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, April 06, 2013

U.N. Official Calls for Closing of Guantanamo Bay

A high-ranking United Nations official called for the closing of Guantanamo Bay today in one of the strongest statements issued by the U.N. in recent memory. Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the prison camps must be shuttered and that they are in a "clear breach of international law."

The statement comes amid mounting pressure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, due in part to an increasingly dire two-month hunger strike. As many as 130 of the 166 detainees are currently on hunger strike, according to defense attorneys, though the Pentagon puts the number at closer to 40. Eleven detainees are being fed through a tube that's snaked through their nostrils. Of those 11, at least three have been hospitalized for dehydration.

Symbols of Bush-era Lawlessness Flourish Under Obama

During the George W. Bush years, two of the most controversial elements of what was then called the Global War on Terror were the CIA's rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program and the creation of the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay. The RDI program included waterboarding and other forms of torture, as well as so-called black site prisons where detainees were held incommunicado after being abducted by the CIA, and sometimes tortured by members of the host country's security forces.

Same-Sex Marriage Makes David Brooks Crazy

This morning's David Brooks column on same-sex marriage was one of the weirdest, most mean-spirited things I've ever seen in The New York Times.

Entitled "Freedom Loses One," the article is a sarcastic broadside against . . . well, against something, though it's not clear exactly which of the many post-Sixties permissive-society hobgoblins Brooks hates is the real target here.

Ostensibly, the column purports to make a single ironic point, which is that by petitioning the Supreme Court for the right to marry, gays and lesbians were not expanding their freedoms – and thus continuing, as Brooks implies, a long and perhaps-regrettable winning streak for people's right to "follow their desires" that dates back to those hated Sixties – but rather constraining them. Brooks puts it this way:

    But last week saw a setback for the forces of maximum freedom. A representative of millions of gays and lesbians went to the Supreme Court and asked the court to help put limits on their own freedom of choice. They asked for marriage.

Labour accuses government of squeezing single parents while the rich get tax breaks

Ed Balls went on the offensive over today's tax changes, saying struggling families will be worse off while the rich are saved tens of thousands of pounds.

Today the personal allowance - the amount under which no one pays any tax - will rise to £9,440, and the top rate of tax - over which people pay 45 per cent tax - will be lowered to £41,450.

Rules are no substitute for cultivating a culture of open government

Over the past several weeks, and for very good reason, a slow-burning uproar has emerged around the muzzling of Canadian scientists who work for the federal government. Now the issue has taken on new steam with the office of federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault agreeing to investigate a complaint that such muzzling constitutes a breach of the Access to Information Act.

The actions of the information commissioner are to be applauded; what is less encouraging are the limits of her ability to resolve the problem. The truth is that openness, transparency and accountability cannot be created by the adoption of new codes or rules alone.

Foreign service workers strike could be first battle in looming labour war with Tories

OTTAWA — Canada’s diplomats, the first public servants to face off with the Conservative government in a strike, are facing threats of dismissal over using departmental email for job action.

The Conservatives stopped workers from striking with back-to-work legislation at Air Canada, Canada Post and CP Rail, but the prospect of an escalating labour disruption from 1,350 foreign service officers, who went on strike earlier this week, is the government’s first showdown with its own employees and many will be watching to see who blinks first.

Liberal questions pre-writ spending in Labrador, Penashue defends his head start

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Pre-writ spending by the Conservatives ahead of a federal byelection in Labrador adds up to an unfair advantage, says the Liberal candidate.

"They can spend all the money they want right now and it doesn't go into the campaign," Yvonne Jones said from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. "I'm starting out, I don't have all that kind of money to spend."

Christianity As State Religion Supported By One-Third Of Americans, Poll Finds

Although the North Carolina House of Representatives killed a bill Thursday that would have paved the way for establishing an official state religion, a new national HuffPost/YouGov poll finds widespread support for doing so.

The new survey finds that 34 percent of adults would favor establishing Christianity as the official state religion in their own state, while 47 percent would oppose doing so. Thirty-two percent said that they would favor a constitutional amendment making Christianity the official religion of the United States, with 52 percent saying they were opposed.

A Secret Deal on Drones, Sealed in Blood

Nek Muhammad knew he was being followed.

On a hot day in June 2004, the Pashtun tribesman was lounging inside a mud compound in South Waziristan, speaking by satellite phone to one of the many reporters who regularly interviewed him on how he had fought and humbled Pakistan’s army in the country’s western mountains. He asked one of his followers about the strange, metallic bird hovering above him.

Less than 24 hours later, a missile tore through the compound, severing Mr. Muhammad’s left leg and killing him and several others, including two boys, ages 10 and 16. A Pakistani military spokesman was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, saying that Pakistani forces had fired at the compound.

That was a lie.

Memo to President Obama: Expand Social Security, Don't Cut It

A fierce debate over Social Security is raging between deficit busters who say Social Security is unaffordable and must be trimmed back, and defenders who want to maintain the status quo. On Friday, the White House said President Obama's budget, which will be released next week, will propose that the program reduce cost-of-living payments. A Democratic president proposing any kind of cut to this popular New Deal program is a very big deal indeed, and predictably his plan drew outrage from liberal groups. But it also drew swift rejection by Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Why Do We Laugh at North Korea But Fear Iran?

In the United States, we make fun of Kim Jong Un and the North Korean regime's over-the-top propaganda machine. The regime may have launched a massive cyberattack on South Korean banks and TV stations last month, but we were circumspect that they were capable of such a thing. When former basketball player Dennis Rodman visited the country in February we giggled. How silly, we thought. Kim Jong Un is a Dennis Rodman fan - how out of touch! Soon after, a video emerged from North Korean state television showing Kim welcomed by jubilant masses of soldiers sprinting to welcome him as he visited a posting from whence rockets were launched in a brief 2010 skirmish with South Korea.

Is Stephen Harper trying to provoke a confrontation with First Nations?

You have to wonder if Stephen Harper isn’t actively trying to provoke serious conflict with First Nations.

There has been over 4 months of ongoing protest, hunger strikes, long distance marches by Indigenous youth, heated negotiations with First Nation leadership, vociferous opposition party criticism in Parliament, and widespread calls for action from non-Indigenous people across Canada.

Budget dogma and ‘bankster’ hubris take a hit

It’s budget season everywhere, and it’s all about debt and deficits and the elusive quest to balance the beast, which can only be done, it is said, by cutting services or raising taxes.

The burden of interest charges — on the same scale as health or education in most provincial budgets — doesn’t get questioned because interest is fixed by the gods according to divine law, retribution from which we can only escape through harsher and harsher penance.

Or is it? Let’s chew on a couple of startling points.

Third major oil spill in a week: Shell pipeline breaks in Texas

Thousands of gallons of oil have spilled from a pipeline in Texas, the third accident of its kind in only a week.

Shell Pipeline, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, shut down their West Columbia, Texas, pipeline last Friday after electronic calculations conducted by the US National Response Center showed that upwards of 700 barrels had been lost, amounting to almost 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

Exxon wins safety award as Mayflower sees no end to spill cleanup

As responders continue clearing tens of thousands of gallons of oil from a small Arkansas town after an Exxon pipeline burst, delivering a severe blow to the local ecosystem, a major NGO has named the oil giant the winner of a national safety award.

With Mayflower, Arkansas struggling to deal with the 84,000 gallons of crude that began running through its streets last week, ExxonMobil has been made the recipient of the National Safety Council's Green Cross for Safety medal.

Bangladesh protesters demand blasphemy law

Hundreds of thousands of people have held protests in Bangladesh to demand that the government introduce an anti-blasphemy law that would include the death penalty for bloggers who insult Islam.

Nowsher Khan, a local leader of the Awami League was killed in Bhanga, a town southwest of Dhaka, on Saturday, when Hefazat-e-Islami party supporters clashed with Awami League supporters.

The protest on Saturday, called the "long march", with many travelling from remote villages, was sparked after a group of bloggers allegedly began criticising conservative religious parties that are widely popular despite Bangladesh's secular constitution.

David Cameron Backs George Osborne Over Philpott Benefits Link

David Cameron has stepped up clashes with Labour by insisting the case of child killer Mick Philpott did raise "wider questions" about the welfare system.

The prime minister echoed comments by George Osborne, saying society had to consider what "signals" benefits sent.

However, the chancellor's Liberal Democrat deputy Danny Alexander said he did not believe the case should be linked to the coalition's controversial shake-up.

George Osborne Caught Parking His Car In Disabled Space To Buy McDonalds Lunch

George Osborne has been engulfed in a PR disaster after his car was caught parked in a disabled parking space.

On Friday morning the Daily Mirror published a photo of the chancellor's car parked in a disabled parking bay.

ITV News reports that the car was parked by the chancellor's driver on Wednesday while Osborne bought some lunch from a motorway service station on the M4.

Obama Apologizes To Kamala Harris For 'Distraction' Created By 'Best-Looking' Comments

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has apologized to California Attorney General Kamala Harris for "the distraction" he caused by calling her "by far the best-looking attorney general," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday.

The president called Harris on Thursday night to "apologize for the distraction created by his remarks," Carney said.

"He fully recognizes the challenges women continue to face in the workplace and that they should not be judged based on appearance," Carney said. "They're old friends. He certainly regretted that [his comments] caused a distraction."

The president caused quite a stir with his remarks, which he made during a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Atherton, Calif. Numerous people in the media wondered aloud what he was thinking, with some calling his comments "stupid" and "sexist."

"Look, I'm a 68-year-old guy and I do notice, honestly, the way that women look sometimes. But you've got to learn to sort of keep your opinions to yourself," Democratic strategist James Carville said on MSNBC. "I doubt if he'll do it again."

Original Article
Author:  Jennifer Bendery 

Top Rate Tax Cut Will Benefit 643 Bankers, Labour Claims

Bankers and other millionaires will receive a tax cut from Saturday - sparking a furious debate between the political parties.

As the government tried to highlight the number of low-earners playing less tax, Labour claimed the scrapping of the 50p rate would benefit 643 bankers, who each earned more than £1 million a year.

Senior Liberal Democrats also put pressure on Nick Clegg to reverse the move, which will reduce the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%.

A gloriously crude topless 'jihad' from a Femen activist

She's topless. She's angry. And she is, literally, taking liberties. The activist in this picture took part in a protest in Paris in support of Amina Tyler, a young Tunisian woman who has been targeted by Islamists after she put a bare-breasted picture of herself on her Facebook page in March with the words "Fuck Your Morals" and "My Body Belongs To Me, And Is Not The Source Of Anyone's Honour" painted across her chest.

Both Tyler and this activist are members of Femen, the radical feminist group that originated in the Ukraine and specialises in topless politics. Hackers attacked Femen's Tunisian Facebook page replacing pictures with texts from the Qur'an, while a prominent cleric has suggested Tyler might be stoned.

George Osborne 'playing politics' with Philpott deaths

A coalition rift was blown into the open when the Liberal Democrats condemned George Osborne for "playing politics" with the deaths of six children after the chancellor highlighted the Mick Philpott case to raise questions about high welfare payments.

Amid deep unease among senior Lib Dems – up to and including Nick Clegg – over the Conservatives' use of the deaths of six children to make the case for controversial welfare reforms, the party went out of its way to distance itself from the chancellor's remarks.

Tax changes mean families with single earner will lose nearly £4,000 a year

Families with children where one parent works will be hardest hit by new tax changes that come into force on Saturday, according to shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who says gains from a higher personal allowance of nearly £10,000 are "swamped" by higher VAT and cuts to tax credits.

Balls said prime minister David Cameron had prioritised tax cuts for millionaires over "squeezed" workers after new figures commissioned by the Labour party from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) show that a one-earner family with children will lose an average of just under £4,000.

Guantanamo Hunger Strike Grows As Military Locks Out Press

WASHINGTON -- In the midst of an ongoing hunger strike, the military is denying reporters access to the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay.

The military is telling reporters it will be over a month before there’s even a possibility of a tour of the detention facilities that house most of Guantanamo’s 166 prisoners. A military spokeswoman based in Guantanamo told HuffPost on Friday that there would be no opportunity for press to access any of the prison facilities until May 6 at the earliest. New York Times reporter Charlie Savage had been trying to fly down for a visit next week, but told HuffPost that he was informed Friday afternoon the trip wasn’t happening.

Economic Shock Could Throw 900 Million People Into Poverty, IMF Study Warns

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are on the brink of poverty.

A recent study by the International Monetary Fund warns that as many as 900 million people could fall back into poverty in the event of an economic shock like the Great Recession. That figure is three times the size of the U.S. population.

Ben Carson Remains Commencement Speaker At Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins University will keep neurosurgeon Ben Carson as its commencement speaker despite his offer to withdraw after his controversial comments about same-sex marriage, the Washington Blade reports.

Carson sparked outrage when he appeared on Fox News March 26 and compared the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to bestiality and pedophilia.

Kansas Senate Passes New Abortion Restrictions

KANSAS CITY, Kan., April 5 (Reuters) - The Kansas state Senate passed a measure on Friday that would ban Planned Parenthood from providing sex education in schools and require women to get more information about fetal development before having an abortion.

The measure was approved by a 28-10 vote and was expected to pass easily in the House of Representatives, which backed the 70-page bill in largely similar form earlier this week. Republicans have large majorities in both chambers. Republican Governor Sam Brownback, who opposes abortion, is expected to sign it.

Senate Bill Would Rein In Too Big To Fail Banks, Draft Reveals Quartz

Senate staff are reviewing a draft of banking legislation that would raise equity funding requirements for financial institutions, pull the United States out of the Basel III accord, and further restrict the Federal Reserve’s ability to bail out the shadow banking sector.

The draft, which you can read below, was prepared by the staff of Democratic senator Sherrod Brown, who is expected to be joined by Republican senator David Vitter in endorsing a final version of the legislation later in April. The two legislators co-sponsored a symbolic amendment calling on the government to end subsidies to the largest banks; it passed the Senate 99-0.

Bernie Sanders Will Do 'Everything In His Power' To Block Obama Budget's Social Security Cuts

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Friday aggressively pushed back on President Barack Obama's budget proposal, calling it a "bitter disappointment" and promising that the entitlement cuts contained in the plan wouldn't pass under his watch.

“I am terribly disappointed and will do everything in my power to block President Obama’s proposal to cut benefits for Social Security recipients through a chained consumer price index," Sanders said in a statement, blasting the plan to change how cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security payments are calculated.

Why China's Corruption Won't Stop

Failing to tackle corruption “could cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state,” warned Hu Jintao, the outgoing general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, at the Eighteenth Party Congress in November 2012. By January, the newly appointed party chief, Xi Jinping, publicly pledged zero tolerance for corruption, vowing to prosecute both “tigers” and “flies”—i.e., top officials and lowly bureaucrats alike.

Both leaders were trying to temper public anger over the issue of corruption, which had led to massive demonstrations all over the country. Still, one wonders how sincere Xi is about tackling corruption. After all, Bloomberg News reported last June that the wealth of Xi’s extended family amounts to billions in minerals and real estate, including a stake in a rare-earth company that alone is worth $1.73 billion. So would Xi start by putting members of his own family in the dock?

Former Walmart District Manager Accuses Company of Widespread Inventory Manipulation

In 1996, Sylvester Johnson left his post as a commanding officer in the US Army and began a career managing logistics at Walmart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Once there, he received a series of rapid promotions, eventually overseeing the HR management of over 26,000 employees in five states. He became friendly with Walmart executive Mike Duke, who became CEO in 2009. In 2002, Johnson received the Sam M. Walton Hero Award, a prestigious company distinction. In 2003, he moved to North Carolina where he oversaw eleven Walmart Supercenters. The company fired him in 2009 for allegedly giving orders to manipulate inventory counts, a claim Johnson denies.

Global climate efforts threaten oilsands growth, memo told Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver

OTTAWA – The economic benefits to Canada from oilsands industrial expansion may be “considerably less” than what the Canadian government and industry representatives predict, if the planet collectively takes action to slash the heat-trapping greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was told in an internal memo obtained by Postmedia News.

Elder Raymond Robinson is on a second fast to protest Harper's lack of dialogue with First Nations

Elder Raymond Robinson is on a second fast to protest Stephen Harper's lack of dialogue with First Nations communities.

The Manitoba Cree elder is on his third day of his spiritual fast, in which he is not consuming food or water.

 He said he is willing to die for his people in an effort to stop changes to federal funding for First Nations people.

This is the second time that Robinson has fasted for his people. He first fasted for Idle No More in late 2012, joining Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence for forty three days in which he lost a more than forty pounds; both fasts ended on January 24, 2013.

Nishiyuu Walkers: In Restlessness, There Is Power

"What did we say to each other
that now we are as the deer
who walk in single file
with heads high
with ears forward
with eyes watchful
with hooves always placed on firm ground
in whose limbs there is latent flight"

-- N. Scott Momaday: "Smilie"

When the Nishiyuu Walkers arrived in Ottawa on March 25, 2013, 68 days and 1,600 kilometres from the start of their journey, they were fulfilling a time-honoured Cree tradition of walking. It is not a small thing this tradition. For thousands of years, the Cree, and other First Nations, have walked, paddled, or, in the west, rode vast distances. That act of motion was, in its essence, the balance of tradition and necessity combined in a way of existence that was sustainable and life-affirming.

Feds rehire some non-Christian prison chaplains

The federal government is restoring religious counselling services to some non-Christian federal prisoners in British Columbia, but officials deny they are reversing cuts made last year.

Last year, the Correctional Service of Canada terminated 49 part-time contract employees, saying it would save $1.3 million. Eighteen of those contractors provided services to Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and other non-Christian prisoners.

Water Justice for Tunisia: Regime change is not enough!

From March 26-30, an estimated 50,000 people flocked to Tunisia to participate in the first World Social Forum to take place in the Arab world. The theme was dignity -- a term that had become a battle cry during the revolutionary protests that took place throughout the region in 2010 and 2011.

Organizations working on water issues gathered a day earlier to hold discussions on the central role of water in the fight for human dignity. During the December 2010 protests in Tunisia that sparked the wave of revolutions in the Arab World, thousands had marched chanting, "Yes to bread and water! No to Ben Ali!" It was a clear message that the people would no longer tolerate a regime that denied them their basic rights.

Ralph Klein: Prime Minister Stephen Harper, other leaders, pay tribute to 'King Ralph' at his memorial service

CALGARY—Ralph would have wanted it this way.

A public memorial honouring former Alberta premier Ralph Klein began Friday with the skirl of bagpipes, solemn faces and a white hearse, but soon morphed into smiles, laughter and memories about a man who wore his heart — and his province — on his sleeve.“To Albertans he was King Ralph . . . but we said it in a way that we never meant it,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said to laughs from Klein’s friends, colleagues and constituents at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.