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, October 08, 2011

Occupation Dispatch

The Occupy Wall Street protests now have a newspaper of record, the Occupied Wall Street Journal. The d├ębut issue of the OWSJ is four pages long and printed in full color. It’s not yet clear how often it will run—the current issue doesn’t have a dateline—but a second issue is expected today, and there are plans for three more to follow.

The paper's tone is revolutionary: “What is occurring on Wall Street right now is remarkable. For over two weeks, in the great cathedral of capitalism, the dispossessed have liberated territory from the financial overlords and their police army.” Its editors, Jed Brandt and Michael Levitin, told the actual Wall Street Journal that they started the paper in response to what they saw as insufficient coverage of the protests in the mainstream press. The publication contains no original reporting, concerning itself mainly with explaining the Occupy Wall Street movement to skeptics and rallying others to the cause.

Notable in the current issue is a column by the journalist Chris Hedges (“Either you join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial district or you stand on the wrong side of history,” he writes); a primer on the movement called “Occupation for Dummies,” which previously ran in the Nation and which offers answers to such questions as “How bad has the police brutality been?” and “What would a ‘win’ look like for the occupation?”; and, like any good protest rag, a manifesto. The “Declaration of the Occupation,” was approved by consensus “at the New York City General Assembly in Occupied Liberty Square.” It contends that “upon corruption of the system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors” and that “no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.” There’s also a piece connecting the protests to this summer’s uprisings in Greece, titled “Learning From the World." In a further effort to situate their protests in the context of the European Summer, and even the Arab Spring, the editors include a timeline positing Occupy Wall Street as a successor to these earlier manifestations of political discontent.

Funding for the OWSJ's first issue, which had an initial run of fifty thousand, was raised on Kickstarter. The paper’s founders started with the modest goal of raising twelve thousand dollars, but have since raised over four times that amount; The message on its Kickstarter page reaffirms the paper’s revolutionary, open-source credentials:
Occupy Wall Street Media is not the “official” media of the occupation— there is no official media! This is one attempt by a group of journalists who support the occupation to offer a way for the general public to hear the stories, perspectives and ideas from inside the movement. We think the more voices, ideas and media the better.
And indeed there is rumor of more voices to come: a rep for a protestor’s media group in Boston told the Wall Street Journal that an Occupied Boston Globe (which just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it) can be expected soon.

Source: New Yorker 

Did Nobel Committee Award Liberia's Sirleaf to Help Her Win Reelection?

For all the good in this year's Nobel Peace Prize trio of recipients -- its affirmation of the growing global leadership of woman, its acknowledgment that neither peace nor democracy comes without their full support and participation, its deeply convincing suggestion that the efforts of peace in 2010 may have been due more to women than men -- the name Ellen Johnson Sirleaf seemed to draw mostly sighs from the academics and journalists who cover West Africa. "Most common complaint of Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia is she spends all her time pleasing the West and not enough building things at home," reported journalist Elizabeth Dickinson. Yale professor Chris Blattman wrote on his blog, "I can't shake the feeling that she spent more time getting feted internationally, and running a U.S. book tour, than [on] the big issues at home."

Sirleaf, the president of Liberia since 2006, is not exactly a controversial figure, but she's not the Dalai Lama either, and her inclusion among today's three Nobel Peace Prize winners might have as much to do with Liberia's domestic and international politics as about the transforming role of female leadership in the developing world. "Shocked response in Monrovia to Johnson Sirleaf's Nobel prize, there are serious misgivings about Ma Ellen in Liberia," UK Independent report Daniel Howden tweeted from the Liberian capital, noting Sirleaf's "murky" record during that country's bloody civil war and reporting "thousands of opposition supporters" rallying against the prize. A local told him, "[The International] Community put fine flowers atop the grave but there are dead bones underneath."

Occupy Wall Street Comes to D.C., but Can It Take Root?

Occupy Wall Street is spreading so fast to so many cities -- close to 1,000 at last count -- that the movement is already struggling to maintain its focus and identity. Will it become an arm of the labor movement? Will it get swallowed up by what Robert Gibbs memorably labeled "the professional left"? Or will it stick to its resonant critique of a federal government looking out for corporations and the wealthy and to hell with everyone else?

If all of this sounds technical or trivial, it's not. The future of Occupy Wall Street as a political force may well depend on how well it conveys its message and mission. "We can no longer afford to let corporate greed and corrupt politics set the policies of our nation," the group says on its main website. The dire consequences are found on a companion Tumblr, "We Are the 99 Percent," about all those suffering in a recession economy in which the richest 1 percent own 40 percent of the nation's wealth.

There's no better example of the perils and distractions ahead than a confusing multi-day protest at Freedom Plaza here in Washington, D.C. At a kickoff rally Thursday, most of the literature and some of those milling on the plaza were from Occupy DC, and local media repeatedly characterized the rally and a march to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as part of Occupy DC.

Is Euroland really facing a Lehman moment?

THE fear of contagion is widespread in panicky financial markets. As the latest impasse over the Greek bail-out’s latest instalment continues, an even bigger restructuring of its massive public debt is looming. And the worry remains that a swingeing write-down in Greece could precipitate a bigger crisis in the euro area as banks in other countries come under even greater pressure.

Such concerns are certainly bubbling at the Global Economic Symposium being held in the city of Kiel in northern Germany. They are not confined to Europeans. Plenty of American and Chinese are alarmed at the latest lurches in the euro area’s debt crisis. They, too, fear that a Greek default could be Europe’s Lehman moment, which would—as in autumn 2008—send financial shock waves around the world and trigger another global recession.

But speaking at the conference, Edward Lazear, who was President Bush’s chief economic adviser during the financial crisis, argued that the contagion effects of Lehman’s fall in September 2008 had been exaggerated. He likened the crisis to popcorn rather than dominoes. If the heat is on, removing one kernel from the pan will not stop others from popping. The problems affecting banks in 2008 were rooted in their bad lending rather than their exposure to other banks and the interconnectedness of the financial system. Hence the solution had to be to cool the pan down by stuffing banks with capital.

The Trouble With Greece

Europe has been right to demand that, in exchange for bailout financing, Greece carry out painful structural reforms to make its economy more competitive and able to generate more revenue to pay down the country’s huge debts. Without that pressure, Athens would likely never be able to overcome fierce resistance from public-sector unions, professionals, the wealthy and all of the special interests determined to keep doing business as usual.       

But Europe has been dead wrong to simultaneously demand that Greece impose steep new taxes and deep social spending cuts guaranteed to prolong and worsen an already severe recession. That will make it impossible for the country to earn its way out of debt.

With Greece’s diminished prospects threatening the balance sheets of banks across Europe, the European Central Bank announced Thursday that it will add new liquidity to the Continent’s banking system. But its plan to purchase $53.6 billion in special bonds issued by banks and other financial institutions will not be enough. Europe’s leaders need to turn away from the austerity policies that are stymieing growth, not only in Greece but in stronger economies like Germany’s as well.

How to eliminate common ground in Canadian politics

There’s nothing like the fear of recession to make us yearn for stability, for the tried and un-true. So voters cast ballots in three provinces this week for the "same old, same old." Incumbent premiers were returned in Prince Edward Island (Robert Ghiz). Ontario (Dalton McGuinty) and Manitoba (Greg What’s His Name?).

And while Canadians continue to fret about their meagre savings, large debts and underfunded pensions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives continue to attack the status quo with all the weapons in their legislative arsenal. This week’s provincial elections might show that voters want stability, but the government of Canada wants change.

The latest salvo from the Conservatives came with the introduction of a measure, dear to the prime minister’s heart, that would kill the $2-per-vote subsidy paid to political parties in Canada. This provision was buried deep in the monster known as the Keeping Canada’s Economy and Jobs Growing Act. (Elegant title that: Can a job grow, or does it just get more demanding?)

A lot of blather has been uttered on both sides of the vote-subsidy debate. Some people (me, for instance) ask why taxpayers should support political parties as a matter of law rather than a matter of choice. Others say that distributing money to political parties on the basis of their actual electoral results is about as sensible as it gets.

G8/G20 security firm fined $45,000

The private security company awarded a controversial $21-million contract to do checkpoint screening inside the security perimeters at last year's G8 and G20 summits in Ontario has pleaded guilty to doing business without a licence ahead of the event.

A lawyer for Contemporary Security Canada appeared in an Ottawa court Friday morning to plead guilty on behalf of the company and agree to a $45,000 fine.

The Ontario Provincial Police laid a string of charges in March against CSC, including three counts of offering security services while not licensed, two counts of failing to ensure proper uniforms and one charge of hiring an unlicensed guard for the G20 and G8 summits. Many of its top executives were also charged.

The Crown dropped most of those charges — including the more than 20 against company officials — on Friday, telling the court that it was the RCMP that solicited CSC's business and granted the contract without considering bids from other, licensed Ontario security firms.

Voters deal PM an unexpected provincial hand


A Liberal in Ontario, a New Democrat in Manitoba and a Red Tory in Alberta: this is not the provincial hand Prime Minister Stephen Harper expected to be dealt by voters this fall.

As recently as Labour Day, Harper had reasons to believe that the vast swath of political real estate that stretches from the Ottawa river to the Alberta-British Columbia border would emerge from a busy provincial election season sporting a uniform shade of blue.

His own Conservatives had scored clear wins in Ontario and Manitoba less than six months ago.

After two Liberal and three NDP majority mandates respectively, Premiers Dalton McGuinty and Greg Selinger seemed very much on the wrong side of their governing cycles.

In Alberta, where the usual dynamics of a competitive provincial scene play out within the conservative tent, precious little money was wagered on Alison Redford literally coming out of left field to become Tory leader and de facto premier.