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, October 27, 2011

Libya: U.N. Authorization For Military Action Canceled

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to lift the no-fly zone over Libya on Oct. 31 and end military action to protect civilians, acting swiftly following the death of Moammar Gadhafi and the interim government's declaration of the country's liberation.

The council authorized the actions on March 17 in response to an Arab League request to try to halt Moammar Gadhafi's military, which was advancing against rebels and their civilian supporters. The NATO bombing campaign that followed was critical in helping the rebels oust Gadhafi from power in August.

"This marks a really important milestone in the transition in Libya," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said. "It marks the way from the military phase towards the formation of an inclusive government, the full participation of all sectors of society, and for the Libyan people to choose their own future."

In Berlin, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance on Friday would confirm its earlier, preliminary decision to end operations Oct. 31.

Jennifer Stoddart, Canada's Privacy Commissioner, Reiterates Warning Over 'Lawful Access' Law

OTTAWA - The federal privacy watchdog says government plans to make electronic surveillance easier for police and spies must include stronger public protections.

In a letter to the public safety minister, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart warns against simply resurrecting a trio of previous federal bills to expand surveillance powers.

Stoddart tells Vic Toews these pieces of legislation, which were never passed, endangered privacy.

"In brief, these bills went far beyond simply maintaining investigative capacity or modernizing search powers," says the letter, her latest expression of concern about the proposed measures.

"Rather, they added significant new capabilities for investigators to track, and search and seize digital information about individuals."

Occupy Canada Protests Have Backing Of Plurality, But Most Doubt It Will Do Any Good: Poll

Twice as many Canadians back the Occupy protests as oppose them, but few believe the protests will do any good, according to a poll released this week.

Yet the poll found widespread support for the ideas behind the Occupy movement -- including among self-identified Conservative voters.

The survey, carried out by Abacus Data for the Corporate Community and Social Responsibility Conference, found 41 per cent of Canadians have a very favourable or somewhat favourable view of the protests, while 22 per cent of Canadians have a somewhat or very unfavourable view.

That leaves more than a third of Canadians in the undecided column, but when asked about the specific issues Occupy protesters have been championing, respondents of all ages and political leanings tended to agree with the protesters.

* 81% agree that corporations and the rich have too much influence over public policy and politics in Canada.
* 81% agree that the gap between the rich and poor has grown too large in Canada
* 64% agree that Canadian financial institutions have been reckless and greedy.
* 51% agree that most Canadian corporations are unethical.
Source: Huff 

Criminals didn’t register guns, but registered guns figured in crime

Among the arguments against the long-gun registry, I think the most compelling, at least superficially, was the indignant assertion that gun owners are, by and large, law-abiding citizens who present no danger to society. I know that’s true. Why impose a registration requirement on them?

I’m inclined to respond with smart-alecky questions about similar impositions. Why audit taxpayers when most dutifully pay up? Why ask drivers to blow at those RIDE checks when most are sober? But I fear that many of those who hated the gun registry would miss my rhetorical point and heartily agree that random roadside breathalizers and routine CRA audits should be done away with next.

So let’s stick to the registry for a moment. Since criminals didn’t register, was the system useless? In 2009, Statistics Canada reported that in the previous five years police recovered 253 guns used in murders and, in fact, about a third were registered. Some had been stolen, some used by their owners, some were owned by the victim. In any case, registration records figured in the police investigations and trials.

Occupy first. Demands come later

What to do after the occupations of Wall Street and beyond – the protests that started far away, reached the centre and are now, reinforced, rolling back around the world? One of the great dangers the protesters face is that they will fall in love with themselves. In a San Francisco echo of the Wall Street occupation this week, a man addressed the crowd with an invitation to participate as if it was a happening in the hippy style of the 60s: "They are asking us what is our programme. We have no programme. We are here to have a good time."

Carnivals come cheap – the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work – they are the beginning, not the end. Their basic message is: the taboo is broken; we do not live in the best possible world; we are allowed, obliged even, to think about alternatives.

In a kind of Hegelian triad, the western left has come full circle: after abandoning the so-called "class struggle essentialism" for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist, and other struggles, capitalism is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem. So the first lesson to be taken is: do not blame people and their attitudes. The problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is not "Main Street, not Wall Street", but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street.

Drug War Profiteers: Book Exposes How Wachovia Bank Laundered Millions For Mexican Cartels

As protests continue against Wall Street and the nation’s biggest banks, we speak to British journalist Ed Vulliamy, author of “Amexica: War Along the Borderline.” Vulliamy exposes how one bank, Wachovia, made millions in the Mexican drug war. At the time, Wachovia was the nation’s fourth-largest bank — it has since been taken over by Wells Fargo. “You can’t drive around Mexico with hundreds of billions of dollars in cash in a truck. It has to be banked,” Vulliamy said. “What I found was that it is coming into the United States, into the banking system.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Iraq War Vet Hospitalized with Fractured Skull After Being Shot by Police at Occupy Oakland Protest

Thousands of people reclaimed the Occupy Oakland encampment in front of City Hall Wednesday after police dispersed them twice on Tuesday — first in a pre-dawn raid on the camp and 12 hours later at night when protesters attempted to retake the park — using beanbag projectiles and tear gas. Many protesters expressed outrage over of the injury of Oakland protester Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran whose skull was fractured by a projectile fired by police Tuesday night. He is hospitalized in critical condition and is reportedly under sedation by doctors monitoring his injury. We speak to Jesse Palmer, an Occupy Oakland protester who helped move Olsen to safety, and to Aaron Hinde, a close friend of Scott Olsen and a fellow member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. One of Olsen’s other friends, Adele Carpenter, told Reuters, "The irony is not lost on anyone here that this is someone who survived two tours in Iraq and is now seriously injured by the Oakland police force." Aaron Hinde talked about why Olsen joined the Occupy Oakland movement: "He was a very motivated and dedicated individual. And he believed in the Occupy movement, because it’s very obvious what’s happening in this country, especially as veterans. We’ve had our eyes opened by serving and going to war overseas."

Source: Democracy Now! 

Hill Dispatches: Cooler outside, hotter inside as the spectre of another premature prorogation hangs over the House

The political atmosphere in Ottawa is getting hotter as the weather gets cooler.

- The Tories propose the first unilingual auditor general in more than two decades (prompting Bob Rae's incredulous cry, "Was there no competent bilingual person?").

- The Canadian Wheat Board is going to court to stave off its own destruction.

- There is dark talk of time limits on the debate on Bill C-19, the kill-the-long-gun-registry bill.

- And now we're hearing rumours of an early prorogation, once the government cleans up all the "leftover" stuff from the last Parliament.

The Commons: Bonfire of the registry

The Scene. At its essence, this debate over the long-gun registry was always a debate about paperwork. And so it is only right and fitting that it should end now with a fight over what should be done with that paper.

For the record, Article 29 of Bill C-19, an Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, states that “the Commissioner of Firearms shall ensure the destruction as soon as feasible of all records in the Canadian Firearms Registry related to the registration of firearms that are neither prohibited firearms nor restricted firearms and all copies of those records under the Commissioner’s control.” And variously this much is viewed as a waste of both information and money.

“Why,” Nycole Turmel asked this afternoon, “destroy two billion dollars of accumulated information, while the provinces and the police want to keep it?”

Jason Kenney, whose turn it was to stand in for the Prime Minister this afternoon, stood and did his best John Baird impression, reading aloud a few quotes from NDP MPs who have stated their opposition with the registry. When he’d finished, Jack Harris stood to restate the question on behalf of the official opposition.

Stephen Harper dumps the RAM: A tale of Treachery and Bad Manners

Call it a slap in the face. Call it a kick in the bum with a frozen boot. Call it a royal raspberry.

Call it what it is – a betrayal of Edmonton, of Alberta, and of history.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Alberta’s new infrastructure minister Jeff Johnson got the phone call delivering the ugly news.

The federal government has pulled its long-promised funding for the Royal Alberta Museum – that’s $92 million, yanked out from under our collective Albertan noses.

That money was pledged to the province, by a past Liberal government, almost a decade ago. It was Ottawa’s gift to the people of Alberta, a symbolic gesture to mark our centennial as a member of Confederation.

Sadly, we still seem to be second-rate members.

Without notice, warning, or consultation, the feds have reneged on their deal. Johnson insists the province is still committed to the RAM project, but that he can’t sign the deals he needs to sign by the Nov. 16th deadline. As a result, the project, so often delayed, has been delayed once more.

Ottawa to spend up to $477M on U.S. military satellites

OTTAWA — The federal government is planning to spend as much as $477-million to participate in a U.S.-led military satellite program that has been subject to delays and cost overruns over the past decade, Postmedia News has learned.

The Wideband Global Satellite system has been advertised by the U.S. Defense Department as a communications system for “U.S. warfighters, allies and coalition partners during all levels of conflict, short of nuclear war.”

The idea is to have as many as nine military satellites hovering over different parts of the world, ready to provide high-frequency bandwidth for U.S. and allied forces wherever they may be operating.

Daniel Blouin, a spokesman for Canada’s Department of National Defence, said the Canadian Forces has identified improved communication capabilities as a necessity.

“After Afghanistan and Libya, our efforts in those two countries have proven that the exchange of information between headquarters and deployed elements is critical to modern military operations and their success,” Blouin said.

Campaign Finance Reformers Launch Progressive Effort To Remove Money From Politics

WASHINGTON -- The backlash against the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission continues to grow as a trio of progressive media icons have launched a new effort to remove corporate money from elections.

The We the People Campaign began on Tuesday, with The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower and former Mother Jones publisher Jay Harris in charge of the effort to bring progressive media and advocacy groups together.

"It really came out of conversations just over a year ago," Hightower said. "Katrina, Jay and I had long been talking to progressive groups, particularly progressive media, about the need to consider a little bit of coordination and cooperation on big topics. ... So we decided to do it by focusing on Citizens United, a constitutional amendment and various ways to get around the corporate power dominating our politics."

Both Hightower and Harris pointed to the 2010 decision in Citizens United as the trigger that set off growing grassroots interest in the influence of corporate money over politics. Citizens United opened the door to independent spending by corporations and unions in elections.

Immunity and Impunity in Elite America

How the Legal System Was Deep-Sixed and Occupy Wall Street Swept the Land

As intense protests spawned by Occupy Wall Street continue to grow, it is worth asking: Why now? The answer is not obvious. After all, severe income and wealth inequality have long plagued the United States. In fact, it could reasonably be claimed that this form of inequality is part of the design of the American founding -- indeed, an integral part of it.

Income inequality has worsened over the past several years and is at its highest level since the Great Depression.  This is not, however, a new trend. Income inequality has been growing at rapid rates for three decades.  As journalist Tim Noah described the process:

“During the late 1980s and the late 1990s, the United States experienced two unprecedentedly long periods of sustained economic growth -- the ‘seven fat years’ and the ‘long boom.’ Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80% of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1%. Economic growth was more sluggish in the aughts, but the decade saw productivity increase by about 20%. Yet virtually none of the increase translated into wage growth at middle and lower incomes, an outcome that left many economists scratching their heads.”

Occupy Oakland Police Action Unnerves Wall Street Protestors

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The display of police force in Oakland, Calif., and Atlanta has unnerved some anti-Wall Street protesters.

While demonstrators in other cities have built a working relationship with police and city leaders, they wondered on Wednesday how long the good spirit would last and whether they could be next.

Will they have to face riot gear-clad officers and tear gas that their counterparts in Oakland, Calif. faced on Tuesday? Or will they be handcuffed and hauled away in the middle of the night like protesters in Atlanta?

"Yes, we're afraid. Is this the night they're going to sneak in?" said activist William Buster of Occupy Wall Street, where the movement began last month to protest what they see as corporate greed.

"Is this the night they might use unreasonable force?" he asked.

The message, meanwhile, from officials in cities where other encampments have sprung up was simple: We'll keep working with you. Just respect your neighbors and keep the camps clean and safe.

Business owners and residents have complained in recent weeks about assaults, drunken fights and sanitation problems. Officials are trying to balance their rights and uphold the law while honoring protesters' free speech rights.

Income Inequality Reaches Gilded Age Levels, Congressional Report Finds

WASHINGTON -- America's 99 percent are not just imagining it. The gap between the incomes of the rich and poor in this new Gilded Age is strikingly broad and deep, according to an October report from Congress' data crunchers.

The study by the Congressional Budget Office, released this week, found that income has become dramatically concentrated, shifting heavily toward the top earners between 1979 and 2007.

And although incomes at all levels have risen some, they've skyrocketed for the very wealthiest of earners.

At the other end of the scale, Americans in the bottom fifth of earners saw their incomes increase by less than 20 percent across the nearly three decades. Incomes for those in the middle 60 percent climbed by less than 40 percent over the same span.

Things start to look especially good for the top fifth of earners, who saw their cash flow jump by 65 percent.

Virtue or Vice? Human Rights Diplomacy under the Tory Government

Foreign Minister John Baird’s speech to the UN General Assembly in September was widely reported for the forceful manner in which he condemned the Palestinians’ ’unilateral’ bid for UN membership. Largely unremarked upon, however, was the Minister’s emphasis on human rights—apparently the new lodestar of Canadian foreign policy.

Echoing remarks made by Prime Minister Harper in August, Baird said that Canada will no longer “go along” just to “get along”, and neither should the UN. “Freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law” will be the principles guiding Canada’s foreign policy. Multilateral institutions like the UN – and Canada’s engagement with them – will be judged on the degree to which they stand up for these principles against tyrants and terrorists.

Baird did not spell out the practical results of such a policy shift in any systematic way, although he highlighted some recent decisions: Canada’s refusal to attend meetings of the UN Disarmament Commission from June to August 2011, while North Korea sat in the Chair; our opposition to Iran’s efforts to seek election to leadership roles in UN bodies and, of course, our opposition to the Palestinian request for UN membership. Baird also denounced a range of abusive regimes, from Iran and Burma to Sri Lanka, Syria and Libya.

Police Cracking Down on OWS Protests Nationwide

UPDATE: Fed up with Occupy Wall Street-style encampments, police in cities around the country are increasingly cracking down on protesters who refuse to vacate public spaces.

More than 100 were arrested in Oakland on Tuesday, and 53, including a state senator, were rounded up in Atlanta. Those raids, along with others in smaller cities across the country this week, have brought the total number arrested in Occupy protests nationwide to between 1,500 and 2,000, the Los Angeles Times reports. About half of those arrests have been in New York, while the other half have been spread far and wide.

Many of the arrests have come in cities that had earlier said they would tolerate the protests, the LAT notes. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had issued an executive order allowing the demonstrators to stay in Robert W. Woodruff Park, but he revoked it this week amid what he said were escalating security concerns.

Occupy Canada Movements: Patience Starting To Wear Thin

There are signs that patience is starting to wear thin with the Occupy movements across Canada, as officials in several cities are signalling to protesters that the communities want to reclaim their public spaces.

Occupiers in some cities have been given deadlines to leave, though there are no signs that authorities are considering approaches more extreme than asking nicely.

Some are even suggesting they simply move it somewhere else, a markedly different approach to what was seen at the Occupy protests in Oakland, Calif., and Atlanta this week.

Police in Oakland fired tear gas and beanbag rounds at Occupy demonstrators Tuesday, which cleared out the site for a few hours. Police in Atlanta warned protesters there to leave a downtown park, and early Wednesday morning they moved in and arrested about 50 people.

In Calgary, where the Occupy movement has split into two factions, demonstrators occupying a prime downtown location have been asked to leave and return to the original, less high-traffic park agreed upon with authorities.

Police cuts? An insult to our intelligence

You may think me a prophet — so prescient was the analysis in this space on the fake budget showdown between the police chief and the mayor. Not so.

Yes, I told you the police budget would not be slashed — “guaranteed” — and that the budget-cutting demand was staged to scare other departments into submission. It’s an obvious conclusion from observing how police are regarded and treated in this city.

The police always win.

So, when Chief Bill Blair “play fights” with Mayor Rob Ford only the uninitiated takes it seriously. The mayor campaigned on adding 100 cops to the force and then promptly gave offices a 11 per cent raise. He is not the one to tame the police budget.

Contrary to observable facts, the mayor and his allies claim the police have cut their budget, even though the numbers show the opposite. This tells you the lengths to which the administration will go to alter reality. More on that later.