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.]

Friday, September 30, 2011

Clarence Thomas Should Be Investigated For Nondisclosure, Democratic Lawmakers Say

WASHINGTON -- Democratic lawmakers on Thursday called for a federal investigation into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' failure to report hundreds of thousands of dollars on annual financial disclosure forms.

Led by House Rules Committee ranking member Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), 20 House Democrats sent a letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States -- the entity that frames guidelines for the administration of federal courts -- requesting that the conference refer the matter of Thomas' non-compliance with the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to the Department of Justice.

The letter outlines how, throughout his 20-year tenure on the Supreme Court, Thomas routinely checked a box titled "none" on his annual financial disclosure forms, indicating that his wife had received no income. But in reality, the letter states, she earned nearly $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation from 2003 to 2007 alone.

Slaughter called it "absurd" to suggest that Thomas may not have known how to fill out the forms.

Michele Bachmann Slams Arab Spring As Consequence Of Obama's 'Weakness'

Now the Arab Spring is a bad thing?

Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has taken her special perspective on world affairs to a new level, telling an audience in Concord, N.C., on Thursday that the Arab Spring was the unwelcome consequence of weak leadership from President Obama.

"You want to know why we have Arab Spring?" Bachmann asked in the appearance. "Barack Obama has laid the table for the Arab Spring by demonstrating weakness from the United States of America."

In Bachmann's telling, the widespread popular -- and mostly peaceful -- movements by Arab people to liberate themselves from decades of brutal dictatorships has posed a threat to the safety of Israel, and should not have been allowed to take place.

"[Obama] put a lot of daylight in our relationship with our ally Israel," she added.

In a May speech, President Obama explicitly embraced the revolutions sweeping the Middle East, and confirmed that the U.S. would do everything in its power to help usher them along.

House Republicans' Labor Budget Cuts Rules That Protect Rooftop Workers From Falling, Coal Miners From Coal Dust

WASHINGTON -- In addition to blocking President Obama's health care law and slashing funding for job training, the budget plan presented by House Republicans for health and labor programs this week would scuttle several worker safety protections put forth by the Department of Labor.

Among other anti-regulatory measures, the budget would block the department from moving forward with its Injury and Illness Prevention Program, which would require employers to develop written plans to address workplace hazards and reduce worker injuries. Under the Republican plan, no Labor Department funding could be devoted toward the program.

The budget also takes aim at an obscure but notable Labor Department rule intended to reduce the death and maiming of construction workers who labor on rooftops. The department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration had planned to ramp up the enforcement of harness rules for roofers working on residential construction sites, but the Republican plan forbids the agency from doing so, as noted by the public-health blog The Pump Handle.

Another OSHA rule gutted by the bill relates to repetitive-motion injuries. The agency has been developing a rule that will require employers to check a box on agency forms in cases where workers have developed musculoskeletal disorders. Although the rule costs practically nothing and goes primarily toward data collection, the Republican budget forbids it from moving forward.

Wall Street Protesters: Middle Class Issues

NEW YORK -- Americans have become so accustomed to our political and economic aspirations yielding only frustration, that we are rightfully inclined to dismiss as impotent the spectacle in the tiny park near Wall Street, where a few hundred people are camped out demanding various versions of change.

The scene feels familiar. There are grungy kids in sleeping bags arrayed on stained pieces of cardboard on the pavement. There are sign-wavers -- "PEOPLE, NOT PROFITS" -- and a handful of aging hippies on the periphery.

The cynic has plenty of material to work with, not least the fact that this inchoate, largely spontaneous gathering is fueled by so many issues -- economic inequality, war in Afghanistan, the unemployment and foreclosure crises, a lack of justice for the Wall Street chieftains who led the country into a ditch. At the same time, this movement lacks a clearly delineated set of demands. Ask the protesters what they want and prepare for a barrage of answers.

But that lack of definition to the agenda is no disqualifier. Indeed, it may be a source of strength and inclusion, as well as an indication of the depth and breadth of the dissatisfaction eating away at contemporary American society.

‘Disappointed’ Tories to review top court’s drug-injection ruling

The federal Conservative government has yet to wave the white flag in its fight against Vancouver’s Insite drug injection site – despite a Supreme Court ruling that says its attempts to close the clinic were “grossly disproportionate” to the benefits for drug users and the community.

The Health Minister told the House of Commons on Friday that her government would be taking a look at the decision. “Although we are disappointed with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision today, we will comply,” Leona Aglukkaq said during Question Period.

The government, she said, believes that the system should be focussed on preventing people from becoming drug addicts and has made significant investments to strengthen existing treatment efforts through its treatment action plan.

“We will be reviewing the court decision,” the minister said.

Liberal MP Joyce Murray, who represents the riding of Vancouver Quadra, demanded to know what Ms. Aglukkaq meant when she said the decision would be reviewed. “Will the government respect the Supreme Court’s decision and stop attacking Insite?” she asked.

Canada Privacy Law: Amendment Mimics USA Patriot Act, Critics Charge

It's not exactly Canada’s very own Patriot Act, but a Harper government amendment to the country's privacy law has some experts seeing shadows of the controversial U.S. legislation.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis tabled an amendment to the PIPEDA privacy law on Thursday, hailing it as a step forward towards greater protection of Canadians’ online privacy.

Among the amendment’s provisions are a new rule requiring organizations to report data security breaches to Canada’s privacy commissioner, as well as some exceptions to privacy rules designed to make it easier for companies to carry out day-to-day business.

But what has privacy experts worried is a new provision that allows organizations to hand over personal information about individuals to law enforcement and private investigators without a warrant. And, when the law enforcement agency requests it, the organization can be forbidden from notifying the individual in question that their information has been passed on.

It’s that secrecy clause that has some privacy experts comparing the PIPEDA amendment to the USA Patriot Act, a massive law passed with little debate in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that civil liberties advocates have criticized as being a major expansion of the U.S. government’s ability to spy on private citizens.

Supreme Court OKs Insite Safe Injection Site In Unanimous Ruling

OTTAWA - The federal government will comply with a Supreme Court ruling supporting a safe-injection site for drug addicts, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said today.

"Although we are disappointed with the Supreme Court of Canada's decision today, we will comply," she told the House of Commons.

"We believe that the system should be focused on preventing people from becoming drug addicts. A key pillar of the national, anti-drug strategy is prevention and treatment for those with drug dependency."

The 9-0 decision was a rebuke of the Harper government's tough-on-crime agenda and a precedent-setting ruling on the division of federal and provincial powers.

The court ordered the Harper government to abandon its effort to close the Insite facility in Vancouver.

The justices also told the government to grant an exemption to protect Insite staff from prosecution for drug possession or trafficking charges.

Aglukkaq also said she wants to review the decision.

Inside Occupy Wall Street: A Tour of Activist Encampment at the Heart of Growing Protest

Hundreds continue to camp out in a park in Manhattan’s Financial District for the "Occupy Wall Street" protest. The encampment got a boost this week when one of New York City’s largest unions, the Transit Workers Union, announced its backing. In this report ,Democracy Now! producer Mike Burke gets a tour of the private park, open to the public, that people have occupied, and and speaks with demonstrators, including a woman who was pepper sprayed by New York City Police Department Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna last Saturday. Special thanks to Hany Massoud.

Source: Democracy Now! 

"American Teacher": New Film Rebuts Vilification of Underpaid, Dedicated Public School Teachers

Opening today, the new documentary "American Teacher" follows the lives of four teachers who struggle to remain in a profession they love, despite the heavy toll exacted on their lives by the grueling hours and low-salaries. The documentary is a rebuttal of sorts to pundits who portray public school educators as cushioned recipients of tax-payer supported benefits, extended summer vacations and low accountability. We speak with the film’s Academy Award-winning director, Vanessa Roth, and with Brooklyn first-grade public school teacher, Jamie Fidler, who is featured in the film.

Source: Democracy Now! 

With Death of Anwar al-Awlaki, Has U.S. Launched New Era of Killing U.S. Citizens Without Charge?

The United States has confirmed the killing of the radical Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, in northern Yemen. The Obama administration says Al-Awlaki is one of the most influential al-Qaeda operatives on its 'most wanted' list. In response to news of al-Awlaki’s death, constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald and others argue the assassination of U.S. citizens without due process has now has become a reality. "One of the bizarre aspects of it is that media and government reports try to sell al-Awlaki as some grand terrorist mastermind … describing him as the new bin Laden. The United States government needs a terrorist mastermind to replace Osama bin Laden to justify this type of endless war … For a while, al-Awlaki was going to serve that function," Greenwald says. "If you are somebody that believes the President of the United States has the power to order your fellow citizens murdered, assassinated, killed without a shred of due process … then you are really declaring yourself to be as pure of an authoritarian as it gets."

Source: Democracy Now!  

The Daily Caller: Still Wrong

In journalism, making a factual mistake is awful. But it happens. When it does, you clarify, you correct, you admit you screwed up. Unless, that is, you're the Daily Caller, the conservative website run by former TV pundit Tucker Carlson. It got caught in a whopper of an error, and instead of fessing up, it has insisted it did no wrong, taking a two-by-four to its critics, including Mother Jones.

Earlier this week, the Daily Caller reported that the Environmental Protection Agency was "asking taxpayers" to pay for "230,000 new bureaucrats," at a cost of $21 billion, to implement new rules to control greenhouse gas emissions. Given that the agency currently employs 17,000, this seemed like a rather shocking revelation. Naturally, this factoid whipped Fox News and conservative blogs into a frenzy; they pointed to it as evidence that the Obama administration is ape-crazy out of control. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a foe of climate change action, enthusiastically cited it.

But there was a problem: This was not true. As MoJo's Kate Sheppard pointed out, the Daily Caller had "managed to pull that number from a court filing about what the EPA is trying to avoid." The EPA was defending a rule that would allow it to limit the number of pollution sources it must regulate, so the agency wouldn't have to expand its workforce to such an absurd level. The EPA was not asking taxpayers to pay for 230,000 new employees; it was doing what it could to prevent this. In other words, the reality was the opposite of what the Daily Caller had reported. Media Matters slammed the Daily Caller, noting the EPA had "avoided" a scenario in which 230,000 new workers would be necessary.

The Daily Caller's slip-up went viral. Tweeps tweeted about it. Bloggers blogged about it. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post criticized the Daily Caller for revealing that it cared not a whit for facts.

Why You Shouldn't Take Notes on Terrorist Plots

On Wednesday the FBI announced that it had arrested Rezwan Ferdaus, a Northeastern University graduate in physics, for allegedly plotting to fly model planes packed with explosives into government buildings in Washington, DC, and elsewhere. As with previous sting operations, the actual plot, reliant on equipment provided by undercover FBI agents, was never going to take place. Unlike previous sting operations, the FBI got the target to outline the entire thing in writing.

"It seems like the FBI intentionally trying to ensure the entrapment defense couldn't be mounted," says Karen Greenberg of the Fordham Center on National Security.

According to the criminal complaint, Ferdaus handed the FBI agents a thumb drive with a plan described as "extremely detailed, well written, and annotated with numerous pictures." Ferdaus doesn't appear to have found anything suspicious about two supposed Al Qaeda operatives asking for what sounds, essentially, like a grant proposal.

As Trevor Aaronson reported in the September/October issue of Mother Jones, the FBI has relied increasingly on these kinds of sting operations as they try to shift focus from "professional" terrorists to "lone wolf" types who haven't received any kind of formal training. The government has come under criticism from civil liberties advocates who say that the government is using agent provocateurs to manufacture terror plots involving people who might not otherwise have committed crimes.

Rough Justice Under Rick Perry

When MSNBC's Brian Williams asked Rick Perry during a recent GOP debate if he ever worried that his state had executed an innocent man on Perry's watch, the three-term Texas governor didn't hesitate: "No sir, I've never struggled with that at all." Maybe he should have: As Steve Mims and Joe Bailey detail in their new documentary, Incendiary, the state's 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for the murder of his two children was based in large part on arson science that had been thoroughly rejected by the scientific community—something that Perry had been informed of before the "ultimate justice" was served.

Inspired by David Grann's masterful 2009 New Yorker story about the case, the Austin filmmakers set out to chronicle the flawed forensics behind the execution. They soon found themselves in the middle of a pitched political battle involving Perry's apparent maneuvering to put a thumb on the scales with the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Mims and Bailey spoke recently with Mother Jones about the Willingham case, arson science, and how they navigated the politics of capital punishment.

CBC Cuts: Liberals Suggest Belt-Tightening At Public Broadcaster Could Go Beyond 10 Per Cent

OTTAWA –The CBC could see even deeper cuts than the 10 per cent reduction the Heritage Minister has discussed, federal Liberals suggested Thursday.

Liberal heritage critic Scott Simms told HuffPost he believes Heritage Minister James Moore is under tremendous pressure from right-wingers in the Conservative caucus to axe the public broadcaster's budget substantially.

"They are openly musing about it. They are no longer quiet," Simms said, reacting to petitions being distributed by some Tory MPs, such as Rob Anders and Brad Trost, that call for the CBC's public subsidy to be eliminated entirely.

"So what lies beneath James' rhetoric is pretty scary stuff. So if he has gone from five, now to 10, it may go even further," Simms concluded.

HuffPost broke the news Thursday that Moore wants to cut the CBC's budget by 10 per cent. The Conservative government, however, hasn't officially settled on a figure. In order to balance the books, all departments, agencies and Crown corporations have been asked to propose two scenarios to deal with a 5 per cent cut and a 10 per cent cut.

With a $1 billion allocation from the public purse, Moore noted in the Commons this week that: "The CBC is receiving a lot of money from taxpayers."

"CBC will do its part, that's certain," Moore added. "We will work with them to find the savings, but they will do their part to achieve a balanced budget by 2015."

Simms said he accepts the fact that budgets will be cut because of the review, but the issue is how far those cuts will go.

"It went from musing about five per cent to now musing about 10 per cent, so it keeps going," he said.

NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel said Thursday the cuts were "regrettable" because the CBC is providing "neutral" information accessible to all Canadians.

Source: Huffington 

Info Commissioner Suzanne Legault Worries Cabinet Ministers Evading Scrutiny By Using Personal Email Accounts

OTTAWA - The federal information watchdog is worried that cabinet ministers could be avoiding public scrutiny by using personal email to conduct government business.

Suzanne Legault refused Thursday to comment directly on the case of Treasury Board President Tony Clement. He's been accused by opposition parties of using his personal email account to hide his role in doling out federal G8 largesse in his riding.

But the information commissioner said she's concerned in general that there's little she can do to ensure ministers don't intermingle government files, which are covered by the Access to Information Act, with personal files, which are not.

She said her powers to verify that ministers are acting properly have been "definitely hampered" by a Supreme Court ruling handed down last May.

"We will see how it unfolds. But yes, I am worried," Legault said in an interview.

"Certainly, if somebody wanted to avoid being subject to Access to Information, they probably could, given the state of technology."

Opposition flips ethics watchdog’s appearance back on Conservatives

At least five public office holders, including Industry Minister Christian Paradis and Bruce Carson, a former aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are currently under investigation for possibly breaching the government’s ethics rules, says Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay could soon join that number should her office receive a complaint about his visit to a fishing camp owned by a Newfoundland businessman, Dawson suggested.

However, Dawson was tight lipped about the three mystery investigations she has self-initiated. The investigations are relate to possible infractions of the Conflict of Interest Act which applies to 2,800 public office holders which includes ministers, parliamentary secretaries, minister staff and full time employees named through governor in council appointments such as deputy ministers, heads of crown corporations and members of federal boards.

While the individuals under investigation have been notified, Dawson and her officials refused to say who is under a cloud of suspicion or to even say how many individuals are involved in each of the self-initiated investigations.

Baird demands gold, drops 'Canada' from Foreign Affairs business card

John Baird has set a new gold standard for business cards.

The Conservative Foreign Affairs Minister demanded – and got – gold embossing on his business cards shortly after being shuffled into the portfolio last May, contrary to government rules.

Mr. Baird then ordered the word “Canada” dropped from the standard design, also against federal policy.

And he insisted that “Lester B. Pearson Building” be removed from the standard street address for Foreign Affairs’ headquarters in Ottawa, thereby erasing the name of a former Liberal prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The controversial changes initially provoked resistance from the senior Foreign Affairs bureaucrats who are responsible for implementing policies on government branding.

But in the end, Mr. Baird won a temporary exemption from the rules – and got his way.

A gold-embossed Canadian coat of arms now glistens from his unilingual English business cards, which lack the wordmark “Canada,” a federal branding design that features a small Canadian flag above the last letter.