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.]

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Getting Out the Slut Vote in 2012

On Thursday, the dangerous Blunt Amendment failed to pass the U.S. Senate. The amendment, which would have enabled employers to pick and choose what services they would cover under insurance on moral grounds, was electorally unwise at best and reckless at worst.

The Blunt Amendment highlights how far off the deep end some Republicans have gone in recent months. In my home state of Massachusetts, Sen. Scott Brown ran radio ads comparing himself to a Kennedy, claiming that former Sen. Ted Kennedy also supported moral exemptions for employers offering insurance coverage. Sen. Brown has refused to pull the ads, even after urging from Sen. Kennedy's son, Patrick. I'm pretty new to Boston but there's one thing I've learned: Never, ever take the Kennedy name in vain.

The Blunt Amendment is only the latest absurdity in recent weeks concerning attacks on women's health care. Rush Limbaugh began a nasty rant against the law student and women's health advocate Sandra Fluke, calling Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute." Then Limbaugh added, "So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives... We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

I think a lot of women looked at this brave and earnest young woman and thought, "Good lord, if Sandra Fluke is a slut, I'm one too! Bring out the slut vote!"

Greek Debt Crisis: Layoff Pushes Factory Worker To Shoot Ex-Boss

KOMOTINI, Greece, March 4 (Reuters) - After more than 30 years as a factory worker, Dimitris Manikas was dreaming of retirement and plans to get married for the third time when a redundancy notice blew his hopes away.

Laid off from his job at a trash can factory in this northern Greek town, the 52-year-old father of two called off his wedding -- even though he had bought the wedding bands. Without any income, he feared his house would be next to go.

Driven to despair, Manikas on Thursday barged into the factory whose name he had tattoed on his forearm, to turn a hunting rifle on his former boss and another worker, injuring them both. He then held three people hostage, surrendering only after 11 hours of negotiations with police.

Bloodstains are still visible on a potted plant and floor in the green and white building where the drama unfolded.

In his first public comments since being arrested, a tearful Manikas said losing his job pushed him over the edge.

New York Times Weighs In On Muslim Surveillance Program By NYPD, Calls Out Mayor Bloomberg

NEW YORK -- The New York Times harshly criticized the NYPD's Muslim surveillance program in a Sunday editorial, while taking particular aim at Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his full-throated defense of the department amid concerns about violations of civil liberties.

Bloomberg, the Times editorial board wrote, "has reacted in the worst possible way -- with disdain -- to those raising legitimate questions about the surveillance program."

The Associated Press has been reporting on the NYPD's secret Muslim surveillance program since August, revealing a post-9/11 strategy for combating terrorism that included blanket surveillance of where Muslims eat, shop and pray. In more than three dozen articles, the AP's knocked down early claims by the NYPD and Bloomberg that officers were only following legitimate leads of possible criminal activity. The surveillance, according to primary documents obtained by the AP, was far more widespread than initially suggested.

When the award-winning series began, the NYPD's staunch defenders in the local press -- the New York Post and Daily News -- have rushed to the department's side and blasted the AP in the process.

Russians are stuck in the ‘middle-income trap’

Vladimir Putin will win the Russian presidential election on Sunday. That is one of the safer predictions I could make. He has guaranteed that outcome not just by crushing the opposition and gagging the media, but also by doing things that should make people happy.

He has increased pension payments by 9.4 per cent, boosted welfare payments, cut the cost of housing by 30 per cent, paid to freeze utility bills and gasoline prices, given big raises to university professors, doubled the wages of soldiers, more than doubled the salaries of police officers.

So people will vote for him. But, unlike the last time he won an election, they are far from pleased with him, or with their lot in life. The protests that followed December’s Duma elections were only a small indicator: Polls show that 70 per cent of Russians are either utterly indifferent or completely antipathetic to the leader they once adored. To maintain their affections – or at least keep them from staging a complete revolt – he has had to buy off their insecurities with great tranches of petroleum money. According to Citibank, his new spending commitments will be affordable only if oil rises to $150 a barrel.

And that spending won’t make Russia wealthier or more competitive. It will keep people from slipping behind, and that’s about it.

Virginia Protesters Arrested: More Than 30 Protesting Anti-Abortion Legislation Arrested At State Capitol

RICHMOND, Va. -- More than 30 activists have been arrested for refusing to leave the Virginia Capitol steps during a protest of anti-abortion legislation.

Virginia Capitol Police Capt. Raymond Goodloe says 31 protesters were arrested Saturday. The demonstrators were some of an estimated 500 people who had gathered to protest legislation like a bill that passed the General Assembly earlier in the week that requires an ultrasound before an abortion.

The group had a permit to rally at the Bell Tower on Capitol Square, but Goodloe said rallies are not allowed on the Capitol steps.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: AP

Federal Judges Give Disparate Sentences: Study

WASHINGTON — A new study shows that federal judges are handing out widely disparate sentences for similar crimes 30 years after Congress tried to create fairer results, but the differences don't line up with the party of the president who appointed the judges, despite any impressions that Republicans or Democrats may be tougher or softer on crime.

Sentencing data from the past five years that was analyzed for The Associated Press by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse during this presidential election year show that sentences for the same types of crimes vary significantly between judges in the same courthouse. But the party of the president who picked a judge is not a good predictor of whether a judge will be tough or lenient on a defendant found guilty at trial.

The analysis showed the judges who meted out the harshest average sentences after trials for three of the most common types of crime – drugs, weapons and white-collar charges – were split evenly between the two parties, based on which president appointed them.

China Lead Pollution Reportedly Poisons Children

BEIJING, March 4 (Reuters) - Lead emission from factories and the natural environment in China's manufacturing heart of Guangdong has poisoned 160 children, Xinhua said on Sunday in the country's latest case of unfettered industrial toxins.

Children from Dongtang town in Renhua country were found to have "elevated" levels of lead in their blood after inhaling lead-contaminated air and eating food tainted with lead, Xinhua said.

Th e natural level of lead in Dongtang is also higher than usual as the town sits on a lead-zinc ore belt which raises the lead content in the soil, Xinhua said.

The report did not name the factories responsible for the lead emissions and was based on preliminary investigations that tested the blood samples of 531 residents last month.

Lead poisoning is prevalent in China and has sparked protests in the past among angry parents of children hurt by heavy metal pollution. Lead is especially damaging to children as it can impede learning and affect behaviours.

Cardinal Dolan Urges 'Freedom Of Religion Battle'

HICKSVILLE, N.Y. -- Cardinal Timothy Dolan called on Roman Catholic worshippers Saturday to become more involved in politics as the church stands against the government in what he called a "freedom of religion battle," as he spoke about the recent controversy involving contraceptive coverage.

Speaking at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville, the spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of New York said the U.S. government is engaged in "an unwarranted, unprecedented radical intrusion." He told the crowd they "live in an era that seems to discover new rights every day."

"We're not trying to impose our teachings on anybody," said Dolan in his 45-minute speech to a packed auditorium of about 1,000 people. "We're simply saying, don't impose your teaching upon us and make us do as a church what we find unconscionable to do."

Some religious organizations protested when President Barack Obama moved to mandate that religious-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities include free birth control coverage in their employee health plans.

Obama later said religious employers could opt out, but insurers must pay for the coverage.

Proponents say the plan is a breakthrough for women's rights, but Dolan and other leaders say it violates religious freedom.

Dolan, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters after the speech that they are in discussion with legal experts and constitutional scholars to determine whether legal action is necessary.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: AP

Russia Elections: Putin Expected To Win, Critics Plan Protests

GROZNY, Russia, March 4 (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin sought a convincing victory in Russia's presidential election on Sunday to strengthen his hand in dealing with the biggest protests of his 12-year rule, but faced allegations of widespread fraud.

Opponents said the voting was heavily skewed to help the former KGB spy return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister and vowed to step up three months of protests against him. Some voters said they were forced to vote for him.

But Putin's victory was not in doubt in voting from the Pacific coast to western borders with the European Union, and from the Arctic north to the frontier with China.

The man credited by many Russians with rebuilding the country's strong image and overseeing an economic boom in his 2000-08 presidency hoped to win outright in the first round and portray this as a strong mandate for six more years in power.

"I think the elections will be legitimate, fair, and Putin will win in the first round, unless the court rules otherwise," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was shown saying confidently on Internet and cable television channel TV Dozhd.

Robo-calls: Tory election official Guy Giorno wants ‘full weight of law’ applied against those responsible

OTTAWA—The Conservative Party campaign co-chair agrees with a former top Elections Canada official on one thing — the courts should throw the book at whoever is behind calls to deliberately mislead voters in the 2011 election.

Lawyer Guy Giorno, Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff now back in the private sector, told CTV’s Question Period that “suppression of vote is a despicable, reprehensible practice and everybody ought to condemn it.

“So I wish Godspeed to Elections Canada and the RCMP investigators. We want them to get to the bottom of this and let’s hope the full weight of the law is applied to any and all.”

Giorno, like other top Conservatives, said something clearly went awry in the riding of Guelph, and suggested it was limited to that. But he denied there was any connection to the official campaign, and denied there was any possibility that something akin to mere “old fashioned dirty tricks” could have taken place without his knowledge.

“We had processes and structures in place to ensure that that didn’t happen, so the short answer is no.”

Lacking ‘hand’ in robo-call debate, Tories ought to try humility

Despite the bluster, the best minds inside the Conservative tent are likely having robo-conniptions. A tough lot, they’ve stared down trouble successfully many times. But this could become their toughest challenge yet.

The Conservatives came to office as the party of rectitude, and respect for the average hockey mom and dad. They had what Jerry Seinfeld used to call “hand.” Their pitch to voters, paraphrased, went something like this: “Grits tried to steal your money, we won’t. We won’t mollycoddle criminals, consort with separatists or conspire with socialists. We’ll cut the GST you hate and throw in a tax break for your kid’s hockey equipment. We are your kind of people.”

It was an all-out effort to make conservatism more relevant to middle class, mainstream Canada. And it worked, to a point.

As they struggle to contain the robo-call mess, some Conservatives appear tempted to just ride the high horse and remind everyone “we won the election, and you all lost.” Tempting it may be, but it’s like drinking a bottle of whisky to dull the pain of a broken leg. It won’t re-set the leg – and a hangover is guaranteed.

Top Tory organizer denies dirty tricks in last year’s election

A top Conservative organizer is denying any dirty tricks or black ops in the 2011 election, while acknowledging that allegedly fraudulent robo-calls in the riding of Guelph deserve to be investigated by Elections Canada.

Guy Giorno, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative campaign chair last year, said that he hopes that Elections Canada, with the aide of the RCMP, gets to the bottom of the Guelph controversy. Mr. Giorno said he is concerned by the events in that riding, while he cautioned the situation in Guelph cannot be extrapolated to the rest of the country.

“It looks like there is something worth investigating there and that's a concern to me, to you, to all Canadians because the right to vote is sacrosanct and anyone who wants to mess around with that right, interfere with that right is doing not just the Conservative Party, not just the people of Guelph, but all Canadians a disservice,” Mr. Giorno said on CTV’s Question Period.

“I wish Godspeed to Elections Canada and the RCMP investigators. We want them to get to the bottom of this and let’s hope the full weight of the law is applied to any and all,” he said.

MP Says Guelph Robocalls A Mystery To Tories

A Tory MP who serves as the prime minister's point-person on allegations of fraudulent calls to voters during the last federal election says his party doesn't know whether a former staffer who resigned last week had anything to do with the so-called "robocalls."

The Conservatives accepted the resignation of Michael Sona amid reports that Elections Canada was investigating allegations of robocalls misleading voters about polling station changes in the riding of Guelph leading up to last May's election.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, MP Dean Del Mastro was asked point blank if Sona was involved, and said "we don't know that."

Del Mastro again denied accusations from opposition parties that his party engaged in a voter suppression campaign, but told host Evan Solomon it appears that "what went wrong in Guelph was in fact untoward, it was intentional."

"The allegations of what happened there [in Guelph] are serious. There seems to be an awful lot of evidence that people received these misleading calls," said Del Mastro.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper echoes hawks on Iran

One of the best and most popular things Jean Chrétien did was to refuse to participate in the 2003 American war on Iraq. He did so calmly but firmly — telling George W. Bush that Canada would not get on board without the approval of the United Nations.

Yet here we have Stephen Harper echoing Israeli and American right-wing warmongers who want Iranian nuclear facilities bombed by Israel or the United States or both, with the help of allies, if any could be roped in. Such a war would be illegal, outside the framework of international law, since it is not likely to have the approval of the Security Council.

On Friday, at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ottawa, Harper refused to give a clear answer to a very clear question:

Would a unilateral Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran be acceptable to Canada — and “would you support it?”

Harper replied that Ottawa upholds the “right of Israel to defend itself” — meaning what? That Israel can attack Iran pre-emptively? He added, seemingly pro forma, that Canada supports a peaceful resolution to the issue.

Higher cost, longer wait times in store for pardon seekers

Canadians seeking a criminal record suspension under a new, more expensive pardon system could wait two years or more for their application to be processed – only to find out they’ve been rejected.

Details published by the government this week show that along with the new $631 fee – justified by the need “to efficiently and effectively deliver pardon services” – the Parole Board of Canada anticipates longer processing times.

The bureaucratic delays will come on top of dramatic extensions in the ineligibility period for pardon applicants contained in the Conservative government’s proposed omnibus crime bill currently before the Senate.

The changes are all part of sweeping reforms sparked after The Canadian Press revealed in 2010 that former hockey coach Graham James, a repeat sex offender, had been quietly issued a routine pardon. Mr. James has since been convicted of more sex offences.

Parliament quickly agreed in June 2010 to ensure no pardon is granted that would bring the “administration of justice into disrepute” – meaning more intensive and time-consuming scrutiny of applications.

Pentagon relaxes two F-35 performance targets

Interesting report out of (free version) says Pentagon officials have relaxed the ground rules the F-35A model, the conventional-takeoff-and-landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter, can meet the minimum range goal for the aircraft -- the minimum, not the desired range.

On Feb. 14, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council -- in a previously unreported development -- agreed to loosen select key performance parameters (KPPs) for the JSF during a review of the program convened in advance of a high-level Feb. 21 Defense Acquisition Board meeting last month, at which the Pentagon aimed to reset many dimensions of the program, including cost and schedule.
Pentagon sources said a memorandum codifying the JROC decisions has not yet been signed by Adm. James Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the JROC chair.
Sources familiar with the changes, however, said the JROC -- which also includes the service vice chiefs of staff -- agreed to adjust the "ground rules and assumptions" underlying the F-35A's 590-nautical-mile, combat-radius KPP.
Last April, the Pentagon reported to Congress in a selected acquisition report that "based on updated estimate of engine bleed," the F-35A would have a combat radius of 584 nautical miles, below its threshold -- set in 2002 -- of 590 nautical miles. (Editors note: The desired or "objective" range was 690 nm). 
To extend the F-35A's combat radius, the JROC agreed to a less-demanding flight profile that assumes near-ideal cruise altitude and airspeed, factors that permit more efficient fuel consumption. This would allow the estimate to be extended to 613 nautical miles, according to sources familiar with the revised requirement.

Also, officials agreed to lengthen the minimum short takeoff distance for the F-35B, even though that model already will carry a smaller weapons load than initially planned.

Read more here:

Original Article
Source: star-telegram
Author: Bob Cox

Conservatives could be dogged by RoboCon for years

When confronted by crisis and scandal, the Conservative government has a standard operating procedure.

Code Yellow: Claim average people don’t care, and say it’s time to move on to more important subjects, like the economy.

Code Orange: If that doesn’t work, toss a young Tory staffer under the proverbial bus, and say the matter’s closed.

Code Red:Blame the media, blame bureaucrats, and screech about Adscam, coalitions, the NEP and the perils of socialism. Rinse and repeat.

An important part of this process, usually, is to cite the words of commentators who defend the Harper regime. So, as the RoboCon scandal continues to spread, we can expect to see Conservative MPs getting up on their hind legs in the Commons, and quoting scrupulously neutral oracles like L. Ian MacDonald, who this week declared that “Harper won the election fair and square,” and that fraudulent phone calls about the location of polling stations wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

Robo-call protest in Vancouver kicks off national wave of demonstrations

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may get a sense over the next week whether the robo-call scandal has struck a nerve with voters as the first of a series of protests rolled out in Vancouver on Saturday.

Carrying placards and flags, chanting slogans and following police on motorcycles, a modest number of demonstrators that included members of Parliament, union leaders and average citizens marched to a prominent war memorial from the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“Messing with the vote is just really for me the last straw, and I think for a lot of Canadians this is where the rubber hits the road,” said Sarah Beuhler, co-organizer of the Vancouver rally.

“I'm really scared for our democracy. The bills that we're seeing coming out of this majority government – we're harkening back to the George Bush era in the States.”

The protesters called for a public inquiry into the matter.

CSIS calls surprise work visits a ‘legitimate investigative strategy’

Canada’s spy agency considers surprise workplace visits to be a “legitimate investigative strategy” despite persistent public concerns about the practice, a newly disclosed policy memo says.

The memo surfaced recently further to a complaint lodged by an Ottawa woman who took exception to being visited by Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers at her office.

The previously secret document shows that CSIS makes it a point to suddenly turn up at people’s offices in order to intimidate them, said Paul Champ, the woman’s lawyer.

“It’s a strategy to make people uncomfortable and to coerce them into speaking to CSIS. I think that’s clearly the intent of the policy,” he said.

“It’s about catching people off guard and unsettling them. They know that it causes fear in people, and that’s precisely why they do it.”

The woman, a Canadian of Middle Eastern origin, does not want her name published, given the unwanted attention she has already received, Champ said.

Vladimir Putin declares ‘open and honest victory’ in Russian elections

Vladimir Putin appears headed back to the Kremlin after exit polls and early official results had him headed for a first-round win in Russia’s controversial presidential election.

Mr. Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008 before stepping aside to become prime minister for four years, looks set to win about 60 per cent of the vote. His nearest contender, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, was on course to win around 18 per cent.

By crossing the 50 per cent line, Mr. Putin would avoid the need for a second-round off against Mr. Zyuganov. Tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and longtime Putin ally Sergei Mironov were all on course to finish with less than 10 per cent of the vote.

The 59-year-old Mr. Putin has said he will appoint President Dmitry Medvedev, who stepped aside so that Mr. Putin could return to the Kremlin, as his prime minister. The two men announced the job swap last fall at a convention of the ruling United Russia party.

As public service girds for cuts, Ottawa’s personnel costs increase

Ottawa is spending 6 per cent more on staff this year even as public servants warn they are being asked to bear the brunt of the Conservative government’s restraint efforts.

Meanwhile total government spending is on track to come in 3 per cent below the year before, which would be a far deeper cut than anything the government suggested in last year’s budget.

The Parliamentary Budget Office has reviewed all official spending estimates for the fiscal year that ends March 31 and compared the totals to 2010-11.

It found government-wide spending on personnel will be $39.1-billion this year, up from $36.8-billion the year before, while total government spending is on track to come in 3 per cent lower.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty – who meets Monday with private sector economists – has said Ottawa is only looking to slow the rate of growth, not to cut federal spending in absolute terms. Mr. Flaherty’s 2011 budget and November fiscal update forecasted spending would rise every year.

Eco-terrorists and pedophiles -- Welcome to the new Canada!

According to our Conservative Government, members of other Canadian political parties are pedophiles and environmentalists and terrorists ... welcome to the new Canada.

As unbelievable as it sounds, Public Safety Canada listed environmentalists among other "issue-based domestic extremists" that could pose a threat to Canadians.

Public Security Minister Vic Toews announced this week a new domestic counter-terrorism strategy which listed a number of groups who will be the focus of increased domestic security surveillance -- in effect extending the reach and impunity of domestic security already working within Canada.

Canada's new counter-terrorism strategy lists environmentalism next to white supremacy as an "issue-based" terrorist threat.

Unfortunately, environmentalists were not the only "trouble-makers" to make the government's hit-list this week -- in a stubborn assessment of the government's on-line privacy bill, the minister referred to anyone who would not support the government legislation as having ties to child abuse.

Why Ontario won’t apologize to Alberta over the tarsands — sorry, oilsands

Confidential Correspondence

To: Hon. Alison Redford, Premier of Alberta

From: Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario

Dear Alison,

First, let me say sorry. Not for anything I’ve said or done.

I merely wanted to apologize in advance — just in case this letter is leaked to the Toronto Star. I can only hope you read it here, first, under my signature and seal, because that newspaper seems to have a pipeline to my confidential in-basket.

Speaking of pipelines — and your difficulty getting one built in the U.S. to export the bitter fruit of Alberta’s bitumen — you have my sympathies. Come heck or high water, your oilsands are our oilsands, because we’re all in this together in the land of milk and honey.

Vancouver robocall protesters demand public inquiry

Demonstrators marched through downtown Vancouver Saturday in protest of the robocall scandal.

Carrying placards and flags, chanting slogans and following police on motorcycles, a modest number of demonstrators that included members of Parliament, union leaders and average citizens marched to a prominent war memorial from the Vancouver Art Gallery.

"There isn't a more important issue than this in Canada right now," said rally organizer Sarah Beuhler, with

"We can fight on every issue but if we can't trust the ballot box this is going to turn into something very shortly that isn't Canada."

Representatives from the NDP and the Liberals urged whoever is responsible to come forward, as did Vancouver City Coun. Adriane Carr.

"This is the biggest fundamental disregard of democracy I have seen in this country," she said. "We are talking about illegal activity."