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.]

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

Protecting the right to water means banning fracking

The government has conceded the human right to water exists, but thats not enough.

Alarm bells continue to sound in the media about fracking -- from heated debates about its safety in Illinois, New York, and California to even the threat it poses to German beer.

Fracking is a process used to extract natural gas or oil trapped in shale rock and coal beds. Despite industry assurances, communities are increasingly reluctant to believe that the use of millions of litres of water, thousands of litres of chemicals, and thousands of kilograms of sand to blast apart rock formations will not have significant impacts on water, the climate, and public health.

Someone Got Attacked by a 'Pipe-Wielding Thug' Over the Rob Ford Video

The video had disappeared. The scandal was fading from the headlines. It seemed that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, he of the alleged crack video, had deflected a haymaker...

And then, like some deranged Clue scenario come to life, came the news that a "pipe-wielding thug" in search of the video had sent one of Ford's high school classmates and smoking buddies to the hospital.

At a Packed Meeting, Kensington Market Says “No” to Walmart

There’s no doubt the City was expecting a fight at Thursday’s community consultation on a developer’s plan to build a three-storey shopping centre near Kensington Market’s western border. Even so, the size of the crowd was beyond anyone’s expectations. Inside the College Street United Church, people spilled out around the pews, into the lobby, and out onto the patio.

Tech Companies Concede to Surveillance Program

SAN FRANCISCO — When government officials came to Silicon Valley to demand easier ways for the world’s largest Internet companies to turn over user data as part of a secret surveillance program, the companies bristled. In the end, though, many cooperated at least a bit.

 Twitter declined to make it easier for the government. But other companies were more compliant, according to people briefed on the negotiations. They opened discussions with national security officials about developing technical methods to more efficiently and securely share the personal data of foreign users in response to lawful government requests. And in some cases, they changed their computer systems to do so.

Prism: ministers challenged over GCHQ's access to covert US operation

Ministers are under mounting pressure to explain whether they authorised GCHQ to gather intelligence on Britons from the world's biggest internet companies via a covertly run operation set up by America's top spy agency.

MPs, academics and campaign groups rounded on the government after the Guardian disclosed that GCHQ, the UK's electronic eavesdropping and security headquarters, had been supplied with information from the top secret system.

Benjamin Franklin featured on Canada Post’s 250th anniversary stamp

A landmark stamp to be issued Monday by Canada Post to commemorate the 250th anniversary of formalized mail delivery in this country will feature a portrait of — huh? — American history icon Benjamin Franklin, the famed inventor, diplomat, philosopher and Founding Father of the United States.

But the Canadian postal tribute to Franklin — plotter of the would-be conquest of Quebec during the Revolutionary War — is not some colossal printing error.

Union fears loss of 500 more jobs at Veterans Affairs

OTTAWA — Veterans Affairs staff are bracing for as many as 500 job cuts.

The third round of cuts in the department is rumoured to be planned for later this month, though the government will not confirm if this is the case.

The government eliminated 278 full-time positions by the beginning of May but still has 506 more to cut, according to the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees.

Is this the end of Enbridge's West Coast pipe dreams? Hold the victory parade

There is cause for cautious celebration in B.C., just over two weeks after an election result that was devastating to progressive and environmentally minded people in British Columbia.

The good news: the B.C. government formally came out against Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline proposal. The B.C. Liberals' Minister of Environment, Terry Lake, announced the official position in conjunction with submitting a formal letter from the province to the Joint Review Panel currently underway.

CBC's secret fund story still stands despite belated Conservative denials

Sometimes strong wording and firm denials don't add up to much.

Take the Conservative Party's official, if belated, reaction to Greg Weston's CBC story about the secret Conservative Party "slush fund" controlled by the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff.

When CBC first contacted Party officials, while preparing the story, the officials did not deny the story. They only said that recourse to such a fund was normal operating procedure, a way of assuring that taxpayers didn't foot the bill for the Prime Minister’s partisan activities.

The Student Loan Debt Crisis in 9 Charts

Got student loans? You are far from alone: More than 38 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt totaling nearly $1 trillion, and those numbers are rising fast. This month, Congress will consider proposals to keep the interest rates on direct federal student loans down. (If it doesn't act by July 1, the rate for one kind of loan will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.) Regardless of what lawmakers do, many students and graduates will still have to take on large amounts of debt to pay for college.

Samantha Power's Climate Silence

Samantha Power, Obama's UN ambassador-in-waiting, frowned modestly as the president heaped lofty praise on her this week when he announced a major national security reshuffle.

"One of our foremost thinkers on foreign policy, she showed us that the international community has a moral responsibility and a profound interest in resolving conflicts and defending human dignity," he said. "I think she won the Pulitzer Prize at the age of 15 or 16," he joked. (Power won in 2003, in her early 30s, for A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a rationale for American intervention in international atrocities.)

Rehtaeh Parsons Strip-Searched In Hospital, Says Dad

The father of Rehtaeh Parsons, the victim of an alleged sexual assault, says his teenage daughter was strip-searched by two men while she was receiving treatment for suicidal thoughts in 2012.

Parsons took her own life earlier this year when she was 17 years old. Her family alleges she was sexually assaulted by several boys at a party and a photo of the incident was circulated online. Her family said she was bullied for months, and the relentless taunting led to her death.

The problem with ‘tax the rich’

When asked why he robbed banks, notorious gangster Willie Sutton is alleged to have replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

Some of the debaters at the recent Munk Debate on whether we should tax the rich more felt like they were channelling Willie.

By way of context, the Munk Debates are sponsored by Canadian businessman and philanthropist Peter Munk. They bring together global intellectual heavyweights to debate hot topics of world interest.

Canada suspends military operations near disputed Hans Island

OTTAWA – The Canadian army has suspended military operations in the vicinity of a tiny, uninhabited island off the coast of Greenland that has been the source of an ongoing spat between Canada and Denmark, Postmedia News has learned.

According to documents obtained under access to information legislation, the  former chief of the defence staff, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, issued a directive in September 2012 that ordered Canadian Forces’ “operations in the vicinity of Hans Island be minimized with the exception of search and rescue (SAR) or emergency operations.”

Military carrying diplomatic torch as Foreign Affairs struggles to stay above water

OTTAWA — As Canada’s foreign service struggles to keep its head above water amid striking diplomats, shrinking resources and questions of relevance, the Canadian military is stepping into the breach.

Defence officials have been staging high-level meetings with foreign counterparts, spent millions of dollars more on foreign travel and hospitality, and placed a greater emphasis on reaching out to non-traditional allies in recent years.

Scandals in Ottawa, Ontario and Toronto: What are facts worth?

It’s refreshing, really, to see this ravenous appetite for “facts” amid all the scandals roiling through multiple governments in Canada these days.

We appear to be convinced that once all the facts are revealed, the public will know the truth on everything, ranging from senators’ expenses in Ottawa, to gas-plant cancellations in Ontario, to the extra-curricular habits of Toronto’s mayor.

Tory MPs maintain they followed election spending rules

Two Conservative MPs from Manitoba are firing back at accusations from Canada's elections watchdog that they improperly filed expenses from the 2011 election.

Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan and St. Boniface MP Shelly Glover could face fines or lose their House privileges if a court case over those expenses is not resolved in their favour.

Both insisted on Friday their court fight with Elections Canada and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand is an "accounting dispute" over the interpretation of the federal Elections Act.

NDP to argue Conservative MPs Shelly Glover and James Bezan be allowed to sit

The NDP is likely to propose a compromise Monday in the dispute between the Liberals and the Conservatives over whether two Tory MPs should be immediately suspended from sitting in the House of Commons.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand wrote to Speaker Andrew Scheer notifying him that Manitoba Conservatives Shelly Glover and James Bezan have failed to comply with the Elections Act because they have failed to file corrected returns from the 2011 election.

Why a Canadian Mining Executive Is Trapped in Colombia's War

Gernot Wober was a long way from his Canadian home when, on Jan. 18, he was taken captive by Marxist guerrillas in the town of Norosí, Colombia.

The reasons Wober is still being held are deeply entwined in a long-running war between rebels and the Colombian government. It's a five-decade struggle to control the country's northern region, which is called the South of Bolívar. At stake is a bounty of gold -- and who gets to mine it. Multinational mining companies, as one might imagine, are lined up to exploit the resource. But the region is also home to so-called "traditional miners" -- home-grown, low-tech operators who scrape out a living sifting gravel, sand and dirt for the precious ore.

U.K. secretly gathers data from Facebook, Google, Apple via U.S. spy agency

LONDON—The U.K. has been secretly gathering communications data from American Internet giants with the help of fellow spooks at the U.S. National Security Agency, the Guardian newspaper reported Friday, a demonstration of the international scope of America’s top-secret espionage program.

The Guardian said it had seen documents showing how the British signals intelligence agency GCHQ has had access to America’s “PRISM” electronic eavesdropping system since at least June 2010, adding that the data had generated nearly 200 intelligence reports over the past year.

Extraordinarily, Brent Rathgeber simply did what people of principle do

It is tempting to describe the resignation of Brent Rathgeber from the Conservative caucus as an extraordinary event. And in some ways it is: It surely required extraordinary commitment to principle, not to say courage, to walk away from his party as he has. The consequences, in terms of personal friendships as much as career prospects, may be severe.

But in a larger sense, this is simply a return to normal. This is what people of principle do, when they find themselves in a position their conscience cannot abide: They resign. This is what normal politics looks like.

Slush fund provides missing link in Mike Duffy scandal

For weeks, questions have swirled as to why Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s then chief of staff would give $90,000 of his own money to Mike Duffy, a Conservative senator he barely knew.

Now we have a plausible answer. It seems that former chief of staff Nigel Wright also controlled a secret Conservative Party slush fund that at times contained almost $1 million.

Which meant that he was in a position to repay himself for his generosity.

The slush fund ties everything together.

‘Secret’ Conservative PMO fund questioned by opposition

OTTAWA — Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien produced the infamous napkin. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson produced his $912 cheque.

Now the opposition parties are boosting calls for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to produce Nigel Wright’s “personal cheque” to prove no government funds were used to defray Sen. Mike Duffy’s inappropriately claimed expenses.

From 9/11 to Prism: A Nation Gone Dotty

Here’s one of the things I want to know about the government’s electronic-spying programs, which evidently give it the power to find out intimate details about virtually anybody. Who designed the spooky red-and-black logo for the National Security Agency’s Prism program? My colleague Amy Davidson correctly points out that it owes something to Storm Thorgerson’s album cover for Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” a ponderous recording that back in the nineteen-seventies drove me and many others to punk rock. But it’s also reminiscent of the logos featured in the cinematic version of “1984,” featuring John Hurt and Richard Burton, which came out in 1984. In the film, for example, the logo for IngSoc, the all-powerful ruling party of Oceania, the dystopian land of the future, is a red-and-black capital “V.”

Francis Gets Personal: 'I Didn't Want To Be Pope'

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis revealed Friday that he never wanted to be pope and that he's living in the Vatican hotel for his "psychiatric" health.

Francis showed a personal and spontaneous side as he met with thousands of children from Jesuit schools across Italy and Albania. Tossing aside his prepared remarks, Francis surprised the kids by asking them if they'd like to ask him some questions instead.

NSA Surveillance Revelations Reaffirm The Vital Importance Of Leaks

The recent revelations about the National Security Agency's vast powers of surveillance have served to reaffirm, if any such thing was needed, the value of leaks and whistleblowers to both journalism and to democracy.

On Wednesday morning, Americans knew next to nothing about the extent to which their government was collecting data about them. By Friday morning, the country's director of national intelligence had confirmed the existence of a program that, in the words of the Washington Post, involved the NSA "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."

Public Documents Contradict Claim Email Spying Foiled Terror Plot

Defenders of the American government’s online spying program known as “PRISM” claimed Friday that the suddenly controversial secret effort had saved New York City’s subways from a 2009 terrorist plot led by a young Afghan-American, Najibullah Zazi.

But British and American legal documents from 2010 and 2011 contradict that claim, which appears to be the latest in a long line of attempts to defend secret programs by making, at best, misleading claims that they were central to stopping terror plots. While the court documents don’t exclude the possibility that PRISM was somehow employed in the Zazi case, the documents show that old-fashioned police work, not data mining, was the tool that led counterterrorism agents to arrest Zazi. The public documents confirm doubts raised by the blogger Marcy Wheeler and the AP’s Adam Goldman, and call into question a defense of PRISM first floated by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who suggested that PRISM had stopped a key terror plot.

Obama Defends NSA, Says America Has To Make Choices Between Privacy And Security

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama declared Friday that America is "going to have to make some choices" balancing privacy and security, launching a vigorous defense of formerly secret programs that sweep up an estimated 3 billion phone calls a day and amass Internet data from U.S. providers in an attempt to thwart terror attacks.

He warned that it will be harder to detect threats against the U.S. now that the two top-secret tools to target terrorists have been so thoroughly publicized.

At turns defensive and defiant, Obama stood by the spy programs revealed this week.

Government aircraft’s new taxpayer-funded paint job has a decidedly Conservative theme, NDP says

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper was accused of blurring the lines between government money and party money on Friday after the government paid an extra $50,000 to repaint a military airplane red, white and blue.

National Defence also played down suggestions the aircraft could be more at risk because it stands out and is no longer painted its traditional gun-metal grey.

Watch The One Senator Who Voted Against The Patriot Act Warn What Would Happen

After the Guardian revealed that the National Security Agency seized millions of Verizon customers' phone records through a secret court order, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), one of the authors of the legislation that opened the door to this practice, said he was stunned.

"I do not believe the released FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act," Sensenbrenner wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. "How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation as required by the Act?"

Santa Monica College Shooting Leaves Five Dead Including Suspect, Several Others Wounded

Santa Monica College was placed on lockdown Friday after reports that a suspect fired a gun inside a campus building just before noon.

Five people -- including the gunman -- are dead after a shooting rampage that began at a residence and ended on campus. Several people are being treated for their wounds; one was critically wounded, one is in serious but stable condition and three had minor injuries, confirmed Santa Monica Police Sergeant Richard Lewis during an 8:20 p.m. PST press conference.

Job Growth To Get Even More Depressing In The Future: Fed Study

We are at a place where 175,000 new jobs per month is widely considered "good" job growth. According to a new Fed study, it won't be very long before merely adding 35,000 jobs per month is good enough.

In other words, enjoy this lousy labor market, because this might be just about as good as it gets in terms of job growth.

Justice Department Fights Release Of Secret Court Opinion On Law That Underpins PRISM Program

WASHINGTON -- Mere hours after President Barack Obama said Friday morning that he welcomes a debate on the federal government's highly classified surveillance programs, his Department of Justice tried to squash the release of a secret court opinion concerning surveillance law.

A 2011 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling found the U.S. government had unconstitutionally overreached in its use of a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The National Security Agency uses the same section to justify its PRISM online data collection program. But that court opinion must remain secret, the Justice Department says, to avoid being "misleading to the public."

Obama Defends NSA Programs, Says Congress Knew About Surveillance

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Friday forcefully defended revelations that the National Security Agency is collecting phone records and electronic communications, saying that Congress was fully briefed and the programs are limited in scope.

"The programs are secret in the sense that they are classified. They are not secret, in that every member of Congress has been briefed," he said during a speech in San Jose, Calif. "These are programs that have been authored by large bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006."

California's Great Prison Experiment

On February 22, 1998, Pete Gallagher arrived at Building 13 at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, California. It was Gallagher’s thirteenth year behind bars, and he’d already done time in Chino, Folsom, San Quentin and, most recently, the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility outside San Diego. Building 13 was large, open, fluorescent-lit and crammed with double bunks. Inmates were everywhere. It reminded Gallagher of a warehouse or a military barracks. He took one look, then found a corrections officer. “I’m not going to live like this,” he told him. “Take me to the hole.”

Abortion and Magical Thinking

It takes a special kind of willful ignorance to oppose legal abortion these days. In fact,
being disconnected from reality has become the most definitive characteristic of the anti-choice movement. Pregnancy from rape? The body can “shut that whole thing down.” Birth control? Just another kind of abortifacient. Then there are the made-up “post-abortion syndromes” and unsubstantiated links between abortion and breast cancer. But no kind of anti-choice rhetoric is more dangerous than the fantasy that making abortion illegal will not hurt women.

Justice Department Fights Release of Secret Court Opinion Finding Unconstitutional Surveillance

In the midst of revelations that the government has conducted extensive top-secret surveillance operations to collect domestic phone records and internet communications, the Justice Department was due to file a court motion Friday in its effort to keep secret an 86-page court opinion that determined that the government had violated the spirit of federal surveillance laws and engaged in unconstitutional spying.

Tories Were For Floor Crossing Before They Were Against It

This week is the anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's "1984" and it seems the Tories have no problem practicing the art of doublethink.

In the wake of MP Brent Rathgeber's announcement that he had left the Conservative caucus, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications Andrew MacDougall tweeted that the "people of Edmonton-St. Albert elected a Conservative Member of Parliament. Mr. Rathgeber should resign and run in a by-election."

Canada Job Boom? Labour Force Survey's 'Margin Of Error' Calls Its Usefulness Into Question

Mark Twain once said that there are three types of untruths: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Friday’s job report might be some pretty powerful evidence of the truth of that adage.

Canada’s job numbers for May surprised all the experts. The consensus call was for some 10,000 new jobs, but the jobs report beat that by a mile: There were 95,000 jobs created in Canada in May, almost all in full-time, private-sector positions.

Obama Cyber Memo Is Just The Latest Sign That The U.S. Is Preparing For Cyberwar

A top-secret presidential memo published Friday marked the latest sign that the Obama administration is ready to go on the offensive in a potential cyberwar.

On Friday, the Guardian published a secret presidential directive calling on national security and intelligence officials to create a list of potential foreign targets for U.S. cyber attacks. The 18-page document, known as Presidential Policy Directive 20, aims "to put in place tools and a framework to enable government to make decisions" on cyber actions, a senior administration official told the Guardian.

Internet Shrugs Off NSA Data Mining: People 'Numb To The Fact That They're Being Watched'

Judging from talk on social networking sites, few people are terribly surprised -- or too upset -- to discover that the government may have been reading their email.

Reports in The Guardian and The Washington Post that the National Security Agency and FBI tapped into Internet and telephone data may seem like an appalling affront to privacy. At the same time, people have understood for years that Google scans their email to deliver hotel promotions ahead of a vacation they’re set to take, or that Facebook monitors their activity so it can advertise rings to a 20-something planning to propose. News that yet another large organization has been tracking their online activity -- though it’s a government agency, not a private company –- has been greeted with a shrug by many of the very users whose personal data the U.S. has been secretly gathering.

Secret Fund: Conservatives Call CBC Story False

OTTAWA - The Conservative party called Friday for the retraction of a report saying the Prime Minister's Office runs a secret partisan fund.

The party called the report false and says it pays for all of the prime minister's political expenses — and not out of a hidden bank account.

OPP launch criminal probe into deleted gas plant emails

TORONTO -- The Ontario Provincial Police launched a criminal investigation Friday into the destruction of emails about the costly cancellation of two gas plants by senior Liberal staff.

The Criminal Investigation Services will probe Tory complaints about "alleged impropriety" by former top staffers, said OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis.

Rathgeber's riding team sticks with Harper and Tory party

The Conservative riding association in Brent Rathgeber's Edmonton riding says it wasn't consulted before the MP's resignation from the Tory caucus.

A statement issued Friday from the Edmonton-St. Albert Electoral District Association (EDA) for the Conservative Party of Canada expresses "full support for the policies of the Conservative Party of Canada and its full support for the party’s leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper."

Resignation of Stephen Harper no longer a far-fetched notion

With every passing day, the notion that Stephen Harper could pack it in before the next election and let someone else try to keep his fractious party whole enough to hang onto power in two years sound less and less far-fetched.

Only a few months ago speculation that the prime minister would not seek a fourth mandate in 2015 was the stuff that rainy day columns were made of.

Canada threatens U.S. with tariffs over meat-labelling rules

Ottawa is warning it may impose tariffs on everything from orange juice to bread if the United States doesn't change a meat-labelling policy that Canadian beef and pork industries say is costing them more than $1 billion a year.

The federal government has released a long list of agriculture and other products that could be affected by Canada's retaliation in an ongoing dispute over U.S. country-of-origin meat-labelling rules.

Conservative Party denies secret fund run by PMO

The federal Conservative Party is denying the existence of a secret fund in the Prime Minister’s Office controlled exclusively by Stephen Harper’s chief of staff.

The CBC reported Thursday that Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had control of a secret fund when he cut the now infamous $90,000 cheque to disgraced Senator Mike Duffy to repay ineligible Senate expense claims he made.

CBC News stands by the story.

Toronto Union Station waiver rule for journalists criticized

Thanks to the arrest and ticketing of a Star reporter who took pictures of an injured transit officer at Toronto’s Union Station this week, an old rule requiring journalists to get a waiver before shooting on the property has come under scrutiny.

The requirement was swiftly panned by the journalism advocacy group Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, which called it “an unreasonable expectation” for a journalist to obtain a waiver in a breaking news situation.

Northern cod threatened by new fisheries rules

Governments should be informed by the best available data and evidence. There are societal, environmental, and economic ramifications of not doing so.

Despite this, some decision-makers appear to attach little value to scientific advice. Changes to the Fisheries Act in 2012 provide one example. Another was very quietly communicated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) late last week.

Private pilots say Porter’s pushing them out of island airport

A group of private pilots who fly out of Toronto’s island airport have turned to the Federal Court, claiming the local port authority has failed in its oversight role by allowing Porter Airlines to evict them from its hangars.

There are no hangars devoted to general aviation on the island, so many private pilots, flight schools and other businesses who use Toronto’s Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport rent space from the airport’s main tenant, Porter Airlines.

Stephen Harper’s evasive Question Period performances show disdain for transparency

Is it possible that the federal government’s profound and ever-deepening accountability problem comes down to a failure of vocabulary? After all, it must be hard for the Conservatives to be transparent when, apparently, their leader doesn’t know the meaning of the word “clear.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper used the term eight times in Question Period on Wednesday, prefacing almost every response to opposition queries regarding what he knew and when about the Senate finances fiasco with some variation on “I have been perfectly clear …”

He has not.