry presidency, and that the most radical ideas proposed within—the repeal of Social Security, Medicare, and the 16th Amendment—weren't meant to be serious proposals.

If you can't trust what he's written, you might do well to consider what he reads. Perry's reading list (cobbled together from interviews, tweets, and a little bit of guesswork), is a mix of tea party treatises, tracts on small-government, paperback thrillers, and owner's manuals for life—some more literal than others. Here's a sampling:

The Five Thousand Year Leap: 28 Great Ideas That Changed the World, by W. Cleon Skousen: Since Glenn Beck dusted it off, wrote a new foreword, and promoted it heavily in 2009, Skousen's treatise on the Constitution and the faith of our founders has become required reading on the far right. Skousen, whom the conservative National Review once described as an "all-around nutjob" argued that the Constitution was a direct descendant of Anglo-Saxon Common Law, which in turn was a descendant of the governing system of the ancient Israelites, which in turn came directly from God. To tie it all together, he floats the debunked theory that the Anglo-Saxons were themselves a (very) lost tribe of Israel.

For those looking to more fully understand the roots of Perry's brand of federalism, The Five Thousand Year Leap is a handy starting point: Skousen views the 17th Amendment, allowing for the direct election of senators, as a crushing blow to the balance between state and federal power—a position trumpeted by Perry in Fed Up! Regulatory agencies like the EPA, which Perry reviles, are treated as the exclusive domain of the states. Even National Parks come under scrutiny from Skousen, who belives they lack constitutional standing. It's a minimalist approach to the Constitution that's radical even by the standards of todays conservatives; in another book, The Making of America, Skousen holds up the Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford as a model of conservative jurisprudence. (The book was actually pulled from public schools in California due to its backwards views on race.)

Above all else, Skousen writes, America is a Christian nation, Biblically rooted. As Perry told the Values Voters Summit in 2009 while discussing The Five Thousand Year Leap, "He asserts that natural law, God's law, is the basis of our nation's laws." And it is God's law that will guide us back to prosperity.

Choking the oil sands

Over the next few weeks, as many as 2,000 climate change protesters are expected to descend on Washington in an effort to draw more Americans into the debate over Alberta’s oil sands—one of the most carbon-intensive sources of fossil fuel on the planet. But this time, anti-oil sands groups aren’t focusing on the vast open pit mines near Fort McMurray, which one activist memorably compared to J. R. R. Tolkien’s fire-spewing and charcoal-covered realm of Mordor, but on a major pipeline project that the industry needs to move forward with its expansion plans.

Supported by such high-profile environmentalists and left-leaning luminaries as David Suzuki and Naomi Klein, the protesters, who will risk arrest during their White House sit-in, hope to stop President Barack Obama’s administration from approving the proposed 2,673-km Keystone XL pipeline that is being built by TransCanada Corp. and would move crude oil from northern Alberta to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, north of the border, anti-pipeline rallies are scheduled to take place over the next few months in Vancouver and Ottawa. In addition to the Keystone XL project, the Canadian rallies will also focus on a proposed 1,170-km pipeline, built by Enbridge Inc., that would connect northern Alberta to an oil-shipping terminal in Kitimat, B.C., running through an area that opponents claim is pristine wilderness and the habitat of a sacred species of bear.

Too many cops?

This spring, Tamara Cartwright dropped off an envelope at her local post office outside Lethbridge, Alta. A friend had sent her a jar of hemp-based ointment, so she replied with a thank you card, wrote her name and return address on the envelope and, in a decision certain to haunt her for years to come, enclosed four grams of her homegrown marijuana, enough for perhaps four cigarettes. On an April morning some days later she returned to the post office to pick up another package. Moments later, police pulled her over, handcuffed her, put her in a cruiser and hauled her off to the police station.

It made quite a spectacle, says the 41-year-old mother of four, who suffers from colitis and is one of more than 10,000 medical marijuana patients registered with Health Canada. “It was embarrassing,” she says. “I was still in my pyjamas.” She emerged four hours later with a trafficking charge for giving away those four grams.

Her charge is part of a recent marked increase in arrests for cannabis offences. Cannabis arrests jumped 13 per cent in 2010 to 75,126. Of those, almost 57,000 were for simple possession, a 14 per cent jump from the year before. (The statistics reflect cases where the arrest was the most serious charge a person faced, not the thousands more where a pot charge was tacked onto a string of more serious crimes.) The cannabis arrest rate is an anomaly at a time when the overall crime rate in 2010 fell to its lowest level since the mid-1970s.