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.]

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Barack Obama, Drone Ranger

If you've seen the movie Zero Dark Thirty, you know why it has triggered a new debate over our government's use of torture after 9/11.

The movie's up for an Oscar as best motion picture. We'll know later this month if it wins. Some people leave the theater claiming the film endorses and even glorifies the use of torture to obtain information that finally led to finding and killing Osama bin Laden. Not true, say the filmmakers, but others argue the world is better off without bin Laden in it, no matter how we had to get him. What's more, they say, there hasn't been a major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/1 -- if we have to use an otherwise immoral practice to defend ourselves against such atrocities, we're okay with it. Or so the argument goes.

Alleged terrorism ties foil some Afghan interpreters’ U.S. visa hopes

KABUL — According to the U.S. military, Tariq is an interpreter who risked his life to aid the American mission in Afghanistan and for seven years had access to sensitive information about U.S. tactical operations.

According to the State Department, there’s a very good chance he is a terrorist who poses a threat to national security and should never be allowed on American soil.

Tariq, one of southern Afghanistan’s longest-serving interpreters, wants to know: How is it that one man can be praised as a hero and labeled a terrorist by the same government?

Lake Erie Correctional Institution, Ohio Private Prison, Faces Concerns About 'Unacceptable' Conditions

When a private prison corporation paid Ohio $72.7 million in 2011 to purchase one of the state's facilities, the company touted the deal as a "groundbreaking" move that would serve as a model for other states looking to cut costs.

But in the year since Corrections Corporation of America took over the 1,700-bed Lake Erie Correctional Institution, state audits have found patterns of inadequate staffing, delays in medical treatment and "unacceptable living conditions" inside the prison -- including inmates lacking access to running water and toilets. The state docked the company nearly $500,000 in pay because of the violations.

Federal spending watchdog says checks system 'broken'

After five years of providing senators and members of Parliament with independent analysis on the state of the nation's finances, the federal spending watchdog says the system of checks and balances is "broken."

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer (PBO), told host Evan Solomon the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer will never truly be independent until it reports directly to Parliament.

"The legislation is flawed," said Page, who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as Canada's first parliamentary budget officer for a five-year term.

Rob Ford Campaign Audit Finds Toronto Mayor Overspent

TORONTO - Just a week after Toronto's mayor won his conflict of interest appeal, Rob Ford is facing a new challenge.

A forensic audit of Ford's 2010 election campaign finances determined he "overspent during his campaign by $40,168" — an apparent contravention of the Municipal Elections Act.

Idling Harper: Why First Nations Movement Poses Genuine Threat to PM

Systems are always bigger and more complex than the individuals who try to control them. So political systems, like ecological ones, can be influenced and guided for a while by the stringent and obsessive management of details, but the intricate convolutions within their countless interacting parts eventually expose the futility of such effort. This is now becoming apparent in the present Conservative government in Canada under the authoritative — some say autocratic — leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Nandy Affair

On January 26th, I was in the writers’ lounge at the Diggi Palace Hotel, in Jaipur, where the city’s annual literary festival was being held, and was in a leisurely conversation with fellow writers. Suddenly, a group of police officers barged in. A gruff man in a traditional kurta pajama, wearing a black cap and a shawl, was leading them. I began to hear the name of Ashis Nandy being repeated. Ashis Nandy is one of India’s foremost intellectuals, a clinical psychologist and sociologist who has produced some of the most original and important works of scholarship in independent India in his forty or more years in public life. He is also a prolific writer of essays and newspaper columns and a feisty public speaker.

Bob Grisham, Alabama Football Coach, Apparently Insults 'Fat Butt Michelle Obama' And 'Queers'

An Alabama high school coach is under investigation by the school district this week after apparently making controversial statements about gays and the first lady in front of students, the Times Daily reports.

In a tape leaked to school officials, Lauderdale County High School coach Bob Grisham allegedly blames "fat butt Michelle Obama" for the school's low-calorie lunches and says "what [queers] do is wrong and an abomination against God."

Military Suicides: One U.S. Veteran Dies Every 65 Minutes

WASHINGTON, Feb 1 (Reuters) - The most extensive study yet by the U.S. government on suicide among military veterans shows more veterans are killing themselves than previously thought, with 22 deaths a day - or one every 65 minutes, on average.

The study released on Friday by the Department of Veterans Affairs covered suicides from 1999 to 2010 and compared with a previous, less precise VA estimate that there were roughly 18 veteran deaths a day in the United States.

ERA: Once More Unto the Breach?

Now that women will be allowed in combat, can we please have the ERA? One of the biggest arguments against the Equal Rights Amendment was that women would be drafted and sent to the front. Of course, we haven’t had the draft since 1973, although men still have to register for it at age 18. But in the unlikely event that the draft is reinstated tomorrow, it’s not hard to imagine women being included. Since 1982, when the ERA was defeated three states short of ratification, opposition to women in the military has faded. In the wake of the combat announcement, only dinosaurs like George Will still argue that women are too weak and incompetent to kill their fair share of Muslims. Three decades have transformed attitudes: we are way past seeing women as delicate maidens in need of male protection.

A Big Day for Obamacare

A key project of Obama’s second term will be implementing the major legislative accomplishment of his first term: the Affordable Care Act. Friday ended up being an unusually eventful day on this front.

First, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a slight compromise on the issue of contraception coverage under the new health laws—the issue that thrust Sandra Fluke into the spotlight last year. Under the compromise announced back in February, churches would be able to opt out of the contraception coverage requirement entirely, and nonprofit religious-affiliated institutions would not have to cover employees, but their insurers would.

This Week in Poverty: Time to Take On Concentrated Poverty and Education

Researchers know a lot about how various factors associated with income level affect a child’s learning: parents’ educational attainment; how parents read to, play with and respond to their children; the quality of early care and early education; access to consistent physical and mental health services and healthy food. Poor children’s limited access to these fundamentals accounts for a good chunk of the achievement gap, which is why conceiving of it instead as an opportunity gap makes a lot more sense.

Butterflies Booking It North as Climate Warms

Butterflies from the southern US that used to be rare in the northeast are now appearing there on a regular basis. The trend correlates to a warming climate report the authors of a paper in Nature Climate Change.

Subtropical and warm-climate butterflies—including the giant swallowtail (photo above) and the zabulon skipper (photo below)—showed the sharpest population shift to the north. As recently as the late 1980s these species were rare or absent in Massachusetts.

Paul Krugman: Austerity Is Not the Answer

There are few political commentators who excite such passion (whether admiration or, on the other end, rage) as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. The reason seems obvious: He writes directly about one of the most central issues in politics—the economy—and does so decisively and definitively. The man is, after all, a Nobel laureate in the field. But unlike so many other scientists and experts, he also happens to have a way with words and little inclination to pull punches.

Krugman's latest book, End This Depression Now!, makes a strong case that the current focus on cutting budget deficits is misplaced. An economic crisis like this, with lingering high unemployment, demands a big infusion of government stimulus, argues Krugman. In contrast, cutting spending or imposing austerity only worsens things—just as we've seen of late across Europe.

‘We know everyone’s not equal’: Queue-jumping probe looks at patients who receive VIP treatment

There were private-clinic customers pushed to the front of the line for colon-cancer screening, nurses who hoarded pandemic-flu vaccine for their own family members and VIPs given, well, VIP treatment in hospital.

An ongoing Alberta public inquiry is offering an unprecedented glimpse at a side of health care usually kept under close wraps: Patients whose influence, fame or money earns them special treatment in an over-taxed system.

Cloud computing law puts Canadian users at risk of snooping by American spies

OTTAWA — American spies can snoop through Canadians’ computer data — including that of political organizations and without warrants — if the data resides within popular U.S. cloud computing services, says a former Microsoft executive.

In a report commissioned by the European Parliament, former Microsoft chief privacy adviser Caspar Bowden reveals, “it is lawful in the U.S. to conduct purely political surveillance on foreigners’ data accessible in U.S. clouds,” operated by U.S. firms such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, IBM and others.

Canadian extremists more likely homegrown: 'secret' CSIS report

Violent Canadian extremists are more likely to be citizens than immigrants, according to a “secret” study by the federal intelligence service. And these radicals tend to be relatively young and well-integrated members of society.

These findings appear in “A Study of Radicalization: The Making of Islamist Extremists in Canada Today,” a 21-page study released to The Globe and Mail under the Access to Information Act.

War on drugs draws Canadian military focus in Central America

The Harper government's new focus on the Americas means a dramatic change of effort for the Canadian Forces and an overt participation in the U.S. war on drugs.

The commander of Canada's operational forces, Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, says Canada is now focusing new efforts on Central America and the Caribbean.

U of T students protest government inaction on climate change

They’re young, passionate about environmental causes and deeply concerned about the future of our planet.

So naturally they’re upset with federal, provincial and territorial governments that, by 2020, will only reach the halfway mark of Canada's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels.

“It’s so important for people our age to get involved in the climate movement,” said Tom McCarthy, an organizer with the University of Toronto Environmental Action (UTEA), a group that advocates for more effective government policy on climate change and other environmental issues at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels.

Hollywood's Gun Fetish

The notion that Hollywood has a bit of a gun fetish isn't surprising to anyone with a working set of eyeballs. Guns get more screen time than a pantheon of super stars. Even as the U.S. seeks a viable gun control plan, a process a little like trying to change the course of an ancient man o' war by pulling vigorously on a couple of ropes, guns continue to get starring roles. Take a look at the recent spate of newly released and upcoming films.

Barrick Gold's Offer to Rape Victims Slammed by NGOs

Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold mining company, has come under fire for attaching strings to a "remediation framework" offered to women raped by employees of its Papua New Guinea mine.

Following allegations of a series of gang rapes at its Porgera mine, Barrick devised a strategy the company says will help fulfill its promise to the surrounding communities: "We will uphold your rights and we will protect your dignity."

French president makes victory stop in Mali

French President Francois Hollande met Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore and spoke to French troops on Saturday, after landing in Timbuktu, making a triumphant stop, six days after French forces parachuted in to liberate the desert city from the rule of al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Hollande, who was accompanied by France's foreign and defence ministers, also visited Timbuktu's library of ancient manuscripts, a section of which was set on fire by the Islamists when they fled the city ahead of the advancing French troops last week.

Nicholas Stern: 'I got it wrong on climate change – it's far, far worse'

Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more "blunt" about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: "Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then."

Irving Oil Line 9: Energy Minister Joe Oliver Gives Tentative Nod

OTTAWA - The federal government is firming up its support of two projects that would see oil from Alberta piped to Atlantic Canada.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver says he gave a tentative nod to one proposal in a meeting with industry giant Irving Oil.

U.S. Gun Deaths Since Sandy Hook Top 1,280

WASHINGTON -- It was Christmas night when Sincere Smith, 2, found his father’s loaded gun on the living room table of their Conway, S.C., mobile home. It took just a second for Smith’s tiny hands to find the trigger and pull. A single bullet ripped into his upper right chest and out his back.

His father, Rondell Smith, said he had turned away to call Sincere’s mother, who had left to visit a friend. His back was turned to the toddler, he said, for just that moment.

Sincere was still conscious when his father scooped him up and rushed him to the hospital, just a few minutes away.

Eleven hours earlier, Sincere Smith had woken up to Christmas -- the first that he was old enough to appreciate. His father remembered their last morning well -– his son ripping through wrapping paper, squealing with delight with each new gift -- his first bike, a bright toy barn.

Labour groups want action on climate change, but are they willing to forego fossil-fuelled jobs?

Can workers and their unions lead the struggle to slow global warming?

That was the question pondered by environmental and labour advocates at a panel held last week at York University with the title "Green Work, Brown World."

The panel, presented by the Work in a Warming World Research Programme, came on the heels of a conference about labour and the climate crisis held in New York earlier this month.

Enbridge, climate crisis and moral courage: 'What I hope the Joint Review Panel's final report will say'

These remarks were delivered January 31 in Vancouver to a session of the Joint Review Panel hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

 Thanks for having me here. My name is Christine Boyle. I've lived on unceded Coast Salish territory for most of my life. I'm the third-generation in my family to settle here, and a fourth generation Canadian. I'm a citizen of Vancouver, British Columbia and of Canada. I'm here speaking simply in my role as a citizen, in a democratic country, whose future matters deeply to me.

Canadian government to persecuted Roma people in Hungary: 'Stay home'

Early in January of this year, Zsolt Bayer, a founder of Hungary's ruling Fidesz Party and a confidant of Hungary's current Prime Minister, told a journalist: “Most Gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation. They are not suitable for being among people. Most are animals, and behave like animals. They shouldn't be tolerated or understood, but stamped out. Animals should not exist. In no way."

 That hateful screed engendered some pushback. There were calls from Hungary's beleaguered opposition forces for Prime Minister Victor Orban to strip his old friend of his Party membership and condemn what was, almost literally, a call to genocide.

Mali’s civilians face human rights abuses from both sides

More than a dozen civilians rounded up and executed. Bullet-riddled bodies dumped into a well.

Reports of abuses by the violent Islamists who were driven out of northern Mali’s major towns have been widely decried. But according to two prominent human rights groups, executions and other rights violations were also perpetrated by the Malian army, as civilians fell victim to violence by both sides.

“People are very frightened and they don’t feel safe,” said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s researcher in Mali. “They are reluctant even to talk about what they’ve experienced and seen.”

NDP says Human Resources Minister Diane Finley demonizing jobless Canadians

OTTAWA—Human Resources Minister Diane Finley was accused of demeaning the unemployed Friday when she stressed the need to identify fraudsters she said are cheating the Employment Insurance system out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Finley denied a newspaper report that federal investigators are given annual quotas for discovering illegal EI claims. But she said the government is determined to “root out” fraud among the unemployed — a clampdown that netted $530 million in 2012.

Why Did the Justice System Target Aaron Swartz?

Hundreds of mourners filled the Great Hall at New York's Cooper Union on January 19th to honor the life of Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who took his own life earlier this month at age 26.

Swartz was well-known in technology circles for helping develop the RSS web feed format and the popular site Reddit, among other accomplishments. At the time of his death, he was facing 13 felony charges and up to 50 years in prison: Prosecutors had accused him of using MIT's network to download too many scholarly articles from an academic database called JSTOR.

Swartz's friends and family have said they believe he was driven to his death by a justice system that hounded him needlessly over an alleged crime with no real victims. "[He was] forced by the government to spend every fiber of his being on this damnable, senseless trial," his partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said at the memorial, "with no guarantee that he could exonerate himself at the end of it."

How Swing-State Republicans Are Already Trying to Rig the Next Presidential Election

It's no secret that the United States is undergoing a major demographic shift, and it doesn't bode well for Republicans' future presidential prospects. But rather than championing policies that appeal to America's increasingly diverse electorate, the GOP is opting for a strategy to suppress the voters they're afraid of.

Last election cycle, Rolling Stone contributor Ari Berman outlined the slew of tactics Republicans employed to block President Obama's base from getting to the polls – from racist voter ID laws to onerous limits on early voting. This effort failed miserably, and the president easily won re-election on the shoulders of students, blue-collar workers and people of color.

The NRA vs. America

Eleven days after the massacre, Wayne LaPierre – a lifelong political operative who had steadied the National Rifle Association through many crises – stood before an American flag and soberly addressed the nation about firearms and student safety: "We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools, period," LaPierre said, carving out a "rare exception" for professional law enforcement. LaPierre even proposed making the mere mention of the word "guns" in schools a crime: "Such behavior in our schools should be prosecuted just as certainly as such behavior in our airports is prosecuted," LaPierre said.

Black Carbon: The Secret Climate Threat

Climate scientists have shed new light on a serious threat to our way of life: black carbon. (No, it's not a metal band, though there is one that's pretty close.) New research suggests that this substance – more commonly known as soot – is one of the biggest causes of global warming, second only to carbon dioxide in slowly making parts of our planet uninhabitable.

Harper's Strategy For Winning? Manipulating the Election Map

What's a "Gerrymander"?

It's the manipulation of constituency boundaries to give an unfair advantage to one particular political party. The word originated in 1812 with the appalling behaviour of then-Governor "Gerry" of Massachusetts who twisted electoral districts into the shape of salamanders -- just so he could win.

To prevent such bad conduct in Canada, we have long had an independent and politically neutral process for "redistributing" federal riding boundaries every 10 years, according to population changes. The work is not done by politicians to suit themselves. It's done by credible, arm's length commissions that are supposed to reflect the best interests of the public.

Federal inmates who work in prison lose bid to unionize as public servants

OTTAWA — Inmates failed in their first bid to organize a national union for prisoners who are working while incarcerated in federal penitentiaries because that employment does not make them public servants.

The organizing drive was stymied by a Public Service Labour Relations Board ruling that it doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear inmates’ complaint because the work they do for rehabilitation programs does not make them employees of Correctional Services of Canada. The decision, based on written submissions, was released this week.

Attawapiskat audit cost taxpayers $411K

A third-party audit of the troubled Attawapiskat reserve cost the federal government more than $400,000, CBC News has learned.

According to documents obtained under Access to Information, the final bill for the audit came to $411,015.62. That includes about $35,000 for travel to the remote northern Ontario reserve.

The audit, obtained by CBC News last month, found significant documentation was lacking for the $104 million the federal government transferred to the Attawapiskat band between 2005 and 2011.

Conservatives deny involvement in Saskatchewan robocall defending “Saskatchewan values”

OTTAWA — A Conservative party spokesman denied the Conservative party is behind a mysterious robocall poll critical of changes to federal ridings that could cut into the Tories’ electoral dominance in Saskatchewan.

Some Saskatchewan residents reported receiving the automated poll calls from an unknown source on Thursday night. The pre-recorded message claimed that proposed changes to the province’s 14 ridings would set urban areas against rural and amount to an attack on “Saskatchewan values.” The call then asked recipients to press the number 1 on their telephone keypads to indicate they are opposed to this attack.

One recipient of telephone poll call said the pre-recorded message claimed to come from a firm called Chase Research. There is no sign of any company in Saskatchewan with that name.

Tories to refer Senate reform questions to Supreme Court

The federal government will seek clarification from the Supreme Court on its powers to reform or abolish the Senate, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform confirmed Friday afternoon in Ottawa.

Tim Uppal tried to blame the opposition parties for delaying the legislation, which was first introduced in June 2011, but hasn't been debated for nearly a year.

Outsiders form the majority in politics of inclusion

Former senator Jerry Grafstein, a mainstay of the Trudeau era, was hanging around the Ontario Liberal leadership convention last Saturday. "Where's the big ideas, where's the issues?" he muttered. Where, in a word, was the vision? Guys like him, in the age of Keith Davey, the legendary Liberal Rainmaker of Canadian politics, were big on The Vision Thing -- a bitter term used by former U.S. president George H.W. Bush, who despaired of ever having one of his own, like Lyndon Johnson's Great Society in the U.S. or Pierre Trudeau's Just Society here. They held Thinkers' Conferences where guys (always) with Big Ideas shared them with party hacks. That's how the Liberals recruited Trudeau and much later, Michael Ignatieff, with opposite effects.