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.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This muddled terror law limits free speech and wrecks innocent lives

A student downloads an al-Qaida document from a US government website and is held in custody for six days. A shop assistant writes poems about cutting people's heads off and is tried for being a terrorist. An opera composer is accused of promoting terrorism, objects, and is bankrupted by a national newspaper.

What do these cases have in common? First, none of these people was successfully convicted of any crime. Second, none of them faced charges under the glorification clause of the Terrorism Act 2006. Third, they would not have been arrested and/or tried and/or bankrupted had it not been a climate of opinion created by that clause.

During the long battle between the Lords and Commons over its wording, ministers pooh-poohed critics' concerns that works of fact or fiction might be vulnerable to prosecution, assuring them that the good sense of British juries would prevent prosecutions of histories of the Stern gang, biographies of Nelson Mandela or novels, plays or poems about terrorists today.

Those of us who expressed such concerns pointed out that we had been here before. No one was prosecuted under the Conservative government's criminalisation of the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. But that kneejerk legislation undoubtedly had results: it contributed to growing homophobia, it created a climate in which teachers were nervous about combating it, and it made local authorities jumpy about (for example) allowing theatre shows with gay themes or characters into schools .

Police Crackdowns on Occupy Protests from Oakland to New York Herald the "New Military Urbanism"

After a wave of raids across the country in which police in riot gear broke up Occupy Wall Street encampments and arrested protesters, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan acknowledged in an interview with the BBC that she participated in a conference call with officials from 18 cities about how to deal with the Occupy movement. As police forces violently crack down on protests across the United States and Europe, we look at the increasing influence of military technology on domestic police forces. Stephen Graham is professor of Cities and Society at Newcastle University in the U.K. His book is, "Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism." "Why the Occupy movement is so powerful, what it’s demonstrating, is that by occupying public spaces around the world — and particularly these extremely symbolic public spaces — it’s reasserting that the city is the foundation space for democracy," Graham says.

Source: Democracy Now!  

Tennessee State Rep. Rick Womick Calls Allah A ‘False God,’ Warns Of A Muslim Immigrant ‘Population Jihad’

Last Friday, Veterans Day, anti-Muslim activists and politicians converged in a small town on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee to hold a convention. ThinkProgress attended the event, and spoke to a number of speakers involved. State Rep. Rick Womick (R-TN), a local politician from Murfreesboro already known for his inflammatory remarks about the Muslim religion, told us that he would like to purge the military of Muslims. ThinkProgress is now releasing more excerpts from our interview with Womick.

Fewer Americans Living In Middle-Class Areas As Country Divides Between Rich, Poor: Study

In the latest sign of a deteriorating middle class, growing number of Americans are living either in poor or affluent neighborhoods, not somewhere in between, a new study finds.

Thirty-one percent of households lived in either affluent or poor neighborhoods in 2007, according to a study by Stanford University researchers that analyzes Census data in 117 metropolitan areas. That's more than double the 15 percent that lived in affluent or poor neighborhoods in 1970.

Income segregation surged between 2000 and 2007 among black and Hispanic families, the study found. In addition, income segregation among black and Hispanic families rose much more between 1970 and 2007.

Sean Reardon, one of the authors of the study, told The New York Times that the findings indicate that the next generation of poor Americans will increasingly limit access to high-performing schools and support networks. And if the pattern holds true, affluent Americans may be less likely to interact with lower- and middle-income Americans, which could make them hesitant to support policies that benefit the larger public.

As Occupy Enters Third Month, a Look at How Protesters Are Building a Global Movement

As the Occupy movement approaches its two-month anniversary, we’re joined by two guests who are studying its strategies and successes. Author Jeff Sharlet helped found the group Occupy Writers and is assisting efforts to reestablish the evicted library at Occupy Wall Street. His recent article for Rolling Stone is "Inside Occupy Wall Street: How a Bunch of Anarchists and Radicals with Nothing but Sleeping Bags Launched a Nationwide Movement." We also speak with Marina Sitrin, who is researching global mass movements from Spain to Egypt and has just returned from Greece. Sitrin says the Occupy movement’s assemblies offer a "radical, if not revolutionary, way of organizing... When we’re in our neighborhoods and come together and relate in that way, it’s more like alternative governance."

Source: Democracy Now! 

A Raid on the First Amendment: New York's Assault on Press Freedom

The dark-of-night raid on New York City’s Zuccotti Park was not merely an assault on the Occupy Wall Street movement. It was an assault on the underpinnings of the First Amendment to the Constitution, an amendment that was outlined and approved by the First Congress of the United States at No. 26 Wall Street in 1789.

That amendment, which was written to empower citizens to challenge and prevent the rise of a totalitarian state, recognized basic freedoms that were essential to the defense of liberty. Among these are, of course, the right to speak freely and to embrace the religious ideals of one’s choice.

But from a standpoint of pushing back against power, however, the rights to assemble and to petition for the redress of grievances are fundamental. And those rights were clearly assaulted early Tuesday morning.

So, too, was another right: the right to a free press.

Why does the right to a free press matter so much? Because, as the founders knew, no experiment in democracy could ever be anything more than that—an experiment—if the people don’t know what is being done in their name by those in positions of authority. “A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it,” observed James Madison, “is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both.”

Is the US Getting Domestic Indefinite Military Detention for Thanksgiving?

A bipartisan group of senators is poised to force through dramatic changes to how the US government handles suspected terrorists—over the objections of the White House and Senate Democratic leadership.

Legislative language that emerged from the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday afternoon would mandate the automatic, indefinite military detention of noncitizens apprehended in the United States who are suspected members of Al Qaeda or associated groups. The wording, which is part of a must-pass bill to fund the military, also appears to allow the indefinite military detention of citizens and legal permanent residents. The bill would also extend restrictions on transfers of detainees from Guantánamo Bay, though only for one year.

The real federalism problem with crime legislation

In November 1983, Elijah Askov and three others were charged in connection with a plot to extort money from a man who ran a business supplying exotic dancers to Ontario strip clubs. Their case was plagued by delays from the start; nearly three years after the men’s arrest, and two years after their preliminary hearing, Askov and his co-defendants had not yet had their day in court. The Supreme Court of Canada was eventually asked to interpret the Charter guarantee to “be tried within a reasonable time.” And in its then-controversial Askov decision, the Court put a stop to the proceedings, giving birth to the modern and frequently employed practice of throwing out criminal charges based on unreasonable delay.

That Askov didn’t mean an end to unreasonable delays makes it hard for the provinces to mount a credible case against the federal government as it proposes sweeping changes to the Criminal Code. The Conservatives’ controversial omnibus crime bill has sparked a flurry of attacks for its substance, including its introduction of American-style mandatory-minimum sentencing. QuebecOntario and now Newfoundland have also introduced a new ground of opposition—the impact the federal government’s “tough new measures” will have on provincial balance sheets. It’s not clear, though, why voters should believe Ottawa is doing anything worse than adding to a problem the provinces had a hand in creating.

CRTC decision could mean higher prices for internet, warn small providers

A decision by Canada’s telecommunications regulator that overhauls the way small internet providers pay for bandwidth access could lead to higher costs for Canadians, independent internet service providers warned Tuesday.

However, big telecom companies, like Bell, say the decision means the small independent providers who buy wholesale residential bandwidth from them will actually get a break on the rates they are paying now.

Meanwhile, the CRTC says its decision will help ensure Canadians have a variety of options for internet services and will provice large telecom companies with incentives to keep investing in their networks.

“The net effect of it is there will be no caps, no limitations, no metering of use for retail customers as a result of the CRTC decision,” said CRTC chairman Konrad Von Finckenstein.

The comments came after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rendered a much-awaited decision on the thorny issue of how independent internet service providers should be charged for the wholesale bandwidth they get from large telecom companies Bell, Rogers, Telus and Shaw.

Mining oversight office shouldn't be beholden to industry

OTTAWA — In October 2009, the federal government appointed Marketa Evans as the country's first "counsellor" on the subject of corporate social responsibility in the mining sector. After two years, her taxpayer-funded office has accepted only two cases for review.

The first review ended abruptly and without resolution, when the mining company involved — Excellon Resources Inc. — pulled out.

The second review is at an early stage of "trust-building" between the parties, a stage that can last about six months; the next stage is structured dialogue.

This was a predictable result. The Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor depends on the voluntary participation of both sides — the party who makes the complaint, and the subject of the complaint. The flaw in this system is obvious.

Ottawa's F-35 price-tag could skyrocket if Washington scraps purchase

The Harper government has a lot riding on the outcome of high-stakes congressional budget talks now that the future of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program hangs on whether Democrats and Republicans can reach a bipartisan deficit deal by next Wednesday.

U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is warning Congress that the fighter program could be among the casualties if Washington is forced to implement across-the-board cuts to reduce its deficit.

A “super committee” has until Nov. 23 to find $1.2-trillion in savings over the next 10 years, and Mr. Panetta is increasing the pressure with just a few days to go.

Should the committee – officially called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (JSCDR) – fail to reach a deal, across-the-board cuts described as “sequestration” would apply almost immediately.

Julian Fantino’s Plan B for F-35 Delays or Cancellation? Well, Blame the Opposition Parties of Course.

There’s been lots of discussions about U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s recent warning to Congress that the F-35 program could be terminated.

Congress has to agree on major cuts to the Pentagon’s budget but, so far, hasn’t reached an agreement. Some in Congress, worried that America’s security is being harmed by out of control spending, are pushing for major cutbacks.

“Facing such large reductions, we would have to reduce the size of the military sharply,” Panetta warned in the letter sent to Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

“Rough estimates suggest after ten years of these cuts, we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history. We would also be forced to terminate most large procurement programs in order to accommodate modernization reductions that are likely to be required.”

Panetta also said DoD might decide to “terminate” the F-35 program.

BP gets OK to dump mercury into Lake Michigan

A BP (BP) refinery in Indiana will be allowed to continue to dump mercury into Lake Michigan under a permit issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The permit exempts the BP plant at Whiting, Ind., 3 miles southeast of Chicago, from a 1995 federal regulation limiting mercury discharges into the Great Lakes to 1.3 ounces per year.

The BP plant reported releasing 3 pounds of mercury through surface water discharges each year from 2002 to 2005, according to the Toxics Release Inventory, a database on pollution emissions kept by the Environmental Protection Agency that is based on information reported by companies.

The permit was issued July 21 in connection with the plant's $3.8 billion expansion, but only late last week began to generate public controversy. It gives the company until at least 2012 to meet the federal standard.

The action was denounced by environmental groups and members of Congress.

"With one permit, this company and this state are undoing years of work to keep pollution out of our Great Lakes," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., co-sponsor of a resolution overwhelmingly approved by the House last week that condemned BP's plans.

Studies have shown that mercury, a neurotoxin, is absorbed by fish and can be harmful if eaten in significant quantities, particularly by pregnant women and children. Each of the eight Great Lakes states warns residents to avoid certain kinds of fish or limit consumption.

The permit comes as the states, working with the federal government, are trying to implement the $20 billion Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, an umbrella plan to restore the health of the lakes signed in late 2005.

Indiana officials said the amount of mercury released by BP was minor.

"The permitted levels will not affect drinking water, recreation or aquatic life," Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Thomas Easterly told the Chicago Tribune.

BP said it doubted that any municipal sewage treatment plant or industrial plant could meet the stringent federal standards.

"BP will work with (Indiana regulators) to minimize mercury in its discharge, including implementation of source controls," the company said, according to the Tribune.

Part of the concern is that the Great Lakes have only one outlet — the St. Lawrence River.

"Lake Michigan is like a giant bathtub with a really, really slow drain and a dripping faucet, so the toxics build up over time," said Emily Green, director of the Great Lakes program for the Sierra Club.

Source: USA Today 

Demise of democracy

PIERRE Trudeau started it. Stephen Harper is finishing it off.

The "it" is the effective demise of parliamentary democracy and the installation of "court government" ruled by an all-powerful prime minister and his hand-picked, unelected, unaccountable "courtiers."

Fiercely partisan, these "courtiers," like their medieval predecessors, have only one purpose: to protect, advance and polish the image of the "king" -- the prime minister.

Not only are formal and traceable lines of policy-making and accountability gone, but parliamentary government has been turned on its head. The prime minister doesn't account to Parliament; Parliament accounts to -- serves -- the prime minister.

The University of Moncton's Donald Savoie, the Canada research chair in public administration and governance, is the author of Court Government and the Collapse of Accountability in Canada and the United Kingdom. Parliament matters, Savoie says, because it is the only institution in Canada that is the democratic link between citizens and their government.

‘Mean-spirited’ crime bill would deny visitors to punish inmates

Prisoners who are placed in segregation as a form of punishment could also be denied visits from family and friends under the federal anti-crime bill, a measure the Canadian Bar Association calls “mean-spirited” and counterproductive.

The omnibus legislation combines nine bills the Conservative government failed to pass when it had a minority in Parliament, including measures to toughen rules for violent youth and add mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes.

As a House of Commons committee began a clause-by-clause review of the contentious bill on Tuesday, opposition MPs reiterated their objections to the speed with which it is being pushed through. They argue the process has given them limited opportunities to consider many of the changes.

“They just want to ram the thing through without any discussion or consideration,” Liberal MP Irwin Cotler said after the meeting.

Tim Harper: Government spies on advocate for native children


Why is the federal government spying on Cindy Blackstock?

When does a life-long advocate for aboriginal children become an enemy of the state?

The answer, it would seem, is when you file a human rights complaint accusing your government of willfully underfunding child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves.

Accusing your government, in other words, of racial discrimination.

That’s what Blackstock, as executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, did in 2007.

Since that time, federal officials attended 75 to 100 meetings at which she spoke, then reported back to their bosses.

They went on her Facebook page during work hours, then assigned a bureaucrat to sign on as himself after hours to check it again looking for testimony from the tribunal.

On at least two occasions, they pulled her Status Indian file and its personal information, including data on her family.

Eleven City Councillors Release Letter Opposed to Immediate Eviction of Occupy Toronto

A group of 11 left-leaning councillors has just delivered a letter to the mayor’s office, calling on him to leave the Occupy Toronto camp in St. James Park intact at least until the November 29 city council meeting, during which they are slated to discuss the month-long protest. Here is a scanned copy, in full. The 11 signatories: Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East), Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre), Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s), Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park), Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York), Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth), Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s), and Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre).

Councillors to Ford re: Occupation

UPDATE, 4:34 PM Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), whose ward includes St. James Park, was not at City Hall earlier today when the letter was being composed, but we are told she has now added her name to it, as has Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina).

Source: Torontoist 

Arctic Sovereignty: Canada May Need Help From Americans To Fulfill Tories' Arctic Policies

OTTAWA - The Canadian military will have to look to commercial contractors and possibly even exchanges with the Americans in order to sustain itself when forces are built up in the country's far North, a series of internal Defence Department documents show.

All three branches — the navy, air force and army — have begun to grapple with the specifics of the enormous, logistical challenge presented by the Harper government's Arctic policies.

A series of reports, briefings and planning directives, obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws, show that the biggest concern isn't getting forces into the harsh region, but the ability to keep them supplied with fuel, ammunition, food and shelter.

Documents dating back to 2008 suggest the annual operating cost could run between $843 million and $1 billion. but more detailed records — all from 2010 — show it's going to be a complicated exercise.

Warning tickets issued at Occupy Calgary as city prepares to disassemble camp

On Tuesday morning in Calgary, bylaw officers, with the support of police, handed out warning tickets to protesters requiring them to remove their tents and signs from Olympic Plaza in the city’s downtown within 24 hours.

The first citation was issued to 19-year-old Tyler, who refused to provide his surname and was wearing a bandana over his face, but pledged to remain at the site. He said he has been participating in Occupy Calgary for the past month, sleeping in a tent on most nights, to raise awareness about “the gap between the rich and the poor.”

Meghan Oxley, 27, who also received a warning said she has no where to go. Her home was condemned due to black mould and a gas leak, and her previous occupation at a secondary Occupy Calgary site ended when a local agency promised new accommodation for the homeless protestors. But she said that pledge hasn’t come through yet.

Bill Bruce, Calgary’s director of bylaw services, said the next steps will be to remove structures and debris, issue tickets and set court appearances in order for a judge to decide whether the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees public camping. The city does not want to make an “high-level forced removals,” he said.

“That’s not Calgary’s way,” he added.

Cory Morgan, a local man who gathered 1,700 names on a petition to ask the city to act sooner to evict the protesters – and about two dozen tents – previously received a citation for driving his truck into Olympic Plaza, videotaped events as bylaw officers issued warnings. Some protesters shouted at Mr. Morgan to protest his presence at their protest site.

“They’re terrified of the optics of removing young kids from their tents,” he said of the city’s reluctance to force evictions.

Source: Globe&Mail 

Vladimir Putin scoops Chinese peace award

The Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, is used to receiving accolades in friendly nations, but even he may raise an eyebrow at the prize he has just been awarded in China: peacemaker of the year.

After two wars in Chechnya, one conflict in South Ossetia and two of the deadliest hostage relief operations in modern history, the former KGB officer was named on Monday as the winner of the second Confucian peace prize.

It is unclear if Putin is even aware of the award which was chosen by an obscure cultural organisation, the China International Peace Research Centre, from a field of nominees including Bill Gates, Angela Merkel, Kofi Annan, Jacob Zuma and a Tibetan Panchen Lama imposed by Beijing.