Originally posted on The Fifth Column:
Supreme Court justice and pop culture icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg left the hospital yesterday after having a heart stent implanted and expects to be back at work Monday. Despite various health issues over the years, Ginsburg insists that she is still of sound body at age 81 (her mind isn’t in question) and has no plans to retire before the end of President Obama’s term to ensure a Democratic replacement. If she keeps to that pledge, and presuming there are no other retirements in the next two years, the makeup of the Supreme Court could be a bigger campaign issue in 2016 than ever before. It certainly ought to be.
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I ran across this article today written by John Chuckman titled “The Lost Hope of Democracy“. It’s an excellent article discussing how “democracies” are no longer for or representative of the people. It’s a very good read and if you don’t follow Consortiumnews.com, it is a site created by Robert Parry (Iran Contra) that has several contributing writers. The article –>
Western nations are fond of using “democracy promotion” as a justification for interfering in other countries, including overthrowing elected leaders (as in Ukraine). But Western democracies themselves often fall short of democratic values, as John Chuckman explains.
By John Chuckman
I read and heard about Hong Kong’s students putting themselves at risk demonstrating for democracy, and my first instinct was sympathy, sympathy for their passionate idealism, but sympathy in another sense too, for their sad illusions.
I ask myself, and it is not a trivial question, what is it exactly that they believe they fight for? Democracy has become such a totemic word, we all are trained to revere it, unquestioningly, almost the way 16th Century people were expected to behave in the presence of the Host during Communion.
But just where in the West do we see countries who call themselves democracies behaving in democratic ways, indeed where do we see genuine democracies? And if it is such an important concept, why should that be?
In Canada, to start where I live, we have a serious democratic deficit. A Conservative government today, elected to a parliamentary “majority” with about 39 percent of the national vote, behaves for all the world as an authoritarian government in many things at home and abroad.
It turned its back completely on Canada’s historic support of green initiatives, embarrassing our people in international forums with blunderingly incompetent ministers of the environment. It has built a large new batch of prisons, completely against the general public’s sympathies and in contradiction to historically low and falling crime rates.
It echoes the sentiments from Washington on almost anything you care to name and does so completely against Canada’s modern history and prevailing public opinion. It has lost the respect Canada once commanded in the United Nations. It has dropped Canada’s tradition of fairness in the Middle East, blindly supporting Israel’s periodic slaughters, ignoring the horrifying situation of the Palestinians. Only now the government decided to send fighter jets to support the American anti-ISIS farce, an act completely out of step with Canada’s long-term policy of using force only where there is a United Nations’ mandate.
But Canada still has a way to go to match the appalling modern record of Great Britain. Its recent prime ministers include Tony Blair and David Cameron – men, supposedly from separate parties, who both cringingly assent to America’s every wink or nod suggesting some policy, ever ready to throw armies, planes, money and propaganda at questionable enterprises their people neither understand nor would be likely to support if they did.
Promoting the mass deaths of innocents and the support of lies and great injustice are now fixtures in the mother of all parliaments. And, with all the scandals around Rupert Murdoch’s news empire, we got a breathtaking glimpse of how shabbily public policy is formulated behind the scenes, of how smarmy politicians like Blair and Cameron cater to unethical individuals of great wealth and influence.
Israel’s endless patter of propaganda always includes the refrain, “the Middle East’s only democracy.” The press does not think to ask how you can have a democracy with only one kind of person wanted as a voter and with only one kind of citizen enjoying full rights. Nor do they inquire about the millions who live under systematic oppression enforced by that “democracy.”
Effectively, Israel rules millions of people who have no rights and no ability to change their status through any form of citizenship, not even the ability to keep their family home if Israel suddenly wants to take it.
We have seen “democracies” like that before, as for example in South Africa or in the Confederate States of America, both places where people voted but only a specified portion of the people, millions of others being consigned to a netherworld existence maintained with a carefully designed structure of fraudulent legality. Ironically, viewed from the Middle East’s perspective, it is undoubtedly a good thing there are not more such democracies as Israel.
And the students should perhaps keep in mind the tragic example of Egypt. It too had huge demonstrations with thrilling moments like a dictator of 30 years fleeing and the nation assembling its first free election. But a brief spring garden of elected government was bulldozed after the government said and did things its small neighbor, Israel, did not like.
There were more huge demonstrations and thousands of deaths and illegal arrests and the return to military dictatorship in a threadbare disguise of elected government. Eighty million people must now continue life under repressive government because seven million people with extraordinary influence in Washington can’t tolerate democracy next door.
As far as what Colin Powell once called the United States, in a tit-for-tat with a French Foreign Minister, “the world’s oldest democracy,” well, he was just as inaccurate in that assertion as he was about hidden weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. America’s own founding documents do not proclaim a democracy but rather that most fuzzily-defined of all forms of government, a republic.
It was a republic in which the President was not elected by the general population, where the Senate was appointed, where the Supreme Court had no authority to enforce the high-sounding phrases of the Bill of Rights, and where as little as one-percent of the population could even vote – it was, in sum, an aristocracy of wealthy and influential citizens dressed up in high-sounding phrases. The American Revolution was aptly summed up by a writer as “a homegrown aristocracy replacing one from abroad.”
And since America’s founding, while the voting franchise gradually has been extended to become nearly universal (prisoners and ex-convicts still often cannot vote in a nation with the world’s highest incarceration rate), equally gradual changes in the structure of America’s institutions pretty much keep that original form of government intact.
At every level, barriers erected by the two ruling parties make it nearly impossible to establish an effective alternative party. Even getting listed on all the ballots was an immense task for a billionaire – Ross Perot – who in fact represented no substantive alternative by any measure.
The two parties’ privileged position also is protected by the need for immense amounts of campaign funds, America’s regular election costs being in the billions, the Supreme Court having declared money as “free speech.” You do not get that kind of money from ordinary citizens, and you necessarily owe those who do supply it, and you simply cannot compete in American politics without it.
For major offices, the vetting of politicians is now so long and demanding that no candidate can possibly run who isn’t completely acceptable to the establishment. The campaign money simply will not appear otherwise. Such quiet political controls are now backed up by a gigantic military-intelligence establishment with such authorities and resources that it much resembles a government within the government.
For example, with the NSA spying on every form of communication by every person around the clock, information about politicians is close to perfect. No undesirables can slip through and no undesirable policy can be enacted given the ability to threaten or blackmail every politician over his or her monitored personal and financial affairs. Nobody in his right mind calls that democracy.
The truth is that despite a long history of struggle, revolutions, and movements of various descriptions characterizing the West’s modern era, those with great wealth and influence still rule as effectively as they did centuries ago. Their rule is not as apparent and open to scrutiny as it once was, and there are many mechanisms in place to give the appearance of democracy, at least for those who do not examine closely.
Modern elections require money and lots of it. Voters’ choices are limited as surely as they are in many authoritarian states. The ability of any elected officials to act in the public interest is curtailed by a powerful establishment and a number of special interests.
Once in power, modern democratic governments behave little differently than many authoritarian states do. Wars are started without consent and for purposes not in the public interest. Secret services carry out acts government would be ashamed to be seen openly doing. Armies for needless wars are conscripted or bribed into existence. Rights people regarded as basic may be suspended at any time. Injustices abound.
Many “democratic” states practice illegal arrest, torture, assassination, and, above all, secrecy. Secrecy is so much a part of things today that when citizens do vote, they haven’t the least idea what they are voting for. Public education is generally poor, especially with regard to the real workings of government and the encouragement of critical thinking. The press has become nothing more than an informal extension of government, a volunteer cheering section, in many important matters. Voters go to the polls hardly understanding what is happening in the world.
So I praise the idealism and bravery of the Chinese students, but I know democracy everywhere remains only a small, hopeful glimmer in the eyes of people.
John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company.
The following article was written over a year ago but proves more relevant daily. The sick racism that pervades the U.S. needs to end now. It sadly won’t, however, until more people stand up against this horrible injustice. As with all injustice that exists today, apathy is the food that keeps it alive. Wake up people! It is time to see the world for what it is. It is time to take a stand…don’t be voiceless…don’t leave all of it up to a few brave souls that will stand up against the elitist regimes. Stand with them! This will only get worse if people don’t wake up.
Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012, according to a recent study. This means a black person was killed by a security officer every 28 hours. The report notes that it’s possible that the real number could be much higher.
The report, entitled “Operation Ghetto Storm,” was conducted by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, an antiracist grassroots activist organization. The organization has chapters in Atlanta, Detroit, Fort Worth-Dallas, Jackson, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. It has a history of organizing campaigns against police brutality and state repression in black and brown communities. Their study’s sources included police and media reports along with other publicly available information. Last year, the organization published a similar study showing that a black person is killed by security forces every 36 hours. However, this study did not tell the whole story, as it only looked at shootings from January to June 2012. Their latest study is an update of this.
These killings come on top of other forms of oppression black people face. Mass incarceration of nonwhites is one of them. While African-Americans constitute 13.1% of the nation’s population, they make up nearly 40% of the prison population. Even though African-Americans use or sell drugs about the same rate as whites, they are 2.8 to 5.5 times more likely to be arrested for drugs than whites. Black offenders also receive longer sentences compared to whites. Most offenders are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.
“Operation Ghetto Storm” explains why such killings occur so often. Current practices of institutional racism have roots in the enslavement of black Africans, whose labor was exploited to build the American capitalist economy, and the genocide of Native Americans. The report points out that in order to maintain the systems of racism, colonialism, and capitalist exploitation, the United States maintains a network of “repressive enforcement structures.” These structures include the police, FBI, Homeland Security, CIA, Secret Service, prisons, and private security companies, along with mass surveillance and mass incarceration.
The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement is not the only group challenging police violence against African-Americans. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network has been challenging the policy of stop-and-frisk in New York City, in which police officers randomly stop and search individuals for weapons or contraband. African-American and Latino men are disproportionately stopped and harassed by police officers. Most of those stopped (close to 90%) are innocent, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. Stop Mass Incarceration alsoorganizes against the War on Drugs and inhumane treatment of prisoners.
Along with the rate of extrajudicial killings, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement report contains other important findings. Of the 313 killed, 124 (40%) were between 22 and 31 years old, 57 (18%) were between 18 and 21 years old, 54 (17%) were between 32 and 41 years old, 32 (10%) were 42 to 51 years old, 25 (8%) were children younger than 18 years old, 18 (6%) were older than 52, and 3 (1%) were of unknown ages.
A significant portion of those killed, 68 people or 22%, suffered from mental health issues and/or were self-medicated. The study says that “[m]any of them might be alive today if community members trained and committed to humane crisis intervention and mental health treatment had been called, rather than the police.”
43% of the shootings occurred after an incident of racial profiling. This means police saw a person who looked or behaved “suspiciously” largely because of their skin color and attempted to detain the suspect before killing them. Other times, the shootings occurred during a criminal investigation (24%), after 9-1-1 calls from “emotionally disturbed loved ones” (19%) or because of domestic violence (7%), or innocent people were killed for no reason (7%).
Most of the people killed were not armed. According to the report, 136 people or 44%, had no weapon at all the time they were killed by police officers. Another 27% were deaths in which police claimed the suspect had a gun but there was no corroboration to prove this. In addition, 6 people (2%) were alleged to have possessed knives or similar tools. Those who did, in fact, possess guns or knives were 20% (62 people) and 7% (23 people) of the study, respectively.
The report digs into how police justify their shootings. Most police officers, security guards, or vigilantes who extrajudicially killed black people, about 47% (146 of 313), claimed they “felt threatened”, “feared for their life”, or “were forced to shoot to protect themselves or others”. George Zimmerman, the armed self-appointed neighborhood watchman who killed Trayvon Martin last year, claimed exactly this to justify shooting Martin. Other justifications include suspects fleeing (14%), allegedly driving cars toward officers, allegedly reaching for waistbands or lunging, or allegedly pointing a gun at an officer. Only 13% or 42 people fired a weapon “before or during the officer’s arrival”.
Police recruitment, training, policies, and overall racism within society conditions police (and many other people) to assume black people are violent to begin with. This leads to police overacting in situations involving African-American suspects. It also explains why so many police claimed the black suspect “looked suspicious” or “thought they had a gun.” Johannes Mehserle, the white BART police officer who shot and killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant in January 2009, claimed Grant had a gun, even though Grant was subdued to the ground by other officers.
Of the 313 killings, the report found that 275 of them or 88% were cases of excessive force. Only 8% were not considered excessive as they involved cases were suspects shot at, wounded, or killed a police and/or others. Additionally, 4% were situations were the facts surrounding the killing were “unclear or sparsely reported”. The vast majority of the time, police officers, security guards, or armed vigilantes who extrajudicially kill black people escape accountability.
Over the past 70 years, the “repressive enforcement structures” described in the report have been used to “wage a grand strategy of ‘domestic’ pacification” to maintain the system through endless “containment campaigns” amounting to “perpetual war”. According to the report, this perpetual war has been called multiple names — the “Cold War”, COINTELPRO, the “War on Drugs, the “War on Gangs”, the “War on Crime”, and now the “War on Terrorism”. This pacification strategy is designed to subjugate oppressed populations and stifle political resistance. In other words, they are wars against domestic marginalized groups. “Extrajudicial killings”, says the report, “are clearly an indispensable tool in the United States government’s pacification pursuits.” It attributes the preponderance of these killings to institutionalized racism and policies within police departments.
Paramilitary police units, known as SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, developed in order to quell black riots in major cities, such as Los Angeles and Detroit, during the 1960s and ’70s. SWAT teams had major shootouts with militant black and left-wing groups, such as the Black Panther Party and Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in 1969 and 1974, respectively. SWAT teams were only used for high-risk situations, until the War on Drugs began in the 1980s. Now they’re used in raids — a common military tactic — of suspected drugor non-drug offenders’ homes.
The War on Drugs, first declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, was largely a product of U.S. covert operations. Anti-communist counter-revolutionaries, known as the “Contras”, were trained, funded, and largely created by the CIA to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua during the 1980s. However, the CIA’s funding was not enough. Desperate for money, the Contras needed other funding sources to fight their war against the Sandinistas. The additional dollars came from the drug trade. The late investigative journalist Gary Webb, in 1996, wrote a lengthy series of articles for the San Jose Mercury News, entitled “Dark Alliance,” detailing how the Contras smuggled cocaine from South America to California’s inner cities and used the profits to fund their fight against the Sandinista government. The CIA knew about this but turned a blind eye. The report received a lot of controversy, criticism, and tarnishing of Webb’s journalistic career, which would lead him to commit suicide in 2004. However, subsequent reports from Congressional hearings and other journalists corroborated Webb’s findings.
Moreover, major banks, such as Wachovia (now part of Wells Fargo) and HSBC have laundered money for drug dealers. Therefore, the very threat that the Drug War claims to eliminate is perpetuated more by the National Security State and Wall Street than by low-level street dealers. But rather than go after the bigger fish, the United States has used the pretext of the “war on drugs” to implement draconian police tactics on marginalized groups, particularly poor black communities.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan passed the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act, which provided civilian police agencies equipment, training, and advising from the military, along with access to military research and facilities. This weakened the line between the military and civilian law enforcement established by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, a Reconstruction-era law forbidding military personnel from enforcing domestic laws. Five years later, in 1986, Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive 221, which declared drug trafficking a national security threat to the United States. This militarized the U.S. approach to drugs and overall policing. Additionally, the global war on terror and growth of the National Security State expanded this militarization of domestic policeunder the guise of “fighting terrorism.”
The adoption of military tactics, equipment, training, and weapons leads to law enforcement adopting a war-like mentality. They come to view themselves as soldiers fighting against a foreign enemy rather police protecting a community. Nick Pastore, a former Police Chief of New Haven, Connecticut from 1990 to 1997, turned down military equipment that was offered to him. “I turned it all down, because it feeds a mind-set that you’re not a police officer serving a community, you’re a soldier at war,” he told the New York Times. He said “tough-guy cops” in his department pushed for “bigger and more hardware” and “used to say, ‘It’s a war out there.'” Pastore added, “If you think everyone who uses drugs is the enemy, then you’re more likely to declare war on the people.” Mix this war-like mentality with already existing societal anti-black racism and the result is deadly. Black people, who, by default, are assumed to be criminals because of their skin color, become the victims of routine police violence.
The fact that a black person is killed by a police officer, security guard, or vigilante every 28 hours (or less) is no random act of nature. It is the inevitable result of institutional racism and militaristic tactics and thinking within America’s domestic security apparatus.
Originally posted on No Strings Attached : Laila Yuile on politics and life in B.C.:
In the days since the horrific failure of the tailings pond dam at the Mount Polley Mine, and the silence that initially followed from our government and the company, one thing is clear to me.
Sadly, as a province we cannot in good faith, trust industry or our own government to ensure the safety of the public, or the environment.
The government states it warned the mine for years: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mount-polley-mine-tailings-pond-breach-followed-years-of-government-warnings-1.2728591
The company has stated he didn’t think this could happen: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mount-polley-mine-tailings-water-very-close-to-drinking-quality-company-says-1.2727776
And while the Liberals fully wear this one from beginning to end, according to the Vancouver Observer, this issue goes back to the late 90’s : http://www.vancouverobserver.com/news/understaffing-deregulation-blame-mount-polley-tailings-pond-disaster-critics
Enough is enough. I put this question to Minister of Energy and Mines,Bill Bennett on twitter, and I now ask the environment minister Mary Polak, and the premier, Christy Clark the very same question:
From Occupy Wall Street