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, May 21, 2013

Artist finds inspiration in Canadian government's attempt to silence her

Canada, under the government of Stephen Harper, has exhibited little patience for dissent. The government has muzzled government scientists, insulted Nasa climate experts, and dismissed environmental protesters as dangerous radicals.

But there is apparently one woman whom the government can't shut up: the Toronto environmental writer, illustrator and activist Franke James, who turned the efforts to silence her into material for a new book.

Harper’s speech was a chance to be accountable. He blew it

Stephen Harper had a golden opportunity to say sorry to Canadians and his caucus for the Senate expenses scandal; to explain what he knew, when; and, to put forward some concrete proposals to restore the public’s faith in Parliament.

In short, his speech to caucus was a chance to be accountable. He blew it.

He expressed his unhappiness with the unspecified conduct of “some parliamentarians” and his own office and then patted himself on the back for taking “unprecedented measures” to improve accountability. Canada now has a system of governance that is the envy of the world, “something Canadians are rightly proud of”.

Syria, Israel Exchange Fire Over Border Near Golan Heights

JERUSALEM — Israeli and Syrian troops exchanged fire across their tense cease-fire line in the Golan Heights on Tuesday, prompting an Israeli threat that Syria's leader will "bear the consequences" of further escalation and raising new concerns that the civil war there could explode into a region-wide conflict.

The incident marked the first time the Syrian army has acknowledged firing intentionally at Israeli troops since the civil war erupted more than two years ago. President Bashar Assad's regime appears to be trying to project toughness in response to three Israeli airstrikes near Damascus in recent months.

AP Scandal: Plurality Disapprove Of DOJ's Actions, Poll Finds

The Justice Department's secret investigation of the Associated Press horrified the journalism world and received intensive news coverage. Yet, according to a new study, Americans aren't very interested, though most of them disapprove of the Justice Department's actions.

Peaceful Protester Tasered Outside DOJ While Demanding Wall Street Prosecutions

WASHINGTON -- Carmen Pittman had no intention of becoming an activist, but her bank, the Department of Justice and Occupy Atlanta turned her into one. Shortly before her grandmother died in 2011, the family realized that JPMorgan Chase was preparing to foreclose. HuffPost interviewed her late that year for a story on Occupy Atlanta and found a bewildered and desperate 21-year-old, talking about her childhood home in the past tense.

"My every Christmas, my every Thanksgiving, my every birthday, my every dinner was in this house," Pittman said then of a home that had been in her family since 1953. "This was the base home. We could not stay away from this home. This home is my every memory."

Hundreds of Non-Union Workers With Taxpayer-Supported Jobs Plan to Strike Today

Starting at 7:30 this morning, hundreds of non-union workers with taxpayer-supported jobs plan to go on strike in the nation’s capitol. Organizers expect the one-day walkout to include workers employed at Smithsonian museums, the Old Post Office and Ronald Reagan buildings and Union Station, where tourists, lobbyists and members of Congress arrive by Amtrak train to Washington, DC. The strikers are part of a recently-unveiled organization, Good Jobs Nation, backed by labor and community groups. They’re demanding that President Obama take action to improve wages and working conditions for workers employed under federal contracts.

The Secret Donors Behind the Center for American Progress and Other Think Tanks

The Center for American Progress, Washington’s leading liberal think tank, has been a big backer of the Energy Department’s $25 billion loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects. CAP has specifically praised First Solar, a firm that received $3.73 billion under the program, and its Antelope Valley project in California.

Last year, when First Solar was taking a beating from congressional Republicans and in the press over job layoffs and alleged political cronyism, CAP’s Richard Caperton praised Antelope Valley in his testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying it headed up his list of “innovative projects” receiving loan guarantees. Earlier, Caperton and Steve Spinner—
a top Obama fundraiser who left his job at the Energy Department monitoring the issuance of loan guarantees and became a CAP senior fellow—had written an article cross-posted on CAP’s website and its Think Progress blog, stating that Antelope Valley represented “the cutting edge of the clean energy economy.”

Why the Government Surveillance of Fox's James Rosen Is Troubling

On Friday, I wrote a piece for Mother Jones speculating that government spying on press communications may not be "unprecedented," as Associated Press head Gary Pruitt put it, but simply rarely disclosed. The rules requiring disclosure of such surveillance, after all, only appear to apply to "subpoenas" for "telephone toll records"; they do not cover other secret tools deployed by federal law enforcement, such as National Security Letters. Even outside the shadowy world of intelligence, as federal magistrate judge Stephen Smith has observed, court orders granting government access to electronic communication records routinely remain secret indefinitely. I suggested that there could be quite a few other cases like the AP story that we've never learned about, even if the Justice Department has been scrupulously following its own rules, because such cases might not involve grand jury subpoenas for phone logs.

4 Ways Apple CEO Tim Cook Spins Tax Avoidance

"I've never seen anything like this and we don't know anybody who has ever seen anything like this," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said yesterday of Apple's baroque tax avoidance strategies. But Apple CEO Tim Cook, who will testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations today, is  aggressively spinning what Levin called "gimmickry" as patriotic, commonsensical, and no big deal.

The treachery of words: Harper addresses caucus on Senate scandal

Words matter. It matters if you say you repaid money you owed to taxpayers, and it matters how you say you did that. And it matters when, faced with the backlash from those words allegedly not being the truth, someone else has to use other words to explain or apologize for it.

So, when the prime minister stood in front of his caucus Tuesday morning to offer some words on the Mike Duffy-Nigel Wright-$90,000 cheque imbroglio, it was going to matter what they were and, equally, what they were not. In his speech, Prime Minister Harper talked about the Senate, about accountability and about reform. He also talked about himself, and other words he used to say. He never uttered the name Nigel Wright. He never said “Mike Duffy.” He didn’t mention the word “cheque.”

How to provoke race hatred: On the Roma, Sun TV and the responsibility of broadcasters

The documentary that bears the lurid title 'Gypsy Child Thieves' was written and directed by Liviu Tipurita and released in 2009.

From its title you would think it was a piece of extreme right, racist propaganda.

The filmmaker did not have racist intentions, however.

Canada's culture of mean: Beating up on refugees

Toronto's legendary refugee rights lawyer Barb Jackman has a unique way of framing issues at their most human level, an art often lost by those who spend their lives in courts and immigration tribunals fighting for their clients' right not to be deported to torture and other cruelties. Testifying recently before a Senate committee on a repressive piece of deportation legislation, Jackman aptly summed up the mean political culture that increasingly grips the land.

Canadian deficits are a distribution problem, not a wealth problem

Restoring lost tax revenues would balance the budget.

I recently listened to a panel on “public sector perspectives on challenges to the community sector,” featuring representatives from all three levels of government. Virtually every began with: “Don’t look to government for the money because government can’t afford it.”

But in a democracy, isn’t the government us? So when our governments say they can no longer afford something, what they are really saying is that “we” cannot afford it. But is this really the case?

U.S. ambassador David Jacobson to join BMO as vice chairman

The U.S. ambassador to Canada will become vice-chairman of one of Canada’s largest banking groups after his diplomatic appointment ends in July.

BMO Financial Group (TSX:BMO) says Ambassador David Jacobson will join the bank’s board of directors in October.

Jacobson will be based in Chicago, where BMO’s main U.S. operations are centred, and he’ll help build and strength relationships with the bank’s key customers.

Big Data is watching you, and you, and you

Fact or fiction? Scene from the 1955 British movie of George Orwell's 1984 resonates today, though many sophisticated systems of government snooping are invisible to the ordinary citizen.

There’s an elephant in your room – and it never, never forgets.

It’s Big Data, and, says Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, co-author of a book by the same name, it is “A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think.”

From cradle to grave (and even before birth) we’re tracked, trailed, photographed, videoed, scrutinized, biometrized, analysed and….you can see where this is going.

Beyond Rosen and the AP: Who Else Has the DoJ Put Under Surveillance?

In light of the revelations about the Department of Justice's broad search of Associated Press phone records and Sunday's Washington Post piece revealing new details about DoJ surveillance of Fox News's James Rosen during its 2010 investigation into a State Department official suspected of leaking the reporter classified information about North Korea, there's an old Washington Post piece from 2010 that's worth turning back to.

Senate Selection Committee Could Be The Most Expensive Meeting On Parliament Hill

OTTAWA — It could be the most expensive meeting on Parliament Hill.

Two senators are each pocketing several thousand dollars annually to head a committee that meets once a year – and sometimes not at all.

The Michele Bachmann Campaign Probe, Explained

Last Friday, news broke that the FBI is investigating allegations that the 2012 presidential campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) violated federal laws by not disclosing payments to an Iowa state senator, improperly coordinated with her PAC, and tried to silence whistleblowing staffers. Bachmann has responded by pointing out that the allegations, which first surfaced in January, don't directly accuse her of any wrongdoing. Still, some political observers believe that the allegations could spell the end her Congressional career when she faces off against the same Democrat she narrowly defeated in 2012.

Stephen Harper To Address Conservative Caucus, Head To South America For Trade Talks

OTTAWA - The prime minister is jetting out of Ottawa today, leaving behind one of the worst political storms ever faced by his Conservative government, to contemplate a trade alliance membership in South America that many consider unnecessary.

Before he leaves, though, Stephen Harper is expected to address the Conservative caucus and talk about his right-hand man, Nigel Wright, who resigned Sunday as a result of his role in a ballooning controversy involving the disallowed expenses of Sen. Mike Duffy.

Duffy Affair shows Harper Conservatives appear to have forgotten their values

Stephen Harper will be in mid-air to Peru when NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, rises in the House of Commons to grill the Conservative government on the Duffy Affair Tuesday.

But whichever minister is drafted in to defend the indefensible, the Prime Minister can rest assured that the opposition will still be hammering his government on the issue when he gets back.

This, after all, is the leader who was elected on a ticket of accountability. He asked voters to “demand better,” promising to restore integrity to government “after a decade of Liberal waste, mismanagement and corruption.”

Harper Tories evoking laughter and anger

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.” — Retired House of Commons law clerk Rob Walsh, on the Mike Duffy/Nigel Wright Senate expenses uproar, CBC-TV, May 17.

Politicians don’t like it when people get really mad at them. Anger creates political damage. But they like it far less when people start laughing at them. Humour can destroy politicians and their careers. Witness former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, an honourable man who never recovered after Stephen Harper (with significant help from Mike Duffy, then a broadcaster) got the country laughing at him in the 2008 election.

Things fall apart in the Harper PMO

Amateur astronomers were afforded a rare sight over the weekend in the skies over Ottawa: the explosion of the Harper Universe.

It all started with Senator Mike Duffy performing his Hindenburg imitation, crashing and burning over false Senate expenses, flatulent explanations, and a bizarre stand-off with the PMO over who bailed him out — the Royal Bank or that White Knight of expense accounts, Nigel Wright.

It was somehow weirdly appropriate that, once he had resigned from caucus, Duffy beat a hasty retreat to his “principal” residence — once more eschewing interviews. But one thing the Old Duff can’t do is travel incognito. If he flew, he’d never get through the the commissioners and maintenance men waiting to welcome him home at Charlottetown Airport.

Harper explores new Latin American trade bloc

OTTAWA -- The prime minister heads to South America this week to suss out membership in a new trading bloc many aren't sure Canada ought to join.

The Pacific Alliance was formed by Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru in 2011 and Canada took a spot on the sidelines the next year, along with several other countries, as observers.

This week, alliance leaders will meet in Cali, Colombia, and be joined by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as well as leaders from other observer nations.

Federal government doing business with companies once involved in bid-rigging

The Canadian government still does business with companies that were involved in criminal bid-rigging schemes.

In one case, federal departments have dished out more than $150 million in contracts to a company after its part owner and senior executive pleaded guilty to bid-rigging.

In another, the government has ongoing contracts with a convicted consulting firm it has blacklisted, and has recently invited the company to bid on federal work worth millions.

PM’s Western supporters are not amused about Senate expense scandal

The Senate expense scandals sweeping Ottawa have met a particularly poor reception in the Conservative government’s Western heartland, where calls are now emerging for the resignation – and criminal prosecution – of several senators.

Those implicated in housing expense problems “should be out of there, in a flash. No stalling about it,” said Myron Thompson, the outspoken Albertan who spent 15 years as a member of Parliament. Mr. Thompson was first elected in 1993 with the Reform Party, which had championed Senate reform, a political platform that drew its greatest support in Western Canada.

Appointees to EI boards broke guidelines by making political donations

OTTAWA - Dozens of people appointed to plum patronage jobs have been donating to the Conservative party, despite government rules that forbid it.

A Canadian Press investigation found as many as one of every five chairpersons on the Employment Insurance Boards of Referees gave money to political parties, riding associations and election candidates while they served on the tribunal.

Making a buck off the "Duff"

Lloyd Kerry's "Stuff the Duff" t-shirt design speaks for itself.

And in Kerry's opinion, it speaks for many other Islanders and Canadians as well.

Kerry, of PEI EI PI t-shirts, didn't have to look far for his next design, after his company first got noticed for its shirts criticizing federal changes to employment insurance.

In fact, Kerry found his inspiration in letters to the editor published in this past weekend's edition The Guardian.

Capitalists win, all others lose in B.C. election

The capitalists won the B.C. election. Extractive industries make big profits in the province, and have bigger plans for its future. More port facilities for coal exports to China, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants, new pipelines across the mountains, increased tanker traffic in the Vancouver Harbour, and through coastal waters; these environmental disasters in the making represent lucrative ventures to Liberal backers.

Corporations support the BC Liberals as a form of insurance protecting shareholder privileges. Most of the business and commercial world follows the corporate lead.

Unlike Ford, Harper, Wright and Duffy are smart enough to know better: Christopher Hume

The most shocking thing about the latest Rob Ford scandal is that it’s not shocking.

Though he is clearly unsuited for the job, by now Torontonians have grown almost blasé about the mayor. He and his regime are as disastrous as they are embarrassing. Another day, another outrage.

And while Ford turns Toronto upside down, the news from Ottawa, if anything, is even more mind-boggling. Last week we learned that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s now-departed chief of staff, Nigel Wright, casually paid off Senator Mike Duffy’s “inappropriate” expenses, all $90,000 worth. Then Harper and his acolytes tried to pass off this unbelievable ethical lapse as an effort to save Canadian taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

World media reports on Harper government's growing Senate expense scandal

It's been a busy long weekend for Canadian political news. The resignation of Stephen Harper's Chief-of-Staff Nigel Wright, and the growing Senate expense scandal, has even made worldwide headlines.

BBC News reported: "Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's top aide has resigned over his role in a growing expenses scandal. Nigel Wright quit after revelations he had secretly given a senator a C$90,000 (£58,000; $87,000) cheque to help repay improperly claimed housing expenses. The conservative prime minister said he had accepted the resignation of his chief of staff 'with great regret.'"

PM’s former legal adviser arranged deal for Wright to give Duffy $90K

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former special counsel and legal adviser worked on the legal deal between Nigel Wright and Sen. Mike Duffy’s lawyer that called for Wright to help Duffy pay off $90,000 in invalid expense claims, CTV News has learned.

Sources told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife that back in February, Benjamin Perrin helped draft the letter of understanding that called for Duffy to publicly declare that he would repay the money. In return, sources say, Wright would give a personal cheque to Duffy to cover the $90,000. Sources say the agreement also stipulated that a Senate investigation into expense claims would go easy on Duffy.

Why Austerity Kills: From Greece to U.S., Crippling Economic Policies Causing Global Health Crisis

In their new book, "The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills," economist David Stuckler and physician Sanjay Basu examine the health impacts of austerity across the globe. The authors estimate there have been more than 10,000 additional suicides and up to a million extra cases of depression across Europe and the United States since governments started introducing austerity programs in the aftermath of the economic crisis. For example in Greece, where spending on public health has been slashed by 40 percent, HIV rates have jumped 200 percent and the country has seen its first malaria outbreak since the 1970s. An economist and public health specialist, Stuckler is a senior research leader at Oxford University. Dr. Basu is a physician and epidemiologist who teaches at Stanford University. "Had austerity been organized like a clinical trial, it would’ve been discontinued given evidence of its deadly side effects," Stuckler says. "There is an alternative choice that we found in the historical data and through the present recessions: When we place people and their health at the center of economic recovery, it can help get our economy back on track faster and yield lasting dividends to our society."

Author: --

Chicago Teachers Union Overwhelmingly Re-Elects Karen Lewis’s CORE Caucus

Internal union elections are unlikely to capture much attention, especially at a time when media coverage of labor borders on nonexistent. But the results of a recent election in the Chicago Teachers Union should interest those who care about the future of public education, as they suggest that progressive teacher unionism in Chicago is here to stay for at least the next few years—and may spread among teachers around the country.

The Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators (CORE), the group headed by Karen Lewis at the helm of the CTU that led 30,000 teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians out on strike last September, was re-elected Friday by an overwhelming majority. Eighty percent of the union’s voting members opted for the CORE slate, with the remaining 20 percent voting for the opposition, the Coalition to Save Our Union.

Sequestration Weakens Inspectors General, Making It Harder To Detect Waste And Fraud

WASHINGTON -- The government's inspectors general aren't well-known among the public, but they are essential in rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in the federal bureaucracy -- one of the few goals that both Democrats and Republicans agree on. The recent findings by the Treasury Department's IG that the Internal Revenue Service had been scrutinizing conservative organizations applying for nonprofit status highlighted the importance of these independent watchdogs.

But sequestration is tying the hands of the IGs, who are facing a $100 million cut overall. There's now less money to pursue investigations and fewer qualified staff members to investigate claims, and the disbursement of funds, such as stimulus dollars and Hurricane Sandy relief, will receive less scrutiny and oversight.

Efrain Rios Montt Conviction Overturned: Guatemala Court Annuls Proceedings In Genocide Case

GUATEMALA CITY, May 20 (Reuters) - Guatemala's constitutional court on Monday overturned a genocide conviction against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, throwing out all proceedings in his case since a dispute broke out last month over who should hear it.

Rios Montt was found guilty on May 10 of overseeing the deliberate killings by the armed forces of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil population during his 1982-83 rule. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

But the constitutional court said it had thrown out all proceedings in the case dating back until April 19. It was then that the trial against Rios Montt was suspended after a spat between judges over who should take the case. (Reporting by Mike McDonald; Editing by Dave Graham)

Original Article
Author: Reuters  

Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, Face Difficult Options On Disaster Relief

WASHINGTON -- As frantic rescue missions continued Monday in Oklahoma following the catastrophic tornadoes that ripped through the state, it appeared increasingly likely that residents who lost homes and businesses would turn to the federal government for emergency disaster aid. That could put the state's two Republican senators in an awkward position.

Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, are fiscal hawks who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country. They also have opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief.

What America Has Gained, What America Has Lost

It’s a common temptation of middle age to think that the present is significantly worse than the past—to mistake a herniated disc in the L4-L5 region with America’s declining global power, or annoyance at public iPhone conversations with the erosion of all social norms. Certain pieces I’ve written in this space and elsewhere, not to mention a new book being published today (“The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America”), might lead readers to believe that I spend my days wallowing in nostalgia for Jimmy Carter and Boz Scaggs, if not J.F.K. and Perry Como. Not true! There are many, many things about the year 2013 that I would not want undone, and many other things about the year 1978 that I would not want back. It’s worth remembering them, as a kind of fact-check exercise, before considering whether—as so many Americans I’ve interviewed over the past few years believe—something has gone wrong.

Harper government had to know $90,000 payment to senator crossed all sorts of ethical red lines

Section 17 (1) of the Senate Conflict of Interest code states: “Neither a Senator, nor a family member, shall accept … any gift or other benefit, except compensation authorized by law, that could reasonably be considered to relate to the Senator’s position.”

Section 16 (1) of the Parliament of Canada Act states that “no member of the Senate shall receive or agree to receive any compensation, directly or indirectly, for services rendered … in relation to any bill, proceeding, contract, claim, controversy, charge, accusation, arrest or other matter before the Senate or the House of Commons or a committee of either House. Moreover, Section 16 (3) makes “every person who gives, offers or promises to any member of the Senate” such compensation liable to imprisonment for up to one year.

Detroit Bankruptcy Decision Depends On Next 6 Weeks As Kevyn Orr Deals With Debt

DETROIT, May 19 (Reuters) - Bond restructurings, negotiated settlements with bondholders and bond insurers, and tough talk with unionized workers are on the agenda as Detroit's emergency financial manager tries to meet a self-imposed, six-week deadline to decide whether the city can get through its financial crisis without a bankruptcy filing.

Suburban Poverty Soaring In America While Safety-Net Agencies Struggle To Keep Up

Poverty is soaring in the suburbs.

According to a new book from the Brookings Institution, the suburban poverty rate in America has climbed by 64 percent over the past decade, more than twice as fast as the poverty rate in urban areas.

Nearly 16.5 million people live in poverty in the suburbs, compared with about 13 million poor people in cities.

Former Sen. Judd Gregg Named CEO Of Top Wall Street Lobbying Group

WASHINGTON -- Former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) has been named the new CEO of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), one of Wall Street's largest lobbying trade associations. Gregg retired from the Senate in January 2011, two years after he withdrew his nomination to serve as secretary of commerce under President Barack Obama.

Apple Is Paying Almost No Taxes On The $102 Billion It Has Stashed Offshore: Report

Just one day before Apple's CEO Tim Cook is expected to argue for corporate tax reform on Capitol Hill, a new report claims that the company is avoiding paying taxes on billions of dollars in profits.

The U.S.-based software giant is parking $102 billion in overseas tax havens, allowing the company to pay a near zero global tax rate on that money, according to a new report from the left-leaning think tank, Citizens for Tax Justice.

DOJ Targeting Of Fox News Reporter James Rosen Risks Criminalizing Journalism

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration’s Justice Department has moved beyond investigating and prosecuting leaks at an unprecedented level to claiming in court documents that committing a standard act of journalism may itself be criminal.

In 2010, FBI agent Reginald Reyes described a reporter, recently identified as Fox News' chief Washington correspondent James Rosen, as possibly being an “aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the leaking of classified information. Reyes made that argument in his request for a warrant for Rosen’s personal email account as part of a leak investigation.