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, October 23, 2011

Canada’s first F-35s won’t have built-in ability to communicate in Arctic

OTTAWA — Canada’s new multibillion-dollar stealth fighters are expected to arrive without the built-in capacity to communicate from the country’s most northerly regions — a gap the air force is trying to close.

A series of briefings given to the country’s top air force commander last year expressed concern that the F-35′s radio and satellite communications gear may not be as capable as that of the current CF-18s, which recently went through an extensive modernization.

Military aircraft operating in the high Arctic rely almost exclusively on satellite communications, where a pilot’s signal is beamed into space and bounced back down to a ground station.

The F-35 Lightning will eventually have the ability to communicate with satellites, but the software will not be available in the initial production run, said a senior Lockheed Martin official, who spoke on background.

It is expected to be added to the aircraft when production reaches its fourth phase in 2019, but that is not guaranteed because research is still underway.

Air Canada appeals arbitrator’s pension ruling

Air Canada (AC.A-T1.36----%) is trying to overturn an arbitrator’s decision that backs a union plan to create a novel pension system for new sales and service agents.

The Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents 3,800 employees stationed at airport counters and call-in centres, said it is “astonished” by Air Canada’s notice that it will appeal the arbitrator’s pension ruling made last month. The fight over pension reform led to a three-day strike in June, but the two sides had agreed to let arbitrator Kevin Burkett resolve the impasse.

Mr. Burkett sided with the CAW’s proposal to launch a hybrid system for new hires that blends the company’s traditional defined-benefit pension with a less costly defined-contribution plan. Air Canada wants to stop new hires from entering the defined-benefit system and instead place them entirely into defined-contribution pensions.

Police again arrest Occupy Chicago protesters in Grant Park

Chicago police arrested about 130 Occupy Chicago protesters starting about 1 a.m. today after the group returned to Grant Park for the second weekend Saturday night and tried to maintain a camp in the park after its official closing time.

Police estimated that the crowd that showed up for a rally earlier in the evening peaked at around 3,000 people by the time protesters arrived in Congress Plaza at Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway after a march from Federal Plaza in the Loop.

As the 11 p.m. park closing approached, more than 100 people decided to stay in Congress Plaza in the park as several hundred more moved onto a nearby sidewalk or across Michigan Avenue, off park district property. Police announced several times that anyone still in the park would be arrested, and by midnight, about 100 people remained in the plaza, which had been cordoned off with police barricades.

Herman Cain and the Kochs

The Associated Press broke an interesting story recently noting that Herman Cain, who has portrayed himself as an outsider to politics, has in fact worked closely since 2005 with Americans for Prosperity, a corporate front group organized and funded in large part by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, long-time financiers of America’s conservative movement. (I wrote about the Kochs for The New Yorker last year.) The historically publicity-shy Kochs have stepped out of the shadows recently, vowing that Americans for Prosperity will spend some $200 million in the 2012 Presidential campaign in hopes of defeating President Obama. In light of this, it seems fair to ask exactly how Cain fits into this larger project, and how dependent he is on the Kochs.

The AP story described a tangle of ties between Cain’s top campaign advisers and Americans for Prosperity. It also said that in 2005 and 2006 Cain himself travelled the country, speaking on behalf of the pro-corporate, anti-government group. But it stopped short of revealing any past or current financial ties between Cain and the Koch Brothers’ political organization.

Big Money, Bad Media, Secret Agendas: Welcome to America's Wildest School Board Race

School board elections are supposed to be quintessential America contests. Moms and Main Street small-business owners and retired teachers campaign by knocking on doors, writing letters to the editor and debating at elementary schools. Then friends and neighbors troop to the polls and make their choices.

But what happens when all the pathologies of national politics—over-the-top spending by wealthy elites and corporate interests, partisan consultants jetting in to shape big-lie messaging, media outlets that cover spin rather than substance—are visited on a local school board contest?

Emily Sirota is finding out.

The mom of 10-month-old Isaac, Sirota’s a social worker and community organizer with a degree from the University of Denver and a history of working in the community. She’s running for a seat representing southeast Denver on the city’s school board in one of three school board contests that the city’s voters will decide November 1.

The Senate Moves to Subsidize Homes for the Rich

Anyone who hoped that we would begin to see how the mortgage market might function with a tiny bit less government support should be pretty disappointed today. The Senate approved a measure that would reinstate the high-cost mortgage limits that expired on September 30th. The move seeks to ensure that relatively affluent Americans will get slightly cheaper mortgages, while keeping the training wheels on the housing finance market.

For anyone who hasn't been following along, here's a detailed explanation. For a quick refresher, the government agreed to back bigger mortgages in 2008 when the credit markets froze up. At that time through September of this year, the mortgage limit was 125% of the metro area's median home price in 2007 or $729,750, whichever was smaller. Prior to this jump, the limit was set at just $417,000. As of this month, that limit declined to 115% of the metro area's median home price in 2010 or $625,500, whichever is smaller.

You can see that this policy is specifically geared towards relatively expensive mortgages. It isn't meant to lend a helping hand to Americans on the cusp of home ownership. It isn't even meant to assist the average homeowner, who will have an income above the metro area's average. In any city, those who raising the limit would benefit will be relatively affluent. The old limits should be allowed to expire.

Occupy Wall Street Drummers Driving Neighbors Batty

"I was 100 feet from where 4,000 people were killed. Okay? That's what's missing here. You are a half a block from Ground Zero. You are not occupying Wall Street—you are occupying Zuccotti Park in my backyard. And you are drumming at all kinds of crazy hours. When is it going to end?"

So said an emotional neighbor of Occupy Wall Street at a contentious, two-hour meeting last night of the Quality of Life Committee of the Manhattan Community Board 1, the city body that deals with neighborhood issues near Wall Street. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer had kicked things off with the admission that "tensions have been growing between protesters and residents." And as the meeting dragged on, that seemed like an understatement.

"I am an occupier, I am a drummer, and, despite what they say, I am also a human being," said Ashley Love, a young member of the OWS People of Color Working Group, who'd tried to organize a protest march against the meeting. "It's primarily a commercial area; not too many people live there," she went on, to an uproar of boos and hollers. "The majority of the drummers are people of color with low-income or no-income backgrounds, and Wall Street was built by slaves when they brought the Africans over here. The council people back then prohibited drumming because it was a way of protesting. It was a way of communication. And I just think you guys are scapegoating us."

Climate Skeptics Take Another Hit

Physicists are notorious for believing that other scientists are mathematically incompetent. And University of California-Berkeley physicist Richard Muller is notorious for believing that conventional wisdom is often wrong. For example, the conventional wisdom about climate change. Muller has criticized Al Gore in the past as an "exaggerator," has spoken warmly of climate skeptic Anthony Watts, and has said that Steve McIntyre's famous takedown of the "hockey stick" climate graph made him "uncomfortable" with the paper the hockey stick was originally based on.

So in 2010 he started up the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST) to show the world how to do climate analysis right. Who better, after all? "Muller's views on climate have made him a darling of skeptics," said Scientific American, "and newly elected Republicans in the House of Representatives, who invited him to testify to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology about his preliminary results." The Koch Foundation, founded by the billionaire oil brothers who have been major funders of the climate-denial machine, gave BEST a $150,000 grant.

At Zuccotti Park, Conflict Arises Among Occupiers

Events at Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Lower Manhattan, have become increasingly dramatic in recent days, as egos have clashed, visions competed, and the unity of the protesters has been questioned.

The debate over whether or not the protesters should draft a list of demands led to a New York Times piece that dominated a recent General Assembly discussion. Along with complaints from area residents and continued pressure from the city about cleanliness and noise, growing concerns about safety and theft on the premises, and the proposal of a Spokes Council which for two nights in a row failed to gain consensus from the GA, it has been a long week at Zuccotti Park.

The most vocal members of the movement will say quite clearly there are no "leaders," and the avoidance of that term has led to what some view as a lack of direction for Occupy Wall Street in New York. Differences among the occupiers are inevitable -- and as many working groups will tell you, it has been difficult to get things done.

California Republican: State Should Imprison Undocumented Immigrants Abroad

A Republican state assemblyman in California has what he calls "a wild idea": The state should consider building prisons abroad to house undocumented immigrants who committed crimes in the United States.

"Let's build their prisons in their home countries and send them to those prisons," Assemblyman Brian Jones told Patch editors on Friday, essentially proposing the government deport criminals before they serve their time. "It might be cheaper to pay for the prisons in other countries -- if the other country will run it and keep them actually in prison," he added later.

The federal government currently deports unauthorized immigrants after they serve prison sentences, but provides some support to states to defray the cost of detention through the DOJ's State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. Undocumented immigrants make up about 25 percent of the population of federal prisons, according to a March report from the Government Accountability Office. But that figure is larger than the percentage of undocumented immigrants in state prisons because civil immigration violations -- being in the country illegally -- are federal crimes.

Source: Huff 

The First Amendment and the Obligation to Peacefully Disrupt in a Free Society

Mayor Bloomberg is planning Draconian new measures to crack down on what he calls the "disruption" caused by the protesters at Zuccotti Park, and he is citing neighbors' complaints about noise and mess. This set of talking points, and this strategy, is being geared up as well by administrations of municipalities around the nation in response to the endurance and growing influence of the Occupation protest sites. But the idea that any administration has the unmediated option of "striking a balance," in Bloomberg's words, that it likes, and closing down peaceful and lawful disruption of business as usual as it sees fit is a grave misunderstanding -- or, more likely, deliberate misrepresentation -- of our legal social contract as American citizens.

Some kinds of disruption in a free republic are not "optional extras" if the First Amendment governs the land, as it does ours, and are certainly not subject to the whims of mayors or local police, or even DHS. Just as protesters don't have a blanket right to do everything they want, there is absolutely no blanket right of mayors or even of other citizens to be free from the effect of certain kinds of disruption resulting from their fellow citizens exercising First Amendment rights. That notion, presented right now by Bloomberg and other vested interests, of a "disruption-free" social contract is pure invention -- just like the flat-out fabrication of the nonexistent permit cited in my own detention outside the Huffington Post Game Changers event this last Tuesday, when police told me, without the event organizers' knowledge and contrary to their intentions, that a private entity had "control of the sidewalks" for several hours. (In fact, the permit in question -- a red carpet event permit! -- actually guarantees citizens' rights to walk and even engage in political assembly on the streets if they do not block pedestrian traffic, as the OWS protesters were not.)