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, July 23, 2013

First Leaked Pakistani Report on U.S. Drone War Undermines Claims of Low Civilian Toll

A leaked Pakistani government report has bolstered claims that civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes are far higher than the Obama administration has been willing to admit. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released figures from the Pakistani government’s own research into casualties from drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Pakistani report investigates 75 CIA drone strikes and five operations by NATO between 2006 and 2009. It finds that the attacks left at least 746 people dead, including at least 147 civilians, 94 of them children — a conservative count given the omission of key data. The high number of civilian casualties directly contradicts statements made by senior Obama administration officials and top lawmakers. We go London to speak with Chris Woods, a reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s drones investigation team, which won the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism last month.

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America’s Star System

Last year, Bill Clinton earned seventeen million dollars giving speeches, including one before a company in Lagos that paid him seven hundred thousand dollars. Hillary Clinton will be paid two hundred thousand dollars for each speech that she gives to the likes of the American Society of Travel Agents and the National Association of Realtors. David Petraeus, the retired Army general and ex-C.I.A. director, was offered two hundred thousand dollars by the City University of New York to teach one course each semester and to give a couple of public lectures, until a small outcry from faculty and students embarrassed the university into reducing his salary to one dollar. CUNY’s swift retreat suggested that there’s something wrong with public figures commanding and getting spectacular fees for minimal work. But is there?

Director of Public Prosecutions weighing charges against Del Mastro over campaign expenses

OTTAWA — Federal prosecutors are considering laying charges over expenses claimed by Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro’s campaign during the 2008 election.

After a lengthy investigation, the Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté referred the file to the office of Director of Public Prosecutions Brian Saunders earlier this summer.

Côté would refer the case to Saunders only if he believed an offence under the Elections Act had occurred.

NSA North: Why Canadians should be demanding answers about online spying

"We are living in an age of surveillance," concludes Professor Neil Richards, privacy law and civil liberties expert at Washington University. "There's much more watching and much more monitoring, and I think we have a series of important choices to make as a society -- about how much watching we want."

Last month's realisation that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) -- by means of a top-secret program codenamed "PRISM," has been trawling the audio, video, photo, email, and phone records of millions of Americans at home and abroad, serves as a stark reminder to those of us living in supposed "liberal democracies" that we've increasingly allowed state-surveillance mechanisms to become normalised and domesticated in a post 9/11 world.

Canada’s foreign service strike hurting tourism, creating backlogs

Foreign students withdrawing from programs. Tourists cancelling their trips. Foreigners not being able to visit their loved ones here — even in times of family emergencies.

As a strike by foreign service workers drags on, its impact is being felt from coast to coast by the tourism and education sectors, as well as by people worldwide who need visas to come to Canada.

Despite an offer issued last week by the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers for a binding arbitration, Treasury Board President Tony Clement has not budged to the union’s demands.

Detroit Goes Bankrupt: Will Unelected Manager Pit City’s Needs Against Rights of Pensioners?

Facing an estimated $18 billion in debt, Detroit has become the largest U.S. municipality to file for bankruptcy. It is a grim milestone in the decline of what was once the country’s fourth largest city. Known as the Motor City and the birthplace of the middle class, Detroit’s auto industry and manufacturing sector have collapsed. A steady decline in population has decimated its tax base, leaving the city with massive cuts to basic services and one of the nation’s highest rates of violent crime. The Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing has set off what could be a prolonged legal battle with thousands of current and former city employees entitled to pensions and medical benefits. Detroit’s unelected Emergency Manager has said that cutting pensions will be vital to restoring basic services that have shrunk with the decline of city revenues over the years. We’re joined by Mark Binelli, author of "Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis."

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Suspension of EI whistleblower sets dangerous precedent, critics say

The suspension of a federal fraud investigator who exposed a Conservative crackdown on EI recipients sets a dangerous precedent for government whistleblowers, critics say.

Sylvie Therrien was suspended without pay in May for leaking documents to the media in February that revealed the government had told investigators to find about $485,000 in EI fraud every year.

Training or work? Unpaid interns want companies to pay up

Unpaid interns agree to work free in exchange for training and job prospects, but a growing number of them say employers aren’t living up to their side of the bargain.

In recent months, former interns in the U.S. have won several high-profile lawsuits for back wages, spurring a growing backlash here in Canada.

Jainna Patel, 24, a math and statistics graduate from McMaster University, filed a federal labour complaint against Bell Mobility after spending five weeks in its Professional Management Program (PMP) in Mississauga.

The Harper government’s new emblem

The new emblem of the Harper government is a two and a half storey hot air balloon floating high in the parliamentary sky over the Ottawa River: Senator Mike Duffy, clutching a briefcase stuffed with cash.

A new name has been added to the government’s enemies list: the balloon’s creator, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

While the government tries desperately to change the channel to Senate reform, the blimp obscures all and will continue to until some real answers are given to the country. So far, there has only been strategic posturing.

Canada's High House Prices Held Up By Phony Appraisals -- Taxpayers On Hook, Report Says

The “securitization” of mortgages that many economists blame for the housing collapse and subsequent financial crisis in the U.S. is now a runaway problem in Canada, says a new study that also casts doubt on whether Canadians can trust the house price information they are seeing.

The study from Canso Investment Counsel, a corporate bond management firm, says mortgage securitization — bundling mortgages together and selling them to investors — has spiralled out of control in Canada in recent years.

Canada Conservation: Boreal Forests Need Dramatic Attention, According To Report

A group of top international scientists says Canada needs to dramatically up its conservation game to ensure its vast northern forests remain healthy in the face of increasing industrial pressure.

In a paper to be presented today at the International Congress of Conservation Biology in Baltimore, Md., its authors argue that Canada needs to preserve about half of its boreal forest. That's significantly more than the 10 per cent level researchers previously thought was necessary to conserve natural systems.

Sonia L'Heureux, New PBO, Says Tory Government Not Sharing Information

OTTAWA - Canada's interim parliamentary budget officer is having the same problems as the old one: being snubbed by the government.

Sonia L'Heureux said Monday that some federal departments have failed to meet two deadlines for information so she could analyse the 2012 federal budget.

Canada's Job Creation Record Falls Behind Majority Of Developed Countries

The Harper government boasted back in 2011 that Canada was the first G7 country to recover all the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

But a new analysis of OECD data finds that Canada has fallen behind a majority of developed countries when it comes to job creation since the recession, and when adjusted for population growth, the country has fewer jobs today than it did before the downturn.

Canada’s employment rate — the percentage of the population that has a job — fell sharply in 2008-2009 and has recovered only a fraction of that loss, says a new analysis from Canadian Auto Workers economist Jim Stanford.

The MSM and the Snowden Affair: Where True Loyalty Lies

Every so often, a single event so galvanizes members of the mainstream media that they end up revealing things about themselves that tend to be obscured by their typical, surface-level coverage. The Glenn Greenwald/Edward Snowden NSA bombshell is one such story. Among its important contributions, it demonstrates just how deeply the most prominent members of the MSM identify with the powerful officials they profess to hold accountable, rather than the public they are supposed to inform.

Ed Miliband to put Labour union reforms to vote at special conference

Ed Miliband is to gamble his leadership and authority by putting his sweeping reforms of the link between the unions and the Labour party to a special party conference next spring at which the unions hold 50% of the vote.

Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, will be heavily involved in a campaign across the party to gather support for the reforms that Miliband insists will be implemented by the time of the next election.

Dust Bowl Blues

Ed Moore’s ranch sits on the flatlands of the Texas panhandle, east of Lubbock, just outside the tiny town of Ralls. On a clear day, you can see for miles in any direction. Most days, however, the dust blows—and when it does, the sky becomes a dull orange haze and the scene becomes impressionistic. The high gray towers of grain elevators dot the landscape. Cattle graze in silhouette. Farmers ride through the gloom on tractors with vast “sand fighters” that gather the earth into big clods so the soil won’t blow away. It’s daytime, yet it’s dark—not as black as it gets during the worst of the dust storms, like those that tore through southeastern Colorado in the spring and the ones that swept across Phoenix a few years ago, and maybe not as bleak as the land-destroying Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, but nevertheless eerily subdued. Something clearly isn’t right.

Cities Really Are Too Big to Fail

Does anyone seriously doubt that, if Detroit were a “too big to fail” bank, it would have been bailed out long ago? Or that its pensioners, rather than facing the threat of cruel cuts as part of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s scheme to steer the city into brutal bankruptcy proceedings, would instead have pocketed hefty bonuses?

To ask the question is to answer it.

If the 2008 bailout of the biggest players in the financial sector—and policy-making over the ensuing years—tells us anything, it is that Congress and the Federal Reserve take care of Wall Street.

Sequestration's Biggest Victim: The Public Defender System

It's roughly 164 miles from Lubbock, Texas to Abilene; not the furthest drive you can do in the Lone Star State but still a bit of a haul. On a good day, you can make the trip in about three hours, which is what Helen Liggett discovered in April when she had to visit a client in the Taylor County Jail.

Liggett is an assistant federal public defender for the Northern District of Texas, based in Lubbock. Her client Leroy Gream had been caught on camera loading an ATM onto a cart and attempting to steal it from Hendrick Memorial Hospital in Abilene on Christmas Day of last year. Gream, 55, pleaded guilty to bank theft, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But like most people who try to steal an ATM, he didn't have the money to pay for his defense. Liggett was assigned to his case.

Perceived Threats

For some years, the N.R.A.’s approach to gun-rights advocacy has amounted to a variant of the old Maoist dictum, to the effect that democracy flows from the barrel of a gun. In March, the group provided a novel twist on the theme of sidearm liberty when it débuted an ad featuring Colion Noir, a young African-American in a low-slung baseball cap, who offered a series of one-liners to explain why he supports gun rights. First among his arguments is the idea that it is absurd for African-Americans to oppose gun access, given the history of racial violence that characterized segregation. Around the time the ad was released, the N.R.A.’s president, David Keene, told an interviewer that African-Americans should recognize that gun-control policy dates back to the attempts to disarm blacks after the Civil War. There’s a neat logic to the N.R.A.’s marketing push: the gun is an essential implement of democracy, so gun rights should appeal to people whose history has been defined by the struggle to achieve civil rights.