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, June 30, 2013

Snowden Coverage: If U.S. Mass Media Were State-Controlled, Would They Look Any Different?

The Edward Snowden leaks have revealed a U.S. corporate media system at war with independent journalism. Many of the same outlets -- especially TV news -- that missed the Wall Street meltdown and cheer-led the Iraq invasion have come to resemble state-controlled media outlets in their near-total identification with the government as it pursues the now 30-year-old whistleblower.

While an independent journalism system would be dissecting the impacts of NSA surveillance on privacy rights, and separating fact from fiction, U.S. news networks have obsessed on questions like: How much damage has Snowden caused? How can he be brought to justice?

Secret-court judges upset at portrayal of ‘collaboration’ with government

Recent leaks of classified documents have pointed to the role of a special court in enabling the government’s secret surveillance programs, but members of the court are chafing at the suggestion that they were collaborating with the executive branch.

A classified 2009 draft report by the National Security Agency’s inspector general relayed some details about the interaction between the court’s judges and the NSA, which sought approval for the Bush administration’s top-secret domestic surveillance programs. The report was described in The Washington Post on June 16 and released in full Thursday by The Post and the British newspaper the Guardian.

The 7 things you can't talk about in China

HONG KONG—It’s the Chinese Communist Party’s version of George Carlin’s seven dirty words.

In a directive reportedly distributed to local party committees, China’s top propaganda officials have issued new restrictions banning discussion of seven topics deemed to be “dangerous Western influences.”

The report, titled “The Current Situation of the Ideological Front,” urges cadres to stop universities and media organizations from talking about a wide range of political ideas. The banned topics cover a variety of subjects that have been openly discussed in Chinese universities and publications for years.

Counterfeit Food More Widespread Than Suspected

GREAT DALBY, England — Invisible from the roadway, hidden deep in the lush English countryside, Moscow Farm is an unlikely base for an international organized crime gang churning out a dangerous brew of fake vodka.

 But a quarter of a mile off a one-lane road here, tens of thousands of liters of counterfeit spirits were distilled, pumped into genuine vodka bottles, with near-perfect counterfeit labels and duty stamps, and sold in corner shops across Britain. The fake Glen’s vodka looked real. But analysis revealed that it was spiked with bleach to lighten its color, and contained high levels of methanol, which in large doses can cause blindness.

Design for Democracy: A different path for Toronto

"A city is like our family portrait. We don't rip our family portrait, even if we don't like the nose of our uncle, because this portrait is you." - Jaime Lerner, Mayor of Curitiba

 The allegations that Mayor Ford smokes, or has smoked, crack are just that -- smoke and mirrors --- obscuring the real issue at City Hall, Toronto's public infrastructure is in tatters. There is a window of opportunity to build a smart, green city, but distracted by Mayor Ford's sideshow antics, billions of dollars of infrastructure funds have the possibility of being poorly allocated, while consultation time is wasted, during his time in office.

Yukon Council of First Nations declares territory to be frack free

''Today the Council of Yukon First Nations passed the following resolution:

"Be it resolved that the Council of First Nations calls on the Yukon Govt. to prohibit fracking in the Yukon and declares our traditional territories to be frack-free."

First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun --Mayo Band submitted the resolution and it was seconded by the Ta'an Kwäch'än -Whitehorse-Lake Labarge First Nation.

The resolution was passed by full consensus of the general assembly of those present.

Original Article
Author: George Lessard

U.S. Spying On Europe: EU Confronts Washington Reports Of Spying On Allies

BRUSSELS/BERLIN, June 30 (Reuters) - The European Union has demanded that the United States explain a report in a German magazine that Washington is spying on the group, using unusually strong language to confront its closest trading partner over its alleged surveillance activities.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said on Sunday the EU contacted U.S. authorities in Washington and Brussels about a report in Der Spiegel magazine that the U.S. secret service had tapped EU offices in Washington and Brussels and at the United Nations.

Multiculturalism Funding: Feds Allowing Millions To Go Unspent Each Year

OTTAWA - Millions of federal dollars earmarked for multiculturalism programming are going unspent, resulting in what the government calls responsible cuts to program budgets but what critics consider a sign of a worrisome shift.

Figures from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration suggest at least $5 million a year hasn't been disbursed since 2007, and the department's marquee funding program has seen nearly 40 per cent of available funds go unused.

Egypt Protests See Thousands March To Demand President Mohammed Morsi's Resignation

Thousands of people have gathered in cities across Egypt to demand the resignation of the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, amid growing fears of a civil war.

In Cairo protestors gathered in Tahrir Square, the scene of 2011's revolution, and marched to the presidential palace.

Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of his inauguration but many are disillusioned with his rule and accuse him of failing to tackle security and economic problems.

House Of Lords Toilets Refurbished, Costing An 'Eye-Watering' £100,000

Campaigners have condemned an "eye-watering" sum of money being spent on doing up two toilets used by members of the House of Lords.

Up to £100,000 is to be spent refurbishing the toilets at the Palace of Westminster, according to a House of Commons contract.

The Resilient Minority Wage Gap

At the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” almost 50 years ago, black leaders called for “decent housing, adequate and integrated education, a federal jobs program for full employment, and a national minimum wage of more than $13 an hour in today’s dollars.” Greg Kaufmann at The Nation tells us how far we’ve failed to come.

“There are still ghettos of poverty that lack decent housing—where poor minority children don’t have the same access to resource-rich, middle-class communities as poor white children do,” Kaufmann writes. “Nearly half of poor African-American children live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, defined as areas where 30 percent of the census tract population lives below the federal poverty threshold (on less than $18,000 for a family of three). In contrast, only 12 percent of poor white children live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty. (Thirty-nine percent of poor American Indian children live in areas of concentrated poverty, as do 35 percent of poor Hispanic children and 21 percent of poor Asian and Pacific Islander children.)”

Redacted FBI Documents Show Plot to Kill Occupy Leaders If ‘Deemed Necessary’

“Did the FBI ignore, or even abet, a plot to assassinate Occupy Houston leaders?” asks investigative reporter Dave Lindorff at WhoWhatWhy. “What did the Feds know? Whom did they warn? And what did the Houston Police know?”

A Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund yielded an FBI document containing knowledge of a plot by an unnamed group or individual to kill “leaders” of the Houston chapter of the nonviolent Occupy Wall Street movement.

Bank of America Schemes to Evade Settlement Rules and Pocket Cash

Documents leaked by a bank insider show the company sold servicing rights to more than half a million mortgages to loan servicing companies in order to make a quick profit and avoid settlement requirements, leaving homeowners in the lurch and with fewer protections to avoid foreclosure, writes Salon reporter David Dayen.

The documents show that in January 2013, Bank of America sold more than half a million mortgages worth $93 billion to the parent corporation of Green Tree Servicing, a non-bank loan servicer based in St. Paul, Minn. Such companies are “buying up servicing rights to millions of mortgages, gradually positioning themselves to become the biggest companies in the space,” Dayen reports.

Egypt’s Petition Rebellion

The biggest challenge to the Egyptian government resides in a sweltering fifth-floor office in a crumbling building in downtown Cairo. It’s paper—millions of pieces of paper, sorted into stacks and piled on chairs and balanced atop cardboard crates. Each is a signed petition calling for the removal of President Mohamed Morsi and new elections, labelling Morsi “a failure in all the meanings of the word … unfit to administer a country the size of Egypt.” The petition charges the country’s leader with betraying the revolution, destroying the economy, and begging for foreign aid to keep the country afloat. Fifteen million Egyptians have signed it, which is two million more than voted Morsi into office a year ago. Many are expected to join mass protests on June 30th.

Nike May Dodge Criticism Of Labor Practices By Cutting Employees In Harsh Working Conditions: Report

In an aim to cut down on labor costs, Nike's slashing its international workforce. But the move could have other benefits as well: Cutting down on criticism over the way the retailer treats its workers.

Don Blair, Nike's chief financial officer, told the Financial Times that the company is "engineering the labour out" of some of its products by replacing workers with technology. As the FT notes, fewer employees in precarious working conditions abroad will likely mean fewer complaints over the way Nike treats its foreign workers.

Susan Rice Downplays Impact Of Snowden Leaks

UNITED NATIONS -- U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice dismissed claims that Edward Snowden's highly classified leaks have weakened the Obama presidency and damaged U.S. foreign policy, insisting that the United States will remain "the most influential, powerful and important country in the world."

Rice's remarks were her only public ones on Snowden and came in an interview with The Associated Press as she prepared to leave the U.N. post and start her new job Monday as President Barack Obama's national security adviser.

Utah Tar Sands: Will The U.S. Join Canada In Tapping The 'Bottom Of The Barrel'?

While record numbers of protesters were chaining themselves to construction equipment earlier this week along the Oklahoma segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed plan to ferry Canadian tar sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, another group of activists camped out at 8,000 feet on an Eastern Utah plateau. Their target: a lesser-known tar sands project here at home.

A Canadian company named U.S Oil Sands is poised to launch the nation's first tar sands mining operation at PR Springs, not far from Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Tapping the energy resource, supporters say, will be a boon for Utah's local economy and the country's energy security, while posing few negative consequences, given the remoteness of the operation. Opponents, however, fear real impacts on local wildlife and tourism, as well as downstream effects on already polluted air and the continually dwindling supplies of clean water upon which millions of people in the West rely.

NSA Bugged European Union Offices, Computer Networks: Report

BERLIN, June 29 (Reuters) - The United States bugged European Union offices and gained access to EU internal computer networks, according to secret documents cited in a German magazine on Saturday, the latest in a series of exposures of alleged U.S. spy programmes.

Der Spiegel cited from a September 2010 "top secret" document of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) which it said fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had taken with him and which the weekly's journalists had seen in part.

Half Of Voters Don't See Conservatives As An Option

Half of Canadians would not consider voting for the Conservatives in the next federal election, a new Nanos Research poll suggests.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Nik Nanos of Nanos Research tells host Evan Solomon "the Conservatives are turning off voters."

Quebec Construction Strike: Government Plans To Introduce Back To Work Legislation

QUEBEC - The Quebec government is planning to introduce back-to-work legislation to bring an end to the province's construction strike.

Labour Minister Agnes Maltais says the Parti Quebecois government will reconvene the provincial legislature from its summer break for a special meeting on Sunday.

High River Flooding Evacuees: 5,000 Return To Their Homes

HIGH RIVER, Alta. - The long road to recovery began on Saturday for some residents of flood-stricken High River as part of the town was opened to those forced out last week.

Authorities ordered all 13,000 residents of this community south of Calgary to leave when the Highwood River burst over its banks. Streets were flooded and people were stranded in their vehicles and their homes.

Conservatives Signal Public Service Cost-Cutting, But Bureaucracy Ballooned Under Them

OTTAWA - The Conservative government has made it clear that curbing public service costs is a key part of its agenda as it heads into the second half of Stephen Harper's majority mandate.

But budget measures and ministerial musings about everything from public sector pensions to the collective bargaining process and even sick leave may obscure the bureaucracy sprawl under the Conservative watch.

Oh, Canada -- How America's friendly northern neighbor became a rogue, reckless petrostate

For decades, the world has thought of Canada as America's friendly northern neighbor -- a responsible, earnest, if somewhat boring, land of hockey fans and single-payer health care. On the big issues, it has long played the global Boy Scout, reliably providing moral leadership on everything from ozone protection to land-mine eradication to gay rights. The late novelist Douglas Adams once quipped that if the United States often behaved like a belligerent teenage boy, Canada was an intelligent woman in her mid-30s. Basically, Canada has been the United States -- not as it is, but as it should be.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Criminal N.S.A.

THE twin revelations that telecom carriers have been secretly giving the National Security Agency information about Americans’ phone calls, and that the N.S.A. has been capturing e-mail and other private communications from Internet companies as part of a secret program called Prism, have not enraged most Americans. Lulled, perhaps, by the Obama administration’s claims that these “modest encroachments on privacy” were approved by Congress and by federal judges, public opinion quickly migrated from shock to “meh.”

The Love That Dares

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to karaoke. And those of you who were at Buckingham Palace: Welcome back." That's a joke; none of us was at Buckingham Palace, which is 4,000 miles from here, but we've all been watching Kate Middleton storm Westminster Abbey in five yards of ivory satin gazar and appliquéd lace on televisions citywide all day. On the projector screen in this Kampala bar, the news now focuses on footage from local events, like when cops used a pistol to smash out the window of a car, unleashed a torrent of pepper spray into the faces of its passengers, including opposition leader Kizza Besigye, and then dragged them off to custody. We watch subsequent crowds of protesters being dispersed by tear gas and live rounds, wince as men get beaten mercilessly over the head with batons. But then the TV is turned off and the karaoke machine is turned on, the Chinese kind that scrolls inexplicable pictures of hay bales and people going for sunset horseback beach rides and cityscapes (Rio, maybe?) behind the lyrics. Our emcee is wearing a sweater vest and a sassy lavender shirt and high-tops. He reminds us between every song that karaoke night is all about having fun and at one point welcomes to the microphone Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, a lanky, ropy dyke with skinny dreads who gets up from our table to rock "Livin' la Vida Loca." A string of rainbow lights spells out "Sappho" over the bartender's head. When a patron performs Bryan Adams' "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?," a guy yells out, "Yes, I have!"—dramatic pause—"My mother is a woman!" and everybody laughs because that guy is gaaaaaaay, and the boys slow-dancing up front are so tender it could break your heart, and when I make eye contact with a butch gal who has her hand down the front of a femme's strappy coral tank top, she smiles and says, "I'm just checking for a heartbeat." When I ask Kasha, who's ordering us whiskey and who owns this bar—Uganda's only gay bar—if she isn't worried about somebody coming in here and hurting or arresting anybody, she shakes her head. "We're not doing anything wrong."

TekSavvy File-Sharing Lawsuit: Voltage Pictures Will Likely Get Their Way In Court, Observers Predict

More than 1,000 Canadians will likely be exposed to legal action over unauthorized downloading of movies, observers of an ongoing court battle predict.

The Federal Court in Toronto resumed hearings this past week into a request by Voltage Pictures, maker of The Hurt Locker, to access internet subscriber information for some 2,000 IP addresses the filmmaker says it linked to unauthorized downloading of its movies. It’s believed some 1,000 to 1,200 individuals are linked to those IP addresses.

MPs should remember they work for us

Being an MP may be the best part-time gig in the country. The job pays $160,000 per year with a ridiculously generous pension plan. You set your own hours and the job comes with a generous expense account and opportunities to travel to faraway places. And if you are so inclined you can earn a few extra bucks on the side.

The issue of MPs making an outside income came into focus after Justin Trudeau acknowledged he collected $277,000 in professional speaking fees while serving his constituents in the House of Commons. But give Trudeau credit for disclosing more about the particulars of his arrangements than the system demanded.

Harper government reduces employment equity requirements for contractors

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has significantly reduced the decades-old requirement for companies seeking to do business with the government to have an employment equity program, iPolitics has learned.

Under the changes introduced this week to the Federal Contractors Program for Employment Equity, only companies with a workforce of more than 100 employees seeking contracts worth more than $1 million will have to prove they have an employment equity program designed to ensure that women, visible minorities, aboriginal peoples and people with disabilities don’t face discrimination. Previously, the threshold was set at contracts worth more than $200,000.

Hospital parking fees in GTA spark grassroots campaign

You could call it an urban humanitarian mission, of sorts.

A grassroots campaign that John Hazelwood and Alan Powell believe will help make the lives of the most vulnerable in the province a little easier, and perhaps a little less painful — especially on the wallet.

The object of their offence couldn’t be any more loathed, or any more complex: hospital parking fees.

Tories signal cost-cutting in civil service but bureaucracy ballooned under them

OTTAWA - The Conservative government has made it clear that curbing public service costs is a key part of its agenda as it heads into the second half of Stephen Harper's majority mandate.

But budget measures and ministerial musings about everything from public sector pensions to the collective bargaining process and even sick leave may obscure the bureaucracy sprawl under the Conservative watch.

York Region seeing rising affluence and deepening poverty

A trip through the sprawl that has galloped north across York Region to the border of East Gwillimbury has increasingly become a tour of monster homes, luxury car dealerships and exclusive golf clubs.

But just beyond the edge of development, tucked between farm fields along the Yonge St. corridor, a shelter for homeless families is a stark reminder that amid rising affluence in Toronto’s northern suburb, poverty is increasing, too.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The march of protest

A FAMILIAR face appeared in many of the protests taking place in scores of cities on three continents this week: a Guy Fawkes mask with a roguish smile and a pencil-thin moustache. The mask belongs to “V”, a character in a graphic novel from the 1980s who became the symbol for a group of computer hackers called Anonymous. His contempt for government resonates with people all over the world.

It’s Not Just the Interest Rate: How Congress Can Help Students

The Senate has officially left town for the upcoming holiday without passing a student loan fix, meaning that the interest rate on federal loans available to low-income students will double on Monday.

Judging from the proposals being discussed, it looks like the best Congress can do is to retroactively extend current rates for a year, and take up the thornier question of a long-term fix when the Higher Education Act comes up for reauthorization in 2014.

NSA Surveillance Prompts Several Bills But Little Action In Congress

WASHINGTON -- In the three weeks since Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency's widespread surveillance programs, the legislative response to his revelations on Capitol Hill has slowed to a glacial pace and public obsession has noticeably shifted from a debate on national security versus privacy to Snowden's latest whereabouts.

Civil liberties advocates in Congress introduced a slew of bills in response to reports that the NSA has been collecting phone records from millions of Americans and mining electronic communications from nine major Internet companies:

    Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed legislation would require the federal government to have a warrant based on probable cause in order to seize phone records from Americans;

    Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who long warned of the government's surveillance methods, are seeking to limit the government's authority to collect data;

    Unusual bedfellows Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) co-sponsored a bill that would declassify FISA court opinions;

    And this week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation to revisit the Patriot Act Section 215 and FISA Amendment Act Section 702, under which the NSA programs are lawful.

Bloomberg: 'Nobody Racially Profiles'

Mayor Michael Bloomberg lashed out Friday morning at two bills recently passed by the New York City Council that aim to check the NYPD's controversial use of stop and frisk.

"The racial profiling bill is just so unworkable," he told host John Gambling during his weekly radio appearance, Capital New York reports. "Nobody racially profiles."

N.S.A. Latest: The Secret History of Domestic Surveillance

On a day when President Obama said “I’m not going to be scrambling any jets to get a twenty-nine-year-old hacker”—thank goodness for that—the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman have published another set of N.S.A. documents that detail how the Agency’s domestic-surveillance programs have evolved over the past decade or so. The documents presumably came from Edward Snowden, although the Guardian reports don’t say so explicitly.

Fast-Food Workers Denounce Wage Theft 'Crime Wave' At New York City Hearing

NEW YORK -- When Shenita Simon, a mother of three, gets paid for working overtime at her fast-food job, it allows her to splurge on the little things that she pointedly describes as luxuries, like school field trips for her kids and clothes that have never been worn.

But Simon, who works at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Brooklyn, says her bosses find all sorts of ways to make sure she rarely gets that extra pay. "They have no respect for the law," she said. "They need to be held accountable."

Senate Student Loan Proposals Fail To Advance As Rate Surge Looms

Senate Democrats on Thursday rallied against a potential bipartisan compromise ahead of Monday’s deadline. Republicans ruled out a temporary one-year delay. The White House played both sides in the hopes of avoiding blame for the interest rate hike.

“Students across this country would rather have no deal than a bad deal,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

The Guardian Blocked By The Army After NSA Stories

The Guardian's recent stories about NSA surveillance have been blocked across the entire US Army , the Monterey Herald reported on Thursday night.

The paper has made huge waves, of course, with its series of explosive stories about the NSA's highly classified surveillance programs. Though it has always maintained an American presence, its visibility has skyrocketed in the wake of the scoops.

The Herald talked to an Army spokesman, who confirmed that the Guardian's website had been blocked since the stories first emerged.

The Army, the spokesman said, was weeding out "some access to press coverage and online content about the NSA leaks" so that employees would not be able to see any classified information.

Original Article
Author: Jack Mirkinson

Brian Sims, Pennsylvania Lawmaker, Silenced On DOMA By Colleagues Citing 'God's Law'

An openly gay lawmaker was silenced by colleagues on the Pennsylvania House floor Thursday when he attempted to speak about the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) took to the House floor on Thursday to discuss the high court's landmark ruling, which found the federal law barring the government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by states to be unconstitutional. However, as WHYY News and report, Sims' remarks were blocked by several state lawmakers using a procedural maneuver.

Elizabeth Warren's Student Loan Bill Collects More Support From College Presidents

Legislation from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to reform the federal college loan program has garnered more support than any other proposal, with six more college presidents now endorsing her plan to dramatically lower interest rates for students.

Presidents James Mullen of Allegheny College, Elizabeth Coleman of Bennington College, Christine Plunkett of Burlington College, David Angel of Clark University, Marvin Krislov of Oberlin College and Carol T. Christ of Smith College all confirmed their support for Warren's bill on Thursday. Their endorsements come following outreach from Democracy for America, a progressive political committee.

Obama Administration, Congress Intensify Opposition To Global Generic Drug Industry

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration and members of Congress are pressing India to curb its generic medication industry. The move comes at the behest of U.S. pharmaceutical companies, which have drowned out warnings from public health experts that inexpensive drugs from India are essential to providing life-saving treatments around the world.

Low-cost generics from India have dramatically lowered medical costs in developing countries and proved critical to global AIDS relief programs; about 98 percent of the drugs purchased by President George W. Bush's landmark PEPFAR AIDS relief program are generics from India. Before Indian companies rolled out generic versions priced at $1 a day, AIDS medication cost about $10,000 per person per year.

Hank Johnson: Clarence Thomas 'Worse' Than Edward Snowden For Gutting Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said Wednesday that the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas voted this week to gut the Voting Rights Act -- the 1965 law aimed at protecting disenfranchised voters -- ranks him somewhere below the likes of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information about U.S. surveillance programs to the press.

"Comparing it to Snowden, I'd say the offense is worse," Johnson told The Huffington Post.

America's Surveillance Net

A school of fish swims peacefully in the ocean. Out of sight, a net is spread beneath it. At the edges of the net is a circle of fishing boats. Suddenly, the fishermen yank up the edges of the net, and in an instant the calm, open ocean becomes a boiling caldron, an exitless, rapidly shrinking prison in which the fish thrash in vain for freedom and life.

Increasingly, the American people are like this school of fish in the moments before the net is pulled up. The net in question is of course the Internet and associated instruments of data collection, and the fishermen are corporations and the government. That is, to use the more common metaphor, we have come to live alongside the machinery of a turnkey tyranny. As we now know, thanks to the courageous whistleblower Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency has been secretly ordering Verizon to sweep up and hand over all the metadata from the phone calls of millions of its customers: phone numbers, duration of calls, routing information and sometimes the location of the callers. Thanks to Snowden, we also know that unknown volumes of like information are being extracted from Internet and computer companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.

What You Need to Know About the NSA’s Surveillance Programs

There have been a lot of news stories about NSA surveillance programs following the leaks of secret documents by Edward Snowden. But it seems the more we read, the less clear things are. We've put together a detailed snapshot of what's known and what's been reported where.

What information does the NSA collect and how?

We don't know all of the different types of information the NSA collects, but several secret collection programs have been revealed:

A record of most calls made in the US, including the telephone number of the phones making and receiving the call, and how long the call lasted. This information is known as "metadata" and doesn't include a recording of the actual call (but see below). This program was revealed through a leaked secret court order instructing Verizon to turn over all such information on a daily basis. Other phone companies, including AT&T and Sprint, also reportedly give their records to the NSA on a continual basis. All together, this is several billion calls per day.

Why Is the Obama Administration Suddenly So Interested in African Farms?

This week, Obama is making his first major visit to Africa since taking office. One topic that's likely high on his agenda: US investment in African agriculture.

With the global population expected to top nine billion by 2050, the Obama administration is pushing hard to use foreign development funds to expand farming in the developing world, and especially in Africa. Since 2009, when Obama made a pledge at the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy to devote massive resources to global "food security," Congress has committed more than $3.5 billion to an agricultural development program called "Feed the Future." Congress has since renewed the initiative's funding.

Hospital Parking Tickets Incense Dad Of Dying Child

A father who has been enduring the dread of watching his child die of cancer has lashed back at what he calls an insensitive bureaucracy that continues to leave parking tickets on his car outside a St. John's hospital.

"Having a child in this situation is a mix of sadness, of anger, of just frustration," said Robert Thornhill, whose three-year-old daughter, Erica, suffers from acute myeloid leukemia, and is being treated at the Janeway children's hospital.

Paul Dewar Blasts Baird Over Diplomat Strike, UN Relations

OTTAWA - The NDP accused Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird on Thursday of botching relations with his own diplomats and isolating Canada on the international stage.

Foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar levelled the widespread criticism at Baird during a news conference in Ottawa.

Dewar said an unprecedented strike by foreign service officers reflects badly on Baird.

Harper's Gag Orders Sweep While Canadians Sleep

The Harper government wants to hide all of its secrets.

While reviewing the latest edition of the federal government's little-known legislative bulletin, The Canada Gazette, Canadian Press reporter Jim Bronskill noticed a troubling detail: a new order is now on the table that would dramatically expand the number of current - and former - federal government employees under a lifetime gag order, potentially curbing the right to free expression for thousands of Canadians.

Smoke and mirrors cloak carbon emissions bottom line

It seems unlikely that poor Jacques Gourde, the hapless backbencher from Quebec, would have the heft to cripple Canada’s economy. But if you follow the chain of logic from the House of Commons, to Washington, D.C., and back again, with a detour through North American climate politics, that is where you end up. If Western Canadian crude trades at a discount to the world price for a generation to come, it’s all Gourde’s fault. He and others like him.

Bring Canada’s Parliament under Access to Information Act

The simmering scandal over the spending habits of Canada’s senators and the broader public debate over government accountability have exposed a significant flaw in Canada’s once world-leading Access to Information Act — its limited coverage. Canadians expect their public institutions to be accountable, open and transparent. At present however — and this will astound and perplex many Canadians — the act does not cover all institutions that spend taxpayers’ money or perform public functions. One such institution is Parliament itself — the seat of our democracy.

Dissatisfied chiefs could form new First Nations group

Tensions between the Assembly of First Nations and some chiefs who are feeling excluded could boil over next month at a meeting where a new breakaway organization could be born.

The National Treaty Gathering at Onion Lake, Sask., is taking place July 14 to 18, at the same time the AFN is having its annual meeting in Whitehorse. People will have to choose which meeting they want to attend.

MP Dean Del Mastro donor records seized in election probe

Records obtained from Elections Canada suggest the agency has deepened its investigation into donations to Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro.

Lists of contributors to Del Mastro's 2008 federal campaign have been seized by the commissioner of Canada Elections, the records show. If the commissioner thinks criminal charges are warranted, he can refer the case to the director of public prosecutions, who decides whether to press charges.

Unmasking Bill C-309: Newly passed legislation threatens freedom of expression

Last week, Bill C-309, the 'Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identities during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act,' was given royal assent. Also known as the "Mask Legislation," the law makes it illegal to incite a protest wearing a mask or any face covering, including face paint.

Wearing any type of face covering while participating in a riot or "unlawful assembly" can lead to criminal conviction. Despite opposition from Civil Liberties activists, the law has moved maximum penalty from five years to ten years in prison if convicted.

The CRTC has made a mistake: Bell's takeover of Astral will hurt the media

Public interest group is condemning today's CRTC decision to allow big media giant Bell to take over Astral Media. Thousands of Canadians have spoken out against the takeover, because it will lead to lost jobs, fewer media and telecom choices, higher prices, and less opportunity for free expression.

Just four large, unaccountable Big Media conglomerates (Bell, Quebecor, Rogers, and Shaw) control over 86 per cent of Canadian cable and satellite distribution, 70 per cent of wireless revenues, and 54 per cent of Internet service revenues -- making Canada the most concentrated media market out of all G8 countries. Today's decision means Canada falling even further behind the rest of the G8. Canadians pay high prices for poor content and services because of this lack of real choice.

Republican response on gay marriage a spectacular display of intolerance

Wisely, House Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the Republican leadership on Wednesday resisted the politician’s natural attraction to swarms of television cameras.

Shortly after the Supreme Court issued what amounted to a judicial declaration of equality for gay Americans wishing to marry, Boehner issued a short, restrained statement.