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 30, 2011

Green Party chief fears Tories will act as ‘saboteurs’ at climate talks

Elizabeth May believes Stephen Harper’s government is only participating in the UN climate-change conference in South Africa so it can sabotage the talks.

The Green Party Leader said the Conservatives have “clearly made a decision” to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol that Canada and 190 other countries signed on to. Only the United States did not ratify the 1997 deal.

“If we are firm in our commitments” to pull out of Kyoto it is “really bad faith” to show up in Durban because we are “playing the role of saboteurs,” she told The Globe on Wednesday. “We are negotiating in bad faith because we are using our role as a party to the Kyoto Protocol to negotiate in Durban in such a way that we would block progress to the world.”

Ms. May believes Environment Minister Peter Kent and his officials will play an obstructionist role in Durban because the Harper government has no plans to sign on to a second Kyoto commitment period.

Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews

The Netanyahu government's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption is sponsoring advertisements in at least five American communities that warn Israeli expatriates that they will lose their identities if they don't return home.

The Ministry is also featuring on its website a series of short videos that, in an almost comically heavy-handed way, caution Israelis against raising their children in America -- one scare-ad shows a pair of Israeli grandparents seated before a menorah and Skypeing with their granddaughter, who lives in America. When they ask the child to name the holiday they're celebrating, she says "Christmas." In another ad, an actor playing a slightly-adenoidal, goateed young man (who, to my expert Semitic eye, is meant to represent a typical young American Jew) is shown to be oblivious to the fact that his Israeli girlfriend is in mourning on Yom HaZikaron, Israel's memorial day. The Jewish Channel, which broke the story of what it calls a "semi-covert national campaign," suggests that the Ministry does not differentiate between the "dangers" of marrying American Jews, and American non-Jews, and I have to agree. But let's lay that aside for a minute and watch the video:

Joseph Maturo Reinstates Connecticut Police Chief, Chief Leonard Gallo, Despite FBI Probe On Claims For Harassing Hispanic Residents

HARTFORD, Conn. -- A Connecticut police chief who was suspended as the FBI investigates claims that his officers harassed Hispanic residents was welcomed back Tuesday by a new mayor who said he does not believe the allegations are true.

East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo, who took office Nov. 19, reinstated the chief who was put on paid administrative leave last year after the Justice Department's civil rights branch began investigating claims of discriminatory policing. The FBI has also been gathering evidence for potential criminal prosecutions of some officers, and agents raided Chief Leonard Gallo's locked office less than two weeks ago.

In an interview, Maturo said he is open to the work of federal investigators, but he has confidence in Gallo and the rest of the force.

"I don't think any of it rose to the level of just cause to get rid of a police chief," he said of the material he read in the previous administration's files.

Report: Obama Has Weakened More Lobbyist-Opposed Health, Public Safety Regulations Than Bush

A new report shows that despite a campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the Obama White House has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests more than the Bush administration. The study, "Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment,” examines more than a thousand meetings that took place over a decade between lobbyists and a little known regulatory office, then checks to see how proposed rules were weakened to accommodate industry requests. It found the Obama White House changed rules 76 percent of the time, while Bush changed them just 64 percent of the time. EPA rules were changed at a significantly higher rate — 84 percent. We speak to the report’s lead author, Rena Steinzor, professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and President of the Center for Progressive Reform.

Source: Democracy Now! 

State Dept. Veteran Peter Van Buren Defies U.S. Censors to Recount Failed Reconstruction in Iraq

In "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People," State Department official Peter Van Buren provides a first-hand account of the faltering and often misguided attempts at reconstruction in Iraq undertaken by the U.S. government. Van Buren published the book after rebuffing heavy State Department pressure to redact a number of passages. Van Buren joins us to discuss the failed efforts he witnessed in Iraq and his struggle to tell his story to the world. "The State department is very much like the Mafia," Van Buren says.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Farm Bill Delay May Give Green And Public Health Advocates Voice In Revisions

Some U.S. farmers are paid to leave their land wild; others are compensated when weather devastates their cultivated land. Still others receive money when crop prices drop -- all from the same federal funds set aside through the current Farm Bill.

To call it the "Farm Bill," however, is something of a misnomer. The federal government's primary agricultural and food policy legislation comprises hundreds of programs, which extend well beyond cows, corn and cotton to everything from food stamps and an array of environmental and public health safeguards.

"The totality is overwhelming. Nobody can grasp it," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. "This makes the Farm Bill profoundly undemocratic since the public -- and, I would maintain, congressional representatives -- cannot possibly understand it."

At least now the public and their representatives will have a bit more time to wrap their heads around the bill and all its implications. Earlier this month, to the relief of many advocates concerned about the lack of transparency and what they perceive as the undue influence of the industrial agriculture lobby, the congressional super committee failed to reach an agreement on future budget cuts. This means the legislation will follow the same, more open route that it has taken every four or five years since its debut in the 1930s.

Tracy Lawrence, Notary Public Who Blew The Whistle On Massive Foreclosure Fraud, Found Dead

Tracy Lawrence, the notary public who blew the whistle on a massive foreclosure fraud scheme, was found dead in her Las Vegas home on Nov. 28, MSNBC reported.

Cause of death has not yet been determined, but Officer Jacinto Rivera, a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department spokesman, said the case was not being investigated as homicide. She was 43.

Earlier this month, Lawrence came forward and admitted to the Nevada Attorney General's Office that she notarized 25,000 fraudulent documents for Lender Processing Services, a Florida company used by most major banks to process home repossessions. The documents were filed with the Clark County Recorder's Office between 2005 and 2008, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Lawrence also accused two loan officers of allegedly running the massive robo-signing scheme, saying they forged signatures on tens of thousands of default notices. Nevada now alleges that Gary Trafford, 49, of Irvine, Calif., and Gerri Sheppard, 62, of Santa Ana, Calif., directed their employees to forge foreclosure documents, notarize the signatures on the documents they had forged and file the fraudulent paperwork in order to begin foreclosures on homes throughout the county.

Occupy Wall Street Camps in Los Angeles, Philadelphia Dismantled in Massive Police Raids

Some 1,000 police officers raided the Occupy Los Angeles encampment in a park outside City Hall over night, arresting scores of people and evicting what has been the largest Occupy camp in the country. Meanwhile Occupy Philadelphia protesters vacated their encampment this morning after more than a thousand police moved in and warned them of mass arrests. We get eyewitness updates on both raids from National Lawyers Guild legal observer Ken Montenegro in Los Angleles and Occupy organizer and activist Jeff Rousset in Philadelphia. “[Philadelphia’s history of free speech and democracy] changed this morning at around 1 am. The city shut down the subways; they barricaded all of city hall, about two blocks in every direction; and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of cops poured in. They forced everybody off the plaza,” Rousset says.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Millions of British Public Sector Workers Take to the Streets in Historic General Strike

In Britain, up to two million workers have marched in the streets during the largest mass protest in generations. Teachers, hospital staff, garbage collectors, firefighters and border guards are participating in a 24-hour strike organized by a coalition of 30 trade unions. About a thousand demonstrations and rallies are being held across the country. Public sector workers say proposed pension “reforms” will force them pay more and work for longer before they can retire. We go to London to speak with Richard Seymour, who writes of Britain’s most popular blogs, “Lenin’s Tomb.” Seymour examines how the Murdoch-owned conservative press has shaped coverage of workers’ rights even as it faces fallout from the latest developments in the phone hacking scandal. "Rupert Murdoch’s ideological power, his ability to project an image of these strikes as unnecessary, as militant, as aggressive and belligerent and so on and so forth, comes from his economic power, and he spent decades building that up in the U.K.,” Seymour notes. He also discusses how the U.K. has withdrawn diplomatic staff from Iran after protesters upset over newly implemented sanctions stormed the British Embassy in Tehran, overrunning the diplomatic buildings, chanting "Death to Britain."

Source: Democracy Now! 

Senate Votes To Let Military Detain Americans Indefinitely, White House Threatens Veto

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted Tuesday to keep a controversial provision to let the military detain terrorism suspects on U.S. soil and hold them indefinitely without trial -- prompting White House officials to reissue a veto threat.

The measure, part of the massive National Defense Authorization Act, was also opposed by civil libertarians on the left and right. But 16 Democrats and an independent joined with Republicans to defeat an amendment by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) that would have killed the provision, voting it down with 61 against, and 37 for it.

"I'm very, very, concerned about having U.S. citizens sent to Guantanamo Bay for indefinite detention," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of the Senate's most conservative members.

Paul's top complaint is that a terrorism suspect would get just one hearing where the military could assert that the person is a suspected terrorist -- and then they could be locked up for life, without ever formally being charged. The only safety valve is a waiver from the secretary of defense.

"It's not enough just to be alleged to be a terrorist," Paul said, echoing the views of the American Civil Liberties Union. "That's part of what due process is -- deciding, are you a terrorist? I think it's important that we not allow U.S. citizens to be taken."

Democrats who were also concerned about liberties compared the military policing of Americans to the detention of Americans in internment camps during World War II.

Occupy LA Raid: Police Arrest Protesters Who Defied Eviction Notice

LOS ANGELES — More than 1,400 police officers, some in riot gear, cleared the Occupy Los Angeles camp early Wednesday, driving protesters from a park around City Hall and arresting more than 200 who defied orders to leave. Similar raids in Philadelphia led to 52 arrests, but the scene in both cities was relatively peaceful.

Police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia moved in on Occupy Wall Street encampments under darkness in an effort to clear out some of the longest-lasting protest sites since crackdowns ended similar occupations across the country.

Beanbags fired from shotguns were used to subdue the final three protesters in a makeshift tree house outside Los Angeles City Hall, police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said, describing it as a minor use of force incident. No serious injuries were reported.

Police Chief Charlie Beck praised the officers and the protesters for their restraint and the peaceful way the eviction was carried out.

Omnibus Crime Bill Ensures Justice For None

The federal government of Canada is set to institute the broadest, most regressive, costly, and ineffective criminal justice policies in this country's history. Experts, criminal justice professionals, researchers, and even conservative Texan policy makers have all raised the alarm about the economic and social costs of 'get tough' policies for Canada.

The politically-motivated overreach and nonsensical overreaction to crime rates that are the lowest they have been in over 30 years will have an impact on us all. Bill C-10, ironically entitled the Safe Streets and Communities Act, embraces the failed 'get tough' movement, will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, could reduce the use of effective crime prevention programs as it comes at a time when programs associated with effective crime prevention have been cut, and could increase crime rates and victims of crime from coast to coast.

The first problem is cost. By ignoring reality and decades of research, the policy U-turn represented by Bill C-10 will increase the strains on a justice system that is already at the breaking point. Building and staffing prisons is expensive and the new mandatory minimum sentencing regime, predicted to be a failure, will increase the number of people in federal prison -- at an average cost of 130, 000 per inmate, per year. While the economic costs are severe, comparative experience suggests increasing prison budgets could result in redirecting funding for crime prevention programs that are more likely to work to reduce crime. Punishment only approaches to crime creates a cycle of crime and criminality that is difficult to escape.

Pensions Strikes: Public Sector Workers Strike Over Government Pension Plans

Public sector workers are taking to the streets in coordinated strikes against the government's cuts to public sector jobs and pensions, in what is being billed as 'the biggest action for a generation'.

Up to two million teachers, nurses, civil servants and paramedics formed picket lines early on Wednesday to protest against changes to their pensions schemes. Transport has been disrupted and the Borders Agency has called for volunteers to help man immigration desks. However airports appeared to be largely unaffected by the strikes despite warnings of "a total shutdown in services".

According to figures from the Department for Education, 58% of England's 21,700 state schools are closed, with another 13% partly affected. In Scotland, only 30 council-run schools are reported to be open, while 80% of schools are shut in Wales and 50% in Northern Ireland.

The NHS has also been disrupted, with NHS managers reporting that 6,000 out of 30,000 operations have been cancelled across the UK.

According to PA, 30 arrests were made outside a library in Dalston, north east London. There are also reports that police have arrested two people in a separate incident in Hackney.

Usurping the Democratic Process

Inch by inch, the Conservatives solidify their commitment to rule rather than govern.

Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses ...

– Monty Python

For all the questioning of how tent cities across the country interfere with the free activities of ordinary folk, few Canadians seem concerned that the space usually reserved for parliamentary democracy in this country has been occupied by the Tory government. When protesters won’t budge, the cops are called in. But when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and company won’t move an inch from their ideologically based encampment in the House of Commons, it appears nothing can be done.

The parliamentary system works because politicians are accountable not just to interest groups that support them, but to all citizens. If you win a majority, you have the right to govern, not to rule. The Conservatives, however, are all about ruling, and too many Canadians are turning a blind eye.

A Conference of Polluters

The Canadian government's collusion with corporate lobbies comes under fire at the climate negotiations.

On Nov. 28, international climate-change negotiations began in Durban, South Africa, as the 17th annual Conference of Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change gets underway. This is the second in a series of blog posts from Amara Possian, who is the co-ordinator of the Canadian Youth Delegation to this conference. Amara will be writing for The Mark throughout the month. Check out her first post here.

Year after year, a circus comes to town. Over the next two weeks, it is corporate and political clowns that will descend on Durban, South Africa to dazzle and wow the crowd. But they will then move on, leaving things unchanged and unresolved as we await the next circus in the next city, next year.

This is the narrative that has developed outside the 17th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dubbed the “Conference of Polluters” by many civil society groups. Local activists have put a call out to the clowns in all of us (the baobab tree in the official COP17 logo is a perfect jester’s hat!) because despite the growing political and scientific consensus around the threat of climate change, “the UN [has been] paralyzed into inaction, with powerful corporate voices drowning out any real solutions to climate change.”

Tories will have 'blood on their hands,' if long-gun registry is eliminated, says victim of 1989 Montreal massacre

Shooting victim Heidi Rathjen told The Hill Times that the loss of a registry of seven million rifles and shotguns is being made worse by a clause in Bill C-19 that removes current mandatory requirements for gun buyers and sellers to report firearms acquisitions and sales or even transfers from one individual to another

PARLIAMENT HILL—The government’s determination to ram a bill dismantling the federal long-gun registry through Parliament while destroying all of its records and paving the way for unrecorded sales of rifles and shotguns rocked the gun-control movement Tuesday, with a shooting victim from the Montreal Polytechnique massacre telling The Hill Times that the Conservatives will have “blood on their hands” once the effect of the new law takes hold.

Opposition MPs were also furious after six Conservative MPs barely said a word while they voted down a handful of NDP and Liberal amendments—last-ditch attempts to salvage a degree of control over gun sales and reporting once the registry is gone—to pass Bill C-19 through its final stage of study by the Commons Public Safety and National Security committee without changing even a comma.

TTC may not run the Eglinton Crosstown LRT

The biggest, most expensive public transit project in Toronto’s recent history could be built and operated without any involvement by the TTC.

Metrolinx is considering a public-private partnership to design, finance, build and even potentially operate and maintain the provincially funded $8.2 billion Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown light rail line.

It’s not clear what adding a private operator to the Toronto transit equation would mean to riders, but transit officials say a complex agreement between the TTC and an alternate provider would have to be worked out to ensure commuters could move easily between two systems. Fare payments, transfer points and protocols for service disruptions and public complaints would all need to be considered.

If Metrolinx decides on a private partnership, it would be the biggest public transit project in the province to be administered by Infrastructure Ontario, the government agency that handles alternative financing and procurements (AFPs).

The Zionist ultra-Orthodox are cashing in their I.O.U.

Those spending their Saturdays having fun rather than defending shepherds and farmers should not be surprised if the day after, Jewish fundamentalism even invades their bedrooms

The Haredim and Hardalim, as the non-Zionist and Zionist ultra-Orthodox are respectively known, are now cashing in their promissory note from Israeli society. Their bitterness at an ungrateful secular-nationalist public is certainly justified. For what is doing without women's singing in comparison to the direct line to God they offer us? And what are advertisements featuring men only compared to the blank check God gave all of us to be the masters of the entire Promised Land?

Haredi and Hardali Judaism sold three assets on credit to the Israel that desecrates the Sabbath and loves the charming, Arab-free views from the Galilee kibbutzim and the West Bank outposts. These are the assets that enable Israel to be indifferent to both the history that was and the history now in the making, and to live as an armed, gilded ghetto, a beloved outpost of the "developed" and "civilized" Christian West in the Muslim East.

Dictatorship is when the regime rules

Benjamin Netanyahu is, indeed, a democrat; he will be tested by his determined stand against the murky wave of those Knesset members who 'want to rule.'

The tsunami is finally here, not in September as expected, but rather in November, and not one initiated by the Palestinians or the United Nations. No, it was a small group of extreme right Knesset members, who do not comprehend the true meaning of the law in free democratic societies. The danger is not the proposals themselves but rather the ideology, the direction and the motives behind them.

The truth of the matter is that in some quarters there is way too much hysteria and exaggeration about the future of democracy in Israel as a result of these proposed bills. Not every bad law constitutes a danger to democracy. A proposal that erodes the independence of the Supreme Court is more dangerous than a proposal to enlarge the maximum penalty for slander. A proposal that arbitrarily changes the constitution of the Judicial Appointments Committee is one matter, while a proposal aimed at curbing the ability of foreign states to influence the public discourse in Israel, is quite another matter, especially in terms of states hostile to Israel and who act against it in every international forum.

Cost of Faro’s toxic tomb to top $450 million

It will take 45 years to seal Faro’s toxic tailings off from the rest of the world, making it one of the most expensive mine remediation projects in Canadian history.

Closing Faro’s tomb will cost over $450 million and require constant maintenance for at least 500 years.

These are the early figures from the Faro Mine Closure plan, now being prepared for an environmental assessment in the fall. Many details still have to be finalized, but this is the first time the daunting, multi-centennial task has been outlined in one coherent plan.

It won’t be easy burying the former lead zinc mine. The 25-square kilometer mess consists of 55 million tons of tailings, 320 million tons of waste rock and contaminated spill sites.

“Right now, we haven’t got the details of the design and specifications for all of the future, but what we do have is a single direction that we can take,” said Stephen Mead, the project’s senior manager.