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.]

Friday, June 07, 2013

With Golan fence, Israel closer to surrounding itself with barriers

MOUNT HAZEKA, Israel — Fearful that the Syrian civil war, jihadist terrorists or Lebanese Hezbollah fighters will spill into Israel, the country’s military engineers are rushing to complete their latest “smart fence,” this one in the occupied Golan Heights.

Here along the tense boundary with Syria, fighting raged Thursday as Syrian rebels and government forces battled for control of a crossing in the latest violent incident that is inching the Syrian war closer to Israeli-held territory.

China Can’t Be Contained; It Has to Be Accommodated

At the start of the twentieth century, Britain, the superpower of the time, was faced with a strategic dilemma: what to do about a newly unified and nationalist Germany, which was rising fast economically and building up its military. One school of thought held that Germany could be accommodated within the existing international system; the other argument was that it needed to be confronted and contained. The hawks won out. During the Boer War, London threatened to blockade the German coast if Berlin intervened in favor of the Dutch settlers in South Africa. There followed a big arms race, as Germany, which had already been strengthening its marine capabilities, rushed to catch up with the Royal Navy, and Britain responded by constructing the dreadnoughts, a deadly family of steam-powered battleships. In 1907, Britain joined France and Russia in an alliance—the Triple Entente—against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

IRS Scandal: Misfired 2010 Cincinnati Email Alerted Washington Officials To Tea Party Targeting

WASHINGTON, June 6 (Reuters) - A misfired email from a U.S. Internal Revenue Service employee in Cincinnati alerted a number of Washington IRS officials that extra scrutiny was being place on conservative groups in July 2010, a year earlier than previously acknowledged, according to interviews with IRS workers by congressional investigators.

Transcripts of the interviews, reviewed by Reuters on Thursday, provided new details about Washington managers' awareness of the heightened scrutiny applied by front-line IRS agents in Cincinnati to applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups with words like "Tea Party" in their names.

Happy 35th Birthday, Tax Revolt! Thanks For Destroying California.

Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the tax revolt in America. On June 6, 1978, two-thirds of Californians voted to pass Proposition 13, which cut and capped property taxes and mandated a two-thirds vote for any future tax increases. Howard Jarvis ended up on the cover of Time and the tax revolt was officially started.

Prop. 13 was certainly successful at its primary goal. Not only do I pay a property tax rate of 1 percent on my Orange County house, but I pay it based on the price of the house when I bought it 20 years ago, even though it's doubled in value since then. My mother, who still lives in the house I grew up in, pays 1 percent of the value of her house as of 1978. That's because Prop 13 not only caps the tax rate, it also caps the assessed value of property, which is allowed to go up no more than 2 percent per year.

Why Brent Rathgeber Quit The Tories

OTTAWA — Tired and a little beat up is the way Brent Rathgeber, the member of Parliament from Edmonton-St. Albert, described feeling Wednesday before he announced on Twitter later that night that he had quit the Conservative caucus on principle.

“I joined the Reform/conservative movements because I thought we were somehow different, a band of Ottawa outsiders riding into town to clean the place up, promoting open government and accountability,” he wrote in a blog post Thursday. “I barely recognize ourselves, and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.”

Does Verizon records case mean an end to privacy?

Someday, a young girl will look up into her father’s eyes and ask, “Daddy, what was privacy?”

The father probably won’t recall. I fear we’ve already forgotten that there was a time when a U.S. citizen’s telephone calls were nobody else’s business. A time when people would have been shocked and angered to learn that the government was compiling a detailed log of ostensibly private calls made and received by millions of Americans.

PRISM scandal: tech giants flatly deny allowing NSA direct access to servers

Two different versions of the PRISM scandal were emerging on Thursday with Silicon Valley executives denying all knowledge of the top secret program that gives the National Security Agency direct access to the internet giants' servers.

The eavesdropping program is detailed in the form of PowerPoint slides in a leaked NSA document, seen and authenticated by the Guardian, which states that it is based on "legally-compelled collection" but operates with the "assistance of communications providers in the US."

US intelligence chief denounces 'reprehensible' release of information

Disclosure of the massive surveillance of phone records and internet communications risks “long-lasting and irreversible harm” to US national security, the director of national intelligence says.

Late on Thursday night US time James Clapper issued a bullet-point defence of the surveillance programs disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post, saying they contained “numerous safeguards that protect privacy and civil liberties”. To correct the “misleading impression left in the article” – apparently a reference to the Guardian’s original story – Clapper said he approved the declassification of his defence of the National Security Agency’s collection of every phone record from millions of Verizon customers.

U.S., British intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

NSA Prism Data Mining Is All Up In Ur Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple

America, here's hoping you've had enough time to come to terms with the National Security Agency scooping up all of your metadata pertaining to all of the phone calls you've been making with Verizon, because here comes the next fun news about the government's far-reaching panopticon of total information surveillance, courtesy of Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras of The Washington Post:

    The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.

Elections Canada letters put Speaker in hot seat

Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer is in the hot seat over his decision to withhold letters sent to him two weeks ago about two Conservative MPs who have run afoul of Elections Canada.

In a letter dated May 23, Canada's chief electoral officer wrote to the Speaker to inform him of "the failure of the Member of Parliament for Selkirk-Interlake, Mr. James Bezan, to provide corrections to his electoral campaign returns."

Why Harper's secret million dollar fund is a matter of real concern

Here are a few facts.

The Prime Minister's Chief of Staff is part of what is known as 'exempt staff,' that is, he or she can be hired outside the normal civil service process.

However, that same Chief of Staff is employed by -- and paid by -- the Government of Canada, not by a political party.

The Prime Minister is, at one and the same time, leader of a political party -- currently the Conservative Party -- and chief executive of the Canadian government.

Saskatchewan Senator Pamela Wallin filing lists Toronto home

Senator Pamela Wallin is listed as a resident of Toronto — and not Saskatchewan, the province she represents in the Senate — according to the corporate filings of a Bay Street investment firm.

Wallin, a former Conservative now sitting as an Independent, was named to the board of directors of Gluskin Sheff and Associates in 2006, when it first sold shares to the public. She sat on the board for seven years, earning more than $450,000 in directors' fees and stock payments.

Toronto should not return to Miller-ville

It might come as a surprise to some Torontonians that many of us who voted for Rob Ford in 2010 did not do so because we were impressed with his PR prowess. We voted for him because we feared a vote for George Smitherman would mean a continuation of life in Miller-ville.

The received wisdom about Mayor Ford is that those who voted for him are all angry, car-worshipping, Tim Hortons-frequenting suburbanites who see those who live in Toronto as “them” and who believe that “them” are out to get their guy. Another assertion is that regardless of the election, they reflexively vote conservative.

Harper government not co-operating with spending analysis, budget officer says

OTTAWA — The federal Conservative government continues to stonewall the Parliamentary Budget Office in its quest to obtain information on the impacts on federal programs and services of the $5.2 billion in spending cuts announced in the 2012 budget.

The same day the Harper government faced accusations from a departing Conservative caucus member that it lacks accountability and transparency, the PBO said it still can’t obtain data from most government departments on the long-term impacts of deep budget cuts.

MP’s resignation lands Stephen Harper face-to-face with his own lost ideals

OTTAWA – Of such moments, revolutions are made. Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber’s resignation from the Conservative caucus, which dropped inside the Ottawa bubble like a little concussion grenade late Wednesday, represents more than the loss of a single MP among the 164 Tories in the Commons. It is a dagger straight to the heart of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Unless he responds dramatically, effectively and soon, the betting on his stepping aside before the 2015 election goes from even to odds-on. It also becomes not only possible, but likely, that the caucus will suffer further defections. Such is Rathgeber’s standing among his colleagues, and such is the degree of unhappiness on the Conservative backbenches, that pressure will now mount for others to bolt.

Former Tory Brent Rathgeber blasts ‘unelected’ PMO staff for restricting MPs’ freedom of speech

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Newly Independent member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber used his autonomy Thursday to take aim at a what he described as a domineering Prime Minister’s Office and a government that has “morphed into what we once mocked.”

One day after leaving the federal Conservative caucus — and as controversy continued to surround the Conservative Party of Canada — the two-term Edmonton-area MP rejected any proposal that he should leave his seat to force a byelection.

Commons Speaker tells opposition to look online for letters he received from Elections Canada

OTTAWA — House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer is refusing to table two letters he received from Elections Canada about the eligibility of two Conservative MPs to sit in the House and told one Liberal MP to look on the Internet if he wanted to see the documents.

Scheer received the letters from Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand on May 23 and 24. They advised that Manitoba Conservatives Shelly Glover and James Bezan could no longer sit or vote in the House of Commons because they failed to file proper campaign returns for the 2011 election.

Canadian army turns to British composer for new official march

OTTAWA — Old business cards weren’t the only things thrown out when the federal government returned the Canadian Army’s old name recently. Song sheets weren’t far behind.

The Canadian Army adopted a new official march, entitled The Great Little Army, that it feels not only better reflects the land force’s size and character, but is more catchy to boot.

Prime minister’s political fund not used for Duffy payment, Conservatives say

OTTAWA — The Prime Minister’s Office and the Conservative party say a secretive fund operated out of the PMO to pay for political party costs was not used to cover Nigel Wright’s $90,000 secret payment to Mike Duffy for improper Senate expenses.

Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff who resigned over the Senate controversy, was in control of the secret fund — which is paid by the Conservative party and at times has reached almost $1 million — when he cut a $90,000 cheque to Duffy to help pay for the latter’s improper Senate living expense claims, CBC News reported Thursday.

Rob Ford is back where he started -- It’s him against the world again

For the lone wolf mayor, the crisis enveloping his administration over allegations he was caught on video smoking crack, and the mass exodus of staff that followed, has served to clarify matters. There’s no more comfortable place to be for a guy who sees the world in black and white terms and is notorious for playing the victim.

As the bedlam reached a climax last week, there was no hint of hesitation in Ford’s voice when he declared that he’ll run again in 2014. And that his will be the first name on the ballot, in case you wanted to know.

Pay attention to the normal

We’ve got to be thankful at this point that we don’t have a U.S.-style strong mayor system – or we’d be in really deep trouble right about now.

As it is, because the powers of the chief magistrate are limited, the current crisis is confined to Rob Ford’s own office, and the main consequences are his rapidly declining credibility and the embarrassment we’re feeling as the world feasts on the drama.

"A Massive Surveillance State": Glenn Greenwald Exposes Covert NSA Program Collecting Calls, Emails

The National Security Agency has obtained access to the central servers of nine major Internet companies — including Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo! and Facebook. The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed the top-secret program, codenamed PRISM, after they obtained several slides from a 41-page training presentation for senior intelligence analysts. It explains how PRISM allows them to access emails, documents, audio and video chats, photographs, documents and connection logs. "Hundreds of millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions – in fact, billions of people around the world – essentially rely on the Internet exclusively to communicate with one another," Greenwald says. "Very few people use landline phones for much of anything. So when you talk about things like online chat and social media messages and emails, what you’re really talking about is the full extent of human communication." This comes after Greenwald revealed Wednesday in another story that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. "They want to make sure that every single time human beings interact with one another … that they can watch it, and they can store it, and they can access it at any time."

Author: --

Fords have nothing to say about alleged drug house

The mayor’s brother says he has no knowledge of the Etobicoke house where Rob Ford was reportedly photographed with murder victim Anthony Smith.

The widely published picture was given to reporters from the Toronto Star and Gawker by a man who claimed represent drug dealers attempting to sell a video of the mayor smoking crack cocaine.

Ezekiel Gilbert Acquitted Of Murdering Woman Who Wouldn't Have Sex

A Texas jury acquitted a man of murder after he argued that he didn't intend to kill an escort whom he offered $150 for sex.

Ezekiel Gilbert, 30, faced life in prison after he shot Craigslist escort Lenora Ivie Frago, 23, in the neck on Christmas Eve 2009. She was paralyzed, and died seven months later from complications, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

A Bexar County jury on Wednesday acquitted him because of a Texas law that allows people to use deadly force to recover property during a nighttime theft.

Mike Fitzpatrick, House GOP Member, Supports Increasing Social Security Payments

While the House GOP and conservative Democrats have been calling for Social Security spending to be reined in, a subset of Republicans has acknowledged a different reality: The old-age program does not now keep up with the costs facing seniors. At least one House Republican is committed to increasing Social Security payments by changing how the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) is calculated, according to a letter sent to a constituent.

Austerity To Cost U.S. Economy 2 Million Jobs By 2019: Study

Austerity isn't just hurting the U.S. economy right now -- the damage is going to last for many years.

A new study by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, estimates that today's austerity measures are going to leave the U.S. economy with 2 million fewer jobs and $433 billion less in economic growth by 2019.

"We are forgoing investments in new technology and in the technical skills and productivity of the U.S. workforce that drives economic growth," CAP economist Adam Hersh wrote in the report. "In other words, as a result of fiscal contraction and the acceptance of a protracted economic recovery, the potential for the U.S. economy to grow is shrinking."

Walmart Activism Is Effecting Change At World's Largest Retailer, Organizers Say

Earlier this year, Janet Sparks was called in to meet her bosses at the Walmart in Baker, La., where she works as a non-salaried supervisor in the customer service department.

Sparks, 53, had approached the managers earlier to complain about the treatment of some of her co-workers. Now, her bosses accused her of “creating a hostile work environment,” Sparks recalled. “They were not going to allow this.”

Phone Spying Program Details To Be Declassified: Intelligence Chief Says Public Must Understand Limits

WASHINGTON — The top U.S. intelligence official denounced the disclosure of highly secret documents Thursday and sought to set the record straight about how the government collects intelligence about people's telephone and Internet use. He said he was declassifying some aspects of the monitoring to help Americans understand it better.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called the disclosure of an Internet surveillance program "reprehensible" and said it risks Americans' security. He said a leak that revealed a program to collect phone records would affect how America's enemies behave and make it harder to understand their intentions.

Will Obama End the Long War on Terror?

Last year, President Obama famously told Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev that he’d have more flexibility on foreign policy after the 2012 election, since he wouldn’t have to face re-election. So, several months in, with his new foreign policy team in place, led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, it’s fair to ask how Obama is doing.

The US Is Locking Up Undocumented Kids With Adults

Over the past few years, record numbers of children, usually from Mexico or Central America and often traveling alone, have crossed illegally into the United States. From October 2011 to October 2012, some 31,000 juveniles (PDF) were apprehended by the Border Patrol. And according to a new report, more and more of them have landed in immigration detention centers—alongside adults.

Silicon Valley's Awful Race and Gender Problem in 3 Mind-Blowing Charts

Catherine Bracy moved to San Francisco from Chicago during the 2012 campaign to run Team Obama's technology field office, a first-of-its-kind project that enlisted Silicon Valley's whiz-kid engineers to build software for the campaign. (That tech savvy, of course, played a pivotal role in Obama's victory.) What struck Bracy about the tech-crazed Bay Area, she recounted Thursday in a talk at the Personal Democracy Forum tech conference, was the jarring inequality visible everywhere in Silicon Valley—between rich and poor, between men and women, between white people and, well, everyone else.

Leader of Anonymous Steubenville Op on Being Raided by the FBI

In April, the FBI quietly raided the home of the hacker known as KYAnonymous in connection with his role in the Steubenville rape case. Today he spoke out for the first time about the raid, his true identity, and his motivations for pursuing the Steubenville rapists, in an extensive interview with Mother Jones.

"The goal of the media interviews is to get the entire nation to say 'fuck you' to these guys," said KYAnonymous, whose real name is Deric Lostutter. He was referring to the federal agents who raided his home in Winchester, Kentucky, and carted off his computers and XBox.

Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook among firms supplying data to NSA, FBI in secret program

WASHINGTON—The U.S. National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

According to the document, the NSA extracts data “directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

Harper, Tories late to act on politicians’ spending

The Harper Conservatives are suddenly like the Keystone Cops, sirens howling, rushing to the scene of an empty bank vault long after the robbers have escaped with the loot.

It’s hardly a late-breaking news flash that there’s trouble in Ottawa with how politicians spend taxpayers’ money when it comes to providing themselves with travel, housing and other expense perks.

It’s a year since auditor general Michael Ferguson first asked the Senate to require better documentation to back up expense claims submitted by senators, after an initial review found there was insufficient detail for many claims.

Foreign service officers walk off job, targeting Harper trip and other travel

OTTAWA - Canada's foreign service officers are targeting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's trip to Europe next week as a part of a bold tactic to rejuvenate stalled contract talks.

The protest started Thursday as about 400 union members walked off the job from the Pearson Building, headquarters for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

They were followed by the walkout of another 100 foreign service officers at a dozen key Canadian missions abroad.

Why stop at the Senate? Liberals want auditor general to investigate prime minister’s office too

OTTAWA – Opposition Liberals in the Senate threw more oil onto the blaze of controversy over government transparency Thursday by announcing they want the auditor general to do a “comprehensive audit” of the Prime Minister’s Office, including any payments made to parliamentarians.

A Liberal notice of motion to this effect came the same day the Senate voted to call in the auditor general to examine its own spending, and less than 24 hours after former Conservative backbencher Brent Rathgeber resigned from the Tory caucus over what he argued was a lack of transparency within the Stephen Harper government.

Backbenchers support Rathgeber’s bill

OTTAWA – At least two Conservative backbenchers say they would have supported Brent Rathgeber’s private member’s bill to expose the salaries of senior federal civil servants in its original form.

And Conservative MP Brad Trost says the Prime Minister’s Office went too far in its treatment of Rathgeber, his good friend.

“They shouldn’t have criticized him as he went. Brent’s been a good member,” said Trost.

Auditing costs for 4 senators at $240K and rising

The cost of auditing four senators to find out if they inappropriately claimed travel and living expenses has reached $240,000, and two of those senators are still being scrutinized, says Senator Percy Downe.

Downe, a Liberal senator from P.E.I., says the final tally isn't in yet, since the Senate has sent back Senator Mike Duffy's expense claims for a second look by the private auditing firm Deloitte. The travel claims of Senator Pamela Wallin are still being examined by Deloitte, and the task may not be finished by the time the Senate rises for the summer.

PM's former chief of staff controlled secret Tory fund Nigel Wright helped create fund 7 years ago By

CBC News has learned that Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had control of a secret fund in the Prime Minister’s Office when he cut the now infamous $90,000 "personal cheque" to disgraced Senator Mike Duffy.

In exclusive interviews, sources familiar with the fund tell CBC the money in it comes from Conservative Party coffers, and at times has reached almost $1 million.

Turkey’s PM sticks to combative stance against protests

ANKARA, TURKEY—Turkey’s prime minister took a combative stance on his closely watched return to the country early Friday, telling supporters who thronged to greet him that the protests that have swept the country must come to an end.

In the first extensive public show of support since anti-government protests erupted last week, more than 10,000 supporters cheered Recep Tayyip Erdogan with rapturous applause outside an Istanbul airport.

MP Brent Rathgeber leaves Conservative fold over lack of accountability

“We have morphed into what we once mocked.”

With those eight well-chosen words, a heretofore largely anonymous 48-year-old backbench Conservative MP named Brent Rathgeber accomplished many things.

He burst into the national political consciousness by, for all intents and purposes, leaving it.

Toronto G20 police assault trial: Adam Nobody accused of fomenting unrest

A man who claims police beat him for no reason while arresting him at a Toronto G20 protest came prepared to make a Molotov cocktail and throw rocks, a lawyer suggested Thursday at the trial of Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani.

Defence lawyer Harry Black suggested Adam Nobody wore gloves to the June 2010 demonstration at Queen’s Park despite the hot, muggy weather so he could toss stones at police or make mischief with bio-hazardous materials.

“No,” responded Nobody.

You can't rewrite history — or delete it

Our two aborted gas-fired power plants will never produce a single kilowatt of power, but they still generate electrical shocks that jolt the governing Liberals.

Unplugging those two gas plants has proved financially costly.

Erasing the email trail has proved even more politically costly.

Sensitive messages were illegally deleted by Liberal staffers. And in the politics of power, the coverup is worse than the cancellation.

Rally and vigil in Paris after far right killing of 19-year-old student Clément Méric

A large crowd gathered for a vigil and rally Thursday evening in Paris to respond to the brutal murder of 19-year-old Clément Méric, a student and left-wing, anti-fascist activist.

Méric was beaten by a group of far right skinheads, and pronounced dead Thursday afternoon. French authorities have arrested four young men in connection with the killing.

NSA Whistleblowers: Spying Operation Has Been In Place For Years, Involves All Major U.S. Phone Companies

NEW YORK — Former employees of the National Security Agency say the publishing of a court order asking Verizon to hand over all its phone calling records for a three-month period opens a new window on an operation that has been in place for years and involves all major U.S. phone companies.