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.]

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yahoo CEO Mayer: we faced jail if we revealed NSA surveillance secrets

Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook struck back on Wednesday at critics who have charged tech companies with doing too little to fight off NSA surveillance. Mayer said executives faced jail if they revealed government secrets.

Yahoo and Facebook, along with other tech firms, are pushing for the right to be allowed to publish the number of requests they receive from the spy agency. Companies are forbidden by law to disclose how much data they provide.

Porter’s Red Baron poised to strike again

What is it about Robert Deluce, anyway? Just how has the high-flying Porter Airlines tycoon managed to turn the waterfront Island Airport into his private domain? It’s supposed to be a public asset, paid for by taxpayers’ dollars. And a valuable one at that, worth a couple of billion by some estimates.

Now he’s got designs on the entire waterfront. Deluce’s plan to extend the Island Airport’s main runway by a couple of football fields at either end so he can fly jets out of it has all of a sudden gotten bigger.

Why Efforts to 'Fix' Floundering Youth Fail

Similar to other job-finding agencies, Ottawa Youth Employment's task seemed simple. Get street-involved youth off welfare and working. The strategy, which involved sending youth to government-sponsored work projects, seemed promising. OYE offered a street-level office, built-in employers, and a plentiful supply of youth who clearly needed some direction.

But for reasons no one understood, the idea was flopping. Apart from a couple of superstar examples, staff at the OYE couldn't get the vulnerable youth they were supposed to be serving to show up for the jobs designed to help them. Clients were blowing off the money and paid skills-building for... what?

As Assad Regime Accepts Russian Plan on Chemical Weapons, A Debate on Syria’s Path Forward

As President Obama prepares to address the nation on his push for congressional backing of a military strike on Syria, the Assad regime has accepted a Russian initiative to put its chemical weapons under international control. Could the move stop a U.S. strike and bring the Syrian crisis closer to a diplomatic resolution? We host a debate on how to resolve the Syrian conflict between Rafif Jouejati of the Syrian Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists throughout Syria, and Rania Masri, Lebanese-based human rights activist and professor at the University of Balamand in Lebanon.

Author: --

Immigrants Are Staggeringly Costly? Nice Try, Fraser Institute

My best guess it that the Fraser Institute expects no one to read the report behind their newest sensationalist press release, in which they claim that the cost of immigrants to Canada is staggeringly high.

Anyone who looked at the report more closely would find false claims, deliberately misleading arguments, a naive understanding of global migration trends, and evident ignorance of what informs Canada's immigration priorities. The report is so poor and illogical that it cannot be taken seriously as contributing to public debates about policy reform in the domain of immigration.

John Kerry meets coup plotter Henry Kissinger on the 40th anniversary of Chile's Sept. 11

As President Barack Obama's attack on Syria appears to have been delayed for the moment, it is remarkable that Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting, on Sept. 11, with one of his predecessors, Henry Kissinger, reportedly to discuss strategy on forthcoming negotiations on Syria with Russian officials. The Kerry-Kissinger meeting, and the public outcry against the proposed attack on Syria to which both men are publicly committed, should be viewed through the lens of another Sept. 11 ... 1973.

On that day, 40 years ago, the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was violently overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup. Gen. Augusto Pinochet took control and began a 17-year dictatorial reign of terror, during which more than 3,000 Chileans were murdered and disappeared -- about the same number killed on that later, fateful 9/11, 2001. Allende, a socialist, was immensely popular with his people. But his policies were anathema to the elites of Chile and the U.S., so President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state and national-security adviser, Henry Kissinger, supported efforts to overthrow him.

The Right to Live in Peace: Forty years on, the coup in Chile still has lessons for us today

Aerial bombings, tanks in the streets, widespread terrorizing of civilians by soldiers and secret police: this was the horror unleashed on September 11, 1973 by the military coup d’état in Chile. Led by Augusto Pinochet and other generals with U.S. backing, the coup overthrew President Salvador Allende's democratically elected Popular Unity government, and brought in a brutal military dictatorship that lasted for 17 years.

Canada's official attitude towards the coup might be politely called 'ambivalent.' Some Canadian banks and mining interests openly supported the military take-over as a good investment opportunity. Our ambassador to Chile's rather sympathetic attitude toward the generals led to a rapid recognition of the military junta.

Harper’s too-secret garden

Eight years ago, in an eloquent plea for open government, then Conservative party Leader Stephen Harper said: “Information is the lifeblood of a democracy. Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions, and incompetent or corrupt governance, can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.”

Those noble words were published in the Montreal Gazette, but since becoming prime minister, he has donned that cloak of secrecy. The Harper Conservative government has consistently shown a disregard for openness that belies that promise of transparency — and the latest examples are delays in the release of cabinet papers and the secrecy surrounding the Trans-Pacific trade talks.

The access-to-information system is busting: information czar

Things are bad at the information commissioner’s office.

One federal institution has stopped responding to people using access to information laws, one ministry is still working through a request it said would require more than 1,100 days to fulfil, and complaints from Canadians are multiplying daily.

It’s difficult for Suzanne Legault, Canada’s information commissioner, to believe this is where a piece of legislation once considered ground-breaking has wound up.

Conservative Party lawyer directed robocall questions during investigation: documents

OTTAWA – The Conservative Party lawyer who attended interviews related to the May 2011 robocalls investigation at times spoke for witnesses and directed the questions, according to excerpts obtained by Global News.

Arthur Hamilton sat in on the interviews with the witnesses, who had all worked as Conservative staffers, alongside Elections Canada investigators Allan Mathews and Ron Lamothe in March and April 2012.

Our Other September 11

Let’s not forget Chile.

On September 11, 1973, warplanes began strafing radio stations and newspapers. Images arrived of people scattering in fear ahead of tanks in the streets. Fearsome generals in coats with starred epaulets ordered President Salvador Allende, the world’s only elected Marxist leader, to step down. A military communiqué: “The armed forces and the body of carabineros are united in their historic and responsible mission of fighting to liberate Chile from the Marxist yoke.” Signed; General Augusto Pincohet Ugarte, Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

US Labor Secretary: 'The American Workplace Has Evolved'

Los Angeles—In a Tuesday interview, US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez promised effective enforcement of federal employment law, celebrated US unions’ increased collaboration with non-union non-profits, and defended the administration’s appearances at events with Walmart. “The right to organize is a big part of what needs to happen, in my judgment,” Perez told The Nation, “as we grow the middle class and recover from the worst recession of our lifetime.”

Perez was interviewed after addressing the AFL-CIO on the third day of its quadrennial convention, which was also marked by passage of resolutions on trade and immigration, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering over Obamacare.

Perez: “We’re Working With Everyone”

Ted Cruz: 'We Need 100 More Like Jesse Helms' In The Senate

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Wednesday that the country would be better off if the Senate was full of people like Jesse Helms, the late senator who was ardently opposed to all kinds of civil rights measures and even tried to block the Senate from approving a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

During remarks at a Heritage Foundation event dubbed the "Jesse Helms Lecture Series," Cruz told a story of Helms receiving a $5,000 political donation from actor John Wayne, who apparently later told Helms he liked him because "you're that guy saying all those crazy things" and that there needed to be 100 more of him.

Chuck Grassley Tries To Trick Obama Judicial Nominee Into Criticizing Another Nominee

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tried to get D.C. Circuit court nominee Robert Wilkins to criticize statements made by another of President Barack Obama's D.C. Circuit nominees, Nina Pillard, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. It didn't work, though.

There was an awkward exchange as Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee, read aloud passages from a 2007 article that Pillard wrote about abortion and access to contraception. Grassley never said what he was reading from or who made those statements. He simply asked Wilkins to say whether he agreed or disagreed with a series of "assertions regarding constitutional law," in order to get a sense of his "judicial philosophy."

The Koch brothers' secret bank

An Arlington, Va.-based conservative group, whose existence until now was unknown to almost everyone in politics, raised and spent $250 million in 2012 to shape political and policy debate nationwide.

The group, Freedom Partners, and its president, Marc Short, serve as an outlet for the ideas and funds of the mysterious Koch brothers, cutting checks as large as $63 million to groups promoting conservative causes, according to an IRS document to be filed shortly.

A Plea for Caution From Russia

MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

Lobbyist arranged Parliamentary Restaurant lunch meeting between Tweed and Omnitrax executive

PARLIAMENT HILL—A registered lobbyist arranged a Parliamentary Restaurant lunch meeting between now former Manitoba Conservative MP Merv Tweed and the head of Omnitrax Canada Inc., which owns the Port of Churchill in northern Manitoba, seven months before the Omnitrax executive left his post and was succeeded in the job by Mr. Tweed.

But Ominitrax lobbyist Leo Duguay, a former Progressive Conservative MP in the 1980s, said he did not arrange the meeting with any thought of Mr. Tweed eventually obtaining the post vacated in June by former Omnitrax president Brad Chase, and told The Hill Times in an interview Tuesday he was not even aware at the time that Mr. Chase would soon leave the job he had taken only a year earlier.

Opinion A Surveillance State Born in Ground Zero's Rubble

This is a portentous day.

Forty years ago on Sept. 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet led a U.S.-backed coup that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende.

Twenty-eight years later, the al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington induced the democratically-elected government of the United States to overthrow itself.

Each attack took about the same number of lives, around 3,000 -- all at once in New York and Washington, over weeks and months in Chile. The Chilean junta also arrested, imprisoned and tortured some 28,000 people in the next few years, including the young Michelle Bachelet, who is currently running to be re-elected as president of Chile.

Canada University Costs Have Tripled Over Past 20 Years, Study Suggests

TORONTO - Canadian students hoping for some financial relief on the cost of their post-secondary education are in for a disappointment over the next few years, a prominent think tank suggests.

A report from the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives forecasts the inflation-adjusted cost of an undergraduate university degree is expected to climb an average of 8.6 per cent over the next four years, extending a trend that has seen the price tag triple over the past two decades.

NHS Low-Income Results, Census Estimates Cannot Be Compared: StatsCan

The latest data from the National Household Survey marks the first major update to information on Canadians' incomes since the 2006 census. In that time, Canada has gone through the worst economic crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression.

But unfortunately, we can't find out from the new data just how low-income Canadians performed on income since that time. Thanks to the Harper government's elimination of the long-form mandatory census, StatsCan says Canada's new income data is not comparable to the old data.

CSEC Handed Over Control Of Encryption Standards To NSA: Report

The Canadian agency responsible for electronic surveillance played a substantial role in the NSA's efforts to crack encrypted data on the internet, according to documents obtained by the New York Times.

Communications Security Establishment Canada — which is responsible for foreign electronic surveillance but is speculated to be spying on Canadians as well — handed over control of an international encryption standard to the NSA, allowing the agency build a “backdoor” to decrypt data, the Times reports.

1 Percent of America's Power Plants Emit 33 Percent of Energy Industry's Carbon

Less than 1 percent of US power plants produce nearly a third of the energy industry's carbon emissions, according to a new report released Tuesday. "If the 50 most-polluting U.S. power plants were an independent nation," reads the report from Environment America Research & Policy Center, an independent nonprofit, "they would be the seventh-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind Germany and ahead of South Korea." The vast majority of the top 100 offenders—98 of them in fact—are coal plants.

Official Texas Review: "Creation Science" Should Be Incorporated Into Every Biology Textbook

Behind closed doors, textbook reviewers appointed by the Texas State Board of Education are pushing to inject creationism into teaching materials that will be adopted statewide in high schools this year, according to new documents obtained by watchdog groups. Records show that the textbook reviewers made ideological objections to material on evolution and climate change in science textbooks from at least seven publishers, including several of the nation's largest publishing houses. Failing to obtain a review panel's top rating can make it harder for publishers to sell their textbooks to school districts, and can even lead the state to reject the books altogether.

Executives From Biggest Subprime Lenders Are Peddling Risky Mortgages Again Center for Public Integrity

Andy Pollock rode the last subprime mortgage wave to the top then got out as the industry collapsed and took the U.S. economy with it. Today, he’s back in business.

Pollock was president and CEO of First Franklin, a subprime lender whose risky loans to vulnerable consumers hastened the downfall of Merrill Lynch after the Wall Street investment bank bought it in 2006 for $1.3 billion. He was still running First Franklin for Merrill in 2007 when he told Congress that the company had “a proven history as a responsible lender” employing “underwriting standards that assure the quality of the loans we originate.”

NSA shares raw intelligence including Americans' data with Israel

The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.

After 9/11, Americans Undermined National Security

We will not forget the things we are officially called on to remember today -- how the hijacked jets demolished the landmark towers that had seemed permanent, the helpless people plunging to their deaths before our eyes, the young children whose parents disappeared forever. You remember. We all remember, anniversary or not.

It's what happened after that day that we need to recall with import, how we used 9/11 as a jumping off point to one of the most wasteful, pointless and destructive dozen years in American history, embarking on foreign military misadventures abroad while shredding civil liberties at home -- all in the name of strengthening the very national security we undermined.

Pay Gap Between 1 Percent And Everybody Else Reaches Widest Point Since 1920s

WASHINGTON — The gulf between the richest 1 percent and the rest of America is the widest it's been since the Roaring '20s.

The very wealthiest Americans earned more than 19 percent of the country's household income last year – their biggest share since 1928, the year before the stock market crash. And the top 10 percent captured a record 48.2 percent of total earnings last year.

NSA Surveillance Documents Released By Officials Show Misuse Of Domestic Spying Program

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal officials on Tuesday released previously classified documents showing misuse of a domestic spying program in 2009.

The Obama administration has been facing mounting pressure to reveal more details about the government's domestic surveillance program since a former intelligence contractor released documents showing massive National Security Agency trawling of domestic data.

Neil Young Talks Oilsands, Compares Fort McMurray To Hiroshima

His guitarist in Crazy Horse might be dealing with a fractured hand, but Neil Young threw some verbal punches this week when he compared the oilsands in Fort McMurray, Alta. to Hiroshima, the site of the first atomic bomb drop in August 1945.

The Globe and Mail today reported Young was in Washington, D.C. yesterday when he told those attending an event for the National Farmers Union about oilsands development and its environmental impact.

The new Canadian passport is pure Harperlandia

Canada is increasingly becoming unrecognizable to me. I don’t mean this just in an abstract sense, when I read about shameful things like Ottawa trying to avoid taking in refugees who have been tortured, because they require extra medical care. Foreigners who wake up weeping, with bone chips floating around their spinal cords, I hear you, Stephen Harper, these people are costly.

No, I mean Canada is literally foreign. Alert reader Martin Foster had emailed me about the details of our new passport, and I hadn’t believed him. But he is right.

Neil Young pans Keystone pipeline, likens oil sands landscape to Hiroshima

OTTAWA - Neil Young is singing a new tune, claiming he's seen the pipeline and the damage done.

The Canadian music legend has waded into the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline with inflammatory comments that compare Fort McMurray, Alta., to the scene of an atomic bomb strike.

Young declared himself "against the Keystone pipeline in a big way" as he described a recent driving visit to Fort McMurray, home base to northern Alberta's oil sands development.

Premier Clark says skipping fall legislature session will allow Liberals to get more work done

Politicians won’t return to work at the B.C. legislature this fall, the Liberal government said Tuesday, in a move the Opposition NDP blasted as “outrageous.”

Premier Christy Clark said her government will forgo an “optional” fall sitting of the legislature to focus on building a liquefied natural gas industry, balancing the budget, exploring liquor law reforms, tweaking groundwater legislation and organizing a Metro Vancouver transit referendum.

Can the South African government give the green light to fracking while 'protecting the environment'?

There are clear indications that oil and gas companies will be given the green light soon to start "fracking" South Africa. Last week Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa made a speech that addressed fracking in South Africa. She reported that an interdepartmental monitoring committee is reviewing the existing regulatory framework for fracking and other technologies, including their impact on aquifers. She gave notice of government's intention to declare fracking a "controlled activity in terms of section 38 of the National Water Act," adding:
"What this means is that fracking becomes a water use, thus requiring a water use license. In this regard only matters concerning water resources will be of consideration when licenses are issued, including but not limited to the possible impact of substances and chemicals on the ground water resource."

Chomsky: Instead of "Illegal" Threat to Syria, U.S. Should Back Chemical Weapons Ban in All Nations

In a national address from the White House Tuesday night, President Obama announced he is delaying a plan to strike Syria while pursuing a diplomatic effort from Russia for international monitors to take over and destroy Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons. However, Obama still threatened to use force against Syria if the plan fails. We get reaction to Obama’s speech from world-renowned political dissident and linguist, MIT Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky. "The Russian plan is a godsend for Obama," Chomsky says. "It saves him from what would look like a very serious defeat. He has not been able to obtain virtually any international support, and it looked as though Congress wasn’t going to support it either, which would leave him completely out on a limb. This leaves him a way out: He can maintain the threat of force, which incidentally is a crime under international law. We should bear in mind that the core principle of the United Nations Charter bars the threat or use of force. So all of this is criminal, to begin with, but he’ll continue with that."

Author: --

Are we undermining our schools by not investing enough in education?

This year's back-to-school media coverage featured surprisingly little analysis on how our schools are doing. Not to say that articles about innovative approaches to help students stay alert, back-to-school parenting advice and school lunch ideas aren't useful, but surely those could have been combined with more in-depth analysis of the challenges and opportunities facing our schools.

Maybe it's because our students consistently perform well in international student assessments that British Columbians don't think they need to spend much time worrying about school quality. But are we undermining our schools by becoming complacent?

EI premium freeze leaves unemployed Canadians in the cold

Yesterday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced a three-year freeze on Employment Insurance (EI) premiums, ostensibly because a stronger job market has alleviated the need for additional premium revenue.

Under the current policy, employee premiums were rising each year by 5 cents per $100 earned. Flaherty had announced this policy on September 30, 2010, when 1.5 million Canadians were officially unemployed. Since then, that figure has edged down to 1.4 million, hardly a breathtaking reduction in unemployment.

Given a world stage, Harper argues for Depression economics and Cold War politics

"Wise" is not a word frequently used to describe Stephen Harper or his policies. Partisan, ideological, narrow, secretive, devious, or controlling come up more often.

The opposite of wise is foolish or ignorant. Both are brought to mind when assessing the performance of the Canadian prime minister at the G20 leaders summit in Russia last week.

The G20 economies account for about 85 per cent of world economic activity. The economic prescription Harper offered to the assembled leaders was for countries to reduce their national debt-to-GDP ratio. In essence, the PM wants governments to get smaller. His assumption is this creates more room for private wealth creation.

Former House law clerk’s comments raise more questions about Duffy-Wright transaction

PARLIAMENT HILL—Comments from former House of Commons law clerk Rob Walsh raised eyebrows Monday after CBC posted his argument that a $90,000 cheque that former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright gave Sen. Mike Duffy might not have involved a criminal offence.

But a more thorough look at the transaction turns up a virtual minefield of potential charges and Mr. Walsh points to areas the RCMP may have not yet considered.

Sept-Îles oil spill spreads as crews race against clock

A week after a major oil spill in Sept-Îles, Que., crews are still scrambling to clean up kilometres of slick that have spread across the bay.

About 450,000 litres of bunker oil — often used to power ships — spilled from a shipping operation owned by Cliffs Natural Resources overnight on Aug. 31.

The company said close to 99 per cent of the leaked oil was contained inside a retention dike on site.

Noam Chomsky: Why the Israel-Palestine ‘negotiations’ are a complete farce

The Israel-Palestine negotiations currently underway in Jerusalem coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords. A look at the character of the accords and their fate may help explain the prevailing skepticism about the current exercise.

In September 1993, President Clinton presided over a handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn – the climax of a “day of awe,” as the press described it.