Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Press Freedom Index 2013: Canada Drops 10 Spots In 1 Year

Canada has dropped ten spots on Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index on concerns about government access-to-information policies and recent court rulings that weakened protection of confidential sources.

The international press freedom watchdog ranked Canada 20th in the world for press freedom in its latest index, released this week, down from 10th place in the 2012 index.

The rebellious life of Rosa Parks

On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., thus launching the modern-day civil-rights movement. Monday, Feb. 4, is the 100th anniversary of her birth. After she died at the age of 92 in 2005, much of the media described her as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker. But the media got it wrong. Rosa Parks was a first-class troublemaker.

Professor Jeanne Theoharis debunks the myth of the quiet seamstress in her new book The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Theoharis told me, "This is the story of a life history of activism, a life history that she would put it, as being 'rebellious,' that starts decades before her famous bus stand and ends decades after."

She was born in Tuskegee, Ala., and raised to believe that she had a right to be respected, and to demand that respect. Jim Crow laws were entrenched then, and segregation was violently enforced. In Pine Level, where she lived, white children got a bus ride to school, while African-American children walked. Rosa Parks recalled: "But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world."

Who are Egypt's mysterious Black Bloc?

There was a pause in the voice of the young man over the telephone when he explained how he and so many like him now suddenly find themselves in the role of Egypt's most wanted public enemy.

He says some of his friends were killed over the past two years in some of the violence that has accompanied Egypt's revolution. And that he desperately wants those responsible — from the old regime and the current regime — to be punished.

CSIS and me: What First Nation activities are NOT considered a potential threat to Canada?

When the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) reported that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) dedicated countless INAC staff and thousands of dollars to spying on Cindy Blackstock -- I think most of us in Turtle Island gave our heads a shake.

While it has been known for some time that Canada spies on our Indigenous leaders and community members who defend our lands, I don't think most of us were aware that any First Nation advocate was a target. This is what shocked me the most -- that Canada's "national security" laws are so broad as to make someone like Cindy Blackstock an enemy of the state.

Vladimir Putin hires Boyz II Men to boost the Russian birth rate. Authoritarians know how to have fun

One thing you can’t take away from authoritarian regimes is their sense of pizzazz. Every policy problem is approached with a mix of seriousness and show business, elevating even the most mundane issue in to high art. Therefore it’s no great surprise to read that Vladimir Putin’s solution to Russia’s demographic challenge is to hire 1990s vocal group Boyz II Men to promote increased fertility. Why Boyz II Men? I can only guess that East 17 are busy promoting fallout shelters in North Korea.

Russia's Human Rights Record Worst Since Soviet Era: Report

MOSCOW, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Authoritarianism increased last year in Russia to levels unseen since the Soviet era with a raft of harsh laws curbing political freedoms and harassment of opposition activists and critics, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

The harsh crackdown coincided with the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin and the appointment of his predecessor and protege Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister, according to the New York-based HRW.

To Recruit Cops, the NRA Dangles Freebies Paid for by Gun Companies

On May 20, 2010, on a highway in West Memphis, Arkansas, a father and son armed with a handgun and AK-47 assault rifle pumped 14 bullets into a police officer who'd pulled over their minivan on a routine traffic stop. The dead cop's partner took cover in his squad car but the AK-47 sliced through it and killed him too. A county sheriff and his chief deputy responded and were also hit. The last man standing was state wildlife officer Michael K. Neal, who sped his patrol car through the carnage, rammed the minivan, and opened fire through his broken windshield with an M-4 carbine. Within minutes, the suspects were dead.

CRT Interview: Canada’s Budget Watchdog Blasts Lack of Government Transparency

For years, Kevin Page, Canada’s budget watchdog, has been the target of a series of unusual attacks from the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In Canada’s parliamentary system, ruling government officials are expected to take swipes at opposition politicians. But it’s much less common for the government to take aim directly at non-political government watchdogs, like Mr. Page.

Indigenous rights and the duty to consult

On January 8, 2013, Frog Lake First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation, through their respective Chiefs, launched judicial review cases in the Federal Court. They are challenging the passage of the now infamous federal government omnibus budget bills, Bill C‑38 (Jobs, Growth and Long‑term Prosperity Act, S.C. 2012, c. 19); and Bill C‑45 (Jobs and Growth Act, 2012, S.C. c.31).

Other Canadians who may oppose these bills can only express their displeasure with them at the ballot box. With Canada's first‑past‑the‑post electoral system, and a significant fracturing of the centre and centre‑left, it seems like an uphill battle for the rest of the country to challenge these laws, widely considered to be anti‑democratic. For all the efforts of multiple environmental organizations and the actions of the opposition in the House of Commons (perhaps most poignantly, member of Parliament Elizabeth May), there's not a whole lot the rest of us can do.

Investigate some abortions as homicides, Tory MPs ask RCMP

Three Conservative MPs want the RCMP to investigate any abortions performed after 19 weeks in Canada as possible homicides.

The MPs from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario make the request in a letter on House of Commons letterhead to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.

In the letter, the MPs say abortions performed at 20 weeks gestation or later breach Section 223a of the Criminal Code.

The MPs say the killing of Canadian children may continue to grow if they are not thoroughly investigated by police.

The letter is signed by MPs Maurice Vellacott of Saskatoon-Wanuskwein, Leon Benoit of Vegreville-Wainwright and Wladyslaw Lizon of Mississauga East-Cooksville.

Rona Ambrose, minister for the status of women, told the Commons Monday that Canadians don't want to revisit the abortion debate.

Original Article
Source: CBC
Author: AP

Redemption: Oscar-Nominated Doc Follows the Working Poor Who Survive on Collecting Bottles and Cans

The HBO documentary "Redemption" examines New York City’s canners — the largely invisible people who survive by redeeming bottles and cans they collect from curbs, garbage cans and apartment complexes. Many have quietly slipped into poverty after losing their jobs, now living on the margins of society. The film has been nominated in the documentary shorts category at this year’s Academy Awards. We’re joined by co-directors Jon Alpert and Matt O’Neill, both of the Downtown Community Television Center, a community media center based in NYC’s Chinatown.
Source: Democracy Now!
Author: -

Somalia: Government Charges Woman Who Says She Was Raped By Security Forces

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Somali government has charged a woman who has said she was raped by security forces, according to an international human rights group, which says the case is politically motivated.

The group said a journalist who interviewed her was also charged.

Human Rights Watch said three other people including the woman's husband were charged with assisting the alleged rape victim to evade investigators. The rights group said in a statement Wednesday that Somali government should drop the politically motivated charges.

Obamacare 'Glitch' Allows Some Families To Be Priced Out Of Health Insurance

WASHINGTON -- Some families could get priced out of health insurance due to what's being called a glitch in President Barack Obama's overhaul law. IRS regulations issued Wednesday failed to fix the problem as liberal backers of the president's plan had hoped.

As a result, some families that can't afford the employer coverage that they are offered on the job will not be able to get financial assistance from the government to buy private health insurance on their own. How many people will be affected is unclear.

Charter Schools That Start Bad Stay Bad, Stanford Report Says

WASHINGTON -- When it comes to charter schools, the bad ones stay bad and the good ones stay good, according to a report on charter school growth released by an influential group of Stanford University scholars on Wednesday.

"There are very predictable lanes on quality, and once you get into a lane, a new school tends to not move very much," said Macke Raymond, the economist in charge of the university's Center for Research on Education Outcomes institute and an author of the report. "High stays high and low stays low."

UN Panel: Israeli Settlements Are Illegal

GENEVA — The United Nations' first report on Israel's overall settlement policy describes it as a "creeping annexation" of territory that clearly violates the human rights of Palestinians, and calls for Israel to immediately stop further such construction.

The report's conclusions, revealed Thursday, are not legally binding, but they further inflame tensions between the U.N. Human Rights Council and Israel, and between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli officials immediately denounced the report, while Palestinians pointed to it as "proof of Israel's policy of ethnic cleansing" and its desire to undermine the possibility of a Palestinian state.

Why Are Feminists So Angry?

I’m honored to be in a room with such incredible activists and supporters of the wonderful work PP Gulf Coast does—so thank you for having me here.

Given that there’s news on women’s reproductive rights every day (most often none of it good), when I was thinking about what to say today, I had a hard time narrowing it down.

It’s really difficult to articulate the nuance and the complexity of issues like activism, women, politics, bodily integrity. Then I was reminded of this protest sign that I saw a picture of, and I wanted to share it with you because I think it perfectly captures the sentiment of this particular moment in the fight for reproductive rights:

Humans Have Already Set in Motion 69 Feet of Sea Level Rise

Last week, a much discussed new paper in the journal Nature seemed to suggest to some that we needn't worry too much about the melting of Greenland, the mile-thick mass of ice at the top of the globe. The research found that the Greenland ice sheet seems to have survived a previous warm period in Earth's history—the Eemian period, some 126,000 years ago—without vanishing (although it did melt considerably).

But Ohio State glaciologist Jason Box isn't buying it.

CIDA’s approach to ‘loyalty’ could send a chill through PS

CIDA employees are being warned to keep criticism of their department to themselves — or face disciplinary action. It is part of a newly written code of ethics for the Canadian International Development Agency that appears to interpret the concept of “duty of loyalty” — a foundation of the public service — with a hammer rather than in the nuanced way it has traditionally been viewed.

All federal government departments are required to update their values and ethics codes, but CIDA’s code stands out. Not only does it bluntly tells employees not to criticize the agency, which other codes do not, but it is not publicly available on CIDA’s website, as other are. It appears to be a heavy-handed and secretive way to remind employees of their ethical duties, especially for an agency which has undergone so much criticism and inner turmoil in recent years.

Dispossessing democracy: Colonialism, capitalism and the consequences of Bill C-45

As Parliament resumes, Stephen Harper has made it clear that he remains committed to implementing Bill C-45 in the face of widespread social protest. But thanks, in part, to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike, Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are now working together, through the Idle No More movement, to grow a strong oppositional alliance against the Harper government, and Bill C-45 has become something of a lightning rod for criticism.

Atlantic Canada's story of inequality

Statistics Canada released new data this week on high income trends in Canada with nary a mention of the Atlantic Provinces. From a Canadian comparative perspective, the data told a story that was more striking for most of the rest of the country and in particular, Alberta, Ontario, B.C. and Quebec, where 92 per cent of the top 1 per cent of tax filers are found, with only 3.4 per cent in Atlantic Canada.

The inequality that exists in Atlantic Canada also tells a story that demands illustration.

Syria, Iran threaten retaliation against Israel

Syria and Iran have threatened to retaliate for an Israeli air raid near the capital Damascus.

Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul-Karim Ali said Damascus has "the option and the surprise to retaliate." He said he cannot predict when the retaliation will be, saying it is up to relevant authorities to prepare for it.

N.R.A. Defends Right to Own Politicians

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, National Rifle Association C.E.O. Wayne LaPierre warned that the N.R.A. would vigorously oppose any legislation that “limits the sale, purchase, or ownership of politicians.”

“Politicians pose no danger to the public if used correctly,” said Mr. LaPierre, who claims to have over two hundred politicians in his personal collection. “Everyone hears about the bad guys in Congress. Well, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a vote is a good guy with a vote. I’m proud to be the owner of many of those guys.”

Obama casts doubt on Canada’s ambition to be an energy superpower

Much has changed since Barack Obama threw a spanner into Stephen Harper’s plan to make Canada an energy superpower.

A year ago, the U.S. president rejected an application by TransCanada to run a massive pipeline from Alberta to Texas. Canada’s prime minister assured oilsands producers it was just a hiccup; the project would get the green light after the U.S. election.

2013 Sequestration Likely To Happen Despite Ominous GDP Report

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers and economists urged Congress to reconsider the massive spending cuts set to begin in March in light of Wednesday's alarming news that the nation's gross domestic product shrank for the first time in more than three years. But in a testament to beltway inertia, Congress seemed more likely than not to hit the fiscal snooze button.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Wednesday's report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis was further proof that implementing "big austerity measures now will hurt the recovery." But the ranking member of the House Budget Committee added that the findings may not be enough to persuade lawmakers to replace the looming sequester, or a decade's worth of automatic cuts to defense and domestic spending.

Why Mass Shootings Deserve Deeper Investigation

After a Colorado movie theater was hit with ghastly gun violence last July, one of the first things we did at Mother Jones was contact a top expert on mass murder, hoping he could help answer some questions. Was this disturbingly familiar event occurring more often? What kind of people carried out these killings and with what weapons? And why had no academic, journalist, or policy thinker gathered in-depth data on this recurring problem in more than a decade?

Alberta’s income tax system is serving the province well

A University of Alberta think-tank is blaming the province’s tax system for widening the gap between the richest and the poorest citizens. Indeed, the Parkland Institute calls Calgary the “most unequal city in the country,” calculating that the wealthiest one per cent took in 26 times more than what people in the bottom 90 per cent did in 2010.

Frankly, we’ve never considered a high number of corporate head offices and professionals to be a shortcoming. Like any diverse community, Calgary has lower income earners struggling to make ends meet, but the existence of hardship isn’t a compelling argument to increase taxes on the highly educated, the highly skilled and the highly creative. Jacking up taxes on the wealthy would go some distance to reducing the income gap, but it would do so only by dragging down top earners, not by putting wind in the sails of single-parent families or those whose skills don’t match the employment market.

'Leading thinkers' to set Alberta's new economic course lickety-split -- and you’re not invited

In just 10 days, "Alberta's leading thinkers, key industry, non-profit and academic leaders, Members of the Legislative Assembly and passionate citizens will gather together for a spirited discussion on Alberta's future." You're not invited.

The government announced yesterday in a terse yet effusive press release that the economic summit Premier Alison Redford promised in her "State of the Province" Address one week ago will take place on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

'Idle No More' and colonial Canada

Canada's colonial reality is now in the spotlight, as Idle No More protests voice the struggles of indigenous people against sustained political and economic oppression.

Thousands are joining historic actions to call for fundamental changes in Canada's relations to aboriginal people.

Central to Idle No More are longstanding indigenous demands for justice around land rights, economic resources and self-determination that rest at the heart of both Canada's history and future.

Jim McGovern's Constitutional Amendments To Repeal Citizens United Gain Steam On Reddit

Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern last Tuesday proposed two Constitutional amendments on the House floor that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which lifted limits on political spending and unleashed a flood of funding into political organizations starting in 2010.

Speaking with HuffPost Live on Wednesday, McGovern said his two amendments received an outpouring of attention after his staff posted them on the social media site Reddit.

Lindsey Graham On Gun Violence: High-Capacity Magazines Needed To Protect Families

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued at the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on gun control Wednesday that high-capacity magazines are needed to protect families.

His reasoning? Without them, mothers responding to home intruders might run out of bullets.

"Would I be a reasonable American to want my family to have the 15-round magazine in a semi-automatic weapon, to make sure, if there's two intruders, she doesn't run out of bullets?" he asked. "Am I an unreasonable person for saying that in that situation, the 15-round magazine makes sense?"

Phoenix Office Shooting: Multiple Injuries Reported In Attack At Arizona Workplace

Multiple people were wounded during a shooting at an office complex Wednesday morning in Arizona, Reuters reports.

Authorities are searching for a suspect described as a white male in his 60s, according to Fox 10. He was last seen driving away from the scene in a white SUV.

Police said one victim was in extremely critical condition, ABC 15 reports.

Lamar Alexander Says Video Games Are 'A Bigger Problem Than Guns' But No, They Aren't

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard several hours of testimony on gun violence, from luminaries up and down the spectrum of opinion on reducing gun violence. Today's hearings precede the larger debate to come on what action, if any, Congress will take in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Measures that are said to be "on the table" include some heavy lifts -- a proposed assault weapons ban, limiting the availability of high-capacity magazines -- and some things that could get passed with relative ease, such as strengthening the current background check regime.

Old, Female and Homeless

The doors of the Mission Neighborhood Health Center in San Francisco don’t open until 7 am, but on the Saturday morning I was there, a dozen or so people were already lined up by 5:30. The group included a middle-aged white man who had lost his job managing a high-end restaurant and a black man wearing a crisp security guard blazer because he had to be at work by noon. Each was there hoping for a bed for the night. The city assigns most slots in its homeless shelters on a first-come, first-served basis by computer. The people had shown up here so early because they know through experience that every last bed will be claimed by 7:10 am.

The Commons: Stephen Harper is exultant, Peter Van Loan is confused

Reporters were summoned to Parliament Hill for this morning to see and hear the Prime Minister’s remarks to the weekly gathering of the Conservative caucus. Somewhat disappointingly, the press gallery’s attention was not requested so that Mr. Harper might announce the Conservatives had succeeded in consolidating the government’s computer systems and thus returned the federal budget to surplus. Rather, it seems, the Prime Minister’s Office was just in the mood for a pep rally.

Canada, the new Arcadia. Watch out for the abyss

Through the miracle of social media, we learned this week the prime minister really is the type of guy who tucks his shirt into his underwear, has fruit salad for lunch and is in bed by 8.30.

In keeping with the new spirit of glasnost blowing through his office, on Wednesday Stephen Harper permitted the media to watch his maiden speech of the year to the Conservative caucus.

In the event, it was more painted floozy than maiden, shamelessly extolling the virtues of seven years of Harper rule.

Ontario teacher protest: Union urging teachers to withdraw from extracurriculars not illegal, lawyer argues

When the Liberal government wiped any mention of extracurriculars from the Education Act in 2009, they removed any legal barrier to a teacher boycott of these activities, according to the lawyer for the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

As a result, union memos calling on teachers to withdraw from such after-school activities are not illegal, argued Howard Goldblatt Wednesday at a hearing before the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

Conservative MP and senator belittle Chief Theresa Spence, Idle No More movement

OTTAWA — Two members of Stephen Harper’s Conservative caucus — an elected MP and a senator — publicly disparaged the Idle No More movement and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence at a fundraising dinner for a provincial candidate Tuesday.

Sen. Patrick Brazeau referred to Spence’s “so-called hunger strike” in addressing about 80 people at a Legion hall in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans, and mocked her physical shape. “I was sick two weeks ago,” Brazeau said. “I had the flu and I lost five pounds.

Everything you’ve done wrong

At first, the judge's decision appeared virtually airtight. Credible authorities had difficulty finding any clear error of law or fact in Justice Charles T. Hackland's reasons for tossing Mayor Rob Ford out of office.  Two National Post columnists (Christie Blatchford and Marni Soupcoff) put forward rebuttals they attributed to unidentified lawyers who'd gotten in touch with them, but those didn't count.

A few days later, in the same paper, I lashed out at the questionable journalism: "No knowledgable expert or commentator has yet offered a legally sound explanation of how the judge may have made an error in law — and, in the meantime, all we have are unsolicited submissions from anonymous lawyers, to whose ill-informed opinions this newspaper’s columnists have given undue weight."