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, July 26, 2013

Thousands speak out to shape our digital future

What does your digital future look like? Thousands of citizens are speaking out right now to shape the future of our Internet. They’re taking action to help prevent radical new Internet censorship proposals that could drastically restrict how we share and collaborate online.

The extreme proposals are contained within the highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- a deal currently being cooked up behind closed doors by old industry lobbyists and bureaucrats.

Surveillance Poll Finds Americans Worried About Government Intrusion On Civil Liberties

More Americans now worry more about anti-terrorism policies encroaching on civil liberties than not going far enough to protect the country, according to a new Pew Research Center poll that also shows many Americans believe the government is collecting far more private communications data than it has acknowledged.

By a 47 percent to 35 percent margin, most respondents to the poll said that their bigger concern about United States anti-terrorism policies is that they go too far in restricting civil liberties, rather than not going far enough to protect the country. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday likewise found that, by a 56 percent to 36 percent margin, more Americans are worried about government surveillance efforts going too far in invading the privacy of Americans rather than not going far enough in monitoring potential terrorists.

Obama Promises, Including Whistleblower Protections, Disappear From Website

Amid the Obama administration's crackdown against whistleblowers,, the 2008 website of the Obama transition team laying out the candidate's promises, has disappeared from the internet.

The Sunlight Foundation notes that it last could be viewed on June 8, which was two days after the first revelations from Edward Snowden (who had then not yet revealed himself) about the NSA's phone surveillance program. One of the promises Obama made on the website was on "whistleblower protections:"

One refugee's fight for justice: The case of Muhammed Sillah

Muhammed, a refugee from Gambia, was arrested and detained on May 29 after having his request for asylum in Canada denied. He has since been detained at Immigration Holding Centre Rexdale, located in Etobicoke. An outspoken advocate of justice for the Gambian people, Muhammed has become an enemy of the repressive regime currently ruling Gambia under President Yahya Jammeh, and fears for his life if forced to return.

While in detention he has endured racist abuse, inadequate medical treatment for his heart murmur, and his wife Sarah has been barred from visiting him. Originally slated for deportation on June 11, 2013, the Federal Court granted Muhammed a stay, although he remains in detention, isolated from his family. Given the constraints placed unto him, Muhammed and I spoke over the phone from the Immigration Holding Centre.

Sequestration Will Prevent Creation Of Up To 1.6 Million Jobs In Next Year, CBO Concludes

WASHINGTON -- As many as 1.6 million new jobs could be added to the U.S. economy if Congress simply canceled the budget cuts implemented due to sequestration from Aug. 1, 2013, to the end of September 2014, a new non-partisan study has concluded.

The study, which was compiled by the Congressional Budget Office at the behest of House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), looked at the practical impacts of repealing sequestration from now through the end of fiscal year 2014.

Supreme Court's Gutting of Voting Rights Act Unleashes GOP Feeding Frenzy

When the Supreme Court recently gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, it did so under the theory that there was little evidence of continuing racial discrimination in the states that were required to get preclearance before changing their voting laws. Congress had rather pointedly disagreed when it renewed the VRA in 2006, but no matter. The Supreme Court knew better.

Most Canadians against transporting dangerous goods by rail through cities, towns: Forum Research poll

The majority of Canadians are against transporting dangerous goods by rail through populated areas and would prefer to see oil transported across the country by pipeline, according to a new poll conducted by Forum Research in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic, Que. derailment disaster on July 6.

It revealed that 62 per cent of Canadians said they believe rail companies should not be allowed to transport dangerous cargo through populated areas. Older and lower-income Canadians said they were most likely to be against transporting hazardous materials by train through towns and cities, at 71 per cent and 73 per cent against, respectively.

Inside Groundswell: Read the Memos of the New Right-Wing Strategy Group Planning a "30 Front War"

Believing they are losing the messaging war with progressives, a group of prominent conservatives in Washington—including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and journalists from Breitbart News and the Washington Examiner—has been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for "a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation," according to documents obtained by Mother Jones.

Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell—including aides to congressional Republicans—cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and "clueless" GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks. (For more on Groundswell's "two front war" against Rove—a major clash on the right—click here.)

Roberts’s Picks Reshaping Secret Surveillance Court

WASHINGTON — The recent leaks about government spying programs have focused attention on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and its role in deciding how intrusive the  government can be in the name of national security. Less mentioned has been the person who has been quietly reshaping the secret court: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

In making assignments to the court, Chief Justice Roberts, more than his predecessors, has chosen judges with conservative and executive branch backgrounds that critics say make the court more likely to defer to government arguments that domestic spying programs are necessary.

Ten of the court’s 11 judges — all assigned by Chief Justice Roberts — were appointed to the bench by Republican presidents; six once worked for the federal government. Since the chief justice began making assignments in 2005, 86 percent of his choices have been Republican appointees, and 50 percent have been former executive branch officials.

Surely The Obama Administration Is Joking About This 'Have Larry Summers Run The Federal Reserve' Thing!

Way way back at the end of this period of time that we like to call "the 1990s," Time magazine featured Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers on its cover and called them "The Committee To Save The World." And that was basically the moment that put the American economy on the Darkest Timeline. Somewhere, out there, there is a parallel universe where Brooksley Born, Sheila Bair, and ... I don't know, let's say a bottle of sriracha were appointed to the same committee, and there, the economy is humming and Elizabeth Warren didn't even need to run for Senate.

IRS Pursuing Crackdown On 'Stateless Income' Tax Loophole: Official

WASHINGTON, July 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is pursuing tax enforcement cases against companies over the issue of "stateless income," a senior agency official said on Wednesday in a reference to corporate profits that are not taxed by any country.

Erik Corwin, an IRS deputy chief counsel, said there were international tax disputes with companies, "most involving consequences of complex restructurings designed either to create stateless income or to affect a tax efficient repatriation."

EI whistleblower Sylvie Therrien deserves protection

Sylvie Therrien became a whistleblower to protect financially struggling Canadians. As a result, she became one of them. That makes her doubly vulnerable to a government with a history of protecting neither.

Therrien, a federal fraud investigator, leaked documents in February that showed the Harper government had instructed investigators to identify $485,000 in EI fraud per year. Those targets were just one element of a plan to save money by cutting benefits wherever possible, Therrien told the Star this week. “My values just wouldn’t allow me to do that,” she said. “It was so unfair. These people are like everyone else. They have children, and we send them to the streets.”

Honour the apology, Canada. It's the very least you can do

Anishinaabe culture, like many other Indigenous cultures, holds children in the highest regard. We recognize that children see and experience the world differently than adults and we honour these experiences. We cherish children because they are gifts from the spirit world, and many of us believe that children carry important teachings for adults, if adults are paying attention.

Because of these beliefs, Anishinaabeg traditionally parented children in a way that honoured them as full human beings. Children had a large degree of self-determination and learned to navigate the consequences and responsibilities of that freedom. They saw adults in their extended family modelling leadership -- listening, being humble, and bringing people together. They were raised gently -- grounded in their language, culture, the land, and the stories that tie them to those things. They were encouraged to find their passion, to learn how to be a responsible and giving member of their community, and to live gently on their first mother, the earth.

New study on Arctic methane is more evidence of looming climate catastrophe

Warning that a dramatic "burp" or "pulse" of methane from beneath the fragile permafrost of the Arctic caused by continued global warming would set off a "climate catastrophe," a new study says that the continued melting is also an economic "time bomb" that could cost the global economy $60 trillion.

Billions upon billions of tons of methane remain stored in the permafrost throughout the Arctic regions, but specific concern has been placed on the enormous reserves that sit locked beneath the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Scientists have repeatedly warned that if these deposits -- many frozen in the form of methane hydrates -- were released, they would trigger massive feedback loops and dramatically increase the rate of global warming.

Native activist Ron Plain fined $16,000 over CN blockade

SARNIA, ONT.—A judge has ordered a native activist to pay more than $16,000 to CN Rail for a 13-day blockade created as part of the Idle No More movement.

Ron Plain, 51, spokesperson for the blockade in Sarnia in December and January, was ordered by Justice Bruce G. Thomas of Ontario Superior Court to pay the money because he defied an injunction to stop blocking the line.

The route serves industries in the local “Chemical Valley” complex of oil refineries and chemical plants.

Should Detroit Sell Its Art?

The fiscal apocalypse that is Detroit has spun off a collateral storm in the art world with a suggestion that salvific funds—an estimate of two billion dollars is much bandied—could be raised by selling treasures of the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of America’s best encyclopedic museums. Having been asked my opinion as an art-lover—and, incidentally, a citizen, though not of Detroit—I have two answers. Here’s the short one: sell. The long one, which follows, ends in the same place, only garlanded with regrets.

Obama's Student Loan Profit Guaranteed As Senate Approves Deal

The U.S. government is forecast to generate $185 billion in profit over the next decade from students and their families under an overhaul of the federal student loan program endorsed by the White House and approved by the Senate on Wednesday.

The profit figure, if annually averaged through 2023, would place the U.S. student loan program among the 20 most profitable public companies in the world, according to Fortune magazine’s annual list of the world’s 500 biggest companies. The bipartisan Senate bill would increase the government’s profit off student borrowers by more than $700 million compared with existing law, the Congressional Budget Office said.

Louie Gohmert Compares Civil Rights Of Minority Groups To Snail Darters

Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) compared the civil liberties of minority groups to snail darters and prairie chickens at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

The hearing was convened to discuss the Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act, a House bill that, according to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), "could be used to prevent federal regulatory actions from being implemented."

Larry Summers Fed Nomination Would Bypass 'Steady' And 'Right' Janet Yellen

WASHINGTON -- Leading Democrats are struggling with the idea that President Barack Obama may actually nominate economist Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve. If he does, he'd pass over Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, who saw the warning signs of the 2008 financial collapse, for Summers, whose deregulatory advocacy as treasury secretary contributed to it.

Persnickety property bylaws are making bad neighbours out of good fences

Here are a few pretty good signs that a law is bad: when simply enforcing it as it is written is deemed an injustice; when a citizen requesting the law be enforced is deemed “vexatious”; and when the process of defending yourself against prosecution for breaking the law is considered “unreasonable.” City council has such a law—or set of laws—on its hands right now, and we can only hope they take the opportunity to get rid of them.

I’m talking about the Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) department’s bylaws regarding property standards as they apply to regular homeowners (not landlords or business properties open to the public, which are a bit of a different matter). Some of these property standards regulate public safety, which seems entirely reasonable. But there are also a whole bunch of others that essentially enforce aesthetics: If you have a sign on your property, it must be legible and the paint shall not be peeling; if you have a backyard fence, it shall be no higher than six-foot-six (and must not be made of certain materials). Your house painting must conform, too: If there’s graffiti on your property, you must pay to have it removed, even if you put it there yourself. Your grass must be trimmed and your hedge pruned, and you mustn’t allow weeds to grow.

On the Rolling Stone cover controversy: Why are we uncomfortable with Jahar's world?

I am probably an exception, but seeing Dzhokhar (Jahar) Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine does not outrage me. I'm not a regular reader, but the heated debate around the publication of a profile on "The Bomber" caught my interest.

Once I read the feature accompanying the hazy, stylized cover photo -- reminiscent of young rock star (eliciting strong reactions) on the brink of stardom -- I was convinced it was an important story to tell. This was accompanied by the familiar sinking feeling that I need to retract anything that could be misinterpreted as "terrorist sympathy."

Student Debt Canada: Post-Grads Delay Adult Life, Struggle With Payments, TD Says

The pursuit of higher knowledge may be noble, but it is also sinking Canadian post-graduate students in debt and delaying major life milestones, suggests a new poll.

Research from TD Canada Trust released Wednesday suggests 30 per cent of post-grad students — those who pursue Master’s degrees, PhDs or other degrees after their undergraduate years — accumulate more debt than they had expected. About 40 per cent said they find it difficult to meet minimum repayments on student loans in their first two years after graduating.

No More Second Chances for Larry Summers

Among his other outstanding attributes, Lawrence Summers is perhaps most distinguished by his mendacity. I have encountered this up close over the years in interviews. He bristles and turns nasty when his assertions are challenged. I am not naïve about untruth in politics—I know it well—but Summers takes it to extremes. Three years ago, he made an appearance on the PBS NewHour that blew out my tolerance. I posted an exasperated blog titled “Professor Pants-on-Fire.”

What the N.S.A. Wants in Brazil

One of the more curious revelations from Edward Snowden’s trove of secret N.S.A. documents was a recent report that United States spy agencies have been vacuuming up communications in Brazil. Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Brazil, broke this story in O Globo, one of that country’s major newspapers, on July 6th. Greenwald, in an follow-up piece in the Guardian, pointed to a rough Google translation of his original July 6th report:

    In the last decade, people residing or in transit in Brazil, as well as companies operating in the country, have become targets of espionage National Security Agency of the United States (National Security Agency - NSA, its acronym in English). There are no precise figures, but last January Brazil was just behind the United States, which had 2.3 billion phone calls and messages spied.…

House Votes To Continue Endless War Authorized In 2001 AUMF

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives blocked an attempt Wednesday to end funding under the 2001 law that granted the White House authority to fight what has turned into an endless war.

Soon after the 9/11 attacks, Congress overwhelmingly passed the two-page Authorization to Use Military Force, specifying that the president can "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

Egypt's al-Sisi Drags the Country Closer to Civil War

The address which was delivered by the Egyptian minister of defense, Lt. General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, on the July 24 was, in effect, an official declaration of a civil war, an additional proof that the military coup against the elected Egyptian president was an act which was extremely miscalculated and poorly handled. Sisi, by his speech, put aside the civilian government facade he appointed and wanted to use as fig leaf, has exposed himself as the new pharaoh of Egypt.

Three weeks after the toppling of Morsi, with its attendant arbitrary detentions, intimidation, and smear campaigns against his supporters, it is now apparent that the political crisis in the country is further away from a solution. The military senses that the supporters of the deposed president have begun to win the battle. They were surprised, as well as the so-called liberal forces (which support the coup), that the masses, which rallied in the squares of Cairo and cross Egyptian cities throughout the period, were much larger than they expected.

Justin Amash Amendment To Stop NSA Data Collection Voted Down In House

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives on Wednesday evening narrowly defeated an amendment from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) meant to halt the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone record data.

"We're here today for a very simple reason: to defend the Fourth Amendment, to defend the privacy of each and every American," Amash said as he introduced his measure. Lawmakers' votes, he said, would answer one simple question, "Do we oppose the suspicionless collection of every American's phone records?"

Walmart proposal near Kensington Market ‘not over’

The process for deciding if big-box behemoth Walmart can open beside Kensington Market “is not over,” says the developer that proposes to feature the discount retailer in a new Bathurst St. complex.

Ed Sonshine, chief executive of RioCan, the country’s largest real estate investment trust, declined to discuss in detail his reaction to city council passing a one-year freeze on new retail on that stretch of Bathurst.

“We will have plenty to say about it as it unfolds,” Sonshine said in a voicemail. “I don’t think the process is finished, that’s for sure. But I’ll let the politicians speak publicly for now.”

Canada Job Grant: Harper Government To Move Forward With Plan Slammed By Provinces

OTTAWA - An internal document suggests Ottawa is preparing to push ahead with key features of its controversial skills-training initiative, despite provincial opposition and calls for flexibility.

The nine-page federal document — entitled "An Offer to Provinces and Territories to Transform and Renew the Labour Market Agreements, and Implement the Canada Job Grant" — was sent to at least one province recently. It appears to retain all the elements of the proposal set out in the March budget.

Historic ruling means Canadian mining company to be tried on home soil for abuses abroad

TORONTO – A ruling made on Monday by Supreme Court of Ontario Justice Carole Brown means that a legal case brought by 13 Mayan Q'eqchi' against Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals can now proceed to trial in an Ontario courtroom. The ruling is the first of its kind in Canada and will send shockwaves through Canada's mining industry, as Hudbay will now have to respond to charges of murder and rape in Guatemala on home soil.

"We are suing a Canadian company for negligent management essentially," Cory Wanless, co-counsel for the plaintiffs with Klippensteins law firm, explained in an interview. He said of the hearing in early March that led to this decision, "We were arguing that the Canadian company in its head office in Ontario, was the one that set policy regarding community relations, set security policy and determined how they would interact with local peoples and we say they did that negligently and should be held responsible when things go wrong."