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.]

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2 More Grad Students Claim To Find Another Flaw In Reinhart-Rogoff Research

Like Scooby-Doo villains, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff keep getting done in by meddling kids.

First, University of Massachusetts-Amherst grad student Thomas Herndon shot holes in their influential research paper, "Growth In A Time Of Debt," by pointing out several mistakes and omissions the Harvard economists had made. Now, two PhD students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City have a new paper that they say finds another flaw in that same research.

If Koch Brothers Buy LA Times, Half of Staff May Quit

At a Los Angeles Times in-house awards ceremony a week ago, columnist Steve Lopez addressed the elephant in the room.

Speaking to the entire staff, he said, "Raise your hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by Austin Beutner's group." No one raised their hands.

"Raise you hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by Rupert Murdoch." A few people raised their hands.

How Voter Backlash Against Voter Suppression Is Changing Our Politics

As the 2012 election approached, Republican governors and legislators in battleground states across the country rushed to enact restrictive Voter ID laws, to eliminate election-day registration and to limit early voting. Those were just some of the initiatives that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People identified as “an onslaught of restrictive measures across the country designed to stem electoral strength among communities of color.”

Why did so much energy go into the effort?

The Bangladeshi Blood on America's Hands

They are still digging up victims from the collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh—381 corpses and counting—while international media report the sickening details of crushed skulls and severed limbs and describe with sympathy the wildly distraught mourners searching the rubble for dead daughters. The Daka authorities arrested the greedy factory owner to save him from the mob. Sohel Rama, owner of the collapsed factory, blamed the pressures of global competition. He had no choice, he explained. Keep the sewing machines humming or else lose the contract.

Can Obama Stop the Uprising at Gitmo?

The revolt at Gitmo is growing.

A hunger strike at the detention center has now swelled to what may be the largest act of civil disobedience in the camp's history, with at least 100 of the camp's 166 detainees refusing to eat. Beginning in February after detainees claimed guards were searching their holy books, the protest has since broadened into what observers have called an "act of despair" over being held indefinitely without trial. "The fact that so many detainees have now been held at Guantanamo for over a decade and their belief that there is still no end in sight for them is a reason there is a growing problem of more and more detainees on a hunger strike," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, wrote in a letter to National Security Director Tom Donilon last Thursday.

Pierre Poilievre Defends 'Root Causes' Comments, Slams 'Liberal Pseudo-Intellectuals'

Pierre Poilievre isn’t backing down from his comments about the “root cause” of terrorism, no matter how many “Liberal pseudo-intellectuals” he offends.

The Conservative MP, who was mocked online last week after repeatedly telling CBC host Evan Solomon that the “root cause of terrorism is terrorists,” doubled-down with a statement in the House on Friday.

Alberta Labour Relations Board orders all public service employees back to work

The Alberta Labour Relations Board has ordered all public service employees back to work after a judge found the AUPE in contempt of court for a wildcat strike that spread to the province's courts on Monday.

The dual announcements came late Monday.

Alberta Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rooke found the union in contempt of court and made his ruling public shortly after 10 p.m.

Calculating household debt after the 2013 federal budget

As both the Bank of Canada and the IMF have now reported, the Canadian economic recovery slowed in early 2013. Sadly, this contains good news.

A return to economic strength would bring an increase in interest rates. This would cause Canadian households deeply in debt to dig down even deeper to make ends meet. With weakness, rate hikes are likely delayed until 2014.

No political party for 100,000 people facing homelessness in B.C.

Social Housing Coalition BC statement on BC Liberal and NDP housing platforms, written from unceded Coast Salish Territory:

On Wednesday, April 24th, the BC NDP released its platform statement on housing. Consistent with the party’s position on welfare rates, there is very little in the platform for low-income people. While the BC Liberal platform is completely silent on social housing and welfare rates, the NDP platform promises are woefully inadequate.

Auditor general’s report 2013: Lack of co-operation threatens Indian residential schools historical record

OTTAWA—Efforts to preserve the memory and legacy of the abusive Indian residential school system are in peril due to disagreements over the type, quality and cost of documents needed, says the auditor general.

“We are concerned that the lack of co-operation, delays and looming deadline stand in the way of creating the historical record of Indian residential schools as it was originally intended,” auditor general Michael Ferguson said at a news conference Tuesday after tabling his spring report in the House of Commons.

Canada can't account for $3.1B in anti-terror funding, AG finds

The Canadian government isn't monitoring whether billions spent on anti-terrorism measures since 2001 are meeting the desired objectives and can't account for $3.1 billion, Auditor General Michael Ferguson found in his spring report released today.

The lack of information on spending and results identified in the auditor general's chapter on the Public Security and Anti-Terrorism Initiative is a common theme throughout his report, which includes 11 chapters in total.

The Reinhart and Rogoff Controversy: A Summing Up

In one of life’s little ironies, last Friday’s disappointing G.D.P. figures, which reflected a sharp fall in government spending, appeared on the same day that the economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff published an Op-Ed in the Times defending their famous (now infamous) research that conservative politicians around the world had seized upon to justify penny-pinching policies. Addressing a new paper by three lesser lights of their profession from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, which uncovered data omissions, questionable methods of weighting, and elementary coding errors in Reinhart and Rogoff’s original work, and which went around the world like a viral video, the Harvard duo dismissed the entire brouhaha as “academic kerfuffle” that hadn’t vitiated their main points.

Jason Collins Comes Out

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” With these three short sentences in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated, Jason Collins, with the help of writer Franz Lidz, told the sports world two things it already knew, and one that it didn’t, and in doing so has made history, becoming the first active male player in any of the big four of American sports leagues—baseball, hockey, basketball, and football—to come out as gay.

You may not have heard of Jason Collins before today. Even dedicated basketball fans might have confused him with his twin brother, Jarron, who is about an inch shorter, and who played with Jason at Stanford and also had a long career in the pros. Jason played for the Boston Celtics this year, before being traded to the Washington Wizards. He is a free agent this summer, and is nearing the end of his years in the league, but he says he hopes to get picked up by another team next season. If he does, he may be the only openly gay player, but as he notes at the end of the piece, he will surely not be the only gay player: “Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.”

Dartmouth May Punish Protesters Subjected To Rape, Death Threats

More than a week after activists interrupted Dartmouth's "welcome show" for prospective students to highlight issues of sexual assault, racism and homophobia at the prestigious New Hampshire school, the uproar hasn't subsided. The student protesters have been hit with vicious online threats. Neither a day of canceled classes last Wednesday nor a campuswide letter sent out Friday by the chairman of the school's board of trustees seems to have eased the situation. And some are suggesting that real change requires an overhaul of the school's Greek life.

Bob McDonnell-Star Scientific Inc. Link Questioned By FBI: Sources

RICHMOND, Va. — Two people close to a federal investigation of a nutritional supplements manufacturer say the FBI is examining the relationship the company and its chief executive have with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife.

The people asked not to be identified because their roles in the case preclude them from speaking publicly. They said Monday that the FBI began questioning people close to the McDonnells as an outgrowth of a securities probe of Virginia-based Star Scientific Inc.

Offshore Tax Havens: Sequestration Damages IRS Battle With Tax Evasion

WASHINGTON -- Special IRS amnesty programs for illegal offshore tax evasion have brought billions of dollars to the U.S. government and opened a wealth of new information about criminal tax fraud for investigators, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office. But paltry IRS funding -- compounded by budget cuts required by sequestration -- is undermining its ability to combat tax cheating.

Obama's Judicial Nominees Blocked On All Sides By Senate Republicans

WASHINGTON -- It's bad enough that there are 82 vacant federal judge slots around the country, a level so high that many observers have deemed it a crisis situation.

But perhaps even more startling is the fact that of those 82 vacant slots, 61 of them don't even have a nominee.

Kimberly Rivera Pleads Guilty To Desertion Charges

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- A female soldier in the U.S. Army pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of desertion after fleeing to Canada to avoid a second tour of duty in the Iraq war.

Pfc. Kimberly Rivera was sentenced to 10 months in prison and a bad-conduct discharge after entering her plea at a court-martial.

Rivera, 30, was a wheeled-vehicle driver in Fort Carson's 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and served in Iraq in 2006. She has said that, while there, she became disillusioned with the U.S. mission in Iraq.

Kimberly Rivera, Pregnant Mom of 4, Sentenced to Military Prison for Refusing to Serve in Iraq

Private First Class Kimberly Rivera — a conscientious objector and pregnant mother of four — has just been sentenced to military prison for refusing to serve in the Iraq War. Rivera was on a two-week leave in December 2006 when she decided she would not return to Iraq for a second tour of duty. She and her family fled to Canada in February 2007, living there until their deportation back to the United States last year. On Monday, a military court sentenced her to 10 months behind bars. Her fifth child is due in December. We’re joined Mario Rivera, Kimberly’s husband and now the primary caretaker of their four young children; and by James Branum, a lawyer who represents Kimberly and dozens of other conscientious objectors.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: -

The Temp Agencies Taking Immigrants for a Ride in Chicago

Ty Inc. became one of the world's largest manufacturers of stuffed animals thanks to the Beanie Babies craze in the 1990s.

But it has stayed on top partly by using an underworld of labor brokers known as raiteros, who pick up workers from Chicago's street corners and shuttle them to Ty's warehouse on behalf of one of the nation's largest temp agencies.

The system provides just-in-time labor at the lowest possible cost to large companies—but also effectively pushes workers' pay far below the minimum wage.

In Boston, Was Lockdown the Wrong Approach?

The late Margaret Thatcher famously remarked that terrorists thrive off of the "oxygen of publicity." It's impossible to dispute that the Boston bombings produced just that, which raises a rather uncomfortable question. Are we sure that we responded to those horrific events in the best way?

For my Point of Inquiry podcast, I recently spoke with a top terrorism expert—Scott Atran of John Jay University and the University of Michigan—about the overall lessons that we can take away from the Boston bombings. Atran, who has personally interviewed a number of violent extremists, such as the plotters of the 2002 Bali bombing, stated bluntly that mass media attention and mega-scale law enforcement mobilizations, of the sort that we just witnessed, "help terrorists terrorize." As he put it:

The United States of Sequestration

Starting March 1, federal programs and their state and local beneficiaries began grappling with $85.4 billion in cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Some programs have been spared—Congress voted to restore tuition assistance for members of the armed services and, just last week, restored funding to the Federal Aviation Administration to forestall flight-delaying furloughs. But for the most part, the cuts have remained intact. Six weeks in, we took a look at how sequestration is has impacted 50 states, from canceled festivals to shuttered Head Start programs to massive layoffs.

Edmonton Remand Centre Workers In Contempt For Illegal Strike, Court Rules

EDMONTON - The widespread wildcat strike that started last week with guards at Edmonton's Remand Centre and spread to facilities throughout the province took a dramatic turn Monday night.

After hearing hours of arguments from both sides, a Court of Queen's Bench justice found the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees in contempt of court for defying an earlier Alberta Labour Board ruling ordering its members back to work.

Atlantic provinces to study impact of EI changes

The four Atlantic premiers have formulated a new plan to try to send the message to Ottawa its employment insurance reforms are not welcome.

The premiers met Monday in Nova Scotia and showed a united front opposing the Harper government’s EI changes.

They have now decided to study the effects of the changes as well as gather input from workers and businesses to offer suggestions for reforms that would better suit the seasonal economies that dominate this region.

Science Cuts And Muzzling In Canada: How Conservatives Reshaped A Discipline

The often antagonistic relationship between the governing Conservatives and Canada’s scientific community turned acrimonious soon after the Tories won a minority government in 2006 and made the key decision later that year to marginalize the Office of the National Science Advisor.

The office, created in 2004 by the Liberal government of Paul Martin and led by Arthur Carty, was intended to provide independent expert advice to the prime minister on matters of national policy related to science, ranging from nanotechnology, high energy particle physics and ocean technologies to climate change and the environment.

Jason Kenney shows his true colours while explaining changes to foreign worker program

Sometimes Immigration Minister Jason Kenney can get a bit too enthusiastic.

It happened, for instance, on Monday afternoon, when he was explaining one of the hastily-concocted changes to the government's temporary foreign worker program.

The change in question was the new rule obliging employers who use temporary foreign workers to provide a plan showing how they will transition to full time Canadian workers.

Former Tory strategist Allan Gregg rips Harper Cons' 'systematic attack' on facts and reason

Long-time Tory pollster and strategist Allan Gregg ripped into the Harper Government on Saturday for what he termed its "systematic attack on evidence-based research."

But since Gregg was speaking to the annual convention of the Alberta Federation of Labour, his startling comments went completely unremarked by Alberta's mainstream media -- notwithstanding the readily available "local angle" of an Edmonton native who did well in the big cities down east returning to his old stomping ground for a few hours.

Back in the day, Gregg was an influential pollster for the then-still-Progressive Conservatives under prime ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, and a proponent of negative political advertising. He is credited with having devised the cruel images of Liberal Jean Chretien that went so badly awry for the Conservatives in the 1993 federal election. Perhaps that is why by 2001 Gregg had undergone a much-publicized change of heart on that topic.

Foreign Temp Workers Changes Not Enough: Labour Leaders

Two federal ministers yesterday jointly announced changes in the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program, including a "temporary suspension" of the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion program criticized by labour leaders.

But one high profile labour leader described the announced changes as "simply public relations."

The illusion of growth

Mark Grant sits on the aft deck of his yacht in South Florida's spring sun, ostentatiously relishing his wealth as only an American does, and dispensing advice. He's made his money, and he likes to wear it.

Grant's personality is as big as his mansion and as flashy as his collection of exotic cars — he actually calls himself "The Wizard," a tribute to his own financial acumen.

Reforms to foreign worker program are ‘cosmetic,’ workers’ advocates say

Ottawa’s reforms to the temporary foreign worker program are only a “cosmetic” response to the public outcry over the RBC-iGate affair, say migrant workers’ advocates.

While the move to eliminate the “wage flexibility” that allows employers to pay migrant workers 5 to 15 per cent below prevailing wage is welcomed, critics said some of the proposed changes look good only on paper and mean nothing without oversight and enforcement.

Chi-Cheemaun ferry season delayed by low water levels on Lake Huron

Since the Chi-Cheemaun ferry started traversing Lake Huron between Tobermory and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island in 1974, its schedule has been like clockwork: It started the first Friday every May and ferried thousands of people, and their cars, every day until October.

But the ferry isn’t starting this Friday; no one knows when it will.

“I felt sick when I heard that,” said Nathalie Gara-Boivin, who owns the Auberge Inn on Manitoulin Island. “The ferry brings thousands of tourists to the island. Businesses will die without it.”

Great Lakes to get relief from low water levels

If you love Georgian Bay, as I do, I have good news for you.

We might be getting more water soon. Or, more aptly: we might stop losing as much water as we have been these past 14 years.

After years of cheerleading the “do-nothing” approach to the frightening drop in water levels on Lakes Huron and Michigan, the binational referee of water levels, the International Joint Commission, did a stunning about-face last Friday.

Brace for roller coaster ride on auto insurance

On auto insurance, Charles Sousa is in the driver’s seat.

But Ontario’s finance minister admits he is steering the province into uncharted territory with his Thursday budget by taking an unexpected left turn.

Promising to deliver a sharp 15 per cent cut in car premiums, Sousa’s goal is to keep the NDP on board for the ride — so that his minority Liberal government remains roadworthy.

Changes to foreign worker program will hurt business, groups say

Canadian employers say Ottawa’s changes to the temporary foreign worker program will add costs, increase red tape and could even put some companies out of business.

“It’s going to drive up costs and make it more difficult to use the program,” said Perrin Beatty, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“Nobody benefits from that,” Beatty said adding it could force come employers out of business.

Negative Trudeau Ads Denounced By 3 New Brunswick MPs

The Conservative Party’s aggressive advertising campaign against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

Conservative MP Mike Allen said the anti-Trudeau ads are not his style and he said he finds many political attack ads “juvenile.”

“I've looked at some of the ads going back as far as 1993, some of the ads that have been used by all the parties during the last number of elections that I've run in and I find some of them, actually, odd, and a little bit childish,” Allen said.

Federal Budget 2013: Watchdog Says Government Cost-Cutting Will Eliminate 14,000 Jobs

OTTAWA - The federal government's most recent "jobs and growth" budget will wind up costing Canada both jobs and economic growth over the next few years, the Parliamentary Budget Officer says in a new report.

The PBO's latest estimates on the impact of the 2013 budget handed down in March show the cumulative impact will be to reduce economic growth by 0.12 per cent and job creation by 14,000 by 2016.

Foreign Workers Canada: Tories Change Course On Controversial Program

OTTAWA - After weeks of public outcry over the scarcity of Canadian jobs, the Conservative government delivered a pink slip Monday to a series of controversial changes it made last year to the temporary foreign workers program.

Employers will no longer have flexibility to set the wages for foreign labour, calling a halt to what was known as the 15 per cent rule, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told a news conference.

Short Selling Canadian Banks, Loonie A Bad Sign For Economy

Global investors are turning against Canada’s economy, placing some of the largest bets on record that the country’s housing market, financial sector and currency are in for a rough ride.

A report Monday in The Financial Post indicates that a near-record amount of money is being placed against Canada’s major banks.

House GOP Plans Even Deeper Food Stamp Cuts

Lost in the shuffle of last year’s big fiscal cliff deal was the deal that didn’t happen on a new farm bill.

One of the major points of contention was funding for food stamps through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, run by the US Department of Agriculture. Republicans in the House proposed steep cuts: $16.5 billion over the next decade, which would eliminate food assistance to as many as 3 million low-income Americans. The Senate countered with a farm bill cutting $4.5 billion from SNAP over the same time period.

Prison perks: inmates must wear uniforms as Grayling cracks down

All convicted male prisoners are to be required to wear prison uniform for the first two weeks of their sentence under a shakeup of life in jail ordered by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling.

The changes, to be announced on Tuesday, will also mean prisoners losing automatic access to gym equipment and daytime television. They will be expected work a longer day than at present too.

China commits billions in aid to Africa as part of charm offensive - interactive

China has committed $75bn (£48bn) on aid and development projects in Africa in the past decade, according to research which reveals the scale of what some have called Beijing's escalating soft power "charm offensive" to secure political and economic clout on the continent.

The Chinese government releases very little information on its foreign aid activities, which remain state secrets. In one of the most ambitious attempts to date to chip away at this secrecy, US researchers have launched the largest public database of Chinese development finance in Africa, detailing almost 1,700 projects in 50 countries between 2000 and 2011.

Ghost money from MI6 and CIA may fuel Afghan corruption, say diplomats

The CIA and MI6 have regularly given large cash payments to Hamid Karzai's office with the aim of maintaining access to the Afghan leader and his top allies and officials, but the attempt to buy influence has largely failed and may have backfired, former diplomats and policy analysts say.

The Guardian understands that the payments by British intelligence were on a smaller scale than the CIA's handouts, reported in the New York Times to have been in the tens of millions, and much of the British money has gone towards attempts to finance peace initiatives, which have so far proved abortive.