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.]

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Did BBM Cause A Riot? No, Say Tech Insiders. And It Can't Stop One Either

Where did they come from?

That was the question many spectators asked themselves this week as large groups of young people seemed to spontaneously melt out of the UK's streets and self-organise into violent mass riots across London and other cities.

Of course it didn't take long for technology - specifically the BlackBerry Messenger service that many of the rioters used to communicate - to take some of the blame.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday Prime Minister David Cameron said that the government could propose new measures to shut down BlackBerry Messenger, and potentially other social networks, in the event of future riots.

Thoughts on 'Why not print money?'

Richard Gilbert's article "Why not print money?" in the Globe's Economy Lab toys with more radical monetary intervention as a response to the crisis. Desperate times, they say, call for desperate measures. The title (which was perhaps not Gilbert's at all) is more provocative than the article itself, which is mostly about tolerating higher inflation that could have beneficial impacts for easing our way through the current crisis.

Higher inflation would amount to a transfer of income from savers to borrowers, and from richer to poorer, so already I like it. What fascinates me is how this could be done. Turns out Gilbert is channelling arguments from Kenneth Rogoff back at the height of the financial crisis in December 2008:

Fortunately, creating inflation is not rocket science. All central banks need to do is to keep printing money to buy up government debt. The main risk is that inflation could overshoot, landing at 20% or 30% instead of 5-6%. Indeed, fear of overshooting paralysed the Bank of Japan for a decade. But this problem is easily negotiated. With good communication policy, inflation expectations can be contained, and inflation can be brought down as quickly as necessary.

It will take every tool in the box to fix today's once-in-a-century financial crisis. Fear of inflation, when viewed in the context of a possible global depression, is like worrying about getting the measles when one is in danger of getting the plague.

Canada and Libyan Rebels: BFF?

You might have been distracted by the riots in Britain, or the faux-scandal over NDP interim Leader Nycole Turmel, or the credit crisis in the U.S., or your vacation, but Canada is still dropping bombs on Libya with no end to the conflict in sight. Kelly McParland of the National Post takes a second to remind us just how committed the Conservative government is to the mission, and in particular the rebel leadership group, the Transitional National Council. “Even though the outcome of the upheaval in Libya is anything but clear, Ottawa is putting all its eggs in the rebel basket,” for example by booting out Moammar Gadhafi's envoys out of Canada, handing over their embassy and assets to the TNC, recognizing the TNC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, and providing financial assistance to the rebellion – and that's not including the combat support the Canadian Forces have provided. “Caution does not appear to be a major element of the Harper government’s foreign policy,” says McParland in one of the bigger understatements of the year so far.

Academics working on way to make web censorship ‘virtually impossible’

Researchers from the University of Waterloo and University of Michigan say they have developed technology that could make it “virtually impossible” for oppressive governments to censor specific websites in their countries.

The system, called Telex, will be presented Friday at a technology conference being held in San Francisco.

Ian Goldberg, a computer science professor at the University of Waterloo in southern Ontario, said he hopes Telex can be a positive force for change.

“Our goal is to enhance Internet freedom around the world and (ensure) that people get access to the information that’s out there even when their governments are trying to hide parts (of the Internet) from them,” he said.

John Ivison: Stong dollar and weak U.S. make Harper hungry for trade partners

Stephen Harper has been an energetic trade warrior of late — pitching Canada’s wares across Latin and Central America this week, before heading off to China in November.

There is good reason for the frenetic activity: trade values are still below pre-recession levels and don’t look set to bounce back anytime soon. The strong Canadian dollar, lower commodity prices and the prospect of a double dip slump in our largest trading partner, the United States, suggests it will be some time before exports recover to 2008 levels.

When the recession began to bite, merchandise trade dived by 25% to $360-billion in 2009 from $483-billion the previous year. Exports edged up to nearly $400-billion in 2010 but signs for this year are not encouraging. New trade data for June, released Thursday, showed softer demand for Canadian exports from the U.S., the destination of 75% of our exports.

Texas Governor Rick Perry running for president: spokesman

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is running for president.

That's the word from Mr. Perry’s spokesman Mark Miner.

Mr. Miner told The Associated Press that Mr. Perry will announce his intentions to run for the GOP nomination on Saturday as he visits early primary states of South Carolina and New Hampshire.

Mr. Perry's candidacy is likely to shake the GOP field.

His announcement that he is joining the field would come two days after a debate in Iowa and on the same day as his rivals participate in a test vote in the leadoff caucus state.

Source: Globe&Mail 

Harper reopens free-trade with Costa Rica, offers security aid

Stephen Harper arrived in Costa Rica bearing gifts for Canada’s biggest trading partner in Central America even as he brokered deals to deepen market access for Canadian firms in this country of 5 million people.

The Prime Minister, eager to diversify Canada’s trade away from the ailing U.S. economy, is on a four-country Latin American tour to open doors for Canadian businesses.

He announced Ottawa will offer security aid to help Costa Rica cope with an influx of international organized crime and drug gangs.

At the same time, Mr. Harper announced he’s reopening Canada’s free trade agreement with Costa Rica to deepen market access for Canadian firms.

Stopping State Surveillance

The proposed "lawful access" bill bound for Parliament imposes worrisome limits on civil rights, and enormous financial costs on consumers.

Canadian privacy online is about to be put at serious risk. As if internet malefactors and unruly privacy settings on major applications weren’t enough to dissuade Canadians from exercising their online liberties, a trio of invasive bills centred on “information disclosure, mandated surveillance technologies, and new police powers” is set to be fast-tracked through Parliament. Under the euphemism “lawful access,” Bills C-50, C-51, and C-52 aim to “modernize” the Criminal Code and the Competition Act and push the limits of state surveillance.

Celebrating the $100-a-month child benefit. Again.

When I received a government news release today reminding me to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Universal Child Care Benefit, I thought, as I donned my colourful paper hat, “Has it really been a year? Time flies. Why, it feels like only last month we marked five years of those $100-a-month federal payments to parents for every kid under age six.”

Wait a minute. Now that I check, it was only last month. I have removed the hat.

On July 1, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley issued a release stating that “today marked the fifth anniversary of the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB). The UCCB provides financial support to Canadian parents and demonstrates the Government of Canada’s commitment to helping parents balance work and family life.”

And today, Finley sent out another release, telling us that “today, the Government of Canada celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB). The UCCB provides financial support to Canadian parents and demonstrates the Government’s commitment to helping parents balance work and family life.”

Toronto police charged after man’s face bones broken

Two Toronto police officers were charged Thursday morning with assault after a suspect was injured while in custody.

Constables Manpreet Kharbar and Paul Ramos presented themselves at the office of the Special Investigations Unit, where they were each charged with assault causing bodily harm.

The charges stem from an incident on April 24, following an altercation between Keith Ryan and a parking enforcement officer.

The altercation occurred while enforcement officer Devon Henry was working in the Ossington Ave. and Queen St. W. area. At the time, it was reported Ryan allegedly attacked the officer after being issued a ticket.

A social media crackdown is the wrong response to riots

If the UK government restricts social networking in answer to the riots, what separates it from the Arab tyrannies and China?

The government is contemplating tactics against the UK riots that set dangerous precedents.

In parliament today, prime minister David Cameron said authorities and the industry were looking at "whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality". Well, at least he did post it as a question of right and wrong.

It would be wrong, sir. Who is to say what communication and content should be banned from whom on what platform? On my BlackBerry? My computer? My telephone? My street corner?

Cameron also said, according to a Guardian tweet, that he would look at asking online services to take down offending photos. Again, who decides that content is offending? If you give authority to government and telco and social companies to censor that, what else can and will they censor?

Verizon Workers Strike Over "Full-Scale Attack" on Wages, Benefits at Telecom Giant

Some 45,000 workers at Verizon have entered their fifth day on strike after negotiations between Verizon and two unions representing the workers broke down when the company attempted to cut health and pension benefits for workers and make it easier to fire workers. The workers on strike are employed in Verizon’s fixed-line division covering landline phones, DSL Internet, FiOS, cable TV and Internet. Workers at Verizon Wireless are not unionized. Verizon says the benefit cuts are needed because its wireline business has been in decline for more than a decade as more people switch to using cellphones exclusively. But union officials have rejected Verizon’s argument. As the nation’s second-largest U.S. phone carrier, Verizon earned $6.9 billion in net income for the first six months of the year. We speak with Robert Master, spokesperson for Communications Workers of America, one of the unions representing Verizon employees, and with and Pamela Galpern, a striking Verizon worker and union activist. "Verizon [has] launched a full-scale attack,” says Galpern. “Essentially, the company has said, despite the fact we’re hugely profitable, we’re going to take advantage of the economic situation in the country right now to try to roll back the wages, benefits and job security of our workers."

Source: Democracy Now! 

Looking Ahead, Latino Voters See A Choice Between Disappointment And Menace

Kevin Solis, a third-generation Mexican-American from Los Angeles, describes himself as a "poster child for the Democratic Party." One of his uncles was a founder of the Brown Berets, an activist group that protested police brutality in L.A. and marched with Cesar Chavez, and his mother rarely said the word "Republican" without prefacing it with a swear.

So it says something about the depth of Solis' disappointment with President Obama that he is thinking of voting Republican in the next election.

As much as he loathes the harsh immigration policies and rhetoric espoused by many on the right, he is dismayed by the President's record on the economy and of all things, immigration.

And as a volunteer for groups that work with young undocumented immigrants, he says he has spoken to many young Latinos who share his ambivalence. "When I ask them about Obama, the first reaction is a sigh and an eye roll," he says. "And then they say, 'Well, I guess he’s got to be our next president.' "

U.S. Navy Vet Sues Donald Rumsfeld for Torture in Iraq, Court Allows Case to Move Forward

On Monday, a federal appeals court refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two U.S. citizens against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and unnamed others for developing, authorizing and using harsh interrogation techniques against detainees in Iraq. Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel were working for a private U.S. government contractor, Shield Group Security, in 2006 when they witnessed the sale of U.S. government weapons to Iraqi rebel groups for money and alcohol. After they became FBI informants and collaborated with an investigation into their employer, the company revoked their credentials for entering Iraq’s so-called Green Zone, effectively barring them from the safest part of the country. Shortly afterward, they were arrested and detained by U.S. troops, moved to the U.S.-run prison at Camp Cropper, and subjected to extreme sleep deprivation, interrogated for hours at a time, kept in a very cold cell, and denied food and water for long periods. They were eventually released and never charged with a crime. For more on his story, we speak with Donald Vance, a U.S. Navy veteran, and with Andrea Prasow, the senior counsel in the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program at Human Rights Watch.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Unemployment Discrimination: Who's Afraid To Hire The Jobless?

WASHINGTON -- Job advertisements that require applicants to be "currently employed" are easy to find online. Yet attempts to trace the origins of such discriminatory job ads yield plenty of "It wasn't me" responses from the companies involved.

Many of the businesses insist they don't want to screen out the unemployed and blame the discriminatory language on the middlemen directly responsible for placing the ads.

Discrimination against people who are out of work is a phenomenon that's been in the news since last year, and lately it has been getting a lot more attention. Democrats in both chambers of Congress now want to make it a federal crime.

A recent report by the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, called out 73 businesses for asking in job postings that applicants be currently employed. "This perverse catch-22 is deepening our unemployment crisis by arbitrarily foreclosing job opportunities to many who are otherwise qualified for them," NELP said in the report.

Subprime Contagion

I moved to Washington in July 2007, at a time when what was then quaintly referred to as the “subprime crisis” was starting to cause some consternation on Wall Street and Capitol Hill. With housing prices falling, banks found themselves holding on to packages of subprime loans that were hemorrhaging value. Every day, it seemed, another bank announced it was writing down a bunch of these loans, which were just starting to be called toxic assets, and the total of such write-downs was, by July, already tens of billions of dollars.

One of the first stories I wrote for The Nation from DC was a dispatch from a Joint Economic Committee hearing, at which Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke sought to calm the nerves of lawmakers made anxious by the cascade of worrying headlines. Bernanke acknowledged that some of the trends in the subprime market were worrying, but he said that the problems were, at least for the moment, contained. There was, he told the committee, “scant evidence of spillovers from housing to other components of final demand.” In other words: yes, there are some clouds on the horizon, but no, the sky isn’t falling.

Anarchy and Austerity: Why London Won't Be the Last City to Burn

The riots and fires consuming London are a story about senseless violence and crime. They are also a story about urban politics, race relations, education inequality, and British culture and society. But underneath all of that, they are part of an economic story that is universal.

For the last year, Great Britain has embraced austerity to a degree that would make some American conservatives blush. The purpose of shrinking government was to reduce debt. But the effect has been to kill the economy. With the UK tottering on the razor's edge of recession, consumer confidence is at a record low, unemployment is rising, and even the most optimistic economists predict one-percent expansion for the rest of the year.

The scourge of young restlessness growing in this noxious petri dish is potent enough to have a nickname. The British call them the NEETs, as in "Not in Education, Employment, or Training." Last year, British Employment Minister Chris Grayling called chronic youth unemployment a "ticking time bomb." That bomb is way past ticking.

Student Protests in Chile

For the past several months, students, teachers, and their supporters in Chile have been staging chaotic demonstrations against their government. Their goal is to transform the country's education system. In particular, they're seeking a referendum to significantly increase the funding and quality of public schools. Students have engaged in multiple forms of protest, from hunger strikes and sit-ins to marches and pillow fights. Smaller groups of protesters have engaged riot police directly, hurling stones and firebombs. Chilean authorities have responded by banning demonstrations, pushing protesters back with water cannons, and offering education proposals that have been rejected. Students in the tens of thousands -- with popular backing across Chile -- continue to march without official permission, and public sentiment against president Sebastian Piñera continues to grow. Collected here are some scenes from the streets of Chile over the past few months.

Source: the Atlantic 

When Is It OK to Take People's DNA Without Their Consent?

If you're walking down the street and a police officer wants to swab your cheek for a DNA sample, you can refuse. But if you're convicted of a felony, you can't. At what point in the criminal process do you lose that right?

In California, until last week, the answer was the moment you were arrested for a felony. But a California state court has struck down the state statute that allowed such DNA collection, saying the measure "unreasonably intrudes on such arrestees' expectation of privacy and is invalid under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution."

The decision comes at a crucial time in the legal battle over DNA evidence: Last summer, a three-judge panel on the federal Ninth Circuit heard arguments about California's law and has yet to issue its opinion. This fall, the circuit will sit en banc -- that means all of the judges not just three of them -- to decide whether a very similar federal law is constitutional. Another circuit court has already decided that it is. If the two circuits disagree (or even if they don't), the issue could come before the Supreme Court soon.

Rick Scott Pays $360 a Year for State Health Insurance

Florida's anti-Obamacare governor and his tea party allies in the legislature pay less for state-funded health insurance than janitors, cops, or teachers.

Last year, political neophyte Rick Scott spent $73 million of his own money to bring the tea party's anti-government, pro-privatization agenda to the Florida governor's office. Today, the former executive pays just $30 a month for health care—and lets taxpayers cover the rest.

The governor, a proud bearer of the Republican Party's deregulation standard, has spent his first half-year in office decrying government waste: He's laid off thousands of Sunshine State employees, slashed their benefits, turned down (most of) the federal government's health care dollars, and put extra financial pressure on Florida retirees and Medicaid recipients. But Scott and his dependents pay one-fifth what a janitor in the state Capitol pays for health insurance... and less than 3 percent of what a retired state trooper pays for life-saving coverage.

Michele Bachmann's Auschwitz Warning

In a 2002 film highlighting her work as an education activist, Michele Bachmann endorsed the argument of her colleague, Michael Chapman, who claimed that state and federal education reforms were leading the United States toward its own Holocaust. Minnesota's new curriculum standards, Bachmann contended, were going to "undermine our freedom and undermine our national sovereignty" and turn children into "global citizens." The "brave new world" Chapman warned about, she said, wouldn't be far behind.

Before Bachmann served in the Minnesota state Senate, led the tea party caucus in the House of Representatives, or ran for president, she worked as an education activist with a conservative group called the Maple River Education Coalition (MREC). Together with Chapman, Bachmann criss-crossed Minnesota, speaking to church groups and warning them about the dire consequences of state and federal education reform.

In the middle of all of this, Bachmann and Chapman made a movie.

Guinea Pig Kids II is not, as its name might suggest, a B-list horror film. The impetus for the film was the Profile of Learning, a set of state curriculum standards adopted by Republican Gov. Arne Carlson's administration in 1998. To Bachmann and Chapman, the standards were nefarious and part of a a far-reaching globalist plot.

Harper lashes out at critics of Canada-Colombia free-trade deal

BOGOTA — Critics of free trade with Colombia who talk about human rights are really more concerned about protectionism, Stephen Harper claims.

That was the prime minister’s blunt message Wednesday as he stood beside his Colombian counterpart on the eve of a historic free-trade deal coming into effect.

“We can’t block the progress of a country like this for protectionist reasons, and you trying to use human rights as a front for doing that,” Harper said in Colombia’s presidential palace after being asked about critics who cite human-rights concerns in dealing with the country.

The NDP opposed the Conservative government’s signing of a free-trade agreement with Colombia in 2008 and tried to block the deal. But the deal passed and it takes effect Monday.

Kenney gets into letter-writing scrap with Amnesty International

OTTAWA—Jason Kenney’s scornful rebuke of Amnesty International for criticizing his government’s snitch line for “war criminals” dodging deportation orders was laced with an especially acidic tone.

Even for a tough-on-crime Conservative immigration minister.

On ministerial and MP letterhead, Kenney’s office on Tuesday released an “open letter” to the advocacy organization, slamming it for what Kenney calls its “ridiculous” suggestions the government was out of line.

The Untransformational President - Barack Obama hoped to elevate American politics. Instead, our politics may destroy his presidency.

Why isn’t Barack Obama tougher? During the week that he signed a debt deal in which the Republicans took him to the cleaners, markets tanked, and U.S. debt got hit with a historic and disastrous downgrade, several answers were bruited. It’s political: he’s in thrall to polls telling him that accommodation is what independent voters want. It’s ideological: he’s in fact (say some liberals) an aggressive moderate who’s perfectly fine with massive spending cuts. It’s psychological or biological: he just doesn’t have the tough-guy gene.

All these factors are present to varying degrees. But let me offer a different explanation—one that’s a little deeper. The problem rests in the realm of political philosophy. Obama has beliefs about democratic governance, and about himself as president, that dictate his behavior in battles like the debt-ceiling brawl. These beliefs were a big part of what made him so inspirational to so many people before he won the 2008 election, but they have served him—and his voters, and the country—poorly since he took office, and especially since the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives.

Toronto seeks bids on private trash collection earlier than expected

Private garbage collectors could be replacing municipal workers on downtown Toronto streets as soon as next summer, a new timeline that puts the city six months ahead of schedule in its bid to contract out garbage services, and adds a degree of tension to looming labour negotiations.

The city issued its call for bids on the project late Wednesday afternoon. It’s looking for a company to collect residential and commercial waste between Yonge Street and the Etobicoke border for a seven-year period at a cost of no more than $25,975,030.

Tory MP who fought long gun registry chairs top-secret committee to vet Supreme Court candidates

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner to the panel last Friday. 'I’m assuming the Conservatives are doing it to increase her profile and all the work she did on the gun registry,' says NDP MP Joe Comartin.

PARLIAMENT HILL—Prime Minister Stephen Harper has positioned a high-profile Manitoba Conservative MP who led a Parliamentary battle against the federal long-gun registry as the chair of a top-secret panel of MPs that will vet candidates to fill two crucial vacancies on the Supreme Court of Canada.

Slave Lake Fire Donations Found In Calgary Dump

CALGARY - A heartbroken Calgary business woman admitted Wednesday that it was clothing, bedding and toys she had gathered for wildfire victims that ended up in a city landfill.

Melissa Gunning said her eco-friendly baby container business, Wean Green, started collecting items after a friend lost her home in May to the raging wildfire that destroyed a good portion of Slave Lake, Alta.

She said the public's response was overwhelming. She sent two semi-trailer loads of donated goods to Slave Lake, but when the community indicated it didn't need anymore items, she was stuck with two large storage lockers full of donations.

Double dumb-down

It’s safe to say that if councillor Doug Ford has a summer reading list, Margaret Atwood isn’t on it.

As the mayor’s big brother said during his recent very public set-to with the celebrated author over possible library closures, he wouldn’t know Atwood if he passed her on the street.

Media types had great fun with that one, and with Ford’s remark that he’d prefer a few more Tim Hortons to bibliothèques in his ward. Funny.