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, November 26, 2011

Netanyahu must release the Palestinians' money

After Palestine was accepted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at the end of October, the Israeli government decided to punish Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and stop transferring the tax money it collects for the Palestinians.

At issue is the approximately $100 million a month that Israel collects in taxes and customs duties on the PA's behalf under the terms of the Oslo Accords. These funds go to pay salaries of PA government employees, in particular members of the PA security apparatus, which is responsible for, among other things, foiling terror attacks against Israel stemming from the West Bank.

On Monday evening, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and demanded that the money be released. Netanyahu's bureau only reported that the two had spoken about Iran, preferring not to mention Clinton's demand.

Herman Cain's Implausible 2012 Election Run: From Pizza Magnate To GOP Candidate

TALLADEGA, Ala. — He's a mathematician, a minister, a former radio talk show host and pizza magnate. But most of all, Herman Cain is a salesman.

And how he sells.

"The sleeping giant called `we the people' has awakened," Cain thunders, pacing the stage in his trademark dark suit, brown fedora and "lucky" gold tie, delivering a rollicking, 45-minute performance that evokes an old-fashioned church revival, complete with cries of "Amen" from his audience.

Whether it's selling his book or his presidential aspirations, this is Cain at his best, grinning and joking and wooing a crowd, soaking in the adulation as he vows to lead the cheering masses to a promised land of "less regulation, less legislation and less taxation."

That's simplistic, of course. But so is Cain's message, and he makes no apologies for it.

"They want to confuse you with comp-lex-city," booms the self-styled "Hermanator," accentuating every syllable. "I want to lead you with sim-pli-city."

In the end, he takes no questions, sweeping off to his next stop to the tune of "Rock You Like a Hurricane." His smile disarms everyone whose hand he shakes along the way.

"Is he for real?" asks 75-year-old Jean Waggoner, a longtime Republican activist from Montgomery.

Federal Judge: Credit Ratings Not Always Protected Under First Amendment

(Jonathan Stempel) - A federal judge has said credit ratings are not always protected opinion under the First Amendment, a defeat for credit rating agencies in a lawsuit brought by investors who lost money on mortgage-backed securities.

The November 12 decision was a little-noticed setback for McGraw-Hill Cos' Standard & Poor's, Moody's Corp's Moody's Investors Service and Fimalac SA's Fitch Ratings, which have long invoked First Amendment free speech protection to defend against lawsuits over their ratings.

These agencies had argued that the Constitution protected them from claims they issued inflated ratings on more than $5 billion of securities issued in 2006 and 2007, and backed by loans from former Thornburg Mortgage Inc and other lenders.

But the judge said the ratings were shared with too small a group of investors to deserve the broad protection sought.

"The court rejects the rating agency defendants' arguments that the First Amendment provides any protection to them under the facts of this case," U.S. District Judge James Browning in Albuquerque, New Mexico, wrote in a 273-page opinion.

Adbuster's Co-Founder Kalle Lasn Criticizes Energy, Coverage Of Occupy Canada

TORONTO - Protesters hail it as a life-changing experience while pundits acknowledge it as a driving force in the national conversation, but the man who helped launch the Canadian incarnation of the "Occupy" movement says his adopted home country didn't execute his vision the way he hoped.

Kalle Lasn, co-founder of the Vancouver-based magazine that touched off the international campaign, said the protest against fiscal imbalance and corporate influence suffered from media misrepresentation and a comparative lack of energy during its first month on Canadian soil.

Canada's activists first took to the streets on Oct. 15, three months after Adbusters Media Foundation published a provocative ad exhorting readers to "Occupy Wall St." They were a month behind protesters in New York who took that call to heart by setting up camp in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park. While protesters from Halifax to Vancouver emulated their global counterparts by pitching tents in public spaces and brainstorming ways to challenge the status quo, Lasn said the efforts he witnessed lacked some of the passion that characterized rallies in the United States.

"I must admit, there is something kind of special about Canada," Lasn said in a telephone interview. "Somehow I found that many of the things that were happening in the U.S., there seems to be more vigour and spunk in some of the occupations there."

George W. Bush cancels visit to Swiss charity gala over fears he could be arrested on torture charges

Former U.S. President George W. Bush has cancelled a visit to Switzerland over fears he could have been arrested on torture charges.

Mr Bush was due to be the keynote speaker at a Jewish charity gala in Geneva on February 12.

But pressure has been building on the Swiss government to arrest him and open a criminal investigation if he enters the country.

Criminal complaints against Mr Bush alleging torture have been lodged in Geneva, court officials said.

Human rights groups said they had intended to submit a 2,500-page case against him in the Swiss city tomorrow for alleged mistreatment of suspected militants at Guantanamo Bay.

Left-wing groups have also called for a protest on the day of his visit, leading organisers at Keren Hayesod's annual dinner to cancel Mr Bush's participation on security grounds.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch and International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) said the cancellation was linked to growing moves told him accountable for the use of torture, including waterboarding.

Occupy Christmas: Adbusters, Instigator Of Protests, Urges Anti-Consumerist Holiday

TORONTO - After a clarion call that brought thousands of people flocking to protests around the world, the Canadian magazine that touched off the international Occupy movement is urging its disciples towards a new destination: the shopping mall.

Adbusters, the Vancouver-based counterculture magazine widely credited with launching the Occupy Wall Street protests and countless other offshoots around the world, is exhorting its followers to "Occupy Christmas" by boycotting holiday gift shopping during the upcoming festive season.

The campaign got under way today, Black Friday — known as such in the U.S. because it's considered the busiest shopping day of the year, when customers flock to stores to put merchants "in the black" as they kick off the retail industry's most hectic season.

The call to arms is old hat for the magazine, which has been pushing its "Buy Nothing Day" for the past 20 years, said Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn.

But this year, after the hard-won prominence of the global "Occupy" movement, people are more likely to take a hard look at what the holiday season has come to represent, Lasn said in an interview from Vancouver.

He recalled the holidays of his childhood, when the focus was on quality time spent with family and friends, and gifts were either made by hand or completely intangible.

"Quite often the gifts were just spending time with each other. There was a whole different kind of ethic there to gift-giving," Lasn said.

Texas Redistricting: Court Won't Block Map Challenged By GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott

AUSTIN, Texas -- A federal court refused late Friday to block a congressional redistricting map it drew up for Texas, rejecting a request from the state's attorney general just hours after the Republican accused the court of "undermining the democratic process."

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had asked the San Antonio-based court to stay the implementation of its interim map, which the court drafted when minority groups challenged the original plan passed by the Republican-dominated state Legislature.

The court-drawn map would ensure minorities made up the majority in three additional Texas congressional districts. If the 2012 elections were held under the court's map, Democrats would have an advantage as they try to win back the U.S. House.

Abbott said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court-ordered map will remain in place until the legal fights are resolved.

The court drew the maps after minority groups filed a lawsuit, claiming a redistricting plan devised by Republican lawmakers didn't reflect growth in the state's Hispanic and black populations.

In a court filing earlier Friday, Abbott accused the court of overstepping its authority.

Occupy LA Shut Down: Mayor Orders Camp Closed By Monday

LOS ANGELES -- Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave a lengthy tribute to Occupy LA protesters on Friday before telling them they must leave their encampment on the lawn of City Hall by 12:01 a.m. Monday, citing public health and safety concerns.

Villaraigosa, who has expressed sympathy for the protest's aims from its beginning seven weeks ago, announced the ouster at an afternoon news conference with police Chief Charlie Beck. He said the movement that has spread in two months from New York to numerous other U.S. cities has "awakened the country's conscience" - but also trampled grass at City Hall that must be restored.

"The movement is at a crossroads," the mayor said. "It is time for Occupy LA to move from holding a particular patch of park land to spreading the message of economic justice and signing more people up for the push to restore the balance to American society."

The camp of about 485 tents was unsustainable because public health and safety could not be maintained, and the park had to be cleared, cleaned and restored for the public's access, he said.

Outside City Hall, Occupy LA protester Opamago Casciani, 20, said he found the Mayor's priorities insulting, and he intends to continue demonstrating peacefully through the deadline.

After Nearly 9 Years of War, Too Many Widows

BAGHDAD — Noria Khalaf giggled and then, embarrassed, covered her smile with a fold of her black robes. Yes, she said, she would like to marry again. It had been four years since her husband died, and her children needed a father.

Finding a good man in Baghdad these days is a challenge. Not only is nearly every trailer in this dusty government-run camp on the capital’s outskirts occupied by war widows like her, with nary a man in sight, but across Iraq women now outnumber men.

Some widows ask their brothers to bring friends by the camp, one of two packed trailer camps for widows in Baghdad. But that is not often successful.

The problem is that widows do not make appealing brides, say the women themselves and nongovernmental organizations that assist them.

“Maybe a young woman with only one or two kids can marry again,” Ms. Khalaf said with a sigh; she has six children.

Widows are not a new social problem in Iraq, of course. The war with Iran in the 1980s left tens of thousands of women widowed. Each new calamity that followed created more: the 1991 war with the United States, the failed Shiite uprising that followed, the repressions against Kurds.

And the numbers of widows in Iraq, or as American aid programs prefer to call them, “female heads of households,” increased substantially after the invasion in 2003 and in the years of violence that followed.

The Iraqi Ministry of Planning estimates that about 9 percent of the country’s women, or about 900,000, are widows. A separate government agency, the Ministry of Women, issued a statement in June putting the figure at one million.

Occupy moves us into a new era

When thousands of Egyptian protesters took over Tahrir Square in events widely celebrated as the Arab Spring, I don’t recall anyone being concerned that they were violating local bylaws.

Of course, Egypt was a dictatorship and the only way to protest the lack of democracy was by breaking laws.

Canada isn’t a dictatorship, and so protesters — like the group now ordered evicted from St. James Park — don’t have the same clear moral licence to ignore bylaws that their Egyptian counterparts had.

Critics argue that the Toronto Occupiers have made their point; if they want to take it further, they should join a political party — attend all-candidates meetings, put up lawn signs, eat hot dogs at summer barbecues, become backroom operatives.

Of course, Occupiers should join political parties and try to change them. But part of the Occupiers’ point is that democracy has become a hollow shell.

In theory, democracy is one of humankind’s noblest creations — a system in which people govern themselves. In practice, the results have been, well, disappointing.

The dangerous myths about medicare

With medicare talks underway again, two pervasive health-care myths need be cleared up and one warning given.

First, medicare isn’t about to be bankrupted by the elderly. That’s a common misconception, spurred by the fact that baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are nearing retirement.

In both political and media arenas, this particular myth is treated as unshakeable truth, creating fears that doddering boomers will monopolize virtually all health-care dollars.

But as figures released this month by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) demonstrate, such fears are grossly exaggerated.

The government-funded agency calculates that the aging population has only a “modest” effect on medicare spending — in large part because, thanks to social programs like old age security, Canadians over 65 are healthier than they used to be.

The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that "New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers" covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that "It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk."

Egyptian protesters reject new PM

Egypt's military rulers picked a prime minister from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's era to head the next government in a move quickly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters.

More than 100,000 people packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square for their biggest demonstration since the current showdown began, with activists accusing the generals of trying to extend the old guard and demanding they step down immediately after failing to stabilize the country, salvage the economy or bring democracy following Mubarak's ouster.

Tensions have risen ahead of parliamentary elections, set to begin on Monday. The election is to be staggered over multiple stages that end in March, and the military said Friday it would extend the voting period to two days for each round in an apparent effort to boost turnout due to the current unrest. The first stage covers nine provinces that include Cairo and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.

Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and was deputy prime minister and planning minister before that. He also was a provincial governor under the late president Anwar Sadat.

Mayor Ford has simply missed the bus on Toronto transit

“Gridlock and poor public transit makes it harder to connect people with good jobs. It makes Toronto less livable.” How true. But who said it? David Miller, the former mayor, perhaps?

The answer is Rob Ford, when he introduced his transportation plan on YouTube during his election campaign. He also said, separately and famously, that no services would be cut, “guaranteed,” if he became mayor.

Now, a year after his election, Toronto is facing substantial cuts to its most vital service: transit. Under the gun from the mayor to cut 10 per cent from its budget, the Toronto Transit Commission is planning to reduce service on 62 surface routes.

The cuts affect service right across the city, including busy bus lines such as the 29 Dufferin and 36 Finch West. Even the famous 501 streetcar, the longest in the city, will see longer waiting times in off-peak hours.

Canada has a place in trans-Pacific free trade zone, Harper maintains

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is dismissing claims by New Zealand that Canada has no place in a trans-Pacific free trade zone, while maintaining high protective tariffs on poultry and dairy products.

Here to attend Sunday’s Grey Cup game, Mr. Harper told reporters Friday that Canada’s bid to join the talks, which currently involve the United States and eight other countries, was based on specific criteria spelled out by the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the recent APEC summit.

“It was clear to [us] that Canada’s level of ambition for trade talks would meet or exceed everything that the TPP, itself, specifically put out,” said Mr. Harper.

Earlier this week, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser laced into Canada for seeking a place at the TPP table, despite tariffs ranging from 150 to nearly 300 per cent to protect dairy and poultry farmers. Mr. Harper has pledged to “resolutely defend” the trade barriers.

Prepare for fare hike, TTC chair says

Public transit riders should brace themselves for another fare increase, TTC chair Karen Stintz said Friday night.

“We’ve tried to do everything we can to avoid it,” she said. “But we still have a gap, and unless something changes we’ll need to close the gap through a fare increase.”

In a letter to TTC customers, Stintz suggested a fee increase is on the way if the province doesn’t cover more of the $1.5 billion it costs to run the TTC.

“The current support from the province, while truly welcome, is not enough,” the letter said.

The TTC received $91 million from the province for operations in the 2010-11 fiscal year. That amounts to six per cent of costs, which Stintz said is “inadequate.”

The visit

It's not just newspapers, now they're going after books. And it wouldn't be right to keep this conversation "between us."

Two weeks ago I was told that Malmab, the Defense Ministry's security arm, was looking for me. I received a call and made an appointment in my home. Last week they showed up, pleased to meet you. I have no good memories from an earlier meeting with Yehiel Horev, a former Malmab head and today the assistant of a tycoon very involved in the weapons business in Africa.

At the time, 20 years ago, I had the impression Malmab was trying to put the defense minister in his place. Because I was considered a confidant and even served as a supervisor of the Atomic Energy Commission for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, there was a need for a clarification. Who was in charge there? Horev had no doubts.

We came to speak to you about your latest book, they began last week. For a moment I was filled with satisfaction: This means there's now a different atmosphere at the security arm, which is beginning to take an interest in poetry. But I was soon disappointed; we discussed prose rather than poetry. We've noticed, they said, that in "Accordingly, We are Here Assembled," my next-to-last book, you mention a conversation between Shimon Peres and David Ben-Gurion. We find that very problematic. I was astonished - what were the high priests of defense doing in a book cemetery?