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, September 06, 2013

"Undermining the Very Fabric of the Internet": Bruce Schneier on NSA’s Secret Online Spying

In an effort to undermine cryptographic systems worldwide, the National Security Agency has manipulated global encryption standards, utilized supercomputers to crack encrypted communications, and has persuaded — sometimes coerced — Internet service providers to give it access to protected data. Is there any way to confidentially communicate online? We speak with security technologist and encryption specialist Bruce Schneier, who is a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He has been working with The Guardian on its recent NSA stories and has read hundreds of top-secret NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden. "I have resisted saying this up to now, and I am saddened to say it, but the U.S. has proved to be an unethical steward of the internet. The U.K. is no better. The NSA’s actions are legitimizing the internet abuses by China, Russia, Iran and others," wrote Schneier on Thursday.

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The End of Internet Privacy? Glenn Greenwald on Secret NSA Program to Crack Online Encryption

A new exposé based on the leaks of Edward Snowden has revealed the National Security Agency has developed methods to crack online encryption used to protect emails, banking and medical records. "Encryption is really the system that lets the Internet function as an important commercial instrument all around the world," says Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, which collaborated with The New York Times and ProPublica on the reporting. "It’s what lets you enter your credit card number, check your banking records, buy and sell things online, get your medical tests online, engage in private communications. It’s what protects the sanctity of the Internet." Documents leaked by Snowden reveal the NSA spends $250 million a year on a program which, among other goals, works with technology companies to "covertly influence" their product designs. "The entire system is now being compromised by the NSA and their British counterpart, the GCHQ," Greenwald says. "Systematic efforts to ensure that there is no form of human commerce, human electronic communication, that is ever invulnerable to their prying eyes."

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Forget the Senate — it’s time for Parliament to get serious

Ottawa is going to be a busy and interesting place over the next few months. As the leaves turn colour in the Gatineau Hills, there will be a speech from the throne and an Economic and Fiscal Update. When the snow comes and the canal freezes over, we’ll have a budget.

Besides the weather, our political leaders are going to face a number of challenges — some political, some economic and fiscal, some institutional. The seeds of political fortune and misfortune will be planted this fall. The priorities our politicians discuss — and the quality of that debate — will affect the future of this country.

The Tories Have Some Nerve Lecturing The World On Debt

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty went to Russia for the G20 conference this week, and decided that this would be a good time to pressure the world into cutting government spending and implementing austerity measures.

Flaherty announced a goal for his department -- to reduce total federal debt to 25 per cent of GDP by 2021 -- and encouraged his fellow global leaders "to aim in the same direction."

Charts: When College Presidents Are Paid Like CEOs

It's been a tough few years for people working in higher ed: As the recession hit, pay for faculty stagnated, and schools have been struggling with budget cuts and the rising cost of providing education. There's one notable exception to this trend: Pay (and perks) for college presidents is on the rise. There are a lot of possibilities as to why this is happening, and none of them make the world of higher education look very good.

In the past, universities have made the case that incentives—often in the form of exit bonuses, deferred compensation, and loan forgiveness—are necessary to attract top talent, particularly highly skilled, and oftentimes high-profile, administrators. Yet some incentives simply cross the line, says Claire Potter, a professor at the New School who writes frequently about salaries for college administrators. Providing faculty with mortgages for homes is a common practice, she explains, but a few colleges have taken to forgiving those mortgages, essentially turning a loan into a cash payment. "There are two kinds of mortgages in play," Potter says. "One is the type that the university cosigns for you to get faculty in. The other is to give them a mortgage that essentially puts money in people's pockets."

The Startling Size of US Military Operations in Africa

They're involved in Algeria and Angola, Benin and Botswana, Burkina Faso and Burundi, Cameroon and the Cape Verde Islands. And that's just the ABCs of the situation. Skip to the end of the alphabet and the story remains the same: Senegal and the Seychelles, Togo and Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia. From north to south, east to west, the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, the heart of the continent to the islands off its coasts, the US military is at work. Base construction, security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network, all undeniable evidence of expansion—except at US Africa Command.

Bernie Sanders: Billions for 'Another War,' but No Money for Needs at Home

In an age of deep partisan divisions, the broadest opposition to United States military intervention in Syria is not coming from Republicans. Or Democrats.

Independent voters are the most determined foes of President Obama’s proposal to launch missile strikes in response to reports that the Syrian government employed chemical weapons in that country’s brutal civil war. While Republicans and Democrats surveyed for the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll expressed strong opposition to the president’s proposal—by margins of 55-43 and 54-42, respectively—independents were against the plan 66-30.

Breaking My Silence

For the past several years, I have spent virtually all my working hours writing about or speaking about the immorality, cruelty, racism and insanity of our nation’s latest caste system: mass incarceration. Since the publication of my book The New Jim Crow, I have spent countless hours speaking in public forums—from universities, to prisons, to churches, to legal conferences, to community centers and beyond—about the birth of a new system of racial and social control, a penal system that would surely have Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. turning over in his grave. I have written and spoken about little else.

Abu Ghraib Torture Victims Ordered To Pay U.S. Contractor's Legal Fees

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge on Wednesday ordered four Iraqis who were imprisoned at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison to pay nearly $14,000 in legal fees to defense contractor CACI, an Arlington, Va.-based company that supplied interrogators to the U.S. government during the Iraq War.

The decision in favor of CACI stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the former prisoners in 2008, alleging that CACI employees directed the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The suit was dismissed in June, when U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ruled that because the alleged acts took place on foreign soil, CACI was "immune from suit" in U.S. court.

First Nations Won't 'Get Over' Your Ignorance

Since December of 2012 and the rise of Idle No More events, there have been numerous teach-ins throughout the country. Some focused on reconciliation, some provided background to those unfamiliar with the causes of indigenous discontent and others attempted to provide a possible vision for the future.

Unfortunately much work still needs to be done to overcome pervasive and damaging stereotypes. We have witnessed very negative views bubbling up in the media this year, and one might be tempted to shrug this off as a reaction to Idle No More. However, research into media portrayals of indigenous peoples since 1869 confirm that Canadian ignorance of indigenous peoples has not changed much in all that time. Pundits, politicians, journalists and citizens tell us to "get over it", without having even a basic understanding of what "it" is.

Government Attempts To Suppress NSA Reporting Haven't Worked So Well

The decision by the British government to aggressively intervene in the Guardian's surveillance reporting has only led to further exposure of the secrets the UK had sought to protect, as the publication on Thursday of new surveillance revelations in that paper, along with the New York Times and ProPublica, showed.

David Cameron personally ordered his senior civil servant to threaten the Guardian with legal action if it failed to hand over or destroy documents about the British intelligence agency GCHQ. He was also kept abreast of the detention of the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald at Heathrow airport, as was the White House.

Revealed: The NSA’s Secret Campaign to Crack, Undermine Internet Security

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask

The United States and allies are preparing for a possibly imminent series of limited military strikes against Syria, the first direct U.S. intervention in the two-year civil war, in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.

If you found the above sentence kind of confusing, or aren’t exactly sure why Syria is fighting a civil war, or even where Syria is located, then this is the article for you. What’s happening in Syria is really important, but it can also be confusing and difficult to follow even for those of us glued to it.

G20: how global tax reform could transform Africa's fortunes

Global tax reform would seem an unlikely issue to excite and unite the world. Yet as public anger grows over the unconscionable scale of tax avoidance by multinational companies, such reform has become a low-hanging political fruit. Who could challenge the need?

When G20 leaders discuss global tax reform at their summit in St Petersburg this week, they will be building on excellent work, including an Action Plan by the OECD.

Teachers in England to strike over pay and pensions

Teachers in England appear set on a confrontation with the government after announcing two one-day regional strikes next month, with a national walkout planned for later this term.

The two main teaching unions, the NUT and NASUWT, said they would only call off their rolling programme of industrial action if the education secretary, Michael Gove, agreed to meet them to seriously discuss pay and pensions.

Onward Into Syria, Blindly

Four days on and President Obama’s gambit of going to Congress for approval of military action in Syria is working out pretty well for him. Senator John McCain, his opponent in the 2008 campaign, is standing shoulder to shoulder with him. Secretary of State John Kerry is busy making allusions to Munich, and the skeptics in the Pentagon are keeping their doubts to themselves. The pro-bombing side is clearly on top. Ranged against it, an unlikely alliance of Tea Party Republicans, liberal Democrats, and war-weary moderates is making little progress.

Kansas Changes Food Stamp Requirements To Mandate Work

Thousands of Kansans could lose food stamps under a new state policy that congressional Republicans hope to implement nationwide.

Kansas officials indicated that they will reinstate work requirements for food stamp recipients who are able-bodied adults without dependent children. Under the new policy, come October, those aged 18 to 49 will need to work at least 20 hours per week or enroll in a job training program within three months in order to continue to receive benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

10 Ridiculous Perks Given to College Presidents and Celebrity Profs

At a time when college students are struggling to keep up with skyrocketing tuition and debt, faculty pay is stagnant, and low-paid part-timers are replacing tenured profs, extreme financial benefits for academic executives—often in the form of exit bonuses, deferred compensation, and loan forgiveness—are becoming more prevalent at both private and public colleges and universities.

Doctors Demand Alberta Coal-Fired Plants Be Phased Out

EDMONTON - Health groups say the Alberta government should move more quickly to close coal-fired generating plants in response to a study suggesting they are causing respiratory problems.

"The more data that comes out worldwide on coal just strengthens our belief that coal is not just climate villain No. 1, but a huge contributor to human illness and death," Gideon Forman of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment said Wednesday.

Unlike Kevin Page, the new PBO may be less interested in where the bodies are buried

News releases issued on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend tend to contain information the government would prefer went unreported.

And so it was that the Conservatives welcomed the appointment last week of Jean Denis Fréchette as the new parliamentary budget officer to replace Kevin Page.

Why would the government be secretly ashamed about Mr. Fréchette’s appointment? After all, he is an economist and 27 year veteran of the Library of Parliament, the august body that provides MPs and committees with information about upcoming legislation.

Top 10 list: How not to respond to Indigenous experiences of racism in Canada

Earlier this week, Ian Campeau of the band A Tribe Called Red made headlines when he argued that the Nepean Redskins, a youth football league in Ottawa, should change their name because "redskin" is a slur used against First Nations people. Predictably, non-Native people flocked to the internet comment threads to voice their objections to his opinion. Below, a summary of these knee-jerk responses that are always trotted out by the masses when indigenous Canadians describe their experiences of racism, and why you should not use them.

Greens say Feds spend $120 million to 'grease' Enbridge Northern Gateway bid; Ottawa says it's improving oil tanker safety

VICTORIA - Federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May says Ottawa is using Canadian taxpayers money to subsidize oil pipeline environmental studies that should have been fully explored by Enbridge (TSX:ENB), the Calgary-based company proposing to build the $6-billion Northern Gateway oil project.

But the federal government said Wednesday the $120 million earmarked to conduct oil tanker safety studies on Canada's coastlines was announced last March in Vancouver by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver against a backdrop of tankers and shipping vessels in Burrard Inlet.

The dilemma of Syria and the responsibility of progressives

No matter where one stands, one can't help but agree with those who point out that practical solidarity with the Syrian people suffering under Assad is sorely lacking among progressives in North America.

There are anti-imperialist activists who appear to, but don't, support the Assad government, and there are advocates of the rebellion who don't attempt to understand those, inside and outside Syria, who do support the Assad government. Honest activists who have nothing but vitriol for Assad, yet are focusing their energy on anti-war activism, have some justified disappointment towards significant elements of the broad progressive movement who have failed to mobilize for recent anti-war rallies across Canada. Some people have avoided these rallies and have labelled them 'pro-Assad,' given that indeed some in the Syrian-Canadian diaspora, and some very marginal organizations have expressed support -- sometimes in the form of a T-shirt -- for the Assad government.

What Canadians need to know about CSEC spying

Thousands of Canadians are speaking out to defend their privacy rights, after recent revelations that an ultra-secretive government agency is spying on our everyday online activities. This agency, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), was revealed to be systematically collecting the private information of law-abiding citizens, including Canadians, from around the world.

Fresh developments show that Canadians are absolutely right to be concerned. Just last week, CSEC’s own official watchdog revealed that the spy agency may have illegally targeted Canadians within the past 12 months.

Ali Habib, Syria's Former Minister Of Defense, Reportedly Defects In Break With Assad

AMMAN/DOHA, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Former Syrian Defense Minister General Ali Habib, a prominent member of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect, has defected and is now in Turkey, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters on Wednesday.

If his defection is confirmed, Habib would be the highest ranking figure from the Alawite minority to break with Assad since the uprising against his rule began in 2011.

Columbia, South Carolina Rescinds Decision To Criminalize Homelessness

Columbia, South Carolina has decided to rescind its controversial decision to criminalize homelessness after facing major backlash from police, city workers and advocates.

Columbia’s city council decided on Tuesday to reverse its unanimous vote that would have given homeless people the choice to either go to a remote shelter or get arrested, according to the Free Times. The council apologized, backtracked on its decision and said it would give homeless people the option to go to the shelter, but would not force them to.

Offshore Wind Lease Near Virginia Won By Coal Power Giant Dominion

WASHINGTON -- A giant of coal-fired power won a $1.6 million lease to build the first wind farm off the coast of Virginia on Wednesday, a development that renewable energy advocates are cheering.

Dominion Virginia Power had the winning bid on 112,800 acres of land 27 miles off Virginia's coast. Bidding on the plot went for six rounds, escalating from a starting offer of just $225,600. Dominion's final bid topped that of Charlottesville, Va.-based Apex Clean Energy.

One Of The Most Important Women In The Farmworker Movement Has Died

FRESNO, Calif. -- Jessie Lopez De La Cruz, a longtime leader in the national farmworker movement, has died. She was 93.

The United Farmworkers of America says De La Cruz died in Kingsburg, Calif., on Labor Day. She was one of the union's first female members and organizers in the Fresno area.

De La Cruz organized workers in the fields, participated in grape boycotts and testified on outlawing the short-handled hoe, which required workers to bend over at the waist for the entire day.

World's Most Competitive Countries: Canada Holds Steady In WEF Rankings

Although Canada's global competitive ranking remains unchanged from last year, the country is languishing behind in innovation due to too little being spent on research and development, says a Conference Board report released Wednesday.

"Playing catch-up is not a winning formula — it is a path to mediocrity," said the report, titled Canada's competitiveness and Innovation Doldrums.

This Guy Is Single-Handedly Destroying Pennsylvania's Gay-Marriage Ban

Gay marriages are illegal in Pennsylvania. But if you go to D. Bruce Hanes, you can get one anyway.

Hanes is an Army veteran and Democratic county clerk in Montgomery County, outside Philadelphia. In July, he started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Pennsylvanians Loreen Bloodgood and Alicia Terrizzi, 17-year partners who are the mothers of two sons, were first in line.

Oh Magog! Why End-Times Buffs Are Freaking Out About Syria

In early 2012, best-selling novelist Joel Rosenberg came to Capitol Hill for a meeting with an unidentified member of Congress to discuss the end of the world. "I thought the topic was going to be the possible coming war between Israel and Iran," Rosenberg explained on his website. "Instead, the official asked, 'What are your thoughts on Isaiah 17?'"

For the better part of an hour, Rosenberg says, the writer and the congressman went back forth on something called the "burden of Damascus," an Old Testament prophecy that posits that a war in the Middle East will leave Syria's capital city in ruins—and bring the world one step closer to Armageddon. As Rosenberg put it, "The innocent blood shed by the Assad regime is reprehensible and heart-breaking and is setting the stage for a terrible judgment."

Standing Up to the Hawks in Congress

“Our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people and for the people…. I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” declared President Barack Obama, addressing the ongoing crisis in Syria, on August 31.

The president was under escalating pressure from Congress and a skeptical public, but he nonetheless deserves credit for making the decision to call on Congress to authorize any action toward Syria. He chose to weather the inevitable scorn of armchair patriots who believe the president can dispatch the military anywhere, at any time, for any reason. He reportedly overruled the advice of most of his national security team, who wanted to strike Syria without going to Congress. After the British Parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s appeal for authority to join the United States in the strike, Obama knew the vote in this bitterly divided and dysfunctional Congress would be a tough sell.

GOP Strategist Calls Alison Lundergan Grimes 'An Empty Dress'

A month after Kentucky Democratic senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes pulled slightly ahead of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in the polls, Republican strategists seem to be sharpening their claws.

Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Grimes “an empty dress” in an interview with The Hill published Wednesday.

The insults continued from there.

Senate Committee Votes Yes On Syria Resolution To Bomb Assad

WASHINGTON -- Overcoming reservations from the left, the right and the American public, a Senate committee Wednesday passed a resolution to bomb Syria in retaliation for President Bashar Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons.

In a delayed markup of a resolution to authorize the use of military force, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10 to 7, with one present, to let President Barack Obama mount a bombing campaign aimed at the Syrian regime's weapons of mass destruction for up to 90 days, albeit within a more limited scope than Obama had requested. Specifically, the committee included language that would prohibit the use of U.S. troops on the ground "for the purpose of combat operations."