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 30, 2011

The Limits of Schadenforde

For all the lunacy of the past few days, the week’s most lingering image of Rob Ford had nothing to do with Marg Delahunty.

The moment came about earlier in the week. It’s already been obscured by the feeding frenzy around the mayor’s 911 calls, but on Tuesday, Toronto’s city council passed a ban shark fins, which are often brutally harvested from live fish.

It was an odd debate, which went on for hours in a chamber packed full of interested onlookers. Council, which is more used to considering budgets and rights-of-way, was suddenly considering motions – projected on a storey-high screen—like “Amend the Licensing and Standards Committee Recommendation 1 by inserting the word “illegal” before the word “shark”…” One young man, bearded and wide-eyed, came in a shark outfit. All the reporters asked him for a quote.

Richard Muller, Global Warming Skeptic, Now Agrees Climate Change Is Real

WASHINGTON — A prominent physicist and skeptic of global warming spent two years trying to find out if mainstream climate scientists were wrong. In the end, he determined they were right: Temperatures really are rising rapidly.

The study of the world's surface temperatures by Richard Muller was partially bankrolled by a foundation connected to global warming deniers. He pursued long-held skeptic theories in analyzing the data. He was spurred to action because of "Climategate," a British scandal involving hacked emails of scientists.

Yet he found that the land is 1.6 degrees warmer than in the 1950s. Those numbers from Muller, who works at the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, match those by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

He said he went even further back, studying readings from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. His ultimate finding of a warming world, to be presented at a conference Monday, is no different from what mainstream climate scientists have been saying for decades.

U.S. Planning Troop Buildup in Gulf After Exit From Iraq

MacDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.       

The plans, under discussion for months, gained new urgency after President Obama’s announcement this month that the last American soldiers would be brought home from Iraq by the end of December. Ending the eight-year war was a central pledge of his presidential campaign, but American military officers and diplomats, as well as officials of several countries in the region, worry that the withdrawal could leave instability or worse in its wake.

After unsuccessfully pressing both the Obama administration and the Iraqi government to permit as many as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, the Pentagon is now drawing up an alternative.

In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait, the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region.

Occupy Denver Clash: Police Use Force On Denver Protesters

DENVER — The simmering tension near the Colorado Capitol escalated dramatically Saturday with more than a dozen arrests, reports of skirmishes between police and protesters and authorities firing rounds of pellets filled with pepper spray at supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Officers in riot gear moved into a park late in the day where protesters were attempting to establish an encampment, hauling off demonstrators just hours after a standoff at the Capitol steps degenerated into a fight that ended in a cloud of Mace and pepper spray.

Denver police spokesman Matt Murray said 15 people were arrested in the evening confrontation, where authorities were moving to prevent protesters from setting up tents in the park, which are illegal. Officals say the demonstrators had been warned several times that the tents would not be allowed and those who attempted to stop police from dismantling the camp gear were arrested. Protesters have been staying in the park for weeks, but tents have repeatedly been removed.

Murray said that most of the protesters were peaceful but there was "just a die-hard group that didn't want to cooperate."

Science for sale: A new kind of donor is transforming medical research

The operating rooms at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children run like an airport. Patients roll in as patients roll out – up to 60 elective surgeries a day, 11,000 a year. They flow through 18 rooms where surgeons remove tumours, save limbs, vision and babies the size of their palms.

In 2005, the hospital's chief of surgery, James Wright, had to close four of them. He was tortured. “What if a school bus crashed off the Gardiner? What then? What would happen to the emergency cases?”

Closing the four rooms cut the hospital's capacity to operate by 25 per cent. But Dr. Wright felt that he had no choice. They were ancient ruins by modern medical standards, built in the 1950s for cart-and-trolley tools, not lasers and robotics. Even the air within them was a hazard, their antique ventilation increasing airborne exposure to infection and dangerous gases.

Second thoughts about the F-35

When the most senior U.S. military officer admits that the largest defence procurement program in history has affordability issues, then you can bet that the situation is dire. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has even put forth the likelihood that at least one variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may be cancelled, and total numbers reduced.

Even if the F-35 eventually meets reasonable cost projections, it must still be vetted as an operational combat aircraft. It was not only meant to be an affordable fifth-generation fighter-bomber for the U.S. and her allies, but also to have lower maintenance costs than aircraft now in service. These claims may also turn out to be inaccurate, with the F-35 a potential hanger-queen like the F-22 Raptor.

Besides the F-35’s development and cost troubles, we are left with the question of whether 65 of these particular planes will meet Canada’s defence and alliance commitments. Unlike the F-22 Raptor, which has been built exclusively for the U.S. military, the F-35 was conceived as a less capable aircraft in terms of sheer performance but better than the planes of potential adversaries, especially in terms of stealth and first-strike capability — and development costs would be shared with trusted allies.

Soldier's death raises questions about 'minimal' risk mission

PERTH, Australia — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says "significant risks" remain for Canadians serving as military trainers in Afghanistan.

He made his comments Sunday after the death of a Canadian military trainer — the first since the training mission began earlier this year — who lost his life after his convoy was attacked by a suicide bomber.

Nearly a year ago, when Harper committed Canadian troops to a three-year training mission in Kabul, he predicted it would pose "minimal risks for Canada".

But speaking to reporters Sunday at the end of a Commonwealth summit, Harper had a different message.

"I've always been clear there are still risks involved in this mission," he said.

"Any mission in Afghanistan involves significant risks."

Tech-Savvy Occupy Protesters Use Cellphone Video, Social Networking To Publicize Police Abuse

George Orwell once wrote that if you want a vision of the future, "imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever." Governments have suppressed citizen dissent for as long as there have been governments and citizens to dissent against them. But over the last decade, it has become increasingly likely that someone will be there to document Orwell's predicted face-stamping with a cellphone and then post it to YouTube for the world to see. It's getting increasingly difficult for governments to get away with suppressing dissent.

At the Occupy Wall Street protests and their progeny across the country, protesters are using personal technology to document, broadcast and advertise police abuse like never before. Incidents of alleged police brutality are posted almost instantaneously. And nearly as fast come the ensuing campaigns to take the videos viral. Smartphones, laptops and tablet computers have in fact become so common at protests in the U.S. and elsewhere in recent years, it's easy to lose sight of how revolutionary it all really is. But it is revolutionary: For the first time in human history, hundreds of millions of citizens around the world carry with them the ability to not only record footage of government abuse, but to distribute it globally in real time -- in most cases, faster than governments, soldiers or cops can censor it.

Drug Sentencing Reforms Halt Decades Of Prison Population Growth

NEW YORK -- In 1986, as the crack cocaine epidemic ravaged America's inner cities, a Democratic Congress passed legislation dictating harsh mandatory sentences for possession of even small amounts of the drug, blamed for a nationwide wave of violence by dealers and addicts.

The law created a staggering sentencing disparity for offenses involving crack versus powdered cocaine, filling prisons with low-level offenders and fueling a racially-charged debate over the fairness and efficacy of federal drug policy for nearly 25 years.

Under its provisions, possession of just five grams of crack cocaine -- most often sold in poor black communities -- triggered an automatic five-year prison term. It required 100 times that amount of powdered cocaine, the choice of affluent whites, to earn the same mandatory sentence.

On Tuesday, this disparity will ease dramatically as permanent new federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine take effect. The guidelines, approved by large bipartisan Congressional majorities in 2010, affect not only new defendants, but will retroactively apply to the sentences of an estimated 12,000 federal inmates, more than 1,000 of whom will be eligible for immediate release next week.

Where Do The Tories Stand Six Months In?

Here we are, just six quick months after Stephen Harper's Conservative party snatched its first majority government on May 2. Six months might not seem like a whole lot of time in which we can judge a government that gets four years to carry out its mandate, but owing to their emboldened majority, the Tories have accomplished a fair amount – more than many Canadians would have surely liked them to. Harper and his party campaigned on five key priorities – job creation, tax relief for families, ending the deficit by 2014-15, making Canada's streets safer, and investing in the North and the Canadian Forces – all the while promising that only their party would “focus on the economy” once elected. Bearing that in mind, it's worth finding out just how well they've lived up to their promises.

On that first item, job creation, well, the numbers don't lie. Unemployment is at a stubborn 7.1 per cent, which is still more than a point higher than it was before the 2008 recession, but about one per cent lower than it was a year ago. During the campaign, the Tories stuck to the line that lower taxes and increased trade with new partners would help reduce unemployment. But trade talks with the European Union have stalled and the security perimeter deal with the U.S. could even be shelved. Neither of those two entities are likely to open up to Canada any further while they deal with systemic debt crises that have by and large escaped Canada. Case in point: Canada, for the first time, won't be getting an exemption from the Buy America clause of Barack Obama's new jobs bill, meaning fewer business opportunities south of the border for Canadian companies.

Trash clash

Council can get its act together to save sharks and elephants, but city workers aren’t so lucky

On the eve of the anniversary of his first year in office, it’s all come full circle for Rob Ford.

The mayor spent Monday (October 24) basking in the glow of another major victory: council’s decision to privatize garbage collection from Yonge to the Humber River. Another election promise delivered, another great day for the taxpayers of Toronto. Where have we heard that one before?

So moved by the moment was the mayor that he took the photo opportunity to mention he’d be seeking a second term in office, in case anybody had any doubts that he’s in this for the long haul. “I’ve already started campaigning,” he said. Well, at least now we know how the mayor’s been spending his ample time away from City Hall.

If not for a little episode earlier that morning, by which I mean Ford’s calling the cops on the comedy TV crew of CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, it might have been accurate to say all was well in Rob Ford’s world.

RCMP 'herded' native kids to residential schools

Former aboriginal students who say the RCMP herded them off to residential schools are expressing a sense of validation following the release of a report into the Mounties' role in the notorious school system.

However, not all the survivors believe the report will help with their healing.

The RCMP released the report Saturday at a Halifax session of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is looking into how 150,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families over more than a century.

The 463-page report found that the RCMP had a major involvement in bringing students from First Nation communities to the residential schools.

Various data sources were collected over a 30-month period between April 2007 and September 2009 to answer questions about the RCMP's relationship with schools, students, federal agencies and departments.