Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NSA Chief Denies Domestic Spying But Whistleblowers Say Otherwise

In a rare break from the NSA’s tradition of listening but not speaking, NSA chief General Keith Alexander was grilled Tuesday on the topic of eavesdropping on Americans in front of a House subcommittee.

The questioning from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) was prompted by Wired’s cover story this month on the NSA’s growing reach and capabilities, but leaves Americans with as many questions about the reach of spy agency’s powers as they had before Alexander spoke.

Alexander denied, in carefully parsed words, that the NSA has the power to monitor Americans’ communications without getting a court warrant.

But Alexander’s comments fly in the face of people who actually helped create the agency’s eavesdropping and data mining infrastructure. Few people know that system as well as William Binney, who served as the technical director for the agency’s M Group, which stood for World Geopolitical Military Analysis and Reporting, the giant 6,000-person organization responsible for eavesdropping on most of the world.

NSA Whistleblower Thomas Drake Prevails Against Charges in Unprecedented Obama Admin Crackdown

We speak with Thomas Drake, who was targeted after challenging waste, mismanagement and possible constitutional violations at the National Security Agency, but the case against him later collapsed. Drake was one of several sources for a Baltimore Sun article about a $1.2 billion NSA experimental program called "Trailblazer" to sift through electronic communications for national security threats. "My first day on the job was 9/11. And it was shortly after 9/11 that I was exposed to the Pandora’s box of illegality and government wrongdoing on a very significant scale," Drake says. He alleged that the program was inefficient compared to a rival program called "ThinThread" and also violated Americans’ privacy rights. As a result, he faced 35 years in prison for charges under the Espionage Act, but was not ever actually accused of spying. Instead, he was accused of holding on to classified documents in his basement that he says he did not even know were classified.

In a major embarrassment for the Department of Justice, his case ended last year in a misdemeanor plea deal. Now the former top spokesman for the Justice Department, Matthew Miller, seems to be reversing his stance on the prosecution of Drake, saying the case may have been an "ill-considered choice for prosecution."

All of this comes amidst the Obama administration’s unprecedented attack on whisteblowers. "It’s a way to create terrible precedent to go after journalists and a backdoor way to create an Official Secrets Act, which we have managed to live without in this country for more than 200 years. And I think it’s being done on the backs of whistleblowers," says Drake’s attorney, Jesselyn Radack, a former ethics adviser to the Justice Department. She is currently the director of National Security & Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower organization. Her new book is called "TRAITOR: The Whistleblower and the 'American Taliban.'"

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

Exposed: Inside the NSA’s Largest and Most Expansive Secret Domestic Spy Center in Bluffdale, Utah

A new exposé in Wired Magazine reveals details about how the National Security Agency is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah, as part of a secret NSA surveillance program codenamed "Stellar Wind." We speak with investigative reporter James Bamford, who says the NSA has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. The Utah spy center will contain near-bottomless databases to store all forms of communication collected by the agency. This includes the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases and other digital "pocket litter." "The NSA has constantly denied that they’re doing things, and then it turns out they are doing these things," Bamford says in response to NSA Director General Keith Alexander’s denial yesterday that U.S. citizens’ phone calls and emails are being intercepted. "A few years ago, President Bush said before camera that the United States is not eavesdropping on anybody without a warrant, and then it turns out that we had this exposure to all the warrantless eavesdropping in the New York Times article. And so, you have this constant denial and parsing of words."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

The GOP Assault on the Voting Rights Act

Last week the Department of Justice denied preclearance to Texas’s law requiring voters to present photo identification under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires states and jurisdictions with a demonstrated history of passing discriminatory election laws to get approval from the DOJ for any change to laws governing the time, place or manner in which an election is conducted.

Within days Texas filed a challenge in federal court arguing that Section 5 is unconstitutional. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott maintains that the federal government exceeded its authority and violated the Tenth Amendment when it passed the measure.

Conservative opponents of civil rights are eager to see that challenge succeed. Writing in National Review—which opposed the civil rights movement—vice chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights and conservative scholar Abigail Thernstrom argues that Section 5 is outdated. National Review’s evolution on the subject is the standard conservative slither on civil rights. First you oppose it. Then, when society has evolved and you look like a bigot, you accept it. Then, as soon as humanly possible, you argue it was necessary at the time but no longer is.

The Ryan Budget: Who It Helps and Who It Hurts

In the Wall Street Journal this morning, Representative Paul Ryan gets halfway to being honest about this year’s House GOP budget: he writes that “the contrast with our budget [and the president’s] couldn't be clearer: We put our trust in citizens, not government. Our budget returns power to individuals, families and communities.”

That’s an honest admission by Ryan that the GOP budget is a philosophical, political document: it seeks to radically alter the relationship between Americans and the federal government. Never mind that his numbers are fuzzy to the point of fantasy, nor that despite all the bombast about addressing the debt crisis, Ryan’s plan wouldn’t restore a federal surplus for nearly three decades, if it ever does—that’s all besides the point. This budget is an ideological proposition that proposes help for some and sacrifice for others in the name of a different society.

Where he’s dishonest, of course, is the “returning power to individuals” bit. That’s a common conservative trope for simply cutting government benefits—one might gain some perverse interpretation of empowerment, but practically speaking, just have less money for healthcare.

When you pick apart the House GOP budget—who gets helped, and who is asked to make sacrifices—the philosophy Ryan is advocating emerges. And it’s not pretty.

Are Walmart's Chinese Factories as Bad as Apple's?

On a warm, sticky winter morning, I waited nervously in a parking lot in Foshan, a city in southeastern China's smog-choked Pearl River delta, for a man I'd never met. His name was Mr. Ou, and he ran the sprawling factory in front of me, a jumble of offices, low-slung buildings, and warehouses. Though the factory was teeming with workers, a Subaru SUV and BMW coupe were the only cars in the lot. Drab, gray worker dormitories loomed nearby, and between them ran a dusty road that led to the factory. At last a young man emerged from an office building. He motioned for me to follow him in.

I settled onto a plush leather couch and absorbed the decor. Framed awards and certificates covered the walls. A shopping-cart-size wooden frog stood sentry in the center of the room. Ping golf clubs leaned against one wall; a Rolling Stones commemorative electric guitar gathered dust behind a chair. And there were grills: a small kettle grill on a desk, a brushed-steel gas grill on the far side of the room, grills stacked atop other grills. This was Mr. Ou's trade: supplying Western retailers with the cooking apparatus of patio parties and Fourth of July bashes.

The young man closed the door. He took the chair to my right, lit a cigarette, and met my stare as if to say, Let's get on with it. Only then did I realize I was not talking to an assistant.

Germany’s $263 Billion Renewables Shift Biggest Since War

Not since the allies leveled Germany in World War II has Europe’s biggest economy undertaken a reconstruction of its energy market on this scale.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning to build offshore wind farms that will cover an area six times the size of New York City and erect power lines that could stretch from London to Baghdad. The program will cost 200 billion euros ($263 billion), about 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2011, according to the DIW economic institute in Berlin.

Germany aims to replace 17 nuclear reactors that supplied about a fifth of its electricity with renewables such as solar and wind. Merkel to succeed must experiment with untested systems and policies and overcome technical hurdles threatening the project, said Stephan Reimelt, chief executive officer of General Electric Co. (GE)’s energy unit in the country.

Conservatives continue use of character assassination in latest attack ads

The ugly stench of Canadian politics just got worse. The Conservative Party has released new attack ads on Bob Rae, the interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. No one should be surprised. Stephen Harper tries to destroy anyone that can come close to giving him a run for his money.

Mr. Harper has taken Canada down an ugly path of gradual incrementalist polarization, division, cynicism, and subterfuge. I am deeply embarrassed and ashamed that such an amoral and unethical character could sit in the chair of the most important office in the land. He does not deserve the respect his office commands. Why? Because this sinister attack is only the latest in a very long string of flagrantly debasing drive-by hits, destructive and cynical policy, and immoral conduct by this small man and his smaller coterie of taxpayer-funded cheap shot artists and assassins.

This criticism is not aimed at the vast majority of Conservative Party members. They are good and decent people. I know they are horrified with how Stephen Harper has perverted the basic values of the old Reform and Progressive Conservative parties.

Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell would never sanction – much less stomach – Stephen Harper’s actions and the ugly politics he personifies.

Fisheries Act plan draws more heat from right

A second former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister has levelled a scathing broadside at the Harper government, saying the reported plan to gut the Fisheries Act is "foolish" and shows the government isn't truly conservative.

John Fraser was responding to speculation that Ottawa is planning to remove any reference to habitat protection in the legislation, a move critics say is partly intended to help Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. get approval to build an oilsands pipeline to the B.C. coast.

"To take habitat out of the Fisheries Act is a very serious error because you can't save fish if you don't save habitat, and I say this as a lifelong conservative," Fraser said in an interview Tuesday. "People who want to eliminate the appropriate safeguards that should be made in the public interest, these people aren't conservatives at all. -

"They're ideological right-wingers with very, very limited understanding, intelligence or wisdom."

Fraser, fisheries minister from 1984 to 1985, is the second ex-B.C. minister under former prime minister Brian Mulroney to slam Ottawa on the issue.

Polarization, pessimism on the rise

The third of Sir Isaac Newton's three laws of physics -- that every action has an equal and opposite reaction -- may apply to contemporary Canadian politics.

Frank Graves, founder and president of Ekos Research and one of the country's leading applied social researchers, thinks the sudden triumph of an explicitly right-of-centre Conservative Party is the reason for the equally sudden surge into second place of an explicitly centre-left New Democratic Party.

These two ideological parties have squeezed out -- at least temporarily -- the nation's centrist, non-ideological Liberal Party, which governed Canada for most of the last century.

Graves is quick to caution, however, that nothing is fixed and everything could change -- fast.

"The polarization is an adaptation to (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper governing from the right," he said in an interview.

"It is a dialectical response... I don't know how permanent these things are. It could be but it isn't deeply established yet and Canadians are quite centrist typically. The NDP is in the driver's seat right now for realignment, but I don't think they can safely form government without the Liberals."

Speaker’s riding shifted cash to Tory campaign ensnared in robo-calls probe

The political machine behind the man who is now Speaker of the House of Commons opened its wallet for the Guelph Conservative campaign currently under scrutiny by Election Canada’s robo-calls probe, records at the watchdog agency show.

Less than two weeks before the 2011 election, Andrew Scheer’s Regina-Qu’Appelle riding association in Saskatchewan transferred $3,000 to the Guelph Conservative campaign for candidate Marty Burke.

Elections Canada records suggest this was the only Conservative riding association outside Guelph to transfer cash to Mr. Burke’s campaign during the writ period.

Mr. Scheer has served as Conservative MP for the Saskatchewan riding of Regina-Qu’Appelle since 2004. It was only after the 2011 ballot that he was elected Speaker of the House of Commons, which makes him president and referee of the Chamber.

He has recently presided over sharp exchanges in Question Period debates that have been dominated by the robo-calls affair

Unpacking the knapsack of race privilege

It's several weeks after Black History Month; have you checked your racial awareness recently?

My own awareness received a sharp and exhilarating little jolt when I read an article by Dr. Peggy McIntosh in a journal published by the National Association of Women and the Law.

When you're struggling with a difficult new concept, sometimes a lively metaphor brings everything murky into vivid focus. That's what McIntosh, the associate director of the Centre for Research on Women at Wellesley College, has done for the concept of systemic racism.

Her idea came to her as she tried to convince her male academic colleagues to introduce more material about women into their courses.

"I have often noticed men's unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged in the curriculum, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged," McIntosh wryly notes in her article.

Pushing back on the nuclear path: Part 1

Being true to my inner technology geek, I have compulsively followed energy issues for years. Energy discourse is not for everyone, however. I've realized this the socially awkward way by bringing up Ontario's electricity future in casual conversation at house parties.

But with the recent one-year anniversary of the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster, forecasts abound on the prospects of nuke power surviving yet another devastating public relations catastrophe. However, in all these stories about nuclear meltdowns and the future of nuclear energy, I was struck by a significant gap: where is the Canadian content?
While there is the occasional report in a major outlet discussing Canadian commitment to nuclear, there isn't much reporting on the work of the many opponents of Canada's nuclear industry, nor of the sites of contention.

The intention of this piece is to fill that void by outlining some of the issues as well as some of the key players. First stop, Ontario.

Paul Wells on The Harper Decade

On this day ten years ago, Stephen Harper was elected to head the Canadian Alliance. In the decade since, he has methodically made his way to the forefront of Canadian politics, uniting the Conservative Party of Canada, becoming Prime Minister, and winning a majority government in the last election.

On the anniversary of what it’s now clear was a portentous day in Canadian history, Maclean’s is releasing a special e-book: The Harper Decade, in PDF and iPad app format by the magazine’s Political Editor, Paul Wells. We asked Wells to share his insight about Prime Minister Harper and this crucial period in the Canadian political scene.

Q: Why “The Harper Decade?” What does that mean? When did it begin?

A: Tuesday, March 20 is the 10th anniversary of Stephen Harper’s election as leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002. Of course he’d been in politics before, but starting in 2002 we get the beginning of a sustained effort by Harper to dominate Canadian politics. So far it’s worked. This e-book is an attempt to take stock of the man, his political style and policies, and his effect on the country.

Bob Rae attack ad shows it’s a Liberal revival the Tories fear most

There is a reason the Conservative Party launched an attack ad against Bob Rae on the same week as the NDP leadership convention.

The Conservatives are convinced Mr. Rae will lead the Liberal Party into the next election–an increasingly safe assumption. And they fear him more than they fear whomever the New Democrats choose on Saturday. So while the Tories wait to learn who will lead the official opposition, they’re getting their licks in against what they see as the greater threat.

Though nominally only interim leader, Mr. Rae’s hold on the job appears unassailable. Potential rivals – Quebec MP Justin Trudeau, former Quebec cabinet minister Martin Cauchon, New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc – have either decided they’re not interested, or have tested the waters and found them frigid. Ottawa MP David McGuinty, brother to Ontario’s premier, and MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau may also be interested, but at this point Mr. Rae is seen as by far the most credible permanent leader for the third party.

Canadian Tire pleads guilty to gas price fixing

BROCKVILLE, ONT.—Three companies have been fined for fixing the price of gasoline in Kingston and Brockville between May and November in 2007.

The Competition Bureau says Pioneer Energy, Canadian Tire Corporation and Mr. Gas pleaded guilty to the charges today.

Investigators found gas retailers or their representatives phoned each other and agreed on the price they would charge.

The companies pleaded guilty to price-fixing in Brockville court and were fined a total of $2 million.

Competition commissioner Melanie Aitken says consumers in Kingston and Brockville were denied a competitive price for gasoline as a result of criminal price-fixing.

Pioneer Energy was fined $985,000, Canadian Tire was fined $900,000 and Mr. Gas was fined $150,000.

Original Article
Source: Star
Author: The Canadian Press

ORNGE: Web of questionable financial deals at air ambulance service uncovered by Auditor General

A larger web of questionable financial deals has been uncovered at the troubled ORNGE air ambulance service, including the wasting of millions of tax dollars and paying one board member a $200,000 retainer.

Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter detailed the troublesome practices and a lack of health ministry oversight Wednesday in a long-awaited 39-page report that comes as an Ontario Provincial Police investigation continues into ORNGE.

“ORNGE is a textbook example of what happens when the government doesn’t get the information it needs to do its job,” McCarter told a news conference.

He raised the question of what has happened to about $9 million in profits after the posh ORNGE headquarters, nicknamed the “Crystal Palace,” was purchased for $15 million by an air ambulance subsidiary, then leased back to ORNGE with a rent 40 per cent above market rates and used as collateral to borrow $24 million.

“Where is that money?” he said of the $9 million difference between the purchase price and the amount borrowed, which went to another ORNGE subsidiary owned by management and the board, not taxpayers.

“I think that’s something the OPP is looking in to.”

Dissing the politically undead

Consider this:
  • Somebody tried to steal a riding or two, (and maybe more), in the last election.
  • The most expensive military acquisition in Canadian history – $30 billion – is turning out to have been based on government misrepresentation that may or may not have misled parliament – again. Only AG Michael Ferguson seems to know for sure. Voters have been so docile on this file the Harper government got away with saying there was an actual contract to buy these duds during the last election.
  • Former Tories in the Vaughan Conservative riding association are asking for an investigation into the campaign finances of newly minted Harper uber-lieutenant Julian Fantino. So far, the Elections Canada audit of his by-election in 2010 is missing in action.
  • Our new Integrity Commissioner has apparently caught a dishonest public servant but will not divulge her name or the terms under which she left office.
  • Real federal public servants were used in a Conservative/Sun Media faux news special as fake citizens. Got a commendation from their boss. Hmmm.
  • Ottawa says Canadians who oppose the Gateway Pipeline are dangerous radicals under the control of foreign countries.
  • Vic Toews tells us that Canada now operates in a “with-us or with-the- pornographers universe.”
  • The federal budget is just days away and we are told that big cuts are coming. But don’t look for details in the budget, they won’t be there. That info belongs to the government.
With all that and so much more happening, the Conservatives offer the country this political knee-trembler in the form of a new political attack ad – Bob Rae is a “Failure”.

Gloves are off in war on greens

You don't want to give too much credence to the unhinged accusations of crotchety Conservative senators, but their recent attacks on environmentalists suggest a bold escalation in the government's anti-green messaging.

At a recent meeting of a Senate committee examining foreign contributions to Canadian charities, Conservative Senator Percy Mockler described some respected environmental organizations - including the Sierra Club and David Suzuki foundations - as "bad, not to mention, ugly." ("They're all anti-Canadian," chimed in Conservative Senator Mike Duffy.)

Senator Don Plett, a former Conservative party president, picked up on a flippant remark from one environmentalist who said he would accept money "from Martians" if it helped preserve B.C.'s pristine coast.

"If environmentalists are willing to accept money from Martians," Plett said, "where would they draw the line? Would they take money from al-Qaeda, the Hamas, or the Taliban?"

These unbalanced attacks - Conservative senators have no trouble with foreign contributions to the right-leaning Fraser Institute - come when environmental progress has slowed, if not stalled, partly because economic uncertainty is trumping other issues.

Ditch ‘immature rhetoric’ on oil sands, David Suzuki tells Tory senators

One of Canada’s leading environmental groups is urging Canadians to tell Conservative senators to “get back to the business of thoughtful debate” and stop talking among themselves about the alleged foreign funding of oil-sands critics.

Since the end of February, various Conservatives have been standing in the Red Chamber to participate in an inquiry initiated by Ontario Senator Nicole Eaton into the purported interference of foreign foundations in Canada’s domestic affairs – a lament against the U.S. dollars they say are behind environmental activism in this country.

On Tuesday, the David Suzuki Foundation asked Canadians to fill out a form letter on its website telling Ms. Eaton and other senators they are disappointed by their attempts to silence and demonize those who don’t share their positions.

“The Senate is supposed to be a house of sober second thought. As such, we expect more from our senators than uninformed and immature rhetoric that does nothing to further debate about matters of vital national importance,” the letter says.

Nilcilene Miguel de Lima, Amazon Activist With Escort And Bulletproof Vest: 'They're Going To Kill Me'

An activist leader in the Amazon won protection from Brazil's National Security Force, but continues to live under threat. At the same time, loggers run free.

On May 25, Brazil shamefully faced the brutal murder of a husband-and-wife team of forest activists on the same day that the country's House of Representatives voted on the Forest Code -- legislation that environmentalists warned would increase deforestation of the Amazon and violence against those who defend it. After news spread that the activists had been shot at point-blank range and had their ears cut off, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff created a national task force comprising ten government agencies, including the federal police and the military, to address and combat forest violence.

Almost one year after this task force was created, one of its charges is living proof of how federal intervention in the Amazon is still far from enough.

“They will kill me. And before dying, I will be tortured,” says rubber-tapper and Amazon forest activist Nilcilene Miguel de Lima, wearing a bulletproof jacket and escorted by nine heavily-armed policemen.

Chuck Winder, Idaho Lawmaker, Suggests Women Use Rape As Excuse For Abortions

The sponsor of an Idaho mandatory ultrasound bill, state Sen. Chuck Winder, made some highly controversial comments Monday during his closing arguments, suggesting women might falsely use rape as an excuse to obtain an abortion.

Just before the Idaho's Senate passed the bill, which requires woman to have an ultrasound prior to obtaining an abortion, opponents of the bill pointed out that it makes no exception for rape victims, incest victims or women in medical emergencies.

Winder, a Republican from Boise, responded to those concerns by raising the question of whether women understand when they have been raped.

“Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this," Winder said on the Senate floor. "I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that's part of the counseling that goes on.”

Waking up from the Enbridge pipe dream: how many new jobs will we really see?

Supporters of Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline claim that the project will create many thousands of jobs for Canadians, and have attempted to polarize public discussion into a "jobs vs environment" debate. But in our latest study, Marc Lee takes a close look at Enbridge's job creation estimates and reveals that the pipeline would create very few jobs, and most of these would be temporary.

Find out more: download Enbridge Pipe Dreams and Nightmares: The Economic Costs and Benefits of the Proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline

You can hear interviews with Marc on CBC Radio morning shows out of Vancouver, Victoria, Prince George and Prince Rupert, and this afternoon at 2:00 PM on CKNW's Simi Sara Show.

“According to Enbridge’s own estimates, the pipeline will only create about 1,850 construction jobs per year for three years. Even adding in upstream employment from pipe manufacture – if that were to occur in Canada – gives us no more than 3,000 jobs per year for three years.” — Marc Lee

Original Article
Source: policy alternatives
Author: CCPA